July 2014

Serving in the Zone (Finding Passion)


Creating A Tribe for Lay Leaders

Every creative knows the feeling.

You are working on that story, sculpture, dance move, or painting. Suddenly, time means nothing. The art consumes you. You no longer care about eating or sleeping.

You are living in the artistic “zone.” It’s scary. And you are loving it. You know how hard it was to get here. You don’t want to leave. You might never get here again.

Artists enjoy being with people who understand. They form colonies. The modern word for this is “tribe.”  Members of the colony or tribe understand that when you enter the zone, you won’t show up for breakfast. You’ll grab dry Cheerios from the box. You won’t stop to sleep or shower. You won’t answer that text.

For many lay people, church work becomes such a passion. Something grabs us, pulls us in. The call? Or does that happen only to pastors?

Church volunteers show up week after week. We work as hard for 30 people as we would for 330. We don’t stop to count. Every idea we hear during our secular week is transformed. “How can this help my church?” We live in the “zone.” The best the world can do (even the Church world) is to categorize us as somewhat “nuts.”

We know we could be making money doing something else—and that should be our motivation, right?

The Church counts on us. But it does little to support us. We are treated as unpaid employees. It is our job to sacrifice. We are expected to answer to all kinds of authority—the people, the pastor, the Bible (selected verses), even the public. Yet, we can work for decades and never be seen as knowledgeable or skilled.

The Church knows we will keep saying “yes.”

The Church probably doesn’t understand us. They mistake our loyalties. Our work is appreciated until there is conflict. Then they look for personal motives — We like the attention. We like power. Power? We’re making up for some inadequacy.

Nah! We’re in the zone.

Where do church volunteers go for understanding and support? Where do we find that sense of tribe? We are isolated and dedicated in our own congregations—many of them small.

2×2 understands. It is love—the biblical kind—that sweeps us off our feet. We are here to help.

The Vertical Church Reaches A Common Stalemate

Does this sound familiar? It is symptomatic of the Vertical Church.

problem cartoon 1a problem cartoon 1b

The Horizontal Church at Work

Where do pastors go for counsel?

Working for many years as a lay professional with various denominations, I often heard pastors complain of isolation. They are accustomed to being the “go to” people for advice. They rely solely on their training and their professional connections as sounding boards when the going gets tough. The possibilities are narrowed by who they know and the official positions of their denominations.

Pastors have their networks—peers, the monthly ministerium meeting, workshops and retreats, consultants, and in many ministry traditions, their families. Today there are online possibilities, but the church isn’t quick to the gate in adopting social technology.

All of these can be helpful, but they are vestiges of the vertical church. The advice received is all from peers with similar interests, experience, and training.

Yesterday, our congregation witnessed the horizontal church in action.

We had our usual Sunday morning coffee fellowship. We’ve been meeting like this for about five years and have deepened our relationships.

We sat at a round table with our pastor. The conversation was all casual—updates on our weekly activities.

And then an unusual thing happened. Our pastor shared a concern about his work as a pastor.

How often, I wonder, do pastors come to lay people for advice? How often are lay people truly welcomed to chime in?

We aren’t an official committee by any means, but collectively we have a lot of experience! Our pastor asked each of us individually for our opinions. Each of us gave our pastor our separate views, which represented our differing life experiences. The lay people were in agreement that the path he should take was obvious to us.

Our pastor seemed to be relieved and truly grateful for our input.

There is a lot of wisdom and talent sitting in the pews that is often untapped. I call it The Horizontal Church.

Addressing Failure in the Church

We learn from mistakes, right?

Not if we don’t admit them.

I thought about this a few days ago when I heard a pastor open his talk with “We belong to a denomination in decline.” I thought about this a few months ago when Thrivent, a fraternal financial savings arm of the Lutheran church, decided that they should reach beyond the Lutheran community to insure the foundation of their members’ savings. That’s a great spin for their aren’t enough Lutherans to keep us going!

I actually found both statements refreshing because they admit failure. That’s really hard.

Every congregation is proud — even if it might be suffering from low self-esteem. There is something in human nature that celebrates just being.

Sometimes our pride is merited. Sometimes, if we stop to analyze, we are proud of being pretty much the same as everyone else. Same play. Different actors. Different setting.

Regardless, it is great to share. The Church should do more of it. But we often start our boasting before the results are in. This is dangerous as there is also a tendency in the Church for congregations to jump on the wagon. We read of some initiative and we want to try it.

Sometimes church leaders are bragging before they learn that the initiative flopped.

I looked over some of the church “brag” sites. Our regional body has one—godisdoingsomethingnew.com.

It averages just a couple of entries a month. Most of the ideas are posted by pastors. Some of the ideas aren’t particularly new. Very few give any results.

  • How many people showed up for that first program?
  • How many people came back?
  • How remained involved after six months?
  • Were there measurable results of any kind?
  • Was it still in existence a year later?
  • Was it just something to boast about?

An example we found in our church visits was our visit to Spirit and Truth Worship Center in Yeadon, Pa. The bishop had boasted about this initiative to the point that she suggested it be a model for our church. We saw no comparison to the conditions she described that led to the regional body closing the existing church, transferring the property ownership, and reopening a few weeks later under “new” synodical administration.

The church was empty except for a praise band rehearsal on the day we visited. We double checked. We had the right time. We’ll assume there was some good reason. Our visit alone would prove nothing and can lead to really wrong ideas.

The published statistics were more revealing. The ELCA Trend reports reveal a much different picture than that presented to us by SEPA leadership. See the screen shot of the Yeadon statistics below. SEPA was using this experiement as a prototype for success before the statistics were in.

We discovered that while the early statistics for this ministry were impressive, within ten years, the numbers were in serious retreat! That part hadn’t been shared with us! As it ends up, there were good reasons beyond instinct to refuse to consider following this course.

This experiment may have been well worth the try. It may have worth boasting about. But using it as a model for other congregations has proved to be short-sighted.

Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as what does work—and it takes years to determine the cause and longevity of success.

Periodically, 2×2 posts its statistics. Periodically we shift gears.

This summer, we are overhauling our entire website, using statistics to guide our way. In the end, we’ll share so that all small churches can learn from our experience — all of it — the good and the bad.


SEPA Synod recommended Redeemer, East Falls, follow this prototype in 2006. Yeadon was a new experiment at the time. It looked promising! However, Redeemer recognized that the situation in East Falls was very different from that in Yeadon. Redeemer’s leaders rejected the idea, which upset SEPA leaders. But sometimes congregations are right. Statistics prove the prototype doesn’t work!


Do you have a plan for engaging visitors?

I was having breakfast this morning with a 2×2 reader in Michigan. She has been very active with 2×2, most recently organizing the relief effort for Pakistan—(which, by the way, will be an ongoing project).


She was looking over her email for news and commented that her church was aging and there is often news that another member died.


We had been talking earlier about “engagement.”The two thoughts started to come together. How do congregations engage with members and with prospective members? This is especially difficult for aging congregations, who have lost contact with the changing neighborhoods surrounding them.


Will changing the way we engage change the way we minister?


Our Ambassador visits to 80 congregations in the last few years were revealing. In most cases we entered the church, worshiped and left without anyone engaging us. People might have been friendly and said hello. Sometimes we were pointed to a guest book. Only once did any pastor write to us after we signed the guest book. That engagement ended with our response. We saw no intentional engagement plans as part of any evangelism effort.


It is the congregation’s job to keep the conversation going! If the ball is dropped, it is most likely our fault!


Engagement is so possible today on so many different levels. It could be transformational for any church.


In the business world, marketers use something called an Engagement Sequence. It details the exact steps they take to keep in conversation with people who show interest in their product or service. They know that it takes time to earn trust and confidence. The engagement sequence is designed to foster that relationship.


This was so much harder before the internet. But now churches can take advantage of this new capability.


The process is very intentional and can create multiple channels depending on the responses.


Prospect A shows interest in a product or service. They immediately get a first response which is followed with as many as 8 or more follow-ups spaced a few days or a week apart. Each response is triggered by the action taken by the recipient. The engagement sequence could divert an interested recipient to a different engagement track or keep them on their initial track. It all depends on the responses.


None of this is “engagement” is spam. The process is initiated and approved at every step by the recipient. If a prospect loses interest, they can opt out at any time. No harm. No foul. The art is in creating engagement that is helpful to the recipient — and isn’t that what mission is all about!


Does your church have an Engagement Sequence? Do you have a way of engaging with people who visit. What about online (which these days is the where people look when planning to visit)?


It is SO possible to engage with prospective members before they ever set food in church.

There is NO reason to wait for a second visit.


2×2 is starting to incorporate this tool as part of our summer reconstruction of our website. We’ll share what we are learning in future posts!

News from Pakistan

Pakistani Christians Take Huge Mission Step

We received thrilling news from our Christian friends in Pakistan this week.


You’ll remember that 2×2 sent a gift to the Pakistani Christians when one of their churches was bombed in September, killing hundreds and injuring more. It was our first outreach effort that we publicized on the 2×2 website. Readers in Michigan did the legwork in collecting clothes and even found a way to ship them at a reasonable cost. Others contributed money which covered the shipping and we were also able to send some cash.


Today they sent news that they have been able to purchase land to build a home for Christian orphans—the first in Pakistan.


Their pastor reports that they received one large gift to make this possible.


This is an ambitious project in a region of the world where professing Christianity is hazardous. Their pastor regularly points out that Christians have always faced difficult challenges.


We wish we could do more and perhaps some day we will be able to!

Here are the photos. 100004085059369pizapw1402074039

Orphanage plans

The Horizontal Church: the Networked Church

shutterstock_102484949It Will Look Like A Tangled Mess
But It Will Be Hugely Effective

The Vertical Church, sometimes called organized religion, could draw a chart of its network. Some will be bold enough to start with a person. Others will recognize the true leader, Christ. In their network they are likely to have congregation members floating around a pastor and all of these floating around a regional leader of some sort and all these floating around a centralized authority of another sort. Neat. Tidy.


This had a purpose in the days when all of society was similarly structured.


This structure is increasingly being recognized as less necessary. The connections with the upper tiers of the network are no longer needed for communication, learning, budgeting, services, and maintaining doctrinal identity.


That last item is likely going to be used as the argument for continuing to rely on the Vertical Church. The authorities are the frontline guarding against the practice of cults, they will say. Actually, they aren’t. The only ammunition against cult-thinking is the nurturing of independent thought and the Vertical Church has a poor record in that regard.


The ease of communication today is in itself a protection against cult-thinking. The Vertical Church can no longer guarantee that news, information, music, publishing, leadership, or opinion-sharing will be filtered through their watchful eyes. They are as welcome as anyone to participate in online dialog but they won’t be able to stop any member, regardless of their theological pedigree, from analyzing, criticizing or initiating thought. So far church leaders are slow out of the gate when it comes to online dialog.


Our increasingly connected society will change the structure of the Church. The faithful will rally around those whose ideas resonate. Denominational lines will fall in the process.


In the Horizontal Church one member might consider himself to be a follower of a half dozen churches. One member might attend worship regularly but find the writings of an online pastor to be more inspirational. They might adopt the cause of a congregation on the other side of the globe. They might choose to divide their giving between many entities.


This is happening already. 2×2 is an example. Our subscribers are all over the world and from many denominations. We have not abandoned our Lutheran roots. But we reach beyond that.


This may be scary to denominational loyalists. But think. How do you reach all over the world if you vet every person you encounter—if all your associations are with the already like-minded?


Will there be false prophets? There always have been—even within the Vertical Church. But now they can be more easily outted.


There will be some turbulence as religious thinking shifts. There will be bruised egos and territorial disputes. This will help us to be intentional about the decisions we make as unfettered Christians in a wide world.


The Horizontal Church is really kind of exciting!

Happy Independence Day

The Horizontal Church

shutterstock_6988789How Competition Within the Church Is Self-Destructive

Vertical structure is competitive by nature. It is human nature to want to climb a ladder.


Aspiration breeds competition. Competitors are tempted to employ fear for their own advancement. We must all wear our game face all the time.


Employees weigh their financial and social security against using their freedoms. The higher you climb the more there is to lose if you express an unpopular opinion. Fear becomes a tool.


Vertical structure tempts people to think constantly of their place on the ladder. Collaboration is applauded but competition squeezes it out.

An organization established in collegiality can quickly become cut-throat. Vertical structure is self-destructive!


This applies to the vertically structured church. Congregations compete for the skills of professional leaders, laity compete for status, and clergy compete for fewer plum assignments.


The competition is all the tougher because of isolation. Most lay Christians know little of other congregations and exist in their own world—always cheerleading for their communities when there is interaction with other congregations.


Clergy exist as unchallenged leaders in these isolated communities. Woe to anyone that challenges. Clergy know very little about other congregations accept what they hear from other clergy. Often, this news is shared by disgruntled clergy. It is rarely positive.


There is also competition for dollars.


In simpler days, this worked. But vertical structure requires measurable growth for validation. The higher the position in the Vertical Church the more critical the need for visible, measurable success.


If a church is not entrepreneurially minded, there is only one source of money. The people in the pew.


Church members must fund their own congregation’s property, pastor, and other paid leaders. They must also fund the regional body and the national entity. And that’s not the end of their burden. They must fund social service agencies. This starts out with coming from the congregation’s support of the regional and national offices. But they can always use more resources and with the pooled money from many churches, they have the resources to do something about it.


The dollars that filter up to the regional bodies and their agencies and seminaries provide sufficient resources to fund professional development offices. It is their full-time job to approach the most affluent church members, encouraging them to contribute directly to them. Fund us now. Fund us in your wills.


Congregations, the foundational support of the entire church, can’t afford this expertise.


It’s a huge burden for every church of every size. The people who at one time would have naturally endowed their congregations are enticed to direct their wealth to the bigger entities who can afford to have someone keeping their cause in front of them and give them a more visible legacy in the process.


It is no wonder that congregations are struggling. And unethical leaders can use their position on the vertical church ladder to bolster their status and their pocketbooks. It happens. More and more.

In our next post, we’ll look at how the Horizontally Structured Church might change this.