What Is God Calling Us To Do?

What is a blessed church? It is a church uniquely grounded in a relationship with God that allows blessings to flow through it. It is a church with a vibrant sense of faith, hope, and love. It is a church that embraces the sacred and that is not afraid to serve God in its own way. Pastor and author N. Graham Standish describes how a church that is open to God’s purpose, presence, and power can claim God’s blessing.

Standish shares the story of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, and its journey to become a spiritually deep congregation, one that is inwardly and outwardly healthy: spiritually, psychologically, physically, and relationally. Becoming a blessed church will help you discern God’s purpose and the path God is calling your congregation to walk. This book will help you find Christ in your midst and become aware of the many ways the blessings of God’s Spirit flow through your congregation.

Our latest course, Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation with Graham Standish, launches today, for both individuals and For Groups. Graham’s book, Becoming a Blessed Church (from which the above is taken), chronicles his own parish’s journey in re-placing God at the grahamcenter of all leadership, vision creation, and meetings. In Graham’s understanding, most mainline churches have come to run themselves solely as businesses, with majority-rules votes taken during meetings — and not as actively prayerful places of discernment (at least, outside worship services). He contends that a church whose leadership focuses primarily on functionality — rather than prayerful study and group discernment — is one whose decisions are made according to the will of the leaders, and perhaps not of God.

What does he mean by this? Well, consider how your church’s governing body makes decisions: if you ask, “All in favor, say ‘Aye'” and not, “All who feel that this is God’s will, say ‘Aye'” you may have slipped into the “functional” track. Sometimes those two questions can yield the same answer, but often, the first kind of question helps church leadership forget that God is in charge and that its role is to discern God’s will. It makes “secret deists” who nod politely toward God in their opening and closing prayers, but ask God to step aside for the majority of the meeting and the decision- and plan-making.

Graham’s church has tried some radical rethinking of leadership and visioning, and the results are striking. Church leaders pray more, read and study more, grow in their faith more deeply and deliberately, and this has led to a stronger and more spiritually-grounded congregation overall.

Take Graham’s course, Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation — and see if the way your church leadership operates could use a little rethinking. We’d be interested to hear your comments on our Facebook page. We commend this course especially to clergy and lay leaders of churches.

To learn more about Graham and to make use of his free resources, click here.

Becoming Blessed

When it comes to our own, individual spiritual lives, most of us wouldn’t say we want “business as usual” or “to just do what we’ve always done;” nor would we express a desire to treat our souls like businesses or corporations. Why then do we settle into those habits in our churches? Why do we run committees and leadership boards and vestries as businesses, with only rules of order and theories and practices? We may tend to pray at the beginning of a meeting and again at the end, to nod to God and then ask God to step aside while we create 5-year plans and budgets, but maybe it shouldn’t be this way.graham

What if we shook things up, and started spending more time praying and learning and discerning together? What if we truly invited God into every moment of our church leadership meetings? To not just say we want to do God’s will, but to actively and patiently seek it?

If you find these questions even a bit provocative or inspiring, our latest course will be of great interest. This Sunday, we launch Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation with Graham Standish. Graham knows what he’s talking about because his Presbyterian parish in Pennsylvania has put this mode of prayerful church governance into practice, and has seen the fruits of it firsthand. Letting go of a fixation on process and “getting business done,” as well as making room for earnest, patient, thorough prayer throughout the duration of meetings, has deepened the spirituality of his parishioners, says Graham, enriched the intimacy of their relationships as children of God, and renewed the health of his congregation. He offers practical tips on how to do what may seem impractical when running a church — because the grace of God is likewise richly impractical.

Graham’s course, based on his book, Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power, launches Sunday in both individual and For Groups format. For more information on Graham, visit his website here.

Connection Matters

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We’ve just returned from the 2015 CEEP (Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes) conference, where we once again connected with scores of amazing people doing wonderful things in their churches and organizations — locally, nationally, and globally.

The conference theme “Connection Matters” was truly made manifest as people came together online and in person to discuss, think, share, brainstorm, laugh, and learn. We at ChurchNext enjoyed meeting face-to-face with many of our subscribers all over the country, and hearing how folks are using ChurchNext to enhance and expand on their Christian formation offerings.

ChurchNext, too, is about connection: connecting people of faith and seekers, both online and in community, to wrestle with life issues, grow in faith and wisdom, and become leaders in their churches.

As Sara Miles noted in her lecture on Friday, the most important word in the Bible is “with.” Jesus is God with us. Christianity is about people with people. Love is abiding with another. Connection matters: we are called to live, love, worship, learn, and serve with one another. And whether that “withness” is facilitated online in virtual discussions, in Sunday forums at church, or in small group meetings at home, ChurchNext is committed to empowering God’s people as they seek greater and deeper connections with God, with creation, with other people, with knowledge, with faith.

The Church has a long history of making use of the latest technology to spread the Good News (as Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows teaches in this course), and we’re committed to finding new and meaningful ways to help people connect. What sorts of connections are most meaningful for you? We’d love to connect with you.

How to Create a Crisis Communications Plan for Your Church with Meredith Gould

We live in a world with instant transmission of news, a world in which people make snap judgments, and in which forgiveness may not be the immediate impulse for many. If something difficult or even devastating were to happen in your church, the way your church handles it — and the way your church communicates its position to those watching and listening — could have a lasting impact. If the worst happens, we can at least mitigate the damage by  responding in healthy, timely, and appropriate ways. We’re glad to offer this course on Crisis Communications to help you start the process of intentionally creating a proactive communications plan.

Meredith Gould has over 25 years of experience helping people share their message and helping gouldchurches plan for unforeseen crises. Though many folks have never considered it — or avoid the topic because it can be uncomfortable — Meredith reminds us that crises do occur, and that there are good ways and bad ways to handle them. Why not have a plan in place so that your response comes from a place of calm and confidence rather than a place of fear or thoughtlessness? Over five lessons, we learn the hows and whys of crisis communications, best practices, mistakes to avoid, and importance of care and support for those involved in managing crises.

This course is vital for anyone involved in church administration or leadership. It empowers clergy and lay people to proactively imagine scenarios, plan their response, and move forward. Click here to register or for more information.

Meredith Gould is an author, speaker and a communications consultant. You can find out more about her here.

New course: Introduction to Church Marketing

Some folks may raise their eyebrows at the title of our latest course, Introduction to Church Marketing — after all, isn’t marketing something sales-y people do, or companies trying to sell services or products?  Well, as Jake Dell points out, the opening sentences of Luke’s gospel show a pretty great example of someone selling a product and service — with a “money-back guarantee” to boot!

Marketing really is just evangelism by another name.  We believe in what we’re selling, don’t we? And our “product” promises everlasting life, peace, and grace. Our marketing efforts should match our enthusiasm for our mission. If we think about marketing our churches in this way, we can see dellthere’s a lot to learn from commercial marketing wisdom, and a lot that can be adapted for our purposes.  We’ll learn what marketing means, how to do it, when and where to do it, and just how important it is.

This course is perfect for those in church leadership, both lay and clergy; it offers a wealth of knowledge and tips for getting our gospel message out and getting folks in the door.  Click here for more information or to register.

The Rev. Jake Dell has worked in marketing and advertising for years and currently serves as the manager of digital advertising and sales for the Episcopal Church.

New Course: Introducing Stewardship with Kristine Miller

We’re excited to launch Introducing Stewardship in time for churches’ traditional Fall campaigns. And yet, one of the things Kristine Miller reminds us in this course is that stewardship isn’t just for a season. If we want to see real change and improvement in our fundraising, we need to remember that stewardship is more than money: it’s an ongoing practice of faith to which God calls us as we seek to do God’s work.miller

This course offers valuable advice on assembling a stewardship committee, strategizing communications efforts, and responding to changes in culture and practice so that we reach people where they are, as they are, and communicate our passion for our ministry.  If we’re excited about and committed to the work our church is doing, why shouldn’t we ask others to be?  No more apologizing or skirting around the issue.  People want to invest in things that matter — and we believe that our churches matter.

This course will be valuable to congregations, stewardship committees, church vestries and governing bodies, and clergy alike.  Click here to register or for more information.

Kristine Miller is a professional stewardship consultant, speaker, and writer. Her titles include Climb Higher: Reaching New Heights in Giving and Discipleship.