August 2010

I was shocked this month as I was traveled through several major cities on vacation and saw several churches that were closed, converted to restaurants, made into theaters and day care facilities.  What was even more shocking is that several were UMC with the marquee still in front of the building.

Hot Metal Bridge’s video is evidence that we should not abandon being the people of God in that community but we must find alternative places to be faithful.  I am also convinced that we need to faith communities for new people.  Our established congregations have lost the DNA of being externally focused.

This week I spent an evening with some wonderful, gifted, anointed young adult clergy who inspired me greatly. I was blessed to listen to them talking about their hopes and dreams for the church. They described some good times and some challenges but overall I heard their hearts about how God was speaking to each of them about their ministry, goals to engage transformative ministry and to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

As I listened to them and reflected on the stories that I have also heard over the years from established pastors I had a simple take away. We are not called to work toward being comfortable but we are called to be faithful. The energy, creativity, and enthusiasm that the young adult clergy live with should be our unending goal in ministry. It is easy to get side tracked and become complacent. I have heard statements like:

  • “I retire in a couple of years and I really should not start anything new.”
  • “As pastor my job is to keep everyone moving in the same direction and requiring the leadership to come to bible study or participate in a small group may cause conflict”
  • “We do not need a new worship service to reach new people because our church is a family and we are comfortable with knowing everyone.”
  • “There is no conflict here so if we pay our apportionments, file our reports on time and I show up at the appropriate meetings I will not be reappointed.”

I now view each of these statements as excuses for not engaging the call of ministry as vigorously as the work of being a pastor. As a pastor I am honoring an office that is a result of my calling. My calling is to live a life fully committed to teaching, preaching, the sacraments, service and the ordering of the ministry within the church. There is no retirement date, no promises that there will or won’t be any conflict and it is not about having a comfortable church family. It is about reaching men, women, boys and girls with the Good News that Jesus Christ is the risen son of God and our Savior. We are the people of God who share God’s grace as a lifestyle not a function of our office. We should be eager about encountering those outside of the church and challenging people to deeper spiritual maturity and greater awareness of self care boundaries.

Thursday evening was a reminder to focus on the call not the office. Because of the call I can endure the challenges of multiple priorities. Because of my call I set standards for leadership to be spiritual leaders and not just office holders. Because of my calling I can spend and hour in prayer and study, organize the staff, have lunch with leaders, have snacks with the youth afterschool, sip tea with my seniors and pray with the church council in one day. The calling is from God and God gives me the energy, strength and ability to fulfill all that I am called to do. The incredible group of young adult clergy encouraged me and challenged me. I am humbled and honored to be able to serve them and their congregations.

During our vacation this year we drove Niagara in an effort to be economical. It was fun and provided a lot of experiences that are missed as you fly to your vacation destination. As a general rule I usually do not eat at McDonald’s but this is my daughter’s restaurant of choice. My attitude quickly adjusted when I found out that each highway side McDonald’s has experienced a makeover. Bright new colors, open spaces to manage traffic, free WiFi, comfortable seats, restrooms were clean and the menu has changed. They now have several salad choices, smoothies, wraps and chicken choices which quickly got my attention. Traveling as a child I never remember McDonald’s being like this. I decided to ask the manager of one store what prompted all of the stores getting a makeover. He shared with me that the objective was to become more appealing to this generation without compromising their core business of providing a meal for a family at a reasonable price. Their competition was no longer other fast food restaurants but Panera, Starbuck’s, Dunken Donuts, Qdoba’s and other places that have done a great job of reaching the new and emerging culture.

I had these simple take- a- ways from our conversation and my observation.

  1. Churches that are in the process of revitalization need to make sure that their core ministry is making disciples and that this ministry is strong. The core ministry can have other ministries added to assist revitalization but if the core is not solid your efforts keep you spinning in circles. McDonald’s core of hamburgers and fries still drive their business but healthier food choices were necessary to reach more people and maintain market share. The food was freshly prepared to meet each order rather than being prepackaged.
  2. Churches that are in the process of revitalization should consider a makeover of their facilities. The signage, lighting, WiFi, new seats and design were created to give you a McDonald’s experience that moved beyond the food. What do visitors experience when they visit our congregations? The mood that was created in each restaurant was familiar to a coffee shop and several had greeters as you entered the main lobby area. Managers and team leaders had gone through hospitality training. The quality improvement was noticeable
  3. Churches in the process of revitalization need to be aware of the changing culture and your ability to connect with the culture. McDonald’s appears to have worked hard at being relevant in several areas. Near the racetrack the restaurant was themed on race cars. Near Niagara Falls the McD had a water theme including a mini fountain and fish in a pond. What ministry does your church offer that meets and connects with the needs of the people in the community where you reside?

Revitalization is not impossible but it does require the congregation to honestly evaluate their core ministry and become externally focused in how they do ministry.

We went to an outlet mall on a day that was 93 degrees.  Every store had their AC cranked up high for the comfort of their patrons.  The traffic in the mall was moderate for a hot summer day.  There were three stores that had their doors flung open.  A perfume store, a chocolate store and a bread store.  What was interesting is each of these stores had more traffic than the stores.  The fragrances that were flowing out of the stores were amazing. Because of their aromas they attracted lots of people with an open door on a hot day.

I wonder what fragrance would people experience if you left the doors of your congregation open.  Would they experience the aroma of hospitality, the fresh smell of grace or the sweet smell of God’s unconditional love?  People have many choices for a house of worship. When visitors show up your congregation has one shot at having the fragrances of God’s presence overwhelm and attract them. The goal is to have visitors desire to come back to find out what is the bouquet of aromas that makes your church so attractive.