Thinking Out Loud

March 19, 2009

Buckhead: It Ain’t the Name of a Hick Town

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:32 pm

Flash back about 3.5 years, and I was doing a church plant in the downtown part of an adjacent city, using resources recommended to me produced by Andy Stanley and the people at North Point Community Church.   It was then that I noticed Andy making reference to their satellite campus at Buckhead.

Buckhead.  The name conjures up a sort of a hick-town image, especially if you say it with a deep south accent.   Later, I learned that Buckhead is nothing of the sort.  If anything, it’s one of the most affluent parts of the U.S., and as I type this, I am staying in Buckhead, though even the hotel manager admits there is nothing much to do here.   It’s too not-downtown to have the attractions of restaurants and nightlife, and too not-suburbia to have the strip malls or big box stores.

bc-rendering-low-resBut yesterday, we visited Buckhead Christian Church, which is the full name on the sign.  (Not the sign that tells you not to park across the road or your car will be booted with a $95 penalty.)

Buckhead — the church — is located in a very modern, very sophisticated business park.  Just finding  it was challenge enough.  We were blessed with the presence of Susan, who gave us a tour of all four floors.   That’s right, while most churches spread outward on their piece of land, Buckhead is built vertically; elevators are a part of the experience if you bring your kids.

And it’s concern for the spiritual welfare of kids that occupied a good part of our tour as it occupies a good part of the building’s floorspace.   (Not to diminish the auditorium, which seats 3,250 or so.)    Maybe it’s just that we’re from Canada, but I have never seen a Christian Ed. wing like this one, and remember we’ve been to Harvest, Mars Hill Michigan and Peoples in Toronto.   It’s big, it’s fully appointed with expensive sound and lighting equipment and it’s decorated with lots of love and detail.

However, and this is a big however, it’s also designed to be used for just a few hours on Sunday morning.   Given the cost of building and maintaining the place; it’s a very, very costly dedicated facility.  To paraphrase a title of one of Andy’s books, How much is too much?  Maybe there’s no limit on the value of bringing kids into the Kingdom.

Just don’t use the S-word, or more accurately, the S.S. word.  (Sunday School)  Like Willow Creek, which we’ve also been to, the children’s program dismisses the kids to “small groups” which is the same term used to describe the adult ministry that hopefully many of them will funnel into.   Susan said that about 50% of the adults attending on Sunday mornings are part of a small group.

It was an awesome tour of an amazing facility which, like everything else we’ve done in Atlanta, ended up at the gift shop.    I bought a couple of Andy’s DVD sermon series, but would have liked to take about a couple of dozen of them.

Footnote:  My Canadian friends may be surprised to learn that no weddings are performed at North Point or Buckhead.   The “church wedding” can still happen in another house of worship, but many use an outdoor or neutral setting.

January 16, 2009

Nobody in Your Small Group Plays Guitar? No Problem!

Last night I watched worship song clips from two of the latest in the iWorship @ Home series from Integrity Music.   Volume 9 is the last of the “old price” DVDs at $14.99 US, while Volume 10 signals a 33.3% price jump to $19.99 U.S. with virtually no change in format, content, or quality.

iworship-vol-9These DVDs consist of animated song lyrics projected over constantly changing textured backgrounds and colors.   That’s it.    But if nobody plays keyboard or guitar in your small group, or even if you attend a church that is “instrumentally challenged,” these are good resources to consider, as long as — on many of the songs, anyway —  you lean more towards the Pentecostal or Charismatic model of many repetitions of the verses and chorus.

We used these a couple of times in our church’s morning service.   The response wasn’t great.  My oldest son said the people felt they were “watching TV” and didn’t feel the need to sing.   I think the problem was, and is, that to use these in church you’ve got to have a sound person who can find the volume “sweet spot” for congregational singing.   Too quiet and people won’t sing over the recorded soundtrack.   Too loud and the contemporary arrangements can be overpowering.

The same is true when using them at home.   You’ve got to turn up the TV sound to that same “sweet spot” level that encourages singing but doesn’t allow for passive viewing.

I guess my biggest disappointment with Vol. 9 and Vol. 10 in this series is that I held out very high hopes after seeing a much more creative direction with Vol. 7.     Some of the songs on that DVD, such as, “I Am Not Forgotten,” and “Love the Lord” really had an edginess to them, while slower songs like “Revelation Song” were produced with style and class.    I was hoping for more along the lines of those songs, but alas, the production has moved in a more conservative direction.

Still,  I think this is a great product line of resources to know about; and realized that an additional excellent application — maybe the best application– for these is just what I was doing last night:  Simply watching.   It was wonderful to be aurally and visually focused on these great songs of worship.  Maybe that’s the key to “I Worship at Home.”

December 31, 2008

National Trends Affecting Your Local Church in 2008 — Evaluating Our Predictions

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Faith, theology, worship — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:16 pm

This blog began in February, but has a previous history as a bi-weekly e-mail that was sent out to about 250 people in our local area.  On December 30th last year, I published a list of fifteen trends I saw in play that I felt my original, Ontario readers might want to consider.   Now, it’s time to check the scorecard and see how I made out.

First things first, the rest of you need to see the original article.   It’s been placed as a “page” on this blog, or you can simply use this link.    Then you can return and read the comments below.   Later today or tomorrow, I’ll post a new list for 2009 which I think contains issues that are going to be more relevant, and makes last year’s list look somewhat superficial.

>>> pause to read the original article, if you wish <<<


  1. Longer Teaching Time — The ‘originals’ did a good job of this, but some of the ‘copycats’ can’t sustain audience interest past the 32-minute mark.   I see the sermon length continuing to expand to 35-40 minutes in places where it heretofore has not.
  2. More Expository Preaching — I was wrong on this.   Didn’t see the trend grow, though I got personally hooked on Greg Boyd.   For many others, I think verse-by-verse is a rather lazy approach if you aren’t going to include background material and related texts.   But it’s easy to be a critic if you’re not crafting a weekly sermon.
  3. Less Sung Worship — I was wrong.   For most worship leaders, it’s still largely about the musical material; though many are now busy designing media pieces.  (See 2009 trends list.)
  4. Fewer Overt Offerings — I was wrong.  This turned out to be more of a 2007 trend than anything new playing out in ’08
  5. More Direct Involvement in the Third World — Yes!  Financial and personal through mission trips.
  6. More Direct Involvement in Meeting Local Poverty — Yes!  Though it’s still not affecting every local church.
  7. More Small Groups and Smaller Churches — Yes!  It was the smaller churches part of the prediction that became more relevant.
  8. Church Closings — I was half right.   The closings that took place weren’t for the logical reasons given but often had to do with the economy or leadership scandals.
  9. The Youth-ification of Sunday Morning — (Only I didn’t phrase it that succinctly…)  This trend continued, although since Ancient-Future means that everything old is new again, it’s actually hard to tell if “Be Still My Soul” is a hymn of antiquity, or the coolest, new, ” in” worship song.
  10. Increased security at Church — It’s been awhile since 9/11 and while larger churches have plain clothed and uniformed security people, as well as detailed emergency plans, most medium-sized churches didn’t spend time this year considering this.
  11. Empowering the Broken — Giving voice to divorced people or single moms at the leadership level is something that is taking place very slowly over a longer period of time.
  12. Real Community — If this is playing out more at all, it’s playing out in conjunction with factor #7.   Larger churches which do their small groups by zip code instead of just having homogeneous interest groups are ahead of the curve on this trend.
  13. Continuity Throughout the Church Year — With so many pastors preaching ‘series’ messages, the only way to measure the ‘interruptions’ is to see if there’s a break Sunday between series.    This item should have clarified to include not only the quality of the teaching, but the quality of the worship.  The issue of ‘disruptions’ should have been dealt with separately.  Also, some pastors are simply away from their church too often.  There.  I said it.
  14. Unity across Denominational Lines — Yes!   Heard  more good stories of cooperation and financial support.   The younger generation doesn’t really care whether the sign outside says “MacDonald’s” or “Wendy’s” as long as you can buy a hamburger.   (Okay, so the analogy has some issues…)
  15. Several Sabbaths — I’d guess I was wrong on this.   Most churches still focus on “weekend” programming as the high point of the week.   Don’t hear too many stories of amazing things taking place on a Tuesday or a Thursday in most cities, and now, even New Community on Wednesdays at Willow is part of history.   (We drove from Canada just to attend a New Community; drove the border guard nuts trying to explain we were driving just to see a church service!)

So, like I said, this list is going to seem somewhat superficial when we look at some trends I’m concerned about for 2009.    Stand by.   In the meantime, don’t comment on these unless you’ve read both the above and the original predictions on the link.

September 15, 2008

The Bible: Many Stories or One Big Story?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:18 pm
…it’s extremely valuable to be able to articulate a general overview of the Bible’s narrative from a 30,000 ft. view

Take Your Vitamin Z explaining their small group’s decision to study a book called The Drama of Scripture by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen

September 8, 2008

Taking a Closer Look at Prayer with Philip Yancey

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:20 am

Thirteen years ago, when we changed from being a ‘behind the scenes’ promoter of Christian books and music, to being a front line retailer with our own stores, our first bona fide bestseller was the book The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.   Although I was familiar with his writing from Campus Life magazine and the NIV Student Bible, this was the first book by him I had ever read, and with my recommendation, the book remained our number one bestseller for more than two years.   I still have the ISBN memorized!

So when the curriculum DVD for that book was released, I was a little disappointed.   It was Philip, who is very softspoken, sitting in a dark studio, speaking in a low tones.   The clips were short, too; as this kind of product is intended to be led by a small group chairperson, with the DVD serving as a supplement.   Later on, Zondervan would produce some excellent DVD material for author John Ortberg (who is now linked on our blogroll on the right side of your screen under ‘sermons’) which were filmed on location.  I made a mental note that the quality of these things was improving.

This weekend I watched all of the DVD material that goes with Philip’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? There are six weeks in the DVD study, with each one having at least three film clips, all of which were filmed in various parts of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.   The scenery certainly draws you in to the discussion of the topic, and Philip seems much more relaxed in front of the camera, and much more himself in the context of his favorite hobby, mountain climbing.  (Do you have an altimeter on your wristwatch?)  If you’re going to use visual media, it’s important that it look good, and this does.

I felt that the last session sometimes seemed to start to stray a little from the core discussion; but otherwise, this is an excellent lead-in to some good discussion; and since all Christians (and not a few non-Christians) pray at various times and in various ways, this is certainly going to bring out a lot of comments from your small group; many of which will be subjective and some more objective.   Frankly, I would love to have some context to share this series with a group of people.   (The church I attend has a policy that all small groups cover the same material; so there is no room for electives.)  I think it would be an interesting process to explore something so basic to our Christian lives, yet reflects so differently in each of us, including the complexity of dealing with unanswered prayer, which is discussed in the fourth session.

You don’t need a DVD player in the home to run a good small group, but good resources like this are available, and are increasingly being released at lower cost.*  Conversely, you don’t need to have read the book to use the DVD and the participant’s guide, but the book is probably one of the best and most thorough treatments on this subject.   With small group season about to kick off; I give the book and DVD a five star rating.

~Paul Wilkinson

* Prayer DVD U.S. SRP is only $24.99   Each session begins with someone placing an envelope into a mail box, but when it comes to the one called “prayer problems” that deals with unanswered prayer, the letter becomes a thick package!   Ain’t that the truth.

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