What the Church Needs Now

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“I’m tired of hearing the Church is dying.” In the past 12 hours, I’ve heard that statement no less than half a dozen times.

I’m sorry. I understand.

But here’s the thing: the Church is dying.

(It’s important to note that by colloquially saying, “The Church is dying,” folks are really just saying the Church is continuing to shrink and doesn’t seem capable of recapturing its heydays of the previous century.)

The thing is, just because we grow weary of reality, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have to face it and accept it.

I mean, I hate going to the doctor and being told I am too heavy and need to lose quite a bit of weight. I hate it. I’m tired of hearing about it. It doesn’t make it any less true. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter that I am currently doing something about it. It doesn’t matter that I’ve lost 30 pounds since the beginning of the year.

But, the fact is, I am fat. I can grow as weary of hearing about it as I want, but wishing it away doesn’t make it any less true.

Just because we grow weary of reality, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have to face it and accept it.

As a matter of fact, being confronted with the truth (over and over again if necessary)may actually inspire us to take action.

The Church is dying.

There are entire industries formed around that reality: books, consultants, 12-step programs – all sorts of “stuff” that are each guaranteed to help you get out of the funk your Church is in, and get you into some shiny new dancing shoes so you can cut a rug with younger generations and the Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR).

The only thing is… most of the time they don’t work.

Some of them certainly help you feel different, some of them help you look different, and some of them help you act different, but in the end, they don’t work. The SBNR and younger generations continue to dance to the beat of their own drummer while the Church promenades around the same old dance floor in new shoes and a slightly improved sense of self-worth.

That’s actually the worst thing this “Save Your Church” industry is doing to the Church: It’s making us feel like we are actually doing something to impact real change.

It allows us to recognize that there is “something wrong” and it helps us “do something” about it, but it lets us do it without ever having to enact substantive change. Never mistake activity for progress.

These “Save Your Church” programs use the same old tools, the same old instruments, and teach us to play the same notes with a little different syncopation.

They may make us excited and hopeful for the moment, but a year later we find ourselves trying out the next big idea in “Save Your Church” and we repeat the cycle.

We do it again and again and again.

“When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to resemble nails.” – Abraham Maslow

The Church doesn’t need to learn how to play a new song.

We need new instruments, new tools. We need innovation, collaboration, and experimentation. We need to borrow from the best minds of other institutions and ask them to apply to the Church the critical thinking skills that made them successful in their own institutions. Honestly, it’s shameful we haven’t done it already – after all, some of them are sitting in church pews every week!

What the Church needs now is an innovative spirit.

More importantly, what we need is the right tools for doing innovative ministry and leaders who are trained in how to do use them and can help the rest of us do the same.

Monumental task, huh?

Well, let me introduce you to San Francisco Theological Seminary’s Center for Innovation in Ministry. How serendipitous, right? Okay, fine. Admittedly, that’s the whole reason I wrote this article: I wanted to get to two of you together. But now that you are on the dance floor together, you might as well give it a whirl.

I have to say, I am hesitantly excited about this concept. The Center for Innovation in Ministry sees itself as “not just another think tank – it is a ‘think, do and be’ thank’” that is committed to building the ability for innovation in the Church, connecting those who are already innovating and then connecting innovators with the church.

If you ask me (and, yes, I’m aware that you didn’t ask me), it seems like just thing the church needs now: new tools – and why not borrow the best tools from all of our neighbors?

If they stay committed to this vision and don’t ultimately be satisfied with being a “think about it, talk about it, and feel good about it tank,” San Francisco Theological Seminary’s Center for Innovation in Ministry is not only what the Church needs now, but it is a model for centers we’ll start seeing through out the U.S.

The first sign of their commitment to the vision? This is the keynote speaker for the two-day launch program for the Center for Innovation in Ministry:

That’s right, a game designer and futurist is helping launch the center.

Let me spell that out a little bit for you. We Presbyterians are sometimes lovingly referred to as the frozen chosen (I am choosing to believe it is a loving nickname – don’t destroy my reality).

A seminary rooted in Presbyterianism brought in a gamer to talk to us about how the Church can learn new tools from gaming. As far as I am concerned, in Presbyterianism that is an #EpicWin. (Please forgive my Twitter talk. I couldn’t help myself, I’m pretty certain it’s the primary language of gamers).

I’ll actually be making a separate post about the launch event that will include the good, the bad, the ugly, the innovative and the delicious. (My apologies. They brought in food trucks. The foodie in me got side tracked there for a moment.)

For now, I’d like to bask in something that makes this hopeful Church cynic a little less cynical and a little more hopeful: a Center for Innovation… in ministry!

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