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Friday
Oct312014

Merge Ahead: Forward Thinking for a Declining Church

What was I going to do?! The true challenge gripped me during prayer time at our church on a pleasant afternoon in May, 2013. Within a year, our church would no longer have a building, and our future was uncertain. I was convinced that God wanted me to lead this church to their next chapter, but I did not know where that would be, nor how we would get there. “Okay God,” I prayed. “In obedience I had accepted this call as an interim pastor to lead them to their new home. So we need you to lead our steps!” . . .

That is the opening paragraph of an article I wrote for Leadership Journal, which chronicles our Great Adventure at Zion Bible Church.

I encourage you to link to the full article here. While there, navigate around the new format by Leadership Journal. They’ve been serving pastors since 1980 and again they lead the way with online ministry tools.

For this blog entry, I’ll jump to the conclusion:

. . . Now, reflecting back, I’m very thankful for that prayer of confusion a year ago May. I didn’t know what to do. But in the end, it was a Great Adventure into the glorious unknown. On our coffee table sits the lamp that I lit during that final service, symbolic of our Great Adventure. The lamp became a gift from the church with a card that included these words: “Thank you for stepping in when you did and slowing us down and taking a deep breath, so we could watch God open and close doors to the greatest adventure for our church.” I wouldn’t have missed this ride for anything. And now, as part of the NorthBridge Church family, I’m looking forward to the Next Great Adventure.

Friday
Aug292014

Facilities and Kingdom Thinking

Buildings are not ministry. People are ministry. Buildings are a tool for ministering to people. While I often deal with facility issues, my real passion is for the people and ministry impact that those facilities can enhance.

This point was highlighted during our recent Building Retirement Service at Zion Bible Church. During that final service, we played a portion of the video showing the construction of the church building from the 1930’s. You can view it here. It is an actual video, not just a collection of still photographs. Yes, it’s black and white and there is no sound (there is a musical background), but it is a fascinating documentation of the building progress. Those were forward thinking people who had the wisdom to document the process without any of the technology or social media formats that characterize today.

While it is interesting to see the progress of the building, please note that this video is really about people. Despite the teeth of the depression years, many faithful workers gave of themselves and contributed to the construction. They gave their best as demonstrated by numerous clips of men working while wearing ties and dress clothes. We smile at that practice today, but it should also make us pause to ponder the daily life dynamics that prompted such “work clothes.” I understand that often workers showed up during their lunch breaks or right after work. Many were unemployed but did not stop productive labor as they contributed to the church what they could. And please note how often people are smiling. Now maybe that’s because the cameraman told them to smile, but there seems to be more depth to the expressions of joyful service. They were not simply building a building, but they were contributing to Kingdom work.

The video about the building of the building is not really about the building, it is about the people. Although it was difficult to leave that facility after the Building Retirement Service, everyone realized it’s about people and not buildings.

Friday
Jul252014

A Pastor’s Grief Observed

With shock and disbelief, I asked, “They’re all dead?” Did I really hear what I thought I heard? The caller confirmed the facts. Our senior pastor’s wife and three children had been killed in a car accident that morning. The only survivor was the driver of the other car that hit them head-on.

That is the opening paragraph from a Leadership Journal Article I wrote in 2006. You can read more here. The Sunday before the accident that senior pastor, Jerry, preached on James 4:13-17 including the reference to our lives being a vapor. In that message he said, “None of us know. You can get up on Friday morning, kiss your wife goodbye and say, ‘I’ll see you tonight,’ and we lose them in an accident.”

After the accident Jerry reflected, “But we just have to trust. We don’t know, and we wouldn’t want to know beforehand. We just have to come to that point in trust. I said this, not knowing that it would be my family that would be the ones I was speaking of.”

This year is the 25th anniversary of the accident and I’m preaching on this passage Sunday.

Thursday
Jun122014

Spring Newsletter-Church Maintenance Theme

Churches always need maintenance—or if we wait too long, then projects can back up and cost much more in the long run. This Spring, 2014 edition of Facility Stewardship Today surveys church maintenance issues.

Thank you to those who have already requested to be included in the newsletter email. If you’d like to be added to the newsletter list, please click here and write “newsletter” in the subject and message. Your email address will never be sold or dispersed to outside sources.

Thursday
May292014

The Next Great Adventure

What an Adventure! On May 25, we celebrated the building retirement for Zion Bible Church. It was an amazing service with God present in grand ways—how else can you explain a 3-hour service that everyone agreed was worth every minute and that the time flew by? Here are descriptions from the Sun Times and the Zion Benton Guide (ZB News article will run next week).

A year ago I described my new role as interim pastor of Zion Bible Church:

“At my first service as pastor I suggested that I honestly don’t know where the future will take us—we have use of this building for another year. But with great conviction, I also believe God is leading our steps. I’ve called this season for Zion Bible Church, ‘The Great Adventure.’”

This past Sunday we celebrated God’s work in the past, present, and future (see picture). Pastor Dave Denlinger, ZBC pastor for 36 years, paid tribute to the heritage of more than 80 years of world-wide impact. I described the present Great Adventure as God clearly led us to our future with NorthBridge Church. Pastor Mark Albrecht, NorthBridge lead pastor, cast the vision for the future as Zion Bible Church will merge with NorthBridge beginning June 1.

That June 1 service will be the culmination of more than six months of God’s clear leading for our future together. NorthBridge is based in Antioch, but is planning to build on 20 acres along Rt. 173; just 2.5 miles west of Rt. 41. This property is well within the radius that Zion Bible Church plotted out for a future ministry location. NorthBridge had been already targeting the Zion area as part of their ministry Jerusalem before our dialogue began. The series of events for both sides seemed providential! Each meeting, Bible study, and joint ministry/service continued to confirm this is the right fit for the DNA of Zion Bible Church!

And if there were still any questions, the amazing service of May 25 erased all doubt!

There are still some unknowns about the future. But my conviction of God’s leading a year ago is even greater today. And I would not miss this next Great Adventure for anything!

Tuesday
Apr292014

Reentering “The Zoning Zone”

Do, do, do, do;

Do, do, do, do;

Imagine Rod Serling’s clearly annunciating and staccato voice (he narrated “The Twilight Zone”). . . Nearly two years ago, this blog first considered. . . “The Zoning Zone.” Since that time this author has come across numerous new examples of churches facing perplexing problems, ironic twists, and unexpected conclusions. You see, they had entered, “The Zoning Zone.”

(Back to normal voice). . . I continue to appreciate the public service of municipal officials as God has ordained their work (Romans 13:1-7). However, in our post-Christian culture, churches no longer automatically receive favored attention. Municipal officials fear retribution—or even lawsuits—if they grant an easier path to a church. And in some cases, I believe the pendulum has swung the other direction.

One example is the responder to my article on this subject with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC. Clark described how their church sign was being “eliminated” after being hit by an out-of-control driver. He described it as “heavy handed.” I think it is another example of “The Zoning Zone.”

Kudos for Thom Rainer’s recent post, “The Aftermath of a Church Building Program: Six Keys to Success.” I might add a point to contact local officials early in the process. Note—I’ve also just added this point in my recent article with ERLC. Early contact can save time, energy, and potential frustration. And it might just make “The Zoning Zone” a more enjoyable dimension.

Thursday
Mar272014

May I Paint the Church Storage Room? Please!

“May I paint the church storage room? Please!”

In my last post we considered cleaning the church restroom. We continue the theme, now hoping to hear someone offer to paint the storage room. It is possible as a congregation embraces principles of Facility Stewardship.

Church facilities need maintenance in countless ways, but let’s highlight three more basic areas of assessment: painting, major maintenance, and emergency planning.

Painting. As a rule of thumb, some part of the church facilities should be painted every year. Budget and work day schedules should include annual painting projects. Why? Primarily, because something almost always needs painting. However, during gaps when paint surfaces may not need attention, there are still additional values to painting. First, it brings people together for projects who might not otherwise meet. This is especially valuable for men. In a day when we need books like, “Why Men Hate Going to Church” (by David Murrow), paint projects allow men of all ages to rub shoulders and create a context for greater connection. In addition, the smell of new paint perks up all attenders—both visitors and regulars. The aroma of paint (temporary and manageable odor), announces new and fresh happenings.

Major Maintenance. Church facilities regularly need major maintenance projects like a new roof, parking lot resurfacing, mechanical units replacement, and exterior surface cleaning or repair. Sometimes churches wait to address these areas with special project giving. However, the time it takes to raise funds may cause project back-up to occur and too many projects need to be addressed at the same time. It will be much easier and healthier to include major maintenance as a regular budget item. If funds are not needed in a current year then add to it the next year’s allowance—do not just leave it the same unspent dollars. Like houses, church buildings will always need something. Some people may challenge, “Let’s support real ministry with the money and not just the building.” However, I’m suggesting that in the full context of Facility Stewardship, monies budgeted for Facility Maintenance are a part of real ministry monies.

Emergency Planning. Natural disaster and terrorist safety plans can fall under the responsibility of Facility Maintenance. One of my former churches experienced a tornado that devastated the town on a Sunday morning during typical church service time (many people were spared because they were in church rather than in their homes when it hit). Another former church burned to the ground from a lightning strike. Praise God no one was killed in these examples, but it demonstrates the value of planning for such disasters. In addition we are in an age when people sometimes take out their desperation at a local place of worship. And it occurs at all sizes of churches. Certainly, every contingency cannot be covered completely. However, some general planning allows churches to serve communities during disasters and perhaps save lives.

Facility Stewardship will not occur overnight. However, some attention to Facility Maintenance elements from these last two posts will focus a church in the right direction.

Tuesday
Feb252014

May I Clean the Church Restroom? Please!

“May I clean the church restroom? Please!”

If a church attender ever asked that question, church leaders might faint on the spot. Like the cartoon, pastors often feel the pressure of the need to do everything. However, principles of restroom cleaning should really belong to the whole congregation as a small part of Facility Stewardship.

Church facilities need maintenance in countless ways, but let’s highlight three basic areas of assessment: signage, restrooms, and nursery.

Signage. One’s first encounter with a church building (beyond website orientation) is the exterior signage. Next, is the interior signage as our visitors look for orientation. Signs should be clear and visible. Lettering needs to be large enough to be seen from a distance. In today’s world, the website address is the most critical element on primary exterior signs. While services times or staff names were helpful in the past, today, most people will be checking out your website for that information before visiting. Depending on the size of your facilities, you may need additional signage to direct traffic and identify primary access points.

When possible, include manicured landscaping as part of exterior signage. That functions as a finishing touch and sends a signal of quality. If you don’t have a facility manager to oversee the sign landscaping maintenance, you probably have some people in your church that would be glad to oversee this first impression element—and they may donate plants as needed. Blooming annual flowers let passersby know that the church is alive.

Once inside the building make sure that tasteful signage leads visitors clearly to likely destinations—worship center, nursery, children’s ministries, youth ministries, administration, and most importantly, restrooms. This leads us to our second area of facility maintenance.

Restrooms. While there is value to maintaining all restrooms in good order, the priority begins with the women’s restroom—the rationale should be self-evident. Most importantly, make sure they are clean and stocked with toilet paper and paper towels. Wastebaskets need to be emptied regularly. Because pastors are at the church more than others, they may be the only one who will notice an unclean condition before the public arrives. With this thought in mind, I’ve cleaned plenty of toilets over the years. No, pastors did not go to seminary to learn to clean toilets. But if a visitor uses a dirty restroom, they may not ever learn about why one did attend seminary. Automatic light sensors can save utility costs if the last one out of the building forgets to turn off the restroom lights.

Nursery. Nurseries are right beside restrooms in terms of maintenance vigilance. They are listed second only because more total people will utilize restrooms than the nurseries. Again, cleanliness cannot be overemphasized. In addition to cleaning the nursery spaces, give attention to toys and teaching tools that will be in children’s hands (and subsequently their mouths). Nurseries should sparkle—not just the surfaces, but the organization. Security check-in and out processes should be developed and refined to clockwork levels. Regular follow-up must include washing nursery linens and wastebasket emptying. One missed diaper may be enough to drive away a visiting family.

These basic principles of maintenance can become part of the fabric of normal operations at a church. And if they do, then pastors may never hear a response from the church board like in the cartoon.

Cartoon by: Dennis Fletcher at: BuildingChurchLeaders.com.

Friday
Jan312014

Why a Pastor Quit Attending Sporting Events

12 Reasons why a pastor quit attending sporting events.

  1.  The coach never came to visit me.

  2.  Every time I went, they asked for money.

  3.  The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.

  4.  The seats were very hard.

  5.  The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.

  6.  I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!

  7.  Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.

  8.  The band played some songs I had never heard before.

  9.  The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.

  10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.

  11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.

  12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Hopefully you won’t hear too many of these connected with attending church. . . but. . . hmmm. . .

Special thanks to Keith Todd for this list (via Patrick Malone). Keith started emailing out illustrations and Christian/church related humor back in 1995 before the internet had really taken off. I often remember Keith provided the right illustration for a message, right when I needed it. Today, the internet offers many options for this kind of content, but you might enjoy connecting with Keith and joining one of his email lists. Thanks Keith!

Thursday
Oct312013

Fall Newsletter: Facility Stewardship Today

While it may not qualify as a “Fall Classic,” it’s time for the autumn edition of the Facility Stewardship Today newsletter. Elements will include:

  1. Blog highlights from Church Facility Ministry.

  2. Verse for Today (vft).

  3. Ministry Encouragement: and uplifting or challenging quote.

  4. Link Highlight.

Thank you to those who have already requested to be included in the newsletter email. If you’d like to be added to the newsletter list, please click here and write “newsletter” in the subject and message. You’re email address will never be sold or dispersed to outside sources.