Saturday, December 2, 2017

Concerning Discipleship

I woke up this morning with discipleship on the brain. For the past three days our church leadership has been talking discipleship and now I’m trying to figure out where that all fits. Part of my struggle is because we went through DiscipleWay training a few years ago and I can’t help but compare the two. All of the stuff we heard on night one this week seemed awfully familiar. I know we need to be making disciples who make disciples. In spite of the instructor saying that wasn’t what he was taught, I can’t say that. I grew up in a small church and for all the disadvantages of small churches, discipleship comes naturally to them. And then you have DiscipleWay, which is a very practical method of disciple making. Even if I’m not leading people through the material, I find that in teaching situations I am drawing on it to teach people the proper way to study the Bible, to pray, etc. Someone said they felt discouraged by the implication that we’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I don’t think we should be, because even if we aren’t taking people through the whole process ourselves, God can and does use multiple teachers to take people from spiritual babes to full maturity. Is there a better way? Yes. But we haven’t been wasting our time.

The most useful thing I got out of this week is a tool for assessing where people are in their spiritual development.

Things got a bit more practical on the third night, but there were some of us still asking, “But what is it that we would actually need to do?” A curriculum was mentioned and someone made the statement, “That sounds like Awana.” I don’t know what to think about that. I kind of want to fall back to DiscipleWay. That’s my comfort zone. I know how to do that. It’s very good material. I’m not so sure about something someone would describe as “Awana for adults.” But the problem with DiscipleWay is that it isn’t designed for spiritual infants. It is great for leadership development, but it isn’t something that we would plug every member and visitor of our church into. I can see it taking spiritual young adults to spiritual parenthood, but not taking spiritual infants and children to spiritual young adults.

One of the things I’ve struggled with using DiscipleWay is finding those guys to lead through the material. With the stuff we talked about this week, I don’t think we would have the same problem and actually, this new stuff could feed into DiscipleWay. I could see group leaders identifying some of their people as being ideal candidates to DiscipleWay. It was mentioned this week that Jesus had twelve disciples who went everywhere with him, but there were three that he took aside. Perhaps the three are the ones one would take through DiscipleWay, but everyone would go through some other stuff.

The big difference between what the people we talked to this week are doing and DiscipleWay is that these people are making the assumption that everyone will be in one of these groups. When they began, they literally divided their congregation up among their group leaders. They have zones in their auditorium and if someone sits in their zone the group leader in that zone asks them if they are in a group yet. In counseling situations, the pastor asks people who their group leader is and invites that leader in on the conversation. They expect that people will invite lost post to group meetings and that new membership will come through there first.

On that point, this seems to be in direct contrast with the material they taught us. There is a statement, “We can only disciple those who are…Faithful, Available, Teachable.” But if you are bringing lost people into the group and teaching spiritual infants you are including people who don’t meet that requirement. They may be available and teachable, but they aren’t faithful. If we do I job, they will be eventually, but they aren’t faithful yet.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

9 Ways Not to Get Stuck Waiting for Gas

Gasoline shortages is the word of the day. Some stations have shut off their pumps and it is expected to get worse until the refineries that were shut down by Harvey come back online. Recognizing that we are producing about twenty percent less gasoline than we normally use, we ought to drive less so that people who need gasoline the most will have it available. But let’s get real. For most of us the real concern is that we don’t want to get stuck waiting for gas at a gas station or have to go station to station until we find one that has gas. So here are nine ways to not get stuck waiting for gas.

1. Buy Gas Early in the Morning

The reality is that there is gas available, so if you get out before everyone else then you are more likely to find gas. During the night there are truck drivers out refilling tanks and demand for gas is low.

2. Use the Most Fuel Efficient Vehicle

If you have two vehicles and one uses less gas than another then you won’t have to buy as much gas. But there is a limit to that because a smaller vehicle may force you to make multiple trips.

3. Combine Trips

The more things you can combine into one trip the less fuel you are likely to use. For example, if you normally drive to work each weekday and do your shopping on the weekend, you can save fuel by doing your shopping on the way home from work.

4. Use Fewer Vehicles

Many families have a car for each person with a driver’s license. You can save fuel by family members riding together. That way, only one vehicle has to be kept filled up. You can also make use of carpooling to work. This has the added bonus that one of your co-workers ends up being the person stuck waiting for fuel rather than you.

5. Work from Home

If you have the option to stay home then there is no reason you have to use gasoline to get to work.

6. Take Public Transportation

Most people with cars tend to forget that public transportation is available. They may be slow and it may be confusing to figure out how to get to where you need to be, but they will keep you out of the line at the gas station.

7. Walk

This is something that almost everyone does, but they forget that it is a mode of transportation. And if you are within a mile or two of where you need to be, it may be faster to walk than it is to drive. Given that driving may also force you to wait at a gas station, walking may save you even more time.

8. Ride a Bicycle

For some reason this one scares people, but a bicycle can get you anywhere you want to go without gasoline. In some locations the speeds you can travel on a bicycle are higher than the average speed of automobiles on the same road, and that even before you take into account the time people spend refueling or servicing their cars.

9. Go Electric

Most people realize that if they had an electric car then they wouldn’t have to visit the gas station while there is a gas shortage. Not everyone has that option because they are expensive. There is, however, another way you can go electric. These days electric bicycles are becoming more popular. Maybe you aren’t physically fit enough to use a bicycle as transportation, but if you have an eBike then you can make use of an electric motor that will allow you to travel at speeds similar to those of a fit cyclist. It probably won’t save you money over driving a car, but you won’t be waiting to buy gas.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Addressing the Problem of Young Adults Leaving the Church

Why are young adults dropping out of church? It’s a question I’ve been giving thought to lately and I write this not so much to answer the question but to put those thoughts in written form. More specifically, I’m not so interested in why young adults are dropping out as much as I’m interested in why they are missing. Of course, they would be missing if they drop out, but 30% don’t stop attending church and about 75% either don’t stop attending or they return to church. Effectively, that means there is only a 25% dropout rate, but you sure can’t tell it by looking at some churches. We often see churches where they have students and they have senior citizens, but there is a gap between the age groups. If a church is running 25 students in their children and teen ministries, they should expect to see about 35 who are between the ages of 18 and 54. A church that has fewer people between 18 and 54 than they have between 0 and 18 isn’t doing something right, but what?

They Aren’t What We Think

We might be tempted to look at young adults and think that they are just shallow and haven’t grown up. They just didn’t learn to be the Christians that they ought to be. And maybe there is some of that, but isn’t that what is said of every generation? 30% took a firm grasp of the faith and they are in church, even if it isn’t the church they grew up in. And then there are others who will get back into church eventually. So rather than dismiss them as being uninterested, we need to understand that a significant number of young adults want to be in church. They may not want to be in our church, but they want to be in some church. Also, they want to be in a church that teaches the truth. And they want their children involved with church programs that teach the truth.

Preferences Are Important

Most people don’t choose a church just because of the music, or how the auditorium looks, or how big it is. But if a person is looking at two churches that they believe both are sound in doctrine and all the other high priority things are similar, they one they choose to attend may be the one that has the music they like or the one that has more people in their age group or is the size they are looking for. The important stuff must come first, but if we have nothing for people between 18 and 55 then they are going to attend another church that puts the important stuff first and does have something for people between 18 and 55.

Maybe We Should Question Why We Have Youth and Elderly

Rather than trying to figure out what is causing the young and middle age adults to leave, it might be helpful to consider why we have the people that we do. Children are fairly easy to get. Offer them candy and games to play and they show up. Rent a bounce house and they show up. Teens are also pretty easy to get. Pizza works wonders and also long as they have an opportunity to spend time with their friends, they’ll be there. And when it comes to the senior citizens, you can’t bribe them with candy and pizza, but ultimately, they are also looking for an opportunity to spend time with their friends. Yes, they want to serve the Lord, but why serve at this church rather than that one over there? They will serve at the one where they have friends. They get tired of being in an empty house. A church that has activities for senior adults will have senior adults.

The Serious Stuff Is Too Serious

You give children candy and games. You give teens pizza and fun activities. You give senior adults an outing to hear a Southern Gospel quartet or a trip to Branson. But what do we have for young and middle age adults? “Let me tell you about this Bible study we’d like you to attend.” Or, “have you considered working in the nursery? We need some help?” It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Bible study or asking people to help in various ministries, but when you only ask people to give and they receive nothing in return they may begin to feel undervalued. Before you say, “well, it isn’t about what you get,” consider that we don’t say that of the senior adults and we don’t say that of the youth. If the people between 18 and 55 aren’t receiving some of the fun stuff that we have for the other age groups then it shouldn’t surprise us that there is a gap. Anecdotally, as a single adult I have sometimes wanted to be involved in some ministries because it would get me out of the house and around people, and yet I faced the reality that my mental wellbeing wouldn’t allow me to take on yet another serious responsibility.

One of the common problems with small groups, or Bible study, or Sunday school is that people want to sit around and talk rather than get to the lesson. Every leader has asked at some point, “How do I get people to focus on the lesson?” Maybe the problem is that people need that time to visit even more than they need yet another serious activity.

What You Focus on Will Succeed

As I already alluded to, we focus on children. We have special programs for children and they show up. We focus on teens. We have special programs for them and they show up. We focus on senior adults. We have people whose responsibility it is to plan special programs for them. We even have a Wednesday night service that is mostly a senior adult gathering. It is no coincidence that the one age group that doesn’t have someone assigned to it is the one that is struggling.

In church work things don’t become a priority until someone is responsible for it. Take church music, for example. I’ve seen churches where the pastor would call on someone to pick out a few songs to sing. I’ve seen visitors asked to lead the music or to sing a special. You get about what you expect from that situation and it is nothing like what you get when you have someone who knows they are responsible for the music each week. It doesn’t even have to be a paid position.

There are always competing priorities in a church. The principle of the squeaky wheel getting the grease often applies. I’m not sure that the method used by a person assigned responsibility for an age group matters as much as just having someone responsible.

But Method Does Matter

Let’s suppose we did have someone assigned to the 18-54 people, much like we do for other age groups. What would that look like? For one thing, I don’t think this age group is looking for additional activities. The key word here is “additional.” In this age group, they are busy with work. They are feeling guilty about not spending enough time with their children or grandchildren. The last thing we want to do is make the situation worse.

Should we assign someone to the 18-34 age and someone else to 35-54? Perhaps. But it is also possible that the overlap of the life situation between the age groups would make that counterproductive.

We can’t treat it like a senior adult ministry for younger people. If senior adults are less active then we must assume that younger adults are more active. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, but one would expect that younger adults would be more enticed by more physical activities than senior adults are. There is also work to consider. For senior adults, the best bet is to schedule an activity during daylight hours. For people who are working, you have fewer options.

But it’s not just scheduling social activities. One of the major reasons young adults drop out of church is because their work makes it impossible to attend. To be effective, the person responsible for the age group might have to become a proponent of meeting times that are more conducive for church attendance by people in that age group.

Many churches lose young adults when they move to college. If some churches lose college students then why shouldn’t some churches gain college students? The person who is assigned to reach out to young adults should be finding a way to bring some of those college students into the church.


It isn’t enough to ask questions about why young adults are leaving. If we want to solve the problem then we much make it a priority. That involves giving someone responsibility for solving the problem and giving them the opportunity to advocate things that will help solve the problem. Even if the person assigned to the problem doesn’t know how to solve it, having them assigned to the problem causes it to be a priority.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why Can't We See God?

Atheists aren’t very open minded but they do ask some interesting questions. One atheist asked, “where is your God?” and then he said, “Show me your God without using science or a book that is clearly written by idiots.” Clearly, he doesn’t want me to actually show him God, but hidden behind his vitriol is the question, “Why can’t we see God?” Why do we need the Bible to tell us that God exists? Why do we need science to show us that there are things that simply can’t be done without an intelligent being creating the Universe? For that matter, can science show us that?

I suppose we all have some form of image of God. For some it is that of some big guy on a big thrown with a long white beard. I suppose I saw a picture like that one time. In Sunday School when I was a kid the images of God were a drawing that showed a big bright spot. Interestingly, when the Children of Israel left Egypt the image of God that they created was that of a calf. And just in case you doubted that’s what they thought God looked like, they created idols with that form more than once. But God commanded against forming such images. Any image that we form of God is incomplete. The big guy in the sky image turns in just another filthy old man to atheists. And God as a cow? I don’t get that one at all.

If God were to show himself to us, where would we look? Some talk about flaming crosses in the sky or having all the words of Jesus written in our DNA. But how would we know what these things mean? We have a flaming ball of fire that crosses our sky daily. We see a rainbow after a storm and God even told us that the rainbow is there because of his covenant to not destroy the world by flood again. Instead of seeing God in those things, people see the natural phenomenon by which they appear. Why can’t it be easier? Why can’t we just look up into heaven and see God sitting there looking down at us?

In the Bible there are times when God showed himself, albeit in a hidden form, in various ways. Moses saw him in a burning bush. He went before the Children of Israel as a cloud. His Spirit descended like a dove at Jesus’ baptism. On the day of Pentecost he appeared as fire. Paul experienced him as a bright light. But just by looking at those things you wouldn’t know that was God. Why can’t he just show us that he is here?

The Bible tells us that God is a Spirit. We tend to pass over that because we don’t know what a spirit is. Around Halloween we talk about spirits but we usually visualize them as having arms and legs and even wearing the clothes they were wearing when they died. If that’s what a spirit is then you would think we could go to church and find some ghostly figure wondering around the building that we could point to and say that is God. But I think we can get a better understanding of what a spirit is by looking at apologetics. One of the arguments for the existence of God is that the Universe has a beginning and everything that has a beginning has a cause. Because things can’t cause themselves, the cause can’t be the stuff of the Universe. So the cause must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, and extremely powerful.

Can you see something that is spaceless and immaterial? If it is immaterial then there is nothing for light to bound off of. If it is spaceless then it doesn’t take up any room. Think of how much room the smallest object takes up. Something that is spaceless takes up even less room than that. Abstract objects fall into that category. You can’t see the number one. You can see the symbols we use to represent it, but you can’t see the number one itself. You can’t see a point or a line because they have width of zero. At best we can see something that God uses to represent himself or we can see his glory, but we can’t see God the way we see each other because God isn’t a physical being.

Jesus, who is God, has a physical body and with it he has physical limitations. Because he has a physical body he can be seen, but he can’t be seen by everyone. This is why it makes sense that the Holy Spirit is the one who is here with us now, because the Holy Spirit can be with all of us at one time.

Getting back to the question, “where is your God?” To answer that we need only answer the question, “Where is the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Spirit was sent to be a comforter to those who have been saved. We should find him living within the hearts of church members. Though we can’t see him because he is a spirit, we should the impact that he has on the lives of Christians. And we do.

But that won’t satisfy an atheist. When they look for God and I fear that when many of us look for God we are looking for a physical sort of god. Sure, God could provide some physical manifestation for us to look at, but then our concept of God would be limited by what we say. We might well begin to think that God’s nature was that of a cow. So, I suspect the reason we can’t see God is because he wants to reveal so much more about himself than what we can grasp from seeing, hearing, or touching.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Do You Expect Miracles?

Are your prayers like mine? When I pray to ask the Lord for something I find myself expecting a miracle. But let’s real. Miracles are rare. Even in Bible times they were rare. If they weren’t rare then they wouldn’t be a miracle. So, if millions of people are praying and looking for a miracle, that probably means that millions of people are looking for something they will never receive. I know that sounds terrible, but that’s the way it is. Let me reword that so it is clear. Because miracles are so rare, you will probably live your whole life and never see one. And if your prayers are like mine and you pray hoping that the Lord will answer through a miracle that means you are going to experience a lot of “unanswered” prayer.

That may be why so many of us don’t fully appreciate the value of prayer. We set ourselves up for failure by praying for God to do things he isn’t going to do. He’s not going to miraculously make the traffic in front of us disappear. He’s not going to miraculously deposit our friends and neighbors in a pew at church. He not going to miraculously give us a new car, no matter how much we need one. He probably isn’t going to miraculously heal those people on the church prayer list. Some of them might even die. So why pray if it isn’t going to result in God stepping in and miraculously changing stuff for the better?

Some people try to explain away this problem by saying that prayer is about changing our attitude rather than it resulting in God taking action. I find that view very disappointing. Besides that, it doesn’t explain why Moses could pray and prevent God from destroying Israel or why Jesus prayed. Do we really thing Jesus needed an attitude adjustment? And why should we pray for each other if it is just about adjusting our attitude? Isn’t it the person we are praying for who needs the attitude adjustment more than we do?

Natural Answers

The keyword here is “miraculous.” We tend to assume that for God to hear and answer our prayer that he has to cause a miracle in our lives. We also tend to think that if something occurs naturally then it would’ve happened anyway. But why think that? If God knows what we will pray (and he does) then there’s nothing to prevent him from putting natural events in play even centuries in advance of our prayer so that we will receive what we ask.

This may explain why prayer studies fail. You’ve probably heard of prayer studies in which the patients in one hospital will be prayed for but those in another aren’t. The goal is to see if prayer changes things. Usually you see no significant difference between the group that was prayed for and the group that wasn’t. But that is what we might expect if God is answering prayer through natural events. It rains on the just and the unjust. If someone is praying for the healing of someone in the hospital, God may have trained up a doctor to help that person, but in the meantime that doctor is going to help a bunch of people who haven’t been prayed for. If a farmer prays for rain, the rain may come, but the story that the Lord prepared may drop a lot of water in other areas before it reaches the farmer.

Delayed Answers

We see an interesting account given in Daniel chapter ten. Daniel sees a vision and he is so moved by it that he is sick. He is in mourning for three weeks. Then an angel appears. The angel tells him that he had been sent three weeks earlier by he had been delayed and would have been delayed even longer if Michael hadn’t come to help him. I’ve often wondered about that. God could have cleared the way for the angel, but he didn’t. Instead we see the angel facing a very natural situation. This seems to indicate that when we pray or have a need that God does something quickly but it may take some time for the natural events to unfold.

Praying So God Will Answer

If God isn’t going to answer through a miracle then we need to pray for things that the Lord is willing to do. If our car stops working we shouldn’t expect God to just fix it but we should look for the Lord to provide us with a mechanic. If a friend has cancer, we should pray for that person but we should expect the Lord to answer by providing good doctors.

Many people pray for church growth. We know it is in the will of God, so it seems like there is no reason why the Lord shouldn’t answer it, but people don’t show up. If they do show up, they may not come back. Instead of a miracle, our expectation should be that the Lord will use us to answer that prayer. The answer may come in a person having courage to invite people to church. Maybe they have wisdom to see what is needed to get people interested.

Seeing Answered Prayer

On more than one occasion I have prayed some silly prayer on my way home from work and by the time I got home I had received what I had asked for. Sometimes I have almost forgotten what I prayed for and I still received it. It used to bother me that it seemed like the Lord was quicker to answer my silly prayers than he was my serious prayers. Now I’ve about decided that it has to do more with the things that I’m looking for in answered prayer than an actual difference. I’m more likely to notice the silly prayer being answered than the serious prayer because a natural solution stands out more with silly prayers. The answers may come more quickly because there are fewer things that have to happen before the prayer can be answered.

God knows what we will pray before we pray it, so natural answers to prayer make sense. Though it may seem like we are praying for something that would’ve happened anyway, there’s no reason to think that. By looking for the Lord to answer our prayers but to do so without miracles we have all the more reason to see answered prayer. Had we not prayed his actions would’ve been different. He would’ve prepared something different to happen. Our prayers really do change things.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Why People Don't Want a Friendly Church

On Facebook I posted a quote without context. It was interesting that people took it in so many different ways. I didn’t tell them who I was quoting or what the person was talking about when he said it. It may be beneficial for me to add some context. The quote? “People aren’t looking for a friendly church; they are looking for friends.” [1]

Without context people will read their own assumptions into this statement. For example, there are plenty of churches that want to be known as a “friendly church.” Many churches think they are friendly whether they are or not. So, a person at one of these “friendly churches” might take this statement as saying that the reason people don’t want to be at church is because they would rather hang with their friends. Or they might read something into the “friend” part of the statement and assume that the “friend” is Jesus. Neither of those had anything to do with why I posted the statement.

I was looking at some articles about growing a Sunday school class and that included an article on church growth by Josh Hunt who quoted Rick Warren. The statement resonated with me because I am terrible at being “friendly.” It’s not from lack of desire or from a lack of trying, I’m just bad at it. I have friends who say things like, “I have to force myself to be friendly.” Yeah, I tried that and I can’t seem to get it to work. But there’s more to it than just me trying to give up trying to be friendly.

When we think of someone who is friendly, we think of someone who is kind and pleasant. We think of someone who has a quick smile and who always asks things like, “How are you this morning?” If you’re looking for a greeter, that’s the kind of person you want standing at the front door. But it gets more interesting when you ask yourself, “Are my friends friendly?” All of them? If you think about it, I’m sure you can think of at least one friend who isn’t “friendly.” Oh, they may be friendly to you, but you know them well enough to know that they are rude at times, especially with people they don’t know. So, keeping that person in mind, ask yourself, “Would I rather go to church with a bunch of friendly strangers or with my unfriendly friend?”

A friend isn’t necessarily friendly because what we look for in friends are those people who will spend time with us, who will come to our aid at a moment’s notice, who have things in common with us. Sure, it’s nice to have a friendly face greet you at the door. It’s nice to have a person seated in the row in front of you turn around and strike up a conversation with you, be we all know those are fleeting things. They’ll turn their attention to their friends and forget about you. What people really want to find is people who are willing to bring them into their lives.

That is much easier said than done. For some people, being friendly comes easily and they are friendly to everyone they meet, but no one is able to develop deep lasting friendships with everyone they meet. Even Jesus had people he was closer to than others. That is just part of life.

When it comes to church growth, being friendly isn’t a bad thing, but people don’t stay at a church just because there are friendly people there. People are more likely to stay at a church if they have close friends there. People are more likely to join a church if they have friends and family there. And if they don’t’ have friends there when they first attend, they are more likely to join if there are people who include them in their circle of friends.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Are You a Half-man?

In stories we often see a character known as the “half-man.” This character may or may not be person, but I always think of a man sitting on the ground with his legs cut off. The purpose of this character is to give strength to the villain. The half-man does this by telling the protagonist about how he faced the villain and was defeated. The stronger the half-man appears to be the more powerful the villain and the greater the challenge the protagonist faces when he must test his own strength against the villain. One of my favorite half-men is Rock Biter in The Neverending Story. This character is a mountain of a character who causes the earth to quake when he walks, but the protagonist finds him sitting on the ground looking at his powerful hands because they weren’t strong enough to keep The Nothing from snatching his friends away.

But a half-man can be as simple as an image or a symbol. Suppose our protagonist is walking through a forest and he finds a human skull on a stake. We know nothing of the half-man this skull belongs to other than he was human. What purpose does this image serve? Without saying the words, the message to all who reach this spot is “Turn back, now!” That is the message of all half-men. “You cannot defeat the villain, so don’t even try.”

The thing about protagonists is that they don’t listen. You will never find a story in which the protagonist doesn’t face the villain because he was warned away by the half-man. Perhaps it is because he doesn’t trust the half-man. Perhaps it is because the cost of turning back is too great. If we remove the fourth wall, we know that the real reason is because that would be the end of the story. We have ninety more pages to write, we can’t let the protagonist give up just because he encountered a half-man.

So, why are half-men such important story elements and why do they strengthen the villain so much? Because in real life we encounter half-men all the time and unlike the protagonists in our stories we take their advice and we give up. For example, you might encounter someone who says, “I’ve tried to lose weight, but nothing works. It probably doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve heard that 90% of the people who lose weight gain it all back anyway.” Their words discourage you and you may find yourself giving up your own attempt to lose weight. Giving up is a realistic option for the protagonist even though we know he won’t.

Though the half-man is important in stories, we don’t want to be a half-man in real life. Unfortunately, that tends to be our default. We face the villain. We fail. We give up and then begin to tell other people why they will be defeated as well. By doing this, we give strength to the enemy that defeated us. But not all defeated characters are half-men. When we see a character gathering forces for a second attempt at defeating the villain, he is not a half-man (unless it is obvious his attempts will fail). In life, we will be defeated more times than we care to admit, but what are we going to do? Are we going to sit on the ground telling everyone we can that we failed and they will too? Or are we going to assess the situation and gather resources to break through the armor of the villain?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dying Malls and Dying Churches

She left a comment in response to mine in agreement with what I said and yet it changed my point of view. The original post was about a mall that like so many is dying. Once the crown jewel of the community, only a few retailers remain to keep the lights on. The article was talking about the owners of the mall looking for ways to innovate. My comment was that all malls are dying and that it is because of online shopping, but I don’t think brick and mortar is dead because mixed use properties that combine living, retail, entertainment, etc. have advantages that even thirty-minute delivery from can’t compete with. Online retail will never be able to compete with the spontaneous purchases made by someone walking past a store window. But her comment added something to the list that I hadn’t really considered, churches.

We all know that churches are struggling right now and those of us involved in church leadership spend a great deal of time thinking about how we can get more people involved at our church. Even though it is a similar problem to what retail stores are experiencing, we don’t link the two because we know that is the problem for retail stores and doesn’t have a church (yet). So even if we accept that retail stores shouldn’t be asking this question, we keep right on asking the question, “How can we get more people to drive to where we are?” We think retail stores shouldn’t ask that question because people don’t have to drive at all if they order online. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking that concerning churches either.

Imagine you’re a lost person. You believe there is a God. There must be, right? Church seems like the place to figure this out, but you couldn’t care less about whether the church is Baptist, or Catholic, or Presbyterian, or non-denominational. You don’t know about these things. Who cares what they put on their church sign? And who really cares what kind of songs they sing? You don’t know the songs anyway. It’s all strange to you. So here are some things you probably aren’t going to do. You probably aren’t going to follow sign on the highway that points off down a gravel road toward a church. You probably aren’t going to show up at this big huge building that looks kind of like a shopping mall that is only open on Sunday. And those smaller buildings? Why would you just show up? Do people do that kind of thing? Is that considered okay or would people look at you funny?

Churches are actually dealing with the same thing that retail stores are. The problem isn’t The root of the problem is that people don’t want to deal with the hassle. has just found a way to provide a solution. People don’t want to sit in traffic getting to the store, then have to fight their way through the aisles looking for a product, only to discover the store no longer has it in stock, then wait in the checkout line to purchase the things they did find, and then fight the traffic going home. Just order online and the problem is solved. But we are asking people to do some of these same things when they attend church. Sit in traffic getting there, deal with a crowd of people they don’t know, sit through songs they don’t know, then sit through a sermon that has no content, and then fight the traffic going home.

What if we put a church in one of these retail/residential developments? Now we’re not asking people to drive anywhere. Their car is already parked on the property, or maybe they show up while on their Sunday morning jog or bicycle ride. They walk past our front door on the way to breakfast or on their way to dinner. We’re going to put a greeter outside the front door ready to hand out flyers, invite people inside, and answer any questions they may have. We’re going to have big plate glass windows so that people can see what we are doing. It may look strange at first, but after a few Sundays of walking past, it’s going to seem normal. We’re going to put up big signs telling about the various activities and those activities are going to be age appropriate for the community we are in. We might even offer them free donuts and coffee. And what about the rest of the week? If we’re smart, we’ll keep the doors open during the times the retail shops are open. Maybe we have some classes or small groups that meet onsite during the week. Maybe it’s just a couple of staff members part of the time. But people living there or visiting the shops should be able to expect that when they need answers that only God can provide they need only show up, open the door, and they will find someone who can point them in the right direction.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this would work? Why or why not?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Churches Separated by Age

I skipped church the other day, but this isn’t about that. Instead it is about age group separation. I read an article that suggested that maybe the reason young people leave the church is because they were never a part of the church in the first place. We start them out in the nursery because who wants to hear crying babies in a worship service. Then we move them into Children’s Church because they would just be bored in worship. Then they go into the Youth Group. So when they reach adulthood “church” is very different from what they are familiar with. I can buy into that as being a problem, but what do we do about it and what does that have to do with me skipping church?

On Wednesday night our church is broken into several different groups. I am one of the Awana leaders, but because of Christmas break, Awana and Fear One (youth) weren’t meeting. That left one available activity, the Wednesday evening prayer meeting. Because the young people meet in other groups the Wednesday night prayer meeting is primarily a meeting of the Senior Citizens. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone I said that.) It isn’t like we want to label it that because we want to tell people that we have a place for everyone, but it is what it is. They seem to enjoy it, but I struggle with it because after nine hours of sitting at a desk my sitting ability is shot. The very thought of sitting in a meeting listening to an hour long lecture is about like fingernails on a chalkboard. I literally dread the summer months when Awana doesn’t meet.

When we consider a solution to the problem of separating age groups our natural tendency is to think that we just need to bring the young people into the worship service. We have this idea that we have “church” and then we have these groups of young people that are meeting separately. But that’s not the case. Instead of church and two ministries what we actually have are three age separated ministries. Just because one of those ministries is meeting in the auditorium, singing songs and hearing a sermon doesn’t mean they are “church” and the other are not. It isn’t reasonable to expect that we can combine the children’s ministry and the youth ministry with the senior adult ministry and just keep doing what the senior adult ministry does each week.

Visually I saw a representation of the situation when our church did Lifeword Sunday. We met outside one Sunday evening and had a 5k walk/run. The young people were running and participating in various activities, but most of the senior citizens had arranged their chairs in rows like they were ready to have church. I didn’t spend much time over there. I’m sure they did a lot of talking and had a good time, but there was no mutual interaction. If there young people had been forced to sit in those chairs they would’ve been miserable. If the older people had been forced to participate in the activities they would’ve been miserable.

One of the things that happens when we separate by age group is that the younger groups tend to play games and the older groups tend to be spectators. There is something to be said for young people having time in which they sit and learn, but also something to be said for older people becoming more physically active. I could see both of these occurring if we could find ways to merge the age groups, even if occasionally.

What that might look like is this: For a game at a church picnic people are split into teams. Each team is made up of one child, one teenager, one senior citizen, and someone who is in between. The teams are given a challenge to complete that involves runners retrieving balls with Bible questions on them. These questions would be things that most children would not know the answer to and might require looking them up in the Bible to get the correct answer. The team that answers the most questions in the shortest amount of time would win. The key thing here is that each team member would have strengths that would benefit the team, but weaknesses that would require them to rely on team members in a different age group.

But it’s not just about playing games. Why can’t we do something similar with our worship services and ministries? Why don’t we give children and teen church members responsibilities that are suitable to their development level? I don’t mean having them shadow adults as they do ministry (though that’s not a bad thing). I mean give them real responsibility. Maybe put a child in charge of making sure that the offering plates are where they need to be every Sunday morning and evening. Maybe find one who shows up early and make them responsible for making sure the hymnals are straight and there are offering envelopes in every rack before the service. As for teenagers, a lot of the stuff adults do could be done by teenagers if we would just let them. There are other things that they can’t do yet, but we can teach them now so that they are ready to take on those tasks when they are old enough.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Real World Facebook

We laugh when people talk about treating people in the real world like we do on Facebook. One such post begins, “every day I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what I will do later and with whom.” The post continues with other things and ends by saying, “I already have four people following: two police officers, a private investigator and a psychiatrist.” Yes, we laugh, but what if we really did apply the same principles that we use on Facebook to the world outside?
Suppose your car won’t start one morning and you decide to take the city bus to work. While you’re waiting at the bus stop you see a stranger approach the bus stop. You make eye contact and you say, “Good morning. How are you?”
The stranger replies, “I’m fine. How are you?”
“Good, but my car wouldn’t start this morning. Now I’m going to be late for work.”
“My wife went to see her mother, so I’ve been without a car all week.”
“Have you been cooking for yourself this week?”
“No, I’ve been eating out.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
This conversation isn’t farfetched, but here are two strangers who have within moments of meeting each other talked about what they have eaten, how they feel, what they have done, and what they will do later. It ends with an affirmation (a like, if you will) for what one of the people has said.
It isn’t that doing the things we do on Facebook would be so strange if we did them in the real world but we’ve isolated ourselves so much in the real world that we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to do these things. I find it interesting that people talk about what they would do if they “walked down the street.” It isn’t that people don’t do the things they do on Facebook, but people don’t “walk down the street.” Instead, they get in their cars and drive from one parking space to another. They see many cars, but few people. There is no communication between cars. Once people reach their destination they might talk to other people, but mostly they assume that other people don’t want to communicate with them. Then they get in their cars and drive home where they lock themselves inside and contemplate how unrealistic Facebook is.
Imagine how different it would be if we would remove the shell. Imagine if we gave ourselves opportunities to talk to people, even if we just talked about eating at a favorite restaurant or at one that we hated. Imagine if we removed the glass bubble. Imagine knowing your neighbors by face if not by name. Imagine having a conversation with someone just because they happened to be standing or sitting near you. Imagine expecting this to happen every day. This is what we would really have if we applied the principles of Facebook to the real world.