Ugly Church

I love learning from other churches.  When I served a local church I would love to steal ideas and methods to try out in the local church I served.  It is inspiring to go and visit large thriving churches and come away with a fresh appreciation of how God can use the local church to impact a community and the world.

iStock_000000924311XSmallThere is a danger in going on these visits or to these conference.  The danger is in assuming that works in one of these megachurches will work in your church back home.  Every context is different so not all things work in all situations.  Every leader is different so what works well with one leadership style might not work well with another.  Every church is different, every community is different, every time is different.  What used to work may not work anymore when it comes to being fruitful.

As one of my former coaches put it we have to be careful of following every WillowBackBurg ResHillVillage model and method that comes down the road.  Someone once summed up the danger of copying methods by saying what you get is a Mr. Potato Head church with pieces that are added and removed.  We might call it a Frankenstein church or an ugly church.

So what is one to do?  Should we just forget ideas from others?  Of course not.  We have to glean principles first and foremost.  Applying principles is almost always useful.  We have to watch out about applying methods, however, because of the above.

Example…A principle one might get from another church is that a church should practice radical hospitality toward those who are coming to the church for the first time or the first time in a long time.  How that church carries that out is their method.  It might be through parking lot greeters, having an info center or giving out gift bags to guests.  Those methods may or may not work in your particular context.  Or, they may work.  Or, some of them may work.  You just need to recognize that when it comes to methods it may or may not work in your context.  It is good to remember this lest you become an ugly church with too many parts.

May 25th Conference Wide Day of Prayer

Bishop Young Jin Cho, resident Bishop for the Virginia area of the United Methodist Church has called for a focused day of prayer for our churches.  Specifically the Bishop is asking churches to pray for their own and other churches to be vital and to pray for renewal and revival as part of worship on Sunday May 25th.  Since taking the office of Bishop, Bishop Cho has said time and time again, “No spiritual vitality, no vital churches.”

BishopChoColumnWhile no soul would disagree with Bishop Cho’s call for a focused time of prayer for renewal and revival what is especially refreshing is the implicit posture this time of prayer puts the church.  In our day of superstar mega-church pastor celebrities, formularized models of evangelism, new Conference and denomination programs meant to increase vitality, and the next “it” book to read, it is sobering and refreshing to come back to the one who said “I will build my church.”  More important than knowing the methods of church growth, more important than even knowing our community is knowing from where it is our help comes from as we seek to be the vital body of Christ offering Christ to the world.

Bishop Cho puts it best in his own words…

“Today everyone agrees with the need for a renewal and revival of our churches. Everyone knows that we cannot renew our churches by our own wisdom and strategy. But most of us stop here and do not take the next step to move forward. We feel the need of a renewal and revival of our churches, but we do not open ourselves to God and humbly ask God to send us a renewal and a revival. I think the time has come for us to pray together for a new future of our churches.”

To read the full text of Bishop Cho’s call to prayer follow this link.

For Virginia United Methodist, how will you mark the call to prayer for renewal and revival?

Friday Night Lights

Every Friday night around the United States communities are gathering to cheer on their local high school football teams.  These Friday nights are great opportunities for pastors and churches to engage and serve their community and school. There are a variety of ways pastors and churches can engage their mission field at high school football games.

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  • Be present. This is especially true for pastors.  Pastors need to be present at some of these games so that your flock and those in the community see you as an active part of the community.  This is a great way to meet many in the community that you won’t meet sitting in your office or hosting a trunk or treat.
  • Find a way to serve.  Contact the Athletic Director of the high school and volunteer to sell tickets or take tickets at the gate.  Get a team together to clean up trash from the stands after the game.  Sponsor a tailgate where you bring the grills and meat and drinks and chips and serve the students for free.  Help the Athletic Boosters sell their wares. Get a team together to work the concession stand.  The concession stand is often worked by parents of players or band parents.  What a gift to relive them so they can watch their kids.
  • Sponsor an ad in the football program to support the school.
  • Work with the concession stand to sponsor a free drink night and put your church labels on the cups as a practical way to share God’s love and be sure they announce over the loud speaker that the free drink night is being sponsored by your church.
  • Consider offering a 5th quarter Party at your church or better yet at the high school gym or community center where kids can come for positive interactions like playing basketball or hanging out.

By investing and serving the community in this way you will be making Jesus famous.

What are some other ways that a church might serve their community in this context?

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

About six months ago I was listening to an associate pastor who was leading a new faith community explain how the leadership team of his church was able to turn around the local church where he served.  He talked about his senior pastor changing the culture of that church through his long and effective pastorate.  He said this was a key to the church’s revitalization because he said quoting Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

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What this pastor and Peter Drucker meant was that a church, business or an organization can have the greatest strategies in the world but if the culture of the church, business or organization is not a healthy one then none of it matters.  For example, let us say that a church engages in the hard work of defining its mission, its vision and its values but the culture in the church is one of mistrust and cynicism then it is highly likely that what first had the power to help the church make disciples of Jesus Christ becomes impotent because the culture of mistrust and cynicism eats it up.  Again, this is true in the church, in business, in organizations, in families, in society.  Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

For most of us in the church (and in judicatories like the District and Annual Conference) we are much more comfortable developing strategies than dealing with the dysfunctional culture into which we insert those strategies.  Maybe before we rush headlong into developing the latest strategy for church health, growth or effectiveness we do well to address the culture of the organization.

Addressing and changing the culture of an organization would take a book or college level class that goes far beyond a blog post but I think we might say that there will be no culture change in the church without prayer.  In Virginia, our Bishop, Young Jin Cho, has said there will be no vital churches without vital prayer.  While changing the culture involves many things, it starts with the fervent prayer of the people of God.

Have you seen instances where a great strategy was developed only to be swallowed up by a dysfunctional culture? 

Are you Praying for Divine Appointments?

I never heard the term divine appointments until I began a new church some ten years ago.  It was in training to plant a church that I was introduced to the concept of praying for divine appointments.

iStock_000016426291XSmallWhat are divine appointments?  Divine appointments are those people that God brings into our lives during our day to day activities.  These are not necessarily the people on our calendars we have appointments with but they are the ones we happen to run into at the grocery store, or receive an unexpected call from, or come across at the PTA or ball game.  They are the people God brings across your path.  They are the people God might be nudging you to share an invitation to church with, or to speak a comforting word of grace and hope, or just begin to build a relationship with that goes beyond one meeting.

If we think back in our memory each of us can certainly remember times in our lives when God has done this whether we have prayed for divine appointments or not.  But, what if we prayed every day that God would bring divine appointments into our lives so that we could be light to them?  What if we prayed that God would help us to be aware and open our eyes to those God has brought to us?  What if we could pray for such spiritual awareness?  Then, we could then sit back and watch what God does and delight in how God works in other people’s lives and in our own lives to bring people together.  With such an awareness we would be ready to step through the door of engaging persons as the light of Christ.  What an awesome thing, what an awesome privilege and what an awesome God!

Do you pray for divine appointments?  If so, how has God moved to bring persons into your path? 

Using Felt Needs to Meet The Real Need

One way for churches to begin to make a difference in their community and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is to identify the “felt needs” of the community.  By meeting the “felt needs” of the community the church not only meets a real need in the name of Christ but also opens a door to introduce people to the answer to humanity’s ultimate or real need- Jesus Christ.

Child and TeacherWhat is a felt need and what does this look like?  A felt need is a very real need held by many in the community.  For example, a felt need might be a part of the community wanting to learn better parenting skills.  It might be a need felt in the community to get out of debt.  It might be the need for after school care.  It might be help for single mothers.  It might be ESL classes for persons to improve their English.  It might be helping the homeless transition to permanent housing.  Felt needs are different in every community.

The church’s job is to discover these felt needs and then seek to meet them.  This might look like offering a parenting class, offering a Financial Peace University program, starting an after school tutoring program and on and on.  Incidentally, it is always best with whatever you offer to do it outside your church building.  That is a post for another day, but suffice it to say there is almost nothing that can be done better inside the four walls of the church as opposed to outside the four walls of the church.

By meeting these felt needs the church then has the opportunity to build relationships with people in the community and offer an invitation to be part of the church community and ultimately an invitation to a life of following Jesus.

What are the felt needs in your community you can meet in order to introduce person to their ultimate need- Jesus Christ?

{Podcast 001} Creating a Culture of Invitation

It is a well known statistic that over 80% of people (or higher) come to the church for the first time on the arm of a friend, relative, co-worker or neighbor.  If this is true, then our churches and their leaders must be doing their best to instill a culture of invitation.  In this episode of the ChurchIngenuity.Com Podcast, I share five ways churches can begin to instill such a culture of invitation.

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These five ways are as follows:

1. Model It!
Pastor, staff and church leaders must themselves invite and tell their stories of how they invited.

2. Give your folks something to give out.
This could be message series specific invite cards or general invite cards to your church or CDs.

3. Link invitation to prayer.
Prayer is an integral part of creating a culture of invitation.

4. Spread some word of mouse.
Utilize Facebook, Twitter and HTML emails to help people invite.

5. Don’t Disappoint.
If your lay people are sticking their neck out to invite, make sure you are providing a quality worship experience.

Feedback

If you have an idea for a podcast you would like to see or a question about an upcoming episode, please contact me.

Should Your Church be in Church Newspaper Directory?

When one opens the Saturday newspaper (for daily newspapers) or the Wednesday edition (for weekly newspapers) they will come across a page listing many of the churches in the area.  Big churches, small churches, different flavors of churches all in different sized ads.  This page might be a half a page or a full page depending on the locale.  Most newspapers charge for this service as a way to generate ad revenue and the cost of the ad is based on size and maybe even placement.

iStock_000001054567XSmallBy and large, I have come to experience in my ministry that these newspaper ads in the newspaper church directory are a waste of time and money.  There are two kinds of people read the church directory in the newspaper- other Christians from other churches in your community and persons new to your community.

Most of the readers will be other Christians from your community.  They want to see what is going on in the church world.  Most persons who are not connected to the church aren’t going to even open that section.  They will not find a church in the newspaper and more likely will go to the Internet to search for a church.  This being said, you may be able to reach some new persons who have moved to the area through this church ad, but I imagine very few.  You would be better of investing the advertising money you would use in the newspaper in a new neighbor outreach program where you are sending letters or dropping off gift bags to new neighbors in your community.

If you “have to” advertise in the newspaper, you might be better off in advertising on the most read page of the newspaper (the obituaries).  If you cannot do that you might advertise in the section of your newspaper that you think most women will read as the woman in the family is the primary force that decides for a family to attend church.

One caveat.  Every locality is different and I would be remiss to make a pronouncement that advertising in the church directory of the newspaper is a waste of time and money.  Perhaps in some community it is the most effective and cost effective.

Is newspaper advertising for churches effective in your mission field (community)? 

Back to School- 5 Ways to Bless Your Community

Children have either returned to school or will return to school shortly.  Now is a great time to be a blessing to your community by supporting local schools and building relationships with administrators, teachers, staff and students.  Below are five ideas that can help you be a blessing.

Back to school1.  Hold a School Appreciation Sunday.  Plan a special worship service around the start of the school year.  During the service the pastor may preach a special message around the new school year that is encouraging and Christ centered.  There may be a special time of blessing for teachers, administrators, staff and students.  You may give a gift to each of these.  Perhaps you invite children to bring their backpacks for a special blessing of the backpacks.  To this service, you invite all the teachers, administrators, staff and students.  Start early in inviting.  Equip your people to invite by producing some postcard sized invites they can hand out.  Send letters, emails and make calls to the local schools in your area.

2.  Pray for your schools.  You will certainly be praying if you do a School Appreciation Sunday but go the next step.  Consider setting up a system whereby students are matched up with others in the church and students are prayed for and encouraged throughout the year with cards.  Obviously, you will want to get parents’ permission to do this.  Likewise, you can match up prayer warriors with teachers, administrators or staff.

3.  Go meet your principal.  While this is their busy time and you will want to wait and while they are busy at other times too, make a point even if it is just a quick introduction to go and meet with the principals of the schools in your area offering to be of assistance as they need.  If they will meet for half and hour that is great then you can pick their minds about needs they see in the community. And while you are visiting the principal, bring some Krispy Kreme donuts to the front office staff as they will be your entry to see the principal and serve as gatekeepers.  Continue to bring donuts or some other treat once a month just  to be a blessing.

4.  Hold a school supply drive.  Let’s face it some parents can’t or for some unknown reason do not have the parenting skills to send their kids to school with proper supplies.  Teachers often pay for this out of their pocket.  Go see the guidance counselor and ask them what items are needed most.  You may go so far as to adopt a classroom of the year providing the supplies needed.

5.  Hold a back to school lunch for teachers, administrators, and staff.  It may be their is an in-service day where they will be all together.  It may be that you have to drop something off and the teachers graze at different times on their lunch.  Chick Fil A is a good option here.  Also, I have discovered teachers are just like preachers- most of them love chocolate anything.

What are some other ways the church can be a blessing at the beginning and throughout the school year?

Say No to Frankenstein Churches

God never ceases to amaze with God’s creative genius.  God’s creation is a lesson in uniqueness.  No two human beings are exactly alike, even identical twins.  Of all the trillions of snowflakes that fall no two are exactly like.  You get the idea.

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So too, no two churches are exactly alike.  Every church has its own respective DNA.  Every church has its own unique collective memory and values.  Every church finds itself planted in a mission field (community) that is unique in and of itself.  Like all of creation, so the local church is unique.

The problem comes when a unique local church seeks to emulate another church.  This happens when the latest successful church puts on a conference or their pastor writes a book.  In fairness, the so called successful church does not intend for churches to emulate every single ministry, program or strategy that made them successful.  However, when a local church does seek to emulate the latest successful church it ends up looking like a Frankenstein church.  Because what happens is the local church takes this piece from this successful church and then another piece from another successful church and still another piece from somewhere else until the local church looks like it is made up of a bunch of pieces.  Some have referred to this as Mr. Potato Head church.  Scripture talks about it as putting on Saul’s armor to fight Goliath.

Should local churches then not ever learn from successful churches?  Of course they should!  However, the local church needs to do so recognizing that what works for one unique church in its own unique context made up of its own unique context will not necessarily work in their church.  What we can learn from effective and vital churches is principles.  We can use their template but we need our own content in our local church.  We shouldn’t just cut and paste otherwise we will end up looking like Frankenstein instead of the unique local church God intends.

What are some principals you think we can learn from vital and effective churches that can be applied to our local churches?