Category Archives: church transitions

Who wants to be a member?

You will be assimilated

That’s the Borg Cube from Star Trek. Remember them? They are the ones who cruise the galaxy and ‘assimilate’ everyone so they are no longer who they were, but who the Borg are. No one wants to be one, except those already in. When we talk about becoming ‘a member of the church’ people look at us like we are the Borg invading their otherwise happy universe. In fact, even of our ‘regulars’ at Jacob’s Well (who invest generous amounts of time, passion, expertise and money in the community) react like, “You’re kidding, aren’t you? We aren’t going to do that ‘membership thing’ are we?”

Yet as David Stark taught me some years ago, the problem isn’t that people won’t commit anymore, people commit to all sorts of things all the time. Got a cell phone contract? I rest my case. The question people ask is “Is it worth my investment of time, money, energy, etc to make the commitment?’ Likewise, when I talk about what happens when we do commit to something and understand the truth of our relationship to the growing, developing organism that we call Jacob’s Well they think it is great. When I ask them to think of being a member not as having their names in the book, but like my arm is a member of my body – the arm is lifeless and both are incomplete without each other – then they get it.

Clearly committing to a movement and a community they believe in isn’t the problem. The language is. “Member” triggers an allergic reaction that says, “Oh oh, they are just like all those other churches. They really are just an institution and want us to keep them alive.”

I believe committing to a local church in a very concrete covenanting way isn’t only a good thing, I think it is an essential part of committing to a life of following Christ. The local church is the manifestation of Christ’s body in a specific location. It is the means through which God can touch the lives of people in all fullness. We are looking at ways to talk about and do it.

Before I say what we are thinking of doing I would like to hear your thoughts, reactions and experiences.


Being Christian is not a good thing anymore! KNOW THIS STUDY

Kinnamon’s ‘UnChristian’The Barna Group has just published a study that we all need to pay attention to.  I first heard about this research from Brian McLaren a year and a half ago and it helped me focus the shaping of Jacob’s Well.  This study of 16-29 year olds shows how this generation, more than any preceeding generation is not only uninvolved and uninterested in Christianity, but actually views Christianity and the church as a negative.  The subtleties are important, but the overall trend cannot be ignored.

A good question (and I’d like to see some conversation around this) is whether it is even worth trying to convince the “given up” (a Jacob’s Well term) generations that our language, structures and traditions need to be picked up, or is it time to invent new modes of being church and move on?  It is a little hard to ignore the comparison to the controversy among the Apostles (Acts 15) over whether Gentiles should have to be circumcised or not… whether nonChristians should have to learn to like organ music (an ironic comparison, sorry), whether new believers with new questions of God should have to confess faith in ancient creeds that were answers to ancient questions…

You can read a great summary of this in the Sept 24 The Barna ReportIf you are a church learner, subscribe to this!

Kinnaman’s book UnChristian is the full report of the study.  I’ll blog a review when I finish it.

Held accountable

I finished my message yesterday at Jacob’s Well with Tony Campolo’s story about throwing a birthday party for a prostitute in the middle of the night.

(Great story, if you don’t know it see his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party. You can also find it on the web on sites like this.  But buy his book anyway.)

It’s a powerful story that calls us out of our “nice and tidy” ministries and out into the “down and dirty” love that Jesus was about.  My concluding words were, “What if there was a church that threw birthday parties for prostitutes in the middle of the night?  I want to be the pastor of a church like that, and I hope that you want to help Jacob’s Well be that kind of church too.”


Afterwards a woman came up and said, “Great message, I love that vision of the church. But I wonder if you really mean it.”  She went on to a say a few other positive but challenging things and then ended by saying, “I’ll be watching you.”  I told her I needed accountability, we all do.  She had been burn by a church that didn’t practice what it taught, and is sharp enough to know that while I’m not Jacob’s Well, if I don’t believe and practice something it is pretty unlikely the church will either.

My first reaction – Wow!  Someone was listening and taking me seriously enough to call me on what I say.  That’s what preaching is all about.

Another reaction – Being a precarious pastor and a congregation that ministers from the margins rather than soft, safe center of its resources and comfort level isn’t easy.  We have to hold each other accountable so we will go where Jesus goes.  We also have to encourage each other and remind each other of the vision with which God leads us out of the wilderness of our comfort zone.

Anyone else ready for this journey?  What will we have to give up to be that kind of church, and are we willing to do it?

“Deep” & “Shallow”


Okay, here is another one I’ve heard recently and has been reported to me by other church leaders trying to transition congregations into more intentional, discipleship oriented directions. “When will we get into deep teaching?” Operative term here is “deep.” I’ve asked people what they mean by this, and pretty much across the board they mean ‘heavy duty Bible Study’; a sermon that just keeps digging away at the text and unpacks its meaning.

I don’t disagree, there is something very deep about that, and being a bit of an insufferable academic myself, I can and do get into it. But to me the real meaning of deep isn’t only how far we get into the text, but how far we let the text get into us. If we keep learning and learning, but don’t spend time living out what we have learned, then ultimately that was all pretty shallow.

I believe in digging into the message of Jesus, exploring how to apply it, practicing that, and then letting that whet our appetite for more learning – either because what we have tasted made us hungry for even more, or because trying to implement it into our lives made us realize how much more we need to know.

One of the dangers of the church, and one of the reasons the church has lost relevance and value for younger generations, is that believing has been a head thing, not a life thing. Going to church or Bible studies are important, but it doesn’t make us look more like Christ or change the world.

Church Launcher Resources

I’ll start a section on our website with resources that other church developers may want to take a look at. But for now they are there with no navigation route to them, you just have to type in the address accurately.

Discontinuity Teasers (to help get your leadership thinking in terms that allow God to always shake things open.

A copy of our Vision in a diagram.

A description of the bullseye in our target, Jack & Jill. By knowing and understanding them well we can better and more meaningfully serve them.



One Year Old & 1st Sunday Evening Gathering


What if people actually came to our new service?

All I can say is that it feels a lot better being on this side of the launch of our evening service than on the other side. We launched as a community on September 17 of 2006 and today we added a service at 6 pm. We need the space, and we have heard from many who work Sunday mornings (stats say 30% of working adults are working on Sunday!) and others who have never had a “go to church” tradition find getting around to do anything on Sunday morning is an obstacle. Then there are the people who are gone for the weekend and can be back for an evening service.

Anyway, today was it. Not a smashing success in terms of numbers (68 in the Commons Room Gathering) but the spirit was alive and it felt very positive. We had quite a few people who had never been part of Jacob’s Well before, who loved the gathering and were thrilled that an evening service like this was available to them.

I think our total for the day was nearly 300, so that is pretty amazing. But it was really a lot of work. And we have a long, long way to go.

Thanks to all the people who have worked tirelessly to make this happen. If I try to name you all I’ll forget some. I know there were people I didn’t even recognize in some roles today. That is incredible. Thanks everyone! Soli Deo Gloria.

Pray for me in Philly


I’m flying to Philadelphia tomorrow (Monday) to co-lead the Next Initiative Church Launching Conference ( with Randy Smith ( for 150 or so church developer type people and their launch teams, and for others who are transitioning churches from declining to a new start. I’m glad to do it and feel ready to present the material because it is stuff I’ve worked with for quite a few years. But my presence will be much more the confessions of a precarious pastor than an expert practitioner. I suppose that is equally helpful. I’m also glad for the opportunity to connect with some very bright people and have time to pick their brains to help with some of the growing pains we have at Jacob’s Well.

Anyway, this conference really is a big deal for the people attending. Many of them are truly turning their lives upside down to launch a new church somewhere. Pray that what I say and do may be helpful to them.

If you will be keeping me in your prayers (the conference is Tuesday and Wednesday) leave a short comment below. I can use the encouragement!


Discontinuity Culture

It occurs to me that one of the things we are trying to do at Jacob’s Well is something I’ve tried to bring into the established churches for the last dozen years. The “what if” concept has helped me see how the emerging church needs a ‘culture of discontinuity.’

discontinuous pencilA “what if…” church, filled with “what if…” Christ-followers has a culture of discontinuity rather than of continuity. They are rooted in where they have been, but they don’t take their foundation as an anchor. Rather it is a springboard to what God has next for them. They live out possibilities in the name of Christ. That means status quo, equilibrium, ‘the way we’ve always done it’ aren’t goals. Change is sought, not fought.

I developed a series of “Discontinuity Teasers” years ago that I’ve used with our staff at Bethlehem and many other staffs and groups of church leaders to help them see the possibilities of a culture of discontinuity, and how to develop that sort of thinking in their organization. I’ll post it in the “church transitions/resources” portion of our website (link below). Check it out and let me know if it is helpful, or how you would improve it. It is quite a few years old and wasn’t designed for an emerging church, but for an established church.

The priority of traditions

I’ve had a number of conversations with very passionate, concerned and intelligent people in the church recently about the role of tradition in congregations. Not the tired debate of guitars or organs (not that it is resolved), but of connecting to the historic rather than the contemporary, and the larger denominational identity rather than an isolated congregation. There aren’t clear cut answers. Books are written on the subtleties of the conversation, and our email and coffee shop chats have come close. What I really value is that all the people I’ve been talking with aren’t out witch hunting, but are seeking something that answers their needs as lifetime church-goers and/or professional clerical types, and the needs they realize are beyond the doors of their church buildings.

My sense isn’t that traditions or denominational identity are good or bad, beneficial or baggage, but it is a matter of how they are used and when these ‘cards’ are played. Two things are at work here.

One is that both the traditions of the church and the denominational institutions that have carried the truth have been allowed to wander off onto thin ice. Both are perceived (rightly or wrongly) as, at least, somewhat irrelevant and with some suspicion by a majority of Americans. Bridges of interest and trust need to be built before the people we want to re-engage with the church will give the church a chance.

The other is in a cultural change in how people experience authenticity. We are so barraged by messages and claims we have been trained not to believe everything we see and hear. Younger generations have experienced failed leadership at so many levels (political, church, corporate, parental) that they care little about what people say, they want to know what we do. The cliche is “the walk, not the talk.” or praxis vs dogma. Regardless, the outcome is that authenticity is established differently than it was for previous generations. Our institutional connections don’t reassure our disenfranchised public that we are authentic. Reading a prayer or a participating in a written liturgy that is printed in a book or a program don’t either, in fact it is more likely to be perceived as inauthentic because it comes from a book, not the heart. Rather than such works ringing bells of deep, historic connections, they ring warning bells of hypocrisy.

My point: Our traditions and institutional identities are good and valuable, but they are not the message, and in fact get in the way of the message for many people today. To put them on the back burner in order to establish relevant and authentic connections with people who have given up on the church is not selling out, or dumbing down, it is putting putting first things first. I ask myself, “am I trying to make Lutherans or followers of Jesus?” And the answer is always that they are both good things, but there is no doubt as to which comes first.