Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Destination Transformation: Four Keys to Engagement

In this post I continue the Destination Transformation series (Part I, Part II, Part III) by exploring two sections from Luke-Acts to highlight 2 of the 4 keys to Engaging the Unchurched. This post offers no ground-breaking insights, but it serves as the foundation from which TCOC engages our community. We believe in the mind-blowing news of Jesus!

 After paying-off his medical school loans and honing his practice, Dr. Luke researches the life of Christ and the work of his followers, reporting his findings in a two-volume narrative: Luke-Acts. Luke provides a thrilling description of God bursting his Kingdom onto the world stage through Jesus and of its continued growth through a group of Spirit-filled misfits. 

According to the good doctor, Jesus had a strategy while on planet earth. He invited a group of people to share life deeply with him - to come and see what the remade world of God looks like! In his speech and life he demonstrated the remade world to his followers. After some time, he sent his followers out to remake the world themselves (Luke 9:1-6, 10:1-20), because he planned for them to eventually be his hands and feet - to shape the world through the love and Spirit of God (Acts 2:1-13.) God was strategic and intentional in taking the life-giving news of Jesus to the world, and the aforementioned passages provide churches with four keys to successful engagement.

1.  Engaging Churches Take the Initiative.  Luke 9:2 reads, "...he [Jesus] SENT THEM OUT to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick." One chapter later Jesus commands his followers, "GO! I am SENDING YOU OUT ..." From the beginning Jesus sets a precedent with his followers, "Do not wait for people to come to you. Go to them! Break out of your holy huddle and take the initiative." 

God calls us to be "Hide and Seek" churches rather than "Sardine" Churches. When I was a kid we had two hiding games in our repertoire. In "Sardines" the person who was "It" high-tailed it in search of a hiding place while everyone else counted to the magical number of 50. Once remaining players hit 50, the crowd scattered in search of the hiding player. If you found the hidden player, you would join her and wait until the next person found you...and then the next, and the next, and the next...until you were crammed in some dark humid corner like SARDINES. In this game the designated "It" person waits to be discovered, and once discovered she is happy for you to join her.

Some churches are "Sardine" churches. They  stay within their walls, love each other, master worship, have great programs and are even friendly and welcoming communities, but they take no initiative in engaging the Unchurched. If the Unchurched find their way within their walls they will greet them kindly, but it's up to the Unchurched to find them.

"Hide and Seek" functions the opposite of "Sardines." The person who is "It" counts to 50 while all the other players hide. Once he reaches 50 he shouts, "Ready or not here I come," and then relentlessly seeks those hiding. He will even chase after them.

"Hide and Seek" churches do not wait for the Unchurched to discover them. They are not content within their four walls, hoping that those on the outside will stumble upon them. They take the initiative. They learn about their communities. They study the demographics. They research community needs. They meet their neighbors. They create initiatives and strategies to engage those around them. They ask questions like: Which age group percentage has the highest growth rate in our area? What percentage of our community consists of single-parents? What is the divorce rate in our community? What state-rating do our neighborhood schools have and why? How many other churches are in the area? What kind of non-profits serve our community? What is the average family income?

Engaging the Unchurched begins by dusting off the keester and obeying Jesus..."GO!"

2.  Engaging Churches Create a Presence. In Acts 2 Jesus has returned to the Father and his 120 remaining followers have gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Pentecost is one of Israel's three pilgrimage feasts. Massive crowds converged on Jerusalem to celebrate the Sinai experience. Jerusalem at Pentecost was like New Orleans on Super Bowl week...crowds, celebration, food, and worship (of a different kind of course). 

It is no coincidence that God chose to wait until this very moment, Jerusalem swollen with festival pilgrims, to send his Spirit in style (Acts 2:1-8):

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of cs hears them in our native language? 9 we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

God leveraged the Pentecost crowd so that the his followers could share the good and shocking news of Jesus' resurrection. The results were satisfactory...about 3000 people were added to their (the 120's) number that day. (Sounds like a logistical nightmare in a good sort of way.)

If a church wants to engage the Unchurched, it must create a presence in the community. It's not enough to simply study and understand your community, your community must know you exist.  A mentor of mine once asked this question, "If your Church disappeared tomorrow would your community miss it?" That's a great question, but I want to take it back one step further, "If your church disappeared tomorrow would the community even notice?

I believe Churches should create a presence. Churches should advertise: online, billboards, social media, newspapers, etc. Churches should have a strong presence at community events: participate in parades, run in 5ks, set up booths at community festivals, support local school events. People in your community should know your church's name! I even believe in church window stickers for your car...right next to your stick figure family. [Note: Serving your community is the most impactful way to create a presence. So much so that it gets its own bullet point in my next post.]

Churches need to ask the question, "How can we create a presence so that we might declare the wonders of God?!"

[In my next post I will look at the final two keys in Engaging the Unchurched]


Monday, February 4, 2013

A Celebration of Life Prayer


Every February TCOC centers one of our worship gatherings on the newest additions to our faith community. On Celebration of Life Sunday we pray blessings over the children who arrived within the last year. 

We value the power of blessing. Blessing inaugurates a favored future. It initiates a desired future in the present moment by speaking it into existence. On Celebration of Life Sunday, the faith community, through blessing, chooses God for the child while she is incapable of choosing him for herself. 

We take our cue from Numbers 6:22-27, one of the most popular and oft-quoted biblical blessings. In verse 27 God explains to Moses that through this prayer of blessing the priests "...put my [God's] name on the Israelites." On Celebration of Life Sunday we put God's name on the new lives he has entrusted to us. Below you will find the communal prayer we prayed yesterday.


Almighty Creator of all life, we come to you on behalf of our newest and youngest additions and ask you to use this community of Jesus-followers as your instruments in shaping these beautiful babies into the image of Jesus Christ.


Father, give us…


So that we will affirm the value of each child today.


So that we will know how to act in the best interest of each child.


So that we will teach each child what is best.


So that we will be the child’s voice when she cannot speak for herself.


So that we will demonstrate for each child a full life in you.


So that each child will understand that her identity comes from you and not her success or failure.


So that we will never give up on each child’s future.


So that we will extend grace when each child needs it most.


So that each child will feel at home among us.

And Father, give us your Spirit so that each child will see you reflected in us. We commit these children to your care and we commit ourselves to caring for these children.

In the name of Jesus, the Risen Savior, amen!