Thursday, December 11, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 5. Technology is Not Optional

Technology is Not Optional

My family has long been involved in public education, and in recent years there has been a push to "use technology" in the classroom. This thinking misses the mark when it comes to connecting to students. Students don't think in terms of "using technology," they just use it. It's part of the language they speak. So "using technology" does not typically produce a wow factor; it's just expected.

Technology is no longer optional; and simply having a website doesn't cut it anymore. You have to connect with people where they are. Connect with people via podcast, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. To not have these things in the 21st century is like a church not having a phone in the 20th century. It's a must.

Use text-messaging to connect people to the service and to the staff. Ross Sawyers at 121 Community Church gave out his personal phone number for people to text if they wanted to talk about what it means to trust Christ.

Technology should be a big part of the services. Going digital costs money, but the things mentioned above do not. Also, going to church Online is gaining a lot of attention these days.

We are now 67 days away from the nation-wide switch from analog to digital television. In response people have purchased converter boxes or have gone ahead and made the plunge into the world of HD television.

On February 17, 2009 the television airwaves go digital and many churches become obsolete. No longer will the overhead-projection-on-a-bedsheet or flannel-board methods be sufficient.

When my home church, Waxahachie Bible Church, built a new sanctuary in 2002, they included widescreen projection screens because the worship pastor, Jay Trull, saw where digital technology was headed. They have not made the conversion to HD yet, but the infrastructure is in place for them to do so when it becomes financially possible. Bent Tree Bible Fellowship completed their new facilities this fall and have gone full HD in their services and so have several other churches we have visited.

Certainly finances are a consideration in this discussion, but embracing technology does not have to be cost-prohibitive. The web is full of free resources to connect people within your church and to introduce new people to your church. Making technology a priority will speak volumes to people who are visiting because it will be communication that is on their terms, using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

What are some ways you are utilizing technology to connect with people? What are some ways that you would like to do so, but haven't yet?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 4. Missions

Missions is Mandatory

Saying the words "missions" or "missionary" to many people in the church it conjures up images of never-ending slideshows illustrating the oppressive need of people who live in mud huts and eat bugs out of either preference or necesity. Of course, missionaries living in places like Hawaii and France have a much more difficult time demonstrating that the work they do is really "missionary" work.

Unfortunately, for many of us, our experiences have created a false idea of what missions in the church really looks like. For a lot of people it is just writing a check once a month or promising to pray for someone you'll likely never see again.

No longer constrained to mud huts on the other side of the world, missions has become a reality in the day to day lives of the people in many of the churches we have visited. It shows itself through tales of evangelistic efforts from people within the local church, service efforts to minister to the local community, or through the emphasis on overseas missions. Different local churches have their focus on differing parts of the overall unifying mission of the Church.

While missions to the "mud huts" must continue, there is a real need to share the gospel through word and deed in the steel and glass "huts" where many of us live and work every day.

Monday, December 1, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 3. Sunday School is Passe

Sunday School is Passe

Growing up Sunday school meant two things: felt boards and donuts. In high school, Sunday school dropped the felt boards, but retained the donuts, so I was still okay.

Then upon graduation, I was thrust into the world of Adult Sunday School, a place completely void of felt boards, and the donuts were mysteriously replaced with bran muffins and bagels, which are like donuts minus all the "good."

From what I've seen through my whirlwind of churches is that many churches have done away with the idea of formalized adult sunday school programming in favor of some type of small-group model. Children and youth up through high school typically have some contextualized programming while the adults attend the main worship service.

This has the potential to be a good move as small groups tend to encourage more interaction between the people involved. This is especially important as churches grow and it becomes harder for visitors to connect with the members of the church. While small groups can have their share of pitfalls too, I think this will ultimately be where most churches end up in the years ahead.

But small groups would be better if they came with donuts, of course!

Monday, November 24, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 2. That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named


This article from Hartford Seminary claims that 1,200 protestant churches are considered megachurches and while only representing less than 1% of all protestant churches, could represent as much as 50% of the total weekly church attendance.

Dallas and Houston have a total of 56 megachurches, which constitutes 4.5% of the total number of megachurches.

When I read these figures to my wife, Amy, she said, "Wow. That many church in Dallas are megachurches? Which ones do you think are megachurches?" When I told her that a megachurch is a church with 2,000 or more in attendance weekly she kind of rolled her eyes and said, "Well, yeah, there are that many here!"

And she's right! There are probably 5 such churches within a 5 minute drive from our apartment!

You'll find that many of the whirlwind of churches I have visited over the past few months fall into the megachurch category and of the few that don't, I feel that many of them will be there within the next 5 years or so.

I'm about to write something that is not popular among a number of my friends and colleagues. If you find yourself in either category, please skip the next sentence. For the rest of you, I will whisper.

I believe one indication of success is: Numerical Growth

I want to make it very clear that this is only one indicator of success, not the indicator of success. It's very possible for a church to be successfully changing lives through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not see much growth at all. But I believe this is the exception, not the rule.

Rick Warren said, "We count people because people count." I think that's a good way to think about it. Growth is not about the number of people, but about the number of people who are affected by the gospel. This is easy to forget when we're looking at a chart or spreadsheet, but each of those dots and numbers represents a person that Jesus cares about.

Also, Luke uses the numerical growth as an indicator of success in the early days of the church in his book of Acts.

Acts 2:41 - So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.
Acts 2:47 - And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.
Acts 5:14 - More and more believers in the Lord were added to their number, crowds of both men and women.
Acts 6:1 - Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Acts 6:7 - The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
Acts 11:21 - The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Acts 11:26b - So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught a significant number of people.
Acts 17:12 - Therefore many of them believed, along with quite a few prominent Greek women and men.

The point is that I believe a church involved in evangelism and outreach is very likely to grow over time. It is not a measuring stick, however, to say that one church is better than another because of size. It's just one indicator of success.

Friday, November 21, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 1. Changed Lives

The 1st Characteristic of a Successful Church is undoubtably the most important:

Changed Lives
Are lives being positively transformed through the ministry? Are people being transformed to reflect the image of Jesus Christ with their lives? Note that this is not necessarily connected with how much theology they know or how many Bible verses they can quote from memory. Are the people learning to live Christ-honoring lives and to do so in order to bring Him glory?

Be careful if you're examining your own church or ministry. External changes are easily mistaken for genuine life-change.

3 Things People Mistake for Changed Lives:
1. Theological Knowledge
If you spend enough time in a church that's teaching anything you're bound to learn something. If a guy goes to an evangelical church enough times he's going to learn John 3:16 and John 14:6. We evangelicals like the book of John. He also might learn a few new words and phrases such as "Son of God" and "Trinity," but nevermind that he probably doesn't have a clue as to what the theological implications of those terms are.

2. Church Happy-Face
There is a difference, however, between churches where lives are truly being transformed and churches that encourage people (hopefully unintentionally) to put on a happy-face for church. It makes you wonder how people sing the old lyrics "And now I am happy all the day!" in good conscience when you see how they treat one-another in church and how they respond to the pastor when he says something that steps on their toes. As a person who has been the toe-stepper-onner, I can assure you that good, solid Christians are most certainly not "happy all the day."

3. Borg-like Assimilation to Christian Culture
As a person attends an evangelical church, the songs on his iPod slowly begin to change. Is language changes into something he can use in church without getting weird looks. Soon he looks just like the other church-goers around him and late at night when nobody is around he watches The Office, but is afraid to tell any of his new friends even though they watching The Office too.

Note: This is part 2 of the 12-part series "11 Characterics of Successful Churches."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - Part 1

Dallas Skyline at NightAs a north-Texas native, I have been blessed to live in an area that is known for three things:
1. The world's best bar-b-que
2. Solid sports teams (Stars, Mav's, Cowboys)
3. A near saturation of churches

I know many of you are thinking, "I thought Dallas was known for racially tense politics, a nearly-broke school district, and abject materialism." But let's think positive!

With so many churches it's pretty easy to look around and wonder what makes one church so effective while another church nearby is struggling to survive one week to the next.

That's why I've put together my list of 11 Characteristics of Successful Churches based on my experience at 15 Dallas-area churches.

In order to keep this from being a wall of text, I've broken it into eleven separate posts. They are listed and will be linked below as they are posted over the next few days.

1. Changed Lives
2. That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named: Numerical Growth
3. Sunday School is Passé
4. Missions: Not Your Granddad's Slide Show
5. Technology is not Optional
6. Proper Branding Cannot be Underestimated
7. A Church of Pastors
8. Focus on your Mission
9. Find Your Niche
10. Be Fearless
11. Be Dangerous

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What Are You Known For?

I was scanning the stats on DigitalWorship traffic, and I came across something very interesting.

Irving Bible Church and Jackie Roese are by far the most googled terms that have brought people to the site. Mostly thanks to Justin Hentschel's contribution and the discussion that was going on among Christian bloggers about Jackie preaching at Irving Bible Church.

But the next favorite terms that have brought traffic was not something cool like "virtual church" or "ministry to millennials." At least I could be proud of those!

The most third and fourth most popular search terms that bring people to Digital Worship are:

"Deep Fried S'mores" and "Chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls"

If you searched those terms and found us here, please know that if my browser didn't have a history feature, I would be googling those terms all day every day!

But also know that it is my hope to share the amazing things churches are beginning to do to engage with and serve people through digital means. If you're someone who has never felt comfortable in a church or you've just never found a church where you feel like you fit in, please know that there are lots of different churches out there that are not like you visited with grandma (and a lot that are if that's what your looking for!).

If you need help finding one, leave a comment I will help you find a place just for you whether its the old-school church with a steeple or a place in the virtual world like Second Life or one of the online church campuses.

So poke around this blog a bit, even if it's not exactly what you were searching for because you may find exactly what you need.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Virtual" Ministry

If you get a chance, head over to Mark Brown's blog and check out a blog post I wrote for him called "The New West."

Mark is currently leading an Anglican church in Second Life and asked me to write a little something for him. I encourage you to explore his blog a bit and see what kind of unique opportunities and stuggles have arisen with this "virtual" ministry.

Also note above that it's the word "virtual" that is in quotes not the word ministry.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The New West

Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau were a pair of pioneers. You may not know their names, but they changed the world every bit as much as two of their more famous brethren; Lewis and Clark. They may never have ridden in a covered wagon, or crossed the rockies while carrying their boats, but their contribution to the world has fundamentally impacted almost everything that most of us do on a day to day basis. These men set out to find a way for nuclear researchers to share information more easily. In the process, they invented something known as the World Wide Web.

Ever visited a website or a webpage? Yeah they came up with that.

Ever used a web-browser? They invented that too.

The didn't strike a vein of gold like the prospectors of old. They tapped a vein of information that has been yielding it's riches for the last 25 years. And in the process they opened the door for commerce and knowledge to sweep around the world in seconds.

During the dot-com boom of the last decade, the potential of the internet was often compared to the California gold-rush where many came seeking their fortunes in the untamed new environment. Many succeeded and many failed.

The Old West
The westward expansion of the United States during the 1800's brought with it all types of people beyond those who were looking to dig in the ground for precious metals. Many doctors, lawyers, and teachers, as well as the lonely and those seeking a new start made the movement west. And where they went, they brought their beliefs with them.

Praise by Proxy
The churches in this period were very simple when compared to cities of the east coast or of the cathedrals of Europe. Many, if not most, church meetings took place without the presence of musical instruments. However, as time progressed, one frontier church saved up the $250 necessary to purchase an organ, which was close to the $300 annual salary of their pastor. The church and others like it were criticized by Methodist preacher, Alfred Brunson, as being "in the habit of praising God by proxy [with] a thundering organ and a select choir to do their singing. As might be expected in such cases the services were cold and formal, nothing of the life and spirituality of religion being visible."

The first adopters, in this case, were those who, at great sacrifice, began to employ what would later become staples of church services. Brunson's words recorded above could easily be said today, only they would not come from the more conservatively-minded church-goers, but from those who are more liberally-minded.

This is not an attempt to stoke the fires of the so-called worship wars, but to illustrate the following point.

Beyond Independence
The internet is no longer the place for the early adopters. Sure, there are those who will remain on the fringes participating in the read-only web: searching Google, checking email, and reading Wikipedia. And there are those who dive deeply into the read-write web (Web 2.0): Uploading videos to YouTube, editing Wikipedia, participate in the so-called blogosphere. These are merely the Independence, Missouri of the internet, if you remember from the classic game, Oregon Trail.

Virtual Worlds - The New West
So where to the early-adopters move now? Some have suggested that microblogging, such as Twitter, are where things are moving. But this still feels too close to civilization for me. I believe Web 3.0 may bring us into virtual worlds, the likes of which we have yet to truly see so far.

Take a look at these numbers if you are not sure.
  • 11 million people pay US$10-$15 per month to play World of Warcraft
  • 15.4 million registered avatars exist in the Second Life universe
  • US$100,000 is the most expensive virtual item ever purchased (an asteroid in Entropia Universe)
  • Sweden and the Maldives both operate embassies in Second Life

To put these in perspective for you, World of Warcraft serves as the virtual home for a group of people larger than the nation of Cuba! Don't forget that they each pay monthly fees to make it their virtual home.

Second Life hosts more avatars than the nation of Cambodia!

These virtual worlds may be a representation of what the next generation of the internet has to offer. They are the New West. There will be those within the Christian community who will not accept the type of ministry that is beginning to take place in virtual worlds. Just as Brunson illustrated for us, the early-adopters are rarely accepted, but what was cutting-edge yesterday, is the norm today and the passe of tomorrow.

Most importantly, we must remember that behind each avatar or screen name is a person. Many of whom are seeking escape from painful lives by living their virtual lives. These new worlds offer us a chance to connect with them and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people our "normal" churches may never have the opportunity to reach.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

12 Second Gospel

There was some talk over the last couple of months about expressing the gospel as a tweet on Twitter (See "Tweet the Gospel" by Brian Baute).

Yesterday, I came across this fancy site called 12 Seconds. The basic idea is that this website allows you to create 12 second videos in order to connect with friends and family. The cool part is you can use your phone to record and upload the videos, so theoretically you could do this without being tethered to your computer.

This is how I understand it translated into an SAT analogy.

Twitter : Blogging :: 12 Seconds : Video Blogs

So, that begs the question. See if you could share the gospel in a 12 Second video. It will really challenge you to think about what is truly fundamental to the gospel.

What are your thoughts on What do you think about condensing the gosple into these ultra-short expressions?

Edit: is still not open to the public yet, but you can still see what the videos are like and, if you're interested, request an invitation to the alpha testing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What is a Church?

Today over at Swerve,'s blog, they are discussing the definition of a church in a post titled Defining Church. You can also read my contribution to the Swerve community here.

As you may or may not know, I would consider LifeChurch to be one of the more technologically astute churches out there, as they utilize lots of different approaches to reach people with the message of the cross. Some of their more creative approaches are an Internet Campus and also a Second Life Campus.
LifeChurch SL Campus

Several people have asked for a copy of my research paper on the online churches. I do intend to make it available for people to read, so if you would like a copy of it, leave a comment and let me know and I'll get one to you as soon as possible. If you already asked for a copy of it, and have been waiting for some time now, I want you to know I haven't forgotten about you.

Keep checking DigitalWorship for a link in the next couple of days. Or subscribe to the DigitalWorship Feed and get updates as soon as they are posted!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Am Rich - Finally!

Tonight I was scanning the Guiness Book and came across a cracker that sold for $7,840 at auction. "What kind of cracker was this?" you may ask. "Who would pay such an outrageous price for a cracker?" others my question?

The cracker was from the one of the Shackelton expeditions to the south pole (if you've never heard of these expeditions, you MUST read the Wikipedia entry at a minimum).

And the purchaser of this cracker was Johnny Van Haefton, great-nephew to Sir Philip
Brockelhurst, who was a member of Shackelton's crew. You can debate whether this cracker is worth the price paid because of sentimental value or becuase it is a part of history. More than likely, however, it's a status symbol.

Status symbols come in various shapes and sizes, and those wealthy enough to afford extravagance can now take a step away from the cars (which will likely depreciate) and houses (which will likly appreciate) to purchase something that is completely worthless the moment you buy it.

I give you....
I Am Rich
"I Am Rich," the most expensive downloadable app for your iPhone and iPod Touch. According to Fox News, the app sells for $999.99 and performs absolutly no function other than showing the picture of the glowing red gem. Some have speculated that the "i" in the lower right hand corner will give you wise counsel on maintaining your decadent lifestyle.

Owning an iPhone no longer places you in an elite group (you never were in one, by the way, since Apple has the goal of bringing a total of 10 million people into your exclusive group before 2009 begins).

If you want to be in the real elite, you must purchase "I Am Rich."

But remember, it's only a matter of time before Apple reduces the price of "I Am Rich" to $500 and releases "I Am Richer" for download for $1199!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lewis and Clark

Over the last few nights, my wife and I have watched "Lewis and Clark" by Ken Burns. As such, I have developed a great respect for these men and the Corps of Discovery that crossed the North American continent.

When the team set out from St. Louis in 1803, Meriwether Lewis was just one year older than I am. Two years later, he and his team had crossed the great plains and were making preparations to cross the rocky mountains. Lewis had accomplished more in these 24 months than anyone could have dreamed possible, and yet he wrote the following words in his journal on the night of his 31st birthday.

This day I completed my thirty first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain in this Sublunary world. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the hapiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended. but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to promote those two primary objects of human existence, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.

As I examine my life, I recognize that I have wasted more hours than I have put to good use. Failing to rise to the challenges that this modern life presents, I disply my own weaknesses.

My desire is that each of us can look back over these few short years we have "to remain in this Sublunary world" and see that we have "further[ed] the happiness of the human race" to the glory of our God who deserves no less.

Read the full text of the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Communication - A Terminal Condition

If you've been involved in Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, you've had this experience before. You're driving along the interstate and you pass a car going rather slowly compared to the rest of traffic, but rather the speed "limit" as the local authorities have defined it. You notice in your haste that this SUV has anywhere from 3 to 17 bumper stickers on it, so you decide it's well worth your time to investigate what causes this car has decided to champion. As you ease off the accelerator, you begin to read the first one.

Next to the obligatory Jesus fish you see the number one must-have Christian bumper sticker of all time.
No Jesus No Peace

You think to yourself, "Not bad. I know Christians love a good pun, but I can see what they mean." Then you see the next one.
1 Cross + 3 Nails

After doing a little math and figuring out the pun at 70 miles per hour, you think, "Okay. I get it." Then you see the best one yet.

In case of rapture

While these bumper stickers may cause someone to think for a minute or to consider their lives, they do require a certain level of knowledge about Christianity to start with. But I think the last one is far too cavalier.

The first issue is that the bumper sticker assumes that the average reader will know what this "rapture" is and the significance of that event.

The other issue is that someone with this bumper sticker on their car more than likely believes in a pretribulational view of the rapture. If that's the case, then it's very likely that person is aware that the rapture that they are looking forward to so eagerly, is not a laughing matter for those who will not be raptured. It marks the beginning of a very terrible time for anyone left on earth. Millions upon millions of people will die in period that follows it.

We cannot be so concerned about making cute bumper stickers (or church marquees) that we grow callose to the very real plight of those in our world who have never trusted in Jesus Christ. The rapture, the tribulation, and hell should not be laughing matters to us, but rather a call to action. Share the love and grace found through faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for us.

Share the gospel on their terms using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Communication - Their Terminology

Fact: Many Christians don't remember what life is like outside of Christianity.

I believe the Gospel should be presented to the secular community on their terms, using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

Sometimes the the communication process begins to fail before the channel is even utilized at the point of encoding. Far too often we explain the gospel using one of two things:

  1. Christianese - n. the acquired second language spoken by members of the Christian community which consists of words that have either different or no meaning at all to the larger secular communities. Christians typically use this language to identify one another and/or determine the spiritual health of the speaker.
  2. Seminarese - n. the acquired third language spoken by members of the Christian community after prolonged isolation in institutions of higher learning away from the larger Christian community. "Seminarians" typically use this language to determine probable GPA of the speaker.

The Gospel in Christianese
Here is what a short gospel presentation would look when the speaker chooses to encode the message into Christianese.

"I'm not going to tell you about my religion because Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship. When I found Jesus I knew that my life had more meaning because now I can glorify God better than I ever could before. The wages of your sin will be that if you die without accepting Christ, you will recieve eternal death. The Word tells us that Jesus Christ gave himself for your sins so that you can go to heaven when you die. Do you want to ask Jesus into your heart today?"

If read the above and think, "What's wrong with that?" then, congratulations! You are fluent in Christianese. Note the use of phrases that would only be understood by people who are already Christians.

"A relationship, not a religion." - I know what you're saying and you know what you're saying, but to the untrained eye, Christianity looks an aweful lot like a religion with all it's worship, holy book, special music, and rules that people say you don't have to follow, but you're not allowed into their church if you don't.

"Ask Jesus into your heart." - When I was a kid people used to tell me that Jesus lives in our hearts, so I seriously thought that Jesus was a few inches tall and kept things going down there.

"going to heaven when you die" - Believe it or not, if I'm not a fan of Jesus and God and everything, spending eternity with them does not sound like a whole lot of fun. Then the unbeliever finds out that a bunch of Christians will be there and it seals the deal for them. (You may think I'm being sarcastic, but read Job 21:13-15 and see how those who refuse to worship God respond to Him even in the afterlife.)

The Gospel in Seminarese
In order to counteract the much too muddled language that Christianese offers, speakers of seminarese tend to overcorrect a bit. The gospel in seminarese as precise as it is baffling.

"The omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable triune God, eternally exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit, being born of a virgin. Jesus Christ, being tempted in every way, did not falter in His life, but was delivered into the hands of evil men and was crucified. The hypostatic union of Jesus Christ shows us that He is the full and perfect vicarious sacrifice to the post-lapsarian condition of man. He died as the substitutionary atonement for you. On the third day He was resurrected showing us His victory over death. The first steps of your soteriological journey begin by trusting in Jesus Christ as the propitiation for your sins so that you can dwell eternally with Him in the eschaton. When you begin this soteriological endeavor, He will send the Holy Spirit who will indwell you and comfort you as you await the day of your resurrection."

Too much to comment on here. It's completely incoherent. If you do understand it, congratulations! You're thousands of dollars spent at seminary is starting to pay off.

Speaking to people on their terms does not have to be hard. When you are sharing the gospel with someone, think to yourself, "What am I really saying? Would I understand this if I were not part of the Christian culture?"

Encode the message using their terminology. We have the only life-giving gospel and the world cannot afford for this message to be lost or misunderstood simply because we choose to encode it in such a way that only other Christians can understand it.

Remember - Communicate on their Terms, Using their Terminology, so their condition isn't Terminal

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Communication - On Their Terms

Yesterday I shared this diagram with you.
Communication Model

I believe the gospel should be shared with people on their terms using their terminology so their condition isn't terminal. The first portion is the focus today, and it relates to the channel in the communication model above.

Their Terms
One of the problems we face when we're presenting the gospel is that we often fail to use the appropriate channels of communication. In some models the channel will have a jagged line in the middle of it to represent noise or interference. At the most basic level this means is that the channel of communication is insufficient in some way. (Hint: Every channel has some noise.) The communicator has the responsibility of choosing the channel with the least amount of noise in it.

Some insufficient channels we Christians tend to use to share the gospel are

Bible Studies
"Bible Studies" are the silver bullet of the Christian community. Need counseling? Bible Study. Need time away from the kids? Bible Study. Need friends? Bible Study. Need Jesus? Bible Study. If you're not sure about this, then think about it from the other direction. If you were going through life, oblivious to the eternal consquences of sin, would you ever dream of going to something called a "Bible Study?" What if you were a Christian who just didn't feel comfortable in their church anymore. Are you going to head for a Koran Study?
They do have their place, but if they're going to be evangelistic in nature, I think they really need to be purposeful in their approach.

I was walking down the street with my wife one evening in a somewhat trendy part of town. A man dressed like Ward Cleaver handed me a piece of paper. (I always take tracts because I like to see what type of presentation they use. If it's from a cult of some sort, I try to take as many as I can!) This one was from a Christian church in the area and it had a picture of a teen with a boombox on his shoulder who was rocking a sweet mullet. I'm not exagerating, I swear. The title said, "Hey Teenager!" and when you opened it up, this little booklet walked you through the dangers of rock and roll music, then explained how all those hot women, cool music, and great clothes could be avoided by trusting in Jesus Christ. I don't think it had the desired effect.
While many tracts are pretty good as far as offering a clear gospel presentation is concerned (see EvanTell's May I Ask You A Question), many are not so good. I'm not entirely convinced that in this post-modern (some say post-christian) culture we're living in that these little booklets are as effective as they once were. It seems like as the world shifts toward postmodernism, people need to see the Christian life lived out in front of them in order to see that it is genuine.

Christian Concerts
Many Christians think that Christian music will save their friends from eternity in hell with its uplifting lyrics (read "not cussing") and its great beat (read "stolen from secular bands"). Christian concerts attract one audience primarily: Christians. It's great to have them, but please don't consider them as a viable means to share the gospel because any messages are quite literally preached to the choir.

Please understand that I'm speaking in generalities here. I know someone will say, "Hey my brother was saved at a Bible study!" or something like that. Occasionally someone will end up at one of these events and realize they've just been playing the Christian game all this time, and now they truly get it. I've even heard of this happening in a seminary or two, though I did not witness it myself. I do believe these cases are the exception and not the rule.

Some solutions that I think would be more effective in sharing the gospel in our postmodern culture are through hands on ministry services or talks on current events topics as seen from a Christian perspective. The methods you use are going to be dependent on the specific culture of your area, but to do it well, you will need to think like a non-christian for a few minutes and ask yourself, "Would I want to go to this?"

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Communication Explained (Part 5 of 5)

Communication Model

Receiver: This portion of the model has an important role to play in communication because if the receiver is not present, then the communication model falls apart.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Communication Explained (Part 4 of 5)

Communication Model

Decode: The greatest threat to effective communication is the decoding process. Far too often perfectly good messages are destroyed at this point. The receiver, trying to make sense of the message, attempts to decode the message and ends up coming to a faulty conclusion about the intended meaning of the message. This is easy to see in the case of different languages, but it also occurs with other forms of encoding as well. That's how most of us got to listen to the music we liked when we were young; our parents couldn't decode it properly!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Communication Explained (Part 3 of 5)

Communication Model

Channel: The channel is the chosen medium through which the encoded message is sent. It can be a room, airwaves, paper, stone, etc. Sometimes a combination of channels are used to transmit a message. Sometimes communication models will include "noise" or "interference" within the channel to represent degredation of the message. For example: A message is encoded for television broadcast. That broadcast then travels through the air into your television. The message then travels from your television into your ears. Each of these poses certain threats to the quality of the message when it is received.

I believe noise occurs at every stage of the model. Noise exists within the sender and the receiver as well as the encoding and decoding processes.

What channels do you use to share the gospel? What are some noise threats to the gospel in your context?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Communication Explained (Part 2 of 5)

Communication Model

Yesterday we looked at the Sender. Today we're examining "Encoding."

Encode: Many people have never considered the idea that all forms of communication have been encoded in some way. Languages are the typical form of encoding, but there are others such as music, painting, sculpture, etc. Encoding poses a great threat to the communication process because it relies on the receiver being able to decode the message properly. Oh and all communication is encoded, so there's no way of getting around it.

What are some ways that you encode the gospel?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Communication Explained (Part 1 of 5)

Communication Model

I need to define some terms for you, so we will all be on the same page as we look at this model for the rest of the week.

Sender: The sender is the source of the communication. A sender does not have to be a person; it could be an organization, a device, an animal, or almost anything. For this reason the sender is represented by a circle on the diagram. For our discussion, the sender will almost always be either an organization (a church or a parachurch organization) or a person.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Communication and the Gospel

I sit at my computer today working through the far too lengthy to-do list. With Digsby running in the background feeding me information from my various IM clients, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and Yahoo mail, I received this twitter from Bobby Gruenwald from (twitter): "Live from Saddleback" which shows a live video feed from Bobby's trip to Saddleback Church out in Southern California. A few minutes later, I receive an email from Bill Koogler, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, about setting up an online forum to discuss theology and ministry.

Billions of bits of information fly to me every day. In our connected world 1.3 billion people are utilizing the tools of communication, but it makes one wonder if communication is actually taking place when we think it is.

The following diagram is an example of a simple communication model.

Communication Model

This week, I will break down the pieces of this model in order to show how communication works (in theory) and how this communication model can help you build relationships, improve your marriage, and share your faith.

I'll toss the question to you. Consider the diagram above and answer this question: Through these various tools of communication, do you believe effective communication is taking place? Why or why not?

Note: The following links are where you can find me in the online communities mentioned above.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I've Been Infiltrated!

Actual Surveillance Screenshot
I don't know how it happened or why, but Prodigal Jon over at Stuff Christians Like must have gotten a copy of my preaching calendar. Granted, the preaching calendar isn't under lock and key, but I have to wonder, "Why me?"

The evidence first presented itself upon arriving from church today. I sat down to read my fun blogs (my ministry blogs can wait until Monday), and what did I see? Prodigal Jon flaunting his recently-discovered knowledge of my preaching plan.

The evidence:
Yesterday Prodigal Jon posted this
#181 Preaching 87 Week Long Sermon Series on a Single Book of the Bible
Prodigal Jon clearly knows that today I preached sermon #50 from the book of Mark. Seriously. I started preaching from Mark on May 20, 2007. Today's sermon was from chapter 11 verse 12-26. Just wait, it gets better.

Mark 11:12-26 deals with one of the more famous events in the life of Jesus Christ. And what do you suppose Prodigal Jon's other post from yesterday was? You have to see it to believe it.
#179 Referring to that Jesus Clears the Temple Verse When You Get Angry

I just have one thing to say.

I'm onto you, Prodigal Jon!

Seriously though, all of you need to go over and subscribe to his blog, "Stuff Christians Like." It's a fun blog to read and really makes us laugh at ourselves.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fundamental Functions of the Online Church (Part 6 of 6)

We've been discussing the Fundamental Functions of the Church. So far we have seen four functions and today we will discuss the final function: Evangelism

The online church must perform evangelism in some way and I believe this is one of the functions that is the easiest to perform in an online environment. While some people may take on a different persona in online environments, many people are actually more open to discussing spiritual matters an online context.

The Great Commission compels us to go into all the world and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nowadays the world is actually at our desktop. We must share the message of Jesus Christ in the online worlds as well.

How does your church do evangelism? How can you share the gospel of Jesus Christ through the use of online environments?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fundamental Functions of the Online Church (Part 5 of 6)

As we continue in our discussion of the Fundamental Functions, we look at the cross-over function of Service.

It's a cross-over because the New Testament community took care of those within the fellowship (see Acts 2:45), as well as those who were outside of the community (see James 1:27).

So can the online church participate in the fuction of service? If finances can be considered part of service, this poses no problem whatsoever. For example, after the 2005 Sumatra Tsunami the website, raised $445,000 in the first five days. While this may not be a satisfactory form of service to many, it does help achieve the goal.

The phenomenon of the the "flash mob" shows that the internet has the power to motivate people to action, even for seemingly meaningless activities. Perhaps the online church could utilize this type of mobilization share the love and compassion characteristic of a thriving Christian community.

What do you think? What are some ways the online church could perform the fundamental function of service?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fundamental Functions of the Online Church (Part 4 of 6)

Continuing in our discussion of the Fundamental Functions of the online church, we now turn to InReach. Although we already discussed InReach a little bit, since .5 of it reaches into worship in the area of discipleship. I see discipleship as an overlapping function that unites UpReach and InReach.

InReach - Fellowship

The Fundamental Function that rests securly in InReach, however, is Fellowship. Fellowship appears to be primarily focused on encouraging other believers, caring for them, and building them up. While it may have a secondary role of pushing someone toward UpReach, the primary task in InReach.

The online church may not be able to have your traditional potluck dinners or your weekly gatherings around a cup of joe, but I do believe that real fellowship can happen through digital media. I believe that as technology improves this idea will become more and more a reality in many people's lives. Of course mobile devices and text messaging are already very popular and easy ways to stay in touch with friends and family constantly.

A few popular web services that already help people stay connected are:
Skype - offering computer to computer voice and video communication in real time
AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) - a standard in text-based instant messenging
Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messnger- like AIM, but with the added bonus of voice communication
Twitter - quick updates from your friends either from computer or via txt message on a mobile device
TeamSpeak or Ventrilo - voice communication popular with gamers. Provides different rooms for large groups to be broken into smaller groups for better organization/communication.

What are some ways you keep in touch with people in real time? How could you use this technology to facilitate fellowship within your church?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fundamental Functions of the Online Church (Part 3 of 6)

Yesterday, I explained that the first part of UpReach is Worship, but I also told you we would look at UpReach 1.5 today. I hear your voice already. What is UpReach 1.5?

UpReach 1.5 is a function of the church that spans both UpReach and InReach, so in a sense it is InReach 1.5 too, but that distinction will get confusing later in this series. Trust me on this. UpReach 1.5 is the way to go with it. You can thank me after you read Part 6 of this series.

Upreach 1.5 - Discipleship
UpReach 1.5 is the Fundamental Function of the Church that spans both UpReach and InReach and it's what is commonly known as Discipleship. This is a pretty "churchy" term, but the basic idea is that one of the Fundamental Functions of the church is to take a person who is already a believer in Jesus Christ and help them to form a closer relationship with Him. Primarily biblical teaching is where this happens, but it happens in community with other believers as well.

Too often our churches have been good at "getting people saved" and not so good at "making disciples." Salvation is the first step, of course, but we must never forget it is the first step of a long and exciting journey.

I think the online church has the opportunity to do discipleship pretty well. We function within a community of people sharing ideas on blogs, interacting with each other in social networks, and twittering their lives to each other almost constantly. The online church needs to strategically use these powerful tools to encourage people to have a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. That sentence is true for any church that seeks to engage people living in the 21st century whether it's an online church or not.

What do you think? Can the online church perform the function of discipleship? How does your church use technology like this to encourage discipleship?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fundamental Functions of the Online Church (Part 2 of 6)

Last time I talked about the purposes of the church: UpReach, InReach, and OutReach.

Now we're going to dig a little into each of those to find the Fundamental Functions of the church. I'm using this as a test to see if the online churh can fulfill the fundamental functions. (Hint: I think they can.)

UpReach 1 - Worship
In the simplest terms this deals with worship. Please note: this is not restricted to worship services, music, or any other limited notion that may exist. The disciples worship Jesus in a boat (Mat. 14:33) and I seriously doubt they broke out the worship band to do it. It's much more a matter of the heart.

Tomorrow we'll look at UpReach 1.5. If you're not sure what that would be, come check it out!

Can the online church fulfill the fundamental function of worship? I've already tipped my hand, but I would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fundamental Functions of the Online Church (Part 1 of 6)

Before we can adequately discuss the Fundamental Functions of the Online Church, we must understand what the purpose of the Online Church is if it is to function as a legitimate church.

Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (a 1296 page introduction!), identifies three primary purposes of the church.

Ministry to God: Worship - The church is to be involved in worship of the living God. DO NOT be tempted to limit this to simply the "worship service" or "worship music." Worship should extend deep within us and be expressed in a variety of ways.

Ministry to Believers: Nurture - The church is to protect, encourage, build up, strengthen and instruct the believer to grow in his or her relationship to Christ.

Ministry to the World: Evangelism/Mercy - The church has a responsibility to share the gospel with the lost, and bring hope to a fallen world through serving the lost, the least, and the lonely. (I stole that from somewhere, so please forgive my plagiarism.)

The cliché, but easy way to remember these is with the terms, UpReach, InReach, and OutReach. Before you look to the online church to see if it fulfills these purposes, hold your own church up against this list and see where the holes are.

I pastor a Bible church and we tend to be very good at doing InReach, interested in OutReach (especially if we can give money to it rather than do it ourselves), and the UpReach is there but not always very visible.

Over the next few days, I will explain how the Fundamental Functions of the Church fit into these purposes dealing specifically with issues related to online churches.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sunday's Coming!

We're getting ready for Easter at Ennis Bible Church, and as we join together with our family and Christians around the world celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Our worship series is called "MyStory" where we have a number of people sharing their stories of how they came to trust in Jesus Christ. I'm looking forward to sharing a video that we're putting together introducing some of the people from our church.

I pray that each of your churches have a great celebration and that many place their faith in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God this weekend!

Friday, March 14, 2008

WEC Conference Update

I'm about a day behind on reporting my adventures at WEC this week at DTS. Here are some notes from yesterday.

The session I attended was entitled Connecting the Local church to the Global Community, and it was led by a representative from CAM International, Voltaire Cacal.

Some of the key points from this presentation were:

Action Steps for the Local Church to Connect with the Global Community

1. Examine current missionary and outreach programs.
2. Before taking on new missionaries/projects, find out if there is someone already involved with that people group.
3. If you church "adopts a people group," find agencies that work with them (rather than on your own) and utilize the resources in your local church to support that people group through the agency.
4. Build upon existing work
5. Work with mission agencies
6. Send short-term trips through agencies or established missionaries*
7. Consider local implications of strategic partnerships (other local churches and ministries)

There was a great diagram about how this would look. My feeble attempt to illustrate it is shown below. Yes, I do know how to use Photoshop. No, it's not installed on this computer. So here it is in all its MS Paint goodness.

The basic idea is that a youth ministry should fit in with the other ministries working with People Group A. So, a mission agency that primarily focuses on, say, church plantning, should work strategically with the other ministries already working with that group so the church plants fit in with the other established ministries.

*Voltaire noted that some overt evangelism (street preaching, tract distribution, etc.) can be harmful to established missionary work going on especially in "closed" countries. Working with established agencies would help alleviate this concern.

What are some ways your churches coordinate with other local ministries? What are some ways you connect your local body with global community of missions?

I would love to get your thoughts on these ideas, so please leave a comment! After that, be sure to check out Voltaire's blog, too!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

WEC Conference

Yesterday I attended a seminar with Dan Branda with Association of Baptists for World Evangelization (ABWE) entitled One Punk Under God: A Discussion of Contextualization. The main thrust of the seminar focused on a Sundance Film, One Punk Under God, featuring Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker). Jay has a church called "Revolution Church" that meets in a bar and ministers to the punk scene in Boston.

One interesting quote from the video was "For some groups we're too Christian. For others we're not Christian enough."

Some of the questions raised were:

  • Is it a problem that they meet in a bar?
  • Is it a problem that the the bar is open while they're meeting? (In one scene Jay reminds those in attendance to tip their waitresses.)
  • Is there a line to be drawn as far as contextualization to the culture is concerned?

The rest of the story, according to the film, is that Jay also happens to be a "gay-affirming pastor." The second portion of the seminar focused on Jay's struggle of whether or not he believes homosexuality is a sin. How far does contextualization go here?

Dan led the discussion well and it was a packed room! (I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure the fire marshall wasn't there because I'm pretty sure some codes were violated!) Some quotes from Dan:

"There is a healthy tension between theological truths and reaching the least of these."
"There is a real need to think through why we do what we do."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

World Evangelization Conference at DTS (quick update)

I will be blogging from the World Evangelization Conference at DTS all this week. I attended two great sessions which I will tell you about later tonight.

But I wanted to quickly update you on some cool happenings at the conference.

A few years ago my wife, Amy, and I spent some time will Craig and Denise Williams in Mexico City. This morning I was speaking with, a representative with CAM International, and mentioned our stay with the Williams. He said, "Craig is here at the conference!" So I got to see Craig and catch up with him on how things are going in Mexico City. I also want to say, "Hi!" to some new friends, Sharifa, Dawn, and Voltaire, who did a great presentation of CAM's work in Spain.

I'll post my notes from the sessions I attended this evening, but all I have to say so far is "Wow! This is going to be a great week!"

Also: If any of you are going to be at the conference, let me know and we'll try to meet up.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Church Online (Part 2 of 2)

So yesterday I asked whether or not it is possible to have a real and connected Christian community in an online environment. I know there are those who will disagree with my theory, but we'll see what the research says in a few weeks.

I think that as Generation Y, (those born from 1980-1995) continues to encourage development in the technology and culture of the internet, experiencing a true community online will not seem like such a strange idea. The previous generations may never truly embrace these communities on a wide-scale, but to Gen Y and the generations that follow Y, online communities may be just as tangible as the relationships developed in "the real world."

Research also shows that exposure to technologies can help bridge the generational gaps, so teach your grandmother how to blog, get her on MySpace and Facebook. Who knows? She may be the next visitor to your online church.

Do you think Gen Y can or will embrace internet-based churches? Why or why not?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Church Online (Part 1 of 2)

This is a map of the internet (larger view). Where 1.3 billion people are connected through tiny glass strands. Where hopes, visions, and ideas are reduced to 1's and 0's and still retain their meaning.

The internet is full of people who have collected into communities of like beliefs through the use of forums, blogs, and social networking. Web 2.0 has given us the tools to test whether true community relationships can be formed and/or maintained in these types of environments.

I'll give you what my theory is tomorrow.

Is it possible to have a real and connected Christian community in an online environment?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Big Thank You!

I need to offer a huge thanks to and especially Bobby Gruenewald and Brian Ahern and his team over at OPEN, LifeChurch's webpage of excellent resources that are free to use in your church. Brian and his team worked extra hard to get a video available on OPEN several days before it was scheduled to be added so our church, Ennis Bible Church, would be able to use the video as part of our message this week. A huge thanks to you guys!

The message this morning was on Mark 10:17-31, the story of the rich young ruler. Clearly the issue of money came up. As part of the message we used this hilarious video made by LifeChurch. Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Miss Saigon and the Online Church

Tonight I had the joy of seeing J. J. Pearce High School perform Miss Saigon, and it was excellent. The lead role of Kim was played by Elizabeth Judd, a senior at Pearce, and she has a fantastic voice!

The whole experience made me think about how live theater is such an enjoyable experience, but is a somewhat lost on a media-saturated society. Thus, theater does not have the widespread impact that other media offer.

As I study the online churches, I've begun to think that the potential to reach
1.3 billion people offers a level of impact that the "brick and mortar" churches cannot come close to offering. "But there's just something about actually being in church" some might say. There's just something about being seeing live theater too.

Theater hasn't gone away just as the "brick and mortar" churches haven't and hopefully never will. But is it time for us to rethink the impact that they have given the audience available online?

Do you think churches should rethink their online presence? Besides a webpage, what does your church do to have an online presence?
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