52 April 30, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection.
Age. What a concept. Yesterday (April 29) was my 52nd birthday, and I am contemplating what it means to be “middle-aged.” Yes, I realize I have BEEN middle-aged for some time now, but for me 52 is about the mid-point of middle age. Middle age seems to hit around forty, then give way to “older adult” around 62-63. I keep telling myself that if I don’t jump out of any more airplanes, I might just make it to 80. So, now, I figure I’m middle-aged middle-age.
A century ago, I would be old. The average life expectancy for males in 1900 was a little over 48. Today? I am old to all those under thirty and young to all those over seventy. I feel young (says he who spent the afternoon reading comic books/graphic novels) and yet I feel old (says he who broke his leg twice in the past four years and has a hard time getting up and crossing the room.Internally, I don’t feel any older now than I did in my twenties and thirties — I just feel more tired. I was such an active crusader when I was younger, and I cannot quite conceive of the level of energy I expended in those busy bygone days. And yet, I am on the go constantly, working hard to help as many people as I can strengthen and improve the ministries of our church.
Yesterday Once More April 28, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Change, Church growth, Church Leadership, Congregational Planning.
Tags: Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Vision
I am constantly amazed at how many churches are looking for their future in their past. It’s a bit like looking in the cupboard to see if we can find the best meal we ever ate. For a people who believe that their Savior makes all things new, we certainly don’t act like it. I cannot tell you the number of Church Councils I meet with to talk about their vision for the future, and what they tell me is what they looked like in their bygone glory days. For example, across the country United Methodist Churches have very little appeal for families with young children who have no desire for anything more than Sunday child care and a fun hour of singing and stories. Yet, we continue to pin our future on recreating a (very brief) golden age from the 1950s and 1960s when our Sunday schools were filled to brimming. Of course, Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren were making more children in those days. However, Christian Educator’s Fellowships coast-to-coast do everything in their power to keep the nostalgia for those mythic days alive. This in a culture where the majority of today’s church-children are born into families of conservative evangelicals who already have a church (non-denominational) affiliation. The secular consultants that most of our agencies have hired to tell them how to be church have admitted to us that we simply do not have much of a “market” with children and youth, yet the majority of our churches still maintain “children are our future.” (Note: “children/youth/young adults are our future” is a dumb thing to say. They are the church NOW, and any “future” that depends on cultivating long-term or lifelong relationships with any one congregation in this day and age is doomed to fail…)
Broken By You April 23, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Values
I remember attending the worship of a young pastor a few year’s ago who was presiding over his first communion. He served a rural congregation, known far and wide for the ongoing conflicts within the small fellowship. It was hoped he could bring peace to an embattled situation. As he raised the bread and pulled it apart, he intoned loudly, “This is the body of Christ, broken by you.” He hesitated, realizing his mistake, and rosy-red flushed both cheeks. But instead of going on, instead of apologizing, he lowered the bread and looked out at the congregation and said, “I meant to say, ‘broken for you,’ which is the glorious gift of God to us; but I am going to stand by what I just said. This church is breaking the body of Christ in an unacceptable way. Christ did not die for us so that we could continue in our sin. Christ died that we might have a chance to start over. I invite us all to share in this communion meal as an act of repentance from what we have been, and a pledge and promise to become something better.” I was deeply impressed by this young man’s courage. Sadly, all but a handful of the congregation went forward to receive communion that day.
Communichaos April 22, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Communication in the Church, Critical Thinking.
Tags: Church Leadership, Communication
Pastors are generally noted for their preaching and teaching — their communication skills. Yet, have you ever noticed how often “expert communicators” have so much difficulty communicating? I have been doing church consultation for almost twenty years, and the number one concern at both congregational and conference levels is often communication. We know how important it is, we actually know what makes for good/effective communication, we’ve got good messages to communicate, and essentially we’re all on the same side — so, what’s the problem? I believe there are three main problems we encounter that prevent or undermine good communication: 1) confusing “transmitting” with communication, 2) over-reliance on information as the most important part of communication, and 3) making assumptions about what people “know.”
Back in the dark ages of my college days, I took a communication’s class that offered a very simple five-part definition of effective communication: creation of a message, transmission of a message, receiving of a message, interpretation of a message, and application of (or response to) a message. Applying this definition of communication to the church, it becomes quickly very clear that we focus most of our energy and efforts on the first two parts, then take for granted the last three. We create and transmit all kinds of messages: sermons, announcements, newsletters, emails, posters, flyers, billboards, radio and TV spots, websites — on and on. And we assume if we transmit our messages clearly, then everyone will know exactly what we mean. But this assumption leads to chaos. One mentor of mine used to say that the problem with communication (in this case preaching) is that “the preacher thinks purple, says blue, the congregation hears green and sees red.” What happens to a message once it leaves our control is anybody’s guess. People hear through filters. People interpret. People ascribe meaning and intent. People sort,sift, ignore, delete. And through all these layers of processing, a lot can change. Unless the person communicating makes the effort to make sure what is being received, how it is perceived, and what impact it makes, we cannot say that communication has occurred. This is why dialogue is so much more valuable than monologue. Just “transmitting” is no more effective than shouting at the darkness. It is like the SETI program — the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence — constantly broadcasting data and information in the desperate hope that “somebody out there” will hear it and respond. But at least SETI is also listening. The problem in the church is that listening is often the poor second cousin to talking. Case in point, prayer. For the vast majority of Christians, prayer is all about what we need to say to God. Prayers begin by invoking God’s name, then end with Amen — very few people praying give any time in silence to listen for God. Prayer is all about what we want to say to God, rarely about what God might want to say to us.
Time for Change April 19, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Change, Church growth, Church Leadership.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose
I was on the phone recently with a pastor lamenting that his church wasn’t growing. Beginning his fifth year, he confessed that he thought there would be better signs of vitality. We talked about what he was doing and he told me that in his relatively short stint as appointed leader, his congregation had “done” 40 Days of Purpose, Natural Church Development, Incubator, a church-wide spiritual gifts discovery process, and was currently working on Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations! He concluded his litany with a disgusted, “None of these things work.”
Well, none of these things are working for him, but that doesn’t mean none of them work. While none is a magical answer to all our problems, each has merits — when used properly. But many development processes function like antibiotics — it takes time to get them in the system, and you need to run the whole course of antibiotics before you can judge their effectiveness. Many programs fail to yield positive results for no other reason than we don’t give them enough time. And if this is true of resources, it is doubly true of pastoral leaders.
Call Waiting April 16, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian service, Church Leadership, Religious Trends
Are we missing something? I have worked with college and seminary students for about twenty years now, and I am alarmed that the concept of “call” is on the endangered species list. In a recent conversation about “call to ministry,” I actually had a second year seminary student come to me and ask me what I was talking about. This woman told me she never had a sense that God was calling her; she simply loves the Bible, the church and people so she made the “decision” to “try” ministry. When I speak to laity about call, most of them look at me funny and say, “well, no, I don’t want to be ordained.” What has happened to our understanding of “call” to ministry? Laity don’t think it is for them, and a growing number of clergy candidates don’t know what it is.
Model Students April 14, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Congregational Planning, Critical Thinking.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Values
We’re looking for a program that will turn things around. We’re ready for change, but we lack that one key piece. If we can just find the right model, we’re set! We’re taking 28 people to Leadership Institute in October. Our plan is to go take all the workshops we can, come back, put together a plan, then put it into action.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard a variation of this tired old song. And what makes it painful is that I often go back to the person a year or two later to find out how it worked. Once or twice, I hear a glowing report. Often I hear that nothing worked, nothing’s changed, and the church feel’s stuck. But the response I get most often is a replay of the earlier song. Hopelessly optimistic, the church is still looking for the magic potion and that they’re heading off to Willow Creek this time, and that once they receive the wisdom of the masters, they will have everything they need to achieve incredible success. I have visited churches that have sung this song six or seven times, never learning that it isn’t the right song. You see, they can point to the one or two times it has worked, and they live in unabashed hope that it is going to happen to them.
We really can’t blame our local churches and their leaders for this false hope. As a culture, we breed it into people. We build entire industries on peddling expertise-in-packages, with quick-fix promises and unrealistic expectations. Church growth/leadership development resources are the ecclesial equivalent of diet books — the only way the industry has a future is the extent to which current resources fail to deliver change. If these resources actually worked, there would be no need for further resources. The flaw in the logic that undergirds codependency industries like church resources, is the brilliant observation that Christian Schwarz makes in his Natural Church Development process — there is a huge difference between models and principles.
Measuremental Disorders April 12, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: church, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
Blog-buddy John Meunier asked me a question on his blog on a topic that I was in the middle of writing about on my blog. So here is his question as well as my answer. His question, “I wonder if anyone who has studied church vitality and maybe even written a book about it has thoughts about this news. Dan?” related to the news that the denomination is launching another effort to revitalize The United Methodist Church. I am actually kind of honored by the new effort, though I am sure no one intended any nod to me, but the new “movement” is entitled “A Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church.” The title of my presentation from 2001-2002 based on the Vital Signs study that I shared with all the General Boards and Agencies over a decade ago was, “Reordering the Life of the Congregation.” Some seeds got planted somewhere.
Anyway, Call to Action has identified six factors of vitality, and John is wondering what I think of them. They are:
- Average worship attendance as percentage of membership;
- Total membership;
- Number of children, youth and young adults attending as percentage of membership;
- Number of professions of faith as percentage of attendance and membership;
- Actual giving per attendee; and
- Finance benevolence giving beyond the local church as a percentage of the church budget.
First Impressions April 8, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, U.S. Culture.
Tags: church, church marketing, Faith Sharing
I drove past a church sign last week (I am happy to say, NOT United Methodist) that proudly proclaimed, “Christ is Rised! Jesus is Load!” Now, this might have been a mistake, though the church also has a banner outside advertising “Sevices 9 & 11.” I don’t think these are cases of vandalism — no letters are moved around out-of-place, and they are all uniform. So, the question, as I drove on was, “What is the meta-message being sent by such a sign?” Do misspellings and poor grammar influence our decisions about whether to “try out”a church or not? It started me thinking on a whole host of issues related for a church enamored with “radical hospitality.”
I have had the opportunity to worship in hundreds and visit thousands (literally) of different churches of all shapes, sizes, ages, and locations. In my consultant role, I made it a normal practice to arrive early and walk the community, inspect the church inside and out, and poke in corners, closets, and behind closed doors. What I found most often is the church equivalent of what retailers call “store blindness” — a wide variety of clutter, decay, mess, and disrepair that we simply become blind to over time, but that jumps out at first time “customers.”
Theological Smackdown April 5, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Critical Thinking, Theological Reflection.
“They (critics of Christianity) won’t regard the serious academic theologians in their arguments, preferring instead to attack featherweights like Warren and McLaren.”
Who are the lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight serious academic theologians?
First, let me say that I wasn’t taking a poke at Warren and McLaren. McLaren confesses in his writings that he hasn’t studied much theology before the modern era, and Warren sticks to the basics at best. As I consider the best way to answer the question, let me share with you how I would define the various “weight classes.” These are purely my own opinions, and may be subjective in the extreme.