Attracting Millennials….thank you God I don’t have to wear skinny jeans!

Rachel Held Evans wrote a very great article at CNN.com  (click here for the full article) about why the Millennial Generation is leaving the church.  Recent studies have shown that many young adults are heading to more traditional, high church worship because of the things missing from the hipster churches.  When asked how to attract more millennials many churches, pastors, and laity think it is about the ‘cool’ factor.  Rachel disagrees.  Below are two quick quotes that do a lot to sum her thoughts.
“But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.”
“You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”  (this one stung a little..okay…A LOT!)
What I read in her article was a relief for me.  Attracting young people, millennials, is not about doing A, B and C.  It is about authenticity.  Are you being authentic in your worship and in your missions.  I think she hit the nail on the head that Millennials have a highly sensitive BS meter.  They (personally I have one foot in the Millennial and GenX generations so I talk about both of them as ‘they’) can see right through masks many churches put up.  They can see authentic a mile away. 
Maybe what churches should do is stop worrying about the type of worship and simply learn to do what they do really well.  Instead of trying to be everything to everyone just be yourself, and be really great at it.  People are attracted and want to participate in authentic worship/missions/small groups/(insert other church functions), no matter if it is high, low or in between.
May we strive for authentic and not cool.  What is cool is always changing, authentic sticks around.
 
 
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Why Worship Attendance Matters – Weems Video

This is an interesting video from Lovett Weems and the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.  I have been tracking worship attendance in Excel for almost 7 years now.  I have never graphed it though and I’m looking forward to what that graph will tell me about attendance habits of my new appointment.  Of course that means I have to wait at least another 6 months to get some good data.

Worship attendance has a cycle and I agree with Weems that we need to understand that cycle in our current congregation.  If we don’t then we miss out on opportunities.  We are thinking from the inside out instead of outside in.  Gone are the days when churches simply opened the doors and people came.  In our current reality there are too many other options out there in the world.  Crunching the worship numbers is not focusing on ‘numbers for the sake of numbers’ but is learning your community and seeing ways, even small ways, to encourage people to connect to God through worship.

Take the time and watch the video…it is worth your time.

Sermon – 5 Practices of a Fruitful Congregation: Passionate Worship

5 Practices of a Fruitful Congregation
Passionate Worship
Exodus 8:1; Psalm 84:1-2; Luke 10:27
10-07-12
There is this crazy thing that happens to people when they get excited about a certain event.  Some people go as far as dressing from head to toe, in things seen and unseen, ready for the big day.  Others cannot wait for the day to arrive and try to hurry it along by gathering together to with friends beforehand.  Of course you may have guessed what I am talking about already but let me give you a few more clues.  Some people will brave any weather outside to participate in this event, some go as far as painting themselves and acting like four years old when things don’t go their way.  Of course I am talking about Football fans.  As we step into the middle of this year’s NFL season I am reminded how crazy people get about sports.  Just look at this poor guy…
No I understand crazy fans.  I was one of those silly students on the floor of Cameron Indoor Stadium.  For us graduate students we had to camp out for a whole weekend to be eligible for the lottery to then hopefully win season tickets to Duke Basketball.  I have been to one Duke/UNC game in Cameron and even though we lost that game, it was one of my favorite memories.  Plus I made it into Sports Illustrated that year too!  Cameron Crazies will do about anything to make sure their team wins.  There is a Divinity School student that became famous and known as Speedo Guy.  He is now ministering a church but look up Speedo Guy on YouTube and watch his story.  But whether it is football, basketball, soccer, tennis, baseball, badminton, golf, or hockey [wait never mind they aren’t playing] we, as humans, will worship a certain team and we will really get into it.
What is worship? Why are we here? What is the point of coming here every Sunday? Some people may say that we are here because the Bible says to be here. Well the Bible does say that we need to worship God but it does not say we can only worship God or that we HAVE to worship God on Sunday mornings. But that is culturally where we arrive at worship. Some have a distinct vision of what worship is.  Some people think of contemporary when they hear the word worship. They think hands in the air, saying Amen, clapping along to songs and singing God’s praise. When others think of worship they might think of sitting in the pew and sitting quietly in order to reflect, be rejuvenated and filled. Others see this as an opportunity to see family and friends, to catch up and enjoy the fellowship of the people closest to them.
Let’s walk through what the Bible says about worship.  In Exodus we learn that worship was one of the main reasons that the Hebrew people wanted to be free.  Exodus 8:1 says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him: This is what the Lord says: Let my people go so that they can worship me.”  In the Psalms it says, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord of heavenly forces!  My very being longs, even yearns, for the Lord’s courtyards.  My heart and my body will rejoice out loud to the living God!”  This says that we earn to worship God because it is what we are designed as humans to do.  As followers of Christ we are commanded to do it.  Jesus reminds us of the Old Testament command that “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Not only is it in our DNA as humans but it is also who we are to be as Christians.  It is not a choice and it is a choice, thank you for choosing to be here this morning.
Here is the complete title of Marva Dawn’s book which talks about worship; A Royal Waste of Time, the Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. In this book Dawn is attempting to argue how we can easily slip away from the true nature of worship. True worship is a royal waste of time in her opinion. She explains this by saying that by engaging in worship we don’t accomplish anything useful in our society’s terms. Many people don’t come to church because they don’t feel like they get anything out of it. They don’t see it as productive or purposeful.
But this is not the reason worship is a waste of time. Worship is a waste of time because nothing we do in this service today or any other time changes God. No matter if I preach the best sermon ever, or the choir sings an extremely moving anthem, or if we have someone share a powerful testimony, or if we actually all sing a hymn together, we won’t change God and we cannot change the love God has for us. Dawn says, “It is totally irrelevant, not efficient, not powerful, not spectacular, not productive, sometimes not even satisfying to us.” (p.17) Yet that is because, what is the point of worship?
The point of worship is not us. We are not the point of worship. You, the congregation, and me, the preacher, are not the reason for worship. God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the point, the reason, the purpose of worship. The Lord and Savior we love and the one who loves us is what it is all about. The songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the offerings we give, everything we do points to God and brings him glory. Worship is a response to God. It is a response that offers praise, thanksgiving, discussion, inner struggle, pain, release, joy, excitement, love, prayer, confession, adoration…and I can go on and on. But no matter what you do or do not do here in this place each Sunday still does not change how God feels about you. You are wasting your time if you think God is doing a role call every week and if you have enough checks by your name you are going to get into heaven. Attendance does not equal worship. True worship is immersing ourselves in the glory, presence, and splendor of God. It is coming together as the Body of Christ each week in order to be true community.
The truth is, what you put into worship is what you get out. There is this idea among most American church goers that a worship service is like everything else in the USA. They approach a worship service from a consumer perspective. They interact with a worship service like they interact with the X Factor, American Idol or the Voice. I don’t know if you do this or not but as I am watching reality talent shows I am always critiquing that performance. I am thinking to myself, “Well that was horrible, he will be going home this week.” Or, “I really liked that song, she interacted with the audience well, and really connected with the lyrics. She did a great job.” Many people come to worship and they look at it the same way. “That service was horrible because that last hymn was too slow, the kids were too loud, the preacher said there were three points to his sermon and I heard seventeen. That service wasn’t good for me.” Sometimes people around the lunch table will say, “That was a great service. The preacher’s sermon struck a cord with me, the choir did a good anthem, and my prayer request was lifted up, I was fed and I am filled.” There are times I am at home at 11:15 am thinking, “Man I tanked that sermon, I messed up that children’s moment, that illustration worked just like I hoped or man it was nice to hear the special music today.” The truth is they are all the wrong perspectives because worship is not about entertainment  Remember the point of worship is not about us, it has nothing to do with what we get out of it.  It is about what we have offered God.
What you get out of worship is not the point; it is what you are putting in. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he is reminding them of the right attitude to have. He says, “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” How many times do we participate in worship with our eyes to the ground, shuffling through the service, and trapped within the foot of space around us? Instead, we are told to be active participants in worship. We should look up and “be alert to what is going on around Christ.” We have to make sure we are present for the whole hour we are here.
A Sunday School teacher asked her children a question as they made their way to the sanctuary, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.” To be present means you have to work. It takes work to put yourself out there to be open to God. That means you have to stop thinking about the time because God may not be limited to an hour and it has been proved that the Holy Spirit can work past noon. That means that talking to your neighbor about where you will be going to lunch or to your spouse about the list of chores that need to be done during a hymn is not making yourself present. Being present is not sitting there counting the number of window panes, or ceiling tiles. Being present is not sitting up here and worried about the number of people who are here, if I am making sense, or if people are listening. Being in worship means putting yourself completely IN the moment. If you walk in with the right attitude, in the right frame of mind, you can be open to see what is going on around Christ.
I have heard many people say this statement about a church’s worship.  “I just don’t feel fed.”  Then I heard another preacher explain something I thought was vitally important for me to remember.  He said that ministers/preachers/worship leaders are merely the chefs.  We work hard to prepare the feast.  We use our talents and gifts to create something that should be delicious to God.  But we don’t feed people, people feed themselves.  There are many people who approach worship with the attitude that they are toddlers and the worship leaders have a spoon and they are saying, “here comes the airplane, open up the hanger, swooooshhhh!”  But the truth is it is the congregation’s job, the individual’s job to feed themselves.  Will you get something out of every aspect of worship?  Probably not.  Could you get something out one piece of it?  Yes, if you put yourself into the moment and opened yourself to God’s Holy Spirit who is at work in this place today and every time we gather together.
Paul gives the early Christian church some advice on how to live and worship more holy. He says, “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”
When we are here, worshiping together, we need to “let the Word of Christ – the Message – have the run of the house.” We need to make room for the Spirit to work and to make ourselves open to be touched by the God. I was reading an article one day about how the author wished church was more like a musical. In a musical an event happens and people, EVERYONE, breaks out into song and dance. The author thought that should happen more in worship. The preacher should be so into his sermon that a song erupts from his mouth. The congregation should be so in tune to the Holy Spirit that they break out into a choreographed dance. What would worship feel like if that happened? What would worship be like if it was just like Grease or Glee?  What if we approached worship like we do a football game, basketball game, or baseball game?  What would it be like if we came with that much excitement, passion, and anticipation?
Today is World Communion Sunday.  It is the Sunday that the world comes to God’s table and we rejoice as Body of Christ together.  It is very humbling to think about those of us here taking communion along with those across the pond in England, or on the bases of our military in the Middle East, or in the largest United Methodist Church which is in Korea, or in the small hut where a congregation of 20 gathers in Kenya, or in the Philippines, or in South America.  Everywhere, in all denominations we are supposed to be coming together to the Lord’s table and getting a taste of the heavenly banquet.  Today as you approach the table I want you to be in the moment, 100% present in it.  Come with your hands reaching out and ready to accept the gift that is given today.  We have a God who is passionate about his love for us and as we gather in this place each week we should give thanks, sing praise, and offer up our worship in an equal passionate way.  I want to end with another quote by Marva Dawn because I think it reminds us once again why we are here.  She says, “No place in the Bible, no place, does it ever say worship the Lord to attract the unbeliever. It always says worship the Lord because he is worthy, or because God is holy, or worship because God deserves it, or worship because this is what God did for us.  So God is the subject and the object of our worship.”
And all God’s people said…Amen.

Making Worship WOW

I have been reading Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World and I think there is a lot to glean from it for the local church.  (which I guess is why Cokesbury was selling it)  You will probably see a post now and then telling you some tidbits I found interesting.  Like this post for example…

During the first section of this book he talks about the product we are selling.  He says that product has to involve WOW.  Hyatt doesn’t directly define wow but states we know it when we see it.  We see it when we look over the Grand Canyon or Victoria Falls.  It is the feeling you have look out over the NYC skyline on the Empire States Building or watching one of those reunions of a child and their parent who has just come home from war.  It is the gut check that makes you sit back and simply say, WOW.  He says, “We don’t need more messages or products or services.  Instead, we need better messages, products, and services.  Specifically, we need those that wow.

Making the leap in my head I wondered if I was producing a ‘wow worship’.  Not that CD that is made up of popular worship songs, but the experience people have when they come to worship, is it WOW or simply “mmm-eah.”  I don’t think we can knock every week out of the park.  I cannot deliver WOW sermons every week because of many reasons but I should be created wow more than once a year.

Hyatt states there are ten elements that a wow experience has in them. (pg.8-10)

  1. Surprise
  2. Anticipation
  3. Resonance
  4. Transcendence
  5. Clarity
  6. Presence
  7. Universality
  8. Evangelism
  9. Longevity
  10. Privilege
Is the worship at my church doing any of this?  some of this?  one of these on the list?  Is yours?  It is eye opening to think about it and there are lots of excuses why I/we don’t get to wow on Sunday mornings.  The fourth chapter in the book talked about obstacles that get in the way and they cut me this morning.  Here is is list of five obstacles that get in the way of creating wow experiences: (pg.17-18)
  1. We simply run out of time.  The deadline looms.  We are scrambling to get the product out the door.  or we have to wrap up the service so we can get to the next client before he starts complaining.  We simply don’t have the time to give the job our best effort, so we let it go.  Half-baked.  Before it is really done.
  2. We don’t have enough resources. We’d like to do a better job.  We sincerely want to take it to the next level.  But we just don’t have the money or the staffing.  We rationalize by saying, “I did the best I could do with the resources I had.”  And again, we let it go and turn our attention to the next project or client in the queue.
  3. We don’t have sufficient experience. We just don’t know how to do what we know needs to be done.  Our vision exceeds our know-how.  We know what the product or service could deliver, but we don’t have the knowledge, the skills, or the experience to get us there.  So we settle for something less than our vision demands.
  4. Too often, we acquiesce to the committee.  Perhaps we are a little unsure of ourselves.  “Everyone else seems to like it,” we say to ourselves, “Maybe they’re right There are a lot of smart people in this room. C’mon, just let it go!”  And so we do.  We dial back our own vision for what could be and succumb to the collective judgment of the group.
  5. But the biggest obstacle of all is fear. In fact, this is the primary obstacle.  If we are honest, we must admit that the previous four items are only excuses.  If we had enough courage, we would find the time, the resources, or the experience.  We would stand up to the committee.  We wouldn’t settle for something less than wow.
Number 5 cut me like a knife.  I am fearful.  I do stand up on some Sunday morning knowing I’m offering up a message, a worship experience that has been half-baked.  I felt convicted that what is getting in the way of the wow is me.  

Moving…a great prayer

The following is a prayer which was passed out at our Moving Pastor’s Seminar in the beginning of June.  The prayer was written by the people of PlowPoint Ministries which is a great place to help your congregation grow and learn to follow God’s call in their lives.  This is my prayer for Sunday and I thought I would share it for anyone else to be inspired by it as they head into their last Sunday.

Covering Prayer

Gracious God,
We praise you for who you are and for all that you do for us.  You, O Lord, are the Good Shepherd, and you have given us and blessed us with abundant life and ministry.
We thank you for the gifts and calling you have given each of us as your servants in which we share and minister together as the One body of Christ.  We especially give you thanks, Lord, for our shepherd leaders, our pastors, who you have sent to lead us according to your will. 
Lord, we are yours and you are ours, and we share in your precious gift of the Church.  In this season of transition, Lord, we ask that you guide us and protect us as we release and receive our pastors and their loved ones.
Forgive us, Lord, for the ways we have disappointed one another and you.  Forgive us, Lord, for the times we have insisted on our own agendas instead of heeding and following only yours.  Where there has been hurt, give us healing.  Where there is grief, give us grace.
As we prepare to say goodbye, help us to leave and release one another with honor.  Help us to celebrate the ways you have worked among and through us.  And help us to let go of past disappointments to embrace the promising future that lies ahead.
As we prepare to say hello to our new leaders, bless them and us.  Lord, bind us together with our bond of peace.
Make us one, Lord, as you and the Father are one.  Let nothing, namely anything we say or do, be divisive among us.  What you, Lord, have brought together, let no one tear apart.
And now, Lord, we give ourselves entirely to you so your Church will be entirely yours.  For it’s in your holy and precious name we pray.  Amen.

Easter = Low Sunday

It is a very strange circumstances at my church.  It has taken me at least 3 years to get use to it.  But the reality is that Easter Sunday has always been, historically, a low Sunday.  The main reason is that many of the families own beach houses and spend the long weekend with their family at the beach. But I still remember my first Easter here and the feeling of joy that shot out of me like a circus cannon when I looked out into the congregation and saw 2/3 of my usual congregation.

We do not have many visitors on Easter Sunday.  Since our small town of 25,000 people have around 90 churches to choose from I guess we are simply low on the list.  Or the sign out front isn’t enough to draw in visitors.  Or everyone is at the beach.

Last year seemed a little fuller but the congregation has changed.  There are more new families over the last three years that have joined and they don’t have access to beach houses.  As we have broken free from relying on the “from heres” and more of the “come heres” have filled the pews, those pews have stayed filled during the high holy days.

Regardless I have warned our new music director that the service will seem very ‘normal’ on Easter.

So here is an invite to all the world.  If you would like to come and worship on Easter morning…come on out to Trinity UMC in Thomasville, NC at 11:00am.  Heck come at 8:30am for an Easter Communion Service and stay for breakfast at 9:00am.  There will be plenty of room!