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Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

One in the Parenting “Win” Column

September 28, 2011 2 comments

My son is an american.  He’s into baseball, potty humor, and canned ravioli.  He’s also into having more money – always looking for ways to make money: sell this, go door to door that, “let you pet my dog for a dime” kind of things.  So, when I walked into his bedroom a couple of nights ago I was not surprised to see him with a pile of change.  His sister was with him, and they were counting.

“What’s with all the money, Alex?”

“Bis gave it to me.”

“Oh……………Why would she do that?”  At this point I’m expecting an explanation of an older brother’s well-executed scheme for getting money from a little sister.

“I’m going to help hungry people.”  Not what I was expecting.  Knowing my son, I knew that if anything good was going to come of this, I had to let him make the next move.  So…I let it sit.  The next day he approached me.

“Dad, want to make a donation?”

“A donation to what?” I’ve heard this before.  Usually it’s a donation to the ‘Buy Alex a Puppy Fund.’

“I’m going to help hungry people.”

“Of course I will make a donation so you can help hungry people.”  My heart is swelling.  It’s not that my son is more selfish than any other 8 year old boy, but I haven’t seen this out of him very much.  “Would you like me to help you get it to the right place, and see if I can get more people to give?”  I’m going to pour gasoline on this small fire.

We opened the computer and looked at our denominational website and found a way to feed kids in Malawi.  We’re going to enlist the help of our church (and you, if you’re interested).  Of course dad the church planter is going to let the paper know about his plan to help hungry kids.

The goal is to get a mile of pennies.  If you lay 84,480 pennies end to end they reach one mile.  They also feed 17 kids from Malawi, Africa for a year and give them the chance to hear that God loves them and cares for their well-being inside and out.  We have little cardboard donation boxes coming that we can color.  I picked up some flyers and posters the denomination has available, and we’ll have a special offering.

Later in the day I asked Alex what made him want to raise money for other people.  “I was sitting in my room thinking I didn’t have enough money, and trying to think of ways I could get some money,” (all this is exceptionally believable, by the way), “Then I started to think that there are people who don’t have ANY money, so I started thinking of ways I could help them get some money.”

As a good friend of mine always says, “Parenting is not for the faint of heart.”  And this is true.  I stumble along and do the best I can and trial and error my way through parenting, like most people.  But a moment like that is what keeps me going.  It’s like the one shot on the golf course that keeps you returning.

So, celebrate with me, and if you feel so inclined send some pennies to our church’s mailing address: 630 State St., Holland, MI  49423.

Moving to Two Services

Embody has come to the place of making a big decision: do we move to two services or move to a new location?  We’ve been worshiping for nearly 2 years now, and this is an exciting delimma to be in because it means we’re growing.  The leadership team has worked on this for quite a while and looked at options, prayed, and discussed the matter and come to the conclusion that it’s time to go to two services.

This causes some concern amongst the Embody family because it means not worshiping all together.  It bumps up against the value of community that we have forged and honed.  So, I was not surprised that the church went into anxiety mode when they heard about the change.  Now, I should say that this is not the first that they had heard about it.  We met 6 months ago to discuss the possibility and heard concerns and questions at the time…and decided that then (6 months ago) was not the time to start moving in that direction.

But now our growth is dictating that it’s time to do “something.”  It’s well-documented that when a church is 80% full (or feels that way) that the church won’t grow.  Our capacity is 100 and we start to feel full at 85-90 (something we’ve had about 7-8 times).  In the summertime (a slower time in West Michigan) we have been in the 60’s and 70’s with a few 50’s and 80’s.  If everyone who calls Embody home were to come at the same time we would be over 120.  As the Fall approaches, people will find a routine that includes worship – and people for whom worship is not part of their routine…they may be looking for a safe place to explore faith.  It’s a prime time for growth.  The way I see it the options are these:

  1. Move to a new location – (problem…there are not new locations available in our area – the place we are called to minister)
  2. Alter our worship space – (problem…we did that and created space for more people…now filled up often and feeling full)
  3. Alter our worship space further – (problem…doing that would mean more money than we have, and we can not get a loan until we can cover our own expenses – something we can not do yet)
  4. Buy the land and build something – (same problem as further altering our worship space)
  5. Worship in two seperate services until we reach the amount of people or offering to cover our expenses and make a change to our space where we can worship together again…which is a goal – (problem…many are concerned that we will become two churches)

These are tough choices to work through. It comes down to a choice between two values: 1. the value of ministering to a locale underserved by churches and 2. worshiping in the same space at the same time

Both of these are important values.  One of them, I believe, can be overcome by intentionality of community-building and spending time together as a people outside of set worship times.  The other places us outside our sphere of influence and inevitably within a snowball’s throw of another church.

Way to solve the problem #1: immense donation by a rich uncle (this I don’t want because it keeps us from working it out together – that and I don’t have a rich uncle. #2 Become tithers (this takes time and a growth in discipleship) I anticipate this coming over time, but it is not something I can push because many in the church have been burnt and feel that churches just want their money.  #3 Grow in number of regular worshipers (this takes time – unless I went around to all the churches in our area and tried to skim off the top – something I won’t do because it’s not what I’m called to do, and…it tends to gather malcontents.)

I hate having to focus on numbers of people and $, but they are a reality if not the focus.  You can’t hide from them, just deal with them.  The reason to have more people is not because they bring a pocketbook but because they have an opportunity to engage God, God’s word and faithful people in a meaningful and authentic way.

So…here’s where we are: the decision has been made, the concerns and questions heard (they have been very helpful), a “make-it-happen” team formed, the anxiety raised, the plea for help raised to our God, and I’m asking you to be in prayer for Embody as we start this next phase of growth.  (Oh, and if you’re a rich uncle – anybody’s rich uncle – call me.)

Disney and Dice

In February, while it was cold and snowy in Michigan, my family travelled to Florida and spent a week at Disney.  At one of the parks there was a ride in a haunted hotel.  The ride was inside an elevator that mysteriously rose and then suddenly dropped to a random floor then rose and fell and rose and fell until your insides couldn’t decide whether inside or outside your body cavity was the right place to be.  My bride loves rides like that.  Me…not so much.  I know the ride will even out and we’ll step off the elevator to a nice, calm stable ground until the next ride, but…not knowing if the floor was going to drop out from underneath you at any moment – or whether or not you’ll surge upward causing all the blood in your body to fill your toes – these are not my favorite things.

Church planting can be like that ride.  We’ve been keeping track of attendance to give us a good idea of where we are and what the reality on the ground is.  One week it’s up to 93 then 48 then 78 then 67 then 80 then 54.  I’m in that ride all the time.  When there are 93 or 80 our space is too small, and it’s time to have two services.  When there are 48 or 54 we are fine in our renovated office space.  It can be frustrating for me not having an calm, smooth even uphill gradation of numbers.  Granted, summer in Michigan is spotty at best, and every pastor I talk to (even in an established church) has the same struggle.

Difference being that I am trying to lead our church into the next chapter of our story.  When someone walks into a room and there are no seats for them, what’s to keep them from saying to themselves, “Selves, there’s not room for us here” or “Selves, I don’t think they need us here.”  On those weeks one of those statements is true, the other not.  We don’t have room on those days, but we do need them.

The answers lay before us: move to a bigger space and risk having 60 people in a big old hollow space on a given week; move to two services and roll the dice (not a very reformed thing to say) with what happens.  I am leaning toward rolling the dice because I know who’s rolling them, and he already knows (in fact commands) the outcome.

Primum Non Nocere…or…The Hippocratic Christian

April 29, 2011 1 comment

My friend, Chris, is a pastor in town.  His church has a building with a gym in it.  It’s medium sized, but very useful and they use it.  On Tuesdays about 30 guys from the community show up.  3-4 of them go to his church, 3-4 others go to other churches, but the rest have no connection to the body of Christ…except of course that they gather every week in the church building for fun and fellowship: pretty close.

Chris is one of my heroes.  He showed up in town about the same time I did and started serving a church that has been around exactly 100 years.  This church has tons of tradition, and they are just down the road from an alternative school…a school with no gymnasium.  You see where this is going, right?

Church reaches out to school of troubled kids, basketball team has a place to play, troubled kids do better in school, school starts to trust church, kids start to look up to pastor who shows up frequently to mentor kids, kids tell their friends about the gym, friends…older and a little rougher…show up on a weekly basis, pastor communicates to congregation what God is up to with their building, people start praying, pastor asks the question: “What am I supposed to do with these guys?”

Primum Non Nocere.  That’s the latin for “First, do no harm.”  These kids now have, perhaps, their first connection to a church, and are really skeptical.  The whole thing is tenuous at best, and my friend, Chris is wondering how far do I go with the whole “Don’t look now, fellas, but you’re in a church building” activities.  I say first do no harm. 

There are a lot of well-meaning Christians who feel the need to immediately present the gospel message to anyone and everyone.  I understand this impulse.  There is a certain immediacy to responding to Christ.  But.  But what if God’s not in a hurry? What if your neighbor or your brother-in-law or your friend at work needs to experience Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God in you and your life before they are anywhere near able to hear the message?  What if your immediate words are lost on someone who is skeptical, and your anxiety-laden pleadings will make things more difficult for them?

Why not get Doris and Philbert to pray for these basketball-loving twenty-somethings?  Why not invite some more church guys to come and just play…just play.  Why not get Sara to bake those award-winning pies and surprise the guys with goodies – no strings attached – just pies because it would be nice?  Why not be there when there’s an inevitable crisis?  The pastor who is there every week and plays ball shows up in the emergency room to be present and offer a prayer.  The lady who baked a pie brings by a meal while someone heals up from surgery.  Doris and Philbert drop a card in the mail saying that they are praying for a quick healing.

Let things happen.  Let life happen and let Jesus show up in His own timing.  Do no harm.  Be a Hippocratic Christian.

Double

April 24, 2011 4 comments

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

That’s how it started this morning.  We had two services today (Easter Sunday), and they were both pretty packed.  If I were pushed to give you numbers I would say there were 80 people in each service.  Here are the types of people we had:

Most all of our normal regular Embody types.  Then we had grandparents, siblings, and visiting cousins – these are the ones we won’t see again until they come to visit again in 3-6 months.  Which is cool.  But we also had the people who got our mailer and decided this was the week.  We had a single mom and her daughter who entered the front door and made it pretty clear that she was out of her comfort zone (she and her daughter had a great time).  We had a mom and grandma who lost a husband two days ago and didn’t want to be around her normal church friends because it was all so tender, and a little anonymity is helpful right now for her.  We had a good number of Chicago folks who make their summer weekend homes in a little community just down the street (think Dirty Dancing without the “dirty”).

God knows why they all came, and if they’ll come back.  Some of them left their info, and know I’ll contact them.  A few checked the box that reads “I want to be left alone”, and I will. 

We also had a choir.  Funny – for rehearsal we had about 7, but somehow when we stood up there this morning there were about 15 of us.  I don’t know.  Worked out.  There were also donuts the size of watermelons, an easter egg hunt that did two things: gave great photo ops and gave adults an easy way to talk and enjoy relaxing company together.  There was me, looking at the clock when everything was over and realizing I’d miscalculated how long things would go (better short than too long).  There was also a large-sh offering, a new “front” with a new platform so a short guy can be seen while preaching.  Oh, and there was Kathy who drew some really great artwork during each service (both were snatched up for some undisclosed donation after the service.)

Mostly, we heard the story – the love story with creation, broken relationships, God’s plan to fix it, a hero who arises, His death and resurrection, and our part in being the hands and feet of Christ to continue reconciling the world to God – oh, and the most important part…hope.

It was a win.  I feel good right now.  Tired, but really good.  Thanks to those of you who may have prayed for us.  Winner of a day.  Now, if you’re the type who likes to pray, you can pray that some of those people return to become part of our family of faith – and faith seekers.

Easter Invites

April 15, 2011 1 comment

I’m planning on having  little improvisation on Sunday morning with Brett VanderBerg my seminary intern.  I can see that making an invitation to a friend is scary for some people.  I can understand that.  It’s not so with me because…well…it’s part of my job and natural for me, but it’s not for other people.

So, we’re going to do a little improv before we part ways after worship this week.  I’m sure it will go well.  Brett is really good at stuff like that, and I’m not too horrible myself.  My hope is that it will give people some picture of how it can go.  “Hi Bill, wondering if I could borrow one of those funky wrenches that are specifically for replacing kitchen faucets.”  “Sure, it’s the kind of thing you only use once or twice.  Otherwise better to borrow than buy.”  “Definitely.”  “Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, we’ve been meaning to ask around a bit, but haven’t gotten to it.  When’s Easter this year?”  “The 24th.  We’d love it if you two would join us at our church.”  “I’ll check with Jen, but…yah, sounds good.  Thanks for the invite.  Here’s that wrench.”

See, that wasn’t too scary.  But…I do know it can go the other way:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, you know, we just don’t really get into church that much.  I think we’ll be heading up north that weekend.”  “Oh, that sounds relaxing.  I hope you have a great weekend.  If you’re ever interested, you know the invite still stands, right?”  “You bet, man.  Hey, here’s that wrench.”

That’s not even that bad.  It’s certainly not what people are afraid of.  And you might be thinking that people are afraid of the angry response:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, and dammit, you’re like the 5th person to ask us.  We aren’t interested in church, Ted.  Jeesh.  We think it’s a bunch of hypocrits trying to make themselves feel better by making others feel like they’re on the outside.”  “Here.  Here’s that wrench.”

True, that stinks, and can happen, but more than likely people you would invite are your friends and wouldn’t blow up.  People aren’t really afraid of that.  What they’re really afraid of is this:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No.  Actually, I’m glad you brought it up.  Jen and I were having a discussion about church the other day and I was hoping you could answer a couple questions we weren’t able to figure out.”

Now, I can understand that fear, but if you are so fortunate as to get that kind of response, then you are in the BEST of places.  It means your friends trust you, and are seriously primed for a season of exploring faith.  You don’t have to have the answers.  Heck, they don’t have the answers.  Here’s a great response: honesty.  Try it.  They’ll love it, and it frees you up completely.

“Wow, Bill, I’ve never thought of that.  Want to explore that over a beer (or coke, if you’re friend has alcohol issues)?”  Or “Good question, Bill.  I’ll have to ask my pastor about that.  She tends to have studied enough to give her a jumpstart on some of those good questions.  I’ll ask, or better yet, you can ask.  She’s really easy to talk to.”

Bottom line.  If you’re feeling like you should invite a friend to Easter…better do it.  Could be the Holy Spirit has prepped the whole thing.

Blessings and bravery to you.

Countdown to Easter

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

If I’m playing by the “church planting rulebook” then I’ve got about 8 months to make things happen. 

The rulebook, which nobody likes to invoke or even think about has a lot to do with numbers and money.  On our current trajectory we will need to double our offerings (whether by doubling our attendance or our giving) by January 1, or… well, let’s say the trajectory will need to change.  Outside funding covers roughly 50% of our budget right now, and we’ve bumped up against the very common 75 person wall.

New churches tend to hit a plateau at about 75.  It’s where people start to feel really comfortable.  They like the people they’re worshiping with, they enjoy the size, knowing everyone, feeling like afamily.  It’s really nice, and it can lull you into a comfort coma.  The comfort coma ends up ending a lot of church start-ups because people get stuck and can’t move to self-supporting.

At the same time, the “church planting rulebook” kind of makes me nervous, if I’m honest, because it doesn’t feel very “organic” or “authentic” or whatever catchy word you want to use that actually does carry a meaning that jives with me.

Enough about that.  Let’s just say this: Easter is one of the prime opportunities before us to get to meet new people.  Unfortunately, the best case scenario doesn’t help us much.  It’s this: Best Case Scenario: the church’s invitations to their friends, the mailers that go out bring in 70 more people.  20 of them stay and begin to grow in faith from wherever they are on the continuum.  This is really what I hope for ( and I’m remembering that God can do immeasurably more than I hope for).

These new folks have no reason to give to help support Embody.  Many of them won’t know Jesus yet, and, honestly, how could I ask them to or expect them to give in the offering plate?

Ok, here’s where this posting turns into a short rant:

The “church planting rulebook” stinks.  We encourage churches to start, but give them only 3 years to get off the ground and onto their own feet.  But the reality is something very different.  We’re not trying to steal sheep from other churches.  We’re trying to bring good news to people who haven’t been walking with Christ.  And any pastor will tell you that no matter what church they’re leading they see this: sacrificial giving…no, even tithing doesn’t come until someone is far along the path of discipleship.

Something’s not quite right about the whole system.  OK.  Enough about that.  I look forward to reading this posting some day and saying, “O me of little faith”.  God’s going to show up.  I just have to do my part, right?  Right.