January 2013

Paying for Denominational News

An Antiquated Worldview Stifles the Voice of the Denomination

SUB0000001bThe turmoil in mainline churches is symptomatic. The concept of hierarchy is becoming outdated. In a decade or so we look back at how we did things before the computer revolution with the same incredulity we experience today when we review the history of the Crusades or slavery.

Until then there will be struggle as hierarchies try to hang on. It doesn’t have to be ugly.

A hierarchy that remembers that in the church we exist to serve is actually well positioned to meet the new age.

A hierarchy that is focused on its own power, importance and preservation will topple.

People who have embraced the new world can view what’s happening with amusement—if they are not part of tumultuous transition, that is.

Church leaders are slow to understand the gift that has been handed to them with social media.

We see it with the pope. He will tweet but he will not follow. The power of Twitter is in following. But popes and bishops are tempted to see that as beneath them. Communication has been one way for thousands of years. This is to be expected.

We will soon see it in religious social services. it will not be long before religious social service agencies admit that their association with a denomination may deter mission efforts. They can now reach volunteers and supporters more easily themselves than through national or regional church efforts.

American Roman Catholic nuns have already experienced this.

Similarly, mission efforts that rely on denominational funding will soon realize that they are not as in touch with the people who support them as they could be without the filter of hierarchy.

How Church Hierarchies Are Unprepared for Modern Publishing

There are also big changes in church publishing—or there should be.

Church hierarchies were once needed to support church publishing. Their pooled resources were the only way a denomination could afford the cost. Because they were needed to fund publishing, they got used to thinking that they were needed to control what was written.

That day is over. Anyone can publish.

But our denomination is stuck trying to adapt old publishing models to the new media. They are missing the fact that the whole game has changed.

Unlike some of the other things mentioned, national church publishing can still play a major —but very different—role.

First, the regional and national church should make it a mission priority for every congregation to become familiar with social media. There is no excuse for any congregation to not have a web site or blog. They cannot be effective today without one. Everyone checks online for everything these days. No web site. Few visitors.

More important, churches and pastors must learn to use social media. Having a web site is one thing. Using it as a mission tool is another. This can no longer be overlooked and the regional and national church can lead the way.

If the denomination cares about member churches, they should help them make this transition. Both large and small churches find this to be daunting. The denominational and national church could and should help. Make it a mission priority and make sure pastors are trained to use social media.

Before they do this, they need to understand the power of the web themselves. In this they are missing the boat.

Standing on the dock and watching the ship of church sail

The ELCA publishes a “house” magazine. It is called The Lutheran. It contains a little bit of denominational news and feature stories of how the denomination and its congregations work in mission.

The Lutheran mails to 200,000 subscribers (only a small percentage of its 4 million membership).

It is also online. Sort of.

If the magazine prints 200,000 magazines, those magazines — assuming some are shared — might result in 300,000 readers—still a small fraction of total members.

An open and free online readership could easily magnify this reach. A good article might get 100,000 reads and then be passed onto 500,000 who might then pass it on to 2 million others. Wow! Imagine reaching the world with your message every month. Exciting!

But what does The Lutheran do? They feed you about ten lines of a story online and ask you to pay to read the rest. They limit dialog on the articles to subscribers. No pay. No say.

Engagement is the goal of almost every organization these days. Corporations understand that engagement is pivotal to relationships, sales, their mission and survival. Meanwhile, the church barricades themselves from engagement!

They are missing out on the social nature and evangelical power of the web. When they place that “pay to play” obstacle between them and their readers, they keep them from further sharing the good news. (Explain that to advertisers!)

Of course, they are interested in subscriptions. That’s the old publishing model. But The Lutheran is a “house” magazine. It should be looking for ways to get the message out to everyone—especially to people who just happen along who might be learning about the denomination from a friend who sent them a link.

They are hampering their own mission.

In the new world, religious magazines should explore a new funding model. Perhaps their work should be totally subsidized. Forget subscriptions.

There are other ways of adding to the income while enhancing the dialog within the church. Partner with denominational authors. Be a Kindle storefront for them. Empower the news potential of every congregation and every potential writer in the denomination. It’s new territory with great potential.

The denominational magazine will then be so much more powerful and able to attract a new level of advertising.

If preserving the publishing model of the past is the goal, keep it subscription-based with limited reach. A private club. All the members breathing the same stale air.

If influence and reach are the goals of church publishing, content must be free.

What Makes a Post Actionable?

2x2CategoryBarSMHow Can A Blog Be Actionable?

Yesterday’s post talked about the characteristics of a viral post — a post that readers share in large numbers. One of the characteristics is that a viral post is actionable.

An actionable post results in a reader doing something. When marketers use the term, they mean the reader either bought something or took a step towards buying something. Marketers have embraced blogging because they see it as a customer relations, customer retention and sales tool—all in one.

Churches have the same needs but use evangelical/ecclesiastic terminology.

Yet churches seem to be puzzled by the blogging genre. They tend to see a blog as an online musing . . . an extension of the sermon. It is so much more!

The easiest way to move away from this thinking and to begin to harness the power of the web is for churches to think in terms of writing blogs which prompt action.

In church terms, this could mean a number of things.

Here are some actions that could result from congregational blog posts:

  • A reader might subscribe to your blog or the congregational newsletter. Your congregation could then reach subscribers with a short message every day. (They probably won’t sign up to read sermons, though!) 2×2 has about 63 subscribers and another 100 or more who subscribe via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. We reach more than 500 new readers every week! (Imagine what we could do with a building!)
  • A reader might share your post with someone else. I occasionally send links to Pastor Swanson’s daily emails, 7 Minutes A Day. I find them to be inspirational and motivating and hope others will, too.
  • A reader might take some action they might not otherwise take. Pastor Swanson’s posts have prompted me to read more of the Bible and look at familiar Bible passages in a new light.
  • A reader might become interested in a new ministry. A congregation could blog about homelessness and inspire someone to do something about it.
  • A post might inspire someone to make a donation (sweat or dollars).
  • A post might inspire a new understanding or make a new connection. I can’t remember how our posts led us to ministry friendships with Christians in Kenya, Pakistan, and Sweden, but they did!
  • A post could spark an interest in personal growth. I was impressed with a captivating video of a young girl telling a Bible story. I shared it on our blog and was myself inspired to improve my storytelling skills.
  • A blog post can lead to new alliances. Our early posts on the value of Vacation Bible Schools created alliances with like-minded Christians in other areas of the United States.
  • A reader may comment on a post and that may spark an online conversation.
  • A reader just might be inspired to faith and salvation.

How A Blog Might Impact A Common Scenario

In yesterday’s post, I posed a scenario where a congregation became aware that their neighborhood was changing. A new and very different ethnic group was moving in and changing the demographic. This isn’t a stretch. It’s happening all over our city (Philadelphia). A common result within our denomination is to declare churches closed in changing neighborhoods. We can only guess that they feel their message will not fly with the changing demographic. (Actually, we are not guessing, that’s what our church was told by our regional body.) This is foreign to the biblical mission of the church—and unnecessary—especially if congregations use social media as a mission tool!

What if a congregation started blogging about the changes in the neighborhood in a way which fostered interaction between the settled population and the newcomers. If they did so regularly, it would be noticed within a few weeks. Doors would open. Introductions would be made. When the new population began to show an interest as neighbors, they would feel like they already know the people who sponsored such a welcoming blog.

Civic organizations would likely notice, too. The church would gain respect in the neighborhood. The voice of the Church might carry more weight. Mainline news might notice. The possibilities are endless.

Actionable blogs should be a goal of every congregation.

Many of these benefits can be achieved without a blog. But there is no denying that blogging amplifies the likelihood and the reach of ministry efforts. It is work. It is a new discipline. But it is exciting. Time must be carved out to learn new skills. But the potential for ministry is so much greater with a blog than without. Frankly, the time invested in blogging will steal time from ministry efforts which may be traditional but which are not resulting in church growth. No real loss.

One last thing!

An actionable post should end with what in business is termed a Call To Action. This can be as simple as posing a question. Or it could be a simple form.

Here’s our Call to Action!

If you’d like help getting started in social media or blogging, submit the brief form below. We’ll see if we can be of service or point you in a helpful direction.

Why would anyone read a church blog?

2x2CategoryBarSMSocial media has been around for four or five years now. It still puzzles the Church. It doesn’t fit the church’s way of thinking. A few churches dabble at it.

Dabbling at social media won’t succeed. We must dive in—the sooner the better!

One pastor recently shared that he didn’t understand social media. What was new about it?

Power is new. In the old days a newspaper might have a readership of 10,000 people. That’s where their influence ended.

Today, readers can pass a message on to all of their friends and those friends can continue sharing with their friends. Social media transforms those 10,000 readers into a million readers with ease.

More than that, the receiver can add to the message. They can correct or object when they disagree in real time. No one needs to wait for an editor to review a response, confined to 150 words, and chosen from among many for publication. We all have a say!

We are all familiar with the modern phenomenon of “going viral.”

A wannabe singer posts a video online and six months later is an international star. Never before in the history of the world was it possible for little guys to get billing on the world’s stage.

We used to guess at reasons some blog posts are so popular that they reach the ends of the earth within a few hours.

We expect marketers to study the reasons for viral popularity. Now scientists are taking a look at the phenomenon, too.

We are discovering that the key to popularity is not what most people guess (sex, dogs, cats and babies).

The answers revolve around emotions.

People share what they read on the web when the information is:

  1. Surprising
  2. Interesting
  3. Intense
  4. Positive
  5. Actionable

This information was gathered in a study of media websites, but the same characteristics have been found to be applicable to other genres as well.

Church bloggers can adapt these principles to their posts, especially if they are writing about more than their church (which they should be).

True, this calls for a change in our evangelism mindset. We are accustomed to promoting who we are and what we believe with little consideration for the people we hope to reach.

Therein lies the value of blogging. It forces us to see things through the eyes of others.

Here’s an example of how a church blogger might apply these principles:

A congregation might discover an interesting statistic about their neighborhood. Let’s say an old working class urban neighborhood, known to be populated by a certain ethnic group, learns that the latest census shows their neighborhood is now home to a growing number of immigrants from another part of the world.

The church should write about that. It is surprising and interesting. It could have potential to become intense —in a good or a bad way. The church should put itself in a position to influence that!

Most important for ministry, the news has the potential to be presented in a positive way, benefitting both the church and community, which may then lead to action by the congregation or by the neighborhood.

Upon this foundation, a church blog can be the catalyst for a congregation’s mission and growth.

What is going on in your neighborhood that you can influence by writing a post on your church blog?

Practicing Our Emotions

The Church is in the Emotion Business (so to speak)

Faith and religion are all about emotion.

You might not know it to sit through a Sunday worship service.

In some ways, the church has stripped emotion from its agenda. Church services are designed for corporate expression. The people are like marmots, responding in tandem.

An emphasis on ritual tends to do this.

A seasoned pastor once shared his experience working with a seminary intern.

Several weeks after the intern arrived, the pastor went over the worship service the intern had just led. The pastor asked him what he noticed about the congregation. The intern responded with a list of demographics. He described the age, race and gender of the people sitting in the pew.

The pastor kept quizzing the intern, but he couldn’t get him to see beyond the demographics.

Finally, he gave up. Didn’t you notice the woman crying? She was sitting on the right near the window. This is the anniversary of her husband’s death.

Didn’t you notice the man sitting by himself near the back on the left side of the church. His wife and children were sitting a few pews away on the right. Did you notice how the children were turning toward him while the mother stared straight ahead? Couldn’t you feel the tension when you shared the body of Christ with them at the communion rail? You’ve been here long enough to know them. The parents have separated. The children are torn. The whole family is in pain.

This seasoned pastor saw the worship service as a drama. During the week, he would respond to pain he witnessed on Sunday morning. The intern saw the worship service as a performance. Now he could go home and rest.

This approach to worship isn’t limited to interns. Some pastors never reach beyond it.

People are attracted to church and faith because of emotion.

People go to church to make sense of things in their lives that are beyond their control. They know the difference between how they are supposed to feel and how they actually feel. They want someone to notice.

The church tries to attract them with facts. Knowledge of the Bible. Doctrine. An accounting of good deeds. Great programs.

But it is emotion that draws people into life together as Christians.

With emotion comes a certain amount of chaos and a great deal of discomfort. But that’s our job. If we try to avoid it by relegating problems to committees, etc. we are failing in mission. Our reason for existing is gone. We haven’t loved our neighbors. We haven’t reached out to the world.

Church members should never be treated as robots.

There is a tendency to relegate church members into robotic emotional behavior. It is Lent. You will be sorrowful and repent. It is Easter. You will be joyful. It is Christmas. You will feel warm and cozy.

Be prepared to table your individual feelings and join in the prescribed emotion of the day.

  • If you came feeling cheated.
  • If you came feeling used.
  • If you came feeling guilty.
  • If you came in anger.
  • If you came feeling unworthy.
  • If you came feeling desperate.
  • If you came in loss or grief.
  • If you came looking for courage.
  • If you came looking for justice.
  • If you wanted peace and comfort.
  • If you came with a need to shout for joy.
  • If you wanted to feel hope.

You might find it—if you hit the right Sunday and have leaders who actually can see the drama playing out in the sanctuaries.

Otherwise, join the crowd.

Maybe this is why people find other things to do on Sunday morning. 

Adult Object Lesson: Epiphany 4 (Luke 4:21-30)


paddleballJesus Goes Home

Today’s object is a paddle ball.

Hit the ball and point out that the ball returns to the paddle only to get a good swat.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to his home. He is among the people who knew him as a boy. He is Joseph’s and Mary’s boy. Jesus, the carpenter. Their children had played with him. The town was filled with his carpentry handiwork.

But the word about his recent activities has them curious. The crowds gather to take a look at the hometown boy. Jesus has been curing the sick!

We are familiar with the return of the local youth who has gone off to make a name in sports or show business.

Naturally, the town likes to claim a small piece of glory for having nurtured the star.

That’s what is happening in today’s gospel story. Jesus, the miracle worker, is home!

Nazareth gathers at the temple where Jesus has just revealed that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Things start out well enough. The people are astonished and proud.

Jesus himself poisons the crowd. He leads them on.

Jesus fails to play the expected role of humble hometown boy, acknowledging the support bestowed on him in his youth. In fact, he is anything but humble. He bypasses his local roots and claims the heritage of the prophets.

I suppose you think I’m going to save you just because I know you. Well, good neighbors, that’s not the way it is. Elijah fed only one widow. Elisha cured only one leper. Just because I can do miracles doesn’t mean I will do miracles.

Who does he think he is?

(Here you might borrow the imagery from the epistle lesson-1 Corinthians 13). Somebody grab a mirror and make him look at his face. Who do you see in the mirror? That’s right. You are Jesus OF NAZARETH. You are no different from any other Nazarene. Rein it in, Jesus. Remember your roots.

It’s hard to imagine how the hometown crowd turned so suddenly into a lynch mob, dragging the man they had watched grow up to the edge of a cliff, fully prepared to hurl him to his death.

As you tell the story you might demonstrate the mounting tension with the paddle, hitting the ball faster and harder each time the ball returns to its starting point.

Jesus has control of the situation start to finish. He knows that he is finished with his hometown. He knows what lies ahead. The edge of the cliff is no threat.

It is Epiphany, the season of revelation. That’s what this story is all about. Jesus has revealed to his closest neighbors that he is no longer—and never really was—of the world that reared him.

Make no mistake. He is meant for bigger things. Out of his way. He’s coming through.

Give the ball one last wild swat. 

photo credit: modenadude via photopin cc

Ambassadors Visit Trinity, Havertown — Again

Today two Ambassadors revisited Trinity, Havertown. One of the Ambassadors had missed the last visit and had a special interest in visiting. In 1949, he had completed his seminary internship training in this parish. He didn’t expect to find anyone who remembered him from 64 years ago, although they have one congregational pillar who is about 101 who might recall him.

We found little had changed since our first visit. They still have a great choir which was about one third of the congregation, which numbered about 45. We were impressed with their dedication to their youth during our last visit. Today they were having a fund-raising spaghetti dinner to fund a mission trip for their youth to South Dakota.

So that’s why there is a picture of buffalo on their website!

Their web site has been upgraded in the last year and they are venturing into social media. Since December they posted about five blog entries. They seem to be posting them on their neighborhood patch.com, which we recommended to congregations some time ago.

We know social media ministry is work because we have done it. Web sites become effective evangelism tools when you post as close to daily as possible. (2×2 now has about 150 readers each day with 2000 new visitors per month. We’ve been posting daily for about 18 months now.)

The Book of Nehemiah Tells Our Story

The Rev. Dr. Dolores Littleton is Trinity’s pastor. For her sermon, she retold the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. She did a faithful retelling, but we noted that she left out the intrigue, which is what makes the book of Nehemiah so interesting to us at Redeemer.

The people of Redeemer were (are) intent on rebuilding the church in our community after decades of neglect. You might think our denomination might support the work of its members but over the years our only meetings with SEPA were intent on wearing down the people of Redeemer, while SEPA carefully calculated how our failure might benefit them.

There is a chapter in Nehemiah where those in opposition to restoring the temple try to trick Nehemiah. Understand that 140 years had passed with no one lifting a finger to restore the temple. They hadn’t cared a fig that the temple lay in ruins.

Nehemiah shows up and sets out to do the impossible. He enlists the support of people who are willing to sacrifice to see ministry restored. Many of them have no Jewish roots! Only now do we find people, including religious leaders, interested in cleaning up after 140 years of neglect. They intend to take advantage once and for all. Failing that, they want to stop Nehemiah at any cost.

Frustrated that their early attempts to discredit the temple rebuilders are unsuccessful, they at last try to arrange meetings to “talk.” Nehemiah sees through the ruse and refuses to meet with them.

This is precisely SEPA’s strategy in trying to destroy the ministry in East Falls.

The story of Nehemiah is the story of Redeemer.

After years of neglect from SEPA leadership, Redeemer found our leaders standing on the sidewalk in front of Redeemer with Bishop Burkat as she implored us to just meet with her and all would be fine. Meanwhile, she had a lawyer and a locksmith waiting out of sight ready to pounce. The people of Redeemer, like Nehemiah, didn’t fall for the trick, which only enraged the bishop.

The ensuing five years has been little more than attempt of Bishop Burkat to save face and punish the people of Redeemer for making her attempts to take our property and cash assets more difficult than she projected.

The people who supported Redeemer’s rebuilding have been taken advantage of — just like Nehemiah’s workforce. Nehemiah put a stop to this, demanding that the people toiling and sacrificing for the temple be treated fairly. Sadly, there has been no such voice in SEPA Synod.

It is OK with the Lutherans of SEPA Synod if the people of Redeemer are left homeless (a real possibility, folks!) as SEPA claims all the congregation’s assets and pursues them in punitive court cases, which they undertake as they plead immunity from the law for themselves.

Like the Book of Nehemiah, the opposition has no real plan for Redeemer’s property now unused for worship or any other good purpose for nearly four years. They simply don’t want someone else to succeed where they never bothered to try.

We only hope that the story of Redeemer ends with ministry restored and the people revalidated— just as the book of Nehemiah ends.

The hard-hearted SEPA Synod shows no sign of returning to the word of God. There is no passion and voice to defend the workers.

Here’s the difference between Nehemiah and SEPA leadership. Much of the Book of Nehemiah is a list of names that would otherwise be forgotten today. This difference is probably the reason most people don’t read this book very thoroughly.

Nehemiah valued the people. He carefully recorded the names of the workers who risked their lives to complete the restoration of the temple. Their ancestry and affiliations are recorded for all time. Nehemiah cared about the people and their relationship with God. They were worth his attention, his work, and if necessary, the sacrifice of his life. He did all he could to protect them as they served the Lord.

The value of Nehemiah is in its detail. A lowly servant in the court of a foreign king had the wherewithal to restore Jerusalem.

The Book of Nehemiah — all of it — it should be required reading for Lutherans!

No More Mister Nice Guy

A friend wrote a note of encouragement this week to Redeemer, a congregation that continues to be abused by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (SEPA / ELCA).

He wrote that our situation reminds him of a song by Alice Cooper of the 70s. He quoted a song:

“I went to church, incognito, when everybody rose. The Reverend Smith, he … he recognized me, and punched me in the nose. I said, ‘No more Mr. Nice Guy.'”

That doesn’t begin to describe how the Lutherans of East Falls feel about the way their denomination has treated them. But it’s as close as anyone in the church has tried to get.

The Asset-based Church Is the Church of the Future

In our previous post we talked about the demise of the offering-based church. We wonder if it was ever a good idea!

The church will never be able to do more than patch the ills of society if it relies on the offerings of the needy to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for the parish.

Programs and outreach will then be created to benefit the affluent with a nod to the needs of the poor. Rich kids will travel to poor areas for a short-term mission project and then return to their comfortable lives.

The poor? We address their needs once or twice a year at holiday time.

Consequently, the model of the church relies on a caste system. We, the givers, serve the unfortunate takers. The takers are excluded from full participation in church because they cannot contribute.

Today’s difficult times have pushed this faulty model to the limits.

Without substantial gifts, the local ministry cannot provide outreach even within its own community.

The problem trickles up. The local ministries cannot sustain the regional bodies and the regional bodies cannot sustain the national church.

There is a stick in the spokes of this treadmill.

The offering-based church may survive, but it is unlikely to thrive or grow. Church statistics support this conclusion.

A new model must be found.

Local congregations must assess their ministries as if offerings do not exist.

They must begin to operate their outreach endeavors in a way that will sustain them in increasing mission and fund future initiatives.

Property assets are first. How can property be used in a way that the costs of maintaining the property will be covered through use.

This has led many churches to operate day schools. Good start.

Second are the talents of the people. Congregations can probably get far more value from their memberships by utilizing the vast range of lay skills and knowledge beyond the offering plate.

Most churches attempt to involve lay people in approved roles — lectors, choir members, Sunday School teachers, etc. They rarely consider if those willing to volunteer are really any good at these skills. Their most valuable gifts may be in areas the Church has never considered allowing lay people to influence.

Redeemer found among its new members a professional architect, property manager and mortgage broker.  The three got together and began to donate their expertise to form a ministry that would help our growing immigrant population identify and purchase first homes. Their efforts would guide immigrants through the purchase of a starter home. The projected annual income from their volunteer services would have created a recurring income of about $10,000 per month. (An entire annual offering plate income.)

Two other Redeemer members had worked in child care for several years and worked to earn a day care license. Redeemer was helping them start a daycare on Redeemer’s property that would have created an immediate benefit to the congregation of $3000 per month, growing to upwards of $6000 per month.

Another member was interested in social media.

Since the Synod decided (against church law) that they should control Redeemer’s property, all the plans of Redeemer were scuttled and resulted in a five-year legal battle. The only project to survive Synod’s interference was the social media project.

As this project begins its third year, it is poised to begin creating a significant return on the two years invested.

In each case, Redeemer was working with its own resources to forge new ministry. There was no support from the regional or national church.

Our resources/Our ministry.

The regional church (in our case the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or SEPA / ELCA) promotes such initiatives and encourages congregations to do new things.

Then it destroys innovation to meet its immediate needs.

If small congregations are to ever again thrive, the vision of small churches like Redeemer should be encouraged and fostered. Innovation has a price. Without it every congregation will face slow demise.


The Death of the Offering-based Church

The church has always relied on offerings from followers for survival. That reliance has meant different things in different ages. In Jesus’ time we know that there were followers, many of them women, bank-rolling the disciples and later the apostles.

As the Early Christian Church grew, the contributions became expected. Failure to contribute whole-heartedly was even a death sentence in one Bible passage.

As the church grew across different cultures, contributions took on different forms. Some contributed by going off to war to fight the infidels. (If successful, they might be rewarded with land and title!) Farmers and tradesmen contributed to feeding the large number of clergy and maintaining property. (If successful, their standing in the community would grow.) Artisans donated their talents. (If successful, they might find a patron and their art would preserve their names forever.) 

Monetary tithes were never enough to keep church leaders comfortable and hence by the fifteenth and sixteenth century, church leaders had instituted a turnkey financial model. Pay to play or pay to pray. Indulgences. That incensed one young monk and the Reformation was on!

This was happening at about the same time as a bountiful mass of new land was discovered across the ocean. For the first time, there was someplace to go to escape the oppression of the church. Protestants began leaving in droves. Fresh start.

For years, many American churches copied the same model and congregations contributed their skills and work product to the maintenance of a parsonage and clergy. Monetary offerings were only part of the typical church budget.

Today’s clergy often laugh at these days, although there are few alive who actually remember them! They seem to forget that the contributions were made with love and sacrifice. A chicken given to the pastor was a chicken not available to feed the family.

In the most recent decades, clergy have been less likely to accept parsonage-based or non-monetary pay. Small congregations which thrived on non-monetary model through economically lean times were fairly suddenly priced out of existence. We are still experiencing the fallout from this shift in economic model of the modern church.

This doesn’t mean that things cannot change again.

2×2 believes that any church that relies solely on monetary offerings is scheduling failure. It may not happen for ten or twenty years but the path is fairly certain.

We have studied the statistics of congregations in our own denomination and regional body. Failure is the norm. It is almost universal. Large churches are in decline. Medium-sized churches are in decline. Small churches are the first to feel the pain. The others will follow. Survival is so tenuous that it outranks mission in budget priorities.

Redeemer—the congregation Bishop Burkat decided to close to make up for declining contributions to the regional body—was one of the very few congregations with positive numbers. The numbers presented to the Synod Assembly in 2008 and 2009 were fudged. And no one questioned them. No one.

In our next post, we will tell you how Redeemer had positioned itself to meet the economic challenges of this new ecclesiastic age.

Adult Object Lesson: Epiphany 3 (Luke 4:14-21)




Luke 4:14-21

Being Part of Something Bigger 

Stand before your people with your hand on a Bible.

Today’s message corresponds with the political activity of this week.

We inaugurated Barack Obama for the second time.

The oath of office was recited, hands on not one Bible but two, linking this moment, this time with what has come before. Martin Luther King Jr. used one of the Bibles. Abraham Lincoln the other. The lives and vision of these two men shaped our present reality. The next four years may shape a new reality for our nation, the effects of which we will not know, perhaps, for another generation.

What comes next?

The speech. President Obama proceeded to tell the world how he intended to live up to his oath, honor the legacy of the office and his campaign promises.

Jesus is doing the same thing. He has returned to his hometown. He attends his home temple. He reads familiar words and then he puts himself inside those words.

Compare the good things Jesus intends to do as fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy with the types of promises leaders make today.