Saturday, August 29, 2015


Monday, April 29, 2013

The Empty Altar

If there were ever a period of time in your life when you grew up in the Church, there was a place and time where you responded at the end of a sermon or a service by getting up out of your seat and walking to the front of the auditorium. When you got to the front you joined others who were standing, kneeling, and laying down all with the purpose of seeking God. I remember many moments I spent at the altar during and after services at church camp, youth convention, North Central University as a student, and even youth group. These were pivotal moments in my life as I spent time talking to God on my own. Time would disappear and I would feel so close to God when I finally did pull my head up from the carpet.

I fear those times are gone . . .

Most church camps and even some youth conventions still save time for students to respond to God and spend time at the altar. But do our students know what to do when these opportunities are provided? Do they know the value of the altar and are they willing to respond?

Churches and youth groups throughout the nation have been trimming and streamlining their services due to time concerns for their parishioners. 1-hour to an hour and a half services are common. With announcements, worship, offering, a sermon, and maybe a special presentation of some sort, what is being cut back? I've noticed altar time is shorter and fewer people are responding. Are we depriving the people we lead from possibly the most effective tool in their spiritual life?

I believe teens need to be taught from an early age the power of the altar in their lives. So how can we foster that? Here's my three words of advice:
        1. Talk about the altar often. Share personal experiences you've had at the altar and teach
            students why it's important to take time to respond
        2. Create time in your service for the altar. Yes, students can linger after service but if it's
            important, take time out of your regular service schedule and encourage students to spend a
            few minutes.
        3. Create a culture of altar response. Make it safe for students to respond publicly, make it a
            consistent element, & encourage those who do respond both publicly and privately. 

What are are you doing to encourage students to respond during the altar time? Do you think the altar is a necessary part of discipling students?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Church that Tweets

 {The following are my teaching notes for my session at the Calibrate Conference about how churches can use social media to engage their community & promote their church}

Intro: For years the Church has seen a need to communicate to a greater audience beyond Sunday’s sermon.
marquees, church newsletters, letters to the editor (still a great idea), posters around town for crusades, newspaper ads, billboards, radio broadcasts & radio & TV commercials.
Yet some raise an eyebrow when the idea of marketing your church is discussed. Perhaps it is because the methods have changed.
But what if you could communicate with people in your community who may never have otherwise walked into your building? What if you could give those outside your walls a “peek behind the curtain” before they ever signed a visitor card by sharing pictures, video, & stories from church events? What if your pastoral staff could encourage, speak life, & preach to your community without those people ever warming a pew? AND what if you could do this all for free?
This is the power of social media in Church.
It is the way the world (and your community) communicates
Businesses in our communities are using Social Media to connect with potential costumers - they see the value of it
Nonprofits use Social Media to engage their audiences in dialogue and to bring awareness to their issue/need/cause
The Church MUST be at the center of all this, the 21st Century Town Square!!

Social Media Platforms
***How many have a church page?
Church Page
Display pics, videos, announcements, sermon thoughts, prayer requests.
2-way Communication: Polls, ask for prayer requests, get thoughts on Sundays message, seek input for upcoming sermons/series, testimonies
Gives you a virtual meeting space to connect with new or potentially new church people
Promotes your church in the virtual world - gives people a look into your church & gives them a feel for the community before they even set foot in your building.
Ministry Pages
Youth group, women’s ministries, men’s ministries, young adults
Great way to communicate, dialogue, create community the other 6 days a week
Other Similar Sites:
Google Hangout is cool - group video chat. Leaders could have a once a week google hangout for the first 5 people to get on. Helps people feel closer to their senior pastor
Linked In
Used by business professionals; leaders/pastors can post their info as a professional in the community

140 characters at a time
Offer inspiration, encouragement, one-line teasers for sermons, event reminders
Setup as a cell-phone notification system
Text: Follow @SiouxFalls1st to 40404
Engage with influential twitter handles in your community. (e.g. – Chamber of Commerce, Events Around Town, Government Entities) - this DEEPENS your connection to the community and may get you a retweet from other organizations which is free promo!
2-Way Communication:
Users can comment about your church thus promoting it to their friends
Hashtags: Create hashtags for sermon series or events at your church & encourage people to use the same hashtag to create buzz about that event
Post sermons, event video, weekly/monthly video message from pastor, or an intro video about your church for potential visitors (what it’s like, what to do when they get there, what’s available for kids, etc.), video testimonies (show the fruit of your ministry!)
Create a channel where people can find all videos from your church.
2-way Communication
Post a question and ask people to respond in a 30-second video - perhaps use highlights of these videos in an upcoming sermon
Remember: videos show/tell a story better than oral or text

Location based social network that allows people to “check-in” at locations
Users are publicly saying they go to your church & staff or congregants can add comments or pics under their check-in to dialog about it (2-way communication
Add a check-in bonus (get a free CD, coffee, or mug for your first check-in!)
Facebook Locations Check-In is similar

Blogging - the online church newsletter
Ideas: Weekly/monthly thoughts from the pastors’s desk, commentaries on social/local issues, expand on this week’s sermon, church vision/mission, create thought-provoking articles to create dialogue in your community
Simple/easy to get started.
Pastors - a blog, a Facebook, or a Twitter account - if not 1, all 3!
It shows your congregation your regular life. It helps them to identify with you on more personal level & gives you an opportunity to share about your faith through the midst of life’s struggles. This can be a greater testimony than a Sunday sermon!!

Photo-taking & sharing app for mobile devices
Create a church account to share what’s happening at your church through artistic pictures
Again, gives a glimpse behind “closed doors”
2-way communication:
Hashtags (like twitter) can group your photos together with other’s photos getting different perspectives on the same church events!

Bible App for mobile devices
YouVersion Live: allows you to interact with church services
follow message outlines, take notes, read related Bible verses, vote on a poll & see results live, ask questions anonymously, give, request prayer, & take it all home with you!
Obviously this brings a whole new dynamic to your Sunday services. How many people are on their phones during service? What if instead of competing with it, use it! Give them something else to engage with, especially those A.D.D.‘ers!!

Ustream, Pintrest, Flickr, StumbleUpon, Picasa
Faithbook, Godtube, are good but remember the idea is to get out where Christians AREN’t!

How to Get Started?
What do you want to start communicating?
What will bring the most value in the shortest amount of time? Vision? Sermon Series? Event Promo?
Ideas: Vision, short sermon, uplifting quotes/scripture, testimonies, upcoming sermon titles/series, pics/vids of church events

What Network?
Pick one to start
What Network will most easily help you communicate the content you want to? (i.e. Blogging may not be the BEST option
Facebook has more people & more people on at a time, Twitter is more simple, straightforward
Hootsuite can help with multiple platforms

Who can run it?
A teen or young person in your church - great way to engage them/plug them in
Find someone who is already using social media
Depending on WHO you pick may determine WHAT network you start with based on what they are most comfortable with.
If it must be you, seek classes/tutorials online, at community centers/colleges, or high schools
Or ask your kids or grandkids to show you how!

Further Resources on Church Social Media
“Should Your Church Be In Social Media?”

Putting the "I" Back in Team

{The following are my teaching notes from my session at Calibrate Conference 2012 about building a healthy leadership team culture.}

The “I” is for Individual
For years we’ve been told that a team doesn’t rise or fall on 1 person. It is up to the team. While this is true, there are is also 1 problem with this saying. The truth is - each “I”, each individual has the power to steer the team for good or for bad.
It takes each individual doing their job to make the team a success.
A team can’t carry around dead weight. Each person must contribute, do their share, & do it in a health way for the team to have true unity.
Conversely, one individual can destroy the health of a team
It is much easier to bring people down than it is to bring people up. One “sour apple” can slowly spread their poison to the rest of the team & corrupt it from the inside out. This typically happens through gossip, resentment, bitterness, unresolved conflicts, rumors, or assumptions.

4 “I”’s to create a Healthy Leadership Team Culture
1. Invest
There are 2 ares team members need to invest in:

In the ministry
More than being involved. Does your heart beat with the ministry? Do you get emotionally involved in the success or failure of the ministry?
They need to hear & see the vision again & again
They need to see you getting your hands dirty!
If you’re distant, your team will be distant. You set the tone for “Invest”.
I financially invest in what I’m asking my team to invest in. I give weekly to STL to set an example for the students but also the leaders.
Do you make the extra effort? Is it clear to the Pastor & the volunteer team that you’re “all in”? What would it take or what would it look like for you to be “all in”?
Take Initiative: are there things you see that need to be done? Do it! Can you fill a need?
It takes going above & beyond to show you are fully invested. Exceed the expectations from time to time to show your commitment to the team & ministry.

In each other’s lives:
Teams are about more than the objective, they are about the process. And in the process is relationships
Spend time together relationally: Hang out nights/Fun events
Know your team: who they are, dates, what’s important to them, what gifts they enjoy, their kid’s names
Spend time with them
Pray for them
Brag on them -  to them & to others (talk about this more later)
Drop a note to your team members randomly, perhaps even a small gift of thanks (I’ve done this with leaders. A card with a gift card in it just showing my appreciation)
Take your team members to lunch or to coffee. Great conversation can take place but it may just be the break they need in their busy week/life.
It speaks volumes for a Pastor to know you care about him. They need the encouragement. They need your support of their vision & efforts. It’s tiring to carry the burden & responsibility.
What is something you could do for you leader outside the ministry? Babysit his kids? Send him an encouraging note? Drop a meal off at their house?
Make it a commitment to attend social gatherings with your team. Dig into their lives. Even try to befriend others on the team.
The pastor or leader of your team can’t make it to every special event for every team member & probably won’t remember every special date for their team members - so help out! Make sure no one on your team gets passed over but that everyone is recognized & appreciated.
Even simple things like bringing cookies to your next meeting can make a huge investment in your team.

2. InputWithout people having the opportunity to give input, the team feels like a chore & people begin to suffocate.
Team meetings should not be vertical discussions (top down) but horizontal discussion (around the table)
Is there trust? Is there openness to share/reject ideas without it being about the person?
It is healthier for your organization to have multiple ideas & input rather than one person. Ultimately the leader is held responsible for that ministry but with more input comes better ideas & better ministries.
Schedule time in meetings or whenever for team members to give input.
You must create a safe environment where people feel the freedom & the trust to share ideas & not be afraid of being attacked or judged as a person. Only the best ideas can come from a safe environment.
Monitor who may be dominating the discussion or who may be unengaged with the discussion and adjust accordingly asking one to share the floor or another to offer their thoughts.
Are you actively sharing ideas? Are you engaged enough to bring something to the table, the meeting?
Just as a leader prepares for the meeting, what can you prepare ahead of time? Even thinking through what may be talked about in the meeting will help the meeting be more productive & go more quickly.
Be willing to take a chance & share ideas. Maybe your idea doesn’t work but it may spark an idea in someone else’s mind
Are you respectful of others input? Do you give space for other’s input?
Don’t be a conversation dominator!
Do you help others bring out their ideas? Ask them what they think?
Be respectful when other’s share their ideas. (obvious)
How do you respond when your idea or suggestion is not used?
Don’t take it personally. This is a culture of trust & freedom that should be established in your team. It’s established by each team member responding appropriately. ULTIMATELY it’s up to YOU to understand that after all ideas are expressed, they can’t take every idea so don’t be offended if your idea is not taken.
Taking things personally in a team meeting can cause a big fracture in the team. It can cause friction with the ministry leader & can cause a divide in the team if it goes any further. ***On our next point we will cover appropriate confrontation if this comes up in your team.
Be prepared to take the best idea/solution for the ministry even if it is not your own.

3. Inform
Communication is the key to a successful ministry & the #1 killer for others.
Each team member has the responsibility to communicate quickly, often, clearly, & respectfully.
I struggle with this, especially with my wife! I just assume she knows the schedule but I have to communicate & re-communicate.
It is our responsibility to get the necessary information to our team with adequate time so they can plan, dream, & give input as well.
Your leaders/team will be your biggest supporters & best promoters but they need to have the necessary information!
Communicate often & in many ways: Facebook has been good for us
One of the hardest things for pastors is to plan, especially plan out a month, a few months in advance. This is a MUST so the communication can go out accurately & in time.
Communicate your expectations for your team. If they don’t know, they can’t be held accountable to them.
Communicate why you do things a certain way. You don’t have to explain yourself to your team but it gives your team a better understanding of why you are making or have made a decision. This will help them to be more on-board & supportive of the ministry decisions.
Communicate your teammates value to them & others: Brag on them, let them know you see what they do & that you appreciate them. Tell others about your team members. Create a culture of appreciation & camaraderie. 
Let your leader know about absences or conflicts you may have coming up
Communicate with your leader when you have feelings of frustration, hurt or whatever when it comes to the ministry.
It’s much better to clear the air than to try to hold it in because it can grow into bitterness if you hold on to it. Who knows - it could be a misunderstanding or something.
How to communicate:
With a personal issue to address with the leader, address it one-on-one, not at your next meeting in front of everyone
Don’t gossip about it to others. This is how disunity spreads!
Be respectful. Know that ultimately the pastor is held accountable for that ministry. Even if you disagree, is it worth mentioning? Sometimes, yes & under the appropriate circumstances. Sometimes it can only cause hurt & discouragement in the leader which will affect the team & the ministry

4. Inspire
Do you inspire each other? Do you offer ideas, bounce ideas off each other, talk “shop” when you’re NOT at a leader meeting?
The benefit of teams is more minds with the same heart & same passion are better than one. Do you bring out the “better” in others?
Inspiration creates motivation on our teams. Inspire your team often!
CAST VISION (This point is worth mentioning over & over)
Big things, small things - cast vision
Paint the picture for how you want the future to be
Share successes, testimonies
As your team watches your passion, drive, servanthood - it can inspire them to go after the same thing.
I gain inspiration from some of my volunteers when I see them chasing after teens - it inspires me & encourages me!
Encourage one another in what you see them doing
Pray for each other, find kind things to say to each other
Invite other leaders to share in a project, connecting with a student, or a serving opportunity to gain experience, insight, & inspiration from you as they watch you serve on the team
This is great to do for new leaders on the team - adopt them!
Even when you feel like the only one doing the right thing or the only one doing it to the best it can be done, KEEP GOING! DON’T QUIT!!
Set the standard, set the bar for the rest of the team
CAREFUL! Your negativity or bad attitudes toward the leader or the ministry can ALSO inspire your teammates to be negative. Be mindful of how you talk & act around your team because you will inspire them towards something - good or bad.

A healthy successful team culture is established & maintained by the hard work of each individual on that team. You also have the same power to destroy or bring disunity to your team. Remember to Invest, Input, Inform, & Inspire your team members & your pastor as you grow together as a team.
The end result? Your ministry will be successful without all the baggage, drama, fear of disunity in your leadership team.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Uninvited to LifeLight

Yesterday an announcement was made by Lifelight, the largest free Christian Music Festival in the country, that the band Family Force Five would not be playing at this year's festival as originally planned. The reasoning given was "due to unforseen circumstances". However, Family Force Five subsequently posted on their band's Facebook page  that they had been "uninvited" and "asked not to perform" by the owners of Lifelight. A very long dialogue has ensued over on the LifeLight Facebook Page. I encourage you to go there and read all the comments and then come back to this blog for my response.

So what did you think of the responses? I was very disheartened and frustrated by the way that "fans" of LifeLight have been responding to this move. Albeit many of the responses come from teenagers or young adults who may not understand the full spectrum of this decision, and who may not care to. But there were plenty of adults, even some Christian adults, who were making it very clear they were angry with LifeLight for this decision. Some of the comments on the page were:
  • "You wanna be a light. Shed some light. Be honest"
  • "You can sit there and say unforeseen, but you should be able to know by now that the truth will come out."
  • "Cmon though they act like hip hop is heathen music!"
  • "Lifelight I think you need to get your story straight and not just put the corporate answer above."
  • "If it is not made public then people have the right to not support the ministry"
  • "I still feel that Lifelight South Dakota is destined for failure in the years to come"
First, I am not taking a position on agreeing or disagreeing with LifeLight's decision. However, I do believe there is a right and wrong way to respond to this.

1. One of the reasons I believe LifeLight has kept their reasoning a secret is because they were trying to be respectful to the band. They are not wanting to defame their character or spread any rumors (even if there is truth to it). This is commendable & should be appreciated even if you do not agree with the decision.
2. The Greene's are not just leading a 3 day festival with great music. They are the leaders over a multifaceted year-round ministry. They have a ministry to protect with supporters including churches that they have to answer to. If the support leaves, there will be no Lifelight and no more bands.
3. Be grateful! Without Lifelight many of you would have NEVER been able to see FF5 live - especially not for free!
4. If you are a Christian, Lifelight isn't put on as entertainment for you. Understand their purpose. It's an evangelism tool that we, the Church, help to put on. It may not "do it" for you, but Lifelight is clearly touching lives and we should step up to help and support in any way we can.
5. Lifelight isn't uninviting them because they aren't a "Christian" band - they don't get hung up on that terminology. And it has nothing to do with the style of music. They have had all kinds of genres including hardcore and a dance party. What they do care about is the heart of the people in the band. For years at Lifelight I've heard both the bands and the Greenes mention how they have connected with each other and have really seen each other's hearts and that's why they continue to come together for this festival. Lifelight wouldn't uninvite FF5 because they aren't a Christian band but they would if there was any questions about their ministry or character.
6. You know this decision was NOT made lightly. No matter the band, no matter the reason, no matter what was said or what wasn't said, there would be a group of people upset with LifeLight and may even cost them supporters & finances. Any decision of this magnitude would be weighed with much time and prayer, even if it was, however unlikely, only for their own well-being.

Whether you agree with Lifelight's decision I think we need to see the bigger picture, admit there is information we are not privileged to, and support the ministry because of the impact it has on this and other communities. Satan's desire is to destroy successful ministries through separation & division and I'm afraid this situation is in danger of that. We cannot let Satan win.

Alan & Vickie, I know you have a tiresome responsibility leading this ministry but know that we stand beside you & support this ministry regardless of how we feel about certain decisions. May God continue to use you and this ministry to reach the lost in this region!