Our church is doing a church-wide initiative where we are serving in our “Judea.”
Taken from Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Judea would’ve been within a 20-mile range of Jerusalem. So Jesus was commanding them to bear witness not just in their own hometown (Jerusalem), and not forget about the surrounding community.
We’re taking Jesus up on that.
Here’s a video that our team at Long Hollow put together. It happens to be my personal small group. I love these guys!
What is your small group doing to serve your “Judea”?
At Long Hollow, we primarily plug people into small groups in two different ways:
- Connection Events
- Sermon Alignment
We ust finished with our latest sermon alignment, where we launched short-term small groups around our Sunday morning sermon series. We chose a series, and crafted it in such a way that it was accessible for a wide variety of spiritual maturities. It was incredibly effective for us, as we launched groups across our campuses, connecting bucketfuls of folks who hadn’t previously been connected.
If you’ve ever tried to line up a sermon series with your small groups in a way that was productive, though, and plan this all out far enough in advance to get the whole series printed and produced before you start the series, you know how much of a logistical challenge this is. From working with the teaching team to get the sermon series info, to crafting content that’s engaging, to producing videos that go along with the series, it’s a lot of work.
I’ve got a way to help one of the biggest steps for you.
We used Lifeway’s Discipleship in Context to help us produce the content. And they were incredibly easy to work with.
I sat down with their team, and laid out the whole series for him. I told them conceptually where the series was going, where each individual week would go, Scriptures that our team was wrestling through, and the general flow (introduction questions, sermon recap, application questions) we were looking for. They produced exactly what we were looking for. They hit it perfectly on the head.
I also told him how we needed a “leader’s guide” so that our leaders could be one step ahead of the folks in their group. They went over and above, including an easy-to-follow Bible commentary for leaders.
On top of it all, it was incredibly cost-effective.
I talked with a company recently that wanted to do everything for us…branding, printing, and video production. And they wanted to charge us tens of thousands of dollars.
I chuckled when they told me that, knowing that we could never afford that.
Thankfully, the Discipleship in Context guys know that churches can’t afford prices like that. And though they don’t do the videos, they’ll produce content that’s crafted in your church’s language, tailored to your exact sermon series.
We were thrilled with the product we got from them (you can click HERE to see it all). Absolutely thrilled. And I guarantee you we’ll use them in the future to help us craft the content for our groups and the alignment series we launch.
I think you should use them, too.
Here’s a video further explaining the Discipleship in Context team’s work:
Welp, here it is. Summer. The time for vacations, baseball tournaments, camps, and fireworks. Time for the pools to open and the schools to close. Crank up the lawnmower, fire up the grill, and…
…prepare for everyone’s normal schedule to be completely jacked up.
And if you’re a small group leader, you know exactly how difficult this can be. Tuesday nights were wonderful, until little Johnny started baseball. Thursday mornings were perfect, until Laura’s two kids weren’t in school throughout the summer. Thursday evenings worked for everybody…until, for 6 weeks straight, someone was on vacation.
Before the summer hits, you and your small group need to have a plan. Be ready for the chaos that is June and July so that when it drops, your group survives.
To help you out, I thought I’d give you some tips. Depending on whether you want to destroy your group or not, choose which list fits you best.
6 easy ways to destroy community over the summer
1. Meet every week at the same time.
A rule’s a rule, am I right? These people signed the small group covenant. If they can’t abide by it now, then kick ‘em out.
2. Just stop meeting.
After all, if you can’t meet every week, what’s the point? These people should be more committed.
3. Send angry tweets at the people who don’t show up every week.
Because nothing’s better than a good ole public defamation.
4. Assume that the people in your group that don’t show up every week have no commitment to the group.
Also, assume that they don’t really love Jesus. Be sure to include them in your “they really must need our prayer” list.
5. Petition your church council to remove them as members if they don’t show up every week.
6. Since your schedule is out of the norm, bar anyone else from meeting.
And if they decide to meet, let your pastor know that they’re probably conspiring against him.
1 easy way to flourish this summer
1. Be flexible.
Schedule’s are going to be crazy in June and July. So be flexible. If someone can’t show up, let them off the hook. Even before they ask. Don’t make people feel guilty for missing small group in the summer. Help them find time to value their family, and to value the vacation time they’re going to take from work.
Here are some practical ideas for your group.
5 practical ideas to help you be flexible:
Vary your meetings times: Meet 3 times in June and once in July. Or have a June party and a July party. Or meet the first 2 weeks in June and the first 2 weeks in July.
Include the kids: Choose activities where kids could be welcome.
Throw two parties: Have a party in June and a party in July.
Travel somewhere together: Go get ice cream. Or go on a hike. Or eat ice cream while you’re hiking.
Connect regularly: As a leader, be sure to individually connect multiple times with each of your group members, so they know you haven’t given up on them amidst the chaos of summer.
Don’t give up meeting together completely, and lose the sense of community that you’ve built as a small group. 2 months is a long time to go without connecting.
Just be sure to build flexibility in.
* this post was originally published at Lifeway’s Bible Study Insider blog.
I’m done listening to my pastor.
All this talk on believing the Gospel. Trusting God through pain. Loving my kids with all of my heart. Believing God’s way is better than my way. I’m done.
Will you join me?
Quit listening to your pastor talk about how much he loves you. About how God has a plan for your life. About how you need to link arms with other people and join a small group.
Quit listening to him when he says that it’s good for your heart to give generously.
Quit listening when he talks about turning your back on your sin. About trusting the God who loves you. About your need to repent.
And when he prays for you…stop listening then, too. Don’t listen when he encourages you to step up and serve others. Or to spend a week this summer at student camp. Or going overseas to share the love and hope of the Gospel.
Stop listening. Please.
Stop listening and start doing something.
Take what your pastor says and start living it. Let it resonate so deeply in your soul that it pushes you to action.
Listening alone is worthless. When the act of hearing Truth doesn’t end in some form of action, it’s not done you any good. As James puts it,
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. – James 1:22
If we listen, and don’t do, we’re a fool. James goes on to compare us to the person who looks in the mirror to make sure everything’s straight…and as soon as they look away, they forget what they looked like. That’s dumb.
So let’s quit wasting our pastor’s time by listening. It’s not doing either of us any good. A storm’s brewing, and we’ve got to be ready. The question is not whether we will have enough knowledge or not. The question will be whether we can do anything about it.
But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. – Jesus, Luke 6:49
Stop listening to your pastor. And start doing.
I read books outside the scope of my niche. I hope you do, too.
Reading books that speak in to areas where you’re not zoned in help stretch you in new ways, applying new truths to your well-worn paths. Not everything in these books will be applicable to you. Not everything will even be relevant. But at the end of the day, truth is truth. And truth is applicable across disciplines.
Business books help me think critically about the “system” of church. About how to spur on growth and change. About how to create systems that maintain growth over time.
John talks a lot about “branding,” much outside of the context of ministry. So let me give you 3 ways to process this book.
1. Brand = your local church.
What helps your “brand” of church stand out from other “good” things a person could be doing on a Sunday morning? What is it that motivates them to consistently worship with you, instead of skipping out? YES, if someone doesn’t consistently show up for worship (or small group) it’s a spiritual growth issue. But let’s craft our message in such a way that the image (or “brand”) of our churches doesn’t get in the way of the Gospel.
John consistently makes the connection between “trust” and “sales.” If you trust a brand, you’re more likely to buy from that brand. We in churches aren’t in a completely different field. We just happen to have the best product in the world: Jesus! The more trust we develop with our congregations, the more likely we are to close a sale.*
2. Brand = the ministry you’re a part of.
What is it that helps your ministry stand out from everything else? What helps your “brand” of small groups stand out from the noises of life that distract on a weeknight, like going to a movie or watching TV? What helps your “brand” of student ministry encourage students to forego other activities in favor of linking arms with other students on Wednesday nights.
3. Brand = professional.
Feel free to read the book as it was originally intended, and think through your life in the marketplace. Process it through the lens of your company. Or even your personal “brand” online and in your community.
I spoke with John, and he’s generously chosen to give a personally signed copy away. Just enter the contest here, and I’ll choose a winner on Friday, May 3, by 5:00 pm central time. Just fill in your information below and you’ll be officially entered. I’ll ship the book out next week.
Below each quote, I’ve included the question I’m personally wrestling with.
15 quotes from Brand Against the Machine
1. “Branding is about emotion, and emotion turns prospects into buyers.”
How am I stirring people’s emotions to help them “buy” into the idea I’m selling?
2. “People are willing to spend more money on a brand they trust. Do I want to drink a nice cold Kountry Mist or a Mountain Dew? Kountry Mist is a generic brand of Mountain Dew, and I have zero trust in that brand. Just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean I’m gonna have a sip. Plus, it’s annoying when brands get too cute with the spelling of their name. Spelling country with a K makes me worry about their education. It isn’t kool.”
Am I developing trust and innovating? Or just stealing from pop culture?
3. “Branding is not just about being seen as better than the competition. It’s about being seen as the only solution to your audience’s problem.”
What problem in people’s lives am I helping them solve through this idea? Am I communicating that through my pitch?
4. “You are your brand.”
Am I representing the church, and the ministry I lead, well in every avenue of life in-person and online?
5. “You may have an incredible product or service, and I truly hope that you do. But having a great product or service isn’t going to be enough. If no one knows you exist, the best product in the world isn’t going to save you. It’s estimated that 1 to 5 percent of people who come in contact with your brand will become clients. Are you coming in contact with enough people?”
Am I getting my message in front of enough eyes? Am I prepared for the vast amount of people I come in contact with to say, “No” to my pitch (to lead a small group, join a small group, or take the next step of faith?)
6. “When your message is focused and directed toward a certain group of people, those people respond. They respond because they realize it’s for them. That’s the kind of attention you want. With the attention of the right people and by taking care of those people, you can start to build trust and a loyal audience. You’ll never be all things to everyone, so don’t even try.”
Who is my “target audience” and are all of our communication pushes directed towards helping them move forward in faith? Or am I trying to be “all things to everyone?”
7. “Offer prospects a better product or service than everyone else. The most important element of branding is positioning.”
How am I positioning the ministry I lead as something that’s better than what culture promises them is best for their life? I.e., why is joining a small group worth bending your life around?
8. “Branding is all about emotion. Most marketing campaigns are lacking both emotion and passion. There’s nothing for people to get attached to. In fact, people rarely if ever feel an attachment to an individual marketing campaign, but they do feel an attachment with certain brands.”
How are we “branding” small groups? Are we using emotion (stories of life change) to drive our campaigns? Do people feel an attachment with groups?
9. “Fans are very attracted to a strong stance on something.”
Is our ministry positioned as something you “can’t live without?” What is it in their lives that’s missing without the element of healthy community?
10. “No one wants your product. They want their problem solved.”
What problem are we solving in people’s lives? Are we leading our promotions with that?
11. “The better you know your customers, the better you can create valuable content and products for them. There is no point in guessing, and making assumptions about your audience is extremely dangerous.”
How am I getting to know the people I lead at an even deeper level?
12. “You are your bigest advantage in business. What you sell may not be one of a kind, but you are. You create the value for people, not your business name or fancy logo.”
Every church in town has the same Gospel message. Every small group at our church has the same end-goal in mind. What separates one from the other is our beautiful uniqueness…are we embracing that?
13. “One of the main reasons people don’t visit a new church is because they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know which doors to go in. They don’t know how to dress. People are always afraid of looking stupid. A church could ease these fears by posting a simple video on their website with a tour of the church and what to do and where to go, starting from when they pull into the parking lot. Video can take the unknown element out of the equation for prospects.”
Are we overcoming fears through how we promote small group life?
14. “Price often gets the blame when a product fails. Although price could certainly be the culprit, most of the time it is not. The problem is that consumers failed to see the value in it. When selling your product or service, focus on value, not price.”
Are we selling the value of small groups well? So that people understand that the price (giving up a night of the week, finding childcare, forming new relationships) is worth the value?
15. “Your fans want to be a part of something that is fun, exciting, and has a real sense of community.”
Are we having fun? Or just doing a job?
The book is full of even more nuggets, but this blog post is already too long. Honestly, if you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed.
You can pick up a copy of the book for yourself HERE.
*In no way am I discounting the work of the Holy Spirit to awaken the heart. I just want to posture myself, and our ministry, to be most ready for His work.
Part of the reason I love Twitter is that I can scan it so quickly. Since it’s short, 140 character-max text-only updates, it’s easy to scan and get the highlights. It tends to be just the type and length content I’m looking for many days.
And from a writing standpoint, I love that Twitter forces you to distill what you want to say into 140 characters. You’ve got to cull down the content that you could unpack for 3 pages…into a sentence or two.
So I thought I’d share a few things I have been stewing on. Some of these I’ve found myself needing to stew on because I need to change…others I’ve noticed in others and hope I never see in myself.
These truths could each be pages long, with lots of references to research and theology. But I don’t want to bore you with all of that.
12 tips for pastors. Twitter style.
- Your family is your primary ministry calling. Other people come and go, but your family sticks around…for better or worse. #PastorTips
- Quit complaining about people. It makes others wonder when you’ll complain about them. #PastorTips
- Leading with a heavy hand will leave you with few people to actually lead. #PastorTips
- Having a seminary degree doesn’t make you a good pastor any more than having a set of clubs makes you a good golfer. Love people. #PastorTips
- The day you quit recruiting volunteers is the day you should start looking for another job. #PastorTips
- If you ‘don’t have time for a small group’ then you will ‘have time to look like a hypocrite’ when you lead people to join one. #PastorTips
- Put the theology book down and read a book on leadership. Your staff will thank you. #PastorTips
- Work with the door open way more than you work with it closed. People need YOU, not just your ability to study. #PastorTips
- Little steps in the wrong direction lead to bigger ones. Guard your heart NOW. #PastorTips
- Encouragement begins when you help people see God at work in them when they don’t see it in themselves. #PastorTips
- If you’re not leading people towards small group, your view of their spiritual growth is too short-sighted. #PastorTips
- Quit letting ‘comfort’ drive your decisions. Let faith punch your comfort in the throat. #PastorTips
Any Twitter-length tips you’d add?
Working on a church staff, I deal with “church” people a lot. A lot.
Sometimes, we’re really cool. But sometimes we can be a bit quirky, especially to those outside of the faith. I mean, come on. We sometimes:
- Overspiritualize everything
- Spend 8 nights/week at church
- Close our eyes mid-conversation and mutter things like, “Praise Him!” while raising our hand in the air and shaking it.
- Brag about the new Bible app we just downloaded.
- Judge someone for not going to church on Sunday, while we shove deep-fried potatoes down our throats by the handful.
And we tend to be wrong on our assessment of most people who are unbelievers. We think we know them because we used to be one. But we’ve quickly forgotten the way we thought about God, ourselves, and others. We’ve forgotten our past views on church, spirituality, and family. And it hurts our (the Church’s) reputation and perception in our community. It undercuts our opportunities to lead our friends towards Hope.
In turn, we treat them differently.
bigot: verb, to treat someone differently based on your spiritual beliefs
We assume certain things about unbelievers that may or may not be true, and that drives our behavior towards them. In other words, we bigot them.
6 easy ways to bigot an unbeliever
1. Assume people hate God.
Most people don’t hate God, and aren’t antagonistic towards Him. They may be antagonistic towards you, and the way you’ve presented, and lived, the Truth. Especially if you’ve been forceful and pesky about it. But most people don’t hate God. Quit thinking that they do.
2. Assume they’re not curious about spiritual things.
Most people have thoughts and opinions about spiritual things. Most also have questions. Not necessarily questions that they want an academic theologian to answer. These are questions that they want you to answer. Some of these questions may be apologetic in nature (like inconsistencies in the Bible, or how the Bible and science line up), but many are much more practical in nature, like what God has to say about how to be a good parent. Or what it looks like to have purpose in life. Quit assuming people aren’t curious. Instead, be ready to give and answer…in season and out of season. (2 Timothy 4:2)
3. Assume they love a good tract.
Nope. Stop it. You know they don’t. You don’t either. If someone stops by your house to try to sell you on something, and they give you a brochure on it, what do you do with that paperwork? You throw it away. *Don’t make sharing your faith harder than it has to be.
4. Assume they love to be preached at.
They don’t. You don’t. Nobody enjoys being preached at, and told why they’re wrong. Nobody wants to hear the 11 reasons, all starting with the letter ‘P,’ why they are being a bad parent, why church is the best place to be on Sunday morning, or why sleeping with their girlfriend is wrong. Instead of preaching at someone, try loving them. That’s a better apologetic anyway.
5. Assume they won’t join your small group.
You’d be surprised how open people are to coming over to your house to eat, study the Bible, and pray. Oftentimes, because of past hurts, people are hesitant to step a foot in a church building. But they’re not hesitant to grow closer to God. You’ve just got to make the ask.
6. Assume they won’t visit your church with you.
If you’ve built a relationship with someone, maybe it’s time to invite them to church with you. Don’t pressure them in to this, but make it relaxed. Maybe invite them to join you for lunch afterwards, or invite them on a Sunday you know will be conducive for people curious about faith. Stop assuming your neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family won’t come to church with you. If you’ve done a good job building a relationship with them, loving them despite their shortcomings, you’d be surprised how far down the road of faith that’ll take you.
Can you think of anything else that we wrongly assume about non-Christians that drives our behavior and responses to wards them?
My son gets to hang out in my office quite often. I love that he loves it. Maybe his love is rooted in the toys and candy I keep in the bottom drawer, just for him. But maybe it’s because he just genuinely loves me. I’m banking solely on #1 at this point in his life.
This week, though, my wife was out of town, and Rex had to go to work with me all day.
I had to jump on a conference call, and the movie he was watching was a little loud. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind putting some headphones on. Then he gave me this look.
He’s got the sass of his mama.
One of my goals of fatherhood is to raise a son that doesn’t hate church. It’s not a given reality that my son will grow up loving the Church. As a pastor’s kid, he’s got an uphill battle ahead, especially considering the pastor’s kids I knew growing up. Right now, he’s loving Longhollow, where I’m on staff. But we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us, and I’ve got a lot of work to do to keep us on this path.
My child loving the church his whole life isn’t a given…and neither is it for yours.
Should you ‘force’ your kids to go to church? Or let them choose?
Should you let them go to the main worship service with you when they want? Or put them in the kids area?
Let them wear what they want? Or dress them to the nines?
Here are some intentional actions I’m taking to keep my son from growing up to hate the Church.
8 Ways to Ensure Your Kids Won’t Hate Church
1. Make small group a priority in your life.
Every week, my wife and I go to small group. We help Rex understand how important it is for mommy and daddy to do this, and that through it, we become better parents.
2. Go to churches with amazing children’s ministries.
3. Give your family your best time, not just your leftover time.
I don’t want to always come home tired and frustrated and burned out. It’s easy in the church world to give others your best consistently, and forget that your family is your priority. Whether you’re a volunteer or on staff, giving others your best is easy to give your best to others, because they “need” you and constantly affirm you. When you give others your best, you create resentment in your family.
4. Don’t make church attendance an option for your kids.
Our son never has the option of ‘bargaining’ his way out of going to church. Just like he never bargains his way out of going to bed at night or buckling up in his car seat. It’s not that we ‘force’ anything. We just never give him another option. “How dare you force your kids to go to church?!?” Really? Don’t you ‘force’ your kids to go to school? To go to bed? To eat dinner? To go to the doctor?
5. When I’m home, I’m home.
I don’t want him to think that daddy has to “work” all of the time. I want him to know that when I’m home, I’m really home, not just distracted by work. If you don’t work in a church, it might be different for you, but the principle is the same. Don’t be so distracted by ministry that you neglect the ministry right in front of you.
6. Live out your faith at home and at church.
I’m nowhere near perfect in my life, but my faith is real and active at home and at church. We talk about spiritual things at home, read our Bibles, and pray together consistently.
7. Make prayer a regular part of your public, and private, life.
We don’t just pray at church, or when other people are watching us. We pray together as a family even when it’s not what we ‘have’ to do. When all you do is pray at church, and for others to see, you create an unhealthy, hypocritical dynamic for your children.
8. Don’t rip your pastor in front of your kids.
I don’t try to hold our local church, or any, on a pedestal of perfection…but I also guard my words carefully so that my son doesn’t grow up with a jaded view of the bride for whom Christ died. I don’t want him thinking everybody is perfect, but I also don’t want him growing up not trusting anyone.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
Do your kids enjoy church? What about you? What did your parents do to help you not hate church?