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PZ’s Eight Easy Ways To Shrink Your Church

The strangest thing happened. The other day, just after penning his “Ten Ways to Grow Your Church”, PZ was looking through an old box of letters and found a sealed envelope he’d never seen before. The return address read only “Screwtape”. He was so surprised and bedazzled by its contents (reprinted below) that he almost missed the subheading on the envelope, “Do not open until 2015″

Eight Easy Ways to Shrink Your Church

Just in case you’re not yet part of the program, there is still time. Here is how:

server1) Preach to your congregation not as individuals but as a “worshiping community”. This way, no individual sufferer will get the idea that God has a word for him or her concretely.

2) Try to schedule a Public Baptism at every main Sunday service. This works well over time, because (a) the people who only came for the Public Baptism won’t come back anyway; and (b) the individual seeker whose personal need drew him to church that Sunday will feel completely out of things and also never come back. A major advantage of having Public Baptisms at the main Sunday service is that it prevents the preacher from giving a serious, sustained message. This is key.

3) Schedule as many possible Sunday morning awards ceremonies for your young people’s choirs. This way you can guarantee interminable rounds of applause for individuals whom a visitor has never met, in connection with an activity of which a newcomer can scarcely conceive. Schedule at least four of these per year, though six is better.

4) Get your congregation to stand as long as possible and as much as possible during the service. This helps make newcomers and seekers feel uncomfortable psychologically and physically. It has the excellent corollary of discouraging an attitude of repentance and remorse. Since newcomers and visitors often come with a burdened heart and brain, you want to deprive them, if you can, of relief from the very thing that drew them to church. Especially get your congregation to stand during the penitential parts of the service. Better yet, delete those parts.

7c249490529ac511ec31b95ff6bead0fad257dcb5) Emphasize and re-emphasize that the main reason people come to church is their “hunger for community”. See your listeners primarily as social animals who have constructed themselves as collective beings rather than troubled, anxious souls. This way you will miss the reason they come to church. Focus on community long enough as an end in itself, and you can probably drive away even the most loyal member of your parish. This method takes about four years to work completely.

6) Make sure your sermons have no compelling illustrations. This means that no one will remember a thing you said and they can go home without needing to think about what happened in church. Make religious assertions — orthodox assertions are fine, too — but don’t apply them to individual pain. Over about three years this method can thin your numbers nicely.

7) Constantly remind your congregation to do more in the way of social justice. This works especially well when you have 20 or so stalwarts left in the congregation and they’re not exhausted enough yet to stop coming on Sundays. Always “up the ante” of demand as your numbers go down. This speeds things up beautifully.

8) Make sure your organist or director of music always chooses the hymns for Sunday morning. This way no one will know any of them, especially visitors or newcomers. That’s an advantage in making sure they don’t come back.

PZ’s Podcast Episode 200: Catatonia

PtL! PZ’s Podcast hits quite a milestone today, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t take the opportunity to point newcomers to this guide to PZP world. It doubles as a fond look back. Oh and we’re aware of the difficulties listeners are having with a handful of older episodes. Hoping to have them re-uploaded in the next week or two. Thank you for your patience.


This is not the Who’s Final Tour. (They always come back.) So maybe it is the Who’s Final Tour.

Whatever it is, it’s Podcast 200, and that’s a benchmark. Somehow. So I decided to sum up the two core themes of the last… 100 or so casts, and also tell you something that’s blown my mind recently. It’s an instance of catatonia by way of Catalonia.

Seriously, the two core themes of PZ’s Podcast are the durability and necessity of romantic connection; and the presence of God when a person is at the end of his or her rope. ‘God meets us at our point of need.’

Gosh, I’ve seen that happen a lot. Not least of all, to me.

And I know, too, from Mary — ‘Along Comes Mary’ (The Association) — that the boy-girl side of things is paramount. Nothing above it.

Now, for 23 short minutes, Come Fly With Me.

PZ’s Ten Ways to Grow Your Church

Mockingbird’s roving correspondent has been taking in a lot of church services this Summer, mostly in the Northeast. Some have been excruciating, two have been glorious. Here are ten short reflections on my trip, on how to grow a church in light of what I’ve seen. The most important is the last.

  1. Begin by watching and studying every minute of Red Beard (1965) by Akira Kurosawa. The main character, a physician, played by Toshiro Mifune, is the ideal parish minister. Everything he does is perceptive, right, and plenum gratiae.
  2. Only ever preach one sermon, which is the forgiveness of sins, the absolution of every human “as is”, through the suffering and Passion of the Christ.
  3. Make sure every sermon has at least one arresting emotional illustration.
  4. green+rayRead, mark, learn, and inwardly digest each incident in Theophilus North (1973), the final novel of Thornton Wilder. Theophilus North is the all time handbook for intrepid, effective pastoral evangelism.
  5. Abolish all rules concerning weddings, and also baptisms, and say yes to every request you get. But don’t schedule baptisms, unless they are “in house” cases such as your child’s, for the main Sunday service. Do them privately Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon – the Jane Austen way.
  6. Focus monomaniacally on the casual visitor and seeker, but don’t let them know that. Just visit them or call them (personally) the Sunday afternoon of their visit. But call them after your nap.
  7. Only choose old and familiar hymns for Sunday mornings and make sure you do the choosing, not whoever is the organist.
  8. Never miss a chance to write a thank-you note. It should be an apt postcard from the Morgan Library or some place like that.
  9. Try to visit everyone in their home, even if they seem to resist it at first. Also visit everyone who gets sick when they are in the hospital. This has become one of the hardest tasks of parish ministry, partly because hospital parking lots have become more complicated and partly because hospital security no longer favors members of the clergy. It can still be done, however.
  10. Watch and study every minute, especially the last 15, of The Green Ray (1986) by Eric Rohmer. That movie is a testament to the reality that anyone can be saved, and there’s how it happens.

Don’t Miss: PZ’s Eight Easy Ways to Shrink Your Church!

PZ’s Podcast: Shag (The Movie), Cimarron, The Sacraments Rightly Understood, Mirage Fighter, and What Actually Happens

PZ’s Podcast: Shag (The Movie), Cimarron, The Sacraments Rightly Understood, Mirage Fighter, and What Actually Happens

Episode 195: Shag (The Movie)

That’s a great little movie, from 1989. But I’m afraid it’s going to get banned one of these days, by the Ministry of Truth. Right from the “get go”, there’s an image in it that’s distressing today.

Which gives me a chance to talk Christianly about how to deal with
distressing or upsetting material? Do you rid yourself of it by burning it? By hauling it down and cutting it up, and “take out the paper and the trash” (The Coasters, 1958)? Ecrasez l’infame!?

I don’t think that works. (Wish it did.) The averse material, if it touches something…

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PZ’s Podcast: Cross Dressing and Left Hand Path

PZ’s Podcast: Cross Dressing and Left Hand Path

EPISODE 193: Cross Dressing

“I’m absolutely captivated by a movie called The Gallant Hours (1959), starring James Cagney and directed by Robert Montgomery.

For one thing, it presents an ideal picture of how a person should be thanked for faithful service. And what a piece of work the “Church” is,
that it’s so rarely able to give thanks for the work of its servants. (Oh, unless they’re newly dead. Thank God he’s dead!) It’s almost as if the Church specializes in forgetfulness concerning the brightest and best. I’ve seen that happen in about 500 cases, my own, of course, being an exception.

More importantly,…

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PZ’s Podcast: PZ’s Fabulous New Dating Tips for Gals


This is a word to your future self. I’m not sure you can hear it now. But in five or ten years… OMG. You’ll hear it then, inside your head pounding like a perpetual hammer, and… you’ll remember.

It’s a comment on internet dating, and a massive warning. You may want to say back, Don’t take away the only hope I have for a non-alone life. Don’t pour cold water on the one thing I’ve got.

But it’s not cold water. It’s actually balm in Gilead. But to your future self! In five or ten years, and maybe in five or six months, “You’ll come running back” (Time Is On My Side, The Rolling Stones). You’ll hear this again and say, Dang!

Incidentally, at the end of the cast I offer a future. There is still a way. Love is out there, but… yet… nevertheless… however… better to be alone than be crucified on the altar of a man’s body and mind collapsing aeons before yours does.

This is your Ghost of Christmas Future speaking.

PZ’s Podcast: Scuppernong and Why Weepest Thou?

PZ’s Podcast: Scuppernong and Why Weepest Thou?

Episode 188: Scuppernong

Tupper Saussy (1936-2007) was a composer and musician that helmed a group in the late 1960s who were called The Neon Philharmonic. Even if you have never heard of The Neon Philharmonic, you’ll recognize their famous hit entitled “Morning Girl”.

Tupper Saussy — it’s a Huguenot name — was also a wanted fugitive for ten years, a devout and thoughtful Christian, a painter, a playwright, and a famous libertarian.

What interests me, though, in addition to his music as The Neon Philharmonic, is his personal fate. Saussy came into the sights — by his “own deliberate fault” (BCP) — of…

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PZ’s Podcast: Dead End (My Friend) and Norwegian Wood

PZ’s Podcast: Dead End (My Friend) and Norwegian Wood

Episode 186: Dead End (My Friend)

Is there anything worse than romantic rejection when you’re at an impressionable age? Well, is there?

When a ‘No’ in romance is not talked about, or brought to the light, but it just sits there, you never get healed. Never, ever, ever.

Time does not heal all wounds. (The Four Tops expressed this perfectly in their 1972 single, “I’ll Never Change”.) Point is, if a romantic rejection is not somehow abreacted and brought into the light — and among Christian young people, it rarely is brought into the light — there are hundreds of thousands of romantic martyrdoms out there…

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PZ’s Guide to Turner Classic Movies’ “In The Ministry” Night

PZ’s Guide to Turner Classic Movies’ “In The Ministry” Night

Today, Maundy Thursday 2015, is “In the Ministry” night on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). It’s an incredible opportunity for us all. What TCM has scheduled is a feast of Hollywood fare that show Protestant ministers in a positive light. These are some of my favorite films ever, and they tend these days to get the short end.

Here are a few thoughts concerning Turner’s offerings tonight, by way of description, and I hope you’ll be able to watch them, or Tivo them. I realize it’s “Tenebrae” night, and Foot-Washing Night; but the service is usually over by 9, which will get…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty One Verses Four and Five

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty One Verses Four and Five

A Holy Week-appropriate reflection from Paul Zahl, via The Mockingbird Devotional.

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.’” (RSV)

Palm Sunday is a day in the Christian Calendar, and a day in history, that could define the word “irony.”

It depicts the advance on Jerusalem of the city’s “King,” but in the form of a man seated on a donkey. It begins a week of ‘triumphal entry’ that only ends in…

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PZ’s Podcast: One Toke Over the Line (Sweet Mary)

PZ’s Podcast: One Toke Over the Line (Sweet Mary)

EPISODE 185: One Toke Over the Line (Sweet Mary)

Call it another “Envoi”. A Last Word, The Summing Up (Maugham). Which is what it is.

I’ve tried to bring it on home, wrap it up: the message of PZ’s Podcast. Remember I tried to distill things once in an episode entitled “My Sharona”? That was in July 2011 and it was the 54th cast. Well, this is “My Sharona” revisited and it’s the 185th.

I had a vision on the 29th of January (2015). It was not a fun or reassuring vision. Far from it! But it seemed important. I can’t shake it.


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Devastating and Hopeful: Collect for the Second Sunday of Lent

Devastating and Hopeful: Collect for the Second Sunday of Lent

Looking through our archives the other day, I was surprised to discover that we’ve never posted an excerpt from The Collects of Thomas Cranmer by Paul Zahl and Fred Barbee. It’s a wonderful little book, really more of a devotional, and not just for those who are interested in Cranmer’s prayers or the Anglican tradition. Take for instance the meditation on the collect for the Second Sunday in Lent (this past Sunday):

The Collect: Almighty God, which doest see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; keep thou us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls;…

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