Thursday, January 31, 2013

Will GOD determine the winner of the Super Bowl?

Photo credit: Rich Schultz/Getty Images
This coming Sunday a new NFL champion will be crowned, and it will be either the Baltimore Ravens or the San Francisco 49ers. And, if you are one of more than a quarter of Americans, you believe that God will actively decide the winner of the game.
According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 27 percent of Americans believe that God “plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event.” However, the numbers get even more specific than that. About 40 percent of minority Christians and white evangelical Protestants believe God determines outcomes, while only 19 percent of mainline Protestants do.

Thirty-six percent of Americans living in the South agree that God plays a role in sports. However, in perhaps a twist of expectations, 28 percent of Democrats agree, while only 25 percent of Republicans think that God plays a role.
But in addition to God’s overall role in the outcome of games, a majority of all Americans — 53 percent — believe “God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.”

So, that ought to work out well for Ray Lewis this Sunday.
Continue reading more about the survey results HERE


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Preparing for Prayer

Here is a devotional thought as we prepare for prayer this evening at 6:30 at NRN:


Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

Words: Charitie Bancroft, 1863.
Music: William Bradbury, 1861.
We will go before the throne of God this evening at our prayer time.  You are invited to join us in room 133 tonight at 6:30 - or send me your prayer request through a comment.  PR

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Church Rebounds With a Change of Heart

Here is a recent article that I read and felt I should pass along:

 How a commitment to love people as they are brought growth to Creekside Church.

During its heyday during the Jesus movement in the late 1970s, Creekside Church—known then as Christ Church of Northgate—was afire with 2,000 members.

But the Seattle church declined precipitously in the ensuing years, dropping to 350 members by 1995.

“By the time Pastor Don Ross came, we were a pretty hurting church,” says church elder Rick Hertzog, 60, a Seattle resident and travel agency owner. “We had undergone a church split. So we were definitely not reaching out to other people.”

In his first decade at the church, Ross worked to address many of the issues behind the decline. Nonetheless, attendance continued to fall, reaching 175 in 2004.

“We were like a leper colony for Jesus,” Ross says. “Nobody wanted to be with us, but at least we had each other.”

In 2005, the church sold its four-acre, 80,000-square-foot campus and relocated to a 10-acre elementary school campus in nearby Mountlake Terrace, Wash.

Then, during a leadership meeting, Hertzog made a poignant remark: “Nothing is going to change in our church just because we’ve had a change of address. Our hearts have to change.”

Inspired by the comment, Ross asked God to transform his heart. Not long afterward, Ross realized the change he needed to make was to “just love the people.”

While praying one day, Ross says the Lord asked him, “If this church never grows by one more person, will you love the 175 that are here and lead them to heaven?”

“At that point, we had not had a new visitor in over two years,” Ross says. “After that conversation, when I started promising to love people just the way they are, visitors just started showing up.”

As Ross loved his flock, a “genuine change of heart” spread throughout the congregation. As the church grew, Ross says his congregation started praying and caring for others at a deeper level.

In 2009, shortly before the church finished remodeling the new campus, Ross asked everyone to write on an unpainted wall the name of a friend, neighbor or co-worker they wanted to come to Jesus.

On Easter, Christmas and other major holidays, Ross also encouraged his flock—in what became known as “3-1-1”—to write down the names of three people they wanted to receive Jesus, and to pray for them each day at 1 p.m. for a minute.

In short order, more and more people came to the church, and many received Christ and got baptized.

“It created a ripple effect as more people began to bring their friends to church,” Ross says. “Now, we have three or four generations that have come to our church, meaning three years ago they brought a friend and that friend brought a friend and so on. You can track back three or four spiritual generations of people who have brought their friends to church.”

Today, Creekside Church has about 1,500 people who call it their “church home,” with about 600 attending on any given Sunday.

Ross, founder and coach of the Turnaround Church Coaching Network, works with pastors to teach them the principles, both internal and external, to help them lead a turnaround in their church too.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Death of the Mall and the Future of Church Buildings

Christian Post Guest Columnist

I remember the first time I went to a mall. Raised in a small town in the southeastern section of Alabama, I was amazed when I went to the "big city" mall in Montgomery. All the stores were under one roof. They were new and shiny. The venture became an adventure for me.
But that was fifty years ago. Things have changed. Things have changed significantly.

As Jeff Jordan notes in The Atlantic Cities, the future of American shopping malls is tenuous.

The Plight of the American Shopping Mall
As Jordan says in his prescient article, the trends are gloomy for malls. Sales are down. Numbers of malls have closed or they are on the precipice of closing. Vacancy rates are up. Jordan notes "there are more than 200 malls with over 250,000 square feet that have vacancy rates of 35 percent or higher, a clear marker for shopping center distress." He further provides data that indicate over 10 percent of malls will close in the next five years.

Of course, the declaration of the death of American malls is an overstatement or, at the very least, a premature obituary. Many malls will remain open; a number will remain viable and growing. Still, the trends are unmistakable and unavoidable. Only those who deny reality will fail to note the implications of this issue.

The Relationship to Church Facilities
Is it then fair to suggest any relationship between the decline of the malls and the future of the church buildings? I think so. To be sure, most malls are adversely affected by the growth of online shopping. There are not too many brick and mortar stores that don't feel the impact of the Internet.

But there is more to the decline of the malls than the rise of the digital world. The Boomer generation has been the generation of bigness and sprawl. Their parents, in the aftermath of World War II, moved numbers of them to the new and massive suburbia. Large malls would soon follow. Most large megachurch buildings were constructed primarily for the favor of the Boomers.

But the children of the Boomers, Generation X and, even more, the Millennials, have been pushing for more intimacy and smallness. They triggered the unprecedented growth of Starbucks. They have been the key movers in social media, which has fostered a new online intimacy.

Among the Christian Millennials there is a desire for greater intimacy in church. They are in many ways triggering a new small group revolution. And though they may not have an explicit aversion to large church facilities, neither are they attracted to them.

The Future Size of Church Facilities
As there will still be large malls twenty years from now, so will there be large church facilities whose worship centers can accommodate 2,000 or more in one service. But you will also see a discernible difference in megachurches in ten or twenty years. Fewer of these large churches will have large facilities. More will have smaller worship centers and multiple venues, many with multiple gathering times and days.

The trend in smaller facilities will not be limited to just the largest of churches. Churches of all sizes will "downsize." Or, as an alternative, they will not build larger the first moment the capacity feels challenged in their worship services.

A Boomer church leader looks at a small building and limited acreage and sees challenges. He sees the limitations of size and space. A Millennial leader looks at the same building and acreage and sees opportunity. He immediately thinks multiple venues, multiple services, and multiple days.

It will be fascinating to watch these trends unfold. Large malls will yield to online shopping and smaller and more intimate shopping villages. And large church buildings will yield to smaller church buildings and other venues that aren't "churchy" at all. The result may be that we will see our church facilities actually utilized more; greater facility stewardship could result. After all, only college football stadiums are utilized less than church facilities.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention

  Read more HERE

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A follow-up of today's message

As a follow-up of my message this morning at NRN.  Here is a unique way to look at the history of the church at Ephesus:

by: Allen Webster    

Modern photography is amazing. With one lens, a photographer can zoom in on an object far and make it appear near. Then he can put on a wide-angle lens and get the big picture from close-up.
Time-lapse photography is one of the most interesting methods. Every night, the weatherman shows how clouds advanced over our area with satellite pictures. Though seeming to be in continuous motion, they are actually taken by time-lapse every half-hour or so and placed in sequence. You may have seen a flower photographed in this way and made to appear to sprout before your very eyes. If one had watched constantly, the changes were taking place so slowly that they would not have been noticeable.

What about applying time-lapse to history? Let's look at the church of Christ at Ephesus.

On Paul's second mission tour, he visited Ephesus after leaving Corinth, and evidently planted the church there (Acts 18:19). Ephesus means desirable, and in many ways it was a desirable place to live. It was thought to have been founded by the Amazons about 2000 B.C. and was located in west Asia Minor, near the sea. This first glimpse is of sprouts just cracking open the ground.

PICTURE #2: WEEDING - A.D. 54-56.
On the third preaching journey, Paul spent between two and three years teaching in the city (Acts 19:8-10). He spent his time weeding out false doctrines and pagan practices. Ephesus derived its greatness from two sources, commercial trade and religion. During the Roman Period it was a center for the mother goddess worship, known to the Greeks as Artemis and to the Romans as Diana. Diana is a beautiful name, and one might suppose that Diana would be a beautiful goddess. To the contrary, Diana of the Ephesians was a short, squat, repulsive-looking character covered with many breasts which emphasized fertility. It was believed by the superstitious Ephesians that Diana fell down from heaven. The magnificent temple of Diana took more than a century to construct. It was built about 400 B. C. and burned the night Alexander the Great was born. Immediately rebuilt, it could accommodate 24,500 persons and is reckoned as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Worship in the Temple was comprised of the burning of incense and the playing of flute music as a result of which the people reached an emotional frenzy in which shameless sexual orgies were engaged (Marlin). These immoral practices of the priestesses and the merchants hawking silver shrines made it a difficult place to preach the Gospel. Nonetheless, this teaching in the school of Tyrannus was so successful that those who practiced magical arts brought their books and burned them (valued at 50,000 pieces of silver) (Acts 19:18-20). The sale of silver shrines began to fall off, and the silversmiths caused uproar (Acts 19:26-41). After this was settled Paul left for Macedonia. It was during this stay that he wrote 1 Corinthians. It is now a well-groomed garden - the church even has elders.

Paul stopped on the nearby island of Miletus and made his farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20). Their mutual love is evident as these tenderhearted men weep because they will see Paul's face no more. Their desire to depart with prayer gives evidence of their spirituality. The picture now is of a church that has been carefully nurtured to the point of strong health.

About a decade after the church had been started, Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesians commending their faith and love. A careful reading of this epistle shows that they had done well. They appeared well organized and busy. During these early years they had been growing, expanding and doing the will of God. He commends their sincerity (Ephesians 6:24). Teaching is to Christians what watering is to plants - necessary and strengthening (1 Corinthians 3:6). Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3-4), Acquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:25), and Apollos had all spent time watering the Ephesian church. It should have been one of the most thoroughly instructed of all the first-century congregations. The picture now is a well-watered and self-sufficient church.

A few years later, in all probability very soon after the beginning of the Jewish war, tradition says that the city became the home of the Apostle John. This may or may not be true, but circumstances make it possible, if not probable. He was supposed to have taken Mary, the mother of Jesus, there to live (cf. John 19:26-27). This picture is of a church faithfully serving their Lord and producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:21-23; John 15:1-3).

It was probably during the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.) that John was banished to Patmos. He was released and died during the reign of Trajan according to Iraneus (an early church historian). Tradition relates that at a very old age John, too feeble to walk, would be carried into this church's assembly and would admonish the members, little children, love one another. During this period the Lord gives His assessment of the Ephesian church through the apostle John (Revelation 2:1-7). He compliments them on their works, but has found a disease in the plant. They have left their first love (Revelation 2:4). He commands immediate action - repent, remember, repeat (the first works) (Revelation 2:5).

PICTURE #7: DEAD - A.D. 200.
We have no way of knowing whether they corrected their problem and later were poisoned by some false doctrine, but, sadly, the church died sometime during the second century. It evidently passed into apostasy as it is known in later centuries as a leading city for the councils of the early Roman church. The picture now is of a dead plant, brown and dried up.

Time-lapse photography is interesting. What if the church where we attend had been historically photographed? At which stage would we now be? The ending does not have to be a sad one, the Lord's vineyard need never die. He will come one day and transplant His faithful vineyards over in the land when the tree of life and the Rose of Sharon continually bloom.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Preparing for worship

Tomorrow is once again going to be an awesome day at NRN !  God has placed a message upon my heart and I have taken several hours this week to study to show myself approved as a workman for the Lord to divide the Word of truth and prepare my heart to be clean before God to present His Word! 

As I prepare my heart for church I love to take the time to sing the worship set with no one but the LORD listening:


As I continue in the current teaching series, here is the theme of the message:

Paul, The Way & Demetrius, the Idol Maker
Acts Chapters 19 and 20 

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.            Exodus 20:4-6


Think about this command, and what “idols” you may be tempted to “worship.” What does it mean that God is jealous for you? Think about the fact that you matter to Him. He loves you!

Friday, January 25, 2013

All Creatures of our God and King

Here is a new mix of a favorite hymn from Elevation Worship:

Here is another mix arranged by David Crowder:

Here is the traditional mix for those who prefer a more traditional - classic mix:

The mix may vary but the truth is proclaimed -

Hope you enjoyed them!

 Check back tomorrow morning for the worship set planned for NRN this coming Sunday! 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A few faith lessons from sports

We know which two National Football League teams will face each other in Super Bowl XLVII on February 3 — the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
 The Super Bowl will also feature a head coaching showdown of brothers, with Jim Harbaugh leading the 49ers and John Harbaugh in charge of the Ravens. The game marks only the second time brothers have faced each other in NFL history, with the previous game also including the Harbaughs on Thanksgiving night in 2011, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers by a score of 16-6.
Meanwhile, the National Hockey League finally started a shortened season this past weekend after a collective bargaining agreement was ultimately reached. It took 113 days. A total of 625 regular-season games were sacrificed, or over half the 2012-13 season.

And the National Basketball Association is already at its midseason, with more strong teams than ever in the race and more individual players standing out each night.

It’s a professional sports fan’s greatest time of the year. I love it!

There are many faith lessons to be learned from sports. Here is some advice from Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden.

1.     Get in Shape: A team must be conditioned to perform at its peak.
POINT: This lesson speaks to you and those you serve. Have you put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6)? Have you prepared yourself to fight the good fight?

2.     Learn the Fundamentals: Teams do not win because they can dunk the basketball. They win because they play defense, pass the ball, rebound the ball, and play their positions.

POINT: The fundamentals of the faith, such as prayer, Bible reading, stewardship, and a heart for the lost are essential if we are to mature as a body of believers.

3.     Play as a Team: The game of basketball is a team sport. We hear repeatedly that there is no “I” in team.

POINT: This is especially true in the church. Pastors will come and go. The look of a congregation will change over the years. The one constant in a successful church is unity. The second chapter of Acts becomes our playbook.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
This post comes from  Dr. H. B. London -

A Duck Commander Testimony

Here is a follow up from my posting yesterday to provide a little more insight on the TV show - Duck Dynasty.  I recently heard a testimony that may surprise you:

Here is a little more insight: Portions of this clip are blocked for viewing however the voice interview continues and resumes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Prayer time tonight at NRN - In Jesus Name

One week ago we gathered for prayer in room 133 at NRN.  It was an awesome time of prayer as we felt the presence of the Lord.  God ministered to our hearts and encouraged us.  There were several answers to prayer during the days that followed.  To name two: baby Micah was discharged from the hospital; and many new guest came to church this past Sunday.

As we walked out door of the prayer room I was surprised by a short conversation about the TV show Duck Dynasty. 

Here is a clip from YouTube that I found very interesting:

    This clip was recorded on a FLIP recording device.  Here is the transcript:

Phil Robertson, a.k.a. The Duck Commander, from the hit A&E reality television show Duck Dynasty (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. Central) talks with Brent High, Lipscomb University Associate A.D. for Spiritual Formation, about the ending to his prayers that are aired at the end of every episode of Duck Dynasty.

This footage was captured on November 8, 2012 at Phil's duck blind near his home
I'm sorry for the poor audio quality. I was recording this on a flip cam. Here's a transcript of what Phil said:

PHIL: Last night was the first time from all the episodes, cause I kept ragging them about it, because every time I would offer a prayer, you know, in Jesus name, amen. I noticed they always cut out in Jesus name and I thought, so I told them, I said, now I know you boys is just hired by A&E to film us doing what we do here. I said, but, we're all counting time by Him. I would think of all the individuals ever to walk on planet earth, the way it turned out, we only count time by one of them, ONE, I said Jesus of Galilee. I said I would think you wouldn't mind using His name in any situation since you're counting time by Him. And they're all really looking at me like we've never thought about that. I said well, I'm just sayin. If you're counting time by someone I would think He would be at least worthy of investigation. A lot, been a lot of characters on planet earth, I said you know, what did they call all of the years before He got here? I said you call them before He got here.

BRENT: And so last night they finally included it right?

PHIL: They included it last night so we're makin' headway.

Tonight at 6:30 we will gather again for prayer. You are invited to join us or send us a prayer request via a comment. Please know that when we pray - the trust and believe in the power of God and we conclude our prayers " Jesus Name...Amen."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mark your calendars for March 3, 2013

Mark this date on your calendars:

The Bible
Executive Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett
Premiers March 3, 2013, on the History Channel
This epic, 10-hour miniseries brings to life many of the stories of the Bible in a new and compelling way.
“Our job is to make you connect—either reconnect with the stories or connect for the first time with these stories,” says Mark Burnett, who with his wife, Roma Downey, produced the miniseries. Downey starred in the television series Touched by an Angel and plays Mary in the miniseries, and Burnett is the producer of multiple hit television shows such as Survivor and The Voice.
The Bible series includes compelling depictions of biblical stories including creation; Noah; Abraham; Moses; the parting of the Red Sea; David and Goliath; Azariah, Hananiah and Mishael in the fiery furnace; and the life of Jesus.
Here is a glimpse into this series:
Another moment to be remembered:  Featuring Roma Downey as Mary.
 The miniseries will begin on March 3, 2013 and conclude on March 31 - Easter Sunday 
Many times I am concerned that the History Channel is re-writing the Bible for our generation.  I hold the conviction that HISTORY is in fact, HIS  STORY.  I believe God is in control.  I hope this miniseries lives up to it's claims!

Monday, January 21, 2013

5 Types of Church Visitors

Each Sunday we greet First Time Guest at NRN.  I always ask for a phone number or email address to contact each guest personally and provide information about our growing and developing ministries.  Some guest return - others do not.  I often hear how our church is so friendly and people are greeted so wll.

More and more I am growing perplexed about if people coming to our church for the first time are really "guest" or "visitors".  Here is an article that make me think - and felt I should pass it along: 

5 Types of Church Visitors
 Ron Edmondson  offers a helpful description of the different types of guests you'll find at your church

One thing pastors love is church visitors. Really, what we like even more is church visitors who become regular church attendees, but that process begins with visitors.
It’s always a mystery why some visit a church and never come back. Those reasons may be the subject of another post, but one thing I’ve learned, much of the chance for return depends on why the person chooses to visit in the first place.
I have discovered there are basically 5 types of visitors to a church:
These visitors are just looking around…perhaps for a new church…perhaps because they are dissatisfied where they currently attend church. They may feel they are not growing at their current church, or they aren’t completely satisfied with the leadership, the programs, or the opportunities for service available. If testers find what they are looking for, they’ll be back, but most likely, there is a specific fit they are seeking.

I wouldn’t suggest altering things to keep them, but make sure their questions are answered.

These visitors are usually coming to appease someone who asked them.  They have less interest in attending church than they have in satisfying the request of a spouse or friend. This is not a bad way to get them at first, and I’m always happy to have them, but it is harder to get them to stick unless God moves in their hearts for attending church to become their personal desire.

For these visitors, the person inviting them is just as important as the visitor in keeping them, but help the pleaser feel welcome, don’t make them feel uncomfortable, and you’ve got a good chance of seeing them return.

These are people who know they are missing something in life but aren’t sure what it is.
Church may simply be another option, or it may be the only option, but these are the true unchurched. These visitors are a mission field.  If we introduce them to Christ, they become forever loyal to the church where they found Him.

These visitors seldom stay long at one church. They get upset at something the church does, the church enters a building program that scares them away, or they simply grow bored. Likely, they’ll only stick for a while at the new church, too, so don’t be take it personally if they disappear, as it may not be anything you did or didn’t do.

Enjoy them while they are with you.

Most likely, these people moved to your community or some major issue caused them to leave their current church.  These visitors are active church attendees looking for a new long-term home. They are ready to quickly commit and serve. It’s important to plug these people in as soon as possible.

Again, churches love visitors. In fact, we like any of these five types.

Knowing why someone is visiting your church, however, often helps the way you respond to them and gives you a better chance of keeping them.

I wouldn’t recommend you ask them which of these they are, but it’s good to have in the back of your mind as you get to know them.

Did I miss any type of visitor?      Have you seen each of these?


Sunday, January 20, 2013

A follow-up from today's message at NRN

Here is a little more information about the message of Rahab:

And to understand the account a little better:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Preparing for worship at NRN

Tomorrow at NRN was will an awesome Sunday to gather to sing the prises to our Great God and pray to His Name.  God has given me a message that I cannot contain.  I believe Sunday will  be a life changing moment for some people who attend.  Join me in prayer and trusting God for an outpouring of His Holy Spirit and the anointing of God to be upon the preaching of His Word.

Here is the worship we have planned for tomorrow:

We will pause to take our petitions and request to the Lord.  It is good to pray to God.  He longs for His people to come before Him in prayer.  Then we will sing of His greatness.....

My message is once again from the Old Testament:

“The Sign of the Scarlet Cord”
                                      The Story of  Rahab                                  

In writing about Rahab, Charles Spurgeon calls her “an obedient believer.” As he notes, “Rahab was told to tie the scarlet cord in the window, and she did it; there was exact obedience. It was not merely a thread, a line, but the scarlet cord. She did not substitute a blue, or a green or a white line.”  As we walk in faith, let us do so with steps of obedience.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Is this the New Normal?

After 36 years of pastoral ministry I find myself perplexed by some trends that are unlike anything I have ever experienced. I wondered if my experience was normal or if only our church was living with some new realities. In response to my inner turmoil, I began a conversation with Tom Nees, Dennis King, and Geoff DeFranca, who have solid track records as pastors and church leaders. We shared our thoughts about what we referred to as “the new normal.”

First: The first trend observed is a transition in the church that has forced us to reconsider the definition of “regular” church attendance. Irregular church attendance is the new regular. To put it simply, because people attend less frequently, it takes more people to average 100 than it did 10 years ago.

Second: A second observation is that because of the age group churches are attracting (under 35) and the lack of church background for many, the typical giving patterns are also different. What motivates this age group to contribute is not a commitment to the institution but rather a response to investing in people and causes. Giving levels are further impacted by high debt loads and other factors. This means that leaders must work more diligently to develop resources because it takes more people to generate a basic monetary amount than it did 10 years ago.

Third: The third issue has to do with measuring ministry. Traditional measurements have focused on “bodies in the pews and greenbacks in the plates.” In other words, the number of people attending and the amount of money they were contributing were two key indicators of a church’s health and vitality. In fact, in the 1970s and 1980s, pastors and churches were introduced to the “science” of church growth in which statistical formulas were used to predict results. Now it seems that most of those formulas are obsolete and leaders have the difficult task of determining what is true of the setting in which they minister. The following is an attempt to define normality for my setting.

The New Normal for Attendance
Someone asked me recently if I was upset about our attendance patterns. Quickly, I confessed that I was perplexed and perturbed by the erratic attendance patterns. The composition of the congregation that I came to pastor 15 years ago is different today. My sense is that there is not a single factor but rather a constellation of changes that reflect the complexity of defining what is normal and an emerging new reality.

Some of the trends I have observed include:

  • Church is increasingly on a list of competing options for Sunday mornings.
  • Some people attend multiple churches depending on programs offered, personal needs, and schedules of family members.
  • Participants who had been driving a distance are struggling to afford the gasoline.
  • An increasing number of families are gone during the summer months.
  • Many people who may not have been able to take week-long vacations are opting instead for a number of weekend excursions, extending well into the fall.
  • While older, core Nazarenes have held fairly consistent attendance patterns, their numbers are dwindling due to deaths and major health changes. With that reality, we find that it takes more than one person to make up for their attendance. While there has been a wonderful influx of new people, particularly younger families, their attendance patterns are much less consistent than those of the older members.

While it would be tempting to make judgments about the level of commitment reflected in these changing trends, instead I am seeking to understand how to minister effectively in these new realities.

In the second decade of my ministry, Elmer Towns reported that the average church attendee missed seven times a year. More recently, Bud Reedy, pastor at Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene in York, Pennsylvania, shared that as they have studied attendance trends, they find average attendance is about 1.8 times a month, with a 40 percent turnover in the children’s department every week. While this may vary in each context, frequency of attendance has changed dramatically. Regardless of the particular formula used for a church’s situation, it is readily apparent that it takes more people to average 100 in worship than it did when attendance patterns were “more normal.”

The New Normal for Giving
While the traditional Nazarene gives tithes and offerings, and is even willing to make a weekly commitment to Faith Promise, those new to the church, as well as younger families, are not as consistent. Despite the fact that we are living in a weak economy, the evidence suggests that other factors are at play and will require a long term strategy.

  • Many people have been impacted by the economic downturn. Tight budgets have become tighter. We have responded to more needy families in the congregation this year than I can remember in any of the last 10 years.
  • People under 35 tend to give to people and causes instead of to institutions.
  • Debt load for the under 35 generation is incredibly high due to life style choices, educational loans, credit card debt, and mortgages.
  • Some retirees, dependent on income from investments, have found themselves with less discretionary income than they had anticipated.
We are increasingly called on to do more with less. We are also experiencing a change in the amount of time volunteers are willing to give. We live in a sprint culture rather than a marathon culture of long-term commitments. Pastors and leaders are challenged to invest more time and energy in finding creative ways to develop these resources.

The New Normal for Measurement
While living in the shadow of mega churches where comparisons are often made, we are also aware that many churches are either in decline or have hit a plateau. In my setting, we have noticed several important changes.

  • While attendance and financial giving appear to be at a plateau, changing attendance and giving patterns simply reflect that we are ministering to as many or perhaps more families, but our measurements are not as effective because of the previously mentioned changes.
  • As we look at the Great Commission, “To go and make disciples,” the changes in attendance and giving patterns may serve to create a new definition of normal. The trends, over which we have little control, force us to wrestle with the more fundamental questions. Are people coming to faith in Christ? Are people experiencing life transformations as they respond to the message of holiness? It is this focus that continues to energize me and helps me view the future optimistically.
So what is normal? I’m afraid the answer to this question is more complex than we may realize. Rather than live with the complexity it is easier to make assumptions that ultimately have a negative impact, particularly on the pastoral morale of those still measuring ministerial effectiveness with metrics that no longer reflect the new normal. Quite frankly, I am concerned about the morale of many of my pastor friends who seem drained of passion because they are unable to fill up the pews, meet budget targets, and staff their ministry needs with volunteers.

This is a period of unprecedented transitions that are not necessarily initiated internally. I would compare this period of my ministry to what I observe on a popular TV program where folks risk their lives to fish for king crab on seas that are unpredictable and deadly. Within the context of one fishing season those workers experience changing seas and unpredictable conditions that spawn a wide range of emotions from exhilaration to panic and fear. Why would anyone do that?

It is the thrill of the catch that makes them willing to go out each season. This is not a day where a GPS approach to ministry is much help. Things are changing too rapidly with little predictability. The call of Christ is the only real stabilizing anchor in these changing seas.

Personally, there is no greater joy than when I look around me during the Sunday morning service and see twentysomethings sitting in the front rows, praising God because He has delivered them from sin and its enslaving addictions. The joy on their faces reveals that God is healing brokenness. When that happens, my anxieties about what is normal are calmed, and I am at peace with God’s incredible grace that is bringing lost children back home. I confess that I do not know what is normal about attendance and giving, but I do know that when lost people find God, that is “normal,” and God is pleased.

Russ Long is senior pastor at Bel Air Church of the Nazarene in Bel Air, Maryland.

Holiness Today, May/June 2011

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Hogetts will oink no more

A message to all the NFL Redskins Nation
A sad report....

The Hogettes will oink no more.

The group of male fans who have cheered on the Washington Redskins for three decades while wearing dresses, floppy hats and pig snouts announced Friday that the group is retiring.
The Hogettes said on their website that it's a ''new era.'' They say they'll still be Redskins fans and will be continue to help raise money for children's charities - although in more ''incognito'' fashion.

Hogettes founder Michael Torbert told The Washington Post that 30 seasons is ''enough of guys in pig snouts and dresses.''
The Hogettes began in 1983, when they started putting on dresses to entertain patients at children's hospitals. They also became fixtures at Redskins games, getting their name from the team's legendary ''Hogs'' offensive line.

Front row(l-r): Nickette, Hillbilly Hogette, Stonyette, Spiggy, Hog Ed, Porkchop
Back row(l-r): Big Mac, Big George, Mikey T, Howiette, Jovette, Mikette, Edette

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Preparing for Prayer

This evening at 6:30 we will gather to pray at NRN.

The Bible promises that God will answer every prayer
 that is according to his will.

How can I know my prayers are God’s will?

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.        (1 John 5:14-15)

Here are ten prayers that are always God’s will:

  1. Your Kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10).
  2. Give us our daily bread today (Matthew 6:11)
  3. Forgive our sins as we forgive others (Matthew 6:12).
  4. Bless your people (Numbers 6:23-27).
  5. Build your church, Lord (Matthew 16:18).
  6. Revive us, Lord (Isaiah 57:15).
  7. Send out more workers, Father (Matthew 9:38).
  8. Bring (fill in the blank) to salvation (2 Peter 3:9).
  9. Spread the gospel to every ethnic group (Matthew 24:14).
  10. Give us victory over the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:10-20).


Do you have a story about answered prayer to share with us?