New trends and technologies have me itching to try some new things.
It has been a while since I worked for a local church, and a lot has changed since then. I can think of at least three developments that would greatly change the way I would go about the work today.
Database sophistication. We were just getting into the use of computers when I was on church staff. The sophistication of church databases to track attendance patterns is amazing. If I were a Minister of Ed today, I would use this tool toward one goal: Making sure we flag everyone when they miss four times in a row. Make sure that everyone of them gets an invitation to someone’s home to do something fun, and they keep getting invitations until they are back in the fold.
Research shows that if we can catch people when they first become inactive, we have a good chance of getting them back. If we wait till they have been inactive three months or more, chances are slim that we will ever get them back.
The Internet. The Internet has changed our world in a thousand different ways. I am thinking of one way I would want to use it if I were a Minister of Education today: email. I would use it to report the score to teachers every week. This was always clumsy before, but email makes it easy. I would develop a weekly report to each class that gave them a running score of how their class was doing. It would include:
- Average attendance for the month and year
- Names of prospects
- Names of absentees
- Pictures of recent visitors to the church–I would encourage them to learn the names. Wouldn’t it be cool if every time someone visited a church for the second time, half a dozen people called them by name?
Franchising. People have come to expect predictable quality. We like going to Hertz because it is……. well, EXACTLY. We know what the Hampton Inn is going to look like and we like that. I know what the salmon is like at Applebee’s–any Applebee’s anywhere and I get that salmon often.
Expectation of Quality. Primarily because of television, people have an expectation of quality in the programming they watch. Billy Bob leading hymns with an out of tune piano and someone who did not play it very well, followed by Bubba giving some last minute thoughts about a well-worn passage in the Bible is just not going to cut it any more.
Epidemic of loneliness. People are lonely and looking for friends. They don’t attend Sunday School primarily to get smarter; they attend to connect with friends.
No loyalty. It used to be people would attend church “just because.” We could argue that they ought to be more committed. We could bemoan the fact that they are not more loyal than we are. We can complain about what a fickle crowd we have. Or, we can step up to the plate and do something about it. Ministry in today’s world demands excellence because people are not going to show up “just because.”
Busyness. People are too busy to attend training, too busy to teach a class, too busy to prepare adequately
Projector. I predicted some time back that the projector would change the church world as much as franchising has changed the business world. This seems to be on target. I read where Thom Rainer said the other day that the biggest change he has seen in all his years or researching churches is current interest in multi-site churches. Warren Bird has a new book on the topic that I had the opportunity to read recently. (The book won’t actually hit the shelves till next spring some time.) Do a search on the web on multi-site church and see what you find. What you will find is a lot being written, talked about and done on the topic. The projector makes it all possible.
The Big Try
Based on all these trends, if I were a Minister of Ed today, this is what I would want to try.
- I picture a large group– 50-100 meeting in a fellowship hall.
- I picture them seated around round tables–about 8 at each table.
- Each table is more or less age graded–at least common stage of life.
- There is energetic music playing as they enter.
- Everyone who enters is greeted by some bubbly, welcoming greeters.
- Refreshments are served. I mean, the good stuff–Starbucks coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts. Healthy fresh fruit as well.
- Promptly on time, a leader welcomes everyone and makes a few preliminary comments
- Some sharp musicians lead in 2 or 3 worship songs.
- The leader introduces the day’s topic.
- A DVD begins. A big, bright image is projected on a high-quality screen. The sound is robust and full. Andy Stanley begins to teach. (For Andy’s sermons, see www.northpoint.org
- He teaches for about five minutes. Then the leader asks that the DVD be paused and the group discusses a point related to Andy’s sermon.
- The teaching resumes, followed by another discussion, followed by another teaching, followed by another discussion.
- Each teaching and discussion time is about 3 minutes, but will vary according to content. There will be about 20 minutes of video altogether, leaving plenty of time to discuss. (This is about half of each sermon; you could just condense the sermon; my preference would be to break it in half.)
- At the end of the teaching, each group is encouraged to take prayer requests and pray together.
- Each group has monthly fellowships and, in many ways, operates like a class. Sometimes, they will have fellowships with two or more groups together. Very occasionally, the whole group will get together.
- Once a year, the groups are redistributed to form the creation of new groups.
- I picture the whole thing done with a touch of class, from decorations, to the way the refreshments are set out, to the brightness of the projector to the starting and ending on time. Attention to detail and just getting it done right.
Why I think this plan would work
First, let me be clear, I don’t actually know. It is just an idea. I believe you learn by doing, and if anyone does experiment with the model, we will all learn a lot by trying.
- It insures high-quality teaching every single week. I think we greatly over estimate the quality of what goes for teaching in a lot of Sunday School classes. I talked to a state Sunday School director recently. He had been visiting different classes in different churches in different cities all across his state. I asked him, “What do you find, in terms of the basic level of quality of the teaching in the classes you have attended.” “Pitiful” was his one word response.
- It insures interaction and relationship development. Part of this has to do with set up of the tables. Sitting around a table is a very natural way to start up a conversation.
- It is do-able for busy lives. The table leader is not required to prepare a lesson. His job is to keep up with people, love people, have people in his home, shepherd the group, pastor the group. Thus it is easier to get workers.
- It creates a predictable environment.
- The whole thing exudes class.
I read this verse in my quiet time recently:
Keep on sowing your seed, for you never know which will grow–perhaps it all will. Eccles. 11:6 (Living)
I think this is a seed that just might grow. If I were a Minister of Ed today. I would experiment with it. By experiment, I mean just that. I mean I would get some groups to test drive the concept for say, three months. At the end of the three months we could decide whether to continue or go back to the old way. Truth is, if we got two weeks into in and hated it, we could go back to the old way.
If you think this is a cool idea, and would like some help developing questions for the DVD, let me know. This is something I could get fired up about. I would need to get permission, and maybe there is someone out there who could help me with that.
I love my job, but. But, the one thing I don’t love is the lack of a context in which to experiment with new ideas. So, I pitch the idea to you, and invite you to experiment. Let me know what you think. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org