April 2012

God is doing something new . . . with Redeemer, East Falls

SEPA has a new website for congregations to share ministry initiatives. SEPA has been ignoring Redeemer ministry initiatives for years. We doubt our contributions to their website would be recognized.

We’ll share them here.

Please keep in mind that the initiatives we list are in addition to the work every church does — planning worship, caring for the needs of congregants, and witnessing our faith.

God has been doing something new at Redeemer for a long time. 

Ministry to and by immigrant community. God has been reaching out to immigrants through Redeemer for nearly 16 years. How is this new? There are two traditional methods of reaching out to ethnic communities.

  1. Have separate worship services with separate leadership, creating a community within a community.
  2. Have one size fits all liturgical offerings.

Redeemer’s approach differed because we worked hard to unite new church members with older community members. We could write a separate entry for many of the techniques we integrated into our community life. It has been a broad-based comprehensive outreach effort. It was successful. The congregation was growing (probably at the fastest rate of any SEPA congregation) when SEPA Synod Bishop Claire Burkat (sensing that a long-desired wish to control our property might be slipping away) declared, “White Redeemer must be allowed to die; black Redeemer…we can put them anywhere.”

God is doing something else new . . 

Community involvement.  SEPA Synod locked Redeemer members out of God’s House and kept the doors locked for nearly three years. Meanwhile, Redeemer has found new ways of maintaining our worship life. We’ve built on our existing relationships with the community. An offer of free meeting space has strengthened our connections with the local theater club. We have become more involved in the East Falls Community Council. At a recent Community Council meeting we sat and listened to SEPA Representative Rev. Patricia Davenport tell the community they are interested in having a Word and Sacrament church here. Meanwhile they haven’t a clue as to what to do with the property they took from us — that was being used as a Word and Sacrament church with a vibrant ministry.

God is doing something new . . 

Ambassadors Program. Without a church home, Redeemer representatives began visiting other churches, learning from them and sharing with them. This has broadened our traditions . . . even as SEPA calls us closed. We are seeing the common challenges of small churches and are gaining an  advantage in finding ways to serve small faith communities.

God is doing something new . . . 

Internet Ministry. We experimented with our web-based ministry with great success. We are still collecting ideas and implementing initiatives through our website and watching very carefully how the site is viewed and what problems are most on readers’ minds. We are challenged to find ways to respond to the needs we discover . . and they are very interesting.

God is doing something new . . .

Worldwide mission impact. Redeemer is in conversation with church leaders from all over the world, using the internet to grow ministry. We believe our work will have widespread influence in the regional church and worldwide among Lutherans and interdenominationally. We will create a strong base of support for initiatives that will help small churches. We believe it is possible to fund small ministries through initiatives that compensate for the challenged offering plate.

God is doing something new . . .

Justice. Redeemer is learning the cost of standing for what we believe in and are learning the weaknesses of Lutheran government. We are in conversation with other small congregations struggling with their cash-strapped synods. We hope our experience will one day make the church we love (despite its attacks on our members) stronger. We envision a church active in mission in new ways with renewed vision for a new generation ministering to a changing world.

God has more work cut out for us . . .

Reconciliation. We hope that one day SEPA Lutherans feel powerful enough in God’s love to reconcile with us. That too will break new ground.

SEPA was stronger with Redeemer than it is without us.

“I have the power.” Where have we heard that before?

God created many small things, including small churches, with enormous power.

Today’s scripture from John 10:18 says (Jesus speaking of giving his life), “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”

The words sound familiar to Redeemer. Bishop Burkat was heard to say four years ago at a gathering in Chicago, ELCA headquarters, “I have the power to close that church and I intend to close it.”

Within two days she came to Redeemer supposedly for a “mutual discernment” meeting. She brought with her a lawyer, a sizable posse of support which had not been announced as coming. She also had a locksmith hiding behind the property out of sight.

Constitutionally, Bishop Burkat doesn’t have the power to seize congregational property. That’s clearly spelled out in Synod’s Articles of Incorporation.  We’ve been pointing this out to SEPA clergy for three years.

Bishop Burkat is getting away with her interpretation of her power because no one dares stop her. Why?

The courts have said they do not have jurisdiction in intrachurch disputes. Four years of costly legal maneuvering and the case was never heard. Courts want church people to solve their own problems.

Church people operating under the structure of the ELCA seem to be unable to do this. We can guess that they fear the vindictive treatment received by the members of Redeemer who dared to challenge Bishop Burkat. It has been horrific, but SEPA congregations don’t want to be bothered with nastiness.

The latest judge in four years of courtroom drama pointed out to Synod that there are legitimate constitutional questions. The split decision favoring their position isn’t a “slam dunk” for Synod. Two judges agree with Redeemer’s position to the letter. That should interest SEPA Lutherans. A good number of you are no larger or stronger than Redeemer.

Good Shepherd Sunday is a good time for SEPA Lutherans to ponder how power within the church is meant to be used. Jesus used his power sacrificially. Bishop Burkat uses power for monetary gain and prestige.

It is Lutheran polity for the various arms of the church to work together, as interdependent equals. In Lutheran polity, leaders are servants. That’s true in Chicago, in Mt. Airy and in every congregation. There is no power — save that of the Gospel — in Lutheran polity. It’s time for us to insist on that.

And the courts have told you — it’s our job, not theirs.

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Redeemer’s Entry in East Falls Chili Cook-Off Earns Mention

We didn’t win, but our entry got a prominent mention in the Roxborough Review for our inclusion of fresh pineapple. Adding fruit to spicy stews is something we learned from our African members. The sweetness cools down the fire of the chili.

This was our first year to enter the fairly new neighborhood tradition. We have grand plans for next year.

You haven’t tasted anything yet!

Redeemer is not closed: we are locked out of God’s House by SEPA Synod who claims to very much want a Word and Sacrament Church in East Falls — after working for more than a decade to destroy the Word and Sacrament church they already had here.

Meanwhile, Redeemer is still part of our neighborhood.

The Ambassadors Celebrate an Important Birthday

Today, the Ambassadors of Redeemer will not be visiting churches. We are worshiping together on our home turf and celebrating the birthday of the ONE and ONLY SEPA pastor who took the time to know and appreciate the ministry of Redeemer Lutheran Church in East Falls before joining the throng who would see our ministry destroyed for Synod’s monetary gain.

This one pastor is a true man of God. He carries with him his Bible—its binding held together with tape, its pages curled with use. For the past three years, he has joined us in worship at least once a month, led us in communion, visited our sick and shut-ins, checked on our individual members periodically, and prayed for us daily.

Other SEPA pastors have done nothing.

SEPA, you can be proud of this dedicated servant. He is a model for you all, especially those new to ministry.

We’d use his name but we know he is not one for the spotlight. Happy birthday to a man of God.

More on Church Hierarchies

Large churches don’t need them.

Small churches can’t afford them.

If they are to have value, hierarchies must do more than exist. They must make themselves relevant, affordable, and a force for the best of what the Church can be.

How Hierarchies Threaten the Neighborhood Church

There was a time when small churches had little choice but to affiliate with larger church bodies. It was their only way of assuring access to quality leadership, resources, and to effectively reach out to the world at large.

Times have changed. Hierarchies have grown while supporting churches struggle. They are expensive. Congregations can’t afford them and are beginning to realize they are not as necessary as they once were.

During formational years, denominations are eager to sign up as many congregations as possible. As time passes, relationships change.

Meanwhile, the care and feeding of the hierarchy continues. Smallest neighborhood churches are in jeopardy.

The measure of a regional body is how it honors the promises made to the smallest congregations when they joined the denomination.

Some joined with as few as 20 charter members. Today, with 80 or more members they may be deemed not worth saving. Their property and assets? That’s a different story.

Few congregations ever set out to grow beyond a certain sociological level. Church experts call them family/parish/program or corporate categories. Family churches are happy being family churches. Program churches are not trying to be corporate churches.

The focus of most congregations is and always will be local. Sometimes congregations find themselves adding a new sanctuary or growing their staff. It is usually a reflection of neighborhood growth. Often significant growth never happens, but the church can still fulfill its mission in its neighborhood.

If growth is the goal, most neighborhood congregations are at a severe disadvantage. They have far fewer options in attracting professional leadership. Denominations even admit to assigning “caretaker” pastors with low expectations for ministry. This drains a congregation’s resources and self-esteem.

A pattern begins. Small congregations know they are not getting equal services. They withhold support.

But hierarchies accumulate more than wealth. They accumulate power. With dwindling support from small and neglected congregations, they begin to exert power. As part of the process, they equate the level of support they are receiving with the congregation’s viability. They try to get resources wherever they can and if the congregations choose to not support the regional body — well, watch out!

Regional bodies and church agencies start to look for ways to fund the structure they have become accustomed to. “Development Offices,” funded with the offerings of many churches, target donors — who are most likely members of the participating congregations. The word “mission” will be in all their promotional material. People are more likely to give to corporate “mission” than to corporate “rent.”

They are now in competition with their member congregations for offerings. They want a bigger piece of the church pie.

With the recent court ruling in southeastern Pennsylvania, church hierarchies — even those prohibited from taking church assets by their founding constitutions — can legally reach directly into the wallets of their congregations without their permission. They need only issue an “opinion” that the church is not viable. We at Redeemer, know how easy it is for leaders to reach that “opinion,” especially when the denomination is running a six-figure deficit budget.

In the end, this is self-defeating. Eventually, the regional expression of the denomination will be funded by a roster of churches — all in financial decline.

Eventually? Look at the church statistics.
Almost every church in SEPA Synod is in decline!

The success of the future church is still dependent on a presence in neighborhoods. That’s where most people attend church — where they live, vote, send their children to school, and where every other aspect of their lives has roots. It will always be this way. People are not attracted to church by the size of the parking lot but on how they fit in. Statistically, most Christians choose to join small churches.

That’s 2×2’s mission. We support small church ministries.

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Seven Access Points for Churches Who Want to Grow

People promoting a message often talk about looking for seven access points — seven ways people can learn about their product or service. What can serve as “access points” for churches? Here are some possibilities.

Each access point is a link in a strong chain.


The first, most obvious (and often only) access point is the Sunday morning worship service. Good start. Is it effective for growing your church?

Is it participatory? Is everyone involved? Many professional entertainers point to their youthful experiences in church as the entry point to their life careers. This doesn’t happen if worship is presented in a static way with paid professionals providing all the leadership.

Child Care

Child care is a common access point for congregations. Judging from the number of children our Ambassadors encounter in church, it’s not working very well. It’s a good idea and churches should analyze their child care programs to make them effective as church access points not only for the children but for families.


Advertising is a way of creating access. This was once an expensive proposition with little measurable return. The internet is changing that.

Newsletters may seem like an access point. They are not. Only church members read them.

Use of the internet has a better chance as serving as an access point, especially if churches use the internet to communicate with the unchurched. Social media makes this very possible. That includes everything from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest to Blogging and web sites. Very few churches have scratched the surface of this promising access point.

Media can be an access point. Some denominations have TV or radio programs. The old Davey and Goliath animated children’s programs from the 60s (or earlier) are still aired—complete with a scratchy rendition of the Reformation hymn at the end.


Social service projects can be access points if the congregation can interact. Sponsoring social service projects without a human face attached does not promote the Christian message. Yet many religious social service agencies have followed the lure of government subsidies and lost their ability to convey their message. As hard as we work and as much money as church people contribute to social service agencies — and even with the immeasurable good they do — the message is lost.

Cultural Excellence

Cultural excellence can be access points. Church schools (pre-K through university) were once associated with religion. Many church-sponsored schools have focused on enrolments and bottom lines and abdicated their religious affiliation. Even the Catholic church with its traditional parish school system is struggling with this concept.

The arts can be cultural access points. Often churches host concerts. The more hands on a church makes their art offerings, the more effective they will be as access points.

Church Camping

Often overlooked or viewed as a quirky a la carte church offering, church camping is one of the most effective church access points. Church camps unabashedly teach and preach and work with the hearts and souls of campers who take the time (usually just five days) to leave the world behind and think about their relationships with God and the world. Church camps, with a purity of message, interest many in church vocations.

Small churches — get your members to camp! There are opportunities for all ages. Sponsor seekers.

Summer Programming

People make life changes in the summer. They relocate. They change jobs. They change schools. But many churches exist on short rations in the summer. Think about it. What opportunities to you offer that will attract people in transition?

Community Involvement

Encourage your members to be involved in community activities. Show your colors and get involved. Be front and center at community meetings. Volunteer as a church for community projects. Wear church t-shirts and send a crew to park clean-up day. Take a table at the local flea market.

Special Needs Interest Groups

People need help. Grieving people. The poor. The hungry. The sick. Elderly. The addicted. The mentally and physically challenged. Families. Youth. Caretakers. Care needers. So many potential access points for congregations!

We were looking for seven. That’s nine. Are there more?

In Search of Wisdom in the Church

We are reposting some information which has a permanent home on the 2×2 web site on our Proverbs Page.

SEPA Synod Assembly convenes one week from tomorrow. We always hope that as a body, Lutherans can improve their policies and services to the many small congregations which make up their membership. As long as small churches are seen as prey to fund Synod’s budget shortfalls — limiting services (for which all contribute) to the clergy and larger churches — there will be inequity and injustice within SEPA.

The cannibalism of the church must stop for the good of all. 2×2 has visited 44 SEPA congregations. We’ve seen many of them facing challenges with little hope for help from the denomination they joined in the 1980s. Many feel alienated and wary of involvement with SEPA.

This is a weakness that can be fixed!

The Lutheran Church was founded by a man who called out to the Church of his era to end policies that took advantage of weakest members. Any Lutheran who claims today that leadership cannot be challenged is denying this proud heritage.

We hope that someday the many members of SEPA Synod will muster the fortitude to right the wrongs against Redeemer and other small congregations that have been victimized by intentional neglect (which Bishop Burkat terms “triage”).

The prevailing “wisdom” must be challenged.

We collected some wisdom from the heritage of our members—all of whom have been locked out of the Lutheran church and denied representation at Synod Assemblies for four years. The first section is a collection of proverbs from Africa—the majority membership of Redeemer. The last entry is a very old tale from the tradition of our European heritage. Enjoy!

A shepherd does not strike his sheep.
For lack of criticism, the trunk of the elephant grew very long.
When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful.
The powerful should mind their own power.
A clever king is the brother of peace.
The house of a leader who negotiates survives.
To lead is not to run roughshod over people.
A quarrelsome chief does not hold a village together.
Threats and insults never rule.
He who dictates separates himself from others.
A leader does not listen to rumors.
If the leader limps, all the others start limping, too.
Good behavior must come from the top.
An elder is a healer.
One head does not contain all the wisdom.
A leader who does not take advice is not a leader.
Whether a chief is good or bad, people unify around someone.
The cow that bellows does so for all cows.
A powerful leader adorns his followers.
True power comes through cooperation.
The chief’s true wealth is his people.
Where trust breaks down, peace breaks down.
If you show off your strength, you will start a battle.
A leader should not create a new law when he is angry.
What has defeated the elders’ court, take to the public.
It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life.
If your only tool is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.
Do not call a dog with a whip in your hand.
Leaders who use force fear reason.
To agree to dialogue is the beginning of peaceful resolution.
If two wise men always agree, then there is no need for one of them.
If you feast on pride, you will have no room for wisdom.
When the village chief himself goes around inviting people to a meeting,
know there is something very wrong going on.
Other people’s wisdom prevents the king from being called a fool. 
Force is not profitable.
Do not light a fire under a fruit-bearing tree.
In times of crisis, the wise build bridges.
It is easy to stand in a crowd; it takes courage to stand alone.
Be sure you stand on solid ground before you stretch out to grab something.
Be a neighbor to the human being, not to the fence. 
Calling a leader wise does not make him wise.
A leader who understands proverbs reconciles differences.

Of course, there are a host of proverbs in the Bible!

We have one remaining proverb/parable from the tradition of our European members. Some little child should speak up and say, “This is sheer foolishness.”


And so the Emperor set out at the head of the great procession. It was a great success. All the people standing by cheered and cried, “Oh, how splendid are the Emperor’s new clothes. What a
magnificent train! How well the clothes fit!” No one dared to admit that he couldn’t see anything, for who would want it to be known that he was either stupid or unfit for his post? None of the Emperor’s clothes had ever met with such grand approval!

But among the crowd a little child suddenly gasped, “But he hasn’t got anything on.” And the people began to whisper to one another what the child had said till everyone was saying, “But he hasn’t got anything on.” The Emperor himself had the uncomfortable feeling that what they were whispering was only too true. “But I will have to go through with the procession,” he said to himself.

So he drew himself up and walked boldly on holding his head higher than before, and the courtiers held on to the train that wasn’t there at all. — Hans Christian Andersen

Hey, Church! Put on Your Listening Ears

A first rule in business is “Listen to Your Customer.” Good businesses are good listeners . . . and amazing responders.

The Church can learn from this.

Every time we are tempted to think we know what’s best for the people we hope will support our churches we should stop dead in our tracks and ask, “Is our ministry driven by their needs or by our needs.”

Are we listening?

Listening is humbling. It is admitting we don’t have all the answers.

We want people to accept us just as we are. That’s natural.

Strangers to church are looking for the same acceptance. We are equally needy.

And so we are on a treadmill. The Church keeps on churning out variations on the same themes, done pretty much the same way, by the same people . . . with the same results.

What we have is cinema’s iconic “failure to communicate.”

When people care enough to tell us exactly why the church has turned them off, we owe it to them to listen — not in a patronizing way. “Poor souls! They just don’t know how wrong they are.”

When we don’t listen, we don’t know what we are missing.

The modern church needs to listen to modern people.  If people are talking to us at all, that’s a sign that they care. If all we do is nod our heads and then criticize them as soon as their backs are turned, we will never be able to reach them.

And they will have proved their point.

An argument is always that we are not of the world. We are here to transform others—to follow the way. However, we are hoping to reach people who are of this world. God sent his Son from heaven to come to earth to be like us, to suffer and die. The only reason He had was that He cared about us. That’s how He approached transformation. The least we can do is listen.

Listen to objections. Find ways to overcome objections. Look for ways to help the entire congregation overcome objections.

Of course, some of the objections are nothing more than excuses. Keep listening until you find the real reason people prefer separation from God’s people.

You’ll be demonstrating that you care.

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Getting Over the Fear of Facebook

If you want to drive the message of the Church, hop in. But you won't be the only car on the road.

Facebook remains an enigma to the Church.

The few churches using it seem to use it as nothing but a digital bulletin board.

There is power in Facebook. The power is twofold.

  1. Facebook can build relationships.
  2. Facebook has reach.

Building Relationships with Facebook

Jason Stambaugh of heartyourchurch.com talks about Facebook as the Weekday Bridge of the Church. It can be used to foster relationships that happen Monday through Saturday. Face-to-face encounters are invaluable, he recognizes. But the little midweek interchanges help to build the connections that make face-to-face interactions more possible, more frequent, and foster more tightly knit community.

The discussion will not be led or moderated as is the custom in the world of religion. That may be why the Church doesn’t understand it. There’s nothing stopping anyone from adding their two cents.

Part of the hesitance of the church to embrace Facebook is fear of losing control.

The fact is the Church lost control of its message a long time ago.

Yesterday, you could control your message with cumbersome qualifying hoops and censorship. Hard habits to break.

Today, the only way to control the message is to be part of the dialogue.

If you want to drive, hop in. But you won’t be the only car on the road!

The Incredible Reach of Facebook

Looking at rough and round numbers, the average Facebook user has nearly 200 friends (a number which continues to grow). Allowing for overlap, each of those friends adds another 100 or so to the network. So if your congregation has 50 people using Facebook during the week, your community has the potential to reach 10,000 people at the first tier of the network and 1,000,000 at the second tier of the network.

  • What is your Sunday attendance?
  • What is the circulation or readership of your parish newsletter?
  • What’s the circulation of your denominational magazine (which probably reaches only those already involved in Church)?

Just do the math and stop spinning your wheels.

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