Archive for ◊ April, 2012 ◊

• Monday, April 23rd, 2012

We all love those adorable little tykes in church. Those sweet little angels who:

• kick the back of your chair throughout the service
• cry, shout, talk, whine and scream
• leave a dozen times to go the bathroom
• turn the program into paper airplanes
• poke, stab, punch, tickle or otherwise irritate their siblings
• climb under their chairs
• scribble in the hymnals or Bibles
• get a weird sticky substance on your best outfit
• are so noisy you can’t hear the sermon
• totally destroy the service for you

BTW – we’re not talking just toddlers, some pre teens and teens can be just as disruptive.

There was once a commercial for Life Saver candy in which a boisterous child in church was given a hard candy – and sat quietly for the rest of the service. It should be so simple.

I had children in church – and now grandchildren. Hey – I’ve been there and done that. I know it’s not easy. My gang certainly did not qualify for any halos. I know the mortification of having an older person in the next pew turn and glare at me – or loudly “shush” my child. Not to digress, but honestly, sometimes the person who is saying “shush” can be more disruptive than the noisy child. But we won’t go there.

So what does a church family do when the “family” part of worship service is acting out and ruining the service for others?

Well I don’t profess to be any kind of expert on this, but here are some random suggestions.

• First of all – do not elect to skip church or leave the child home, while you go to church. Children should have the worship experience and opting out is not a solution.
• At my church, many years ago, they instituted the “puzzle pamphlet” for the kids. It was a four page booklet with games, word searches and so on. I remember being somewhat horrified thinking that inappropriate church behavior was being rewarded with a game book. But, in fact, it worked pretty well. The kids were entertained – and quiet, yet they were there.
A little side story to this is that following one service in which the children were doing puzzles, I asked one of the kids if he knew what the minister had said. And – by gosh – he quoted back to me the sermon lesson of the day! His focus was on the piece of paper, but he was actually listening!
• I’m a strong believer that if children are being disruptive, they should be removed from the service – for a short period of time. Not a big scene – nothing embarrassing. But as a courtesy to those who are there for a religious experience, it’s only fair to take the child out for a few minutes. A change of environment for a child – a redirection – can make a huge difference. But always come back. Don’t reward bad behavior by taking the child to a Sunday School room and letting him play.
• Every church has a different Worship Service versus Sunday School set up. At my church, the children are in worship until the passing of the peace (about a quarter of the way into the time) and then go to Sunday School This is good because they get to participate in some group worship – then go to their own classes. However, that doesn’t work for all denominations.
• And finally, I believe it’s up to the parent to talk to the child before the service and explain what it’s all about. What is church, why are people there, why is that man or woman standing at the front talking, what is the music about. Hey, I know – that conversation provides no guarantee about behavior, but a least it gives your child a context for what is happening.

And if all else fails, there’s always that roll of Life Savers.

• Monday, April 16th, 2012

When I was a child (more than 60 years ago), the church I attended was not only a place of worship, but a thriving community center for church members – and town folks.

That church did everything from worship and Sunday School to ham and bean suppers to Christmas pageants and yard sales. Everybody in town came to our church. No, not necessarily for worship, but we were the church with so much happening – and our events were open to the public – and they were wonderful.

There was a huge membership then (more than 250 families) with enthusiasm and participation.  The annual Rummage Sale? Sure – lots of donations, lots of volunteers and lots of fun.  A Christmas pageant? Omigosh – more than 50 children were involved, we would even borrowed a real donkey and a sheep and have two performances. The ladies put on suppers for the men’s group.  The men could be counted on to move the heavy tables, hang banners, do small building repairs.  It was a community of church people – and it welcomed everyone.

Sadly, those days are long gone.

We didn’t have a Christmas Fair this past year at my church – for the first time in more than 100 years. A tough decision?  Not really.

What happened to the Christmas Fair?  What’s so difficult about putting out some baked goods and crafts and playing some holiday music?  And – even more disquieting – why does no one really care?

In the last 60 years my beloved church has diminished.  Those 250 families have dropped to about 25 families.  Many of those fellowship activities are long gone.  There are countless reasons for this change:  an aging church population, the younger parents being pulled in other directions, a national shift in church attendance.  Experts far wiser than I can provide a litany of carefully researched information on what’s happened to mainline churches in the U.S. today.

In my unsophisticated opinion, a core issue is that many main line churches have not changed with the times and they do not know what works anymore.  The church social functions of my youth – although of great value at the time – are simply archaic now.

These events are a lot of work – with very small return (aside from the fellowship and camaraderie of the organizers).  You want an apron (rare these days), skip the fair and go to Bed Bath and Beyond.  You want a knit hat and scarf? Try Kohls.  You want cookies and cakes and pies?  Really? Then you must be one of the few people in this country not watching your calories.  That ham and bean supper?  Hmm, frankly, the kids would prefer pizza.

And then there’s the energy level of the volunteers. If you’ve ever done a yard sale or rummage sale you know it is back breaking and exhausting work.  Not only is it spending days receiving, sorting, pricing and selling (often other people’s junk), but it’s also the exhausting task of cleaning up everything that didn’t sell.  And this significant work effort brings in very little money.

Bottom line:  Today’s buying public is not breaking down the doors of churches – money in hand – saying “do you have a handmade potholder I can buy?” or “I’ve been waiting all year for your annual spaghetti with Prego sauce supper.”

I realize I’m painting this picture with too broad a brush.  I have no doubt that there are churches all over this country who have fabulous functions, bring in lots of money for the general fund – and have to turn away volunteers.

But I would argue that there are many churches still trying to do the same activities as their grandparents – and then they are saddened and discouraged when the public doesn’t show up.

Times have changed – interests have changed.  Perhaps it’s time that those gray haired ladies (that would be me) in the church and the young families who simply don’’t have the ability to support their church with unlimited time  – to put their heads together – and consider some new approaches to fundraising and fellowship.

Category: Uncategorized  | One Comment
• Monday, April 09th, 2012

“Please come back; join our church. You’ll like it here. We need you! Honest – we’re nice people.”

A church that is struggling to survive – or simply concerned with a diminishing number of filled pews – can sometimes project a neediness that is off putting.

Church success should not be all about the numbers (there’s nothing wrong with being small), but still…it can be a bitter pill to go from the BIG church to the LITTLE Church or the STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE church.

There are many reasons for a shrinking church (that’s another whole blog in itself), but one reason can be the congregation and how they embrace visitors.

When visitors arrive at your church on Sunday morning, how are they welcomed? Oh, sure, you may have pleasant ushers or even people assigned to meet and greet. But what about the rest of the church family? When there is a stranger(s) in your congregation’s midst, does the following sometimes happen:

• Someone says loudly “Who’s that?”
• The person is stared at suspiciously.
• Church members are so busy talking to each other, they ignore a visitor.
• Members assume someone else will extend the needed welcome to a guest so no one does.
• The person sits alone within a zone of empty seats.
• The minister singles the visitor out during the service and puts him or her on the spot.
• During the passing of the peace, the visitor is interrogated.
• During coffee hour, the person stands alone.
• The person is monopolized by a single overbearing individual.

Does your church appear desperate?

For example, a visitor arrives on a Sunday morning and members are:
• Too cloying: “We are so grateful that you’re here with us today. So grateful!”
• Too over the top: “Please, please come back and visit us again.”
• Too self serving: “We are the best church; we do so much. You would love it here.”
• Too transparent: “You’re an accountant? Terrific, we need a new church treasurer.”
• Too pushy: “Your children will love our Sunday School. Of course, since you will have kids in the SS, you will
be expected to be a teacher.”
• There is Information overload: The visitor is loaded down with materials about the church, including a gift
• There is stalking: The visitor gets an inordinate number of calls the following week from the minister or a

Sadly, it only takes one overbearing or thoughtless church member to make a visitor uncomfortable and happy to leave – never to return.

When I showed this blog to Gretchen, she made a good point: “ My cry about this has always been that visitors can always innately tell if the congregation is happy to have them because it’s an opportunity to share the love of God or if the congregation is just relieved to have another seat filled and potentially some more money in the offering plate.”

Properly welcoming visitors to your church requires politeness and empathy on the part of EVERY member of the congregation. It’s not easy to make the decision to walk into an unfamiliar place and stand out among a group of people who are already friends.

I would venture almost every church says to itself: “We’re very welcoming and friendly.” But I would argue “Not necessarily true.” Church members need to look at themselves and each other and decide whether they truly are projecting a warm and loving image. If you have visitors who do not return, it may be time to look in the mirror and decide what image your church truly projects. And it may also be time to schedule a few congregational classes on How to be Welcoming 101.

Gretchen also adds: “I have always thought that church members should be encouraged to take a Sunday off from their home church and go to all different churches, then come back, de-brief and have the welcoming training you suggest! I remember reading once about a minister who canceled church for one Sunday and instructed his parishioners to visit different churches that day. They met back at their church for lunch together afterward and that was the kick-off for the training. What’s cool about that is it makes it an all-church effort and everyone’s accountable for coming back and having some helpful observations to share!”

What about your church? Is your church welcoming? Or do you sometimes get a niggle that your church falls short on that front. Have you ever visited another church and loved it – or been turned off? We would like to hear from you. Please drop us a line and tell us your welcoming story – either within this blog page or at

• Tuesday, April 03rd, 2012

3.  See Obstacles

Tom recommends that we see obstacles for what they are.   I agree.   There are two large categories of  obstacles in churches:  The easiest obstacles to identify are “external obstacles”, which are the blocks put in place outside of the local congregation.  Two primary examples are the community around the church and the denomination of which the church is a part.  At Grace church, we were slow to  realize  that the wider community itself was fighting us at every turn.  We were barraged with new building codes which were financially impossible for us to meet,  and strangely, these  codes were not being enforced in other churches.  Then the powers that be blocked our building a new facility which would have suited the size and needs of the congregation much better than our huge cathedral-like edifice.  We  also ran into a lot of unspoken resistance because we sold our original building to a Brazilian church.  The predominantly white  town of Framingham was reeling from the influx of Brazilian immigrants who had changed the taste and feel of downtown Framingham in just a short time.  Some saw the sale of our major downtown building to “them”  as one more harsh change to swallow.  They blamed us.    There is no question in my mind that if we had seen these obstacles earlier in the process,   we could have  assuaged some of the negative feelings outside our congregation.

Much harder to see and name are   internal obstacles, such as resistance to change and struggles for power.  The  problem is, when the obstacles are people, we often try to “work around” them, rather than facing them head-on. The truth is that most church members who are resistant to change are terrified of losing their place  in the faith community–  We must accept that there will always be these people in congregations.  What do you do?   You get imaginative –You create for them a new place, a new task, a new way to receive attention that is less destructive.  People who don’t want to lose power can be given new more positive roles that satify them and fill timely needs in the congregation.

4.  See Emerging Leaders

As you move leaders who present obstacles, you must have leaders to  take over those tasks.  these will often be individuals who see new ways of doing old things, and envision actual new things to do.  You church should have an ongoing conversation about who potential new leaders are,  what skills they will need, and how your community of faith will support them.  New leaders do not simply show up out of a vacuum.  They are nurtured and trained and encouraged by a congregation who sees gifts in them that will enhance the life of the whole congregation.  Who are those people in your church?  Are they ready to lead now?  in a year? in five years?  What will you need to do to prepare them to lead and the congregation to respond well to their leadership?

5.  Imagine Eight Alternatives

I LOVE THIS IDEA!   EVERY CHURCH SHOULD TRY IT!  It’s bold and it’s brave and it should bring a congregation out of its “stuckness.”  Don’t keep trying new things one at a time and hoping they will work. Tom suggests identifying eight new “initiatives” and doing them all at the same time.  This is most certainly counter-intuitive for us old time church folk.  We like slowly, carefully trying new things one at a time, if we try new things at all.  Tom is suggesting we throw the paint at the canvas eight colors at a time to see which ones we like.  Plan on six to fail.  Even when they do, you have two that show promise and you are putting time and energy into things that you already know do work.    Tom is right when he says that a congregation who uses this method should put two things in place:  a place/group where new ideas are generated, and a way to measure outcomes.   This means the original idea should be presented accompanied by  a specific plan with  measurable goals for evaluating its success.  This plan should not be stuck in a drawer and forgotten, but should be on display and checked/tracked  regularly.