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?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.