Friday, April 30, 2010


UCC minister Lillian Daniel writes, "In my church, the Passing of the Peace" moved from a frozen affair between two people to 10 minutes of chaos in which people wandered the sanctuary greeting others. A new member confessed that it was actually his loneliest moment in the entire service. As others warmly greeted those they already knew, his few stiff greetings left him aware that he was not yet included."

As a single person myself, I often find it a lonely experience to be a church visitor. I once had a string of eight consecutive church visits without anyone speaking to me. From what I can tell, this is a common experience. Everyone should be a greeter, but few are. If a visitor experiences loneliness in your church once, he or she will not return for a repeat performance.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A simple formula...

That formula is "Unmet need + Niche focus = Successful ministry."

An unmet need is a motivator. If people have unmet needs, they will look for ways to meet those needs. Translated into congregational life, focusing ministries on unmet needs in your community can open fresh opportunities. This formula fits churches of all sizes and faiths, and is a timeless strategy.

All too often, churches become inward looking, emphasizing the budget and programs for current members. Servanthood calls people of faith to reach out to others. Most churches don't have to venture very far to find people who could use a little help along life's path.

Robert L. Perry, Find a Niche and Scratch It

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Moral authority?

In a bygone era, churches often claimed moral authority over their members. There existed a God before whom all were accountable. Beginning in the 1960s, religion became increasingly therapeutic, and God became a friend who was viewed as bringing us the good life on our own terms. Some churches claim that God wants you to be rich, i.e. the prosperity Gospel.

The post that follows this one, about the environmental effects of raising livestock, includes my comment about whether the church has the authority to challenge its members to eat less meat, or become vegetarians, as a moral issue. Can the church also challenge members in other areas, especially in countercultural views of the prevailing consumer culture? In other words, if the good life is all about going shopping, should the church be supportive, challenge this view, or is this none of the church's business?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day?

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, claims you can't be a meat-eating environmentalist. Approximately 30 percent of the earth's ice-free land is now devoted to raising livestock. Around the globe, huge swaths of land are cleared to make more room for livestock and the crops that feed them. The widespread use of antibiotics and hormones to produce meat faster have become the norm.

It takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce food for a single meat-eater, compared to 300 gallons for a vegetarian. Factory farms also generate 300 million tons of manure each year - more than double the amount produced by the entire human population in the US. Many churches now claim to be "green." Will people of faith live out their values by refusing to participate in the devastation of the planet?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A great idea...

A congregation might organize itself along the lines of three components. First is the inviting ministry, which might include invitational evangelism, public relations, and hospitality. But this is not just about welcoming new people; it's also about welcoming the flow of new life experience among people already there.

Then there could be the transforming ministry, which would include worship and teaching, and formational groups. The third component would be the sending ministries, including equipping, service, and ministry teams. This can be viewed as both an organizational structure, and as evidence of a living congregational system.

Anthony Robinson, Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


The Commentary introduces the books of the Bible in three ways. A set of general articles in the introduction deals with matters that concern the entire Bible. A second series of articles introduces the parts of the Bible that show a similarity and have a relationship to each other.

Then there are the commentaries on the individual books. This plan enables readers with three approaches for study: to the Bible as a whole, to the major divisions of its literature, and to the particular books.

James L. Mays, Harper's Bible Commentary

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eyes on what prize?

Human achievement is seen as the pathway to earthly success and immortality. Reliance upon spiritual truth as a means to success and fulfillment is viewed as ignorance, irrelevant, and a sign of weakness.

George Barna, Evangelism That Works

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The perfect wedding...

The prospective groom said,"Can we do it tonight?" The bride, six months pregnant, in her white Venture Mart shift, looked dark-eyed and radiant. The matron of honor, eight months pregnant, in a Carnaby Street mini-dress, stood nearby. The groom appeared pale but steady.

The minister was wearing bell-bottomed corduroys and a wool sweater, over which he had draped a white stole. He kept his eyes in his book. To an outsider peering through a window into my office, the scene might have been borrowed from a French farce or a Monty Python skit.

Richard Lischer, Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey Through a Country Church

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The ultimate example...

Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston has a "dollar for dollar" benevolence program. This congregation gives away one dollar to the needs of the world for every dollar it spends on itself. Last year, the church raised about $11 million. It spent approximately half that amount for ongoing costs, and gave the other half away.

Churches of any size can accomplish this. Financial planners say that most Americans could double their charitable giving to all causes and not notice the slightest difference in their daily lives. Doubters might keep in mind that the highest per capita giving in the US often emanates from the poorest states, like Mississippi and Alabama.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The parson of the parish...

The parson knows accurately, from lessons which he has learned unknowingly, the extent of evil and the extent of good will that exists around him. Against gross profligacy and loud sin he can inveigh boldly, and he can make men and women quake in their shoes by telling them the punishment which will follow such courses.

But with the peccadilloes dear to the rustic mind he knows how to make compromises, and can put up with a little drunkenness, with occasional sabbath-breaking, with ordinary oaths, and with church somnolence. He does not expect much from human nature, and is thankful for moderate results.

Anthony Trollope, Clergymen of the Church of England, 1865

Friday, April 9, 2010

A primary responsibility...

Pollster George Gallup concludes that as many as four in ten Americans admit to frequent or occasional feelings of intense loneliness. Americans are, in fact, the loneliest people in the world.

Church researcher George Barna focuses on loneliness as a felt need that the church should address. He writes that loneliness is a major growing problem in America, and the kind of social problem that the Church needs to identify and respond to.

However, in my own work with congregations I often find an attitude of, "If people are lucky, they'll find us. If not, there's really nothing we can do about that."

Monday, April 5, 2010

The "musts" of a successful mission...

One of the most common mistakes is to make the mission statement a kind of hero sandwich of good intentions. Instead, organize yourselves to see the opportunities, the needs. Where can we, with the limited resources we have - and I don't mean just people and money, but also competence - really make a difference, set a new standard?

The next thing to look at is what you really believe in. I have never seen anything being done well unless people are committed. What attracts people to any organization, including the church, are high standards, because high standards create self-respect and pride.

Peter Drucker, Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The most important question of all...

Ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.

Thomas Merton