Posts Tagged ‘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.”


Friday, November 6th, 2015

I love this simple concept … while events gain our attention, trends remain far more significant.  So what are the trends with church for the next 10 years?  One guess…

Many churches will continue to decline in numbers and donations.

This is a sad one.  Many churches, contemporary and traditional, progressive and conservative, will continue to struggle.  Congregations under a certain number may no longer remain financially viable.   There is currently no data that I am aware of that sheds a positive light on this trend.

One fear may be this … declining churches can become hostile churches. Reactionary. Misplacing understandable grief around decline with a rage directed out at broader culture and others. This could in turn lead to a denominational “doubling down” as it were.

One can see that in the current challenges in the Catholic church where Pope Francis noted his concern around “the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the churches teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”

For churches to remain viable, they will need a a focused mission, a deliberate dedication to service.

And not everything is doom-and-gloom.  The future while uncertain is paradoxically hopeful as well.

There will always be a space for Christianity. While Christianity clearly will no longer remain a cultural “given” as the question shifts from “Where do you go to Church? to “Do you go to Church?”  it will still exist and will thrive in pockets.  I believe New Church Christianity will find a thriving place there as well.

Those thriving pockets I imagine will be centered around churches and groups steeped in a deep missional focus.  The broad color of that mission will center on Christianity’s heartsong … expanding the circles of compassion in loving service to the other and the sacraments that support that mission, i.e. the archain disciples of Communion etc….  As Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, “Religion is of life and the life of religion is to do good.” A place where love of God and love the neighbor work functionally as one.

That missional focus creates great leeway in terms of belief and individual perspective.  That fits well with current desires for non-authoritative, non-exclusive truth claims offered with a humility of presentation and clear valuing around freedom of movement while at the same time finding a concrete centering on sacred texts.

It is movement from church in the age of belief to church in the age of service.

More congregants will join online than in person for Sunday Services

The internet remains a game changer.  Some predict the end of the Sunday service, a demise to be replaced by online content and small groups. For some that may indeed be true. However there will always be space for the traditional Sunday gathering.

What I imagine will most likely evolve is a hybrid model combining both inperson and online audiences.  Small groups obviously play a critical here as well given their ability to serve both audiences.

At NewChurch LIVE in two short years we have seen a dramtic shift.  Two years ago 9.6% of our Sunday attendees joined us live via a simulcast.  That percent has grown dramatically, now reaching 24%. And there no signs of that trend ending. Important to note those tuning in come from remote locations yet also many local families who tire at the idea of pushing the kids out to the door to church and prefer instead to watch at home.

One can legitimatly grieve what may be a loss of community in the name of convenience but I believe this is trend to be embraced not refuted.

So what could NewChurch LIVE look like in 10 years?

  1. Sunday: An inperson service, bringing together a wide variety voices – male and female, multigenerational, multiethnic – that combined with our LiveStream audience tops 1,000 each week with the majority watching online
  2. Small Groups: A thriving small group program made up of numerous small group structures, durations, themes etc…..
  3. Service: A “hub” in which we facilitate, support, and connect with numerous non-profits allied to our layity’s interests.
And these are all best guesses.  What I know in these uncertain times … remain true to the mission of humble service.  And God will lead us in the rest.






Marketing a Church

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Is it possible to “market” a church?  Unsure. What I imagine is this….

We need to create churches that are worth talking about

Much of what people talk about in churches is, frankly, not worth talking about.  If conversation tends towards carpeting, music, “good” sermon/ “bad” sermon, who-is-doing-what-with-whom, I think we miss it.  Those conversations, tintilating as they are, will ulitmately fail to inspire growth though they will inspire gossip.

And a blessing … there are countless things so very bright and worthwhile to allow on “center stage” in terms of the great coversation to be had by a church. Mission, purpose, questions around faith and culture, pain, birth and death.

We need to serve our wider communities self sacrificially and with contagious generosity. 

The above … the best “marketing” there is provided we serve cleanly without a “so that we grow” agenda.

There must be a word out there for the opposite of entropy – where things fly apart.  A word to describe the fall of a church where things fly apart because they collapse in.  As New Church theology notes again, and again, and again, when charity/ service takes a back seat to other concerns we pull ourselves from the blessed order that will in the long run not only be our redemption but our joy.

Let it all go

“Caring and not caring.”  ”Pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on you.” A hard balancing but churches can do it.  Just work THERE. Right THERE. Pouring our lives into love and service sacrificially. And God will bless it. Sometimes in ways we anticipate. Most often in ways we don’t. So in the end, when we have faithfully done what was ours to do, let it all go.


Inclusion and Division

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Many read and comment on this blog who are interested in church growth.  That is the audience for today’s post.

Fascinating to read the challenges and changes facing the Catholic Church.  And the amazing part … simply change the names and you have the same contentious “script” that many Protestant churches are moving through.  And what are the main issues embedded in that script?  It seems the seminal issues appearing again and again include the role of women, divorce, homosexuality, concern for the poor and the environment, and the role of clergy.

These are clearly heated, contentious issues argued with great vigor by those desiring a more inclusive church and those desiring a more traditional church.   Given that rawness, civil dialog comes hard and at times appears impossible.

So what is the solution? The way forward?

I would imagine there is no one solution.  I imagine this is a tension we will live with in the upcoming years, not a problem we will quickly solve.  Likewise this inescapable tension will gather more “steam” so to speak as numerous churches experience continued decline. (Only 6% of churches experienced growth last year)

My hope is that respect … even through gritted teeth! … reigns.  Both sides claim to be stewards of the Christian message.  Both center on God.  On God’s Word.

My belief is that a more inclusive model is being born.  My prayer is that it remains inclusive.  Inclusive of many of the groups noted before. And inclusive of those who see the world and the future of Church differently – traditional and progressive.  As one priest noted in regard to welcoming back divorced parishioners to communion…

Everyone is trying to find a solution, putting together concern for the institution of marriage, and compassion to people in difficulty.  We just have to find a way to put these two together. 

A beautiful statement.  A meaning underneath the words that echoes a third way.




5 Years and New Models of Leadership in the World of Churches

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

A recent post by a friend started with THINGS ARE CHANGING … FAST….

Very accurate.  The speed at which change is occuring is remarkable.  And churches need one thing more than ever as a way to cope with rapid change … agility.

  1. Agility to work with shifting concepts around attendance.  Sunday attendee?  Online?  Small group but never at church?  Service but never small groups?  A lot combinations beyond what was imaginable just 5 short years aog.
  2. Agility to serve a very wide clientel.  Congregations are serving NATIONAL audiences often.  There are local needs … and you have many localities in one congregation.  Look at old churches.  What do those beautiful old buildings lack?  Parking.  No need for it given they drew from several mile/ block radius.  In 5 years the definition of “local” has shifted dramatically.
  3. Agility to empower lay interest and talent to drive programs.  Two basic models … the pyramid and the tree.  Top down or bottom up.  Better be agile enough to be top down about the critical need to be bottom up!  The top down of 5 years ago is rapidly winding down.
  4. Agility to work with many faith systems.  People are not necessarily looking for one faith system.  They are looking for a church community that works for them, that reasonates with their heart.  Don’t be suprised at the Christian who loves Buddism and hangs out with Franciscans.  The “shingle” out front does not matter as much as it did 5 years ago.

For these new models to flourish, we need clear and clean water to sail in.  We need clear and clean air to breathe.  This list from Seth Godin is spot on for churches seeking a way forward….

Expectation: When people wake up in the morning expecting good things to happen, believing that things are possible, open to new ideas–those beliefs become self-fulfilling. We expect that it’s possible to travel somewhere safely, and we expect that speaking up about a new idea won’t lead us to get fired. People in trauma can’t learn or leap or produce very much.

Education: When we are surrounded by people who are skilled, smart and confident, far more gets done. When we learn something new, our productivity goes up.

Civility: Not just table manners, but an environment without bullying, without bribery, without coercion. Clean air, not just to breathe, but to speak in.

And we need this to give shape to agility … we need to be SUPER clear.  We are here to follow Christ’s model of love in action.  To look at that model and do our humble best to live it.  Simplicity, contagious generousity, radical welcome.  Live it better each day.  Better than we did 5 years ago.  And hopefully something we are doing even better 5 years down the road.