Reposted from Buildingfaith.org
Summer for Churches: Staying Connected
Summer brings vacations, outdoor events, and travel. As a result, many churches see a decline in their Sunday worship attendance. But this doesn’t have to translate into a decline in connections between the church and its members, or between members themselves. Here are 9 suggestions to help your church stay connected with parishioners over the summer.
1. Stress attendance at weekly worship
Communicate your worship schedule clearly and often. Invite people to dress casually. Offer something for children whether it be a special program, a children’s quiet play area in the church itself, a special bulletin, or bags of quiet activities.
2. Utilize social media to stay in touch
Folks may be in church less, but they are still on social media a lot! Make frequent, and interesting, posts on your church’s Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, including your website. Use pictures lavishly. Make some of your posts about people – we all like to read about others and ourselves! As always, it’s good to review your church and your denomination’s policies on use of social media. If your congregation doesn’t have a policy, The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania provides an excellent downloadable resource.
3. Encourage people to stay in touch ‘the old fashioned way’
Ask congregants to write cards, notes, or make phone calls. Consider challenging them to do a certain number per week. If possible, provide the note cards. You can also give people a list, with addresses, of people to write to.
4. Provide summer activities for households
Children and families can ‘be the church’ at home, while in the car, or even on vacation. Candle Press has some great resources for this. ‘Take Out Church’ boxes provide another way for families to practice the Christian faith at home and while away.
5. Offer a summer hospitality time after church
If the weather is nice, you can even hold hospitality outside! Invite groups of families, or the youth group, to host hospitality times. If you have Vacation Bible School, invite the entire parish to the closing celebration, or make it into a parish picnic.
6. Encourage people to bring back worship bulletins from churches they visit
You could feature these on a bulletin board; write a short paragraph for your newsletter or your social media sites.
7. Use your weekly communications email
Your weekly church news email is a great summer contact tool. If you don’t have one, consider starting one. Include information on people, such as where people have traveled or special things they have done over the summer.
8. Schedule a social event once a month
This might be a church picnic or evening potluck. Having such events at a member’s home will increase attendance. Other ideas are a movie night, events for teens, worship at retirement communities, and hikes.
9. Schedule a day of service that is family friendly
Consider partnering with a community organization and helping them with a project. Keep it simple and lasting just a few hours. If your church has service ministries, such as a soup kitchen, invite people – teens and families with children too – to participate. You might invite several families so that they get to know each other as they work.
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. You can follow her on Twitter @episcoevangel and Facebook as EpiscopalEvangelist. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.
Did you enjoy this article? Consider subscribing to Building Faith and get every new post by email. It’s free and always will be. Subscribe to Building Faith.
Carrying — or Burying — Our Congregation’s Stories
By Bonnie Wilcox
Reposted from Luther Seminary – Center for Stewardship Leaders
On internship in a southeastern Minnesota rural parish twenty years ago, I really stepped in it when I asked when we would hold an annual pledge drive to support the church’s ministry. “Not here!” I was told. “That’s never gonna work,” one leader said. “No. We’ve never done it that way,” said another.
I was stunned. My adult church experience was in a young, fast-growing suburban congregation, and annual pledge drives and 3-year capital campaigns were necessary and ongoing.
How was it that one congregation thrived on annual financial pledges to support the church, and another congregation just counted on their members to step up and give enough?
It took a few months, but eventually the history of the no-pledging church came to light. In the early days of the congregation — and up through the Great Depression of the 1930s — the rural church had practiced stewardship by assessment. Each household (mostly farm families) was assessed what the church elders believed was their fair share.
I found records in the archives that documented these assessments — so many wagon loads of stones hauled for the new foundation; so many bales of hay or bushels of grain for the pastor’s milk cows; a requirement of carpentry hours to build the addition on the church. I never read or found any assessments made for cash gifts, only for labor or crops or equipment use.
Conversations began with long-time members about their memories of these days and the stories flowed. Many stories relayed the shame felt by parents who couldn’t — or wouldn’t — abide by the terms of the assessment. Home visits by elders used guilt to extract these assessments.
Even though the practice of assessments had ended by the 1940s, the feelings associated with the practice were carried forward, still shaping the life of this congregation in the 1990s. “We do not pledge here.”
How long should these stories be carried? How much power do we give them in shaping ministry today?
How do we help congregations bury the hurtful stories, yet carry forward the stories of generosity?
It begins with building trusting relationships with holy listening. The stories passed on by their parents and grandparents are honored when we take the time to ask for them and listen. Only when we have collected these stories can we begin to help people let go of old hurts, re-shape perspectives, and genuinely give thanks for the good God has provided that keeps us moving forward in mission.
That’s what Jesus did on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 24. He listened to Cleopas and the other disciple, really listened to them.
And then he began to help them reshape the story. “Was it not necessary?” he asked them.
It was only in the listening and then the interpretation that Jesus was able to be known to them in the breaking of the bread. And then the disciples were compelled to get back to Jerusalem.
Fears were set aside, generosity embraced, and hope reborn. In the stories of our congregations, we can help them collect, bury and choose what to carry forward into the future.
What are the stewardship stories of your congregation? What needs to be buried — and what needs to be carried forward?
Rev. Bonnie Wilcox is Senior Pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in North St. Paul, Minnesota.
Stones from the River – Celebrating Faith Milestones
“In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to enter the promised land, Joshua told one man from each tribe to take a stone from the middle of the river. They took those stones and put them in a pile on the spot where God had dried up the Jordan River and the people crossed safely to the other side.
Setting up markers to remind themselves who they were and what God had done in their lives was important to the people of Israel—and it’s important to us too. As a church, celebrating corporate and individual “faith milestones” reminds us how powerful and faithful God is and gives us an opportunity to celebrate moments in our congregation’s faith journey.
These celebrations help build up the body of Christ and create visual reminders to both children and adults that we travel together as a community.
We already celebrate some milestones together, usually baptism or profession of faith. This is a good start, but here are some other milestones your church might consider celebrating:
- birth or adoption of a child
- first day of school or church school
- beginning a new midweek program
- completing a year of school
- marriage or anniversaries
- years of service to the church
- becoming an elder or deacon
- death of a loved one
Churches have found a number of different ways to celebrate these important events in the lives of members. When planning your church’s milestone celebrations, you’ll want to keep these four principles in mind:
- Celebrate milestones at significant church gatherings such as a worship service. While some of these milestones might seem more personal than corporate, celebrating them with your church family is important and reminds the community of God’s faithfulness.
- Be specific about which milestone you are celebrating. If possible, give it a name.
- Make a presentation speech. (See specific examples below.)
- Give a small gift to mark the occasion to help create a meaningful memory of the occasion.
Here are examples of some milestone celebrations:
Immediately after a child is baptized, the pastor or a member of the congregation comes forward and lights a candle. This candle is presented to the child’s parents, along with a short meditation on the covenant, such as this one for a baby boy named Reuben:
In the sixth chapter of Judges we read about Gideon. Gideon has always been one of my favorite Bible characters because he seems so unsure of himself. Yet God used him to lead the people of Israel from oppression. When the Lord asked Gideon to assemble the army of Israel and take on the army of Midian, Gideon didn’t jump up and say, “Anything you say, Lord. I have complete confidence!” No, he wasn’t really sure how things would work out.
[The pastor briefly relates the story of the signs, and then continues as follows.]
That same Lord who spoke to Gideon and gave him a sign of his continued presence is here with us this morning. Baptism is also a sign of God’s continued presence in Reuben’s life.
As a congregation, we want to be present in Reuben’s life too. As a reminder of that, we would like to give you this baptism candle. I invite you to light it on Reuben’s birthday, on the anniversary of his baptism, or any time to remind Reuben of his baptism and of the promises we heard this morning. The Lord will be with Reuben just as surely as he was with Gideon.
Entering Third Grade
As children enter third grade, some churches mark the milestone by giving them a Bible. Ahead of time, the pastor chooses a verse for each child and writes it in the front of the Bible, along with the child’s name, the church’s name, and the date. During the worship service, the pastor explains why the Bibles are presented at this time. After calling the children to the front, the pastor or children’s ministry director says a few words about the Bible, as in this example:
The Bible is a book that is different from other books. You know lots of Bible stories, but it is important to remember that the Bible is also one big story—the story of how God works in the lives of people. It is God’s story—but it is also your story. Let me give you some examples. Have you ever tried to tell adults something and they didn’t believe you? That happened to Rhoda when Peter came to the door one night after escaping from prison. You can read about that story in the book of Acts. Have you ever felt nervous about doing something? Gideon was nervous too. His story is in the book of Judges. Moses felt like he couldn’t do what God was asking him to do. He told God that he couldn’t do it but God told him he could. Moses did so much that it takes four books to tell about what he did; Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Bible is full of stories of people just like you. It’s your story too.
Then the pastor calls each child individually, reads the verse picked out for that child, and presents the Bible.
In one congregation, everyone who has completed any form of study in the past year, from preschool to graduate school, is invited to line up along a side wall during a June worship service. Beginning with preschoolers, graduates state their names and what grade or degree they have completed. Then they walk across the church stage to be presented with a certificate of congratulations from the church. (The certificate can be rolled up and tied with a ribbon so that it resembles a diploma or it can be some other token of remembrance.) The pastor addresses the group along these lines:
When our family takes a road trip, we always make a big deal of entering a new state. We watch for the sign that says “Welcome to New Jersey!” and when we enter a new state we all yell and make celebratory noises. We’re still in the car. The scenery hasn’t changed. We’re still driving. Even so, we mark this event and have a little celebration right there in the car. Because that’s important to us—you can’t get to where you’re going without passing some milestones along the way.
Today we are happy to mark one of those milestones in your life. We are excited about what you have learned this year and the distance you have traveled. We’re excited that we get to travel with you on this journey. We recognize God’s work in your life and your accomplishments.
We want to take a moment to stand at this milestone and remember that God is faithful. He was with you when you started this journey, and he’s still with you today. And in a year, when we celebrate another set of learning milestones, we will say that he is still with us. But today we want to celebrate with you. So, “Welcome to New Jersey!”
Leaving the Church for a Time
When someone leaves for college or a service project or perhaps to serve in the armed forces, the church may present him with a devotional book as a reminder that the prayers of the congregation go with him. Here is an example of what the worship leader might say on that occasion:
In 2 Chronicles 20 we read about what King Jehoshaphat did when a great army came upon the people of Israel. Jehoshaphat gathered all the people together and prayed to God for guidance and protection. He ended his prayer with these words: “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”
As you head off, you too will face situations in which you do not know what to do. When that happens, keep your eyes on God. As a congregation we want to give you this devotional to help you do that. Read it. Pray about the things that you will face this year, and keep your eyes on Jesus. We will be praying for you.
Baptism of an Adult
When an adult professes her faith or is baptized, the church may present a book to remind her that the faith journey is not over. She is still on the path, just as her brothers and sisters are. Here is sample of a presentation (adapted from Charlie Peacock’s book New Way to Be Human):
The artist Doré was traveling through Switzerland when he was stopped by some guards and asked for his passport. He did not have it with him, but said, “I am Doré.” The guards knew of Doré but were unsure if this man was truly who he claimed to be. So they said “Prove it.” At that, the man took out a sketch pad and began to sketch a picture of some peasants who were standing nearby. “Enough,” they said. “You are Doré.”
It is wonderful to say that we belong to Jesus, but it is much more powerful to live our lives so that people recognize that we are his. This church is full of people who are trying to do that. We are thrilled to have you join us as we strive to reflect the light of Christ. We hope this book will serve as a reminder of your profession here today.
These examples of milestones are simply that—examples. Each church will find its own milestones and its own ways to celebrate. The important point is that we can use milestones to remind us of God’s faithfulness in our lives and in the life of our congregation. Now that’s something to celebrate!
I often allude to memory boxes when talking or thinking about spirituality and aging. They were prominent in my presentation at the Abundant Living Conference at Camp Allen in the Diocese of Texas in early March. A participant at the conference recently asked for more information about memory boxes:
“I was enchanted by your concept of a ‘memory box.’ I have a brother-in-law with Alzheimer’s now and I realize how helpful it [a memory box] will be to have meaningful visits with him. And my husband and I are beginning to collect fragments of our early lives to build our own memory boxes. I would love more information about this.”
I first encountered the idea of memory boxes from articles written by caregivers of people with dementia. Caregivers, including family, friends and professionals working in nursing homes, described how photos and other mementos provided cues that helped those with dementia access memories from their childhoods.
About the same time that I was reading about memory boxes, I was co-teaching a course about aging at Virginia Theological Seminary. During class we talked about how the writing of spiritual autobiographies unlocked memories of older people and gave them new understandings of their pasts.
Two seminary students later introduced the idea of writing spiritual autobiographies to groups of older parishioners at their churches. In both cases, the older people rejected the idea as being too personal and too difficult.
Not long afterward, I was asked to lead a weekend retreat in North Carolina by an ecumenical group of women who wanted to look more deeply at spirituality through the lens of aging. Part of me wanted to introduce spiritual autobiographies to the group, but I kept hearing my students’ voice of caution.
I can remember being lost in prayer as I walked across campus one day, when the Holy Spirit broke through. What if we used memory boxes as a gentle tool in helping these women to share their stories, their joys and their losses, their strengths and their fears?
Before going to North Carolina, I tried out my plan with a group of people who gathered weekly at a retreat center on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Each week I asked them to bring a different kind of memory cue—photos, written stories, and music—that they might include in their own memory boxes.
One participant whose mother had dementia told me that memory boxes gave her hope to counteract her fear about losing control of her life. “A memory box,” she said, “would let me decide which memories from my childhood give me the greatest pleasure.”
Making a Memory Box I wrote the correspondent from the Texas conference and made several suggestions as she and her husband gathered memories for her brother-in-law.
When possible, I suggested they include him in their quest for items and talk openly about what they are doing. I invited them to share photos with him to see which elicit a response. And to play music that they think might speak to him and see if it does. As wires reconnect, even momentarily, they might see him “restored to himself.”
When my father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s moved across the country to be with me, I carefully packed the items I thought he would most like to have around him. The certificates and honors that were so important to him as an adult were meaningless. Even photos of my mother, to whom he was married for over 50 years, sparked no memories.
However, his painting of the house where he lived as a child, a battered photo of students who attended his one-room schoolhouse, which included his neighbors and two brothers, and the stories of his cousins would always bring a smile to his face. He often added stories of his own from that long-ago time. My final advice: find mementos from early childhood for memory boxes for yourselves or people you love.
Adding New Memories I often add or subtract items from my own memory box. And I’ve even included specific instructions to go with stories I’ve written or photos I’ve selected. I ask, for example, that my caregiver set a bowl of fresh raspberries in the sun before reading a certain story and sharing with me the taste and scent of the warm berries.
What will you put in your memory box?
By Dorothy Linthicum (@dslinthicum) has been listening to and spending time with older adults to learn what they already know. Her memory box is in the photo.
On Millennials and Church
Young adults – those in their 20s and 30s, often called Millennials – seem to be everywhere, except, of course, in church. If we truly believe that the church needs millennials, and that millennials need the church, what is the way forward? Kyle Oliver has studied and written extensively on this generation. The following is a condensed version of his article from the Winter 2016 Episcopal Teacher.
The Challenges of Reaching Young Adults
At the developmental margins by definition, the in-betweeness of young adults is a huge part of why congregations are so flummoxed about them. Churches have long served children, youth, parents, empty-nesters, and elders. But emerging adults are a special kind of moving target, no longer youth but not quite adults.
How can churches meet twenty- and thirty-somethings where they are developmentally, supporting them in their transitions without condescension?
The challenges are real: Pew Research reports that only 18 percent of Millenials say they attend religious services “nearly every week” or more, as of the late ’00s. Religion may well become more important to the Millennials as they age, but slight upward trends do not change the experience of church for the young adults who are currently attending, where the young adult experience can be one of isolation and alienation. It is often difficult to form a critical mass for young adult fellowship or programs.
Below are four approaches that churches are using for successfully engaging young adults.
#1: The Critical Mass, Going Post-Denominational
What no denomination can afford to continue is the habit of trading on denominational loyalty alone. For example, in the Episcopal Church, campus ministries flounder when they say “We’ll be a home for all the Episcopalians on campus.” Many Episcopalians aren’t looking for such a home, and many more don’t particularly care if the Episcopal shield is on the sign out front.
A post-denominational approach acknowledges that the broader Christian tradition is much more important than the way denominations slice and dice that tradition. Denominational identities can help us form distinctive, authentic Christian communities that don’t assume a membership model of the past (“every Methodist will join our group”).
Gathering around a common Christian identity – core teachings of the faith, patterns of common worship and fellowship, a desire to grow and live in integrity – is more engaging than denominational differences.
This is good news for faith formation leaders. We’ve long known that the message of the Gospel, the power of personal relationships, and the freedom to explore the rich diversity of the Christian way are more important factors than denominational brand identity in the forming of a mature and lively faith.
#2: Emphasizing Service
Following the popularity of secular programs like the Peace Corps […], Christian denominations have created programs for service in the U.S. and abroad. These programs are a terrific response to the realities of emerging adulthood, providing food, housing, and employment at a time when many cannot find work; bringing young adults seeking to make a difference to areas of great need; incorporating vocational discernment; and connecting them to faith communities.
These programs are changing Christian culture because they provide as positive model for how being the church is about more than Sunday worship. Participants become living signs of being a Christian in the world. Many organizations find that an emphasis on service addresses the issues springing from Millennials’ waning religiosity and distrust of institutions.
Service connects with young adults in a way that worship or church activities may not. It many not be easy for most Millennials to invite a friend to church. But inviting them to serve? That is a way to plant the seed of faith.
#3: Creating Space for Questions
We can respond to young adults’ developmental needs by becoming a place where they feel safe to be themselves: anxious about the future, conflicted (or not) about their sex lives, doubtful about the historical doctrines of the church, etc. They need to be encouraged to own their faith, to make it real and concrete in their lives. The motto of the catechumenate program at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis is, “Your questions are not in the way – your questions are the way.” Communities that are successfully reaching young adults emphasize authenticity.
The lens of authenticity is helping many young adult ministers find success by gathering around food and drink, such as pub theology and dinner churches. It’s wrong to think of these approaches as merely luring in young adults promises of food and booze. It’s about meeting them where they already are, trusting in Christ’s presence among any gathering of the faithful and the seeking, easing barriers to invitation, and acknowledging that the faith questions you’d ask in a pub or at a dinner table are just as legitimate as the ones you’d ask in a pastor’s office or parish hall.
#4: Digital Ministry
Online spaces are a primary outlet for all kinds of authentic expression, including religious expression. We shouldn’t assume that young adults demand that all of our faith formation practices have an online component, but strategic efforts can lead to additional “faith touches” and a sense of ongoing connection and belonging amid busy young-adult lives.
A Firm Foundation for Faith
A pilgrimage is just a trip if there is not both a journey and a meaning connected to the journey. There is a body of Christian knowledge and a distinctively Christ-like way of living and this resonates with young adults. How should we describe it? In 2014, my colleague Melanie Mullen and I jotted down the big items:
• Basic knowledge of the Bible and reading it for spiritual fulfillment
• Basic knowledge of church traditions and worship and a commitment to letting them shape us over time
• Basic knowledge of theology and an ability to use it to reflect on everyday life
• Basic knowledge about prayer and spiritual practices and a willingness to explore them in a committed way
• A passion for justice and mercy and a commitment to serving others and the common good
• A sense that we are in this together as a people, sharing our joys and sorrows, marking the major passages in life.
Your community’s list might be different depending on your tradition, your gifts, and your theological commitments. But you can help the people you serve make their meandering way through that territory over time.
Programs may be out. Formal curriculum may be deadly. Service may be the starting point, or fellowship over coffee, beer, or a good meal. But a pilgrimage requires a sense of direction, progress, and thorough exploration. If we’re serious about forming faith that will continue to sustain young adults as they age, we have to trust that the Christian spiritual tradition has much to offer. We need to give it a chance to do its work, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Kyle Matthew Oliver is digital missioner and instructor in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary and priest associate at St. Michael’s Church in New York City. He leads the e-Formation Learning Community because he believes digital literacy is essential for 21st-century ministers. He lives in the Bronx with his wife, Kristin Saylor.