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 I have been consulting with congregations and pastors for 20 years around their “worship wars”.  Very few weeks go by where I do not get questions about how to negotiate the introduction, financing, purpose, or function of an alternative service.  In mainline denominations the “traditional” service is usually the strongest service where the people who serve on all of the administrative committees have the power to open the doors or shut the doors to a new service prospering.

It is amazing how many church councils have a clear conscience in voting on a budget that provides the traditional service with a $25,000 budget and then they give the alternative service $5,000 to start up and sustain themselves.  The cycle has become quite predictable.  When the church leaders evaluate the new service for vitality they claim that there are not enough people, the level of ministry is not equal to the excellence that they currently experience in traditional worship is not reflected in the new service and “it is taking the pastor’s time away from concentrating on our service”. 

New services tend to reach new people who are not indoctrinated in our church centered world. They may not be instantly committed and often do not give significantly at the beginning.  New services are excellent opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who are far from God or have been hurt by the church in a casual, conversational and caring worship environment.  By eliminating the alternative service you are removing God’s children from the fountain of grace that should be flowing throughout the entire congregation.  

“The responsibility of the older, more mature members in starting a new worship service is to pray for it and pay for it”  Bill Easum  

He said this many years ago and now in my role as Guide, coach and consultant I understand the wisdom clearly.  It takes money to get a worship leader who can build, develop and disciple band members.  It takes finances to get the appropriate multimedia equipment and sound reinforcement.  It takes pray to strengthen the prodigals that are searching for God. The leaders, who are pursuing the vision of reaching the lost, left out and marginalized in your community need prayer for wisdom and guidance.  It takes finances to do community outreach and connect the church to the needs of people in the community.  If you expect the same excellence that is present in the established service, you have to budget appropriately.  This may mean cutting the traditional service budget so that the kingdom of God can flourish.  True community is where the people live with all things in common including finances.

As mainline churches seek to be relevant to this generation, I suspect that the worship wars will continue.  One guiding principle is you can’t cheap thrill excellence.  And the second is the responsibility of the mature body of disciples is to “pray for it and pay for it”.

Do you remember when you experienced a life transforming worship? Prodigal Worship Conference 2011 is designed to empower you and the worship design team to develop powerful worship that transforms individuals, congregations and communities. Our theme is 180 Degree Change and we have dynamic speakers that provide practical advice:

·         Jason Moore and Len Wilson of Midnight OilTaking Flight with Creativity: Worship Design Teams that Work

  ·         Shane ClaiborneThe Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical

  ·         Jenny SmithTransforming Worship in Small Membership Churches

  ·         Robbie MorganfieldThe Power of Transformative and Authentic Worship

  ·         Paul NixonI Refuse to Lead a Dying Church

  ·         Marvin MossEngaging the Culture to Preach to the Prodigal

  ·         Kim MillerDesigning Spaces for Connection and Community

  ·         Rudy BroplehThe 3A’s Business: Doing & Being the Church, Consistently & Holistically

Prodigal Worship Conference 2011
April 2, 2011
Glen Mar UMC, Ellicott City,MD

Register today – www.bwcumc.org/prodigalworship

Bring three people from your church and the fourth person registers for free.

We’re also offering a special live streaming session of the event at Hancock UMC in the Western region.  Participants will hear and see the three keynote speakers and two workshops. Lunch is included in the registration and participants will have the opportunity to browse the marketplace for books and other materials to assist in worship planning.

Our special rate for Prodigal Worship conference is $99 which will be effective until tomorrow, Feb 22. But, we would like to offer you this special rate until Friday, Feb. 25. Learn more about Prodigal Worship Conference and register today, www.bwcumc.org/prodigalworship.

Please contact Tonia Bennett for registration questions, tbennett@bwcumc.org.

Over the last few months there have been many vigorous discussions about the relevance of the Black Church. I have weighed in with two articles basically saying that Black Churches have become kingdom and socially irrelevant. My arguments are sound but Rev. Freddie Haynes clarified both of my papers in one simple statement.

“The reason that the Black Church is irrelevant is because we are raising the most selfish, self centered me, myself and its all mine generation in history. When the “favor of God” is connected to materialism, then kingdom morality has left the scene.”

My personal take away from that session was, Preachers that promote and proclaim popular clichés and ear tingling messages without a moral foundation that is rooted in the scripture make the messenger not only irrelevant but also an accomplice to premeditated sin.

The heart of the Black church has always called for justice based on the needs of marginalized. When you are a part of the marginalized community it is easy to call for justice but when you are a part of the privileged it is difficult to identify the injustices. The reality is that WEB Dubois was right, the more privilege you have the more responsibility we have to engage social systems and inequities for the least, lost and left out.

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.

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Susan Hong stops Pastor Tim Keller as he dashes up the steps of a Baptist church on a hectic corner of Broadway and West 79th Street.

She heard him preach at 10:30 a.m. on the Upper East Side. Now she has brought friends to hear him at the West Side 5 p.m. service. He briefly greets her, then slips into the service just before his sermon.

In 45 minutes, before the final hymn, Keller’s gone — off to deliver the same sermon, “The Gospel Changes Everything,” on the East Side. Then, again, Keller, founder and senior pastor of Manhattan‘s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, will dash back to West 79th Street for his fourth service of the day at three leased locations.

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Yesterday I was attended a meeting at Christ-Ballenger Creek UMC church.   I walked in the aroma of fresh baked cookies which filled the vestibule and the sanctuary. After our meeting I saw the reason for the cookies. Christ Church is next door to a middle school and when the school let out hundreds of children came to the church for their afternoon snack.  Some  played Wii some did their homework, and just hung out as parents picked some of the children up outside and others began their journey home on foot I was rejoicing at seeing a congregation involved in market place ministry that made sense and made a difference.  Some of the young people said that instead of going home to wait until their parents got home they enjoyed being with their friends and making friends with some of the people from the church.  Yeah GOD! Yeah Christ –Ballenger Creek!

This morning while I stood at the bus stop with my daughter I was pleasantly surprised for a van to pull up and three joyful people jumped out offering the parents coffee and hot chocolate along with a simple card that said God loves you and the address of the church. With three busses going through the sub division picking up about 75 students that is a lot of contact with parents that might never step into a church.  I began to wonder how many parents at other bus stops would have also appreciated a hot cup of hot chocolate on a cold day. How many churches do we have where a group of three people would be willing to give 2 hours of service to sharing the love of God with their neighbors? That was the first time I had experienced such radical hospitality as servant evangelism and became recommitted to proclaiming that every pastor and congregation should be involved in marketplace ministry and servant evangelism.

As I work with churches that are attempting to engage marketplace ministry or servant evangelism for the first time, I understand how it can be overwhelming to start and make a large enough impact that it feels “worth while”.  Anytime we serve someone because of the love of God that we have experienced we are introducing people to God whose grace is available to those outside of a personal relationship with God.  So the simple key is to figure out what makes sense for your ministry context and available resources and to get started as soon as possible.

RESOLVED: Atheists are the New Evangelicals

You know it’s serious when Chuck Norris gets spooked. Non-believers are now a legit voting bloc: seven out of ten people who say they never go to church votedfor Barack Obama in November, and he repaid them with an unprecedented shoutout during his inauguration address.

The “European Disease” has officially jumped the pond.

While the number of self-identifying Christians has fallen 86% in 1990 to 76% today, the ranks of those claim “no religious affiliation” have almost doubled, to 15%. Nearly 4 million Americans now identify as atheists or agnostics, and more non-believers are publicly expressing their lack of faith—groups of non-believers are proliferating on college campuses and social networking sites.

But the battle for hearts and minds will be a long one. Most Americans have a low opinion of non-believers; a 2006 University of Minnesota study found atheists to be the most disliked minority group in America. More than half the country wouldn’t vote for an atheist for President, whereas 72% would vote for a Mormon—there’s some good news for 1012, Mitt. Still, the signs of progress are there: in 1958, 75% wouldn’t pull the lever for a non-believer.

You know it’s serious when Chuck Norris gets spooked. Non-believers are now a legit voting bloc: seven out of ten people who say they never go to church voted for Barack Obama in November, and he repaid them with an unprecedented shoutout during his inauguration address.

The “European Disease” has officially jumped the pond.

While the number of self-identifying Christians has fallen 86% in 1990 to 76% today, the ranks of those claim “no religious affiliation” have almost doubled, to 15%. Nearly 4 million Americans now identify as atheists or agnostics, and more non-believers are publicly expressing their lack of faith—groups of non-believers are proliferating on college campuses and social networking sites.

But the battle for hearts and minds will be a long one. Most Americans have a low opinion of non-believers; a 2006 University of Minnesota study found atheists to be the most disliked minority group in America. More than half the country wouldn’t vote for an atheist for President, whereas 72% would vote for a Mormon—there’s some good news for 1012, Mitt. Still, the signs of progress are there: in 1958, 75% wouldn’t pull the lever for a non-believer.
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What will it take for Christians to make evangelism as important to their spiritual discipline as prayer, quiet time, fasting, worship,journaling and studying the scriptures? The Apostle’s number one priority was to share the gospel and now the church is more concerned with buildings and appearances.

This article shows us how much work we have to do to share the gospel with non believers.  Our mainline denominations are dying not because of a lack of people but because of a lack of engaging the outside world outside of the church in a meaningful way. 

Faith sharing must become a personal life style, congregational value and denominational imperative. The biggest missionary field in the world is right here in the United States. The unconditional love, unmerited favor and total forgiveness that we have expereinced as born again believers is not a gift to be hidden in our sanctuaries and prayer closets but a gift to be shared with all of our neighbors and even the strangers that we meet.

This article set off alarm bells for me. I am committed to social justice and serving the marginalized people of the world.  I support new church plants, multi site church ministry and church yard sales.  This article has called everyone’s ministry to task. Evangelical, Full Gospel, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, AME, and the others that Ihave not named.  I pray that it will challenge and encourage you.  The new evangelist are those of us whose lives have been transformed by our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are the people who carry the Good News. We are the people with the message hope that endures the vicissitudes of life. We are the people with the message of total release from the guilt and stain of sin because of of our living  Savior whose tomb remains empty to this day. It is time to tell our story with power and conviction.  Church as usual is no longer acceptable.  We have some work to do!

Bell’s Appeal
Ministry to young adults
By Debra Benis

When Rob Bell walks on stage at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, the 38-year-old sports chic black glasses and black jeans with a wide, white 1970s belt. His geeky, affable presence and energized speaking style warm up the room quickly and signal a seasoned performer. After you hear Bell speak, it’s not surprising to learn that his childhood hero was David Letterman or that when he was a student at Wheaton College in the 1980s, he was lead singer in a band called “__Ton Bundle” (the blank space allowed band members to change the band’s name by adding various adjectives).There’s plenty of evidence that Bell’s been successful at engaging the culture. He’s been written up by Time magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times, which calls him “the next Billy Graham.” His 2006 book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith created a following of diehard fans who eagerly awaited Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality and his latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile (written with Don Golden of World Relief).

His NOOMA videos have sold 1.2 million copies in 80 countries (NOOMA is a phonetic spelling of the Greek pneuma, or “spirit”). In 2007-2008 he visited 22 cities as part of “The Gods Aren’t Angry” tour. Bell has come in for criticism as well as adulation. Conservative evangelicals like blogger Eric Rung think Bell’s approach to ministry is “out of step with scripture” and that his philosophy will “erode true biblical faith.” Another Web site-one of many-notes that while Bell is packaged as Christian, “nothing could be further from the truth,” and calls Bell “a New Age evangelist.”

What is Bell doing to earn so much attention? For one thing, he can preach. As Bell warms up a congregation or audience to hear “the truth of the text,” he drops jokes based on pop music, references to favorite cheap wines or the quirks of cell phone technology, a mainstay of the 20-somethings among his listeners. In his sermons, he prepares the congregation by announcing that he’ll be teaching for 80 minutes. (Some of the visitors thought that he must be kidding. He wasn’t.)

Several times during the 80 minutes he stops in the middle of exegeting a Bible passage when he senses a lull in listener focus and shouts, “Are you tracking?” After a resolute yes from the congregation, he dives in again.

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 This article provides us with a lot of insight on what is neccesary if older mainline churches are to be effective in reaching young adults. I am left asking the question, “Should we be equipping .young adult lay and clergy pastors to engage their culture more aggressively? I believe that the answer is yest but this also develops a second question.  Will the young adult sensitive ministries flourish at the expense of established older congregations dying?

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