Category Archives: Blog Posts

Q: Who is More Important Than Your First-Time Visitors? A: Your Second-Time Visitors! (Charles Arn)

My Experience…

Ten years ago my family and I moved into a new home and neighborhood, and used the summer to search for a new church home. In 8 of the 10 churches we visited, I filled out a visitor card or signed a guest register. (Two churches had no way for visitors to identify themselves.)  Of the churches visited, 6 of 8 sent a “Thank you for visiting” letter, and 2 had a representative phone us the following week.

My family especially enjoyed three of the churches and decided to go back for another visit. I again completed the visitor information and, the following week, checked the mailbox for a follow-up. Monday … Tuesday … Wednesday … no letter … Thursday … Friday … Saturday … nothing. No card. No call. No contact.

We returned to the same three churches for a third visit in our search for a church home. Visitor card? Completed.  Left with the church? Check. Received any follow-up contacts the next week? None.

My Questions…

Do you have a way to let your first-time guests know that you are glad they came? A letter? Phone call? Post card? Hopefully so. But what about your second-time guests; the ones who liked the experience enough to come back? By their presence, they are telling you: “We’re interested in your church.”

And, what about those who visit your church a third time? They are telling you, “I’m really, really interested in your church!” So, 1) Do you even know who your second-time guests are? and, 2) Do you do anything about it?

It should seem obvious that people who visit a church are more likely to join than those who don’t visit. That’s why most churches have a follow up process for first-time visitors … to encourage such affiliation. So, why are we often missing an equally obvious conclusion that people who visit twice are more likely to join those who visit just once? And, three times more than twice?

The Research

A few years ago I was part of a research study on the topic of “visitor retention.” We asked participating churches to go back into their records 2 to 3 years and select a continuous six-week period (such as Sept. 1 – October 15 or January 1 – February 15). Then, they were asked to examine their data and identify all those people who had visited the church one time during that six-week period; next, identify those who had visited twice; finally, identify the people who had visited three times during those six weeks. The churches were then asked to jump forward one year and identify which of those visitors had become regular attenders. We divided the churches into two categories: those growing in worship attendance, and those not. Here are the percentages of visitors who were in the church one year later, compared with how many times they had visited in the six-week period…

Percentage of Visitors Who Stayed

Number of visits in
six-weeks
Non-growing Churches Growing Churches
One Visit 9% 21%
Two Visits 17% 38%
Three Visits 36% 57%

There are some important insights from this study:

  • The typical declining American church sees 1 in 10 first time visitors (9%) become part of their congregation.
  • The typical growing church see 2 of 10 first-time visitors (21%) become active.

KEY QUESTION: “Do you know your church’s visitor retention rate of first-time visitors?”

  • But, when visitors return a second time, the retention rate nearly doubles (in both growing and non-growing churches).
  • When people visit the same church 3 times in a six-week period, over 1/3 of them stay (36%) in declining churches. And over half (57%) stay in growing churches.

KEY QUESTION: “Do you know your church’s visitor retention rate of second- and third-time visitors?”

To put this research, and the apparent facts, into a simple conclusion: The more often people visit, the more likely they will stay.

My Suggestions…

Analysis of your weekly worship attendance will provide you with a wealth of insights. Just as the information from a barometer will help you forecast coming weather patterns, information from your worship attendance will help you forecast coming growth patterns. I’m talking about more than just counting heads on Sunday. You need to know that last week Mike and Denise McKay visited your church for the third time in the past two months. (And, as long as you’re tracking attendance, wouldn’t it be helpful to know that Patty Culver, a regular member in your church, has not been in worship for three Sundays now.)

Unfortunately, most churches either don’t take regular attendance, or don’t capture the information they need, or don’t glean important patterns of their people flow.* Here are three “to-do’s” that will enhance your stewardship of the people God has put in your trust…

  1. Obtain attendance information
  2. Monitor attendance patterns
  3. Respond to attendance indicators

Obtain Attendance Information

How do you know who was at your church last Sunday and who was not? There is not one “right” way. But, here are ideas from other churches…

  • A pew pad at the end of each row that is signed and passed from one end to the other. Most people sign a sheet that is handed to them, so it’s usually a good indicator of who’s in the service and who’s not. The downside is that it’s not very private and thus difficult to add more information (i.e., prayer requests, name/address, notes to staff, etc. ).
  • Registration cards in the seat back in front of the worshipper. A good approach is to ask each attendee to complete a card, not just the visitors. Newcomers don’t like to be publicly identified, so asking them to (awkwardly and obviously) reach forward and fill out a “Visitor Card” lowers the percentage of people who will do so. A Lutheran church of over 5,000 in Houston uses one card with two sides—the blue side for all members and regular attenders, and the green side for those who still consider themselves newcomers. Good idea.
  • A perforated flap inside your bulletin or printed program. Each attendee is asked to complete and then tear off the “communication note” and drop it in the offering plate when it comes by. This approach allows for more confidential information to be shared, gives members and visitors an opportunity to all participate, and provides an “easy out” for putting at least something in the offering plate. (Of course, some pastors prefer a different approach for that same reason. )
  • A church in southern California prints peel-off labels with the names of each member and regular attender on 4-across computer labels (each is approximately 1” x 2”). The continuous form labels are torn into 5’ lengths and taped to the wall in the lobby. Worshippers enter the building, find their nametag (listed in alphabetical order), peel it off and stick it on their shirt/blouse for the morning. It’s also a handy way to give people a reminder of “what’s his name” who they met last week.  And, coincidentally, the nametags that are remaining on the 5’ sheets after the last service indicate who was not there.  (Visitors/guests can get a similar nametag printed at the guest center, which also gives the church a record of visitor information. )
  • A smaller rural church in Kansas has appointed a woman to be their attendance checker. She sits in the choir at the front of the church and then, during the service, compares her membership roster against the people in the pews. Before you laugh at this idea, the same woman practices her spiritual gift of hospitality by introducing herself to those newcomers after the service.
  • Small groups and adult Bible classes can be asked to check worship attendance for the people in their group.
  • And, a few examples on the higher tech side…one large church in Atlanta has two video cameras mounted in the worship center that scan and record those in attendance using facial recognition software.  (Other churches just use the video to later identify attendees.)
  • A church in Las Vegas issues electronically coded ID cards to members and regular attenders that are used for child-care check-in, financial contributions, member voting, etc.  Sunday morning a scanner at each door records those who pass by…without even needing to remove the card from their wallet. (Members are aware of this process and think it’s great!)

Monitor Attendance Patterns

Here, the computer is your best friend. Whether it’s a bells and whistles church software program, or a home-made spreadsheet, you’ll need a way to enter and evaluate the data. At the beginning of each week print a report that provides you with:

  • First-time visitors (names and address, if available).
  • Second-time visitors, plus the date of their first visit.
  • Third-time visitors, plus the dates of their first and second visits.
  • Number and percent of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd time visitors to total attendance (5% or greater is healthy).
  • Members and regular attenders who were absent (totals and percentages).
  • Members and regular attenders who have missed three services in a row. (Half of these people will be gone within a year if their absence is ignored. )
  • You may want to include additional information in your report, such as a comparison of these same numbers with the report from a year ago.

Respond to Attendance Indicators

To get started, I recommend you sit down and compose two follow-up letters, one to 2nd time guests, and one to 3rd time guests (assuming you already have one for 1st timers).

Next, invite a group of 4-5 people together (including some new members) who would be willing to help design a system to identify, follow up, and track 2nd and 3rd time guests. The goal is to connect these newcomers with people in the church who share similar interests, marital and family status, age, gender, etc. Then do some “sanctified match-making” with newcomers and regular attenders. Research clearly shows that the more friends a newcomer makes in a church, the more likely he/she will become active and involved.  And, of course, for those long-time members who have been gone the last few Sundays, let them know that “We missed you…you’re an important part of our family…we’re looking forward to seeing you next week.”

Visitors represent 100% of your church’s growth potential. It’s a wise investment to give them the time, honor, and attention they deserve.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  (Heb. 13:2)

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

* I find it sad to hear suggestions from some church leaders that “counting people” is too much of a worldly focus on numbers…despite the fact that they carefully count their dollars as part of the church’s business.

The Fruit of the Spirit (Patrick Eby)

One of the tensions we face as Christians is the call to live in a world that is not in total agreement with our belief system. It may come as a surprise to some, but this is a new problem. Christians have always lived in a world that is at odds with the values of Scripture. So how can we be faithful to God and to our values in a world that does not understand or accept the message of Jesus?

 

Lamin Sanneh argues that the gospel must be translated into each new culture. Christianity, especially since the Reformation, has encouraged the translation of the Scripture into the language of every tribe and people.  But translation raises an interesting question, how do we relate the message to each new culture.  According to Sanneh there are basically three ways Christians have approached their relationship to new cultures. First, some choose to stay secluded from the world, they strove to live completely separate from the world.  A second group strove to find as many connections between the gospel and the culture. This group may even exclude some cherished Christian practices for acceptance. A third group worked to be a prophetic witness that spoke against those who are no longer reaching people with the Good News because they have chosen an approach that either has compromised the truth (syncretism) or led to a withdrawal of Christians from the world (quarantine).

 

The challenge is to be a prophetic witness without becoming secluded from the world or compromising the truth. It seems our challenge is to be a people who are known for their love without losing our message. In the words of the Ephesians 4:15, we need to speak the truth in love. What is the essential message that must not be compromised? When we examine our message, there may even be things we believe are essential, that in fact are not essential, and may even be doing damage to our witness.

I wish we could hear again for the first time the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10). Can you imagine Peter’s shock when God told him to eat something unclean?  Why did Peter have to eat something unclean? Because God was doing a new thing, with a new people. God’s requirements seemed to change as Christianity moved from a Jewish religion to a religion for the whole world. Of course, there were those who held to “the truth” and argued that what Peter and Paul were doing was against the will of God.  As I write this I realize that some may misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying we can lay aside the truth. I am saying we need to examine our beliefs and make sure they flow from the word of God and not our cultural background. Do we have values that we have learned which are tied more to our culture than to the word of God?

I had to address this in my own life several years ago. I realized that what I was watching on TV was molding me into something which was not in line with the word of God.  Instead of exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit I was filled with anger and hatred.  I was not worried about winning the world for Christ as much as I was worried about how ungodly the culture I lived in had become. I was more concerned with politics than with sharing the healing love of Jesus. Because this had become an addiction for me I had to go cold turkey. I chose to stop watching TV news.  (I still read the news, but this does not have the same negative effect on me). I have seen one major difference in my life. I am no longer angry and worked up about the latest issue on the news. Of course, there may be other places I may need to give up least it draw me back into an unrighteous anger.

What about you? Do you error on the side of truth or of love? Is there anything in your life that keeps you from experiencing the fruit of the Spirit?

 

Gal. 5: 22-23 (NRSV)

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

 

Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture.

Two Steps to Discovering the Spiritual AND Physical Needs of Others (Bob Whitesel)

If God intends spiritual reconnection to be a reaction to crises, then how do we help people in the midst of crisis?  And, how to we know exactly which crises they are experiencing?  There are two natural and organic ways to help those in crisis.

  1. Be a friend.  Becoming a friend and traveling along with a person on his/her spiritual journey in the role of a companion is the first and most beneficial step.  Though we may also become one’s mentor, guide and navigator; this process begins with being a friend. Proverbs 17:17 reminds us that friends reflect God’s love, stating “Friends love all the time…”
  2. Ask.  After a friendship has begun, at some point you just have to ask about the crises a friend is going through.  Sometimes crises are so personal and/or unsavory that people are reluctant to share them even with a friend.  John Wesley saw this problem and suggested questions for the small group meetings that would draw out people’s needs (for more on Wesley see “Chapter 4″ of Cure for the Common Church, 2012).  Figure 8.3 lists ideas for discussion starters among friends, some adapted from Wesley’s questions.

Figure 8.3 Questions for Discovering the Needs of Spiritual Travelers (Cure for the Common Church, 2012, p. 150) [i]

These questions should be asked with discretion.  Many are variations of the questions John Wesley suggested.  Remember, do not be judgmental and do not use these questions verbatim; rather use them as idea generators:

  • Do you have peace with God?
  • How is God dealing with you lately?
  • How do you feel about God?  How do you think God feels about you?
  • Is there some thought or behavior that has dominion over you?
  • Is there something in your life you wish to change, but have been powerless to do so?
  • What faults are you struggling with?
  • What secrets are you holding that you need to share among friends?
  • What things do you do, about which your conscience feels uneasy?
  • What do you want to say to God about the pain in your life?
  • When is life flowing out of you?
  • When if life flowing into you?

Excerpted with permission from Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health, Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012, pp. 149-150. You can find this post and over 1,000 more articles on church leadership and health at www.ChurchHealth.wiki.  Dr. Whitesel curates this research site, where you can sign-up to receive an email each time he posts another article on church leadership, health and growth.  This article can be found at https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/evaluation-how-to-tactfully-inquire-about-non-churchgoers-physical-needs-and-spiritual-needs-twotools/

c.f. D. Michael Henderson, John Wesley’s Class Meetings: a Model for Making Disciples (Springfield, MO: Evangel Publishing House, 1997), pp. 118-119; Joel Comiskey, “Wesley’s Small Group Organization,” extracted with permission from Joel Comiskey, History of the Cell Movement: A Ph.D. Tutorial Presented to Dr. Paul Pierson; http://www.joelcomiskeygroup.com/articles/tutorials/cellHistory-1.html and Elaine Heath, address to The Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, Chicago, IL, June 16, 2011.

KNOW WHAT YOU ARE CALLED TO DO… AND DO IT! (Luigi Peñaranda)

If you are called to do something new, something that does not follow the “this-is-how-we-do-things-around-here” perspective, you will be criticized. Some will simply challenge you because they resist change. That’s normal. It’s your job as a leader to help people overcome their apprehensions to change by getting them ready for a transition and communicating a clear picture of all the positive outcomes that can accompany change. Some, however, will resist you as a leader and will try to discredit your approach or tarnish your reputation. Here is a favorite strategy of the disgruntled ones, which is very effective in church contexts: try to erode the relationship between the leader and the followers.

Jesus was no stranger to conflict, and had to deal with the divisive kind. Consider the way in which the Pharisees questioned the leadership of Jesus in Mark 2:14-22. First, the Pharisees approached the disciples and planted a little seed of estrangement towards their leader: “Why is he [Jesus] eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” Much can be said about the labels used here, but let’s pay attention to the rift the question seeks to create. If your leader’s affiliations are questionable, would you want to be associated with him or her?

Next, the Pharisees approached Jesus, but this time, they raised questions about the followers. “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Most likely, this did not mean that the disciples did not fast at all, but that they were not participating in additional “public fasts” the way other well-established religious groups did (cf. Gianoulis, 2011; Hurtado, 2011). The comparison here calls into question the legitimacy of the group as a whole, not just of the followers. The group’s actions are not honorable in the critics’ eyes and, as Malina and Rohrbaugh (2003) affirm, “to claim honor that the community does not recognize is to play the fool” (p. 213).

To be fair, the Pharisees seem to be bringing up some valid questions. People have expectations about the behaviors and traits that leaders should possess, and they make judgments about the effectiveness of a leader based on those assumptions. Within the field of organizational leadership, the technical term for those expectations is “implicit leadership theories” (Offermann, Kennedy, & Wirtz, 1994). Both questions —the one about the apparent dubious affiliations of the leader, and the one about the lack of compliance of the followers in terms of traditional expectations— have a degree of validity if taken separately. However, the way the gospel-writer masterfully tells the story reveals the true intentions of the Pharisees. They are driving a wedge between Jesus and his followers.

Jesus’ responses are very important. Notice that he is doing something new and he knows that he has been called to do so. His mission is like new wine, and it requires new wineskins. He is not trying to patch things up, he is bringing about something radically new. However, he is doing something new, not for the sake of innovation or creativity, not to attract the followers from other groups (as some churches like to do!), and not to discredit what has been done in the past. He is doing something new because that is his calling. He is like a physician, helping those who are sick. He is like a bridegroom, surrounded with people who must join the celebratory feast.

What should you do with those who, for whatever reason, are splitting apart your leadership group by questioning your approach, your reputation, and the integrity of the members of your group?

The answer is to “know what you are called to do, and do it.” While the answer sounds simplistic, the idea is not. What critics think has little impact on what you do, when you are doing exactly what you know you are called to be doing. This does not mean you don’t offer answers when others criticize you. Jesus was sharp-witted and was ready to give an answer to his detractors. It simply means that you are confident in doing what you are meant to be doing. If you don’t know your calling, you probably should stay put. Why try to do something you don’t know you are meant to do? In the words of Wayne Schmidt (2015), “avoid the danger of substituting ‘copying’ and ‘comparing’ for ‘calling’.”

References

Gianoulis, G. C. (2011). Did Jesus’ disciples fast? Bibliotheca sacra, 168(672), 413-425.

Hurtado, L. W. (2011). Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Malina, B. J., & Rohrbaugh, R. L. (2003). Social-science commentary on the synoptic gospels. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress.

Offermann, L. R., Kennedy Jr, J. K., & Wirtz, P. W. (1994). Implicit leadership theories: Content, structure, and generalizability. The Leadership Quarterly, 5(1), 43-58. doi: 10.1016/1048-9843(94)90005-1

Wayne, Schmidt. “Give God Glory.” Heartland Church, Indianapolis, IN. 14 June 2015. Keynote Address.

Wesley Seminary at IWU International Ministry Education (Wayne Schmidt)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is vibrantly spreading “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Great Commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20) is being fulfilled in a global context impacted as well by growing secularism and the mission of other world religions such as Islam. Technology is being harnessed to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, with avenues such as the Jesus Film resulting in millions coming to salvation.

Simultaneously, the spread of the Gospel has prompted a need for discipleship as never before.  Indigenous disciplers, whether clergy or lay, must be raised up quickly and effectively.  Without the education of emerging leaders in the Church, truth will be lost to heresy and decisions for Christ will fail to yield full transformation through the Spirit of Christ.

Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University echoes the clarion call of our namesake, John Wesley – “the world is our parish.”  Our Seminary’s unique contribution focuses on international graduate ministry education, preparing those who will become educators and movement leaders, who in turn not only effectively serve local churches but raise up hundreds of other leaders in their ministry contexts through undergraduate and Bible Institute training.  We “train the trainers,” the faculty practitioners who in turn provide indigenous leadership and contextualized education to others.

There is urgency and opportunity because…

  • Thanks to initiatives such as the “Jesus Film” thousands have made decisions for Christ. There is a desperate need for immediate discipleship, but also for indigenous leaders who are equipped biblically and practically to raise up local church pastors who in turn will disciple so that the fruit of evangelism remains.
  • North American missionaries can’t be deployed in the quantity needed, making the best approach also the necessary approach – the raising up of indigenous leaders to develop greater capacity to build upon the credibility and connection they already have within their context.
  • Wesley Seminary builds on the proven strength of Indiana Wesleyan University in distance education. When international leaders are brought to the U.S. for extended residential education, significant percentages never return to their country of origin. Those who do return are culturally different due to their residency in the U.S., while the Church in their home region has also changed in their absence – resulting in disconnection from previous relationships and roles.
  • The economics of residential education limit the number who can be equipped because of the greater expense of educating each one – keeping people in their regional context for intensive face-to-face courses is cost efficient.
  • The hybrid format of intensive face-to-face experiences combined with online learning is becoming a common approach with proven effectiveness. The global dispersion of technology in placing online learning within reach of billions for whom it was previously unavailable or unreliable.
  • There is a desire among many foreign governments and international businesses for increased educational opportunities, creating climates where people flourish economically and create stability for communities and nations. A Christ-centered education for emerging ministry leaders, clergy and lay, can serve as a deterrent to the radicalization of young people occurring as the result of other religious groups.
  • The lines are blurring between national and international as the world experiences globalization and migration. Many cities, even in the Midwest U.S., have residents who’ve come from dozens of nations.  Some have revised Wesley’s statement from “the world IS my parish” to “the world IN my parish” because those from other nations are now neighbors.

Two approaches or “formats” are currently being utilized:

  1. INTENSIVE format – cohorts of students meeting in an international setting. The first was launched in the summer of 2013 in Bogota, and we currently have 16 students.  In early 2015 conversations about future intensive sites included Venezuela, Brazil and Spain.  Wesley Seminary and IWU are funding significant tuition discounts and regionally-adjusted tuition and compensation rates to increase affordability.  An appropriate level of financial investment by the students themselves is anticipated, and the right donor support is the final piece in making this endeavor a reality.
  2. INDIVIDUAL format – there are international ministry leaders serving the global church who are not in a geographical area where there is yet a “critical mass” to utilize a cohort approach with regionally located intensives, so we must serve them individually. So far we have served students from Panama, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and the Caribbean.  The level of complexity of this individual approach can make it more “expensive” in terms of time and money (although, if “adopted” and included in an existing cohort additional costs can be greatly reduced), but well worth it when a strategic leader is identified.

We have found, through both positive and painful experiences, building a support system for students is critical.  We have found these factors (among others) necessary for student success: sponsors to help make the degree affordable for the student, reliable internet access (at their home base as well as in areas they travel to as part of their ministry responsibilities), and proximity of missionaries who can provide encouragement and help.

Wesley Seminary at IWU is energized by serving the global Church, and we believe those opportunities will only increase as partnerships are developed, the Seminary’s capacity grows, and IWU’s vision to be a “global Christian learning community” matures.  We truly sense the best is yet to come!

#ShareUrCoat (Joanne Solis-Walker)

sharecoat In just a few days, more than 50 students will gather at Wesley Seminary to be part of a high-impact course on immigration. The Seminary in collaboration with World Relief (http://worldrelief.org/) and Immigrant Connection of The Wesleyan Church, (https://www.wesleyan.org/immigrant) will host the 40 Basic Hour Immigration Law course.  I thought it appropriate to share a few things.

The Training: I get to come alongside the experienced team of lawyers from World Relief and engage in theological reflection with those students registered for academic credit. We will have roundtable discussions and converse about immigration from a biblical, theological and historical perspective. World Relief will teach everything related to the law and the book is HUGE! Lots of immigration law to be learned.

The Outcome: Participants who complete the course and pass the immigration law exam are recognized and certified by the Board of Immigration Appeal (http://www.justice.gov/eoir/board-of-immigration-appeals).  Upon completion they begin the process to open legal immigration centers in their churches or place of ministry, where they are authorized to offer legal immigration guidance.

The Difference: These Immigrant Connection Centers are real missional opportunities to reach an unreached portion of our population that often is hiding. A summary released by the Pew Research Center, reports that 11.2 million of the 41.3 million immigrants in the U.S. are undocumented (Krogstad & Passel, 2014). Based on the 2013 American Community Survey, some of the sending countries with the largest increase during the past five year are (a) India, (b) China, (c) Guatemala, and (d) Jamaica (Zeigler & Camarota, 2014). In other words, God has brought the nations to us…we have a chance to make a difference.

So…What can we do?

I often get asked the question, what can we do? Before I highlight a bible passage I think speaks to this question, there is something personal I want to share in a very simple and yet pointed fashion.

I am Puerto Rican and I am American. My parents moved from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico to Vineland, New Jersey, where I was born into a primarily Spanish-speaking community. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. and all native born Puerto Ricans have American citizenship (e.g. social security numbers). I clarify this so you understand my background in relation to immigration.

It is often assumed that as a Hispanic I am an undocumented immigrant but this is not my case. I should also clarify that I am an educated Latina but it does not make me an immigration expert. How I respond to immigration is tainted by my story and those stories I’ve vicariously lived through undocumented brothers and sister that I dearly love and respect. However, my stance on immigration is mostly shaped by my theology. It is faith seeking understanding. It is putting into practice what I believe God believes about the immigrant.

With that said, I want to share a simple thought based on Luke 3:11 (RSV):

In reply he [John the Baptist] said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

In the next four verses of this chapter, the multitudes, tax collectors, and soldiers seem to ask a similar question: “What shall we do?”

John the Baptist in the previous verses talks about the need to repent, and to change in order to bear fruit. He is upset with those who claim to be the children of Abraham but fail to live this out accordingly. John calls them vipers and brooders; strong choice of words.

As the reader I am wondering how John is going to respond to their question.

  • To the multitude he says:
    • Share your coats (#ShareUrCoat) (v. 11).
    • Share your food (v. 11).
  • To the tax collector he says:
    • Don’t abuse of the vulnerability of others (v. 13).
  • To the solider he says:
    • Don’t misuse your authority to violate the rights of others (v. 14).
    • Don’t falsely accuse (v. 14).

His responses were so on point, they wondered if he was the Christ. 

During the next few weeks I will share on social media some very simple practical ways to #ShareUrCoat with immigrants. Education is a huge piece. This course offers a more intentional opportunity but there are also everyday things we can do to educate ourselves and put into practice ways we can serve those God has brought to this country.

Can you imagine if as the children of Abraham we really lived this out? What if we all decide to extend hospitality and ‘share our coats’ with strangers?  I know immigration seems like such a huge issue and it is but immigrants are people, like you and I.

We like John the Baptist, are not good enough to untie His sandals (Luke 3:16) but we’ve been baptized by the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16 & Acts 1:5) and we have received power to be His witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and in every part of the world. Jesus said we would do greater things in His name.

So what can you do? Perhaps start with something simple… #ShareUrCoat!

Blessings!

Joanne Solis-Walker

Interview with the New Dean, Dr. David Smith

Ken: No doubt this was a hard decision to make. You love Kingswood, its faculty, and students. You are good friends with new President, Steve Lennox, and no doubt were excited about starting on his new journey with him. Why do you feel the Lord is leading you to make this change in your life’s ministry at this time?

David Smith: Ken, thanks for giving me the opportunity to walk you thru the decision from my perspective. First, this was such difficult decision since I have a job at Kingswood University that I love and I work with people who I deeply respect. Moreover, President Mark Gorveatte has given the faculty here at Kingswood freedom to (re)create and (re)vision the curriculum for the 21st century. This is not restricted to the classes we teach but also to the entire delivery system. We have tried to create a transformational environment where we harmoniously partner with the Holy Spirit to fashion men and women in the Imago Dei. I like to think we have accomplished something innovative and unique.

Second, I have the utmost respect for our new president, Dr. Steve Lennox. Ken, you know that when you first approached me about this position of academic dean, I said, “no.” The simple reason was this: above all else, I love this man and desire for Dr. Lennox’s success at Kingswood University. Moreover, I long for Kingswood to be known as THE go-to place for ministry preparation in North America. I want nothing to adversely affect this goal.

Third, with that in mind, why move now? A position like dean at Wesley Seminary does not comes along every day. But more so, the opportunity at this juncture in the Seminary’s creation story is really a once-in-a-lifetime event. Ken, years ago there were several of us that “dreamed” of a holistic Seminary experience that would shape “practicing pastors” in a manner which would not only transform them but their churches and local communities. You, Dr. Schmidt, and the faculty and staff at Wesley have created just such a place at Wesley Seminary. Now, you and Wayne have invited me to partner in the next phase of the Seminary adventure; moving from “creation” to “sustainability.” Let’s buckle-up.
___________________________________________
Ken:  You were at IWU and are now returning, what new insights would you say you are bringing back from your experience at Kingswood?

David Smith:  When it comes to curriculum–Two words immediately come to mind; integrated and holistic. First, and Wesley Seminary stands firm on this value; the best teaching and deepest learning takes place in an integrated life-experience. Most seminaries have historically taught classes within specific disciplines: Bible, Theology, Church History and practical ministry classes. But no one in the real world lives in that kind of silo-mentality. We must “live, move and have our being” as whole persons. My question has always been “why not model teaching the way we live life?” Thus, output from one class serves as input to another. If you are taking a Bible class on the Gospels, an exegesis assignment on Mark or John will become the sermon topic for a Homiletics class. We need not double up assignments thinking that will give us better outcomes. Theological education should mirror life!

My second take away from Kingswood flows directly out of the idea of integration but this new nuance is found in the word holistic. Every area of life becomes a classroom experience. Not merely a room with four walls and some flashy technology. Rooms are great, but there is more to theological education than the exchange of content in a assigned classroom (brick-and-mortar or virtual). Moreover, AFTER seminary, will our learning and growing still take place or must you reconvene with a ministry expert to explore fresh truths? Thus, at Kingswood we have tried to create “classrooms without walls.” Every institution says this. We celebrate it! Hallways, cafeteria, chapel, coffee-time, eating in professors’ homes are just as integral to learning process as the traditional classroom. Learning takes place in all arenas of life.

When it comes to holistic theological education; that implies more than the cognitive realm. Kingswood is not just about making her students smarter but about shaping their heads, hearts, and hands all at the same time. This is just as true for Wesley Seminary. Since everyone one must be serving in ministry while in Seminary; the best learning laboratory is no longer found in the classroom or a library cubicle but the most-favored place for learning is actually in the local church. Personally, in my mind, the shaping of a person’s soul is just as important (if not more so) than the fashioning of their cognitive domain. Listen to what I just read by Dallas Willard this morning when asked what is the primary role of a pastor in the transformation of his/her local church, “You must arrange your life so that you are experiencing deep commitment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God.” Willard is stressing (as do all the other spiritual formation guru’s; Eugene Peterson, James Bryan Smith, Richard Foster) that pastoral ministry is less about what you know and what you do; but more flows directly out of who you are! We must be about shaping the WHOLE person to facilitate true Kingdom outcomes.
____________________________________________
Ken:  Some might argue that Wesley Seminary is entering a second phase in his existence. The planting and founding stage is over. As you look forward, what is your vision for Wesley Seminary as its incoming academic Dean?

David Smith:  I am unapologetically a collaborative-leader. It would certainly be possible for me to give you a list of ideas that are close to my heart; many of which I have shared with Dr. Schmidt during the interview process over the last month. I shared them with him so he would know where my passions lay and what causes my heart to beat faster. But if I was to put them into a 1,2,3 step plan for Wesley Seminary during the next 18 months and hand them over at our next Wesley Seminary faculty meeting; I would set the tone as a patriarchal dean. Instead, I desire to get to know the faculty and staff…and to discover their passions for Wesley. Next, to examine the current trajectory and to put into place any needed systems to sustain (and even escalate) the unprecedented growth patterns for the first 6 years.

Being a collaborative-leader often means change takes place at a slower pace. But at the same time, its final outcome is not merely a decision but to enjoy the journey with the ones whom you are traveling. Moreover, the journey is like the offer Gandalf gives to Frodo, “I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” The great delight for me is that when the adventure is over, its not just a wonderful time of creative energy but that we have been fashioned in a unified whole who have a shared vision and unified ownership. I love being employed (and called) in the Kingdom.

But if it might help…let me share two truths about myself that might reveal a few directions I just might be leaning…

I am a Pastor-Teacher. I tell President Mark Gorveatte regularly, I am a pastor masquerading as a dean. I can do administration but heart is with and for the local church. Paper shuffling and I are not best friends; unless it leads to the goal of forming the faculty/staff into persons-on-mission-together or shaping the Imago Dei in others. And the older I get the more I affirm this; teams work so much better than individual super-stars. That is why I love Wesley Seminary; for here we celebrate “foot-washing pastors” not intellectual giants in the front of a classroom.

I am a Bridge-builder. I long for the Academy as a whole to serve rather than be served. We have for too long seen the “ivory tower” as the pinnacle and purveyor of the knowledge of Christ. Yet the call of Scripture summarized by Paul in the Ephesian prayer, “For this reason I kneel before the Father…that you may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:18-19). Thus, the Academic world disconnected from the local church is disembodied truth; for love, according to the Apostle Paul surpasses our thinking capacities. And the local church isolated from both the Academy and the global Kingdom will and certainly has at times atrophied into its current less-than-effective state (at least in the North American context). Thus, I long to spend time connecting the local church, the Academy, and the world into its purposeful reality, so God can once again declare His creation-fiat, “It is good.” This, in my heart, means we must be driven by His Spirit to be Kingdom minded-creation honoring-ethnically inclusive-local church oriented followers. Kingdom success can be defined in so many ways, but for me, it’s how well we play together and enter into the Perichoretic dance with the Triune God. This I want to be involved in on both the vision-casting level but also as an active participant.
__________________________________
Ken:  What else would you like to say to those who are excitedly watching you make this transition?

David Smith: In early spring, all Wesleyan pastors are asked if this will be a year of transition for them. I was asked by a number of pastors to help them “traverse” this thought-process with them. I penned this blog post to help others in their process. Little did I know that the Lord was preparing Angie and me to think deeply over the people and the place where we would be serving in the years ahead.

Five years ago, the Lord did not lead us AWAY from Indiana Wesleyan but rather called us TO Kingswood. His voice was clear and undeniable. Not obeying was never an option. We have treasured every day we have spent here in Atlantic Canada– breath-taking landscapes, delicious seafood, and so many beautiful relationships of all ages that have shaped the way we love the Lord and serve others. I have been given countless opportunities to serve the church like never before. For this I am eternally grateful. Nevertheless, the move to Canada was hard because of the distance we placed between family and life-long friends. Angie and I both have aging parents whom we are not serving well and grandchildren who we are watching grow up on Skype.

Everything I Learned about Church I Learned from the Drive-In Theater (Kwasi Kena)

In 1989, Robert Fulghum wrote the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The book is a series of two to three page essays. Each one presents a reflection on some unique learning experience Fulghum had in life. His book opens with a poem like creed that proclaims that all one needs to learn about living a good life one already knows or should have learned in kindergarten. In related fashion, I wonder if we can learn much about church behavior from the rise and fall of drive-in theaters.

In 1955, The Reformed Church of America gave The Reverend Robert Schuller and his wife Arvella a $500 grant to start a ministry in California. In a quirky entrepreneurial move, the Schullers chose to launch their ministry in a drive-in theater. An early ad expressed what the ministry appealed to in potential visitors: “The Orange Church meets in the Orange Drive-In Theater where even the handicapped, hard of hearing, aged and infirm can see and hear the entire service without leaving their family car” (Garber, 2012).

The idea of a drive-in church appealed to a combination of privacy and public spectacle. People could worship in the private space provided by their enclosed cars, while simultaneously joining other private worshippers in a public space. Worshippers came, watched and drove home without having to leave their cars or interact with people in the “congregation” or the surrounding community.

In his classic book, With Justice for All, John Perkins took a stance opposite that of drive-in church culture. Perkins, a native of Mississippi, did what many blacks did during segregation. He noted the three choices before him: 1) Stay, accept the system and become dehumanized; 2) go to jail or get killed; or 3) leave for the big city (Perkins, 2007, p. 16). Perkins chose the latter and moved to California where “he made it”. There, Perkins got a good job, earned a good living, and purchased a house where his wife Vera Mae and his children could live a happy comfortable life. But, as Janet O. Hagberg points out in Real Power, what Perkins acquired is what Hagberg refers to as power by achievement. In this stage you acquire the types of status symbols that presume success: a good job, a nice car, a fine home, a comfortable style of living. She goes on to note, however, that real power begins to surface when we acknowledge the call on our lives. When we recognize that we live not just to accumulate external symbols of success, but rather respond to the inner urges of God’s Spirit.

Ironically, in the midst of this season of comfort, Perkins got converted to Christianity and became a diligent disciple. Then Perkins sensed God’s call to return to segregated Mississippi; a place where he had no job, no opportunities, and no home to call his own. It was there that Perkins learned to live among the people he was called to serve; to feel what they felt and see life through their eyes. After years of living among the people, overcoming their astonishment at his return at great cost to himself and his family, the people began to trust him. He entered into solidarity; and from that space of trust Perkins and the people in the community together determined when, where and how they could become partners in helping to build each other up and develop the community for Christ.

In the 1980s there were over 2,400 drive-in theaters; now, there are less than 350. Times have changed. The technology in the movie industry changed from 35mm film to digital and the expense of updating drive-in theater projection equipment is cost prohibitive. Times have changed. The ethnic demographics in the United States is more varied than it ever has been in the history of this nation. Chances are great that the neighborhoods surrounding church edifices built in the mid to late 1900s have changed drastically. Drive-in congregations remain a reality. The question becomes whether or not drive-in congregants are willing to relinquish preferences for privacy and minimal interaction with members of the community surrounding the church.

References

Garber, M. (2012) “Real faith: How the drive-in movie theater helped create the megachurch. The startup origins of the Crystal Cathedral”. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/reel-faith-how-the-drive-in-movie-theater-helped-create-the-megachurch/258248/

Hagberg, J. O. (2012). Real power: Stages of personal power in organizations (Third Edition). (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company).

Perkins, J. (2007). With justice for all A strategy for community development (Revised & Updated). (Ventura, CA: Regal Books).

 

 

Tactical Tips for the Guest Speaker

If you’re a pastor, chances are someone at some point will invite you to be a guest speaker at their church or special event.  Guest speaking occasions can provide some of the most significant opportunities for ministry impact. The guest speaking adventure is also laden with some dangerous dynamics. These guest speaker survival tips can help you navigate the challenges.

Explore the Context: There have been a few times when I was invited to preach in a context that I knew absolutely nothing about. Maybe that has happened to you. The person who invited you was in her 20s, so you planned a message for 20 somethings. When you arrived to speak at the event, you discovered that the large majority of people in the preaching context are in their 60s and 70s. None of your pop culture illustrations and quotes are going to connect with this crowd. You might as well chuck the Lady Gaga quote and Avengers movie illustration. If we take the time to explore the context, total disconnects like this one wouldn’t happen.

Nowadays, when I am invited to speak in a new context, I ask the person inviting me to complete a Ministry Request Form. On the form I request the following information: Describe the culture of the group with five adjectives. What is the demographic make-up of the group in terms of ethnicity, generation, socio-economics, education, and spiritual maturity? What is the purpose of the event? How many people will attend the event? What is the appropriate attire for the event? The response to these inquiries provides a sketch of the group and shapes the content and delivery of my message.

When I receive the completed Ministry Request Form I pass it on to members of my prayer team. They not only pray for my speaking events, but help me to discern which invitations to accept.

Respect the Context: If someone invites you to speak at their event, then they want you to be you. You should show up at the event as your authentic self. After all, they want you to speak. But, without losing the essence of who you are as a person and a preacher, you should respect the context enough to adapt to it. I’ve seen too many speakers shoot themselves in the foot by disrespecting the context. They dress incongruently with the group. They use language that offends the group. Their message goes 20 minutes past the group’s listening capacity. It’s one thing to explore the context, it’s another to respectfully adjust to it. The needs of the listener must trump our personal preferences. We call this empathy and it is effective when genuine.

When the speaker disrespects the group she has been invited to address, the listeners can’t help but ear-muff the message. They’ll stop listening to what you have to say when they feel disregarded. If the group is going to be impacted by what God gave you to share, they will need to sense that you “get” and respect who they are.

Thank Your Host:  I’m often so eager to jump into my message that I forget to thank my host for cutting me loose in his people. About 5 minutes into my message I realize, as I make eye contact with the host, that I forgot to express thanks for the invitation and hospitality he extended to me. At this point, it’s too late. It wouldn’t be wise for me to say, “I interrupt this message with the following public service announcement- I want to thank your so and so for inviting me here today.”

Remember that while it’s important to thank the host, don’t overdo it, especially if you’re on a tight time budget. Make your comments brief and to the point. But please try to offer something a bit more creative and personal than the typical “thanks so much for having me.” Come on. You can do better than that.

Exalt Jesus: Although we must respect the context, we are called to proclaim Christ not entertain people. Our speaking should exalt Christ in a winsome manner. But, at the end of the sermon’s day, listeners should come away more impressed with Christ than with the speaker. If the host asks you not to mention the name of Jesus in your message, say at an inter-faith event, and you just can’t comply, be up front with your host. But, if your host doesn’t make such a request, proclaim Christ with love, respect and absolute gusto!

I was invited to the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives Session at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg to offer an opening prayer. I’m a Christian minister, so the content of my prayer was Christ-focused. No one asked me not to pray in the name of Jesus and I didn’t ask permission. I assumed that’s what they expected since I’m a Christian minister. I didn’t use my prayer to beat up on other religions. I didn’t pray, “and, God, we know that all Muslims and Hindus are going to hell” or anything like that. That would betray my rule about respecting the context. But, make no mistake, Jesus was the central point of my prayer. I thanked the Father for sending Christ the Son to be the ultimate public servant. One of the people who worked at the State Capitol Building said to me, “it was so good to hear a prayer from a Christian minister that mentioned Jesus.” I know, novel, right?

Discussion

Now it’s your turn to share some wisdom with our readers. What tips for the guest speaker would you add to my list? Which of my tips do you want to challenge or confirm?

Your Church Needs Two New Side-Doors Next Year (Charles Arn)

The front doors of many churches today are closing. “Front doors” is a term that describes how most newcomers first come in contact with a church—as visitors to worship or to some other special event.  It is out of this visitor pool that churches have traditionally identified prospective new members.  However, in the past 20 years both the total number of church visitors has been declining, as well as the percentage of visitors to total attendance in most churches.

If you want to see your church survive, let alone thrive, I suggest that you build some new “side-doors” that will create new ways to connect with people in your community.

What is a “side-door”?  Here is a definition:

Side-door: A church-sponsored program, group, or activity in which a non-member/non-Christian can become comfortably involved and develop meaningful relationships with people in the church.

A side-door provides a place where church members and non-members develop friendships around something important they share in common. And such friendships are an important key that describes the most important means by which people come to Christ and the church.  (See The Silver Bullet for Disciple-Making.)

Here are just a few examples of actual side-doors that churches have created where members and non-members are developing friendships around common interests. There are side-doors in churches for people who:

• ride motorcycles • have children in the military • own RVs • are recent widowers • are newlyweds • enjoy reading books • are unemployed • suffer from chronic pain • have husbands in jail • are nominal Jews • have spouses who are not believers • are fishermen • are single mothers • want to get in better physical condition • wish to help homeless families • play softball • are interested in end-times • have a bed-ridden parent • are raising grandchildren • are moms with teenage daughters • need help managing their finances • enjoy scrap-booking • are children in blended families • have children with a learning disability • are married to men who travel frequently • enjoy radio controlled airplanes • are pregnant • are affected by homosexuality • struggle with chemical dependency • are empty-nesters • enjoy camping • are divorced with no children • have a family member diagnosed with cancer • are single dads • enjoy SCUBA diving • are hearing-impaired …and that’s just a start!

About 10% of the churches in the United States are side-door churches in which “…most of the new people who connect with the church made first contact through a ministry other than the worship service.”[1] We also know that approximately 14% of churches in the U.S. are experiencing growth in the worship attendance. While I have not tried to correlate these two numbers, it would not be surprising to find a strong relationship between “side-door churches” and “growing churches”.  Rev. Craig Williford, recalling his experience in leading two growing churches, says: “Our weekend services were very vital. But the side door ministries produced more evangelism and brought far more new people into our church.”[2]

What You Can Do About It

How can your church begin creating side doors—new groups, new classes, new activities where members and non-members can build friendships?  Here are some guidelines for starting new side-doors:

1.  Find the Passion. Everyone in your church cares deeply about something; sometimes it’s a number of things. Such passion generally falls into one of two categories: “Recreational” or “Developmental”. The first relates to how people like to spend their free time. Topics may range from baking apple pies to studying zoology. The second category, Developmental, relates to major life issues. Topics usually center around: health, finances, relationships, or employment.

2.  Hold an “exploratory” meeting. Invite three or more people who share the same passion to a brainstorming session to discuss the idea of your church starting a new ministry for people who —– [the area of passion]. Include an announcement in the church bulletin inviting interested worshippers to the meeting. Explain that participants in the meeting are not being asked to get involved in the project, just to share their ideas and brainstorm possibilities for a new ministry. Gather the group, perhaps over a meal, and explore the possibilities of your church starting such a ministry. Explain that one of the primary purposes of the new ministry is to build friendships with non-members through connecting around a common interest. Let the meeting take its course, and see what kind of interest is generated. If there is any enthusiasm, take the next step:

3.  Research other churches. Chances are good that there are churches that have already developed a creative ministry in the area you are considering. If the brainstorming group is interested and willing, ask individuals to go online and search out any other churches that might have a ministry for people with that particular interest. Then compare notes with others who have done similar research.

4.  Describe what such a ministry could look like in five years. Assess the enthusiasm of the group in taking the next step to explore a new ministry. Don’t expect 100% success in all exploratory gatherings. If there aren’t at least three people with the desire to help start a new ministry, put the idea on the back burner. You’re looking for a spark of enthusiasm that might catch hold of a group of dreamers in your church.

5. Form a “Ministry Planning Team” with at least three people who are willing to help build a new ministry (side-door) in your church.  Develop a timeline with dates and events for the next year. Agree that in six months the activities will be evaluated as to whether there is a possible future for this new ministry idea. And discuss how the church can be most supportive in this new initiative.

There is, of course, much involved in creating a fully-functioning side-door ministry. But most growing churches today have at least one side door that grew out of the passion of members, and has become an entry-path to life in Christ and that church.  Why not try it and see what happens.  You might be pleasantly surprised…

(For a more information and a planning guide for building side doors, see the book Side Door published by Wesley Publishing House, 2013.)

[1] Gary McIntosh. Beyond the First Visit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006, p. 22.

[2] Denver Seminary Magazine: Fall 2004 Sep 15, 2004 Emergent Dialogue.