Month: May 2011

Fast Food Marketing and the Local Church

Have we, as American pastors, given up our calling as shepherds and unknowingly become fast food entrepreneurs who are building a religious business and not a church? Before I dive into this, let me first confess. I am the pastor of a church with several big buildings, one of them with a cafe and a bookstore that sells products. Our stage is backed by a huge high definition screen and surrounded by lights of every color.

In many ways, we are not unlike any other mega church in America because, we too, have used marketing techniques to attract a crowd on Sundays.  But, the internal conversations among our leaders are shifting. We want to be what Eugene Peterson calls “a company of pastors” and not a company of shopkeepers. Church is not a product to be consumed like a gym membership, but rather a holy gathering of sinners who are becoming saints because of grace.

This is a blog, not a doctoral thesis, so I am not trying to give complete answers to the three questions below. Instead, I am hoping to start some conversations and maybe some helpful debate. I will ask some questions here and give some of my thoughts. I hope to create a symphony of discussion that may be helpful to leaders who are brave enough and secure enough in their calling to honestly evaluate the way we are leading our churches. Also, this is not a slam on the fast food industry, of which, I am a big fan. In fact, I might starve to death if my driver side window ever broke.

Read the three questions and consider my thoughts and then give me your thoughts.

Question #1 – Is it wrong to use marketing for our church?

I don’t think marketing is evil or carnal, as long as we are not solely leaning on worldly principles while forgetting the primary disciplines that truly build the church. Prayer is the engine of church growth, followed closely by our personal witness to others. Praying people who know they are called to a local fellowship will bring others with them to the gatherings. Slick, four-color door hangers are fine, but passionate people who love their neighbors are the real church builders.

At New Life we have banners on the outside of our church to tell people what times we meet and, from time to time, we use local media to promote events. However, we are also convinced, it’s the unseen work of the Holy Spirit birthed in prayer that really gathers the lost, the hurting and the disenfranchised.

Question #2 – What do we REALLY want?

I emphasized REALLY, because I know what most church leaders would tell me if asked this question. They would say they want to make disciples, reach the lost, and help the hurting. And they probably do. But what I hear leaders talk about most are attendance numbers and because our mouth always betrays our hearts, I suspect we have focused too much on how many are attending rather than how many are growing.

We stopped emphasizing overall weekend attendance numbers about 18 months ago. We do not talk about it in meetings or in the hallways, but we do know how many were baptized, how many went on missions trips, how many joined small groups and how many became a part of the Dream Team, which is our group of servant leaders who lead inside and outside the church.

The result has been a liberating release from the temptation to compare ourselves to other churches and a freedom from the impulse to perform solely for numbers sake.

Question #3 – Do we really know the stories of our people?

Instead of telling me attendance numbers, I would like to hear about stories. In the sea of faces, there is a surplus of stories waiting to be told. Tell me about current accounts of redemption, healing, restoration and rescue. How many that arrived is a lot less compelling to me than how many are thriving.

In a neighborhood restaurant, there are lingering unhurried conversations about stories. In a fast food restaurant, there is a hurry to get to the next customer with short blurbs of discussions about a numbered meal on a well organized wall menu. Everything in a fast food restaurant is about efficiency and excellence. Time is the master and we are the slaves.

Church for the past 2000 years has been centered around the story of our Christ, pausing to remember him in the Sacraments and interludes to celebrate the stories of a persecuted but joyful people. It has always been about the gathering of the called out ones, not the gathering of potential customers who we hope will have a great consumer experience.

I do believe in excellence and efficiency, but not at the expense of relationships and stories. We can do both – tell stories and build relationships in a environment that is warm and inviting.

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Yes, I am Having Heart Surgery

On Sunday, I told my New Life family that I would be taking a few weeks off from my role as pastor to take care of an issue with my heart. Not my spiritual heart, but my physical, real-life beating one. I will be having pulmonary valve replacement surgery on June 10th at an area hospital. I will be in the hospital for 5-7 days and recovering at home for 4-6 weeks. This surgery is fairly common and the prognosis for a full recovery is very good. In fact, my doctors say I will have more energy than ever after the surgery. So get ready for Turbo Brady in July!

In both Sunday morning gatherings I detailed my life journey as a heart patient and at the end, the elders and the church family gathered around me for prayer. I am so thankful to belong to a close knit church who embraces the power of faith and family. If you want to hear my story and see the prayer time, click here.

I am scheduled for two pre-surgery procedures in the the next few weeks, plus I plan to spend a few days with my family on vacation so I can begin the surgery journey rested. While I am gone, we will continue the sermon series, “This is My Story” with some incredible speakers who have amazing testimonies of miracles and redemption. Here is the speaking schedule:

May 29th – Tom Davis, the founder of Children’s Hope Chest and a key partner with New Life in serving orphans and the poor around the world.

June 5th – Pastor Jimmy Evans, the pastor of Trinity Fellowship in Amarillo and a New Life Overseer will share his story.

June 12th – Britt Hancock, a New Life missionary to Mexico who has incredible firsthand stories of miracles and salvations among the Indian people.

June 19th – Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family will share his story of being raised in the foster system and discovering God as dad.

June 26th – Ross Parsley will return to speak for the first time since leaving New Life to plant One Chapel in Austin, TX

July 3rd – Dave Roever, a decorated Vietnam veteran will share his powerful story of finding God in the midst of great tragedy.

July 10th – David Perkins, our youth pastor, will continue our study of the book of Luke

July 17th – I hope to return.

I am thankful for a great team of leaders at New Life who will lead well in my absence. Thanks again for all your prayers and support. I will try to post regular updates here or you can get real time updates from me on Twitter @PastorBrady

Health and peace to all of you. God is with us and He is for us.

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The Future of the Local Church – Updated

In the past ten years, I have witnessed remarkable changes in the local church and the coming decade will usher in even more transformations.While the ancient Sacraments will remain, everything else is up for debate. How we worship, when we gather, what is said, who is leading and where the gatherings happen will all undergo scrutiny and debate.

I have four predictions for the next decade of local church.

1. The places where we gather will become smaller

Every social and cultural trend is leaning toward the smaller, more intimate gatherings and away from the stadium worship experience. Mega churches that purposely create numerous worship settings that promote intimacy and community will see the most significant growth. There will always be a group of church people who will come to the big building, but if we want to see significant growth among skeptics and seekers, we must create less threatening venues for them to explore the issues of faith.

2. The church will be launched into real mission.

The local church is hungry to embrace the mission of the New Testament and this will only increase in the next decade. This next generation is tired of the hype of events and is eager to give their lives to something that requires sacrifice and results in biblical justice. They want to get their hands in the dirt of humanity and see real change in the communities where they live. They will come to the church building for some of the attractional events, but will get disillusioned quickly if these events do not result in real opportunities to serve their world.

3. The church will return to its ancient roots

If it’s new, it’s probably not truth. If its truth, it’s probably not new. I believe the ancient, yet simple recipe of local church will return. We will gather often, read the Scriptures, worship intently, pray fervently, be led by servants, live authentically, and honor the Sacraments. For sure, we will continue to be creative and inventive, but not at the expense of the ancient structure which has transcended all generations for over 2000 years.

4. The church will return to wonder and awe

The churches that embrace the miraculous nature of God will see the most growth and have the most influence in the coming decade. Good preaching, trendy stage sets, and clever videos will not be enough in the next ten years because people want to see God intervene more and more in the affairs of the earth with miracles and healings. Sound theology must prevail and we must not return to our sloppy Charismatic tendencies, but we must also embrace the mysterious and risky nature of God and not be afraid of wonder and awe. While the Holy Spirit may be unpredictable, the results are always predictable – people will find God, people will be healed and people will discover real freedom.

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