Thinking Out Loud

May 21, 2016

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

Today we’re featuring a re-post of an article which first appeared in April at the website I Already Am. To read this at source, click this link.

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Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

By Nathan Lorick

Fifteen years ago, we were living in a less technological society than we are now. Blockbuster, the video rental market leader, was booming with thousands of retail stores scattered across the nation. Millions of customers poured in week after week to rent the newest action thriller or comedy. Blockbuster was simply at the top of their game, or so they thought.

Beyond the glare of the blue and yellow lights, something was happening that went largely unnoticed. A new company had formed with a new creative form of video rental that would push the limits of the norm. This company, known today as Netflix, had the right idea at the right time. However, for various reasons, the CEO of the new company wanted to partner with Blockbuster to create a new dynasty that was sure to take the video rental world to levels not seen before.

In 2000, the CEO of Netflix approached the CEO of Blockbuster and offered to sell the newly formed Netflix for a mere $50 million. While that number sounds large to us, this is a small investment for a major retail business. It wasn’t the money that caused the CEO of Blockbuster to decline the offer; instead it was because he missed the opportunity to see beyond the present market. Hindsight is 20/20. Today, Blockbuster is out of business, and Netflix is the largest video rental company—worth more than $30 billion.

This is a modern picture of what many churches are going through. At one time they were thriving and growing at rapid rates. Their ministries were effective in every way measurable. Things were as good as they could be. However, somewhere along the way, attendance began to drift off, giving became less dependable, and the influence of their ministries became unknown to those outside of the church. Simply put, churches were so focused on the present, they stopped dreaming about the future. They essentially became a Blockbuster church in a Netflix culture.

So what can be done about this if your church is in this stage? What is the key element to moving forward into a new season of growth and vitality? While there can be many answers, I want to narrow it down to one key element: re-launching evangelism in your church’s strategy. Evangelism is the axis on which our church must turn in order to see it revitalized to life and growth. Nothing brings new life to a church more than seeing people experience new life in Christ.

So how do you bridge the desire for church revitalization and evangelism? I believe this is found in three simple answers:

  1. You must create a culture of evangelism in your church. Church members must sense the need and urgency to reach people for Christ and recognize their responsibility in God’s kingdom work to share the good news of Christ. Your church has to create strategies that are focused on reaching the lost with the gospel. When this happens, people begin to expect God to transform lives each and every week. Creating a culture of evangelism in a church will simultaneously create a culture of newfound enthusiasm in a church.
  2. You must create opportunities to train people on how to share their faith and to engage in personal evangelism. People are eager to see God use them for His purposes. They genuinely want to see people come to faith in Jesus; many just haven’t been discipled in how to do it. When your church equips people with the necessary tools to share the gospel, God uses them to expand his kingdom. Once someone leads another to Christ, they develop a new excitement because they know they have been used by God!
  3. You must consistently dream about the future and try new tools for evangelism. In our day, we have more tools and gadgets to share the gospel than ever before. Churches should always evaluate what is out there to utilize as well as continue to be innovative in how they engage those without Christ.

The tragedy of Blockbuster is that they settled for being good in the present and missed the opportunity to be great in the future. Likewise, God has given us an incredible opportunity to shine his light brighter than ever before. I encourage you as a church to be forward thinking in how to engage your community with the gospel. After all, we’re not a part of a video retail business; we are a part of a worldwide gospel revolution.

used by permission | see more at the blog I Already Am

April 23, 2016

Three Decades In, Steven Curtis Chapman Declares “We Believe”

Filed under: Christianity, music, reviews, worship — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

Next year will mark 30 years since the Kentucky-born guitarist released his debut, First Hand. He’s taken home more hardware from the Dove Awards than any other artist: 58 to date. Hard to believe then, that his 23rd album, Worship and Believe (Essential Worship/Reunion Records) is his first worship-themed CD. From the first note, it’s definitely a SCC album, but the new genre fits like a glove.

There are 15 tracks on the physical CD, but only 11 songs. The last four cuts are live versions — recorded at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas — of studio tracks heard earlier. (The deluxe digital version tosses in two more live versions.) Having said that, there are a few of the studio tracks that have the immediacy of a live concert. There’s a freshness to this album, rare in a market that is often over-saturated with worship releases.

Chapman’s joined by Matt Maher, Rend Collective and Chris Tomlin, with an overall sound reminiscent of many of Tomlin’s recent releases. The compositions are songs of bold, confident declaration in the greatness of God, such as “We Sing for You,” “We Believe” and “Amen” and sung with a conviction that matches the lyrics. He describes the latter:

The ‘Believe’ part of the album’s title is a reference to Zondervan’s BELIEVE, a 30-week church curriculum series from Randy Frazee; a partnering which came about after Chapman traveled with Frazee for The Story tour.

These are many songs here that I think your church will be singing in the future. Enjoy!


with files from YourMusicZone.com, Wikipedia, iTunes, Charisma Magazine and the artist’s website

No review copy was supplied because, “Nobody does record reviews anymore.”

April 1, 2016

A Radio Music Programmer Responds to Modern Worship

After my wife opened up a worship music can of worms yesterday, our good friend, veteran Canadian Christian broadcaster, and satellite music channel programmer Lorne Anderson wrote to weigh in with an article previously composed for MoreRadio, a radio trade journal. You can read more of his writing each and every day at Random Thoughts from Lorne.

Lorne Anderson headshotMORE OR LESS WORSHIP MUSIC?

The first Christian song I played on the radio, in 1979, was a worship tune. I didn’t think of it as a worship song, it just laid out what I wanted to do with this new radio show. The performer was Steve Camp, the song a cover version of Larry Norman’s “If I Were A Singer.”

The last song I announced when I left CHRI-FM in 2006 was also a worship song – Steve Taylor, “I Just Wanna Know.”

By strict definition both those songs could be classified as worship, in that they are prayers directed towards God. However they aren’t suited for congregational singing. They are worship, but from a personal perspective.

When MoreRadio Magazine asked Canadian radio programmers if we were still in the worship music trend, I got to thinking about worship music and radio. I had just finished leading an 18 week seminar on worship at my church, so the topic has been somewhat on my mind lately. I asked the publisher if there was room for more than the usual couple of lines, and he suggested I share these thoughts.

I am a fan of worship music. It can life up the spirits when you’re feeling down, it draws you closer to God and to his people when you group together to sing His praises.

But I’m not a big fan of worship music on the radio, even though I play a lot of it myself. These days we all do. It has been the trend in recent years. Take a look at a recent radio chart, whether it is CCRC, Billboard or whatever, worship artists and worship songs are a much larger percentage than even five years ago – up to 50% depending on the week. Some of it is very good. Some is quite mediocre (though we don’t like to admit that). But does any of it belong on the radio?

What is the purpose of Christian radio, especially in Canada? Back in the 1970s there were no Christian radio stations here (history lesson another time maybe). The very few contemporary Christian music programs were in hard fought for slots (usually Sunday mornings) on secular stations, which is how I started. The CRTC [our equivalent of the FCC] held hearings into religious broadcasting in 1982 and kept the status quo. It was another decade before they changed their policy, and it took longer for stations to appear.

Worship music on Christian radioThose of us who were around before the policy change were excited about Christian musicians who were expressing their faith in an accessible, contemporary form. As a radio disc jockey, my all-time favourite listener call came from someone looking for some Led Zeppelin to spice up his Sunday morning. I explained I couldn’t play them because they didn’t fit the format, I was only playing Christian music. The response (edited for obvious reasons): “Holy bleep, you mean this bleeping bleep is bleeping Jesus music? It’s bleeping fantastic.” You don’t get phone calls like that when you’re playing worship music. You just don’t reach that audience.

Christian music programming in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, and when Christian stations first began being licensed, was aimed at much at non-believers as believers. When Bob Du Broy started CHRI-FM in Ottawa in 1997 he wanted at least one song an hour to be something recognizable, accessible to the non-Christian that would draw them in. (That was a nice idea in theory, in practice it meant a lot of bad cover songs and the practice was discontinued.)

The shift in musical emphasis to programming worship music says to me that we have abandoned our early desire to reach our communities with the gospel in musical form and instead are opting to feed the sheep. Admittedly the sheep do need to be fed, but are they the ones with the greatest need? What happened to our original calling?

And I won’t even go into the quality issue. In an interview with me more than 35 years ago, Bruce Cockburn, talking about what he liked and disliked about Christian music, said “most Christian music is crap, and crap for Christ’s sake is still crap.” Sadly little has changed.

To the non-Christian who accidentally finds a Christian radio station, worship music is a stumbling block. It’s not something they can relate to, not yet anyway. It’s a reason to change the channel, it just sounds too different. When radio programmers play a lot of worship music we’re narrowcasting. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what we’ve decided to do. But I don’t think we made a conscious decision to narrow our focus, it happened slowly, almost imperceptibly and many of us haven’t realized that we have abandoned our original vision to take Christ into our communities through radio.

So who do we want to reach, and how do we best reach them? What is the purpose and the vision for Christian radio in Canada (and the USA)? Is it worship music for the Church, or accessible artistic expressions of Christian faith and life?


Lorne Anderson is a veteran broadcaster and musicologist who programs “The Light” for Stingray Music. The channel is heard on cable television systems and satellite broadcast in Canada and the US.

 

March 31, 2016

When the Music Fades

worship-leaderAbout a decade ago, Ruth and I were part of a small group that met monthly in a city about 40 minutes away, which was chosen as a central location for a number of people who came from several different directions. We were all involved in some type of church planting or community building and I believe all of us had been influenced greatly by Michael Frost.

The group itself was part of a national network of similar groups that was (in theory at least) sponsored by the church planting initiatives department of a major denomination; though I don’t recall much in the way of networking with those other groups, aside from a few meeting reports that were shared.

Yes…this is an article about music…be patient, okay?

We still keep in touch with a few of those people — ain’t social media great? — including Rick who posed an interesting question about modern worship in the middle of one of the meetings. Have you ever had that feeling where the songs sung in church just don’t do it for you as they once did? Ruth emailed some answers to Rick’s question to our group members, but in the intervening decade, it’s never been shared online…

•••by Ruth Wilkinson

At our last meeting, Rick asked a question that I've been thinking 
about, namely, "Why don't these songs work for us?"

Here's what I've come up with so far...

1.  We're not spiritual enough.  (Ok, that one's dumb, but it had to be 
said.)

2.  We're producers, not re-producers.  We know what creativity looks 
like and, boyhowdy, that ain't it.

3.  We're human.  We're connected to the world we live in, as God made 
us to be, and these songs have nothing to do with life and the world.  
Except for the occasional ocean or mountain, which don't figure largely 
in our everyday lives.

4.   We're artists or performers and we know what good execution looks 
like.  We get distracted by inexplicable chords, inept tech support, 
spelling mistakes and missing lyrics projected over overwrought nature 
shots.

5.  We have enough experience of God already to have some idea that he 
is more complex and incomprehensible than what these songs express.  
We've had enough of simplistic theology.

6.  We work hard all week and standing for 20 minutes interests us not 
at all.

7.  We're individuals and don't want to be told how to 'worship' or what 
music to like.

8.  We've spent too much time listening to Santana to be impressed by 
strum-a strum-a strum-a, or a drummer who only knows one rhythm.  Bumpa 
chicka Bumpa chicka Bumpa chicka Bumpa chicka.

9.  We can't quite get past the woman playing percussion in 4/4 when 
everybody else is in 3/4 (yes, really).

10.  We just don't live in a singing culture.  People don't sing.  
Except in church.  Which we tend to treat as some kind of wonderful 
distinctive, but is probably just an anachronism.  (My church is an 
exception to that, one, however.  These guys sing and sing and sing, but 
they choose the songs as we go, so it's a bit different.)

11.  That said, we don't get to choose the songs.  We are told, in 
effect, what to feel regardless of where we're at.  I think karaoke 
church would be awesome.

All that without considering the 'worship industry' that we are 
bombarded with on what passes for Christian radio.

March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday

Recent comments by Dr. Russell Moore on how he wants to distance himself from the term Evangelical has sparked various discussions including one on this week’s edition of  The Phil Vischer Podcast about the rise of a new category, Progressive Evangelicals. I was reminded of a very lengthy post we did four years ago when a large controversy was happening over a book written by Rachel Held Evans.

We live in a time when battle lines are being drawn between conservative Christians and progressive Christians. I usually find myself standing somewhere in between, trying to build a bridge between both groups; trying to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy while at the same time recognizing that this ain’t 1949 or 1953 or 1961. It’s 2012 already.The world changed in-between; the world changed last year; the world changed last week.

We need to be mindful of the duality as we interact with the broader culture; as we live between two worlds; as we exist as aliens and strangers, having citizenship in another country; but having to live, eat, breathe, work and play in a world that’s not our permanent home. (See graphic below.)

To that end, we need authors and publishers who will translate our message into the vernacular of the day, or even the hour. We need books and book distribution networks that will illustrate Christian worldview in a way that people can understand.

In the end, the books we create should, at times, make us uncomfortable.

Christians Live in Two Worlds


If you’ve ever visited the blog platform Patheos, you’ve also seen that bloggers are divided into two categories, Evangelical and Progressive Christian (as well as Orthodox and Catholic, but strangely, not Mainline Protestant).  I’ve always felt that Patheos was ahead of the curve on this one in terms of making the distinction long before some had consciously considered the differences.


Another throwback: As I write this one of the many, many debates concerning Donald Trump’s aspirations to be U.S. President surrounds the idea of having someone elected to the position who is not a career politician, not a Washington Beltway insider. Some feel this makes Trump uniquely qualified.

Four years ago, we did a tongue-in-cheek post about a guy who is visiting a church and notices a board vacancy in the bulletin. He makes an argument for the refreshing perspective of someone who is not a congregation insider:

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,

February 9, 2016

Abandoned Megachurches circa 2026

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post link below, click through to see 14 more abandoned churches.

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post, May 2015.

This weekend I heard part of a story that made me shudder. A megachurch. Mortgage-free. An issue arises. A split. People leave. Now there’s a mortgage. The future not as assured as it once was.

I very sincerely hope and pray that this one has a happy ending; that its best days are ahead. But it got us talking last night at dinner about the prophets of doom who predict there are going to be a long list of abandoned megachurches in North America at some point in the future. The ones who say that it’s only the personality of the founding pastor that is drawing the crowds. The experts who tell us that the move is going to be to smaller community churches and home fellowships. I hope they’re all wrong.

I mean it; well at least partly wrong. For all the negative articles in books, magazines and blogs about the downside to mass market worship, I think the specter of dozens of abandoned churches like the one in our picture above is far worse. You can take hundred-year-old churches now and turn them into trendy restaurants or antique shops, but unless a municipality arts group or a community college wants the space, it’s harder to do that with a 3,000 seat auditorium. Any decommissioned church is a sad story, but with today’s gigantic facilities, the buyers are fewer.

The scene is not totally far-fetched. Wikipedia lists 22 abandoned major shopping malls in the U.S. The internet abounds with photojournalism studies of dead malls. (That last link has literally hundreds of abandoned retail properties.) Ironically, the ideal location for megachurches and malls is identical: In suburbia at the intersection of two freeways.

The term sometimes used is Architectural Corpses. While some believe that churches which have sketchy theology are just a house of cards waiting to collapse, nobody wants to think that the congregation taught weekly by their favorite preacher would ever succumb to such a fate.

Three years ago Wade Burleson wrote:

…The pendulum is swinging back toward churches creating loose organizational structures in order to facilitate a wider array of ministries. For the next few decades, those evangelical churches that will continue to grow in numbers and Kingdom influence are those churches that spend less on facilities, learn how to worship in multiple venues and at various times, and focus more on building a network of effective small groups that collectively do missions both locally and globally. The climate and culture of the evangelical church has changed. Any church that focuses on large in-house productions, massive buildings, and ministries more conducive to “come and receive” instead of “go and give” is in for a surprise.

Let’s call it the Evangelical Fiscal Cliff.

Churches that have borrowed to build massive facilities are behind the proverbial eight ball. They must continue to focus on sustaining and maintaining the organization (utilities, repairs, staffing, and publicity to bring people into the high dollar facilities for “special events”), instead of empowering people to do the work of the ministry away from the buildings…

Most of the other articles on this topic simply use the subject as a means of attacking the doctrine of popular American pastors and churches.

In terms of church culture trends, Wade is probably correct, but an interesting thing happened here in Canada many, many years ago. They simply stopped building new shopping malls. This created a supply/demand equilibrium, and while some have indeed closed, and others are reconfigured as parts of outdoor power centers, many of the ones that remained are continuing to thrive, as evidenced by packed parking lots.

So in some respects, I know the future is going to contain a few forsaken megachurch buildings, but in general, I hope American Christianity can prove the doomsayers wrong.

The website abandoned.photos said this church was designed to seat 10,000 but provided no further annotation.

The website abandoned.photos said this church was designed to seat 10,000 but provided no further annotation.

Finally, I couldn’t help but pull this photo out of the files. I am sure that in its former days the members of this cathedral could never have imagined this, but what re-purposing of today’s churches exceeds our imagination? It’s sobering to consider.

The above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park.

The above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park.

Cathedral Repurposed as Skateboard Park


Related:

 

February 6, 2016

Can Internet Tirades Accomplish Any Good?

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It started with an article on Huffington Post. In A Tirade For The Trendy Church, writer Jack Levison described a field trip — he’s a professor at Seattle Pacific University —  to a hipster church where his non-conforming band of visitors was somewhat ignored by the regular attenders.

You don’t shake our hands.
You don’t smile.
You don’t tell us your name.
And admit it. You know we’re not one of yours…

And then:

I’m angry.
I’m bored by hipster inhospitality.
I’m irked by Bohemian indifference.
I’m annoyed by trendy aloofness.
No, that’s not right.
I’m sad. Disappointed that a church which, on its website, claims that thousands have been touched by its members, couldn’t greet strangers in their midst.

which I condensed and posted to Twitter with a link to the HuffPo story.

And then a longtime acquaintance replied:

I am bored of complaints about Churches, bored of complaints period, but I guess positive blogs don’t get noticed as much.

Which really got me thinking.

It got me thinking because the same thing happened to us, not once but three times as we occasionally frequented one of the more “cool” churches in another city. A church where the welcome time happens in the middle of the service with many types of beverages and snacks including fresh strawberries in February.

And we didn’t know anybody. And nobody wanted to know us.

So I Tweeted back:

I hear you. But the ignoring of visitors is a recurring theme in the modern church; something that needs to be addressed.

To which he replied:

I agree – but I still think to people who are not Christian it all sounds like whining and bickering.

I give him the last word:

Maybe instead of a blog post – they should request a meeting with the Pastor. This blog post doesn’t achieve anything.

It doesn’t?

So as I said I kept thinking about this for nearly two weeks. Here’s what I’ve concluded:

First, the airing of issues affecting the church on various forms of social media has helped bring about much positive change. Thanks to the whistle-blowers, the watchdog websites, the survivor blogs, the abuse confessionals; we have a handle on church life in North America, Australia/New Zealand, and Western Europe as never before. It’s now difficult for a pastor, or Christian author, or televangelist to act anonymously, secretly or with impunity. From megachurch pastors to shepherds of congregations that are lucky to get 50 people on a Sunday morning, everyone is subject to scrutiny; everyone is under the microscope.

As a result,we have unprecedented accountability. While this seems to reveal a horrid list of sins including financial improprieties, moral failures and control issues, I would argue that it also prevents a whole lot more from taking place. The walls have ears like never before. The internet makes it difficult for people acting inappropriately to do so in secret.

Second, with the internet there are few Christian-only websites, blogs and news feeds. Everything is open to the broader populace unless you go out of your way to restrict membership and require passwords. Even in those cases, there’s bound to be someone in the closed group who knows how to copy and paste. So my Twitter correspondent is correct, these things are seen by people who aren’t Christians.

To some, this probably does sound like bickering and whining; a tempest in a teapot if you will. But to me, it shows we’re willing to be transparent. It shows that our institutions, made up of people like ourselves, are fallible, fragile and fraught with failures. We, the church, are indeed the community of the broken. We get it wrong sometimes. And that hurts. We don’t meet our ideal targets.

Third, as a general rule, pastors are not interested in service reviews by people outside their community. As one church leaders said to me once in another context, “We’re here to serve our people, not the city of _______.” (Yes. Actual quote.) In other words, take it or leave it; we’re doing what we do, and if you come into it as an outsider, your perspective is irrelevant because we’re not here to serve you.

A meeting with the pastor is useless if you’re not part of the target demographic. It would be like me demanding to meet with my pastor to offer my opinions on having visited their women’s Bible study. (‘The leader didn’t make a single sports reference, and they served cupcakes instead of donuts.’) My opinion doesn’t matter in this context because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

…I would definitely send the pastor a copy of the blog article after-the-fact though. Well, maybe. There are times you have to choose your battles. I’d like to think the pastor would think about maybe doing something to create a more welcoming church culture. But maybe he already knows. Maybe he’s satisfied with the status quo.

One more time, here’s the link to Jack’s article: A Tirade For The Trendy Church

 

February 1, 2016

Know Where You Believe

 

Tic-Tac-Blinders-Church-Stage-DesignYesterday I got to visit a church in our community which offers a contemporary and a traditional service which run concurrently, with the contemporary service getting a video feed of the sermon when it begins. It was my second visit.

Opinions on music in the local church can often divide people, but this church found a way to satisfy both groups at once. Yes, the one auditorium demographic skews much younger and the other much older, but there is considerable overlap. I spoke to many people after the service; one was a couple (she’s turning 80) who much prefer the more modern service. The other was a guy half their age who much prefers the hymns and the organ.

hymnboardThere is a value to inter-generational worship, and much has been and is being written about this elsewhere on the internet. But both of these worship settings provide that accomplish this, even the demographics are more pronounced in each one.

The thing that got me however was one comment that certain people in the traditional service hold to an opinion that you aren’t truly able to worship God in the modern service, and look down on the younger worshipers condescendingly.

No, it’s not about the music.

The contemporary service meets in a gym.

Therein lies the problem. There are still a number of people who feel that you can’t truly worship God in a civic center, a community hall or a gymnasium; you need a sanctuary that has been set apart for this purpose.

(Given the choice I had when I walked into their building, I chose the gym because I felt I could make a better connection there; that the overall tenor of that service would resonate with me much, much more. I don’t mind the hymns so much, but to listen to the organ would have proved counter-productive and even a bit of a distraction.)

The story of the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4 is more than simply Jesus encountering a woman with a bad reputation; it raises theological issues as well.

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

She was raising one of the Samaritan distinctives: Where should one worship? She’s really choosing to enter into a debate on the thing that separates Jews and Samaritans instead of focusing on the things with which they agree. She’s not looking for a basis of agreement, but looking to argue doctrine. (She’d love the internet!)

But Jesus sidesteps the question entirely.

Stephen, in his one and only recorded sermon, reiterates this:

48  “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?

I just couldn’t believe that the person described in my conversation yesterday seriously believed you can’t worship in a gym, but this mentality still exists in 2016.

If you agree with me that it doesn’t matter, take a moment to prove it. Turn away from your computer or mobile device, or close your eyes, and take a moment to worship God right where you are.

January 22, 2016

The Pastor’s Wife as “The First Lady”

First Lady ParkingIt’s spreading like a virus. Calling the wife of the senior pastor “The First Lady.” I think it may have had its beginnings in the African-American church, but it is no longer limited to those congregations. Where did this nonsense come from? Well, I looked it up and there it was:

II Amendations 4:3 The wife of the pastor shall be given a place of honor, for she is more special than the other women of the church. 4 She shall be called The First Lady, and everyone shall bless her. 5 She shall be seated on the front row of the assembly, unless that church has a balcony, in which case she shall sit on the front row there if it is her preference. 6 And if it is the case that she drives to church separately, she shall be given a reserved parking spot, it will be next to her husband’s, and this place shall be indicated by a sign which states, ‘Reserved for The First Lady.’ 7 And the pastor shall make reference to her during his sermon, and if it does not suit the text, he shall refer to her during the announcements.8 And if that service is televised, the cameras shall cut away to a shot of her smiling and shall linger there if she is especially telegenic.

9 Upon her arrival at the house of worship, the women of the church shall take care of her children so that she need not be concerned for them, for they are pastor’s kids and not particularly well-behaved. 10 She shall be exempted from the requirements of the other women, she shall not be asked to bake cookies, serve in the kitchen or the nursery, or make sandwiches for funerals. 11 She shall be permitted to be clothed lavishly, as she is an example to the other women of the church; with fine fabrics and gold jewelry shall she be dressed. 12 The congregation shall shower her with Ministry Appreciation cards on a regular basis as well as small gifts,  13 for she continually must attend to the needs of her husband whose schedule is hectic and whose life is filled with stress. 14 And she shall preach on Mother’s Day; for this expectation she is not to be exempted, even if speaking is not her particular gift.

October 27, 2015

Finding Your Church’s Comfort Sweet Spots

Sometimes we don't realize the way first-time visitors see things when the walk into our buildings, or maybe, like this Community Baptist Church van, we're just not thinking ahead.

Sometimes we don’t realize the way first-time visitors see things when the walk into our buildings, or maybe, like this Community Baptist Church van, we’re just not thinking ahead.

I’ve never actually been in a church where the color of the carpet was an issue, but the topic stands in for a host of other topics when people are discussing superficial things they don’t like about a particular place of worship.

Still, there are some superficial environmental details which impact how effective ministry can be. For example, why is sometimes the pastor seems to really connect with people during the sermon, and other weeks when people are less responsive. It may have to do with things you don’t think about.

Sound

  • If the sound is turned up too high, people feel like they are being shouted at. It’s the live equivalent of me typing a sentence in CAPITAL LETTERS, back when people actually interacted in groups. Of course, there are some Pentecostal and Charismatic churches where the preacher’s words are amplified at rock concert volumes, but I think we have natural defenses that want to shut off any message bombarding us at high decibels.
  • If the sound is turned down too low, I believe that even if you’re hearing every single word, you’re using some mental processing capacity to strain to catch those phrases and sentences, at the expense of being able to use that capacity to process the actual content of the words, and their applicability to your situation.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle, and find a way to keep it consistent week-to-week.

Temperature

  • If the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is turned up too high, people feel sticky in the summer and sleepy in the winter. If the temperature makes you feel comfy and cozy like you’re lying under a couple of blankets, you will indeed nod off.
  • If the thermostat is turned down too low, people are squirming or perhaps even needing to use the restrooms. Preservation instinct takes over, and the message processing capacity diminishes.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle. Sometimes, if you’re not sure, you need to take 15 seconds to survey the audience on this one.

Lighting

  • The modern church spends a fortune on stage lighting, which includes something called “backlighting” which helps give definition to people on the platform. However, depending on where you are sitting, these lights can be shining directly into the audience seating. After the first five minutes it gets annoying and after as little as fifteen minutes you have a headache.
  • On the other hand, some churches are so dark it’s creepy. (We covered this topic in the list link a few days ago here.) Combine the absence of light with a high temperature and you have a perfect recipe for slumber once the sermon starts.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle. One church I know turns up the lights for the sermon so people can follow along in their Bibles and make notes. Trouble is, in other auditorium contexts, when the lights come up it means the show is over! 

Smell

  • Some churches smell like a church; there’s no other way to say that. Is it the wooden pews? Something given off by old hymnbooks? Stale air from a sanctuary that’s sat relatively idle since the previous week’s service? It could also be something not quite so neutral. Maybe it’s the smell of sweaty socks from a sports night the youth group had downstairs the night before. Or the smell of food from the potluck taking place after the service. It might even be the smell of perfumes worn by mostly female adherents who are mostly above a certain age; a scent many are allergic to. (We’ve discussed that last one in this popular post.)
  • Of course, you can try to compensate for any and all of the above with products that prove the adage that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. The result can actually cause some people to wince as they enter, or after prolonged exposure.

Although we would never admit it, some of us who attend older church buildings have a subconscious affinity to the smell of the church building, but no clue how it impacts first time visitors. Maybe the Episcopalians and Roman Catholics have the cure: Just burn off any transgressing smells. You can read more about that in my next book, The Case for Candles.

So what superficials have affected worship in your past experience?


From last week’s link list, here’s an excellent article dealing with the exterior that greets first-time visitors:

 

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