Friday, May 29, 2009

Building Relationships

Visitors to our churches aren't often looking for Jesus, but "value", and may likely be visiting because they are struggling with an important, life-impacting issue, not because they want to worship, according to Christian researcher and prognosticator, George Barna.

Churches that are effective at building relationships understand that their guests don't want to be overwhelmed but, like guests to other venues, prefer to acquire information about the church and ministry at a pace that they set, not something that is contrived by the church.

Many church leaders consider that that the majority of the their first-time guests are "unchurched". This is likely a mistake. This word, "unchurched" has always bothered me and I wish we would just knock it off. For one thing, "churched" isn't a verb nor an adjective and adding the word "un" before the word "churched" creates a great opportunity to make a false assumption and also presupposed that the actual objective of our ministry would be to get people to be "churched" rather than following Jesus (but I digress).

It matters little if the church is small or large, building relationships start the first few seconds after a guest arrives. People that are assigned or naturally welcome both regular attenders and first time guests should be friendly and understand that visitors value anonymity. Visitors are also looking primarily for how well they are greeted and made welcome and only secondarily, are looking for the opportunities to get involved in culturally relevant and personally high-value activities.

Having visitors wear name tags or stand up and identify themselves is going to work exactly the opposite of what both the visitors and the church are hoping to accomplish. If your church is doing that, knock it off as well. Actually, aggressively contacting or visiting first-time visitors works against the church as well.

While studies have indicated that a greeting or meeting with the the pastor is important, having someone take the time to offer a genuine opportunity to connect and ultimately to build a relationship will often turn first-time visitors into repeat attenders.

No one church can be every one's "ideal" so trying to get it "just right" is usually not as important as many think. According to surveys by Barna and others, most people are quite flexible on issues of style including the type of music, how long the service lasts, the way people are dressed and the general appearance of the church. Creating an environment where regular attenders and members are appraised and reminded of the importance of building relationships and valuing authenticity in the ministries and activities creates great value in the eyes of the guests. Churches that are good at creating multiple opportunities for people to connect will create positive impressions with guests who, even if they don't come back, may share their positive experience with others.

Ultimately, churches should want to show clearly that their weekly worship service makes a difference and that attending the church again, or on a regular basis, would be a good use of some one's time. We often say that the "church" is not the building but the people. That is true and it is also true that building relationships is also the way we ultimately build the church.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Too Close To the Edge

When I was a new father, one of the things that scared me more than anything was when one of my children got a little too close to the edge. Whether it was on the second floor balcony, or at the park on a jungle-gym, seeing them get too close made me nervous.

At the same time, I’ve always wanted to be “edgy” myself. I’ve wanted to push myself to the limit and also have embraced a faith that I wanted to be “edgy” as well. Edgy to me meant that I was actually trying to live my faith and when I preached, to teach others to embrace the real Jesus over man-made religion.

Churches try to be “edgy” and it may work for them if their purpose is to be different or noticed. Often, the objective is all about numbers and numerical growth. It’s been my experience however that other than attracting a crowd, “edgy” is just as likely to get you too far away from being truly grounded in the gospel and being truly useful in ministry.

Today we have all kinds of churches: Seeker, traditional, liturgical, postmodern, emerging, post-liberal, neo-conservative, neo-evangelical and all kinds of phrases and descriptive terms that are being used to describe the variations. The definitions for these terms are likely being debated by people that haven’t had a real job in a very long time; and may likely need to get a life as well.

Recently (actually daily), it seems like I’m being reminded that I’m called to ministry, which basically means I’m called to serve. The best way that I can serve is to be prayerful, available and open to whatever God wants to accomplish in and through my life. Churches that want to be serving as well should consider how well they are reaching both saint and sinner, how effective they are in transforming people spiritually, and how God is receiving glory in the process.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Hair of the Dog

Have you ever heard that old adage, "Hair of the Dog that bit you?" It's supposedly a cure for hangovers. The idea is that since you've poisoned your system by imbibing too much alcohol, a little more alcohol (i.e. "hair of the dog") will cure the symptoms.

According to Wikipedia (I realize I likely have lost all of your respect) the origin of the phrase is literal, and comes from an erroneous method of treatment of a rabid dog bite by placing hair from the dog in the bite wound.

Perhaps we should think of that adage, or how silly it really is, when we find ourselves in other situations that feel like a hangover.

Have you ever had a debt hangover? You stumble out of bed, look at yourself in the mirror and think, "how in the world did this happen?" Well, if you find yourself up to your armpits in debt, don't for a minute think that maybe a debt consolidation loan or second mortgage may fix what ales you. This 'hair of the dog' is just more debt and you don't fix a problem with having a little more of the same.

People can get out of debt when they change their behavior. Stop spending more money than you have, cut up the credit cards if that is the poison that got you in this situation and stay on a budget. A recent study showed that most people that get serious about getting out of debt can accomplish being debt free (with the exception of the home mortgage) in 24-30 months.

If you need debt counseling go get it. Be careful not to respond to some offer that end up being more 'hair of the dog'. Many churches offer great services such as 'Financial Peace University' or 'Good $ense Ministry'. S top spending more than your income, get on a budget and pay off your debt.

The Real Virus Is Fear

There is a virus that is attacking and ravaging this country but it is not Covid-19.   It is fear.  This fear is being spread by people ...