Fixing Church Archive

Change Your Church Business Model

Recently, a wonderful family run restaurant near us went out of business. Even though they had great food, friendly service, and reasonable prices, they didn’t seem to have the wisdom or energy to adapt to how people were dining today. They sat on a side street with limited parking, they had an outdated but comfortable seating area, and an aging cliental of old friends. Obviously the deck was stacked against them. Or was it? One block over was a large hospital, filled with hungry workers and visitors who were tired of the cafeteria’s offerings. This restaurant, however, didn’t offer lunch or take out.

No matter how good the past was...

My Top Ten for 2013

My Thursday blog on how to fix your church is now entering its second year. Time to reflect or even to do a top ten list:

#10 - Social media matters. I didn’t like Facebook when I first started using it, but now I am connecting with people for whom it is their preferred source of information.

Losing Our Mission

Recently, I have been serving on a small advisory committee relating to a remote branch of the United Methodist Church’s largest agency (The General Board of Global Missions). It’s like being on the tip of the tail of a very large dog. My experience had led me to believe that the dog is heading in the wrong way. When once our priority was to bring the love of God to the most marginalized people on the planet, our new direction is to preserve the institution of Methodism at all costs. Unfortunately the dog (GBGM) reflects the way our church is going in general.

 

This dog is headed the wrong way

ReThinking Holiness

  You know how you pass those signs saying “Leaving City Limits of…”? Today I realized that I had left the holiness movement. My denomination (United Methodist) has a rich tradition of seeking personal holiness above all else. The Holiness Movement, which began in Wesley’s time among anabaptist groups, rose in prominence in the American religious scene throughout the 1800s, then lost favor to the prosperity gospel of the 1960s. Until the new millennium, I considered myself a holiness preacher. More than my colleagues, I emphasized the need for Christians to lead lives that grew more holy each passing day. Today, I saw the last hint of that attitude fade in my rear view mirror.

Why John the Baptist Matters

For the next month and a half we will see the bedraggled dipping man come in and out of our holiday readings. Oh, here’s that old voice in the wilderness fellow again. He eats locust and wild honey, even though these items haven’t been approved by the FDA. Even though John the Baptist is a key figure in premodern church art and drama, he doesn’t get much attention now. I think many local church problems, as well as our general failure to witness to contemporary culture, is rooted in our failure to appreciate JB’s message.

Picture Your Church as Kodak

Paul Simon and I are in mourning for Kodak Kodachrome. It used to be my favorite film. Until the mid-1990s, Kodak was a great stock to own. Jobs at the Kodak plant in Rochester seemed totally secure. The advanced emulsions and darkroom chemicals that Kodak produced were respected worldwide. I don’t shoot much film today. I have begun transferring my favorite Kodachrome slides to digital files. Kodak, itself, is in bankruptcy. Digital photography came along shortly before the new millennium and ate their lunch. This happened even though Kodak was one of the most innovative and best run companies in the marketplace.

Is the UMC Spalling?

A while back we had expensive stone work done on our church building. Water was getting into the decorative block and causing the face of each stone to flake off. The word for that is ‘spalling’ and I’ve applied it to the church ever since. Over the last century, the United Methodist Church institutional structure (conference boards, general agencies, and general conference actions) has aligned itself with other mainline churches, specifically the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.

Taking the Leap

I watched a parade of squirrels passing through the the 30foot trees at the edge of my property today. Each squirrel scampered to the thin end of a branch, then launched themselves like Rocky across the eight feet of emptiness to the dainty branches of the next tree. I saw five of them do this in a row, gracefully, without hesitation, even though both their launching tree and their target branch were swaying in the wind. Then a squirrel came who hesitated. I found myself identifying with that fellow as he turned and backed down a yard or so of the tree. Was this leap really necessary?

 

Youth Ministry

I talked with a well-trained, dependable, and highly fruitful youth pastor yesterday. Such creatures do exist. He was even the product of my own denomination (United Methodist), though now, is serving on the staff of a non-denominational church. His story speaks volumes about what needs fixed in the church and provides insight about what needs to be done to reach the next generation with the gospel.

The Postmodern Coke Machine

Recently, I went to a burger joint that used the new Coke Freestyle vending machine to dispense my beverage. Instead of giving my drink order to the guys behind the counter or filling it up my cup at the fountain nozzles, the Freestyle vending machine presented me with a touch screen. After stabbing away few menus, and I had a drink made exactly to my individual tastes. It hit me that Freestyle had a few things to teach the church about our new postmodern world:

 

Does the Cat's Litter Box Smell?

Sometimes when I’m away from the house all day, I’ll come through the door and think, “Boy, does that cat stink.” The problem isn’t with the cat. The problem is with me needing to change the litter box. Yet if I’m home all day, I don’t notice it. What is it about going away that makes the cat’s box stink more. No matter how bad something is, we get used to it if we live with it. Things can be pretty bad in a local church, and often are, and the regular attenders won’t notice. 

 

Transition versus Change

As I write this I am getting ready to change planes in the Atlanta Airport. I am prepared for certain changes; the next plane I get on should be larger, it will head north rather than southwest, and it will be in the air longer (I hope). As major as these changes are, they are not a transition. I think its important in our churches and in our individual lives to distinguish change from transition. Change is a constant part of life. We may initiate changes or they may happen to us, but they do not fundamentally alter our identity, or the way we go about our lives. Transition, however, radically shifts who we are and the procedures we use to accomplish our dreams.

Which is the real Gulf Fritillary?
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The Three Questions

Reality Check begins with these three questions, each with an application intended to encourage abstract thought and open conversations among church leaders. The three questions are:

1) What is the real nature of the Church?

2) Where is society taking us?

3) How can we do God’s will?

Where is the Church's soul?

In Reality Check 101, I make a point of stating that churches have souls. By this I mean that each congregation has an intrinsic worth. There is a value to the local church that far exceeds its statistical strength or the value it may have for the denomination that holds the title to its building. Pastors come and go, but a church’s soul remains constant. Like the soul of a human being, the congregation’s soul represents more than the current state of the body.

 

Postmodern Manifesto Part 2

The theological concepts expressed in previous blog lead to three substantial changes in how churches will be organized in the future.

Postmodern Church Manifesto - Part 1

The church exists to help people in every place live better and more meaningful lives. God has given us a rich and transcendently ‘true’ text (scripture + church practice) or ‘Word,’ whose focal narrative is the acts and teachings of Jesus. The church invites all people to experience the Word as preaching, music, art, and ritual (including the sacraments). We value this Word because within it we have found personal healing, salvation, and eternal life.

Spiritual Passion for Engineers

People who design things or engineer processes often have a hard time grasping the importance of spiritual passion for their local church. Recently, a pastor complained to me that his church leaders loved to do projects and fix things, but lacked the heart for mission or any enthusiasm for faith sharing. Evangelism is often a foreign concept for engineers. 

The Fourth Rule

Rule # 4  The process is always more important than any one result.

Church issues rarely have the urgency we assign to them. We may feel that it is vitally important that the church does such and such, but is it really worth destroying the trust that the people have in the congregation’s decision making process? Each decision we make, should be done in a way that is consistent with the patience and love that Jesus showed when he shepherded his Church into existence.

 

Church Rules and Exceptions

In each of the following, the validity of the rule is proved by its exceptions:

1) The group is always smarter than the lone leader or expert.

Tradition goes to the Scrapyard

One of the most famous paintings in the London National Gallery is Turner’s 1838, “The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up.”  The bold, romantic, colors of this masterpiece makes it worth the long title. The back story, however, is relevant to the church today. The 98 gun, ship-of-the-line, Temeraire represented the height of war technology in 1805 when it played a significant role in Lord Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. Here, 32 years later, Turner shows it being towed to the scrapyard with the setting sun behind her.

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