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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

I was recently informed of the (current) bestselling, most listened to series given at Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), where I have the privilege of serving as Senior Pastor.

And Senior Communicator, I might add.

The person who provided me with this information, the director of our Grounds ministry (our bookstore/cafes at each campus), asked if I might consider writing about why I think they struck such a chord with listeners. I can honestly say such an idea never occurred to me for a blog, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. 

For two reasons:

One, I thought it might serve others. I know I would want to know which series of various churches seemed to be the most popular. That would help inform my own thinking as I prepped future series at Meck. I would also want to listen to the series to hear what was being said, and how, so that I could learn from it all that I could.

But second, I sensed it would be an important exercise in terms of feedback. Why these series? What was done (apparently) right in terms of topic and delivery, conception and title, packaging and teaching, study and exposition?

I’m glad I did.

So here are the series, a quick synopsis of their subject matter, and a brief word as to why I think they resonated so deeply:

1.  Becoming a Difference Maker

This was a series designed to kick off a new calendar year. Its premise was simple: how to make your one and only life count. I recall opening with a story about a man who, on New Year’s Day, wrote that he was more than willing to die “except that he had done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived.” Those words resonate with a great many people. Twenty-two years later, interestingly also on New Year’s Day, that same man’s hand signed the Emancipation Proclamation, giving freedom to millions. 

Yes, it was Abraham Lincoln.

The series then went on to explore the four areas the Bible elevates as being the most important for making a difference with our lives: our gifts/vocation, being an ambassador for the message of Christ to others, the stewardship of our resources, and prayer.

Part of the power of the series was its timing - given during a season when many wish to make resolutions for change. But it’s clearly something more than that as it continues to be a popular series. On a deeper level, this series spoke to the visceral desire to have our lives matter, and the practical nature of each and every investment we make. Rather than simply do more, it led people to be more, and then have what they do flow from that “being.” In other words, the series was strategic in terms of timing (the start of a new year), spoke to one of our deepest yearnings (significance), and went beyond trivial suggestions to real substance.     

2.  Judged

Perhaps the greatest critique of the Christian faith in our current day is that we are judgmental. People who have tasted the church and left, or even those who look at it from afar and want nothing to do with it, express the same sentiment: “You are judgmental and I want nothing to do with that.” This series took this on with full throat, owning the many sins of the Christian community against those outside of it, and how completely the Bible denounces judging others. It opened with a powerful video that, when I first saw it, prompted the entire series. (Click here to view the video.)

This led into the power of the Bible’s portrayal of God as the God of grace. And equally important was the conversation about the importance of pairing truth with grace, which is something continually modeled for us in the life of Jesus. The series ended with a look at what some have called “the bait of Satan,” which is our culture’s current preoccupation with taking offense to virtually anything and everything. 

Why the popularity of this series? One reason is that it openly gave a voice to the thoughts and feelings of those in our world toward the Christian faith – whether those outside the faith or inside of it. Naming the elephant in the room is always powerful. Second, it portrayed the most unique idea of the Christian faith, which is (I would argue) grace. Third, it served as a compelling apologetic for the Christian faith in a post-Christian world. The study and use of apologetics has historically been toward offering “proof” for the Christian faith of an evidential manner. Important as this is, the growing need is to address issues such as judgmentalism with the same sinew. 

3.  How to Bible

This series introduced the Bible to those less familiar with it (which is the vast majority of the Western world). There is an innate attraction to something culturally “large” yet largely unknown. This is, of course, the place of the Bible in the minds of many. The series began with an orientation to the Bible as a whole, followed by how to read it, how to apply it, and then two additional weeks on how to believe it (once you’ve read it).

Like many Meck series, this was introducing the Christian faith to a post-Christian world. We talk about the Bible, preach from the Bible, argue for the Bible, but seldom take the time to help people know how to Bible. When we do, it’s eagerly embraced. And not just from those exploring the Christian faith but also from those who have long considered themselves to be Christ followers. The series was the quintessential blending of explanation and apologetics. Meaning, it first explained for those listening to understand, and then made the case for what was (hopefully) now understood. This is a one-two punch that is desperately needed.

4.  The Underprotective Parent

The idea behind this series was a burning conviction that a seismic cultural shift has taken place - from parents tending to be hovering over their children (hence the term “helicopter parents”), to being hands-off in ways that are highly dangerous. The “underprotective” dynamic within parenting specifically related to such things as their child’s friends, exposure to media, and spiritual upbringing. The challenge of the series was to be much more involved as a parent in critical areas of childish immaturity: specifically, be informed, involved, and in charge.

I remember the electricity in the air when I delivered this series. What I was conveying was not only wildly counter-cultural, but spoke to the deepest anxieties of any parent: “Am I doing the right thing by going along with what other parents are doing?” – or the opposite – “Am I doing the right thing by not going along with what they are doing?” It also seemed to tap into a wide swath of parents who had a deep sense of what the right thing to do was in a given situation but, due to cultural pressure, lacked the confidence to pursue it.

5.  Significant Other

As the title would suggest, “Significant Other” was a look at intimate relationships between men and women from dating to marriage. The series actually journeyed through the evolution of a relationship. It began with a look at intimacy itself and then journeyed into the levels of intimacy, when sex should come into play, and the role and place of marriage.

The appeal of this series was vintage Meck; meaning, how strongly it was tailored (as all of our series are) toward those outside of the church. It assumed nothing of a Christian ethic, much less sensibility. It simply walked through the stages of relationship, what each stage holds, and how each stage could be diminished. An honest conversation about things like sex and commitment, children and marriage, was pursued throughout the series in the context of a culture with a very different set of values than those the Bible would propose. As I find myself doing regularly, a case for the Bible’s position was being made in a way that attempted to connect with those who live in a world very much opposed to it.

And this may be the “secret sauce” for all of Meck’s talks. Namely, who they were written for. What does it take to truly stand on Mars Hill as the apostle Paul did in Acts 17 and contend for the gospel in a decisively non-Christian culture? It’s easy to speak to the already convinced, giving them an emotional pep rally or an intellectual stimulus. It’s more difficult – much more, I might add – to speak to the questions and issues of the day in a way that simultaneously deepens a Believer’s faith and knowledge toward mission and reaches those far from God for that mission.

These five series were apparently particularly indicative of the many others like them that – by God’s grace – seemed to do just that. As a result, they were passed on by those who heard them to others.

Many others.

May they serve you in some small way as well.

James Emery White

 

Sources

All five of these series are available as MP3 audio files or PDF manuscripts at ChurchAndCulture.org. You will find them gathered at the top of the Message Downloads page.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite

The Convenient Church

I once heard someone make the accusation that churches today are making attending all about convenience. 

I thought to myself, “And the problem with that is?”

What is the alternative? Purposefully making it inconvenient?

A new study from the Pew Research Center has revealed just how much convenience actually matters.

Digging into how people choose a new church, they discovered the obvious reasons: high quality messages, feeling welcomed/friendliness, style of worship.

But, in addition, what stood out was the importance of raw convenience. Seven out of every ten people said that location was critical. This ranked as more important than children’s ministry, whether they had friends/family attending, or the appeal of volunteer opportunities.

And what made finding the new church easy?

Convenience. 

The majority of those who found the task of finding a new church trouble-free “indicated that their new congregation was conveniently located and easy to get to.” This was cited more frequently than being invited by a friend or finding information easily gained through a website.  

Digging further, Pew found that among those whose church attendance had waned, the number one reason was…yep, convenience. The most commonly offered reasons had to do with “practical concerns, including many who say they are too busy to attend or cite other practical difficulties with getting to a church.”

There’s much in such studies to remember. In a large survey of this kind, it’s important to isolate the growing number of “nones” who are much less likely to look for a new church at all. And as a result, convenience will not be the primary factor; personal invitations will. It’s also important to note varying demographics, such as the increase in online investigation among younger generations.

But let’s not quibble. The headline is too important to ignore. We know that the quality of a church’s teaching matters; we know that friendliness is key. But have we spent enough time thinking through raw convenience through the eyes of those not already signed on to attending?

I doubt it.

So let’s think about it. Specifically, let’s look at four areas directly related to convenience for every church:

1. Location

The physical location of a church is critical. Is it easy to find? Is it easy to drive to, even for those within a 15-minute drive? 

Many years ago, in our church planting phase, Meck moved from an elementary school to a high school. It was a great facility, and only 10 minutes or so from where we had been meeting.

It was a disaster.

We didn’t just plateau, we declined. We moved after just nine months and instantly began to grow again. What happened? The high school was buried back in a research park far from the flow of traffic. But even more decisive was the vast number of traffic lights you had to go through from major residential areas to get to the school. It was just a pain to drive there. 

Lesson learned.

The 80-acre campus we eventually bought was intentionally in the heart of our area’s residential growth and within one mile of an interstate loop around the city. 

If your location is a disaster, you have options. You can sell and relocate. You can also go multi-site, bringing the church to within 15 minutes of varying pockets of your mission field. Along with our original campus, we’ve added additional campuses to make attending Meck even easier (and we hope to launch two more in 2017).

2. Service Days/Times

If you are still holding down the fort on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m., and Sunday mornings at 11 alone, you have one hook in the water. If you add services at other times and on other days, you are putting lots of hooks in the water. More hooks = more fish.

At Meck, we have Saturday and Sunday services at multiple times. We also offer an internet campus with a slate of service days and times. 

It works.

3. Coming, Parking, Leaving

I don’t care how good your location is or how many service times/days you offer, you can still lose the convenience war if it’s hard to enter the parking lot, to park, and then to leave.

Just think of the good will and feeling that is lost if, at the end of a service, it takes 15 minutes just to exit the parking lot. Or if, when guests arrive, they have to circle around forever to find a place to park.

At Meck, we hire police officers to speed up entering our campuses and to expedite the exit process. An entire parking team is devoted to quickly and efficiently guiding cars into parking spaces. We’ve studied – extensively – the best routes to enter and exit, which lots to fill first, and how best to navigate the flow of people walking from their cars so as not to disrupt those still in transit.

Recently, we implemented an additional strategy because of (ouch!) complaints. Our North Charlotte Campus had grown so large that while we were handling our campus lot well, a nearby intersection was getting jammed, delaying people on their way to church. So we received permission to hire an additional police officer to manage that intersection to ease congestion and make coming to Meck as convenient as possible.

4. Logistics of Attendance

Finally, there are the raw logistics of attendance. Meaning, things like: registering your child and dropping them off for their class; finding a seat in the auditorium; being able to easily find information about the church; knowing where to go once inside the building.

Here are five essentials to address the logistics of attendance:

  1. Have a centralized area for information (we call ours the “Connection Center”).
  2. Have ample signage, high enough to be seen in the midst of a crowd, for EVERYTHING.
  3. Put up directional signs in a two-mile radius around your campus every weekend that will guide a first-time guest to your location.
  4. Use computers and wireless technology for children’s ministry check-in to expedite the process, along with multiple lines and stations around the building (and consider having escorts for first-time guests to take them to their child’s class).
  5. Once your auditorium reaches 80% capacity, it’s time to build or add a service or a new site. (It’s been quipped that the only people who like overcrowded auditoriums are speakers and worship leaders.)

Sound like a lot of work? It is. But then again, you are welcome to the alternative.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Choosing a New Church or House of Worship,” Pew Research Center, August 23, 2016, read online.

Emma Green, “It’s Hard to Go to Church,” The Atlantic, August 23, 2016, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite

It’s that time of year again. Students are returning to colleges across the nation, including a new freshman class. Which means it’s time for the annual college freshman Mindset List from Beloit College; always a cultural eye-opener in terms of changing times. Their headline? “We have had the NOW generation… get ready for the RIGHT NOW generation… [they] cannot remember a time when they had to wait for anything.”

In their lifetimes they have always had eBay and iMacs, and India and Pakistan have always had the bomb. The Sopranos and SpongeBob SquarePants have always been part of popular culture, Gretzky and Elway have always been retired, and Vladimir Putin has always been in charge in the Kremlin.

And although they think of themselves as a powerful generation — Sanders’ voters, consumers — they are faced with the prospect of student loan debt, and of robots and foreigners taking their jobs making them feel anxious and weak. “They know that they’re going to have to wait for that first breakthrough job and getting their school loans paid off,” said Tom McBride, one of the List’s authors. “They’re an impatient generation learning how to be patient.” 

I’ve picked a few of my favorites from their 60-point list.

**********

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1998.

Since they arrived on this planet:

There has always been a digital swap meet called eBay.

West Nile has always been a virus found in the U.S.

The Sandy Hook tragedy is their Columbine.

Cloning has always been a mundane laboratory procedure.

The United States has always been at war.

Serena Williams has always been winning Grand Slam singles titles.

They have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time.

Each year they’ve been alive the U.S. population has grown by more than one million Latinos.

If you want to reach them, you’d better send a text—emails are oft ignored.

They disagree with their parents as to which was the “first” Star Wars episode.

Books have always been read to you on audible.com.

Bluetooth has always been keeping us wireless and synchronized.

A Bush and a Clinton have always been campaigning for something big.

Snowboarding has always been an Olympic sport.

While chads were hanging in Florida, they were potty training in all 50 states.

DreamWorks has always been making animated creatures heroic and loveable.

Airline tickets have always been purchased online.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“The Beloit College Mindset List for the class of 2020,” read online

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite

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