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Welcoming Guests and First Impressions

The sermon starts in the parking lot, and the impression you make for your guests on Sunday morning during the first 10 minutes will be indelible.

Technology and The Church

Leveraging technology for ministry can be an incredible blessing. But it can also be fraught with problems and pitfalls. Learn how to use technology well.

Vision and Leadership

Our God longs for leaders to request of Him to do that which they cannot. Faith filled vision, leadership and risk are key ingredients for ministry.

Preaching and Communication

You know and understand how challenging it is to communicate. It is hard to get and capture people's attention. Learn how to communicate effectively.

Creativity and Innovation

Being creative means asking the right questions and making new associations. Discover new and creative ideas for your ministry.

4 Statements That Can Break Open Spiritual Conversations

Spiritual Conversation

excerpted from Gilbert Kingsley:

These are four simple questions/statements that will naturally engage people within your sphere of relationships in spiritual conversations. 

“Sometime”.

Something as simple as asking a “Sometime” question helps you find out their level of interest and takes the pressure off in the moment.

Questions like
  • “Sometime could I share with you the difference Jesus Christ has made in my life?” 
  • “I would enjoy hearing more about your spiritual journey sometime....would that be possible?” 
make having spiritual conversations more natural.

“I wonder”.

This comes from God Space by Doug Pollock. It recognizes the power of good questions and gives you a place to start a conversation.

“I wonder” is a way to find out what others are interested in and can invite them to search for answers. Some “I wonder” statements include.
  • “That’s interesting. I wonder how you came to that perspective.” 
  • “I wonder what role religion has played in shaping your life.”
“I wonder.” opens up dialogue. It communicates respect and can lead others to self-discovery. You could be helping them wrestle with contradictions within their own belief systems.

Jesus often led with questions. In fact, at times he answered a question with His own question. When you ask good wondering questions you demonstrate that you are listening thoughtfully. Such questions come from a desire to better understand the person.

Open-ended questions are best. They promote further dialogue and have the potential to cause others to reflect, possibly leading to their own questioning.

3 Rules For Thanking Donors That Should Never Be Broken

Thankful
Thanksgiving holiday is just upon us. And during that time we will give thanks to God for His blessings. But having a heart and posture of thankfulness shouldn't just happen one day out of the year - it should be constant. And that is especially true with our donors.

I often say, before you "bank, thank". Thanking your donors for their generosity is just as important as asking them. We should have just as much energy and focus about how we can make donors feel appreciated and connected as we do about motivating them to give. Here are 3 rules for thanking donors that should never be broken:

  • Send a letter within 48 hours.
  • Personalize your thank you with a specific reference to what they gave and how their gift specifically helped.
  • Pick up the phone to thank them.

(ht: Clarification)

Challenge For The Church - Delayed Marriage

Delayed Marriage

excerpted from an online article from Time.
A new report from Pew Research predicts that more folks under 35 will be single forever. 
The number of Americans who have always been single and will never marry is at a historic high, says a new Pew Research report, partly because they don’t have jobs and partly because marriage is becoming less highly-regarded. Most people think it’s important for couples who intend to stay together to be married, but the number of single Americans who want to get married has dropped significantly even in the last four years.
The report, based on census data and Pew’s surveys, is the latest in a series of indicators that marriage’s stock is on a sharp downward trajectory. Fewer young people are getting married and many are getting married later. About 20% of Americans older than 25 had always been single in 2012, up from 9% in 1960. In the black community, the numbers are even starker: 36% of black Americans older than 25 have never been married, a fourfold increase from 50 years ago. 
Why aren’t people getting married anymore? The three main reasons people give for their singleness are that they haven’t found the right person (30%), aren’t financially stable enough (27%) and are not ready to settle down (22%). Many more young people are eschewing tying the knot, at least for a while, for shacking up. The researchers don’t see that as the new normal yet. “Cohabitation is much less common than marriage and cohabiting relationships are much less stable than marriages,” says Kim Parker, co-author of the report.”It’s hard to imagine marriage being replaced any time soon.”
What does this mean for the church? 

It means that we have to be more intentional ministering and accommodating older single people in the church, and not making them feel like outsiders. The majority of focus, outreach and ministry of the church is focused on couples and their children, we are going to have to expand beyond that narrow focus.

It also means, as a church, that we better be intentional, clear and constructive in helping these older singles navigate a potential life-time of singleness - all the while living morally pure. We can't be silent in helping them honor God with their sexuality and ignore the real challenges and struggles that they are facing.

And lastly, as the church, we need to develop a better apologetic that will encourage singles to consider marriage (that is if they are simply resisting marriage on terms of $ or personal comfort). Marriage is a tremendous means by God to help in our sanctification. Marriage is hard. Yet it is through the testing and trials of marriage that God uses to help make us holy. There is a real spiritual benefit from marriage that needs to be communicated to singles in the church.

What Is The Gospel?

priase


“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

“The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.” 

John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life

“Never be content with your current grasp of the gospel. The gospel is the life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth. It has more facets than a diamond. It's depths man will never exhaust.” 

C.J. Mahaney

“The Gospel is not a mere message of deliverance, but a canon of conduct; it is not a theology to be accepted, but it is ethics to be lived. It is not to be believed only, but it is to be taken into life as a guide. ” 

Alexander MacLaren

5 Criteria For A Good Worship Song

Worship


With all of the contention, confusion and conflict over worship music, it is therefore very helpful for a church and it's members to know what constitutes a good worship song. Here are five criteria: 

  1. It’s singable. The average person should be able to learn it after hearing it a few times. 
  2. It’s culturally relevant. The song should represent a music style that is familiar to most of the people. 
  3. It’s theologically sound. The song should reflect good biblical theology. 
  4. It’s playable. Church musicians should be able to play and lead the song with excellence (assuming they have practiced and prepared). 
  5. It’s understandable. The message of the song should be clear and unambiguous. 
(ht: Artists Suitcase)

How Pornography Addiction Affects The Teenage Brain

Brain Under Construction
There is a rising problem of pornographic addiction in teens. This poses a significant problem and challenge for those working with youth and teens, including teens within the church (they are by no means exempt from this issue). The negative effects of pornography addiction is even greater in teens as their brains are more susceptible to the chemical overload effects that come with continued viewing.

Here is an infographic below from the people at Help Your Teen Now which illustrates the scope and enormity of this problem.

How Pornography Addiction Affects the Teenage Brain – InfographicLearn How Pornography Addiction Affects the Teenage Brain – Infographic

The Top Ministry Tweets Of The Week

Twitter Church

Here are the most popular tweets from the past couple of weeks. Don't forget you can get more helpful, engaging, inspiring and fun content by joining Ministry Best Practices' social media communities. 

Twitter - @BestMinistry 
Facebook - MinistryBestPractices 







Crows Will Always Remember Who Wronged Them


reprinted from Provocative Church:

I always thought the way crows seem to examine humans was a little creepy. As it turns out, I was right; they’re looking at you so they can tell if you have wronged them in the past.

A study has revealed that crows memorize the faces of people who have wronged them and they may even bring in mobs of other crows to attack the person if they see them later on. The crows in the mobs will also remember the person’s face, so even if you never harmed that specific crow, it may still organize a mob against you. The bottom line is: don’t mess with crows.

But unfortunately this can be true of other people too - or even us.  We hold on to grudges.  We remember those who have offended us - whether intentionally or not. And unfortunately we hold on to that offensive and forgiveness is not offered.

But the gospel demands forgiveness. Paul writes in Colossians 3:13 - Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 

When we live in light of the gospel, we can forgive others, because we remember dearly how richly we've been forgiven by our holy Father.

“In our sin, we are worse off than we know, but in God's grace we are more loved than we can ever imagine.” — Tim Keller

A Pastor Is In Danger If They Only Teach The Word To Others

Bible Reading




Bad things happen when maturity is more defined by knowing than it is by being. Danger is afloat when you come to love the ideas more than the God whom they represent and the people they are meant to free......

....The ultimate purpose of the Word of God is not theological information but heart and life transformation. (Tweet This)
- Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling

It might appear odd to suggest that pastors are somehow misusing the Word of God. The Word is the pastor’s major tool in their toolbox. Most pastors go to school (seminary) just to study a single book, getting to know it backwards and forwards. As pastors we understand just how essential it is to be a faithful and diligent workman with the Scriptures and to correctly handle, teach, train and preach the Word of God.

So if all of that is suppose to be true, why is it such a danger that the pastor may be ignoring the Word?

This point goes to the crux of Paul Tripp’s comments at the beginning of this post - there is a difference between knowing and being. It is the danger of simply having head knowledge at the expense of ignoring the heart.

The pastor can’t stand outside and above the Word of God simply treating it as an academic exercise only interested in teaching and preaching it to others. No, the pastor must, just like the congregations they teach, have his heart in a surrendered posture, ready to have the word transform him.

The pastor is in severe danger if he simply approaches the Word in a clinical manner. The pastor cannot approach the Word merely as an academician, but rather he must approach it as a student, a pilgrim, one who is on a spiritual journey - continuing to learn and grow. He must approach the Word with deep affection and expectancy. Eager to hear from the Lord and to respond to His voice with faithful obedience. The pastor must be yielded to the power and work of the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit to apply the truth of the Word to his heart and life.

The pastor can’t be simply someone who teaches the Word, but they must be willing to be taught by it as well.

The Lost Vision Of Pastoral Ministry

Pastor Shepherd


Has the church growth paradigm within American culture shifted focus away from the intended calling of most pastors? As a result of large, big and corporate megachurches, have we redefined who a pastor is, and what they are Biblically called to do?

Here is a quote from Mark Galli which raises the issue:
...We find that American churches exalt and isolate their leaders almost by design. Our ambitious churches lust after size—American churches don't feel good about themselves unless they are growing. We justify church growth with spiritual language—concern for the lost and so forth. But much of the time, it's American institutional self-esteem that is on the line. This is an audacious and unprovable statement, I grant, but given human nature (the way motives become terribly mixed in that desperately wicked human heart) and personal experience, I will stick to it.
With this addiction to growth comes a host of behavioral tics, such as a fascination with numbers. The larger the church, the more those who attend become stats, "attenders" to be counted and measured against previous weeks. Pastoral leaders are judged mostly on their ability to enlarge their ministries. It's not long before we have to rely on "systems" to track and follow newcomers. It is the rare church now that can depend on members naturally noticing newcomers, or on their reaching out to them with simple hospitality. That has become the job of a committee, which is overseen by a staff member. With increasing size comes an increasing temptation to confuse evangelism with marketing, the remarkably efficient and effective if impersonal science of getting people in the doors.
With the longing for size comes a commitment to efficiency. No longer is it a good use of the head pastor's time to visit the sick or give spiritual counsel to individuals. Better for him to make use of his "gift mix," which usually has little to do with the word pastor—or shepherd, the biblical word for this position. Instead, he has been hired for his ability to manage the workings of large and complex institutions. The bigger the church, the less he works with common members and mostly with staff and the church board. To successfully manage a large church, one must be on top of all the details of that institution. This doesn't necessarily mean directly micromanaging things, but it certainly means to do so indirectly. The large church pastor may not personally tell the nursery volunteers to repaint the 2–3 year-old room, but when he notices a spot of peeling paint as he passes by, the pastor will tell someone who will tell someone, and it will get done in short order.
What do you think? Does the megachurch, multisite church movement call the pastor away from their Biblical calling as a shepherd? 

One Thing To Do That Will Guarantee Fundraising Failure

orphans
direct from Jeff Brooks:

Must-listen piece from NPR: Why Your Brain Wants To Help One Child In Need -- But Not Millions.

It reminds us why we should regard facts, statistics, and large numbers as fundraising poison:
  • People give when you tell stories about individuals.
  • They don't give when you pepper them with facts about the size of the problem.
  • If you tell a story of an individual, and then throw in some stats to back up your case, you kill response.
Here's the main point from the reporter:

... people decline to do what they can do because they feel bad about what they can't do.
Whether you're raising funds to fight Ebola, or to keep the arts strong in your community, give your donors small problems they can imagine solving. Not big problems that emphasize how small they are.

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you think focusing on the enormity of the problem stymies fundraising? 

BTW, if you aren't subscribing and reading Jeff Brooks blog, you need to do so today...always great gems and insights!

Has A Youth Worker's Influence Shrunk?

Youth Ministry


excerpted from YouthMinistry360:

In conversation after conversation with youth workers, I hear one theme repeated over and over. It's articulated differently, but at its heart, the message is the same:

Many youth workers seem to feel their ability to influence teenagers may be lessening.
I don't have any data here. It's simply an observation I have come to based on the many (and awesome) encounters we get to have with youth workers. And I need to be very clear: I am NOT saying that the youth workers whom I encounter are less capable of influence. On the contrary, I am routinely blessed by the amazing people who devote their lives, or at least large parts of their lives, to journeying with teenagers as they deepen their faith. This is not about a failure on the part of youth workers. It seems the factors I hear over and over again are more environmental.

What are these factors leading to this perceived shrinking of influence? As I have tried to look for trends in the conversations we have, I think it boils down to a few things:

Time: Teenagers are busier now than ever before. With athletics (not only school but travel-teams), the increased demands of school, clubs and other extra-curricular activities, jobs, and so on, youth workers actually have less face-to-face time to influence students through relationships. 

Noise: What I mean by noise is a competition for attention. In his book You Lost Me, David Kinnaman calls this "Access." Our teenagers are constantly connected (nearly 60% of US teenagers have a smart phone) and therefore are constantly exposed to a landslide of voices, messaging, and opinions. The youth worker of a generation ago was a main source of truth and wisdom. While the youth worker of today is no less wise, there is unbelievable competition for teenagers' attention.

Culture: I am no alarmist, but let's face it: the culture our teenagers are growing up in is not exactly an environment that is conducive to absolute truth, monotheism, and so on. So, by nature of this cultural affect on students, they may be predisposed to give less weight to a voice that is in conflict what much of what they experience in their worlds.

I'm sure we could come up with more factors. The point is that it seems to me that many youth workers are experiencing a drop off in opportunities for face-to-face, relational influence, and that when they get these opportunities, they're finding it's more difficult to break through.

If this is the case, what can we do about it?

Read the rest of the post HERE

Growing Your Congregation With Digital Technologies

Digital Church



guest post by Alan Riley
Christian Millennials represent a growing group of faith followers who are looking online to find spiritual engagement in video. A recent report from the Barna Group says that technology is significantly impacting the way today’s Christian Millennials obtain religious content and connect with their churches. Its findings show that 7 out of 10 Christian Millennials read scripture on a screen, and 6 out of 10 practicing Christians search for spiritual content online.

These numbers are important because they present an opportunity for pastors and houses of worship to expand their audiences by applying a myriad of digital technologies that are available today. Through live streaming, video on demand, mobile, smart television apps and 24/7 broadcast channels, churches can deepen their connection to people, reach a broader audience, and expand their mission online. This is the promise of a “Digital Church.”

At Piksel Faith, we have conducted our own research on this topic by surveying 500 self-identified Christians about their digital and “traditional” church-related activities and content consumption. We’ve found that more than half of all the respondents to the survey said they are searching for spiritual content online, and of those doing so, the majority is doing the searching on a smartphone. Respondents were eight times more likely to say digital content made them feel more connected to the church than they were to say it made them feel less connected, and almost half are reading scripture online or using social media to bolster their connection with God. According to these findings, going digital is crucial to a church.

If you want to truly become a digital church, here are some tips:

Always be “on”. For churches to become truly digital, they need to give their members regular access to what’s happening within their congregations. The best way to do this is to employ a 24/7 video network. This allows the “doors” of a church to always be open - with continual access to sermons, speakers, scriptures, and other relevant church topics. By having a 24/network, a church will have the ability to deepen its relationship with the congregation.

Employ digital signage. More churches are incorporating digital signage into their congregations and for good reason - digital signage is a primary way for churches to share important information. It delivers several distinct advantages, including flexibility with announcements and uniting the community. Plus, if you have a convenient solution, it can be easy to create and update content.

Encourage members to keep their mobile phones ON. With the widespread use of mobile technology to stay connected, today’s more progressive churches are encouraging the congregation to keep mobile phones turned on during sermons as a way to share messages that move them, via social media and live chat apps.

Embrace Social Media. Social media is a critical tool for message amplification, and one that should be fully embraced by ministries. Today’s technologies let pastors syndicate their videos directly to social media networks such as Facebook (and others) at the same time their videos are being made available to their 24/7 networks.

If you are a pastor, you can reach anyone, anywhere, anytime with a genuine embrace and understanding of today’s technologies. You have an invaluable opportunity to grow your congregation by forging effective digital strategies and chart more secure digital futures in a world that is increasingly online oriented, especially among Christian Millennials. It is an opportunity not to be missed.

Alan Riley is the VP of Sales at Piksel Faith, committed to working with church leaders to master new digital mediums. A self-confessed nerd, photographer, writer and guitarist, Alan is also an active part of the worship ministry at GracePointe Marietta Church. Connect with him on Twitter @AlanRiley or @PikselFaith.

5 Simple Yet Effective Ways To Improve A Guest Experience

Visitor
Often times there is content within Ministry Best Practices that is worth repeating, today we would like to re-share with you a post that reminds you to always be preparing and to be on alert for "company" coming on Sunday mornings. Guests will be visiting and coming to your church, yet are you ready, alert and prepared for them?

from the Ministry Best Practices archives

Don't allow your church website to become out-of-date and be hard to navigate. Make sure important facts such as service times/location & directions/what to expect are clear and easy to find.

Make sure you have enough parking lot volunteers to show people where to park and where to enter the church. It is often said that the "sermon" starts in the parking lot - and it is true that the first impression and assistance given in the parking lot will help set the tone for the visitor's experience.

Have adequate exterior signage that identifies buildings and points a visitor in the right direction. It is ok to make your church look like the bat cave...can't have enough signage.

Make sure your indoor signage is clear and not confusing in which it uses ministry names that a visitor won't understand. Avoid jargon and clever ministry names without explaining what they are/who they are for. For example, don't just post signs for "Discovery Cove" without posting more info about what age group that ministry is for.

Smile, Say Hello & Talk to Visitors! This is everyone's responsibility - not just staff and certain volunteers.

And a Bonus!

Make sure you have clear, concise and compelling information about the church to give to visitors before they leave. Make a point to put that info in their hands. But don't make the mistake by feeling compelled to give them every piece of information about every program about every facet of the church. Keep it simple! Just give them enough information to tell them who you are, what you believe, about your mission, and to point them toward the direction of what's next in their journey to become a part of your community.

That Is The Grace - Video

Grace
“The marker of those who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ is that, when they stumble and fall, when they screw up, they run to God and not from him, because they clearly understand that their acceptance before God is not predicated upon their behavior but on the righteous life of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death.” ― Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel

My Journey Away From Contemporary Worship Music

Contemporary Worship
Dan Michael Cogan has a good read on his blog about his journey toward more traditional hymns and away from contemporary music, "Hymns have begun to take precedent in my song selection".

excerpted from Daniel Michael Cogan:

I have been what many would call a “worship leader” for close to two decades. When I first became involved in “worship ministry” in an Assemblies of God youth group we sang such songs as The Name of the Lord Is a Strong Tower, As the Deer, Lord I Lift Your Name on High, and others of the era of the 1980s and 90s. Ours was considered a stylistically progressive church since we used almost exclusively contemporary songs.

First, hymns have been sung by the giants of the faith who have gone on before us over the last two millennia.

Second, the content of hymns is almost always vastly more theologically rich. When I say rich, I don’t necessarily mean every hymn recounts the Gospel in it’s entirety, or that all hymns clearly teach the Five Points of Calvinism. Rather, the theology in the hymns is typically more sound or healthy than much of contemporary worship music.

What are your thoughts? Do you and your church pursue more contemporary music selections at the expense of neglecting hymns and more traditional music? When church music for your worship services, does your church focus more on the style of music rather than the substance of the words being sung?

Love to hear your thoughts on Dan Michael Cogan's piece.

Sin Is A Parasite

Rusty Cars


Paul Marshall in his book Heaven is Not My Home
Sin is not the story, it is the blight on the story. Sin distorts everything, perverts everything, corrupts everything. It is not sin that makes us bear children, but it is sin that makes childbearing painful. It is not sin that attracts men and women, but it is sin that fills our relationships with control and suspicion. It is not sin that makes music, but it is sin that fills our music with vanity and lust. It is not sin that makes us construct cities and towers, but it is sin that makes those towers symbols of pride and power. It is not sin that calls human beings to live and love, to make music and art, to work and create, to plant and harvest, to play and dance. But it is sin that undercuts and perverts them all. Sin does not create things. It has no originality, no creativity, no being in itself.  
Sin lives off that which is good. It is a parasite, feeding greedily on the goodness of what God has made. No relation is of itself sinful, but sin corrupts every relation. No area of life is in itself out of the will of God, but we defy God's will in every area of life.
Sin only exists as a corruption of good. The best analogy that I know that can explain this is that sin and evil are like "rust". Rust only exists as a corruption of metal, it can't exist by itself. And that is the same with sin.

How God Uses Pain And Trials In Our Life

Megaphone
“We confess before Thee that if life were all smooth, there would be no patience; were it all easy, no courage, no sacrifice, no depth of character. We acknowledge before Thee that what is most admirable is the child of adversity and of courageous souls unafraid to face it.”
-Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick

One of the basic truths that I cling to when I am going through difficult and challenging times is that God ultimately wants to use that time and circumstance to move me closer toward Jesus.

It is those crucibles that God uses to bend my heart and will to His. He wants to drive me to the cross and to be surrendered in utter and complete dependence.

C.S. Lewis said that God uses pain and trials as a megaphone to get our attention and speak to us. (Tweet This)

One of the ways that God uses trials and difficulties is to continually expose the idols of my heart. I often respond to God like the older brother in the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. During difficult times I'll respond to the Father, just like the older brother, with anger, fear and frustration. Because, like the older brother, I am saying to God- "I've obeyed you!...I've done what you've asked!...God you owe me!...I don't deserve this!"

What foolishness and arrogance. I am often brought to my knees in repentance that I would treat God like a giant vending machine. That kind of "older-brother" thinking suggests that if I put in a dollar's worth of piety, obedience and holiness then God, who simply serves as the divine vending machine, needs to then cough up the product, service or demand that I paid for.

What foolishness!! God can't be controlled, rather He is to be loved. Our relationship with God is a relationship built and bound in love. I pray that during times of difficulty and trials my love and affection for God would go deeper even still.

"We love because He first loved us" -1 John 4:19