Innovation Sat, 30 Jul 2016 12:55:54 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Stop Asking If Your Service 'Got It Right'—And Start Asking This

After every weekend experience, I find myself asking two questions:

  1. Where did I leave my keys?
  2. Did we get it right?

Disregard No. 1 unless you've discovered a way to shock me every time I put my keys down in illogical places. Let's focus on No. 2.

How do we know if we got it right?

A few weeks ago, I read three questions from Julie Arnold, a service programmer from North Point Ministries outside Atlanta, that changed the way I think about our experiences. I've noticed if I can answer these questions positively, I can mark our weekend a success.

Was it fun?

Are your guests laughing? Are they coming in your doors with giddy expectation? This doesn't mean pressuring yourself to trump the previous week. It means knowing what sets people at ease, what breaks down walls. Laughter creates engagement. Engagement means they're listening.

Was it excellent?

"The competition isn't other churches. The competition is anywhere else your guests could be." In my experience, people want genuine, thoughtful content—not more smoke and mirrors. That's what Bravo is for.

Was it helpful?

Are we communicating to sale a gimmick or invite life change? Do they leave equipped to take next steps?

Maybe the question isn't, "Did we get it right?"

Maybe the question is, "Did they get it?"

We're creating platforms to communicate Jesus. Are our environments inviting people to listen? {eoa}

Callie Holland serves on staff at Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, as a copywriter, content creator, and social media manager. She also produces Sunday services at their North Campus and works with a team to plan all promotion and production for church-wide events.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Callie Holland) Innovation Tue, 19 Jul 2016 12:00:00 -0400
7 Church Technological Advances You Should Watch For

The technological revolution we've seen in churches over the past 30 years is staggering. What's even more remarkable is the speed at which technology in the church continues to improve.

Simply having a screen was once considered a novelty in many churches, and overhead slides were used to project lyrics. Now, multiple screens with video or animated backgrounds are commonplace in our worship centers. Online giving was groundbreaking five years ago. Now, it's a core function included in every major church management software on the market.

Church websites, apps, live streaming, video-based curriculum and podcasts are but a few of the new ways churches are using technology. And they are almost all assumed at many churches. Of course, many churches do not use some (or any) of these technological advances available to them. And honestly, neither your church nor mine really need any of them to function as a church. There are countless churches all over the globe with little to no technology that are making disciples in ways that would put to shame some of the most technologically driven churches in the U.S.

However, many of our churches do utilize these technologies—and we are always looking for what's next. So here are seven technological advances churches should watch for in the future:

1. Computerized Child Check-In. With the emphasis being placed on child safety in the church, computerized check-in will likely become mandatory for churches over the next decade. When a mom drops her child off in a preschool classroom, she wants to know her child will be taught well and kept safe. Computerized check-in helps with half of that equation. The next point covers the other half.

2. Online Leadership Training. As our lives become more and more busy, we are less likely to spend hours upon hours in training sessions at the church building. Online leadership training allows church leaders to train in the margins of life on their own schedule. Better-equipped discipleship leaders become more effective disciple-makers.

3. Spotify Playlists. When we spoke with Mike Harland on the podcast recently, he mentioned churches having a core list of songs for them to know and sing. Spotify playlists allow your members to become more familiar with the songs they will sing on Sundays and to enter into times of personal worship throughout the week.

4. Text-to-Tithe. Online giving is now the norm for many church members. But text-to-tithe (my term) allows those who might be unprepared to give the opportunity to worship through the giving of tithes and offerings. People prefer to give in different ways. Churches that offer multiple paths for giving nearly always see an increase in total giving.

5. Video Announcements. The biggest positive of video announcements is the ability to control the length and professionalism of your announcements. The biggest drawback is that sometimes people will tune them out. Video announcements are not for every church, but many churches use them very effectively.

6. Online/App Delivery of Curriculum. We are seeing an increase in digital curriculum at LifeWay. While there will always be a place for printed curriculum, the ability to have your weekly lesson at your fingertips all the time is convenient for many leaders and learners.

7. Environmental Projection. This might be the newest thing in church technology. In fact, I have yet to see this in practice in a church service I've attended. I have seen videos, pictures and demonstrations, but not an actual worship service. But the ability to transform blank rooms into various environments by projecting scenes or graphics onto the walls of the room brings a new flexibility to existing spaces. And the results of a well-planned environmental projection display are staggering.

Those are some of the trends I'm seeing in churches in the U.S. What would you add? Is your church using any of these? How is it working out? {eoa}

Jonathan Howe serves as director of strategic initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week, and the managing editor of Jonathan writes weekly at on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

]]> (Jonathan Howe ) Innovation Fri, 10 Jun 2016 21:00:00 -0400
5 Issues With Church Programs

Writing this post may be one of the dumbest things I've ever done.

I am the president of the world's largest Christian resource company, and I'm talking about the problems with church programs.

I must be out of my mind.

To be fair, this article does not blame church programs, per se. But it does speak about the problems or dangers with programs if we lose our focus on their purpose. Unfortunately, such a loss of focus has taken place in tens of thousands of churches.

A church program is a resource that has content already created, ready for use by churches. Sometimes the program can be short-term like vacation Bible school. At other times, it can be ongoing, such as Sunday school or small group curriculum.

But, without good oversight and wise application, these and other programs can be problematic. Here are five of those problems:

1. They can allow members to escape responsibility for ministry. For example, during the 1980s and 1990s, many evangelism programs were popular in churches. But what we discovered later was disheartening. A significant number of church members viewed the program as the church's singular way to share the gospel. A common comment was, "I don't do evangelism myself; that's what those people do in our evangelism program."

2. They can't always be contextualized. Some programs have clear cultural bents that can't always be translated in different cultures. One size (culture) does not fit all.

3. They can imply that ministry is limited. As noted in the first point, many church members may think they shouldn't be involved in a certain ministry if they are not participating in the program. Thus, a person not in the evangelism program may think that sharing the gospel is only for people in the program.

4. They can outlive their usefulness. Many programs were designed for a season or era. Many churches don't want to kill programs that are no longer useful.

5. They can become an end instead of a means. A few months ago I was in a church where the pastor proudly proclaimed, "We are a Sunday school church." I asked him what he meant by that. His response: "We believe in Sunday school." I was hoping he would say that the church believes in the life changing power of groups for community, ministry, teaching, and evangelism. Instead the means (Sunday school) had become an end.

Again, the problem with programs is not the programs. Rather, the problem is when churches become program driven. We should always be grateful for good resources. But we should never think that any one program is panacea for all of the church's needs.

I would love to get your perspective on church programs. Let me hear from you.

Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer ) Innovation Wed, 11 Nov 2015 19:00:00 -0500
Church Health: How Do People Learn?

Kim Martinez 2Editor’s Note: This is the third and final in a series of articles by Assemblies of God Pastor Kim Martinez on church health. Part 1 Part 2

Jeffrey squishes his car into a parking spot, grabs his bible and heads for the church.

He is on his Sunday-best behavior. He dropped his wife and kids off at the door before parking on the back 40 and slogging through the slush to get into the sanctuary. As he enters the church, his brain starts to switch off. He has walked into the presentation zone. Jeffrey wants to engage in church, and he works hard at it, but every Sunday, he fights a simple problem—his mind tries to turn off when he enters the building. He hasn’t figured out the cause, but perhaps with a bit of thought, we can change the environment so that he finds himself energized and focused instead.

For this week’s church health review, we are going to look at how you engage people in their learning style.

According to experts, there are three primary learning styles:

Audio Learning—These people learn by hearing. Sermons, discussions and music all hit their input sensors just right. In worship, the music is the key point of inspiration.

Visual Learning—People who learn visually need to see it. Reading, note taking, pictures, slides and even internal pictures (like when you paint a picture with your words) reach them best. In worship, they are affected deeper by the ambiance, the PowerPoint, the visual pictures in the music than by the notes.

Kinesthetic Learning—Why talk about it, when you can do it? Kinesthetic learners need multiple sensory input. They learn best when they are moving, doing, experiencing. Worship that requires movement—even standing or raising their hands works really well.

We are going to take a different approach to church analysis. Typically, we would look at each event and determine how we were helping people learn or receive information. Instead, today, let’s look at the typical church attender’s experience based on the rooms he or she might enter.

This is the last of three articles using the coaching circle. To do today’s exercise; you will need a pen, paper, and your team (at least two other people with different learning styles).

Draw a circle in the middle of your paper and divide it into five parts. Now, imagine you are Jeffrey and Jessica with their two kids aged 3 and 8 walking into your church. What five areas of the church will they visit? (Hint: I gave you a couple with kids so that you will consider all parts of the church.)

Label the five parts of your circle with these five areas of the church. Now, take your team and enter each of these areas.

Let’s start in the entry area. What would a visual learner see? What would an audio learner hear? How would a kinesthetic learner experience this room? Rate each of these areas on a scale of 0 (that being the inside of the circle) and 10 (the outside of the circle)—how well are you doing at reaching all three learning styles? Fill in the part of the pie pertaining to the part of the church you are in.

After you have gone to the five areas of the church you are focusing on, return to your team meeting room.

Let’s say that you realized on field trip that the entrance to the church doesn’t have a lot of visual, the piped in music gives you a six, and you gave yourself a three because you have arrows pointing the kinesthetic learner toward possible destinations (arrows denote movement). What would it take for you to bring each of those areas up to a six? List a couple of things that would help someone who receives information visually connect with the church on entry. How could you change the entrance to show movement and activity for the kinesthetic information gatherer?

Now move on to each of your areas, seeing it through the information input sensors of other people, and looking for ways to connect them.

A note on overload: Have you ever walked into a place and were so overloaded you had to leave? Your goal isn’t to make sure that every person who walks through the door is 100 percent sensory engaged. They walked through the door for a reason, and they want to engage. Engagement goes two ways. If you are doing all the work, this leaves nothing for them. Instead, look for a healthy balance of engagement, providing opportunities for people to connect through their learning style without overwhelming them.

Here are some ideas that might help:

• Quality large pictures of people in your congregation serving in various capacities help those who are visual and kinesthetic because they engage visually, but show movement.

• Video displays, perhaps with audio, that show places to connect with information online will draw the eye of all three learning styles.

• In the worship center, the ability to move, take notes, express thoughts to a friend or online might help.

Truthfully, I don’t engage through audio well, so I am at a loss for ways to enhance the church environment for audio learners beyond the obvious. Would you mind helping me out in the comments section below? How do you design the worship experience and environment to help people connect with God through their learning style?

Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a Masters of Theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach, and can be found online at

]]> (Kim Martinez) Innovation Tue, 22 Jan 2013 21:00:00 -0500
The Cowboy Church

Jesus CowboyBarrel racin', bull ridin', boots 'n' hats ... in Jesus' name (with a twang).

Gary Morgan is an iconic cowboy. Tall and lean, clad in jeans, a Western shirt and boots, his look embodies the Code of the West—justice, fairness, honesty. Morgan leads the 1,500-member Cowboy Church of Ellis County in Waxahachie, Texas, the largest such congregation in the world.

Nearly everything about the church has a cowboy connection. "We have something going on pretty near every night," Morgan says with a typical Texas twang. Other churches might build a gymnasium to draw young parishioners; not Cowboy Church. They built a riding arena instead that's open and available for riding after Sunday services. Barrel racing is held Tuesday evening, and team roping practice on Wednesday evening.

One of the most popular events the church sponsors is the Thursday night "Buck Out," which allows high school- and college-age guys the opportunity to climb on the back of an ornery bull and see if they can ride for the required seven seconds.

It's a great outreach tool, Morgan says. In addition to bull-riding practice, the church makes sure attendees get a meal and a slice of the gospel. Morgan estimates about 50 people a year are added to the church through the bull-riding event.

Although head wear is usually discouraged in most churches, the Texas pastor often preaches in a Western hat. Many in the congregation also wear hats, removing them only for prayer.

The Western lifestyle is a respected way of life in this part of Texas, but it isn't just ranchers and cowboys who are attracted to the laid-back, no-nonsense style of the church. Its location adjacent to Dallas-Fort Worth Metro has also brought city folks to the church's door. Morgan says he's just as likely to use a "driving to work on the freeway" analogy in his sermons as he is a ranching or cowboy reference.

That open approach to church—a "don't fence me in" concept—has been key to the church's success. Morgan is proud that visitors of all types can come without being buttonholed. "Our No. 1 comment from people is that the moment they came in the door, they felt at home here," he says.

The worship service is designed to be low participation, including a minimum of congregational singing. The church's music ministry isn't entirely country or Western, but spills over into a variety of styles, including music "the average person might be listening to on his radio," Morgan says.

No offering is taken. A basket is placed at the rear of the church for those who desire to give. Those making salvation decisions are allowed to do so in private, rather than being asked to step in front of the congregation. "We're not here to make church people comfortable, but to provide a place for the lost and unchurched to have an encounter with Jesus Christ," Morgan says. "We take every practice of the church and ask, 'Will this keep a person from coming to church?'"

Morgan, who took over the church plant six years ago, believes the key to his approach is simplicity. He doesn't use big words nor does he talk down to his congregation. This has made the cowboy church concept one of the fastest growing in the United States. A church plant in San Angelo, Texas, grew from zero to 100 in 30 days—and many cowboy churches grow from zero to 500 in as little as six months.

By Morgan's count, there are more than 200 churches similar to his dotted mostly across Texas but increasing out of cowboy country. Though his Cowboy Church has become a training ground for other cowboy churches everywhere, this pastor is one cowboy happy to share more than a Western lifestyle.

Paul Wahl has been a journalist for more than 30 years and lives in Eden Prairie, Minn.

]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Fri, 16 Nov 2012 17:00:00 -0500
Church Unplugged

If your church were stripped down to its core, what would be left?

I’m often asked by church leaders, “How far is too far?” From big screens and big hair to modern worship and candlelight services, there are so many ways to do, have and present “church.” From the mini to the mega, from old-fashioned steeples to churches that lease space in nightclubs, the experiences are virtually endless. Seeker-sensitive. Evangelistic. Quiet and sincere. Loud and glorious. You name it and there’s a good chance it’s been tried. Yet the questions remain: How much should I do? What should I avoid? What is cool? What works?

Here’s a simple approach I’ve taken in line with those questions: If the electricity went out, and your walls fell down, and your biggest givers died, what would you have left? Would you have a community of people still seeking after the heart of God? Would you still worship even without a band? Would you still be able to learn about God even though you can’t show a video or a PowerPoint slide? Essentially, what you have when everything else goes away is what your church is really all about.

In his book The Importance of Being Foolish, Brennan Manning says: “Consider how our churches have explored and exploited our need to replace the numbness in our lives with a passion for something, anything. We’ve created worship in which music is meant to stir the emotions but the soul is left unmoved, in which the words spoken are little more than manipulations of the heart. We have created cathartic experiences filled with weeping and dancing in the Spirit that leaves us with the sense that we have touched God but that fail to give us the sense that God has touched us. We run to churches where the message feels good and where we feel energized and uplifted—but never challenged or convicted.”

Manning continues with a quote from Henri Nouwen: “‘It is not surprising that spiritual experiences are mushrooming all over the place and have become highly sought-after commercial items. ... In our desperate need for fulfillment and our restless search for the experience of divine intimacy, we are all too prone to construct our own spiritual events.’”

We can hide behind brands and marketing campaigns. We can plow new grounds in getting the world to take notice of our creativity. We can even make a name for ourselves in our communities. But what remains when the lights are out and the sound is unplugged? When the hurricane wipes it all away? When the earthquake swallows your best intentions?

As a local church community, what we have without power is really the only “power” worth having. Jerry Hendrix, a pastor in Abilene, Texas, tried to hammer home this point recently. In February, Crosspoint Fellowship did away with electricity, except for the children’s class, and saved whatever money would’ve been spent on power for mission work. No heat, no lights, no coffee—just an “unplugged,” stripped-down church.

“The idea was to get across being unplugged from some of the things in our lives,” said Hendrix, who served 22 years as a youth minister. As churchgoers “uncomplicated their lives,” they also were reacquainted with a core principle of living as a believer: sacrificial giving.

I’m always encouraged to see church communities that are concerned more with church taking place rather than church just being a place. When God speaks, I’d rather be in a position to listen than scrambling for the microphone to make sure He’s heard. Instead of getting so jazzed up about showing a Bruce Almighty film clip, I want to make sure I’m seeing God’s real miracles every day.

Brad Abare is director of communications for the Foursquare denomination and president of Personality, a marketing consultancy.

]]> (Brad Abare) Innovation Mon, 20 Apr 2009 14:53:10 -0400
The Biker Church

Revving up the gospel ... on Harleys

A building with a phalanx of motorcycles out front generally would not be seen as a church, but at biker churches across the United States, Harleys and heaven are often part of the same discussion.

Pastor Doug Carlson of the Biker Cell Church in Stratford, N.H., doesn’t flinch when a leather-clad biker with tattoos across his body, a beard and jeans walks through his doors. In fact, that’s exactly who he wants to come.

Carlson—or as he’s more commonly known, “Pastor Shoe”—feels a deep kinship with those in the biker lifestyle. For him, motorcycles serve as literal and figurative vehicles, attracting attention and an opportunity to share testimonies. His 4-year-old Biker Cell Church currently is organized as a house church. Shoe said the congregation was renting a nearby storefront but gave it up to save money. Besides, he says, the open road is where the heart of most of his parishioners is in the first place.

To that end, you can often find the group on the highways along the Eastern Seaboard. The church takes a booth at swap meets across New England as a base from which to evangelize. They also get together with other riders from other churches and motorcycle clubs to sponsor a variety of events, including a charity ride. Wherever the meeting place, the fundamental principle behind gathering is openness and acceptance.

“Many of them are recovering addicts,” Shoe says of his churchgoers. “Not all of them are bikers.”

And for many, the open door for contact with him was simply his unique moniker. Shoe says the name came to him in a vision from God and is loosely based on the use of a shoe in the story of Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament book of Esther.

Thousands of miles away, Hope Fellowship Church in Irving, Texas, has also attracted attention because of its biker orientation. The church, located in a banquet facility called the Pigeonhole, began meeting in March 2004. Many mistake the building for a bar, but pastor Dennis King says it’s never been one, though it does have a lively local history.

King uses the place to conduct what would be considered more of a Bible study than a traditional church service on Sundays. Coffee and doughnuts are served each week. And although a praise and worship band is part of the presentation, King makes sure to keep the atmosphere casual.

Using this approach, the congregation has grown from five to 200, which means that on occasion, people have to be turned away at the door. Because of this, a building next door is being retrofitted as an expansion project, eventually doubling the number of people who will fit.

Hope Fellowship Church is nondenominational and attracts people with a variety of church backgrounds and some with no background. “It’s a group of people whose lives have been turned around,” King says with a gleam in his eye.

Yet one of the reasons the Texas pastor is most proud of his congregation is an understanding of outreach and service. Once each church service is over, members saddle up and head out into the surrounding community, visiting hospitals and nursing homes and anywhere else they might find a venue in which to minister.

As expected, the group of 25 to 50 bikes attracts attention, people and, as King describes it, “God works.”

King, himself an avid biker from his teen years, says the church’s unique membership provides a steady stream of media interest, which has helped it grow. The church was recently featured in the Dallas Morning News, a newspaper with about a half-million daily readers.

For both congregations, the opportunity to evangelize a hard-to-reach population is taken wherever it is found.

Paul Wahl has been a journalist for more than 30 years and lives in Eden Prairie, Minn.

]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Fri, 13 Feb 2009 14:14:44 -0500
The Karate Church Everybody was Kung-Fu fightin’ (sort of) in these two kickin’ congregations

Some ministers preach in robes, some in fine three-piece suits. Pastor Rod Brayfindley prefers karate clothes, and that’s just fine with his parishioners at Church of the Joyful Healer in McKinleyville, Calif.

What began as a way for Brayfindley to lose weight and lower his blood pressure has turned into an opportunity to reach a large portion of Northern California with a conventional message in an unconventional format.

Brayfindley got the idea when he met with two church planters for the United Methodist Church. Finding a common thread from which to weave a church wasn’t particularly easy in McKinleyville, a city of about 14,000 people who come from about as many religious backgrounds. Northern California towns are notorious for being refuges for people who don’t see themselves as fitting in.

For Brayfindley, karate was a good way to provide such residents with a nonthreatening introduction to the church and its teachings. It worked. The church membership has grown to more than 200 since opening in 1998.

Yet the dichotomy of basing a church that preaches peace on a sport often perceived as violent isn’t lost on Brayfindley. His background in the sport is based in karate more as a source of physical joy. The subject is debated not only in California, but also across the United States.

Mark McGee, who heads Grace Martial Arts Fellowship in Tampa, Fla., said the Eastern religious nature of some martial arts practices also poses some conflicts.

“I came to see how well they work together as I studied the martial nature of Israel in the Old Testament and saw that God had purposed for them to fight, win and conquer countries and civilizations,” McGee said. “The message of the New Testament is about escaping and overcoming, which is another fundamental concept of martial arts.”

Christians often tell McGee that the church has no business teaching people how to practice self-defense, but he believes differently: “God wants us to defend our families from danger and teach our children how to defend themselves from danger.”

Despite the apparent differences between martial arts and Christianity, McGee is quick to point out that both are made up of similar basics and fundamentals. The fundamentals of martial arts protect us from physical danger; the fundamentals of faith protect us from spiritual danger, McGee said.

Both McGee and Brayfindley use these commonalities as a vehicle for outreach. The health and physical strength aspects of karate appeal to the health-conscious and often New Age residents of communities like McKinleyville. Yet the sport is also ripe with parallels to the Christian walk. For instance, one Sunday Brayfindley told a group of 15 students to drop and give him 10 push-ups in the middle of a sermon as a way to illustrate obedience.

Although karate illustrations are part of his presentations, he’s just as likely to use comedy: “I have an intellectual interest in why people laugh.”

Most of all, the karate program brings Brayfindley and the congregation a sense of credibility and connection in the community.

“If they come here for the karate and happen to discover the church, that’s fantastic,” Brayfindley said. “If they never do begin attending the church, that’s OK, too."

Paul Wahl has been a journalist for more than 30 years and lives in Eden Prairie, Minn.]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Sat, 01 Nov 2008 00:00:00 -0400
All That Jazz

How one congregation improvises with music, but not the message

Is contemporary or traditional music more fitting for a church service? Minnetonka United Methodist Church in Minnetonka, Minn., may have found a unique answer to this question. For this church the answer is “neither.”

Instead, they’ve chosen jazz—obviously not the most cutting-edge of genres, yet not as archaic as 14th-century hymns—as a means to draw people of all ages and walks of life. It may seem a bit unorthodox at first glance, but Minnetonka UMC’s services are as inspiring and enlightening as any with more churchlike musical offerings.

“We were looking for a way to reach out to the community in a way that was different,” says pastor Ken Ehrman, who leads the ultra-casual, cabaret-style service. “That’s when we came up with the idea of jazz, which reaches people of all generations.

On a recent Sunday morning, for example, the professional jazz musicians who serve as the “worship band,” used “Just in Time,” Jule Styne’s song from the 1950s, to help illustrate points about the story of Lazarus. “God’s timing,“ explained Ehrman, who sees the service as a way for members to push themselves to recapture the excitement and sense of purpose of talking about faith with new people.

The idea was posed to the congregation as part of a challenge from United Methodist Minnesota Bishop Sally Dyck for members to get out of their comfort zones. On Sept. 9, 2007, the church began hosting the nontraditional services, which typically draw about 75 people but experienced a recent growth spurt after the Star Tribune, a large metro daily newspaper in the Twin Cities, ran a feature story about the venture.

The “jazz services” are held in the church’s fellowship hall, where pews are replaced with tables and the atmosphere is more coffee stains than stained-glass windows. The first notes sound out at 11:15 on Sunday mornings—purposely later than usual because many of the musicians stay up late on Saturday nights performing. That includes Fritz Sauer, a professional jazz trumpet player and retired United Methodist pastor who leads the five-piece Restoration Jazz Band each week. Ehrman, meanwhile, functions much like a frontman for any big band, keeping the patter lively and the service flowing.

The typical Sunday experience is marked by movement—everything from foot-tapping and hand-clapping to people getting up to retrieve a second cup of coffee and perhaps a muffin. Ehrman makes a point of providing directions to the restrooms. “After all, most of us just rent coffee,” he said during one service, drawing a hearty laugh from the congregation.

Beyond the musical unorthodoxy, however, the services provide most of the traditional church standards. Ehrman’s sermons more accurately resemble Bible studies, punctuated with immediate feedback from the parishioners. Scripture readings are done in “reader’s theatre” style. A basket is placed at the front of the gathering for those who wish to contribute.

It’s often difficult to find a way to stretch churchgoers in an upscale suburban setting such as Minnetonka, Ehrman said. And the task of helping these normally reserved and polite Minnesotans become open and outgoing individuals who practice “radical hospitality” is also a bit daunting. But as an outreach tool, so far the jazz approach seems to be working, as 20 percent of those attending each week are first-time visitors to the church.

“We look at the whole thing as an improvisational experience,” Ehrman says.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Paul Wahl writes and resides in Eden Prairie, Minn.

International missions is no longer an overseas venture—the world is in your backyard. Having trained leaders across the globe since the 1960s, Donna S. Thomas shares practical ways your church can reach its international neighbors in Faces in the Crowd.


]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Mon, 01 Sep 2008 05:00:00 -0400
The Surfer Church Bibles and the beach fit perfectly together for this coastal congregation.

Jesus did some significant ministry at the beach. According to Mark 2:13, a "multitude" gathered beside the sea to hear Him teach. He also selected four of His disciples while He was walking the shore of the Sea of Galilee—fishermen Simon and his brother Andrew, and fishermen and boaters James and John, also brothers (see Mark 1:16-20). Each of them made their living from the ocean, meaning they likely lived there too.

Coastlands Church of Pacific Beach, Calif., near San Diego, believes the same concept is good enough for them, too. Taking Jesus' example to heart, they make use of the popular nearby beach and surfing spot to minister to their community. Several times a year, the congregation moves a few blocks from the local elementary school where they normally meet and holds services next to the ocean. The church's "four walls" are replaced with the sun, sky, sand and waves of the Pacific Ocean, where the waters also serve for baptisms.

Coastlands is a church marked with a beach and surf culture, according to founding pastor Evan Lauer. Though surfers comprise a large part of the congregation, Lauer rejects the label of Coastlands as an exclusively "surfer church." He and Kelley, his wife, opened the doors to the church in 1996, a year and a half after they began a Bible study in their home for friends. "It was our desire to reach our friends who were either burned out on church or who just hadn't been in a long time," Lauer says.

An avid surfer and a San Diego native, Lauer feels a kinship with people who call the beach communities home. In California's beach towns, residents typically fall into one of two types, he explains: Some are rich enough to own the million-dollar-plus homes in communities such as Pacific Beach ("I'm not one of them," he says), and some live at the beach for the amenities but are far from rich.

Beachwear and sandals are the usual dress of the close to 100 people who attend Coastlands, which meets at Bayview Terrace Elementary School. Since property is expensive on the beach, Lauer found a home for his church in the nearby school. The school and church enjoy a sort of symbiotic relationship. The school provides meeting space for the church, and members help with the upkeep of the school buildings.

Worship services at Coastlands are similar to those found in many other congregations. Music is a part of the service, and Lauer shares weekly messages. Children's church is held in the back of the worship area. Though you can almost hear the ocean's waves from the door of the school, and the water is a natural part of life for the parishioners, Lauer says he tries not to overemphasize the surfer aspect of the church.

It does play a role, however. Coastlands and several other churches in the community sponsor an annual surfer contest that draws almost 100 children and teens—and some adults. In addition, surfing celebrities such as pro surfer Skip Frye and industry legend Larry Gordon either attend regularly or help out with special church events.

Coastlands also participates in Faith in Action—a four-week campaign that encourages members to cultivate an outward focus. The event culminates on a Sunday when regular services are canceled and the entire congregation engages in service projects.

More than anything, Lauer says, the expectation in the church is authenticity—a faith that actively changes lives for Christ. Says Lauer: "Our goal is for God to move on the lives of our people."

A journalist for more than 30 years, Paul Wahl writes and resides in Eden Prairie, Minn.]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Tue, 01 Jul 2008 05:00:00 -0400