Transformational Ministry

Why Churches Need a Church Social Web Site

19th century bank robbers

Why do people rob banks? That’s where the money is.
Why should churches use social media? That’s where the people are.

The web is the most powerful medium the Church does not use.

The web is no longer new. It’s been part of our lives for 20 years. With each passing year it is more integral to our society and lifestyle. And still a good number of churches have NO web site—not even a billboard presence.

The majority of churches WITH web sites don’t use them for anything but posting the most basic parish information. They are narcissistic. “We’re great! Come to us!”

It is not unusual to hear older people argue, “I don’t do computers. I’m not going to learn. I don’t want to spend the money.” It is often followed with, “Do you mind looking this up for me?”

Apologizing for not using computers is like explaining that you don’t brush your teeth.

There is no excuse.

Any arguments will fall on modern ears like this:

You don’t have a web site. That means you aren’t serious about your mission. Why should anyone take a second look at your ministry?

The web is how you reach people in today’s world. It may be the only hope for smaller congregations. Done correctly, it’s not a “Hail Mary” by any means. Done correctly it can be the catalyst of a whole new ministry. There are some basic questions to ask before you commit to a web presence or revise the site you now have.

  • Who do you hope to reach? If you are hoping to communicate only with members, you are wasting your time. You have the ability to reach thousands of people you never thought might find their way to your pages, but who do you see as your audience?
  • How are you going to announce your presence and spread the word? Turn to your members—especially your younger members. You will need them. (Knowing they are important to mission beyond their pocketbooks will boost morale.)
  • How are you going to respond to your online community?
  • What will appeal to your prospective readers visually and content-wise? Looks matter on the web. If your site is crafted in awkward HTML , it broadcasts that you are not serious or knowledgable. This does not mean you need tons of training or that you need to hire an intermediary. It is VERY possible to look very professional with only a day’s experience.
  • What do you expect visitors to get out of your site? Do you expect them to take any action? You have to ask them!
  • How do you want them to feel when they leave?

If your web site is nothing more than a list of worship opportunities and a list of staff these are not concerns for you. But if this is the type of site you have today, you are squandering a valuable resource.

Here’s our experience. Keep in mind as you read this that our regional body considered our ministry dead. We had no professional support and dealt daily with hierarchical hostility. All our property and monetary assets had been seized. Any church reading this is going to be in a stronger position than we were in!

Redeemer’s Social Media Ongoing Adventure-2×2

2×2 started this experimental site in February 2011—about a year after our regional body took our property and locked our members out. The Holy Spirit knows its way around locks!

Our property had already been empty for 16 months. We had been meeting in members’ homes, which was frustrating because we felt isolated and unable to serve as we had been. (Isolating us was part of the power game.)

We had a pretty comprehensive mission plan before all this happened. We revised it.

We no longer had a physical site we could invite people to visit, so we made the web site as welcoming as possible.

We built on our strengths. Redeemer worship was very inclusive and somewhat innovative. We had minimal pastoral presence for decades and had learned to do many things as lay workers. We expanded on this experience, drafting ideas for small church worship.

  • We began offering the same types of resources we shared weekly in our worship. Art. Music. Poetry. Plays. Worship ideas.
  • Since we were exploring Social Media, we reported regularly on our Social Media experiment and sharing what we learned.
  • As a congregation of immigrants (both historically and recently) we explored multicultural ministry.

Redeemer was always a small neighborhood church. We had no illusions of ever being a large congregation. 2×2 has changed our vision. We now have about 1000 readers a week. We have formed mission partnerships all over the world. We have gained authority in the areas we addressed. We lead search engine traffic in many of them.

Embrace Serendipity

If you implement this type of ministry, it will take you to places you never expected. You cannot control who reads you, likes you, or friends you on the web. You can prompt them to share, but you can’t make them!

You can control how you react. It will reshape your ministry. You may find that you didn’t just add a new feature to your existing ministry. You may be changing the whole way you approach ministry, allocate funds, and how people work together.

Enjoy the ride. 

Why do people rob banks? Because that’s where the money is.
Why should churches use social media? Because that’s where the people are.

Click to tweet.

It’s VBS Time

Is VBS A Waste of Time and Money?

I was recently with friends my age. We were all children in the 50s and 60s. We began remembering summer Bible schools. We came from different denominational traditions, but we had one thing in common. Vacation Bible School was a pivotal start in our faith journeys. It wasn’t our youngest years that we remembered—the years when we pasted cotton puffs on construction paper to make sheep. It was our older years, when we put together skits and did service projects and just had a great time.

One friend commented that her family moved one summer and the Bible School she attended eased the disruption in her life. She had friends when she started school the next fall.

Bible School used to be two weeks long—long enough to build community, change faith habits and make an impact on a congregation.

The concept of VBS began to fade when mothers began working.

Soon the energy waned. A two-week school, staffed by volunteers, was too much like work.

With parents out of the house, older children had their summers scheduled. No longer able to volunteer, parents looked to enrich their children’s life with paid camps which would advance their child’s academic progress — sports camps and academic enrichment camps. Cost, when it’s not the church, is no object. These paid camps tend to challenge the youth and make it worth the parental sacrifice.

Instead of emulating the trend, beefing up their summer programs, and adjusting the economic model, churches slowly began to cut back or eliminate VBS.

Two weeks became five days, with instructional time limited to less than two hours. The impact of the school became negligible. Nothing replaced it.

Volunteers to work with older children are the hardest to recruit, so only the youngest children are now served.

The Church couldn’t do things they way they used to. We pretty much stopped doing anything but going through the motions. They made it easy for kids to stop coming at just the age when they need incentive to stay engaged.

Working together to solve problems has never been a strong point of the Church. The most common attempt was to go together to hold a community VBS and that benefited the host congregation more than the others. That sort of thinking soon died.

The value of VBS to a congregation is in the immersion, in building new faith awareness and engaging families. They are of real value when they are part of other programming.

When VBS is a short, stand-alone event aimed at only the youngest children, who are perhaps too young to even carry the memory into their adult lives, they are of little value.

There is barely enough time and energy to hold classes. Engaging in follow-up, the real value of a VBS,  is next to impossible.

The failure of VBS is a failure of the Church to adapt. We can’t do VBS the old way, so we won’t do it all or just create a minimal experience to say we are still doing it.

The core problems of VBS were never addressed.

Problem 1: Lack of volunteers

If VBS is your best and most promising outreach to the community, it might be worth  paying people and making sure they are trained to do a great job. In the church we tend to keep spending money on the same things (that aren’t working).

Problem 2: Busy kids

Instead of developing a more challenging summer program which would keep children challenged and engaged, we made it easy for them to drift away. Reversing this will be tough. Families find time for things that are worth their while.

Problem 3: Cost

Parents pay for all those other camps that they are sure will benefit their children. They just might be willing to pay for a summer faith program that offers the same opportunities for growth.

We believe that a faith-based summer program can still be a major asset to a congregation. It must be more professional in approach. Activities must be challenging. Families must be engaged and VBS must be part of larger church experience.

VBS has been neglected for several decades—decades of decline all around. It still has possibilities but reviving it will require some funding, at least initially. This will require church entities to work together—always a challenge, but so very needed.


What if instead of congregations joining together to host a school, they joined together to train a team of leaders which would travel from congregation to congregation?

We put together a concept three summers ago which attracted interest from congregations. None of them wanted to pay even a modest sum to attempt it. Instead, they all did nothing that summer (and every summer since).

The hierarchy partners we approached would very much benefit from a cooperative program with congregations. It would build good will, which will eventually benefit them in their mission. They had other priorities, we were told. At the same time, they cried about few people entering vocations. They just couldn’t see that the program we were trying to develop would introduce church careers to youth. As it is, youth are absent from church life during the years they ponder their future.

We think the program is still worth trying. An experimental year could be funded for $100,000 and benefit eight to sixteen congregations that couldn’t run a program like this on their own. 

The concept calls for teams of trained teachers (college students) to provide the leadership to a congregation. Four to eight congregations in the same 20-mile radius  would share the expenses but have the benefits of the school being in their church. The traveling VBS-team will spend two weeks in each congregation.

Pooling the resources of several churches will make it affordable for all.

2×2 would still like to pioneer this concept. If your small church is worried about your future and want to take a new approach to revival, try to find a few other congregations in your general geographic area to see if VBS-aid might restore a summer ministry to your congregations and contact us.

It’s too late for this year. But if enough congregations commit by Christmas 2013, we’d love to put a first team together to test the concept. (The program is interdenominational.)

Here’s the basic information.

By the way, Redeemer had a six-week summer program for neighborhood children, so we have some experience.

Guest Post: What Constitutes Power in the Church?

Joanna Smithlr


Today’s post is written by Joanna Smith, a subscriber to 2×2.

Joanna Smith is a Christian and an observer of the good, the bad, and the ugly within the Church. She may be reached at jcsmith19027@yahoo.com.

Dedicated Christians or Power-Crazed Christians?

If the Church is the body of Christ, why do so many of her leaders act like the road to successful church growth is paved with her amputated head and limbs? Click to tweet.

Recently, I was staffing a booth at a regional denominational convention where I had the chance to speak to a pastor who had been put in charge of revitalizing what was considered a declining church in a medium-sized town in Pennsylvania.

This town, like many others across the country, was facing the challenges associated with contemporary American life: changing ethnicity, the rise of secularism, and–let’s be frank—the effects of sin and evil.

This pastor, who also worked in construction and sported a military-style buzz cut, was charged by the denominational leadership to “turn around” this small city church.

“Go in there and act like the Marine. You already look the part,” he was told.

Like a good soldier he followed orders. During the beginning days of his tenure at the church, senior lay leadership made it clear that they were not happy with the changes he was proposing. He pushed back. Hard. And made it clear that changes would be made and that if they didn’t like it, they would be free to leave.

“They are the old line power-hungry elite who are standing in the way of church growth,” he said forcefully. “They’ll find another declining church to join where they can play their power games.”

Expendable Members. What A Way to Grow A Church!

The strategy, which has been proposed by others, was to hound the offending laity until they ended up saying their prayers alone in their living room on Sunday morning.

Talk about wolves in shepherds’ clothing!

What that pastor was saying has an element of truth.  There are people for whom church leadership is a means to power. Quite a few, it seems, end up becoming ordained. Click to tweet.

Most lay people who stay in “declining” congregations are those who teach Sunday School, who sing in the choir, and who serve at the church suppers when there are fewer and fewer people to take on those tasks. They may have held their congregations together through decades of neighborhood unrest and possibly through several poor ineffective pastoral solutions presented by their regional body.

Most likely they were married there and their children were baptized there. Probably their parents were, too.  They were the ones who stayed and put up with the theological experimentation—which at times bordered on heresy—the same denominational leadership who was now trying to force them out.

They are the faithful backbone of the church—the ones you can count on to show up with their sleeves rolled.

I’m no doctor, but I think that it’s considered malpractice to treat a limping patient with a sprained ankle by fracturing his back.

Servanthood in the Church

Christ doesn’t treat His Church that way. In Ephesians, Paul compares the Church to a bride and says that Jesus “gave himself up for her” and “nourishes and cherishes” her.

Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd and said that he would leave the 99 and go after the one lost sheep. He also said that He would never leave or forsake those 99. Any earthly hireling shepherd that would purposely scatter the herd in his charge would be a dangerous fool and should be fired by his employer.

Perhaps today’s church leadership should emulate the Marines, whose motto is semper fidelis for whom honor is sacred. Perhaps we should live by the marine’s primary rule of engagement: never leave one your own behind. 

It would be biblical. Jesus told his flock that he would never leave them or forsake them.

Jesus had some very harsh words for his hired hands: “Anyone who causes even the least of my own to go astray, it is better that he wears a millstone around his neck and is thrown into the sea.” 

I was paging through the New Testament the other day looking for the chapter and verse where Jesus said that it was okay for people to throw others out of his church, abandon and demonize the most faithful, lock doors, claim property and declare their actions to be righteous and praiseworthy—while anyone who might think differently can go eat cake.

Can you find it?

Related post of a successful, more loving (Christian) alternative approach


Cartoon by 2×2

NOTE from 2×2: Thanks for your heartfelt contribution, Joanna.

A career pastor who made a mission of reviving congregations, spending five to seven years in each, once told me the first thing a transformational pastor must do is “nothing for one year.” Getting to know the parish and forming relationships with lay leaders takes that long, he advised. After that, when you’ve proved that you love the congregation and have their interests at heart (as opposed to your own or that of the regional body) begin to introduce ideas, gently — not like a Marine. Until solid relationships are formed, lay leaders are well within their rights to be resistant and suspicious. All clergy would have to do is practice the Golden Rule. How would you like it if someone treated you like your home would be better without you in it? Lay caution is natural and usually based in love for the church—not a lust for power.  Their caution is prudent.

Lay people with an insatiable lust for power don’t hang around in small churches.

Clergy get away with their self-serving attitudes because they count on lay leaders to have no voice. 2×2 is trying to change that.

We’d love to check back on that Marine Pastor in a year or so to see if his approach worked or if he found himself the shepherd of a closed church.

Thanks, again, for your view coming from a different denomination. Judy

What Are We Risking . . . and Why?

In the unending quest for transformation, churches in our area have been asked by their regional leader to take risks.

Sounds very daring!

But look before you leap!

What are congregations being asked to risk and why?

We presume our leaders are asking us to change. They are never very clear on how. Just change. (When they bring their experts in to to evaluate, they usually try to set things up the same old way.)

So what are our leaders expecting to happen now?

They could be looking at society and seeing a spiritual desert. They could be concerned for the troubled individuals, broken families, the children who live in two houses with torn parental loyalties, the outcasts of society, the people who struggle with illness and addiction, the jobless, the homeless, the youth who feel left out, or the lonely and unnoticed in general. They could be concerned with the growing number of people who do not know God and can’t pray.

They could be looking more globally at a world of injustice, hunger, disease, tension, prejudice and discrimination.

Most Christians would agree that if these were the major concerns, taking risks and making changes would be well worth a congregation’s efforts.

Unfortunately, the changes sought by the Church are economically based.  The risks we are being asked to take are so the Church can survive—that the hierarchy can survive— just the way it always has. No changes there!

Small churches have proven to be resilient. Immigrants and pioneers, uprooted from the established Church of the Middle Ages, came to America and started the Church anew. These small churches survived for hundreds of years. They changed over the years without prodding. Many actually grew!

The cost of hierarchy is weighing down the small church. The need for change and risk today is because hierarchies are failing.

They don’t intend to fail alone.

Change will happen in the small church when hierarchy demonstrates that they, too, can take risks and make significant changes. This doesn’t mean cutting ten percent of the staff or freezing salaries. It means revisiting everything they do. Reallocating initiatives more in line with the modern world. Changing the way they relate and communicate with congregations, and how they value the contributions of members—all members.

It means looking at our relationships with our schools and seminaries and our social service agencies. Are they serving the mission of the Church or have they adopted a secular mission while expecting support from the Church?

It means examining what is expected of professional leaders at every level. If pastors can be settled in ministry for 10 years while statistics steadily drop — and be applauded for nothing but having a satisfied congregation — well, it’s the same problem academia has with tenure. Security tends to trump mission.

Things are just fine here. Let someone else take the risk. Ten years to retirement.

The Church will not survive the present age without taking risks. Let’s make sure the risks are for the mission of the Church, not the survival of our comfort and way of life.

And leaders, congregations are more likely to take risks when we see you in front of us, not prodding (or picking our pockets) from behind.

The Social Media Revolution (or Reformation?)

 The Transformational Tool the Church Is Waiting For

The Church is slow to understand Social Media and how it could impact the local congregation.

The fact is Social Media can benefit congregations—both large and small. It can do more. It can transform them.

Larger churches have more resources for exploring this new world, but the emphasis should actually be on helping small churches master Social Media. Their success will benefit the entire Church.

People like small churches. Most churches are small. Most small churches are struggling. Social Media could change this.

The power of Social Media, if unleashed, could change how we understand church and mission foundationally.

Church structure has been pretty much the same since Moses. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. With that command in mind for thousands of years, God’s people have gathered once every seven days for worship. The structure of Christian worship is built on the traditions of Jewish scripture.

It’s quite a heritage. Why change?

There are at least two reasons.

  1. The number of people following the age-old traditions is dwindling.
  2. For the first time in history, we CAN make significant changes.

Most church leaders view Social Media as additive. It’s something new they have to do in addition to all the things that already keep them busy. That’s one reason why they never get around to mastering new skills.

But Social Media can be so much more. It can be a game changer. It can turn church life inside out and connect congregations to the very people we have so much trouble reaching. 

Look, for instance, at what is happening in the world of education because of the influence of social media.

The old model of education is to gather students around a teacher who lectures them. The students then go home and do homework to reinforce what they learned. Students who understand breeze through their homework. Students who don’t understand often return to the classroom to hear another lecture without mastering the foundations of the previous lesson. This model of education works for students with an academic mindset. It leaves a lot of great minds that  think differently behind.

But now, progressive teachers are beginning to understand that the best lecturers in the world can present the lessons to students online. There is no longer any economic benefit to gathering students around one teacher to hear them talk. One  excellent teacher can lecture a million students! Students can listen to the lesson before they come to class. They can repeat sections they don’t understand and search for additional information, if they are so inclined. 

The role of “teacher ” changes. When the students gather together for the state-mandated school attendance, the teacher can work with them hands-on. The classwork (as opposed to homework) can involve debate and projects and individual instruction. Using this time to lecture is a waste!

How does this apply to Church?

We are accustomed to the gathered people of God coming together once a week to worship and listen to the Word. The Word is presented by one person who may have spent a day preparing the message. The format is 20-40 minutes — way longer than the modern attention span. There is little or no actual exchange with the congregation (unlike the accounts of Paul’s preaching in the book of Acts). There is no way of reinforcing the message. Even the best sermons are forgotten before the Sunday dinner table is cleared!

Social Media can change this. It means changing habits or perhaps creating a new discipline.

News flash: Preachers do not have to wait for congregants to come to them!

There is no reason a preacher cannot interact with congregants (and seekers) every day of the week. Short, thought-provoking messages tied to the daily lectionary as well as the weekly lectionary can bring the congregation together on Sunday prepared to be more involved in worship. Worship and post-worship can become more hands on. The pastor may learn much more about the congregation he or she serves and new mission ideas and opportunities are bound to surface.

What could come from this is a new understanding of the talent that today is simply sitting in the pew. Congregants, with daily reinforcement, will make religion more a part of their lives. With daily inspiration, they are more likely to talk to others as they go about their work and family lives. When they come to church once a week, they will come not as passive listeners but as empowered, knowledgeable Christians who are eager to put their faith to work. They might argue with the preacher (just as the temple-goers in the Bible did). They might present new ideas or come up with new mission possibilities—which can then be addressed online during the week—for all in the community to read. It will expand a congregation’s witness.

For Social Media’s power to reach full potential, we must be willing to transform how we structure our expectations of pastors. Pastors and educators of pastors must be part of the transformation.

It may even change the role of seminaries. All the newly empowered lay people might see value in studying more about their faith—not necessarily to become pastors, but to become more involved and knowledgeable lay people.

What are we waiting for?

Leading Jewish Temple Consultant Agrees

The Emerging Entrepreneurial Church

Today’s blog post of Rabbi Hayim Herring validates what 2×2 has been writing for a while.

Churches that survive into the coming decades will not rely solely on offerings for income.

The rabbi writes:

Organizations that thrive in the 21st Century will be distinguished by two attributes: entrepreneurship and organizational foresight.

He suggests that the word innovation be replaced with the word “entrepreneurship.”

He notes these subtle but significant differences (the bullets are quotes):

  • Innovation requires creativity but, unlike entrepreneurship, does not address issues like tolerance for risk, organizational agility, improvisational ability and speed.
  • Innovation often comes in bursts after focusing on discrete ideas and issues, while entrepreneurship requires cultivating a certain kind of culture, defined by a set of practices and attitudes that are infused throughout an organization.
  • Innovation implies the creation of something new, while entrepreneurship can mean dramatically improving what is already working with new vision and processes.

This sounds impossible. It is not. Even small churches can follow it.

The problem is that church hierarchies don’t recognize the potential. Armed with an impenetrable sense of entitlement and a tradition that supports it, they measure their congregations by ancient standards. These standards are failing almost everywhere!

The entrepreneurial church is not about making money for money’s sake, but is more about creating revenue streams with ministry projects. More lucrative ministries will provide funds for ministries that will never be self-supporting.

People today hesitate to give offerings, especially when they can’t see their offerings at work. More and more, congregations are begging for offerings just to help them survive — not to help them serve. It’s a losing proposition.

Less committed people of faith are not going to see this as a good investment of their time or tithe. They are more likely to contribute both money and energy to projects when they see them making a difference. They are not seeing this in churches that have budgets that are top-heavy in overhead.

There are many opportunities that are entirely in keeping with the mission of the Church.

One of Redeemer’s strengths is the ability to recognize opportunity.

There would be no conflict between Redeemer, East Falls, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, if Redeemer had been nurtured and granted the freedom their constitution gives them to shape and fund their ministry in less traditional ways. Are we not regularly implored to “transform”?

  • Our Christian Day School, which was ready to open as a Christian School for the first time in 25 years, would be providing upwards of $6000 per month for ministry—and creating a Christian witness in a neighborhood which is losing its Christian schools.
  • Our aid to immigrant families would be producing $100,000 per year. Redeemer had a plan in place that would help immigrant first-time home buyers. The expertise of our members would ease the path to home ownership and the congregation would gain some money in the real estate transaction, which would then go to help another immigrant family.
  • Our website would generate another few thousand per month for ministry. The website reaches out to small churches all over the world.

More than enough resources for a neighborhood ministry.

This is no different from religious publishing houses making their living publishing books or religious social service agencies tapping into government revenue streams. And it doesn’t camouflage mission to meet government requirements.

Unfortunately, our regional body has no vision for its small churches. They are waiting for them to die. 

How to Learn to Play the Guitar

. . . or acquire any new skill

guitarThere is a trick to learning to play the guitar.

Never put the guitar away.

The hurdle of getting a musical instrument out of the closet and out of its case every day is an obstacle to the much-needed practice.  

This applies to other skills, too. If you put away the brushes, the next painting may never happen.

Our attics and basements tend to filled with things we carefully stored, never to be used again.

The temptation in church work is to put aside small church communities, while we wait for things to improve on their own.

Leaders neglect them. They tell us there is a plan. They are waiting for more people to show up—for donors to appear (or die) — for the right pastor with the right chemistry.

This is the ministry philosophy of many denominational leaders. They wait for ideal conditions for ministry—conditions they think they can control.

They want to avoid conflict, so they avoid ministry altogether.

They want pastors to be happy and fulfilled. They don’t want them to experience the angst that is best friends with creativity.

Creativity is necessary for transformational change. Transformational change will make everyone unhappy at least a little and for a little while. So let’s keep the small church on ice.

Ministry dies while church leaders wait.

How is this approach working?

photo credit: Hendrik Schicke via photopin cc

Lutheran Fraternal Insurer Seeks to Serve Non-Lutherans

kangaroo2Is there something to be learned from this?

Thrivent, once known as Lutheran Brotherhood, is a financial fraternal association serving the members of all Lutheran denominations.

Redeemer’s Thrivent members recently received a ballot to vote on a proposal to expand their service offerings to other Christian groups.  (They must not have heard that we’ve been kicked out of the Lutheran Church.)

It was inevitable as the Lutheran population dwindles that the financial fraternity would have to expand its economic base and welcome more people into the brotherhood.

This raises some questions about church voting. If an insurance company can open a vote to every member, why do we still rely on representative assemblies voting for us at the Synod level? Might the Digital Age afford us a better way?

Representative voting relies on voters having the knowledge and experience to do a conscientious job. In this regard, the voting procedure within the ELCA is seriously flawed.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted a quota system at the time it was formed 25 years ago—before the power of the internet was unsheathed. The original system (faulty as it was) has been tinkered with ever since. Votes are assigned by size of church, gender, language, and age. There is no good way to prove some of these characteristics. Redeemer was a church with a majority membership of color, a strong youth population and multi-lingual. Not only were we never allotted extra representation for any of these demographics, as the bylaws allow, but the bishop (at the last minute) declared us ineligible to send any voting representatives to the 2009 Synod Assembly—which the bylaws do not allow.

None of the voters at that Assembly raised any questions. We’ve been excluded ever since.

Under the quota system, credentials for representatives create a false demographic—an illusion of inclusion. A scan of the floor of a Synod Assembly might make it seem like SEPA Synod is highly diverse. We’ve visited 57 congregations. Diversity is the exception.

Twenty years of liturgical gerrymandering may have resulted in a voting pool that meets inclusion criteria but fails to be representative—or effective.

For example, many congregations have a majority female membership. They must come up with a male if they are to have the proper number of votes at Assembly. The males in the congregation may have no interest and are borderline involved in church government  but genitalia is valued above knowledge and commitment. 

An inexperienced voting assembly is putty in the hands of church leaders. How else can our Synod explain adopting six-figure deficits at a time when giving was down across the board and never stopping to think how those deficits would be overcome and at whose expense?

Voters who don’t understand the issues or consequences of their decisions follow the pack.

There are important documents and procedures which control the powers of the Assemblies and provide safeguards to the congregatons. It’s not just the constitution, with which some people have at least vague familiarity. It includes the Articles of Incorporation, which define the powers of the Assembly and control the extent to which the constitution can be changed. Practically no one is familiar with this document. For one thing it forbids the seizure of congregational property without the consent of the congregation and puts this matter outside the authority of the Synod Assembly.

Without knowledge of church government, Synod Assembly has become a venue to present a synod’s wish list for rubberstamp approval—not a venue for dialog or debate. 

All of this can be revamped for greater participation in an age where this is expected.

It is now entirely possible to allow all members a vote, but failing that they can at least be afforded a voice. It would take some thinking to make it work but it could bring benefits, fresh air, and true representation into the world of Church.

  • Regional offices will be forced to really engage with their constituency.
  • Congregations will have to be realistic about their memberships.
  • They, too, would have reason to engage members on issues that matter.
  • Members would have a sense that their involvement can make a difference.
  • Vested members may increase participation and giving.

Today issues can be presented to all church members online well in advance of the Assembly date. 

During this time, the regional office is free to communicate with all members of the church. Congregations have equal freedom to debate issues. Even individuals can take discussions online. People might actually become involved.

If it is too unwieldy to count each person, a congregation’s representatives can gather after the issues for debate have been aired for a few weeks. A one-day assembly is all that would be needed.

It’s something to think about.

It could be truly transforming!

If insurance companies can count every vote, so can churches.

Voting kangaroos have done enough damage!

Transforming the Role of Clergy in the Future Church

Transformational Ministry Requires Structural Change

Part of the challenge facing today’s Church is that the role of clergy and how they relate to congregations must change. Changes have already occurred in the numerous short-term and part-time pastorates. This is likely to continue while our expectations remain in the past.

The monetary demands on congregations have grown while the source of funding has been steadily dwindling.

Clergy spent decades griping about being highly educated but poorly paid. They had a point, but the resolution of their complaints has put their services out of reach for many congregations.

“Too bad!” might be a quick response.

The fact is that every church that fails diminishes the mission of the whole Church. Small churches reach more people. The economics of fewer larger churches make economic sense but don’t really work.

Fewer recent college graduates are entering the ministry. Today, candidates for ministry are often mature adults. Some are nearing the end of their careers—drifting from a professional calling. As older servants of God, with established families, lifestyles, and debts, they are looking for economic security and as little disruption to their settled lives as possible. Since clergy often view themselves as CEOs, the pay expectations are the pay expectations of older professionals.

The talent pool in which all congregations fish for leaders is crowded with candidates who can make only part-time commitments within tight geographic parameters. The pool of available talent may not fit congregational needs. Yet it is the role of regional bodies to place their rostered leaders in their rostered churches. Lots of square pegs in fewer round holes. That translates to unhappy clergy and congregations. Conflict often results.

That’s one side of the equation.

On the other side of the equation—the congregational side—an ongoing revolution has been underway. People have stopped attending church. The Sunday morning worship demographic is upwards of 50+.

The younger demographic—the demographic absent from church—represents well-educated career people, whose varied expertise is hard for professional church leaders to recognize if it competes with their own.

This is only part of the picture.

The needs of congregations change so dramatically that they are difficult to define and fill when the need is greatest. Community demographics, once stable for generations, now shift every few years. Congregations using the “settled pastor” model can easily be left with beloved leadership that is unable to serve the changing neighborhood. Decline sets in and everyone is afraid to make changes. We are church people. Nobody likes to complain—even those charged with the welfare of the congregation.

It is fairly clear that most congregations can no longer afford a full-time theologian in residence. Even if they could, it might not be to their mission advantage. The skills of theologians are no longer a congregation’s most urgent imperative.

Theologians are trained in the art of preaching — pulpit to pew communication. Modern church leadership must concentrate on communication beyond pulpit to pew. The pews are nearly empty.

Communication in today’s world is person to person. Very pastoral.

Money spent on making sure a good sermon is provided to a dwindling number of listeners is money that cannot be spent on reaching the people who are not in church—a key mission.

Yet the pastor’s salary is the foundation of every church budget.

The power in the world has shifted to the individual. This changes the way individuals think. We are no longer wired to understand the need to gather on Sunday morning—especially if our presence in Church does not recognize our abilities.

This trend is not likely to reverse. The Church is going to have to adapt.

In the Church, we see a structure that cannot budge. It continues to make unrealistic demands on the few people who remain loyal.

It is disheartening to be a lay person in today’s Church.

The typical congregation of the future, large or small, needs communications experts, education experts and service providers. We need business and entrepreneurial skills. It will be the rare pastor who can fill every need. It is unlikely that the growing pool of second career clergy perceive these skills as part of the role they are adopting late in life. (It may very well be the demands for change in their first careers that inspired them to turn to the Church.)

The day is coming when clergy will not be called to one congregation long-term but to multiple calls defined by skill sets which they will provide to congregations only for as long as they are needed.. They may join teams of clergy with complementary skills. Congregational budgets will detail mission tasks and will no longer allocate a large sum to one pastor.

This is an economic necessity and it will further empower the laity.

And then the Church might be transformed.

The Church’s Missing Silver Bullet—Dialog

The Church Is Ill-prepared for the 21st Century

The Church is coming kicking and screaming into the Digital Age.

It carries historical baggage that is making the journey very difficult—and is causing the Church to miss out on tremendous opportunity.

The Church is entering the Social Media Age with a long tradition of one-way dialog.

Most of us know that by definition “dialog” is two-way.

But the Church does not know this. That’s why it seems perfectly natural for a pope to Tweet to his followers but announce before clicking “Enter” on his first message that he has no intention of following.

Church leaders tend to think that when they are standing in the pulpit they are engaging their listeners. That’s their idea of dialog.

Church leaders tend to extend the pulpit to all other interaction with congregations. Meetings and Assemblies are carefully managed.

Ridiculously short time restrictions prevent dialog.

There is a vetting process for who will engage in church dialog. Clergy get first access. Lay people with a proven track record of support for clergy get second place. There is no third place.

In our region and denomination, it was the custom of our present and last bishop to bypass the elected leaders of a congregation and request to speak to the whole congregation. Request is not the right word—demand is more accurate.

The strategy sounds so open and democratic. It is in fact manipulative.

It is disrespectful to the elected leaders who know the congregation’s issues the best and are elected to represent the interests of the congregation—the whole congregation.

It engages congregational members with less knowledge of issues and various levels of commitment to the total mission of a congregation. As they view the disrespect shown for the congregation’s leaders, they are appropriately fearful of speaking out.

Dialog is shut down.

Church leaders are fooled into thinking they have led people. They have intimidated people.

What might happen if the church leaders came to congregational leaders with one simple question—How can we help?

What might happen if they then sat back and listened?

It may be the single most important step in achieving transformation.

This has never been easier or more possible—however unlikely.

The Church needs to buy a pair of listening ears. They are rare but not expensive.