Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reasons for Decline, 4 and 5

     Continuing my 7 Reasons for the Decline of the Episcopal Church, I would like to list my next two reasons; 

#4  Failure to reach out to new and ethnically divergent people.

#5 Failure to plan new congregations, especially among new and ethnically divergent people. 

This is a very hard thing to point out to Episcopalians>  We see ourselves as a church that is inclusive of all people.  I do think it is true that most churches want to be open places, and many individual congregations have become more diverse in the past two decades.  However, what I mean here brings us into that uncomfortable place between what we want to believe about ourselves and what we actually are. 

I often say at clergy conferences that “I have been a priest so long at 39 years that I can remember when we had a significant number of African-Americans, even African-American congregations, and I can remember when we had a large number of blue-collar congregations.  This usually makes clergy nervous because, of course, our self perception is that the Episcopal Church has become more diverse and more open to other people over the last generation.  Simply said, we have not.  As I said, I do think we have more congregations that have conscientiously added some ethnic and cultural diversity, but this is not what I mean.  What I mean is that we have failed to form new congregations among the newer arrivals to America.

At the 2009 General Convention, the Joint Committee on Evangelism backed a proposed initiative from our Hispanic Leadership put together by our Hispanic Officer, Antony Guillan at 815.  This was a visionary initiative aimed especially at the most receptive people in North America to the Episcopal Church, namely Latinos.  If this initiative had been both embraced and funded by TEC, we could have seen considerable new ministry, new congregations, and new Latino members.  Tragically, in the across-the-board slash of our tri-annual budget, most of the needed funding for this initiative was lost.  This reflects a continued failure on our part to reach out to the significant number of immigrants now present among us.

Our strategy seems to be that if we have a sign that says “the Episcopal Church Welcomes You” or “We Are Here for You,” they will come.  Another way to say this is that once people speak our language, dress like us, and are comfortable sitting in a church where the majority of those present are white, upper middle-class, Americans, they will certainly be welcome.  This is poor mission strategy.

The denominations making considerable strides in reaching diverse people have learned to plant whole congregations made up of precisely the people they intend to reach.  These are led by lay and ordained leaders who are from these groups. 

We seem inhibited in trying this proven strategy because we are (a) insensitive to the needs of newly arrived people, and (b) so caught up in our own sense of being an open and inclusive people that we think it would be bad to plan such a strategy. 

Ironically, what has happened to TEC in the last 30 years is that we are becoming less diverse, not more so.  I commend all Episcopal leaders to read Harold Lewis’ “Yet with a Steady Beat” to see documentation of our abandonment of ministry among African-Americans. 

It certainly is true that we are becoming more gender inclusive.  I would just point out that there are significant numbers of “other” people for whom we should develop an intentional missionary strategy. 

If you have been reading my blogs, you will notice that if you consider younger generation folks as “new and divergent” than my items 2, 3, 4, and 5 are all inter-related, and I believe they are.  They all represent our inability to develop an intentional missionary strategy to reach people different from our present membership. 

If you are looking for good news in my blogs on this topic, here is some.  There are a few dioceses that are learning to do exactly this kind of intentional missionary strategy.  Let’s hope and pray that this becomes contagious.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Second and Third Reasons for our Continuing Decline

The second and third reasons for the decline of TEC on my list of seven key reasons have to do with young people.

#2.  The failure to keep and to recruit younger generations of people, especially younger than boomers!

#3.  The failure to recruit younger lay and ordained leaders

Of course we have wonderful younger people in the Episcopal Church.  Our own parish has some extraordinary younger members. The diocese has an outstanding ministry to younger people, as does my former Diocese, Texas. 

However, nothing points to our continued decline more than this simple fact; for almost my entire life, I have been near the median age of Episcopalians.  I joined the Church when I was 12 and I am now 64!  This means that during this time span, our community has continued to age.   Today, the typical Episcopalian is a 61 year old, college educated, white female. 

Among some of the reasons for this failure to keep and recruit younger people, I would list the following:
1.       The abandonment in the early 70’s of a National Curriculum for Church Schools. 
2.      The failure to have a unified teaching and age for confirmation, and the lack of emphasis by our bishops of the place on confirmation. 
3.      The moment toward ordination to an older and older age, along with making ordination almost exclusively a “second career” track for people.

     These two reasons are closely related because it is younger leaders who have the best chance of reaching their own generation for Christ.  So for a person ordained at 27, number 3 is critical.  I was ordained in the year in which the Commission on Ministry System was instituted in the Episcopal Church.  While I understand the reasons and certainly the rationale for such a system, I think it has not served the Church well.  For example, we have greatly underestimated the dynamic of a committee selecting candidates for ministry.  Simply said, a committee tends to recruit toward the median of the committee in age, education and experience. 

A second dynamic is that this system was to be “advisory” to Bishops.  Today, almost all bishops defer the decision making to the Commission on Ministry.  Few would ever attempt to ordain a person against a majority vote of the Commission.  So COMs are now “selection committees” in most dioceses.

Since 1971, I have listened to countless justifications for our current way of doing things, but the most common one is “Well, our system has flaws, but it is so much better than what we had before.”  When I compare the extraordinary clergy who came into the ordained ministry between 1945 and 1970 versus today, I think such a justification is nonsense. 

What I think is needed is a concerted effort of Bishops, Commissions on Ministry, and Standing Committees to recruit young leaders to ordained ministry.  Let me be clear, I have no objection to ordaining people past 40, but these should represent a minority of our ordained folks, not the vast majority.

Friday, November 19, 2010

7 Reasons for TEC's Decline

I want to build on my article in The Living Church to point to seven reasons for the continuing decline of the Episcopal Church. I am going to spend time in my blog covering these items over the next several weeks.

#1 Our society is becoming increasingly more secular particularly among the people who we have historically attracted.

This may seem surprising to mention this when 82% of the population continues to believe in God and a very high percentage believe that Jesus was divine, but the numbers are secondary as to who believes these things.

The truth is that increasingly our society functions as a secular society and this is driven by intellectual leaders and opinion framers. Importantly for Episcopalians is that our demographic – highly educated people – are the most secular of all. In the U.S., the higher someone is educated the more they tend to disbelieve.

This is even made more difficult for us by what Peter Steinke calls “The Rise of Militant Atheism.” While only about 6% of the population claim to be atheists, those who are, particularly in the University setting, are much more openly critical of religion.

Recently Bill Maher was asked if he was opposed to building the Mosque near ground zero. His reply expresses the popularized atheistic view. “Yes, I am opposed to building a Mosque. I am also opposed to building a church or a temple of any kind anywhere.” He then went on to express that humanity needs to outgrow religion and a belief in God, and then he expressed the further belief that religions have become a danger to humans – a popular expression of Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great!”

This is all an expression of a growing hostility to religion in the public market place. All this hurts mainline Christians and especially Episcopalians because of our strong connection to education and the educated elite. So, the people that we often reach are becoming less and less likely to find any need for religion and especially the church.

What is needed in the face of all this is a more assertive proclamation of the value of our faith than many Episcopalians, especially clergy are comfortable giving. Certainly our “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” expresses the DNA of a once socially acceptable Church (dare we say DNA of a State Church) that sees little need to justify our existence.

What we should be doing, of course is reading Dawkins, Hawking and Hitchens and learning how to develop a current apologetic for the place of Christianity in our culture. What we seem to be doing is trying to strike some sort of cultural accommodation to this shift. Of course, a multi-cultural and inclusive church welcoming of all people is irrelevant to people who question the good of any church whatsoever.

Behind all this are both theological and mission issues too complex to go into here. What I am saying is this. One major reason TEC is in decline is because our society is becoming more and more indifferent to the church and in many ways hostile to it.

One modest proposal I keep making to folks is that we need to develop a post-seminary mission training center that prepares our clergy to be mission clergy in a secular world rather than chaplain clergy to a believing world. Maybe if I keep saying it, some will begin to listen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Living Church Article

Recently, The Living Church published my article on “Moving Toward 2010.”  They gave it a difference name.  (I have learned as an author that until have your first million best seller, you don’t get to choose the name of your books/articles nor do you get to design the cover.)  What I set out to do was to tell the story of the 2020 Movement and what happened to this attempt to revitalize the church. 

I also used the article as a way of pointing out what the Episcopal Church will look like if current trends continue.  The article wasn’t that positive because the numbers are not that positive.  For example, attendance is down 14% from 2005 to 2009 and is now on track to go down another 15% by 2014.  That is a 29% decrease in regular participation in a ten year time span. 

As I have often tried to point out, the reasons for our decline are complex.  Last week at the clergy conference for Mississippi, I made a presentation on what I believe are the seven key reasons for our decline.  It led to a spirited conversation.  My principle point is that if we understand the decline, no matter how complex, we could develop a strategy to change this.  I find quite a bit of interest about this on the local and regional level, but almost none on our national level.  This blog allows me to add some other comments. 

First, when one writes such an article, some people assume that somehow I want these numbers to be this way.  I was once called a person with “Chicken Little Theology” on the House of Bishops/ Deputies Listserv.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  I want the Episcopal Church to be healthy, vibrant and growing.  I have worked at this for 39 years as a priest.  I love the Episcopal/Anglican expression of faith.  I point out the numbers because you can’t talk about where you want to be without talking first about current realities.  This is as true for a congregation as a denomination.

Second, I’ve found that talking about decline causes people to react in emotional rather than reasonable ways.  For example, one reporter picked up my article and spin it toward saying I was predicting the doomsday of the Episcopal Church.  As I commented to a friend, “read my article because it is actually better and more positive.”  You see, I believe we can do something about all this.

Usually, I also at least one of what I would call the “Preach Jesus” reaction.  This is the person who claims that the Episcopal Church would do well if it “only returned (sic) to simply preaching Jesus.”  This is often contradicted by supporters of the present administration that say things like, “we shouldn’t worry about numbers,” or “Episcopalians have low birthrates, (which with an average age of 60 is certainly true!) or “We got over the Prayer Book change and women’s ordination, so we will get over this.” 

I find these frustrating because in all honesty one reason that I am an Episcopalian is because I thought we were the Christian Community that was capable of reasonable, intelligent discourse. 

So, why did I write such an article?  Because I believe our decline has put our very viability at risk and I want to help create a sense of urgency among our leaders.  John Kotter says that creating a sense of urgency (not allowing too much complacency) is critical for a leader to make creative change possible.  Frankly, I hope younger leaders of our community will read such information and decide to make a difference.  Isn’t this what the core of leadership really is?

In my next blog, I will list what I consider to be the seven main reasons for our decline.  I hope this will stimulate some discussion.  These seven reasons have direct relevance to congregational life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where's the blog?

In case you are wondering what happened to my regular blogs, the Cathedral offices are being remodeled and I have limited access to my computer.  It is very confusing and frustrating.  However, the offices will be complete on October 15th and I will have several new posts to make right after that date.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hope for Small Churches

This summer I had the privilege of teaching a class at Nashotah Seminary for some of the Doctor of Ministry students.  The subject was Leading Strong and Vibrant Congregations and I had a great time with the nine students.

One subject of some interest was leadership for small congregations.  Two of the students led “cluster” ministries in Montana and North Dakota.  They were looking for some good news about small congregations.  As they noted in class, most of what is written today about small congregations, less than 50 on Sunday, is not very hopeful. 

Fortunately, I was able to share with them some of the things that I had learned about creating healthy and growing small congregations.  Fortunately for me and the rest of the class, both of these missioners were involved in very creative and productive work in the small churches in their clusters.

What is cluster ministry?  This usually refers to the creation of a common ministry by combining two, three or four smaller, family size, congregations into one ministry, although I think the format works best when a pastoral size church is in the cluster.  This allows a diocese to create a “team” approach with clergy and lay staff who work with the local leadership to provide better support than their smaller size would allow.  In some places this approach is called “Total Ministry” because when successful this requires a greater development of the leaders of the congregations along with a stronger understanding of the baptismal ministry of all the people.  This last aspect is something that all congregations, no matter what size, could grow in doing.

The health and vitality of smaller congregations is of critical importance to the future of TEC because quite honestly we are rapidly becoming a denomination of smaller churches.  One trend that I have observed and pointed out over the past decade is that the number of pastoral sized churches, 75 to 150 ASA, is decreasing.  Some have gotten larger, but most have decreased.  Since the pastoral size church can usually support the services of a full-time ordained clergy person, this means that those that have declined cannot.  I consider finding creative ways to provide ordained leadership to these smaller sized churches to be critical for the future of our community.   

Those who want to learn how to help smaller congregations become healthier and more vibrant should read Kennon Callahan’s, “Strong, Small Churches.” 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Resistance and Sabotage

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Peter Steinke speak on New Hope for Mainline Churches. Peter is an ELCA consultant who has done some of the best work in translating Family Systems into congregation life. His “Healthy Churches” is a very helpful book.

During the seminar, he pointed out that because most congregations today are in need of revitalization that, like it or not, most pastors are called to be agents of change. Then he observed, “Most pastors are poorly trained as leaders, and when they experience resistance, they seem baffled and confused. Further, when pastors experience sabotage, they seem completely surprised.” Peter’s experience matches mine, and all t his relates to my current series of blogs on revitalization.

First, in what way are we poorly trained? The theological education that most mainline clergy receives is heavily academic. There is nothing wrong with this in my opinion, but what is wrong is the model that seminary professors often offer. This model is that education and knowledge lead people to the right conclusions and my job as pastor is to simply inform them. I see this all the time with clergy. We come into a congregation that is stuck or in decline. We think we know what people need to do to bring creative change and we preach, teach and instruct them waiting for their behavior to change.

In my first parish, I did exactly this. I remember well my first Annual Meeting. Faced with stiffening resistance, I said to the members, “Some of you still don’t seem to understand that this parish must change or it will die.” Immediately, a long time member raised his hand and said, “Fr. Martin, you are the one who doesn’t seem to understand. Many of us would rather see this church die than change.” I was speechless. I thought leading change was a rational process where insight and information would lead to the right choices.

Even more so, I was not prepared at all for sabotage. This is the behavior where members of the parish, often leaders, do things to directly subvert actions of the leader. I remember a Diocese of Texas congregation that had asked the new Rector to help bring in younger families with children. He did, but when the families began to disappear, he found out that long time members were offering to pay the families for baby-sitting in their homes because their children were ruining the dignified and beautiful Episcopal Liturgy. Sabotage! The new Rector asked me, “How could people tell you one thing and then work to undermine it?

On the change issue, I refer folks back to the excellent work by John Kotter on why efforts at change fail. On resistance and sabotage, I have a bit more to say.

First, expect resistance! If change and revitalization were easy then everyone would be doing it. I think it is best to work with a coalition of lay leaders in the parish to build change and to help them respond (rather than react) to resistance.

Second, sabotage happens most when something is about to happen. Sabotage comes forward as the anxiety about change becomes overwhelming to those most invested in the status quo. Remember that what drives this sabotage isn’t rational and rational explanations won’t deal with it. What does deal with sabotage is truth telling and persistence. I often find clergy give up at just the moment when creative change is about to take effect.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Readiness for Revitalization

Several of you wrote me to ask about the issue of “readiness” of a congregation for revitalization. Some even wanted resources for this. Here is a composite of some of my responses to such questions:

I can point you in two directions. First, the Alban Institute has done some good work in this area. While I have not been in touch with them for a while, I suspect that they have good information on revitalization.

Second, George Bullard, who I think is one of the best congregational development persons in the wider church, has done great work in refining the congregational life cycle information and applying it. He can be found easily on the web at The Columbia Partnership. By the way, George has written some wonderful articles on Denominational Revitalization, but don’t tell anyone at 815 about this.

Here is what I look for in measuring a congregation’s readiness to begin revitalization. I frame this around a series of questions.

1. How in touch with the decline are the leaders and members? Have they viewed their own statistics? Do they know the trends? Is there urgency for creative innovation or just anxiety because they can’t pay the bills?

2. Are they searching for a future, or simply wishing to repeat a favorable past moment?

3. Are they looking for systemic change, or do they simply see "getting the right clergy person" or starting some new “program” as the solution?

4. Do they have financial and other resources to fund a creative change? If not, are they willing to raise the funds?

5. This leads to the commitment as expressed in stewardship issue. What is the average pledge? Does this reflect sacrificial giving or nominal giving in their region of the Country?

6. How many new or potentially new leaders do they have in the congregation? Conversely, are the older tenured leaders willing to give you leadership to younger and newer people?

Now let’s turn this around into a generalization. Most ECUSA congregations in decline are low commitment congregations living in denial, longing for a nostalgic past, and eager for a quick fix. Everything that is counter to this is a sign of hope and of possible revitalization.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


One of the three most critical analytical questions any leader should ask of their own congregation or prospective congregation is “where is this church in the predictable life cycle of a congregation?” The life cycle information was one of Arlin Rothauge’s most helpful resources on congregational information that his office produced. In my humble opinion, it is not used as often as it should.

By way of reminder, Arlin (and others) pointed out that most congregations go through five key stages of development:
Birth – Growth/development – stability – Decline – Death

Birth is the time in which the initial vision for the congregation is cast. During the last major development period for TEC, 1945 – 1960, this vision may have been as simple as “having our own parish in this part of town.” Today, vision is more critical and needs to be much more refined, and not institutional since “membership is not a destination” for most secular people. Birth is a good analogy because just like human birth there is a lot of messiness.

Once launched, there comes a time of up-building. During the initial life cycle of a congregation, this growth/development stage often determines the size (family, pastoral, program, etc.) of a church. During our last building period, many churches were build with their parish hall as their initial building. Since these were built at a “pastoral size” in the life of a church, few congregations had the energy to move beyond this limit to a larger size. This is, however, when ministries get established.

Then comes stability. The role of the leadership becomes maintaining the present known culture of the congregation. Stability can continue for some time. Stability is actually the best time to revisit vision and start a new revitalization process, but few congregations have the visionary leadership to do this at this stage.

Eventually, decline sets in. Most congregational leadership don’t address this stage very well, and most respond, when they do, to trying to return to some previous stage instead of facing present realities. Decline can happen quickly or over 50 years.

Lastly, death comes. My experience is that congregations die hard. Most everyone knows when a church is in the last stage and few are in denial about it, however, the resources necessary at this point (people, money, leadership) are usually in such short supply that revitalization at this stage is rare.

Most congregations finish their initial cycle after about 30 years and then need revitalization. Given the ages of most of the Episcopal Churches in this country, this means that most clergy are presiding over the decline and death cycle. Revitalization is difficult work especially for us clergy who were trained to maintain churches – that is to do Lent over this year with some improvements.

One major problem in revitalization is that few lay leaders have really thought through where their churches are in this cycle and what this means. One way to help them do this is to present the life cycle information and ask them to identify “where” they think their church is in this predictable cycle.

Long standing congregations, like the Cathedral that I serve, have gone through several life cycles, having lived through revitalizations at some point. I plan my next several blogs around the topic of revitalization of the declining and/or dying congregation and why this is often so hard to do.

“The life cycle in congregations: A process of natural creation and an opportunity for new creation” (Congregational vitality series) by Arlin J Rothauge is available through I do not know if 815 continues to carry this.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reaching Harry and Mary

In response to my posts on vision and mission, Jim Griffith, the best leadership coach I know responded with this;

fyi: I’am probably the only person on the planet who thinks vision statements, mission statements, et al are important but seriously "over-rated." there's absolutely no relationship between a well articulated vision or mission statement and new professions of faith or lifelong transformation. there is a large bill $$$ as the board goes away for a few weekends to come up with these statements, but that's it. in fact, with existing congregations, they have these things in spades. many of them cut & paste from megachurch websites.

I find these exercises a complete waste of time and many members of the laity see them for what they are: fruitless meetings.

What I suggest as an alternative, have the leadership team spend 24 hours away defining the un-church harry & mary in their mission field and obsessing about how to reach them.”

As I said in an earlier post, I agree with Jim and think most mission statements and the process that brings them about are over-rated. Notice, however, that Jim is concerned with the number of new professions (or adult converts as we would say in TEC). Vision and Mission Statements are about organizational revitalization and have “no direct relationship” to reaching un-churched because that is not their purpose. In addition, my experience is that few Episcopal congregations make “new professions of faith” the highest priority of the congregations. I leave it for the reader to ponder the “meaning” of this last statement.

What Jim knows, and those who wish to grow their congregations in new member ministry (and not just transfer growth) is that to do so you must find a methodology that works and then repeat it over and over. One of the best church planters I know said it this way to me, “Church planting isn’t that creative. Once you find the way to reach folks, you have to be willing to repeat it over and over. Most Episcopal clergy are too creative to want to do this.”

All this leads us to the topic of “EXECUTION” or as I like to call it “organizational consistency,” the topic of my next blog.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What is the Vision of Your Community?

For me, a Vision Statement is different from a Mission Statement although I find that many consultants and church leaders use these interchangeably. When I look at a church’s Vision Statement, I expect it to tell me who these people are. This means that in a Vision Statement the nouns are the important words as different from a Mission Statement where the verbs are the key words.

When a community attempts to say “who they are,” they are saying a great deal about what they value. This means that a Vision Statement says both who we are and who we want to become. This means that Vision is bigger than mission and is about identity which also means that it tends to be a bit more global and at times fuzzy.

This is why I often find it more helpful to articulate a Church’s mission – what we feel called to do – before we charge into the Vision Thing. After helping a Church write their Mission Statement, I would ask, “what does this mission say about who you believe you are and who you believe you are becoming?”

If you think this Vision business is simple, think about how many ways the Scriptures try to articulate the identity of the people of God; God’s own people, the household of God, the family of God, God’s own chosen, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – to name just a few.

I might mention that I believe one of the issues before the Episcopal Church today is that we have diverse and at times conflicting visions of who we think we are.

A community’s Vision Statement can be remote and abstract especially if it is detached from the core values of a community. I see core values as the DNA of a community. Over time a congregations core values expand and become diffused. This is what makes re-vitalization so difficult because by the time re-vitalization is attempted different members are too invested in different things.

No where is this process of Vision better illustrated than in a new church plant. These are most successful when built around 3 or 4 core values. A long-standing congregation’s leadership may list as many as 20 core values if asked. I’ve often found it helpful to ask leaders to start with their long list of values and reduce these to the seven most important. Even this is difficult for some congregations.

So to summarize: as a congregation works on self-understanding, I like to see three things emerge or be put in place: one is the Vision Statement, the second is a Mission Statement, and third is a banner or slogan statement. Churches that have these three things in place have done the hard work of understanding who they are and what they are called to do TODAY.

It is hard work, but it is very much fruitful. Besides, it is better to have leaders spend their time on these things than on balancing the budget!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Elements of a Good Mission Statement

What do I like to see in a Mission Statement? I like to see the leadership of a parish state three things.

Who are we as this community, called by God, in this place and at this time?

In my next blog I will write more on this because it involves the “Vision” of the congregation. I make a distinction between a church’s vision and its mission.

What are we called to do?

I like to see active and strong verbs. Vision Statements are about nouns, but Mission Statements are about verbs. When I see a Mission Statement, I underline the verbs, and I especially like to see if there object is beyond the members of the congregation. This leads to:

Who will benefit from this mission?

This is often the missing ingredient in most Mission Statements, and there is usually a reason why it is missing. The reason is because the statement is aimed at members of the church, i.e. “to nurture one another in Christ” and isn’t about a Church’s mission to the world, It is inward focused instead of outward focused. This doesn’t mean that such things are not important, however, I’ve often found that many Mission Statements have almost no “mission” in them.

In looking at this third element, I suggest that a congregation target who they can best reach. When I do this, leaders of a church often say that this would be wrong since, “our doors are open to everyone.” Consistently, when church leaders insist that their doors are open to everyone, their congregation is in decline. Can you guess why? I’ve found that a congregation that knows who they are trying to reach with their mission is much better in reaching all others.

Of course, all this work usually produces a rather long Mission Statement, sometimes as long as a full page. I then suggest that “knowing their mission” those congregational leaders can then create a one sentence (even phrase) that summarizes this mission and becomes a kind of banner. Once they have t his, I recommend this be put on every communication; newsletters, websites, stationary, business cards. You can put an attractive and consistent logo with it too.

Here is the mission banner statement of the Cathedral of St. Matthew.

“Our mission is to invite all to join our diverse community, worshiping God and sharing Christ’s compassion.”

One of the most evocative banner statement that I’ve seen was “Our mission is to find a hurt and heal it in the name of Christ.”

Feel free to share your Church's Mission Statement in reply to this post.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Written Mission Statements

Sure your congregation has a mission statement, but does it have a mission? Many congregations have undertaken the task of writing a mission statement and generally speaking, I think this is a good thing. Yet, over the years, I’ve noticed that many churches with mission statements do not seem to have much of a sense of mission. Here are some critical questions to ask about your mission statement.

1. Is it up to date? Secular organizations know that the rapid pace of change means that mission statements tend to go stale or become irrelevant very quickly. This can even be true of churches too.

2. Is your statement too, well quite frankly, theological? Many mission statements that I read reflect the heavy hand of the rector in creating it. Better mission statements are usually created by lay people who say in normal language what they mean. Clergy, if this offends you, remember that the New Testament was written in Koina or common Greek. I would add this caveat for clergy; the rector should always write the finale version. After all, she or he will be the person who most often has to say it.

3. Are the verbs in the mission statement weak, or even worse, passive voice. The strength of a mission statement is found it active and strong verbs. “Nurture” and “Support” are poor substitutes for “care” and “love.” You might want to think of the Great Commission here with “go, make, teach as the active verbs.

4. In other words, some mission statements are really maintenance statements in disguise. What they really say is “We intend to keep doing things the way we like it around here and we would like to find some new people who will help pay for this!” Is this what your statement really says?

5. Is your mission statement borrowed from someone else? After “Miracle in Darien” was written in the early 80s, many churches adopted “to know Christ and to make him know” as their mission statement. Few did it.

6. Can the lay people tell you what the mission of your church is without reading it? If they can’t, it isn’t a mission statement.

7. Can the new people tell you what it is? This means you are attracting folks on the basis of your mission and not the Rose Window.

Lots of times folks ask me what is wrong with using something such as the Great Commission or the “to know Christ” statement (actually this is Archbishop Temple’s great statement on the mission of the church.) In one sense, nothing is wrong with it especially if the people really own it and the congregation really does it. What I would ask a group of leaders if they told me that their mission was “to know Christ and make him Known” is “can you tell me five exciting and dynamic ways in which you actually do this?

By the way, what is the mission of the Church? Paraphrasing St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians in the 5th Chapter, the catechism correctly says that “it is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Best Way to Invite People

What is the best way to invite visitors to your church?

Hold a Special Sunday

What is this and how do you do it?

A Special Sunday is a planned worship service which is aimed and oriented at the needs of people both inside and outside the church. When correctly executed, you can expect an increase in attendance for that Sunday from 10% to 100% over your regular attendance. Here are the guidelines, but you can read more about this in my book "5 Keys for Church Leaders available through Church Publishing.

These must be compatible with the values, personality, and goals of your congregation.

You are limited only by the imagination of those doing the planning.

There are at least five areas that work for a special Sunday.

I. The recognition of special vocation or occupation: health care professionals (Near St. Luke’s Day), firemen, veterans, public education, Day School teachers, scouting.

II. Special liturgical days: 1st Sunday of Lent, Good Friday, All Saints, Pentecost, All Souls. (Remember that Palm Sunday has the largest number of present parish members attending.)

III. National Days: Martin Luther King, Veteran’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, World Hunger Day, etc.

IV. Others: The anniversary of the founding of the church, the patron saint day, mid-February marriage celebration, clergy ordination anniversary, long-time member recognition Sunday.

V. Community Concerns: keeping kids safe, keeping kids off drugs, Recovery Sunday, Single parents Sunday, Grandparents, etc.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. However, just scheduling a special Sunday will do little.

How to organize a Special Sunday

First, appoint a taskforce of 5 – 7 people who genuinely care about the topic.

Second, have them coordinate with the Preacher of the day and musicians.

Third, make a list of special people to invite.

Fourth, announce this weeks in advance.

Fifth, in the weeks before, announce it and have prayers for the day.

Sixth, encourage members to invite guests based on the theme.

Then, consider a large canvas red banner to drop over your sign or church building advertising the event.

· Plan a possible follow-up event to connect further. For example, a Christian counselor to speak to blended families.

Our first Special Sunday at the Cathedral was a "Harvest Sunday" on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. As part of this, we printed up invitation cards like business cards and gave them to our members for weeks ahead of time. We invited ANYONE in the food business to join us, waiters, caterers, wholesalers, resturant owners and managers. We had a 25% increase in our English Speaking service attendance and a 50% increase at our Spanish service. During the prayers of the people, we invited all such folks forward and annointed their hands with holy oil for their work. It was very moving.

Special Sundays work because it appeals to both un-churched folks and the 60% of your folks not normally in attendance on any given Sunday. BTW, that fast growing Bible Church down the street holds at least 20 Special Sundays a year.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Should You Put On Your Sign?

The most obvious means of inviting people to your church is something every Episcopal Church has, your sign. True, some of you added to this with a listing in the yellow pages. Many of you have added a website. Very few churches actually advertize in the local media. I know of no Episcopal Church that uses billboards. I know some new congregations that advertize in a movie theatre just before the previews start. But all of us have a sign.

What is on Your Sign?

If you have heard me speak on evangelism, you will know that I do not like most Episcopal Church signs. The essential problem is that most of our signs are aimed at the wrong people! Here is a typical example on what is on most signs.

St. John’s Episcopal Church (in bold letters)

Services: 8am Rite I Eucharist

10am Rite II Choral Eucharist

9:15 Church School for all ages

The Rev. Beth Smith, Rector

Clear enough? Actually, notice that this sign is aimed at Episcopalians and primarily current members of the Church. For example, no denomination in America calls it morning worship a “Eucharist,” not even the Greek Orthodox! What is a “rector?” The Roman Church and all protestant churches call this person the “pastor.”

You need to look at your sign as your opportunity to tell the community, particularly the un-churched why they should join you. So, I like to see churches put on their sign a one sentence or one phrase statement that would attract un-churched people. Of course, add the times and other items but do it in less “Episcopal Speak.”

For examples:

Why not “Worship Service” instead of “Eucharist?”

Why not “Nursery available?”

Why not “Pastor, Beth Smith (put Rector in parenthesis)?

For 8am, why not “Traditional”

For the main service “Family,” or “Main” or “Contemporary” (if the word really fits.

And, why not “Christian Education” or just “Education for all ages”

Now for the sentence; should you put your mission statement? It might be better than what you have now. The better alternative is to say to the un-churched what the mission you offer will do for them. Of course such a message must be both relevant to your life (it must be true advertizing) and it must make sense in your community. For example, an Anglican Church in Canada has “All Tribes” on its sign. Given its location near a first nation’s reserve, this was effective.

Here is my favorite from Grace Church, Georgetown, Texas.

“Grace Church - The Family Church of Georgetown.”

It helps to know that Georgetown is the location of Texas’ Sun City for retired adults.

Finally, don’t put on one of those catchy or clever Christian messages like “a day that starts with prayer, doesn’t unravel.” No one has ever attended a church because of a cute message.