On a recent Sunday morning I was getting ready for church, in fact I was in the shower where all good thinking seems to begin, and I began to wonder what was in store for us that morning. The more I thought, the more questions I had. The questions weren’t really spontaneous but more like a culmination of sorts, an amalgam of thinking from the preceding months, and even years. The heart of the question was why do our church services (in a variety of congregations and denominations that I visit) look the way they look? More specifically, why do most services revolve around someone instructing us for about 30 minutes, or more? Why is the sermon the focal point of the entire service? Is this really focusing on Jesus? Is this what Jesus intended when He instituted the church?

I speak with a lot of pastors about strategy, service design, structure, vision, mission and a host of other topics, but this specific line of thought and questioning is fresh for me. Preaching has always been an accepted part of the weekly gathering, at least in modern history. Most folks, including myself consider it sacred and would never consider lowering its place of prominence in a service. But this particular morning my thoughts were going elsewhere, and I’ve not been able to sideline either my thoughts or my questions since they began. In fact, I’ve leaned into them and explored them on a deeper level.

Somehow we’ve gotten to the place where we’ve divided the “service of worship” into two segments: Worship, and Bible Teaching. So much so that we often hear the comments, “Great worship today,” or “Great teaching today.” I just can’t accept that as being appropriate any longer. Here’s where I am: Because we’ve decided the weekly gathering is primarily an attractional event for evangelizing the lost or instructing believers our focus is not on celebrating Christ and His kingdom on the earth.

What would a service look like if the focus were not the sermon or a particular style of music? What if we really gathered to celebrate the kingdom of Christ? What would we stop doing? What would we start doing? Perhaps you’re part of a church already focused on the kingdom of Christ. Perhaps you’re developing a hunger for such a gathering, or perhaps you think I’m a bit foolish for even thinking about this. I wonder if our services aren’t kingdom of Christ focused because we don’t think that’s an attainable goal, or it doesn’t look like what we’ve come to expect from the modern church? I wonder if it’s because we’ve turned the church into our hired hands for evangelism and without a seeker event we feel we have no other means of exposing the lost to Jesus.

As you can tell, I’m doing a lot of wondering these days. I’m not suggesting we abandon music or the Bible but I am wondering what it would look like to be more like the early Christians in Acts. Not really sure where this is taking me, and not sure what this even has to do with my current role in life but the journey continues. 

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I went to church on a recent Sunday and discovered that on Easter we were going to be a different church than we are on every other Sunday of the year. A church that normally has two different services (in reality they’re not that different from one another) at 9:30 and 11:00 is going to have identical services at 9:00 and 11:00. I’m sure their reasoning was along the lines of it being Easter and wanting to do something special, accommodate the crowds, etc. I understand that, but for me that’s only part of the problem. 

Easter is one of those days when a lot of people are going to make their twice yearly trek to church, so the church leaders, being the marketing geniuses they are tend to think they should do something special on that day. After all, if the show’s good enough maybe these twice-yearly attenders (Chreasters) will become regulars. Here’s the problem with that line of thinking.

When you decide to pull out all the stops and put on a big show, your Easter guests aren’t getting a true representation of who you are. They might be getting what you wish you were, or what you want them to think you are, or even you on steroids, but it’s not a true picture. For those who still don’t see the problem, what happens if they come back the next week?

For starters, some of them will show up at 9:00 for the 9:30 service since that’s the time they came on Easter. Those who come on time may not feel the same buzz in the air when they enter the building as they did the week before.  Once the service starts there’s a good chance they’ll feel it; the Easter switch. The church they attended on Easter and the church they’re in now are two different churches. Sure it’s the same building, some of the same people but it’s a totally different service. They’ve been duped!

Just because it’s Easter and you may attract a bigger crowd please don’t be different than any other Sunday. Sure you should celebrate the risen Christ. Go ahead and make it a Sunday to remember. But why is that different from the other Sundays of the year? Be true to who you are. This isn’t a contest, it’s Easter!

That’s quite a mouthful — it’s the name of a class my son Ryan just completed this past weekend at the university he attends in Nampa ID. One of the books they used to guide them through this topic was, The Shaping of Things to Come, by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. Although I’ve not yet read the book, Ryan told me so much about it that I feel I’ve heard all of the good parts. He can get quite passionate about some topics, provided they push one of his hot buttons.

The main focus of the class, at least in simplistic form was the church getting away from being event-centric and taking the church to the streets. That means people getting involved in their communities, living out their faith daily and touching people with the love of Christ. Serving them, loving them and leaving the transformation up to God. In other words, being missional, at least in part is not having the agenda of getting people to come to the church event. 

This line of thinking has put my mind to work and raised a few questions. If the church you attend were to cancel the weekend service — the event we’ve come to refer to as “going to church” —  what would you do with this new-found “free time”? How would you serve God? Would the people you encounter throughout the week notice any kind of God-connection if you didn’t have church to talk about? Has “church” become your primary connection to God? I’m afraid the answer for most of us is yes.

While the event-centric church has been successful in the past I would suggest those days are numbered. I just have a hard time believing that God cares how many people show up for the weekly event. I think He’s far more interested in how we’re impacting the world we live in, and how we’re loving those around us. We don’t necessarily need another church or another event to be the church God has called us to be.

I’m not suggesting we do away with everything we know of as church, but I strongly believe it’s time to rethink how we do what we do. I’m not talking about a new style, a new time or some other formula. I’m talking about a new church. Have we strayed from where we need to be? What are your thoughts?

I have admired Andy Stanley for several years now and believe there are obviously “good things” happening at North Point. Of course, that depends on how you define good things. More than a year ago a friend of mine who lives outside Detroit told me he was attending a North Point Strategic Partner church. I thought it was an interesting concept to have a church in Detroit fashioned after a church in Atlanta, and where you actually viewed Andy Stanley sermons on the screen. My friend said he was a little skeptical at first but really enjoyed the approach and felt it was being received well. After our initial conversation I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought.

Several days ago I ran across an Out of Ur post that brought the entire thing back to mind, and as I read it I thought, interesting… and disturbing. I always applaud creative approaches, and I really think the idea of a growing church replicating their efforts in another part of the city or even country is an interesting concept. Obviously things are working for them so why not take the same formula and put it into play in another location. It works for McDonald’s and a host of other businesses so why not church? Well, that’s where the disturbing thing comes into play for me.

I feel like church needs to be local. It not only needs to be led by local people but it needs to be contextualized to the local culture. We’re not selling burgers here, we’re sharing the good news of Christ’s forgiveness and experiencing life with each other. The idea is not to build up a kingdom, other than God’s. I’m sure Andy Stanley’s motives are pure but what’s so special about him and his methods of doing church that calls for franchising it around the country? Is this model the next version of televangelism? Is it the new form of denominationalism (like we need another denomination)? Are we losing the idea of the shepherd feeding the flock? Great idea or misguided concept? What are your thoughts?

In the late 80’s I was Worship Pastor in a brand new church in Phoenix, AZ. One Sunday I created quite a buzz when I walked on stage and opened the service by singing the theme song from Cheers. The premise was simple and straightforward: Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name. We sincerely wanted people to think of our church whenever they thought about hanging out with friends; with people who knew their name. While singing this song in church doesn’t seem all that creative 20 years later, I still think it represents a worthwhile goal for a church to pursue.

I’m reading a book called Microtrends. It’s a fascinating look at emerging trends around the world and the implications of those trends for our lives. The author cites a trend of organized religion being on the rise but it is now switching over to what he calls the Starbucks economy and the growth of the Mini-Church. These Mini-Churches (could also be called Boutique Churches) are “tailored to as many individual preferences as we can come up with. These days you can choose your faith, and your prayer community in practically as many varieties as you can choose your morning coffee.”

As I’ve thought about this I’ve wondered what would happen if this trend grew from a micro trend to a much more major trend. This could have a major impact on the church landscape in this country. What if churches were much more boutique in nature and catered to small niches of people. Not only would those who attend know everyone else’s name but they’d probably know much more about one another. On one hand I’m not sure this is all bad. From another perspective this only further supports the consumeristic tendencies so much of the American church landscape leans toward. From still another point of view this could lead to small, elitist churches where only certain people feel welcomed and comfortable.

So, what are your thoughts on these so-called Boutique Churches? Good thing, bad thing? Could it ultimately attract more people to Christ, or just shuffle the already convinced around from boutique to boutique? What do you think this trend could bring about?

Happy new year! It seems like such a long time since my last post. With so much happening during the month that has passed I’m almost tempted to do a recap, but I’ll refrain. The most significant thing during this last month was the marriage of our son to Claire Seward. The wedding required us to journey to Idaho and many months ago we made the decision to drive the 1425 miles from our home in Olathe KS to the bride’s hometown of Nampa ID. A decision that made good sense when we made it last July, however let me encourage you to never drive across Wyoming (or most any northern state) in the winter. I’ll avoid the details but suffice it to say there was a single 50 mile stretch that took 4 hours to cover.

As with any road trip there was plenty of time for thought and in spite of the white knuckle periods this trip was no exception. As a result of those streams of consciousness I have many things I’ll be writing about in upcoming posts. Some of these streams will flow in the form of questions and others will be more statement or belief driven. Here’s a sneek peek:

 

  • Are God’s love and His forgiveness separate from one another?
  • The mantle of the in-law
  • Scripture and theology: Which one grows out of the other?
  • We tend to define God by our ability to understand Him
  • The forgiving power of the cross of Christ
  • Christianity: With or without hoops
  • Boutique churches
  • Why do we gather each week for a service of worship?
  • How do our personalities impact our preferences when it comes to church attendance?
  • Can too many choices be a bad thing?

Well, there’s a sampling. It should be a fun journey to flesh-out these thoughts and others in the coming weeks. I hope you had a great holiday season and were able to spend at least some of it with people you love and cherish.

Since beginning this blog I have written many times on the church in America. Some of my posts have cited things that are “wrong” with the church while others have touched on the more positive aspects. I’ve been doing some thinking in recent days and I’ve wondered, if you (the reader) were able to design your ideal church what would it look like? Maybe you don’t even go to church but if you could find one like your ideal then you might. Maybe you attend your ideal already, and if so tell me about it. Maybe you live outside America and have a good story to relate. If so, I’d love to hear it.

I’m not looking for some sort of long-form report or research project, just a few sentences or even bullet points will do. I doubt you’ve been asked this question before, but what is your ideal?