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