Posts Tagged ‘Church’

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.”

Trends

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.

Urgency and the Perfect Storm

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

“Humanity has the ability to work together in builidng our common home … As Christians inspired by this certainty we wish to committ ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.” (Pope Francis)

Urgency in those words.  Hope there as well.  It is why untold millions are moved by his words.

And my hope … that his visit to the US becomes a wake up call.

Asleep, we face a perfect storm.  Actually two storms, each tracking to a collision point.

Storm one – cultural.  Storm two – church.

The cultural storm continues to increasingly value more and more entertainment over engagement, consumption over stewardship, auditing over partnering, a shallow glance at life vs. a deeply engaged work at it.  Individualism and entertainment at all costs.

Storm two is church, church as a corporate force in the US.  Many churches fall into a consumer model that asks little of congregants except to be entertained.  Other churches double down on what was.  Failing to engage.  Picking up war-like paradigms of standing for the truth no matter the cost, a “standing” far divorced from “doing.”

Place those two storms together.  And there is … nothing.  A storm of nothing.  Shallow culture.  Irrelevant churches. And a certain thing dies.

What dies is the beautiful, powerful immagination of Christianity.  The part that gave rise to countless hospitals and schools. The part that founded the Salvation Army.  The YMCA.  The YWCA.  Homeless shelters. The Catholic Worker.  St. Francis Inn.  Sunday Morning Breakfast Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity.

All the above flowering from imagination … “the ability to work together in builidng our common home.”

An imagination to not just talk about the church but instead the endeavor to BE the church.

My prayer … that Pope Francis rekindles that imagination.   That we all find that spark again.

 

What is “Church”?

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

A big question.

Churches rise and fall. The big picture of larger movements as well as small individual congregations.  All rise, all fall, all are reborn in certain sense.

Growth comes, paradoxically, from that fall.  Each movement a seed for the next in a widening, constant re-discovery of the essential of all existence … love.

Emanuel Swedenborg offered fascinating insights on that dynamic.

Every church when it begins holds the good of life [useful, kind service] in the first place, and truths of doctrine in the second; but as the church declines it begins to regard the truths of doctrine in the first place and the good of life in the second place. (Apoloclypse Revealed, 82)

In another place he writes….

At first a church has no other doctrine and loves no other doctrine than teachings around charity because this belongs to life.  [Eventually] it begins to hold charity as cheap, and over time rejects it. (Secrets of Heaven 2417)

So we start out, simply put, with love. A  love that grows towards service. And service, in its original form, is valued over knowledge. That is where churches grow.

Over time we “flip” however and mistakenly come to value knowledge over service. Religion, faith becomes a “head trip.”  And the church declines. Arguments and debates pull us up and away from life into the safety of intellectual ivory towers. Clean, sterile and absolutely deadly.

A simple process of growth. A  simple process of decline.

So what is “church”?

Church is community where God is known, his Word celebrated. Celebrated through this – a genuine love that leads to service.  A pushing aside of the compulsions we all harbor that detract from that love. And a reach, a smiling, dangerous reach out into the world.  It begins in each individual heart.  Ripples out into our church community of practice.  And reaches further still to the world.

This is how it looked for this pastor yesterday….

 

The Nature of Failure and Ministry

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Much is being written today on the nature of failure and ministry.

One author, after attending a church growth seminar, noted how the presentations were “flawless and the drive home crappy” because the polished and glitzy nature of those very presentations left him feeling guilty, insecure, and an utter failure.

Through bruising loss and set back upon set back, this pastor came to see that the goal should not be “success” but “faithfulness” – faithfulness to the mission regardless of outcome.  What occurred in turn for him was a rather profound transformation where the dominoes of (a) failure followed by rejection followed by shame were replaced with (b) failure that led to yielding that led to acceptance that led to an honoring.

Pastoring, in the end, at its best, is about helping us all to value the right things, to heed and hear God’s voice, to do the work God has given us to do.  First things first.  Remembering why.  Why we are here – a loving faithfulness to God and other. Calling us to faithfully do this thing called “church.”

 

 

What if it were really all that simple?

Friday, May 8th, 2015

How does God see different faiths?  The New Church perspective …

God does not differentiate religious movements by their doctrine … but by the way their members live what is taught.  All doctrine – if it is true doctrine – looks to a life of love as its fundamental principle.  What is the point of doctrine but to teach us how to be human?   [If we put] love for God and serving others as the chief concern of faith… one church would come out off all the different churches … and the Lord’s kingdom would come on earth. (Secrets of Heaven 1799)

What if it were really that simple?