Recently, Rachel Held Evans published a post at the CNN Belief Blog entitled "Why Millenials are Leaving the Church" and gives as clear and complete summary of those reasons that you'll find. It's a must read for ministry leaders.
One of the reasons she identifies is consumerism in the church. That is, when the church treats itself like a product and potential members (and current members, for that matter) as consumers.
In light of declining attendance and cultural irrelevance, she says, churches think the answer is to repackage and rebrand themselves so young adults (and others) will want to come. She writes this:
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
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.
This critique of consumerism doesn't get much play in conversations around the church. Why? Probably because we are so ingrained in consumer culture (work, politics, economy) that we can't even tell that we are part of the system. Like fish in water, it is our whole environment. We don't even notice it.
At the same time I read Held Evan's post, I picked up a copy of Pete Rollins' latest book, The Idolatry of God: Breaking our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction. Pete takes this consumerism head on, outlining how we sell the church, and sell God, and how it hurts the people we intend to help.
Lately, I've been practicing a lot of what I have been thinking of as theology without a net.
Theology without a net happens in public spaces. It does not involve a presentation, PowerPoint slides, or a written text. It does not rely on the expert knowledge of professional ministry-types.
It does not offer or promise neat answers. It is an ongoing conversation, which is shaped by whoever shows up that day. It is responsive, not leading. It listens more than speaks. And it has to be authentic. It lives at the intersection of faith and life.
This is different from how I was trained to do theology. Theology happened controlled environments: in church or academic buildings, classes, and worship, with subject matter experts (pastors and professors), who were training me to become one too. And, hey, I loved it. I absorbed it. I got good at it.
But the world we live in demands that we do theology in a different way, on-the-fly, in different places, with different people, on someone else's turf: theology without a net.
Last night I attended broken liturgy with Pete Rollins.
Wow. It was amazing.
broken liturgy is, as the creative team behind it (John Hardt, Christopher Cocca, and Lin Preiss) will tell you, hard to describe.
It deconstructs liturgy and church (the tag line is "church undone") and at the same time is incredibly generative. It is avantgard and ancient. The MacBook sits on the piano. Hand cut figures are hand-placed on the the digital projection screen. It does not promise answers. It offers an experience, which is open to whatever you bring to it. It doesn't explain. It doesn't tie things up neatly at the end. The lights just come on. The ending is liminal: no permisson, no instruction, no dismissal. (Unlike my Lutheran tribe, which can't leave a room unless someone says, "Go in peace. Serve the Lord.") It is music, poetry, art, and story, beautifully and carefully combined. And it is broken. Over pints afterward, the team and Pete recounted some of the hiccups in the program and also noted that that's kind of the point. We are broken people—and this is a liturgy by and for broken people.
The other night we had to explain to my 9 year-old daughter what the Holocaust was.
Not because she is learning about it in school, but because it is part of our family story. It is part of her story.
I’m a Lutheran pastor. My wife is Jewish. Her ancestors come from Poland. My wife’s grandmother, we call her Bubbie Helen, was just a teenager when World War II erupted. She lived with her mother, Ella, an accomplished portrait photographer, who owned her own studio in Warsaw, and cared for her sick mother. Her father Eser was a traveling encyclopedia salesman. When the war broke out he was in the United States and he sent them letters urging them to leave Poland before the Nazis invaded. Helen’s mother refused to leave her sick mother.
But Helen did leave. At 16 years old, she set out from Poland. Her father would send her letters leading her to the next safe house. They led her across Siberia, to China, to Japan, where she was on the last US refugee ship to California before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
She arrived in California speaking only Yiddish and with no money. She was taken in by two professors at Cal Berkeley who taught her English. She believed her father was in New York City. His last name was Goldberg. And they called every variation of that name in the New York City phone book until they found him. It took two years until they were reunited.
Later they learned that the rest of Helen’s family died at Auschwitz. My wife’s small family is all that remains.
Now my daughter knows the horrible tragedy of the Holocaust, but also that she comes from a line of strong women, like her great-grandmother Helen, her grandmother, her aunt, and her mom. She knows more now about the evil human beings can perpetrate against one another. She also knows more about strength and courage and living in hope. It is a lesson that our younger three children will also learn in time.
For all the advances in digital communications and social networking, email continues to be the most reliable way for congregations to digitally communicate with members and potential members. Why? In the transition we find ourselves in between print and digital communication, email is the most reliable way of digitally sharing your ministry’s news and information. It’s as close to mailing a letter to everyone’s home as you can get, just without the paper and postage.
Unfortunately, most congregations fail to get the most out of their emails for several reasons:
- Uninteresting design
- Inconsistent scheduling
- Incomplete email lists (who gets it)
- Inability to measure their success (who reads it)
- Too much or too little information
- Lack of focus
However, for some that use email well, a weekly email update is becoming the anchor of their communications strategy, lessening the need for a time and paper intensive production of a monthly newsletter.
Here are some ways and a few examples of how to send great emails that people will read:
It’s a lie we tell ourselves: “I am too busy to exercise. This work is too important.”
Pastors are among the biggest culprits in perpetuating this myth, and not surprisingly suffer from high rates stress, emotional distress, addiction, and burnout. Many pastors sacrifice their short- and long-term health in the name of their ministry, which to them seems too busy and important to pause for even a 30-minute workout. In the end, their ministry suffers and, at times, is even cut short.
I was struck by a recent profile Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball, The Big Short, and The Blind Side) did of President Barack Obama, in which Obama talks about his exercise regimen. Lewis writes,
“When he awakens at seven, he already has a jump on things. He arrives at the gym on the third floor of the residence, above his bedroom, at 7:30. He works out until 8:30 (cardio one day, weights the next)....”
“‘You have to exercise,’ [Obama] said, for instance. ‘Or at some point you’ll just break down.’”
You have to exercise or at some point you'll just break down.