Month: June 2008

The internet for everyone?

I ran across this site, internetforeveryone.org, which touts “the internet for everyone.” Not hard to figure that out — their reasoning is broadband access enables everyone to participate in democracy and exercise free speech.  Good argument, especially in light of the fact that only 20% of the world has access to the internet.  In the US, only 35% of families with income under $50,000 have broadband access.  That’s one reason we included a computer lab and wifi access in our new community center.

But back to small churches — does the internet figure in your small church ministry, and if so, how?  In our church, only about a dozen families even use e-mail, so the internet is not a big factor for us.  When we tried to do an on-line church-wide survey, we had to print paper surveys and then enter the results on-line manually because so few of our members use the internet.

But, your church may be different.  Do you use email, a website, text messaging, instant messaging, on-line ads, or any other internet services in your ministry setting?  Does your church have a website?  Does your church provide at least the office area with broadband access?  Is is necessary for small churches?  I’d like to know what you’re doing, and so would lots of other small-church folks.  So, either drop me a postcard, or hey, why not comment here!  Thanks.

Over 100,000!!

Today Confessions of A Small-Church Pastor crossed the 100,000 page view mark!  Thanks to all of you who stop by, comment, strike up conversations with each other, and genuinely make this blog “a gathering place for the small church community.” I appreciate you!

Are we still excluding the people from worship?

A recent post on worship here got some conversation going about what is worship?  One comment noted the word “liturgy” literally means “work of the people.”  Evangelicals are quick with criticism of the ancient mass from which the common people were excluded.  But, are we doing the same thing — excluding “the people” when we offer spectator worship services with little chance of participation by those attending?

Most of our churches are set up like theaters — performers on stage, audience in rows.  But, the small church especially can provide ways for worshippers to participate.   We’re trying to involve more people in worship services at our church.   For example, I was concerned that I did most of the talking during communion.   To solve that problem, we adapted The Great Thanksgiving, which is used in Episcopal and Methodist churches (maybe others, too), during the Eucharist.  The Great Thanksgiving in our church has become a reading that pastor and congregation participate in during the communion service.

We also are asking different people to read Scripture, pray, and lead our children’s sermon each Sunday.  Some Sundays we do a better job of involving folks than we do on other Sundays.  When we offered an early service, worshippers sitting around tables participated in creating the worship focal point — an art piece representing the theme of the day — and we had a great time in the process.

What are you doing?  How do you involve worshippers, so that worship doesn’t just get done by the professionals?  Leave a comment and share your ideas with others.

Podcast: Poured Into Our Hearts

Here’s the podcast of my sermon, Poured Into Our Hearts, from Sunday, June 15, 2008.   The text is Romans 5:1-8, which is one of the lectionary readings for Year A cycle.  I hope you find it helpful.

Would you share a table with them?

In the recent news coverage of gay couples marrying in California, you might have overlooked an event that began in May called “American Family Outing.” MySanAntonio.com reports that gay couples supported by Soulforce, an Austin, Texas civil rights organization, contacted six mega churches requesting that a church staff member have dinner with a gay couple to dialogue about the church and gay issues. The article contained the following quote:

Jeff Lutes, executive director of Soulforce, the Austin-based civil rights and social organization spearheading the outing, said the group was essentially asking churches: Can you show hospitality to strangers with whom you disagree?

“Having a meal and talking with us does not mean that you support our beliefs,” he said. “It’s simply people coming together and bridging a divide. We’re just hoping that somehow, someway we can get a little bit past the divisiveness around this issue.”

Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen’s church, was one of the churches contacted. Soulforce was told by Lakewood that their staff did not have time to have a meal with the couple, but that anyone was welcome to visit their services. Saddleback is in discussion with the group, Willow Creek met with them, and others are considering it. The Family Research Council has taken the approach of organizing “Church Crisis Response Teams”  to counter the group’s approach. Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammye Faye Bakker, is acting as liaison between the mega churches and the gay group. Lots of folks getting in the act.

What would you do? Would you share a meal with a gay couple to “dialogue?” Or do you think there’s nothing to dialogue about, and would decline? What media risk is there to either position? Is this just a political stunt, or a sincere attempt to open the lines of communication? I have a hunch these issues are going to be with us a long time. How would you respond?

The Decline of the Suburbs

CNN notes today that 40% of Americans want to live in “walkable” communities, and that the suburbs as we know them may be an endangered species. The subprime mortgage crisis, which put many people in homes they could not afford, has led to record foreclosures, bankruptcies and repossessions. Some homeowners, facing falling home values, are abandoning their dream homes altogether.

Professor Arthur C. Nelson contends that by 2025, America will face a surplus of 22-million large lot (suburban) homes. Some suburban developments are noticing an increase in crime, unkempt lawns, graffitti covered sidewalks, and other signs of “suburban decay” which is the same as urban decay, only in a different neighborhood.

Shortly after World War II, as returning GIs moved their growing families to the suburbs after buying their first automobiles, urban flight seemed like an irreversible wave. Inner cities were left to wither, urban churches struggled to stay alive (and many did not), and suburban churches thrived during the Baby Boom generation.

We may actually be watching the beginnings of the reversal of urban flight, transformed into suburban flight. Positive forces like new urbanism, the arts, downtown redevelopment, and urban diversity have made cities with high density populations the place to be. Sports arenas, once built on the edge of major cities, are all constructed inside the urban perimeter now. Negative forces such as high gasoline prices which makes commuting expensive; the subprime mortgage crisis; and cash-strapped suburban areas whose governments cannot keep pace with their growth are causing portions of the population to rethink urban living.

With rising urban home prices, the poor will be pushed out to the suburbs to occupy the surplus houses soon available at fire sale prices. CNN notes that the ubiquitous McMansion will become the multi-family dwelling for lower income families — much like urban brownstones were chopped up into multi-family apartments during urban flight.

The implications for churches both urban and suburban are tremendous. Suburban churches with large debt and massive buildings may be caught in the same predicament that urban churches were in 50-years ago. Declining membership due to population shift from suburban to urban may change the church landscape in the years to come. Our church in our small town was built on a small lot because in 1890 people in town walked to church. Maybe we’re coming full circle, back to the neighborhood church, which was usually small. What do you think? And what does it mean for your church in 2025 — only 17 years from now?

What if your church started a business?

In her book, Isle of the Saints: Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland, Dr. Lisa M. Bitel states “The archaelogical evidence of [Celtic monastic] enclosures…suggests that living within the sight of the monastic enclosure was useful to farmers and herders, doubtless economically as well as spiritually.”  Which is a very academic way of saying that the community around the Celtic Christian abbeys benefitted financially as well as spiritually from the abbey’s ministry.

The abbeys had to be self-supporting and relied on a combination of gifts of land and valuables, plus commerce, farming, and trade to sustain their work.  Bitel goes on to comment that as abbeys grew, the community around them grew, attracting craftspersons, farmers, herdsmen, merchants, and even musicians and actors who found a ready market for their goods and services.

Why couldn’t churches today have a positive impact on their communities economically as well as spiritually?  Could we create small businesses that serve as gateways into the community of faith, while at the same time providing employment and economic impact?  Tall Skinny Kiwi, Andrew Jones, is part of a venture doing just that with the arts.  Their microbusiness, called The Sorting Room, provides a venue for local artists to sell their work.  Some churches have started coffee shops, or fair trade stores.  First Baptist Church of San Antonio operates the 4th Street Cafe staffed by volunteers and they use the funds generated to feed the homeless in San Antonio.

Maybe it’s time for churches to seriously consider going into business.  What do you think?  Do you know of any churches operating businesses either as a ministry or as part of their self-sustaining strategy?  Let’s exclude all the mega-ministries that are big businesses, but what about small churches operating business enterprises?