Lego Church April 22, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, church, Church growth, Church Leadership
Forgive the annoying “back when I was a boy…” beginning to this reflection, but, back when I was a boy a Lego kit consisted of a box of white, black, yellow, blue and red bricks that came in eight different sizes. You could make anything your imagination could conceive of, as long as it had sharp, square corners. The directions consisted of three cartoons that showed how the round part on top of one brick stuck to the opening on the bottom of another brick. Simplicity itself. Just the other week, I came across Lego Architecture sets recommended for ages 16+ that are scale replicas of famous structures from around the world. Intricately colored and crafted, these sets allow for no improvisation — each piece is carefully crafted to fit its appropriate mates. This is the Lego equivalent of the old paint-by-number kits — deviate from the directions at your own peril! Creativity be damned — there is ONE RIGHT WAY to do it.
B Church March 24, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church Leadership, Congregational Life, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
At a recent workshop, discussion shifted to the question, “So, just what IS the current reality of our local churches in United Methodism?” The following framework emerged from this discussion. In summary: The United Methodist Church is an amalgam of three key aspects that work well in combination but are disastrous when not well-integrated or aligned. The three key aspects are the “Big Bs” of Belief, Belonging and Behavior. The baseline we hope every person can achieve looks like this:
There is a mutual overlap that helps individuals connect through their core beliefs and values, rituals and practices, and relationships and fellowship. The areas of overlap constitute where most people define “church;” the place we go, the associations we form, and where we learn the basic tenets of the faith. However, this is a starting point, not the ultimate goal. We will look at the ultimate goal (as was discussed by the workshop participants) at the end, but first we want to explore the very real shadow sides present in our contemporary church.
Homophily Abounds October 3, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Church growth, Core Values, The United Methodist Church, Transformation and Change, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, The United Methodist Church, Values
Recent church visits strike me with an undeniable pattern — we tend to associate only with those most like us. I have yet to visit any church that does not consider itself “friendly,” yet rarely is there a deep level of awareness that answers the question, “friendly with/to whom?” Two brief illustrations. First, I was a guest preacher in a mid-sized urban church where the attending congregation only nominally reflected the neighborhood where it is located. Four visitors showed up on a Sunday morning — the parents of a couple who attend regularly, a torn blue-jeaned young man with beard and unkempt (by the standards of this congregation) hair, a swarthy, olive-skinned middle-aged man of mixed ethnicity dressed in slacks and a nice shirt, and a young, nicely dressed white woman with a very sweet 2-3 year-old daughter. Go ahead — predict who was greeted and who was not? Simplistic stereotyping? Maybe, but I was the only person in the church that morning who spoke to either of the two single men who visited the church. In fact, I watched a number of people physically keep their distance from the swarthy middle-aged man, eyeing him with suspicion and breaking eye contact the moment he looked back at them. The young guy hung to the side of two or three groups, waiting to be noticed, until I went over to him. He was very inquisitive, asking where I am a pastor, who the pastor was in the church we were visiting, why there weren’t any other young people, what kinds of Bible studies and small groups did the church have, etc. I took the young man over to the lay leader to introduce him, thinking he would get more helpful answers from someone who actually knew the church, but the lay leader kind of nervously backed off, retrieved a brochure about the church’s program, gave it to the young man, then excused himself to go greet the visiting parents of the couple who attended church. I noted that he stood and chatted with them for a good twenty minutes.
Childish Church July 8, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, Evaluation and Assessment, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
This is a rant, so take it with a grain of whatever. I met with a young pastor and asked him how his ministry was going. He replied, “We have eight new members and our attendance is up from 35 to over 50 a week.” I said, “That’s not what I asked. I asked how your ministry is going.” He simply stared back at me with a blank, slighty dazed look on his face. After a moment, he said, “It’s good. We’re growing.” I shook my head. “No,” I said, “I mean, how is the whole “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world-thing” going?” “Great,” he said, “we have eight new members and our worship attendance is up.”
OMG – what is our church producing in lieu of leadership these days? And we have NO ONE to blame but the last generation of dupes who forgot what a church is and assimilated the low values of American culture — making some of them bishops, some General Secretaries, and most of them pastors of big, consumeristic congregations. Now we fixate on size (yes, mostly male pastors — go figure…) and have no language to describe effective ministry besides numbers. This makes sense in a Sesame Street society.
Emerged February 24, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Core Values, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends.
Tags: Church growth, hypocrisy, Religious Trends, Spiritual seekers
I love young adults. They slap me upside the head every time I meet with them. They are the supreme reality check. They burst my bubble every single time I talk to them. I NEED twenty-somethings to help me see what I am missing. Case in point. I met with a group of about forty clergy and young adults — most of the laity in their early- to mid-twenties, clergy in their late-twenties/early thirties. We were talking about the relevancy and significance of the church. Now, a decade ago, when I met with this age group, the hot topic at the time was “emerging church.” It was the rage. Bell, McLaren, McManus, Tony Jones, Warren books were spread all over everywhere, and just about everyone was signed up for an emerging something somewhere. Today, the emerging church was not even mentioned, so I thought I would ask about it. The response I got surprised me at first, but then simply assaulted my own tiny worldview. One of the group snorted derisively and said, “A bunch of 50-year-old white guys talking about postmodern Christianity and missional churches!” I was stunned. Whenever I talk to those 50+ white guys, we think we are so cutting edge and relevant. I have written before about the usurpation of the emerging vision by mainline and evangelical institutional churches — which indeed undermined the relevancy years ago — but I didn’t realize that it had so completely left the radar screen of younger leaders across the country.
Simplicity Itself February 8, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
Following the endless conversations about “what comes next?” in The United Methodist Church, it becomes more and more apparent that most of the suggestions, reports and recommendations made thus far are all designed for just one purpose: to avoid the hard work that actually must happen. In my humble opinion — one I have espoused now since 1986 — there are three things we MUST do to create a viable future:
- become Christian — actually embrace our spiritual disciplines, rituals and practices as the baseline standard for what it means to be United Methodist. You don’t care to pray? You’re too busy for weekly worship? You don’t give generously of time and money? All great… but you don’t get to be a Methodist.
- get out of our buildings — the ministry is in the world, not sitting on our butts in a sanctuary. Church suppers and craft fairs and bazaars are great fun — and we should enjoy the fellowship they bring — but they are not our ministry. More of our churches are known by the “witness” of their dinners, buildings, entertainment, and websites than by any work of compassion, mercy, justice, or spirituality.
- institute a learning culture with accountability — here’s a clever concept: let’s make “discipleship” our standard for inclusion rather than “membership!” The key to discipleship is a lifelong commitment to learning and improvement. As long as people are on the path of development — of their inward growth in relationship to God, Christ, and others, as well as their outward service to neighbor, community and world — the are “active” members of the community. The only real change we would make to membership would be the acknowledgement that there is NO SUCH THING as an inactive member.
The Mediocrity of More January 18, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Church growth, Congregational Planning, Core Values.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Vision
Pick up a ball, toss it in the air, catch it. Take two balls and toss them one at a time, catch them. So far, so good. Very few dropped balls. Take a third and juggle them. With practice, you become sure-handed and drop very few. But what about four or five balls? Much harder to keep them moving without dropping some. Not so impressive when the balls drop frequently. Incredibly difficult to keep many balls in the air without error. There is a basic quality/quantity trade-off. Those who can juggle five or six balls flawlessly are indeed impressive; but a person who juggles three balls perfectly is more impressive than one who juggles five balls poorly. I think there is a lesson here for the church.
More-a-torium August 31, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Integrity, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, church marketing, Mission & Purpose, Values
Often we believe that if we do more of what does not work, it will finally work. This is the dilemma of the consumer economy. It leads us to the place where, when we reach a limit and still are unsatisfied, we think, if we only had more, we would be successful or satisfied. More police, more physicians, more services, more teachers, more stuff. This is not a solution. It is an addiction.
This is a quote from Peter Block and John McKnight’s, The Abundant Community, and it is an incisive analysis of the current state of much thinking in The United Methodist Church. I was talking with a pastor the other day who was beaming in response to an upward trend in his congregation’s worship attendance.
“We’re up over 20% from last year — first growth in over seven years! We even have some of the people coming to other programs, and our giving is up! It’s nice to be pastoring a healthy church for a change!”
“How is it healthier?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“Well, you described how your church is bigger, but then you said it was healthy, too.” I explained.
“But, that is healthier. More is better.” he responded.
“I’m not sure I follow your logic,” I said. “More is more and better is better and they aren’t automatically the same. I’m overweight — in this case more isn’t better or healthier.”
“Oh, it’s not the same thing. Having more people and more money in church are both good things. They measure health.” he patiently explained.
“If size, activity and budget are the reasons for the church to exist, you are correct. However, if maturing in discipleship, service to others, and proclamation to the world (the old, preach, teach, and heal model) then you would want different metrics.” I countered.
“Well, I still maintain that going from 90 to 110 on average each week is a good thing.”
“How did you do it?” I asked.
“We started a second service with praise music and videos, real upbeat and energetic. We don’t do it in the sanctuary, it’s very informal — people bring coffee and kids sit on the floor and color. People enjoy it because it doesn’t feel like church.” he explained.
When the Means Mystify the Ends July 11, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Congregational Planning, Core Values, Evaluation and Assessment, Strategic Planning.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Values
Tools are only as helpful as the knowledge available to employ them. Give a child a bandsaw and he is as likely to do great damage as any good. If we don’t understand something, it is very unlikely we will use it well. Case in point, our cultural lack of clarity of four essential tools: data, information, knowledge and wisdom. Simple definitions:
- data – a collection of individual facts, numbers, symbols, or images
- information — patterns culled from input of data that indicate arrangement of facts, statistics, or concepts to yield meaning
- knowledge — interpretation of information to produce understanding of what is useful, meaningful, valuable and/or true
- wisdom — the ability to retain, retrieve and apply knowledge in creative, constructive, and coherent ways
These four aspects of understanding are not identical, and we make some serious mistakes when we confuse them. Let me give two examples — one church development related, one disciple-making.
Finding What We Look For July 6, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Church growth, Church Leadership, Core Values, Evaluation and Assessment, Mission of the Church, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Church growth, Church Leadership, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values, Vision
Scott Kline, a professional driver, managed to wreck a million-dollar prototype hybrid car when it was first being tested. When asked to explain what happened, Kline reported,
I got so engrossed looking at all the dials and gauges and screens on the dashboard that I forgot to look where I was going.
There is an important cautionary word in this for our church — as “dashboards” to count and measure and track become the new toy we get all excited about in the church, we need to remember that collecting data and monitoring statistics has virtually nothing to do with making disciples of Jesus Christ. You cannot evaluate quality by focusing on quantity.
Our new “Vital Congregations” emphasis has all the marks of steering us in the wrong direction. While its leaders talk about “goal setting” and “missional objectives,” the underlying message is that numbers are the ultimate indicator of health and vitality. Having high blood pressure, myself, I can attest to the fact that large numbers are not always to be desired. Having MORE people, small groups, projects, pastors, ministries, and money seems, on the surface, to be a good thing. However, there is an implicit given that must be taken into consideration, and that is a presumed quality. The presumption that our future growth will all be high quality denies our current reality: if we’re not doing very well with what we already have, it is highly unlikely we will do better with more. A few examples: