Pilgrim Press author adds sparkle to church revitalization efforts
Written by Jeff Woodard
August 25, 2010
The Rev. Paul Nixon spoke with a passionate clarity during his visit to the UCC national offices in downtown Cleveland last week when he said bold vision and unwavering witness require an unmistakable sparkle.
“The bright-eyed people are the ones,” said Nixon, speaking before 75 people in the Church House Meeting Room during The Pilgrim Press’ presentation of The Igniting Leadership Series.
“Their eyes sparkle as you talk about it – whatever ‘it’ happens to be,” said a smiling Nixon. “They have a way of energizing you. When the bright-eyed people outnumber the rest, that’s when your church has turned the corner.”
Citing their ability to connect, nurture and empower, Nixon says they are great apprentices to others – invaluable allies during challenging times. “If you can get even five of these people, good things will happen. Your church will survive.”
Nixon, an ordained Methodist minister and pastor of Foundry Church in Washington, D.C., authored the best-selling book “I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church!” (2006), which was Pilgrim Press’ top seller in 2007. He also wrote “Jesus on the Metro: and Other Surprises Doing Church in a New Day” (2009).
“We’re moving toward new territory, a whole new place,” said Nixon. “And not just mainline churches – everyone. Evangelical, big and small, we’re all scrambling. In this decade, the churches that succeed will be those making active, intentional choices.”
Nixon cites “Six Key Choices” needed for churches to survive: Life Over Death; Community Over Isolation; Fun Over Drudgery; Frontier Over Fortress; Bold Over Mild; Now Over Later.
Using a projector to display an image of sparse-but-vibrant vegetation rising from parched soil, Nixon hailed two Florida women whose misbehaving grandsons prompted them to begin an after-school latch-key program. “It began with a few volunteers, and the state soon said, ‘We’d better give this some water.’” The program has flourished into an operation that receives state grants and serves over 100 trouble-prone youths.
Nixon invited attendees to consider ways for their churches to provide a warmer welcome. “When people drive by your church, are the lights off? Are the doors locked? Are there signs prohibiting skateboarders – or parking spaces marked ‘For Church Members Only?’ A lot of times, when people drive by your church, they see it as a club.”
A healthy place of worship also appreciates and promotes its lighter moments, said Nixon, citing a church that showed a reel-to-reel “Laurel and Hardy” film after one of its Sunday dinners. “The popped popcorn and everything, and when the lights went down, designated people began tossing kernels at the person in front of them. By the time it was over, everyone was throwing at everyone. It was all-out hysteria. You can’t downplay the importance of fun and laughter.”
In his morning message before a near-capacity gathering in the Amistad Chapel, Nixon offered a sermon titled “Your Conversation in the World,” based on the text of II Corinthians 1:12.
Nixon relayed how his church’s recent need to fill a part-time position resulted in a large field of well-qualified applicants.
“It came down to two, and the question was, ‘Who would be the better community shepherd?’ We threw them into a setting, mixed them in with other people, stood back and watched what happened.” The successful applicant, said Nixon, was the one who could “ride like the wind” while engaged in conversation.
Nixon was quick to note that messy conversations are as important – if not more so – than feel-good dialogue. “Look at Apostle Paul. He did some hurtful things but he really wasn’t a bad guy. Paul was often placed in messy contexts and had messy conversations. He got run out of town by more than anyone. If you are truly going to have conversation in the Cosmos, you WILL get push-back.”