Big Tent Revival

Along with some of the awesome members of our core team, I spent the majority of this past weekend hanging out in a tent at a local town festival.  This was our first opportunity to really introduce ourselves to the community.  The following are a few reflections on the experience.

  1. We want to be present (and have a noticeable presence) in our community. I would (and we will) do this again in a heartbeat.  As a church, as much as possible, we want to be present where people are gathering.  An evaluation question for us is, "If Graceway Church ceased to exist in this community, would anyone notice?"  Our scorecard for success is not solely based on how many people we can eventually manage put in seats on Sunday morning, but is based also (and more primarily so) on the kind of impact we are having in the broader community.  If we are helping people grow in their faith then we believe that the evidence of our transformed lives should be reflected in the community around us.  This weekend was a place for us to start building the relationships that will allow for this kind of opportunity.
  2. Keep it Simple. If there was one negative (outside of the rain) this weekend it was that we strayed a bit from our value of keeping it simple.  At our booth, we sold fair trade crafts from Ten Thousand Villages.  This was a reflection of our core value of "serving the world", but for this event I wonder if it was too much.  Ten Thousand Villages makes doing a one-time festival sale pretty simple, but the primary purpose of us being at this event was to have the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the community.  It may have been more effective to simplify our booth to do something like an iPod giveaway to go along with our freebies (we gave out 500 super-cool light up yo-yos with our logo and website).  I don't regret doing the fair trade sale, I just wonder if it made our primary purpose more labor intensive then it needed to be.
  3. If you give something away, make sure it is something people want. There were a ton of people giving stuff away at this festival.  What was interesting was to observe the response different booths got to what they were giving away.  There were all the things you might expect… bookmarks, fans, pens, rulers.  We gave away light up yo-yos.  Whenever you go to an event like this, there is usually one thing that is being given away that every kid in the place is playing with… making others wonder where they got it.  Our goal was to be that booth with that one thing. I would say we succeeded in this.  As the weekend progressed we had people sending others to our booth to get the yo-yos.  Once night fell, you could see little red lights going up and down all over the park.  Pretty cool.  What was unexpected, however, was how many adults wanted yo-yos.  It was a new toy that some kids had never tried before, but for some adults it was a reminder of their childhood.  They shared stories of the "yo-yo man" coming to their school every year, and tried to do their old tricks, etc.  Pretty cool.
  4. The conversations/connections were worth the effort. Because we are not gathering regularly at this point, and we are very early in the process of assembling our launch team I get very little one-to-one time with the folks who are the "early connectors" to our community.  This event gave these folks something tangible that they could participate in and it also gave me an opportunity to have some extended conversations that I had previously been unable to have.Some of the biggest highlights of the weekend came in the conversations/connections we had with folks who we had not yet met.  We met the director of organization called "Birthday Blessings" that provides birthday parties for homeless and impoverished children in our area, we met a woman who has dedicated her life to childhood cancer research through an organization called Cure Search.  We met a middle school kid who thought our booth was the coolest at the festival.  He ended up hanging out for over an hour and helped hand out yo-yos!  We met folks from other area churches, folks who have no church connection, displaced Lutherans… It was really great.

Thanks to all of our volunteers.  Your friendly faces made all the difference!

Launching a new church – How do we meet people?

Beyond the "So do you have a building where you will meet?" question, the number one question I have been getting lately as I tell folks I'm preparing to launch a new church is, "How will you gather people? Seriously? You are starting from scratch?" Yeah. I am starting from scratch, but I am already making contacts with folks in the area that I know from my college days and other friends/acquaintances of friends, etc. It is an overwhelming thought that currently Graceway Church consists of me, Michelle, and Zachary, but I really believe that God has called us to be there and if that is the case, it will somehow come together. I do, however, want to be smart and strategic about how I begin to meet folks. Are the traditional methods of knocking on doors and calling everyone in the phonebook still the most effective ways, or are there new ways that other church planters have found to be effective ways of connecting with their communities? I am particularly interested in knowing how folks are using online, social networking resources as well as other innovations. My cousin is a church planter at Great Park Church in Irvine, CA and the other pastor posted this on their blog:

Church Database System vs. Using Facebook & Meetups | Great Park Church

Does anyone have any thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? Warnings?

Living Out-Carnationally – Journal Reflection

By living incarnationally we not only model the pattern of humanity set up in the Incarnation but we also create space for mission to take place in organic ways.In this way mission becomes something that ‘fits’ seamlessly into the ordinary rhythms of life, friendships, and community and is thus thoroughly contextualized. Thus these ‘practices’ form a working basis for genuine incarnational mission. But they also provide us with an entry point into an authentic experience of Jesus and His mission.

This quote is from a blog entry by Alan Hirsch from earlier this month. At first glance, the title might imply that Hirsch is simply trying to create a new word (I'm tired of new words that are simply playing on other buzz words), but the article is really about living out incarnational ministry. Incarnational ministry, according to Hirsch, "essentially means taking the church to the people rather than bringing people to the church." Last spring while I was on internship I had a conversation with a neighbor who was not connected to any church. We were talking about the church in general and how the church I was serving was struggling to grow and he said that he doesn't understand why the church is so set on trying to get people to come to them. He said, "There are a whole lot more people not in church than in. Why doesn't the church just spend their time going where those people are instead of expecting everyone to show up on Sunday morning?" He, of course, did not recognize the importance of the gathering to equip and send God's people, but his point is well taken. We have long considered the Sunday morning worship gathering as the primary evangelistic entry point. We have made it in many settings "seeker friendly" and we have challenged our people to invite their "unchurched" friends to these gatherings. I'm not saying this bad or wrong necessarily, but I think we need to consider how we spend the rest of our time. In the post, Hirsch describes the missional efforts of a few communities. He says,

In the Seattle/Tacoma region, two churches (Soma and Zoë) have chosen to collaborate in reaching students and musicians by actively moving into the social rhythms of these groups and ‘de-churchifying’ their previous expressions of ministry. In order to do this they have rented and purchased buildings and developed them as night clubs, coffee shops, and have established recording studios with direct links to the various musicians in the area. Zoë in particular has taken drastic measures to limit the attractional appeal of the ministry in order to wean members off the consumptive attendance at a ‘service’ and to get them all involved in local expressions of mission. Whilst passive attendance at services is down, the community is now highly engaged in various expressions of local community and the missional reach has been significantly increased through incarnational practices. They all feel that they are now much closer to what it means to be disciples in community.

For so long the measuring stick has been "worship attendance", which if we are being honest can have as much to do with the offering generated as anything else. Are we willing to develop different ways of keeping score? How do we better measure ministry "success" without attaching it to the bottom line?

Technology and the Church

I am very interested in the use of electronic media and technology in the church. Yesterday I came across this short bog post that sparked a few thoughts.

Click Here for the full post.

Mark Batterson is the Sr. Pastor at National Community Church in Washington DC. They are a large multi-site church that meets in movie theaters along metro stops around DC. The only permanent meeting space they have is a coffee shop called "Ebenezer's" on Capitol Hill. Last year I spoke to one of their pastors who shared that their primary evangelism efforts are done via internet. He called it "e-vangelism". They are very intentionally going into the "virtual" world where people spend ridiculous amounts of time and trying to connect with them through the internet. They webcast their service as part of that outreach.

I don't believe that watching a webcast of a worship service is anywhere near the same experience as physically gathering in worship, but I also think that we might learn something from those folks who are using this powerful medium of the internet to plant the seeds of relationships. In the blog post Batterson says,

"For what it's worth, 54% of our attenders visited before coming to a service. This is old news but a healthy reminder: your website is the front door to your church! It's your first impression. Especially with our demographic–about 66% of NCCers are single twenty-somethings."

Those stats are particularly striking to me considering the results of the recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Our natural tendency as human beings, I think, is to look at technology and immediately (and sometimes only) consider what it is going to make obsolete because it often threatens our comfort zone. Email is going to make snail mail obsolete…electronic books are going to make "real" books obsolete… chat rooms are going to make face-to-face conversations obsolete…PowerPoint is going to make hymnals obsolete…etc. There are certainly cases where this is true. The new medium is simply more effective or more efficient than the old and the old becomes obsolete. Cassette certainly made 8-track tapes and Vinyl (although some would argue vinyl has never adequately been replaced) obsolete and then CDs have done the same to cassettes. The question of what a particular technology or medium will obsolesce, however, is only one question to ask of our media and technology. Marshall McLuhan (google him if you don't know who he is) identified four things to consider when evaluating the use of any technology:

  1. Determine what the technology enhances.
  2. Find out what, if anything, the technology makes obsolete.
  3. Figure out what the technology retrieves.
  4. Determine what the technology reverts into when pushed to the limit.

I think all of these are important to consider when we think of using technology in the church or in any frame of life. Looking again at the internet, you would be hard pressed to find any church leader that would say the preferred way to be the church is on the internet. Even LifeChurch.TV who has an "internet campus" ultimately views the internet as a means to make connections with people that will hopefully lead to face-to-face meetups. Going back to the question of "what does this technology obsolesce?" If this is the only thing we consider in our use of technology, then we may miss the possibility of what that same technology might enhance or retrieve that was lost with the use of any prior technology.

This is turning into a book. Sorry. If you want to read a book on the subject, I highly recommend The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church by Shane Hipps.