Tag Archives: church

At Home

home

It means different things to be “at home” these days. A home now can be an office or a school or a gym as well as a dwelling place. That makes it feel different when you are living “at home.” That’s why it is still important to have a specified space for various activities. I liked to close the door to my “office” when I was done working from home and then move to my recliner for my retreat when my workday was done.

Since church services are still very much online events, the home has become a church as well. Think about ways that you can set aside a particular place for viewing videos and live streams of worship or spaces where you as a family can gather for Bible reading and prayer.

Our homes have been much more adaptable than we thought possible, and we have become more adaptable than we might have envisioned too. For this we need to thank and praise our God. I think of this verse: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Even though it has been a challenge within the walls of our homes during these pandemic days, we have seen firsthand what God has been able to do in these circumstances that is beyond what we expected. People have talked about having more time to talk to one another and enjoy each other’s company. That’s God at work in our relationships. I have been doing a lot more praying than I did before. That’s God at work in my faith. I have noticed that I have become more grateful for the small things that my house affords, like a bath or a shower. That’s God at work in my outlook on life.

We might feel like homebodies these days, but maybe that is where God wants us to be somebody that lives for him in unique and inspiring ways. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6)? That might be just what “being home” means for you right now. And that’s OK.

Virtual Choirs

In this new age of keeping our distance, people have found creative ways to come together as disciples of Christ. One of those ways is through virtual choirs in which many people in various places and spaces lift up their voices to the Lord through Zoom or other video chat programs. It is interesting to watch and listen to virtual choirs to see the joy on singers’ faces and to still hear the harmonies blending beautifully through the screen.

Here is a link to one example of a virtual choir of Augustana College alumni singing, “For the Beauty of the Earth”:

The increase in virtual choirs during this time shows to me that people are craving the experience of singing songs to the Lord together. It is something that is missing from even in-person worship with parishioners’ voices muffled behind masks.

The virtual choir is a a visual representation of the expanse of the Church. The Church is never confined to one place, but is scattered throughout the nation and the world, bringing good news of the beauty our Lord provides to people throughout the earth. We have known in theory that the Church is present worldwide, but now we see it and sense it on our computer screens. When we join our voices with those we hear on screen, we feel the bond of faith we share and we welcome the community of believers into our hearts and homes. Our common tie to Christ as our Lord and Savior connects us and streams through us as we sing.

Search for virtual choirs online and let the notes you raise in chorus with them be a sacrifice of praise to the Lord for his many blessings and music to his ears.

Freedom to Worship

church

I was startled recently to discover that roughly 70 percent of the world’s Christians live without the right to worship (Belz, Mindy, “Joining the Chorus,” World Magazine, February 16, 2019). We are privileged to live in the 30 percent can take going to church publicly for granted. We can become complacent and nonchalant about it. But those who do not have the right to worship in their countries tend to be more devoted to worship when done in secret. There is more of an urgency and necessity among those who do not have the right to worship. They find a way to do it. They are excited to take part. They are drawn closer to Christ through the activity of clandestine church.

The next time you go to church, imagine that you do not live in a place where you can worship openly. How does that affect your worship? Is there a richness, a depth, that perhaps was not there before? Is there more joy in the practice of worship when you consider it is something that is not allowed in most of the world? Is there a greater gratitude to God for the blessing of public worship?

Keep the 70 percent in prayer. Keep going to church. Keep the Church alive through your dedication to it.

Slides That Work

slidesAt Best Practices for Ministry, Christopher Cawthon led a session called “Better Slides for Better Worship.” With almost all churches using slides in worship in place of bulletins, making slides that work well and enhance worship is becoming more important than ever.

Simple things like how many words are on a slide, where the line breaks happen, the font and font size used and how much punctuation is included can be crucial to readability and a worshiper’s overall experience.

Switching from one slide to the next too fast or too slow can lead to confusion as well.

In recent years motion and still background of one color or shades of the same color have replaced more and more those backgrounds with images, which has led to less cluttered visuals on the screens. Single color backgrounds also convey certain moods for the songs being sung (purple for penitent, reflective music, gold for happy, joyful anthems, for instance.)

Doing run-throughs of the slides with the musicians especially is helpful to get things right on Sunday mornings, Cawthon said, and having a good connection between the pastor and the person doing the slides is beneficial, as well, he said. They both need to trust one another for things to go as smoothly as they can.

In the end, slides are a great tool to keep parishioners engaged and keep heads looking up. Things can always go wrong, of course, but with some simple plans in place errors can be minimized, and there is always forgiveness—a good lesson to remember in church.

Social Media Ministry

social mediaA session I attended at Best Practices for Ministry in Phoenix this past February was called “Ministry in the Digital Space—It’s Where the People Are.” Presenter Bruce Becker described how churches can use different digital platforms to reach certain people in your congregation.

For instance, statistics show that women use Facebook more often than men because of its relational nature. Men are more active on YouTube, and teens and young adults are more highly engaged on Instagram than other groups.

What can the church learn from this? Customization is key. If you wan to get the word out about a women’s Bible study or retreat, post the information on your church’s Facebook page. If you want to start a men’s group, put up a video inviting men of your church to join on your YouTube channel. And if you want to highlight a youth event coming up, place a picture with a message about the event on Instagram with a hashtag to spread the word.

In addition, Becker noted, social media is called SOCIAL media for a reason. That means interaction between the church and parishioners on whatever platform you are using. Using social media simply as a billboard is not effective, and just putting the same content on all platforms is not beneficial.

That is why more and more churches are employing social media ministers, if you will, to develop and differentiate the content a church launches onto its various platforms and then to respond in good time (hours, not days) to questions, comments and other feedback from parishioners. It is good practice for the last comment in a thread to be from the church so no parishioner comment is “left hanging.”

It is important for churches to prioritize which platform is getting the most traction, Becker said, and then developing strategies that put more effort from staff in those areas and putting fewer resources toward those platforms that are not performing as well.

In the end, each church is unique and no one social media plan fits all. Each church needs to decide what is right for them. But one thing is clear: social media ministry is here to stay and needs to be a part of church’s overall ministry plan.

 

New Models of Ministry

new modelsAs the church develops and changes in these modern times, the traditional model of a congregation has not led to new growth as it once did and many congregations in certain areas are shrinking. So new models of ministry have arisen in these once-thriving, now dwindling parishes, according to the article “Led by the Spirit” in the February 2019 Living Lutheran magazine.

One model is the anchor model. Smaller congregations have partnered with other larger congregations to work together to build ministries that accommodate members from the various locales. Some congregations in this partnership have strength in some areas that other congregations do not, and vice versa. Shared facilities and staff and Bible studies spread the work to more people so one person or space or class does not seem overloaded or underattended. This model also shows how different aspects of the Body of Christ can work together.

Another model is the adoption model. In this scenario, one church “adopts” another and they become one more fully functioning church. This model allows for members to work together in a more personal, more integrated, singular body of believers. Coming together as one builds bonds that would not exist otherwise perhaps if congregations were meeting separately. This model has has a biblical basis in that St. Paul says that we all have been adopted into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5). So this model clearly represents this concept of being forever bonded as brothers and sisters in the faith.

Yet another model getting more traction in traditional churches that are getting smaller is the redevelopment model. Churches using this model work to change the way they “do church” by reconnecting to the community around them in different ways, not relying solely on membership, but on event-based outreach to meet the specific needs of the people who are currently on their doorsteps and in the pews. This model highlights service and draws strength from the accomplishments that are made to bring hope and help and healing in small and more hands-on ways to people who are members or not.

Making the most of what God has given you in ministry is key in all these models and shows that the Church is never static, but always moving and adjusting and touching the lives of people in miraculous ways through the love and care of Jesus present in his people.

The Kainos Movement

kainosIn December 2014 Bryan Lottis launched the Kainos Movement in order to build multiethnic unity in the Body of Christ and to provide equipping and training that will inspire multi-ethnic movements among the people of God in organizations and churches. The movement has been getting a lot of traction ever since. Why is the movement so important?

Because, unfortunately, according to researchers, only about 14% of churches in America are multiethnic.

How is this determined? By what is called the 80/20 rule. A church is defined as multiethnic only if only one ethnicity makes up more than 80 percent of the whole. For instance, if a church has a hundred members and 85 are African American that is called a homogeneous church, but if a church has a hundred members and 80 are Caucasian and the rest are other ethnicities, it qualifies as a multiethnic church.

About 10 years ago, 98 percent of churches were identified as homogeneous [classified as one ethnic group making up more than 80 percent of the congregation]. In a recent Lifeway Research poll, it’s now moved down to 86 percent. So through the help of the Kainos Movement, things are moving in the right direction.

The goal of the Kainos Movement is that 50% or more of all churches be multiethnic by the year 2050—the year that sociologists project the United States will become majority minority for the first time in her history.

The word kainos is Greek for new and a word used by St. Paul to describe the coming together of Jews and Gentiles to form the multiethnic church.

The Kainos Movement mission statement says, “Our nation is trending towards diversity. The church has no option but to maintain the same trajectory, not so much forward, but backward to her first century roots where the normal was ethnic diversity. A failure to do so will put us perilously close to being irrelevant to the changing face of our society.”

Let us continue in the model of St. Paul and the Kainos Movement in ways that we can to incorporate more cultures and ethnicities into our congregations. Just as our neighborhoods and communities are becoming more multiethnic, our churches should too.

It is a perfect time, on this tipping point in cultural history, to reach out to someone with a different ethnicity than our own and say, “Come to church with me!”

Why Not Attend?

why not attendGallup recently did a survey in which they asked Americans why they no longer attend church. Here were the results:

44% I prefer to worship on my own

36% I don’t like organized religion

22% I haven’t found a church that I like

19% I don’t have the time

16% I don’t like being asked for money when I attend

9% I don’t feel welcome when I do attend

(Christianity Today, May 2018, 18)

We as a Church struggle with the issues addressed in these responses and must seek ways to reverse the trend of diminishing worship attendance, perhaps through more personalized ministries, less of an emphasis on governance, offering alternative worship times, softening calls to action in fundraising campaigns, and making worship environments warm and inviting.

But, in my estimation, a better question for a Gallup survey should be: Why do you attend church?

The answers for me are:

I enjoy worshiping with fellow believers

I am spiritually uplifted by the music

I am inspired in my faith through the words of Scripture and the sermon

I am energized to go out and live my life as a follower of Christ in the week ahead

I am comforted and encouraged by those I see there

What are your reasons for attending church? Maybe if we as a Church think more about why people are attending church than about why they aren’t, then we will be well on our way to fostering growth.

May this verse keep us moving forward in this endeavor: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

Pray-Ground

praygroundGrace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota, has set up a unique space up front in their sanctuary called the “pray-ground.” It is a place filled with small chairs and tables, crayons, coloring books and soft toys, where kids and parents can better engage in the service.

Pastor Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, a mother herself, explains that in her experience children often pay more attention in worship when they can see what is going on. Parents that first thought it would be a disaster have been surprised that the children were not disruptive and enjoyed it. It has even brought new families with young children to join the church (Living Lutheran, May 2018, pp.38-39).

While, admittedly, a “pray-ground” may not be the answer for every church, the idea of creating a welcoming environment for children is crucial in a worship setting. Consistently making children’s sermons a part of worship relates that children are a special part of the church family. Making it clear where the nursery or cry room is makes parents feel more comfortable about where to take their children if they need to, And simply engaging with children on a regular basis from week to week gives children (and parents) the assurance that your church cares about the interests and well-being of children. Even offering to hold a child for a time while a parent is busy with another child or in an important conversation with the pastor or another church worker can be a godsend.

We remember well that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). So the church should always be a kid-friendly zone, a place where we are quick to say to every child of God (big or small), “Come on in!”

Be Well

wellWater for Life Haiti is a Christian nonprofit organization that is helping that country in the long recovery from Hurricane Matthew that hit on October 4, 2016. One way they are doing that is by building additional wells to provide clean water to areas affected by disease and cholera.

What I found interesting about the program is that Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, a pastor working with Water for Life Haiti, said, “We are locating the wells on or near our church properties. The wells bring people to the church, and the church speaks to the community about the living water of Christ” (Lutherans Engage, Spring 2018, p. 16).

Tying physical and spiritual needs together is an important way for the church to reach out to people most often outside the church and build relationships around faith. I think of the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well, who realized after talking to Jesus that she needed more than well water. She came to faith that day.

The same thing can happen in our churches when we tie physical and spiritual needs together. I think of the food pantries in many churches that provide for physical needs, but can help start conversations with those who visit about the Bread of Life who can feed their souls.

Parish nurses are vital in this tying together of physical and spiritual needs as well. So often when people come to discuss physical ailments with a parish nurse, the conversation can move to the Healer of all, who cares for us body and soul.

Consider ways in which your church can meet the physical needs of those around you as a springboard into meeting the vastly more important spiritual needs. Enjoy the process and look to Christ for guidance as you help others be well in the Lord.