Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

In Canada, church clings to relevancy as congregations dwindle

Excerpt from October 10, 2009 article in National Post by Mohammed Adam (Canwest News Service) Patryk Pigeon/Keystone Press

OTTAWA -- For 41 years, the Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes church was like a second home to George Laplante.

The Catholic church, which dates to 1873, was his spiritual foundation; the congregation, an extended family.

Now, Mr. Laplante, 68, is facing a harsh truth.

"It is sad, it is too bad, but that's the reality of life," he says of news that his Ottawa church will close by the end of this year. "The parishioners who go there cannot keep it going. Our church is fairly old. It is a big monument to look after. There's not enough of us to sustain it."

Mr. Laplante has attended Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes for 41 years. "I raised my kids in that church. Now it is me and my wife. I have to get used to going to another place."

What's happening at Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes-de-Cyrville is a symptom of a larger malaise. Shrinking congregations and spiralling costs are fuelling the decline of the traditional church.

Father Daniel Berniquez, episcopal vicar of the French sector of the Ottawa archdiocese, says churches that once drew 400 to 500 people now attract about 40.

"Fifty years ago, most people went to church," says Mr. Berniquez.

"But that reality has changed. There's less people going to church. It is true for the Catholic church, but it is also true of other denominations."

During the past two years, about 20 churches of various denominations have closed or are slated to close in the area around Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Across the country, the United States and Europe, changing demographics, shifting values and growing secularism are taking a toll.

In a British report published two years ago, an independent organization called Christian Research said thousands of churches are closing for lack of practising Christians.

It said more churches are closing than opening. In a warning to church leaders, it predicted that by 2040, 18,000 churches in England will close.

Closer to home, experts say Quebec -- where the Catholic Church once called the shots in public and private life -- stands to lose about half of its 2,000 churches by 2016.

As the mainstream religions wither, the evangelical and Pentecostal denominations are packing in millions of worshippers who seem to have discovered a new path to God.

While the traditional church is still the dominant player in Canada, experts say it must adapt or it will become irrelevant, or die.

"For Catholicism to rely strictly on tradition as though it were bricks at a construction site that you hand over from person to person and generation to generation, that's dead," says Christophe Potworowski, the Kennedy Smith chair of Catholic studies at McGill University.

"There has to be an examination of conscience to see if the church is doing something wrong. A tremendous amount of flexibility in responding to changing circumstances is required."

Father Luc Tardis, rector of the Saint Paul University seminary, agrees.

"Traditional religion has to modify its relationship with the public and with cultural life," Mr. Tardis says.

He notes that not everyone thinks churches respond to their needs or sensitivities. "The big issue is: How much creativity can we bring in to become more relevant for people?"

The numbers show that Canadians have been fleeing the church for decades. In the mid-1940s, about 67% of adult Canadians attended church weekly.

By 1985, the number had plunged to 30%. In 2005, the number hit 20%. In 2006, a Canwest News Service poll found that 17% of Canadians attend church at least once a week, even though about half of those surveyed said they believe in God.

More worrying for churches is the number of young Canadians who are turning their back. In a sweeping study last year by renowned Canadian sociologist Reg Bibby, 47% of the teenagers surveyed said they never go to church. Another 20% said they "hardly ever go," while 21% said they go weekly.

Experts are quick to caution that it does not mean Canadians have given up on faith.

Potworowski suggests it instead reflects a rejection of "organized religion."

Mr. Tardis agrees, but says underlying it all, is a seismic shift in mentality, spirit and values. "People now will say, ‘I am spiritual but not religious.' They will say, ‘I have my own relationship with God and that's it. They have no need or desire to live the religious experience with others, as was the case before."

Unlike today's generation, the early European immigrants, who built many of the churches, found strength and purpose in religion. Attending church on Sunday was a time-honoured tradition. They showed their faith by filling the pews and emptying their pockets.

As older generations passed on, they left behind gaps in the pews and fault lines in church foundations. Their children drifted from the church as values changed, fortunes improved and new interests took hold. Immigration patterns were also changing: A majority of new arrivals were from Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and they practised Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism -- religions that have grown exponentially.

But while traditional churches struggle, new ones are thriving because they've shed rigid dogmas and proclaimed, in the words of one pastor, that the church should be a "hospital for the hurting, not a museum for saints."

Mr. Tardis says Pentecostals can teach the Old Church a thing or two.

"There is a quality of fraternity, spirit of community and warmth that is very attractive," he says. "They have a spiritual fervour, a kind of zeal and passion for God that is expressed in a very charismatic and spontaneous manner, and it pleases people."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Church: Love It, Don't Leave It

Adam Lipscomb referred to this guest column in the Washington Post

Church: Love It, Don't Leave It

By Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

Here's what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won't tell you: Jesus believed in organized religion and he founded an institution. Of course, Jesus had no patience for religious hacks and self-righteous wannabes, but he was still Jewish. And as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah. He did not start a movement of latte-drinking disciples who excelled in spiritual conversations. He founded the church (Matt. 16:18) and commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel's Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36).

For almost two millennia, it was axiomatic that Christians, like, actually went to church (or at least told other Christians they did). From Cyprian to Calvin it was believed that for those to whom God "is Father the church may also be Mother." But increasingly Christians are trying to get more spiritual by getting less church.

Take a spin through the religion section at your local bookstore. What you'll find there is revealing - there are "revolutionary" books for stay at home moms, teenagers, and Christian businessmen. There are lots of manifestos. And most of the books about church are about people leaving the church to "find God." There are lots of Kerouacian "journey" stories, and at least one book about the gospel according to Starbucks. It used to be you had to overthrow a country to be considered a revolutionary, and now, it seems, you just have to quit church and go pray in the woods.

We've been in the church our whole lives and are not blind to its failings. Churches can be boring, hypocritical, hurtful, and inept. The church is full of sinners. Which is kind of the point. Christians are worse than you think. Our Savior is better than you imagine.

But the church is not all about oppression and drudgery. Almost every church we know of visits old people, brings meals to new moms, supports disaster relief, and does something for the poor. We love the local church, in spite of its problems, because it's where we go to meet God. It's not a glorified social/country club you attend to be around people who talk and look just you do. It's a place to hear God's word spoken, taught and affirmed. It's a place to sing praises to God, and a place to serve others. It's a place to be challenged.

The church is more than plural for Christian. It is both organism and organization, a living thing comprised of a certain order, regular worship services, with doctrinal standards, institutional norms, and defined rituals. Without the institution of the church nurturing the flock and protecting the faith for two thousand years, there would be no Christianity. If Gen Xers (like us) and their friends want to be against something, start a revolution. If you want to conserve truth and grace for twenty centuries, plant a church.

We love the church because Christ loved the church. She is his bride--a harlot at times, but his bride nonetheless, being washed clean by the word of God (Eph. 5:25-26). If you are into Jesus, don't rail on his bride. Jesus died for the church, so don't be bothered by a little dying to self for the church's sake. If you keep in mind that everyone there is a sinner (including yourself) and that Jesus Christ is the point and not you, your dreams, or your kids, your church experience might not be as lame as you fear.

Perhaps Christians are leaving the church because it isn't tolerant and open-minded. But perhaps the church-leavers have their own intolerance too--intolerant of tradition, intolerant of authority, intolerant of imperfection except their own. Are you open-minded enough to give the church a chance--a chance for the church to be the church, not a coffee shop, not a mall, not a variety show, not Chuck E. Cheese, not a U2 concert, not a nature walk, but a wonderfully ordinary, blood-bought, Spirit-driven church with pastors, sermons, budgets, hymns, bad carpet and worse coffee?

The Church, because it is Christ's church, will outlive American Idol, the NFL, and all of our grandkids. We won't last, but the Church will. So when it comes to church, be like Jesus: love it, don't leave it. As Saint Calloway once prophesied to the Brothers of Blues, "Jake, you get wise, you get to church."

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He serves on the executive team of RCA Integrity, a renewal group within the Reformed Church of America. Ted Kluck's work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Sports Spectrum Magazine, Page2, and several small literary journals.

They are the authors of the new book Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Here are 10 tough questions managers need to ask themselves, according to information technology executive Phil Gerbyshak on the Slacker Manager blog:

* Why am I doing what I am doing?
* Is my team still doing work that is valued?
* How does my daily work contribute to the firm's bottom line?
* How can I do more that is more meaningful to the business?
* How can I do less of what isn't meaningful?
* Is what I'm doing right now helping or hindering my team's growth?
* Is there a better way to do this task?
* How can I reward this team for doing the great work they're doing?
* What new skills do I need to learn and what skills do I need to teach my team?
* Do the right people know the value my team brings to the table?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Newer churches baptize new believers at higher rate

Will McRaney's research of Southern Baptist Convention baptism rates found the following:

Years in Existence compared to # of Baptisms per 100 worship attenders

0-2 years / 14.4 baptisms per 100 in worship
3-15 years / 9.1 baptisms per 100 in worship
16 or more years / 7.3 baptisms per 100 in worship

Newer churches have significantly higher rates of believer baptisms than established churches.

Source: Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Fall 2003), pages 69-95

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Individual Salvation "Heresy"?

Episcopal Bishop calls individual salvation 'heresy,' 'idolatry'
Associated Press - 7/9/2009 5:35:00 AMBookmark and Share

Associated Press smallEpiscopal Church logoANAHEIM, CA - Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori says it's "heresy" to believe that an individual can be saved through a sinner's prayer of repentance.

In her opening address to the church's General Conference in California, Jefferts Schori called that "the great Western heresy: that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God."

The presiding bishop said that view is "caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus."

According to Schori, it is heresy to believe that an individual's prayer can achieve a saving relationship with God. "That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nazarenes Approve "Real-Time" Budget Assessment

According to the HolinessToday website, the Church of the Nazarene approved a new budget formula.

"The Budget Formula
The Board of General Superintendents also voted in December 2008 to recommend a new World Evangelism Fund (WEF) allocation formula of 5.5 percent for the entire global Church of the Nazarene.

"This proposed global formula is based on current year income and no deductions. This is intended to create greater global ownership, participation, and support of the WEF—in addition to giving within the regions for special missional projects.

"In addition, the Board of General Superintendents is recommending the following formula for the U.S.:

Proposed U.S. Budget Formula
World Evangelism Fund (WEF)5.5 %
Pensions & Benefits (P&B) Fund2 %
Education2.5 %
DistrictDetermined by district

"The U.S. formula will take effect with the 2010 district assemblies. It, too, is based on current year income and no deductions.

"District budgets in the U.S., which are a vital part of the mission funding of the church, will be in addition to these categories and percentages. Each district will set its own budget, based on district missional priorities. It should be noted that the Board of General Superintendents does not have authority to determine district budgets.

"These four budgets—WEF, P&B, Education, and District—form the core of local church mission and connectional giving in the U.S.

"The previous formula, which was the subject of much discussion and review for some time, was based on complex calculations determined by the previous year's expenditures in the local church. The new formula is determined by a simple and straightforward percentage of current income.

"One objective in this change is to leave more money in the local church for ministry."

Will the Wesleyan's be far behind in moving to a "real-time" current income assessment model? It was proposed at General Conference 2000 (Memorial #348,page 83).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Goal Setting: Andy Rowell's Pros and Cons

I appreciated Andy Rowell's blog on the upsides and downsides of goal setting for ministers. What's your take on this? Are you a goal-setting fanatic or do you prefer freestyling?

Why pastors should be both goal-setting fanatics and cynics

I decided to post this again because today I came across a vigorous debate in the business world about "goal setting gone wild." The post below originated as a lecture to Christian ministry students at Taylor University about the benefits and dangers of goal setting.

Original post: June 24, 2006


Part I: Four reasons why goal-setting is indispensable to pastoral ministry:

1. Without clear goals, we will often end the day having accomplished nothing important.

The youth pastor textbook Youth Ministry Management Tools includes this nugget of wisdom:

“You’re almost guaranteed trouble if you come to the office without a plan for the day. It’s amazing how time slides by and, to your dismay, you discovered you haven’t accomplished anything close to six hours’ worth of results from your day’s activities. Ministry is not about us simply putting our time in at the office” (Ginny Olson, Diane Elliot, and Mike Work, Youth Ministry Management Tools. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001. p. 73).

Without thinking through goals, we will have no criteria by which to sort through the demands upon us. We will need to instantly analyze whether we should do what someone asks us to do. These rushed decisions will produce mistakes. I often feel angry at myself for not accomplishing more in a given day.

2. Without clear goals, our fellow workers in ministry will not know which direction we are going.

Have you ever tried to “caravan” – drive with a number of different vehicles to the same location? What happens is that people have to go through red lights to keep up with each other. The lead car often has to pull over in unsafe places for the other vehicles to catch up. Safety experts say the safest approach is to give each car a set of directions and to communicate by cell phone if someone gets lost. In the same way, it is very difficult for our fellow workers to keep up with us if they don’t know where we are going. It is better to give them the map ahead of time. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, authors of the book First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently (Simon & Schuster, 1999) which is based on 80,000 interviews, believe one of the most important things managers can do is “define the right outcomes” for the people they are working with. We don’t need to supervise every little detail someone is doing if we have described to them the final destination.

3. It makes sense to focus on a few things because we can’t do everything.

Rick Warren gives this illustration in his book The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission (Zondervan, 1995, p. 157).

“Imagine what would happen to a commercial radio station if it tried to appeal to everyone’s taste in music. A station that alternated its format between classical, heavy metal, country, rap, reggae, and southern gospel would end up alienating everyone. No one would listen to that station!”

Pick something and do it well. Every 6 months, I need to articulate a new set of challenges to keep me motivated. You probably will too. I often list a whole bunch of ideas and then have someone help me to narrow them down to a few that I should focus on.

4. With clear goals, extraordinary things are possible.

Practice makes perfect. It really does. If you work at something steadily, you can accomplish extraordinary things.

Anders Ericsson’s work, “compiled in the The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, a 900-page academic book that was published last month [June 2006], makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated . . . ‘I think the most general claim here,’ Anders Ericsson says of his work, ‘is that a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it’” (Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, “Freakonomics: A Star Is Made,” NY Times Magazine, May 7, 2006). See also How to Grow a Super Athlete in Play Magazine, February 2007.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a major league baseball player. I loved throwing a ball against the back of our house. It would bounce back to me and I would practice fielding it. I would even try to throw the ball to my right and left and practice diving plays. I did this thousands of times. From the time I was six, I was known as a good infielder. The more I was affirmed, the more I practiced. I ended up playing baseball through college. On the other hand, I disliked playing the piano. I would practice the 15 minutes per day that my mother required but not one minute more. Because of my minimalist approach to practice, my recitals were traumatic. I was always surprised at how badly I did. When I would sit up there on stage, I would expect to do well but I would always get lost and mess up. The point is simple: what we like to do, we do often and thus get good at it.

Pastoral theology author Eugene Peterson entitled one of his books, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (InterVarsity, 2000), based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote which reads: "The essential thing in heaven and earth is . . . that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results . . . something which has made life worth living" (Beyond Good and Evil, 1907, section 188.)

When I reflect on these reasons for goal-setting, I am inspired to dream a little. What do I want my life to look like in 10 years? What kind of person do I want to be? What do I hope my ministry is doing? . . .

Now, how can I break that end goal into small parts? And what can I do today to take a small step toward those goals?

Goal-setting keeps us focused, effective, inspired, and fruitful. Four cheers for fanatical goal-setting. And now . . . why we should be very suspicious of goal-setting.

Part II: Four reasons why we should be suspicious of goal-setting in pastoral ministry:

1. We are often fooling ourselves to try to set long term goals.

“Precise long range planning isn’t difficult. It’s impossible!” says Jim Plueddemann, professor of missions at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at his blog. My 21 year old students often have trouble picturing what ministry they will be doing in ten years. I’m sympathetic to them because I don’t know either. I like being a pastor and being a professor. Will I be doing one or the other or both or neither in ten years? What should I be planning for?

Consider again Rick Warren’s quote that we cited above.

“Imagine what would happen to a commercial radio station if it tried to appeal to everyone’s taste in music. A station that alternated its format between classical, heavy metal, country, rap, reggae, and southern gospel would end up alienating everyone. No one would listen to that station!” (The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission. Zondervan, 1995, p. 157).

What Warren does not say is that there are huge ramifications when one narrows one's audience--many which are unintended. [I have written more about Warren's approach at: A wider target: Deconstructing and redeploying the Seeker Sensitive Service planning of The Purpose Driven Church and Strengths of the Purpose Driven Church and Sober Advice For Those Considering the Megachurch]. When we specialize too quickly, we may miss the richness of learning a bit about the other genres of music. People donate to NPR (National Public Radio) stations precisely because they are not driven by commercial interests but rather play a variety of jazz, classical, news and talk in an attempt to edify the listener.

When a church decides to “target” ministry to married upper-middle class businessmen, often the poor (or “underresourced”), single, and disabled are subtly treated as inconvenient to the programming. A church may be better off intentionally having a more general focus.

Similarly, a student may be better off cultivating a number of ministry skills in a small church (including teaching, administration and pastoral care to a variety of age groups) as opposed to immediately specializing in a large church by being the director of small groups to single men who are between the ages of 21 and 25.

Setting goals helps us to focus and narrow down. But sometimes intentionally keeping a broad scope reflects the fact that we cannot know the long-term. Sometimes it is better to keep our options open.

2. Goals that focus on the A, B, C’s, (attendance, buildings and cash) are not God’s primary goals.

I tease my students that anyone can come up with an instant “vision” for any ministry. If they say they are interested in inner-city basketball ministry, I say: “I have a vision of (a) thousands of kids streaming into a (b) gorgeous 20-court basketball facility in downtown Chicago and (c) hundreds go to college with money donated by NBA players.”

Another student is interested in family wilderness ministry. I immediately throw out a “vision” of (a) thousands of families going to a (b) 500,000 acre park where they can whitewater raft and mountain climb and (c) there is a staff of 300 full-time trained Christian guides.

In each case, I am illustrating that anyone can articulate “a vision” in terms of attendance, buildings and cash. Jim Plueddemann says it this way: “If you have precise, predictable goals you are aiming at something of secondary importance.” There is nothing wrong with these ABC goals but we must realize that they are secondary. Pluddemann goes on to say: “The most important goal is to glorify God and help others come to Christ and progress in their pilgrimage toward Christlikeness. Such goals are imprecise.” Glorifying God and helping people grow in him are our primary goals. It is also difficult to precisely measure them.
Therefore, if we have accomplished our ABC vision, but have not glorified God, we have not accomplished anything. If our goals are ABC-oriented, let’s make sure they don’t get in the way of our primary goals.

3. Written vision statements are overrated. You can still have vision without them.

Thom Rainer did a study of churches that went from “good to great.” He calls these churches “breakout churches.” He and his researchers found that formal “goal-setting” and “strategic-planning” processes did not play a role in these churches becoming more effective.

“Our research team did not hear any of the leaders of the breakout churches mention any efforts to discover vision. Yet they all have a clear and compelling vision today . . . What these thirteen churches had in common was a vision that ‘discovered’ them rather than a painful search to find out God’s specific plan . . . The Vision Intersection Profile is when the Leadership’s Passion, Community’s Needs, and Passion/Gifts of the Congregation intersect” (Thom Rainer, Breakout Churches: Discover How To Make The Leap. Zondervan, 2005. pp.112, 113, 114).

Some people are already focused and inspired. They don’t need some goal-setting mechanism to get them going. These bureaucratic processes can sometimes drain energy from the really passionate people instead of inspiring the unfocused. Writing down your personal goals or articulating a mission-statement may actually lead to a subtle feeling that the work is now over!

“We found a lack of written vision statements among the breakout churches. Conversely, we found written vision statements in more than 70% of the comparison churches. The leaders of the comparison churches seem to think that, if they could just get an idea in writing before the congregation, the people would follow. The breakout leaders discovered vision long before any statements were written, if they were ever written.” (Thom Rainer, Breakout Churches. p.115).

4. It is more important to fan your passions and riskily attempt action than to articulate your goals.

Tom Peters, author of the book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies, writes:

"Plans? Goals? Yes, I admit that I plan and set goals. After I’ve accomplished something, I declare it to have been my goal all along. One must keep up appearances: In our society “having goals” and “making plans” are two of the most important pretenses. Unfortunately, they are dangerous pretenses -- which
repeatedly cause us to delay immersion in the real world of happy surprises, unhappy detours, and unexpected byways. Meanwhile, the laurels keep going to those mildly purposeful stumblers who hang out, try stuff with reckless abandon-- and occasionally bump into something big and bountiful, often barely related to the initial pursuit” (Peters, T. The Bookstore Journal. Feb. 1991 quoted by Plueddemann).

The secret of an effective life is not how to do SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely). Rather, it is closer to what Rainer discovered in studying great church leaders.

“Breakout church leaders understand the incredible brevity of life. They desire to make a difference for the glory of God in this short period. And they trust in a God of miracles for whom all things are possible” (Thom Rainer, Breakout Churches. p.127).

So do we set goals? Yes! We use goal-setting to keep us focused, effective, inspired, and fruitful. But goal-setting must be done with humility, depth, passion and trust.

This should be our prayer. God, show me what kind of person you want me to be in 10 years. God, show us what kind of church you want us to be in 10 years. We want to glorify you. We want to see people grow to know you more. We will risk because we trust you. What step do you want me to take today?

Update May 20, 2009

There was a lively debate about goals in
The Academy of Management Perspectives
Issue: Volume 23, Number 1 / 2009
(Not available for free online).

There were two dualing articles:

"Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Overprescribing Goal Setting" pp. 6 - 16
Lisa D. Ordóñez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky, Max H. Bazerman

"Has Goal Setting Gone Wild, or Have Its Attackers Abandoned Good Scholarship?" pp. 17 - 23
Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham

Now you can read one of the camps' response.

"On Good Scholarship, Goal Setting, and Scholars Gone Wild"
Lisa D. Ordóñez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky, Max H. Bazerman
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge
Working Paper 09-122

This group wants to be cautious about goal-setting. Here are two good quotes from their working paper.

"There is mounting causal evidence linking goal setting with a range of behaviors including a shift in risk taking (Larrick, Heath, & Wu, in press), greater unethical behavior (Schweitzer, Ordóñez, & Douma, 2004), and a narrow focus that draws attention from other important elements of the problem (Staw & Boettger, 1990)." p. 5

"As financial crises, Ponzi schemes, and the collapse of the automotive industry demonstrate, the combination of unethical behavior, risk-taking and poor judgment can be toxic. We are not implying that goal setting was the primary cause of the current crises. Instead, we suggest that we should develop and sharpen our understanding of those contextual factors that produce harmful behaviors." p. 8

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pastor Bill Kinnan & Linwood Wesleyan on the Edge!

Church Planting is What Linwood Does (article online at

Jun. 1, 2009

"Church planting is not something we've done. It's what we do."

The words of Bill Kinnan, senior pastor at Linwood Wesleyan Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are still true today, ten years after their first church plant.

Celebrate Church was launched in 1999 and is now one of the fastest growing in The Wesleyan Church. In March 2009, Linwood planted another church in Sioux Falls and in just two months, average attendance at The Ransom is over 100.

Phil Wiseman left his position as Linwood worship arts pastor because he felt led to find a secular job and serve as a volunteer at The Ransom.

"When Phill [Tague] and [his wife] Stephani came to Linwood with the intentions of planting a new church, I was taken back to the excitement and passion I felt when I was first called into the ministry," says Phil. "My desire to see the broken and forgotten of the world reached with the gospel resurfaced in a really cool way, and I felt this desire to go help this church plant in whatever way I can."

After praying for several weeks about going, Phil and his wife Natalie made the move. Phil works part-time in a secular job and also serves part-time at the church alongside Lead Pastor Tague (see photo).

Even in a short time, Pastor Tague has seen God move mightily in the brief time The Ransom has been established.

"We are seeing the un-churched come to Christ and the churched recommit their lives to Christ," says Pastor Tague. "God is also sending us many who come from broken backgrounds, like those who are struggling to overcome addictions. Our vision is setting captives free, and we are seeing God do this not only on the spiritual level but on the physical and emotional too."

The church's name stems from the vision God gave Phill and Stephani. As they began to pray for a name that would fit, song lyrics from a well-known worship song seemed ideal: "My chains are gone, I've been set free; my God, My Savior has ransomed me." The Tagues then knew the church would be called The Ransom.

So far at The Ransom, close to a dozen individuals have prayed and received Christ.

Linwood "gets it honest" when it comes to church planting. The church itself is a plant that began in 1966, and today average attendance totals more than 500. The church also sets aside money each year in the annual budget that goes specifically toward church planting.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michigan leads the Nation ... in population decline

Utah was the nation’s fastest-growing state between July 1, 2007, and July 1, 2008, as its population climbed 2.5 percent to 2.7 million, according to estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Arizona was the second fastest-growing state, increasing 2.3 percent between 2007 and 2008. Texas, North Carolina and Colorado completed the top five, each with a growth rate of 2.0 percent. Nevada, which had been among the four fastest-growing states each of the last 24 years, grew 1.8 percent and ranked eighth over the most recent period.

     Texas gained more people than any other state between July 1, 2007, and July 1, 2008 (484,000), followed by California (379,000), North Carolina (181,000), Georgia (162,000) and Arizona (147,000).

     The only two states to lose population were Michigan and Rhode Island. Michigan’s population declined 0.5 percent (46,000), while Rhode Island’s fell 0.2 percent (2,000).

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Isn't "50" just half-time?

Well, it's started. Looks like some fun is ahead as I approach the magnificent milestone of the big "50." Half a century. Is this the middle of middle age?

The first e-mail of what may be numerous and similarly humorous e-mails came through this morning from Chad McCallum. Thanks Chad!

"Mark – thinking of you this morning as you approach the proverbial summit of your life…

I have been thinking of some hymns for the over-50 crowd (now that you are soon to be numbered among that number)…

1. “Precious Lord, Take my Hand, and Help Me Up”

2. “It is Well with my Soul; but my Knees Hurt”

3. “Nobody Knows the Trouble I have Seeing”

4. “Go Tell it on the Speed Bump”

5. “I Love to Tell the Same Story”

6. “Just a Slower Walk with Thee”

7. “Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah, I’ve Forgotten where I Parked”

Here is to another 50 years of life and ministry! In the words of George Burns, “If you live to be one hundred, you've got it made. Very few people die past that age!”

Blessings on my friend!


Monday, March 23, 2009

Trailing at the Half ...but Prevailing!

Knowledge @ Wharton posted this insightful article (March 18, 2009) on comeback victories:

"According to recent research by a pair of Wharton professors, teams that trail by a little at the half actually have a better chance of winning the game than the squad in the lead.

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger and Devin Pope, a professor of operations and information management, found that teams which were slightly behind at the half won more often than they lost. Their research paper, which is based in part on the results of more than 6,000 recent college basketball games, is titled: "When Losing Leads to Winning."

But Berger noted that these findings could just as easily apply to the workplace, because they suggest that employees -- like basketball players -- should be more motivated and thus perform better when they are close to, but just short of, an important goal.

"Take any situation where someone is so close to a goal that they can almost taste it," Berger noted. "The fact that they're almost there makes them work harder." Thus, in the corporate world, where goal setting is an important management tool, Berger said it's a good strategy to pick milestones that are within reach, such as passing a close competitor in sales.

Focusing on goals that are close and achievable may be more motivating than lofty but unrealistic goals, according to Berger. "You want to pick a target that's close, where you are almost there but not quite."

Pope, his co-author, elaborated: "A lot of tools are used in the workforce to motivate people, such as wages, bonuses, etc. While surely these things can have motivating effects, one should not underestimate the potential importance of psychological motivation as well. This paper shows that the psychological impact of being behind by a small amount can cause significant increases in performance."

Motivational behavior is not Berger's usual academic focus. Usually, he delves into topics such as social contagion, viral marketing and decision-making issues like those explored in Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling book, The Tipping Point. But Berger began to think about the issue of motivation while coaching youth soccer. "As the coach, I always had to say something at halftime. And I always tried to be motivating. But I noticed that regardless of how much I emphasized that we needed to work hard, the players always seemed more motivated when we were behind."

When Berger came to Wharton, Pope mentioned an interest in similar issues, so they began to look for statistical evidence to back up the idea that trailing slightly could be a motivator. Earlier research into major sports shows that a team taking an early lead in a game tends to win two-thirds of the time. The reasons are self-evident: The unit jumping to a quick advantage is likely a more talented squad, and the trailing team must make up extra ground to win.

But Berger and Pope decided to look at how smaller halftime deficits affected the outcomes. To do that, they collected the results of 6,572 college basketball games played between 2005 and 2008 in which the difference at halftime was within 10 points.

As expected, the data showed teams with big halftime leads usually went on to win. For example, a college squad that is leading by six points at halftime is the victor about 80% of the time. But there is a significant deviation from the expected result for a team that is losing by just one point at the half. Using the rest of the data to control for expected performance, the trailing team ought to win about 46% of the time, according to Berger. But, in fact, those teams won 51.3% of the time.

Why does this happen? Berger and Pope believe that the answer lies in how losing affects people's drive. "Being slightly behind can be good because of the psychology of human motivation," Berger said, adding that the score provides the players with a reference point for working just a little harder. "If you're behind, you get a little more motivated. You work harder and because of that, you are more likely to succeed."

Indeed, there was no advantage to being far behind at halftime. The researchers note that their findings jibe with earlier research showing that animals run faster when they are closer to a food reward and that people work harder at a task when it is closer to completion, not when the goal appears to be distant.

Second-half Surge

Consistent with the notion that being slightly behind is motivating, the basketball data show that the effort of the trailing team seems to be greatest right after the half. Teams that were trailing by one point at the half outscored their opponents by an average of 1.2 points in the second half -- and half of that average boost came in just the first four minutes of the 20-minute period. The researchers found no evidence to suggest that teams with a one-point lead were easing up.

But how to translate these findings into the business world, where there is not a large scoreboard hovering over the players' heads? Here, Berger and Pope suggest that the role of managers as motivators looms larger -- to set goals that are understandable, achievable and within reach.

They also conducted a secondary experiment in which people were paid to compete in a short, simple game that involved typing letters on a keypad. Midway through the game, one group of participants was told that they were close behind, slightly ahead, far ahead or far behind. A control group was not given any information at the break. Just as the real-life basketball results had suggested, the group that exerted extra effort was the one that had been told it was only slightly behind midway through.

"First, merely telling people they were slightly behind an opponent led them to exert more effort," they write. "Competitive feedback that they were slightly behind not only increased effort in general, but did so more than being tied, slightly ahead or receiving no competitive feedback at all. Second, while being behind boosted effort, it did so only when participants were not too far behind."

Additional research showed that motivation is closely tied to self-confidence. In another sample group in which participants played the keyboard game, they were also evaluated for their self-efficacy -- that is, their belief in their ability to accomplish goals. The researchers found that people with higher self-efficacy were the most capable of exerting extra effort in the second half.

Stop to Take Stock

Berger and Pope see these finding as useful to other fields -- not just business but also in academic settings. For example, they suggest, a team of researchers involved in a competition should focus on the ways that they are slightly behind the opposing academic teams. They also recommend what they call "strategic breaks" -- in which managers cleverly design the timing of breaks to allow employees to stop and take stock of their efforts.

The concept, according to Berger, is similar to how skilled coaches might cleverly use timeouts to control a game. "You obviously want to call time out when the other team is on a run so that [the opposing players] don't gain confidence," he said. "But you also want to call time outs in a way that motivates your own team -- for example, when they are just slightly behind their opponents."  

Wharton marketing professor Maurice Schweitzer recently co-authored a paper called, "Goals Gone Wild," documenting, among other things, how overly ambitious goals set by managers led to scandals at firms such as Enron and Sears when employees felt compelled to cheat in order to reach the lofty targets. Berger said that this finding is one more reason why managers would want to focus on more achievable goals. "What these examples show is that the goals were set too high. Monetary incentives made employees extremely motivated, but the goals were so unreasonable that they didn't have the ability to meet them -- so they cheated."

The goal of the research, Berger noted, was not so much to gain insight into sports but to open a window into human motivation. "The psychology of these situations is the same, whether it's sports or business or academics. [It's about how] we motivate employees or researchers, and how we use competitive situations to help them succeed."


Monday, March 16, 2009

Church Delinquencies and Foreclosures

Consequence of boom-years borrowing hits churches
Rachel Zoll - Associated Press Religion Writer - 3/15/2009 4:35:00 AM

Companies that specialize in church mortgages report that foreclosures and delinquencies for congregations are on the rise as the tough economic times start to make their impact at the offering plate.


Metropolitan Baptist Church was bursting out of its home.

From a group of freed slaves in Civil War-era Washington, Metropolitan Baptist had grown into a modern-day megachurch and community service powerhouse. In 2006, construction began on the congregation's dream complex in Largo, Md. - a $30 million campus with a 3,000-seat church, an education center and an 1,100-car parking lot.

Last year, the congregation sold its church in Washington. Preparations began for the move to what leaders had taken to calling "God's land in Largo."

But on Oct. 20, their plans were abruptly put on hold.

The Rev. H. Beecher Hicks learned that financing for the project had dried up. Construction stopped. And the congregation found that it was homeless - reduced to renting space and struggling to find new financing.

Add houses of worship to the list of casualties of the mortgage crisis.

Foreclosures and delinquencies for congregations are rising, according to companies that specialize in church mortgages. With credit scarce, church construction sites have gone quiet, holding shells of sanctuaries that were meant to be completed months ago.

Congregants have less money to give, and pastors who stretched to buy property in the boom are struggling to hold onto their churches.

"The economy has dramatically changed over the last year to 18 months in a way that very few, if any, had expected," said John Stoffel, administrative pastor at Seabreeze Church in Huntington, Calif.

Seabreeze spent about $12 million on a new complex that was completed in 2007. But a drop in donations, partly due to a rift between the pastor and some church members, forced the church to renegotiate for an interest-only mortgage. Stoffel said Seabreeze hasn't missed a payment, yet the mortgage is far from the church's only debt. The church also owes $1.2 million - due this year - on bonds that helped finance the project, and must repay a $200,000 loan that a couple took out on their house to help Seabreeze cover its costs.

It's hard to quantify just how many churches are at risk. Foreclosure records are scattered throughout county offices nationwide. Completing a foreclosure takes months or longer, so it's too soon for many failures to show up on a company's books. In financially stressed churches, clergy are often reluctant to discuss their plight. They don't want to alarm their congregants, and they fear that any complaints about their dealings with banks will backfire.

"Right now, when you're at the mercy of the lenders, you don't want to look like you're coming out against them," said Bishop Eugene Reeves of New Life Anointed Ministries International in Woodbridge, Va.

The 3,500-member Pentecostal church near Washington needs a couple of million dollars to finish its new $19 million complex. Construction stopped last spring when New Life's lender said it would make no new loans to the church, Reeves said.

"We now have children who don't have classrooms to get into, adults who have to go to an overflow room," Reeves said. "We have parking issues. We don't have enough spaces for cars."

Across the country, congregations large and small are struggling to pay off debt:

-Reliance Trust, an Atlanta company that is trustee for nearly three-quarters of the church bonds in the U.S., has seen "some increases in delinquencies," said spokesman Tony Greene, though he would not elaborate.

Among its clients is Temple Beth Haverim in Agoura Hills, Calif., which sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last July and owes the company more than $7 million, Reliance said in court documents. The property is estimated to be worth less than what the synagogue owes.

-Strongtower Financial, an arm of the California Baptist Foundation, said in a prospectus that 10 percent of its $119 million in outstanding loans were in default as of March 31, 2008, its most recent required reporting date. Chet Reid, Strongtower's president, said the specifics were private, but the company had only one foreclosure in the last decade - in 2006.

-The Evangelical Christian Credit Union, a major church lender with more than $700 million in loans last year, moved to foreclose on seven of its 1,100 loans in 2008, said Mark Johnson, the company's executive vice president. The company has had "a noticeable increase" in late payments, and two more foreclosures are expected this year, he said. By contrast, the Brea, Calif., company said it had no other foreclosures until 2007, when there were two.

These problems may seem minor compared to the epidemic of foreclosures on private homes. But church mortgages have always been considered one of the more solid investments, with lenders often boasting of only one or two foreclosures over a billion dollars in loans.

Even in bad economic times, people still go to church, which helps shield congregations from downturns, lenders say. Churches also have more flexibility than some other borrowers in cutting expenses. They can end charitable programs or trim staff and still stay open for business.

"You can certainly make a bad church loan if you try hard enough," said Dan Mikes, who leads the church banking group of Bank of the West, a major lender. "But if you're careful and you don't overlend, and you're cautious in the way you underwrite, you're fine."

However, the recent boom years brought changes that made the industry more vulnerable.

Firms looking for new lending opportunities in a time of easy credit entered the industry, and competition escalated. The size and number of church loans skyrocketed, with several companies reporting double-digit annual growth rates before the bust.

Some lenders even got into the business of securitizing church loans, combining them as an investment in the way banks did with home mortgages. In 2006, Strongtower Financial, based in Fresno, securitized church bonds for the first time, with a $56.3 million offering.

Roland Leavell, president of Rives, Leavell & Co., a church bond broker in Jackson, Miss., said that firms specializing in church financing often aped their commercial loan counterparts, lending too much money without a thorough check of what their clients could afford.

"The starting point was the commercial banks," Leavell said. "When somebody on one side of the business gets moving fast and loose, it makes every body else move fast and loose."

Johnson, of the Evangelical Christian Credit Union, insists that his company upheld its strict underwriting standards throughout the flush years when the firm was growing at an average rate of more than 20 percent annually. He said the economy alone is behind the recent troubles.

"Our history would say that we had done a really good job," evaluating clients, he said. "It has become very visible to everybody today that the recession hit 18 months ago. The foreclosures we've seen have coincided with that."

But foreclosure and bankruptcy records paint a more complex picture of some of the company's failed clients _ and raise questions about whether the pressure for profit altered the industry's normally ultra-cautious approach.

Among the company's foreclosed-upon clients is Juanita Bynum, a former hairdresser and popular Pentecostal preacher. In 2006, she got a loan from the evangelical lender to buy a $4.5 million lakeview property in Waycross, Ga. She planned to use it for her ministry headquarters and to open a spa for beauty treatments and spiritual guidance.

But she never paid her property taxes on time and ended up owing tens of thousands of dollars, said Steve Barnard, the Ware County tax assessor, who threatened to auction off the land over the debt. The credit union paid Bynum's outstanding tax bill before foreclosing on her land last December, when Ware said the property value had dropped to only about $2.5 million.

Another church with shaky finances and a big debt: the Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ in Fort Worth, Texas.

The congregation began floundering soon after Shiloh's prominent pastor, Sherman Allen, was publicly accused of molesting women and beating them with a paddle. The accusers said that Allen's superiors in his Pentecostal denomination - the Church of God in Christ - had evidence of the allegations for years and did nothing to stop him. Allen has denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the credit union that holds the church's mortgage found another scandal - this one involving money. In court documents, the attorneys said the church could not explain how it spent $100,000 in income in 2006, that a $30,000 anniversary bonus paid to Allen in 2007 "is potentially a fraudulent transfer," and that the church couldn't provide financial statements from a certified public accountant for 2005 and 2006.

The church filed for bankruptcy in February 2007; the Evangelical Christian Credit Union says Shiloh owes it nearly $3.8 million on a 2005 loan, and sought to foreclose.

As in the residential mortgage industry, tight credit has had a chilling effect on loans to houses of worship.

Reid, the head of Strongtower, said his company is doing less lending, but he would not discuss specifics.

Johnson, of the Evangelical Christian Credit Union, said the company isn't making loans to new clients.

"We're struggling to do a good thing for our community," Hicks said. "Hopefully, we'll get past this impasse and move forward."

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Defining Moment

Mark Wilson, my blogging friend over at Revitalize Your Church, posted this article which echoes my previous post:

Tue Feb 24 2009 08:36:39 ET

Media baron Rupert Murdoch issued an urgent internal communication late Monday, warning his staff: "We are in the midst of a phase of history in which nations will be redefined and their futures fundamentally altered."

"Many people will be under extreme pressure and many companies mortally wounded," Murdoch declared.

"Our competitors will be sorely tempted to take the easy beat, to reduce quality in the search for immediate dividends."

He continued: "Let me be very clear about our company: where others might step back from their commitment to their viewers, their users, readers and customers – we will renew ours.

"The direction of the business now and over the next few years will define the character of our company for decades."

How will your church be impacted by the current economic crisis?

What steps will your church take to renew its commitment and redefine itself?

A Sense of Urgency...

The West Michigan District Board of Administration met yesterday and part of our meeting was invested in working through Kotter's new book, A Sense of Urgency. No organization on the planet should have a great sense of urgency than the church, yet our denominational statistics reveal that 959 Wesleyan churches (56%) failed to grow by even one person in average attendance last year and 449 churches (26%) failed to report even one profession of faith. We're praying that God grips us with a renewed sense of urgency!

Here are the take-aways from the book:

URGENCY: a focused determination to win, and win as soon as possible!

“We are much too complacent and we don’t even know it.” (p.1)

“With complacency, no matter what people say, if you look at what they do it is clear that they are mostly content with the status quo.” (p.5)

“True urgency focuses on critical issues …. True urgency is driven by a deep determination to win, not anxiety about losing. With an attitude of true urgency, you try to accomplish something important every day… “ (p.6)

“People, who are determined to move and win, now, simply do not waste time or add stress by engaging in irrelevant or business-as-usual activities.” (p.9)

Create action that is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at winning, making some progress each and every day, and constantly purging low value-added activities – all by always focusing on the heart and not just the mind. (pp.60-61)

The tactics:

1. Bring the Outside In

• Reconnect internal reality with external opportunities and hazards
• Bring in emotionally compelling data, people, video, sights and sounds

2. Behave with Urgency Every Day

• Never act content, anxious, or angry
• Demonstrate your own sense of urgency always in meetings, one-on-one interactions, memos, and e-mail and do so as visibly as possible to as many people as possible

3. Find Opportunity in Crises

• Always be alert to see if crises can be a friend, not just a dreadful enemy, in order to destroy complacency.
• Proceed with caution, and never be naïve, since crises can be deadly.

4. Deal with the NoNos

• Remove or neutralize all the relentless urgency-killers, people who are not skeptics but are determined to keep a group complacent or, if needed, to create destructive urgency

*** How high is the sense of urgency among the relevant people around you?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

U.S. Navy Seal Creed

The Apostle Paul (1st Corinthians 9:26-27) would have made a great SEAL for the Gospel!


The creed

"In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation's call. A common man with uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America's finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and protect their way of life. I am that man.

My Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage. Bestowed upon me by the heroes that have gone before, it embodies the trust of those I have sworn to protect. By wearing the Trident I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day.

My loyalty to Country and Team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.

I serve with honor on and off the battlefield. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men. Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.

We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations.

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.

We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me – my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail. My training is never complete.

We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required yet guided by the very principles that I serve to defend.

Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail."

"Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." 1st Cor. 9:26-27 (NIV)

"...I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again..." 2nd Corinthians 11:23 (NIV)

"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus..." 2 Timothy 2:3

Friday, January 30, 2009

I was fleeced by Madoff

"...Over and over again, I've asked myself: Why didn't I secure the most basic of all things -- shelter itself? Why didn't I pay off my mortgage? And if I don't engage in blame, I see the answer clearly: because I believed in something else more -- I believed in accumulating. And when you believe in accumulating, you see what you don't have, not what you have. My relationship to money was no different from my relationship to food, to love, to fabulous sweaters: I never felt as if I had enough. I was always focused on the bite that was yet to come, not the one in my mouth. I was focused on the way my husband wasn't perfect, not the way he was. And on the sweater I saw in the window, not the one in my closet that I hadn't worn for a year..."

From an article posted on by Geneen Roth, a teacher, columnist and writer of numerous books including "When Food is Love" and "The Craggy Hole in My Heart." (retrieved from 1/30/09)