Friday, September 30, 2011

The Undwellable City: short film #1

The UnDwellable City

I've always been amazed by people's willingness to talk about movies, books, and television. Even bad movies, books, and television. Buckaroo Bonzai generated a lot of conversation. The new Conan remake got a lot of people talking. Twlight, The Shack, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven were all watercooler fodder for a long time.

I've written 1.6million words of pop-theology in my 6 years at Westwinds. 36 Teaching Atlases. 19 White Papers. Granted, I'm no John Donne or Thomas Aquinas...but the sheer volume ought to count for something.

It occurs to me that, had I written 1.6million words of FICTION instead of non-fiction, I might have had far more success in fostering conversation. And that's really what I want. I began writing Atlases so people could take what they experienced at Westwinds, digest it on their own time (and at a deeper level), and then live enriched by their new understanding.

But William Paul Young has been far more successful in getting people to do that with The Shack than I have with even my best stuff--Bleached, Sin Monkey, Monsters, Shadowing God.

So I've written a story, my first attempt at a novel. It's about a widower who takes the gospel to Atlantis and it's titled "The Undwellable City."

I originally began referring to the genre as "speculative theology" (a play on "speculative fiction," often referred to as SCI-FI or FANTASY). But speculative theology makes it sound like I'm going to pretend Jesus was an astronaut and Mary was his buxom barmaid. Instead, Jvo suggested I call it "anecdotal theology." I like that, a lot.

But the truth is that The Undwellable City is narrative theology in the strictest sense. I've taken God's story, and woven it together with the lives of real people in a fictional story. It's His narrative + our narrative; which, after all, is the basis for all good theology.

Jacob, my 7 year old son, provided the source material. Knowing I have a tendency toward abstract concepts and heady-ideas, I asked Jake what his 5 favorite things were to read about, play with, and pretend to be. As a result, The Undwellable City takes a "speculative theologian" and exposes him to Atlantis, sports, war, science, and zombies.

The Undwellable City will be released in 5 parts, beginning this Sunday, at Westwinds. Each part has been lovingly illustrated by my friend Heidi Rhodes and beautifully laid out by our mutual friend Carrie Joers. Davey Buchanan, my long-time mentor and coach in the world of new media, has spent hours developing a short-film//fictional documentary series about David Mann (the principal character), and we'll be showing these films around the winds as well.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


During WWII 300,000 British troops were trapped at Dunkirk by the Germans with the sea as their only escape route. There is no boat big enough to hold 300,000 people; but those men were evacuated safely because the British Navy supplied many little ones.

One church cannot effectively change all of Jackson County, let alone all of southern Michigan or the Midwest. It will take many churches. Some of the churches that will make a difference will be unlike Westwinds; but other churches will need to be tailored, like Westwinds, to the world of Google, Facebook, and the iPhone. We need more churches reaching the spiritually curious, those disenfranchised with organized religion, the intellectuals, and the creatives.

The best way to reach new people is through new churches. For example, did you know that, on average, the older a church the less effective it is in introducing people to Christ? So, if a church is 50 years old they introduce 1 new person to Christ, on average, for every 90 members. That’s a growth rate of only 1.1%/yr. A church of 10 years averages 1 new Christ-follower for every 7 members (14%/yr), and a church of 3 years averages 1 new Christ-follower for every 3 members (33%/yr).

In our contemporary context, 80% of people come to faith in Jesus Christ through churches less than 2 years old. If we believe in the mission of God to heal the world, and we believe that the local church is the way God plans to see it done, then we’ve got to do a better job of planting churches.

There are many ways to start new churches, but – contrary to popular opinion – finding some lone church planter to go off by themselves into a new city is the least effective. Conversely, the most effective (and least risky) kind of church plant is to create a franchise.

This is the same idea we see so often in business. For example, after a frustrating vacation stuck in too many dirty, sour motels, a Tennessee businessman came up with a novel idea: a network of family-friendly hotels across the country, all with the same name. We know this network as the Holiday Inn, and people loved it right from the start – a place where you could always count on experiencing the same quality and find a core of common features, such as an on-premises restaurant and a child-friendly environment.

That’s what we want to do with Westwinds – we want to create franchises so people can go to a variety of locations and experience Team Jesus, Westwinds style. In the church world, we refer to that as becoming a ‘multi-site’ congregation, and there are currently over 2,000 multi-site churches in the USA alone. In contrast to beginning a new church from scratch, a multi-site expansion keeps the overhead costs low (the same staff can be utilized, the same resources and materials) and quickly overcomes the hurdles against which most new churches struggle (such as mission, vision, core values, and strategic alignment). A multi-site church benefits from the wisdom and experience of existing elder and finance teams, policy and procedures, as well as having a strong, built-in missional DNA.

With a multi-site church you get the excitement of a new church start, with the stability and excellence that comes from existing church success.


low risk, low cost

brand new church, with a trusted brand

new church vibe plus big church quality

sharing resources (atlases, satellites, staff, budget, elders/finance) shared DNA/core pre-established network for problem solving increases total number of seats available during optimal worship times enables untapped talent – new opportunities for ministry and involvement

After reviewing these simple facts, I can’t help but wonder: If this is the most effective means of introducing new people into the kingdom in America, and if we can do it cheaply, locally, and without much risk, why wouldn’t we? We’ve got free space on the second-largest traffic route for 20miles (1825 Spring Arbor road, where we’re renovating our youth center). We’ve got top level staff and professional grade resources. If anyone can think of a good way to do a new thing it’s us.

Nothing is stopping us.

Think of it this way: Jackson has a great pizza parlor, Klavon’s, where everyone likes to eat Chicago-style pizza. But Klavon’s is just one spot, and it’s way out in Rives Junction. If Klavon’s wants to find 1,000 new customers they’re going to have to be in more than one location. A new location, even one fairly close, gives Klavon’s the opportunity to gather 1,000 new pizza lovers.

That’s what we want to do. We can’t make a bigger Westwinds, but if start another one we get our bests opportunity at introducing 1,000 new people to Team Jesus, Westwinds’ style.

One final thought: becoming a multi-site congregation is a cool idea with some neat potential, but it’s not an end-unto-itself. It’s not even a strategy for growth, but a way for our church to keep on growing. What truly stimulates growth is our commitment to shadow God and heal the world. That’s what fuels and funds transformation in the lives of real people, and that’s what will fuel and fund the transformation of our church in the future.

The new Westwinds campus!

it feels like i haven't blogged in a LONG time. sorry about that.

part of the reason concerns the changing landscape at westwinds. we've been working hard since january to prepare for the opening of our new campus: 1825 spring arbor road (at the hub). services will be held there every sunday morning at 10am, in between our regular 9 am & 11 am services on robinson road.

because so many of you have asked, i'll do my best to field a couple of common questions about the new campus:

1. who will be speaking there?
- myself and ben. simply put, there are 12 opportunities to speak in a typical (4-week) month. i will be speaking 9 of those times and ben will do the other three. on most sundays i will speak at robinson at 9, drive to spring arbor to speak at 10, then back to robinson at 11. some days, however, i'll just do one campus or the other, as will ben.

2. who will be doing music?
- jvo and chad. jvo will be overseeing the music at both campuses, but chad will be leading at the hub 3 out of every 4 weeks. on the odd week of the month chad and jvo will rotate.

3. will the hub be very different from robinson road?
- yes and no. what we do at robinson, we will do at the hub. it will still be westwinds - complete with weirdness and wonder - but, by virtue of the fact that the room is different and the location is different, we anticipate that the new campus will take on a life (and to some extent a personality) all its own.

4. will there be childcare/kids' journey at the hub?
- yes, but only up until kindergarten. if your children are age 6 or older, then robinson road will likely serve your family better.

5. i'm new to westwinds. which campus should i go to?
- go to the hub. new campuses are the best place for new people to get plugged in and involved in hands-on ministry. you're far more likely to make friends and get connected at the hub than at robinson.

hope that helps!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Jewish Legend

whenever i come across old stories like this one i try and jot them down (in contemporary language) as quickly as i can. i discovered this little gem while researching the parable of the good samaritan:

In the old stories, whenever someone died they contaminated the land. Consequently, as people neared death, their families often fought about which land they would contaminate.

Two priests were arguing about this issue, specifically about the boundary between the Temple and the City. They argued about which of these places would become unclean, if someone died on the border between them. The Temple priest claimed that the House of God could never be contaminated. The City priest claimed that God would spare His people from contamination.

To settle the debate, the City priest grabbed a young man from the market and plunged a knife into his chest while straddling the border. As the young man lay dying, the Temple priest stood before the people and posed the question: what has now been defiled?

But the young man's father was there. He ran to his son, screaming that he was not dead. The father held his son and forced the people would bear witness. He cursed the priests. He told them: my son will not die, and his wound will never stop bleeding, until you recognize that loving religion is no substitute for loving another human being.

Because the priests failed to perceive the father's wisdom, just as they failed to perceive their own sin, the City and the Temple both drowned in the blood of the son.