Some of the books influencing my thinking about the Prodigal Project


Unchristian:  What a new generation really thinks  about Christianity…  and why it matters
by David Kinnaman (Baker Books, 2009)

Applebee’s America:  How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community
by Douglas B. Sosnik, Matthew J. Dowd and Ron Fournier  (Simon & Schuster, 2006)

They Like Jesus But Not the Church:  insights from emerging generations
by Dan Kimball (Zondervan, 2007)

What’s So Amazing About Grace?
by Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 1997)

Blue Like Jazz
by Donald Miller  (Thomas Nelson, 2003)

Tell It Slant:  a conversation on the  language of Jesus in his stories and prayers
by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans, 2008)

Practice Resurrection:  A conversation on growing up in Christ
by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans, 2010)

The Return of the Prodigal Son
by Henri J. M. Nouwen  (Doubleday, 1992)

The Prodigal God
by Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2008)

The Prodigal Project

A generation of people in their 20s & 30s see Christians and the church as hypocritical and judgmental.

They are aware of Jesus… in fact, many of them grew up in the church. They are comfortable with Jesus’ teachings and moral standards (although their lifestyles may not show it). But they are not aware of, nor are they comfortable with who Jesus is.

They want a life of meaning and purpose, but Jesus and the church have no part in it. They have so stereotyped Christians and the church that they are unable to open their lives to God’s grace. In fact, you might say that Christians and the church have gotten in the way of their relationship with God.

How can they be moved to embrace Jesus – his teachings and his example, as well as his God-with-us identity? Can they be moved to acknowledge the problems in the church, yet embrace it as God’s way of helping us mature as his followers?

On the other hand:

Many Christians in the United States are too comfortable with our religion. Our faith has become institutionalized.

Although some of us are faithful in attending church services… and many are involved in other acts of service to and through the institution, the healing flames of grace and forgiveness have grown cold.

Many of us are focused on the externals of religion rather than our relationship with the Heavenly Father. A daily walk with God has become a well-worn path that can be navigated with our eyes shut… which is exactly the way some of us travel.

Can we be moved to admit our self-righteousness, hypocrisy and judgementalism? Will we drop our pretenses and accept the fact that we need God’s grace on a daily basis?

Can people in both groups be moved to see that they need each other, and that God put us together in the church for that very reason?

Since January 2010, I’ve been reading, thinking, praying and working to figure out a way to answer these questions.

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...

I think Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, as told in Luke 15, speaks directly to the issue. Jesus, of course, was a master communicator. In a few minutes, with a few chosen words, Jesus spoke directly to heart of the Pharisees’ problems. And he did it in earshot of those “tax collectors  and sinners” who needed to know that God is welcoming and accepting of everyone, no matter what their history, race or religion.

Can this story be told in a way that speaks to our 21st Century culture with the same impact that it had when Jesus told it 2,000 years ago?

Working on it… more to come soon. Anybody have any thoughts?

How about a Communication Audit?


Our church just did a “Generosity Audit.” The objective was to get a handle on the generosity culture of our congregation, and to look at some ways our church can encourage a generous lifestyle among our folks.

We worked with a consultant, who looked at all our communications for a period of several weeks. He talked with the staff and many other key leaders in our church. And then he presented a report which applauded some of our praiseworthy practices, and made recommendations on some changes he thought would move us toward the goal of being a more generous people.

It was a good exercise.

Being a church communication guy, it made me think that maybe churches should periodically conduct a communication audit.

Churches are usually motivated around the themes of generosity and stewardship. For very good reasons, they keep a close eye on the church’s financial health. But many churches don’t often stop and take a hard look at the way they’re communicating with their own members and with the community at large. Every church has a Finance Committee. Not all churches have a Communication Team. (Richmond’s First Baptist Church has had such a team for many years.)

Every congregation is different. Every community has its unique channels of communication. And every congregation and community is constantly changing. People come and go, and communication technology is evolving. Twenty years ago, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no blogs, not much of a World Wide Web, no smart phones, and the only ways to watch a TV program was to turn on your set when the show was on the air or record it on your VHS deck.

These days, just keeping up with the changes and development of technology is enough to make your hair hurt!

So every now and then, it is a good idea to look at what you’re doing, assess the changes in your church and community, and determine if your methods are still supporting your goals.

What should we look at in a communication audit?

How are you communicating with your congregation? Take a brief survey on a Sunday morning. Find out how many of your members use Facebook and Twitter regularly. How many have smart phones? How do they get information about what’s going on in your church?

How are you communicating with your community? The radio and TV stations and the local newspaper are the obvious, default communication channels. Who do you contact at those media outlets? What are their deadlines and submission requirements? Are there websites that cater to your immediate neighborhood? How about community calendars and blogs that might list events at your church?

How well are you communicating? Do the members of your congregation feel they’re in the loop or do they feel left out of church communications? Does the local newspaper editor dread to see email from your church, or does she read it immediately because she knows the contents are relevant and interesting?

It doesn’t take a lot of time or money to answer these questions. But the knowledge you gain through your communication audit can save you a lot of both.

Communication • Media