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Sunday Worship Attendance

Tony Morgan has a series of blog posts about declining attendance in Sunday worship services, and I found it interesting:

Part 1: Panic at the Church: Dealing with Less Frequent Attendance Patterns

Part 2: How One Church Leans In to Less Frequent Attendance

Part 3: Church Attendance Decline? There’s a Problem with Your Product.

Part 4: Large Church Gatherings Are a Strategy, Not the Mission

Part 5: Why You Might Not Want People In Church Every Sunday

It’s well worth reading. Part three is tough, especially for people in church leadership, but part four is just plain thought-provoking.

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The Church and Young People

The Pew study that came out this week revealed that in just the last seven years the median age of Mainline Protestants went from 50 to 52. Looking at stats like that, you have to wonder if we’ve reached a tipping point.

Last month, at the 2015 Catalyst Conference (West), Andy Stanley said:

If your church is designed by 50 year-olds for 50 year-olds to the neglect of teenagers, shame on you.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. I don’t know of a better communicator in the church than Andy Stanley. He didn’t use the word “shame” lightly.

But consider what the 17th Century Puritan John Flavel said:

If you neglect to instruct them in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness. No. If you will not teach them to pray, he will to curse, swear, and lie. If ground be uncultivated, weeds will spring.—The Mystery of Providence

Of course, the devil doesn’t do that by whispering in young people’s ears. It happens, mostly, because the world is a fallen, broken place full of fallen, broken people who prey on the weak and vulnerable.

Jesus changed that. He said that that young people have angels in heaven who see the face of God in heaven and woe to those who harm his little ones.

His followers changed the world. Eric Metaxas wrote about how the church challenged the thinking of the ancient world about children:

Into this world came Christianity, with its condemnation of abortion, infanticide and child abuse, its glorification of faithful marriage. … This ethic, which the Western world takes for granted today, is a direct heritage of Christianity.

There was a time when the church thought about how much God loved young people. The church improved the status of children so much we are incapable of imagining how bad it used to be. What does the future hold for children if the church puts the needs and desires of 50 year olds ahead of teenagers?

Cross-posted from my new JLP Pastor blog.

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Why Churches Don’t Grow

Thom Rainer has a list of 7 reasons why some members of churches don’t want them to grow. It’s a pretty good list when even the pastor can say, “Yeah, I get that. Sometimes I feel that way.” For example:

Loss of memories. I recently heard a poignant story from a lady whose church was demolishing the old worship center to build a new one to accommodate growth. She and her husband were married in the old worship center. She understandably grieved at the loss of that physical reminder of their wedding.

Others I don’t find as compelling. My favorite not-a-good-reason is number 5. (Or maybe I should write like a click-bait headline: “Number 5 will make you roll your eyes. Again.”)

If Genesis 11 is a commentary on people’s refusal to obey the commandment of Genesis 1:28, then what is the commentary on people’s refusal to obey the Great Commission or John 20:21 or Acts 1:8?

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The Magic Word

I saw this sign during a nature call on the Parks Highway near Mt. McKinley.

Toilet Sign

 

That’s a great sign.

The sign assumes you want to help, or are at least willing to help, and only lack instruction about how. It says that doing this badly has a financial impact, but doesn’t make threats about removing the toilets or replacing them with pay toilets.  Then it assumes you’re willing to do something to make the next person’s experience more pleasant, and says how: by closing the toilet lid.

But beyond that, look at the language. It’s not regulatory but invitational. “Please” do this. “Help” with that. Some people would write the sign “Do not dispose of trash in the toilet,” but this is much better.

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Worship Leaders Tip

Donald Miller: the difference between an artist an an entertainer. We want our worship to be enhanced by the contributions of artists. We don’t want entertainment. (Truthfully sometimes we do want, but it’s a desire we should resist.)

 

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Myths about Pastors

Good piece by Thom Rainer listing seven myths about a pastor’s workweek. I don’t know where he gets his data, but it’s all true in my case.

 

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Congregations Dying and Rising

In his own blog, Bishop Grant recently brought my attention to a blog post entitled “A Growing Church is a Dying Church.”

I liked what the blog post said about the role of the pastor:

What then can your pastor do? She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study. She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary. She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns. She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music. She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion. …

and:

What can she do to grow your church? Nothing. There’s nothing your pastor can do to make your church grow. She can’t save your church. Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her. She can push you. She can open doors. She can present you with opportunities. It’s up to you to take advantage of them.

But the greater point was that churches often look for numerical growth and a prolonged lifespan, which isn’t very Christian. More bodies, sometimes, is precisely what God refuses to provide. And as for length of days: we of all people should not be afraid of death like those who have no hope. Resurrection can’t happen until there’s been a death.

My only quibble with the article — not, I think, with its main thrust, but with its wording — was that it conflated two ideas: transformation and resurrection. Resurrection includes transformation, but not all transformation is resurrection. (Consider the transfigured Jesus and the risen Lord. Consider the Peter of Luke 5 and the Peter of Acts 4. He’s been transformed, but neither one is the Peter we will know in the age to come. Or the Paul of Acts 7–8 and Acts 21. He’s been transformed, but not yet resurrected.)

In the case of a local congregation, what the pastor is trying to orchestrate (midwife?) is transformation, not resurrection. The congregation may resist that transformation. It may prefer to die with dignity than to contextualize the gospel for neighbors who don’t look or sound or behave like the people who paid for the organ or put in that stained glass.

What happens when a congregation dies? Sometimes, our church buildings are recycled as restaurants, or even homes and condos. But sometimes they are resurrected for new worshipping communities, like when the small foreign-language Pentecostal congregation buys the old First Mainline Protestant church downtown. May God bless them and give them a fruitful ministry.

I can’t criticize those few survivors hanging on in First Mainline. They’re tired and dizzied by the way the culture has changed under their feet and overwhelmed by the new demographics of their community. I can understand why they might be ready to go home to be with the Lord, just like Paul.

But life is a gift from God, and we are called to make good use of the time we have been given. Paul himself says it: “if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”

So let’s let God take care of resurrection, and in the meantime, apply ourselves to the work — and it is work — of being transformed so we can be agents of transformation.

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Barriers to Giving

Everybody talks about how their church is (or tries to be) friendly. But “friendly” is more than just shaking your hand when you arrive. It encompasses seeing things from your guests’ point of view and asking yourself what they want or expect. A case in point is giving (although, churches should be even more friendly about giving, because guests are probably a tiny fraction of the people who give to your church). From the Lovett and Weems Church Leadership website:

When you design and communicate financial policies, make sure they are done from the perspective of the giver and not simply to satisfy rules. Make sure that readers know your interest is primarily in them and their desire to fulfill their giving goals, not for the convenience of those handling the funds.

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Driving Away Visitors

I meant to blog about Thom Rainer’s survey of how churches drive away visitors, but hadn’t gotten to it. Now that Chris Thompson mentioned it in a recent ADN blog, so now I’m finally blogging it. I won’t quote the whole article, but here are some impressions I took from it, and my early evaluation about how we might respond.

Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. This response was my greatest surprise for two reasons. First, I was surprised how much guests are really uncomfortable during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.

I was surprised that the greeting time makes guests uncomfortable, since it’s a part of the service at some churches that seem pretty guest-friendly. We have one, but not as a welcoming device at the beginning of the service. Instead we give it a theological spin as the passing of the peace. In light of how uncomfortable it makes our guests, we should give some thought to how important it is.

Unsafe and unclean children’s area. … If your church does not give a high priority to children, don’t expect young families to attend.

We are working on it, but this is truly one of the areas where we can always be improving.

No place to get information.

This is why we have 400 words of boilerplate information on the back of our Sunday bulletin. I’d like to have more things people can take away. My top two priorities are: a brochure about the church with lots of color pictures, and a brochure about our mission partnerships with lots of color pictures. As an introvert myself, I also want us to have a visitor booth where people can go chat up a single volunteer, instead of having to plunge into the crowd of fellowship time.

Bad church website.

It’s been awhile since I did much with this. I need to raise it in my priorities. I’d like to get more people to visit our Facebook page as well.

Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew.

Regular attenders need to be aware that if I find out this happens at JLP, I’m going to call them out by name during each of the next three worship services. Or maybe three dozen. By the time they feel safe returning, no one will remember it was “their” seat.

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A Hospital for Sinners (Part 7,133)

There’s a saying that goes, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” One of my favorite churches has a slogan of “Me Too.” I met someone at the Tuesday AA meeting at church who told me, “I’m a drunk, and the only thing that helps me stay sober is being with other drunks.” Put all those thoughts together and you get something like Tim Chailles’ review of Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice.

 

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