Picturing Church for a Change

Watch this first.  It’s a conversation piece for people in marketing but it has something profound to say about church life:

If you are in church leadership and that didn’t shake you up then I don’t think you were paying attention.  Churches don’t exactly have a great record when it comes to dealing with change.  (e.g. The Thirty Years War) but this change is going to be different.  What is at stake here is the language that people are going to speak in the ‘village commons’.  What is happening is a fundamental change in how people hear ideas.  In the same way the church was left speaking Latin in the middle ages while the rest of the world moved on, the church is at risk of getting left behind again. Our culture is changing the social currency that it trades in and the church is at risk of being left holding beaver pelts when the rest of the world is trading in dollars and cents.

Churches that dig their heels in and fight this changing culture are just plain sad.  Opposing this fundamental change in the way people under 30 communicate is like having a fit about the fact that Summer is over and Fall is on it’s way.  Whether you like it or not, the leaves are turning, a chill is in the air and if you don’t wear your coat when you leave the house this afternoon; you will be stone cold tonight.

The question is:  How does this change effect life for your church?  Off the top of my head here are three things that come to mind:

1.  Your church needs to grow closer, not necessarily bigger. In Church Growth circles everyone is singing the same tune: Small is the New Big. Even mega-churches (especially mega-churches) are investing huge in … Small Groups.  Why? Because people lack a sense of social connection in this 24/7, working from home world.  Evangelism has got to change to keep up.  Talking about how to evangelize around the water cooler just makes me laugh.  Who talks around a water cooler anymore?  People are answering email while they drive for Pete’s sake!  We sure don’t have time to talk around the water cooler!  And let’s get another thing straight too: Evangelism is not about church growth.  Taking your church from 80 to 160 is first of all, not what Jesus commanded. (Matt. 28: 19-20) What you really need to be doing is taking your church from 80 to eight groups of 20.  Invest in the social infrastructure of your church! The good news is that if your church is already small, congratulations!  It already has one characteristic that can help it grow!  To make your congregation grow you need to tighten up your tribe through more frequent, and more authentic communication.  To read more about this idea read Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin, especially p. 52 – 55.  If you are in Beamsville, ask to borrow it from me or follow the link above and click on the Book cover (“Look Inside”) and then when the Java Applet opens up search for the word ‘tighten’ in the search window on the bottom right.  It will take you right there and you can read it for free.

2. Your church needs to push information out rather than just draw people in. Have you recently tried to get the word out to your church about an event?  How did it go?  Are you wondering why you can’t get anyone to commit to anything anymore?  It is because people do not come to church to read the bulletin or listen to announcements so it should not surprise you that they don’t read or listen to your announcements.  Stop stressing about it and accept it: People don’t read general information anymore!  If you want them to know about something you are going to need to tell them yourself (or get someone to tell them).  We are all so inundated with unsolicited information that, in order to survive, we filter out everything we aren’t already looking for.

Let me tell you a sad story about a friend of mine who is a minister for a church that will be dead in the next ten years.  I asked him if he could find out if his church was interested in participating in an event.  He said at the end of the month (two weeks later) he would ask the congregation at the ‘men’s business meeting’ about it and then the following month (six weeks later!!!) he would find out what they think and get back to me.  A six week turn around for information?  I can email all but three of the families in my congregation about an idea right now and get a answer by the end of the week.

If your church is not savy with email or the Internet, no problem.  For starters, there is another wired technology that is even more available: the PHONE!!  If you want a tighter congregation do this one thing: Call everyone in your church once this month.  It is likely the most important investment you could make in your congregation’s health.

More importantly though, everyone who tells me that people in their church don’t use email is forgetting one thing.  Who are you supposed to be sharing the gospel with?  How about people who use email??  The people we are supposed to be loving and serving are on facebook for a couple of hours EVERY NIGHT!  Get on facebook and start chatting with them!

Does your church have a facebook group?  Why not?!?  The most valuable thing you could do for your church is make a facebook group.  Stop reading this right now and go here and read how to do it or better yet, get a twelve year old at your church to do it for you.  Your church needs a facebook group more than a website!  A facebook group will allow you to instantly communicate with your congregation (and with friends of your members) and engage them during the week.  In addition to putting an announcement in the bulletin, send an email or make an event in a facebook group, or best of all, tell them yourself.

3.  Picture is the New Language of the People. Preachers used to have books of cute stories or analogies for helping them make a point in their sermons.  With people under 30, if you want to emphasize a point you are making in your sermon make sure you use the most common language among your congregation: Picture.

Image is the new language of the people.  Everyone remembers the guy who threw a shoe at Bush right?  Yesterday (September 14, 2009) that guy got out of prison.  One reason why nobody knows that is because there were no news crews at the jail yesterday to get any pictures.  Pictures are arresting in a way that words simply aren’t anymore.

Image is part of what made September 11th so transformative.  Some people call that day the first day of the 21st century.  From that moment on our history is written in pictures not words.  Case in point: think of Obama’s inauguration.  I’m betting that you are thinking of an image and not some part of his speech.  More people are getting news from YouTube than from newspapers now.  Newspapers, for their part are trying to keep up by posting video on their front pages.  Print papers are a dying breed.  The Washington Post lost $1.10 per paper in the first 6 months of 2009.

Powerpoint, while it is valuable, is so 1995.  To reinforce a sermon or a worship theme, a picture is worth more than a thousand words.

Your church has change on it’s horizon, whether you see it or not; whether you like it or not.  Stability is an illusion.  One thing I can guarantee is that whether your church is a picture of health right now or a dysfunctional freak show; I guarantee you that everything about it will be different 10 years from now.


One thought on “Picturing Church for a Change

  1. Hello Cousin,
    Wow! WoW! I am SO impressed with you and your vision! I know your Gramma and Grampa Walker and your dad and always loved him and Steve May. They were born evangelists and just plain ol’ kind cousins although they were much older than me. Your aunt sandy was my counsellor at Omagh Bible camp…I was born in 1960. I wanted to share all that to say this…I doubt that you remember me so much but I did remeet you when you were a teen in 1990 or so when I turned 30 and took a trip to Canada realizing I needed to see the aunts one more time for my sake…my love for them always is in my heart and I was afraid since they were getting older and lived in the States as a preacher’s wife that they might pass away before I saw them again. So first I went to Aunt Grace’s while she was still living at the farm but in the small house, then I went to see Aunt Wilma, my dad’s twin, and Aunt Ella your sweet Gramma, and Aunt Mildred (I also went up north past our cottage to see my mother’s sister Aunt Freda and Uncle Johnny) All are now gone on except 2…I wanted to be sure you KNEW that I am so impressed with your links and website (looking forward to seeing more later….I need to go evangelize over a water cooler…ha ha) and am so thankful that you have taken on your great grandparent’s,grandparents, and parents love of the Lord and His church and that you also are a minister for Jesus. The last time I worshipped with my dad was right there at Tintern church of Christ. How cool that you are now the minister! I trust you are sound in the faith and in the Word and I LOVE your love of people. If there was something missing from the Johnstone clan it was feelings and deep moving conversations about struggles, conflicts and grief…but we are a part of that new generation that have grown into the leaders of the real unpretty things in life that need to be addressed and dealt with and we need each other to love and accept us as we truly hold hands and pray and help each other with our sins and real people problems and help each other get to Heaven!!!!!!!!!!! deep sigh….Yes we have a wonderful Godly heritage with distant cousins who do not even know each other….YET! But with a cousin like you, trying to make a difference…you will raise up the FIFTH generation of faithful to the Lord men to preach and teach the truth and serve the One Most Holy God of Abraham and of you and me xo May God bless you and your work there…let me know if I can ever be of service to you and keep me up on the cutting edge of YOUR generations technologies…getting the Word out!!!! Love in Jesus, Your second cousin, Ruthie Johnstone Smith (Yes, more Smith’s in the family than Steve and Sandy:)


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