Monday, March 30, 2009

Keeping Score

In January, I announced that we would be waging an all-out assault on losing in our church. For more on that, you can read this post. But part of being a winning church is making sure that we are keeping proper score. What constitutes a "win"? How do we know when we've hit the target (or missed the target)? What is it that counts?

This is a conversation the elders and I have been having for the last several weeks, and here are some of the things we've come up with. We recognize that there's been a faulty scoreboard that we've been using, and we're trying to replace it with a more accurate one. Here are some of the changes that we're working on. I'll be covering three of the paradigm shifts this week, and three next week.

1. Number of People vs. Number of Unchurched People
In the past, if it was Soccer Camp or a worship service or a Primetimers picnic, we gauged the success of an event by the overall number of people. We still want to keep track of everybody, but now we're most interested in the number of unchurched people that we can get involved and connected to our church. The reason is that we will never bring unchurched people to a growing and deepening relationship with Christ if we can't get them established in a community that will support and encourage them on their spiritual journeys. The number of unchurched people is an indicator of how well we are accomplishing our mission.

2. Percentage of PCC People Involved vs. Percentage of PCC People Who "Own" It
In the past, we would consider something successful if we could get a large percentage of our church actively involved. Soccer Camp, Dinner Theatre, Trunk Or Treat, 40 Days of Community, and small groups are all examples of things that we have encouraged "everybody" to be a part of. But not everybody needs to be involved in everything that comes around. We are realizing that we need to allow people to decide for themselves what is going to be the best use of their time, talents, and resources for God's kingdom, rather than trying to give them the "hard sell" to get involved. Rather than grumpy, reluctant participation, what I'd much prefer is for someone to not be involved but nevertheless excited about what their church is doing. I'd rather have someone brag to their friend about something they're not personally involved in than to have their arm twisted so that they're burdened down by yet another church activity. And I want everyone who does choose to participate to do so because they're genuinely excited about this opportunity they have to serve and give of themselves.

3. Everything Runs Smoothly vs. Relational Contact
In the past, we placed a heavy emphasis on a smooth-running operation. We wanted ministries and events that were well-organized and well-executed. And while there's nothing wrong with that, it has led us often to fuss over minor details and neglect the opportunity to engage with people standing right in front of us. If someone comes to a well-oiled event, they may have a good time, but if they are personally engaged and someone takes an interest in their real life and their real needs, they're much more likely to be impressed with PCC as a place that oozes love (which is what Jesus said would be the hallmark of his church in Jn. 13:35). Now, rather than observing the administrative details, we'd rather hear stories about new relationships that were established and existing relationships that were strengthened. We are additionally trying to think of ways that we can make our ministries and our events more intentionally relationship-intensive.

Tune in next week for three more shifts that we're making in evaluating the effectiveness of our ministries and events.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The People Business

I wasn't able to get a blog post up earlier in the week, like I usually do, and I apologize to those of you who are regular readers here, and maybe wondering what I'm up to. It's been quite a week, but most of it has been really good.

For the most part, I've been engaging in the people business. On Sunday, we talked about how the call of Jesus on Peter's life in Luke 5:1-11 was a call out of the fishing-for-fish business and into the fishing-for-people business. People matter. People are important. People are what God has been concerned with ever since he created us.

And yet people can be infuriating. People can be irritating. People can be frustrating and maddening and insufferable! People will disappoint you. People will fail you. People will lie to you and use you and manipulate you. People will betray you. People will undermine you.

That's what they did to Jesus, at least. If you decide to hang around people long enough, they'll do it to you too. So then the question is this:

How will we respond?

This is an important question. It's one our whole life really hinges on. It's one that determines our reputation, our integrity, our usefulness for God's kingdom, and maybe even our salvation (at least, that's what Jesus seems to suggest in Matthew 25:31-46).

So what's it going to be? How will we respond?

Because the call for Peter was not an isolated moment in time, and it wasn't directed at just him. It's a call for all of us who claim the title of "Jesus Follower."

If you're a member or attender of PCC, I want to encourage you not to miss this Sunday. From time to time, I know we might all skip a week here or there. Please don't skip this one. I believe this Sunday's message is one for all of us, and it's one we all need to hear--me included. It's a message about the call of Christ--and what we do with it--when we feel like we'd rather just quit.

So get the word out! Make sure you're there, and make sure everyone else is too!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Economic Realities

I don't publicly discuss financial factors related to the church very often, and there are several reasons for that:

  • The Bible tells us, "Each person should give what they have decided in their hearts to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7 TNIV). I don't want to do anything that would cause people to feel that they have to give or that would cause them to give reluctantly. My own sense is that on the few occasions I have discussed the church finances, the result is that people are made to feel guilty. That's not my intent, so my inclination is to avoid the subject, rather than to handle it wrongly.
  • The economy in Jackson has been bad for as long as I can remember. Even when it was better, it was bad. Now it's practically on life support. I know that many in our church are in worse financial shape than they were a year ago, or five years ago. For those invested in the stock market (which includes some of our retirees), their assets are now worth what they were nearly 12 years ago. I hate to tell people who were laid off or whose businesses are strugling or whose portfolios are decimated that the church needs money.
  • It's not something I really want to broadcast to the world at large. We don't want to address our church's money woes in front of visitors and people who are just beginning to consider the claims of Christ and what it might mean for them to follow him. The world thinks the church is only after their money anyway; we sure don't want to give them a reason to believe they were right all along.

So I'm not going to talk about this in a worship service from the platform. But I think I will give it a go here on the blog. Yes, this is out on the Internet for the whole world to see, but largely the people who read this are people who are committed to and invested in our church. So, if you're reading this and you're not a PCC person, just understand that this is intended to be primarily an "in house" discussion.

We had a Church Council meeting on Thursday in which we learned that we are once again operating in the red. Almost two years ago, we implemented our Emergency Budget, which was intended to stanch the bleeding--ministry budgets were cut, hourly staff hours were cut, salaried staff saw their pay reduced by 15%. That's when I began working part-time at Olive Garden.

For a long time, those measures were effective. And in 2008, things were even looking up. We ended the year significantly in the black. Leadership began talking about what criteria would move us off the Emergency Budget and back onto our Regular Budget. But around the end of 2008, that picture began to change rapidly.

For 2009, we have been averaging around $2700 per week in general fund giving; our Emergency Budget is based on a threshhold of $3000 per week (a full budget is based on over $3500 per week). So we've been losing about $300 per week for nearly three months. If this trend continues (and I'm not sure what would change it), we will be entirely out of funds in a few months.

The ministry budgets have already been slashed as far as they can go. Many ministries operate on the basis of the ministry team members supplying the necessary items they need for various events, and simply eating the costs themselves. In the lobby, there are boxes for people to give food to the youth group and candy for the Easter Egg Hunt. On Saturday there's a dessert auction to benefit the youth, and I've encouraged people to give to the movie event at the Michigan Theatre on April 10. All this is because there's nothing budgeted for these ministries. Even if it were in the budget, it's not in the checking account to be able to cover it.

$2700 per week is not even enough to cover staff pay and utilities, let alone conduct any ministry. There are very few options left for us, and none of them are very pleasant. I bring all this up for several reasons:

  • I feel that the people who are invested in and committed to this church ought to know what the financial condition is;
  • I want to ask for your prayers as elders and church council members discuss options. Pray that God would give us wisdom and discernment to make good decisions that will bring the most glory to him and that will put us in the best situation to advance his kingdom;
  • While you're at it, pray for a miraculous infusion of money that will keep us solvent. This is certainly not beyond God's control or ability;
  • Finally, I want you to be ready if drastic measures need to be taken (I'm not sure yet what those would be)--understand the basis and necessity for those decisions.

This is not a very encouraging or uplifting posting, and I apologize for that. However, I do want to conclude on a high note.

  • I believe that as a church we are on the right track. We have an alignment and an excitement generated by our Immediate Vision that is palpable.
  • I believe that these challenges will not overwhelm us, will not kill us, and will make us stronger and leaner.
  • I believe that Satan wants to discourage us and use whatever tools he has available to that end, but he will not have victory here. Not this time! Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world!
  • I believe that all these challenges are part of God's plan for us--that he has things he wants to teach us, and a purpose that is bigger than we can see. Nothing catches him by surprise, and he has positioned us where he wants us to be.
  • I believe this church's greatest days are ahead; we will become the church that Christ intends us to be!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lord, Save Us!

Yesterday, in the worship service, I showed a couple clips from a documentary movie called, "Lord Save Us From Your Followers," whose aim is to invite people from all walks of life into a respectful dialogue about faith, religion, spirituality, Christianity, and Jesus (subjects that are all related, yet distinct as well). The film expertly combines man-on-the-street segments, and snippets from various TV news shows, as well as extended interviews with notable figures such as Tony Campolo, John Perkins, comedian-turned-Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Ron Luce, among others.

This film was created in 2008, yet has not found a distributor, which is why you haven't ever heard of it or come across it. The movie has been shown on some college campuses around the country, both Christian and secular (including Spring Arbor University). In fact, on one campus, the movie was co-sponsored by Christian and secular student organizations for the purpose of inviting dialogue.

We have the exciting opportunity to share this movie with our Jackson community, letting people know that we are a church that invites respectful conversations, spiritual questions, and honest sharing with one another in an environment of mutual openness and tolerance. This doesn't mean that we have to agree, or endorse another's position, but it does mean that we can be in a room together without demonizing, dismissing, and denigrating one another.

I've also been in conversation with the Michigan Theatre downtown, and as God would have it, the one Friday that they have open in their schedule until May is April 10 (Good Friday). I think this event could be a huge opportunity for us to invite people into a religious dialogue at a time when many people in Jackson are hurting, struggling, searching, and needing hope. Not only that, it comes at a time of year when people are more open to Christian dialogue than any other time of year. Even people who never attend church think about Jesus around Easter.

We can use this event to invite people to attend our Easter services, and the series that kicks off that week, "Brokenchurch," an examination of the misconceptions and misapplications of church and false ideas of what church is really about (dressing a certain way, having everything "put together", wearing masks and hiding problems, denouncing and dismissing everyone who's not like us, etc.). So this movie is a natural tie-in to that series, and could be a great forum to invite people to consider a life wrapped around Jesus, instead of the trappings of church.

We're also hoping to hold a panel discussion at the Jackson Coffee Co. immediately after the showing of the movie for anyone who is interested in engaging in dialogue after seeing the movie.
Details for all of this are still being worked out, but we are committed to making this happen. I met this morning with Andy Merritt, the pastor of rivertree community church, which meets at the YMCA downtown, and they are going to enter into this endeavor with us as co-sponsors. We are very excited about this partnership, and I am going to be in conversation with some other pastors and organizations this week.

More information will come out as plans get put together, but here's what I want you to know at this point:
  • The public screening will be Friday, April 10, at 7:00pm.
  • There will be a screening at our church on Friday, March 27, at 7:00pm so that you can see it in advance, ask any questions you might have, get excited about inviting your friends, and so forth.
  • Admission will be absolutely FREE--we want to get as many people as possible to come. So if you know anyone looking for free entertainment... invite them to the movie!!
  • You can contribute to helping with the cost of putting this on by making a check out to the church and designating it "movie"--these donations are tax-deductable.
  • You can promote the event through Facebook by indicating that you'll come and inviting other people.
Get the word out, people! This is going to be an INCREDIBLE experience!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Fusion Of Real Needs And Real Love

On Sunday, there was a green insert in the bulletins detailing a few of the different service opportunities that exist for our congregation to show God's love to our Jackson community. You'll be hearing more about this in the coming weeks, but this is something that's going to be staying in the bulletins every week.

The immediate vision for our church is to trigger a dramatic reaction between our neighbors and Christ in a fusion of real needs and real love. This menu of service opportunities is one way to help us accomplish that. Here's an overview of what it contains:

Habitat For Humanity (contact Taryn Barlow)

  • Clerical/Inventory/Cashier volunteers
  • Delivering lunches to Habitat builders
  • Phones/Office volunteers

Jackson Medical Care Facility (contact Jane Wagner)

  • Helping seniors with bingo, crafts, games
  • Sewing, polishing fingernails for residents
  • Helping with outings
  • Ice cream socials, birthday parties

Grace On Wheels (contact Sande Ratliff, Connie Gray)

  • Providing transportation for people without a car who need to get to an appointment or to the store

Bundles For Babies (Contact Sande Ratliff, Connie Gray)

  • Delivering supplies for needy parents

Kids Hope USA (Contact Janet Courtney)

  • Providing weekly mentoring for at-risk children enrolled at Flora List Elementary School

Share 'n' Care (Contact Janet Courtney)

  • A pantry closet operated by our church. Immediate needs include: Baby food, baby formula, baby cereal, diapers. Drop items off in the box in the lobby

A couple other opportunities will be coming this summer with Habitat for Humanity and Lazy B Ranch.

The idea is to get out beyond ourselves, to carry the light of Christ into our community. This is the kind of thing that Jesus did, and encouraged us to do as his followers--direct engagement with people, and direct investment in their lives, no strings attached.

Some of you may be familiar with "The 5 Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. The idea of the book is that different people have different ways that they understand how to communicate and how to receive love. It can be a real problem in families where different members don't all speak the same "love language." For instance, a lady craves quality time, but she's married to a husband who equates love with giving gifts. The wife appreciates the gifts fine enough, but they don't make her feel loved and cherished. The husband is frustrated because no matter how many gifts he gives her, she's not happy. They're both trying to give and receive love, but they speak different love languages.

Well, Jesus has a love language too. But it's not any of the five. The love language of Jesus is... (are you ready?)...


We love Jesus by loving people. That's it. It's hard, it's messy, it can be exasperating. People can be unappreciative, unreceptive, and uncooperative. But Jesus still wants us to stay in the game. We aren't allowed to ever give up on people. That's why we've developed this vision for our church. We want to love Jesus by loving the people that he's placed around us.