10 Reasons You Need to Be in a Community Group

This morning I shared the Top 10 Reasons You Need to Be In a Community Group.  Since many of my readers are from other churches, I thought I’d share them here as well.  I did them in a Letterman counting down way, so I began with the number ten reason.  


Number 10. You will be a part of a miracle.  -  In our short time as a church (almost 3 years) nearly 700 people from birth to adults have become involved in groups.  


Number 9.   Your faith will grow. – Community groups provide a system of doing life together that tremendously assists spiritual growth.  


Number 8.    It’s the best way to connect at Grace. – If you are not a part of group life at our church you will not feel connected to the church.  


Number 7.  It strengthens Grace. – As members of groups grow spiritually individually it strengthens the entire church.  (I actually said I’m not sure we will be any stronger as a church than what happens Sunday through Thursday nights in home group meetings.)  


Number 6 It was Jesus’ model. – In spite of the large crowds of people following Jesus He consistently pulled the 12 disciples aside to hang out with them. If Jesus placed such a value in this process, how much more should we?  


Number 5 Ben Reed Needs a Job – Ben is our community group director.  He’s awesome.  This was intended to be comic relief, but it is true.  Ben and his wife Laura are about to have their first child soon.  


Number 4 You will make friends for life. – I am firmly convinced that I will know where the people I’m doing groups with are even 10 years from now, whether or not they live in this community or not.  I am forming authentic, lifetime relationships.  


Number 3 It’s fun!  - The best belly laughs I’ve had in the last 3 years have come from groups.  It’s also fun to learn common connections with people I didn’t know before.  


Number 2 You will be prepared for the unexpected.  We are extraverted with our online friends sometimes, but when life crashes in around us, we need friends with skin.  Groups are the truest picture of the 1st Century church I know of today where everyone truly cares for each other’s needs.  


Number 1 You’ll have to experience it for yourself.  – I showed pictures of my recent vacation. I shared that Cheryl wanted to go with me this year to places I had been the year before.  When we got there, she kept saying, “Pictures can’t do this justice.”  A picture never can.  A picture can’t capture the emotion of experiencing something firsthand.  I can share all kinds of stories about life change from group life, but until you actually give it a chance, you’ll never really understand why it’s such a big deal to us.


You can hear the podcast of this message at the Grace Podcast Site. 




The Balance Between Helping and Enabling

What is the balance between helping someone in need and enabling them in a perpetual cycle of bad behavior?  Honestly, I never know. 

In ministry we always have opportunities to help people.  In every church I’ve served as pastor the needs always seemed to be greater than our ability to help. The frustrating part for me is that we tend to see the same people every month.  The same few faces come looking for charity.  They got into trouble last month and they made the same mistakes again this month.  I have often found out later that they were at several other churches to ask for help before they came to ours.

One of the biggest struggles I have as a full-time minister is that I spent most of my life in the business world.  I know how hard money is to make and keep (and how easy it is to lose sometimes.)  I don’t ever want to be uncaring.  I always want to do what Jesus would do, but honestly, there are many times that there doesn’t seem to be clearly defined answer. 

I do believe that helping every time is not the answer either. I don’t give my boys what they say they “need” every time.  I don’t think God does that for us either.  Doing without and learning hard lessons from it are often a great part of life.

Does anyone have some easy to follow guidelines of when to help and when not to?  I know the response to “follow your heart”, but my heart always wants to give.  It’s many times my head that’s yelling “Wait, don’t do it! This is a scam!”  Trying to balance between the two is difficult for me.  I’m sure that’s part of the messiness of ministry.

“This Inviting People Thing Really Works!”

One of our worship leaders shared a great line in an email to me.  He and his wife met a couple from our area at a marriage retreat recently.  As they got to know the new couple over the weekend they found out the couple didn’t currently have a church.  The worship leader and his wife invited the other couple to attend our church.  Here’s the shocking part of this story.   You might want to sit down for this one.  You aren’t going to believe what happened next. 


THEY SHOWED UP!  They actually came and even better…they liked it and have actually returned.  In Michael’s email to me he wrote, “This inviting people thing really works!”  I love that line.  That line is true.  That is the simple principle which has built Grace into who we are as a church today; no advertising; no fancy brochures or mail outs; simply the art of the personal invitation. 


It reminds me of when I was pastor at another church several years ago and as soon as I arrived they wanted me to start an outreach program.  They had considered and tried all kinds of formal, organized programs and nothing had really worked for them.  I gave them one of my own.  I taught them one Sunday how to grow their church. It is a genius plan. I highly recommend it still.  It’s called the “Wanna Plan”.  It worked great and the church that had been stagnant for years began to grow again (actually very quickly). 


The “Wanna Plan” goes like this.  Read slowly so you don’t miss anything.  You approach someone (could be someone you know or someone you don’t know) and say, “Hey!” Go ahead and practice that part.  You can even try different ways of saying “Hey!” if you want ranging from super-excited to semi-mellow.  Don’t try to tackle the next part, which is much more difficult, until you get the “Hey!”downpat. 

Then, carefully, not too fast and not too slow, in a pleasant sounding voice ask the people, “Wanna come to my church?”  Now try that. Ask it as a question; not a statement.  Say it with enthusiasm!  After you’ve rehearsed each of these rather tricky lines a few times until you’re sure you have them, try putting them together into one phrase.  I know what you’re thinking: This is too much information at once, but you can do it. I promise!  It goes like this: “Hey, wanna come to my church?”  (If you need to you can write this on a cue card in case you get too nervous and forget your line.) 


This complicated system, if you can master it, really does work. Try some of the magic today. 

I Am Not Black Enough for this Party

Okay, forgive the poor attempt at humor here, but I’m not even sure this is funny. Today I got a letter.  I won’t tell you who from, but I think it’s too good (or too something) not to share.  (My wife says I share too much.)  What would you think if you got this letter? 


Dear Pastor,


You recently received a letter of invitation to the Pastor’s Update held at _________________ September 10th-12th.


Please disregard this invitation – this is a training/informative seminar for Black Pastors and Planters.





Wait a minute!  I already had it on my calendar!  Not really, but I am disappointed I don’t qualify.  Plus, how do they know I’m not black.  I am not aware that I ever indicated that on any documents this organization would have.  I’m sure it was a huge error to send out the original invitation, which I don’t even remember receiving, but the retraction is hilarious.  So much for bridging the barrier lines in our churches. 


Just for that, I’m not going to their little party.  You can take me off the list!

More on Church Competition (Are you ready for some football?)

Yesterday I caused some people to think and others to throw things. The idea that I would introduce competition among churches as an idea for Kingdom growth excites some people.  Obviously the word excites can have positive and negative connotations.   (Feel free to comment those thoughts for the general public. Don’t hold back.  I love competing thoughts too!) 

What if I made the idea more palatable by calling it variety?  What if we offered more choices of churches, so that we bring more opportunity to engage the unchurched and lost people’s interests, and could thereby give more people an opportunity to hear the Gospel?  Would that make it easier to accept?  I still like the concept of competition; not in a competitive sense, but perhaps in a competitive spirit.  Mainly though I was speaking in terms of volume of churches more than the concept of competing against one another; and definitely not in a this one wins and this one loses; since we are all trying to “win” the same prize; the glory and honor of God our Father. 

As with any word there are numerous definitions to the word completion.  One that’s closest to what I’m suggesting is: The act of seeking, or endeavoring to gain, what another is endeavoring to gain at the same time.

Ideally we are seeking cooperation, not competition, but the competitive spirit that drives our business world may sometimes be needed to drive our church world to greater success.  We should always desire and push for excellence in all we do.   We should strive to win a lost world to Christ.  My church tries its methods. Your church tries theirs.  Somehow through our different “competing” efforts we win some for Christ.  You win some in your church and I win some in mine.  (Obviously God’s Spirit wins people, but don’t be so technical.  You get the idea.)   

So, put your boxing gloves on…let the games begin… Just kidding…..Let’s do give it everything we have, however, so that Christ may be exalted! 

Church Competition…May Be A Good Idea

We could use a little competition in the church.  I know, that’s a “bad” word around most church people, but frankly, I’m not your average church guy.  I guess coming from the business world into the church world one of the things that has baffled me the most is this anti-competitive spirit among pastors and churches.  I really believe a little competition could do us all some good.   

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m advocating.  I believe we are all on the same team.  I think, if we have a passion to reach people for Christ (the one and only Jesus Christ, Son of God, King of kings, Lord of lords, Creator of the Universe who died and rose again and only through Him we receive eternal life Christ….just so I’m clear) then we share the same basic vision for our church.  We are all trying to disciple people to reach more people for Christ (Yes, that same Christ.) 

What has seemed strange to me is how many tend to view any church that honors Christ opening near their church that also honors Christ.  (Again, same Christ.)  When we started our church one would have thought we were starting a war in some people’s minds.  This is my second church plant.  This one happens to be in my hometown.  The first one was not.  Because I was an unknown planter I didn’t bother anyone there until we started to grow and then it seemed every large church in town wanted to get to know me so they could figure out what we were doing.  I always felt the main thing they wanted to know was how many of their people we had.  People can criticize the way we began. (I’ve seen the Ed Young Jr. video criticizing what he calls “church pirates”.) They can argue against our methods (to reach people for the same Christ I remind you), but the bottom line most of the time, at least it appears to me, is that in the church world some feel there is to be no competition.  This is especially true within particular denominations. 

That appears exactly opposite of the business world. Competition in business serves a great function. Today in Philadelphia I saw a Ted’s Montana Grill right next to a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.  Of course, anyone who goes to Philly is made aware of Pat’s and Geno’s steak sandwich war that’s been going on for years.  They are right across the street from each other.  Almost everywhere I see a Lowe’s I also see a Home Depot nearby.  Some say the best pace to open an independent coffee shop is near a popular Starbucks.  Why do the best malls have the nicest food courts; with dozens of restaurants located next to each other?  Have you ever been to a farmer’s market?  Just wondering: is it still called a farmer’s market if there is only one farmer there? 

Could it be because the business world knows something about competition that the church world needs to learn?   Perhaps we need to learn a valuable business principle that competition drives interest, which generates traffic, which translates into bigger sales; which happens to be the like goal of each of the businesses.  If we are all in it for the same end purpose, maybe we need to be less afraid of competition and more grateful when someone in the same “industry” of leading people to Christ (same Christ) opens nearby.  We might even want to help them get started. It might be good for “business”.     

By the way, in addition to greater sales, competition also has a way of generating better quality and we all know a few churches (including mine) that could always use more of that….

Culture Changes, Beer Sales, and Missions

As a pastor it is not typical for me to write about a beer company, but I’m an observer of culture, and honestly, it would be hard to deny the impact the beverage has had on the culture I watch. (Beer has had an impact if for no other reason than providing cool Super Bowl commercials.) An example of a cultural phenomenon I see occurring now is found in the selling of Anheuser-Busch to the Belgian company InBev. (Has anyone even heard of InBev before a few months ago?)

In addition to being a pastor, I live in the South. People around here take their beer very seriously. That’s why I knew months ago when I read rumors of this sale that tempers would flare. The Internet has been full of stories over the last few days of how distasteful a foreign own Bud really is in the minds of consumers. (http://tinyurl.com/5qjatp) It will be interesting to see how loyal beer drinkers remain after the sale is final. Still, in spite of the protests, apparently the sell will go through. (I wonder if the Clydesdales will remain in America.)

Why does this matter? I think it matters because it is one more example of how small the world has become. We truly are a global economy. Our world has shrunk more the larger it has become. One thing is certain, it is more difficult than ever for a company to remain totally an American company. To really grow a company must think internationally. Don’t be surprised if next year it is Wal Mart, Ford or Starbucks on the international auction block.  Trust me; if it can happen to the “King of Beers” it can happen to anyone.

There’s a coffee shop in Nashville (pastors can surely write about coffee) that has a sign over the men’s urinal (okay, so I crossed another line talking about urinals) that says “Think Globally, Drink Locally”. That phrase has actually become a cultural buzzword for the mindset of many people today. I can’t find a definitive answer of where the phrase came from or even what it means, but basically it appears to mean that we live here, we shop here, we enjoy life here (wherever here is), but we have access to an incredible world at our fingertips with the touch of a mouse or keyboard or through the products that we can easily buy and we should, therefore, always keep the greater world in mind.

As a church we have a similar mission. We are local, but we have been called to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We worship together, we minister to each other, and we share each other’s burdens. It would be easy for us to get comfortable in our own little world and forget about the world. Discovering how we take advantage of this smaller world culture may be one of the greatest challenges today in the local church, but somehow I think this culture change may work in our favor if we allow it to and give us greater opportunities to grow the Kingdom of God.

(Just to avoid the negative comments or emails because I wrote about beer, let me be clear now that I’m not promoting the sale, purchase or consumption of beer. It’s just an illustration. I hate that I have to put disclaimers on posts like this, but I’ve been there…done that. Don’t have a t-shirt though…FYI size medium.)

Industry Changing Rapidly

I was just thinking today.  Name an industry that does not have to change rapidly in this current economy and culture? 


Here are a few industries I can think of that I have read or heard news stories in recent months that are facing significant changes:

·         Airline

·         Automobile

·         Electronics/Technology

·         Television

·         Publishing

·         Utilities

·         Agriculture

·         Banking/Mortgage

·         Manufacturing

·         Housing

·         Healthcare

·         Music


Should there be any question that the industry of church (the way we do church) would need to be undergoing change also?  The product stays the same.  The way we get people interested is changing rapidly.

Are Sunday Mornings Inconvenient?

My mind started racing Sunday afternoon. I tried to take a nap, but I couldn’t get these thoughts out of my head.  I woke up with the same thoughts again this morning.  I’m trying to figure out how best to reach people in today’s culture.  These thoughts began with a game my family plays each Sunday after church.  Perhaps your family plays the game. It’s called “Name The Missing” and the object of the game is to list as many people as you can who you didn’t see at church that day.  I hate the game personally, but I seem to fall into it and actually win quite often.  If you can name the person and where they were you get extra points.  The most common response lately has revolved around dance competitions or sporting events.  I’m wondering now if there is a better game we should be playing. 

We are living in a culture where Sunday morning is not necessarily reserved for church. It used to be and we could wish it still were, but it’s not.  For years I have tried to figure out how to stop this cultural shift, but I’m beginning to wonder if that is the correct response.   I wonder if we should be considering how we interact with the present culture.  How do we reach people who no longer have the mindset that to find God they must free up their Sunday morning? 

Jesus said, in Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”  Does that command include the dance competitions and the baseball diamond, even if those places are occupied on Sunday morning?  What about the restaurant I passed on the way to church this morning?  Does the absence of a person from my organized time of service mean they have no interest in God or no desire for Him in their life? I’m not sure it does.  I’m wondering if we as the “church” need to rethink our strategy to include those absentees in our outreach. 

I’m not suggesting Tuesday night visitation.  I don’t want unannounced visitors at my house and I’m a paid professional.  I am, however, talking about finding ways to reach people within the schedule the culture is setting for them.  That could mean alternative scheduling of our services or it could mean alternative type of “services”.  I think it definitely means taking the message of God’s love and grace, which is only available through the person of Jesus Christ, (I added the Jesus qualifier just so someone doesn’t think I’m talking about a new “religion”) to them in a ways that intersect with where and how they have currently chosen to live their life, even if that is just through personal relationships.   I guess I’m also wondering if thinking through ways to accomplish this should be occupying my thoughts as much or close to as much as thoughts about how to improve Sunday mornings at my church. 

I don’t have all the answers. I’m just thinking.  I welcome your ideas. 

3 Questions to Evaluate Vision Planning

What is the next level for your organization?  Do you have a vision to get you there? 

As we approach our third anniversary as a church, I’m in a deep brainstorming time about where God would want us to lead the church in the coming years.  God has blessed us with three wonderful years, but what’s next?  I have always believed and taught that a healthy church is a growing church, so what is our role in producing that growth.  Of course our overall vision remains the same. We want to make growing followers of Jesus Christ.  I know that God ultimately is the One who grows the church and people, but I also know that He uses people to carry out His will.  Will what worked to accomplish our growth the first three years work the same way in the next three years?  As fast as the world is changing, and since we are a culture invading church, reaching people who are very entrenched in the culture, it would make sense that we would need to be ready to make changes quickly to maintain our growth.   

So, here are some of the tough questions I’m asking myself.  While at this point these are personal questions I am processing, yesterday I shared these with our staff for their input and to spur their thoughts in similar directions.  I welcome your input if you have questions or thoughts that would be good for us to consider or if you have insight for a church at our stage of its life-cycle.    

Where do we want to go?  What specific goals in each area of ministry do we have for the next three years in regards to numbers of people engaged and numbers of people volunteering?  What changes need to be made to our current structured programs in order to better disciple people?  Do we need to alter our service times, tweak our style of music or add new services to reach new people? 

How are we going to get there?  Once we know where we want to go, what steps need to be in place to accomplish each of the goals?  How much will it cost?  Will our current facilities be enough to sustain our new growth goals? 

Who is going to lead the way?  Are the right people in place to take us to the next level?  Do we need to add staff or alter responsibilities in order to achieve maximum results from everyone on the team?  How many new volunteers will be needed to meet our goals? 

These are just a few of my questions. Again, I welcome your input in this process. 

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22 NIV