Project Open Door complete

February 18, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

The Project Open Door task force, which has been studying our congregation’s hospitality and community interaction for 18 months, completed it’s work tonight with our Final Report to the session.

The Session chose to restrict the publication of our report both within the congregation and externally.  As The cost acquisition de viagra of all that has spent by dint of the promotion of the medicine increases the retail price of the medicine. As the drug market has been flooded with pills that can help men to gain best viagra for women cure of various sexual disorders. And I’m not talking about the kind order cialis of treatment includes heat and cold therapy, electric stimulation application, mobilization of the joint and a variety of massages being offered. All High Quality Medications Available At The Cheapest Prices The price of the cialis generic 10mg and kamagra has been the most facilitating part of Kamagra’s popularity among the ED sufferers.Swallowing hard pill was analyzed as one of the reasons that lead for suffering from erectile dysfunction. a result I am not allowed to share our conclusions or recommendations with you.  I apologize for that – I know that some of you helped with input for the team and it seems unfair that you not be able to share in the learning.

Project Open Door news

February 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

A while ago (perhaps 18 months ago) I wrote about my new committee studying hospitality at my church.

That team chose to call itself Project Open Door.  We were charged with studying hospitality to visitors, the community around us, and inactive members.

We completed the majority of our work last night.  We’ve produced a 44-page report which will be given to the Session in 2 weeks.  We were unable to complete our work on inactive members (due to personal issues of several team members at a critical time) and have suggested that this task be forwarded to a successor committee.
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Several of you have expressed an interest in hearing what we’ve learned.  We intend to ask the Session for permission to release our report.  If I am able to do so, I’ll post it here.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers over the last 18 months.

This seems like a good time for introspection

February 27, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

It’s Lent.  In a recent post I took a deep dive into my soul to figure out what my principles are.  Today it’s time for another dive.  (Now that I’ve finished writing this, I see that it is VERY long.  Sorry about that.)

Depending on when you mark the starting point, it’s either coming up on 2 years or 18 months from the beginning of my return to church experience.

Today’s question – how has it changed me?

Spiritual Practices – Prior to this process I was a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christian.  Both were with Carolyn at her church.  Except for the occasional wedding or funeral, I set foot in a church twice a year.  Sunday mornings were for reading the paper, watching an old movie on TCM and waiting for Carolyn to get home from her church with bagels.  Sometimes it was a good time to schedule a small airplane flight.

Today, Sundays are busy days.  I’m up with Carolyn at 7:30am and read most of the paper before heading to church.  After church about every other week I have Confirmation Class or occasionally an early Sr. High youth group activity or Adult Forum.  Sunday evenings almost every week are taken up with the Sr. High youth group.  Some Sunday afternoons are given to a church activity (alternate worship or other special event).

I also have a church meeting one evening every other week or so.  Work for those groups (youth, Project Open Door, other groups) takes up some personal time during the week as well.  The 2nd week of the month is the worst – I have Youth and Young Adult Council on Tuesday evening, a ham radio meeting Wednesday evening (not church), and Theology on Tap on Thursday evening.

As I write this I’m noticing that it’s turning into a list of “church time” rather than a list of spiritual practices.  To a certain degree that’s because I feel that any work done on behalf of the church is a spiritual practice.  On the other hand – that’s about it.  I really need to come up with a daily practice (or at least 3 times a week).  I had settled on taking Lent to read the book of Acts and all of Paul’s epistles – I need to get more comfortable with Paul.  Most of the problems that I have with our beliefs right now come from Paul’s writings.  Unfortunately I’ve been busy enough lately that I haven’t picked up the book.  I gotta fix that.

Using My Gifts – Prior to joining the church, my gifts (spiritual and otherwise) were used at work and that’s about it.  Maybe a little time providing Family Technical Support for computer and other electronic issues.  Even my flying was generally for me rather than helping others.  One exception was Camp Johnsonburg, but now I see that my re-involvement in camp was just the embryonic stages of this process (and continues today).

The first few months after I joined the church I wasn’t using my gifts at all.  I was waiting to be invited to do so.  (Well, I was writing here, but I don’t know how much of that was use of gifts and how much was letting the ideas out of my head.)  Finally I mentioned that to someone and I was invited to work with the youth.  About the same time I got involved in the Green Team and wrote a paper on the bible and environmentalism.  Those writings and activities along with my blogging got me noticed by others and I was invited to help start Project Open Door.

Now I’m co-chairing Project Open Door, working with the Sr. High Youth group and youth council, blogging about the church, I’ve been asked to do another short-term task, and I’m informally working with the pastor and others on things within my knowledge and ability (like consulting on the church website and kicking around ideas that resulted in the church’s blog).

I’m using a lot of skills built outside of church for church work.  These include:  communications, planning, project management, execution, writing, technical skills, and with the last lock-in – percussion.  I’ve also brought back some old ones that I’d developed in the last church go-around:  caring deeply about youth, working with youth, church and theological knowledge, Presbyterian stuff, working with volunteers.  I have to be honest – when it comes to church and theological knowledge I feel somewhat inadequate at the level that I’ve been using those skills.  I have no formal theological training outside of Sunday School, confirmation, and a religion minor in college.  I feel very much that I’m using the “fake it until you make it” method when it comes to working with theological concepts and relating them to others.  That’s one reason that I keep looking for validation from my pastor, youth director, and others – I want to be sure that somebody is watching me as the novice carpenter plays with the power tools.

Working with People – I’m an introvert.  I test out as a strong introvert.  I have sufficient speaking and musical experience to have gotten over the fear of speaking with strangers and in front of groups.  Most people would consider me somewhere between outgoing and at least fairly social – few would consider me shy.  The truth is that I’m a “loud introvert”.  I am able to speak and work with others, but few get to see what’s going on deep inside.  (This blog being the one big exception.)

I had a challenging childhood when it comes to social skills.  I’ll even go so far as to say that I carry scars today from many failed social interactions as a child.

Up until coming back to church, my “working with people” experience was limited to:
– work (almost all of it)
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– family and friends

The “church” world is very different from the work world or even the family and friends world.  In the work world, it is permissible to be selfish or closed as long as you are furthering the company’s goals.  In my work experience being selfish and behaving in ways that I consider to be unethical seem to be the norm and you get rewarded for such behavior.

I have to say – I find working on church committees to be the most frustrating part of my return to church.  The committees (a generic term encompassing anything that involves meetings) have gotten a lot done, but the lack of efficiency in church work is maddening for a project manager and IT person like me.  In the work world, the strength of your idea is priority #1, and a secondary priority is how others perceive you as a person.  The church world flips that – the work that gets done is not nearly as important as HOW it is done.  Everybody has to have their input heard, and everybody has to be extremely careful not to step on somebody else’s toes while getting the work done.  There’s probably a truism about church committees that says that 10 to 20 percent of the team do 80 percent of the work.  I don’t mind doing the heavy lifting – but I do dislike having to pussyfoot around the people who are doing the remaining 20% of work (or none at all).

I operate best in an environment where people speak their mind and lay all of their cards out on the table.  When you believe that somebody else is saying what they truly think and feel it’s a lot easier to ignore the rough edges and to be able to determine when they are actually upset or are just making noise.  I’ve said before – I believe that church debates should be like hockey fights, with the two players bashing each other on the ice but then going out for a beer after the game.  The same is true with committee work – let’s bump and slash each other up and down the ice a little but as soon as the whistle blows all of the little annoyances are forgotten.  Church isn’t there yet, at least as far as I can see.

The really ironic part of all of this is that I enjoy the “systems” work behind church committees.  I like working with complex systems and finding the best and most efficient way to achieve objective X using resources Y and Z.  I like the PCUSA polity in that it’s a complex machine built on some simple principles.  I suspect I’d make a good clerk at some level of the polity.  The unfortunate fact is this – in order to get to have an impact in positive ways you have to also put up with all of the negative baggage of interpersonal interaction with volunteers.

One very dark spot here is the online interaction with other Presbyterians nationally on the Internet.  The divisions in the PCUSA end up turning into chasms online.  When people are able to hide behind their computer screens (even when they use their real names) they seem to feel that respect and humility are no longer necessary.  I confess to falling into that trap from time to time.  What bothers me most is the partisan nature of discussions.  There are websites where poor behavior by those who agree with the website owner towards those with whom he disagrees is tolerated and even encouraged, while poor behavior by the other side (often in reaction to the owner’s supporters) is punished.  There’s something about the Internet that leads people to believe that the rules of discourse and interpersonal behavior do not need to be followed.  It’s really sad – it hurts the mission of the church more than it helps.

The very bright spot has been my work with the youth group.  As I said before I’m an introvert.  Introverts lose energy through social interaction – often introverts will talk about a party draining their energy.  Extroverts on the other hand gain energy through social interaction.  (That’s a simplification, but true enough for now.)  I can tell when I feel most at home because social interaction actually gains me energy.  I’ve only felt that in a few situations – my marriage, Camp Johnsonburg much of the time, work at the Synod level as a youth, and my current church’s Sr. High youth group most of the time.  I LOVE working with our youth.  They are refreshingly open and honest and unafraid to say what they are thinking.  The feedback that I get leads me to believe that I’m making a difference.  One very telling anecdote – in Confirmation class we were talking about how we view the world.  We were asked to identify whether we were an optimist or pessimist.  I’m a pessimist.  When I raised my hand to answer, one of my favorite youth turned to me and said “Really?”  That shows how much I enjoy working with the youth – they turn me into an optimist.

Me Outside of Church – This is a toughie.

I work in a culture that is often 180 degrees removed from what we call Christ-like behavior.  I’m struggling with that very openly right now.  What do you do when behavior that you are taught is unacceptable is actually rewarded?

I believe that prior to getting reinvolved in church I did the right thing (morally) most of the time.  I was probably a bit rougher around the edges than I am now, but the difference is small.

Now I believe that I’m more intentional about right behavior.  I can link it to my beliefs more exactly.  I do know that I talk about church more than I used to and do so positively.  Before I returned to church, “church” was a negative and “Christian” as a term generally applied to the fundamentalists who try to control everybody’s behavior.  Now “church” is a good place and a good people and “Christian” is a standard to live up to.  I don’t think I’ve reached the annoying point yet, but I do look for opportunities to invite others to the faith when they appear.  Nobody’s biting yet, but my line is still in the water and there have been a few nibbles.

I think I’m going to have to ask a few people to see if they see changes in me.

There is one downside.  I think I’ve lost some free time with Carolyn.  She is only involved in one church activity outside of worship (the garden ministry – which doesn’t interest me).  I am involved in many at my church and so far she hasn’t been interested in joining any of them on a regular basis.  This means that my church membership has reduced our time together.  I thought that stopping my flying would help, but it seems that I just traded 1/2 day on the weekend at the airport for 1/2 day on the weekend at church.  Add a few days during the week and our schedules miss a little more.  I’m hoping that this will work itself out over time.

Thank you for reading.  This is very long and I appreciate you reading it.  I welcome any feedback, affirmations or corrections.

Hurt by the church, and always looking over your shoulder

December 18, 2007 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

Many inactives (a percentage nearing 50%, if anecdotal evidence is accurate) have left because they feel (rightly or wrongly) that they have been hurt by the church.  I’m one of them.  (Read my story HERE for more)

I know that this makes it hard to return.  I’m slowly realizing that the perception of abuse creates a barrier to trust.

I find that I’m constantly on the lookout for behaviors that exemplify the reasons that I left.  I’m watching for extremist and exclusionary beliefs.  I’m watching for people using positions of power for their own purposes.  I’m watching for the use of labels (racist, homophobe) to stifle alternative points of view.

For the most part, I’m finding these things nationally.  Presbyterian blogs of late are very partisan and inflammatory.  The impulse to shout down and control the other party is stronger than the impulse to embrace the other party – from both the right and left.  This is no surprise and it is a disappointment.

Locally, I’m not seeing it as much.  Sure, there’s the woman on one committee who states her opinion as if it were held by many others (a majority, even).  Of course there are abrasive personalities.  There is passive/aggressive behavior (and I find myself drawn into it sometimes).  It’s there, but at a lower level than I experienced before I left the church.

Yet, I’m still looking over my shoulder.  I find myself waiting for the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  I think about whether or not the latest minor upset (or major upset in the case of national/Internet Presbyterian politics) is enough to make me break.  So far, not yet.
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When does the mainly positive experience build up to the point where you start feeling safe?  When can you let your guard down?

I’m beginning to think that once you’ve been hurt by the church, that point never comes.  Your sense of safety can increase, but you never reach the threshold of “safe”.  Your innocence is lost.

And still I plod along.

Two other thoughts:  First – this does not hold me back from being honest and open.  A key part of my sense of self is that I MUST be honest and open, and that hiding your thoughts/feelings/ideas for temporary gain is actually a form of dishonesty.  Second – I LOVE working with the youth group in part because they are ALWAYS honest, blunt, and frank.  The combination of being unafraid to say anything combined with the love that our youth show us and each other is precious.  I wish I could get back there again myself.

(Lest anyone think that I consider my experiences on the same level as those who have experienced real abuse – physical, mental or otherwise – please understand that I’m not.  There are parts of my past that get near that line but not to the level of many.  I am both glad that it hasn’t been that bad for me and sad/upset/frustrated that is IS that bad for others.)

Re-Connecting with Faith – Finding Your Home – Adult Retreat January 25-27, 2008

September 7, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Re-Connecting with Faith: Finding Your Home – Adult Retreat
Johnsonburg Presbyterian Center, Johnsonburg, NJ
January 25-27, 2008

Are you considering a church home?  Do you currently attend a church, but feel like you’re not getting everything you need?  Are you looking at spiritual alternatives?  Have you recently moved and need to find a new church?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, this retreat is for you!

For a variety of reasons, a large number of adults leave the spiritual home of their youth, or spirituality altogether.  However, after a while, many of these people feel like something is missing in their lives.  Returning to a spiritual community after an absence can be a bit challenging for many people.  Will you encounter the situations that caused you to leave?  Will you be accepted?  Will you be fulfilled?  All too often these challenges result in the person staying away from a spiritual community altogether, and everyone loses.

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This weekend long retreat is held for adults who are currently without a spiritual home, or who are attending a church but don’t feel fed there.  We’ll take some time to tell our own stories; who we are and what it is we’re seeking.  We’ll also look at some of the challenges in finding a spiritual home and what some different churches have to offer.  Come and join those who have gone through this discernment process before and who can help you find your way.  Presbyterianism is optional – the program does not assume any particular denomination.

For more information, contact the camp office at 908-852-2349 or  The camp website is found at
The cost is yet to be determined but should be between $50 and $100 per person; if money is what’s keeping you from the retreat contact the camp – we have limited assistance available.

An article about last year’s retreat can be found HERE.  This year’s program will be very similar.

Being A New Member – A 6-month checkin

April 26, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

About 8 months ago, I wrote Church – A New Chapter, in which I announced that I was beginning the new member process for joining the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville (NJ).  I actually joined 2 months later.  That makes this about the 6-month anniversary.

Time for a report card.  I’ll stick with my hopes and fears from 6-8 months ago.

The overall grade is B+.  The church has come to feel like home, and I often refer to it with the same feeling that I would use to refer to my family.  There are some things that could be better, and I haven’t completely settled in yet.  The details are really long, so they continue below (those reading on the site itself will need to click the link below).

Read more

TO Committee!

April 11, 2007 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

(well, at least To Task Force)

I met with our pastor last night about the “other idea” that he had.

It seems that he’s been reading a lot of the stuff on my blog (Hi, Jeff!) – particularly the stuff that I’m writing about new members and visitors.

He’s looking to put together a task force to study how the church is perceived by visitors, seekers, and the surrounding community.

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Beyond that, the charter and membership are still up in the air.  We’ll probably get the team together in May to organize, and then take the summer for each member to do some homework (probably some books to read) and get started in earnest in the fall.

I will likely have to limit my blogging on this Task Force to what we are willing to say publicly.  I will probably do some blogging about the committee process in general, particularly successes.

One thing that I can promise – I want your help.  I will be asking questions over time about how each of you handle different issues or answer different questions in your community.  I’ve found that I have a fairly diverse audience of church-related people (and others!) and I’d like to leverage that to help.  In return, I promise that by the end of our process I will blog some useful information gained by experience – just as I have with the Reconnecting with Faith retreats.

10 Ways to Keep Me from Discovering Your Church

March 20, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Via a chain of to Church Marketing Sucks I have found a great article at Church Redone:

10 Ways to Keep Me from Discovering Your Church

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The point about use of the Internet is particularly true.  I did not consider any churches without at least a minimal web presence in my church search.  My preconceptions of the church prior to a visit were colored by the quality of the website.  Getting the web right is essential these days.

Fear and the Visitor/New Member

March 13, 2007 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

When we held the Reconnecting with Faith retreat this past January, one of the questions that we asked the group was “What is keeping you from getting involved/more involved in a faith community?”

The word “fear” came up multiple times.  I’ll try to describe the different sides of that fear, in the hope that by understanding it, those responsible for working with visitors and new members can help reduce its effects.

One important caveat:  The visitor or new member has both a fragile faith and fragile sense of self within the church.  I am purposely avoiding any judgment of those visitors.  The time for judgment of the appropriateness of a person’s attitude or beliefs is when they are being considered for membership or higher office, not when they first come in the door.

Fear of Acceptance/Rejection

Here’s a situation that may or may not have happened to you personally.  I’m sure that you have enough relevant experience to understand the emotions.

Let’s say that you are 13 years old.  You’ve just moved to a new town (possibly in a different part of the country).  It’s your first day of school.  You’ve managed to survive the morning classes, and maybe you’ve made a friend or two.  Most of the people around you are strangers, and they may or may not see you as strange.  It’s lunchtime.   You’ve gotten your lunch, and you’re standing at the side of the cafeteria looking for someplace to sit and eat.  Do you find a table by yourself?  Do you hope that somebody will invite you to join them?  Do you dare to ask to join a table where others are already seated and talking?  Will you be called a freak?

That’s what going to a new church feels like to a visitor who is looking for a church or considering the possibility of going to church.  A 30-something man or woman (or couple, maybe with kids) is reduced in an instant to a gawky 13-year-old in a new school.  Do you take a seat in the back pew to hide?  Will someone invite you to sit with them?  You may remember the service from the church you grew up in (or attended last week), but there are creeds in the bulletin that you don’t have memorized – that you’ve never heard of.  Do you stand or sit during the 2nd hymn?  Oh my, it’s Communion Sunday and there are no trays up front.  How do I take Communion?  Do they even want me to take Communion?

(This leaves out one of my personal fears – what happens when they hear how badly I sing?  Ha.)

Once the service ends, will someone talk to me?  Do I want them to?  Should I go to coffee hour?

In my search for a church to return to, I experienced all of these fears.  In some churches I was ignored (notably in the church that I ultimately joined – they had a bad day).  In some churches I was smothered with attention.  At least once I got a dirty look for daring to inhabit the chosen pew of a family.

In some churches I was treated well.  I was welcomed, people asked about me and why I came.  People talked to me during coffee hour.  I felt at home.

It’s tough wondering if you will be accepted.

Fear of Commitment

The lack of a church experience in your life often leaves a hole.  For some its a big hole.  For others its a little hole.   Something (or someone – like your child) is pushing you to look into joining (or rejoining) a church.  Maybe it’s God.  Maybe it’s just you.  Maybe you don’t know.

At the same time, you have a routine.  Your Sunday mornings have been free (and often free from the need to get up early).  Your checkbook has not felt the pinch of a weekly donation.  Your Sunday evening, Tuesday morning, Wednesday evening, etc are free from church committee meetings, bible studies, youth group, etc.

At some time, you will be called upon to make a commitment to God (and Christ if you choose a Christian church).  That commitment is one of money, time and talents.  You’ll sacrifice some free time and some personal resources.  You may be prepared to do so.

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“What will they expect of me?”  “What am I getting myself into?” – I’ve said both of those through the course of my return to the church. (I’m pretty sure I said at least one of those this past weekend.)

During the Reconnecting with Faith retreats, we heard complaints about expectations around personal resources.  We heard of one church where financial contributions (including supporting the church school) were essentially mandatory.  In one case, a woman who was young and had done youth work, and who also plays guitar, related her experience visiting a church.  The pastor talked to her after church, and as he learned of her particular abilities was obviously mentally putting her on committees.  “Oh, you can help with the youth group.”  “You play guitar, we can sure use your help with the contemporary service.”  This woman was scared off by the demands placed on the first day visitor.

What will they demand of me? – this is the question.

One extra note here – “We’d love to see you next week” sounds coercive to some.  “We’d love to see you again” is a better choice.

Fear of Special Circumstances

In our retreats, we had a few people who had different reasons to be worried about being judged.  We had someone who is gay.  We had at least one person going through a divorce.  We had several who had been away from the church for a long time (like me).

The church (in my opinion, to its detriment) is very good at making snap judgments of people based on their traits and/or personal situations.  Homosexuality, divorce, age, marital status, even time away from the church are all things that can cause church people to “look down their noses”.  I’ve experienced it with my long-time absence from the church (though that came more from church people in my own family).

Remember what I wrote above about fear of acceptance or rejection.  Add these special factors and what do you get?  A 13-year-old who is nervous about a new situation, but who also feels (rightly or wrongly) that they are wearing a target on their shirt.  It’s like there’s a scarlet letter on your shirt – G for gay, D for divorced, I for inactive, O for old.

The good news here is that a church that is intentional in its welcome to visitors can get past these fears.  Sometimes it means broadcasting your acceptance (and in some cases, the boundary of what you will accept) – in the website, in the bulletin.  Sometimes it just means listening to each person’s special circumstances and being clear on the church’s position while loving the person.  “We’d love to have you come back again” sends a strong message to someone who has laid their cards on the table.  “We’re glad that you visited, but our church has problems with {homosexuality, divorce}” is better than letting someone attend on a regular basis and run into that particular wall should they choose to pursue membership.

Fear of “What Happened Before”

In the retreats nearly 1/2 (or possibly more than 1/2) of the participants were able to point to one or more specific incidents that caused them to leave the church or consider leaving the church.  These incidents cover the entire spectrum of church activity.  Some mentioned a specific theological concept (or more than one) where they differed from the church (that they belong/belonged to).  Some mentioned “people behaving badly” in church – rude, insensitive, political behavior or even in one case physical abuse.  Others mentioned a focus on money and donations to the exclusion of theology.

Each of those people is experiencing or has experienced pain at the hands of the church.  Some of that might be considered self-inflicted.  Some is just “one of those things” (like a theological split from their church).

The key is to recognize that pain, and help the person get it out of their system.  This is what we do at the Reconnecting with Faith retreat (among other things).  It is not appropriate to fish for this in a visitor, but when it does come out the church and particularly those involved with visitors and new members should be prepared to handle it.


People walking in the door for the first time are usually nervous.  The church generates fear in them to some degree.  A church is most successful at attracting and retaining visitors when it can help visitors get past that fear.

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.

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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.

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