Thursday, July 20, 2006

Pegasus Descending and JLB

What I am really looking forward to next week at church camp is getting into the latest novel by friend and former prof James Lee Burke ( called Pegasus Descending. It arrived at home yesterday but I have resisted delving into it until I am away. His novels are rich literary works called mysteries or crime novels, and with more than a whiff of theological exploration, especially those of the Dave Robicheaux series. What does it have to do with church, particularly planting? I am sure I will find something :)...but mostly it just gives me an occasion to introduce his works if you haven't found them yet. This seemed differently enough not to go in the regular book post section of the blog.

Worship Evangelism and Emergent "Church"

Sally Morganthaler, author of Worship Evangelism, is going to be one of the thinkers and new evangelists that I will be profiling in my workshop next week. So I dust off her book and go to her wonderful site,, but find (see her comments below) that she has put that site to rest and is emerging with a new focus with a new site about to emerge at Add the new website to your favorites and consult it again when it is fully up and running. Sally will also be the keynoter at a conference here in Tulsa I am registered for in September so I look forward to reporting back more from it on her thoughts about worship, church, and where God is leading her/us now. Her new work and new site will also be a focus on leadership. Changing ideas about leadership are themselves emerging as the hot topic of planting and for all of church life. I will need to start a separate post for links and ideas on the new demands of leadership, but invite you all to send them along as well. Thanks.

Now back to Sally and her own emergence, which you will see echoes of in the words and works of others mentioned here at PCP.

"An End... And a Beginning.

Sacramentis has been a pioneer site on worship and culture for seven years. From the beginning, it has been a gathering spot for the best worship resources available. Sacramentis has also been a place where church leaders could go deeper into what classic Christian worship is and does, and where they could re-imagine worship for communities where church-going is no longer the norm. From your letters of support and encouragement, it seems we were able to accomplish these two goals. For that, we are grateful.

We regret that our site has been down for so long and apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you. We had hoped to put Sacramentis back on the web this month, and had been working toward that end. However, we have simply come to realize that it is time to move on. Sacramentis still believes strongly that corporate worship is central to the life and vitality of the Church. But we have become convinced that the primary meeting place with our unchurched friends is now outside the church building. Worship must finally become, as Paul reminds us, more life than event. (Romans 12:1,2)

To this end, Sally Morgenthaler and the rest of the Sacramentis team will be focusing on the radically different kind of leadership it will take to transform our congregations from destinations to conversations, from services to service, and from organization to organism.

We have valued our community with you these past seven years. Your support has been integral to keeping Sacramentis vital and responsive to the shifting needs of congregations in the midst of worship change. We can’t thank you enough for your friendship, and for your own pioneering work in thousands of congregations across the U.S. and around the globe.
Sacramentis may be ending, but the crucial work of connecting people with God continues. We invite you to continue the conversation as we explore what new-world leadership looks like at its best.

Please visit us at our new home: (Launching in 2006).


Sally Morgenthaler
and the Sacramentis Team "

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Growth Strategy Redux

This is a continuation of the conversation over at The Lively Tradition
about the UUA and growth strategies.

I am working on a workshop to give next week on The New Evangelists (the ancient-future new style emerging Christians we should be paying attention to as much or moreso than we have and do Spong, Borg, Crossan, et al) and have been re-reading Lyle Schaller. In his book "What Have We Learned?" he writes this:

"The single best approach for any religious body seeking to reach, attract, serve, and assimilte younger generations and newcomers in the community is to launch three new missions annually for every one hundred congregations in that organization. A significant fringe benefit of this policy is that it usually will reduce the resources for continuing subsidies to institutions that will be healthier if they are forced to become financially self-supporting."

For the UUA that would mean starting 33 plants annually. I suspect even if we put in the unintentional or unsubsidized new churches annually (not talking about "plants" either) that would be about five times or more the number that are beginning in and among us. Someone with better stats can correct it. Maybe it is 33 times what we do.

This gives us some perspective on what we are aiming for in the religious landscape. The "pie in the sky" aim or ideal of starting 10 new congregations a year that would grow to at least pastoral size got a lot of laughs when it was announced, and does so today too. I have guffawed with the best of them, but not at the aim or ideal but that it wasn't coupled with the important part of re-orienting priorities as the rest of Schaller's paragraph states.

If Schaller is right, then 33 congregations can and should support the start of one new plant each year. Somehow when you break it down that way it doesn't sound so unreachable (unless you know our congregations, I hear someone saying :)). But especially if you take the rapid-start suburban only model out of the picture, it becomes even more realistic to me (assuming each congregation does the work of reorienting priorities as Schaller suggests).

I can even see 33 churches across the UUA coming together to form a "Carpe Manana! Planting Initiative" (apologies to Leonard Sweet for stealing the title and thrust of one of his books) with the mission of starting a new plant each year. (This would be great, as a side note, as a mission of the Council of Christian Churches within the UUA, which numbers about that many in theory). I'd hate to see this done as a "district-thing" but rather by churches who see this mission as crucial and as their reason for being. Their work and results might inspire others to form similar initiatives. If only a third of our congregations got so inspired, i.e. 300, then we'd have that 10 a year goal. Hey, that's only a third of what Schaller suggests is needed, and he is probably being conservative in his numbers and expectations for the viability and visibility of the faith communities in the future, but it's something. In addition to all of the other initiatives for adding-on growth to existing churches (which of course will happen when you plant anyway).

But there is that nagging last sentence of Schaller. What are we doing and subsidizing that we shouldn't any longer in the face of the changed environment? Hmm, maybe there is a connection after all between this recent General Assembly and church planting--the emphasis on global warming! What if we approached church planting in the same vein of sustainability and survival in a world that is rapidly changing.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A hopeful sign

There is a growing "generosity" movement within the churches of the UUA. It seems to me it has been growing anyway. Back when I was a student minister of a small church in Oklahoma in the late 1990s and I borrowed an idea from churches of other traditions of donating half of the collection plate to community groups it seemed like a rare idea among UU churches and ministers. But I have been pleased over the years since to hear of more and more churches beginning to do this. I have been fortunate to hear first hand of stories of how this is helping to transform churches and people. This is something that ripples through churches of all size. I think it begins in the churches with a demonstrated history of generosity and big thinking and a culture of abundance, but it has been helping to change the church culture of some churches without that history.

I think that the generosity or abundance movement in the UUA will till good soil for the seeds of church planting movements; it comes from the same place. I would look at churches who are engaged intentionally in such varied generosity projects and you will probably see churches who have a history of church planting or church growth at least, and also where the next wave of church planting will emerge.

For more check out and order the books of Michael Durall like the new one Living The Call, and also The Almost Church, and go online and get his older books more specifically on generosity in churches.

To you church leaders, clergy and lay, you need to be looking at the next step for your leaders who have been involved and moved by your new generosity initiatives--build on your success by planting the seed of church planting in these folks. they are the ones with the DNA to go do it. Can't stand the thought of losing those very same people in your own church?? then you better learn to walk your talk and trust a true culture of abundance. Or remember that you stand to gain so much more. Seems like Jesus said something or other about that...

Blogposts on UU Big Ideas for Church Planting

Go to Boy in the Bands recent blog follow links for latest discussion there. I've posted a version of the following at BITB.

"At the risk of it going the way of all the other major initiatives of the UUA that have been the focus of GAs, I still imagine a GA whose theme and plenaries and workshops are highlighted around “Multiplying Your Church” or some other sexier name–also at the risk of the fact that unhealthy churches trying to multiply themselves isn’t healthy--but then who knows what might come out of it anyway?; for so long we have been trying to grow by addition within churches when we should be looking at ways the church can turn itself inside out and upside down in its community. Every church can find a way to multiple itself in some way in its community.
But a GA focused on getting churches to imagine and begin in motion the hundreds of different experimental ways of reproducing themselves would be in itself a major shift. It is something so few if any ever discuss.

Of course having said that about GA, that’s about all I would look (or want) for top-down now. On the other hand, getting the conversation going at conferences like the large church conference and mid-size church conference would help. I would rather the initiative come from the churches taking a lead. One of the problems I think we have had is making more of it than it needs to be (10 point plans and all that), which gets anxiety setting into the system. Why don’t a few churches around the country hold church planting conferences and invite church planters and those interested in it to come and pray, share visions, resources, networks, and build the momentum."

The answer to my own question above---why haven't we done this yet on a large scale? Because we have looked at growth as a program. We have looked at extension as a mission project. When it is something that the church "does" (or not)instead of something the church "is" then "it" (growth, planting, reproduction, survival in days ahead, etc.) becomes just another budget item, something alongside other worthy projects. It is the difference between a church that has a mission, and a mission that has/forms a church.

Look at all of our "mission statements" and "ad promos" of the past (uncommon denomination; a faith for you, etc.); they accentuate some version of "come to us/we are like you" (which means you won't be engaged in transformation within us, and we won't be transformed to go be with you). With this kind of DNA, church planting is and will always be alien. Of course if the UUA tried to come up with a statement in 8 syllables or less that would convey a mission statement that would impel church planting as its reason for being on the deepest spiritual level, something like but better than "Becoming God's Mission in Life" my hunch is that it would get theologically tied-up.

However, on the plus side, we have churches who see themselves as being instruments of a mission, with DNAs that are ripe for reproducing. We need to help turn them loose, so their success is measured in the number of their failed experiments. It is to these churches and leaders that we should turn and say what is holding you back?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

a few sites for "flat church"

Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat has some insights useful for church transformation, particularly for church planting movements. Here are some sites that have commented on this, and I will be posting some of mine soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

More thoughts on the "message captivity" of the progressive church

Been thinking while on is something I just posted to the UUCF email list in response to some questions about church growth and conservatives and progressives. I will be developing the thoughts a little more, with your help I hope, and in some book reviews of recent reading I will be posting too. Here goes.

A teaser: my latest thinking is leading me to this (over)generalization: conservatives (for want of a better term) emphasize method over message because their message is fixed, and because they are driven to find ways to keep their unchanging message alive and growing in a changing culture. They have been free to adopt latest cultural techniques in reaching unchurched in the culture because they aren't spending a lot of energy, resources on the message itself. They know their St. Paul or their early church version of St. Paul ala Acts 17. Now, their emphasis on method and not message was rewarded in the 20th century as the culture moved from being churched to being unchurched; in other words, getting the message right and hoping that it will attract the unchurched is a reaction and strategy based in the churched culture where people are looking for a church that will believe what they believe (and of course for many in the churched culture they just assumed this went with denominational territory and so all they had to do was find a church with the name they were used to).
However, the culture has moved from looking for belief to looking for belonging (hence the situation where people go to where they feel they belong and secondarily are concerned with what beliefs, i.e. message, the community has, especially since they come to the community with conflicted or no set beliefs theologically of their own). A focus on message, or belief communication, has a few strikes against it right off the bat in this new ballpark of a culture.
The conservatives have been able to employ method to adapt to culture that is looking more for method now.
Progressives (for want of a better term) have tended to focus on message rather than method. Part of this is the focus on the rational we have had, our history is one of changing messages and beliefs, and thinking that if people could just think the way we do they would join us. We have been focused on the latest ideas rather than latest technologies and cultural shifts. This has been our gift to the church universal, I suppose, and on my better days I believe it has been, a kind of philosophical leaven in the church; however there is a shadow side to that, and what happens when culture shifts so that philosophy, especially of a kind of individual nature, is not prized anymore over communal experience and the rise of image over idea in the culture.
Considering just the UUs, and I think you can see lately how other progressives in other protestant traditions especially have followed suit--consider how much we have rooted ourselves in internal dialogue/debate over words, and ideas, and beliefs, and names, all while the culture is yawning and interested in belonging, and I mean belonging in a deep sense of how they can belong in a community of faith, their neighborhood, their families, their relationships, etc. Progressives have been much behind the times in addressing these issues of belonging even while we have been on the forefront of advocating for radical hospitality and liberation on the social front.
Now, finally (?), this so far has been diagnosis in summary form (and much of it borrowed of course from many sources from Schaller to Sweet, et al listed at the blog). but what of tomorrow? What of those born not even after 1975--whose experiences and worldviews have been so discontinuous with those born before that time and who have shaped much of the discussion and diagnosis so far (except of course among progressives publicly in general assemblies and publications)--but of those born after 1990 like my 16 year old daughter who is now btw in Paris and Europe though living in small poor Turley, OK, and whose world and experiences and expectations will differ from I, who was born and raised here and returned here, and have never been to Europe? What expectations will she and others like her have rooted within them, and will it be conservatives or progressives or those who can get beyond those labels somehow who will be able to offer them bread and not stones to eat?
I will follow up that question this summer too as I explore, with apologies to thomas friedman, "The Flat Church."
hope this helps, even if by befuddlement :)