Thinking Out Loud

June 21, 2018

Knowing the Family: Church Name Tags

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

Yesterday, on another blog I write for, the question of name tags came up. I checked to see if we had ever covered anything like that here, and the closest we came was a few months ago when we looked at church family photo directories, here and here.

I recognize that for many of you this is a rather superficial subject, but increasingly, I think that people like to have a name to associate with the people with whom they are having fellowship or engaging in worship. When the “turn around and shake hands and welcome each other” part of the service kicks in — and we can debate that in another article in future — my go to posture if I don’t know the people is to say, “Hi, my name is Paul.”

I feel that people want to know who you are more than have their right hand shaken for two seconds.

Admittedly the photo directory covers some of this. If you’re church isn’t huge, you can page through the thing and associate names and faces before ever having the first conversation.

Social media also makes a difference. Many are connected on Facebook, etc., and you’ve seen your friends’ friends’ pictures previously. (Yes, that was the correct use of the possessive apostrophe.)

So would name tags help?

We wear them at conferences, where it’s assumed people from many different locations are converging together. This is often helpful over the course of a week or weekend, but of course we might never see those people again.

The Mormons have them as standard issue. A friend of mine actually made his own when trying to infiltrate a local Mormon congregation. I’m not sure it was effective, but he did stuff like that. (I wish I could tell you more!)

I attended a church once that used them. You left them in a rack and picked them up when you arrived and pinned them on upon arrival. After about 12 months (or less in my case) people just got tired of it, though some people kept using them for several more years. After the first season of use, everybody knew everybody by then.

And that’s just the point. Fellowship and getting to know each other should occur organically. We shouldn’t have to organize what should happen naturally in the body of Christ. It doesn’t need a level of administration.

Next thing you know you’re taking all the songs you sing regularly and putting them in a book! Oh wait, that happened, didn’t it? And then the churches went through a period of only singing what was in the hymnbook and it was more difficult to introduce new songs.

I would argue that formalizing the getting-to-know process would do the same. Rather, tell me your name, and then tell me more; a little about yourself, your family, where you live, what you work at, how long you’ve been attending the church.

 

 

Advertisements

March 17, 2018

Church Directories Build Community

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

~Theme from Cheers TV-Show

It was a heated congregational meeting that had been called nearly twenty years ago to address the implications of the rapidly growing church going to a two service format on Sunday mornings. The usual pros and cons were being kicked around when a woman at the back stood up and voiced an issue I hadn’t foreseen; “But we won’t all know each other.”

I never thought of that.

This was a church where, heretofore, everybody knew who everybody was. The kind of thing you expect in a rural church environment. Suddenly, that was about to change, and there was apprehension, if not plain fear about the implications of going to church on Sunday morning and not being in command of the first and last names of all the people in the auditorium.

# # #

Some churches have always resolved the identification issue by having a bulletin board at the back with photos of “Our Church Family.” A local church in our area raised the quality standard on this a few years back. When the professional company doing their photo directory was done, the church was presented with a couple of beautiful, framed wall prints showing everyone’s directory photo and name alphabetically. I’m sure it is often referred to, given that church’s size.

Another option is name tags. Besides the risk of the pin-type tearing clothing — many churches opt for the lanyard type — I’ve always felt it reminiscent of the “elder” name tags worn by the Mormon (LDS) missionaries who come knocking at your front door at inopportune times. But some churches thrive on this system, with visitors quickly assigned a quickly-scribbled Sharpie version which, I’m quite sure, would make seeker-friendly advocates like Bill Hybels shudder in horror; although it beats asking visitors to stand up and give their names, a practice I sincerely hope has disappeared by now.

It also raises an issue I don’t have space to get into here: The artificiality of the “turn around shake hands” type of forced fellowship. Or name tags themselves. If you click the image on the name tag at right, it will take you to a blog post on that subject.

Then there are various types of mixers including Newcomers Lunch, where established church leaders get to know recent arrivals; or the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” events where, each quarter, people alternate between being a “host” or being a “guest” at a mystery house with mystery guests. (You can even heat things up by sending the charismatic-leaning, Arminian Smith family over for lunch with the conservative Calvinist Jones family; but who gets the Adams family with their ten children?)

Of course, the organic approach to getting to know people is small groups. You won’t know everyone, but you’ll build deep relationships and strong community with the others in your group. And possibly at that point, knowing everyone’s name won’t be so high a priority.

Which brings us to church directories.

# # #

When my oldest son was about six I showed him an entry in our church’s directory where one couple’s name was listed, but there was no address or phone number. It was easy to see why if you knew that he worked for the RCMP. (U.S. readers: Think FBI.) So I asked him, “Why do you think they don’t have an address?”

His answer was; “They’re homeless.”

I then explained the nature of his job, and the notion of privacy. There are other examples I can think of where families have chosen to opt-out completely from even having their names listed, but in most small and medium-sized churches, a church telephone directory is still considered useful, even though some online people haven’t picked up a phone handset in years; so most people participate.

Directories easily fit into the collection of things listed above (name tags, photo boards, etc.) but offer something else: A means to get in touch, or stay in touch with other people in your church throughout the week. You can call the kid’s teacher to see if he left his Bible in the classroom, ask the worship leader’s wife for the title of the book she mentioned in the lobby, and e-mail the woman who said she had a great recipe for carrot cake. You can see where people live, and the names of their children.

I am convinced that these directories — with or without photos — are in another category altogether, and sincerely believe that, where feasible, every church should have one.

Especially in an age of e-mail.

I know there will be pushback on this — some people will not want their e-mail address published — but I am convinced that we live in an electronic world where not having e-mail is like buying a house and taking down the mailbox. I believe there is potential for abuse, but it is outweighed by the contact that can take place between church family members.

As a business owner who does a monthly e-mail newsletter, I’m always tempted to steal e-mail addresses from directories, but we’ve learned over time that we’re better off initiating contact some other way before pursuing electronic communication. However, one local church meets this problem halfway by giving business owners a back page to list their name, the name of their business, the nature of their business, and business phone and e-mail information.

That same church also has a strong push for people to submit photos. They produce their own directory, and so there isn’t the hesitation associated with commercial photographers trying to sell families additional prints and print packages at inflated prices.

In an environmentally-conscious world, some churches have put their church directory online. A login is necessary so that only members and adherents can access the information, though the same login allows those listed to update their own data.

At the other end of the spectrum, in another church that we are actively involved with, the directory is simply a list of names and phone numbers. No indication of where people live or if they drive a great distance for worship. No opportunity to send an e-mail; which really grates on my wife and I, who use online communication extensively.

The other major liability of their system is that children under eighteen are not listed at all. I’m not sure I can even begin to grasp what kind of message that sends to, for example, the teens in the youth group. (“You’re not really part of our church family.”) It’s an oddity that sticks out all the more if your kids are accustomed to seeing their names in such a publication. The church in question doesn’t really have a large number of children. Coincidence?

# # #

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say…

~Lyrics from the Beatles, “When I’m 64”

# # #

In a world where privacy concerns dominate so many discussions, and insurance companies advise churches against anything with the faintest hint of liability, the idea of a church directory may seem like a throwback to a bygone era; however this writer is sold on them. I even keep a few old ones now and then as a sort of yearbook of memories of what the church family looked like in the past. Once in awhile, I discover someone in the church family who only lives a few blocks away, or someone who lives next door to someone with whom I’ve recently shared my faith journey.

I also remain absolutely convinced that creating e-mail community is absolutely essential, especially as various factors seem to add to the isolation people experience. Your church may prefer to do this through Facebook community; but do update the thing now and then, okay? Computer contact is not the same as face-time, but it’s better than nothing. And those with hesitation can always choose to opt-out of listing their online address, but I find that most choose to share their full contact information.

Also, I cannot minimize the role that both standard telephone contact and e-mail contact can play when someone in the church faces an urgent need for prayer.

# # #

If we’re a family, then family members talk to each other, right?

And church isn’t just something we do on Sunday.

# # #

This 2011 piece was included today as a part two to a more recent discussion we had on this topic yesterday.

March 16, 2018

Your Church Family Directory

One of the two churches with which I’m directly involved has a church directory which includes email addresses. The major benefit I see is that it allows people to continue the conversations started on Sundays throughout the week; to initiate contact; or to follow up with friends they haven’t seen in awhile.

The church family phone directory is probably something that will disappear over the next decade because of (a) privacy concerns, and (b) the degree to which the megachurches set the agenda of smaller churches. Nonetheless we thought we’d visit this topic.


Since my church uses a photo directory, I had a thought today that it would be fun to do one where instead of actual photographs, people submitted an avatar, as they do on social media. It would be 100% contrary to the purpose for which photo directories were created in the first place, but definitely fun and colorful.

Full disclosure: I was looking at this picture of two cats when I came up with this, and thinking it might be better than the dated picture of Mrs. W. and myself they’ve been using for the past four years.


Next, there is the issue of people who appear in these directories who have long moved on, hopefully to another church.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a megachurch pastor. We often forget that numerically, he would qualify by today’s standards. The church experienced phenomenal growth. At their size, not to mention the cost of paper, a church directory would have been impossible. But there was a membership roll and people wanted their name kept on it. He wrote,

Let us not keep names on our books when they are only names. Certain of the good old people like to keep them there, and cannot bear to have them removed; but when you do not know where individuals are, nor what they are, how can you count them? They are gone to America, or Australia, or to heaven, but as far as your roll is concerned they are with you still. Is this a right thing? It may not be possible to be absolutely accurate, but let us aim at it… *

I don’t think that everyone I’m aware of actually wants their directory listing to be kept. They’ve possibly changed churches and aren’t giving it a thought. Rather, the fault lies with the church for not noticing their absence. (Having written that, I just got in touch with someone I haven’t seen lately to see how they’re doing.)


I see we’ve covered this topic before. Four years ago, I proposed something different:

How a social media hub is different from a Church directory

I’m writing this in a vacuum, because I haven’t exactly seen done what I am proposing here. I just see a need. So here’s the proposal, and if you have any suggestions or revisions based on experience with a church that’s doing this please leave a comment.

Social media, as we have come to know it, is with us to stay. The platforms will migrate over time, but a generation has grown up communicating on line, and overall, I would say that for the church, this is a good thing. We can start a conversation at a weekend service, and continue it all week. We can learn that people have specific interests, and send them links to articles and channels of interest. It replaces the classic “encouragement notes” or “thinking-of-you cards.”

  • Ideally, a church directory lists every member and adherent. A social media index lists only people who want to share their various social media platforms.
  • A Church directory contains addresses and numbers for mobile phones and land lines.  A social media index has names and locations for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, tumblr, WordPress and YouTube pages.
  • A Church directory often exists in print; a church social media hub exists only online. It’s live, so information may be added or removed at any time.
  • Church publications generally promote the church’s own social media pages. A social media index highlights what the church family is doing online.
  • Church directories are usually only distributed to the people whose names are contained in them. A social media index can just be a page on the church website — “Central Community Church on Social Media” — with no restricted access, because each of the pages concerned are public anyway.
  • Knowing that anyone in your church can access your pages is a wonderful way of keeping yourself accountable for what you write, post or link to. Your social media pages may reflect a personal family focus and other interests and hobbies you have; but ultimately you are aware that fellow church members might drop in at any time, unannounced.
  • Social media is constantly changing. A social media index for your church family needs to be updated on a regular basis, perhaps weekly. If a given platform falls out of use, there can be a decision to delete all links to that platform.
  • If any social media platform from any church member is reported to have questionable content, all their listings would be removed.

If one of the basic problems in the church is that we don’t really know each other, I know of no other way to change that than to be interconnected online. This allows us to get to know each other to a greater degree.


We’ll look more at this topic tomorrow!

*Spurgeon quotation source, click here.

July 13, 2017

6 Areas Where Church Dropouts Miss Out

FellowshipWe are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

Some will argue, “I haven’t wandered from the faith, I’ve simply had it with the local church.” Believe me, I get that; I get that more than you can imagine, even if you’re a regular reader here. But every Sunday I get up and make the trip. Not because I’m obeying the commandment to, or because I’ll feel the Evangelical equivalent to Catholic guilt if I don’t, but rather because the benefits clearly outweigh the cost.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but today I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipThere is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. In that context, as Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate PrayerIt’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal PrayerThe obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

GivingYou can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world. Giving is an act of worship.

Confession Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

CommunionThis is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together. You might be able to approximate some of these individually, and if circumstances require that, then you certainly should try. But I believe these things were intended to work best collectively.


Appendix: Support scripture passages:

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”! – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

June 25, 2017

Baby Dedication and Gift-Giving

Not being Roman Catholic, I didn’t realize that Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation were gift-giving occasions until I started working in a Christian bookstore. To be honest, I didn’t really know what the latter two sacraments were and at what age they were preformed. I quickly caught up.

Then came the day someone asked for a First Reconciliation gift suggestion. This is the confession which precedes First Communion since, as every good Catholic knows, there is no participation in the Eucharist without confession. But a gift?

I think there can be some appropriateness to presents associated with the sacraments if the gifts are well-chosen, suited to the child, and represent something that will help the child remember the importance of these occasions. However, I also think some of this is an attempt to parallel what happens in the life of a Jewish boy or girl at their Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. Let’s face it, there’s nothing particular spiritual about those pen and pencil sets. Or the envelope containing $20. At least Catholic kids get crosses and pictures of those warm and fuzzy Precious Moments characters kneeling.

But now I see that the Evangelical equivalent of Baby Baptism, Baby Dedication is increasingly a gift-giving occasion. I’m not biting the hands that feed me; those purchases certainly do keep our local store open, and it is a great time to offer a new baby gift, I just hate to think that Evangelical friends and family might feel an obligation to bring a gift. That’s not written in stone in any book of social or religious etiquette and I’d like to see it stay that way.

I wrote about this once before in regard to Evangelicals giving teens and adults gifts for their believer’s immersion baptism, and concluded that at the outset of the Christian pilgrimage, you’re needed as a mentor, not a benefactor. That should be first and foremost. Don’t buy something, be there for them.

In an Evangelical setting, it’s as much about the parents dedicating themselves to serving the spiritual needs of the child, and the entire church community vowing to support that nurturing. In that sense, buy yourself a gift! Something to support your own spiritual development and formation so you can be the person who can best support the Christian parents and children in your church family.

May 18, 2017

The Case for Online Church Community

Like “real” church though, you need to be all in…

I wrote this almost exactly eight years ago. At the time, what I had in view was the blogging community to which I had become a part. The word podcast wasn’t in my vocabulary though there was a healthy choice of online sermons on demand. There weren’t so many full service broadcasts (live or delayed) back then because of a nervousness concerning the worship song copyrights.

Also, more blogs allowed comments back then, and people engaged more. Today comments are closed at many sites and you also have a number of key bloggers who migrated to Twitter and other platforms. To relive those days, check out our post from Monday, A Golden Age of Christian blogging.

For those of you reading this on a PC, or subscribers who have always wondered, the default font for this blog’s theme is very small and to this day we take a minute to manually enlarge every paragraph. However, for a few years we also were putting everything in bold face as well.

Remember, this was all about community. It doesn’t purport to address the five other things I see as central to actually showing up in person at a physical church: Corporate worship, corporate prayer for others, potential prayer for your own needs and concern, corporate giving, and communion. I also think the level of personal accountability is higher when you’re there in person. 

I do know there are people for whom physical attendance at weekend worship is currently impossible for a wide variety of reasons. For those of you in that category, I hope you will endeavor to develop the type of online community I had in view when I wrote this. Many churches now have a online pastor to cater to the needs of those who don’t attend in person. 

Two “finallys”: Again, remember that I wrote this at a time when I envisioned the blog community becoming a surrogate church for some (which it did.) Also remember there’s nothing new about this; for generations the church wrestled with the issue of people dropping out on Sunday mornings to stay home and watch services on television. (I wonder what that would have looked like if it had a chat or discussion option as did blogging?) 

How can online churches better address the issue of community?

If your background is mainline

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “the passing of the peace.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake (or in a few places, a “holy” kiss) and say, “The peace of Christ,” or “The peace of Christ be with you.” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “And to you also;” or “And to you also, the peace of Christ.” If the church is smaller, you know these people, at least by name, but if it’s larger or it’s tourist season, you may not know them at all.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the pancake breakfast and the strawberry tea held each year.

To get to know people a little deeper, or other people, you can join the choir, or volunteer for a host of guilds or committees that are always in need of help. You’ll also find a lot of the same people serve on civic projects and thereby will run into them in other contexts outside of the church itself. Don’t expect to break into the core community until you’re a “regular,” which occurs after you’ve attended and been involved for a gazillion years.

If your background is Evangelical

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “greeting” or it may be formalized as “the ritual of friendship.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake and say, “Good Morning;” or “Did you happen to catch the game yesterday?” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “Is that a new car I saw in the parking lot?” If the church is smaller, you might know these people, at least by name, or if it’s a mid-sized church, you can look them up in the photo directory when you get home.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the annual potluck lunch and the annual bowling night.

To get to know people a little deeper, there isn’t a lot to volunteer for, since everything is done by the paid staff. The mens’ and womens’ retreats would help, but that’s $120 and $130 respectively. Better to join a small group. That way you’ll get to spend time in at least one person’s house each week, and get to know them and about four other families (or eight other singles) more intimately.

If your option is blogging community

There is a possibility that there will be people in your fellowship who you do not have any idea what they look like, or exactly where they live. However, you don’t have to wait for an opportunity to engage conversationally. Those opportunities occur at any time and may produce a variety of responses from a variety of people.

Through those conversations you will learn about their likes and dislikes, events in the life of their family, where they stand on a variety of issues, and what challenges and needs they face. You’ll possibly learn the names of — or see pictures of — their kids or their parents, be given insights into their job, and you’ll almost certainly know a little about every book they’ve read since they started blogging. And they’ll know the same about you.

You may find very quickly that their prayer requests become your prayer requests; you feel drawn to the needs of these people as one might with someone in their church family. If Twitter enters into the picture, you’ll know even more about their daily routine, the various thoughts and challenges that burst into the brain brought about by various stimuli. And if you Twitter, they’ll have that input from you also.

Plus, they will introduce you to their online friends, and you might pick a few of those to subscribe to or at least bookmark, and over time, perhaps their friends will become your friends also. It’s not unusual to pick up e-mail addresses from comments you’ve received and send out some off-the-blog messages. (In fact, two weeks ago, I sent out about 60 such e-mails about a project I wanted to get going that needed an off-the-blog start-up.)

Finally, if you want to get really hardcore, you might find yourself contemplating attending a bloggers event which sometimes take place in conjunction with other events, and at other times are stand-alone events. Not because online fellowship is insufficient, but simply because the relationships are already well established. (And nobody’s pretending to be a 17-year old girl from Ohio; at least I hope not!)

So at the end of the day, online community isn’t better or worse than Sunday church fellowship; it’s just different. And I would argue it’s a good different. One can’t entirely substitute for the other, and hopefully people using online community as a surrogate for a physical community that is currently absent from their life would, over time, find themselves drawn back to something resembling a church or house church; and then maintain a balance between the two relational paradigms.

May 4, 2017

Reconnecting With Church Alumni

A friend of ours is trying to give new life to a dying church. Before the new year, the church held a reunion of sorts. They called as many former members as they could track down and invited them to come to a dinner. Just to reconnect. It reminded me of the following, which appeared here in 2013…

My wife received another alumni newsletter from her college in the mail. It’s somewhat of a miracle that it arrived, given what they do to her name. Because I graduated from the University of Toronto, which is a federation of colleges, I get three of these this type of thing regularly, one from the university itself, one from my college, and one from the Department of Philosophy even though I majored in Sociology.

I flip through these, and don’t entirely regard them as junk mail, though I’ve never yet made a donation and frankly, with Christian charities a priority, I’m not ever likely to.

Still, I wondered — minus the glossy magazine part — what it would be like if local churches had some of the mentality of college alumni associations, especially toward people who have either moved on or dropped out. Here’s what I think these higher learning institutions do well:

  • They’re really good at maintaining a data base of former students and knowing what each is doing. In church life we tend to assume that people have simply gone on to another church when that’s not always the case. They have an interest in where life has taken you, and they track you down, even if you move several times and think you’ve lost them! I’m going to guess here that 99% of churches have nothing formal in place to ‘follow’ former adherents and members, and truth be told, a significant number of them did not go on to another church.
  • They’re really excited about sharing their programs. It never occurs to us that if someone liked what we were doing as a church once, they might be interested in connecting again. We basically treat departures as a form of rejection, unless the person moved or was transferred.
  • The door is always open. We have nothing in the church that compares to the concept of ‘homecoming.’ Just think what might be if we created a culture where the welcome mat is always out for former members and participants. Colleges and universities invite you walk the corridors and sit in the classrooms to rekindle memories; why can’t a church do that?
  • They earnestly solicit your financial help to advance their work. Even though I don’t expect to benefit directly from what my alma mater is doing currently — and its entirely possible I may never step on the campus again — they invite me invest in its future. Many people who have stopped going to church have stopped giving to Christian causes even though the latest books tell us they still like Jesus, they still love God. There must a polite way to say, if you’re not giving to anything, the work of this church still goes on without making it sound like, ‘You may be gone but we still want your money.’ I certainly believe I could craft that appeal letter.
  • They share their stories. Related to the above item, they have a better system for hearing back from their ‘graduates,’ and what is being accomplished in and through their lives. In a world of email and Facebook, keeping in touch with former church adherents ought to be a cakewalk. Some are possibly very grateful to share how their time at your church impacted their lives. Everyone else needs to hear those stories.

What do you think? Are there analogies I missed? Can we do better at tracking people who were once part of our church family roll? Is it possible they’re actually waiting to hear from us; to see if we remember; to see if we care?

November 20, 2016

Wherever Two Or Three…

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:41 pm

church-service

Every once in awhile, someone whose blog or Twitter I follow, or whose books I review will leak a bit of information as to where they hang out on Sunday mornings.

I know it makes no sense, but because of the vast influence these people have online or in the world of Christian publishing, I often picture them attending a church that in my human way of thinking is influential in terms of church metrics. I say that fully aware that some of these people go on Sundays to receive and not to give and after a week of much speaking, writing or teaching are happy to just kick back, yet still, in my mind’s imaginary stereotype, they’re part of a larger enterprise; sitting in some megachurch somewhere, even if on the back rows.

And then I see a picture like the one above posted today — who it is isn’t consequential — and I’m reminded that the reality of church life is that many assemblies are quite small; some teetering on the borders of financial subsistence. Many of these have an effective, Spirit-led, fruit-bearing ministry even though they are not necessarily known. Furthermore, many of these are closer to the model I believe Jesus intended, and that the book of Acts describes as “fellowshipping from house to house.”

A few years ago a picture like the one above would not impress me at all, but today, I find it appealing. I’d like to get to know these people. I’d be willing to call them family. I would embrace their community.

I hope the church service you attended this weekend made you feel that way.

October 30, 2016

Where’s My Casserole?

For that very small percentage of my readers who live in my local area, please know that as we often do at Thinking Out Loud, the purpose of today’s piece is to provoke thought and is not intended as criticism of any church or churches.

As readers here know, my mom died on October 10th. Because I have my feet planted in two local churches and am known to people in other churches as well, I felt very blessed to be surrounded by the prayers and support of a loving Christian community. The emails, cards and a couple of phone calls were deeply appreciated.

One of the two churches follows the larger church model that is probably familiar to many in Thinking Out Loud’s mostly American readership. There isn’t what’s called the “pastoral prayer” in weekend services, so hospitalizations and bereavements are therefore not always made known to the broader congregation. There is an email that goes out however, though I believe this is a different list than those who receive the weekly announcements email.

casseroleIt was many days after the funeral that in jest, I said, “Where’s our casserole?” It wasn’t that I wanted one, truthfully I don’t even like casserole, especially one that my wife didn’t make, as she is an excellent cook. But after we laughed — and laughter is something that was rather absent in the weeks before my mother’s passing — she noted that it might have been nice to come home the day of the funeral and simply stick something in the microwave…1

We showed up at North Point’s Buckhead Church on a rather quiet day in 2008 and got what I believe was a rather unique behind-the-scenes tour. There were things I didn’t know about Andy Stanley’s church; things you don’t see or don’t think about when you’re streaming the Sunday services. I wasn’t surprised that Andy doesn’t do weddings. A lot of megachurch pastors don’t. But even the army of campus pastoral staff doesn’t do them at any of their locations. There isn’t a chapel. The couple-to-be must source a location on their own, and then a North Point pastor will officiate. I suspect the funeral protocol is somewhat similar. A few years back, I do remember seeing this discussed on an FAQ page, but this week I couldn’t locate it…

I understand that things must change. In another time and place the local radio stations would broadcast funeral announcements at noon each day. They also interrupted programming if the police were trying to contact someone on an urgent family matter. (“Mr. Roger Millberry of Jefferson Heights, believed to be vacationing in the area is asked to contact police…”) Even the more progressive rock and roll stations persisted in this and more, including afternoon announcements of which horse took the win, place and show at the local track, well into the 1970s. (“Pinocchio, by a nose.”) Well, at least on AM. FM was too cool for such things.

Our church services have become performance-oriented and we certainly wouldn’t expect announcements of this type at the movies or sporting events, would we? But church is supposed to be different. It’s supposed to be about the family of God gathered together. This is what I believe Millennials are longing for and what will draw them into the Christian communities they will form. (That in turn begs the question we posed in February, what will happen to the abandoned megachurches?)

So you have to ask: Did God ever intended for church to look like today’s megachurch that now sets the agenda in even medium sized churches as well? Would members of the early church even recognize the form our weekend worship takes?2 And, Dude! Where’s my casserole?



1 It occurred to us later that there may be younger readers here unfamiliar with the tradition of church people bringing a casserole over to the house when there has been a bereavement or serious illness. (For the record, my wife’s friend brought us a half-gallon of pumpkin spice ice cream.)
2 One book I read recently suggested something along the lines that a First Century Christian would find a service at the megachurch similar to the shows the Romans staged in the arena. Hard to argue that one.
3 ADD does that to you.

June 7, 2016

Rewind: Visiting Past Themes

We don’t…

Not AllowedAs someone who has spent a lifetime in and around Christian music, whenever I visit a church I often make my way to the front after the service and converse with the worship team, especially when I know one or two of the musicians.

A few weeks ago I did just that, and we started talking about songs that have the possibility of two parts being sung at the same time. Then we talked about ‘call and response’ songs where the worship leader sings a line and then the congregation repeats it. Then we talked about songs that parts for men and women.

At that point someone on the team said, “We don’t do men’s and women’s parts here.”

Days later, I was sharing this story with someone who knew exactly where I had been and they made an interesting comment, “I wonder how many times in the course of a week someone at that church begins a sentence with ‘We don’t?’

So true. So sad. Some Christian institutions have policy after policy; operating guidelines carved in stone for no particular reason. My feeling is, if you don’t have worship songs that offer something where women’s voices and men’s voices can highlight their unique giftedness, then next week would be a good week to start.

I hope the place where you worship isn’t characterized by a spirit of ‘We don’t…’


Children at Church: The Place for Inter-Generational Worship

At your church are the kids off in another part of the building throughout the service, or are they dismissed to the basement part way through? Perhaps another world is possible.

The YouTube channel that I oversee is named after our retail covering, Searchlight Books, but consists almost entirely of classic Christian music songs that you can’t buy at Searchlight or anywhere else. More recently however, we’ve been including some sermon excerpts and this weekend we posted an eleven-minute segment from the Phil Vischer podcast where Wheaton College Associate Professor of Christian Formation Scottie May spoke about visiting inter-generational churches during her sabbatical. The full podcast runs about 45 minutes, and I knew no matter much I mentioned enjoying these each week, the click-through ratio would be fairly low, so we created this highlight.

This is a must listen-to segment for anyone who cares about church and especially for people in children’s ministry or youth ministry.

This is an audio-only clip with no moving images, so even if you are not on a high-speed connection and don’t normally click on video links, you should be find with this one.


Paul Vaughan on 90% of the Work is Done by 10% of the People

Paul was a Canadian pastor who, after a successful insurance career, served as a missionary in Kenya; a place so arid that converts were baptized in sand. Returning to North America, he dedicated his time to the type of causes that nobody else wanted to embrace. He was a big influence on me…

It’s probably accurate that 90% of the work of the church is done by 10% of the people. The problem is that those who do the work, if they do it anonymously, receive all the glory. If they do it publicly, they ruffle feathers. Those who take the lion’s share of the life of the church are denying the body of the church the blessing and the opportunity. Probably the most blatant thing is that if a few are doing the work of many, then why would the Lord surround himself with a number of people with which to share the ministry? Why would he commission and ordain and send them two by two. Let’s ask ourselves the basic question, why isn’t all ministry, preaching, teaching and healing done by legions of angels? Why does God choose the fallible, unreliable, flesh-covered method that he did?

He chose us knowing that, through the Holy Spirit, we are capable of fulfilling the task given to us. But in addition, his constant emphasis of community of family — in the Hebrew, hebron; in the Greek, koinonia; in English, fellowship — is critical in church life. If it’s going to be a one man band then we will certainly stir a lot of people, but I wonder if we’re praising the Lord, serving the Lord, healing the hurts, and reaching the untouched.

One of the reasons that the modern day cults are successful is that they have clearly grabbed the demonstration given in scripture about assignment of tasks. If you become a Mormon, you owe their church two years missionary service. So if an apostate church demands that, why are we humming and hawing and hoping that if someone accepts the Lord, they might ask for offering envelopes and maybe they’ll join a small group and wouldn’t it be wonderful if they offered a musical gift, or taught children, or could sweep the floor. Why are we not a little more bold in demonstrating that millions haven’t heard and there’s work to be done?…


Paul Vaughan on Over-Commitment

There is a natural fear within a man that he is either going to overextend himself — because he knows the effect of a shotgun scattering small pellets is not as effective as one shell under high velocity compressed into a small area — and some people are able to so spread themselves that they are ineffective in any one area. But I believe that God who has given us mercy, grace and wisdom and peace also gives us the opportunity to exercise prudence and in doing so we are led to resign from one particular organization — graciously — in order to amplify and reapply ourselves with greater intensity in another area.

One of the measuring sticks of that might be that you decide which talent you have is least likely to be accepted by the mainstream of Christianity. And that’s where God really wants you. …He does release power, long-suffering, endurance and incredible energy to apply ourselves in the hard places of the world.

…I suggest to everyone who is seriously to apply themselves before the Lord to ask God, who is the creator of time; and God, who will cause time to stand still; to direct them toward a specific plan and program of action, suited to their lifestyle under the Lord and suited to the gifts and talents that God has given them.

 

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.