By Pastor Scott W. Rosekrans
For over 26 years I made a living as a lawyer with three stints as a prosecutor. I prosecuted a case once where the defendant set fire to the crime scene to destroy any evidence of his original crime. To assist the jury in understanding fire dynamics I had an expert testify regarding arson and what is known in the trade as “The Triangle of Fire.” To have an efficient fire you need three components: heat, fuel and oxygen. Take away any one of the three and the fire goes out.
I am now three months into the second year of my first appointment and I’ve given considerable thought on how to set a church on fire. I am, of course, speaking metaphorically. Do not, I repeat do not, run out and buy a can of gasoline. Do, however, think about your church for a moment in the terms of a fire.
- Is it generating the kind of heat that draws people to its warmth?
- Are you running low on fuel? Is it water-logged and hard to ignite? Does your fuel need splitting?
- Is it smoldering and dying out due to a lack of oxygen, fresh air?
Why don’t we take some time to examine the three components more closely?
The three components of life
HEAT – I understand heat as the component that attracts and warms people. As a pastor, your message is the heat that is fed by the fuel and oxygen and it needs to burn brightly. Now, I’m not talking about fire and brimstone preaching, I’m talking about a genuine and relevant message, one that resonates with your congregation. A message they can take home and apply to their own lives even as it moves them toward transformative action.
Music is also a part of your message and contributes to the heat you generate. Want one kind of congregation? Have one kind of music. Choirs require dedicated members and practice, which is getting harder to pull off. Get creative. Look for talent outside of the church.
At least once a month we try and draw from the musical talent pool in our community. There are always musicians looking for a place to play or sing. They just have to be willing to get up on Sunday morning and do some gospel. I guarantee you that if you promise them three songs they will come. Your congregation will love the variety. Outside musicians have a following who may come to hear their friend play and this helps get the word out.
OXYGEN – I consider missions to be the oxygen that breathes new life into a church. The non-churched or un-churched do not consider us relevant. Good missions can help us to address this. Start small and start local.
Let me give you an example. Earlier this year my Administrative Council approved twelve hundred dollars for me to spend on three local missions. On a rotating basis, once a month, we send a check to one of three designated non-profits. I tell the congregation each month who the recipient is and encourage them to supplement our minimum amount. Additionally, three times a year I break out my “Jesus” cup and put it on the coffee bar. I encourage them for that month to bring me their pocket change and that at the end of the month what is in the cup will go to one of the missions or some other project. You will experience people coming up to you before or after service handing you zip lock bags of loose change. It really ads up.
Once the spirit of giving catches fire they will be ready to give to bigger causes. During the months of August and September we raised over five thousand dollars for Rebuild: Up From the Ashes and the Hurricane Harvey Relief. Pretty soon, with the infusion of oxygen, your congregation and the community (who is watching) realizes that you really are making a difference.
FUEL – Fuel is what keeps you going. It’s your people. They may be smoldering or they may be water logged but the burst of fresh air you get from missions dries them out and causes the embers to flare up into a sustained flame. Older or long-time members may come alive and want to jump back into the fire.
New fuel is attracted by the heat you are generating and want to become a part of what is happening. People will be curious and check you out. They may do a “drive by” so you want your exterior and grounds to look as presentable as possible. Trust me, the invigorated member will be outside taking care of that deferred maintenance. Create a church Facebook page and keep the public informed. I’ve discovered that for five dollars you can boost one of your relevant posts to where it will reach several hundred other Facebook users in your area if you restrict it to the zip codes your church serves. Because other people have liked and shared a particular message I’ve had a post go out to over a thousand people. You will, of course, have people look at your webpage. It will need revamping. I look at it this way, if you went to a book store to look for your webpage where would you find it? Would you find it in the history section or in current events?
So, there you have it, the triangle of a church fire. I challenge you to sit down with your Administrative Council or a select committee of your congregation and write the three elements of the triangle on a white board and see what happens when you start talking about what it will take to build a fire in your church that will draw the outside world to its warmth.
Scott Rosekrans serves as pastor to the people of Community United Methodist Church in Port Hadlock, Washington.