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The lever that moves the Church

17 Dec

The Task Force for Reimagining the Church has published its 73-page final report. The group took on a difficult task, waded through the work, and have emerged on the other side with a document that will now belong to the General Convention set to meet in July 2015 in Salt Lake City. It is up to the Bishops and Deputies to now roll up our sleeves and begin doing some work of our own to take up where TREC has left off. My colleagues Nurya Love Parish, Adam Trambley, and Tom Ferguson (aka Crusty Old Dean) have all blogged on this, offering helpful perspectives.

Change Already Underway
While I do agree with Crusty Old Dean’s appreciation for their biblical imagery and articulation of the big-picture issues, I don’t share his pessimism about where this will go. But his prophesy will prove true if we don’t use the present moment to begin the debate and start moving toward change. If we wait until we get to Salt Lake City, the restructuring revolution will falter and halt. But we have already seen how the Reverend Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, has already shown how much progress can be made through the work she has done to make changes to the Rules of Order which should make the General Convention more efficient. And our Presiding Bishop and Chief Operating Officer have already made some helpful changes in of equal import through staffing decisions with no need to wait for the General Convention. And then there is what I believe to be the lever that moves the church, found in a two-line resolve on page 8 of the report:

  • “Resolved, That the diocesan assessment percentage be lowered while making it canonically mandatory (with means for pastoral exception) for each diocese to meet that assessment.”

A diocesan assessment creates a real mandate in terms of budget dollars for our church-wide mission. This particular resolve is the technical fix that rules them all in a church needing adaptive change (as noted in the first 6 pages of the report). I currently serve in this triennium on the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F). I also serve on a diocesan staff that lived through reducing the diocesan asking while adding a canonical provision much like this resolve anticipates. So, I have a good vantage point to see how these two lines could be important.

The Current System

The Episcopal Church currently asks each of its 109 dioceses to give 19% of their respective budgets to fund the church-wide budget. Forty-seven dioceses give at that rate or higher. Thirteen give 15-19%. Twenty-seven give 10-15%. Eight give 5-10%. Eleven give 1-5%. Five dioceses do not give anything at all. The current median is 16%.

For full disclosure, I am the Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Georgia and for the year this information is based on, my diocese gave 13.6%.

The Preliminary Draft Budget
In a bold and helpful move, the Executive Council’s Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM) posted its preliminary draft 2016-2018 triennium budget online for comment (comments may be made here). That draft gives some substance to the two-line TREC proposed resolution above. The current budget draft extends the exemption from $120,000 to $200k, meaning that dioceses are not asked to give on the first $200,000 of income. With that new exemption, nine dioceses would not be asked to contribute to the church-wide budget since their entire budgets are less than this amount.

The new asking anticipated in the preliminary draft budget will move to 18% in 2016, 16.5% in 2017, and 15% in 2018 if that proposal were to pass with no changes. This means that for the coming triennium, the budget would be based on income anticipated from an average asking across the three years of 16.5% while moving the The Episcopal Church toward a 15% asking for the next triennium. Since the income of The Episcopal Church is not limited to income from dioceses, that comprises just under 66% of the total income. For example, of the $111.5 Million budget for 2012-2015, the projected income from diocesan askings is $73.5 Million. Other revenue, including income from investments and rental income from the Church Center in New York, is projected to rise. That means the overall revenue would goes up $4.6 million across the triennium in this budget projection. But this increase in income is more than offset by expanding costs, the largest of which is the rising cost of benefits to our Church Center employees.

Whatever you think of the specifics, Clergy Deputy Susan Snook and Bishop Mark Hollingsworth and their committee have done a great service to the church in providing their working document for comment and for having the courage to lower the asking. Given that the budget processes of 2009 and 2012 were problematic.

Note the importance of their revenue projections, for any mandate not funded in the budget is likely to get no follow through. So once we set the asking and so the revenue side of the budget and follow up by setting staffing and the rest of the budget accordingly, ideas that seem vague suddenly get very concrete. At the core is our deciding what we need from the denomination that can’t be more appropriately done at other levels. While this can be done without reference to a budget, the budget numbers will hold more sway than any ideal.

Realistic Projections
One issue I do see with the projections in the current preliminary draft budget is that they assume that the dioceses giving below the asking will come up by 10 % a year. But since the current draft is based on an asking, rather than on an assessment, I don’t see how we can assume dioceses giving 1% or even 12% will make a move toward 18, 16.5 or 15 percent. Instead, I find it more productive to consider the actual giving pattern by each diocese. When that is done, it is becomes apparent how much the specifics matter. For example, some of those giving 19% have quite small budgets (such as Western Kansas with $172,437 and Alaska with $341,497 in 2013). Other dioceses give a far lesser percentage, but have much larger budgets (Texas at 10.9% on $6.5 million and Pennsylvania with 4.8% on $4.3 million in 2013). Such details matter a lot. The only way to truly generate realistic projections is to talk with diocesan bishops honestly about the asking in order to get a feel for whether those giving less than the current asking will be able to move up to any given new asking.

A 15% Budget
If this plan works, and we begin to move to a 15% assessment, where will this leave the churchwide budget? That would, of course, depend on how many dioceses are able to reach that level of giving right away. In 2013, the total income from dioceses after the $200,000 deduction was $173.4 million. This means that the highest possible income number (every diocese giving at the new assessment number) would be $26 million per year or $78 million for a triennium. This would be an increase of more than $4 million above the current draft income. But given that every diocese would not be able to move to this number in a single year, we need to adjust expectations.

If every diocese giving more than 15% dropped to that number at once and no dioceses below 15% increased their giving, the income would be $22.5 million or $67.6 million for the Triennium. This creates a worst case for the move to 15%. Actual experience would be somewhere close to the middle of the $67.6 million likely worst case and $78 million best case scenarios. We can not know without the diocese by diocese conversations, but a back of the envelope projection would end up cutting the churchwide budget by $3-4 million in the first year. The church would then see that number rise each year as the number of dioceses making their full assessment increases. Without the asking become an assessment, this option would result in more drastic cuts in revenue. If the “teeth” in the assessment are seen as not an issue for dioceses, then this move will still fall short of raising the revenue projected above.

The Tithe
Given that my own diocese unanimously passed a resolution calling on TREC to adopt the tithe as the standard of giving to the churchwide budget, I would be neglecting my role as chair of the Georgia Deputation if I did not mention moving to a tithe. The standard of ten percent is consistent with our traditional tithing messages to parishioners and is therefore defendable. This percentage is likely to get very high participation even in the first year as only 11 dioceses give less than 8% now once the $200,000 deductible is in place. This makes the working number of $17.3 million per year or $54 million for the triennium a close estimate, if giving income increased each year by the 0.5% assumed by the current preliminary draft. This cut by $19.2 million to the three-year budget would significantly change what we are able to do at the churchwide level. This example shows more clearly the point above that when we set the revenue side of the budget, we create the one technical fix that makes the most change.

A Number We Can All Support
I believe that we would all prefer to have our dioceses fully support the church-wide asking, even though we might not agree on the percentage we can all support. In 2012 the House of Bishops considered a 15% asking. Given that the current median is 16%, perhaps that number of 15% is a realistic number that the vast majority of dioceses could support, especially with the $200,000 deduction proposed by the Executive Council’s Finances for Mission Committee. The current proposed draft assumes this as the number, but it will take three years to get there.

Putting Teeth into the Budget by Turning Asking into Assessments
With the $200,000 deduction and a move downward below the median, the time is right for the asking to become an assessment. What might that look like? Those not giving their full assessment would lose their voice and vote on the budget at both CCAB and General Convention levels and would not be eligible for program funds, such as a Mission Enterprise Zone Grant. These dioceses would retain their seat in convention and continue to have voice and vote on other matters.

All dioceses would be given the opportunity to appeal to a committee of Executive Council if they could not move at once to the new assessment. We would expect that all dioceses significantly below 15% would need time to adjust their budgets to get there. The “pastoral exception” should be only for dioceses that experience a significant drop in their own revenue. In these cases, the committee could have the ability to adjust the assessment to 15% of the actual income of the diocese. Any diocese giving at the rate approved in an appeal to Council (such as those moving up in a multi-year plan) would continue to have seat, voice, and vote on all matters before the General Convention.

In the Diocese of Georgia we made the move from a graduated system of four rates (17.5%, 15%, 12.5%, & 10%) to a simple of 10% for all congregations (based on the average of the previous three years Normal Operating Income line item from the Parochial Report). We also created an appeals process that helped congregations below the tithe move up to 10% over a three to four year process, depending on how far below 10% they were. We also asked those giving more to ladder down to 10% over three to four years. We had enthusiastic cooperation in this process from our congregations.

Conclusion
I propose moving at once to 15% for all three years of the next triennium and removing voice and vote on the budget as noted above in order to make this an assessment. I am willing to work hard to make responsible cuts keep this leaner budget mission focused. I think that the move to a 15% asking will generate higher participation by dioceses without creating catastrophic budget changes at the churchwide level. If we combine this approach with asking dioceses giving more than 19% to ladder down while other dioceses are laddering up, the significant impact could be lessened. There is no easy way to make this change and it will result in likely cuts of $4 million in the first year alone. Elsewhere, we can begin the discussion on changes to the expenditures that would be in line with a 15% assessment.

This is a technical fix which will not do anything toward the real adaptive change needed to move the church to a mission mindset and approach. But setting this income number rightly will provide the context for the decisions which follow as we determine which mandates get funded and which get left out of the budget. That’s when our talk of changes to the structure will really start to be made real.


The Rev. Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Georgia. From 2000-2010, he served as the founding rector of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia. He served on the floor of the House of Deputies in 2003 when a first alternate, then in 2006, 2009, and 2012 as a Deputy, including twice as chair of the deputation and two conventions on Dispatch of Business. In 2012, he ran for President of the House of Deputies.


The video above is offered in appreciation for the Task Force for Reimagining the Church who is considering how to align The Episcopal Church structures more effectively for mission. This is my very bad freestyle rap based on tweets from the churchwide meeting held at Washington National Cathedral on October 2, 2014.

 
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What in the world is a “Signature Ministry”

16 Dec

If the announcements in church tell when the EYC, ECW, and DOK next meet, you shouldn’t be surprised if visitors are left wondering what is going on in your congregation. Insider language leaves others on the outside. The Diocese routinely talking about “Signature Ministries” could leave some wondering what we mean and why we don’t just mean what we say.

The term Signature Ministry, together with Signature Event, describe a way in which your congregation meets a felt need in your community with a response for which others in your area come to know your congregation. Some someone might ask about one of our three Episcopal Churches in Thomasville and be told, “Oh you know, that’s the church that is doing that Development Agency.” A Signature Ministry is something your congregation does that benefits mostly, or often exclusively, people who are not members of your church. Photo of Project Lunch Bunch at Christ Church, Valdosta.

While churches provide ministries for their community as a pure gift, the congregation does receive benefits. The ministry you do for others is attracting to people looking for a new church home. People want to be part of a church that does good. When church shopping this is one among a number of factors that help someone decide to worship with you. Again, we don’t do the ministry in order to attract members, but it can have that added benefit.

Discovering Your Congregation’s Ministry
The basic idea is to find where the abilities of your congregation overlap the needs in your community. This will vary from place to place. In every case the ministry arises out of the needs of your neighbors in a way that corresponds with the congregations ability to meet that need. I should note that there are many good ideas your congregation should not take on as a ministry. For example, a preschool can be a good idea in a place where more preschools are needed and the church already has facilities appropriate for caring for children according to current building codes. But many of our buildings would not meet code for a preschool and not every area needs more child care. Similarly, not every place needs another food bank, soup kitchen, or thrift store. Photo of the Community Cares Café after school program at St. Andrew’s and St. Cyprian’s, Darien.

In addition to the facilities and abilities, your congregation needs people passionate about the idea who want to do the hard work to get a new ministry started and keep it going. Even if a community garden is a great idea for your community, it could be perfect for the Methodist Church down the street that has people interested in pursuing it, while a different ministry would better take root in your church.

Lowering the Bar
While this might raise the bar, by expecting congregations that do not have any ministry for which it is known, the idea of a Signature Ministry also lowers the expectations for other churches. A church can only sign its name to so many activities. A Signature Ministry is one the congregation really gets behind. Considering what your church is doing, you may find that there are a lot of ministries happening that have little support. As important as deciding what to start is discerning when to stop doing something. It may be that some of what your congregation is doing was a good fit years ago, but now needs to be celebrated and discontinued.

Because this is what Christians do
We are neither the Rotary Club or the Junior Service League nor Habitat for Humanity or Second Harvest. We are the Body of Christ. We are about making disciples of Jesus Christ. So why start some outreach ministry? The simple answer is that followers of Jesus show the love of God for others. Jesus said this most clearly in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats when the righteous were described as those who clothed the naked, fed the hungry and visited those in prison. So if we are faithfully being Christ’s Body, the Church, we will be about serving Christ through serving others. Photo of Feed My Sheep at St. Paul’s, Augusta.

Take or leave the term “Signature Ministry”. Describing what your church is doing for your neighbors doesn’t need the lingo. So if the term doesn’t work for you, don’t use it, but do consider the idea behind the expression to see what your congregation might do together, or even what things you might need to stop in order to better focus your efforts.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Fostering Inward Spiritual Growth

09 Dec

“The commandment we have from him is this:
those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
-I John 4:21

If we only go about being the church for the sake of more people and more money, then God should not bless that effort, and I don’t believe that God will bless it. I write that as bluntly as possible so that you understand how strongly I feel that churches do not and should not simply grow in terms of more people sitting in pews on a Sunday or giving more money in offerings.

What God actually calls us to is to faithfully follow Jesus. While we know that faithfulness bears fruit, the fruit of our faithfulness varies. Sure, this may mean growth of the kind that can be charted with statistics. Yet, any spiritual growth always starts with the work of the Holy Spirit in human hearts and this slips through the cracks when we get solely data driven.

The Inward Journey
In her now out of print book Journey Inward, Journey Outward (Harper and Row, 1968), Elizabeth O’Conner shared the way The Church of Our Savior in Washington, DC went about being church. She noted that churches had become so concerned about numbers that concern for each individual soul with whom the church came in contact was being lost. She made the case that the renewal of of the church “cannot come to the church unless its people are on an inward journey” while holding “with equal emphasis that renewal cannot come to the church unless its people are on an outward journey.”

The Outward Journey
To simplify her text, on the journey inward, one comes to see onesself, God and others. This self-knowledge seen through relationship with God and lived into in community with others builds up a person into a disciple of Jesus Christ. In this engagement one’s God-given gifts are called forward. The disciple then continues on an outward journey in which one is truly present to others.

Both/And
There is not an either/or with discipleship and mission or ministry. Without gaining a deeper connection to God as revealed in Jesus Christ, we cannot know ourselves and so can not really see others and be present to them. The inward journey is required. Yet, if we only take the journey inward, we can become like the Dead Sea (pictured here), which is continually nourished, but has no outlet and so is rich in minerals and devoid of life.

This simple concept of churches helping nourish and sustain people on their journeys inward and outward adds to the missional emphasis I often place in this Loose Canon column and most notable in my opening address to our recent convention. A missional outlook is essential for the church as God did not come among us as Jesus to teach, heal, deliver, and then suffer, die and physically rise never to die again in order to start and institution. God came in Jesus to bring us into relationship, a life giving and life changing relationship. And this relationship needs both the journey inward and the journey outward to grow and flourish.

Balancing Inward and Outward Journeys
With the “program year” for your congregation well underway, how do you see that balance in your church’s schedule of events? Is the inward journey of discipleship being supported with appropriate offerings to nourish the life of faith and to thereby challenge parishioners in helpful ways? Is the journey of service to God through ministry to others just as evident? How is your congregation doing at this balance of the journey inward, journey outward? Should you add more ways to engage in mission or discipleship? To grow disciples, you need to foster both journeys.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Advent 2014 Video – How Long

06 Dec

A song for Advent 2014 by Mark Andrew Miller. His music, lyrics and singing matched with a video I created for this Advent season.

 
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A Christmas Hallelujah

04 Dec

Cloverton Presents A Christmas Hallelujah from Frank Logue on Vimeo.

I contacted the band after hearing this song and cut the video above which blends a concert video of the song with images of Christmas from art and movies. Cloverton Music’s a Hallelujah Christmas based on the original Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. clovertonmusic.com

 
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The Power of Polite, Persistent Invitation to Worship

02 Dec

Christmas will be upon us sooner than I care to imagine. With it, as with Easter, comes one of our two best opportunities to invite friends, family and co-workers to join you for worship. Survey after survey shows that most southerners who do not have a church home will react favorably to an invitation to church at these times of year. Even in this post-Christendom age many are culturally conditioned toward Christmas and Easter worship.

This is a great time of year to make sure that you have flyers about your Christmas liturgies and any other special events, such as Lessons and Carols. Encourage everyone in your congregation to give them to friends, family and co-workers with an invitation to join your church family for Christmas. The one caveat is this: even if the person reacts favorably, and even says they will come, they might well not darken the church doors this Feast of the Nativity. Most of us then decide that the seed has been scattered on soil not yet disposed toward growth and then never make another invitation. This is where we can easily fail in scattering seed.

It may well take a Christmas invitation, followed by an Easter invitation, followed by yet another Christmas invitation before your friends actually show up for church. Never underestimate the inertia that must be overcome to make the move from not attending church to worshiping faithfully. Keep the invitations persistent and low key, always making sure folks know they are welcome, without ever making someone feel bad for not showing up. That is how such seeds are consistently scattered.

Please do not hear me as saying that a church invitation equals evangelism. But the Word and Sacrament encountered once the newcomers show up contains powerful Gospel content, especially at Christmas with its incarnational emphasis and Easter with the hope of the resurrection. And clergy know that these occasions bring newcomers and will be working hard on their homilies to give real meat on which a non-churchgoer can chew (Right? We are doing that aren’t we?). Evangelism is not just a matter of getting folks through the doors for the liturgy, but certainly that is a key part and one in which any Episcopalian can help with a no pressure invitation, “Why don’t you join us for Christmas Eve? They candlelight service is always breathtaking.” How hard could that be? It’s easier than you might think.

What will come of these invitations? As Eliot writes in The Four Quartets, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” A gentle invitation from time to time is the trying. Keeping that friendly, low pressure, no guilt is easy for us Episcopalians. How folks respond is not our business. That is God’s concern.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

PS: It is a great time to use the Diocese of Georgia’s Hospitality Checklist found in our online Reference Library http://gaepiscopal.org/docs/hospitalitychecklist.pdf

 
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How and Why to Pray for You Vestry

25 Nov

Vestry elections are coming up for all our churches between first Advent and the end of January, which is the time set aside for annual meetings of a parish. This makes this the perfect time to consider vestries, what they are for and how to support them in their work. Last week I wrote \What’s a Vestry to do? on the role of vestries. in The Episcopal Church. This week, I want to consider your role as a church member as concerns the vestry.

The Ministry of Lay Persons
The catechism lays out the ministry of lay persons as, “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”

As a church member, you are to take your place in the governance as well as the life and worship of your church. Obviously, not every member can serve on the vestry, but that doesn’t let you off the hook from discerning whether this is something God has for you and if not for you, than who should you encourage to stand for election?

Discerning Who Should Stand for Vestry Election
Every congregation needs new persons to step forward to stand for election. This is particularly true with younger members. Our canons permit vestry members to be as young as 18, but seldom does a vestry have anyone under 30, and more often the bulk of vestry are retirees. Each congregation needs a variety of people and perspectives working faithfully in leadership alongside their priest to make decisions which impact both the business and spiritual side of church life. You should prayerfully consider the mix of gifts and experience which would make your vestry most representative and productive. As a congregation will have difficulty in being better than its vestry and so who is selected matters more than first meets the eye.

Since you are a person who cares about the church (I know this because you have read this far in an article on vestries in a diocesan newsletter), you should feel accountable to God for praying about and for your church’s vestry. This should include praying for who to nominate in an election, and being willing to say “yes” if that discernment leads to the fact that it is you who should stand for election. Then the election itself is not a popularity contest, but another time for prayerful discernment about the mix of people and perspectives needed for this vital role. This role of prayer also means praying for the rector, wardens and vestry in their decision making on behalf of the congregation.

The Priests and Vestry We Deserve
We get the priests and vestries we deserve in that if we pray for and support them, the priest and vestry will be better able to do the work to which they are called. If we undermine or ignore them and then complain about the results, we’ll also get what we deserve. I encourage prayer and support as well as discernment about who to call, not just because it makes for a healthy congregation life, but because prayerful, encouraging people is who we are called to be as Christians. This is just how that plays itself out in the governance of our congregations.

Bishop Benhase has offered a useful Vestry Job Description which I commend to your reading and then to your prayers and discernment. This file is also available as a Word document to be tailored by your vestry to its particular situation: vestryjobdescription.doc

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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So what is a vestry? And what does the vestry do?

18 Nov


A Vestry Meeting – Something Wrong with the Accounts by John Ritchie, 1867

I’ve heard it said that nine out of ten Episcopalians don’t understand what a vestry does and that the number goes up to ten out of ten if one only polls former members of vestry. And yet we are not a congregational church and in our representative form of church governance, the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry acting together is the group with the authority to make decisions for a congregation. The vestry matters and, as I am fond of saying “Vestries must be the church they wish to lead” as it is difficult for a congregation to be better than its vestry in most areas.

Origins
The history of church vestries begins with a 1598 decision to have groups of lay leaders in each English church charged with overseeing care for the poor of the parish (meaning the geographic area and not just those who attended the church). That met where and as needed, but traditionally in the vestry of the church. While a 24-person self-perpetuating vestry was common, so also were open vestries made up of all householders in the parish and so some women.

Puritans saw the vestry system as a way for lay persons to acquire church authority. Because of the indifference of the king, vestries began selecting rectors by 1630. And in 1643, Virginia legislature abdicated its involvement in rector searches in favor of vestries. This was not a uniform practice. The colonial trustees selected rectors here in the Colony of Georgia. Vestries pushed for more authority and by 1804 the life tenure of rectors, who could only otherwise be removed for grievous offense, was replaced with a canon that allowed vestries to appeal to the bishop for removal for cause.

The founders of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America believed in representative government rather than pure democracy. They gave the authority to the Rector, Wardens and Vestry acting together on behalf of the congregation.

Current Practice
The Canons (or regulations) of The Episcopal Church state, “The vestry shall be agents and legal representatives of the Parish in all matters concerning its corporate property and the relations of the Parish to its clergy.”

It is best not to overread this canon to limit the role of a vestry as priests are not in charge of only spiritual matters and vestry responsible for business alone. The priest in charge of a congregation has a responsibility to oversee the business side of church life and likewise the vestry are called by the Holy Spirit through the election process to assist in the oversight of the ministry of the church. A priest not concerned with finances is not being faithful to the charge entrusted to her or him and a vestry that only does business, with no reference to the spiritual life of the congregation, is likewise abdicating a significant part of its task of leadership.

While a mission congregation’s vestry acts as a council of advice with less authority in some matters than a parish vestry, for most decisions about the congregation’s life, their authority is the same and so the above applies equally. In every congregation, we should appreciate that vestries came about not by accident, but in response to a need for the laity of the church to have voice and decision making authority in their church.

Next week, I will complete this two-part article on church vestries with a challenge to make sure your vestry represents the people and perspectives of the congregation.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Convention Videos

08 Nov

These are the six video reports I created for the 193rd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. Three report on progress made in areas of the Campaign for Congregational Development with the others showing three ongoing ministries in the Diocese.

Episcopal Development Agency of Thomasville:

Congregational Development in Rincon and Cordele

Honey Creek Summer Camp

Rebecca’s Café in Statesboro

The St. Athanasius’ Food Pantry in Brunswick

Good Samaritan House Free Medical Clinic in Dearing

 

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Mission in the Diocese of Georgia

07 Nov

This Talk given by Canon Frank Logue was the Opening Presentation
for the 193rd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia

The word “Mission” gets used so much in the Church, that mission is in danger of becoming so laden with meaning that it crosses over into being meaningless. Let me take mission from the theoretical to the very real and practical. We are to make disciples of all nations and to care for the least among us. Here is a snapshot of who we are as a Diocese, right now, and what we are doing this coming week:

It’s Monday in Kingsland, Georgia where the first staff member arrives at 6:20 a.m. to open up the preschool. The 70 students 15 staff will soon fill King of Peace Episcopal Day School. The church will stay busy all through the day and into the night when twenty people come out for the Boy Scout Troop 226 Venture Crew before the preschool closes. While that meeting is taking place, the school board or vestry is usually meet and the last person leaves at 9:30 p.m.

Meanwhile just north in Brunswick, volunteers gather at 8:30 in the morning to get ready to give out food collected from five Episcopal Churches in the Golden Isles at St. Athanasius’ Food Pantry. More than 100 people will leave with bags heavy with food for the coming two weeks.

At noon Good Samaritan House opens its doors in Dearing, Georgia, 30 miles west of Augusta. In response to real need in the area, our Archdeacon, Sandy Turner, opened a free medical clinic with help from parishioners at Our Savior, Martinez, and in partnership with Dearing Baptist Church and others. More than 20 patients will receive free care until the clinic closes at 4:30 that afternoon.

As the workday ends, it will be a full evening at Good Shepherd, Augusta, with the Prayer Shawl group gathering at 5 p.m., a Grief Group at 6:30 and finally the Alcoholics Anonymous group starts at 8 p.m. Good Shepherd is not just active in its building, the congregation also gives significantly of its resources for God’s work in the world. In 2014, this amounts to $340,500 or 26% of the church budget.

On Tuesday morning, ten volunteers gather in the dark at St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah, to distribute food through its Thomas Park Food Pantry which opens at 7 a.m. By 8:30, they will hand out 175 ten-pound bags of food to their neighbors. The ministry has been underway in varying forms for more than three decades.

Before the pantry is packed away in Savannah volunteers will begin arriving at Rebecca’s Cafe in Statesboro to begin preparing food for the 85 or so guests who will eat in the former school cafeteria that now houses the ministry. Created by Trinity Episcopal Church, the twice weekly soup kitchen now combines volunteers from ten local groups.

At 12:30 p.m., Tuesday Music Live gets underway at St. Paul’s, Augusta, where since 1988 the 13-concerts-a-year series which brings 5,000 people a year into one of the Diocese of Georgia’s three founding churches.

That afternoon in Martinez, members of Holy Comforter continue their partnership with Lakeside Middle School. The church’s mentoring program currently serves more than five percent of the student population with more children on a waiting list, hoping to be mentored. Since the church and school partnered, test scores have shown an improvement, but more importantly vital relationships between parishioners and students have formed, this includes one middle school student kicked out of school for behavior issues who got back in school through mentorship, moved on to high school and now attends Holy Comforter with his family. The church is now setting aside scholarships to assist Lakeside graduates who move into Tech School or other high school graduation needs.

Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. the community women’s Bible study gets underway at St. Elizabeth’s in Richmond Hill. The large group gathers women from a variety of denominations. In the background are the happy sounds coming from the children in the congregation’s preschool.

Wednesday at 4 p.m. the ECW Knitter’s Guild is gathering at All Saints, Thomasville, in the parish hall to make prayer shawls for the sick as well as blankets for new babies.

Wednesday at 7 p.m. and historic Christ Church Frederica is lit by more than 200 flickering candles, most of them LED candles. Incense and the use of Taize chants and periods of sustained silence, create a different tone for the liturgy. The liturgy is designed to speak to a deep need for the Holy through an experience of God in worship offering a chance for over-programmed lives to hit pause in a more significant way than in our typical Sunday morning liturgies.

It’s Thursday morning at St. John’s, Savannah, and just before 7 a.m. 60 or 70 participants in the Sunrise Solutions Alcoholics Anonymous Group come in from the dark. While AA functions independent of the churches where it meets, the group is not just for the community, as AA groups in congregations across the Diocese are attended by our members including our clergy who are in recovery. But the AA group meeting on the ground floor does not have Cranmer Hall at St. John’s to itself. At 7 a.m. this Thursday, the Men’s Bible Study is underway upstairs in and as they leave, the sounds of the 50 toddler through pre-K students arriving for The Children’s School at St. John’s Church will ring out in the building.

It’s Thursday afternoon and as school gets out in Thomasville, students around Good Shepherd filed into the historic Parish Hall for the after school program offering enrichment through the school year for 40 students with an additional program in the summer. This is part of the work of the Episcopal Development Agency in Thomasville which draws on all three Episcopal churches in the community—All Saints, St. Thomas and Good Shepherd.

It’s 8:30 a.m. on Friday and the side door opens to the Parish House at Christ Church Savannah. More than 200 people enter to eat breakfast every weekday. Day services of the ministry include washer and dryer, shower and rest room facilities, distribution of donated clothing and shoes. The founding congregations for Emmaus House include Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Baptist congregations. Deacon Jamie Maury now serves as a Chaplain to this vital ministry.

Friday at 9 a.m. Hello-Goodbuy opens its doors on Highway 17 in Brunswick. The Thrift Shop Ministry of St. Mark’s Brunswick is open 8 hours a day, six days a week in a prominent location. Since moving to a new location and more frequent hours two years ago, the store has funded nearly 20 grant requests from local charities, totaling $31,000.

At noon on Friday in Valdosta, parents start picking up their preschoolers from the church’s new education building. Most days, Christ Church’s Parents’ Morning Out program will have five to eight kids while the half day preschool daily cares for 34 children two through four-years olds in three classes.

Friday afternoon in Darien, volunteers with c3—Community Cares Cafe—watch students cross the road from the elementary school across the street and enter the Parish Hall. Two dozen children have after school care with a meal and homework assistance. This is an outgrowth of a partnership with the Elementary School across the street that began with tutoring during school, the after school program was added and now there is a community youth group.

Saturday morning in Augusta sees the Soup Kitchen at Christ Church in the Harrisburg neighborhood has a line leading out from the building as physician assistant students at the Georgia Health Sciences University set up their medical screening clinic to run alongside the Soup Kitchen. The students offer screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes, and other common diseases at this church that has seen outreach ministries as a central focus since the church was established in 1882.

As the Soup Kitchen volunteers open the doors in Augusta, the St. Thomas Thrift Shop opens for business in its store on Montgomery Crossroads in Savannah. Open four days a week, the Thrift Shop is a major source of funds for the Unseen Guest Ministry of St. Thomas Isle of Hope. Since its founding 20 years ago to serve primarily persons suffering from HIV/AIDS, Unseen Guest has served 90,000 meals and currently serves about 350 each month.

Saturday morning also sees a group of volunteers gathering at St. Patrick’s, Albany, to tend to the eighteen growing beds in its Food for a Thousand Community Garden. The ministry has given away a literal ton of food as 2,000 pounds of fresh vegetables have been harvested and distributed to local food pantries including Neighbors in Need and The Lord’s Pantry.

On Sundays, our 68 congregations worship with Eucharists across south Georgia starting at 8 a.m., from Trinity, Blakely, on the western edge of the Diocese to Christ Church St. Marys in the southeast corner to Holy Cross, Thomson on our northeast edge. In a few hours on Sunday, nearly 6,000 of us will worship in our Diocese of Georgia churches on a given Sunday. Take just one example, at 9 a.m. on Sundays in Cordele, the bell rings and the opening hymn plays at Christ Church. Nestled in its beautiful church among the pine trees on a lot in the town, each Sunday the children of a different family pulls a red wagon up the aisle at the time of the oblations. The food offered Sunday by Sunday to God in the Eucharist then goes to stock the Open Pantry ministry that distributes food every third Wednesday. The worship and service all connect week by week.

On Sunday afternoon in Rincon and Girl Scout Troop 30235 meets at St. Luke’s, one of the numerous Scout groups across the Diocese that offer a sustained chance for adults to mentor children and teens through those programs.

Celtic Masses at St. Paul’s Augusta and St. Paul’s Albany as well as the more seeker-oriented Sunday evening liturgy at St. Paul the Apostle, Savannah, bring the day of worship to a close as the Diocese of Georgia readies for another week of loving and serving the Lord.

To the degree we are in business, we are in the business of changing lives through the power of the Gospel. We serve in the midst of a lost and hurting world deeply in need of the forgiveness, healing and wholeness that come through Christ alone yet all too often sure that Christians have but nothing but judgment to offer. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by people lost to drug and alcohol addiction, abusive relationships trapping them in violence and degradation, and all sorts of other harmful situations. For there are many kinds of oppression in the world, there is all kinds of hurt and sin, but there is only one source of healing and that is found in Jesus.

Yet if we are trying to follow the Great Commission to make disciples and baptize them, we are not bringing in new Christians in any large numbers. In 2013, the Diocese of Georgia baptized 222 new Christians with 42 of these being persons 16 and older. That is less than one adult baptism per congregation, especially as two churches account for a quarter of that number. St. John and St. Mark’s, Albany baptized six adults in 2013 and Holy Comforter baptized five.

For St. John and St., Mark’s, five adult baptisms represent a tenth of a typical Sunday’s attendance. While little growth has resulted from it, the congregation has sustained an effort to connect with the people who live around the church through block parties, their Trunk or Treat and the Radium Springs CyberCafé which offers a free place for students to cross the digital divide with a supervised place to use the internet for school work.

At Holy Comforter, adult baptisms grow naturally as the congregation attracts persons who grew up either unchurched or have been away from church since childhood. A recent example is that of a couple preparing for marriage in the church and the groom deciding that forming a Christian marriage mattered to him very much and so now is the time to commit to God through the sacrament of baptism. People with no church background know others with no church background and so as the church grows, they continue to attract persons who have not yet made a public profession of faith and been initiated into Christ’s Body, the Church.

I say this because we are not the Rotary Club at prayer or a social service agency. We are the Church and we don’t just reach out in mission, we also have a story to tell about how Jesus has broken into our lives in a meaningful way. And still we can be shy about telling out stories of faith. And this is true even though every Episcopalian I have ever met shows strong evangelical tendencies. My fellow Episcopalians tell me about good restaurants to try in their town, the best hotel to stay at, good books to read and movies to watch. We have lots of Good News to share and we do it effortlessly.

The key is to bring this all together. Take the ways in which we are connecting to our communities as I shared in my tour of a typical week. See how we might not be afraid to share our faith with the new people God brings across our paths. It is not as difficult as you might imagine. We are not talking about witnessing in the way other denominations might. We are only saying don’t keep how Jesus has made a difference in your life a secret from family and coworkers. Don’t make your congregation one of the best kept secrets in your town.

If we really have eyes to see the world as God sees it, I promise the fields are ready for harvest. As we get out of our church walls and encounter the world for whom our Lord suffered, died and was resurrected, we just need to not shrink back from sharing the one known cure for the deep hurts we see. And in this, we do nothing by our own effort alone. It is really the work of the Holy Spirit. The key is to get out in the world in loving service so that we encounter the world and then to be unafraid to share the Balm in Gilead. Jesus will handle the rest. For it is not our mission but his. We just work as the hands and the feet for the good hard work of being the Body of Christ and trust that God will take what we offer and accomplish more than we could ask for or imagine.

 
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Streamline Financial Reports for Better Vestry Meetings

04 Nov

A common pattern for vestries has the group spending a fair percentage of meeting time in going over the financial reports of the congregation. While oversight of the finances is critical, spending more time in meetings discussing the report may not make for better oversight. I suggest three changes to how and when your congregation reports on its finances that can improve the quality of vestry discussion of the church’s revenue and expenses.

The first is simply to time the vestry meetings so that every member can receive the previous month’s statement one week before the meeting. Then add the expectation that any questions about the statement will be addressed to the treasurer in the week prior to the meeting. This means that you won’t need to waste time asking why insurance expenses are down only to discover that this is paid quarterly and the report is merely reflecting that the May statement shows five months budgeted and only the one quarterly payment made. It looks like the expense is down, but the next month’s report will show insurance exactly in line with the budget. This is easily cleared up in advance and need not sidetrack the vestry’s larger work on the congregation’s common life.

The remaining two suggestions are based on getting monthly financial reporting in line with the lived experience of running the church. Rather than budgeting a total number for every line item and then dividing by twelve to create the monthly reports, use knowledge of when the revenue is anticipated and expenses are due in creating the monthly reports.

For example, the reports can show $0 for insurance in January and February and then $867.36 for March if your quarterly insurance payment is due that month. By taking the few line items which spend in such predictable ways and reflecting that knowledge in the reports, you will give a clearer picture of where expenses stand year to date in any given month. It is not necessary to spend a lot of time on this as it will only matter for large line item expenses which follow a pattern other than spending 1/12 each month. This is a relatively quick fix to make your expense budget more transparent.

Likewise, churches have predictable patterns of revenue which can enter into the calculations. In the mid-1990s, prior to seminary, I served on the vestry of St. Peter’s Church in Rome, Georgia. That church, like most congregations found a predictable pattern of lower giving in the summer and a larger amount coming in each December, nearly double most of the months of the year. A previous vestry member had analyzed five years worth of monthly revenue reports and discovered a predictable trend. This was used to generate a monthly target figure based on that pattern of giving. This kept the vestry less anxious in the summer (as long as we held to previous summer experiences and didn’t fair worse). It also meant that we could communicate with the parishioners directly about the need to give at the year end as they had in previous years.

Whether you follow these suggestions or not, vestry members should try to find ways to encourage their conversations away from the details of the budget when meeting together in order to focus on the big picture. The more time spent on each tree, the less time there will be to manage the forest. The goal of the priest and vestry should be to always be able to keep the bigger picture in view in when providing oversight to a very detailed task.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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The Million Dollar Resurrection Question

01 Nov

The Acts 8 Moment BlogForce question this week is “If you had a million dollars to help ‘proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church,’ where would it go and why?”

Having spent three days this week in a Program, Budget & Finance Committee meeting for The Episcopal Church, I have been considering this question a lot lately. The short answer is that I would bet it all on the Holy Spirit. Here is the only slightly longer explanation:

The Beatles were right that money can’t buy me love. And if money could buy resurrection, most of the upper deck folk who went down with the Titanic would still be among us. And a lot of money is not usually healthy in the church. If you want to hurt a congregation’s finances, give it a big endowment so people don’t feel they need to give back to God through support of their congregation. Yet, money can have a role in supporting the work of the Church and in that the key is to discern what the Holy Spirit is up to. Look for where God is already doing a new thing and then support that work of the Spirit with a little boost in funding.

Momentum is hard to get going. If nothing is going on, money seldom will get it going. I know this first hand from that portion of the Church that seems the most like we put in money ahead of momentum—church planting. But I know from first hand experience that even in starting a new congregation from scratch, one can readily see how the Holy Spirit was out front breaking ground in people’s hearts and getting things moving.

Find where some momentum is taking place and add support. For a church start, that will take something in the $300,000-$500,000 range; working to support an existing congregation jump to the next level might take just $100,000-$200,000; a new ministry from a community garden to a homeless shelter can get a real boost from even $20,000. Don’t believe me, stand by for the reports due ahead of the next General Convention on the impact of church start and mission enterprise zone grants. While I wonder about the wisdom of sending money to a denomination and then applying to get back a grant, I do know that these grants have sought out opportunities to match local funds for mission to under-served groups. And the Episcopal Development Agency of Thomasville, the grant recipient here in the Diocese of Georgia, is a great example of resurrection. Three Episcopal churches in one south Georgia town created out of division have come together for some exciting community development. The Episcopal Church put in just $20,000 to support the resurrection already being lived out.

But in no case is the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit something that needs money alone. Resurrection is the work of the Spirit. Seeing where and when money can assist this work is not a business decision, but a matter of prayer and discernment. So prayerfully discern where God is already at work doing a new thing and then get behind that work of the Spirit with some support and watch it continue to flourish.

-The Rev. Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary (Assistant to the Bishop)
Episcopal Diocese of Georgia

 
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Follow the Good Shepherd Instead of Little Bo Peep

28 Oct

There are two larger approaches to growing a congregation:

  1. Focus primarily on the church itself and making it a more attractive place in terms of facilities and the quality of worship and more.
  2. Focus more on the community and its needs and reach out to those not part of the church.

A Better Fishing Boat & Little Bo Peep
Little Bo PeepThe first approach is to work to build such a nice fishing boat that the best fish will willingly jump right in. Any approach that focuses on getting a new building, a better music program, or a youth group, in order to grow the church is this approach. All of those things are good, and may be essential to being the congregation God has called you to be. But in and of themselves, these will do little to grow a church. If not combined with a strategy for reaching the lost and hurting people in your community who need the Gospel, this is like Little Bo Peep who lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them. The rhyme goes on, “Leave them alone and they’ll come home, dragging their tails behind them.” In this view, it is up to the sheep to find their way back to the shepherd and potential newcomers are on their own to find you.

Deep Waters & The Good Shepherd
The Good ShepherdJesus sent the disciples out to deep waters to put down their nets for the catch and then sent them out two by two to go ahead of him out into new places. This is done anytime we are actively seeking to engage those outside the church, reaching out to others with the love of God, whether they choose to ever come into the church or not. All around the Diocese, this is being done in different and exciting ways. One example is the work of our Archdeacon, Sandy Turner, who has for years been the guiding force behind the Good Samaritan House, a free medical clinic in the poor, rural area around Dearing, Georgia, which is 30 miles west of Augusta. This is following the example of the Good Shepherd who would leave the 99 and go after the one lost sheep. This also works through efforts like the Revs. Michael Chaney and Charles Todd’s Theology on Tap in Savannah and the Rev. David Somerville offering last year a Christmas liturgy while at sea on a cruise ship that had no worship to be offered on that Holy Day. Whether these will result in persons attending our churches or not, they are still faithful ways to follow The Good Shepherd.

A Combined Effort
Obviously, we need to combine both approaches. Of course, we need to attend to our buildings and programs. We also need to reach out to our communities in love. When these two areas are tended to properly, a congregation tends to grow. This growth may be spiritual growth as those who take part deepen their faith. It is often also numeric growth in attendance.

One Simple, Lost Cost Way to Reach Newcomers
While some of our communities have little or no growth in population, many areas in the Diocese do experience people moving into the area, even if it is a relatively small number. There are services that will provide you with new address changes for pennies on the address. Even better, real estate agents in your congregation (or known to members of your congregation) already have access to information on where new people are moving in.

Send new folks to your community a letter, preferably hand addressed, letting them know where you are, something about the church and your worship times. This direct contact with a family new to the area is one simple way you can reach out beyond the walls of your church to invite someone to find the healing and wholeness offered through Word and Sacrament within. While we receive plenty of junk mail, none of it comes hand written and that effort makes a difference. God can use such a small thing as this to get the attention of someone who needs to find their way back home now that they are in an unfamiliar community.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Why We Do What We to Grow a Church Matters Most

21 Oct

While I am interested in evangelism, welcoming visitors, and integrating newcomers into a parish, I am not interested in these things simply to grow a church. And I know that when pursued just to grow a church, these efforts will fall flat. More plainly stated, If our only goal is to grow church attendance or the budget, we should fail.

All of our efforts in this area from inviting a co-worker to church to advertising in the local newspaper should be a response to God’s call rather than a response to the needs of the budget or a desire merely for increased attendance. Budgets and attendance are helpful indicators (though not the only ones that matter) of the health of a congregation, but they are not ends in themselves.

The real goal is to be hospitable as Jesus taught us his followers are to show love for the stranger. We are to welcome others as if welcoming Christ himself as Christ does come to us in others. This is a very helpful perspective as newcomers will bring new perspectives which can (and perhaps should) challenge the status quo. Knowing that God may have sent someone to us just so that we can hear this new way of looking at how we go about being the Body of Christ can help us to better listen.

In any case, our invitation, welcome, and inclusion of newcomers is not about growing the church, but about being faithful to God’s call to us. Whenever we move beyond trying to be faithful Christians to seek to grow the attendance or church budget, we move away from the Gospel and toward the business of the church. That is move God can’t bless. But when we seek merely to be the Body of Christ and to welcome others as we if welcoming Christ, then this act of Christian hospitality is something that will bear fruit.

We do what we do because God did not leave us in sin on the path to death, but sent his Son to live among and to suffer and die that we might have life. And that life abundant is for all. Everywhere we go we are surrounded by people who desperately need this good news and will be caught in painful cycles of seeking redemption through everything from prestige at work to abusing prescription medicines until this Good News of God’s love as found in Christ breaks through. For there are all kinds of oppression, pain, and suffering, but there is just the one cure. There is no health in anything else. That is why we do what we do, because the world needs Jesus.

When working with vestries, I like to delve beyond what we are doing to ask why as I think that understanding this dynamic matters. For when we are merely looking for more pledging units or more attenders for sake of numbers, this attitude infuses our welcome. But when we move to consider these actions as who we are to be as Christ followers, then I think that this allows us to see those our Lord sends us not as dollars or as bottoms in the pews, but as Children of God in need of the healing, redemption and wholeness that we all so desperately need. That difference comes through in everything we do.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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No Fail, Time-Tested Methods

14 Oct

While there are many ways to grow a church numerically, and there are no silver bullet approaches that will work everywhere, the same can not be said of decline. There are some no-fail, time-tested methods to make sure your church does not grow. Want to keep your church at its current size or wear it down a bit? There five steps will get you headed the right direction.

Here are my top five ways to chase new folks away as quick as they show up at your doors:

1) Share Parish News
First, be unhappy with you church and then make sure everyone knows it. Pull the excited newcomer aside and fill them in on the backbiting and infighting. Spreading rumors is another tool in the discontented church toolkit. Newcomers are looking for love, joy and hope. They will leave and tell their friends (and even the check out person at the grocery store) to never darken your door if your church tends out to be a hotbed of petty power struggles and pointless infighting. Churches do not grow by division.

2) Think of the Children
You want to have children’s programs. You just don’t have enough children for Sunday School or teens for a youth group. If enough children show up, you might try something again, but the new family with three kids needs to understand there are just not enough kids for you to bother with yet. If that doesn’t chase them off fast enough, you could give them meaningful stares when the kids make noise in church, while offering neither nursery nor children’s church as options.

3) Stay Friendly
Your church is a friendly place. You have people you know at church and you always enjoy spending the little time you have over coffee after the service with these folks. Part of why you love your church is that you are so friendly. Stay that way, talking with each other. Enjoy the coffee and the donuts. It won’t take but two minutes tops before the newcomers wander on.

4) Keep Members Active
All the longtime members have things they like to do, so don’t shake up anything from the Altar Guild and Choir to the core of servers. Don’t make room for new people to serve as readers, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, or vestry members. Take a pass on the ideas new people bring. Keep doing things as you have always done them with the folks who have always taken charge. New folks will take the hint and wander on in hopes of finding a church that welcomes the gifts they bring.

5) Stay Focused
Concentrate on anything but the Gospel. You want folks to catch a the weakest possible strain of the Christian virus to inoculate them against something life-threatening, so don’t challenge them in any way to be transformed. Avoid offering ways someone can deepen and live into their faith. Teaching people to read their Bibles and take on other spiritual disciplines is right out. Folks who get grounded in the Gospel through a local church community will never leave, so don’t let those roots take hold or these new people who have found meaning and purpose through faith in Jesus Christ will invite their friends who aren’t church-broke yet either. This sounds harsh, but if you want to keep you church’s small, family atmosphere, you better stick with religion, or better yet “being Episcopal”. Talk about the church, and steer clear of anything that smacks of being the church.

I might not know any silver-bullet, one-sized fits all approach to growing your church, but I sure know how to help you whittle away at folks until its a size you can control.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Use the Power of the Press for Your Church

07 Oct

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket,
but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

-Jesus, Matthew 5:15-16

A positive article about your church in the local newspaper will do more good for the congregation than any advertisement in the paper. Getting in the paper from time to time is easier than you may think if you use a bit of creativity.

An Example from Christ Church, Frederica
A perfect example of this is a recent article in The Brunswick News about a new liturgy offered on Wednesdays at Christ Church, Frederica. The article, Slowing Down told of a new weekly service called “X Church” that the historic congregation just launched on Wednesday evenings. One could not buy better advertising than the lengthy introduction to the liturgy given in the article.

Christ Church Rector, the Rev. Tom Purdy told the paper, “I think it might be particularly helpful for younger generations because of the intention behind the worship, the teaching we build into X Church about why we do things, and the inclusion of practices that are transcendent. My experience tells me that younger generations, not far behind my own, want their worship to transport them away from today to something that is holy and mysterious”.

He went on to add, “I have seen this for myself, and read about it in other communities. Sometimes there is not much difference between a Sunday morning and a secular gathering. X Church will leave no doubt that we are setting ourselves apart to be in the presence of God.”

With more than 200 flickering candles, most of them LED candles, incense and the use of Taize chants and periods of sustained silence, the liturgy will be different in tone from Sunday worship for the church. Stemming from the Greek letter chi, the ‘x’ in X Church refers to the first letter in the Greek spelling of Christ, Purdy says. Our hope is that people will find that they can come to X Church mid-week at the end of the day, and lay down their burdens, turn off the phone, unplug from all the noise and activity, and plug into the sometimes subtle movement of the Spirit,” he added.

How to get noticed
My wife, Victoria, and I worked for two different newspapers in the years right out of college and she later worked as a section editor at The Brunswick News and as Editor of Georgia’s Coastal Illustrated. Through this work I saw how the newspaper has a seemingly insatiable need for stories about the community. I also saw how press releases get filtered based on 1) what else the newspaper already has on hand, 2) how newsworthy the information is, 3) how recently similar news ran.

Some examples for your congregation
Knowing this, you have a chance to get in your local paper a few times a year at most, so unless you haven’t been featured in some time, you will want to pick noteworthy events to highlight or give an interesting slant on a common event. For example, the blessings of the animals just held could have gotten press coverage as St. Paul’s, Albany, did in The Albany Herald with this article: Bogart Receives a Blessing for blessing a “two-hump” or Bactrian camel. Looking forward, are you doing something innovative for a fall festival or Halloween event?

Similarly, a press release on a congregation member with an interesting ministry can get attention. Who do you have in your church that is doing good in the community? How might you share that with the newspaper. One example would be a press release on an upcoming free health clinic or a mission trip that emphasizes not the clinic or the trip, but a community members longtime commitment to a project. The news angle would be the local dentist who has faithfully volunteered time overseas or the school nurse who cares for the poor for free for many years.

The bottom line
Remember that the newspaper needs news. Create a press release that gives a human interest or news angle to something going on in your church. Send these in a from time to time, making sure not to flood the paper with releases and so making any given release easier to ignore. Be sure to mention the appropriate phone numbers and email addresses to contact for further information and provide photos or let them know when photos could be taken. The easier you make all of this on a newspaper editor, the more likely the release will succeed.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Remixing the Church

04 Oct

I created this 1-minute film following the Task Force for Reimagining the Church’s churchwide meeting held on October 2 at Washington National Cathedral. It is something of a highlight reel for the 2.5-hour meeting. And it has a beat you can dance to as well. You can watch the actual meeting at the TREC website: http://reimaginetec.org/live/

 
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Jesus Said Love

04 Oct

A slightly updated version of a 30-second video I created earlier. This short commercial emphasizes the command to love one another as the heart of Christian teaching.

 
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Make a Name for Your Congregation

30 Sep

When people who live in your community, that do not attend your church, hear your congregation named, what comes to mind? Is it your food bank or soup kitchen? Perhaps it is your Scout troop? Maybe it is the people they know who go to your church that are involved in community boards and active in many ways beyond the church itself. Perhaps your neighbors have never heard of your congregation.

There are two ways I want to suggest that you can get your name out in a positive way. Either or neither may suit your church, but I offer them for prayerful consideration:

Something for Nothing
Lots of churches sell food or drinks at a city event. Some congregations have decided that it is better to give away cold water as a way to show hospitality. For example, St. Patrick’s, Pooler, is present at local festivals giving away bottles of water (pictured above). Whatever it is that works for your church, offering someone something they want with no strings attached is a great sign of the unearned grace of God and a way to connect your congregation to a positive first impression.

The Place Where the Community Gathers
Your church can become seen as as a place where the community gathers. If your buildings are underutilized, why not offer for events like a Relay for Life planning meeting and a district Scout leader group to meet at your church. By putting this resource (our buildings) together with this need (space for community meetings) we can lower the threshold for newcomers to church by inviting them into our space first for a community meeting. That makes a return visit for worship easier. This is why an attractive church brochure telling about the congregation and giving details like worship times, ministries and a web address should be prominently offered at all such events.

Historically, this has made a big impact in some cases. Grace Church, Sandersville, was important to that community as the one place where whites and blacks could and would meet together. While racial tensions are not so overt as to require church space for meetings, it is still a wonderful gifts of hospitality when you reach out and offer room for free. Pictured here is a diocesan group in front of St. Matthew’s Savannah which offered a gathering place at the start of the MLK Parade in Savannah in the years when the parade started at the intersection by the church.

Whether these two ideas fit your congregation or not, it is worth considering what impression you are making on your neighbors and whether their is anything you can offer with no expectation of return. It will likely help you put your church’s name out in a positive way. In any case, it is a chance to show care of your congregation for its community.

The Rev. Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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A Way to Put Church Attendance Data in Perspective

23 Sep

Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) is one commonly used indicator of the strength of a worshiping community. There are problems with this as it does not take into account the ministry of the people to their community. It also misses the importance of mid-week liturgies or that more families are attending less frequently while considering the family “all in” as members of a congregation. Nonetheless, ASA is useful. But getting Sunday attendance to more than 100 must be more difficult in a county of 25,000 people than in a county of 100,000 people, right?

To add some perspective, since 2011, I have taken the ASA of every congregation in the Diocese and divide it by the population within a five-mile radius of the church. Why a five-mile radius when plenty of people drive further to church? Honestly, because I had access to that statistic for every congregation and it seemed a useful measure. Church with 3,000 within a 5-mile radius, seldom have much larger populations just beyond that boundary and if they do, it is less likely for someone to leave a populated area to head to a less populous place for church. We tend to go farther in directions we are accustomed to traveling, and less far when it is not on one of our usual routes.

So how do we do?
It turns out, that on average, .35% of the population within a five-mile radius is reflected in the ASA of the church. If a Diocese of Georgia congregation in an area with 10,000 people on Sunday is average, the church will have 35 people in church on Sunday. That average reflects a range from 2% to .02%. The church with the highest attendance to population ratio is Christ Church, Frederica (pictured above). With 315 in ASA with 16,028 living within five miles,roughly 1 in 50 people are in church on Sunday. Though as I have noted in a previous report, to be fair the congregations of St. Andrew’s (pictured below) and St. Cyprian’s in Darien may have two buildings and two vestries, but they share a priest in southeast convocation dean, the Very Rev. Ted Clarkson, and they share the same sparse population. Their combined Sunday attendance of 122 in a town of 5,000 means they top the chart together at 2.5%. I have created a chart with all of the above average congregations noted along with some aggregate data for cities: 2013 ASA data in Context

What does this mean?
First, please hear me clearly that this statistic was created to help set useful targets for growth based on experience, not to judge the effectiveness of existing ministry. Nor is this meant to suggest limits to the work of the Holy Spirit, but to give more useful comparisons. Churches low on the scale may be quite successful in other ways. For example, the next to lowest church on the scale happens to be Christ Church, Augusta which has one of the highest ratios of people touched by the ministry of the church each week compared to ASA (see this video for the Christ Church, Augusta story shown together with ministry at the churches in Darien). So take the data as it is intended. Look at your attendance compared to the population. Consider what this means for your church as you set reasonable goals with a strategy for reaching those goals.

Another approach
Or, you could always toss all the data aside and preach the Gospel and reach out in love to your community. Connect in meaningful ways to those around your church. Offer the life-changing love of God as found in Jesus Christ. Invite folks in to your church and into relationship with God and then integrate those who come into the life of the church, discipling them in the faith. That is always appropriate no matter what the data says.

The Rev. Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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