We all have “Back to Egypt” people in our congregations.  Those who would rather go back to the way it “once was” because that is where they felt safest and secure.  These people tend to be in the way of church transformation but there is something that is even deeper than mere personality.  It is ways that congregations deter growth and new people come in without even knowing it.  It is something in the DNA that only a new comer can probably see.  It is the ways congregations practice Anti-Evangelism.
At my retreat last week I was introduced to this phrase and I was a little suspicious of it at first.  I know people are scared of the word evangelism but churches actively trying to practice anti-evangelism?  As I listen to the preacher preach the current book I am reading, 10 Temptations of Church, echoed some of what he was saying.
A church in decline will push back and try to grip tightly to what gives them power and authority.  They will step back and focus on themselves, ignoring those outside their walls.  But there are some things we do to be anti-evangelists.
Anti-evangelism is not counter evangelism.  Counter evangelism is easier to change.  These are habits like taking all the good parking spots so visitors have to walk farther or the fact there is no signage outside to point visitors what door to walk in.  These are easy habits to change.  Anti-evangelism is much deeper.
The preacher told a story about one of his churches who were trying to save money on their heating bill and so they painted and caulked the front door of the church shut.  Everyone entered in the side door anyway so they thought this wouldn’t be a big deal. When this preacher got to the appointment they showed him the last project they did, which they were very proud of.  They had built a handicap ramp to make the building accessible.  What the preacher learned is that handicap ramp lead right up to the door they caulked and painted shut.  Anti-evangelism.
I know a congregation who had a wonderful playground with a beautifully created basketball goal and soft matted outdoor playground.  This was ideal in the heart of the city where parks were few and far between.  The good news was to make sure the park stayed looking nice they locked it up.  It was only open to their members to use during church functions.  Anti-evangelism.
Mrs. White sat in the four pew back on the left her entire life.  Now celebrating 84  years of living she came to church to find a visitor in her pew.  She looked at them and without saying hello said, “You are in my seat.”  Anti-evangelism.
How many ways does our congregational DNA get in the way of people coming and participating in the life of the church?  What are the deep, DEEP issues that have to be erased or undone to make a congregation able to grow?  How is your congregation practicing ANTI-EVANGELISM?

Turning Middle Doors into Front Doors

I am currently preaching a sermon series on the 5 Practices of a Fruitful Congregation.  During my sermon this week (see post) I told the story that Bishop Robert Schnase has in his book about a church with a Middle Door Problem.  Middle doors are the doors that open up to the inner circles in your church.  They are the doors which lead to Sunday Schools, Small Groups, Mission Teams, Kitchen Committees, etc.  The church in the illustration did great on welcoming people in the front doors and into the worship life of the congregation but when they attempted to get involved in the inner circles of the church they found the middle doors closed and the groups cold and shut off.

This happens in many churches where people have gathered together in a Sunday School class since the beginning of time and have no had a new member join their class in 25 years.  Or a small group that is a clique and full of the church’s ‘cool people.’  Let’s face it churches can act like middle school at times.

How people are entering our flocks is changing.  There are tons of books out there that echo this but middle doors are turning into the front doors of our churches.  Non-church goers are more likely to join in on a missions project than attend worship.  They may be more aped to join in a home group that come to worship.  Churches need to get out of the mindset that what we do for an hour on Sunday is attracting the unchurched.  In fact worship can be the huge scary gorilla that is holding many people back from getting active in a faith community.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never participated in church before.  What references do they have to what a worship service would look like?  The internet and TV.  Two places that would not be farther from the truth from what I do on a Sunday and probably your church as well.  We don’t have the Gaithers singing every Sunday and nor do we have a sweaty, dressed to the nine, toll-free number dropping TV evangelist either.  But if Joel Osteen, Jimmy Swaggart and Joyce Meyer are my only references to what worship is like, that can be a little intimidating.  Or if you watch any of the small country churches that have time on Public Access TV Station.  There you have Ms, Smith who has been playing piano since it was invented trying to harmonize with man who has to tuck his comb over behind his ears.  They sing off tune and  off beat (not in the good way).  Okay, sorry that may be too close to my worship service but for the unchurched that image can be scary as well.

Mission teams and small groups of normal people talking about God or helping out the least of these in our world.  That can be attractive and comfortable way for people to get introduced into a flock of faithful followers of Jesus Christ.  The only way they will enter through those doors though is if those groups or people are willing and looking for new people to join.  If not the Middle Door may not even have a chance to be opened.

How open are your Middle Doors and are there ways you can change your Middle Doors into Front Doors for the unchurched to come in?

School of Congregational Development 2011 Review

As the School of Congregational Development ends tomorrow I thought I would take some time to give some highlights in quotes and other things learned. (I know what you are thinking, A NON-SERMON POST?!?!?!?) In random order….

  • There actually is a good list of how to do Vital Church Mergers and it only has 24 steps!
  • We live in a world where we think we can change our identities because we can change where we live, what we do, even our family and religion. This is exciting though because instead of being told what we are (factory worker, stay-at-home mom, doctor) by the world we can ask ourselves who God has created us to be.
  • It is out of chaos that God created the world but the chaos didn’t leave it was simply ordered.
  • Culture is a deliberate choice & behavior is what we chose to live in.
  • God’s judgement is allowing us to live in our vision. God’s grace is allowing us to live into God’s vision.
  • A manager asks “Are we doing things right?” A leader asks, “Are we doing right things?”
  • You have the power to change one person, yourself. God does the work on the rest.
  • Transformed = being shaped and formed by Jesus Christ.
  • All congregations have tribes who see things differently, just like the 12 spies who went into the Holy Land. Are we willing to take the human opinion and run back to the Egypt or are we willing to listen to the two and move forward?
  • Repentance has to be in the vocabulary and culture of any transformation. If you don’t know what you have done/are doing wrong in God’s eyes and will how can you/the congregation move forward?
  • Acts 20:20 point to the need of worship and small groups, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you, but have taught you publicly and house to house. (underlines added)
  • God wants all churches to grow larger, wider, deeper in influence until all the world is called back into right relationship. Did you catch that? ALL CHURCHES! No matter how big or small, our job is not done until every human being believes.
  • Our job is to retell the creation story that has happened, happening, and will happen.
  • The church exists for those who are not yet there.
This has been a great conference and I have felt I have learned a ton. The challenge will be taking all this information, all this new knowledge and putting it into action.

Meaningful Evangelism

When I was visiting the cathedral in Durham, England I stumbled upon a “Holding Cross”, similar to the one in the picture. The purpose of this wooden cross is to conform to the shape of your hand. It is a tool for prayer and I hold mine when contemplating sermons or in time of reflection. It helps me center and turn my mind to where it needs to be.

After staring and holding it for years I realized how easy they are to make with the right tools. Over the next couple Christmases and birthdays I have acquired those needed power tools and now enjoy making my own. My parents had a cedar tree, we use to climb on as a child, cut down and the wood was left in the backyard. I have taken some of this wood home now and sliced and diced it into holding crosses. The picture above shows two crosses I have made out of that tree. I use them as a ministry tool for people in desperate situations or in times of mourning.

I have found them to be really meaningful to the people that have received them. If I know of a person who is going through a hard time in my congregation we will pass the cross around during worship and have everyone pray over it. I then take it to the people in need and let them know we, their congregation, are with them and lifting them up.

They have been a tool for evangelism as well. A parishioner of mine lives in another city and her husband was dying from cancer. We prayed over a cross and I took it there to him and explained to him what we have done and how he could use it as a tool for prayer if he desired. At his funeral I found out that he passed away with that cross in his hand and his wife now holds it to be close to him and God.

I gave another one to my mom and sister. A co-worker of my mom is going through a really hard time dealing with cancer and does not have a church family to go through this with. My mom’s heart has been breaking for her and she asked if she could give her a cross. My sister recently ran a marathon with Team in Training, a group who raises money for lymphoma and leukemia research. She ran with ribbons pinned to the back of her shirt with the names of people she was running for who are suffering/suffered from these diseases. My mom’s co-worker was on one of those ribbons. During the marathon my sister’s feet started to really hurt and she was to the point that she was almost ready to give up. Then she remembered why she was running, reached back to feel the ribbons, said a prayer for each name, and finished the race. When my mom told her co-worker that story and then handed her the cross that she had prayed over, the woman’s eyes filled up with tears.

I usually have a bad taste in my mouth for evangelism. Only because the first image that pops into my head is a person on the street corner yelling as cars go by. But the most meaningful evangelism I have done is through these holding crosses. When I give them away it is the simple acknowledgment that a person is going through a hard time and they are not alone. I/We love them and God loves them.

It is so simple but has been so very powerful.

The Noose Around our Necks

Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton”, a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam. Many of you might be familiar with him. For eight years he was held captive. There he rallied the captive troops, he came up with codes to communicate with prisoners and even disfigured and beat himself with a stool so he could not be used as enemy propaganda. He was a war hero and is the founder of what Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls the Stockdale Paradox.

While talking with Admiral Stockdale, Collins realized that during his time in prison he had a certain coping strategy. Stockdale said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” When Collins asked him who didn’t make it out he was shocked by the answer. Stockdale told him, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

We as a denomination, as the United Methodist Church, have a lot to overcome. We are a church that has been stuck in the 50s and if the 1950s ever come back we will be ready. But as we wait for that to happen the world passes us by. To believe that the 1950s are coming back is like being the optimists in that POW camp. It is ignoring the reality around us. The Stockdale Paradox is to do two things at once. You have to “retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

We have the faith. We have the hope. We know that no matter what happens in this world God wins. No matter how bad life gets there is always hope in our Savior Jesus Christ. But we also have to face the brutal facts. As a denomination we are suffering, but why? The truth is we have a ton of churches who don’t want to grow. They are happy with their little church, their little circle of friends, their little part of the world. What they don’t realize is that we are not called to be a little circle of friends. We are to be the church, the body of Christ. We are called to be God’s love. To keep churches from growing because of the personal desires is selfish and unbiblical. When we do that we are stepping in front of God and telling God we know better. This is a problem that our denomination is having all over this country and it will be a noose that will tighten as we time goes on.

We have to change to grow. We have to change how we do things because the world is changing how they do things. Our God stays the same but he doesn’t require us to do so.

Luke 24:25-27 – Sermon – Product, Product, Product

Luke 24:25-27

Product, Product, Product (Part III)

For Sale: Our Witness


In the story about the two travelers on the way to Emmaus they encounter a man who starts up a conversation. They tell them what had just happened in Jerusalem and a little, although slightly misinformed, about this man named Jesus. Jesus then tells them the piece of scripture we just read. During this journey Jesus tells them about himself without them really knowing it is Jesus. He does so by “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” He sells himself by walking them through the scriptures and explaining what it says about him and what he had to do. Emmaus is about a seven mile walk from Jerusalem. This means that Jesus had probably had about an hour and a half, which is 7 miles at a stroll, to do all this in. But in those 90 minutes he is able to transform their hearts. He was able to sell them on the product he was selling, himself, by knowing who he was and how to tell others about him.

The two on the way to Emmaus were already interested in Jesus but gained a better understanding of who he was through this relationship that was built during this conversation. In today’s society, in our part of Thomasville, if we are going to reach the majority of the people one mile away from us, we have to see how we are to connect with the people who are between 25-45, which as we learned last week are the majority of those out there in the community. In order for us to do that, we need to take a deep and long look at ourselves and see if we are accomplishing the next two keys in being good at sales; do we understand the customer’s needs and do we have the right product.

Last week we saw who are customers are but do we understand where they are? In one of the summer books we will read, unChristian, the authors did three years of research by talking to those on the outside of Christianity and finding out what they really think about us. They found six major themes Generation X and Y, or as they call them the Mosaics and Busters, have about Christians. To the outsider we are hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental. These are the presuppositions that many of the non-churched people in our community have when the think about us Christians.

According to there are some good questions that every company has to ask themselves about their customers. The first one grabbed my attention and fit right in to the number three key, understanding the customer’s needs. The website said that every company has to ask themselves “Why do your customer’s need you?” This got me thinking…why do people need to come to Trinity UMC? Is it because we are the only church in town? No. According to the yellow pages, there are 153 churches with the address Thomasville, NC. There are 17 United Methodist Churches. A couple of them are on a charge so there are 12 appointments in Thomasville. That is a lot of churches within a city of 26,000 people.

The truth is we should not see these other churches, especially other United Methodist Churches as competition. Let’s look at the numbers. There 26,526 people who call Thomasville home. Divide that by the 153 churches and it should give every church 173 people per church. Well we know that is not the case because 100% of the people are not Christian and 100% of the people don’t attend church each week. Do you all remember the percentage of people who found it important to attend church weekly? 15%. This means that out of the 26,526 people in Thomasville only 3,979 people go to church each Sunday. Divide that evenly among the 153 churches and you only get 26 people per church. Now that is a little silly because there are some REALLY small churches out there who have less than 26 people a Sunday and some larger churches that more than 260 per Sunday. The point I am trying to make is there are a ton of options out there and “sheep stealing” or bringing in other people from other churches is not the way to go about building up our congregation. The way to grow as a congregation, the way to reach the non-churched people in this community is to concentrate on the 22,547 people who don’t go to church on Sunday. The ones who look at us as hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental.

One of my roommates in Seminary had a license plate on the front of his car that said, “Arapahoe, a good place to live.” Arapahoe is the small town in the far east part of North Carolina. It is the town that holds something that was very close to my roommates heart, Camp Don Lee, a camp he grew up going to, worked for and loves. Someone saw his license plate and said, “Arapahoe, a good place to live, not a great place but a good place.” Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great, “Good is the enemy of great.” The main point he makes is that we are happy with good. We have a good church here. We have good music. We have good sermons (I hope). We have a good congregation. But good makes us settled, complacent, comfortable. Good gives us the illusion that there is no need to continue to better ourselves to grow and move forward. “Good is the enemy of great.” What will it take for Trinity to move from good to great? How can we take what is good about our congregation, our facilities, our location here in Thomasville and transform it from a good place into a great place that reaches people for Jesus Christ?

One way to do this is to take a real hard look at who we are and what we look like. Let me show you something. [VIDEO] What caught your attention? Let’s say there is an average of 10 cars that pass by our church every minute. I think that is a fair and probably low estimate during the week. That means from 7 am to 7 pm, for those 12 hours, 7,200 cars pass by our church. What on the outside makes the people in these 7200 cars want to come inside? We have a gorgeous sign and we know people read it. But what else is there? What else good be? We don’t put a cross outside during Lent. We don’t advertise by using banners. Now the City of Thomasville does have restrictions about that but they are small hurdles to jump over. What ways can we tell people on the outside that we are alive and thriving on in the inside?

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, said, “Our single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” What hurts tons of churches is the idea that their congregation is welcoming, wonderful and a great place and thinks just because they know it, everyone else does. They don’t look at themselves through a first time visitor’s eyes. Here is a video clip that wonders “What if Starbucks marketed like the church?” [VIDEO]

This sermon is not going to wrap up everything in a pretty bow. I am not asking these questions today to give my opinion on the answer. The truth is I don’t have the answer but an answer needs to be found. We have to ask good questions in order for us to be a type of congregation modeled after Jesus on the road to Emmaus. There Jesus was kind and to the point. He was open to a conversation, welcoming, and met the people where they were. How are we like that? Are our signs big enough that tell where the bathrooms are and where the nursery is? Can people easily find the sanctuary from the parking lot?

We have made some great improvements already in this. We now have a sign out front of our entrance which tells people, “THIS IS THE DOOR TO COME THROUGH!” We have visitor parking and that is huge. One quick thing on parking. For years I have watched many of you come and take up the closest spots to the door. Now with visitor parking at least two spots are reserved for them. Here is an interesting fact, did you know that a church can only bring in some many people and it is according to the number of parking spaces it has. A church can host 1.75 people per parking space. We have 52 parking spaces which means we can only handle 91 people a Sunday. This means that if we want to grow to that 125 average attendance, which the bishop tells us is the amount of a self-sufficient congregation, some of us are going to have to start parking in the gravel. The back door is opened each week because we do have a faithful few who park back there but we could use a faithful few more to permanently make parking back there a habit.

You may think, well this is silly, but these are the small changes that transform a good congregation into a great one. It demonstrates to those on the outside how we feel about them and how we do actually care for them and welcome them. On the website Beyond Relevance, the creators of the Starbuck video, they say marketing is “about building a bond between you and those you’re trying to reach.” They go on to say that “a healthy church experiences 20-30% visitor retention.” That means for every ten visitors only 2 or 3 will end up calling Trinity home. To reach that 125 attendance threshold we will have to have boost our attendance by 35 people which means we would have to have at least 115-175 visitors before that can happen.

That seems daunting number but that is reality and that is why it will take a deep hard look at how we communicate to the people out there, the 22,000 who don’t go to church in our city. We have to look at how we package the product for the outsiders to know about it. We cannot assume that just because they drive by our church they will want to come inside. We have to think outside the box of what we have always done and pray for guidance and direction. I have tossed out a lot of numbers today and they aren’t out there to dictate what we are to do but only to give you another reference point in order for us to start to draw a line and figure out how to get from here to there. How to get from Good to Great. How to live out, in the fullest, our mission statement. To be Trinity UMC, a congregation who is Serving Christ and Making Disciples.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

Church and Marketing

As I have been diving into this sermon series on Witness based on Adam Hamilton’s book Selling Swimsuits in the Arctic, I have been wrestling with some issues. I have come to the conclusion that we do have some things to learn from the business world on how we can become better at reaching out to the community and bringing people in.

This video has been out in a while but it is has some very valid points.

Going to Beyond Relevance’s web page there is a very good blog over there talking about marketing and churches. One of these issues I have been wrestling with is ‘branding’. Do churches’ really need to brand themselves? This was brought to my attention even more when I attended a training event at another church in our district that is only 10 years old. When you walked in to the lobby everything looked uniform, put together, and it all matched. All there signs matched and were easy to see. Their church logo was on everything and the outside, from landscaping to the brick worked, matched the inside. It was like a model home.

Now model homes are set up to give you the allusion that if you bought this style house that your house could look like this. They are comfortable and welcoming. I think too many times church buildings miss out on this. There seems to be two different styles that exist out there (there are probably many more, please share if you know of one).

1. Cooperate Look. When you walk into the building there is a cooperate feel to it. Everything is washed and cleansed of any personality. The foyer/entrance is bare and bland. Hospital hall ways have more personality. The church office looks just like the 9-5 office you came from, cubicles, oatmeal walls and dated computers. It reminds you of the doctor’s office, a place you would rather not be.

2. The Hodgepodge. Since the church building was built in the forties it has collected all the furniture from everyone who has died in each decade. A velvet Jesus painting, a 70’s green sofa, and the art deco 80’s clock all mark the hallways as one enters the church. There are old chalk boards in the class room and original folding chairs in the fellowship hall. The church screams piecemeal. It is just one large youth room full of old sofas people no longer wanted but somehow thought youth would want to sit on.

The physical appearance of our churches is extremely important when it comes to welcoming new people. It is the first impression a church gives and it is one that will dictate whether a person will stay or keep church shopping. How is your church selling itself to new eyes?

Luke 24:13-24 – Sermon Series – Sales and Product

For Sale: Our Witness (Part I)
Luke 24:13-24
Sales and Product

Do you know where the fast growing population of United Methodists is? Africa. Some suggest that soon the majority of Methodists will be African. Over the last 40 years Indonesia has grown from 1.3 million Christians to 11 million. In 1900 Korea had no Protestant churches; now 30% of the country is Christian with over 7000 congregations and over 1,000,000 followers. In communist China from 1997 to 2006 the number of Catholics has increased from 10 million to 16 million, Protestants have grown from 14 million to 21 million. That is 13 million new Christians in 9 years. Do you know the fastest growing belief in the US? Atheism.

It use to be that we send missionaries out into the world to meeting people that have never heard the gospel and to share the love of Christ with them. We still do but it looks like the world is listening.

The United Methodist Church is not going in a positive direction here in the US. Church attendance in 2005 was 3.34 million, the lowest level in reported history. Attendance had decreased by 1.63 percent from 2004 to 2005. In 2006 we as a denomination dipped below the 8 million mark. Some are starting to panic because there is no clear way out of our decline and the younger generation doesn’t seem interested in church either. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young. Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.

That is why the UMC has started the RETHINK Church campaign and why we are starting to head outside our doors and do more for the community, like the Impact Community event on June 5th. But the facts are in the US, in North Carolina, in Thomasville, more and more people are not following Christ. In fact I wonder how long it will take for missionaries to start to come here. I believe we no longer have to send people across oceans to find people who have never heard the gospel. The fact is all we have to do is look around us. We are living in the mission field.

In Adam Hamilton’s book, Selling Swimsuits in the Arctic he conveys that if a church is going to grow we have to learn the art of sales. He makes the argument that everything really comes down to sales. At an interview you have to sell yourself and your skills to the person behind the desk. A politician “has to convince the voters that she is the right person for the job…But her sales job is not finished when she is elected – in a sense it is just getting started. For every piece of legislation she sponsors, she must be able to convince her fellow legislators to support it. This too is sales.” Then there are teachers. As Hamilton says it, “When a teacher stands before a class of twenty-five sixteen-year-olds to teach history or chemistry or composition, he can simply present the material and hope for the best. But the really great teachers know that they must sell their students on the importance of history or chemistry or composition. Their enthusiasm for the subject, their ability to demonstrate the importance of this subject for sixteen-year-old students, will determine how many students look forward to attending class, consider a career in this field, and actively pursue their studies.”

Hamilton states that there are seven keys a person must follow to be successful in sales.
1. He must believe in his product
2. He must believe that people need his product
3. He must understand the needs of his customers
4. He must offer an excellent product
5. He must embody the product
6. He must effectively market the product
7. He must learn perseverance is the key to success in sales

Over these next five weeks we will be looking at these 7 keys and how they apply to us here at Trinity United Methodist Church in Thomasville, NC. I hope we take a long hard look at some things and seek ways we can better our sales as individuals and as a congregation.

But first one area that we all old in common is we are always being sold to. We are consumers and the fun part about being consumers is that we are constantly being sold on items. We know good sales people verses the really bad ones. The good ones who actually could sell swimsuits in the arctic and the bad ones who don’t know when no IS a NO. TV commercials have always fascinated me. There have been some that have stood the test of time and they have come up with very creative ways to sell their product. Let’s look at a couple.

What commercial do you think I was going to show? I mean after watching this doesn’t everyone want to pick up a pitching wedge and see how many times they can bounce a golf ball on it? It is ridiculously simple and yet so very effective. All of these commercials all knew what they were selling and they were coming up with great ways to convey their product to the masses.

Last year Bishop Goodpaster sold us on the Power of 3 campaign. It is the bishop’s hope that in the next three years (now 2.5) we will have 300,000 members in Western North Carolina Conference, 30,000 more in worship, 3,000 mission teams sent out annually, 300 resurrected churches, 30 new faith communities. Each church was asked to do their part and we made projections of what we think we could do in 2010 at our annual Charge Conference meeting.
We said that we were going to increase our membership from 190 to 196. That means we would gain 6 new members in 2010, so far we have gained 4. We said that we would increase our worship attendance by moving from 87 per Sunday to 90. That is harder than it sounds because we all know what is coming…the summer and we have to include all those Sunday in the year too. In the first four months of the year in 2008 we averaged 89 in worship, in 2009 =88, and this year we are at 93. We told the conference we would send out at least 10 mission teams out into the world. With this 90 in 90 challenge we are well on our way to almost doubling that amount. We are moving achieving these goals which makes me wonder if we made them too easy.

At a District meeting with the Bishop, with clergy and laity, he said that if a church would be self sustaining, pay 100% of their apportionments, pension and healthcare costs, and be financially okay, that congregation needs to average 125 in worship. I hope that by the end of this three year campaign, by 2012, only a year and a half away, we have 125, on average, in worship. Think for a moment how that would change things for Trinity. No more worrying if we are going to make it. No more looking at our finances and watching the months go by without paying anything to the conference. We had 115 in worship for homecoming and it felt full and exciting. Think what that would be like to have even more week in and week out worshiping with us. Think about it. Let that image soak in.

We can get there. We are more poised for that type of growth than any other United Methodist Church in Thomasville. We have a kind and warm congregation. We have a generational congregation. What I mean by that is that we have older members, middle age members, young adults and what feels like at some Children’s Moments, thousands of kids. There is no other congregation (even the largest) in Thomasville that can boast that 1/3 of its congregation every week are children. This gives us all the foundation we need to build something wonderful here but it will take work.

The work we have to learn to do is sales. We have to learn how to be like those commercials. We have to learn how we leave this place and tell others what is going on here and in our own lives. This all starts with the first key, believe in your product.

What product are we selling to the world? In a country when not believing in god is growing faster than any other believe in a God, what are we supposed to be out there selling. The answer is simple, we are selling God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be exact. We are selling a Triune God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to die our death on the cross and who offers us grace and love that is unimaginable but also free. If that is our product my question for you this week is…do you believe in what you are selling?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ and what he has done for you? We will get to how to sell this to others in other weeks but right now this is where we have to start. Do you believe in Jesus Christ? The two on the road to Emmaus believed in something about Jesus. They thought he was a prophet and that his body was not in the tomb. All this is somewhat true. Jesus is more than a prophet though he is the Son of God. His body was more than just not in the tomb, he was resurrected. What is it you believe about Jesus? What has he done for you?

It is scary to think about how many people have never really thought about that. They have come to church their whole life and because of that no one has ever asked them that question. Yet if you cannot answer that question how can you tell others about it? So what I would like to happen is have the ushers come forward and to pass out note cards. On these note cards I want you to write the answer to this question…What has Jesus Christ done for me? You don’t have to write your name on it or sign it. But on this card simply put down the answer to What has Jesus Christ done for me? {SLIDE 54} Thom is going to play some music for a couple of minutes to give you time to think and pray about your answer. Then I want you to write the answer down and hold on to the card.

At the end of this time we will be moving into communion and when you come forward to receive the elements I want you to place your card in the basket. The blank bulletin board in the hallway will come to life with these this week and next week you can see how we as individuals and together as a congregation profess our answer to this question…What has Jesus Christ done for me? When we find that answer we can find our belief in the product we are selling. Now don’t think you are trying to impress anyone, I’m looking for the deep truth in your soul. I’m looking for the answer that God is stirring you to write down right now. The truth that only you and God know…let us now take some time to pray silently and figure out our answer…

In a district clergy meeting recently during the worship time, people were asked to tell their calling stories. As people stood and shared how God called them into ministry it was pretty powerful. We heard stories of people running, others simply accepting it the first time, others who tracked their calls back to a night in a bar, or to a specific sermon. As we hear the ways God has called us into ministry it is amazing to realize the power, compassion, and love God has for us.

After this service it has stuck with me how powerful a calling story is. I don’t know many ministers who cannot relate to Jeremiah’s call story or any other they have heard. The reason I am in ministry is because a pastor sat me down and told me his calling story and then looked at me and said, I think God is calling you. Within these stories are powerful tools to awaken other people to the idea that God may be calling them too.

The Forgiveness Projec
t is a great website which shares powerful stories of forgiveness. Their mission is to “To open up a dialogue about forgiveness and promote understanding through awareness, education and inspiration.” What I like about this site is two fold. 1. The stories are powerful. 2. They are readable and accessible. All you have to do is click on a pictures and you get a under 1000 word summary of this person’s journey. They are brief but moving. Any person wanting to explore the real life examples of forgiveness could easily look through these stories and get a picture of what that is.

What if there was a similar website that told stories of God calling people into the ministry. 600-1000 word essays explaining why and how they felt God calling them. The site could be searchable in order for people to find calling stories that might relate to what they are feeling in their own lives, like second-carrer, high schoolers, local pastorate calls, extension ministry calls, calls to be an Ordained Deacon or Elder and the list could go on and on. There could even be a couple of well edited short videos of certain stories.

What would an impact of a website like this look like? This could be a place where pastors could send their parishioners who are exploring a calling. This could be a place pastors go to understand what could be happening within their parishioners. It could be a tool to revive a new generation, the Spotted Owls among us, who think they are alone in the world because every minister they meet is over 45.

What do you think. This idea has been rolling around in my head for about a month and I thought this would be the best place to throw it out there. Would this be meaningful or just another fleeting idea? Could this really be a modern tool that could be used or would it just be lost in cyberspace? How could this be started/funded/kept up? Would love to know some other opinions. Thanks!