Prayers for Church Growth and Development

A number of years ago, St. John’s in Sharon offered the following four prayers for the development of our church’s mission and ministry. The prayers are based on suggestions by Dick Eastman in his book The Hour That Changes the World.

Eastman suggests that as part of our world-changing intercession, we should ask God “to give more laborers into the harvest, to open doors for these workers, to bless them with fruit as a result of their efforts, and with the finances to expand their work” (page 79). These four prayer foci are also important prayers for the growth and development of our diocese and for our congregations. At St. John’s, we took each area and wrote a short scriptural prayer that we could use to pray for that intention.

Prayer for Laborers in the Harvest
Thank you, Lord, that the harvest is plentiful. We pray that you would send out laborers into your harvest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From Luke 10:2)

Prayer for Open Doors
Thank you, Lord, that you promised what we ask for we will receive, what we seek we will find, and when we knock the door will be opened. We pray that you would open doors for our ministries and provide us opportunities for success in your work. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From Matthew 7:7-8)

Prayer for Fruit
Thank you, Lord, that we did not choose you, but you choose us, and you appointed us to go and bear fruit. We pray that we may abide in you and bear much fruit, and thereby glorify our heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From John 15:5,8,16)

Prayer for Financial Resources
Thank you, Lord, that every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. We pray that you would gift us with everything we need in order to do the work you have given us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From James 1:17)

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon. 

This is the sixth installment in our Prayer series that will run up to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil in March. Click here to view other stories in the series, and here for more information on the Vigil.

Grandma’s Stuffing – A Third Space story

4TOq6PhIEvery Thanksgiving my family makes the same kind of stuffing we have made for years; the recipe has been handed down through at least three generations. It is one of my favorite components of the meal because its presence makes my grandmother present at the table, even though she has passed from this life. Unlike other family recipes that are no longer at the table, the stuffing remains. It remains because it is a meaningful tradition; it connects me to people I still love though gone, cooking it leads to laughing over stories of my Gran, and it tastes awesome. It is tradition, but it is alive and meaningful.

But there are dishes that are no longer on the table that were once part of the fare. For various reasons, they are no longer present. We didn’t like the flavor of the cranberry relish; the corn pudding simply didn’t stir up the feelings of the stuffing. And so the tradition modified to include new dishes we like that we will hand down, while also keeping the old dishes that still meant something to us. We kept major parts of the traditional meal, but we tweaked it so that it was more meaningful to us- and more delicious!

All good traditions are constantly in flux, finding a balance between what works and what no longer has relevance, and adding in new components to impart more meaning to the tradition. All traditions are subject to review and evaluation, which is why I propose we subject our Christian, worshipping traditions to the same scrutiny. As attendance declines, one has to ask why and generally the why has something to do with culture and something to do with the perceived irrelevance of the institution. So why not look at the tradition, keep major parts that are still meaningful, let go of parts that are not meaningful, and add in now components that have increased relevance today?

There is no reason we have to worship God using the same patterns that have prevailed for the last half-century. It is interesting that while the rest of culture has undergone enormous shifts and changes, the houses of Christian worship have largely not participated in that change. No wonder their relevancy rating has dropped! But change is difficult, especially when folks experience such rapid culture shifts and hope that church remains a place of stability. But what is stability; is stability a continuation of the same? Or can stability be a shifting of tradition, a modifying of the inherited past so that it cultivates more meaning and relevance for those in the present?

I think how we worship God and gather to talk about our spirituality can look different. Imagine a space in which folks from every walk of life could gather together around a common table, sharing a meal and sharing their lives. A space we could talk about what is happening in our lives and where God is in the midst of them. A space where we read together, discuss together, and pray together. If that sounds like an experience to test out, let me tell you about Third Space. Third Space is a gathering of folks who share a meal, share our lives, and try to figure out where God is in our lives and in the world. You’ll find us in downtown Brookville at coffee shop once every month. We’ll be there eating and talking about God, trying to figure out how to be the people God calls us to be in our community.

By the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Trinity Memorial, Brookville, PA, Church of Our Savior, DuBois, Pa and leader of Third Space that meets at CREATE Cafe (168 Main St. Brockville, PA) Third Wednesday of the month from 7:30-9p.

Third Space – A new worship Community

lightning ChurchChurch. Does the word make you feel pleased or pained; does it cause you to cringe from painful memories or feel slightly nostalgic? Odds are the word has some impact on you because most Americans have had some experience of attending church, avoiding church, or being hurt by the church. I fall into the ‘attending church’ category, which isn’t so surprising since I’m an Episcopal priest, but my reaction to the word ‘church’ is a bit mixed. I find so much richness in the prayers and in the worship, but sometimes I wonder about what I’ve sung or said and whether it has relevance in my life.

Attendance in all churches–not just those in the mainline–has fallen sharply, revealing that lots of us are pondering the relevance of the Sunday morning experience. To many, particularly Millennials (of which I am one), church seems antique, something lovely and old, something one’s parents or grandparents attended, but which has little bearing on day-to-day life. Sitting in a pew, puzzling through hymns with words like ‘vouchsafe’ and ‘wilt’ can have the cadence of irrelevance. Equally, many people may be skeptical of worship that feels too much like entertainment or is just a little too slick. It begs the question whether worship as we know it is relevant to our lives.

Here’s what I think. I think Jesus is relevant. And I think the coming together of people to learn to love and be loved by God, each other, and their neighbors is relevant. But I think it can look different. Why couldn’t we gather together and talk about Jesus and how that might change our lives and the world? What if we shared a meal while we shared our stories? What if it was a space where I could come and you could come and your gay neighbor and your divorced sister, your disillusioned aunt and your addicted brother could come and we receive equal welcome and equal embrace?

We all live in a variety of spaces: home, work, the park, the café. Our first space is home and for a lot of us, our second space is work. But what sociologists have found is that we need a third space, somewhere we can be ourselves and find community.   A third space is a place where you can be who you are and be in relationship with others and find purpose.

Let me introduce you to Third Space, a gathering of folks where we share a meal, share our lives, and try to figure out where God is in our lives and in the world. We’re meeting in the local coffee shop once a month, trying to figure out how Jesus is present in our lives and in our community. Gathered around a meal, we talk about God and we share our lives, then we go back out into our neighborhood differently. We’re finding our third space, a place of honesty with each other and with God. The Spirit has been moving in our lives as we’ve begun gathering, and we’re not entirely sure which direction she’s moving, but we excited to be along for the ride!

By the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Trinity Memorial, Brookville, PA, Church of Our Savior, DuBois, Pa and leader of Third Space that meets at CREATE Cafe (168 Main St. Brockville, PA) Third Wednesday of the month from 7:30-9p.

A Church “Resolved” to Grow

Adam Trambley photo credit: Jim Steadman

Adam Trambley photo credit: Jim Steadman

By our own Fr. Adam Trambley and reprinted from the ‘House of Deputies News.’

In many ways, the 78th General Convention is nothing if not a convention about church growth. This designation may sound strange to deputies with paperless binders full of canonical amendments on structural minutiae and theological treatises on same-sex marriages and the proper channels to allow the Episcopal Church to perform them. Yet both of these items, as well as a number of other issues being discussed are, at heart, about church growth.

The sad reality is that our beloved Church is in the midst of sharp numerical decline. The House of Deputies State of the Church reports a 24% decrease in average Sunday attendance churchwide over the past ten years. The recognition of our problems prompted a unanimous decision in Indianapolis to commission the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). We knew then, and we know now, that we have to do something. This convention has an opportunity to decide what. The proposals fall into three general categories.

The first category is a large set of resolutions designed to remove barriers to church growth by making our church structures more effective. Most of the TREC proposals and the numerous structural proposals from various committees, commission agencies and boards (CCABs), provinces, and other groups are designed toward this end. (Disclaimer: I am part of a group that has written a number of resolutions published on and am the proposer of two structural resolutions.) Nobody believes that restructuring is the only answer. But just like a plant might need to be repotted if it is going to grow, the church may need to clarify staff positions, examine the utility dioceses and provinces, and streamline how we do business if we expect to get the right amount of sun and rain. These resolutions will be considered mostly on their practical merits. Will their proposed changes really accomplish what they hope to accomplish?

The second category of resolutions proposes revisions to our theology and practice in order to remove barriers to church growth and evangelism. One of these resolutions is C023, which would allow unbaptized persons to receive communion in certain circumstances. A number of resolutions deal with marriage equality. Marriage equality is seen as a matter of justice, but it also opens doors to those unable to be married in other traditions and removes a barrier to evangelizing younger people who generally have a more progressive attitude towards marriage. The debate on these matters will likely be framed more in terms of theology and identity than of practical implications. Whatever we do in these areas, however, will have a concrete effect on church growth, probably more helpful in some parts of the church and more problematic in others.

The third category of church growth resolutions are direct proposals for church growth and evangelism. These initiatives all have potential to bear good fruit, and the primary debate about them is likely to center on how to find funding to undertake as many as possible. Here is a brief rundown on some of the proposals.

The last General Convention established Mission Enterprise Zones. In 2013 and 2014 the Episcopal Church distributed 38 grants totaling roughly $1.7 million. With local matches, this meant that about $3.5 million was dedicated to creative new missionary outposts of our church. These grants ranged from planting a church among the Hmong community in Minneapolis to a coffee shop with a church in Alabama to the multi-cultural rejuvenation of a Hawaiian preaching station. At least two resolutions this year propose continuing and expanding Mission Enterprise Zones.

One resolution proposes creating a capacity to plant churches. With a goal of 50 new church plants this triennium, D005 would put in place a variety of necessary supports that would allow the church to begin a church-planting pipeline. Components of this vision include grants to create three seminary faculty positions on church planting, development of an Episcopal church planting training program, recruitment and training of church planters (including $1 million to develop and implement bilingual and bicultural leaders for Latino/Hispanic ministries), staff support, and direct support for church plants. Dioceses receiving church planting grants would be expected to contribute matching funds.

Another groundbreaking resolution proposes that we use a significant portion of our current communications budget to launch a digital evangelism effort. The Rev. Jake Dell, manager of digital marketing and advertising sales for the Episcopal Church, undertook a beta test with the Diocese of New York and Forward Movement that targeted people who asked significant questions about faith and spirituality online and worked to connect them with a local Episcopal priest. This resolution would allow a full-scale launch of that initial work. Components include developing editorial content to answer real-life questions, funding advertising to attract and build an audience, and creating the capacity to connect people asking questions with local ministries. This project doesn’t create virtual communities, but uses sophisticated Internet expertise to connect hurting people who are seeking answers online with the church in their community.

One other resolution, D009, recognizes that church growth involves not only new congregations and initiatives, but also the revitalization of existing ones. It proposes to create a network of regional church revitalization consultants that can help local congregations, as well as providing training opportunities for clergy and lay leaders. The resolution also establishes a Congregational Revitalization Venture Fund to make grants to existing congregations, with special attention given to congregations reaching out to underrepresented populations.

Accomplishing any of these proposals will require not only the support of convention, but also the prayer of the church and the creativity and sharpened pencils of PB&F—the Program, Budget and Finance Committee.

The Rev. Adam Trambley, clergy deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is rector of St. John’s Church in Sharon, Pennsylvania.

Don’t Forget to Register for the Mission Conference

lightstock_161504_jpg_user_1243317Don’t forget to register for this year’s Mission Conference where we will be talking about the concept of One Church. It will be held on Saturday, May 16, at St. Mark’s, Erie. Registration will open at 9:15 AM and the conference will begin at 9:45 AM. There is no cost to attend and lunch will be provided.

For many years, we have been working toward deeper collaboration between congregations and regions of the diocese for the sake of a robust mission strategy that reaches more people for the gospel. This year’s gathering will focus on this collaboration and have a different format than previous mission conferences.

We will feature a few small presentations about how we might deepen our sense of diocesan community and, more importantly, will provide ample opportunity for conversation about our future. Our goal is to have clergy and parish ‘thought leaders’ gathered together in one place to consider ways we can broaden the understanding of our common life.

We hope you will make this day a priority and plan to attend. Your voice is critical to the future of our diocese and the work of the Kingdom.

Click here to register. Registration will close on Friday, May 8.

Contact Vanessa Butler with any questions at and 814-456-4203.

The Dangers of the ‘Friends and Family’ Plan (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of “The Dangers of the ‘Friends and Families’ Plan” from yesterday (Click here to see part 1)

Recently, my wife and I attended a small parish in a major city. The church was a part of our growing in faith and of our courtship. This was our first visit in over 30 years. The welcome was warm and inviting but not overly so. The priest came and introduced himself. Worship was beautiful, simple, and well within the gifts and abilities of that community. We were looking forward to coffee hour as there were people who had been there years ago and connecting would be fun. All went well until the announcement time at the end and out came the words “friends” and “family.” I thought: “uh oh!” Sure enough, twenty minutes later, after what seemed like every member of the family had spoken and given their particular announcement and spoke of their friendliness, my wife and I had long since decided not to stay and headed for the door as soon as we could. No one paid any particular attention to us once the service ended and my worst fears were confirmed: another church that believes they are friendly and a family only to discover they are less inclusive than they wish to think and more segregating than they would ever suspect. What happened? Friends and family as descriptors draw a line around an imaginary center of the parish. If you are in the family and act friendly, you understand both the locus of the center and how you connect to it. Like in families, dangerous assumptions are made about how and what the family communicates. When I celebrate Christmas with my extended family I understand the patterns, communications, and actions. When we have an “outsider” it is very clear that our rituals are mysterious and, without deliberate action to the contrary, make the guests feel as if they are outsiders. Sometimes being so excluded is comfortable and, the more introverted, perhaps the more comfortable. But remember that the research suggests most churches described above are pressed to grow and bring in new people. Most believe that what the casual church shopper wants is to be in a family and treated in a friendly manner. However, that’s not why people are choosing to show up at church these days. People show up because people want to believe and need help with unbelief. People have plenty of circles of friends. As a recovering alcoholic, I attend three meetings a week. Many of these people are also very good friends and work at friendship more deliberately and more deeply than anything that happens in church. Most of also have a family filled with health and challenges and love and conflict and so much more. Perhaps people don’t need another family. More likely what people seek is connection, community, God, hope, belonging, and faith. When a church draws the line around friendly and family, guests are immediately drawn outside the circle, confused and wondering how one enters the family. And, regardless of the words, people experience the environment as basically resistant to newcomers. Resistance is a conscious or unconscious pattern of exclusion in which a guest is repeatedly invited to press up against invisible boundaries in hopes of miraculously finding the crack that allows entry. What do we do? First, change the language. Consider deliberately dropping the use of the words friendly and family. Exchange them with words like hospitable, gracious, open, inclusive (careful here, however, as this is more than about sexual orientation) or inviting instead of friendly. Consciously choose to exchange the word family with a word like community, or connection, or parish.hands-544522_1280 Secondly, reacquaint the community with the two founding values of parish life: service and sacrifice. Both words cannot be spoken without looking outside ourselves. Research for the past four decades unanimously suggests that growing churches are those churches that place a primary focus outside themselves; looking and discovering where and how they are called to serve and in what ways they are being asked to sacrifice. More importantly, our congregations are to be porous; they are to be open to the next person who arrives at any time. That woman or man who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to get up, dress and head to our churches does so in hope of finding something different than the health club, the local coffee shop, the Sunday paper, their family and their current circle of friends; they seek Jesus not a circle of friends and family. They already have that. They seek life and love and faith; spiritual companions on the way. They bring with them a raw understanding of our purpose as a local church, the hope of the world; what will they find? 20 minutes of announcements that point out how they don’t fit? Do they hear words of friendship accompanied by actions of segregation? Descriptions of family which are code for “we have no room for you here”? Or will they find a humble community of faithful people seeking to grow in their Christian faith, to support and guide others on the same journey, and to change the world? It’s up to each and every one of us who sees herself or himself as a member of a parish community to decide. The only “cost” to being in a parish community is ourselves and our brokenness and humility and the cracks within ourselves that provide the opening for God and others to enter in and help us create the space of healing and light that seeks to envelop the next person who walks through the doors of our parish community. Jesus brought these two elements together in himself on the cross. We would see that full Jesus! The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and InnovationScreen Shot 2015-03-13 at 10.41.25 AM

The Dangers of the ‘Friends and Families’ Plan (Part 1)

Several years ago a major cell phone company developed a usage plan called “friends and family.” In early cell phone days, when people grew conscious of how many minutes were used and how much each minute cost, we sought ways to increase minutes and decrease the cost per minute. This company invited us to put a certain number of family and friends on a list and call them for less per minute than other calls. Those outside the circle of “friends and family” cost the user higher rates. team-523245_1280Communication with people in our circle grew; outside the circle stayed the same or decreased.

The challenge of friends and family in Christianity goes back to the early days of Jesus’ ministry. Bargil Pixner, in his book With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel, explores Jesus’ ministry from the perspective of geography and location. He notes that when Jesus moves from Nazareth to Capernaum to expand his circle, the main challenge he faced was with his family and whether he would minister as they wished or as he believed God was leading him.

Pixner goes on to note that Jesus eventually moved on from his family and formed a different community with his disciples. His brother James and others went their way to the Jewish based believers while Jesus himself moved outside that circle into the pagan and gentile world. The reconciliation, according to Pixner, takes place on the cross when Jesus speaks to John and says that Mary is his mother; and says to Mary that John is his son; and the two disparate groups are drawn together.

In the past four years I’ve had the chance to visit several Episcopal congregations around the country. More and more the two words these congregations use to describe themselves are the same as that cell phone package years ago and that challenged Jesus’ very ministry: friends and family.

These words tend to be the mainstay of smaller congregations with a Sunday attendance of less than 75 with anywhere from 10 to 60 families. These congregations are resilient, often having survived threats of extinction, while simultaneously being faithful and, often, hospitable. Their liturgies have become comfortable for them over the years and they appreciate some changes but only gradually introduced ones. They seem to live for four sources of connection each week: the passing of the peace, communion, announcements and coffee hour. These are sources of connection and belonging. Here, also, is where they believe they show how friendly and family-like they are; how they hope that each and every visitor will find a home with them.

Ironically, each of these churches, if surveyed, would also state as their top two goals the desire to bring in new people and to attract young families with children. One look around the worship environment and one experience of Sunday makes clear to the casual and insightful observer why that won’t happen and it’s because of two words: friends and family. These two words, more than any others, often prove to be two profoundly discriminative and painfully segregating words in our church lexicon.

Click here for part 2

The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation