Steve Dennie, Communications Director

A few days ago, I mentioned something Andy Stanley said concerning momentum. Here’s another one of his thoughts.

In the church world, we put up with lack of momentum as long as we can still pay the bills.

Now there’s a sad thought. “I am financially viable, therefore I exist.” Is your church in that boat?

Too many churches choose to limp along, keeping the doors open, as long as they can pay the bills. The only momentum is downward. Meanwhile, they shoo away opportunities which would be to their long-term good–like merging with a nearby church. Such a move would make both churches stronger. No longer stuck in survival mode, they could devote resources ┬áto ministry.
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Steve Dennie, Communications Director

One blog I follow is by Tim Stevens, administrative pastor of Granger Community Church near South Bend, Ind. They’re doing a one-day Catalyst conference, with Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel. Stanley began the day by talking about momentum. Stevens provided some notes from that session, including this statement:

Momentum = forward motion fueled by a series of wins.

I’ve been thinking about that in two contexts:

  • the local church (including my own church, Anchor).
  • the United Brethren denomination as a whole.

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve heard people say, especially when things aren’t going well, “What we need is revival.” When things aren’t going well, the answer is the same: revival. That’s true to an extent, and it always sounds exceedingly spiritual, especially when embedded in a prayer. But what does it look like? What exactly are they praying for?

It seems like they’re too often praying for One Big Win, a giant divine intervention that will get everybody doing what they’re supposed to be doing. This does happen, but it’s elusive.

Instead of waiting for revival, what are some small wins my church can pursue? Putting several small wins together is like gradually pushing the accelerator. You build momentum.

At the denominational level, Pat Jones, as Director of Healthy Church Ministries, has been working with a few local churches at a time. He does a weekend consultation, then meets with the pastor once a month for a year. As a result, churches have turned around or been propelled forward. It’s not flashy, but it’s a series of wins.

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

Huntington University is plunging into the world of online learning. They got their feet wet during the last several years with a Masters in Youth Ministry Leadership. Now, various other courses are being added through the EXCEL adult education program.

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Julie Goetz (right) oversees Huntington University’s online classes. She spent three years working part-time with the online youth program. In June, she came aboard fulltime as the Coordinator of Online Programs. Which means she:

  • Manages and reviews course content.
  • Helps faculty transition their syllabus to an online course (which can be easy or difficult, depending on the course).
  • Trains faculty on how to conduct an online course.
  • Does strategic planning to advance the online programs.
  • Works with LearningHouse.com, which hosts HU’s online classes.
  • And does other stuff. Don’t we all.

Julie is a learner, too. Currently, she’s pursuing a Master of Education with a specialization in “instructional design for online learning.” Sounds relevant, don’t you think? So when online students contact her with questions or problems, she can respond with empathy, since she encounters some of the same issues.
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Steve Dennie, Communications Director

In two days, Anchor Community Church celebrates its tenth anniversary. Pam and I were among the 50 people sent out from Emmanuel UB church in Fort Wayne in 1998 to “restart” the former Third Street UB church, which had existed there since the 1930s.

The church had a great history, but had declined in size and not adapted to the changing neighborhood. Most of the attendees were older and drove in from outlying areas.Third Street was shut-down for five months, and underwent an extensive renovation. New carpet everywhere. Fresh paint. Got rid of the pews and organ. A whole new platform area. New name and sign. Lots of other stuff. Meanwhile, Emmanuel people were challenged to commit a certain amount of time–3 months, 6 months, a year–to getting the reincarnated church going. Pam and I signed up “indefinitely.”

In September of that year, the core group met in our home–the first time we’d been together. With only a few weeks until our first service. Some of us didn’t even know each other; I knew only a few others very well. We looked at what each of us brought to the table, our gifts and interests.

Amazingly, out of this haphazard assemblage of people, God brought together exactly what we needed. There was certainly no human design behind it.

Today, only Pam and I, along with Pastor Tim and Tara (who have since added four children to the mix) remain from that initial core group. Most of the 100-plus people who attend Anchor come from the immediate community. Which was the original vision.

A few weeks ago, while still on vacation, Pam and I attended the Sonrise United Methodist Church near where we live. They told about the new church they were starting in Roanoke, and how 50 people had committed to leaving Sonrise to take part.

It took me back ten years, and I envied those 50 people.

  • They will work harder than they’ve ever worked in church.
  • They will be needed more than Sonrise, with its large size and resources, ever needed them.
  • They will pray harder, knowing full well that they are in over their heads.
  • They will do things way out of their comfort zone.
  • They will think about their new church, this baby, all week long, looking forward with eagerness and some fear to the coming Sunday.
  • And they will be totally energized by the venture.

That’s what Anchor did for me ten years ago. And I wish more United Brethren people could experience the same thing.

Steve Dennie, Communications Director
I bought one of the early Palm Pilots, back around 1997. I envisioned it being a good tool. But it didn’t fit the way I work. It became something cool that I showed people. Not something that made me more effective. For many people, a Palm Pilot is a great tool. For me, it became a toy.

A tool, on the other hand:

  • Will enhance your ministry.
  • Will solve a problem.
  • Can be cool and fun to show people, but that’s a bonus.

Steve Dennie, Communications Director
Every time your mouth waters over some new gadget or software or social media site, ask yourself, “Is it a tool or a toy?” That’s the question posed in the excellent book The Blogging Church, by Brian Bailey and Terry Storch.

Tech-savvy people (like me) love new technology and usually believe more technology can only bring good things. But toys can merely waste church money and consume the pastor’s (and volunteers’) time.

How can you tell if it’s a toy?

  • You use the word “cool” to describe it.
  • You spend more time playing with it than using it.
  • You want it because other people have it.
  • You love to show it to other people.
  • You hear, “We should get a….” You’d like to have it, but can’t articulate a compelling ministry need for it.

At the MinistryCOM conference, the closing speakers (Jon Acuff, who runs the delightful StuffChristiansLike blog), made this point about people and churches who break new ground:

“When you go first, you give everyone else the gift of going second.”

I don’t know if we were the first denomination to oppose slavery–we probably weren’t–but our stand in the early 1800s no doubt emboldened other denominations to take such a stand. If we didn’t go first, we at least went early.

In 1853, we sent a whole wagon train of UBs from Iowa to start churches in Oregon. I’ll bet no denomination had done anything like that.

In 2005, we eliminated regional conferences–the middle-management layer–and cut assessments to a mere 3.5%. Churches in most denominations would salivate over paying just 3.5% to higher church administration. I know our example hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Several years ago, on vacation, Pam and I attended a Vineyard church that planned to always use rented facilities, rather than pour megabucks into facilities. We haven’t had a church follow through on that strategy. We need a first.

Where else have we gone first?

Where else do we need a United Brethren church to go first?

I’m in Oklahoma City attending the MinistryCOM conference–my third year. It’s designed for local church communications specialists, most of whom come from megachurches. Some churches come with an entire staff of 4-5 people who work only in communications (graphics, video, internet, etc.). Then there are a few folks like me.

Today, I met two persons who do fulltime communications work in churches of less than 1000 attendees. First time I’ve seen that. (I’m not aware of any UB church with a person working fulltime solely in communications. Doesn’t mean there aren’t any. But if they exist, they should definitely attend MinistryCOM.)

Just finished lunch with three people from Houston. The one couple said they planned to attend MinistryCOM before the hurricane, but the hurricane made it even more attractive, because they’re expected to be without electricity for another 3-4 weeks. Bummer for them.

The opening speaker was Mike Foster, founder of XXXChurch.com Some notes from his session:

  • Spend your life in the ocean, not in the tank. Be in the wild. Experience new things. Get out among nonChristians.
  • The average age of videogame players is 33. (I would have guessed much younger.)
  • Our guardian angels are bored. We’re playing it safe, not taking chances.
  • Ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s easy and fun to dream. What’s valuable is a well-executed idea.

One of the blogs I follow is TonyMorganLive.com. Tony Morgan is on staff with Newspring Church in South Carolina, one of the fastest-growing and innovative churches in the country (as was his previous church, Granger Community Church, which he was lured away from two years ago).

Morgan told about a couple in their 60s who found Christ at one of their satellite churches. The curious thing, he said, is that the service isn’t designed for people that age, but for much younger people–loud music, video teaching, coffeehouse atmosphere.

“Here’s what we’ve learned,” he wrote. “If we design our service experiences for a younger audience, we’re more likely to reach that younger person and we’ll also reach older folks. The reverse is not true. If we designed our service experience for an older audience, the younger crowd would not show up.”

There is a lot to talk about here, and most of us have talked about it plenty. How much to cater to the younger set, while seemingly ignoring older folks. The mix of hymns vs. contemporary songs. Etc.

But in the end, there are several inescapable and competing realities:

  • In most churches, the people calling the shots are older folks (baby boomers, like me, tend to be in control nowadays).
  • Young people aren’t necessarily thrilled with the shots they are calling.
  • Older Christians need to say, “The church shouldn’t need to cater to me. I’ll let other people’s tastes and preferences take precedence over my own.”
  • Most older Christians aren’t mature enough to say that.

Do you agree with Tony Morgan?

I sent a note to Owen Gordon (right), UB endorsed missionary and president of Jamaica Bible College, commenting on how excited Jamaica must be over the success of their sprinters in the Olympics. Owen responded:

“Oh yes Steve. There has been a euphoria that has swept across the country. People gathered in groups to celebrate. It reached a high when the 4×100 relay was being run. People felt badly for Asafa Powell, so when he took off in the final leg and broke the world record…it was simply GREAT!

“We all are hoping that this new inspiration will have a positive effect on all of us as Jamaicans, and that the scourge of crime and violence will be addressed.

“This has been a great Olympics for Jamaica: six gold medals, three silver and two bronze. For such a very small country, we all feel very proud of the athletes. The government and the country is planning a big welcome celebration!”