Weathering A Storm

man old church

Our area is facing a major hurricane in a few days. Stores are sold out of bottled water, bread, and canned goods.

Yet, as my daughter pointed out, there was plenty of dry shampoo.

People who would normally survive on coffee and Coca-Cola are buying enough bottled water to feed a small church plant, but they are not buying dry shampoo.

So, our only assumption is that they are using all that bottled water to wash their hair.

I’ve seen churches put their church management software to good use during times like these.

If you’re tracking gifts, talents, or abilities, and you have customized your options as needed, you could potentially run a report on all people who have the ability to board windows or use chainsaws.

I’ve seen churches use their forms feature to give people a way to communicate needs. I’ve seen them use their needs feature to organize help.

Today, though, I want to talk about what we should expect from the local church during this time.

If you’re a church member, or even if you haven’t been to church in  years, you may have expectations of the church.

They should be a shelter.

They should provide food.

They should provide water.

That’s not the role of the church.

The role of the church is to connect you to Jesus.

While, many churches have great facilities to shelter people, there are just as many with no kitchens, no showers, and facilities that would make sheltering less than ideal.

What churches should do is offer prayer. They should offer to tell you about a God who will sustain you. And, if able, directions to the nearest official county shelters.

County officials are paid to monitor weather and road conditions.

Hospital employees get paid to treat your medical conditions.

Church employees get paid to help you know Jesus – and make sure there’s soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms. But mostly to help you know Jesus.

Churches should use their social media channels to provide ways for you to connect with Jesus and provide quick links to official news sources.

I have a friend who works for our city government. I’ve been told that their priorities for power restoration are official shelters, hospitals, and police and fire stations. Churches aren’t on that list.

It’s important to realize that church employees also have homes (despite popular belief, we don’t live at the church), and that they may not have power or ability to communicate.

But it’s also important to realize that church employees are probably losing sleep. Because it’s more than a job – it’s a calling. A calling to serve and love people.

Your local church may look different during a disaster. Church leaders may not be able to navigate flooded roads. Downed power lines may make it impossible to print a bulletin or follow normal communication channels. A few years ago, a hurricane hit our region and several churches were closed the following Sunday morning. The churches that were open operated with “skeleton crews” and limited resources, but it didn’t stop them from sharing The Gospel.

We’ll weather this storm. The effects won’t last forever.

God is steady and unchanging.

And the church will do what it takes to give you what you need. You need Jesus.

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Not Hanging On A Cross

dried flowers.jpg

“You’re not hanging on a cross.” I have a friend who says that to me any time I decide to whine or complain. She reminds me that I’m not hanging on a cross and that somebody did hang on a cross. For me.

I’ve used her exact words with other people. Life sucks sometimes. Get over it. You’re not hanging on a cross.

Earlier this week, I called a friend of mine who lives in another state. It had been way too long since our last phone conversation. She reminded me of a lesson she and her husband (an Executive Pastor) learned several years ago: there’s a difference between being called to ministry and working for a ministry.

Today was a day I was grateful for these friends. And my family.

Ministry isn’t easy.

You’ll lose sleep, cry more than you thought possible, and sacrifice times with your family. Times like nights, weekends, holidays, major holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, sporting events, and Sunday afternoons.

You’ll have minor wins – like finding a way for your church to get some free custom printed mugs.

You’ll have setbacks – like forgetting to save three hours worth of work on a major graphic design project. (Ask me how I know?)

You’ll make mistakes. And you’ll realize that there are some people  who equate the church with Jesus in such a way that when the church makes a mistake they think Jesus makes mistakes.

Then you’ll lose more sleep, cry more, and find something else to sacrifice – all because Jesus is perfect. And your goal is to be more like Him.

I have a great job. I have an awesome boss. I get to be a part of helping people find and follow Jesus and I get paid to do it.

My workload is heavy right now and I’ve got stuff [still] on my to-do list from last week last month four months ago. Take my neurotic obsession with our church management software and website content and development, combine it with my goal of perfection, and the result is my current to-do list. Make that an ‘overdue’ list.

And, yet, Sunday comes.

Every. Single. Week.

And as much as I try to get ahead, I find myself printing bulletins later in the week.

So there I was today – bulletins not printed, trying to pull information and correct image sizes for some other communications assets – and I get a call. A sick kid. My cell phone rang. My daughter’s voice on the other end, “Mom…” A. Sick. Kid.

Give me credit. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. I didn’t throw anything. I did read Exodus 20:13.

I did email my boss.

People over process.

People. Over. Process.

We’ve been talking a lot this week about processes and what needs to change to meet the needs of a growing church.

I wrote: we need to work on changing some processes because I don’t ever – ever – want to have to choose between a sick kid and printing bulletins.

I called my husband, who fortunately had enough margin and flexibility in his schedule to work from home.

In ministry you’ll lose sleep, cry, and make sacrifices.

But you’ll also realize how blessed you are to have a family and friends.

And at the end of a difficult day week four months, you’ll be thankful that you’re not hanging on a cross, and that you’ve been called to ministry to help people know the one who already did: Jesus.

It’s not fine.

broken glass

“It’s fine.”

I say that often.

Most people around me have learned that by vocal inflection, that phrase can mean different things.

It really is fine.

It’s not fine, but we’ll deal with it [later].

It’s not that great, but good enough.

And I also remind people that God is working, even when we are not.

Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to have a fully functioning web site or award-winning social media. If a ministry doesn’t get promoted, God will still continue to work in and through that ministry.

But the Bible does instruct us to share His story, to tell others of His greatness, to do our work with excellence – as if working for Him, and to use the gifts, talents, and abilities He gave us to serve,  honor, glorify, and point others to Him. (That was one sentence, folks!)

So at the end of the day, even when it isn’t really fine, it is fine. Because we serve a God that is greater than anything that’s not fine.

But what about when it isn’t fine?

Last week, I edited a response form.

I realized after a few edits that it really needed to be archived and I needed to create a new form.

Because of my knowledge of   love for   neurotic obsession with our church management software, our web site, and other communication channels, creating a form is no small task.

What’s the header image?

What are the automations?

Is it connected to a group or event?

Who gets notifications?

Who are the form managers?

Is this promoted anywhere?

Is it connected to a button on the web site?

Do we need a url redirect?

Is the information correct on announcement slides? In the bulletin?

So, after the form was created, checked, double checked, and linked to our web site, I sent the final product to one of our Elders.

He asked for one update to the web site and said the form was good to go.

Good. To. Go.

On Sundays I get to serve at our “What’s Next” desk. (Your church may call it “Next Steps.”) It’s a place where our guests can register for upcoming events, connect with a small group or ministry team leader, or find out more information about something they saw or read about.

We have three tablets which display quick links to our current response and sign up forms.

The Elder who I had worked with this week walked over and began scrolling through the forms.

It wasn’t there.

A simple setting in Church Community Builder: the box next to ‘display on list of forms’ had not been checked.

I apologized. I could not believe that I had overlooked that last step.

And he looked at me and said, “it’s fine.”

No. It’s not fine.

I asked him to send a text or email to remind me to make the correction.

I decided then and there to stop saying, “it’s fine” when it really isn’t.

It’s time to tackle issues, address problems, fix things that are broken, and work better, smarter, and harder today than we did yesterday.

The next time you hear me say, “it’s fine,” it really will be.

Making Someone Else Famous

stage tech

This week I got to help our Lead Pastor with something.

He’s also my boss, so I hope I’ve helped him with many things this week.

But this particular thing  was pretty darn cool and he was happy with the process.

I’m being purposely cryptic because there are a few other people I hope get credit for the final product.

There are a few books that sit near the top of my all-time favorites:

Who’s Holding Your Ladder

How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge

Leading From The Second Chair

Do you detect a theme?

God’s given me a few gifts. Over the years, he’s put people in my life to help me find the place where ability, affinity, and affirmation all meet together.

Every day, He’s providing opportunities to help me become more like His son, Jesus.

In using my gifts, talents, and abilities to serve others, I get to help make other people famous.

How do you feel when someone else gets credit for something you did?

If you’re honest, you probably get a twinge of jealousy.

For me, it’s the exact opposite.

God knows what I do.

I have a small circle of trustworthy people who speak into my life and know what I do.

But I hope a majority of people never know.

God has called me to use my gifts and talents to make someone else famous: Him.

Discomfort

man on crutches

Yesterday I was talking with a friend. Her church had recently implemented a First Time Guest tent – outside the building. At their church, it’s a place where first time guests go, receive a gift, and meet someone who can answer questions and take them to another destination – the worship center, children’s check-in, etc.

They moved their Next Steps desk inside the building to a corner that’s quiet – which lends itself to easier conversation.

The changes they made are nothing new. Many churches across the country have similar designs.

However, her executive team gave her an argument, “we want our volunteers to be comfortable.”

I gave her a counter argument: was Jesus comfortable when he was hanging on a cross?

What we really want to do is equip our volunteers to do the job they’ve been called to do.

So, let’s take a step back and look at volunteer recruitment and WHY we volunteer.

I love our church. I’m grateful to be where I am. Most aspects of my job I get paid to do. There are other things I willingly do as a volunteer. Among my counterparts at other churches, this is common.

I volunteer in these areas out of obedience to God. I don’t do it out of guilt, or to fill a void. I do it because God has called me to do it. God has never promised His calling will be easy. He did promise it would be worth it.

If I were to volunteer in any other area, that area would suffer. (Ask me sometime about my brief stint in pre-school and children’s ministry.)

As part of serving God, there have been sacrifices and discomfort. I’ve sacrificed financially, I’ve sacrificed time with my family, I’ve been cold, hot, hungry, wet, and uncaffeinated.

But I’ve never been hanging on a cross.

 

Define Passion

Worship Jesus

Last night I got to watch my son play guitar in a band that was leading worship for about 1,000 people – mostly teenagers.

But what struck me the most wasn’t his talent. And it wasn’t the deafening roar of the crowd responding to the band. It also was not the fact that teenage girls were asking for his autograph.

What struck me the most were the times he pulled back. The times when he stepped up to the mic, sang a few words of a line, and backed up as the lead singers continued. The times he took his hands off his guitar and raised them in worship.

My son’s been playing guitar for about 7 years. He started playing in his church’s worship band around 5 years ago. Recently he’s assumed the role of Worship Leader for the youth group.

Just after high school, someone asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wants to be a worship leader. Someone said, “you already are a worship leader. You just want to get paid for it; have it be your job.”

This summer he’s part of the band leading worship at a beach camp operated by our state’s Baptist convention. The Baptist convention also organizes the band, and the drama teams. Over the years, I have heard people say they don’t like “denominational politics.” I am not even sure I have enough knowledge of the subject of denominational politics to form an opinion. But what I saw this weekend – all operated by our state’s denomination – was well-organized and pointed to Jesus.

My son loves to play (with) his guitar. He’s loved music since he was a baby and from the first time he had a guitar in his hands, he couldn’t keep his hands off of it. When he wasn’t learning how to play, he was fiddling with the strings or just tapping it.

Over the years, we’ve heard noise from that guitar at inappropriate times.

“Be quiet. We’re trying to sleep.” Guitar.

The Pastor is praying. Guitar.

The Pastor is preaching. Guitar.

The sound booth asks all musicians to be silent while they check the mic of a singer. Guitar.

The worship leader actually asked him to stop once. I don’t think he did.

He strummed unconsciously. And even strummed air guitar when his guitar wasn’t in his hands.

So last night, I saw him consciously and deliberately pull back and worship. And I saw growth. I saw a teachable spirit. And I saw someone willing to give up – even for a brief moment – what he loves – for Jesus.

And later that evening, one of the people serving with him said, “I love serving with your son. Matt has defined passion for me.”

Defined passion.

What does this have to do about progress? And processes?

Tomorrow morning people will walk into your church for the first time. Some will have preconceived notions of what church is – organized religion, denominational politics.

What will you do to show them that you’re different?

How will you teach them? How will you tell your story? And His story?

How will you move them from the “I want,” to the “you are?”

What will you give up – even for a brief second –  to help someone see  Jesus?

Define passion.

Ministry and Money

dollar sign notebook

Ministry and money. Talking about the two together in the same conversation sort of freaks people out. For me, it’s like someone talking about snakes. Never okay. Writing about ministry and money can be difficult. But, this time – for me – it’s not.

Because I have a story to tell and, well, as you’ll soon see – it all points to God. And He wants us to tell people about Him.

Please don’t take what I’m about to write as some “prosperity Gospel.” It’s not. It is about choices, commitment, and obedience. Yes, at the end of this story, I received a blessing, but it was long-awaited and I’m summarizing in a short post, a story that could take hours to tell.

A few years ago, I found that sweet spot where ability, affinity, and affirmation all meet. I love guest services, and more specifically, seeing people take their next steps and get connected to the church. The time between first-time-guest to membership class (at our church we call it Partnership Class – you may call it something different at your church) is my absolute favorite! Assimilation is one of my favorite words. Following up with our guests when they “check the box on the card” will drive me to commit hours as service almost equal to the number of hours for which I get paid.

My son and I go to Guatemala on missions trips. They cost money. In Guatemala, I serve with our medical/dental team. Medical and dental supplies cost money. My kids like to go to church camps and retreats. Those cost money.

So when I told our Pastor I’d like to take the hospitality at some of our connections events to the next level, I also told him I’d commit some of our own personal funds to make that happen.

Why? Because I’m passionate about the ministry – I’m committed to do whatever it takes. And I know this is the ministry to which God has called me. Even when I’m tired, I’m committed to it – out of obedience to Him. When I know a Partnership Class is coming up, I budget for small things – bottled water, k-cups, chocolate, mints.

So a few weeks ago, at the grocery store, I was buying our family’s groceries and a few extra things for a church event and I maxed out my weekly budget. (I actually went $4 over budget, so if you know my husband, don’t tell him. Oh wait, he might be reading.)

Anyhow, after leaving the grocery store, I realized I had to pick up prescriptions. Funny thing – a stroke leads to several new medical expenses. We don’t have the best insurance. For some reason we have both high premiums and high deductibles. That doesn’t lend itself to a lot of margin in our budget.

So pulling into the pharmacy, I had a dreaded realization: I may need to use the credit card.

The cashier said to me, “it looks like you’ve met  your deductible. Your prescriptions won’t cost you today.”

Yes. I walked out of the pharmacy holding what should have been $250 in prescription medication without paying a dime.

If I told you these things happened all the time, I’d be lying. They don’t. Over the years, we’ve made a lot of sacrifices for ministry-related items and church-related expenses. It’s taken a lot of faith, trust, and sacrifice.

But that day God gave our family an unexpected blessing.

Take your next step. Give. Serve. It may not be easy. Do it anyway. God’s already given you the ultimate gift of his son, Jesus. We couldn’t ask for anything more. But maybe – just maybe – you’ll have a cashier say to you, “this won’t cost you today.”

Rewind: A Recap

repeat remote rewind

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to lead Digital Bootcamp for my friend, Tom Pounder. Tom decided to have me revisit an article I wrote over a year ago for another friend of ours, Kenny Jahng.

I talked about using all of our digital assets to get people connected to, and assimilated into, the life of our church . But not just to church – we’re getting them connected to Jesus.

Here’s a recap:

Make sure your digital first impressions match what people will experience at church. If your church is fun and high energy, reflect that on your social media and your web site. If your church is a little more traditional, reflect that. Make sure you listen to each sermon and let your Lead Pastor set the tone for what you’re doing.

Use all of your digital assets available. We recently launched a texting service that allows us to connect with guests from the moment they walk in the door. We launched an online community group, and we have live chat available on our web site.

Make sure your internal communications (ie, workflows) are in order so that what you share externally is accurate. For example, if you share on social media that it’s time to sign up for an event and share a link, make sure that link is live and active.

Equip your volunteers. You’ve worked hard all week to make sure your web site and response/RSVP forms are live and active. You’ve created social media posts to promote events. Make sure you give all of your volunteers the information they need to answer guests questions on-site on Sunday. Avoid the “I Don’t Know” factor.

And finally – remember it’s about people. And getting them connected to Jesus. Stay on top of trends and listen to your guests’ stories. A few months ago, a printing error resulted in the ’email’ line being omitted from our response cards one week. No one caught it until after service on Sunday and I was moderately stressed. But just last week, a guest brought me a card with the email line blank. When I asked her for her email she said, “I don’t check my email, can you text me?”

In this fast-paced world, we have to be willing to adapt accordingly.

Our Pastor preached an amazing sermon this morning about what our church will do reach people. One of the things he said was, “we will leverage everything within our reach to help people find and follow Jesus.”

“we will leverage everything within our reach to help people find and follow Jesus.”

I’m grateful for a church that embraces technology, change, and people.

 

 

Five Things I’ve Learned This Year About Assimilation

school hallway door

We are a homeschooling family. And yes, I work outside the home. I have regular office hours and I volunteer. And we’ve made it work thanks to family, friends, and an awesome computer-based curriculum that allows my children to do ‘school’ from almost anywhere.

We have four kids. That’s four distinctly different personalities and four different sets of needs. So last year, we decided that one of our children may fare better in public school.

He was entering 5th grade – in our county that’s the last year of elementary school. Which means there was a high likelihood that the rest of the kids (and parents) had been together already for 5 years (K-4th).

Our family had some new things to learn and I learned a few things about assimilation.

1. Tell people what to expect.

On orientation day, I had no idea where to park, which door to enter, and where to go once I was in the building. It wasn’t too hard to figure out, but knowing in advance would have eased some anxiety. Our church publishes a social media post every Saturday morning telling people what to expect on campus.

2. Assume people don’t know.

When we walked in on orientation day, we checked in and then were told that my son’s teacher was in the gym. So I had to ask, “where is the gym?” At church, assume people don’t know. Try not to use acronyms or insider language.

3. Get your internal processes in order.

I visited the cafeteria on orientation day. I asked how to set up a lunch account and was directed to a web site. “Do I need any information once I log on?” “No. It’s very self-explanatory.” Once I logged on, the first piece of information it asked for was his student ID number. I didn’t have a student ID number. When I called the school to ask about it, they said new student ID numbers would go out “within a few weeks.” Take a look at your processes – do an audit to find any changes that need to be made.

4. Connect people to people.

It can be very uncomfortable to walk into a new place – not knowing anyone – especially when you realize that everyone else has known each other for years. What I wouldn’t have done for someone to “hold our hands” those first few weeks. Consider the benefits of someone acting as Next Steps Director (chief hand-holder) at your church.

5. Make information accessible and over-communicate.

This is something the school did quite well. Every Sunday afternoon we received a phone call and text letting us know what to expect in the week ahead. Our Son’s teacher sent texts often. There were a few rare instances where we didn’t have the information we needed, but a majority of the time, our son’s teacher communicated well. In our churches, regular communication is important. Do a communications audit – your bulletin, announcement slides, web site, social media, and any other assets. Are they regularly updated? Are you communicating clearly?

Our son graduated last week. He’s moving on to middle school. I’m grateful for our time at that school and for the lessons we all learned.

It Only Takes A Spark

sparkler

It only takes a spark to start a whole blaze.

That’s not an original thought. I stole that line from song lyrics in this song.

This blog post is going to stray a little bit from just talking about church management software to talking about the overall theme of the blog: the process of progress.

A few years ago, a leader at the church our family was attending told me about a Facebook group: Church Communications.

At the time, I was just beginning to see how the database could be used as a tool in our overall communications and connections strategies.

To remind you, I began this journey with a focus on connections. It also began with a lot of spreadsheets, documents, and emails, before I realized that a database could do a lot of the work for me as the church grew.

As I got more involved in our overall communications and connections strategies, my responsibilities grew to include some graphics, web site design and content, and social media.

One morning this week, I purposely took my time getting to the office. I’d been serving a lot of volunteer (ie, unpaid) hours at the church and my kids needed some attention. We had the morning news on t.v. and the reporters were talking about IHOP (The International House of Pancakes), temporarily changing it’s name to IHOB to promote the fact that they also serve burgers.

That’s a lot of talk over one letter. It was trending on all of the morning news shows and all over social media.

Our church is fun. Really fun. Our Lead Pastor often interjects humor into his Sunday morning messages and we try to convey that in our communications. We also try to keep up with what’s happening in the world around us.

Remember Yanny vs. Laurel? I created a social media post that referenced that subject and our social media audience liked it.

What could I do with IHOB?

The spark.

I created a social media post using a stock photo image and a free on-line program. I didn’t overthink it. My daughter was with me at the kitchen table. She shook her head and chuckled.

Should I do it?

Yeah, mom, go ahead.

I shared it on our church’s Facebook page and Instagram account. I didn’t think it would go too far.

As I was waiting at the bus stop with my youngest son, I shared the same graphic with the Church Communications group on Facebook.

I got to work and showed our Executive Pastor. He liked it and even made a comment on the post.

I joked: the good news is that our Lead Pastor can’t fire me because he’s on a plane right now. I have my job for at least another two hours.

But something happened.

Not only did our social media audience respond positively to it, by the end of the day it had roughly 800 likes in the Church Communications group.

We even got a shout out from Fishhook. (Check out Fishhook’s Instagram.)

The whole blaze.

I never imagined that outcome.

But I am grateful. I’m grateful for our Lead Pastor who has set a tone – not just in the office, but also church-wide – that’s easy to follow and helps us relate to the community around us. I’m grateful for the gifts and talents God has given me and I’m grateful for the place where I get to use them. And I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made through the Church Communications network.

I think sometimes, as we’re looking at our communications, and helping people connect with our churches, it’s easy to establish systems, processes, marketing calendars, and social media post schedules. Routine is comfortable. Boundaries and schedules are safe.

But, be open to the times that you feel a prompting – a spark – to break the routine and step outside the boundary. The spark can lead to a whole blaze.