Thinking Out Loud

January 26, 2015

Encyclopedia of Modern Churches is Difficult to Read

Yesterday at Christianity 201, instead of using an excerpt from a book, I drew the day’s thoughts from a table of contents. I wasn’t given a review edition of the book anyway and was using a borrowed copy, and second, I had not looked at the individual chapters at that point. The table of contents is impressive supported our theme verse for the day

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I Cor 12:4-7

We had a pastor who repeatedly said “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Every church has something special to offer. The parish system — where you simply attend the church located closest to where you live — has some things in its favor, but for centuries now, Protestants have chosen their place of worship based on a variety of factors, some doctrinal and some, if we’re honest, that are totally superficial.

I also had a missionary friend who said, “Every denomination is an overstatement.” What he meant was that if you have a particular distinctive, you are going to emphasize that above everything else, which means that sometimes other priorities will fade into the background. So our churches often feature a particular facet of ministry life, but may do so at the expense of something else. Hopefully nothing that should be absolutely central is diminished beyond recognition.

Ten Most Influential Churches - Elmer TownsThe book is, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century: How They Impact You Today by Elmer L. Towns, published by Destiny Image. I did not quote index verbatim here, I just wanted to give readers there an overview. And it turned out there were more than ten churches covered; there are more than ten chapters! I combined a few, and warned my readers that listing does not imply endorsement.

  • The worldwide Pentecostal movement
  • House church / Home church movement
  • Churches at the forefront of racial integration
  • Church structures using a network of cell groups under a central administration
  • Churches built on Christian Education / Sunday School outreach
  • Churches using non-traditional teaching methods
  • Churches targeting seekers, skeptics; the non-churched
  • Baby Boomer churches
  • Worship/Praise driven churches
  • Integrated media, or internet-based churches
  • Churches promoting multi-generational appeal and programs
  • Positive-thinking or prosperity teaching churches
  • Churches built on personal evangelism
  • Churches focused on foreign missions
  • Multi-site churches with video teaching
  • Churches modeled after the concept of using church plants to evangelize

Now remember, with a couple of exceptions above, this has nothing to do with doctrine or teaching. You could map this on to a variety of denominations and many of the models would fit.

What’s your reaction to this?

Mine was generally positive. God us using many people in many different ways to accomplish his Kingdom Purposes. Yes, some of these have emerged more driven by the culture than by anything the First Century Church knew and some of these styles may be unknown a generation from now. Some are more likely to lead people into a deeper walk with God, and some are more entry-level; their converts will eventually feel the need to settle in another congregation.

But instead of bemoaning the particular styles you personally don’t care for, I think we need to celebrate what God is doing around the world. There are a few styles listed there that I know will cause eye rolls, but I’ve been to some of these and have found a depth of devotion and Bible knowledge among some adherents beyond the stereotypes.

If the gospel is presented clearly and is unobstructed by distractions, people will come to Christ through all types of churches, and those already in the fold will find avenues for greater growth and discipleship.

But let’s talk about the book itself.

I found this deeply disappointing on a variety of levels. Because I attended The Peoples Church in Toronto during some very formative years, I was looking forward to reading its listing in the section that goes beyond the author’s top ten choice, but after reading the first paragraph and turning the page, I discovered there was only a cursory listing for the additional churches.

Large sections of the book are copied directly from Wikipedia. While attribution is made for these, they appear in isolation, so the author then is forced to backtrack to give some of the chronology all over again. I guess if you don’t have internet…

Inexplicably, there are a large number of blank or mostly blank pages. At one point I checked to see if I was actually reading an advance reader copy (ARC) where information was waiting to be dropped in later. I was not. This was the finished book. I can see this as a style thing with the first ten chapters, after that it was basically a waste of good trees.

The book is very U.S.-centered. While there is mention of Peoples and four churches overseas, I can’t imagine a list of this nature, purporting to represent the most influential churches of the past 100 years not including Holy Trinity Brompton, which brought the world The Alpha Course.

There’s no mention of several prevalent styles. Because there isn’t a single church to represent them, a number of things are skipped over. One is the alternative, counter-cultural type of church like House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Or arts-based churches like (I believe) Mosaic Church in Hollywood. Another I would call prayer-based (or better, prayer-bathed) churches like the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. A third would be the New Calvinist type of churches such as the Sovereign Grace churches with their deep teaching and modern hymns. And finally, if you want an anti-role model, if you’re talking churches of influence, you might even mention Westboro Baptist.

Because of the liberality of the mostly blank pages, churches like Peoples and the Crystal Cathedral could have and should have had their section extended. I should also mention that I have attended some of the churches covered here on more than a single occasion, and thought the chapters on Willow Creek and Calvary Chapel would present this history well to those unfamiliar.

Elmer Towns is no novice on this topic. Although the book is well footnoted, he also drew on his own memories of these churches including interviews he did with the major players during times of explosive growth. I just think the book suffered more in the planning, editing and layout stages; the transition from concept to finished product could have been refined to give interested readers more information and better flow.

January 24, 2015

Weekend Link List

Carlos Whittaker explaining technology to Pete Wilson:

Pete Wilson and Carlos Whittaker

In order to highlight that the links are now on PARSE on Saturdays, I’m running the latest list here. Remember that these are especially keyed for pastors and church leaders, but I try widen that focus a little with things of interest to all of us. Feedback from Thinking Out Loud readers is always welcomed.  The decision to move to Saturday was made by CT, but we’re now in direct competition with our friends at Saturday Ramblings at Internet Monk, where you’ll also find a great summary of the week in religious news; and an especially busy list this week, too (including a sermon excerpt that’s not safe to play if your kids are in the room).

  • A New Church Metrics Paradigm – Instead of counting bodies in the pew, you could count the times members invited their friends, relatives and neighbors. “I want to suggest a measurement that I believe would bring many benefits. This key measurement stat is ‘how many people have you asked to church this past week?’ Why that question? …[I]t does measure how enthusiastic the congregation is to want to talk about their church and what is going on there.” The writer sees eight benefits resulting from stressing this type of measurement.
  • Americans Need a Counter-Script – Brian Zhand: “As Americans we are given a script from birth — it is our shared and assumed formula for the pursuit of happiness. Without even being aware of it we are scripted in the belief that our superior technology, our self-help programs, our dominant military, and our capacity to obtain consumer goods should guarantee our happiness. Said just so it sounds silly, but when it is communicated in the liturgies of advertising and the propaganda of state it becomes believable…  But it’s a lie. It’s a false gospel, yet enormously popular. The only possible way to resist that dominant script is through the adoption of what Walter Brueggemann calls a counter-script. For the Christian that counter-script is the gospel of Jesus Christ — at the center of which stands a cross!”
  • Sunday Night, February 22nd – Is your church calendar open that night? Author Phil Cooke has an idea which, even if you don’t pursue it, will definitely get you thinking: Host an Oscar Party. “Recently, as I’ve been speaking at conferences and events around the world I’ve been urging Christians to stop looking at Hollywood as the enemy, and start looking at Hollywood as a mission field. After all, what if Christians stopped just criticizing, and actually started praying for the most influential industry in the world?” This isn’t a packaged simulcast; you’re on your own as to what it might look like.
  • Essay of the Month: Our Hunger for Transcendence – “These men go to church on Sunday with the question of why eating holes in their guts, and the church tries to answer that transcendent question with a supposedly transcendent answer, yet nothing of those men’s experience in church from week to week ever takes them anywhere into the genuine transcendent light of God. You can’t meet transcendent needs of people who are stuck thinking only of fish, if all you can talk about is the fish itself. And churches today are absolutely mired in talking about the fish. You can blame the leaders, but the fact is, most of them are generations removed from the last transcendent moves of God in this country.”
  • After a Year Without God, Pastor No Longer Believes – You’ve probably already been tracking the story of Ryan Bell, the pastor now turned “agnostic atheist.” Branson Parler writes: “Bell illustrates that our beliefs and life practices are inseparable. We can’t act as if God doesn’t exist and assume that we’ll keep believing. In the context of his famous wager, Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal recognizes that believing is not merely a matter of reason and the will, but of our heart, habits and passions. We can’t just will ourselves to believe something; the process is more mysterious than that… Bell is Pascal in reverse. If I spend a year living like God doesn’t exist, it’s not surprising that after a year of living that way, I believe it.”
  • Unconditional Election, Meet Modern Worship – There are some who will disagree with this song’s theological mindset, the manner in which it is adapted from another well-known chorus, or both. No matter, it’s an eye-opener. The author justifies some of this in history: “One of the things [Thomas] Cranmer did was to take the Church’s inherited worship practices and, in a sense, “hijack” them… He took people’s beloved traditional prayers, for instance, and “edited” them to emphasize God’s work and de-emphasize our work.” In a second article: “We’re attempting to capture the spirit of the Reformation for modern times.” Listen to the remake of “I Have Decided” and decide for yourself.
  • An Addiction You May Share – “On November 7, 2012, I stopped watching the Fox News Channel (FNC). That might not seem like a big deal if you didn’t know that I probably averaged 7-10 hours a week for years. I was a news junkie. I LOVED watching the news, hearing different angles on the news, and listening to incredibly smart commentators share their opinion about the news. I watched other channels too, but I was probably 90% watching FNC…I just knew my steady diet of Fox News wasn’t good for my soul. So I walked away. I’ve noticed several things have changed in my heart and mind as a result…”
  • One Christian’s Reasons for Marrying Someone Divorced - “[E]ven though God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), he doesn’t hate divorce in isolation, as though he just thought up something arbitrary to hate. He hates it for a reason, and that reason–stated in the verse–is because divorce is a form of violence against the person one has married… God is in the business of redeeming messed-up, broken, and sinful people, not avoiding them… He didn’t abandon Adam and Eve to their fate, and create a new pristine pure species who had never fallen to be his people. His plan for salvation didn’t involve a command from On High, but rather involved God himself becoming human, choosing to be one of us, mixing together with sinful humanity… the truth is that God has involved himself with sinful humanity throughout history, and I for one am deeply grateful.”

 

July 16, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Abraham Isaac Jacob postage stamps

Summertime and the linkin’ is easy…Our biggest collection ever with 40 bullets!

How Cats Ended Up With Nine Lives

While not curating the internet, Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud and C201.

Rapture Survivor Card

February 10, 2014

U2Charist: Rock’ n Roll Communion

u2charist St Peters

On Saturday we attended our first U2charist: The music of Bono, The Edge and the rest of U2 combined with an Anglican (Episcopalian in the U.S.) communion liturgy. Two very different forces. Do they complement each other, or stand in stark contrast as opposing elements? I’m still not sure. You can read more about it at this Wikipedia page.

I believe part of the concept is to open up the Eucharist to the broader community; perhaps to attract lapsed Anglicans or former C. of E. (Church of England) members. I didn’t see a lot of that, though. Most of the people we saw seemed to be stalwart adherents of the host church. Many were retired. It was actually demographically awkward. My wife reminded me that U2 is a boomer band, but I still clung to the opinion that if only out of curiosity, members of the church’s youth group should have shown up.

We also spoke with a lot of people afterward who said they would have attended had they heard about it, though we did our best to put the word out. The church hired a U2 tribute band, and I must say that for their part, they played their role flawlessly, this being the first U2charist they’ve performed at.

I don’t quite understand why Anglicans can’t worship without the Eucharist. Maybe that’s a bit harsh. What I mean is that it always comes back to the same default. They do have Vespers (Evensong) and something called Compline, but for the most part, the church is very Roman Catholic about re-staging the mass on a rather constant basis. And unless you’ve taken a non-Christian to a high church service lately, the enactment of communion, the drinking of Christ’s blood, which we find rather normal, appears cultic or even pagan to the uninitiated.  Could you offer a broader community a “church” experience without the Eucharist? From an Episcopal perspective, maybe not.

Could you do a “rock” Eucharist with the modern music of a leading Christian worship leader such as Paul Baloche, David Crowder, Brian Doerksen or Chris Tomlin? Again, probably not since Anglicans don’t recognize those names at all, much less the wider populace.  Still, the ‘worship concert’ format — an oxymoron to some, I realize — is the Evangelical outreach format de jour.

Again, I think the band did a great job and the host church had good intentions. Some of the songs seem well-suited to the occasion. It was the demographics of the audience that failed for me; more effort should have been made to tap into and invite various segments of the community, rather than simply make an announcement and figure that the broader community would come to them.

January 7, 2014

How to be Rich is not a Book About How to be Rich

How To Be RichOn the one hand, in these televangelist-saturated, prosperity-gospel-promoting times, giving a book the title, How to Be Rich is probably the dumbest thing ever. On the other hand, for anyone familiar with the annual Be Rich campaign at North Point Community Church, the title is absolutely brilliant. In fact, once you get to know the program, and read the book, your church may want to be rich as well, though it is much easier to do as a new church start-up than it is to try to shift the paradigm of how your church presently does local ministry.

So first the title.  It’s taken from I Timothy:

NIV 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Next the book. I enjoyed the book. I read it from cover to cover, some sections more than once. But the Be Rich campaign is the real star here, and if the publisher wants me to create some buzz for the book, a better course might be to create some buzz for what North Point does.

The book merely consists of material that author Andy Stanley (yes, I was going to get to that) presents each year as a set up for the campaign itself. It’s a reminder that we’re already rich. In an interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service, Andy was asked if this was a prosperity book:

It’s actually the opposite of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity message is “Give and it will be given unto you.” This message is, “It has already been given unto us. Now it is our turn to give.” I don’t need to give one to get 10. I live in the United State of America, so I already have my 10.

That interview however didn’t touch on enough of the history of the campaign for my liking, so let me try to fill in some details. In a nutshell, the team at North Point decided that when it came to doing things like food banks, after-school programs, support for young mothers, addiction counseling, etc., the church was determined not to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they purposed to find the people in the Atlanta area who were already doing well at various charitable endeavors and provide them with a funding boost. It wasn’t about ‘let’s start our program,’ but ‘let’s connect with our broader community.’

The next step was to raise the money — we’re now talking millions — in a single weekend.

At this point, I know some of you are thinking, ‘What does this have to do with the presentation of the gospel?’ The balance between social justice ministry and proclamation is never easy, especially for Evangelicals. But in the second phase of Be Rich (the campaign, not the book) the people of North Point pledge to spend hours in service, many times at the very same organizations which have received funding. They don’t want people simply writing a check or swiping a debit card and feel that they’ve done their part. They want people to also get their hands dirty.

I’ve watched that video* about eight times now, and each time I well up with tears. This model may not import entirely directly to what your church is doing, but you can’t help but want to adapt some of the concepts.

You can’t help but want your church to be rich.

A copy of How To Be Rich: It’s Not What You Have, It’s What You Do With What You Have (Zondervan) was provided by the Canadian division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

*If the video isn’t loading go to http://vimeo.com/81844837

December 24, 2012

Are Churches Counting The Wrong People?

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

Church metrics.

Yeah, that’s a thing.

Vince Antonucci has a different take on it:

Churches count their “attendance” each week. (Some don’t count very accurately, willing to count people – band, choir, staff, children’s volunteers, etc. – multiple times, but that’s a point for another day.) They count the amount of people from their city who show up at their church each week.

But I’d like to propose counting something different: The amount of people in the city not showing up at any church.

Seriously, a church can say that “This year we grew from 1,000 to 2,000!” but what if, in the same year, the amount of people not going to church in that city grew from 370,000 to 391,000? That gives you a very different picture of what’s happening, doesn’t it?

If the number we counted was how many people in our city are not going to church it would force churches to no longer celebrate growing through stealing people from other churches, it might lead churches to support and celebrate the success of other churches, and it would lead churches to focus on truly reaching the lost instead of focusing on their attendance numbers.

Instead of magazines featuring the “Hundred Fastest Growing Churches” there would be articles on the cities where the most people are coming to Christ, and isn’t that what we want to promote and celebrate?

So, what about it?

July 25, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Click the image above to learn more about the comic book version of the book In His Steps, where the whole WWJD thing originated.

March 31, 2011

200 People Are Skipping Church on Palm Sunday

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

I’ve never been prouder of an initiative launched by the church we’ve attended — off and on — for 20 years since moving an hour east of Toronto.

Call it “reaching out,” or “community involvement,” or whatever you want.  Cobourg Alliance Church has decided to participate — in a huge way — in the annual walk for Multiple Sclerosis; a walk which just happens to fall on Palm Sunday, what most would consider the third most important Sunday of the year after Easter Sunday and Christmas Sunday.

The church will still hold worship services for those who wish to attend, but the nearly 200 people who have signed up so far is a significant percentage of the regular attendance at church in this town of only 18,500.

Participation also means fundraising, and the pastor, Andre Turcotte, is hoping that the church will be one of the top fundraisers in the area.  Those who can’t walk significant distances will be acting as volunteers. There are five individuals and/or families in the church dealing with MS.

I’m sure that organizers of events like this notice a dearth of participation from churchgoers when the events are held on a Sunday. “Skipping Church” is a big sacrifice for those who grew up believing the place to be on Sunday morning is singing the hymns and listening to a sermon.

Instead, this congregation will be busy “being church.”

Though we will be leading worship at another church that Sunday, we will be watching this with interest, and praying that it shows to the local community that Christ followers are willing to, literally, put feet to their beliefs; not just ‘talking the talk,’ but, literally, ‘walking the walk.’

February 19, 2011

An Outreach Piece The Smallest Church Can Afford

I first presented this here two years ago, but I remain convinced that it’s an inexpensive mailer concept that can be done by even the smallest church, and one that will especially resonate if your church is located near a mass transit line where people spend hours each week sitting on subways or light rail with their faces stuck inside a newspaper.

It’s a mailing piece that costs virtually nothing to produce, in fact it might work better the closer you can get to black-and-white, photocopy quality. You can also do a four-color enhancement of the idea with background gradients and even a photo of your church on the back page. Furthermore if you actually did photocopy them, you could target individual streets or blocks.

sudoku-flyerThe mailer is a simple 8.5 x 11 piece of paper (an A4 for you Brits) folded in half, producing a four-page layout. Each page contains the grid for the popular newspaper Sudoku game where you fill in the numbers from one to nine without repeating any within any given row, column or sub-square. Only on this the squares are all blank, with the first page bearing the text, “Sudoku Blanks. Because sometimes you just want to start all over.”

Talk about hitting two points of identification at once! This concept identifies with everybody who sees it, but for the exception of Canadian pastors I first shared it with who, for reasons I do not understand, do not read newspapers. (Or if they do, they certainly don’t lower themselves to looking at things on the puzzles and comics page, even though this occupies much of the time of anyone in their congregation who rides a commuter train or kills time in the staff lunchroom at the plant, or whatever, on a daily basis.)

The top two-thirds of each page are simply the blank grid as you see it above.

The rest of the piece’s text can be written as needed with as hard or soft a connection between your church and doing puzzles as you wish, In our sample version (available on request by e-mail if you can open a .pub file attachment) the pages read:

Page two:

You’re just about done and then you see it—two numbers the same in the same row, column or box. You try to backtrack a few steps, but eventually you realize the only way to win is to start over. Given the chance for a do-over, most of us get it right the second time.

Page three:

…If only life were like that; if only there was a way to get a new beginning a new start. But really there is; the Christian concept of grace is just that; the board’s wiped clean, everything begins fresh. We can’t turn back the clock, but we can get our record cleared and allow the scars to heal.

Page four:

The concept of grace isn’t widely talked about these days. If it’s new to you, or you want to unpack the meaning of a fresh start, let’s get together and talk about new beginnings.

Community Village Church
Sunday Mornings at 9:00 or 11:00
or drop by the office anytime during the week
555-555-1234
church@email.dot

I know that personal contact is better than mailing pieces, but if you think this has any merit as a discussion starter and you want to use it; just let me know, mail me a couple of souvenir copies and let me know how it works for you. Sudoku continues to be popular, and people will relate to this. It’s a useful piece of paper that may find itself sticking around long after other mailing pieces have been thrown out, and Joe or Barb or Dave might even find themselves making multiples of it on the copier where they work; hopefully with your church name intact. They may even drop by your church office just to pick up more blanks!

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