Thursday, June 27, 2013

Marriage and Justice Are Wounded, But Not Fatally

supremecourtYou know that someone has bad news to relate when he begins by saying, well, it could have been worse." That is what the defenders of conjugal marriage are saying after the brace of Supreme Court rulings issued yesterday on challenges to that truth that is as old as the human race, that marriage is between a man and a woman. The net effect of the rulings is further damage to marriage, and to the power of the law to uphold the truth about it.

But, well, it could have been worse. In the case widely recognized as the more pivotal of the two, Hollingsworth v. Perry, in which a claim was squarely asserted that same-sex couples have a federal constitutional right to be married anywhere in the country, the majority of the justices decided not to decide. The California officials responsible for implementing Proposition 8 (the peoples amendment restoring the conjugal definition of marriage to the state constitution in 2008) would not defend it in federal court, and so the private parties responsible for proposing and campaigning for Prop 8 had to do so.

Now, after defending Prop 8 at trial in U.S. district court, and in the Ninth Circuit, and in arguments to the Supreme Court, the proponents of the amendment have been told they lack standing to appeal the adverse trial ruling. The Supreme Court ordered the Ninth Circuits ruling vacated, with instructions to dismiss the appeal. What the correct legal status now is of Judge Vaughn Walkers bizarre district court ruling is an interesting question. But it is difficult to see any practical outcome that prevents the return of same-sex marriage to California, which had it for five months before the passage of Prop 8.

The Hollingsworth case had the most unusual line-up of justices on either side: Chief Justice Roberts for the majority, joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan; and Justice Kennedy dissenting, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor. It is difficult to perceive any chessboard maneuvering that resulted in such a split. The decisions of the justices to range themselves on one side or the other seem to have been based purely on the standing question taken by itself, with no one positioning himself in order to prevent a ruling on the merits for fear of losing.

There is much to be said, for instance, on behalf of Justice Kennedys complaint that the decision deprives the people of California of the right to govern themselves by referenda, if the losers of a plebiscite can challenge the outcome and, with the collusion of friendly state officials unwilling to defend the peoples will, win in court what they cannot win at the ballot box. But one cannot tell, at least from this opinion of Kennedys, where he would have been on the merits he thinks the Court should have taken up.

By the same token, one can tell, from Chief Justice Roberts dissent in United States v. Windsor (on the Defense of Marriage Act), that he almost certainly would have voted in Hollingsworth to uphold Prop 8 if the merits had been reached. But he was willing to hold-insisted on holding, for plausible reasons-that the role of a referendum proponent does not confer standing to represent the constitutionality of state law in federal court. And so he led a majority that frustrated the democratic process in California, and signaled new risks for such processes in the 26 other states that use the popular initiative. But that majority at least-it could have been worse!-declined to constitutionalize a spurious right" to same-sex marriage.

It was in the less explosive, but still volatile Windsor case that the Court reached the merits, but only after considerable wrangling here too about whether DOMA could be defended in federal court by counsel retained by the House of Representatives, after the Obama administration withdrew from a legal defense of the act in court. (What is it about the cause of same-sex marriage that prompts so many of its advocates in the political class to abdicate the most elementary responsibilities enjoined by their oaths of office?) Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas would have held that in Windsor too there was no case for the Court to decide, and were thus willing to see DOMAs challenged Section 3, enacting a federal-law definition of marriage, fall prey to an interbranch political struggle in which the president has the upper hand over Congress.

But the Windsor majority led by Justice Kennedy-which included Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan, who curiously saw a party with standing here, where they did not see one in Hollingsworth-went to the merits and overturned DOMAs Section 3. The opinion was of a kind we are used to seeing by now from Justice Kennedy: long on windy rhetoric about dignity" and ad hominem attacks on the basic human decency of the laws defenders, and short on actual coherent legal reasoning from recognizable constitutional principles.

On the one hand, the ruling seems to turn on the fact that some states have recognized same-sex marriage as valid, and that some tradition" of federalism requires the federal government to conform itself to whatever the states say about marriage. On the other hand-perhaps because nothing really in the Constitution establishes such a norm of federalism for courts to enforce-Kennedy turns to a fuzzy equal liberty" claim derived from the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. This peculiar species of what is known as substantive due process" assimilates that clause to the standards used under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and carries all sorts of borrowed baggage from the latter about levels of scrutiny."

But Justice Kennedy could not be bothered with sorting out just which level of scrutiny should apply, or how the Courts Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment precedents on equality bore on the case at hand. He resorted instead to the fallacy of the argumentum ad misericordiam, a fallacy he magically redoubled with a non sequitur. The argument is that for those same-sex couples married under state law but disadvantaged under DOMAs Section 3 non-recognition of their marital status under federal law, the chief injury they suffer is hurt feelings, a dignitarian" harm. It follows-for Justice Kennedy, who has his own private logic-that it must have been the motive of the legislators who passed DOMA to hurt their feelings (never mind that such questions of motive are not supposed to dispose of constitutional questions). Therefore-again, if you are Justice Kennedy its a therefore"-DOMAs Section 3 is based on animus," and that alone is sufficient to invalidate it.

Justice Kennedys Windsor opinion on the merits deserves all the scorn heaped on it by Justice Scalias dissent, as well as all of Justice Alitos penetrating observations in his separate dissent that what is marriage?" is the key question, which the people and their representatives are entitled to decide for themselves, in Congress and in the states. Kennedys opinion is as shabby and question-begging as they say-and then some-but the real danger lies in its contemptible contempt for the millions of Americans who disagree with a progressive" redefinition of marriage that severs its connection to childbearing, mothering, and fathering.

Yet let us remind ourselves that for now, Section 2 of DOMA is intact, preserving the right of states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other jurisdictions. And the right of states to control, by their own political processes, what marriage means under their own laws is still intact too. It will now be easier for the adversaries of the conjugal meaning of marriage to mount challenges to state laws, and to what remains of DOMA. The appalling rhetoric of Justice Kennedy gives those adversaries fresh ammunition in the battle.

But the battle continues, and for people who have faith in the truth, despair is never an option. Yes. It could have been much, much worse. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Matthew J. Franck is Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute.

North American Anglicans Clash over Supreme Court Decision on Marriage

North American Anglicans Clash over Supreme Court Decision on Marriage
ACNA and CANA bishops condemn Court action
Catholic leaders blast ruling. Federal Court got it wrong. Democracy overruled in California

By David W. Virtue
June 26, 2013

To no one's surprise, the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Gay Jennings, President of the House of Bishops, rejoiced over today's Supreme Court decision that handed a significant victory to gay rights advocates by ruling that parts of DOMA are unconstitutional. SCOTUS also ruled that married gay men and women are eligible for federal benefits paving the way for same-sex marriage in California and the end of Proposition 8.

Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Robert Duncan said, "An extremely divided court reflects an extremely divided nation. Equal rights under the law is a bedrock commitment of the United States of America and can often be accomplished by creative legislation. Nevertheless, the definition of marriage long pre-dates the United States and is a given of the created order. The motto of the United States is "One Nation under God." The Christian Church has followed a Lord who meets people where they are, and who loves them regardless of their challenges. The Church has countered the culture throughout most of its history. We find ourselves, both sadly and increasingly, in this position in a nation once seen as a 'light upon a hill,' and a 'hope of all the earth.'"

Read the full story at

The Tide is Turning

The Tide is Turning

by Michael Bradley
Institute on Religion and Democracy
June 26, 2013

A recent Pew Poll has found that most Americans, regardless of their perspective on same sex marriage, view its coming as inevitable.

Yes, the tide is turning, and the Pew Poll surely sounds like the ringing of victory bells to those for whom the bell's tolls are a welcome and much anticipated sound; not just advocates of same sex marriage but those who have pushed for the demise of any sort of "traditional" sexual mores from American life.

Even though such numbers can be misleading due to the wording of questions, nobody can doubt that the general acceptance of same sex marriage is on the rise. Nor can anyone deny the chilling numbers on out-of-wedlock births, abortions, fatherless children and divorce rates. The tide is indeed turning.

Read the full story at

How Does Your Facility affect the Growth of Your Congregation?

I have been blogging about the three dynamics that Lyle Schaller taught me that affect 80% of the growth potential of a church.  So far I have discussed the size of a church and who the pastor is.  The third dynamic has to do with the facilities.  Let me explore this. 

First, you cannot put 1000 people on one acre of land!  People need space and they will normally create space around them.  If this space gets crowded than people become uncomfortable.  This leads to what folks call the “80% Rule.” This rule points out that if you are over 80% full in your Church building, Parish Hall, Christian Education space, or parking lot on a typical Sunday than you are overfull.  This means that you are discouraging two kinds of people from attending your church.  The first are newcomers and the second are less active members.   

If you are over 80% full in these areas on a normal Sunday than you are way over full on special Sundays and this is a problem that will inhibit growth.  Many pastors are unaware of their present realities because we are in church during services.  You may want to arrange to exit the service, walk down the hallway and visit the parking lot.   

Unfortunately, many Episcopal churches were built before the automobile became the principle mode of transportation.  I have visited many town congregations that have only a few off street parkingslots.  When I point this out, the answer is often, “Well, our members know to get here early and where to park.”  Unfortunately, new people do not.  Of course, the condition of the facilities matters too.  When I went to the Cathedral in Dallas, the Parish Hall was dirty and constantly in disarray.  The worse areas were the nursery, Christian Education, and office area.  They looked like they had never been updated after construction in 1922.  It is important to remember that long-term members become accustomed to the facility, but new people notice this immediately.  The old adage that you only have one chance to make a first impression is true.  Some areas such as nurseries and restrooms should be in tip top condition.  I am also surprised at how cluttered the entrances to Churches and parish halls are in many churches.   

While talking about space, I would like to mention what I call the “50%” rule which deals specifically with declining congregations.  Here is the rule; if you are less than half full in your worship area then you better tell folks why and what you are doing about it right up front, probably in the bulletin.  When a newcomer attends a church that is 50% or less full, their first question will be “I wonder what happened?”   

The Diocese of Texas convinced a few churches to take out pews and put in a temporary walls.  This allows a congregation to place the fellowship or coffee hour just outside the main doors to the sanctuary.  This is a very good thing.  Having newcomers and guest have to pass through the fellowship area as they leave church creates a very positive feeling.   

In Summary

Three dynamics will affect 80% of the growth potential of a congregation.  Review these three last blogs and ask yourselves “Realistically, what is the growth potential of our congregation?”  

1.        What size is your congregation and how long has it been this way?
2.       Who is your pastor and what does she or he know about growing a Church?

3.       What are the space limitations of your facilities? 

Of course, congregational development is not always about growth, but discipleship and newcomer ministry is a significant part of the healthy development of a congregation.


Saturday, June 8, 2013


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7 Ways to Respond as People Attend Church Less Often
Everywhere I go, I talk to pastors who are experiencing the same thing.
People who attend church are attending less often.
People who used to attend every week are attending 3 times a month. People who were around twice a month often now show up once a month. And attenders who used to come once a month are showing up half a dozen times a year.
This is true of rapidly growing churches, mega churches, mid-sized churches, Bible churches and churches like Connexus (where 60% of our growth is from previously unchurched people.)
You can get mad at people…but that’s not really that helpful. If all people get is judgment or ‘should have done better’ when they show up at your church, why would they keep coming? You don’t line up to be judged either.
There are fewer and fewer of us every year who
Feel guilty when we miss a Sunday (I do…but I’m a dinosaur…I know it)
Have a natural instinct to head to a gathering of Christians on the first day of the week
Miss church when we can’t get there
Some church leaders I know wonder whether people will even attend physical buildings a decade from now. I believe they will, but maybe not in the droves people are even today.
So what’s going on? And how can you ‘compete’?
Well, culture is changing (in my next post I’ll talk about the changing characteristics of unchurched people).
But two of the biggest factors that used to drive attendance in the last 20-50 years are now reproducible online.
Two decades ago:
If you wanted to hear great preaching, you had to go to church. Podcasting and online campuses have changed this.
If you wanted great music, you had to go to church. Okay, maybe church music wasn’t that great 20 years ago. But somebody liked it. Now, for $20, all your favourite songs are on your phone wherever you go.
So what do you do?
Is the battle lost? Not at all.
Here are 7 ways to respond as people attend church less often:
1. Create an Awesome Online Presence. Launching an online campus is a goal for us, but between FacebookTwitterpodcastsappwebsite and blog, people can pretty much stay connected. And even giving to church online has never been easier. (70% of our offering comes in online.) Many people tell me when they’re not physically present they stay in touch via all of these media. Don’t judge your people for not being there, help them stay connected instead.
2. Elevate Personal Relationships. Somehow facilitating a personal relationship is easier and more effective in person. Churches that value personal relationships (even for thousands of people through groups) will always attract people who value personal connection (which is, I think, almost all of us).
3. Love People. Can you love fully love people without being fully present? Do human relationships go to their deepest level in person? I think so. 2 in 5 married couples meet online today. But even those 2 in 5 couples who meet online don’t stay online…they get married. Love can be expressed online, but its fulfilment happens deepest through personal contact.
4. Create an Irresistible Experience. There is something that happens when you are in the room and in the moment that doesn’t happen watching on line. A live concert is never quite the same as watching a song on YouTube or even a concert in full HD on a kicking home theater system. Church is more than the sum of its parts…between the preaching, music, creative elements, human interaction and hall way conversations. You get much of it online, but not all of it. At least not yet. (By the way, if your church is boring, you’ve already lost the battle. Start there.)
5. Offer Offline Surprises. Do something fun in the parking lot, foyer or service that you don’t podcast. Create some fun moments. Last year we handed out an awesome Canadian treat - gourmet butter tarts – to everyone who attended on a particular long weekend. People who missed it were completely bummed.
6. Create a Culture of Serving. Online church doesn’t allow many serving opportunities. When you get up early to set up and tear down, lead a 2nd grade small group, greet people with a smile, serve on the production team, or serve meals to the homeless, somehow you find a place in service of a goal greater than yourself. Make serving guest and others outside your community part of your culture.
7. Prioritize Kids and Teens. Parents can catch a podcast or watch online, but kids really miss out when parents miss. To be with their friends who are running in the same direction, and to have another voice (small group leader) who knows their name, favourite food and hopes and dreams saying the same thing a loving parent would say, is so far unreproducible in the online world. I believe that when the parents miss church, the kids are the biggest losers. The more you prioritize families, the more families will prioritize Sundays.
The shift in our culture is probably irreversible to some extent. But you have something unique to offer – online and offline.
What are you learning about shifts in attendance and the things that you can help people with offline and online?


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If you’re like many Christians, you have an authentic desire to share your faith with people who don’t yet follow Jesus. I know I do.
One of my deepest longings is that every person would come to know the love and salvation that Jesus extends to them.
Our vision at Connexus, where I serve as lead pastor, is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend – a vision we share with all North Point strategic partner churches.
But unchurched people are changing.
Even since I started ministry 18 years ago, there’s been a big shift in how unchurched people think. Particularly here in Canada, we are a bit of a hybrid between the US and Europe. Canadians are less ‘religious’ than Americans, but less secular than Europeans.
Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman have outlined helpful characteristics of unchurched people in UnChristian and David tackled it again in You Lost Me. I won’t repeat those characteristics here. (Both books are fantastic reads.)
Post-modernism has a deeper toe-hold here than in almost anywhere in American except perhaps the Northwest and New England, where it might be about the same.
Here are characteristics of unchurched people that I’m seeing today.
1. They don’t all have big ‘problems.’ If you’re waiting for unchurched people to show up because their life is falling apart, you might wait a long time. Sure, there are always people in crisis who seek God out. But many are quite content with their lives without God. And some are quite happy and successful. If you only know how to speak into discontent and crisis, you will miss most of your neighbours.
2. They feel less guilty than you think. They don’t feel any more guilty about not being in church on Sunday than you feel guilty about not being in synagogue on Saturdays. How many Saturdays do you feel badly about missing synagogue? That’s how many Sundays they feel badly about missing church.
3. Occasional is regular. When they start coming, they don’t always attend every week. Giving them easy, obvious and strategic steps to get connected is important. Disconnected people generally don’t stick. (I wrote more about the declining frequency of church attendance here.)
4. Most are spiritual. Most unchurched people believe in some kind of God. They’re surprised and offended if you think of them as atheists. As they should be.
5. They are not sure what “Christian” means. So you need to make that clear. You really can’t make any assumptions about what people understand about the Christian faith. Moving forward, clarity is paramount.
6. You can’t call them back to something they never knew. Old school ‘revival’ meant there was something to revive. Now that we are on the 2nd to 5th generation of unchurched people, revival is less helpful to say the least. You can’t call them back to something they never knew.
7. Many have tried church, even a little, but left. We have a good chunk of people who have never ever been to church (60% of our growth is from people who self-identify as not regularly attending church), but a surprising number of people have tried church at some point – as a kid or young adult. Because it wasn’t a good experience, they left. Remember that.
8. Something is generous. Because even giving 10% of your income to anything is radically countercultural, the only paradigm of giving they have is a few dozen or hundred dollars to select charities. I hope every Christian learns to live a life of sacrifice and generosity, but telling them they are ungenerous is a poor way to start the conversation. They are probably already more generous than their friends.
9. They want you to be Christian. They want you to follow Jesus, authentically. Think about it, if you were going to convert to Buddhism, you would want to be an authentic Buddhist, not some watered down version. Andy Stanley is 100% right when he says you don’t alter the content of your services for unchurched people, but you should change the experience.
10. They’re intelligent, so speak to that. Don’t speak down to them. Just make it easy to get on the same page as people who have attended church for years by saying “this passage is near the middle of the bible.” You can be inclusive without being condescending.
11. They hate hypocrisy. Enough said.
12. They love transparency. When you share your weaknesses, everyone (including Christians) resonates.
13. They invite their friends if they like what they’re discovering. They will be your best inviters if they love what you’re doing.
14. Their spiritual growth trajectory varies dramatically. One size does not fit all. You need a flexible on ramp that allows people to hang in the shadows for a while as they make up their mind, and one that allows multiple jumping in points throughout the year.
15. Some want to be anonymous and some don’t. So make your church friendly to both. Also see the previous point. This is huge.
What are you seing? What describes your friends and the people you’re reaching at your church? Let’s grow this list.


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Why Young Leadership Is Essential To Your Organization
College aged people and 20 something leaders have a bit of a bad rap. If you listen to leaders over 40, the complaints come quickly:
They don’t work hard enough.
They seem to want it all, now.
They have a hard time distinguishing between work and play.
They have an entitlement attitude.
What on earth happened to grammar, spelling and etiquette?
I’ve seen a few leaders that fit that description for sure, but many who are so different than that. Half of our staff is under 30, and I have to disagree with the assessment of the upcoming generation. Sure, there are slackers out there. But I know some 50 year olds who should get it together at some point. (And besides, you can train people to spell. Quickly.)
Here’s why I think having a good representation of next generation leaders in your organization is essential:
They bring enthusiasm and optimism to their work. They just don’t have the weight of the world on their shoulders yet, and often the problems of life haven’t surfaced the way they do to those of us in our thirties and beyond.
They understand next generation trends. I try to stay current, and for a person with 17 years in leadership, I think I do all right. But I’m not 22. Younger leaders see things differently. They grew in a culture that I didn’t. Having their voice around the table gives me a much better sense of what resonates and what doesn’t. If you want to connect with the emerging generation, having the emerging generation around your table is irreplacable.
They challenge assumptions. Because they are trying to figure out how the world works, they ask great questions and challenge assumptions. They haven’t made peace with the status quo. As a result, some of the best insights and solutions for problems will come from next generation leaders because they see things differently.
They learn fastA 23 year old can go from good to great in a few years. And many are motivated to do it.
They are technologically smart. My friends think I’m tech-savvy, even a bit a tech-obsessed. But put me around an 18 year old or 25 year old and I feel like the person who can’t figure out why their VCR keeps blinking 12:00. I have no proof, but I think somehow they are capable of learning things faster than previous generations were. They were raised in a fast moving world, and it shows. Leverage that.
They are your succession planSenior leaders often like to run with their peers. I get that. So do I. And you need wisdom and maturity in any organization. But if you are not stacking your team with leaders 10, 20 and in some cases 30 years younger than you, you are not positioning your organization for future relevance or success.
They’re fun to work with. They love fun. And who wants to work in a boring workplace?
They are passionate about mission. They don’t want their job to just be a job. If you lead a church or a non-profit, chances are your young leaders will own your mission, vision and values deeply. They want to make a difference in the world, and they are passionate promoters of causes they believe in – which can turn out to be great for your organization.
That’s what I see in the young leaders I work with. What are you seeing? And how have you made young leaders an essential part of your organization?

7 Reasons for Regular Church Invite Cards (& 6 Tips to Make Them More Effective!)

As communications continues to shift towards more digital and online we’ve found an increasing value in producing regular invite promotional cards for our people. We used to only do this for “big days” or “special series” but we’ve shifted to do this for every series. Over this last year we’ve seen increasing momentum in our people inviting friends and these postcards are a part of that! Here are some lessons we’ve learned in using church invite cards regularly:
  • postcard_towerIt’s Tangible // In a world of digital products and tools there is a funny way that tangible goods have increased value. We spend a lot of time, effort and energy thinking through our digital strategy but the physical good makes the new series “real” in a way that slides or Facebook images don’t.
  • It “Forces” Us to Ask // Because we print up these cards for every series it means every 3-4 weeks we are going to be asking people to invite their friends to our church. We get to explain to them again about why being a part of mission of Jesus is such a privilege. ”Forcing” ourselves to talk about that could be reason enough to do this!
  • Give Us Language // Each invite has a “blurb” about the series that gives our people language about what it’s all about. Even if they don’t ever pass along the invite card to a friend this blurb gives them language to use to explain the series.
  • Takes Up Space // These cards end up in people’s cars, on their fridges and in all kinds of locations. These are miniature communication outposts reminding people about our church!
  • Forward Momentum // Our culture gets bored quickly. We don’t just want to know what is on TV we want to know what else is on TV. We talk about the next series coming up so people who might be tuning out of our current content see there is something new coming. The invite cards flag for them that something new is right around the corner!
  • It’s Cheap // The cost of printing cards like this continues to drop. You can get 1,000 4×6 full color postcards done for $50 at Overnight Prints. It’s a cost effective communications tool.
  • People Use Them // It might be stating the obvious … but people actually do use them to invite friends. It feels like we are partnering with them as they engage their friends and neighbors to come to church.
Here are some lessons we’ve learned with doing all these invite cards:
  • 4×6 // We’ve settled on this size because it’s big enough to get a good image on it but small enough to fit in your back pocket.
  • Three at a Time // We pack them up into bundles of three when we hand them out to implicitly communicate we want people to invite multiple friends.
  • Ushers Hand Them Out // We’ve found the best way to ensure that the most cards get into people’s hands is to have our Ushers hand them out as they leave. It sets it apart of the material we give them on the way in and communicates that this is their next step.
  • Week Before // I’m convinced people only invite friends to church in the days leading up to the weekend so we only handout invite cards the week before the series starts. We don’t want people to feel like we are always pushing cards so we limit them to just the one week before the series starts.
  • Campus Specific Cards // I’ve found that three locations is the most you can really list on a card like this. When churches get to four campuses they need to have campus specific cards. We’ve started doing that in prep for our fourth launch this fall.
  • Arresting Image + Compelling Text // At the core of a great invite card is an image that makes you stop and flip over the card & 2-3 punchy sentences that sets up the tension that series resolves. Show more … say less.