Reaching Spiritual Seekers In Our Community – What are they looking for?

What are they looking for in a Church?

Today, I am continuing my look at the recent United Methodist Church (UMC)/Barna study on “Spiritual Seekers.” Part two of the study report is focused on answering the question, “What are they looking for?”  Remember, according to the study, “Approximately 50 million Americans are spiritual seekers looking for genuine community. 

Like I did last week, I think it’s important to point out that the church has answered this question many times.  Most of the answers we have come up with are based on our assumptions or personal preference.  So, before you read on I would like you to answer the following question:

What do you believe that adults ages 35-49 are looking for the church to be?

In my experience there are a few things that we in the church often assume folks are looking for.  A typical caricature of folks who fall into this category is that they are young families, with children who want contemporary worship and a Sunday school program.  As we saw last week, the idea that the only seeker are young nuclear families just isn’t true and leaves out a large percentage of seekers.

Through Barna’s work we can see that the nature of community is far more important than programs.  “Genuine community is the top driver of continued attendance.  3 out of 4 say friendly and welcoming people and feeling part of a community make them want to continue to attend a church.”  Think about what that sentence is saying.  The fact of the matter is that the Christian community has not always been a place of genuine community.   The country club church where everyone puts on a show will never be a place of belonging for this or future generations. 

What does it mean to be a welcoming community?  For some this means we let anyone in the door or anyone can attend.  That’s a good place to start but, welcoming is more than access.  To be welcomed is about relationships.  To welcome someone is to not just let them in but to shepherd them.  It is to see them as more than a body to fill the pew. To welcome someone is to meet them where they are and walk along with them.    

It is critical for us to pay attention to the highest drivers the study identified. 

  • Knowing that everyone will be welcoming
  • Making friends and nurturing friendships
  • Support during difficult times
  • Finding out more about God

Personally, I am stuck by the fact that “finding out more about God” is the fourth highest.  In the church we can’t help but assume that people are coming to learn about God.  After all, for Presbyterians, that is our bread and butter.  Yet it all seems to go back to genuine relationships of caring and support.  When we completed the Church Assessment Tool this very priority rose to the top for our congregation.  Our third highest priority was, “Create more opportunities for people to form meaningful relationships.”  Here is a place that for our congregation, the internal and external desires are in step with each other. Like those outside the church, existing members and friends of our congregation want to have genuine community. 

The other interesting thing that is important for those of us in the church to hear from seekers is that “good teaching matters more than worship style.”  The worship wars that have been engaged in the church are more about the internal struggle than empowering us to reach new people.   Here again, personal preference has trumped our concern for community.  Churches have torn themselves apart over a drum kit and displayed the lack of genuine caring community. 

One thing I have valued about Christ Presbyterian is that we have sought to be this mythical genuine community.  At times this has been difficult because genuine community is not perfect community.  Yet week in and week out, our sanctuary is filled with people who are willing to look past imperfection and disagreement to love and care.  For some our time of prayer is, “a bit too much.”  If you are coming to worship for a clean experience of God our time of shared prayer is far from that.  When we share our deepest concerns or most jubilant joy we embody friendship, care and support. 

This begs the question, how do we welcome people?  Thankfully, I have never heard exclusionary words from our congregation.  Yet we do need to pay attention to our exclusionary actions.  A few years ago we studied evangelism.  One phrase that stuck with me was that we need to “stop looking at people as prey.”  That is to say we need to stop seeing everyone who crosses the threshold of the door as a resource.  It can never be about what they can do for the church or how they can help fund the budget.  Instead we need to see everyone as a blessed opportunity to expand our circle of friendship and love.

This week I would like to ask you to reflect on these coaching questions:

  • What do you look for in a church?
  • Do you have friendships in the church?
  • How do you participate in the welcoming spirit of Christ Presbyterian?
  • Do you know someone who is seeking genuine community that I can invite to experience Christ Presbyterian Church?

Reaching Spiritual Seekers In Our Community

Recently, the United Methodist Church (UMC) released the results of a study they commissioned through the Barna Group.  Barna is the “leading research organization focused on the intersection of Faith and Culture.”  This study was focused on Spiritual Seekers ages 25-49 and was conducted in November of 2017.  While the study was commissioned by the UMC, it was focused on unaffiliated seeks so the data is not denominationally based.

The overall results of the study may surprise you.  According to Barna approximately 50 million Americans are spiritual seekers looking for genuine community.  I’m sure as you read this you are asking yourself where are these people and what do we need to do to get them in the door?  Today, I want to focus less on our action and more on our understanding of folks who are seeking something spiritual.  In the church we often look at those outside our circle and try to tell them what they need.  I think that this study helps us to hear directly from those we would seek to serve rather than make assumptions.  (You remember what they say about assuming)

For our purpose the results can be grouped under four main questions:

Who are they?
What are they looking for in a church?
How do they connect?
Where do they find meaning?

For the next four weeks, I am writing  a brief analysis of the study and hopefully I can help our congregation glean insights on what we are doing well and what we can do better to meet the needs of our community.

Who are they?  

According to Barna, spiritual seekers are more likely to be female, single, have no children, and diverse.  Now the margins in this study aren’t that big, but this makes me ask the question, who are we seeking to serve?  Since the beginning of time, or at least since the baby boom, the church has focused most of its efforts on young families with children.  I have seen this expressed in every Church Assessment Tool (CAT) that I have interpreted for churches in our presbytery. Even our own CAT ranked “Make necessary changes to attract families with children and youth to our church” as our second priority.  This study questions this fixation on the married young nuclear family. Society has changed.  People are waiting longer to marry and have children.  The expectation that every individual will procreate has lessened.  Yet, here we are as the church, with a model that see only the social norms of the past.

It is important to acknowledge that I’m not saying the church got it wrong.  In fact, the church got it right for a given time.  The issue is that we have failed to continue to respond to the culture. I heard one critic of the church say that we are not much different than the Amish.  The only thing is that we choose to live mostly by the 1950s order instead or the 1800s.  The reality of the church in this case is much like business, we must innovate or die.

Of course, this idea strikes fear into the hearts of those who have been in the church for a long time.  Just as Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, we want the church to stay the same.  There is also the fact that we like to be comfortable. The nature is not a comfortable reality.  In this case the idea of the church dying isn’t very comfortable either.

So what does this mean for us?  This week, I want to ask you to consider the coaching questions below. Perhaps they will help us to reflect on how we reach out to our community and spiritual seekers in our midst.

Is your own comfort more important than helping others experience Christ?
Is the description of the spiritual seekers in our community what you expected?
Who are we overlooking?
Do you know someone who fits the description of a spiritual seeker? If so, have you invited them to experience our community?

A Goal Achieved

   It seems like a lifetime ago that I attended the Auburn Seminary’s Coach Training in Florida.In the time that has passed I have used the skills and techniques of Coaching both formally and informally in my ministry. The art of coaching is one of questions. I believe that the coach approach is a great tool to have in my pastoral tool box.
    Often people come to me looking for quick answers or my solutions to their problems. Wise pastors, of which I hope I am one, know that our job isn’t to give answers to peoples problems. We are guides along the way in people’s spiritual journey. Sure, there are times when a direct question is asked and an answer can be given but those times are more informative than discerning.
    Utilizing coaching as a tool for discernment has been a place of great reward in my ministry. Helping individuals, teams and congregations move from a place of being stuck to movement and growth is a wonderfully special opportunity.
    One of the principles of the coaching I practice is that those who are being coached are naturally creative, resourceful and whole, and completely capable of finding their own answers to whatever challenges they face. This means that in most conversations I am not the expert. Sure I may know a lot about what a person is struggling with but the resources to move beyond the struggle are within the individual. I love this foundational principle of coaching. This allows for the coach to partner with the “coachee” and act as a personal champion. This means that I am able to encourage and explore without the temptations of being the problem solver. Ok, I am still tempted but the coaching framework is a great guard against that temptation.

    Today, I submitted my final application for certification as an Associate Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation. This has been a longer process than I anticipated. Seventy hours or training, ten hours of mentor coaching and one-hundred hours of coaching experience is a lot of work. It has also been a rewarding journey and I want to thank everyone from the congregation that took advantage of my coaching services. When I began this journey the Session made Coaching part of my official work as your pastor. I have been amazed at how God has meshed the powerful skills of coaching with the unique calling to pastoral ministry.

And now for a commercial break…

If you are feeling stuck and would like to give coaching a try please feel free to ask for an appointment. Coaching is another way that God is working in the midst of the lives of Christ Presbyterian Church’s members and friends. Did you know that the average cost of “life coaching” is $100 – $300 per hour? This is a ministry that our congregation has supported through my continuing education funds so we can offer it at no cost within our congregation and presbytery.

Give coaching a try today.


Never Have I Ever?

It’s not often that I can say that I am doing something I never could have imagined myself doing.  This past week I began working with a sister church of our presbytery as part of an Administrative Commission. An Administrative Commission (AC) is one of the tools the Presbytery has to help congregations that are in extreme need of help.  In fact, an AC actually has the power to “Assume Original Jurisdiction” of a church.  That means they can relieve the Session of their duties.  This is why I would have never imagined that I would be part of an AC.  Overall, I have sought to be part of the encouraging and equipping arm of the church not the governance side.  An AC is a governance body. Often the governance side of the presbytery is seen in a negative light.  This is due to the fact that more times than not, it is interacted with during conflict or transitions. Yet, this AC is different.  We were invited by the Session to work with them. 

The Session of this church asked that the Presbytery appoint an AC to help them get unstuck.  We are calling this AC a “soft” Administrative Commission. The Presbytery’s hope, along with the Session, is that by working with them in this capacity we can help them gain a clearer vision for their life together.  Personally, this is why I said yes.  Through the support of our congregation my training as a Coach is a special gift to be used in times like this.  This AC hopes to partner with the church to empower their session and members to find their vitality and direction.  As a coach this is an exciting opportunity to make a difference in the life of a congregation. 

I wanted to share this with you for two reasons.  One of my commitments coming back from Sabbatical was that I was going to commit to a fuller participation in the Presbytery.  In the words of one of my favorite TV personalities, “I don’t embrace excuses, I embrace solutions.”  During Sabbatical I found a deeper appreciation for the connectional nature of the church and want to be part of the solutions.  Secondly, in the past I haven’t always shared in meaningful ways the work that I personally or the Presbytery corporately does.  Our denomination is filled with talented and gifted people and we shouldn’t take that for granted.

Finally, I would ask that you hold myself, the Administrative Commission, Session and Congregation of our sister church in prayer.  This is perhaps the greatest gift of a connectional church.  Much like our corporate prayers as a congregation, we have the power to lift up our brothers and sisters through out the Church.