Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Prayer beats scare

Today I heard of a city-based church youth group that approached people in the streets on a Friday night. They made the offer to anyone they met that the cathedral, with lots of candles, is available if you would like to light a candle and pray about anything. People were quite open to that offer. 278 candles were lit that night.

The man telling me this story reflected on the evangelism efforts of his youth (many years ago). He and a mate would go up to people and ask them "If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?". In hindsight he is surprised that it led to any meaningful conversations, given that it was such a blatant 'turn or burn' message.

Perhaps it was different in the 60s and 70s. Australia was less diverse. You were either religious or not. Religious people went to heaven because they were 'good'. Being good equalled religious equalled heaven. Why not sign up? Even if it was a bit guilt-based.

It seems these days are different. In a more multicultural society, there are questions as to whether any particular religion can be sure what happens after death. So presenting yourself as certain seems arrogant. Particularly in Australia, that's an instant put-off.

In today's society it also seems like there is so much more to be concerned about. In a world that seems so overwhelming, it's perhaps not surprising that prayer is of interest, regardless of a person's beliefs. There's just something appealing about calling out for help.

I know someone who volunteered at the Body Mind Spirit exhibition, giving people foot massages. This was quite popular at an exhibition where people are on their feet all day. After each massage she would ask each customer if there was anything she could pray for them about. Never got a single knock-back.

There's something about prayer that says 'I care about you'. There's something about hard-core evangelism that says 'Let me tell you what to think'.

It's not surprising that the first of these is more appealing.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Daddy, can I have a puppy?

How many parents have been asked that kind of question? I'm guessing almost every one*.

A kid sees a puppy at a friend's house, or on TV, or at the park. It looks cute and cuddly. Kid wants one. What usually follows is a discussion about how owning a puppy is a big responsibility. Feeding it every day before and after school, taking it for walks, cleaning up after it, etc etc.

How does this relate to church?
Churches often ask their treasurer a similar question. "Can we have a church sign like __ church has?" is a lot like "Can we have a puppy like Tommy's family do?".

The difference is that nobody has the 'big responsibility' talk that parents have with a kid. Instead it's a case of 'Buy first, think later'. For a while people get excited about the new sign (like a new puppy) but then the excitement wears off. And the result is signs like this:

Changeabel lettering church sign with worship times

Week after week it's neglected, sitting in the yard. It's obvious that nobody cares about it anymore. If it were a puppy, it would be taken to an animal shelter at this point.

There's nothing wrong with advertising the worship times, but the old sign can do that job (at a tiny fraction of the cost).

Normal church sign with worship times

It's not about the money
While it is a waste of money to buy a sign that does nothing more than the old sign, that's not the saddest part. It's the waste of opportunity. A changeable sign offers the ability to communicate with the neighbourhood.

A sign is a chance to do something. It's a chance to tell the good stories about church. A chance to connect with community over things we have in common. A chance to inspire. A chance to offer Christian commentary on current events (see Gosford Anglican and their 22,000 facebook followers for a great example of that one).

Overall, it's a chance to improve people's apathetic or slightly negative impression of what Christianity means. The waste of this chance is the bigger waste.

Sadly, all we say is "Sunday 8.30" and people's reaction is "Yes I know - and I'm still not coming". And why would they?
* At the beginning I said that almost every parent would be asked about a puppy. Obviously this is only in the rich western world - not in places were people struggle to feed themselves from week to week. If we are thinking about a sign, but don't have the capacity to use it wisely, it might be a more Christian thing to give the money to the poor.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Finding Money

When I buy books at a charity second-hand book sale, I'm not expecting financial gain. But that's what happened at the Lifeline Bookfest.

I picked up about 10 books that day, and was flicking through my purchases, and discovered $35 in one of the books (Radical by David Platt).

What to do? I checked the inside front cover for the previous owner's details - to return the money to them. The only words were "P.121 Just giving stuff away". Page 121 had some interesting words on Jesus...

"What if he told you and me to sell everything we have? What if he told us to sell our houses for simpler living arrangements? What if he told us to sell our cars for more modest ones - or for no cars at all? What if he told us to give away all but a couple of sets of clothes? What if ..."

A few pages earlier, the author mentioned that if we have shelter, clothes food and transport (even public transport) we are in the top 15 percent of wealthiest people.

I wonder if the money was intentional. As well as giving the books to support Lifeline's work with those in need, perhaps the money inside was a gift to the person buying this book. The previous owner's way of paying it forward.

It reminded me that part of why I buy books at Bookfest is to rescue great books and share them around. So if you know me personally, check out my library on Shared Bookshelves - and feel free to borrow any of these books from me. I'll add more as I read them.

If you're a far away reader, why not start a similar thing yourself? Put a list of your books on your church notice board - or on Shared Bookshelves - or on facebook for your Christian friends. It could be a real blessing to someone else.

PS. You probably won't find money in books you buy at Lifeline Bookfest, but you may get something even more valuable by reading these books. There are great Christian books available at a bargain price.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Websites of Straw

Well-worded comment about church websites:

If your website looks like it was assembled with wheat straw and baling wire, you may lose guests before they ever step foot on your campus

When people look for a church, they use Google. "If the site is out of date they will assume the same thing about your church." says Ed Stetzer.

He advises that your website really should be:
  • visually appealing and easy to navigate
  • oriented toward non-members rather than members
  • mobile friendly.

We've all seen sites of "straw and wire". These days, there's no reason not to do better.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Male Bonding?

Brilliant cartoon. Like the man in the tie, sometimes church is completely unaware of its man-repelling actions. While we earnestly wish for more men to join, the very things church does can have the opposite effect.

Man asks fellow male church member to hold hands and pray for more men to attend church

As a side note, the cartoon uses holding hands as an extreme and obvious example of something to NOT do. Whilst there are also other things to also look out for, if you're a church that forces men to hold hands, please stop now.

I once attended a service where the church all held hands for the final song. As a (then) young single man, there is almost no-one it is appropriate to hold hands with for 3 minutes. Definitely not the grandfatherly figure who sat on my left, or the 12-year old girl on my right.

Looking back, I wonder what it was like for married folk. Apart from having your 12-year old daughter hold hands with an unknown man (me) you're holding your spouse with one hand - and someone else's spouse with the other.

No-one benefits from this situation. Except may be the music team. Musicians avoid the awkwardness by playing an instrument. For those 3 minutes they are the envy of all the men in the congregation.

Monday, 10 November 2014

How to turn away 8 in 10 visitors

We know a church's website is important - if the church is looking to connect with the community. Now we know exactly how important it is.

8 out of 10 people visit your website before attending. They decide in 7 seconds whether or not to stay on your site.

8 out of 10 people visit your website before attending
Some churches work on 'greeting' newcomers that arrive on a Sunday - and that's fine. But if a church really wants to create a good first impression, the website is even more crucial. For 80% of people, the first greeter is not the person at the door - it's that page on your website.

In 7 seconds they decide to stay or go
At first this stat surprised me. 7 seconds seems so short. But then I thought of my own browsing experience. Particularly when googling something. From a list of search results, there might be a few that look interesting. We'll click on one, have a quick look, and either stay for longer, or go back to the google page and click something else.

Some of our church websites could do with improvement in these areas. Firstly, to have a site that doesn't repel people in under 7 seconds. Secondly, to make it simple and intuitive with relevant information easy to find.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

God is not...

This song, God is not a white man, looks at how we try to fashion God into what we want we want - which can often be just a more holy version of ourselves.

But apart from all that - it's just fun to listen to.

It's good to remember - that God is not white and American - or owned by a political party or church. It's also a good challenge to remember that God also loves a whole bunch of people that we sometimes don't. Perhaps if we are going to continue to call ourselves Christ-followers, we should work on that.