The Principle of Spiritual Readiness

Maximizing-Easter_video-graphic_Lon-Dean.jpg

It’s HERE!  Tomorrow I’m co-teaching a seminar with Nelson Searcy called Maximizing Easter.  Why I’m so excited about this opportunity is this.  The teaching in this seminar can help churches reach and keep more unchurched people for Jesus!

Want to know the coolest part about it?  The proven strategies will work in any church culture (I’ve seen it myself.) and help you as a pastor/leader disciple your current people.  If I sound like a commercial I don’t mean to.  I have watch us break our records for attendance and salvations on Easter over and over because of the teaching we’ll give tomorrow.

I’m only hosting this event to help other churches.  I want to see all the churches that are preaching the Bible, grow.  I want to see your church reach more people. We are losing money on this seminar ($25/church) just to get this information out there.

One of the point that will be taught is the Principle of Spiritual Readiness. Jesus comes to fisherman, guys that has been mending their nets and cleaning their nets…you know… getting ready to catch fish.  Not getting ready to fish more that day because they had fished all night and caught nothing. (Luke 5)

Luke 5:3-4 tells us AFTER he taught them. He told the fisherman, let down your nets for a catch.

Same boat (same church)
Same leaders (Peter, James John)

What was different?  Jesus taught and then told them where and how to cast their net.

Maybe you’ve grown tired, fishing with no results.  Maybe you say we’ve tried some church growth strategies that didn’t work.  Try again.  Listen to teaching again.

Our job is to get ready.  To clean and prepare the net (the local church).  The Principle of Spiritual Readiness says if we prepare, He will bless.  It we are ready when comes, He will bless. I don’t understand it all but if we aren’t ready when He comes to us, He’ll pass by like the 5 foolish virgins. (Matthew 25)

The fisherman had prepared the net.  They didn’t know Jesus would ask them to fish so soon but because their net was ready, He could bless them in abundance.

Is your net ready for His blessing?  If not, teaching can help. Come this event or

Contact me.

 

 

 

behindt-he-cross

Fastest Growing Churches Have Modern Worship & Teach Literal Bible Interpretation

That’s the headline from the Christian Post that popped up in my Facebook feed recently.  This article was quoting a study of North American, denominational, Protestant churches.  The study compared growing and declining churches and concluded that “Theology Matters.”

One pastor interviewed about the study* stated that

“I think the wisdom of that study is the two parts. There does need to be a modern sense of an expression of the faith while at the same time a conservative, Orthodox view of Christianity,”.

What is an Orthodox view of Christianity?

  • Over 93% of those leading growing churches believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus. Compared to only 56% of those in the study leading declining churches.
  • 100% of those leading growing churches believe God does miracles in response to prayer where only 44% of those in the study leading declining churches.

Here’s a crazy side note: 80% of the congregants surveyed from declining churches believe God answers prayers with miracles so maybe they just need better leaders. It seems to me that as a person who believes in the literal resurrection and that God still does miracles when we pray, if my pastor didn’t, I would leave that church.  Maybe that’s why they are declining…hmmm.

This study teaches us three things if we want our church to grow.

1.    Modern Matters. People prefer modern style worship services.

2.    Theology Matters. People want churches to believe in literal interpretation of the Bible.

3.    Evangelism Matters. Growing churches evangelize.

Every church leader surveyed from growing churches believed that it was ‘very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians.’ Only half of those in declining churches felt the same way.  If you don’t believe the Great Commission to go and make disciples is ‘very important’ then you’ll probably be leading a declining church.

For more on personal evangelism see Your Story Matters.

If you lead a church where your theology is sound but you still find yourself stagnant of declining. I can help.  A great first step would be to Come to the Maximizing Easter seminar.

The Maximizing Easter seminar will give you the tools to unlock your church’s growth potential. Potential that is there each Easter, but is untapped by stagnant or declining churches.

I am hosting this seminar, near Albany, NY with church growth expert Nelson Searcy, who has helped hundreds of churches grow.

What have you got to lose by checking it out? Go to: https://churchleaderinsights.com/maxeaster/albany/  to learn about unlocking your church’s growth potential this Easter.

 

PS: You’re not a church leader?  Send this blog to your pastor!  I want to help your church and your pastor.

 

 

____________________________________
*Read the whole study at http://www.christianpost.com/news/fastest-growing-churches-have-modern-worship-teach-literal-interpretation-of-the-bible-study-171607

your-story-matters

Your Story Matters

It’s important to tell your story. It matters.  There are people waiting out there that will be encouraged, helped, inspired, motivated and maybe even saved by your story. Why? Because your story is unique.

Your Story Matters Because It’s Unique.

No one else has the exact same story to tell.  It’s not that your story is better or worse, it’s simply unique.  We have to avoid the trap of comparing our story to other people’s story.  Helping others with your story is not about telling a better story or a more shocking story than someone else.  It is simply telling your story in your unique way.  Someone who wouldn’t be touched by my story or my style is waiting to hear from you.  Have trouble believing that?  Well it’s true.

I remember sharing my story of how I came to be a follower of Jesus.  Here’s a summary: I had a great job, a company car, an apartment the company paid for all in my mid 20’s but something was missing.  I thought it was a long-term relationship, that didn’t help. I visited a church a friend invited me to and found something different from the church religion of my youth.  God was real and present today.  I kept saying “He’s real.” over and over again.  I actually cried at the altar and I hadn’t cried since I was young. I said to God, “I always want to be this way. Open before you.” I have never looked back since.  (I even cry at extreme home make over now, but that’s another story.

When I shared this story of how my life changed, several people came up to me and stated that they though only people with serious problems had ‘testimonies’.  They told me that they never felt like they had a story to tell.  Now they did.  It’s not always the bottom that brings you to turn to God sometimes it’s the emptiness of success or every day life.

This leads me to the next reason you should tell your story:

Other People Will Identify With Your Story.storytelling_quote4

I have a close friend who once told me they could never share their story in public because it was too painful.  My friend also felt no one else could identify with what they’d been through and she didn’t want pity.  You see, she’d been rape repeatedly as a child by her own father.

Who could understand this horror story?  Certainly no one could benefit.  You can probably guess the rest.  She finally did have the courage to share her story and the response was amazing.  Many woman (and a few men) came forward to say they were also molested by a family member or other person.  One woman even contacted her to say, “I never thought I could tell someone my story because they wouldn’t believe it.”  She also had been raped by her father.

In the years to follow, my wife and I had the privilege of providing spiritual counsel (alongside professional counselors) for 4 woman who also have lived through this same horrifying experience with their fathers.  What if my friend never told her story?  These other woman wouldn’t have received the help they needed.

You Can Learn to Easily Tell Your Story.

The easiest way to organize your story is to answer these four questions:

  1. What was you life like before?
    (I had a great job, new car, apartment but wasn’t fulfilled.)
  2. What happened to cause you to change?
    (I felt empty, like there was no purpose.)
  3. What happened at the moment of life-change?
    (My friend invited me to church and Jesus became real to me.)
  4. How is your life different now?
    (I now feel fulfilled and have given my life to help others.)

Conclusion:

There’s a lot of ways to improve the world; volunteer, give to charity, acts of kindness, stand up for justice…but I think the most powerful way is to simply share your story.  It will travel far beyond that moment through the life of the person changed.

Be a Difference Maker today.  Tell your story.

 

 

How Introverts Can Easily Start Conversation

Left out of Group discussion

How can an introvert be involved in group conversation?

One of the most difficult things for an introvert is to begin a conversation with a group of people they don’t know. In this article I will give you tips on how to do just that comfortably…without sweating or hyperventilating.

I’m an extrovert, I freely admit that.  My four daughters joke that I “could make friends in an elevator.”  I was going to object but in fact I have made friends in an elevator on more than one occasion.  What I mean is, learning about their family, their name, occupation and sometimes even exchanging contact info, in a 3 floor ride!  I enjoy it.  If you don’t, let me help.

My goal is NOT to make you like me. My wife is an introvert.  It’s part of her charm.  She won’t raise her hand for a free gift or make eye contact with strangers. After 24 years of marriage still whispers “Don’t embarrass me or draw attention to me.” as we enter parties or group settings.  I understand how introverts think and how anxious group situations can be and have some practical conversation guides you can easily use.

Let’s talk about how you can OWN a group conversation.

1. Don’t Use a Greeting Alone, 

Don’t say: Hi, Hello or some other greeting.

Don’t use a greeting alone because the person doesn’t really need to respond, and if they do choose to respond it will most likely be a one word answer.

“Hi”     —     “Hello”

“Good morning”     —     “Good morning”

Yawn…I can hear the boredom already.  Feel your palms starting to sweat as you slowly try to find a reason to walk away?

2. Don’t Ask Simple Questions

“How are you?”     —     “Good”

“Where are you from?”     —     “Dayton, Ohio”

“What do you do?”     —     “I’m a computer analyst”

Gosh!  This guy just doesn’t want to talk!  I’ve asked several questions and nothing. Simple questions, solicit simple answers. Simple answers leads to awkward conversations.

Remember: Complex Questions =
More Comfortable Conversations

3. The SECRET is… Ask For Stories, Not Facts

Instead of asking…

“Where are you from?”         ask…
“What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”

Instead of asking…

“What do you do for work?”         ask…
“How did you get into your line of work?”

They will tell you, “I’m an air traffic controller. I got into that because I was trained to do that in the Navy.”

Response: “Wow, tell me what you liked best about the Navy.”

Instead of asking…

“How was your weekend?”         ask…
“If you could go anywhere, where would you go and why?”

Stories develop better connections.

BONUS: Want to be a Black Belt in Conversation?

4. Give Unexpected Responses

If someone says, “How was your flight?” instead of responding, “Fine.” try this:

I would pay extra to fly on an airline where the seating was based on IQ!

or for the very brave…

“I read about a Continental flight in 2007 where the airplane bathroom reversed its pressure! There was a 3″ deep stream of waste water running down the aisle in coach!  So I guess compared to that, mine was pretty good.”

If someone says, “Isn’t it nice weather today?” instead of responding, “It sure is.” try this:

“This is the same weather it was during the moon landing, if that actually happened.”

Now you’ve provoked someone into taking a stance on the subject or running away screaming, but they’re not bored!

Try some of these techniques and come back to comment on how they worked please.

I look forward to hearing your stories.

7 Unspoken Questions People Ask About Their Church

1. Will I be accepted?

This is biggest and most immediate question of every new person. Answering that question involves all that you do. Having different races, ages and styles of people greeting, in our videos, on the platform etc. sends a message that we welcome diversity.

The best way to answer this question is by establishing small groups where people of similar interests, struggles or backgrounds can find and relate to each other. Everyone needs a niche and small groups play a crucial role in meeting this need. You must show people that you have a place for them.

2. Will I find friends at this church?

People are looking for opportunities to connect in new relationships. People aren’t just looking for a friendly church, they are looking for friends.  Encourage your people to greet someone they don’t know each week but also to invite new people over to their house.  Again, small groups are a great way to be intentional about this.  We divide our small groups into semester, forcing people to break for a few weeks to keep groups from devolving into cliques.  If people don’t make 3 meaningful relationship connections in a church within the first year, they usually stop attending.

3. Will I make a difference at this church?

People want to their lives to count. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. When you can show people that they can make a difference with their gifts and talents, they will want to be involved.  Not everyone wants to be a singer, usher or small group leader so we try to offer a diversity of positions so there is a place for everyone to serve. We want our church to be a creative place where people may express their talents and abilities in various ways.  Of course, feedback and appreciation are key.  Simply telling volunteers they are appreciated or showing how their serving builds the church goes a long way in making people feel valued.

4. Will I Feel Safe?

In our society today people often feel unsafe.  Anxiety is at an all time high.  We must create a culture where people are never belittled, gossiped about or abused.  If a new person hears someone being spoken to harshly or gossiping about someone, they tend to believe they will be treated the same way.  Make a person feel unsafe and they will run for the door.  In addition, if they don’t feel their children are in a safe environment with loving teachers, they will leave quickly.

5. Will there be a lot expected of me?

This is a tricky one. It’s true that in American society today people are afraid of being overwhelmed.  Sometimes people don’t join a church because they don’t want to commit to being there every week. However, the other side is also true.  People want to be a part of something important and they understand it requires commitment.  The answer is simple, cast vision and have reasonable requirements.  The key is letting people know that their commitment matters and avoid having outrageous requirements.  Gone are the days of requiring members to attend service mid-week, Sunday and Sunday night.  Now the multiple services gives people options as to which one they attend.

Expect people to keep their commitments as volunteers and hold them to it but keep the time commitment low.  Don’t expect perfection but encourage spiritual growth.

6. Will I benefit from joining this church?

People are inherently self-centered.  Ultimately we want to know what’s in it for them.  Why should they choose your church over others or sleeping in on Sunday? First, clearly explain the biblical, practical and personal reasons for local church membership in literature, from the pulpit, in small groups, in video announcements, every opportunity you can.  Next share testimonies of changed lives, stories of how the church was used by God in an individual’s life.  The truth is, we know people can improve their relationships, health, career, finances and more from being mentored in a church. Don’t forget to illustrate that.  Of course, don’t forget the greatest benefit, a closer relationship with God.

7. Will I connect to God more at your church?

The greatest benefit of being part of a local church should be strengthening our connection to God.  Not everyone feels more connected by listening to a teaching on Sunday.  We must have a variety of ways to connect through avenues like music, art, prayer, support groups, baptism, Holy Spirit activity, how to study scripture and yes, practical pulpit teaching. Most importantly, teaching on how to connect to God.  Many churches talk about discipleship which means growing in following Christ but never explain how to do that.

Are you helping people answer these 7 questions about your church?

Like Easter Every Day

We had an awesome Easter at House of Praise.  In fact, it was the best Easter we ever had.  More people attended that service than we’ve ever had for an Easter service and 11 adults accepted salvation.  The drama CSI: Jerusalem brought the resurrection into a modern setting with understandable evidence that Christ, in fact, did die and rise again.  Amazing, awesome…a day that reminded me why I wanted to go into ministry in the first place…but what about now?

After the wonder of the wedding, there’s a ‘honeymoon phase’.  We are still enjoying the big day but soon reality sets in.  Like the newlyweds returning to work that first Monday, we all will soon be hit with the reality of arguments, bills and the daily challenges of life in general.  In addition to that we will all have friends that we invited to the Easter service and ‘love the church’ but haven’t come back.  How can we keep the momentum of Easter going every day? Do what we did to prepare for Easter, every week!

First Pray. Pray for you job, your family and for those who came to church with you.  Pray God’s will and presence into your life and ask God to draw our friends back to church.  We were all praying for God to move during the Easter services and to draw loved ones to Himself before Easter.  Don’t stop now!

And Jesus said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ – Luke 24:46-47

Next Follow Up. The power of the resurrection is the hope of forgiveness.  Call your friends and remind them that God has a plan for their lives.  Invite them to come back to church (or those that didn’t make it to Easter to come for the first time).  We were excited about Easter so we left our comfort zone and reached out, do it again this week.  Especially follow up on anyone who met with Christ in a real way.  Gently remind them that repentance involves change, so create a new habit of going to church.

If God spoke to you during the Easter service, follow up on what He told you to do.  Stop worrying about the small stuff and focus on the eternity after your resurrection.

During the forty days after His crucifixion, He appeared to the apostles from time to time, and He proved to them in many ways that He was actually alive. And He talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Once when He was eating with them, He commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 1:3-5

Last, expect God to do what He promised. Expect God’s Spirit to be present in your life.  We can experience the power of the resurrection every day through the Holy Spirit.  Pray for others for miracles and bring God your own needs.  Jesus promised to pour out His Spirit on the original disciples as they waited in Jerusalem. I think the same applies to us today.  As we wait expectantly after celebrating His resurrection, we can experience His power like Easter every day.

Do you know you’re at war?

ImageThere is a battle raging around you right now…a battle for souls. There are two opposing forces fighting over your soul and the souls of all the people you love.  There is no neutral ground. We can’t decide not to be in the war because WE are what the war is over!

Then the dragon became angry at the woman, and he declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and confess that they belong to Jesus.
– Revelation 12:17

The devil has made it his purpose to destroy you.  Really Lon?  We’re going to talk about the devil?  Well, think of it this way.  There is a force that works daily against you wanting to follow God.  Some of my Christian friends will say “It’s the flesh.”  According to Galatians 5:16-17 that’s true.  We have a fallen nature that is at war with our spirits.  Our old sinful nature wants to do evil and our new nature from God want to do right.

Other less “churchy” friends might say, “Well, it’s really the influence of culture, society and peer pressure.”  It is true, the message of the Christianity has always been counter-culture and the moral relevantism of our culture today is completely against what scripture teaches.

So why choose to talk about the devil?  It seems so medieval.  The reason is because the devil doesn’t want people to think he’s real or at least active in the earth today.  The truth is satan is real, he’s active in the earth today, he hates you and has declared war on you.

His weapons are espionage, stealth warfare.  He engages in a propaganda warfare.  Satan tries to get us to believe he’s mythical, a fairy tale. Then we let our guards down and he begins to question all of scripture, because if satan isn’t real, then the Bible is just a book.

How do we win this war?  We win by

  1. Not believing the lies of the enemy – this is accomplished by learning the truth  (Eph 5:25-26) and not dwelling on thoughts we know aren’t true (2 Cor 10:5)
  2. Not seeing people as our enemies – Our battle is with the devil not the people he’s deceived (Eph 6:12).  We must forgive all sins against ourselves to keep the devil from having control of out lives.  (Matt 6:15)
  3. Take the fight to the devil – No war was ever one being defensive only.  At some point we must do damage to the enemies forces.  There is no greater damage then saving a soul from hell.  By bringing the truth to those deceived we rescue them from satan’s power but we also diminish the amount of people he controls.

 

A Letter of Gratitiude

A few weeks ago (during our “Go Fish!” I asked the entire church to write a letter to thank the person who “hooked” you for Jesus.  I know, corny, but the lesson is great. Even if you never send the letter or the person is deceased, the exercise of writing it will help you remember how much you were impacted by that person sharing their faith.  That fact will in turn help you to share your faith with others, brilliant.  Thank you Andy Stanley for the idea.

If have never done this…DO IT TODAY.  Here’s my letter to a young lady who simply invited me to church.

Dear Annie,

I am writing to thank you. It was 24 years ago this month that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

I remember it started with me asking what I could get you for your birthday and you said, “I just want you to go to church with me.”  It took you continually asking me until October when I finally went!  I said, “If I go with you ONE time, will never ask me again?” and you agreed.  You told me years later how you had people pray because you were nervous this would be the only time I would go.

We went to Agape Christian Fellowship for a Sunday service. (You told me later you didn’t want to bring me to your dad’s church for my first time because he might embarrass you.)  You and Joanne picked me up so I couldn’t back out.

Before I left my parent’s house, my father told me how to know if it was a cult. He said if the people had beady eyes and there were guards at the doors, it was a cult.  I laughed but when I got there, the preacher, Jason Peebles from Tulsa, had beady eyes!  I looked around and there were guards at the door.  (They called them ushers but I know what they were!) I started to panic, my dad wasn’t joking. This is a cult.  There are no statues of saints, not even a cross!  It’s a warehouse with some chairs and a stage!

People were raising their hands and swaying to the music, I heard some of them give this weird chant in another language!  I thought, “What was that, Latin or Wiccan?  I started to plan which “usher” I could knock over to run out an exit when everyone sat to hear the preacher.  I couldn’t tell you one thing he said, but at the end I found myself answering an altar call and asking Jesus to forgive my sins and take control of my life.

Although I was raised in a traditional church, I felt the presence of God’s Spirit for the first time in my life that day. I just began to say, “This is real.  He’s real.”  I had believed God was real before but had never met Him.  I started to cry for no reason.  I never cried!  I was a tough guy.  I prayed, “Lord I wan to always be this way, tender before you.” I still cry today when I feel God’s Spirit moving.

My life today is wonderful.  I lead a growing church with a wonderful group of people who actually want the reality of God in their everyday lives.  I wouldn’t be in the ministry today if you hadn’t prayed for me and invited me to church. Hundreds of peoples lives would have never been impacted by Joanne & myself in ministry.

I been privaledged to travel the world bringing the gospel to Brazil, Argentina, Curacao, Mexico, Kenya, England, Wales and Canada.  I have watched God heal many people including blind and deaf as I prayed for them.  I have watched God set hundreds of people free as we cast our demons and many, many salvations.  None of which would have happened if you didn’t share Christ with me.

My proudest achievement is as a godly husband ad father.  We have a great home and our four daughters all serve God.  Each has seen friends turn their lives over to Christ.  You also introduced me to Joanne.  We wouldn’t be married nor these girls be here, if you didn’t share Christ with both of us.

Like the image painted by the words of the old Ray Boltz song “Thank You”, only when you get to heaven will you understand the impact you have had on thousands of lives because you invited Joanne and myself to meet God.  Thank you.

Write your letter today.  It will help you to remember how important sharing your faith is.  If Anna had never invited me to church, none of the great things God has done in my life would have happened.

Beyond Redemption

A few weeks ago I preached a message on how the church should treat gay people.  I called it Out of the Closet and Into the Church. (http://sc.fhview.com/sc_customplayer/seriesitems/1/118751) The goal of this message was for the church to examine our attitudes towards this particular people group.  After the message an elderly woman approached me.  She was wearing oxygen and walking with a walker.  I must admit I thought, “Here we go.”  I expected her to rebuke me for not condemning homosexuality during the sermon.  Much to my surprise she asked a simple question…

“What about murderers?” she inquired.

There was an unexpected brightness in her eyes, a curiosity and vigor for life one wouldn’t expect given her frail frame.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  Really it wasn’t that I didn’t hear her, I just needed a moment to collect my thoughts.  I was prepared for an onslaught of fire and brimstone senior saints, not an inquisitive truth seeker.

After all, I had just preached the most controversial sermon of my career.  I opened with “If you came here expecting me to condemn homosexuality today, you will be disappointed.” I chastised the church asking why we celebrated a straight couple who was sexually active, even living together, coming to church. We allowed them time for God to work on them without judgment but let a gay couple walk in holding hands…whoooo.  They weren’t welcome.  I did my best Jesus imitation calling us hypocrites.  The church just nodded.  I the weeks to follow, not one letter or disagreement.  I’m so proud of our local church and their Christ-like love.

Anyways, here I was after that sermon, expecting a fight, instead facing a sweet senior saint who still wanted to grow and learn in her last years on this earth.  Humbling.

“Excuse me?” I muttered.  “Murderers.” She repeated more forcefully. “They are much harder to love and accept than homosexuals. What about murderers? Can they be forgiven and go to heaven?”

I explained that the Apostle Paul helped to kill early Christians before his conversion and that god didn’t just forgive Paul but wrote 2/3 of the New Testament through his hands.  I excitedly told her that Michael Franzese was coming to answer that very question.  To tell her how a Mafia Boss, a murderer, can be forgiven…and that no one is beyond redemption.

Three weeks later, my eyes lighted upon a pair of bright, excited eyes in a back section of a packed sanctuary. She was back to hear the former Mob Boss’ story of redemption. She smiled at me as she pointed to a row full of her family.  Full of confidence in God’s love for all sinners, she had brought her family to hear that there is no one beyond redemption.

7 Principles for Sharing Christ this Summer

I don’t normally share other people’s articles but this said everything I would like to say in a better way…
The summer months provide excellent opportunities to cultivate relationships with unbelievers and tell them about our Savior. However, finding time to do so can be a challenge. After all, our summers are often filled with vacations, outdoor events, children’s activities, etc.

How do we take advantage of the summer months to impact the lost for Christ even in the midst of a busy schedule? Here are some principles to remember and put into practice:

  1. Be balanced – How balanced is your life between non-Christians and Christians? There is nothing Biblical about spending all your time with believers.  Jesus Christ spent time with sinners. He was even known as their friend (Matt. 11:19). We cannot have personal evangelism without personal contact.
  2. Be proactive— View relationships with the intent to see the unbelievers come to have the greatest relationship there is – an eternal relationship with Christ. Go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Consider the broad base of non-Christian contacts you already have including:
    • Immediate friends and family
    • Neighbors, co-workers, employees, landlords
    • Newspaper carrier, mailman, barber or hairstylist, grocery store checker, waiter or waitress
    • Car dealer, insurance agent, accountant, attorney, banker
    • Doctor, dentist, nurse, pharmacist
    • Plumber, electrician, mechanic
    • Teacher, professor, coach, classmate
  3. Be intentional—Take the initiative. Look at everything you are doing this summer. Then ask, “Could this be done with a non-Christian included?”
  4. Be sensitive—People that take time to listen are rare in our fast paced culture. Take the time to give someone your undivided attention. Letting them know you care may provide an opportunity to tell them about Christ.
  5. Be prayerful – We are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit in evangelism. Pray that the Lord will provide opportunities, give you the sensitivity to recognize them, and give you boldness to share the gospel.
  6. Be prepared—Move into the gospel presentation as God gives you the opportunity. If you don’t know what to say, EvanTell offers free on-line evangelism training at www.act111.org. Get trained so that when God gives you the opportunity, you’ll be ready.
  7. Be creative – For practical tips on how to develop relationships with non-Christians during the summer check out this blog series (Summer Evangelism IdeasMore Summer Evangelism IdeasAnd More Summer Evangelism Ideas).

Do you have any strategies to add to this list?  Send them to me.

God bless

Pastor Lon

Breaking Religious Taboos

Did you know that Jesus didn’t follow all the religious rules of His day? His methods weren’t welcomed in the established places of worship.  He hung out with the wrong crowd.  He overcame social and cultural barriers to reach people.  Jesus had to break many religions taboos to make a way to the Father for all of us.

In John 4:1-30, there is a story of the brief interaction between Jesus and a Samaritan Woman at the town well.

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  He was alone at the time because His disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. (v7-9)

Samaria was conquered Assyria 722 BC. The Samaritans intermarried with the foreigners. Therefore they were not regarded as fully Jewish. At the time of Jesus there was a lot of hatred between them. Jesus’ dealings with this woman illustrates His ministry breaking down barriers between Jews and Samaritans.

Jesus broke several taboos with this meeting.  He broke the racial prejudice that Jews had against Samaritans.  He broke the religious bias towards the Samaritans as being inferior Jews or ‘unclean’.  Last Jesus tackled the chauvinist view of women that was prominent in His culture.  Jesus often broke taboo as to how women should be treated.

Mary Magdalene; Joanna, the wife Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and other women traveled with Jesus contributing their own resources to support Him and His disciples. (Luke 8:1-3) This was scandalous for a woman to leave her homes and travel with a rabbi.  Unheard of!  Unthinkable!  Yet Jesus had several woman travel with Him throughout His ministry time.  In the orthodox, first century temples women and men were separated by a screen.  Jesus was one of the world’s first feminists treating woman as ‘joint-heirs’ of salvation.

Why is this important to us today?  Because to truly follow Jesus we must break down the social, cultural and even religious taboos we have been taught.  These things keep people from following God.  More next blog.

Did Jesus Talk about Hell?

I have never liked fire and brimstone preaching.  It is His kindness that causes us to turn to Him.  I believe that when people understand the love of God, that is the fact that draws us to Him.  However, if we read the rest of this verse there is a warning of the dangers of rejecting Christ.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:4-5

Talking about Hell isn’t pleasant. No one should enjoy it, but it is important.  In over a dozen years of preaching I’ve never devoted a sermon to the reality of Hell.  So we decided that it was time to address the reality of Hell.

As an introduction our media team did “on the street” interviews in Albany.  In over an hour during the First Friday celebration, they could not find one person who believed in Hell.  Our Youth Director Michael commented in his blog that it saddened him. A friend of his then publicly rebuked him on Facebook for his condemning people.   She was doing what she accused him of, condemning Michael for his views.  Here’s my problem with it…it’s not Michael’s view.  It’s a biblical fact.

Described in many places in scripture as a place of fire (Mark 9:43-45, & 13:49-51) and torment (Revelation 14:10-11) Hell wasn’t meant for us.  It was created for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41).  God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell (John 3:16). It is our rejection of Christ that causes us to go to Hell.

It’s like this, light can’t exist in the darkness.  You turn a light bulb on in the room darkness is expelled.  God is light. He is holy.  Sin or darkness can’t exist in His presence. It’s expelled.  We are all sinners (Romans 3:22-23) and therefore can’t enter heaven on our own.

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. 48 When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. 49That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, 50throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 Do you understand all these things?” – Matthew 13:47-51

We are all wicked but some are made righteous by the blood of Jesus.

The response to a discussion on Hell is sometimes, “But Jesus taught about love and forgiveness, not hell.”  Actually, the quote above from Matthew 13 is Jesus talking.  He never wanted anyone to go to Hell, that’s why He came to make a way for us to heaven.

Some new things to learn from the Christmas Story

Most of us know the Christmas story. However, a couple new things stuck out to me when reading the Christmas story this year:

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. – Luke 2:16-18; 20

Most people talk about the worship aspect, how the shepherds were low on the socio-economic ladder, or even how there was no room at the inn, but how many of us focus on what the shepherd did AFTER meeting Jesus?

First, the shepherds told everyone what they had experienced.  Don’t skim over that.  Hearing the good news and seeing the Savior caused them to share their experience with others.  One thing we should learn from the Christmas story is those that hear the good news of the Messiah and meet Him should tell everyone they know.  Some will reject the message but some will be astonished and seek Him for themselves.

The second thing, that is a very simple truth yet may be profound, is the shepherds went back to their flocks.  This statement by itself it seems so unimportant.  No one would make it their memory verse yet there is a profound truth here hidden in the mundane.  God has already placed you in your mission field.

Many people want to be in “full-time ministry” but the truth is you already are.  The shepherds, were shepherds.  They went back to their jobs and we may infer, continued to tell everyone they met about Jesus.  The Metalsmith who made their shears would hear, the other shepherds they would pass in the fields also.  Maybe the farmers whose lands they would buy water rights from would end up seeking the Savior or the tent maker’s wife would hear the good news.  The point is this, they went back to their simple lives and brought the wonder of that first Christmas with them.

We need to do the same.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 27: We Are Ambassadors

Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. – 2 Corinthians 5:11

A “fearful responsibility to the Lord” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.  Words to take notice of.  We have a responsibility that we should fear not fulfilling!  What is this awesome responsibility that is so important the Holy Spirit would choose those words to record it for all eternity?  Persuading others to follow Christ.  I know, you’re thinking “We know, we’re supposed to share the good news with people.”  It’s more than that.  If you were in your last 30 days to live and asked “What should I do to make sure I’m right with God?” We might talk about forgiving others or repenting of sins but probably not “go tell someone about God’s love.”  Yet this is exactly what this verse is saying.

Later in the same chapter the Holy Spirit (through Paul) reminds us of our purpose on this planet.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

We love to quote the verse 17, “We are new!  The old life is gone.” but WHY? So that we can be Ambassadors for Christ.

An ambassador is an official representative of something. Paul tells the Church in Corinth that We Christians are Christ’s ambassadors. His official representatives. Christ has sent His message to us and through us for the world to hear and see. We are sent with Christ’s message of reconciliation. So your title is “Ambassador of Reconciliation.” Now that is a calling. So what is reconciliation? Reconciliation according to the Encarta Dictionary is a “renewing.” The “ending of conflict.” So Christ came to reconcile us with God….. renew us with God, so we would not be condemned to death. And as Christ’s ambassador we are called to encourage other to become renewed…. In faith, and focus on God.

If the time we had left on this planet was less than 30 days we should spend them representing the one who is calling us home to His heavenly country.

30 Days to Live – Day 24: Reality

Today the reality of 30 Days to Live hit us in a very personal way.  My wife (Pastor Joanne) found out that her mom (Fran) has terminal cancer.  As Joanne sat in the hospital room with her mom and other family members, the doctor told Fran to “get her affairs in order.”  Her response was, “So this is a death sentence.”  It is one thing to be writing about facing your final days on this earth it’s another when death actually is right in front of you with someone you care about.

While we are praying and asking for God to do a miracle, first responsibility is to make sure your loved one is ready for life after death.  Fran has believed in God and has been attended church regularly so there was no need to convince her of her need for God’s forgiveness.  Instead Joanne focused on forgiving others.

The truth is we are all under a death sentence.  Maybe not as brutal and short as the one my mother-in-law just received, but this life is short and we are not promised tomorrow.  We must all “get our affairs in order” to make sure we are ready to meet our Savior.  One place people usually overlook is forgiving those who have hurt you.

As we prepare for the next life we want our sins to be forgiven and if we want to be forgiven for our sins we must forgive others. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He gave us an example that has become called The Lord’s Prayer.  In it Jesus prays this:

Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. – Matthew 6:12

As Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray effectively He knew that our prayers are useless if we refuse to forgive others.

Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37

Why is this such a big deal to God?  Because HE is the Righteous Judge.  If we decide to judge others we are in effect saying we want to sit on God’s throne and do His job.  He has never tolerated that, just ask an angel named Lucifer.

Prayer

Pray this 3 Step Forgiveness Process:

  1. I take back any authority I gave the devil in my life through unforgiveness, especially towards ______ for what they did to me.
  2. I choose to forgive this person for what they did to me.
  3. I ask you God to help me to forgive this person, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thoughts

  • Who has hurt me?
  • Have I chosen to forgiven them?

Action

  • Forgive all the people who have hurt you, now.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 15: What’s My Life All About?

As a person looks at the last 30 Days of their life they often wonder what their purpose for living was.  Searching for answers some people may think “Maybe it’s about family.”  Others may think they made a difference in the planet by helping the environment but we all search for meaning at the end of our life.  What’s my life all about?  I submit to you this thought, only that which will live on in eternity matters.  Of the eternal things there is nothing more important than a soul saved from hell.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. – John 3:16-17

This is the most quoted verse ever but do we really understand it?  God doesn’t want anyone to perish and go to hell.  In fact, this is such an important concept that He was willing to separate the Trinity and send the Son to earth…to earth to suffer and die.  That’s how important the salvation of each and every person is the Lord.

Then he (the thief on the cross) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:26-43

Even in His very last moments on earth Jesus was still reaching out to others, saving them from damnation.  He was clear on what His purpose in life was, ‘to seek and save those that are lost.’  We need to understand that the very reason we are still on this planet is to help connect others to Christ and to help them gain heaven.

Worshiping God is very important, but worship is better in heaven.  Studying the word of God is a key to our lives but Jesus is the Word made flesh and will spend all of eternity revealing new facets of Himself to us.  Fellowship with the saints (church) is important for our spiritual growth but we will be fellowshipping forever with all the saints in heaven.  There is only one thing we can do here on earth that we can not do in heaven, win a convert for Christ.

Our very purpose here on this planet, the reason we are still taking in breath is to make Christ known to others.  So why don’t we think about it more?  Why don’t we do anything we can to reach people for Christ, every day?

Prayer

Dear Jesus, please forgive me for not sharing the gospel more.  Forgive me for fearing what people would think more than them going to hell. Jesus help me to follow YOUR example. Even on the cross you were saving a soul from hell.  Cause me to have compassion for people that are far from you, even if they are difficult people to be around.  Give me opportunity to tell them the good news of salvation and give me the boldness to speak. Amen.

Thoughts for Today

  • Do I believe that saving souls from heaven is the call of every believer?
  • When was the last time I saw someone I prayed for or shared Christ with become a disciple of Jesus?  (A disciple is not someone who says a prayer but someone who leaves there old life and follows Jesus.)

Action List

  • Write down and pray for 3 people that do not follow Christ, for the next week.
  • Pick at least one of those people and spend time with them within the next week.  (Look for divine opportunities to talk about God or pray for them but don’t force it.  Build relationship first.)

Who is my neighbor?

The Bible has a lot to say about neighbors.  In the Ten Commandments alone we are told:  not testify falsely against your neighbor;  not covet your neighbor’s house; not covet your neighbor’s wife; or their maid or pool boy; or their mode of transportation; or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16-17)

Jesus said, loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself is as important as loving God and the summation of the whole Old Testament law! (Matthew 22:35-40)

What does that mean to us today?  It means that we need to understand how to treat our neighbors right if we want to be right with God.

So, with this being such an important concept in scripture and the teachings of Jesus Himself, it seems reasonable that someone would ask, “Who is my neighbor?”  A Pharisee (a teacher of the Jewish law) asked that question in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus responded with a story that we call the Good Samaritan.

A Jewish man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest walks buy and does nothing.  A church Deacon (Levite) looks at him but doesn’t help.  Finally a despised Samaritan stops and helps the Jewish man.

The Jews truly despised the half-breed Samaritans, they were unclean to them.  Damned by birth.  It would be like a 1960s African American man stopping to help a Klu Klux Klan man and the Pharisee knew this bigotry.  Jesus asked him a question:

Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”

The Pharisee couldn’t help but replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus responded, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

His command to us today is the same. Be like the Good Samaritan.  If you are in a position to help someone, do it.  God will put people in your path, maybe even people you don’t relate to, maybe even people you have a prejudice towards…be Jesus to them.

The Call from Heaven

The words of the familiar, old Christmas Carole ring out to us.

O Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels

There is a call from heaven to behold the King. In Luke chapter to we see the story that inspired this song.  The shepherds working in the field had their lives interrupted by and unusual sight, an angel!

I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.

The Messiah’s been born.  He’s right in Bethlehem!  Go see Him!  In verse 15 we see the first response:

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Let’s go to the house where the Lord dwells and see what the Lord has done and what He has told us about.

Our response is the same today.

1. Go to Church.

First, we must go and see what the Lord has done and said in His house.  Christmas is the best time to go to church.  If you’re a believer, get there!  Go somewhere.  Next the shepherds had a reaction after seeing the Savior in verses 16-18.

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished.

2. Tell Everyone What You Have Seen and Heard.

After seeing Him, they went and told everyone what had happened and what was said.  If we have seen the Lord, we must do the same. Look at verse 20.

The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

3. Return to Where You Came From.

The shepherds went back to their fields and their flocks.  They went back to work, school, family and friends.  Your “field” is where God has planted you for your everyday life.  After you’ve met Jesus, go back to your field and introduce other to Him.

Don’t come to church alone this Christmas.  Bring a friend, classmate, relative, neighbor or coworker.

Presenting the Gospel in a Visual Society

We opened with a 10 minutes drama of people’s different fears, death, public speaking, heights, snakes, drowning etc. I’m so proud of our creative and drama teams! It was awesome. I think the sermon was very well received also.  Were the drama and message effective?  Well, 2 people gave their lives to the Lord for the 1st time!

I loved the drama opening for the sermon but that sort of thing always brings questions into some observers mind. “Why do we need all those lights?” or “Is this just a show?”

Why do we use drama, video, decorations, give aways etc. to present the gospel?  It’s because we live in a visual society.  We are trying to reach a generation raised on television, movies, graphic design and the web.  Most of their classes in school will suppliment the teacher’s lecture with videos and Internet information.  Does this water down the gospel? No.

Presenting the gospel with more than words isn’t something new.  Jesus used imagery such as a “camel passing through the eye of a needle” and “a sower who planted seed.”  No, presenting the truths of the Kingdom of God in a visually stimulating medium isn’t a new idea or even’s man’s idea.  Jesus was doing it thousands of years ago.

The key is using the visual presentation to reinforce the message or present the message in a different way but the message never changes!!  It’s still that we are all depraved sinners worthy of judgment and damnation but God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to horribly suffer taking our punishment, then die, rising again to bring us the impossible reward of eternal bliss in heaven.

We will use the methods that will reach the audience but always remember to keep the message the same, we need Christ and thankfully He wants us.

Conquering Monday Morning Blues

You grab your favorite cup of coffee, sigh deeply and go to work. It’s not that you hate your job, well sometimes, but there so many other things you would rather be doing.  So many other people you would rather spend your time with.  You know you work for a paycheck but you wish that could be a little better too.  The week seems so long.  How can I conquer these Monday morning blues?

Maybe you’re a student and you can’t bring coffee to school.  You don’t fit in with the kids in your classes.  There’s that one teacher that seems to have it in for you.  I can’t believe the weekend went so fast.  How could I forget that assignment? Ugh.  How can I conquer these Monday morning blues?

Maybe you’re a stay at home mom with small kids, or a retired senior facing another day of cleaning the house and isolation. Sunday was great but now what? How can I conquer these Monday morning blues?

It’s simple really.  Change your perspective. Worker, it’s not about the paycheck, sure it helps but that’s not why you are there.  Student you’re not in school just because it’s a state law or just because you need an education.  Mom or retiree, you can still make a difference.  You have all entered the mission field. [Insert Twilight Zone music here.]

See if we really believe that God orders our steps.  If we really believe that He knew us before we were born then He placed us where we are today.  It’s not meaningless it’s a mission.  So to beat the Monday morning blues, take all teaching you received Sunday, all the Spirit of God you were filled with, all the joy you received, all the encouragement and love the church members gave you and give it away TODAY!

Mission trips don’t just happen in Africa. They happen every Monday. God has strategically placed you in your job, school or neighborhood.  Meet the day with expectation for God to do miracles today.  Expect God to provide you with an opportunity to move someone a little closer to Christ TODAY.  You are a missionary on assignment to Connect Others to God & Church today.

World’s Dumbest Criminal, a Lesson for Us

I love the TV show called “World’s Dumbest Criminals” (I know but I like to see dumb people get arrested.) Recently I saw a story of drug dealer name Daron.  The police had surveillance on him for over a month and came with an arrest warrant to pick him up.  They knocked on the door and asked, “Are you Daron…?”

Daron replies, “No, my name is Herbert Spinkleman.” Or some ridiculous similar name.

The police officer then looks at Daron’s forearm and points to his tattoo. “You have you name Daron tattooed on your arm.”

“No that’s my girlfriend’s name Da-Ron.”  He replied.

You can’t make this stuff up!  He was trying to fool the police pretending to be someone else and his name was tattooed on his forearm!  Then he denied it was his name!  Priceless.

Daron tried to pretend he was someone else but his true name was evident.  Many people do the same thing.  They say they are Christians but the name of Christ is not on them.  Christian means “little Christ”.  It’s like saying “Jesus Jr.” you look like your dad.

Many people call themselves a follower of Christ but the name tattooed on their arm is “liar, porn addict, judger of others, thief, fornicator, gossip” etc.  They try to fool people but hypocrisy is evident to most.

Jesus said, “Why do you say you love me but don’t obey my commandments?”
We know that many people will be shocked when their lives end because they will say didn’t we do all these “Christian things for you?” and He’ll reply, “Depart from me, sinner.  I never knew you.”

Don’t be like Daron.  Don’t try to fake out Jesus because you’ll only fool yourself and you also will be taken away in chains.

Reaching Young Adults

I found out today that in our church (House of Praise) 30% of our adults have not yet seen their 31st birthday.  Out of the 200 adults that come to a Sunday Service on avg. 60 are between the ages of 18 and 30!  That is a blessing but that also brings the questions of how to properly care for that niche.

In our Sunday Service we have modern music, high energy presentations, video & technology, drama & art, and life-application teaching all targeted at getting the attention of the under 30 crowd and it’s worked.  Then what?

The Amercian church has done a great job of teaching Sunday school or children’s church.  We also have good youth programs for teens.  In the last few years we’ve gotten better at helping established couples with the marriages and finances.  We haven’t discipled well the young adults, the college and new career age. (I don’t think we do a good job at ministering to the retired and older either but that’s for another blog.)

To continue to challenge and grow the young adults we started with small groups to build relationships.  We had midweek series called “Dating, Mating, & Relating” that was enthusastically received by people. So much so I may resurrect if for a Sunday series.  BUT some how the young adults still feel disconnected.

We must be proactive about a three-fold approach.

  1. Hang time – there has to be organic times in the schedule for causual conversation about real issues.  Cafe’s that stay open all day Sunday, comfortable nooks and reading spots in the church for people to come during the day and sit.  Think, Starbucks or Barnes & Noble, the quad on the college campus.
  2. Serving – I know this seems to be the contradictory but if a young person is serving there’s a sense of ownership.  Here’s the important part though, not serving for serving sake.  Church leaders have to give young people a vision they can believe in and a task they are passionate about.
  3. Giving – We have done a poor job of teaching stewardship to the young adults. Just look at the fact that there is more credit debt for the 20-30 years old now than in any time in our nation’s history and you can see that.  Giving breaks a “what about me?” mentality and begins to get God involved in their finances.  Again, it also created a sense of purpose and connection with the church vision.
  4. Relationship & Decision Making Teaching – The big issue for this age is making life changing decisions especially in the area of relationships.  More young people leave serving God because of dating an unsaved person than all other issues combined!  Teach them that it is a sin to be yoked together with an unbeliever. (2 Cor 6:14) Tell them not to take counsel from ungodly people (Psalm 1). Help them to make Kingdom First decisions (Matt 6:33).
  5. Leadership – Having under 30 people in leadership roles, especially that are visible, helps young adult know that you don’t see them as kids.  I’m not just talking about youth and children’s pastors! We have had worship leaders, church secretaries, creative directors, service MCs, media directors, greeters, even ushers that are under 30.  It send the message, “You matter.”

In closing, I don’t have all the answers but I know we can’t minister to a 25 year old the same way we do a 55 year old.  They have different needs, desires and speak a different language.

We need to continue to modernize our methods while not compromising our message and we need to be intentional about discipling the young adults.

Why is the American Church in Trouble?

Don’t think the Evangelical church is i trouble in the US?  Consider these statistics:

•   The number of people in America that Do Not attend church has doubled in the past 15 years.

•   50% of  churches last year did not add one new person being saved

•   Only 15% of churches in the United States are growing

•   Just over 2% of churches grow because of new salvations

In the era of Mega-churches most believing churches are slowly dying. Why are some exploding while other shrivel?  I can answer this quesrtion best with an illustration from today’s sermon.

In Mark 2:13-17 Jesus calls Levi to follow Him and become His disciple.  Levi does, leaving his job, his neighborhood, financial security all to follow the Lord.

The next time we see Levi he has invited Jesus and His disciples over for dinner but he also invited his friends over.  The Bible calls them nortorius sinners.  The religious people couldn’t believe Jesus would eat with such scum.  Jesus replied that He didn’t come for those who think they are righteous but those who know they are sinners.

Levi understood what the Pharasees didn’t. From the moment we become followers of Jesus we must be inviting others to meet Him.  if we want God’s presence with us we must invite the people He wants to be around.  Sinners.

No new converts, none of God’s favor upon our churches.

Focus mean saying no.

Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.”

It is the focus on making disciples that will make churches and individual believers great.  God gave us His authority for a reason, to make disciples.

Matt 28:18-20 – Jesus came and told His disciples, I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Loss of focus causes us lose God’s authority and eventually we become dry.  It isn’t sin that causes people to start to slide away from God, it’s loss of focus.  Once the focus is lost it will eventually lead to sin but it started by saying yes to seemingly good opportunities that weren’t focused on disciple-making.

What do you spend most of your time, talent and treasure (money) on?

Knowing What to Expect

On Easter this year we did something different.  We didn‘t do anyting different.  No Easter play, no choir robes, no lillies, just our normal service.  I told our over 20 1st time guest and dozens of occasionaly attenders why.  “I want you to see what this church is all about each week in the hope that you’ll come back.”  I continued, “We’re not just going to do a great show on Easter and let you be disappointed next time you’re here!  The same music, teaching style and welcoming atmosphere will be here every time you come.”

I hope this approach also made out members and regular attenders feel encouraged.  They know that any week they invite their friends to church that they can expect a few things to happen.

  • Their friends will be made to feel welcomed
  • The music will be off the chain!
  • The teaching will apply to their lives.
  • It will NOT be boring. (We use creative methods and humor.)
  • God will meet with them.

Do you clearly communicate to your friends and family what they can expect when they come to church?  Can they look at your life and know what to expect from Christianity.  Talk to people.  You’ll be very surprised at what they think is going to happen if they follow God.

Check out: http://www.houseofpraise.cc/whattoexpect.html

Jesus Came to Seek and Save Those Who Are Lost

Luke 19:10 – Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost.

Christmas is all about connecting-with family, friends and even God.  We celebrate Christmas because God wanted to connect with us. During our christmas service we took a special look at the Christmas Story focusing on how Jesus came to seek us out and connect with us in a real and life-changing way.  Since there was a bad ice storm causing half our people to stay home I thought you’d like a brief summary.

Jeremiah 50:6 – My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains. They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.

Many believers start out in church and genuinely serve God but let the cares and disappointments of life get them out of church and off the path of God.

Ezekiel 34:16 – I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!

The good news is Jesus searches for us when we’re lost.  He helps even those who have been hurt in churches and have lost their way.  The Christmas story is all about God seeking man, even those that don’t know they’re getting lost.

Matthew 1:22 -All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through His prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

God came to us, He was seeking us because we are valuable to Him.  In the parables of Luke 15:4-32 (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son) Jesus continually reminds us that God rejoices more over one of us that was lost turning to Him than 99 that are already serving Him.

Ephesians 2:8-9 – God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

That’s the beauty of the Christmas story, we never earned the gift of the Christ child but like any valuable gift we need to remember how much that gift costed the one who gave it to us.

Merry Christmas

 

Are you Missional or Attractional? Yes.

In Christianity Today Magazine I read an article called “Defining Missional”.  It occurs to me that some of you might wonder about the latest in church buzzwords. There are consequences when the meanings of words become confused especially when we are trying to explain eternal truths to people. Here are some positives and negatives associated with various types of churches…

Attractional – This comes from trying to “attract” people to the church.  Advertizing, events, marketing are used as “outreaches”.  There is also a “build it and they will come” mindset attached meaning…If we just make our services attractive to the unchurched then they will come to us.  Sometimes associated with the seeker sensitive model but not completely the same. (see below) The weakness of this movement is people must find their way to church themselves and those who feel unworthy to come never do.

Emerging – The emerging church movement holds as its primary purpose attempting to make the Christianity culturally relevant for a postmodern generation. While I do think we need to be relevant (many churches are not) the emerging church movement has many times gone to the extreme of compromising on Christian morality such as ordaining people still trapped in sinful lifestyles.  Emerging churches may be attractional or missional or both.

Missional – Comes from the word mission.  It is sometimes confused with a Missionary Church (a church which is planted by a missionary). Missional churches emphasize the mission of the church, which is the Great Commission “Go and make disciples.” They key word is go. They do not expect people to come to them. The emphasis of a missional church is the opposite of an attractional church.

Purpose-driven – A term coined by Rick Warren in his book Purpose Drive Church.  In it Rick said a Purpose Driven Church is “one that is growing larger in numbers as it grows deeper in carrying out the God-given purposes for churches through worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and missions.”  Some have wrongly called Rick’s church (Saddleback) a seeker-sensitive church because of it’s laid back approach.  Emphasizing spiritual growth through purpose isn’t the same as being seeker-sensitive.

Seeker-sensitive – A term first coined by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek, this movement comes from the idea of being sensitive to the unchurched person who is seeking God, hence seeker-sensitive.  It should be noted that the idea isn’t bad, we want seekers to feel comfortable in our services but the movement got way off track.  However, in his report entitled Reveal, Bill Hybels admitted that they had failed at the Great Commission because they had not discipled or helped mature the members once they were converted.

Separatist – While not a name given to a particular movement, these are churches that emphasize extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church culture.  “Come out from among them.” and “Be in the world but not of the world.” are frequent phrases heard. This sounds spiritual diminishes their ability to speak to those outside and their people cease to win souls. Some examples are: Holiness churches where women can’t wear makeup and men can’t have long hair. Pentecostal churches where the emphasis is always on the next deeper experience so they have many meetings each week but don’t win the lost.

What kind of church do we have?  I answer that question with one phrase, we are a Disciple-Making Church.  We are a church that emphasizes the process of discipleship.  Many churches will say they make disciples but they usually mean they are evangelical or highly teaching.  Either they are making many new converts but maturing them or teaching a bunch of fat Christians who just want the “next revelation” from God. 

[Note: This is not to be confused with the Shepherding Movement in the 1970s where leaders used discipleship as a way to control their congregants lives in a cult-like fashion.]

A Disciple-Making Church has a clearly defined, often taught discipleship process that includes going into the world.  If you can’t tell me what the next step in anyone’s (including yourself) discipleship process is then your church isn’t a disciple-making church.

Are we attractional? Yes in that we will advertize to get people to come and adjust our services to make guests feel more welcome. (But not to the seeker-sensitive extreme where the truth isn’t taught and deep repentance required.)  Are we missional? Absolutely!  You’re not truly a disciple unless you are going out and winning souls.  We do both!  Who ever said you had to choose one or the other?

Doctrinally our church identifies ourselves as Charismatic, which comes from the Greek word charisma.  Charismatic means we believe that the Holy Spirit still does the same things today he did in the first century, New Testament church.  After all, it’s still the same Testament or covenant today.  We work hard to make a weekend service that is guest welcoming yet doesn’t compromise on ‘gifts of the Spirit’ such as praying for healing.

Don’t get hung up on our particular beliefs.  Remember that A Disciple-Making Church can be almost any doctrine.  It’s about the clearness of the process.

Things Learned from Made to Stick

Why do we remember the details of a funny or gross story yet have trouble remembering information that is vital to us?  The reason is the “stickiness” of the idea.  I recently read a book called Made to Stick.  It’s a marketing book by Chip and Dan Heath.  I thought I’d share some insights on making the gospel stick.

Simplicity is Sticky – We must answer the question, “How do I communicate my idea in a one-sentence proverb?”  The more complicated something is the more easily it’s forgotten, so “What can be stripped off the idea?  Sticky Ideas are Compact AND contain the Core of the idea. – Shorter sentences, less words are important to be remembered but not if the core of the idea isn’t communicated.  The most sticky ideas do both by communicating the core of the idea in a compact form, such as in a proverb.

To be Sticky, Use Unexpected Twists – Surprise is good but what is better is generating curiosity and increased interest.  This can be accomplished by generating gaps in people’s knowledge then filling those gaps.

Use Everyday Items to Create Clear Images in People’s Minds – Example: 37 grams of fat in a tub of popcorn means nothing to most consumers but saying, “This popcorn has the same fat as these three meals.” While showing a table filled with bacon & eggs, a McDonald’s Big Mac meal and a steak dinner is a clear message.   A Concept becomes Stickier When Tied to an Idea We Already Know.  Instead of giving a stream of data to be memorized using a well-known schema increases stickiness.  Example: a pomelo is a tangy, citrus fruit, with a yellow to pink flesh and a soft rind is much harder to remember or even comprehend than a pomelo is a super-sized grapefruit with a soft rind.

Avoid the Uncertainty Paralyses – In a study people were asked if they would go a on trip to Hawaii after a huge final exam that was important to their future.  They could buy the tickets and go, not go or pay $5 to hold tickets price for 2 days.  If the participants knew they passed the majority would go to Hawaii as a reward, if the participant of the study knew they failed, the majority still said they would go to cheer themselves up but if they wouldn’t know the outcome of the exam for 2 days, the majority would pay the $5 and wait for the exam outcome.  This doesn’t make sense since most would go whether they passed or failed.  The only explanation is caught up in uncertainty people postpone action.

Sticky Ideas Command Attention – The biggest problem of communication is getting and keeping people’s attention.  To create an idea that sticks, this issue must be overcome.

Invoking Self-Interest in How You Present Your Idea Makes It Stick. – You can do ____________ in five days with our program.  Sales people have learned this by emphasizing the benefits over the features.  “You’ll have the best looking lawn in your neighborhood.” sells more than, “Our seed is guaranteed to be 90% weed free and to grow quickly.”

Avoid The Curse of Knowledge – Knowing to much causes people to want to share it.  Instead of focusing on 1 or 2 key points they speaking gives massive amounts of information and the listeners remember none.  It’s like trying to get a drink out of a fire hose.  It’s more effective to use stories and engage people’s emotions.

Let’s all examine our presentation of the gospel and our church vision by seeing if we’ve presented in a way that sticks.

 

Decisions or Disciples

We know that in the Great Commission Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples.” Anything short of fulfilling this calling is missing the mission of the church.  Anything short of fulfilling this command is disobedience.

How do we make disciples?

Having someone pray and “accept Jesus” isn’t the criteria for evaluation of the success of our evangelism efforts.   We must measure those that follow Jesus. This means a changed life. In my humble opinion, the only way to measure this is by measuring those that are connecting to the church in active fellowship.   In Acts 2 we see a clear picture that those who were saved were “added to the church”.  They became an active part of the local group of believers.

This is what makes someone a disciple and what impacts church growth in general.  Teaching people to obey the word of God, worship, pray, forgive, repent, love and more are all done in the church.  As the church add these new converts they tell their friends the good news they have learned and momentum builds and growth accelerates both for the church and the individual.

We must focus not on simply making a decision to believe in Jesus for salvation but a decision to become a disciple, an obedient, sold-out, follower of Jesus Christ.

Leading a Growing Church

Are you a leader in your church?  Before you answer let me rephrase the question.  I didn’t ask if you were the Lead Pastor.  I asked if you were a leader.  Do other people look to you for advice, direction or mentoring?  Then you’re a leader!!

Will you help lead your church towards growth or stagnation?  Will you be an instrument that God uses connect to Himself or someone who says, “It’s nice to every person in the church by name.”?

According to C. Peter Wagner’s book Your Church can GrowLeaders of Growing Churches have 5 Qualities in Common:

 

I. Single Minded Obedience – Be willing to pay the price to fulfill the Great Commission and faithful to the Lordship of Christ.  Don’t get discouraged or distracted and beware of offenses.

II. Clearly Defined Objectives – They set measureable goals to evaluate the effectiveness of all ministries.  How do you know if you’ve been successful in your ministry gifting.

 III. Reliance on Discerning Research – Don’t guess at the situation but rely upon gathering factual data. Set aside the emotion of the decision and base your strategy on facts.

IV. Ruthlessness in Evaluating Results – When desired goals aren’t achieved a process of ministry is scrapped.  Are you willing to lay down your favorite event or ministry for the sake of church growth?

V. An Attitude of Faith and Optimism – Will God do all He promised to do?  Don’t focus on the one or two things not going well focus on the eight or nine that are!

We all need to look at these five characteristics and improve the areas we are weak in.

Does Your Church Want to Grow?

People have many theories on church growth but one thing is certain: a church must want to grow or it will not.

Some Christians do not want their church to grow.  This may be because they don’t want to give up power of control or because they want to know everyone in the building.  Sometimes churches have been taught a false “remnant theology” that derives satisfaction at being persecuted for their beliefs by the heathen masses or pride at being more holy than other churches.  An over emphasis on spiritual perfectionism leads to self righteousness that won’t tolerate weak believers or give new converts time to grow their faith.  Whatever the reason the mindset of the lay people wanting the church to be kept small must be conquered for a church to grow!

Sometimes the pastor is afraid to grow because they may lose control of the church or is secretly afraid that they won’t have the ability to lead a bigger church.  Either way the pastor must conquer his/her insecurities for the church to grow.

If the pastor and the majority of the people want the church to grow then they must also “count the cost” to see if they are willing to pay the price for growth.  When there are no goals, no pressure to grow, there is no risk of failure and everyone is comfortable.  Every businessman knows, high-risk investments yield high returns but there is a higher risk of failure.

Congregations that want to grow must risk failure, discomfort and criticism but if they are willing…oh the joy of seeing increasing numbers of souls rescued from darkness.

Eternal Things

Today is the funeral for my close friend and armor bearer Joe Savio.  A mighty man of God taken prematurely at age 52.  Joe was one of the most giving people I’ve ever known.  He would dress up like a clown and go to nursing homes or on the street to tell people about Jesus.  Any time there was anything that needed doing at the church he was there.  He told everone he knew about their need for salvation.

Joe always had a word of encouragement for me as his pastor.  Almost every week he would remind me that he was praying for me and the he and his family were with us and 100% behind the vision of the church.

You may be reading this today and have never met Joe.  You’re probably wondering why I would write this in a blog or what it means to you…here’s why his life is so important.

You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  James 4:14 

Joe’s passing has woken me up in a way.  We all get caught up in the day-to-day details of life.  Joe’s reminded me that life is short and the time to fulfill or destiny on this planet even shorter.  Thank God Joe was a great Christian man and has now heard “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into your reward.” but there are thousands of people outside our doors headed for hell.

I have made a vow today to refocus myself on the things God has called me to do.  A vow to not get caught up in the mundane details of life and ministry.  A vow to focus on the Great Commission of making disciples.

Will you join me?  Will you sharpen your focus to see eternal things more clearly?  I think Joe would like that.

Marketing Mistakes Made by Churches

It’s hypocritical for Christian say they are against churches using marketing. Why?  because almost all churches do some marketing. Mailers, fliers, a sign out front, a bulletin advertising upcoming events, even listings in the yellow pages or listing service times in the newspaper…churches market they just don’t call it that. At the very least, word-of-mouth marketing happens as members invite their friends and family to services.

Wherever your feelings on the matter, the bottom line is more people Connect to God if you get them through the doors of the church.  Don’t misunderstand.  It’s not about promoting my church for me, it’s about discipling souls which is next to impossible outside the context of the local church.  Remember we’re called to make disciples, not gather a crowd.  Here’s the common mistakes church make when marketing.

Marketing the church itself instead of the Connection with God the church can bring. It’s ok to promote a sermon series or an event but as a lead into attending service. The reason to attend service is to Connect to God.  No one cares if you think your church is the coolest. They care if your church can help them have a better life or find eternal life.

Not having a good “product” when they come. If you tell people come to our church and you’ll find help for your failing marriage, then the church better offer help for marriages.  Guests must also find a welcoming, friendly environment.  

Not following up effectively.  Good marketers know that finding “qualified leads” is a must.  When you find someone who says they are interested in your product, you better follow through.  When the Holy Spirit draws a soul to search for the Savior and they walk through the doors of the church, that person is a gift from God.  How we connect with them during the Monday-Wednesday following their visit is essential to reinforce their experience. I’m amazed at how many churches aren’t effective in gathering information from their visitors for follow up.

Not Focusing on the people God has called you to.  God uses different churches to reach different types of people.  Joel Osteen can’t reach the same people as T.D. Jakes.  Benny Hinn can’t reach Ed young’s crowd.  Who has God called your church to?  Please don’t misunderstand, we accept all people but we should market to those most drawn to our style.  it sounds good to say, “We are trying to reach all people.” but it is impractical unless you have unlimited resources.

Competing with other churches. We are competing with false religions, cults, the occult, atheism and humanism but not other churches. We are all part of the same family.  Never run down or belittle another church, you only hurt the Kingdom of God.  My daughter once asked my why there were so many different kinds of Christian churches.  My response was “It’s like ice cream.  There are different flavors ranging from vanilla to tutti-fruity but it’s all still ice cream.”  If someone has a different style than yours it’s not wrong, just different.

Offering too many choices. More choices means more confusion. Confusion always cause inactivity.  The more choices you provide, the less likely people will be to take a step. A great example is trying to do a mid-week service and small groups.  People will choose one or the other and both are weakened.  Offer a mid-week service, weekly small groups and Sunday school and only the highly committed 20% will come and the unchurched will pass on your church.

Not evaluating effectiveness.  What is the message you are trying to communicate? Are you getting a response? Do people find a goo product when they come to the service? Do you know who you’re trying to reach?  Are you willing to say know to marketing and programs that are ineffective?

Turning the Church Inside Out

I was discussing with some young leaders this week the need to constantly turn the church inside out.  Yes, we were discussing the Great Commission to “go and make disciples” but I said it’s more than just encouraging people toward evangelism, it’s about focus.  

When you turn a shirt inside out, it looks different.  The inside becomes visible to everyone.  If the seams are lose you see it.  When a church truly changes it’s focus from “What is God going to do for me today?” to “How can I help connect someone to God today?” the weakness are exposed.  The threads hanging loosely from the seams that haven’t mattered because they were internal now need to be fixed.

Practical things like how welcoming your lobby is become important but there are spiritual seams exposed also.  Remember this: Everyone says they want to reach souls for Jesus until you start to make changes reach souls.  Then are little secret threads like selfishness and pettiness are exposed.

I am determined not to have a church that is just for Christians.  I am determined to teach, preach, encourage, challenge, prod, poke, activate, irritate and motivate believers to go and make disciples.  I am determined to turn the church inside out.

Performance or Providence

It was an awesome weekend. The prophetic gathering was powerful Saturday morning and the new member’s lunch following was a fun bonding time. Then Saturday night just spending time worshipping God and praying capped the day off. Followed by 260+ people hearing Tino Wallenda preach from atop a high wire.  There was press coverage from two newspapers and a TV station but most important was there were also many 1st time salvations…God is so awesome.

This is the type of service that causes religious Christians to complain or gossip.  “It’s all a show.  He’s just trying to have a performance.”  “They have a performance church.”  I shouldn’t have to defend a service style that brings in dozens of first time guests and leads to several true first time salvations but I have to admit some of those comments had started to get to me.  I felt the need to justify my decisions when people are saying they won’t come to church if there’s a circus performer.  I get a little hurt that people don’t trust my judgment yet.  But it all was forgotten with one conversation.

I met a young lady who came with a girl who herself has only been saved for 3 months.  She said “I came to support my friend in her decision to stay sober and clean but really I’m an atheist.”  I gave her the book The Case for Christ by lee Strobel and explained to her that it was written by a former skeptic and told her that God wasn’t upset by her doubts or questions.  She smiled as she accepted the book and said, “I was moved by what I saw here today.  I felt something…something here in this place.” This began an exciting 15 minute conversation about the search for the reality of God, a conversation that ended with her promise to see me next week.

“This is why you’re here.” I thought as I walked away.  One conversation with a genuinely unchurched person who took a giant leap towards faith erased all the complaints and second guessing.  A performance?  No.  Divine Providence lead me to invite Tino Wallenda to preach today and the results (changed lives) will speak for themselves.

That Day

In the last week I’ve had two funerals.  When you have seasons like that where you walk through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” it reminds you of the brevity of like.  James said, “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”  (James 4:14)  Seasons like this remind me of why I left a promising career with a Fortune 100 company to become a pastor.  Only that which is done for the Lord will last.  All that matters is “That Day” when we will see our Savior face-to-face.

Martin Luther marked two critical days on his calendar—“Today” and “That Day.” That Day marked the day he would arrive in heaven. Luther understood that some day will be “that day” and therefore we must live today like it is our last day.

The funeral today was a 34 year old man who was engaged to be married but an unexpected infection struck him down.  I’ve done funerals for babies, children and people of all ages.  The one thing you understand as someone who has pastured for a while is that we will all close our eyes on this earth one last time sooner that we think.  Life is very short.

This is why we can’t let the busyness of life, fear, anxiety, or complacency keep us from preparing ourselves and others for eternity.

Live this day, like that day is today.

Jesus is King of the Road

Paul never met the living God even though he spent most of his life in the temple or in scriptural study.  Paul had to find Jesus on the Damascus Road. Blind Bartimaeus called out for his healing while Jesus walked on the Jericho Road. Even the Ethiopian eunuch met Philip on the Gaza Road.  What’s my point?  If you want to meet with God, if you want to see miracles today…get out of your pew and get hit the road.

The Great Commission is called that referring to the word great as chief in importance.  What is the most important word in this the most important of all of Jesus’ words to His followers?  The word GO.

Matthew 28:18-20 – Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus said, all the authority has been given to me, because of that fact you go and make disciples.  He is delegating His authority to us, His followers, to make disciples.  Can this be done effectively with a “Build it and they will come” theology?  Don’t get me wrong.  Churches should advertise, have community events and use whatever techniques they can to draw people into church BUT…that is not how the vast majority of people come to Jesus.  No, it happens in homes, schools, jobs and in the streets through servant evangelism.  One thing is for sure, Jesus was clear about His command to go.  So why is it most Christians have never shared their faith with anyone outside church?

What part of “Go” don’t we understand?

The Empty Chair

Church leaders often discuss “revival”.  What is revival?  One thing we all agree upon across all denominational lines is there are greater numbers of salvations than normal.  People repenting of their sins and accepting Jesus as savior is the one thing that everyone lists as a part of true revival.  Oh, we disagree on miracles, worship style, church government, prophesy, end times and women in ministry just to name a few but we all want to see more people convert to Christianity.  So why are our services so tailored for Christians?

At the Creative Church Conference, Ed Young place a chair on the stage and announced, “We have forgotten about the empty chair.”  We create our weekend worship experiences for those that are already believers.  The songs we choose, the topics we preach on, even the language we use are usually meant to reach the believer.

If we really care about those that are on a fast highway to Hell, then we will focus the majority of our resources on filling the empty chairs in our sanctuaries.  This means changing some of the way we are used to doing things.  First, we need to modernize our church buildings.  People who spend their days in flashy malls, high tech schools and well decorated offices walk into a church building and either feel they have been time-warped back to the 1980s or see cheap, poorly maintained facilities. How we present God’s house says something about how relevant our faith is.

The next step is to change the way we present the gospel itself.  I’m not talking about ever compromising on the core values of scripture or tolerating sin.  I’m talking about vision drift.  The Great Commission tells us to “Go and make disciples” and this must be the center of every church’s vision.  This means limiting “Christianize”—words no one outside of church understands, playing contemporary style music and most of all preaching life-application messages.  An unchurched person doesn’t care what the 4 Beasts in Revelation are but does care about how to have a good marriage.  These changes offend those with religious spirits and those with self-centered, “What about me?” attitudes.  The truth is, it is the job of church leaders to feed baby believers but as people grow up they should be able to feed themselves.

The bottom line is this…mature people reproduce, immature care only about getting themselves fed.  This Sunday when you walk into the church sanctuary look around.  Each empty chair represents another soul that will be tormented in Hell for all eternity.  Let it break your heart so next week you’ll work hard to fill that chair.