February 22, 2020

Church Plant Webinar Highlights

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Bishops and Diocesan leaders from across the Episcopal Church about church planting. Here are the highlights from that webinar:

February 12, 2020


When it comes to church planting we are frequently enamored with the "where," "when," "what" and "how" of this work. We are easily intrigued with novelty. We are forever interested in technique. Yet, at it's core the work of starting new faith communities is an evangelistic effort--inviting others into God's good news that otherwise would have nothing to do with it. If this is true, starting with the where, when, what and how is the wrong place to start. "Who" is where we ought to start. Who is not attending the established churches around you? "Who" is way more interesting, humane and deeply contextual. You will end of up with a community truly unique rather than a carbon copy of a model repeated a thousand times over in other places. "Satellite campuses," "dinner church," "laundry love," these are techniques. If they work it is only because leadership prioritized answering, "who is this for". "Who" tips the notion of novelty on its head and leads us towards true innovation.  The "where," "when," "what" and "how" of church planting is quickly answered when following "who" and has a higher likelihood of success when we get clear on who we are building Christian community for and with.

February 9, 2020

How To Get A Standing Ovation

We all want a standing ovation whether we admit it or not. That is to say, we all hope someone else is grateful for the work we do. Yet, it's not everyday that most of us get a standing ovation in front of hundreds of people. Yesterday, at the 171st Council of the Diocese of Texas I received one. It was humbling and flattering but it also demonstrates something important in today's culture.

To get a standing ovation you have to make it all about you. Your accomplishments, your track record. But that is never enough because this always requires more. More accomplishments. More records broken. There is only so much that one human can accomplish and this only ends in exhaustion. So, in order to be truly successful at this you must demonize someone else. You have to make a straw man out of the other. You must build on their failures, their misfortune, their mockery. We are suckers for a common enemy and will fall for this appeal for applause every time. But here's the thing: it's not really about you then is it?

There is another way to win an applause.

Over the last few years, I've been less present on social media and my podcasting frequency has waned. Instead, I've put thousands of miles on my car so that I could show up in cities, towns and neighborhoods. I go on walks, drink coffee and share meals. Most of my work is a mix of mundane and ordinary with normal, everyday people. Most don't have Twitter accounts. Most are not professional Christian leaders. Rather than tell people what I'm doing, I listen to what they're doing. I earn the right to be heard and, when invited, I share what I know through my experience rather than what I read in books. I try to build on the gifts, experience and the contextual realities of those I work with rather then tell them they're doing it wrong, don't have the right title or live in the wrong neighborhood. I do my best to lower anxiety, instill hope and confidence, and convince people that risking failure or embarrassment is a worthy risk.

To get a standing ovation, do your work in a way that when people cheer for you, they know they're cheering for themselves too.

That is how you get a standing ovation.

February 6, 2020

How Do You Measure Trust?

Religious communities frequently lament the decline of attendance. Books have been published, products created, conferences designed and whole careers built upon solving the crisis of church attendance. Yet, I often find myself wondering if church attendance is the place to start.

How do you measure trust?

Seth Godin tells a story about visiting Kenya with Acumen and learning about trust. He visited with an institution that provides micro-finance loans to farmers in East Africa. The qualification for those farmer applying for a loan? Their neighbors vouch for them. In other words, the farmer in need for a loan must be trusted enough by his neighbors that they will tell the lender that the farmer is worth the investment. Kickstarter is based on a similar premise. Jason Coker teaches a similar principle in his fundraising for churches workshops (here's my interview with Jason).

People show up when they know you can be trusted. That is, that you not only have your own well-being in my mind but the goodwill of the other as well. How do people show trust? People show trust with their money, their time, their attention, their presence and when they bring others along--like family, friends and neighbors.

When one considers the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on individuals by Christian leaders from across the spectrum of traditions or the theological gymnastics pulled by religious leaders to justify their political desires ... all well-covered by the media ... is it any wonder that there are diminishing reasons for the public to trust Christian institutions?

I'm not quite sure how we can measure trust but I do not think it is any longer safe to assume that we have the trust of our neighbors. That era has past. We have to earn it. And there are a few things we should think about if we want to earn the trust of those around us enough that they would consider being a part of our faith communities.

1) Practice the greatest commandments before the great commission. Years ago, I spoke with a megachurch pastor who shared with me how upset neighbors were when they made certain building decisions for their new campus. For him, the opportunity to build a platform for the gospel to be declared outweighed concerns of neighbors regarding traffic congestion and loss of open spaces. This sounds to me like putting one's understanding of the great commission before the great commandments. When we put expansion ahead of loving God and neighbor we get our worst moments in Church History. Teach your community how to love God and love your neighbors and you will find your way of making authentic disciples.

2) Loving means listening. Demonstrate an interest in the goodwill of others by listening to them before talking at them. Earn the right to be heard.

3) Be consistent. Whether in the neighborhood, in the social media platform of choice, at the school board meetings or the gathering for prayer ... keep showing up and demonstrate that you are reliable.

In short, we cannot wait within the doors of our places of worship and assume neighbors will think us worthy of their trust; their money, their time, their attention, their presence and their loved ones. We have to get out of the doors and consistently get to know them, hear them and earn their trust.

January 4, 2020

Delayed Gratification

I have found learning the value of delayed gratification to be one of the most important lessons in life. In an era of the 24-hour news cycle and ready-made meals our stamina is often diminished. We want things now! But I'm here to say that waiting is not a bad thing. Putting the needs of others ahead of ours, going last, doing something hard now in order to get something better down the road is a good thing. There are times when all that lies ahead is the hard work; the step by step of getting to what is far out in the future. Whether this letting others go before us, putting money aside for the future, waiting to have that sweet treat until a job is finished ... whatever it is, the best things in life typically don't come easy and they usually take time. In the waiting, in the keeping to the task at hand, I find the practice of delayed gratification actually make me ... more grateful in the moment.