Why are you part of a church? I suspect that too many of us can’t clearly articulate a compelling answer. Many of us have been dedicated church-goers since we were quite young. Church has become a habit. Though habitual church-going is commendable, it presents a couple challenges. First, we struggle to explain why someone who has never been connected to a church might want to be. Second, we forget what the purpose of church is. I’ll save the first challenge for another post, in part, because solving the second challenge will help solve the first. Continue reading Why Church?
Have you ever served in a leadership role that just didn’t seem like a good fit? Too often, we think of leaders as being interchangeable parts. This seems to be especially true in churches. We simply try to fill in old roles with new people. This can lead to frustration, ineffectiveness, and the loss of good leaders. What is it that makes for a good fit? Continue reading A Good Fit
Where do leaders come from? We can all probably name lots of people who we consider to be great leaders, but how did each get started? In most cases, another person in leadership likely noticed this person’s potential and decided to help him or her along. Noticing and helping are both central to leadership development. First, one must be paying attention in order to notice. Leaders should always be looking for new leaders. Second, good leaders invest time in developing other leaders. Good leaders tend to be busy folks, but they make time for important matters. They teach. They mentor. They provide opportunities and guidance. Good leaders actively cultivate other leaders. Continue reading Cultivating Leadership
What’s going on in your community on Sunday mornings? On my way to church, I see lots of people out running or walking. Athletic fields are often bustling with young families. I imagine many people are still sleeping or enjoying a slower start to their day. For many others, it’s just another day at work. Regardless of what they’re up to, the majority of Americans are not in church. Why?
Some people link this trend to an increasing level of hostility toward Christianity, but I think the core issue is something different—apathy. Christian communities of faith just don’t seem to matter to most folks. Americans are still quite religious. Most believe in God, pray occasionally, and believe that the Bible is something more than just made-up stories. Most, however, still don’t join with others for worship.
In their book Churchless, George Barna and David Kinnaman point out that most of the ‘unchurched’ in the US are actually ‘de-churched.’ That is, they formerly had a connection with a church, but now they don’t. Some left church because of bad experiences. Many, however, dropped out or didn’t connect more deeply because they didn’t see the value of being part of the community. How do we shift this trend?
Like Barna and Kinnaman, I believe it all boils down to perceived value. People are stretched for time, but most people will make time for the things they consider important. For many Americans, church ranks below too many other good things they could be doing. To address this, churches need to offer people something they can’t get anywhere else—a deep encounter with God and a connection with Christ’s living community. Doing so doesn’t require fantastic programs or better coffee. Instead, churches need to get serious about being the Church. We need to be a place where others can experience God in our midst. We need to be a community that challenges us to be more Christ-like and supports us as we struggle to do so. We need to be a congregation that serves the wider community as a response to and as an expression of God’s own love for us. As we do so, our churches will become places of significance. When the churchless see God working through our churches, they will make time to be part of Christ’s living community.
Have you ever walked into an unfamiliar church and become utterly confused–you’re not sure where to go or what to do? In many instances, it’s difficult to figure out which door to use even to enter the building. In my last post, I wrote about the need to focus your church outward to engage your community through service. Today, I challenge you to consider the experience of newcomers to your church. While we certainly can’t sit-around waiting for new people to come to us, we do need to be ready to welcome those who come our way.
In his book, Beyond the First Visit, Gary McIntosh provides some great practical suggestions for ways churches can welcome newcomers and (eventually) connect them to the ministries of the church. Most helpfully, McIntosh encourages church leaders to think in terms of guests rather than visitors. A visitor is someone who shows up unexpected. If a visitor appears at your house, you can try to make him or her feel welcome, but you haven’t had time to prepare. A guest is someone you’re expecting. You make appropriate arrangements to ensure he or she is comfortable and can have your full attention. When a church expects guests, its members notice when they arrive. They walk them into the building. They introduce them to other members. They make sure the guests know where to go and settle them in comfortably before attending to other ‘family’ business. After the worship service, members thank guests for coming and invite them to return.
In addition to addressing a congregation’s welcoming culture, church leaders need to rethink their church facilities from an outsider’s perspective. What does the church look like from the street? Have overgrown trees or bushes begun to obscure the building? How easy is it to park and find the front door? Once inside, how does a person know where to go? Are there clear signs? When we’ve been in a church for a long time, we become desensitized to many of these potential problems. We know that the old front door leads to a hallway used for storage. The real entrance is around the side. We fail to notice the dead bush or the neglected flowerbed. We know where the bathroom is, and we might not mind its 1980s decor. To get a fresh perspective, invite a friend from outside your church to visit and offer his or her reflections.
When we look at our church through the eyes of outsiders, we can help guests feel more welcomed. Perhaps some will choose to join the community. Our mission to make disciples will clearly require us to focus our churches outward, but we should also ensure that those who come into our buildings experience Christ through our hospitality.
Most churches are pretty good at taking care of our people. We offer a comfortable worship service where we sing familiar songs or hymns. We organize Sunday school classes to help people learn more about Christianity and the Bible. Many of us even politely greet unfamiliar people who happen through our church’s door on Sunday morning. These efforts are commendable, but God calls us to more. Too often, we attempt to live out our faith while confined within the walls of our church’s building. What would it look like if we were to turn our churches inside out?
In their book, The Externally Focused Church, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson challenge church leaders (both lay and clergy) to invite people to meaningful service in the broader community. Through service, existing members will grow spiritually as well as establish relationships with those who might not know God’s love or be connected to a faith community. Rusaw and Swanson point out that Christians need more than spiritual sustenance to grow—we need to be challenged to put into action that which we believe (or think we believe). Most of us know that a good diet alone will not keep our physical bodies healthy. We also need exercise. Similarly, our churches provide us with a good spiritual diet, but we need to go outside to practice our faith. Living as a Christian in church is very different from living as a Christian in the broader community.
Through addressing community needs through service, we’ll also begin to form meaningful relationships with people who might not know Jesus’s love and forgiveness. Such relationships create bridges by which people may enter into Christian community. After all, few unchurched people will come into a church without a connection. No matter how friendly we think we are, others find our churches rather intimidating.
As we turn our churches inside out, we’ll live out our Christian calling more faithfully. In the United Methodist Church, we have a shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. If we maintain an internal focus, we’ll fail to reach or be relevant to those whom Jesus wants to follow him. How would being an inside out church change your community?
Have you ever been asked/begged/beseeched to serve on a church committee that you didn’t truly understand? Did you eventually agree because of the recruiter’s encouraging/pleading/desperate tone? (Was your agreement an act of mercy, perhaps?) If you’ve recently found yourself on a committee you don’t understand, fear not! There are several places to find guidance.
On the Central Texas Conference website, we’ve created a section dedicated to resources that will help you understand your role and serve your church more effectively. First, we’ve noted some basic characteristics of healthy committees/teams, such as clarity of purpose. Regardless of your group’s particular focus, some general principles apply.
For specific roles, Discipleship Ministries (GBOD) offers suggested job descriptions and resource pages for common UM church committees. (To prevent being overwhelmed, click the box next to the topic in which you are interested.) In addition to written resources, check out the archived webinar videos .
Cokesbury has also published a series of brief, affordable booklets in the series Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation, 2013-2016 . To save on shipping, you can purchase each title as a downloadable PDF.
Confusion of purpose frustrates existing team members and discourages new leaders. By understanding your committee’s role and responsibilities, you’ll be able to make a significant contribution to your church’s ministry. Churches depend on dedicated and gifted lay leaders.
Even if your agreement to serve on a committee was reluctant/confused/coerced, your service is valuable to your church. Before you know it, you’ll be inviting others to serve with you. How to do so without pleading/begging/coercing will be the subject of a future post. . .