Are You Staying Current in Your Communication?

Confession:

One of my favorite movies of all time is You’ve Got Mail—the Nora Ephron written and directed, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan acted, rom-com that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

There. I said it.

Much of what I love about it is the nostalgia, and Millennials would probably feel it even more than I would. The AOL greeting when signing in, “bouquets of sharpened pencils,” an actual bookstore, The Godfather quotes… it had a little bit of everything for me.

This made it all the more painful when some staffers at Marie Claire decided to honor the movie’s 20th anniversary by showing it to a group of their Generation Z coworkers. Painful, in that it was largely lost on them. Not the story itself, mind you, just the cultural nostalgia many of us so love.

But it’s understandable, and a good reminder of how that world no longer exists.

The demise of small bookstores under the weight of big-box stores? Oh my. Most of the big-box stores are even gone. And the ones that are left? We’re actually rooting for them! (Hang in there, Barnes and Noble!)

Chat rooms? Really?

Rent control for $450 a month? That’s reached the point of comical.

And logging on to the internet through a dial-up connection? What does that even mean? Even the very use of AOL for email or anything else tends to mark you as over-50 (guilty!), which is why even the title of the movie is lost on younger ears.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Realizing how much things change. And how quickly. Even after just 20 years.

This needs to serve as a reminder to us, how the coming generations we need to reach through our churches have grown up in a very different world, and we need something different than a dial-up modem to connect with them. Why?

Because while you get “You’ve got mail,”

… they don’t.

James Emery White

Sources

Cady Drell and Danielle McNally, “We Showed ‘You’ve Got Mail’ to Our Gen-Z Coworkers and Now Feel Very Old,” Marie Claire, August 1, 2018, read online.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The Unmistakable Value of Self-Awareness

Dunkin’ Donuts has made a very astute move. They’ve dropped the “Donuts” from their name. From now on, they will simply be known as “Dunkin’.”

Why was this a strategic move? Because, as a business, they are more than donuts. In fact, much more. Most of their business comes from beverages and by dropping the “Donuts” from their name, they can now freely pursue being “beverage-led.”

And in just being Dunkin’, they leave their pivot foot in place for if/when they aren’t beverage-led anymore. Who knows what the future will hold? Right now, 58% of their sales are beverages. In years to come, 58% of their sales could be bagels. They just don’t know.

They are not alone in following this branding strategy. In 2011, Starbucks Coffee became just Starbucks. Then-CEO Howard Schultz noted, “It’s possible we’ll have other products with our name on it and no coffee in it.”

Precisely.

Even Weight Watchers is becoming “WW,” opening up a new mission that is less focused on dieting and more focused on health and wellness.

It reminds me of a historical lesson. In the late 1800s, no business matched the financial and political dominance of the railroad. Trains ruled the transportation industry of the United States, moving both people and goods throughout the country.

Then a new discovery came along – the car – but incredibly, the leaders of the railroad industry did not take advantage of their unique position to participate in this transportation development. The automotive revolution was happening all around them and they did not use their industry dominance to take hold of the opportunity.

In his video The Search for Excellence, Tom Peters pointed out the reason: the railroad barons didn’t understand what business they were in. Peters observes that: “… they thought they were in the train business. But, they were in fact in the transportation business. Time passed them by, as did opportunity. They couldn’t see what their real purpose was.”

So if Dunkin’ isn’t in the donut business but the food and beverage business, and Weight Watchers isn’t in the diet business but the health and wellness business, what about the church?

Well, you’re not in the Sunday School business, the Awana business, the Upward Sports business, the Men’s Fraternity business, the Catalyst business, or any other programmatic business.

Let’s go further: you’re not in the small group business, women’s ministry business, men’s ministry business or any other sub-ministry business. All of these may be well and good and helpful, but they are not your business and should not be treated as such.

Do you know what business you’re in? 

You are in the business of evangelizing the lost, assimilating the evangelized, discipling the assimilated and unleashing the discipled. It’s been that way for nearly 2,000 years.

Everything else is just donuts.

 

> Read more from James Emery White.

Sources

Vanessa Romo, “Dunkin’ Deletes Donuts from Its Name,” NPR, September 26, 2018, read online.


 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Why Minding Community is Better than Finding It

One of the great myths of relational life is that community is something found. In this fairy tale, community is simply out there – somewhere – waiting to be discovered like Prince Charming finding Cinderella. All you have to do is find the right person, join the right group, get the right job or become involved with the right church. It’s kind of an “Over the Rainbow” thing; it’s not here, so it must be over there.

Which is why so many people – and you’ve seen them and probably flirted with this yourself – go from relationship to relationship, city to city, job to job, church to church, looking for the community that they think is just around the corner if they could only find the right people and the right place. The idea is that real community exists somewhere and we simply must tap into it. It’s not something you have to work at; in fact, if you have to work at it, then you know it’s not real community.

This mindset runs rampant in our day. If you have to work at community in a marriage, you must not be right for each other. If you have to work on community where you are employed, you’ve got a bad boss or bad coworkers or a bad structure. If you have to work at community in a neighborhood, you just picked the wrong subdivision. If you have to work on things with people in a church, well, there are obviously just problems with the church or its leadership or… yep, its “community.”

I cannot stress enough how soundly unrealistic, much less unbiblical, this is. Community is not something you find; it’s something you build. What you long for isn’t about finding the right mate, the right job, the right neighborhood, the right church—it’s about making your marriage, making your workplace, making your neighborhood and making your church the community God intended. Community is not something discovered; it is something forged. I don’t mean to suggest any and all relationships are designed for, say, marriage. Or that there aren’t dysfunctional communities you should flee from. My point is that all relationships of worth are products of labor.

This is why the Bible talks about people needing to form and make communities, not just come together as a community or “experience” community. It’s why principles are given – at length – for how to work through conflict. It’s why communication skills are articulated in the Bible and issues such as anger are instructed to be dealt with. It’s why the dynamics of successfully living with someone in the context of a marriage or family are explored in depth. As the author of Hebrews puts it so plainly:

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet… run for it! Work at getting along with each other. (Hebrews 12:12-14, The Message)

> Read more from James.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

8 Strategic Decisions that Serve Your Mission

At the church I pastor, Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), our mission is clear: to help spiritual explorers become fully devoted followers of Christ. In our culture, we’ve observed that the “nones” – those with no religious affiliation – are on the rise and, as a direct result of this, Generation Z is proving to be the first truly post-Christian generation.

In order for Meck to be effective at not only reaching the unchurched, but unchurched nones and (specifically) Generation Z, we realized that we had to make some decisions. Eight decisions, to be precise, that have proven to be strategic in serving our mission.

1. Rethinking Evangelism

It is time to rethink evangelism, and that begins with capturing a new understanding of evangelism; one that sees evangelism as both a process and an event. When someone comes to saving faith in Christ, there is both an adoption process and an actual decision event. In light of today’s realities, there must be fresh attention paid to the process that leads people to the event of salvation. The goal is not simply knowing how to articulate the means of coming to Christ, but how to facilitate and enable the person to progress from a point of having no relationship with Christ to one where they are even able to consider accepting Christ in a responsible fashion.

2. Adopting an Acts 17 Model

In Acts 2, we find Peter speaking to the God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem. His sermon wasn’t even the length of a good blog, yet 3,000 repented because they had a good, foundational knowledge of the Scriptures.

Move forward to Acts 17, with Paul on Mars Hill speaking to the philosophers and spiritual seekers of Athens. Here was a spiritual marketplace where truth was relative, worldviews and gods littered the landscape, and the average person wouldn’t know the difference between Isaac and an iPad. Sound familiar? Paul couldn’t take an Acts 2 approach here, much less give an Acts 2 message. He had to find a new way to connect with the culture and the people in it. He had to go all the way back to the beginning of creation and work his way forward.

This is precisely where we find ourselves today. Which means our primary cultural currency needs to be explanation.

3. Being Cultural Missionaries

I think we all know what a good missionary would do if dropped into the darkest recesses of the Amazon basin to reach an unreached people group. They would learn the language, try to understand the customs and rituals, and work to translate the Scriptures – particularly the message of the Gospel – into the indigenous language. When it comes to worship, they would incorporate the musical styles and instruments of the people. They might even attempt to dress more like them. In short, they would try to build every cultural bridge they could into the world of that unreached people group in order to bring Christ to bear.

Why is it that what would be so natural, so obvious, so clear to do in that missiological setting is so resisted in the West?

In being cultural missionaries, we must be laser sharp in our focus, which means pulling out all the stops to reach the unchurched in our city.

4. Skewing Young

One of the natural flows of the church is that left to itself, the church will grow old. It will age. And that means, by default, you will not reach the coming generations. So while the goal is not to simply be a church for young people, neither is the goal to be a church for old people – a church that will have one generational cycle before closing its doors. This means the leadership of the church must invest a disproportionate amount of energy and intentionality in order to maintain a vibrant population of young adults.

At Meck, we’ve used three simple strategies to accomplish this goal: 1) To attract young people, you have to hire young people; 2) To attract young people, you have to platform young people; and, 3) To attract young people, you have to acknowledge young people.

Bottom line? Sometimes bridging a cultural divide is as simple as who you hire, who you put on stage, and who you acknowledge.

5. Targeting Men

At Meck we unashamedly target men in our outreach, in our messages, in our… well, almost everything. We have become convinced through years of experience that if you get the man, you get everyone else within his orbit – specifically, his wife and his children.

What does it mean to target men? It means you think about male sensibilities in terms of music and message, vocabulary and style. One of the most frequent things we hear from women is: “My husband loves this church. I could never get him to church before. But now he comes here even when I don’t!” And she will go where he wants to go. Get him, you get her. Get him and her, you get the family. It’s as simple as that.

6. Prioritizing Children’s Ministry

At Meck, we prioritize children’s ministry above every other ministry. Why? Because it is the most important ministry for the mission of the church. Too many churches treat children’s ministry as a necessary evil. It’s often severely underfunded, understaffed and underappreciated. Wake up. Children are the heart of your growth engine. And if an unchurched person ever was to come to your church uninvited, it would probably be for the sake of their kids. And if they come because they were invited, what you do with their children will be a deal breaker. If you want to reach Generation Z, realize that many of them are in your children’s ministry right now or will only be reached if they choose to enter it. Make sure that when they do, it is an experience that will have them begging to come back.

7. Cultivating a Culture of Invitation

At Meck, a culture of invitation is both cultivated and celebrated. That’s what we do and what we’re after. We talk about inviting our friends and family all the time. We create tools to put in the hands of people to use to invite their friends all the time. We celebrate and honor people who invite people all the time.

Such tools can be something as simple as pens with the name of our church and our website to hand to someone needing a pen, or empty pizza boxes with a card inside inviting them to Meck and a voucher for a free pizza – no strings attached – to bring to someone when you see a moving truck. For special times in the life of the church, like Easter and Christmas, we design tools to be fun – fun to give and fun to receive. People use these things all the time to reach out to their unchurched family, friends, neighbors and anyone else they interact with in their orbit.

8. Discipling Your Mission

I cannot begin to express how important it is to “disciple your mission.” I’ve never heard that phrase, so let me coin it. To “disciple your mission” means that you develop your discipleship, first and foremost, around who it is you are trying to reach. We are trying to reach the unchurched, and even more than that, the nones, in view of the pressing challenge of the rise of Generation Z. So our discipleship is going to be two-fold: serve the needs of our existing believers for missional engagement, and disciple the newly converted on the most foundational aspects of Christian life and thought.

So where does discipleship find its home at Meck? It’s not in the weekend service and it’s not even through small groups. We created the Meck Institute, a community-college approach to discipleship that offers classes, seminars, experiences and events designed wholly for spiritual growth and formation. They are offered on all days of the week at a variety of times, and we also have online classes.

So those are our eight strategic decisions. But here’s the secret sauce – the ingredient behind all of those decisions.

We really are on mission.

We really are turned outward. We really are after the unchurched. Really.

Our mission is one of the most important values that we hold as a church and one that shapes everything we do. What is killing the church today is having the mission focused on keeping Christians within the church happy, well fed, and growing. Discipleship is continually pitted against evangelism and championed as the endgame for the church.

The mission cannot be about us…

… it must be about those who have not crossed the line of faith.


 

Read more from James Emery White

 


Contact an Auxano Navigator to learn how strategy can serve your mission.

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Understanding Gen Z: See Their Perspective

Born between 1995 and 2012, at 72.8 million strong, Gen Zers are making their presence known. It is the generation that is now collectively under the age of 25. They’re radically different from the Millennials, yet no one seems to have been talking much about them until recently.

While there has been a great deal of conversation about “fixing” the Millennial generation, we are in danger of missing the next generation as they step into the workplace – and leadership roles at our churches.

As a group, on one hand they have been notorious about dropping out from your church. On they other hand, they make up a significant part of both your ministry participants and prospects.

They are also beginning to step into very visible leadership roles in your church.

So what does Gen Z look like, and what does that mean for your church?

The Quick Summary – James Emery White, Meet Generation Z

Move over Boomers, Xers, and Millennials; there’s a new generation–making up more than 25 percent of the US population–that represents a seismic cultural shift. Born approximately between 1993 and 2012, Generation Z is the first truly post-Christian generation, and they are poised to challenge every church to rethink its role in light of a rapidly changing culture.

From the award-winning author of The Rise of the Nones comes this enlightening introduction to the youngest generation. James Emery White explains who this generation is, how it came to be, and the impact it is likely to have on the nation and the faith. Then he reintroduces us to the ancient countercultural model of the early church, arguing that this is the model Christian leaders must adopt and adapt if we are to reach members of Generation Z with the gospel. He helps readers rethink evangelistic and apologetic methods, cultivate a culture of invitation, and communicate with this connected generation where they are.

Pastors, ministry leaders, youth workers, and parents will find this an essential and hopeful resource.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Research from various sources confirms that younger generations, especially Gen Z, are interested in spiritual matters – it’s just religion they are rejecting.

In beautiful and surprising ways, Gen Zers are searching for God on earth, not some trendy program your church has to offer. In effect, your challenge is not just to reach a younger generation, but instead to create a more fuller expression of Jesus lived out in your church.

The most defining characteristic of Generation Z is that it is arguably the first generation in the West (certainly in the U.S.) that will have been raised in a post-Christian context. As a result, it is the first post-Christian generation.

Perhaps the most defining mark of members of Generation Z, in terms of their spiritual lives, is their spiritual illiteracy. This is, of course, the defining mark of the post-Christian world. They do not know what the Bible says. They do now know the basics of Christian belief or theology. They do not know what the cross is about. They do not know what it means to worship. But their spiritual illiteracy is deeper than that. They are more than post-Christian. They don’t even have a memory of the gospel.

We have to become cultural missionaries and act according to that identity. I think we all know what a good missionary would do if dropped into the darkest recesses of the Amazon basin to reach an unreached people group. They would learn the language, try to understand the customs and rituals, and work to translate the Scriptures, particularly the message of the gospel, into the indigenous language. When it comes to worship, they would incorporate the musical styles and instruments of the people. They might even attempt to dress more like them. In short, they would try to build every cultural bridge they could into the world of that unreached people group in order to bring Christ to bear.

James Emery White, Meet Generation Z

A NEXT STEP

Author James Emery White poses some excellent questions for you to consider as you contemplate reaching Gen Z. Take time in your next team meeting to review the questions below.

Why is it that what would be so natural, so obvious, so clear to do so in the missiological setting described above is so resisted in the West?

Do you or does your church approach your community with a truly missiological mindset, the same way you would if you were in a new country?

What’s the average age of staff members and attenders at your church? Are you comfortable with that? If not, what can you do this year to start changing that?

We live in a world that is more open than ever to spiritual things. Not defined religion, but spirituality in general. How do you see this manifested in the world? What might it mean for the church and its mission to reach people?

Every generation must translate the gospel into its unique setting without transforming the message itself. If an average non-attender from Generation Z were to sit in your service this Sunday, would the experience make any sense to them? If not, how can you work to translate elements of the service so that the service connects with them without compromising the truth it contains?

When it comes to outreach in your church, are you honestly willing to do whatever it takes to reach the next generation? Are you willing to lose those who can’t see that it’s not about them?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 70-2, released July 2017.


 

This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders.

SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; each solution is taken from a different book. Additionally, a practical action step is included with each solution.

As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS Remix provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The 5 Non-negotiables of Leadership

What does a leader do? The answers (and books) are endless. But there are five things every leader must do for the organization they lead, not least of which when it comes to the church.

1. Uphold Core Values

Every organization has a set of core values (At least, I hope they do). It is the leader’s job to uphold those values. To make sure they are followed, honored and embraced. If a core value is “excellence,” then that value is only as real and formative as a leader makes it by upholding it throughout the organization.

At Meck we have 10:

  • The Bible is true and the catalyst for life change.
  • Lost people matter to God and, therefore, they should matter to us.
  • We aim to be culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure.
  • It is normal to manifest authenticity and to grow spiritually.
  • We want to be a unified community of servants stewarding their spiritual gifts.
  • Loving relationships should permeate the life of the church.
  • Life change happens best through relationships.
  • Excellence honors God and inspires people.
  • We are to be led by leaders and structured biblically.
  • Full devotion to Christ is normal.

My job is to uphold all 10; celebrating when one is fleshed out, admonishing when one is not.

2. Cast Missional Vision

If there was one task almost universally affirmed for a leader, it is casting vision. But not just any vision – it must be the casting of missional vision. If we’re taking a hill, you need to define where the hill is and why it is worth taking.

Meaning: “Here’s the target on the wall. Here’s what we’re trying to do.”

On a more personal level, casting missional vision is helping individuals see how they are contributing to the vision in ways that expand their own vision about their investment.

It’s walking up to a person serving in the nursery and saying: “I’m so glad you’re serving. Thank you. Because of you, there’s a young couple in the service able to explore what Christ can mean for their lives. That’s what you’re doing.”

3. Create Unity

The Bible teaches that the number one requirement for becoming a pastor is leading your own personal family well. Why? Because the church is a family. Almost every organization would be served by being led as if it were a family. The question is whether it is a functional family or a dysfunctional family. The answer lies in whether the “parent” does the hard work of keeping everyone unified relationally.

A good leader works to bring parties together, work through conflict, and create open lines of communication. I’ll never forget a time when my two daughters were at a relational impasse at the tender ages of 8 and 6. Susan sat them down, brought them together and helped them talk it through. It ended, if I recall, in a time of prayer.

My wife is a good leader. My daughters are close friends to this day.

That is the goal organizationally.

4. Give Permission

Only a leader can give permission. This isn’t about control, but the privilege of turning people loose. A leader enables people to develop their gifts, chase ministry dreams, take risks and explore new ventures. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament letter of Ephesians that the job of a church leader is to equip people for ministry. A leader clears the way for people to follow paths of God’s design and leading.

Going further, a good leader sees things in people and encourages them to explore things they never dreamed of for themselves. So it’s not simply permission, but provocation. It’s putting your arm around someone’s shoulders and saying, “I see you doing this,” or “I think you could make a difference here.”

5. Develop Other Leaders

I don’t know if I have ever read this statement (I can’t believe it would be original to me), but I believe it to the core of my being: “Only a leader can develop another leader.”

Which means that developing other leaders is one of the indispensable things a leader must do. At Meck, we’ve developed an entire Leadership Development Program through which we take 100 burgeoning leaders annually. It’s a one-year program that requires reading six books, attending three seminars (on leadership, mission and values, and the personal life of the leader), attending a three-day retreat (covering a course on systematic theology), cohort gatherings, engaging the annual Church & Culture Conference, and more.

Sound robust? It is.

It’s also one of the most important things I do.

So there are five things a leader must do. There are many more, of course, but these five?

All are musts.


Talk with an Auxano Navigator about leadership in your church.


> Read more from James Emery White.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Five Movements to Maximize Outreach Effectiveness

With culture in such a rapid state of flux, with the dominant headline being the increasingly post-Christian nature of our world, many churches are uncertain how best to respond in terms of outreach. They know they aren’t reaching the unchurched as effectively as they would like, but they don’t always feel comfortable trying to emulate the fast-growing models they see and hear so much about.

More specifically, they don’t feel they can. You walk through a megachurch children’s ministry and see a built-in climbing wall in a first-grade room, and it’s hard to know what there is to feel except envy.

Fair enough.

So here are five outreach shifts that almost every church should be able to make – regardless of style or structure, tradition or denomination – that will help situate your church toward greater effectiveness at reaching the unchurched. And each one can be followed no matter your church size and no matter your budget.

1. Change Your Outreach Focus from Easter to Christmas Eve.

Here’s something that isn’t often talked about, but I’m prepared to say is a new principle: Christmas Eve is the Super Bowl of outreach, not Easter.

There are many reasons for this, and none of them have anything to do with the church. Here are two: 1) an ever-increasing number of schools and colleges schedule their spring breaks around Easter, making Easter weekend one of the biggest “suitcase” weekends (travel/vacation weekends) of the year; 2) Easter has been effectively secularized into little more than the bunnies and egg hunts.

So why is Christmas Eve better for outreach?

First, unlike Easter and the resurrection, it continues to be primarily related to the birth of Jesus. Second, it is not a “suitcase” night – if people travel, it is to gather with other family members, not vacation. Third, unlike the “weekend” or Sunday-centric nature of Easter, Christmas Eve services can be scheduled for multiple days leading up to and including Christmas Eve. Fourth – and most important – there is a larger number of unchurched people present at Christmas Eve, undoubtedly due to attending being more of a family event than Easter (which is viewed as more of a spiritual event).

At Meck, we routinely have larger attendance figures for our Christmas Eve services than we do our Easter services. Easter weekend is big, to be sure, and is our second-largest series of services. But it’s not as big as Christmas Eve.

Lesson? Quit putting all of your eggs in the Easter basket and get serious about Christmas Eve.

2. Drop Direct Mail and Move to Social Media.

When I started Meck, nothing was better than direct mail. That was, of course, 25 years ago. It’s not better anymore. In fact, it’s often a waste of Kingdom money. It can still be effective if targeted toward new residents, or specific demographics, but the more specific direct mail becomes, the more expensive it becomes.

(And please, don’t even think about an ad on the “church” page of your newspaper. You are after the unchurched, right?)

A better use of your marketing efforts is online, such as ads on Pandora or, even better, through targeted pop-up ad responses to Google searches, or banner ads on the websites of local subdivisions, or the vast opportunities that exist on social media.

Speaking of social media, prepare things that your attenders can share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

And the good news for small churches? So much of this is not simply cheap, but free, with technology almost everyone already owns.

Lesson? No matter what style your church may be, there is no excuse to be out of style with media.

3. Let Them Belong Before They Believe.

The most common way of thinking about outreach is that you get someone to believe in Jesus, and then you get them to belong to your church.

What if I told you the new reality is the opposite?

Today, people want to belong before they believe. They often have a lengthy adoption process as they move from spiritual and biblical illiteracy toward an understanding and acceptance of faith. So evaluate your outreach strategy in light of offering “belonging” opportunities that enable a movement toward believing. If you think I’m fishing for instituting a “seeker” service, think again.

Yes, I believe that the front door of the church is still the weekend service.

Yes, I believe that biblically (e.g., I Cor. 14:23), we should make sure our services are understandable to those far from God.

But no, a full-blown seeker service strategy (which no one really does anymore, anyway) is not what is at hand. But that doesn’t mean you can’t provide lots of opportunity to belong before believing.

Examples might include “exploring” small groups, low-key serving opportunities that don’t require the embrace of the Christian faith (much less membership), as well as a simple atmosphere of acceptance for those who simply with to come and see, come and hear, come and explore.

Lesson? Believing is at the end of the process, not belonging.

4. From Reach the Woman to Reach the Man.

For decades there has been a reality that no one owned: the church was designed for women and, as a result, that’s who they attracted. The service was for women, the music was for women, the décor was for women. I’m not saying this was intentional; it’s almost as if it happened by default. And don’t get me wrong – I am completely for women in the life of the church. Just not women as the life of the church in such a way that men are alienated.

So if the church has been unduly feminized, we shouldn’t wonder why there are so few men in attendance. Just like an African-American walking into a lily-white congregation might not feel comfortable returning, a man walking into a service decorated in pastels and flowers and “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs may not either.

Coupled with this is another truth that is seldom discussed related to how the dynamics of family outreach work. I don’t have a definitive study to back this up, just three-plus decades of being in the game: if you reach the man, you reach the rest of the family. But if all you do is reach the woman, you don’t tend to get much further in that family beyond the children. And without a supportive, involved, attending father, you don’t often keep the kids long after puberty.

Lesson? The absence of men from the life of church is legendary; work on their presence, and you can change the size and scope of your church.

5. From “You Build It They Will Come” to “You Create It They Will Invite.”

The old “Field of Dreams” mentality was that if you build something… like a great weekend event… they will come. Meaning crowds of unchurched people looking for a church home.

Um, no.

At least, not anymore. And it hasn’t been that way for a long, long time.

But if you create something that your current attenders intuitively sense would be perfect for their unchurched friends, they will begin inviting them to attend.

Yes, this may mean some changes to your current service on the front-end, but you might be surprised (and relieved) at how many of them are simply qualitative, and not necessarily stylistic.

At Meck, yes, we hear that people like our music and style of communication, but we just as often (if not more) hear that they appreciate our parking team, our signage that guides first-time guests, security within our children’s ministry and, most of all, friendliness.

Lesson? You can’t “build it” and have them come, but you can “create it” and have them be invited.

So there are just five things, among many others, that any church can take advantage of.

No matter your size, no matter your budget.


Connect with an Auxano Navigator to explore options for reaching more people.


> Read more from James.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Don’t Settle for a “Lesser Than” Vision

I was talking to our church staff recently about a counterintuitive idea. At least, it’s counterintuitive to many: the higher the standards, the stronger the team.

Why is that counterintuitive? Because we tend to think that raising our standards will thin the ranks and weaken what we have. We feel the need to accommodate people, not challenge them.

So here we are, attempting to cast the vision for Christ’s mission in our deeply fallen world, to live lives individually and collectively that serve the least and reach the lost, to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight…

… and what do we do?

We lower the bar on all things related to the cause of Christ and, as a result, we train people to minimize the significance of it or blow it off entirely.

Consider the following comparison:

A youth soccer team coach tells a parent that if their child misses practice before a game, they won’t play that week. Period. And if their child misses more than three practices, they are off the team.

The effect on the parent?

They move heaven and earth to never miss a practice.

Let’s say that same parent is a volunteer with their church’s children’s ministry. They consistently arrive late, cancel at the last minute or, if they do show up, are unprepared.

The response of the children’s ministry leader?

There often isn’t one. The idea is that every volunteer is doing them a favor by even feigning to serve.

The effect on the parent?

They continue to treat volunteering as unimportant and inconsequential.

Here’s our fear: if we raise our standards and enforce them, we will lose people. And, no doubt, that is true. But did you really ever “have” them to begin with? No. You will lose the ones who were already demonstrating a lack of commitment. But the people you do “have” who are open to the challenge will begin to take the cause of Christ more seriously. And they should. The church is the hope of the world; youth soccer is not. Yet we treat soccer like it is and the church like recreation.

That must change.

We must remember that there is no greater cause than the cause of Christ. We must cast the vision of that reality to those we lead. We must hold them, and ourselves, to the highest standards of commitment and excellence.

Which means the goal cannot be to accommodate,

… but to disciple.

> Read more from James Emery White.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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It Takes This to Truly Be a Church for the Unchurched

When people hear that Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck) experiences more than 70% of its growth from the unchurched, their mouths drop open. They want to know what we do to achieve such a ridiculously high percentage. There’s obviously a host of things we do, but I tend to answer in one simple way.

I say that everybody talks about being “about” the unchurched, but we really are. In fact, those who hang around Meck from other church backgrounds almost always comment (after even just a few weeks), “Wow, you guys really are after the unchurched.”

The reality is that most churches have outreach in their rhetoric, but not in their reality. The decisions we make at Meck to stay focused on our mission would floor most church leaders, as they fly in the face of raw “numbers” that we could have obtained. Yes, we are a very large church, but we would be so much larger if we focused on transfer growth.

So what does it mean to make the countless decisions we make for an unchurched guest who has been invited by a friend (which is the number one way the unchurched come into our orbit)?

This past weekend I received an email from a member of our staff following our Saturday night service describing the experience a friend of theirs had at Meck when attending for the first time that evening. I offer it in the hope that it will be eye opening to what it really means to be a “church for the unchurched.”

Here’s the email:

I had first-time guests here tonight… He is a Christmas/Easter Catholic and she (raised agnostic) said she never went to church before she married him. I was SO curious to see what they would say about the service.

They were super kind about the whole experience. They mentioned the building and how they were taken aback but yet completely at ease coming in with what appeared to be other “normal people who seemed like they weren’t being dragged to church.” They mentioned being greeted and thought it was just because they were guests, but then realized everyone was getting the same kind of greeting (that really stood out to them). They left the kids with the sitter but were asking me about MecKidz because they saw a “ton of kids running ahead of their parents to… church? Are they giving them free candy or something?” (Which, of course, was a great conversation about MecKidz). They stopped in The Grounds… and said they loved the coffee and the whole vibe. They loved the music and mentioned the diversity on stage… he is Iranian so he “saw himself” up there. I asked him about the music and they said while they didn’t know any of the songs they really enjoyed watching people who did know the music engage it. They of course asked if the band was hired and where they played during the week (ha!). They loved the “personal-ness” of the whole service.

He told me he’s never been to a church service where he didn’t feel guilted into giving money. He couldn’t believe we’d say “don’t give” and then not say “but give to this” later! He told me he actually leaned over to his wife when you started [the message] and said, “How long before he starts talking about money?” He was shocked you didn’t! He said about 10 minutes into the message he forgot to even be listening for it.

I asked him how he felt about the message and he said what I can only attribute as the highest compliment I can give. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like this: “I knew the message was about me – I mean he said that right at the beginning. And while I should’ve maybe felt awkward or uncomfortable about that, I kind of felt… cared for. I mean, it’s like he said, ‘If you’ve got something you think I need, how much do you have to hate me not to tell me about it?'”

Your stature and being a “man’s man” made him feel like this “Jesus/church stuff” wasn’t a big emotional crutch (which is the conversation we have regularly). And then before they left, they both turned to me and said, “Thank you for inviting us.”

Wowwww.

I forgot… he also said “going to church, you expect to hear about God; I just didn’t expect it to be so compelling.”

I could tease out the various dynamics this person experienced into teaching points, but I think you can do that yourself. The point is that the ultimate test of whether you are a church for the unchurched is simple:

… if an unchurched person thinks you actually are.

> Read more from James Emery White.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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3 Lessons for the Church from the Collapse of Xerox

“I need a Xerox of this.”

“Xerox this for me, will you?”

“We’ll just Xerox off a copy.”

It was a verb as ubiquitous as “google” in its day. To “Xerox” was to make a copy on a copier. That’s how strong the brand was, akin to how “Google it” is used to describe a search on the web or “ask Siri” is for your smartphone. And when it was introduced in 1959, Xerox was considered as cutting-edge as the 2007 announcement of the iPhone.

“But just as Xerox made carbon paper obsolete,” notes the New York Times, “the iPhone, Google Docs and the cloud made Xerox a company of the past.” So earlier this month, after 115 years as an independent business, Xerox combined operations with Fujifilm Holdings of Japan, signaling the end of a company that was once an American icon.

Consider the verb past tense.

What happened?

“Xerox is a poster child for monopoly technology businesses that cannot make the transition to a new generation of technology,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. Xerox isn’t alone. It joins fellow tech companies like Kodak and BlackBerry that “lost the innovation footrace.” Or, more to the point, Xerox fell into the “competency trap,” where an organization “becomes so good at one thing, it can’t learn to do anything new.”

“Can’t” or “won’t?” The distinction is important as we apply this example to the church.

For a short period of time following my graduate studies, I worked for the Baptist Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention as its Leadership Consultant for Preaching and Worship. The “Board” was the catchall agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination for all things local church—preaching, worship, church growth, discipleship and, of course, Sunday School. But did you notice something odd about that list? All were aspects of the mission of the church, but only one – Sunday School – was a program or method. And yet it was the very name of the agency.

Why?

Because it was a method/program that had become enshrined to the level of orthodoxy.

Yet my job was to study the fastest-growing and most effective churches and then to teach about my findings to other churches. I used to joke that it was the seminary education nobody gets in seminary. During my short tenure, I published a book on my findings titled Opening the Front Door: Worship and Church Growth. It was a controversial book at the time, endorsed by renegade outsiders few had heard of [Rick Warren wrote the foreword; Bill Hybels and (ironically) future head of the BSSB, Thom Rainer, wrote endorsements].

And it was controversial for a reason.

The premise was simple: weekend worship services had eclipsed traditional age-graded Sunday School in terms of weekend attendance (and had since 1971), and was now the “front door” of the church. As a result, the worship service needed fresh attention in terms of ensuring it was an open door to the unchurched. Sunday School was not the wave of the future nor what fueled the fastest-growing churches; weekend services were.

Today? A tame and mainstream idea.

Then? Oh my.

The mindset, even in the early nineties, was simple: Want to grow your church? Sunday School. Want to disciple believers? Sunday School. Want to increase stewardship? Sunday School. Want to end global warming? Sunday School. Again, even the name of the catchall agency for all things local church was called the Sunday School Board.

My ideas were deeply resisted. Turf wars reigned. Programs and curriculum and jobs had to be protected. “Doing church” a certain way became more important than doing church the most effective way. Those who knew how to do church through a Sunday School-centric method became threatened by any other “centric.”

Make no mistake. The Sunday School Board had a monopoly on Sunday School. It was beyond competent at doing it. It made a lot of money – most of it on Sunday School curriculum.

Just like Xerox.

Today, the Baptist Sunday School Board does not exist. They wisely changed their name away from a particular program to something more mainstream (LifeWay Christian Resources). But the lessons remain:

1. Just because you are comfortable with doing something a particular way, and competent at it, doesn’t mean you are being effective with it. Always strive for effectiveness, even at the cost of comfort or learning curves related to competence.

2. Never confuse a method with the message, or tradition with orthodoxy. In other words, don’t protect a program as if you are protecting the Gospel. The message is timeless, but our methods must be ruthlessly evaluated in light of their effectiveness at fulfilling our mission.

3. Constantly innovate. Try new things. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you’ve always been. For most of us, that’s not good.

All to say, when it comes to Xerox and the church,

… don’t Xerox Xerox.

> Read more from James Emery White here.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Love this
 
— Ann Stokman
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Excellent profile of Pasteur types. Unfortunate what happened to Jason Webb
 
— Ann Stokman
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great article. Thanks. Love this emphasis.
 
— dmmsfrontiermissions
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.