Posts Tagged ‘church culture’
photo credit: http://wickedmonkeys.com
Tolkien’s whole premise in The Lord of The Rings is this: Fellowship comes only through solving problems. Ask a firefighter, member of the military, teammates on an NFL team… they’ll tell you. Something happens when you bleed with someone, when you pour out everything you have with a group of people in order to solve a problem. It seems to form an unbreakable bond among those involved.
So, can someone tell me how we got to the point where we name the facility in our churches that has coffee, juice and cookies pleasantly prepared for our consumption: the Fellowship Hall? Seriously? If that didn’t strike a chord with you, how about this. Community Groups? Who only meet on Tuesday nights to talk through a Bible study? The type of community we see in the disciples and the early church is much different than what we tout today.
I don’t believe there’s some wild, complex reason why we’ve lost sight of how to build real community. In fact, I think the reason is pretty simple. A mentor of mine recently said, “The primary work of Lucifer is to separate words from their meaning.” Explore that a bit today and you’ll find it’s a profound truth. Words like Christian, belief, work, worship, evangelism and yes, community; do an analysis of original Biblical language and context and you’ll find Lucifer has been pretty effective in his endeavor. Bottom line, in too many churches today, the real meaning of the word community has been lost.
How do we get back to building real community? Glad you asked. The answer is: suffering. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of riding my bicycle from Miami to Key West–165 miles of pure suffering–to raise funds and awareness for those living with HIV/AIDS. I found myself in a group of 5 people, none of whom I’d met before that week. Despite our incredibly diverse backgrounds, we were each there for the same reason, and we all knew that we were taking on a task nearly impossible to accomplish… alone. For hours on end we rolled together, single file, rotating the front person every ten minutes or so, who would bear the brunt of the wind. We shared the suffering, we helped change each other’s tires, we picked each other up after falling. I didn’t even know some of their names until after the ride. That was a few weeks ago. Today, Randy, Rob, Evan and Kim are my brothers and sister. An unbreakable bond has formed among us. I’m certain if I’d met them at a cafe and shared a relaxing cup of coffee, I’d barely know them. Because we suffered together in an attempt to solve a problem, we will be deeply connected for the rest of our lives.
If suffering and problem solving is the only way to form real community and, by themselves, study and casual consumption doesn’t do it, then share with me some practical ideas for building real community in your church.
photo credit: http://techpp.com
I was using a friend’s laptop the other day when I noticed a pop-up bubble coming from the task bar. It said, “This copy of Windows is not genuine.” If I’m honest, I kind of noticed the computer was acting a bit… quirky. When I saw that message, it made sense.
You know, I hear a lot of people in ministry these days talking about ‘authenticity.’ Like, “We want to be an authentic church. If we’re genuine and real, we will have a greater impact and reach more people… etc. etc.” One potential problem with this line of thinking is its context. Authenticity seems to be discussed as a methodology or means to an end. If that’s the case, um… isn’t that kind of inauthentic? Seeking to be genuine in order to be more effective essentially misplaces its meaning.
Authenticity isn’t a program. It’s not an application. It’s an operating system. It doesn’t matter how strong your small groups are, or how often you serve; if your operating system isn’t genuine, then all of it will act… quirky. Instead of troubleshooting our methods of ministry by trying to inject authenticity into them, we ought to install a genuine version of the OS–in human terms, that’s our culture.
Building a culture of authenticity isn’t easy. It requires asking some difficult questions like, “As a family of faith, how do we respond to people who hold beliefs that contradict our own?” “Do we have poisonous people in positions of leadership?” “Are we generous?” “What are we measuring?” Yes, reinstalling a genuine operating system is costly, and it can often mean some programs and applications won’t function anymore. It also takes time. (Are you getting the analogy? I’m laying it on pretty thick… )
Bottom line, if you’re currently having the ‘authenticity’ conversation, make sure it’s in the frame of culture and not methods. The upside is that if you’re operating from a culture of authenticity, everything you do will run more smoothly. And guess what? You will absolutely be more effective in advancing God’s Kingdom.
This is a message my big brother Matt (@matthew_bond) gave this past weekend at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, where he’s the high school ministries director. He has such a great way of making the complex and nebulous sound simple and achievable. If you’re in youth ministry, this is a great challenge and encouragement–I hope you bring the theme of this message into your church!
This is an article I wrote for Net Results Magazine, the nation’s longest-running evangelism magazine. It’s a bit long for a blog post, but I think you’ll find great insights into developing church culture. Back it out of the “Christmas Eve services” context and you’ll find principles that apply year-round. Pass the article along to anyone you’d like using the share bar at the bottom! Thanks!
It’s the Most Wonderful Time…Isn’t It? -Adam Bond
Net Results Magazine, copyright 2009
“Who is that, and where did they come from?” he said to himself as he settled into the same seat he’s sat in for the last fifteen years. The couple, dressed like they had just left the hottest night club in town, stumbled past him to the next pew while stuffing their pack of cigarettes into her bright pink and gold handbag that matched her dress. He sat down, sighed and mumbled, “So glad they only come out at Christmas and Easter…”
I don’t think many would admit it, but when Christmas Eve services roll around, the committed church can tend to be a bit xenophobic when it comes to all the new faces. The underlying concern here sadly stands in the way of the vision God has given you to reach your mission field with the Gospel of Jesus.
Each year about this time, we as pastors find ourselves busy with the challenge of planning, preparing and executing our biggest annual gathering/outreach event and making sure we are shepherding our core people at the same time. How do we do it? What are the goals of our Christmas Eve services? Can we really reach people with the Gospel and see ongoing life-change through this once-per-year opportunity? The answers to these questions, I believe, come from a broader view of our calling and vision.
As you continue to plan your Christmas Eve services, I want to challenge you to consider the big picture and offer you a platform from which to develop great ideas to reach new visitors. If we truly desire to see God’s vision manifest through the ministry to which we’re called, then we must look closely at the undercurrent of the vision—church culture.
Culture is where it all begins. A few weeks back I found myself worshipping at a large church in South Africa, a nation that has eleven official languages. Along with 7,500 others representing a beautiful and proportionate cross-section of the country, I engaged in an equally diverse time of praise. I thought, “These guys have it figured out. They know exactly who they are reaching.” We sang hymns, choruses and Zulu praise songs throughout the morning. I noticed with surprise as we shifted genres, the congregation became more unified, not less. The love they had for each other was beautifully evident.
Now, before you get all hot and bothered by the whole “worship style” debate, that’s not where we’re going. This experience paints a great picture of what characterizes healthy church culture. No matter what the season, when a new person steps into your church, they will immediately encounter cues that speak volumes about your church culture—that is, the genuine interest and care your people have for one another.
A PLACE TO BELONG
The church where I began in ministry as an associate pastor uses a three-word descriptor for its mission: Believe, Belong, Become. I’m sure we didn’t invent it, but we liked the sound of it! I remember when we decided to use those words. It was a few years ago. We were at Eric Geiger and Thom Rainer’s Simple Church conference. During the breakout sessions, the other two pastors from our church and I had our own little breakout. We sat in a quiet corner and excitedly developed this ‘simple’ way of communicating the spiritual journey. The words are still in place to this day. But, if I were still on staff at that church, I would petition hard to change them around.
In present culture, we see a significant shift taking place. This is certainly not the easiest thing for the church to acknowledge. Generally speaking, people today are seeking to belong before they believe. This means as people process their first impressions of your church, it will be in the context of personal comfort and familiarity. Many, though not all, will be more likely to sit back and ‘take it in’ rather than zealously come forward, thrusting themselves into the spotlight. Have we been asking people to believe before they belong just because some people still do it? Lost people need to know your church is a place where they are truly accepted, even if they never decide to follow Christ. They will discover if that’s true by watching how your people interact with each other.
The exciting part is that as people discover your church through this process, they have the opportunity to witness the life-changing Gospel first-hand in your people. The really exciting part is that healthy church culture erases the line between evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism becomes as it was in the first church: simply the first step in the discipleship process.
ASSESS YOUR CULTURE
To a first-time visitor, the culture in your church hits them like the rush of heat from an opening oven. So, what does the existing culture of your church feel like? Take some time right now to assess your church’s culture. Write your thoughts down as you consider these questions:
- What are the majority of my people doing before, in between and after each weekend service? Are most hurrying to pick up their kids or moving to and from the parking lot? Or do I see them linger and take time to chat with each other, pray with each other, etc.?
- Currently when a new face arrives, who is greeting them and engaging them in conversation? The greeters/hospitality team? Staff? Lay leaders? Everyone in the church? None of the above?
- Are we intentionally equipping our people to build authentic relationships for the purpose of sharing the Gospel and discipling each other?
No matter where your church lands on the spectrum—from highly relational to superficially social to entirely exclusive—you will benefit from exploring these questions. So, what’s the next step?
On the wall of my orthodontist’s office read a sign: “No great thing is created suddenly.” When he said this, Epictetus apparently hadn’t met our great God, the Creator of the universe. But he definitely hung out with people. The fact is we are not God, and so the shifts we make require time. This is quite true with church culture. And make no mistake—the culture begins with you. If you fail to verbalize and model your commitment to healthy church culture, you can’t expect your people—your sheep—to begin reshaping the culture. What steps can you take now, even with the Christmas season fast-approaching, to shape the culture of your church to create a place where newcomers are compelled to return week after week?
1. Create a reason and an environment for people to be interconnected both on campus and off.
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:44 hits the nail on the head. Notice what Luke does not say. He’s not talking about programs or events here. So often in our staff meetings, when we brainstorm ideas for connecting people, we focus on schedules, facilities, seasons and (let’s not deny it) food. None of these things are inherently damaging to church culture, but exclusively focusing on them can lead down the wrong road. When we translate to the word ‘together,’ Luke uses the term epi-autos, meaning ‘superimposed upon each other.’ I’m thinking of the old overhead projectors in elementary school. Remember how the teacher would place a red transparency on top of a blue one to cast purple upon the wall? The light was shining through two superimposed colors to make something new. Despite their differences, when they overlapped, they formed something more beautiful.
Pastors should be relationship brokers. We need to focus on reasons why people should ‘overlap’ more than just ways for people to connect. The beauty of the first church was found in the deep relationship they shared with one another and how they each met another’s needs. You have men and women in your congregation who are great at fixing things. You also have people who need things fixed. You have people who are struggling with addiction and people who used to struggle with addiction. You have people with young children and people who have already done a great job raising their kids. Do you see where I’m going with this? When needs are met through relationships within the church, the culture strengthens and outsiders are naturally drawn in.
2. Develop the entire church as a hospitality team.
Try this crazy experiment: over the next few months, rotate every member through the hospitality team. If you don’t have a hospitality team, then turn your entire church into one. Have them take turns standing at the door greeting people and passing out bulletins. Have them man the coffee station. Have them walk new people with kids to the children’s area. Call upon their commitment as members to serve. The big misconception here is that one needs to be convinced they have the spiritual gift of hospitality to do this. If you ask for a show of hands on that question, you might get a few. But if you ask, “Who here has a passion to see the lost come to know Jesus,” most hands will go up. This should be what motivates people to step up and get involved. Don’t just preach the vision; include people in it.
3. Offer training and small groups focusing on Biblical foundations of relational development.
While you might not get a chance to extensively train everyone, you might be surprised to discover you have some very relationally-minded people in your church. Give them practical tools to train others in the church. Encourage them to meet in homes rather than on campus—this will foster deeper relationships. Here’s an opportunity to start new small groups in your church. These are the most effective groups because they are directly tied to the church’s vision and because they immediately impact the church culture.
Your goal shouldn’t be to get all of these plates spinning before Christmas. If you focus on the long-term development of these simple strategies, then by the time the Christmas season rolls around, you will be in a great position to see real fruit from your efforts.
RESULT: TRUE COMMUNITY
Ultimately you must remember we are not trying to create some sort of utopia here. These expectations are not beyond the reach of everyday people. In Acts 2:44, Luke uses the word koinos for common. This word alludes to something unclean or defiled. That’s right. A true community of Jesus followers is messy. It’s not about having shiny, happy people all over the place; it’s about authenticity and unfiltered love. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Effective evangelism is rooted in the culture of the church body—as your people love, they reveal the true Gospel, creating awesome opportunities to lead others to Jesus.
“Hmmm… I haven’t met them yet,” he said to himself as he settled into the same seat he’s sat in for the last fifteen years. The couple, dressed like they had just left the hottest night club in town, stumbled past him to the next pew while stuffing their pack of cigarettes into her bright pink and gold handbag that matched her dress. He sat down and smiled. “I can’t wait to get to know them.”