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Out of the Fox Hole
The Full Story of how Fox Valley Area Christian Church
uses demographics in ministry. . .
For Roger Jenks, now senior pastor of Fox Valley Area Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), it took almost two decades and four pastorates for him to take the questions that had so impacted his personal life and carry them over to his congregations's life. "There are five essential questions of congregational life," said Dr. Lloyd Ogilive, the featured speaker at the conference Jenks had attended in 1985, five questions that must be asked and answered sequentially. If you skip any of these, the best that you or your church will ever do is limp."

"For nearly 20 years, those questions have advised me and kept me from limping!" says Jenks. "BUT, I never applied them to the church! When I came to my current pastorate, I decided our entire, somewhat beleaguered congregation needed the prioritizing influence of those five, fundamental questions. I think all I had hoped for was that the church would seek and take ownership of the answers—I didn't realize how dramatically these questions would transform us!"

By the time Roger Jenks took over the pastorate of Fox Valley in February of 1999, the church had lost its focus—and with it, much of its enthusiasm.

"First, two significant families had moved away and second, the people were just tired," says Jenks. "And mainly they were tired from serving in positions they essentially 'plugged to fill.' There was a lot of hard work going on, but it wasn't focused or particularly productive. . . they were just 'doing church.'"

What caused the congregation to turn around? According to Roger, it was a little child that led them. Two years ago, at their annual all-church retreat, Jenks instructed attendees to stand in a circle. He then brought one little girl into the middle of the circle, handed her a rubber ball, and instructed her, "Throw this ball as hard as you can at the target." And then he stepped out of the circle.

Naturally the girl stood there confused. "What target?" she asked helplessly. Jenks then explained to the church, "This girl is us. We don't have a defined place to pour our efforts. We have no target!"

This simple, but compelling, illustration was a perfect set-up for the first question: "What kind of people does God want us to produce in this body of believers?" "The biblical answer to that question is 'Go and make disciples,'" says Jenks. "But what does a disciple look like? What target are we aiming for?" To answer that all-important question, Jenks led them in a study on the biblical mandate to make disciples—something he believes is the job of every church and every believer. Then he instructed everyone attending the retreat to get by themselves—alone—to pray, and then write down what traits of a disciple God revealed to them. As the people came back and started writing the answers on the board for everyone to see, suddenly the atmosphere was charged. But where the energy really began to flow, claims Jenks, was later—when the congregation began to actually take ownership of these defined traits.

"I asked each of our leadership teams, "Do you see which of these traits and categories you're responsible for?" says Jenks. "Well, it didn't take long for them to figure those factors out. Each team identified certain areas that they and their ministries were uniquely positioned to address. They then began to take responsibility to produce a specific fruit within the congregation."

The miracle of church transformation had only begun. Soon the first question segued into the next one: "What kind of people do we believe God wants us to produce here? What are the traits, characteristics and so forth?" All the questions, says Jenks are sequential. You can't do the second one unless you ask the first one, something that he says churches rarely do.

"Most churches start with question two," says Jenks. "They just say, 'Well, we need to provide some Sunday school classes, we need to have some bible studies, we need to have some fellowship events—but there is no criteria for it other than, 'Well, we did it last year,' or 'We did this at my last church' or the 'The pastor had this whim'—or whatever it is."

Before the all-church retreat, Fox Valley's Christian education ministries determined their curriculum by the ever popular popularity test—in other words, says Jenks, people would be asked "So, what would you all like to study next?" After the retreat, however, when they had succeeded in identifying the specific kinds of people God wanted to produce, the education ministry finally had a target to aim for. Today, nearly half the adults at Fox Valley have completed the core curriculum and now use those identified traits of a disciple in their introduction to the church.

"Planning our programming around the traits God wants us to produce in believers lends purpose and urgency to our ministries," says Jenks. "It also provides a bonus: we now have a reason to say no to things that don't fit."

The second question segues into the third one: "What kinds of leaders are needed to provide those experiences?" Once they started getting
definite answers to those questions, people started becoming passionate about their respective leadership roles. For example, where once there was a serious teacher shortage and lack of classes, now the church has not only added more classes (classes that are much more focused and targeted), they have volunteers lining up to take these classes! "I want to take this class," one of the members said, "because now I realize how really important this is."

The fourth and fifth questions have to do with the role of the pastor: "What kind of pastor is needed to train those kinds of leaders?" and, "What kinds of experiences does the pastor need to have in order to be that kind of pastor?" Jenks maintains that the fourth question is particularly helpful when a church is searching for a new pastor. First a congregation must establish what God is doing in their church and then decide what kind of pastor best fits that defined vision.

"One church may need a coach, another may need a shepherd, and another may need an executive," says Jenks. "But by asking question three, and then question four, a church can learn to rightly divide the duties of pastors and leaders."

But it's the fifth question that pastors are particularly partial to. The intense and complex societal demands of a postmodern society, coupled with a lack of unrealistic expectations on what a pastor should or shouldn't be, as well as a growing distrust of the clergy in general, leaves many once revved-up reverends downshifting into early retirement. Worse, they might stay in their post, but remain stuck in neutral. So, when a question like, "What can we do to help our pastor become who God wants him or her to be?" gets asked on almost a weekly basis, things are bound to start looking up—for everybody.

"Our PPR (Pastor-Parish Relations) committee used to be what it is in many churches—a 'gripe fest,' says Jenks. "And it's something that pastors almost dread rather than looking forward to. But for us, well after we put those five questions into place, now when I go to a PPR committee meeting they ask me questions like, 'Are you taking your day off?' 'When is your next continuing education class being held?' 'Do you have your vacation scheduled so that you don't lose that?' And so the congregation ends up providing an enormous amount of care to me because they now have a reason to ask those questions. They know that if I'm going to be a certain kind of pastor there are certain things that have got to take place for me to have the energy and the enthusiasm to continue."

"The set of 5 questions gives us a strategy for how we deal with people once they come through the door, "says Jenks. "And a critical part of the character traits we're trying to impart is that of being an evangelist. That means sensitizing the congregation to a number of things:
What is the nature of the people who are outside our doors?
What is the nature and what are the needs of the people within 30-45 minutes driving time of our church?
Given the make-up of those people, what are the promotional tools that will work the best?
Given the make-up of the people we are most likely to attract, how do we structure our worship, our nursery situation, the language of our bulletin, the music we use, etc., to help those people feel at home?
Given the make-up of the people in the area, what kinds of non-Sunday morning offerings do we need to make in the area of small group ministry, workshops, seminars, etc.

"If we don't do our homework in these five areas, using the demographic studies to help us, we may not have the people walk through our front door—and, more importantly, stay," says Jenks. "So, I think there is a very direct connection between demographics and the kind of friendship evangelism that our church feels called to do."

In every meeting, at least a third of the time is focused on evangelism. "Tell us what you have planned and how you planned it so that it will be an invitation to people who are not already churched?" the people are asked on a regular basis. It's also a question that everybody who comes to the meetings knows is going to be asked of them.

"If we don't continually ask that question, then we tend to plan things for the people we already know and who are already coming, says Jenks. "So we keep reminding them: 'How can you make this invitational? How can you plan it in such a way that a new person feels comfortable and inclined to come'? And they're definitely picking up on it—it's becoming part of their DNA!"

As a result of these questions being asked—and answered—several evangelism programs have already sprung up. First, for adults, Fox Valley uses the Willow Creek program called Contagious Evangelism. That program has also proved to be highly successful for the youth—so much so that it prompted them to change locations and frequency of meetings so that kids would feel more
comfortable in inviting their friends to church. Now, several of those kids are planning on going into full-time ministry. In addition, Jenks and his wife wrote an Introduction to Faith curriculum that trains elders and others who are comfortable in sharing their faith story to be even more comfortable in doing it with the unchurched. Marketing consists of flyers that are put in people's mailboxes as well as printed invitations that members can hand-deliver to friends to invite them to special services. And since about 95% of the members are online, a PDF invitation (which could easily be an anachronism for Please Don't Forget!) was used this past Easter for the members to download and email to people they know.

Jenks has used already used Percept's demographics to help the church locate the facilities they now use for their worship service. The church moved to Wheatlands Elementary School from another school because the demographics showed them that the people in that area who surrounded that school were people who more closely resembled the church's profile.

"This area has been exploding in growth—actually, the Village of Oswego where the school is located is one of the fastest growing in Illinois," says Jenks. "So being located in a school that's in that school system gave us a foot in the door. It was extremely helpful. The results are that we are now beginning to see more people coming to the church from Oswego."

The demographics also helped Fox Valley to identify the large number of people in the community who might be looking for a church just like theirs, one where there was a high level of personal contact, and where they could be moved fairly quickly and comfortably into relationships with people. According to Jenks, while there were a large number of Catholics in the area, the non-Catholics tended to be of two different persuasions: Fundamentalist, or a less dogmatic type of church model that Jenks believes Fox Valley Christian Church represents.

Knowing up front what kind of church they would be committing to has the added benefit of weeding out visitors who know early on that the church's mission does not coincide with their own. According to Jenks, it gives those prospective members the opportunity to get out while the going is good—before they put down roots, develop friendships, and then try to change the culture simply because it was easier than leaving! But perhaps one of the greatest benefits to the Five-Question, Mission-Focused Model, is that since moving to this system there hasn't been a single crisis in the church. "When the mission is clear and people know what they are gathering for, they have less time and incentive to bicker," says Jenks.

Fox Valley Christian Church has clearly dug out of their fox hole proving that not only are there "no atheists in fox holes" there's also very few effective churches. Becoming a church that asks a lot of bold questions has given them some equally bold answers that are transforming their church.

"For the past 20 years, these questions have advised me personally," says Jenks. "Now they're helping my church define its purpose. They're diagnostic when things begin to feel 'flat.' They function like a plumb line when there are too many 'good ideas' under consideration. As a result, we've become a church with a shared vision of who we are and what we want to do; and it began by asking five simple questions, in order, just like Dr. Ogilvie said. -Jenni Keast

Most material for this article was derived from our interview with Roger Jenks, conducted in April 2003. Some material was derived from an article titled, "The Health Sequence," which was written by Roger Jenks for Leadership Journal and published in the Winter 2003 edition. (Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.)
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