Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Convenient Church

Before you cry pragmatic, James Emery White is a top notch theologian and cultural observer.  Our leadership are discussing the implications of this article.
I once heard someone make the accusation that churches today are making attending all about convenience. 
I thought to myself, “And the problem with that is?”
What is the alternative? Purposefully making it inconvenient?
A new study from the Pew Research Center has revealed just how much convenience actually matters.
Digging into how people choose a new church, they discovered the obvious reasons: high quality messages, feeling welcomed/friendliness, style of worship.
But, in addition, what stood out was the importance of raw convenience. Seven out of every ten people said that location was critical. This ranked as more important than children’s ministry, whether they had friends/family attending, or the appeal of volunteer opportunities.
And what made finding the new church easy?
The majority of those who found the task of finding a new church trouble-free “indicated that their new congregation was conveniently located and easy to get to.” This was cited more frequently than being invited by a friend or finding information easily gained through a website.  
Digging further, Pew found that among those whose church attendance had waned, the number one reason was…yep, convenience. The most commonly offered reasons had to do with “practical concerns, including many who say they are too busy to attend or cite other practical difficulties with getting to a church.”
There’s much in such studies to remember. In a large survey of this kind, it’s important to isolate the growing number of “nones” who are much less likely to look for a new church at all. And as a result, convenience will not be the primary factor; personal invitations will. It’s also important to note varying demographics, such as the increase in online investigation among younger generations.
But let’s not quibble. The headline is too important to ignore. We know that the quality of a church’s teaching matters; we know that friendliness is key. But have we spent enough time thinking through raw convenience through the eyes of those not already signed on to attending?
I doubt it.
So let’s think about it. Specifically, let’s look at four areas directly related to convenience for every church:
1. Location
The physical location of a church is critical. Is it easy to find? Is it easy to drive to, even for those within a 15-minute drive? 
Many years ago, in our church planting phase, Meck moved from an elementary school to a high school. It was a great facility, and only 10 minutes or so from where we had been meeting.
It was a disaster.
We didn’t just plateau, we declined. We moved after just nine months and instantly began to grow again. What happened? The high school was buried back in a research park far from the flow of traffic. But even more decisive was the vast number of traffic lights you had to go through from major residential areas to get to the school. It was just a pain to drive there. 
Lesson learned.
The 80-acre campus we eventually bought was intentionally in the heart of our area’s residential growth and within one mile of an interstate loop around the city. 
If your location is a disaster, you have options. You can sell and relocate. You can also go multi-site, bringing the church to within 15 minutes of varying pockets of your mission field. Along with our original campus, we’ve added additional campuses to make attending Meck even easier (and we hope to launch two more in 2017).
2. Service Days/Times
If you are still holding down the fort on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m., and Sunday mornings at 11 alone, you have one hook in the water. If you add services at other times and on other days, you are putting lots of hooks in the water. More hooks = more fish.
At Meck, we have Saturday and Sunday services at multiple times. We also offer an internet campus with a slate of service days and times. 
It works.
3. Coming, Parking, Leaving
I don’t care how good your location is or how many service times/days you offer, you can still lose the convenience war if it’s hard to enter the parking lot, to park, and then to leave.
Just think of the good will and feeling that is lost if, at the end of a service, it takes 15 minutes just to exit the parking lot. Or if, when guests arrive, they have to circle around forever to find a place to park.
At Meck, we hire police officers to speed up entering our campuses and to expedite the exit process. An entire parking team is devoted to quickly and efficiently guiding cars into parking spaces. We’ve studied – extensively – the best routes to enter and exit, which lots to fill first, and how best to navigate the flow of people walking from their cars so as not to disrupt those still in transit.
Recently, we implemented an additional strategy because of (ouch!) complaints. Our North Charlotte Campus had grown so large that while we were handling our campus lot well, a nearby intersection was getting jammed, delaying people on their way to church. So we received permission to hire an additional police officer to manage that intersection to ease congestion and make coming to Meck as convenient as possible.
4. Logistics of Attendance
Finally, there are the raw logistics of attendance. Meaning, things like: registering your child and dropping them off for their class; finding a seat in the auditorium; being able to easily find information about the church; knowing where to go once inside the building.
Here are five essentials to address the logistics of attendance:
1.   Have a centralized area for information (we call ours the “Connection Center”).
2.   Have ample signage, high enough to be seen in the midst of a crowd, for EVERYTHING.
3.   Put up directional signs in a two-mile radius around your campus every weekend that will guide a first-time guest to your location.
4.   Use computers and wireless technology for children’s ministry check-in to expedite the process, along with multiple lines and stations around the building (and consider having escorts for first-time guests to take them to their child’s class).
5.   Once your auditorium reaches 80% capacity, it’s time to build or add a service or a new site. (It’s been quipped that the only people who like overcrowded auditoriums are speakers and worship leaders.)
Sound like a lot of work? It is. But then again, you are welcome to the alternative.

James Emery White

Monday, August 29, 2016


A great example of the flaws of a popular ideology from Trevin Wax at Gospel Coalition.
The Parable of the Elephant and the Blind Men is a well-known story that resonates in a culture where diversity is valued and multiple perspectives are promoted.
The story originated in India and has been used in Jain, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sufi contexts. The most common version in the West comes from Lillian Quigley’s children’s book about six blind men who visit the Rajah’s palace and encounter an elephant.


  1. The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. “How smooth! An elephant is like a wall.”
  2. The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant. “How round! An elephant is like a snake.”
  3. The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant. “How sharp! An elephant is like a spear.”
  4. The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant. “How tall! An elephant is like a tree.”
  5. The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant. “How wide! An elephant is like a fan.”
  6. The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant. “How thin! An elephant is like a rope.”
An argument ensued, each blind man thinking his own perception of the elephant was the correct one. The Rajah, awakened by the commotion, called out from the balcony. “The elephant is a big animal,” he said. “Each man touched only one part. You must put all the parts together to find out what an elephant is like.”
Enlightened by the Rajah’s wisdom, the blind men reached agreement. “Each one of us knows only a part. To find out the whole truth we must put all the parts together.”


The moral of the story goes something like this: we all have different experiences. Therefore, whenever we find ourselves at odds with others, we should be humble and recognize our limitations of knowledge, our need for other perspectives, and trust that others may grasp truths that we do not.
Applied to religion, the story says no one has the comprehensive vision of truth. We need all the religions of the world if we are going to grasp the truth about spiritual reality.


The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant is memorable in its delivery of a message and its prompting toward humility. But as an explanation for why no religion or perspective can claim to be right and others wrong, it backfires in three ways.

1. The story undercuts its call to humility through the arrogant claim of having the comprehensive truth it says is unavailable.

Lesslie Newbigin, famous missionary to India, pointed out the flaw in the story:
“The story is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of the truth. The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmation of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of the truth.
“But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite. If the king were also blind there would be no story. The story is told by the king, and it is the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full truth which all the world’s religions are only groping after. It embodies the claim to know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the religions and philosophies.” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 9-10)
Tim Keller sums up the contradiction this way:
“How could you know that each blind man only sees part of the elephant unless you claim to be able to see the whole elephant?
“How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?” (The Reason for God9)

2. The story undercuts the idea that the blind men should be satisfied with partial knowledge by revealing the full truth at the end of the tale. 

When you first hear the parable, you think the moral is to look for whatever is true in someone else’s perspective. But the story backfires when you consider that each of the blind men was wrong about what the elephant was.
In “The Elephant in the Room,” an article in the July/August 2016 issue of Gilbert,David Fagerberg writes:
“Far from being satisfied with their idiosyncratic, partial, perspective-driven, limited understanding, the blind men would have wished for the light by which they could see the whole, the true, the real, that upon which they could all agree, the final reality that would account for each of their perceptions.”
Fagerberg then applies the tale to the university setting:
“We each grope in our individual darkness (touching our part of the elephant), but the liberal arts should turn on the light so we can learn reality. The reason it is called a UNIversity is because there is one truth, one goodness, one beauty, particularized in an infinite number of ways, and we fail the elephant and we fail our own perceptiveness if we content ourselves with MULTIversity. There ought to be a reality toward which our perspectives should advance, even if it is done by dialogue.”
Instead of humbly acknowledging that we are blind and cannot see the full elephant, the story should drive us to seek the truth. In that search, we do indeed rely on others—not so we can be satisfied with multiple perspectives, but so that we can argue toward Truth together.
“The point of the story is that in their darkness the men were not seeing the elephant truly. There is a reality, and it is incumbent on us to see it accurately.”

3. The story undercuts its idea of blindness by opening the door for revelation at the end.

Notice that the story ends with the Rajah (who can see) explaining the reality of the elephant. The blind men need revelation in order to receive the truth.
Revelation changes everything. The reason the Blind Men and the Elephant doesn’t work as an illustration of the various religions is because the three Abrahamic faiths would say that the elephant, as a metaphor for God, can speak!
“Even though the men are blind, the elephant isn’t necessarily mute. This is a factor the illustration doesn’t allow for: What if the elephant speaks?
“The claim of Christianity is that man doesn’t learn about God by groping. Instead, discovery is through God’s own self-disclosure. He is not passive and silent, leaving us to guess about His nature. God tells us what He is like and what He wants.
“If God speaks, this changes everything. All contrary opinions are silenced, all conjectures are put to rest. God has made Himself known, giving us a standard by which to measure all other religious claims. The parable of the blind men does not take this possibility into account. Yet three of the world’s great religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—make this claim.”

Friday, August 26, 2016

How to Make Boring Church Announcements Memorable

We are always trying to make announcements more effective, this is from

I grew up in the church, and by my calculation I’ve heard 10,931 church announcements, or thereabouts. I only remember one of them. What did I only remember that one?
Before I give you the answer, I must confess that for me announcements are the most boring part of a service, yet mostly necessary. I’ve felt more stress from having to give them than when I’ve had to speak. I simply hate giving announcements. I guess I don’t like them because I see most people’s eyes glaze over during announcement time.
So why did I just remember the one I referred to?
It happened when I served in California over 10 years ago. I took a staycation and visited a few local churches since I didn’t have to attend my church. One church I visited met in a simple warehouse. About 10 minutes into the service a man walked on stage with a microphone in one hand and a hot dog in another. He made a couple of announcements between bites. Then another guy walked up on stage with a mike and a hot dog. They began a dialogue about the church hot-dog cookout that followed. I’ll never forget that creative announcement. Even as I write this post I’m getting hungry for a hot dog.
Although these two guys probably didn’t have the brain in mind when they made that announcement, they exemplified a basic rule of attention. The brain pays attention when expectations get violated. I expected the normal talking head to make announcements. But my brain was made more attentive because what I expected didn’t happen.
That simple brain concept not only applies to announcements, but to our sermons as well.
So, if you believe announcements are important and you want people to remember them, violate your congregation’s expectations. Here are a few simple ideas to incorporate into your announcements.
• Novelty (make them from a different location in your auditorium, use video, etc.)
• Surprise (mix up when during the service you make them, have separate people in the congregation stand up and make them, etc.)
• Humor (the key to humor is surprise)
• Object lessons/show and tell (i.e., the hot dog)
What ideas have helped your announcements become more sticky?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ten Things Church Members Would Love to Hear from Their Pastors

I thought this was helpful advice for pastors from Thom Rainer!
Most church members love their pastors.
Many church members are encouragers to their pastors. Pastors often lose perspective when a few critical church members become a persistent pain and challenge.
But most church members are indeed a blessing to pastors.
As we have conversed with church members across America, we have heard ten common themes or requests they have of their pastors. None are unreasonable.
Earlier this week, we looked at ten things pastors would love to hear from their church members. This time, let’s listen to the perspectives of the church members.
  1. “I love you.” They want to know that you pastors love them in good times and challenging times. They want to know you really care for the sheep God has entrusted to you.
  2. “I would love for God to give me a long-term ministry here.”Church members desire for you to perceive your church as more than a steppingstone to the next church. Though they don’t expect you to commit to a lifetime there, they are weary of the one to three year pastorates.
  3. “I will provide clear leadership for you.” Church members would like to know you are truly leading them. And they want to know where you are leading them.
  4. “I will listen.” They want to know you care enough about them to hear what they have to say. They want to know you truly value input and different perspectives.
  5. “I will communicate clearly and often.” Church members don’t want to wonder what’s happening in the church. They desire ongoing communication and transparency.
  6. “I will be a praying pastor.” Church members desire for their pastors to be in regular and prayerful fellowship with God. They want to know you are leading in God’s power and not your own.
  7. “I will focus on preaching.” They understand the importance of the preaching of the Word. They want to know you have put hours of prayer and preparation into your message so they can truly understand what God is saying in Scripture.
  8. “I will share my faith.” Most evangelistic churches have an evangelistic pastor. Most church members will follow the lead of their pastors. They want to do as you do more than do as you say.
  9. “I will care for you.” Most church members are reasonable. They know you cannot be present nor should you be present for every ministry need. But they want to know you care for them, hurt for them, and pray for them.
  10. “I will not show favoritism.” Church members sometimes see pastors demonstrating preference toward some church members over others. It grieves and hurts members to see pastors catering to the cliques, the big givers, and the power brokers.
I see this list as reasonable and healthy. Do you agree? What would you add or take away from the list? Let me hear from you.

Monday, August 22, 2016

3 Pieces of Marriage Advice from Spurgeon’s Mother-In-Law

Charles Spurgeon abandoned his fiancée on a Sunday afternoon. After lunch, a carriage took the betrothed couple from Susannah’s house in St. Ann’s Terrace to Kennington where Charles would preach. Susannah recounted the event:
…I well remember trying to keep close by his side as we mingled with the mass of people thronging up the staircase. But, by the time we had reached the landing, he had forgotten my existence; the burden of the message he had to proclaim to that crowd of immortal souls was upon him, and he turned into the small side door where the officials were awaiting him, without for a moment realizing that I was left to struggle as best I could with the rough and eager throng around me. At first, I was utterly bewildered, and then, I am sorry to have to confess, I was angry.
Susannah left the service and fumed all the way home. Her mother gently “tried to soothe [her] ruffled spirit” and offered some motherly advice about marriage:
[My mother] wisely reasoned that my chosen husband was no ordinary man, that his whole life was absolutely dedicated to God and His service, and that I must never, never hinder him by trying to put myself first in his heart.
Mrs. Thompson’s advice is worthy of reflection for anyone marrying into ministry:

1. Think twice before marrying a minister.

If Susannah sought anonymity, she would not discover it by marrying a minister—especially this minister. Charles would become the most popular preacher in the Victorian world. His first biography, The Modern Whitfield, was written five months after their wedding. Before their twin sons were weaned, Charles would become a household name on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ministry is a unique calling with unique burdens that demands unique sacrifices. The problems Charles faced are common to most ministers: constant criticism, controversy, and conflicts. Susannah had to pick her husband off the floor when the weight of ministry prostrated him. She supported him when friends and family betrayed him. Bursts of depression were common to the Spurgeon household. Charles sometimes wept without knowing why.
Mrs. Thompson was right: marrying into ministry is no ordinary undertaking. It is a high calling that comes with a high cost – one that resulted in the premature death of Susannah’s husband. Yet years later, Charles reflected: “I think that, if I was a Christian young woman, I would marry a Christian minister if I could, because there is an opportunity of doing so much good in helping him in his service for Christ.”

2. Use your God-given talents in your Gospel-centered marriage.

Susannah witnessed Charles’s absolute dedicated to God the first time she saw him. Fresh from the farm, the 19-year-old “boy preacher of the fens” had “long, badly-trimmed hair,” waved a “blue pocked-handkerchief with white spots,” and spoke with such a thick Essex accent that it “excited more regret than reverence.”
Their friendship morphed into courtship, and one year after Charles baptized his fiancée, the two were married on January 8, 1856. A special police squad was tasked with controlling the thousands of spectators amassing outside the chapel.
God called Susannah to be a wife and mother. But she was also called to use her God-given gifts to start her own ministries, like the Book Fund, which by 1902 had sent 199,315 theological books to underprivileged pastors. Susannah’s abilities accelerated her husband’s ministries.
Because Susannah was a French scholar, she assisted him in translation. She co-wrote his first book, Smooth Stones Taken from Ancient Brooks. She played instrumental roles in the 66 ministries of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. And she even helped Charles prepare his sermons on Saturday evenings by reading aloud his Scripture text while he crafted his outline.

3. Ministry comes first for the married couple.

Mrs. Thompson gently reminded Susannah that ministry comes first. She was not saying a husband should neglect his family. Instead, she cautioned Susannah against distracting her marriage from the ministry to which they were called.
Charles demonstrated that marriage is an essential part of his ministry – a visible witness to the world of Christ’s bond with his bride, the church. He modeled Christ-like behavior toward Susannah and confessed, “She has been to me God’s best earthly gift, and not a little even of heavenly treasure has come to me by her means. She has often been as an angel of God unto me.”
Charles did not choose between family and ministry. He encouraged his family to participate in ministry. Little wonder both of his sons became ministers.
After Mrs. Thompson calmed her daughter, a carriage delivered the horrified young preacher to his future in-laws’ house.
“Where’s Susie?” he asked. “I have been searching for her everywhere, and cannot find her; has she come back by herself?” After settling his nerves, Mrs. Thompson escorted Susannah to Charles, where he patiently listened to her indignation and reassured her of his love and affection.
Years later when Susannah sought “to amuse him, or chase some gloom from his dear face,” she would remind Charles of the time he left his bride-to-be on the altar of ministry. To be sure, it was the last time he did until his untimely death in 1892.
The Spurgeons faced difficulties and disappointments in their marriage. Susannah suffered from a botched cervical surgery (and ensuing infertility), and Charles almost quit the ministry when a balcony collapsed and killed seven people. But the solidity and selflessness of their relationship proved undeniable, due in no small part to the gentle diplomacy and timely advice of Spurgeon’s mother-in-law.