June 2013

Ambassadors Visit Holy Spirit, Secane


Holy Spirit is Breathing New Life in Secane

Redeemer’s Ambassadors are used to seeing decline in our visits. Sometimes despair is in the air. Sometimes it is veiled behind ceremony.

This morning’s visit to Holy Spirit, Secane, promised to be the same from our quick look at statistics, which showed fairly steady attendance, a drop in membership but a significant rise in worship attendance.

We’ve seen good statistics in the Trend reports that weren’t evidenced in our visits before —most notably one congregation that reported an average of 400 at worship but had fewer than 30 in attendance at an 11 am service.

The statistics show a gain of about 90 new members since 2005 and appear to be continuing. Diversity begins to show in the statistics five years ago.

This morning our expectations were refreshed.

We encountered a special Sunday at Holy Spirit. Every time there are five Sundays in a month, the fifth Sunday is celebrated with worship at the breakfast table. We saw people entering the church through the social hall, so we followed.

We entered a crowded fellowship hall with a table set up and very few empty seats. We managed to find four seats together. As we made our way to them, one of the kitchen crew shouted for the congregation to save the seats for us. There were probably about 90 present.

The people sitting across the table immediately introduced themselves. We had just a few minutes to chat before the service started but we immediately sensed that these older members were proud and excited to share their story. After the service, a few others approached us and introduced themselves. They have mastered the art of hospitality. It is amazing how many congregations we enter and leave without making eye contact!

A glance around the hall showed a group of diverse age. A good number of older folks but a healthy and growing number of younger adults and younger children. Youth attendance was weak, but that could change in just a few years. One boy led the reading of the psalm and couldn’t have done a better job.

A young man joined the church during the service and two children were baptized. We remembered our diverse congregation when one African or African American member began to accompany hymns with a tambourine. Our own East African members often got intricate rhythms going to the old gospel hymns. These members seemed to be very much part of the congregation. We will not soon forget how SEPA determined that our African members didn’t count, falsely reporting our statistics to the Synod Assembly, excluding our African membership, many of whom had been members for years. 

Our breakfast friends told us that their numbers had doubled since their current pastor, Rev. Cheryl Hensil, came to them eight years before. This was her first call as a second career pastor.

One of the women near us shared proudly that she had joined just two months earlier and three joined today—so things are still improving in 2013.

One of our new friends shared that things had been really down. The pain of those days could still be heard in her voice. I asked, “What do you think has made the difference?”

“The pastor,” she said. “She is one of us, she has a caring way about her and she works beside us. It isn’t ‘I’m the pastor, you do the work.’ She rolls up her sleeves.” She went on to share some examples.

The service was loud. Social halls are not designed for acoustics. But the energy was undeniable. Two warhorse hymns opened the service. After the confession, greeting and prayer of the day, breakfast was served. A team quickly served homemade muffins and fruit salad. After about 15 minutes, worship continued.

Immediately following the baptism, a celebratory cake was served.

One of our Ambassadors commented, “This is a happy church.”

“Yes,” a member commented. “We don’t have much money, but we have fun.”

I looked again at their Trend statistics when we returned. Eight years ago they looked to be in poorer shape than Redeemer. We had fewer members but were growing quickly. Our assets were greater. (Which is probably why we were targeted.)

We had already experienced significant growth with 49 new members in one year. Visitors were common and our African members were excited to belong to our congregation and were very invitational.

The difference is that SEPA took the “time to die” approach in East Falls. The pastors sent to us were not serving in a way that would build a church community. They were so blinded by their “time to die” prejudice that all our new members counted for nothing. “White Redeemer (mostly older people) must be allowed to die. Black Redeemer . . . we can put them anywhere.” (Why aren’t SEPA congregations outraged by this?)

Holy Spirit is proof of the folly of that thinking. The older people sitting with us were energized by the new life created by the work of their pastor and leaders. They were the best cheerleaders. They are proud of their faith community.

The elderly in a congregation have a right to see all their years of dedication rewarded with professional help that will build on their legacy. If they no longer have the ability to minister, it is imperative that their resources be used to provide the necessary skills — not allocated for do-nothing, caretaker ministers who are there to accept a paycheck until the resources run out.

Fortunately, for the Lutherans in Secane, they found the help they needed.

We are so glad they were not treated the way we were.

The Reach of A Neighborhood Church

A beautiful thing happened in East Falls yesterday that meant so much to us at Redeemer.

I told the Ambassadors about this on our way to visit our 65th church this morning. They, too, were moved. (I’ll write about our very interesting Ambassador’s visit later.)

What happened yesterday points to the impact of a neighborhood church that reaches beyond church statistics.

For several years, about ten years ago, Redeemer held two-week music camps in the summer. Most of the children who attended were not Redeemer members. We usually worked on a cantata for the holiday season or just taught choral music.

This week one of the girls who attended our music camp graduated from high school. Her family is very active in another East Falls church but they crossed Midvale to take part in events at Redeemer. This led to the whole family attending Lutheran Church Camp, which led to music from Lutheran Church Camp being introduced in Roman Catholic Schools. There is a cross-cultural nature to religious life in East Falls.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen much of the family for years, while we fought this shameful church battle.

Nevertheless, the family remembered the role Redeemer had played in their child’s upbringing. I was invited to attend the graduation party.

Redeemer had many such programs going on. We hosted the East Falls Children’s choir, had six-week summer day camp and had an ongoing legacy and reputation for quality child care. Many adults in East Falls can remember attending Redeemer’s programs, which have established significant good will in the community.

Much of this has been squandered by SEPA’s greedy interference. As they coveted our assets, they needed to paint a picture of a failing and desperate church. The Bible calls it “bearing false witness.”

It was heart-warming that years after SEPA locked our doors, some people in the neighborhood remember their roots in Redeemer.

Bishop Burkat’s forecast was that the memory of Redeemer would be gone in six months.

That’s not all she has been wrong about!

The reach of a neighborhood church is well beyond statistics. For that reach to begin to show statistically, there must be consistency and follow-up—impossible when you take a caretaker approach to ministry and/or bring conflict to a congregation every few years.

Open the church doors in East Falls. Return the land to East Falls Lutherans and let ministry happen in this neighborhood again—the Lutheran way.

Because We Like to Share the Uplifting

A 2×2 member sent this link today.

This is an uncanningly uplifting video. Let it inspire you.


10 Characteristics of A Successful Ministry

Advice from the Marketing World

Some advice from a marketing class was posted on marketing email list that I follow.

A successful entrepreneur who had built and sold four businesses before retiring and starting a fifth business shared her self-taught business management philosophy. She has some interesting advice which with a little editing can apply to church builders and evangelists.

We are reprinting her business advice with the Church in mind. We’ve noted language changes or additions in red.

Read these to your church council  or board to start a discussion on mission strategy.

  1. We ALWAYS put our members’ and community’s needs before our own. NOTE: The Church tends to put the needs of hierarchy and clergy first.
  2. We are not driven by money, but by serving people and doing what we love. (We know that the money will come as a result of that.) NOTE: The Church grew the fastest at times when money was less an objective. Things always go awry when assets become central to ministry—from turf wars of the Middle Ages to indulgences in the Reformation era to the plague of denominational land grabs today. 
  3. We take care of the people who take care of us: members and nonmembers alike. 
  4. We set boundaries of mutual respect, and use negativity as a tool for change, and nothing else. NOTE: This comment interests 2×2. Those who don’t like what we write about call us “rogues” and “cohorts,” citing negativity. Many others say or write to us that they always find our comments to be uplifting. We intend our criticism to lead to much-needed change and work and continue to minister with joy—loyal to, but excluded from the denomination most of us have been part of all our lives.
  5. We don’t waste time trying to turn our weaknesses into strengths, but instead, surround ourselves with people whose strengths are our weaknesses. NOTE: This is a challenge to the Church. We intend to attract leaders with all the same skills at a time when new skills are very much needed. We’ll keep paying preachers and organists until the money runs out, when today’s church needs teachers, evangelists/communicators and entrepreneurs.
  6. We don’t know what “failure” is because we inherently see it as a lesson learned. NOTE: The Church understands failure as an opportunity to confiscate assets. 
  7. We look for guidance and learn from the people who are where we want to be because they’ve done what we have to do. (As opposed to those who are there because it was ‘given’ to them.) NOTE: The Church looks at the success of newer denominations as flukes, unworthy of emulation. We know best. Other church leaders should copy our failure!
  8. We know the difference between re-inventing the wheel and trying something new. NOTE: The accepted parameters for innovation within the established Church are very narrow. The Church cries for change but won’t allow it if it requires a change in hierarchical thinking.
  9. One of our greatest strengths is being able to adapt and “turn around on a dime.” NOTE: A dime in Church time is about 150 years. 
  10. And most important, we never stop. We are ALWAYS listening, learning, looking around and planning ahead.  

Oh – and here’s a bonus one – We always blame ourselves first.  

NOTE: In the Church — that will be the day!


Worship in the Modern World

Serving a New and Talented World

I’ve had the opportunity to attend many youth concerts in the last few years. I’ve noticed a remarkable difference from my school experiences.

Today’s young people have the ability to excel in skills beyond what was possible for all but the most motivated among those of us who were schooled 40-50 years ago.

They have constant exposure to the professional talent. We had the Mickey Mouse Club and the Ed Sullivan Show.

They have teaching tools that were unavailable to us as we learned to play our instruments. Online teachers are plentiful. There is a device that can play recorded music slowly without changing the pitch. How I remember replacing the needle on the high-fi, guessing that it was falling at the phrase I wanted to learn and trying to keep up with the pros as I practiced!

Suffice to say . . . the coming generations are better at many skills at an earlier age than we dreamed of being. The contestant age requirement on some TV singing competitions has dropped to 12. Twelve! The 12-year-olds are holding their own. The quality is there. Sometimes their lack of maturity causes them to falter, but several have made it through to the final rounds. The recent winner of The Voice is just 16.

Most of our talented young community members are not in church.

Could our style of worship be influencing apathy?

As much as we like to think of the worship experience as corporate and engaging, it really isn’t — not when measured against the potential.

Those who grew up in the church and have an understanding of what is going on in a worship service may take comfort in knowing the rationale behind the various sections of the liturgy and understand how it intends to engage them.

But these are fewer and fewer. As a result, worship becomes more and more passive. We exist in a world where our ability to express ourselves is exploding with potential.  Yet in worship we are asked to behave as spectators. Today’s spectators have higher expectations!

For the last three years, Redeemer worshipers have been forced into a spectator role, denied access to our own sanctuary. In our own worship, we would all be involved. But that happens only on the first Sundays of the month now. Nevertheless, we take seriously our role as spectators, participating in the limited ways allowed as guests in worship.

We notice that the worshiping body is more and more passive. The larger the congregation, the more passive. Some even pay select choir members!

Congregations often seem to be content to be overpowered by an organ. The roles of worshipers are orchestrated. One will read scripture. Another will take the offering. Tradition.

Spontaneous expression is almost non-existent with the occasional exception of prayer— notably in the churches with more of an African or African-American membership.

In 65 visits, we have seen no dance (common in Redeemer worship). Choirs are fairly rare.

There was always something interesting and spontaneous happening in Redeemer’s worship. A nod from a worship leader was enough to let a worshiper know that they would be leading the next part of worship.

It was not unusual for a member to climb the sanctuary stairs on Sunday morning and say, “I’d like to sing a solo this morning.”

Sometimes it was embarrassing, but human. One week, (has to be six years ago) someone stepped forward to sing a solo as prelude. Her choice ended up to be the opening hymn. What are the odds of that! So she sang. And then we sang. It was memorable. The hymn was “We Have Come Into His House.” Do you remember what the opening hymn was in your worship last week?

As an observer, I wonder if the structure of the worship service might need an overhaul to allow for the growing talents and expectations of our community members. We inherited our worship from a time when one or two educated members of the community led mostly illiterate worshipers. The abilities and skill levels of the modern worshiper make us much less likely to be content as spectators. The modern worshiper may not understand that when they are asked to stand, sit or read the words that are printed in the bulletin in boldface — well, that’s involvement!

We have a tendency to substitute ritual and call it engagement. Are we really engaged when we all file to front of the church and hold hands out for communion?

There is a huge challenge in wondering about all this. We are not expected to ask such questions.

2×2 Welcomes A New Ministry

2×2 has pen pals in many corners of the world. The leaders—and sometimes the church members—email us stories from their ministries regularly — at least once a week.

  • We know about the house church in the Arctic Circle in Sweden.
  • We are trying to encourage Pakistan’s goal of 1000 new house churches this year and their quest for Bibles.
  • We’ve cheered a husband and wife in western Kenya who care for orphans.

Our mission efforts are very hands on. And we do this work with a zero budget.

We share these ministries under our Friends in Ministry menu tab. Today we add a fifth Kenyan ministry to our fellowship. There are three in Nairobi and two near Kisii.

Welcome Shalom Evangelistic Gathering!

We continue to be amazed that these fellowships — all of whom met on 2×2 — continue to influence one another in very tangible ways.

Recently, the Fellowship in Pakistan sent a representative to meet one of the churches in Kenya. That church leader traveled with him to meet another church in the 2×2 fellowship in the western part of Kenya.

This month, a church leader in Nigeria wrote telling us of his plans to travel to Kenya. He asked for a contact there. With permission, we put him touch with a leader of a church in Kenya. They reported last week that the visit went very well.

2×2 seems to be well-named. We are spreading a network of Christian fellowship we didn’t envision when we started our website. We simply had an idea that we could have both a local and global ministry.

There is more news afoot in our international ministry. Check back in a week or two!

You are welcome to join our fellowship.

The ELCA Call Process Strikes Again

God’s Call vs A Congregational Call

The call process in the Lutheran Church is a bit of a mystery. It operates on two levels.

There is the call to vocation, which comes from God. Preachers love to tell the story of how they thought their lives were headed in one direction and suddenly God grabbed them by the elbow and pointed them toward the Church. This type of call is documented in the Bible—Noah, Moses, Saul, David, Jonah, Job, Mary and all those disciples and the succession of apostles.

Then there is the congregational call. This call is issued by congregations or perhaps extensions of the Church (hierarchy, seminaries, camps and social service agencies).

Sometimes we get the two confused. The process makes it seem like every congregational call is akin to a biblical call, with God pulling the strings.

The ELCA call process is often more convoluted—and weighted toward the interests of clergy and synods.

Biblical calls were usually undesirable, risky, downright dangerous. Today’s congregational calls come with mandated salaries, benefits and perks.

There are two types of constitutional calls.

Term calls end when the designated time is up. (Bishops have term calls.)

Regularized calls, now being called “settled” calls, have no time limitation. The pastor can leave with 30 days notice or the congregation can rally a two-thirds vote to make a change. If things go well, no problem. If things are not going well, conflict is likely to result.

Redeemer’s Experience with the Call Process

At Redeemer we had some interesting and sometimes dramatic experiences with the call process. We went along with it for years. There came a point when we realized that our partner in the call process — the synod — was less than forthright. The candidates being presented to us were needy. They were being sent in our direction to satisfy their problems not to serve. They needed the income. Their roster credentials were expiring. They had serious problems in previous churches. They wanted their families to be disrupted as little as possible. They were seeking a secure and comfortable life.

We had yet to read the published theories about “caretaker ministries.” Caretaker ministries are ministries of intentional neglect. Pastors are expected to do nothing but keep people happy while the congregation dies. Ten years of neglect is expected to result in a successful caretaker ministry and closed church. (Why aren’t ELCA congregations outraged by this?)

Lay leaders aren’t let in on this secret. Lay leaders think they have called a pastor who will make a difference. They keep trying, spending resources on the required pastor, but doing the work alone.

Of course, the result is strife. Guess who is to blame!

In 1997, Redeemer issued an 18-month term call to a synod staff member. Bishop Almquist pulled the pastor out after three months. He needed his service in the suburbs. No other solution to filling the pulpit was offered for the following year. Was this an escalation of the intentional neglect of a caretaker minister? (A year later Bishop Almquist seized a big chunk of our endowment money. He sent that pastor to our bank!)

Within three years we went from the same Bishop pulling a “called” pastor out to attempting to force an “uncalled pastor” in.

In 2000, we were asked to regularize the call of a pastor who had been serving a one-year term. The congregation council did not recommend renewing the call under the conditions the synod presented — which reduced service from 12 hours a week to 10 hours a week. Congregational leaders felt responsible for more ministry—not less. We were willing to renew the term call, while we sought a better solution. (This was before the interim concept had taken hold.) The reduction was the pastor’s idea — not ours. (Ten hours a week happens to be the minimum required to maintain a pastor’s roster status. Rostered status maintains things like pensions and credentials.)

The goal of synod leadership was to make this weak relationship permanent—even though there is no constitutional requirement to do so. The interests of the synod and the pastor trumped the interests of the congregation.

Bishop Almquist asked Redeemer’s council to vote again. The second vote failed, too. Bishop Almquist insisted that the call question be presented to the congregation. He was hoping that the congregation would vote against their leadership. Yep, he was orchestrating dividing the congregation! The congregational vote—the third vote on this call—failed, too.

Bishop Almquist refused to work with Redeemer in presenting any other candidates.

The mysterious call process shrouds a basic fact.

Synods exist in large part to keep pastors employed. Since clergy talk with each other more than with congregations, congregations are always at a disadvantage.

Once those settled calls are finalized, change is almost impossible without conflict. That’s OK. It creates a job market for interim pastors—one of the few areas of ministry that seems to be growing. All the perks of rostered clergy with minimal commitment.

The Call Process in Action

Recently, we encountered the call process again. Our Ambassadors attended a service that featured a trial sermon followed by a congregational vote on a candidate’s call.

A congregation’s future was resting on what would take place during this hour. Congregational representatives had already spent some time with the candidate. There had been a congregational “meet and greet.”  

The trial sermon should be a critical part of a job interview — an opportunity to display leadership and vision.

The service began with the pastoral candidate apologizing for being late. Logistics. The apology continued. There had been no time to study the order for worship. Please bear with the circumstances.

In the secular world, this might be considered getting off on the wrong foot.

The congregation graciously gave the candidate the necessary direction. On with the liturgy.

Things went fairly well.

Time for the sermon—the all important trial sermon. Surely, the candidate had slaved in preparation. The candidate would want to demonstrate a grasp of theology and how it might influence leadership and the direction of the congregation. The candidate would want to build on conversations with church leaders and inspire the congregation who would be voting in just minutes.

The candidate began the sermon by asking the congregation to identify the liturgical color for Pentecost. The congregation called out correctly, ”Red!” No, the candidate said, pointing to the paraments. It is green to symbolize growth.

Green is the color for the Sundays AFTER Pentecost—Ordinary Time. Incomplete information was preached.

The lesson for the day was the gospel story of the widow of Nain at the funeral of her only son. The candidate addressed the Gospel story briefly, mentioning how “neat” it was that Jesus only touched the funeral bier to bring the young man back to life. The candidate defined bier for those of us with limited vocabulary.

The candidate rambled from that point on, talking about personal struggles. Jesus had lifted the candidate from a troubled past, just as he raised the widow’s son. The rest of the sermon was all about her life.

The candidate’s family was introduced. A recently deceased family member who had been prominent in the church was mentioned. His presence was felt.

Things had better go well!

The vote seemed to be a formality. It would be cruel to parade the children before the congregation if there were any chance a vote might not succeed. 

Asking a congregation to vote on such a flimsy foundation would be considered preposterous in any other organizational venue. But not in the Church. In the Church it is par for the course to limit information given to congregations. Bishop Almquist had even refused to provide a candidate’s name prior to meeting the congregation. The less the congregation knows the better.

Likability seems to be the major credential in creating “settled” pastorates—not theology, not preaching, not leadership skills or a successful mission record.

We left at the end of worship. We don’t know what questions were raised in the voting process.

According to the congregation’s website. the congregation voted to approve this “settled” call.

The congregation voted for a candidate who arrived late and unprepared, who displayed minimal theological insight, who talked down to the congregation, presented misleading information, spoke in great detail of a deeply troubled past, showed no grasp of the congregation’s immediate challenges and shared no vision for their future together.

They have their settled pastor.

Under the same circumstances, a secular organization would keep looking. 

There is a reason congregations accept candidates with ease. There is the tendancy to want to be friendly—and if a congregation does not cooperate, the congregation is labeled as troubled and the pool of candidates dries up. In other words, we have little choice.

If status quo is maintained for the next few years, the call will be celebrated as successful.

If the congregation declines, the quality of professional leadership will not be cited.

The call process in the ELCA needs a serious overhaul. The interests of the congregation need to come first—way before the comfort and convenience of candidates. This does not require a constitutional change. Rather, it requires a change in attitude among professional leaders.

There needs to be professional accountability. There needs to be a service mindset—not an entitlement mindset.

It should start with a more realistic call process.

Read Undercover Bishop—a parable written from our Ambassadors’ experience visiting 65 churches in two years.

One More Example of the Redeemer Call Process

Redeemer went for years without a called pastor. Bishop Almquist did not work with our congregation at all for most of his second term. During this time Redeemer formed strong relationships with many pastors.

We worked with two qualified Lutheran pastors who were both well liked and were demonstrating their ability to work with the current church members and to grow the congregation. Fifty-one members joined while we worked with both pastors. We wanted to call one and struggled to determine which to call. At last one became unavailable which made our decision for us. We thought that a new bishop might not have the prejudices of the previous bishop. A fresh start! We brought a resolution to Bishop Burkat requesting a call. All the details of the call had been worked out and agreed upon and the pastor was willing to commit five years. All we needed to move Redeemer forward in a strong way was Bishop Burkat’s approval of the call.

The bishop’s office met privately with the candidate and we never saw him again. A few weeks later, there having been no conversation with our congregation, we received the letter that we were closed. Two months after that we received the letter revealing that SEPA Synod, even at that time, was already trying to sell our property—property that did not belong to them and which the Synod’s Articles of Incorporation expressly forbid them from conveying without the consent of the congregation.

Can the Church Afford to Give Anything Away?

What’s Keeping Us from Telling Our Story?

offeringI updated all the blogs I manage today. It was a simple click. Done.

When the installation was over a screen appeared detailing the benefits and features of the update.

There were three tabs at the top of the page: What’s New, Credits, and Freedoms.

I had already read What’s New. The Credits don’t interest me (although I’m grateful). I had to explore Freedoms.

The Freedoms tab explained the WordPress philosophy. The software is free. Anyone is free to modify and improve. In fact, they hope we do!

Several new business models revolve around the concept of “free.” Social Media is one of them. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. — all free to users. In the early days of this model, business people weren’t sure what to make of it.

Then FREE started to make billions. People chose to embrace the power of FREE.

Wikipedia has become an amazingly thorough and accurate encyclopedia with almost instantaneous updating. You hear on the news that a celebrity died. Check Wikipedia—it’s likely to already reflect the news.

Wikipedia opened its pages to contributors and editors — anyone. They rely on the idea that people want to share, appreciate accuracy and detail, and will correct what they discover is wrong.

You can find information on the most obscure subjects on Wikipedia. (We may start a Wikipedia page!) The editorial barriers that existed in a world of space limitations are gone.

What can the Church learn from this?

The Church is scared silly of FREE. They are protective of what they have. They want to give nothing away.

Control of assets is more important than use of assets.

That’s what is keeping the congregations from using Social Media.

Social Media costs practically nothing monetarily. The investment in Social Media is an investment of time and talent. It involves giving your message away.

Most churches have already dedicated a healthy third of their resources to proclamation. They hire a pastor to collate, interpret, teach and preach. Unfortunately most churches are investing that money on reaching very few people.

There is another way. With Social Media you can take the same message, already paid for, and reach millions.

But congregations, accustomed to old business models, ask, “What’s in it for us?”

Someone will be quick to say, “Let’s add a Donate button.”

This approach to Social Media is backward. Social Media works on the giveaway business model.

There may be a time and place for that Donate button, but first you have to establish voice and prove your dedication to your message and your readers.

But Church leaders are not leading the way. They’ve forgotten their roots! Our message should be free!

If there is any office of the hierarchy that should be subsidized, it is the church’s “house organ”—the voice of the denomination designed to reach every member. And potentially more.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has a magazine, The Lutheran. It is subscription-based. That barrier limits its effectiveness from the start.

The physical magazine works the old way. Readers get their magazine in the mail. They can read and participate by writing letters to the editor. Few will get printed. No room. The editors will choose who can comment.

There are no space limitations online. So why do we set up the same barriers as if there were?

The Lutheran online teases readers and expects them to pay to read and comment. They may be able to measure how that is working for them. What they can’t measure is how it might work better for them in the long run to eliminate that barrier.

Church house organs should be free. (Advertisers should be demanding this!). You want people to know your story. You want to engage the Lutheran community and build that community. There should be no fear of the dialog that results. It should be refreshing. People like to know they have a voice. They expect it today.

The same is true at the denominational and congregational levels. Their online presence should be delivering valuable information to the region and community. The news and features should be outreach-oriented—not all about how great the regional office or congregation is. The proof of the pudding is in the reading—and serving.

There is practically no effort at these levels to embrace the media tools available.

It’s all because we still focus on the offering plate and the structure that dwindling offerings must support.

The Church today exists in a world where people expect something for free. It helps differentiate those dedicated to service from those dedicated to self-interest and self-preservation. When people see you walking your talk — then they want to be part of the mission. When they are sure of their investment, they are more likely to become supporters of mission.

By the way, the giveaway model was how the Church got its start and spread all over the world within a few centuries. Imagine what we could be doing today with a simple return to our roots.

photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) via photopin cc

Adult Object Lesson: Galatians 5: 1, 13-25

action figureThis Is A Job for Superman

This Sunday’s lectionary addresses the cost of discipleship. Both the Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21) and the Gospel (Luke 9:51-62) talk about exactly what is expected of a follower of Christ. Weave these expectations into your discussion of Galatians.

Today’s object is a superhero action figure. Use your favorite: Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Wonder Woman . . . whatever.

All superheroes have a mission. They fight evil. Galatians gives us a good list for any writer of action stories to reference.

  • fornication
  • impurity
  • licentiousness
  • idolatry
  • sorcery
  • enmities
  • strife
  • jealousy
  • anger
  • quarrels
  • dissensions
  • factions
  • envy
  • drunkenness
  • carousing, and things like these.

Each action hero has certain strengths and weaknesses. Knowing them is part of the fun in following the story. Will Superman finally be overcome by kryptonite? Will his bullet proof outfit save him? Will he remember to use his X-ray vision?

Talk about your superheroes’ special qualities.

Ask your congregation to create a superhero to fight the list of evils presented in Galatians. What special powers would their hero have? What weaknesses might hinder him or her in conquering evil?

This should lead to an interesting discussion. Have fun with it.

In the end, refer your congregation to the qualities that Paul lists as antidotes for evil.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • generosity
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • and self-control.

How many of these qualities did you give your superhero? Are these qualities enough to get the job done?

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

Church Shoppers: What Are They Looking For?

Why Would Someone Join Your Church?

It might help to actually ask ourselves this question. If people are seeking a faith community (and fewer people are) why would they choose your church?

Most churches are remarkably the same—at least at first glance. I write this with some authority, having visited 65 in the last two years. Congregational culture doesn’t seem to vary much.

  • Most churches think they are friendly.  
  • Most pastors think their message is worth listening to.  
  • Many pastors assume they are approachable.
  • Most churches aspire to excellent music. Some have capable and flamboyant organists. Others have just as capable lay ensembles leading worship.
  • Fewer churches offer educational offerings.
  • Fewer churches have youth or children. (This should be alarming to regional bodies!)
  • Service offerings are generally cookie cutter. A few embrace a cause.
    One congregation we visited had several service opportunities all centering on cancer. Will prospective members feel this must be their cause, too?
    Some have embraced sexual orientation causes. Will visitors feel that joining these congregations is making a statement on these issues?
    Many participate in Habitat for Humanity or popular Walkathons.
  • There seems to be less association with denominational service organizations. This was unintentionally encouraged when Lutheran social service agencies started currying favor for public dollars.
  • Many Lutheran churches we visited are just getting by with little sense that there is a future. 

What do visitors see when they walk through your doors? Is there a reason for them to return?

How we see ourselves matters. How others see us may matter more. Most people visiting a church are asking questions like these.

  • Will I feel welcome?
  • Will my whole family feel welcome?
  • Will my membership make a difference in my life?
  • Will I be able to participate with all my heart and soul and mind?

Our assumptions about why people choose to join a church can be very wrong.

Back in 1998, a Tanzanian family began attending Redeemer and asked to join. Bishop Almquist was interested in closing Redeemer. They had already seized a good bit of our money. We were discouraged from accepting new members. A synod representative actually visited this family and asked a rather presumptuous question. “Why would you want to join that church? Wouldn’t you be happier in a church with more people like you?”

That family made their own choice to join Redeemer and became the backbone of a new ministry. A decade later SEPA Synod, stuck in their prejudicial past, decided that the nearly 60 members with East African roots who had joined Redeemer since 1998 didn’t count. They claimed this mission outreach had been done without their oversight—although there is no requirement to check with SEPA before accepting new members. Why was a racial distinction made in a Church that claims to be EVANGELICAL?

In this scenario church leaders made an assumption. They assumed what might be best for Redeemer. Their vision for us was not our vision. We were judged on their assumptions.

Assumptions in today’s church beg to be challenged. Assumptions lead to status quo. The status quo in today’s church is decline.

Question everything. Explore.

If you want your congregation to stand out in some way, it would be helpful to know what other congregations in your region are doing.

Here’s a reality—

  • Few pastors ever hear other pastors preach.
  • Few choirs hear other choirs.
  • Most active church members have no time to visit other churches.
  • Most churches buy into the same curricula and purchase the same hymnals.

And so most muddle along, assuming they are doing a great job—living in their own bubble. They wonder why more people don’t become involved. They don’t really have a way to measure. The statistics they are able t0 gather reflect failure.

Here’s a suggestion.

Visit other churches. Send two or three members once a month to visit and report on what they learn. Visit churches in your own denomination. Cross denominations.

  • You may discover a need you can fill.
  • You may learn about a new resource or mission opportunity.
  • You might become allies in local projects.
  • You might begin to see yourselves through a visitor’s eyes.

If you want to learn about the world, travel. If you want to learn about the Church, visit.