January 2016

Internet Ministry Benefits Mission


The biggest way to crash through roadblocks to using the internet in ministry is not to put up roadblocks in the first place.

This advice comes a bit late. The Church already established roadblocks in its reluctance to adopt technology to ministry.


Caution is understandable. Stories abound about abuse and invasion of privacy — scary to anyone born before 1980. Those under 35 grew up with the reality that there is no going back to lives lived in the peaceful isolation of pre-World War America. They are better equipped to see the potential that outweighs the danger just as an elephant outweighs a mouse. They look for mates online, take classes online, seek jobs, find entertainment, and keep in touch with friends online. The human brain is being rewired around the social nature and communication potential of the internet.


Most church leaders are over 35—no surprise they avoid the digital world. The temptation is to try to recreate the world they know online. This doesn’t work. Different dynamics. Every year lost in advancing the transition to the digital world is a setback struggling churches can ill afford, especially when resources are already designated to systems of the past.


Perhaps it will help advance mission in the digital age to take a “tip of the iceberg” look at how internet ministry could answer many common challenges.


Our previous post listed major areas of ministry. Let’s look more closely at each one to better understand how internet ministry is indispensable.

Remember, internet ministry is not an add-on to what you are already doing. It is a different approach to doing everything. A game-changer.



Churches witness to God’s saving grace.


Where do people go today for answers? Answers are a click or two away online.


Now imagine if people in your community are googling questions church groups often address—social needs, spiritual questions, help for personal crises.


If a Church has no online presence, it will not show up in the search engines. Troubled people will be directed to government agencies, non-profits, and for-profits businesses who use the internet to connect.


Start by advertising your services. Do you have support groups? Do you have people who can help with one-on-one counseling? Great!


That won’t be enough. Remember, you are in competition with government, non-profits and for-profits. You must actively address common issues among your demographics. The internet is a tool that leads. Learn the tricks of the trade to first create interest. Then slowly build confidence and build relationships.


Static websites all about your church won’t do this. Offering helpful content will. In business, it’s called creating authority. It might be argued that eight years of college and seminary training create authority. The fact is that people with far less learning are successfully competing with our expertise. They benefit from the evangelistic power of the internet while churches struggle.



Sunday morning worship service is usually self-contained. It lasts from, say 11 am to Noon. If you miss it, you might be able to read the sermon online. But if churches tracked their statistics they are likely to find posting a weekly sermon gets few views.


Have you watched TV lately? Take the nightly news, 60 minutes or popular game shows. Every program ends “To learn more about this and other issues or to join in the fun, go to our website.” These strategies work. They extend the relationship beyond the 30- or 60-minute air time.


What if your Sunday worship experience saved something for the weekday online audience? You’d be engaging your members and possibly attracting more interested people with your online content. The Sunday morning message can grow through the week.



Teaching is a major challenge for many congregations. Many Sunday Schools give up after the age of 9. This creates difficulty in relying on members to promote the faith. They are ill-equipped and lack the skills/confidence to the job.


The internet can help. It is available to everyone on their own schedules.


Providing internet learning doesn’t have to be a time burden. Learnings can range from short fun facts to full-scale webinar series. Tip: do this well and your members will share online, growing awareness of your congregation.



If people are starting to find your site because of your witness, worship and education content, service opportunities are going to surface. You will be surprised. We found, for instance, that our neighborhood was not limited by the one-square mile that makes up East Falls. We have made friends all over the world. Surprisingly close friendships. The internet is likely to present new opportunities for service and more important it will help you network with like-minded people and organizations. That’s power!



People today check a website before visiting. Your website is your front door. Visitors will step inside and look around when you aren’t there. The first impression left will be the lasting impression. They won’t sign the guest book unless you have a website that invites them to engage. Do you want them to see a static site built to 1990 standards or do you want them to see an interactive site that draws them into your church life?



Ironically, churches that don’t have much time for internet ministry start by adding a donate button to their static website.


We all know that stewardship goes way beyond monetary giving. Your website can encourage active participation in all kinds of projects. Web visitors should be encouraged to participate wholly separate from attendance and membership. These service opportunities are gateways to spiritual enrichment and eventual church involvement. An internet ministry can introduce and foster engagement in the use of time and talent.



The internet is the most powerful evangelism tool ever created. It is poor stewardship to not develop this capability. The mathematics exceed comprehension. If you create a web ministry and encourage sharing, a small church can begin to reach tens of thousands within a year or two.


In short, if churches continue to view their mission as connecting with the people who show up on Sunday morning, they are on the road to failure. It is the responsibility of every church to meet people where they are. Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine. Today’s people are on the internet.


Be there.

Crashing Through 7 Roadblocks to Internet Ministry


We are about to launch a refreshed series of posts on how to start an internet ministry. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, it might be helpful to understand why churches have such a difficult time using the tools that are now not only commonplace in most of society but are part of every aspect of modern life.


The Church was unprepared for the digital revolution. We watched while others adopted. Now we are lost. Here is our biggest mistake: The Church approached the use of the internet as an add-on to how we have conducted ministry for 2000 years.


In fact, the internet is a game changer. It is not something else to do. It is something different to do. It requires different skills and different ways of working together. The results could be amazing, but they won’t be realized if the strategy is to just keep on doing everything the same way while creating a static placeholder site. Start using the internet and things will change!


The game-changing element is that the internet facilitates engagement. You can’t always control engagement. The Church likes control.


Most internet strategies allow for readers to comment on what they see and read. They can do this in a number of ways—”liking” or sharing, for example. They can also comment.


Some online communities post rules for those who want to engage.


Here’s typical corporate approach to community rules.

1. Stick to the topic.
2. Be nice or be gone.

Compare this to the rules of this popular online forum directed to church leaders, mostly clergy. It is six printed pages in length (1262 words), complete with warnings about what might happen if your comment strays from its nebulous standards. Would-be commenters also have to sign in to comment. Only the brave dare type! And yes, the authors do snipe back if they determine a comment violates policy. This does not encourage meaningful engagement. It tries to recreate the teacher student dynamic that is part of preaching.


My own denomination’s house organ has an equally archaic policy designed to control engagement, thereby sacrificing any hope of lively dialog. You have to subscribe to comment — that’s in addition to your congregation’s offerings that support the publication. If your congregation foots the subscription costs or someone else in the family pays the bill, you can be shut out.


The Church is not used to open dialog. Control creates a sense of order if not progress. We spend our days scratching our chins and pondering why we are in decline. The rest of the world is learning to accept that the digital world cannot be controlled.

First, your congregation needs to understand the power and reach of internet ministry.


You will be able to enhance many aspects of typical congregational life. If these are a challenge, an internet ministry might be the answer.

  1. WITNESS: Your website can be a public face of your congregation’s mission.
  2. WORSHIP: Your website can extend the worship experience through the week.
  3. EDUCATION: The internet is revolutionizing education in every other aspect of life.
  4. SERVICE: You website will trigger new mission opportunities. You’ll be surprised. We were!
  5. FELLOWSHIP: Your website will become your front door.
  6. STEWARDSHIP: Much more than a Donate button! Your website is an opportunity to encourage giving in many ways — our selves, our time, and our possessions.
  7. EVANGELISM: There is no better evangelism tool. Period.


But first, there are roadblocks.


Roadblock 1:

Determining who is in charge. Recognize that multiple skills are needed and these skills are not likely to be found in one appointed leader.

Consider this:

  • If you rely on the pastor as internet leader, you are likely to have a site that posts the weekly sermon.
  • If you rely on the techies in your congregation, things will work well, but may not be effective.
  • If you rely on those in the congregation who just love social media, you are likely to end up with a cliquish Facebook site.
  • If you rely on your artistic members, the site may be beautiful but not reach its potential.

So which of these important skills will lead the project? This brings us to the next roadblock.

Roadblock 2:

Embracing the group approach to web ministry. Success relies on finding people with a number of skills—the skills we’ve already listed and a few more. These people may be sitting in your pews. Put them to work. If you truly don’t have people with these skills, find them. Hire them if necessary. Internet ministry is too important to accept any excuses.

Roadblock 3:

The Church has not been leading the development of internet ministry. National and regional bodies vary greatly in their understanding of how the internet can be used. Many have not explored the medium beyond the creation of an informational bulletin board-style site. Very large churches hire media ministers. Small churches may think they haven’t got a chance, but that’s not true. Our church is very small and we’ve been working at this for five years with success.

Roadblock 4:

Creating a strategy. You’ll need to spend some time with your group discussing where to begin and which of the many possibilities for web ministry should be your priority. Beware! Strategies need to be fluid. The internet is fast-changing. What works well one year, may go bust the next. Your team will have to measure your efforts with patience. We’ll be publishing some strategies to consider as part of this series.

Roadblock 5:

Creating content. Content drives every aspect of internet ministry. It is imperative to create quality content published with consistency. It doesn’t have to be a daily sermon. It can be a quote or a link to something you think is meaningful. Your committee is likely to divvy up this job and can even reach deeper into the congregation for help. Again, 2×2 can help. Watch for our internet content subscription service scheduled to begin this Pentecost.

Roadblock 6:

Measuring your website’s effectiveness. The temptation for many congregations is to post a website and walk away. Most church projects in the good old days were evaluated once a year. Your web team should monitor your blogs statistics at least monthly. Don’t worry. There are people who love this work.

Roadblock 7:

Monitoring the website. If you invite community engagement, you have to be prepared to engage back. Your congregation must monitor the site daily and be prepared to take action if needed. That could mean responding with basic information or handling an inquiry that reflects some distress. We’ll write more about this in future posts.


These are the roadblocks. They are waiting to be crashed through. You can do it. We will help.



photo credit: After a Full Day of Travel… via photopin (license)

Back to Social Media
On to the Future

On February 2, 2x2virtualchurch celebrates its fifth birthday.


A great deal of our early content outlined social media strategies for churches. You can access this evergreen content on our site in our search box.


But it might be time to look again at the topic of social media and the Church.




Because it remains relatively unexplored—and almost totally unexplored as a mission of the entire congregation.


Why?—when the rest of the world lives and breathes by the networking possibilities created by the internet.


The reason is structural. Some traditions trace their structure to the Reformation. Others claim direct succession from Jesus and Simon Peter. You can’t get much more carved in stone than that! But Simon Peter and the host of reformers never dreamed of the internet. It isn’t part of the pastor’s job description!


There is another, more intimidating reason.


Using the internet is WORK.


Congregations wait for the pastor to initiate this ministry. It’s like asking a fireman to double up as police detective. Two different jobs. Both important.


Consequently, most church websites are static, bulletin-board websites that fail to engage beyond the membership. It is no wonder that churches abandon them when even their members rarely reference them.


To be effective, churches must create a web presence that is interactive and that provides content.


But who is going to create the content?


It won’t work if the pastor is the only participant. In fact, if a congregation allows the pastor to control the congregation’s web presence, they risk any benefit created the day that pastor announces he or she has accepted a new call. The congregation will be starting this ministry over. It may takes years to find a pastor with similar talents and voice. It may be impossible. The inconsistency will be reflected on the site.


The website must reflect the membership.


A congregation’s internet presence MUST involve teamwork—laity and clergy.


The internet requires skills that clergy often lack. The recent BARNA survey reveals that senior pastors participating in the poll are just beginning to accept the internet as a ministry tool—at least about half of them are. Another half are still skeptical.


This transition is tragically slow. The internet is the door to opportunity. A strategy helps.


An internet strategy:

  • helps a congregation put its best foot forward. It will be the first impression for would-be visitors. Archaic website = few visitors.
  • expands reach. People with spiritual needs who are not accustomed to attending church will find your internet presence, if you post meaningful content.
  • helps network in the community and outside your denomination. Who knows what will happen if congregations take a more active role in their communities?
  • helps discover resources, both human and cultural, that are eager to share but unlikely to cross paths on their own.
  • opens possibilities for ministry.
  • helps fulfill traditional roles more effectively. If you limit your contact with membership, relying on them to come to you once a week, you are paddling your canoe with a broken oar.



*   *   *   *

Avoiding technology

contributes to a

societal view that

Church belongs to a

different age.

*   *   *   *



2×2 is going to take a fresh look at how congregations—even small congregations—can benefit from implementing internet strategies.


We’ll try to find solutions to help you explore your world with your keyboard.

Congregational Wealth: More Than Money

We are approaching the season of congregational meetings—a time when churches elect their officers, review finances, adopt budgets, listen to reports, and ask for the support of members for existing and future projects. As congregational leaders prepare for their big meeting, it might be well to reference this post that dates to 2008.

Reference: How to Design A Sustainable Institution by Gregory Jones


Sustaining the Church as an institution—now that’s a topic on many church leaders’ minds! The answers may be right above our lips.


Recognize these words?

Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – ourselves, our time and our possessions, signs of your gracious love.

The words are familiar to Christians who use liturgies. They are repeated weekly, in many traditions.


So why do congregations often feel they are valued only by their offering plates? And when they grow light—their savings. And when these disappear—their land and buildings.


St. Lawrence

Lawrence before Valerianus, detail from a fresco by Fra Angelico, c. 1447-1450, Pinacoteca Vaticana

The wealth of the congregation is sitting in the pew. We need only return to the life of St. Lawrence to remind us. Back in the 3rd century, St. Lawrence was ordered to turn over the wealth of the Church to Roman authorities. He was given three days — (three days more than our denomination gave our congregation!). He gathered the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said these were the true treasures of the Church. One account records him declaring to the prefect, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”


L. Gregory Jones’ 2008 article builds on St. Lawrence’s thinking.



Jones does not ignore financing—the stewardship of giving—but he adds five other valuable forms of capital.



Jones describes this as preserving wisdom and cultivating new ideas.


Both the clergy and laity have a great deal to contribute to the Intellectual Capital Bank.


The congregation knows things about their membership and neighborhoods that take years for a pastor to learn. They also bring a wealth of modern experience and skills to the ancient institution of Church. Clergy are steeped in tradition and the concentrated study of Scripture. They bring ideas nurtured among others with similar training—and their own life experience, as well.


Bring the two together and we’d have one amazing bank of knowledge. But the Church is not good at bringing the two together! We give far more weight to the wisdom and experience of clergy.



As a business person, I know my most valuable employees, contacts, and vendors are those with the widest networks. That’s a quality I look for first when I hire. I can train anyone to do the work. I need people who can connect—in the office, with my clients, and in the neighborhoods I serve.


I’ve found this to be true in church work, too. There are members of the Church—often very quiet members—who know everyone and join all sorts of groups, causes, and clubs. What a wealth!


The worlds of most clergy tend to focus on church networking.


Again, bring the two together and WOW!


But churches often have no way to bring the two together.



Jones describes this as providing opportunities for growth and problem-solving.


This happens in church life but there may be untapped potential. If only we could find a way to capitalize on the other forms of capital.


Churches tend to choose a group concentration—a food pantry or outstanding music offerings, for example. Sometimes these grow from the vision of a pastor. Sometimes they grow from congregation experience. The challenge is to keep up with the new norm—changing demographics. This means there are steadily breaking waves of new talent and needs that may change ministry in ways that challenge existing leadership and membership. Viable congregations must find ways to recognize and address both—quickly.


All of these come together in a fourth form of capital:



Human Capital ties all together. It recognizes that the people of the Church ARE the true treasures. The challenge to the Church is opening up its traditions to allow these hidden investments to grow.


Here’s a cartoon that illustrates a Church approach to recognizing human capital:













As long as we view our memberships in pre-determined roles, we minimize our potential.

People are just more complicated than we recognize—and far more valuable.


Black Lives Matter:
An Issue that Won’t Go Away


The Black Lives Matter movement is interesting in that it rises from outrage and desperation.


It shouldn’t take bullets aimed at unarmed Black youth to get attention. But it has—only after decades of lots of good people looking the other way.


I am going to share our experience in the Church on this topic. Maybe it’s unusual. I hope so.


There is a chance that it is not unusual—that it is subtly characteristic of decades of behavior that no one in the Church likes to talk about. Little things happen. No one pays much attention. Even if we notice, there is a tendency to stay quiet. The people involved are basically good people. They may have been acting within custom or may not have thought things through.


Our congregation was (and technically may still be, who knows?) part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.


In a recent study, the ELCA ranked next to last in diversity with only the National Baptist Convention slightly below them. We are 96% White and the National Baptist Convention is 99% Black.


The ELCA has been pushing for diversity for several decades. The quota system for the Synod’s Assemblies encourages additional representation for the 4% of minorities. Attend a large gathering of Lutherans and you can easily get the impression that we are very diverse. But our diversity is largely separate but equal. Most congregations are 96% one color or another.


Some of this is intentional.


There is a disconnect—probably because in our desire to prove achievement we look for useful statistics.


There is also a need to seek credit for and control change. It serves administrative purposes better to report that  we started a Black congregation with 100 members than it does to say ten Black members happened to join ten previously all-White congregations.


True diversity is far more likely to be achieved organically—in increments far less impressive statistically.


Our congregation has a great deal of experience working with diversity. It wasn’t always easy. Resistance in the congregation was NOTHING compared to resistance from our denominational leadership.


Gossip in the Church may be more powerful than the Word of God—in the short term, anyway.


The gossip in our denomination, which spent decades eyeing our endowment funds, was and remains that we are a racist congregation. In other words, we deserve their actions taken against us. In secular society it is called “playing the race card.”


I could tell a dozen stories about our history of diversity which began in the 1940s. It wouldn’t make any difference. Our history is told through synod filters. We are racist if they say so.


So I’ll tell only one. It remains a touching, sorrowful memory.


Our congregation was growing very quickly and included strong diversity. The recent growth spurt had a ten-year history. One family joined, then another and another. Their influence started to grow and in 2006-2007 about 40 Black members, many of them with East African roots, joined our congregation.


This raised eyebrows at the synod level. Leadership had triaged our church long before as not worthy of attention. As one bishop had told us in 2001, “We’ll leave you alone. You’ll die a natural death in ten years.”


In 2006, the newly elected bishop, who had worked with the previous bishop, seemed to have accepted this assessment. She announced soon after election among clergy that she intended to close our Church. We heard through the usual channels—church gossip.


Her plan was premature. The ten-year waiting period was not up. The evidence of our growth was spoiling their plans to triage and close us.


Muscle-flexing began.


First the Background

On November 1, 2007, the bishop met with our council. She seemed to be determined to prove that our black membership had been corralled at the last minute as a Hail Mary attempt to ward off inevitable failure.


She started the meeting with a rant about us being adversarial (not a bad word, by the way). We pointed out that it takes two to tango. At last she settled down. She had requested a list of our members, which we provided, she reviewed the list and commented, “A lot of these names look African.”


Then she made a remarkable statement with roots firmly in 1950s thinking.


“White Redeemer must be allowed to die. Black Redeemer, we can put them anywhere.”


Was she really saying that Black people cannot wisely choose a church for themselves?


Yes. Our oldest black members shared after the meeting that a synod representative had visited with them 10 years ago when they joined and suggested that they would better fit in elsewhere.


I think the explanation for this comes from their interest in placing pastors. They see Black congregations wanting Black pastors and White pastors better able to serve White congregations. Their interest was in fitting clergy pegs in congregational holes. Diversity demands different thinking from everyone.


But back to that meeting. Our bishop now decided to prove her point. She decided ask each council member how long he or she had belonged to Redeemer.


Her jaw was about to drop.


She turned first to one of our Black members. She answered, “Ten years.” The next, “Eight years.” The next two, “Seven years.” We proved that our membership had grown steadily—not overnight.


We left with the bishop’s promise that we could work with a synod staff member.


As our council crossed the parking lot, we broke into song. Progress!


We heard nothing from our bishop until mid-February, when we received a letter that she intended closing our church.


Closing our church had not been discussed at the November 1 meeting. The promises made to us at that meeting were all broken.


From the Mouths of Babes

This was all the prelude to the scene that remains etched in my mind.


As a long-time Sunday School teacher I have noticed that children often form important and unique bonds. Sunday School teachers are independent adults in their lives. They create a safe place to ask about things that for one reason or another might not be easy for them at home or school. If their parents seem to be troubled, they don’t want to add to the trouble. They might feel vulnerable with authority figures in school and surrounded by peers.


It is the Sunday morning after our congregation received the troubling letter from our bishop.


There are two representatives of synod sitting in our sanctuary as worship begins. Their presence has all on edge. They are not present for any good reason. They had shown their cards. Worship was awkward from the get-go and it was about to become even more so.


It is time for the children to come forward for some special time together. I led that part of the service and it had evolved into a mini-Sunday School.


The youngest children—all of them children of our African members—came forward. They were not their usual spirited selves.


They had been attending our church long enough that we had a good rapport. They knew I always chatted with them a bit, talked about the gospel, sang a song and prayed together. They were always eager participants.


The vibes this morning were different. The children were troubled. Their trust was such that they paid no attention to the rest of the congregation. They needed to share and didn’t wait to be asked. They were bursting with concern.


It spilled out. A letter had come and the letter had made their parents cry. “Daddy was crying.” They knew it had to do with Church—their church. These children had been worried for days.


Moms can cry. When children see their fathers cry, it is truly upsetting. Their security is threatened. They wanted to talk about this. But two of the people behind the upsetting letter were sitting rather smugly right beside them—an arm’s length away.


acts5How was I to change the subject? I wanted to talk about their concerns but not in front of people who had made us enemies. One of the children had an arm in a sling. I diverted their concerns by asking about that. I didn’t feel good about it. The children deserved answers. We all did!


Our visitors were oblivious. After church, one of them said simply, “Nice children’s sermon.” (It was about Peter’s dream that revealed the need to open mission beyond the standing traditions. I couldn’t make this up!)




So we understand the frustration of those who cry for justice. On this day, none of us mattered—Black or White. If we don’t serve the purposes of Church leaders, we may as well not exist. Sadly, it was not an isolated instance.


With this experience, it is hard to take seriously denominations as they take up the “Black Lives Matter” banner now.


Other churches can tell their own stories. The frustration is not going to go away.


photo credit: Tanzania, girl in primary school via photopin (license)


Measuring Sermon Engagement

4216561147_05e9358f41_bMeasuring the Yawn

If those delivering the Sunday morning message could measure the results of their message, would it change the way we tell the Good News?


This question came to mind as I read a post in my inbox this morning. The post was written for an audience of meeting specialists—the kind that book hotels to run seminars, train their new hires, or celebrate a corporate milestone.


5 trends shaping the future of meetings by eHotelier.


The first of the five recommendations is a little scary. We may no longer be able to hide that yawn!


The hotel industry is preparing for the adoption of technology that will measure the engagement of meeting attendees. Sensors will measure things like heart rates, eye movement and stress levels. Those sensors (things) will report the findings in real time to meeting presenters so that they can make immediate adjustments in how they are communicating with their audience. They are using what is called the Internet of Things. Things (sensors) are participating online along with people.


I doubt this will ever relate much to church. We haven’t yet found a way to measure and react to a yawn—or fidgety children—or sneak peeks at smartphones—or waning attendance!


But we should pay attention. Today’s preachers are increasingly dealing with changed expectations. Today’s churchgoers are experienced audiences. We spend tons of time every day practicing. We watch TV, where story lines include action or a big laugh at measured paces. Then come the ads that have been carefully tested before airing. Some are crude. “Buy now, and we’ll  double the offer.” Some are sophisticated: the only color is the yellow Cheerios box. Some prey on emotions: Silent Night playing in the background as photos depict abused pets. All are calculated to do what the presenter intends.


They’ve studied us. They know us. They can predict what we will do if they communicate with us effectively.


So, what about today’s church audience? How do we know if our message is having any effect?


We usually bypass this question for one reason—we don’t have any way to measure.


There may be a second reason—we don’t plan to make any changes regardless of what we learn.


Soon, the rest of the world will be using technology to guide the delivery of their messages.


Maybe it’s time we took some steps to do the same.


The 2×2 publication, Interactive Preaching for Advent, adopts an approach to preaching that responds to today’s expectations and mindset. It gives suggestions for each sermon topic that engage during the worship service and continue engagement online.


Here’s a sample. It’s a sermon that teaches the scriptures regarding the Magnificat. It engages visually, orally and encourages participation and post-worship action. It also provides links and online tips which users are welcome to use in their social media. The book also has a private web page where purchasers can download additional resources related to the sermon to use in their congregation’s social media.


If you like this approach, let us know. We’ll create more resources like it.


photo credit: (351/365) Sleepy before Santa via photopin (license)

The Church: A Pioneer in Holacracy

8241315449_fa1f86701c_bHOLACRACY 6

Life Under One Big Umbrella

As I read and thought more about Holacracy I started remembering how church used to be.


I was sitting on the board of a Lutheran social service agency during the 1980s. I was young then—late 20s, early 30s. I didn’t realize it then but I was on the cusp of the dismantling of much of church culture. I was part of it. I’ll blame it on my youth.


It was the age of consolidation. The board talked often of consolidating services, likening themselves to big box stores. It was the wave of the future, we were certain. Business was doing it. Government was doing it. School systems were doing it. Why not religious social service agencies? Everything would be under one big umbrella. Big is better.


The pursuit of big led to teaming with government for funding. This resulted in divorcing the social service mission from church mission, a sacrifice we were willing to make in our mission to serve more people—or to be big.


We may have lost something vital to mission—engagement with the people who provide passionate funding, who conceived the concept of social outreach with God’s love centric.


The move corresponded with the widespread establishment of development offices. Each social service agency, seminary, etc. created a development office that puts its cause before the churches and lots of other people as they seek support. This task becomes more difficult as the only access to congregations is through the hierarchical structure.


I’m not sure the Church has noticed yet, but this makes every agency of the Church a competitor with individual congregations for offerings. The big umbrella is like the mother sow. All the agencies compete for nourishment. That little guy on right—that’s the congregation, competing with all the professional development offices.


Engagement is a valuable mission tool, but opportunities for engagement have been lost in efforts to consolidate.


Consolidation sounds so organized and efficient. But does it work in church life?


Opening the Big Umbrella Shuts Out the Light

Here are some big changes within my lifetime in the Church.


The heart and soul of the church was the Sunday School. The Sunday School movement was independent of denomination. Sunday Schools typically had their own bank accounts, budgets and officers. Often the officers of the Sunday School were people who never were considered for church council membership. You could belong to the Sunday School without belonging to the Church.


The Sunday School was a cultural magnet. It embraced more than Sunday morning. It was also a social club. Within the Sunday School there could be several classes, each with its own leadership. I remember the Loyal Mizpah, the Mr. and Mrs. Class, the Helpers Class, etc. Each with its own identity. They met Sunday morning but also had their own social calendar.


But then, one by one, churches across the country thought about those separate bank accounts and those separate leadership structures. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to consolidate everything under one big church council umbrella? As a result, we recreated the hierarchy our ancestors had fled.


And so the band wagon rolled through the church doors and various church organizations climbed on.


  • There was the Luther League. This was being enthusiastically dismantled in the 70s, replaced with some vague concept of youth ministry. Youth ministry never really took off. Luther League remains a fond memory for those older than I. Luther League channeled youth into church leadership roles.
  • Women’s and men’s auxiliaries—each with its own governance and budget. They did a lot of mission work.
  • Sports leagues which often ended up being the ecumenical arm of the church. That’s how Christians of various denominations in the same town came to know one another—in friendly competition.
  • Special cause groups: Temperance groups, for example.
  • There was even someone in charge of maintaining the Cradle Role!


Consolidation led to the loss of engagement. Church people crave intimacy. That may be why most churches will always be small. Big Box churches fill some needs but not all.


Today’s “small group” ministries concept attempts to revive some of what we lost, but is hard to close the big umbrella. We still have that sense of ownership and control that we were seeking back in the 70s and 80s. The current attempt to revive the Church with small group ministries is like learning to walk again. It’s awkward because we are now accustomed to the big umbrella and the control that goes with it. Small groups need autonomy.


Today there is a new word for the way Church became structured as it developed in the New World. Holacracy.


The core of holacracy is the creation of circles of engagement. Circles within circles.


As I recall, some of those church small groups called themselves circles. The members within those circles could remain within those circles or drift into more engagement with other circles. The circles provided multiple ways for people to engage—and typically engagement throughout the Church grew as a result.


People may have identified more with the circle than the congregation, but at least there was something in the circle that spoke to them and called them to action. Circles address specific needs. Circles give people a sense of ownership. We just have to hand them their own umbrella—let them be the bosses under their own umbrellas.


It might be a good idea for churches to talk with their oldest members who remember how this worked. They will enjoy the telling and the Church could benefit from the listening. Hurry. There aren’t many of us left!


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Can Holacracy Save the Church?

Just as in bowling, the headpin can cause all the pins to fall.

Just as in bowling, a wobbly headpin can cause all the pins to fall.


If the Survival of the Church Depends on Change
Change Must Come at Every Level

Four previous posts lay the groundwork for a discussion on Holacracy. (Links at the end of this post.)


Some focused on how the ideas are not foreign to Christian ideals—we just got stuck on hierarchical thinking and haven’t been able to budge.


The Reformation gave the Church a powerful nudge which corresponded with the discovery of the New World. The ideas of the Reformation became colorful threads in the tapestry of religious life in the New World. Makes sense—all the little frontier towns were well removed from the European centers of religious power.


But things have been static now for a long century.


We have drifted back to hierarchical thinking.


Mission relies on constant change, constant tension.


Hierarchy resists both.


The concepts of holacracy, formalized for business barely a decade ago, could help us crawl out from the rut.


Let’s look at holocracy. Here is a white paper published online by HolacracyOne, LLC, of nearby Spring City, PA  (holacracy.org).


Holacracy starts with the supremacy of purpose. Churches might substitute the word “mission” for “purpose.”


It defines purpose with the questions: What does this organization want to be in the world, and what does the world need it to be?


Sounds a lot like the exercise all churches go through in creating a “mission statement”!


So far, we are on the same page.


A cofounder of HolacracyOne says:

“Holacracy is not a governance process ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’—it’s governance of the organization, through the people, for the purpose.”

Early adopters mention that they were drawn to this organizational model as their companies grew. They noticed workers becoming less  effective with size. Hmm. Maybe that’s why most churches are small!


A characteristic of the model is the embracing of tension. Tension is the catalyst of change. I’ve never belonged to a church that was afraid of tension. They were more likely to fear the consequences if the regional body sensed tension.


I can’t tell you how many times in Church life I’ve seen important questions put to a Robert’s Rules of Order vote on a stage set for animosity. When leaders work for a majority they tend to stop caring about the minority. In their minds, they consider them the “enemy.” Getting out the vote opens the door for manipulation. The issues are lost. Church life becomes about winning.


In hierarchical structure, leaders have two advantages. They control the pulpit and church press. They also have access to every member.


Church leaders have serious disadvantages. They know only what very few people (usually pastors) tell them about a congregation.


Let’s say the local leader uses advantages to rally a vote and wins a controversial motion by a 51% majority. That leaves 49% of a congregation unhappy. They may be the hardest working 49%. Outside leaders don’t know that. It’s a numbers game to them. The less involved who show up for the vote will predictably return to the shadows. The biased vote was a sweet victory in the moment. But the whole congregation is now torn.


The Church is now divided Winners and Losers—Friend or Foe. And those labels tend to stick!


Holacracy uses the word “gaps” to describe “tension.” The gap is between how things are and how they could be. The gaps can be problems or they could be dreams looking for a foothold. The important thing is that holacratic structure embraces them when they are proposed—not after years of planting seeds, hoping someone will notice. It bypasses those rigged votes and levels the playing field.


Holacracy calls it “processing.” Here is the six-step process.


Keep in mind that holacracy calls for peer interaction—and peers include pretty much everyone. Executives and managers relinquish the roles of directors. A project can be proposed by anyone seeing a need or opportunity. Since no one is “giving orders,” all are open to finding ways they can help—possibly filling multiple roles. Authority is given to the person proposing the project. If the role proves too demanding it can be broken down into sub-roles, but the person accepting the responsibility for the sub-role has the authority for that role.


HOLOCRACY describes a 6-Step process.


PROPOSAL PRESENTATION An idea is proposed. No one is permitted to interrupt the proposal except by invitation of the proposer.


CLARIFYING QUESTIONS Questions are then allowed. No reactions or dialog. Just questions. The proposer answers them.


Reactions are sought. Anyone may react, but discussion is not yet open and the proposer may not respond.


At the end of the reaction period, the proposer is invited to clarify or amend the proposal taking into account the reactions.


The question is asked: Do you see any reasons why adopting this proposal would cause harm or move us backward? Objections are welcomed without discussion. If there are no objections, the proposal is adopted.


If objections remain.The final step is integration.
Each objector, one at a time, may engage the proposer to resolve tensions.

How does the Holacracy Organization Chart look?

Well, it’s kind of a mess, much like modern life.holacracy circles2

This visual is from the above linked white paper with some notes about how this might look to a typical church.


That’s all for now. It’s a big bite to chew. If this topic interests you read the white paper and visit holocracy.org, which offers trainings.


Here are links to previous articles in the series:

  • In Post 1: The principles of holacracy, an organizational model that is growing in popularity, is compatible with the founding principles of the Protestant movement.
  • In Post 2: Church structure as we have known it for hundreds of years might incorporate holacracy.
  • In Post 3: Holacracy is not a new idea to religion—just an abandoned idea.
  • In Post 4: The typical hierarchical organizational chart is reviewed.


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If time can change, why can’t we?


One of the most fascinating things in life is human thought. It can be very similar. It can also be obdurately different.


We can agree on some things. It nice to see the sun now and then, for example.


But look at basic things like.

  • Which side of the road should we drive on?
  • Which direction should we read and write?
  • What should an alphabet representing sound look like?
  • What do we call the main meal of the day, supper or dinner?
  • How do your pronounce “insurance” or “cement”?


I just read a book about medieval history in the fourteenth century. It discusses the problems in developing clocks and adding them to the multiple palaces being built by that era’s royalty.


Clocks are machines and do some things very well, especially repetitive and measured things.


Here was the problem.


An hour in medieval times did not represent sixty minutes made up of sixty seconds. Back then, the day was divided into daylight and darkness. Each was given equal measure—twelve hours. The available daylight or darkness was divided by 12. Therefore a daylight hour in May in northern Europe was longer than a nighttime hour. Vice-versa in December. The same span of time on the same day closer to the equator would vary.


It is outside all modern experience to think of an hour as anything but sixty minutes long, yet an hour of varying measure worked for the people of that time. Things only changed when they needed to change. Machines needed an hour’s duration to be fixed.


Which ideas taken for granted today will be obsolete tomorrow?


Is the Church prepared for thinking that might create fundamental change — not so much in what we believe but in how we work together and act out our beliefs?


Our congregation encountered divergent thinking when we began welcoming immigrants. Our newer members (from several countries) viewed time very differently. Starting times were relative. It was expected that people would show up within an hour or so of an announced time. It was interesting to see the children who were picking up American ways fuss with their parents.

  • “No one’s coming. Let’s go home.”
  • “They will come. Go play.”

And they did come!


As we first encountered this problem, a pastor decided the answer was to start at the appointed time regardless of who was there. That will teach them. It just made everybody feel bad. We ended up starting our service with a hymn sing. We’d sing two or three hymns as people gathered. It didn’t matter how many people were there and most people were there by the time we started the call to worship. This worked well. It became tradition.


There were other hurdles. Newer members tended to enjoy longer events—all day as opposed to the American event attention span of two hours tops. We compromised. Events were planned for three hours and people were welcome to stay for fellowship all day if they liked.


Choir work was another challenge as newer members didn’t rely on reading music. The director would explain, “This is how it is written.” The new members would look at one another before answering, “But this is how we sing it.”


Our congregation was patient and flexible with the process of welcoming differences—more so than our regional body.


Their view was that congregations have life spans. A time to be born and die, the population staying static in its composition. We were told this by our bishop, who clearly thought our congregation’s time to die had arrived regardless of how our membership was growing. If we couldn’t be the same white congregation with English/Scotch and German roots, it was time to die. There was no denying the changing demographics.


We didn’t use the changing demographics as an excuse to lock up and move on. We worked with the demographic changes. We still are.


The issue seemed to be finding pastoral leadership that was comfortable dealing with a group as diverse as ours. There was no one, we were told—repeatedly. Meanwhile, our members found several qualified pastors willing to work with us.


Our success could not sway regional body thinking. They approached our new members with a strong suggestion. Leave our church. They provided the name of a congregation where they felt our members would “fit in” better. You can imagine how that went over!

The problem may be that the Church skipped the 20th century and is lost in the 21st century.

This showed us something. The Church is unprepared for diversity and is developmentally still in “separate but equal” thinking.


The Church may be equally unprepared for other changes their members face daily in today’s society. The problem may be that we skipped the 20th century and are lost in the 21st century. Time stood still for a while. And now small churches are paying for it.

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Handling Baggage in the New Year

woman sweeping

A New Broom Sweeps Clean

Happy New Year!

A time for forgetting the past—or is it?


There is a lot of talk about dealing with unpleasantness as if declaring a new year will make dirt disappear. Everything can be rosy. Just get out the broom and start sweeping.


Funny thing about sweeping. It’s a job that is never done!


There is really no avoiding the work. You can hire a cleaning person—or handle it yourself. You can’t sweep it away.


Yet, some leadership gurus premise their theories for building churches on just that. Church replanters in particular espouse methodologies that eliminate problems. Although I hate to mix the metaphor, they usually call it baggage.


Here’s their typical strategy for dealing with church baggage:

  • Close a troubled church for six weeks or six months—or seven years in our case.
  • Tear down signage.
  • Lock the doors.
  • Change the name.
  • Allow none of the former members leadership positions if they happen to show up at the church in their neighborhood. Some are very clear—allow them presence but no voice.

These theorists treat church members as servants of a cause. They don’t want flawed people. They want an easy road.


That’s not a biblical model!


Sweeping problems under the rug is creating a full-time challenge. To resolve the mixed metaphor—baggage is too big to sweep under the rug. It must be dealt with.


Here’s a short quote from an article by Dennis Bickers, a pastor of a church in Indiana.

I remember my first church business meeting as a pastor. A proposal I made, which was in line with one of the priorities the church had given me, was firmly resisted by every person in that meeting. I went home wondering what I had gotten myself into.

A few minutes later, one of the church matriarchs called and explained some history in that church that caused such resistance.

I had not been there long enough to know this story, but with that information I was able to revise my plans so that they were later accepted.


This pastor recognizes that lay people are vessels filled with valuable knowledge.


I wish I had had his wisdom about twenty years ago when I ran into a similar situation.

Our congregation had a bad experience with our regional body. I was not active at the start of the problems, but I was involved in the eventual resolution. Trust was very low. As part of the two-year saga, our regional body had required us to meet with a consultant who ended up to be an agent of the regional body’s interests. We had felt used and betrayed by the consultant’s use of our honest interaction. She had seriously twisted and edited remarks to support the regional body’s position. The memory was still fresh.

We had a new pastor who proposed a weekend retreat. He recommended a church consultant he knew to lead the retreat. I tried to facilitate this for the sake of our new pastor, who I knew was dealing with a tough situation. We all were!

Newer members were willing to give it a chance. Older members, more familiar with the conflict, were suspicious that a retreat led by a church consultant was inviting the fox back into the henhouse. I argued that WE were engaging the consultant this time‚ not our regional body.

I shared the reason for the resistance with the pastor. We went ahead with the retreat. Key leaders did not attend. Those who attended, I among them, enjoyed it. It seemed to help the new pastor. It helped us get to know the newer people. A week or so later, I got a huge “I told you so” dropped on my head. The president of the church council received a letter from the consultant, thanking us for using his services. The letter included a copy of a report he had sent to the regional body. The report was not damaging in itself, but the fact that he reported things that we had shared in confidence revived and deepened our collective sense of betrayal. And yes, it led to more problems.

Lay leaders with experience are valuable. Those “I told you sos” are powerful defenses.


Baggage is experience. Experience is the root of wisdom. Leaders who insist on “no baggage” fresh starts are not eliminating problems. They are creating new ones.


So what do churches with “baggage” do in this new year?


Christianity, after all, is all about dealing with baggage.


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