Thinking Out Loud

August 18, 2015

Kickin’ Off the Fall Season at Your Church

fall ministry season

Like the school year, unless your church is glued to the liturgical calendar, the days leading into Labor Day are critical as many programs which were suspended for the summer kick back into high gear. Here are a few things for your consideration.

1. Connecting with the community: Inbound – Think of something you can do that is going to attract — yes, attractional, getting people through the doors — people from the broader community in an area within a zero-to-five miles radius of your church. (If that doesn’t get you past your parking lot, your church is too big; but make it ten miles.) A one-night program to help parents (while their children attend a mid-week mock up of what you do for kids on Sundays, if you can pull this off securely) or an all-family event such as a concert artist or a magician or a movie. Make sure it’s free; print tickets and distribute them widely (at least ten times more tickets than your auditorium can hold.) Include distribution to businesses in your catchment area, as many business owners and employees don’t live where they work, but they see your building all the time and would be open to bringing the family to something. Send press releases to the local media. Adjust this plan if your neighborhood as a high concentration of singles so your event isn’t too family oriented and it excludes them. And don’t sell it to your congregation as a great show or great concert; promote it as the best church invite opportunity they’ll have this fall. 1

2. Connecting with the community: Outbound – Find something you can do for your church’s immediate neighbors. If you have a lot of seniors, perhaps your youth group has gone door-to-door and offered to rake leaves. That’s the idea, but I’m thinking here of something more on a mega scale if you’re a mega church, and involving more than just the youth group. A community dinner in a park is another idea. One church suspended its morning service entirely so that everyone could participate in a charity walkathon. One smaller church put a Bible in every residential mailbox in the entire town; over 10,000 addresses.

3. Explain to your congregation where you’re going this year – Don’t just get up and say, “Today we’re starting a series on…” Rather, outline your entire series map for the next 12 months. We know a church that does this; giving people the big picture of planned teaching series and missions foci a year ahead. It also gives them lots of time to think of a target individual or family for the type of event described in (1) above.

4. Debrief last year – In a similar vein, don’t just jump back in without gathering people from various departments of your ministry who can sit at a board table and bring critical thinking to what it is you do. End with some brainstorming for the future. Let them know that no question or comment is off limits, no matter how insane it looks.

5. Develop the means to connect with people connected to your core members and adherents – Everyone in your church is part of a neighborhood, they work or go to school, or they have friends, or they have extended family some of whom live near your church as well. Offer the means to your people to share their faith with those contacts. For the last several decades The Alpha Program has served this purpose, as has similar programs such as H20. 2 But perhaps your greatest need and best initial contact is simply a sewing circle for moms, or a ‘hanging out’ opportunity for men who work shifts and are looking for daytime human contact.

6. Reach out to the people whose attendance is waning – Some churches have done a homecoming weekend, another popular format a few years back was called Back to Church Sunday. This works better in a small-to-medium sized church where people can strategize who is going to get in touch with whom. Sometimes this type of focus — thinking in terms of particular people instead of broad form programs — may reveal that there has been illness, or financial reversals or there is difficulty with transportation to church.

7. Find out what happened to lost adherents and members who haven’t been seen in the last one-to-five years – Obviously some have moved to other cities and states, but for the most part, these are people with whom contact has been broken but you want to reach out and let them know they are remembered and that you care. I think that one way to approach this is as a survey, one which many will cooperate with if you keep it to 90-seconds and make it clear that you’re calling because they attended the church in the past. Find out if they are going somewhere else. (You might want to ask them to name that church, because some people say they go to church, but can’t remember what it’s called.) If not, ask if they are still engaged in prayer or Bible reading. Ask what they see as the one or two key factors that keep them away from church at the present time. Invite them back to something described in one of the above sections. You might get some people slam the phone on you, but many will be glad you cared. You can offer a dedicated web-page for these people to follow up with, and perhaps communicate more in writing than they’re willing to do by phone. (Call it ‘Reuniting with Your Church Family.’ Don’t call it ‘Prodigal Page.’)

8. Create a context for ministry to happen organically – There are some good concepts here, but sometimes the Holy Spirit just needs room, or in this case, a literal room. In an era where hospitality is waning, perhaps people are reluctant to invite people to their messy house, or offer that intimacy of fellowship with people they’ve only just met. So… even if your church wouldn’t dream of serving coffee on Sunday — but especially if it does — open a room a few days a week with tables and chairs and offer free coffee, donuts and something healthy. See who comes. See what happens. People can arrange to connect at the church instead of a coffee shop, and you can have a box for donations. Make the room and chairs comfortable and have some Christian music playing in the background. If you can afford it, have a free literature rack with booklets that connect people with felt needs and issues, or explain the basics of faith. 3

Note that the focus here is people.

…Please forward the link to this article (click on the title at the top) to anyone in your sphere of influence who is a decision-maker at a local church.  Ideas4 and additions are welcomed in the comments.


1Read just the opening paragraph (above the picture) to this article.
2If you’re not familiar with Kyle Idleman and H20, read this review.
3Check out the Hope for the Heart booklets from June Hunt and Rose Publishing
4We’ve run it three times already, but if you missed it, here’s Pete Wilson’s fall priorities.

March 9, 2015

Megavoice: One of Missions Best Kept Secrets

I really wrestled with what to post today. After becoming violently ill on Saturday night, I had some catching up to do this morning, and kept shelving today’s article later and later into the morning. Often I’ll go through articles in the same month, previous years and look for ideas or items to reprint.

When I found this article on Megavoice in my March, 2011 archives, the thing that amazed me was that I haven’t re-posted it since. Megavoice is one of a number of new Christian organizations that are leveraging technology for the spread of the Gospel. Sadly, much of the philanthropy that takes place among Christians involves what I would call old-order Christian charities. The same is true for the missions budget of most local churches; most Missions Committee members simply renew the budget of the previous year.

I think this is so vital, so exciting. This is an organization you should want to come alongside of and be spreading the word about…

I’m a bit of a Bible bigot.

My prejudices have nothing to do with a particular translation. No, we don’t more of those people running around. My bias has to do with the form the finished Bible takes.

I asked someone recently what they think the Bible translation process involves. They gave me the answer I expected, the answer I would have given until just days ago:

  • Missionary translators learn the local language
  • The language is put it written form
  • The native people are taught how to read their own language
  • The New Testament (usually beginning with John’s gospel) is translated into that written language
  • Printed copies of the completed books are given out

Great concept. Sometimes, that’s how it’s done. But overall this view has one problem: It doesn’t match the experience of many people working to bring the story of Jesus to remote tribes.

The problem is with the words: “Read,” “books,” “printed,” “written.”

Many of the world’s peoples are not readers. It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense that a young man living on the streets of Detroit is not able to read in the middle of a culture full of literates. It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense of a woman in Atlanta whose makeshift home is insulated with newspapers containing words she cannot understand.

Rather, it’s because, half a world away, theirs is a culture of orality. No, I’d never heard the word before, either. Simply put, they are oral learners.

We’re talking about people who would benefit much more from an audio Bible than one bound in bonded leather with gold edged pages. Think about it: Once translators had acquired the language verbally, they could immediately produce a verbal (spoken) translation of the Bible, and then disseminate it using some kind of playback device.

But how to do that in an age where cassettes break and CD players skip or wear out?

Enter mp3 technology. The time is right. The time is now.

And that’s the theory behind MegaVoice. The term describes

For me, learning about MegaVoice has been a paradigm-shattering experience that has changed everything I’ve believed about how the translation process and the evangelization process works. I live in a world of text, a world of print media, and the possibility of such a widespread population of oral communicators simply never occurred to me.

If you’re one of the blessed people who is always looking for a project worthy of financial support, consider directly supporting this ministry. Whether in print copies or audio copies, the Word of God is still powerful, and doesn’t just “bounce off the walls,” but will accomplish great things in peoples’ lives. (Isaiah 55:11)

A small sampling of the many languages on file in the MegaVoice library

September 18, 2014

Evangelism Styles in Conflict

Filed under: evangelism, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

There’s an audio term, presence, which reflects the degree to which the listener is made to feel that they are right there, experiencing the sound in an intimacy and proximity that makes them part of what they are hearing.

There’s a similar presence to moments like the one in this video. You can feel the tension as the young pastor happens upon the fire-and-brimstone street preacher. So what’s the difference? Some of it is certainly theological, some of it is generational, and some of it seems to be simply the difference between a positive and a negative approach. Six minutes, but a great exercise for those who wish to do the analysis.

July 24, 2014

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists

Filed under: books, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:57 am

I’m almost certain that if I lived in Hayward, Wisconsin, Mark O. Wilson would be my pastor. I thoroughly enjoyed his book Filled Up, Poured Out (reviewed here) and his newest, Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus was a delight to read. Christian non-fiction (i.e. doctrinal) books are not expected to be this much fun.

Purple Fish - Mark O. WilsonHere’s the difference: Mark Wilson is not dealing in theoretical evangelism. He’s a practitioner, with anecdotal accounts of the principles he believes in bearing results. In fact, to be honest, this is more a book of very short (i.e. many are single paragraph) stories of life change taking place because ordinary people were willing to take risks.

Oh, no! How many opportunities might I have missed by not being more attuned to people all around me?

This is not an attempt to teach a rigid methodology. There aren’t 4 steps or 6 steps to memorize. If anything, results are often achieved by breaking the perceived rules of witnessing, the book is very anti-methodology. By arranging the book in a series of 33 very short chapters, readers can take hold of these ideas in bite-sized morsels.

It is said that in Evangelical circles, many people delay being baptized because they cringe at the idea of having to give a one minute testimony. And that’s just to their peers. How much more are some people terrified to share their faith with a stranger? This book provides the nudge they might need.

To repeat, this book is very accessible for the average churchgoer who is intimidated at the idea of making a public declaration of faith.

The title? Mark Wilson pastors in the Northwoods area of Wisconsin where fishing is ubiquitous. So fishing is a motif throughout the book, a metaphor (that Jesus used), and a means to make connection. And in a rapidly changing world, I much prefer the idea of evangelism as fishing than speaking of going on a crusade. (And yes, that makes this a good recommendation for men to read, even non-readers.)

But what about the purple fish? I won’t give away the spoiler; you’ll have to read the book! Suffice it to say that it reinforces the idea that lost souls really do matter to God.

Purple Fish is published in paperback at $14.99 US by Wesleyan Publishing House.  Read an excerpt here.

 

July 22, 2014

Guest Post: Carlo Raponi — Sudden Urgency

Carlo Raponi is Evangelism Outreach Director with Kawartha Youth Unlimited, a Youth for Christ chapter in Peterborough, a city about 75 minutes northeast of Toronto, Canada. This is his second time at Thinking Out Loud.


There is not a day that I can remember where I’ve woken up alone in the world. Literally. I have no memory of any day of my life where I spent a whole day without ever encountering a single person. I think that if this ever happened it would carry with it a strange unfamiliar feeling that only gets seen in post-apocalyptic horror films. Instead, I, like all of us, am surrounded by people every day.

Most of the people we see are people we don’t know, many are people that we do; and some we only get to see on occasion. However they are all people that come into our spheres of influence. They are people with whom we have a chance to share the message of Jesus. Some of these encounters afford us time to develop His narrative slowly; other encounters require a faster and more succinct explanation of His hope. Either way, they all pass before us with a ‘best before’ date invisibly stamped upon them.

Last weekend one of the youth that attends The Bridge Youth Center told me that she’s moved to Toronto. She was only in town to deal with some court issues and then she would be returning back to the city. She is a girl that I have known for a few years now. When she first began coming in to the youth center she was a walking terror. Loud, boisterous and with a stubbornness that seemed incorrigible…she reminded me a little of myself. Perhaps that’s why we connected so well. But now she would be leaving, possibly for good. And so I apologized to her.

She asked me why I needed to apologize and I told her that in the years we have known each other I have approached the subject of our need for Jesus and who He is, but I never sat her down and REALLY challenged her. The ‘time’ never seemed right or the ’occasion’ didn’t present itself. There always seemed to be a reason that trumped the moment. Now she was leaving and I felt that I had done her wrong by not introducing her to the greatest thing she could ever possess – a relationship with the one who could change everything she knew about everything she knows.

I told her about a friend who’s younger brother had asked him the awkward question. He asked if he thought that the young brother would go to hell for not believing in Jesus. When the awkward reply came out as a ‘yes’ the younger brother’s response was, “…then if you love me, why haven’t you sat me down to tell me about Jesus?”

I told her that I owed her an apology because I wasn’t intentional enough to prove that I care by sharing this truth with her. The conversation that ensued was beautiful and honest, on both our behalves. It ended with her making a promise to find a church that she likes and to attend it 3 times. After that she could do as she pleases. With a smile she made me a pinky-promised that turned into a weird handshake of sorts (then I took this picture of it for proof).

the handshake

Now I must entrust her faith into the hands of God and the actions of others who I hope will do a better and more proactive job than I did. But I won’t forget this lesson. People pass in front of us every day. We’re surrounded by people all the time. There is a reason for this.

 ~ Carlo Raponi

 


 

Previously at Thinking out Loud: Three Conversations and a Wedding (March 2012)

July 20, 2014

This is Church


Sourced at: YouthForTruthUSA.com
Video produced by: ThisIsDiscipling.org which rolls over to Mount Vernon Foursquare Church

July 3, 2014

Learn to Respond to People Who Question Your Faith

Prepared - Andy Stanley

It might be a guy at the office, or it might be family members at Thanksgiving. Have you ever wished you had a good comeback for the barbs they toss at you because of your beliefs?

Andy Stanley is the senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta and recently concluded a 3-part sermon series, Prepared. These very simple message will empower your responses as well as transforming your attitude toward what you sometimes feel you have to say in those circumstances. What you feel it means to “always be ready to give an account” may not be what you think it is!

To watch,

  1. Go to PreparedSeries.org
  2. Then, choose week one, Hope on the Ropes (40 minutes)

June 16, 2014

Preaching to the Choir

 

preaching-to-choir_from fritzcartoons-dot-com

…the problem is not that some churches are seeker-sensitive, the problem is that MOST churches are seeker-hostile. The problem is not that some churches are emergent, the problem is that MANY churches are stagnant. The problem is not that some churches are led by false teachers, the problem is that SOME churches are so busy bashing other churches that they really don’t teach anything. The problem is not that some churches have grown to become mega-churches, the problem is that TOO MANY churches are dying, and can’t see the reason why.

The above is part of a response I made to a comment on my other blog last week. People keep throwing around terms like seeker-sensitive, but that whole discussion is so 1990. Furthermore, in 2007, the church that popularized the term “seeker sensitive” published the Reveal study which showed, as least as far as data at that time was concerned, that the spiritual needs of seekers had changed. Some critics went so far as to suggest that the entire philosophy had been a mistake which needed to be repented of, but to do so is to both overstate the situation, and rob Willow Creek of its unique history which contributed to its growth and the the growth of other similar churches.

The thing that does need to continue to be addressed however is the opposite of seeker sensitivity, which is best expressed in the not-so-new term, “preaching to the choir.”

We have no idea how often we do this, and we do this at the expense of opportunities to reach a much broader, wider portion of the general population. I believe we do this specifically in two different areas.

In terms of felt needs, we often miss the brokenness that people experience as a starting point. The Four Spiritual Laws begin with the premise that “man is sinful and separated from God,” but the average person is not aware of God, or knowledgeable about what constitutes sin. They only know that they have an addiction problem, or that their employer is laying off staff, or that their marriage is in trouble, or that they are lonely, etc. As many have observed, the church is often answering questions people are not asking.

In terms of vocabulary, we truly don’t have filters for the words we toss around which are so familiar to us, and yet so foreign to the average listener. Terminology must be clear, and where uniquely-Christian theological concepts have no other lexicon, those words must be fully explained.  Plain speech can still be profound.

In terms of primary message, we think that we are sufficiently countering the anti-this and anti-that perceptions the world has about Christian faith, but really, we can’t say “God really loves you” enough times, especially when there are people in the church who don’t truly know the love of God. Yes, there is balance in many things, and the love of God has to be offset with a communication of God’s justice and hatred of wrongdoing. But maybe that’s the thing that’s needed, sermons that begin “on the one hand,” and move to “on the other hand.”

In terms of form, I don’t think the average pastor can pull off Andy Stanley’s 45-minute sermon length. Many start out with a really engaging premise, but are unable to maintain the intensity after the first seven or eight minutes. It truly is all downhill from that point. In a world where you can make an impact in just 140-characters, concision is all important. I often tell people who ask me about writing, “Pretend you are placing a classified advertisement in the local newspaper and you are being charged $1 per word.” That will cause you to excise much unnecessary verbiage.

In terms of context, we really need to take the message to the streets, figuratively if not literally. I heard this many years ago: So much of what we think constitutes out-reach is actually in-drag. We want people on our turf, in our building, attending activities that take place in our expensive facilities. Rather, we ought to look for ways to salt the broader community through involvement and participation in non-church activities, clubs, sports, recreation, arts programs, forums, reading groups, etc. Furthermore, we need to be ones staging events that have a huge potential to attract people from the widest spectrum of our cities and towns. Better yet, we need to go where people already are, places they already gather.

The choir know the story just as they know the lyrics and tunes of the songs they sing. It’s time to spend the greater portion of our energies on people who have not yet come into the family of faith.

 

 

June 12, 2014

Witnessing on the (Summer) Job

Filed under: evangelism, Humor — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Witnessing on the (Summer) Job

This is from InterVarsity’s TwentyOneHundred Productions. (Click the link to source.) Jon Acuff has a word for these, he calls it a Jesus Juke. You can read that definition in this 2010 blog post. Since he coined the term it’s been adopted far and wide, to the point where if you Google the phrase (in quotation marks) you get “About 8,620 results.”

April 29, 2014

Book Review: God Enters Stage Left

 

God Enters Stage Left - Tim Day

I hesitated to do a review of this book on this page, since access to this title might be somewhat limited for most of you, but considering I’m reading parts of it for the second time, and especially consider the book’s backstory, I think it’s important enough to cover here.

God Enters Stage Left is written by Tim Day, the senior pastor of The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest-growing church, approaching twenty multi-site locations, probably best known for its teaching pastor, Bruxy Cavey. Meeting House is a “church for people who aren’t into church;” and is known for presenting the “irreligious message” brought by Jesus.

The book does what has become a trend lately, taking the Bible as a single story and aiming to present the “story arc” of its 66 individual books in a unified, cohesive way.

Tim DayThere are several things I found unique to this book.

First, the book comes out of the church’s environment, so everything is written with the non-churched, not-Bible-literate reader in mind. The pass-along potential here is huge (see fourth point.)

Second, the book doesn’t attempt to deal with each and every aspect of the Biblical narrative. Some items — especially Genesis — receive a much longer treatment than you’d expect, especially considering the Biblical “play” is reduced to six acts.

Third, Tim Day has this unusual thing which ambushes the reader unexpectedly at various junctures: He asks the reader very personal questions as to how this story intersects with their story. Have you ever read a book review that started asking you questions? (Like that!)

Finally, the way the church is distributing this is as unusual as the book itself. The church offers it on a pay-what-you-can donation basis with proceeds going to the church’s “audacious” ministry project goals. On the unSeminary Podcast with Rich Birch, Tim explains the how the book fits into the church’s overall vision, and also how your church could produce a custom edition with your pastor’s forward and your church name on the front and back.

Rich – …A friend of mine, Ben Stroup, talks about how books really are the new business cards. People see them as, if you want to kind of understand, in the marketplace, if you want to understand what we do, here’s a book. Rather than just ‘here’s a business card.’ … Why not charge for them? Let’s loop back on that. Why not actually say it $5 or $10?

Tim – Couple things. I just found that I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to charge for them. I just basically came down to and said, ‘If this is going to create a hiccup, a little bit of a barrier, something when someone might say, ‘I only have $20 in my wallet, and it’s $5 a book, I’ve got five people I want to invite, who do I need to cut off that list?’ I thought, ‘why am I doing that? It just didn’t make sense.’ If we just give them away to everyone, and people want to chip in, and it would kind of be a community experience, I couldn’t think of a downside to it … We have two churches now, they are dialoging on how they want to do it. They are two churches of about 1500, 2500 in size and they want to get the books and do the same thing with them where they just give them out. ‘Can we just buy a whole boat load of them at printing cost.’ And we may personalize them where the pastor writes the foreword. And we strip off any sort of our church brand. And the church just gives them away in their community. I think if I would have had that charge thing, all sorts of those conversations would have just stopped. And to be honest with you, I think the day of the pastor who somehow wrote something that turned him into a millionaire, I think that day has probably come and gone. It doesn’t sit super well. I just don’t think it sits well with the average person out in the street. So the conversation of ‘You are just giving this away? You are not making any money? You don’t make anything? Nothing?’

Rich – Zip, zero, zilch you mean?

Tim – It’s good news to people. That becomes good news that there is a message more important and it doesn’t need to be a part of my economy. And I love it! It just has made me happy!

Rich – Absolutely. Now the thing I, ’cause I know there’s some pastors probably thinking, that’s a great idea. I’m encouraged that you are working with some other churches, how do we repackage this. Even that, I think it’s incredibly gracious to say we want to work with another church. ‘You take the book, put your foreword on it, strip our branding from it, we just want the message to go out?’ Is that what you are saying, fundamentally with those other churches?

Tim – Oh ya. Like I said I will remove any reference to The Meeting House from inside. You write the foreword and you put your brand on the back of it.

Back to the book itself, this is transformative material. Most Christians are simply not articulate when it comes to describing the Bible’s story arc. A first step before giving the book away would be for people to read it for themselves.  As the book’s cover states, the Bible’s big story has a big plot twist, and many smaller ones as well.

It’s a story no human could make up.

[Download an ePUB version of God Enters Stage Left for FREE]

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