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....

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mission: not additional, but intensional!

Being missional with Jesus is way more than just doing a service project or participating in an outreach event.  Unfortunetly, that's exactly how many churches have trained people to think of being missional--- as performing religious "add-on" events to an already busy life of add-ons.  This has turned some Christians into busy-bodies inside the church facility, thinking their good efforts are missional because it fits and satisfies the church's program calendar.

A life of mission, however, is not to be something that is additional, but intentional.  It is not meant to wear-out lives, but to bust-out lives.  The joy of the Lord is the igniter as well as the end result.  In other words, instead of doing a missional event, BE the missional advent!  That's when ordinary people suddenly find themselves doing extraordinary things because they are simply being Jesus in the marketplace of every day life.  It can make something as simple and regular as going to the grocery store a short term mission trip!  You may not speak about Jesus to people in the store, but you can be "incarnational Jesus" for people in the store.  With this new mindset, you are not only blessing people everywhere you go by living out your faith, but you are now ready to verbally share your faith when it's called upon.  By the way, when you are following Jesus, you will have empowered opportunities to share your faith....

With that in mind, YOU ARE INVITED to be a part of a pioneering ministry for developing a missional mindset that helps ignite "missional communities" where you live (see my previous blogs for more on missional communities, or as I like to call them: Transformational Communities).  On Saturday, August 2nd, I will join two of the LCMC's five new Mission Team leaders in hosting a workshop on becoming a person of daily mission.  We will partake at the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Altoona, Iowa.  I'll share more details as the time draws closer, but please mark your calendar now for 9-to-noon.  This, however, is not a one-and-done deal, but the first of many, perhaps hundreds of gatherings around the nation to encourage, train and support disciples who are living, or wanting to live, missionally.  When this becomes the norm of our LCMC, we will be contagious for the blessing of others.  When that happens, we become disciple-making-disciples that birth new churches.

A GREAT OPPORTUNITY!  Community Life Church in Oregon, Wisconsin is set to join the LCMC because it loves our association's missional heart with the gospel of Jesus.  The congregation is 10-years old, but is looking for a missional leader with a church planter's heart.  The congregation's original planter is being deployed to start a new church in Green Bay (lots and lots of sinful, lost Packer People live in GB).  Community of Life offers a full-time salary and benefits, a healthy core team of young-to-middle-aged-adults, and a backbone to changing lives in the community.  Oregon is a small town with its own school district just outside of Madison, WI.  I've been there and I like what Community of Life is doing.  ALSO: a LCMC church in Detroit Lakes, MN is looking for a young ordained or contract pastor to develop an existing congregation's outreach into its city.  If either of these possibilities strike you, or you know someone else who needs to look into these calls, please contact me: dan@lcmc.net.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

When to plant a church...and when not.

Spring is the season to plant...for farmers.  That way, the crop can receive the healthy resources of summer weather in order to grow and be ready for fall harvest.

Likewise, there is also a season for church planting.  This time of year is usually not good for launching, but it is good for planting starter seeds.  September-October are better months for launching, while December is not; although a "preview" Christmas worship service can often be helpful to introduce the vision.  Advent "missional moments" are also great ways to engage your presence into the public before launching in January-February.  Remember, the healthiest germination period between sowing and launching is often 6-9 months.  So, what you do TODAY will impact what seasonal resources you receive in ripening for a fall launch!

At the annual Exponential East gathering, Bill Hybels shared two terrible reasons to plant a church and two good reasons:

Terrible Reasons:
1). It's perceived as the trendy, cool thing to do.

2.  It's perceived as easy, or a quick thing to do.  You can't, however, just jump from t-ball to the major leagues.  (allow me to add a third bad reason: because you're looking for a job!)

Good Reasons:
1).  You are so bound in the Holy Spirit to do so (see Paul's words from Acts 20:22, "Compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there..."), that it feels like high treason against God to deny!

2). No other existing ministry is doing (or going to do) what you are suppose to do in your domain to redeem the lost.

Friends, let's stop planting churches as primary split-offs from another denomination or church, and start planting churches with the missional mindset to share the gospel into the cracks and crevices of our local communities.  Let's stop thinking that if we put together a new worship service in town the unchurched will automatically come into the gathering.  They won't.  Instead, let's start churches as movements in the city--- as people of faith who are soaking into the everyday marketplace and daily demonstrating the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus.  The unchurched, or the unbelievers, will see Jesus on you and want the same hope.  Let's start churches that first focus on maturing disciples in order to make more disciples that make even more disciples.  Then, we can start gathering for worship.  Then, we can concern ourselves with facilities, tax ID numbers, constitutions, programming and equipment.

Need some help to plan(t) well?  I can do that with you.  After all, I've discovered churches that use a church planting coach always succeed at some level.  Sadly, I have also experienced churches that have chosen not to use coaching.  They are struggling, much like farmers who plant and reap in the wrong season without any skilled equipment.  My email: dan@lcmc.net.  My cell: 507-403-3940.

NOTES: This week I travel to Madison, Oregon and Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin to meet up with a group of planters organizing a planting network for Wisconsin.  How cool is that?!  Thursday-Friday I wrap-up my time of teaching church planting at The Master's Institute Seminary, where the LCMC has at least one person already working in the mission field of planting Missional Communities.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


I just returned from the annual Exponential Conference in Orlando, where some 5,000 planter-types gathered to be empowered and equipped with God's missional mindset for both planting new churches and strengthening current congregations.  It was fun to be there with 8 of our LCMC planters, some with their spouses.  Each one was struck by something new God wanted them to have for their particular missional situations.

Over the next couple weeks I thought I'd briefly share some of my take-aways from the conference--  tid-bits that might bless you--- whether you are a planter, or not!

Let's start with the suggestion that we Christians live a more questionable life.  What?  At first, that call seems to go against the grain of what we are suppose to be as believers, but that's not true.  For example, if we choose to always stay huddled with other Christians--- whether it be in worship, at work or school, in the neighborhood, at ball games, etc, we will never be able to shine before others so THEY can see God's glory on us!

To be Christian, is to be a follower of Jesus.  To follow him is to become his disciple (to be an apprentice).  To become a disciple of Jesus is to look more and more like him.  The point of discipleship is for others to want to be more like you, being more like Jesus, because they see real HOPE in you!  When that happens, they will ASK YOU, "what's up?"  You can then share your faith with someone who now has open ears.

People who are acting disconnected from Jesus won't be able to ask you what your hope is, unless they see you, in their presence, living in that hope.  That is why we are called to live a "more questionable life" in the midst of all people in daily life.  When you do, others will ask you about: your abounding joy in the midst of difficult situations, your courage in the midst of fearful situations, your persistence in the midst of stonewalling situations, your kindness in the midst of hateful situations, and your forgiveness in the midst of situations that harbor hard hearts, etc.

People won't ask you about Jesus unless you are with them and look different.  That's how the pagan rule of the Roman Empire was conquered---  by the questionable life-styles of the early Christians!  Gentiles watched as Christians lived lives full of hope, even the midst of terrible conditions.  The Gentiles asked questions of why and how because they wanted to be a part of a faith-movement that was changing people's lives!

Friends...God answers such life-and-death questions today.  So live a questionable life so others may ask, "What is your hope?  Then, be ready to share with grace.  The lost will then be found.  The blind will then see, and the world will be changed by us simply living as disciples of Jesus in every day life.