Reblog – Why it’s good for churches to have a membership course

It encourages people to actually join the fellowship in their minds and in their hearts.

It avoids the old “join us for 6months before you serve”… as if going to 15+ sunday meetings is going to really help them understand what your church is on about, our help you know enough about them?

It allows people to opt-out early, rather than wasting 6-18months in your church, before they realise you believe in predestination, and they leave; that’s just wastes their time and your church’s time too.

It allows people to opt-in early. If people join you well; understanding all the things your church thinks is important, agreeing with you, and keen to share the vision you’re praying for… then, let them serve, get them involved.

It gives them an opportunity to meet the pastor/staff that just doesn’t happen easily on a Sunday; there really is so much happening on a Sunday, and if your pastoral staff are excellent, then the’ve probably at least said hi once… but a membership course allows them to have a conversation – maybe the only one they’ll get in years (depending on your church size).

It gives them enough information to start asking good questions. Most people don’t have questions about your church, because they don’t know your church, they don’t have any buckets of thinking to investigate. A course helps them see that they have questions/issues.

There’s probably many more…

Thoughts on inter-church involvement

Inter-church involvement is great – but it doesn’t make Christians united (because Christians are, by nature of our union with Jesus, ALREADY united) – but it is one (of many good ways) we can express the unity Christians have. Let me stress that it is only ONE possible way and that there are many other ways of expressing this, not the least through prayer… Some will say, “But people can’t see and experience the unity expressed through prayer! Our unity should be visible.” I agree, however, I disagree on to whom it should be visible. Our expressions of unity should be visible first to God, and second to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (who I assume see what we do in secret):

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus… this mystery was for ages past kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Eph 3).

So, care less about showing the world that the church on this street corner and the church on that street corner can “do things” together, and instead, live for the glory of the God who is showing you off in the court-room of heaven. Love Jesus, love people, love each other. Be united in eternal purpose and hope and faith. Don’t get caught up in some felt need to “look” united in the eyes of the world – they really don’t care.

Phone calls, SMSs, email, Social media and Pastoral Ministry

Since we pastor people, and people are not in a vacuum but are part of a culture, the cultural norms and tools affect what pastoral ministry look like from generation to generation. Our culture uses SMSs, phone-calls, emails and social media in particular ways, and if we are pastoring cultural-normalised sheep, we need to properly leverage these tools. So here’s my current perception/opinions/ideas… that will probably be proved wrong in many cases… But just observing the 18-25 year olds…

  • Phone calls are for serious business. They are the 90’s equivalent of a formal letterhead. Calling to just say “hi” is a confusion of categories. Phone conversations needs to be planned-in; you need to SMS in advance, “Hey, can I phone you about this? How about now?”. This generation is telling us that the prospect of getting a “welcome phone call” is somewhere between weird and scary… and yet… if it’s done well, it still works!! Maybe because no-one else does it and they realise there’s actually a real person at the other end of the communication (sometimes lost in SMSs).
  • SMSs are the new phone-calls. They work for our current Individualistic culture, because they are easily ignored. You don’t have to reply straight away. The message has arrived, but you are culturally allowed to deal with it in your own time (10mins, 10hrs, even 10days!!!). This means, while SMSs do steal people’s attention, they are good ways of one-way communication. And they do open the door to two-way communication.
    We’ve recently tried sending mass SMSs to our whole church to pray for an evangelistic even WHILE it happens. Anecdotally, this has been received well.
  • Email is more and more becoming a one-way communication tool. Most people are swamped by emails… but what that usually means is that they only respond to a very few of the emails they think they should respond to. Let me say that again… people still read almost all their email (headers/subjects at least). And for many of these emails, they feel an internal conviction that they SHOULD reply or take some action, but they don’t. Therefore email has become a huge source of individual guilt for people. They are not swamped by email, but rather swamped by the guilt produced when they look at email. Take home message, if you want a response, email is very unlikely to garner much.
  • Social media is still a new beast. Someone somewhere made the valid point that in 20years time we’ll look back and think, what on earth were we doing then!?! It has certain characteristics of SMS and email; there’s so much of it (like email), but people don’t feel the guilt they do with email. It’s also personal like SMS. We’ve found that people are more willing to give their Facebook details and be Private Messaged on FB than they are being SMSed… maybe a trend to continue?

One of the take home messages is, if you’re involved in pastoring people aged 15-25… you should consider SMSing them a lot! I mean a lot… from a pastoral point of view, you get easy access to people’s personal thoughts almost 24/7. And then when you do meet with them, they feel much more connected to you – even if you don’t feel much more connected to them.

Welcome people well by telling them…

Welcome people well by telling them what their next step “in” would look like.
You know your church. Your regulars know your church. But the new person doesn’t. So, you can’t just assume they’re going to find their way in to the community and life of the church. In fact, not telling them is quite unloving.
So it might be worth describing it for them, help them picture the type of thing they’d choose to do next to step into the church family.
It might look something like, “Look, we’d love you to make this your church, but that can be a really vague decision, can’t it. Most people either stumble into church families, or they don’t. If you wanted to start making that decision yourself, I reckon the next step for you would be to sign up, and come along to…”

Why Oxygen2014 is valuable

This year I’ve been given the opportunity to go to Oxygen2014 – as a blogger/reporter. I reckon that’s an offer that’s pretty hard to refuse. And it comes back to what makes inter-church conferences valuable.

Inter-church conferences are when people from many churches gather for an event – as opposed to people from one church having their own event (Like we’re doing this week at forge2014!!!). It could be 1 day, weekend, or a whole week.

But there are two basic reasons to go to an inter-church conference… either

  1. to facilitate friendship with other Christians from other churches, or
  2. to facilitate friendships within your church members

See, if you’ve got a small church, chances are you don’t need to run your own church conference – everyone already knows each other. Going away for 3 days isn’t really going to make that much of a difference. In fact, if your flock has been part of a small church for years, they might need reminding that Jesus’ church is massive by going along to a inter-church conference, and meeting all these other Christians and being encouraged that they’re not the only ones. Those conferences are usually smaller (50-500 people). If’ you’re organising a smallish inter-church conferences, that should be one of your goals… facilitating people meeting new people and having to chat.

If you’ve got a bigger church, chances are that many of the people DON’T know each other very well. Those people don’t need to meet and chat with Christians from other churches, rather they need to get to know each other better and form their own relationships. So you’ve got two options. Either run your own church-conference so they spend the time with each other, or, go to a very large inter-church conference AS A GROUP that sticks together.

This is what we’ve done with Men’s Convention over the past few years. We knew we really needed our guys to get to know each other better. They didn’t have the time for a few conferences a year, and we couldn’t run our own, so we hire a bus and go to Katoomba Men’s convention as a group, we stay together and, while enjoying being with 2000+ guys, we try to get to know each other better first.

This comes back to why Oxygen2014 is valuable. It’s for that relatively small group of church “leaders”. Not just senior pastors, but those people who bare some level of responsibility for their church. It’s usually a lonely job. Paul knows it…

Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2Cor 11:28)

Oxygen2014 gives leaders the chance to meet and be encouraged by other leaders who know what it’s like.

Reblog: Whenever someone joins a church, re-appoint the ‘elders’

Paul’s instruction to Timothy; “appoint elders in every town”… do we do that any more – or was it just an early church thing?
Think about those early churches; Paul went and preached in a town, the gospel spread and fellowships of believers began to gather together. Paul saw a theologically based need for those fellowships to have leaders – theological leaders – put in place. The churches had none… so Paul needed to appoint one.
That doesn’t really happen that much does it? Sure, some churches might loose their senior pastor; but even then, there’s some sort of eldership body in place.
But this does still happen. Whenever someone joins a church, they re-appoint the elders – in their heart. They are joining a fellowship of people who are already under the authority of their pastor/elders/staff.
And you can’t separate the two; you can’t join the fellowship without considering the appointed pastor/staff/elders as your pastor/staff/elders.
So do you do it? Do you help new people to your church (who are Christians) to appoint the leaders as their “elders”? Do you help them get what that means?
My guess is that if you don’t help that happen, there’s a good chance it won’t.

Reblog: Learn to say, “Maybe we’re not for you”

When Christians visit your church, and they’re looking at becoming regular/members… you need to ask yourself whether you want them to join you because it’s good for your church, or good for them.
It always feels good to have new people join you. A new face gives people a sense of purpose, success, growth, momentum. In fact, the hope of those feelings may make us say or do things to ensure that those new people stay. At what point does this become manipulation?
But when might you say, “Maybe this church isn’t for you”?
We’d only say that after we’ve been really clear about what our church holds as important. If the new person violently disagrees with something you hold as important AND they’re not even willing to consider that (and your church isn’t either)… well… your church isn’t for them is it.
You can still want them to come. You can still offer them to join you, but the most loving thing for them is to make the differences clear, so they can make a good decision. It’ll mean saying something like, “We’d love you to join us, but I need to be clear; joining our church will mean we will continually ask and persuade you to… (give up your idols) (repent of sexual immorality) (devote yourself to prayer). We think that’s so important, and if you don’t, then I’d plead with you to change, but maybe we’re not for you.”
And ultimately, this IS the best thing for your church too.

Meeting a newbie? Assume two opposing things

They arrive, join in, seem to settle in well. They smile when you talk to them, they nod when you say Christian stuff. They talk about their last church in favourable terms.

There’s two opposing things you need to assume:

  1. Assume they’re Christian if they’re giving that impression.
    Most people who are “seeking” or checking out Jesus will give some indication of that. If they don’t they either don’t want you to know or they are Christian and just haven’t said, “Oh… and just so you know… I’m a Christian”.
  2. Assume they’re not a Christian until they’ve made it clear
    Just because they can go-with-the-flow and talk the talk doesn’t mean they’ve given themselves to Jesus. They might have been in churches for years! They might have hung around Christians and picked up the lingo. You just can’t tell.

The danger is assuming one over the other. Rather, there’s a tension there to manage. Again and again I’ve been suprised by new people at church… everyone else thinks they’re Christian… they come to so much stuff! But then you just ask them how they decided to first become a Christian… we’ve had people come straight out and say, “Oh, I’m not a Christian!”

So, don’t assume they’re all non-Christians, and don’t assume they’re all Christians either.

Reblog: A good welcoming team welcomes, a great welcoming team…

… assists, coaches, supports and facilitates your regulars to welcome new people.

If Max brings Bob to church, you don’t just want Bob to get support as he joins. You also want to support Max and help him support Bob as he joins. If you only support Bob, Max learns that the “church” will do the welcoming. And next time he meets a new person, he’ll just assume that the “church” is looking after them. Not much scope for growth there.

If you support Max as he helps Bob to join church, not only will Bob join but you’ll also be teaching Max that welcoming is something that all Christians do. Some will do it better than others, but he’ll see that it’s worthwhile, hard, and he’ll be more keen to support others as they bring along new people too.

If someone won’t see you as their leader, there’s not much you can do.

There’s always going to be some people in your church who will never really see you as their leader/elder/pastor. They’ll come along, they’ll attend, they’ll agree with this and disagree with that. They might find you arrogant (ironic!), they might think you’re too young (again, read 1Tim 4:12), they might have some theological idea about how church leaders shouldn’t have authority (???). But in the end, in their eyes, your not their pastor.

The only thing you can do, as Scripture says, is set “an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”. Only by God’s grace can you become someone’s pastor, as you continue to wash them with the word of the gospel.

Don’t bother trying anything else. And… don’t bother caring much about it either. There’s nothing you can do.

Don’t forget words when welcoming

I friend of mine once went to a church that did the logistics of welcoming really well! They had greeters at the car-park, paths, gates and doors. they smiled and nodded at you as you walked in. But they didn’t say anything. Not even a hello. They were heard chatting to each other after you walked past, but they didn’t say anything as they greeted people.

Guess what? My friend didn’t actually feel very welcomed.

Words matter to humans. Words bring clarity and certainty to actions. So don’t just do welcoming, speak welcoming.

Do you have staff members who are paid to go to church or church members who are paid to be on staff?

This is a really important distinction. And it’s important that you keep making it clear both to your church and your staff team.
Some church staff members see themselves kind of like “consultants”. They are only at this particular church because that’s their job. That’s dangerous because that’s a completely different point of view of everyone else who’s part of that church. All your members aren’t paid to be there!! They choose to be there. In fact, don’t you hope they want to be there?
Rather, as you go about employing staff, the very first question to ask is: will you join this church? Will you make this church your home – not because your paid to, but because Christians are meant to be part of a church family.
Only after they’ve made that commitment to join the church, then you ask them to be part of the staff team.
Staff should be church members first, and staff members second.

Recognise if people have a “trust leak”

It’s worth being attune to the fact that some people have a tendency to be distrustful. The standard pattern goes something like this…

  • they appear withdrawn
  • you go and chat to them
  • they say they don’t “feel” right about something vague they can’t really put their finger on
  • you chat/convince/encourage them
  • they say they feel much better
  • they go along for a while seemingly ok
  • they start to appear withdrawn
  • you go and chat to them
  • they don’t “feel” right about something, and they can’t see it’s the same vague thing they said before.
  • and so on…

Thankfully, there’s not usually heaps of people who do this. But just know there are some and there’s little more you can do.
Chances are they’ve already changed from their previous church because they “never felt right”. And chances are they’re going to leave your church too, because it will never feel right.
Unless they see the problem is theirs, they’ll probably never find a long term church.

Don’t dis the name tag

Name tags can be used really badly. Welcoming new people by making them put on a name tag is rarely a good idea. But why?

The value of name tags is to help create group identity.

Asking people who aren’t sure if they want to be in the group to wear a sign of being “in” just doesn’t work. They know they’re not “in” and wearing a name tag says they are “in”.

So why not using it when you gather together the people who are already “in”? Training events, Conferences, even getting a few Growth GRoups together for a social night. They are good opportunities to bring out the ol’ name tags and consolidate the group-ness.

Also, as group gets bigger, you can’t expect people to actually know the names of all the other people who are “in”. So make it easy on them and give them name tags.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

I heard this line recently and its so true.

No matter what strategy you put in place; lets take welcoming as an example… if there’s not a culture of loving the new people, getting to know them and engage them in conversation, your strategy will fail.

So if culture eats strategy for breakfast, it really focuses the goal of your strategy… how are you going to change your culture?

To make an overall improvement, start with just one thing

If you want to improve something in your ministry, say your public meetings, or the content of your bible studies, don’t think that the only way to do it is by a massive overhaul.

Sometimes, quality has slipped over time. Or maybe it was never there. Sometimes, there hasn’t been a solid biblical foundation laid out to encourage people putting effort into it.

But sometimes, if you want to see something improve, you just need to start with one aspect. The quality of the public prayers, the quality of the kids talk, the quality of the music, the outline, etc.

Of course we’d like all those things to be great, but by working hard at improving one of these aspects, it will cause all the others to ‘lift their game’ so to speak.

We noticed this at NextStep. Our membership team improved the event, the process, the talks, until we got to the point where the booklet didn’t ‘fit’ with the quality of everything else. So we took the opportunity to make the booklet amazing. Fully colour printed, beautifully designed. Looks tops!

Guess what happened next…

All the other aspects of NextStep got put under the microscope to get them to match the quality of the booklet. All the content got re-evaluated, and there’s so many changes to make for the next one.

Do one aspect well, watch the others rise to the challenge.

Would you like the Apostle Paul’s church?

I often wonder how we’d go at being a member of one of Paul’s churches. Think about the list in 1Tim 5…

“No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list.”

That seems pretty harsh right? What about unique circumstances? What about if they’re 58yrs old? What if they haven’t done those good things and they’re just starting out in the Christian life?

Now I’m pretty certain Paul would have opened the door to exceptional circumstances, but that’s just a hunch, because he’s not hinting at that here to Timothy is he?

The point is that Paul endorses a structure, a church system for loving many people, rather than every person. Why? Why not just say, “Work out if being on the list is good for widows or not on a case by case basis?”

Think about that, remembering this is God’s word…

Structures are there to love people, many people. I’m sure that there would have been widows (and their friends) in Ephesus with Timothy who would have felt really hurt by where Paul drew the line. Some people would have felt it was unfair. Others would have found it difficult to understand his reasoning (which he describes only briefly). But how should they have responded to Paul’s widow-list system?

Are you happy to be in a church where Jesus appoints overseers to make decisions to love many people over the individuals? If you’re an overseer at a church (pastor, elder, minister, etc.) do you feel the weight of making decisions that try to love the most, even if some people won’t like it?

p.s. I’m not saying it’s bad to ever have “case-by-case” basis, but rather that “hard-and-fast” systems are not bad. There’s a tension to hold between saying both “every-member-matters” and “we do it this way to love more people”


No one brags about subverting a community they care about, because your peers will ostracize you (and why would you hurt a group that you are part of?). No, we feed the community first, then we take our share.

On the other hand, we often return a rental car unwashed, or turn a blind eye to someone sneaking into the movies, or fail to report a mistake in our favor by the credit card company. That’s because those institutions are apart from us, not a part of us.

Such wisdom you wish Christians had… from Seth Godin