Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pursuing New Ideas

In The Medici EffectFrans Johansson describes how breakthrough ideas most often occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory.  One of my areas of interest is leadership.  I found long ago that both behavioral and organizational psychology can provide fresh understanding about how individuals lead others and what influences a person to follow a leader.

In recent years, the field of positive psychology has provided new insights into the characteristics that make an effective leader. Research based books like Grit by Amanda Duckworth, Mindset by Carol Dweck, and Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson highlight concepts and practices that can help a person to become a thriving leader. Although often found in the “Self-Help” section of a bookstore, these books are based on rigorous research.

As I use this books in seminary classes, a third dimension is brought to bear--theological reflection. Since the writers often come from a secular perspective, their research and writing needs to be evaluated in light of our understanding of who God is, who we are, and the work of the Spirit with individuals and groups.

In doing this, I start with several assumptions:

First, all truth is God’s truth.  Scientific research and scholarly investigation give us a better understanding of how God’s creation functions. God has given us the ability to learn from God’s creation and creatures.

Second, each of us have been created in the image of God but we are, at the same time, unique individuals. God has created our minds and bodies to work for our good.  Scientific study continues to provide new insights about how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14, NIV).

Third, every researcher or writer has a bias--certain presuppositions that he or she brings to their work.  Part of our task is to recognize the person’s perspective and consider how it enhances or limits their findings.

Fourth, anything that argues against the reality of God’s work in our lives and God’s desire that we become truly human must be used with care and skepticism.  Many of the authors in the area of positive psychology respect the place of the holy in a person’s life. 

Even with these limitations, disciplines such as psychology, sociology, physiology, and philosophy can provide Christians with fresh insights, encourage new applications, and open creative paths of research for us.

As we use these tools, we are often pushed outside our comfort zones, and I think that is a good thing. This is part of our calling to be on mission for God in this world. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Spiritual Dimension of Church Staff Meetings

Many ministers falter or burn out because they do not attend to their personal spiritual health. The justification for failing to invest in one’s spiritual life is often, “I am just too busy.” The same is true for the church staff. They are so busy doing good things that they may not spend time encouraging each other as disciples and facilitating each other’s spiritual growth.

Sam Rainer dealt with this in a recent article on “4 ‘Must-Haves’ for Weekly Staff Meetings.”  Here are some of the things he suggested and some additional ideas.

First, prayer is essential. Many churches collect prayer requests during weekend worship, then the staff prays about them during the weekly staff meetings.  The staff should also pray for each other, other needs of congregational members, and the challenges of the ministry.

Second, sharing of scripture keeps everyone on track.  The pastor might share the scripture for the coming weekend’s services.  If the lectionary is used, a particular scripture for the day of the staff meeting can be read by a participant.

Third, both ministry successes and challenges of the previous week can be shared and made the subject of prayer by the staff.  Celebration and support help build a team spirit.

Fourth, personal concerns should also be presented and committed to God in prayer. This is most effective when staff ministers really care about each other.

Fifth, prayer can provide a bond among staff members in the setting of a weekly meeting, but more in-depth sharing and encouragement can only take place in a longer setting. Weekly staff meetings should be augmented by one day meetings each month and an overnight retreat at least once a year. These extended sessions provide more opportunity for staff members to know each other and be aware of how to encourage one another.

Let’s not be so busy that we neglect to include the spiritual in our meetings.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Coaching: Asset for the Church

In a recent study conducted by the International Coach Federation on “Building a Coaching Culture with Millennial Leaders,” Alejandro Campos,
 Head of Talent Management and Organizational Development at Continental Tire Worldwide, is cited in this quote:
“Coaching is one of the instruments that we see can really boost performance and also help realize potential for people. We see it as something that is important to leverage our culture. So especially now that we are trying to be a more progressive and attractive employer, we’re trying to move from a culture of more top-down approach to a more collaborative approach in the more engaging leadership style.” 
There is a crisis in ministerial leadership.  In many denominations, there are fewer seasoned ministers available and many younger clergy are disenchanted about working in the local church.  One way to address this concern is to incorporate basic tenets of coaching into the life of the church.
Coaching would benefit clergy in several ways:
  • Coaching provides the encouragement, development, and support needed by pastors to lead congregations in a rapidly changing climate, thus reducing burn-out and frustration.
  • By providing coaching, the congregation affirms its investment in the success and health of its ministerial leaders.
  • Leaders who develop a coaching mindset are more likely to apply this in empowering lay leadership in their congregations.

A coaching culture would also benefit congregations in several other ways:
  • Creating a more collaborative culture that fosters creativity and innovation.
  • Strengthening the bench with emerging leaders from all generations.
  • Assuring longer tenure for ministerial staff.

Churches that choose to embrace a coaching approach will be better equipped to face the challenges of discontinuous change they face today.
 (This post originally appeared here on November 21, 2017, and is republished in recognition of International Coaching Week.)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Coaching for Discipleship

What is your definition of “discipleship”?  In general usage, a disciple is one who follows the example and teachings of another person.  In the Christian context, a disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ, one who seeks to practice his teachings and make them a part of her or his life.  Living out the teachings of Christ is generally called the act of discipleship.

Several years ago, I joined my colleague Mark Tidsworth in training church leaders to use coaching principles to help others to grow as disciples. We called the process “Disciple Development Coaching.”  Both Mark and I have a rather comprehensive view of what it means to be a disciple. Our concept (and I think the belief of many others) is that discipleship encompasses all of life—not simply our spiritual practices but the way we care for God’s gifts to us, act in our relationships with others, and pursue our vocational callings.

In a recent conversation, someone challenged me that coaching a person to be healthier was not a “discipleship or spiritual concern.”  Eating properly and getting adequate exercise was not “discipleship.”  My friend’s idea of discipleship was much narrower than mine.  He saw discipleship primarily in terms of one’s spiritual devotion and development, especially as it relates to the church.

If I were to adopt such a view, my discipleship coaching would change in several key ways.

First, I would only talk with some clients about activities that, at most, encompass one day of their week.  Even if they are regular attenders of worship services, pray every day, and read the Bible daily, what my friend calls a “spiritual concerns” would take up very little of even the most conscientious person’s time.

Second, topics like financial accountability, use of time, and being a responsible and productive worker would not be our agenda.

Third, meaningful discussion of relationships with family and friends would not take place because these are not “spiritual concerns.”

Fourth, we would never talk about following a healthy lifestyle or reducing one’s stress because these are not “spiritual concerns.”

In reality, when we coach a person in their development as disciples, all of these things and more are fair game.  God has created each of us as whole human beings.  When one enters a relationship with Christ, the entire person becomes (or is becoming) a disciple.  So the way that I use my finances for personal and family needs is just as much a spiritual concern as whether I tithe and support Christian causes. If I give ten percent to Kingdom causes and squander the other ninety percent, what does this say about my Christian commitment?

If I don’t take care of my body and fail to set proper limits on the use of my time and become ineffective or sick, how useful am I as a disciple?

If I fail to exercise a Christ-like attitude in relationship with family and friends, what does this say about my comprehension and practice of the Christian faith?

One biblical passage sums up this idea very well: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8, NIV)

In every area of our lives, we are called to be disciples.

(This blog originally appeared here on December 27, 2016, and is reposted in recognition of International Coaching Week.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Athletic Coach and Life Coach

In life or leadership coaching, we often make a distinction between our process and that used by athletic coaches.  This may be because the image of coaches who appear driven to succeed at any cost. For example, the late Vince Lombardi is reported to have said, “Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.”  

But Lombardi also said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”  All types of coaches can agree to that statement. 

We can see similarities between the two processions especially if we perceive the role of the athletic coach being to help the athlete reach her or his full potential.  This is what life coaches do as well.

For example, both types of coaches recognize the potential in those with whom they work.  They stand on the side and observe abilities that have not been developed and skills that can be sharpened.  Whether this is passing a football or leading a team, the coach sees what the person can achieve with commitment and practice.

Second, a coach urges a person to the next level.  The Core Competencies of the International 
Coach Federation encourage a life coach to stretch and challenge the client and to “stand for” the client.  Sometimes the coach’s role—whether an athletic coach or a life coach—is to say to the person, “Is this a big enough challenge for you?  How can you go further?”

Third, a coach provides constructive feedback.  For the athletic coach, this may involve sharing techniques but often it is in asking questions and providing a new perspective. Certainly, this is what a life coach does—helping the client to learn from both successes and failures and thus become more effective.

Whether we are athletic coaches or life coaches, our goal is not just our own success but the success of those with whom we work.

(This post originally appeared on January 10, 2016, and is re-posted in recognition of International Coaching Week.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Basics of Coaching

I have been doing professional life coaching for eight years and I find that I still have a number of opportunities to introduce and explain the concept to people.  Just about everyone understands athletic coaching either from observing a sports coach in action or serving as a volunteer coach. Life coaching is a bit different. Three basic ideas will help you understand how life coaching works.  

First, the person being coached is the focus of coaching.  The coach is thoroughly engaged in the coaching conversation, but the conversation is all about the client.  When we engage in a normal conversation with a friend or colleague, we expect that each person will have their fair share of the time—not simply reacting but sharing their own ideas and experiences and carrying their part of the conversation.  In coaching, it is all about the client.  The coach is there to serve the client’s agenda—to listen, ask questions, and support.

Second, the coach guides the process and the person being coached provides the content.  The client identifies the subject or challenge that he or she wants to address and the coach helps the client to discover their preferred future, identify and gain clarity about what will get them there, set a goal, develop action steps to get there, and support the person being coached as they pursue their goal.  The client knows more about the situation than anyone else so the coach helps the client listen to himself or herself, helping the person being coached gain new self-understanding about both purpose and potential.

Third, every person being coached has gifts and abilities to address their concerns even if they do not realize it.  The coach helps the person to discover and apply these capabilities. The coach helps the client to dig deep and come up with the resources already available within to apply to the task.  Most of us already know more than we are doing; we just need to get moving!

In all of this, the coach is not passive but active—questioning, encouraging, and sometimes challenging the client in her or his personal growth.   Coaches help their clients to become their best selves. 

In coaching, it really is all about you!

(This post originally appeared on this blog on August 9, 2016, and is published again in recognition of International Coaching Week.)

Monday, May 07, 2018

Thoughts about Faith-Based Coaching

Usually when the topic of faith-based coaching comes up, the immediate response is, “Oh, you mean Christian coaching.”  In recent days, I have started to ask myself, “Is this what it really means for me?”  To put this in perspective, let me first share three observations.

First, I am a person of faith.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  Even though I am probably better at it on some days that others, the relationship is there and the strength of it is more dependent on God’s grace than my faithfulness. 

Second, I am a Christian who is also a coach (life coach or leadership coach) and that means I want to be a good coach.  Martin Luther said, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”  If we do our work well, that in itself is a witness to what is of value to us. Whether I am coaching a Christian or a non-Christian, I will seek to do my best.  Whether the topic is spiritual or not, I will help to the client to address it well.

Third, I must make clear that I believe Christians, and especially Christian leaders, should seek to find common ground with other faith leaders in their communities.  Whether one is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Sikh, or a Buddhist, he or she wants the same things for the family, the children, the neighbor, and the community—health, education, food, beauty, and safety.  These are basic human needs no matter what one’s belief system happens to be.

Given those observations, is it possible for us to think about an approach to coaching that is grounded in faith, no matter what that faith may be? Is there a distinct way of coaching that will benefit all faith communities and faith-based organizations?   Although rooted in a Christian perspective, I believe that these principles could apply to any faith community.

  • Embraces the potential within each individual to choose, plan, and act.
  • Recognizes the value of community for growth and accountability.
  • Respects differences of opinion in matters of faith.
  • Strives for the common good in society.
  • Seeks to understand the dynamics at work in a community.
  • Encourages mutual responsibility in planning and implementation.
  • Processes past experiences for positive action in the present and future.
  • Values the potential for change in individuals and communities.

What do you think?  What does “faith-based coaching” mean to you?

(This post originally appeared on this blog on December 1, 2016, and recognizes that this is International Coaching Week.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Avoiding Death by Staff Meeting

Like death and taxes, staff meetings seem unavoidable.  With the best of intentions, a leader calls people together with the intention that they be informed, share important information with one another, and leave better equipped to do their jobs.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.
Here are some guidelines about effective staff meetings (or meetings of any kind for that matter) that might be helpful.

First, is this meeting really necessary?  Does it require the presence of this specific group of people for a designated period of time?  If the answer is “No,” don’t bother to meet.  If “Yes,"  then proceed to the next questions.

Second, what is the meeting’s purpose?  The best way to define this is to create in advance a written agenda for those who will be expected to attend.  Provide them with the opportunity to adjust the agenda either prior to the meeting or at the beginning of the session.  This encourages ownership by participants.

Third, how does this meeting fit into previous meetings or meetings that will be planned subsequently? Most meetings are not stand-alone events.  Most meetings are part of a continuum.  The best way to keep up with the flow it to make sure someone takes notes of what transpires in each meeting and circulates them afterward. This is especially helpful for those who have to miss.

Fourth, will decisions be made and how will this be done?  In one meeting I attended, after a discussion on a topic, a participant asked a question.  The reply was, “This is already decided. We are not looking for your questions or opinions.”  It would have been nice to communicate that ahead of time.  Is the meeting convener seeking to simply provide information, involve participants in making a decision, make assignments for future work, or some combination of these actions?

Fifth, who will do what as a result of this meeting?  If assignments have been made, are they both clear and recorded?  What is the time frame for action?  Will it be necessary to meet again?  When will that be?

Sixth, what did we accomplish in today’s meeting and how could we have worked more effectively? It is often hard to get honest response on these questions, but a brief after-meeting survey online might allow the convener to learn how this group functions best.

If we are going to meet, let’s make it worth everyone’s time.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Taking the Initiative

Veteran pastor Joe McKeever recently wrote an article on how to increase pastoral tenure in a congregation. In the course of his research McKeever interviewed one pastor who had served the same church for 22 years.  Here is one observation he made: “Always work on new initiatives. His 22 years have not been 22 years of doing the same things over and over, but trying many different things.”

A pastor (or any leader) can become comfortable and easily get stuck in a rut.  This means that he or she is not flexing ministerial muscles in preparation for the new opportunities and challenges that will rise in every context.

Although a pastor should encourage the congregation to be healthy and attempt new initiatives, there are ways that the pastor can be proactive on an individual basis with little or no approval necessary from the congregation.

In relation to the pastor’s ministerial role, she or he could do the following:

  • Experiment with an innovative approach to preaching.  This may be using the lectionary for a change, doing a book study, planning dialogical sermons, or preparing a series on a particular topic.  Just try something different than you have not done before.
  • Launch a new Bible study class that the pastor teaches.  This could be for new-comers or seekers.  This doesn’t have to be long-term, but it can provide personal contact with a new set of people for the pastor.
  • Become a volunteer in the community. Although every pastor is busy, perhaps he or she could be a volunteer chaplain for a hospital, a police or fire department, or a community agency. Another possibility is service on the board of a community organization.  This expands the pastor’s boundaries in many ways.

The pastor can also take the initiative in her or his personal development in many ways:

  • Take an online course such as those offered by Coursera, EdX, Acumen, and others.  These MOOC’s (massive open online courses) cost little or nothing and provide exposure to the top teachers and practitioners in leadership, psychology, communication, and other fields.
  • Contract with a professional coach to work on personal, professional, and spiritual development. The coach helps the client identify new opportunities and pursue them in an intentional way.
  • Participate in webinars and short-term courses that will enhance your leadership.  Organizations like Pinnacle Leadership Associates provide a variety of offerings. 
  • Consider seeking an additional degree.  This could be seminary degree such a Doctor of Ministry in Creative Leadership from Central Baptist Theological Seminary that will help you develop your skills in a particular area or a graduate degree in a field of interest from a college or university.  Many of these are available online, but you might benefit more from the personal contact with other students in a classroom setting.

What has been said here for pastors applies to all clergy and to lay leaders as well.  Challenging ourselves to grow, try out new experiences, and continue to learn makes us more healthy and productive, as well as keeping our ministries fresh.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Listening to the Spirit in Coaching

What makes a coach--life coach, leadership coach, etc.--a “Christian” coach?  I have often said that it is not about the questions the coach asks of his or her client, but the worldview that the coach brings to his or her work. As Luther is reported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

On further reflection, I think that there is another dimension that the Christian coach brings to the coaching conversation: the coach’s understanding about how God might be at work in the life of the person who is being coached.  If the Christian coach is to be faithful to his or her calling, the coach realizes that there are three persons involved in the conversation: the client, the coach, and the Spirit of God.

I try to remind myself of this is in a couple of ways. 

First, before coaching sessions I try to set aside a couple of minutes to pray and ask God that I will know when to remain silent so that the Spirit might speak in the conversation.  If I say too much or attempt to fill in the silent spaces, I may be intruding on what the Spirit is saying to the client or what the Spirit is drawing out of the client’s experiences or insights.

Second, I have a printed copy of this verse on my desk: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”(John 3:8, NIV) As we reflect on the Book of Acts, we observe the Spirit of God act in remarkable, unexpected, and--some might say--chaotic ways.  As a believer and as a coach, I must avoid stifling those expressions of the Spirit’s work, especially in the life of my client.

A Christian coach is not identified by an adjective but by an attitude--one that recognizes that God is still at work in the world.



Monday, April 23, 2018

A Partnership Whose Time has Come

The process for supplying ministerial leaders used to go something like this.  Churches nurtured young people who “responded to the call to ministry.”  After the candidates completed college, the church sent them on to the denominational seminary which not only taught denominational doctrine but were funded by the denomination to do so.  When the student graduated, he (and sometimes she) began candidating through the denomination’s accepted process and found an initial place of service.  

This may be a simplified explanation that did not always work as smoothly as stated, but this was the general idea.  The current situation is much more complicated.  Potential seminarians respond to the call later in life—either after an educational hiatus following college or after starting a career and family.  

 Some don’t have any college education at all.  Denominations are no longer funding theological education as they once did, so students carry more of the educational debt load. A final challenge is that churches may call out potential ministers, encourage them to receive preparation, and then cannot afford to employ them.

The changes in the religious ecosystem call for new types of partnerships among individuals preparing for ministry, churches, and theological institutions.  For the most part, churches still want trained clergy leaders.  Most traditional denominations require a certain amount of education before they will ordain a minister.  Even megachurches see the value in ministerial education.  A recent study conducted by Leadership Network and the Hartford Institute for Religious Research showed  that three-quarters of mega churches have an internship or mentoring program for ministerial preparation.  Twenty-five percent of those are conducted in cooperation with a recognized seminary.

With the advent of distance learning and flexible degree programs, any church can partner with a theological institution to provide training for a prospective minister. With many churches choosing to call ministers out of their own fellowship, the importance of adding another partner to the mix is vital. 
This collaboration provides resources and perspectives that the church alone cannot supply.

The next step, and perhaps the hardest, is convincing a church to step up and be a responsible financial partner in this relationship.  In the best of all possible worlds, the church would not only help provide a place for a prospective or current minister to serve, but would compensate the person and assist with the cost of his/her education.  A commitment on the part of the minister  either to serve   the church for a specific period of time in return for this assistance or to provide partial repayment if she or he left would safeguard the church’s investment.

Other benefits could result from the relationship as well.  For example, seminary professors could provide Christian formation opportunities for church staff and laity.  Church staff could take advantage of the library and continuing education offerings of the seminary.  The church could offer a laboratory for other seminary students to observe congregational life in action. 

The times call for new ways of thinking and relating but implementation requires openness on the part of all the potential players.
(This post originally appeared on this blog on December 31, 2015.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Birthing New Churches

As I listen to conversations about the challenges that established churches are facing, I am reminded of the quote, “We need more churches but not like the ones we have now.”  The point of this statement is that there are people groups who are not going to be reached by the traditional, established churches. The may be due to the context, the types of ministries offered, or lack of clarity about vision and purpose. Even with many churches in decline and some even closing, I believe that there is a place for the creation of new faith communities.

When I worked with a denominational group, we talked about three types of church starts:  upstarts, restarts, and new starts.  None of these is easy.

An “upstart”is a euphemism for a church split.  In the changing denominational landscape of recent years, we have seen a lot of these. I was part of a group that was just days away from launching an upstart.  What stopped this action was the departure of the pastor of the church where many of us were members.  He decided it was time for him and his followers to do their own upstart!

Some upstarts prosper, but only if they move away from their original reason for existence.  Many are created out of dissension--disagreements about doctrine, leadership, or polity.  If the new faith community can move beyond this and find a clear mission and reason to exist, it can grow and develop.

New startsrequire a lot of hard work and commitment.  Their leaders tend to identify a particular geographical area or people group and create a community to reach and involve those individuals.  I have been part of one of these that was moderately successful and have also encouraged the development of several more, a couple of which have survived and prospered.

restart churchis one where a congregation acknowledges that it is time to celebrate what they have done and turn their site over to another group.  Very often the new ministry is oriented toward a particular ethnic group with leadership who can identify with that population.  This happened with my home church.  Usually the focus of a restart is on a particular affinity group--singles, artists, economically challenged--and the approach is very different from that of the previous congregation.

In all of these situations, the leadership and participants must possess several characteristics:

  • Have a clear vision of who they are and the people they want to reach;
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of others and work hard;
  • Be able to set clear priorities related to time, money, and ministries;
  • Have “skin in the game” --they have a clear calling from God and are totally invested in the effort;
  • Be willing to learn from failure and not be discouraged;
  • Be able to celebrate small wins and see where God is at work. 

No matter the type of church start a person becomes involved with, the work is difficult but rewarding as one begins to see God at work in the fellowship and in the community.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Organizing for Missional Ministry

I once did a consultation with a church that averaged about thirty people on Sunday morning.  As I reviewed their organizational structure, I noted that they had 45 committee positions and they were all filled.  Of course, several people were on more than one committee!  Considering the challenges they were facing, they were expending a lot of energy on filling committee slots.

Many churches struggle with finding not only the right people to fill out the church’s organization chart but enough people who are willing to serve.  I speak to this primarily from the perspective of churches that practice a congregational polity, but I am sure this is true with churches that practice other forms of governance.

Why is it so hard to find people to take on roles of leadership today?  Here is my list of reasons, and I am sure that you can add others:

  • People are involved in other things like children’s sports, leisure activities, and travel.
  • Serving in a church leadership role is no longer seen as a place of honor or prestige.
  • Both parents are employed, and they want to spend their free time with each other and family.
  • We have too positions to fill and many have no real purpose.
  • We ask people to do things that they are not passionate about or equipped to do. 

A first step in dealing with this concern is to decide what standing committees we really need. There are certain administrative functions that need to be covered: facilities management, personnel administration, and financial accountability.  The groups dealing with these functions should be made up of people who have the ability and commitment to make sure these activities are done not only legally but ethically.

The second step is to determine the key ministries which should be covered.  Many churches now use teams rather than committees to address these specific functions. The teams are usually composed of people who have both the gifts and passion for a particular ministry. Often they are enlisted by staff ministers or team leaders rather than a nominating committee.  Some teams are project oriented and people serve until the task is accomplished.  Members of other teams may be asked to serve for a specific period of time or be given the opportunity to renew their commitment annually.  A helpful feature of teams is that they usually are not listed in the governance documents of the congregation, so they can be created, altered, or ended as needed. It is hard to kill a committee! 

A third step to consider is governance--coordination between ministerial staff, administrative committees, and ministry teams. Very often this is done through a council with representatives from staff, the administrative   committees, and the facilitators of the ministry teams.  This is the place where the vision of the church is championed and the interests of the congregation as a whole are addressed.

One example of a missional approach to organization is illustrated by the diagram.  First United Church of Christ in Northfield, Minnesota, has addressed this concern and come up with a creative approach.  It is clear, clean, and functional.

If you know of others, please share them with me at

Friday, April 13, 2018

Day Camper or Pilgrim?

During the latter part of the last century, many churches fell in love with church growth methodologies. The church growth movement adopted the organizational and marketing ideas used by businesses in post-World War II America.  These included designing events based on the demographics of your community, providing comfortable meeting facilities, making certain that everything the church offered was polished, and evaluating customer experience to make church ministries more attractive. There were some positive aspects of this approach, but it fostered a “if we build it, they will come” mentality.  This was an attractional approach.  If this approach could be coupled with a discipleship process that connected people with the church and help them grow in their faith, a strong and vibrant church might develop.

Unfortunately, the second part of the attractional concept did not happen in most cases.  As Darrell Guder observes, “Churches became purveyors of goods and services to consumers.”  If people were not happy with the goods and services offered, they packed up and went shopping for another church.

An alternative is the missional approach.  The missional idea is that the people of God have been called to accomplish the mission of God. The work of the people of God is not limited to the sanctuary (or auditorium) on Saturday night or Sunday morning, but takes place wherever the members of the Body of Christ find themselves on Monday morning and throughout the week.

The difference is similar to that of the day camper and the pilgrim.  Day campers drop in for the experience of the day and then go back home.  They are involved in only select parts of the journey.  Pilgrim are involved in the journey 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  They are not simply involved in an experience but in a life of learning, discovering, and serving.

The attractional idea is deeply imbedded in our churches.  We want to make simple, technical changes that will make our congregations more attractive.  Rather than renovating, we would be better off to tear the institutions down to their foundations and rebuild.

Since this is not going to happen in most of our churches, we can begin to think about how we might adopt a new paradigm where we go to the people rather than asking the people to come to us.   We can begin to make the adaptive changes that will move us toward being the people of God on mission.

It’s not an easy task, but if it were easy, anyone could do it!