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Vintage ’73

It has been a little quiet here on the Futon Reformer Blog for quite some time. Part of that is the business of ministry. The other reason I haven’t written much here lately is that I have been writing for the blog Vintage ’73. Vintage ’73 is collaborative blog that focuses on life the Presbyterian Church in America. I have been privledged to write for the site and I would encourage you to go check out their articles. I wrote the most recent article on the site about what we can learn from James K.A. Smith.

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Facebook’s New Policies and Your Church

Since the very beginning of Facebook, any change to the site has caused many of it's hundreds of millions of users to get upset. Why do I have to have two profile pictures now? What's with the new layout? Why can't I just go back to the glory days of Facebook, you know 4 years ago before my mom got on here?

In spite of these objections, Facebook continued to grow and has more than a billion users as of last month. That means that roughly 1 in 7 humans has and uses a Facebook account. Recently, you may have noticed a subtle difference in your Newsfeed. Whether you realize it or not, you aren't seeing everything that your friends are posting. Alongside that, if you a a keen observer, you have seen the emergence of posts marked “Sponsored”. This is due to Facebook's new scheme to make money off of you. The new system has been well documented here and here. In short your post are only reaching about 15-20% of your people. Now as a person sharing photos of your cat, it's no big deal if the awkward kid from your college dorm doesn't see it.

But if you are a church or any other ministry that uses Facebook to communicate to your people, this is a game changer.

No longer can people become a fan of your churches page and be guaranteed to receive prayer updates, scheduling changes, and adjustments to Wednesday night's dinner menu. Where Facebook was previously a fantastic way of communicating with your Generation-X and Millenials, now you are only reaching 15-20% of your people. Unless you pay Facebook a hefty fee.

So how can you adjust to this? What are some ways to help maintain your churches presence in social media with your people.

1. Make your churches page into a “Group” page not a “Fan” page. Fan pages are used by people who “like” your church's page. Fan pages are easy to set up and run; they are easy for people to select into by “liking” the page. Groups are a little bit more cumbersome and difficult to run. Typically people have to find the group and ask to join it. Then an administrator must grant them access. However once joined, the group shows up in the persons sidebar (right side of your Facebook homepage) with a small number indicating the amount of activity within the group that they have missed. It also allows you as an administrator to see how many members of the group have seen any given post. This allows you to know what percentage of your people have reached with your message.

2. Heat matters. For whatever reason, things that more people are liking/commenting on/sharring have a higher likelyhood of showing up in other peoples newsfeed. That's why pictures of a political candidate with the caption, “Like if you think this guy won the debate” show up in your news feed all the time. It has 236,982 likes and more comments than that. Encourage your people to “like” and “share” big anouncements and important things.

3. Consider adding a social media budget to your churches financial picture. You have a line item for mailing things out, right? Why not have a “social media” fund, so in the case of a big outreach event or an important announcement, you can pay Facebook to sponsor the post. It's inconvenient. It's not what Facebook used to be. But it is the way things work now. If you have/want ministry involving people under the age of 40, they still use Facebook. Daily.

4. Don't get too comfortable with the way social media works. It will change. Facebook used to be the perfect mix. Tons of users, easy to get your messages out. Now as that is changing and other venues are gaining users, it may be tempting to jump ship to Twitter. Just wait. Twitter already has “Promoted Tweets” and is a company that wants to make money. For better or worse social media is a moving target. For 50 years churches could print up a newsletter and mail it out; perfectly reaching everyone on the list. Social media is not the mail. It is not static. It is changing and evolving. By the time you read this, something in this post will be outdated.

Facebook's policies have changed and there is no longer any free lunch to be had. But really, there never was. Facebook has been and will continue to be a tool to reach people in your church and communicate with them, but it is not the ultimate thing. At the end of the day, social media is no replacement for good, old fashioned shepherding. You know the kind with elders sitting down over a meal to know, feed, lead, and protect the sheep. However you face the evolving world of social media, never leave behind the Biblical mandate to disciple people “in real life”.

The Rays attendance and ministry in a tourist town

Tropicana Field, empty

Tropicana Field on a weeknight

No shock, no surprise here; I am a huge Tampa Bay Rays fan. I have been to a game in every season of their existence, beside 2. And as a Rays fan who lives outside of the Bay Area, I get asked a certain question over and over again.

“Why is the stadium always empty?”

Any time I try to go into all of the details about the situation, people's eyes glaze over. They don't want to hear about the fact that the staduim is in another city, 45 minutes from Tampa. They could care less about the psychology of “crossing the bridge” for Tampa residents. They don't want to hear about camera angles and the price of the seats behind the bullpen. Most of my explanations fall on deaf ears. But since moving to Myrtle Beach, I have found a question that usually makes sense to people. When they ask me about the Rays, I reply with a question of who their NFL team is. They will always reply with the Eagles, Steelers, or Browns. This makes me wonder, “why not the Panthers”. They are quick to explain that they have always been Steelers fans and always will be. Not the local Panthers.

It makes sense. I won't give up the Bucs or Rays. They are my team. In Florida, this isn't just a sports thing, it's a community thing. Check out this article on the “Cincinnati Factor”. The term refers to people who have moved to Florida from Detroit or Toledo or Cincinnati and still maintain their identity as residents of those other cities. I am incredibly proud of my heritage as a 6 generation Tampa native. But I have only met a handful of other people, in my life, who have longterm roots in the Sunshine State. Most folks go back no farther than the '50's.

And so it is no surprise that they are all still Yankee, Tiger, and Reds fans.

I feel the Rays pain as they attempt to create a community of fans from the crowds of people. Because, by and large, the crowds aren't interested in community. They want to be left alone to watch their team on MLB.tv.

The same is true of ministry in tourist towns. As I have been in Myrtle Beach for over 5 years now, I have been amazed at the routine lack of involvement of people in the community and life of the church. This is South Carolina; we are the buckle of the Bible belt. And yet people are more interested in soccer or a good tee-time or going home to see the folks every other weekend. No one is from here and their lack of commitment to this place and to a church has created stunted, immature Christians.

Even the best are more interested in whats going on back in West Virginia or back home in the little town they are from than what is going on here.

The Rays have been smart though. They have been aggressive in pursuing younger fans. They have killer social media programs and great giveaways for kids. It has worked in my case. My boys are being raised Rays fans. The past few years, the crowds at the Rays games have been younger than any other stadium I have been to. But it is going to take time.

The same is true of ministry at the beach. The one thing that I have seen consistently draw people to the church is solid children and youth ministry.

What about you? Does your church have the same problem? How do you overcome people's lack of interest in community and commitment?

Gospel Identity Small Group Resource

At this year’s General Assembly of the PCA, I received a preview copy of New Growth Press’s small group materials. I was excited because I am a big fan of New Growth Press and their partnering organization, World Harvest Missions. As a pastor, finding small group material is often the rough equivalent of getting a root canal. Trust me, I hate the dentist; this is the most horrifying analogy I can come up with. You are constantly being torn between material. You have to make a choice between material that is Christ centered and material that is easy enough for lay-leaders to use. You have to choose between material that is well packaged and material that is banal. Rarely can you find something firing on all cylinders.

When I received the copy of Gospel Identity, I immediately tore into it. It is an excellent booklet for small groups. I want to point out some of it’s strengths and caution you about a minor weaknesses. First and foremost, what I loved about Gospel Identity was the way it pushed groups into the scripture. This was not like some other small group studies that focused on how you felt, with broad discussion questions. Instead the lessons drove you straight to the heart of scripture. As it directed you to read and study passages together, it asked penetrating, helpful questions that were easy to understand. Sometimes other small group resources ask questions that leave you wondering what they are getting at. Gospel Identity avoids those pitfalls.

Secondly, the book has a brief small group leader briefing that helps leaders get their “sea-legs” leading a group. At the end of the book, there is a leaders section with suggested answers to the questions in the lessons. The authors are careful to teach leaders not to use these answers as a crutch but rather as a “push” to get the group past a place where they may be stuck.

Third, the book is focused on pushing us deeper into our relationship with Jesus. This is not an intelectual exercise, meant to make us smarter; the studies are well-designed to push us, as C.S. Lewis said, “farther up, farther in”. This really comes out in 4 great statements from the introduction:

  • Cheer up! The gospel is far greater than you can imagine.
  • Cheer up! You are worse than you think.
  • Cheep up! God’s Spirit works in your weakness
  • Cheer up! God’s Kingdom is far more wonderful than you can imagine.

These statements clearly set the tone of the studies that follow.

Finally, I loved this material because it pushed people not just to the cross of Christ but also towards one another. The small groups, if run as suggested in the book, move back and forth between interaction in the group at large and discussion in smaller “micro-groups” of 2-3 people. This allows for more introverted members of the groups to still interact. It also creates a greater sense of intimacy, allowing members to open up in a deeper way to an even smaller group. These “micro-groups” are then encouraged to pray for one another and call one another during the week. This whole concept is so much better than the typical discussion-video-discussion format used by small groups. Instead of focusing on videos, groups focus on knowing each other.

The only drawback to the curriculum is its dependance on the leaders of each group. While it is set up well for leaders, if the leader is uncomfortable with the message of grace and sanctification by faith, they could accidentally derail the materail. If a church were to implement the materail, I would suggest that leaders meet together to go through the material in their own small group to familiarize themselves with the study and to be shephered through it themselves.

Overall, I would highly reccommend this material. You can see the publishers page where you can download a free chapter or purchase the book by clicking here. It is also part of a 3 book series, so in all there is 30 lessons available at this high caliber!

New Growth Press is a publisher that I support whole-heartedly. Over the next few months, I will be partnering with New Growth to give away some of their newest rescources for you and your family, so stay tuned!

Herman Bavinck on Church Discipline

Your favorite theologian has a favorite theologian. I don't care who you look up to or love to read, if they were born in the 20th century, they stand in the shadow of one man.

Herman Bavinck

Bavinck was a Dutch theologian in the late 1800's and early 1900's. His works have only been translated into English and been made available in recent years. His 4 volume Reformed Dogmatics may be the best systematic theology ever written.

I was looking for something the other day in the fourth volume and came across this passage on the nature, extent, and purpose of Church Discipline. Bavinck's 6 pages on the subject are clearer and more precise than many large books on the topic. You can read the excerpt by clicking here.

The PCA’s debate on Intinction

A few weeks ago, at the General Assembly an overture was passed that if validated by 2/3 of the presbyteries will outlaw the practice of communion by intinction. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, intinction is when you dip the bread into the wine. I was strongly opposed to this overture. I personally support intinction and if I was planting a church it is highly likely this would be the mode of communion used. While on the floor for debate and since then on “the internets” debate has gone on over the merits (or demerits) of intinction.

Intinction

For the most part the debate has been civil. There has been little name-calling and motive-judging. There has even been a minimum of “strange fire” references, though Uzzah has come up pretty frequently. Some of the strongest frustration with the intinction crowd have been voiced over at a blog called Green Baggins. Some of the best debate has taken place in the comments section of Vintage '73. I never really knew about V73 until this debate came up.

The debate seems to be shaping up along these lines. Those against the practice are careful to point out that Jesus command was to “eat” and to “drink”. Wanting to be careful observers of Christ words, they insist that dipping fails to meet the test of “drinking”. Those opposed to intinction will often then point to not only Jesus actions recorded in the gospels, but also to the repeated use of the phrase “eating and drinking” in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. This is, I will admit a strong argument. If you want a fuller picture of the argument, I recommend the Ohio Presbytery study committee's report and the response to it.

Those who want to defend intinction have put forth a few arguments thus far, a few of which are good, but probably aren't going to change anyones mind. Often, defenders of intinction will jump to the atomistic reading of the Lord's Supper texts and point out that no one else's practices are perfect either. They point out the substitution of grape juice for wine and the various types of bread used. This is true, but pointing out others inconsistencies isn't, ultimately, going to get anywhere in the long run. The argument's about the “common cup” largely fall into this same category. Some argue the practical nature of intinction, which is nice, but quickly is dismissed as practicality trumping Standards. Some other folks oppose the overture, citing the fact that this should fall under the category of things that the Bible is indifferent to (also called adiaphora). This is often met with loud cries of “are you saying the sacraments don't matter?!?” This often sidetracks the argument.

I would like to suggest a different argument in favor of intinction. I am not suggesting that it is adiaphora or practically beneficial. I would like to suggest that intinction is, in fact, biblically and confessionally a good form of the Lord's Supper. (Just a side note, I am working off of the paradigm the PCA currently uses allowing both pouring and sprinkling as normative means of baptism [BOCO 56]. Each of these different sacramental actions pictures a different nuance of baptism, and yet both are normative) A lot of attention has been paid to the “eat the bread and drink the cup” portions of the words of institution. I would like to suggest that more emphasis needs to be paid to the “Do this in remembrance of Me” part of the sacrament. Whenever we take communion we are proclaiming the Lord's death until His return. A separate bread and cup do a fine job calling to mind the last supper and the future marriage supper of the Lamb. However, when it comes to remembering the death of our Lord, intinction is a superior sign. A bloody sop of bread is a vivid and nearly gruesome reminder of the broken body and poured out blood of our Savior. Remember WLC 163 says that part of the sacrament is a “sensible sign”. See-Smell-Taste-Touch-Hear. Intinction is a strong, if not stronger than traditional “passing plate” communion, sensible sign. Ultimately Jesus was not commanding us to particularly remember the last supper when we take of the Lord's Table, He was commanding us to remember his death, which stands as short hand for his entire ministry on our behalf.

 

Presenting Keynote Presentations on iOS Devices

Last week, I wrote about the apps that I use on a regular basis on my iOS devices, my iPad and iPhone. This week I would like to tell you how I present using these same devices. When I tell people that I have ditched my laptop and gone to just an iPad, they often ask what I do about presentations. For around $50 you can turn your iPhone/iPad combo into a very solid presentation setup.

First, you need to purchase a few things. You’ll need a VGA adapter (or HDMI, depending on your projector/TV). Apple makes just such an adapter here and you can pick them up at Best Buy as well. Additionally, you will need Keynote for iOS and Keynote Remote. Using this cord and these apps you can not only create, but also affectively present multimedia shows.

I typically begin on my iPad where I create my presentation. The iPad’s screen is a bit bigger so it is a better choice for creating the Keynote. I also utilize the “4-finger swipe” function to jump between places I am to copy and paste.

I then use Apple’s built in iCloud functionality to sync the presentation to my phone. I plug my phone in to the TV or projector using the adapter. Then I open Keynote Presenter on my iPad. This setup has a couple of advantages. First, the processor on my iPhone 4S is far superior to my iPad 1. Second and more importantly, I often make notes to keep me on track on my presentations. Using the phone renders these notes way to small and unusable. The application is note optimized for iPad, but even as a “double size” iPhone app, it is much better than the lilliputian iPhone screen. [Incidentally, Apple I am sure I am not the only guy who uses this setup, where are you on this, Cupertino!] So here is a diagram of my setup.

 

The only real limitation I have found is in imbedding media. But imbedded multimedia is so 2008.