801South Values: Unchurched

Established churches are great at saying that we want to reach unchurched people and then doing absolutely nothing toward that goal. Honestly I don’t think churches know what we are saying when we state we want to reach unchurched people. We are obviously well trained to satisfy church people. This is our sweet spot. This is in our wheel house. What does it even look like to create a church that is entirely for people who are not even there? First of all, the people that are there probably won’t like it.

I am currently reading an incredible book by Andy Stanley, titled Deep and Wide. The subtitle for the book is Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. I have read several of Andy’s books and they have all had an impact on my faith and my approach to ministry. This book, however, is my favorite. This may sound arrogant, but Andy puts pen to paper for many of the thoughts that have swimming around in my head for the past several years. Here are just a couple:

“The moment a church, or even a group of leaders within a church, catches a vision for capturing the hearts and imaginations of those who consider themselves unchurched or dechurched, environments take on new significance.” If you were to ask leaders in my previous appointments, they will tell you that I have preached over and over about the need to create environments into which people actually want to enter as they walk into our churches. Not programs, not spaces, not events, not services, but environments. In fact, just this past Sunday, prior to reading Deep and Wide, I spoke to the congregation here at Matthews UMC about the church providing Experiences through Environments that Encourage relationships. Through 801South, rather than begging people to come be a part of what we are doing for ourselves, we hope to create environments into which unchurched people will actually want to enter.

In explaining providential relationships as one of the five key faith catalysts; which North Point Community Church has always used to develop their ministries, Andy writes, “While it’s beyond our ability to manufacture any type of relationship, much less one characterized as providential, what we can do is create environments that are conducive to the development of these types of relationships.” (I promise that I did not read this statement before delivering the message this past weekend.) The problem with creating environments in which unchurched people would want to participate is that you have to think like someone who is unchurched. Apparently, when the Holy Spirit takes residence withus us, his (or her or whatever) first action is to disconnect the unchurched brain through which we previously interpreted the world. This hurts us as we try to reach those whom at one time we were just like.

It will be important for those who sign on to be a part of the launch team for 801South to understand that many of the decisions we make will not make sense to church people. In fact, many of the ways we try to reach, teach, praise, and serve could potentially be interpreted as offensive to good church people. But 801South is not for churched people.

Andy Stanley, through the written word, is inspiring and solidifying my vision for the rare opportunity we have through 801South. Despite the constant tension and natural drift to become an institution for those already in the church, my hope is to provide more than lip-service toward the mission.

801South Values: Fun

Caleb

I explained a primary value of reproduction through relational apprenticing in my message this past Sunday. I look forward to sharing more values this coming Sunday as we talk about the need to offer fresh expressions of the Gospel.

Shannon Cotton, the Communications Director at Matthews UMC, says that I need to add pictures to my blog and she’s the expert so you can thank her for the photograph. The smiling preschooler is my oldest son, Stephen “Caleb;” who is laughing after running through a suburban geyser at the local splash pad. The joy he was experiencing in that moment warmed the hearts of his parents and his 16-month-old brother was very intrigued so he quickly joined in the fun as well. Fun is contagious.

Fun is almost always a driving value for children. I’m not sure at what point in our lives we allow play to move down the list of priorities, nor am I sure of all the factors influencing us to stop pursuing fun. I remember watching Kevin Carroll address this issue at a leadership conference several years ago. He explained that at some point we no longer incorporate play into our everyday lives; which becomes very detrimental to us as adults. This lack of play can be fatal to the soul. So I refuse NOT to have fun. There are those intense moments that demand a more serious posture, such as a tough diagnosis or a loss of life, but for the other 99% of our time here, fun should be a big pursuit. As is the case with maintaining simplicity and external focus, however, the natural drift is toward strictly business; which is no fun.

There are times when I look at people who are miserable and not having fun at all, especially in their jobs, and I want to tell them to quit and do something fun. The typical response is that we all have to eat so we need a job-even if that employment is killing us. (I think play and fun–or lack thereof–are more telling of ones personality than external influence, such as a boring job.) I would rather starve while having a blast, than experience a halfhearted existence on a full stomach.

Fun as a value for 801South will unfold as lots of laughter and play. We will create environments in which people actually enjoy being around each other as we work together on the same mission and crave that relational space when away. After all, aren’t we working to make known the One who came to provide abundant life? I hope that when I get bogged down in the day-to-day drudgery someone will hold me accountable to the value of fun, at which point we will stop, go out for cupcakes, and return for a game of Pictionary.

801South Values: Exiles

A couple years back, I had the opportunity to attend David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me Live event at National Community Church in Washington DC. Everyone who attended the event received a free copy of Kinnaman’s latest work You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith. As I quickly read through the book following the event, I discovered the perfect language to describe my feelings toward the established church. The key metaphor Kinnaman uses is the Babylonian exile of which we read in Scripture. The fourth chapter of the book is titled Exiles. I was so excited about coming across this metaphor that I photocopied the entire chapter and emailed it to the leadership of our denomination. I was essentially saying, “This! This explains my predicament (and others like me) perfectly!”

I don’t want to leave the established church, but there is a strong temptation and the establishment is making it more and more difficult to stay. Therefore, I am torn between two worlds. I am part of a disconnected world who clings tightly to methods and nonessential convictions that are driving it further away from those on the outside. At the same time, I see God moving outside of this disconnected world and I am drawn to be a part of his movement. Rather than leave, I want to be a part of bridging this gap.

Kinnaman defines an Exile as “those who grew up in the church and are now physically or emotionally disconnected in some way, but who also remain energized to pursue God-honoring lives.” Later in the chapter, he writes that Exiles are, “trying on new ways of Christ-following that make sense to their communities and careers.” These ways of Christ-following, however, may not make sense to the established mainline church. Kinnaman also shares that Exiles are, “caught between the church as it is and what they believe it is called to be.”

Part of my dream that has led me to develop a ministry like 801South is providing a safe space into which Exiles can bring people about whom they care. The established church needs entry points that allow for a friendly reception–not simply superficial smiles and coffee, but also for ideas that are very different from (and even counter to) what has been accepted as “normal” in our current context. My hope is that all three focuses of 801South–worship, discipleship, and service–will provide that safe space so people who yearn to live a life of Christ-following are not apprehensive in including people from their own spheres of influence.

801South Values: Simplicity

Simplicity is one of the greatest values driving decision making for 801South. We live in a very complicated culture here in suburban America. I see a hunger for a simpler way to do life, but there are few organizations who focus on providing the necessary steps.

The reason for striving for simplicity is the need to be reproducible. The more complicated an organization, the more of its own resources are required to feed the machine, rather than reproduce itself. As a local church reaches people, sees lives changed, and, consequently, receives more financial support, is it best to use that financial support to continue reaching people or to build more space for the people who have been reached? The people who were reached were done so despite the lack of space, but there is a natural drift toward being inwardly focused. Being inwardly focused naturally leads to complication.

One aspect of simplicity is the worship + 2 concept in that a modern disciple of Jesus makes attending worship a priority, participates faithfully in small group discipleship, and serves in one opportunity to display the love of Christ to those in need. That’s it. Simple, huh? As complicated as our lives have become, the local church should be asking how to simplify life, not add to the complexity.

Simplicity allows an organization to reproduce and multiply much more easily as it pursues its mission. Every aspect of the organization–facilities, leadership structure, programming, etc.–must strive to maintain its simplicity. The question, “How is this simple?” must be asked over and over and over to combat the tendency of growing complicated.

801South Values: Relationships Drive

As I continue to try and help people understand some of the values that 801South will hope to exhibit, the value which may be of most importance is that of relationships driving the ministry. You have heard me say (many times) that life is about people and people are about relationships.

One of the most brilliant concepts I have learned from Brian Zehr goes like this:

Relationships Drive.

Structure Supports.

Programs are Tools.

These three simple statements are very helpful in developing a model for ministry, especially one in which you hope to reach young adults between the ages of 16 and 40. I am fully convinced that those labeled as Millennials–or Mosaics–(who, by the way, hate to be labeled) are desperate for deep, meaningful relationship. There may be several reasons for this hunger. Perhaps they have seen relationships around them crumble throughout their lives.

I know that young people love to be entertained, but we are not fooled by Hollywood. We understand entertainment as the glossy fantasy that it is and when we turn to the real world, we hope to witness and experience deep relationships, unlike those on the big screen. Unfortunately, for many in this generational category, many of us have failed to find these relationships around us. Parents are divorced, friends are self-indulgent and too busy, family is squabbling and disconnected.

So where do we turn? Those forums that offer the most genuine and deepest opportunity to be in relationship will win. There are, however, some things that we must sacrifice for the sake of relationship. The first thing that we must push past is our desire to be right. If our goal is to be right, then we will have that opportunity and, at the end of the day, we will be right AND alone. Sometimes we have to sacrifice being right for the sake of relationship.

Not making sure that we are right is a tough pill for the church to swallow, because we often see ourselves as the keeper of right. We must learn to let go of this self-appointment. We do not own truth. We may know truth, but we do not own it. Truth is truth. For example, what if a person comes into our midst and claims, “God does not exist.” Does one stating this claim make it so? Of course not. God is God no matter what you or I say. So we have to learn how to not be offended at worst, uncomfortable as best, when young people’s views differ from the norm with which we have become comfortable. There will be time to focus on truth, but we have to start with relationship; which then provides the fertile soil for truth to be planted.

Another key sacrifice to be made so that relationships drive is the “if we build it, they will come” mentality. There is no place for field of dreams in today’s culture. Someone has already built it better, cooler, faster, louder, and brighter, and everyone has access to it in their front pocket. Whatever you offer is automatically compared to the best in the world, rather than what is down the street, thanks to the internet. Rather than focusing on brick and mortar (which is important and should be done with well informed inspiration) or new programs/ events (which are important and should be done with well informed inspiration) the focus should be on opportunities for relationships to be initiated, developed, cultivated, and matured.

801South will focus on relationship–vertical and horizontal–to drive the ministries. The best model for relationship is that of small groups, but the key is to create systems that allow small groups to multiply AND remain small. This will be an exciting opportunity within 801South: for us to develop new modes of building relationships and then tweaking these modes as we move forward.

I am so excited to see how relationships continue to form–both vertical when people become (re)connected with their Creator and horizontal as we are intentional about people connecting with each other.

I am also excited about hearing how you hope 801South will allow relationships to drive. What are your ideas for how we can best develop new relationships and be intentional to experience a maturation of relationships? If you have thoughts, especially as a young person, please leave a comment/reply under this post or find another way to get it touch with me. I will be happy to buy you lunch or a cup of coffee so I can hear your ideas.

801South Values: Culture of Intentional Investment

Over the next couple weeks, I will be writing a series of articles detailing some of the key values that will be drivers of the 801South movement. If you are a reader who sees yourself as potentially playing a role in 801South, hopefully these posts will help you to further discern that potential. If you are just a casual reader, I hope these values will help you to understand the future of the established institutional church.

Today’s topic is intentional investment.

What does it mean to invest in someone? Investment is all about utilizing current resources for the sake of receiving a future profit through appreciating the value of those current resources. When I deduct 20% of my gross salary each pay period and invest it in my retirement fund, I am utilizing my current assets to levy an interest so that it will be of higher value at some point in the future.

Keeping one eye on the present and one eye on the future is vital to successful investment. One must understand the value of her current resources as well as how to best raise the value of those resources for the future. When I put both eyes (all of my attention, focus) on the current resources alone, I miss the opportunity for growth in the future. In the established church, this is often the case, because although every local church is technically built for those outside of the building, our human nature influences us to make decisions with an inward focus. On the other hand, when we focus only on those who are outside (and potential future opportunity), we neglect the value of our current resources. Therefore, rather than appreciating (growing in value), people in whom no one is investing depreciate. The current resource is eventually depleted. Maintaining this balance is very important.

So what does it mean to invest in someone? Take a look at the work of Jesus the man. Jesus taught large groups, Jesus healed individuals, Jesus walked (What’s up, Kanye?). Jesus used these tools (teaching, healing, travel) to attribute value to his current resources as he revealed God and God’s plan. His closest relationships, however, were relationships of investment. He spent most of his time investing in a select group of individuals.

In the church, we use a big word to describe all forms of teaching; discipleship. When we use the word discipleship in 801South, it refers to a forum and detailed process of mentoring/apprenticing for the sake of appreciating the value of our greatest resource: people. We want people to be better people. If your father did not intentionally mentor you on how to be a faithful husband or father, I want someone who has been mentored in that role, to fill that void in your life so that your relationships can be as healthy as possible. Your wife, your children, and others will appreciate the effort. You will be of a higher value to them. And if I personally get that opportunity, it might take the form of teaching you how to lead a small group Bible study, but through that process, I will make myself vulnerable in allowing you to see my struggles and relational blemishes so that ultimately you can learn what it looks like to desire to follow Jesus with everything God has given you. Other 801South leaders will do the same.

Growing people through maintaining a culture of intentional investment is a driving value for 801South. The process has yet to be solidified and it will be tweaked as we move forward with this movement. We will, however, make it simple for people to invest in people, because, quite simply, life is about people and people are about relationships. There will be comfort for those entering this movement in that they will be named as one in whom a leader is investing from the very beginning. The current resource will know their value through providing guidance to those who will one day take their place. The process will, therefore, value the current and increase the value of the future.

The return on our investments will be changed lives, more meaningful relationships, and greater focus on making decisions for the sake of the eternal. Just like my retirement fund will not return a profit accidentally, the relational investment of people into people through 801South will require continual intentionality.

Why We Do Church The Way We Do Church

There is a vital concept that you must grasp in order to appreciate a ministry initiative like 801South.

Here it is (totally for free):

Those who participate in modes of church (worship, discipleship, outreach, missions, evangelism, etc.) that are different from your own are NOT inherently wrong.

We have an innate push within us to express animosity toward that which is simply different. But different does not necessarily equal wrong. The motivation of those who do things differently may or may not be biblically based. They may or may not be effective. The key point of coming to this understanding is realizing that the masses who do church a particular way do so because we were TAUGHT to. More than likely, you do church the way you do because you have been trained to do so.

Occasionally, one (or two or three) from within the masses stops to analyze current methods and the world around her (or receives a new revelation from God) and realizes that the current modes will not effectively perpetuate the never-changing gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. John Wesley did this very thing. He determined a need for new methods by analyzing the Anglican church and the culture of the day.

On the flip side, when new modes are deemed necessary, this does not mean that current modes are inherently WRONG. Those who maintain an appreciation for the ways in which the gospel has been perpetuated in the past will have the greatest ability to provide fresh expression in the future.

You do not do church the way you do church because it is right. Rather, you do church the way you do church, because you were apprenticed to do exactly that. I am looking for new apprentices who will one day receive a new revelation and realize a need for change when the 801South modes are no longer the most effective for the mission.

Publicly Answering Publicly Asked Questions: Part Three

Here is the final post in a series through which I am providing my answers to questions that have been asked regarding the 801South ministry initiative.

First of all, the most popular question is:

Are we trying to be Elevation?

No. But understanding and appreciating Elevation Church will be helpful. See here. Here. Here. And here.

Secondly,

How will this new service be communicated to the target audience?

There will be lots of methods through which 801South is communicated to the community. This includes advertising through marketing vehicles such as Facebook, Twitter, print newspapers, current internal & external church communications, and more.

All of these media are useful tools, but the single most important method through which this ministry will be communicated is mouth to ear. No communication is more effective than a direct invitation or word of mouth testimony. When the communication regarding 801South comes by way of relationship, we have the greatest opportunity for multiplication. Those who participate in 801South will understand (or will be trained to understand) that authenticity is a thin economy in today’s world of noise. Almost all marketing and advertising is perceived as white noise by younger generations. We hate being sold to. We do not want you to tell us why we should buy what you are selling. We simply want to know how what you offer can benefit us. If a friend (or at least someone who I respect) tells me that his life has changed for the better because of an activity in which he is participating, I’m in. Of course 801South is a vehicle through which we will be selling life.

Finally,

Who will be welcome during this service?

Everyone. Simple, right?

Andy Mineo’s Wild Things is one track that has been looping on my iPhone recently. Mineo spits the following lyrics:

If you catch me in a bar where the wild things are/
With my pastor and an entourage who loves God/
Please don’t think that it’s odd, we kick it ’round broken hearts/
Fishing for men, surrounded by sin but ain’t taking part.

Of course most “wild things” have a misperception of the church and are not setting their alarm clocks to make sure they get a front row seat on Sunday morning. 801South will reach out and invite people to be a part, but more than that, this ministry will be a training ground for people with a heart for people to develop relationships with the “wild things.”

When it comes to showing radical hospitality and being welcoming, each of us as individuals has to answer this question for ourself. I, as a leader, can try to create a welcoming culture, but this is communicated nonverbally through actions (or non-actions) and body language of individuals.

I have witnessed church folks who say that they want to be welcoming, but when given the opportunity, they fail to exhibit the desire with their words or behavior. In borrowing a concept from Brian Zehr, welcoming the outsider is a common value and we use this language within the church, but we lack the behavioral patterns that actually demonstrate this value.

On a similar note, although everyone will be welcome, not everyone will choose to participate, nor will everyone’s opinion be welcome. To quote Seth Godin in describing Ronald Reagan’s leadership capacity, “Reagan’s secret, is to listen, to value what you hear, and then to make a decision even if it contradicts the very people you are listening to.” The leadership will listen to everyone’s opinion, but we will only honor those that benefit the discerned 801South mission and vision.

 

If you have any other questions regarding 801South, please share them in the comments/reply box below.

Publicly Answering Publicly Asked Questions: Part Two

Over my first two days I have spoken to a medley of people in the community and listened to their thoughts on what 801South might look like or what they hope to see as a result of this new ministry. The conversation is wide-ranging and a lot of fun to hear different perspectives. I too will continue to openly provide my own perspective on some of the questions that have been asked regarding 801South:

Have we or should we reach out to other United Methodist Conferences to see how they have done with launching services of similar type?

If you know of any other United Methodist-based ministries launching similar venues, please share. There are many UM churches who have started new campuses. We are in contact with them and learning from them currently. The unique aspirations we hold for 801South, however, may be unprecedented in our tradition.

As an extension of this question, I would also like to share a few thoughts regarding denominations in general. The idea of denominations is a divisive issue to the next generation. There are many people, myself included, who look at the words of Jesus and wonder how we got to such a fractured assortment of religious flavors in the church. Then we look at people and say, “Oh yeah, this is what people do.” We divide by preference and prejudice.

When we focus solely on United Methodist ventures, we unintentionally limit ourselves. We can (and should) learn from everyone–even those with whom we may not agree. After all, Jesus does not tell us to agree with each other. So yes, I would love to learn from similar United Methodist ventures. And I want us to learn from everyone who is pursuing new methods (pun intended) of worshiping, reaching, serving, and mentoring. It would do us well to look outside of our heritage for the sake of informing our future. Young people do this naturally. John Wesley was the master of new methods to deepen the faith and spread the Gospel of Jesus.

We are also working closely with Brian Zehr who founded the leadership firm Intentional Impact. Brian has a wide array of experience in churches of varied persuasions. Brian worked with a Lutheran church who has successfully launched a very similar venue from within a traditional congregation. I plan to visit this church in September to observe and connect with a network of leaders from the suburbs of Chicagoland.

Will this service be a duplicate of what we currently offer at the 9:40 contemporary worship service?

I had the opportunity to sit in on a contemporary worship planning team meeting just this morning. The short answer is no, the 801South worship venue will not be a duplication of this service.

The main drivers of 801South worship will be relationship and simplicity. Therefore, two primary questions will always be: “How does this inform or deepen our relationship (to God, to each other, to the outsider, etc.)?” and “Does it have to be this complicated?” A key focus of 801South overall will be reproduction and simple organisms reproduce much quicker (and more easily adapt to surrounding changes) than complex organisms. To quote Thom Rainer, “[Eric Geiger] found that the healthiest churches in America tended to have a simple process for making disciples.” Making disciples of Jesus Christ is the primary purpose of 801South.

So no, the worship piece of 801South will not be a duplication of the 9:40 Matthews UMC Contemporary Service or any other service that exists currently. The 801South worship will be uniquely hewn by those who desire to invest in its mission.

Who would like to be an investor?

On Thursday, I will cover a few more questions including:

How will this new service be communicated to the target audience?

and

Who will be welcome during this service?

Publicly Answering Publicly Asked Questions: Part One

The church spends a lot of time and brainwork answering questions that no one (or at least not anyone outside the four walls) is asking. The only way to know what questions people are asking is to ask them, rather than wasting our time assuming we know (or worse, telling people what they should be asking).

Over the next week, I will answer some of the questions that have been asked by real people from within Matthews United Methodist Church concerning the 801South initiative. No hypotheticals here. I appreciate the vulnerability exhibited by the leadership in opening the the space for people to ask these questions publicly.

If you have further questions of clarification (or just thoughts in general) regarding my answers, I would love to hear them. Please make use of the text box under “Leave a Reply” below the post.

My answers to these questions are not particularly informed (and they will surely evolve over time as I learn and discern), but rather, these are initial responses simply from my own cognition.

Do the unchurched folks we are trying to reach consider themselves digital, or just seekers?

As I ponder this question, first of all, I’m not sure if anyone actually considers him or herself digital (or a seeker). These are terms that may or may not be useful.

More importantly, the word “we” must be dropped. If there is a “we,” then there inherently must also be a “not we.” There cannot be an “us” and a “them.” Instead, for the sake of an initiative like 801South, there is no inside, there is no outside. We must take seriously the words of Paul and it will get fuzzy where we draw the line of “in Christ.” Doesn’t that sound messy??? It is. Get comfortable with living in the mess. The black and white as we have come to understand it will soon turn varying shades of gray.

How will Sunday School classes and groups be affected when people from the 801South service start plugging into classes (or adding classes), with space already limited?

The traditional church has had a primary focus on the edifice itself. In worship, discipleship, and even mission (service), the physical building of the church has played a key role. Although time will tell, I have a feeling that this will not be the case with 801South. Those who feel called to be a part of this ministry for the long haul will develop new modes for worship, discipleship, and service and, whereas the ministries of the established church have revolved around the physical location, I can see where the home and “third places” will play a key role in the modes of discipleship and service that emerge from 801South.

The traditional/established/mainline church still typically proceeds primarily from a temple-centric mentality that we read of in the Old Testament. For 801South to flourish and reach new generations, the ministry will be best served to emulate the marketplace movement of making disciples that was the early church.

Early next week; which will be my first week on the ground in the Matthews community, I will answer the following questions:

Have we or should we reach out to other United Methodist Conferences to see how they have done with launching services of similar type?

and

Will this service be a duplicate of what we currently offer at the 9:40 contemporary worship service?