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Friendly Church Bingo!

Welcoming Guests at Church – 4 Tips

Last weekend, I attended worship somewhere new and I played a game I like to call Friendly Church Bingo. Every time your church shows me how absolutely, fabulously welcoming you are, I give you 5 points. If your church gets 5 points 5 times in a row, you are officially friendly. Let’s play. I’ll be me. You be the church I went to on Sunday.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nThings started off well at your church. People smiled at me in the parking lot. I am giving your church 5 points for smiling people in the parking lot. I love seeing happy faces headed to worship.

 

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nThere were no signs telling me where to go to find your sanctuary (or anything else by the way). I am afraid that’s going to cost you 5 points.

 

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nI found your sanctuary without any helpful signs and I was pretty proud of myself for accomplishing that feat, especially since I wound up in the right place before worship started in your beautiful, 13th century inspired building. I will remember people hated signs in the 13th Another game I will have to tell you about later is Mystery Church Treasure Hunt, but I will do that on a different day. As I entered your sanctuary, the nice man standing at your door gave me a bulletin. He did not say hello. He did smile, however. I am going to give you 5 points for this, but I am doing so begrudgingly.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nWhen I sat down, the lady behind me smiled. Y’all sure do know how to smile. She did not talk to me. In fact, no one in your beautiful building did, even though I arrived early and I smiled back at all your smiling faces. Consequently, I busied myself by looking at the majesty of your architecture. Then I noticed someone else decided to sit down in the same pew. Things were about to get exciting; I could feel it and they did…for him. He sat as far away from me as he could and he engaged in a delightful conversation with other people he knew. Your church loses 5 points.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nWorship begins. You have excellent liturgy, good preaching, meaningful prayers, and heartfelt music. During Pass the Peace people come to talk to me. They quickly say, “Peace be with you.” You think I am going to give you 5 points for this, but I am not. If your church members are only going to talk to me when someone, who is standing on a 13th century inspired box in the front of the room, tells them to do so, it doesn’t count. That shows me your church members follow the rules; they are obedient. It does not show me they are friendly. I give you 0 points…Wait, I take that back. Since your Pass the Peace lasted ten minutes and all your church people moved to the front to say peace to one another, leaving the new people in the back standing around wondering what is happening, you lose another 5 points. This is not going well for you.

 20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nChurch is over now. I am getting up to leave. No one speaks to me. The man who sat as far away from me as possible, unfortunately, is blocking the only exit out of this pew. He is talking to one of his friends. They kept talking. I am clearly standing behind him. They kept talking anyway. No one speaks to me. I sat down. His conversation ended after 6 minutes and 11 seconds. I had the chance to time that conversation, you know since no one was talking to me and I was trapped in the pew. It was lovely. Your church loses ALL the points. Oh, but you didn’t have any more. Just subtract 5 points then. You are now at -10 points.

 20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nAs I leave, your nice pastor talks to me. She is warm and caring. It is too late. You lose Friendly Church Bingo. You do not pass go. You do not collect $200. Thank you for playing. Yes, I know that last bit is from Monopoly.

 

I really wish this example was not true. It is funny to read about, but it is not funny to experience. Last Sunday was one Sunday out of way too many I have spent in a church where no one except the pastor spoke to me. Church family, I love you and I say this with love. If you get everything in your service right, but you are only welcoming to the people who are already part of your congregation, you missed the mark. You are not showing God’s grace to those God has beckoned to you. If you believe the church belongs to God and not to you, you absolutely must embrace the people God sends to your doorstep with a welcome reflective of God’s love.

Why? Unfortunately, not everyone is as willing to experience unfriendly churches as often as I am. Years earlier, a dear friend of mine went to the same church I just described and had a similar experience. She is not going back. More importantly, this church is one of a handful of unfriendly churches she visited when she was seeking and she gave up entirely. She is not seeking you out anymore. She is not seeking God anymore, either. When we are so unfriendly seekers stop seeking the Creator of the universe, we must not only repent of this sin but we must also change behavior. We must embrace the beloved children God sends our way.

How?

  • Clear Information – People start to decide if you are friendly before they get to your sanctuary. Does your website have helpful information, like worship times and location? Do you have signs clearly posted to help people find Sunday school rooms, the fellowship hall, bathrooms, the sanctuary, etc.? If you do not, this is an important place to start.

 

  • Trained Greeters – Volunteers who serve in these roles can be the first contact for guests. They need to be prepared to give a warm welcome and even engage in a brief conversation with people they do not know, in addition to handing out bulletins.

 

  • Harness the Power of Extroverts – There are folks in your church who genuinely enjoy talking to new people. Ask them to serve your church. Place them in strategic locations, where guests typically sit, and ask them to strike up conversations. They can speak to guests before worship, during Pass the Peace, and after worship. They are free to talk about jobs, children, school, absolutely anything…

 

  • Make a Plan – Have a plan in place that your leadership takes seriously concerning welcoming guests. This plan should include: (a) evaluating your web presence and signage, updating them as necessary and keeping them up-to-date (b) recruiting volunteers tasked with welcoming new guests, job descriptions for those volunteers, and defining expectations for what welcoming looks like in your context (c) train your volunteers and congregation to be mindful of welcoming new people (d) have mystery worshippers give you feedback or invite guests to give you feedback and (e) evaluate your welcoming plan at least once annually.

Not sure this is enough to get you started? Head over to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and learn 50 ways to welcome guests! https://www.churchleadership.com/50-ways/50-ways-to-welcome-new-people/

 

….And hurry. Y’all are terrible at Friendly Church Bingo.


leiawilliams

My name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames. I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school. I served The United Methodist Church for 7 years in fundraising, discipleship, and communications. Currently, I am working as a consultant, but in November I will return to my work with The United Methodist Church.

 

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Silence Is Not An Option

As I sit and reflect upon the hateful and fearful actions that took place in Charlottesville this weekend I can’t help but be heartbroken. As more and more video surfaces littered with hate, racist slurs, and violence my heart breaks more for my brothers and sisters who live in fear because of the backward belief that one human life is more important or special than another human’s life. I have to hold back the urging of my privilege that says “You are geographically far away from this, it does not affect you.” That is a lie from the pit of hell. This does affect me. It affects my children. It affects my community. This affects you. Regardless of where you are in this country and across the world violence and hate affects us. I can no longer hide behind excuses of any kind. I can no longer hide behind the color of my skin, gender, religion, education, money, geography, and I will not continue to hide behind my silence.

Many have made statements on Facebook, produced videos, preached sermons from the pulpit and used whatever microphone they have to speak out against this evil. The statement that caught my attention was one I’m sure you have seen it by now. Jimmy Fallon made a statement yesterday and he talked about our responsibility as human beings to stand up against racism, hate, and evil. Not only did he encourage ALL of us to take a stand against it but he made a call to action of just that, action.

Silence is not an option, it has never been, and it never can be. When we are silent we take a giant step backward in history and humanity. People are being killed because of silence. Because of apathy and fear. Because we are scared that we might offend someone or lose a friend or actually have to have a real conversation with someone. I confess that I am guilty of silence. I CAN NOT LONGER REMAIN SILENT. YOU CAN NO LONGER REMAIN SILENT. No more. The church cannot remain silent due to apathy. White people, you cannot remain silent out of fear or whatever holds you back from saying something. Our brothers and sisters are out there dying and we are sitting back watching.

If silence is no longer an option where does that leave us? Do we speak up today and become silent again tomorrow? I pray we don’t. I pray that we continue to speak up against those who use hate, fear, and violence to belittle and degrade our fellow humans. In many instances using our voices will not be enough, with breaking silence we must act as well. Not using the same fear, hate, and violence that we are against, but the actions of love, compassion, and justice. Those are not just words. They cannot be rhetoric that we say from behind keyboards and pulpits, they must be actions that we model day in and day out as we break the silence. We break the silence by actually living into love, compassion, and justice. It means we act before asking questions of why or if it is deserved. We do not qualify our actions, that is exactly what leads us to silence. We act because we can’t help it, because love, compassion, and justice are what changes the world around us, not hate, fear, and racism. Those are actions of the selfish. Those are actions of evil. Those are the actions someone who is so deeply broken they need what we have to offer. Those people marching against and harming another human being because of their skin color, sexuality, gender, or any of the other garbage reasons people have prejudice, are the actions of someone who is deeply broken and hurt. Just as our brothers and sisters that are on the receiving end, these broken humans love, compassion, and justice too.

Stand up, speak out, and act against hate, fear, violence, and evil especially when it is most inconvenient for you because there will be a day when you are praying and hopeful someone with stand up, speak out, and act for you and with you.

Do no harm! Do good! Stay in love with God! Love your fellow human! Silence is NOT an option!


15259719_10153880565206441_5213022733762386602_oZach Bechtold is the Co-Founder of Bearded Theologians and Pastor of Choteau, Brady, and Dutton United Methodist Churches in the Northern Plains of Montana.

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Speaking In Tongues: A Reflection on My First Experience.

 

This reflection came as follow-up to a recent sermon I preached about speaking in tongues.

Speaking in tongues isn’t a gift I have ever experienced personally. But I have been in services and groups where people were speaking in tongues. I’ll never forget my first experience of being in a worship service of speaking in tongues. In 1999, I was asked to be a music leader for a little congregation in a little building in backwoods east Texas.

I was new to leading music in worship so I jumped at the chance to serve to gain experience. I confidently began leading “Lord, I lift Your Name on High” (an easy go-to song for someone new like me).

As I began playing, people clapped along and called out to me to bring it loud and bring it faithful. The sounds of praise filled that tiny little building in a mighty way. But at the end of the first verse, I heard something different from the lyrics I was singing and leading. It was a sound I had never heard before.

one woman’s eyes were partway closed, her hands in the air, and was loudly singing something I cannot completely describe. I didn’t understand the language coming out of her mouth. I was so taken aback I didn’t realize I had stopped singing and was just standing there staring! Oops. I regained my composure and just focused inward on what I was doing so I wouldn’t get tripped up further.

Well, that voice started a chain reaction and by the end of the song I was about the only one of us who was singing lyrics. The same thing happened the next song. I went from shocked, to puzzled, to weirded out thinking in my immature mind “what did I get myself into?!” But by the end of the songs, I was the weird one out as I was about the only one not trying to speak in tongues. The pastor was engaged in tongues as well and encouraging others to experience that deep expression of the Holy Spirit. He told me after the service I shouldn’t be ashamed or worried I wasn’t speaking in tongues because it would come to me one day and I would know the Spirit in a much deeper way. It hasn’t happened (yet?) but I have gotten to know the Spirit much deeper than my 18 year old self did.

My Reflection and How I look at worship practice differently today

What do I make of that? Was I not being faithful? Were they not being faithful? Could I truly not experience the Spirit deeply without speaking in tongues? After this experience, I thought to myself “what a load of bologna.” And, I have to admit, in that instance, by biblical standards, I think things were a little off in that setting and it helped form an unhealthy assumption about tongues for me at the time. I didn’t understand it. Nobody interpreted; we just had to trust the Holy Spirit was present by way of “tongues.” Since then, much has transpired in my life through experience and through study that leads me to believe the Holy Spirit moves and lives and empowers people in many different ways.

I’ve learned in worship that as soon as we become gate-keepers to the power of the Spirit one way or another, we let way too much of our need for human power and human control (typically over others) take over. Whenever we condemn and judge another person’s faithful experiences as valid versus not valid—no matter how foreign they are to us—we become judge and jury about God’s work and revelations to this world. If God is going to work in us, and through us, we have to check our ego and anxiety at the door to the throne and humble ourselves in worship. It’s the only way we can see where we are united in Christ, not divided by how “we” or “they” think worship and faith is to be practiced.

Now, plenty of guiding and accountability is needed in the community about understanding how we worship and receive the Spirit, but not to where we tear down another’s—or an entire community’s—faithful expressions. We have to take our experiences personally and collectively, and reason them with Scripture and traditions, human faculties and discernment tools that are God-given in our lives.

When we truly try to see with eyes of grace, we can become more aware of what Paul the Apostle wrote about the subject of tongues and Spiritual gifts in his letter to the Corinthians (especially chapters 12, 13, and 14), that Spiritual gifts are of God and they are meant to build up the Body of Christ, not destroy. They are not meant to place us above or below another sister or brother (a problem Paul felt the Corinth community was having with a variety of practices). They are not meant to be taken in isolation, but collectively as the Body. They are to be tested and observed to discern God’s will through prayer and discussion, through study and more prayer. How do you experience the Holy Spirit?


final-bridges2Rev. Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Do all the good you can, every day, in every way that you are able.

As you all know, I’ve been sewing pillowcases for charities for a while.  So far since Jan. 1 of 2016, my mother and I have made 400 pillowcases for charities such as the El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo and Albuquerque Ronald McDonald Houses, St. Andrew’s Hospitality House and more recently I made them for Veterans in local nursing homes.  I still have some to deliver, but more than half of them have been distributed to their intended locations.   The more of these I make, the more ideas I have of who these pillowcases can serve.

I have learned several things about this simple, repetitive, project.  One thing is that repetitive action, if productive, is very relaxing, and gives you a feeling of accomplishment.  Spending my time producing something useful is very gratifying.  The other thing I learned is that, small things mean a lot especially to the two ends of the life experience.  Very small kids and older people in nursing homes respond the same way, with delight, when receiving even the smallest gift when it is given personally.  Most institutions will take your donations, have you sign a donor list and send you on your way.  When you get the opportunity to personally give your small gift to individuals, it makes you more connected to the recipient and more likely to want to continue to give more of yourself in the future.  If you are one of those people that like to give anonymously there are lots of opportunities to do that.  But if you want to share the light Jesus put in you and spark that light in someone else, find the thing that lets you make human, one on one contact with someone.   

I had two of the best experiences happen in the past month.  I had been praying for a personal experience of connection with someone who would receive one of my pillowcases.  The first was delivering red, white and blue pillowcases to Veteran’s in nursing homes on Veteran’s Day.  Responses of nursing home residents were as varied as their physical and medical situations.  Some didn’t know I was in the room, most didn’t know what to say and were surprised that a stranger came to give them something.  But the ones that sat up and started telling you stories of their military adventures were really enjoyable.  I knew I sparked a memory in them that was important, and it was important to them that someone heard it.  I was glad to be that person.    

Then on Thanksgiving week, I got to deliver to Ronald McDonald House in Amarillo, Texas.  The coordinator there, Mrs. Jan Plequette, has been my contact person there for 4 years.  She arranged for me to meet the Child Life Specialist at North West Texas Children’s Hospital.  When I got there, the staff picked out a pillowcase that they thought would perfectly fit a particular patient they wanted me to meet.  Her name was Mila.  She was 4 and receiving infusions that day.   I was not allowed to know her illness because of HIPAA regulations, but they put me in a disposable isolation gown and gloves and let me give her this specially chosen pillowcase myself.  This little girl was the brightest piece of sunshine I have ever met.   The nurses there at the hospital said that this little girl keeps them all cheered up.  And she was so sweet I had the best time talking to her.  I wish I could have taken her home with me and kept her for a sister.  I would love to have someone like this in my life on a daily basis.  Her mother was so sweet too.  She said she was happy and grateful that a complete stranger would give her daughter a little gift that made the time they spent there at the hospital more comfortable and a less bland and boring experience.  

That experience was my ideal, the dream I had in my mind all along, coming true.  On Veteran’s Day, after delivering pillowcases all day, we went to the VFW for their fundraiser dinner in Cloudcroft, NM.  There I saw the man I knew as Santa Claus my whole life.  He was the man that worked at our local mall and posed for Christmas pictures.  He has been Santa for every Toys for Tots event, every charitable Christmas project and event in Alamogordo for my entire life.  He was there, eating dinner and had a Vietnam Veteran jacket on.  I had never spoken to him outside of his role as Santa.  As he left, I went to our car, and picked out an extra red, white and blue pillowcase and gave it to him.  I thanked him for his service to our country, as I had with all the veterans in the nursing homes I met that day.  And he thanked me and said he knew I made a lot of old people happy that day, and that’s what is so great about being Santa – so we had a little something in common.  I guess if I had to choose a title, I’d choose “The Pillowcase Fairy”.   I really can’t pull off Santa Jr.   

The marketing director at North West Texas Children’s Hospital said she hoped that my doing this would spark interest in others to do something and hopefully encourage kids to do things that were small random acts of kindness.  That is what I hoped to do with this article.  To tell kids that they are an important part of the world and that their outlook on life, if carried with them through adulthood, can affect the world around them.  At the least, an attitude of giving can affect their own life, and at the most, it can affect all those that have received from them.  It may spark others to pay it forward in their own way.  And every different way you can think of to pay it forward is necessary in some way to someone.  

To all the kids who dream of affecting the world in a big way, do it in a way that you know makes Jesus proud, have him as your partner, and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.


100_3566   Madeleine Fazenbaker is 14 years old and is a wonderfully gifted young lady that lives in New Mexico.  She is very active in her church and her community and truly is a young woman after God’s own heart.  Why pillowcases?  Because when you lay your head on a pillow to rest you can remember this:  “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 One of her favorite scriptures for small acts of kindness:  Hebrews 6:10 –  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

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First Timer Lent and Mindfulness

Lent. It is one of those interesting times that has divided the evangelical world (as originally termed by Luther) from the liturgical world. So many from the evangelical side have shunned lent, among many other celebrations and observations. While religion and religious rites were once an instrument of social control, in today’s day and age, that is no longer a factor in most areas of the world. However, observations like Lent have a new place among the world these days.

A step back from this momentary quick start… I have grown up in the evangelical side of Christianity. I am a preacher’s kid and have a lifetime of exposure to religious atmosphere. Like many kids, I grew up learning my parents’ beliefs and understandings. As I got older and branched out in life on my own, my belief never wavered. However, I turned into what you may call a religious academic. I have known the stories. I’ve known the text. I’ve known the morals of the stories. I’ve known that the Jewish storytelling tradition was basically the same as anywhere in the known world at the time (think Aesop). It wasn’t about the facts. It was about the moral of the story.

I have grown more and more interested in the facts that go along with the stories. To me, they’ve provided more of an understanding. Instead of a lot of the speculation and interpretation that goes on with scripture, context explains exactly what was being told.

So, for me, this gives a new context to observations like Lent. No longer is it about social religious control. No longer is it about ritual. To me, it’s about differentiation. (Ask a teacher.) People understand the same idea, facts, and context in different ways. For a better understanding of what your God has done for you, maybe you leave the secular and the ritual behind. If an observation of Lent helps you be more mindful, then more power to you. If observing Easter as the day Jesus was crucified helps you understand the physical suffering that was not necessary, then go forth. They are organized observations that help those of us who need formal construct to help our mindfulness.

My observation of Lent has not been big, as this is my first year on this journey about mindfulness. But I can tell you that I have done two things. One, I went for an Ash Wednesday blessing. I appreciate the pastors who offer the quick blessings, including the one I went to. It was simple and straightforward, but something I can say I’ve never had a blessing directed just at me in that manner. I did not wear my ashes all day because I am so uncomfortable being addressed out of the blue for anything, even if it is a good thing, and have trouble interacting at that point. However, the blessing and the smell of the ashes stayed with me all day. I have not given up anything for Lent, but I have been observing (to the best of my ability) a photo of the day challenge on a social media account. I’ve played catch up if I have missed a day. And I have appreciated the formal construct to help my mindfulness.


63618_182980491719336_5407577_nTim is a project management consultant out of Lubbock, Texas. He’s been married to his wife, Tara (who went to high school with Zach), since 2009. They have a son, Jameson, age 3. Tim is an alum of Lubbock Christian University and Arizona State University.