Sunday, June 29, 2014

Convention reflections

Now that I'm back home it's time to reflect on my time in Oklahoma City. Four days went quickly. Perhaps too quickly, as everyone I talked to was thoroughly enjoying the first of the new formatted Church of God Convention. We wanted it to go on, even if for another day or two!


 

As I've mentioned there was much anticipation for this event. If this new iteration would not fly it would not only call into question the future of our annual event, but also the direction to which our new General Director is taking us. But, have no fear, these questions and concerns are all in the past. This will someday be seen as a pivotal point in our history and will shape us going forward. Of course, there are some naysayers who think this whole thing was ill-conceived and a disaster. But, at this point their voices are largely overshadowed.


 

There's much that could be said to recap the Convention, and many others have done a great job of doing that. For example, just wade through the large of number of #BeBold2014 Tweets from last week. Instead I want to list a few key observations and reflections:


 

  1. Hard data on attendance is not available yet, but it was obvious to me that attendance was up from recent North American Conventions and that there was much more diverse participation from across the United States and Canada. In Anderson attendance was predominately from those who are close by (and didn't register). This year also saw a number of first-time attendees who came because of their interest in the new direction across the Church of God.
  2. Having said that, attendance was not as great as I expected. Crossings Church in Oklahoma City was not full (except on Tuesday evening when Sandi Patty was featured and many locals showed up), and from reports that I've heard attendance at Madison Park Church in Anderson was far from significant. While many key leaders from across the movement showed up, this is still far from being the one event that brings together the North American Church. IYC beginning later this week will still have a greater turnout.
  3. Regardless of how one parses the attendance numbers this year's convention was a resounding success. The key, however, will be seeing what happens next year and beyond. Will people who were there this year make this an annual tradition, or was this just the result of hype and novelty? And, will others, having heard the good reports from Oklahoma City, join the throngs in 2015?
  4. A major frustration expressed by many who did not (or could not) attend is the lack of online video streaming as has been the norm in recent years. The reality is that not everyone is able (because of health or financial reasons) to attend, and they need to experience some of what was going on, even if online video is only a second best experience. It is costly and there have been technical issues, but even if Church of God Ministries arranged for this to be streamed through a higher-quality paid service it would still be worth it.
  5. The venue at Crossings Church is spectacular. They have incredible church facilities, and it worked exceedingly well, probably better than most convention centers could have provided. I would have no problem if we returned there next year. The challenge for the new Convention committee, however, will be to determine if re-planting ourselves here permanently is a good decision for the Church of God, or if we need to move it around to other locations.
  6. Going back to attendance numbers, since this is still not bringing in the large numbers we need in order for this event to have more sweeping impact on our congregations and pastors, there still may be value in taking a look at doing this only once every 2-4 years. Building up to a major event over that period of time may allow for an even larger event as people plan and budget to take advantage of it.
  7. I want to make just two comments on the convention programming. As I've mentioned previously we have truly made the transition from campmeeting to convention. There still is, however, some awkwardness in that because of differing expectations. Some want nothing but worship services and preaching. Others want a more diverse program and without the pressure to force every gathering into a service with music, etc. Tuesday's marathon day, in particular, could have been more creatively structured and planned.
  8. Overall the quality of speakers and musicians was not only generally very good, but represented where the Church of God is today. Especially encouraging is the number of speakers from outside the Church of God brought in to broaden our horizons.


 

I was encouraged, blessed, and inspired by the Convention, and I know that it will have a ripple effect across the Church of God. It truly was a bold move, and one that should increase our boldness as a movement. I trust that the 2015 Convention will continue to challenge us as we go forward participating in God's Kingdom work.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

General Assembly 2014

The Church of God Convention this week has been monumental for several reasons, and that includes how we took on the challenge of conducting business within the new reality. Yes, there were glitches and awkward moments, but by leveraging technology Anderson was linked to Oklahoma City, and General Assembly was held.


 

This year's GA was not just about technology and two locations. As usual there is business to cover. And, that's about all we did this year. Except for a few brief PR moments from Christian Women Connection, Servant Solutions, and our colleges this was mainly about an agenda of business. That makes this probably the shortest GA ever, or at least in recent history. This is refreshing because in the past it had turned into a promotion fest for every program coming out of Anderson. This year, the memorial recognition was also no longer part of GA – it was appropriately moved to the first night of the Convention itself.


 

By far, the highlight of the meeting was on Wednesday afternoon when Jim Lyon gave a very direct, bold speech talking about the challenges facing the Church of God and how we might address them. I hope that is available on video somewhere – it needs to be watched. This is the backdrop to all the changes going on around us, and will likely generate some discussions going forward, especially his call for some kind of faith statement needed. This will not go over well for the anti-creedalists.


 

Overall, the agenda was pretty light, but not without some speed bumps. The item that got the most attention was a resolution recommending the opposition of same sex marriages being held in church facilities. Ultimately it passed, but not without some minor wranglings, including a motion to limit debate. This resolution appeared to be a more reasoned response to the ill-crafted same-sex marriage proposal the Assembly tabled last year, but still leaves questions in some people's minds.


 

My biggest beef is a concern I expressed last year, and that is the failure to send out reports and resolutions well in advance of the GA. We need to be informed of things before we walk in the door, and there should be opportunity for dialogue in advance on issues like the same sex marriage resolution. The way we've been doing it is not acceptable if we want to change the tone and effectiveness of how we do business in a revitalized movement.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bold

Monday, June 23, 2014 marks a significant turning point in the history of the Church of God Reformation Movement.

 
 

I know there's been much buzz about the "new and improved" Church of God Convention this week in Oklahoma City. This is not just about the fact that we have moved our annual event outside of Anderson, or that this is the result of our new General Director. Be not mistaken – this is not a cosmetic change. Whether or not you like the changes taking place, what is happening at this gathering represents a new way for us to meet and relate to together, and this will dramatically shape our movement for the foreseeable future.

 
 

Gilbert Stafford reminded us in his Crossroads books that our identity is shaped through our practices. Up to this point our most important corporate expression of our movement has been "campmeeting". Certainly it is years since it truly resembled a campmeeting, at least by standards of the past. The annual event has devolved significantly over the years and more recently lacked the prominence and influence it once had. Let's face it, campmeeting as a form is a cultural relic of a past era. Everyone knew something different was needed, but as with much in the Church of God, paralysis prevented us from doing what was necessary.

 
 

During times of leadership transition it is often possible to execute change, and Jim Lyon, recognizing this, has moved with swiftness to refocus our efforts in the United States and Canada by changing the conversations ("Jesus is the Subject"), reconfiguring his staff (just announced and introduced), and giving us a new event through which we could gather. What we have now with this last change is a convention that will dramatically alter how we connect with each other. For better or worse, depending on how you view things. I believe that ultimately it will be for the better.

 
 

Monday evening we observed the launch of the Church of God Convention. Even though the C word was modified several years back, we have definitely now turned the corner to a convention. This is no longer a campmeeting in any way, despite our nostalgic inclinations. Monday's "service" reminded me more of an IYC than what we experienced in Anderson for decades. This was not a church service with much corporate worship or an exegeted sermon – that will happen and perhaps this is not always the place for that. What we saw was a high energy rally featuring the music of Sidewalk Prophets and a call to boldness centered on a common cause directed against sex trafficking delivered by Jim Lyon.

 
 

More of this will unfold in the coming days, and there will be more to reflect upon once this is all over. But, what we are seeing is history making as far as the Church of God is concerned. This is definitely a time to be bold.

Monday, June 16, 2014

One week Countdown

One week from today the "New and Improved" Church of God Convention will begin in Oklahoma City. Regardless of what you think about the big shift of location and format (and apparently there is a vocal minority opposed to these changes), this event will mark a significant transition point in the life of our movement.

I will be there and, like many of the others who will make up this larger than usual convention, am anticipating a fresh wind of the Spirit that will rejuvenate us. This is an opportunity for us to "Be Bold", in keeping with the convention theme, and allow this gathering to set the tone for the future.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@chogblog) for ongoing observations and thoughts. And be sure to use the official hashtag (#BeBold2014) to catch up with the larger conversations. Occasional, longer reflections will appear on this blog.

See you in OKC!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Looking to Europe

Whether we want to admit it or not the religious landscape of North America is changing. Rapidly. Living in the Pacific Northwest, the most unchurched region of the U.S., this is very evident, but it is a much more widespread reality. Unfortunately, however, many Christians do not know how to handle the shifting scenes, and common reactions are denial or entrenchment.

Certainly within my own district we are attempting new approaches to respond to these changes, and my current doctoral work is exploring missional communities, one of the emerging fresh expressions of the church in response. Much of my inspiration comes from watching what is happening in the Church of God in Europe through the Three Worlds missions effort. I've had an opportunity to see some of this first-hand during a visit there, and I continue to observe how the various efforts of 3W unfold in a number of countries.

Patrick and Jamie Nachtigall lead the 3W team, as Regional Coordinators in Europe/Middle East for Global Missions of the Church of God. In a recent blog post, "COG Europe:  'The Silicon Valley of the Church of God'", Patrick points out that the vision for 3W is to be "a hub of innovation and experimentation for the Church of God," much like the technology center located in the south Bay Area of northern California.

I am convinced that there are many lessons we can learn from Europe, both in terms of cultural trends that seem to be inevitably making their way to North America, and in how the Church of God is responding with a spirit of risk for the sake of expanding God's Kingdom.

This is an important article to read: LINK.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

General Director's open letter

Hopefully you've been too preoccupied with Christmas preparations to keep up with everything online. If so you may not have noticed the lengthy open letter that General Director Jim Lyon posted to Facebook yesterday. In many ways this is his year-end message to the Church, and it he talks about his first 140 days in the job, and specifically more reflections on the recent announcements pertaining to the 2014 Convention and the new logo, both of which have generated considerable attention across our movement in North America.

Jim points out that "the Church of God as we know it is near death", and that visionary leadership and action are required for us to enter a new day. For those wanting to preserve status quo or some idealistic notion of our past changes are threatening, as they are for a growing number of American Christians who feel our religious foundation shifting under our feet. It's much easier to get all worked up over the Duck Dynasty controversy than to commit ourselves to being part of Jesus' mission in the world.

I appreciate Jim's open and direct communication, and look forward to 2014 as the Church of God boldly moves forward.

And, by the way, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More on the Logo

According to a news release put out by Church of God Ministries today the new logo revealed without much fanfare Monday is only something they are "experimenting" with. They are seeking feedback on the new design.

Also included in the release are some explanations for the design elements of the logo. It helps explain what went into it, but it fails to tell a compelling story. That is disappointing. I believe that there is much more that could be said about the logo as it is.

Apart from these weak launch details, I really do like the logo. The previous logo is over 30 years old, and does not connect with our constituency or the wider world today. Most of the comments I have heard have been positive. Of course there are the naysayers who dislike change or who do not really get the significance of a logo and the identity and symbolism it provides for us.

With all the talk about "Be Bold" the last few days I do not understand the timidity with which this logo is being presented. We will never get consensus on a new logo, and if anything waffling will only cause confusion. The homework has been done. Let's move forward with this new identity. At minimum it expresses that a new day has dawned.