4.17.14I recently talked to a lady whose husband hasn’t been to church in fifteen years. The last time he came was on an Easter Sunday, and that Sunday the preacher decided to ridicule those who only showed up for Christmas and Easter. It reinforced his negative stereotypes of church, and he hasn’t been back since.

This Sunday is going to be a big Sunday. Friends and family are going to come. Folks that only attend once a year are going to attend. Even the guy that’s not supposed to show up at church will show up at church this Sunday. It’s just the thing to do on Easter Sunday.

Your pastor is going to love this Sunday. He’s going to look at the crowds and soar on the inside. All of his dreams and visions are going to dance in his head as he takes the pulpit. Everyone will look nice and be cordial. But here’s the danger of Easter Sunday: that church will reinforce all the negative stereotypes that have driven the unchurched (or dechurched) away. All the guests, all the outsiders, are going to feel just like that: outsiders. Your church has one shot to overcome the reasons why they got burned by church in the first place. If your host team goes out of their way to welcome them (even in the parking lot), if your childcare facilities are professional and clean, if your services are excellent yet engaging, you’ll have a shot at winning over your guests.

But if the members keep to themselves, choosing to compare Easter outfits rather than engaging the newcomers, if the only time people shake their hands is when they’re forced to during the “turn and greet,” if the songs sung don’t resonate with the outsider as well as the insider, and if the pastor’s sermon is chocked full of religious lingo and insider language, then it will simply reinforce to your guests why they haven’t been to church in the past year.

This Sunday, your church has one shot to overcome the negative stereotypes and experiences that have kept your guests away for so long. If not, the week after Easter your church will be back to “normal,” your pastor’s hopes and dreams will be dashed, and you’ll have to wait another year to see so many guests at one time. Make the most of Easter Sunday!

4.16.14For churches, Easter is the “Superbowl” of Sundays. The bushes are spruced up, the pile of old bulletins is finally cleared out. We’re getting ready for the onslaught of guests that are expected to pour onto our campus this coming Sunday. But what determines whether guests will come back again or not after Easter? Will it be the biblical soundness of the preaching, the quality of the music, or the cleanliness of the nursery? I believe all of those are important, but not the determining factor. That is something far simpler.

Yesterday I took a survey of our staff to ask what they would consider as important if they were to visit a new church. The primary response is what I’ve experienced for years as a pastor: the overwhelming thing guests look for when they visit your church for the first time is whether or not they’ll feel welcome, whether or not anyone will talk to them. All those hours spent crafting an evangelistic sermon will be for naught if your members scare all the guests away. All those hours practicing that beautiful Easter cantata will be wasted if no one talks to the guests. It’s as simple as that.

A host team is a big deal. Making sure that your members are conditioned to make newcomers feel welcome is a big deal. Lead by example. Make it your goal this Easter not to talk to anyone you know, only engaging with folks who look like they’re new. I guarantee you, you’ll make an incredible first impression on someone.

I received two notes this week from recent first-time guests who have decided to make Mt Vernon their home. The thing both of them mentioned the most was how welcome we made them feel. We learned their names. We talked to them. We called them by name the second time they came. They felt welcome. They felt like they belonged. So they’re sticking around.

Want to make Easter a success this year? Don’t just preach at them, engage with them. Make them feel like they could belong at your church. Who knows? They might just decide to stick around.

 

Maybe it’s Tuesday and your week has already started to go sideways on you. Maybe you just need to smile. Recently the high school students at Mt Vernon Church hosted a prom for the special needs community. Watch this recap video and be reminded that there still is good in the world.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????As a pastor I’ve heard the term “unchurched” thrown around for years. I look at where I grew up (California) and see it everywhere. But I don’t minister in California. I minister in the South. And in some ways, I think it’s harder. The “unchurched” are those who haven’t grown up in church. They don’t read their Bible everyday. They don’t know the words to the great hymns of old. They don’t know how to dress or how to act in church. Many churches spend all their creative energies at reaching the unchurched.

Here’s the problem for me: In the South, there’s simply not that many “unchurched.” Sure there are a few, but they’re a minuscule percentage of the population. Here’s the overwhelming demographic I encounter, the one Mt Vernon is aimed at reaching: the “dechurched.” These are people who have had experiences with the church but got burned and have walked away. It’s hard not to go to church in the South at some point in your childhood. Either your parents took you or your grandmother took you. If nothing else you got shoved in a VBS so your parents could get a few hours of peace.

The majority of people in the South have exposure to the church, it’s just not good exposure. I can’t tell you the times I’ve encountered people who grew up in church but walked away. Either the church was boring or overly rigid, the people were judgmental or they just wanted to live in the world. Either way, most folks that I encounter who are new to church aren’t new to church, they just haven’t been in years.

In some ways that makes our job harder. We don’t have a blank slate to work with. Instead we’re trying to overcome the negative stereotypes and negative experiences that other churches seared into them growing up. Our primary aim at Mt Vernon isn’t to reach the “unchurched,” it’s the reach the “dechurched.”

QUESTION: Have you encountered more “unchurched” or ‘dechurched” people in the South?

five red buttonFive more insightful articles to get you through the weekend. Enjoy!

A Thread Called Grace – A powerful confession of someone dealing with sexual abuse in his past.

A Year of Grieving Dangerously – Kay Warren talks about dealing with the suicide of her son Matthew.

God Used Me to Stop a School Shooter – An incredible interview with a woman who talked down a school shooter.

Let Them Eat Dirt – Amazing perspective for all parents out there who can tend to be overprotective.

The Incredible Story of a Rwandan Genocide Survivor – Powerful story!

4.10.14It’s the difference between attending a party and hosting a party. When you attend a party, what’s your goal and mindset? To have a good time, to make memories. Whose job is it to ensure you have a good time? Your host’s. When you host a party, everything is reversed. Your job is to ensure your guests have a good experience. Your sense of satisfaction derives from their enjoyment of the party. Make sense so far?

Now, let’s transpose this onto the church. What do most church people do? They “attend” church. Take my church for example. On a normal Sunday we’ll have over 400 on campus. That’s 400 “attenders.” Who’s the host? I am. You could also count the five other staff we have working Sundays, so 6 hosts for 400 people. That’s a lot of people to entertain! And if we’re solely focused on ensuring that our 400 attenders have a good experience, what’s the likelihood that we’ll get to the few dozen guests we’ll have each month? Slim to none. That’s why many guests come in and go out and never get noticed.

But what if? What if our church “attenders” could begin to see themselves as “hosts”? So, instead of 6 hosts trying to entertain the 400 attenders plus few dozen guests, we had 400 hosts ensuring that the few dozen guests that come each month would feel welcome? Here’s what would happen. In a year or two, we wouldn’t have 400 on campus, we’d have 800-900.

When the average church attender makes the shift from being a consumer to becoming a contributor, that’s when your church will be revolutionized.

Fall Books PreviewThe Bully Pulpit is a riveting tale of two men and a magazine that changed the world. Telling the tale of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and McClure’s Magazine, The Bully Pulpit transports the reader into a surprisingly pivotal time in American history, the dawn of the 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a pervasive culture of laissez faire had allowed corporations to run amuck and concentrate incredible wealth at the expense of the common man. Political parties were beholden to powerful corporations. Corporate trusts cornered the market on pivotal goods such as steel and beef and transportation such as railroads. A handful of men, the country’s first millionaires, held absolute sway.

The American economic and political systems were designed to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many wanted reform, but they could not muster the courage to battle the headwinds needed to see the revolution of change begin. Enter Theodore Roosevelt. A hurricane of a man and a person almost unique in American history, Roosevelt took on the role of reformer and by sheer force of will helped America turn a critical corner in her storied journey.

The bulk of this book focuses on the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and his chosen successor William Howard Taft and their transformation of the American way of life. Along the way the author traces a critical voice that helped crystallize the support of the American public at critical junctures: McClure’s magazine. Called “the golden age of journalism,” the author does a tremendous job recounting an easily forgotten aspect in the battle for modern America. McClure’s magazine galvanized public sentiment and gave Roosevelt and Taft the ammunition they needed to goad an unwilling legislature to pass much needed reform. It’s an amazing tale of the stars aligning for a few short years and meaningful reforms being passed in our country.

At 750 pages, this book is not for the faint of heart, yet it’s a solid read and wonderful reminiscence of the greatness that America can aspire to if she so chooses.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. The power of one person and a vision. I’ve read numerous books about Theodore Roosevelt and continue to be fascinated with him as a man. His drive, his force of will, his determination and buoyancy allowed him to shape the country to his will in a way rarely seen before or since. Can one person make a difference? Absolutely. History has proved this time and time again.

2. All good plans can go astray. Roosevelt had picked William Howard Taft (a close personal friend) as his chosen successor in the 1908 presidential election. Riding Roosevelt’s legacy, Taft easily sailed to victory but strayed from Roosevelt’s vision enough that Roosevelt himself challenged his good friend and successor for the 1912 Republican nomination.

3. Little moments make a big difference. The night of Roosevelt’s presidential victory in 1904, Roosevelt made a declaration that would come to haunt him for years. Fresh off his victory, he publicly vowed to not seek a third term (at that time still allowed). Roosevelt would later say that he would willingly chop off his arm if he could take back that pledge. The secret power behind Taft’s success in his career was his loving, supportive, and incredibly smart and savvy wife, Nellie Taft. She was his rock, his anchor. A few weeks into Taft’s presidency, Nellie Taft suffered a debilitating stroke and never fully recovered. Taft’s presidency was never the same.

4. There can be too much a good thing. This book beautifully captures the arc of Roosevelt’s rise and fall, from eager reformer to overzealous power hog one step away from crazy town. During his final presidential run as a third party candidate, Roosevelt delved deep into demagoguery, proposing to do away with the Supreme Court and putting all national issues up for a vote. In his mind that would work well, because he knew how to galvanize popular opinion like no one else, but it would have been a chaotic step for our country. As much as I admire Roosevelt, I’m glad he was defeated in his final presidential run. Too much power for too long had warped his sense of perspective, with serious possible harm for the country.

5. Roosevelt’s movement was ultimately successful. The progressive movement embodied by Roosevelt led to some incredible leaps forward that we take for granted today, including the 17th and 19th amendment to the Constitution: the direct election of senators and giving women the right to vote. Both more widely distributed power to the people and enabled the general public to have their say in their country’s future.

6. The progressive movement was the golden age of journalism. Never before had journalists been so able to capture and form the conscious of the country than during the years of Roosevelt’s presidency. They were men and women of high moral aptitude with an inner drive to educate the public, not just drive up sales. As others joined the bandwagon this type of journalism denigrated into the muckraking so decried by the President. But for a short span, journalism was a healthy conversation, not driven by deadlines or circulation figures, but driven by a common goal to better the country. Oh even for a hint of that in today’s media wars.