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?

Picture Someone

As we continue to build anticipation and excitement toward the launch of 801South, I want to give you a question that can help you understand if this is a ministry to which your heart may be calling you.

I begin with a story:

This past weekend, I was forced, dragged, and brainwashed in to officiating a wedding in Charleston, SC. (If you have ever spent any amount of time in Charleston, you will immediately catch the sarcasm of the previous line.) The weekend was everything you would imagine in a beautiful celebration of two families coming together through the union of marriage. The food was delicious. The atmosphere was intoxicating, inciting thoughts of an old world gone by as we dined in vintage spaces provided by Charlestonian restaurants and prior digs of the uber-wealthy now used for social events.

Speaking of intoxicating, this brings me to the purpose of this post. There was an open bar available at the rehearsal dinner on Friday evening. (Let me state that this is NOT a do/don’t post on consuming alcohol. I refuse to broadcast my thoughts on the matter, because this is a nonessential that works too often to divide and distract the church. Please do not receive my words here as judgement.) The usual toasts followed the delicious food we enjoyed and it became obvious that there was one young women who had clearly taken full advantage of the wait staff’s willingness to repeatedly fill empty wine glasses. During the short salutations, she (and she alone) was repeatedly swapping loud sobs for untimely laughter. Those around her, including me, were obviously uncomfortable and embarrassed for ourselves, as well as for her.

What would be your response to such an occasion? Several in attendance expressed the usual responses: “Can’t she control herself?”, “She needs to learn how to handle her alcohol.” “That is so embarrassing.” All of these responses point to her overconsumption as a completely objective, rational decision not impacted by any outside influence.

My first thoughts, however, were slightly different. I immediately wondered what part of her story would cause her to feel the need to overindulge in an otherwise very tame and controlled environment. (She was the only person among over 100 demonstrating signs of overconsumption.) I wondered why perhaps she does not appear to value herself enough to restrain. What is she trying to escape or even hope to experience? The compassion I experienced for her in the moment far outweighed any feelings of embarrassment, judgement, or annoyance on my part. Instead, I wondered if there is anyone in her life who loves Jesus and, consequently, loves her that will take the time to listen. Then, when the Holy Spirit opens the door, to present her with the Good News and the potential is has to change her life. And then lead her into that new life. Maybe someone already has and, in that case, I hope she or he does not give up. That is my prayer for this stranger.

When I look at the world and our need for a Savior, I picture her. I don’t know her name. Actually, I don’t know a single thing about her. But that does not stop me from praying for her.

Is there someone in your life–a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, a family member–who demonstrates a lack of peace with God? Does it break your heart and bring you to your knees in prayer for him? If you can’t picture someone, then perhaps you either need to check your follow-ship of Jesus or expand your circle. If you can picture someone, then 801South might be the arena for you to participate in leading others to know that peace.