Why We Plant Churches & New Campuses

Back in 2011 I attended the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Phoenix with one of my good friends. It was during this conference we began to pray about the journey of planting churches. The North American Mission Board was unveiling the "Send City" strategy and the impact of reaching people in strategic areas around the US and Canada. Our church had already partnered with a church planter—Chase Delperdang of Tucson, Arizona. The partnership was our first foray into this updated strategy of community engagement.

Over the years, we have partnered with planters in cities such as Portland, Colorado Springs, and Los Angeles. We fund as a sending church a family in Toronto and and another in Washington, DC.

Even as we have continued these relationships and seek to discover ways to support more fully, God continues to call us and challenge us to engage in our own community even more. 

We are an active support and assessing church for our local network and have recently created our own mini-network for the purpose of reaching more people in our community and surrounding towns. We know this is what we must do and yet, some, even within our church wonder why.

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Why Invest in Church Planting?

Some argue that planting churches is nothing more than a trendy movement. I have even heard some declare it to be unbiblical. Even when pointed to the unfolding of the church's expansion in the book of Acts, there are some who protest and do not see these as synonymous. Yet, I deem a church planting movement as not a new idea, but an outgrowth of cultural engagement and affirming, if not fulfilling, the words of Acts 1:8.

Granted, the term "church planting" is not in the Bible. However, disciple-making is and while some scoff that church planting is little more than institutional promotion, the reality is that healthy church plants (i.e. new expressions of local church bodies, grounded upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ) lead to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and Great Commandment. God is honored and loved. People are loved. Disciples are made.

That being said, the varied church plants we sponsor are led by men called by God to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This is about Kingdom-growth, plain and simple. When church planting fails in this area, it fails fully.

A few years ago, Ed Stetzer, then of LifeWay Research and himself a church planter wrote an article focused on why established churches should plant new works. Here is an abbreviated list of his reasons (full article may be found here.)

  • Church planting reaches lost people. Now retired Executive Director-Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, John Sullivan stated in a denominational meeting that new churches reach lost people at a better rate than established churches. He stated that we don't know exactly why this is, but the results prove it to be true.
  • Church planting follows a biblical pattern. Church planter, John Worcester gives a good overview of church planting as a function of the New Testament church in the video embedded below. His site is churchplanting.net 
  • Church planting is essential for survival. For any movement to thrive, it must multiply. 
  • Church planting benefits the planting church. When life change occurs within the ministries and plants sponsored by a church, the Lord energizes the "dry bones" for His glory.
  • Church planting is necessary to reach North America. This is the foundation of the Send strategy.
  • There's never a good time to plant - do it anyway.

In addition to planting and supporting new church plants, we are expanding into other regions of our community with satellite campuses. Churches have done this for years and we hosted a couple of campuses in years past. We did much well, but also learned from some 20/20 hindsight as to how to map and strategize better. There are numerous options when it comes to satellite campuses. Our model is to plant these in community schools, focused on reaching families, while serving the community. Each campus will have an on-campus minister and messages will be live, not video presentations. At this time, our new campuses will meet on off-days and times from the traditional Sunday morning. Go to creek.church and island.church to see a brief preview of where we will launch.

Why Put a Campus Where There Are So Many Other Churches?

One question that continues to be raised by friends about these campuses focuses on location and "why?" In each case, there are numerous other churches (of varying flavors) around. Yet, there are some demographic realities that have become clear as we have studied the areas. The truth is that the majority of those in the communities, even with numerous other churches around, do not attend any church of any type.

Some would say, "But if they wanted to attend, there are enough options. Why plant another?"

The simple answer is because we believe God is calling us to do so.

I was talking ton one friend about the Fleming Island area where we hope to plant Island Church next spring. There are numerous churches in this highly populated area. In addition to a young, large Baptist Church there are Catholic, Methodist, Anglican and even a new, fast-growing ARC church. Each is unique and yet, many are not engaged. The lostness in the community is overwhelming, as is the case in most every area in our nation.

In Fleming Island, at the corner of the two major roads are six pharmacies. It seems odd, but at Walmart, Winn-Dixie, Target, Publix, CVS, and Walgreens, residents can get their prescriptions filled as well as purchase other desired and needed items. Six pharmacies! Isn't that too many? Wouldn't one be enough? Well, apparently no. Each one seems to be doing well and apparently there are many, many people in our community purchasing legal drugs. The rumors are that the illegal ones are pretty rampant as well, but because it's a nice community they seem to be mostly designer drugs...but, I digress (too many cop friends, I guess.)

It's not exactly a fair comparison, but if there's a need for six pharmacies for physical ailments, surely there's a need for as many "spiritual pharmacies" that God desires to address the spiritual ailments of the people. 

So, we are planting a new campus, in Fleming Island and near Orange Park South. While these two areas are close, the demographics are vastly different. The barriers (bridges, waterways, divided highways, subdivisions, etc.) clearly create separate communities where the church is needed.

We Plant for the Sake of God's Kingdom

Tim Keller put it well in his article "Why Plant Churches"...

WE PLANT CHURCHES AS AN EXERCISE IN KINGDOM-MINDEDNESS.

All in all, church planting helps an existing church best when the new congregation is voluntarily birthed by an older “mother” congregation. Often the excitement and new leaders and new ministries and additional members and income wash back into the mother church in various ways and strengthen and renew it. Although there is some pain in seeing good friends and valued leaders go away to form a new church, the mother church usually soon experiences a surge of high self-esteem and an influx of new, enthusiastic leaders and members.

However, a new church in the community usually confronts churches with a major issue—the issue of “kingdom-mindedness.” New churches, as we have seen, draw most of their new members (up to 80%) from the ranks of the unchurched, but they will always attract some people out of existing churches. That is inevitable. At this point, the existing churches, in a sense, have a question posed to them: “Are we going to rejoice in the 80 percent—the new people the kingdom has gained through this new church—or are we going to bemoan the situation and resent the three families we lost to it?” Our attitude to new church development is a test of whether our mindset is geared to our own institutional turf or to the overall health and prosperity of the kingdom of God in the city.

Any church that is more upset by its own small losses than grateful for the kingdom’s large gains is betraying its narrow interests. Even so, as we have seen, the benefits that new church planting offers to older congregations is very great, even if not initially obvious.

A New Metric

As we move forward in our planting and campus launching, we seek to do what every church says they want to do, but few succeed. We seek to reach lost, unchurched people for Christ. While most churches affirm this, many of our traditionally "successful" church starts (and I'm talking about in my denomination and community) reach fewer lost people and more saved, disenfranchised church members from other congregations. 

Just to be clear - moving Christians from "Church A" to "New Church B" is not Kingdom-growth. It may eventually lead to such, but unless Church A is celebrating the renewed heart of these transferred members and these people are fully engaged in big picture engagement (i.e. they're not just marketing their new brand of church, but are actually living their faith and sharing Christ) this is a facade of church growth.

I feel for the pastors and campus ministers who end up with a room full of former members of Church A. What do you do? Tell them to leave? Maybe, but that becomes a distraction as well.

J.D. Payne threw this option out on the Verge website...

We don’t need more flavors

What would happen if we recognized that a wise use of our Father’s resources (e.g., money, people) should be to assist in planting churches from out of the harvest fields, instead of establishing a new work in a community to provide a different style of worship/ministry for the believers who are already there?

We do not need another flavor of church in the Baskin Robbins of North American Christianity; we need missionary bands to settle for nothing less than disciple-making that results in new churches.

What would happen if we equipped and commissioned church planters with the task of only going to the lost in the people group/community?

Yes, we say we are advocating these things, but let’s begin to question our results.

Try this.  The next time you hear about a new church planted, a record number of new churches birthed in an area, or church planting goals reached, just ask the question, “What percent of the members of those churches recently came into the Kingdom of God?”

So, we echo the stated intention of every church planter and established church pastor I know when we say "We want to reach lost people!" Pray that we do and that we avoid the easy trap of using an old model that creates a perceived successful church, but no disciples. Pray that we live out our faith in ways that the lost are loved, even if they never come to Christ. Pray that we don't lose focus.

More to come as we continue on this journey. Please pray that much would be made of Jesus and that God alone would be glorified. 


Anxiety, Depression and the Church

Last Sunday I preached from Matthew 6:25-33. In this passage Jesus clearly commands his followers to not worry. In the ESV, the verse states "Do not be anxious about your life." It is pretty clear, as indicated in our congregation, when I asked "How many of you worry about things like money, clothing, home, your kids, etc.?" that just about everyone (and it looked like everyone) worries. Hands went up throughout the room. This may have been the most hands in the air in a Baptist church on record.

In reading the passage, Jesus speaks to his followers and basically asks "Why do you worry? God has this!"

It's true, even as Christians we tend to fall into this trap of wondering if God is going to come through. We ask "Did he get my request?" and sometimes, well, to be hones, we act like we have a better handle on what we need than God.

I mentioned that ultimately Jesus was speaking of the sin of unbelief. This is a natural drift based on the Enemy's strategy first revealed in the Garden of Eden. When the Enemy addressed Eve and Adam, he basically presented them with the possibility that God was untrustworthy and was holding out on them. That lie has been perpetuated ever since.

So, when Jesus says "Do not be anxious about your life..." he is addressing this core reality of unbelief. Do we really believe God? Do we really trust him?

To doubt and become anxious in this way is to subtly, and maybe subconsciously agree and affirm that God doesn't really care and will not come through. Jesus reveals the antidote for this sin of unbelief and it is found in verse 33 where he commands us to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." Apparently, you cannot actively seek God and not believe God. Therefore, this action is preceded by repentance.

But What About Anxiety?

I have friends who struggle with anxiety and what has been termed a medical disorder. Anxiety, worry, and depression are not all synonyms, but there are some similarities. What about the man or woman who struggles so deeply with anxiety and finds it debilitating? What about those who know the Lord and sincerely pray for release and help? What about when those answers do not seem to arrive?

For years the church has ignored the reality of mental illness. In some cases a response of "Just pray about it" was about all pastors and fellow Christians would offer. Some actually seem to have traveled back to the first century where every physical and mental illness was the direct result of individual sin. While this may be the case at times, ultimately all illness results from the fact we live in a fallen world where sin has infected all of creation. 

So, as I preached Sunday on this passage regarding anxious living, some would rightly wonder if just "praying away" the issues is enough? 

Believe me a superficial prescription is never biblically sound. 

Since 99.9% of the congregation publicly admitted that worry was prevalent in their lives,  prayers of repentance of not believing God needed to happen. It needed to happen in my life.

As for those who have diagnosed anxiety disorders or some other affirmed mental illness (and those two words—"mental illness"—need not be forbidden by Christians) the truth remains that God is ultimately the answer. 

For my friends who ask "I keep praying and God isn't taking this away, so now what?" I cannot help but think of Paul and his "thorn in the flesh." However, I don't pretend to easily equate the two. It just comes to mind and makes me wonder. I also think of Job who suffered much. The physical suffering of God's children is not always removed in a timely fashion. The mental suffering isn't either. 

This we know...God is not absent, nor is he ignoring his children.

The crowd that heard Jesus say "Do not be anxious" apparently were much like me and many who were here Sunday. They (we) were sinfully choosing to not fully believe that God was sovereign.

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I Believe, But Still Suffer

I grieve with those who seem overwhelmed by suffering, whether physical or mental. Christians are to grieve with those who grieve and to be honest, there are times when we just cannot understand what another is feeling.

I recently saw a commercial for a medication designed for people who suffer from migraine headaches. My wife suffers from these on occasion and she said that commercial nailed it. It is hard, if not impossible, to explain to another what is being experienced during these headaches. Words do not suffice. Pain is real and those who have never experienced it can be hurtful by simply stating "Just take some ibuprofen and take a nap." 

This is similar to those who suffer from anxiety or depression. They, too, have shared an inability to verbalize exactly what they feel and are experiencing. So, "Just be happy and get over it" is not really a helpful prescription.

So to those who suffer, my prayers for you are offered (comment below if you have specific requests). Repentance of the sin of unbelief is needed in my life, and likely in most every follower of Christ. Repentance of the sin of offering superficial prescriptions rather than true prayer and love for those suffering is needed as well.

An article by Brandon Peach on the Relevant website revealed this...

Anxiety and depression don't look how we often think.

When I've opened up to Christian friends about my own depression and anxiety disorders, they're often surprised. “You seem so happy all the time!” Depressed people become really good at hiding their symptoms, even from doctors, because of the stigma attached to the illness. Churches often don't address mental illness, which gives the worship team guitarist or the elder even more incentive to keep it hidden away. Furthermore, the symptoms of depression often tend to contradict each other, which makes it really difficult for a person suffering from depression to recognize it for what it is—let alone for the Church to recognize it.



“Learning to recognize the signs” then is often a failing strategy. If churches begin responding to mental disorders as a community willing to offer encouragement and support, people suffering from those illnesses may just be able to accept the help. It may just be people you never expected.

Even churches that seek to provide a safe haven for those suffering in their midst might not have a judgment-free place to discuss their struggles. Programs like Celebrate Recovery can provide an invaluable forum for people to interact with others who experience “hurts, habits, and hangups,” and can help deal with some of the self-medication many people with depression and anxiety use to numb themselves. Without a carefully planned strategy to deal with mental illness, though, “all are welcome” might not be enough. Healing comes from a prayerful, loving community that seeks to truly understand major depressive disorder and related conditions, and one that develops a positive response.

Most churches probably have the very best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness. Like the rest of society, however, the Church may misinterpret these clinical conditions and respond to them in ways that exacerbate them—and as a result, demoralize those suffering. Christ, the Great Physician, came to heal the sick. As His body, it's time the Church leads society in helping to do the same.

A Pastor's Look at Depression

Perhaps one of the most helpful stories regarding these issues comes from Pastor Tommy Nelson of Denton, Texas. Tommy entered into a depression that led to severe changes in his life. Even as a pastor of a Gospel-centric, Bible-believing church, he found the church's readiness to respond lacking. Below is a video of him sharing his story at a chapel service held at Dallas Theological Seminary. It's a long video, but worth the time.

 

 


When Chick-fil-A Opened on Sunday

Full disclosure: I'm a Chick-fil-A apologist.

I worked at Chick-fil-A when I was in high school. Those were the days when the restaurants were pretty much exclusively in malls and the menu included such things as deep-fried apple pies (they need to bring this back,) the Chick-N-Q and meals were served in cardboard boxes that looked like barns.

My children both worked for Chick-fil-A during high school and college.

We still eat at Chick-fil-A regularly. I even recommend students in our church to work for our local restaurants. I keep hoping for a kick-back in free nuggets for that.

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Photo credit: StockMonkeys.com via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

There are many people who love Chick-fil-A.

There are also many people who hate the restaurant. Most of those who declare their hatred for Mr. Cathy's restaurant online and in the news state that it is the "intolerant" beliefs of ownership and the anti-LGBT policies of the business. This stems from CEO Dan Cathy's statements regarding his personal convictions that oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. You may remember that firestorm that hit the airwaves a number of years ago. I wrote about that here in a post from 2012. I remember squeezing into our local Chick-fil-A for a "Stand with CFA" grassroots event that drew more customers than in the history of the restaurant. Nevertheless, the cultural barrage continues to this day.

Some cities declared Chick-fil-A was not welcome to open restaurants within their municipalities. The news goes on and on and on. And Chick-fil-A continues to grow and while labeled as hateful for those who disagree with the owners religious and personal convictions, the local restaurants continue to illustrate their openness to hire qualified employees with no regard to race, religion or sexual orientation.

Sundays at Chick-fil-A

One of the most widely known characteristics of the Cathy's restaurants is that they are not open on Sundays. This was founder Truett Cathy's conviction as a Christian and active member of his local church. Though money is to be made by being open seven days a week, he refused to allow this. There are stories of individual operators who lost their restaurants when it was discovered by corporate that they were opening on Sundays. Even the powerful malls of the 1970s and 1980s could not sway Chick-fil-A to open. This is still true today. I remember a few years back as I was leading a mission team back to the US from a two-week project in Europe. We were to land in Philadelphia. We were pretty excited because we knew there was a Chick-fil-A in the Philadelphia airport. Yes! In Philadelphia there is sweet tea! It did not take long for our excitement of having our first American meal in two weeks of a Chick-fil-A sandwich, waffle fries and sweet iced tea wane due to the realization that we landed in Philly on a Sunday. 

Nevertheless, the "closed on Sundays" rule has remained. Apparently, it hasn't hurt Chick-fil-A as a business. They continue to grow and increase influence through leadership training, Winshape Camps and other ventures.

The Story Most Aren't Hearing

There are stories that hit the news and there are some that never make it on television at 6pm. Here's a good news story in the midst of a tragic event that illustrates that loving our neighbor is still the best policy.

Apparently, last Sunday in Orlando, the local Chick-fil-A opened. However, this operator is not likely to be in trouble. In fact, it seems that Chick-fil-A approved of this special Sunday opening. The opening was unique and in response to the terror attack at The Pulse nightclub.

Here's the story by Lairs Johnston:

Chick-fil-A is famous for two things…chicken sandwiches and controversy.

Like last month when the New York City Mayor urged people to boycott the restaurant because he felt they portrayed a hateful message towards the LGBT community. Well, this past Sunday, a day they’re infamously closed, they decided to do something out of character to help the victims.

Upon hearing the news of the Orlando shooting the restaurant opened its doors and fired up the grill, cooking hundreds of chicken burgers and orders of fries. The only thing is, they didn’t sell any. Instead, they donated everything to the local blood drive where people were gathered to donate and help out the victims of the massacre.

According to the DC Gazette, hundreds of people were fed and even posted about it on social media this past Sunday.

The owners of the popular Christian company have shown Christ in a time of tragedy. They didn’t compromise their beliefs, just showed them by extending love, opening their doors on a day they’re known for staying closed.

“They will know we are Christians by our love”–not for our best friends, not for our families or other Christians, but by how we love those who hurt us and disagree with us.

The Orlando shooting was an attack on the LGBT community. Let us not allow it to turn into more attacks – on the LGBT community, on the Muslim community, on each other.

Does This Really Matter?

Well, truthfully, it's just a local restaurant giving away chicken sandwiches. In the larger scheme of things, maybe it is really not that big a deal. Yet, here's why I believe this is significant. Johnston states it well when he says "They didn't compromise their beliefs, just showed them..."

Not every employee at Chick-fil-A is a Christian. Not everyone who works for the company agrees with the CEOs personal convictions. These are facts that are likely true in every corporation. Chick-fil-A is not really a "Christian company" because only people can be Christians. No restaurant goes to heaven when it finally closes. Yet, the people who work at this local restaurant (and I'm sure there were other restaurants and organizations that provided free meals and drinks as well to those in Orlando) did what Christ modeled. They actually did what the church should.

If you're in Orlando or following the reports focusing on the community, you will notice that many churches and followers of Christ have and are serving those who are hurting. Pray for those who wear the name of Jesus as they seek to love those the culture says they hate. Pray for our churches as they seek to minister and reach those who are hurting and scared and need to know that there is a Way to Life and He is Truth.

Love wins. And that's more than a watered-down hashtag.

 


How Christians Must Respond to the Orlando Tragedy

We awakened Sunday morning to the tragic news coming out of Orlando, Florida. A man with apparent self-proclaimed allegiances to ISIS opened fire in a gay nightclub early in the morning, killing at least 50 people and injuring over 50 more.

This is now categorized as the worst mass shooting in American history. Men and women lost their lives. Parents lost children. Brothers and sisters lost their siblings. And a nation mourns.

I confess I did not read the full story until late on Sunday afternoon and therefore, unfortunately, did not mention this tragedy as our church gathered together for worship yesterday morning. When I read the story and subsequently watched some of the video coming from Orlando, emotions swirled within me.

Once again we offer a hashtag "#PrayFor" notification on social media. This time it's not Lahore or Paris or Brussels, but is for the people of a city less than three hours from my home. Maybe "#PrayForOrlando" needs to be replaced with "#ImPrayingForOrlando" to ensure that the hashtag is less a command and more a declaration of action. Yes, prayer is active, not passive.

The terrorist connection is frightening for those in our nation, our state and especially for those in Orlando. Every time a terror connection is revealed, those who can remember are thrust back to September 11, 2001 when Islamic extremist terrorism became a reality to all of us.

Pray for Orlando

 

How We Must Respond

Let's be honest, the church (and I am referring to the conservative, evangelical, Baptist flavor of which I am part) has great potential for really messing up here with response. This is clearly due to the reality that the Islamic terrorist is, well...a Muslim, and those who were killed and injured are most likely lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. Oh, and they were in a nightclub.

While posting a "#PrayForParis" or other such statement on social media just seems like the right thing to do, some Christians may initially struggle with offering a "#PrayForOrlando" statement for fear that they will be viewed as affirming things they feel strongly against (in this case, the LGBT lifestyle.)

These are just my thoughts on how Christians and the church should respond.

STOP - Seriously, just stop what you're doing for a moment. Take a pause. As news continues to pour out from Orlando and in news conferences in front of the Pulse Nightclub, stop what you're doing. Stop scrolling through trending stories on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. What has become more common as we move into a more inter-connected, technology-driven world, we find ourselves searching online to see what others are saying. I'm guilty of this and also of what many others find easy to do - vent online. Don't. Guard your hearts and stop for just a moment and think about the reality of what has happened.

PRAY 

Yes, really pray! In my life, I've discovered the intentional pause leads to deeper prayer. People are angry. People are afraid. People are hurting. Pray for the city of Orlando, but more for the people of Orlando and especially those directly touched by the tragedy. You do not have to agree nor affirm a person's lifestyle to grieve over them. Pray for the family members, friends and yes, even lovers of those killed. 

GRIEVE

Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) Names are now being released of those who were killed. These are not generic "extras" in a film or digital creations in a video game. These are real people. They were killed in a nightclub marketed to the LGBT community. These people are image-bearers of God who had their lives erased in a moment of hatred and terror. 

I read this morning the transcript of text messages sent from a young man to his mother as he and others were hiding in a restroom. The messages are haunting as he stated "He's coming. I'm going to die!" He has been confirmed as one of the victims and his mother is left, as are many others, grieving and questioning and now wondering "What could I have done?" As a parent, my heart goes out to the many who are being notified this morning, grieving the loss of a son or daughter and now thrust into the public spotlight as they mourn and ultimately have to plan a funeral soon.

BE SILENT, BUT SPEAK HOPE AND LOVE WHEN YOU MUST

Okay, this seems contradictory, but hear me out. At times the very best counsel and help a Christian can offer others is the ministry of presence. Just be there. You don't have to go to Orlando to do this. Believe me, as this story unfolds, there are many in your community and church, and even your family, who are shaken by this. Some because of the connection to the LGBT community or their own self-identity as LGBT. Others because of the affinity of age with those murdered. Some because they have friends or coworkers who may be more like the terrorist than they wanted to admit and now political correctness seems way too overrated.

Grief and fear are often bedfellows. So, as one who has hope, just BE THERE. And, when you do speak, go to Scripture, but not as the Pharisaical legalists do. In fact, I'd recommend you live out the Scripture. At this point the #LoveWins hashtag needs to not be about gay marriage, but about Christ-centered, Gospel-focused love for those who need it (and we all need it.) Questions such as "Why?" will come, and simple, man-centered answers never suffice. 

Following the mall shooting in Omaha in 2007, Erik Raymond wrote these words...

First and foremost an event like this is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40 to 50 times, is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.

How Christians respond to this tragedy should be no different than how we respond to other depraved events where it seems evil is triumphant.

It is at these moments, Christ's love must shine through. We remember clearly that we are His ambassadors. This is a heavy calling. Respond well.

 

 


firstFAMILY Podcast 016: Resurrecting the Dead Church

06-08-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 016 - Resurrecting the Church


In this podcast, I share details related to church renewal and revitalization needed in our churches. Churches are dying. Some need to, but many just need refocusing. What would God have us do? Working harder is not the answer. Doing nothing is not an option. Join me in this discussion and check out the transcript as presented in the previous blog post here.

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A closed-down church building in northern Wales

 


Resurrecting the Dead Church

Christians are all about resurrections. At least every Spring when the pastels come out and Easter services are planned. 

When we baptize individuals in our churches, we're declaring a resurrection. In fact, I tell each person I baptize that they are about to preach the most powerful sermon ever. At that point, I tend to get a worried look as the person is thinking "I didn't know I was going to have to preach?!?" Then, I tell them that the very act of believer's baptism is the greatest illustration of life from death. The immersion reminds all who watch that Jesus died and was placed in a tomb  (buried.) When I pull the person back up out of the water, it is a picture of Jesus rising from the dead! What a sermon!

The baptism also shows that the individual died when he/she surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and was raised up a new creature in Christ. Old is gone and the new is here! 

It's a powerful image and I never grow tired of baptizing. 

What About Resurrecting the Church?

But what happens when the local church is in need of resurrection?

The numbers declare the reality - churches have a life-cycle. Based on statistical analysis from the North American Mission Board, over 70 percent of SBC churches are plateaued or declining. While attendance is not the only indicator of health or life, it is a strong one. Even so, as we look across the board, only 10 - 15 percent of our churches can be categorized as healthy and multiplying.

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By the Numbers

  • Across the SBC, we see close to 900 churches close annually
  • Two-thirds of these closures are churches over ten years old
  • Two-thirds of these closures are churches in growing, metro areas
  • The implications for Florida are that we see approximately 65 churches close annually
  • In the Jacksonville area, this means that almost 30 churches could be called "healthy," around 150 "plateaued or declining," and approximately 30 at or near risk of closing

In a meeting with denominational and regional leaders recently, we compared these statistics with known numbers of churches in our area and the data matches. Fortunately, our leaders and engaged churches are not content to see the statistics remain. We are blessed in our region to have wonderfully strategic, godly, and discerning leaders focused on these issues (Thank you - Rick Wheeler and the Jacksonville Baptist Association, especially.) Nevertheless, no denominational strategy will ever be sufficient to turn the tide. Working harder is not the answer. 

We have been able so see some amazing success stories in our city relating to church renewal and revitalization. In most cases, our associational leadership has played the role of broker between churches in the healthy ten percent and those in the bottom grouping. For this we are grateful.

While it is clear that God is moving among churches in Jacksonville and through the Jacksonville Baptist Association, we know that small victories will not shift the 70 percent into the category of "healthy and multiplying."

Screenshot 2016-06-08 10.04.29

Dying Churches Need a Strategic Shift

Many of our churches throughout Jacksonville were launched in the 1950s. They experienced growth and have histories of community engagement and victories. However, in many cases, the best days are decades in the past and the community around the church changed. Unfortunately, some churches have died. Honestly, some needed to die. Yet, I personally hate to see a church turn inward, ignore the gospel, grow calloused and die on the vine, especially in communities that are so in need for a clear, loving, biblically-relevant, gospel witness. 

John Mark Clifton, Lead National Strategist for Revitalization/RePlanting at NAMB, recently wrote a post about the reality of dying churches. In this post (found here), he breaks down the "Signs of a Dying Church" and all should take this to heart:

There is one reason a church dies. The church in Ephesus loved doctrine, they believed the truth, they worked hard, and they endured. But they were doomed to die if they did not return to that which they did at first. The church of Ephesus began with a bang (literally). It was birthed with a passion to reach its community and to make disciples. Over time, however, this passion waned. When a church ceases over a period of time to make disciples who make disciples and realize community transformation, that church will die.

The symptoms of a church near death are many and they include:

  1. They value the process of decision more than the outcome of decision.
  2. They value their preferences over the needs of the unreached.
  3. They have an inability to pass leadership to the next generation.
  4. They cease, often gradually, to be part of the fabric of their community.
  5. They grow dependent upon programs or personalities for growth or stability.
  6. They tend to blame the community for a lack of response and in time grow resentful of the community for not responding as it once did.
  7. They anesthetize the pain of death with over-abundance of activity and maintaining outdated structure.
  8. They confuse caring for the church facility with caring for the church members.

Most church leaders and members of local churches can see how these eight things can happen. In truth, most of us must repent for allowing these things to happen. This isn't rocket science - when we turn inward and focus on that which doesn't matter for eternity and the sake of the gospel, we begin to die. Sure, churches have life-cycles. Seriously, who's talking about the latest great things happening at the Church at Ephesus?

Yet, even with the known "life-cycles" of local churches, it is unhealthy and sinful to ignore that which God has called us to do. Is it possible that 70 percent of SBC churches have unintentionally allowed the worship of the church or the past to keep them from being who God has called them to be? Autonomy is wonderful, but we must not ignore the benefits and gospel-centered strategies (i.e. as exemplified in the book of Acts and Paul's letters) of being Kingdom-focused, community-engaged, partnered (or maybe "cooperating") churches. If the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, there is the possibility that we are only as strong in our community as our weakest church.

So, it's clear that dying churches need a strategic shift, but in many cases, they may not have the personnel or resources to do such. This is why strategic cooperation is so needed. The big church vs. small church battles that have grown in so many areas over the decades must go away. The battle is too grand to spend time focusing on issues that do not matter. So, as we check our egos at the door, we must come together for the sake of the Gospel. Is it possible? Not without divine intervention. 

Some dying churches will refuse to change. In many cases, they will become a local community's new CVS or Walgreens (depending on which corner the other one is built.) While affordable prescription drugs may fill a need for a community, I still believe a sold, Gospel witness will fill a greater need.

Will it be easy? Nope! But, who said ministry was easy?

 


Does Your Church Needs Rebooting?

Years ago, when I was in college and working at IBM as an intern, I learned much about personal computers and how they worked. I had to...job security. There were numerous times I would be called in by the executives in the building to come to their offices and fix their computers. The PC was still a fairly new machine and for a corporate culture that was built and relied on mainframes, learning the world of the PC was a shift for many long-time employees.

Nevertheless, I learned quickly that the first and often the best fix for the desktop computers was to simply turn off the machine, wait about thirty seconds, and turn it back on. The rebooting of the computer often reset the software and memory to a point that speed was regained and work could continue.

Computers have changed dramatically over the years, with the advent of smaller, more powerful microchips and, of course the move toward mobility with smart phones and tablets. However, even now, and maybe especially now, the simple rebooting of the machine is often needed.

On a Mac or Windows-based PC, the ability to "multi-task" by having multiple programs running at once is both a great help and at times, a great hindrance. Sometimes the computer (or phone) will slow down and cause the user great distress. Often this is remedied by closing programs that are open and running in the background. For the iPhone, it's a simple double-click of the button and a swipe of the app. It's simple, but does wonders.

It is my assertion that the local church can become much like these computers and phones at times. We, too, have many programs running. The larger the church, the more programs. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these various programs, but over time, churches have shown a tendency to do more because it's the "right thing to do" but fail to increase resources to keep the work at a high level and productive. In computer terms, we are running more programs but have not added any memory, or maybe storage space, to the machine.

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And we become bogged down.

We are considering this reality here at our church, and it is illustrated clearly when I look at our planning calendar and see markings and events on just about every day of the year. Some program is doing something, somewhere, in the name of the church (or at least using the resources of the church.) 

I think it's time for a reboot.

It's almost impossible to truly reboot a local church, especially one that has property and has been in existence for decades. To turn everything off for a season will cause great distress. However, maybe distress is what is needed?

Ministry programs are good, but as the old saying goes "sometimes good is the enemy of best" and as many church leaders know, despite our best efforts, "sacred cows" tend to appear over time.

One pastor stated at a conference that "Sacred cows make the best hamburger." He elicited a laugh from the crowd, but most pastors just wondered how this could ever happen.

Summer is a good time to reboot.

For our church, the school calendar pretty much runs the family calendars of our community. Therefore, the eight weeks or so of summer become a down-time for many families (or a short-time in which to cram any vacations or get-aways.)

While we still have the typical summer events on the calendar (VBS, camps, mission trips, etc.) we are cancelling our mid-week gatherings on Wednesday evenings. Some are shocked because in the Baptist world, Wednesday is like "Sabbath, Jr." but truth-be-told, over the past three years, the attendance on Wednesdays has been so low, the people basically voted to not come, by...not coming. 

If I could, I would probably cancel everything except Sunday morning worship this summer. It would be risky because our church culture is so set, but I know a reboot is needed. 

What happens when you reboot?

For a computer, programs and memory gets reset. For the church, leadership should take the time set aside during the reboot to evaluate every program and ministry offered by the church. It is during this time that "sacred cows" can be put out to pasture. It is at this time the hard questions such as "Should we even be doing this?" should be asked and then when the church is turned back on...some of the programs don't reappear. In other words, some programs need to be uninstalled.

Most pastors I know would love to do something like this, but find each week to be jam-packed with meetings, study time, visitation, etc. and the needed evaluation and restart never happens. We're just too busy. That's the problem with a continually running machine. You are always working to keep the machine running.

Dangers

  • Finances may suffer. Here's a practical reality, if you reboot some programming, giving may suffer. Just because your church isn't meeting on a certain day (or days) does not mean the expenses cease. In a consumer-based culture where people pay for their luxuries and activities, the unfortunate reality is that some feel as if they're "paying for their spiritual fix" weekly. Therefore, the risk of losing offerings is very real. However, this should not drive the decision. Just be aware.
  • A good idea vs. a God idea. Far too many of us pastors read about what some other church has done and then attempt to do the very same thing. While what was done at another local church may have been God's perfect plan for them, it may not be for you. Therefore, rebooting your church over the summer or some other time may just be a "good idea" and not "God's idea" so tread lightly and pray fervently.
  • The congregation doesn't "get it." Just because something makes perfect sense to you as a pastor and leader, the fact is that most in the congregation are not privy to the inner workings of the organization and would not automatically understand. So, communicate clearly and do so over and over again, BEFORE pulling the plug.

Does your church need a reboot? Perhaps. If you're on the verge of personal burnout, there's a good chance the church is as well. So goes the shepherd, so go the sheep. Giving permission for people to slow down is not a bad thing.

Reminders

Even if you stop doing some church events, remember that the Great Commission and Great Commandment never get put on "pause." The church is not the building (we keep saying that even though we don't act like we believe it) so this may force leadership to truly equip the saints for the work of the church, in their families, communities, workplaces and even on vacation.

Oh, one final warning. Sometimes when I would reboot a computer, it would not come back on correctly. That was an indication that a more serious issue needed to be addressed. Is it possible to reboot a church and find some things not coming back online? I believe so. In these cases, church health is the issue and when you recognize a real problem, you're better positioned to deal with it. 

Okay. I'm logging off now. I think I need a personal reboot.


A Rite of Passage for Junior High Boys

Nine years ago a school administrator and two teachers began a mentoring club at one of our local junior high schools for boys, simply put, who had little to no father influence and were getting into trouble in class.  This administrator, John Green is the founder of the group and eventually became principal of the school. He is now serving on the leadership staff at Seamark Ranch, a local ministry with group homes for children in need.

The mentoring group continues to meet, and currently has chapters at three local junior high schools. Our clubs (RealStuff Clubs) focus on leading young men into REAL Manhood that…

  • Rejects passivity
  • Expects the greater reward
  • Accepts responsibility, and
  • Leads courageously. 

As a ministry of our church, we provide male mentors for these young boys. Our groups meet for one hour a week, prior to school in a room reserved on the campus. We abide by the law regarding student leadership and faculty sponsorship (Equal Access Act) to ensure no false allegations of “separation of church and state” have any grounding. We teach sessions on what it means to be a real man, using characters from the Bible and ultimately Jesus Christ as our perfect model.

Each year, as the culmination of our club meetings, we host a “Knighting Ceremony” where 7th graders are “knighted” into the journey of authentic manhood before their peers and family members. Each 7th grader receives a Bible as a gift. Our 8th graders receive the cross pendant from Band of Brothers ministry.

In the past, our mentors were the “knighters” and the presenters of the pendants. However, we now affirm that the ones who need to be doing this are the boys’ fathers (or grandfathers, or other significant male.) As mentors, we gladly stand in the gap for boys who have no father figure in their lives. Yet, for those with fathers, we focus on helping them learn how to do this vital rite of passage.

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So, this year, with over 250 in attendance (boys, parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) our young men were charged with the code of being a real man, then their fathers were invited up to knight them (7th graders) or present the pendant (8th graders.) The fathers of 7th graders knighted these boys in the “name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and welcomed them into this fraternity called real manhood. The fathers of the 8th graders presented the pendant and then in their ear, spoke a word of blessing that included these key phrases “I love you! You have what it takes!” plus anything else they desired to say.

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It was a momentous evening and while it was focused on the boys, it truly was a night to remember for these fathers. For some, it was the first time they had spoken such words to their sons. Many had never heard their own fathers say such things. It was a divine rite of passage and we seek to provide support for them along the journey.

Group


Putting the Seat Down on the Restroom Debate

As you are most likely aware, a recent joint-action taken by the United States Department of Education and the Department of Justice regarding public school access for those students who identify as transgender to have access to the locker rooms and/or restrooms of based upon their gender identification rather than birth gender.
 
The edict passed down from our governmental agencies seeks to do what the US Constitution prohibits.
 
While this has been titled the "Wars of the Restrooms" it actually is much more than that. To politicize it as a restroom issue makes for ridiculous headlines and unfortunate protests via social media, that ultimately comes across as hate-filled (and in some cases, that's because they are hateful responses.)
 
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Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/smartsignbrooklyn/10213630306/">SmartSignBrooklyn</a> via <a href="https://visualhunt.com">Visualhunt.com</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY</a>
 

We Saw This Coming

While many continue to debate the veracity of restroom usage, this hearkens back to a post I wrote in 2014 (found here) regarding the city of Houston's desire to subpoena pastor's sermons regarding LGBT activism and biblical truth. Of course, most recently, Houston had its own restroom agenda. I wrote of that last November here.
 
The stories about culture shifts in this area will not lessen. It was just last summer when I shared with a fellow pastor that the stories relating to LGBT rights will continue to grow, and impact the church. At that time, there was much about lesbians and gay men and some news stories related to bisexuals. I shared that the "T" in the acronym is going to head to the forefront soon and local communities and churches would have to address it. Of course, my statement related to weddings and premarital counseling and the needed question to be asked by pastors of couples going through counseling to be "Were you born the gender you now are?"
 
We are now at this juncture. The "T" in the LGBT acronym is front and center and the culture is weighing its response.
 
I have read numerous articles about the restroom issues, both from secularists and Christians. There are some who declare the expected boycotts and others to seek to lay the issue to rest and allow anyone to use restrooms as they desire. 
 
Pastor John Piper responded well when asked if he would use Target's (the company in the cross-hairs of the boycotters and seemingly taking the lead in the corporate world's capitulation to the gender revolution) transgender restroom (or gender-neutral restroom). He stated...
 

My answer is, If I were there and if I had to, I would — just like I would stop on the highway if I had to. But I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to. And the reason I wouldn’t is because I want there to be a small act of protest and life consistency that may have no impact at all on the powers that make such decisions, but that keep my conscience clear and acknowledge God in practical affairs and give a consistency to my life that does help overall in showing the way of Christ to the world.

And I would say just one other thing. I think we should spend most of our creative energies on constructing in our minds and in our hearts and in our families great and beautiful and glorious alternative visions of reality than the ones we are being offered by the world. If we give most of our time to bemoaning and criticizing the world for acting like the world, our vision of God and his glorious future for his people will become smaller and smaller, and that could be a greater tragedy than the one we are living in. (His complete response is located here.)

The School Restrooms

Now, the issue at hand. With the government's non-binding threat to local schools coming out publicly this week, school boards and school systems are scrambling to answer well. The Duval County School Board (the largest school district in my area - Jacksonville, Florida) has stated they will comply with the mandate. Of course, lawsuits are now coming from parents who disagree.

The Clay County School Superintendent (the county where I reside) has stated that they will NOT comply with the mandate. School Board members will be addressing this on Thursday of this week. They are now being inundated with comments and threats from those who are offended, as well as words of encouragement and affirmation. 

Truth be told, our county school leadership rarely has a meeting without controversy. There continues to be great division among many in our county for numerous reasons, but in this case, regarding the affirmation of the federal government's directive, I anticipate a unified front for the most part in pushing back and saying "NO." I would encourage all in our county who have strong feelings in this issue to attend the School Board meeting. I know many who are offended that the directive would be ignored will be there. Their voices are already being heard. It is the voices of the encouragers that are needed. Many who never engage in politics and civics should consider attending and simply, in a winsome (not hateful, or angry) way, state their affirmation for the Superintendent and the School Board membership who must stand united on this issue. Someone needs to be a Barnabas in Babylon.

At a time when administrative assignments are being made for the next school years, students are living in the post-testing time of the year and having parties in classes, honor societies are inducting new members, clubs are having end-of-year events, and some are preparing to walk across the stage wearing a robe and mortarboard, the schools are talking about restrooms. Because they have to do so! This issue is not just in my local community. It's in every American community, thanks to the recent edict.

Churches and businesses are already having to find ways to answer the questions. (And these are questions that no one ever thought would be asked.)

This will not be an easily answered question and I foresee millions of dollars spent in lawsuits and litigation over this issue in the coming months, and perhaps years. 

Yet, the camel's nose is under the tent.

And those who live with a biblical worldview see things unfolding as expected, though not enjoyed. While there is no going back, and honestly, we shouldn't want to go backward, the need for Christians who consistently see the world through a biblical lens (i.e. worldview) is vital. 

Love God. Love people. Love ALL people (love does not mean affirm). Make disciples.

While the debate rages regarding identity, I go to Jesus' words in Matthew 19:4 (ESV) - “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female."

Remember...it's really not about the restrooms, but in case you didn't know, I am opposed to the gender-neutral and gender-identified choice for restroom/locker room usage.

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firstFAMILY Podcast 015: Killing the One-Eared Mickey Mouse

05-11-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 015 - One-Eared Mickey Mouse

 

Back in 1989, Stuart Cummings-Bond wrote in Youthworker Journal of the "One-Eared Mickey Mouse" that often develops within a church regarding student ministry. 

What is the One-Eared Mickey Mouse?

The premise is that left unchecked, the program model of youth ministry leads to an isolated entity with the thinnest of connections to church as a whole. This become a ministry silo (which I have written about here.) A healthier approach would find more overlap of the circles with intentional interaction and sharing of spiritual practices like worship.

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While student ministry often is the example used to describe this effect, the truth is it is not relegated to just ministry with teenagers. Any ministry within the church potentially can become its own "parachurch" ministry. This is often due to much weight being placed on the program model and the passion of those who serve within the ministry. For example, if John Doe serves in the intercessory prayer ministry, and has great passion for that ministry, there would be the natural tendency to elevate the prayer ministry over all other aspects of church ministry and opportunities. When this happens, a segmented leadership structure develops and an unintended "us vs. them" mentality develops which is evident in spiritual arrogance. You know, when only those who serve in "Ministry A" are considered to be really spiritual and doing something vital, while everyone else is missing out and living below the level of all that is holy.

Since Mickey's head is connected to his ear in this model at a very small, finely tuned point, it is very easy to be active in the "ear" and not be connected in the fullness of the church and its ministry.

This is poor ecclesiology and ultimately sinful.

And, just about every church of any significant age and size will inevitably drift here.

As our Leadership Team meets regularly to pray, plan and prepare (nice alliteration, huh?) we are more and more convicted of the potential for developing and even celebrating the "one-eared Mickey." Therefore, we must be strategic in our planning and more intentional in our practice to ensure this does not happen.

To declare our desire to have a family-equipping ministry means more than just saying "We're intentionally inter-generational." It means planning for opportunities where family members of all ages (and that's church family as well as biological and home-based families) to serve together, worship together, learn together, and grow together.

Perhaps one of the greatest divides in this era of legacy churches, church plants, megachurches, home churches, and all other models is the generational divide. When a segment of the church (defined by generation or age) is described as "those people" rather than "our family members" the divide is there.

By and large the "worship wars" of the 1990s and prior are over. The fact that "wars" were celebrated within the church is bad enough. The winner of the worship wars? Debatable, but likely not the church since division and self-centeredness tended to define the battle most accurately described as "The greatest waste of time within the church walls while the world kept on turning."

Yet, "Generation Wars" may be upon us...unless, we are proactive.

To ignore the "one-eared Mickey" is a recipe for loss. 

There are many resources available to help churches avoid this. One is Timothy Paul Jones' book Family Ministry Field Guide. I recommend it for all pastoral staff members (especially during the season of ministry planning and calendaring - which for us begins in August and ends in July each year.)


The Danger of Easy Christianity

On Sunday, I entered into a conversation with a good friend following the testimony presented by our church planting intern, Adam Wiggins. His story of redemption from a life far from God is inspiring and continues to impact many for the sake of the gospel. While talking with this friend, the discussion shifted to the failures at times we (the church and believers) have in effectively discipling new believers and worse, yet, offering a Christianity that is little more than a spiritual equivalent of joining a club.

 

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Photo credit: delete08 via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

 

 

Author and speaker, Rosaria Butterfield shared in her story of change, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, how becoming a Christian meant so much more than just "praying a prayer."

Making a life commitment to Christ was not merely a philosophical shift. It was not a one-step process. It did not involve rearranging the surface prejudices and fickle loyalties of my life. Conversion didn't "fit" my life. Conversion overhauled my soul and personality. It was arduous and intense. I experienced with great depth the power and authority of God in my life. In it I learned - and am still learning - how to love God will all my heart, soul, strength and mind. When you die to yourself, you have nothing from your past to use as clay out of which to shape your future.

Recently, on vacation in South Carolina, my husband and I went to a "community church." My conservative Reformed Presbyterian pastor and husband noted when we got back to the hotel room that we had just witnessed a service that contained a baptism without water, preaching without scripture, conversation about disappointment and pithy observations about financial responsibility without prayer, the distribution of flowers and trinkets without grace, and a dismissal without a blessing. Everyone was smiling, though, when it came time to walk out the door. This church's conversion prayer was printed in the bulletin. It read like this: "Dear God, I'm so sorry for my mistakes. Thanks for my salvation."

These misrepresentations of the gospel are dangerous and misleading. Sin is not a mistake. A mistake is taking the wrong exit on the highway. A sin is treason against a Holy God. A mistake is a logical misstep. Sin lurks in our heart and grabs us by the throat to do its bidding.

Strong words, but not wrong words. The problem presented is not the non-denominationalism of the community church. It's not in the methods, but ultimately in the lack of message. Easy Christianity is sold as an add-on to our already busy lives. It is a weak presentation of invaluable truth.

A.W. Tozer writes of this...

But now, after that ye . . . are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements? Galatians 4:9

I am not in the business of trying to downgrade any other believer’s efforts to win souls. I am just of the opinion that we are often too casual and there are too many tricks that can be used to make soul-winning encounters completely “painless” and at “no cost” and without any “inconvenience.”

Some of the unsaved with whom we deal on the “quick and easy” basis have such little preparation and are so ignorant of the plan of salvation that they would be willing to bow their heads and “accept” Buddha or Zoroaster if they thought they could get rid of us in that way.

To “accept Christ” in anything like a saving relationship is to have an attachment to the Person of Christ that is revolutionary, complete and exclusive!

It is more than joining some group that you like. It is more than having enjoyable social fellowship with other nice people. You give your heart and life and soul to Jesus Christ—and He becomes the center of your transformed life!

Lord, as Your followers share the gospel around the world today, I pray that each hearer will have a clear understanding of the consequences of the decision they will make to either accept or reject Jesus. (from Mornings with Tozer)

Becoming a Christian doesn't need to be difficult in the sense we create man-made hoops which to jump through. However, Christianity is not simply the spiritual addition to our lives. It is transformational, life-changing, eternity-securing and is not formulaic, though the road maps to total surrender are revealed in Scripture.


A Swing and a Miss...When Your Church Strikes Out with Guests

First impressions in church are a huge challenge, mainly because you get only one chance to make it.

In established, legacy churches, it becomes even more of a challenge because we have to strategically and intentionally be thinking "What would it be like to visit our church for the very first time?"

This is a difficult posting to make, due to the reality that pastors and churches are not supposed to be this transparent on the internet. Websites, Facebook posts and Twitter updates are always supposed to be uplifting, encouraging and enlightening. However, sometimes, the cold, hard reality of church-life comes and to ignore it or sugar-coat it is to do more harm than good.

I received an email this morning from a family that visited with our church for the first time (and possibly the last time) yesterday. I responded with great appreciation for the honesty and asking permission to share this information with our Leadership Team and church membership to help us understand the value of first impressions. I was given permission, but have changed the name in the email because it seemed like right thing to do.

Ready? Here we go...

Dear Sirs,

My wife and I attended your church for the first time this past Sunday. Our intent was to attend the 9:15am service. We wandered into the main sanctuary. The worship team was on on stage. We picked a seat and sat down. We were the only ones in the pews. Obviously we felt odd. No one approached us to redirect us to the gym for the service. (Our 9:15am service is more contemporary in worship style, and meets in our Family Ministry Center/Gym. - DT) Two friends of ours that were also attending for the first time asked a man with a name badge what we should do. He explained that the 9:15 was held in the gym and pointed to it's location. He did not offer to take us there. Needless to say we wandered a bit until we found the gym. No one from the church greeted us. No one said "hello" or "welcome." We were handed a packet when we entered the gym. That was the only contact we had with any staff or volunteer servants. We stayed for the entire service and were rushed out afterwards to facilitate the next event in the gym. My wife and I are not baby Christians. We are searching for a church home that follows the Word without compromise. I really thought that your church was it. Sadly, we will not be returning. No one welcomed us. We felt like we were NOT welcome there...

Bless you, Steve.

I was heart-broken and frustrated when I read this email. Not because Steve would dare send it. I greatly appreciate the fact that he did. I am not really mad at those who missed opportunities. I am, however, frustrated because I know we know better. We know that guests do not intuitively know where to go on our campus (which is a maze, to say the least) and that missed opportunities remained missed opportunities. 

We know there is much to be done facility-wise here, but also in other areas, as some have called it "to friendly-up the church." 

Don't misread here, we do have a friendly church. There is great love here and people who would (and have) do anything for a brother or sister. This church has stepped out of our comfort zones over the years to strategically engage our community. Yet, even with great intentions and strides taken, we miss at times. And those misses hurt.

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Why is it a constant challenge? Because we (and I do mean we, not just others in the church) get busy, have our routine, go to our classes, sit by our friends and forget that just calling ourselves "family" doesn't mean we are.

I don't know if Steve and his wife will come back. I hope they do. Fortunately, they are believers and so we didn't create a barrier to their salvation. But...what if they weren't believers? What if this was the first time they attended church ever and only did so because of a family crisis, or because after years of being prompted by the Holy Spirit, they said "yes." 

Some will say "The ushers missed this" or "The greeters missed this" or "The staff missed missed" or any other group designated to say "Welcome" but the reality is that WE, the entire church, the entire family, missed here. 

Swing and a miss!

May we learn from this and seek to remedy an age-old problem. This is the good news - we can learn. We can do better. All churches can. 

No one wants to go to a church where they feel unwelcome or ignored. That storyline is played out and that must change. Not just here...but in all churches seeking to engage a lost world for the sake of the Gospel.

"A word to the wise is sufficient."


Why Mother's Day Is No Longer the Big Attendance Day at Church

Mother's Day will be here soon. (That is my not-s0-subtle reminder to all you kids out there to go buy a card and a smelly candle today for mom, before all that's left are the cards that say "I like you" and the really stinky candles like "grey mist.")

I was recently in a church leadership meeting with a group of church members as we discussed the fluctuating attendance patterns at our church. At some point in the midst of the meeting, someone mentioned the BIG attendance days at church being Easter and Mother's Day.

At that point, it was clear that some of our folks were not actually considering the number of people who actually attend church on these days, but were remembering the bygone era of their early adulthood and childhood when these were the actual big attendance days.

For church leaders and pastors, planning ahead and promoting big days is not wrong. In fact, I believe it is very right. There is value in leveraging naturally high-attendance days for the sake of the Gospel. It's just that presuming that Easter and Mother's Day are the big days will reveal that the cultural calendar hasn't been checked in a while.

In full disclosure, Easter is still a pretty big attendance day for us here at our church. However, it should be noted that the total attendance this year on Easter was less than on Easter last year or in previous ones. While Chicken Little Christian will say that "We're dying! The church sky is falling!" the fact of the matter is that while we are continually seeking to find new ways to engage our community and the cultural domains, we are no more dying than any other Baptist church around. 

Wait...maybe we are dying. :-( 

Plateaued is dying, right? This will be a topic for another posting.

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Back to "big days." 

Over the years, and more dramatically, over the past five or six, the shift has been clearly made in our community regarding big attendance days. James Emery White, pastor of Mecklenberg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently wrote an article about community outreaches and his description of "big days" is exactly what is happening here.

A “big day” approach to outreach is simple: Seize the naturally big days in terms of cultural attendance, do all you can to reach out and invite people to attend, and do all you can to “hook” them so they will keep attending afterward.

Traditionally the two big days were Easter and Mother’s Day. The rationale behind this was that Easter was the one day everybody would still go to church, and Mother’s Day was the one day that Mom (often the only churchgoer in the family) would get her way with the rest of the clan.

A “big day” approach is still effective. The problem is that many churches haven’t updated their cultural calendar. How so? The biggest days don’t tend to be Easter or Mother’s Day anymore.

In regard to Easter, there just isn’t the cultural impetus to attend that once existed. Further, Easter is now tied to “spring break” on almost every public school and college calendar, making it one of the biggest vacation weekends of the year. There are actually healthy churches starting to dip in attendance on Easter!

As for Mother’s Day, again, moms these days are as unchurched as anyone. Further, families are so spread out geographically that this just isn’t the “big day” it used to be.

What days are? Services surrounding Christmas Eve, the fall time-change weekend and then the first weekend following the start of school (either in August or September). For example, for the past several years at Meck, we’ve consistently had more people at our Christmas Eve services than our Easter weekend services. And the spike in attendance for the weekend closest to the start of the new school year is one of the biggest spikes we experience.

In talking with other church leaders, we are far from alone.

He's right. We're in that camp as well. The Christmas Eve service here is the largest we have annually, and we really don't leverage it well. That will change this year as we will put more emphasis and energy in reaching our community on that day. In fact, we're going from one service at the main campus, to three at all our community campuses. 

Growing up in church (and I have been in church since the womb) I never remember, ever, going to to church on Christmas Eve. I don't think any of the churches we were members of (we were a military family, so many church homes over the years) had a Christmas Eve service. I do remember one having a New Years Eve service, but it was basically terrible and only a handful came to "pray in the new year" and celebrate superstitions by eating black-eyed peas.

However, here, Christmas Eve is THE biggest service of the year for us.

Mother's Day...not so much.

Nevertheless, we will meet on Mother's Day and we even have scheduled a parent/child dedication (more on that at another time, since now not everyone is allowed to participate.)

Every community has potentially BIG days. It is the role of the missionally-minded pastor and leadership team to study the cultural calendar and know the mission field well enough to leverage these days best. 


firstFAMILY Podcast 014: Adam Wiggins - from Jail to Church Planter - Part Two

04-27-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 014 - Adam Wiggins Part 2


Adam Wiggins

THIS IS PART TWO OF AN INTERVIEW FEATURING ADAM WIGGINS.

Adam Wiggins and his wife Sabrina joined our church recently with their family. Adam is serving as our church planting intern and will be spearheading the launch of our new campus meeting at Swimming Pen Creek Elementary School in August of this year.


Should Christians Boycott Companies?

Last week another boycott was recommended by Christians and this time, the online petition for boycott has garnered more signatures that just about any other one leveled at companies and corporations in the past.

When it comes to boycotts of companies making unbiblical decisions and instituting policies foreign to biblical truth, there have been many instituted over the years. I remember the boycotts of Disney, Nike, Amazon, Starbucks, AT&T and many more. The latest is a recommended boycott of Target based on their public statement  and newly instituted policies regarding opening public restrooms to transgendered people. 

We should have seen this coming. 

In fact, no one should be surprised that Target stepped up and publicly made this statement.

The worldview divide is growing larger. There will be no fence-sitting on issues of gender and sexual identity issues for any corporation, church or individual. No longer will people be able to say "I have no opinion." This is especially true for churches and Christians. 

You Have the Right to Boycott

I have no problems with people participating in boycotts. It is the right of every person to choose where to go and with whom to do business. 

The question that I have been asked by numerous people has to do with the biblical affirmation of boycotting and whether these are effective. 

Personally, I doubt that Target will change their stance. They will likely lose some money in the short-term. The financial hit may be significant. Though the cultural shift has happened, the restroom issues are a bit more "personal" and some, even non-believers, aren't quite to the point of affirming this shift. Nevertheless, I do not believe the outcry will be significant enough for Target to reverse it's stance. If they do, it will likely be temporary. Why? Because...worldview. 

Do I agree with Target's stand? Absolutely not. I am totally opposed to what they have stated and their newly instituted policy. However, that doesn't necessarily answer the question "Will the boycott do any good?" 

Some have postulated that we are in the place we are as a nation and culture because the church has been unwilling to stand firmly on the teachings of the Bible for so long. I do not doubt that truth of that statement, but we must remember that Christianity is more than a stand for moral goodness. It is much deeper than behavior modification. Christianity is about heart transformation through the power of God through His Spirit and the name of Jesus Christ. I believe the churches who have capitulated on the teachings of God's Word will be held accountable for that. In the meantime, those churches who have sought to stand firmly have been marginalized by the culture and many struggle to wonder if they're making a difference.

Should the church and Christians just stand idly by while cultural shifts continue to occur? No. That's never been the "salt and light" calling of believers. Neither should we turn into spiritual "Eeyores" who just live under a cloud and say "Oh, bother" all the time with a "sky is falling" countenance. It is clear that the gospel is still powerful and God is the change-agent for a world far from him.

 

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Photo credit: Kevin Dooley via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

 

 

But, Should You Boycott

Should Christians boycott organizations and corporations? Gotquestions.org addresses this in a succinct article (full article found here.)

Ultimately, the Bible says nothing regarding boycotts.

Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, states that while we are not to associate with the sexually immoral (which, by the way, the culture shift has pushed to the forefront as it relates to a biblical understanding of godly morality) he also states that we are still part of the world and ultimately cannot disassociate from all immoral people. The only way to totally disconnect from the immoral is to leave this world, which for Christians ultimately is our goal.

Yet, in the meantime, be salt and light, right?

Paul is writing to a church in the aforementioned passages (1 Corinthians 5) and he's pretty clear about associating with those who claim to be Christians but live contrary to God's Word. This is a huge teaching for the family of God as many Christians have seemingly chosen just portions of Scripture to hold high and honor. This teaching is needed today as it has been since the founding of Christ's church. Nevertheless, these verses are not exactly applicable when speaking of boycotting companies.

The only way to avoid ungodliness is to leave this world.

So, should you shop at a store that has publicly made statements that offend and are blatantly opposed to God and the gospel? That, as Paul speaks of in Romans is a matter of conscience, as led by the Holy Spirit. In areas where God's Word is not clear (and there are specific situations where that is the case) the believer, living in the Spirit, with the mind of Christ, will be guided into holiness and righteousness. 

Some will be convicted to join a boycott. Others will be led to not do so. Does this make either a "bad Christian?" Well, if you read Facebook posts and blogs (well, other ones, not this one, right? Ha.) you will find that some deem that it does. 

Gotquestions gives this solid information regarding those who feel led to join a boycott. These are questions that must be answered:

  • How far should the boycott extend?
  • What about the subsidiaries of the parent company? In some cases, when a boycott is to a corporation, there are many other businesses under the same umbrella that are ignored. Sometimes, as is the case in our multi-leveled corporate world, some "Christian" companies even fall under that banner.  For example, let's say you feel led to boycott Sony because of some of their movies or business practices. You'd also need to boycott Reunion Records, a popular Christian music label featuring some wonderful artists in Christian entertainment. Why? Because Sony Entertainment owns that company. BTW - that's just an example, not a call to boycott Sony. If you did, you'd also have to stop watching Jeopardy. Just sayin'.
  • Should vendors who sell to the boycotted company also be boycotted?
  • How will the effectiveness of the boycott be judged? Is the purpose to make a public statement? That's fine, and if that's the purpose of the boycott, go for it. If the purpose is to shut down the corporation, it could happen, but again, know your gauge of success.
  • What about Christians employed by the company? Some would say "They need to get another job" and that's easy to declare from a distance, but just consider the possibility of having every Christian working at a non-Christian business leave (BTW - corporations don't go to heaven, so is there really such thing as a Christian company?). Is this a wise strategy of the church? It is effective for missional engagement in cultural domains to have every believer walk away from their job, where they are surrounded by non-believers, and hide in a holy huddle for the sake of moral protection? 

Should you boycott? That's up to you. However, consider the reality of taking a stand for Christ. Consider a biblical worldview, without forsaking your opportunity to witness and love those who are enemies of the cross. Larry Osbourne says it well, when he declares that "the enemies of the cross are ultimately not our enemies, but victims of our Enemy."


The Shelf Life of the Local Church

It was a number of years ago at conference for pastors where I first heard this said aloud.

"The local church has a shelf life."

It was a shocking statement and caused many, myself included, to perk up and listen.  When I think of "shelf life" I think of food with dates printed on packaging. You know, like Twinkies, which supposedly have a shelf-life of three-thousand years. 

 

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Photo credit: Photog Bill via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

 

You see, for my entire life, I have heard how God's church is strong, solid, founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and because he is eternal, therefore the church would be as well, or so I thought. I even mentally went back to the passage in Scripture that seems to be the antithesis of this "shelf-life" statement. 

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

That's good stuff. It has to be. It's in the Bible.

Yet, when Christ was saying this to his disciples, seated likely in a synagogue, or near one, in the city of Caesarea Philippi, he was making a clear statement about Peter, his role and calling and ultimately about the church as a whole, and not the local expression of it. And, by the way, this city had (and still does have) a huge cave that goes deeply into the mountain, with water coming from it. This was where a temple to Pan was built and was known, in that day, as the "Gates of Hell." Interesting, huh?

Nevertheless, to be told by a pastor that the church has a shelf life was still astounding. Then, as he explained it became clear. The local expressions of church do not last forever, especially if they never adjust to the changing culture (understanding the change is method, not message-oriented.) We have all seen and heard of local churches that no longer exist. Europe is full of empty buildings that used to house churches. Many now stand empty while others have been converted to pubs, libraries and other such community-focused centers.

The churches listed in the New Testament, especially those in the book of Revelation, are not featured on Outreach Magazine's fastest growing or largest. When these cities are visited (and here's another thing, in the Bible, there's never a church smaller than a city. Think about that one!) today, the sites are historical archeological digs. Since the churches did not likely have buildings, meaning no building program or debt to pay off, there are no first century church buildings to visit.

How Long is the Shelf Life?

This is a difficult question. Some churches in our nation have existed for a couple of hundred years. However, it's difficult to find strong, healthy, growing examples of churches at that age. It's also difficult to find strong, healthy, growing examples of human beings that age as well. In this renewed era of church planting, there are many young churches that are making great impact. Some are large and have the tag of "mega-church" but many others are small when it comes to using old scorecard metrics (i.e. attendance and budgets) but are healthy and definitely impacting and engaging lostness. However, regarding age of these churches, most are barely entering puberty. Some have entered the emerging adulthood era of life.

I began thinking of this even more over the past few months as I've had discussions with pastors sensing God's call to revitalize and rebirth some churches that would be getting Social Security checks and AARP cards if they were individuals. The North American Mission Board of the SBC is even placing a focus on "Replanting" churches to see new life arise.

A good friend and denominational leader shared with me that there are a handful of churches in our region basically staying open because of the life-support of a few attendees and members. The closing of their doors is inevitable unless something happens. Oh, the members love Jesus and these churches have rich histories and some Kingdom-honoring stories in their past. The problem is that no one seems to be writing current chapters of God's grace and glory and the prospect of future chapters is dim.

Yet, it does not have to be this way.

Some Churches Need to Close

While it grieves me to see a church close for good, the sad truth is that some need to do so. Why is this? Jesus stated why when he addressed some local churches through his revelation to John.

  • Ephesus (Revelation 2:5) - "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."
  • Pergamum (Revelation 2:16) - "Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth."
  • Sardis (Revelation 3:2) - "Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God."
  • Laodicea (Revelation 3:16) - "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."

Most Churches Don't Have To Die

Here's the thing. As I read these warnings in Revelation, there is a certainty about what is to come, but also warnings. Warnings with helps. A number of "if" statements abound. If the church (and here it's the local expression of church) will repent of the sin of complacency, routine, disengagement from the lost world, pride, loss of love, etc. you will remain. If the church will shift from a focus on method and renew the focus on message, you will remain. If the church will be the church, not soiled by the sins of the world and the culture, not falling into legalism or liberalism, but firmly grounded on the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Word, it will remain.

In other words, if the local expression of church remembers who they are and why they are, they will remain.

The Warning

The warning to pastors and church leaders is simple here, however. Often missed in church growth and health events and conferences. Don't miss this - if your goal is to keep your church alive...you've already started dying.

Now, the church is the bride of Christ. I'm not minimizing the role and identity of God's church. However, sometimes our love of the local expression and the legacy of our work can overwhelm our love for the bridegroom. There is no place for a "fourth person of the Trinity" and even the church doesn't get to be upgraded to that level. God, and God alone, is our focus. Our local expressions of church exist for one reason, and that is to bring Him glory.

I wonder if many of the dead, closed, and dying churches missed that?

I wonder when they did? Because here's a reality check...even a young church can launch and live with this focus wrong. When that is the case, even if the local expression has an incredible weekly show, awesome graphics and promotional items, and even a solid preacher of the Word...if the focus is not on Christ, that church is already dying.

So, the church has a shelf life it seems in most communities. But does it have to be that way?


firstFAMILY Podcast 013: Adam Wiggins - from Jail to Church Planter - Part One

04-20-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 013 - Adam Wiggins Part 1


Wiggins FamilyAdam Wiggins and his wife Sabrina joined our church recently with their family. Their home church is First Baptist Church of Baldwin where Pastor Chris Drum serves. Chris and FBC Baldwin are wonderful, but as the Wiggins have stepped into the church planting journey, they were encouraged to intern in a local church that has partnered strategically with NAMB and Send: Toronto, especially. Adam is serving as our church planting intern and will be spearheading the launch of our new campus meeting at Swimming Pen Creek Elementary School in August of this year.

Adam and Sabrina's story is incredible in how God has redeemed the past and prepared them for Kingdom work through many ups and downs. This is Part One of Two. The second portion will be made available on April 27, 2016.


RealStuff Clubs Launch in August

What's old is new again.

Or, as Solomon once said, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." 

We're announcing the launch of RealStuff Clubs in local schools in August 2016, but for the many adults who years ago were part of my student ministry, the name sounds very familiar. The name of our student ministry a couple of decades ago was RealStuff Youth Ministry.

So, this club launch proves...

  • I am not really creative
  • I still like acronyms
  • I am nostalgic (or I live in the past)
  • Twitter and website domains limit the development of new ministry names (because someone else has already claimed them)
  • I was tired of trying to think of a new name.

RealStuff Clubs aren't actually new, but are the next iteration of an on-campus club I have been serving in and leading for the past few years. Originally, the club was for boys only and met in a local junior high school. Founded by John Green, former principal at Lakeside Junior High School and current Education Director at Seamark Ranch, the "Gentlemen Gators" (the mascot for LJHS is the Gator) was developed to help young men who do not have strong, godly male leadership in their lives develop the manners, character and wisdom needed to succeed in life. Gentlemen Gators morphed into "Real Manhood" a few years ago. The name change was to allow the clubs to be expanded to other schools and using the "Gator" in the name would limit where that could happen. Also, by focusing on the word "REAL" the definition of authentic manhood as developed by the leadership of Men's Fraternity and 33 was used. A "REAL" man is one who Rejects passivity, Expects the greater reward, Accepts responsibility and Leads courageously.

Realstuff clubs fb header

Of course, as we gathered each week over the years we would inevitably have young ladies and parents of young ladies asking for a girl's version of this club. Until now, we really didn't have the option to do this without forfeiting our focus.

It has become clear that God is raising up a generation of young men and women who are truly seeking to know what it means to follow Him and, in a culture that continues to strip away defining terms, understand what it means to live as a godly man and woman. To say that we live in an era of gender confusion is an understatement. Therefore, we are retooling the Real Manhood group once more to be open to both young men and women in the fall. The new group is an old name for me - RealStuff Clubs.

The "stuff" we will focus on centers on the Gospel.

These clubs will be student-led with adult mentors and campus coaches serving in the weekly meetings. 

Do we really need more Christian clubs?

This is a question that some have asked. Ultimately, we don't need more parachurch organizations, but what we do need is the church to engage the culture where the crowd exists. While our schools have some great parachurch groups meeting on campus such as FCA and YoungLife, the RealStuff Clubs will offer a church-centric student group on campus with a strategic focus of developing student leaders, focusing on God's design for men and women, and resource parents and guardians of the students to be the lead disciplers in the home.

Each RealStuff Club will function with a monthly schedule where each week emphasizes a specific purpose. This strategy is not unique to us, in that many school clubs do similar things.

REAL WEEKS

  • REACH WEEK - Week One of every month is REACH WEEK. During this week's meeting we share stories of how God is working on our campus and through our lives to reach others for Him. Stories are shared that emphasize the characteristics of real manhood and womanhood with mentors available to break down the details and expound on the biblical truths.
  • EQUIP WEEK - Week Two of every month is EQUIP WEEK. During this gathering, we spend time training students in the basics of sharing their faith. This is a "back to basics" approach of apologetics. 
  • ASK WEEK - Week Three is ASK WEEK. We spend time together in our small groups, with mentors and leaders asking God to bless our campus and give us "eyes to see and ears to hear" what He is doing in our midst. This is a time of real prayer. We specifically ask God to lead our friends to attend LIFE WEEK and that many may surrender to Him.
  • LIFE WEEK - Week Four is LIFE WEEK. We have a special guest and either breakfast or pizza available (depending on when the club meets). This is the week where the Gospel is shared clearly to all with an opportunity for people to respond to His call.
  • WEEK FIVE - Every quarter we end up with a fifth week. During this week, each club will offer unique opportunities and engaging teaching that fits with the actions steps needed to implement that which as been taught in the previous weeks. 

We hope to have RealStuff Clubs in every junior high and high school in our county. 

Again, as part of our firstFAMILY Network, this ministry seeks to go where the crowd is for the sake of the Gospel. For more on RealStuff Clubs and to journey with us during this genesis time, go to realstuff.club and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


firstFAMILY Podcast 012: Changing the Church Scorecard

04-06-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 012 - The Changing Scorecard

Every church has a scorecard. It's inevitable. The problem is when things are deemed as valuable and healthy, but actually aren't. In this episode I talk about the fact that keeping score in ways that doesn't matter is like answering questions wrongly, but answering the wrong questions.

The redemption of the Four "B"s is vital for a healthy church or church plant. 

Baseball game 1

The video featured is titled "Missional Communities - Simple." It's available on YouTube here and viewable below.

 


Why "I Don't Love Him/Her Anymore" Is Not a Valid Reason to End a Marriage

As a pastor, I have had the great privilege of counseling married couples over the years. In some cases, marriages have seemingly been hanging by a thread. Others have experienced great betrayal and pain. Some just need encouragement to press on. Yet, there are some that eventually unravel regardless of counsel and prayer, by the willful decisions made by the offender or the offended.

While there are many reasons (and sometimes just excuses offered) as to why a marriage is over offered by a couple, a very common phrase that I have heard is "I just don't love him/her anymore." And to that, I often respond with "Okay, so now tell me why you think you have a right to end your marriage." And the confused look on the face of the one seeking to leave the marriage reveals that he/she thought the "I don't love my spouse anymore" was a valid reason. 

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Years ago, I heard Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott share about the three types of love that are needed for sustaining marriage.  They refer to the findings of Dr. Robert J. Sternberg, a psychologist previously at Yale University and now Professor of Human Development at Cornell University. His "Triangular Theory of Love" postulates that love can be understood in terms of three components that together may be viewed as a triangle.

These three components are passion, intimacy, and commitment.

Triangle-theory-love

The Parrotts explain this well this way...

  • Passion – the biological part of love: This it the spine-tingling sensation that moves us toward romance. It starts with our hormones. It’s sensual and sexual, characterized by physiological arousal and an intense desire for affection. The Song of Songs, for example, celebrates the physical love between a man and a woman in passion-filled poetry: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is more delightful than wine” (Song of Songs 1:2).
  • Intimacy – the emotional part of love: Love without intimacy is only a hormonal illusion. You can’t desire another person over the long haul without really knowing that person. Intimacy has a “best friend” or “soul mate” quality about it. We all want someone who knows us better than anyone else — and still accepts us. And we want someone who holds nothing back from us, someone who trusts us with personal secrets. Intimacy fills our heart’s deepest longings for closeness and acceptance.
  • Commitment – the willful part of love: Commitment looks toward a future that cannot be seen and promises to be there — until death. “Without being bound to the fulfillment of our promises,” writes philosopher Hannah Arendt, “we would be condemned to wander helplessly in the darkness of each person’s lonely heart.” Commitment creates a small island of certainty in the swirling waters of uncertainty. As the mooring of marriage, commitment secures love for our partner when passion burns low and intimacy wanes. Commitment says, “I love you because you are you, not because of what you do or how I feel.” (full article here)

As I talked to a young couple this week in premarital counseling, I shared this information. I shared that the if you grade these on a scale of 1 - 10, that there are times you will be a 10 out of 10 on the passion scale, but not always. There will be days you are a 10 out of 10 on the intimacy scale, but again, not always. Then, there's the commitment, or willful, scale. There are days you can be 10 out of 10 on this one. The difference is that on this scale, it's your choice. This is the willful determination to love. This is the realization that love is a choice.

So, when a person says "I just don't love him/her anymore" it is a statement of will. It is a choice. It is not a feeling. And, understanding this reality, no man or woman is given biblical grounds for disavowing the "commitment" scale (or to put it another way, to disavow the vow) regarding marital love.

Oh, and by the way, if the husband and wife wake up one day and discover that they're a 10 out of 10 on the commitment scale (which should be every day), a 10 out of 10 on the intimacy scale, and a 10 out of 10 on the passion scale...that's a good day to call in to work and take a personal day. That day is going to be a good, romantic day!

 


When Political Ideology & Biblical Theology Conflict

I was at a luncheon earlier this week sponsored by a local ministry focused on reaching immigrants for Christ. This ministry (not named here for security reasons) has been used by God in ways that even the founders find amazing. Dozens of African, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants have come to know the truth of the gospel through this ministry and have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. A good number of our church members serve at this ministry regularly and have experienced these stories first-hand.

It is truly amazing and the stories reveal the supernatural, transformational power of our Lord.

As this ministry is not positioned to expand to many of the largest urban areas in our nation and throughout North America, where immigrant families reside, we are now positioned for what could perhaps be a Great Awakening among the church in the United States, spurred by the growth and rescue of many who were not born in this nation. 

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Political Ideology vs. Biblical Theology

Following the luncheon I had some time to talk with old friends and reconnect with some I had not seen for years. One gentleman, a brother in Christ and business leader in the city was there. We reconnected and he then revealed that his awareness of this ministry in our city was fairly new. His excitement at what God was doing was evident and it was good for me to see how others react when first realizing how God is reaching the nations in our city.

With our city being one of eleven "sanctuary cities" in the US, many immigrants are finding home here.

My friend, not only a conservative, Bible-believing brother in Christ, but also active in the conservative political community shared his struggle.

His honesty was refreshing.

His statement simply revealed his challenge of asserting a popular political belief regarding immigration among conservative politicians and the reality that God is bringing the nations here and many are coming to saving knowledge in Christ.

To put it simply - he finds himself at odds with an ideology and a theology. 

The issue of immigration is a political firebrand and often elicits way too many negative comments on blogs and news stories. Nevertheless, as with most issues in life, there comes a point where personal ideology and biblical theology meet. The wise person will recognize this and seek God's wisdom.

Ultimately, biblical truth trumps personal thoughts of "right and wrong" every time.

It's good to have a crisis of belief every now and then.


firstFAMILY Podcast 011: Miami Church Planting, Multi-Gen Ministry, Immigration & Obama in Cuba

03-30-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 011 - Al Fernandez

17746_399302130177912_1603670005_nThis week I interview my friend Al Fernandez. Al serves as Regional Catalyst for the Southeastern part of Florida with the Florida Baptist Convention. His insight into the cultural diversity of Miami and surrounding areas is vital.

In this episode we talk about church planting in Miami and the cultural challenges that exist. We discuss the focus on second and third generations in the church, where Spanish and English collide. I also talk with Al, a second generation Cuban-American, about the recent trip by President Obama and how the Cuban people in Miami are responding.



The Building of a Network

Networking is vital for churches. While there are examples of lone churches that have grown and reached many in their communities, for the most part a local church has a limited reach. Of course, church health is the key, rather than church growth. We've all heard that said, but let it also be said that healthy churches are often growing churches.

Over the past two decades I have watched a number of churches launch and make great impact for the Kingdom of God. Most of these are continuing to grow and develop disciples. 

However, I have also seen a number of new launches, complete with yard signs, banners, direct mail pieces and well-designed logos come out of the gates strong only to disappear within three years.

The Lone Ranger Church Is Not Healthy

Most pastors would agree that going at it alone is not a wise choice. Some...however, still try. Nevertheless, the value of the network has been made clear in recent years. As churches launch new plants, networks such as Acts 29, ARC, SEND and others have allowed new works a support system and safety net. This provides freedom and framework that is vital.

Our church partners with numerous others in our community and continent, mostly through the EngageJax Network (Jacksonville Baptist Association) and the SEND Network (North American Mission Board.) However, as we continue to see changes in our local community, we are discovering the need to expand and reach into areas where people are living and there is no strong church engagement. This is not to say there are no churches in these areas, but the statistics are clear - there are still more not engaged in local churches than are. 

So, we are launching a network.

The firstFAMILY Network is coming together, but is still a work in progress and likely will be for the next few years. We understand that there are many more people in our area who will never come to our church facility than will. Therefore, we are seeking to "go where the crowd is" and connect with people off campus.

That's what GameDay Church does, though it's actually more of an event than a church. Yet, with our partners in the EngageJax Network, we hope to connect attendees to local churches in the city and surrounding areas through this worship event prior to Jacksonville Jaguars games.

In the fall, we launch (or actually re-launch) a campus in the central part of our county at an elementary school. Unlike previous attempts, this launch will meet on Sunday evenings at first and focus on families and children. In fact, we will likely not have a worship service at this site for some time. This venue will be called "The Creek" after the name of the school and the region. 

CREEK 2016

Will it ever be an autonomous church? Perhaps. At first, it's a multi-site venue and satellite campus. Ultimately, we hope it is an autonomous campus that is part of our network. 

What the church-based network offers are staffing, vision, missional DNA and a brand that, hopefully, is strong in the local community. 

A work in progress, but it's Kingdom work. Praying for this network to grow and the Gospel reach to increase.


"I Just Can't Forgive Myself" - It's Time for Christians To Retire This Unbiblical Statement

I have heard the statement for as long as I can remember.

In fact, I've probably said it myself.

Often this statement comes when someone is dealing with the conviction of past sin. For Christians, the statement seems normal, but it is far from God's design. 

"I know God has forgiven me. I just can't forgive myself."

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Last night, as I led our GriefShare group here at church, the video teaching was focusing upon the uniqueness of grief that people experience. In the midst of the presentation, the reality of false and true guilt was surfaced. There are times that we feel guilty for things we have done, or not done, and cannot seem to get past that. In prayer, we seek forgiveness from God and mentally acknowledge the Bible's statement that our sins are forgiven through Christ when we repent. But, the Accuser is still at work and to disavow the spiritual attacks is dangerous.

Watch this brief segment from the GriefShare session on false guilt and the reality of "forgiving oneself."

 

You and I do not have the capacity to forgive ourselves. The relief is that we are not expected to do so. Our responsibility is to receive the forgiveness offered from God. When we repent of our sins, following the conviction by the Holy Spirit, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins.

To hold onto that guilt actually is a form of idolatry. It places self on the throne and relegates God to a subservient role.

Even Christians do this.

While not an easy concept to grasp, especially since most of us have heard the "I can't forgive myself" mantra our entire lives (even from Christians, and maybe even from ourselves) it is time to let God have this completely and disavow any false guilt placed upon us from the Enemy.


firstFAMILY Podcast 010: Missional Theology - More Than a Church Buzzword

03-23-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 010 - Misisonal Theology

Last weekend I had the privilege of leading a group of pastors, church planters, and spouses in a course titled "Missional Theology." Since this term "missional" has been around for a few years now, the tendency has been for it to be relegated as just another "church growth strategy" or buzzword for doing missions. In this podcast, I seek to begin a discussion that I will touch on in future weeks as well, regarding this concept of living and leading missionally.

I reference a few resources in this podcasts. Here are direct links to these.

Missional Essentials by Brad Brisco and Lance Ford 

Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putman

The Verge Network

 

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The Bachelor Tells Two Women He Loves Them...But What Type of Love?

So, last night the final episode of the latest installment of "The Bachelor" aired. Don't ask me why I know this or why I know what happened on the show, but suffice to say...I was in the room and it was on and though I was working hard creating my submission for the Dallas Mavericks "design the new court" challenge, I could not help but hear and see some of this orchestrated "romance" aired live for all.

SPOILER ALERT

Just so you know, the dude who was the designated bachelor actually told two of the members of his harem that he loved them! Then, he had to tell one of the ladies that he loved her, but was picking the other. Apparently, this is unheard of in relationship reality television. I couldn't help but think that if this show merged with "Sister Wives" he could pick all of them, move to a western state and marry them all. In fact, once polygamy is deemed legal in the future through a Supreme Court ruling (mark my words - it's coming) this will undoubtedly become the new TLC reality show - "Sister Fiancées."

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LOVE ON "THE BACHELOR"

I could not help but notice how the word "love" was being used in this show.

It reminded me of a message I heard years ago by Chap Clark. I've shared this reality of love with couples during premarital counseling and with teenagers.

When the bachelor dude tells a woman that he loves her, the question is "What type of love?"

Love has many meanings in English. Love can mean such varied things as a feeling for a favorite food to an expression of devotion. However, what has become epidemic in our culture when it comes to relationships and love, is the attempted building of solid relationships on the WRONG TYPE OF LOVE!

While there are many types of love, I'll just focus on two forms as defined by their Greek terms. One is EROS and the other is AGAPE. Now, if you've been in church for any length of time, you've probably heard of agape. This is the love that God shows us. It's unmerited and solid, never-changing. In fact, it is agape that is the love reserved for a person. It is this type of love that husband-wife relationships should be built upon. When not, relationship issues and even divorce often result.

Eros would be a type of love reserved for an object. This is the love that a person would have for a car, an outfit, a movie or even food. 

WHEN WE LOVE PEOPLE LIKE PIZZA

So, here's what I saw (or heard, actually) revealed by the bachelor last night.

He told two women than he loved them, but does he agape them?

If you love a person with agape, you love them as a person. If you love a person with eros (which is so very common) you actually love them with the type of love you should reserve for food, like pizza. So, if you can say "I really love pizza!" you're actually saying "I really eros pizza!" In truth, erosing (not sure that's a word) pizza is fine. No problem at all. However, if you eros a person...it never ends well.

CHARACTERISTICS OF EROS LOVE

  1. Temporary
  2. Conditional
  3. Selfish

In the case of pizza, look at it this way. If you love pizza, you love it when you're really hungry, only with the toppings of choice, and for how it makes you feel. 

CHARACTERISTICS OF AGAPE LOVE

  1. Permanent
  2. Unconditional
  3. Selfless

It's easy to see how this form of love is reserved for people. It's the love that God shows us. It's eternal. It's unconditional. It's a gift and through Christ's sacrifice on the cross is clearly selfless.

What if men and women who fall in love would ensure they are falling into agape? When you love someone with agape, you have the foundation for a lifelong love. Divorce lawyers would have to change their focus if married couples agaped each other. Boyfriends and girlfriends would no longer find themselves in relationships of convenience. 

So, as The Bachelor finished another season and now The Bachelorette begins (it's a never-ending cycle of lust and eros, it seems) we get another reality show that misses the point, but reveals culture so well.

 


How Legacy Churches Can Experience Church Planting

Earlier this year, our Pastor of Church Planting, Josh Dryer, along with our Director of Missions, Kenzie Allen began working on a strategy to lead people within our church family to make intentional, strategic connections with church planters in our firstFAMILY Network.

Over the past few years, our church has been sending and supporting church planters throughout the world. We have expanded mission engagement, but also have discovered a common reality for legacy churches (i.e. older, established churches) seeking to engage strategically in planting. While pastoral and mission leadership may fully embrace the church planting strategy now promoted by various networks (including our own Send Network) the average church member often feels at a loss regarding church planting.

We Need Handles

In our situation, the need for sending and supporting church planters has been promoted from me, the Lead Pastor. While there are many who "amen" the strategy and show their support by giving financially to planters and global missions, others struggle with understanding how church planting should impact their lives.

In most cases, the problem is poor communication. I am guilty of this. Many times, I find a vision for ministry or engagement that I believe God is leading us toward as a church seems so obvious...to me. Yet, many in our church may not see or hear the obvious call. This is not because they're bad Christians, or consumer Christians, or selfish, or any other negative tag often wrongly placed on church members who don't immediately jump on board every new ministry idea. It is often due to the reality that the obvious to me is obvious for a reason. As pastor, I am to equip the saints, lead, and shepherd the people. 

Leadership requires clear communication with practical "next steps" for all. I call these next steps "handles." Handles provide stability and leverage for getting where you desire. We all need a practical handle to hold to as we move forward.

Experience Trips

We have determined to expand our church family's reach by providing connections for what we call "Experience Trips." Unlike a traditional mission trip where a church leader gathers eight to twenty people together to travel to some far away location for the purpose of putting on a camp, prayerwalking, or performing as a choir or drama troupe (for Jesus, no less) these trips are only approved and coordinated through the church, but the individual or family then secures their own transportation, hotel, etc. in the church planting city.

Here's how it works. . .

  1. We contact our church planters to see when would be good time for people to come visit them. Oh, we also ask if they'd actually like someone to visit. This is a needed question because many mission teams are loved by missionaries and planters, but sometimes come with poor expectations and create a "give us a mission trip experience" the planter/missionary just cannot do. This needs to be communicated well. We're not sending "those" teams any longer...anywhere...for any reason.
  2. Based on their recommendations, we promote that time frame to the church membership.
  3. We encourage people to use their three-day weekend or holiday vacation times to visit one of our planting cities.
  4. We encourage people to enjoy their vacations in the city of choice and to "experience" the city well.
  5. While there, we will provide needed connection information so they can be in contact with our church planters. 
  6. Our desire is that families will then serve our planters for a day or maybe a weekend. 
  7. Serving a planter family is unique depending upon the family. For some, it would be offering to watch the planters' children and provide a gift card or cash so the couple could go on a date. In many cases, these opportunities are rare, so this would be a BIG gift. Our role as the sending church would be to secure background checks on the "Experience Trip" missionaries in case they do watch the children. This provides a level of security and peace of mind to the parents.
  8. Serving may include helping set up and/or tear down the set used for weekend worship. Since many of our planters meet in rented space, this is a weekly occurrence and help would be appreciated. However, most planters have a system and volunteers in place, so the care is to not get in the way, but to actually be a help.
  9. Perhaps taking the planting out to eat in an option? There are many others. These are just ideas.
  10. Most of our planters have children and in many cases, they're forgotten (unintentionally) by those coming to serve or sending financial support. We provide the names and birth dates to families seeking to engage. Then, they can send cards and gifts as they choose.

It really is simple. We're trying not to make it too difficult, but we see the win in connecting church members with planters. Once a family has dined with another, spent time with them, and viewed the realities of church planting and pastoring, our planters become more than just a name and photo on a website or bulletin. They become real. They become friends. And the church can minister as we are called to do.

Kingdom work means stepping outside the norm. It means risking engagement. It means reclaiming holidays and weekend trips for the King. What's great about the Experience trips is that the vacation still happens. Just to be clear - we like vacations. We like visiting other places. We like seeing the beauty of cities and regions outside our own.

We figure you can only go to Disney World and Universal Studios so many times (okay, for the season pass holders who seem to be there every single week, you're the exception.)

Our 2016 Cities & Regions

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That Medium Show Is a Large Waste of Time

As I sit here at home after filling out my bracket for our family challenge for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, and awaiting the beginning of a show on the Hallmark Channel my wife likes to watch (and, so I watch it with her) we're flipping channels. It's at these times it becomes clear that even though we have hundreds of channels available...THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ON!

Nevertheless, we stop on TLC for a moment (not sure why) and a show about a women in New York who claims to be a medium. After watching about five minutes, it becomes clear this show is ridiculous. That's five minutes I'll never get back. Oh, and while losing these five minutes, a commercial for a new show, featuring a young man in Hollywood was shown. He, too, claims to be a medium. (GROAN!!!)

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Photo credit: ERIO via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

So, before discovering Steve Harvey has a new show where he interviews kids that actually seems entertaining, my wife and I talked a bit about this concept of being a medium.

According to GotQuestions.org, here's a pretty good, biblical answer regarding mediums

In both modern and ancient times, a medium is a person who communicates with spirits, usually apart from the use of witchcraft. A medium is, literally, an “intermediary” between the spirit world and ours. The Bible condemns the practice of mediumship, and attempting to speak to the dead, through séances or other means, is expressly forbidden.

Sometimes mediums are called “channelers,” as they allegedly “channel” communication from the dead to the living. A medium might only communicate with one or more specific spirits (called “familiars” or “familiar spirits”), or the communication may be spread across many different spirits. The messages may come audibly, visually, or through physical sensations. Modern mediums distinguish themselves from psychics, who only read the “energies” of a person or place and do not communicate with actual spirits. (The term “psychic medium” can confuse the issue.) Also, a medium is not necessarily a witch, wizard, sorcerer, or necromancer, since mediums believe that their communication with the spirit world is an inherent ability. The fictional character Cole Sear in the movie The Sixth Sense would be considered a medium.

Mediums are referenced in several passages of the Old Testament. In Leviticus 20:27 mediums are condemned along with “spiritists.” Deuteronomy 18:10–11 echoes Leviticus and expands it, including diviners, sorcerers, witches/wizards, anyone who casts spells, and anyone who practices child sacrifice.

In a culture where a biblical worldview is a foreign concept, the desire for spirituality remains. We are, at our core, spiritual beings. We are made in the image of God. We worship in spirit and truth. When it comes to mediums, I'd recommend avoiding the shows highlighting the practice and, more importantly, do not engage in the practice or with those who do. If you ever feel like talking to the dead, go watch a Steve Harvey show instead. 


firstFAMILY Podcast 009: Big Church vs. Little Church

Download 03-10-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 009 - Big Church vs

It seems as long as I can remember, there has been a competition between big churches and little churches. Well, to be honest, most larger churches never acknowledge any competition, but I have been in some smaller ones that just seem to be unable to get beyond the reality that there are larger churches in their community reaching people they never did.

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Earlier this week, Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, raised some eyebrows and broke the Christian room on the internet when he made a statement about parents sending their children to smaller churches. He has since apologized for the statement. Check out this article on Christianity Today's site where he is interviewed on this very subject. Link here - http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/megachurch-pastor-andy-stanley-explains-controversial-remar.html

So, in today's podcast, I talk about the divide among larger and smaller churches and how we really need to get beyond this.

In this podcast, I reference a blog post by Carey Nieuwhof. Here is the link to the post referenced - http://careynieuwhof.com/2016/03/8-lame-excuses-church-leaders-make/


Your Church Website Looks Too Churchy

Yesterday, I was serving as an assessor for new church planters in our network. During a down time, while church planters were working on their assigned projects, another pastor came to me asking advice related to church websites. Now, I'm no HTML guru, and not an expert at all on websites, but I do maintain our church site (a never ending struggle) and so he sought my advice.

He is serving as pastor of a church that meets on the campus of another larger church in the area, and while his ministry is featured on the main church's site, in his words "The site is terrible!" He is seeking to create a new website that is more engaging and practical and quickly accessed. You know - user friendly.

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Our Site is Too Churchy

I directed him to the online web page creation software I use and showed him some of the ease and tricks of the setup, but then he stated this, regarding his mother church's site - "I've brought up some ideas, but to no avail. Our church's site looks too 'churchy'."

There's really no way to make a church website not appear "churchy" to a degree, without using digital bait and switch methods, but I knew what he was talking about. He wasn't referencing the blatant Christian message on the site or the fact that "church" was on the site. He was talking about the navigation and terminology used, and the fact that it looked "old and irrelevant." 

Yes, we're now at a point where digital media, websites, apps, and even embedded widgets and videos can be dated. If your site looks like it was created in the year 2000, it's dated. If it looks like it was created in 2012, it's dated. If it looks like it was created last month...well, that's probably okay.

So, here are some of the things we have tried to do to keep our site (firstfam.org) up to speed and "relevant." 

  • Keep the home page dynamic. Change the elements every now and then. Social media is constantly changing, so take a lesson from that format. Update graphics and color schemes if possible, but always keep new, upcoming activities and events on the main page. I read a book (a real, paper book) when websites were new regarding what to do and not do and even way back in the early 2000s, the author stated that if the website looks the same ALL THE TIME, why would anyone ever come back? Good point.
  • Not everything should change. While there are event updates and theme changes at times, certain elements should remain constant, if for no other reason than to not frustrate regular visitors. A couple of elements to keep in the same place would be links to sermons, schedules and online giving options. If you start moving around the online giving link (and yes, you need to have online giving) where users cannot find it quickly, you will cause frustration and some will just cease to give at that time. This does not only affect the church, but the giver as well. It's hard to be a "cheerful giver" when the offering plate is always moving (and I'm referencing the online link, but I guess the physical offering plate moving would be frustrating as well.)
  • Use video. Most online web builders allow for embedded video and even use as a background feature. However, in most cases, when using video as a background, it will not work on mobile sites, so don't rely too heavily on that. It's just an aesthetic. Also, if you embed YouTube or Vimeo clips, realize that if the clip is longer than 3 minutes, it will likely never be viewed. Now, if you're uploading videos of sermons or teachings, people expect those to be 30 minutes or so, but promo clips and announcement clips must be short.
  • Use good, legal stock photos (or photos of actual members if they allow you.) If you use stock photos, invest a little and check out LightStock.com. Good, church-based, non-cheesy stock photos are valuable. There are also other free stock photo sites out there, but be sure to check usability and references. Basically, STOP STEALING photos off a Google image search and putting them on your site. It's unethical, wrong, and likely will just reveal that you're either too cheap or lazy to find quality images. Oh, and do not use stock photos that come with your office software suite. Everyone has those. They're cheesy. They make your site look like something a ninth grader put together for a PowerPoint report the day before it was due. No offense to ninth graders. They are more digitally connected than me.
  • Make sure links work. Most work on my site, but it's an arduous process.
  • Take advantage of calendar links through things like Google Calendar, so you're not strapped with updating sites in various places. Our church's Google Calendar is designed as the "public calendar" of events (not the internal one that is full of room reservations, maintenance requests, etc.) and is updatable on my iMac or through Google Calendar online. Automatic updates are key!
  • Ensure your schedule is up to date.
  • Use good photos of staff and leadership team. We're still working on this. Part of our issue is that not all of our pastors (well...me) have good photos available. It's often due to the subject matter. Ha ha. Nevertheless, and this is just my opinion, posed, "professional" photos taken in a studio or in front of that grey background, where everyone is sitting in the same position, wearing a church shirt with the embroidered logo on the front is cheesy to the nth degree. No offense, but if your staff is full of real people who look like they enjoy life, you may just be able to connect with real people who live outside the church bubble. 
  • Avoid "churchy" terms. If you don't know what I'm talking about here, your website is the least of your worries.
  • Avoid plastering the pastor's picture on every page. Mine is on three (probably one too many, but one is just a link to our church podcast.) I know a church that has the pastor's picture on EVERY PAGE! To a first time visitor, that just seems a little narcissistic, or creepy, especially if each picture is a different one from a posed setting at a photographer.
  • If you have music that begins playing on your site when opened...DON'T! Nothing is worse than being at work and checking a church website and having some song begin to blare. Oh, it may be "evangelistic" to some, but it is really annoying to most.
  • No splash page. Just start on the home page. It's easier and quicker and that's the point. Splash pages are so 2012.
  • Keep everything to one screen if possible. We have broken this rule, but are working to fix it. If you have to scroll down too much (maybe two screen sizes is okay, but beyond that, it is not) your page is too busy.
  • No cute animated GIFs. Looks so early 2000s. Spinning titles that look like they were made with Microsoft WordArt look terrible and are embarrassing.
  • Simple menus are key. 

Oh, and have someone else look at your site and try to navigate it. Just because something seems logical to you, does not mean it's intuitive to the majority of people. I have discovered this often.