Category Archives: Emerging Church

Generational Disconnect

There’s a big hole in the middle of most churches and nobody seems to want to talk about it. Oh, there are a few who get it. But there are so many that refuse to face the future and the past. And if we don’t do something about it, we’ll all miss out on what could be something beautiful.

I am talking about the disconnect between generations. It seems like youth culture changes every year. Technology is driving a wedge between many parents and children. From the greatest generation to the baby boomers to gen-x to the millenials, each new demographic seems to be further from the other.  But the truth is that we need each other more and more.

Teenagers need godly adults who will demonstrate a dynamic faith, committed relationships and strong morals. Authorities need to live in such a way that those underneath them willingly submit to their leadership. At the same time, younger generations needs to realize that not everything worth knowing came about in the last few years. We  need to appreciate the legacy and lessons of those who have gone before us, and we need to learn that not everything is handed to us. Sometimes hard work and failure is the necessary path to success and accomplishment.

We could learn a lot from each other if we would only stop and consider what other generations have to offer. I have been thinking about this generational disconnect after reading an article in Harvard Business Review. The February issue featured a case study on generation-y in the workplace. I thought the article really nailed the core issues.

Older generations feel that younger workers don’t respect authority and are impatient. They see the younger generation as pampered needing quick praise and fast opportunities for advancement. Younger people feel like they are closer to culture and know what works today in terms of marketing and technology. They feel like the older leaders won’t listen to them. They are bored at work and feel like they have sold out their dreams for a paycheck and an opportunity sometime in the very distant future.

Obviously, the above is a gross generalization. But it happens to be true in many organizations, churches and businesses. The fact is that change is moving at such a pace now that young blood is needed to stay current. At the same time, younger people are not learning valuable skills at home that they can pickup from older people if the proper relationships can be fostered. This is hard for many business environments where competition can become a major concern. But it should be a non-issue in churches. Sadly, churches may be just as competitive as Wall Street.

Here’s my challenge to those who read this. Over the next month, connect with someone knew who is from a different generation than you. Be intentional about it. See what you can give, learn and experience. You’ll probably be glad you did.

Harvard Business Review article on generation-y.  http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2009/02/gen-y-in-the-workforce/ar/1

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle made some great points about the future church leaders. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJXpo0xfUnA

Driscoll on the DL

Mark Driscoll, one of my favorite Internet preachers, recently went on CNN with D.L Hughely. The interview was funny and on point. While the conversation went to adult topics, I felt that Mark handled himself well.

Good to see some non-wacko preachers get air time on TV.

http://theresurgence.com/pastor_mark_driscoll_on_cnn

Theater Church Visit

The following is a report I wrote after visiting National Community Church at Union Station in Washington D.C.  I did this little exercise for one of my classes at Union-PSCE.

I would love to hear from others about innovative churches that they have visited or are affiliated with in some way.

Godspeed!

  

 Church at the Movies

 

 

            National Community Church (NCC) in Washington D.C. has taken a novel path to reach the “unchurched and the dechurched” in the nation’s capital. NCC meets in movie theaters and coffee houses that are located near metro stops. These public spaces are out in the marketplace; people are willing to visit these places even though they might never set foot in a traditional church building. Renting public spaces is a long-term part of the church’s outreach strategy, not just an interim solution before the church builds its own megachurch complex. 

            I visited NCC’s flagship location at Union Station near the U.S. Capital. The service was easy to find and access from the metro stop in the basement of Union Station. A pleasant, young woman warmly greeted me at the door and handed me a bulletin. Portable signage at the front of the theater indicated the church location. Signs were located throughout the theater complex letting visitors know where to go for various things, such as prayer, visitor information, childcare, etc.

            Just inside the door was a table where greeters warmly interacted with people who desired to know more information about the church. The refreshments stand served free coffee and doughnuts.

            Outside Union Station is a large parking deck. The only problem is that it costs $1 to park if you get your ticket validated by the church. A few blocks away are a lot of parking places on the street. According to NCC, 25% of its regular attenders ride the subway to church. This is quite intentional because NCC as a community encourages people to use public transportation as much as possible.

            Currently, NCC meets in four locations and is launching a 5th site to serve the Kingstowne, Va. area. NCC uses a multi-location model where each site has a lead pastor who runs the service and handles pastoral care for that particular area. The sermon is either preached live or presented as a video message. The worship is always conducted live by a praise band dedicated to each location. Running so many simultaneous services requires a lot of coordination.

            The Union Station theater is a neat location with kind of an art deco feel. Bathrooms were easy to find. The chairs were almost too comfortable although the service moved along quickly, and I never once nodded off to sleep.  

            NCC does not own a church building. Instead, it operates one of the top coffee houses in the city, and its offices are connected to that facility, which is located only a block from Union Station as well as one of the largest office buildings in the city. NCC bought a dilapidated crack house in 2002 and turned it into Ebenezers Coffeehouse four years later.

            The church decided to develop Ebenezers because coffeehouses have become the gathering places for our postmodern society. Ebenezers is designed to be “a place where the church and community cross paths,” according to NCC. It really is a neat facility with a large multimedia room in the basement that serves as one of the service locations as well as the space where the weekly messages are recorded for distribution to the satellite churches.

            From the unique way that NCC does its service to the coffeehouse to the media and modern music used in its service, the church comes across as very creative and innovative. Actually, it was recently rated as one of the top 25 most innovative churches in the country by Outreach Magazine.

            I attended the 11:00 a.m. service which was packed with probably 250-300 people. Visitors were not identified in any way or made to feel uncomfortable. The site pastor did greet visitors and ask for them to see the information booth and/or fill out a very brief form to put in the offering bucket.  

            NCC appears to be attracting the young, urban professional set in the D.C. area. There was a mixture of races in attendance although 65% were white. NCC has 1,300 in weekly attendance last year. Here are some interesting stats about NCC’s community:

·        66% of NCCers are single twenty-somethings

·        76% of NCCers invited someone to NCC last year

·        54% of NCCers visited theaterchurch.com before visiting a service

·        55% of NCCers are involved in a small group

 

            The worship service started off with a quick introduction video explaining the church and its mission. This was shot to look almost like a movie preview. Then there was time for greeting a few folks seated around you. The site pastor then said a beginning prayer before an “indie rocker chick” accompanied by a full band led in three modern worship songs. The words were put on the giant screen. I knew two of the songs – Everlasting God and Take My Life. The worship music was relevant, tasteful. It certainly created an inviting atmosphere to encounter God. The worship mixed two upbeat songs with one more solemn song.

            The entire service was very informal. A lot of people walked in a few minutes late. Some came in with coffee and doughnuts. The flow of the service was easy to follow. Instructions were either given verbally or provided on the screen. The site pastor gave some announcements, welcomed guests, handled the offering and then talked about a recent missions endeavor in Malawi by the church. He introduced the speaker who spoke to us via video, which was recorded the previous evening.

            At first I thought this video approach would seem too distant to be effective for a sermon, but the communicator was skilled, relevant, vulnerable and interesting. Mark Batterson, NCC’s lead pastor and main teache, did not speak this week. Instead, Margaret Feinberg, the author of Sacred Echoes, spoke on hearing the voice of God.

            Feinberg’s main text was 1 Kings 19:4-13 where Elijah hears God in the gentle breeze. Although her comments were not rocket science, they were honest and theologically provoking in a non-combative manner. She shared a lot about her story and told about one time that God impressed something clearly on her mind. She said that God told her, “If you don’t wear your crown, I will give it to someone else.” She then explained her journey as she tested this word and explored its meaning for her life. She closed by challenging the crowd by asking, “What is the crown that Christ is calling you to wear?” She identified a number of possibilities from reconciling with someone to serving the poor to living with less so that other can merely live, etc.

            The service ended with the song God Reigns followed by a standard prayer of benediction. During the song, the worship leader encouraged the community to reflect on the key question that Margaret asked. The entire service lasted approximately 65 minutes.         Although the service clearly reflected the Gospel, there was no direct Gospel presentation or call for people to begin a relationship with God. You could see the Gospel in how things were done more than what was said in this church.

            The name of Jesus was not mentioned in any of the songs. While the cross was a prominent part of Feinberg’s talk, the name of Jesus was only spoken a few times. The style seemed to be a cross between an emergent gathering and a seeker sensitive approach. I felt that one thing that could have been stronger would have been a Gospel appeal to the unchurched as well as a non-intrusive way for people to receive immediate prayer. There was a prayer card in the bulletin, but I generally think that most churches should do a better job of encouraging prayer and follow-up immediately after the service.

            NCC has developed a discipleship map with ports of call to encourage spiritual growth in its congregation. This usually starts with the Alpha program, a series of discipleship classes, retreats, and small groups. NCC has developed a great Discipleship Map that details the programs, service opportunities and spiritual formation activities of the church.

            The Website (www.theaterchurch.com) has detailed information on the church, its beliefs, small groups, programs, etc. Sermons are made available on the site as well as broadcast via a podcast. Mark Batterson writes a regular blog on theology, culture, his life at www.evotional.com. NCC’s Website is top notch including lots of resources and ability for members to connect with each other.

            Starting with an existing core group of about 19 people in 1996, NCC grew significantly over the next few years. A key to the church’s growth has been its creativity and willingness to try new things. Mark Batterson said, “There are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet…The church ought to be the most creative place on the planet.”

            Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would feel visiting a church in a movie theater. It seemed awkward for the first few minutes. Once the music started, I forgot that I was even in a movie theater. The atmosphere and content were engaging. It was kind of cool how they created a sacred space right in the middle of a normal movie theater.

            I talked with Clay at the visitor center. He said that many people like the movie theater atmosphere because it seems less churchy. Some people will visit theater church when they would not visit a traditional church building. Clay said that many people come into the service because they are curious about a church that meets in a movie theater or they just happen to be in the train station while traveling. Union Station is one of the most visited destinations in the nation’s capital.

            Overall, the experience was favorable. I would go back again if I lived in the area. A few things could have been better. I would have liked for the service to have included some element of traditional Christianity, such as a hymn, a responsive reading, a congregational prayer, communion, etc. While the greeter and Clay were nice, no one else really spoke to me. I got the feeling that it might take a while to get noticed there. It might be a good place to hide if you happen to be between churches at the moment. A lot of people seemed to quickly leave the theater once the service ended.    

            Although there was a room designated for prayer, there was no mention about the staff being available to pray with those in need. There was no altar call or quick Gospel presentation for anyone who happened to be unsaved in the room.

            NCC meets right next to a big food court. I think that would be a great opportunity to bless the merchants and ask the church and visitors to fellowship there after the service. This could be done in some coordinated way to provide a deeper opportunity to connect directly after the service.

            I heard Margaret Feinberg share the exact same message a few weeks earlier at a major pastor’s conference. Thus, the message was not necessarily new although it was challenging.

            The day after my visit, I had an opportunity to talk with Chris Jarrell, the NCC campus pastor for Union Station. Chris said that NCC doesn’t have membership per se. Instead, the church’s members are small group leaders or ministry leaders. Thus, you can’t really become a member until you take an active role in the church. In order to be a leader, you have to attend a small group for a semester, be involved in a ministry, attend periodic leadership summits, etc. Currently, NCC has about 150 leader members with 1,300 in attendance on a weekend.

            Chris said, “Our mentality is that outreach is about serving the community not filling chairs.” He added, “We don’t use the term evangelism.”

            However, the church is very active and visible in the community. It just finished this fall a city wide outreach effort with the Convoy of Hope at RFK stadium where 10,000 people received groceries, medical treatment, resume assistance, family/fun activities, etc. Every year, NCC sponsors a big Easter Extravaganza on Capital Hill. In December, the church offers a live nativity to the community as a way to celebrate Christmas.

            Homelessness is a big problem in the D.C. area. NCC has a group that goes out and feeds the homeless every Sunday morning. Much of this ministry organically sprung out of concerns that arose in small groups. Ebenezers offers a free meal and a Bible study every Wednesday for the homeless in the area. Chris added that a number of homeless people attend NCC’s Union Station location on Sunday morning.

            One of the reasons that NCC has tried so many different things is the energy and leadership style of the lead pastor. Chris said, “Mark (Batterson) is an entrepreneur sort of guy by nature. He always pushes us to branch out.”

Unified in Death

Pastor Dave Simiele from MCC spoke about unity in the church last Sunday. I found his comments to be right on the mark. Unity only comes when we set aside our rights and humbly seek to serve others in the name of Christ. This requires us to look beyond ourselves and our own interests. It calls us to really trust God and others we are called to connect with in Christian community.

Pastor Dave said, “Simple unity can only live where humility exists.” I agree. We must realize that everyone has a part to play in the life of a church. This is especially true when it comes to the different generations coming together to celebrate and understand each other. 

Then Dave told a story about how he did something to honor his wife for her birthday even though he generally disliked the activity. It ended up giving them a real good time to further their relationship. Dave said that we must come to realize that “What is death to me can be life to someone else.”

Jesus called His disciples to a radical mission. He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

That is a radical call to live a life greater then your own desires. The question is, “Are we ready to embrace such a radical message?”

Listen to Pastor Dave’s sermon at www.mccag.org.

Is Personal Liberty A Bad Thing?

“Emergents find the biblical call to community more compelling than the democratic call to individual rights. The challenge lies in being faithful to both ideals.” – Tony Jones, Emergent Village coordinator and author

I believe the Emergent thinkers are absolutely right when it comes to this point. The idea of personal liberty is important to have true community and collective liberty. At the same time, selfish motives can easily be justified by a culture aligned around individualism. There is a point where personal liberty gets in the way of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. That has happened in many instances in American Christianity today.

Many well-intentioned people treat being part of a church as more of a consumer experience than a radical call to a covenant community. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that Jesus called His disciples to forsake their personal liberty for the sake of God’s kingdom. As Christians, all of our rights belong to God. Everything we have should be trusted to the careful hands of God.

I am not suggesting that Christians live minimalist lives in some type of neo-communist community. But I do believe we have to be willing to sacrifice to show God’s love. And we have to embrace the simple yet seemingly impossible concept, “It’s not about you or me.”

“Church Is Dead”

Emergent thinker Tony Jones wrote in The New Christians, “In the 20th century, it’s not God who’s dead. It’s the church. Or at least conventional forms of church.”

Jones’ new book is one of the resources that I have to read for an upcoming class this fall on missional evangelism. I don’t know where I stand on the whole Emergent movement. I am not ready to castigate postmodernism like many fundamentalists. But at the same time I do believe that some things are too sacred to toy with just so that we can be relevant. I don’t always trust new things. And I find something comforting about ancient traditions, practices and theology.

What I do know is that Jones hit on an important point. I agree that conventional forms of doing church are suffering a disconnect with both God and people. I don’t know if denominations and institutional Christianity is dead. But it certainly is in flux.

Let’s be clear here. Jones is not saying that The Church is dead. No that would be brash even for him. The Church belongs to Jesus. And He is eternal life. It will never die. The Church extends beyond the building and even the people. It is the body of Christ throughout the world. It is the most powerful force on the planet because its life comes from Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that our ways of doing church and being the church reflect God’s intent. Sometimes we got it right for a while but stray from God’s best. There are times and seasons in history. Things change, and our methods and practices may need to change with it.

Here are some questions that I will seek to answer over the next semester as I wrestle with how best to do church and be The Church.

1.) Is institutional Christianity dead? What can churches do to respond to the current angst and disconnect that has taken place for many Christians?

2.) How does the church process through the tug-of-war between liberal and conservatives interests?

3.) Is it the methods or the theology that need to be rescued?

4.) Why are so many people leaving institutional churches for home churches or small groups? Will this trend change as some people become disillusioned by these new expressions of faith?

5.) Is the real problem church or something deep within us? Maybe our expectations are off? Maybe our abandonment to God needs work.

Designing “Divine” Spaces

 Next time you walk into a church building consider some of the following:
• Does the environment seem warm and inviting or cold and impersonal? From the color scheme, decor and lighting to the presence of couches in the foyer for people to socialize, little things can make a big difference.
• Does the main sanctuary use pews or chairs? Pews are more traditional and almost expected by some. But chairs tend to give more flexibility, even making it possible for people during a service to break out into small group circles. Pews can be uncomfortable and appear less personable to the more modern set.
• Is the building used most of the time? Many church buildings exist for two or three days of use per week at the most. What a waste of space!
• Does the fellowship allow those outside of its membership to use the facility? If the church building remains vacant for most of the week, your fellowship could adopt other gatherings as a way to give back to the community or support other Christian ministries.
• Does the building have a prayer room or chapel where intercessors can pray? You can always tell how important corporate prayer is to a fellowship by the number of people that regularly attend weekly
prayer meetings. Another sure sign is the space reserved for prayer gatherings. Does your church have a prayer closet, a prayer chapel or a prayer sanctuary? The smaller the space, usually the smaller the focus.
• Does the building have some unique feature, which helps the fellowship carry out its unique mission to the community? Some church buildings come with basketball gyms, health centers, coffee bars, food
courts, prayer centers, banquet halls, lounges, libraries, youth facilities or other spaces designed to help the fellowship fulfill its unique mission.
• Is there a place for people to go for prayer/counseling during or after services? Many times people make a connection with God during a service and need to find a quiet, private place to pray or talk with a loving lay counselor. Where can these people go in your facility?  Is there someplace more private and less intrusive to the rest of the service than just the alter?
• Is the facility visitor friendly? Some structures seem like a maze and can be confusing. Is the design intuitive? The building should be designed with welcome centers near major entrances to enable visitors
to know where to go?
• Does the facility get in the way or enhance people’s ability to connect one-on-one with God? Does the facility really matter? Many contend the building has little to do with whether or not a fellowship
creates an environment where people can experience God. Others believe the facility plays a role. Some believe the building to be a key component in the entire church ‘experience.’ Just as each fellowship
is different, the church building should be different, reflecting the values and mission of its users. How well your building plays its part can only be seen through the revelation of the Spirit and your experience.

The above was taken from Broken by Design, a meditation that I wrote in 2003 about church architecture and the use of buildings to minister to the surrounding community. Read more…

http://www.organicfaith.com/brokendesignBOOKLET.pdf