Friday, February 25, 2011

Customer Centered Questions

Tom Ehrlich writes a number of blogs. I found the one he wrote today on "Customer Centered Questions" to be dead on for congregations that truly seek to be missionary focused. Take a few minutes to read it, then start asking your leaders the questions.

February 24, 2011
Ask "Customer-Centered" Questions
By Tom Ehrich
At dying churches, leaders are asking questions like these:
• What do WE want?
• What will please our loyal members?
• How little can we change and stay alive?
• How can we stay true to our identity?
• What can we cut next?
The attitude behind those questions is, in all likelihood, the primary reason for their dying. They will blame location, denominational politics, cultural shifts "against religion," recent clergy, and the recession.
But it's their attitude – call it "provider-centered" or "us-centered" – that is killing their church.

Thriving churches, on the other hand, are asking exactly the opposite questions:
• What do other people need from us?
• How can we deploy our present constituents to serve people outside our ranks?
• What changes must we make in order to connect with a changing world?
• How is God trying to change our identity to be more like that of Jesus?
• How can we improve our giving so that we can do more serving?
Call this attitude "customer-centered" or "other-centered."
You can see the difference in church web sites. A "provider-driven" site features photos of the building and information about what WE want to do. A "customer-driven" site features people, in all of their diversity, and tries to anticipate what site visitors need.
You can see the attitude on Sunday morning, when "us-centered" congregations talk with each other and ignore visitors, whereas "other-centered" congregations turn outward toward visitors, the unattached, strangers, and the different.

A provider-driven church will grudgingly rent its facilities to outside groups, with lengthy rules about usage; a customer-driven church will give its facilities away gladly, as well as its coffee and clean floors.
A provider-driven church will sing hymns that members enjoy singing; a customer-driven church will expand its music to embrace new constituencies, such as Hispanic and African-American, as well as contemporary Christian music.
The list goes on and on. The difference is profound, and prospective members can sense it immediately. Many never get beyond the web site that takes pride in a building but says nothing about mission. Or they attend a Sunday service, face tired old words and music, get frozen out, and never return.

If you wonder why the average age of mainline congregations is pushing 65 and young adults are missing, this is why. You can't build an enterprise without doing everything possible to connect with the marketplace.
Leaders make the difference. On their own, most folks won't venture into the uncomfortable, beyond the known, or outside their walls. It takes bold, risk-embracing and confident leaders to do that work.
While old dialogs are still going on, entrepreneurial leaders need to be asking better questions, imagining vigorous responses to a changing world, and shaping a future that is radically other-oriented.

Leaders need to fight against the inertia that constituents inevitably try to impose on them. Leaders need to risk being unpopular. The most change-resistant will threaten reprisals. But leaders need to push through such self-defeating behavior and take the congregation's future, not its momentary satisfaction, as their charge.
That is a tall order, and it's the reason leadership groups need to form strong bonds of trust and mutual support. It's why Benjamin Franklin said to his fellow signers of the Declaration of Independence, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Spirit is Moving

Last weekend I had the opportunity to make a brief address to our diocesan convention about congregational development news in our diocese. In my mind it was perfunctory, a report of activity of the number of churches worked with, updates on our diocesan sponsored church plants, conversations we are having with congregations who want to do some creative 'planting initiatives'. This is my world. I really didn't think this was an extraordinary report. Little did I know the absolute BUZZ it would create. People stopped me in the convention hall to slather praise about it. I met a priest in a church three days later who said, 'best report in 21 years'. What was that about??? It really took me by surprise to see the reaction it stirred. Apparently my report's impact was all about the 6 congregations who have in the last year stepped out, tried to gather folks creatively to start satellite, daughter, spin off congregations, all with the pure motive of evangelism. Imagine that!! Congregations that love the Good News of Jesus so much that it motivates them to do this challenging work.

Something is afoot here. These are congregations who, with joy and anticipation, want to multiply for all the right reasons. This isn't about being mad, leaving, taking people out. No, it is about evangelism, pure and simple.

I think the news that congregations are doing this was met with great surprise and a reaction of hope. We all know these are tough times in our culture to start churches. We all know God calls us to do this very thing, no matter how big the challenge. Obviously, the Spirit is moving in ways that we can't fathom. Thanks be to God that we are seeing this work in our corner of the Episcopal Church. I hope this movement is contagious for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Countless lives are waiting to be touched, even transformed by our faithfulness to the mission of the Church. Let's allow the Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the possibilities right in front of us! How have you been inspired to act? What are you going to do about it?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day. The ONE day we set aside to say, "I love you". Funny that we have to have a national day to remind us to tell each other how much we care. I guess that is a good thing. It's too bad that we have to be reminded by florists and greeting card manufacturers and advertisers.

We hear alot about God's incredible, immeasurable, unbelievable love for us. But do we work to make sure that our congregations reflect that love, not only inside, but especially outside our walls? What power does that love have to change the world if we don't share it with those who need it the most?

I have the privilege of working with lots of congregations. Each one is distinctive. Each one has an intangible but palpable spirit. It usually doesn't take very long for me to sense that spirit. I often wonder about the courageous people who walk into our churches at a time in our culture when the act of entering a church on a Sunday is counter cultural. It would be a whole lot safer going to Starbucks and sitting on an outside patio or by a fireplace on a cold morning drinking a cup of jo then entering a strange place with an even stranger liturgy with people saying rote prayers who seem to know exactly what to say and do next. And to experience that odd time in the service when everyone turns around and says hello and in many places people get out of their pews and greet each other, but as a first timer it feels so lonely. These are the congregations that describe themselves as 'friendly communities' when actually they are just 'communities of friends'. People are often so in tune with saying hello to their friends and acquaintances that newcomers become invisible. Imagine how these visitors feel. The love of God is often not felt at those very awkward moments for these courageous souls who braved the visit. And the church can become a place that feels void of spirit because of people's insensitivity. Simple overtures, a sincere smile, an introduction, asking a few inquiring and caring questions, can translate into God's touch one for the other.

Valentine's Day is an okay reminder. Those of us who have experienced the profound love of Jesus MUST share it with a world that is yet to experience what we know is the most important and life changing love of them all.

Not being sensitive to the simple acts of kindness we can easily do for others is denying the power that we have to let God show His love through us.Every day for the people of God should be Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Strength in Community

The last few weeks have been difficult. They have been filled with illness and tragedy in my extended family and the lives of persons close to me. Times like these are predictable. They are a part of life. They are so hard. They are such incredible opportunities.

Our church communities can truly show their strength by demonstrating Christ-like caring at times like these. There is truly strength to be found in our faith, with each other in community. Simple acts of kindness become big overtures. The human touch can become God made manifest. Offers of prayer become intimate links to heaven. These are all things the church can offer like no other place. Times like these can be what make congregations relative, responsive and authentic. All talk about the 'institutional church' fades as it reaches out in ways that touch the soul and calm the spirit.

Our role as missionary leaders is to foster a spirit of caring in our congregations. Often we need to make sure that there are organized ways to respond to congregants in spiritual, emotional or physical need. There are so many people with gifts for pastoring and mercy. They need to be put to work. Their lives and those whom they minister to will be so enriched. No matter the size congregation, there are individuals with these gifts, waiting to be tapped, perhaps waiting for some training, anxious to utilize the abilities and desires of their hearts. They are no less than the touch of Jesus in times of need.

Caring can be so powerful that it can change a person's heart. Indeed, acts of kindness can demonstrate God's love so strongly that they become transformative spiritual experiences. Caring can often convey to individuals the 'peace that passes all understanding'.

Let's make sure our churches are places where the love of God is made manifest one to another. There is nothing more powerful than witnessing this type of strength in community.