There's really no playbook for how to deal with something like this. Hopefully you're not as fortunate as I was and you never have something like that happen. But chances are you'll have something just as wacky happen during a worship service or in the parking lot or in your email. If you're in ministry long enough, something will happen and you'll wonder where the cameras are. It could be a conspiracy theorist, a fringe eschatology theory, someone who had a dream or vision, the opening of a pyramid scam, a political candidate push, or some other inflammatory issue.
So what do you do when something crazy happens?
1. Keep or Document Everything - I know the first instinct when you get a crazy email is to get it in the trash as fast as you can, but you need to hang on to everything that comes to you. And if it's not written, document everything. You're not trying to put together anything ulterior, but you need to keep track of what happens just in case. Keep a folder in your email, or a file in your desk. Whatever you do, make sure you can find what all happened so you can relay it if that need arises. If it never does, then it becomes a nice memento!
2. Laugh, and Cry - I wish I could say the prophet stuff was something I could laugh about at any moment. But there were hours, even days, where it ate at me to the core. As much as I wanted to avoid it, my inbox kept getting hit with bomb after bomb. And when the prophet used my kids' names in one of their messages, I got really nervous. So as many times as I'd roll my eyes, laugh, and forward the email to my wife or some friends to tell them that I'd been called a false teacher, fake Christian, instrument of Satan, or whatever charge got lobbied to get a giggle, I'd be sitting in my office with a lump in my throat. The range of emotions are perfectly normal, and part of the process. So don't be afraid to laugh, or to cry.
3. Don't Go Alone - I'm so thankful that when the prophet was getting really problematic, I wasn't by myself. Of course Carrie was supportive through it, but for my sanity and the protection of the church, I pulled in some other trusted people who needed to know what was going on and could be called on in case the prophet disrupted a service. Whatever situation you're going through, whatever crazy thing is happening to you, don't try to do it alone. You can't. We need each other. We need friends to carry burdens with us. And we need friends we can send a crazy email or unsigned letter to so they can share your pain.
4. Pray - It goes without saying that prayer is more important than keeping records or passing on information to others. Our struggle isn't against flesh and blood, but a spiritual one. And spiritual struggles require spiritual strength. That's where we need to be in prayer, seeking direction, asking for wisdom, and walking in the Spirit's footsteps in front of us. Whatever crazy kind of situation you're going through, it's not too small or too silly or too inconsequential or too big for God to deal with.
5. Limit Engagement - This is a hindsight lesson for me. After the prophet finally left and went to another church (God bless that next pastor), it was a good time to sit back and reflect. The moment where it went beyond what it should have was when I chose to engage beyond a cursory and obligatory message acknowledging that I got the message. I should have stopped there. I shouldn't have replied beyond that, and definitely shouldn't have tried to make any kind of rational discussion. As my father in law has said, you can't convince crazy. Whatever unusual situation you find yourself in, less is always better. Say less. Reply less. Don't reply to their tweet. If we feed trolls, they keep coming back for more.
In the comments, tell your crazy ministry story! What was a weird situation, email, or issue you had to face where you realized there was no playbook to help? What did you do?
Now that I have your attention, the title is total clickbait. You should know me by now!
More than I dread the constant bombardment of ads for the latest toys that my kids go nuts about is the constant bombardment of outrage over a war that doesn't exist. You know what I'm talking about. It shows up every year when Starbucks releases their new red cup, or when the checkout lady at Target wishes you "Happy Holidays." Or when President Trump claimed to have rescued Christmas a couple years ago like a Santa Hero Savior.
I'm pulling away from my usual writing on church leadership issues to focus on the family. Your family. My family. I want us to ask a simple, but really difficult question: Is my family warring against Christmas?
I don't care if you say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Working retail all through college & seminary, we were instructed to say Happy Holidays to reflect the diverse customer base. And yes we did get fussed at for not saying Christmas, and it was always fun to reply back that I was a conservative Southern Baptist seminary student. Good times. But what I do care about, and what I want you and your family to think about this Christmas isn't what you say, but what you do.
The "war on Christmas" comes largely from the fact we live in a culture of outrage. We find something we're offended by, fire off a few tweets, an echo chamber builds up around us, and the next thing we know we're coming up with Naughty & Nice lists of places based on what they say, or Kirk Cameron makes a movie where he's the hero who saves Christmas. We don't stop to think about our outrage, if it's founded, helpful, or even necessary.
It's a phenomenon growing in the church, largely because of the cultural standing shifting. We're seeing the church and a christian prism largely diminishing from its moral and societal influence. Like Niebuhr discussed, we have different options of how Christ engages Culture. In some cases, it's accommodating. In others, it's syncretistic. For some, it's combative. For others it's redemptive.
Our families can be a part of the redemptive work of Christ at Christmas. And it doesn't come from t-shirts or hats or billboards or demanding. Jesus talked about us being salt and light in Matthew 5. We're salt when we make our communities and neighborhoods better for being there, and we're light when we're showing the way to safety. It's hard to be salt & light when you're outraged at your lost neighbors.
So Christian family, here's some ways you can fight the "war on Christmas"
1. Give away in addition to spending. The average adult in America spent $633 on buying gifts at Christmas. What if part of our Christmas budget went instead of buying stuff that will end up in a yard sale next year towards getting the Gospel to the nations?
2. Focus on the Gift, not the gifts. The gifts are fun to buy, and it's even more fun to give them to our loved ones. As parents we love watching our kids receive gifts more than we like getting our own. But sometimes we can get so focused on finding the perfect gift that we overlook that God has given us the greatest Gift of all.
3. Find a way to bless. All those extra toys and stuff you got from Christmases past, why not donate them? The server working Christmas Eve when you're traveling, why not give an insanely generous tip? The food drive happening in your community, why not spend a little extra on your next grocery trip to donate? The widow without any family around, why not invite her for Christmas dinner?
4. Love your neighbor. We weren't given qualifiers, escape clauses, or a checklist when Jesus told us the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbor. We love our neighbor. Period. Our neighbors aren't just those with whom we share a fence. It's the people we come in contact with in our lives. Do we love them during Christmas? Or do we get annoyed with them? Do we love them when they say Happy Holidays or have a different view of Santa than we do?
5. Tell about Jesus. It goes without saying, you can't spell Christmas without Christ. That's not something we turn into a slogan, or worse into a club to beat into people's heads. It's a reminder that the whole point of everything we do, what we give, what we sing, what we read, what we think about during Christmas is about the Immanuel, Jesus. We remember that He was born to save, that Christmas is incomplete without Easter. And that when the shepherds declared that they had good news of great joy, that it was indeed for all people.
How does your family keep Christ as center? What traditions do you have? Share in the comments!
The aftermath was surreal. Players involved were suspended a total of 146 games, losing almost $11 million in salary. Five fans were charged with assault, and two were banned from ever attending another Pistons game. It dominated the news cycle and opened up discussions of safety, security, and what happens when very large and physically dominant people are confronted by Average Joes during a game.
One of the more interesting discussions since then has come as Stephen Jackson has given interviews about the game and the brawl. His point was that for years players have to deal with verbal abuse from fans who have too much to drink and get rowdy, getting called racial slurs, being told they stink, and hearing things about their families that are cruel to hear. For Stacks, he comments that "every athlete who's ever wanted to punch a fan can live through me." Artest and Jackson went into the stands in response to fans throwing beer cups onto the court at the players, which prompted the response.
I'm afraid a lot of carryover from the Malice is happening on social media. And worse, it's happening among the Church. The Malice didn't just cross the line, it leaped over. Fans have always booed, trash talked, and tried to disrupt the visiting team. As well they should. There's a reason they're called fans, it's short for fanatics. Fanatics cheer and boo. But the line comes where it becomes ugly, uncivil, and harmful. That's where I'm afraid we are on social media.
We've crossed the line when we engage in lies - One of God's names for Himself in the Bible is Yahweh El' Emeth, God of Truth. Jesus tells us the truth will set us free. As Christians, we are brokers in truth. We're to tell the truth, to let our yes be yes, to not bear false witness, and we have a moral obligation to being honest. When we peddle lies on social media, we're slandering the name of God.
We've crossed the line when we lose our civility - Civility is the position we take where we're able to engage others in meaningful conversation, debate, and dialogue about issues. Civility is where we assume the best about each other and we, if the person is a brother or sister in Christ, do not lob hand grenades at their soul. It's easy for a fan in section 300 to scream and throw stuff because there's no threat, and the same thing happens online. We lose civility in both cases because we are functionally rejecting the other's humanity.
We've crossed the line when we major on minors - In a game, pushes and punches happen. In hockey, it's part of the culture! What makes the Malice and other situations like it (Marcus Vick stomping during the bowl game or Myles Garrett swinging his helmet) so troubling is that it takes what should be a minor and becomes a major. Minor things don't need to become major things on social media. Major things need to be major things.
We've crossed the line when we lose humility - Humility looks at the Church Universal and recognizes that none of us have a monopoly. Humility follows the example Jesus sets where we're told to consider others before ourselves. Humility in our social media engagement doesn't look like the prideful, boasting, gatekeeper mindset we so often see. Humility holds firmly to what is good, right and true, but it does so with grace. Pride asserts itself and demands to be right at all costs.
We've crossed the line when we react, not respond - The Malice was all reaction. In fact, after it all settled down one of the players involved asked his teammates "Do you think we're going to get in trouble?" They reacted. Reaction is visceral, emotional, often times unbound, and sometimes reckless. Responding is careful, measured, and thoughtful. Reaction tends to work like an accelerant, while responding can be an extinguisher. Sadly, too often on social media we react, and we become just like the trolls we roll our eyes at.
In Ephesians 4, Paul uses a word over and over again to describe the church united under Christ: One. When we engage with each other on social media, we're not fighting an enemy, we're dealing with a friend, and not just a friend but a family member. Family members don't always get along or agree with one another, but they're marked by love. And that love helps us to keep things in perspective, and to apologize when we've messed up.
Turn on the 6 o'clock news tonight with a stopwatch. Time yourself to see how long it takes before you get discouraged or anxious about the world. My guess is you won't make it to the first commercial break. If it bleeds, it leads. But it doesn't need to bleed for us to realize something is wrong. Stories of fraud, theft, murder, shootings, extortion, crime, sinkholes, and a late season tropical disturbance all can make our blood pressure rise.
The reason? Life sucks.
Thanks Dan Dewitt for that subtle and profound summary of Genesis 3. And thank you for writing the book Into the Wild to give us a theology of perseverance through a world soaked and crippled by the ripple effect of sin. That ripple effect doesn't just mean we use potty words or look off our classmate's test. It means that everything about our world is deeply and fundamentally flawed and futile. Our cars break down, our crops die, hospitals have morgues, and banks foreclose on our houses.
I think the best way to call this is a "Theology of Suck." I know that'll get me in trouble, so please be kind in the comments.
When we develop a Theology of Suck, we have to look past, present, and future.
Past - We understand the cause of our distress, both cosmic and local. We have a cosmic cause because of Adam's sin. There is, not just a physical but a genetic, imprint of sin. We can't escape it. It's also local because we can look around us at systems, family structures, and more than affect how we live in the wild.
Present - We look at what we're going through right now, and we put it in the grid of what it means for God to fulfill His word in Romans 8:28. I've got this as present and not future because we live in the middle of the wild, and we live in the throes of the wild. Our present difficulty, as Christians, is God's perfect plan of sanctification. He can, does, and will bring all things together for our good and His glory. Even when it doesn't feel like it. To that I really commend Chapter 2 and the freedom that can come from Guilt and Shame in Christ.
I'm so grateful for my Florida Baptist family. Our statewide meeting was as much a family reunion as it was a business session as it was a mission encouragement.
One thing that I cannot shake is a line shared at the Pastor's Conference on Sunday night.
You cannot reach who you hate.
That shook me. Because I realized it was true. We know what Jesus gave as the "Greatest Commandment" to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We rightfully plant our flag on that. But we forget that Jesus didn't stop there. He continued, saying the second is like it. It's not really second. It's 1A and 1B. That second command? Love your neighbor as yourself.
We might not outwardly or explicitly say we hate some of our neighbors. But what's communicated isn't often what's said. Loving our neighbors doesn't come with a qualification. We're not given an exemption because our neighbor might be an atheist, a Muslim, gay, black, Democrat, Republican, white collar, blue collar, legal or illegal. We aren't given a qualified command. We're given a universal command. Love your neighbor.
Our churches are often a reflection of who we love. We generally tend to gather with people who are like us, because we like affinity. We like people who are like us, who think like us, who look like us, who come from similar backgrounds, who share demographic qualities. But our churches often don't reflect our communities. Whether it's ethnic, educational, or something else, the way we reach out often says we only love the neighbors who we're most comfortable with.
As pastors, it starts with us. Are we spending time with our neighbors? Are we engaging our communities to get to know those whom God has sent near us? Do we only welcome people into our church who look and smell like us? Do we flinch when we see an interracial couple visiting our services? Or when our neighbor introduces us to his husband do we hide?
Loving our neighbors isn't easy - Like I said, we love affinity. Neighbors sometimes are hard to love. They might cuss around us, or dismiss us when we invite them to church, or they might not live the same way we do. And so it's easier to dismiss, ignore, or hide. Jesus never hid from the uncomfortable. He never condoned or approved. But he never ignored. Echo chambers aren't what the church has been called to live in. The church has been called to be salt and light. And that's not easy.
Loving our neighbors is an invitation to the Gospel - I think the number one reason God allows us to have a job or to buy a house in an area or be part of the clubs and activities we are is so that we can live on mission. Mission isn't something a vocational missionary does. It's a way of life all Christians are to live out. And we do that when we love our neighbors. It's an invitation to the Gospel because we show that our faith isn't something we just say with our lips, it's something we live out with our lives. Pray for them. Pray with them. Serve them. Take them cookies! Invite them into your home. Get the kids together for play days.
Loving our neighbors we see them as Jesus does - Jesus doesn't see our neighbors in the same categories we do. He sees them as Lost or Found. There's no in between. When we see through Jesus' eyes to see the lostness around us, we shouldn't recoil in fear. We should respond like Jesus did, with compassion. Our neighbors who don't know Jesus are doing what happens when you don't love Jesus. And our ignoring or protesting or condemnation doesn't address the core issue. The core issue is that they are "sheep without a shepherd." They're lost. And they don't need us to scold them for cussing or look the other way when they walk down the street in their hijab. They need us to see them as Jesus does.
Loving our neighbors changes how we see our community - Seeing our community changes when we love our neighbors. We begin to look at where we live as an outpost of God's Kingdom, not just the neighborhood we found a good house or a good job. We begin to see the hurts in our community, and we want to know what we can do to fix them. We see the brokenness of family crisis, of economic hardship, of parenting stress, of loneliness in our senior citizens, and more. We don't see houses and cars, we see people who are in God's image and who He loves. And it makes us want to impact our communities because we're truly compelled by love.
Happy Halloween everyone! Or Reformation Day if you're a theology nerd.
Before the hate mail comes in, I know there are some Christians who don't participate, have a moral concern with Halloween and its history, or who are troubled by it. Y'all do you. Paul makes that clear in Romans 14 we shouldn't overlook or bemoan another's conscience.
We love our neighborhood and how big trick or treating is there. Our kids love dressing up and we love getting first dibs on the candy.
For Christians who choose to engage in Halloween with trick or treating (or an alternative like a Fall Festival or Trunk or Treat) I really want to encourage you to give three things tonight:
1) Good Candy - Don't get the lame candy. Give out the good stuff. And be generous with it too. God loves the cheerful giver, and I think that's beyond the offering plate at church. Good candy on Halloween shows you've put some extra thought and effort into being a blessing to others around you.
2) Church information - This doesn't have to be anything big or expensive, but if your church has a random box of pens sitting around (you know they do) ask if you could have some to give out to families as they trick or treat? We have thousands of service information cards with directions and times on them that we encourage people to take. It doesn't have to be much, but something is better than nothing.
3) Graciousness - A lot of kids who come by our house tonight will be dressed as Woody, Buzz, Paw Patrol, or astronauts. And some others will come dressed as Pennywise, Michael Myers, or some other horror movie figure. Graciousness means that we put aside our thoughts on costumes and we bite our tongues when it's obviously not age-appropriate what a kid is dressed as. Be gracious. Be kind.
Sadly on October 21, 2015, we woke up and didn't have hoverboards, shoes that tied themselves, or flying DeLorean cars. For those of you unfamiliar with 80's pop culture references, that's the day that Marty McFly went "back to the future" in the 1985 hit movie. Like most of us who grew up in the 80s with future dreams of flying cars and robots who do our chores for us (in Cub Scouts I made a "homework machine" so I wouldn't have to do long division anymore. But it was made of styrofoam), the future hasn't quite panned out like we had expected.
I believe one of the key tasks of a leader is to project the future. Not in a crystal ball or sci-fi sense, but to begin asking questions and taking steps now for when the landscape changes later. The way we do ministry now will not be the way it's done in 15, 20, or even 5 years.
1. Do we love traditions more than people? - If our services, calendars, programming, and priorities look the same now as they did years ago, and we're resistant to change, then we love traditions more than we love people. Traditions are great. They help create a common culture. But traditions can also be a roadblock to growth. Sometimes the goal is to keep up with the traditions rather than see the secondary value of them.
2. Are we willing to be culturally weird? - A consistently biblical ethic of sexuality, marriage, gender, and family is going to move further away from cultural acceptance. For the church, and for ministry leaders, to continue to hold (with convictional kindness) a biblical ethic, it will be difficult. It's a cost we have to be willing to count.
3. How will we engage our communities? - The attractional model of church worked great when the culture was largely christian. As we move into a more post-Christian context, how will we engage our communities? We can't assume that people will come because our building is snazzy or our social media ad campaign hit their screens. Our engagement will have to move more organically, more relationally, more servant-oriented.
4. What about the children? - Kids are growing up faster, more digitally connected, and less likely to grow up with any kind of Gospel witness. In the church we're learning that answers like "The Bible says so!" are insufficient for a generation with Google at their fingertips. If we're going to cultivate multigenerational faithfulness, we have to do more than offer good snacks and a Bible story. Our children's ministry builds foundations of the faith, and our youth ministries must move past entertainment towards intentional discipleship.
5. How do we care for the building? - Increasing facility costs are going to end up handcuffing a lot of churches. That dream sanctuary or education space is going to need repairs, and lots of them. Deferred maintenance is an unseen debt crippling churches. If we're going to lead forward, we have to begin to embrace both a multi-purpose sense of space and an openness to be a community center. Sharing space with other ministries and groups allows your footprint in the community to increase, and it provides a needed source of revenue.
6. Can we live smaller? - The tiny house revolution hasn't just stopped at decluttering and simplifying where we live, it's extended into the church. As aging generations who had institutional loyalty begin to die, we're going to be left with a lot of empty seats, and a necessity to figure out how to function with less. We'll have to move from a programmatic approach to a relational, groups-based approach that doesn't require as much overhead.
7. Will we build battle lines or bridges? - We can, and should, have secondary distinctions that we hold to by conviction and practice. There's nothing wrong with that. That's why I'm a Baptist and not a Presbyterian or Anglican. It helps us create a common identity with others. But when it comes to those with whom we'd differ on secondary issues, we can either build battle lines and treat them as the enemy, or we can build bridges recognizing our mutual faith in Jesus. Bridges of fellowship bring together churches to fulfill the Great Commission, even with our particular distinctions.
What are some other questions we should be asking as leaders?
Every year when our church does its annual budget the part that makes me the most uncomfortable isn't mission giving or being part of decisions to fund or defund certain programs. It's salary. I don't know why. I really hate talking about money, especially (in our budget) line items 201-205. And to a lesser extent the other personnel items in our budget. But this year in our discussions I started using a new term. Instead of salary, I started saying "investment" and I'll be honest, it's changing how I look at how our church, and hopefully yours, looks at personnel expenses.
1. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is entrusted by the church - A church that makes a financial commitment to a ministry leader, even if it's part time, is speaking a measure of trust to that leader. That money is being directed to that leader instead of overhead, programming, or debt retirement. It should be received gratefully by the leader, because it's a powerful expression. I think about the parable of the talents that Jesus taught, each person was given in trust to handle their talents well.
2. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is to be well stewarded - This is less on the church and more on the leader. It means that we are to take care of the resources God has provided to us. I do not think it is a sin or a shame for a ministry leader to enjoy things like an iPhone or a car or a vacation. The problem comes when it is poorly managed. Debt is a reality for many ministry leaders. Medical bills have to be put on a card because their insurance is lousy. Home improvement projects require a loan because few have cash on hand. It happens. Debt that spirals out of control is a problem. Ministry leaders must be responsible stewards. Hint: Budget. Use EveryDollar if you need help finding one.
3. A pastor or ministry leader's salary doesn't return on results but faithfulness - A church that gives an investment of a salary to a ministry leader shouldn't be looking for dividends or a percentage of growth. That's fine if you're investing in a company or the stock market, but it's poor ministry practice. Faithfulness is the measure in the church. Are they working hard? Are they giving effort? Are they balancing ministry and family? Are they impacting people? Are they doing their job description? Some of the best pastors I've met were in churches that never grew.
4. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is a gift - Like any gift, we receive it with gratitude. God takes care of His servants. And even when the gift isn't the amount or size we'd love to see, we still receive it with gratitude. God knows our needs. And He's promised to meet them in Christ. Payday for most companies is a ritual of print-sign-disperse. But in the church payday shouldn't be met with obligatory dullness. Can I make a suggestion to anyone reading this who is on a church Finance or Personnel team? Write notes of appreciation for those who are employed by the church. We usually make a big deal in October to recognize pastors, but there's 11 other months. And that encouragement can go a long way.
*Unfortunately the IRS doesn't look at your check as a gift, which makes the next part important*
5. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be responsibly broken down - A church that doesn't responsibly break down a leader's financial package is setting that leader up for an undue burden. Part of investing in a pastor or ministry leader is ensuring that they are not given an undue and unnecessary tax burden. In your annual budget, separate what would be considered "Income" from "Benefits" and "Expenses." You can learn more about this from Guidestone on how to set up a package that's advantageous to the church and the leader.
6. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be graciously adequate for their family - This one is tough. And if you're a ministry leader reading this and you're working a side hustle or struggling to pay bills, you're not alone. It's tough. We're single income with kids. I teach part-time and my wife & I both write to help with our expenses. Our church is gracious in what they can provide. Yours likely is too. It just may be tough. As much as a church is able to, if you're going to make a full-time investment in a ministry leader, you need to make sure you're investing adequately in them. With this, you still need to balance the needs of ministry and overhead expenses. And that's where intangible benefits like an extra week of vacation can help.
7. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be accountable - What God has entrusted to us through a local church shouldn't be something we receive without giving an account for. In the Parable of the Talents, there was a moment of accountability for those who had received talents. They had to answer for what they did with it. Our first level of accountability is to God, through our conscience and the Word. The second level is to our church's leadership. I know one church that has as a standard of serving that all invested staff are expected to tithe. Another is where the pastor makes his annual tax return available to people who have questions. How you handle all this is up to you and to your church's polity and policy.
Whether it's a first day at work, a first date, or a first time visiting a church, first impressions matter. They're what sticks when we think about what we've experienced, and they'll leave a sweet or a bitter taste in our mouth. Thom Rainer brought back a classic on ten ways that churches leave a sour taste in the mouth of first time guests. We've all been a part of one of those types of services before. You can't wait until it's over. One time we visited a church and we had no idea where anything was. There was no way of connecting from the parking lot to the worship center. It was a fine service and we enjoyed our worship, but the only good from the lack of signage was hitting our steps for the day.
To piggyback off the idea of what chases guests away, I want to propose seven ways we can leave a sweet taste in the mouths of our guests. These aren't rocket science. They're not going to involve spending extravagantly on promotion, marketing, or facilities. We attended an event at a church in our area that had a slide exiting the children's worship area. We don't need one. And I'm not going to try to push our church to buying one.
Have clear lines and signage in your parking lot - When someone pulls into your parking lot, do they know where to go? Are the lines faded or clear on where to plant their vehicle? If you have a specific spot for Guest Parking, make sure it's easy to find. Remember, you and the people who've been at your church know where to go, but someone who's new has no clue.
Be friendly, but not fake - The main reason behind churches getting away from the "Stand & Greet" time is that it's forced friendliness. Guests know that. They know you're smiling right after giving them a side eye for sitting in "your" seat. Authentic friendliness is genuine. It looks them in the eye. It asks for a name. It's a warm greeting and a genuine thank you for the guest coming. It's inviting the guest and their family to sit with you or to ask them thoughtful questions about how they found out about the church. This is something anyone can do!
Clean facilities - A few weeks ago one of our members noticed some dirt on the floor that had blown in after our lawn company left. No big deal, it wasn't too much. But he went and found a broom and dustpan because he wanted our facility to look clean. In your children's area, do you have toys that look clean or look like they were claimed from a dumpster? Are the bathrooms clean and the toiletries stocked? Are your hallways and rooms cleared of clutter or do they have random junk stored? If you want to make a good impression on families, put a priority on children's ministry areas being clean!
Excellence in worship - Not everything is going to happen without a hitch. That's because our stage display, sound, and video is a prime target for spiritual warfare. But that's not an excuse to avoid excellence in how our services are produced and executed. It starts simply by starting on time. If your services start at 10:30 and it's 10:40 and the choir isn't in their seat, you're communicating you don't care about excellence. Transitions won't always go well and occasionally someone who'll be called on to pray will forget their cue. But our transitions should be crisp. An easy way to do that is to use corporate prayer as moving time.
Volunteers in place - One of the best ways that churches communicate they care about guests isn't in marketing or slick promotions, but by simply having volunteers in place. When parents take their kids to children's ministry, there should be a teacher in place ready to meet them, not running in from the parking lot late. A good rule of thumb is to arrive 15 minutes early, and stick around 10 minutes after. Chances are guests are going to come in late, so those volunteers hanging around a few minutes after services start are able to receive them.
Awareness without overemphasizing guests - As pastors, we always need to be aware that we likely have guests in our services. So we should do our best to explain acronyms and what's going on in our services. When we give announcements we give clear instructions and not rely on people instinctively knowing where things are and when. We take an extra minute to explain what sounds like an elementary concept in our preaching. But we counter that by not overemphasizing guests. Don't make them stand. Don't call on them to introduce themselves. Don't focus on guests at the exclusion of the church body.
Follow up - However you follow up on your guests, the important thing is that you do it. Some churches take a gift (homemade bread is a big one) that afternoon, others target guests before they leave the campus with something from a Visitor Area. Others send a letter, phone call, or a home visit. However you do it, do something. Thank the guest for attending, ask for any feedback from their experience, find out if anyone made their visit special, answer questions they might have, and find out how you can pray for them.
First impressions matter for a church. How do you help ensure good first impressions?
Yesterday was a little bittersweet at the end of our service. We had learned that one of our key volunteers, someone who wears multiple hats in areas of the church, would be moving to be closer to family. It was a joyful time to know that she would be leaving to be near her loved ones and that she had already been looking for a church to plug into. But it was sad to see her leave. She was an ideal volunteer. Week after week she'd show up ready and prepared to teach children's Sunday School, even when there were no children attending. She never gave up. She plugged away. And yesterday the fruit of that was brought out when several kids, including both of mine, thanked her for telling them about Jesus.
No one in a church is a permanent fixture. All of us are on temporary assignment. That's the case for staff, members, and volunteers. The ministry continues after were gone. So what do we do when a key volunteer leaves?
We Celebrate - Someone who shows up faithfully, serves joyfully, and loves sacrificially should be celebrated as loud as you can. That's an honor they're due, not because they're seeking it but because it's right to recognize those who have finished well. You can recognize them in a service, give a gift, write thank you notes, and more. But cheer them on as they transition out. You champion what you celebrate, and if you want to build a culture of service, celebrate those who serve.
We Pray - It's good to pray for the volunteer who leaves. In a lot of ways it's a commissioning. You're sending them out from your church to another community, to another church, and hopefully to another ministry. But you also pray for the hole left behind, and for the right person to step into that key place of service.
We Move Forward - The thing about Sunday is it comes around every 7 days. When a volunteer leaves, we can't mope and dwell in the loss. Another Sunday is coming. Kids need to be taught, offering needs to be collected, sound needs to be monitored, and coffee needs to be made. You might need to iron out some kinks in the system until you can find the right fit, but things continue even after the key volunteer leaves.
We Recruit & Develop - I love the pipeline when it comes to volunteers and leadership in the church. The pipeline is the process where people are recruited and vetted for potential leadership or key places of service in the church. For us our men's ministry is a pipeline for identifying men who could serve as deacons, and our VBS is a way we identify people who could be long-term children's volunteers. That way, when someone has to step away from a key role, there is someone waiting in the wings to step in and carry the baton.
How have you handled this in your church? Leave a comment!
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.