Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


Church 2.0

Time for Church 2.0

Interactive Church is my passion.

This week we finally go all the way to Church 2.0 with my current congregation! We have been practicing the component parts and building a culture of conversational listening for 2 years. This Sunday we put it all together for the first time.

You can find videos for Interactive Church (2.0) here [link]

Each of our Sunday gatherings are conceived of in 3 Acts and each act is centered around something (usually involving a table).

Last week was:

  1. Coffee Table Conversations
  2. Sermon/Homily
  3. Communion Table

This week will be:

  1. Presentation of Seven Passions
  2. Coffee Table Conversations
  3. Comparing Notes ‘at the table’.

Here is a short (7 min) video about ‘putting it all together’ and why it is time for Church 2.0

Please let me know if you have any questions or clarifications

Interactive Church

I had the opportunity earlier this week to be with leaders who are doing innovative things in their communities and ministry settings.

I got to talk about ‘why we do church this way’. I love to think through how to do and be church in the 21st century. I like to call it ‘a liturgy of listening and learning’.

Interactive church brings together the best of constructive approaches, emergent thought, church 2.0, and church as google. It is not top-down and heavy-handed in a prescriptive way, it is open-minded and open-ended.

Here is the link the podcast audio:

Below are my notes if you want to follow along – and at the bottom is the powerpoint

feel free to comment here or email me at


Interactive Church

An Embodied Practice Of Dialogue As

Prophetic Ministry To Argument Culture


Location of Resistance and Transformation (Church In The Round)


Context Is Crucial

Interactive Society

Contribution, Collaboration, Conversation

98% of Church Groups and Activities

Except …


The Moment is (a)Live

Web 1.0

Web 2.0

Interactive Church is an invitation and an opportunity

People bring their experience, insight, and perspective

Integrated Not Exceptional

Compliment Not Supplement



Methodists are built for it (DNA)

Small Groups

Wesleyan Quad

Communal Discernment



What we do doesn’t make disciples

It makes spectators of Spectacle




Church As Search Engine

Not Warehouse but Journey

Not Encyclopedia but Web

Different Metrics

3 months – 3 years – 3 decades


Interactive Church [powerpoint]

LiveStream Sermon

We did a little experiment last week with Facebook Live. The feedback was good so we will be improving the audio and visual quality.

If you want to check out a short sermon (like if you don’t make it church tomorrow), I hope that you will be encouraged.  Below is the link [even though it won’t embed for some reason]

If that doesn’t work, here is a simple link

If you want to listen to a whole gathering from Vermont Hills UMC, we recorded the whole service last week and have 35 min of highlights:

Be well and happy listening/watching

4 Questions at Church

Interactive Church is the future!

Facilitating conversational community is not difficult and bears great fruit.

Here is a 10 minute video about the 4 kinds of questions that work well.

4 Kinds of Questions:
1) Ice-Breaker
2) Feedback
3) What Did You Hear?
4) Bull In The Middle

When Technology Meets Theology The Church Changes

The church is always changing.

It adjusts and adapts to cultural shifts and needs.

Change is often initiated when new technology meets evolving theology.

I talked about it in Why Do Church This Way? [link] or listen to the podcast audio

There are two interesting notes about these changes:

1) When new developments arise, the previous form does not go away, it continues on but without its former prominence or influence.

Phyllis Tickle points out in The Great Emergence that 500 years ago when the Protestant Reformation happened, the Catholic Church did not cease to exist. It had a counter-reformation and made some changes.

500 years earlier the same happened with Great Schism between the Roman West and the Eastern Orthodox. Both of which survived … just in modified forms.

500 years early in the period of Councils and Creeds saw similar issues of division and adaption.

500 years earlier (in the fallout of the the Axial Age) figures like Jesus had profound effects, and some divisions, with the existing religious order of their day.

We are 500 years after the Protestant Reformation we look to be going through something similar.

2) There is always an authority issue involved in change. 

Like a song, most people focus on the lyrics and the melody – for our analogy that is the theology and the technology. The driving force is the baseline – this is the role of authority.

Authority was central in every change listed above:

  • Axial Age
  • Jesus and early churches
  • Councils and Creeds
  • Great Schism
  • Protestant Reformation
  • Denominational decline (now)

I like to talk about collaboration, contribution, and conversation as locations of authority. I have a very de-cenereted  and democratized ideal of the church in the 21st century.

I have to keep reminding people that this is not a “free-for-all” anything-goes anarchy. It is simply the church hosting a space and but not providing all of the content.

The current change is about control. We are no longer in control. That doesn’t mean that things are out-of-control!!   It means that control was always an illusion at some level and required coercion and violence to maintain the illusion.

Opening up the microphone means that we are not in control of everything that is said. The desire for control keeps us from welcoming our congregation’s insights, experience, and perspectives as locations for God’s revelation and our theological reflection.

Admittedly, we are in the earliest days of the transition .. but here is the harsh reality:

People are voting with their feet and the ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ are the fastest growing religious affiliation in N. America. People are going to grow increasingly unsatisfied with being spectators at religious spectacles where their contribution doesn’t count and their experience and perspective are not valued.

Listen to the podcast and let me know what you think.

Why Do Church This Way?

Beginning this Sunday, I want to put a series of ideas in front on my congregation and brainstorm them together during Sunday School.  You can listen to the podcast audio here.

I am working on a clear way to present ‘Church 2.0’ or ‘ChurchNext’.

We will start with some history about different ways that the church has looked in different eras.

  • During the middle-ages it was primarily through sacrament.
  • 500 years ago the Protestant Reformation made it more about preaching.
  • Lately, music has become the main focus of the church and the primary way that people connect with God.

Here are the two really interesting things about that:

First, in each new era, the previous way still hangs around – it is just not as prominent.

So in the reformation, sacraments were still present but just not primary. Preaching was the main attraction.

Now in the ‘music’ era, we still have preaching and sacraments (for the most part) but in many circles they are secondary or driven by the music.

Second, I truly believe that we are about to enter a very different expression. This future of the church is going to be in:

  • participation
  • contribution
  • collaboration
  • conversation

Eventually people are going to get tired of being spectators at a weekly spectacle.  In so many other areas of life, people’s participation really matters. They get to contribute their unique insight, perspective, and experience. Then they come to church, sing the songs on the screen then sit and listen to a TEDtalk style sermon (I am being cheeky here).

If that works for people, I celebrate that and congratulate them. I mean them no harm … but for so many other people it is just not satisfying.

People are walking away from the church in record numbers – nones and dones are the fasting growing segment of religious affiliation on the most recent census data.

But there is a different way to do church that opens up the conversation to inquiry and doubt … it facilitates a thoughtful space to ask difficult questions.  That is my hope for doing church this way and for becoming a conversational community.

So why do church this way?

  • Why de-center the sermon?
  • Why utilize music to punctuate the gathering?
  • Why have sacraments once a month?

Church Survey Responses

Earlier this month I responded to a survey being done by a grad student about new worship communities and churches in revitalization.

Below are some of my responses to the 3 questions – and here is a 10 min video with some pictures spliced for illustration.

1.What innovative practices set your faith community apart?

Vermont Hills UMC is attempting a hybrid expression that combines two very different ecclesial and liturgical formats. We have been a classic mainline worship format for our 50 years of existence. We never went through the ‘blended worship’ wars in the 1980’s and 90’s. We never had a worship band or song leader. It is just piano, occasionally organ, and a choir. We use singable hymns so that the singing is robust and fills the space with sound.

We have now added a coffee shop/living room feel that splices in conversation and a TedTalk style homily early in the gathering. Also, instead of the sermon, a different person (or persons) comes to a high-top table and has a conversation. Sometimes it is about the homily, or the passage of scripture – other times it is about an outside topic (such a non-profit that we support). This serves to ‘decenter’ the sermon so that our gatherings are centered around conversation.

Another innovation is that each time we do communion on the first Sunday of the month, we try something different. The two most recent communion weeks, for instance, were vastly different than each other.  In January, we set up 6 round tables in the corners of the sanctuary (we have an odd shaped space) and had 8-10 people at each table. They served each other communion with a prepared litany, and commune together for the rest of the service. In February, we set up different stations – a baptismal font, a table full of prayer candles, etc. – and had them wander around the space doing different activities before they went to the communion station. A 6-minute video played on the screen for those who did not want to wander.

2. How does your faith community meet people where they are, literally and figuratively?

I have developed an ecclesiology called Church 2.0 where we provide the space but not all of the content. The conversations during our gatherings are unscripted so that people can bring their concerns and insights.

Another aspect of our service to the community is the many non-profits we participate in and support financially. In January and February, we have had a different ministry or group ‘come to the table’ and tell us about what they do and how we can get involved. This includes our backpack ministry that packs food for kids at the elementary school next door who would not have food on the weekend, and Neighborhood house that helps families get back on their feet. We have 7 or 8 of these ministries that we support and participate in.

3. How does your faith community develop and equip young leaders? eg internships, pastoral residencies for young clergy, intentional communities?

I have only  been here 7 months but we already have a young minister going through the ordination process and several seminarians who help teach and lead. The format of ‘the table’ allows multiple voices to heard. Depending on the topic, they can help teach Sunday school, mid-week Bible study, ‘preach’ the homily, and be the liturgist as well. This gives them lots of opportunities to participate and practice. We will be developing a ministry team in 2018 for formalize this process.

Dialogue across the table is the key though. It is a platform that allows their voice to be elevated and broadcast. It is shared influence instead of one persons talking for 20-30 minutes week after week.

Is Church a Supplement or Complement?

Week 3 of being back in the pulpit and this past Sunday we introduced an element of conversation to our gatherings. There are several things I love about this addition:

  1. While I appreciate so many things about evangelical and liturgical worship, I worry that it has become a one-directional stage performance – a spectacle that encourages people to be spectators.
  2. When everything is pre-planned (and even scripted) it may lose its element of sincerity and deep engagement.

Now, admittedly, the above two concerns may not always be the case – but I am under the conviction that the situation is far worse and that I have actually understated the seriousness of the issue!

In a society of spectacle, the form of the church service has not changed but its power has. In an agrarian society of a previous century the form of liturgical worship would have provided a certain function. The 20th century brought most places in N. America through an transition of industrial and then into a technological society. In post-agrarian (and even post-industrial) communities, the liturgy (or the order of service)- even though it has not changed –  has changed the role that it functions in people’s life.

Here is how I think about this change:

When life in an agrarian era is relatively consistent and even predictable, the church service is an exciting highlight with big music, ideas, and relational connection.

Then something happened in the 20th century and the church started playing a different role in people’s lives. 

Life got busy and society got unpredictable. Some might even say chaotic. Life in the 21st century can be exhausting, confusing, overwhelming and even discouraging. The result is that people wanted their mainline churches to be stable, predictable, and comforting. In a word – safe.

What this has led to is an interesting dilemma for the 21st century:

“Is the church a supplement or a complement to people’s week and life?”

I have posed the question to lots of people who both go to church and those who no longer do so. The overwhelming answer seems to be that church is a supplement to people’s lives.

Life is hectic and unpredictable – so church is a nice break from that.

What I am hoping for is an engagement when we gather as the church that is not a vacation from the chaos of life but one that prepares us for it. I don’t want church to be a supplement to life, I want church to complement your life.

When it comes down to it, I am hoping that what we do when gather as the church is to practice faith together so that we are ready for the week ahead and the life of faith. We want to create space to engage new ideas and wrestle with challenging issues.

In a digital age, people want a place to ask hard questions, wrestle with new concepts, try out new things, and most of all to contribute something of value.

Tomorrow Morning I Return To Pastoral Ministry


The year of being a visiting theology professor is 3 weeks from coming to a close.

It has been wonderful and I have learned so much. My students have impressed me at every turn … except for a growing concern about the local churches that they come from .

This have given me a desire to get back into local church ministry. The Lord has heard my prayer and She had attended to my cry. 

SO here we go …

Tomorrow morning I return to the ‘pulpit’ for the first time in a year.

AND I return to being a Sr. Pastor for the first time in 10 years.

I am so excited. 

1) I want to thank you for your prayers, notes, and support as I prepare to transition back into pastoral ministry. It has meant a lot (and it apparently worked)

3) I begin tomorrow with a shortened service  (due to the holiday weekend) and then we go big next Sunday July 9th with a full communion service.

I will be transitioning the church toward a 2.0 model (video link) and need conversation partners.  Check out our new website for details

Reimagining-VHUMCSo if I could ask a favor:

If you know any progressive or post-evangelical friends who are looking for a church in Portland, please send them along! This is going to be a fun adventure creating a different kind of church that integrates:

  • Liturgical Worship
  • Embodied Practices
  • Critical Conversations

Let the adventure begin.

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