Riding Out 3 Big Ministry Storms
The following article by Thom Schultz was originally posted on Holy Soup
These are turbulent times. And the church is swirling in the maelstrom.
I was reminded of this turbulence as I reviewed Holy Soup’s top blog posts over the past year. Three topics catapulted to the top, fueled by viral sharing across the country and around the world. Here they are, with a few thoughts about what caused these topics to explode:
3. “The Church’s Frightful Kodak Moment.” People seemed captivated by examining the similarities between the demise of the Eastman Kodak Company and decline of the American church. Two big institutions. Each struggling to adapt (or not) to the changes around them.
The big response to this article prompted me to hunt down Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer who tried to get his company to embrace digital photography in the 1970s. I eventually found Sasson and interviewed him for our documentary film “When God Left the Building.” He provided some additional insights about the Kodak story that have significant relevance to the church’s current challenges.
Sasson explained how Kodak muddled its mission. “We got confused as to what business we were in. Are we a chemical company, are we a film company, are we an imaging company. What are we?” I’m afraid the church today suffers from a similar confusion. Are we here to build attendance? to make the pew-sitters comfortable? to reach the lost? to keep our ministry jobs?
And Sasson talked about misreading the customer as digital photography emerged. “They didn’t care that the pictures were horrible, that the video was distorted. That didn’t matter to them at all. I was struck by the fact that quality was lost on them, but immediacy was everything. They used (photos) to instantaneously share their environment with their friends. They were using pictures differently.” Many church leaders today seem to believe that Sunday production quality trumps everything else, including addressing people’s longing for a relational approach to spiritual growth.
2. “The Rise of the Dones.” This post named a large and growing segment of the population–highly active, spiritually mature people, who are simply done with the structured church. The blog response largely divided into two camps: the church establishment and the Dones themselves.
Many current church leaders chastised those who have left the established church. They assumed the Dones either abandoned their faith or discounted the biblical concept of community. But many Dones responded that they are now more engaged than ever–in a more organic definition of church, the Body of Christ.
I continue to be struck by the number of pastors and other ministry leaders who now count themselves among the Dones. One wrote: “Yes, I am DONE! Now I am ministering outside the established church, healing, and at peace.”
1. “Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore.” This one topped them all–and continues to flourish. In this article I explained how, from the pew perspective, current practices are causing so many church attendees to refrain from singing. My perspectives ignited a storm of response, including from worship leaders and musicians who defended their status quo.
Last week I received a question from a worship pastor who honestly wondered what I would advocate for a more inviting worship atmosphere. Here’s what I shared with him:
The following article by Thom Schultz was originally posted on Holy Soup
A friend of mine visited a large, famous church on a typical Sunday. The worship band performed with precision. The lighting and fog effects were state of the art. The pastor presented a polished sermon amidst specially built staging.
Later in the week the pastor shared this church’s ministry secrets in a seminar. He described the staff’s single-minded emphasis on excellence—for the Sunday worship services. He shared their internal mantra: “It’s about Sunday, stupid.”
I get the point. For many churches, the Sunday service is the initial introduction for the uninitiated. It’s the main conduit for new members. It’s the only time most churches ever see the majority of their people. It’s the culmination of a week (or more) of staff planning and rehearsing. It’s the main conduit for tithes and offerings.
I get it. But I fear this laser focus on the Sunday service is slowly anesthetizing the church and clouding its real mission. It’s no wonder that many people come to worship for an hour on Sunday and then fail to live their faith once they leave the church building.
I’m afraid it’s too easy for an It’s-About-Sunday-Stupid (I-ASS for short) church staff to begin to shade its mission toward merely filling seats on Sunday morning. That’s not the same as a clear mission to bring individuals closer to Jesus, to transform their lives, to provide relational support for the Body of Christ.
Instead, the I-ASS mentality can send the unfortunate, subtle message that the ministry is really all about the show—and its showmen.
The church is not about the show. It’s not about Sunday. It’s about God—working in and through people—Sunday through Saturday. Everywhere.
We numb our people’s sense of mission and ministry when we imply it’s all about what the staff performs on Sunday morning. The weekly worship service is not the main event. It may be a reflection and a celebration of the main event, which is God at work every day in and through his people. On the job. At home. At school. In the car. On the bus. At the store. On the field.
Rather than cheerleading an I-ASS myopia, it’s time to widen our idea of church, of ministry. It’s time to shift more energy and emphasis into other, broader ways to be faithful to our calling–as the church.
Church is not an hour on Sunday. Faith is not a staged show. Evangelism isn’t the act of parking butts in pews. Discipleship isn’t the process of dispensing oratory to passive spectators.
We don’t “go to church.” We are called to be the church. Every day. Everywhere.
A Spirited Note To Church Leaders
The following article by Cameron Trimblewas originally posted at http://www.ucc.org/stillspeaking_weekly_a_spirited_note_to_church_leaders
January 14, 2015
Written by Cameron Trimble
I am bored with the narrative of church decline. Sure, fewer people are going to church. Some churches are closing. I understand the impulse to throw your hands up in despair, change occupations, or hold out until retirement then wish the next generation good luck. Yet I’m optimistic. I am seeing a new path of enormous opportunity -- one that calls us to greater imagination, risk-taking and reinvention. God is leading us down this new path, and I see churches finding success on it.
Church renewal is not about restructuring all we know and love about the Church in favor of some trendy new format or program. We question form but remain true to function. We keep our core commitment to transform lives for the sake of the Gospel while allowing for entrepreneurial new formats, structures and experiences.
I’d like to suggest we begin with these five steps:
1. Stop settling for mediocre worship. Transforming lives is not a nice byproduct, but the primary mission, of the Church. When was the last time you left as a new and renewed spiritual being when you attended church? You may leave socially fed and physically fed, but leaving church spiritually fed is becoming a rarity. I know, such brash statements are sure to arouse significant defensiveness. However, I still would ask, if we offered the world a transformational encounter with God every single Sunday, do you think we would have trouble filling our pews? Our job as church leaders is to create at least 52 transformational experiences every year. That’s 52 opportunities a year to change someone’s life as they encounter the sacred.
2. Turn members into ministers, not managers. Who joins a church because they want to serve on another committee? No one. Yet how many of our local congregations offer that as the only way to participate in the life of the congregation? Here is the truth folks: the vast majority of churches in the United States have 150 members or less. It does not take 26 committees to manage that. Instead of committee members, turn them into leaders. Instead of managers, give them mission. Empower people to engage in life-changing work rather than institutional management. Let them BE the Church and change the world … and then hire a manager.
3. Create environments of innovation. In his book Church 3.0, Neil Cole writes, “Whether seeing tall ceilings with stained-glass windows or meeting in a box building without windows, the actual system of church has gone relatively unchanged. You have priests and pastors, Sunday morning services with singing and a sermon, the weekly offering, the pulpit and pews, and the church building.” Why young people aren’t attending, why our technology is outdated, why national structures are broken and regional offices are bankrupt -- these are not mysterious challenges with no discernible solutions. These are organizational systems in need of innovation. I’ve been so impressed by the new partnership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and Episcopal Church working together to start new ministries. One of their exciting new projects is the Baltimore-based Church on the Square led by the Rev. James Hamilton. Through addressing wellness issues, nurturing arts and culture, improving the environment, the Church on the Square is enriching community life through faith, spirituality and doubt. It’s a laboratory of innovation with Jesus at its core.
4. Seminaries are great, but we need more learning partners. I appreciate seminaries for their important role in the formation of church leaders, but to assume seminary education is all one needs to engage in effective ministry is ludicrous. Seminaries are not equipped (yet) to train us in web development, financial management, building maintenance, landlord procedures, marketing and branding, media relations, database management and, in some cases, nonprofit management. Other degree programs do not pretend to teach students all they need to know. Instead, they have robust continuing education programs that efficiently teach the more practical, hands-on skills. Evolving industries require continuing education opportunities to keep professionals up-to-date on emerging thoughts, tools and trends. Why don’t we require the same?
5. Start embracing technology. The reality is that most people working in secular settings already live in a world of web meetings, video conferencing, Facebook and blogging. They have embraced e-marketing and YouTube, Twitter and iPads. For us to not embrace these tools and use them for their proven effectiveness makes us not only look obsolete and irrelevant, but we’re acting that way, too. Think of the time you would save by using reliable contact management software rather than maintaining your church membership lists on an Excel spreadsheet or a membership book. Think of the funds you could raise online rather than only by cash or check on Sunday morning? Think of the impact you could make by incorporating a powerful video clip to illustrate a sermon point, connecting the modern to the ancient. Think of the money (and trees) you would save by emailing your e-newsletter rather than printing and mailing a hard copy to every member. The intelligent use of technology could save thousands of hours and dollars for just one church.
I love the Church, and I do not believe that we are presiding over its death. I do have faith that the United Church of Christ can have a vital and important future. But as leaders, we must have the hope followed by the courage to forge new ways forward. I believe in resurrection.
Sparking Ministry Conversation
Why are you hopeful about the future of your church? What difference is your church making in your community? Who would your church be and what would you be doing if you were brave?
Living Missionally First to Second
The article below is taken from the Presbytery de Cristo wesite, http://presbyterydecristo.org/iLasNoticiasdeCristo, dated Jan 16, 2015.
If the motto of the attractional church is "Y'all Come," the trumpet call of the missional church is "Go and Show!" We are called to Go and Show the Gospel to our neighbors and in our communities. Thus, the first
value - from home to first base on the Missional Living baseball diamond - is that missional living is ministry outside of our church buildings.
The second value is that missional living is service oriented. By highlighting a service orientation, this definition of missional living conforms both to Gospel mandate as well as church practice; thus, it will be both easy and difficult to comprehend and internalize. Let me try to unpack the potential both for easy acceptance and a hard confusion. The notion of missional living as service oriented is easy to comprehend and internalize. Passages such as Isaiah's definition of a true fast as encompassing the ways of justice for others and all, not just
personal deprivation (Isaiah 58), are companions with Jesus' parable in which the sheep feed the hungry and clothe the naked thereby serving the Master unawares (Matthew 25). This is the air we breathe as
Presbyterians! And so our churches have a storied tradition of leading the ecumenical community toward establishing Food Banks, organizing the local Habitat for Humanity chapter and giving to the One Great Hour
of Sharing. All of these activities are sacred; all of them make Jesus happy. Yet they are insufficient for the robust life of Christian faith to which we are called.
The manner in which service orientation is so much a part of our faith DNA also creates the potential for confusion as regards missional living. The temptation, it seems to me, is to practice our service orientation
from a consumerist model, which views the church as "Big Brother" and the poor, needy and helpless as "Little Brother" (please forgive the sexist terms). Do we see the danger in the terms I just used? Those who are recipients of our generosity are NOT helpless; to say otherwise is condescending in the extreme. And though they may be in need and may experience poverty, these definitions with which we saddle them are not their deepest truth. Rather, the deepest truth of these folks whom we seek to serve are found in such terms as "child of God," "father," "mother," "friend," and perhaps also "brother or sister in Christ."
Missional living that is service oriented begins to break down the hierarchical, consumerist models with which we have served in the past. It begins to lower ourselves in our own eyes in order to be able to see truly the person who stands before us. That person, the recipient of food, shelter, clothing or 1,001 other services daily rendered by churches, also stands before God; indeed, we stand together. Missional living may not require a change in our activities of serving, but it pleads for a transformation of our hearts and minds, a deflating of our egoism and arrogance in the way in which we conduct that service.
Bounding in Hope,
The posts in the Conversations Class category (under Categories, on the right side of the page) contain writings for and by the members of the "Changing the Conversation" class taught by Eloise Fredrickson using a book of that name as the theme. We are looking at the huge changes that have taken place in mainline Protestant churches over the last several years and trying to figure out how to respond to them in a way that will deepen and sustain the life of our congregation.