NEXT U: Worship in the NEXT Church

The communion table at NEXT 2014 gathering

The communion table at NEXT 2014 gathering

Welcome to NEXT University! During the month of August, we are highlighting our most popular posts and videos on the NEXT blog from the past few years, with suggestions for how to use this content with church sessions, committees, staff and other leaders. 

Today we highlight a few articles that address worship. You may wish to discuss these posts separately or combine them into one larger study.

Changing Worship Space is a dispatch from our Paracletos coaching project and describes one congregation’s process of worshiping in a new space… which led to new ways of worshiping once they moved back into the sanctuary.

  • Many congregations worship in an alternate space only out of necessity, e.g. when a sanctuary is being renovated. How about experiencing some “creative displacement” just to see what emerges? Could you worship in a fellowship hall? Outside?
  • What about your worship space or liturgy feels essential? What elements could be set aside for a season or longer?

Why We Welcome Little Children to Worship by Kara Root provides background on why it’s important to have children in worship and provides suggestions for adults with children, and adults without children, to help the worship hour be a hospitable place.

  • Take a look at the suggestions provided. In which areas is your congregation strong? Which need more work?
  • Choose 1-2 areas of growth and make a commitment to focus on those areas. What are concrete steps you might take to help worship be a hospitable place for all?

Worship: Style vs. Substance by Jeff Krehbiel describes how one congregation transformed its worship life, and argues for moving beyond the old “worship wars” idea of traditional v. contemporary styles. Instead, worship should be transformational for those gathered.

  • Do an evaluation/audit of a recent worship service. How is it experiential? Participatory? Image-driven? Connectional? Choose one of these elements (borrowed from the work of Leonard Sweet) and see how you might develop that attribute in your worship.

Bonus Link: Rodger Nishioka’s article Children’s Church is the Church inspired a great deal of discussion. Check it out!

NEXT U: Beyond Church Boards and Butts in Seats


Welcome to NEXT University! During the month of August, we are highlighting our most popular posts and videos on the NEXT blog from the past few years, with suggestions for how to use this content with church sessions, committees, staff and other leaders. 

Today we pair two previous posts that each addressed the issue of stagnating and declining numbers in different ways. You may wish to discuss these posts separately or combine them into one larger study.

Challenges of Membership by Leslie King describes a congregation’s process of moving beyond “needing to grow” for institutional survival.

  • Leslie would tell her congregation as they fretted about membership loss: “The crowd that gathers is the perfect crowd, I want no more.” The words were healing and took the pressure off so that true change could take place. How do you react to Leslie’s statement?
  • Christianity is an evangelistic religion. How does this emphasis spur us on, and how does it set us up to feel shame and failure if we do not grow?
  • Reflect on the membership process described in the article and the fruits of that process. What questions do you have about it? What might we learn or explore more fully in the process described?
  • Evaluate your own process of membership. Does the formation occur before or after, or both? What are the positives and negatives of each approach?
  • More broadly: does the concept of “membership” have a place in the church that is becoming? Why or why not?


Why Church Boards Need to Die by Bill Habicht explores the current makeup of many of our church boards—in our case, sessions and ministry teams—and how they may not be the right folks for the transformational work that needs to occur. Bill offers a provocative challenge. Proceed with this article only if your group has the trust, self-awareness and good humor to be open to where the conversation goes.

  • Reflect on Bill’s five bullet points about current church boards. Which of these are reflected in your church’s governance.
  • How do you react to Bill’s suggestion of a “bicameral” system?
  • Who are the people in your congregation who might be well suited for a “future church” board?
  • Bill concludes with this question: What structural changes could you imagine that would truly break open the church when it comes to the church board? What do you think?

photo credit: DaveLawler via photopin cc

NEXT U: Mission Shift in Christian Education

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Welcome to NEXT University! During the month of August, we are highlighting our most popular posts and videos on the NEXT blog from the past few years, with suggestions for how to use this content with church sessions, committees, staff and other leaders. 

Today we reprise one of our 2014 Ignite presentations, from Jen James, an educator in the DC area. At just seven minutes, the video is ideal for the beginning of a Christian Education ministry team meeting, session meeting or staff study.

Mission Shift in Christian Education — Access the Video and Transcript Here

The whole thing is worth your time, but here are a few highlights with questions for discussion:

“But the missional church, the next church, is a return to the original calling of the church – to go into the world to share the Good News of Christ, love our neighbors, and seek the welfare for our community. It recognizes that the local church is only as healthy as the community surrounding it.” 

  • Where are the places of health in your community? Do you see this health reflected in your congregation? If so, how?
  • Where are the places of brokenness in your community? Are those places of brokenness present in the congregation too?
  • What breaks God’s heart in your community?

“Consider Christian Education in the missional church to be like a greenhouse. It’s a place for new beginnings where plants are intentionally fed and nourished to become strong enough for transplanting. Plants will never thrive in the greenhouse the same way they will thrive in their natural environment.”

  • Make a “map” of your Christian education greenhouse. What’s currently growing there? Are there some plants that are thriving and others that are struggling?
  • Have you gotten stuck in the greenhouse? Or have you been transplanting these plants into their natural environments? How might you view Christian Education more missionally?

“The missional shift in Christian Education means our Children’s Ministry Committee will spend more time volunteering at a local elementary school than it will planning Vacation Bible School. It means you are more likely to find members of a Youth Ministry Team at the high school football game, or school play, or chaperoning a dance than in the state of the art youth lounge. It means adults will take a break from their study on Matthew to actually clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the prisons. It means bringing bagels and coffee to the families at the Sunday morning soccer game, and instead of rushing back for worship, staying to cheer for a child’s first goal.”

  • What ideas would you add to this list, given the particulars of your neighborhood and congregation?
  • What’s one concrete action you might take to make a missional shift in Christian Education?


photo credit: Christiaan Triebert via photopin cc

NEXT U: Organizing the Congregation

safety net copyWelcome to NEXT University! During the month of August, we are highlighting our most popular posts and videos on the NEXT blog from the past few years, with suggestions for how to use this content with church sessions, committees, staff and other leaders. 

Today we look at four resources that discuss relational organizing within the congregation. Use these resources individually, or take them together for a deeper study with your leaders. Or make it a four-session series!


Change Rooted in Relationships by Ashley Goff provides an introduction to relational work within the congregation and how it can transform old, “stuck” ministries. This article provides a thorough description of the 1-on-1 meeting, one of the backbones of relational organizing.

Questions for Conversation:

  • Ashley writes, I try to do relational meetings at least twice a month. I can feel it when my calendar runs low on these meetings. I feel more rooted in myself and my work when I am consistent with this discipline of organizing. When I do a 1-on-1 with someone new at Pilgrims the congregation feels even more alive. When I do a 1-on-1 with someone who has been at Pilgrims for 30 years, I cherish their story and commitment to this place with more fervor. What is your response? Even if you do not do relational meetings, have you experienced this “rootedness” when you spend more time with people in your community?
  • Ashley talks about what these meetings are not: an overly-intellectual “head trip,” a “hot seat,” a thinly-veiled excuse to shoehorn someone into an existing ministry. Do an honest self-assessment of your congregation’s culture. Where is the room for growth in building a relational spirit?
  • What would it look like for the session (or staff, or ministry team) to incorporate more 1-on-1 gatherings into its work? What kinds of attitudes or activities would need to shift or be set aside? Challenge yourselves to spend a season focusing on this to see what happens.


Building in Relationality by Karen Sapio fleshes out the potential for relational work in the congregation and shares her congregation’s experience in beginning this work.

  • Karen writes, For the first few years [I was here] I assumed that I was the newcomer and that everyone else in the congregation knew each other.  The longer I was there, however, the more I learned that this was not the case.  There were some in the church that had long-standing friendships, but those were the exception.  Many felt that they had a strong connection to only a few other members of the church, or only to one of the pastors.  When we held a listening campaign during Lent 2013, the biggest thing we heard was “We really don’t know each other very well.” How does this assessment connect with you. Where are your places of relational strength? Where are the challenges?
  • Karen lists several suggestions for incorporating relational elements into the congregation’s life. Have you tried these or similar approaches? What has been the fruit of these practices? If you have not, why not start now? (And share your experience and learning with NEXT!)


Congregational Power Analysis by Rebecca Messman is a meditation in the word “power” and how we understand it in the church. Rebecca then describes the practice of “power analysis” within the congregation to identify strengths, resources and energy. (This article is part 3 of today’s course because you cannot do an effective power analysis without laying the relational groundwork first.)

Questions for Conversation:

  • What positive and negative associations do you have with the word power? Does the term seem positive, neutral, negative or a combination?
  • Becca writes, Power is defined in community organizing simply as the ability to act on one’s values, from the Latin word poder, which means “to be able.” Power in organizing is not coercive power but relational power, the engine of relationships that are at work inside and outside of a congregation. What’s your response to this definition? How do you understand your congregation as an organization that wields power? (Or doesn’t.)
  • Becca writes, It is easy to talk about justice, making an impact, loving our neighbor, speaking truth to power, and feeding the multitudes, but a power analysis forces the questions, “How?” “Who would do that?” “What impact are we hoping to make?” Power analysis helps a congregation get from the theoretical to the practical. Many congregations get stuck in “should” thinking yet feel unable to move forward in practice. How might an analysis of your leadership, its gifts, and its sense of power move your congregation forward? How might you implement such an analysis?


Bonus Resource: In this video, Patrick Daymond talks about the power of relational (one-to-one) meetings as the building block of community and community change. Watch the video with your leaders and consider: what resonates with your experience? Which ideas intrigue you to lean in further to the practice of relational work? Which ideas sit less comfortably? Explore these sources of energy and tension with your group.