Open Doors 101

This weekend we hosted a ReThink Church training event in the Wisconsin Annual Conference.  The turn-out and response was great, and it was an excellent reminder at how all-over-the-map we are as The United Methodist Church.  Lots of information was shared, resources were lifted up, and the words “invitation,” “welcome/welcoming,” and “hospitality,” were used profusely.  Yet, the real value for most people were the stories shared — what “other” churches are doing to “rethink” their current reality and do some new things.  It was evident that people greatly appreciated what they heard.

Two things came to mind while I listened to the presentations: 1) it is almost a direct parallel of the Vision 2000 program from about 15 years ago, but with much newer technology and a lot more video.  Vision 2000 training focused on invitational evangelism, taught churches to be more welcoming, shared stories of churches doing it well, and targeted young adults.  Attending ReThink Church felt a lot like watching a remake of a classic movie that maintained the integrity of the original but with a bigger budget and much better production values.  2) the training is a live, interactive version of the old Idea Mart/”It Worked For Us” articles in the Interpreter magazine of the late 90s.  People absolutely love hearing inspirational, creative, accessible stories about things they can adopt in their own congregation.  And this is where the training excelled — offering a thousand and one tips on things any church can do.

The challenge for the rest of the church is to figure out what to do if/when the invitation works.  ReThink church is about breadth, not depth.  It is all about reach — how to connect with the millions of people who have no relationship with The United Methodist Church or with God/Jesus Christ.  I still have problems with the fact that the relationships are presented in this order.  The main message is still “all about us,” talking about The UMC much more than about God or Jesus.  A few people who left early emailed me with the following observation:

This could have been an infomercial for any organization.  Ken (Sloane) is a very engaging motivational speaker, but the absence of faith language in what we are inviting people to and the focus on getting people to church is more of the same ol’, same ol’.

It’s unfortunate that these people left when they did, because the session on Impact Community later on addressed this.  Although still lacking focus on God or Jesus, it does focus on motivating and mobilizing congregations in groups to accomplish together what they cannot do alone.  It is a missional/connectional empowerment resource that our church desperately needs.  For me, Impact Community is the greatest value ReThink Church has to offer our denomination.

Of all the ReThink events and programs I have attended, this was the best at reminding people that this is just one tool to help churches be more welcoming.  While it still professes to be a “movement” rather than a marketing campaign, four very healthy shifts have occurred.  First, it doesn’t claim it can deliver more than is possible.  From the early days of Igniting Ministry, when the slogan was Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors — The People of The United Methodist Church as a declarative of what we are, came the first evolution (since we couldn’t deliver on the openness claim) that Open Hearts, Minds, and Doors are the goal of The People of The United Methodist Church.  The most recent stage of evolution is to look at “open” as a verb instead of an adjective, meaning we are a church dedicated to opening the hearts, minds and doors of The People of The United Methodist Church. 

Second, there is a refreshing honesty that this is all about welcome and invitation.  The resources are designed to put the most positive spin on The UMC to help local churches make themselves more appealing and attractive.  Retaining people is not the purpose of ReThink Church — relating people to God and Jesus Christ, strengthening and supporting people in a growing relationship with God, Christ, and Christian community, and living an integrated life of faith in the world — aren’t on the table.  This is the key challenge to the rest of our resourcing boards and agencies — we had better get our act together to help churches engage people once we get them in the doors. 

Third, we are talking about “change,” not “transformation.”  If you are a proponent of “form follows function,” this is all about function — the things we do and the way we do them.  It isn’t much about identity or purpose.  The resources don’t challenge us to ask “who are we and why are we here,’ but “what are we doing and what could we do new or better?”  The handouts contain dozens of helpful things to do.  These are powerful assets for congregations stuck in the status quo.  These are ‘course corrections’ helpful to any church willing to try some new things.  And they are safe.  There is nothing here that once tried can’t be abandoned, once done can’t be undone.  For many churches that deal with resistance to substantive change, this is a healthy, baby-steps approach to incremental change.

Fourth, there is a clear niche for ReThink Church in our denomination.  I most appreciate the repeated emphasis that “rethinking” is not a passive act, and that there must be outward and visible evidence — thinking must result in acting.  It is important to remember that we ARE United Methodists — we love to rethink, reflect, revise, revisit, and regurgitate.  But if we rethink but we don’t redeem, reform, reenvision, and respond, all we do is re-diculous.  It is exciting to see that the Jamesian “faith without works is dead” challenge permeates the training.

Tomorrow I am going to continue my reflections on this workshop in Open Doors 101 – Part 2.

8 replies

  1. Once again, you capture the Rethink Church dilemma wonderfully. It is good and well done, but is it what we really need? You talked about the Institutional Preservation paradigm in a presentation you gave us, saying that we are using all of our resources today to try to preserve the church we used to be, and that it makes us look like late middle-aged Americans dressed up like teenagers. Quality of the clothes don’t matter — new threads on old skin is just embarrassing. I can’t argue that Rethink Church is popular, but your analysis that it is about breadth instead of depth is insightful and explains a lot. Thank you for “keeping it real” and saying what many others are afraid to say.

  2. Help me understand the sell out. You named everything wrong and stupid about Rething Church. You showed what people really thought about it? Why the change? Have you sold out to the status quo you name? I am really disappointed by this wimp out. This sucks.

    • I’m sorry you think I am selling out. I have always said I think the church should be doing some hard reflection on what it is, what it does, and what it has become. I also think the campaign is just that — a campaign (not a movement). I still don’t believe that the institution of United Methodism has any true desire for transformation, otherwise we would not be seeking band-aid solutions to systemic problems. I think I still raise the same concerns I always have. Surface, superificial resources may help us with our numbers in the short term, but lasting change that leads to transformation? We lack the depth work that moves us to true disciple-formation, and without disciple level commitment transformation won’t occur. What I tried to say in this piece, and the one that will follow, is that I think the ReThink leadership did a fine job with what they have to work with. And, many churches find some benefit and relief in the resources. The question that I feel has not been answered to a base level of satisfaction is this: has the value received been greater than the cost of Igniting Ministry and ReThink Church? I would love to have a bona fide audit done to show return on investment. I’m not convinced that the money spent on branding and marketing could not have been used in a more missionally relevant way. It pains me to think that by trying to be fair-minded and kind that it comes across as selling out to the status quo. On a friendlier note, I really like your typo. I could get behind a “Rething Church” campaign.

  3. Thanks Dan, for the encouraging words, and for acknowledging that you see the shifts in how we are trying to offer “Rethinking” to the church. When we have a wonderful opportunity, like we did in Racine, to speak to folks who are already leaders of the church, we do try to leave them with some practical, helpful tools. That’s what folks ask for, and what they should hope the communications agency of the church would provide. We come from one agency, and we don’t provide the whole menu, but we bring our part; as does Discipleship, Global Ministry, Higher Ed, and all the others, to make a more complete meal. And we hope that it will help sustain our local church leaders so they can go back out there and be the church, making disciples so that, maybe, just maybe, the world WILL be transformed.

    We also celebrate the Wisconsin conference; not only for hosting an event like this and working hard to have such impressive attendance, but for being willing to resource churches by underwriting part of the cost of Mike Slaughter’s “Change the World” book. It is a great story — a beacon that may give us all hope — that real transformation can happen in churches. We were proud to be a part of the inter-agency collaboration that helped raise the visibility for the book and that encouraged churches to embrace the hope Mike weaves into his story.

  4. Your Vital Signs book was one of the most insightful and valuable books that has come out in years. Your work on spiritual seekers and the future of the church was cutting edge and exactly what our church needs. Where did you go? Why aren’t you providing leadership to the national church anymore? We need you to be in a prominent role again. You are asking questions no one else is asking, seeing things no one else is seeing, and offering guidance that no one else seems to have. Please come back to the national stage.

    • Wow, thank you. I’m not sure many others would share your view — especially those who made the decision that I wasn’t adding anything of value and let me go. Unied Methodeviations is my national forum at the moment. No one is much interested in publishing my books, and no one much is seeking my guidance. Where people ind value in my writing and speaking I am deeply grateful, but my stage is now Wisconsin, and I hope I can help them in some small way.

  5. I continue to be amazed at the drama inside the church. Please stop picking little things apart. I know it happens everywhere but we are the people of the united Methodist church. Our hearts and doors and minds are supposed to be open an accepting to anyone. And loving ourselves, shouldn’t we strive to live like Jesus? The problem in the church as a whole is that the age group of seekers and unchurched is stubborn and opinionated (just like us). But we don’t see that. We are to busy figuring out what’s different or how this didn’t fit or why they used that reference, instead of looking at the big picture, gathering all the info you learned organizing it and personalizing it for your own church. I’m 22 years old and I thank you for being concerned for my age group. We need to find new ways of communicating with young people. Give me ideas on how to show my peers that church is not places where stuck up Christian people meet to judge people and elders have all the say. Il go to the bar show people love and tell them to follow me to church and see for themselves. I have a heart to reach the lost sheep of this world, mainly to seekers that have a void they keep filling with immediate gratification. Because normally these people that are lost are looking to be found they are so hurt from the sin that they want to try something new but nobody talks to them or they would rather drink away their problems. But I have the answer I just don’t have the tactic to reach all the seekers of the world and tell them the grace filled story of what Jesus has done for them. God’s unconditional love for them is not being shared. His love is so strong and passionate that he is jealous when we drift or we don’t move when we have all the material to move. I have been following welcoming congregation/igniting ministry/rethink church for a year. Every time I figured out the big picture and started to plan what my church could do something would change. I understand that 10thousanddoors was an awesome website but rethinkchurch.org is so much better. It’s relatable to us as young people. I sit in my church on Sunday in our congregation there are 3 people active between the ages of 18-30. We are doing something wrong, stop arguing about the little things and let’s do something. To clear something up

    “The challenge for the rest of the church is to figure out what to do if/when the invitation works. ReThink church is about breadth, not depth. It is all about reach — how to connect with the millions of people who have no relationship with The United Methodist Church or with God/Jesus Christ. I still have problems with the fact that the relationships are presented in this order. The main message is still “all about us,” talking about The UMC much more than about God or Jesus. “

    “rethink church” is to get seekers and unchurched people into the door. Igniting ministry and beyond 30 seconds material or something like that is to help train your congregation to catch the people that come in the door. Ps. If your in any way heartbroken that Jesus story was not told, stop complaining about it and personalize it for your own church. I had this same conversation with my pastor he was concerned that Jesus wasn’t in the presentation more, here is what I told him: you bring a valid point think of rethink church as a conversation starter, once people ask why do you want me to rethink church, it brings the best opportunity to tell your testimony. It’s because my relationship with Christ is so awesome I can’t just keep it to myself so take a second look at church or Jesus himself and see him as a person that met with the poor and healed the hurting and had compassion on people. It’s all about Jesus and how we can find new ways to share his awesome unconditional love. Rethink Jesus and ignite that passion!

  6. Dan,
    I have read your blogs recently and they have extreme merit. There are not many people in the UMC that think in this direction, but I want you to know that I am in this camp. As a UMC local pastor for 14 years, my mission and purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

    The institution has lost its way, but the Wesleyan movement is still alive in our churches, we just need to dust off “Methodism” and replicate what John Wesley did so well: Communicate to people the gospel message of grace in the ‘coal mines’ and ‘fields’, plant seekers in small groups, invite the small groups to worship, with both the small group and worship focusing on attending the means of grace and spiritual disciplines. (Rinse, Repeat)

    This is a proven method that still attracts people today with all of our 4G “social networking”, small groups as class meetings are still the engine of the church.

    The rest of “Rethinking Church” and our brand messages can perk the ears, but the heart transformation still lies in a couple of people getting together to talk about Jesus.

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