Thursday, February 08, 2007

sunny san diego

it's good to be back. i spent the early part of this week in southern california, about 25 minutes north of san diego. the weather was incredible. it was in the high 70's and low 80's during the day, and in the mid to high 50's at night. the scenery was absolutely incredible. just seeing palm trees and birds of paradise at this time of the year was wonderful. it was my first time to put my fingers in the waters of the pacific. it was my first time to california. it was my first time to fly a red-eye (and hopefully my last). i had a really nice trip.

i was in san diego (carlsbad, really, as pictured above) for a conference on churches that worship in multiple sites. our church here in clinton, nj, worships in two different sites, and has had some trouble making this work, so we thought it would be good to attend this conference to see how other churches have done it successfully (and otherwise).
the conference was really led by three different churches (huge churches) from around the country who are using multiple sites to grow at incredible levels (one church has experienced something like 600% growth over the past two years). these churches are using video in their services rather than a live preacher. that is, they provide many sites for worship (sometimes in different geographical areas and sometimes on the same campus) with many different styles of worship (and by styles they mostly mean musical styles), but when it comes time for the sermon, it is beamed in via video.
well, we thought this was strange, and we left the conference still thinking that it was strange. but, we did learn some things about what we DON'T want to do! i really felt that so much of this conference was about numbers. that we somehow have to get as many people to church as possible. verses were quoted and often misquoted to say that our main objective was to get as many people as possible to worship Jesus.
now, don't get me wrong: i want people to hear the good news, and as many people as possible. but i think we have to look at both the ends AND the means. i really felt that, for many of the leaders of these churches, the ends had become more important than the means. it has become about filling up churches and then reproducing that again and again until you are absolutely huge.
maybe i just have big-church-envy.
but, i just got the feeling that i need to be about relationships, first and foremost. for me, sharing the good news doesn't mean only inviting people to some really cool and trendy worship that looks just like a concert. for me, sharing good news means journeying with people, and engaging them in a relationship. maybe i am just in left-field here, and maybe my methodism has gotten the better of me, but this is how i feel about it.
bigger isn't always better. right?
so, it was a good trip to california. i feel reaffirmed in the work i am doing; the work i feel called to do. i enjoyed the warmth. i enjoyed the food (mexican one night, seafood the second night, on a deck over the pacific). i enjoyed the company (my senior pastor and two of our laypeople went). and i enjoyed the adventure. but i am glad to be back.
greg.

11 comments:

Emoly said...

I think you are absolutely right. How do we want these people to understand Jesus? He went out and preached to thousands of people, he didn't send someone else (and obviously didn't use satellite).

It's not about being comfortable, it's about being radical. Learning about Jesus is about teaching others the same way he did. One on one. Whether the church is large or not, I believe that there is room for improvement and reaching out to all of those individuals who have made the effort to come out to seek Jesus. They need to feel his love, not sit and watch it via satellite.

That is the true challenge, making it personal, even in a large church population. And I know it can be done, and done well. I'm glad to hear that you learned a lot. You can't move forward without learning.

Emoly said...

did I mention I'm taking Disciple One, right now? We just finished Radical Discipleship...

Erin said...

greg,
very interesting to me as the church we used to attend just started using live feed for people in other buildings on our campus. the problem was that even with 4 services, we were still over crowded in our current building, and being a city church, we don't have room to build. so, they went with this and i hated it. we always made sure we were early enough to get a seat in the "real" church. plus they had all these screens set up so you could see everything going on, etc. it was just annoying. we got used to it after a while, but i'm still not a fan.
we started going to a new church, not because of this exclusively, but more because after 8 years at the first church, we still had not gotten "plugged in." we just went to church there on sunday's and that's it. of course, that's partially our fault, but i think a smaller church makes more of an effort to reach out to new people. the other issue was the community. i have a big pet peeve about having gone to a church 30 miles away from where i went to school. growing up, i had my "church life" and my "school life" and they were very different and did not intersect. i want N. to grow up in a church where she'll know the kids from school and church and there will be more continuity. i can't say that i'm super impressed with the new church. the preaching is not the greatest and it's a small church that tries to hard to act like a big church. but the people are pretty friendly, and i have hope that we'll get into some relationships someday. i'm rambling. interesting topic though.
erin

greg. said...

i totally believe that community can be achieved in a large-church setting, through tools like small groups or growth groups or cell groups or whatever you want to call them. and i think that these churches might be doing that.

but i also think that the egos of the pastors of these churches are really huge, and the teaching has become the way that they 'control' the masses. it felt like a group of pastors (wealthy, white male pastors) gathered around saying, "my church is bigger than your church..."

pete said...

Well said--I used to be on staff at a church that was attempting this sort of multiple campus approach, and it always gave me pause. I mean, if all we're going to provide is live music and then basically a TELEVISION PROGRAM, what's the point? I can watch any number of those programs every Sunday morning without having to leave the house (and on the frequent recent 19 degree below zero days, the appeal of that actually has grown somewhat...)

The problem, it seems to me, is that pastors don't seem willing to let go of a good thing to let that good thing go its own way--there aren't enough churches "birthing" other churches. Control issues? Maybe. I have to acknowledge, too, that in the ELCA church growth of this sort isn't exactly a problem currently. Perhaps by the time I'm ordained.

greg. said...

pete:

i totally agree with you that the problem is somewhere in the inability or unwillingness of those in control (usually a senior pastor, or "teaching" pastor as they are now called) to let go. i literally heard mark driscoll (mars hill church in seattle) say that a big part of why he continues to "eat up" dead and dying churches in the seattle area and turn them into satellite sites for his mega church is because he can't trust anyone else to really teach 'good teachings.' he compared himself to nehemiah, saying that he sees part of his task as rooting out the bad teachers. i wanted to raise my hand and remind him that what ezra and nehemiah did was force those who had intermarried out of the city. i wanted to ask him who made his teaching 'right' and others' 'bad.' i just wanted to vomit, really.

i mean, its just very convoluted because i am sure he is teaching some really great things, and i think it is awesome that he has helped make church relevant to a growing number of disenfranchised seattlites, but at what cost? i'm not sure of the answer to that, but i just sense that his ego is so caught up in this thing. and i'm just using mark as an example here. its not just him. i know that God will use all of us, in spite of, or even because of, our weaknesses, so i can only pray that his ministry is one that really helps bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

as far as the ELCA, i am sure that growth will occur immediately following the time of your ordination!

Crafty P said...

"i just got the feeling that i need to be about relationships, first and foremost. for me, sharing the good news doesn't mean only inviting people to some really cool and trendy worship that looks just like a concert. for me, sharing good news means journeying with people, and engaging them in a relationship. maybe i am just in left-field here"

-you are totally not out in left-field. And you're right, bigger isn't always better.



Sounds like you learned quite a lot while you were there.The conference sounds interesting, too. Were you glad you went? Do you feeli like you learned something about making your worshiping at two sites a bit more smooth?

Apparently you ate well, too, but didn't get to partake of the finery that is In 'n Out. shame. big shame.

welcome to back to the ice chest of the world.

greg. said...

yeah, i learned a lot christina. and i'm glad i went. in terms of us worshipping at two sites, i still have some reflecting to do.

it comes down to this: i want to be accomodating to people and to the culture. i don't just want to say, "this is how church has to be" and then never deal with cultural changes (i.e., mass in latin). i mean, we have to adapt and be relevant. we have to be all things to all people (1 cor. 11:9). BUT, on the other hand, i don't want to be so accomodating that worship becomes a matter of personal taste, personalized like cable tv. i don't want to offer 171 worship services for every kind of style: for golfers and gardners and pop music lovers and goths and on and on and on. at some point we have to learn to be the church TOGETHER, right? that's where i am right now.
greg.

pete said...

Man, I am so digging this conversation.

I am right with you--how do we be all things to all people without promoting a "Welcome to the Christian BuffetTM, how many in your party?" mentality? Are the two concepts so inextricably intertwined that we have no choice? Do we only have the options of 1) A church that does the buffet model, or 2) A whole bunch of tiny churches that don't resemble each other at all but that don't experience the kind of "growth" that church growth people think is so damned important?

It's easy for me to become elitist and blame churches like Willow Creek or Saddleback. When I was in Seminary Part I, these were the churches that were getting all the press, and I think that part of the reason they were is because even their leadership was a bit bewildered at the degree of growth they had experienced. Unfortunately, what happened was that the "models" being used in these very different (from each other, and from the rest of the world) places became normative for anywhere else. (How many "Willow Creek Association" churches are there in your area? Several here, several in Lexington, KY, including the Jesus International Airport...I mean, Southland Christian.) Nobody seemed to be asking the critical question "Okay, it works in southern California or in suburban Chicago, but would it work in Minot, North Dakota? How about Cedar Rapids, Iowa? How about Milwaukee?" I can name at least two churches in suburban St. Paul that are WC style (I've met both of the pastors, and they have both expressed that this was intentional), and they have had very different stories. One struggled along for 15 years with very little growth, peaking at about 300 (which, from my ELCA perspective, looks like a pretty darn great congregation, size-wise). The other exploded with growth and has, to its credit, produced at least one daughter church that has also exploded. (That one, now that I think of it, is technically an ELCA church, although it is on the fringes of the denomination because its leadership doesn't like the overall direction the ELCA is tending.) But that one does the exact same thing that we've talked about--not satellite campuses, but several different services all at once. I played bass there one weekend (former worship leader is a friend) and thought the service itself was great, but as I got some perspective away from the experience, it was obvious that the main reason they were able to do so much is that they are just a really, really big church. "Borg Churches" like that one (and Mars Hill, it sounds like) leave little congregations like mine with few options: Either try to mimic them (a big mistake, in my view, because a small church can't do everything a big church can programmatically--it's just not possible) or try to do something unusual and do it really well. The congregation I'm working with for Seminary Part II is like this. An urban congregation, not a big membership, but extremely diverse--45% Caucasian, I believe, with the majority being a combination of Cambodian, Hispanic, and Eritrean (on special days we read the Gospel in four languages...and yes, church lasts a long time). This is something that we have been able to do partly, I think, because we are a smaller congregation. Those cultures all value community in ways that American suburbanites unfortunately don't understand at all.

Okay, I really need to just post this and get back to reading for school. Thanks for indulging me.

greg. said...

pete, glad you are enjoying the thread. me too. i really came back from southern cal wrestling with some of these issues. one of the things i have really settled on after chewing on it all week is that my calling in ministry is to relationships. i am convinced that i am called to "walk with" people and engage them in the journey. i am not called, i don't think, to be a billboard for Jesus.

one of the words used over and over again at the conference was "attract." they are really all about attracting people to the church and (hopefully) to a relationship with Jesus. but i just don't feel like i am called to be attractive. i am called to be a servant.

they early and often quoted paul from 1 corinthians 9 saying that he had been all things to all people. they used this as support for their argument that we need a relevant ministry. i totally agree that we need to be relevant, as opposed to irrelevant. where the church has become irrelevant she is failing to fulfill her mission. BUT, as i studied further on that passage from 1 corinthians, it seems to me that paul is arguing two things:

1. he is saying that he has been every kind of servant (see peterson's translation in the message) in order to lead people to a relationship with God. it wasn't about being attractive or relevant. it was about serving them. and,

2. he is saying that he did this to everyone that "he met." not everyone in the tri-country area. not everyone in turkey or philippi or macedonia or whatever. he said everyone he met. in other words, those he was in proximity to, he served and engaged them in relationship.

so, i have taken a long time to say that i just really feel that i am called to a ministry of serving people that are around me. those in my church AND those not in my church. not for the sake of building the church, but simply for the sake of serving the Gospel as Jesus called me to do. To love God and love others. something in me seems to think that was supposed to be more important than attracting others to our really cool worship with fog machines and david crowder sound-alikes.

peace.
greg.

pete said...

Greg,
Good, good words. I especially resonate with "everyone I meet." One of the things that really, really attracted us to the church (www.gracelutheranstpaul.org) we are members of (and that ultimately inspired/called me back to seminary) was this very thing. Pastor Craig is a pretty normal, average kind of guy--not very loud, not ultra-scholarly, not much of a "hey, look at what I'm doing so you can see what Jesus is doing" kind of guy. He just really, really loves the people he meets. This was so obvious the second week we attended, because he knew us by our first names--even Eliot, who was a month or two old at the time. And he is like that with EVERYONE, especially children. This small, small thing makes a big, big impression that people are cared about, and they don't forget it. I think that if I make this an intentional part of my ministry it will be very significant.