The Phygital Church

There’s a new, and important, word: “phygital.”

It reflects the growing necessity for the seamless flow between the physical and the digital. As an article on Bizcommunity put it, in relation to the retail world:

Innovative phygital business models, where bricks and mortar and digital seamlessly integrate, are popping up across the globe. But the best phygital experiences still remain aligned with old-school sales strategies: customer attraction, retention, engagement, experiences, loyalty and the brand itself. The factors that keep shifting are shopping behaviour and new technology. The upshot is: to keep in the retail game, phygital is the way to go and it’s currently an adapt or die situation. 

And here are the six ways it suggests that “adapt or die” applies:

1. The agile store.

The concept of the role of a physical shop has changed. Whereas before a storefront used to be a part of the shopper psyche there are now young customers who have no knowledge of physical stores dominating the landscape. Nils Van Dam of Duval Union Consulting estimates that between 30—40% of supermarkets will shut their doors within the next decade.

2. Retail business model disruption.

Never seen or experienced before phygital stores are being built, the biggest ones being Amazon and Alibaba. These mega-online players are laying new foundations with bricks and mortar shops—Wholefoods and Hema respectively. The rule of thumb seems to be: whatever bases you’re not covering, cover. Another thing to note about disruption is that agility and adoption are different in terms of what product you sell. According to PWC, in a category such as fashion, 43% of consumers already consider themselves to be omnichannel shoppers, buying both offline and online.

3. Different strokes for different folks.

Quite surprisingly, another reason for bricks and mortar may be Gen Z. Not because they love shopping malls but because they demand that every option is available to them. Seventy-five percent of Gen-Zers surveyed by Newsroom Synchrony say they prefer shopping in stores with engaging experiences, while 45% say the experience of buying something is as important as the product itself. Another interesting fact about Gen Z is that if they have a product in their shopping cart while shopping online, they expect to this to be seamlessly integrated into their in-store shopping experience.

4. Covering all bases.

Agile retailers are upping the ante with online and in-store technology. The more common in-store phygital tech includes self-scanning, digital signage tablets and smart tags. Other innovations being tested are things like AR-powered virtual demos, smart mirror beacons, personal in-store digital avatars, face-detection software that can guess a shoppers’ gender and age, as well as interactive fitting rooms with a touch screen kiosk.

5. Uber-experiences.

A bricks and mortar store should look to incorporate whatever the “new fashion” is—be it cooking workshops or yoga. For example, Green Swan the owners of Intertoys, plans to rent out toys for children’s parties. And for the ultimate in-store trend, see the 185-year-old “most beautiful department store” in Zürich—Jelmoli. This old-school bricks and mortar retailer has ten large and small restaurants where they can grill your steak for 90 seconds at 800 degrees. 

6. The human role.

Keeping it real and human with bricks and mortar is particularly relevant… [for this] fascinating demographic of shoppers who, on the one hand, consider a trip to the mall a memorable family experience and on the other, … shop “off the radar”, buying from spaza shops in townships and rural areas and belonging to stovels. In both instances, the human connection is vital to the shopping experience. Malls may need to up their game on the experiential level and spaza shops should be taken more seriously by mainstream retailers.

This conversation is not simply for the retail world. “Phygitality,” for lack of a better world, is here to stay. It does not represent the elimination of bricks and mortar, but the importance of what we do physically to integrate with what we do digitally. And, ideally, to have the two create a synergy that is more strategic than either alone.

Consider someone who is wanting to explore a particular church. That used to be a strictly physical process—now it is phygital. When invited by a friend, the invitation is often to explore the church digitally through a website or internet stream. If all goes well, from this comes a physical visit. 

The implications are vast, but much of the fruit is low-hanging:

  1. Your digital presence is now the front door of your church. As such, it must be designed as a front door. Just as in the ’80s churches learned that the weekend service was the front door of the church, and needed to be “opened” in a purposefully sensitive and strategic way for unchurched guests, today we must open the front door of our websites and social media in a way that is inviting and compelling.

  2. Previous barriers that you thought were first and foremost in terms of someone exploring your church – such as having a campus in close physical proximity – are largely muted as the initial exploration is digital instead of physical. And if they like what they experience digitally, the physical location is less of a factor for a subsequent physical exploration.

  3. Your digital front door must seamlessly integrate with the physical experience of attending, most obviously by having the experience reflect the digital image and promise you projected.

  4. Don’t let the digital remain simply a front door—let the phygital nature of your church be manifest in every conceivable way, including how children’s ministry check-in might be handled online, an app that offers ways to be served in terms of additional content or learning in light of that weekend’s message, and so much more. A guest will walk in because of a digital exploration and have their smartphone in hand. Keep the dynamic going in ways that both serve their exploration and foster a culture of assimilation.

  5. Your physical experience must also provide what a digital experience cannot. We already know that the digital world is limited in terms of what it can provide in light of a biblically functioning community. But the person exploring your church most likely does not. They should be enticed by the digital, but then, upon experiencing it physically, should be reminded that whatever they streamed on the front end can never take the place of what they experienced on the back end.

We’re all just beginning to scrape the surface of the phygital demand, whether in the retail world or the church world. But make no mistake—the depths are there to be plumbed for enormous kingdom impact. 

James Emery White 


Eben Esterhuizen, “Phygital: 6 Ways to Adapt, or Die,” Bizcommunity, April 30, 2019, read online.

How to Find a Church

Another one came this week. We often get emails from current attenders of our church who are moving out of the area, and want to know if we can recommend a church like ours where they are moving.

Here’s what the latest one said that was sent in to one of the members of our staff:

I hope you are having a great week. We spoke briefly on Sunday about a possible church recommendation from Meck for something in [our new city]. [We] love Meck so much, it’s one of the things we will miss the most when we move this summer. [We] are always talking about how much we will miss Meck… We intend to visit frequently but will also need something in [our new city]. If by chance someone on staff knows of a church in the same vein as Meck we would appreciate that input a great deal. Thanks a bunch and have a wonderful day. 

The staffer on the receiving end queried a few folks if they knew of any churches in that area. I loved how another person on our staff responded:

I don't know of a great way to find one other than an internet search. I found this listing when I did a Google search that's Yelps 10 Best Churches…

What I would tell them to do is to use the internet search to find a listing, and then do the following:

1. Checkout their website to see what they can find out about them, particularly their doctrinal statement or anything describing their mission, vision and values. If they have sermons online that they can listen to, listen to several of them to see if they like the pastor's speaking style, and feel that what he's talking about is biblically sound.

2. Visit their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram pages - this will give them a sense of the things that they do and post about, and a general idea about the size of the church based on the number of people following.

3. In person visits. As they move down then check them out in person. They know what Meck is like and should be able to see if they are a welcoming/friendly church and will get the best feel for it once they're there.

That's my best advice for them. I hope that helps!

That’s pretty sound. Check out a church in terms of doctrine, mission, vision, values. Listen to talks online. Check out social media feeds. And then, if/when you visit, check it out in terms of friendliness/community.

P.S. If moving to Charlotte, just come to Meck. :)

James Emery White

Church Membership Is Down (You Should Bring It Up)

Are you a member of a church?

Most would answer, “no.”

Well, half would answer that way. 

Church membership among adults has gone into a freefall, from 70% in 1999 to 50% in 2019. This, after holding steady at approximately 70%, as charted by Gallup, for more than eight decades.


Let me put this out there: If you are a follower of Christ, you should be a member of a church. Period.

Here’s why.

Once you come to Christ and go public with that decision through baptism, the Bible says the third step is to get connected with the community of a local church. If for some reason that’s not possible, do it digitally. (Yes, I believe I can make a missional case for that, but let’s keep going.)

If you take a walk through the New Testament, and specifically the four biographical accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus, you’ll notice a distinct pattern. Jesus asked people to follow Him. And when Jesus asked someone to follow Him and they said “yes,” the next relational step was always to join with the community He was building in order to do life with others who had also made the decision to follow Him.

This was so ingrained in those who chose to follow Jesus, that you find a beautiful description of the early church that Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write. It is found in the second chapter of the book of Acts, after Peter stood up and called people to faith in Christ and some 3,000 responded. It reads this way:

“They devoted themselves to... the fellowship... All the believers were together and had everything in common... Every day they continued to meet together... They broke bread in their homes and ate together....” (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)

I like how Eugene Petersen paraphrases this section in The Message:

“That day about three thousand... were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, [and] the life together....” (Acts 2:42, Msg)

But this wasn’t just some generic kind of community. It wasn’t just a loose network of relationships. 

It had a name. 

It was called church. 

The word church is a translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which means “the called out ones”—the new community established between human beings in and through Christ.

But this community isn’t just some turned-inward “lovefest” that’s all about hanging out together, doing life together, supporting each other and growing tight. Yes, the Bible talks about church being a fellowship or, as it refers to it in the Greek, a koinonia. But if that’s all you have, you don’t have koinonia, you have “koinoitis.” We’re supposed to be a community on mission.

We’re trying to redeem the world,

... which means we’re trying to bring the light of the message of Christ to people who have yet to experience Him as Forgiver and Leader in ways that penetrate the post-Christian culture.

We’re trying to restore the world,

... which means we’re trying to address the brokenness of poverty and hunger, racism and injustice, to stop the hemorrhaging of this world before it bleeds to death.

And we’re trying to renew the world,

... which means we’re trying to bring forth the good, the true and the beautiful through art and policy, education and media, creating a culture that offers glimmers of the shining glory of the Kingdom of God.

And you aren’t a part of it?

You say, “But it’s just a man-made organization.”

Let’s bracket off that you put your name on the rolls of a lot of man-made organizations: country clubs, homeowner’s associations, YMCAs, soccer leagues, etc.

But is the church in that camp?

Um, no. 

Take a look at the words of Jesus Himself:

“... I [am putting] together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.” (Matthew 16:18, Msg)

Or maybe your objection is that you don’t believe in organized religion.

Okay, but does that mean what you’re after is DISorganized religion?

Another reason may be that you think something else is already the church for you.

I’ve had students in college say that their campus group is their church; I’ve had people say their Bible study or small group is their church; I’ve had people say that their family functions as their church. I’ve even heard some people say (God theologically help them) that they “home-church.” I even had the CEO of a bottling company tell me that his business was the church!

Let me say this as clearly as I can:

A company is not the body of Christ instituted as the hope of the world by Jesus Himself.

A marketplace venture that offers itself on the New York Stock Exchange is not the entity that is so expansive with energy that even the gates of hell can’t withstand its onslaught. 

An assembly of employees in cubicles working for end-of-year stock options and bonuses is not the gathering of saints bristling with the power of spiritual gifts as they mobilize to provide justice for the oppressed, service to the widow and the orphan, and compassion for the poor.

Neither is your family, your small group, your Bible study, parachurch group, television ministry nor anything else you want to put in place of what the Bible so clearly describes. If everything is the church, then nothing is the church. You can’t just call any gathering of Christians the church.

The Bible is very clear.

The church is where there is a clearly defined community, made up of people of faith of every race, ethnicity, gender and age. 

The church has defined entry and exit points, so that it can have integrity as to who is part of the church and who is not.

It must be a place where the Word of God, as put forward in Scripture, is proclaimed in its fullness. 

It is to have clear organizational roles, such as set-aside pastors, as well as corporate roles based on spiritual gifts, such as teachers and leaders.

The church is to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, including the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

And, of course, the church is to organize and then unleash itself for the mission of Christ to this world.

That’s the church.

And you are to be a member of one.

Yes, member.

Card-carrying, signed-on, name-on-the-line member.

As the apostle Paul wrote,

“... you are a member of God’s very own family... and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.” (Ephesians 2:19, LB)


… are you?

James Emery White



Jeffrey M. Jones, “U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades,” Gallup, April 18, 2019, read online.

6 Demographic Trends Shaping the U.S. and World in 2019

In light of the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Pew Research Center offered six “notable demographic trends.”

Notable indeed. They are the six trends shaping the U.S. and the World in 2019. Here’s a précis of their report:

1.   Millennials are the largest adult generation in the United States, but they are starting to share the spotlight with Generation Z. 
This year, Millennials (ages 23 to 38) will outnumber Baby Boomers (ages 55 to 73), according to Census Bureau projections.   

Although the nation’s 73 million Millennials are the largest living adult generation, the next one – Generation Z – is entering adulthood. Gen Zers (those ages 7 to 22 this year) are on track to be the best-educated and most diverse generation yet. Nearly half of Gen Zers (48%) are racial or ethnic minorities.

2.   Hispanics are projected to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the U.S. electorate when voters cast their ballots next year. 
The number of eligible voters who are Hispanic (32 million) is projected to surpass that of black eligible voters (30 million) for the first time. The projections indicate that whites will account for two-thirds of the electorate—a declining share.

unmarried parents.jpg

3. The American family continues to change.
A growing share of parents are unmarried. Among parents living with a child, the share who are unmarried increased from 7% in 1968 to 25% in 2017. Part of this increase is due to a growing share of unmarried parents cohabiting, as 35% of unmarried parents were in 2017. Over the same period, the share of U.S. children living with an unmarried parent more than doubled, from 13% in 1968 to 32% in 2017.

Stay-at-home parents account for about one-in-five parents (18%), which is roughly similar to 25 years ago, despite some fluctuation in the intervening years. For some parents, caring for a child isn’t their only responsibility: 12% of all parents with a child younger than 18 at home are also caring for an adult.

Americans generally see change on the horizon when it comes to the future of the family. A majority of Americans (53%) say that people will be less likely to get married in the year 2050, and 46% say people will be less likely to have children than they are now.

4. The immigrant share of the U.S. population is approaching a record high but remains below that of many other countries.
The 44 million foreign-born people living in the U.S. in 2017 accounted for 13.6% of the population. That is the highest share since 1910, when immigrants were 14.7% of the total population. The record share was in 1890, when immigrants were 14.8% of the total. According to United Nations data, 25 nations and territories have higher shares of immigrants than the U.S. They include some Persian Gulf nations with high shares of temporary labor migrants, as well as Australia (29%), New Zealand (23%) and Canada (21%).


5. The U.S. unauthorized immigrant population is at its lowest level in more than a decade.
There were 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2016, the lowest total since 2004. The decrease is due mainly to fewer Mexicans entering the U.S. without authorization. Only three of the nation’s 20 largest metropolitan areas had larger unauthorized immigrant populations in 2016 than in 2007. Nationally, unauthorized immigrants are one-quarter of all U.S. immigrants.

Income US.jpg

6. Incomes are rising in the U.S., but the increase is not being felt equally by all Americans. 
Household income in the U.S. is at or near the highest level it has been in the last 50 years. At the same time, income inequality continues to grow, and the growth has been more pronounced among some racial and ethnic groups than among others. For example, the gap between Asians at the top and bottom of the income ladder nearly doubled between 1970 and 2016. Over that period, Asians went from being one of the groups with the lowest income inequality to the highest.

The share of Americans who are in the middle class has fallen over the last several decades. About half (52%) of adults were considered middle class in 2016, down from 61% in 1971. The share of adults in the middle class has stabilized around half since 2011. Meanwhile, median incomes have grown more slowly for middle-class households than for upper- or lower-class households.

More broadly, the public also sees differences by race and ethnicity when it comes to getting ahead in the U.S. today. A majority of Americans (56%) say that being black hurts a person’s ability to get ahead a lot or a little, while 51% say being Hispanic is a disadvantage. In contrast, about six-in-10 (59%) say being white helps a person’s ability to get ahead in the U.S. today. Views on the impact of being Asian are more mixed.

So there you have it. Six trends shaping the world.

And each worth reflecting on deeply.

James Emery White



Anthony Cilluffo & D’Vera Cohn, “6 Demographic Trends Shaping the U.S. and the World in 2019,” Pew Research Center, April 11, 2019, read online.

The Monday after Easter

This is a blog with a very specific audience. I know it may exclude some of you, but it may be healthy for you to eavesdrop.

This is for all the church planters and their volunteers on post-Easter Monday, struggling to make it from week-to-week, and for the leaders and members of established churches that are anything but “mega”—well below the 200 threshold in terms of average attendance.

I don’t know how Easter Sunday went for you, but I have a hunch.  

It was bigger than normal, but less than breakthrough. It was good, but not great. Your attendance was large, but not staggering; worth being happy about, but not writing home about. You are grateful to God but, now that Easter is over, there’s a bit of a letdown. You wanted so much more.

It was, in the end, a typical Easter Sunday.

And you are normal.

When you lead a church, you can't help but dream—and dream big. I think that’s one of the marks of a leader. But for most, it’s not long before the dream comes face to face with reality.

When I planted Mecklenburg Community Church, I just knew the mailer I sent out (We started churches with mailers in those days.) would break every record of response and that we would be a church in the hundreds, if not already approaching a thousand, in a matter of weeks or months.

Willow Creek? Eat our dust. Saddleback? Come to our conference.

The reality was starting in a Hilton hotel in the midst of a tropical storm with 112 dripping wet people, and by the third weekend – through the strength of my preaching – cutting that sucker in half to a mere 56.

Actually, not even 56, because our total attendance was 56. This means there were 15 or 20 kids, so maybe 30 or so people actually sitting in the auditorium. 

(As a good church planter, I think we also counted people who walked slowly past the hotel ballroom doors in the hallway.)

Yes, we’ve grown over the years. 

But that’s the point. 

It’s taken years.

It usually does.

I know the soup of the day is rapid growth, but please don’t benchmark yourself against that. It’s not typical. It’s not even (usually) healthy. So stop playing that dark, awful game called comparison. It’s sick and terribly toxic. 

Really, stop it.

I don’t care who you are, there will always be someone bigger or faster-growing. So why torment yourself? Or worse, fall prey to the sins of envy and competition, as if you are benchmarked against other churches?

(Rumor has it the true “competition” is a deeply fallen secular culture that is held in the grip of the evil one. Just rumor, mind you.)

The truth is that on the front end, every church is a field of dreams. After a few months, or a year or two, it morphs from a field of dreams to a field to be worked, and your field may not turn out as much fruit – much less as fast – as you had hoped.

That’s okay.

You can rest assured that it probably has little to do with your commitment, your faith, your spirituality, your call or God’s love for you. 

I know it’s frustrating. We’ve got a lot of the world in us and thus look to worldly marks of success and affirmation.

But what matters is whether you are being faithful, not whether you are being successful. You’re not in this for human affirmation, but a “well done” from God at the end.

Did you preach the gospel yesterday?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your team do the best you could with what you had?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your church invite your unchurched friends to attend?

Then “well done.”

Did you pray on the front end, have faith and trust?

Then “well done.”

Ignore the megachurches that tweet, blog and boast about their thousands in attendance.

Yep, even mine.

It’s not that we don’t matter. We do, and we’re very proud of the hard work of our volunteers and the lives we have the privilege of changing. There’s a place for us.

It’s just that you matter, too.

And you may need to remember that.

And perhaps most of all on the Monday after Easter.

James Emery White


Editor’s Note

This blog was first published in 2012 and has been offered annually on Easter Monday since that first publication.

Reclaiming the Prophetic Mantle

Here’s a conundrum:

According to a new report released by the Barna Group, nine out of 10 Christian pastors say “helping Christians have biblical beliefs about specific issues is a major part of their role as clergy.”

Yet half feel they can’t. According to the study, they feel “limited in their ability to speak out by concerns they will offend people.” Specifically, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion and sexual morality.


Translation: they know their responsibility as a pastor to speak truth and help those they pastor embrace and embody that truth, but the risk of offense silences their voice.

Friends, it’s time to reclaim the prophetic mantle.

Biblically, there are three primary voices you can use when speaking into culture: the prophetic, the evangelistic and the heretical. 

The prophetic voice, such as Jeremiah’s, was clear in its denunciations and warnings. The prophetic voice is an admonishing one, a “thou shalt not,” a clarion call to turn to God and get right with God. 

No, it is not a popular voice for culture to hear. But it is an important one. 

The second voice is the evangelistic voice. It is the voice attempting to build bridges across cultural divides, to explain things, to make apologetic cases. The evangelistic voice is focused on calling people into a relationship with Christ as Forgiver and Leader. It’s more invitation than admonishment.

The final voice is the heretical voice. Heretical voices in the Bible are never celebrated, but they are noted as existing. This is the voice that not only speaks against the gospel but, more specifically, attempts to distort the very content of the gospel in its presentation to culture.

In light of these voices, there are three ways we’re failing to speak effectively into culture.

The first is speaking the prophetic voice without the evangelistic voice. That comes across as just judgmental and even hateful. It’s condemning without redeeming. It’s all truth without grace. Even at its best, they know what we’re against, but not what we’re for.

The second is speaking the heretical voice in the name of the evangelistic voice. This is watering things down to try and get a hearing, or to be liked or accepted. That’s not a good voice. The “relevance” of a church is not found in its capitulation to culture, but its transformation of culture. We do not gain the world’s attention through a compromised voice, but through an alternative voice.

The third mistake is speaking the evangelistic voice without the prophetic voice. This is different than the heretical without the prophetic. This isn’t denying orthodoxy as much as it is burying it; avoiding it. This is all grace and no truth.

Today, few want to use the prophetic voice. In fact, it is often seen as undermining the evangelistic voice. I’ve often heard pastors, particularly of large churches, say that they do not want to speak out on the issues of the day for the sake of keeping their focus on the gospel and not alienating people on the front end. 

But that’s not the full gospel.

So what kind of “voice” should we use? 

The evangelistic with the prophetic.

If I may be so bold, this is the “Jesus voice.” I’ve always marveled at how Jesus could proclaim absolute truth without compromise to those far from God, and then have those very people invite him to their parties. It’s because He wed the prophetic with the evangelistic.

He spoke truth and grace.

Jesus accepted the woman at the well in what can only be deemed by any careful reader in (then) culturally scandalous ways, but followed the acceptance by challenging her directly about her serial promiscuity. He also stopped the stoning of a woman caught in adultery, made it clear He was not going to condemn her, but then pointedly admonished her to turn from her adulterous ways.

Grace and truth flowed from Jesus in a way that can only be deemed inextricably intertwined. Jesus offered neither a feel-good theology that airbrushed out any real talk of sin, nor legalistic attitudes of harsh condemnation and judgment. 

Now, about that offense…

Yes, you will offend with the proclamation of the truth. But it’s a necessary offense if you are going to present the full nature of the gospel. In the past year or so, we’ve dealt with everything from racism to #MeToo, gay marriage to living together. We don’t focus solely on social issues; we just don’t avoid the elephant in the room.

I am reminded of an early adherent to the Protestant Reformation who, in 1526, said:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him, if he flinches at that one point.”


James Emery White



Griffin Paul Jackson, “Half of Pastors Worry Speaking Out on Social Issues Will Offend People,” Christianity Today, April 5,2019, read online.

“If I profess…” This is often attributed to Martin Luther, but erroneously. It is said to actually come from a follower of Martin Luther, April 2, 1526, quoted in Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (New York, 1865), p. 321.

From Zero to Sixty

Thanks to business guru Jim Collins, the idea has become part of every leadership culture: get the right people on the bus and then get them in the right seats on the bus.

It’s a good idea.

Few things matter more than hiring the right people and recruiting the right volunteers. But getting a quality person is only half the battle—you then have to make sure they are situated where they need to be organizationally. 

Meaning, you have to place them in a “seat” on the bus that fits their natural abilities and spiritual gifts, allows their natural passions to flow and is in accord with their personality type. Collins is right: getting the right people on the bus, and then getting them in the right seat, is critical.

Let’s set aside getting the right people on the bus… how do you know when someone is in the right seat?

I was asked this recently and gave an off-the-cuff answer that intuitively reflected my years of experience, but I had never stated it before. Upon reflection, I became even more convinced of its truth.

Here’s what I said:

“If they intuitively make the right decision 60% of the time, they are in the right seat. You can coach them up to 80-90% in terms of good decision making, but if they don’t bring that foundational 60% to the seat, it’s not a good fit.”

I’ve written about the five “Cs” of effective hiring: character, catalytic, chemistry, calling and competence. The 60% has to do with competence.

Competence has to do with the raw capability, the essential skills, needed to do a job. I’ve often commented that this is the least of the five, as it is the one thing that can, indeed, be taught.

I have hired countless numbers of people who had no background in ministry. In many ways, I like this. They bring their personal, educational and corporate skills to the table without preconceived notions regarding the practice of ministry. The basic competencies needed vary from role to role, but generally I look for the ability to get along with others, enthusiasm, a positive attitude and raw leadership gifts.

But there is one aspect of competence you can’t teach: the basic 60% of intuitively correct decision making. This cannot be taught, coached or mentored. When this isn’t present, no matter how much I’ve poured into them, they consistently make poor decisions in light of mission, vision, values and target. 

It’s like they just can’t “get it.”

I know I have the right person in the right seat when they come to me for coaching, share how they are going to handle a situation or a decision they are planning on making, and I am able to say, “That is exactly what I would do.” Or, whether I would have had the wisdom and insight to make the same call myself, I can wholeheartedly say, “That is a great decision.”

So when trying to find someone’s seat on the bus, realize what you can – and can’t – coach. You can get them from 60 to 80 or 90, but you can’t take anyone from zero to 60.

James Emery White



Jim Collins, From Good to Great.

James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary.

A Quiz Christians Need to Learn to Pass

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that global spending on artificial intelligence is rising and shows no sign of slowing down:

“Organizations are expected to invest $35.8 billion in AI systems this year, up 44% over last year, according to International Data Corp. And AI spending is projected to more than double to $79.2 billion by 2022.

“Today, about half of all companies have at least one AI system installed and an additional 30% have pilot projects in place, according to a survey by the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Co.”

In his book Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, MIT professor Max Tegmark classifies life forms into three levels of sophistication: Life 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Using the term hardware to refer to “matter” and software to refer to “information,” he deems that Life 1.0 is “life where both the hardware and software are evolved rather than designed.” Human beings are Life 2.0, “life whose hardware is evolved, but whose software is largely designed.”

Life 3.0 is life that “can design not only its software but also its hardware. In other words, Life 3.0 is the master of its own destiny, finally free from its evolutionary shackles.” So if something like bacteria is Life 1.0 and humans are Life 2.0, what is Life 3.0? 

Artificial intelligence. Or, more specifically, “artificial general intelligence” (AGI). Rudimentary forms of AI are already with us in everything from the facial recognition software in Apple’s iPhone X to our digital assistants Siri, Alexa and Cortana. The holy grail is AGI, which is AI reaching human-level intelligence and beyond, being able to accomplish virtually any goal, including learning. 

So in short, Life 1.0 is biological, Life 2.0 is cultural and Life 3.0 is technological.

So how much do you know about AI?

The same Wall Street Journal article put together a little quiz to see:

1. Below are definitions for artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning and natural language processing. Match each term to its definition:

A. _____ takes text or speech as input and can “read” or extract meaning from it.
B. _____ encompasses techniques used to teach computers to learn, reason, perceive, infer, communicate and make decisions similar to or better than humans.
C. _____ is a powerful statistical technique for classifying patterns using large training data sets and multilayer AI neural networks.
D. _____ is the science of getting computers to act intelligently without being explicitly programmed.

Answers: A = Natural language processing; B = Artificial intelligence; C = Deep learning; D = Machine-learning

2. Which of the following sectors spends the most on AI systems?

A. Banking
B. Discrete manufacturing
C. Health care
D. Process manufacturing
E. Retail 

Answer: E. Retail companies will invest $5.9 billion this year, leading all other sectors.

3. What’s the upper end of the salary range for AI developers and machine-learning engineers?

A. $150,000
B. $175,000
C. $200,000
D. $225,000
E. $250,000 

Answer: C. AI developers and machine-learning engineers have annual salaries of up to $200,000, according to a report in January from the New York staffing firm Mondo.

4. What was the growth in job postings for machine-learning engineers between 2015 and 2018?

A. 68%
B. 136%
C. 204%
D. 272%
E. 344% 

Answer: E. There was 344% growth, according to job-search site

5. Who invented the term artificial intelligence?

A. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov
B. Dartmouth College mathematician John McCarthy
C. Mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing
D. Computer scientist Grace Hopper.
E. Former IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson 

Answer: B. John McCarthy came up with the term in the mid-1950s.

6. How much global economic activity will AI deliver between now and 2030?

A. $4 trillion
B. $9 trillion
C. $10 trillion
D. $13 trillion
E. $16 trillion 

Answer: D. AI has the potential to add approximately $13 trillion, or 1.2% additional global GDP growth per year, according to McKinsey & Co.

7. How many organizations have embedded at least one AI-backed function in their business processes?

A. 17
B. 24%
C. 39%
D. 47%
E. 56% 

Answer: D. 47%, according to McKinsey & Co. 

8. Who said AI “could spell the end of the human race”?

A. Tesla CEO Elon Musk
B. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking
C. 2001: A Space Odyssey author Arthur C. Clarke
D. World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee
E. Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates 

Answer: B. Stephen Hawking

So how did you do? If not so well, it might be time to start studying. Actually, there’s no “might” about it.

It’s time.

The potential of AI for good – or ill – is staggering. As Tegmark notes, “we might build technology powerful enough to permanently end [social] scourges, or to end humanity itself. We might create societies that flourish like never before, on Earth and perhaps beyond, or a Kafkaesque global surveillance state so powerful that it could never be toppled.”

Tesla and SpaceZ CEO Elon Musk told the National Governors Association last fall that his exposure to AI technology suggests it poses “a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Cosmologist Stephen Hawking agreed, saying that AI could prove “the worst event in the history of civilization.” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, however, calls such talk “irresponsible.”

Who is right?

No wonder it has been called the most important conversation of our time. Whether it proves to be, it is certainly a conversation that needs Christian minds that are informed and engaged.

So make sure the next time you take the quiz,

… you pass.

James Emery White



John McCormick, “Test Your Knowledge of Artificial Intelligence,” The Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2019, read online.

Max Tegmark, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (Knopf, 2017).

Marco della Cava, “Elon Musk Says AI Could Doom Human Civilization. Zuckerberg disagrees. Who’s right?”, USA Today, January 2, 2018, read online.

Are You Organized for Control or Growth?

One of the pastors on our staff was overheard saying to another staffer, “One of the things that makes Meck so different is that it is not organized for control, but organized for growth.”

He gets it.

It’s a simple, but profound, idea.

When you are organized for control, then your decision making, systems, processes… they’re all about controlling things. The goal is to make sure everything is done a certain way, or that everything done is allowed. It’s more about the preservation of the status quo than it is the challenge of it.

When you are organized for growth, you are structured for rapid decision making, fluid thinking, the absence of sacred cows, the ability to think outside of the box. You are constantly asking: “How can we do this better? What would be even more effective?”

And leaders are free to follow the conclusions.

I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is to lead a seminar or conference, lay out some simple decision or action that would radically improve a church’s health or effectiveness, and have it be met by a chorus of leaders saying, “We can’t do that.” And nine times out of 10, it’s not because they don’t have the money, the volunteers, the facility, or even the desire—it’s because they don’t have the freedom

They are not organized for growth, but for control.

And if they tried to get the permission needed by whatever authority is in place, they would be shut down because that “authority” is not trained, sensitized or inclined to make such decisions. If anything, they are vested in the status quo. So the ones best able to make decisions are not allowed to; the ones least qualified are. Or decision making is so radically democratized and shared, requiring so much time to act, that you lose the window of time to act!

I know there are a wide number of approaches to church government, from “elder rule” to a more congregationally based approach. Yet most forms of church government have three features that dominate their structure: committees, policies and majority rule. 

None of these terms are found in the Bible, and all three can kill you.

For example, committees keep the people who are doing the ministry from making the decisions about the ministry. Authority and responsibility become separate from one another. An effective structure, on the other hand, lets the individuals who are the most intimately involved in a particular ministry and the best qualified make the day-in, day-out decisions regarding that ministry. 

The problem with policies is what Philip Howard calls the death of common sense. A policy makes decisions and directs procedure independent of the situation. In many ways, this is considered to be the strength of a policy. The dilemma is that it removes judgment from the process.

For example, a few years ago the federal government bought hammers using a specification manual that was 33 pages long. Why not just trust people to go out and buy hammers? And if they can’t be trusted to do that, then get different people in the position.

Another problem with policies is that they can become an end unto themselves. Rather than the policies serving the organization, the organization begins to serve the policies. Pretty soon how things are done becomes far more important than what is done. 

Here’s a great question for your church structure that I believe was first suggested to my thinking in something I read by (or heard from) George Barna: “Suppose your church had an opportunity to implement a ministry that had a high potential for positive impact, but needed to get started immediately. Could your church spring into action within hours or, at the most, a few days?”

Some of the most strategic decisions we’ve ever made had to be made within days, if not hours. And we were structured to be able to do it.

Now, about majority rule. Majority rule is rooted in American democracy and, as a result, has often been incorporated unthinkingly into the church. The first misgiving about majority rule is noted by Yale University Professor Marshall Edelson, who writes how an excess of consensus, or an over-enthusiasm for democratic principles, can render an organization impotent in terms of actually doing anything. 

The second misgiving about majority rule (and one far more serious) is the Bible teaches that the church is a family. 

In most family structures, the immature (children) outnumber, or at least equal, the mature (parents). In my family, there were two parents and four children. If we had voted on everything, we would have had ice cream for dinner every night, no bedtimes and lived at Disney World.

The church is a family and, therefore, should be understood to have differing levels of spiritual maturity present in the lives of its members. If every decision is made by the majority instead of the most spiritually mature, then there is a very strong chance that the majority could mislead the church.   

This is precisely what happened with the Israelites. Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land in order to report back to the people whether it was everything God promised. All 12 agreed that the land was flowing with milk and honey, but the majority said that the land could not be taken. Only two, Caleb and Joshua, were convinced that God wanted them to possess the land. 

The people went with the majority, and it kept them out of the Promised Land.

Here’s the key to good structure: let leaders lead. I’m not talking about setting anyone up to be autocratic or dictatorial, and there should certainly be appropriate accountability. But don’t let that become a euphemism for control. A good structure releases the leadership gift mentioned in Romans 12 as fully as one would allow any other gift to be made manifest.

Yes, there will be some who might feel a loss of “control.”

But the church as a whole might begin to feel a sense of growth.

James Emery White



Philip Howard, The Death of Common Sense.

Allan Cox with Julie Liesse, Redefining Corporate Soul.

The Obvious Reason They’re Not Having Sex

According to the latest information from the General Social Survey, the “share of U.S. adults reporting [having] no sex in the past year reached an all-time high in 2018.” Further, among the “23% of adults – or nearly 1 in 4 – who spent the year in a celibate state, a much larger than expected number of them were 20-something men.”

The overall rise is not so surprising. The 60-and-older demographic jumped from 18% of the population in 1996 to 26% in 2018. That group has consistently reported around 50% having no sex, so when their numerical size grows, so will the overall percentage.

But it’s the younger demographic that is intriguing observers. “The portion of Americans 18 to 29 reporting no sex in the past year more than doubled between 2008 and 2018, to 23%.”

And not only that, it is young men driving the rise. “Since 2008, the share of men younger than 30 reporting no sex has nearly tripled.”  This is “a much steeper increase than the 8 percentage point increase reported among their female peers.”


Those interviewed on the data by The Washington Post gave varying reasons for the phenomenon. Some said it was “primarily attributable to partnering up later in life.” Or because they “don’t have a live-in partner.” Or it’s attributable to a drop in “labor force participation in men,” since researchers see a “connection between labor force participation and stable relationships.” Young men “are also more likely to be living with their parents than young women.” And at the risk of stating the obvious, “when you’re living at home it’s probably harder to bring sexual partners into your bedroom.”

But it was the final potential factor, almost buried amid the other explanations, that I would argue is the real culprit. 


Not in the sense that “there’s a lot more things to do at 10 o’clock at night now than there were 20 years ago… streaming video, social media, console games…”

No, not that. I would argue for “technology” as the culprit in terms of pornography. The largest free pornographic sharing site was launched in August of 2006. As of February 2014, it was the 83rd most popular website overall. According to SimilarWeb, as of February 2019, three of the top 10 most visited websites in the world were adult in nature.

Does that timing seem coincidence?

No other generation has had pornography so available, and in such degrees, at such a young age. Seventy percent of all 18- to 34-year-olds are regular viewers. The average age to begin viewing? Eleven. It’s been called the “wallpaper” of their lives. In 2014, one porn site alone had more than 15.35 billion visits. No, that is not a typo. That’s billion with a “b”. To put that into perspective, at the end of 2015 the entire population of the world was just more than 7 billion.

And what is this doing?

One thing we’re learning is that the more someone is exposed to pornography, the more it harms their relationship with their current, or future, spouse/partner. It is absolutely bogus to say that watching porn enhances a sexual life. Instead, it cheapens it. 

Porn quickly becomes a substitute for sexual intimacy. 

So I’m not surprised by the latest findings of a drop in sexual activity among younger men. But let’s be clear: they are certainly being sexual.

It’s just not with a physical person.

James Emery White



Christopher Ingraham, “The Share of Americans Not Having Sex Has Reached a Record High,” The Washington Post, March 29, 2019, read online.

Holly Finn, “Online Pornography’s Effects, and a New Way to Fight Them,” The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2013, read online.

Niamh Horan, “Porn Now the Wallpaper of Our Lives,” Independent, October 18, 2015, read online.