Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tuning up your parish's web presence before Christmas Eve

The launch in mid-October of Vital Practices has yielded plenty of usable ideas. Case in point: a brief consideration of how parish web sites can welcome visitors on Christmas Eve with greater hospitality and more usable information.


  • ... Review your web page, voice mail, banners and signage through the eyes of someone visiting your parish for the first time.
  • ... Take a page from NPR’s digital media developers and go to a coffee shop, laptop in tow, and buy coffee for a stranger who is willing to poke around your website. Does their impression of your parish match up to your own sense of what the parish is?
  • ... Select your parish’s top stories from the past year and feature these on the homepage. These provide wonderful insight for potential visitors into the nature and values of the community they will be visiting on Christmas.
  • ... List your Christmas service times and include photos from last year’s service. If you don’t have any, make sure to ask someone to photograph this year’s event and save these photos for next year’s outreach.
  • ... Include the service times for the major feast days that take place from Christmas through Epiphany. These are great opportunities for folks to return.
  • ... Commit to a longer term review of your parish’s hospitality, perhaps by following some of Kathy Copas’ insights in this article.
Read the rest here.

H/T to Torey Lightcap writing on The Lead at the Episcopal Cafe.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why I don't go to church

Central Christian Church of Las Vegas, Nevada put this video out on YouTube.

This effort does a good job addressing probably the top 7 or 8 reasons most often heard from people who are spiritual, and perhaps leaning towards church attendance but who don’t go. The ones who are positively disposed to the idea, but perhaps haven't made that first step.

It does not address the resistance of those who have been spiritually abused. Neither does it deal with those who have questions or serious obstacles to belief itself. But you can't do everything at once, even in this medium.

Maybe that can be the topic of the next video or two?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This is why Jesus quotes the BCP!

That's because Jesus was an Episcopalian.

Well, okay, maybe he wasn't...but maybe we secretly suspected!

Here is a sixteen-part video series introducing the Episcopal Church. It is based on the book by the Rev. Christopher Yaw. Here is what he says about the videos.
The point of this audaciously anachronistic title is not to claim Jesus as our own (how very un-Episcopalian that would be!), but to inspire us to see how Jesus is found in the many and varied expressions of faith that two thousand years of Christendom has birthed.

One such expression is the Anglican tradition in America, better known as The Episcopal Church. We are known more for substance than self-promotion - evenhandedness than extremism. Too often we are not easily noticed, found, or understood, which is why I wrote this provocative sounding book and companion website.

Today is an exciting time to be an Episcopalian. We have a renewed commitment to feeding the hungry and clothing the naked - standing up for equal rights and radical hospitality - worshiping in the beauty of holiness and making disciples who take Christ into the world.

Despite the polarizing forces at work in this age of transition, we are solidly emerging as a distinctive and dynamic alternative for many Christians. My hope is that these 16 video teachings can help newcomers and inquirers get a better sense of how The Episcopal Church endeavors to do Jesus' work in the world, to the praise and glory of His name.

Here are the rest of the videos and here is the book, Jesus Was an Episcopalian and You Can Be One Too.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Put the "mass" back in Christmas

Another nice, locally-made video from the folks at King of Peace Episcopal Church, King Island, Georgia.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tailgate Eucharist

The Rev. Canon Dan Webster, canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Diocese of Maryland, talks about his experience of setting up a Eucharist for football fans in the parking lot of the Baltimore Raven before a home game.
It had been sometime since I had visited a parking lot before a National Football League game. In my previous career, and even during seminary, I followed television camera crews into special parking lots and flashed press passes at the media gates. So I guess you could say I had never "tailgated" at a Charger game in my hometown of San Diego or, for that matter, anywhere else.

I saw something called a Ravenswalk at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, filled with bands, merchants, contests, games, food and fans. Lots of fans. It was the Baltimore Ravens' home opener and we at the Diocese of Maryland thought we should offer Holy Eucharist in the parking lot for Episcopalians who have to choose between church or football on the handful of Sundays the Ravens are in town.

One of our parishes had done this three seasons ago. The rector then, the Rev. Scott Slater, is now the canon to the ordinary. He encouraged us as we had plans in the works when he joined the staff this summer. It was actually our communications director, Sharon Tillman, who was the catalyst behind this. Not surprisingly she and her family are Ravens fans.

So we looked for an Episcopalian who has season parking passes in a lot near the stadium. We actually found Liz Diffenderfer from the Cathedral of the Incarnation. She has season tickets and knows folks in the Ravens front office. She tried to find us a location that would be semi-permanent so we could tell folks where we would be each Sunday where we might set up a portable tent and table to distribute tracts about the Episcopal Church.

That didn't work. We settled for whatever parking space Liz could find in Lot C just north of the main entrance to the stadium. We set up a portable table that Liz brought underneath her van's hatchback to protect against the rain. Sharon invited those around us to join if they wished. It reminded me of the parable of the kingdom in Matthew (22:2-10). "Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet." (22:9)

It was the 18th Sunday after Pentecost and the gospel reading (Luke 16:19-31) was about the rich man and Lazarus. The reading brought a chuckle when the rich man was described as "dressed in purple and fine linen." The Ravens' predominant color is purple. But it also was an opportunity to discuss being aware of the invisible people in our lives.

We weren't the only religious folks there that day. A local Chabad House of Lubavitcher Jews was celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Booths. They had rented a pickup truck and built a sukkah in the truck bed. They asked people at random if they were Jewish and if so then invited them into the sukkah to pray.

Our prayers follow the form on pages 400-401 of The Book of Common Prayer. It is similar to a Eucharist you might experience at an Episcopal camp but without the music. There was plenty of music coming from the stage at the Ravenswalk. Some of that music seemed to be particularly meaningful to those faithful gathered in the rain to break bread and pray before kickoff.

We can now tell our congregations where we will be on Sunday mornings when the Ravens are at home so their parishioners may join us. We can also have brochures available for those curious about who we are and what we are doing. By our example we might attract some who have never been to church and don't know why it's important.

The medieval cathedral was the gathering place of the community. It was the focus of art, music, dance and debate. It was clear to me on that Sunday after Pentecost that many in our culture see the football stadium as a modern cathedral. We can let it be that way and leave it to its own liturgy or we can add our own. I prefer to "go into the main streets and invite everyone."
This makes me think: what with Sunday mornings becoming more and more the time when local sports, kids soccer, school sports take place, what if more of us set up "tailgate Eucharists" in the places where people gather? Thoughts?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Praying for growth in the Episcopal Church

Duke Divinity's blog Call & Response has this from Bishop of Georgia, Scott Behase:

While on holiday this summer I found myself praying about the growth of our church. What initially prodded my prayers was looking at the website of the United Methodist Church’s North Alabama Conference. My old colleague from Durham, Will Willimon, is the Bishop there.

Bishop Willimon publishes weekly statistics on things like membership, attendance, outreach, and the giving of each of the conference’s churches. It’s all there for everyone to see. As one might guess, the conference clergy don’t universally love this. But regardless of how one feels about such reporting, growth in membership, attendance, outreach, and giving matter. A lot. Jesus unambiguously pronounces the Great Commission. We are in the disciple-making business. And if we are not making disciples, then we need to change something we are doing (or start doing something we are not doing) so we make disciples (see also here, here and here on this).

Here are some random reflections on this challenge:

  • My hunch is that most people in our congregations think growing would be just fine but actually give little energy to it. The energy is around the people who are already there and their formation in faith. That’s energy well-spent. But we need to free up more people in our congregations to focus on making new disciples.
  • As a church we Episcopalians have been involved in some international and inner-church conflicts. This has taken a lot of time and sapped our energy for making disciples. This has to change. I don’t believe that our international church issues are a valid excuse for our lack of growth. There are a fair number of Episcopal churches that are growing, so there is no legitimate reason why each of ours can’t as well.
  • For too long we have looked to non-Episcopal, mega-church models to tell us how to grow. That hasn’t worked because it does not fit our identity and potential new disciples can sense the lack of congruency.

So what can we do? Let’s look at the congregations that are growing by making new disciples and see what they have in common. In these churches, growth is a by-product of manifesting their mission in a way that is consistent with their identity. They have a clear, shared understanding of their mission. They are not growing because they focus on growth as such, or because they will die if they don't get more people pledging their money (people are too savvy to want to join a church to share in its debt). They grow because they are clearly and unapologetically engaged in mission.

Growth in membership, attendance, outreach, and giving then are important metrics to see how we are doing at manifesting our mission consistent with our identity. They can never be the goals in and of themselves. Get mission going (not just be “mission-minded”), focus on making disciples, and then the growth will come.

Scott Benhase is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

St. Simon the Cyrenian goes knocking on doors

Members of The Church of St. Simon the Cyrenian in New Rochelle, New York, spread out into the local neighborhood, ringing doorbells and invited people to church. Interim Pastor, the Rev. Canon Titus Presler describes on his blog how it came about and what happened on their first outing:

On Tuesday, June 22, four members of the Evangelism Team of the Church of St. Simon the Cyrenian visited about 70 homes in the immediate neighborhood of the parish in the first installment of what is planned to be a regular door-to-door outreach.

Such outreach is not exactly common among Episcopal parishes, so people often ask, “Well, what do you say when you go door-to-door?” Each pair of visitors asked residents this particular question, “Is there something you would like us to pray for in church at St. Simon’s this Sunday?” People were home at about 20 of the residences. Seventeen prayer requests were received, and these will be offered up in this coming Sunday’s liturgy. Each of the responsive households will receive a follow-up letter from the parish.

Team members went with an invitational card, and with a copy of the previous week’s bulletin. These were given to respondents and left in the mailboxes of those not home. The visitors were three members of the parish’s Men’s Fellowship – Ardon Michaels, Herman Harvey, Cuthbert Barker – and myself as the interim pastor. We split into two pairs and moved down on opposites sides of each street, ringing doorbells as we went. Team members plan to share from their experience during this Sunday’s announcements.

In only several instances were those who answered the door unwelcoming. Responses from others ranged from mild interest to real appreciation to theological discussion. Among the highlights:

• One person came out of her home and sat on the front stoop to engage a team with lengthy and cordial conversation.

• One person said he was a Muslim and therefore not particularly interested in conversation, but he thanked us for visiting and referred us to two apartments upstairs that we might otherwise have missed.

• Several people expressed appreciation that we were going door to door and noted that they were not used to seeing that. One person said that she had never seen a pastor visiting the houses on her street and that she was reassured by the sight.

• Of the 17 responding households, probably about a dozen already had a church that they regularly attended. We told them that we rejoiced in that. We certainly were not urging any changes in membership. With other households we were quite frank in inviting them to visit St. Simon’s.

• People had prayer requests You that they wanted to share. Some of them were very general like “world peace” or “family.” Other prayer requests were a good deal more specific.

• We were struck by how far many people travel to go to church. New Rochelle is a city of about 75,000 people located northeast of New York City, about a half hour away by train. Some respondents traveled to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Bronxville or Times Square to get to church.

The team met on the previous Saturday for an orientation session that I conducted. The group took as its biblical foundation Jesus words to his disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17). I defined mission as ministry in the dimension of difference, an understanding that I have been working on for some time and which is developed fairly fully in my forthcoming book, Going Global with God: Reconciling Mission in a World of Difference. I defined evangelism as telling our story in the light of God story.

The evangelistic outreach of visiting homes in the neighborhood was related to St. Simon’s mission statement, which highlights an aspiration that the parish be a beacon for the community. I noted that St. Simon’s has a strong internal community but that last winter’s Vestry retreats had raised the question whether the parish was effective in having an impact on the wider community of New Rochelle and the neighboring towns.

The open-ended question – “Is there something you would like us to pray for in church this Sunday?” – is designed to catalyze conversation that has both the vertical dimension of relationship with God and the horizontal dimension of community care. It is a question that seeks to serve. It does not pry into people’s theological persuasion, nor is it aimed at buttressing church membership.

Evangelism is one aspect of the broader mission that the parish is organizing and which includes outreach to local colleges and service to major communities of need in the local area. For instance, last week a group of leaders from the parish met with the assistant to the city manager of New Rochelle in order to seek assistance in discerning how a congregation like St. Simon’s can best serve the wider community.

There are some aspects of this project that are worth noting:
  • motivation--The basis of the project was grounded in the congregation's understanding of mission and their role in the community as a "beacon for the community." Note how the parish undertook mission projects which involved going to city and civic leaders and listening to how the parish might serve the community more and in projects of direct outreach.
  • listening--I was intrigued by the question asked by the visiting teams to people who answered their doors, "“Is there something you would like us to pray for in church at St. Simon’s this Sunday?” Clearly, the visitors are telling people about St. Simon's and certainly their hope is that some people would come to their church. But the content of their opening question asks what St. Simon's can do for the person, and it is framed in terms of what St. Simon's does best. It is also a question that requires the inquirer to stop and listen to whatever comes next. So to do this successfully, the visitors must be ready to accept whatever response they get and must go with an accepting attitude, rather than wanting to change a person's mind on the spot.
  • story--I think a project like this is consistent with the work we in the Diocese of Bethlehem has been doing around evangelism, not only because the congregation chose a pro-active approach, but mainly because the approach St. Simon's chose is grounded both in mission and in the spiritual vitality of the congregation. Previously, the parish took their Palm Sunday procession which had previously been restricted to the church and parking lot out into the streets of their city. Folks who take part in the effort, must be aware of their own spiritual story, but also have the maturity and confidence to listen first, pray when needed, and the confidence to accept gracefully whatever response comes along.
This project shows how evangelism is grounded in the mission and spiritual vitality of a congregation.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Catch the buzz

The opening video at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada now meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The lessons of this video are not limited to Canada. They express the environment in which we do mission today all over the globe, including the Diocese of Bethlehem. Learn more about how we can "catch the buzz" in the Diocese of Bethlehem. Communications is a whole ministry grounded in vision and prayer. Evangelism is how we communicate the Gospel. Can we adapt Canada's slogan? How about "Catch the buzz: Tell what you have seen and heard."

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Fresh Expressions" reimagines what it takes "turn around" declining churches

Jim White, Religious Herald writes in the Texas Baptist Standard about "Fresh Initiatives," an approach being used in the Church of England to both revitalize existing congregations or plant new congregations (or both).

White writes:

If turning around a declining church were easy, more declining churches would be reversing course.

And if Christians in the United States think turning around a church is difficult, think of trying it in the Church of England, where tradition reaches back hundreds of years and hierarchical structure often hamstrings changes local congregations want to make.

But Bob and Mary Hopkins believe fresh expressions—a term they prefer over “revitalizing a congregation”—can come even to Anglican churches in the United Kingdom.

Although they began—and continue—as church planters in urban settings with Anglican Church Planting Initiatives, from 1998 to 2005, the Hopkins served on the leadership team of St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield, which grew to 1,500 in attendance, primarily reaching young adults with emerging culture interests.

They acknowledge cultural differences between the United Kingdom and the United States, but they emphasize that differences favor American churches. According to the Hopkins, culture in the United Kingdom is more influenced by secular atheism and is further into an era being called post-Christendom. The Brits have fewer megachurches and a greater percentage of smaller congregations. In addition, their congregations are attended by older people—average age 61—with fewer financial resources.

Because of their success, the pair has been asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to serve on the Fresh Expressions team charged with bringing new vitality and energetic ministry to Anglican churches.

Although not everyone accepts their belief that churches in decline should not feel guilty, Bob and Mary Hopkins teach churches to begin by rejecting the belief that they have failed. Shying away from terms like “traditional churches” that often have negative connotations, they prefer the term “inherited churches” to describe churches that have been around for years.

“It isn’t good or bad,” Bob Hopkins said. “It simply describes what is. This is the church that has come down to us.”

But fresh expressions of church life require more than just a name change. In the past, they insist, the church’s approach has been attractional—inviting people to come to church.

Some churches have transitioned to an engaged approach that says, “We’ll go out and engage people and bring them back to the church.”

The couple believes more transition is needed—an emerging approach that says, “We’ll go out and stay engaged with people in our culture and see what new expressions of being the church arise.”

What characterizes an emerging approach?

“First and above all,” Bob Hopkins said, “we’ve got to stop starting with the church.” Instead, he insists, start with the nonchurched in their social contexts.

The couple believes, based on their relatively recent successes, the inherited church must be willing, able and even eager to initiate changes designed with specific interest groups in mind. They foresee churches for young adults, adults with young children, network churches, community initiative churches, alternative worship churches, school-based student churches and even work-based churches.

These churches may or may not worship on Sundays. They may or may not have paid staff. They may be smaller, worship in cafes, or around tables or in homes as cells. They may even be intentional conventional church plants, but Bob and Mary Hopkins believe the church must take the teaching of Christ to its world rather than expect the world to come to it.

Neither can the church in the future expect the world to reflect its values and teachings. The world is becoming increasingly worldly. In such a context the attractional church has little chance of surviving, they believe.

They do, however, see a future for what they call “mixed economy” churches that affirm what they have inherited from the past while transitioning into churches having a mission to the non-churched.

While at St. Thomas in Sheffield, Bob helped begin a discipleship process called Lifeshapes which has become international in scope. They believe that staid, passive, all-but-dead Anglican churches can find fresh expressions in which to life out their faith.

The new churches may not resemble the old, cathedral-based models, they insist, but those churches will be authentic and biblical. They believe tired old American churches can find fresh expressions, as well.

For additional information visit their website at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday at the rail station.

Updated. The Rev. Lane Hensley of the Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park, Illinois came out in the early morning to the commuter rail station and distributed ashes to commuters on their way to work. Other congregations did the same at other Chicagoland commuter rail stations, and there was ecumenical effort in the business district of St. Louis.

Father Hensley said he wanted to bring the Gospel to where people actually live and work. More images and the rest of the story may be found at Episcopal Cafe here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Brandon's story

This story from Wyoming talks about how one person with a heart for evangelism made a difference in the life of his congregation and his friends. It is also a story about how a congregation can encourage a person with a gift for evangelism to thrive in a helpful and healthy way. It is also the story of a ten-year old named Brandon.

From the e-newsletter of the Diocese of Wyoming, the Rev. Kathy Robinson shares the story of Cheryl Duel's son Brandon. Cherly is the senior warden of the Church of our Savior, Hartville, Wyoming:
Evangelism happens everyday and all around us...we just need to listen for the stories. This is a wonderful story about a ten year old boy and his story that came to me from his mother, Cheryl Duel....

From Cheryl: My ten year old son Brandon attended our annual convention again this year. He went for the first time with me last year to Jackson Hole and had a wonderful time with the other youth who were there. He is an easy going young man, makes friends easily, and is comfortable in almost any situation. So, I was not surprised when he readily agreed to participate in the World Café conversations, at different tables than I was seated. We had just been told about the Mustard Seed gift and all the tables had rather lively conversations about what they could do.

We finished this activity and Brandon came to find me. I asked how his experience was and he replied, “Mom, I am full of the evangelistic spirit. I had some great ideas and I am ready to do them when we get home.” I was pleasantly surprised by his enthusiasm, but wondered if he would follow through on his plans. He knows that not many of his friends are church goers and decided to do something about it. We came home from Rock Springs and he immediately began having conversations with his friends about their belief in God, if they had been baptized, and so forth. He found out quite a bit and we would visit about his talks when I got home from work. He made his plans entirely on his own, and surprised me when he implemented them. He had three friends spend the night for his birthday this last week on Saturday night. They watched movies and played video games, all the things young boys do, as well as stayed up late, so I really didn’t give it too much thought the next morning as I readied myself for church. It was a little after 8 and I was having a cup of coffee before heading out the door, when Brandon , who had just been awake a few minutes, roused all his buddies and said, “Come on guys, we don’t want to be late for church.” They all got up, got ready, and piled in the van to go. I was totally shocked. I really thought they would come up with some excuse not to go, but they all went willingly and cheerfully. They all sat in one pew in front of me, had their bulletins and got all their pages marked to begin. Brandon introduced them all at the beginning of the service and they participated with full hearts throughout the service. Afterward, at our coffee hour, they all told different members of the church that they would be back. I told them if they wanted to come, all they have to do is call and I will be glad to give them a ride.

His friends continue to come to church, one has been there on a weekly basis, the others about every other week, but they are coming and listening. Small steps to great rewards. Brandon was thrilled that his plan worked, and I marvel at his evangelistic spirit. Brandon’s efforts reminded me of our baptismal covenant, “ I will with God’s help”, because I know God was guiding Brandon every step of the way, and for that I am truly thankful.