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Talking About Racism

Many congregations are looking for resources to help them talk about racism. White congregations want to prepare for dialogue with their multi-cultural neighbors. They want to learn more about the historical roots of racism and how it has become ingrained through social and economic structures.


Among the many fine books available, there is one curriculum that stands out as practical, accessible, and free. White Privilege: Let’s Talk – a Resource for Transformational Dialogue is a free, downloadable curriculum from the United Church of Christ.


It is designed to engage participants in “safe, meaningful, substantive, and bold” conversations on race. The curriculum contains background reading, webinars, and a conversation guide.


To get a feel for the material, it may be helpful to watch one of the five accompanying webinars, such as Whiteness as the Norm. For congregations who want to delve more deeply into racial issues impacting communities of faith, take a look at https://thecrg.org/search/results?query=race.


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Podcast: Productive Learning on the Run


As a consultant with the Center for Congregations, I travel a good bit. Sometimes I spend several hours in the car on a given day. While it’s nice to listen to music or enjoy the silence, it can also be nice to continue learning during the extra time. Thank you, podcasts!


Many don’t realize that podcasts are not just about entertainment. There is a great variety of valuable educational content and subject matter out there, ranging from practical to spiritual. Podcasts can be beneficial not just for you but for helping those in your congregation learn.


And did I mention that podcasts themselves are free? The term “subscribe” can be a bit misleading, but this just means that you are giving permission for the podcast to send you new episodes. It doesn’t require you to pay for it.


Getting Started

For Apple mobile device users, simply download the podcast app. For Android users, there are many possibilities: some free, some requiring a subscription. If you prefer to listen from a computer, a number of podcasts also have the audio available on its website.


If you haven’t yet delved into the world of podcasts, I encourage you to check it out. Here are some recommendations to get you started.


Leadership:

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast – conversations with top ministry leaders of the day

Catalyst Podcast – interviews with Christian leaders


Youth Ministry:

Thinkorange Podcast – “ideas and conversations to help you influence the next generation”

Youth Culture Matters from The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU) – “helping parents, youth workers, educators pastors and others understand and reach today’s youth culture”

Download Youth Ministry (DYM) – “a collection of shows to help you win in youth ministry”


Culture and context:

On Being with Krista Tippett – this podcast seeks to have conversations about the questions of meaning in our current context


Preaching:

Sermon Brainwave by Working Preacher – geared towards helping pastors interpret and preach the weekly lectionary



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Your Congregation and Innovation


The Harvard Business Review defines innovation as “the difficult discipline of newness.” What new thing is forming in your congregation? The congregation I attended last Sunday is starting a Friday night dinner, which will end with communion. In explaining the gathering, the pastor said “We don’t have to wait for Sunday to break bread together.”


My colleague Kara Faris and I have learned about the difficult discipline of newness from 12 innovative congregations. Stories from leaders of these congregations are in the book Divergent Church.


We learned of six practices evident in various configurations among these congregations. By practices, we mean universal human activities that take on unique and often new shape in these innovative congregations.


The congregations told remarkable stories that featured creative expressions of these six practices:




  • Shaping Community

  • Conversation

  • Artistic Expression

  • Breaking Bread

  • Community Engagement

  • Hospitality


If you were given full license to innovate regarding a practice, which practice would you choose and what would the innovation look like?


If you are interested in reading the book Divergent Church email me at tshapiro@centerforcongregations.org and I will send you a copy.


To learn more about congregations and innovation, take a look at the blog From Hallowed Space to Holograms and the organization Ministry Incubators.


By the way, the congregation starting the Friday night gathering is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Innovation is not dependent on a congregation being shiny and new.


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4 Questions Before Redesigning Your Website

Websites are the “front door” for congregations, and having a web presence is no longer optional. Visitors often search for a new church home online. Savvy congregations even use their websites to gather information from people.


Investing the right resources in a website can help your congregation attract new visitors and better interact with members. Ask yourself these questions before jumping into your website project.



  • What is our budget?

  • What are our goals for the website? Examples: To share information, gather new information, reach new people, interaction, advertise, etc.

  • Who will maintain the site and can they devote enough time to this work?

  • Based on who will be maintaining the site, what type of training do we need?


Considering those questions will help you find the right web-solution for your congregation.


For more info about website strategy, start with the article Designing Your Congregation’s Website.  You can also read What Makes A Good Church Website to learn smart tips from other congregations.


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Key Practices of Thriving Congregations

How would you describe a thriving congregation? Perhaps a thriving congregation has young people attending worship. Another thriving congregation might manage conflict well.


At the Center for Congregations in Indiana, we interact with all kinds of flourishing congregations. Here’s what we’re learning from faith communities that thrive.


 


Healthy Strategies



  • Focus on congregational assets rather than problems. Reframe observations as a positive question “What is going well?”

  • Learn to do new things. This encourages intentional growth as a community. See the book How Your Congregation Learns.

  • Help your people to live life well. Connect teachings, worship, and faith convictions to the challenges and opportunities of everyday life.


As part of our work, we captured the stories of 12 innovative, thriving congregations around the United States. Below are some of their common practices.


 


Intentional Practices of Innovative Congregations



For more information, see the book Divergent Church.


On the surface, thriving may look like growing worship attendance or conflict management. By considering the strategies and practices listed above, your congregation can take new steps to thrive.


 


For further discussion

Brainstorm strategies or practices that happen within thriving congregations.


 


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FACT Gearing Up for 2020 Survey

The new Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey is in the works. The survey officially launches next year, and FACT is in the process of finalizing participants now. Faith groups and denominations will survey their congregations early next year. Take a look at the list of groups that have agreed to participate and ensure that your group is represented. If your religious body or denomination isn’t listed, you can contact FACT at sbrown@hartsem.edu to inquire about partnership opportunities.


FACT is an interfaith research organization that provides key information on a range of subjects relating to congregational life in America. Previous FACT surveys resulted in relevant findings about conflict, outreach, young adults, spiritual vitality and more.


The goal for this new report is to survey 20,000 congregations in 2020.


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Faith Life: A Millennial Perspective

Most people can carry a casual conversation with a young adult. If that seems like a challenge in your congregation, check out the first part of this blog Relationships: A Millennial Perspective.


How about discussing values and faith beliefs with that younger generation? It’s accurate to say “times have changed.” In many parts of the United States, it’s no longer assumed that people go to worship every week. This makes conversations about faith challenging –but not impossible.


As a congregational consultant and millennial, here’s what I think you should know about millennials and faith.


We value spirituality and group connection. Contrary to statistics declaring the decline of religion in America, millennials do care about spirituality. It just looks different. Consider the Harvard Divinity study How We Gather. Thriving millennial movements like Crossfit and The Dinner Party draw upon common elements: community, personal and social transformation, purpose finding, creativity and accountability.


Action step: Evaluate which of those elements your congregation does well. Practice talking about those benefits and invite potential newcomers.


Value us through hospitality. I appreciate worship services that allow casual clothes and free coffee. It’s not about the cool leader in jeans or the best local brew. It’s about inviting us to come as we are. If it’s between wearing jeans and not showing up, it’s better to have us show up in jeans.


Action step: Take time to evaluate the new visitor experience. This list of 50 Ways to Welcome New People will help. While staying true to your congregation’s culture, eliminate unnecessary discomfort for visitors.


We are likely to question faith and require a safe space to do that. Rather than accepting doctrine or marketing, young adults prioritize exploration and personal experiences to determine their beliefs. This allows for rich, yet messy, thinking. Author of The New Copernicans Dr. John Seel explains this well. I highly recommend checking out his book.


Action step: Practice active listening and humility to prioritize relationships. This is especially important when the other person doesn’t share your beliefs. Celeste Headlee’s TEDTalk will help you brush up on conversation skills. Once you build a trusting space, it becomes easier to dialogue about faith.


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Making Youth Ministry Matter

The purpose of youth ministry is to foster the personal development of faith, theology and relationships for young people ages 6th-12th grades. This usually happens through a variety of lessons, games, resources and relationships. But how do you know if your youth group is hitting the mark?

The Center for Congregations has worked with more than 60 congregations to create vibrant youth ministries. Here’s what we discovered about the most successful congregations.

Effective Youth Ministries

• Devote financial and human resources as a priority to nurture young people.

• Equip youth to use their faith as a lens for making life plans and decision-making.

• Incorporate young people into congregational leadership and the planning process.

These larger goals will likely take time and decisions from your leadership. Below are small ways to strengthen your youth ministry.

Small Changes, Big Impact

You can make subtle changes to integrate youth into the fabric of your congregation. Recruit adult volunteers to connect with the youth and build intergenerational relationships. Allow the youth to step into meaningful and appropriate roles of responsibility. That could be mowing the lawn, assisting in worship or serving in the nursery. Small changes over time will help youth ministry become a natural part of your culture.

Looking for more youth ministry ideas? Take a look at Mark DeVries’ book Sustainable Youth Ministry or Kara Powell’s Sticky Faith.

 

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The Formative Power of Your Congregation

Many elements make you the person you are. You are shaped by your race, your geographic location, and your genetic structure. Your personality is formed by your family, your friends, and the choices you make along the way. You are influenced by education, social affiliations and friendships.

All of us are formed by the company we keep. The company we keep includes the congregation you attend. Whether you are aware of it or not, the activities of your congregation create certain thoughts, feelings and behaviors that make you who you are. In this way, your congregation has formative power.

Life together

I was reminded of the importance of being part of a religious community when a clergy person described a project happening in his congregation. He told me about a booklet being produced by the staff called Rule of Life. The Rule of Life is a guidebook outlining what it means to be part of the congregation.

The pastor says, “We want to encourage people to live a certain way of life.” Part of the guidebook is written as a catechism with answers to be learned and recited. Other parts of the guide describe specific practices in which one participates as a member of the congregation: at noon every day we are going to pray this Psalm.

If you read Psalm 23 every day, that Psalm is going to become part of who you are. The virtue of trust represented in the lines of the Psalm will more likely become part of your heart, mind and soul.

What elements are most formative in a congregation?

Of course, it depends on the particular congregation. I have observed and experienced the following activities having a positive impact on adherents:


  • Testimony, telling the story of their lives

  • Religious practices, particularly worship, prayer, singing, study of scripture, and rites of passages or sacraments

  • Reflection on practice: not just doing things but thinking about their impact with others

  • Relationships including across generations

  • Liminal experiences: pilgrimages, mission trips, cross-cultural experiences, spiritual retreats

Sharing stories

Here is an exercise to consider doing with a congregational board, team or class.

Remember a time when a congregational experience formed or reinforced a positive attribute in you. Write down the experience. Take turns sharing the stories out loud. Listeners are invited to ask open, curious questions to enhance group reflection. What themes are evident? What further growth might the congregation support?

Resources you can use

To consider this subject more, look at these resources: the books In Search of Wisdom, Community: The Structure of Belonging, and Living into Community.

 

 

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