United Metholdist July 27, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Congregational Planning, Critical Thinking, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Christian Community, church marketing, Spiritual seekers
We’re not getting older; we’re getting better. Well, actually we are getting older, but this doesn’t mean we can’t get better as well. The graying of our church — a subject of great concern and incredible misplaced anxiety — is worth looking into, but as an opportunity, not a problem to solve. Youth culture is troughing again for the next generation or so, and in many parts of our country the age trend will be at the upper end of the spectrum — more old people, with more resources (translated “disposable income”), more time, more energy, and more productive years. In demographers eyes, a golden opportunity to exploit a market. But will the church pay attention?
See, the problem is that most in the church refuse to use common sense when it comes to planning. Research shows that over 8-out-of-10 United Methodist churches are pinning their hopes for the future on “young families with children.” Congregation after congregation nostalgically pines for the glory days when their Sunday schools were packed to bursting, and when twenty- and thirty-somethings sat shoulder to shoulder with mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and Aunt Flo. The vision for the future looks like a rerun from 1959. In a day when the average length of membership for young adults is less than two years, die-hards in the church look to rebuild their congregations on the shoulders of today’s young. Good luck with that. Hey, if you have a lot of young people to draw from, go for it; but this is not the reality for a significant number of UMCs. Younger families are heading to newer evangelical congregations with plenty of comfort resources and technology, where demands and expectations are VERY modest. And these growing independent churches have no delusions that the young will pay their own way. The trend in drawing young is in providing ministry “to” and “for” them, not “with” them (or expecting them to pony up to cash to pay for it). A tiny number of United Methodist congregations have the resources or leadership to go toe-to-toe with the “big guns.” And when I visit a small congregation with one 9-year-old and one 14-year-old (generally brother and sister) and they are envisioning revitalization through an active Sunday school and youth program, I have to scratch my head and wonder what they’re thinking. Most assuredly we need to do everything in our power to provide spiritual support, education and guidance to people of all ages — but real people, not mythical wish-people who don’t exist, and even if they did they probably wouldn’t come to our church.
Brace for Impact July 20, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Congregational Planning, Core Values, Mission of the Church, Strategic Planning, Vision.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Christian service, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
Why are we here? I don’t have one answer that applies equally to all congregations, but I believe this question is THE question every congregation should discuss and wrestle with. Why do we exist? What difference are we making — in the lives of our members and friends, in our community, in our denomination, in our country and in our world? How do others benefit from our existence? What is our witness? What are we known for? What do we WANT to be known for? What are we doing about it? This string of questions is all about identity and purpose. They remind us that we are here for a variety of reasons — but if we are not consciously aware of the reasons, it is extremely difficult to tell whether we are doing a good job or not.
It can be quite disconcerting to ask church leaders what difference they are making? Where they are clearly aware of the differences they make in individual, communal, and social settings, the question generates great energy and excitement. Leaders fill newsprint with ways both big and small that lives are touched, people grow, hope is given, healing happens, transformation occurs, relationships are formed, bridges built, new possibilities emerge, and the gospel is shared. It can be amazing. But often the response is guilty silence. People clear their throats and refuse to make eye contact in the wake of the question, “What difference do we make?” Perhaps one person might offer, “well, we’re a friendly church — we all love it here,” but that’s about the extent of the feedback. Sometimes, people turn hostile, firing back, “why should we have to make any difference? This is our church and it takes care of us. That’s good enough for us.” And while an isolated individual might say and believe this, it is quickly evident that the majority of people present don’t agree. We all know, deep down inside, that the church exists to make an impact — to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” or some similar significant purpose. We know it, and we feel embarrassed when we have to admit that our own congregation is not living up to its full potential.
Moxie July 19, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Core Values, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Values, Vision
Moxie — 1. vigor; verve; pep, 2. courage and aggressiveness, 3. skill; know-how. Moxie is an American slang word, coined from a depression-era soda pop (that tastes a little like carbonated shoe-polish…). It came to be a term of admiration — someone with Moxie was brash, bold, eccentric, impressive and generally got things done. I use the term to describe what I believe are the qualities and characteristics needed to launch high-growth potential congregations. I have a reputation for not liking large and mega-churches, which is not true. My position, consistently, is that our largest churches are not our healthiest churches, they are incredibly difficult to create and sustain in a healthy manner, they require a very rare skill set (moxie), they are not a good model to lift up for others to follow, and they have generated a mythology based in wishful thinking rather than reality. And yet, we have some, and they do a lot of good work. Yet, a truly healthy congregation never depends upon the lead/senior pastor for their long-term effectiveness. Take the pastor out of the equation and the whole formula comes apart. So, I don’t equate size with health, numeric growth with systemic growth, or popularity with effectiveness (and this often gets me in trouble).
But I cannot (and do not) deny the success and prowess of a handful of United Methodist pastors. I have nothing but admiration for the results Adam Hamilton has produced — I simply don’t think you can remove Adam from his results. Doing what Hamilton does won’t produce the same results. The same is true for a Slaughter, Rasmus, Caldwell, Gordon, etc. These pastors all possess moxie — innate qualities and drives that are foreign to many of us. I personally am not an ambitious person, nor am I an entrepreneur. I’m visionary, but not patient. I am a good critical thinker, but I am not overly self-confident. I would be a poor church-growth pastor for a variety of reasons. So what are the rare variables that make for a great founder/savior/turn-around large church pastor? I offer five — in Scrabble order — that add up to “moxie.”
Hits Just Keep On Coming! July 17, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Personal Reflection.
Forgive this personal digression, but I just noticed that United Methodeviations passed the 500,000 page views milestone recently. On the one hand, this boggles my mind. I realize that many hits come from “regulars” who check in frequently, so I have no delusions of reaching half a million people. I also know that many people “accidently” visit looking for graphics or hitting the wrong button. Still and all, a bunch of people have visited the site and engaged the materials I post here. That’s so cool. I mean, I write the blog as a way of thinking out loud and journalling. Much of what is here is nothing more than me processing what I think and why. I do not kid myself that this is cutting edge thinking, nor do I really think other people “need” to know my thoughts. But I do love engaging in dialog and exploring ideas. I don’t always like people’s responses; they don’t always like or agree with what I post. Yet, we have a forum that enables us to have a conversation, to agree and disagree, and for the most part it is civil. The church (and the world) need safe places to negotiate our differences and to seek ways to build bridges and celebrate our commonalities.
The Conflict Conflict July 16, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Communication in the Church, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Communication, Values
My thesis: the greatest danger to today’s Christian church in the United States doesn’t come from outside. It isn’t atheists. It isn’t gays or lesbians. It isn’t the liberal media. It isn’t terrorists of other faiths. No, the greatest threat to our church today is us — the silly little disagreements even more than the major theological rifts. All week I’ve been receiving emails and even a phone call (!) from people who disagree with me. They disagree so vehemently that disagreements between Christians are the greatest threat that they promise no longer to read my blog or communicate with me. That’s how deeply they believe that our disagreements can’t divide us…
Mission Motivation, Mission Manipulation July 15, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Missions, serving those in need.
Tags: Christian service, church marketing
I witnessed one of the best missions presentations today at the Wisconsin School of Christian Mission. Anita Ayers Henderlight, Executive Director of the Africa Education & Leadership Initiative presented an uplifting, positive, informative, hopeful and highly motivational program on the Sudan. Uplifting? Positive? Hopeful? SUDAN? What gives? The United Methodist Church produces an unending stream of media decrying how awful and terrible things are in the Sudan, especially Darfur. And yes, there are many challenges in the region, but that’s only half the story. The real difference isn’t about who is telling the truth — the real difference is who is using motivation and who is resorting to manipulation.
The Passing of Power July 14, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Core Values, Personal Reflection, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values
George Steinbrenner died at 80. This news brought to mind a flurry of memories and images. When I was younger, I absolutely LOVED baseball. I followed the Big Red Machine in the 1970s and memorized volumes of stats and stories. There was something pure and fun and inspiring and simply American (in the best sense of the word) about baseball. I grew up in the mystique of the American pastime. It was great. Then Steinbrenner changed everything. Baseball stopped being a sport and became a business as Steinbrenner changed all the rules and paid exorbitant and obscene amounts of money to buy championships. Rarely did I ever hear a good story about George Steinbrenner. He obtained the status of baseball antiChrist — representing everything wrong with the “game.” He opened to door to free-agency, the baseball strikes, and ended the possibility of multiple players spending an entire career with one team.
The Division-Driven Church July 13, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Congregational Life.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Church Leadership
Generally, a vision is a positive thing — something worth pursuing, something people want. Promised Land. Land flowing with milk and honey. City on a hill. Shining light. Good thing. At its best, the church is all about vision. Or, it should be. Too often we are about division instead of vision. I wrote yesterday about our greatest threat being US — that it isn’t the non-Christians and atheists that pose the greatest danger to Christianity, but sanctimonious, angry, judgmental Christians. I received nine emails today all arguing against my point, but I share three quotes that I kind of think prove my point, but that definitely present an alternative view.
The Enemy Within July 12, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Communication in the Church, Core Values, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Christian Community, church
On a not-too-infrequent basis, Christian commentators will rant and rail against secular and non-Christian forces conspiring to destroy our faith. Any given day, the Muslims or the scientists or the atheists or the Jews or the secular humanists or the liberals or the homosexuals or Planned Parenthood or the… you get the point. Google the subject and you will find articles citing each and every one of those I listed as a threat to the Christian faith. Yet, as I listen to the hate and bile being spewed by those governed by fear and violence rather than by faith, it occurs to me that the greatest threat to the Christian faith are Christians.
If the Christian church in the United States is destroyed any time soon, it won’t be because an outside force conquered it. It will be destroyed from within. Science can’t disprove faith. Atheists aren’t that impressive. There are as many liberal Christians as conservative Christians, so you can’t call them an “outside” threat. And Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and dozens of other world religions have no power over Christians. No, there is only one group on earth powerful and influential enough to destroy our church — and that is Christians. Christians who would rather battle and argue with each other than find ways to get along. Christians who would rather debate “truth” in order to ignore things like “justice.” Christians who attack and condemn each other while spouting that “God is love.” Christians who are more concerned with how we differ than what we could become if we were united by our faith.
Mediocrity Not A Goal July 10, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
I received three different requests for this article in the past two weeks, so I am reprinting it here (from February 2009)
No Christian leader that I know ever sets out to do an “average” job for God. Oh, sure there are a few jaded pastors who are just counting the days to retirement, or an occasional lay leader who is feeling “burned-out,” but those are very few and far between. Pastors and laity leaders in our congregations deeply desire to do a good job in whatever capacity they serve.
Why is it, then, that 33% of congregational leaders say they are “struggling,” and that only 4% of our congregational leaders rate the ministries of their churches as “excellent?” (11% rate the ministries “very good,” 29% rate the ministries “good,” 36% rate their ministries as “fair,” 16% rate their ministries as “poor,” and 3% confess their ministries are “terrible” — based on a 2002 survey of 1,500 United Methodist pastors and 2,700 lay people.) Less than half of our leaders feel their ministries are “good-to-excellent.” 55% feel their ministries are mediocre at best. Why is mediocre “normal,” and “good” beyond the reach of so many?