Category Archives: An amazing video

The Outsourced Church

With all the struggling churches out there, it is likely that some of you are asking yourselves: how much can we cut from our budget in staff expenses, and still be seen as a respectable church?

For example, what happens if your church is unable to afford a preacher? Can you still worship together?  Well, you might turn to “A Sermon for Every Sunday”, a lectionary based resource that offers videotaped sermons by the likes of Brian Blount and MaryAnn McKibben Dana, among others.  For $4.99 each, you can pop one of these babies in the DVD player and project a thoughtful, intelligent sermon drawn from the scriptures for the week.

Or what if your wonderful organist injures her foot?  (This has happened to me twice!).  Everyone knows how hard it is to find a good organist these days.  Well, search no more!  The UCC has in existence a collection of recorded organ accompaniments on CD, covering every hymn in the New Century Hymnal.  Any congregation with a decent sound system can sing hymns accompanied by a world class organist.

When it comes to governance, a lay Moderator runs the governing boards of UCC churches; no pastor needed!  In the Presbyterian Church (USA), a pastor is required to moderate a Session meeting.  But if there is a pastoral vacancy, provisions can be made for a pastor from another congregation to moderate a Session meeting.  In other words, you can “rent” a pastor to govern your Board.

Deacons may be trained to visit and serve communion to the home-bound.  Lay ministers can be licensed to baptize and bury the dead.  These people, while not ordained, may still have authentic spiritual gifts for ministry.

Of course, if you really need an ordained minister, anyone can get a certificate of ordination that authorizes them to perform weddings or other pastoral functions.  If Conan O’Brien can do it, you can too!

Staffing is often the biggest piece of a church’s budget, and many people assume the success of a church hinges on its having a qualified pastor.  Yet, we live in a world where MOOCS* are intruding on traditional education and knee replacements are being outsourced to India.  Churches I observe are moving from two pastors to one, from full time to half time, from ordained to licensed, and from Christian educators to volunteers, all in an effort to lower their costs.

This trend may be both perilous and full of potential.  Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness churches have functioned without paid clergy for many years, relying instead on lay leaders.  Eugene Peterson, in his latest book, The Pastor, tells of his church appointing a cadre of women who took turns volunteering in the church office (in the 70’s).    These models seem antiquated at a time when many households are chronically over-scheduled.  But I wonder if there is anything for us to learn from them.

Progressive Protestant churches want educated preachers and teachers, patient, mature youth leaders, qualified administrators, musicians and custodians.  But how do we attract these human resources if we can’t pay them very much or anything at all?  Should we be “outsourcing” our sermons?  Delegating more tasks to already exhausted volunteers?  Sharing staff with other churches?  Narrowing the range of ministries we provide? Asking professionals to work for free?

What do you think?

 * Massive Open Online Courses

Partners in Sacred Place Sharing

SOAR Powerkids

SOAR Powerkids

Recently, my church made a connection with an after school program for kids.  They needed a large room for martial arts classes after they lost their space at a nearby school.  They found our building, with its large hall and polished wood floor, and asked if they could rent the space from us for a small fee.  After checking out the insurance arrangements and how furniture would be moved before and after the program, an agreement was reached, and now, two afternoons a week, the upstairs is full of kids kicking and punching the air, testing each others’ strength,planning community service projects and, most remarkable, listening quietly and respectfully to their leader, a female martial arts expert.

The program not only teaches martial arts, it also focuses on character development, bullying prevention and civic responsibility.  While it is not a faith based program, it is consistent with many of the core values we teach kids in our own youth programs.

Your church may be sharing its building with other community organizations: a Scout troupe, an AA meeting, or a yoga class, for example.  You might think of these other groups as “tenants” who help you pay the bills.  But it’s possible that they are co-workers alongside you in the building of God’s reign.

Partners for Sacred Places is an organization that provides resources to help churches team up with other organizations for the building of community life through “mission based space sharing”.

In this Youtube video, they explain how they are creating a network to match local arts and non-profit organizations with churches for space sharing that is not only mutually beneficial for each group, but also creates “social capital” in neighborhoods, helping them build their own cultural life using the “moral and physical” presence of church buildings.  The video points out many other reasons why sharing space is a good idea for your church AND your neighborhood’s vitality.

Check it out!




Flash Mob Church

My friend Wendy sent me this video of a group of singers from a church who orchestrated a flash mob singing of Christmas carols at a shopping mall.  It’s interesting to see the reactions of the crowd; you can’t tell for sure which people are part of the choir and which are bystanders.  While the act might have been offensive to a few, it clearly touched others.   There are probably a lot of people who don’t go to church on Christmas, but who still feel some connection to the ancient story of Christ’s birth.  The flash mob brought a holy moment into a secular setting.

A wise colleague reminded me this week that Christ is not only the Lord of the Church, but also the Lord of the World.  We have so carefully contained our version of “Christ” in our churches that we are hard pressed to recognize or acknowledge his presence anywhere else.

Those of us who struggle with how to maintain our beautiful church buildings may want to reflect on what shape our religious practice might take if we had to practice it out in the world, “in front of God and everybody”.  I wonder what it would feel like  if we had to gather for Communion in restaurants, or meet at the beach for baptisms, or sing hymns in the mall.  Would it change the way we experience our rituals?  Would it change the way the “bystander”  experienced us?

How is your church visible when you are not in your building?  And is it possible that your church might continue to be visible even if some day you don’t have a building anymore?

Thanks for the inspiration, Wendy!

Who’s Saving Who?

Here’s a video  and story about a Minnesota man who decided to fix up an abandoned church in his rural neighborhood.  Still in the process of painting and repairing the roof, his stage four cancer has gone into remission.  The neighbors are encouraged by the dignity his work is giving to the old chapel, built by Czech settlers, and he has a reason to get up every morning.

I don’t know what it is about church buildings.  No, it isn’t magic, but it’s something.  People love them.  When you  fix up an old church, are you saving it, or is it saving you?

Thanks to my friend Stu for sharing this story!

When The End Is Near

In the movie, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”, Steve Carrell plays a lonely man living out his final days before a meteor destroys the earth. While  I can’t say the movie is exceptional, there was one thing I liked about it: all the interesting things the bit players choose to do as they wait for the world to end:

A police officer becomes hyper vigilant about minor traffic violations; an elderly woman has a yard sale; a man mows his lawn; teenagers go surfing; looters set cars on fire; a housekeeper refuses to break her routine of diligintly cleaning apartments; one woman wears “everything she never wore”, while others look for anyone and everyone to have sex with.  And then there are the people who look for love, walking down to the beach to enjoy the sunshine, embracing strangers, getting baptized, or married, and sharing their food.

As I have observed churches facing their last days, I have found people who do all these things: some become fanatic about maintaining the institution, while others flee the scene.  Some use the opportunity to violate appropriate boundaries of behavior, while others become more emotionally bound to one another.  Some just keep doing exactly what they always did, as if nothing is  changing.

It can be very confusing for a pastoral leader.  But it has taught me there are times when we must hold each other accountable for inappropriate behavior: just because you’re hurting, it doesn’t give you the right to hurt others.  And there are times when we have to cut each other a little slack: everyone grieves in their own way.  Give each other the space to grieve and build those spiritual friendships that will get you through the transition.

What would you do if the end was near?  As for me, I hope I would head to the beach!

Click here to see a trailer of the movie.

New Life for a Dying Church

Rev. Carol Shanks, Bethel UCC, Cahokia, Illinois

This is a beautiful story of a church that found new life in its dying.  Thank you, Marian and the Bethel congregation for sharing the Good News with the rest of us!

Another Church on the Move

Our Lady of Lourdes, Chicago

Sometimes churches are faced with community changes beyond their control that make it impossible to continue as they are.  In Milwaukee, the 1950’s through 70’s brought significant racial ethnic change to residential neighborhoods.  Churches of  German and Polish descent were ill-equipped to deal with the change, and several congregations either closed or re-located to the suburbs .

One church I interviewed languished when a new interstate highway literally cut their town in two.   They finally sold the building and re-started as a new church development in a neighboring community.

And then there’s Our Lady of Lourdes in Chicago.  In 1928, the city decided to widen their street.  The building would have to be cut to fit its new footprint, or demolished.  Instead, the congregation did the impossible: they moved the church building, all 9,000 tons of it!  And they did it with 150 men and a bunch of horses.

Jesus said faith can move mountains.  I guess it can move churches, too.

Here’s the video

And here’s a happy footnote: the church is still alive!  They are located at 4640 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago.  Here’s what they say about themselves and their remarkable move on their website:

Though it was, and is, considered an architectural wonder, we would rather
think that we are well-known for our on going service to the Ravenswood-Uptown area…(This) area has always been a port of entry for the ever-changing populations.  The congregation now reflects the diversity of the area including Spanish, Filipino and English speaking families sharing a rich blend of customs and liturgies.