Thinking Out Loud

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.

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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.

February 11, 2018

A Great Reason for Joining a Local Church (Sort Of)

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

Short StoriesPastor Henders shifted on his chair several times. It had only been two years, but he really needed to ask the church board to consider a replacement office chair. The one he had was less than ideal, especially after a full day of office appointments. Thankfully there was just one left to go. His secretary administrative assistant said that he was on time for the Allerbys, a couple that had been attending for about a year, and then announced she was leaving for the day.

Mark and Diane Allerby had said they were interested in church membership. This appointment would be quick, especially since the Pastor had found a way to fast-track the process. After some customary small talk with both of them, the balance of the first part of the conversation was mostly between Mark and the pastor, with Diane joining in later.

PH: You’re already getting this in a letter, probably arriving on Monday, but I wanted to thank you for paying for the classroom set of Bibles for the Grade Six class. You were quite generous.

MA: We’re glad to help.

PH: We got an even better deal and were able to purchase more than we expected with the money, so we bought some early reader Bible story books the Grade One class has been asking for.

MA: Glad it all worked out.

PH: So as you know, membership requires you to take the newcomers’ class, but we just started one two weeks ago, and once we start, we don’t add people to that group. So, although you didn’t come here directly from Maple Grove Church, I called their pastor last week and he confirmed that you were members there for ten years, so I think we can call this a transfer even though there’s the three years in-between; but first I needed this office appointment that we would have done either way.

MA: Did the pastor at Maple Grove say anything about us? [Shifts awkwardly] I mean, did he say to say ‘Hi’ or anything?

PH: Well, he’s only been there for four months. So he just went through the records and confirmed the duration of your membership. He said he thought the secretary, er, administrative assistant might know you, but she was off for the week.

MA: That would be Thelma. She’s been there a billion years now.

PH: I’m not sure exaggeration is scriptural, Mark. Anyway, the main thing we always ask in these interviews is, ‘Why do you want to enter into membership.’ Everyone has their own reasons; at one point you had to be a member to sing in the choir, but nowadays nobody knows what a church choir is. Of course you need it to teach Sunday School or teach in the midweek programs, but not to volunteer for a non-teaching role.

MA: Well actually…we’re interested in sort of getting involved in the issues.

PH: I’m sorry, issues?

MA: Well, yes. We want to be able to be more involved in various issues and concerns that arise in the life of a church and be able to speak to those issues with an involvement that is best expressed by being actual members and not just attenders.

PH. That’s encouraging. Are you thinking you’d like to put your name forward to be on the board? I mean, usually people are here two years, but if you join by transfer…

MA: Well, not exactly. We just want to be able to respond to things in a way that only church members can.

PH: I’m not sure I’m getting this.

MA: Well, for example, if the church was heading in what we were considering an unhealthy direction on a specific issue, we could then pull our membership.

PH: [blank stare]

MA: But we can’t do that if we’re not members.

[at this point, Diane clears her throat to speak]

DA: Basically, Pastor Henders, right now, we have no leverage.

PH: Uh…

MA: Membership gives us the voice we don’t have.

PH: So basically, you want to join the church because it gives you the option of quitting the church?

MA: Yes, that would sum it up, I think.

PH: We do have membership votes on anything that is considered controversial, you know. You can vote for, you can vote against, or you can abstain. It’s not necessary to threaten to withdraw from membership if there’s something you disagree with.

DA: [mysteriously] But it’s far more dramatic.

MA: What my wife means is that it has more impact than if we were just attenders.

PH: But attenders don’t vote at those meetings at all.

MA: No, I guess they wouldn’t.

PH: Is this what happened at Maple Grove?

DA: [in a Mississippi Southern Belle voice] Well now, isn’t that just a lucky guess?

PH: And the church you just came from?

MA: No, we couldn’t get membership there, so all we could do there is threaten to leave. And we did.

DA: And then we did.

PH: But then, why not just do that here? If there’s something you don’t like you can simply threaten to leave.

DA: And then we would.

MA: But it would never show on any records. This way, we’re listed in the official church register as members one year, and the next year–

DA: [in a Kindergarten, sing-song voice] –Now you see us, now you don’t.

PH: Poof! [throwing his hands up in the air]

[Everyone laughs, except the pastor is clearly only pretending to laugh.]

PH: Okay [filling in form while shifting uncomfortably on chair] …’Reason for seeking membership’ …Joining… in order… to be able… to quit… being a member.

DA: It doesn’t get more committed than that.

PH: This form needs to be approved before we can include you our next membership Sunday. Right now I’m not sure–

MA: What about the Grade Four class? Someone said they needed a new classroom set of Bibles as well.

PH: Well we don’t expect one single family to pay for everything.

MA: Well see, there’s a policy right there we could take exception to. We could say, ‘Unless they allow people to throw their money around, we’re going to pull our membership.’

PH: [firmly] You’re. Not. Members. Yet.

MA: That’s just the point.

DA: Yeah, now you’re getting it.

To be continued, unless of course the Allerbys have some objection…

July 25, 2017

Church Funding in Europe

We almost walked by this little office, but the word “Evangelisher” caught my eye. A wonderful 15-minute conversation awaited us inside.

Actually, if a search engine brought you here and you’re looking for the definitive article on this subject this isn’t it. If you can deal with the pop-ups, this website is quite helpful.

But I do want to share some impressions we took away from a very brief meeting with an English speaking worker at Evangelisher Informationsladen in Nuremberg, Germany.

North American ears probably miss the significance of the phrase “registered church.” It’s part of life in many parts of the world. In Germany it’s significant in terms of the church itself being registered with the government, but also that members identify with a registered church. And here it gets interesting: 8% (in some areas 9%) of the members’ personal income is taxed and given to the church.

Solves the whole tithing problem, I suppose.  Or does it? Stay tuned.

If you did click the first link (above) you noted that a lot of people simply have themselves taken off the rolls in order to avoid the tax, even if they continue to hold a personal faith. That alone is enough to skew religious affiliation data. In both the Czech example mentioned a few days ago and this situation, it means potentially there might be more Christians in Europe than any official government stats show, just for different reasons.

But here’s another factor: Newer Evangelical or Charismatic groups don’t register at all. They meet in homes or find other spaces. Our contact was worried that these groups are becoming more numerous and more vocal.

It’s a concern for two reasons. First these groups have arrived on the religious scene under the banner of young earth, six day creation. Second, they have an extreme view of the sovereignty of God which leaves out any room for free will, even in more trivial details of life. We covered this a few days ago at this article. But it also means that numerically, some disappearing off the rolls of established Lutheran or Catholic churches are attending these newer churches, which would, by necessity, have to rely on something similar to a North American tithing model to meet any expenses that might arise, even without having to maintain an historical building…

…A few weeks ago Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario told the story of a visitor asking, “How do you fund all this?” I guess he thought there must be some support at one or several levels of government in order to maintain their megachurch auditorium and adjacent Christian education meeting rooms and classrooms. Bruxy explained the people support it, but we know statistically that North Americans, on average, are not tithing 10%, or even 8%.

According to The State of the Plate study, in North America, the state of tithing moving forward may depend on the behavior of “young (i.e., future) donors. But their habits may prove difficult to capitalize on. According to the survey, people in their 20s and 30s are much more likely to miss church in the first place, making getting in-person connections and donations much harder…”

The report continues, “Young people (the same demographic) are also more likely to give less frequently than other generations, with 6 in 10 giving no more than twice per month and sometimes only once every few months. Perhaps most damagingly, though, only about 3 out of 5 (63%) young people give 10 percent or more of their income to church. For everyone aged 40 or over, the average is 4 out of 5 (83%)…”

According to the website Charity Navigator, “Total giving as a percentage of GDP was 2.1% for three of the four years, 2013–2016… Historically, Religious groups have received the largest share of charitable donations. This remained true in 2016. With the 3.0% increase in donations this year, 32% of all donations, or $122.94 billion, went to Religious organizations. Much of these contributions can be attributed to people giving to their local place of worship.”

But comparing the 8 or 9% church tax in Germany to the North American 10% tithing ideal changes when you consider that it’s not 8% of income, but 8% of income tax. A 2015 article at Catholic News Agency (CNA) notes, “When Germans register as Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish on their tax forms, the government automatically collects an income tax from them which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of their total income tax, or 3-4 percent of their salary.”

Do Christians in Germany make additional contributions? Is the offering plate passed on Sunday morning? Giving is part of Christian worship, so we must assume that is the case, but would someone contributing through payroll deductions bother to put anything additional in the plate? That was a question we didn’t get around to asking.

According to a Wikipedia article on Religion in Berlin, “The largest denominations as of 2010 are the Protestant regional church body of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia (EKBO), a united church comprising mostly Lutheran, a few Reformed and United Protestant congregations. EKBO is a member of both the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Union Evangelischer Kirchen (UEK) claiming 18.7 percent of the city population.”

But that needs to be seen in perspective as the article also says, “About 60 percent of Berlin residents have no registered religious affiliation. Berlin has been described as the ‘atheist capital of Europe’ in 2009.”

Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church in particular doesn’t retain the church tax it collects, as the infographic in our initial link reminds us that, “a sizeable portion of the Catholic money is also channeled to The Vatican.”  Catholics who opt out face other issues as the CNA article notes:

German bishops – who each earn an average salary of 7,000 Euro per month (some up to 14,000 Euro along with free housing and cars, according to Lohmann) – issued a decree in September 2012 calling such departure “a serious lapse” and listing a number of ways they are barred from participating in the life of the Church.

The decree specified that those who do not pay the church tax cannot receive the sacraments of Confession, Communion, Confirmation, or Anointing of the Sick, except when in danger of death; cannot hold ecclesial office or perform functions within the Church; cannot be a godparent or sponsor; cannot be a member of diocesan or parish councils; and cannot be members of public associations of the Church.

If those who de-registered show no sign of repentance before their death, they can even be refused a religious burial.

And while these penalties have been described as “de facto excommunication,” the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, wrote in a March 13, 2006 document that opting out of taxes in a civil situation was not the same as renouncing the faith, and thus excommunication did not apply to such persons.

So while a cursory reading of a statement like, “The church gets 8% of the personal income tax collected;” seems to indicate a measure of financial strength and stability, declining membership and secularization would seem to threaten the future of that source of funding.

 

 

 

 

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?

February 28, 2017

Oswald J. Smith: Not Made for Defeat

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:32 am

While we were on holiday, I sat by the pool and read an out-of-print book, Not Made for Defeat, Doug Hall’s biography of Oswald J. Smith the founder of The Peoples Church in Toronto. I more or less read the book in a single sitting. I’ve mentioned him in passing here before such as,

The Peoples Church was Canada’s first and for many years only megachurch, and this long before the term existed. The Toronto church was also independent, a rarity in its time. It was founded by Oswald J. Smith whose ordination was Presbyterian and had also founded an earlier church with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Smith had been turned down by several missions agencies because of his health, but ended up living to 96 and traveling all over the world.  You can read more at Wikipedia.  (As a young child, I attended Oswald Smith’s funeral, where Billy Graham spoke.)

as well as one time mentioning his philosophy when he would be gone on mission trips:

Oswald J. Smith built Toronto’s Peoples Church into Canada’s first — and for a long time only — megachurch. When he was away on missionary trips, some of which encompassed months at a time, his philosophy was to always book guest speakers that he felt were better than himself.  If you’re an aspiring teacher or preacher, I can’t stress the value of listening to great speakers; of going out of your way to hear the best, especially hearing them in person.

oswald-j-smithCertainly attendance never waned while he was away.

I also included a number of quotations by him at Christianity 201, such as:


Give according to your income lest God make your income according to your giving. 


So long as there is a human being who does not know Jesus Christ, I am his debtor to serve him until he does.


The church that does not evangelize will fossilize.


We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.


No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.


This was the church where I spent the extremely formative years from when I was 11 to age 21. I continued to have contact for many years after. Peoples Church has only ever had five pastors — Oswald  J. Smith, son Paul B. Smith, John Hull, Charles Price and now Brett McBride — so I grew up hearing the stories about the church’s founding and although the torch had been passed to Paul Smith, I got to hear Oswald on a few occasions. In the later chapters, there were several names I recognized. 

For those reasons, the book may not have held the interest of others, but for me it was a page-turner. A few quick takeaways as I’ve actually misplaced my copy as I write this:

  • The idea of calling: Smith’s was cemented at a very early age when he took a train trip from rural Ontario to hear an evangelist at Toronto’s Massey Hall.
  • The idea of vision: Smith experienced success early on, but would walk away from pulpits in Toronto, Chicago and Los Angeles to pursue a vision for a particular type of church.
  • On non-denominational churches: Smith had seen abuses of the idea of church membership and wanted a place not governed by the denominational requirements to have such.
  • A megachurch apologetic: Smith believed if you want to see many people converted to Christ through preaching, you need to preach to many people.
  • A maverick spirit: Churches weren’t air-conditioned in those days, so one summer Smith erected a tent on a vacant property for an entire summer. Followers were told to bring a chair they weren’t using and leave it there, leading to people clogging the buses and streetcars of the pubic transit system carrying seats to the first meeting.
  • An understanding of media: Smith’s Sunday night “Back Home Hour” was an unscripted radio program for parishioners to end their worship day at home, though they could stay after the evening service for the broadcast. Not only did many stay, but people started arriving from other churches, stretching the Fire Department’s approved capacity for the building.
  • On marriage and ministry: Smith’s wife Daisy freed him to take worldwide mission trips, yet strangely, despite being away extensively, he didn’t want ministry immersion to damage his home and family life.
  • On church leadership: Smith was an iconic leader but was neither autocratic nor a micro-manager. He would return from overseas and discover new innovations initiated in his absence and would be moved to tears.
  • Legacy: Though known for the independent Peoples Church, Smith was a major force in the early years of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
  • The Faith Promise Offering: Smith’s then unique contribution to the fundraising component of missions conferences; only once did actual annual missions giving not exceed the amounts pledged; though pledged is the wrong word, people committed “in dependence upon God.”

Oswald J. Smith was a man for his times but with an approach to ministry that would work in our times as well, even if the fine tuning of the methodology would differ today. We need a lot more like him.

August 18, 2015

Kickin’ Off the Fall Season at Your Church

fall ministry season

Like the school year, unless your church is glued to the liturgical calendar, the days leading into Labor Day are critical as many programs which were suspended for the summer kick back into high gear. Here are a few things for your consideration.

1. Connecting with the community: Inbound – Think of something you can do that is going to attract — yes, attractional, getting people through the doors — people from the broader community in an area within a zero-to-five miles radius of your church. (If that doesn’t get you past your parking lot, your church is too big; but make it ten miles.) A one-night program to help parents (while their children attend a mid-week mock up of what you do for kids on Sundays, if you can pull this off securely) or an all-family event such as a concert artist or a magician or a movie. Make sure it’s free; print tickets and distribute them widely (at least ten times more tickets than your auditorium can hold.) Include distribution to businesses in your catchment area, as many business owners and employees don’t live where they work, but they see your building all the time and would be open to bringing the family to something. Send press releases to the local media. Adjust this plan if your neighborhood as a high concentration of singles so your event isn’t too family oriented and it excludes them. And don’t sell it to your congregation as a great show or great concert; promote it as the best church invite opportunity they’ll have this fall. 1

2. Connecting with the community: Outbound – Find something you can do for your church’s immediate neighbors. If you have a lot of seniors, perhaps your youth group has gone door-to-door and offered to rake leaves. That’s the idea, but I’m thinking here of something more on a mega scale if you’re a mega church, and involving more than just the youth group. A community dinner in a park is another idea. One church suspended its morning service entirely so that everyone could participate in a charity walkathon. One smaller church put a Bible in every residential mailbox in the entire town; over 10,000 addresses.

3. Explain to your congregation where you’re going this year – Don’t just get up and say, “Today we’re starting a series on…” Rather, outline your entire series map for the next 12 months. We know a church that does this; giving people the big picture of planned teaching series and missions foci a year ahead. It also gives them lots of time to think of a target individual or family for the type of event described in (1) above.

4. Debrief last year – In a similar vein, don’t just jump back in without gathering people from various departments of your ministry who can sit at a board table and bring critical thinking to what it is you do. End with some brainstorming for the future. Let them know that no question or comment is off limits, no matter how insane it looks.

5. Develop the means to connect with people connected to your core members and adherents – Everyone in your church is part of a neighborhood, they work or go to school, or they have friends, or they have extended family some of whom live near your church as well. Offer the means to your people to share their faith with those contacts. For the last several decades The Alpha Program has served this purpose, as has similar programs such as H20. 2 But perhaps your greatest need and best initial contact is simply a sewing circle for moms, or a ‘hanging out’ opportunity for men who work shifts and are looking for daytime human contact.

6. Reach out to the people whose attendance is waning – Some churches have done a homecoming weekend, another popular format a few years back was called Back to Church Sunday. This works better in a small-to-medium sized church where people can strategize who is going to get in touch with whom. Sometimes this type of focus — thinking in terms of particular people instead of broad form programs — may reveal that there has been illness, or financial reversals or there is difficulty with transportation to church.

7. Find out what happened to lost adherents and members who haven’t been seen in the last one-to-five years – Obviously some have moved to other cities and states, but for the most part, these are people with whom contact has been broken but you want to reach out and let them know they are remembered and that you care. I think that one way to approach this is as a survey, one which many will cooperate with if you keep it to 90-seconds and make it clear that you’re calling because they attended the church in the past. Find out if they are going somewhere else. (You might want to ask them to name that church, because some people say they go to church, but can’t remember what it’s called.) If not, ask if they are still engaged in prayer or Bible reading. Ask what they see as the one or two key factors that keep them away from church at the present time. Invite them back to something described in one of the above sections. You might get some people slam the phone on you, but many will be glad you cared. You can offer a dedicated web-page for these people to follow up with, and perhaps communicate more in writing than they’re willing to do by phone. (Call it ‘Reuniting with Your Church Family.’ Don’t call it ‘Prodigal Page.’)

8. Create a context for ministry to happen organically – There are some good concepts here, but sometimes the Holy Spirit just needs room, or in this case, a literal room. In an era where hospitality is waning, perhaps people are reluctant to invite people to their messy house, or offer that intimacy of fellowship with people they’ve only just met. So… even if your church wouldn’t dream of serving coffee on Sunday — but especially if it does — open a room a few days a week with tables and chairs and offer free coffee, donuts and something healthy. See who comes. See what happens. People can arrange to connect at the church instead of a coffee shop, and you can have a box for donations. Make the room and chairs comfortable and have some Christian music playing in the background. If you can afford it, have a free literature rack with booklets that connect people with felt needs and issues, or explain the basics of faith. 3

Note that the focus here is people.

…Please forward the link to this article (click on the title at the top) to anyone in your sphere of influence who is a decision-maker at a local church.  Ideas4 and additions are welcomed in the comments.


1Read just the opening paragraph (above the picture) to this article.
2If you’re not familiar with Kyle Idleman and H20, read this review.
3Check out the Hope for the Heart booklets from June Hunt and Rose Publishing
4We’ve run it three times already, but if you missed it, here’s Pete Wilson’s fall priorities.

February 10, 2015

A Great Reason for Becoming a Church Member

Filed under: Church, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

Short StoriesPastor Henders shifted on his chair several times. It had only been two years, but he really needed to ask the church board to consider a replacement office chair. The one he had was less than ideal, especially after a full day of office appointments. Thankfully there was just one left to go. His secretary administrative assistant said that he was on time for the Allerbys, a couple that had been attending for about a year, and then announced she was leaving for the day.

Mark and Diane Allerby had said they were interested in church membership. This appointment would be quick, especially since the Pastor had found a way to fast-track the process. After some customary small talk with both of them, the balance of the first part of the conversation was mostly between Mark and the pastor, with Diane joining in later.

PH: You’re already getting this in a letter, probably arriving on Monday, but I wanted to thank you for paying for the classroom set of Bibles for the Grade Six class. You were quite generous.

MA: We’re glad to help.

PH: We got an even better deal and were able to purchase more than we expected with the money, so we bought some early reader Bible story books the Grade One class has been asking for.

MA: Glad it all worked out.

PH: So as you know, membership requires you to take the newcomers’ class, but we just started one two weeks ago, and once we start, we don’t add people to that group. So, although you didn’t come here directly from Maple Grove Church, I called their pastor last week and he confirmed that you were members there for ten years, so I think we can call this a transfer even though there’s the three years in-between; but first I needed this office appointment that we would have done either way.

MA: Did the pastor at Maple Grove say anything about us? [Shifts awkwardly] I mean, did he say to say ‘Hi’ or anything?

PH: Well, he’s only been there for four months. So he just went through the records and confirmed the duration of your membership. He said he thought the secretary, er, administrative assistant might know you, but she was off for the week.

MA: That would be Thelma. She’s been there a billion years now.

PH: I’m not sure exaggeration is scriptural, Mark.  Anyway, the main thing we always ask in these interviews is, ‘Why do you want to enter into membership.’  Everyone has their own reasons; at one point you had to be a member to sing in the choir, but nowadays nobody knows what a church choir is. Of course you need it to teach Sunday School or teach in the midweek programs, but not to volunteer for a non-teaching role.

MA: Well actually…we’re interested in sort of getting involved in the issues.

PH: I’m sorry, issues?

MA: Well, yes. We want to be able to be more involved in various issues and concerns that arise in the life of a church and be able to speak to those issues with an involvement that is best expressed by being actual members and not just attenders.

PH. That’s encouraging. Are you thinking you’d like to put your name forward to be on the board? I mean, usually people are here two years, but if you join by transfer…

MA: Well, not exactly. We just want to be able to respond to things in a way that only church members can.

PH: I’m not sure I’m getting this.

MA: Well, for example, if the church was heading in what we were considering an unhealthy direction on a specific issue, we could then pull our membership.

PH: [blank stare]

MA: But we can’t do that if we’re not members.

[at this point, Diane clears her throat to speak]

DA: Basically, Pastor Henders, right now, we have no leverage.

PH: Uh…

MA: Membership gives us the voice we don’t have.

PH: So basically, you want to join the church because it gives you the option of quitting the church?

MA: Yes, that would sum it up, I think.

PH: We do have membership votes on anything that is considered controversial, you know. You can vote for, you can vote against, or you can abstain. It’s not necessary to threaten to withdraw from membership if there’s something you disagree with.

DA: [mysteriously] But it’s far more dramatic.

MA: What my wife means is that it has more impact than if we were just attenders.

PH: But attenders don’t vote at those meetings at all.

MA: No, I guess they wouldn’t.

PH: Is this what happened at Maple Grove?

DA: [in a Mississippi Southern Belle voice] Well now, isn’t that just a lucky guess?

PH: And the church you just came from?

MA: No, we couldn’t get membership there, so all we could do there is threaten to leave. And we did.

DA: And then we did.

PH: But then, why not just do that here? If there’s something you don’t like you can simply threaten to leave.

DA: And then we would.

MA: But it would never show on any records. This way, we’re listed in the official church register as members one year, and the next year–

DA: [in a Kindergarten, sing-song voice] –Now you see us, now you don’t.

PH: Poof! [throwing his hands up in the air]

[Everyone laughs, except the pastor is clearly only pretending to laugh.]

PH: Okay [filling in form while shifting uncomfortably on chair] …’Reason for seeking membership’ …Joining… in order… to be able… to quit… being a member.

DA: It doesn’t get more committed than that.

PH: This form needs to be approved before we can include you our next membership Sunday. Right now I’m not sure–

MA: What about the Grade Four class? Someone said they needed a new classroom set of Bibles as well.

PH: Well we don’t expect one single family to pay for everything.

MA: Well see, there’s a policy right there we could take exception to. We could say, ‘Unless they allow people to throw their money around, we’re going to pull our membership.’

PH: [firmly] You’re. Not. Members. Yet.

MA: That’s just the point.

DA: Yeah, now you’re getting it.

To be continued, unless of course the Allerbys have some objection…

November 19, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Rowan and Rowena - The Bishop Bears

Stay here to read classic Wednesday links, or visit PARSE to view nine selected stories with more preview info.

The above image from the Ship of Fools archives seemed appropriate given that women can now officially be bishops in the Church of England.

 

With all the many challenges that gay couples face, I honestly didn’t think of this one:

Name Problem

 

March 19, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Abandoned Church

This long de-commissioned church photo appeared back in October at the Twitter feed of AbandonedPics.

There’s something here for people at every age and every stage, including links to stories of interest to lay people and clergy, liturgists and charismatics. Or at least that’s the theory. 

The link list is now owned and operated by PARSE the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today.  Anything you click below will take you first to them, then you can click the item again.

All I know about this comic below is that I found it on the floor of my office, apparently photocopied from a 2002 book of Christian cartoons by Doug Hall. (Does anyone know the book title?) The sentiment expressed here is still alive and well a dozen years later.

Criticize the Pastor

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