Category: small groups

A Critique of the Film “Divided”

I recently was asked by a church publication in Taiwan to respond to the controversial film, Divided.  Here is my response. I would be interested in yours.  If you haven’t seen the film, here’s the link to the film’s website.

A Pastor Looks At the Film “Divided”

The recent film, Divided, has attracted national media attention for its critique of age-based church ministries, targeting youth ministry in particular.  But despite the film’s message that families should be more involved in faith development in their own children, the film makes questionable connections in its attempt to discredit any and all age-based church ministry, including Sunday School.

Despite its message that family is the basic unit of faith development, the film’s weaknesses overshadow its main point.  Apparently it isn’t enough to suggest that age-based ministries might not be effective.  The filmmakers not only attempt to discredit youth ministry, Sunday School, and other forms of age-based ministry, but they seek to demonize them as well.  By linking Plato, Rousseau, and Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday School, into a “pagan” conspiracy to rip children from their parents’ influence, the film fails in intellectual and historic honesty.

Demonizing those who differ with us has become standard practice in politics in the United States, and now apparently it is standard practice in discussions about church ministry as well. The film seeks to equate age-based ministry with public education, the welfare state, and other public institutions that have fallen out of favor politically in the United States.

The film also speaks of “the church” as though the only expression of the church was in the United States of America.  And, despite the appearance of two African-American pastors as interviewees, the film seems to direct its critique of church ministry toward white, middle-class American church congregations.

Completely lacking in the film is acknowledgement that the church of Jesus Christ is a multi-faceted, multi-cultural body that finds unique expression within the cultural contexts in which it exists.

While there is no doubt that church attendance in the United States has been declining, the film Divided does not provide an answer to that decline.  Credible church historians and academics see multiple reasons for the decline in U.S. church attendance, and none have suggested that age-based programs are the reason.

The film and its producers could have done the church in the U. S. a great service.  Instead, they have produced a film that supports one questionable perspective on church life in white middle-class America, which will be largely irrelevant to other expressions of church in other nations and cultures.

5 Keys to Transformational Youth Ministry

“Kids have better things to do than come to a big event,” youth minister Prentice Park commented.  “Kids are looking for something deeper, more meaningful, and they’re not going to get that at a big event.”  Jeremy Zach, also a youth pastor, echoed Park’s point: “In our setting, youth ministry can’t be event-based because we don’t have the budget or the space.”

Jeremy and Prentice serve neighboring churches in the Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel communities of southern California.  Both churches average about 300 in worship.  Youth ministry in smaller churches like theirs relies on building personal relationships and creating space for conversations about Jesus.  Reaching an always-on, technology-native generation means more than serving pimento cheese sandwiches at an after-church fellowship.  Teens today deal with complex issues of identity, meaning, and the need to belong.  Smaller churches can engage teenagers effectively without having to produce big events requiring huge budgets.

During an interview, Park and Zach identified five keys to reaching and keeping teenagers engaged in ministry:

1.  Build relationships. While this doesn’t sound like new advice, both Park and Zach see relationships with teens as the number one key to effective youth ministry.  “Kids don’t need more ‘hello’ friends,” Park noted.  Building relationships is really about building trust between adult leaders and youth group members.

2.  Share ministry. Zach suggested a ratio of one adult leader for every eight teens when building a youth ministry.  “Students need to see adults living out their faith,” Zach said.  Having a 1-to-8 adult-to-teen ratio allows adults to connect with clusters of kids.  Youth ministry becomes a “network of networks” as adult sponsors get to know teenagers both individually and within their circle of friends.

3.  Create safe space. Both Park and Zach hold about half their youth meetings away from the church campus so that

Continue reading “5 Keys to Transformational Youth Ministry”

Megachurches Are Going Small….no kidding

Seth Godin said it first, “Small is the new big.”  Now it appears, big churches are the new small churches.

Let me explain. The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas is sponsoring Verge, a missional community conference.  Felicity Dale of simplychurch.com and a leader in the simple church movement, comments about the new interest megachurches are showing in microchurches:

Just over a year ago, within the space of 72 hours, Tony and I had three megachurches ask us about simple church.  We may be fairly slow on the uptake at times, but even we couldn’t miss the fact that this might be the Lord.  Since then we have had a two national meetings with megachurch and microchurch leaders meeting together, and even the theme of last year’s national conference “The Rabbit and the Elephant” reflected this potential.

Austin Stone Community Church is one of those megachurches interested in using microchurches (missional communities) to reach Austin.  So, small is the new big, as Seth Godin said.

Megachurches are coming to the realization that you can only build so many 100,000 square foot buildings and 1,000-space parking lots.  The economies of scale, both economically and organizationally, favor smaller groupings of people.  The original and most successful model of this small-to-big idea is Yoido Full Gospel Church founded by David Yonggi Cho in Korea.  Built on cell groups, Cho grew Yoido to over 700,000 members.  But the church’s goal now is to start 5,000 new churches, a kind of reverse of what Cho originally did.  Of course, not everyone likes Cho, but regardless of what you think of his theology, his organizational gifts are evident.

So, small is the new big as megachurches move out from their gigantic worship centers into neighborhoods, coffee shops, apartment complexes, and homes.  Is this a trend, or just an isolated example of the big church to small church phenomena? Stay tuned.

5 Lessons Churches Must Learn To Survive

Another newspaper closed last week and more are on the way.  Print journalism is dying faster than the dinosaurs did, and for the same reasons — the climate changed.  Not the atmospheric climate, but the social climate.  TV ditto, and throw in retail while you’re at it.  What hasn’t changed in this new always-on, always-connected, we-want-it-when-we-want-it age?

Churches.  And that is the problem.  You might think churches and denominations would look around and see the disaster in broadcast TV, print journalism, bricks-and-mortar retail, and figure out that this same tsunami is washing over churches, too.

David T. Olson predicts that by 2050 church attendance in the US will be only 10%.  I think he’s wrong. I think church attendance will drop much faster, much sooner.  Currently we are at about 17% of the US population who attends church on any given Sunday. (Forget the old 40% attendance figures — pollsters have determined they were asking the wrong question to get an honest answer.)

Here are the 5 lessons churches must learn from newspapers, TV, and retail if churches are going to survive as a viable social institution:

  1. Institutions no longer make the rules. Newspapers, TV, and even retail stores were the only places you could get news, entertainment, or goods in the old world.  But in the new world there are multiple options, multiple venues, multiple times.  People now are always connected, always on, and set their schedule based, not on the TV schedule or store hours, but on their preference.
  2. Institutions have no more credibility than individuals. Newsday, the NY tabloid daily, has decided to start charging for some of its articles because “people ought to pay.”  I predict they will fail miserably.  If I can’t get my news free from Newsday, I’ll get it from a 100 bloggers and citizen journalists.  Churches take note: We no longer are the only voice in the room, and the scandals of churches — sexual abuse, marital infidelity, leadership failures — only weaken our moral stance further.
  3. Our lives have taken on a different rhythm. Society’s life rhythm is different now.  Work is not confined to Monday thru Friday, leisure activities are not reserved for Saturdays, and going to church doesn’t need to happen on Sunday (if at all).  People will continue to connect, but churches need to change their rhythms, too.
  4. The “customer” owes you nothing. We sometimes think people should pay more (Newsday), come when we’re open (retail), and watch when we broadcast (TV).  Churches must realize that while we think people should come/attend/participate/etc they no longer have to.
  5. We’re using the wrong metrics. For newspapers it’s no longer about how many papers are on the lawn; for TV it’s no longer about how many people saw American Idol at 8 PM last night; for retail it’s no longer about how to get people in the store.  We continue to measure people coming to us, when we should be measuring church going to people in service, small groups, meetups, projects, and so on.  News is now being pushed out digitally via internet and mobile, TV is now on TiVo more than live, and retail is moving to the web.  Churches cannot continue to measure church attendance as the only, or prime, measure of viability.

Will churches change?  Many will not and they will die.  Some will linger on, shadows of their former glory, and others will adapt and thrive.  We’ll explore what the future holds for churches, particularly small churches, later this week.  Stay tuned.

New people need new groups

Lyle Schaller wrote many years ago, “New people need new groups.” Schaller said that existing groups don’t assimilate new members well, and churches should start new groups for new people.

About a year ago Debbie and I started a Sunday morning class  for younger adults, which in our church is anybody under 65.  The intent was to gather all our younger adults who did not attend Sunday School into a new class just for them.  Instead we actually attracted new people.  Our class of about 12 now has all new members or guests, with one exception,  who have joined since we have been here in Chatham.

It has taken about a year for the class to “gel” — for members to know one another well enough to want to spend time together.   We’re heavy on the fellowship end and a little light on the study part, but that seems to be working for now.  We have done several book studies, and right now we’re reading Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love.  Ages range from the 30s to the 60s, married and single.

This is the group from which our new spark will come.  They are excited, energetic, and want to include others.  For Christmas one member suggested we wrap small, inexpensive gifts to give to our homebound senior adults.  That project really gave the class an opportunity to bond and do something good in the process.

So, I’m with Lyle Schaller — new people do need new groups.  Sometimes it happens unexpectedly.