Monday Morning Quarterback, Session Edition

Something clicked for me at the session meeting last night: much of the ministry at our church is being carried out by highly-committed teams that have only emerged in the last year or so. The commission/committee apparatus is not carrying all of the missional water at our church anymore. A few examples.

  1. Four members of our church have attended a week-long training called Clean Water U to learn how to install a water purification system in communities without clean water. This is part of a presbytery mission initiative in Ayacucho, Peru, and by the end of November, all four of those folks will have been to Peru at least once. Neither of the pastors have been yet.
  2. A stable of almost 10 Godly Play teachers has been leading the Sunday morning children’s program since January. Not only do these teachers lead independently each week, they can often be seen in the Godly Play room during the week practicing for their lessons, and they come to quarterly “confabs,” where they practice upcoming stories and troubleshoot classroom management issues.
  3. A steady group of youth ministry volunteers come each week to help run Sunday School and youth group programming. They also meet regularly to discern the shape of the church’s youth ministry, to plan, and to pray. Five adults went on last summer’s work trip, a sweltering week in south Louisiana.

Each of these teams is supported or overseen in some way by an existing commission. But none of these ministries would be doing the good work they’re doing if the existing business structures of the church were asked to create them. Instead, staff and commission leaders have tried to lay the groundwork and create the conditions where teams of volunteers can emerge to do very specific things in ministry.

The word “do” there is important. These folks are given serious responsibility to lead and make things happen. The word “specific” is also critical. Godly Play teachers may be a bit wary, for example, at the amount of work involved in that role, but it’s clearly communicated, and they’re confident “others tasks as assigned” won’t just pop up.

This observation is reminding me of a distinction between committees, teams, and communities highlighted in an article by George Bullard (and related by Joseph Myers in his book The Search to Belongreviewed by Pomomusings way back in 2003!).  Some quotes from that article:

Committees tend to be elected or appointed in keeping with the bylaws, policies, or polity of congregations.  Teams are recruited or drafted to work on a specific task or set of tasks.  Communities are voluntarily connected in search of genuine and meaningful experiences.

Committees focus on making decisions or setting policies. Teams focus on maturing to the point that they become high task performance groups. Communities add qualitative relationships, meaning, and experiences to the organizations, organisms, or movements to which they are connected

Committees focus on making decisions that are lasting and manage the resources of the congregation efficiently at the best price. Teams focus on debating the strengths and weaknesses of the various choices to complete a task, and typically end up with the highest quality product or outcome. Communities dialogue, engage in discernment activities, and arrive at the best solutions for a particular opportunity or challenge.

Our church has grown a nice little crop of teams. I don’t agree with the title of Bullard’s article, that we need to “skip teams” so that we can “embrace communities” (nor do I think we can “abandon committees” without doing serious damage). I would suspect that in a healthy church organization, all three of those structures are employed to their best ends: committees make decisions and give ongoing oversight, teams effectively carry out important work, and communities connect people to the bigger picture. No one of those instruments is better than the others, per se, only better-suited for the particular thing it’s being employed to do.

I love seeing the teams emerging at our church. Some of them function in some very community-like ways, and all of them benefit from competent committee structures behind them. That seems healthy to me.



Sin Boldly: What Would Google Do? pt. 5

We are ashamed to make mistakes–as well we should be, yes? It’s our job to get things right, right? So when we make mistakes, our instinct is to shrink into a ball and wish them away. Correcting errors, though necessary is embarrassing.

This from What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, the book I’ve been exploring here, here, here, and here.

Churches hate making mistakes. Pastors hate making mistakes. Mistakes in business mean you’re a bad business person. Mistakes in church mean you’re a bad person person.

One of What Would Google Do?’s key contentions is that, “Corrections do not diminish credibility.”

In other words, in the Google age, the maxim really is true : “It’s easier [and better!] to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”

Churches rarely say they’ve been wrong. The pull of traditional Christianity is toward stasis and consistency, so that to change one’s mind  is not encouraged. Liberal and conservative churches alike spend a lot of energy defending the rightness of the way things are right now.

So we want to have all of the i’s dotted and t’s crossed on a program before we take it public. We won’t announce a new small group until we know we have the people to support it. We poll our membership before taking a public stance on something controversial.

We understand our church programs and activities as products that  will be judged against every other product in the church marketplace. Worse, their success or failure will reflect on our merit as believing people. We need to put out high quality products.

“Today, on the internet,” Jarvis insists, “The process is the product.”

So, I want my church to help college and post-college students make meaningful connections. The product could be a “young singles group.” There’s a ton of unanswered questions about who will lead it, what it will actually do, how much time it would require, and on and on and on. And of course, there is a very real chance that it could fail.

But why not start the process of making some of those connections, open up to the world about what we’re trying to do, and, if it is to fail, help it to fail magnificently.

Won’t that be more credible in the end?

Youth Ministry as Media Literacy

Douglas Rushkoff recently inspired me to teach media literacy to my youth group. It’s a subject I’ve paid much attention to as a layperson but not one I’ve ever formally “taught.” In looking for materials, I found this curriculum by the Center for Media Literacy. The first installment was last night.

It’s got 25 sessions in it, five dedicated to each “Key Question” is addresses. That makes for simple lessons with very specific objectives. Last night’s: define “media,” “mass media,” and “media text,” and explore the difference between one-way and two-way communication.

My kids are crazy-smart, so they get this stuff pretty easily. Maybe too easily. I was prodding them at the end of the night, “Are you guys interested in this, or should we do something else?” A few said they liked it; that’s enough for me. Next week, deconstructing advertising.

Addendum: Here’s one of the questions I tacked onto the lesson: if the Bible is a media text, is it one-way or two-way?

Addendum 2: I also asked kids to name the one-way media of communication the church uses vs. the two-way media. They identified the  worship bulletin as an interesting case study: there are two-way elements in it (call to worship, unison prayers), but it’s a printed text that participants can’t change. So it’s a one-way medium, right?


Praying And Texting with Youth

During Lent I’ve been texting our church’s junior high and high school students every day around 3:00 with a reminder to pray. I stole this idea from a colleague at another church who did something similar.

The texts have been simple:

“Pray. Now.”

“Take a moment and pray for a friend or family member. Later, tell them you did it.”

“Time to pray.”

As I’ve checked in with students each week, they’ve assured me that these texts are helpful to them.

Yesterday, I did something a little different. Mostly on a whim, I texted, “Who are you praying for today.” Three students answered. One was praying for everyone who didn’t have enough to eat; another for a teacher with a recent death in his family; another for her mother.

Getting these responses was surprisingly powerful for me. I somehow felt like a participant in the students’ prayers. To each of them I voiced my prayer with theirs in a simple reply: “Amen.”

Youth. Prayer. Texting. An alliance of technology and spirituality.

Makes me hopeful.

Who Cares? What Would Google Do? pt 3

What Would Google Do?

Who Cares?

That’s the answer some are giving to Jeff Jarvis’s tongue-in-cheek question. We’ve already kicked a couple of the book’s tires here and here, but now I want to take a step back and ask if churches should even care what the Google-mobile is doing.

In the words of another blogger, “What would Google do?” is the wrong question. “The question,” he writes in the comment thread, “Should begin with the purpose of the church.”

“Hear, hear,” says Jarvis. “Know what business you’re really in,” he writes more than once in WWGD? The church ain’t a business, but the point stands. If churches spend themselves trying to “be distributed” or “be a platform” without a clear sense of mission and purpose, then only cosmetic changes will likely result.

The purpose of the church is too heavy a load for this post to carry (you could do a lot worse than this as a starting point, though), but I don’t agree that churches can’t make any use of Jarvis’s query.

Churches model themselves after other forms of organization. They always have and they always will. The earliest Christian congregations were modeled after synagogues of the day. Most churches in North America today are reflections either of mid-20th century civic organizations or late 20th century business and and self-help and leadership movements. These models affect everything. Worship, education, polity, dress, outreach, marketing: everything churches do reflects models borrowed from other sectors of society.

“What would Google do?” is a useful question for churches to grapple with, for sure. Google (and Facebook and Flickr and Salesforce and Zillow and on and on) is revealing–and shaping–patterns of social organization that churches are foolish to ignore.

Churches are already operating on an answer to a different question, whether it’s “What would Rotary do?” or “What would Tony Robbins do?” What would Google do? isn’t just defensible for churches to ask; it may be essential.

The Church as Platform: What Would Google Do? pt. 2

I blogged earlier about one of key insights about Google in “What Would Google Do?” by Jeff Jarvis. Google distributes itself all over the place instead of expecting customers to come to it.

Here’s another nugget from the book worth considering: Google is a platform that helps communities do what they want to do.

Example: Google Maps. Google provides a mapping platform that users can build upon and enhance for free on their own sites. That helps Google and it helps Google’s users. Google wants to collaborate and wants to help others thrive. It cares less about what “consumers”are supposed to do with its technology and more about what communities of “users” are actually doing with it.

Is there something here for churches to think about? What do communities use churches as platforms for?

The congregation I serve charters a Boy Scout troop. That’s a community that wants to serve God and Country. Our church helps them do that by giving them a meeting space. But could we also invite the troop to take the lead on a church-sponsored community service?

I frequently am required to chase off skateboarders from the church property for insurance and liability reasons. Yet are these skaters not simply using the church as a platform for what they want to do, which is not just skate but also hang out and connect with one another? To protect ourselves, we have to chase them away; doing so may actually be causing us harm.

Communities aren’t waiting around for permission from churches to do their thing; we ignore the great stuff they’re doing at our peril, because, if Google is right, helping them helps us.

The Distributed Church: What Would Google Do?

I snagged a free copy of Jeff Jarvis’s “What Would Google Do?” at the Theology After Google event earlier this week. I want to interact with some of the main ideas in the book and extend them into church life and practice.

One of the major things that Jarvis praises about Google is its distribution. Google makes 1/3 of it’s revenue from sources completely away from The company puts itself in the middle of lots of other networks and lets its users to its work for it. That’s by way of contrast to the AOL’s and Yahoo’s of the media landscape who still spend lots of advertising dollars trying to persuade consumers to come to them, to their sites and their products. Google just goes to them.

So church isn’t a business (let that be the last time I say that). But Jarvis quite consciously includes “religious organizations” alongside businesses, schools, and other cultural entities that should take a cue from the red-green-yellow-and blue. What does Google-style distribution look like in churches?

For starters, if we’re looking for it in churches, we won’t find it. That’s the point: distribution is away from whatever is doing the distributing.  So how about this: the parent of a middle school youth tells the Youth Pastor that his daughter has said she “never wants to go back” to the youth group. The last time she came she brought some friends to an advertised “game night,” carrying her own board games with her. Only, game night turned out to be physical running/tagging/throwing games, and she and her friends just aren’t into that sort of thing. She was embarrassed.

If the Youth Pastor is like Yahoo, he will hone his publicity of events and make sure that future game nights include both athletic and non-athletic games. Those are important changes to make.

Only, if the Youth Pastor is at all like Google, he’ll also want to know about this middle schooler and her community of friends. He’ll ask how he and the church can participate in that community. Perhaps he reaches out to this student and asks her to organize her own kind of game night with her friends (and their friends . . . ).

There’s a whole host of objections that should be raised here: the middle schooler doesn’t need the church’s permission to play games with her friends. And youth pastors shouldn’t go nosing around kids’ social lives in order to influence them to come to “regular” church youth events.

But Jarvis’s whole point is that communities are already out there doing what they want to do. Google has invested itself not in influencing those communities to come to Google, but in going to those communities itself.

Surface, you have been scratched.