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Truth: Just because a city has a lot of churches doesn’t necessarily mean it has a lot of religious citizens. Interesting: If every person in Indianapolis, IN attended church this Sunday evenly across all the church buildings available, the attendance at each church would be just 289 people. Property research site PropertyShark did a recent study.  According to their study, here are the 10 cities with the most religious venues per capita and how that relates to people active in those facilities: keep reading

Pastor Brian Jones tells of the response he got from one ‘nationally recognized’ pastor when Brian told him that he hadn’t figured out the whole small group thing yet.  Brian said the pastor’s response was something like this:
“Well, Brian, that’s because they don’t work. Small groups are things that trick us into believing we are serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago that small groups just aren’t working.”
Wow.  My experience in the church is that, many times, small groups DO NOT work.  But sometimes they do. But, that said, even when they do, this person is right, they many times take an inward rather than outward track. What do YOU think?  How do you make your small group make a difference?  How do you make your small group be in the top 10% that actually create disciples (what we’re all hoping to do!) In full disclosure, we’re hosting a new small group. Todd You can read more of Brian Jones’ story here…

Elizabeth Esther writes: I don’t trust pastors. I want to trust them – but I’ve experienced so much church-related devastation that I doubt if I can ever again believe the best about their motives, preaching or how they conduct their lives. My trust is utterly broken. Still, the last thing I want to do is pass that disillusionment on to my children. I don’t want to cheat them of having a solid faith identity simply because Mommy can barely sit through a sermon without having a panic attack. I know of families who drop their kids at church while they go have coffee or run errands. I can’t do that. Because while I believe that authentic faith is more about inner transformation and relationship than it is about how frequently you attend church when I did take a break from church, it just wasn’t ideal for my children. They missed me. They begged me to come back. Going to church is something we’ve always done together as a family. Not only is it part of our faith practice, it’s also inextricably woven into our family identity. We go to church and then we go to lunch as a family. This is what we do. When I took a break from church, it was a major departure from our established family tradition. It was like letting disillusionment win. I’ve since started going back to church with my family. It’s my way of saying yes. Yes, there are traumatic divisions within our faith, but if we can’t find a way to work through this, who will? Yes, I am hurt and broken, but I still want to find the good  and yes, I still believe the good exists. Of course, peaceful Sundays will never be easy for me. But maybe that’s the whole point of faith: It’s not all about me. My faith and the faith of my children won’t grow in isolation. We need each other. Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Going to church with my family is how I remind myself: We belong to each other. Elizabeth Esther, a mother of five, writes a weekly OC Moms column about faith and motherhood. (Via The OC Register) How sad.  But this story is repeated thousands and thousands of times be people that have felt burned by the church. How would you respond to Elizabeth? Todd

Dateline Santa Monica. No ‘permanant’ Nativity displays is the new law. So… churches decide that the law really doesn’t apply to non-permanent LIVE Nativity displays. Here’s our take: What do you think?  Is this a good thing, or are the churches kind of thumbing their nose at the city on this one? Leave a comment below… Todd

Here’s an interesting commentary… what do you think?  Great idea, or horrible one? Many church staff in congregations perform several ministry functions even though they are not officially a “pastor”. Special attention to church staff (youth directors, associate ministers, musicians, office assistants, interns, educators, etc…) and their work wellness. Appreciating their work is not enough (a raise wouldn’t hurt). Pastors and church leadership need give more time off in a world where church staff have to do “more with less”. Micromanaging, low pay, unreasonable expectations, many evening commitments, and poorly managed church conflict all lead to staff burnout. Giving the standard “two weeks” vacation is another sure-fire way to burnout staff. Years ago, Google allowed their employees to spend up to 20% of their work time on side projects. What if churches let church staff blog, create, dream, build, write, or encourage creativity through side projects? Allowing church staff to express themselves through under utilized skills or talents may help a church find a new ministry. In addition, it allows the church staff to explore and create – something that is innate within humanity. Suppressing creativity only leads to frustration. Churches would be well advised to use a Google-like project to guard against burnout. // Read more here… What do YOU think? How do you help reduce burnout on your staff? Todd  

The church has enjoyed ‘tax-exempt’ status in America for many years… but that doesn’t mean this will continue forever. In fact, this article claims that the US Government could make $71 Billion a year just by stopping this practice.  (Actually, I bet it’s much more). I think the day is coming that, at some point, the door will at least be opened to closing some of the tax benefits churches receive. My guess is that the first to go will be the clergy housing allowance. Anyway… read this from Derek Beres and let me know what you think… Derek writes: While the desire to tax churches is not new, it seems as far from reality as possible at this moment. As has been commented, no atheist could possibly hope to win an election in today’s political climate—a freethinking man like Robert Ingersoll would have no influence with the majority of our electorate. Our cultural dependency on the necessity of faith is affecting our society: According to a University of Tampa study, not taxing churches is taking an estimated $71 billion from our economy every year, and this fact remains largely unquestioned. The general argument over why churches do not pay taxes goes like this: If there is a separation of church and state, then the state (or fed) has no right to collect money from the church. In exchange, churches cannot use their clout to influence politics. While this would seem to make for cozy bedfellows, it’s impossible to believe that none of the 335,000 congregations in the United States are using their resources for political purposes, especially when just last week the Kansas governor called for a ‘Day of Salvation’ in his state. Churches not paying property and federal income taxes (along with a host of others, including reduced rates on for-profit properties and parsonage subsidies) is filed into that part of our brain marked ‘always been.’ Never mind the conundrum that the most religious are often the most patriotic—what could be less patriotic than not paying your fair share for the good of the country, especially when church structures and those who work for them use the same public utilities as the rest of us? As noted in the Tampa study, churches fall into the category of ‘charitable’ entities. This is often a stretch. The researchers calculated the Mormon church, for example, spends roughly .7% of its annual income on charity. Their study of 271 congregations found an average of 71% of revenues going to ‘operating expenses,’ while help to the poor is somewhere within the remaining 29%. Compare this to the American Red Cross, which uses 92.1% of revenues for physical assistance and just 7.9% on operating expenses. The authors also note that Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years. // Read more via How To Make $71 Billion A Year: Tax the Churches | 21st Century Spirituality | Big Think. Do you think any of the tax advantages the church has enjoyed will go away any time soon? Do you think the housing allowance will continue to be a benefit for pastors, or will that go away soon? What impact would taxing the church have in YOUR congregation? Todd

Here’s a gem (I think) from an article from “Companies resist innovation because it appears to be less profitable”. OK… let me re-phrase: “Churches resist innovation because it appears to be less profitable”. But the church is ‘non-profit’. Really? Most church leaders are always looking at the bottom line.  And you have to… because you’re responsible for it. But starting a new ministry when it makes little or no financial sense to do so? And if there’s not a way to justify, on the front-end, mind you, the expense to start and try something new… Most churches take a pass. And maybe sometimes that’s a good thing. But our mission is different than business. We’re not in it, ultimately, to make money. Right? So… next time you have an idea (or more importantly, when your staff or a key volunteer brings you an idea) that doesn’t make sense financially… pause and ask these two questions: 1.  Does this idea ultimately move us closer to reaching our mission statement as a church? 2.  Am I look at this idea through an ‘eternity’ lens or through a ‘financial’ lens? Most days, we’d do best to put on our ‘eternity’ glasses.  We’ll find the best ways to change and innovate in our own ministry situation when we stop asking “How much is this going to cost” right off the bat. Think about that. // Read more here… Thoughts? Todd

Leaders of some of the largest religious communities in the United States have joined together in an open letter to all Americans to voice their shared concern for marriage and religious freedom….Signatories include leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, and Pentecostal communities in the United States.  Here is the letter. Dear Friends: The promotion and protection of marriage—the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife—is a matter of the common good and serves the wellbeing of the couple, of children, of civil society and all people.The meaning and value of marriage precedes and transcends any particular society, government, or religious community.It is a universal good and the foundational institution of all societies.It is bound up with the nature of the human person as male and female, and with the essential task of bearing and nurturing children. As religious leaders across a wide variety of faith communities, we join together to affirm that marriage in its true definition must be protected for its own sake and for the good of society. We also recognize the grave consequences of altering this definition. One of these consequences—the interference with the religious freedom of those who continue to affirm the true definition of “marriage”—warrants special attention within our faith communities and throughout society as a whole.For this reason, we come together with one voice in this letter. Some posit that the principal threat to religious freedom posed by same-sex “marriage” is the possibility of government’s forcing religious ministers to preside over such “weddings,” on pain of civil or criminal liability.While we cannot rule out this possibility entirely, we believe that the First Amendment creates a very high bar to such attempts. Instead, we believe the most urgent peril is this:forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations—throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies—to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.There is no doubt that the many people and groups whose moral and religious convictions forbid same-sex sexual conduct will resist the compulsion of the law, and church-state conflicts will result. These conflicts bear serious consequences.They will arise in a broad range of legal contexts, because altering the civil definition of “marriage” does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once.By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status—such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, healthcare, elder care, housing, property, and taxation—will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage.That requirement, in turn, will apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries—including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services, and many others. So, for example, religious adoption services that place children exclusively with married couples would be required by law to place children with persons of the same sex who are civilly “married.”Religious marriage counselors would be denied their professional accreditation for refusing to provide counseling in support of same-sex “married” relationships.Religious employers who provide special health benefits to married employees would be required by law to extend those benefits to same-sex “spouses.”Religious employers would also face lawsuits for taking any adverse employment action—no matter how modest—against an employee for the public act of obtaining a civil “marriage” with a member of the same sex.This is not idle speculation, as these sorts of situations have already come to pass. Even where religious people and groups succeed in avoiding civil liability in cases like these, they would face other government sanctions—the targeted withdrawal of government co-operation, grants, or other benefits. For example, in New Jersey, the state cancelled the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-run boardwalk pavilion used for religious services because the religious organization would not host a same-sex “wedding” there.San Francisco dropped its $3.5 million in social service contracts with the Salvation Army because it refused to recognize same-sex “domestic partnerships” in its employee benefits policies.Similarly, Portland, Maine, required Catholic Charities to extend spousal employee benefits to same-sex “domestic partners” as a condition of receiving city housing and community development funds. In short, the refusal of these religious organizations to treat a same-sex sexual relationship as if it were a marriage marked them and their members as bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists.These punishments will only grow more frequent and more severe if civil “marriage” is redefined in additional jurisdictions.For then, government will compel special recognition of relationships that we the undersigned religious leaders and the communities of faith that we represent cannot, in conscience, affirm.Because law and government not only coerce and incentivize but also teach, these sanctions would lend greater moral legitimacy to private efforts to punish those who defend marriage. Therefore, we encourage all people of good will to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and to consider carefully the far-reaching consequences for the religious freedom of all Americans if marriage is redefined.We especially urge those entrusted with the public good to support laws that uphold the time-honored definition of marriage, and so avoid threatening the religious freedom of countless institutions and citizens in this country.Marriage and religious freedom are both deeply woven into the fabric of this nation. May we all work together to strengthen and preserve the unique meaning of marriage and the precious gift of religious freedom. Sincerely Yours: Rev. Leith Anderson President National Association of Evangelicals Johann Christoph Arnold Senior Pastor Bruderhof Communities Randall A. Bach President Open Bible Churches Dr. Gary M. Benedict President The Christian and Missionary Alliance The Rev. John F. Bradosky Bishop North American Lutheran Church Glenn Burris, Jr. President The Foursquare Church Bishop H. David Burton Presiding Bishop The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Dr. Ronald W. Carpenter, Sr. Presiding Bishop International Pentecostal Holiness Church Rabbi Abba Cohen Vice President for Federal Affairs Washington Director Agudath Israel of America Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone Bishop of Oakland Chairman USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage Nathan J. Diament Executive Director for Public Policy Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan Archbishop of New York President United States Conference of Catholic Bishops The Most Rev. Robert Duncan Archbishop, Anglican Church in North America Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Dr. Barrett Duke Vice President for Public Policy and Research Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Rev. Jim Eschenbrenner Executive Pastor General Council of Christian Union Churches Dr. William J. Hamel President Evangelical Free Church of America Rev. Dr. Ron Hamilton Conference Minister Conservative Congregational Christian Conference Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison President Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod John Hopler Director Great Commission Churches Dr. Bill Hossler President Missionary Church, Inc. Clyde M. Hughes General Overseer International Pentecostal Church of Christ Rev. Kenneth D. Hunn Executive Director The Brethren Church David W. Kendall Bishop Free Methodist Church USA Dr. Richard Land President Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Most Rev. William E. Lori Bishop of Bridgeport Chairman USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty Dr. Jo Anne Lyon Chair Board of General Superintendents The Wesleyan Church James W. Murray Executive Director General Association of General Baptists Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades Bishop of Ft. Wayne – South Bend Chairman USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth Commissioner William A. Roberts National Commander The Salvation Army Rocky Rocholl President Fellowship of Evangelical Churches Rev. Samuel Rodriguez President National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference David T. Roller Bishop Free Methodist Church USA Matthew A. Thomas Bishop Free Methodist Church USA Dr. Joseph Tkach President & Pastor General Grace Communion International Berten A. Waggoner National Director Vineyard USA W. Phillip Whipple Bishop United Brethren in Christ Church, USA Dr. John P. Williams, Jr. Regional Director Evangelical Friends Church, North America David P. Wilson General Secretary Church of the Nazarene Dr. George O. Wood General Superintendent Assemblies of God // So… your thoughts? On the content of the letter? Will it do any good?

Barna has a new survey out.  Most Americans have first-hand experiences in churches or parishes. What happens, if anything, in the hearts and minds of those who attend? Here are some of the findings: (66%) feel they have had “a real and personal connection” with God while attending church. (26%) who had been to a church before said that their life had been changed or affected “greatly” by attending church. Nearly half said their life had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing (46%). (61%) said they could not remember a significant or important new insight or understanding related to faith. (23%) of those with church experience selected the description that church feels “like a group sharing the same space in a public event but who were not connected in a real way.” 40% of adults with church experience said caring for the poor was emphasized “a lot,” while 33% indicated it was “somewhat” of a priority. OK… what surprises you in this new data?  Anything? SOURCE

According to Christianity Today,  Senior pastors reported salaries and benefits that, on average, were 2.7 percent higher than those reported for the preceding 2010-2011 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff: Read more here at… How’s that compare with your salary this year?  Up 2.7%?  More?  Less?  Pay freeze because of the economy?  How’s this hitting home for you and your church?