Church in North America is Changing Much Faster Than We Think

July 27th, 2017

Church in North America is changing much faster than we think.

And there are two common, understandable reactions to change…

  1. A withdrawal, a fatigue sets in and we quit
  2. A panic, a fear sets in and we double down seeking to rediscover the illusive golden era, to return to how things were in the face of challenges around how things are.
Neither works terribly well.
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And an uncomfortable truth here …. there are beautiful opportunities ahead of us but those opportunities will be cut short if we – and here I speak mostly to religious professionals – continue to see our only options as #1 or #2, in other words, if we continue to see our only options as being to quit or to be angry.   
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There are many other options beyond apathy or anger, and they seem to come down to this …. love those in front of us as best we can in our own flawed ways, creating communities that God would recognize, and believe what we know to be true… that something new is forever being born.  Slowly.  Painfully.  And filled with new life.
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Pray for the eyes to see it and you will see it everywhere!
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Living with all that is Unresolved

July 25th, 2017

We have to learn to live with all that is unresolved.  From Fr. Richard Rohr…

If you are to live on this earth, you cannot bypass the necessary tension of holding contraries and inconsistencies together. Daily ordinary experiences will teach you nonduality in a way that is no longer theoretical or abstract. It becomes obvious in everything and everybody, every idea and every event, almost hidden in plain sight. Everything created is mortal and limited and, if you look long enough, paradoxical. By paradox, I mean something that initially looks contradictory or impossible, but in a different frame or at a different level is in fact deeply true.

It is indeed a necessary tension, a tension where faith grows and deepens.

So language shifts to “I can’t solve this”.  ”I don’t know”.

I do know this though … “Be still and know that I am God.”

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.  Rilke

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How Faith Might Open….

July 13th, 2017

Faith, from a New Church perspective, grows in three very simple ways.

  1. We turn to God:  Important to note, either great suffering or great love will push that shift
  2. We seek to learn: In that humble place we are really open to hear.  To hear what God offers through His Word.  To hear what God offers through those around us as well as through our own experiences and perceptions.
  3. We live what we learn:  We take that “turning” and that “learning” and we practice.  The discipline of practice, of doing, of taking action.  Recipe to Meal.  Playbook to Game.  (True Christianity 347)
And that growth, that opening unfolds for all eternity. That is heaven.  That is joy.  That is true Discovery writ large.
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God forever winds the pieces together, creating a “chord” as Emanuel Swedenborg phrases it, where each “strand” of the three reinforces the whole.
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Maybe all three then become Discovery.  Maybe all three, together, give us a unique voice as our faith opens.
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And as faith opens, expect …
  1. How one holds church to open
  2. How one hears scripture to open
  3. How one prays to open
  4. How one serves to open
  5. How one holds God to open
… a beautiful Adventure continues!
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Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better

June 27th, 2017

The numbers at NewChurch LIVE over the past 8 years….

These numbers are tremendously good.  They demonstrate growth.  A congregation willing to reach out.  The average church in the US draws 75 Sunday worshippers, a number we are well above.

And with those successes, we need to find ways to increase growth.  There is both a practical/ budgetary aspect to growth as well as an overwhelming call to our mission and that combination means finding ways to serve more people in the year ahead.

To accelerate growth…

  1. Summer: We are scaling back certain aspects of our Sunday services in order to free up more resources for connection with new parishioners.  That is part and parcel of the “Coffee Shop” approach.   Much of that scaling back on Sundays will continue into the school year.  Again the hope is to place more resources on connection versus the Sunday service.
  2. Calendaring: We are working hard to integrate our calendar more so that all the many things we offer are better organized
  3. Attendance: Our stress will be on in person attendance, holding that as the primary driver of growth in all the arenas we serve.  Our hope is to increase our in-person adult attendance at MPAC to 200.
  4. Volunteering: We will be stressing volunteering this fall.  We are BLESSED in this regard with a congregation that consistently steps up!
My personal goal is to increase our growth rate from 4.4% to 20%.
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For some, growth is understandably a concern.  A myopic focus on growth can distract from our mission of service.  We certainly are going to work hard to balance the practical need for growth with the mission of NCL.
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Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better.

When Small Congregations Start To LiveStream….

June 15th, 2017

We have effectively LiveStreamed for about 5 years.

NewChurch LIVE launched 8 years ago.  Since them the technology progressed by leaps and bounds to the point where it is close to 100% reliable … quite a sea change from when we started.

And as the technology has really come into its own, we have definitely learned some lessons worth sharing.

How You Plan Has To Change

  1. Planning has to be more “in the round”, taking in more voices.  We do that via a sermon writing team that meets once a week, logistically planning a service two weeks out.
  2. Macro planning has to begin further upstream.  A simple example… there are wonderful graphics and video resources out there but they are most fruitfully employed when we have time to find, categorize, and employ them.  Our sermon calendar then is usually planned 6 months out.
  3. Three of my favorite planning resources: Life Church, wimp.com, Wingclips

How You Market Has To Change

  1. We use social media to market.
  2. Some tools that have worked well: Creating Facebook “Events”, creating short trailers, many of which are freebees that we simply add our graphic to, as well as using Facebook “Live” the morning of a service

How You Preach Has To Change

  1. You can’t move as much.  We use three carpets on stage that are “pre-sighted” for cameras and lighting
  2. You have to use graphics.  We “switch” constantly between the pastor, text slides, videos, photographs etc….
  3. Engage your audience through welcoming them to text during the service

How People “Consume” Will Change

  1. Your online audience will quickly rival your in-person audience
  2. Most will watch on their phones or phones “mirrored” to a TV so I recommend getting an “app“.
  3. Some will watch Sunday.  Others will watch/ listen during the week.
  4. The downside: Our in-person attendance stagnated while our online grew. Also, many young families prefer the LiveStream because they don’t have to battle their kids to get them to church so expect your Sunday School program to decline.

Regardless of your size, you are already an online congregation.  Before someone visits, they have checked you out online.  Listened/ viewed something.  LiveStreaming is a logical next step.

LiveStreaming is not a panacea.  It solves some issues and creates others.  And the digital frontier is an area where we need to be present.

How to Read the Bible

June 15th, 2017

The Bible does several things.  It is both normative, creating a touchstone, a canon, an inspired source. And it presents a trajectory, a movement in and out of light.

The Bible in essence then is a very human story, wrestling with faith.

So we don’t read the Word as a recipe.  Or as a history book.  It is collection of stories written over thousands of years that over time learned people, inspired by God, have collected and rightfully held as holy… this gift of God’s voice as best we can understand it.

We also see within those stories a deeper meaning, a way to see into a poetic sense beneath the words.

That allows us to hold even the harsh parts of the Bible as containing something of value.  And there are harsh parts, parts for example where God apparently commands destruction of subjugated peoples.  But in the New Church we hold that differently.  Destruction of enemy forces …. the need for us to fully uproot, as best we can, the evil in our lives.

Imagine for example an alcoholic, newly sober, who is sure they can just have one little drink.  Well, no go.  Even that little “tolerance” needs to be uprooted. Destroyed as it were.  That is the genius of Swedenbogian theology.

So we read the Word. Maybe not so much in search of answers as in search of Presence.  A holding of life in its blessings and breakings.  Life’s imperfections, in a fascinating way, both called to account and normalized, and placed in a sacred journey.

And the final word of Presence in the journey is love.

That means of course there is not, in the end, one way and only one way  to read the Bible.  We are unique forms of love, created by God.  Each of us.  And so, when it comes to the Word, each of us will have our own voice, our own loves, our own unique way of seeing.  The Bible is the place where we can all touch – a common touchstone – finding a way, in our own very human and broken manner,  for that life giving conversation with God and others to start.

“Every dogma can be explained in a 1000 different ways.  It is like a horn of plenty.  People take out of the dogma what ever is matched and suited to their character and use their particular gifts to explain it.” (True Christianity 154)

And always…. the conversation is good!!!!

That Simple and That Hard

June 14th, 2017

That Simple and That Hard
A group of dads at NewChurch LIVE gather once a month for dinner. Simple conversation. Simple connection. And a very real question at last night’s dinner, “Where are you struggling as a parent?”

Like most of what I experience as a Pastor, hard to capture in words what slowly unfolds when people gather and share. Not about work. Not about sports. But about life. About what is around our core. About what we treasure most. And about where the pain lies.

A brotherhood there in that sharing. A sisterhood I am sure if it were moms. A fellowship of co-travelers on the Journey.

Taking the time to gather and allow the unfolding connections to happen. Well, with a smile for those wanting that kind of connection, it is that simple and that hard.

Life will forever tell us there is not time. Ghosts will assuredly tell us we are indeed all alone. Self doubt will convince us we have nothing to share.

The experience of a gathering, a dinner, breaking bread, speaks a very different story.

And it is a far better story because it is shared!

Handprints on Our Hearts

May 31st, 2017

Last night, a memorial service. Deeply touching.

What struck me was this … the gifts we share, one to another.

We closed the service with a simple exercise.  Each person sharing “I am grateful that Jen brought me/ gave me/ taught me …”

Simple.  And every answer stunningly beautiful. Every answer an opening, a window into a cherished relationship. Softball to music to Atlantic City.  None repeated.

How that works I don’t know.  How we can come to mean so much to each other in such unique ways I can’t fully hold.  But while I don’t know how it works, I do know that it works.

And maybe that it part of the light we find in the darkness when those we love pass.

For Churches: It is not what you believe so much as what you love

April 21st, 2017

Brian McLaren nailed it…

For churches: it is not what you believe so much as what you love.

Churches tend to start with a list of beliefs.  From that comes the idea that our role is to share those beliefs.  Connected, our job – to hold tightly to our beliefs as overtly distinctive in all ways, and like it or not, superior to the beliefs held by others.

While beliefs are important – clearly important, critically important – beliefs are not the end game. To think of them as such is to confuse the ‘boat with the distant shore.’

What matters in the end is what we love.  Imagine starting there.  Beginning in a sense at the end. A statement not of beliefs but a statement of what we, as a church, love.

For NewChurch LIVE, I would humbly offer what I most witness is two loves.  Connection. Service.

What is it for your church?

Important answers. As those loves wind together, we find joy…

We are not made happy by the true things believe from our faith, but from goodness that comes from faith. (Secrets of Heaven, 4984)

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The Issue is Imagination

April 13th, 2017

The issue is imagination.

The issue is moving beyond cherished and long serving ways of doing things, and finding in the process, newness. A newness connected to the old and at the same time reaching for the new.

That remains the challenges for many institutions.  And for churches seeking to serve in new ways.

What we need to ask, continually, is how are we keeping score and how are we telling our story.

The story is good.  Beautiful. And matters.

Matters so much in fact that we need to remain open and imaginative about how we tell it.

Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matt. 9:17)