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Churches Evangelizing Churches

photoLast week I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual Rocky Mountain Synod Theological Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. I presented material from my forthcoming book with Elizabeth Drescher, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible, much of which was inspired by my home congregation.

I shared how a strategic goal Redeemer established in 2008 of "improving communications" led to our push into the new world of social media and the subsequent redesigns of our church website. I relayed many of the real life experiences and learnings of our congregation from these last four years.

It was gratifying to see how the things we learned in what I described at the conference as our "wonderfully average" congregation could help other pastors and ministry leaders in using social media, engaging digital culture, and thinking about how we are church today and how we will be church in the future.

The Edges and the Core

Not only did I share the experience of my congregation, but also those of emerging Lutheran ministries like St. Lydia's, Project F-M, Humble Walk, and House for All Sinners and Saints - all of whom do a wonderful job with digitial ministry.

In the recently published book, The Hyphenateds: How Emerging Christianity is Re-Traditioning Mainline Practices, Nadia Bolz-Weber describes these hyphenated (emerging-Lutheran) churches as the innovative edges of our denomination. She writes that it is essential for the ELCA to support these innovative ministries while at the same time maintaining a strong core. Her point: The core supports the edges. The edges enliven the core.

I would add that most of our congregations, whether they are 3 or 103 years old, have within themselves a core and an innovative edge. In many ways, Redeemer is a traditional congregation - a big organ, worship out the hymnal, plenty of committees, etc. And yet, we also do this innovative piece with social media, which, as we have begun to share our story through my blog and social media, has benefited other congregations and ministry leaders.

I'm convinced that the way our Church navigate its way through this challenging time is through churches connecting with other churches and sharing our best ideas with one another - and not just in monthly local conference meetings, but across the country and the world. Thanks to social media those stories, ideas, and connections are now right at our fingertips.

The positive response of those gathered at the conference - and the very invitation for me, a parish pastor, to speak at such a conference - confirmed my sense that congregations are looking less to regional and the national expressions of the church for inspiration and ideas and more toward one another, that this will only accelerate in years to come, and that this is a profoundly good thing.

Congregations can no longer function as denominational franchises, where things will be largely the same whatever Lutheran church you happen to attend on a given Sunday.

Today congregations much be highly contextual, understanding and connecting with the local neighborhood, the local culture, and the longing of its people. That is what congregations uniquely offer one another. Each context is different, but the stories of how we each connect with that context can spark inspiration and ideas for our own.

Pilgrimmage to House

Despite the large amount of information I shared in the three presentations and two workshops I led, I left Colorado feeling I had received far more than I gave.

The personal highlight of my trip to Colorado was worshipping at House for All Sinners and Saints, which has long served as an inspiriation for me in my ministry. At Redeemer, we have tried on a couple of House's signature events, hosting a couple of Beer and Hymns nights and God on Tap theology pubs - not with the idea of importing a cool new program from House, but as a way of trying on being church in a different way and in different locations.

Though I had never visited until last Sunday, though it lies 2,000 miles away and our connection is almost entirely mediated through social media, House has become a spiritual home for me. Indeed, my arrival on Sunday night had the feeling of a pilgrimmage.

For me, both personally and professionally, House for All Sinners and Saints is a House of Hope for the way it demonstrates the enduring power of the Gospel to break us open and set us free, the resonnance of ancient traditions in a digital world, and the possibility of reaching a culture and people the church typically does not.

Churches Evangelizing Churches

My wish for the Church is more connections like this - between the edges and the core - ones that offer not only ideas, but inspiration - indeed, where we offer the Gospel to one another - as we make our way together in this time - churches evangelizing churches.

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