Not Safe For Church: Fifth Commandment: Thou Shall Learn How We Roll: Create New Entry Points

If I have said this once, I have said this a MILLION time to pastors and churches.  Millennials tend to not be connected to your church because of your worship services!  Not Safe for Church explains that the model of “Worship Plus Two” from the 1990s isn’t working any more.  No longer can you expect your members to commit to worship plus two other opportunities like Sunday school, choir, small groups outreach ministries, etc.  No one takes the time for that anymore!   This model relied on the assumption that worship is the primary entry point for new people.  Keep in mind the shift that has taken place in our society today. More and more millennials did NOT grow up in the church.  For this and many other reasons, the unchurched and de-churched population are skeptical of congregations.  (pg. 60)

When worship numbers begin to decrease and less young people are engaged in corporate worship, churches begin to blame all sorts of things: style, music, preacher, time, etc.  But really we need to consider the model and its assumptions to make an adjustment.

So what is worship?  “For many communities of faith worship is defined inwardly and not outwardly.” (pg. 63)  Martin Luther’s definition of worship is “that nothing else be done in it than that our Lord Himself talk to us through His holy word and that we, in turn, talk to Him in prayer and song of praise.” (pg. 62). Many times when we define worship we describe what we DO, the actions: singing, praying, and preaching.  Even though we don’t all agree on the same definition of worship, we can find common ground in saying worship is dependent on a relationship with God and is the work of the Holy Spirit and the gathered people. (pg. 63)  What hit me most, and makes totally sense, is what the authors bring up next.  If we believe that worship first requires a relationship with God, then what are we doing asking nonbelievers to first come to worship with us?!  This is a genius question!  In fact, it answers the question of why millennials are drawn to service opportunities first, before they will ever step foot in a worship service.  Reading that was an “Aha” moment for me!

So if it’s not worship, what are the entry points for young people into your congregation?  This generation loves to engage in service/mission and social activism ministries.  These ministries offer excellent ways for young people to engage in multigenerational opportunities as well.  Small Group Ministries can be another entry point.  These groups can offer a great way to build relationships with others while doing life together.  Offering Small Groups in nontraditional times and places, provides nonthreatening entry places for young people.  Preschools, VBS and other Children’s Programs can be entry points for young families as well.  However, they need to be engaging and build relationships.

I think we definitely need to shift the way we plan and think about worship.  If we can move young people from the entry points of our congregations to worship, and they have never participated in worship before, then what changes could be made to make worship more accommodating?  Sermons MUST, MUST, MUST give examples that relate to ALL ages.  Pastors who include examples of high school, college or singles in their sermons are sending the message, “I care about young people.”   Communion Stewards, ushers, tech team, praise band, choir, all need to have young people represented.  If they see others their age engaged in worship (this can also include children and teens) then they will naturally think they matter to the congregation.  It’s an easy shift.  Why can’t we make it?

I LOVE this quote from page 69, “New disciples will not be made en masse if congregations stand by and passively expect people to walk through the front doors of the church on Sunday morning.”  Create entry points beyond Sunday morning, then we may see younger disciples being made!

Not Safe for Church: Fourth Commandment-Thou Shall Check Yourself before You Wreck Yourself. Provide inclusive worship and Bible study.

I think most of us have experienced one time or another, feeling like an outsider, inside a church.  If you haven’t experienced it yourself, maybe you have had a conversation with someone who doesn’t feel like they are welcomed.  You know, we can’t have “them” in the church, they wear jeans, have tattoos, or have a different haircut.  There are plenty of examples of those “inside” the church creating an “us vs. them” mentality.  Jesus is the perfect example of loving people who didn’t always fit “the mold.”

This chapter begins by explaining the importance for churches to not simply continue what they have always done, or to try to tweak what they always have done and package it in a new way, but to truly make a change to reach the post-civil rights movement.  If churches are going to be welcoming to all people, it needs to be ALL, not just those that look like the 99% that sits in the pews regularly.

I particularly like this from page 50, “It is one thing to eat with those who are unfit and quite another to go into their domain.  Jesus went to their domain.” This is based on Matthew 9:10 where Jesus goes and eats at the home of a tax collector.  Everything the church does seems to be focused on the masses coming to the church: worship, Bible study, carry-in meals, fall festivals, and the list goes on.  If we change our thinking to focus on the gospel and not on our own comforts and ambitions, then maybe the post-civil rights generation will be more willing to engage in the faith community.

I feel as though the church is missing the point.  In changing, it’s not about having more programs, or ministry opportunities, it about having genuine conversations, building relationships, and hearing the gospel from a personal perspective.  Our faith isn’t something we do, it’s who we are.  Once the church gets that, then maybe we can move it forward.

Not Safe for Church Third Commandment: Thou Shall Not Trip: Discuss Taboo Subjects

Boldness is a key in transformative ministry.  In order for a church to be bold, they must have courage and confidence to step out of what is comfortable and take a risk.  Humans naturally fear what they don’t know, so this is a difficult move for churches.

No one wants to hurt anyone else’s feelings, after all, we are Christians.  So we ignore taboo topics.  Churches are good at using their voices to speak at, but refuse to speak against contemporary issues.  But we are not in conversation WITH others on these subjects.  We need to be intentional, engaged and active listeners and intentional, careful and prayerful speakers.

Keep in mind that post-civil rights generations bring with them a different set of lenses then those before them.  Most of us have never been in a legally segregated classroom, workplace, restaurant or recreational area.  We have grown up with computers in our classrooms and information right in front of us.  “There are few matters about which the post-civil rights generations have not been exposed, educated or informed.” (pg. 34). However, the church is one of the remaining places where segregation still exists. These post-civil rights generations want to connect with congregations will engage in conversations instead of clichéd phrases.  “As long as congregations remain stuck, they remain unable to discuss taboo subjects and thereby, unable to be relevant and willing participants in transformation.” (pg.35)

The reason churches tend to get “stuck” is because they are fearful of moving away from the comfortable.  This means not everyone will agree, but if we keep in mind that we are called to love everyone, even those we don’t agree with, the church can move in a direction that allows them to overcome their fears.  The authors walk through a process that enables churches to get to the place where we can engage in uncomfortable places and conversations and still accept one another.

In our country today, we tend to pick a side, and then the other side becomes “wrong” or the enemy.  No longer do we engage in conversations and listen to one another.  This is counter to what John Wesley encouraged in via media, the middle way.  By living a life that is rich in diversity, people who look, speak, learn and grow differently than you, means we must learn to understand one another, not judge.  Acceptance is not the same as agreement.

One simple way to expose yourself to different opinions and ideas is through a small group study with people who are not like yourself.

Finally, the authors end this chapter with this: “Congregations must lean toward holy boldness instead of timid blandness, remembering that being lukewarm is condemned in Revelation 3:16.” (pg. 43) AMEN.

Not Safe for Church. Second Commandment: Thou Shall Not Front: Be Authentic

“Will the real disciples please stand up?” (p. 14) Very early on the authors ask this question of our congregations.  Yikes!  Are we really being authentic to God’s mission and call in our churches?  I think that most churches have fallen into society’s expectations that we must be all things to all people.  This is a very slippery slope, and faith communities need to stop and think about where they are in their identity crisis.  For the last 20 or so years, every church has pulled ideas and concepts from this megachurch and that megachurch instead of trying to figure out where God is calling us in our situation.  I believe that each church has been uniquely gifted by people who are able to carry out the mission and vision of each individual church.  So shouldn’t ministries be based on the needs of the community matched with the gifts of the congregation?  Somehow we turn this around and create ministry then find people to fill spots.  In all of this we lose the mission and vision of our own church and focus on numbers, and how many people are attracted to whatever we are doing.  I love this quote from page 16 of the book, “We confuse church membership with Christian discipleship.  We confuse tithes and offerings with dues and tips.” We want all the benefits of what it means to be a part of a church, but none of the responsibility of what it takes to be a disciple. ” Everything we do needs to answer the question, “How is this helping us make disciples?”  If we say that is what we are about (it is part of our mission statement) then all of our efforts need to be towards discipleship making as the end result.  Authenticity is a lifestyle not something we just “do” on Sundays. Authentic congregations are focused on the community around them and are usually the go-to place for community gatherings and meetings.  Their leaders are community leaders; their pastors are community pastors. Millennials want authentic people and authentic relationships.  They also require transparency when given to charity.  They must know that what they are giving will matter and know where it is going.   Authentic faith communities are made up of disciples who know that they are students, learners and contributors to a bigger picture and a greater good.  They are not consumers expecting served and worried about their own benefits. Millennials are attracted to these authentic communities, and maybe it’s time we see that it’s time we are real with our call.

 

What do you thinK are marks of authentic witness and identity in your church?

Is your congregation doing everything they can to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

Are you being authentic to who you are called to be individually?  Are you an example to others?

Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations Chap. 1

Reaching a new generation is probably one of the biggest issues churches call me about right now.  I get questions all the time asking me how church can draw in those 40 and younger.  It’s a complicated problem with a very intricate solution; although, I believe a broad solution could be the answer, no one wants to hear it.

This book goes there.  The authors, F. Douglas Powe Jr. and Jasmine Rose Smothers, dig in and reveal the issues that build walls in our churches today that prevent the younger generations from engaging in our faith communities.  I am excited to share in the next 10 weeks my thoughts on this book and to hear your reactions to it as well.

I was thrilled to see that the “New Generation” Powe and Smothers refer to include those born after 1961.  I am not a millennial, and don’t think like one.  I am in Generation X; however, my opinions and thoughts toward institutions and society tend to lean more towards the millennial generation.  I appreciate the division for this book as being those post-civil rights movement because we are more willing to take risks and be more open to new ideas that change things up.  I like the Biblical comparison they use of Joshua and Caleb, because they were not just willing to look at the possibilities, but willing to actually act on them.

The first commandment is, “Thou Shall Chill: What’s at Stake.” (First of all, the chapter titles are way cool and very fitting!) So, what is at stake?  The loss of the Church as we know it today.  The authors point out, though, that those inside the church are fighting with those outside of the church to keep it going, but those outside the church are not even in the fight because they don’t care.  The biblical reference to this is from Mark 10:17-27, the story about the rich man who asks Jesus how to get eternal life…Jesus’ answer: sell everything you own, and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven and come follow me.  The man is shocked and leaves in despair.  Not the answer he was looking for!

So, taking this illustration, many of our congregations today are also busy trying to save themselves by staying in their comfort zone and never moving out.  Like the rich man, churches need to let go of their prized possessions, everything they have known to follow Jesus.  But it is too high a price.   What is at stake is saving the congregation, but it is just too high a price and unfair.  The consequences for not paying are probably the eventual death of the congregation which is the very thing they are trying to avoid.

The rich man went away grieving because he wanted eternal life, but it had to be on his terms.  The same is true for congregations.  They want to save their faith communities, but on their terms.  We need to take risks and let go of our way and allow the saving to happen on God’s terms.

How do we let go?  First, congregations need to better understand those of us born post-civil rights movement.  We love the church and are committed; however, our love is NOT to the building.  We are committed to seeing where God leads and do not allow the building to define that.  “Discipleship is about having the kind of spirit where we will follow Christ into the world and, most importantly, into our community.  Discipleship is not about creating a comfort zone where we maintain the status quo.” (pg. 7)  It is not about protecting a building.  Discipleship is about “believing in a new future with God that requires us to chill and to let go of some things.” (pg. 11)

 

I would love to hear your response.  Here are a couple of the questions at the end of Chapter 1:

  1. What are some ways your congregations is entrenched and not willing to let go?
  2. How is your congregation collaborative and not so collaborative with the post-civil rights generations?
  3. What would be easy to let go of? What would be hard? What would be impossible?