Fixing Church Archive

Where are the kids?

About once a year, I attend the contemporary worship service at a church adjacent to the University of New Mexico. I like this church and enjoy the informal, but well organized, youth-oriented service. The praise band is lively, but punctual. The pastor knows how to give an appropriate message for that setting. The church has invested heavily in lighting and sound, so that the fellowship hall is ideal for contemporary worship. But, where are the college kids? I didn’t see any.

 

Exodus and Church Change

From time to time, churches go through transition. It may be a change of pastors, made more traumatic by the length of the exiting pastor’s term (more than 8 years), an over or under-functioning leadership style, or the presence of parish conflict. It may be that the church is changing locations or involved in a merger or parish realignment. It may be a transition to a different form or category of clergy leadership. These major changes require theological understanding and prayer. They are best undergirded by congregational study and a renewed emphasis upon the importance of worship and the sacraments.

Economic Culture

On two occasions, I have pastored congregations whose people and leadership had less expendable income than the average resident of the the state. I noticed that when I went to meetings, I was the only person with a calendar. It was part of the culture of both of these congregations, to focus only on the present. I had a hard to time drumming up interest in planning programs that occurred in the future. A Zen master might praise these people for being mindful and living in the moment. Imagine how frustrating I found it.

 

Four Kinds of People on the Church Landscape

Every church deals with four kinds of people: Faithful, Snackers, Near, and Far. To be successful, you need to tailor your evangelism and mission to meet the needs of each group. You also need to be brutally honest about your programing and budget. It’s very easy for the Faithful to consume all of the resources to the exclusion of the other three people groups.

The four groups are:

Not Every Church Problem is a Nail

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Denominational officials have a very limited tool box. They can credential new clergy and defrock inept ones. They can move pastors from place to place (or make suggestions if it is “call” system). They can keep both the congregation and clergy persons informed about policies and best practices. Given this tool box, every church problem looks like a leadership issue. The nail that fits the denominational official’s hammer is a church that will do better, if only they have the right pastor. But, what if governance of the congregation is dominated by a group of dysfunctional lay leaders?

Your Church: A Sailboat or a Submarine?

In San Diego there’s a boat museum with three old submarines tied to the dock. I was visiting the Russian Whisky Class submarine from the 1970s, when I noticed a beautiful sailboat tacking against the wind in the harbor. What’s the difference between these two boats? The sailboat is dealing with wind and current. It is taking risks. The Russian sub is securely fastened to the shore. It is a museum piece. I find that when I talk about the church in the postmodern world, the image of the sailboat resonates with only a few church leaders. Most pastors and lay people would prefer to have their house of worship firmly entrenched in tradition.

A Reality Check 101 Workshop

Bill Kemp is available to do a Reality Check 101 workshop in your church.  Reality Check is designed to help churches discover their mission and thrive through transition. If your congregation is experiencing decline and desires a turnaround, try Reality Check. If you are going through transition or finding that your sense of mission is fuzzy, try Reality Check. Bill Kemp's Reality Check is a toolbox of laity oriented material. You can tailor it to your church. And yes, it is appropriate for churches that are going through a change in pastors.

The Thneed for Loraxes

Dr Seuss wrote a book about a voice. An evil industrialist is chopping down all the truffula trees and making them into thneeds. The Lorax comes saying, “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.” This line gets repeated, but no one is listening. Soon, the trees are all gone, except for one seed. The book is not simply an environmental parable. It is also an account of the occasional, Lorax-like individual, who speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves.

 

How Many People Are Enough?

Every good, or should I say, surviving pilot watches their altimeter. The very definition of flying involves being above the ground, and the very definition of being a church involves having a number of people in the pew. In an airplane, the number of feet above sea level is a statistic, a number which we are glad someone is watching. In the church, the number of people actively in worship, is also an important statistic. Some airplanes have a smaller gauge beside the altimeter labeled “rate of climb” (it also measures how fast you are falling). Churches, especially small churches, need to be aware of how quickly they are gaining or losing worshipers.

The B-17 & the 8:15 Service

In WWII, allied airplane manufacturers used to send their design engineers to the runways to examine the wounded planes which limped back after action. Often a bomber would have a gapping hole in its wing or fuselage or even an entire section of its tail missing. The engineers would carefully note where each of these damages were, and then go back and design reinforcements for future aircraft. This is similar to the process that good church leaders use when evaluating programs and designing the church for change.

 

Lazy Metrics?

All across our country, school districts are in an uproar over metrics. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, they are short 200 teachers for this week’s first day of school. Why? Because the state has adopted a Metrics system which evaluates teachers on the performance of their students in standardized tests. Perhaps, the United Methodist Church should observe this mess before we wade deeper into using metrics (statistics, such as the change in church attendance) to evaluate pastoral performance. 

 

Does My DS Love My Church?

Someone has said that life isn’t a problem to be solved, it’s an adventure to be lived. One can extend this concept to ones personal relationships. My spouse, and how we live together, isn’t a problem to be solved. My spouse is a blessing to be loved. Our children and the people who depend upon my nuture, aren't problems to be solved. My church isn’t a problem for my denominational leader to solve. Even if the church decides to burn me at the stake and renege on their mission share (denominational apportionments).

Your Church is Like an Acorn

Jesus tells a parable about your church in Matthew 13:31-32. He says that your congregation is like an acorn which is planted and becomes, in time, a mighty oak. OK. Jesus uses a mustard seed instead of an acorn. If he were preaching in your church, I’m sure he would choose a plant familiar to your people. His parables were meant to be simple. Too often we get hung up on the fact that there are other seeds smaller than the mustard and other plants more majestic than the mustard bush. This all misses Jesus’ point. The church (kingdom of heaven) is meant to grow until it becomes shelter for the birds of the air.

Hospice, Hospital, or Hospitality?

My friend, Ed Kail, developed a useful tool for discussing your church’s attitude towards the outside world. By attitude, we are talking about the mid-point of the congregation or its collective DNA. On the whole, congregations think of themselves as either; being in Hospice, being a spiritual Hospital for those who join them, or as providers of Hospitality towards strangers.

The State of Maximum Mess

Whether you are moving, staging a revolution, having kids, or, as I am, remodeling the house, you will pass through a state of maximum mess. All transition times have stages. Home remodeling has six:

The Planning Retreat

Give a people ownership over their own land, some basic tools, and the fruits of their labor, and most communities will build homes, educate their children, and peacefully meet their basic needs. I guess that I am optimistic about human nature. Give a congregation some sense of control over their own destiny, a few basic tools, and a process for guiding group decision making, and even the most pathetic local church leadership will chart a path towards parish fruitfulness. I guess I am optimistic about the power of God’s Spirit to speak to people gathered in biblically centered discernment, prayerful fellowship, and weekly worship.

Imitating Apple

In my workshops, I often show a slide of Steve Jobs introducing us to the first iPad. Then I ask the question, “How should we design our life together, as a congregation, so that we become what Christ has in mind?” The analogy is simple. The success of Apple Computer stems from the vision that Steve Jobs had for insanely great products. He was a tyrant, constantly berating people who were content to make “pretty good” computers and cell phones. The corporate culture that grew at One Infinity Drive, Cupertino California, is exactly the same culture as we desire for the church, only with Jesus at the helm.

5 Leadership Questions from the Good Samaritan

Jesus tells a powerful parable in Luke 10:30-36. It seems that the more we preach it, the less we hear it. We certainly don’t want to apply it to ourselves, even though clergy and church leaders are its target.

1) The theme of the parable is missional relationships. Jesus is asked, “Who is my neighbor?” It can be reframed, “How should church leaders relate to the world?” If we narrowly interpret the missional neighborhood to be the members of our congregation, everybody but God will be happy. We will inherit honor and position, but not eternal life.

Twittering Church

Went to the new movie The Chef yesterday. A major theme is the power of social media to make or break any enterprise. The Chef’s twittering brought new people into an established old restaurant, but the management was unwilling to change its menu to meet the new expectations of the new people. The restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) shouts, “from now on, I have to approve all tweets.” In other words, we can only use this revolution if everything is run through the council that meets every other month. Sounds like the church.

 

The Farewell Sermon

The final message that an exiting pastor gives to their congregation has only one purpose; you must hand them over to God. It’s like the committal prayer at a funeral. No matter how rotten a person has been (or how rotten your pastoral tenure has been), no matter how short or long their life (or your ministry), no matter what the circumstances of their death (or the reasons for your departure), when you stand at the gravesite you hand someone over to God. People should leave your final worship service feeling like they are now in better hands. Don’t let your ego get in the way of this simple task.

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