Wednesday, December 31, 2014

VP of Audience

I noticed a job posting in the local newspaper Sunday that caught my attention. They are looking for a Vice President of Audience. I'd never heard of, or thought of, such a position. I guess it makes sense if you think about the significant challenges newspapers have faced the last 40 years as cultural and media changes have swept the land. Consider the place of newspapers in the 1960's (or read some history) and the growth of TV news, internet, and current news cycle. With the aging Baby Boomers, (perhaps the last newspaper subscribers?), you have a declining market with the following generations not showing much interest in the daily print media. It's a tough market!

My work is in church and community, in mission and outreach most specifically, so I'll jump to the application that intrigues me with this job description. There are plenty of parallels between the old successes and recent challenges of the newspaper industry and the last generation of the church in the United States.

As I think about building audience there are plenty of applications, and questions, that a church might consider (unless the congregation wishes to go the way of many newspapers):

How are local congregations focused and structured to intentionally reach and build audience in their community? More specifically, who are the people in the church that serve to engage the community and build your audience? What skills are expected and nurtured in members to help them build audience? What collaboration of ministry/ministries is necessary to effectively engage your community as you engage and build? How is this vital function consistently promoted and how does your church assess how members are doing in building audience? Like newspapers today, how are we redeveloping our strategy so that we maintain our focus while using new tools?

Perhaps you think of questions specific to your context as you play with this concept of building audience. Here's the job description to fuel your thoughts and discussion. The job goal is to 'become integral and indispensable in the lives of local people, resulting in much larger audiences." It sounds like a vital function that every member of a strong community church might well consider as their own job.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Incarnational Church

It's the end of the calendar year and beginning of the Christian year. This offers great opportunity to reflect on the past year/years and to dream about the possibilities in the coming year.

A couple of days ago I was reading about GM and their last year with the new CEO, the ignition switch recall of 800,000 vehicles, and their ongoing quest to change in order to succeed today. It reminded me of a blog I posted some 5 years ago comparing the UMC to GM as the big institutions which did well in previous years must now retool in order to be competitive and strong today. These years later I wonder how much, or is it how little, talk leads to action. I also wondered about rhetoric inside the organization versus the objective reality of  "by the numbers approach" and comparison to similar organizations. Of course, do we look for profit, or production, or consumer perception, or dependability, or other numbers. It is easy to "do what you've always done," but given some time that typically leads to an institution finding itself "overspending, overmanned, and inefficient."

In this Christmas season we wonder again at the mystery and reality of incarnation. "If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here." What does it mean to be an incarnational church, the Body of Christ today, in ways that save us and save those in our midst? What does it mean for us to be the Church Militant/ Ecclesia Militans in our own community?

I'm also thinking some about the complexity, yet simplicity, of church. The complexity seems to revolve around the every day reality of life in a church- the flow/tug/tide of tradition, personalities, and small group dynamics, and issues of position and power in a community. The simplicity seems to revolve around what God continues to do in people's lives, the way of Christ, the ongoing power of Spirit, the yearning we all have for the Kingdom of God unleashed in our lives today.

I'm thinking a lot about congregations and how they are effectively sharing a witness for Christ in their community. I'm also thinking about how many of us struggle in this secular day to be effective in such ministry. Is it that this generation is less religious or that the churches we have built/designed/programmed just don't meet the needs of people today?

A new year is almost upon us. Now is the time for renewal and for being an incarnational church where our neighbors may find the community of salvation.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Can You Help our NGUMC Portugal Bridge?


Rev. Everhart’s original message:
We have been given a new opportunity today. Bishop Sifredo has asked our help in funding a new church start by contributing to the salary of the new pastor, Marcelo Fonseca. Marcelo was trained last May here at our License to Preach School. He is ready to serve and has already committed himself. To support him and to pay for the rent we need $25,000 right now (by February) to take to Portugal. Alone this is a huge amount of money but if each church in the Atlanta Emory District would send a check for $500.00 from their Mission Funds we would have $22,500.00. I will ask the Annual Conference to come up with the difference for this first year. ONLY $ 500.00 is all I’m asking. Do you have $500 left in your budget? Please check with your leaders and if they agree to be a part of planting a church in Portugal please send a check to the District Office ASAP marked for Church Plant Portugal.  I will count you as one of the 50 churches on the Bridge to Portugal and you will have a part in bringing good news of great joy to all people.

I know I’m asking a lot with our Fair Share Mission Asking, our District Work Fund and your benefits but please see if you cannot find $500 to contribute ASAP before 2014 is closed. I’m willing to receive your gift in January as well, beggars are not choosy.

Grace and peace,
Teresa Lilja
Administrative Assistant
The Atlanta Emory District
5161 Brook Hollow Parkway, Suite 210
Norcross, GA  30071
770.446.7506 - Office

Christmas Celebrations with Philippines United Methodists

Here are photos from various United Methodists churches in the Manila area of the Philippines where Rudy Juan is the residing bishop.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas with Action Ministries

Action Ministries is our North Georgia Bridge partner that is right here in our own conference area. This ministry sprung out of the churches in 1963, and has strong community ministry engaging a variety of partners in locations across the northern part of the state to address the challenges of poverty with focus on hunger relief, housing, and education. Sites in Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Decatur, Gainesville, and Rome lead the charge as we mobilize to transform lives. Here are some photos courtesy of Rev. John Moeller, President & CEO, from Christmas at Action Ministries Atlanta held at Grace UMC today. 

Christmas Celebration with Portugal Methodists

Celebrating Christmas in Porto:

Christmas singing:

Christmas story:

Christmas sweets:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas: Russia

Our United Methodist brothers and sisters share these photos from their celebration of Christmas in their churches in Russia.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas: Bahamas

As we prepare for Christmas it's interesting to remember our various NGUMC Bridge partners as they also celebrate.

Here are some photos from church Christmas programs courtesy of Tori Danielson of Bahamas Methodist Habitat.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014: Six Mission Highlights

Often the end of the year brings time for reflection and a recap of the biggest news. I'm thinking about mission and outreach today. How have you experienced the Kingdom of God this year? For me, this has local to international implications. I'll list a quick synopsis as so much has already been written on most of these topics throughout the year.

Here are my 6 mission highlights of the year:

Churches continue to refine, redefine, right size as it seems we are ending a chapter in U.S. Christianity and entering into a new era. This offers both impact and potential for churches in mission. How will this play out as the Baby Boomer generation continues aging and what opportunities are there for the next generations?

US discussions and action related to race. Many communities are at a boiling point in race relations. Rather than sides being drawn how might the church offer a way forward? How is the church part of the solution in community building? What next steps might you take in relationship building, and community building, which will create the community everyone deserves?

Ebola- this has been a significant story this year and still continues. What is the short term and long term impact? What have we learned?

UMC Global Ministries announced a new direction which will reshape their missions and ministries. This story will continue to unfold in 2015-2016 as the global nature of the UMC will be even more reflected in the structure.

Congregations in Mission- whether small church or large, inner city or rural, the community of faith is called to follow in the way of Christ as we participate in the Missio Dei and respond to the Holy Spirit today. Unfortunately, many congregations have become distant from their community and this generation. How can your church share true Good News in word and deed in your own community in ways which match your time and place?

I took on a new job in mission as I work with my annual conference and GBGM! This has me available for congregations across the UMC to assist with mission celebrations (look for update on this link soon!) and a strategy of mission that will launch your church into the next year of service. In the NGUMC I'm available to help with mission at the local, regional/national, and international level for networking, assessment, coaching, equipping, etc. For NGUMC I have special focus on Bridges in order to have at least 50 churches on every Bridge as we partner better for greater transformational impact.

OK, I know that last one isn't on the same scale as the others, but my work does have direct connection to all of these biggest stories. And so does your mission and ministry! 2015 will offer us even more opportunities to work together as we become part of the biggest stories lived out in our time. The global, connectional nature of The United Methodist Church gives us the vehicle we need to be part of this ongoing drama of redemptive service in our time.

What are your mission highlights from the last year? What are you anticipating in 2015 as you serve in the Mission of God?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Out of the Box Church

I just read about Out of the Box Church. It seems like this sort of local community engagement out to be the norm. Though it may differ depending on a church context I would hope every congregation is looking for the ways to be a servant in their area, follow Christ in the streets in the ways that are authentic and transformational, grow relationship with the children of God (of all ages) out in the community, and help them find their place in the community of faith/ the family of God/ the church.

"They don’t apologize for doing things differently at Out of the Box. Instead, they work to endear themselves to their community by providing members lots of opportunities to engage in ministry with those around them. For example, members regularly volunteer on cleanup and recovery crews after storms, chop firewood for those who heat their homes with wood stoves, and host free cookouts in low-income areas of their community. They encourage every member to be an active evangelist for Jesus Christ, not only by serving their neighbors, but also by inviting those neighbors into the congregation and making sure they feel welcomed and loved."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Seasonal Mission Texts: The Suffering Servant #1

The Advent texts of the various reading cycles guide us in expectation, and in feeling the strain of reality and what we long for in life and faith. I've always been drawn to the "Suffering Servant" songs/poems and the powerful imagery. Of course, the readings remind me of the hoped for Messiah and define for me who Jesus is as I lean toward Christmas. Over the years I also learned that a Hebrew reader may think in terms of the people Israel as the Suffering Servant. That has always been very helpful to me as I read the Old Testament/Hebrew scriptures, and as I grapple with the promise and hope found in the New Testament. When I combine these two interpretations- one with focus on Messiah and the other upon the people of faith- I am personally forced to consider what it means for the Church, the Body of Christ today, to be the Suffering Servant in our communities and in our world. This also helps me to avoid that overly sentimental, but spiritually lacking, repetition of Advent and Christmas that is either too distant and historic or too individualistic, self absorbed, and removed from the realities of life today.

How is your Advent leaning into that intersection of the harsh realities of life and the incarnation of God? How is your celebration of Christmas more than a consumerist orgy or personal/family extravaganza lacking the larger social connections which might grow your holiness as you best express love of God and love of neighbor? How are you, and your church, following in the way of Christ and the model of a Suffering Servant?

Read and struggle with me in living out the answers.

The First Song: The Servant of the Lord 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Partners Needed for Scouting Ministry in Cote d'Ivoire

I'm looking for some churches who either believe in the power of scouting or the power of community outreach to children and youth. If you believe in both you will certainly want to embrace this opportunity with your prayers and encouragement.

Ty LaValley soon departs to serve in Cote d'Ivoire to serve in mission by helping the United Methodist conference and churches there to establish scouting ministry as a way of engaging communities and growing the church. This is something of a pilot program as indigenous scouting ministry could take root in countries all over the world!

This week Ty has been on a bike ride adventure touring the United Methodist churches of the Augusta District. He's continuing to actively build support, but needs more people and churches on the team. 

Here's Ty's mission profile as he soon departs to serve the United Methodist Church in Cote d'Ivoire. Or you can keep up with his adventures at  his personal Facebook page or FB group. Or you can keep up with his blog. But do try to keep up with him and actively encourage his good ministry.