March 2012

Church Competition (It’s not who you think!)

Did watch manufacturers ever predict that their major competitors would be cell phones? That’s what has happened. Cell phones display the time prominently. No need for a watch. Bulova, Timex, and Seiko were watching each other while T-mobile and the Iphone began to make them obsolete.

Understanding your competition is important to successful honing and implementation of mission.

Many churches have no clue that there is competition. There is.

We often address symptoms of the competition and miss the diagnosis. The competition is not:

  • the neighboring church of a different denomination
  • the church with the charismatic pastor or hefty endowment
  • the bigger church of your same denomination
  • Saturday morning sports
  • demands of the schools on family time
  • dysfunctional families
  • televangelism

These are symptoms.

The competition is the force that separates people from God and wanting to be in communion with the people of God. There was a time when the religious were bold enough to give it a name . . . Satan.

Most churches act as if their mission were to attract the biggest piece of the existing religious pie.

That’s what happens when you rely on demographers to direct mission efforts. Demographers can measure the known. Careful studies count the number of existing “Lutherans” in a geographic area. They compare it to how many “Lutherans” were in that area a decade ago. They measure the household income of the people in the neighborhood.

That’s where the train jumps the track.

Mission is about reaching those who are not measured by demographers and will not have the inclination to support ministry with a piece of their household income for some time.

The biggest problem (and there are many) in this approach to mission is that it keeps churches from working together.

Denominational church structures are designed to facilitate mission, but in tough economic times they can become self-focused, making decisions that protect their own status quo.

Denominations and congregations cannot serve our neighbors while we are coveting their people, their money, their staff, and their property.

When each visitor is seen as a potential “sell,” we fail to reach the soul of a seeker longing to know God. When each congregation is measured by its ability to support the denomination, not its community or mission, we fail the Church as a whole.

There is a trickle down effect. Unaddressed problems spread over the years. Failure to help one struggling church becomes ten neglected churches within a decade or so.

Our Ambassadors have visited many congregations. We have seen separate communities facing the same challenges—most of them in isolation. Some of them are within a three-mile radius (in well-populated areas). Some of them face closure—one at a time—over the next decade or two. Since the ability to support an expensive structure is put before mission, they fight an uphill battle even within their denomination.

There is untapped power in working together. Yet the Church that talks about unity is crippled as they seek success and solutions that help their bottom lines today.

When the church understands that their mission is to reach the world outside their demographics, progress will be made.

We offer a quote prominently displayed on another website.

People shouldn’t have to find a church.

The church should find them.

photo credit: mbgrigby via photopin cc

Women Are Key Influencers in the Church (always have been!)

A business blogger recently posted statistics claiming that women are the most powerful “brand ambassadors” in the world. The business world sometimes uses a church term, evangelist, for this job description. Once again, the church can learn from the world of business.

Steve Olenski, in socialmediatoday, cited a study that showed that:

  • Women are 80% more likely than men to try new products/services based on advice of a friend.
  • Women are 74% more likely than men to encourage friends to try new products and services.
  • Women tend to stay more engaged (74%) with products and services they like.
  • Women are 42% less likely to share negative experiences with products or services.
  • Women are only 32% less likely to avoid products or services based on a friend’s negative experience.

These interesting statistics remind us of something we encountered in our own experience and on our Ambassador visits. Redeemer’s greatest period of growth was nurtured less by pastors but by the presence of a deaconess, who ran the educational and social programs in the church. Older Redeemer members could tell us the names of pastors but they talked about the work of the deaconess. In our visits we encountered several churches that referred lovingly to a long-departed deaconess.

And then we remembered the power of the women’s group at Redeemer, which operated independently with their own budget and bank account. Unhampered by church council they chose their own social pursuits — all of which reflected well on Redeemer as a whole. We thought back to the days of the Women’s Auxiliaries and Ladies Aid Societies.

Many of the churches that struggle today to afford pastors have their roots in the less recognized and less compensated devotion of women.

In a television program that follows well-known entertainers as they research geneology, Actress Helen Hunt appeared to be mortified by the revelation that her great grandmother had been a powerful force in the women’s temperance movement of the 19th century and early 20th century. She sat with an historian who pointed out to her that this movement was actually revolutionary, fighting serious societal problems that were affecting their communities in a world that gave women no vote or voice.

Women have always had a voice — just not a publicly recognized one. Their voice was easily overlooked because men controlled publishing as well as the board room. The powerful women’s groups of the era grew from passion, commitment and perseverance to make a difference in a world that refused to recognize their abilities.

No more!

The church would be considerably stronger today if it recognized and unleashed women’s powerful inclination to nurture — which is what the statistics quoted above reveal.

Consider this as you make plans for church growth. The challenge is to find modern, equitable ways to do this.

Facebook Changes the Rules in Two Days

For churches using Facebook:

As of April 1, all Facebook users will have to conform to new Facebook guidelines.

The biggest change is that the Timeline feature will be incorporated across the board. You must create a banner. Facebook calls it a cover photo. You have two days to do it!

So go into Photoshop or your imaging program and create a file 851 pixels wide and 315 pixels tall.

Add the name of your church at least and think about what else you can do with the banner.

Facebook has new rules about this.

The biggest “don’t” for churches is DON’T include any contact information on the banner. NO website address. NO Address. NO Phone.

Also: You cannot use a Call to Action. That means you cannot say “Visit us,” “Come to” or “Give to.” You can say “We welcome you.”

Just give basic facts: The Who, What, When and Where and Why. Telling How might be considered a Call to Action.

You can include:

  • Mission Statement
  • Service Times
  • Programs or Events
  • Event Times and Places
  • Pastor Names

Your site can be taken down if you do not comply.

Here is the banner we created. Note: We put the programs we emphasize on our site and used the basic words and imagery of our web site. It won’t be hard for anyone to find us in  a search engine. And we are doing this without breaking the Facebook rules.

There are more changes afoot. We’ll cover them later! Get to work on your timeline cover photo!

The Role of Facebook in Christian Community

We have not advocated that churches, as a body, rely on Facebook. Our main reasons are the intimate nature of Facebook and the need to monitor it, both of which we think present challenges for churches and are best managed individual to individual — not institution on behalf of an individual.

But the fact is, most of your church members are probably on Facebook. We can advise and encourage individuals to use Facebook in a loving way — which will strengthen Christian community on or off the Social Media grid.

HeartYourChurch web blogger, Jason Stambaugh, shared his experience on Facebook when he recently reported the death of his mother. We extend our sympathy to Jason and his family and thank him for sharing with us and so many other “strangers.”

Jason’s blog post is an intimate account of his feelings on “pressing the button” to share his personal tragedy. It is worth a read.

He ends his post with four suggestions on the use of Facebook when sharing personal news.

(1) Like the post and leave a comment. By liking and commenting, you are helping to circle that person and their family with love.

(2) Share the post or link with your own personal message. I shared a link containing information about my Mother’s viewing and funeral. A handful of people reshared that link with a personal message about my Mom. Not only did I appreciate that they were helping me spread the word, I really enjoyed seeing what they had to say.

(3) Send the person a message. With so many likes and comments flowing in, it was hard to keep track of what everyone was saying. About a dozen or so people sent me Facebook messages that I received directly, like an email. They were easier to read and keep track of. If you have something you’d really like to share with the bereaved, send them a message.

(4) Do something.  Follow up your like, comment or message with an action. Whether it’s attending the viewing or funeral, sending a card or making a casserole, it will mean a lot to the person and/or family. The follow-up action makes your words “mean” something.

The last point is the most important. Facebook in the Church cannot replace the loving touch, the soft shoulder, the warm embrace, a hand held in prayer or the sympathetic tear. It sounds so old-fashioned, but we must remember to send a card, flowers, or deliver a hot-dish to the family—and attend the funeral.

Share this with your Facebook-loving congregants.

photo credit: John-Morgan via photopin cc

The Beauty and Creativity of Small Church Worship

Our Ambassadors have visited 43 churches in the last 18 months or so. We’ve been to large churches and small. We’ve heard 15-member choirs with paid section leaders and small churches with small choirs and solo musicians.

The worship experience isn’t fashioned to compete, but our Ambassadors can’t help but observe. There is a big difference in the worship experience in a church with more than 50 in attendance and the many smaller churches we visit.

We have found some of the most creative and enriching worship experiences in congregations with less than 30 in attendance. Our last two visits were prime examples.

Tabernacle Lutheran Church in West Philadelphia has a great pianist who led a breadth of musical selections throughout a two-hour service. He was in sync with the pastor and the choir and shifted seamlessly from liturgy to Gospel music and hymns to anthems with additional meditative offerings. Except for the quality of his work, you might not be aware of his presence, it so complemented the worship experience. A third of the worshiping body was robed and singing in the choir. The congregation was actively involved, often singing along with the choir. Members of the congregation rose to offer lengthy prayer petitions. The service was an expression of the people in every way.

St. John’s in Ambler also had a wealth of music throughout the service, led by a small combo of flute, piano/cello, organ and a cantor. Sections of the liturgy were sewn together by musical interludes that were frequent and beautiful, diverse and appropriate. Worship was not rushed but evolved at a pace that the entire congregation seemed to find comfortable. By the end of the service, half the congregation had taken part in worship leadership.

In several small churches, lay members even filled the pulpit. At. St. Mark’s, Conshohocken, a school teacher read her own meditation. At. St. Michael’s, Kensington, a lay leader read a sermon prepared by the pastor but delivered with her own passion. She deftly addressed the children in a hands-on children’s sermon.

In our experience, congregational singing excelled in smaller churches. In larger churches, the collective voice of the people was often drowned out by organ power. (Organs were installed and designed with full sanctuaries in mind — rarely the case today!)

Larger churches often featured the standard three/four hymns and an anthem with appreciative congregations that were comfortable with a structure that asked little of them.

Why does the small church worship experience often stand out?

Small numbers may make it necessary for churches to nurture skills that might be hidden in larger churches, where paid talent makes the worship choices.

The small church worship experience is owned by the congregation. The members of small churches are accustomed to stepping forward to provide leadership. Such initiative might be impossible in large congregations.

This is a joy of small church ministry. Everyone can grow. The experience is the responsibility of the people. The result is spiritual growth. There is growth in other ways, too. The congregation becomes tolerant of the imperfect, forgiving of miscues, and encouraging to the early efforts of the timid. Worshipers begin to recognize their fellow worshipers in a broader dimension, experiencing their offerings of expression.

Perhaps, what the Church needs is more SMALL churches and a way to better plan to make their good work known!

photo credit: bass_nroll via photopin cc

It is time to bring back Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is a favorite Church Holiday at Redeemer—perhaps even more than Easter. Many of our young members traveled to visit family on Easter. Palm Sunday was our day to celebrate with Christian family with a stirring worship service, followed by a festive congregational dinner.

Our members love Palm Sunday music and joyous Hosanna anthems and the singing of the old relic hymn, The Palms (over the protests of our youthful organist).

We enjoyed our Hosanna Day, an important psychological part of the Holy Week saga.

This year, Palm Sunday falls on the first Sunday of the month, when Redeemer members, while locked out of our church, worship in our own neighborhood.

But our Ambassadors want to be with others on Palm Sunday.

We set about looking for a church that did more than hand out palms fronds and sing All Glory, Laud and Honor before plunging into the Passion Story for 90 minutes—a pshychological mood swing that doesn’t really work in the worship setting, no matter how hard we try.

This is a new development in liturgical practice—the brainchild of theologians who asked,”Why not combine Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday?” but didn’t take the time to answer their own question.

This was probably an attempt to compress the Holy Week experience into one worship service for the vast numbers of people who do not attend Holy Week services.

The triumphant entry into Jerusalem is now given a few opening minutes of worship. The Passion Story overshadows it by its sheer length. When we leave church on Palm Sunday, we are already experiencing the agony of Good Friday.

There are many good reasons to keep Palm Sunday pure.

We need Palm Sunday. We need the joy and the longing for salvation. We need to revel in the day—the whole day. Musicians need to have time to soar with anticipatory excitement. Children need the physical expression of joyous movement. We all need to sing and pray Hosanna! We need to enter Holy Week in joy! It’s part of the Passion Story!

So we vagabond Lutherans of East Falls may end up celebrating Palm Sunday by ourselves. But at least we will be celebrating Palm Sunday!

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

Growing the Church Among the Discontented

Have you ever noticed how the restaurant server has a knack of asking if everything is to your liking just as you’ve filled your mouth with a forkful of tough meat?

Similarly, the car dealer might call and ask how you are enjoying your new car a week into your purchase, not three months down the road, when you really know something about the car’s performance.

People want to hear kind words and good things about their work. Churches and church leaders are no different. They tend to identify happy souls and and engage them. The unhappy are neglected and eventually will not be in church at all.

There are more people not in church than in church!

Our faith and Christian relationships are precious. Once broken, repairing them is costly and difficult work.

Churches work hard at seeming to care. Leaders seek agreement and talk about their successful relationships, while the discontented are given labels that muffle their voices.

Church leaders talk about processes of “mutual discernment” — the hottest buzz words in the church at the moment.

Often, the process of mutual discernment has the regional body unanimous on one side of the fence and the congregation unanimous on the other side of the fence with neither side reaching to open the gate. Yet reports will tell of the process of mutual discernment that resulted in a one-sided decree.

Lay people may have to put up with this on the job. They will feel differently about it in church where they are the shareholders.

Dealing with discontent is a steady and ongoing process and involves sincere, dedicated communication. Discernment is a process of listening and responding. It is hard work. To claim a process of discernment, while neglecting the necessary work, is dishonest.

If congregants sense that their concerns don’t matter, they have a remedy. It’s a multistep process.

  • They complain publicly.
  • They complain bitterly in private.
  • They keep their billfolds in their pockets.
  • They stay home.
  • They continue to complain, but not in church.

The earlier the church intervenes and shows true concern, the easier the process of reconciliation becomes. Left unchecked, discontent will spin out of control and damage the whole people of God.

Discontented Christians have their grievances steadily on their minds. Their faith and way of life are under attack. They may no longer be attending church, but they are probably talking to their neighbors and friends at the bowling alley and grocery store. While pastors are feeling warm and cozy, surrounded by their closest supporters, the foundation of the community they are serving is eroding in forums they cannot control.

What is eluding many in the Church is that there have never been more forums for the discontented.

It was never more important for the Church to learn to deal with people who have a beef with them.

Wise church leaders spend time with the discontented. That’s where church growth will happen. That’s where the strength of the future Church lies.

Look for the rose in your crown of thorns. It’s what reconciliation is all about.

photo credit: somenametoforget via photopin cc

Ambassadors Visit St. John’s, Ambler, Pa.

Redeemer’s Ambassadors visit St. John’s in Ambler, just off the main drag in this suburban community business district.

We discovered a delightful small church that reminded us of our own. Even the layout of the sanctuary and fellowship hall were familiar to us.

Attendance was about the same as Redeemer with only two children, but there was talk in the announcements of some youth activity.

Hudson and Freda helped with the blessing of the stuffed bears to be given to needy children.

The service began with the distribution of stuffed bears and a small stack of prayer shawls. The stuffed animals were cared for throughout the service, blessed during the prayers, and gathered for presentation with the offerings. The bears will be given to children as part of St. John’s support of Interfaith Housing. It is hoped that the children can cherish and love the stuffed animals and feel the comfort of the congregation’s blessing. The prayer shawls were passed throughout the service to each member.

The service music was excellent and accompanied by various combinations of flute (Cindy LeBlanc), cello and piano (Jim Holton)  and organ and included both hymn renditions and some classical themes. Christine Djalleta served as cantor, led singing, and sang Softly and Tenderly as an offeratory. The amount and breadth of music reminded us of a Redeemer service, the only difference — no Swahili words!

The pastor’s sermon (Sandra Ellis-Killian) was an interesting mix of Scripture and Shakespeare.

All members were welcoming and ready to engage in conversation.

They were looking forward to a busy week or two as Easter approaches and were planning for a Maundy Thursday meal (much like Redeemer’s Green Thursday tradition). They were also planning a labyrinth mediation walk at a nearby church and a commemoration of the 14 stations of the cross.

We enjoyed robust fellowship and were interested in the after church Bible Study on Isaiah, led by a lay member, but we slipped out to return home.

It was nice to be in a church that “felt” like Redeemer. There is beauty and power in small churches like St. John’s — and Redeemer.

Valuable Webinar Offering This Week!

There is a webinar this Wednesday which will focus on changes coming in Facebook and a mandatory switch to using Timeline.

Here’s  a link:
Facebook Timeline Event

Go to that link and you’ll also see information on the upcoming Social Media Success Summit 2012 which is scheduled for the the month of May. Learn all about latest trends in Social Media without leaving home! The Summit makes more than 17 hours of learning available at your convenience. Hour-long webinars are held live, scheduled usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the month of May. All sessions are recorded for unlimited review for the next year! Transcripts and slides are also available. It’s a great way to join the Social Media community.

No travel! No hotels! No restaurant bills! Can’t beat it!

Has the Christian Church Become Irrelevant?

Two members of 2×2 recently attended a speech by the Rev. Al Sharpton, community, political and civil rights activist. Sharpton commented that though he is often asked to speak at celebrity funerals he usually refuses. He said he doesn’t want to eulogize another “irrelevant life.”

“If you want me to speak at your funeral give me something to work with,” he implored.

His words were harsh and the crowd was shocked. Sharpton deftly turned shock to inspiration and people were soon on their feet applauding. His intention was to motivate. His message: It isn’t good enough to sit and enjoy the blessings of difficult battles won by our foreparents. We must continue to fight for justice. That fight requires personal sacrifice.

Many Christian congregations today are threatened by similar irrelevance. People come to worship. People come for fellowship. People come to hear the Word. Some token projects might be undertaken—dollars paid for someone else to do the work or take the risks. When it comes to making personal or collective sacrifice for a difficult but meaningful cause, the line that forms is very, very short.

The Church, despite the power of its message, is often an irrelevant presence in our society. We sit back and enjoy the protected status of the Bill of Rights and do nothing with it. In many cases, a committee might be formed to draft a Social Statement that is adopted at a biannual assembly—and then mothballed.

Throughout the year, we honor a host of saints, many of whom are little more than names to us. Lutherans believe that we are all saints and sinners. The value of examining the lives of a few notables is to remind us that faith requires commitment and sacrifice. Yet the lessons are rarely learned.

Daniel Ellsburg, who leaked the revealing and controversial Pentagon Papers, made a profound statement. His actions defied the law. They also exposed wrong and hastened the end of the War in Vietnam.

Ellsburg was on his way to or from a court hearing. A reporter stuck a microphone in his face and asked the question, “Mr. Ellsburg, are you willing to go to prison for this?” Ellsburg’s ready response was, “Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?”

Ellsburg was named by his opponents in power at the time, “The Most Dangerous Man in America.”

Which of our congregations can claim a similar honor?

Is there any injustice so wrong that we are willing to go to prison to make things right?

Are we prepared to take risks to benefit the downtrodden?

Are we prepared to take action when the injustice is within our own Church?

Is our church irrelevant?