A Whole New Church

  • “Our church has no choice but to reinvent itself and be more entrepreneurial in reaching out to young families.”  I heard that statement at a Staff Parish Relations Committee meeting not too long ago.
  • A church in Caledonia recently decided to change its name from New Life Church to .the point.  The point?  They wanted to distinguish themselves from many other churches that use “New Life” in their name, and they understood the importance of the image they wanted to convey.  Jesus is the point.
  • A lay person in one of our churches who works for IBM spent the last year training people inIndiato do his job.  Now he’s without a job.
  • A district church made a strategic decision that the next person they needed to hire was not a CE director, youth leader, or parish visitor, but a graphic designer.

What do these 4 stories have in common?  They remind us that the landscape of our world and church is rapidly changing.  You probably already know that.  But you may not know how dramatically that truth affects every local church.  Daniel Pink has written an amazing book called A Whole New Mind; Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future.   Pink’s thesis is that by understanding how our brain works, we can determine what abilities are necessary for organizations and individuals to function successfully in today’s world. 

Did you know that the average human brain has 100 billion cells?  Each brain cell links up with 10,000 of its comrades, which results in a network of a quadrillion connections that guides all aspects of human activity.  Our brains are also divided into 2 regions: left and right.  The left side of the brain is rational, logical, analytical, textual, literal, and functional, and specializes in computer-like reasoning and details.  By contrast, the right side of our brain is creative, artistic, non-linear, contextual, aesthetic, synthetic, wholistic, intuitive, and specializes in the big picture.

Although both sides of our brain work together as an integrated whole and play a role in all that we do, some people tend to be more left-brained than right-brained and vice versa.  In the 20th century, which was known as the Information Age, scientists were convinced that the left side of the brain was supreme.  Our culture valued knowledge workers such as accountants, computer analysts, attorneys, and engineers.

According to Pink, however, the 21st century could very well be called the
Conceptual Age.  The 21st century will be driven by the right side of our brain and is characterized by high concept and high touch.

Several factors play into this whole new world.  Because we live in an era of abundance in our country, we are discovering that young people today are more interested in beauty and design than utilitarianism.   Why did our children beg Gary and me to purchase Mac computers for them instead of PC’s, even though they cost twice as much (ouch)?  Because they like the design and style of a Mac rather than a PC.  I’m too old to get it.

At the same time, technology and workers in other countries are replacing left brain thinking jobs at an alarming rate.  Every year India produces 350,000 engineering graduates who are willing to work for a fraction of a U.S. worker’s wage.  In addition, communication to most corners of the world today doesn’t cost a penny.  The bottom line?  The most successful people and organizations in the 21st century will excel at right brain abilities: wholistic and big picture thinking, detecting patterns, creating beauty and meaning, problem solving, relational skills, and emotional intelligence.  These are precisely the skills that cannot be outsourced or replicated by computers. 

A Whole New Mind is a must read for anyone who desires to understand today’s world in light of how our brain works.  Pink describes the 6 right brain senses that are needed to complement left brain reasoning in order to develop a whole new mind. 

  • Not just function but also design
  • Not just argument but also story
  • Not just focus but also symphony
  • Not just logic but also empathy
  • Not just seriousness but also play
  • Not just accumulation but also meaning

How do we exercise the mind of Christ in a whole new way in the church?   How do we understand the High Concept – High Touch age of the 21st century, not only in terms of more effectively communicating the good news, but in light of what we can contribute to our world’s hunger for meaning, beauty, and fulfillment?  How might right brain thinking enhance our ministry in communications, pastoral care, fellowship, small groups, hospitality, spirituality, worship, staffing, and facilities?

1.         Are you cognizant of how people think and include both left and right brain people on all committees?  For example, Finance Committees need more than accountants and people who can read spreadsheets.  They also need people who understand the comprehensive nature of stewardship, communicate well, and are generous themselves.

2.         Do you continually evaluate all of your church publications, including bulletins, newsletters, billboards, flyers, websites, and social network sites?  Are they attractive or merely functional?  We are foolish if we think it doesn’t make a difference.

3.         The most critical aspect of design in Gothic churches was for the spire to be the highest point in the town or city.  Are you aware that the most critical aspect of design in churches today may be your web site?  Young people especially decide what church to visit because of the website.  It’s a prime entry point.  How much time, energy, and expertise are you spending on your website as well as social networking?  What image do you hope to convey to seekers?

4.         Stories have power.  Communicating through story helps people see a bigger picture, put things in context, and connect emotionally.  Can you discover new ways for church members to listen to each others’ stories and the stories of those outside the doors of the church?  How are you telling the story of God at work in your congregation, your community, and in The United Methodist Church around the world?

5.         Do you seek out leaders who are systems thinkers and can imagine and put ideas together in a whole new way?  The primary role of pastors and lay leaders is to see the big picture, create a vision, find and inspire champions, envision partnerships with the most unlikely groups, and bring congregations together to make it happen.  The foundation of spiritual leadership is the conviction that the symphonic whole of a church’s ministry can far exceed its individual parts.

6.         Do you focus on people rather than buildings, structures, or institutions?  Do you emphasize the training and equipping of all church members to be empathetic, feel what others feel, walk in the shoes of others, and let them know you care?

7.         Does your church take time to play together, enjoy each other’s company, laugh, and share joys and sorrows?  When was the last time you had a talent show, a family camp, or a picnic in the park?

8.         Do you understand that most people come to church because they are seeking an encounter with God through Jesus Christ that provides meaning and fulfillment in their professional, personal, and spiritual lives? 

In the Conceptual Age of the 21th century, the jobs that will be most needed will require people skills, complex thinking, the ability to bring disparate groups to the same table, and, above all, servanthood.  The good news is that the Christian church is better positioned than any other organization in our world to foster, nurture, and create a whole new mind!   If we really believe that, we’ll first have to create a whole new church.

  • It will be a church that tells the old, old story of Jesus and his love in new and compelling ways.
  • It will be a church that has the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (Philippians 2).
  • It will be a church that has a vision of the kingdom of God, where the lion and the wolf and the lamb shall feed together … and shall not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 65:25)

If you are willing, beware!  We can’t outsource this new church to any other congregation or denomination.  Nor do we have to.  We have the resources, we have the connections, we have the will, we have the mind of Christ, and we have the heart.

You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
And with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

The West Michigan Annual Conference begins on Thursday morning.  Can we bring a whole new mind to our holy conferencing?  I believe we can.

Blessings, Laurie

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