Posts Tagged ‘Church’

Church in North America is Changing Much Faster Than We Think

Thursday, 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.
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.   
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.
Pray for the eyes to see it and you will see it everywhere!

Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better

Tuesday, 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%.
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.
Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better.

When Small Congregations Start To LiveStream….

Thursday, 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,, 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 do you find the right church?

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Not everyone searches longingly for the right church.  But if you are searching for the right church ….

There is no such thing!

Joining a church, as Rachel Held Evans put it, entails choosing “which hot mess you want to get involved in.”

Churches are a hot mess, no way around it.  And how could churches not be? Dedicated to higher purposes, churches will draw a far wider swath of humanity than we, in our little way, would ever see fit to call together.  Mixed races, mixed families, mixed financial situations, mixed perspectives … mixed up.  That encompasses “church.”

Church is simply not an idealized tribe.

Church is a collection of people – blessed and broken – doing their level best to love others, however imperfectly, and find God one flawed step at a time.

Find a church that gets that … and loves despite that … and lives towards higher purposes in light of that … and maybe that becomes the right church?


And this thing called “church”

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

I don’t write particularly well but even with muddled language, I think, with a smile, that I carry strong convictions.

One such conviction is this thing called “church.”

The thought starts here…. What an election.  Many awoke yesterday distraught.  Other joyous.  As a Pastor, my role, is to with humility and tenderness, work with others in small ways to hold a space within this thing called church for both sides. And to hold with others and for others the lived Christian message, the lived Christian ideals.  Loving your neighbor, loving your enemy, caring, repentance, simplicity, contagious generosity, joy, servanthood.

The best of humanity and the best of Christianity joined hand-in-hand.

This thing called church can be that thing. Can be that third way.  That place, that institution, that movement, roots 1,000′s of years old. That place where the appearance of “very different” leans towards the deeper knowledge that “all are one.” That place where we LIVE it.  We don’t just post it or shout about it or demand it.  We LIVE it in the quieter, often overlooked folds of life.

Some days, candidly, I despair that this age of this thing called church has passed.  After all, as a quiet endeavor, we can’t compete with entertainment. With youth soccer. With individualism that enshrines personal choice over sacrificial living.

Then the election happens.  And people from many perspectives feel a call, a call to do something.  And what we can do this thing called church.

Church is neither pretty nor perfect.  Church is not always a place you will feel “fed.” It is not be easy or fun.  But I think we find this … a loving God.  An empowered way of moving towards the suffering of the world. Community. Our souls.

And this … HOPE.

Today that hope is Philly to serve dinner, food dropped off at the Ronald McDonald House, a coat drive for Reading Pa, small groups meeting to share in life’s breakings and blessings. And then Sunday… a grace filled time when we gather.  When we connect in this thing called church.

It is not for everybody.  I get that.  But if you are searching, after this election, for a place now to “do”, think about it.  Think about church.



Beyond the Politics of Outrage

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

How is church to fit into this week leading up to the election?

Maybe, humbly, there is a place for churches to be voice beyond the politics of outrage.

Yesterday, getting coffee, two pairs of people erupted in argument. One group, “Trump is the anti-Christ.”  The other group “See what Hillary has done to you!”  Both non-sensical. Both incredibly angry.

That type of outrage solves nothing, heals nothing, brings nothing.

What heals is love, care, compassion, listening, commitment.

I am so very sad by how much we are driven by outrage. By soundbites.  By 140 characters or less.

Churches have to stand up.  Not in a partisan way but as a calmly clear voice for a third way.  For a way to hold conversations.  For a way to move towards the suffering of the world. For a way to live in sacrificial, humbling commitments around love. For a way to simply be Christians…

… beyond the politics of outrage.

A Bigger Story

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Our dominant narrative tends towards three things… (Walter Breuggemann)

  1. Self Invention
  2. Competitive Productivity
  3. Self Sufficiency
Christian narrative – far different. An “alternative practice of reality” in which we agree to actually hurt, to actually sacrifice, to experience re-aligned joy and purpose, to meaningfully connect one with another outside of the normal confines of ordinary life, to serve.  A call to new horizons and new possibilities growing, with love and care, among us.
To that constant drumbeat of “more”, a simple counter, beautiful, restful “enough.”

BEING the Church

Friday, January 29th, 2016

BEING the Church.  Not debating.  Not arguing. Not “sorting” who are the “ins” and who are the “outs.”

Living as we were intended from creation to be – forms of love, wisdom, mercy, forgiveness.

Living it.  Literally inhabiting it.  The church as a building whose walls stretch everywhere.

Beautiful.  And that is the New Church view of church. Not faith alone. But a lived experience of God’s presence.

Thank you Mary and Kelly for sharing that light in Kensington this week.



What Is Wrong With Church Today?

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

“What is wrong with church today?”  Whether a question or a statement, it leaves me feeling uneasy.

Recently I pulled a Podcast where the host ticked off his list of the current failings of churches, a list that ranged from a flawed theology to clubishness. And I get it. But to stop there seems premature.

For I know this … I am part of church that does many things right.  We are blessed with a theology that doesn’t trip on many of the normal places where contemporary Christian theology can easily fall.  We hold deeply to a loving God, manifested in Christ who shows us how to live in such a way that will return us to our truest God given selves, a self made in God’s image and likeness.  An angel.

We are likewise blessed with a congregation that shares a clear un-clubishness as well as a service orientation.  Rarely do we struggle with getting volunteers to help the many non-profits we are connected with.  And we are blessed with many wonderful and welcoming small groups.

We likewise have great music – if I do say so myself – maybe the best of any local church. And the preaching – because of its team-based approach – is highly relevant, God centered and maybe even on a rare occasion inspiring. :-)

There is little, if one goes by the Podcast list, not to like. We simply have addressed many of those flaws, flaws well known in the church world for the past two decades.

And yet growing this church is a constant struggle as a well as a constant blessing.  We have grown, slowly and steadily.  And it has taken immense work to do it.  Three steps forward, two steps back.

So what gives?  Why so hard?

What I think “gives” is this.  Churches and the pastors who lead them hold much responsibility for their demise, a demise that marks make growing a congregation challengning.  And that does not leave the other half of the equation free from responsibility either … society at large, congregations, people.

I love the way Miroslav Volf puts it. Volf notes that we act a great deal like the “last man”, a “last man” who in a completely secularized world has finally “invented happiness” and so is…

    1. Weary of great striving

    2. Obsessed with comfort and safety

    3. Dreaming petty dreams

    4. Enjoying unsubstantial pleasures

    5. Entertaining ourselves to idiocy while imaging ourselves the measure of humanity

Those are harsh words but maybe we need to hear them.  I can certainly say at the very least I need to hear them.  And maybe we need to hear them because part of all of us knows better.  Knows there is a focal point beyond the mundane realities where our souls soar.  Where love is present and forms the very ground of reality.  Where joy permeates lives in such a way that we feel the true freedom of lives both lifted beyond and at home with circumstances, circumstances that are often dark.
What is wrong with Church today?  We are.  As a whole.
And what is the remedy?  We are.  As a whole.
There is so much here folks.  Christmas Eve.  A divorced mom separated from kids for the Holidays.  Invited to dinner after the service by another family. That brings to tears.  That is caring and concern and sacrifice and love and joy. It is Christianity at its glowing best.   That small miracle – beyond an invented, entertainment-doused happiness. The real deal.
Join us in 2016.  We need you.

Why we need churches

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Why do we need churches? We need churches because we need options. Simple.

In the midst of one author termed the “whirlwind of postmodern deconstruction” those options, those ‘counters’ are so important.  The simple need evidenced dramatically during this Advent season.

Our tradition is this … 4 weeks of Advent means 4 weeks of parishioners sharing written prayers.  Again and again the prayers touch.  A desire for purpose, and healing.  Release from fear, from addiction.  A longed for hope to find love and joy. A reaching for God.  A reaching for others. A reaching out of or in spite of the “whirlwind.”

The “whirlwind” knocks down much.  Collapses many things often with the simple satirical bit that we have somehow “outgrown” church as a culture.  Evolved past it.

But I don’t believe that.  I need an option.  I need church.  I need connections with others who feel the same. And who act. Who serve. Who gather to support one another and bend to the suffering of the world. Who see in Christianity not something quaint or outdated or old fashioned but something creative, vibrant, meaning filled.  Something that maybe, just maybe presents a wonderful centering, a firm ground of purpose.

Even in the midst of a “whirlwind.”