Thursday, August 18, 2011

Recent Church Visits

Last weekend was filled with some very interesting church visits. 

On Wednesday the Beeson Pastors traveled from Wilmore to South Bend, In for an interview at Granger Community Church.  Granger is on the NE side of South Bend.  They are a United Methodist Church, but UMC doesn't appear any place on their walls.  We talked with the Executive Pastor about a their move toward being missional while maintaining an attractional model of church.  In the midst of their story I came away awed and at the same time scratching my head.

On the awe side of things.  They bought in early to Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Church" (PDC) model.  They even won a trophy that is in an out of the way place.  I don't think they talk PDC much.  But they did take the PDC teaching and teach it to some pastors and lay leaders in India.  From their initiatives 10 years ago and on-going partnership they have seen over 1,000 churches planted in India.  In that same time they have continued to have an impact in Michiana.  But their impact there has not been as full as they would like.  Thus a renewed emphasis on missional.  They anticipate re-importing PDC from the Indian context to their work around Granger.  They have changed a few things in India and they would like to re-seed that in S. Bend.  One of the things they think will flow out of this is the planting of Missional Communities, or Essential Chuches. What these look like is yet hard to define.  In some ways they envision a house church, or a gathering at a skate park.  These Essential Churches may or may not have a spatial connection to Granger.  They may emerge as enduring communities or they may be short lived.  These concepts are what I think the Bishops of the FMC may be speaking to when they talk of doing church differently.  A visit to Granger, or going to their "And" Conference may be of interest. (http://gccwired.com/)

The head scratching side of the the visit to Granger was their structural additions to their main campus.  Next month they are set to break ground on an addition to their current building.  They are going to add a cafe, atrium, and chapel to their worship building.  These building priorities are being driven by the congregation's sense of wanting to be more "full service" which seems to run counter to the missional approach.  They are also going to be opening their children's ministry are as a daycare, going from 8 hours of use a week to 55-60.  They are also going to build store fronts near the front of their campus on a main traffic route.  They anticipate the store fronts will be filled with artisans.  The last part sounds missional, time will convey if it is.

On Thursday and Friday we took in the Willow Creek Leadership Summit @ Granger.  Excellent stuff in this Summit.  The thing we all noted was that the content of the Summit is applicable for people in all walks of life, and Pastors of all kinds and sizes of churches.  Especially applicable to small churches was Len Schlesinger, a university President who talked about Entrepreneurship.  He talked about how the success stories most often told in popular press have the effect of disenfranchising the gifts and talents of entrepreneurs all across the land.  The big success stories tend to lift up people who seemed to be born for greatness.  But he says, if you peel away the flamboyant stories and look at the majority of entrepreneurs they have general skills, general aptitudes.  They are generally risk averse, they generally don't create a business plan, they typically create out of necessity or an idea that has been turned down somewhere else.  His session may be drier than others, but it is solid content that encourages us to lift our heads and wonder where can we do something, must we do something because no one else is doing it, or we can do it better.  (http://www.willowcreek.com/events/leadership/)

On Saturday we drove to Chicago and took in Willow Creek's worship service on Saturday night.  Ken Nash, on staff at a UMC church south of GR, and I were able to meet Bill Hybles after the service. 



While meeting Hybles was great, the thing I noticed about our visit to Willow is that their congregation sang and prayed.  We've been to several big churches now and these two things are rather significant.  For several churches the songs are sung by the people on the stage and very few in the audience.  They have become what FM thinker Howard Snyder calls, Rock Concert Worship.  At Willow the congregation sings.  Make no doubt about it, they rock the house, and the vast majority are in on it.  Also, they PRAY.  Henry Cloud was the speaker/preacher and Hybles led in prayer.  He had a focus for his prayer and his leading of the congregation in prayer - for those who had not yet opened their lives to Christ.  He prayed for one of the presenters @ the Summit and others who are both close to becoming followers of Jesus.  He asked the congregation to lift up people who they know who are close.  He gave thanks for God's drawing and dawning of grace in their own lives.  But above the content is the reality that he prayed.  Willow is the only Church that prayed something beyond a tweet to God.

One other Church we visited in the Chicago land area was Community Christian Church (http://communitychristian.org/). They are one Church with 13 campuses in the greater Chicago area.  They hope to have 200 sites (I think by 2015).  We visited two of their sites.  One was an Anglo site and the other bi-lingual.  The Bi-lingual pastor and worship leaders led by utilizing English and Spanish back to back.  A line in Spanish, and then a line in English, and so it went during the whole service.  Very impressive for those of us linguistically challenged.  Other than the linguistic experience, the services were almost identical.  The same video's, songs, communion after the sermon and the offering was taken in connection to communion.  The sermon was essentially the same, yet it had to be contextualized for bilingual congregation.  It reminded me of some FM Disciplines (one I remember looking at was from the 1920's) that had a uniformed worship service proscribed for every FM church.  CCC has a central office that produces preaching/teaching curriculum, signage/branding, philosophy, and focus of ministry.   All the components were live, except for the video's.  They have a regional synchronicity going on.

This weekend we will visit Quest Community Church in Lexington. 

Next week we begin classes with Anthropology being the first class up.  About a month ago I realized that we are going to be undergoing a number of classes with big reading lists in a very short period of time.  My reading speed has been consistent, but not where it needs to be to do the work before us.  I asked the Lord for help with my reading speed.  I want to read the words and comprehend the content.  This was a serious need.  This week as I'm nearing the start of the first class with all but one book completed, I'm rejoicing in God's help.  Somehow, by His grace and help, I am able to carry on the task.

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