7 Vital Components of Church Revitalization

Word cloud in puzzle shape with self development terms.

As you may know, I recently entered into a season of church revitalization. I’ve done something similar previously in ministry. My first church was similar.

Then I assisted in the planting of two churches (as a senior leader of both) and fell in love with the energy I saw in starting something new. At the same time, I continued to be concerned for churches like the one in which I was raised. The church that has seen better days. I became more convinced that we need new energy in both.

So here I am again. And, this experience is giving me the opportunity, fueled by this platform, to speak not only to church planters (who I still love by the way), but also those who are attempting church revitalization. In the process. I’m learning some things. There appear to be some vital elements for a healthy revitalization to occur.

Granted, the Holy Spirit must show up and God must be glorified. That can admittedly happen with a room of donkeys, but in general terms, working with normal church people (whatever that means :) ) there are components which need to be in place to see a church revitalize.

Here are 7 vital components in church revitalization:

Admitting you need to revitalize – That’s hard isn’t it? Recently a senior member of our church visited another church that has undergone revitalization. She saw the excitement and came back with a new understanding. Her comment to one of our staff members was, “We have to change some things, don’t we? We don’t have a choice!” The church as a whole must come to that level of understanding.

Letting go of right to control - This is what makes or breaks revitalization in many churches. If the “No Change Allowed” sign is hung…or even the “but not that change”…on issues that aren’t even Biblical, then revitalizing the church will be very difficult.

A vision of something better – What’s next for this church? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? There must be a compelling vision, such as loving a community for Christ and clear avenues for people to be involved in reaching that vision.

A history worth revitalizing – This will be the toughest part of this post. There are some toxic churches that seem to have never been healthy. They’ve run off every pastor they’ve called. Many of these churches wouldn’t follow Jesus well either. They are stuck in systems and personal agendas and aren’t going to budge. (I realize that’s a cruel statement, but it’s a sad reality.)

Leadership willing to lead change – This is more than the pastor. In many cases, the pastor is only the figure head of vision and change. Change is hard. It requires trusted leaders within the church willing to step up and lead along side the pastor. I wrote recently the difference in trust and popularity as a leader. Read that post HERE and understand the difference. It’s what makes collective leadership that much more important, especially in the early days of revitalization.

The tenacity to weather storms – It won’t be easy. It’s far easier to start something than to try to grow again after a period of decline. Some pastors, leaders and churches have the patience. Some don’t.

A few committed people – You need some people already established in the church who love the church more than their personal agenda. These might be leaders or might not. Many times newer people attracted during times of change don’t have the roots or credibility to do this. As great as they are…and even with them as a primary focus…the church needs longer term people to embrace a new future. These people have to support the pastor, speak up for the changes and create an atmosphere conducive for growth again.

Well, those are my candid observations. They aren’t based solely on opinion, but they certainly aren’t a product of extensive research either. They are derived from hundreds of conversations with other pastors and personal experience.

What do you think?

Can the Church Learn from the Coffee Shop?

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I believe the church is to be a cultural change agents in our communities, but the truth is that many coffee shops have taken some of that responsibility. Starbucks supposedly began trying to be the “Third Place” for the community. Borrowing from a sociological theory by Roy Oldenburg of everyone wanting a place besides home and work in which to feel welcome, Starbucks has become the “Cheers” place where if I come often enough everyone knows my name. There was even a sign in Starbucks recently inviting customers to serve the community with them. The church I pastor has a Gather, Grow and Serve strategy of discipleship. Starbucks appears to capture two of those attempts.

Regardless of whether you believe coffee shops can change culture, the newest one in Lexington, KY raises the bar in a coffee shop experience. And, frankly, I believe they are better engaging the community with their mission than many churches are with theirs.

And personally, I believe…

Every church

Every business

Every pastor

Every leader

Can learn something from this coffee shop experience.

A Cup of Commonwealth opened recently in Lexington. I frequent a lot of coffee shops, but I was out of town the week they opened. I caught them in their second week. Wow! They blew me away with the excitement and energy they have rapidly created. Owners Salvador Sanchez and Chris Ortez impressed me greatly.

Here are a few observations:

They know their stuff – Coffee 101 not, this is coffee expertise at work. One of the owners, Salvador, (Most folks seemed to call him Sal, but he introduced himself to me as Salvador. Probably because he saw me as old enough to be his parent.) told me he had been Central America to tour coffee productions. They spoke the coffee language (which I don’t, but many do).

They created an experience – It was an enthusiastic atmosphere. The place was enjoyable. They joked with customers. They had unique offerings. Apparently things have changed just since they opened with some of their decor. (And will change weekly)

They have vision – It is clear they want to provide exceptional coffee in a way that engages the community. (The picture above is painted on their wall.) Nothing appeared to distract them from this vision.

They acclimated first timers – Every time someone entered the door, if they didn’t know them, they took them through a mini tour of the experience. It wasn’t a canned presentation, but it provided the basic information one would need to understand the uniqueness of this place.

They engage comfortably – They made everyone feel welcome, but they seemed to interact with you depending on your level of interest. If you simply wanted a cup of coffee, they learned that soon enough to leave you alone, but if you wanted someone to talk to, you got that also.

They followed through – The next day they connected with me on Facebook. They actually “liked” some of my posts.

They provided quick entry to feel a part of the vision – The most unique item was their “Pay It Forward” board. A large, handwritten piece of paper hangs on the wall. (See picture below.) It contains drink orders prepaid for future customers. You can take one or add one. You can make up unique requirements for the type person you are looking to bless. (An attorney. A homeless person. Someone willing to sing a song. Etc.) I bought a large cup of coffee for someone besides my own. In 10 days, I was told they’d been through 4 of these large pieces of paper.

It was interesting to watch how quickly customers were engaging in something exciting…something unique…something they felt gives back to the community.

Of course, the key to all this will be whether or not they can sustain this energy. Apparently when I entered, 10 days after opening, the two owners are the only employees. They are new and excited. If they can, however, I believe they have a very successful business model.

But, I’m not in the coffee business. I am a church leader. I always want to be learning how I can do what I do better. And, honestly, I learned some things from this coffee shop experience.

Anything jump out at you that could improve what you do at your church?

(Okay, I have been blogging long enough to already anticipate the push back on even my logic behind this post. Some don’t think the church should or even can learn anything from the secular world. The Bible is our guide. I hear that. I’m a Bible guy. Cover to cover. But, let me ask you…where did you learn how to write a church bulletin…or even to have one? Who taught you how to register kids in preschool? Please quote chapter and verse if you choose to answer.)

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A Year in Review of my New Ministry Position

The calendar indicates a year has past since I began my new ministry position as pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church. You can read about it HERE. I left the church planting world to pastor a historic, 104 year old church. People ask me all the time how it’s going. Recently I was talking with a friend and he reminded me of an old saying, “You’ll accomplish less than you thought you would in a year and more than you thought in five years.”

That’s probably true, but, by God’s grace, we’ve accomplished a lot. It’s been a whirlwind. In some ways it seems we’ve been here forever and other ways it seems we just arrived.

I’m asked consistently how it’s going. Here’s a quick recap. If you read my blog often, you know I’m transparent. I have the opportunity to share with literally thousands of pastors daily through this medium, so I try to share honestly what I am experiencing.

We’ve had an incredible year. It’s been amazing to see God at work. Cheryl and I have “mostly” enjoyed the experience. There have been some hard days. Change is hard. Sometimes anything new is hard. But, overall it’s been good.

So for some quick reflections…

Most exciting parts

  • Making new friends (and we’ve made many quickly)
  • Celebrating incredible growth
  • Increased baptisms
  • Seeing a stellar staff develop
  • New families attending and joining
  • Meeting budget
  • Seniors who love seeing the church grow again
  • Renewed enthusiasm and momentum in the church
  • Strategic plans that are coming together…to make more disciples
  • Embracing a community

I’ve never been one to sugar coat an issue, but let me be clear that every negative leadership post this past year has not been about my time here. Most have had little or no direct relation. But, it’s been a challenge at times. Even frustrating some days.

Most challenging parts.

  • Fighting battles that don’t matter in an eternal sense
  • Gossip or indirect conversations
  • Limitations caused by structure or traditions of men
  • Getting people to think beyond what’s always been done
  • Redeveloping trust

I realize these are “normal” issues in churches. I’m not complaining. Just reporting. God is moving and I’m happy to be a part of what He is doing “for such a time as this”.

Finally, I’m excited about the potential in the days ahead. There was a part of us that questioned whether we could lead a church this age to better days. And, a year is probably not yet a good indicator, but if this year is a precursor of days ahead…we are in for an exciting time.There are many potentials in the days ahead.

Potential

  • Missions
  • A few major projects yet to be announced
  • Community involvement
  • Men’s and women’s ministries
  • Discipleship opportunities
  • The best days are still to come.

That’s my year. Anything specific you’d want me to expand upon in other posts?

Tell me about your past 12 months.

7 Ways a Pastor has a Great Weekend (Sabbath)

Chaise lounge and umbrella on sand beach.

I recently wrote 7 Ways a Leader Has a Better Weekend. Read that post before you read this one. The most repeated response I received to that post, however, was “Where is the one for pastors?” or “Can you write one for pastors?”

Actually, I thought I was writing for pastors too, but obviously I need to add a little clarity. So, here goes. (By the way, I previously wrote 7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath.)

How does a pastor have a great weekend?

Here are 7 ways:

Plan ahead – Sunday is coming. It comes about the same time every week. And, so should be your Sabbath. It should come every week. I know too many pastors who wait to the last minute to get prepared. They may let everything else distract them during the week, and at the end of the week they have no choice but to cram for a message. I plan my week knowing I’m going to take a day off at the end of the week.

Delegate – Equip people. Lead leaders. This is so critical if you want to disciple others and be effective in your own pastorate. When you believe you are the one who has to do things, or has to know everything, you’ll be married to a ministry more than your spouse. Your schedule will be dictated by ministry needs, which are endless, more than by ministry objectives, which builds disciples.

Entrust people – This may appear the same but some need to hear it again. The fact is, many who think they know how to delegate actually don’t. They assign tasks, but they never delegate responsibility or ownership. In the end, they end up being just as involved in a project as if they’d never delegated. If you think you can do it all or you’re even supposed to you’re going to eventually hit a brick wall. I realize your church sometimes puts undue pressure on you to be everywhere and know everything, but you may have to learn better how to lead the church to a healthier (and more Biblical) reality. You may certainly need to learn to protect your family and your Sabbath.

Write your sermon all week – Get the main idea. Just one. Put it in your schema. All week build on that idea. I use Evernote and I’m consistently adding thoughts to the file for messages. I may have messages I’m building upon that won’t be preached for six months. It makes writing a sermon much easier when I have notes already in place that were spurred from my heart and mind through daily living.

Be willing to say no – It’s amazing how many pastors resist my encouragement on this one. They think they have to be everywhere, even on the weekend. Every social. Every invitation. Everything the church does. I’ve even had church members say “that’s what I’m paid to do”. They want me available when they want me available. I know pastors who agree. The problem is this isn’t practical for my personal health or the health of my family, especially longterm. Which ultimately is not health for the church. Pastor, if you would teach your church to honor the sabbath then shouldn’t you lead the way?

Listen to your spouse and family – If you are not sure if you are protecting your family or personal time…ask them. Give them the opportunity to speak into your life. Ask them if they think ministry gets in the way of your time with them. Ask them to be honest, but to tell you which they think you love more…them or your ministry. (Wow…will you really ask that?…even I’m not sure you should. Actually, I think you already know the answer…whichever it is.) Before I get the emails, let me be clear I’m not talking about your love for Christ. That always comes first. But, love (or devotion) for ministry doesn’t always originate out of love for Christ. Many times it originates simply out of a sense of obligation that’s man made not God inspired. Make sure you’re following Christ more than traditions of men. And make sure your honoring your family over any other human relationship.

Have a true Sabbath – Your weekend may not look like everyone else’s, but you can have one. You can do a Monday and Saturday combination or a Friday and Saturday, whatever works best in your setting. Again, don’t be ruled by what society says is a weekend. Just be ruled by the truth that you need rest. I work six days most weeks. I don’t recommend it unless you’re wired that way. But on my day off…I’m off. It is rare for anything to interrupt that day, except for unavoidable occurrences, (which obviously occur in ministry or outside of ministry). This sounds so harsh to some people, but I don’t mean it to be. I didn’t make up the idea of a Sabbath. I’m just trying to actually live it.

Those are my suggestions. I’m not trying to add more pressure to already stressed out pastors. I love you guys. I’m one of you. I just know you need your Sabbath. You need your rest. God seems to think so too. If you want to last for the long run…honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Pastors, who enjoy great weekends (great Sabbaths), what would you add?

How to Weather the Long Days of Summer as a Church

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A recent conversation on a Sunday went something like this:

Staff member: Where is everyone?

Me: It’s summer.

Staff member: But, it still seems low, even for summer.

Me: This is still up percentage wise well over last year…

Staff member: But, it doesn’t feel like it.

Me: No, it never does.

The next day I received an email from a church staffer at another church. His question prompted this post. He wondered how to handle the long days of summer, when church crowds are smaller, budgets are tighter, and volunteers are harder to find.

Honestly, it can be disappointing if you focus on attendance alone. And, anyone who says they don’t is simply much more mature than I am. You recently celebrated the crowds of Easter. One of the highest times of attendance is followed shortly after by this…the dog days of summer. (I know some churches that are equally impacted seasonally, but at other times of the year.)

The fact is the time to prepare a summer sermon takes as long as sermon preparation does in September. Or it should. But fewer people may hear it. At least in person. If you are not intentional it can be discouraging.

What should the church do during the summer months?

Here are a few thoughts:

Plan and budget accordingly – Recognize the obvious. People are going to be traveling more. The lakes will be full of boats. If your church has them, this will include paid staff, but certainly volunteers. You know it’s coming. Plan for it. Intentionally.

Find ways to stay in touch – Emails are even more important. Facebook, church newsletters and websites become even more valuable. You want people to hear from you and know what is happening even when they aren’t always there. Information helps people feel and remain connected.

Enter in with lower expectations, not lower presentations – Less people may be with you Sunday, but the people who are there shouldn’t suffer because of it. What they receive may be different. You may not have the volunteers or staff to pull off a full schedule of activities, but what you put together shouldn’t suffer in excellence. The fact is people will visit in the summer, sometimes even more so than during the fall or winter. Churched people aren’t the only ones out of their routine. Unchurched people often have more open schedules and are open to visiting if they are invited.

Plan for flexibility – Realize last minute trips will occur and people you thought would be there may quickly decide not to be. I like for the summer series, for example, to have a central theme but each week be able to stand alone. (This is not a bad idea anytime of year, because people who attend less regularly are more likely to return if they aren’t intentionally made to feel they missed something. Ideally there should be a encouragement to want to be there next week, but not a slam for missing last week. That’s a delicate balance.) Something is likely to come up with me also and someone else might need to preach. This makes it easier. We sometimes preach through a book of the Bible or some theme from the Bible. This summer we are doing Bible stories of adventure…people who took risks for their faith. If anyone preaches for me this summer, there are plenty of stories from which to choose.

Carry this flexible attitude throughout all ministries of the church during the summer. It could be, in children’s programs, that you plan more large group activities for when teachers are on short supply. You may need to pull volunteers from one area to help in another area. However it works for your church, just create a summer culture of being flexible.

Do a few special events to boost averages – Special occasions build excitement and sustain momentum through the summer months. Ice cream socials. Outdoor baptisms. Pizza parties and swim parties for youth. Dinner on the grounds. Vacation Bible School. One day concerts. They serve a purpose. We are doing a high attendance emphasis this summer. It’s really just a branding emphasis to “invite a friend”, and obviously the goal is lower than a similar day in the fall, but the hope is to boost attendance for a day. I hear from teachers frequently that they lose ground with students over the summer. It can be that way with churches too. Plan some opportunities to keep engaged.

Use the time to prepare for Fall – People will return from vacation. School will start back. People will return to church whom you’ve been missing. Will you be ready? Rest up. Plan. Prepare some exciting changes to implement. Relaunch.

Remember the vision – Again, it can be discouraging when less people are around for the summer. You simply miss getting to see some of the people. That’s a natural reaction, but remember your vision is for when two or more are gathered. The number isn’t as important as the mission being fulfilled. Celebrate what is happening and whoever comes if they are growing in Christ.

Summer can be a special time if you use it intentionally. And, remember, time flies. Fall will be here soon.

What ideas do you have for churches to “weather” the summer months?

If you’re going to roast your pastor…here are a few tips

Golden roast chicken

I was talking to a young pastor recently. He’s been called to a church in steep decline and asked to salvage and, hopefully, even grow the church again. It’s hard work changing a church. (I know this firsthand.) He knew immediately he would have to do some things differently to achieve different results. (You understand that…don’t you?) So far, in the six months he’s been there, the church has stopped declining. That’s a good start. He’s lost a few families, but gained others to replace them. He believes they are being positioned for growth and believes that’s why God called him to the church.

The hardest part on him, and even more so on his family, has been the conversations being had about him that he hears about second hand. There have been times he thought things were going great, only to hear of the small coup forming behind his back. Sometimes his wife hears about it before he does. He’s naturally hurt knowing how some are responding to his leadership in this way. He is trying to be open to input and humble in his approach, but he wants to lead where he feels God has wired and called him. The behind the back network of talk is threatening the work the church is doing.

I wish I could say this was church specific, but I hear it (and see it) frequently. Hearing this pastor’s heart reminded me what someone said to me recently. She said, “I don’t know why, but people feel they can say anything about a pastor they want and there’s no accountability for it.” It’s true. It’s not fair or even Biblical the way some pastors are gossiped about in churches, but it’s a reality in ministry.

By the way, it has to be very unattractive for those outside the church.

That’s why I’m writing this post. It’s intended to be a lighthearted approach to a very serious issue. If you are active in a local church, please consider how you can encourage your pastor and pastor’s family today. One way you can do this is to monitor your conversation about the pastor when the pastor is nowhere around. (Do to others as you would want them to do to you…that should include pastors.)

Now, again, in an attempt to be humorous, let me also stretch your mind around this idea. (To understand this post, you should know that I’m a cook. My mom raised me to be. So I can not only pastor a church…I can roast a mean chicken or a smokin’ piece of roast beef.)

If you’re going to roast your pastor…here are a few things to consider:

Temperature – I play with temperatures when I’m cooking a roast. 325. 350. 375. It depends on how fast or slow I want to cook it. When you choose to roast your pastor, consider your own temperature. Are you angry? Are you really at a good temperature personally to be roasting? With the temperature of the church right now, am I helping or hurting the mission of the church by roasting the pastor? This is a good time to check your heart and motivation.

Time – I’ve cooked a roast as long as 8 hours. I can sometimes accomplish it in 2 hours, but it isn’t as good. Consider the timing of your roast. Have you thought through what you are upset about? Is it valid in a context beyond your personal preference? Is it valid within the context of the vision your pastor has been called to lead? Have you given adequate time to think through how you’re responding, or is this only a gut reaction…or even a selfish or angry reaction?

Seasoning – I typically flavor my roast beef with garlic, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. I usually put a few beef bouillon cubes in the water. When you’re roasting your pastor, remember you are to be the “salt of the earth”. Are you seasoning your conversation with love? Would you be okay with others, even your pastor, hearing what you are saying right now? What if it were being recorded and played before the church…or the unchurched? Is it seasoned well? Does it represent the church and Christ’s love well?

Veggies – Momma always said “eat your veggies”. I cook potatoes, carrots, and onions on my roast. I often alternate between green beans,  cabbage and mushrooms as an addition. You’d be amazed how good those can taste in the roast. My family doesn’t always agree on what veggies I put in the roast, so I go back and forth between their favorites. When you roast your pastor, consider the issues besides the issue you’re roasting. A pastor juggles many hats. Where two or more are gathered in Jesus name, He will be there, but also will be two or more opinions on how things should be done. At least one opinion for every person in the room. Most of the time, multiple opinions for each person. Do the math on that for your church. As you continue your roast, consider the veggies in your roaster. (You do realize the church can’t operate effectively if it only pleases you….right?)

Quality – When I’m buying a roast, I realize already that I “get what I pay for”. I can’t expect a less expensive cut of meat to be as tender as a more expensive cut of meat. I can’t expect a grass fed beef and a grain fed beef to taste the same. As you roast your pastor, remember he isn’t a god. He can’t do everything. Don’t hold him to a standard he could never meet. Don’t expect his sermon to be the quality of an Andy Stanley sermon when he may not be Andy Stanley, and when the church doesn’t afford him the staff to lead that Andy has to prepare to preach. I was talking to someone recently who told me of a large megachurch pastor who has a paid research team helping with his sermon. You think he has a well researched message? Of course he does. Realize that the more you pull your pastor in dozens of different directions, and the more expectations you place on him personally, the less time he will have to concentrate on his message. Also realize that God didn’t wire everyone the same in communication or leadership styles. And, God may not place on your pastors heart what you hope He will.

So there. You have some tips for your next roasting time. Happy roasting.

Roast any preachers lately ? What tips do you have?

(This is intended to be a satirical post. I’ve been writing quite a few of these lately. In spite of my disclaimer, someone will misinterpret my poor attempt at humor. For those who do, simply add me to your next roast, but my goal is to help the local church and its pastor better achieve their Kingdom mission. We are losing hundreds and thousands of pastors to the ministry. I see this issue playing a part in that exodus.)

7 Most Exciting Things a Pastor Experiences

Winning young man

Yesterday I shared the post 7 Most Frustrating Things Pastors Experience. I promised then that a post was due on the most exciting things a pastor experiences. There are many. Pastors get to see the best and worst of life it seems, but there are many positives.

Obviously, seeing someone become a follower of Christ or baptism of a believer, has to rank as a highlight of the pastor’s experience. That’s what we are called to do. But, that experience isn’t unique to pastors. Every believer, hopefully, gets excited about seeing people’s entry into faith. That’s the call of the church; not only pastors.

So, my list is beyond those experiences to things that may be somewhat unique to pastors. I’m not saying only pastors get excited about these experiences, but to pastors, these are especially exciting. Also, different pastors will have different answers. That’s where the comments section makes this post even better.

Here are 7 most exciting things pastors experience:

A child who loves church – They are our future. And, we know it. Jesus loves the little children. And so do we. I love when a little child leads “them” to church. When a child loves church, I know the parent is sure to be excited also.

Note takers – Seeing someone following a message closely. Hearing pages of the Bible turn. Priceless. Seeing people actually live the truths taught…don’t even get me started.

Sacrificial givers – The church is built on people willing to invest in her work. The generous giver…who gives with no strings attached…way to make a pastor smile. Maybe even dance.

Visitors and people who invite them – Visitors. Could we grow the church and sustain it long-term without them? Of course not. Every person in the church today, unless they were born into it, started as a visitor. Every new church member and every knew opportunity to add someone to our discipleship efforts starts with a visit. I love people who invite. I love those who come when invited. I just want to hug them all. (But, I promise not to hug you on your first visit…or ever if you prefer, because I want you to visit. Visit. Visit. Visit.)

Servant hearts – When I see a man or woman in the parking lot or a baby rocker in preschool, or someone who says “Pastor, I’m here to help you any way I can”, I am encouraged to keep going. Their enthusiasm for serving others encourages me.

New people joining the church – The church is a family and every pastor loves when the family grows. When people who have been visiting start coming more often, and eventually decide this is the church family…WOW! Exciting! I may try to look like it’s a normal day, because I don’t want you to think we are desperate for new members, or scare you as I shout real loud, but inside, I’m bursting with joy.

When the church is the church – I am encouraged when I hear someone is in the hospital and a church member has already made a visit. I get excited when I hear of needs…that have already been met. When the church behaves like we were called to behave, without a staff member or me having to lead the effort, I’m energized. Elated. Blessed.

There is my list.

Pastors, what would you add?

5 Reasons We Attend Church While on Vacation

destin beach

As you consider your vacation this year, I want to encourage you to find a church wherever you are and visit.

One of the first things Cheryl and I do when we go out of town is look for a place to attend church on Sunday. We’ve had some incredible experiences attending other churches and its one of our favorite parts about vacation.

I know many pastors who look forward to some weeks they don’t have to attend church. I have often been asked if we are legalistic because we don’t take a vacation from church while on vacation. Do we feel we “must” attend church in vacation? Is it because I’m a pastor?

Absolutely not. We feel no obligation. It’s what we want to do.

Here are 5 reasons we attend church on vacation:

We love church. Church is the best part of our week. We don’t view church as an obligation. It is a privilege. We believe the church is God’s plan to make disciples. It’s our community. It’s where we find our best friends in life. It is a large part of what fuels us for the week ahead. Why would we take a vacation from that?

We get to worship without distraction. Honestly, Sunday can be a very distracting day for Cheryl and me. We are both busy with ministry obligations. On vacation we are freed to worship.

We get to sit together. Cheryl is beside me during the worship portion of the service, but she has never stood beside me while I preach…even as many times as I’ve asked her to. :) Actually, we did dance together on stage in one service. On vacation we enjoy being together for an entire service.

We learn from others. I love sitting under the teaching of other pastors. Cheryl never admits to anyone preaching better than me, but she seems to take plenty of notes when we are out of town. :) We also always go home with new ideas and renewed energy from attending other churches.

We get to encourage another pastor. We know how much we love visitors. On vacation, we get to attend another church, pray for the pastor, and many times meet and pray for the pastor and pastor’s spouse. Those have been awesome experiences over the years.

Please understand. I’m not saying you have to attend church when you’re on vacation, but don’t dismiss it too quickly either. It could be one of the greater parts of your vacation. (And if you’re ever in Lexington for vacation, come see us. Did you read my post about vacationing here?)

Do you ever attend church when you’re on vacation?

7 Ways to Respond on Sunday after a Disaster is in the News

Emergency checklist

This was a week (again) where the news was dominated by a natural disaster. Knowing that this blog is read by many pastors and church leaders, I felt led to address the issue many of them (us) will be considering…or at least should be.

How to respond the Sunday after a disaster in the news:

This is often a delicate issue. Unless your church is super large, and probably even then, you won’t be able to respond to every disaster with money and people. Obviously there are disasters every week. Some get more national attention than others. How do you know what to address on Sunday? How do you respond as a church?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Determine impact on the church – Consider how much this particular disaster is on the minds of the people you pastor and how long it will take to recover from this disaster. That’s not always the same. The tornadoes in Oklahoma have dominated the news. People are saying things like, “Worst I’ve ever seen.” Obviously this one has major impact on people and will be difficult to ignore.

Acknowledge the obvious – After you have discerned the magnitude of the disaster, decide what response you will make. As for this week, considering the Oklahoma tornadoes, it will be difficult not to mention it in a service. It’s on people’s minds. People almost expect you to say or do something. Again, this is not true of every disaster, but when it impacts as many people as this one does, and when the destruction is as devastating, it merits mentioning. We placed something on our website and Facebook almost immediately directing people where they can help. These are times when the church has a specific expectation and calling to respond. Sometimes it will be obvious you need to respond. At other times, follow your heart for people, but if you need confirmation or the discernment of other people, bring a small group together to help you decide if and how to respond.

Lead people to pray – The best thing we can ever do in a disaster…really anytime…is to appeal to the One who holds the answers to the struggles of life. We need to pray. We demonstrate something to people when they see and hear us pray for a situation in the news. They realize the importance of prayer. They are reminded of God’s sovereignty. When the corporate body prays together over something we’ve been thinking about all week we are able to share the burden we’ve been carrying individually. That’s being the Body.

Allow a chance to respond – Again, depending on the magnitude of the disaster, and the way it impacts the particular church where you serve, it might be necessary for you to do more than pray. Depending on the size of your church you may be able to send people (at the appropriate time), but you can always give people an opportunity to give and serve through other organizations. Many churches assume they have to coordinate their own efforts. I choose to rely on reputable groups already on the ground of the disaster with whom we can partner. It eliminates many of the administrative hurdles that get in the way of providing real help.

Preach what God has laid on your heart – I know some who alter their message after a national disaster. When a tornado hit our community, that obviously altered my Sunday message. I knew I needed to address people’s fear and provide hope. I don’t feel I need to respond that every time a disaster happens. If God has already directed my message before the disaster, I know He is sovereign enough to know the timing of the word He placed in my heart and the disaster. I usually preach the message I feel He has already been leading me to deliver. We have to help people move forward after a disaster. While we don’t ignore the pain, we can help them process the fact that there is still much life to be lived.

Have systems in place – This will happen after the Sunday, but if you don’t have them already, use times following a disaster to reevaluate your systems of response you have. If they need improving, use this as an opportunity to do so. Connect with some agencies you can partner with in future disasters. Organize teams to coordinate future efforts. Set written procedures in place that outline how and when you will respond in the future. I have even used a “decision grid” for times like these, which helps us ask questions to determine the best decision to make at the time. It is harder to think rationally when emotions are high after something is in the news all week. Most likely your response will be slightly different every disaster, but it will help make better decisions to have systems already organized.

Keep preaching hope in Jesus – Disasters aren’t going away in this world. If anything, they seem to happen more frequently. I’m not making a prophetic statement (I’m not smart enough for that), but I wouldn’t be surprised if things get worse before they get better. And, one day they will get better. Much better. Until then, we have hope in the One who is hope. Keep reminding people of that truth. We aren’t promised a trouble free world…actually opposite. We are promised we can have faith through any storm, that God is still in control.

Please understand this is an opinion post. In fact, I hope you realize this is an opinion blog. Consider the source. Be intentional. Think through your response. Shepherd the people God has entrusted to your ministry.

I realize there are many seasoned pastors who read this blog. Let us learn from you.

How do you respond following a disaster in the news?

Make Sure Your Marketing Matches Your Market

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A friend and I went to a Reds game recently. It was a cold night for baseball. It had been raining for several days and thankfully stopped in time for the game. But, it made for a very chilly night.

It didn’t stop the stadium vendors from doing their job though. The only problem…I’m not sure their marketing matched their market.

Especially one guy.

It was almost funny. It was obvious he had a routine. A common cheer. A pitch.

“Ice cold beer….BRRRR….Ice cold beer….BRRRR…”.

It was his trademark. He would shake his head everytime he said “BRRR“…

He was good at it too. Convicting. He had the routine well rehearsed.

I got colder listening to him. Every time he did his cheer, I pulled my jacket a little tighter around my neck. I’m getting colder now, just thinking about his performance.

Now, here’s the problem. I wasn’t in the beer market anyway, but his marketing approach probably wouldn’t have motivated me if I was. I didn’t need anything to make me colder than I already was that night. I needed something to make me warmer. If it had been 90 humid degrees in the shade, he would have had a winning approach with beer drinkers. This would have been your best salesperson of the night.

But, as it appeared, he wasn’t selling much that night. Almost nothing. He even seemed discouraged. (Although now I may be reading into this because it fits the illustration.) Either way…sales were certainly down.

I wondered if it were more than the weather…if in fact part of the reason was his cheer.

Anything “BRRR…ice cold…” doesn’t grab my attention as much when I’m already cold.

I don’t know what the warm beer cheer is, but that would almost seem to have been a better one this night. :) Maybe even a cheer for hot chocolate.

It reminded me though of how we “market” sometimes…even in the church.

Sometimes our marketing doesn’t match our market

Okay, I’ll get pushback that the church shouldn’t market. (I love hearing from those guys.) Call it what you want, but we have a message we are trying to tell. We hopefully think about how we tell it. If you don’t then you can ignore this post and I will catch you next time. Marketing is the process of packaging a story in a way that others become interested in it. I think we attempt that every week.

Jesus seemed to share His message in a way the audience He was speaking to could more easily understand. That’s why He used parables. It seems to be why He used a lot of farming illustrations. (They were plentiful in His audience.)

I wonder if we, as a church, need to get better at telling our story…marketing our message.

So, with that in mind, here’s my advice:

Make sure your marketing matches your market.

Make sure your story-telling matches your audience.

To do that, ask yourself:

Who are the people you are trying to reach?

Who are the people with whom you want to share your message?

Who are the people needing to know what you know?

Who are the people needing to believe what you believe?

What do they think like? What are they interested in? What motivates them? What inspires them?

What do they need most? What are their greatest fears? With what do they struggle most?

How can you tell the story in a way that they hear and are motivated to respond?

Again…

Does your “marketing” match your market?