Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Understanding the Generational Gap

How do different generations define your church? I have read many books that mention generations and how they interact in the world. Each book defines generations in their own way to meet their own purposes. Today I was reading a blog that was talking about how the church that the writer attended in the early 90’s was geared for the Baby Boomer Generation (those who are who are 45 to 63 years old). Because my mind was confused and intrigued by the different generations I decided to do some research.
After my two hours of quick internet research I feel I have a better understanding of the many generations that exist in our country today. I think defining and understanding these generational gaps is imperative to church growth. Where in society do we try to be all things to all generations? The Church! Apple does not market the iPhone to the Silent Generation (those who are 66 to 86 years old). For the most part Dentucreme (a denture cleaning paste) is not marketed to Generation Y (those who are 17 to 31 years old). There are many products out there for people at specific periods of life. Likewise, there are products out there that for specific generations. But the church is for all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
Because of the differences in generations the church has run into many different problems, often based on preferences. The one that comes quickly to mind is worship. In the church we have the task of leading people in worship that are 10 years old and at the same time 80 years old. That is a very tall and challenging task. That is why I believe understanding the generational gap is very important. Over the next several days I plan to lay out some things I have learned about the different generations and how their particular characteristics affect the way we do church.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It All Starts at the Top

Growing up in South East Ohio I developed a deep love and passion for the Cleveland Browns. I became a fan at the age of 3 when I received for Christmas a Cleveland Browns uniform. I began following and understanding the team in the mid 90’s during the Bill Belichick and Vinny Testaverde era, right before the team moved to Baltimore. I remember watching one game in 93 or 94 following one of the Cowboys Super Bowl wins and thinking it was really cool that my team was playing the Cowboys. I remember the three years that I was without a team. I remember getting on the internet one of the first times and watching the live feeds of the construction progress of the new stadium. I remember going to the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame and seeing on a bill board the date of the Browns first game at Fawcett Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys. I remember watching that game, and being excited as they won the game in overtime. But that is, for the most part, where my good memories end.
Since their return in 1999 the Browns have had a winning season only twice, and made the playoffs only once. Every other year has been abysmal, leaving the fans and myself broken hearted. Every so often a regime change takes place. After the first two horrible years the Browns head coach, Chris Palmer was let go. Following him was Butch Davis. Some good happened under Butch, but after a crazy game against Cincinnati Butch had a psychological breakdown, and resigned from the position. Following him was the Savage/Crenel era, and the era was branded as “rebuilding.” They lasted three years, had one good season, but following a poor attempt last year, were let go. Now with a new coach and new GM the rebuilding is beginning again. So far, it does not look promising. My preseason prediction – the Browns have a chance against 3 teams, Kansas City, Oakland, and Detroit, but to be honest I think they may loose all three of them. Players are signing grievances with the players union against Coach Eric Mangini, and it is reported that players have stopped “playing” for him.
Why do I say all that on a blog where I comment about life and the Church? Because I believe the failures of the Browns are due to one reason and if the Church is not careful it too can fall to the same problem. I believe the heart of the Browns problems begin with the ownership of the team, and the “lack” of leadership. I do not know the Browns owner, and assume he is a great guy, but as an NFL owner, Randy Lerner stinks. I think it is time to change the Browns organization from the top down, starting with the owner. He is an owner that is known for not being very visible and not involved in the day to day operations of the team. Now I certainly do not want an owner like Jerry Jones, but someone who cares would be nice. Leadership is important.
Friends I believe the Church can face a similar situation. If the leadership is not right, if it is not strong, if it is only half into it, then the local Church is going to fail. Leadership means taking risks. Leadership means being involved. Leadership means taking action. Leadership means being on the cutting edge. This is especially important in the Church. If we are going to win people to Christ then we have to do whatever it takes to win them. But if we manage our team like the management of the Cleveland Browns at best we get a mediocre team that has a positive season every now and then. Friends, I believe the church is too important to let that happen. Lets stop being mediocre, and get busy winning souls to the Kingdom.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Good News & Bad News, Which do you prefer?

One of my favorite movies is Evan Almighty starring Steve Carell. The movie follows the life of a Buffalo man who was recently elected to congress on the campaign slogan “To Change the World.” The neighborhood where he buys a home near Washington D.C. is in trouble because of a poorly constructed water dam. So God, played by the ever impressive Morgan Freeman, asks Evan to build an ark. Yes an ark, just like Noah was asked to build. Along the way, as Evan begins to build the ark, his collogues, neighbors and even his own family begin to mock him and pull away from him. At one point the task at hand seems too much for Evan to complete.

Do you ever feel like you are following God, doing what he has asked you to do, confident that it is your calling? But all along the way there is one let down after another. Something goes wrong and makes your job a little harder. Someone says or does something mean and nasty to you. You are persecuted by co-workers for following “God” instead of man.

Well let me give you the bad news, according to God’s Word, persecution, tough times, and trials are a part of his plan. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 3:3 to not “be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them.” Paul says we are destined for trials. Well how great is that. Part of God plan is to destine us for trials. That means if we are following God, at some point we are going to have it a little tough. Does that sound like the journey you thought you had singed up for?

Well there is good news. In Corinthians Paul teaches that there are no situations we enter that are above us. You see God has called us according to our talents and abilities. He has equipped us and only asks us to serve to our ability. When things get to be too much for us he sends in the cavalry, the muscles, and the armor to help us stand strong and complete the task.

Time and time again we see God providing just what was needed to get through each trial. In the wilderness God provided manna and quail for the Israelites to eat. When Jerusalem was under siege by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, God provided an angel of the Lord killing 180,000 troops. When Paul and Silas were in prison God provided an earthquake to set them free and to help them witness and baptize the Philippian jailor.

Friends, we serve a God who has asked us to do some pretty impressive things. But remember, no matter how tough it gets, what we have been called to matches our gifts and abilities, and when a little more is needed, God is there to provide. When the work got to be too much for Evan, God used the animals in the movie to help lift beams, hammer in pegs, and saw and cut wood. God provides in amazing and wonderful ways.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Paradigm Shift

I am currently reading a book by Will Mancini titled Church Unique. In his book Mancini put into words a paradigm shift that has been taking place in my own heart. For years churches have built their growth structure under a mission statement and a twelve step process of how to get there. This type of system thrived in a world where the church was playing with home field advantage.

Unfortunately we are now living in a post-Christian world. People today do not know exactly who Jesus is. Sure they may have heard of him, sure they may know some details about his life, but they do not really know or understand his mission and his love. The church is now playing as the visiting team, having to overcome a lot of crowd noise and boos just to get a play off. Because of this the twelve step process is on its way out and a new system is entering.

Up until the last 9 months I believed the twelve step process was the way to go. I had thought and dreamed of many systems of how to be a better and bigger church by a particular date. I had even come up with a slogan, corny or not, that was based on the year 2020. I wanted to call it “2020 Vision: A clear vision for the year 2020.” I thought this would be a great ten year plan for 2020 and play off the idea of perfect eye sight. While that might have worked in the Christian era, I now believe it is not the best route.

As my mind is starting to wrap around this new idea, I am quickly coming to believe that the best way, is to make a plan based off of who you want to be as a church. Throw out the programs, throw out the numbers goals, and decide what kind of church you want to be. Develop a mission statement, and then base everything you do off of the mission statement. Decide what kind of people your church wants to reach and do everything you can to reach that kind of people. Decide that you are not going to hire staff to get a job done, but that you are going to equip your people to get that job done. Sure there is planning still involved, sure you must account for growth and have some provisions in place to handle it. But the step by step vision casting is no longer the same, it is has evolved, it has changed, and it is working to meet a post-Christian world where they are.

Like I said this is a paradigm shift for me, and I am still working through it. But I am eager to see where this leads me, and what kind I vision and plan we cast for future growth in the Lord’s church for the lost people of this world.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Using Twitter

So I have decided I was going to start using my Twitter account that I have had for months. I am doing this in an effort to help with our ministry systems here at the church. Now I need to get folks in the church using Twitter, Facebook, and following my blog. This will be fun.

Barriers – Unscriptural?

If you are remotely a news junkie like myself, then you have probably heard the current debate about race and our President. The fire was fueled even more the other night when former President Jimmy Carter said on NBC Nightly news that race was playing a part in some peoples opposition to President Obama. Friends, it is sad to see that we are still not past racial issues in our great country. Maybe one day, but today is not that day.

But what saddens me even more is to see racial divides in Christ’s church. Did you know that one of the most segregated times in the United States is on Sunday mornings? Didn’t Paul teach us that there is no “Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythians, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all?” (Colossians 3:11 NIV) Then why is Sunday morning still so segregated. I think there could possibly be two reasons.

I know a church were the racial battle is brewing hard right now. Some in the church want to go into the black community and invite them to there various events and even their Sunday morning services. The church is split on this issue. Some are highly against it because it is a white church, and in that culture whites, blacks, and Latinos just do not go to church together. There could possibly be a church split over this issue. Friends, this is wrong, and is not scriptural.

Now, having said all of that, I do believe the second reason is a justifiable reason for segregation in the church. A few years ago I heard of two congregations, one white and one black, coming together to become one congregation. They enjoyed the fellowship, enjoyed the Bible study, and through it all had no issues over race. But after several years of worshiping together, the “worship wars” got intense. The black culture wanted worship to be a little more lively and energetic, while the white culture wanted worship to be a little more somber with more thought provoking meaning. To solve their issues, the two groups decided that they were going to launch two different services. One service would have worship for one culture, and one for the other. While this segregated the times of worship, it did not divide the church. They did not split over racial issues, just style preferences. They continued to fellowship together, they continued to be one church, and they continued to bring lost souls into a life saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Friends it saddens me to see our world divided by the color of someone’s skin. It is truly heartbreaking. But what sickens me is to see Christ’s church divided by the color of skin. In Christ we are all one. In Christ the social, economic, gender, and racial barriers have been removed. In Christ we are free. How are we doing at removing the barriers in our churches and in our lives?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Confidence in God

So on Wednesday nights I have been working with the teenagers at West Side. I have been going through a series of lessons on purpose using clips from the movie Evan Almighty. Tonight’s lesson is about sacrifice and I am using the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac found in Genesis 22:1-19. As I was studying the text for the lesson something obvious jumped off the page at me.

I have read the story many times and even seen these very words, but they really made me think. When we are following God’s will in our lives how confident are we in God. I mean, I try to follow God every day, but I still worry about how I am going to provide for my wife and my self. I have put my trust in God, but how deeply have I done that?

But here is Abraham, asked by God to sacrifice Isaac the son he has waited so long on. As he leaves his servants behind to climb the mountain to offer that sacrifice he replies to the servants “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham was following God’s difficult request, and all the while putting his full faith in God. He had confidence that God would provide for him. He knows somehow he was going to return with Isaac.

Now was that selfishness on Abraham’s part? Maybe. Was that insider knowledge? Maybe. Was that true trust and faith in God? Certainly. That is evident when Abraham grabs the knife to perform the sacrifice. Do we live out God’s purposes with that amount of faith and confidence in what He has said He will do? I know at times I don’t.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Small Groups with Purpose

My first series of post on this blog will be about the methods we use to share the message of the cross with our families and our communities. Here is my next thought.

A trend of the late 90’s and early 2000’s was the small group movement. This is one trend I do not believe is going any where. Many churches have tried them, some have done amazingly well, some have just kind of happened, and some have failed miserably. At West Side one of my jobs is to over see our small group ministry. Currently we have two groups meeting. However, these two groups do not appear to be organic and seem to have no purpose outside of Bible study and fellowship.

One of the blogs I read daily is by Vince Antonucci, who is planting a Church on the Strip in Las Vegas. He posted from a friends blog that really got me thinking about the purpose of our small groups. Follow this link and read his post.

Does your church do small groups? Do your small groups have a purpose? Are your small groups organic? After reading Vince’s post several months ago, pondering over the question myself, I have come to the conclusion that the original poster is right. That’s why at West Side as we revamp our small group structure and begin to launch new groups one key aspect will be community service. Not only will this aid us in forming community within our congregation, but this will be one more avenue into reaching our community. I think we can bring the message of the cross to our families and our communities, and bring each other closer together through common purposes.

Below is a video from the Matt Carter, Pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church. The Austin Stone Community Church is one of the fastest growing Churches in America. Started in 2002 they are now averaging over 5,000 for weekend worship. They too addressed the problem they had with small groups. I also borrowed this video from Vince’s blog.

Matt Carter // Missional Small Groups from Todd Rhoades on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Culturally Relevant

My first series of post on this blog will be about the methods we use to share the message of the cross with our families and our communities. Here is my next thought.

How do we communicate the message of the gospel? Do we go door to door and share it? Do we send out mailing to our communities? Do we preach and teach only on our campuses? Do we encourage our members to do evangelism through relational living? Each of these methods I believe can be effective. But they have to be done in the right culture and the right community.

That means you need to know your community. Not only do you survey your community and find out how your church looks in their eyes, but you also have to find out the best way to share the gospel. For rural congregations their culture is completely different than urban congregations. Going door to door might actual work in a rural congregation, while in an urban setting doors may be slammed in your face. For some places it might be best to invite people into our church buildings to share the gospel, while other cultures the best way is through a small group ministry.

I think the point is, whatever you do, however you do it, our evangelism strategy needs to be based on the culture where our congregation resides.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Background Checks

Just got my background checked for Church. I had to go to the police station and get my finger prints scanned. That was fun. Now I am in the system. I think it is great so many churches are finally going through this process. Its also sad that we live in a society where we have to do this kind of thing. Church lets get busy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Turning the tide of Perception

My first series of post on this blog will be about the methods we use to share the message of the cross with our families and our communities. Here is my next thought.

Yesterday I posted about perceptions? Do you know how the community perceives your congregation? If not, you need to find out. This can be done by conducting surveys at local venues in your community. You can also find out by knocking on some doors and asking simple questions. This process does not have to be too scientific just enough to get a general idea. A great resource to find out more is Darren Walter’s book “The People-Magnet Church, Attracting Your Community to Christ.”

Once you know the perception of your community you can begin either changing it or building on it. If you have a bad perception problem take some simple steps to change the negative mindset of people. Do things for the community with no strings attached.

~A Fall Festival with games, food, candy, and even door prizes or costume contest prizes. Make the prizes something people can really use, i.e. gift cards to Walmart (no I am not getting paid to endorse them), iTunes, or McDonalds. Provide the community a safe place for Halloween activities

~Possibly even a spring or summer festival.

~Free carwash to the neighborhood. People are skeptical about this, but boy does it help to change perception.

~Free Easter Egg hunt.

~If your in a neighborhood or urban setting a block party periodically might be it.
Maybe a cheap babysitting night for parents. Possibly charge $5 to cover the cost of some food and other basic supplies.

I think the key to this is to be creative and to attach no strings. Do what works best for the needs of your community. However, DO NOT preach at people. Show them the love of Christ. Remember this is about perception change, so some things might start slowly, but as more perception changes, the more results you will see.

If you find your community has a strong perception of your church, great, you must build on that. Continue to show your community that you care about them. Continue to show your community that you are there when they are hurting. Continue to be that beacon of light.

Maybe your perception is good, but your presence is not so strong. This is where some good advertising comes into play. Be creative in this. Do door knockers, mailers, and creative signs out front of your building. Get your image into the communities’ minds.

In both churches where I served once perception began to change we were able to begin spreading the message of the cross in more powerful ways. If you work hard at this I believe God will supply great benefits.

Perception Problems?

My first series of post on this blog will be about the methods we use to share the message of the cross with our families and our communities. Here is my next thought.

The other day I posted that I think we need to learn a lesson from Walmart. Walmart had a sign in one of their stores that mentioned being a part of the community where they exist because their employees live in that community. I believe the lesson we can learn is that we too should be involved in the communities where our congregations exist. But getting there can at times be a challenge.

One of the first things we must change to get involved in the community is perception. What is the community’s perception of your congregation? That is a must answer question.

The first church I served at one time had the wrong perception in the community. They exist in a small rural community. The church was considered the country club church of the area. The belief was in the past that if you did not go to that church, even if you went to another Christian Church, you were not going to go to heaven. But it was also a hard church to get into, at least that was they way they were perceived. If you did not have loads of money, or well known in the community, then you were not welcome there. Now, by the time I had arrived this was not the case. The church was very loving and very accepting. In fact, by this time, you could go to other churches and get into heaven. However, that perception was still there and did affect the community.

The second church I served had a very different perception. It was in a large metropolitan area where a lot of people did not go to church. My first fall there we decided to do a Fall Harvest Festival. To advertise we went door to door handing out fliers. One of my teenagers came back to me and shared this experience.

He approached one house, knocked on the door and an older lady answered. He began to tell her about the Fall Festival and what is was about. Then he told her where it was at. She then responded with this question, “Is that the church where we go to vote.” He did not really know how to respond to that question so he said he did not know.

I later came to learn that our church building was the local precinct for all elections. Now, and this is just an assumption, I can almost guarantee that the lady who my teenager approached had lived in her home for many years. She lived 200 yards away from our church building. She had to drive by the church thousands of times during her life, and the only thing she knew about the church was it was the local precinct for voting.

Friends I share all this to ask you, what is the perception the community has of your congregations? Both churches I have served in the past had perception problems. The first church had a negative one, and the second church, for the most part, was not even on the radar for the people in their own neighborhood.

So how do we correct the perceptions of the communities we live in? How do we build a good perception for those in our neighborhoods? Check back tomorrow for my thoughts and ideas?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why we are here

Why does the church exist? What is its purpose? I believe we can know that fairly easily by Christ commission repeated several times before his ascension. The clearest example, and the most used, comes from (Matthew 28:19-20) “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” If we have been around the church for a while we get it; our purpose is to bring everyone into a life changing connection with Jesus Christ. That is the mission, but what are the methods. During my first few post I would like to look at some of the methods the church must use today.

A couple of months ago while waiting on my dear wife in Wal-Mart a sign caught my eye. It said, “We’re committed to the communities we serve. We live here, too. And we believe good works.” I had to take a picture of it. That sign resembles what the church should be saying as well.

Wal-Mart’s all across the nation realize that the people who work in their stores live in the communities they sell their goods to. Wal-Mart realizes that if they want the community to shop with them they have to be involved in their neighborhoods, their schools and even their community programs. This has helped to make Wal-Mart one of the largest retailers in the world.

I think Wal-Mart can show us one of our ways to bringing people into a life changing connection with Jesus Christ. The church must get involved in the neighborhoods of our communities, into the schools of our communities, and into the lives of our communities. As we do that, our message will begin to be heard, and lives will begin to be impacted. What do you think? How can we get involved in the communities where we exist?