Category Archives: Blog Posts

Sabbath Oven (Safiyah Fosua)

It started with the oven and an attempt to include more hot, home-cooked meals in our diet.  I saw a dialogue on the panel of the stove that suggested that I should be able to program the oven to start and stop at a certain time.  I could already smell a warm, savory casserole, ready for us to sit down and eat at the end of the day.  In my pursuit to work more productively, I pressed every combination of buttons that seemed to make sense:

Start time —

Stop time —

Bake temp —


Not right!

Start time.

Bake temp

Stop time


Again not right!


Finally, in disgrace I retreated to the owner’s manual.  I was able to find what I needed in the index under Jewish Sabbath Mode. No, really, ovens know how to take the Sabbath!


Ovens know how to take a Sabbath; and we do not.


My mind went quickly to my childhood upbringing and my grandparents’ house on the weekends.    My grandparents were God-loving, Sabbath–keeping people.  They loved me and they loved Jesus.  It was not uncommon to find one or the other singing hymns while they went about their daily chores; granddaddy in the garage cleaning tools, or grandma in the kitchen washing dishes.  As a child, I remember hearing the verse:  Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.  Perhaps I heard it around the dinner table before a meal.  Our family observed the custom of reciting a Bible verse before each meal.  One person might have led the prayer to bless the food, but every mouth around the table still had to say something to honor God from the scriptures before it ate.  So, even as a small child, you were required to a memorize scripture to be said before consuming the good food that God had provided.  And, you were expected to have several scriptures in your memory so that you did not say the same one each time you had a meal.

So around the circle we went:

Lord, we thank you for the food that we are about to receive from Thy bounty.  In Jesus’ name.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.

Jesus wept.  (Jesus wept or God is Love were the verses reserved for the youngest children.)


Table fellowship was an important part of our life together as a family.  And, so was the Sabbath.  Weekends at my grandparents’ house were frequently filled with the bustle of preparation for the Sabbath.  Many weekends, while I was still an elementary school-aged child, the big Sunday meal was cooked on Saturday.  It was cooked on Saturday so that we could avoid cooking on Sunday, the Sabbath.

During those years, we did not wash clothes on Sunday.  Or iron them.  We did no heavy housework on the Sabbath.  And most times, we did not cook. We just warmed the food that had been cooked the day before.

On Sunday mornings, we sat somberly and listened to a succession of radio preachers and their sermons.

Did I forget to mention that we were an unchurched family that loved Jesus?  Granddaddy had been deeply wounded by the Church years ago and we had no church affiliation.  We were affiliated with the tribe of Jesus’ followers, and for him that would have to be enough. 

So there we sat on Sunday mornings; somber and quiet around an old RCA radio, hearing sermons from a variety of sources.  I think it was there that I first heard Billy Graham.  Before or after him, one or more of the local church broadcasts.  African-American preachers with a rousing cadence that convinced you that Jesus died for your sins and therefore you should live a more devoted life.  We even sat quietly for the Rosary Hour.

Often the radio stayed on until the radio station switched to secular programming.  For the remainder of the day, we rested.  No work.  No cooking.  No high-energy playing.  Just rest.

If we left the house at all; it was to visit relatives and smile with them for a while before returning home to rest for the remainder of the day, and maybe to go to bed a little earlier because Monday was a work day.

It was a long time before I was able to push past the guilt of working on the Sabbath.  I do not know if my sin of Sabbath-breaking began while I was in college having to work three part-time jobs to stay enrolled, or if it was under the influence of friends who had no concept of Sabbath.  Or, perhaps it was the pressure of having small children and desperately needing to wash clothes before the grind of the Monday-Saturday work week started all over again.

Once I became of age, joined church, and began to hang out with church folks, I was amazed at the frenzied weekends and seeming lack of Sabbath rest.  Somehow, I thought being part of a congregation would take me back to a place in time, remembered and longed for.


And, so,

I continue in my quest to rediscover Sabbath,

Like a hero, or a warrior on a dangerous epic quest.

I am thwarted on one side by the pressure of time-sensitive work that must be completed.

On the other side, I hear the voice of my grandmother, head-bowed at a meal saying:  Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.

And, all around me are the voices of a culture that screams:  faster, faster!


My oven may be programmed to keep the Sabbath; yet I am not, at least not quite yet.


Lord, forgive me.

Well done! (Wayne Schmidt)

This blog post is scheduled for August 31st – Ken Schenck’s last official day as Dean of Wesley Seminary at IWU.  It has been my privilege to work beside him for nearly six years.  We are opposites in many ways, yet I’ve learned so much from him.

I thought I’d share a few of those lessons – not to elevate Ken, because that would be the last thing he would want.  But because I believe God is honored when we recognize how He is at work in those we serve with…much of what God wants to teach us comes out of team relationships.

  • The area of greatest fulfillment may not equal the arena of greatest fruitfulness

The principal architects of the unique learning model of Wesley Seminary were Ken, Russ Gunsalus and Keith Drury.  After the academic design was initially envisioned, legend has it that Keith challenged Ken to serve as Academic Dean in the Seminary’s formative first five years even though Ken’s first love and greatest strength would not be administration.  Keith planted this seed in that conversation with Ken – perhaps Ken would look back one day and realize his greatest contribution was his time of service as Wesley Seminary’s Academic Dean.  And, typical of Ken’s willingness to go the extra mile, Ken ended up serving an extra year beyond the five.

Ken’s first love is teaching and writing (and maybe posting on social media, but that’s a discussion for another time).  Yet he was willing to serve in a role that wasn’t his first love.  Our greatest contribution may not perfectly align with our greatest contentment and satisfaction – yet God may use it in significant ways for His glory.

When I was involved in planting Kentwood Community Church, one of the early endeavors that providing lasting strength to the Church was a course, provided in a small group context, called B.E.A.M. – Believers Enabled As Ministers.  It was our customized way of helping people to discover their personality strengths and spiritual gifts.  It led to a significant percentage of our congregation knowing and focusing on service in areas that fit their wiring.  Yet we discussed regularly the reality that a portion of their service may not be in their “sweet spot” – and yet the Church would benefit from it.  Our contribution must not be held captive to personal contentment.

Now I tried to pay attention to what I called Ken’s “sigh meter” – his sighs that would emerge when responsibilities with low fulfillment factors began to pile up.  Others of us on the team tried to serve in a way that kept Ken in his sweet spot the majority of the time. But not all of our service is within our strengths.  Some of Ken’s most significant work may well have had more than a few sighs sprinkled in.

  • Find the right mixture of flexibility and creativity

Wesley Seminary has a wonderfully unique learning model of integration of Bible, theology and church history with the major practical areas of ministry, delivered through team teaching.  Traditionally, Seminary learning has tended toward the silo structure – courses in Bible separate from courses in theology separate from courses in church history, and all these not connected to the practice of ministry.  The burden to figure out how it all fit together was left to the students.

Ken worked with the Seminary faculty to take responsibility for the integration – to team together professors in the different disciplines with those having experience and expertise in practical ministry.  You can likely imagine this elevated the level of complexity from our Academic Dean and faculty.  Highly creative, yet particularly challenging – quite frankly, many Seminaries wouldn’t even attempt it.

While this approach has had to be modified, Ken has worked with the faculty to maintain a framework for flexibility.  There is constant pressure to reduce the complexity, but with the unintended consequence of leaving the students unprepared to integrate what they’re learning – and to lose the unique genius of informed reflection on ministry practice.  This may leave our students vulnerable to either irrelevance or pragmatism.  Ken has skillfully partnered with our faculty to reduce unnecessary complexity while preserving the creativity and its resulting benefits.

  • Discern the relationship between your strengths and the organization’s season

When Wesley Seminary started, the curriculum was just being created by Ken and the few faculty part of the Seminary in those initial days.  One of Ken’s greatest strengths is curricular design – and then a lack of defensiveness as it was initially tested and critiqued by our faculty and students (we affectionately refer to these initial students as our gracious guinea pigs).  That is just the strength the Seminary needed in that initial season.

At the same time, in those early days, faculty collaboration was informal – usually taking place in the hallway outside one of their doors.  Ken discerned that the next season would benefit from an Academic Dean that would provide collegial leadership to a faculty becoming more substantial in number and growing each year – and helped us to invite Dave Smith to be out next Dean (I look forward to learning from Dave as well), who is known for his strength in developing collaborative teams.

  • Excellence without arrogance is a joy to be around

Ken is brilliant – I call him “scary smart.”  He does better with half a dozen languages than I do with just English.  Before I came to work in the University setting, I was warned about the “academic arrogance” generally prevalent in higher education.

What a privilege to partner with a person who exhibits profound humility in the context of great capability.  Constantly learning and improving, not a false humility that fails to offer one’s best, but a focus on personal growth while ensuring the glory goes to God.  It could have been intimidating to work with him…instead it has been invigorating.

So what are you learning from those you work with?  What qualities in them do you desire to more fully incorporate into your life and leadership?

Ken, on your last day as Academic Dean, I want to say “well done”…and am delighted that my “well done” probably means very little to you, since you live for a “well done, good and faithful servant” that has everlasting significance.

DIVINE DELAY…Really Jesus? Now?

Welcome back to Wesley Seminary! We’ve been praying for you and trust you’ve been praying for us.

How was your summer break? I am convinced God is doing His best to get my attention regarding the subject of His timing, as opposed to my timing on things. During the past week the topic surfaced at least three times in the most unexpected ways. Do you think this has anything to do with being impatient or with wanting God to do things my way and/or at my pace? I suspect He was trying to call me on this during the summer but I must have been too busy! You think?

Divine Delay is the title of a sermon preached by one of my pastors and it messed me up! It all started with Mark 5 and a series called Hidden Meanings. Jairo (Jairus in English) has a daughter and she is sick to the point of death. What does Jairo do?

Meets up with Jesus | Falls at the feet of Jesus | Begs Jesus to come

There have been things in my life that caused me to desperately pursue Jesus, and fall at His feet begging for help. I’m sure you have those stories to share as well. Now the outcome of those experiences are different so what happens next in the story I find to be very fascinating!

Jesus says ‘yes’ to Jairo and they head towards their destination. On the way they are faced with a delay. Yes a delay! Can you imagine? It’s a people traffic jam! People everywhere! They could barely walk! Jairo checks his GPS to see if there is an alternate route (not really!) The only way is to push through the crowds so they make it to the other side. Imagine what Jairo is thinking?

Nothing else could go wrong! Nothing! One more delay could result in a matter of life or death. And then it happens…a delay…as if Jairo needed one more thing to increase his level of anxiousness. It’s a jab straight at his faith. The unexpected happens…Jesus stops! He stops to ask who touched me! REALLY JESUS? NOW? Really? Come on Jesus, the daughter is dying?

Well you know the rest of the story. It’s pretty dramatic. Brant (my pastor) asked: Do you think Jesus was really asking who touched me because he didn’t know? Was the question intended to increase the faith of the woman, disciples or the crowd? Probably all. Based on what happens to Jairo’s daughter, I also think it was intended to sift the faith of Jairo.

The sermon made me aware of something I’ll call suspicious faith. I’m sure someone has a better term but I will define it as: faith to a degree and/or faith with conditions or simply stated a faith that is skeptical. I am wondering if we live within an ecclesial culture that operates under a suspicious faith. We are afraid to pray for the sick…what happens if they are not healed? Demon-possessed…not delivered? Dead…big faith leagues, let’s not do that. Jairo’s faith could not fail him. It just couldn’t. He could not give up on Jesus, when he heard the news of his daughter’s death.

Really Jesus? Now? Jairo could have shifted blame on Jesus: Why did you let this happen to my daughter? Why me? Who could blame him? It is only natural to want to explain things in order to make sense of it. I know I do it all the time. This happened to me because ______. This would not have happened if ____________.  In leadership terms we call this Attribution Theory (look it up). I got an ‘A’ on this paper because I worked real hard (internal attribution). I did not get an ‘A’ on this paper because the professor did not return my call (external attribution). I attribute this to me (internal) or it’s because of someone else (external).

I’m sure we will naturally experience a dose of attribution theory this semester as we try to explain some of the things that happen with assignments and all that fun stuff. We may get away with explaining some of these things with attribution theory. However, there are others that require a supernatural response, which calls us to abandon the suspicious faith.

Just like Jairo our faith will be sifted…Really God, now? Some of you may be in the sifting of faith right now. Should you find yourself wanting God to move at your pace or wondering why you’ve not reached the expected destination, go ahead and take advantage of the program. Examine and assess where you are in terms of your alignment with ministry and God’s calling upon your life. Jairo did not go to the lake prematurely. The woman with the flow did all she could. As my pastor says we must be accountable for our faith. Through it all have patience…don’t be in such a hurry! (Childhood flashbacks!) God has His own timetable and His timing is not yours (mine). God did not heal Jairo’s daughter. He raised her from the dead… Divine Delay.

I can’t help but think about what happened to Pastor Jairo and the ministry at the synagogue. Oremos los unos por los otros

P.S. By the way did you notice all the ‘falling at Jesus feet, begging Jesus and the different kinds of fears’ in this chapter? Did you also notice the woman was sick for 12 years and the daughter of Jairo was 12 years old? I love the Bible! So good!

Joanne Solis-Walker

Is It God’s Will that I change Churches?


Over the past several months, several pastoral friends have prayerfully asked this question, “Do you sense the ministry move from ‘here to there’ would be a faithful transition for me?” This is always a deep trust question that I prayerfully attempt to honor. But this faith adventure with Jesus also has imbedded within it presuppositions that should be identified before moving forward. Simply, let’s look back and in before leaning forward. The best way for me to do this is using a Socratic approach; let me ask you some questions to help you discover truth. So please overhear me talking to a friend about one of the most pressing decisions any pastor can and will make.

First, “Do you assume that the location of your ministry calling is paramount and of primary concern to your faithfulness to the Lord?” (Theology question, “Is the Lord’s working in and thru you restricted by location?”)

Second, as an extension of the first question, “Is there only one place where your gifts can be utilized by the Lord?” Rephrase it this way, if your answer is yes, then you must be assuming that one response you will make is the faithful one and the other must be resulting in your disobedience. (Now, the theological question, what does this reveal about the nature of God and His character and the manner He employs spirit-filled people in Kingdom work?)

My friend…you know my desire is not to gain the right answer but to ask the right question that prepares the “way of the Lord.” So, here we go…

In seeking the Lord’s will, especially for questions that involved significant life change, my questions in prayer are these:

  1. Will this decision and the journey it may take me on make me more servant-like? More humble? (And not just “look” more like a servant but will this serve as a catalyst for my own real transformation)
  2. Will the Imago Deiin me continue to be shaped into His?
  • Will your mind become more like that of Christ Jesus? (Phil 2)
  • Will your “thinking like men diminish as thinking like God will increase?” (Mark 8)
  1. Will this action (obedience by either “staying” or “going”) display to my family, friends, and faith community a movement of the Spirit in my life?
  2. Will my Kingdom influence increase as my needs of self-interest diminish?
  3. Will God the Father and His Son be glorified? Will the Spirit find pleasure in me as His home?
  4.  Does this time of “seeking His Face” (not just His will) cause me to fully submit to Him in prayer, searching the Scriptures, and practicing the means of Grace. (Read it this way: Is the delight of being in His presence so much better than merely gaining information about my “next steps”?)
  5. Finally, have I already said “Yes” to His will BEFOREI know what it is? Do I so trust Him that I am already leaning towards His voice even before He speaks?

Response from my seeking friend;

Wow. That is a lot to take in. Thank you for your guidance Dave. I needed to read all of these. I am not sure it’s possible to answer some of them fully until you step out in faith. How is it possible to know how you will be shaped in the future by decisions that must be made on the present? How do I know if the Imago Dei will be formed in me? These are all great questions. I would expect nothing less.

My friend;

Try to re-read my questions without implying that you are merely seeking to make a ministry placement decision. For the questions are not segmented or focused on making a “right choice” (or the fear of making a “wrong choice”) but making a godly “life choice” (and read that as a Resurrection life-choice). Huge difference. The questions are intentionally designed to get you into the Presence of the God of all Wisdom, not merely making a list of spiritual pros-and-cons for a choice. That, my friend is secondary at best.

In my life there have been rare occasions when the Lord has so powerfully intervened and invaded my world that He has sovereignly taken me out of my current ministry context. Maybe 5 times in my entire life. Mostly I sense He is about changing me IN my current location and making me salt and light to broken and lost people.

In the end, I really think we have historically asked the wrong question: “Lord, what is Your will for my life?” For as a whole, doesn’t that sound self-centered? Rather, why not ask a larger Kingdom-minded question: “Lord, what is Your will, for the world!” Thus, we think global in scope and transformational of our heart.

If “spiritual unrest” is being stirred up in our ministry and maybe you even feel as if you are currently living in the land of ministry-wilderness, maybe it’s not so much to move us out but to change us from within. Let’s get that part right first…before we begin thinking that simply a change of location will fix everything.  Otherwise we take our same spiritual-relational problems into a new setting…and maybe actually contaminate that place with our pain and shame. I want to be a contagion of grace and peace. I do not want to make bad people good…or good people better; I want to be part of making dead people ALIVE. Jesus, start with me.

My friend, a ministry move may be in order. I’m just begging you to ask the first-order question; “Am I running from something (pain, ministry disappointment, financial hardship, lack of divine trust, pastoral leadership issues, laity problems) or am I submissive to the Holy Spirit to use all this to prepare me to be more Christ-like than I ever imagined. Remember, all of life and ministry is preparing us not just to “do something more effectively” but also to “be with Him” and to live in the presence of the Triune God for all eternity. So, the true location question of ministry should not be “here or there” but “in Christ.”

This is the worst “non-answer” I have ever given. But He-Jesus is the best answer to any question you can come up with.


In Jesus’ joy,




A Blessed Six Years!

New Dean David Smith and I are in that strange liminal zone of transition. He will officially assume the Dean’s role a week from today, but he has already served as Dean at the consecration service this last Saturday. Meanwhile, I moved fully out of my office on Friday. It feels a little like the kingdom of God–already but not yet. 🙂

The Lord has been gracious in this transition. I am so thankful that David Smith has taken hold of the academic wheel of the Seminary. I can already see ways in which he will advance the mission of the Seminary beyond what I have done. It has been delightful to see how excited the community is to have him return to Marion and to give guidance to the academic ventures of the Seminary going forward.

I have a few reflections on transitions of this kind, including pastoral transitions. They basically boil down to thinking of the good of the community and your replacement. Don’t stop serving the community you are leaving just because you are leaving. Don’t push an agenda on it either. Do all the good you can do in the time you have left to the degree that the community wants you to do it.

Be selfless in relation to your replacement. Don’t give in to the fallen temptation not to want things to go as well after you leave. That is of the Devil. Do everything you can to help your community continue to grow, mature, and succeed after you are gone. Do everything you can to equip your successor to be best equipped for the community to do even better than it did while you were in your role.

I commented last week that I felt good about where the Seminary is at as I leave. I think the faculty have done well to fix the most glaring areas for improvement in our curriculum. Dr. Fosua has completely improved the Worship course. Dr. Peñaranda has completely overhauled our Spanish courses. Dr. Derr is rewriting the two courses that had not been revised since the Seminary started. Dr. Smith will bring great new vision for the academics of the Seminary, but I don’t feel like I have left him anything major to fix. For that I am grateful to the faculty.

It has been a delight to learn from Dr. Wayne Schmidt these last five and a half years. He has taught me much about how to grow a seminary. I have learned a lot from him about how to lead a “seminary plant,” if I ever want to do that again. 🙂 I am incredibly grateful to him for letting me continue to work for the Seminary throughout the summer.

As those of you who know him would expect, he is a model of selfless Christlikeness and has been so throughout this process. He is completely surrendered to God’s will and doesn’t think of himself but of what will most advance God’s kingdom.

So my deepest thanks to the faculty, staff, students, alumni, board, and friends of Wesley Seminary for six incredible years, the chance of a lifetime. My participation in its founding may very well turn out to be the crowning contribution of my life. It is truly poised to change the church for good in astounding ways. The potential is practically boundless. I expect to hear amazing things coming out of the Seminary these next days!

Keith Drury has asked me if I have felt the predictable second guessing you always do when you make a transition like this one. If so, I won’t admit it! What I will say is that I am absolutely convinced that I am in the will of God and that this was the right time for a transition in the Seminary. And this is not a complete good-bye–David Smith seems willing to continue to let me teach for you some in the days ahead.

Also suffice it to say, I am incredibly excited to join the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) this Fall and to return full time to the classroom. As Wayne has said often, administration was an act of love. But I would teach and preach for free. I chanced upon a strategy meeting in STM on Friday and was amazed at the innovative juices that were flowing. “You guys are awesome,” I found myself saying.

So you haven’t heard the last of me. God bless you, Wesley Seminary!

2018 & 2042: Our Many Colored Future (Kwasi Kena)

The future. People have been and remain fascinated by it. Futurism, an art movement originating in Italy around 1909, emphasized the dynamism of speed, motion, youth, technology and the force of machinery. The movement only lasted nine years; ending in 1918. For some Futurism represented progress and hope, for others warning and fear. George Orwell took a stab at predicting the future in his classic book, 1984. Stanley Kubrick shared his thoughts in the film, 2001: a space odyssey. The business world looks to futurists who explore predictions and possibilities of the future. When I attended seminary in the ‘80s, the book Megatrends was required reading. With such widespread interest in the future, where should Christian leaders focus their gaze today? I suggest there are two sets of numbers that we should not ignore; the years 2018 and 2042.

In 2018, demographers note that the majority of persons aged 18 and under will be non-White in the United States.[1] By 2042, this country will become “majority minority”.[2] In California, Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group in the state.[3] Though your church may be situated in a culturally homogenous community, the chances are increasing daily that your children and grandchildren will encounter multiple ethnic groups during their lifetimes. How then should we prepare them and ourselves to engage our many colored future?

The past year has been a particularly volatile one for race relations in the United States. We have witnessed too many cellphone, dash cam, and security videos of race-driven violence. The worst culminating in the slaughter of nine innocent victims at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

I have been teaching the Cultural Contexts of Ministry course since I first arrived at Wesley Seminary at IWU three years ago. Sadly, each time I have taught the onsite intensive, there has been some type of racially charged national incident to process in class: July 13, 2013, the verdict in the Travon Martin court case; July 17, 2014, the video release of the choking death of Eric Gardner; August 9, 2014, the shooting of Michael Brown; November 22, 2014, the shooting of Tamir Rice, and most recently June 17, 2015, the murder of the “Emmanuel Nine”. I ask students to share how their congregations responded the Sunday following these incidents. Often the room becomes uncomfortably silent. The voice of the church goes mute when it does not have a vocabulary for such situations. The “what-should-I-say-or-do-say” language only emerges after people muster the courage to enter the life of the “Other” and learn from sitting in communal anguish. Developing the cultural intelligence to deal with current events involving race must become part of the ministry toolkit of today’s Christian leaders because 2018 and 2042 are coming.

As we church leaders walk into the increasingly diverse future, what posture will we take with regard to ethnic diversity? In the Cultural Context of Ministry class, we talk about anticipatory socialization, which involves doing the pre-work of learning about some of the core values, beliefs, and history of “others”. This work involves both formal reading and real-world conversations with people from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Go beyond finding out about ethnic foods, dress, and arts. Chase the “why” question that forms people’s core values and beliefs. Get their historical view on issues.

As we move closer to being a majority minority country, there is some pre-work that Christian leaders can do. Here is a short list of options that some colleges belonging to the CCCU (Christian Council for Christian Colleges & Universities) use to guide their thoughts and actions regarding how their institutions will relate to diverse peoples on and off campus. I suggest Christian leaders review this list and consider what it would mean to practice each concept in word and dead. Invite people in your churches or institutions to help you discern which concepts would help prepare people in your ministry context to relate to others in our many-colored world with deep respect and Christ’s love.


Peace Making


Social Justice

Intercultural Competencies

Celebration of Culture and/or Individual Difference

Human Flourishing


[1] Persistent Racial/Ethnic Gaps in the U.S. Retrieved August, 2, 2015

[2] Roberts, Sam. “Minorities in U.S. set to become majority by 2042”. The New York Times Retrieved August, 2, 2015

[3] Panzar, Javiar. “It’s official: Latinos now outnumber whites in California”. Los Angeles Times Retrieved August, 2, 2015


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
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)

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* 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  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

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; and Elaine Heath, address to The Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, Chicago, IL, June 16, 2011.


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’.”


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.