Back to the Future, part 3

February 26, 2007 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

A while back I wrote of getting involved in the youth group at church.  Two weeks ago I attended the Sunday evening meeting for the first time, and it involved so little interaction that I wasn’t really able to figure out whether or not I wanted to continue.

Last night, we met again.  Due to snow, we only had 5 youth show up (plus 4 adults including me).  This group had a really good session getting ready for the Mission Trip this summer to Louisiana.

We did breakout sessions and that gave me a chance to interact with the youth.  I discovered a few things:

  1. These are great kids.  No, I mean it.  Really awesome people.
  2. I share enough in common with them to feel comfortable.
  3. It was fun!  I’ve forgotten the joy present in a room full of people laughing so hard that tears are rolling out of their eyes at a little silly comment.

At this point I feel called to continue for at least a few months.  I feel like I can be helpful with this group, and I feel compelled to give back.  My own youth group experiences form the foundation of my faith.  This experience even has me thinking about taking a week this summer to help chaperone the Mission Trip.

The only hard part is that this adds to my time committed to things outside of the house.  This activity puts me at or beyond the upper limit of that time.  I need to think about dropping something, possibly flying.

(If you want to see these folks, take a look at the Lawrenceville Presbyterian Youth and Young Adult website.  CHAOS is the group that I’m working with.  Guidelines on the Mission Trip are found on the Mission page.)

Reconnecting with Faith – one at a time

February 22, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

I have a co-worker who wanted to attend the Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat in January.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t afford an entire weekend away from home.

So I’m giving her the “Home Game” version of the retreat over several lunches.  In the interest of confidentiality I can’t reveal much about her story and situation.

I will say that she is currently churched but looking for another congregation, possibly in a different denomination from her current church.

I’ll let you know how it goes at the end.  If this works, we might be able to turn the retreat into a program that can be used by churches with individuals or small groups over time.  The key to making it work is a willingness to let go and drop the assumption that ONE particular congregation, denomination, or even faith tradition is right for everybody.  You may believe that there is one right faith, but simply being insistent about it to a sojourner is more likely to backfire than build a disciple.  Slow and gentle is the way to go.  If you really are right about your choice, they will come around and agree.

What is keeping potential new members from getting involved

February 22, 2007 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

In today’s post, we look at this question:
What is holding you back from getting involved/more involved in a faith community?

The caveats about the makeup of the retreat group found here apply.

The retreat participants indicated at least some interest in getting involved in a new spiritual community by the fact that they registered for and attended the retreat.  This answers the questions of “why haven’t you gotten involved” or “why haven’t you gotten more involved”.

  • Inertia
  • Fear (of acceptance and other things)
  • Laziness
  • Lame excuses
  • Fear of commitment
  • Indifference
  • “My Will or God’s Will?” (lack of clarity – am I making this change for me or for God?)
  • Family and tradition pressures (am I tied to a particular church or denomination because it would kill Mom/Dad/Grandma if I changed?)
  • Church not meeting our expectations
  • Fear of rejection
  • Don’t need the community
  • Mileage/proximity/distance
  • Other commitments (time mainly)
  • Being in a pigeonhole (being labeled due to traits like age, marital status, sexual orientation, race, etc)
  • Scheduling (services, other activities, day vs. evening)
  • Needing to feel invited
  • Allowing space for other spiritual opportunities

This list is a bit short, mainly due to the fact that it was the last one covered in a brainstorm session and time was a bit short.

This concludes the series on what potential new members are thinking.

What potential New Members want to avoid in a spiritual community

February 21, 2007 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Yesterday, we spoke of what potential new members were looking for in a new spiritual community.

Today, we get a smaller list of things that those same potential new members are looking to avoid when choosing a new church.

All caveats about the makeup of the group found here apply.

It’s important to note that the group started out by saying “This list is the opposite of the Want list.”  They felt that we could have taken everything on the Want list and try to avoid the opposite.  That’s the main reason that this list is short.

Fear was mentioned more than once.  From my memory, it was the use of fear as a motivating factor by the church and/or preacher against the parishioners.  This covered beliefs, required service and/or monetary contributions, and internal politics.  Another aspect that was mentioned was fear of change within the church.  A few members of the group had gone through some serious internal church conflicts (the phrase “level 5” was used by at least one Presbyterian in the group who’d been through that conflict).

  • Fear and zealots (fear is defined as “you must believe this or else” and using fear as a motivation for a particular belief)
  • Exclusion (of anyone, but particularly of identifiable groups like race, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc)
  • Old regime (a small group in charge, has always been in charge, and will not relinquish control)
  • Pulpit politics (mainly non-church issues)
  • Participation by guilt (church and committees)
  • Irrelevance to my life
  • $$$ focus (fundraising for the linked parochial school was mentioned here, but it covers more territory than that.  Being valued by how much money you give.)
  • Hopelessness – joy for what IS (being caught up in talking about how bad it is that we are not X {bigger, getting along better} rather than celebrating what we ARE)
  • Not open to new ideas or change
  • Sense that community can only exist within those four walls
  • Unwelcoming – lack of warmth (including not talking to and welcoming visitors)
  • “Stuck in the Mud”, “Way we’ve always done it” and “We’ve
    Tried that before”
  • Avoid ritualistic traditions with no purpose
  • Emphasis on money
  • Focus on growth of buildings (build congregation first)
  • Being pigeonholed (being identified as a particular type of person based on traits or history)
  • Ties/formality of dress
  • Lack of flexibility with expectations

Again, this was simply a brainstorm to allow people to figure out what they are looking for and looking to avoid when choosing a new church or spiritual community.  No analysis was done as to the feasibility of any of these ideas or their faithfulness.

What potential New Members want in a spiritual community

February 20, 2007 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

The first question asked of the group was:
What Are You Looking For in a Spiritual Community?

The following are responses to the brainstorm.  Some may be repetitive and others are contradictory (different people want different things).  I will amplify a few that were better communicated in person.

  • Involvement (personal experiences)
  • Welcoming fellowship – embracing
  • Connection, belonging – “Cheers” – NORM! (the quote from the TV show – want to feel known and appreciated)
  • Recharging/revitalizing
  • Awe – mystery – presence
  • Non-exclusion (this covered a lot of territory including race, age, gender, and sexuality)
  • Family programs
  • Variety in music
  • Flexible service times (it’s hard for some to make 10am/11am Sunday)
  • Positive agenda (build up people)
  • Personal relevance
  • Location (close to home, mainly)
  • Facility comfort/aesthetics/accommodations
  • Continuity in tradition
  • History
  • Safe space – intentional (meaning that the community work intentionally to generate a safe space for members to be open and honest without fear of politics and reprisal)
  • Framework to do good works
  • Opportunity to share one anothers’ journeys on a deeper level
  • Alternative timing/schedules
  • Green – eco-conscious
  • Youth programs/young adult (this and Sunday School were important even to people who had no children and didn’t plan to have any)
  • Over 30, No Children – fill that hole (this is the feeling that churches have programs for youth and young adults, programs for children and families, and programs for older adults but nothing for this group)
  • Diversity/acceptance
  • Inspiring Sunday message – NOT political (political meaning non-church issues)
  • No discount (this is a core value of the camp where the retreat was held.  It means no discounting others or yourself)
  • Direct service in the community
  • Intergenerational relationships (the person mentioned a church that paired up older adults as “foster grandparents” for new members)
  • Welcoming community
  • Accepting people as they are (we talked a bit about dress and “come as you are” as well as accepting people around other traits)
  • Empowering people to serve rather than trying to fill
    offices
  • Pastoral care
  • Diversity in services
  • Ceremony & ritual

Remember that this is what this group of people WANT in a church.  There was no discussion around whether or not these ideas were practical or fit within the belief structure of the church in question.  The primary purpose of asking the question was to get the participants thinking about what they should evaluate when looking at potential church homes.

Inside the heads of potential members

February 20, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

In the next few days, I will present some information from the Reconnecting with Faith – Finding Your Home retreat.  I do so in the hopes that it will be useful to churches and new member programs in particular.

The information results from brainstorming done by the participants of the most recent retreat.  There are three sets of information:

  1. What are potential members looking for?
  2. What are potential members looking to avoid?
  3. What is stopping you [the retreaters] from getting involved or more involved in a faith community?

Please keep in mind that this was a small group (about 10) in New Jersey.  The needs in your area may be different.  Also, this group was concentrated in the 20-40 age group, though we had representation of older folks.  This group was predominantly white and middle class as well.  A few of the participants were coming from a non-Presbyterian Christian denomination.

New Members in Mission

February 19, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Quotidian Grace writes about her recent experience attending a new member’s class at another church.  (I’m not entirely clear on whether she is changing churches or just sitting in – she’s the moderator-elect of her presbytery.)

The really interesting part of her experience is the Saturday “workday” that they did.  The new members were taken to one of the church’s outreach agencies to work for a 1/2 day.  They did the usual mission work – packing sack lunches, working in the Thrift Shop.  At the end of the day they heard about other mission opportunities (and learned even more in the regular Sunday session the next day).

The group even made sure that they were thanked and given pictures (electronically) of them working.

This is a great idea.  At Camp Johnsonburg, the campers do a small project to help out the camp every week (it could be as simple as looking for trash on the meadow).  The camp Leadership Training Program (formerly Counselor-in-Training) senior high’s do a big project for the camp – usually building or creating something (the camp’s labyrinth is a good example).

We got an overview of mission opportunities at the Lawrenceville church new member class.  We even got to see most of the internal ones just before the classes started at the annual stewardship fair (and the new class just got to see the external ones yesterday at the annual mission fair).  But we didn’t actually roll up our sleeves and do something.  The new member class was a nice way to get slightly acquainted with some of the other new members, but I would have really liked the chance to get to know people in the way that only happens when you work on something together.

Kudos to the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston!

A Day At Home

February 15, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion 

Today was “new hot water heater” day.

Our old hot water heater was one of the ones manufactured in the mid-1990’s when the one company that made dip tubes (the tube that forces the cold water to the bottom of the tank) used a different plastic.  Many hot water heaters made then had the dip tubes deteriorate in 2 years or less.  There was a national recall to replace the dip tubes that ended in 2000.

Our dip tube finally fell apart sometime in the last 6-8 months.  For a few months now I’ve been finding little bits of white chalky stuff in the bathtub.  I originally thought it was grout, but after talking to the plumber about our “running out of hot water” problem, it was a bad dip tube.  The hot water heater is the same age as our house – 11 years – so we elected to replace the whole thing for about $1000 installed, rather than spend $200 on just the dip tube and have to replace the whole thing in a few years anyway.

The plumber did a fabulous job.  In about 3 hours he drained the old tank, replaced an old screw tap valve for the humidifier with a real valve, and installed the new one.  He was incredibly neat through the whole process – he didn’t leave as much as a drop of solder or a forgotten screw in the basement and he even used drop cloths between the front door and basement.

If you need plumbing in the Mercer County, NJ area, consider JA Margicin.

This afternoon I did a bank run and then wrote up a paper on the theology of good environmental stewardship.  This is pretty heady stuff for a person who isn’t a religious professional (I had a few classes in college, and spent a lot of time around religious pros).  I think it probably relies too much on Bible quotes and doesn’t have enough explanation in between, but we’ll see.  When it’s done, I promise to post it here.

Now I have to feed the cats, and then go outside and put down ice melt on all of yesterday’s snow that didn’t go away but rather melted and froze into a nice smooth surface.  Then I have to change the cat litter and take out the trash.

At least I wasn’t at work!

Snow Day (sort of)

February 14, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life 

Today was a snow day – kinda.

Last night and all day today we’ve been getting a mix of sleet and freezing rain totalling about 1 inch (it’s over now).

The local schools all closed.  Many local businesses had delayed openings, including the local Air Force base and IRS.  My company didn’t even do a delayed opening.

I got to work on time doing 25-45MPH on the highway.  It was quite slippery but doable.  When I got there I discovered that only 1/3 of the company had bothered to come in.  Many co-workers were “working from home”.  I hope they enjoyed the Price Is Right.

Then, at noon, the power failed.  Apparently a 30KVa line two blocks over failed.  They let us go home about 1:15pm.  Of course, those working from home have to continue working.  HAH!

Tonight we go to a Trenton Titans hockey game as long as they are still holding it (looks like it, but who knows whether the other team’s bus will make it on time).

Tomorrow I’m taking a planned vacation day for hot water heater replacement.  It’s 11 years old and the dip tube has failed (meaning the hot water stays at the bottom of the tank and you only get about 3/4 of a tub worth before it gets cold).

Back to the Future part 2

February 12, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

At this point, I have to give my “Back to the Future” task an incomplete.

Last night’s meeting was nice, but there was minimal interaction with anybody.  The program was on Haiti and consisted of a video shot by the Youth Director on a visit to Haiti a few years ago.  Later, the pastor of a church in Haiti that our congregation supports came and spoke of his ministry and the situation there (including his being in the US due to death threats).  The kids were quiet for the most part and the adults asked most of the questions.

At this point I’ve decided to go ahead and fill out the paperwork for the church to certify that I’m not “A Scary Adult” and safe to work with kids.  (As a deacon, I feel that I’m already covered by the rules but if it’ll make them feel more comfortable by filling out a Promise form and getting a background check I’m all for it.)  I’ll stay involved for at least a few more sessions and see where it takes me.  I really don’t think I’ll have a good read on whether or not this is something I want to do until I have more time and more interaction.

Another issue that I discovered last night is the time commitment and time with my wife.  There might be a conflict there – it depends on how important the youth work is to me.  We’ll see.

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