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EP 244 – California Replanting: A Replanting Conversation with Michael Denton

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EP 244 - California Replanting: A Replanting Conversation with Michael Denton
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Revival and Community Engagement: Replanting with Pastor Michael Denton

In this episode, we conversate with Michael Denton, a surfer pastor and replanter from First Baptist Church in Nipomo, California. Michael shares his replanting journey, emphasizing the importance of relationships, community engagement, and strategic discipleship. He delves into his personal and pastoral experiences, offering valuable insights for those considering replanting. We discuss the roles of mentors, coaches, friends, and counselors, and how these relationships have supported his ministry. Michael also highlights his family’s involvement in the church, particularly his son’s leadership and discipleship efforts. We wrap up with essential prayer requests for his ministry and community revival.

00:00 Welcome to the Episode: Introducing Michael Denton
00:05 Michael Denton’s Journey to Replanting in California
01:47 The Challenges and Triumphs of Three Years in Ministry
02:33 Advice for New Replanters: Mentorship and Community Engagement
05:43 Cultivating Love and Service in the Community
13:30 Discipleship and Family: Leading by Example
22:03 Closing Thoughts and Prayers for Replanters

Replanting as a Family

When I was twelve years old, I saw down in the living room with my mom, dad, brother, and sister. My dad was having a family pow-wow with us, and it seemed important. “Kids,” he said,” Me and your mother love you all. And I want you to know that God is calling your Dad to serve another church.”

My dad had been serving at Bethel Baptist Church in Sycamore, GA, since before I was born, and we would be leaving the church where I had grown up to move to a new town. As a twelve-year-old, that move was difficult, but also exciting. From a young age, it taught me that my Dad’s call to ministry involved the whole family. 

This week, on a special episode of the podcast, our host, Jimbo, had his whole family on the channel to talk about the joys and challenges of having a family during a Replant. If you haven’t listened, I encourage you to listen to this one and take special note of a replant from his children’s perspective. These are good things to know, not just for Replanters but for all ministers and church leaders. To summarize, I’ll give a few topics of the conversation. 

Making Quality Time with Your Kids:

As your children grow up, what they will remember most and have the most significant impact on them is the time you have spent with them. Life is busy, and ministry is full-time, no matter what your job description entails. It seems like, in ministry, it is extra difficult to “leave work at home.” Though my children are three years old and six months old, they have already spent countless hours with my wife and me at the church on weekends or at my office for a few extra hours. 

There are times when that is necessary. We have full-time roles, and there are projects to complete and things to take care of. But when we get home after a long day, we put our phones away and spend quality time with our kids. For our 6-month-old, it’s laying on the floor, having face-time with her, holding her, and caring for her. For our 3-year-old, it’s playing with monster trucks and cars, running around outside, and watering the plants together. Our kids will remember those small moments, and it instills in them the love and care we have for them.

Maybe your kids are older. Sometimes, we forget that while our kids have different likes and interests, we can always put away our “things” and spend quality time with them. Don’t neglect quality time. Every once in a while, we must put the phone or TV away, play some games, and do some silly dances with our kiddos. You’ll be glad you did. 

Being Present at Home

Another way we can be intentional with our families is by being present at home. It is possible to be home without being at home. One example mentioned was being at home but checking work emails or working on your next sermon during family dinner to catch up. We must remember that our first ministry is always to our family. That extra 20 minutes for sermon prep may have to suffer a bit. I would rather have an underdeveloped sermon than neglect my family.

Focusing on our pastoral ministry does not have to come at the expense of neglecting our family ministry. This is why time management and balance are so important. If you have to, schedule every hour of your day so that you can schedule time to be present and intentional with your family. We must learn to say “not this time” when ministry opportunities present themselves for the sake of family time.

Raising them with Grace

Another great insight shared in this podcast was raising your kids to be good kids but not raising them to be a “pastor’s kid.” What do we mean? Children in ministry must not be raised with the impossible expectation of being a perfect, rule-following child as an example for other kids. In other words, we must not expect them to be ideal role models for the rest of the kids. Sometimes, we put high religious expectations on our kids, and they fear imperfection and feel the weight of pressure that no child should bear. 


We must raise our kids to be great kids, not perfect kids. Yes, others will look at them and watch their lives. But we should normalize authenticity and grace rather than a facade of perfection that even we cannot maintain.

Creating Core Values for Your Family

At the end of this episode, the Stewart family began discussing their core values. I talked about this concept with Jimbo and loved their ideas. After he and his wife talked about how to raise their children, they came up with some core values they would instill at a young age and include in meaningful conversations with them. The four values they chose were respect, integrity, self-control, and joyfulness.

As each kid spoke, it became apparent that this was a significant part of their upbringing. I want to encourage you, the reader, to think of the same thing to implement with your family. Even if your kids are preteens or teenagers, it’s still something you can do. 

Whether you are looking for a better work/life balance, learning how to lead your family spiritually, or struggling relationally at home, a good starting point is recognizing that if you have a family, your family is your first ministry. Let us know how we can encourage you to find the necessary balance in this pursuit.

How Christians Engage with the Public Square

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia: the fear of public places. 

This term is normally used when someone is afraid to go into public due to an anxiety disorder. But the word, “Agoraphobia” is associated with ancient Greek culture due to its origin. “Agora” translates to “gathering place” or “assembly.” Every Greek city-state had an Agora where there was a public gathering of citizens who discussed politics, philosophy, and heard reports from governing authorities.

It’s also where we get our word for the “Public Square.” Over time, the Agora became a place for commerce, justice, and religion. It was the focal point for community life in the Greek city-state. But today, the Public Square can be found in any nation, any city. Wherever there is a general location for discussion, from small tribes in Africa to the busy streets of New York.

In today’s digital culture, most “public square” conversations are held online, through social media and other online forums. Since Christians are represented in the “Agora,” and if Christians are commanded to make disciples and live missionally, we must not have a fear of the public square. So, how should Christians engage it with the gospel? Should Christians engage with political and social action, or should they disengage entirely to “keep peace?”

For Leaders

Last week on the podcast, we hosted Brent Leatherwood with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) to discuss how Christians engage with the Public Square. If you’re reading this, you are probably a Christian leader who wants to steward your opportunity well.

First, leaders should first recognize the importance of helping Christians think biblically about political and social matters. Some Christians completely shy away from any political discussions. Either they get too overwhelmed, or they feel like they should separate from any and all worldly discussions in an attempt to “love not the world or the things of the world.”

But the Christian life is inherently cultural and contextual. Living on mission means we must understand our mission field, and that means being informed about the matters that affect our lives in the social sphere. The biblical examples are too many to count – Christians have always utilized their station in life to be the light of Christ in a dark world, and more often than not, that Christian living affects the public square in which they live.

Second, leaders must leverage the tools in front of them to disciple their congregations. God has lended the pulpit to pastors to preach the word. Pastors should carefully steward their time on Sunday mornings to help Christians exerise wisdom in their context. This does not mean telling your congregation who to vote for and dictating political responsibilities. But it does mean allowing God’s word to speak to contextual Christian living. As leaders, we cannot weaponize our opportunity, but leverage it in a Godly and peaceful way.

On the other side, we must not shy away from all discussion and ignore the issues surrounding us. Faithful preaching will simply preach the word, but make application of the word to the congregation.  If your church is a voting poll, or a gathering place during the week for city meetings, utilize your people and place to show the love of Christ to the community. For example, this can be done by handing out snacks and water bottles, and praying over people as they walk out. We must lead by example, helping our people see the need of living on Mission for Jesus Christ.

For Churches

The ERLC is re-launching a wonderful resource that helps Christian engage the public square. You can find the link here: A Christian Guide to Political Engagement. Please utilize this resource and apply it to your context.

Biblically informed, God-honoring engagement from Church Members is not just helpful. It’s needed. We need wise Christians to be an influence in every area of life, including politics, for the Glory of God. Here are three ways that Christians can engage with the public square.

Public Theology

E. Harold Brietenberg, in defining Public Theology, wrote a helpful article in 2003 called “To Tell the Truth: Will the Real Public Theology Please Stand Up?” In it, he defined Public Theology as, “Theologically informed public discourse about public issues, addressed to the church…as well as the larger public or publics, argued in ways that can be evaluated and judged by publicly available warrants and criteria.”

Public Theology can bring light and clarity to many cultural issues. In his podcast

Thinking in Public and The Briefing, Al Mohler explains the theological connections and issues associated with Cancel Culture, Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Abortion, and Transgenderism. As much as the culture exhibits a polarity of opinions related to this variety of topics, Christians should be able to articulate what they believe and why—a precedent set by 1 Peter 3:15.

Public Ministry

Mark Clifton says that Replanted churches must focus on “making disciples who make disciples who make the community noticeable better.” This said, churches in revitalization should place effort towards ministry in their community. Like Public Theology, Public Ministry is a form of political activism because it concerns itself with having activity in the affairs of the public square. Using the term “Public Ministry” is related to social action, but helps dispel the negative connotations associated with the Social Gospel Movement which helped give rise to the religious left today.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by announcing his personal fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Luke 4:18-19. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When we minister in the name of Jesus, we are continuing the ministry that Jesus left to his disciples when he ascended into heaven, and we will continue ministering until he returns. 

Christians today involving themselves with any sort of public ministry should recapture the original intent of Christ’s ministry—to demonstrate his supremacy and restoration of sin, in all areas of life. Due to the complexity of cultural facets today complicated by time, sin, and population, Christians have many options for various public ministries such as pro-life ministries, sex trafficking ministries, justice ministries, medical ministries, and financial ministries. God places distinct burdens, gifts, abilities, and desires in each of us, and desires that we would be faithful in whatever calling He has on our lives. We need only to obey and magnify his Lordship while doing whatever task he has given us.

Public Office

 Finally, another great way Christians can practice political activism is by running for public office. This effort involves those who are especially skilled in leadership, but Christians in political office can have a great impact on society. Each Christian should consider their own vocation and calling on their life and consult their abilities and skills as well as support from friends and family before considering running for office. While Scripture does not specifically tell Christians to try and run for political office, it does contain numerous examples of characters who were types of governing officials and in positions of influence.

In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Paul says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” Paul’s greatest desire is that he would be known for the way he obeyed his Lord and the way he handled the truth of the gospel in all areas of life. May this ethical and evangelistic mindset be the every Christian who desires to actively engage their culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more information, please see my thesis on this topic from SEBTS: Transformative Cultural Engagement in Political Activism. I hope it’s helpful. 

Resources for the Replant Wife

“You can’t be a pastor!  That would make me a pastor’s wife!  And I am NOT a pastor’s wife.”  These were the very first words I said to my husband after he confessed to me that he felt God was calling him to be a pastor.  (Encouraging, I know… Bear with me.) Some women attend seminary and meet their future husband while he is studying for a career in ministry.  She’s prepared to be known as the “pastor’s wife” for their marriage.  That is not what happened to me.  I was completely unprepared to be a pastor’s wife– my husband was in logistics at a warehouse. I never imagined God would call him to be a pastor and I would be a “PW”– I didn’t even know what PW meant!

Thankfully, God brought me around and I joyfully accepted this new role. I looked at it as a big, new adventure we would go on together.  My husband and I, in ministry, doing the Lord’s work.  Proclaiming the Gospel to hurting and broken people, together! What could be better than that?

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh man… She might be in for a shock.”  You’re right.  I was!

After 16 years in ministry, I can honestly say it has been a big adventure– one that has included many wonderful, joyful mountains, but one that also included several painful and dark valleys. Most of those valleys have happened in the season of replanting/revitalization in our church.  In those valleys, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone in ministry.  Looking at other churches, I would think, “They have it all figured out.  They don’t seem to struggle the way we’re struggling!  Maybe we just aren’t called to this.” Perhaps you have felt that way, too. If you’re a pastor reading this, I can almost guarantee your wife has felt that!

On a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, host Jimbo Stewart spoke with three replant wives (one of whom is probably his favorite guest of all time) to take a look at the resources available to the wives working alongside their husbands in church renewal.

The Replant Wife Experts

A woman prays alone

During those moments of isolation and loneliness, sometimes all we need is a small reminder that we aren’t alone. This is where I found myself at the first Replant Summit I attended with my husband.  We had navigated some very discouraging and hard times in our church and we signed up hoping to be refreshed and renewed.  I was burdened with many needs, some spiritual and some within our own family. When I saw a breakout session for “Replant Wives,” I thought, “Nope.” The last thing I wanted to hear was how amazing life was for all those wives and how wonderful their churches were.

My husband convinced me to go, and I entered that room overwhelmed and anxious.  I sat at an empty table prepared to sit quietly and speak to no one. But before I could enact that plan, other women came to sit at the table.  These women were all so friendly and kind, and I found myself sharing some of my concerns with them briefly before the session even started.  They seemed to understand everything I had experienced.  They seemed like they “got it,” in a way that my other friends didn’t.  Those women were Audrea Stewart, Darlene Dryer, and Barb Bickford, the hosts of the breakout session and the spouses of Jimbo Stewart, Josh Dryer, and Bob Bickford, respectively.  Turns out, I hadn’t sat down at an empty table– I was at “their” table! (I had somehow missed the purses, laptop bags, and materials they had around the table.)

For the next couple of hours, I sat with many other women in the room as these three incredible women poured into us with biblical, practical advice for this journey.  They each shared their stories, complete with heartaches and struggles.  They were transparent and relatable, but also gently and wisely continued to point us each back to Christ and His leadership.  As we each began to open up with our own worries and anxieties, I realized I had been wrong. I wasn’t alone or isolated.  There were so many women struggling with the same issues I was– and these three “expert Replant Wives” had struggled with them, too!

I know these three women would object to being called “experts”– they are just wives who are doing their best to assist their husbands in this work of church renewal. But that day, Audrea, Darlene, and Barb gave us more than the resources of books to read, biblical passages to study, and tangible tools for problem-solving– they gave us the resource of friendship.  We were able to connect with each other, as women all over the room began to bond over shared trials, joys, and everything in between.  The connections I formed that day reminded me that I wasn’t alone.  The resource of friendship was something that I will never forget.

The Replant Wife Facebook Page- a Source of Connection

After the Summit, I went home and immediately joined the Replant Wife Facebook Group.  There, I get to interact with Audrea, Darlene, and Barb, but I have also met Replant Wives from the Midwest, the Pacific Coast, and the Northeast United States.  It is a closed group, so wives can be transparent without worrying about breaking confidentiality.  They can share their burdens and know that someone out there understands what they are going through.  They can share helpful articles and books they’ve read, but they also share prayer requests and biblical questions.  It’s a forum for pastor’s wives in church renewal, so there are even helpful tools for struggling congregations.

Some of the questions that are asked and answered are practical– “Has anyone done VBS on a budget?  What tools were helpful?” “Has anyone been involved in rewriting bylaws?  What did you run into that you didn’t expect?” “What is a great meal for unexpected company or for feeding a large crowd?”  These questions are answered by other women in the context of church renewal– churches with normative attendance, budgets, and resources.  Churches a lot like yours.

This online connection fosters a community.  Now, when I go to a replant conference with my husband, I can connect with the women I know from the Facebook page and get updates on their lives and ministries.  We look forward to seeing each other and catching up.  Our community has borne each others burdens and celebrated each others successes.  We are truly in it together.

The Replant Wife Website, Blog, and Podcast

women shaking hands in collaboration

Another important resource for Replant Wives is the website, which also houses the blog.  Audrea, Darlene, and Barb have all penned blog posts regarding common issues in this renewal life.  Audrea wrote on navigating the post-holiday blues, Barb has written a series on longevitiy in ministry, and Darlene is writing about finding joy in trials. Think of this website as the “landing page” for all things Replant Wife.  In addition to Audrea, Darlene, and Barb, there are also resources from Kathy Addis (wife of Andy Addis), Jeanette Pugh (wife of Colin Pugh), and Joyce Jackson (wife of David Jackson), each of whom bring their own stories of  ministry mountains and valleys.

In addition to the incredible resources the three women have cultivated, they also have links to NAMB’s replanting resources.  NAMB is consistently looking for ways to support and care for pastors in ministry and one of those focuses has to be the pastor’s family.  In a replant/revitalization, where there are potentials for seasons of change and conflict, this is even more important.  A pastor does not weather the conflict alone– his family will feel it, too.  His wife will need support and encouragement, and she can find it within those resources.

But I think the best resource the women leading this effort have cultivated is their podcast.  This podcast seeks to be a refuge for the replant wife to be equipped and encouraged for the work God has called her to do.  Listening to it, you feel like you’re sitting around with three friends discussing Jesus, the bible, ministry, and families.  There, the three women discuss their blogs and talk about important topics in church renewal. They take the time to really dive into scripture and give biblical, practical advice.  They remind the listener that she is not alone in this work.  But they also remind her that this work is God’s glorious calling.

For every replant pastor, there is a replant wife who needs to know she is not alone.  We are here for you and we want to hear from you!  The Lord has called us to bring dying churches back to life– that’s an amazing honor!

If you want to meet these amazing women in person, you can do so at the Am I a Replanter conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary April 5-6 or at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary April 12-13.  (And, yeah, their husbands will be there, too.)

What is Working Genius and How Does it Work for You?

Over the past eighteen months, our church has been revising and rewriting the church bylaws.  This has been an arduous, complicated process that took much longer than anyone expected.  The team that took on the project was coed and economically and generationally diverse. We expected to have disparate opinions and different ways of looking at many of the same issues.  We expected to have different strengths and weaknesses as we worked through this important project.

But there was one thing we didn’t expect– some of us felt excited during the same phases that left others feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. For several of us, the project’s initial phase was the most exciting– we loved asking questions and defining what needed to happen.  The possibility of creating a new document for our church that would be used for years to come was so inspiring! The lack of structure and organization during this time felt time-consuming and unproductive for others.  Likewise, some of us felt energized toward the end of the project as we saw all of the hard work come together, and we began to encourage our church about some new directions and ideas.  Others were ready to move on to the next project and wished we could move quicker to the next thing.

Did these differences mean that our team was unsuccessful?  Not at all. These differences are necessary and beneficial!  On a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo and Bob walked listeners through a new tool called “Working Genius” by Patrick Lencioni.  Though the premise may sound similar to other personality tests and quizzes, the “genius” behind Working Genius is finding out where your team’s skills lie and which parts of a project line up with those specific gifts.

six types of working genius

The Good News: We’re All Geniuses!

One of the best aspects of Working Genius?  We are all geniuses!  It’s true– we all have an area of uniquely talented gifting.  We are more fulfilled and happier when we can work within what we are naturally good at.  In addition to seeing what our skills and gifts say about us, we can also find out where we fit within our team and project phases.  

The Six Types of Working Genius

According to Lencioni, the six types of Working Genius are:

  • The genius of wonder: The natural gift of pondering the greater potential and opportunity in any situation.  People gifted in this area love asking questions and feel creative in ambiguity.
  • The genius of invention: The natural gift of creating original and novel ideas and solutions. People gifted with this genius find joy in taking the challenges and generating solutions. They enjoy innovating from scratch and love a blank whiteboard piece of paper with which they can brainstorm.
  • The genius of discernment: The natural gift of intuitively and instinctively evaluating ideas and situations.  People gifted in this area are good curators of what’s going on around them and can recognize patterns. They know how to connect the dots and give people good feedback across a broad range of topics.
  • The genius of galvanizing: The natural gift of rallying, inspiring, and organizing others to take action.  People with this genius love to get things moving. They’re great at pushing people out of their comfort zones, inspiring them to get started, and moving them in the right direction.
  • The genius of enablement: The natural gift of providing encouragement and assistance for an idea or project.  This genius is people-oriented– they want to help realize a vision and provide the support needed to move.
  • The genius of tenacity: The natural gift of pushing projects or tasks to completion to achieve results. People gifted in this genius are task-oriented.  They love to take things across the finish line, and they ensure that a project is going to have the impact it’s supposed to have.

Project Stages

Every project has a workflow structure that follows a specific pattern.  The initial stage, where we are asking questions and answering with possible solutions, is called “ideation.”  This is the stage where people with the workplace geniuses of Wonder or Invention will feel energized, focused, and most productive.

In the next stage, we have answered our questions and have decided on a possible course of action.  But we are still getting ready for the next step.  We need people whose workplace genius is Discernment or Galvanizing to help us move into activation.  They will help us create “buy-in” for the ideas and ensure we move in the right direction.  The people with these geniuses will be excited to engage others in the work and cooperate with every team member.

Finally, after we ask and answer all the questions, cohesively move toward solutions, and ensure we are heading in the right direction, we are ready for the final stage of the project: Implementation.  In this stage, people with the working genius of Enablement or Tenacity will find joy in checking off boxes, encouraging others in their work, and getting the project to completion.

The Bad News: We’re Not Always Geniuses!

A name tag that reads "Hello I am a Genius"

Lencioni states that each person has two geniuses that fit them well– these strengths allow them to feel the most joy while at work on a project. Each person also has two Working Competencies.  These are the areas where we can perform the work, and we may even find satisfaction in it.  While we might be somewhat gifted in these areas, they do not bring us joy.  We also have two areas that are working frustrations.  These areas bring us– you guessed it– frustration.  These are the areas where we just really don’t enjoy this aspect of a project.  

Unfortunately, we are not always able to avoid those Working Frustrations.  As Replant Pastors, we are often called to work on a project from start to finish, regardless of which stage of the project brings us joy. So, how do we work within those moments of frustration without getting… frustrated?

Finding Einstein

A picture of Albert Einstein

There is this temptation, especially as a Replant Pastor with limited resources and limited people, to believe that you have to do it all.  Everything rests on you.  Each project is for you to accomplish from start to finish, whether rewriting bylaws or redoing the children’s classrooms.

Pastor, here is some truth: You can’t do it all.  If you thought you could, you would quickly discover that road leads to exhaustion, discouragement, and burnout.  (See last week’s podcast episode and blog for some tips to avoid burnout.)  You need other people.  You specifically need other people who aren’t just like you.  You need other geniuses in the room!

I can tell you from experience it isn’t easy to work with someone with a different genius.  If you have the genius of Wonder, you’re going to frustrate someone with the genius of Tenacity.  While you’re asking all the questions, they’ll just want to push forward to the part where they can start doing something.  If you have the genius of Invention, you may feel unsupported by someone with the genius of Discernment who doesn’t think your idea is a perfect one.

But we must recognize that those differences, however frustrating they may be, allow us to work better. Romans 12:3-8 reminds us that God, in His grace, gives us different gifts– but just as important, it reminds us that we aren’t to think more highly of ourselves because of our specific gifts.  We cannot envy someone else’s unique gifts or judge their gifts as somehow less than ours.

I recently attended a symphony concert with my daughter.  As we listened to the incredible music, I never thought, “Man, I wish this was just 150 trumpets all doing the same thing.” As much as I might love to hear the trumpet, the music was beautiful because every instrument was playing its part at the perfect time and volume.  The trumpet player wasn’t jealous of the violinist because it took both of them to create the symphonic sound.  Likewise, the trumpet player didn’t look down on the harpist because a trumpet couldn’t make that sound, which was necessary for the piece. 

Find the other Einsteins in your congregation with a genius that is different than yours– and then work with them on projects to make sure you’re all playing your part cohesively and beautifully for the Gospel.

If you want to take the Working Genius test or purchase it for your team, you can find more information here: https://www.workinggenius.com/about. And if you’re interested in other resources for team building and team strategies, check out our podcast episodes on Leadership Judo by searching the term or by looking at Les McKeown’s work on Predictable Success.

EP 220 SHARED LEADERSHIP

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Replant Bootcamp
EP 220 SHARED LEADERSHIP
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We hope you are well Bootcampers! Jimbo has been released from his quarantine and Bob is feeling a little under the weather, but do not fear loyal Bootcamper we held forth and produced another EP for you that is an important listen.

Leadership is often lonely and challenging, that’s why it is vitally important to learn how to share the burdens and blessings of leading the local church. In this EP we remind ourselves of Ezra and Nehemiah and how they each played an important role in leading God’s people.

Ezra is a pastor/priest who seeks to get others to take the Bible seriously, and live faithfully. Nehemiah is essentially a visionary who sees the need for the rebuilding of the ancient walls of Jerusalem.  Tim Mackie 

This restoration required, first of all, the rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of ceremonial worship. The two accomplished a lot, both had frustrations with those they led, some success and some failure – a real story of the reality of leadership.

Leaders, keep this in mind:

God uses Pastors and Civic Leaders

Both are needed for Kingdom work

Both are valued by God 

Each has an important task, a divine gift set, and a specific calling

Working together for Kingdom purposes

  1. Value each other’s gifting, call
  2. Collaborate and Compliment rather than compete
  3. Lead and follow – the best leaders are also great followers
  4. Recognize that absolute success is often measured in many cycles of victory and setbacks
  5. Keep the big picture in mind – Your God-given assignment is faithfully fulfilling the assignment God has given, success is being faithful.

Get the help you need for your website and branding by calling one of the industry leaders, One Eighty Digital. They do great work dear Bootcamper, call them and let them know you are a good Bootcamp listner.

 

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Long-Tenured Pastors Can Still Lead in Church Renewal

Is it ever too late for a pastor to lead his congregation toward church renewal? 

In the replanting and revitalization world, there has been much discussion on the barriers to church renewal. One of those topics has been the tenure of the existing pastor. 

Replanting is usually described as the decision to close an existing church and re-launch it as a new church with new leadership, new name, new identity, new governance, new ministry approach and overall new philosophy of ministry. 

Although this is one of the ways to describe replanting, there are different variations of church renewal, such as church revitalization, fostering, and merging. 

Still, the question remains. If a church needs to enter into a renewed effort and process, does the existing, tenured pastor need to go?

In this week’s podcast, Jimbo and Bob discussed this vital topic and clarified where some may be confused. The answer is yes: a long-tenured pastor can certainly lead toward church renewal. But it takes some clear thought, a considerable commitment, and the power of God working through the Pastor and congregation.

To highlight some of the discussion, here are three things that must be stressed when a long-tenured pastor wants to lead a church toward church renewal.

A Renewed Pastor

Every faithful pastor who cares about his church is concerned about his church’s spiritual health. Pastors might implement different strategies and approaches to help their church engage their community, reconnect to their mission, and focus on discipleship. I’ve talked to older pastors who have commented: “Many of us have been doing ‘church revitalization’ before it became a system or a process.” That’s encouraging.

It tells us that a true pastor’s greatest desire is to lead his congregation in the best way that honors God and grows God’s kingdom. Those qualities should be applauded and celebrated.

But there is a difference between slowly implementing different methods vs. trying to enter into a new season of renewal for a church. Church Renewal often takes an intentional, set-apart initiative that is time-bound and goal-oriented. Sometimes, it can be easier for a church to “start from scratch” and get a new pastor. This can often result in forced termination. Do we think that a church can be renewed entirely by just switching leadership? Although this may help sometimes, it can speak even better testimony if a church engages in a new process with the same tenured leadership.

A long-tenured pastor may face the barrier of staleness and an inability for his congregation to follow him or try something new. But if a church is to be renewed, it must take a dedicated effort. A long-tenured pastor can lead this way, but they must focus first on their own renewal.

This can begin with a pastor taking a sabbatical and personally resting from the work of ministry to have somewhat of a “restart.” During that time, that pastor should do some prayerful personal evaluation and possibly reach out to others for training on church renewal. Pastors committed to the long haul must commit to seeing it through.

In a situation like this, a pastor must get some perspective and insight from others. As difficult as it may be, it helps to reach out to congregants and those outside the church to ask the questions:. How am I doing? How can I be a better pastor? What do you see from the outside that you think will help our church? These questions can sometimes be painful, but we all have blind spots we must be aware of.

Working with others, decide what your strengths and weaknesses are and how you can come back ready to lead your church in an intentional process toward renewal.

A Hungry Church

If a church is not hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness, a new pastor or a tenured pastor will change nothing. Church renewal occurs when God’s people draw near to him, ask him to reveal sin in their church, and seek his face daily through prayer. Church renewal happens when there is a revival of the church’s holiness and mission. 

If a church enters a renewal process, it must enter a season of prayer and anticipation. The leadership of a church communicates this through meetings and regular communication. It helps to set up a time-bound goal. At the first church we began serving towards Revitalization, we created a booklet called “90 Days of Prayer.” We challenged the church to enter into that season of seeking God together. This set up the stage for leading them to reconnect to their community and mission partners down the road.

We’ve talked before about creating a sense of “holy discontentment.” By conviction of leadership, help your church see that there’s something wrong. You’ll have to lead your church in some strong evaluation and rightly define reality. There are several different resources to do this. It can be tempting to jump from one Bible Study to another. But, a great leader will often go through a Bible study and then spend weeks leading his church in the application utilizing different functions and ministry. 

For example, most of you probably have read or at least heard of the classic Bible study book, “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. Thirteen weeks. What a great study! What great information! But how will you take this study and point to its application regularly? How will you help your church see where God is working and join him in that work? Let us not forget the words of Jesus: “Blessed is he who hears these words of mine…and does them.”

Church renewal cannot rise and fall on the pastor. If this happens, a church is not dependent on God. They are dependent on a man. If a church is hungry for a “new pastor” but they aren’t hungry for God, church renewal will never take place.

An Intentional Culture

Lastly, for church renewal to take place through a tenured pastor, the culture of a church must also change. “Business as normal” must be challenged and shaken up. 

When we began leading our first church in revitalization, one of the first changes we wanted to make was to start worshipping together in the old sanctuary, which was much smaller than the new. The new sanctuary sat about 300 people, but only 12-15 were regular attendees. Moving into the old sanctuary created a sense of authenticity and reminded us that we were one family gathering together.

A long-tenured pastor must intentionally lead the church in a defined, new direction. He must also be able to communicate it clearly and compellingly. That message must be amplified as much as possible.

It’s essential to cast a simple but compelling vision statement. Where do you want to see your church in five years? In ten years? When you have “wins,” celebrate them regularly and build momentum.

There are many resources to help in your efforts. But one of the best resources is right here on this website! Many blogs, podcasts, and resources are here for you to browse through how to lead your church in these efforts. If you’re a long-tenured pastor seeking to lead your church in renewal, consider these things and implement them. It may very well be that God is not finished with your season of ministry at this church.

The Local Association and the Local Pastor: Make it A Dynamic Duo

 

Batman and Robin

This past summer, my husband and I were on a mission trip to California.  We were speaking with a replant pastor there and were telling him how surprised we were that their local association listed churches for sale on their website.  We were heartbroken that these churches weren’t being replanted or revitalized.  Instead, the association was selling them for commercial property to the highest bidder.  “That doesn’t surprise me,” he said.  “We have spent the past five years trying to help with replanting and planting churches in this area, but the association hasn’t done anything.  They haven’t invested time, money, or resources.  It seems like the association doesn’t care.” 

We were stunned.

But as we talked about this at the base camp that night, we realized that we had heard those same sentiments over 15 years ago from a different pastor in a completely different context.  We started our ministry journey in 2007, and at that time, we asked the youth pastor at the church we served in what the local association did to assist pastors in the area.  “I couldn’t tell you,” he said.  “I’m not even sure who leads it. We haven’t heard from them since the last pastor left several years ago.” Again, we were stunned.  

These are extreme examples and are not the norm for most associations and pastors.  The vast majority of local associations have leaders who are working alongside the churches in their area and are committed to replanting and revitalizing dying churches.  But for some of our replant pastors, this extreme is the unfortunate, heartbreaking context in which they find themselves. How can we create a partnership that thrives and flourishes? What separates the associations and pastors who have an amazing partnership and those who, unfortunately, don’t?

This week on the podcast, JimBo and Bob discussed how associational leaders can be partners in the gritty and glorious work of replanting dying churches.  They identified the “Seven C’s” of church renewal for local AMS leaders (Associational Mission Strategist, formerly DOM, Director of Missions) and their pastors to navigate the complex oceans of church health.  

What Does Success Look Like?

The very first “C” is the most important.  Without it, everything else lacks clear direction.  Our first “C” is this: Correctly define success.

What does a “successful” church look like?  If your association is celebrating accomplishments and applauding “success,” what metric are they using?  Pastors and AMS leaders alike may be tempted to base success on numerical attendance.  But consider these statistics:

  • A “normative” size church is a church with less than 199 gathered in worship.
  • 91% of all SBC churches have less than 200 gathered in worship on any given Sunday, and 79% have less than 100.
  • Out of all the churches in the SBC today, less than 90 report an attendance of over 2,000.

Mark Clifton defines success at a church this way: A culture of making disciples that make disciples that in turn make the community noticeably better.  

When we base success on the number of attendees on Sunday morning, we are like the couple who goes on a long road trip without deciding who is navigating: We may get somewhere eventually, but we’re going to miss opportunities along the way and we may end up with some hurt feelings before we get there. 

If we aren’t correctly identifying what success looks like, we will miss the opportunity to celebrate God’s faithfulness in churches that are making disciples and positively impacting their communities.  We will look at the church running large numbers and assume that God is doing great work there but will fail to look at the small church that has increased their giving to missions and has built a discipleship program from scratch.

If we fail to define success correctly, we also run the risk of alienating our partnering churches by making them feel insignificant. Our churches will feel overlooked and unappreciated, and their pastors will feel unsupported and alone, a recipe for burnout and frustration.

An Association of Collaboration

Mario and Luigi from the Super Mario Bros franchise

Our next three “Cs” all work together, and that’s fitting because they call us to… All work together!

As an AMS, the networking capabilities are practically built-in.  An AMS has access to one thing many pastors don’t have… Other pastors! Too often, pastors forget that we are all in this glorious calling together.  We get consumed with a spirit of competition between churches.  But the church down the street is not our competition– they are our colaborers in Christ!

While Southern Baptist churches are autonomous and make their own decisions, AMSs have the unique opportunity to encourage pastors to shift from a competitive mindset to a collaborative one by implementing three words: Cooperation, cohorts, and callings.

An AMS can connect a church with resources to one that is lacking them.  AMSs should be continually looking for opportunities to foster relationships between churches, not just pastors.  Is there a church with an exceptional Children’s Ministry? Parter their team with one that is just starting to grow their kid’s area.  Is there a church where discipleship is taking off and people are growing in their faith?  Pair someone from that church to teach the pathway to the church that is implementing a program.

When churches cooperate together, the church up the street stops being an enemy of growth and starts being a friend in health. When resources are shared between churches, each church learns to trust and rely on the other, resulting in a much easier transition if one begins to decline and needs to look at an adoption or fostering process.  One area where this is happening successfully is the Lexington Baptist Association in South Carolina, led by Johnny Rumbaugh.  Johnny has worked with many churches in his association and others by offering a collaborative process by using transitional pastors.  You can hear more about his work on this episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast.)

Cohorts are another great way for AMSs to facilitate collaboration between churches.  We often use the phrase, “Don’t pastor alone.” This phrase is a key component for First Coast Churches, an association of churches in Jacksonville, Florida where the partnership between pastors and the association is strong and vibrant.  We don’t use this phrase because we want every church to have multiple pastors on staff.  We use it because when the storms of life hit, and they will, you NEED other pastors.  

Cohorts are small groups in which pastors can get together in a safe environment to talk about their struggles, their burdens, and to celebrate their “wins” together.  As an AMS, facilitating those discussions and providing a space for them can make all the difference for pastors who are struggling and on the verge of quitting.  You can engineer a bridge that brings pastors together when the waters get deep.

Another way AMSs can help create a collaboration of pastors is to “call out the called,” by assisting churches to create residency programs.  Small churches are a great place for men who have been called to the ministry to begin serving in that capacity.  Not only are you preparing them for ministry in a normative church, but the church itself benefits by having someone share the work.

AMSs can build a pipeline of pastors who are willing and ready to train others, hopefully with a variety of different gifts. As JimBo stated on the podcast, exposure to pastors and leaders with different gifts allows you to expand your learning and your experience. By building a residency program that utilizes multiple churches and multiple pastors, the association has now not only bridged a gap between pastors but has also given young men the opportunity to serve and to lead in the local church, especially by using these young men for pulpit supply. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Bob Lowman, at the Metrolina Baptist Association has worked alongside pastors in his area to form the City Residency Project to train and equip pastors who are called into ministry. Bob says, “We’re better together. The more we can come together and make this kind of effort, the more I believe we’ll see multiplication happen instead of addition.”

An Association of Comfort

There are going to be times when an AMS will need to provide comfort to a church in their area.  Consulting and crisis intervention are the next two “Cs.”  When an AMS learns that a church in their area is struggling, he can often provide a powerful resource to help… He can provide himself! 

One of the hardest parts of church revitalization and replanting is that churches don’t often realize they’re sick until they’re dying.  Churches need to have someone who can help them accurately diagnose their condition and get them the right treatment.  When an AMS learns that a pastor is leaving his church, the AMS can offer consulting to that church on their pastor search committee, asking them good questions to help them get a clear picture of their health. Not every church will accept this help, but for those who do, the advice and expertise of their local AMS can be invaluable!

Some churches in an association will face a crisis (or many crises)– in those difficult times, having an AMS who can help them walk through their next steps is critical.  The AMS can provide comfort to the church AND the pastor as they navigate exhausting and complicated situations.  The role of the AMS and the association is one of encouragement and reassurance that God has not forgotten them.

two men shaking hands

Celebrating a Beautiful Partnership

I began by telling two stories of unsuccessful and discouraging partnerships between local associations and the pastors they led.  Those stories are heartbreaking because everyone in them is discouraged and is missing out on a “match made in Heaven.”

I don’t mean that lightly– truly the partnership between an AMS and a pastor can be God-ordained and God-sent.  I have seen it to be true in my own life. When we went through our biggest struggle in ministry– one that had us questioning the very call to pastoring and made us feel like quitting– it was our friends and partners in ministry who pulled us back from the ledge.  Our friends were fellow pastors we met through cohorts and collaborations that were created within our local association.  The partnership we had with the local AMS reminded us that we had a network of relationships that supported us and kept us from walking away.  And in that time, our replant truly began to flourish.  If we had walked away we would have missed out on something incredible.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 states, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

If you are an AMS, you likely have stories of great success where you have seen churches brought back to health through all of the efforts mentioned above.  When you have those stories, celebrate them!  Talk about cohorts that are developing leaders from leaders.  Talk about the pastoral pipeline that offered a struggling church new hope with a new pastor.  Bring pastors to your annual meeting to speak on a panel about the value of collaboration.  Have church members talk about the growth they experienced from joining another church in ministry.  These success stories are your testimony to the work that God is doing in and through your association and you!  As a ground-level partner in church health, your local knowledge and expertise are often the key to ensuring we all navigate these “Seven Cs” of church revitalization even in the most turbulent waters!

Resources:

One of the best resources for AMS leaders regarding replanting, renewal, and church health is the Annual AMS Lab in Atlanta.  This event will be held February 19th and 20th in Atlanta, Georgia.  We will update you with the speakers and registration as it opens!

We also have the Partnership Profile Tool and the Associational Replanting Guide as tools that you can use to assist you as you partner with replant churches in your area.  

And as always, the Replant Team is here to assist you! Leave us a comment and let us know how we can help you in this gritty and glorious work!

Your First Five Years

We have 15 churches in our small Baptist Association. Three of those churches have pastors with close to 25 years of tenure. As I have built relationships with these great men of God, I’ve learned that they are much more concerned with personal holiness than with their ministry’s success. Rather than overwhelm themselves with church marketing strategies and techniques, they are devoted to prayer and devotion to God and want to be led by the Spirit. Of course, there is a place to learn about church growth, leadership structure, and helpful ideas. But none of those could take the position of the health and development of our own spiritual lives.

I have also learned that this type of tenure is the exception, not the rule.

On average, a pastor will stay at a church for about five years. A Duke University study showed that 85% of seminary graduates entering the ministry will leave in the first five years, and 90% of all pastors will not stay until retirement. There are several reasons for this, and I can’t pretend to do a complete diagnosis of the issue. But I have noticed one thing in my generation of 25-35-year-olds and now the generation under me. We have grown up with false expectations of ministry.

We grew up on the launch and rise of social media, where all the prominent “big-name” pastors have platforms for the masses. In this mentality, ministry looks like a spotlight, and tentative pastors have much to look forward to but are sometimes met with a false sense of fame and glory. Jimbo and Bob said on the podcast, “Future pastors think they’re going to change the world, but then, they change the bulletin and almost get fired.” Most churches are not mega-churches that you see on viral clips online. They are simple, small congregations scattered throughout the U.S., many of them in rural areas. 

If we’re honest, we could make the world of Replanting and Revitalization look like a glamorous ministry endeavor by marketing efforts, resources, and heroes who speak at conferences. But the reality is that this type of ministry is, in fact, a gritty and glorious work. We should never pretend to create false expectations, but face the truth. Replanting is an amazing, God-favored work. But it is a difficult and gruelling work as well.

If we can continue to share the realities of ministry, as this podcast has done so well, we can give replanters and pastors the hope they need to make it through and celebrate their wins in ministry while acknowledging the hardships. So, speaking in general terms, here is what your first five years replanting a church may look like.

Year 1: Who are they? Who am I?

In a Church Replant, it can be natural to look around, see all the negative, and start making changes. But you know that your first year of ministry is a trust-building season. If you don’t intentionally pursue building trust with anyone and everyone, they won’t be ready for any change you bring. During the first year, a pastor should focus all their efforts on being a pastor. 

Pray and ask God to help you develop relationships and love this flock. Don’t see this church as a stepping stone for a future ministry role. This is where God has called you. Teach, lead, and care for the sheep while you learn how to shepherd them well. During this first year, you will probably have many opportunities to sit down with them in their homes, find out where they work, and build friendships with them. You also will want to take this first year to grow and get to know your community.


Also, this first year will allow you to discover who you are as a minister. How do you deal with stress? What are your natural strengths in ministry? Your weaknesses? What areas do you need to work on in your own personal life? Ask God to lead you each day as you seek to minister to these people. 

Year 2: I think this is going to be hard

It is natural in year two to begin experiencing some conflict. Any type of change you recommend has started to become problematic, and people are resisting your leadership. They trust you as a pastor to care for them but aren’t sure they should trust you as a leader to lead effective change. Change is viewed as a loss for those who experience it. Slowly, some members may feel like they are losing their grip on power and influence.

As you lean in and develop relationships, some get close to you and are your most incredible supporters and encouragers. Others criticize your leadership and have their own opinions. But still, you remain optimistic and consider what the future looks like. Remind yourself, “This is where God called me. God has called me to love these people. To pastor these people. To care for these people.” “Sure,” you think, “The grass might be greener elsewhere. But it couldn’t be greener than being in the center of God’s will.” That hopeful optimism will carry you into year 3. Still, somewhere between years 2 and 3, many pastors begin seeking a new church. 

Year 3: I think this was a big mistake

As much as your optimism has kept you afloat, the third year of ministry will generally become more complex than anything you’ve expected. Church leaders and experts have studied the dangerous third year of ministry. And according to Church Answers, here are some reasons why many pastors consider leaving during that third year.

  1. The honeymoon phase was over from the church’s perspective. The church began seeing the imperfections in the pastor’s ministry. Many brought concerns about those imperfections to the pastor.
  2. The honeymoon phase was over from the pastor’s perspective. Some promises made by those who first sought the pastor were unfulfilled. The pastor may feel like he was misled.
  3. When a new pastor arrives, most church members have their own expectations of the pastor. But it is impossible to meet everyone’s expectations. By the third year, some of the members become disillusioned and dissatisfied.
  4. By the third year, the church typically has several new members who arrived under the present pastor’s tenure. Similarly, some members who preceded the pastor have died or moved away. The new members seem great in number compared to existing members. These changes threaten some.
  5. In any longer-term relationship, that which seems quaint and charming can become irritating and frustrating. The pastor’s quirks thus become the pastor’s faults.
  6. All relationships have seasons. None of them can remain on an emotional “high.”

At the Replant Bootcamp, we agree with many of these reasons why a third year in ministry seems to be the hardest. Sometimes, you may even see a significant slide in attendance and finances. And you’re thinking, “Why?!”

On a personal note, you’ll experience a lot of self-doubt and spiritual warfare. You may even avoid people and resent people, reverting to isolation to avoid criticism and question God’s call.

But through this difficult season, God is using your experience to teach you something. With as much caution as I can use, I think God is saying this: “Hang on. Hold on. Stay in there. Because I’m doing some ‘pruning,’ some ‘molding,’ and some ‘refining.’ I’m doing some work on people’s hearts. And if you’ll be patient, I will use how you handle yourself in this season to purify your ministry and give people hope in your leadership.”

During the third year, God is like a gardener, doing some pruning (John 15:2). God is like a potter, molding his clay (Jeremiah 18:1-5). God purifies his silver like a refiner (1 Peter 1:6-7). And if we just place our hope in him through the turmoil, He will sharpen the authenticity of our faith and give us the resilience to make it through.

Year 4: Okay, let’s make this work

You may still be going through some fire, but you see the light at the other end of the tunnel. You begin to see in this season what it looks like when God gives you the vision to lead with effective change. By now, you’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. You learned to love the quirks of your congregation, not to let them aggravate you.

You are starting to accept things for how they are. And you know how to lead change that doesn’t cause a mass exodus because your people trust you more and more. Our encouragement to you in year 4 is to love and laugh. Love them unconditionally. And laugh as often as you can. Eat together, spend time together, and enjoy one another. Cry and grieve with them, and find the right pockets of time to implement change.

Your sermon development has turned into a joyful preparation to feed God’s flock instead of damage control just to maintain. Some of the pressure has started to ease, and you’ve settled into your pastor, leader, and caregiver role. Yes, conflict still exists, but you know that all pain has a purpose. God is using you, so don’t give in yet.

Years 5-7: This is my new normal

In year five, you put your hand to the plow, and there is no looking back. During this time, you celebrate victories, you learn from mistakes, and you pastor and love the church you have. Don’t grieve the church that “could have been.”

By this time, you’re starting to settle into what you believe will be a long-tenured ministry if God allows and directs. One of the principles of a long-tenured ministry is that you trust your call, even when things get complicated. You cannot neglect your spiritual discipline. Be in the word, be in prayer, and make sure you rest. Preach on ecclesiology every year. Your church must be taught and reminded of how to be the church.

Somewhere along the way, the church is beginning to see you, not as someone passing through, but as their pastor. Remember that a long-tenured ministry requires patience, dedication, and the ability to weather both the highs and the lows. 

 

How to Say Hello–3 Practical Ways to Greet Your Guests

welcome sign for front door

I recently revamped the front entrance to our home. I bought a new doormat and new pillows for the bench, and spruced up a wreath for the door.  Then I did something I’ve never done before… I hung up a sign to greet visitors with large letters that say, “WELCOME.”  (As an introvert, it should more accurately say, “Welcome… unless my people meter is low.  Then, not so much.” But that wouldn’t fit on a sign.)

It’s easy for guests at my home to know the way in.  There is a clearly marked driveway for parking, an easily accessible front door (which is also the only entrance), and chances are, I will be there to show them our foyer with a visible bathroom just to their left. If you are visiting my house for the first time, you will have no problems knowing where to go.

Wouldn’t it be great if visitors to our churches could have that same experience? In this week’s episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo and Bob tackle the unique challenges (and advantages!) normative size churches face when implementing a hospitality team.

Greeting Starts at the Door– But Which One?

multiple doors

When we started at Central Baptist, one of the first things we noticed was how many different ways there are to get into the building.  We have a front entrance that faces the road– but that’s not the “typical” entrance, because using it would actually place you coming into the back of the church.  That entrance made sense when everyone walked to church and there was only one part of the building– the sanctuary and classrooms underneath.  But an addition long ago placed parking behind the church and made a new, single-door entrance.  This entrance would take you through our old classrooms which were no longer in use and up a set of narrow stairs to the sanctuary, where you come in to the side of the platform.  A third addition in the 90s added a fellowship hall and wing which created a new, double door entrance that allowed access to the nursery and childrens’ areas and stairwell access to the upper level and the sanctuary.

It was a maze to navigate– and that was AFTER you’d made it through the dilapidated, weed-infested parking lot with the faded white lines which made it impossible to know exactly where you should park.

We had a few guests that actually left before ever getting inside because they just found the whole building impossible to navigate.  When we hosted events at the church, people would genuinely get lost inside the corridors, hallways, and stairwells. Guests coming to the church were likely to wind up in an old, dusty flower closet wearing a choir robe from 1972 only to be found during a church clean up day several weeks later.

Ok, not really… But we  realized we had a problem, and it was one of the first steps toward revitalization that we needed to take:  We needed a clearly identified entrance.

The first thing we did was redo the church’s signage.  We purchased a large banner for the road-facing entrance of the church.  It can be changed out seasonally and can highlight special events like Vacation Bible School or Christmas and Easter services. We also purchased signage to show where visitors can park, and repaved the parking lot to make it simpler. Then we put up a large sandwich board style sign that welcomed everyone toward the double door entrance.

Once inside, we used clearly identifying signs to funnel people toward children’s areas, the sanctuary, and the restrooms, as needed. We made coming to our church as easy to navigate as coming to our house.

Unfortunately, great signage and great directions don’t always equal a successful greeter experience. To make people feel welcome, you can’t just show them the way in– you have to have people who make them feel at home.

We needed a greeter ministry or hospitality team to guide people to the right place once inside.  Fortunately, our smaller church had an advantage in this area: First, it was easy to identify who was new.  One look across our congregation could inform us of any new faces.  Second, in a smaller church, everyone is a greeter!

Develop a Friendly Greeter Ministry

In the podcast, Bob stated, “People want to be welcomed and wanted, but not watched.” When we are thinking about the experience of a first time guest at our church, we need to ask ourselves this question from Jimbo: What does our church communicate about who we are and what we believe is important? From the parking lot, to the welcome desk or area, to the service itself, we are communicating a message to a first time guest.  It needs to be a good one!

In the first few minutes of our service we typically go over our welcome and announcements. In those first few moments, first-time guests are mentally deciding whether or not they’ll return for a second visit. Are your announcements about upcoming committee meetings?  Community outreach projects?  Future children’s events?  Adult Bible Study and Discipleship opportunities?  What does your first few moments of service tell a first-time guest about what your church thinks is important? 

What about the rest of the service?  Are you joyful in worship?  Is there excitement about being in the house of God?  We know that corporate worship is integral to the discipleship and growth of the believer, and we know that there is great benefit to joining other believers in weekly fellowship. So how are we communicating that importance to our members and our guests?  

Some churches feel passionately about an order of worship and a bulletin.  Others have done away with them completely.  The truth is, there isn’t a right or wrong answer for whether or not your church should or shouldn’t have them.  One thing is clear–for a visitor, there is so much value and security in knowing what’s coming next.  

I recently visited a church where my daughter serves while she is away at college.  This church is a very large church of a different denomination than what I currently attend.  The opportunity to be a “first-time guest” allowed me to really experience for myself the discomfort of unfamiliar places and faces.  One thing they did well was to have a QR code for me to scan for the order of worship.  I was able to quietly look at a bulletin and know when we would be reading scripture, what songs we would sing, when children were dismissed, and they even designated when to stand and when to sit for each part with a small asterisk. It made the experience so much easier.

One thing they also did well was their time of “fellowship.” This was a time to look around and greet unfamiliar faces and also to catch up with each other.  As I mentioned above, I am an introvert– I want to go in my shell and peep out when I’m comfortable.  This time can be really hard for me, especially in the middle of a service where I am already feeling very awkward. But instead of a meet and greet in the middle of the service, they offered for any guests to step into a small room off from the lobby and meet the pastor and his wife at the end of service if they chose to. They offered beverages and small snacks, and several friendly members stayed as well and said hello.

This church had clearly taken time to develop a culture of hospitality, and it made a difference in my experience as a guest. What efforts have you made to cultivate an environment where the guests to your church leave feeling cared for and considered?

Greeting that Goes Further than the Front Door

a word wall with welcome, hello, hi, etc greetings

Every first-time guest is not just a visitor–they are a potential family member.  We view our church as our family, so each person who visits is someone who we hope will eventually become a sister or brother in this family of believers we call Central Baptist.  The gospel gives everyone a place to belong.

In order for your greeting to extend past the front door, you must be willing to invest time and energy into the follow-up for every single guest.  In order to be known for hospitality, you must first learn to be hospitable. (Go figure.)  It isn’t enough to just hand someone a first-time guest gift and say “Hello.” You need to take some time to get to know them.

Many pastors will run themselves to the ground in an effort to follow up with everyone and to engage every guest.  But if you cultivate a culture of hospitality, you can expect your members to help you greet, engage, and follow-up with each visitor.  One way to do this is to encourage your members to share a meal with someone they don’t know or have never shared a meal with–that can be a visitor, but it can also be another member they just don’t know that well.  

Not everyone is gifted in the area of hospitality, but that’s why we “practice” hospitality.  We can always get better at it.  Pair up those people who are naturally gifted at making others feel comfortable with those who aren’t–show them how to engage with others.

Another way to cultivate a culture of hospitality is to give first time guests small gift cards to local eateries or coffee shops. Let them know that you would really like to sit down with them and have a conversation about the church and answer any questions they may have, or they can use it on their own, the choice is theirs.  I’m willing to bet that they will take you up on the offer to sit down and chat! If your church does fellowship dinners for a small fee, offer guests a “free” coupon so that they feel comfortable coming back and being a part of that ministry.

The easiest and perhaps most used way to cultivate hospitality among your members is the card or phone call follow-up.  Handwritten cards are always a nice gesture and feel so much more sincere than a formatted letter.  (Jimbo recommends the Felt App for this purpose.) Do you have some members for whom a shared meal would be difficult?  They would be great assets to use for card writing or simple follow up phone calls to welcome guests!

In order to be a church where guests turn into members, you must take the time to reflect on what message your church sends to each visitor that comes through your (well-marked, easily identifiable!) door.

Next Steps

Hopefully you now see the importance of starting a new (or adjusting your existing) greeter ministry.  Some easy, practical next steps to take are:

  1. Ask an outsider to perform a “mystery shop”– this can be a friend, coworker, or neighbor whose opinion you respect.  Ask them to assess what it’s like to be a first time guest at your church.  What are their first impressions?  What message did they leave with?  Did they notice anything out of place or confusing?  It can be easy to overlook our own flaws, that’s why we need an outside perspective on them.
  2. Take some time to polish your welcome and announcements time.  Find a way to communicate an invitation for everyone and an orientation for guests. Make sure you’re giving your congregation guidance on the importance of Sunday morning worship and also what comes next. If something is different on a specific Sunday that will change the normal order or worship, explain that and give people the security to know what comes next.
  3. Find your greeters and your hospitality people– you’ll know them.  These members always know who’s having surgery, who’s child is heading to college, who recently experienced a job change, who has moved.  They know these things because they know people.  They are excited to spend time with people and they enjoy meeting new people.
  4. Come to the Replant Summit to get ideas from others!  If you want practical tips for people who have been where you are, you NEED to register and attend the Replant Summit in Atlanta August 28-29.  There is no better opportunity to meet fellow replanters who are in the trenches with you.  This is the retreat and refresh your ministry needs!