I have been pondering this idea of “start with why” for my own ministries then it had me wondering. Does our church even know the ‘why’ of its existence? Sure there are some mission statements, but those are things that the church says it wants to be. Not really why it is there. Maybe I am thinking to hard on this, but companies who live to do their why have captured mass appeal. Maybe the church doesn’t need mass appeal.. The leaders of my faith expression sure seem to want ‘vital’ mass appeal.
In my latest posting of my newfound Neflix documentary watching I choose to watch Freakonomics. I am fascinated with Levitt’s concepts and numbers crunching analysis. This is rather funny to me because I am far from a numbers type person. However, he seems to tap into something that I believe for many of my church and cultural observations and that is that the numbers are never quite what they seem or presented to us. More times than not our conventional look of cause & effect on actions of our world are probably not what they are.
As a documentary Freakonomics was entertaining in this way for me. One of the Feakonomics case studies that had me intrigued most was the reasoning for the drop in crime starting in the 90’s after huge rises in crime through the 70’s to 80’s. Government officials and experts were extolling practices of police practices, tougher sentencing, and a few other items. What was an interesting connection was that those couldn’t tell the whole story and the rest of the story was filled out by the passing of Roe vs Wade and the availability of abortions. This kept a generation of unwanted children from ever being born and the numbers fall into line of the drop of 20 something population who were the crime offenders at that point, but had huge statistical drops. Is it right? I’d like to think there is a lot of credibility to the whole thing.
As I work with my United Methodist church who is trying to label and build “vital” congregations I cannot help but wonder that the numbers are not what they seem. I do not have some great answer, but it feels that our metrics we measure our “vitality” is too conventional and not dynamic enough to represent what is truly going on.
One of the things that is commonly referenced is that the United Methodist Church is dying in America. The UMC’s heyday was the 1950’s and many times the church entity keeps trying to replicate that era.
Was sitting in with Phyllis Tickle a few months back where she was going through her patterned history lessons of the faith and church. She had some interesting connections that in the 20th century at the break of the Great Depression and the start of the World War II for Americans the women took up the tools of the men’s trades and became the iconic “Rosie the Riveter.” The culture of Rosie was that they would go off to work becoming exhausted from a day of work and do what the man would do to unwind, stopping by the bar. When the war ended and the men came home Rosie went back to the daily duty of the home. She was left without something very important for her community. Rosie was left without a “third place.” The bar was the important “third place” for community for the group of men and ladies. However, for a group of ladies community was gone. So what became the new third place? The church?..
Maybe the boom of the United Methodist Church in the 50’s was less about the church’s evangelism and disciple making, but more about a sociological need for the ladies of the home to re-find community.
so i took in that live web event last week with chris brogan and i've been pondering on some of what he said and i'm reading in "trust agents." he wasn't at all speaking to a church context, but as with most things (but is becoming much easier in todays business environment & language) i turn it around into some church framework.
one of the things chris brought out were some stories of 'trust agents' who were "there before the sale." it was one of those quotable moments as you could see heads dive into notepads and laptops typing.
it reminded me from a time last summer where i hosted a conversation with regular church going folk & those who are disenfranchised with the church and might call themselves non-religious or spiritual but not religious put together by my friend jim palmer. one of the stories that really stuck with me from a participant was how they were put off that the friends they made in their neighborhood, invited them to church, eventually helped them come into Christ, then left them hanging as they moved onto some other couple. this person then found out that this was a process of that church and they were to go befriend new people to bring them to the church as well.
so what makes up evangelism in when our common framework makes up some commodity sale & that conflicts with how people want to be treated & how we improperly fix some consumption to grace? is there a way in which one could just "be there" with people and not try and control the workings of God to force a sale of salvation, but allow God's mystery to work?… i don't know, maybe you have some ideas