Thinking Out Loud

September 28, 2012

Giving Your Church What They Prefer Over What They Need

Matt Marino is an Episcopal Priest who spent 17 years with Young Life.  He dares to pose a question that’s being heard more and more recently,

What’s so uncool about cool churches?

[This is a teaser, you are strongly advised to click the link above and read the whole article, which has so far attracted over 100 comments.]

They ask for more and more, and we give it to them. And more and more the power of God is substituted for market-driven experience. In an effort to give people something “attractive” and “relevant” we embraced novel new methods in youth ministry, that 20 years later are having a powerful shaping effect on the entire church. Here are the marks of being market-driven; Which are hallmarks of your ministry?

  1. Segregation. We bought into the idea that youth should be segregated from the family and the rest of the church. It started with youth rooms, and then we moved to “youth services.” We ghettoized our children! (After all, we are cooler than the older people in “big church”. And parents? Who wants their parents in their youth group?)
  2. Big = effective. Big is (by definition) program driven: Less personal, lower commitment; a cultural and social thing as much as a spiritual thing...
  3. More programs attended = stronger disciples. The inventors of this idea, Willow Creek, in suburban Chicago, publicly repudiated this several years ago. They discovered that there was no correlation between the number of meetings attended and people’s spiritual maturity...
  4. Christian replacementism. We developed a Christian version of everything the world offers: Christian bands, novels, schools, soccer leagues, t-shirts. We created the perfect Christian bubble.
  5. Cultural “relevance” over transformation.We imitated our culture’s most successful gathering places in an effort to be “relevant.” Reflect on the Sunday “experience” at most Big-box churches:ure.
    • Concert hall (worship)
    • Comedy club (sermon)
    • Coffee house (foyer)
  6. Professionalization. If we do know an unbeliever, we don’t need to share Christ with them, we have pastors to do that. We invite them to something… to an “inviter” event… we invite them to our “Christian” subcult
  7. “McDonald’s-ization” vs. Contextualization:  It is no longer our own vision and passion. We purchase it as a package from today’s biggest going mega-church. It is almost like a “franchise fee” from Saddleback or The Resurgence.
  8. Attractional over missional. When our greatest value is butts in pews we embrace attractional models. Rather than embrace Paul’s Ephesians 4 model in which ministry gifts are given by God to “equip the saints” we have developed a top-down hierarchy aimed at filling buildings. This leaves us with Sunday “church” an experience for the unchurched, with God-centered worship of the Almighty relegated to the periphery and leading of the body of Christ to greater spiritual power and sanctification to untrained small group leaders.

continue reading the whole article here.

As I prepared this, I thought of point number eight in light of my ‘online’ church home, North Point. There are only two worship songs, and further worship is relegated to Thursday nights every other month. But even those nights simply mirror what happens on Sunday morning, which is itself an extension of the youth ministry model.

Some youth are not happen with the state of the church, and are seeking an entirely different model, as we wrote last week.  Other teens and twenty-somethings are simply leaving, as we noted two weeks ago. So there are issues that need to be addressed as to the sustainability of the present models within student ministry; but also larger implications for an entire assembly or congregation.

Among the comments at Matt’s article:

  • Being hip isn’t the problem you’re addressing, its the lack of content which plagues both cool (too much focus on preference for entertainment) and uncool (to much focus on preference for tradition)
  • What matters isn’t what the preacher wears, whether there is coffee, whether there is a rock band or an orchestra or just a piano, is the FRUIT.
  • “Guitar Praise — Just Like Guitar Hero, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Praise Ponies — Just Like My Little Pony, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Testamints — Just like Altoids, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Christian Chirp — Just like Twitter, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “GodTube — Just like YouTube, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Seek & Find” — Just like Google Search, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Johnny Hammer — Just like Justin Beiber, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
  • Your biggest draw, which is providing a loving community where all kids can belong, is completely lost when your church preaches a bigoted message on homosexuality.
  • We assemble to worship, serve, please and praise God. It’s all about HIM! Not us. Smoke machines, guitars, pianos, lasers, and flashing lights? Why? Does this please God? Is it what he’s asked for? Or is it a ploy to bring more bodies in? Hey, I am all for trying to get more souls in the pews, but let’s do it in a way that doesn’t put make-up on God.
  • A good church cannot be determined by its “style” of worship. What is important? Shouldn’t a church be judged by things like its theology, its teaching, its mission, the fellowship and growth of its people, whether people come to God and become closer to God?
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May 3, 2012

Focusing Outward

Ever been to a sod turning?

A sod turning ceremony is what happens when members of a church that is about to move to new property go en masse to the new site where someone with a shiny shovel digs into the ground to symbolically represent the machinery which will then soon come to start moving earth to begin construction of the new facility.

Usually the members gather in a circle — perhaps even joining hands — to watch and then a prayer of dedication for the land. (The building dedication happens when the place is complete.)

Anyway, I heard a story recently about a church where, as it came to the gathering in a circle part, when it was time to pray, instead of facing inward, they formed the circle with everyone facing out, in recognition of the larger community they intend to serve.  Personally, I think they got it, and that’s the kind of faith family I would want to join.

I thought of that this morning when Zach at Vitamin Z reposted this piece from Thom Rainer.  (Yeah, the LifeWay guy… see, we can be open minded.) Click the link on the title to read the full introduction.

The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

  1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.
  2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.
  3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.
  4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.
  5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.
  6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.
  7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.
  8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.
  9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.
  10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

~Thom Rainer

What Thom doesn’t list here of course is the opposite, the ten signs of an outwardly obsessed church.  That, of course, would be a description of the whole Missional Church movement, and its characteristics wouldn’t be the opposite of these ten, but would instead would be indicators of apostolic, incarnational ministry.

Here’s a piece from Rev. Dr. Ronald Carlson with six characteristics of a Missional church. It’s a lengthy 2007 American Baptist Churches document that was only available as a .pdf file, so I’ve greatly edited and freely paraphrased it here.  But in the interest of equal time:

Six characteristics of a Missional Church

  1. Considers its context to be a changing mission field.  The church allows itself to enter into situations where the beliefs, culture, language and social needs are greatly different from its own.
  2. Is active in, and supportive of missions. The church frees up its members to be involved in longer term projects, according to individuals gifts and abilities.
  3. Gives recognition to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  In other words, the mandate to make disciples and the mandate to go out and be ‘love in action’ are not mutually exclusive but are one and the same.  You can’t have one without the other, and if you over-emphasize one you are under-emphasizing the other.
  4. Recognizes that all people are both the subject and object of mission. We exist not to be served but to serve, but also need to be reminded that Jesus received the service of others offered to him. Again, there is a balance.
  5. Engages in transforming persons, systems, cultures, and communities.  This includes transforming the church itself by creating new structures but know when to discontinue others.  This is best accomplished through a partial assimilation into the broader culture; something we often tend to want to avoid.
  6. Multiplies churches, disciples, mission. This is done not through cloning the original, but by constantly creating new teams and projects which spring from the original and its purpose but may take different forms to accomplish different purposes.

Michael Frost’s Five Characteristics of a Missional Community is also worth remembering:

  1. Bless. We will bless at least one other member of our community every day.
  2. Eat. We will east with other members of our community at least three times a week.
  3. Listen. We will commit ourselves weekly to listening to the promptings of God in our lives.
  4. Learn. We will read from the Gospels each week and remain diligent in learning more about Jesus.
  5. Sent. We will see our daily life as an expression of our sent-ness by God into this world.

Okay, my sod turning picture turned out to be for a sports club.  I was going to change it — and did once already —  but it best captured what I was going for, though I doubt they closed in prayer. Of course because I tagged it “church sod turning,”  now it will turn up in image searches perpetuating the error; another reason why you can’t believe anything you see on the internet.


I also meant to say here that articles like Rainer’s as good as they are, a dime a dozen in the Christian blogosphere.  It’s so easy — and I fall into this trap, also — to simply offer criticism and point out errors and negative traits present in many of our churches. That’s why I made this piece rather lengthy by finding a couple of examples of the opposite in order to give balance; but it is also why the missional church model is somewhat foreign to many people, perhaps even some of you reading this.  I encourage you to look into Michael Frost’s books if you want to uncover more.

December 7, 2010

The Schuller Family: For Greater Contrast, Skip a Generation

See info below re. these pictures

This blog has already been both a news source and sounding board for the continuing drama at the Crystal Cathedral that I am in two minds about this particular blog post.

However, Nicole Santacruz at the L.A. Times has written such a definitive article — even after it seems so much has already been written — that I cannot help but link to it here, and also respond to it.

The article begins not with the juxtaposition of Robert H. and Robert A., but skips a generation and looks at the contrast — and perhaps a few similarities — between Cathedral Founder Robert H. and grandson Bobby, who pastors The Gathering, just a few miles down the road.

The third-generation Schuller hopes to do what the landmark — and now bankrupt — Crystal Cathedral has apparently failed to: evolve with the times.

Bobby’s church, The Gathering, takes a low-key approach to worship. Sunday’s services aren’t in an opulent church. Young band members open the service, and it’s intimate — people don paper name tags and shake hands. All of these elements represent a “post-boomer” style of worship popular with 20- to 40-year-old Christians, said Richard Flory, a sociologist of religion at USC.

But the article goes beyond mere color commentary; here’s a take on the big glass church in Garden Grove:

“They are totally outdated,” Flory said. “They are so committed to a plot of land and a building, and they’ve got a problem.”

And this look at the annual “Glory of Christmas” pageant:

The Christmas production would begin to signify a culture of extravagance within the church: More than a dozen angels in white chiffon flew overhead, professional singers replaced volunteers, and live camels and donkeys took the stage.   (Emphasis added.)

And this interesting sidebar, a revelation about a production few of us had heard of:

[I]n 2005, Carol Schuller Milner, the third Schuller daughter, produced a multimillion-dollar pageant called “Creation,” which was poorly attended and never staged again.

Robert A.’s daughter provides some good insight:

“When you have a dynamic where faith, fame and family are all involved, it becomes difficult to prioritize faith,” she said. “Instead it becomes part of this mixture of family dynamics and fame dynamics.”

And the article also raises another issue, one being dealt with by multiplied numbers of churches:

“I think it’s true that any congregation has to figure out how its style of ministry affects more than one generation.” said Wes Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary for the Reformed Church in America, the denomination to which the Crystal Cathedral belongs. “You see evidence of that in Bobby’s service.”

Bobby, who’s now 29, gets the last word:

Bobby Schuller is an innovator like his grandfather, but the way he delivers his message of Christianity is drastically different. The stereotypical church, he said, is about a perfect building filled with perfect people, music and a perfect preacher.

“In other words, it’s not like life,” he said…

…Volunteers set up for the service each Sunday and take down the chairs and tables that afternoon. When the work is done, they all go out for pizza. More than 90% of church funds go toward social justice issues such as homelessness and domestic violence.

“Our goal is to make big Christians, not big churches,” he said.

There’s more to the L.A. Times article.   I’ve excerpted a few sections here only because many of you don’t take the time to click the link, but hoping you will, here is the story link again.

Recent coverage here of the Crystal Cathedral saga:

…and also…

  • Wednesday Link List from a few days ago, with the link to a very recent, unscheduled TV interview Robert A. did with 100 Huntley St.

About the photos:   I decided we needed a different kind of photo of the big glass temple, and in searching for an arial photo, came across this one from Google Earth that had been posted at the site Sacred Destinations, and decided to take a chance on the copyrighted photo as well.  (If it’s not there, I lost that battle!)   I got to visit the original Garden Grove Community Church in 1979, and then my wife and I did the larger facility in 1989.  There are additional photos and story at that website.

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