Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Missional Church Can Exist in Any Size or Situation

Dr. Lou Jander, Texas District, LCMS, shared this article on his weekly email recently. It was written by Rev. Phil Stevenson of the Wesleyan Church and published on the Expanding Wave newsletter. It shows that an a missional church can exist in any situation and with any size congregation.

Last month I was in West Virginia with my partner in ministry, Jim Dunn. We were presenting a seminar entitled "The Intentional Missional Church." The host of this event shared with us that we would be holding the training at Three Mile Wesleyan Church. "This church," he explained, "is located in a holler."

Honestly, I was both intrigued and concerned about this prospect. I had never been in a holler. I wasn't even sure what a holler was. And any connotation I had of a holler was not overly positive. Images of feuds and folk not welcoming of outsiders played themselves out in my vivid imagination. Riding with our host on roads that crawled deeper into the wooded hills did nothing to abate my mental picture. What I discovered, however, was anything but what I had created in my imagination.

A holler is a small valley that has only one way in and one way out. The Three Mile Church was located at the 'head' of the holler. The head is about as far back as you can get in a holler. It is located on a very small piece of property. To call it postage stamp size would be much too generous. It is here Pastor Billy Burdette has been ministering for over 10 years. It is here I discovered a missional church. It is here God taught me lessons of faith, vision and effectiveness. Here are the discoveries:

  • It's not your location that limits you, it's the limits you put on your location. I could think of all kinds of reasons a church should not be effective in such an obscure location. There is not much drive-by traffic in a holler.
  • Needs are everywhere; if you notice them you can meet them. Three Mile had just completed the construction of a gym/family life center. It has a fully furnished kitchen, with an impressive eating area. Why did they build such a facility at the Head of the Holler? Pastor Billy shared that there was no place for people to gather. No place for folks to have anniversary parties, wedding receptions, family reunions, etc. It was meeting needs. It was a community center.
  • Quality is in the little things. What I saw, they did with quality. They had motion-activated hand towel dispensers. They had flat screens in each Sunday School Room upstairs. The equipment in the Kitchen was excellent.
  • Clarity of mission brings focus to ministry. Pastor Billy knows that young people need to be reached. They have chosen to focus on teens and younger. This is reflected in their new gym/family life center. It is reflected in their programming. They run a midweek kid's ministry that has, at times, connected with over 100 kids. They feed dozens. Their youth program runs over 30 people.
  • A leader who has a heart for God and a passion for people will be effective. Pastor Billy is bi-vocational. This could be an excuse for not doing what is necessary to reach his community. He doesn't allow that. He wants to make his God known. He loves people. This causes him to do whatever it takes to connect the two.
  • Missional matters. Being missional is simply looking outside of ourselves to see the community that surrounds us. Three Mile Church is missional because it is driven by the community needs, not congregational wants.

The next time you find yourself bemoaning your location; the next time you discover yourself thinking there are no more people to reach; the next time you believe missional is too postmodern for you; the next time you believe you are too small to do things with quality; I want you to take a moment and consider the church at the head of the holler.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Is Your Church Externally Focused?

4 Characteristics of an Externally Focused Church:

1. Externally focused churches are convinced that good deeds and good news can't and shouldn't be separated. Just as it takes two wings to lift an airplane off the ground, so externally focused churches couple good news with good deeds to make an impact in their communities. The good news explains the purpose of the good deeds.
2. They see themselves as vital to the health and well-being of their communities. They believe that their communities, with all of their aspirations and challenges, cannot be truly healthy without the church's involvement. It is only when the church is mixed into the very life and conversation of the city that it can be an effective force for change.
3. They believe that ministering and serving are the normal expressions of Christian living. Even more, they believe that Christians grow best when they are serving and giving themselves away to others. They are convinced that Christians can learn through good instruction, but they really cannot grow if they remain uninvolved in ministry and service.
4. Externally focused churches are evangelistically effective. People are looking for places of authenticity where the walk matches the talk, where faith is making a difference.

— Excerpted from “The Externally Focused Church” by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Evangelism Today -- Asking the Right Questions

Many churches are still using evangelism methods that reflect a Christendom culture of the twentieth century. Years ago I was trained in the Kennedy “Evangelism Explosion” technique that centered around a key question asked after building a trusting relationship: “If you were to die today, could you say for sure that you would go to heaven?” The standard response to that question was “Well, I hope so. I’ve tried to be good.” Or, “I don’t know if anyone can say that for sure.” To which the evangelist would reply “Well, I’ve got good news for you.” and then proceed with a grace based presentation of the gospel.

As time went on, I saw a change in the respondent’s answers. Faithful Christians still answered “Yes,” but an increasing number of people would simply say, “To tell you the truth, I haven’t thought much about it.”

Research commissioned by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Church now backs up my observation. (See chart below)
People’s spiritual concerns seem no longer to be focused on the traditional concepts of sin and death, heaven and hell. Instead, they seem more focused on this life and finding meaning and purpose in their daily existence. (See chart below)It is easy to complain about “Whatever happened to sin?’ or declare this a shift to self-centered consumer society, but the truth is that “How can I find more meaning and purpose in my life?” remain relational and missional issues, and the good news we have to offer lies in our relationship with Christ and our participation in His mission in this world.

An old tool in the sin/heaven approach was something called “The Four Spiritual Laws,” an evangelism tool used for years, but not very effective today. Not long ago, someone devised a new tool called “The Big Story” that is based on the relational/missional model. Take a look at part one and part two below.

These are not the final answer, but they mark a step along the way to asking the right questions for a new time.
Addendum: A new tool getting good reviews in Reformed circles is the EvangeCube. It is graphically intriguing, but is basically the old "four laws" approach. Compare this approach with the ones you have just watched. Which do you think would be more effective among unchurched people that you know?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Leaders and Managers

One of the distinctions that many people seem to miss is the important distinction between a leader and a manager. The key, I suppose, is that leaders deal with people, while managers deal with projects. Often a person is chosen to lead because he or she has the ability to “get the job done.” Expect that person to be a good manager. A leader will first help everyone see what the job is that must be done, then inspire the people to use heir gifts to accomplish the job.

I ran across the brief, simple video below that is full of short quotes and wonderful ideas about the qualities of leadership. It’s worth taking a few minutes to watch.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter "Wordle"

"Wordle"s are word cloud pictures computer generated from any text according to a formula weighted by the number of times a word is used in a text. You can create your own Wordle at http://www.wordle.net (click here).

At Christmas I did a Wordle of Luke 2 and discovered that it was filled with the ordinary: place names, people’s names, the story of God coming down into ordinary life.

I thought I would do the same for Easter, and the result is the Wordle above of Matthew 28:1-10. Not many names and places this time. The big word was a human condition—“afraid.” That was followed by “Jesus” and “tomb”. (an empty one) And the next were calls to missionary action: “see” “go” and “tell”.

In this time of many fears, the message clear: He is risen. The tomb is empty. Now SEE … GO … TELL.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Who is Fighting the "Worship Wars"?

One of my “Christmas books” that I am just getting to finish was a recent paperback by Gary Nelson entitled Borderland Churches: A Congregation’s Introduction to Missional Living.
The book is about missional living on the congregational level, about the church engaging the culture that surrounds it in the borderland between faith and unbelief. For the church to live out its mission in the borderlands, we will have to understand that the mission field isn’t over there, it’s in our back yard. Borderland ministries, to be faithfully relevant, must move from a “come to” (attractional) understanding to a “go to” (incarnational) one. Borderland ministry requires a great deal of willingness to embrace radical change. But to those of us who preach change, he warns this call to change is not mere tinkering. True change, he points out moves beyond the superficial, beyond simply changing the style of music, to changing attitudes and presuppositions. He particularly speaks to the time and effort those of us in established denominations have spent in fighting the “worship wars”…

Learning to sing in this strange time has little to do with choruses or hymns. The cosmetic worship changes of the last decades of church life, while at times helpful, have also proven distracting. The desire to be more appealing and relevant in the rhythms of our worship to those who live in the borderlands is genuine. For some churches, altering our songs of worship was the beginning of a journey toward relevance and impact. However, the worship wars of the last two decades of the twentieth century were moments of trivial pursuit. They placed simplistic and shallow characteristics on people outside the influence of the church, making it sound too often as if borderland people were simply sitting at home on Sunday waiting for us as the church to change our worship. If it only changed, they would come. If we seek to engage people in meaningful dialog, we must engage them at deeper ;levels. Borderland people are not superficial. They are unlikely to be drawn into our world by the simple alteration of our music. Your next-door neighbor is not likely to be asking why you do not sing choruses. People searching spiritually are not agonizing over the hardness of our pews. Many of them are simply living in the sincere belief that they have found a much more meaningful way to live their lives on Sunday, let alone Monday and beyond. The song we must learn to sing is much more profound than a chorus or a hymn. It is about attitudes and presuppositions. It is about atmosphere where we offer genuine community and authentic relationships. The song seeks to answer the question of what it means to be the church relevantly in this context and these times. Trapped in our memories, we only hinder the sense of urgency required to initiate change. P. 17

Monday, March 16, 2009

Exponential Change and Luther's Catechism

Attached below is what I think is the latest edition of the “Did You Know 3.0” video. I say I think it is the latest edition because it deals with exponential change, and by the time it is published it is out of date.

The video ends with the question, ”What does this mean?” Keep it in mind as you watch the video. You will enjoy it. If nothing else, it will give you some sermon illustrations or interesting facts to share with your friends.

What does this mean? The answer to that is a complex one. For some it means the world is going crazy. For others, it means we live in an exciting time of change and cultural revolution. I lean towards the latter, though sometimes fear the former. Leadership Network recently published a chart of how people adopt change.

In a time of exponential change, the wave of change moves faster. Perhaps most of us –even the early adapters – never catch up. By the time the smartest people have figured out what is happening in the economy, the culture, the church, it has already happened and something new is on its way. Long range planning as we used to know it, must take on a different face. More time is spent in preparing than planning--preparing through establishing our core values, our mission, our giftedness that will enable us to serve, witness and re-form ourselves as God’s people in the steady stream of change.

Beyond that, “What does this mean?” strikes my Lutheran mind as a typical Lutheran catechetical question that is always answered within the gracious will and work of God in Jesus Christ. And so, facing the future of change, one says with Luther …

Thy will be done.
What does this mean?: The good and gracious will of God is done, indeed, without our prayers, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
What does this mean? The kingdom of God comes, indeed, without our prayers, but we pray in this petition that it may come among us also.

Oh, yes … “This is most certainly true.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reggie McNeal: Missional Renaissance -- A Review

Reggie McNeal’s latest book is certain to become a primary resource for those who want to learn and to teach others about the missional church movement. It is a “must read” for anyone interested in the direction of ministry in the twenty-first century.

If you know Reggie or have heard him speak, you know that he is a gifted communicator, able not only to convey complex ideas in a “down-home” style, but also capable of anticipating the audience’s questions and objections, even the ones they are sometimes afraid to ask.

McNeal had three goals in writing the book. CLICK HERE or on the picture below to hear them in his own words.

McNeal’s first goal was to set forth the language and definition of the missional church. Those not familiar with the missional church movement will find in this book a clear, practical, Biblical, understandable statement of what it means to be “missional”. They will also find someone who understands their fear of change, anticipates their questions, and gives practical guidance for taking a step at a time. Those who are already well read in the subject will find not a lot of new concepts. McNeal builds on the work of people like Bosch, Guder, Newbigin, Hunsberger, Frost and Hirsch and others, but he does it with a style that is his own and that brings new clarity to what may be already familiar ideas. He recognizes that the “missional renaissance” has as much to do with ecclesiology as it does missiology, and he addresses both with integrity.
His second goal was to set forth a clear path and compass settings for the missional journey. This he does by outlining three missional shifts:

Missional Shift 1: From an Internal to an External Focus
  • Shifting from a "member culture" to a "missionary culture."
  • Refocusing and reallocating resources (prayer, people, calendar/time, finances, facilities, and technology) for missional impact. This is really about stewardship, although he doesn’t use the word.
Missional Shift 2: From Program Development to People Development
  • “Are people better off for being part of this church, or are they just tireder and poorer?”
  • Seeing the world as the shaping ground for spiritual formation, not the inside of the church.
  • Moving from mass standardization of programs to mass customization of discipleship.
  • "The missional church assumes that service to others is the first step, not some latter expression of spirituality."
Missional Shift 3: From Church-Based to Kingdom-Based Leadership
The leader must deal with…
  • Paradigm issues (How the leader sees the world)
  • Microskill development (Competencies the leader needs)
  • Resource management (What the leader has to work with)
  • Personal Growth (The leader as a person.)

His final goal was to establish a score card for measuring progress on the missional journey. His inclusion of suggested metrics to assess missional faithfulness and vitality is something that s missing in most other books on the missional church. Those metrics make a unique contribution to the literature. For years we have measured our faithfulness and vitality in terms of growth of attendance, budget, programs, What happens if we measure vitality in terms of the growth of people, service, prayer, outreach? McNeal would have us move from measuring how we are doing church to how we are blessing our communities.

Get a copy of this book and read it. It is a good one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Internet Evangelism

God has given his church a wonderful gift in the internet, and slowly we are beginning to learn to use it. But change comes hard for the church, and often our use of the internet follows the same rules we have been using with print media for several years, and our audience continues to be confined to an exclusive audience of those within the church, or even our own congregation.

I look at a lot of church web sites and a growing number of Facebook groups, and I continue to observe how many say things like “This group is designed to provide information and discussion for members and friends of St. John’s-by-the-gas-station Church.” The web site or Facebook group is full of announcements, inside chatter, and pictures of the latest Youth Group car wash,

Increasingly, however, some are using the internet as a means of outreach to their community. Their websites are inclusive, rather than exclusive. They meet people where they are, rather than fitting them into the program and schedule of the church. They invite people to share their needs, their prayer requests, their questions. And they reach out to help these people in word and deed with the love and mercy of Christ.

A web site called “Internet Evangelism Day” has assembled a broad array of resources for congregations looking to use the internet in outreach and is setting April 26 as “Internet Evangelism Day,” Watch the video below, and then check out the web site (CLICK HERE)

A good place for any congregation to start is with an assessment of its web site. The movement to a blog or to Facebook or Twitter shifts the approach from a standardized message on a fixed platform to a more customized approach to individuals. Another avenue being explored by some, including my own denomination, is outreach through Second Life, the virtual world community. Second Life enables one to actually plant a congregation and hold worship services in this virtual world. See the video below for an example. As it stands now, Second Life has (in my opinion) a rather demanding learning curve and an aura of mystery that limits it from really taking off. As the developers work to make it more user-friendly, it will become a fertile field for outreach.

Preach the Gospel!

A talented young Evangelical preacher recently posted an entry on his blog with some good points for preaching to today’s audience, but his basic model also caused me some concern. He says…
"Here is the model: Make people feel like they need an answer to a question. Then take them to God's Word to answer the question. And tell them why it is important to do what we just talked about. And then you close by saying, "Wouldn't it be great if everybody did that?" And that's it. It is a journey. You take people from somewhere to somewhere."

Here’s what I like about the model:

+ It starts with people, not with a text. Fredrich Buechner was right when he said that the truth of a sermon is already there before the preacher opens his lips. It is there in the hearts and the lives of those who have come to hear the preacher speak. It is there in the couple who had an argument on the way to church. It is there in the old man who has a spot of egg on his tie and does not know it. It is there in the single parent who wonders if she will always be alone. …. The truth is there in the people. Find a need and speak to it. (The need, of course, may be found in a text. I’m not opposed to lectionary preaching.)
+ It looks to the Word for guidance. It is not just the stating of pious opinion, but a declaration of God’s Word.
+ It ends with a celebration of what might be in the power of Christ. It has a goal. It expects something to happen.

What concerns me is that one could easily follow this model and never preach the gospel, the Good News of God’s action in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that is the power and the motivation for a renewed life. The model above seems to be saying tell them…

+ Here’s the problem
+ Here’s the answer to the problem
+ Here’s what you need to do about it
+ Wouldn’t it be great if everybody did it

The gospel message is “Here’s what God has done about your basic problem and what that means for you as you address the issues of life.” The gospel is the means and the motivation that brings people “from somewhere to somewhere,” and it begins not with a journey, but with an action of God carried out by His grace in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now perhaps the good brother meant all that, but I have heard too many sermons through the years that would fit his model and yet preach nothing but the Law, giving us the “Five Biblical Keys to Marital Happiness,” or What the Bible says about Money.” Telling me why it is important to follow certain principles, and then pointing to how good my life will be if I follow them, doesn’t always work – as any parent will tell you. Lasting motivation comes from the knowledge of a loving God who can pick me up, turn me around, and walk with me every step of the way. Preach the gospel!!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Church Membership Continues Decline

The 77th annual edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches shows a continuing decline in membership among the largest denominations in North America. What was unusual about this report was the decline reported for the first time in the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist denominations.

According to the 2009 Yearbook, among the 25 largest churches in the U.S., four are growing: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (up 1.63 percent to 5,873,408; the Assemblies of God (up 0.96 percent to 2,863,265); Jehovah's Witnesses (up 2.12 percent to 1,092,169); and the Church of God of Cleveland, Tenn. (up 2.04 percent to 1,053,642).

Churches listed in the Yearbook as experiencing the highest rate of membership loss are the United Church of Christ (down 6.01 percent), the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (down 3.01 percent), the Presbyterian Church (USA) (down 2.79 percent), the Episcopal Church (down 1.76 percent), the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (down 1.44 percent) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (down 1.35 percent),

It is also interesting that several church groups indicate "no change" in membership. My experience as a judicatory leader is that when people have good news they always send in reports; when they have bad news, they report nothing. So, the picture is probably more bleak than reported.

For a more complete report CLICK HERE

Statistics are interesting, but they do not always "speak for themselves." They do not always tell us why things are happening or what should be done about them. Questions arise:

  • Do we need different metrics for what a faithful, missional congregation looks like?
  • Are those metrics things that happen inside the church or outside the church?
  • Is outreach always rewarded with intake? How should the fruit of outreach be measured?
  • How is "membership" measured?
  • Is the old breed of members being replaced by a new, smaller, but more focused breed of members, or is the old breed just dying out?

You can probably think of many more.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Economic Crisis Provides Missional Challenges and Opportunities

While many Chinese linguists now challenge the old saying that the Chinese character for “crisis” (weijei) can mean both danger and opportunity, the truth remains that crisis times can bring both challenges and opportunities for those who know how to “redeem the time.” Two items came across my screen today that point out how the economic crisis can be both a challenge and a missional opportunity for congregations.

First was an article on CNN.COM entitled “Heading to Church for Money Advice” (CLICK HERE) that highlights a number of churches reaching out to their communities through budgeting and debt management programs. People are beginning to see that they are imprisoned by debt, and that financial management pays dividends in relationships, not just money. Churches are using the crisis not only to teach stewardship principles, but to reach out to their communities in a caring way.

The second was a summary of a survey done by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) of large churches in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Here are several observations from the feedback received:

1. The economic downturn . . . as one pastor noted . . . presents itself as both an opportunity and a threat! The opportunities for many churches to initiate new ministries and/or expand ministries already in place are coming from the need to respond to the people within their own communities. Some of the programs that are being utilized are, Financial Peace University, support groups for unemployed, food banks, etc. The economic downturn has also become a threat as ministry budgets attempt to adequately fund staff, benefits and diverse ministry programs.

2. 4th quarter giving in 2008 showed that (this was after the economic downturn) . . .
a. 43% of churches experienced slight decline
b. 29% remained unchanged
c. 18% indicated giving increased as a response

3. Pastors consistently identified that members attend worship less frequently now versus a few years ago. The definition of “regular attendance” is shifting in the minds of worshipers.

4. In spite of the enormous ministry challenges and the rapid rate of cultural changes, when asked about how they were personally feeling, pastors most frequently selected very positive feelings. For example, they were excited about the future, focused, thirsty to learn, etc. However . . .
a. One third of the pastors with churches worshiping 1000+ identified themselves as being overwhelmed.
b. All of the respondents that noted that they had been “wounded by conflict” were in churches with less than 800 in worship.

5. The survey also showed that most large churches are growing slightly, have plateaued or are declining slightly in worship attendance. Only a few churches identified rapid growth in the last few years.

6. A “few” pastors identified working to develop a missional or incarnational focus to ministry instead of an earlier program or attractional ministry model.

One only hopes that these times of crisis will provide opportunity for more than a “few” to move towards an incarnational approach to mission and reach out to both members and community with ministries that will help address both immediate physical needs and long-term issues of personal stewardship and financial management.

Finding resources in financial training that are both fiscally and theologically sound can be a challenge in itself.

One of the Resources mentioned consistently as both an outreach tool and a stewardship tool is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. (Click Here for video and info). Church leaders would want to carefully examine his theological and political views before giving wholesale endorsement to his program.

Another group doing similar work is Crown Financial Ministries. See video below. Once again, the whole “theology of glory” approach (If you obey God, He will bless you.) is evident to Lutherans and other theologians of the cross. The key would be in sifting through the wheat and the chaff, but the idea of touching the community with a ministry of financial and relational healing is one that can begin to lead a congregation outside its walls with an incarnational approach to genuine needs.

Who We Are: HD from Crown Financial Ministries on Vimeo.
Lutherans may want to investigate some programs prepared by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, including a downloadable one called “Your Values, Your Choices, Your Money,” (CLICK HERE) that could be used in your congregation. Others could be planned in conjunction with your judicatory stewardship office, your District Lutheran Church Extension Fund Vice President, or your local Thrivent representative.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Perils of the Mid-Sized Church

It seems to me that many more books and article are written about the challenges of the small church and of the large church than of the mid-sized church (100 – 300 average worship attendance.) It’s about time we recognized the unique struggles of the mid-sized church in the following areas:






  1. Mid-sized congregations are torn between the competing priorities associated with small and large congregations. In smaller congregations, relationships are the highest priority. In large congregations, performance is the key to ministry success. Members of mid-sized congregations expect both relationships and performance as priorities!
  2. Members of mid-sized congregations often want the same kind of pastoral attention typical of pastors and members in smaller congregations. The increasing demands on a pastor’s time, however, makes this an impossible expectation to meet! In larger congregations, members expect to know their pastors through large gatherings like worship services, weddings, funerals, and newsletter articles. Discomfort comes for a mid-sized congregation, when members want the best of both worlds.
  3. Mid-size congregations demand more programming and ministries than smaller congregations. As a result, leadership needs to grow.
  4. Congregations struggle with the personnel changes necessary to move from a heavy reliance on lay volunteers, typical of smaller congregations, to great numbers of paid part- and full-time staff who assist members to accomplish ministry.
  5. At mid-size, tension often builds around participation issues. People begin to pick and choose the church events and activities they want to attend, rather than participating in every event hosted by the congregation. This often causes concern among long-time members when they don’t see the faces of everyone at each congregational gathering.
  6. Procedure questions arise at mid-size! Unless a congregation’s organizational skeleton changes appropriately, competing expectations of control and involvement arise. Members of smaller congregations expect their high involvement to give them strong ownership and control of decision-making procedures. Members of larger congregations expect to delegate a great deal of authority to the senior pastor, staff and elected church council members. At mid-size, members tend to want “both a participatory democracy and a representative democracy.”
  7. Property issues create new tension at mid-size. In small congregations, members expect people to treat the church building as they would care for their own home. In large congregations, the church building is seen as a public institution where many people gather and maintenance costs are high. Mid-size congregations operate with both expectations!
Adapted from: Christian Education and Evangelism for the 21st Century, Fall 2000 (No online link)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The View from the Balcony

Many years ago, when I first was elected District President, I used the image of a person on a balcony to describe the work of the “episkopos” (literally, “over-seer,” “super-visor”). While the action in the church took place on the dance floor of the local congregation, it was necessary that someone see the big picture of the entire “dance.”

This week, while at the Gettysburg Seminary library, I picked up a copy of Pathway to Renewal: Practical Steps for Congregations, by Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon (Alban Institute, 2008) [Click Here for reference] and see that they use the same image for what they call the “Balcony Team”. The Balcony Team plays an important role in the process of missional renewal. In a congregation a balcony team:
  • keeps a big picture view of the congregation and its journey through renewal
  • helps the congregations leaders continually reflect on how their congregational life can contribute to achieving its vision
  • encourages and supports leaders in making needed changes
  • monitors the congregational “temperature,” (satisfaction, conflict) keeping the board apprised of the impact of renewal efforts on the congregation.
  • keeps the vision before the congregation and monitors the actions against the adopted values
The concept is this: If you go to a dance and spend the entire evening on the dance floor, you’re aware of only what happens in your immediate vicinity. You focus your energy on dancing—and on not colliding with the people next to you. At the end of the evening you might come home thinking, “What a great dance! Tons of people, wonderful music.” If you’d gone up to the balcony, you would have seen something different. All the people were clustered at the far end of the hall away from the band, many sat on the sidelines, and most danced only when the music was fast. By viewing the proceedings from the balcony you’d come away with a very different perspective of how the evening went.

I remember working conferences with Shelby Andress from Search Institute, where she would appoint certain people to be “village philosophers”. They would simply wander around during the day and then report to the group from time to time on what they saw happening in the big picture.

Call it what you may, the point is that there needs to be a group that looks at the broad perspective of how the renewal effort is going in the congregation as a whole, how it might be improved, and what people are not being reached. They are the bearers of God’s vision and the trustees of God’s values. This could be the church council or the board of elders, but the idea of an independent “balcony team” may be even better.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bob Dylan, will.i.am, and the Nature of Change

Of all the commercials on the 2009 Super Bowl, the one that impressed me (and many media commentators) most was this one…

What struck me about the commercial was how well it portrayed the cyclical nature of generations. As I said in the previous post,: The more things change, the more they stay the same –and yet, are different.

If you have never read any of the work of Strauss and Howe on generational cycles, you should do so. Or at least get a summary from this Wikipedia article (CLICK HERE) and then explore their web sites (CLICK HERE.)

Strauss and Howe define a generation as “a group of people who share a common experience--a social moment of spiritual awakening or secular crisis--during the formative phase of their life, usually youth or young adulthood.” This usually is a period of about twenty years, although the defining point is common experience, not number of years.

They see cycles consisting of four phases and, hence, four generational cycles:
  • Civic Generation – populated by ”Heroes” whose formative years were in a time of Crisis.
  • Adaptive Generation – populated by “Artists” whose formative years were in a time of High.
  • Idealist Generation – Populated by “Prophets” whose formative years were in a time of Awakening.
  • Reactive Generation – Populated by “Nomads” whose formative years were in a time of unraveling.
The significance of this for those in ministry: First, in every congregation we have Heroes, Artists, Prophets, and Nomads, who represent each of these generations. In fact, in most congregations, we have people from six generations. (See chart below. It includes another division: Those “native born” in a digital world as opposed to those who are “immigrants” in that world.)

Second, while each generation is unique, they have characteristics in common with some of the older generations before them.

Third, In the course of a long life, a person will live through a cycle of crisis, high, awakening, and unraveling – perhaps through parts of even more than one cycle – and because of his or her generational experience, will have a role to play at each stage of the cycle.

Finally, it all seems to say something in favor of intergenerational ministry. There are blessings we can bring to one another if we take the time to understand one another. It is too easy to think that nothing of significance ever happened before we were born or that one generation is greater than another generation. The Body of Christ is enriched by us all, whether we sing the song of Sinatra, Dylan, or will.i.am.
For additional posts on generational issues, click on "generations" in the labels box at the the end of this post.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"The Times" It Is a-Changin'

This week the Christian Science Monitor became one of the first major daily newspapers to announce that it was abandoning publication of its daily print edition and going exclusively to an online daily format with publication of a print edition on weekends only. People may be consuming more information than ever before, but they are doing it on their laptops, their iPhones, or their Kindles.

The disappearance of print newspapers is only part of the issue. By and large, newspapers have not done a good job of moving to the online medium. They look like newspapers online, in many cases simply replicating their print edition on a web site. (For more on the Christian Science Monitor and an NPR audio, CLICK HERE.)

Churches are beginning to learn the same lessons and make the same mistakes. More and more congregations are going to online communication and e-newsletters. In many cases it is more in an effort to save money, than to communicate more effectively or to expand the readership base as a missional effort. (Church Councils are persuaded by the “bottom line”.) When the move is made, they often make the same mistakes as newspapers. The online e-news is simply the print edition duplicated online. It generally makes little use of links, blogs or interactive elements. It also tends to follow the same publication schedule as the old newsletter, sending longs blocks of information on a monthly basis instead of short bites in real time.

Why not suggest to your judicatory office a workshop on online newsletters and communication! The times they are a-changin’. ---- Which brings me to an “aside”: As one who lived through the changes of the late 60’s, it’s interesting to listen to Bob Dylan’s song again (click video below) and realize how similar, and yet different, these times are from those.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The K.I.S.S. Principle: Keep it Simple (and Spiritual)

My father used to like reading the old Rube Goldberg cartoons that showed simple tasks being done in the most complex ways. Perhaps it was because my father was raised in a mechanical, industrial society.

As we move into a digital society with its binary foundation, we seem to be rediscovering the beauty of simplicity. The fancy fonts of a decade ago give way to the functional print of the new millennium. The “boom boxes” of the 80’s with all their knobs and buttons and equalizer switches are replaced by the simple, intuitive design of the iPod. The homepage of Google with its uncluttered design replaces pull-down menus and pop-up guides.

The same may be true for congregations that seek to be in mission in the 21st century. Functional simplicity, authenticity and missional focus are the key words for today’s congregations. The KISS principle, in this case, “Keep it Simple and Spiritual” seems to be the theme of the day. The idea of “Simple Church” sees a radical expression in the new monastic movements and house church movements, but the KISS principle applies to more traditional congregations as well. Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger spelled it out a couple of years ago in a book entitled Simple Church. They describe a process consisting of four key values:

  • Clarity: Do leaders and members understand the purpose and mission for which we exist ?
  • Movement: What is the process for developing disciples ?
  • Alignment: Are all your programs in line with and supportive of your purpose and mission?
  • Focus: Are you willing to stop doing things that do not fit your mission? Do new programs fit your mission?

It all boils down to what Stephen R. Covey set forth as a management principle: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” That means keeping everyone focused on the main thing and sometimes getting rid of that which is not the main thing.

Check the video below and then CLICK HERE for more resources.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Change is Good ... You Go First!

That’s the title of a delightful little book from a company called Simple Truths that publishes books that look like children’s books, but have great simple truths for leaders in any organization. (Click here for more information.)

If you want some good tips on leading change in an organization presented in a novel way, watch the short, but interesting, video by clicking here.

If you want a well presented animated preview of the book, a "virtual book", click here.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Making the Most of Short Term Mission Trips

Short term mission trips have become a means of creating mission awareness, building a mission donor base, strengthening outreach commitments of congregations and inspiring personal witness and spiritual growth. They have particular appeal for younger generations that prefer hands on participation, but are popular among Christians of all ages.

These mission trips have also come under criticism in some circles as being “feel good vacations” or one-sided expressions of Western “superiority” – “We have come to help you!”

A new resource from Christianity Today called “Round Trip” may be helpful in working with short term mission groups as they prepare for their experience. It is a 14 week time of preparation focused around five study periods plus practical planning sessions. The approach may be summarized in this quote from the leader’s guide:

"In fact, while the term “missions” can be valuable, it is potentially misleading. If we think that “missions” means that we possess something—whether superior knowledge of the gospel, finances, or skills—that those we are visiting do not have, we are likely to do more harm than good. Most short-term mission trips go to places where the church is already thriving, with a powerful gospel witness and many local skills and resources. Even where the church may not yet exist, God has gone ahead of us to prepare the way in every culture. The term “missions” can be helpful if it reminds us that we are going to join God’s mission, and God’s people already on a mission, in the place we will visit for a short time. It’s important that we prepare our group’s hearts and minds to recognize signs that God is already at work where we are going."

Watch the video clip below and then, if interested, check for additional resources by clicking HERE.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How the Internet is (Can Be) Changing the Way We Do Church

In an article for the Alban Institute, Andrea Unseem examines the latest Internet innovations and how they are changing the landscape of religion and congregational life today. (Click here for full article.)

The article came to mind following some events this week:
  • A friend reminded me that most congregations continue to plan communications based on a written culture when we are in a digital age.
  • A church worker in my local circuit sent me an email about a blog post I had told the circuit about. “Thanks. I didn’t know how to comment online. It’s the first time I’ve been on a blog.”
  • As a consultant with congregations in stewardship and mission, I find some leaders (mostly younger ones) want everything online and in electronic format, while others (mostly older ones) still want hard copies and printed manuals.
  • Some of the young people who do a great job on congregational web sites express frustration that they can’t seem to move the congregation beyond Web 1.0 (information sharing) to Web 2.0 (social networking).
Unseem says that experiences like this are part of a culture clash in which congregations are having debates—Should we be online? Do social networking sites have anything to offer?—that individuals in the wider society have already resolved.

The essential challenge for congregations is this: In a digital world where community is possible online, what is the relevance of a brick-and-mortar congregation? The Internet’s success springs from a powerful longing for community—the very same force that drives congregations.
... The good news here, says Heidi Campbell (Texas A&M), is that congregational life and online life are not competing in a zero-sum game. If people go online to connect with other believers or deepen their faith, this activity does not mean a net loss for the congregation that those individuals might have turned to had the Internet not been available.

A friend, who is pastor of a mission-focused church in our district, recently wrote, “I’m fascinated with the thought of the church becoming a hub of spiritual transformation that builds networks of vibrant Christian community in our neighborhoods. I like the wonderful contrast between the old picture of the “net-work” the disciples left to follow Jesus and the new concept of network. The Verizon commercials about one being connected to the many could be the new picture of the church. I see Gospel in those commercials.” What Unseem and Campbell are saying is that this new network can take many forms that now reach beyond the brick and mortar barriers of our old concept of the church.

... “People are looking for relationships,” says Campbell. “They’re looking for places where they can care about people and feel cared for. They want a sense of connection, and not just on a Sunday. They want a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week connection to other people. They want an intimate community where they can be transparent with others and others can be transparent with them.”

The article is a thoughtful reflection, and goes on to explore some practical ways to make it work in your congregation; read the article in its entirety.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Navigators, Map Makers and Map Readers -- Part One

Eddie Gibbs, in his book, Leadership Next, wrote “The church needs navigators tuned to the voice of God, not map readers.” As I read that, I looked up at the old Japanese sextant that serves as a bookend on top of one of my bookcases. I’ve had it so long, I don’t remember how I got it or where it came from – probably a hand-me-down relic from WWII. Of course my very young friends, raised in an age of GPS and satellite navigation, don’t even know what it is. And when I explain how it is used by sighting the sun or stars and measuring the angle of ascent against the horizon, they recognize the skill and, sometimes, the “luck” involved. But such is the challenge and the “romance” of navigation.

The difference between a navigator and a map reader is this: Map readers are good at finding their way around in a known world. All you need is a compass and a plotting tool to find your way from one known point to another on a map of the known universe. Navigators, on the other hand, are able to explore the unknown. They do not need fixed points and compass. They rely on the heavens. They look upward for guidance, not down at a map.

Len Hjalmarson in his review of Gibbs’ book, writes: “Map readers, and navigators, are actually two different kinds of people (See Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?) While it is possible to make map readers into navigators, it is not easy, and some will never make the transition. Map readers as leaders make good managers; navigators as leaders are explorers. Map readers love predictability; navigators enjoy complexity. Map readers are impatient with process; navigators enjoy the journey. Map-reading is a lonely vocation; navigators value company.”

At a recent meeting of our local circuit we talked about the difficulty of getting the members of our congregations to think in missional terms and to understand that we are moving into a time of great unknowns for our culture, our economy and our church. The truth is that we have lots of map readers who are good at finding their way around in the known world that used to be. Those people are important, for they are good managers. But we need more navigators—pastors and lay leaders who can look to the heavens and lead the way into the unknown. We also need something else that Gibbs does not mention. We need map makers. Map makers are people who can take the vision and direction pointed by the navigator and turn it into a practical pathway that others can follow. They make new maps for a newly discovered land.

In my experience, about 5% of the people are navigators. They see things others do not see and point directions for the new world in which we find ourselves. These people need community. They need to share ideas. And because they are navigators, they usually find one another out there in the unknown hanging around the blogs and the bookstores. You will find them on the links of places like Friend of Missional and Allelon. (See my link list) Another 15% are map makers. They are able to take the ideas they learn from listening to or reading the navigators and make practical application through the creation of a program or ministry that is able to transform the unique ministry they serve. These people need process, ideas and resources. The other 80% are map readers. They listen to the ideas of the navigators and then say, “Give me a map to get to this new land.” They want programs, study guides, schedules, ten steps to transformation. Both map makers and map readers are often well served by groups like Alban Institute and Center for Parish Development. (See my link list)

An example from my own denomination, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is the Ablaze! Movement. (See my link list.) Ablaze is intended to be a “movement,” not a “program.”

Ablaze! is not a program or a campaign. It began as a mission vision with the hope of starting a mission movement. Each participating congregation, group, mission society, partner church, individual, etc. is challenged to pray about its own particular situation and the part of the mission endeavor it can impact and to design its own strategy to contribute to reaching 100 million people. LCMS World Mission is asking the church to develop mission models that work and can be shared with others. Ablaze! is not an answer…it’s an invitation!

“Visions” and “movements” are led by Navigators. “Strategies” are designed by Map makers to make the vision work in their situations. But often the big demand is for tactics, programs, and models that can be used by Map readers, and so at the end of an Ablaze! presentation, or listed on the FAQ website there will be the question, “How do I order one of those Ablaze! T-shirts?”.

The truth is that the church needs all three types of people. If we were all navigators, we would constantly explore new directions, but never establish settlements in the new worlds we have discovered. The navigator has probably not fully accomplished his task until the most entrenched map readers are ready to order T-shirts with a map of the new world.

But there is another sense in which “we need navigators tuned to God’s voice.” In Part Two we’ll take a further look at what that means.

Navigators, Map Makers and Map Readers -- Part Two: Magnetic Declination

Have you ever seen a map or nautical chart with the warning: “Not for navigational purposes!”? There are many reasons for that warning. There are lots of church programs and “how to” books upon which I would like to put that stamp. It doesn’t mean that the program does not work or that following the steps will not help your church grow. What it does mean is that they will not necessarily get you where God wants you to go or do it the way God wants you to do it.

One of the things that good map readers understand is that you can’t always trust every map. A navigator knows how to find true North by sighting off the star Polaris, but a map reader using a compass has to take into consideration something called “magnetic declination,” which is the variation between true North and magnetic North, a factor that varies according to your location on the globe. A good map will include a symbol of magnetic deviation (see picture), but some maps, while they look good and may appear to work well in a short distance, are truly “Not for navigational purposes.”

Too many pastors and lay leaders pick up programs (maps) that sound exciting and pragmatic, but are not fit for navigation because they are based on faulty navigation points. Or to put it in plain English, too many churches use programs that sound exciting and may even bring results without really checking on the theology behind them. If a book is a bestseller or a program is used by the church down the street, “Maybe we should use it here.”

Not every pastor has the skill and vision to be a navigator or map maker in the new missionary age in the sense of pointing the new directions for the church in the 21st century. But every pastor should have the skill to check those new directions and maps against the fixed navigational points of God’s Word.

In an earlier post (Twitter: The Gospel in 140 Characters or Less) I observed how many different theologies of salvation one could convey in 140 characters. I am a strong proponent of a missional church and of an emerging missional theology and ecclesiology, but even an emerging theology has certain fixed points. For Lutherans they remain Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone. The “Twitter” experiment was, in my opinion, an example of how “open source theology” can produce maps “Not for navigational purposes.”

So, Eddie Gibbs is right, “The church needs navigators tuned to the voice of God, not map readers.” The church needs navigators to lead us into a new missionary age and it needs pastors and lay leaders who also have enough navigational skills to make sure we are on the right course.

Navigators, Map Makers and Map Readers -- Part Three: St. Brendan

My friends know I have a liking for what I consider to be great missional saints of old, most of whom my friends consider to be obscure pilgrims along the pathway of church history. All this talk about navigators and map makers brings to mind the great Irish saint, St. Brendan, often known as “Brendan the Navigator” or “Brendan the Bold”.

When I was a kid growing up in Staten Island, New York, there would occasionally (around Columbus Day) be an argument among my ethnic neighbors about who really discovered America. Few gave that honor to Columbus. The Italians claimed it was Giovanni da Verrazzano, who at least was the first to sail into New York harbor, supposedly on April 17, 1524. The Irish, on the other hand, claimed that it was St. Brendan, who a thousand years earlier (c. 540), had first laid foot on American soil, and that Columbus himself relied upon accounts of Brendan’s voyage.

Perhaps because the Italians significantly outnumbered the Irish in my neighborhood, or perhaps because of historical accuracy, the Italians won the argument, even to the point of naming the great bridge across the Narrows the “Verrazzano – Narrows Bridge”.

But St. Brendan still captures my imagination as one of the great navigators and missionaries of old. To sail the great Atlantic in a small boat with sixty pilgrims was an act of faith and a life of vulnerability. To be a navigator is to journey in a life of vulnerability, always trusting that the fixed points will be there and the journey will be guided. But many navigators have also found the truth of Alan Roxburgh’s statement “that what happens in vulnerability is where God’s future shows up.”

St. Brendan the Navigator understood his calling to walk in vulnerability, and he left us this prayer:

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword or shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on? Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will You help on the wild waves?

Ten Reasons to Plant a New Church

One of the books I have been recommending lately, especially to my friends in judicatories, is David T. Olson’s The American Church in Crisis. It is a book filled with data, analysis and useful charts, as well as practical hints for changing the status quo.

While the missional church movement often concentrates on changing the culture of existing congregations, it is important for congregations, and especially judicatories, to be concerned about planting new congregations. ( For some challenges of renewing existing congregations see an earlier post on “Jumping the Missional Sigmoid Curve.”)

Following are ten reasons to plant a church, according to Olson. Do you agree with them?

1. New churches lower the age profile of the American church, increase its multiethnicity, and better position the whole church for future changes.

2. New churches provide synergistic benefits to established churches. Research shows that denominations that plant many strong churches have more healthy, growing, established churches than those who plant few churches.

3. The continued growth of new churches will extend up to 40 years after their start. The growth that occurs in years 10 to 40 is critical for creating a strong base of churches for the future.

4. New churches provide a channel to express the energy and ideas of passionate, innovative young pastors. Church planting encourages the development of the gifts of ministry and leadership. Denominations that plant few churches unintentionally focus on training pastors in stabilizing gifts. A denomination needs both stabilizing and expansionist gifts to be both healthy and growing.

5. New churches are the research and development unit of God’s kingdom. New churches create most of the current models and visions for healthy life. Healthy cultural adaptations and theological vitality occur more often in a denomination that excels at church planting, because the ferment of new ideas and ministry solutions is more robust.

6. New churches are the test laboratory for lay leadership development. Because top lay leadership positions are usually already filled in the parent church, new churches provide a new group of emerging lay leaders the opportunity to grow and develop as primary leaders. In new church plants that do well, most lay members report that being part of the beginning of the new church was one of the defining spiritual events in their life.

7. New churches are historically the best method for reaching each emerging new generation. While many established churches have the ability to connect with the younger cohort, each generation also seems to need their own new type of churches that speak the gospel with their own cultural values and communications style.

8. New churches are the only truly effective means to reach the growing ethnic populations coming to America. Every people group needs to hear the gospel in a way that makes sense to their culture. It is difficult for established churches to become diverse. Church planting can effectively create both ethnic-specific and multiethnic congregations.

9. New churches are more effective than established churches at conversion growth. Studies show that new churches have three to four times the conversion rate per attendee than established churches.

10. Because the large majority of Americans do not attend a local church, many more new churches are needed. In 2005, 17.5% of Americans attended a local church on any given Sunday. Seventy-seven percent of Americans do not have a consistent connection with a Christian church.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Prayer for the New Year

John Greenleaf Whittier’s hymn, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” makes a fitting prayer for the New Year. Listen to this arrangement by the Westminster Abbey choir and congregation.

Whittier was an American Quaker who wrote this hymn as part of a poem in 1872. It is usually set to the British hymn tune, Repton, and has become one of the more popular hymns in the UK.

As we enter a chaotic year of economic, political, and military turmoil around the world, Whittier’s hymn, perhaps influenced by his Quaker values, ask for the inner calm and openness to hear the still voice of God in the midst of the turmoil.

A stanza that is often omitted, but one that is important for us who are moved to mission, is this one:

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

Many arrangements can be found for this hymn, including one from the soundtrack of the 2007 movie, Atonement, but the congregational one seemed most appropriate. Nevertheless, here’s an interesting one played on a rope carillon.

Blessed New Year!