Part of the season of church planting is having flexibility with Sunday mornings. I have spent most of them helping out other churches, leading music or preaching supply. We have had a couple of Sundays where we go visit other services and see how they do things.
This weekend I decided to do something different.
I skipped church on purpose. And it was glorious. The whole day was amazing.
I did an experiment Sunday morning and spent several hours at my favorite coffee and breakfast spot. It is a higher end gas station serving the exact demographic we are planting Foundry in. Folks can easily come in and spend $5-7 on a great cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich or pastry.
I was there for around four hours observing who else was skipping church.
I grew up in church. I was there easily 5 days a week. I’m a preachers kid! I remember thinking about folks who skipped church when I was younger. I don’t know if it was subliminal or someone actually told me, but I viewed skipping church as a fast track to a stretch in the penitentiary. The folks who skipped church were the true dregs of society, sleeping off what was most certainly a debaucherous night worthy of Hugh Hefner and company.
Then I went to college and started skipping church.
Recently Carey Niewhof has spent considerable time on his blog looking at the phenomenon of declining church attendance (here, here and here). He, like others, gives weight to the theory that many of our churches aren’t declining through significant departure, but instead declining frequency of attendance.
My time over the last few years in ministry has shown the same thing. We rarely had a family leave my previous church-but when we crunched the numbers of average attendance vs. who was there at least once a month we found either more frequent attendance (in growing services) or declining (in shrinking services).
So with these facts in mind I decided to skip church and observe folks skipping church (I guess that sociological research degree is paying off).
Observations from Skipping Church
1. Folks are spending their time with family
Earlier in the morning (around 8-9am) I saw plenty of families together. Some of them came to get a family breakfast before church. Others were heading out to a day at the lake or the camp. Some families came in and spent 30-45 minutes with each other and other families rushed in and out.
I did see 3 different groups of Dads and kids together. I assumed (due to the lack of wedding rings and one conversation with one) this breakfast was the last big event before Dad ended his weekend with the kids and brought them back to Mom.
2. Hanging out with friends
I saw several younger couples of groups of friends come in early to grab breakfast and hang out. They stayed at least for an hour catching up and sharing stories. One of them even talked about a Bible study they were in! The common thread in their conversations was life change and transition.
3. Growing themselves or taking care of other responsibilities
I saw a people come in, sit down by themselves and pull out an iPad or book and read during a cup of coffee. I saw people journaling. Others came in to grab a quick bite before running errands or driving to see family.
4. Different people at different times.
Earlier in the morning I saw more families come in. Around 9:30 younger people came in and people swung in to grab stuff to go. Around 10/10:30 I started to see college kids come in or folks that probably had a hard Saturday night and were just getting going. At 11am or so it swung back to families with kids coming in to sit down.
So what did I learn?
People are skipping church for good reasons.* Like I said earlier, I had a magnificent day. Meredith and I spent great time to ourselves and part of me thinks the relaxing morning I had reading and reflecting was something to do with that. I wasn’t stressed out on Sunday morning
People were spending time with important people. Whether it was their kids, spouses, significant others or friends-they filled Sunday morning with relationships.
Folks used Sunday to do what mattered to them. Saturday is quickly getting filed up with responsibilities. I recently read over 30% of the workforce works on the weekend. With sports and other obligations, Saturday is now a work day with more comfortable shoes on! Sunday is the new Saturday, a time to relax and refuel yourself.
So think about that. These people aren’t skipping church for malicious reasons. In fact, they are skipping worship for the very reason worship is important! Worship should be relaxing (not stressful or awkward), it should be about relationships and connecting with the body of Christ. Finally, worship should be a time to press reset and reorient life. This isn’t about creating a consumer driven service,** but we have to realize God never meant worship to not matter!
I don’t offer any thing besides this. I have my own theories, but they are contextual.
What I am doing at Foundry is thinking about what our weekly services will look like and asking questions along these lines. Church shouldn’t be a drag. I promised our launch team I would do everything for worship to not suck or be embarrassing.
Church leaders need to get really honest with themselves and be willing to ask the hard questions. I think many people quit going to church not because they no longer believe, but they slowly stopped thinking Sunday morning in church was worth it. That worship mattered. And we as Christian leaders need to own up to this and do what we can to fix it.
*Let’s think about what would subliminally drive someone to not attend church. We can sugar coat it as much as we want, it can be disagreements, lack of opportunities, janky worship services or many other things. For many people it is simple being too busy. What it boils down to is the experience of corporate worship isn’t as important as other things-it doesn’t carry the beneficial weight. This isn’t saying worship isn’t important, but we have to be honest with ourselves about what we are presenting as worship to people.
** I honestly think many people experience God in worship. I have rarely met a mature disciple of Jesus who hasn’t been positively affected in and by worship numerous times. Worship is an important and heavy thing. Because of that conviction I think worship needs to be excellent. It needs to engage context, senses and sensibility. Expecting people to experience God in a worship service completely out of touch to them isn’t a holy excuse. If we want worship to be a priority we need to give it all we’ve got.
How To Get People To Sing In Worship (why repetition matters)
Sermon | Playing House (Building the Worship of God)
The Most Important Word in Worship Design…
Learning About Worship From Iron Maiden
At the end of 2014, Meredith and I traveled. We probably spent close to 20 hours in the car driving. Both of us love podcasts and we decided to power listen to Serial, the breakout podcast hit of the fall.
If you aren’t familiar with Serial yet, it is a long form, narrative style podcast from the This American Life family. In 12 episodes it told the story of a murder suspect and the crime information that didn’t necessarily match up. The New Yorker called Serial “the Podcast to end all podcasts.”
It was a break out hit and one of the most innovative pieces of media in 2014. There are several lessons the church can learn from the podcast. I think now is the time for any local church to begin learning some lessons from new media.
3 Things Churches Can Learn from the Serial Podcast
1. The new media critical mass has been reached.
For the last 10 years people have slowly been learning to get news, build opinions and discuss things in alternative ways. According to Everertt Rodgers’ research Diffusion of Innovation, we have reached critical mass. New media has reached the late majority level. This means the average amount of persons might not have actually engaged in a tremendous amount of new media communication styles, but they are familiar enough with them to hit mainstream. The more narrative, people based storytelling is now accepted and understood easily (rather than tolerated and confused). The 20th century was primarily a knowledge based society. In many ways it was the apex of the last 500 years of a new system of innovation begun with printing press.
If we look at communication development, the last 5 years have been a shift of innovation away from knowledge/information and back towards narrative as the dominate holder of truth. This written -> oral cultural shift doesn’t downgrade knowledge…but instead shows a development of both together. The storyteller no longer is simply a transmitter of previous information, but now holds authority by not just the truthfulness they tell…but how they tell it.
This means people have now changed the way they digest and listen to media. Think of the communication potential your church now has. Instead of reaching people living inside a knowledge based culture,we have to shift to a narrative based. But isn’t that what the gospel really is? The story of many people being reconciled to the Father, through the sacrifice of His Son and then grasped and empowered by the Holy Spirit?
2. Podcasts have now reached mainstream
Podcasts have been around for 10 years in some medium or the other. Apple iTunes has had podcast delivery built in since 2005. Even though it was almost 9 years ago, this was the first step in accessibility. In the last 5 years, the technology for listening to podcasts has changed dramatically. With the advent of smartphones (and the iPhones ability to download/stream podcasts natively) the accessibility was easier than ever before. In the past, you had to search through the store, download to iTunes and then upload the podcast to your iPod.
Serial broke iTunes download records. They reached 5 million downloads quicker than any other podcast. 15% of our population has listened to a podcast in the last month. People are moving towards podcasts as a primary source of information and entertainment. The hardest part about a podcast is finding the best way to listen.
In the last 10 years, vehicles have slowly started making connecting an auxiliary device to the stereo easier. At first it was auxiliary jacks and now it is bluetooth. I don’t think I have had a rental car in the last 5 years that doesn’t have the ability to route my iPhone audio through the speaker.
This makes it easy for your church to distribute content.
Instead of the old tape or cd based ministry, which necessitated changing delivery systems (tapes or CD’s), listeners now have the content at the same place everywhere. They can start and stop with ease. The average commute is 25.4 minutes.
Podcast technology means your ministry can reach listeners who can subscribe to regular content and listen to it anywhere.And the average person now has everything they need to engage with your content and is probably familiar. Churches have used RSS (podcast code) technology for years to deliver sermons…but that is just the beginning. Read “What’s Behind the Greatest Podcast Renaissance” and think about how you can take advantage of this medium
3. How Serial changed everything (in a great way).
Serial changed everything. Or maybe we can say it served as the example of the great change that has been happening over the last 2 years as far as podcasts are concerned. I have podcaster off and on for 10 years. For 8 of those it was a total bust. Getting 10 downloads was a success. No one knew how, knew what or knew why podcasts were great. It was a total niche movement.
But it was worth sticking with. Apple sat on it for years before it hit mainstream.
Serial showed us how everything changed.
It was a distinctly Generation X/ Millennial product. With the crime in Serial occurring in 1999, there are plenty of cultural references.
Sarah Koenig, the host and primary investigator speaks of adolescence not as a statistical fact, but as something mainstream.* It shows a completely perfect example of a secular moral structure…with casual drug use and sexuality on a sliding scale of acceptability. Language isn’t edited out. One particular person involved coined a phrase used through out the show featuring the F-bomb. It was referenced countless times throughout the show. Unedited. No apologies. Besides the moral framework, the style of reporting this has completely changed. It is no longer a disapproving adult, but instead someone who remembers (and even identifies) with the subjects. I can’t imagine Barbara Walters doing this style of reporting.
Serial also served as an amazing example of power listening. We have been familiar with power watching, the practice of back to back viewings of entire television seasons, ever since DVD sets became affordable. Netflix, and other streaming services, have made this a regular part of life.
Serial was the first podcast to seriously look at power listening. People would plan out blocks of time (the holiday season was perfect…because the show had just ended) to listen to the entire 12 episode season.
So ask yourselves this. Are you in the content business or the sermon business?** The church has used technological advances for years in media. If fact, it’s one of the areas we have done really well in.
I think this gives us two questions to ask ourselves.
1. How can my church create or adapt a content strategy influenced by power watching/listening and the consumption of narrative media.
2. Do we speak the communication language of Generation X and the Millennials or are we still directing our digital media towards the style of engagement created by older generations.
Serial has been a great example of the tipping point of new media and any church leader needs to be asking these questions.
*Note. I don’t agree with the information below-but it’s of the utmost sociological importance.
**But let’s think about what a sermon is. It’s an intentional packaging and communication of the Story of God. For me, the basic assumption of preaching/sermonizing is the assumption and goal of a person being affected and making intentional decisions because of the word of God. The lines between the sermon and content are decently blurry.
Over the last week I have been reading Justin Wise’s first book The Social Church. I was excited to be part of his launch team and help him get the word out about the book. After I finished the book this week I was already contemplating the things I learned and looking over my notes. This book is perfectly timed for the world we live in.
Justin has spent time in ministry, consulting and now runs a media hub called #thinkdigital. His podcast has shown up on my list of favorites shows. I trust Justin more than anyone else when it comes to new media, especially in regard to the church.
Think of this book as less of a how-to and more of a theology of social media and praxis. Justin is a Lutheran and finds many great analogies in his own faith tradition, explaining why it is essentially important for the church to be active in social media. The Social Church isn’t a paint by numbers book nor is it an attempt by an uneducated consultant to attach theological meanings to a baptized secular enterprise. Justin does some legit theological work in this book.
Justin lets us know the fundamental reason the Church should be rocking social media is an extension of our theology of the incarnation. The New Media Revolution is as powerful as the Gutenberg press.
The biggest takeway I think the majority of churches attempting to do social media need to pay attention is..
Church is becoming less of a possessor of knowledge and more of a connected hub.
Think of how many times we just think if we throw the information on Facebook it will automatically change everything. Just having a website isn’t magic fairy dust we can sprinkle and expect amazing things. As our society shifts (and it is), churches need to realize the information age is dead. People aren’t going to the web to learn, but instead to communicate. We have moved from a learning society to a sharing society.
What won’t matter is what we accurately posted but instead the relationships we fostered.
If you are having any conversation about communication or advertising in church, you need to read this book. Thanks to Justin for sending the launch team a preview copy. Go support a great guy and pick up The Social Church.
I once received an email notifying me Williams-Sonoma has Star Wars cookie cutters on sale. I chuckled a little bit, because I usually assume Williams-Sonoma is a bit high brow. Geek has gone Chic, with even high end outlets realizing the power of the geek. Wired Magazine has a blog called GeekDad, and Japanese culture has seen the rise of the Otaku, a status once looked down upon as unproductive.
Geek has become big business.
So much, even the Martha Stewart crowd gets into it. The popular Apple vs. PC commercials show the transition from a former negative (pc) to a new (and cooler) definition of being a geek.
Our culture will conform to anything if a seemingly positive result will emerge.
No matter what the negative may be, if quantifiable gain appears, we will sacrifice previous feelings to push progress. This topic of “geek” is tongue in cheek, but nerds truly have revenge now.
What is our brand identity as Christians?
The topic of progress and relevancy often pushes the church forward. Adaptability is a key concept in mission. Contextualization is key.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NRSV)
The hinge point in this verse lies in the and. We are called to engage and provide in the world, but while doing so we are to avoid the pitfalls of the sinful world. What is interesting in this verse is the relationship between “undefiled” (ἀμίαντος) and “unstained”(ἄσπιλον). At first glance they appear as synonyms. But the meaning and shape of these two words lie within the sacrificial tradition of Israel. Sacrificial animals were required to be spotless and undefiled. Christ is presented as a spotless lamp in Revelation.
Our actions of mission are sacrificial. In them, we represent the Father’s covenant promise to forgive sin, through the person Jesus Christ, and echoing the tradition of Israel in the Old Testament. In this process, we need to be extremely careful we are not greatly conforming to culture. When we lose our prophetic and sacrificial presence, we lose our mission. Just because a quick gain can be found, do we trade this in by offering something that doesn’t match up with our character (Star Wars cookie cutters fitting in with $500 knives)?
Do our transitions break our greater resemblance of Gods people?
Do we still look like him constantly, are we obviously pursuing holiness because God has commanded it (1 Peter 1:15)?
More simply, have we broken our brand identity?
Just as jarring as the cookie cutters relates to the suburban high end cooking store, when Christianity as taken in the world so much we no longer appear to be outside the culture, our alarms should be going off.
The Walking Dead season four premiere is in just a few short days. I am just one of the many people eagerly anticipating what this season will bring. I won’t bore you here, but I am sure this won’t be the last time you hear about The Walking Dead around these parts.
The popularity of zombies is without question. I love zombies because they give us a different narrative in which to think about the world. Wrapped up in the idea of the zombie apocalypse is social narrative and critique. Zombies are a uniquely western look at how society thinks the world has and hasn’t worked. The story of the zombie apocalypse also gives an amazing metaphor to evaluate how we act as a culture and as individuals. I wrote about much of this in a previous post: 3 Reasons the Church should Understand the Zombie Apocalypse.
What I want to offer you today is a companion piece. If we know Zombies are coming, how can we get ready for the apocalypse? Not literally, although I have been in some churches that would make wonderful safe houses and barricade zones. I’m talking about understanding the rise of a completely different set of behaviors, values and idea of life. An apocalyptic situation is one where life can be dated before and after. The world has completely changed in the last 10 years. We have entered an apocalyptic transition and are now in a new world.
How can we bring the gospel into this new world? How can we bring the life giving power of Christ to a culture bent on self consumption?
How Churches Can Anticipate the Zombie Apocalypse
1. Realize Things Are Different.
Are people around you behaving differently? I would say yes. While they might not be eating brains, stumbling about and making weird noises, things are different. No matter what the industry, leaders are talking about how much we have changed in a post-9/11 world. The millennial generation is coming of age and influence bringing a different set of values than we have seen in the last 60 years. Fast Company calls this Flux. Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon wrote about this years ago in Resident Aliens.
Things are different and they won’t ever be the same again.
2. Identify what has to change.
When the times are changing we must start looking at methods. What worked wonderfully for years will soon cease to even bring results. This could mean armored school buses or it could mean radically different strategies of evangelism and discipleship. In the zombie apocalypse, everything has a purpose. The end goal is realized. When we as leaders and churches best understand what absolutely needs to be done we can adapt and create new ways to talk about Jesus.
We have to have conversations about what is absolutely essential. When Earnest Shackleton led his crew off their ship and across over 600 miles of Antarctic ice he only allowed them 2lbs of personal gear. Only what was absolutely essential. When we enter into conversations filled with prayer about what is absolutely essential we are able to realize what might be holding us back. We can lighten our loads and better discern the best way to follow Jesus in faithfulness. God gives us unique missions only we can carry out. We just need to find out what the best tools are for our mission.
3. Adapt to thriving in a new environment. If we do these first two steps we will see change, in both our churches and among the people God has called us to minister too. What was once foreign is now familiar. Just realizing things are different and understanding what we needed to change will allow adaptation to this new world.
The driving force in our current age is context (I wrote about context and how it affect evangelism here). Context was the driving force behind John Wesley and his adaptations to the zombie apocalypse in 17th century England. It took him from the classrooms to the fields. If we study the early church and the movement of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s ministry we see adaptation to context. Context is everything.
If we want to thrive in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, we need to do these three steps. Our world needs us to understand how things are different, what the Gospel looks like in this different world and the kingdom example of thriving.
I asked my good friend and former pastor Aaron Mansfield to do a guest post on evangelism. He rocks at it and is seen in the Kentucky Annual Conference of the UMC as one of the go-to people for evangelism. He is will to do just about anything and has some crazy stories about living in the Holy Spirit. I love the story of his spiritual journey most of all. I count Aaron as a close friend and mentor. He is willing to do ANYTHING to tell people about Jesus. His post challenged me. I hope you enjoy his thoughts as much as I did.-Chad
When Chad asked me to write a guest post on evangelism, not only did I not hesitate to answer “yes,” I was also immediately drawn back to some pleasant memories. Chad worked with me at The Rock La Roca United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY. I remember running him off the first week he came. I said that people should live where they ministered. So Chad and Meredith realized that there was a lot of ministry needed to be done right where they were living, so he came and told me he was leaving! But he also said he would look me up for his supervised ministry. His last year at Asbury, he worked with us and brought many blessings to our church, and to me and my family.
Chad and I did a lot of evangelism on the streets. We tried not to go empty-handed; we usually took the fresh produce we grew in our garden, and the produce that countless gardeners across Lexington were growing to help us give the hungry good food. Chad was there with me in the trenches. We visited all kinds of houses and met all kinds of people. We did a pretty good job of keeping up with Mary, who seemed to have a new place each month. Let me brag on him a little more: Chad was a huge part of a new service we started specifically for the poorest of the poor, who simply would not, did not come on Sundays. Chad managed to help that group settle on a hermeneutic for understanding the Book of Revelation. He was able to communicate that in language that everyone there could easily understand.
It wasn’t all work and no play. We also spent a lot of time talking about Thin Lizzy, zombie flicks bar-b-q, The Derrty, and Bigfoot.
The sanctuary were Aaron and I met. I was privileged to be in ministry at this place for 1 wonderful year.
Ok, so on to the meat of the post! Chad asked me to talk about the evangelism component of church planting, particularly a church plant we have going in Menifee County, Kentucky.
We are crazy to do this plant, but God has favored it so much that we don’t listen to the wisdom of men! Menifee County is a small, rural county in East-Central Kentucky. It’s the foothills of Appalachia. 6,300 people. It’s the 74th poorest county in the US, out of about 3200 total counties. It’s the kind of place you don’t plant churches in. The conventional wisdom says you plant in large, urban settings. But people need Jesus everywhere. And there is a preferential option for the poor.
Scott Wilson, a pastor and friend of mine, came up to me at the 2011 Annual Conference, when I was sent to my current appointment, and said, “There is no Methodist Church in Menifee County.” Our counties book-end Menifee County. I couldn’t sleep that night. I came back next day and Scott and I were agreed, we would plant a church in Menifee County.
Long story short, a terrible tornado devastated Menifee county on Mar 2, 2012. Our churches were the first there and we stayed. We are still there, rebuilding. We had this idea to have a festival for the county, a kind of celebration, a time to have fun and heal. We called it New Hope, the name we intended to give the church.
I have been involved in a number of church plants, but have never seen anything like this. A whole district came around us, to help make the festival happen. 1200 people came. That’s 20% of the county.
So, principle #1: Have big events. Do lots of publicity. Get something that people will really like. At the New Hope Festival, we had games for kids; hundreds of Ale 8s in a horse trough full of ice (it’s a Kentucky thing On a side note, Chad is a genius. He mixes Ale 8 and orange juice to create the Methodist Mimosa); and we had a strong man group come. 14 people gave their life to Christ after the strong man Gospel presentation.
At our Easter Egg Hunt ( first community Easter Egg Hunt they ever had), we put out 5200 eggs and 70% of the school-age children came. We sponsored the back to school bashes and had about 600 total.
Principle #2: At the big events, remember that the reason you are doing it is to make contact with LOTS of people. You have to have a registration system to get names and addresses so you can contact them later. And you have to have some people roving around, asking people if they go to church. If they don’t (and: they don’t go to church if it’s not at least 2 times a month), ask them what they would like a church to be like if they could start it from the ground up. Almost no one we talk to goes to church. What we get when asked what they want a church to be like is: something for the kids, and a church where they can dress how they want and no one looks down on you. Those are almost unanimous answers.
Principle #3: Follow up with people. Don’t assume that just because a lot of people came to an event they are going to come to church. Church is a whole other level of commitment. So follow up with the people you met and talked to. And pay close attention to Principle #4!
Principle #4: Learn to close the deal on evangelism. Right now, can you lead a person to faith in Christ? If you can’t, you need to re-evaluate what you are doing, what your priorities are. Right now, would you ask someone point-blank to give their life to Jesus? You need to be able to explain, simply, what it means to place faith in Jesus Christ. Get a good tract, like the Bridge, with very simple illustrations about repenting of sin and confessing Jesus as Savior. Don’t use “discipleship” as your excuse for not presenting the Gospel quickly, plainly, and asking for a response. You can’t make a disciple until you have a convert. If you wait until you have done a three month Bible Study on Luke-Acts to ask anyone to accept Christ, you have waited too long. No doubt, it might take months of Bible study or coming to worship, but you can and must ask from day one! Imagine how much the Bible study would mean to them after they have been saved! Why wait!?
I have found a kind of squeamishness in Methodist circles about evangelism, and about large events particularly. We think it’s… what? Dishonest? Cheesy? Inauthentic? Let’s be glad Jesus and Wesley weren’t hipsters keepin’ it local. We are throwing out a big net. We don’t keep all the fish.
We are also squeamish about tracts. About asking for a decision. All I can say is you have to get over it.
We get kind of squirrelly when you talk about going door-to-door with the Gospel message. I was in a meeting where a seminary evangelism professor said that door-to-door evangelism does not work. (This always happens to me. I keep getting told over and over I am doing it wrong. Tracts. Door-to-door. Big events with strongmen talking about Hell. Asking for a decision for Christ. Repentance. Fleeing the wrath to come. I know. I’m an idiot. I need to be sealed in glass. Break only in case of rampant pagan revelry. But somehow, the Lord keeps blessing me with helping Him find lost sheep!) I was just keeping quiet, but a friend protested for me and said, “Aaron does it, and he had 26 professions of faith last year.” The gentleman replied that I must be working in a nice neighborhood where everyone feels really safe answering the doors… Chad, were we in a nice, safe neighborhood? (Chad here-nope, it was crazy sketchy) And think about this: if you open the door and see me and Chad, and you still come to Jesus…
Principle #5. This, I guess is church plant-specific. Launch Large. You can save yourself all kinds of trouble and heartache and improve the chances of the success of your church plant if you go all out to get as many people as possible to your first worship service. All that entails is for another post. But imbibe the principle: 3-4 weeks after launch, you will have about half the number who showed up at launch. You can see immediately the difference between launching with 80 versus launching with 200! How do you launch big? Have big events. Make contact with people. Close the deal on evangelism.
So, where do we stand with the launch of New Hope? We are one year out from formal launch. We have a lot of work to do. A few more big events. A lot of contacting people. A lot of deals to close. Catalina Wine Mixer kinda stuff.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me at my blog: www.evangelismstories.blogspot.com
If you are interested in guest posting, check out this post.