Well, it was great conference. At the end of these gatherings I come away with a diverse array of sentiments: first, it is really exciting because I believe that I'm watching the future of the Christian Church in the U.S.A. This conference (like its larger Atlanta counterpart) is attracting thousands of people between, say, the ages of 25-40 and grooming them to lead their churches boldly. But it is also a little depressing to grasp the relative insignificance of my own ministry on the larger scale of things. It's not that the people aren't important - after all, what is the church if the individual becomes insignificant? - but it's also natural to want to play a role in the movement as a whole. Our church needs another zero on its numbers just to be on the team.
For my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), what's clear is that we haven't even begun to do what it will take to stem the decline. First and foremost is the development of leaders who have the core competencies that it takes to lead churches forward. Our pastors often just don't have a clue. Then we need to vault newer leaders into key positions and protect them from being marginalized by old-school leaders. We're a denomination where moving a congregation to email puts you in the forefront, when most of the rest of our society is increasingly seeing email as passe. We're a denomination that likes to do things one step at a time, which won't work if you're starting two steps behind the world.
So I'm ever more convinced that the PCUSA denominational structure as it exists is toast. Some of the congregations will thrive, more will continue to simply (barely) exist, and many will end their ministry ("fail" is the wrong word, just as our own death isn't failure - it's the end of our appointed time). It will survive in name, but the various departments and agencies that we created for a different time will continue to be shut down. And this is a good thing in the overall scheme of things. The thriving congregations will drive the rebuilding of the denomination, and who knows what that will look like? But I suspect that it will follow Andy Stanley's statement that our goal should be to do what only we can do. Our presbyteries, synods, and G.A. should strive to do what only they can do. If it can be done by congregations, it should be left to congregations.
The most important part of the conference was seeing the extent to which they are driven by social justice. And it was fun to see them use the phrase so often that this entire conference would have been shunned by Glenn Beck. A few good Web sites:
www.giftcardgiver.com - combines unused balances on gift cards and gives it to charity. Who doesn't have a gift card with $2 left on it - too small to use but you don't want to throw it away? Even better, maybe you have a gift card for a store you don't shop at? Send it in! 10% of all gift cards are never used - but someone in need can use them.
www.adventconspiracy.org - inspire your congregation to spend less at Christmas, make it less commercial, make it about Christ, and then help the world.
www.potsc.org - "People of the Second Chance" - can we be people who learn to see that "broken is beautiful"? Excellent videos available for download purchase. Watch the one about the artist Stephanie. It's intriguing.
www.drinkcoffeedogood.com - okay, if your church isn't serving Fair Trade Coffee yet (?!) then maybe this would motivate them. These folks sell Rwandan coffee where all of the fair trade principles are observed (or exceeded), but the proceeds directly benefit particular villages that were ravaged by the Rwandan massacre. Their stuff allows you to tell a particular story that might motivate people to make the switch away from exploitation coffee to something that benefits the people.
www.143million.org - 143 million is the number of orphans in the world. Are there people in our churches who will prayerfully ask whether they are being called to adopt? If only one family for every four churches in the U.S. would adopt a child, every American child in the nation's foster care system would have a family.
On to Catalyst West 2011: From talking to folks, it is clear that they will be moving from the Mariners Church venue, not because it isn't an awesome venue, but because they sold it out and will be looking for larger digs. Having spent a fair amount of time attending conventions, and knowing their announced plan to stay in Orange County, Anaheim is the only reasonable destination. There is everything from the Anaheim Convention Center to the Honda Center (home of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim hockey team). A Catalyst team member told me that they are negotiating various locations next week (makes sense) and may move the date from April to February. Since Easter is extremely late next year (April 24, 2011), this late April time doesn't work. I think February would be fantastic, as I can imagine many of us taking a week off before Lent begins.