Feb 282011

There are a handful of preachers / pastors I personally know that stay off the grid. Whether by calling or by choice, or some combination of various factors, these are people who are ministering the Gospel under the radar and hold an inconspicuous posture that’s reluctant of being thrust into the spotlight of mainstream Christian media. While part of me wants to tell you who they are, I’m reluctant to because I do want to honor their desire of keeping a low profile.

Having heard each of these pastors speak and teach in public settings, in crowds of 100s and even 1000s, they are top communicators that could very well become a popular author and conference speaker. This is quite the contrast to the cadre of influential leaders who do use every media possible to spread their message far and wide, to use their gifts to their full potential. And some do it with good motives, and some, maybe not so much). Not for me or you to judge; God will use them anyways.

One nugget of wisdom I’ve heard from Larry Osborne is: “Your potential is not your calling.” This suggests that even though someone has a gift (in this case) as a great communicator, that doesn’t mean s/he has to step into the role of leading a megachurch and speak to 1000s as their career / work / ministry. There are other ways to be a good steward of the gifts God has given. And their countercultural (counter-Christian-culture) approach perhaps hints at a dark side to the machinery of American business of Christian church & products industry.

I’ll close with an oblique reference to several of these pastors. One is former megachurch pastor, and now teaching at a weekly gathering that meets at a house with about 70 in attendance. One had experienced exponential growth at a college ministry that became a church over 1000, done the book-writing & conference-speaking thing; and now leads a smaller church community of about 400 in the inner city; meeting in a former church building that’s become a place where the community gathers for art, music, and coffee. One led a popular college ministry that met at the center of a large university, and transitioned to do ministry on “the other side of the tracks” and now leads a church community of about 110; meeting in a former nightclub turned into a community center for tutoring, music, and community activities. One had led a thriving youth ministry in the 100s for 11 years, now pastoring a “slow church” of about 75 akin to the “slow food” movement.

You can call it missional, creative, subversive, or even strangely peculiar. Definitely counter-cultural.

[photo credit: Dennis Oppenheim via dwightfriesen]

Feb 252011

Yes there’s more to be said about the importance of vision. DJ Chuang Ed Choy In episode 3 of the Multi-Asian Church Podcast Series, Ed Choy and I dig deeper into how to communicate compelling vision in multi-Asian/multi-ethnic churches. While the gifts of a strong communicator is valuable, it isn’t the magic bullet in getting vision to stick. We discuss several other factors in developing vision, developing leaders, and developing the church. And I even mention a couple of specific examples, venturing into dangerous territory there because that can open up more room for misunderstanding, as if we haven’t done that already.

Episode #3: Vision Revisited
(18:03; mp3 download link 8.7mb)

Show notes:

We are eager to hear your feedback! Please chime in and add a comment or question or reaction.

Subscribe to this iTunes podcast feed and get all future episodes automatically.

Feb 232011

Churches like any kind of organizations have a natural life cycle. An organization starts up enthusiastically with a reason for its existance, gathering resources (people and money) to fulfill a mission. As the organization stabilizes, it settles into a set of routines to run for a number of years. Over time, and it’s just a matter of time, those systems and processes begin to falter and not work like it used to in the “good ol’ days.” Practically everything changes over time, even if the organization resists. The organization either innovates, finding a new way to do things in the new world & new environment, or implodes, finding the problems insurmountable, using up way more energy on infighting rather than innovating, holding on to stay the same and resisting change. Resources get used up and inevitably run out. The organization reaches its end and clicks on “shut down.” (cf. George Bullard @ The Columbia Partnership has the most extensive research on church life cycle and stages of development)

That’s normal. And that’s okay. Organizations, churches, businesses, governments. They come and go. They don’t have to last forever.

Consider this: What’s the expiration date on your church? (via Chuck Warnock) And it doesn’t matter if the church is organized formally as a church church or informally as a house church aka simple church. Frank Viola commented on the average life span of a house church: “most churches survive from 6 months to two years.” (via)

My guess is that a typical church (organized as a 501c3 with pastoral staff) would have a life span of 50 years, give or take a decade. (I wasn’t able to find sources to substantiate this per se.) You know the typical narrative: a church plant to launch for reaching young families. A few get a head-start by emerging out of a youth ministry or college ministry, but most church plants seem intent on reaching “giving units” for its organizational sustainability. [update 2/25/11 "The average church that makes it 7 years [has a life span of] 80 years.” via George Bullard]

Given time, those young families have children that grow up, and parents that grow old. 50 years later, those 20-somethings become 70-somethings and the adult children have scattered to the winds in a mobile globalized world. The economic engine that kept the organized church running slowly grinds to a halt. Exception noted for the churches that happen to be located where the next generation would want to live, and the economic environment of that locality stays vibrant for another generation.

What do you hear from older people nearing their homegoing to be with the Lord forever? They’d like to continuing worshipping God. They’d like their children to worship God. What that looks like may be different from generation to generation.

And that’s okay. Let’s not demonize those differences. I think older people should be thanked for their life of sacrifice and worship, investing in the church, seeking to live a God-honoring life the best they knew how. And their death can be celebrated and honored with dignity.

Take a look at Acts 13:36, “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers.” What if it could be said that Anytown Bible Church served its generation and closed its doors.

But that’s not the end of the story. God’s story continues throughout human history, from generation to generation. It just looks different from generation to generation.

All the investments of resources in the real estate of church buildings can be put to greater Kingdom use. Church buildings don’t have to be liquidated and sold off to become condos or lofts, or leveled to be a parking lot. Church buildings can be gifted to the next generation of church plants that are starting up to serve a new generation! Recycle those buildings! The older generation can be honored with their own worship services and a shepherding pastor that cares for them. The younger generation can worship God and reach their generation with relevant ministry so they too can experience the goodness of God.

Now that’s a compelling vision and a big win for the Kingdom of God!! What’ll it take for denominations and older churches to catch a vision for this?

[photo credit: freefoto]

Feb 182011

Continuing the conversation with Ed Choy Ed Choy DJ Chuang about multi-Asian/multi-ethnic churches. (For the record, Ed is 1/4 Chinese.) The topic is on communicating vision. Of course vision is important. Without vision people perish. But how does vision play into developing Asian American leaders for a multi-Asian/multi-ethnic church? How does vision need to be communicated? It did take us a while for the conversation to warm up on this podcast — skip right to 9:44 if you want to get right to the meat, er, heat.

Episode #2: Communicating Vision
(17:18; mp3 download link 13.3mb)

Show notes:

Jump in on the conversation and add a comment! We’d love to discuss your topics in a future episode.

Subscribe to this iTunes podcast feed and get all future episodes automatically.

Feb 172011

Who are the churches that are good examples of using Facebook and social media well?

[update] I’ve updated this list over at SocialMediaChurch.net, a dashboard of top churches on Facebook with the most likes updated in real-time; cf. the November 2012 list of top church & ministry Facebook pages

church-search Before we dive in, there are different metrics for success and there are different ways of using social media, so it would seem to me to be unfair to make a list with scores or rankings. In other words, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all of how a church should use social media or Facebook.

Social media / Facebook can be used for much more than marketing and broadcasting. Social media gives voice to every person. Social media can give an inside look at the life of a church. The voice of the people, who are the church, can be seen and heard by anyone online, and that can be a far more powerful witness than an organizational one.

Here’s a pseudo-random sampling of churches with big numbers of people who like their Facebook Pages ::

Church Name Facebook Page # Likes
Hillsong Church (London) http://facebook.com/hillsongchurchlondon 70,556
Bethel Church, Redding http://facebook.com/bethel.church.redding 49,559
LifeChurch.tv http://facebook.com/lifechurchtv 41,595
Mars Hill Church (Seattle) http://facebook.com/marshillchurch 31,444
Hillsong Church (Sydney) http://facebook.com/hillsongchurch 26,021
Lakewood Church http://facebook.com/LakewoodChurch 18,852
City Harvest Church (Singapore) http://facebook.com/cityharvestchurch 13,945
Fellowship Church http://facebook.com/fellowshipchurch 13,398
The Redeemed Christian Church of God (Nigeria) http://facebook.com/rccg.org 13,115
The Village Church http://facebook.com/TheVillageChurch 12,712
NewSpring Church http://facebook.com/newspring 12,284
Saddleback Church http://facebook.com/saddlebackchurch 10,680
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church http://facebook.com/NewBirthMBC1 10,623
Gateway Church (Southlake) http://www.facebook.com/gatewaypeople 9,679
Jakarta Praise Community Church (Indonesia) http://facebook.com/jpcchurch 9,647
Willow Creek Community Church http://www.facebook.com/willowcreekcc 9,526
Church of the Highlands http://www.facebook.com/highlands 8,166
Christ’s Church of the Valley http://facebook.com/ccvonline 8,360
Healing Place Church http://facebook.com/healingplacechurch 6,847
St Mary of Zion Ethiopian Orthodox Church via.djchuang.com/stmaryofzion 6,764
Cathedral of Praise (Manila) http://www.facebook.com/cop.manila 6,614
New Life Church http://www.facebook.com/newlifechurch 6,607
Northland, A Church Distributed http://www.facebook.com/northlandchurch 6,252

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Tech notes: The numbers were retrieved around the time of this writing. Ministries are excluded. These churches were found via allfacebook.com leaderboard and Facebook Search and Advanced Search app. These churches were manually found by hand aka “brute-force” so they’re not computationally accurate for a leaderboard. Many of these church’s Facebook pages were actually hard to find. You’d think with the millions on Facebook that there’d be a smarter search engine.

Aside: While these churches are amassing large numbers of likes on their Facebook pages, this might be more of an indicator of church size or mass-appeal popularity, and not necessarily how much social media engagement is happening within that church community nor how much platform & exposure is given to the voices in its church community.

Aside #2: somewhat related: there’s the Church of Facebook book + churches featured for being on Facebook + a list of online churches with internet campuses + a recent Lifeway Research study stating 47% of churches actively use Facebook

Feb 162011

What do you do when the free market economy doesn’t match Kingdom values (Kingdom as in “Kingdom of God,” however you might conceive of a higher power’s activities towards making an ideal world)?

In the reality of the real world we live in, a free-market economy in the United States, customers pay money in exchange for products and services provided by businesses & vendors.

But the market alone does not account for everything.

A couple other economies are at work, and they don’t quite get as much spotlight or airplay as the business world. Namely, the government sector and the non-profit charity sector (aka NGO in other parts). Governments are funded (mostly) by taxes. Non-profit organizations are (mostly) funded by charitable donations.

Even with all 3 economies at work, that does not account for everything. There are “Kingdom value” things that money does not pay for.

Depending on one’s theology and theological constructs, 1 of 3 diagrams illustrate how one can think of these 2 spheres of economy. The green circle indicated as “market economy” refers to the the economies of business, government, and non-profits. The blue circle indicates “kingdom economy” for which money & economy does not account for.

I think the real world has an overlapping “kingdom economy” and “market economy.” Not everything we do can have money paying for or supporting it. Just because we’re doing good and producing “value,” it might be “kingdom value” that does not generate enough money for livelihood & sustainability. I could be wrong. Is this gap between values for real or is there a gap in my thinking?

Feb 092011

Recently re-connected with Ed Choy, Ed Choy DJ Chuang Pastor of English Ministry at Chinese Community Church Germantown (Maryland,) and we got to talking about a topic of great mutual interest — Asian Americans and multiethnic churches. And, tonight we’re launching this new podcast series for this dialogue — the Multi-Asian Church Podcast Series. Each week we’ll cover a topic about multi-Asian/multi-ethnic churches, those that are effectively ministering to next generation Asian Americans.

Episode #1: What is a multi-Asian church?
(27:43; mp3 download link 13.3mb)

Show notes:

Please add a comment and join the conversation. We’d love to discuss your topics in a future episode.

Subscribe to this iTunes podcast feed and get all future episodes automatically.

Feb 072011
wad of money

In a world where business models dominate, and an economic engine to required for an initiative’s sustainability, that is too often the dark cloud that blocks our vision of what’s possible. Financial pressures like that govern the running a media business, like a magazine, that’s usually advertiser-supported. This Editor’s Note in January 2011 issue of Koream Journal describes the situation::

It’s true that our magazine—due to the pressure to sell issues, remain afloat and cater to a broad readership—must often headline the VIPs prominent in their respective fields. And those familiar with our annual gala also know that we do tend to indulge the Asian American red carpet. The media—even ethnic, independent outlets such as ours—must be mindful of the business aspect of our enterprise. It’s not the perfect model, but it’s the reality.

But money doesn’t have to be the limiting factor for something that could be done, should be done, and needs to be done. 2 other viable options must be more of the conversation about how ideas can become reality. 1 is the whole non-profit sector. Granted, that has challenges of its own wrt to financial sustainability.

The other is the world of open source. Our internet-infused world enables humanity to build some incredible things collaboratively, and this is the sector that excites me the most. You’ve heard of them: Wikipedia, Firefox, Quora, Linux, Creative Commons. In the church world, the fuel that keeps the organized institutional church sustainable is volunteerism and charitable donations.

What keeps all of that going, the open-source kinds of efforts that don’t have paid staff & organizational infrastructure (e.g. overhead) to keep them going? Mission. Meaning. Community. Faith.

Sure, in the real world, most of us have to be responsible & concerned for putting food on the table, paying the rent (or mortgage), buying gas for the car (or tix for public transit), etc etc. There are other ways to get the bills paid. There’s much to be done that consumerism, business, and finances cannot address.

The profit motive and self-interest do not define who we are as human beings and the things we do with our time, energy and effort.

Think different. The world can be a different place. Call me idealistic. I’ll say it. I am idealistic. And I do dream of a world that’s better and free. And I’ll do my part towards that reality.

photo credit: Andrew Magill

Feb 022011

There are popular social networks. And then there are private social networks. Both have their place. Some churches are only in one of those places. Some churches show up in both places. Some churches aren’t anywhere online.

For churches with people who may be more cautious about communicating online, a private social network could be a safer place to get started.

The Table is a private social network that’s free for churches. And as an web app, it doesn’t require any software installation. Its features list looks nice. Just a web browser and internet connection. Here’s their video describing what the Table is:

The Table is coming soon. February 23rd. On that day, the doors will open and The Table will be made freely available to one and all. You have to wait for it.

Unless you win. Here. Being translated, you don’t have to wait!

You can win a free account to The Table here and beat the crowds! (kinda like getting in the amusement park or Costco before everyone else.)

To win a free account, add a comment below with your church website address and describe how your church could use a private social network like The Table. I’ll award a free account to The Table Project to 3 commenters on February 7th at 7:59am PT, to: (1) one at random, (2) one with the most interesting story (based on an “interestingness” factor), and (3) a church that’s giving voice to its church members & attenders, not just the pastor’s. Winners chosen at my discretion and decisions are final.

[CONGRATULATIONS to Marc Payan and Bumble Ho for winning early access!]

(As an aside, methinks comparisons to commercial offerings like The City or SoChurch is unfair. Each church has to discern what’s going to work in their context.)