Month: November 2009

Over 300,000!

international_fireworks_2_bToday Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor passed 300,000 page views!  Readership has grown by 50,000 page views per year since I started this blog in December, 2006.  Thanks for reading and commenting and sticking around for three years.

You can help spread the word about this blog, which is devoted to churches under 300 in attendance, by telling your friends, fellow pastors, church leaders, and others interested in small church ideas and issues. When I saw Ed Stetzer at the National Outreach Convention again this year, he commented, “I like the blog.”  Ed had told me last year that Confessions was the largest small church blog around, so I took it as a compliment that he still likes it.

A couple of interesting things have happened as a result of the reach of this blog:

  • Outreach magazine has just named me Contributing Editor for small church concerns;
  • a major Christian publisher is talking with me about a small church book;
  • and, I’ll continue writing the Small Church, Big Idea column for Outreach, in addition to other articles I’m working on about small church ministry.

I’m also looking for stories of small churches doing exciting, innovative ministry.  If your church has a story of a successful ministry experience, I’d like to hear it.  Email me — chuckwarnock [at] gmail [dot] com — and provide a brief summary of your church story.  Who knows — your story might end up in Outreach magazine or in an upcoming book chapter. BTW, this blog is now available to Kindle owners through Amazon’s Kindle Store for the ridiculously low price of $0.99 per month.  Of course, it’s free here all the time.

Again, thanks for sticking with me for three years.  Slowly but surely, small churches are being celebrated for the incredible work they are doing in urban, suburban, rural, and small town settings, and you’re an important part of that story.

Who cares for the pastor?

Lillian Daniel sparks an interesting conversation about clergy self-care in her article at Out of Ur, What Clergy Do Not Need.  Lillian’s point is that the “self-care talk” given at ordinations has become a joke, a cliche.  What we as clergy need, she asserts, are  deep relationships with fellow pastors and with God.

Further,  Daniel states:  “My hunch, based upon my own experience in times when I have not taken care of myself, is that what I was missing was not within me already. I was lacking something, but it was not something that a lecture in self-care would fix.”

Here’s my comment in response to her post:

While the “self-care talk” may have become a cliche, that does not invalidate serious conversation about the need of pastors to pay attention to their own emotional, spiritual, and physical signals.

Self-care should not imply “self-reliance,” but rather recognition that I as a pastor need to mind my schedule, my commitments, and my relationships — the one with God included. Only we can do that for ourselves.

Blaming the pastor in need of physical, emotional, or spiritual renewal is not productive or helpful. We have too many instances of self-imposed failure to add  failure to care for self  to that list.

The answer lies not just in ourselves but in community with others. While community with fellow pastors is welcomed, my own faith community has most often provided the support, encouragement, and prayer I need. My approach is not to circle the wagons with fellow pastors, but to allow my own community to care for me, as I care for them.

I had another opportunity to experience that communal care this past summer when my brother died. I found being on the receiving end of care a difficult and humbling experience. I am trying to allow my own faith family inside my emotional and spiritual fence so that they can exercise their care for me in a shared call to “bear one another’s burdens.”

What do you think?  Do pastors need each other, or is our own church family a place of healing and care?  Who watches out for your emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being?  This should be interesting, and with hundreds of clergy leaving the ministry each month, this is a conversation we need to have.

A New People Group: Indentured Construction Workers

A new people group has emerged in the wake of the world financial crisis.  In the Middle East — the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other oil-rich nations — immigrant construction workers have been stranded by the cancellation of commercial construction projects.  These workers have been deprived of their passports, their wages, and the opportunity to return home.  This video presents their plight and calls on architects around the world to leave an ethical footprint on their job sites.  Shouldn’t the Church also respond with some way to help?  Watch this short 3-minute video, and you decide.

The Church of the Future: Urban, Minority and Progressive

millenial_generation_onpageThe church of the future resides in an urban setting, consists of multiple minorities, and espouses progressive social values, according to two recently-released reports.

While most church futurists have focused on church models (i.e., house churches vs. megachurches) in their predictions of the shape of church in the next 50-years, the demographic forces shaping future churches are at work now on a global scale. The report of the Population Reference Bureau, which published its comprehensive “World Population Data Sheet” findings in October, 2009; and the Center for American Progress’s “New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation” report contain valuable insights for church thinkers.

Here are some of the findings of the World Population Data Sheet:

1. The world’s population will reach 7-billion by 2011 or 2012. By 2050 10-billion people will occupy an increasingly crowded planet. We are adding approximately 1-billion people every 12-years.

2. By 2050, 90% of Americans will live in urban areas.

3. Most of the population growth in the US will come from immigrants already in the US, or those who will migrate to the US. The US population in 2050 will stand at 439-million, up 135-million from the 304-million today — an increase of almost 50%.

4. By 2050, India will lead the world population with almost 2-billion; China will have 1.4-billion people; and, the US will be the third most populous country in the world with 439-million.

5. No majority ethnicities will exist by 2050 in the United States.

6. In the 20th century, 90% of population growth came from less-developed countries. In the 21st century, virtually all global population growth will come from less-developed countries, with some more-developed country populations actually declining, or being bolstered by increased immigration.

Soong-Chan Rah’s new book, The Next Evangelicalism, points out that while church proponents decry the decline of the American church, it’s the white American church that is decline, while ethnic congregations are flourishing. Subtitled “Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity” Rah advocates a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church whose seeds are already beginning to bear fruit. In other words, the shift that will be realized 40-years from today has already begun in our society. But, because the dominant culture in American society is the white European culture, church scholars are culturally blind to the rise of minority, urban, and ethnic churches.

The report by the Center for American Progress gives additional credibility to the changing nature of the church. The Millennials, born 1978-2004, are an increasing force in American life and politics. The Millennial cohort will dwarf the size of the Baby Boomer generation, while actually bringing about changes in society that the Boomers abandoned after they matured. Sixty-four percent of Millennials agreed that “religious faith should focus more on promoting tolerance, social justice, and peace in society, and less on opposing abortion or gay rights.” Just 19 percent disagreed.

The culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s are quickly fading, and a new generation that is more progressive in social views is assuming center stage. Millennials were a major force in the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and by 2020 will comprise 40% of the entire American electorate.

Of course, world events such as the economy, war, natural disasters, and a host of other events could intervene and reshape the future that is evident now.  However, the trend toward multi-culturalism, urbanism, and changing social ideas upon us.  It remains to be seen exactly how these trends will influence and shape the church of the future.

Urban Church Connects with Local Artists

P1040079_lgIn its heyday University Baptist Church in Baltimore overflowed its expansive neoclassical sanctuary.  Designed by the same architect as the Jefferson Memorial, the church’s impressive dome now shelters fewer worshippers each Sunday.  But changing times haven’t discouraged the members of University Baptist Church.  Instead the congregation continues to find new ways to impact its urban neighborhood.

Located across the street from Johns Hopkins University, University Baptist Church draws dozens of students each week for its Sunday evening service, “The Gathering.” But as the neighborhood on the other side of the church evolved into an arts enclave, church members wanted to reach out to these artists as well.

“We are in our fourth year of hosting an arts camp for children,” Associate Pastor Robin Anderson explained.  With that experience, and a growing arts presence in their neighborhood, members sought new ways to engage with their creative neighbors.

A casual conversation about art galleries led Robin to ask, “Would it be a dumb idea to do an art gallery at the church?”  Church members thought she might be on to something.  The result was  Art Under The Dome, a gallery show for local artists hosted by the church.  Twenty percent of show sales went to the African HIV/AIDS ministries of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  On the night the art show opened, an African drummer stood on the steps of the church, beckoning passersby inside with the rhythms of authentic African drums.  Almost 500 people attended the art show opening, and 400 of those had not been to the church before.  Dozens more viewed the show during its two-week run, and many signed up for a small group study.

Here’s how they did it:

1.  Direct mail and internet sites advertised the event. The church solicited artists through art-related internet message boards.  Direct mail invitations to the show opening were sent out to the neighborhood surrounding the church.

2.  A gallery team coordinated the show. One member acted as curator, selecting artwork submitted by local artists.  The curator’s choices were reviewed by the entire gallery team for final approval.  Over 20 artists participated in the art show.

3.  Professionalism was important. The gallery team maintained a professional atmosphere by replicating a real art show opening at the temporary church gallery.  This approach showed respect for the diversity of artists and patrons, while inviting further contact with the church.

4.  The community came together for a good cause. Johns Hopkins University is world-renown for its research, including research into HIV/AIDS.  Raising money for this cause helped draw both church members and artists together for a worthy endeavor.  In addition, local HIV/AIDS groups were invited to display brochures about their work in the Baltimore area.

5.  Follow-up included a small group study. Over 30 people signed up to study “The Artist’s Way,” a book written by a Christian artist, but directed toward the broader arts community.

The church is already preparing for its next art show.  The majestic church sanctuary is now a landmark recognized by the arts community as a place where faith and creativity meet under the dome.

— This article first appeared in Outreach magazine in my Small Church, Big Idea column.

Notes from NOC09: Lots of small church focus

The National Outreach Convention is a great event for small churches.   On Wednesday I led the Small Church Discussion group and we had about 50+ participants with great ideas and opportunities for ministry.  Today I led the Small Church Idea Forum where we walked through the process of designing, conducting, and evaluating small church outreach events.

Small churches continue to do great things to become indispensable to their communities.  Some of the ideas shared on Wednesday and today are:

  • Jobless ministry. One church in New Jersey identified those who had lost jobs or were out of work, providing training, support, and encouragement.
  • Home repair and upkeep. Another new church plant selected 50 homes in proximity to the church and took two Saturdays to offer to do home repair or maintenance projects.  Because this is an urban church, neighbors were at first reluctant to accept the church’s help.  But once assured that the church had not agenda other than to be helpful, some of these neighbors allowed the church to help them.  One homeowner was so impressed, she hired 5 church members to work in the hospital where she was on staff.  Both the church and the community benefited from the church’s outreach.
  • Teen bootcamp. Teens were invited to participate in a “bootcamp” experience complete with obstacle course, a gospel presentation, and some good clean hip hop thrown in for good measure.

Outreach magazine also announced their revamped website, outreachmagazine.com where church leaders can join the site, and then tell the story of what their church is doing in outreach.  If you have an interesting outreach story about your small church, please go to outreachmagazine.com and tell them about it.  Plus, I’m looking for churches to profile in the 2010 issues of Outreach magazine in my column, Small Church, Big Idea.

One thing small church leaders told me at NOC09 is that they are glad to see major Christian organizations like Outreach paying attention to small churches.  I think you’re going to see more attention to small churches in the near future.  I know of one great small church book coming out in 2010, plus I met with a major Christian publisher today to discuss a couple of book ideas I’m working on for small churches. So, stay tuned because not only is NOC a great event, but there’s more coming soon!