Category: invite others

NOC2010 is here!

Wednesday I head off to San Diego for my fourth year at the National Outreach Convention, known affectionately as NOC.  I hope you’ll be there for all of the workshops, discussion forums, worship sessions, major speakers, and more.  One of the really great things about NOC is the wealth of information, resources, and people that you encounter — all focused on outreach.

I’ll be leading a breakout workshop titled, Outreach in the Crises of Life. If you’re at NOC, drop in on Friday afternoon at 2:30 PM for 90-minutes of sharing about reaching out to those who are experiencing the most difficult situations in life.  On Friday morning at 7:15 AM (bring coffee!) I am facilitating the Small Church Ideas Exchange.

Of course, I’ll see my friends at Outreach magazine, which I hope you subscribe to.  Outreach publishes an annual small church issue, plus I write the “Small Church, Big Idea” column in each regular issue.  Lots of small church stuff including good ideas that real people have used in real churches.  I’ll be live blogging, and Facebooking some NOC events, so stay tuned!

A new commitment to the old story

photo5I led a couple of seminars at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism this week, but we’re the ones who received a blessing by being there.  Everything about the week was encouraging to the participants, including Debbie and me.

The School of Evangelism staff was wonderful.  This was Tom Bledsoe’s last SOE, and he’s been directing these schools for 39 years.  Tom’s gracious hospitality and gentle spirit set the tone for the staff team.  From the housekeepers to the restaurant hostesses to the program personalities, gracious hospitality was the hallmark of the event.

The Cove setting is magnificent — perched on the side of a mountain near Asheville, North Carolina — with postcard views of Blue Ridge Mountain vistas.  The design of each building blends appropriately into the natural scenery.  Wood, stone, glass, and ironwork give you the sense of rustic luxuriousness providing the perfect backdrop for relaxation and reflection.

The soaring chapel steeple punctures the blue Carolina sky, drawing your attention to the glory of God’s natural creation.  But under all this beauty, The Cove is equipped with the latest in video, audio, and internet technology which facilitates teaching and learning.

We learned that the SOE staff and other BGEA staff members pray for each presenter and each participant by name, before and during the School.  The setting, the surroundings, the facilities, and the staff all blend to produce a content-filled, encouraging and inspiring three days.

I was challenged again to give new energy to telling the Old Story.  Our church has done a good job of engaging with our community in several large projects.  But, we also need to bring alongside our social engagement, a renewed commitment to the good news that Jesus brings.  Heaven knows our community needs some good news, and we have it.  We just need to tell it in ways and on occasions so others can hear it and receive it well.  I’ll be sharing more about how we’ll go about that in the next several weeks.  Stay tuned.

‘Emerging Adult’ new term for 20-somethings

515bxkgrdll_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_Today Amazon delivered my copy of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett.  A research professor of psychology at Clark University, Arnett became fascinated at the different choices 18-t0-20-something year olds were making compared to preceding generations.  Further research bore out his initial findings:  people 18-29 were delaying their entry into adulthood.

The book covers issues 18-29 year olds face — parents, love and sex, marriage, college, careers — weaving these together with the stories of real emerging adults.  Arnett’s narrative is lively, engaging, and informative, based on 10-years’ of research in this age group.

I was particularly interested in the chapter, Sources of Meaning: Religious Beliefs and Values.  Here are some of Arnett’s research findings:

  • This group falls into 4 categories: agnostic/atheist 22%; deist 28%; liberal believer 27%; conservative believer 23%.
  • 58% said their religious beliefs were Very Important or Quite Important.
  • 79% believe a higher power watches over them and guides their lives.
  • Only 25% think attending religious services is Very Important or Quite Important; 42% said Not Important at all.

Other observations I found interesting included:

  • Several students believe that God is like ‘The Force’ in Star Wars.
  • Disillusioning or bad church experiences result in anger, resentment, or hostility toward religion.
  • Emerging adults tend to “personalize” their own religious views by combining or borrowing from other religions or spirituality traditions.

But I found most disturbing this statement describing the correlation between childhood religious training and the current beliefs of emerging adults:

“In statistical analyses, there was no relationship between exposure to religious training in childhood and any aspect of their religious beliefs as emerging adults — not to the current classification as agnostic/atheist, deist, liberal believer, or conservative believer; not to their current attendance at religious services; or the importance of religious beliefs, or the importance of religion in their everyday lives; not the their belief that God or a higher power guides their lives or to the certainty of their religious beliefs in emerging adulthood.”  p. 174

In other words, childhood religious training appears to have no bearing on religious beliefs or practice when teens reach the emerging adult ages of 18-29.

Reading this book, after reading Lost and Found by Stetzer, Stanley and Hayes, I found Arnett’s book to be more disturbing, and wondered if Stetzer’s book is too optimistic about the success of existing churches with this group of emerging — Stetzer calls them ‘younger’ — adults.

Emerging Adulthood is published by Oxford University Press, and is intended for use as a textbook, but is highly readable, and not geared just to academics.  Churches seeking to engage emerging adults would benefit from reading and discussing Emerging Adulthood before attempting ministry to this age group.

Becoming a fan of Jesus

facebook-logo-289-751I’m starting to get into Facebook.   Debbie and I have connected with old friends, our own family, former church members, and lots of new “friends” that we would not have met anywhere else.  

As experienced Facebookers know, not only can you find friends online, but you can join causes, too.  I’ve joined a few causes, let a few other opportunities slide, and read them all with interest.   Some causes are being touted by professionals.  I won’t name names, but they’re probably your “friend,” too.  That’s the downside of social media — insincere friends trying to get you to do something that benefits them.  Actually, that happens in real life to, so maybe this is not so virtual after all.  

Another way to identify with your new online Facebook friends is to become a fan of someone or something they’re a fan of, too.  Which got me to thinking about the whole missional vs. attractional church debate.  Dan Kimball stirred the pot a little with his shot at missional churches that don’t grow.  Julie Clawson fired back with her take on the missional scene.  

But, what’s wrong with attracting people?  Jesus did it.  Granted the thousands abandoned him in the end, but they still got fed, healed, encouraged, taught, and loved.  Maybe some of them got it later.  We don’t know.  But, Jesus is the most missional guy I know, and he wasn’t offended when big crowds flocked to him.  Of course, he recognized that most of them didn’t get it, but he still did what he could with them.

While there is a big difference in becoming a “fan” of Jesus Facebook-style, and becoming a disciple of Jesus New Testament-style, it’s not a bad thing for people to be drawn to Jesus and his church, even out of curiosity, even for entertainment.  

The challenge is leading fans to become friends of Jesus, real friends.  After all, Jesus said to those following him, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”  Maybe starting as a fan can lead to something more.  What do you think?

101 Outreach Ideas for Small Churches

I’m playing around here and this is the rough draft of  101 Outreach Ideas for Small Churches.  Any others you want to add?  I’d love to hear any stories you have about any outreach ideas you’ve used.  I’m working on a book, and would like to include real stories from real churches.  Time for your 15-minutes of fame!  Here’s a start —

101 Outreach Ideas for Small Churches

  1. Sponsor a school or classroom
  2. Angel Food Ministry
  3. Family movie night
  4. Super Bowl party
  5. Resource center for senior programs, etc
  6. Host a music concert
  7. Block party
  8. community festival
  9. Halloween alternative
  10. Community heroes
  11. Christmas nativity tour
  12. community garden
  13. art show
  14. build a labyrinth
  15. free hotdog lunch
  16. school supplies
  17. parents’ night out
  18. mothers morning out
  19. partner to raise money for a local cause
  20. invite former members back — homecoming
  21. themed worship
  22. recognize special groups
  23. pulpit exchange or joint worship with other congregations
  24. community vbs
  25. community thanksgiving service
  26. thanksgiving for singles, seniors, and others
  27. trunk-or-treat
  28. day camps
  29. multi-generational groups
  30. crafting, scrapbooking, quilt-making groups
  31. day trips for seniors
  32. senior adult programs, lunch
  33. talent show
  34. church yard sale
  35. blessing of the animals
  36. free carwash
  37. make a difference day
  38. martin luther king day events
  39. english as a second language
  40. computer access 
  41. computer training
  42. grief workshop
  43. grandparents day
  44. mothers day
  45. fathers day
  46. advent activities, booklet, devotion guide
  47. milestone celebrations — anniversary, debt-free, etc
  48. achievement recognition — ball teams, championships, etc
  49. election day activities
  50. county or state fair booth
  51. tradeshow booth
  52. tourism booth
  53. homebound ministry 
  54. grief ministry
  55. nursing home ministry
  56. report card rewards
  57. skate park
  58. soundcheck like event
  59. lock in
  60. lock out
  61. youth service corps
  62. door-to-door food collection
  63. christmas parties for seniors, kids, families, target groups
  64. school recognition
  65. college day
  66. financial peace courses
  67. driving courses that target very young or AARP groups
  68. election forums
  69. non-profit helping agency fair
  70. volunteer recognition and thanks
  71. social services, community action partnerships recognition
  72. literacy program
  73. addiction programs
  74. single adult programs
  75. single parent groups
  76. special needs events
  77. health screenings
  78. diet and cooking classes
  79. book discussions
  80. neighborhood inventories and assessments
  81. prayer ministry
  82. open sanctuary or prayer room
  83. daily office
  84. taize services
  85. community celebration events
  86. community unity events
  87. community newsletter or bulletin board
  88. newborn gifts
  89. newcomer welcome baskets
  90. graduate recognition
  91. community music program for children, seniors
  92. helping resource inventory and volunteer directory
  93. home blessings
  94. weddings and funerals
  95. boy scout, girl scout, b&g club sundays
  96. second sunday fellowships
  97. personalized invitation
  98. Easter, palm sunday invitations
  99. food, clothing, and cleaning supplies pantry
  100. civic club sunday
  101. family skate nights

When outreach crosses the line

Whatever it takes, right?  I mean, anything that gets people in church is okay, right?  Because, after all, everybody needs to hear the gospel, so the ends justifies the means, right?  Maybe not.  What are the ethics of outreach and when do we cross the line from compassion to conniving?  

I read about one church a couple of years ago which offered a prize of $10,000 to a lucky worship attender.  All you had to do was show up.  At a pre-determined point in the service, everyone would be asked to look under their seat and pull out the little card taped to it.  The lucky winner was awarded $10,000 — just for coming to church.  Is that paying people to come to church?  If so, is it wrong?

Of course, some inner city missions used to do a variation of the same thing.  Homeless people were offered a free meal, but first they had to sit through a worship service complete with hymn singing, sermon, and invitation to receive Christ.  I know this happened because I preached at those services several times.  “We’ll feed you, but first you’ve got to come to church.”  

Years ago I heard a missionary talk about the need to carefully separate caring ministries, like providing food, from evangelism.  Hungry people would do anything to get food, including tell Christian missionaries they had accepted Christ.  My missionary friend said, “We don’t want to make ‘rice Christians’ out of people.” Good insight and maybe we need to apply it to our own US outreach strategies.  

Have you heard of outreach strategies that cross an ethical line?  What were they and why did you think they were unethical?  Have you ever crossed that line, and what made you realize you had?  I’m interested in hearing your stories.  Should be an interesting topic.

Church membership reimagined

Some in my Southern Baptist denomination are calling for more stringent church discipline. That’s mostly because we can’t find about half of our 16-million members. Obviously, some of our folks don’t take church membership very seriously. The logical thing to do to solve that problem is tighten up — enforce church discipline — make members tow the line. But, that’s the wrong approach.

My solution? Do away with church membership all together. There is no biblical basis for “membership” in a church, and it’s largely ineffective today. The alternative is to create “participants” — one church calls them “partners” — people who connect to a church by participating in some or all of the things a church does.

For instance, some will be interested in worship. Others will take a course in parenting. Others will help in the food pantry, or whatever your community ministry is. Others will want to bring their children to an afterschool program like AWANA or Pioneer Clubs. Some will volunteer to help in the community garden. Some will be involved in more than one aspect of church life, others will not.

By creating “participants” churches no longer have to press people to “join.” We can then focus on building The Kingdom, rather than our own kingdoms. The objection, of course, is that people will not take church seriously if they don’t join. But, most don’t take membership seriously now, so I’m not sure we’ll lose anything. Plus, there is a difference in “belonging” and “joining.” You’ve probably experienced people who joined, but never really belonged. They soon disappear. By contrast, participants would feel they belonged to their interest group — or else they wouldn’t come.

By identifying them as participants churches will free people to experience the ministry of church in various ways, without pushing for a premature commitment. As for leadership, cream always rises to the top. Churches will easily identify potential leaders by their enthusiasm, commitment, and involvement. Potential leaders are then invited to join the “leadership development team” to be formed as leaders in the congregation.

Finally, most churches connect professing faith in Christ and joining the church. In the South, “joining the church” is actually code for becoming a Christian. By unbundling conversion and membership, churches make clear that commitment to Christ is our first priority, with participation in a community of faith as its natural by-product.

Local church administration will undergo a significant revision in this century. Would your church give up its membership rolls for the participant concept? Or, is this a really wacky idea? I’d like to know what you think.

Make a commitment, the details will follow

We had a long and intense discussion in a committee meeting tonight at our church.  The subject:  how can we reach more families and children?   My challenge to the group was to lead the church to make a commitment as a congregation to the “what” — reaching families and children.  If we make a commitment to “what” we want to do, we can then all work together to figure out the details of “how” we’re going to reach more families and children.  The “what” commitment comes before the “how.”  Most of the time we get it backwards.  We want to talk “how” before we decide “what.”  Then, when our “how” fails, we abandon the “what” along with it.  Commit to “what” you want to do — the “how” will follow.

Our youth ministry shuffle

Our youth ministry took another blow this week.   Word trickled back to me that one of our families with young teens has found another church “where there are more kids.”  I’ve been here 4 years this month, and this is at least the fourth time this has happened.  We have never had more than a half-dozen kids at any one time, and they didn’t all come at the same time, so we’re struggling with how a small church creates a youth ministry.

I don’t blame parents with teens for wanting their kids to be in a dynamic youth group.  Debbie and I met at our church youth group when we were young teens.  We didn’t attend a huge church, but our youth group had about 20-25 regulars.  Several high school were represented in the group, so church was a place where we saw kids we didn’t see at school.  Out of our youth group several of us made commitments to full-time vocational ministry.  So, I understand the importance and impact of youth ministry on the lives of kids.

One of the realities of small church is you can’t be all things to all people.  There are some needs we can’t meet.  Right now, youth ministry is one of those.  But, we don’t quit trying.  This Sunday we honor our high school graduates — both of them.  But, for the two kids graduating, this is a big deal to them, and we’re delighted to share in this significant milestone.

While we can’t compete with larger churches, we can still care for the families and kids we have.  That’s our role right now, as we dream of ways to reach families with teens in the future.  How about your youth ministry?  Do you face the same challenges, and if so, how are you addressing them?  I’m sure many small-church pastors and leaders would like to hear your story.

Special Sundays Increase Attendance

Last year for our 150th anniversary, we scheduled one special Sunday celebration per month from January through July.   Our sesquicentennial Sundays were so successful that we decided to schedule one special Sunday per month during 2008.  Here’s what we did:

  1. We chose the same Sunday of each month. On the “Second Sunday” of each month, we schedule our special Sunday emphasis, followed by a covered dish lunch or a lighter salad bar lunch.  Staying with the “second Sunday” helps our folks remember the schedule.  The only exception to that was Mothers’ Day, and we moved the May event to the third Sunday.  More about that later.
  2. The “calendar” sets the theme. We do seasonal celebrations, such as Parent-Child Dedication on Mothers’ Day.  But, we also celebrate special Sundays on the liturgical calendar like the first time we celebrated Pentecost and asked everyone to wear red.  Most of our members did not know that Pentecost was the birthday of the church, or that red was the liturgical color for that Sunday.  But, almost everyone wore red, and it was a joyous worship experience.
  3. We focus on specific groups. We have celebrated Youth Sunday, Graduate Sunday, Parent-Child Dedication Sunday, Grandparents’ Sunday, and others.  The idea is to recognize and involve different groups of people each time.
  4. We eat together after worship. We moved our monthly covered-dish meal from Wednesday night to the second Sunday, and it works much better.  Attendance is better, more food is prepared, and more guests are invited.  Sharing table fellowship strengthens the bonds of our church family, and gives us an opportunity to talk with others we might not otherwise visit with.  And, by asking folks to bring food, even salad “fixins,” we’re creating an excuse to invite and include them.  And it works!
  5. We make exceptions when we need to. Because Mothers’ Day is always on the Second Sunday, we moved our May meal to the third Sunday.  Instead of lunch, we had breakfast at 9 am, with a guest choir concert from 9:30-10:30 am.  Sunday School was cancelled that day, and we all ate and enjoyed the concert together, with plenty of time to move to worship at 11 am.  Here are a couple of photos of that morning: