I was driving down the interstate the other day, just cruising along minding my own business. Creeping to the top of a hill, two lanes merged into one as I passed the “merge ahead” sign. I turned my left signal on, checked my driver’s side mirror, and drifted before the right lane ended. Courteously, I might add.

merge1

image credit: Blog.GetVero.com

Then out of nowhere, a little sports car whipped around me, from the left lane into the right, then barely getting back into the left lane in front of me, before the lane he was in morphed to a gravel-y shoulder.

I gave him a polite, yet ‘I-know-what-you-did-and-I-want-you-to-know-that-I’m-angry-but-not-angry-enough-to-go-road-rage-on-you’ honk of my horn, and shook my head in disgust.

‘That guy was crazy,’ I mumbled through clenched jaws.

But I cooled off.

About .5 mile ahead, I approached a car driving a little slower than I. Quite a bit slower than I, in fact. The speed limit was 65 mph, and he (I tend to assign gender to cars when I get frustrated) was poking along at a measly 52 mph.

The nerve!

Didn’t he know the speed limit? Didn’t he know I was in a hurry? Does he not have any sort of a life, that he has so much time on his hands he can go 13 mph under the speed limit?

I fumed until he turned right, and I could resume my speed of choice.

The hypocrisy of it all

I am, of course, a prototypical hypocrite. I judge people on things I don’t want to be judged on. I hold others responsible for things I don’t hold myself responsible for. I curse you, then turn around and do exactly what I cursed you for.

I’m a big dummy.

Although it’s kind of silly, I think we do this same sort of thing in a lot of areas of life.

Driving

* If someone drives faster than we do, they’re a crazy driver.

* If someone drives slower than we do, they’re wasting our time.

Working out

* If someone works out (and we don’t), they’re a crazy workout-aholic.

* If someone doesn’t work out (and we do), they’re a lazy bum.

Dieting

* If someone eats healthy (and we don’t), then they’re a health nut fanatic.

* If someone eats whatever they want (and we eat healthy), then they probably don’t care about their body.

Finances

* If someone drives a nice vehicle (and we don’t), then they are probably unwise with their money.

* If someone drives a junker of a vehicle (and we drive something newer), then they probably don’t take care of their stuff. They’re not good stewards of God’s gifts.

Church attendance

* If someone goes to church regularly (and we don’t), then they’re a crazy religious zealot.

* If someone doesn’t go to church regularly (and we do), then they’re a dirty rotten sinner who doesn’t think about God or others.

TV

* If someone watches TV (and you don’t), they probably love to waste their life away.

* If someone doesn’t (and you do), they are just a prude.

Social media

* If someone posts consistently on social media (and you don’t), they have no idea how to manage their time.

* If someone doesn’t post (and you do), they don’t understand how people in this generation connect.

We are quick to judge others and slow to judge ourselves. We judge others in hard lines and cut-and-dry terms.

But when we judge ourselves, we judge with grace. We give allowance for busy schedules. For having kids around the house. For having an extra stressful season at work.

We give ourselves a little slack when it comes to the way we handle our money (things are tight right now). The patience, or lack thereof, we have with our kids (they were being overly difficult). Our eating habits (I traveled a lot this month). Our driving habits (we were in a hurry to go to…church).

We’re modern-day Pharisees, casting stones at others and dodging the ones thrown at us. We feel justified in our path as we spit and jeer at others.

Next time you’re tempted to judge, lead with grace. That’s what you do with yourself, isn’t it?

It’s like what Paul hinted at in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love believes the best, hopes the best, and is able to endure because it chooses love first. It chooses to believe right motives until it hears otherwise. It chooses to position itself like it wants to be positioned, in the seat of grace.

Isn’t that how you want to be judged?

And the crazy part is that God knows us. Fully. Yet still gives us grace. And then more grace. (Re: James 4:6)

Let’s lead like that in our relationships.

See ya on the road. You crazy driver.

 

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I’m not a new dad. I guess I’m what you’d call a “new again” dad. It’s been 5 years since I had a newborn at the house, and in that time I forgot a thing or two.

There are a few things that I learned the first time around that I naturally, intuitively, do this time. Things that I think would’ve made life a lot easier the first time. Things that I had to learn the hard way on round one.

Now that round two’s here, things are a little more smooth-sailing.

Because here’s the honest truth: in the first few month’s of a baby’s life, dads aren’t essential. We don’t produce milk, which is essential for life. And that could cause us to disengage, and leave everything up to mom.

But there’s a better way. A way to be fully engaged, fully present, and fully helpful during this first season.

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11 Habits Every New Dad Needs to Learn

1. Learn how to change a diaper.

Come on, fellas. Plug your nose. Resist your gag reflex. And dive in. It’s not that difficult, and in the process, there’s a good bit of bonding that takes place. Talk to your baby, and look at this as another moment you can steal with them.

2. Learn to be full of grace.

Moms are operating on a lack of sleep. They’re emotionally frazzled. They’re giving of themselves in a more physical, spiritual, and emotional way than they ever have. As a dad, be full of grace. Overflowing with it. She’ll love you for it.

3. Learn to do your honey-do list. Now.

You’re living in a fog of little-to-no sleep. Of life being out of the normal flow. And you feel like life couldn’t get any more chaotic. But hear me when I say this: life doesn’t get less busy or less complicated. Plow through your check-list of chores now. Don’t put it off.

4. Learn how to make a great cup of coffee.

Use a chemex. Or a French Press. Or a v60 Hario. Just learn to make a good cup of coffee. It’s essential.

IMG_5310

5. Learn how to curb your tongue.

You can start a fire more quickly with your tongue than you can with a match. When emotions are high, sleep is low, and our physical bodies are out of their normal rhythm, our words are even more powerful.

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. – James 3:3-6

6. Learn how to capture tiny moments.

Like going on a lunch date when your mother-in-law is in town. Or going to a movie in-between feedings. Or letting your spouse leave the house for a while as you watch the baby.

7. Learn how to do the dishes.

Performing menial-seeming tasks like washing the dishes, washing the clothes, and vacuuming the floor are huge helps to a mom that’s giving of herself to feed, nurture, and grow another human being.

8. Learn how to function on very little sleep.

…because you’re not going to get much. My secret? See #4, above.

9. Learn how to be on full-alert in a moment’s notice.

Even when you’re relaxed, even when you’d rather sit on the couch, even when you’d rather finish reading that page, even when you’d rather keep your eyes closed because you’re (not half-, but fully) asleep…hop up. Put your self-serving needs aside. And change that diaper. Put that pacifier in. Rock your baby. Talk to him/her. Clean the spit-up. Burp them. Do whatever it takes. In a split-second.

10. Learn how to talk with a baby that won’t talk back to you.

This one’s tough. And to be honest, it feels kinda weird. But I’ve found that a baby will listen no matter what you say. So talk about your day at work. Talk about what’s frustrating you. Talk about what you love. Talk about football. Baseball. Or your favorite band. Sing a song to them. They just want to hear your voice.

11. Learn to be at your wife’s beckon call.

She is growing a human being. With her body! Your problems are minor right now. Your convenience doesn’t matter. Your frustrations are miniscule. Your headaches are bushleague. Suck it up and love your wife with all you’ve got. Pour your heart and soul into serving her. And even after your child grows up…don’t stop this one.

To sum it up, at the end of the day, learn how to apply this verse in the context of your family:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Paul, Philippians 2:4

 

 

 

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The coffee ship

Ben Reed —  October 10, 2013 — 6 Comments

While I was in seminary, I worked on a ship at the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was a different kind of ship than you might be thinking, though. You probably have in mind that I was on a tug boat. Or a transport/cargo ship. Or maybe even a swashbuckling pirate ship.

But it was something different entirely.

It was a coffee ship.

We’d serve lattes to the most hardened, time-weathered ship captains around. As they boarded our ship after a long trip down the mighty Mississippi, we afforded them luxuries most ships didn’t.

A warm toffee nut latte on a cold February morning.

A shot of our strongest espresso on a lonely, nap-inducing, rainy Sunday afternoon.

An iced caramel mocha on one of those oppressingly hot summer evenings.

A steaming hot cup of the blackest, foulest, most bitter cup of black coffee money could buy.

Midshipmen would gather around the bar and sing the songs of the sea, sloshing their caffeinated beverages to the rhythm of their off-key voices.

Others would wearily wander to the front of the ship, taking in the city scape as the caffeine coursed through their tired veins, giving them energy they hadn’t felt in days. Warming them deep inside their souls. Preparing their hearts and their legs to continue their trek onwards to the next port more than 400 miles further downstream.

It was the stories that made the job interesting. Hearing men tell tales of late-night storms that nearly wrecked their ship. Of having to make up time before their next destination. Of having to force men to walk the plank after stealing from the captain himself.

Or it was just a mis-type that was overlooked by the publishers in my “final” manuscript (here’s a little info on the bonus section). A mis-type that was in the first paragraph of chapter 1.

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 3.33.59 PM

Good thing we read over it one more time.

 

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This is a guest post from my friend Pete Wilson (Twitter, Facebook, Blog). Pete’s just released his latest book, Let Hope In. You can pick up a copy HERE.

If you’ve not read anything of Pete’s, please do yourself a favor and pick this book up. His writing is fresh and pointed. It’s easy to understand and apply…but the principles are difficult to live because Pete pulls no punches.

And a book about hope? Good grief, pick this book up now.

Let Hope In

____________________________

There are two very different types of hope in this world. One is hoping for something, and the other is hoping in someone.

Eventually everything we hope for will disappoint us. Every circumstance, every situation that we’re hoping for is going to wear out, fall apart, melt down, and go away. When that happens, the question then is about your deeper hope, your foundational hope, your fallback hope when all your other hopes have disappointed.

All of Scripture points to one man, one God, not because he gives us everything we’re hoping for but because he is the One we put our hope in.

For the past year I’ve been working on a new book I just released entitled “Let Hope In“. I knew from the beginning that this book would fall short of helping people find life-changing transformation if all we do is identify the problems, challenges, and painful moments of your past. Identifying these memories from your past alone doesn’t help you. If all you do is remember the source of your pain, then something has gone horribly wrong. Why drudge up the past if you can’t find healing from the pain?

And for there to be real healing, for your past to really become your past, what needs to happen here is that you discover or discern the lie that your memory contains. This is fundamental to your healing.

It is important to understand that your past is not really the problem. The real problem is the lie you believed when an event happened in your past.

The truth is that memories don’t hurt us. It is what we believe about those memories that hurts us.

Trusting in the loving care of God regardless of what has happened in my past has been an ongoing process in my journey. And it’s only when we trust his loving care that we’re able to really begin to allow the hope of Christ to shine through us. Yes, hurt people do hurt people. But what’s equally true is that free people free people. And becoming free starts with being able to fully trust the loving care of God despite what we’ve possibly been through in our past.

 

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A little bonus

Ben Reed —  October 3, 2013 — 21 Comments

StartingSmall_Cover

I’m working on writing a book that I hope will help a lot of people. (in fact, it will release on November 18!) It’s grown into the culmination of the last 6 years of my life as a small groups pastor. I weave my story through strategies you can use to help get small groups started

  • for the first time ever
  • alongside Sunday School
  • in conjunction with other off-campus groups
  • in a big way
  • in a tiny way

I’ll also walk through how to keep groups going, maintaining growth over time through coaching, curriculum, and continued spiritual growth.

Starting Small also includes a bonus download section. It was originally going to be a part of the book, but the more I put in to it, the more I realized it was a separate resource that could stand on its own.

This is stuff that didn’t fit into overall flow of the book, but that I thought would be helpful. I thought it would be helpful because it’s the info I get asked about when I talk with other groups pastors. It’s

  • sign-up forms
  • leadership agreement/covenants
  • a curriculum track
  • a sermon-based small group discussion template
  • childcare ideas
  • leadership application/interview
My goal with this is to provide a helpful additional resource that answers a lot of the questions that folks normally ask about small groups, getting them started, and the processes and procedures to implement.
And I’d love your help!

Just answer one of the following questions in the comments section below. I’ll choose one person to send an advance reader copy of the book to.

What questions about small group life would you want answered in a resource like this?
What issue holds your small group back from achieving all you know it could be?
This resource could make my life easier by including ________.
What’s the most frustrating thing about your small group?
I’ll choose one of these, and include the question and answer in the bonus section of the book. I’ll also email that person an advanced copy of the book.
 

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10 things I forgot about newborns

Ben Reed —  September 27, 2013 — 8 Comments

My wife and I just had a little girl. It’s been nearly 5 years since we’ve had an infant in the house. And in that 5 years, I forgot a lot about what it was like to have a baby in your life.

 

I didn’t forget the sleepless nights. Or the crying for food. Or the dirty diapers. Or the sweet, teeny-tiny hands.

But I did forget a lot.

If it’s been a while since you’ve had an infant in the house, I bet you’ve forgotten some things, too.

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10 things I forgot about newborns

1. Bottles and such. Everywhere.

Everywhere I turn, there’s a bottle. Or a pacifier. Or some other kind of baby swag. It’s like a baby store exploded all over the house.
2. Germ aversion

Everywhere we go now, I’m on the lookout for germs. Every time I touch something other than my own hands, I’m reaching for the Purell to sanitize that junk right off of my hands. Can’t have germs getting on an infant. I’m working now to find a Purell body spray for everybody that comes to visit our house.
3. That car seat is heavy!

I forgot that lugging that car seat around gets heavy! Just a quick trip to the store leaves you with a sore arm. And a massive bicep.
4. Sweet baby squeaks 

Oh how I love these little sounds. They’re not quite “coos” yet…they’re just random squeaks and grunts. While they sleep, these happen a ton. And they melt your heart.
5. Leaving the house is an ordeal.

To leave the house, you’ve got to take enough supplies to take care of an army. From diaper bags to pack-n-plays to extra wipes and sleepers. And be sure to not forget the bottles. (see above)

6. When you put them in a spot, they stay.

Kinda forgot about this benefit. 5 year olds don’t really stay in one spot. But infants sure do!

7. Adrenaline.

At no other time in my life am I able to jump out of bed at the slightest sound of a grunt, and be on full-alert in less than 2 seconds. Never. Before my wife finishes, “Honey, can you check…” I’m out of the bed, from the middle of a deep sleep, huddled over the crib. Heart racing. Shallow breaths. Ready to check out my little girl, then run a marathon.

8. So. Many. Diapers.

We go through 8-10/day. And our doctor calls that “good.” And the more poopy they are, the better. I think.

9. What day is it?

I honestly have no idea what day it is anymore. I’m barely confident what month we’re in. I can judge that based on the fact that I know what month my baby was born. And I’m fully confident that it’s 2011. Right?

10. My heart? Melted. Instantly.

As difficult as the first few months of a newborn’s life can be,

  • one look
  • one squeak
  • one moment of her resting in my arms
  • one time knowing I helped satisfy her hunger
  • one sniff of her “baby smell”

melts my heart. And I’m wrapped tightly around her little finger once again. Every single day.

How long has it been since you’ve had a newborn at home? Anything here you’d forgotten?

 

 

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Comfort is the opposite of faith

Ben Reed —  September 18, 2013 — 2 Comments
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image credit: Creation Swap user Shane Cappelle

Without an oncoming wave. In the middle of the calm. In an open field with no breeze.

Without a wall to climb. A hill to take. Or a gate to storm.

Without a battle to fight. An onslaught to defend. A war to wage.

Without the need for tenacity. Bite. And digging in my heels.

Without a sprint. A hurdle. Or one more lap to swim.

Without naysayers. Without doubters.

Without chaos. Without a bit of confusion.

Without “but it’s too hard.” Without “but we’ve never done it like that.” Without “there’s no way.”

Without faith.

 

I rely on myself. I trust in me. I make much of Ben.

I move too quickly. I wait too long. I shuffle my feet.

I lax in prayer. I lax in study. I drop in growth.

I grow weary. Get bored. Meddle where I shouldn’t.

I doubt. Blame others. I shift responsibility.

I grow frustrated. Apathetic. Listless.

I am fidgety. Nervous. I can’t sink in my toes.

I scratch. Scrape. But my heart grows cold.

I wither.

 

Give me a challenge and I thrive.

Give me “comfortable” and I waste away.

 

Am I the only one?

 

 

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We are Long Hollow

Ben Reed —  September 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’ve been asked so many times, since I’ve made the move to Long Hollow, if I like my role and enjoy the church.

I answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Every time.

Here’s why.

Do you love your church? Why?

 

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Your theology doesn’t matter

Ben Reed —  September 11, 2013 — 15 Comments

I have a Nike+ running watch that tracks distance, pace, calories, and GPS. I wear it while I run, and it gives me instant feedback. When I’m done running, I plug it into my computer, and it tracks my progress over time.

It’s really a great piece of equipment.

Nike-GPS-Watch

image via Nike.com

But mine started messing up.

And I began to get pretty frustrated. I’ve had the watch for a year-and-a-half or more, so I just knew that when I called customer service I was going to be told, “Sorry…you’re outside of the warranty period. There’s nothing we can do. We wish we could help.”

When I called, I was blown away by what I heard on the other end. (here’s the gist)

Hey Mr. Reed, I understand your problem. I’m so sorry that’s happening. I know how frustrating that must be. I’m a runner myself, and I use a watch just like yours. I want mine to work every time. Let’s try a few things. If they don’t work, we’ll work on getting you a replacement.

They were already promising something that most companies would only use in cases of extremely irate customers. They actually established a relationship in the first 30 seconds, and already offered customer service superior to 99% of other companies I’ve ever talked to over the phone.

You know what that translates into for me?

I’m a Nike customer for life.

I’m going to buy Nike shoes. Use Nike watches. Wear Nike socks. Eat Nike spaghetti.

Because I believe that they care about, and will take care of, me. I believe they’re passionate about their product…and that they’re going to stand behind and replace it if something happens. My customer experience with them has made me a customer for life. Even though other companies may make a better running shoe, come out with a cooler watch, or release a whole new line of socks designed for people just like me.

I just became a loyal Nike customer. Even though I may disagree with Nike’s core principles. May not support the same initiatives that they support. And if I were to sit down and have a conversation about morality with them, I’m sure I’d find myself on a different page than they are.

I’m loyal to them because of my customer service experience.

The Church’s message

The same thing is true in our churches.

If you want to make loyal “customers,” (people who don’t just show up once, but come back regularly) that doesn’t start in the pulpit. That doesn’t start with your theology.*

People could care less about where you stand on the authorship of the book of Hebrews or how long it took to create the Earth. They don’t even care what you believe about the Bible.

When…

  • life’s fallen apart
  • they don’t have any idea what their next step will be
  • they’re a wreck financially
  • their marriage isn’t fun anymore
  • they’ve been burned by the Church in the past
  • they’re coming because their spouse made them
  • they’re just looking for a little help
  • they don’t really want to be there anyway
  • they are skeptical of “church people”

…they could care less about your theology.** What you believe doesn’t matter to them. All that matters is their “customer service” experience:

  • how they were treated in the parking lot
  • how safe they feel dropping their children off
  • how warm and welcome they feel walking in the front door
  • how engaging the music was
  • whether the signage is clear enough to tell them where to go, so they don’t feel dumb walking around clueless
  • whether someone besides the “guy on stage” greets them
  • how they were publicly addressed as visitors

That’s scary, isn’t it? It means that a church with terrible theology, that doesn’t look to Jesus as the answer to hope, grace, mercy, and truth, could swoop in and convince people that their message is life-changing. Because they love people and help them feel cared for.

Your theology isn’t the reason that a visitor is going to stay. Or leave. At least not initially.

You want to fulfill the Great Commission, but you won’t get people to hang around long enough to soak it in unless you give an eye to people’s “customer service” experience.

Does your church have an eye for customer service? What do they do to show people they love them week in and week out?

 

*this is really a theological issue at heart, though. What you believe about our God who loves us despite our sin, who gives us His best (Jesus) to cover our worst drives this others-first behavior. But the specifics about what you believe theologically don’t matter as much to new folks.

**theology matters immensely. What you believe is of primary importance in the local church. And it drives what we do each and every week. But it doesn’t matter to people when they’re on the outside of faith, or when life has fallen apart. “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

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I attended ReGroup last year. It was the first year for North Point in Atlanta, GA, to put on a conference dedicated solely to small groups. To be honest with you, it was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. It was so phenomenal that I’m going back this year, too. (October 21-22)

*Keep reading…promo code below.

North Point peeled back the curtain on what they do…and why they do it. They were generous, sharing the secrets they’ve learned over the last 17 years of ministry. I have been leading small groups for years, and I walked away with boatloads of ideas that I could implement. On top of that, the North Point team were incredibly gracious hosts. I really felt like an honored guest.

Which is 100% a byproduct of my friend, Bill Willits, executive director of environments at North Point, and small groups afficionado.

I sat down with Bill recently because I wanted you to hear from him why their conference this year is a must-go.

I tried to find a good picture of Bill, but they all made him look old and crotchety. Sorry. :)

Willits_Headshot_copy

1. Why did you guys decide to do a conference?

It wasn’t an easy decision to make because, first and foremost, we’re a local church. Our first priority is to do groups, not organize conferences about them. But the time was right. There are lots of conferences out there, but there seemed to be a void when it came to groups ministry. More than that, most conference presenters are thought leaders in their fields. While that is valuable, we think there’s something special about a conference for people doing ministry by people doing ministry.

We had a hunch that other ministries would benefit from what our Groups team has to share. We also knew that our Groups team would benefit from the opportunity to rub elbows with other folks from all over the world doing groups ministry. So, re:group was born.

 

2. Who would be the “perfect” person to come to re:group?

Re:group is for anyone who is trying to grow or start a groups ministry, as well as anyone just thinking about starting a groups ministry. Because we’re focused on how community is essential to life change, the conference can benefit a groups ministry of any size or at any stage.

 

3. What benefit will someone get out of attending?

While we’ll spend some time talking about the whys of groups ministry, most of the conference is about the hows. Anyone invested in small groups is going to come away from re:group with a lot of practical information about how to do what they do even better.

 

4. Why should someone choose this conference over any other given conference?

You know, we’re going to share what we’ve learned about doing groups ministry over the years, but re:group isn’t about North Point speaking from on high. We’re still figuring things out. We still have a ton to learn. Re:group is a conference where attendees can learn from us and from one another, while we learn from them. It’s just a great opportunity for ministry leaders from all kinds of backgrounds to come together and share their wisdom, knowledge, and experience.

 

Plus, Buckhead Church is a great venue for a conference and we’re going to have a lot of fun.

 

5. Why attend this conference and not just read your book, Creating Community?

First of all, we’ve learned and changed a lot since the book was published. The vision, mission, and values of our ministry haven’t changed but our model and programming have certainly matured. But more than that, one of the things that most excites me about re:group is the opportunity for attendees to interact with our Groups staff. They’re really great folks and they have a ton of accumulated knowledge and wisdom about creating a small groups ministry. Yes, read the book. But don’t miss the chance to connect with an amazing group of people who live and breath groups and who have helped us adapt, chance, and mature our groups strategy.

 

6. What area(s) of ministry will you be highlighting?

Between the main sessions and the breakouts, we’ll cover a lot of ground—getting people into groups, eliminating barriers to community, building effective ministry teams and strategies, and even measuring how well you’re achieving your ministry goals.

 

7. If someone comes to the conference, and uses the code (whatever discount code we’re going to use for my blog readers), can they stay at your house during the conference and have you cook us breakfast, Bill?

You really don’t want to eat my cooking. Seriously. And you’re a goofball.

 

Just for the readers of this blog, and just until Monday, September 16th, they’re extending the early bird rate. Just enter the promo code: BenReedPromo. Original, right?

$179 is a steal. You’ll walk away with information worth well, well more than that.

Register HERE for the conference on October 21-22.

Will I see you there?

 

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