February 2012

The Unmeasured Strength of the Weakest Link

That weak link — the one you wish you didn’t have to worry about — well, it turns out it could be your most valuable asset. Sociologists are learning that it is the weakest links which drive innovation.

Scientists have done studies to identify how new ideas take root and where the sources of great success stories lie. People think it is in fostering alliances and friendships with the like-minded or the movers and shakers — the powerful, the well-connected, the jet set.

The big churches — not the small churches.

Turns out they are wrong. In story after story the sparks of great ideas prove to come from the serendipitous—the people you barely know, from small groups of people struggling with ideas in a very hands-on way.

Read this for an interesting take on how this affects social media.

This is an interesting analysis of the value of networks. Let’s focus on one quote:

“The way networks have their effect is not by getting information from people, but rather by finding people who are interesting and who think differently from you,” —Ronald S. Burt, Neighbor Networks

What does this mean to the Church?

Most congregations are fairly homogenous in membership. Redeemer’s Ambassadors visited 40 in the last 18 months. Only about four had significant diversity — at least visually. We tend to gravitate toward people who are like us, dress like us, and act like us. The minute things start to change, we become defensive. Liturgical dance . . . no way! Tambourines . . . never! The barriers we put up are designed to protect our sense of identity and comfort.

We want to recognize ourselves in the person sitting beside us in church. It is proof to us that we are accepted.

The whole structure of Church is designed for sameness. We rally around one leader and conform our ministries to that leader’s interests and skills. When encouraged to invite others, we invite people like us.

When congregations attempt innovation it is likely to be the same sort of dabbling taking place 10 miles from us. Properly sanctioned innovation.

Redeemer struggled to grow until we began reaching out to people who were different from us.

Then new ideas began to spread. Of course, we were wary of change, but we quickly learned that we didn’t have to change all that much. Change did not have to mean abandoning who we are. We added to our heritage.

With this web site, we continue to find new spins on evangelism. Churches across the country and around the world are sharing with us and we respond. We have learned that Jesus’ commission for us to go out into the world is not so much to make the rest of the world transform to our ways but for US to learn NEW ways from them.

If the Church as a whole wants to change, it must foster relationships with our weakest acquaintances.

Redeemer, through our 2×2 site, has become pen pals with a church in Pakistan and another in Kenya. We’ve helped individuals with projects across our own continent. We’ve learned more in the last four years than in our congregation’s previous 120 years.

This sense of mission may not be for every church, but we encourage you to look at your own “weak links.” Who in your congregation is borderline involved, a bit uncomfortable? Engage them. You may find they have insights and skills to offer that you didn’t know you needed.

Use the power of the web to reach the neglected. One church close to us has studied the needs of families with autistic family members. Because we knew of their interest we were able to introduce them to another ministry designing worship opportunities for the autistic.

This is a golden age for the church. It was never more possible to fulfill the Great Commission. Will we meet the challenge? Or will we continue to reward and encourage the efforts of homogenous ministry?

UPDATE: June 2013. 2×2 now has a network of six churches internationally. They’ve gone out of their way to get to know each other. Our members are in contact with them regularly—often weekly. Locally we’ve visited 62 of our sister churches. They tend to avoid communicating with us but then they all found our property to be of more value to their leaders than our ministry was in our community or the world.

photo credit: HikingArtist.com via photopin cc

Our Response to Bishop Burkat’s Recent Letter

2×2 has many readers who know little about the long conflict within SEPA Synod, and we do not wish to burden them. We want 2×2 to be a lively forum for ideas.

Therefore we created a special page to discuss the recent letter Bishop Claire Burkat wrote to SEPA clergy to prepare them for a possible article in the Philadelphia papers. If you are interested, here’s the link.

Ambassadors Visit Christ’s Lutheran Church, Oreland

Last Sunday four Redeemer Ambassadors visited the suburban congregation Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland, Pa. This was our 40th congregational visit.

We arrived to find a nearly full parking lot. The front door was hard to find from where we parked. We followed signs for the church office and ended up entering the busy sanctuary from the front of the church. This may have been the largest congregation we’ve encountered and was particularly impressive that it was the first Sunday in Lent, not a popular holiday. The other large congregations we visited on Reformation Sunday and Palm Sunday.

We were interested in Christ’s because one of our former pastors had come to us from this congregation back in the 1980s. We were happy to see that the service was very well attended with a healthy mix of ages. The organist was away but the substitute pianist did a great job with a beautiful prelude rendition of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Her hymn choices during communion were also very nice.

A children’s choir sang. This was only about the third children’s choir we have encountered. The adult choir nearly filled the chancel area. It was the largest choir we have encountered so far and had a well-balanced blend.

Rev. Kay Braun led a lovely service. She is listed as senior pastor but apparently she is the only pastor.

We left the service through the same door we arrived and did not talk to anyone. The side door opened to an area surrounded on three sides by brick walls and the sound reverberated, reminding us of Redeemer’s plans to someday build an outside worship area using the hill and church wall to amplify sound.

The bulletin announced a number of fun ideas, including a “Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner” event where participants sign up to either host or attend dinner in someone’s home . . . only who will go to which host’s home is not announced until just before the appointed time. Sounds like a fun mixer!

A long announcement period before the service talked of many mission projects.

Alas! We forgot to take our picture!

2×2 Is Back!

Site was down over the weekend, but we are back in operation. Look for new posts starting soon.

Encouraging Social Media Engagement in Congregations

Among the most frequently asked questions among new bloggers/social media practitioners is “How do we get people to “like” us or “comment.”

This is particularly difficult in the church setting because Social Media breaks a 2000-year-old tradition. Preachers preach. Congregants listen. Traditional communication is one way.

If pastors are encouraging parishioners to voice theological thoughts in public, they are asking people to make a major change in their spiritual relationships with God, the Church, and with other people. They may feel awkward, vulnerable or unqualified. This will take time.

Encouraging religious dialog among the laity is a worthwhile goal and long, long overdue. Trust must be established. Confidence must be built. Faith must be prepared for inevitable challenges. It’s a tall order and not to be rushed.

Here are some ideas.

  • Start with younger members. They are closer to their confirmation years and much more comfortable with social media, although many do not see it as a place for serious thought. Still, they are a most likely to consider it. The challenge will be to build their confidence to speak outside their circle of peers.
  • Prime the pump. Ask three people to write a blog or start a conversation on Facebook. Help them. Teach them. Guide them.
  • Engage the congregation or forum group in conversation about the online dialog and specifically ask some of them to share their insights on line. You can lead the way with your own “like” or comment.
  • Create an online poll asking questions that the posts raised. This is an easy first online engagement for people. It’s anonymous but people can see how it works.
  • Repeat this cycle monthly or quarterly or as topics arise in your community or congregation.

One more idea:

Blogging Roundtable

Have a blog roundtable. Sometimes these are called blog carnivals. It’s a new idea so you can choose any name you like. Make it fun. Blogging rodeo? Blogging round-up? Blogfest?

Ask several or many people to write on a given topic and submit a 500-word or less post in email, text or document format. Post an introductory blog to present the topic and explain the roundtable concept. Set a deadline about 10 days away. Do some behind the scenes nudging to make sure you have at least a few responses. Run a few tickler posts on the topic to get mental juices flowing. On the appointed day, publish ALL the posts at once and encourage participants and readers to mix, match and compare. You might even run a “like” contest or poll to see which ideas resonate best.

This could help rally people and engage them in a fun way.

photo credit: lovestruck. via photopin cc

Does Social Media Threaten the Future of the Organized Church?

A veteran parish pastor, now retired, loves to tell the story of a conversation he had many years ago with a young adult congregant who was drifting away from church after years of faithful attendance as a child.

“I don’t believe in organized religion,” the young woman said. The pastor quipped, “Do you prefer disorganized religion?”

Today, that pastor could safely quip, “Not to worry! There is no such thing as organized religion.”

The organized Church is unraveling.

The Roman Catholic Church, the paradigm of structure, is scrambling to bolster its traditional teachings against changing popular sentiment and practices. Its hierarchical structure is threatened by disinterest. There are fewer candidates for priesthood and religious orders. That means the power of the hierarchy is made available to fewer candidates, leaving weaker talent to rise to the top. It should be no surprise that scandal has followed. Without the traditional pool of workers to staff parishes, the foundations of parish traditions — the schools — are closing or merging. They may be more economic but will struggle to provide the parish identity which parishioners value as highly as the quality of education.

Protestants are not immune. They tend to get less media attention, but they, too, face challenges attracting professional leadership, dwindling support, and their share of scandal.

What does this mean to the average believer?

It means the laity will carry a greater burden in maintaining and administering parishes. They will do so with negligible support from any hierarchy. They will be asked to commit  time and resources that begin to outweigh the investment of professional leadership. They will have no support system when there is trouble—and there WILL BE trouble.

As a result, lay Christians will think twice before committing to supporting any congregation. The remaining hierarchy will reward the laity who are strong followers and penalize the laity who step into the leadership void. The faithful will have a tougher time meeting the expectations set for them in healthier days. Since lay involvement is, for the most part, volunteer, they, too, will become fewer in number.

As things deteriorate the blame game will begin. As the stakes get higher, the game will become nastier. The basic tenants of Christianity will be tested.

Much of this prediction is already happening.

If you don’t believe in organized religion, there was never a better time to sign up!

But 2×2 does not like to leave any reader feeling hopeless. While troubling, we view this as growing pains. 

The old structure is crumbling but a new Church is emerging. New life will take root in the ruins of the past.

The internet is rebuilding the foundation of the Church. The laity now have a voice. The hierarchy won’t like it and will try to control it. They will fail.

There are controls, however. The “joy stick” is not in any one person’s hand. We are entering a time when we will be held accountable by one another, not by a hierarchy.

Hang in there, Christians. This is going to get exciting!

photo credit: Denise ~*~ via photopin cc

A New Direction for the Changing Church

The Church cannot escape what is happening in all of society. Things are changing!

Warning signs were posted long ago, but few understood their significance. Church attendance dropped. Length of pastorates shortened. The ministry became attractive as a second career more than a life’s calling. Families, the traditional foundation of parish life, were in disarray.

Church leaders are beginning to discover that the methodologies of church leadership taught and practiced for decades are no longer relevant. Leaders are feeling a bit lost. Their earned “expertise” is of less value.

But there is still a way — an exciting way, in fact.

Marketer Seth Godin wrote today in his daily blog, “The map has been replaced by the compass.”

He goes on to explain that detailed step by step management processes are no longer effective. The world changes too quickly.

Knowing what direction you are going is very important…  even critical. Throw out the map. Follow the compass.

Today’s leaders in the church must retrain. They are not alone. Many sectors of society are finding their classroom education no longer serves them. They, too, must retool their expertise. The church needs to find ways to get new training to pastors and professional leaders who graduated years ago. Seminarians can no longer expect 20 or 30 years of serving a congregation without ongoing continuing education. Other fields (medicine and education, for example) demand it. The church must, too. Congregations cannot wait for a decade before having the opportunity to find leadership able to meet their needs.

Failure to take steps now means setting up pastor after pastor and congregation after congregation for  failure. Expectations will not be met. Conflict will be rampant. Resources will be squandered with vain attempts to right things — the old way.

New professional leaders must be trained for a changing world. Many of yesterday’s tried and true tactics need to be abandoned. Pastors will not need a thick binder of policies as much as they will need a Bible and a compass. This may be harder to teach, but it is necessary if the church is to reach out in mission.

Without a sense of direction, the church will become as archaic as the robes donned for worship.

Let’s get out our compasses and point the church in the right direction. The foundation is laid out in the Bible. We just have to apply the new tools of today’s society.

Learning in the church is truly a lifelong undertaking. It begins with professional leadership.

Are we ready for it?

photo credit: victor|bonomi via photopin cc

20 Questions for Congregational Teams

Today’s Alban Institute Roundtable discussion reviews the proper functioning of congregational staff teams. Susan Beaumont lists 30 characteristics of a healthy team of professional leaders who have separate areas of expertise and overlapping responsibilities.

Most likely, this post resonates with a minority of churches. Most congregations have only one professional leader and even that may be part-time.

But the team concept may still apply to congregations and many of the points may relate. After all, every congregation is a “team” of believers. Even the smallest congregations must perform the basic functions of church and many are doing this with very little outside help.

Small churches unknowingly form “ministry teams.” Let’s measure small congregational teams against 20 of the 30 points made by Susan Beaumont.

  1. Does your congregation have a compelling vision for the future?
  2. Does your congregation take time to hear God’s Voice and find direction in His Spirit?
  3. Is the teaching ministry of your church reaching all members?
  4. Do your members understand the full purpose of “church”?
  5. Are your church goals clearly defined and part of every church activity?
  6. Does your church have the leadership skills needed to reach your congregational goals or do you need to complement your pastor’s skills or availability?
  7. Does your congregation celebrate its accomplishments as a team?
  8. Are the practical needs of the congregation understood and addressed or do you have a large number of members who think the bills are paid and snow is shoveled by magic?
  9. Do you take time as a congregation to examine your ministry for unaddressed needs? Often the needs of the most active members are overlooked!
  10. Does your entire congregation understand that they are part of a team accountable for progress and failure so that either is not entirely attributed to the pastor and select lay leaders?
  11. Is it clear who will plan worship, pay the bills, keep records and care for the property?
  12. Are individuals loved and made to feel important within your congregational team?
  13. Is there a system of checks and balances in all administrative tasks?
  14. Are leadership meetings and congregational meetings focused and productive?
  15. Can your congregation respond to a crisis efficiently?
  16. Is your congregation flexible? Is there room for sharing and teaching jobs or will Mr. Smith always be the treasurer?
  17. Does your congregation take the time to mix up the work teams, so that you can learn new things about member skills and interests and so that members can explore and grow their God-given talents?
  18. Are your members comfortable participants in church life or are they afraid to offer ideas, volunteer, or complain?
  19. Do your members support one another in resolving differences?
  20. Does your congregation have fun? It’s important that members enjoy being together if they are to work well together.

Ambassadors Return to the Road: St. Paul’s, Ardmore

Our own events, weather and other commitments grounded the Redeemer Ambassadors over the holidays but we returned in good force this week with a visit to St. Paul’s, Ardmore. This was our 39th visit.

St. Paul’s has two services with fellowship in between. We entered their fellowship area and were met at an Official Visitor’s Center. St. Paul’s has been working on its outreach to visitors. We had a long talk with several members before the service began. Several members made a point of greeting us away from the greeting station. Pastor McDowell greeted us after the service as well. It is always noticeable when congregations are consciously practicing welcoming hospitality.

One of the greeters said she was a fairly new member but explained that the visitor’s greeting desk was begun about five years ago. They present a visitor with a gift mug filled with goodies as they leave. If you are in the neighborhood, they offer to bring the gift along when making a follow-up visit. We noticed in their newsletter that they accepted about ten members last quarter.

The 10:30 service had about 60 in attendance, including 17 serving at the altar and in the choir. The music offerings were glorious and included a violin solo, which we missed because we entered the sanctuary during the announcements, after the prelude, and an ambitious anthem set to the tune of the “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”

The congregation is on its fourth building and has been at its present site since the 1940s. The colorful stained glass windows were saved from previous buildings and incorporated into a colorful sanctuary. The color seemed to leap from the windows’ traditional depictions from the life of Christ to the exposed beams arching across the sanctuary. The color throughout the sanctuary complemented a more reserved chancel area, accented by a small, circular depiction of Christ at prayer. All in all . . . beautiful.

While there were children in the fellowship area, we saw none at this second worship service.

Their bulletin flier was filled with projects and service opportunities.

One of our ambassadors commented that while she misses our own church she really enjoys our church visits. The Ambassadors have begun to look forward to our Sunday morning excursions and fellowship during and after our church visits. We share breakfast together and plan church activities for the week.

Redeemer is not closed; we are locked out of God’s House by SEPA Synod.

Blogging Ideas for March

Keep blogging!

Here are some ideas to help you keep your church blog active during March. It’s only two weeks away. Starting scheduling posts now!

Spread the work around and assign one of the topics below to other social media team members.

Key Scripture Passages

Meditate on Scripture assigned to the Sundays in March and think of one thought or illustration which would help communicate its meaning. Keep it short. Search for a free online photo to go with your meditation. photopin.com

March 4

Psalm 22:27-28
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

Mark 8:34-35
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Mark 9:7
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

March 11

Exodus 20:1-17—The Ten Commandments

1 Corinthians 1:19 & 25
For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”  . . .  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

John 2:19
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

March 18, 2012

Psalm 107:1
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

Ephesians 2:8
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (This passage helped to launch the Reformation. Write about it!)

John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (Remember the signs that the faithful would carry to the pro-football games, hoping for media attention.)

John 3:20-21
For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

March 25

Jeremiah 31:34
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

John 12:24
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

March 25

is Annunciation Day (a reminder in the midst of Lent that the Christ child is coming)

As March ends, Holy Week begins

  • Write about Holy Week, especially the lesser known or observed celebrations.
  • Saint Patrick’s Day—Saint Patrick’s life is fascinating but flooded with shamrocks and leprechauns on that day, few people know much about the real St. Patrick.
  • St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to teach the Trinity. That’s what the shamrock imagery is all about!
  • Remind people of Daylight’s Saving Time. We lose an hour on March 11.
  • March 20 is the first day of Spring.
  • Girl Scout Week is March 10-16: feature your girls. Ask them to contribute to the blog.
  • March is Women’s History Month: highlight your women. Ask for a guest blog from women leaders.
  • March is National Nutrition Month—Promote a food drive for local food bank.
  • Easter is in April this year, but you might run a photo of Easter/Palm Sunday in past years. History helps build community.

Write about Lent and Lenten customs.

  • Shrove Tuesday
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Maundy Thursday (meaning of Maundy)
  • Burying the Alleluias
  • Meaning of the Word Alleluia
  • Difference between Hallelujah and Alleluia
  • Foot washing
  • Green Thursday (“grief” Thursday from German tradition)
  • Pretzels and Lent (post a recipe)
  • Hot Cross Buns (post a recipe)
  • Stripping of the Altar
  • Veiling of the Cross
  • Secular Easter customs (rabbits, eggs, flowers, candy, etc) Newcomers to America have a tough time with these. Help them!
  • Liturgical Colors for Lent and Easter
  • Write about the links between Passover and Easter and overlapping customs of the related faiths
  • Explain a Seder

Just do a search engine search for these topics to find information.

Make friends with your search engine!

Use your search engine to find meaningful art to discuss. Play around with terms. Different things will come up. For example, start with “art Maundy Thursday”. Then try “painting Maundy Thursday”. Then try “art Jesus foot washing”.

Poetry is an oft-overlooked medium. Plug in “poetry Lent” or “poetry Easter” and help your readers find meaningful resources.