E-Newsletters I Love

June 30th, 2016

Craig PedersonEmail newsletters can be such a blessing – and such a curse! They are a great way to keep up with a church, an online resource, or a writer of interest without doing a deep-dive into new material… but WOW, can they fill up your inbox in a hurry!

At the risk of inducing “inbox overload” I want to share some of the email newsletters I receive. I’ve selected the ones that that I find most worthwhile to take at least a few minutes to peruse, particularly in the areas of invitation, hospitality, evangelism, and stewardship.

These newsletters are great for rostered leaders and lay leaders alike!  Sometimes they introduce a new perspective on a topic I’ve been pondering; other times they lead me into a deeper exploration of ideas or resources that add great value to my ministry.

It’s likely that these are not new resources to some who read this blog post, and no doubt you could suggest others that would enhance this list. If so, please post your ideas here or send them to me via email at

Alban Weekly is a digest of articles and books from the former Alban Institute, which is now part of Duke Divinity School. Sign up for the free email newsletter at (Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page for sign-up.) 

Ministry Matters is a weekly digest of timely articles on leadership, evangelism, and outreach. Sign up for the free newsletter at 

Leadership Network:  A periodic newsletter with extensive resources in many areas of congregational development, some free and some for a fee. Sign up for the free email newsletter at

Lewis Center for Church Leadership is a weekly digest on a variety of topics, as well as links to extensive resources (similar to Leadership Network), based at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. Sign up for the free email newsletter at

Luther Seminary Stewardship Page is a weekly eblast with commentary and articles. Sign up for the free email newsletter at 

Thom Rainer is a congregational researcher and consultant. This is a short daily email of research-based lists addressing changes in church life. Sign up for the free email newsletter at

God’s Big Garage Sale

June 24th, 2016

Deb StehlinWhen I was a young adult, I opted out of church. I still believed in God; and I still prayed. But for many reasons, the imperfect institution got in the way.

You’ve heard the statistics that more and more people are voting with their feet when it comes to church. They’re opting out … or never opting in.

Why do you think that is?

Think of someone in your life (maybe you) who isn’t finding relevance or value in church participation. What do they say about that? What is it exactly that they are opting out of?

How does all of this make you feel?

Christian author Phyllis Tickle noticed that every 500 years or so, it seems like God has a big garage sale: A lot of things that the church used to see as central are no longer needed and are “put on tables in the driveway” in order to make room for a new day. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the front door of the church. Five hundred years before that, the Great Schizm happened, and the Church split into East (Constantinople) and West (Rome). Five hundred years before that, the monastic movement brought new life to the Church; and 500 years before that, it was JESUS.

So, here’s my big question: What if the changes in attendance aren’t about the church failing or society going to heck; what if God is simply doing something new?

So, here’s my big question: What if the changes in attendance aren’t about the church failing or society going to heck; what if God is simply doing something new?

I think that this is a terribly exciting time to be church. It’s a time to turn off the auto-pilot button and be curious. It’s time to listen and learn together. What is God up to? Churches that are curious and connected to God, each other, and the neighborhood are the churches that are vital. Life-giving. Dare I say, life-changing?

If I was an author, the title of my book would be Trust How God Works. God comes to us in God’s Word. Jesus sneaks in and forgives us in the bread and wine. The Spirit blows new life into us in the waters of baptism.

This has not changed. This will not change.

I am super hopeful. Are you with me?

Is Your Future Vital?

June 13th, 2016

Craig PedersonBy Rev. Craig Pederson, Assistant to the Bishop

When your job title is “Assistant to the Bishop for Congregational Vitality,” you need to learn to have some fun with it. When I meet with church groups, I like to say that I have a special dispensation from the Bishop to proclaim “Vitality!” in a congregation and immediately it shall be so!

But we all know it’s not that easy.

Let’s start by asking, “What is vitality?” When I ask that question, I hear responses like:

“A place I want to be”
“A place I want to share with others”

Yes! All of these are great indicators of a congregation that is vital and responsive to the movement of the Spirit in its midst.

But can vitality be measured? And, if so, can we learn ways to develop and increase it in our congregations?

Again, yes! A relatively new tool developed by the ELCA – called the Congregational Vitality Survey (CVS) – helps congregations understand their sources of energy and life (as well as where those sources may be missing). More specifically, the CVS offers resources to congregations as they assess their connections to God, to each other, and to the world, with the conviction that these connections are what bring vitality to a faith community.

Three great aspects of the CVS:

  • It can be self-administered.
  • It is short (just 15 questions).
  • It is free!

While it can be self-administered, Pastor Deb Stehlin and I have been invited to use and interpret the CVS with more than a dozen congregations in our synod. We have found that it has been a wonderful tool for leaders to understand the perceptions and dynamics at work in their congregations.

If you would like to check it out for yourself, go to . If you would like to talk about a synod staff member accompanying you on the use of DVS, don’t hesitate to let us know.

To offer your thoughts to Craig, email him at or call him at 612-230-3316.

5 Tips for Kids’ Sermons

June 10th, 2016

John HuldenBy  Rev. John Hulden, Assistant to the Bishop

With a gaggle of little sweet ones gathered at the preacher’s feet, who knows what will happen next? Check your next kids’ sermon against these five simple concepts so you don’t get derailed the next time you are called on to preach to kids.

  1. Keep It Simple and Short (KISS): I love kids’ sermons! But they are not the main thing in the worship service. Effective kids’ sermons do not have to be long. (I know, I know. It’s tempting to have a nice long chat with those adorable munchkins.) It is up to you to stay on point, have some fun, and move along.
  2. Memorize the sermon, because eye contact is critical. I am bad at memorization. I can’t remember the second line of a song, much less the second verse. But, I have made a commitment for all of my years of parish ministry to never take notes with me to a kids’ sermon. If I can do it, you can, too (and it’s much easier to do if you keep it simple and short).
  3. You are the theologian. Don’t depend on the kids’ answers to bring your message home. They are just kids after all. You need to drive this bus. It is great to ask kids questions, but ask for information, not in hopes they will have the right answer.
  4. Four-year-old vocabulary only; no big words. ‘Nuff said.
  5. Move! Plan your message so the kids have to walk, make noises, crawl, jump, or roll around. Kids have bodies and they know how to use them.

And here’s a bonus suggestion: I like to end every kids’ sermon with a call and response prayer. What will be your “liturgy” with the kids?

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