This 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.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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.
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. . .
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.
Based on their recommendations, we promote that time frame to the church membership.
We encourage people to use their three-day weekend or holiday vacation times to visit one of our planting cities.
We encourage people to enjoy their vacations in the city of choice and to "experience" the city well.
While there, we will provide needed connection information so they can be in contact with our church planters.
Our desire is that families will then serve our planters for a day or maybe a weekend.
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.
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.
Perhaps taking the planting out to eat in an option? There are many others. These are just ideas.
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.)
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!!!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Super Tuesday follow up of the firstFAMILY Podcast addresses the issue of pastoral endorsements of political candidates. Is this a good idea? What are the ramifications? The question is a front page issue today with Trump and Clinton seemingly securing their parties' nominations for President of the United States.