Category Archives: church transitions

Notes taken while re-inventing church – 01

What is Leadership today?

It’s not looking at the report of Protestantism losing it’s lead while the religion of None swells its ranks and saying, “Oh no, what can we do to get them back?”

Leadership is asking, each and every day, “How can we be church today?” and then trying to be it.

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Do you see it NOW? from church to not-church

Laurie Goodstein reported on the Pew Research findings in the 10/9 New York Times (read it here) that protestants no longer make up a majority of the US population. What’s more, it is a rapidly changing trend. And it isn’t because people are switching churches. They are simply opting out.

The clanging bells and flashing lights of this warning might just get our attention this time. So, in case you couldn’t see it, hear it coming before, well… business as usual is coming to an end. We are staring face to face with the fact that what churches are doing is connecting with and engaging fewer and fewer people every year. And it isn’t because God has changed. People simply have not been experiencing sufficient relevance or value in churches to make them orient their world around them.

It’s time to get out from behind the safety of our institutions and doctrinal checklists and start being what we tried to define, describe and defend. It’s time to be the church. It’s time to make mistakes, build less, love more. It’s time to stop worrying about the orthodoxy of what we believe and how we do things, and to start risking the extravagance of living out love no matter what it looks like.

Maybe people aren’t leaving the church because they don’t believe in God, in fact the study showed that only a minority of those who have given up on church have also given up on God. They are leaving because they don’t see the church being big enough to hold what they believe God is. So they have left hoping to get a peek of God out in the immensity of the rest of life.

In case you were wondering, it looks like the stop arm is descending from the semaphore. It isn’t when or if things really need to change; it is time. Time to let God be BIG again. So big that God bursts the seams of church and we go spilling out all over the place. Those places all those people are. Those places where God already is.

Folks, this article… the way I see it, it’s good news.

Sorry Jesus, We’re Just Not That Into You?

Stephanie of Jacob’s Well – one of my inveterate combers of cyberspace sending me stuff I should have on my radar – sent me this article from Emily Bennington of the Huffington Post this morning under her subject heading, “Why Jacob’s Well matters.”

There is a lot more to the “why it matters” debate than moral discourse, but it important and is probably a good place to start. Particularly for those who have given up on church, God, faith and (without a doubt) religion. God matters. Faith matters. Jacob’s Well and others who are willing to wade out into the waters before they have fully parted… let’s go. We’ve got real, hard, honest work to do – there is a lot of wilderness between us and the Promised Land.

Here’s the link to the article. Sorry Jesus, We’re Just Not That Into You?

Most of us aren’t here yet!

We believe this with all our hearts. It’s got two sides to it.

One – “Jacob’s Well is mostly made up of people who aren’t here…” Jacob’s Well isn’t for or about ‘us.’ It is about and for the people God has called, the people God has in mind when God said, “Let there be Jacob’s Well.”

Two – “Yet!” We expect them to come, or better yet, we expect to go to them. It is one thing for us to know we are incomplete, it is another to believe that God is at work to fulfill us and for us to live and act in that expectation.

What is so amazing about this is how this is coming to life within the community as we prepare to launch our second site. The night before the first preview service the Board and spouses met for a social dinner together (it is a whole other story about how we could possibly afford to do that the night before our first preview!) and while we were talking about the journey that has been Jacob’s Well our chair noted how close we had all become and how much we had done together that we loved and were proud of. And (this is the clincher) that if it were not for Jacob’s Well no one in that room would have known anyone else (spouses excepted…)

The next morning, about 45 minutes before the first service was to begin at Longfellow, we gathered for last minute details and prayer. Our Site Leader who has only been around for about six months made a similar comment. He noted that most of us haven’t known each other very long but we were all here because of God’s work in Jacob’s Well. He asked us to think forward six months when this circle would be vastly expanded with people we by then knew, loved and had shared significant experiences with, but right now we don’t even know exist. And just imagine what we will accomplish, be and reach with them as the next layer of who we are.

God’s vision for Jacob’s Well may have started in my mind and heart, but it is contagious and owned by so many other people now. That giving away and ownership by others is the fulfillment of a vision. That is why I get up each morning to help Jacob’s Well remain faithful to it. And it tells me to start listening for the next stage of that vision.

More on Churches and Buildings

Some great comments on the last post have generated more thoughts.

Laurie, you DO make sense. Church buildings are an UnLearning issue. It is hard, and we are truly at a loss of how to operate and relate to THE church when the building isn’t there.

Monica, thanks for your thoughts too. First, this posting is meant to be an extreme statement to get us thinking, not a final and complete declaration. I would point back to Laurie’s comments though. Thinking outside the building, outside this church-box, is a hard adjustment. There are good uses and purposes of a building, but I’d challenge us to be more creative in how we meet those space needs.

Do we need to own buildings to house our presence? Can we rent, share, multi-use facilities? Cooperate with other, even non-church, organizations? There are many examples of this already. Unfortunately it is not the norm, and it is often perceived as a sign of weakness that a church borrows, rents or shares space.

Buildings tend to isolate us and separate the many Bodies of Christ from one another. We each need the ministry going on in our church. Ultimately I like the idea that we learn to head to people rather than a place when we have needs. After all, people, not places, will be how God acts sooner or later.

And face it, if I really want to go to a quiet place to meditate, I probably wouldn’t head to the kind of place we would be able to afford to do it, but would go to God’s great sanctuary out-of-doors, or to the Basilica, or maybe on the sidewalk outside our local police precinct, or the emergency entrance of HCMC anyway…

Lots of stuff to think about. Let’s be creative.

May churches build people always, and buildings when we must.

Leap of Faith

Jacob’s Well started a second service on its 1st anniversary.  That was Sept.2007, and the service is at 6 on Sunday evening.  All our study pointed at this as the time to do it.  It’s great, but poorly attended.  We didn’t launch it right, we pushed it, but only in the context of what we are already did that has tons of momentum.  Now it is time to relaunch it.

Since we don’t have unused money, resources, time or people to do the launch, there was only one option.  Use who we have already to launch it.  This not only gives us a several hundred person launch team, it reminds us why we are here in the first place – to be about what God is up to. That keeps us on target and helps us keep out of reach of the grasp of institutionalism.

So we are suspending our popular 10:30 am service for the 4 weeks before Easter to be about one, and only one thing as a community for those weeks.  Getting a couple 100 new people to Jacob’s Well for whom the 6 pm service will be normative.

I don’t know of any church who has ever done this, but I think it is a noble experiment that has to at least teach us to never do it again.  We will accompany the switch with a heavy dose of advertising in the area and a major push on getting out into the community to meet people, as well as encouraging everyone to invite others during this month.

That’s the short intro to it all.  See the COUNTDOWN on our website (upper right).  It is ticking down the moments  until we start the second venue on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.

Decisive, but not Devisive

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The same conversation as sparked my last entry also ventured into this topic which is very key for us at Jacob’s Well. We don’t just need a new kind of church for the sake of relevance, but because the church has become so polarized here in the United States. Whole denominations decide what and how they will do things not based on their core values and theology, but in order to not be confused with churches they don’t agree with (and feel threatened by – that’s another story).

Something I think my ‘mainline’ tradition has been missing is decisiveness. That is, ‘Why follow Jesus?’ What does it matter, what difference does it make? We associate the decisiveness of faith – a core message of the Gospel, God does make a difference – with the way some very fundamentalist churches have played it out; only being concerned with ‘saving souls,’ with drawing lines of who is ‘Christian’ and who is not. We don’t want to define whom loves by excluding people (homosexuals, non-born-again’s, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, other denominations, etc) so we don’t talk about what it is that God calls us to at all. We just talk around it, we make it ‘easy’ and that is different than making it the greatest and biggest investment of our lives. We also haven’t found ways to articulate how God might be at work in other faiths and other lifestyles that are ‘foreign’ to us without gutting what is decisive about our faith. We’ve left ‘decisiveness’ to others, but it doesn’t belong to them alone, it belongs to all who seek to ‘take up their cross’ and follow Jesus.

It is time to claim decisiveness back. We can affirm the decisiveness of our faith without creating unnecessary devisiveness. We don’t have to decide whether Buddhists will go to hell or heaven, whether homosexuality is a sin or not. Face it, God hasn’t asked our opinion on these issues and God hasn’t asked us to judge each other. Rather, to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4.15), witness to what God has shown us (1 Peter 2.9) and let those seeds take root in people’s lives trusting God’s Spirit to be at work (Matthew 13). To be honest about our own need for forgiveness, redemption and transformation (1 Corinthians 15.9-10).

We can be decisive – we have the greatest news and the greatest relationship in the world that changes us whether we want it to or not – without being devisive – our job is to let people know they too are children of God, not how much God has judged them,

This is a precarious position to hold, and I’ve been taken to task for it before. What I find so compellingly Christ-like about it is that it depends of God’s power of transforming our lives and forgiving our mistakes rather than our ability to conform people to what we think they should be like to be “Christian.”

One of our core values at is to Focus on the mission that unites, not details that divide – We value unity and diversity.” This holy balancing act is a good example of that value and I see it happening at Jacob’s Well.