• Helpful Questions

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    Four Helpful Questions for Congregations to ask?

    From Pastor Rick Goeres

    What are we doing well?

    What do we need to strengthen?

    What do we need to start doing?

    What do we need to stop doing?

    For Council Meetings

    From Pastor James Armentrout

    Where have you seen the Holy Spirit active in the congregation or the world since our last meeting?

  • Renovate or Die

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    I recently finished reading a wonderful, helpful book called, “Renovate or Die: Ten Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission” by Rev. Bob Farr, the director of the Center for Congregational Excellence for the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. If you are interested in focusing your congregation on mission and ministry, then I highly recommend you pick up the book.

    Just as many others have done, Farr makes the case that congregations need to adapt to today’s changing world and he invites congregations to stop redecorating all their old programs and ideas and instead undertake the a complete renovatation to help them focus on mission and ministry.  In this way, Farr’s book is similar to many other books in ‘the church needs to change’ category.

    What made Farr’s book different for me was the practical advice he offers for achieving mission-focused change.  He offers concrete ideas for new approaches to ministry.  He recommends the  best resources he has encountered in areas like spiritual gift identification.  He asks questions that open the door to an in-depth examination of current ministry practices like, ‘If someone has been a part of your congregation for 40 years, how do you expect their lives to be transformed? ‘   I wrote notes all over the margins while I was reading and his ideas have already inspired me to begin a conversation about new ways forward for our congregation.

    If you are interested, the book is currently on sale at Cokesbury.com.

  • Posting Scripture

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    A few years ago, we started posting signs around our facility with important and helpful scripture verses.  They are all over the building and surround the ministry that we do.  To get started, participants in the ministry for their favorite Bible verses and then started printing the verses on brightly colored paper and posting them in high traffic areas.   It’s worked well and people have responded positively.

    I recently read a blog post from Steve Fogg with clear and simple suggestions for posting scripture verses in social media.  The blog is very helpful and you can read it at: 5 Simple Examples of Scripture that have High Engagement on Social Media.  His blog has inspired me to start posting scripture related to Sunday’s sermon on our social media outlets and to add signs each week to our building that reflect that key verse.  I’ll be interested to see if the exposure in multiple places enhances the connections between scripture, sermon and daily life.

  • Thinking, Rethinking and Re-acting: Progress is Action

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    Progress is action

    1. Never consider money as a deterrent to action.  Limited resources force us to make the most with what we have.  All churches have limited resources which means that we must be creative in deciding how to get the most ministry out of the resources we have.  We can do amazing things with the gifts that God has given to us.  Remember—God does not call us to do anything that he does not give us the power to do!
    2. Don’t back away from an action because there is a risk involved.  If we are not taking any risks as we lead the congregation forward, we have forgotten about the role of faith and how God will provide.  Being faithful means that we sometimes take risks.  Trust in God!
    3. “Standing for something isn’t just about writing it down.  It’s about believing it and living it.  (Rework, page 48)
    4. One significant way to act today is to teach effectively in a variety of          different ways and times to all people.  Teaching can also be support groups such as for caregivers or people who are divorced.
    5. Acting friendly is good but it is not enough.  Being friendly only brings someone into the family.  They stay because this community shares Christ through their missions in action.  They make a difference for Christ again and again.
    6. Continually thank people and then thank them some more.
  • Thinking, Rethinking and Re-acting: Share, Communicate, Celebrate

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    Farm out to a team when necessary

    1. The Council (or Leadership Team) needs to understand when it is necessary to farm out plans or ideas to a team for study. This will be the only responsibility for the team so they can concentrate on the main issues.

    2. Understand the differences between a team and a committee. A team plays only one sport like a football team only plays football. They specialize in an area in which they are passionate. A committee plays football, basketball, baseball, track, soccer and tennis. A team has one thing to do while a committee has so many things to do that it is difficult to add a new task.

    Communicate/Celebrate

    1. In the book, The Purpose Driven Church, the suggestion is to use the “Nehemiah Principle” – Vision and purpose must be restated every 26 days to keep the church moving in the right direction. This is the foremost responsibility of leadership.

    2. We build upon that vision by trying to –Equip the Saints for Ministry. Some congregations try to share the story of your ministry in bulletins and newsletters, but we need to share it even more.

    3. We need to continually celebrate every victory and involve the congregation and the community in the celebration. If you are giving a gift or sharing a ministry, do it at worship where all can see and then share photos. Use online tools and sermons. Put up posters and tell the local paper. Rejoice and celebrate the ministry that God is accomplishing through you.
  • Thinking, Rethinking and Re-acting: Flexibility and Simplicity

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    Flexibility

    1. Plans can limit flexibility.  Once a plan is put on paper, it is difficult to change.  If a church is not flexible, they will miss many of the opportunities that God continually sets before a congregation.

    2. Flexibility happens when a plan is constantly updated to meet the openings for ministry that cross our path.  The plan should not be carved in stone.

    3. If a plan is not working, stop immediately and go in a different direction.  That is much better than continuing with something that is not working.  Just admit you were wrong and try something else until you find something that works.

    KISS  (Nope, you are wrong.  It stands for Keep It Stupendously   Simple)

    1. Don’t try to do everything.  Do what you can do best.  The Outback Restaurant succeeded when other restaurant chains failed because they started by doing a limited number of dishes and doing them well.  They also limited the number of hours by opening at 3:00 pm.  After achieving  success, they have added a few dishes and are experimenting with longer hours but they still have a limited menu.

    2. When a church tries to do too much, we eventually wear people out.

    3. Dave Daubert, a good Lutheran who is a consultant who runs Day 8 Strategies, suggests that two things are important beginning point for a  church to do and a council to understand.


    • Connect people to God and help them have a meaningful spiritual life. People are no longer interested in your institution just because it is the church. In fact, many people have written it off because it is the church. Our lack of engagement as an organization has made many write us off as irrelevant and anachronistic. But if you can help people encounter God, discover ways to engage their spirituality in their own lives (spiritual disciplines like devotional life, lectio divina, contemplative prayer, labyrinths, etc.) they will be forever grateful. People hunger for ways to pay attention to God in their lives. Help them with this and their lives will be changed. Ignore this and be merely religious at your own peril.

    • Build connections between the teachings of the church and daily life. People no longer will accept religion as a meaningful activity on its own. They want a way of life that impacts how they do their job, how they parent, how they spend their time and money, etc. Pay attention to how you are equipping people to be Christians in their 24/7 lives and you will change how they think and act all over the place. Purpose and meaning will blossom for many. Ethics are changed in the work place and at home. And again, they will be forever grateful. (Also again) ignore this and be merely religious at your own peril.
  • Thinking, Rethinking and Re-acting: Planning – Effectiveness and Limitations

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    Planning is important but do it effectively

    1. Planning is an ongoing activity that happens over and over again in council meetings and committee meeting.  Council and committees must take time to plan for the coming year.
    2. Planning is an AMPAP activity.  AMPAP stands for As Many People As Possible.  Planning is not a small group activity with a specific planning function but planning needs to reach out to the entire congregation.  Some of the best planning ideas come from people who have not been active in the church before, people who are not the leaders of the congregation, and people who are on the margins because their vision is not blinded by the past and what we know is right to do.

    Limitations of planning

    1. Realize that planning is a guess.  “Why don’t we call plans what they really are: guesses.  Start referring to your business plans as business guesses, your financial plans as financial guesses, and your strategic plans as  strategic guesses.  Now you can stop worrying about them as much.  They just aren’t worth the stress.”  (From Rework, page 19)
    2. Plan at least for a year but don’t waste time in planning more than three years ahead and I’m beginning to believe that two years might be the upper limit.  The longer range the plan, the more chances it has to be  wrong because the guesses are so far into the future.
    3. Make sure that you do not let planning be determined by the past.  Plans can let the past drive the future.  Remember what worked in the past may not work today.
    4. Don’t simply copy other churches for this is a wonderful opportunity for failure.  When we simply copy another ministry, we fail to understand the steps it took to develop that ministry and why it worked at the other church.  If you discover a good idea in another congregation, see how you can adopt it to your congregation.   See if our gifts, talents and local opportunities for ministry will allow us to develop a new ministry from that idea.  The end result will probably bear little resemblance to the original idea, but if it is rooted in the gifts of your congregation—not the gifts of another congregation– it can succeed.
  • Thinking, Rethinking and Re-acting: What is God Calling Us to Do?

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    For me, the beginning question is always “What is God calling/guiding us to do?”  We can never begin with “What do we want?” because this is God’s mission.  Our wants will lead us in many different and divergent directions but not necessarily in the direction God is calling us to go.

    What is God calling/guiding us to do?

    1. Seeking God’s wisdom always begins with asking God for help.  The example of King Solomon asking for the gift of wisdom pleased God.  From 1 Kings 3:8-14 is the story of Solomon.  7-8 “And now here I am: God, my God, you have made me, your servant, ruler of the kingdom in place of  David my father. I’m too young for this, a mere child! I don’t know the  ropes, hardly know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of this job. And here I am, set down in the middle of the people you’ve chosen, a great people—far too many to  ever count. 9 “Here’s what I want: Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?” 10-14 God, the Master, was delighted with Solomon’s response. And God said to him, “Because you have asked for this and haven’t grasped after a long life, or riches, or the doom of your enemies, but you have asked for the ability to lead and govern well, I’ll give you what you’ve asked for—I’m giving you a wise and mature heart. There’s never been one like you before; and there’ll be no one after. As a bonus, I’m giving you both the  wealth and glory you didn’t ask for—there’s not a king anywhere who will come up to your mark. And if you stay on course, keeping your eye on the life-map and the God-signs as your father David did, I’ll also give you a long life.”  Translation from the Message.
    2. We need to realize that God does not call us to do anything God doesn’t give us the power to do!  This means that God is active through the Holy Spirit in our world and can work through our community of faith—no matter the size or resources.
    3. God’s mission makes a positive difference in our community and our world.  The voice of the doing God is calling us out of our church’s four walls to make a difference.
    4. We must realize that any church will never have enough money to do what each of us wants to do but God will give us more than enough money to do what God calls us to do.  Money follows mission.
  • Thinking, Rethinking and Re-acting: Changing Assumptions

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    As church leaders, we need to rethink again and again the assumptions behind the ways that we proclaim the unchanging truth of God’s love to a constantly changing world.  What worked in the past will not necessarily work in 2013.  God is still the same but leading God’s church requires new thinking and rethinking just as it has since the beginning of Jesus” ministry.  The purpose of thinking and rethinking is for action.

    Many of the assumptions that we have about how a church should operate are outdated and no longer work.  The dilemma is that we are reluctant to transform the way that we think because we are comfortable with what we have learned in the past.  When stress attacks, “the only things that win are what people already know and do even if those things are flawed and inefficient.”  (Page 13 of Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson)

    Currently, AT&T is running a series of advertisements for their 4G cell phone service that builds on the assumption that “Bigger is Better.”  For too long, people have assumed that is true but bigger is not always better.  Bigger is simply bigger.  Bigger is definitely not better for service.  You have no local place to call and talk to a real person about your problems.  I have AT&T and when our phone and internet service went out recently, they taught me quickly bigger is not always better.  The first time I called the 800 number, I waited for 27 minutes and 58 seconds before I got cut off and the signal went dead.  Since I did not have internet, I called son Bob and asked him to go to the AT&T website to leave a message for them to call me.  Bob called back and said there was no place to leave a message–only the 800 number.  I tried calling the local AT&T Store where I signed up for service but they said they could do nothing.  “It is out of our hands.  Call the 800 number!”  I tried the 800 number again and pushed the “0″ button 12 times until I was connected to a real person.  I thought to myself, “My problems are over.”  Yet, AT&T trumped that with a “Not so fast!”  This human voice put me on hold for the service department.  Over 40 minutes later, service picked up the phone. The experience taught me that BIGGER IS NOT NECESSARILY BETTER.  BIGGER IS BIGGER.  I was left thinking, SMALLER CAN DEFINITELY BE BETTER THAN BIGGER. (All caps are big signs of frustration!)

    A congregation does not have to be a large congregation to deliver effective ministry.  A small strong church that is a strong family can be just as effective as any large church in delivering God’s love to the world.  Instead of seeing size as a detriment, the small congregation can easily provide personal contact for an amazing advantage.  This is the type of rethinking that leads us to understand that numbers are not nearly as important as ministry with a family atmosphere.

    Over the next several weeks, I’ll publish a series of observations, ideas and concrete suggestions for how start rethinking our assumptions about what it means to be in ministry today.

  • What does your brand stand for?

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    Seth Godin asked this question in a blog on May 30, 2013 and I immediately found myself thinking about the church.  I know that religious folks can bristle when a word like “brand” get applied to faith and ministry, but I hear this question as a call for the church to take a careful look at itself and to ask ourselves – “Do we have something unique to offer to the world?” and if so, “How can we share that gift in a way that allows people to hear it?”.

    This question of “brand” is nothing new for the church.  The early church decided that the “Nicene” brand of Christianity was more faithful than the “Arian” brand of Christianity.  Orthodox Christians and Protestants long ago rejected the Roman Catholic brand of Christianity and in more recently times, non-denominational congregations have rejected the traditional mainline brands of Christianity that arose following the Reformation.

    In today’s world filled with spiritual options, helping agencies and competing ideologies, the good news about Jesus Christ is increasingly one message competing for space in a crowded and distracted world.  To proclaim the good news about Jesus in today’s context, I am convinced that God’s people need to be clear about who we are and what we believe.  We need to make sure that our teaching and our actions proclaim the same message.  We need to identify what makes the message of Jesus unique and lift that up for the world to see and to hear.

    We need to know what our “brand” stands for because once we know, it will be much easier to share this good news with the world and for the world to hear and to understand it.