Posts Tagged With: listening

New Resource for Congregations!


Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Institutional Church, kingdom of God, medium church, missional church, small church, suburban church | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Neighborhood Church: God’s Vision of Success”

My new book is available, and at a discount price! Retail is $13.00, but order now for only $10.40 at
A great resource for congregations who wish to engage more fully in being part of the reign of God in their neighborhoods.

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, kingdom of God, Make Disciples, missional church, Revitalization | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We Will No Longer be a Welcoming Church

We’ve decided to quit being a welcoming church. No kidding. We’re giving it up. It won’t be easy, but we’re committed to it. We’ll have to do it in stages, easing our folks into it step by step. We’ll have to deal with the fear of something new, the challenge of venturing into the unknown. But we’ll do it. It will take motivation, leadership, and constant reminders. But most importantly, it will take total commitment in embracing a new focus.

Like so many churches, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming church. We changed worship styles, we trained greeters and ushers, we wore name tags, we percolated coffee, we went to workshops on hospitality, we put our friendliest people in the most prominent places on Sunday mornings. But we’ve realized we’ve been misplacing our emphasis. So we’re no longer going to do it.

Here’s what we’re doing instead. We are becoming an Inviting Church. That’s different. You see, “welcoming” from a missional perspective is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t. Welcoming is about us, not about them.

“Inviting,” however, is different. That means we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.

Even that warrants a significant caveat. This is not just another gimmick to get people into the church. The foundation of this isn’t an attempt to bolster declining membership rolls and make a better parochial report to the bishop. No, it goes much deeper than that. It starts with who God has called us to be as church. It involves discovering our gifts and purpose. And it mandates joining God at work in the world. This isn’t about getting the world into God’s church; it’s about getting the church into God’s world.

If you’ve read any postings on this blog before, you know that God’s mission is what we are to be about. Everything comes from that—including the identity of the church. We exist as church only because God has a mission. Our purpose, our very identity, is called forth out of God’s loving care and redemptive activity in creation. We are steeped in God’s mission. We are drenched through baptism into this essential character of God. God is at work in the world, and creates, calls, and equips the church specifically for that work.

Each congregation has a purpose within God’s mission. Each congregation has particular gifts. Each congregation reveals the life-giving reign of God in unique ways. No congregation is everything to everyone. But every congregation is something to someone. Who can know God through your worship style? Who can experience forgiveness and grace through your congregational community? Who needs the gifts you have to offer? Who can offer gifts you need? Knowing those things, when in conversation over the backyard fence about their pain in losing a loved one, it would be natural then to invite that neighbor to your congregation’s grief support group that has made such a difference for many others. When in the employee lunch room chatting about the pressures of our jobs, it would fit to invite that co-worker to your congregation’s spiritual direction group for professionals. When sharing the struggles of parenthood with a friend while waiting for your kids to come out of school, it would make sense to invite their whole family to your cross-generational faith development where you have gained so much guidance from other parents. While paying for a car repair, your long-time mechanic lets slip that she has lost her faith, it would easily flow for you to invite her to join you (and all the other doubters who will gather this Sunday) in worship.

Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join. Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts—made real in your congregation—in the world.

Based on a council study of the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc., N.Y. Copyright © 2010 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath), my congregation is going about this transition from being welcoming to becoming inviting in three specific ways. One leadership team is taking the lead for each portion. Each of these three approaches will be the topic of an upcoming post on this blog. As a preview, however, they are: motivating people to invite, taking on invitation in bite-size pieces, and changing the inviting environment. We aren’t sure what the final results will be, but we’re excited to find out. Join us on this journey as we jump off the cliff and (hopefully) learn to fly. Please offer feedback, ideas, and help along the way.

Categories: church growth, Church in Transition, missional | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 149 Comments

Why I Need to Have Conversations With the Religious Right

I posted a blog yesterday (Why Can’t I Have Conversations With the Religious Right?) about the religious left and right engaging in conversation for the betterment of God’s mission and the church’s purpose within it. The responses to it were pretty much everywhere. My writing style can get a bit satirical, tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, and irreverent. Some readers get that, some don’t. I think some responded to the title of the blog without actually reading it. Regardless, my hope was to help us all–right, left, in-between, non-labeled, other–to listen to one another, learn from one another, and seek expression to the unity that Jesus has already given to us.

My friend Chris has written a blog post that states what I was trying to say, but without the satirical edge. She tends to lean a bit left also, but there is no sense of trying to defend that position over against another one. I encourage you, if you desire growth that comes from understanding a different perspective outside your comfort zone, to click here and read a very well written post.

In the meantime, as  another friend, Natalie, suggests, take someone with an opposite perspective to coffee and listen. Here’s the challenge for us: hear the voice of God in the words of someone whose views on religion, theology, church, faith, God, or Christianity drive you absolutely bonkers.

I invite you to post your experiences with “the other” here! Let’s learn from one another.

Categories: religious, spirituality | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Listening in the Image of God, Part 6 of 6

This is a series on listening. Relationships are in the image of the triune God, and listening is an essential (first!) component to relationships. It can be said that listening is, in fact, in the image of God, and ought to be a higher priority for the body of Christ that perhaps it currently is. This quick series can help congregations listen to their neighborhoods–in the image of God.

The Stylist:

You know one of the best places to listen to the people of your neighborhood? Seriously, it’s the local barbershop or salon. Don’t underestimate this amazing listening resource! While you’re getting your hair colored or trimmed, do a little bit of eavesdropping (politely, of course). For some reason, people seem to feel quite free to express honest opinions on every matter under the sun when sitting in a chair in front of someone with sharp scissors very near their scalp. I’m not sure if there’s a significant relationship between scissors and expressed opinions, but it does seem to work. Ask a question about any issue in the community and then sit back and take mental notes. You can do the same thing in the bank, the grocery store, the gas station, and so on. Some have told me that this works well in a bar too, but that, of course, would be just hearsay on my part. .  .  .

Next time everyone on your team gets a haircut or manicure or whatever, commit to utilizing this resource. Make a list of questions about which you want to know the answers regarding your neighborhood, and divide them up. Gather in a couple of weeks after everyone has their hair and/or nails done, and share your notes. Again, make sure everyone’s listening observations are recorded. Not only will this follow up meeting get you get right down to some significant listening, but it’ll probably be the best looking meeting you all attend together!

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening in the Image of God: Part 5

This is a series on listening. Relationships are in the image of the triune God, and listening is an essential (first!) component to relationships. It can be said that listening is, in fact, in the image of God, and ought to be a higher priority for the body of Christ that perhaps it currently is. This quick series can help congregations listen to their neighborhoods–in the image of God.

A Police Ride Along:

Your local police department knows your neighborhood better than almost anyone else. Give them a call and arrange for the members of your team to ride with them on patrol for an evening. Or better yet, invite a few more congregational members not yet involved in this project to do it. Many police departments appreciate the interest and support, and can be very helpful in pointing out aspects of your town that very few people get to see. Of course, for everyone’s safety, be sure to comply with all the regulations that are part of this endeavor.

This is another good opportunity to invite more people in your congregation to participate. Who wouldn’t love to ride in a police car for a few hours? How exciting that would be! You never know who might step forward to help your team in this aspect of listening.

Meet together at a local coffee shop afterward and share your experiences. How do you see your community differently now than you did before?

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening in the Image of God, Part 4

This is series  on listening. Relationships are in the image of the triune God, and listening is an essential (first!) component to relationships. It can be said that listening is, in fact, in the image of God, and ought to be a higher priority for the body of Christ that perhaps it currently is. This quick series can help congregations listen to their neighborhoods–in the image of God.

The Survey (Be Careful!)

Often the first way we want to listen for information is the ever-present “conduct a survey” route. The concept is great: go door-to-door (see a problem emerging already?), asking residents some questions that will provide key information about the neighborhood. Although the idea is fine, the reality can prove more difficult if you really want it to be helpful. Anything that entails “door-to-door” smells of an imposed agenda—an attempt to sell something. Unsolicited phone calls fall into this category also. Unless the homeowner knows the person who’s knocking, they may not even answer the door. Or if they do, they might be suspicious as to your motives. Perhaps not, but it warrants some awareness in trying to get an accurate picture of the neighborhood.

Another difficulty with surveys lies with the questions themselves. Some surveys are done with a particular outcome in mind, and the questions weighted toward that outcome, e.g., do you support butterflies and rainbows that will result from “our” agenda or do you support torturing puppies that will result from “their” agenda?

Even though that wouldn’t be your tactic, sometimes we unwittingly lean one particular direction without intending to. And sometimes the questions we ask are interpreted differently by different people and therefore the feedback isn’t as helpful as it could be.

The point being that although a survey can be a helpful tool, it needs to be done with more care and planning than most people think. If you think a survey would help, and I’m not convinced it’s the best way to listen, then go ahead. It can be helpful, but make sure it isn’t the only tool in your listening toolbox. My recommendation would be to hire a professional survey group to work with you. They can help you clarify the information you’re seeking, help you compose questions that will actually elicit that information, help you decide whether a phone survey or a mailed survey would work better, and help you identify who to survey and when to survey them so you get an accurate sampling of your neighborhood. They can be expensive, but you’re much more likely to get information back that’s worth listening to. Some companies will conduct the surveys for you, but that costs more yet.

If you choose to do a survey of the residents/workers in your neighborhood on your own, here are some things to consider:

  • Utilize “” or a similar web-based survey guide. The basic plan is free, and they help you formulate questions that can get you the most helpful results.
  • Make sure you survey a large enough sample of the neighborhood. It’s not enough in a neighborhood of 5,000 people to make a couple dozen phone calls or drop off twenty fliers. Check out a survey statistics book at the library or check some survey guidelines online. An accurate sample size is necessary if you want to put any faith in your results. The larger the sample size, the more reliable your results.
  • If you are utilizing a phone or in-person survey, make sure you get a broad demographic of the neighborhood. In addition to sample size, a good cross sampling of the population will make a difference. For instance, if you make all your phone calls during the day, the majority of people in your sample will be those who don’t work outside the home during the day. You’d leave out the input of almost all working folk, which would skew your sample. Again, consult a survey book or web site for help.
  • Decide if you should conduct your survey by mail, by phone, or in person. Each has advantages, and each has disadvantages. In person or phone get faster results and require fewer “contacts,” but mail is less time intensive and more objective. Bear in mind that most mailed surveys never get returned, which means you have to mail a lot more of them to get a large enough sample for accuracy. Again, consult a book or website for helpful information on the number of mailings you need to prepare and send.

If nothing else, I hope you recognize that a survey is anything but an easy way to listen to the people of your neighborhood. It can be helpful, but must be done carefully. If you decide to use a survey, make sure that you combine it with some other listening approaches.

Categories: Church in Transition, faith practices | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening in the Image of God, Part 3 of 6

This is series  on listening. Relationships are in the image of the triune God, and listening is an essential (first!) component to relationships. It can be said that listening is, in fact, in the image of God, and ought to be a higher priority for the body of Christ that perhaps it currently is. This quick series can help congregations listen to their neighborhoods–in the image of God.

Town Hall Meeting

Is there an issue or initiative that is presently burning locally? Something coming up on a ballot that is controversial? This can be a great opportunity to listen! Have your congregation host a town hall meeting with speakers from both sides. If there is a zoning issue for a new business, have someone from the local chamber of commerce come, along with someone from the environmental preservation group that is in opposition. Make sure the ground rules are clear and friendly. This is not to take sides, but to listen as well as to give your neighbors the opportunity to hear firsthand to both sides of an issue. School bond referendum coming up? Have the principal of a local school or a school board member speak to the benefits, giving equal time to a representative of the homeowners association whose taxes will be raised.

Here’s another chance to get more congregational members involved. Create an “Issue Town Hall” team or committee. Have them get speakers arranged well ahead of time. Then publicize, publicize, publicize. There’s nothing worse than a town hall meeting with no one present. You’ll have a hard time getting anyone to attend a second one, much less speak.

Make sure the moderator or facilitator is a good one. Perhaps there’s someone gifted in that area from your congregation who can do it well. If so, then fine. Just be careful that whoever moderates this event is seen as objective and fair. This person needs to be able to keep things moving and friendly. Depending on how hot the issue is, the moderator may need to be able to keep peace with some agitated attendees too. That’s fine, just make sure everyone’s clear beforehand as to the purpose and the agenda.

One word of caution here. Your congregation’s tax-exempt status rides on the church not endorsing any political candidate or issue. Be very clear that this town hall meeting is for information only, and is not any type of endorsement. Make sure there are articulate representatives on both sides present with equal opportunity to speak and relay information. Sure, there can be questions and answers, but keep things civil. Remember, the goal is to listen, not to convince.

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening in the Image of God, Part 2 of 6: Take a Walk

Congregations are called to be in relationship with their neighbors. It’s how God works and it’s how the body of Christ reflects the image of God in which we are created.

This is the second part of a six-part series helping congregations begin relationships by listening. The first part was introductory, and laid some theological groundwork for listening. Now we begin the first of five ways we can listen, necessary before we deepen significant relationships. We start by taking a walk.

Not all listening is done with your ears. You can get some pretty good information about the needs, wants, desires, and priorities of your congregation’s neighborhood just by looking at it. Take a walk through your neighborhood together. You’ll probably have to do this on several evenings, breaking up the neighborhood into manageable regions. That’s fine; you’re not necessarily in a hurry. Another option would be to break up into separate teams of three or four people each. You can cover more territory, but you need to listen carefully to the other teams when you debrief. This is a good time to recruit a few others from your congregation to walk with you. Get their input and observations. And you also get better communication about your process and a broader buy-in to what you’re doing.

Although you don’t need to cover every square foot of the neighborhood, you really do need to spend time in different areas to get a feel for it. If some members of your team live in the neighborhood, they have to be quiet, or perhaps not even present, when you walk their vicinity. You want to get fresh and objective views, and someone on your team might bias the whole listening process through vocalizing their long-held perspectives.

As you walk, what do you notice about the buildings and properties that make up the homes, schools, businesses, pastures, open areas? Are they well-kept or shoddy? Old or new? Colorful or drab? What might that indicate? If there are taller buildings, be sure to look up at the architecture above. What is depicted or symbolized there? Are buildings built to honor or remember specific people? What is the mood that seems to be prevalent? Be sure to look at the sidewalks and streets. Are they broken and rough, or well taken care of? Are there fences? How tall are they? How well-kept are they? Can neighbors see each other through them or are they built for privacy? Make mental notes as you go, pointing things out to each other.

If you meet people on your walk, casually observe them, too. What age(s) are they? What color or nationality are they? Do they greet you or ignore you? Do you feel threatened or safe (be careful that you aren’t projecting your own pre-conceived notions here)? Pay attention to who you don’t see. Are there any children? Any teenagers? Any single people? Any gay couples? Any elderly? Any particular ethnic groups not in evidence? What and who you don’t see may be as helpful as what and who you do.

Gather back together and share your observations. Make sure someone writes this stuff down; it’ll be helpful later on. Talk together about themes that emerge. Is the whole neighborhood pretty homogenous or are there different areas with different atmospheres? What was surprising? What did you notice that everyone else noticed? What did you notice that was unique to you? Be careful you don’t rush to any conclusions here; keep to actual observations. You’re just starting to listen—let the process unfold on its own!

Categories: american christianity, Church in Transition | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening in the Image of God: Part 1 of 6, “Whose Agenda Matters Most?”

It’s evening, and you’re finally settled at the dinner table. Just as the first spoonful of long-awaited yam and celery soup is approaching your mouth, the doorbell rings. You aren’t expecting anyone, but you experience a sinking feeling in your stomach because you strongly suspect who it is. It’s someone with an agenda that isn’t yours but who will insist that their agenda become yours. Yes, it’s someone selling something.

The single-pane aluminum frame windows in your house have been a virtual neon sign inviting every construction company and window pane producer in a five-state area to ring your bell. A recent hail storm has every roof inspector in existence descending on your neighborhood. The initiative on the next ballot will apparently affect your great-great grandchildren, either making or breaking their very lives. You will be condemned to an eternity of suffering unless you accept the religious message of the young zealots on your porch. Household break-ins are on the rise, and your only hope for securing your valuables—and maybe your life—is through signing a multi-year contract tonight with a particular home security company.

You know how it goes. These interruptions are annoying at best, and rarely have anything to do with your actual needs. Yet they keep coming. People come to your door uninvited and hope you will alter your schedule for them and their product. And they expect you to pay them for the privilege! There are even a few who will use high pressure, manipulative techniques, telling you things that may or may not be true just to get you sign on the dotted line tonight.

Not surprisingly, this is often how the residents of neighborhoods see local congregations. Our neighbors perceive a local congregation as yet one more entity primarily seeking its own profit and benefit. And, to be honest, there is good reason for that. As the church, we often are more concerned about selling our product than in being in relationship for the sake of our neighbors. We justify this by saying that what we are selling is exactly what they need. Though that may actually be true, that isn’t the issue here. No one likes someone else’s agenda imposed on them. Whether the church goes door-to-door or offers great youth programming, we are often correctly perceived as seeking to benefit ourselves, bolster our membership, fill our pews, and most importantly, increase the offering.

I know this sounds terribly cynical, but we need to be honest here. Isn’t that how we measure our success as a congregation? Using the same primary criteria for success as someone selling faulty vacuum cleaners doesn’t seem in keeping with the reign of God. It’s time to challenge our assumptions about success. It’s time to consider the kingdom of God before we consider the annual congregational report. It’s time to put the needs of our neighbors ahead of the needs of our organization. It’s time to strengthen relationships with our neighbors. It’s time to reveal the perichoretic nature of God in our communities. And, like all relationships, this starts with listening.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of coming uninvited to sell a particular product—one you may or may not need or even want—there were caring and trustworthy people who actually had your best interests at heart? Not offering you their product to increase their sales commission, but helping you, serving you, making your needs their priority? Can you imagine someone patiently taking the time to really learn what you wanted, what you needed, and only then sought to help you get it?

Yeah, right. That door-to-door company wouldn’t last long.

But that’s really the point: the church isn’t a door-to-door sales company.

Can we be the organization that takes the time to listen, to learn, to meet needs that emerge from relationships rather than the organization’s agenda? Shouldn’t the church be this? Relationship is the nature of the triune God, the God we are called and sent to reveal. Relationships, then, need to be our first priority as the church. Relationships involve trust. Trust takes time to develop. That, again, begins with listening.

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, kingdom of God | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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