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Day Camper or Pilgrim?

In a conversation with a church leader prior to the pandemic, we discussed the various activities of his church and how they might lead individuals to become more committed disciples of Christ.     My friend is very concerned about taking people deeper into the faith, helping them to connect with God on a daily basis and transforming their lives.     Unfortunately, we found that many of the things that his church offered were attracting day campers rather than pilgrims.    This is true of many churches today.   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 attr
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The Gathered Church

Pastors have always realized that there will be large numbers at church on Easter Sunday, and it has nothing to do with them.     Of course, this was not true last year, and it was not true this year.     Although some churches were able to meet again physically, many more were involved in worship online, as they have been for the last 14 months.   Despite everything, Easter happened.   God’s people celebrated the Resurrection in church buildings, open spaces, and their homes.  The physical numbers were not important; they never have been.  Numbers don’t valid the message.  If we are depending on larger numbers of believers gathering in worship to be a testimony to faith, we are fighting a losing battle.     A recent Gallup study reported that church membership in the United States has fallen below fifty percent for the first time.  Whether conservative, moderate, or liberal, all churches have reported a decline in membership. The same is true whatever one’s political affiliation, edu

A Rich and Mythic Legacy

The life and accomplishments of the saint we call Patrick have certainly been embellished and enhanced by early hagiography and centuries of veneration.  Historians assume that some acts attributed to Patrick were either done by others or are simply good stories that have become part of his legend.  In death, Patrick is undoubtedly a much larger presence that he was in actual life.  This is true with so many religious and historical figures.  They may have been decisive, even heroic, figures but we can no longer separate the person from the legend. Not only is Patrick an iconic figure, he has also become linked with what we know call Celtic Christianity.  Thomas Cahill’s book  How the Irish Saved Civilization  introduced the rich tradition of the Celtic and specifically Irish contributions to a mass audience.  George Hunter drew on similar ideas for  The Celtic Way of Evangelism.   Just as we add much on to the lives of honored individuals of the past, we have probably created a pictur

The Religious Political Industrial Complex

When President Eisenhower left office on January 17, 1961, he warned the nation about the increasing power of “the military-industrial complex.”     This was surprising to many due to his career service in the military culminating with becoming a five-star general.     Some have suggested he did not go far enough and should have used the term “the political-military-industrial complex.”   In a Facebook post this week, a friend identified himself as recovering from the “religious industrial complex.”  I think he could have added “political” that term as well.  Many ministry leaders in the second half of the twentieth century not only grew up in the paradigm, but we helped to perpetuate it.  I know I did.   As a Southern Baptist, I grew up in a church that used denominational literature, supported denominational programs, and followed a denominational (not liturgical) calendar.  The Southern Baptist Convention and its agencies were both horizontally and vertically integrated for program

An Alternative to Strategic Planning: How Will We Know We are Making a Difference?

Although I am not certain, I believe it was W. Edwards Deming said, “What gets measured gets done.”     The grammar seems a bit tortured, but the idea is clear—unless you have some measurement for an activity, you probably won’t do it.    This applies not only to jotting down on a calendar or logging in an app how much you exercise, but we what do in ministry as well.   If we are going to take the time to plan and execute a ministry, shouldn’t we take the time to measure its effectiveness?  The problem is that the church is behind on identifying, keeping, and celebrating metrics for effective ministry in the twenty-first century.   The default for most churches is usually “nickels and noses”—what are our offerings and how many are in the pews?  I won’t argue that stewardship and participation are not important, but how do we measure Christian growth and missional engagement among other things?   Let’s acknowledge that this is an issue for the church at large; however,  in the context o

An Alternative to Strategic Planning: What Will We Do?

What is the difference between creativity and innovation?     Creativity is the ability to come up with great ideas.     Innovation is making a great idea a reality.     As Joel Barker has said, “ Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”  Once we have developed our “God-sized dreams,”  what do we do with them?   First, this is a collaborative process.  If we have spent time understanding the gifts of our people and the capabilities of potential partners, we are ready to sit down together and come up with implementation plans.  We also find ways to communicate with the entire congregation, to share the vision, and to bring others into the work through their prayers, contributions, and participation.   Second, this is an intentional process.  We decide what we will do, and we mobilize the resources to do it.  Perhaps we need to discover new financial resources, so we pray and plan to do so.  Along the w

An Alternative to Strategic Planning: We Can We Do?

Most of us have read Margaret Mead's quote , "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can  change the world . Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  Although Mead may have been thinking primarily of a secular context, the idea is certainly central to the work of the Christian church. In the Book of Acts, some Christians were dragged before public officials with the charge,  “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” (Acts 17:6b, MEV)   Once we have clarity as believers, we can make an impact in our community and our world.  This clarity comes only through a time of collective  spiritual discernment with God’s people talking, listening, and praying.  They talk about their experiences, hopes, and fears.  They listen to each other with love and compassion. They pray seeking the leadership of the Holy Spirit.    Our church recently went through a pastoral transition.  One of the most empowering parts of the interim