Wants to Grow

3 reasons why it’s not a bad thing that we missed our goal on “high attendance day”

Our Better Together weekend at Poplar Springs Baptist Church was a tremendous success.  On Saturday morning, our Preschool Sunday School leaders provided childcare, and Children’s leaders provided breakfast for our Sunday School small groups who mobilized into service all around our community. We had as many as 12 adult small groups who got up early and went out serving on Saturday morning.  Every age group from preschool to senior adults were involved.  Here are just a few examples of some of the projects we accomplished:

  •  landscaping at the local fire department and providing food for the firemen.
  •  visiting elderly and physically struggling families, doing yard work for them and home improvement projects.
  •  visiting a local children’s home and organizing their clothes closet.
  •  visiting a family in need and covering their home with love by doing laundry, deep cleaning, painting, and organizing.
  •  putting together care baskets and delivering them to elderly shut ins and spending time with them.
  •  doing a huge yard sale and raising over $200 for missions.
  •  deep cleaning in the church sanctuary
  •  yard clean-ups (bushes trimmed, leaves blown, trees cut, buildings painted, etc)
  •  visiting a nursing home and sharing hope and quality time with residents

All day on Saturday I received feedback from people who were blessed by the service projects, and from people who were blessed to serve.  Here is an example from one message I received:

DUDE!!! I cant even describe how awesome today was for our small group. Life changing for us and the family we were helping. Our people serving and coming together was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Turnout was unbelievable, which was good because we needed all the help we could get. Can’t wait to show you the before/after pics. The impact we made is hard to measure with words… But we will sleep soundly and know that we literally changed someone’s life completely.

You can’t measure that kind of impact in the way we have traditionally measured success in church.

We served together on Saturday, and then worshiped and studied the Bible together on Sunday morning.  The energy in both worship services was amazing.  Here is an example of just one of the comments that was shared on social media Sunday afternoon:

I had the most awesome time of praise and worship today at PSBC ever. My soul just opened up and soaked it all in. Jarrett McNeely reminded me that we need to let Jesus rub off on us…amen. And Julie Putnam McNeely sang about The Blood and I thought I was gonna exlpode, then my Pastor spoke from Proverbs about bringing up a child in the way he should go and he won’t depart from it….it has been rough year and today just helped me put so much in prospective. Thank you PSBC for loving God and loving me…..

I think there were moments in both worship services when we all felt like we were about to explode.  The presence of God was overwhelming.  That kind of unity in heart and spirit is a work of God that man cannot manufacture.  We also had a wonderful morning in Sunday School, with more than 20 visiting families in attendance.  In the past 2 weeks our Sunday School average is 643, with 668 in Bible study yesterday.  Our attendance numbers are steadily climbing from week to week over yearly averages.  The energy and morale of our small groups has never been higher.   I believe we need to plan another weekend similar to this early in 2014.

But there was a moment before the second service when I felt deflated.  Clint and I usually meet in the sanctuary before the 2nd service.  Sunday we met and I asked about whether we had met the attendance goal.  Clint responded that we had fallen short.  We stood there for a moment letting that sink in, and then it was like we both looked at each other and realized that it didn’t matter.  We resolved to share the joy and excitement of the weekend with the congregation, and give God the glory for all the great things happening around us.  Why should anyone feel deflated or discouraged?  Clint did a wonderful job of celebrating God’s work and placing the number in context. “We are having church in here today” he said, “and we had church out there yesterday!” I could not agree more.

In light of these thoughts, here are 3 reasons why it’s not a bad thing that we missed our goal on “high attendance Sunday”:

  1. It provides us with an opportunity to rethink our scorecard for success.  I am not opposed to setting number goals.  I think they can be helpful.  But we can never make them the bottom line.  We are a spiritual family and we ought to measure success by spiritual standards.  Attendance numbers can be affected by lots of variables, and while they should not be ignored, they can’t become the bottom line for measuring spiritual health and growth.
  2. It creates a moment that we can learn from.  By every conceivable standard, we had a great weekend experience serving, worshiping, and being in small groups together…except one.  We set a number goal and fell short.  Perhaps we should seek God’s wisdom and pray for his leading in how we plan special emphasis weekends.  In the past we have set number goals, taken commitment cards, created incentives for meeting the number goal, and had success with that model.  This time we did it differently.  We set a number goal, but we planned other activities and created spotlight moments on service projects and included the worship service in our emphasis.  The service projects were a tremendous success, and the worship service full of energy.  Sunday School attendance was very high, even if it wasn’t at the goal level.  It’s my observation that we had a rich and meaningful weekend that will leave deep spiritual impressions in a variety of ways.  In light of the contrast however, we may be able to learn that there is a broader and better vision for special emphasis weekends than driving high Sunday School attendance alone.
  3. We are reminded to value people over programs.  We are not here to build a big Sunday School.  We are here to build healthy disciples.  The danger always exists as we create special attendance drives, that as people are invited they may feel used, or like a statistic. “Well, its ‘high attendance Sunday’ again and they’re inviting us back to church so they can have big numbers.”  Obviously that is not the point of what a high attendance Sunday is.  And I have confidence in our people to communicate more effectively than that as they make invitations.  But the bigger a deal we make of the goal number, the more pressure we create to live or die by it.  We must be a church that cares about what God cares about.  God wants us to grow, and wanting to grow is one of our core values.  Healthy things will naturally grow, especially healthy churches. Today however, I am considering the best ways to express that desire to grow, and what modes of growth really matter to God.  There is deep spiritual and real physical value to the things we accomplished TOGETHER this weekend.  Our people grew in ways that a number cannot express.  We didn’t meet the number goal, but I am thankful to God for what was accomplished.

You did a great job this weekend Poplar Springs.  You expressed in beautiful ways that we are Better Together.  There is not a single thing that I want you to feel deflated over.  Give God the glory for the great things He has done, and let’s pray together about what we might learn from our wonderful experience together.

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Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Uncategorized, Wants to Grow | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

What puts the cool in Sunday School?

I enjoy reading a variety of resources from people who I find to be honest voices in the world of church leadership and faith life.  I don’t always agree with the people I read, and I wouldn’t always express things the way some do, but I find working through a variety of perspectives to be challenging and insightful.  Today I want to highlight a few points from an article which is an example of one where author and I see the world differently on the subject of Sunday School.  To be fair, the author of this article is highly successful and has worked at several churches that I greatly respect.  Also, I have always enjoyed reading his thoughts and found them to be very good.  We come from different places in our approach to spiritual formation and discipleship in church life, as I am an advocate of Sunday School and he has served in churches that have moved away from having a Sunday School as a part of their small group philosophy.  Certainly, there are a variety of ways for churches to have deep spiritual formation programs.  Churches in Southern California or South Sudan might not have what we think of as a traditional Sunday School model, and be growing deep disciples very effectively.  In our context here at PSBC however, Sunday School is part of the church’s DNA and I believe is a very effective way to accomplish discipleship.  For what it’s worth, I think the author of this article would agree, and not advocate churches everywhere abandoning Sunday School in favor of some other form of discipleship strategy.  The key is the level of excellence with which you do something in your context that makes it effective in most cases.

We talk on a regular basis about qualities which, if present, assure that Sunday School W.O.R.K.S.  Certainly there are churches in community contexts where Sunday School should be effective, but is not, because it’s done poorly.  It may be those Sunday School experiences that have led some to want to move away from it. That seems to be the case with the author of this article, though I don’t know what his denominational background is.  It’s the reasons why Sunday School does work, and makes a huge difference in people’s lives that drive me to be committed to it.  In this article, the author highlights a few core values that are lost when churches abandon Sunday School.  I would add to his list, but I thought that it would be interesting for you to see what he highlights:

Basic Bible knowledge

From Kindergarten on we had the basic Bible stories drilled into us.  As much as I hated Sunday School, by the time I graduated I had a pretty good understanding of the basic scope and sequence of the Bible.

Connection with peers

My best friends growing up were the kids I went to Sunday School with. Part of it was affinity, part of it was age proximity and part of it was surviving an hour every Sunday together. Even though I hated Sunday School I actually liked going because my friends were there. I felt accepted and connected.

Relationship with an adult who (ideally) loves kids

Once in a while we would have a Sunday School teacher who taught because she really loved kids. I remember one teacher who hosted an Easter Egg hunt just for our class at a park near her house. That made a big impact on me. I also had another teacher who would come faithfully every week to our midweek class (our version of Boy Scouts) even though I was often the only one who showed up. (I was the pastor’s kid, I had no choice). He wasn’t a talented teacher or leader, but he cared about me. I didn’t have the maturity to recognize it at the time, but [he] taught me how to love like Jesus.

Spiritual heritage

My Sunday School class is where I learned my spiritual heritage. We talked about the heroes of our tribe; missionaries who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Gospel. We learned the tenets of our faith and the nuances of doctrine the set us apart. Much of it was legalistic and some downright whacky, but I understood who we were and what we believed. The core that I learned in those classes is still what I cling to today. It is a basic part of who I am.

A church needs a primary vehicle for small group fellowship, organization that makes service easier, consistent small group Bible study, keeping up with one another, and connecting new people in a personal way.  Without it, many crucial things that make the church what it should be are lost.  Churches with different models than ours have sought to replace these qualities with other strategies.  Some have been more successful than others, but we must focus on OUR responsibility to build fully developed followers of Christ.

It is unwise for us to measure our church health by the success, or lack there-of, in other churches.  What matters to us is how effective we are at doing God’s work in our context.

I believe that our strategy is good and biblical approach.  I see evidence everywhere that it is effective, and that lives are being changed through what we do.  Sunday School is a rich part of our church’s discipleship heritage. Generations before us were faithful, and our task is to keep up the good work.

It’s also important that we pray for, and pull for other churches to be successful as well, even if they do it differently than we do.

The article I’ve referenced ends with this statement:

So am I suggesting we bring Sunday School back? Heaven forbid! I just think we need incredible intentionality around the elements we’ve lost. My fear is that we are raising a generation of children who love the entertainment we provide on Sunday, but have little understanding of the Bible, no close church friends, little connection to Christian adults (other than their parents) and a lack of knowledge about their spiritual heritage. In other words we have unchurched children growing up in the church.

Such a reality is a danger for churches who don’t have Sunday School, and for churches that do Sunday School poorly.  Let’s keep working hard to make our discipleship strategy accomplish God’s work in a powerful way!  In the end, its the personal care and hard work of the people who lead Sunday School that make it fun, memorable, cool for young people, and essential for grown ups.  May God continue to bless the church with His presence through our service.

Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

Better Together Weekend

I am excited to announce that we have selected a theme and a weekend for our high attendance effort this fall.  November 9th and 10th will be celebrated at Poplar Springs Baptist Church as “Better Together Weekend.”

What can you expect?

On November 9th,  we will be celebrating God’s design for the church to be Better Together by organizing service projects all over our community.  We will be asking each Sunday School class to plan and carry out some kind of service project that morning.  The Children’s Sunday School Department will provide a pancake breakfast that morning before the projects begin, and the Preschool Sunday School Department will provide morning babysitting at the church so that the adults can serve with their classes.  Service projects can be simple or elaborate.  Classes are welcome to do yard work for the elderly, have a free car wash, or any other creative idea you come up with as a class.  The church will provide “Better Together Weekend @ Poplar Springs Baptist Church” yard signs to put out as you serve.

better together weekend

On November 10th, we will come together to celebrate being Better Together in Worship and Sunday School.  We are setting an attendance goal on that day of 725 in Sunday School small groups.  The vision for this day has two parts.  First, we are challenging our classes to contact every single person on their roles with a personal invitation to participate in the weekend. We have 961 people on our church Sunday School roles.   Invite them to come serve with you on November 9th, and then to come sit with you on November 10th.  Many people who have fallen out of fellowship at church don’t come back because they feel they have lost their place at the table.  Serving together bonds groups, and provides an opportunity for people to feel they belong before they come.  (Plus we can do some really good things to bless people!)  Second, invite your friends and neighbors.  I really believe that Poplar Springs Baptist Church is Better Together.  It’s the way God created us to thrive, in community.  This will be a weekend to invite all of your friends and neighbors so they can experience the greatness of what God is doing in us…together.

Next week’s teacher training will be a very special meeting.  More details will be coming about this special weekend.  Please make every effort to attend, or at least have a representative from each class present.

 

Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

Spies in Church

When I was in seminary I heard stories about certain countries sending students to American seminaries to study missions.  No big deal, pretty cool actually, right?  Sure, unless it is a country that is closed and hostile to the gospel.  Apparently the potential exists for these countries to send students as “undercover spies” to learn the strategies and methods of missionaries who are posted in countries where preaching the gospel is outlawed.  These “students” then return home and set up sting operations to catch missionaries and persecute them.  That’s a pretty scary scenario.  The good news is that I also heard stories about these individuals, who as a part of their undercover mission are required to take classes in Bible and theology, were so touched in the heart by the gospel message that they converted and embraced Christ.

That, however, is not the kind of spies that this article is referring to.  Today’s article deals with spies in church.  These spies aren’t sinister, they’ve actually been hired by the churches that they visit.  Many retail businesses retain the services of “secret shoppers” to visit their stores and evaluate customer service.  In this same way, it has become popular for churches to hire people to visit and provide an evaluation of their experience so that weakness can be addressed.  Chuck Lawless, Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary wrote an article about the most commonly reported problems these undercover church visitors discovered.

If someone visited your Sunday School class next week and did an undercover evaluation, what would they find?

spy

Below are the findings from Lawless’ article, and a comment of mine regarding how our church might be evaluated in each category. 

1. Church websites are often outdated, boring . . . and useless.

We typically tell the spy only the name of the church and the city, and we ask him/her to learn about the church first from the website. More than one spy has called us to say he cannot find the service times, isn’t convinced the map is correct (if there is one), called a phone number no longer in order, cannot determine the church’s basic beliefs, or thinks the church will be old and boring based on their Internet presence.

We recently had a couple visit, who informed me that they first heard about PSBC by discovering mypsbc.org.  I took that opportunity to inquire about the helpfulness of our website.  I was relieved to hear that they were impressed, and found it very informing.  I know that our web site is a major tool for connecting with new people, as is our church Facebook page.  Both sites connect with more and more people weekly.  Anyone wishing to help with these digital gateways should contact me to find out more.

2. Churches are not friendly.

Our spies know to take note of how many people greet them apart from a time when the worship leader tells the congregation to welcome one another. More often than not, no one greets our representative before or after the service. Churches are friendly, but most often only to people they already know. I once served as a spy myself, and the church greeter escorted me to the “friendliest class in the church” – where not one of 60+ attendees spoke to me!

We had an article recently which evaluated our friendliness as a church.  We cannot have too many reminders though, that friendliness can’t be banked.  It has to be displayed each and every week, and it has to be authentic.

3. Church facilities are not generally marked well.

Church signs often have more cluttered information than a person can read when driving by. Guest parking – if any exists – is not apparent until an automobile is far into the parking lot. In larger buildings, which entrance is best to use is not clear. Signage inside the building is not helpful. In some cases, the church can be an easy place to get lost!

This is an area in which we must improve.  We need to do an evaluation of signage and have someone make some practical suggestions for improvement.  I have some ideas about small sandwich signs which could be placed outside main entrances each Sunday directing people to the sanctuary , and children’s areas.  Let me know if you would like to help with this.

4. Churches aren’t prepared for guests.

Sometimes there is no guest parking. Often there is no welcome center (or there is an unmanned welcome center!). Our spies have attended churches with no means to secure contact information from guests. Some have attended small groups that gave our spies no study material for the day. I can count on both hands the number of churches that later followed up with our spies – who were, to the church’s knowledge, their guests.

We make a strong effort each week to follow up with guests through pastoral contacts, the Cookie Crew, and through Sunday School.  As far as I can tell we have adequate guest parking, though we need some parking designated for parents with small children or expectant mothers near the children’s wing.  We have an attractive welcome area in a prominent location, and Darlene Bacon does a wonderful job of keeping it staffed.  Again, this area requires vigilance each week.  If you would like to join in these efforts, please contact me.

5. Churches are poorly equipped for protecting children.

If our spies take their children with them, we tell them not to do anything that makes them wary in releasing their children to child care workers. If the children’s area is not secure, if the worker does not require needed information, or if our spies simply feel uncomfortable, they keep their children with them. That happens quite often.

We are taking strong steps in our preschool and children’s department to build a culture of security.  Required background checks on all workers, detailed registration with emergency contact information, and strict attention to who is allowed in and around children/preschool classes are just a few of the ways we are strengthening this area of our church life.  If we are to be a church that strengthens families, we must be a safe place for families to bring their children.

6. Worship through music often needs improvement.

Our spies understand that churches have different worship styles, and they know to contextualize their assessment as much as possible. What we hear from them is that worship through music is often poorly done, regardless of style. Musicians have not practiced, lyrics are difficult to sing, and leaders lack passion.

Our worship service is without a doubt, one of the great strengths of PSBC.  Credit is due to Christopher, but also our dedicated and skilled musicians, choir members, and sound/light technicians.

7. Churches are not always clear in “what to do” in response to worship.

We ask our spies to do their best to think as the unchurched, particularly in trying to follow the direction of worship. Too often for my comfort, our folks reported they would not have known what to do if they wanted to follow Christ, join the church, or deal with a sin issue. I can only wonder if others left the same way.

This is probably an area in which we can improve as well.  We need to provide clear instructions in spoken word and in writing for new and unchurched people as to how they might respond if they feel led.

These are a few of my first reactions to an interesting approach regarding church evaluation.  What are your thoughts about these findings?  Again, how might your Sunday School fare in such an evaluation?

Categories: Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

Are we a friendly enough church?

I recently read a great article by Brian Dodd about the characteristics of highly friendly churches.  Who doesn’t want to be a friendly church right?  I believe that friendliness is one of the great strengths of PSBC.  Churches are limited in many ways that are out of their control, and many of those limitations have to do with finances and facilities, but friendliness is only limited by a church’s commitment to love.

friendly church

Friendliness is something we can control.  This has a great deal to do with the Strengthening Families part of our vision.  God has placed people all around us who we should value, because they are valued by God.  Our own families, our church family, and families in our community.  When someone gets treated in a friendly way, it makes an impression; they feel valued.

Here are several of the characteristics mentioned in the article, and a comment of mine regarding each.

Highly Friendly Churches Leverage Social Media.

This is an area that PSBC has been lacking in, but in recent months we have established a strong presence.  Our PSBC Facebook page has over 300 “likes”, and a weekly average reach of over 5000 people.  They key is frequent posts, and a lot of “likes” and “shares” from our people.  The more those things happen, the more often our posts show up in people’s newsfeed.  So click away!!  We have a weekly video devotion on Youtube that can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, and email.  Our website traffic is higher than it ever has been.  If you feel God leading you to contribute in any of these areas, contact me.

Highly Friendly Churches Make Great First Impressions.

Just a few of the keys to PSBC making a strong impression include: consistent hosts at the Welcome Desk, friendly and knowledgeable greeters at every door, and SS class greeters present an early in the classrooms each week.  Our Cookie Crew does a wonderful job of following up each week with first time guests.  Contact me for info on how to get on the Cookie Crew, or to participate in any other first impression efforts.  We probably need a section of our volunteer services grouped together as “First Impression Ministries”. Contact me if you feel led to get in on this.

Highly Friendly Churches Create Comfortable Environments.

Our worship services and Sunday School environments are warm and inviting.  This has a lot to do with physical environment as well as how welcome people feel.  Clean, neat, and well decorated spaces are critical.  We had a big “clean and organize” day recently that helped.  But we still have some dated posters decorating walls, cluttered corners, and furniture that’s in really poor shape.  I’d be glad to re-imagine your space with you if you feel like you want to do something different.

Highly Friendly Churches Passionately Serve Their Local Communities.

PSBC has local missions efforts taking place on a weekly basis, from men, women, youth, and children’s groups.  We MUST have a presence and reputation in this community that has service as a centerpiece.  This fall I have a goal of putting out a ministry catalog that lists all of our church efforts so people will know where they can get involved.  Send me an email with the local ministry you are involved in so it can be sure to make the list. dwalker@mypsbc.org

Highly Friendly Churches Care About Those Attending Their Church.

In some ways, this characteristic is more intangible and hard to measure.  In other ways, it may be the most tangible characteristic on the list.  We care about others attending our church by connecting in Sunday School.  We care about others attending our church by being aware of new people to greet on Sundays, Wednesdays, and at special events.  We care about others attending our church by giving to the ministry.  Valuing people requires action.

Highly Friendly Churches are Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Generational.

This characteristic is impossible to force, or manufacture on our own.  Our responsibility is to love people, love God, and serve in Jesus’ name.  We are a multi-generational church.  We host a vibrant, biblical, Hispanic fellowship each week on our campus that is growing and really blessed by our partnership.  Their presence is a blessing to us as well. We don’t sit around thinking about how to become multi-ethnic, we just love people because God does.   Our job is to stay committed to a Kingdom vision, and let God do His thing!

Highly Friendly Churches Use Humor.

I am so proud and encouraged by the way I see people laughing and enjoying each other all over our campus and at our community events.  They way we love and laugh points to the authenticity of our relationships, including our relationships with Jesus.  This characteristic doesn’t refer to having a comic worship service.  In my view, it refers to the way we laugh together as we enjoy a biblical life of joy in Christian community.

Highly Friendly Churches Have Volunteers Who are Glad to be There.

Do what you do because you feel led to, and want to.  God calls people to do every job in the church.  If something doesn’t inspire you, and you get asked to do it…say no.  You have our permission.  God has probably called someone else to do it, and by trudging through it you might be stealing someone else’s blessing.  It’s OK to say “no” to volunteer jobs that make you feel like you need ibuprofen just thinking about them.  That “no” frees you up to say “yes” to something you will love to do.  Just be sure you say yes to something!

Highly Friendly Churches are Passionate About Getting Better.

The overwhelming sense at PSBC is that we are just getting started.  The best is yet to come.  Every time we partner together for a ministry, service, or event that Worships God, Strengthens Families, and Changes Lives; there is an anticipation of God doing something spectacular.  We need everyone’s ideas, skills, and ingenuity.   God put you here with your unique skills and perspective to make us better.  Where could you apply your genius to make PSBC better?

Highly Friendly Churches Make You Glad You Were There.

We exist as a partnership of believers to be a blessing to God, a blessing to others, and celebrate the life change that comes through Jesus.  Every single week I am glad I joined in.  Aren’t you!!

Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Uncategorized, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

4 Ideas to Fire up Sunday School this Summer

Summer is here. We all know that Summer can be challenging when trying to maintain a high interest level in our churches and small groups. Summer brings free time and distractions, vacations happen, and regular routines are out the window. Hopefully that doesn’t mean that church attendance is out the window…but sometimes it does.

If the church just chugs along with business as usual, we make it easier for people to check out. I think that this is especially true in Sunday School. Summer offers opportunities for Sunday School groups to do some different, and creative activities which accomplish our vision (Keeps People Connected), and drive up the interest level . Here are a few suggestions:

1. Outdoor service projects. Meet on a Saturday morning and clean a senior citizen’s yard.
grill Have someone in your church or group who was in the hospital or has a newborn? Meet on a Saturday, or an evening and do their yard work together. It’s a way to reach out, and stay connected. Remember, we are Organized to Serve! Small groups that serve together, stay together.

2. Host a block party to create interest in your small group. There’s someone in your group that lives in a neighborhood which would be open to a block party. Have several people in your group bring their grills, pass out invitations to everyone on your street a week ahead of time, plan some games for the kids, and end the evening by inviting your neighbors to join you for Sunday School and worship. This is a great way to Reach out to New People!

3. Pick a Friday night and have everyone in your small group invite a neighbor over to their home for dinner. If you have 10 families in your small group, with everyone participating that would be 10 new families receiving an evening of relationship building and a personal invitation to Sunday School and worship that weekend.

4. Take advantage of the church’s 4th of July community outreach. On the evening of July 4th, the church is hosting a fellowship for the community that will feature free food, fireworks, inflatables for kids, and the band Big Blue Planet. Set up a tent for your Sunday School group and invite all of your neighbors to attend. Treat it as a Sunday School class fellowship. The point is to experience it together, and invite a friend.

PSBC_JulyFourth2

If I can help you with resources or brainstorming for any of these events, I will be more than happy to. Last summer we enjoyed strong attendance throughout, and with some creativity and hard work this summer can be even better! Thanks for all you do. Always contact me if you need anything at all!

Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

Give them Jesus

I can imagine a conversation in which someone who does not know the Gospel story would challenge our Relay for Life theme.  Our theme this year states, “My God is greater than cancer.”  One might ask, “How can you say that pastor?  Don’t you preach from a pulpit that has also hosted funerals for those who have died as a result of cancer?”  It is true that too many of us have lost friends and loved ones because of illnesses like cancer.  However, I would quickly add that the fundamental flaw in that question is the assumption that death always has the final say on life.  People living in a world of darkness, untouched by the light of the Gospel, suffer under the belief that the greatest power at work in this world is that of death.  It is not.

Death is not the greatest power at work in this world.  Death does not have the final word on life.  Relay logo 2013

It is true that we live in a broken world which has been marred by the effects of sin.  Life is difficult, and suffering is everywhere.  We all feel the effects of  sin, and struggle as a result.  There was a day on which even Son of God’s body was devastated and hung on a cross where he died.  On that day he was wrapped in burial clothes and laid in a tomb.  That tomb was sealed with a great stone and darkness covered his life…on that day.  But that day passed.

We ask questions like, “Where is God?” and “What is God doing while all this suffering occurs?”  When we look to the Bible, answers to that question leap from every page.  God is at work in this world.  He is redeeming, healing, restoring, and yes…resurrecting.  The story of the Gospel is that while darkness and sin have had their day, a new day has come.  Time after time in the Bible God restores health and joy where it had been stolen.  Again and again God redeems lives that any reasonable person would have said were ruined.  Everywhere one looks in the Bible there are stories of miraculous healing.  Those same works of God are all around us today.

Into that dark tomb where our crucified messiah laid, light sprang from darkness.  Life was resurrected from death.  The grave could not hold the Son of God.  On that day, death was defeated and the grave was overcome.  It happened because death is not the greatest power at work in the universe.  When we say that death was defeated on that day, we should be clear that it was not merely the death of Jesus that was defeated, but the reign of Death in all of our lives.  The life of Jesus could not be constrained by death, and His life in us will not be constrained by it either.

When Jesus the Messiah died on that cross he received upon himself the punishment for our sins.  Jesus’ sacrifice was a substitution for the penalty of death that is due for all mankind.  In this same way, when He rose from the dead He sealed the victory for us as well.  The same power that was and is at work in the life of Christ will raise all who believe in His name and confess Him as Lord.  In His death he saved us from the curse of sin, and in His resurrection He freed us forever from the power of death.

This Easter when you meet with your Sunday School groups and teach your lessons, you will stand to proclaim this most excellent Gospel.  Prepare well. Pray without ceasing.  Invite everyone you can.  Call men and women to live in the light of resurrection life that has banished the fear of death from our lives.  Give them Jesus in all of His brilliant glory.

Know that I will pray for each of you by name as you prepare.  I am proud to stand by your side we stand together on the side of Christ.

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Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

Signs of Life in a Small Group

Quick reminders:

I look forward to seeing you this week at our Wednesday night leadership meeting.

Don’t forget to encourage your class this week to be inviting FRIENDS who don’t have a church family to Sunday School and Worship next Sunday.  We had a great day last Sunday with people inviting family members who aren’t connected at a church!

Recently I read a great article by Rick Howerton about “signs of life” in small groups.  There were several that I thought were very good, and I’d like to share the list with you.

Take a moment and look at each of these characteristics of a group that has “come alive”.signs of life

Small group meetings come alive when…

The leader has been praying for her/his small group members throughout the week.

Group members have been in conversation between meetings.

Every group member has been spending time with God daily between meetings.

The group cries out to God expecting Him to do something.

Everyone is more concerned about everyone else than they are themselves.

The goal of the Bible study time is to find out what God is saying.

The outcome of the Bible study time is a commitment to thinking differently or doing differently.

The group leader models authenticity.

Group members are honest enough to ask others in the group to help them carry the burdens of life.

The group takes the time to celebrate significant life experiences with a group member.

Which of these characteristics are true of your group?  Which is an area in which you need to improve?

One of the most striking things about this list is how each of these important signs of life can be directly addressed and influenced by the group leader.

Do you need to address or reinforce any of these characteristics next Sunday?

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Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

Every small group owns the whole mission of God

This is the fourth post in a series based on an article from Thom Rainer called, Five Obstacles Facing Small Groups.

 The fourth small communities’ obstacle is a segmentation of the mission of God. The mission of small communities is not to teach the Bible only. Every expression of church owns all the mission of God. Your smaller community owns the mission of God. You have been called and empowered. The danger of segmentation is great. The smaller communities say that is not their role. Our purpose is to get through the study, they think.  Instead, every small group could adopt a nation in the world or a people group. We are going to go. We are going to connect. We own the mission of God.

segmented church

Here is what I like about this statement:  It reminds us who the church is and what we are here for.

For instance, we believe that the church is people, not a place on a map or a set of activities on a calendar.  Church is people.  The temptation is for us to compartmentalize (or segment) church.  We are tempted to think that Sunday School is a compartment of church.  We are tempted to think that the worship service is a compartment of church, and the same with missions studies, and discipleship studies, and so on.  The flaw in that thinking is that church is not a collection of programs.  Church is a collection of people.

In light of this truth, that church is a collection of people not a collection of programs, we understand that compartmentalizing church is impossible  and unbiblical.

Jesus shared with us that our most important desires must be to love God with everything we’ve got, love our neighbor as our selves, and seek to change the world by making disciples through missions and ministry.  We have expressed this great commandment and great commission in the following phrase: Worshiping God, Strengthening Families, Changing Lives.

We shouldn’t have stand alone programs that create worship experiences.  We  shouldn’t have stand alone programs that strengthen the family of God.  We shouldn’t have stand alone programs that seek to change lives through missions and ministry.

We should have people (complete disciples) who are committed to worship, connected to the family of God in small groups, and engaged in missions and ministry that changes lives.

The difference is that between whole disciples who are engaged in the full work of God, and good church members who participate here and there in good programs.

To Rainer’s point: the goal of each of our small group Sunday School classes is to build whole disciples who are engaged in the full work of God, not just good church members who are regular Sunday School attenders.

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Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

We are in the business of discipleship, not just scholarship.

As many of you know, Thom Rainer is the C.E.O. of Lifeway and a former professor at The Southern Baptist  Theological Seminary.  I enjoy reading his articles, and very often find his comments immediately applicable to our ministry context.  In other words, the stuff he writes about is super practical.  I want to do a series of articles based on some of his comments about Five Common Obstacles That Small Groups Face.  I will briefly discuss one each week for the next five weeks.

Here is the first:

The first obstacle to transformational small communities is that the transference of information is valued much more than life transformation. Biblical illiteracy is a problem in North America and even the church. But the work of a small group or Sunday School class does not end when the members can all find Thessalonica on the map in the back of their Bibles. The purpose of community must be to engender the desire and see the effects of transformation. Somewhere between biblical literacy and biblical minutia we find spiritual maturity. Knowledge puffs up and cannot be the goal alone. Transformation includes biblical learning, but it does not end with it.

My first comment would be that I like the phrase, “transformational small community”.  It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and we aren’t going to start referring to Sunday School classes as “TSC’s”.  What the phrase communicates is what I like.  Transformational: the goal of Sunday School is discipleship.  The proof, or fruit of discipleship is life change, or transformed lives.  I also like the word “community”.  That’s what happens in Sunday School small groups.  We experience Christian community.  We don’t just go to class.  I went to class for years in college and hardly ever knew anyone else’s name.  We do life together in small groups.

changes

The purpose of community is build a desire for, and see the effects of life change.  Are people in your small group getting more knowledgeable, or are their lives being changed by Jesus?

“Somewhere between biblical literacy and biblical minutia we find spiritual maturity.”

Bible learning is a key element of discipleship.  Bible “intake” is a key spiritual discipline.  But it is not the end in itself.  The Word of God is alive and burns within our hearts to affect change.  Our role as teachers and Sunday School leaders is to remind our people of this fact.  Encourage it.  Say things like, “How has knowing Christ and being in his word transformed your life over the past year?”  I am convinced that true spiritual leadership involves authenticity and transparency.  Feel free to share examples from your own  story about how your life is being shaped by God’s story.

Keep the main thing the main thing.  We  are in the business of discipleship, not just scholarship.

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