The Heart of Worship

by Ken McIntosh

I’ve just returned from two weeks in the United Kingdom, where Christian faith has an ancient and storied history that contrasts with the lack of church attenders in the present day. According to a 2015 survey, Great Britain is among the least religious countries in the world.  In a global ranking of 65 countries, the UK came six places from last, with 30% of the population calling themselves religious. Some churches continue to thrive in the UK, but many rural congregations are only a handful of members.

On a Thursday evening my wife and I entered the Cathedral church in the Welsh city of Brecon and sat ourselves in the section of the building where the choir sings, in order to hear Evensong. There was one other person in attendance there—an older gentleman who greeted us briefly, apparently a local. The lector came, asked us to stand, and the choir processed in—a dozen people of mixed ages and gender, robed in scarlet. After the service began, a group of four German tourists walked into the Cathedral and decided to sit in the larger sanctuary space and listen.

The service was perfect—as I expected in a Cathedral church. The Welsh are famous for singing, and this choir was no exception. The voices, the enormous pipe organ, and the acoustics were out of this world. The readings were pronounced by a speaker whose voice certainly merited a career on the BBC. And I couldn’t help thinking…such a huge place of worship, such a meticulously rehearsed service, yet if the tourists hadn’t wandered in, and we hadn’t made that trip to hear the choir…they would have had one congregant.

Yet there was a sort of beauty to that. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. My life is all about the worship of God and I rejoice when I see communities of faith growing. My vocation is helping churches to increase, and I love it when I see churches at home or abroad flourishing. I dearly wish that the nave had been filled with worshipers that evening. And yet…there was something pure and delightful about that service.

I realized that choir would have sung just as beautifully, the organ sounded just as grand, and the Scriptures read with the same eloquence if only that one gentleman had been in attendance. Or, I strongly expect, it would be the same if there were no human audience.

“O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD,” says the Psalmist (96:1). Thankfully, the choirs and worship groups at our churches usually sound forth praise to the Lord and to a congregation. The participation of those gathered adds to the energy of the worship event. At my own church, the congregation usually claps and exclaims when the choir finishes singing—and rightly so; it’s a good feeling for the choir and for the rest of us to hear that appreciation. I’ve also been in churches where the worship vibe was similar to what used to be the experience at Grateful Dead shows—the crowd and the band sending pulses of energy back and forth, clapping and dancing with abandon.

And the blessing of an audience is also a subtle temptation, because performing in front of a human audience, who are responsive and appreciative, it’s easy to forget that our worship is “unto the Lord.” Hearing their congregation clap or smile, the musicians may not hear God silently applaud, or see the Creator’s smile. But when a choir and musicians faithfully execute their craft for an audience that are half their size—or for no audience—they are touching the very heart of true worship.

When I was ordained as a minister, I was given a charge by the Reverend Stanley Green, then my bishop in the Mennonite Church. In that sermon he kept urging me to discharge the various responsibilities of my calling “for an audience of one.” Over and over, in different ways, he urged me not to base my ministry on either the praise or the disparagement of the people in my future churches; to keep my focus undivided on what best serves God.

That’s never easy to do, because the clamor of yay-sayers and nay-sayers can drown out the still small voice of Jesus. That charge has pursued me for decades now, and it sometimes seems more difficult as I grow older, but I keep trying to focus on Christ despite all the words that press around me. I hope that our churches continue to be filled with active worshipers, adding to the energy of praise. Yet it would be good for all of us who serve God’s people, either as ministers or singers or in any other way, to remember that we are ultimately performing our skills for an audience of one—for The One.

image credit: Ken McIntosh

Addicted to Clever

by Karen Richter

clever girl comment from Jurassic Park

One of my kiddos is a big fan of the Jurassic Park movies. He loves to say, “Clever girl!” in a fake Australian accent.

The “clever girl” in the movie is a vicious raptor. I’m not exactly comparing church people to a man-eating dinosaur, but I do think we try too hard and value too highly being clever.

Now I’m a Gen X girl, so cynical cleverness is bone-deep in me.  As kids, my brother and I loved to watch Sha-na-na with our parents just for the obnoxious joy of complaining about it and poking fun at each person on the show. Clever is fun; clever protects you; clever seems easy.

Yet I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of vulnerability, the willingness to speak from the heart without an armor of smart catchphrases, and the faith of an adult who’s moved into maturity and found that their faith has re-captured childlike awe. And I suspect that my struggles with being clever are shared by others.

Consider the recent UCCthe wisdom of Solomon marketing campaign, ‘Still Speaking 2.0.’ Many of the social media ads missed the mark, this one perhaps most of all:

I had to search for a bit to find it again! It’s clever – superficial and smug – but misses the mark on fidelity and honesty in regard to history and scripture, not to mention glossing over the real harm done to LGBTQA+ persons by political and religious powers.

I don’t want to stop at criticizing the valuable work done in our national setting to promote local church vitality. I do want to offer this suggestion, for Still Speaking 2.0 and for us all: tone down the clickbait, take the chip off our collective shoulders, and stop trying to be cool.  

Instead take a deep breath and make an invitation:

“This is our faith community. I’ve found something there – a welcome, a sense of calling, and people who love me. I would love for you to come check it out.”

Simple, honest, openhearted. What does THAT kind of marketing campaign look like?

Think about the difference between Peter trying too hard at the Transfiguration: “Jesus, I got it! Let’s build a little house for you, a little house for Elijah, and a little house for Moses and we’ll just stay right here!” and humbled, vulnerable Peter after Easter: “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Peter’s job in much of the Jesus story is to be a complete doofus, but at the very end of the last chapter of the final Gospel, he gets it.

There’s hope for us all.

Slow Churches in the Lead

by Amos Smith

I just finished reading Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison (much of the writing below is paraphrased from the book’s Introduction).

The authors of Slow Church explain that the industrial revolution made us obsessed with speed—fast cars, fast food, fast computers, and “the fast track.” In resistance to this, an international “Slow Food” movement arose. The Slow Food movement has inspired other Slow campaigns. Cittaslow (Slow Cities) was launched by a group of Italian mayors in 1990 and now includes more than 140 communities in twenty-three countries, which are committed to sustainable agriculture, local food cultivation, local land use, and hospitality.

Other manifestations of wanting to down shift sometimes, rather than stay in high gear, are Slow Gardening, Slow Parenting, Slow Reading, Slow Design, and Slow Art. There is even a World Slow Day, which some playful Italians recently celebrated by issuing fake citations to pedestrians who were walking too fast or taking too direct a route.

Canadian journalist Carl Honore describes “the cult of speed.” Fast and slow, Honore writes, do not just signify rates of change; they are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life.

“Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections—with people, culture, work, food, everything.” (pg. 13)

Many church growth models come dangerously close to reducing Christianity to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed, and sold, instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives.

“Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community.” (pg. 14)

Congratulations to churches that foster sustainable community that is primarily about relationship to God and relationships with each other. Congratulations to churches that understand that the quality of relationships is more important than the numbers of bodies in the chairs on Sunday and the number of dollars in savings.

5 Gifts for Postmodern Faith Communities

by Karen Richter

First, gentle readers, a confession:  I’ve got a lot at stake in this whole church thing working out.  I suspect that most of you do too.  I begin by letting you know that this might be way off-base as I definitely have a pro-church bias.  You’ve been warned.  I also begin with a bit of clarification; in the title I mean “all churches doing ministry in the 21st century, in this time of movement out of Modernity and toward whatever is next.”  To state the obvious:  some churches are already postmodern and some are not.  The clarification wouldn’t make a very good permalink.  

So what is church?  What’s the purpose?  What are we doing and why do we do it?

In my own answer I’m indebted to teachers in the tradition of the Ecumenical Order and its contemporary offspring:  Realistic Living  and Profound Journey Dialog.  This is a whole rabbit-hole, but I tell you this just to make clear that these ideas aren’t my own.

Church is people who are watching, waiting, and acting.

by Peter on Flickr
by Peter on Flickr

In the words of H. Richard Neibuhrchurch are those sensitive and responsive people who are first to perceive God’s work in the world and first to respond.  To me, this is beautiful imagery.  I imagine millions of sensitive and responsive people, those who care, looking around, finding God at work, and joining in.  Church folks are the “what’s next?” people.  In my mind, all of us sensitive and responsive ones are pausing every once in a while, looking toward the horizon, testing the winds… to see if God is moving in a new way in our world.  

Despite this lovely calling to pioneer God’s work in the world, the church isn’t doing so well.  You don’t have to look very far to find various bloggers, authors, ministers, and public personae having a big conversation about how close to death the institutional church is in our time.  I’m not interested in having that debate.  It’s clear that church has changed, is changing, can anticipate additional changes.  Because I believe in celebrating and being thankful for what is, I’m looking for the gifts in all this change.

Gift #1:  Smallitude
One of the biggest challenges facing the church is the commoditization of worship and community life.  A couple of examples will give you a feel for what I’m getting at.  I work at a church with an unabashedly progressive theology.  Every summer, some of our families attend Vacation Bible School programs at other churches with very different dogma and cosmology.  It’s something wholesome for the kids to do in the summer.  A couple of years ago, I got an email right before Christmas from a family explaining that they would be attending Christmas eve services at a church closer to their home.  Every church has candles and Silent Night, right?  I’m not criticizing these families’ decisions, but I am pointing toward an idea that, for many people, church is something that fits or doesn’t fit the family’s needs and schedule, much like sports teams and music lessons.  Folks shop around, and churches put their best foot forward to get in on the action.  It’s consumerism and it seems so natural, so much ‘just the way things work,’ that we can’t see it.

We’re better when we’re smaller.

Last year, I got a birthday card with a cartoon of Jesus on the front, captioned ‘Jesus on Twitter.’  His little thought balloon said, “Twelve followers… Sweet!”

Smaller means more intimate, less pretentious.  Smaller means more consensus and fewer committees.  Sometimes smaller means more REAL.

Gift #2  Permission to put Vision in the driver’s seat… and stop using the R-word!
Big churches have lots of programs.  There’s not a thing wrong with programs.  But programming (lots of Bible studies, small groups, family activities, fitness plans, travel) can be a distraction from a congregation’s shared vision.

When a faith community puts an emphasis on programs, they run the risk of people leaving when the church down the street offers a program they like better.  So program planning becomes a vicious circle:  offer more, fancier, more polished programs in brand new buildings or via shiny fast technology.  Church leadership becomes focused on numbers and fear.  A church focused on numbers and fear – no matter how nice their brochures or how hip their website it – is dying.  We are tempted to measure success with spreadsheets and numbers rather than with transformation.

The alternative is to let vision run the show.  A shared, energizing, hopeful vision for the future – not just the future of an individual church, but the future of a movement, the future of the earth community.  It’s risky, occasionally chaotic.  But it’s exciting.

When vision drives the church and becomes the center of decision-making and resource allocation, the church no longer needs to worry about being relevant.  (Side Rant:  I HATE talk about getting relevant.  Bleh.) We get behind the vision, do the work we are called to do, and leave the judgments for history to decide.  In other words, when we are busy working, we don’t have time for hand-wringing conversations about being relevant.  

Gift #3  Relationship gets more than just talk
All churches talk about relationship.  It’s a buzzword.  The hype around relationships is crazy-making.  A friend of mine had an interesting experience with a large Phoenix church.  The relationships this church seemed ready to build were with her husband (with a manly, trade show vibe) and with her children (with contemporary music and lots of technology).  When they stopped attending, no one noticed.

people huggingEveryone’s a pastor.  Everyone is a caregiver.  I struggled with this in my first year as a church staffer.  I had this idea that I would swoop in, fix the education programming (meaning, that I would fill a calendar grid with classes and speakers), and things would just get magically better.  Caregiving was just not in the picture.  Then I helped lead a retreat (more programming!  LOL) in which there were two people in a lot of pain.  One was grieving; the other was working through some painful experiences in her past.  This second participant had an obvious ‘tell:’ when she would talk about her family life and the difficulties they had experienced, she would grin largely and nervously.  The grin masked, just barely, the struggle.  I did a lot of caregiving that weekend and since.  It’s changed the way I listen, the way I show up, the way I measure my accomplishments in any given week.  I’m still growing in this area and feel so grateful for the grace my community shows me as I learn.

Everyone is a caregiver.

Gift #4  Getting Creative… because it’s required
In the 1950s when everyone went to church, I imagine that creativity was a luxury.  When everything was going well and the church was ahead on budget items, the staff would get creative.

These days, creativity is an everyday thing.  Newly minted M.Div. graduates get creative when putting together their call to ministry in order to become ordained.  Children’s ministry teams get creative when they don’t have a budget for the off-the-shelf pageant or VBS curriculum.  Churches discover that they have gifts sitting RIGHT THERE IN THE PEWS!  Chefs, teachers, organizers, plumbers, drivers, engineers pitch in to do the work we are called to do.

Gift #5  Lay Leadership Gets Real
Again, I imagine that in days gone by, lay leadership was something a little extra.  Churches set aside a day in the fall to recognize the church board chair and the Sunday School teachers.  Isn’t that nice?  The niceness was propped up by a culture of single income nuclear families and at-home caregivers.

Now, there is less of a division between authorized ministry and lay leadership.  More ministers have day jobs to pay the bills.  We are getting rid of the idea that being called to ministry requires a Rev in front of your name.  These are “fighting words” for some of my friends and colleagues, and this warrants much more digital ink, but this is what I see.

Additionally, despite the necessity of intensive volunteer work and expertise and involvement, there are fewer June Cleavers in our pews.  There’s a squeeze of time that we are all living with.  AND YET… I see busy and passionate people at board and team meetings every week, prioritizing God’s work over the millions of distractions technology and culture afford us.  


UN Photo/Logan Abassi

Church is people who are watching and waiting – looking toward the margins to see the next place where God is at work.  Church is people who are acting – serving peace and justice on behalf of all.  These pioneering actions continue to happen despite the naysayers who are ready to write the church’s obituary.  A smaller church for postmodernity can be MUST BE a visioning church, a caring church, a countercultural church, a serving church.

I hope I’m at least a little bit right.  I’m leaning in with this church thing.  Peace to all.

Preaching Sermons People Remember

by Ryan Gear

A friend of mine was telling me about his pastor’s sermons recently. He said that his pastor uses sermon props every single Sunday and seems to be trying to make his sermons “cool.” My friend confessed that, in spite of the props, he can’t remember a single point from any of his pastor’s sermons. He said the sermons seem gimmicky, and they just aren’t memorable. Of course, I hoped he wasn’t secretly talking about my sermons and that this wasn’t some kind of subtle intervention for me.

For anyone other than a blazing narcissist, preaching is humbling.  You study and prepare. You pray for God’s Spirit to move. You stand up and speak from the heart, laying yourself bare. Then after the service, some well-meaning member of your congregation makes a comment revealing that he was completely oblivious to everything you said. No wonder Sunday afternoons are described as the pastor’s hangover. After all that work, we at least want to know that people will remember something from our sermon.

There could be several reasons why the above pastor’s sermons aren’t memorable. Maybe it’s the use of props every weekend that makes all of the sermons run together so that what is supposed to be creative and memorable is not. Maybe the pastor is parroting clichés instead of sharing profound content. Maybe he’s trying to make too many points in his sermons, and the content gets lost in the rubble.

Emotion and Memory

It turns out that there could be another reason. Some psychological studies have supported the theory that we more vividly remember ideas or events that move us emotionally. According to their findings, we are more likely to remember what we feel, what moves our emotions. In a University of Arizona study, psychologists Reisberg and Hertel suggest that we remember parts of events that produced an emotion in us, and we forget parts of events that did not produce an emotion in us.[i]

In Memory and Emotion, the same authors site two separate studies that used visual images to produce an emotion in participants. The result should make every preacher shout “Hallelujah!” They found that it was not just the visual images that created powerful emotional memories, but it was the story connected to the pictures that produced emotion … in other words, pictures with narration! While visual images aided in the telling of the story, it was the spoken word that produced the powerful emotional memories in participants. In both studies, memory was enhanced by the emotional experience created by narration!

The implications of these findings on preaching are obvious. Your sermons are the narration, and you can give your congregation mental images coupled with stories that move them emotionally, so that they remember the images.

To be clear, I am not encouraging emotional manipulation. Manipulation is always wrong, and insightful people can tell if a speaker is feigning emotion or telling a schmaltzy story just to make them cry. The truth is that life itself is intensely emotional, and if you preach sermons that matter to life, you will move people, and they will remember what you say.

Here is an example. Last year, Pope Francis stopped a parade and walked over to a man suffering with a disease that has produced skin deformities all over his body. As the Pope walked toward him, no one was prepared for the emotional impact of what the Pope would do. The Pope wrapped his arms around the man, kissed his forehead, and prayed with him for about a minute. On its own, the Pope’s warm embrace of this hurting, often-rejected man is a powerful image.

The narration is the man’s story. His name is Vinicio Riva, and he has suffered from this disease since he was 15 years old. Get this. Since developing the disease, he has felt rejected by his father.[ii] His father, who is still living, is embarrassed of him and rarely shows any affection toward his son. Vinicio has walked through life feeling the continual stares and rejection of other people, including his own father. That all changed, however, when the Pope embraced him on international television. Even though Vinicio’s father rejected him, the Holy Father, and Vinicio’s Father in heaven, embrace him as a beloved son. That’ll preach! Your congregation will never forget the unconditional acceptance communicated by that powerful image coupled with moving narration.

Here are some ways to tell if you’re preaching sermons that move people:

  1. Does it move you?

Do you feel the importance of what you’re saying? If not, why bother? Find something that moves you, or why preach it?

  1. Are you communicating with passion?

You will, if the content matters to you. Let your emotion show in ways that are appropriate to your context. Even well mannered, upper middle class Americans want to be moved. They want to experience life in all of its fullness, and you can help them do that.

  1. Do you tell true-to-life stories to illustrate your sermon point(s)?

Stories, or plot lines, are what move us emotionally. You will not move people with a bullet point list, alliteration, or academically presented information. Of course, sermons do present information, but in order to move people, you have to illustrate information with emotionally powerful images and stories.

  1. When you tell stories, do you communicate the real emotion that would be expected in that story?

Some pastors tell cliché-like simple stories that skip over all of the real emotion that someone would experience if they were in that story. Life is not a tidy little fable. Ask someone who is facing a crisis right now. Cute little stories lacking emotional depth do not speak to someone whose child has been diagnosed with a disease, someone wrestling with questions, or someone who is facing relational brokenness.

Tell stories that are true to the deepest pains and highest joys of life. Ask yourself, “How do the various parts of this story make me feel?” Then honestly communicate that emotion as you tell the story.

  1. Most importantly, are you in touch with your own emotional life?

If you are not aware of your own emotion, you will not be able to connect with your congregation emotionally. This is the most important point. When you get real about what’s going on in you, then other people will see your emotion and connect with you on a deep level. Get honest with yourself, and preach from your gut!

Something that has helped me become more aware of my own emotions is self-monitoring. It sounds incredibly simple, but in actuality, it requires courageous and focused soul-searching. To practice self-monitoring, ask yourself, “How do I feel right now, and why?” Try this a few times a day, and see what happens! You may discover sources of your feelings that you never imagined… and you will know how you feel and why.

When you feel it and communicate it, they will feel it too. As you couple powerful images with moving narration, both you and your congregation will be emotionally affected, and the result will be a sermon they remember.

People remember your sermons when you move them.



How to Welcome New People…Wisely

by Ryan Gear

I am currently reading John Dorhauer’s new book Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World. In it, Rev. Dorhauer presents an exciting challenge to let go of some restrictive institutional structures and allow a “Church 2.0” to emerge and engage our postmodern world.

I find it incredibly refreshing that the new General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ is urging the use of new metrics in place of the old metrics of attendance and offering to measure church “success.” Instead of counting success in terms of heads and dollars, he advocates for the blossoming of new, adaptive expressions of faith that count people served. How blessed the UCC is to have a leader who understands the true mission of the church!

As congregations adopt this view of the church’s mission, lives will be changed, as John likes to say, “by the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” As hope is renewed, healing is found, and communities are served, people touched by the church’s mission will take notice… and something else will happen.

Ironically, as the church shifts its focus from heads and dollars to service and mission, the church attendance will likely increase. Please hear me, I don’t want to sound presumptuous, and serving is certainly not a means to an end. When churches serve their communities and allow new expressions of worship, however, new people will likely want to worship there. Love is attractive.

Although many congregations currently feel as though they’re struggling, if these churches re-imagine their mission and serve their communities, they will likely welcome many new people. Moreover, as our society continues to progress and evangelicals continue to double down on backward social stances, I believe that the United Church of Christ and other mainline denominations will attract a new wave of people looking for a mission-focused, thinking, and open-minded church.

Some of these folks will bring new ideas that will help you to reimagine church– creative worship, new music, poetry, video, and dialogical sermons, worship experiences that don’t fit the usual mold. Some will bring new life to church governance and budgeting with the newest leadership practices. Some will start new ministries and lead others to serve their communities in creative and inspiring ways.

In fact, I believe that one of the greatest challenges mainline denominations will face in the twenty-first century is how to welcome new people wisely. What do I mean by that?

Some congregations are not good at welcoming people at all. They almost make it difficult for a new family or unmarried person to join the church. They use insider language that newcomers don’t understand. They crush new ideas. They underfund ministry to children and students. They focus on pleasing the biggest givers rather than welcoming new blood. They cling to structures that no longer make sense. You get the idea.

The church I planted, One Church, is only two and a half years old, but we grew to 165 in worship after only 14 months. We focused on serving the disadvantaged in our community and on communicating what makes our church unique in our area. For example, we are one of the few churches in our community who welcome and affirm the LGBTQ community.

One Church also worships in a style to which a fair number of postmodern people can relate. We offer contemporary worship with lyrics on video screens. We present sermon series that address the questions thinking people have about faith. We used an up-to-date professional website, search engine optimization, Google Adwords, and Facebook advertising to promote the church and those sermons. We allow smart, capable people to create new ways of serving. At two years old, One Church would be considered a success by the old metrics and hopefully the new, as well.

Then after a year of growth, One Church paid dearly for a mistake. I placed someone into a leadership position without properly vetting him. Within a few months, I discovered that he secretly struggled with mental illness when it manifested itself in a church conflict. Acting in the only way he knew how, he created an incredible amount of hurt and distrust in the congregation. Putting someone not properly vetted into church leadership cost One Church both emotionally and numerically.

In contrast to churches who don’t really welcome new people, some congregations are so desperate for new leadership that they will place any new person into an influential position within weeks of arriving. Yes, you want to welcome new people, but you want to welcome them wisely.

As you welcome new people, you will also find that there are people who change churches frequently for various reasons that are less-than-healthy. As new people arrive in your church, you are bound to meet some of them in their continuing journey. They are often called “Church Hoppers.”

You can and should welcome each and every one of God’s children with open arms, but not everyone is ready for a position of influence in your church. While the mission of the church is to offer healing, the church you lead needs emotionally healthy, stable people in its core leadership. Again, God loves everyone, and every church should welcome hurting people. Not everyone, however, is emotionally healthy enough to have influence in a church.

Here are three ways to welcome new people well:

1. As John Dorhauer urges, “Reimagine” church.

New persons to your church will often bring new ideas about worship, be skeptical of hierarchy, and view faith as an ongoing conversation. Be open to their input, and be willing to adapt to new ways of being the church. The Center for Progressive Renewal ( is a great resource.

2. Make church guest-friendly.

Eliminate insider language that new people will not understand. Install signage helpful to first-time guests. Use twenty-first century methods of communication like social media, video, and image-based communication that Americans are now accustomed to.

3. Enrich the lives of people with felt-need sermon and ministries.

Make it your goal to create the best progressive children’s and students’ ministry in your area. Preach sermons that speak to the felt-needs we all share, as well as answer questions thinking people ask. Then, allow room for dialogue, as intelligent people appreciate the space to process verbally and share their own experiences.

Here are three ways to welcome new people wisely:

1. Resist the temptation to give authority to everyone who flatters you.

It can be tempting to automatically trust someone who tells you how great your sermons are, always encourages you, and praises your pastoral prowess… but as good as it feels to believe the hype, behind flattery may lie a hidden agenda. Be discerning.

2. Vet people before entrusting them with influence.

Develop a policy that people new to the church wait for at least a year before putting them in any positions of leadership. Watch for signs of emotional distress. In addition, if the person was offended by a former pastor, why not contact the former pastor and get his or her side of the story? It might be quite revealing. Observe the way they interact with others, and do not ignore red flags.

3. There is strength in numbers.

Limit the amount of time you spend with people who have repeatedly left other churches, and when you meet with them, make sure other trusted members of the church are with you to prevent any he-said/she-said.

As congregations reimagine church and open themselves to Church 2.0, new people will come. In faith, you can prepare for them now. As you adopt new metrics of people served, and create new expressions of worship, your church will have the opportunity to welcome people well… and welcome them wisely.

Author Bio

Ryan Gear is the founding pastor of One Church, a progressive non-denominational church in Chandler, Arizona ( and the founder of, a growing, national directory of churches willing to wrestle with questions and doubts.

He is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, OnFaith, Beliefnet, and Convergent Books and has been featured in Real Clear Religion.

Ryan also serves as an initiator in Convergence U.S., a movement bringing together forward-thinking Catholics, Evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, along with ethnic and peace churches and other willing colleagues.

Follow Ryan on Twitter at