Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Faith Works 1-2-16

Faith Works 1-2-16

Jeff Gill


Finances of a New Year



The Ghost of Christmas Present asks Scrooge "have you met my brothers?" He claimed some eighteen hundred in that story set in 1830s London, and each of them unique but related. "Have you ever seen the like of me?" he could proudly boast, knowing there never had been nor would be again a Christmas quite like the one he represented.


Almost two hundred more into the family since "A Christmas Carol," and they all have a tie (no matter how tenuous sometimes) to a birth in Judea some two thousand years ago, and they all are as unique as the times they appear in.


This Christmas has seen the increasing impact of some trends that we all see happening, but have mostly been slow to deal with, for reasons that are both sensible and unfortunate, often all at the same time.


A billion packages delivered in the couple of days before Christmas; think about what that entails. So much cardboard and bubble wrap, so many trucks and delivery crew, twist ties and heavy vicious plastic covers which fight back against being opened. And not just those practicalities, but the implicit changes of what doesn't happen: fewer trips to brick-and-mortar stores, less shopping and more shipping, almost no cash changing hands, but clicks and beeps and passwords transferring sums from one account to another.


Which also means an even more indirect, but very real and visceral problem for charitable programs. In many places, the traditional "Toys for Tots" and firehouse drives and red kettles have seen a marked downturn.


For those efforts to help people in need to get their children a nice Christmas, many of them have for decades been built around an assumption that the path of least resistance is to get people to buy one more thing at a toy store or department store, and then deposit the charitable gift as you walk out with your other eleven items. But if Christmas shopping is more of a spot-fill process, and you are buying more specialty stuff and less of it at that, you could expect to see less of the "and get one more for the kiddies" reflex, and we have.


Then there's the cash factor altogether. As in, we don't carry it. At all. How do those Salvation Army bell ringers appeal at their tripods to people who have nothing in their pockets but tissues and car keys? In some areas, they've developed a kettle that has a card swiper built into the lid, but I've not seen one yet in central Ohio.


The bottom line is that getting people to make spontaneous gifts of cash and coin is only going to get harder, at grocery entrances and malls and yes, at churches. Giving is easier in some ways today, with smartphones and texts becoming a way that millions get raised for a special cause well known in the media – a crash, a tsunami, a famine – but for more local and personal and ongoing needs, we're simply going to have to become more intentional about helping people give intentionally.


Some of that is finding expression in the rise of "sustained giving," where you make a commitment at a certain point of the year to give an amount "automatically" each month or so. It's that word "automatically" that many church folk don't like, since it feels somehow unauthentic, illegitimate, not like putting your check in an offering plate . . . but it's not artificial giving any more than putting a symbol of a dead president in a passed tray is not a true representation of your time and resources shared.


In the end, all economics is symbolism at work. How will the economics of charity and church and community sharing be put to work, given the changes in our "symbol systems" of how we hold and use and share our substance? We don't carry the first sheaf of wheat from our fields into worship anymore, either, but that's not a lack of commitment, just a change in circumstances.


How can churches change how we teach and support stewardship and giving in 2016?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about innovations in asset sharing at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Faith Works 12-16-15

Faith Works 12-26-15

Jeff Gill


'Twas the Night After Christmas



Yes, yes, children in bed, not even a mouse, all that.


But we're talking about the night after, not the night before. Jolly old elves are off to the Caribbean by now for their long winter's rest after a manic night of activity. There's no chance of one of them showing up, not pulled by magical miniature reindeer or coming through the hearth that we don't have.


There may be visions of sugarplums, or at least odd dreams from consuming too much sugar, but there's no snugness in bed tonight.


Bloom County has already pointed out (in its new online series) that the new Star Wars movie can't, in fact, bring meaning to our lives, no matter how good it is. And it turns out all the presents and packages and well-stuffed stockings don't bring much happiness, either.


The morning after Christmas morning you start to say "hey, it's time we clean up some of this wrapping and plastic scraps and . . . um, is this a broken toy or a part of the packaging?" The reaction was a mix of irritation and obliviousness. No one cleaned up anything; you picked up some of the litter across the floor, but stopped after a while and left it as it was.


Food sat out in the kitchen, some of it probably just needing to be thrown away now, others waiting to be rewrapped and stowed in the cupboards.


You ladle out a mugful from the dregs of the wassail on the stove, now cool but still spicy. Shoving aside some partially assembled toys on the sofa, sitting is the plan but the purpose is more uncertain. You don't want the TV on, really, but you're not at ease with the silence, either.


What was it all about, anyhow? Was anyone really that happy with what they got? For all the shopping and shoving and sliding of credit cards through scanners, the unwrapping and unveiling and opening up of presents took about two minutes, tops. Then the awkward assembly and activation and application of all the stuff, actual and virtual, then a sort of weary pause before "can we go see a movie?"


Was seeing a movie what all the build up was about? If it wasn't to get the thing you hoped for, or to have the stuff in your hand you'd only read about or seen on TV, if being together wasn't the main point of all the driving around and cleaning up the guest room and having people over . . . what was it all about, anyway?


There was just such a weariness to having it done, more than in the work it took to do it. So much energy and effort and now it just all has to be put away, or found a place for.


That's what they said in church, wasn't it. It's not about the stuff. It's about the baby. "The reason for the season" and all that. You could hear that, hear it a dozen times and more, but it didn't quite register. Now, though . . .


The night after Christmas. Maybe it's only now you could really think about Christ, about the baby, about the mother and . . . father? Whatever you should call Joseph, poor guy. But he did his part. But Jesus, the baby and the boy and the man who becomes something more, something he was always meant to be: that's who we're celebrating, isn't he?


So you lift your glass of room temperature wassail, you look around at the sagging decorations and the still glittering tree, and you look up, and think – pray? – Happy birthday, Bethlehem baby. Happy birthday, Jesus. Happy day for you, for your folks, for us. With you in the picture this all makes a little more sense, doesn't it?


The baby is the beginning of it. Christmas is the start, and it's not done. Somehow, knowing there was more to do that was worth doing makes you feel a little less worn out and empty. It's time to get into a new year with that new birth and give the child some thought. Maybe even give him something more.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your day after Christmas at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Trends & the Future of Newark Central

Trends & the Future of Newark Central

16 December 2015

The following is a pair of posts by Thom Rainer, a leading church & denominational consultant with his roots in the Southern Baptist tradition, but who is very conversant with trends and practices across the congregationally governed Protestant side of church life. His observations and suggestions will not fit as well with a more hierarchical/bishop-led model of church, or in some ethnic traditions, but I think he consistently is on the mark for most of the generally Protestant communities out there.

Largely as an exercise for our own leadership at Newark Central, I'm going to insert some thoughts for where these trends are leaning against or opening up for us; feel free to translate into your own contexts.

Thom Rainer -- 16 Trends in American Churches in 2016 [in two posts]


I have been writing on trends in churches for two decades. I certainly don't have a perfect record with my predictions, but my overall record is pretty good.

My methodology is simple: I observe emerging issues in some churches and extrapolate them into major trends.

This year I take this approach with a higher level of confidence than previous years. I have seen most of the following issues grow month by month in 2015, so I don't have to be the brightest person in the world to project them as major trends in 2016.

Here are the first eight trends. I will conclude with the second group of eight trends in my next post.

1. Church security as the fastest growing ministry. Shootings in churches and sex abuse of children mandate this unfortunate trend. No church can afford to be without serious security measures, policies, and equipment. It will evolve into a major church ministry.

[Jeff – This is an area that has taken up increasing amounts of time and attention, with various entities like insurance carriers, local or state and certainly FEMA/federal agencies asking us to have plans and preparedness in place. To say the least, it's not my primary skill set, nor is it something we have ever had a history of managing, but it's moving from suggested to strongly encouraged, with "required" clearly on the horizon.]

2. Decrease in worship center size and capacity. The large worship gathering is not as popular as it has been. Through multiple services and multiple sites, churches will follow this preference with smaller capacity worship centers.

[Jeff – For Newark Central, this is good news. We're not too big, not too small. Twenty years ago, three out of any four consultants would have suggested we make the sanctuary bigger. Today the wisdom is "add services." Vineyard Grace Fellowship south of town is testing this question out for us, and we'll see how that goes. But our 350 seat worship center is in a sweet spot for our area, I think.]

3. Increase in successfully revitalized churches. More church leaders sense a call to lead revitalized churches. Because of this desire and intentionality, we will see more success stories of churches that have experienced significant revitalization.

[Jeff – And I think we're on the path to joining this list!]

4. Rapid growth of coaching ministries for pastors and church staff. The current trend is anecdotal, but it will soon be verified and obvious. Pastors and staff who have the humility to be led, and the willingness to invest resources in coaching are becoming the most effective church leaders.

[Jeff – Having done coaching for seven years, I can say there's a hunger for this kind of connection; middle judicatories are trying to adopt a form of this model, but it gets hung up in some awkward political complications on implementation. See #11 in the second set of trends Thom discusses….]

5. Increase in the numbers of churches in gentrified communities. Thousands of older urban communities are becoming revitalized. Churches are following the increased numbers of residents to these communities.

[Jeff – This is a big question for us: what's happening to the Mt. Vernon Rd. corridor? But there's good reason for us to take an active interest in city and county planning processes as a stakeholder. There are hints that interesting things may be happening between us and downtown…]

6. Increased emphasis on practical ministry training. Church leaders in America have seen a much needed two-decade renewal of training in classical disciplines and doctrine. That need remains, but more leaders are crying for training in leadership, relational skills, and other practical ministries.

[Jeff – That's part of the source of our "From Hurting to Healing" training, and more to come.]

7. Increasing emphasis on groups in churches. Church leaders are getting it. When church members are a part of some type of group, such as a small group or Sunday school class, they attend more faithfully, evangelize more frequently, and give more abundantly.

[Jeff – We're working on this one. Not incredibly effectively, but some. The challenge is that all the folks who want groups are in groups, and feel that we have enough groups. We don't, but starting them is the challenge.]

8. Fewer segregated churches. For most of American history, 11:00 am on Sunday was the most segregated hour of the week. That is changing. A church that is not racially and ethnically diverse will soon become the exception instead of the norm.

[Jeff – Let's say "baby steps," which is not nothing, but we need to have the heart and soul to continue growing in our community across socio-ethnic boundaries.]

[part two]


In my previous post, I shared trends 1 to 8. Today, I conclude with trends 9 to 16. Here is the introduction I wrote to the earlier post.


I have been writing on trends in churches for two decades. I certainly don't have a perfect record with my predictions, but my overall record is pretty good.


My methodology is simple. I observe emerging issues in some churches and extrapolate them into major trends.


This year I take this approach with a higher level of confidence than previous years. I have seen most of the following issues grow month by month in 2015, so I don't have to be the brightest person in the world to project them as major trends in 2016.


9. The rise of the mini-denomination church. This trend is an acceleration of the increased number of multi-site churches. As churches grow with four or more sites, they will take on some of the characteristics of a denomination.


[Jeff – Not our particular gift. Bless those who have it, and use it to spread the Gospel!]


10. Increased pastoral tenure. For a number of reasons, the tenure of a pastor at a given church will increase. More pastors will make it to the five-year mark where the most fruitful years of ministry typically begin.


[Jeff – I'm working on this one every year!  ;-)


11. Rise of alternative ministry placement organizations. Old and existing systems of how churches find prospective pastors and staff are falling apart. They are being replaced with effective and independent ministry search organizations.


[Jeff – I feel a part of this one, in that I get calls and e-mails/messages asking input and suggestions for churches seeking and clergy looking. The Search and Call process in the Disciples has never gotten much love, and today is not an era where it's going to feel more warm and fuzzy for participants.]


12. Increase in the number of Millennials who are Christians. I am projecting the number to increase from 15 percent of the generation to 18 percent of the generation. That is an increase of 2.3 million Millennials who will become believers in 2016.


[Jeff – We pray that this is so; we would pray that Newark Central might be a place where more Millennials would feel at home, although there's lots of evidence that birds of a millennium tend to flock together.]


13. Accelerated decline of 100,000 American congregations. Historically, American congregations have been tenacious and survived beyond most expectations. That reality is no longer true. Ineffective churches will decline rapidly as churchgoers are unwilling to be a part of congregations that are not making a difference.


[Jeff – I hope I've been both clear, and positive, in how I've tried to raise this issue with our leadership; this is going to impact our congregation, but not because I have much concern that we're one of the non-viable churches. It's how this will impact covenantal and collaborative ministries we've been accustomed to just "being a part of" that's going to suddenly put us in a position of deciding "where do we place our priorities and resources?" I think too many in congregational leadership have not been aware of how fast and hard the decline has been already, and the impact on congregations like ours of the next decade is hard, but not impossible to predict. Random surges of "we must do something!" will rock the lifeboats, and the question of keeping an even keel becomes important.]


14. Churches no longer viewed favorably by many governmental units. As a consequence, it will become increasingly difficult for churches to expand their physical facilities or to be able to hold functions in the community.


[Jeff – We have been fortunate in many respects on this score, thanks to personal contacts and commitments, but the reality over the next decade is exactly what Thom is talking about. We already have regulation and review that take up staff time far beyond what most members realize.]


15. More bivocational pastors and staff. This trend is increasingly becoming the result of choices by pastors and staff, rather than financial limitations of congregations.


[Jeff – I made this a conscious choice for myself in 2012 coming back into full-time pulpit ministry. You can see the comments in Thom's post on how controversial this subject is, for clergy, for congregations, for denominations. However you feel about it, it will become more common, and it's not entirely a bad thing.]


16. Dramatic changes in senior adult ministries. The baby boomers will not participate in the way most churches do senior adult ministry. They will force change, particularly from the entertainment model to an activist model.


[Jeff – I can't improve on Thom's last line there, and I believe Newark Central began embodying this trend with Mission Team & Salvation Army meal teams well before my involvement or influence. We see this, it's just finding skillful means of integrating Millennials with the Boomers in this work, so the efforts have smooth transitions. Time will also tell if Boomers are better at handing over authority to a new generation than the Greatest Generation folk tended to be (and what Boomers have complained about for twenty-plus years). It will soon be time to show how it's done . . .]


In many ways, I see 2016 as a pivotal year for thousands of congregations. Unfortunately, many church leaders and church members will elect not to change anything. Those congregations will be among the 100,000 rapidly declining churches.


But for other churches, new opportunities abound. For decades, churches could choose a path of modest to no change and do okay. That is not the case today. For those congregations that are eager and willing to face the culture in God's power and strength, they will likely see incredible opportunities for ministry and growth.


It is becoming that simple.


Change or die.


[Final notes from Jeff – I believe Newark Central has been remarkably accepting of changes and new models for ministry, far beyond most of our "peer group" in mainline Protestant circles, in Ohio, in the Midwest, and more generally. The sticky question is: will that be enough? Are we changing just enough that we "die last" or is there an adaptiveness and responsiveness to the Gospel's call today that will allow this congregation to survive and sustain ministry into a farther future? That's what we're working and praying over together right now, in these challenging times that are – let's always remember! – safely in God's hands.]

Notes From My Knapsack 12-31-15

Notes From My Knapsack 12-31-15

Jeff Gill


Syrian refugees may need some assistance



Even if I've not quite followed all the details in the news, it seems that we may have some refugees from Syria heading our way in the foreseeable future.


I've had the privilege of working with a number of refugee families through the years, coming as they have under the sponsorship of congregations, sent through the auspices of the federal government and various national church bodies. They've been from either hemisphere, from Cambodia to Azerbaijan, and they've all been an honor to assist.


Motivation and discipline and hard work have been foremost among the gifts they bring to this country, even if their command of the language may start out on the rough side. And in fact, their written and basic understanding of English has been fairly smooth, but the edges and abrasions and points of friction come from our culture, which is a hard thing to teach about in a book.  How we live is something we just do, more than talk about. It's not something we can even explain to ourselves most days.


To stand next to someone with more years of education than you have, and see their bewilderment standing in the breakfast cereal aisle . . . do you explain this strangeness, or just turn them gently towards the oatmeal shelf where the choice is between "old fashioned" or "one minute," and only deal with explaining that small distinction?


When military parades were commonplace in their former home, how do you interpret the celebratory fondness we have for marching bands, accompanied by young women tossing fake wooden rifles in the air? Is it a logical evolution and march of peaceful progress from what they've known, or is it best understood as something else entirely?


Most refugees come from places where random violence and the open display of weaponry is common; how do you help them understand what safety means in this country, where crime tends to be more personal or geographic, rather than factional or political? When the ownership of firearms exceeds anything they knew in a strife-torn homeland, but it's presented as a sporting or recreational proposition, the puzzled looks they'll give you are understandable from their own calamitous experience.


Generally, transportation is something they have a more formal and structured relationship with than the house by house or person by person approach we take to travel decisions. "Let's take two cars" being the usual farewell between two people even in the same family, going to the same destination. Seeing people walking or running isn't strange in their experience, but finding out that most of those on foot are just on a loop starting from and returning back to their homes: why? Explaining "exercise" can be challenging.


And then there's Christmas. It's the odd refugee indeed who's never heard of the observance, but an American Christmas – from Washington Irving to Charles Dickens (whose "A Christmas Carol" will be at Licking County Players the next two weekends), through Clement Clarke Moore and Robert L. May – it's a very particular thing yet it includes a wide variety of inputs, from the British and the Dutch to Montgomery Ward's and Macy's. How do you account for our Christmas in 500 words or less?


Perhaps the best way we can prepare to welcome refugees from another culture is to make sure to stop and try to understand our own first.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about your experience with refugees and immigrants of all sorts at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Faith Works 12-19-15

Faith Works 12-19-15

Jeff Gill


Walking Through Downtown



He got his coffee filled one more time at the counter, then walked out into the night.


The Warden Hotel used to be there; his grandmother took the kids to Sunday dinner there after church, the one they went to that was at Five Points, where there's just a parking lot now.


Slowly, step by step, he worked his way around the big circular thing they'd built off the courthouse square. A roundabout, they called it. Hmmpphh. He could still recall when the occasional horse and wagon clopped along South Park Place. Back when the Midland showed movies every weekend, and the Soldiers and Sailors Auditorium had the better singers and magicians.


They'd kept from tearing the Midland down like all the rest of the theatres around the square, but he remembered them all, each a little different in the lobby, the popcorn, the best seats (especially with a date).


It was a different place, no doubt. Fewer bars, no shady ladies waving from porches blocks away from downtown, less sudden violence in the shadows. Anyone who missed the good old days probably hadn't seen many of them first hand.


But he did miss Floyd and his boots, Jerry with the fabrics, the old cobbler up Fourth St. fixing shoes – what was his name? – the bowling alley literally down an alley, the smell of Styron Beggs when it was rosewater day. So much gone, so many gone on before. Liberty Pete, Sam the Cop, Bessie at the bakery.


That market gal, painted now on a building wall bigger than life: she looked familiar. Probably just a trick of the memory, but she rang a bell. Maybe he'd known her daughter? They were building a new market, frames and walkways going in where there had been wagons and stalls long ago. Market Street, Canal Street: the canal had stopped running even when he'd been a small child, but there were those stretches filled with black water in younger days, iced over in winter, full of frogs in the spring. No more, now all just angled streets and odd dips between buildings.


His apartment was by one of those off-kilter streets west of downtown. There were hints of canals and railroads and even, a fellow had said at the library (that bright big new one), even remnants of Indian trails and buffalo traces marked by the lines and passages of modern day roads.


His walk home followed that old canal, only a street name now; he didn't like walking along Main St. for reasons that didn't hold up to daylight scrutiny. Even though Criss Brothers had moved out of the old brick building, he thought of his mother's and grandmother's funerals there, hardly anyone in attendance, now names out at Cedar Hill. Didn't like to walk by, all these years – decades! – later.


Christmas lights: not the big bulbs he once strung along the porch, when he had a family and a home to himself, oval shapes with paint chipping away, but a warm glow to each of them. With those you had to replace any bulb that burned out or the whole string went dark, and now you could have some dark spots but the rest still worked. Wonder how they do that?


So much "used to be." And what was? He wouldn't be, not much longer. But every year, that baby. They had been dolls or statues, then plastic with a bulb inside making the little smile shine, and now you see him projected onto walls with lasers.


Every year, he's born again. He's a newborn again and again, like that New Year's baby you used to see so often in ads next to a fellow who looked like…well, like he did now. The year about to exit.


And he was ready to exit. But that baby had made him some promises, and he'd tried to keep his to that child. There was a place for him, didn't matter if it was no better than a stable, on beyond, and that hope was good enough for the next world. He'd seen enough changes in this one.


But the baby would keep on coming back here, new memories, new generations, built on old enduring hopes. He couldn't have imagined as a kid going to the church he did now (back then they wouldn't have let him in the door, and he wouldn't have gone if they had), but God willing he'd be there tomorrow night for Christmas Eve. They were his family now. And there, the old, old story, about the new, new baby. Who brings us hope, and peace.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your "Christmases long, long ago" at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.