Stop Converting 100 People [mission.hack]

A mission.hack is defined here. We look at mission statements or at mission initiatives and examine different ways of expressing them. Hacking them...if you will.

Prodigal Jon over at Stuff Christians Like has a point that I want to make as well.  He writes about the numbers game that churches play with know, like "25 souls saved at this worship service" or "120 new followers of Christ from this mission trip" and such.

A great way to confirm a parent's belief that your church only cares about numbers is to over celebrate the number of kids that came to VBS and the number of kids that were saved. Please don't read this as "Jon hates when kids give their lives to God." Not at all. I just think that it needs to be about relationship, not only a number.
"Well, no one thinks that" you might say.  But since this is a mission.hack, what about your signage or reports that sound something like what Prodigal Jon saw:
A church near me had a sign that said "VBS – 1,200 kids, 432 saved!" Again, the heart of that is great, but the sign felt like it should say "That's a 33% success rate in Fiscal Quarter 2."  
I wonder how many churches honestly do this.  If a worship event cost $5000, and 50 people converted to Christianity, that's $100 per convert.  Would that get more credence at the church budget table than a bible study that costs $1000 for the year but merited only 5 converts (thus, $200 per convert)?  I guess if your church is in the evangelical numbers realm, this would have to be a consideration.

Prodigal Jon concludes with this astute observation:
Be careful, parents might not dig thinking "yay, my kid was #234 at your Christian factory."
I think the kernel of this conflict is that Christians emphasize different parts of the Great Commission.  What is that?  Last chapter of Matthew, Jesus says "Go forth and make disciples of all the nations"
  • If you emphasize "make disciples" then you are encouraging growth and other words, forming relationships.
  • If you emphasize "of all the nations" then your evangelistic goal is to make more Christians, either to assure the coming of the Lord or to save more souls to Christ.
Both are valid forms of Christianity.  But when we emphasize the numerical growth over the discipleship (which in some ways is unquantifiable), then we fall down a slippery slope to "the ends justify the means."  Bryan Stone, a professor at Boston University School of Theology, expands on this in his book Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness.
When the mission of the church becomes a mission of numerical growth, quantitative influence, and geographical spread, evangelism is easily reduced to whatever means, method, or gimmick will facilitate that mission.  Conversion then becomes a lowest common denominator decision or experience that will allow a church, without too much embarrassment, to claim an individual as its own. (page 272)
The problem for church leaders, of course, is how to gauge "success" without playing the numbers game.  Stone continues with something of value to us at Hacking Christianity:
Evangelism can be measured by how fully inclusive is our "reach" and how thoroughly we refuse to allow that "reach" to be domesticated by the political boundaries and economic disciplines of the [world]...the measure of Christian evangelistic reach is its openness and hospitality to the poor, the stranger, and the socially ostracized. (pp. 273-274)
Remember: this is a mission.hack where we examine the words we are using.  Perhaps then instead of a sign saying "VBS – 1,200 kids, 432 saved!" a better sign may be:
  • VBS: 1200 kids, 400 given scholarships and came for free.
  • VBS: 1200 kids, 233 first-timers came!
  • VBS: 1200 kids, one Lord who welcomes them all!
  • VBS: 1200 kids, and at least 12 of  them were black!
  • VBS: 1200 kids, and two were probably gay!
  • and my favorite - VBS: 1200 kids, and we didn't resort to BibleMan Action Figures or candy to welcome 432 kids into a relationship with Christ.
By focusing on the reach of our evangelism to the poor and ostracized, not just the breadth of its spread, then perhaps we are one step better to doing evangelism better.

  • Examples of churches in your town that prefer numbers over discipleship?  
  • Ideas for how to quantify discipleship in ways that aren't about the numbers?
Welcome to our visitors and every comment is cherished at HackingChristianity!


Daily Read 06/28/2008

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    • Sigh. Any policies that keep two adults who love each other apart in their last moments are....just...bad...policies. - post by umjeremy
    • In February 2007, Ms. Langbehn, her partner Lisa Marie Pond, and three of their four children were in Florida preparing for a cruise to celebrate their eighteenth anniversary. But before the cruise could leave port, Ms. Pond suffered a massive stroke and was taken to Jackson Memorial. But hospital personnel refused to let Langbehn into Pond’s hospital room, even after a legal power of attorney was faxed to the hospital. Pond was pronounced dead of a brain aneurysm about eighteen hours after being admitted to the hospital. The only time Langbehn was allowed to see her partner was when a priest was giving her last rites.
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    • I think this entire post is gonna become dorkier and dorkier. Sorry. - post by umjeremy
    • Put down that Lego nerd, it's time to give your (only?) other interest a poke. Meet the $68 animatronic Darth Vader and R2D2 USB hubs. Just stuff a USB Princess Leia into Darth's neck and watch the dark lord's eyes glow red as he scans side-to-side for the pretentious scowls of your contemptuous co-workers. Sounds effects? Oh you betcha, listen in after the break.
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    • Wahoo! There is a God! - post by umjeremy
    • There are a few more subtle changes, including the ability to make Blogger in Draft your default Blogger homepage. While Blogger still doesn't offer the flexibility that competitors like WordPress do, these latest updates do make the service a bit more attractive.
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    • The fact they had to make this news...probably means he wears Mossimo t-shirts under his Holiness' garb. - post by umjeremy
    • The devil may wear Prada — but the pope does not. According to the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the bright red loafers that Pope Benedict XVI wears are not designed by the Milanese fashion house, as has long been rumored.
  • tags: no_tag

    • It's not about numbers; it's about a relationship. - post by umjeremy
    • A church near me had a sign that said "VBS – 1,200 kids, 432 saved!" Again, the heart of that is great, but the sign felt like it should say "That's a 33% success rate in Fiscal Quarter 2. Be careful, parents might not dig thinking "yay, my kid was #234 at your Christian factory."


Two fun things for a Saturday morning

Here's two fun things for a Saturday morning...

  1. Go to google, search for anything you want.  See the layout?
  2. Now, go back to google, and search for "gay" or "gay pride" or "gay rights"
  3. Enjoy the colors!  
  4. Too many steps?  Sigh...just click here to see!
Second fun thing:
  1. Go to "James Dobson doesn't speak for me" website.
  2. Read it.
  3. Read the testimonials.
  4. Sign it.
  5. My comment?  "Seriously, the man has condemned people using Leviticus for decades...and then criticizes another for using Leviticus once?  Dr. Dobson speaks out of both sides of his mouth, and does not speak for me."
Then get on with your life.  But you will feel a little bit better today, I guarantee!


It's hard to be a Stormtrooper [video]

Check out part two below the fold!


Proof that God loves Google loves Blogger

Blogger is finally getting some improvements.

Including the thing I've been jealous of wordpress blogs...inline commenting!  Comment forms are now at the end of the post, not on a boring new page.

Very neat!  Click on this page in your methoblog aggregator to see!

It should work for all of you.  If you can't comment, please email me using the contact link above.  And if you want to add it to your blogger blog, Amanda's got some instructions here.

God loves Google loves Blogger loves me loves you!



Today I have two things to share:

First, I'm sorry for the Starfish article being late. It was written, and as you see on my sidebar, I publish my posts. It was set for noon...I thought. I came home, and it was set for midnight. Sigh. So, it's published now (11:30pm EST). Enjoy!

Second, here's a verbatim conversation with the wise-crackin' grocery checker.

me: Hey, how are ya?

him: Oh, it's another day in paradise (shakes his head)...standing at this register watching everyone through the window enjoy the sunshine.

me: Yeah, sorry to hear that.

him: I'm glad! (stares at me intently)

me: Uh...ok.

him: What about you? How are you, today? (still staring intently)

me: Me? I'm just lovin' the Lord! (haha, funny response, eh?)

him: I'm Jewish. (smiles, goes back to sacking groceries)

me: ............great! (fully knowing he got me)

ten minutes later, here's what I should have said

me (channeling Owen Wilson from Meet the Parents): You are Jewish? Oh, just like JC! Right on!
Note to self:
  • never pull the "just lovin' the Lord" response in a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Probably not gonna be the right audience.
  • And you will never be as quick on your witty feet as you used to be. Sigh.
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From Spider to Starfish Churches [3of4]

Starfish X-Ray, Category:Starfish Category:X-rays RadiogramImage via WikipediaThis series is focused on The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Brafman and Beckstrom. Come check it out every Wednesday in June!
We talked the last two weeks about how churches (along with major businesses in society) consolidate their resources when they feel like they are losing ground. This is called a spider response, because it makes them more spider-like as they concentrate more and more power in the head. What is needed instead is a starfish response, where you reach out to more grassroots kinds of ministry.

How can church leaders move their churches to become less spider-like and respond more like a starfish, with decentralized, grassroots efforts?

It's simple. Stop being a leader and start leading.

In The Starfish and the Spider, the authors make the case for a different kind of leadership: catalytic leadership. A catalyst is any element or compound that initiates a reaction without fusing into that equation. For example, nitrogen and hydrogen together will do nothing. But if you add iron and they become ammonia. Great analogy right? Where we are gonna find leaders of that quality to radically change people? Here's the fun part: The iron is unchanged, and ammonia has no iron in it! Just the presence of iron facilitates the chemical changes.

So, catalytic leadership is the type of leadership that changes people's lives, but does not seek to integrate into them, or become a part of them. This is wild territory for churches. Church leaders so often have their churches become dependent on them: it's not a meeting unless the pastor is there, no hymns can be chosen unless the music minister chooses them. Leaders like and abhor events to hinge on their presence, and our denominational systems focus leadership squarely on the pastor.

The easiest way to explain is to compare two movies: Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. In The Sound of Music, Maria joins and stays with the family she is charged with. In Mary Poppins, Mary cares for the family...then leaves on her umbrella. Instead of leading her family forever, she inspires them to change, then moves on.

This fits exactly with what Hugh Hewett of is trying to say when he writes about the Death of the Alpha Leader
This is a world in which documents handed down by well-meaning alpha males result in a stifled yawn. However, this same world moves to the edge of their seat upon realizing that the responsibility to change the world need not be their legacy or burden. On the contrary, the creation of culture is the calling from which history speaks.
Servant leaders have the ability to provide a new type of leadership. A collaborative mentoring and releasing of people with varied and mystical gifts in order to create culture. Alpha leaders value control, servant leaders value collaboration. Alpha leaders value individualism, servant leaders value community. Alpha leaders value affluence, servant leaders value influence.
So, what are the characteristics of a catalytic leader? The authors identify several characteristics of this kind of leadership:
  1. Genuine interest in others.
  2. Numerous loose connections, rather than a small number of close connections.
  3. Skill at social mapping.
  4. Desire to help everyone they meet.
  5. The ability to help people help themselves by listening and understanding, rather than giving advice ("Meet people where they are").
  6. Emotional Intelligence.
  7. Trust in others and in the decentralized network.
  8. Inspiration (to others).
  9. Tolerance for ambiguity.
  10. A hands-off approach. Catalysts do not interfere with, or try to control the behavior of the contributing members of the decentralized organization.
  11. Ability to let go. After building up a decentralized organization, catalysts move on, rather than trying to take control.
Think of the ministry possibilities that can come from catalytic leadership!
  • If orders come from above, then it takes work to motivate the masses. But if the masses get excited about it on their own, then ideas can take off. This is antithetical to spider churches as leaders want to control what is happening. By ceding control, fresh ministry options can come forward.
  • From the checklist, #5 "Meet people where they are" assumes that when you give advice to someone in a counseling setting, you are creating a power hierarchy. Pastors may want to assume a peer relationship where they inspire change without being prescriptive or coercive.
  • From the checklist, #1 "Genuine interest in others" can mean that if you don't find disciples around you, you aren't asking the right questions. Everyone is passionate about something; find out what!
The takeaway from this post is this: The most powerful aspect of catalysts is that they are not interested in creating empires...they are interested in sparking movements. To this end, catalysts are better at being agents of change rather than guardians of traditions. You may be playing with dynamite, but find or become a catalytic leader, and people will come for miles to watch you burn.

Thoughts on catalytic leadership? Welcome to our visitors, and comments are welcome!
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Daily Read 06/24/2008

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    • Grassroots activism that can easily be translated to the church. Did you read my "twitter the gospel" post? Search for it! - post by umjeremy
    • Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, a Web site that focuses on the intersection of politics and technology, talks about the Twitter debate between presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama. He also discusses the forum's upcoming conference.
  • tags: no_tag

    • This new technology presents wild new possibilities for attractional church ministry—and raises some challenging questions, as well. As churches get bigger and bigger (and smaller and smaller), what do you think about 3D virtual pastors? Is this a good way to steward money and people resources most effectively? Or is this just the ultimate elevation of the "rock star pastor"?
  • tags: no_tag

    • Any other resources for my friend Becca on preaching about the near-sacrifice of Isaac? - post by umjeremy
    • Really, seriously, what are we supposed to say about this?

      What can we say about a God who asks a father to sacrifice his son? What can we say about a father who agrees? How do we not turn this into further violence by saying God later does the same thing to God’s own son, except without the providing-an-alternate-thing-to-slaughter bit?

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    • Hilarious. And summoning she-bears would be especially entertaining. - post by umjeremy
    • If we could ask God for just one thing, it'd be this: We want superpowers like people in the Bible had.

      Is that too much to ask? We could do a lot with our powers, some of it good. So why not? It used to happen quite a bit, the Bible is full of people who God infused with powers that would put most of the Marvel and DC lineup to shame.


We are Not Created in the Image of God

Imago Dei, or being created in God's image (Genesis 1:27), has several understandings. Here's three of them:

  • We are created in the image of God in what we are, in that our physical body or the ways our minds work is like God's (Substantive)
  • We are created in the image of God in how we are, in that our ability to relate to one another is like how God relates to us (Relational)
  • We are created in the image of God in what we do, in that our actions on earth bear the image of God. (Functional)
The third one (functional) is the least familiar to people, I'm sure. But it is the subject of this post. It is when we act in Godlike ways that we are Imago Dei.

Think about ancient times when kingdoms would expand and thrive. The king or lord could not be everyplace at once, but the people needed to be reminded of his (yes, his) presence. Lacking Elvis impersonators, they would erect statues or monuments to either the king or the pagan god that the king represented. Thus, even when the king was not in town, the statues represented the royal presence. The statues were imago dei, created in the image of the town's lord.
  • Why else would conquering armies destroy the monuments first thing?
  • Why else would America get such a thrill out of toppling the statue of Saddam in the first week of the war in Iraq?
This understanding of imago dei means that humanity bears the likeness of God. We don't lug around monuments, we bear the image of God in what we do.

We are
not created in the image of God, but we are created as God's image as we represent God to the world.

In other words, we represent God in what we do, not just in our essence.

And how do we best represent God? I think we have a pretty good image to imitate:
  • When we love our neighbor as ourself, then we are bearing God's image.
  • When we welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, then we are bearing God's image.
  • When we co-create peace and justice, then we are bearing God's image.
The difficulty? It feels imperialistic. Like an army bearing their lord's image into battle, or a colonial town that needs an image of Britain, America, or Russia in their midst. But to me these difficulties do not detract from the empowering idea that
  • Humanity is a co-creator with God,
  • that we need to be a functional part of God drawing creation to perfection
  • ...and that we are humbly created, like all of the world, but with the added responsibility ("dominion" Genesis 1:26) to bear God's likeness in all we do.
Your thoughts?

Welcome to our visitors, and thank you for commenting! You can see from our last discussion that they can be quite lively!

Caveat: The title of this post is meant to be evocative, not descriptive of my beliefs. Imago Dei certainly entails all three forms of its understanding, not just one. This post is an attempt to etch out the functional view in ways that may be appealing to those interested in Hacking Christianity.

Reference: Stephen Garner's Hacking the Divine (thoughts on which you will find much more of in coming weeks!)
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Star Wars as a Silent Film [video]

Pretty original! And funny about taking a film that was technically advanced for its time and putting it waaay back.


The Incarnation in a Virtual World?

Part of Hacking Christianity's mission is to examine Christian symbols and find parallels to contemporary culture. To that end, consider what you can do in Cyberspace these days:

  • You can create a virtual character in World of Warcraft and spend years perfecting her. This isn't your daddy's SimCity, this is a way of life and pasttime for some people.
  • You can create a blog with dozens or hundreds of readers, a virtual congregation whom you have never met.
  • You can have more Facebook "friends" than real friends. You can make online friends with people when the real world friends let you down. So completely can this impact your life that if someone is malicious to you, it hurts just the same as being bullied at school.
This poses a problem to Christianity. One of the tenets of Christianity is that Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel, human. How do we preach the Incarnation in a world where we can craft virtual space so easily and completely?

The Bible is of little help. The Bible was written to agrarian societies where all they had was what was real and tactful...if there were any PlayStations on the shepherd's hills, they haven't been found yet. Even hallucinogenic drugs that would create virtual experience were not common.

So the best biblical metaphors are real, tactile: gathering manna like dew, lost sheep, raising people from the dead, unbinding Lazarus, touching cloaks, the rugged wood of a cross. In a society where that was the real deal, this was powerful. In our society where we can make our own reality, how is the Incarnation relevant?

I don't have an answer yet...that's why this is a pondering. My first steps may be towards the imminence of God's presence, where you can't log off from God's love, where you can never unplug and step away. But that is not Incarnational directed at Christ, that's a statement about God.

Perhaps a better step would be to compare the life of Jesus with the actual crafting of characters in WoW, of a blogging conversation, of immersing in the rhythms of a twittered life. The story of Jesus is unfinished, still in process. Christ is ALIVE, not dead, but alive forevermore. Because of his eternal life, Christ invites you to be a part of Christ's life. Because Christ's life involves transformation, you can be involved in the crafting of Creation.

No one wants a level 99 Orc, or a finished blog, or a Facebook account that "has enough friends." There is an invitation to an unfinished project, and perhaps that's how virtual never-completed crafting of worlds can be linked to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Thoughts? I'm really struggling with this this morning after I found a new "hacking Jesus" conversation partner. I'd like to invite you to the conversation.
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My Future Ordination Processional

See if you can pick out which one is me.



From Spider to Starfish Churches [2of4]

This series is focused on The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Brafman and Beckstrom. Come check it out every Wednesday in June!

We talked last week about how churches (along with major businesses in society) consolidate their resources when they feel like they are losing ground. This is called a spider response, because it makes them more spider-like as they concentrate more and more power in the head.

However, spider responses do not work versus starfish organizations or culture. Thus, we're going to examine what a starfish response may look like. In other words, instead of centralizing and consolidating authority, what might it look like if we respond from a grassroots level? Read on for more...

Starfish are unaffected by SpidersWe remember from last week the examples of Skype and Craigslist, which took the power away from the spider organizations. The same with the third example: the US Government's pursuit of bin Laden and al-Qaeda. They were attacking it like a spider organization: kill the head (bin Laden) and it will go away. What they slowly learned was it is a leaderless starfish movement: bin Laden doesn't approve each attack; rather, members adopt the ideology and copy what has worked in the past, then strike out on their own. To combat a starfish culture is like fighting a Hydra: too many heads and they grow back!

The Spider church loses against a starfish cultureMoving away from violent metaphors, it is clear that one reason why the church is losing relevance is not some centralized opponent, but from decentralized culture which finds meaning in its own channels. So, how can the church become relevant to that which has no central hub?

There are two responses (okay three*, but the third is untranslatable) that Brafman and Beckstrom outline of how to respond to a decentralized culture. They are
to empower and emulate the starfish organization.

Starfish culture often responds to societal shifts.Empower the starfish culture. A stronger starfish culture means that their values will shift from individualism to communal. For example, the best way to combat terrorism is to raise the value of life for those whom terorrists use as expendible fodder. By raising the quality of life, such as using Jamii Bora Trust microloans, you remove the anger and the hopelessness, and people will live in hope rather than give their lives to al-Qaeda. Give people something to hold onto, rather than nothing to lose.
  • By putting missions at the forefront, the Church can gradually make their community's lives better and defeat the hopelessness that plagues our culture. I've always believed that missions is the best evangelism, but more than that, by improving conditions and livelihood, churches can gradually change a society's ideology. What better way to combat hopelessness AND raise the church's reputation at the same time?

Starfish knowledge resides at the edges of society.Emulate the starfish culture. The best match for a starfish is another starfish. By decentralizing the hierarchy, you can open up avenues of communication and interaction and really learn something. When American Airlines was stumbling and having money issues, they realized that knowledge resided at the edge of the hierarchy. In Tulsa, OK, the American Airlines mechanics had built a "Monster" machine that took dull drill bits (which would normally wear out quickly) and sharpen them. By doing so, they saved their team money, and by emulating that practice at other AA shops, AA was able to reduce costs.
  • By reducing the hierarchy and allowing for decentralized ministry to emerge, the Church can lower the barriers to ministry. As written about in The Church and Wikipedia, allowing for grassroots ideas of ministry to emerge can come up with more relevant and easy forms of ministry.

Starfish Churches are most relevant to Starfish culture.In short, by becoming a starfish church we can better respond to a starfish culture. Open systems don't necessarily make better decisions; but they can respond more quickly because each member has access to information and can make direct use of it. Brafman & Beckstrom's third principle of open systems (starfish organizations) explains:
An open system doesn't have central intelligence;
the information is spread throughout the system.

Starfish stand between spider churches and starfish culture.Finally, why do we need to do this? Ultimately, the Church is called to be peacemakers. Starfish churches can serve as the bridge point between spider churches and an apathetic community. For example, when internet standards were being adopted, there was a struggle between two platforms to host websites on (one by Microsoft, one by Netscape). As consumer choices degraded to Mac v. PC levels, an open source grassroots project called Apache became well-enough supported that it presented an easy third choice for webhosts. Now, somewhere like 50% of all websites use Apache. Rather than being forced between platforms, the open-source decentralized Apache presented a middle way.
  • In the same way, between the entrenched churches that cannot change their mindset and an echo-chamber culture, starfish churches can serve as that bridge, that safe place between two parties that can lead to a revival amongst them both.

Between two camps, the middle way is the way of peace.In short, open systems can help ease tensions between entrenched parties: church and culture. And it is that tension between the echo chambers of church and the echo-chambers of culture that starfish churches are most adaptable, relevant, and able to produce forms of ministry which empower all people around the table.

Your turn. What do you think?
  • What examples of starfish churches have you experience with?
  • What are examples of ministries that are relevant to decentralized society?
Thanks for commenting, and welcome to our visitors!

* the third option is to Centralize the starfish culture. When the US Government was dealing with the Apaches (the Native Americans, not the web servers!), they were decentralized and fierce warriors whose leadership was constantly changing and thus indestructible. What did the US Government do? They gave the Apaches cattle, and by giving them a limited resource, the entire culture changed to protect and exploit this resource. Then the US Governemnt was able to eradicate and domesticate them. See why I saw it as exploitative?)

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Download FireFox 3

photo courtesy

You owe it to yourself to download FireFox 3, the free alternative to Internet Explorer.

Why? It's the responsible thing to do:
  • Less chance of stinking up your church computer because it is safer against viruses than IE.
  • Less chance of being "phished" and losing your privacy.
  • Help set a Guinness Book of World Record's....uh, record for most downloads in a single day. Gotta do it by noon EST!
  • AND IT IS FAST FAST FAST!!! Google Reader loads soooooo much faster that I got through my blog list faster...which leaves more time for Jesus.
Here's a power user's guide for the l33t readers of this blog.

Download today!
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Church Growth: Ur Doin it Wrong

We talk a lot about "church growth": how to grow churches in an increasingly secular society. Megachurches and growing churches abound. How can we sell enough donuts and books to get more people to come to church. Etc.

Given all this, how about a Case Study?

There once was a church that began small, gathered hundreds of people, then the pastor said things that insulted people and was arrested. At the end, the church had dwindled to a few dozen members, without a pastor to lead them.
On a church growth that church a failure?

My friends...that's the church of Jesus.* Jesus had hundred of followers who came for the healings and miracles, then strayed away when the hard lessons came. At the end of the Passion, he had only a few dozen disciples (men and women)* following him.

It is this lesson that one of my new favorite bloggers, Jonathan Brink, reminds us:
One of the most dangerous things you can do as a Christian is to think really small and pour your love into twelve people. And the cool thing is that it doesn’t even require a license.
To take away from this post:
  • If you are a church that is dealing with being half-time or shrinking, remember that small groups are the basic building blocks of the kingdom of God. Strengthen them.
  • The next time you read a book on church growth, also check out Leonardo Boff's Ecclesiogenesis, a powerful short book on base communities. And you will value your church's size again.
Church growth experts? Maybe you are doing it wrong.

Your thoughts?

* of course, Jesus didn't come to start a church. But the parallel still works, so forgive me framing the Jesus movement in non-historical terms for the sake of making a point.
* thanks to T.L. Steinwert for reminding me that disciples are women AND men. This line has been re-written from its first version...the original language was "disciples and women"
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Floppy Disk sings Star Wars [video]

Now, that's impressive. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the phone keypad has nothing on this!


Choosing Ordination Systems over Ordinands

Methodist church in OklahomaImage via WikipediaSorry for my non-Methodist readers, but it is Annual Conference time and that means United Methodist posts aplenty.

Annual Conferences are like the three bears: they either have too many clergy or too few. The 'just right' bear is off taking a nap somewhere, I think.

Indeed, in some annual conferences with too many clergy, there's a vicious circle of clergy appointments and ordination. Walk with me through this:

  1. IF the Book of Discipline requires all provisional and ordained clergy to have full-time appointments.
  2. BUT there are less and less full-time appointments to which to appoint provisional and ordained clergy.
  3. THEN the Board of Ordained ministry will not commission candidates for ministry until a full-time appointment opens up for them.
The rationale is solid: if the BOM cannot offer a full-time appointment, and if they bring in more candidates, then the system of appointments will suffer. Also, if they cannot offer a full-time appointment by ordination time, then they are in violation of the Discipline. Makes perfect sense from a maintaining-the-system perspective.

While this takes care of the system of ordination, it leads to several injustices to the candidates for ministry. Some real-life examples:
  • One candidate was approved for commissioning, but due to the lack of appointments, he was not commissioned. Two years later he finally got to be commissioned, but during that time he developed a medical condition which required surgery. One month before he would finally be under the clergy health care...he was required to pay for the surgery out of his own pocket.
  • One candidate was up for commissioning, but to be commissioned he would have to leave his vibrant, passionate half-time appointment for a different full-time appointment altogether...there were no other half-time appointments available in the area. Thus, the candidate forwent commissioning in order to keep his passionate ministry.
  • Transferred clergy or clergy on cross-conference appointments are not required to be given full-time appointments.
Truth be told: there are local pastors who are in full-time appointments while candidates for ministry wait in the wings. Is that wrong? Not as a whole: they are gifted pastors in their churches, and if there is viable ministry, then continue to do good works! But even if they are gifted pastors, does that mean a seminary-educated candidate for ministry would be any less appropriate?

From a systems perspective, I find this troubling. If our theology of ordination includes consideration for the system of ordination above the individual calls to ministry, then there's something wrong. If we are caretaking the system of ordination more than we are affirming the call to ministry God has placed on individual people....then is that really what ordination is?

Now, full disclosure: I'm not on the ordained ministry leadership, and I'm not privy to those conversations. But I think that when we are keeping candidates for ministry out of the clergy pool we are essentially putting systems above people. And that troubles me.

Perhaps there are ways to commission candidates for ministry and maintain the tense balance between clergy and churches? To me, there is a simple answer to this...but no one will like it.

Perhaps clergy missionaries can be made of candidates. If annual conferences with too few clergy would contact conferences with too many clergy, then they can offer to take commissioned clergy into their conferences for a while on cross-conference appointments. While they may run the risk of staying when they get there, it would ensure that candidates' ministries are affirmed. I realize the hardship this would be on families for a drastic change in venue, and try to balance that against keeping candidates out of the clergy pool.

Full disclosure: I'm on a cross-conference appointment. By constantly maintaining relationships between two conferences, I'm seeing a lot of United Methodism and drastically different ways of ministry. By seeing how two different conferences deal with ordination, one with too many clergy and one with too few, I think better use and beefing-up of the cross-conference appointments may be a good approach.

Perhaps it can be a precursor to a blend between connectional and congregational systems: churches that want a minister so badly they will accept a cross-conference appointment can put out a "call" for a minister that other conferences can fill.

....let's stop there (number one critique of HX: my posts are too long!). What do you think?
  • What balance should there be between maintaining systems of ordination and affirming the call of individuals?
  • What do you think about the cross-conference appointments idea?
  • What other methods can ordained ministry leadership try rather than being the stop-gap for new clergy?
Thanks for reading, and welcome to our visitors!
Zemanta Pixie


What's the Tipping Point for Consolidating Churches?

A friend sent me an article in the Boston Globe that has an interesting comparison that I hadn't thought much about:

At a time when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and other Catholic dioceses around the nation have been closing parishes that attract as many as several hundred worshipers a week, Protestant denominations are supporting congregations a fraction of that size. Although both Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations face falling attendance at worship, these different branches of the Christian family are taking radically different approaches to determining whether a congregation is viable, and who should decide what to do about a failing church.

Catholic dioceses, with power strongly concentrated in the hands of bishops and a theology that says only priests can celebrate Mass, are citing declining numbers of worshipers, dollars, and clergy in moving aggressively to consolidate churches. The Archdiocese of Boston has closed nearly one-quarter of its parishes over the past decade. But Protestant denominations, which often emphasize congregational independence and democratic decision-making, are leaving many of their small churches open, avoiding the controversy that has characterized the Catholic process but allowing for a sizable number of struggling, even moribund, congregations with minimal programming and part-time clergy.

For everyone's benefit, moribund means "approaching death." You know you didn't know it either.

I hadn't thought about how different the two religious systems approach congregational viability. But it is true: even if a parish is economically viable and has a few hundred members, the archdiocese will often close it. But on the other side of the ecumenical rail, my United Methodist church has 35 people on a Sunday morning, and we are not closing anytime soon.

To my eyes, there are several major reasons for the RCC version of congregational sustainability:
  1. Image. The image of a failing church is not one that the RCC wants, so if a congregation even gets anywhere close to that, they will close the church.
  2. Decision-making. At Annual Conference, we closed two United Methodist churches, by a vote of the people, bishop, superintendent, and local congregation. There much more people involved in the process, so no wonder Catholic Bishops can close churches much easier.
  3. Money. This may seem like a cheap shot, but I know the Boston Archdiocese has been selling off property to pay for clergy abuse suits. Other denominations may have similar suits, but the way they are affiliated means any monetary damages stop with the local church.
On the Protestant side of supporting smaller churches, that seems empowering. But is it? There's these considerations for consolidating churches:
  1. Proper Leadership. The scrappy parishes that finally shed their insecurity can find they can be resurrected. But smaller churches means often green ministers or local pastors (non-seminary-trained) take the reins. While that gives them energetic or contextual leadership, is it really a good idea to send new pastors to really struggling churches?
  2. Small Communities are PERFECT. One of the finest churches I've ever been to is based off of Leonardo Boff's concept of Base Communities: small grassroots churches. If it is one's ministry model to be small, then denominational leaders need to make room for that.
  3. Zombie Churches. I know of a few churches that have less than a dozen members in a huge church...because they have large endowments that pay for the church costs. If the church put everything on automatic withdrawal from their bank account, they could exist forever even if not a living soul is in the pews. Is that really ministry? Is that really what the givers of those endowments would want, rather than giving that money to a viable ministry a few streets over?
I'm not a big fan of the arbitrary numbers that say you need 120 people to start a new service, or if you fall under 80 active parishioners you cannot sustain a pastor. But are there other non-numerical considerations?
  • What should be the tipping point to consider changing a denominations' policy on consolidating churches?
  • What should a local congregation consider as they seek to close smaller churches and move into different ways of ministry?
Thanks for your thoughts, and welcome to our visitors!
Zemanta Pixie


How to Be the Best Dad in the Galaxy [video]

How To Be The Best Dad In The Galaxy


80s Movie Wake-up

Just the thing for a Saturday morning cartoon: The final scenes of Transformers the Movie!

Hope the 80s music and the voice of Spock as Galvatron makes your weekend bright!

Zemanta Pixie


Balancing Grace with Righteousness

Wesley Memorial Church, a Methodist church in Oxford, where the Wesley brothers studied.Image via Wikipedia
The recent Whiteboard Sessions event in May yielded an interesting comparison between two "camps" of ministry. Ben Arment, the founder of the Whiteboard program, writes the following:
Bringing diverse leaders together for Whiteboard showed me something about the church landscape in America: There's such a huge chasm in ministry between those who advocate the holiness of God and those who advocate the grace of God.
Hmm, holiness and grace camps? What do mean by this?

This sparked a memory...I remembered in my "read later" bookmarks this earlier entry on Missio Dei: the two camps of church. Jonathan is writing a bit out of John Eldredge's book Walking with God. Eldredge's take is that there are two basic camps out of which churches operate.

(1) The righteousness camp (Arment's language is "holiness" camp)
  • “The first is the the holiness or “righteous” crowd. They are the folks holding up the standard, preaching a message of moral purity. The results have been…mixed. Some morality, and a great deal of guilt and shame.”
(2) The grace camp
  • “Their message is that we can’t hope to satisfy a holy God, but we are forgiven. We are under grace. And praise the living God, we are under grace. But what about holiness? What about deep personal change?”
I'm not sure I'm with this dichotomy when we start defining the terms. Holiness is defined as righteous living. Righteousness as opposed to grace? Grace has nothing to do with works! Grace is the unearned love of God. For Methodists, grace is never earned. Prevenient grace gives us God's love before we are aware of it, Justifying grace is given when we commit our lives to Christ, and Sanctifying grace gives us strength as we seek righteousness, not because we earn it.

As you can see above, grace already includes righteous living in the Wesleyan theological system. But the critical difference between the "grace" camp and the "righteousness" camp is that we act in righteous ways in response to God's grace, not to earn God's grace.

Rather than seek to redeem the grace camp and etch out this subtext, Jonathon (Missio Dei) posits a third way as as he concludes his write-up:
[A]s John points out, neither is wholistic. He points to a third way found in whole restoration that embraces grace but seeks wholeness. This is for me true spirituality, a grace that seeks restoration found in surrendering to His Spirit.
I'd love to read more! In the meantime, I would have to read more about Eldredge's book. Because the thing is, Ben from the first quote tries to find a third way too...and I'm not sure I'm with him:
If we truly understood the Gospel, we'd look at the cross and see the perfect collision of grace and holiness. The righteous wrath of God satisfied by his unconditional grace.
Count me out of "third ways" that are hipper versions of satisfaction atonement.

  • Is there a dichotomy between grace and righteous crowds who value one or the other?
  • Can grace better include righteousness in ways that a "third way" cannot hope to balance?
Thanks for your thoughts, and welcome to!

Zemanta Pixie


servin' back (sexy back parody) [video]

This is pretty funny. And tremendously awkward.

But mad props to the church for reminding America its not how well you dance or sing or's how much you shame your backup singers.

And you know, Methobloggers, that you wish you thought of it first.

(thanks to Stuff Christians Like)


Welcome Flashnetters!

My site statistics just registered several hits from RMN, so drop a "hello" in the comments to everyone! (T.L. Steinwert and I were called "tech-savvy".......I am offended. I am soooooo much nerdier than she is!)

A little shameless promotion: if you'd like to read this blogs' posts on General Conference 2008, check them out here:

Enjoy and welcome! And don't forget to subscribe to the website for almost-daily updates, even if it is just what I'm reading!

[/shameless plug]


From Spider to Starfish Churches [1of4]

This series is focused on The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Brafman and Beckstrom. Come check it out every Wednesday in June!

The church is in crisis. United Methodist attendance is in decline, the Southern Baptists are...not baptizing, and, most searches of God, Christian, and Bible are dropping. The sky is falling!

Some would call it a failure of leadership, both on the local and national levels. But in truth, what is happening to the Church is the same thing happening to large businesses and conglomerates: we become spiders when we should become starfish.

What do I mean by that? In The Starfish and the Spider, Brafman and Beckstrom write about the difference between spiders and starfish.
  • Spiders have a head...chop off the head of a spider, and it will die.
  • But with a Starfish, there is no head: the central nervous system is spread throughout the body. Indeed, if you cut off a limb, it will regrow. If you chop it in half...both will regrow, and then you'll have two of them!
You see the difference? Spiders have central authorities that call the shots. Starfish have spread out systems without a central authority.

In other words, the difference between spiders and starfish is the difference between centralized and decentralized organizations. And it is by choosing to become spiders that churches are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the world.

Challenging Organizations

Whenever a large organization is challenged, it tends to become more spiderlike: it centralizes authority at the head. Some examples:
  • Falling advertisements and classified ads leads to mergers between newspapers to scrape together what ad revenue was left into one place.
  • Increasing competition in the long-distance phone companies, long split apart by decentralization, have now began consolidating again.
  • The US Government, after 9/11, centralized authority under the Department of Homeland Security. While it helps to make agencies work together, it makes them more bureaucratic as they now have to answer to just one person...and it's not the President, an elected and (sometimes) accountable leader.
When challenged, we tend to centralize power in the hands of fewer and fewer people. But what is the source of the crisis? In every case above, the reason for the increasingly centralized authority was because of a threat from a decentralized group.
  • Classified ads fell due to the popularity of Craigslist, a free service where anyone can buy or sell anything, based on region. No need for you to pay $25 to put an ad in the paper, you can upload pictures and no-word-limits for free to Craigslist. Anyone can use the service without a central authority editing or filtering submissions.
  • Long distance phone calls, even though cellular phones are the main culprits, are also being taken over by Skype users: internet-based phone calls that do not use "minutes." No minutes being used by the phone = no revenue for telephone companies.
  • After 9/11, the US Government went after bin Laden like they would Tony Soprano: take out the mafia don and the rest of the organized crime ring would crumble. But in cell systems like al-Qaeda, bin Laden doesn't call the shots; they operate independently.
Challenging Churches

Now, what about the Church?
In what ways are we increasingly centralized to cope with the changing world?
  • On a Conference level (for UMs), we are shrinking conference numbers and increasing their geographic size. As my friend Becca Clark laments, while there are great administrative advantages to centralization, the strained personal and professional relationships from boundaries and distance to travel. Indeed, given the larger swaths of authority, one of my pastor friends is in a clergy group with other denominations because they are closer together!
  • On a local level, Churches form united parishes between different denominations to lower building and administration costs and provide a collective place for ministry. The merits of united or federated parishes can be debated, but it is along the same lines of spiderlike thinking: consolidate or perish.
Like the above examples, we are becoming more spiderlike by shrinking authority and consolidating power in fewer and fewer people. Why? Churches are becoming more centralized because they are losing ground to decentralized forms of communication. What kind of communication?
  • Churches used to be the social outlets and hubs; if you wanted to get to know people, you went to church! Nowadays, they are not so much part of the social fabric in an increasing number of communities. I've seen better opportunities for networking at Singles night at Whole Foods!
  • Churches used to be the law of the land, the ruling authority. But years of increasingly shrill entries into public life have left even non-shrill churches in the shadows as people lump all of religion together. Communication improvements of "gossip" chains like Twitter, blogs, and web forums make it easier to leave religion at the corner.
I write all of the above section not to lament and want it back...heavy-handed religion and good ol' boys clubs are not my ideas of church! But we are still operating as spider churches and denominations in an increasingly decentralized world. In a sea of starfish, how can spider churches catch anything in their webs?

How to Respond?

Sorry friends, here's the catch: This first post outlines the problem. The next three will outline ideas on how to deal with it.

I figured the analysis alone would generate enough discussion. So to make sure we are on the same page, what do you think? Is the major problem confronting churches that we are increasingly centralizing our experience in a decentralized world? Are we really just doing great work, but people's circles of interaction are so small that they leave the church out?

Finally the ethical dilemma:
  • Should the church even try to reclaim a centralized space again? (Constantinian church)?
  • Or is church really better when it is a decentralized movement (ie. the Apostolic church under persecution of the Roman Empire)
Finally, for those of you who do not have the book, Methoblogger Richard Heyduck has three posts on the basics of the book: check it out here.

Thoughts on the above? Thanks for reading.

Zemanta Pixie


Daily Read 06/11/2008

  • tags: no_tag

    • This made me smile. Long live the Konami code! - post by umjeremy
    • A rogue retro-gamer at Google has apparently programmed the famous Konami code — the mother of all cheats, the giver of life and ammunition to small, spoiled children with poor motor control— into Google Reader. Just make sure you're at the Home Page, then enter Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A. The result? A horizontally shrugging Ninja will pop-up in the sidebar
  • tags: no_tag

    • Archaeologists in Jordan have unearthed what they claim is the world's first church, dating back almost 2,000 years, The Jordan Times reported on Tuesday.
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    • Yes, marriage equality leads to better research...on straight marriages! Where are the locusts and the plagues now? - post by umjeremy
    • The findings offer hope that some of the most vexing problems are not necessarily entrenched in deep-rooted biological differences between men and women. And that, in turn, offers hope that the problems can be solved.
    • The findings suggest that heterosexual couples need to work harder to seek perspective. The ability to see the other person’s point of view appears to be more automatic in same-sex couples, but research shows that heterosexuals who can relate to their partner’s concerns and who are skilled at defusing arguments also have stronger relationships.
  • tags: no_tag

    • Mad props for Xty Today for sticking to their guns and not making decisions for their readership. - post by umjeremy
    • We totally understand why many people would have no desire to see Sex and the City, choosing to avoid it because of its portrayals of pre- and extra-marital sex and rampant materialism. I myself have no desire to see it, mostly for those reasons.

      But to slam us for reviewing the film makes no sense. Our mission statement is to help readers make discerning choices about movies—not to make the choices for people.


Daily Read 06/10/2008

  • tags: no_tag

    • Personally, I love the AmericaLand section...ha! - post by umjeremy
    • Mapofheaven
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    • Hmm, any help to this guy on the origins of the Apostle's Creed? - post by umjeremy
    • Scripture is clear from the verses above that God give Jesus the power to judge. But then Jesus seems to throw a crazy twist into the whole thing.

      John 12:47 - “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.

  • tags: no_tag

    • Oh noes! The Internets have defeated us!....or people are looking for specific paths, not just the basics. Remember: we ARE in post-Christendom!! - post by umjeremy
    • google-trends-christian.png
  • tags: no_tag

    • ...No wonder we
      feel disconnected from God: we are rarely able to give Him our full
      attention in solitude and silence. Thoughtful reflection is constantly
      sabotaged by the intrusion of cell phones, pagers and e-mail messages.
      No wonder our human relationships are so unsatisfying as they get
      reduced to snippets of interrupted, disembodied phone conversation.
      What feels like convenience is actually robbing us of those things we
      value most. We are left with bits and pieces of everything rather than
      experiencing the full substance of anything."
  • tags: no_tag

    • Let me just say, if you're in ministry, and your find yourself seething at the grace of God others are enjoying, it's time to hang up your hat.
  • tags: no_tag

    • Good behind-the-scenes look at Colbert, the kingmaker. - post by umjeremy
    • Since falling while running around his "C"-shaped desk and breaking his wrist, he's advocated "wrist awareness" by selling "WristStrong" bracelets. All proceeds go to the Yellow Ribbon Fund to assist injured service members and their families.

      When asked how long he plans to keep wearing the band and stick with the joke, Colbert turned more serious than at any other point in our conversation. He replied firmly, "Not until the war is over."


Happy Morning [video]

Truly demented and perfect for a Monday morning.


Daily Read 06/07/2008


You can't sell books in Church and still be Prophetic [bad.hack]

A bad.hack (read more about it here) is a manipulation of a Christian system either using illicit means to achieve an end, or achieving goals that leave the system worse off and less open than before. Read on for the hack!

I'm struck at more and more churches that have bookstores within the church walls.

Sure, it's a great place to get discounted devotionals, pre-approved books, no worries about your kid wandering off to the Erotica or the (gasp) Gay & Lesbian sections of Barnes&Noble.

But is it a good idea? Is it right to sell books in church? To answer this question with a question:

What do Medieval Cathedrals, Fashion Magazines, Flowers, and Church Bookstores have in common?

Find out after the jump...

First up, Medieval Cathedrals. Bryan Caplan from EconLog just got back from Europe and engaged another blogger on medieval cathedrals.

Seeing a bunch of French cathedrals makes me even more skeptical of the claim (made by Larry Iannaccone and others) that people weren't more religious in earlier centuries. If people weren't far more religious in the Middle Ages, why did they pour such a high fraction of their surplus wealth into century-long religious architectural projects? You could say "It was primarily rulers, not donors, who allocated the funds," but that just pushes the question back a step. Were rulers vastly more religious than the masses? That's hard to believe. Were rulers trying to impress the masses by building churches? Well, why would churches impress the masses unless they were highly religious?
Religious architecture and art were to medieval feudalism what advertising and commercialism are to modern capitalism: A rather effective way to build support for the status quo using aesthetics instead of argument.

Cathedrals depicted Feudal relationships in positive ways.To Caplan, cathedrals were not just monuments to God and gathering places for the people of God. They were endorsements of the relationships that people held; namely, feudal relationships of Lords, vassals, peasants, etc. We see this echoed in atonement theology etched out during one period of Cathedral-building: humanity has offended God's honor and Jesus restores God's honor by taking the shame on himself. You see how not only theology, but also church architecture/art endorsed the status quo.

Were Cathedrals intentionally supporting feudalism? No. But by their depicting the type of relationship in art, building, and theology, they were supporting feudalism.

Next up...Flowers. Caplan continues:

Less than a decade ago, I drove from former West Germany to former East Germany, and was struck by how much more beautiful the West was. Houses in the West had flower boxes. Houses in the East did not. I reflected that the aesthetic gap between West and East used to be vastly greater. And I recalled how people I knew who toured the Soviet bloc were more likely to sadly describe the "greyness" of communist life than the machine guns at the border.

The upshot is that the private pursuit of beauty in the West had a striking externality. Every time a West German put a flower box in his window, he was making capitalism look prettier than socialism. And while intellectuals may say they couldn't care less about such things, I suspect that sheer aesthetics changed a lot of minds about East versus West.

Flowers made socialistic life look drab and boring.Again, art and aesthetics portrayed life in the West as better than life under the socialist East. In people's daily walks, they would pass by more flower boxes than they would anti-socialist propaganda. In pictures comparing the two Germanys, the color of life contrasted with the gray monotones of order.

Did the West intentionally put flower boxes out to oppose socialism? No. But by endorsing the relationship between socialism and monotony, they were opposing socialism.

Finally, Fashion Magazines (Vogue, GQ, and other fashion magazines). Caplan once more:
Corporations do not advertise to create support for capitalism, any more than West Germans planted flowers to fight communism. But advertising does more than just sell one firm's products; it also contributes to the beautiful image of the whole system.

Flip through a popular magazine, or wander through your local mall. Even if you don't remember a single product, you get an overall impression of a world that is colorful, fun, glitzy, and sexy. And that probably leads more people around the world to admire capitalism than Milton Friedman ever did.

Fashion mags sell an image, not just products.We see that fashion magazines do not overtly support capitalism. They are simply trying to sell products and earn money, and I doubt "let's support capitalism" is on their radar. But by their marketing and imaging, they portray the capitalistic world as better, prettier, and sexier.

As Caplan concludes:
My claim, in short, is that Notre Dame played the same role during the Middle Ages that fashion magazines play today. Notre Dame was not an argument for feudalism, and Elle is not an argument for capitalism. But both are powerful ways to make regular people buy into the system.

All of the above endorse the Status Quo of "proper" relationships.Now, we can answer the original question: What do Medieval Cathedrals, Fashion Magazines, Flowers, and Church Bookstores have in common? They all endorse the Status Quo. Be it exemplifying feudal relationships, anti-socialism, or capitalism, they endorsed the current relationship between aesthetics and society in attractive ways.

Is a bookstore an endorsement of consumerism?So what happens when a visitor comes into a church door, gets greeted by an usher, and to the side...there's the church bookstore, with a flashy display of Joel Osteen's Your Best Life Now? I would claim such a church bookstore is exactly an endorsement of consumerism.

We approve of what happens within the church walls.Within the Church, we act and speak in ways that are pleasing to God. We act differently in church, we speak differently, we treat our children differently, we respect our elders differently. Within the Church, we endorse types of relationships by exemplifying them. Whatever is tolerated or lifted up within the church walls is assumed to be good.

Within the Church, if we have a bookstore where we sell things, we are endorsing consumerism. That sounds blunt and hardline, but it is a simple comparison. If you remember the SATs and syllogisms, here it is made perfectly clear:
  • Church Bookstores are to Consumerism what Cathedrals are to Feudalism.
  • Church Bookstores are to Consumerism what Flower Boxes are to Anti-Socialism.
  • Church Bookstores are to Consumerism what Fashion Magazines are to Capitalism.

If we offer a flashy bookstore, aren't we making consumerism look good?Consumerism is believing that buying something will lead to happiness. That's the simple definition. And by offering convenient ways to buy a devotional book, bookmark, card, BibleMan action figure...we are saying within the church walls that buying something will lead you to happiness. How can a Church preach against consumerism, against materialism, against the Prosperity Gospel, against shopaholics...if we are suckling Consumerism by endorsing it within the church context?

Convenience is the polar opposite of being prophetic.You may say that by running our own bookstore, we are not encouraging people to run and buy them at Mardel's or Cokesbury or Walmart. But Zondervan will send you the flashy displays, right? Abingdon will send you the catalogs to put out. The whole "selling" side of bookstores will still be present.

In short, we cannot stand against the culture of consumerism, and preach against the corrupting influence of materialism on our nation if we endorse such a relationship within our church walls.

For this web community, church bookstores can be seen as bad.hacks: manipulations of the Church's stand against consumerism and materialism by allowing consumerism-lite within the church walls. By allowing it within the church walls (because it brings in money, it is many excuses!), we are watering down our social witness against materialism. And that's a bad thing!

I will allow that there may be ways that do sell things in church and not truly endorse consumerism. (This may seem like splitting hairs and I fully expect to be accused of double-standards...but....great! It means people are reading my blog! Ha!)
  • In my parent's church, they sell fair trade items from a "World Market" where the highest percentage possible of profits go to third-world countries. This seems to be a nice fit between recognizing people will buy gifts, so why not funnel that money away from corporations and to the world market? It is still getting happiness from buying things, but that happiness would hopefully come more from knowing you are supporting a family or village far, far away.
Your turn...What do you think? Are church bookstores endorsements of consumerism and contribute to our society's materialistic tendencies? Or is there a middle road between church bookstores and finding solid ground to offer a prophetic word against consumeristic cultures?

Thanks for your comments, and welcome to Hacking Christianity.


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