Hot air, bright colors & hype … is there more?

Loud, hot, colorful, bright, impressive – but just gas and flash.

By Scott Linscott

“What you win them with, you win them to.”

The flame heats up the air, the air fills the balloon, the balloon lifts the basket of passengers into the sky.

I’m attending a conference online. It’s giving me things to consider: things to think about.

It’s about starting new churches. Some appear to be cloning existing churches, some are trying very hard to be different and some just seem to be what I can best describe as “organic.” All want to help people discover life, purpose and meaning in Christ.

A rabbit trail between sessions led me to the quote above, “what you win them with, you win them to.”

Marketing hype, worship “experiences” and production are key now. Door hangers promise “the biggest,” lawn signs tell of helicopters dropping eggs and others advertise prizes and gas cards for those who visit. We can buy 10 second countdowns to add to our PowerPoint slides to build anticipation for the band’s big opener.

Every time the balloon pilot pulls on the gas valve, out comes a loud burst of flame and heat. It’s impressive. The show is spectacular.

When the gas is gone and the balloon deflates, a crew of workers roll it up and pack it away for the next event. The crowds head home wowwed and anxious to return for the next experience until the experience no longer gives them goose bumps.

I think of the depth of worship I’ve witnessed in third world settings. The carefully manufacted “experience” is lacking, the sound is usually bad and the musicians untrained. The buildings are bare and the acoustics are terrible. Plastic chairs, wooden benches and stumps have no holders for designer coffees in eco-friendly, recyclable cups.

Without fail, I leave feeling like our American churches are missing something. We come to get our experience tingles and pep talks. They come to meet with God and worship him. We leave trying to decide on a restaurant. They leave praying for enough to feed their children.

I don’t want a programmed, manufacted experience. I don’t want to be calling for more hot air for our most impressive balloon in town.

I want organic, natural encounters with the gospel that saves … sometimes loudly, sometimes in stillness, sometimes in plenty and sometimes in scarcity.

I long for organic. I long for the unproduced and raw. Messy is okay with me.

I don’t want to be a hot air balloon captain. I want to be a friend, a shepherd, a mentor, a coach and an encourager. I want to be a team member and partner in sharing life and living the gospel. I want to teach and I want to learn from others.

I enjoy the attraction of the large, brightly-colored, floating air balloon as much as the next guy but, in life and ministry, the hype and hot air of manufactured experiences eventually cools off and fades or lasts only until the next truck pulls in with bigger and more impressive balloons to inflate.
“Worship has to do with real life. It’s not just a mythical interlude in a week of reality.” John Piper

Amos 5:21-24

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Ten things we REFUSE to have describe us at FBC Westbrook! Right, church?

millTen Reasons Churches Are Not Reaching Millennials

By Frank Powell (reblogged form here)

I am very passionate about the Millennial generation. I know much has been said pessimistically about this generation, but I hold to the belief that the Millennials are poised to change the culture for the good in this country and impact the world. But for many churches and leaders, Millennials are (to steal from Winston Churchill) “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” I would agree with this on some levels, but I also believe the riddle can be solved. Millennials are a unique generation, but once you find out what makes them tick you realize they are not that puzzling. They just have a unique set of passions, interests, and viewpoints on the culture and the world.

The problem is I believe the church has largely failed to take stock in this generation because they are different. A lack of knowledge breeds fear, and this is true of the church in relation to the Millennials. Many churches do not take the time to know the next generation, so they are stuck with attaching stigmas (many untrue) to them. This is problematic. There are churches, however, that are thriving with Millennials, and if you did some investigation I believe you would come out with similar results, regardless of the church locale.

So, what differentiates a church culture that attracts Millennials and one that repels them? There are many factors, but I want to highlight ten really important ones. If you are a church that has been asking why it is so hard to get the next generation to become part of your culture, the following reasons might shed some light on your struggle.

1.) There is a strong resistant to change

This generation does not understand a refusal to change a program, activity, or even an entire culture if it is not working. Traditions are not something most Millennials hold close to their heart. In fact, for many (myself included) traditions are often seen as the enemy because many churches allow their traditions to hinder them from moving forward at all. Is this right? Maybe not, but it is a reality nonetheless. One that must be understood.

Millennials are removed from the era of doing everything because “this is how we have always done it.” That answer is no longer acceptable. A very strong value of this generation is changing the world. Many times traditions hold them back from doing this. In addition, the next generation understands change is necessary to remain focused on the vision and being externally focused, among many other things.

2.) Compelling vision is lacking or non-existent

If your goal is to create an environment that is totally void of the next generation, especially those with any initiative and talent, refuse to cast vision in your church. That will drive Millennials away faster than the time I saw a rattlesnake in the woods and screamed like a little girl (don’t judge me…I hate snakes…and cats). It always baffles me when a church does not place value in vision and planning for the future. There is virtually no other arena of life where we refuse to vision and plan, but for some reason the church is different.

 

If your vision doesn’t compel, move or stir people, your vision is too small.  -Craig Groeschel

Millennials will not invest in a church that refuses to dream big because they see example after example of an infinitely powerful God doing amazing things through normal people. You might think they are naive, but most Millennials do not believe they have to wait until they receive a certain degree or reach a certain age to start non-profits, plant churches, or lead businesses.

So, go ahead and believe “the Spirit is supposed to guide us, not a man-made vision” or just allow sheer laziness to lead the way, and your church will continue to be void of the next generation.

3.) Mediocrity is the expectation

Quite simply…the next generation is not content with mediocrity. They are very optimistic about their ability to excite change in the world. Good or bad, they have a strong desire to do something extraordinary. Failure is not going to drive the train for most Millennials. This also seems like a foreign concept to many in previous generations, but Millennials are not scared to fail and they believe churches should operate with a similar mindset. They hold to the mentality that failing and being a failure are mutually exclusive. Failing is not viewed as a step back. They dream often and dream big because they understand we serve a God who works beyond our ability. The Millennials have a collective concern for making the world a better place, and mediocrity fits no where in those plans.

4.) There is a paternalistic approach to leading Millennials

This is one I have experienced personally. If you want to push the next generation away from your church, refuse to release them to lead. Simply giving them a title means absolutely nothing. Titles are largely irrelevant to the next generation. They want to be trusted to fulfill the task that has been given to them. If you micro-manage them, treat them like a parent, and refuse to believe they are capable of being leaders because of their age and lack of experience, wisdom, etc., they will only be at your church for a short season.

Millennials will not allow age to keep them from leading…and leading well. If you refuse to release them to lead, the next generation will quickly find another church or context where they can use their talents and gifts to their full capacity.

5.) There is a pervasive insider-focused mentality

Traditional or contemporary worship? High church or low church? Plurality of elders or board of directors or staff-led church? While generations past invested a lot of time and energy in these discussions, most Millennials see these conversations as sideways energy. There might be a time and place for talking about acappella versus instrumental or high church versus low church, but the time is very rarely and the place is not from the pulpit or small group.

What is important to Millennials? How a church responds to the lost in the world, both locally and globally. How a church responds to the poor, homeless, needy, and widowed. If you want to ensure your church has very few Millennials, answer the questions nobody is asking, spend most of your resources on your building, and have a lot of programs that do little to impact anybody outside the church walls.

When the faithful saturate their schedules with Christian events at Christian venues with Christian people, the world has a hard time believing we hold the rest of the world in high esteem.  -Gabe Lyons

Millennials are not going to give their time and resources to a church that turns around and spends massive amounts of money on programs and events that are inefficient and ineffective. The reality is most of the next generation has a very pessimistic attitude towards institutions…the church included. Church leaders can get mad or frustrated about this reality, or they can change some things. The churches who value reaching the next generation emphasize the latter.

6.)  Transparency and authenticity are not high values

Despite what I have often heard, I believe most Millennials value transparency and authenticity. If your church portrays a “holier than thou” mentality and most of the sermons leave everyone feeling like they are terrible people and the preacher is perfect, your church will be largely void of the next generation. Why? Because they know something the church has largely denied for a long time…church leaders are not in their position because they are absent of sin, temptations, or failures. Millennials have seen too many scandals in the church (i.e. Catholic church scandal) and witnessed too many instances of moral failures among prominent Christian leaders. Millennials are not looking for people to be perfect…Jesus already handled that for us. Millennials are looking for people to be real and honest about struggles and temptations.

7.)  Mentoring is not important.

This is a common misconception about the next generation. While they do not like paternalistic leadership, they place a high value on gleaning wisdom from generations past. I have a good friend who lives in Jackson, TN and he occasionally drives to Nashville (about two hours away) to sit at the feet of a man who has mentored him for years. He does this because this man has some knowledge that my good friend values highly. He is not an exception. I have driven as far as Dallas to spend a weekend with a family that I love and respect. I had no other reason for going than to watch how they parent and let this man give me nuggets of wisdom on following Jesus and loving others. Many might think this is ridiculous, but this is what makes the Millennials unique. We value wisdom and insight. We see it as a valuable treasure, and we will drive any distance to acquire it.

The Millennials are not standoffish towards those who have gone before us. They place a high value on learning from people who have a strong desire to be a sage instead of a dad. If your church is generationally segregated and refuses to pour back into the next generation, you can be sure your church will not attract Millennials.

8.) Culture is viewed as the enemy of the church.

I have so much to say on this, but space will not allow (lightbulb moment…maybe my next post will be on this…boom!). Anyway, Millennials are tired of the church viewing the culture as the enemy. Separationist churches who value creating “safe” places for their members and moving away from all the evil in the city are highly unlikely to attract the next generation. The next generation is trying to find ways to engage the culture for the glory of God.

The next Christians believe that Christ’s death and Resurrection were not only meant to save people FROM something. He wanted to save Christians TO something. -Gabe Lyons

Millennials are increasingly optimistic about the surrounding culture because they see Jesus loving all types of people, loving cities, and engaging culture. They also know the church does not stand at the center of culture anymore, and reaching people only comes through engaging culture. In generations past, preachers could stand in the pulpit and talk about the evils of the surrounding culture because the church was the shaper of the culture at large. Today, this is not true. The church needs to stop believing the goal of Christian living is to escape the evils of culture and finish life unharmed and untainted. To reach people in 2014, the church must be immersed in the community for the glory of God.

9.) Community is not valued

This might be one of the greatest values of the Millennials. Community is a non-negotiable part of their lives. And they are not looking for another group of people to watch the Cowboys play football on Sunday or play softball…the next generation desires a Christ-centered community. They value a community that goes beyond the surface and yields transformation. Community keeps Millennials grounded, keeps them focused, and challenges them to reach heights never imagined alone. They see Jesus living in community with twelve men for most of His earthly ministry. They see Jesus spending much of His time pouring into people and initiating transformation. Community is not a passive, optional part of a Millennial’s life…it is essential.

Personally, I have seen the value of community on so many levels in my life. Without authentic Christian community, I would not be in full time ministry today. I would not have overcome some serious sins and struggles. I would not have been challenged to live fully for God.

In a culture that is becoming increasingly independent and disconnected, I believe the Millennials are modeling something important for the church. There is power in numbers. As an African proverb states,

 

If you want to go fast, go ALONE. If you want to go far, go TOGETHER.

 

Millennials want to go far and want their life to have meaning. In their minds this is not possible without deep, authentic, Christ-centered community. I agree.

10.) The church is always a source of division and not unity

Nothing frustrates Millennials more than a church that does not believe unity should be a very high value. Jesus’s final recorded prayer on earth in John 17 is one church leaders have preached on for years. What many churches miss is one of the central themes in that prayer…unity. On four separate occasions, Jesus explicitly prays for unity. It was important to him. He brought together tax collectors and Zealots (read about both of these groups if you want to know how difficult it would have been to bring these two together). He talked to prostitutes. He brought people together. This is why places like coffee shops are grounds (like my pun?) for scores of Millennials. They provide an atmosphere for all to come and feel welcomed and accepted.

Churches that value racial, generational, and socio-economic unity are the churches that are going to attract Millennials. Why? Because most next gens believe the gospel is most fully reflected when all of these groups are brought together, and most of them are just crazy enough to believe the power of the Spirit is sufficient to make it happen.

___________________________

I know there is a lot to digest in this post, but I believe it is vitally important to understand the Millennials. They are unique and different from generations past, but the next generation has a lot to offer the church and the world today. I also believe the generations that have come before us have much to offer.

Some churches and leaders do not see the value of changing to reach this generation, but the sad thing is once they realize this mentality is wrong it will be too late. The Millennials constitute a huge part of the population today (about 80 million strong), and if your church is serious about the Great Commission, your church also needs to be serious about understanding this generation.

Who is Frank Powell? (click)

WANTED: Can kickers

canBy Scott Linscott

Do you remember that feeling as a kid playing Kick the Can when you would watch someone sprint toward the can to boot it and set everyone free? I remember the anticipation, the laughs and the chaos as everyone scattered. I loved the times I was the guy who got to kick the can and initiate all that. We played for hours.

I think the church in America needs some can kickers. Me, you, someone in your pew.

Can kickers are driven by the desire to scatter. Can kickers don’t mind risk. Can kickers like a good dose of chaos.

The church in America has gone through at least three decades of making self-preserving moves working to ensure everyone is comfortable and getting their needs met. In the meantime, fewer and fewer people have been hearing about Jesus outside the church walls. We’re so busy at church we just don’t have time for relationships.

Everyone is gathered around the can. We talk about Jesus, we sing and we throw around words like “evangelism” and “outreach.” But mostly, we just stare at the can. In this church game, most of us have even forgotten why the can is there.

And then it happens. Some wild one comes sprinting in and kicks the can. He comes in, kicks it and says, “Let’s get outta here! Run!” But he’s not running away from God. He’s not setting people free from Jesus. He’s calling them to risk, chaos and bringing Jesus to people outside the church. He’s yelling, “Go! Go and make disciples! Run!”

A bunch of like-minded, daring disciples are immediately and instinctively into it. They are the ones who make others in the church uncomfortable because they dare ask Jesus to heal people, do miracles and answer prayer. They talk about following Jesus with everything and they don’t think faith is a private thing.

Cans are being kicked all over the United States. For the first time in decades more new churches are opening than old ones closing. Urban centers, universities, neighborhoods, suburbs, theaters, pubs and schools are seeing people excited about Christ starting new works that don’t look much like the churches they have seen.

Studies are showing that 50 percent of the people attending these new faith communities are exploring Jesus for the first time. That’s what Jesus was talking about! That’s what we’re supposed to be doing – starting new communities and revitalizing old ones.

I see the can. I feel the adrenaline building. I’ve got the urge to make a run at it and give it a good punt. I want to hear the laughter, sense the  anxiousness and revel in the chaos of doing the crazy thing.

I feel alive. I want to equip a generation of can-kickers …

Eph 4: 11-13 He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher  to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church,  until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

 

Only sheep make more sheep.

shiftBy Scott Linscott

Statistics tells us that the church in America has been in decline for more than 30 years. Even while the number of mega-churches has enlarged, the church has shrunk.

I came across this cartoon that seems to sum up the American Church phenomenon fairly well…

True evangelism efforts focus on reaching unreached people groups whereas sheep shifting increases attendance by recruiting Christians from other churches.

Imagine an area where 10 shepherds watch over ten separate flocks of 100 each. The area has 1000 sheep. If the shepherd in pasture #1 manages to attract 20 sheep from the other 9 flocks his flock grows to 280 and is easily the largest flock around. Without the sheep doing their job and making other sheep, the number of sheep in the area remains at 1000. Shepherd number 1 could build his flock to 500 by offering more perks to attract more sheep at the expense of the other flocks. Is shepherd number 1 a success? If the goal is to have the largest flock he is a tremendous success but if the goal is to increase the number of sheep overall? No, nothing has changed.

My understanding of what Jesus has called us to is not shifting sheep but multiplying sheep. As God revitalizes our body and brings new life to our gathering one thing is for certain, we will see faces that are new to us. We’ll see some sheep wander into our flock attracted by the preaching style, the format of our services and the flavor of our music. Some sheep will find greener grass with us while some of our sheep simultaneously head for the greener grass of the pasture in the next town over. We’ll be excited about the faces that are new to us and we will give a warm and genuine welcome.

But what should we really want? We want to bring in faces that are new to Him!

We can focus on attracting sheep with a rocking worship team, cool mission trips and we can do all the stuff Christians are shopping for. We can invite our Christian friends to check out our new pastor or come hear the big speaker we are bringing in. We can build an event-driven, attractional ministry with a great show week after week complete with all the hype we can muster. But one thing to remember? Attracting sheep is not what Jesus has called us to. Jesus called us to make sheep.

The Great Commission doesn’t to go to Christian friends with, “come see what we’re all about.” Instead it tells us to go to those who don’t know. We are to go, live in the culture, rub shoulders and share life in Christ and invite. Shepherds don’t make sheep. Only sheep make new sheep.

As I wrestle with church revitalization and planting, I’m not really interested in spending big bucks to send out glossy mailers, put out lawn signs, hang invitations on doorknobs and hype up a big show that attracts Christians. I’m more interested in building a community of people loving and serving the people around them, praying earnestly to reach unreached people for Jesus.

Let’s not put on a show. Let’s follow after Jesus with everything we have and invite people along for the journey. Only sheep make sheep.

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One of my favorite songs based on Amos 5:21-24.