Thinking Out Loud

June 12, 2017

You Are Loved

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

As we sat down in the town park on Sunday for our church’s annual outreach service to the broader community, I asked myself, “What would you say if it was your turn to get up to speak; not knowing who is out on the fringes of the crowd?”

I think first-and-foremost I would tell them that God loves them. No matter how I try, I can never get too far from this song by The Altar Boys, a 80s-era Christian rock band:

To all the hearts that have been broken,
To all the dreamers with abandoned dreams,
To everyone in need of a friend,
— You are loved, You are loved;
To all the rebels wounded in battle
To all the rockers that have lost that beat
To all the users who are all used up now
— You are loved, You are loved.

I would tell them the reason people in our church were on duty setting up the sound system and the barbecue and the games for the kids is because we want our community to know the love of God as expressed in Jesus Christ.

Then I would tell them that just as the town employs lifeguards at the nearby beach is because we live in a world where people need to be rescued. But I’d tell them it’s more than just a rescue from hell.

I always wanted to be a voice-over announcer. The guy who records the tags at the end of the movie trailer that says, “Starts Friday at a theater near you; check local listings.” Or at the end of the product commercial, “Available at K-Mart, Target, Kohl’s, Burlington, and Lowes.” Or my personal favorite, “Must-see TV starts now.” I love the authority of that. Nobody can say, “Maybe the movie isn’t opening on Friday, because you have declared that it “Opens in Theaters on Friday.”

I remember the Must-see TV announcement coming on just before the Thursday night lineup on NBC. “Must-see TV starts now.” Not, ‘stay tuned;’ or ‘this time tomorrow;’ but “starts now.”

And that’s how I feel about what we offer the world. Not avoidance of damnation and destruction — though that’s thrown in — but rather, “Eternal life starts now.” Look at your screen and — regardless of who else is in the room or on the bus with you — say that out loud: “Eternal life starts now.”

That it was it means to experience the love of God.

To all the rebels wounded in battle
To all the rockers that have lost that beat
To all the users who are all used up now
— You are loved, You are loved.

I’d tell them that if they want to opt in, they simply say to God, “I want to opt in. I know I don’t deserve it. I know I can’t meet the standard; the bar is too high for any of us. But I believe you, in your grace and mercy have found a way that anyone who wants to is included. And in gratitude, I want to find a way for my life to reflect what you’ve offered and I’ve received.”

Having sincerely said that to God, “You’re in.”

“Eternal life starts now.”

 

Advertisements

January 26, 2016

“If You’re Visiting, Let the Offering Plate Pass By”

Offering PlateOne of the elements of the seeker sensitive movement which caught on within the wider circle of Evangelicals is the idea of not presenting ourselves as just wanting money. When Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek, it was one of two things that turned up in his community survey: ‘We don’t want to be asked to give money.’ (The other was anonymity: ‘We don’t want to be asked to stand up and give our names or be identified as visitors.’)

The line, “If you’re a visitor with us today, don’t feel any obligation to give;” or “This is an opportunity for our own people to worship through giving; if you’re visiting, just let the offering plate pass by;” has become a mantra in many of our churches. They say this in my church, and if I were asked to do the announcements — something for 20 years I’ve been deemed incapable of — I would certainly echo the same sentiment.

But I’m not sure it applies anymore.

For the four reasons below, I want to suggest doing away with it, or at least amending it somewhat.

First, we had the Willow Creek study, which showed that the spiritual characteristics of seekers had changed over the (then) 25-or-so years the church had been operating. Seekers wanted to go deep, they wanted to sit with their Bible in one hand and a pen in the other. They certainly didn’t see themselves as visitors or observers, they wanted to engage with the service the same as everybody else.

Second, there was the study North Point did which focused on people who had been attending for five weeks or less. This survey showed that what we would call visitors were already wanting to “discern next steps.” They wanted to fully plunge in, including volunteering to help. They saw themselves as potential participants, not outsiders. This echoes the saying that, “You’re only a visitor once.” Both of these studies were conducted by professional researchers.

Third, there is my own observation of what happens at Christmas services where an offering is received; a practice we can debate at another time. It’s assumed that many are visiting these services, so sometimes the line is simply skipped, and on those occasions, I’ve seen people who I know to be visiting reach into their wallets and pull out twenty dollar bills, or more. Perhaps they have a spirit of giving because of the season and want to be generous. Maybe it’s guilt for not having been more philanthropic throughout the year. For whatever reason, they seem to want to give.

Finally, there is simply my own hunch that people want to join in because they see the community value in what is taking place because the church is there. The church I attend is making a difference our town, and is in fact in the middle of a project involving refugee placement that has attracted interest from the broader community and has created some partnerships with local charities. (Matthew 5:16b “…that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.“) I think we’re doing things that people want to encourage.

Having said all that, I do understand the spirit of the original Willow Creek goal of not being seen as simply wanting money. I don’t think we should abandon that altogether. But there are other ways of phrasing it that might stay in step with the spirit of the statements we’re using and at the same time invite visitors to join in if they choose, and hopefully eventually come to a place of entering in with their hearts as well as their wallets.


1 Peter 2:12
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

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.

May 19, 2015

The Blogging and Congregational Outreach Analogy: 3 Types of Churches

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:09 am

I met Glenn Schaeffer years ago when he was a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada; and for many years his very colorful blog, Go and Make has been linked here. These thoughts really resonated and I wanted to make sure you had a chance to think this over!

3 types of churches You Find It … Hyperlinked … Embedded … What is the Tendency of Your Congregation?

I have been blogging for a few years. As I compose articles I find there are times when, either for the press of time or simply out of sheer laziness, I simply mention a resource and hope the reader will take the initiative and find it online. (This is not my usual practice!) There are times I will hyperlink to a resource so with a simple click of the mouse the reader will be taken to the website.  Other times, I embed the material right into the blog so that the reader simply scrolls down … clicks and watches what has been embedded into the blog.

I can’t help but see a parallel with congregations and their attitude toward their mission to the lost people in their community. Some congregations have the attitude that, “We’ve let people of this community know we are here. We have built our building, erected a sign and we have a website.  Now, it’s up the people of this community to find us.”

Other congregations “hyperlink” to their community.  Vacation Bible Schools, community workshops, worship services in local senior centers, brochure distributions, radio ads, preschools, “block parties” and home Bible studies make it easier for people in their community to find them.

Other congregations “embed” themselves into the social fabric of their community.   Member’s volunteer in a variety of community organizations … foster friendships with their unchurched friends or coworkers … develop relationships with seniors in senior care homes … invite immigrants into their homes to introduce them to western cultural practices … develop working partnerships with local organizations in their community or the neighborhood around their church building.  The people of the community encounter members of “embedded” congregations almost everywhere.  “Embedded congregations” don’t wait for people to find them … they find the people and serve them … love them and tell them about Christ!

What is the tendency of your congregation?

 

 

May 12, 2012

Churches That Welcome vs. Churches That Are Welcoming

This article appeared at The Ooze, where articles aren’t dated..  It was written by Dr. David W. Manner, Director of Worship and Administration for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists since 2000.  “Worship” here is meant to refer to the whole of your worship experience, not just what’s in the picture below. The article appeared under the title:

Is Your Worship Welcoming to Those Not Like You?

Most congregations can answer affirmatively when asked if their worship welcomes those not like them…all are welcome if or when they come. Where the conflict arises is when a congregation changes its culture in order to be intentionally welcoming to those not like them. Welcoming worship loves my neighbor as I love myself even if my neighbor is not always lovely.

• Welcome is passive. Welcoming is active.
• Welcome is safe. Welcoming is usually risky.
• Welcome is occasional. Welcoming is frequent.
• Welcome may be accidental. Welcoming is always deliberate.
• Welcome is comfortable. Welcoming can stretch.
• Welcome happens on Sunday. Welcoming happens every day.
• Welcome satisfies givers. Welcoming won’t pay the bills.
• Welcome waits. Welcoming initiates.
• Welcome controls. Welcoming unleashes.
• Welcome tolerates. Welcoming embraces.
• Welcome hoards. Welcoming gives away.
• Welcome is preferential. Welcoming is sacrificial.
• Welcome focuses just on those who are present. Welcoming includes those who are not and may never be present.

Welcoming worship never compromises biblically, theologically, or doctrinally but often accommodates culturally, contextually, and systematically. Welcoming worship is not just what we do on Sunday, it is who we are and how we treat people out in the world every day.

Welcoming worship purposefully considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored. Welcoming worship affirms that, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31). Welcoming worship loves, honors and praises the Father by loving those He loves. Could worship be any more profound?

~David W. Manner

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!

November 5, 2009

Adapting To The Culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:47 am

When the pastor at Family of Christ Congregation walked out the side door of the church and ran into the manager of the local radio station next door, he didn’t know his ministry and his world were about to change.

Family of Christ Congregation (FCC) was his third pastorate.   A rather imposing figure of a man, Pastor Tyrone Lexington Boone was born to an African American father and a Latino mother in a middle class suburb of northern Ohio; but the posting at FCC found him in a Tennessee medium-sized town that was “part south and part midwest” in its outlook.

The church seated 185 according to the fire marshal; though they once packed 210 people in for a wedding without resorting to extra chairs.   Sunday mornings tended to attract a fairly full house mixing young and old, suits and shorts, whites and non-whites, Charismatics and conservatives and the occasional “I’m not there yet” seeker.

The block was a mix of commercial and residential, but the church’s lot was deep, so parking was at the back of a skinny driveway.   You didn’t want to be going in when everybody else was coming out, or driving out when others will trying to come in.   There was a rather large bed and breakfast place on the other side of the driveway, and the local radio station was next door.

Currently operating under the somewhat dated name “PEACE 99;” the radio station wasn’t even a 99 at all, but broadcast at 98.9 FM.   But their studio was well insulated and the church never heard any noise from the place, especially on Sunday mornings when they ran some pre-recorded music commercial free.

Pastor Boone usually used the back door to the parking lot, but went out the side door more to see if the door actually worked or if it would prove to be sealed shut in the event of an emergency.    It was at that moment that Dan Righter — or at least that was his on-air name — the afternoon guy, station manager and owner of PEACE 99 walked out the side door of his building to see if the building lawn might need cutting.

“Hey!   I never use that door;” they both said to each other, almost in unison.   Dan Righter was also the station’s best sales representative, even though he had guys hired to do that job.   He was a quick study and his philosophy was that nothing in life is coincidence.  He saw an opportunity.

Pastor Boone muttered something about a “divine appointment” and was therefore quite receptive when the radio guy said he had an idea.

“I don’t actually make any money on Sunday mornings.   It’s not a good time to sell advertising spots.   So we just play stuff from the archives.    Heck, I even put a kid’s audition tape on the air to fill the time.   But I am under pressure from our community service advisory board to be doing more to help out in the town.   So Pastor, how’d you like to broadcast your Sunday service, free of charge?”

radio-towerBoone shrugged his shoulders and said he’d never thought about going the radio before.    That was a lie.   It was all he thought about.   The Bible college he went to was next to a university that had a 100-watt campus station that could be heard for miles.    Not knowing he was from the adjacent institution, the students that ran the campus outlet gave him a four hour show on Monday nights.    He played an eclectic mix of music that had listenership from around the broader community.

“I don’t know about putting the church on the radio;” he replied.

“Look;”  Dan said; “There’s larger churches in town I can offer this to, but it’s a real hassle technically if I’m just giving the time away.   With you guys, I can run a line from your sound system right through these doors we just walked through, and when it’s over, it takes about 30 seconds to roll up the cable.  I’ll put the ‘free’ part in writing and we’ll commit to each other for 26 weeks.  If you want to walk away in six months, that’s fine.”

“You got a deal;” Pastor Boone blurted out, realizing even at that moment that this was a rather major decision he was going to have to clear through his board members, all ten of them.   Plus, he was at first going to have to make it sound like something he was considering, instead of something that was a done deal.

Nonetheless, the men shook hands on it.   Starting that Sunday, Family of Christ would begin sending their audio signal next door for PEACE 99 to spread throughout the town of 26,000 people.

It was Tuesday. (more…)

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.