Learning How You Can Influence Someone to Go to Church

He graduated High School a year ago this summer.  He loves to fish.  I mean, he LOVES to fish.  Waking up to go fishing before the sun rises on a regular basis is no problem.  If it means spending more time on the water, he’s down with it.  He works a part-time job at a local grocery store, while he attends community college.  Two of his favorite places to eat are:  Pelicans (New Orleans style sno-cones) and McDonald’s.  He also attends our church with his family every Saturday Night.

One Saturday, he went to grab lunch at his usual McDonald’s.  It is his McDonald’s.  Not as in he or his family owns the place, but as in it is his go-to location.  Sure, he has no problem eating at a McDonald’s somewhere else if time and proximity require it.  Normally, his everyday life and schedule allows him to choose this particular one.

This McDonald’s has developed into a sort of close-knit community for him.  You know, one of those places where “everybody knows your name.”  The kind young man that he is, he speaks to the employees on a level beyond just ordering food.  He moves past the business-client relationship.  He acts with genuine concern for who the employees are as persons.

When grabbing lunch on Saturday, he passes by one of the employees whom he’s come to know on a more personal level.  One was coming out and one was going in, and they both stop to make small talk.  He asked how she’s doing.  She answers, “Oh, I am excited that I have the afternoon off.  What about you?  What do you have going on today?”  He replays his day for her, followed up by what he plans to do next.  “I’m on my way to church in alittle bit,” he tells her.  “It’s a really cool church.  My family and I go every Saturday Night at 6pm.  You would love it.  Do you go to church anywhere?  If not, you should come check out our church tonight.”  

After the service on the same Saturday night, I am in the lobby shaking hands with a woman who attended our church for the first.  She was there because a young man who frequents the McDonald’s where she works asked her to come.  Then, I am told the same story I just narrated to you.  Amazing.

This young man influenced a person twice his age to go to church.  I have witnessed him influence several others to do the same in the last year.  He knows how to do it.  From him, you (and I) can learn how to do it, too.

To influence someone to go to church, you need:

  • Passion for the church you attend.  If you don’t have good things to say about your church, then someone else won’t have a good reason to check it out.
  • Authentic relationships in a  close-knit community.  There should be a place that you go to or a group of people you hang around on a regular basis.  No agendas are allowed.  Relationships should be built on an authentic desire to know people for who they are, and not for what they can give you or what you can give them.
  • Personal faith in God.  This is more than belief in doctrines or fulfilling religious practices.  It is an active trust in the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life.  You need to know the value of God’s transformation in your life before you will be inspired to imagine how God can use you to do the same in someone else’s life.
  • Discernment of the Holy Spirit.  God’s grace is working in the heart of others before you enter their life.  God knows when a person is ready to take the next step toward their own faith in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will nudge you to ask when the moment is right.  Discerning that nudge is up to you.
  • Courage to invite.  No one likes to be rejected or look stupid, including me. Not every invitation will be accepted.  But, if you don’t ask you are guaranteed a “no” every time.  Now, I am not advocating door to door evangelism.  Of that approach, I am not a fan.  But, when you can tell a person is ready to find their place in the community of God’s people, let courage be your guide.

Let me end by clarifying one thing.  Influencing someone to go to church isn’t our mission.  It isn’t even our primary goal.  As followers of Christ, our purpose is to expand the borders of God’s kingdom on earth.  We seek transformation and redemption for individuals and in our social systems.  Our hope is the renewal of all things.  The Church is the greatest hope of the world through which God desires to make this a reality.  Influencing others to to church isn’t about church growth for numbers sake.  It is about connecting people to a movement of God in our world.

 

 

 

Learning the Bible is a Story of Good News, Not a Collection of Doctrines

Stories have a special place in my heart.  Ever since I can remember, I have craved stories.   It was born in me with movies like the original Star Wars Trilogy or Goonies or the Never Ending Story.  A good story is the only thing that could keep me indoors as a kid.  Otherwise, I was outside running around the neighborhood.  Give a me moving story and I could sit still.

In fourth grade I remember our teacher reading to our class the story of Tecumseh.  In fifth grade, I remember reading the story of “The Castle in Attic” and “The Island of the Blue Dolphins.”  In sixth grade, I remember hearing the evangelist Gary Haines telling his story of coming to faith in God.  Skip a few years, and in the summer before my sophomore year in high school, I remember Tony Campolo’s story of throwing a birthday party for a prostitute.  As much as I don’t want to admit, I remember a couple years later watching the story of the Titanic unfold on the big screen.

Stories were are a regular part of my life’s diet.  Then, I went to college.  All of sudden my life was consumed with information.  Facts were poured into my brain with the purpose of pouring them out again as answers for a test.  Historical facts, scientific methods, philosophical systems, and theological doctrines overloaded my mind.  Little space or time were left for stories.

Stories were buried beneath the avalanche of formal education.  This paucity of stories developed a feeling of disconnection from the emotional side of myself.  I carried a load of information without a storied experience to help me convey it in a way that is authentically passionate and compelling to others.  To say it a different way:  I knew the doctrines of God without the narrative of God.

It didn’t take many sermons for me to realize doctrines aren’t inspiring.  The audience wasn’t impressed by my capacity to reduce the Bible to doctrinal statements.  No one was moved by my knowledge of theological terms such as parousia or kerygma or imputation.  After preaching,  I would get a gratuitous smile and nod, aka “that was painful.”  If words of encouragement were offered, it was something like “well, that was informational.”  

It wasn’t until seasoned pastors reconnected me with the world of stories that I began to find my place in preaching.  Under their leadership and with their help, I learned to perceive God’s Word in the narrative shape it takes.  It is the greatest story ever told available for the best storytellers to tell.

The Bible is a story of good news, not a collection of doctrines.  It isn’t an encyclopedia of holy principles, it is a series of events.  Our purpose as preachers and Christ-followers isn’t proclaiming a knowledge of theories, despite how true they may be.  We make known the actions of God in Jesus our Savior.  Our task is not to convince everyone to accept the non-negotiable points of doctrine.  Our mission is to tell the story of the good news of what God has done, is doing, and will do.

I think the reason why the Bible is a story of good news is simple:  it is human to crave stories.  Like me, you need stories to influence your life.  Stories help you imagine new realities and possible transformations.  Stories help you take an honest look at where you are and where you can be.  Stories break into your heart and infuse it with a passion to live courageously.  Stories bring hope.

 

With the gospel story, the Church has the advantage to be the greatest storytellers in our culture.  I pray it is so.

Learning A Question Most Churches Need to Ask

Old church pewsWhat will we need to sacrifice to reach a new generation for Christ?

I sat with a young couple recently who were eager to ask questions.  Both are recent graduates of an evangelical university in the Midwest.  He is working on a church staff for the first time.  She works in education.  I don’t know the actual numbers (so provide margin for error), but I would guess they are at least 35 years below the average age of the congregation.

Both are excited for him to have the opportunity to earn a full-time salary at an above-average size (average is 75 people) church fresh out of college.  At at time when many churches are struggling to pay a full-time lead pastor, they feel blessed to be offered a staff position.  Since he’s been on staff, the church has experienced an increase in the number of youth who attend.  The youth group has grown significantly in a relatively short period of time.  This makes them feel like the church has at least a slight interest in reaching out to a new generation.

As good as this couple may feel, they feel equally discouraged.  They struggle with the scarcity of young adults and families who attend their weekend worship services.  It’s few, and some weekends it’s none.  No one seems to be doing much to influence change.

As a couple, they shoulder the burden as their own.  They want to see young adults and their families flooding the lobby, hallways, classrooms, and main worship space.  No one else is stepping up, so they will…try.  For now, that is what they are doing.  They are trying, but feeling like they are getting nowhere.

So, they are ready to ask me questions.  How should we go about it?  What can we do to attract young adults?  How does your church do it?  What works?  How do you get everyone on board with the vision?  Can the vision come from us?  Or does it need to be the lead pastor’s vision?  Should we focus on an event?  Should our focus be on relationships? 

They are curious and ready to write things down.  I offer as much as I can.  I certainly don’t have all the answers.  I have been in their shoes before.  I know what it’s like.  I am in a different place now.  Our church is able to do ministry in a way that brings young adults and families into our community.  We have discovered ways to be relevant to a younger audience.  As much as I’ve learned, their context is unique and different.  What I know works here may not translate to their particular setting.

This couple sees a future reality they long to prevent.  They have the imagination to envision where the church is headed in ten or twenty years.  What lies ahead is extinction. It is congregation that is aging out.  The people will grow too old age and pass on with no one to replace them.  The congregation will dwindle year after year until few are left, which won’t be enough to keep the doors open.

There is one core question, then, I believe their church should ask.  It is a question many other churches need to ask as well.

What do we need to sacrifice in order to reach a new generation and build the church of tomorrow?

Are you willing to sacrifice worship times?  Musical preferences? Decor?  Budgets?  Leadership?  Sunday School?  Traditions?  Personal finances?  Parking Spaces?  Comforts?

I am blessed to be a part of a church that started asking this question before I arrived, and continues to ask on a daily basis.  My heart aches for staff members and pastors who aren’t as fortunate.  I pray for you.  I hope for you.  I ask for you, that God’s Spirit would move your leaders and people with the courage to ask this one question.

Learning Love is Known When Love is Shown

My 2 yr old picI sat down with my daughters (8 & 5 years old) to flip through my childhood photobook.  The pictures cover my life from birth to High School graduation.  The wonders years, right?      lt is all the memories I wish never to forget glued together in one small album.

Mya sits on my lap and Kirra snuggles next to us on another chair as I slowly flip through the pages.  Kirra looks at me and asks, “Daddy, why do you look at the pictures for so long?”  

I don’t know, Kirra,” I say.  “I guess it’s because I believe the most precious memories are associated with the moments when you feel the deepest love.  These pictures remind me of some of those moments in my life.  I don’t want to forget any of them.” 

Normally, I tell the stories behind the pictures.  This time, we are simply looking at them without commentary.  Suddenly, Kirra speaks up again, this time saying, “Daddy, I can’t believe those pictures are you.  You were such a cute little boy.”  She deserves a hug for that one.  A couple pages later, she brings me back to reality with her observation.  “That definitely looks like you because you can see your two big front teeth.”  Mya wants in on the action, too.  She leans in with curiosity.  She wants to know what the fuss is about.  She sees the picture and blurts out, “Ewwweee!  Your teeth are big!”  

After a few tears of embarrassment, I recover.  My kids may have just bullied me, but I find the strength to move on.  The atmosphere returns to sweet and encouraging comments.  Until we turn get to my Junior year class picture.  Immediately, both daughters chime in, “Yuck.  Look at your hair.  You look silly.  Don’t ever get that haircut again.”

A couple pages later, we are at the end of the book.  Kirra and Mya wander off to somewhere else in the house.  I am left alone with the emotions of being ridiculed by my kids, as well as a joy-yet-sadness for yesteryears.  As I am closing the pages, I stop at the inside front cover.  A collection of letters and cards are slipped into a little pocket.  I open each one and read.

Now, real live tears are streaming down my face.  Words of love written to me from my parents, family, and dearest loved ones evoke something deep down inside.  Mostly, my feelings are nostalgic.  Then, a note from my sister strikes a different chord.  It awakens a new realization for me.  Twelve years after it was written, I begin to learn the significance of her message.  She wrote:

I can’t even begin to tell you how much it meant to me that you came up here for that weekend!  I was so excited you got to see Noah because I thought he would be a year old before you’d see him.  I realized how much you still love us because I was starting to think things had changed.  I love you very much and so does Eric and Noah!

At the time the card was written, I was living 1,200 miles away.  Distance puts a real damper on one’s ability to be there for special events.  I was in seminary and Brooklyn was earning a humble salary as a youth pastor.  Rarely were we able to go home for a visit.  This time, it didn’t seem economical to make the trip for a day or two visit.  But, it was my big sister’s first baby.  So, we took the trip.

Looking back, I had no idea my family thought “things had changed.”  Seems as though she, and possibly others in my family, questioned my love for them.  It wasn’t true, but how could they know if they never experienced it?  In her own words, my sister was telling me: “Thank you for showing us you love us.”

Love is known when love is shown.  We know love when another shows love.

The writer of the book of 1 John puts it this way:  “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16, NRSV).  In chapter 4, it is written another way:  “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10, NRSV).

We know love because God shows us love.

Follow up this thought with 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us” (NRSV).  Then, return to the second part of 1 John 3:16 to find these words:  “and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”  Skip a verse to verse 18, which says “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  Take one final leap forward to 1 John 4:11-12:  My beloved since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”  

We know love because God shows love.  Now, it’s our turn.  The world can know love when you show them God’s love.  

How can the world be expected to know love any other way?  

 

 

Learning To Use Social Media In a Spirit of Gentleness

What would you prefer?  Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? 1 Corinthians 4:21  (NRSV)

How would you answer this question?  I don’t imagine you are raising your hand anxious to choose the stick.  I am not a betting man, but if I was, I would put my money on the second option.  You will choose “a spirit of gentleness” over a stick any day of the the week.  Me, too.

I am worried social media has become a modern day stick in our hands.  It is easily accessible for you to beat someone down.  A post can be a quick jab at someone (or whole group of someones) with whom you disagree or take offense to.  You can say your peace, whether it’s helpful or hurtful, and move on.  There’s no need for personal dialogue or interpersonal communication.  It’s a simple click and done.

It’s so tempting, too.  More and more are doing it.  So many are voicing their opinion on politics, economics, religion, and morality.  They put it out there for everyone to see.  You will find both sides of every argument put forth with great conviction.  Scroll long enough or read past the first few comments and you will eventually find something in which you agree or disagree.  How can you sit back and not put in your two cents, right?

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend toward this type of post.  I am not sure of the intent.  I  struggle to put my finger on it.  I want to think it is good.  Maybe it is.  It could possibly be an honest attempt to be a catalyst for God’s redemption in our world.  If this is true, then I have difficulty imagining the proper method has been chosen.

I could be missing it, but I am not noticing “a spirit of gentleness” in the verbiage I am reading.  It reads like an attack. Seems to be an attempt to put one’s foot down, essentially stating, “I am right, and you are wrong.”  If not an attack, then it is retaliation.  One has felt attacked, so now they must pick up their stick and strike back.  The war is waged.

There is no question of, What would you prefer?  Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?  The choice has been made.  Stick it is.

Paul wrote those words in 1 Corinthians.  He wasn’t a stranger to divisions.  Neither was he unfamiliar with people who messed up in their beliefs and actions.  Few knew the laws and principals of the ancient scriptures better than most.  Daily, he came face to face with believers who were missing the mark.  He very easily could have wielded his knowledge as a sword to cut others down and out.

He didn’t.  Those days were long gone.  That’s who he was when called by another name, Saul.  He no longer drags people out of their homes to be stoned or thrown into prison.  The laws are not of primary importance to him anymore.  None of that means anything.  Life transformation is everything.  He wants others to experience the freedom that can only be found in Christ.

To influence others to love God, Paul was led by the Spirit to approach others with gentleness.  Love became his motivating force as well as the posture in which he approached others.  A stick was reminiscent of the law.  A spirit of gentleness reflects the graceful and compassionate love of God displayed on the cross.  It is able to heal and mend and restore and make whole again.

I believe the same Spirit that led Paul to work with gentleness can guide us to do the same in our use of social media.  I understand in writing this post it may be perceived as the very thing I am suggesting we don’t do.  If so, please forgive me.  I simply pray for myself and for you, that we embody the radical call of God’s Word in Galatians 6:1-2 in all our social media interactions:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.  Take care the you yourselves are not tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:1-2 (NRSV)

May we write words that bring hope and healing, not condemnation and division.

Learning One Thing You Can’t Avoid Being for Your Kids, and One Thing You Can Always Be

Kirra and Mya laughingIt’s not my preaching that’s boring my kids.  They love it.  Not that they get to listen to me preach that much, though.  They are in children’s ministry during most services.

Kirra asked me to take her with me to church this weekend during a service she normally doesn’t attend.  When I asked why, she said with a proud smile on her face, “Well, I get to go into the lobby and see you preaching on the T.V. sometimes.”

At least for now, I know my sermons aren’t boring them.

After this same service, I went to pickup Kirra from children’s church.  I was greeted by one of our best children’s ministry leaders.  We exchanged a few seconds of small talk, followed by a confessional from the leader on Kirra’s behalf.  “Kirra said you are boring when mommy is on a trip,” she relayed to me.

Ouch.  Never thought I would hear my kids refer to me as boring.  Especially after I setup  two really cool playdates in a row.  On both days, they were able to swim for hours (one of their activities).  Not to mention, they had fun for at least five and a half hours each time.

When I reminded the girls of these relevant points, they replied, “Yeah, but you weren’t with us so it doesn’t count.”  

So, I’ve learned, there is one thing you can’t avoid being for your kids:  Boring.

I’ll never be able to entertain my kids with the highest level of fun every minute of every day.  Neither will you.  At some point, you will become boring to your kids.  It’s a fact of life.

I may not be able to avoid being boring, but there is one thing I can always be:  Loving. 

I may not be able to control how fun life is all the time for my kids, but I can control my love toward them.  I was reminded of this truth this morning when Brooklyn (my wife) texted a verse from the Message Bible translation:

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”  Colossians 3:12-14

No matter the situation, boring or exciting, I can show love for my kids.  I’ll take the losses with my ability to entertain twenty-four seven.  When it comes to loving my kids, I never want to compromise a moment.

As parents, you can always wear love. 

 

Learning Together: A Movement Takes Time to Build Momentum

Justice MovementEvery movement begins with that first move.  As each move connects to the next, momentum begins to build.  Eventually it becomes a magnetic force attracting anything close to its path.

God made the first move in Brooklyn’s heart 20 years ago this month.  She was a student attending Nazarene Youth Conference in Phoenix, AZ with 7,000 other teenage Christians.  Her first move was a single step toward the stage in response to God’s call on her life.

She hasn’t stopped moving since.  Move after move, step after step have accumulated over two decades in her life to create a whole new movement.  The Justice Movement.

This week at the same youth conference where the Spirt first moved in Brooklyn in 1995, a  new movement is born.  It took time.  It didn’t happen over night.  But, it’s here.  A move led to a move led to a move led to a move…and now it’s a movement of God’s justice in the world.

Enough of my words about it, you should hear it from the words of Brooklyn.  She writes:

I’m sitting in a dark hotel room, it’s 6AM and I can’t sleep. Not because teenagers are running through the halls (they actually are and my youth ministry ears consider it white noise), not because I’m nervous (excited may be a better word), not because I’m jet lagged (surprisingly), but because today we get to announce that our movement is official.

Tonight at a giant party, I get to speak at Nazarene Youth Conference 2015 during a regional event and announce that IT IS official. Keep your eyes on the Twitter feed tonight at 7:30PM EST. I’ll be ‘scopin’ and tweeting the announcement. @thejustmove @brooklynlindsey #NYC15LOU

Welcome to the move, the just move. Ah, I can barely type it. Insert: Tears. Laughs. Tears. Elation. Laughs. Tears.

JUSTICEMOVEMENT.COM
I’m stoked to get to share a site that gives handles to movement that’s already been born in the hearts of teenagers around the world. They’re already changing the world. We’re just making it more personal by strategically linking up with them as the Church, as partners.
The goal is to give youth leaders, parents, and students tools and information to be able to launch into a deeper knowledge of compassion and justice. If you’re a parent or a ministry leader you will be able to help kids continue to develop their birthright (compassionate living) in a place where they are uniquely positioned to work for justice best—the Church body.
The prayer is that the Justice Movement provides ways for youth, families, groups, and congregations to be involved TOGETHER. It’s unique focus will yield globally accessible educational materials, event packages, and hands-on challenges. Each will be customizable for your context. Every resource is free for you to access and use. (This makes my low budget youth minister heart so happy.)

Annnnnd, it’s available in FIVE languages. English, French, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish (be still my heart, dreams come true, I can’t believe that I get to type that.) …

There’s more.  If you want to read the rest of Brooklyn’s thoughts, click HERE.

Who knows, maybe God is moving you to join this movement?

 

 

Learning Why You Need to Do More than Pray

Prayer is important.  I am not throwing it out.  It is often the nexus of radical change.  So, keep praying.

Prayer just can’t be the end.  There is more to be done.

I am thinking of the countless emails I’ve received as a pastor with a request for prayer.  Can you pray for me pastor, I am not sure what else to do?  Of course I can pray for you.  What greater source of strength can we draw from than the One whose power is made perfect in our weakness.  So, I offer a prayer to God on their behalf.

The messages are more complex than a simple request for prayer.  It arrives in the context of a story.  A character tells of his journey to the depths of the abyss only to find the monster is bigger and scarier than he expected.  He has come face to face with the most difficult conflict of his life.  Deep pain settles in.  Fear and doubt threaten his resolve to keep the Faith.  It feels like he’s tried everything, but nothing is working out the right way.  The pressure mounting is so strong any thought of change for transformation’s sake is beyond his capacity to endure.  He is ready to thrown in the towel and waive the white flag.  All hope seems lost, along with his trust in God.

As I am preparing my sermon for this weekend, one such story entered by inbox.  I am mulling over Galatians 6.   My spirit lands on verse 2 and hangs there for a long moment.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:2(NRSV)

This verse is written in the context of a discussion about living by the Spirit as opposed to living by the Law.  Paul urges the churches in Galatia to live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).  In 6:1, he makes an application.  If you see someone living off-course, he writes, bring them back to the Spirit-led way with gentleness.  He warns them not to fall in to the temptation to think of themselves as to good for that.  Then, he gives the imperative to bear one another’s burden.  In other words, bear the burden of the one who has wandered away from the Way.

Galatians 6:2 is a radical challenge.  It is a call to bring home those who are lost by carrying on your back some of the extra baggage they’ve created.  However long and arduous the journey, don’t sit in the carriage and crack the whip.  Put you feet on the ground and pull the load with them.  All of this for a transgressor.  

The writer of the story I received this week isn’t a “transgressor.”  I wouldn’t describe her as someone who has gone off-course.  She is doing everything she can to keep the faith.  The conflict she is facing is just so real.  She’s not sure what else to do than pray, and ask for my prayer.

As I read her words, Galatians 6 rushed to the fore of my mind.  Bear one another’s burden.  Sure, I can pray for her, but there must be more we can do.  She shouldn’t carry this load alone.  If we, the Church, are called to bear the burdens of those who stray,  How much more are we expected to share the burden of those who are staying the course but are losing their strength?    

You need to do more than pray because your brothers and sisters are carrying more than they can bear.  They need your help.  Their back hurts and their knees are growing weak.  By one’s self, they load is too much.  It will crush you under it’s weight.  Together, it becomes light enough to manage.  Not to mention, the load you are carrying will someday become too heavy for you alone.

Prayer is good, but take the next step by bearing one another’s burdens.  

 

 

 

Learning 5 Improvements Any Church Can Make to Help Guests Feel Undoubtedly Welcome

The time was 5:45pm.  Pockets of people filled the lobby.  Many held a cup of Gobena coffee in one hand and a cookie (or two or five) in the other.  Conversations and laughter and hugs were all around.  It was a beautiful collision of God’s people.

I was also in the lobby.  It is what I normally do before our Saturday 6pm worship service.  Only this night wasn’t normal.  A new intentionality altered the atmosphere in a good way.  It was difficult to miss.

Shane didn’t miss it.  He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, though.  He just felt something was different.  From my blindside, he approached me with a “Hello, Coy” and a question.  “What’s going on tonight?  We having party in here or something?  There’s a lot of people in here tonight,” he said.  “No,” I answered back, “this is an improvement we are making with the way we greet people at Highland Park Church.  Our goal is to make everyone who comes through the doors to feel undoubtedly welcome.  Do you think it’s working?”  He quickly replied, “Yes, sir.  I do.”  

Highland Park Church has an impressive history of committed volunteers who have passionately welcomed regular attenders and guests to our worship service.  They have greeted at doors, handed out worship folders, offered information, given free refreshments,  and made intentional efforts to connect with first time attenders.  I can honestly say I haven’t worked at church with a more devoted team of volunteers.

This made it easy to offer a new challenge to the team.  We knew they could rise to the challenge of making improvements that could take our efforts to the next level.  We only needed to ask.

Our new mission:  To make everyone feel undoubtedly welcome.  Undoubtedly welcome.  We want you to feel with certainty that Highland Park Church loves you and wants you to be a part of our community.  No question about it.

Our Connections Director, Jill Green, is the visionary behind this new mission as well as it’s strategy.  Through a combination of experience and diligent prayer, God gave her the inspiration to create an even stronger ministry of welcoming and connecting people to our church.  She received those two words from God, “undoubtedly welcome,” and is now disseminating them through our church by way of hundreds of volunteers.

Our leaders have responded with enthusiasm.  The positive energy is palpable.  Our volunteers are serving with an invigorated purpose to help everyone feel undoubtedly welcome.

To carry out this mission, we have made 5 major improvements:

  • Create a strategy.  You can do what you’ve always done, but you will get what you’ve always gotten.  For things to improve, you need intentionality.  Intentionality is best mapped out in a strategy.  Creating a strategy is knowing what your goal is and coming up with the steps for how to get there.
  • Recruit Strong Leaders.  We call them team leaders.  For each service, we recruited three.  Characteristics we look for are:  authentic faith, loves people, passionate about our church, gets along well with others, and a servant’s heart.  We believe in their ability to attract other leaders and lead a team.  We trust in their passion to inspire a culture that helps everyone feel undoubtedly welcome.
  • Build Healthy Teams.  Part of our strategy is identifying every area of our building we can welcome someone before they have a chance to feel lost or overlooked.  This includes entryways, hallways, open spaces in the lobby, the main entrance, the kid’s ministry entrance, and everything in between.  We created job descriptions for each position.  Then, we set out asking people to volunteer and fill those positions.  Two things make a team healthy:  (1)  Most positions are filled (at least 60%), and (2)  Each team rotates every three weeks, giving them 2 weeks of rest.
  • Train your Team Leaders.  Bring them together as a group with the purpose of showing them the big picture.  Help them understand what you see.  Provide direction for where you are taking them.  Let them ask the deeper questions.  Imprint  the ministry’s DNA on them.
  • Cast the vision.  Once you’ve trained your leaders, invite all of your volunteers to hear the vision.  Throw it out there to them.  Inspire them with your own passion, enthusiasm, hopefulness in the mission, and belief in their ability to carry it out.  Make it simple and clear.  Let it move you as much as you expect it to move them.

The improvements we are experiencing are a team effort.  I am grateful for Jill’s role in leading this move from the position of a church staff member.  She is generous in her approach, exuding positive belief in our people and the vision God has provided.  She is tenacious in pursuit of the mission, which naturally inspires others to join the movement.  I am thankful for our team leaders.  Each one has accepted the role and stepped up to the challenge.  We are beyond blessed to have people willing to serve at a deeper level than most.  I have deep gratitude for all the volunteers who have said yes to serving with us on the mission.  Every person plays a significant role that cannot be overlooked.

This is the year we will rise to the challenge of helping our guests and anyone else who walks through our doors, feel undoubtedly welcome.