GUEST SERVICES & Your window to connect is 6 minutes according to this research.

I am writing a new ChurchLeadership.university course (hosted by uDemy) titled: “Church Guests 101.” It explains four (4) pivots churches must undertake to make guest services more effective. Check out those crucial pivots on ChurchLeadership.university.

Improving guest services begins my knowing your window to connect is very small. Here is a paragraph by Mark Collins, Certified Missional Coach, 10/1/19.

Mark Collins (right) at dinner with Bob Whitesel (left) and another Missional Coach in training (middle) Jeremy Schell.
We had an exciting day of discussing church growth and health with a client church.

Mark writes:

Your window to connect is 6 minutes. 

Research indicates that guests decide whether or not to come back within the first 6 minutes of arriving on campus (“Secrets of a Secret Shopper: Reaching and Keeping Church Guests” by Greg Atkinson).

This means that parking lot and pre-service experiences are crucial. 

Is the signage clear?

Do they feel safe leaving their kids?

Do your guest services volunteers seek to know the needs of the visitor?

RACIAL RECONCILIATION & Why it is more than just worshipping together. #7Systems #System2 www.7Systems.church

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: For almost 3 decades I’ve helped churches become culturally integrated. And, an important aspect of that is working towards “racial reconciliation.” But it’s not as easy as most churches think. Churches hope by integrating their worship teams and even their boards they can accomplish racial reconciliation. But racial reconciliation is something much deeper that requires addressing practices that run throughout society. And, so it requires a church to take a more expansive stand.

Read this interview with my IWU colleague who has investigated this and explains the phenomenon.

An Interview With Russell (Rusty) Hawkins.

…(Hawkins) For the last 20 years, according to sociologists, there’s been this really significant move among white evangelical Christians to embrace racial reconciliation. This has become a big part of white evangelical Christianity, this move to become diverse and have diverse churches as a way to achieve this reconciliation. So, there’s an attentiveness over the last two decades to becoming more racially diverse within American churches, particularly among white evangelical Christians. The problem here is that the tools that get used to bring about this racial reconciliation are very much centered on ideas about just interpersonal relationships and ideas about colorblindness. White evangelical Christians say, “We recognize that there has been a problem in the past. The way we’re going to move forward is becoming friends. Ultimately, we’re trying to get to the point where race doesn’t matter at all. So, we’re getting to the point where we’re colorblind.”

While that might have some particular outcomes at the individual level and the interpersonal level, what that leaves in place are all sorts of structural disparities that continue to persist within American society along racial lines. And so, you get black Christians who enter into these churches, into these relationships, and say, “Well, okay, so there’s an interpersonal thing going on here too, but there’s also a larger reality about the experiences of people of color in this country that we need to address at the structural level or at the level of systems that operate in this country.” And when those conversations start to happen, suddenly these white evangelical Christians pull way back and say, “No! That’s not what we’re talking about here. That stuff doesn’t exist. Or if it exists, it doesn’t exist to the extent that you are claiming exists.” And the problem here is that you can’t just get over these past things and just enter into these relationships.

In other words, these white evangelical Christians have been influenced by decades’ worth of this teaching that tells them don’t talk about race, try not to see race, be colorblind. And when someone tells you that structural racism or systemic racism exists, you can ignore them…

Read more of the interview here … https://religionandpolitics.org/2021/06/29/how-white-southern-christians-fought-to-preserve-segregation/?

The #Post-PandemicChurch & Scientists Confirm the Power of In-Person Gatherings.

By Mya Jaradat, 7/18/21, Deseret News.

… However, now that it’s safe for many Americans to return to in-person worship, some religion experts are questioning why virtual church enthusiasts want to remain online. Online worship can be gratifying, but, both spiritually and sociologically, it often leaves something to be desired, said Dr. Andrew Newberg, a physician and neuroscientist who studies religious experiences.

“From what we know in general about how the brain works there is a kind of resonance that occurs when we’re with other people,” said Newberg, a pioneer in neurotheology. “The brain is designed to be social.”

Newberg pointed to the power of sacred architecture to illustrate his point. “If you walk into the Vatican — I don’t care what religion (you are) — when you walk into the Vatican, it’s hard not to feel something because of its grandeur,” he said. 

Even smaller houses of worship create a sense of awe, he added, noting that vaulted ceilings contribute to a feeling of “spacelessness” in the brain — a sensation that might help us feel a little less connected to our earthly concerns and more connected to the people around us and God. 

Seeing the Vatican through a screen, Newberg added, doesn’t pack the same neurological punch, in part because other sensory cues, like smell, are missing. Online worship, no matter how well it’s done, likely can’t affect us as deeply as in-person church does, he said. 

Dr. Harold Koenig, a psychiatrist and the director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, said that while researchers still don’t know exactly what accounts for the potency of in-person, group worship — “the research is a little behind there,” he said — it probably activates circuitry in the brain’s reward pathway. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine are likely involved, he said.

Research has also shown that being with a group — particularly when that group is engaged in some sort of activity that makes a positive contribution to society, like volunteering — leads to physiological changes that create a feeling of warmth. The metaphorical warmth that stems from being with others “has a physiological basis,” Koenig said.

Prior to COVID-19, almost all in-person services incorporated some element of touch, as well, which also creates a sense of well-being, he added.

“As a psychiatrist, even though we’ve got COVID-19, I always touch (my patients) when they leave the room. That physical touch is critical,” Koenig said.

In general, face-to-face interactions and group activities, including worship, create “collective effervescence,” wrote Adam Grant recently in The New York Times, using a coin termed by the famed French sociologist Émile Durkheim. Take the collective out — or put it behind a screen — and the experience is flattened.

However, Newberg noted that religious believers who live in isolation, like some monks and nuns, certainly do have religious experiences. So while the in-person, group aspect of worship is important, it’s not essential. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a religious experience.

Similarly, Teresa Berger, a professor of liturgical studies and Catholic theology at Yale Divinity School, said just because someone comes to an in-person worship service doesn’t mean they’re mentally engaged.

“Some of them, quite honestly, in their minds are going to be elsewhere,” she said.

Theologically speaking, Berger added, “The decisive element is a community gathered — and I don’t mean gathered only physically but gathered in a multitude of ways, some of them could be digitally mediated — around seeking to encounter a divine presence.”

Read more at … https://www.deseret.com/faith/2021/7/18/22575707/are-churches-done-with-buildings-online-virtual-worship-congregations-covid-19-pandemic

CHURCH PLANTING & These #Post-Pandemic Churches are done with buildings. Here’s why.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Almost 15 years ago when analyzing healthy planted churches, I found that most planted churches preferred to lease or rent their space rather than build buildings. This freed them up for flexibility and to put their financial resources into meeting the needs of others. I’ve been a big advocate of this since the award-winning book of mine was published by Abingdon Press: Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations.

Here’s another article that confirms the continued importance of growing the post-pandemic church by utilizing non-facility-based community. After all, churches are people, not a facility.

by Mya Jaradat, 7/18/21, Deseret News.

…Being online means being unencumbered by financial concerns that come with maintaining a facility, he said, noting that the congregation is free to focus on values — like social justice and spiritual formation — rather than the bottom line. It’s also allowed the group to attract worshippers who wouldn’t be able to attend in person, including people from California, London and Australia, the Rev. Whang said.

“A church is a network of relationships,” he said. “It’s the people,” not where they meet.

… However, now that it’s safe for many Americans to return to in-person worship, some religion experts are questioning why virtual church enthusiasts want to remain online. Online worship can be gratifying, but, both spiritually and sociologically, it often leaves something to be desired, said Dr. Andrew Newberg, a physician and neuroscientist who studies religious experiences.

“From what we know in general about how the brain works there is a kind of resonance that occurs when we’re with other people,” said Newberg, a pioneer in neurotheology. “The brain is designed to be social.”

… The power of in-person church

Newberg pointed to the power of sacred architecture to illustrate his point. “If you walk into the Vatican — I don’t care what religion (you are) — when you walk into the Vatican, it’s hard not to feel something because of its grandeur,” he said.

Even smaller houses of worship create a sense of awe, he added, noting that vaulted ceilings contribute to a feeling of “spacelessness” in the brain — a sensation that might help us feel a little less connected to our earthly concerns and more connected to the people around us and God.

Seeing the Vatican through a screen, Newberg added, doesn’t pack the same neurological punch, in part because other sensory cues, like smell, are missing. Online worship, no matter how well it’s done, likely can’t affect us as deeply as in-person church does, he said.

Dr. Harold Koenig, a psychiatrist and the director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, said that while researchers still don’t know exactly what accounts for the potency of in-person, group worship — “the research is a little behind there,” he said — it probably activates circuitry in the brain’s reward pathway. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine are likely involved, he said. 

Research has also shown that being with a group — particularly when that group is engaged in some sort of activity that makes a positive contribution to society, like volunteering — leads to physiological changes that create a feeling of warmth. The metaphorical warmth that stems from being with others “has a physiological basis,” Koenig said. 

Prior to COVID-19, almost all in-person services incorporated some element of touch, as well, which also creates a sense of well-being, he added. 

“As a psychiatrist, even though we’ve got COVID-19, I always touch (my patients) when they leave the room. That physical touch is critical,” Koenig said. 

In general, face-to-face interactions and group activities, including worship, create “collective effervescence,” wrote Adam Grant recently in The New York Times, using a coin termed by the famed French sociologist Émile Durkheim. Take the collective out — or put it behind a screen — and the experience is flattened. 

However, Newberg noted that religious believers who live in isolation, like some monks and nuns, certainly do have religious experiences. So while the in-person, group aspect of worship is important, it’s not essential. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a religious experience. 

Similarly, Teresa Berger, a professor of liturgical studies and Catholic theology at Yale Divinity School, said just because someone comes to an in-person worship service doesn’t mean they’re mentally engaged. 

“Some of them, quite honestly, in their minds are going to be elsewhere,” she said. 

Theologically speaking, Berger added, “The decisive element is a community gathered — and I don’t mean gathered only physically but gathered in a multitude of ways, some of them could be digitally mediated — around seeking to encounter a divine presence.”

Read more at … https://www.deseret.com/faith/2021/7/18/22575707/are-churches-done-with-buildings-online-virtual-worship-congregations-covid-19-pandemic

DEMOGRAPHICS & White mainline Protestants outnumber white evangelicals, while ‘nones’ shrink.

by Jack Jenkins, Religion News Service, 7/8/21.

White Christian decline has slowed. Mainline Protestants now outnumber white evangelicals. New York is home to several of the most religiously diverse counties in the U.S.

These shifts and findings are among some of the notable revelations documented in a sweeping and exhaustive survey of the U.S. religious landscape by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The 2020 Census of American Religion, released on Thursday (July 8), is based on what researchers called an “unprecedented” dataset that includes hundreds of thousands of respondents surveyed between 2013 and 2019.

Clergy and other faith leaders will be perhaps most interested in PRRI’s finding that religiously unaffiliated Americans, or “nones” in religion demography parlance, have lost ground, making up just 23% of the country. The complex group — which includes atheists, agnostics and some people who say they pray daily but don’t claim a specific faith tradition — peaked at 25.5% of the population in 2018.

White Christians, meanwhile, have expanded their share of the population, particularly white mainline Protestants. That group sits at 16.4%, an increase from 13% in 2016, whereas white evangelicals — who PRRI delineated from white mainliners using a methodology researchers said is commonly utilized by major pollsters — now represent about 14.5% of the population, down from a peak of 23% in 2006. White Catholics now hover around 11.7%, up from a 2018 low of 10.9%.

Chart courtesy of PRRI Census of American Religion

Chart courtesy of PRRI Census of American Religion

The percentage of white Christians ticked up overall, rising from 42% in 2018 to 44% in 2020.

Read more at … https://religionnews.com/2021/07/08/survey-white-mainline-protestants-outnumber-white-evangelicals/?

REVITALIZATION & The Church Restart Model – What Is It and Is It For You?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. and Kent R. Hunter D.Min. & Ph.D.

The 3 Steps of the Restart Model

         Some denominations have a program in place designed to resurrect an aging congregation.  Sometimes called the “restart model” or the “regeneration process,” this procedure allows a church to dissolve the present entity and form a new congregation with help from nearby congregations of the same polity.  Components of this program usually include the following:

The restart model is a viable alternative to closure and has been employed extensively by the American Baptist Church.  While unable to preserve the traditions or history of the aging church, this approach does preserve a denominational presence in the community.

2 Pre-conditions

         However, the advice below must be considered when considering the restart or regeneration model.

1.  The church leadership must be ready to relinquish control of the new organization to a steering committee comprised of people outside the local congregation.  

2.  Church members must understand that their spiritual sustenance will come from a small group setting for at least six months during the transition phase.

This model is frequently successful in planting a new and oftentimes younger congregation in the same community as the aging church.  

2 Considerations 

However, older members of the former congregation usually do not make it through the transition due to two important reasons.

         First, aging members are accustomed to sharing intimacy and closeness through Sunday School classes which often are their smaller groups.  Home Bible studies, while more popular among Boomers, do not provide an attractive alternative to aging members who traditionally have enjoyed small group intimacy through the Sunday School format.

         Secondly, the restart model works best when the existing leadership is fragmented or non-existent.  The restart strategy then provides needed leadership to fill the void.  However, if an existing and long-lived leadership is already in place, and in most aging churches this is the case, the restart model often prunes a majority of these steadfast saints from the process.  Long-standing leaders will feel they are no longer wanted or needed, and resistance to forward progress often spreads informally among the aging congregation.

         Though the restart model is effective in establishing a younger church in the community context, it usually fails in preserving a Builder sub-congregation.

(This article was adapted from “A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church,” by Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, Abingdon Press, 2000).

SOCIAL MEDIA & It’s not just bad behavior – why social media design makes it hard to have constructive disagreements online.

by Amanda Baugman, Univeristy of Washington, The Conversion, 7/7/21.

Good-faith disagreements are a normal part of society and building strong relationships. Yet it’s difficult to engage in good-faith disagreements on the internet, and people reach less common groundonline compared with face-to-face disagreements. 

There’s no shortage of research about the psychology of arguing online, from text versus voice to how anyone can become a troll and advice about how to argue well. But there’s another factor that’s often overlooked: the design of social media itself.

My colleagues and I investigated how the design of social media affects online disagreements and how to design for constructive arguments. We surveyed and interviewed 257 people about their experiences with online arguments and how design could help. We asked which features of 10 different social media platforms made it easy or difficult to engage in online arguments, and why. (Full disclosure: I receive research funding from Facebook.)

We found that people often avoid discussing challenging topics online for fear of harming their relationships, and when it comes to disagreements, not all social media are the same. People can spend a lot of time on a social media site and not engage in arguments (e.g. YouTube) or find it nearly impossible to avoid arguments on certain platforms (e.g. Facebook and WhatsApp). 

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/EEN5Q/1/

Here’s what people told us about their experiences with Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube, which were the most and least common places for online arguments.

Read more at … https://theconversation.com/its-not-just-bad-behavior-why-social-media-design-makes-it-hard-to-have-constructive-disagreements-online-161337?

DEMOGRAPHICS & The Proportion Of White Christians In The U.S. Has Stopped Shrinking, New Study Finds

by Becky Sullivan, NPR, 7/8/21.

Two dramatic trends that for years have defined the shifting landscape of religion in America — a shrinking white Christian majority, alongside the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans — have stabilized, according to a new, massive survey of American religious practice. 

What was once a supermajority of white Christians — more than 80% of Americans identified as such in 1976, and two-thirds in 1996 — has now plateaued at about 44%, according to the new survey, which was conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute. That number first dipped below 50% in 2012. 

They have largely been replaced by Americans who do not list any religious affiliation, a group that has tripled in proportion since the 1990s. Today, the unaffiliated make up roughly a quarter of Americans. Young adults are most likely to identify this way with more than a third saying they are atheist, agnostic or otherwise secular, the study found.

Read more at … https://www.npr.org/2021/07/08/1014047885/americas-white-christian-plurality-has-stopped-shrinking-a-new-study-finds?

THEOLOGY & Original biblical languages suggest forgiveness is something akin to waiving one’s rights.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In our fractured and litigious modern world, people often wonder what forgiveness means. Does it mean forgetting? Does it mean ignoring? The word used by the Bible authors tells us that, “forgiveness is something akin to waiving one’s rights.” Read on to find out more.

“What the Lord’s Prayer really says about forgiveness” by Daniel Esparza, Aleteia, 7/7/21.

What is it that we do when we forgive? Are we forgetting, disregarding, overlooking, ignoring wrongdoing? Are we giving up on our desire to pursuit revenge, retribution, even justice? How can I tell if I have really forgiven someone? The fact that we have a hard time answering these questions makes it evident forgiveness is multi-faceted and difficult to explore. It has oftentimes been historically (and tragically) confused with a vague understanding of reconciliation as the submissive acceptance of rather unacceptable states of affairs.

This is probably because forgiveness was not entirely considered a philosophical problem until the interwar and postwar periods of the 20th century, when genocidal war ushered in the question of the unforgivable — Can humanity forgive Auschwitz, the Gulag, the Bomb, the Apartheid? Who forgives? Who is forgiven? What are the limits of forgiveness? What constitutes an unforgivable fact? Is there such thing as “the unforgivable”? In more ways than one, forgiveness is a relatively new intellectual concern. And even if the topic became somewhat relevant in the second half of the past century, it is not exactly a modish preoccupation among most scholars today. Chances are it has never really been — perhaps not even among noted Christian thinkers.

…The original Greek text of the Gospels uses a number of different expressions for the concept of forgiveness, rather than one single word. What we do find in biblical texts, the Our Father included, are different expressions that can be translated as the waiving of one’s right over a debt, or to being unburdened. In that sense, Augustine’s understanding of forgiveness as almsgiving is thoroughly biblical: forgiveness as almsgiving and the scriptural understanding of sin as debt go hand in hand, as the former covers the latter: “for almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin” (Tobit 12, 9).

Read more at … https://aleteia.org/2021/07/07/what-the-lords-prayer-really-says-about-forgiveness/

EGALITARIAN LEADERSHIP & The largest church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, Saddleback Community Church founded by Rick Warren, ordained three women as ministers.

by Mark Wingfield, Baptist News Global, 5/10/21.

The largest church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention ordained three women as ministers May 6, sending shock waves through the male-centric leadership of the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination.

Saddleback Church, founded by Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, in 1980, announced on Facebook that on May 6 it had ordained three women as ministers in a “historic night.”

On Mother’s Day, which fell three days after Saddleback’s ordination, the Sunday morning online message was given by Kay Warren. Although she is not among the newly ordained, her delivery of the Sunday morning message in worship was sure to further alarm the strictest of male leadership advocates within the SBC, who insist women should not preach sermons to men.

The three women ordained May 6 are Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards — all long-tenured staff members within the vast network of the church’s 15 United States campuses and four international campuses. The church counts more than 24,000 members and lists 18 “campus pastors,” all of whom are male.

Because of the massive size of the church spread out over so many locations, no complete staff directory is published online. Petty’s LinkedIn profile lists her as children’s minister at Saddleback, where she has served since 1999. Puffer describes herself as a “minister” at Saddleback Church in both her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Her Facebook profile describes her as a pastor for pastoral care at the church. Edwards serves as student ministries pastor at Saddleback’s Lake Forest campus, where she has worked for 24 years.

Saddleback not only is the largest church in the SBC but one of its leaders in evangelism. The church’s emphasis on evangelism and church growth have been studied and duplicated worldwide. Warren was one of the early advocates for what came to be known as “seeker-friendly church,” meaning a church experience intended specifically to welcome unchurched people and bring them to faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote about this in a best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Church.

Read more at … https://baptistnews.com/article/largest-church-in-sbc-ordains-three-women-as-pastors/

CONGREGATIONAL OLD AGE & This has become the chief killer of churches in #post-pandemic America! My article published by @BiblicalLeadership Magazine

https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/why-geriatrophy-has-become-the-chief-killer-of-churches-in-post-pandemic-america/

CHURCH GUESTS 101 & Don’t Say That – Say This! Revitalize a church with the words you speak. Here is a list of things not to say when you want to connect with your visitors.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, 4/27/21.

Learn more about the changes needed in your hospitality ministries in the course, Church Guests 101 part of ChurchLeadership.university on uDemy.

When leading a church it is very easy to miscommunicate your intentions. It usually happens because you’re concerned about pressing organizational needs as well as the needs of the believers you shepherd. Subsequently, we often use phrases that appear to prioritize the needs of the saints over the needs of the non-churchgoer.

I’m going to show you how this happens in your greetings, your announcements and even your church vision statements … and what you should say instead.  

Jesus’ message of compassion for the not-yet-believer.

Jesus emphasized the importance of meeting the needs of those who don’t yet have a personal relationship with him. The “parable of the sheep” (Matthew 18:10-14) where the shepherd leaves the 99 to retrieve the one lost lamb, visualizes this. And in his actions, Jesus demonstrated a deep concern for the wellbeing of not-yet-believers (Mark 1:33-34, Luke 5:1-11). Mark records a poignant image of this when the crowds followed Jesus and his disciples to the seashore. Jesus saw their desperate needs and Mark noted: “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:32-34).

Your message for the not-yet-believer.

Many times those first messages a visitor receives will inadvertently push them away, rather than draw them in. This is because when welcoming church visitors, leaders use phrases often tainted by the concerns of the congregation. Church leaders are worried about church finances, not having enough volunteers or reaching a new culture of people. And, this comes out accidentally, but clearly in your welcome. The result is often an unintended pushback by church guests.

I don’t believe that most churches are intentionally putting the church family’s needs over the needs of non-churchgoers. It’s only that we spend so much time every week deliberating on the church’s internal needs that this colors the things we say. And though we intend to reach out to newcomers and help them experience a new life and growth in Christ, we often share those concerns in a way that communicates the organization is more important than the people who need Christ.

What is the most important type of church growth?

Donald McGavran, the Fuller Theological Seminary professor credited with founding the study of church growth, said there were three types of church growth – but only one was desirable. 

Biological growth:  This is a church that grows because families within the church are expanding. 

Transfer growth: These are people who are moving into the area and transferring their attendance or membership. In my research I believe this may be the largest contributor to church growth in America. Often we find growing churches in growing suburbs. The growth is often fueled by transfer growth, not by new believers. McGavran said that this type of growth means, “The increase of certain congregations at the expense of others… But transfer growth will never extend the church, for unavoidably many are lost along the way.” Transfer growth grows one church at the expense of other churches.

Conversion growth: The third type of growth is what McGavran calls conversion growth. This is a church that is growing because people are being spiritually transformed from their former lives and embarking upon a new Christ-centered journey. McGavran stated, “The third kind is conversion growth, in which those outside the church come to rest their faith intelligently on Jesus Christ and are baptized and added to the Lord in his church. This is the only kind of growth by which the good news of salvation can spread to all segments of American society and to earth’s remotest bounds.”

3 categories of crises that push people to want to change their lives.

Researchers (using the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Scale) have found that people who are interested in changing their lives are usually motivated by a combination of three categories of crises. 

Concern about death and the afterlife. The first crises that drive people to seek to change their lives is a concern about death and dying or a loved one’s death. They have questions about eternity and heaven. They wonder if their loved one went to heaven and who will help them with their grieving. Churches can meet these needs in part by preaching/teaching on the afterlife and offering grief share ministries.

Family or marital difficulties. A second area that drives people to want to change their lives is marital or family difficulties including marriage problems, child-rearing difficulties, divorce, adultery, etc.. Many times they feel inadequate or a failure due to such difficulties. They come to the church seeking to change their life and to be a more adept and competent person. Little wonder that child-rearing classes, marriage enrichment seminars and divorce care have been helpful (and popular) programs in our churches. 

Concern about illness: The third category that pushes people to change their lives is illness they are experiencing or someone they know is experiencing.  They have questions about healing, helping others and improving their outlook on life.  Need-meeting congregations have embraced prayer ministries, counseling programs and support groups for those who are suffering.

Because these three major categories cause people to want to change their lives, we must welcome guests and greet them in a way that shows we know they have needs and we are here to meet them.

THE LIST: Don’t Say That – Say This!

To help understand how to communicate your true intentions (of meeting the needs of others) I have created a list I call: “Don’t Say That – Say This!” Consider each statement and then notice how one better communicates your true intentions.

Don’t Say That: “I’m glad you are here” or “We are glad you are here.”

Say This: “How can I help you?” “How can we help you?”

Why: When you say, “I’m glad you are here,” it is usually a true statement. You are glad that they are present. You see their potential to encounter Christ and become a committed part of the faith community. But what they hear is a statement focused upon you and the believers, it’s not about helping them, but it’s about us being happy. Remember, people often come to a church because they have needs and crises in their lives. And healthy church growth comes from people’s lives being transformed for the better through the community of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Don’t Say That: “We want to tell you about the church.”

Say This: “We want to know how we can help you.”

Why: The purpose is not to tell them about the church, but for them to tell us about their needs. Though it is helpful to offer information on the history and theological perspective of the church, guests are usually not ready to learn about this unless they are engaged in transfer growth. Most guests want to let you know why they came to church and what they’re looking for.

Don’t Say That: “I love being in the house of God.”

Say This: “God is here and he wants to connect with you (or help you, or fulfill your life).

Why:  As Christians who are growing in our faith journey, we often talk about our growing enthusiasm as we know God better. But for people who are just beginning their journey of discovery about God’s love, we may seem too far ahead of them to lead them forward and be a relevant leader. Though you love being in God’s house, re-phrase that statement in the context of God‘s presence being there and that he wants to connect with them.

Don’t Say That: “We have a gift for you.”

Say This: “We would like to know how we can help you. So please visit one of our guest services booths so we can help.”

Why: Even though you want to show your gratitude, an appreciation gift can inadvertently create a sense of this-for-that at best, and manipulation at worst. In the leadership world we call this transactional leadership. You give something in order to get something. A person gives 40 hours or more a week at their job and they get a salary. If a better job comes along, they might leave because their motivation is based upon a transaction: giving their time in order to get money. Can you see how a gift might be perceived as a lure to sign a card or visit a booth can feel transactional? One former student of mine offered a $100 gift card to be drawn from the names of newcomers who visited each month. I know him and his generosity is exceptional (they have a region-wide food pantry in their smallish church). But the message he was sending was not helpful to the newcomers. Instead tell them you want to know about their needs and see if we can help meet them.

Don’t Say That: “I don’t know.”

Say This: “Let me find out.”

Why: Many people have heard about the art of hospitality practiced by the Walt Disney organization. Part of their Disney hospitality is to never say, “I don’t know,” and instead to respond along the lines of, “Let me find out for you,” or “That is a good question. I will find out.” This takes the emphasis off of the lack of knowledge of the hospitality person. And instead it puts the emphasis upon the hospitality person’s desire to help the newcomer find an answer to the problem.

Don’t Say That: Our mission statement is Belong – Begin – Become

Say This: Our mission statement is Begin – Become – Belong

Why: “Belong – Begin – Become” is focused on how the organization sees the newcomers journey. The organization expects a commitment, to which the organization will respond with tools and community for the newcomer to become a new person. But look at this from the newcomer’s perspective. They want to know more about you first. Unless they are transfer growth, they are not ready to “belong” in their initial step. Rather, starting this mission statement with “begin” reminds new travelers that there is a process in getting to know one another, experiencing the community of faith and encountering Christ. One of my former professors, John Wimber, described this relationship as dating. When a person first learns about the Good News, your relationship with them is similar to dating. There is no commitment, but you’re getting to know one another. The next stage of the relationship is engagement, and that’s where a new believer begins to give of themselves and the church responds by giving back even more. Finally, marriage serves as Wimber’s metaphor for when a person is ready to make a commitment to both Christ and the church. So, check your mission statement. Even run it by people who are not churchgoers. Look closely and you may find that its focus is on inspiring churchgoers rather than informing those who are just beginning their journey with Christ

Don’t Say That: “You’re welcome.”

Say This: “I am happy I was able to help.”

Why: Of course if you’ve helped people at your church they will be appreciative. They will usually say, “Thank you.” And the most common reply is to say, “You’re welcome.” But that has become so overused that it’s almost like adding a period to a sentence, rather than opening up to converse further. Instead it’s better to say, “I am happy I was able to help you.” That lets them know that you derive your happiness in part because of your ability to help them. Though it may be focused on your happiness, that happiness is based upon your ability to help others.

Don’t Say That: “Come back soon (or next Sunday).”

Say This: “This week, think about ways we can help you.”

Why: As we’ve seen above we want to leave the message, and especially with our parting words, that we are here to help.

Now, make your own list!

This list is not mechanical phraseology to be memorized or anemically repeated. Instead this list is designed to remind leaders how our intentions can be miscommunicated due to the words we use.

Rather than memorize this, do these three things.

1. Re-read the list often and add more phrases to it. Create an ever-expanding list of things you don’t want to say and things you should be saying to better communicate your heart. And, you can join together as a ministry team and create a ministry team list. At your meetings add an agenda item to add to your list and ask people for their suggestions.

2. Re-write and edit the short paragraphs that explain each of your list items. Help someone who is reading your list for the first time to understand why one phrase is preferable over the other.

3. Resist shaming or criticizing others who say the wrong thing. Everyone goes through cycles where their own pressing needs cloud what they want to say. After years of doing this I still catch myself saying things because it’s customary or because my own needs are driving my attention. Have grace in the way you encourage one another. Don’t criticize or tease those who speak out of their needs rather than the needs of others. Rather, use this exercise and your expanding list as a reminder about how to keep the needs of others first.

CHURCH REVITALIZATION & Why it is needed more than ever! Researchers discover more Protestant churches closed in 2019 than opened — continuing a decades-long congregational slide that is only expected to accelerate. Pre-pandemic 75-150 churches close per week!

I have helped 100s of churches turnaround. And I’ve written & taught DMin courses in three seminaries on “How to Turnaround a Church.”

If your church wants to preserve its legacy and grow … then contact me today at http://www.Leadership.Church

“Study: More churches closing than opening” by Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service, 5/22/21.

A new study from Lifeway Research suggests more Protestant churches closed in 2019 than opened — continuing a decades-long congregational slide that is only expected to accelerate.

The study, which analyzed church data from 34 Protestant denominations and groups, found that 4,500 churches closed in 2019, while about 3,000 new congregations were started. The 34 Protestant denominations account for about 60% of U.S.-based Protestant denominations.

“Even before the pandemic, the pace of opening new congregations was not even providing enough replacements for those that closed their doors,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.

The study also pointed to the hastening of church closures. In 2014, it found, there were 3,700 church closures, compared with 4,500 in 2019.

…That study, published in April, estimated that in the decade ending in 2020, 3,850 to 7,700 houses of worship closed per year in the United States, or 75 to 150 congregations per week. It also projected those numbers will double or triple in the wake of the pandemic.

Read more at … https://religionnews.com/2021/05/26/study-more-churches-closing-than-opening/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Study%3A%20More%20churches%20closing%20than%20opening&utm_campaign=ni_newsletter

DESERTION & Don’t Let What Happened to Demas, Happen to You.

Guest article by Missional Coach in training, Rev. Tom Crenshaw, 5/26/21.

I wonder what happened to Demas? For those who are unfamiliar with this thrice mentioned biblical character, Demas at one time had been a companion of Paul (Philemon 1:24). He was in Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment (Col. 4:14). But something happened. Demas forsook Paul, abandoned the ministry and skipped town.

Paul writes of this sad situation in 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” One of the saddest things in ministry is to see a brother or sister abandon the faith and choose the world over Jesus.

Scholars suggest that the Greek world for desert seems to suggest that Demas had not only abandoned his faith but in doing so had left Paul in a time of great need. How hard it must have been for Paul to see this situation unfold. Perhaps you have experienced a similar situation when you have lost a good friend in whom you had placed your faith and trust, and you had helplessly watched him/her set sail for the world’s treasures.

We don’t know how it happened, but one of my favorite bible teachers, John Courson in his New Testament Commentary suggests that his decision wasn’t birthed overnight. Courson writes, “The Christian life is like a steam locomotive. When you’re first saved and on fire, you stoke the boiler with the Word. You come to church; you are involved in ministry; and you’re moving along in your faith. But then you come a time when you start to think, ‘Hey, I’m cruising along fine. I don’t need to feed the fire so fervently. I don’t need to study scriptures so consistently. I don’t need to have devotions daily. I don’t need to go to church regularly because, look, I’m really moving!’”

“But once the fire stops being fed, the engine starts slowing down imperceptibly. Yes, the train keeps moving down the tracks for a time, and everything appears to be going fine, but little by little the engine goes slower and slower until finally it stops dead in its tracks. You might be able to go weeks, months, even years on the momentum you gained in the early days-but if you don’t continue to feed the fire, eventually you’ll stop altogether. And, like Demas, you will say, ‘What happened? How did I end up here’”? John Courson Applicaton Commentary, p 1328

The Greek verb used in the original text implies that Demas had not merely left Paul but had left him “in the lurch”; that is, Demas had abandoned Paul in a time of need. The apostle was in prison, facing a death sentence, and that’s when Demas chose to set sail. Undoubtedly, Paul was deeply let down by Demas. It’s never easy to see a friend and associate in whom you’ve placed your trust, forsake you in the midst of hardship. Sadly Demas chose to accept what Satan had to offer in this world over what God had to offer in the next.

1 John 2: 15 makes it clear regarding the spiritual state of those who love the world: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.”

Sadly, nowhere in the Bible do we read of the restoration of Demas.

The tragedy of Demas is being lived out again and again in our world whenever we see those who would choose temporary benefits over eternal possessions. “Past service is no guarantee for future faithfulness,” so keep stoking the boiler with the Word, and you’ll keep heading toward heaven and your eternal destination.

Yours in faith and friendship, Tom.

VALUE-ADDED & Religion contributes about $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value annually to the U.S. economy. That is equivalent to being the world’s 15th-largest national economy.

By Brian Grim, Deseret News, 5/12/21.

…We rarely quantify the dollar and cents of faith’s impact, but the numbers should draw attention from even the most secular pockets of today’s society. According to a 2016 study by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, religion contributes about $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value annually to the U.S. economy. That is equivalent to being the world’s 15th-largest national economy, outpacing nearly 180 other countries and territories. It’s more than the global annual revenues of the world’s top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon and Google. It’s also more than 50% larger than the global annual revenues of America’s six largest oil and gas companies.

These contributions fall into three general categories: $418 billion from religious congregations; $303 billion from other religious institutions such as universities, charities and health systems; and $437 billion from faith-based, faith-related or faith-inspired businesses.

Religious congregations — churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and chapels — of every denomination add $418 billion annually to the American economy. These local congregations number more than 344,000 and employ hundreds of thousands of staff and purchase billions worth of services in every corner and crossroads of the country’s urban and rural landscape.

Of course, these congregations do much more than just provide places of worship. Each year congregations spend $84 billion on their operations, ranging from paying hundreds of thousands of personnel to paying for goods and services as diverse as flowers, sounds systems, maintenance and utilities. Almost all is spent right in the local community. Congregations are like magnets attracting economic activity ranging from weddings to lectures, conventions and even tourism. For instance, 120,000 congregations report that people visit them to view their art and architecture.

Schools attached to many of these congregations — such as St. Benedict’s — employ 420,000 full-time teachers and train 4.5 million students each year. By comparison, this is the same number as the total population of Ireland or New Zealand.

But it’s what congregations do in their communities that makes the biggest contribution. Congregations provide 130,000 alcohol recovery programs such as the Saddleback Church’s Celebrate Recovery program that has helped more than 27,000 individuals over the past 25 years. Congregations also provide 120,000 programs to help the unemployed. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has employment service centers across the country (and world).

Read more at … https://www.deseret.com/faith/2021/5/12/22429166/the-unseen-economic-social-impact-of-american-faith-brian-grim-religious-freedom-business-foundation

CHURCH HISTORY & Why Were the Pharisees the ‘Bad Guys’ in the New Testament?

by David Roos, 5/27/21.

We spoke with Bruce Chilton, a religion professor at Bard College and co-editor of “In Quest of the Historical Pharisees,” to better understand what the Pharisees really believed and why they clashed with the early Christians.

Who Were the Pharisees — and the Sadducees?

During the first century C.E., when Jesus lived, the Pharisees emerged as a religious movement within Judaism, not a separate sect. The Temple still stood in Jerusalem and it was the center of Jewish life. One of the greatest concerns of Temple rites was purity — that both the people who entered the Temple and the animals sacrificed there, were “pure” enough to satisfy God. The Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible starting with Genesis) contains written commandments that explain the proper way to conduct Temple sacrifices, but the Pharisees claimed they had additional divine instructions that had been passed down through centuries of oral tradition.

“The Pharisees believed that they had a special reserve of knowledge for determining purity,” says Chilton. “They taught that their oral tradition went all the way back to Moses at Sinai, so not only was there a written Torah, which anyone could have access to, but there was also an oral Torah which was inside the Pharisaic movement.”

What was distinctive about the oral tradition of the Pharisees was that it expanded the question of purity to life outside of the Temple. Even if a Jewish person lived far away from Jerusalem (in Galilee, for example) and wasn’t planning to make a pilgrimage to the Temple, they could conduct their lives in such a way as to be pure enough to enter the Temple.

“In that sense, the Pharisees became a movement for the purity of the Jewish people,” says Chilton.

The Pharisees were not, however, the powerful elite of first-century Judaism. Those were the Sadducees, the priestly class that controlled Temple worship and held the most political influence with the Roman Empire, which ruled over Palestine. The Sadducees rejected the oral tradition in favor of the written law (Torah).

The Pharisees were a working-class movement concerned with establishing a clear and consistent Jewish identity in everyday life. Interestingly, it was the Pharisees who believed in an afterlife and resurrection of the dead, both of which were rejected by the Sadducees as they were not mentioned in the Torah. Pharisees also believed a messiah would come who would bring peace to the world, though most of them did not think that messiah was Jesus.

Jesus Had Friends (and Followers) Who Were Pharisees

The Pharisees are portrayed as a monolithic block in the New Testament, but Chilton says that while all Pharisees were concerned with purity, there was fierce debate among the Pharisees about how best to achieve it. There were certainly Pharisees who believed that purity was obtained from the outside in, and who taught that ritual baths (mikvahs) and the ritual purification of cups and cooking implements was the only way to achieve purity.

In Matthew 23, Jesus lambastes the pharisaic practice of purifying the outside of cups and dishes while “inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

“Because Jesus himself was engaged in the issue of purity — but wasn’t a Pharisee — his conflict with some Pharisees of his time was inevitable,” says Chilton. “If you accuse somebody as impure, you’re not saying purity doesn’t matter; you’re saying the opposite — there’s a better way to achieve it.”

But Chilton says there were other Pharisees who would have agreed with Jesus, that the true work of purification starts with a pure heart and faith in God. If you read the New Testament closely, in fact, you’ll see that Jesus won sympathetic supporters and even followers from the ranks of the supposedly hated Pharisees. Nicodemus, who visited Jesus at night to ask him questions, and then provided money and spices to give Jesus a proper Jewish burial after the crucifixion, was a Pharisee (see John 3). And in Luke 13:31, a Pharisee comes to warn Jesus that Herod wanted him killed…

The Meeting That Doomed the Pharisees

In Acts 15, there is a meeting or “council” in Jerusalem attended by Paul, Peter, James, Barnabas and other apostles and followers of Jesus. The agenda of the meeting was to settle an important question among the early church: did non-Jewish men need to be circumcised in order to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit? The Pharisees in attendance were the first to chime in. In Acts 15:5, it says: “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.'”

Notice that it says the Pharisees were among the “believers,” further proof some Pharisees, too, were early followers of Jesus. But here’s where things go south. The apostles are in stark disagreement with the Pharisees and say that everyone, circumcised or uncircumcised, can have their hearts purified through faith in Christ. Peter, acknowledging the physical pain and danger of circumcising an adult, rebukes the Pharisees in verses 10 and 11:

“Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

“By the time you get to this meeting in 46 C.E., now the Pharisees are on the other side of this extraordinarily consequential decision,” says Chilton.

Read more at … https://people.howstuffworks.com/pharisees.htm

CONFLICT & How to have difficult conversations at work. Plus, how I coach leaders in the art of socially skilled conflict resolution.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: When coaching church leaders I often find that it’s not the conflict, but the way it’s handled, that polarizes leaders and leads to more conflict. A primary tool is what I call “other-based conflict resolution.” This means thinking of the other’s needs and not your own needs when resolving conflict. This can include: choosing a place that’s more comfortable for the other, a time that’s more comfortable for the other and putting your concerns in the language of the other. For more ideas read this article.

BY TOMAS CHAMORRO-PREMUZIC, Fast Company Magazine, 4/14/21.

…As always, the ideal level of transparency can be found at the center of a continuum that ranges from no filter cruel honesty/confrontation to totally fake conflict avoidance/ingratiation. In fact, people do appreciate candid feedback, especially if they understand you have told them what they need to (but didn’t want to) hear.

…With that, here are some tips to consider:

CREATE, OR AT LEAST FIND THE RIGHT CONTEXT

Humans are emotional creatures, and even for the most phlegmatic and cool-headed person, some moments will be happier than others. If you are going to have a difficult conversation with someone and tell them something they don’t want to hear, you should start by creating the right context. Prepare them in advance, so they are not taken by surprise. Ensure that they are not going through a hard time already. For example, a Friday may be better than a Monday, during a pandemic is probably worse than a non-pandemic period, etc. Being aware of their personal circumstances is key.

CHOOSE A FORMAT THAT WORKS FOR THEM, NOT JUST FOR YOU

Have you ever been dumped via email or text? It is cruel and cold, but very convenient for the person who delivers the message. Most of us prefer impersonal, technologically mediated channels to convey unpleasant news, but they tend to make things worse. First, you will look like a chicken. Second, you will increase the probability of misinterpretations and miscommunication. Third, you will not be able to show or pick up any empathy. 

An in-person message, or the closest we can get to these days (video call), may work best, even if it is not your preferred option. That said, if the other person is highly introverted, reserved, and private, they may appreciate a heads-up via email or text, with the option to discuss in-person or via video later. Try to adapt to them, know their style, and make an effort to adjust to it.

REMEMBER THAT YOU COULD BE WRONG

Most disagreements are clarified once a discussion takes place. This is both humbling and encouraging because it provides the biggest incentive for bringing up difficult topics and having challenging conversations with others. If something bothers you about someone, or you think they need to hear something, then bringing it up is the only way to address the issue. 

Most importantly, it is a great opportunity to understand the person better and get a sense of whether you may have been wrong. If you disagree, then being aware of your disagreements is quite helpful, especially if you can find a way of living with your differences, and turns these differences into an actual strength. As Churchill said, “If two people agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

Read more at … https://www.fastcompany.com/90624750/how-to-have-difficult-conversations-at-work?

CHURCH PLANTING & prioritizing church planting over personal evangelism is what has led to decline in the Southern Baptist Church according to leading SBC seminary president and author. Today we need a re-emphasis of personal evangelism in the church planter and the planted church.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I first met Dr. Chuck Kelly, president of New Orleans Baptist Theo. Seminary, when a conference I help lead (called the Great Commission Research Network) was meeting at their facility. I was humbled and honored when Dr. Kelly, then President of the seminary, began serving tables to the men and women assembled for our annual banquet. Not only a humble and gregarious man, he is also known for his insights and understanding of church growth. Here are his comments on why the Southern Baptist Church has lost 2.3 million adherents in the past 15 years.

I agree with Dr. Kelly that church planting is important. But I have noticed many denominations and networks focus training their leaders in church planting procedures – but not equipping their leaders with ways to empower attendees to personally share their faith.

Dr. Kelley‘s observation is that because of this you get more churches, but not more Christians, is well taken and something I’ve seen in practice.

My hope is this article, and my work coaching churches and denominations, will lead to a needed re-emphasis of personal evangelism in the church planted and the planter church.

by Bob Smietana, 5/21/21. Religion News Service.

… Kelley, of the Conservative Baptist Network, sees the decline as an organizational failure. The (Souther Baptist Church) denomination’s North American Mission Board, he said, moved away from personal evangelism in the 1980s to a focus on church planting. That has led to more churches but not more baptisms and Southern Baptists.

Churches have also dropped the ball on keeping and inspiring church members, he said, a practice known as “discipling.” From the 1920s to the 1970s, he said, Southern Baptists had a range of programs to help people grow in their faith and learn to live according to Christian teaching. Those programs, he said, have largely run out of steam and disappeared.

Chuck Kelley, the former president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a leader in the Conservative Baptist Network. Video screengrab

Chuck Kelley. Video screengrab

“You combine that failure of discipleship with less and less attention to evangelism and a culture that is less and less hospitable to the Christian faith and guess what?” he said. “You have declining churches.”

Read more at … https://religionnews.com/2021/05/21/russell-moore-is-leaving-southern-baptist-leadership-the-denominations-troubles-remain/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Russell%20Moore%20leaves%20Southern%20Baptist%20leadership%2C%20but%20denomination’s%20troubles%20remain&utm_campaign=ni_newsletter

WORSHIP & When Do the Latest Hillsong and Bethel Hits Belong in Your Sunday Lineups?

by Kelsey Kramer McGinnis, Christianity Today, 4/6/21.

“Learn these tunes before you learn any others,” John Wesley wrote in his Directions for Singing. “Afterwards, learn as many as you please.”

The specified “tunes” were those included in the 1761 publication of the early Methodist hymnal, Selected Hymns. Wesley’s seven directions for singing have long been included in the opening pages of the United Methodist Hymnal. They include exhortations like “Sing lustily and with good courage,” “Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can,” and “Attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually.”

Wesley wrote his Directions for Singing for a different time, for a church usually selecting congregational music from a confined set of songs in printed hymnbooks. But this centuries-old guide helps establish a theological framework for a new project designed to help worship leaders evaluate a growing catalog of contemporary worship music.

The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Discipleship Ministries recently released CCLI Top 100+ Beyond, the latest iteration of a project begun in 2015, aiming to help leaders curate worship songs. CCLI stands for Christian Copyright Licensing International, which provides copyright licenses to use music from a vast library of artists; it ranks its most popular songs twice a year in the CCLI Top 100.

The UMC project offers a recommended song list, with a description of each song’s lyrics, theological underpinnings, musical difficulty, and a list of recording artists and alternate arrangements.

The list includes seven titles by Hillsong Worship and Hillsong United, seven by Bethel Music, and five by Elevation Worship; the top-ranking CCLI song at the time was Pat Barrett’s “Build My Life,” and the team said it appreciated “that this song petitions Jesus to lead us ‘in Your love to those around’ us, which ties in to Wesleyan notions of cooperation with God in Christ Jesus.”

Another resource developed by the UMC suggests issues worship pastors should consider, such as finding music from underrepresented regions, engaging global worship traditions with cultural competence, and shifting to more inclusive language without violating copyright law.

… Worship pastors from across denominations may find that the Methodist resource helps them define and articulate the theology of worship that they want to practice and impart. It’s a reflective guide—there’s no list of rejected songs, nor any diatribes about the loss of the traditional hymnals or the dangers of contemporary music.

… Music selection and worship leadership is teaching. To treat it with less weight than that is to miss the opportunity to use a powerful medium to teach, learn, and deepen faith. Through the music we sing together, we teach ourselves over and over what we as a congregation affirm about God’s identity, our identities, and our relationship with God personally and corporately.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/april-web-only/worship-song-vetting-project-umc-ccli-music-bethel-hillsong.html?

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & Churches Grapple With The Vaxxed And Unvaxxed Divide

by Blake Farmer, NPR, 5/16/21.

… Even as the most vulnerable have pretty well gotten their COVID-19 shots in Nashville, Temple Church still hasn’t returned to in-person worship services.

Many congregations in Nashville — especially those with predominantly Black members — have taken a more conservative approach to getting back together. And no government regulations are stopping them.

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Leath is the bishop overseeing African Methodist Episcopal churches in Tennessee and Kentucky. While many have held vaccination events for members, almost all worship — on the bishop’s recommendation — has remained virtual.

… So if A.M.E. congregations want to go back to in-person gatherings, he’s still requiring masks for everyone, no hugs or handshakes, and — critically — no maskless singing.

Relegating unvaccinated members in the balcony — or some other segregating policy — just doesn’t feel right to most church leaders. But some are willing to draw a distinction between the vaxxed and the unvaxxed.

… At Acklen Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville, preacher J.P. Conway greets members as they arrive with some instructions.

“If you’re vaccinated and you’d like to take your mask off when we sing, feel free,” he tells them, directing everyone to the church lawn. 

Conway says he never wanted anyone to feel too much pressure. But people started volunteering that they’d gotten the shot. So he began giving weekly updates in Sunday school on Zoom and then from the pulpit — like a church might do with the weekly offering.

“We were basically telling people what percentage of our church had been vaccinated every week,” he says. “So that was an indirect way of saying, ‘we think you should all do this.'”

Read more at … https://www.npr.org/2021/05/16/996858744/houses-of-worship-grapple-with-the-vaxxed-and-unvaxxed-divide?

If you would like to discover best practices for Growing the Post-pandemic Church check out the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Growing-Post-pandemic-Church-Leadership-church-Guides/dp/