Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What to do with Consumer Christians

"...we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  Romans 5:3-5

I don't have to tell you much about the consumeristic side of the Christmas season.  You already know it and are experiencing it.  We shoppers can take on a, "What kind of deal can you get for me?," as we pick and choose from a variety of what stores have to offer.  As a culture, we've grown to accept the competitive, consumeristic-mentality of December.

But when it comes to consumerism in the church, we are still suffering in our acceptance--- especially Church Planters!  We know it and we're experiencing it.  For instance, when seeking to minister to folks, a consumeristic-mentaility will always break-up momentum and produce suffering--like hurt feelings, guilt, even anger.  I hear it all the time from planters as they tell me a variety of sad tales of how they've worked with a family for months, only to have the family leave the new start in favor of another church that is already established--- with youth ministries in place, choirs, a permanent facility, etc.  When Christians come to church as consumers, asking, "What kind of deal can you get for me?," it creates a competitive, consumeristic-mentality 12-months a year.

In the midst of that kind of disappointment for many church planters, here's some good news for you at Christmas....

Jesus came to earth not to doctor the healthy, but to doctor the sick.  He says so himself.  So keep this in mind: only "Institutional Christians" will leave your start-up for a "better" church program elsewhere.  The nonbeliever/unchurched person (and right now, stats indicate that 60% of the U.S. fits that category) doesn't have a clue about the varieties of Bible studies, small groups, youth ministries, worship services, or coffee choices churches are offering them.  They don't care about that stuff.  More programs aren't getting anyone in the 60% to join a church.  These folks are simply looking for one thing:

Hope.  Real hope.  They don't know, however, that real hope comes only in Dr. Jesus. 

So, that's what YOU can offer them!  Make your missional ministry all about giving and receiving the power of hope in Christ, rather than purpose of program.  This is where the church planter can start experiencing the advantage over the consumer-driven churches!  You get to cut to the heart of the matter--- doing The Great Commandment and doing the Great Commission because both bring hope!  So, don't dwell on what you don't have in your early stages of development--- proclaim what you DO HAVE going for you!  You may not have a certain program, but you do have a certain process.  For example, as you articulate your purpose-driven discipleship-mentality over the program-driven membership-mentality, you'll attract two important kinds of people:  1). pioneer/apostle-like Christian leaders who want to be a part of a "doing church", AND 2). people that are not practicing faith at all, but are still longing for deeper meaning to their lives.

Both types of people have come to realize they've been lied to, (or disappointed by), the false hope government, schools, businesses and commercials...even some churches, profess to give.  They are now wanting for a light switch as they stagger in darkness.  They want to be released from un-forgiveness.  They want a lasting relationship with someone who walks in joy, rather than anger, in tough times. They want something real, not religious.  Their souls want the truth even though they've been brain-washed pluralistic.  They want to experience the super-natural power of the Holy Spirit (although they don't yet know him) to over-come what seems like a snow storm of despair.

Did you catch all that?  They "want" stuff!  Indeed, non-believers are consumers too, but they are wanting for real hope, which is the one thing we all really need!  It's the one thing you can give right away as a new ministry leader.

So Planters--- again, that's what YOU can offer without having to first possess a lot of money!  What a Christmas present the giving and receiving of hope is!  It's as simple and as cost effective as just believing upon a baby being born in a cow barn and wrapped-in swaddling clothes to poor parents.

Our culture (including many Christians) is trapped in "the want" of convenience and comfort.  Jesus, however, offers something much more than what we want--- he delivers what we need.  He offers his character that produces his hope so we don't have to want for anything.  Romans 5 proclaims that real hope comes as we persevere in Christ-like character.  How can that be?  Jesus says, "Follow me and I will make you a fisher of people!"  When we follow Jesus in obedience, he transforms us into himself.

Friends: I am convinced that if our new churches simply work at being Ephesians 4:11-16 churches, we won't have to concern ourselves with choirs, cookies, comforts or conveniences to "attract" wanting people.  Sure those things are nice and can be great tools for outreach, but they can also create consumers before creating disciples.  So with that in mind, let's be really good at being empowered in the character of Christ--- by loving people, helping people, listening to them, sharing and equipping people with the gospel of the cross that over-comes life-ending sin and death.  Promise them a purpose over a program!  For as we do, we are starting new churches that reach the unreached instead of pandering to the saved.  We are starting new churches that folks come into hope...grow from hope...and serve out of hope.  

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Planting Churches like Jimmy Fallon

"Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great JOY that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."  Luke 2:10-11

Pastor Steve Turnbull recently shared with me an article concerning the new Tonight Show host, Jimmy Fallon.  In the blog-article, fellow pastor Chris Morton makes a rather bold statement--- and I agree so much with it that I want to pass it onto all of you:

We should plant churches like Jimmy Fallon...in joy!

Your see, new Church Plants...(and Churches in general)...get to live in the joy of the Lord!  All mission begins with joy with the final product to be--- more joy!  Joy is not to be celebrated in solitary, but in collaboration with others and for others.  Read the link below for yourselves.  Then ask the One whom the angels declare is "Joy to the World" how he can infiltrate your life, your family, your ministry, your congregation and your city with his life changing joy!


Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christmas "services"

It's the most wonderful time of the year when churches begin to ramp-up all the Christmas celebrational events and gatherings--- including several Christmas Eve worship service times.

As a church planter, I always found 4:00 pm a good eve service time--- keeping in mind the extra energy needed on both ends of worship for the set-up and tear-down team members.  Be sure to also keep in mind that cultural expectations are much different on a Wednesday (December 24th) than on a Sunday morning.  Many folks will have to work at least a half-day, company is coming, dinner prep is different and then; of course, there's gift opening.  Plan ahead to how you can make Christmas Eve service stand out, without creating more work for your worship team.  If you are worshipping in a school, ask permission to leave your gear in place for Sunday the 28th.  Officials may allow you to do so since school will not be in session.

Still, while so much work often goes into Christmas worship services, how about you planters focus more on Christmas "services."  In other words, incorporate life-style ways you can inspire your folks to serve your community in such a manner that unbelievers will want to give your new church a try--- perhaps on Christmas Eve! After all, December is a season where the lonely feel even lonelier and the poor in spirit feel an extra dose of hopelessness.  So, instead of paying a ton of money for an ad in the newspaper that invites people to your worship services, spend the money on taking your Christmas services to the streets of your city!  I believe the investment will pay off.

Some simple possibilities for you to consider in your context....

* Instead of just caroling through a nursing home, spend some talking time with the residents, praying with them.  What's that you say?  Nursing home folks won't be coming to your Christmas Eve worship service?  You're probably correct...but their unchurch family members might, or the nursing home staff that see your kindness in action, might.  I've found nursing homes to be full of mercy-gifted workers, who believe in Jesus, but are still don't worship with a community.  You can change that!

* Find some families that are in need of a gift blessing to help them in serving a Christmas dinner.  Then give away "turkeys" (your choice) to them with notes attached.  No strings attached, just a hand-written Christmas blessing note with an invite to Christmas Eve worship.  Always include your website address.

* Simplify the above and expand it by doing the same thing with excellent, store-bought chocolates.  Also, consider outreach to local support groups.  There are believers in those groups without a church family because they feel ashamed...and there are unbelievers in those support groups who are looking for real hope and change that can't come from government.  You can become the church known throughout the city as the church that cares about the city!  Share the hope they need in Jesus!

* Share a family Christmas card with your neighbors and/or work colleagues.  For those who are Christian, it unites you in a common body no matter your denominational differences.  For those who are not Christian, think about sharing a brief testimony of what being a follower of Jesus has meant to YOU.  In addition, express to the person you are giving the card to, what THEY mean to you!  You might be shocked to how the Spirit can break down walls amongst neighbors and colleagues because your words are your gift to another person--- and God's promise in Jesus is wrapped into that gift!

* Do anyone of the above items (or come up with your own idea) to bless city workers, such as firefighters, police officers and the various administrative folks.  I have found from my own experiences these people are often more disconnected from church (and perhaps thus from Jesus) than you might think.  They've had it pounded into their heads they can't "be Christian" at work for so long, they live like that's truth.  A card and word of great encouragement in the name of Jesus will not only stir their hearts with the sense of appreciation, but it will give them a word of hope they may not be otherwise receiving in this holy season.  

* This will take some timing, but perhaps include 1-2 people to share testimonies in the Christmas Eve service, to the Godly impact of their month-long Christmas services.  Who knows what might happen?

* Don't drop the joy of Christmas the second it's over.  Instead, cast an Advent season vision into what you, your family, and your church family can do as Christmas "services" into the new year.  It will be the the gift that keeps on giving you the flexibility of connecting into people post-Christmas, perhaps crushing the winter blues some people may experience outside of faith.

The challenge: what if you were to do more Christmas services of worship this December than actual Christmas worship services on the 24-25th?  Think about the thousands of people in your community who need a church to fully unwrap Christmas for them, so the lonely will know they are not alone, and the poor in spirit are feeling rich.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Building a Family Tree by building new church movements

Joanne and I are going to be grandparents...for the second time!  Due date, May.  As most grandparents will testify, receiving such good news never gets old.  We are excited and thankful!

That's how life is suppose to work: families building families with gratefulness--- made even stronger when being built on the rock of Jesus!  When that's the case, no matter how tough life might get for a family, there is reason for hope.  With hope, there is gratefulness that gives thanks to God who births new life in Christ!

'Tis true for church families as well.  When churches birth new churches in gratefulness of Christ's redeeming work, a family tree is being formed and the possibility of more people being reached for Christ grows dramatically.  So, what might slow this process down, or even keep churches from birthing new churches in the first place?

Let's first learn to recognize some road blocks, so we can then learn to remedy...

Recognize...the paradigm that a church is a building.  Everyone agrees that it's not, yet over-and-over I hear otherwise through articulated perceptions.  I'll never forget having lunch with a fellow Lutheran pastor who mocked the fact that my church plant offices were in a strip mall.  To him, it wasn't church.  (To me, however, it was was like the first-century church in the marketplace--- exactly where God's people are to practice Christian faith!).  Just the other day I received an email from a person living on the east coast who wanted to start a church by first purchasing an abandoned church facility.   He added, "There is some work to be done (on the facility) before it can be a church again."  Remedy...I shared that he indeed had some work to be done--- but it was to be on building values, mission and vision for the purpose-development of a new congregation in his city--- way before thinking about buying a building.

Recognize...the fear of running out of money.  Rich people are always afraid they'll lose their money and poor people are always afraid they won't have any.  Fear grips both the rich and the poor with a scarcity mindset.  The same can be true for congregations.  Congregations don't have a money shortage...they have a vision shortage!  Remedy...developing faith triggers a Godly vision of discipleship.  A vision of discipleship ignites purpose.  Purpose leads the way to mission, and money will follow a clearly stated mission!  Too many existing churches think that if they invest in the start of a new church, they themselves might fall financially short.  Yet in Malachi 3, God says go ahead and test His ability to pour out more and more upon a mission that is focused on others!  When we learn to die to ourselves, a Good Friday will always lead to a Resurrection Day!

Recognize...the concern of losing members.  I once asked a very large church if it would share with me the names of 12 people in it's congregation that I might contact about serving as a launch team in starting a new church in a near-by community.  The response back was basically, "We can't do that because it might hurt our newest satellite start."  Make sense?  It does, except the satellite was already over a 1,000 people in a 3-million person area!  Remedy...if a church is raising up leaders, it can easily send them into new missional opportunities.  Nothing is hurt, only helped!  If, however, a church is simply looking to gain membership numbers--- it becomes a stagnate religious club.  How about this: instead of always going after the 40% of people that are already "mildly Christian," let's have churches develop churches that directly aim for the 60% of people that have no Christian connection what-so-ever.  To do this, of course, means developing planters and launch teams that are not going to look like a typical church.  Instead, they are going to bring the gospel to new people groups in new, sometimes unconventional ways.  This shifts concern away from the mentality of losing members in a church, to concern about losing souls in a city!

Recognize...compelling competition.  When churches fail to recognize the marketplace of their city as "one congregation with many church-tribes," we create a church vs. church competition mentality.  As I mentioned before, that's when every church does the same things looking to attract the same people--- and only 40% of a community is reached!  Remedy...when Jesus tells us to be fishers of people, he doesn't mean swapping fish between aquariums.  He wants us to catch new people for the kingdom!  That's why in John 17, we hear Jesus and the Father connecting in prayer.  Jesus is asking that we all be ONE in the Trinity, so that unbelievers might come to see the church as ONE BODY IN CHRIST for the sake of a city.  Competition for people is not to be with other churches, but against the enemy of darkness.  So, let's go after him...together!
Friends: The very best way for new LCMC churches to be birthed, is when existing LCMC churches gratefully come together as healthy parents and thankfully BIRTH kid congregations!  In doing so, we develop a legacy of the gospel that lives on, and branches out to reach new people groups, in a magnificent family tree of God's hope for the world!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Building Buildings

"A church should build only when it can do so without shifting it's focus from ministering to people to building a building."  Architect Ray Bowman, When Not to Build.

To build or not to build.  Shakespeare didn't ask that particular question, but church planters often do.

I recommend that new churches begin by first thinking about building a kingdom presence in their sphere of influence BEFORE ever entertaining building a physical building.  That doesn't mean I don't think good facilities are important--- they are--- especially when you live in a weather climate like I do where it's cold and snowy from November through March!

Four ways I believe you can start using facilities:

1). If you have the monthly income to make it happen, it's a good idea to rent/lease an office space that is close to people connections (downtown, or next to a cluster of busy businesses).  Make your windows well marked.  Create a warm environment with paint, pictures and rugs.  Give it a feeling of "God in the daily marketplace."  You can do this without spending a lot of money.

2). This can communicate to the community that you're legitimate and open to the public.  Having an office in your home can also work, but it means meeting with the public in public spaces--- such as restaurants or malls.  That's not a bad thing.  It takes more effort, but the cost savings is certainly worth it!  In addition, being seen meeting in public is a great way to shine Jesus' light.

3). If financially possible, make sure your office space is NOT consumed by "your office."  In other words, can you create space for a group of people to gather--- for study, prayer, worship or discussion?  Like #1, create a warm and welcoming space.

4). If financially possible, make your worship space separate from your weekday space.  If you are trying to worship in a very small area in a strip mall, it may communicate that you are expecting to develop a small congregation.  On the other hand, think about worshipping at a local school, theater, or restaurant party room.  The first two ideas give you built-in media capabilities, while the later puts you in the public eye with access to food for fellowship.

Four ways to start the facility building discussion: 

1). Be ready for a long, perhaps tiring process.  Patience, prayer and a vision for "why we are doing this" is crucial.  Over the next couple years of financial and building preparations, be sure to biblically preach about building the building for kingdom purposes--- then make sure the architect understands that vision!  Don't let an architect talk you into his vision!

2). Fund-raising for building a facility cannot be summarized in a paragraph.  Look for those details in a future blog.  For sure, build according to your age, but with an expectation for the future.  It takes great leadership to keep a church out of crippling debt, while at the same time not stifling future possibilities.  The key: for folks to continuing tithing to the work of the ministry while also seeing the building of a facility as an extra "sacrificial" gift to the Lord's work.  Both areas need to be exciting to the folks.

3). Consider looking for existing buildings that can be transformed into ministry/worship centers.  Again, this communicates "we are in the marketplace!"  Have you noticed that many of the new church facilities over the last 30-years are built on the outside of towns?  That's because many cities have tough laws for church facilities being present in light industrial or commercial areas.  While working with a city can be very difficult, it is also a great opportunity to show city leaders (some who may be unbelievers) that your church is about giving, not taking.

4). When building a facility, get out of the way of the professionals, but also negotiate where your own people power can be used.  This can create a healthy ownership of the project, develop friendships, give people opportunities to serve, open the door to ministry and even save money.

Friends: when I started my first plant, I went the route of leasing 600 square feet of office space, then added another 900 to it when it was financially possible.  Every inch was used.  We were jammed, but it was fun.  At the same time, we rented the local high school theater for Sunday morning worship.  At about the 5-year mark, we started the long journey of fund-raising and facility development.  I looked at over 60 potential sites for building a facility.  Some sites were too expensive, or too big, or too small.  Some sites wouldn't allow for enough parking, or city connections, or city permission.  Finally, we were able to purchase an Episcopalian church facility that "went out of business."  We used it for our offices and ministry meetings while still worshipping at the high school.  From about 2008 to 2010 our Building Team of 6 individuals patiently planned how we could add onto the existing building with bang for our buck.  We then built-on and moved-in within a year.   Our over-all goals were met: we were in the city with city services.  We could be seen from a major road.  We were right next to busy businesses--- in our case, Menards.  We blended the old into the new for a classic look.  We expanded the worship facility and added top notch bathrooms.  It is warm and welcoming and the current debt is now around $200,000.  Affordable!

The LCMC does not have a fund to assist new churches in building a facility.  Instead, our LCMC funding is focused on getting planters and their launched teams trained--- for growing discipleship and for fund-raising!  As I have blogged before, the key is for our DISTRICT CHURCHES to create mission funding and relationships with local planters so that churches can birth churches!  

Finally...get this: If I were to plant today, I would not build a facility!  Instead, I would be extremely focused on simply developing disciples for the work of ministry in the marketplace.  How would I pull off such a thing you might ask?  I'll seek to address that question in my next blog.

In the meantime, remember, you are not building "God's House"  God cannot be contained.  You are, however, building a facility to help build God's people for the work of ministry on the outside of the church facility!

"We are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.  We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord."   Ephesians 2:20-21

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How to Launch, Launch Teams

What right-minded astronaut would ever crawl into a tube (with a fire stick at the bottom) to get blasted into outer space, if they didn't believe in their launch team?

When working with astronauts, I mean "church planters," I always stress the importance of developing a solid leadership launch team to help with all the launch plans.  I'm not talking about establishing your formal leadership staff or council (DON'T do that until at least year-3), but rather work at training and equipping mature disciple-leaders that make more disciple-leaders!

The numeral size of this initial leadership launch team is not as important as the size of it's impact.  Like Jesus, maybe 12 people is a good start (and that might even be 1 too many...ha!).  This team is Bible-believing, Holy Spirit-led and all on-board with you as a person and a pastor, as well as dedicated to the vision of the new ministry.  If you put someone on your launch team that's working for the wrong reasons (like trying to gain some personal power or control for a variety of reasons), it will eventually cost you or the ministry.  For instance, when I first planted we had one gentlemen who wanted to be the worship leader.  He was so-so in his music abilities and not much deeper in his faith.  He was, however, a really good guy.  When he found out that he wasn't going to be the worship leader, he quit the launch team.  In doing so, I believe he blew a wonderful opportunity to participate in a worship band, grow in his music abilities, AND grow in his faith!  I know this, because several years later I ran into him.  He still wasn't connected to any church...doing nothing.  This didn't directly cost me, but it certainly cost the development a disciple!

The launch team helps the planter in many ways.  For example: team members already know people in-and-out-of the community that you don't know--- and because of their relationship with others, they expand your invitation to come and see the new ministry.  Launch team members can help with the fund raising too.  My launch team leaders greatly assisted me in raising about $15,000 in less than four-months due to how many people they knew!  Launch team members also model to those first attending your new ministry to what it means to be a believer--- let alone a servant-leader.  They help set-up and tear-down.  (I recommend the pastor-planter also help set up and tear down!  Let folks see that no one is above the work!).  Launch team members support the mission financially and in faith, knowing full well the mission will not be easy.  Because of that, they welcome, they pray with others, they speak well of you and co-sew the vision into the community.  Therefore, continue to empower these initial launch leaders as "little planters!"

The maturity of your initial launch team leaders will determine the first 100 people that start coming to your worship services.  That means if your initial leadership is weak, your stability will be weak.  Jesus is always rock solid, but weak leadership doesn't even know enough to stand on him!  Still, a planter can make the mistake of not recognizing good leadership, or worse yet, not cultivating leadership into great maturity.  With that in mind, the following notes are 7-tips to help you recognize and empower the right people to serve as your first leadership launch team. 

1).  Develop and cast a strong vision, it will be attractive to great leaders.  I listed this first because it's core.  Begin by asking, "What makes this new ministry any different than all the others in our community?"  Leaders want to be a part of a movement that is not the same-old-same-old.  We don't need more churches, we need more disciples!  So, cast a vision that makes more disciples of Jesus, rather than just members of churches.  Leaders that are kingdom thinkers/do'ers are way too rare these days, so when you are blessed with such a person, recognize it and lead that leader!

2). Be on the watch for other so-called leaders that want to join you, but are immature and thus dysfunctional.  Don't open the door to folks who want to lead because it simply makes them feel good about themselves.  This can create selfishness, inward thinking, dis-unity and a sense of chaos.  A good leader creates change, but not chaos.  A good leader doesn't run over people, but loves them into wanting to serve with others.  A good leader is first a good follower--- of Jesus.  Jesus shows us how to be effective servant leaders!  If you have someone who wants to lead, but shouldn't, work at incorporating them into a servant.  If they do that well, they may develop into a servant-leader!

3). Recognize your early adapters and help them ride your wave of leadership.  Like number-2, early adapters will show others the way by first following Jesus who changes lives of others.  Launch team leaders, much like the lead church planter, require a bold faith and a can-do, no-quit spirit.  They are entrepreneurs in their apostle callings.

4). Don't dismiss the ideas of good leaders.  If you do, they will become quickly frustrated and lose their energy for the plant.  Remember, high-capacity leaders don't desire a title as much as influence.  Ignoring God-inspired ideas is an insult--- to God!  Again, this is why consistently casting the new vision is important--- it's the blue print for the builders to follow!

5). If you don't pass the ball around your launch team will become predictable and thus ineffective.  A football team's offense will be the most successful when more players are involved in the game plan and its individual plays.  In other words, use the spiritual giftings of everyone you can so they know they are called and needed.  Be the quarterback and get "the ball" into the hands of a variety of playmakers. The spiritual enemy won't know what hit him!

6).  Likewise, be sure to give leaders opportunities to try and fail.  Many times my church plant staff would say to me, "You trust us with so much, we really appreciate that!"  My response was always the same, "That's because you are trustworthy!"  If we failed, it was never for the lack of trying to reach the unreached.  Perhaps that's not failing at all?

7). Be sure to always express your thankfulness to their faithfulness.  I believe that thankful people are always thanking others.  If they're not thanking folks for sharing, giving, or participating, It's a sign of an ungrateful heart--- a heart that is not connected to God's heart!  Launch leaders don't work for money, they work for mission.  So, pay them with thanks...and give them "the ball" too!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Churches Planting Churches: a new, old idea!

Prior to 1945, the common method used to plant new ministries in America was "churches planting churches."  My first call in Cannon Falls, MN, was such a situation.  Over a 100-years earlier, one church had planted a sister church about 5-miles away.  That's because at the time, 5-miles was a very difficult trip even for the early pioneers to make.  Therefore, the church pioneered to the people!

Since 1945, however, the denominational top-down method took over and local churches punted their privilege to plant.  It worked, for a while, but as denominations have deteriorated, so has the effectiveness of denominational planting.

Thus, our predicament today where sixty-percent of America is unchurched because churches have stopped pioneering to the people!

The LCMC, however, is changing that course.  Or should I better state it as, "God is changing that course and we are tuning into God's plan!"  We are once again advocating and supporting that "churches plant churches!"  With that in mind, every once-a-blog-in-a-while I'll lift-up specific LCMC churches that are inspiring and modeling how we can ALL become a part of a church planting association.  In this particular writing, I'll start by briefly sharing the missional story of two LCMC churches birthing three multi-cultural churches!

Hope Lutheran in Westminster, California was once a thriving church with mostly Caucasian Lutheran transplants from the midwest.  A couple decades ago, however, the neighborhoods changed and more multi-cultural people began moving into the area.  The all-white church was in decline until Pastor Paul Finley came and cast a new vision to reach the folks in the neighborhood.  From that vision, two new "Hope" Churches have been born!

Esperanza ("Hope" in Spanish) is led by Pastor Sergio Cordero, while Hy Vong ("Hope" in Vietnamese) is led by Pastor Hy Thuong.  Both new churches of Hope are hosted by the original Hope Church facility and mentored by Pastor Paul.  The three are now blessing each other and strengthening "the Hope" of the neighborhood!

FROM CALIFORNIA TO WISCONSIN...Pastor Tom Graves planted  Light of Christ Church earlier this year in the city of Wisconsin Rapids.  The new missional community, however, is more interested in growing it's influence rather than just it's own worship numbers.  That is why Light of Christ is already planting another Light of Christ Church in Ghana, Africa in conjunction with Good News Africa!  

I delight in such missional discipleship.  I believe God's heart is delighted because God loves having a BIG family!  How about you?

Friends: statistics show that if a church doesn't plant within it's first 10-years, it never does.  We, however, can change that.  In fact, I recently made the comment to a large group in Iowa that if a church celebrates it's 125th anniversary but doesn't have any off-spring to celebrate with them, it's a shallow birthday party.  That's when a pastor came up to me representing an Iowa church that happened to be celebrating it's 125th birthday.  He looked mad.  I thought he was mad at my comment, but no, he was mad that his church was celebrating it's longevity but had never had a baby.  He said he would begin casting such a Godly-vision so that by year 130, they could boast like Abraham and Sarah!  Ha!

With that in mind, join me in laughing with all of our Abraham and Sarah churches in the birthing of new churches that reach the nations with the Good News of Jesus!

For information on the 22 newest LCMC church starts in 2014, go to the LCMC.net website.  Click on Mission Congregations, then click on "Newer Church Plants" for contact information. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Receiving, Not Taking, the Offering

It can be awkward, or it can be holy.

I'm talking about the offering time of worship.  One of the biggest reasons new church starts fail financially, is because the planter and launch team fail to speak about money in a missional manner.

With that in mind, here are a few bullet-point tips.  Use them as they strike you best....

* Create an atmosphere of holiness around the offering.  Don't make the offering an interruption, or an apology, or a quick get-er-done moment.  I suggest that in contemporary worship, you build the offering time into the song set.  Equip your worship leader to invite the ushers forward to "receive" (not take) the offering.  After all, you're not stealing from anyone!  Empower the worship leader to briefly, but concisely, express how God is a giver towards His work in us so we can be givers to God's work in others--- then share a specific example of something/someone in your congregation or city.  Don't stop the background music while sharing this invitation as it bridges one song (and thought) to the next.  Don't be rote, be relational!  Work at this!

* Create a flow where a short video can be shared on giving while the ushers move through the congregation.  Have a transition song coming out of the video.  Keep the video short, perhaps funny. Check www.worship house.org for such possibilities.

* Inter-weave the worship singing with a person (or couple) on stage ready to introduce themselves and share why they give financially to your church.  Often times these folks need to be coached so their message is to the point.  Empower them to also share a prayer over the congregation.  You're not only allowing people's testimonies to glorify God, but the testimonies are equipping people to be bolder leaders in public faith.  When I first started this manner at my plant, people were hoping I wouldn't ask them to speak.  Soon, however, that changed and people were excited to be asked and coached!  Guess what happened next?  The offerings went up!  People started to give more (or more consistent) because they saw the joy of giving in their fellow disciples!!  

* Replace offering plates or baskets with bags with handles.  This way, no one has to see what's in the bag.  In addition, inviting people to come forward to place an offering in a basket at the front stage is a great idea when you want people to give above and beyond their regular tithe.  This could be tied into communion time.  Communion is a time of receiving, not taking!

* Encourage and show people how to give electronically--- "first fruit giving."  It not only makes your giving way more consistent each month, but it teaches the obedience of giving and thinking of God first.  If some electronic givers still want to drop something into the bag as it is passed by, create and distribute cards that express "I've Given Electronically" or something like that.  I have found this to be a great model.

* Consistently express through preaching, or during the offering time, what the offerings are doing as they are sewn--- either inside the congregation or outside.  Both is best!  In other words, don't do a Steward Sunday, but make every Sunday a time to rejoice in the giving.  You watch, your congregation won't complain about "all the pastor ever does is talk about money" because money will be seen as mission.

* Planter: speak out your gratitude for God's provision and people's faith responses.  You are teaching your folks to be thankful...and how to express it.  I believe making the offering a holy time breaks the curse of greed or fear.  Statistically, 70% of USA church members give NOTHING to their church!  Those that do, statistically, only give an average of 2.5% of their income!  Our churches don't have financial programs, we have faith programs.  So, equip folk in faith and you're equipping them to also be givers!

Friends: When you treat the offering as important as confession and forgiveness, or prayer, or preaching, or singing--- you are creating an atmosphere of holiness in and around it.  It is then no longer taking, but receiving!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Planting and Missional Training at the LCMC Gathering

The 14th annual LCMC Gathering in Des Moines, Iowa, is just a month away!  If you haven't done so, please make plans RIGHT NOW to register so you don't miss out on being engaged in our shared mission to plant 1,000 congregations in the next 10-years!

Here are some plant and missional training possibilities for you in Des Moines...

* Food packaging: Join others (we're hoping for 1,000 helpers) to put together 400,000 food packets in just two-hours to bless those in need (Tuesday, October 7, 5:00-7:00 pm).  For greater details and sign-up, check-out our LCMC.net website for the Annual Gathering Registration.  This ministry moment is for everyone, but what a great way to feed mission into our DNA!

* Church Planter's Reunion Dinner, Monday, October 6, 6:00 pm.  Anyone who has planted a congregation in the past 3-years is invited to enjoy dinner and fellowship time together.  Spouses are welcome!  First, sign-up for what is listed as the District Dinner ($20.00) then CONTACT ME (dan@lcmc.net) to let me know you'll be joining the "Planter's Table."  This way we know how many to plan for.  We'll enjoy sharing the ups-and-downs of church planting to be encouraged and empowered.

* Breakout Session: "Missio Missiles for Taking' it to the Streets!"  During this breakout session, I will speak to how ALL CHURCHES can take on a missional mentality that impacts cities in a kingdom fashion.  (I'm so nice, we're offering this breakout twice!)  You are encouraged to sign-up during your pre-registration time so we know how to plan accordingly.

* Breakout Session: "How we will plant 1,000 in 10."  During this breakout session, I will speak to how EVERY church can participate in a planting vision--- with an emphasis on developing missional communities that can reach more people for Christ in a variety of ways.  Developing an LCMC family tree will not only be fun, but bring city transformation.  Like all breakouts, please sign-up at your pre-registration.  (I'm such a dunce, this is only offered once).

* The Coordinator for New Ministry Development presentation to the gathering at large:  On Tuesday afternoon, October 7, I will be sharing an update on our vision to become a church planting association.  During that time, we will have a variety of planters briefly share what they are doing.  PLANTERS: please let me know that you'll be at the gathering so I can publicly lift you up!

* New Church Planter's Workshop, Wednesday, October 8, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.  This 5-hour workshop is a fast-paced, but very helpful, training time to help you discern God's calling to church  planting, or to assist in a church planting team in your city.  It will be informational and hopefully transformational for you!  There is no charge, but you must register.  A working lunch will be provided for those who register ahead of time.

For registration details, see LCMC.net, then click-on ANNUAL GATHERING REGISTRATION.  See you there!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Church Planting WORKSHOP 101

Planting a new congregation was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my years of ministry.  It was also the most fulfilling!  -Dan Clites

Hey everyone!  I'm offering another Church Planting WORKSHOP, 101 style, at the up-coming LCMC Annual Gathering in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, October 8th.  While attendance at the gathering (October 5-8) is important for sharing in the over-all vision of the association, it is not required to participate in the planting workshop.

There is no charge for this 5-hour workshop, starting at 10:00 am (yes, we will start 2-hours before the annual gathering is officially wrapped-up) and running through to 3:00 pm.  We will share in a working lunch, provided at no cost for those who register ahead of time.  The purpose of this fast-paced, but extremely informational workshop, is to help YOU or someone you know, discern God's calling to plant any one of several experiences of effective new ministries.  If you want to plant in the near future, please don't miss this opportunity for a boost!

What to expect:  We will start at 10:00 am sharp (in a room yet to be determined, but in the same facility as the gathering--- the Iowa Events Center).  We will end promptly at 3:00 pm.  This, so you can make your travel plans for going home.  Bring family, friends and/or leaders with you.  The more people you have helping you in a church planting endeavor, the better!

At this 5-hour workshop....
- You'll get connected to the planting assessment and training process of the LCMC.

- You'll discover the variety of church planting experiences that God is using to reach the unreachable.  Find out how one size does not have to fit all!

- You'll realize that you don't have to be ordained to be a church planter.  Just called!

-You'll get keyed into the great attributes of great church planters.

-You'll explore how to cast a fresh vision and develop a church that is born for your city.

-You'll start to be be trained in how to gather people and raise the necessary funds.

-You'll learn to use facilities so they don't use you.

-You'll hear testimonies from those who are currently serving in the mission field of planting.

-You'll get connected to other planters and be encouraged to think big.

-You'll find out how your existing church can become more missional for city impact.

How to register:  Go to the LCMC.net website and click on ANNUAL GATHERING.  From there, you can register for the gathering AND the workshop!  Thanks, and I hope to see YOU at the workshop!

ALSO #1:  I will be sharing two different one-hour "breakout" sessions at the gathering, Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7.  One breakout will take-on how to be a missional church, while the other breakout will speak to how we will develop 1,000 new congregations over the next decade.  Be sure to register for the breakouts when you register for the gathering.

ALSO #2: Please be sure to register to participate in the Tuesday night (October 7) MEAL PACKING MISSION!  We are currently way-short of enough helping hands.  Let's be the Church that night, and be a part of God's miracle moment--- packing 400,000 meals in just two-hours!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Planting Preaching Tips

I've been away from the pastoral pulpit for 18-months now, but I'm still listening to plenty of messages in-person and on-line (Lutheran and other).  With that in mind, the following coaching tips are meant to be encouraging for our LCMC church planters and missional preachers.

When preaching...
  ...challenge yourself to come up with a style, or method, that is not being used by others.  What might that look like for you and your personality and/or your particular mission field?  If we are going to reach the unreached (people who don't know Jesus, or don't like church as it is), it's probably a good idea to not sound and present like EVERY other preacher!  As with everything in life, go to the Lord in prayer on this one.  He wants you to be you, not you being someone else.

...don't just talk about Jesus--- but declare what he is doing!  He is more than just an important historical character like Martin Luther or Abraham Lincoln--- Jesus is ALIVE and literally with us today!  That's the perfect power for reaching the millennial generation that wants to be unconventionally trained to live out their faith in the daily marketplace.  Living in the power of the Holy Spirit is the church's secret weapon that must not remain a secret!

...don't just talk about mission--- but teach people how to be obedient in living missionally as an everyday lifestyle.  Doing missional events and activities are fine, but people want and need to be trained and encouraged in how they can live missionally in regular, every day life: at home, work, school and in community.  In worship, have your people share from the front even the simplest testimonies of how they are striving to be missional--- through the easy and not so easy moments of life.  This way, people can begin to understand they don't need some grand story to be living significantly as a disciple of Jesus.

...keep in mind that your congregation doesn't exist for itself...but exists for the sake of others. Ministering and fellowshipping within your church family is certainly not a bad thing, but what can you add to your Sunday message to inspire and empower the people to take the church to the streets?  Too often churches are way more concerned about growing their own numbers inside the building on a Sunday, rather than growing a kingdom influence in the community on Monday.  Since many people don't know "how" to be influencers because they are not being led to do so--- YOU teach and demonstrate to them "how" to be obedient!

...consistently cast vision (God's preferred future) and your mission (your strategy for participating in God's preferred future).  Complement the vision and mission of your church with your values (what's important to you).  Again, this glues together the gospel with the point of your church's existence.  Social justice is important, so long as its backbone is made up of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  Hey, let's out "social justice" the "social justice folks" by outlasting them, out loving them and out producing them!  That way, they can't complain about your Christianity!  Maybe then, they'll even want to know more about this Jesus guy....

...encourage your folks to use their Bibles in worship.  If you don't teach and encourage them to open up the Word in worship, they probably won't do it at home.  Printing the scriptures on the screen, or in a bulletin, is certainly convenient for the eyes, but it doesn't empower folks to keep their fingers on the Word.  Try this: put shorter scripture passages on the screen while still inviting everyone to at least look up your main preaching scripture.  This way the folks are in the Word, but not spending too much time going back-and-forth finding passages and getting distracted from the over-all message.  Don't worry about your visitors not knowing the Bible.  Loving them as your celebrated guests over-comes any short-term embarrassment of not knowing the Bible.  Maybe, just maybe, they WANT to join a church that celebrates Bible usage?!

...ask God for the courage to preach to current events--- locally, nationally and globally.  I rarely (and by rarely I mean never) hear any preacher speak directly to their city's issues, or what's currently going on with race relations, ISIS or Hamas, Israel or Christians in Iran.  Why is that?  Is it because preachers don't know what to say, or they're afraid they'll come off as political?  If so, work at making sure you're addressing the Gospel with a prayer life and a keen eye on the news with a biblical world view--- so you can stop sharing generic messages that have the spiritual punch of a butterfly!

...build messages around recognized cultural holidays.  I'm not talking about the obvious ones like Christmas and Easter, but the odd cultural celebrations--- like Ground Hog's Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day.  With Labor Day approaching, create your message around the theme of "Every Member is a Working Minister, and Labor is our Worship!"  Encourage everyone to recognize they are, no matter their occupation, a minister of the Lord Jesus in the marketplace!  I can already hear the testimonies coming from all over the place!

...begin preaching the announcements.  In other words, instead of sharing at the beginning (or end) of your service all the "ministry things" people should sign-up for, or attend, connect your programs to the power and importance of the gospel by linking them to your message.  It gives hands and feet to your theme for the day.  Use "...for example..." a lot!  Announcements are often boring and a waste of time...but build them into your message, and they become powerfully relevant!

...dare to invite folks to speak with you within the message.  You will, however, have to patiently teach them the difference between interrupting and trying to gain immature attention--- and the sharing of a heart-felt response to your questions.  By occasionally using dialogue over (or with) a monologue preaching style, you can help people better remember your message.  They are now a part of the message--- moving them from audience to army mode!

...tie your message to any baptisms in worship and/or to Holy Communion.  Neither sacrament are suppose to be a worship interruption, or separate from what your trying to share as a theme.  This, however, is usually the case in a poorly constructed worship service.  If you creatively flow baptism and communion into your message theme for the day, it breaks the religious feel from the service, and creates a relational atmosphere.  Can I emphasize "be creative" enough?

...stop talking like you're afraid to offend someone.  The cross IS offensive and that's why I believe so many preachers fail to mention sin and the need of a savior--- because they're afraid of man!  If the cross is not shared as the saving tool of God, we turn Jesus into a simple community organizer.  If a preacher can't lovingly share truth and grace together, then no one's life will be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Aren't you tired of religious church services?  Of course.  The un-church need to see changed lives!  We all do!  So, be the leader of bold truth and bold grace!  I believe people will follow someone who is boldly following Jesus.

...challenge yourself to use media in a savvy manner.  Creatively (there's that word again) build video testimonies into your message so the two connect in harmony.  Use video clips that complement what you're doing instead of interrupting.  Don't cut and paste, but weave videos into the worship like a work of God-art!  This requires more planning and prepping on your part, but so what!?  It's worth it because God-art grabs people's hearts!

...ask yourself the following question in your preparation:  "Did Jesus have to die so that I could preach this message?"  If not, you're probably not preaching the gospel.  If so, GREAT!  The core is ready, now just be creative around it!

So friends....

...When preaching, seek to take on some, or all, of these coaching tips.  I guarantee you'll start to feel better about your presentation of the gospel and the creative, effective equipping will begin!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Part-4: Planting is not easy, but still excellent

This wraps-up my mini-series on "Planting is not easy, but still excellent."  Of course, nothing is ever really wrapped-up...and that's the point.  We live in a broken world with broken pieces of people and places always flying around--- that's why the mission to share God's Good News will always be a challenge.  Yet, we always have His power as we seek first His kingdom!  Planters: We take heart in Jesus who says, "Take heart...I have over-come the world!"

Story-4: "Changing the Spiritual Climate"
After standing with it's majestic stone facing since 1873, Holy Cross Episcopalian Church closed it's doors in 2009.  Why?  It's members had slowly died off--- a classic case of what happens when you stop making disciples that make more disciples.  My church plant, Rejoice!, then purchased the land and facility and made plans to develop a parking lot and add-on a 9,000 square foot facility--- functional for contemporary worship.

Planting is not easy, but still excellent....

We invited the surrounding neighborhoods to come and see our plans for improving the property and blessing the whole city.  We shared grace with all, but grace was not received by all.  A small, but very angry group of atheist started a city-wide petition against Rejoice!'s vision to add-on to the facility.  They argued we were wrecking history.  We argued the building's history was as a church facility--- and we were going to keep it's history by moving forward to make more history!

None-the-less, the atheists sued us.  They posted signs around the city to defame us.  They wrote to the newspaper and attacked us through a popular city blog.  The campaign against Rejoice! (or, more likely, against evangelical Christianity) seemed to be working.  The city had a dark cloud over it.

I must admit that my initial "flesh response" was to fight back with clever words.  The Holy Spirit, however, broke me from that thinking.  I was not to wage a war of flesh-and-blood against flesh-and- blood, but to follow the Father's fight--- a fight in the heavenlies.  Therefore, our congregation stayed away from responding to the blogs and we didn't write letters to the editor.  Instead, we pray-walked the neighborhoods of the city!  We blessed and spoke peace over our enemies.  Our responses were positive--- blessing and loving.

Planting is not easy, but still excellent...

What happened?  Long story, short: in about one-year's time we not only won the case to build, but even more powerful is that we won the people of the city.  There is no doubt prayers of peace broke the spiritual climate of hate.  In it's place, the Spirit created an atmosphere of blessing that ignited a renewed hope that Jesus is real and relevant.

How do I know this?  Here's one example: Rejoice! began serving the city--- helping to clean up the river/park areas, helping families in crisis, supporting the local government with individual prayer and opening up the new facility to city-wide needs.  Members of Rejoice! volunteered to serve on the annual city celebration team--- giving, giving, giving as a blessing in the name of Jesus.  Even the mayor's atheist wife dropped her mistrust of Bible-believing Christians and began to welcome the vision of Rejoice!.  Wow...all because we battled against principalities of darkness instead of battling flesh and blood!

Friends: preparing for the launch, launching, then developing a new ministry for sustainability is never easy...and the work will never be completed (see blogs 1-2-3 on this topic for more details)...but it is excellent when we develop a church to be effective in bringing the heart of Jesus to the people, instead of developing a church that only brings Christians to the programs.

Start a new ministry and you will automatically have a bulls-eye painted on your back.  That's because Satan is afraid of any Christian movement that is missional.  Mission in Christ always defeats the work of the enemy.  New church plants will continue to come under attack and I say GOOD!  That means you're on to something important--- changing the spiritual climate of your city!  After all, we plant not because it's easy...but because it's purpose is excellent! 

2 Chronicles 20:17, "You will not need to fight in this battle.  Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Part-3: Planting is not easy, but still excellent

Here is part-3 of a mini-series on over-coming false thinking that planting a new church gets easier after the launch and a few years of developing.  Please consider reading blogs 1-and-2 on this topic to pick-up the momentum from some of my own stories of how planting is not easy, but still excellent!

Story-3: Be-trayed, yet Be-loved.
A key bit of advice from my own planting coach was to not officially name anyone to a leadership title before year-3.  That way, people could prove in good time they were participating as a "it's all about the kingdom cause" and not as a "it's all about the them cause."  My coach's advice was godly.

Right from the start we had one family that seemed to be stellar in faith, but the father was always asking when we were going to have a "council" because he would like to serve on it.  At year-3, I named him to the first "vision team."  A mere one month later, he pulled his first power play, gathering-up a couple other families and insisting that we change our course of planting action--- including for me to fire a key staff person whom I loved having on board.

The new vision team member got quite angry when I said, "Sorry, but that's not the best course of action for anyone," so he and his wife began spreading some simple lies to deceive enough folks to leave our church plant--- right at the very time our 3-year financial covenant with our mother church was wrapping-up!  Over 60 people left our plant with their thousands of dollars of offerings.  It was like watching a bunch of Ben Franklin's with wings attached, all flying-out the window at the same time!

Spiritual warfare?  Of course.  You can expect such with a new church plant.  Why do you suppose Satan had babies 2-years and under killed around baby Moses and then again around baby Jesus?  Because both babies would be great threats to darkness if allowed to grow up!  It's the same with baby church plants that are Bible-based and Holy Spirit led to transform cities!  Satan wants them out of the picture because they are a direct threat to his plans.

Planting a church is not easy, but still excellent!

By God's instructions (literally, God told me to hold tight before man the vision HE gave me) our fledgling church plant over-came the above adversity.  Our leaders went deeper into prayer and the Word.  We repented and re-focused on God's vision for us to be a church of the city.  In less than 3-months, our growing worship numbers not only made up for the loss of the departed, but surpassed our previous attendance.  Likewise, our financial giving not only made up for the earlier loss, but surpassed as well.  Surpassed!  Through it all, our congregation witnessed our collective obedience of trusting in the Lord and how He would guide our path.  We lived and witnessed Proverbs 3:5-6.

Indeed, planting a church is not easy, but still excellent!

Next week, I'll wrap-up this mini-series with a couple more stories of God's goodness in the mist of a church plant seeking to be transformational for the city--- even when things get tough.  My hope is that my experiences will inspire you to keep the faith and keeping planting.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Part-2: Planting is not easy, but still excellent!

In my last blog post of July 27, 2014, I spoke to the myth that after the launch and the first couple years of getting established, church planting starts getting easier.  Not true.  The difficulties simply change.  After all, if you're doing real front-line ministry, training disciples that multiply and impact a city, then it's never going to be easy...but will still be excellent...as you move forward in obedience of faith!  

Over the next couple weeks, allow me to share a few stories of how I experienced first-hand some not easy, but still excellent moments of church planting.

Story-1:  Bumping into Bill
After moving to my plant site in 2003, I began looking for a space to call a "ministry center" for offices and general meeting space.  After searching for weeks, I caught a new "For Lease" sign in a window of a small strip mall.  I went in and found the owner in the midst of a clean-up.  The space had been a pet grooming store and it smelled like 70x70 wet dogs.  Still, it was the perfect size in a great location.  Trouble is, after I shared my new church vision, the owner told me I couldn't afford his space.  I left to look some more.  The very next day, however, the owner of the strip mall called me and invited me to lease his open space--- at a discount!

The Lord had led me to my "person of peace."  Bill Clifford liked me, enjoyed Jesus, and was intrigued by the vision of the new church start.  He wanted to bless me.  Eventually, Bill started worshipping at Rejoice!...so did his daughter and her family.  For the next 7-years before his death, Bill was always looking to assist me in his own unique ways.  He was an influential voice in the community and always spoke well of our church plant in such a manner that it opened up doors of influence.  My bumping into Bill was God ordained.

Indeed, searching for a worship center space was not easy, but it was still excellent...

Story-2: Hannah the not so Horrible. 
After I found a worship ministry facility, I also needed to find a Sunday morning worship site and a space in the community big enough to host 150 people for Alpha gatherings.  I approached the School District only to be given a list of 100 Do's and mostly Don'ts for rental of the 300 seat high school auditorium and connecting lunch room.  The person I had to work with was Hannah.  She was a toughie and I'm being nice.  I could tell that allowing us into the high school on Sundays was seemingly more of hassle than a benefit for Hannah.  Still, after the first 3-years of always paying our bills on time, cleaning-up after ourselves (and even better than how we found it) and treating the custodians with great respect, Hannah began to bend her own iron-rod rules.  Grace begets grace.  The next thing we know, we're getting two large closets on the theater stage to store all our worship and childcare equipment.  From then on, every time I walked into Hannah's office to book something new, the doors of welcome flew open for me.  By the time our church left the high school for our own building in our 9th year, the school had such high regard for church plants that it allowed another plant to move in right after us!

Indeed, searching for a worship space was not easy, but it was still excellent....

Next week...even more stories of miracles and turn-arounds....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Part-1: A missional life is not easy, but it is excellent

In the midst of planting a new congregation, with all it's initial ups-and-downs and attention to detail, I recall thinking early on that, "SOME DAY, when we have a building of our own, a full staff, more money and a (fill in your own blank), THEN life will be easier.  THEN we'll be able to put the ministry machine into motion and simply maintain it.  THEN, life will be easier for the sake of real ministry...."

Oh how wrong I was...but in a good way.

Just like a school kid who says he can't wait to be a grown-up so he won't have to deal with tests anymore, a planter can exhibit that same kind of thinking.  Certainly a start-up from scratch is packed with tests to get off the ground--- like a rocketSHIP--- but even in space, astronauts are still encountering situations.  Likewise, when Jesus says to pick up our cross and follow him into a life of discipleSHIP, he is inviting us into a missional life, not a maintenance one.  A missional life is not easy, but it is excellent.  Those missional tests will lead to missional testimonies of God's missional goodness...and the presence of God's goodness always brings a redeeming A++ to all situations! 

In other words, as a church plant matures, the tests simply shift from one challenge to another.  Tests change, but they don't go away.  That's ok, because it means the plant is moving in a relationSHIP--- it's God to the people and the people to God, then God's people to others.  This, instead of just establishing a religious institution where the tests are often more mechanical than missional.

Here are some examples...

1). As your ministry plant grows in "people presence," it creates the need for complexities.  For instance, going to two or more worship services means more childcare help is needed, more band member time is required, more prayer teams should be trained and even more coffee must be brewed!  Establishing two or more services can create two or more different congregations when it comes to fellowship.  A disconnection can start, but that's a test that can be passed well.  When people say, "I don't know everyone like I use to," you can remind them the most important person that everyone needs to know at your church is--- Jesus.  It's not easy, but it is excellent.  

2). Over-prepare and do not ignore on-going coaching advice.  After the launch and the excitement of the first few months are behind you, coaching is still needed to prepare for the next challenges.  For example, many churches get stuck and will stay stuck at 100 people, or 200 people, UNTIL you change your leadership course.  The more folks in worship, the more/better leadership is needed to be trained and deployed for the sake of training and deploying others.  Don't first see yourself as a chaplain, but as an apostle who breaks new ground and multiplies impact.  If chaplains are needed, recruit and train them from the spiritual gifts that are present in your leadership.  Great planters are great at investing in people to make them great!  It's not easy, but it is excellent. 

3). God inspires great ideas...but He also empowers us by His Holy Spirit to implement good ideas into God action.  What's a good idea?  Usually one that haunts us from our lack of our implementation!  As your new ministry starts growing and time passes, be sure to continue creating fresh opportunities for missional movement.  What worked last year may not work this year.  Our world/culture is changing that fast!  With that in mind, don't throw people into ministry like coal into a furnace to run the machine, but train and encourage them over-and-over.  Again, it's relationship over religion.  It takes longer, but in the long-run, it blesses deeper and wider because it's God's idea of church.  So, empower people to pursue great things.  Don't hoard the glory, share the glory.  After all, that's what God is doing all the time--- sharing His glory with us as we participate in His mission!  It's not easy, but it is excellent. 

4). Ask yourself over and over, "What can I pursue today if I wasn't afraid of failure?"  Don't be one of those pastors who are just trying to survive.  Fear of failure or fear of man is always cancelled when we follow Jesus, who consistently reminds us to "Not be afraid, for I am with you always."  No matter how discouraging church planting can be at times--- do not lose the faith.  The goal of life is not to arrive at death safely, but to show others how to be the kind of Jesus-disciple that rips down dark curtains for His light to shine through.  Hey, when was the last time you heard that kind of talk from a pastor!!?  YOU are to be the one to declare such truth!  Sometimes short-term losses will gain long-term successes.  In my up-coming blogs, I will share a few examples of how the Lord imparted into me "bold faith" for the sake of my planting experience.

A missional life is not easy...but it is excellent.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

lcMC...is more than a name, but a lifestyle

This week I'll be at Hosanna Lutheran Church in St. Charles, Illinois, for a gathering of LCMC district coordinators.  Every three-years the districts gather together for vision casting.  The goal is to strengthen the faith and the collective mission of the 700+ churches within our nation-wide districts.

I'll have one key word to share with the group: missional.  The L and the C of LCMC are important in identifying ourselves--- we are, after all, Lutheran Congregations.  The M and the C, however, are even more important.  Yes, I said it...even more important!  First and foremost, we are Missionaries for Christ that make-up Lutheran Congregations.

The 700-plus congregations that currently make-up the LCMC are not going away anytime soon, but our influence in the world will disappear...very soon...if we don't start living-out the M for C.  When our cultural influence is gone, the church will be nothing more than a religious activity, rather than the powerful presence of God that transforms.  Lutherans talk church and theology very well, but now it is time to live it...every day in every place of daily life.  Missional for Christ!

I believe the best way for our association to birth 1,000 NEW and healthy congregations that reach the entire culture, is for our CURRENT congregations to practice a missional mindset of multiplication in their respective communities.  The best way for that to happen, is for congregational leadership to train, equip and encourage every member to be a minister of the mission of Jesus Christ.  It's more than just dispensing more knowledge, or gathering for fun fellowship, it's showing people HOW to literally follow Jesus outside the church building.  It is "there" where the incarnational Jesus meets people and awakens them to their need for the gospel.

Two quick ideas for districts: to challenge every congregation to explore the following....
1). Train leaders to form "Transformational Communities" from our existing congregations in order to better serve the city (see my blog from March 3, 2014).

2). Put monies aside every month to help launch a conventional church start in the district--- either as a single congregation, or in teaming-up with other district congregations.  Create a "family tree" of church plants.

Friends, please join me in prayer for the LCMC District Coordinator's gathering, July 15-16, that it will be more than just a time of sharing good information, but a breakthrough in great transformation.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Be light in darkness, or just add more light to light?

I recently shared in an interesting discussion about cutting-edge mission.  It was with a pastor that I believe is more comfortable living in membership maintenance than in dangerous discipleship.

I asked, "What if a bartender and a stripper, who both worked in the same "den of darkness," were to come to faith in Jesus because one of their customers lovingly and boldly saw the "bad bar" as their sphere of influence to share the "good news?"

In other words, should we be the light of Christ in order to break the blindness of darkness, or only stay with other Christians, thus adding more light to light?

Here's a possibility: How about the bartender keep his job while now working as a "minister of Jesus" to the folks who belly-up to his counter?  His labor is now his act of worship!  After all, if he leaves the bar and just works inside the church, who is going to be the light of Christ in that particular den of darkness?

What if the stripper comes to faith?  Should she leave her job and with it her new influence over her colleagues?

My pastor friend struggled with this question.  I see it, however, as a good struggle, for it jabs at the desire for church to only serve as a comfortable place, away from such tough stuff of life.

Here are some missional thoughts for church planters...and anyone else.  Yes, sometimes it is best to simply leave the past behind and follow Jesus out of hell, period.  Leave the bar and never go back for a variety of good reasons.  Sometimes, however, it is best to follow Jesus back into hell and bust its locked gates with kingdom keys.  Could the stripper leave her job but seek to keep a friendship with the other gals in order to speak peace into them?  Perhaps.  Those friends, after all, are more likely to listen to her share in her living room about Jesus than listen to me from the church stage!   How about the bartender?  Can he keep his employment and still be a Christian?  Of course.  

Scripture says Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and the religious types mocked and hated him for it.  Why?  They didn't understand that Jesus came to the world not to wipe-it-out, but to win- it-into his kingdom reign.  Thus, the cross and the resurrection--- light conquering darkness.  The way I see it with a "missional mindset," is if we are following Jesus (and that is the definition of discipleship) then we are naturally becoming more supernatural like him as well.  We can then do what he does with his power and his authority to cast out demons and give hope to the hopeless.  We may, or may not, seek to intensionally be in dark places all the time so that God's light can shine brightest, but let's AT LEAST be ready at all times to share the hope we have in Jesus!

As I have shared before, a missional life is better than just doing missional stuff.  That's because your life IS the mission!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Part-3: If you want to see a church that equips...you may have to start it yourself!

As I have shared with you before, since moving to a new residence in Prior Lake, MN, my family and I have been looking for a new church home.  At first, we thought it would be lots of fun to visit a variety of churches--- something we never got to do when starting and then leading a church plant in Northfield, MN.

Fun at first...but not so much now.   Why?  Because our family has experienced a disciple-shift over the course of this past year.  Here's what I mean:

When we first started looking for a church to connect into, we were still trapped by "Christendom thinking," leading us to ask the following questions....

1. Is this church the best place for us to get fed by the Word?
2. Is this church a place where our souls will be taken care of?
3. Is this church a place for meaningful fellowship?
4. Is this church a place where we can serve God's people and use our gifts?

Every one of those line items sound holy, but did you notice that each question calls church "a place"? In other words, do some people still pick a church as a "place" to go to and receive certain religious goods?  Yes they do.  Is a church a "place" where many are currently relying only on the ministry of shepherds and teachers?  Yes it is.  Is a church a "place" primarily focused on the benefits of its membership?  Often times, yep.

Still, church as place is NOT working for most people and stats prove that true....

Church Planters!  God is calling you to create more than a church in place, but a church in space!  In other words, it's great to gather in a place, but a place has to be for space.  Place has to be for the sake of impacting the rest of the space of every day life.

Christendom is dying, maybe even already dead.  Many churches and their leadership act, however, like all they have to do is work harder at developing those 4 key place questions and they can over-come a decline in nation-wide church participation and impact...when the REAL biblical effort needs to focus on developing disciples--- dedicated followers of Jesus who impact the daily market-space with Jesus!

Friends: Let's start developing apostolic movements that train and equip people to feed themselves on God's word...to train and equip people to care for other people's souls...to train and equip people to be in fellowship with co-workers, neighbors, family and friends, even complete strangers where-ever they might be.  Let's train and equip mature believers to better serve new believers inside the church place, ONLY SO they are now trained and equipped themselves to serve the lost and disconnected on the outside space---  the people they work with, know and love every day.

Let's start churches that are more than just "a place" to go into and thus away from the world.  Instead, let's start churches where believers gather to be coached-up and then sent into the "every day spaces" with the transforming power of Jesus.  That's the kind of church my family is looking to be a part of!  BOTTOM LINE:  if we're not currently finding a church that wants to be training and equipping, we may just have to start something ourselves---- perhaps a missional community!

After all, as I have lifted-up in my previous two blogs, "If you want to see something you've never seen before, then do something you've never done before!"

So...how's this thought striking your soul today?  For those who are church planters, it's encouraging, isn't it?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

If you want to see disciples being made...first model it!

I hear the following question raised quite often from our newly start-up congregations in the LCMC: "Help us grow our church!"

My response is aways the same,  "If you really want to grow your church, focus first on making disciples instead of making members."  How?  By modeling what it looks like to follow Jesus!

After all, if you want to see something you've never seen before...you'll need to do something you've never done before! 

People use to flock to Jesus, but they are not flocking to our churches.  Probably because our churches don't look much like Jesus!  Even if we do practice being "little Christ's" inside a church facility, we often forget to follow him out the doors and into the marketplace.  It is there, in the simple, sometimes mundane or regular moments of every day life, where Jesus shines brightest.  For it is "in life as it happens" where people are either attracted to you because of how you look "in Jesus," or turned off to Jesus because of you.  

Friends: If we continue growing our churches by doing membership-like activities, all we will get are more people with a membership mentality (i.e.: what's in this for me?).  If, however, we start our new churches by first focusing on training people to follow Jesus with the help of real-life mentors and models, that's when we will truly grow a church.  It's been said many times that a church's lasting impact is not in it's seating capacity, but in it's sending capacity.  In other words, when churches learn to give themselves away to the community, God will bless that movement and it will grow...maybe in numbers, maybe in finances, but for sure it will grow in influence and city transformation in the life-changing name of Jesus!

Here now are just a few simple ways to model to others what it looks like to follow Jesus in a neighborhood:

-When you are outside doing yard work, keep an eye out for others to strike up a conversation.  (People will begin to see you as someone they can know by name and even trust).

-When others are doing yard work, ask them if you can lend them a hand.  (Doors open to talk life).

-Adopt your street in the Spirit and then prayer walk your your neighborhood, sharing the peace of the Lord over every household.  (The spiritual climate will be changed and in your favor!).

-Invite your neighbors over to your home for a lunch or dinner.  God created our need for food for more than keeping us alive in the flesh, but as a tool to stay alive in the Spirit by connecting with others.  (My 21-year old daughter, Aimee, is planning on baking home made pies and gifting them to our new neighbors in Prior Lake...stay tuned for what happens next!).

-organize a neighborhood garage sale, or trip to a game, or a picnic.  (It doesn't have to be complex, just relational). 

As we develop trusting relationships, people are way more apt to share their felt needs.  Their lives become open doors for you to walk into and share your faith story.  Don't worry, they won't reject you, because they now know you better.  They trust you and they want the same joy you have.

Remember: If you want to see something you've never seen before, you'll have to do something you've never done before! 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

If you want to see something you've never seen before...

One of my favorite teachers is Ed Silvoso of Harvest Evangelism International.  Ed always says, "If you want to see something you've never seen before, you'll have to do something you've never done before."

This is blog number-1 in a short series on how to implement such a saying into the vision of a transformational-Missional church.  Let's start with everyone's favorite topic: fund raising that raises faith and makes ministry fun(d)!

A couple years ago the giving at my church plant, Rejoice! in Northfield, MN, was pretty good.  Most of the congregation were not only tithing 10%, but were also gracious in giving sacrificially when invited and enlightened to do so for the sake of blessing others.  Still, I wondered what might happen if I had one of our mature partners get up front during worship and share why they are giving to the ministry of Rejoice!.

...because if you want to see something you've never seen before....

It was to be their story, but I coached them to keep the message tight.  It was to be 3-minutes long, including a blessing prayer at the end to trigger the start of passing the buckets while we broke into worship song.

At first, many liked the idea--- so long as someone else was up front talking!  But after several weeks of partner-after-partner getting up front and sharing from the heart, just about everyone had gone from "I hope Pastor Dan doesn't ask me to do that," to just the opposite, "I wonder when Pastor Dan is going to invite us to share?"

Soon and very soon, the giving at Rejoice! took a jump up...and stayed up!  Why? Because the offering was no longer being initiated by the pastor, but being invited by the ministers of the church--the folks!  Shared stories of God's movement were moving people to share God.  This ministry idea not only trained people to share brief faith testimonies with prayer (over-coming three elements of fear-- public speaking, public testimony and public prayer), but it elevated our giving because worship became a place to testify to God's giving goodness!

Think on this: no fancy steward programs, book studies or a fancy message series were used.  Plain and simple, it was me equipping the saints for the work of ministry.  It was me doing my job to equip them to their job!  Try it, and see for yourselves!  After all, if you want to see something you've never seen before, you have to do something you've never done before!"

Monday, June 2, 2014

When Blessing Cancels Stressing

A researcher recently released an article where he stated that "stress-wise," pastoring a church is in the top-4 most difficult jobs in America.  The others being president of the United States, president of a major university and CEO of a hospital.

The study stated that job burn-out is the greatest burden for pastors.  One moment you're working with energetic youth, then you're with a grieving family, then you're counseling a couple with marriage problems, then you're preparing for a night-time budget meeting, topped-off with seeking to create a clever message that will bedazzle your congregation on Sunday while still trying to be a great spouse, parent, friend and neighbor.  With that schedule, who has time to train and equip others?  Oh, great...now I have guilt....

When looking over the report, my first thought was a sense of weird pride, "That's right, everyone, MY JOB is one of the toughest there is...even tougher than president of the U.S. because I don't even have time to play golf!"

That was my flesh speaking.  In the Spirit I had a re-thought, "That's not the way it's suppose to be."  Indeed, pastoring is difficult because working with people is difficult.  (In fact, I'm pretty sure pastoring would be the easiest job on the planet if it weren't for people!)  On the other hand, working in God's purposes is not to stress us, but to bless us.  After all, He is the Master of all the Universe!

What to do?  How about this simple, but powerfully true answer: Instead of working and worrying so much through what our flesh says is truth, let's act like we believe the Word of God is true--- that because we have been given the advocate of the Holy Spirit we now have supernatural power in the name of Jesus!  It's a blessing that cancels all the stressing!

With that in mind, here now are 4 suggestions for all of us to practice, together...

1.  Start living like Ephesians 4:12 is our official job description: "...to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ."  Serving others doesn't mean doing things for people, it means helping people do things!  It means equipping them to live/work/serve as Christians!  So, let's stop going through all the religious activities that add burden to our schedules; and instead, be missionally-relational where the burden is our delight rather than our duty.  A missional life-style is now no longer another thing on the schedule...IT IS THE SCHEDULE!  If we pastors are following Jesus as the light of the world, he naturally rubs-off on us, making us little lights of Christ's.  The burden is now on Jesus and we get the delight!  When others now "see us" full of His hope even when days are dark, they will see blessing that cancels stressing!

2.  Use a kingdom scorecard.  Instead of using the worldly scorecard of bigger is better: bigger budgets, bigger buildings, bigger programs, bigger butts (or, at least more butts in the seats); use instead, a biblical scorecard: bigger influence!  Instead of asking, "How is my church doing?", ask, "How is my city doing?"  In other words, church growth shouldn't be focused inward, but outward.  (Me is stress, He is bless).  The purpose of your church is not to grow itself, but to grow disciples that grow transformation in the city.  It's blessing that cancels stressing!

3. Understand who is the real enemy.  Ephesians 6:12 says our enemy is not flesh and blood, but darkness and its principalities.  In other words, let's stop competing against other fellow Christians and start pulling together to be "one church" for the sake of the city.   Unbelievers look around and see churches biting at each other.  No wonder they say, "Why do I want to join that mess?"  We can certainly keep our tribes, but Christians must support each other against the real competition: darkness that wants to rule our cities!  When we think and act this way, it's blessing that cancels stressing!

4. Subtract clutter in order to add power.  I recently heard a pastor friend of mine say he doesn't have time to be in his church's missional community.  That's because his church meeting schedule was so packed that connecting with his huddle seemed like just one more thing.  The look on his face, however, was worth a million dollars when I said, "Developing a missional community is all about dropping all those other meetings.  They are no longer needed.  All the work of committees and counseling are wiped-out by the purpose of a missional community!"  Again, being missional in all you do is not to be an add-on to an already busy schedule...IT IS the schedule!  To my pastor friend, it was a breakthrough.  It was blessing that cancels stressing.

Friends: it seems like everyone is taking on stress these days, but we don't have to.  Everyone seems like they are one match strike away from complete burnout, but it doesn't have to be that way.  We Christians should know better because we get to know God better.  Blessing is of God.  Stress is not.  Let's DO GOD to each other and live as people of the resurrection.  Pastors: in the spirit of Ephesians 4:12, this gets to be our job--- to lead the way in what it means to be free in Christ.  Others won't learn or experience it, unless we first model it.  If people leave your church because you're casting this biblical vision, let them go.  Many, many others will come out of the cracks of life because they will finally see what they hoped church would be: a place and a space where we are all equipped for the work of ministry--- to be blessers instead of stressers for the sake of God's kingdom.

PS: Here is something I've used many times when I've gotten trapped in the difficulty of pastoring, trying to gain more, or seeking approval from man.  I've asked myself, "Dan, when will "Jesus" be enough for you?"  

When our Lord died at the cross, He cancelled OUR stress of sin and death, and rose again to give us HIS blessing of a life in joy!  When we please God by letting Him love us so we can love others, we will automatically be a blessing to the work God wants done.  Practice that, and the next study will show pastoring in the top-4 "BEST JOBS" to have!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What your visitors might be thinking...

Since my deployment into coaching church planters and developing missional leadership in our LCMC, my family and I have struggled in finding a church to call our "home."  Over the last 15-months, we have visited several churches--- some LCMC, and some not.  From family discussions, here's a simple list of 7 of our thoughts that you should keep in mind as people come visit your church:

1.  Are your members focused on noticing new people?  It's one thing for a mega church to pass you by like a mouse in an elephant stampede, but quite another to visit a small church and not have anyone bless you with an introduction or even a welcome.  If an unchurched person, or even a visiting Christian, is looking for hypocrisy or judgment from your church, are they finding it before worship even begins?  We've experienced a couple churches where the large staff seems to be working harder at impersonal crowd control than personally loving the crowd.  Get rid of "assigned greeters" and empower EVERYONE to be people of welcome--- starting in the parking lot!

2. Are you (as a pastor leader) working any kind of plan to meet the new people?  Getting a beautiful visitors postcard in the mail is impressive, but completely impersonal.  I have loved it when the pastor took the time to hand write a note to my family as first-time visitors.  So, I suggest you make the time to do so too!  If you don't get to personally meet a visitor, state it as so in your card and even apologize.  This act of humble grace gives visitors the impression they are not just another stat, but you want to meet them.  (You DO want to meet them, don't you?)  Gone are the days where we just advertise our service times and people come inside for worship.  I say to that, "Thank God,"  because now we get to practice living out the faith!  For example, people used to flock to Jesus, but they are not flocking to our churches.  Perhaps it's because we don't look much like Jesus!  I suggest you look around and ask yourself, "Do visitors see Jesus when they come in our doors?"  Perhaps before that, you should ask yourself, "Are the people of my church being Jesus in the Monday-through-Saturday marketplace, so that others will want to see more Christians in our Sunday worship services?

Worship Time:

3. Is your worship leader in a rut?  We've been able to tell the difference between a worship leader who is well rehearsed in his music and his transition sentences, and one that has also been in the Word and in the Spirit.  Saying the same thing each week, even smoothly, is a sign of lacking in both the Word and Spirit. Work with your worship leader to transition song-to-song in connecting the lyrics to your message of the day--- that's because worshippers need help in connecting the power of the song to the power of the upcoming message.  Likewise, I can't believe how many contemporary churches don't use a sending song!  Your word of the day's theme should be what the folks are singing about as they leave the building.  Move from the message to the sending song, interrupted by a commissioning, before wrapping up the song.  It can be an effective manner to remember the message, and to practice it on Monday!

4. Are your announcements wordy, using insider talk that only a few might understand?  "IF" you must break for announcements, hold them under 3-minutes.  Keep in mind there is a difference between information and transformation.  Measure the two so that information doesn't rule.  Use your screens for visual reminders.  Implement a short video to communicate something that might be coming up.  Only speak to something that includes everyone, not just one specific group.  Last, consider preaching the announcements!  For example, if your church is going to serve dinner to homeless folks on Tuesday, include it in your message.  It's information used for transformation!  It's connecting the action of the gospel to your church's faith response.

Preaching Time:

5. Are you preaching the true gospel, or just talking about Jesus?  Wow...I can't believe how many preachers are not preaching the gospel.  Indeed, they are talking about Jesus, but not why he had to die and be raised again.  To cherish the good news, there must be an acknowledgement of the bad news!  I always coach pastors to ask themselves the following question when they are preparing a message: "Did Jesus have to die for this message to be shared today?" If the answer is 'yes,' then you are sharing the heart of the gospel.  Also, encourage people to bring their Bibles--- then guide them to where you want them to follow along.  They don't have to go racing into every reference you speak to (that's what screens can be used for), but it does invite them into the scriptures.  This creates the invitation to keep reading-on through the upcoming week.  For visitors, it communicates to them that you are a high expectation church.  In other words, it declares that you believe the Bible is true, powerful, life-changing and it's something they will be empowered by through your church.

6. Are your messages featuring one clear point that can be practiced in the daily marketplace?  Recently we heard a (non LCMC church) message that was the best 5-point series in a 30-minute time span we've ever heard.  In other words, it was 5 good topics, but none were matured.  In addition, the pastor was sharing a mixed message that day, being timid while trying to cast a vision.  Not good.  At another church we visited, the pastor was very good at sharing some basics of Christianity.  For any new Christian in the congregation, it would have been quite informative.  Here again, however, we must ask ourselves: "Are we preaching for information, or for proclamation that leads to transformation?"  I say, all three are a winning team, but only when intertwined!  

7. Are you commissioning people out the door with a missional heart and/or a faith plan?  Besides sending folks out with a song that puts an amen to the message of the day, are you getting the folks to declare out loud God's game plan for the next week?  I believe that when people speak it out, they are declaring something into reality.  Pastors, cast the vision as a brief summary of your message and have your congregation say, "We receive it!"  This, not just for themselves, but as disciples for the sake of others.  Too often, we've been hearing pastors say over-and-over, "our church does this (inside our facility) and we do that (inside our facility)"  No wonder people get trapped in the paradigm that church is a facility where members do inside religious activities to benefit themselves, instead of what believers do for the sake of the city outside the facility and in the daily marketplace of life.  Bottom line: instead of just advertising your inside programs, how about empowering people to radically live their faith in the daily marketplace where the pre-believers are.  Mission is no longer on the already busy schedule, but IT IS the schedule!

There you have it, 7 simple considerations (per my family as we search for a church home), that can take you from membership mentality, to missional mindedness.  Receive them not as put downs, but build ups!  After all, they might be what your visitors are thinking....