Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A New Season of Hope

It's that time of year again. The time when I get the chance to gather with nearly 100 college aged young men and women preparing to serve as Group Workcamp and Week of Hope staff in locations all across the country. These dedicated Christians will facilitate life-changing mission trips for over 21,000 teens and their adult leaders. Putting faith into action as they coordinate lodging, supplies, programs and more all focused on connecting people to Jesus.

Hundreds of homes will be repaired. Thousands of lives will be touched. Ministries, non-profits and social agencies will be flush with volunteers moved to action by their faith. All this work and the impact it will make is being accomplished by around 1300 church youth groups. With similar organizations doing the same type of work the number of churches involved in this kind of domestic mission is probably over 5000. This gives me hope as we engage young people in actively living their faith. Now imagine doubling or tripling that number! Then imagine that it wasn't just for a week or just in the summer.

There are so many great things happening and great opportunities for the church to truly make a difference in this American culture. At this time of year I am always most hopeful that the Spirit's fire will spread and the church will rise to it's holy calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Spirituality or Christianity

With this post I am almost certainly going to offend someone. In a recent post I asked for people to let me know about ministries they considered radically effective so that I could highlight them. For the record the near-silence in response did not inspire a great deal of hope in me. Either no one is reading this blog or those who are reading have no knowledge of a radically effective church.

It was near silence because the one response I did get was from my youngest sister's fiancee. He's a really great guy and I'm thrilled for my sister and him as they plan their wedding. They're great together and lots of fun to hang out with. The church he encouraged me to look into is Mile Hi Church in Denver. When I checked it out I found a church that is certainly steeped in spirituality. It's not a Christian church but it claims a membership of over 20,000 people. If you dig into their pages you'll find that they have a great respect for Jesus and even declare his the same way that all of us are divine. I'm not sure how they deal with Jesus' declaration, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Herein lies the problem.

We are all spiritual beings. We are all hard wired by our Creator to know that something bigger than us exists. Most seek this "higher power" and the truth of God's existence is reflected in every religion on the face of the earth. But when we embrace all expressions of faith as equally valid we render none of them valid...including Christianity. Since each world religion presents a worldview and a view of humanity that contain elements that are diametrically opposed to the other world religions it simply cannot be true that all of them are right.

Now, most of us hate conflict and rancor. The declaration of Christ that he is Lord and the only path to the Father is problematic for many people. It makes Christianity seem exclusive when it's not. Christ's death on the cross paid the price for the sin of all humankind that has separated us from our Creator. The Christian Church is open to everyone and should reflect the love and acceptance of Jesus to all people regardless of color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else.

Pay close attention here. The Christian Church does not, can not and should not accept all belief systems, wrong thinking, sinful behavior masquerading as lifestyle choices, or any of the myriad of mistaken thoughts and ideologies embraced by spiritually seeking people. We love the people and confront untruth with truth. Mile Hi Church seems to be a place that happily embraces truth, untruth, half-truth, sin, rebellion and ignorance all the while calling it enlightenment. And many, many people flock to have their ears tickled by this.

I write this blog for the sole purpose of challenging the Christian Church to wake-up, get real with both speaking the truth of Jesus and sharing the love of Jesus without reservation, without limits and without fear. Radically effective churches find a way to be fully engaged in their communities with every member of those communities while standing firmly rooted in the truth of scripture. The whole truth embraced unapologetically. That will upset some. So be it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Check Out the Resources --->

The links on the right side of the page includes some things I thought might be helpful. If you're looking for ideas to grow your church attendance, there's a link for that. If you're struggling financially and looking for a Christian based resource to get out of debt, there's a link for that. If you find help here, I'd love to know about it.

A Summer in the Park

This isn't what you think. Two Rivers Church in Des Moines, Iowa has a great program during the summer. They show up at one of the most dangerous city parks that's off the beaten path and have a weekly cookout. They also run a Vacation Bible School program with the help from other churches like Rechurch where our daughter attends. These are the sorts of things that radically effective churches do. Where's the most dangerous city park in your town?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Looking for Great Examples

I realize I've invested a lot of time on this blog exposing the weaknesses and poor performance of the Christian Church. There's no shortage of excellent examples to support these criticisms. There are also great things Christians do in our world. Some of them do it with their churches and some do it in spite of their churches!

I'm looking for stories of churches getting it right. If you know a church that's truly, radically effective (see my earlier post for the definition) I'd love to highlight them here. I'm working to drive more traffic to this blog and hope to become a strong voice encouraging the church to do much better than it's ever done.

Additionally, if you're looking for an effective church to join eventually we can build a network of churches around the country and let you know where they are. That's an ambitious goal, but I don't want to just rail against what the church is doing wrong but, as my subtitle says, reimagine how it could be.

Please share your applause for churches getting it right!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Radically Effective Ministry

I'll start with a disclaimer here. This ministry started out of Saddleback Church, the wildly successful and groundbreaking ministry launched by Rick Warren. One of the great benefits of being a megachurch is that so many people find that reason enough to take you seriously. The various ministries of your church can become their own brands. Such has happened at Saddleback with Simply Youth Ministry and with the ministry I'm highlighting today, Celebrate Recovery.

This amazing ministry anchored in the traditional 12 steps of recovery has exploded around the world and is helping millions of people deal with their addictions. In Celebrate Recovery language, their hurts, habits and hangups. This ministry is now planted in churches and is reaching communities of people who might never have otherwise set foot in a church. That's another mark of radical effectiveness, do ministry for people whether they join your church or not.

If you're interested in learning more about recovery from addictions check out Recovering Life, my musings on the process of recovery.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Speaking of Doing It Right

A Church here in Loveland, Colorado sponsors a day of service every spring. This year over 1300 people repaired over 100 homes in a single day. This is the kind of thing that makes a community impact. They call it Project One and it got the attention of the local press making front page news. Radically effective churches do these sorts of things.

Monday, May 11, 2009


This friend of mine who heads up an incredible charity and is one of my most cherished mentors had this brilliant idea. As with most ideas it's stunning in its simplicity. In response to the desire of some in a Bible class he teaches to put their faith into action he proposed this concept. Laundromats.

Often the people who go to laundromats are in transitional housing or in a transitional place in their lives. He suggested going on Sunday morning because the people who are in the laundromat on Sunday morning are most likely the target audience of the church...the unchurched. Bring along a pot of coffee, a box of doughnuts and rolls of quarters. When people come in to do their laundry you jump up and offer to buy, placing quarters in the machine. Then go back and sit down.

Naturally the person will be curious and ask why you did that. Your simple response is "because I love Jesus." That's all. When it's time to dry the clothes you pay again. Offer coffee and doughnuts to the person and any of their children. If they want to talk, engage in conversation. But let them start it.

The next week show up again. After a few weeks you'll start to get to know the regulars. Soon, you can tell them you're out of quarters but you have a washer and dryer at home they can use for free and their kids, if any, can play and watch TV at your house. Over time this kind of service will make a difference in these people's lives and they'll be open to hearing about this Jesus who you follow. Even if they never become that curious you still serve because you love Jesus.

What did I tell you? Brilliant, simple, powerful.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Radically Effective

Okay, I promised a post specifically defining what a radically effective church might look like. Instead of pointing to any individual church here's a set of standards that I would consider the marks of a radically effective church.

1 - Regularly serves the immediate community. By immediate community I mean being directly engaged in the lives of the people living within a one mile radius of your church building. By regularly serving I mean that everyone within one mile of your church knows you exist because at some point within the last three months someone from your church has served the people. Service could be mowing lawns, washing dishes, repairing plumbing, providing babysitting at no charge, delivering meals, in some way attending to the real, physical needs of those close to your church.

2 - Provides resources to others. By others I mean people who are not members of your church or, for that matter, even necessarily Christian. God has blessed the church with buildings, computers, copiers, kitchens, etc. Invite those who could use those resources to use them. This could be in a structured way like hosting homeless folks one or more nights a week or opening an employment support center. It could be in an unstructured way like allowing folks to use the space for family reunions or birthday parties. Do this without charging a fee for use or for maintenance. And don't freak out if the kitchen utensils aren't put away in the right drawers.

3 - Serve the larger community. The larger community is defined as the city or county where your church is located. Service could be training and equipping members to be after school tutors for the public schools or assistant coaches. You might adopt a road and keep it clean. Visit local nursing homes. Plan an annual community-wide home repair event.

4 - Lovingly receive everyone. Receiving everyone is not accepting their sinful behavior, bad theology, or destructive life choices. It is being winsome and invitational so that the curious, hurting, angry, wounded, belligerent, and lost people can find the love of Christ in ways that they will eventually hear the truth of Christ and ultimately know the salvation of Christ.

5 - Anchor everything in the Word. The service of a radically effective church is driven exclusively out of the Word of God. Engage people in deep Bible study that ignites a passion to respond to all God has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ. Challenge those who claim to be Christian to get into the Word thoroughly, regularly and fervently. Build a culture soaked in the Word seven days a week.

Each of these five points can be expanded with all the many details needed to make these things happen. Every church striving to be radically effective will work out their own ways to accomplish these five things. You may notice I didn't say anything about great sermons, killer music or impressive worship services. In my humble opinion there are many, many churches already providing those things while still completely missing out on being radically effective. So maybe those elements aren't crucial to achieve what I'm talking about.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you would define radical effectiveness.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Don't Get Me Wrong

I still think the Church (notice the capital C) is God's body on earth. The Church is comprised of all those who follow Christ. I just think that churches in America aren't necessarily truly the Church. That confuses those who are standing on the outside of it all. They think places that call themselves "church" are all representatives of Jesus Christ. Consequently I have a burning desire to challenge all churches to truly reflect Jesus in their communities.

Why Is It So Hard?

If you've gone back through the archives on this blog you have a glimpse of my frustration with the way church gets done. There are certainly success stories out there but they are rare. That may seem harsh, but keep in mind that there are 300,000+ Christian churches in this country. Places like Willow Creek and Saddle Back rise to the top when you talk about making a meaningful impact. There are certainly many others but is the number 1,000? 5,000? Are there 30,000 revolutionary, life-changing, radically effective churches out there? That would be 10% of all churches in the country.

Think about that. If just ten percent of all churches were radically, revolutionarily effective in impacting their communities and changing lives that would be 30,000 churches. Now follow me here...there are fewer than 2000 cities with a population of 10,000 people or more (that includes the giant cities like New York and Los Angeles). But if there are roughly 300,000,000 people in the U.S. and there were 30,000 radically effective Christian churches in this country each church could serve a community of 10,000 people and we would be serving the entire U.S. population. How hard is that? Well, if the average weekly attendance of a radically effective, life-changing church is 500 people, over the course of a year each of those attenders would have to directly touch the lives of 20 people. Is each person attending your church directly affecting the lives of 20 people in your community?

Based on the way this country is going and the declaration of Newsweek that Christianity is pretty much over in the U.S. I'm going to hazard a guess that there aren't 30,000 radically effective churches in this country. In fact, I'm going out on a limb to say that there might not even be 3,000 radically effective churches. Maybe I should say more about what I consider to be radically effective. That's a topic for another post. In any case, if less than ten percent of our churches are making a genuine difference in their communities and it could be as little as one percent, I'm left to wonder what makes being effective so hard? I welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Fish Stinks From the Head Down

It's been a good long time since I posted here. I must admit that I originally started this blog as a way to share my frustration with the seeming ineptitude of the Christian church. I had a lot to say at the beginning but eventually felt like I was tilting at windmills. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure very few people were reading my blog.

Now I'm on Twitter and Facebook and linked to all sorts of people so I figured it's time to get back to blogging. I hold no great hope that what I have to say will revolutionize the church as we know it, but I'd sure love to play a part in the conversation. Plus, I've have a fresh experience that is so typical of the problems so many churches face.

My best friend has spent the better part of two years serving as a volunteer leader at his church. It's a small Lutheran church in suburban Chicago that has struggled with really bad pastoral situations for well over 10 years. Frankly, it's a wonder the place is still open. Anyway, my friend is quite comfortable financially and has a heart to help this church. He's not satisfied to only throw money at the problems so he took a key leadership role, as well.

He sought my advice and even brought me in to consult with the pastor and other staff. I had the chance to preach there last year. I've regularly advised my friend by phone. However, it's now becoming apparent that the new pastor either lacks the ability or the interest to revitalize this church. I'm not here to air all the concerns...there's really not room. But a firm conviction of mine has, once again, been reinforced.

"The fish stinks from the head down!" It truly doesn't matter how many dedicated volunteers, enthusiastic supporters or tenacious long-time members a church has. A pastor sets the course for a church. A pastor who lacks vision, enthusiasm, a good work ethic, integrity, etc. will surely bring a church to its' knees its' death. I'm an eternal optimist, but I'm ready to concede that it is the rare church that can overcome a bad pastor. Especially if that pastor refuses to leave gracefully. He will stay on to close the doors or will trigger a battle that will tear the church apart. Why is this so? If I could answer that question I would launch a crusade to save all the churches suffering under bad pastoral leadership.