The Principle of Spiritual Readiness

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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

4 Things Avengers 2: Age of Ultron Taught Me About Effective Teamwork

Avengers Age of Ultron, A Lesson In Teamwork

Avengers Age of Ultron, A Lesson In Teamwork

I just saw Avengers: Age of Ultron (View the Trailer HERE.) for a second time! When watching this film, as multiplied millions have, one can’t help but notice the effective teamwork.  The reason the Avengers exist is to “fight the foes no single super hero can withstand.”

As a comic book geek I know that an ever-changing team roster becomes a theme in the comic book Avengers but teamwork was always emphasized.  This comes through in Age of Ultron and is an important lesson for us.

Don’t click away! You don’t have to like comic books or even Marvel movies to read this blog. This film contained some important lessons about effective teamwork.  Here are a few:

1. Effective Teams: Meld Together Diverse Personalities.

The team is made up of wildly different individuals: a billionaire arms manufacturer, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); a fabled Norse god, Thor (Chris Hemsworth); a raging monster/mad scientist (a modern-day Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); a WWII war hero, Captain America (Chris Evans), a cold-war, Russian spy, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); and expert marksman who was a former thief, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They are under the authority of a mysterious leader Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) who is the director of a government covert ops organization. Wow, how could they ever get along?

Any team needs people with diverse personalities and skill sets.  The key to being an effective team, is melding those individuals into a unit whose skills compliment each other.

In order to do this, creating a team identity is paramount. When a sports team for example shouts “Wildcats!” as they break their pre game huddle, they’re reminding themselves that they win or lose as a team. The effective team player may pass on personal glory or accomplishment for the better of the team. Any effective team must learn that we win or lose as a team.  A great player knows it doesn’t matter if I get my points if we lose the game.  An effective team member realizes it isn’t just about me doing my job but about all of us pulling to accomplish our team goals. As the old cliché says, “There’s no I in team.”

Leaders cast vision for the team and create situations where we win together. [Leader read Servant Leadership to learn more.]

2. Have a Clear Chain of Command

Tony Stark (Iron Man) at one point says, “I just pay for everything and design everything, make everyone look cooler.” A  shield agent had called Tony ‘boss’. Tony points to Captain America saying “He’s the Boss.”  While there is resentment in his voice there is something more important for effective teamwork, CLARITY.

There is no doubt about who has final decision.  I believe in the synergy or group input and discussion but in the heat of battle, someone has to make the final call. Have a clear team leader and give then the authority to make decisions.

Side note: That leader must have humility as a dominant character trait or the team will become discouraged.  A good leader shares the credit for success and motivates their team to work harder.

3. Give the Team the Information They Need to Succeed 

Tony Stark (Iron Man) is trying to create an artificial intelligence that will protect the world from alien attacks.  He accidentally creates Ultron who decides after some brief contemplation, that the Avengers (and humanity) are the problem with the earth. “I know you’re good people. I know you mean well. But you just didn’t think it through. There is only one path to peace… your extinction.”  Ultron becomes the Avengers greatest foe.

(Geek note: In the comics Henry Pym aka, Ant Man creates Ultron.)

Here’s where it all went wrong.  Tony Stark decides to work on the ‘Ultron project’ with Dr Bruce Banner but decides not to tell the rest of the team.  He didn’t want to hear their objections to this dangerous project.

An effective team communicates with each other to avoid their projects and activities hindering or harming the other team members!  Over communicate.

4. Take Time to Celebrate the Cool Things and Have Fun

As Tony Stark is searching the Hydra base (a terrorist organization) he mutters, “Please be a secret door. Please be a secret door.” and yells, “YES!” when the wall moves and he discovers one. This billionaire inventor gets excited about a secret passage hidden in an old stone wall.

We begin every meeting with “What went well this week.”  We take time to celebrate the good things, the fun stories, the lives being impacted and the successful executions.  Celebrating team success is an important key to being an effective team for the long-term.

I sincerely hope 4 fun facts about being an effective team taken from the Avengers: Age of Ultron will help your team become a super team!

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Read the first two installments in the Avengers inspired blogs: 5 Marvel Marketing Tips, and 5 Leadership Lessons from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

5 Leadership Lessons from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

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I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron (View the Trailer HERE.) Friday at the IMAX in 3D.  Wow, I was instantly 12 again.  I haven’t enjoyed a movie this much since the first Avengers. It was so well-written, a modern-day twist on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

As I viewed this special effect wonder, it occurred to me how many great one-liners were in this picture.  However, you don’t have to like Marvel movies to read this blog. Most interesting about this film was it contained some great truths about leadership and life.  Here they are:

1. “You never have to recover from a good start.” In the opening scene the Avengers are attacking the Hydra base and this line was uttered touted the importance of beginning well.

Church planters have learned that successful church plants start well.  If a church can ‘launch’ big and start with a healthy culture (see Nelson Searcy’s book Launch) they are far more likely to exist 5 years down the road.  A general leadership principle is proper planning saves pain during implementation.

[also read Someday Syndrome to avoid procrastination]

2. “Teams are only as strong as their weakest link.” – During the battle with Hydra, the evil Baron ordered, “target the weak ones.”  His strategy to distract the others. They shot Hawkeye, the super-accurate archer who has no super strength or other power.  The others stopped to care for their fallen comrade and to evacuate him.

Any organization can come to a grinding halt when there is a weak staff member, leader, or team member. I experienced this when we had a staff member who was mistreating people and needed constant monitoring.  This led to many meetings, hours of discussion, and increased stress. The result was our church didn’t grow for the first time in years.

Plan ahead, put more time into your hiring and promotion processes to make sure you have the right team members. Don’t settle for people who have talent but character flaws, they’ll distract the whole team.

3. “Everyone creates the thing they dread.”  Ultron quoted this as he mused about people attempting to avoid destruction by make greater weapons of destruction.

We must be fearless when leading.  If we fear failure, we will surely fail.  For example the more I’ve tried not to offend people the more people seem to be offended. When I simply lead, explaining the vision, there are actually less roadblocks from people.

4. “I tried to create a suit of armour around the world but I created something terrible.” As leaders we must realize that our actions affect others.  We can’t make decisions in a vacuum.  It’s important to take a moment and think worst case scenario. This is hard for me as a positive, glass is overflowing kind of guy, but we must remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  In our haste to help others we may actually hurt them.  Ultron told Stark, “I know you meant well but you didn’t think it through.”

[Ever felt this way? Read this devotional on regrets.]

5. “Sometimes exactly what I want to hear is exactly what I don’t want to hear.” Bruce Banner (Hulk’s mild-mannered, scientist side) said this quote.  It is a great contrast to prideful attitude of Tony Stark (Iron Man) who isolated from his friends when creating Ultron.  Stark didn’t want to hear the ‘what ifs’  from the ‘caution crowd’.  His lack of accountability lead to creating a monster. The Bible says in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

Have people on your team that will tell you what you don’t want to hear.  I don’t mean negative people who stop progress but honest people who aren’t impressed by you. People who ask the question, “Have you considered this?”  We all need those people.

BONUS QUOTE: “I just pay for everything and design everything, make everyone look cooler.” Tony Stark (Iron Man) corrected the shield agent who called him ‘boss’ pointing to Captain America. “He’s the Boss.”

The person who is the leader isn’t always the most talented or even the most valuable. Every person on the team has a critical function. The caution is, team members must be willing to follow the leader and their vision, even if their pride says, “I’m more talented (or smarter, harder working, etc.) than the leader is.”

I sincerely hope these leadership quotes from the Avengers: Age of Ultron will inspire your team to heroic accomplishments!

5 Marvel Marketing Tips

Subtitle: What the Avengers can Teach Churches about Marketing

Ok, full disclosure…I’m a comic book geek. I know Captain America and Iron Man from when they shared Tales of Suspense and I still yell out “There’s Stan Lee!” when I see the Marvel Mogul in any TV show or movie. I admit to my geekiness but it wasn’t just comic book nerds that went to this opening weekend. What marketing lessons can church leaders learn from the box-office frenzy that is Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron at the box office?

movies-avengers-age-of-ultron-ew-coverAs you can imagine, Marvel (an LLC owned by Disney since 2009) is a marketing machine. Marvel rose above its comic book competitors with superior marketing before being acquired by Disney. Now with Disney, one of the greatest marketing companies in the world, behind the Marvel characters they no longer just target only hard-core comic geeks. No, their target is world domination (cue evil villain laugh Mwuhahahahaa!) Ok, I promised marketing lessons for churches.

Let’s look at the way Marvel marketed this Avengers sequel as part of their BIG-picture plan to market all their films…and look at how we can apply these techniques to church marketing.

1. Marvel got “non-comic geeks” excited about these movies.

My wife and daughters are not comic fans but they are as excited about this movie as I am. Moviegoers don’t have to be comic readers to enjoy Marvel movies. Their story lines we beautifully lifted from classic comic book moments but if you didn’t know that, the stories are easily understood and explained. Bottom line, you don’t have to be a comic book insider to enjoy!

If you look at the trailers, posters and other marketing pieces, you almost forget The Avengers are from a comic book. Marvel is advertizing a movie to any moviegoer who enjoys Action/Adventure pictures. That is a key for churches when marketing, target the general public in your area, not just church people.

Marvel Marketing Tip #1: Create Marketing for People Who Are Not Already Fans

2. Marvel put the right people in the right roles.

One reason for this movie’s wide audience is the quality of actors cast. There is star power in the leading roles, Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Evans (Captain America) etc. etc. That is expected in a blockbuster movie.

What is more amazing is the Academy Award quality in minor or supporting roles: Gweneth Paltrow (Iron Man’s assistant/girlfriend), Anthony Hopkins (Odin: Thor’s Dad), Natalie Portman (Thor’s girlfriend), and Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury).

Marvel Marketing Tip #2: Create Roles for People To Widen Appeal

When possible, leverage star power. The impact a quote from a local celebrity or a 15 second spot from a well-known guest speaker will draw people who would never be interested other wise. A testimony service from heavy metal legend Brian ‘Head’ Welch of Korn remains one of our churches biggest days.

Last thought on this…marketing doesn’t end at the front door, put quality people in support roles such as usher or café server to ensure people get a quality experience.

Beyond the celebrity drawing power, people must identify with your people. Ask some questions about whom you’ve ‘cast’ to represent your chfireproofurch. Is everyone in your marketing material a nicely dressed, thin, white, 30-something? Does your church look like that? More importantly does your city look like that? This isn’t about celebrity as much as having ‘characters’ people can identify with.

For example: Iron man is a flawed man. He has pride, daddy issues, a complicated relationship with his love interest, health concerns, and trouble getting along with others. To target real people, use people they identify with in marketing images and issues people identify with as topics.

3. Every movie has teasers about the next one.

One of my favorite things to do with my youngest daughter is to hang around the theater after the movie ends to wait for the teaser at the ending credits! This gets us thinking (and talking) about the next Marvel movie!

For example, two of the characters in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, were revealed in a post-credits scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier two years ago! I remember explaining to my family who they were including that Magneto from the X-men franchise was their father.

There are some teasers during the films themselves also. In Iron Man 2, Agent Coulson hands Iron Man a half-constructed shield that would later become Captain America’s shield alluding to an upcoming Cap film.

Marvel Marketing Tip #3: Find creative ways to give information about upcoming services or events.

When I send out a mailer advertizing a special service, I try to have a ‘bounce-back’ event included, like a guest speaker. An example of this was Brian ‘Head’ Welch, mentioned earlier, was a January event advertized on our Christmas mailer. We also made it a big deal during the Christmas services to say ‘mark your calendars’ and to show a 30 second teaser commercial. It can be as simple as announcing your new comers gathering on Easter. Leaking info about an upcoming event is a great way to get them to come back and Marvel knows it.

4. Marvel Merchandises EVERYTHING.

Marvel will make millions at the box office, but they will also make millions more from merchandise affiliated with the Avengers. There are action figures, toys, video games, posters, collectables, lunch boxes, clothing, and partnership deals with places like Subway. This is an area where Marvel has always outshined their comic book competitors but now that Disney, the best in the world at affiliated merchandizing, owns them, you see Marvel products EVERYWHERE.

Marvel realizes that the residual money from this kind of marketing can outsell even the biggest blockbuster’s ticket sales. What does this mean to churches? We aren’t merchandising products to get more money.

Marvel Marketing Tip #4: Use merchandizing to keep your church in people’s minds.

A pen with your churches name and website will be found in a purse a month later. A free mug is a reminder to get back to church with their morning coffee. A T-shirt can be a conversation starter for a long-time member who is shy about sharing their faith.

5. Marvel Announces release dates way in advance.

Marvel has told us there are at least two more Avengers films, a two-part series called Infinity War, (They revealed the villain Thanos in one if those teasers). The next Avengers releases in 2018 (yes, 3 years from now), with the second part coming in 2019. Leading up to these films, Marvel has: Captain America: Civil War in 2016, with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Thor: Ragnarok both in 2017. People are talking about them now because Marvel announces dates well ahead of time.

Marvel Marketing Tip #5: Get important dates into people’s hands early, and in writing.

Don’t assume people know the dates or times! Ok, we may know that Christmas is December 25th each year but what time is the Christmas Eve service? Easter? Forget about it, they move the date every year! In your announcements, mailers, TV commercials, newspaper ads…PLEASE put the dates and times on them. The most effective marketing I’ve done is to hand out invite cards to our people with the dates and times to give to friends.

A big opportunity churches miss is to have a countdown. Marvel is great at saying “Three days until the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes hit the screen near you.” Count down to your big days on your website or in your marketing. A mailer that says “Easter is less than two weeks away” grabs attention better than “This Easter come to Church XYZ”.

In closing, when we are looking at marketing churches we should look at companies that understand how to put butts in the seats. Marvel is certainly good at that. I hope these ‘marvelous’ tips (I couldn’t resist.) will help us all market more effectively to grow our churches and ultimately touch more lives for Christ.

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?

How YOU can make sure Guests do NOT come back

Subtitle: how to turn guests in to one-time visitors

In our church we call new people guests not visitors.  To understand the difference, think of your home. A visitor shows up unexpectedly, uninvited and doesn’t stay usually.  A guest you’ve invited, you expected them, you’re glad to see them and you want them to stay.  You want guests to enjoy themselves and feel welcome.

We prepare at House of Praise for guests.  We’re glad they came, we’ve invited them and we want them to feel so welcomed that they want to join the family.

If you want visitors to just visit and leave, here’s what you do as a church member:

  1. Don’t talk to them.  (Remember it’s US and THEM) Look at them awkwardly and quickly walk away. Only talk to people you already know and most importantly, don’t welcome them.
  2. If you see someone who hasn’t been to church in a while (A Creaster- Christmas and Easter only) point that our to make them feel awkward.  Say “Wow haven’t seen you for a while.” Or even better, “We’d like to see you on more than Easter and Christmas.”
  3. You wouldn’t think this matters but it does.  Make sure we all dress in suits and expensive clothes so guests feel under dressed.
  4. Don’t help guests find their way around. (Think “It’s not my job.”)  If they do dare to ask where something is, just point in the general direction and say, “that way.” Or something so complicated “Louis & Clark couldn’t find it such as,  “Our kid’s ministry is out those back doors, to the left, then another left turn, down a hallway, then turn right, go outside into the other building.”
  5. Mistreat their kids.  Yell at the guest’s kids for something kids normally do like running or taking a 2nd cookie.  If you’re volunteering make check in a long and painful process. Help make the kid’s areas dirty, cluttered, & poorly with extras from the Walking Dead at the door. If a baby cries in maim service, immediately kick the family out of the sanctuary.  They won’t be back!
  6. Keep tension in the air.  Argue or speak rudely to someone in front of the guest. They won’t know it’s your friend you’ve been feuding with all week.  They’ll think we all treat everyone like that.
  7. Above all, Don’t invite guests back.  Don’t speak to them as they leave and don’t follow up on them later in the week to see what they thought

If you will do these simple steps it will keep your church from being filled with new people.  More people will give up on church so their lives won’t improve and yes more people will probably also give up on God and go to hell BUT you can keep your church a comfortable size where you know everyone.

Of course, if that’s not important to you…in our church we treat new people like honored guests.  We include them in conversations,  walk them to where they go, make sure their kids love it, let them know there are NoPerfectPeopleHERE, tell them we are glad they are here and invite them back.  If they’re our friends we may even call them next week to see how they’re doing. Why? Because we genuinely care about them improving their lives and their eternity.

Enduring Excellence

Excellence isn’t really excellence unless it endures until the end.  Think about it.  I can be the fastest guy off the blocks in a race, clear the first few hurdles with ease but if I trip over the last hurdle or slow down before the finish line and other runners pass me, was it an excellent race?  Of course it wasn’t.  To be truly excellent at anything we must finish as strong as we begin.

Paul said this near the end of his life:

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.  And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:6-8

The prize that awaits is worth running this race with excellence, but how do we do that?

Begin with Duplication and Delegation

Exodus 18:13-26 – Moses & Jethro

Jethro decides to check on his son-in-law Moses and see how his life as a leader is going.  He sees Moses handling every minor dispute that arises for a whole nation!  He tells him this isn’t good. You won’t have enduring excellence, you’ll wear out!  He instructs Moses on duplication and delegation.

Moses you teach the people and delegate the smaller decision to faithful, honest people. Then delegate the authority to make decisions.  Leaders make mistakes by delegating tasks and not authority because of fear or control issues. Moses sets up leaders over 1,ooo; 100, 50, and 10.  Each according to their ability.

There were good people standing around Moses all day learning by watching him make decisions.  they just needed a change to be able to help.  Duplicate yourself in faithful, honest people then give them a chance.  The help you need is already around you, waiting.

Jesus went beyond Delegation to Discipleship

Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” – Matthew 4:19

Jesus kicked it up a notch by saying in effect, I’ll mentor you.  I’ll teach you how to do what I do.  Jesus fed 5,000 but He duplicated Himself in 11 men and then He delegated the care of the Kingdom of God on this earth to them!

If Jesus can trust the care of His word and the eternal destiny of billions of souls to some uneducated fishermen, don’t you think you can delegate some task to those you are training?  Of course they will make mistakes, after all that’s how you learned.

If the people around you are willing to follow you, put your DNA into them and turn them loose!  After 3 years of discipling thieves, liars, uneducated fisherman and trouble makers Jesus was frustrated too.  He asked how long He had to put up with them and why they had such little faith but He entrusted His ministry to them.  Wow. Don’t make those you disciple wait until their perfect before you trust them because they never will be.

What’s this have to do with enduring excellence?  Jesus did the work better than His disciples. You can always do it better yourself. However, Jesus understood that excellence would come from the disciples eventually.  More importantly He knew that enduring excellence means building something that lasts beyond yourself. How long will the excellence you strive for today last?  Until you get tired? Even if it’s until you die, it’s not truly enduring.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 20: A Risk-Taking Church

We heard a challenging word from Pastor Matthew Barnett this morning.  He spoke one becoming a Risk-Taking Church.  I found that amusing since I had written on taking risks that morning.  Today’s blog is based off the notes I took during that sermon.

Churches start out as Risk-Taking Churches.  The word to describe them would be DARING.  We’ve heard the stories. They left the comfort of jobs, friends, and families to run after a dream God gave them.  The focus is vision or calling.

Matthew Barnett did that.  He left one of the largest churches in America that his father led in Arizona to start the Dreamcenter in downtown Los Angeles. He was 20 years old and had 7 people with them.  Then when they were still small but growing, they purchased a 4 million dollar hospital when their weekly income was $1,500.
Everyone told him it was foolish.

There will always be well-intentioned people telling you why you can’t do what God has told you to do during the daring phase.

Then the church gets buildings, salaries…there is more to lose.  This the Care-Taking Church.  The word that best describes this is the word DUTY.   This church focuses on maintaining property and programs.  They care most about meting the needs of its members. The problem is if you’re not going forward in God you are in fact backsliding.  You can’t maintain.

The Care-Taking Church becomes the Under-Taking Church.  It becomes a dying memorial to what God had done.  They talk more about what God did in the past than what He has called us to do in the future. They study history and work to amass the knowledge of scripture. The word that best describes this is the word DEAD.

Here’s what will blow your mind.  The Under-Taking Church isn’t always a dead church meaning; no miracles, no presence of God.  Under-Taking is a death of vision a death of the Great Commission.  Sometimes this church focuses on the ‘next experience’ with God but the gift is emphasized over the giver.  It’s not about what God wants us to do when we leave His presence but simply the next experience I can have personally.

Reading Hebrews chapter 11 we see the ‘Heroes of Faith’, God’s Hall of Fame.  They were all Risk-Takers!  Noah had no support when he responded to God’s word.  Noone believed He had heard God.

You can’t walk by faith and walk safe.

“How to” becomes the question of safe walkers, trying to manage miracles.  You can’t manage miracles.  You leap into the unknown and pray God catches you.

Jesus risked the salvation of all mankind on 12 fearful, dysfunctional, difficult underachievers and one of them was a traitor!  That’s taking a risk.  What if they didn’t do what they were called to do?

Our problem is that we want security more than glory.  You can never be great without taking a risk.

In closing let me say this, failing to take a risk is a sin.  If we care more about our image than advancing the Kingdom of God, it’s a sin.  God’s plan for you is bigger than your potential!  God’s vision for our church is greater than we can even comprehend.  We certainly can’t make it happen without Him.  Give God the chance to do great things through you.

Don’t be afraid to go where God has already gone.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Help me to fear missing your destiny more than what others will think if I fail.  I choose to take a leap of faith rather than playing it safe.

Thoughts

  • Is our church playing it safe or taking a risk?
  • How can I support my friends in their Risk-Taking adventures?

Action

  • Take a risk by praying for a stranger who need a miracle.
  • Start a ministry for God that needs His supernatural touch to succeed.

Blind Eyes & Stuffy Noses

When we first walked into our church building as the new pastors we remembered thinking how terribly cold and unfriendly the facilities were.  Not the people, the building.  The colors were very cold, the floor in the lobby a dull, industrial, gray tile. The sanctuary had a basketball court on the carpet.  That was weird but not as bad as the huge stains that greeted you as entered. All of that paled in comparison to the children’s wing…

The threadbare and overly worn carpet was held down by duct tape on all the seems.  The nursery smelled horribly, a strong mildew smell and a slight vomit smell.  A single tear slowly crawled down my wife’s face as she shuddered, “I can’t put my babies in here.  I won’t.” She uttered firmly.  I assured her we’d take care of it.  First thing I did was rip up the nursery carpet and put down rubber squares.

My thought was this, “How can they have let the place run down so badly?”  Don’t they see the torn baseboards, the stains in the carpet?  Don’t they smell the nursery?  Time had caused eyes to become blind and noses to become stuffy.  It is a a scientific fact that a person looking at a crack of broken piece of a building long enough will no longer notice it.  If you’ve ever sold a house you know it’s true.  You didn’t realize how dingy the walls were until you painted them to sell. I encourage you church leaders to walk through the church with a new person with a critical eye.

Today we have new carpet in the sanctuary & kids wing, warmer colors, and clean fresh smells but as a pastor who has been here almost 5 years, I’m starting to not notice the broken door handle, the smell of the mop room, the chipped paint here and there.  We bring in secret shoppers to check us out and report.  People I know will be honest.  (If you’d like a secret shopper to check out your building or church service email: pastorlon@houseofpraise.cc)

Have you as a believer gotten a stuffy nose to the sin in your life that has been there for years or no longer notice the cracks in your relationships?  We all need a good walk through with a friend to see what needs to be fixed.  Don’t wait until someone smells the mildew in your life.

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.

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.

Will They Come Back? Part 1

Is our church one that guess will want to come back to? That is the questions every church leader must answer.  If they enjoy the music and the teaching is understandable and they are able to apply it to their lives they may decide to give the church a second look but as important as the music and teaching are, it’s not enough to cause people to stay as part of the fellowship.

Before we look at what will cause people to stay let’s look at some things that drive interested guests away…

1. Having social networks that aren’t open to outsiders.  Guests notice if there are lunches, picnics, bible studies & groups that they aren’t invited to.  This is especially difficult if there are large families or groups of relatives in the church because it is natural to gather together with relatives and not realized it may perceived as a closed church function.

2. Feeling like their help isn’t needed. When a person wants to be a part of the church by serving and they aren’t allowed to there’s a rejection or feeling that they don’t belong.   Beware of controlling people within your church that may be well meaning but would rather do the work themselves than make room for others to help.  Also make sure you have good follow up in place for people to be plugged in quickly when they do volunteer.

3. Overcrowding. If over 80% of your chairs are full people will not come back. Rule of thumb, if 70% of you seats are occupied then get out more chairs or add another service.  Same principle applies to children’s church, if a parents sees overcrowded classes or nursery they may feel uncomfortable about their child getting enough attention.

4. Confusing service or facilites. People generally say no to whatever is confusing.  If they can’t find your sanctuary whey they enter anxiety begins to rise.  Good signs for restrooms and children’s wing definately help also.  How well do you insruct people what do to or inform them what to expect?  A simple announcement of “your kids will be dismissed to children’s church following the song service” can put people at ease.  Feeling relaxed allows people to focus on the spiritual aspects of the service.

5. Neglected facilities or grounds. Ever sold a house?  You fixed things that never bothered you.  Fresh paint for the shutters, trim the bushed and clean the windows make a good first impression.  Well, long time church members may walk by the ripped carpet and not notice it anymore but a new guest will.  Shabby landscaping or run down lobby says “we don’t care that much” and we probably won’t pay much attention to you either.

6. Inconsistent style.  People come to a flamboyant Easter pagent.  There’s a 50 person choir with rented robes, a 45 minute cantada with professional quality musicians, rented lights and scenery.  They come back two weeks later to one lady playing an accordian in an empty gymnasium.  I’m not saying don’t do special events but show people who you really are.

7. Tense or unwelcoming environment.  People need to be greated within the first 1-2 minutes they walk in the door by a smiling, friendly, normal person.  The facility needs to be decorated in a friendly manner.  As far as tension, if there is division, power struggles, or harsh and condemning leadership you can be sure people will run for the exits!

More next time…

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

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.

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.