Archives For Austin

Less than a week ago, a small band of friends and strangers gathered for the first ever Sunday Liturgy of Austin Mustard Seed. In a part of the country known for religiosity why would you possibly need another church?

1. Austin is growing like crazy.

It feels like 2/3rds of the current Austin skyline was not here when I moved to town in 2006. According to Forbes, Austin will grow at a rate of 6.1% between now and 2016. There’s just no way the existing churches can handle that alone.

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Rachel Held Evans recently pointed out on CNN that Millenials are leaving the church like crazy.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

It doesn’t have to be this way! How do I know? For the past four years, I’ve been involved in a mostly-millennial church. While we have our share of short comings, I’ve learned at least seven lessons about how to be the church in the millennial generation.

1. Look (and sound) like your city

When people ask me what kind of church we are, I say that it is “an Austin kind of church.” Austin is known for being the live music capital of the world, a start-up hot bed, the state capital, a world-class university system, a renown restaurant scene with more craft beer than you can drink.

So, when we try to live the church together in Austin, we do Austin things. We go on bike rides and participate in local festivals. We share space with neighborhood non-profits. On Sundays, you’ll hear references to the Longhorns, clips from This American Life, and Sufjan Stevens songs.

When a millennial joins a back yard party or Sunday liturgy they see people and hear sounds that are familiar. They need to know that they can come and learn about Jesus and still be themselves.


2. Be a safe place to come back to Church

When a Jewish friend started giving me a hard time about Michael W. Smith, I learned something about America: in many places, we aren’t un-churched yet, we’re more de-churched. Welcoming Millenials means being a safe place to come back to church. You need an environment that harkens back to good memories.

We have a Sunday morning gathering, practice weekly communion and sing a lot of old hymns. Doing something “outside the box”, like being a house church or meeting in a bar could be seen a stretch. Our gathering isn’t meant to be “attractional,” just familiar enough to be safe.

3. Wear your brokenness

The emotional highpoint of our liturgy is our practice of Prayers of the People. For a few minutes, the mics are open for people to share praises or petitions. The congregation responds with “Thanks be to God!” and “Lord, have mercy.” During these times, people have admitted huge sins, cried for hurting friends and shared a good laugh.

Millenials are thirsty to see authenticity in others. They have experienced judgmental religiosity and want nothing to do with it. When we lead with our own brokenness, others know they know they can be themselves.


4. Structure is your friend

One new visitor described our Sunday Liturgy’s as being “so structured that creative things happen.” We do the same things in the same order every week. This includes prayers of confession, call and response and the Eucharist. This gives us the opportunity to be both sacramental and creative.

5. Everyone has a role

Every Sunday, we begin by explaining that the word Liturgy means “work of the people,” and that means “it is everyone’s job to be a good host.” This is reinforced by constantly shifting who is up front. Different people read prayers or serve the Eucharist. The staff only preaches about 60% of the time. (They even let me speak on occasion!) Small groups are very small, and everyone has the opportunity to speak. If Millenials want entertainment, they have better options than your church. So give them a role.

6. Ask lots of questions

Since the word of God is alive and active, we don’t need to tell people what to do or think. Unpack scripture, and then ask the question: what would it look like for us to live this in our neighborhood? Millenials don’t need to be told what to think. Make space for the word to do its job.


7. Live in proximity

Millenials are thirsty for community. Community requires seeing people throughout the week. That doesn’t happen naturally in our culture. Our church began when 15 families moved together to a neighborhood. We ride our bikes to eachother’s houses. We grab dinner at neighborhood restaurants. We swim in the neighborhood pool. People are welcome no matter where they live. (We have a few who even drive in from Houston!) Reality is that it is easier to be in each other’s lives when you see each other every day.

We don’t have to worry about the “Millenial Exodus” because God has promised that the Gates of Hades will not overcome his church. We just have to decide if we are willing to get on board and be the church for the next generation.

How have you seen churches engage Millenials?

Austin After Lance

Chris —  January 21, 2013

Austin is a city that takes pride in its heroes.  You get off the airplane and are greeted by posters of Willie Nelson.  Our city park has a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn overlooking the lake.  For the last several years, there has been yellow posters and wristbands decorating more than a few gyms around town.

Even if you didn’t know anything about cycling or didn’t like the guy, it was hard not to have a begrudging respect for Lance Armstrong.  The idea of testicular cancer is so intensely personal that men try not to think about it.  The idea of overcoming testicular cancer to become the best in the world, and the best of all time, is the stuff that dreams are made of.   Continue Reading…

Holy Week is upon us. The mindless celebration of Palm Sunday. The somber foot washing and feasting of Maundy Thursday. The sense of disaster on Good Friday. The confusion of Holy Saturday. The resurrection power of Easter Sunday. It’s a week where the gospel story is so dense that one can literally imagine themselves walking along with the Jesus and his disciples through each hour of their lives.

This is the high point of the Christian Calendar, celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox, the ancient Armenian and Ethopian churches, Mainline Protestant, and confused Evangelicals.  Over the past few decades, everyone from Baptists to Pentecostals have been looking for methods to help them flesh out their faith in their day to day lives.  They read something from the Book of Common Prayer and to may even give up chocolate in the spring, and secretly hope they’re not sliding down the slippery slope to Mary worship. This desire to incorporate older forms of worship was most championed by Robert Webber, who reasoned:

“The way into the future, I argue, is not an innovative new start for the church; rather, the road to the future runs through the past. These three matters—roots, connection, and authenticity in a changing world—will help us to maintain continuity with historic Christianity as the church moves forward.”

Webber had it half-right.  In his concern for creating a more visceral worship experience, he drew on two thousand years of spiritual formation to address the unique needs of post-modern thinkers.  But the other half of the equation Webber did not address was local, day to day culture.

If nothing else, being missional means being missionary.  A missionary is one who learns a culture, in order to present the gospel in words and forms that make sense to them.  While I sympathize, and happily participate, with evangelicals wishing to reclaim liturgical traditions, we need to realize that those actions alone will not help us present the gospel to the cultures we encounter.

The value of a the liturgical calendar is not in specific rites, but in the idea that how we organize our time defines our lives.

What if, as we set out on our missional endeavors, we took the concepts of time and calendar seriously.  Are there celebrations in a local culture that can be redeemed by the gospel?  Are their gross imbalances that can be reformed through organized, corporate disciplines?  Perhaps borrowing from other Christian traditions may help us address this or perhaps we will find ourselves creating something new.

In my church in Austin, Texas, we occasionally recognize traditionally Christian seasons and holidays.  We anticipate during Advent, reflect during Lent and party on Easter.  But we also host concerts during SXSW, ride our bicycles through the East Austin Studio Tour, and run around the park during the Zilker Kite Festival.  We do these things because we are Austinites.  But we do them together because we are the Church.

In the past, evangelicals have eschewed the practices of other churches.  Today, they seem to grasp at them in hopes of providing a lost sense of meaning.  What if instead, we looked at our neighborhood and asked the question “How does this people organize their lives? How can the gospel be presented within that?”

I write this post from Flipnotics, which I think of more as my living room than a coffee house.  The rustic patio bar nestled in the hills of 78704 is a refuge for those trying to hold on to the hippie lifestyle, an office for freelancers and the hope of the open mic scene.

Recently, I ran into an old coffee friend here who asked me, “so, are you still religious?”

The other night I met a pastor’s prodigal son who has left behind his religion, but has embraced the teachings of Ken Wilber.  As we discussed the differences between the concepts of integral spirituality and the claims of Jesus Christ, another friend chimed in “I respect religion, you know, culturally.”

It’s hard to respond to these statements.  The more learn about Jesus, the more dangerous I see religion.  I don’t claim that I’m some “spiritual but not religious” type, who strike me as wanting to feel something without having to live in community, tradition or authority.  The “not religion but relationship” line sets up for  an individualism at the expense of the surrounding world.

These questions took Jesus three years to answer, and when he did, it got him killed. You can know God, traditions are helpful, personal practices are transformative, and community is necessary.  But that can be very different than religion: culturally bound, guilt inducing, creativity damping, and, most dangerously, a tool of the state.

Jesus spoke of a kingdom, demonstrated a deep love for others and cared for the poor.  He had a deep respect for the stories of the Hebrew tradition, but not the religion of his day.  His followers responded with a new way of living: a humble, communal lifestyle where you give everything away.

Joining the Kingdom, rejecting the trappings of your world, yet loving it deeply is fundamentally different than being religious. It’s also requires years of demonstration, something you can’t share over a beer.