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Thoughts on Church Based Ministry Schools

Over the past several years there have been several mega-churches (and giga-churches) that have started ministry schools out of their campus(es) which are seeking to train young adults in their specific ministry model while also providing them with a college level education.

Of course, this movement isn’t anything new. In fact, it is quite old-school. 

Earlier today I saw a leader in evangelicalism send out a tweet promoting the new ministry school his church was starting. As I ruminated over this, it got me thinking about some of the old fundamentalist Bible institutes and colleges which emerged out of the cultural isolation resulting from the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the period from the 1930s to the 1950s (and a bit beyond) many disenfranchised fundamentalists withdrew from the larger cultural conversation and began to promote and support their own ministry programs and educational systems.

George Marsden has noted about this period in his marvelous Fundamentalism and American Culture (Revised Edition):

Since dispensationalists lacked and clear view of the organized church above the local level, the Bible institutes played a major role in giving them some unity. They arose in response to the demands of urban ministries and the desire to train lay leader for evangelism. They also served as centers for training for foreign missions – always a prominent concern. A wide variety of local evangelistic agencies, local congregations, Bible conferences, publications, and independent national agencies for missions and other types of evangelism was informally united by common ties to various Bible institutes…Of these, Moody Bible Institute was preeminent, not only because of its connection with the late evangelist, but also because of the leadership of two of the outstanding spokesmen for the movement, Reuben A Torrey, first superintendent (from 1889 to 1908) and James M Gray, who served from 1904 to 1934, first as dean and later as president. (128-9)

Now, though the old fashioned institutes were crafted with the idea of training young men for ministry (and women for support roles) and focused primarily on evangelism and missions. These new Church Based Ministry Schools continue an evangelistic purpose, but have, as their primary focus training in ministry leadership and church growth models. 

It is a palatable difference.

torrey09However, the aim seems to be the same. In the early part of last century as these institutes arose there was a general mistrust for seminaries and universities with the influx of German Liberalism and modernist professors. Now, it seems, the mistrust continues to a degree, but it is not about the failure of theology, but the failure of adequate ministry preparation.

It is hard to find a seminary graduate, even from our best evangelical seminaries, who is “ministry ready” upon graduation. For many of these mega and giga-churches, training young leaders in their models is a better investment (for so many reasons) than prioritizing seminary graduates as staffing options.

What is striking isn’t this last paragraph, but that history is, once again, repeating itself. The next several decades will be fascinating to watch. The way that evangelicalism is poised in America the wings of fundamentalism, progressivism, Calvinism, and church growth model are re-creating the grounds that led to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies of this same era one hundred years ago.

May we find a better way than division and isolation. The true challenge is that while 100 years ago Christianity remained the dominant cultural spiritual expression in America, we have many other growing voices today.

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Blockbuster is Dead, Long Live Blockbuster

In business news this week was the announcement from DISH Network that it is ending Blockbuster by closing all remaining aspects of the business. This wasn’t surprising.

When DISH bought Blockbuster for $234 million in 2011, a price which was befuddling at the time, it began a program to turn around the beleaguered movie rental giant. Now, within 24 months, they’re pulling the plug.

Think about this for a moment, at the height of its corporate model, Blockbuster owned the retail market for video game rentals. (For a great history of the company since its inception in 1985 head over this piece at the Street.) Blockbuster expanded across the US and in every market became the Wal-Mart to any locally owned, or regional, video rental store. Other competitors attempted moves against them and had marginal success. Blockbuster became a massive corporation that seemed unstoppable…until the market conditions shifted and they were unable to move.

Who would’ve thought that on August 29, 1997 that Blockbuster would be shut down 16 years later. That day, in 1997, Netflix launched its website. 

Business analysts and journalists are writing a lot about this and there are plenty of great articles, see Justin Carr’s Fastcompany piece, about this soon to be MBA case study o business history. The keyword for this whole episode has been disruption. Now the focus of this disruption hasn’t just been Netflix, but a set of market and cultural shifts that made Blockbuster’s model obsolete. Netflix was a major factor, but so was RedBox, video streaming, on demand content, and the idiocy of renting a movie and having to rush it back to the store before a late charge is assessed. Blockbuster didn’t adapt nor did it foresee this could happen.

One of the greatest fears for many tech and digital industry leaders is that there’s some kid in a garage in suburbia who’s crafting a new algorithm that will put all the leading players out of business. What simply couldn’t have happened back in the post World War II generation, massive disruption based almost entirely on a better mouse trap, is now easily possible.

The lessons of Blockbuster for those of us who lead churches and ministries shouldn’t be missed.

With the ongoing cultural shifts taking place what other metrics and models are out there which should be diligently studied, prayed through, and discerned? Even though we continue to see substantial movement towards ecclesial consolidation into large and mega-church ministries, especially by 20somethings, there should be something about our movements and ministries that is continuing to keep us deft and nimble in how we go about ministering to others.

Maybe one of the best lessons about the Blockbuster episode that we’ve seen is when executive leadership turns a deaf ear to the innovations and ideas of lower level directors and leaders. Though your business model is churning out revenue and new stores constantly, your demise is being written by the memo or meeting that you disregard. Though not all ideas are good ones, and there is a long line of executives who professionally died after taking a bad risk, there are some organizations that have thrived after making a tough decision.

In ministry not all ideas are good ones. We must be discerning and prudent about what models we adapt, however we also need to notice if our leadership is in cruise control or turf protection mode.

Having a regular and robust dialogue is one key to moving forward. While the Church is not going to die out suddenly, the prospect of our prophetic bankruptcy amid a changing culture is very real and very scary. Just because we continue to see growth in some sectors doesn’t deny that there will be diminishing returns in others. Part of the challenge of market and cultural shifts does result in Schrumpeter’s “Creative Destruction.” Yet just growing doesn’t always lead to health.

So how are you engaging in looking around the corner? Who are you in conversation with and what are you reading to stimulate your ability to see ahead of the curve? What “market forces” might lead to the shift away from your model towards something different? What is your goal for ministry and for those involved in your ministry?

Being able to discern and see how things are going also requires knowing where you’re heading. Those who think they can simply build a better bomb shelter for Christians don’t realize the true danger that lies ahead. Prayer and discernment are key functions for any leader.

08
Nov 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Church

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Ready for Growth

As I was reading through my latest issue of Stratgy + Business, which is a great magazine, I came across an insightful article about what it takes for organizations (specifically in the authors’ view, corporations) to be best positioned for growth. Often many organizations fail to achieve their goals and suffer long term consequences because they cannot adjust their organization to meet the demand for their product or services for any number of organizational issues.

This occurs in churches as well.

One of the challenges for many start up ministries or comeback churches is a combination of lack of strategic awareness (notice, this isn’t a lack of strategic planning) as well as significant resource limitations. To make the jump from running out of a small space to attracting crowds of people takes both factors working together, along with several other key ingredients (the blessing of the Holy Spirit being principal of all.)

In this fine article by Ashok Divakaran and Vinay Couto, they noted three primary categories for evaluating if an organization was, as they put it, “fit for growth.” These are:

  • Stategic clarity and coherence
  • Resource alignment
  • Supportive organization

 

In each category several key factors were part of understanding how this particular measurement works itself out. In strategic clarity and coherence, for instance, this includes having a coherent strategy, strong capabilities, a strong/coherent product portfolio, and presence in the critical markets. This is MBA talk for specific aspects of organizational planning and, as I mentioned above, strategic awareness. For a church and ministry factors that might influence this first category would be similar to a business, though expressed differently. They include: an articulated coherent strategy, strong leadership pipeline, a strong ministry program plan, and a visible or tangible presence in their immediate community. All these put together round out the measures of the first category.

For the second category a ministry focused set of evaluative tools would include: budgetary alignment with strategy, the ability of facilities to grow with increased capacity, anticipatory talent (lay and staff level) acquisition, and ministry program expansion aligned with strategic growth. In the second category this is how we will see expansion happen and accommodate our resources and facilities for that growth. Often some ministries and churches have an opportunity to expand and see growth but fail to catch the wave of growth by aligning their resources appropriately.

Finally, a supportive organization for a church and ministry includes factors of: quick and nimble organizational decision making, strong spiritual leadership, and a supportive culture on both the staff and lay people.

As churches and ministries position themselves to grow necessitates that they are equipped and positioned to grow. Though the well intentioned ministers and lay people can talk about maintaining the status quo and certainly quality ministries are able to do this and be fruitful in the eyes of God, for many churches the desire to grow and opportunities to do come along and as good stewards we must recognize the tools given to us to position ourselves for that growth. In the article we’ve been working through here they take these measures and apply various metrics to evaluate whether an organization is truly “fit for growth.” These kinds of tests are helpful to anticipate seeing how we can develop ministries that are able to scale up to meet the needs of growth as God pours out his blessing in churches.

So what measures are you seeing as being worthwhile for growth? What is out there that will help grow your organization and align your ministry strategically and functionally?

25
Sep 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Leadership

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Building a Young Church: Part Two Validation

As we continue to talk through some of the essential building blocks for building a young church, or a church of young adults, we next turn to the key element of validation.

Validation is an organizational priority of authentic engagement. This is often accomplished by the investment of capital (monetary, leadership, and facilities) to give more specific attention and placement of an emphasis on the ministry for that group.

If a church desires to grow their young adult base, a key step in evaluating whether or not they are validating, or willing to validate, effective environments for young adults. This isn’t about creating plastic rooms that meet a specific ratio for hipster style low lighting, but it is about having appropriate textures and spaces that facilitate ministry connection for a young adult crowd. The same environments and methods used to reach and keep senior adults are not as effective for young adults.

For many young adults in their 20s and 30s, a key to workplace happiness is the intentional validation of their efforts and roles. While this certainly is a universal rule, it is often the case that this age group will work at jobs longer where they are given appropriate validation and recognition by their leadership. Articles which have mentioned this kind of managerial insight have appeared in business publications including Forbes Magazine. Now, if you’re knee-jerk reaction to that statement is to roll your eyes and gripe about entitlement then perhaps that is part of the problem.

This isn’t about some kind of psychologically programmed post-adolescent coddling, but it is instead the result of a desire to know where, in a world of hurts, harms, and hang-ups, that a person belongs and contributes. Validation for a young adult ministry isn’t about being the full time focus and effort of a church onto that group, but is, instead, about being mindful of their presence.

While an institutional building, metal folding chairs, bad coffee, and mint green walls are a non-issue for other generations, for young adults highly validated spaces for their group gatherings, fellowship times, and service represent a kind of mindfulness about their presence that they appreciate. For so many young adults the aesthetic of their experience is as important as the script of a video, the Bible passage being considered, and the conversation that takes place.

This means that churches which are appropriately providing validated young adult environments have a strong tendency to attract and keep young adults.

As a result, when we think strategically about these environments we should keep in mind that mixing in a reinforcement of the church culture will be as important to motivating young adults to service and missions as making an announcement.

Just like how a comfortable coffee shop makes a more conducive environment for conversation, reflection, and work, appropriately validated young adult ministries tend to allow for greater movement and growth (specifically relational and spiritual) for strategically minded churches.

Some key questions for evaluation might include:

  • In our current facility, how much space is specifically designed for young adults and their children?
  • When we talk about events or activities in our publications and on Sundays, what percent of space is given to young adult activities?
  • How often are young adults featured in roles of service and missions?
  • As it relates to our children’s spaces, are they conducive to easy check-in and provide a sense of security?
  • Are the sermons we preach using illustrations and examples from media in the 70s and 80s or from the last five years?
  • Is there a prioritized space for young adults to connect that isn’t a classroom?
  • How much of our programming dollars and hours go to creating events and activities that meet the priority needs of young adults in our church and community?
  • Do young adults have ways of providing feedback and generating new ministry ideas as much as established generations in our church?

 

This certainly isn’t a deal breaker for a community, but it is an important step. As we turn to our next part of this discussion let’s consider what it looks like to provide effective programming and ministry models for young adult ministries.

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Building a Young Church: Part Two Some Data

The conversation about millennials and their spirituality continues to thrive, just as it has for the preceding generations. Over at Association of Religion Data Archives, they have posted a research backed study about some key characteristics of churches that reach young adults.

Here are the Seven Characteristics they’ve listed:

Young churches, young people: Congregations organized in the past decade were three times as likely to have a significant number of young adults as congregations organized before 1976. “One of the most effective ways to reach young adults is to launch new congregations,” Sahlin said.

The KISS principle: Keep it spiritual, stupid: Congregations reporting high levels of spiritual vitality were three times as likely to have significant numbers of young adults as congregations with low spiritual vitality. “What they are looking for is something that touches them,” Sahlin said of young adults. “They’re looking for something that connects to the divine in a palpable way.”

Eat, pray, read the Bible: Congregations that reported a lot of emphasis on spiritual practices such as prayer and scripture reading were five times more likely than congregations that put no emphasis on such practices to have large numbers of young adults in the pews. “It appears that congregations that teach spiritual practices are much more attractive to young adults,” Sahlin and Roozen reported.

Keeping up with new technology: Congregations that reported multiples uses of technology such as social media and websites were twice as likely to have a significant percentage of young adults as those that reported marginal use.

Electric guitars rock: Congregations that used electric guitars and overhead projectors in their worship often or always were about twice as likely as congregations who never used them to have significant young adult participation.

Gender balance: While women outnumber men in most congregations, the study found the more men there were in a congregation the more likely it was to attract young adults.

Promoting young adult ministry: Congregations that placed a lot of emphasis on young adult activities and programs were more likely to attract young women and men.

 

This list isn’t surprising, in fact, it is what should be expected. There are a host of reasons that some churches reach young adults more effectively than others and this list is a good place to start.

As we talked about in part one of our series, after a church has answered some basic questions about whether they can, should, or desire to reach young adults (we call this confronting the brutal facts conversations) this list is a helpful second step.

How are you doing in reflecting the characteristics of this list? What does your community do to utilize these marks, and perhaps some others, to aid in reaching young adults and building a young church?

We’ll be exploring some of these categories more deeply in the coming weeks. There are some provoking points about, and not just the one about technology. How our churches example gender equality (even for the most complementarian of churches) can speak volumes for our approach and theological grounding.

So, what do you think of this list? Is it accurate? Is it helpful? What should be added?

12
Aug 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Church

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Are Millennials Returning to Liturgy?

Over the last several years, maybe even decade, we’ve seen discussions about whether young people are turning to more liturgical or high church traditions.

One of the first to broach this conversation was Robert Webber in his important text The Younger Evangelicals. Following this the rise of “Ancient-Future Worship” seemed to expand into many churches, and especially in the emerging/emergent type churches. (I’ve talked about this in a post called “Generational Divides.”)

Also, during the early part of last decade there were a number of notable departures of evangelicals to return to Roman Catholic roots or the embrace the Catholic communion anew. Most notably here was Dr Francis Beckwith during his tenure as the the President of the Evangelical Theological Society. As a result many books have been written on the subject of evangelicals returning to liturgical and high church roots such as: Evangelicals on the Canterburry TrailBeyond Smells and Bells The Accidental Anglican, and several others.

As a result, there has been an increasing growth in discussions about high church, liturgical forms in present day church movements. These discussions seem to arise about every other year and eventually flare out with little change having taken place. In light of the increasing dramatic declines in mainline and traditionally liturigcal denominations, this conversation has been harder to advance with substantial legitimacy (specifically in North America.)

Earlier this week another post, over at The Christian Pundit by Rebecca VanDoodewaard, stirred the pot again and brought up a good conversation. The central contention of the piece might best be seen as this statement:

Young Christians are going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism/Lutheranism in droves, despite growing up in low Protestant churches that told them about Jesus. It’s a trend that is growing, and it looks like it might go that way for a while: people who grew up in stereotypical, casual evangelicalism are running back past their parents’ church to something that looks like it was dug out of Europe a couple hundred years ago at least.

I certainly appreciate the desire to engage this topic and I do find myself fascinated with liturgical and high church models for worship and church. Perhaps it is my upbringing in the first Catholic colony, but I have enjoyed reading and hearing from friends who are part of these movements.

However, I would challenge the extent to which this movement of young Christians is being made “in droves.”

As we’ve been seeing, there is a departure of young Christians from regular and trackable church attendance in their college or post-high school period. This data is troublesome but, in my opinion, should be understood as not a lack of faith across an entire generation but simply the challenges of regular and consistent church attendance in environments where these young adults on now on their own. I do believe there is credible information that many young adults return to their faith following college, though in different ways than the generations before them. Pew Research has clearly shown that church attendance patterns in Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1996) are not comparable to previous generations.

In our own research and discussions, many of my peer group ministry leaders are seeing Millennials (including those in college or having finished college) stay connected with church, or reconnecting. What is attracting them back to church involvement is not, however, liturgical movements or high church ecclesiology.

Instead we are seeing a movement of Millennials who are involved with churches that are, primarily, large church (running over 1,000), have a progressive worship style, have a low church method, and are attractional in outreach. (Check out my post about “Reaching Twentysomethings.”)

This is a notoriously challenging topic because no reputable agency polls on these matters and when they do they rarely, if ever, ask specific questions about worship style, orientation, and tradition which Millennials (or anyone) might attend. However, when we see polling data that is done by appropriate agencies this appears to reinforce our top line conclusions.

As Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research has noted when comparing worship trends from 1972 to 2010:

  • Mainline Protestant numbers dove from 24% to 6% and their worship attendance slid from more than 4% to less than 2%.
  • Young evangelicals rose in number, up from about 21% to 25%. But only about 9% attended church at least once a week in 2010, up from about 7.5% in 1972.

When one considers the annual list of the 100 fastest growing churches (based on percentage of growth) there are few, if any, purely liturgical communities represented as “fast growing.” If mainline liturgical churches were seeing this uptick, shouldn’t the list have grown to include them?

Still, there is an aspect of ad hoc rationalization being done. (On both sides.)

I will agree with this: that Millennials (and young Gen-Xers) are embracing a faith that is multi-faceted and they are open to worship experiences that are varied in style and the relation to liturgy.

This does not, however, translate to a massive shift of Millennials reengaging liturgical, high church traditions “in droves.” The data seems to suggest otherwise. Right now the largest movements of Millennial Christians are happening within specifically evangelical circles that embrace progressive methodology and free church ecclesiology. The Passion Movement, which we can look back into the late 1990s as the 268 Generation or One Day parts, is specifically centered around this methodology.

Where is the data backing up the point that Millennials are engaging liturgical, high church elements in such compelling numbers? Why have we not seen this movements being reported?

Perhaps it is because most liturgical, high church communities are relatively smaller (below 300…yes that is relatively smaller) and haven’t prepared adequate tracking mechanisms like the larger, big box attractional model churches. This is, perhaps, the reality.

Usually when we hear about Millennials embracing sacramental movements, such as pre-Vatican II Catholic liturgy, the stats presented are specious as they only survey committed Roman Catholics. Also, when the mainline denominations discuss these trends they do so from within their own perspectives. 

Millennials do desire to connect with God in worship, though on their own terms. They desire to connect in unique and varied ways, and are not opposed to multiple worship environments and styles to do this even in the same week. They also, desire control over their own participation and how much authority (or complete lack thereof) a spiritual leader might have over their lives.

So, what’s the bottom line:

Simply, I don’t see a massive shift in Christian Millennials turning to liturgical style worship and high church models of ecclesiology.

The Millennials that are involved with liturgical churches are a) highly engaged in spirituality but b) highly sporadic in their attendance patterns.

Finally, I still believe Millennials desire to have a meaningful spiritual journey, though it will look entirely different than other generations. This means that liturgical communities can grow, they just need to show how their teaching is relevant and meaningful to Millennials and motivate them to engage in authentic worship and community.

So, what do you think? What are you seeing? Is there better data out there? What are we missing here?

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