A parent perspective on Youth Ministry – Part 1

After 20 years in youth ministry my role in youth ministry shifted this week.  My eldest son headed off on his first junior high youth camp.  That means that I am no longer the youth minister, I became one of the parents dropping their child off at church for camp, while the child tries to get away without a hug or a kiss.

Whilst as a youth minister I know a lot about what happens on youth camp, I find my mind has shifted now that I am a parent.  The things that I am looking for in a youth ministry as a parent are different to what to what I may have wanted from a youth ministry being on the leadership side.  Whilst I have never seen parents as the enemy, I see things differently now my own son is involved.

Here are a few thought about youth camp now that I am a parent:

  1. High expectations – perhaps my expectation of youth camp are a little high but I hope that my son has an encounter with God at youth camp.  I hope that he gets a passion for reading the bible, that he meets some great friends, gets some excellent mentors as leaders, that he likes going to church and that he fights for world peace, ok perhaps not the last one.  Are my expectations a little high?  As a youth ministers I would tell a parent that those might be good expectations after five or six years in a youth ministry but not for their child’s first youth camp.  As a parent though I can’t help wanting the best for my son.  In reality I know that my son will enjoy camp but will come home talking more about the fun games than the bible talks, he will still be the same kid who won’t like doing chores around the house and whilst he may not be against going to church I am sure he won’t always be begging us to go.
  2. Being part of our family – we hope that our son maintains a sense of family and isn’t sold an idea that the youth ministry is the most important thing in his life.  As a youth minister I heard numerous stories of young people who got involved in youth ministry in spite of a lack of support from home.  In our case my wife and I are very supportive of our son being involved in the youth ministry.  Yet as a parent I hope that the youth ministry acknowledges the vital role that we as parents play in nurturing the faith of our son as well.  I don’t want my son going off to youth events every week at the expense of our family time.  Sometimes our son will miss a youth event to spend time with our family and it isn’t a sign of a lack of commitment to the youth ministry.  Too often youth ministers blame families for a lack of attendance from young people, yet as parent I now see the family time is often more important than time at youth group.
  3. Bigger picture of church – as a youth minister I focused so much on the youth ministry that youth camp or going to a youth festival was the biggest thing in the year.  As a parent I still have one son who won’t be going to youth camp for another two years.  I also am more aware of parents in my small group who have kids in the children’s ministry.  As a parent I am far more interconnected with the other things happening in the church so I now realise that whilst the youth ministry is important, so are a number of other ministries in our church.  Perhaps as a parent I am more thankful of the role of the children’s ministry which nurture the faith of my son long enough to help him want to go on youth camp.

Perhaps my expectations are a little high but maybe that is a good thing.  As a parent I should want the best for the spiritual life of my children.  One thing that I must remind myself is that the Holy Spirit has its own plan for my son and I must accept what ever the Holy Spirit does with him.  It will take a life time for my son to understand God, so I can’t expect it all to happen on his first youth camp, but I am just a little excited at what God might do with y son on youth camp.

In the next post I will share a few reflection after my son comes home from youth camp.

Perhaps you have recently become a parent in a youth ministry, what are your thoughts?  share them in the comment section below.

markoffaith, mark of faith, markoffaith.net

What happens when we need to take a break due to sickness?

Over the past few months I have been very sick, not only sick enough to take a break from this blog and ministry but sick enough to spend some time in hospital.  Without going into all the gross details of my illness, I had an inflammation of the large intestine that had me in hospital for treatment on two separate occasions.  The second trip to the hospital lasted nine days followed by twenty days of treatment at home by a community nurse.

In the past I had heard about ministry leaders getting sick but it had never happened to me.  I knew ministry leaders who suddenly had to take time off because of illness or a family crisis that needed their attention.  In this blog post I won’t focus on the break you need to take due to burn out, I have written on that before.  My thoughts have turned to the fact that being a ministry leader doesn’t except us from getting sick, sick enough to take a break for a few weeks even months.

Since the start of the year my ministry load hasn’t been that heavy, I help out at my local church where I can and I work a few hours a week in the ministry training centre.  At the same time I am completing my Masters of Divinity so there is lots of reading and writing to be done.  Yet when I got sick all of this had to go on hold because I couldn’t concentrate, I would often need to rest in bed or I was in doctors waiting rooms; ministry, study and blogging became the last things on my mind.

To make things more complicated the church where I serve could really have used my help over the past few months.  Whilst it can survive without me, two of the ministers were leaving so all the lay people had to step up to fill in until their replacements come in 2014.  So I could have been really useful to have around, instead I was either in hospital or at home receiving treatment.  As someone who has been in ministry for 20 years it was the first time where I knew what ministry needed to be done but was unable to help due to serious illness.

God uses everything to form and shape you, even when we don’t know why things turn out the way they do.  Even though I wasn’t able to be involved in ministry during this time I learnt a number of things throughout my illness.  I thought I would share these with because I have been off the blog for a number of months now so I wanted to update you on what I have been reflecting on.

  1. The church will cope without me – my church were great at swapping my spots on the rosters and finding replacements for the roles that I was meant to fill.  Everyone likes to feel invaluable but in reality most ministries can and should be able to survive without you.  Someone always steps up to cover the hole that our absence makes because even ministry leaders get sick.  As a ministry leaders we need to trust God and trust our church that they can cope whenever we get sick.
  2. The church should care about me as a person – my church were great at caring for me as a person, asking me how I was going not just about who was covering for me when I was away.  Many people were worried about me as a person, they didn’t just pray for me so I would get back to ministry quicker.  People offered to cook meals for my family, pick me kids up from school and all kinds of other helpful things.  If you ever get sick I hope that you are involved in a church where people care about you as a person and don’t just see your illness as a problem to handle.
  3. There is still a bit of guilt – it is hard to let go of the things that I regularly do in ministry.  I felt guilty about letting the blog writing fall.  I felt guilty about have to swap out of a sunday roster.  I felt guilty about not being able to help the church.  Yet a number of good friends in ministry reminded me that it is good to rest and recover.  Self care is more important that pushing it for a few weeks.  Being sick reminded me that the correct theological perspective about work and ministry is that I am more than my work and ministry; whilst I may feel guilt at times, when I am sick I need to move beyond the guilt to focus on rest and recovery.
  4. Illness helped me to refocus on God – sometimes I get so swept up in ministry, blogging or theological study that I forget the daily practices that draw me closer to God.  When I was sick I had the time to read and meditate on scripture.  I had time to listen to christian worship music just to listen for God’s voice.  I decided that I didn’t have to blog every week or check twitter everyday.  My time away from ministry helped me understand that God rescues me everyday from a whole range of things whether I am serving in ministry, spending time at home with the family or sitting in a hospital bed recovering from an illness.
  5. There is always hope – when I was sick I would often read psalm 107 where God rescues a variety of people from a variety of circumstances, you should read it.  Two things struck me:
    1. In this psalm God rescues those who ask for help without demanding they change their behaviour before he helps them, check the psalm yourself.
    2. In this psalm God rescues people yet there is evidence that they still take some time to get out of their circumstances.  For examples the exiles are rescued but will still take some time to get back to Jerusalem.

In my case I knew that God was healing me and would rescue me from this illness, I just had to wait a few months for full recovery.  Perhaps you will get sick and need to take a break from ministry to recover, don’t worry there is hope.

Perhaps you haven’t ever had a major break from ministry due to illness but my guess is that you know someone who has.  Perhaps you had to step up and cover for a fellow ministry leader who got sick.  In reality if you stay in ministry long enough you will at some point have to take a break due to illness.  My hope is that you can honestly and peacefully take a break without feeling guilty.

It is ok to take a break

It is ok to rest and recover

It is ok to fall behind on email, twitter and blogging

It is important to trust in God that the church/ministry will survive without you.

Please leave a comment.

mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith, markoffaith.net

What does the Church stand for?

My experience is that many people are against the Catholic Church based on the version of the Church that they have in their mind.  So the arguments that many people come up with don’t really challenge the true teaching of the Catholic Church.  One issue that many protestant people have trouble with is the concept of purgatory.  Whilst I must declare that I don’t really believe in the purgatory that many Catholic’s claim to believe in, I did find a quote about the work of the then Cardinal Ratzingers very interesting:

“Building on 1 Corinthians 3, Ratzinger argued that the Lord Himself is the fire of judgement, which transforms us as he conforms us to his glorious, resurrected body. This happens not during a long drawn out process but in the moment of final judgement itself. By thus linking purgatory to Jesus Christ himself as the eschatological fire, Ratizinger detached the doctrine of purgatory from the concept of an intermediate state” Quoted from page 167 of Surprised by Hope by NT Wright.

NT Wright claims both Pope Benedict (Ratzinger) and Karl Rahner have moved Catholic Teaching on purgatory away from the understanding that many people criticise the Church for.  Which made me think about one very important rule for understanding the Catholic Church:

Just because a Catholic said something doesn’t make it Catholic Teaching.  This goes for all the liberal and conservative web pages, blogs, podcasts and books out in the market.  In fact just because something is popular doesn’t make it official church teaching.  If you really want to understand the truth about what the Catholic Church teaches don’t google it, go to the official teaching of the Church, starting at http://www.vatican.va.  If someone doesn’t agree with this then at least they disagree with the official teaching not some youtube version of church teaching.

The difference in Evangelical circles is that the opinions of current books, blogs and popular preachers has more weight in defining what the church stands for because there is no “official church teaching”.  For example the work of Tim Keller from Redeemer Church in New York is very popular amongst Evangelicals even though not all Evangelicals are Presbyterian.  The work of NT Wright, an Anglican is well regarded but not all Evangelical Anglicans agree with his arguments.  Mark Driscoll’s books and podcast are very popular yet not many people would list his views as normative for Evangelicals.   So in the cross denominational world of Evanglicals there are popular authors and preachers yet there is no official church teaching.

Whilst this may be a little off topic for this blog, I think this is very important at the moment as there is so much information spreading across the web about what Pope Francis will or won’t do.  Is he a liberal or conservative, evangelical, social justice advocate, liturgically simple or just a nice guy doing his best? As ministry leaders we have a responsibility to build unity in the Body of Christ, not to continue uninformed positions.  So as the ministry of Pope Francis unfolds please check your sources and try to build unity in the Body of Christ.

And I should declare that I know that I am not the source of official church teaching so I will apply the same advice to myself too.  Please leave a comment.

The value of positive stories

Woman on ComputerLeaders spend most of their time either casting vision or solving problems.  Casting vision involves sharing a positive vision of the future for your ministry even though you haven’t got there yet.  Solving problems means taking a weakness in your ministry and looking for a solution even though it means dealing with negatives.  So telling positive stories from your ministry reminds people of the positive elements that they have already accomplished.

People can’t spend all their time living in the future or dealing with problems.  Our volunteers in ministry need to be constantly reminded that all their hard work and effort is achieving something.  Sharing positive stories helps to remind people of the things the ministry has already achieved in a hope that more success will come in the future.  Positive stories can remind people serving in your ministry why they do what they do. 

Several times a year you should hold celebration nights where people in your ministry share their positive stories with each other.  There is nothing better than hearing people share a story in their own unique way.  Get each person to share a story from their perspective which not only gives a different perspective on the ministry but it also helps you get to know their style and personality. 

So here are five questions to ask at your celebration nights to draw out positive stories from any group:

  1. What are the highlights from our ministry?
  2. When did we have a win? ask people to articulate how they think they have achieved part of the vision.
  3. What have you learnt?  Focus on what you will do better in the future rather than the mistakes of the past.
  4. Who are we proud of?
  5. When did you see someone grow?  This is perhaps the most important question because it is others centred.

In my 20 years of ministry I have witness many times of celebration where people have shared their positive stories.  A few times have been whilst at a conference and our team have shared what we think we are doing right based on the speakers at the conference.  Often the positive stories come out over a meal when the ministry team have more time together.  The best celebration night I have ever been to involve everyone dressing up for a night of awards and storytelling; the night provided an hour of “open mic” time for people to share their stories.

The difficult in ministry is that we get so busy that we forget to share the positive stories until it is someone’s farewell party.  We forget to thank our team members until they leave.  Or we wait until the end of the year Christmas party to thank people for their hard work.  Wouldn’t it be great if we thanked people and shared the positive stories from our ministry once a month?  Imagine how much momentum it would build if we shared the positive stories a lot more than we reflected on the struggles.

So make a commitment to share the good news of your ministry within your church, after all we are meant to be people of the Good News.

Introductions at Church events

Empty Chairs in Conference RoomOver the past few weeks I have been paying extra attention to how ministers, service leaders and worship leaders introduce themselves at church services, prayer meetings and ministry events.  Given that it is a new year, there is a high chance that visitors are testing out a church or ministry for the first time so a good introduction is important.  But I have noticed that there are some simple phrases that people say or don’t say that may sound odd to a visitor.  When standing in front of a group, think about how a first time visitor hears what you say.

Here are a few tips on introducing yourself at your next church or ministry event:

  1. Expect visitors – even if you know that nobody in the room is a visitor introduce yourself as though there are visitors present.  This will not only train you to make it a habit but also train the congregation that visitors are to be expected.
  2. You are not a celebrity – never ever say “my name is _____ if you haven’t met me yet”.  You are not the centre of attention so don’t make it about people who haven’t met you yet, it implies that everybody knows you.  It is better to warmly state your name and your place in the church/ministry/congregation such as “my name is _____ and I am a member of this church/congregation”.
  3. Don’t assume anything – sometimes we assume that people remember what we did last week or assume that people were attending last week.  We can’t assume that everybody knows the service order or how we run our prayer meetings.  If you expect visitors then expect people to be a bit confused as to when to sit, stand, kneel, sing etc.
  4. Stay positive and energetic – it is important to kick off the service or meeting with a lot of energy just like it takes a lot of energy to get an aeroplane off the ground.  If you are the first person to stand in front of the group give a positive and energetic welcome.  We know that some people have had a bad week but they don’t need to reminded of it with a boring welcome to church.
  5. Thank people and affirm people – often we take people for granted, we need to thank people for attending our ministry events, church services and prayer meetings.  You don’t need to list all the things they could be doing instead of coming to church, don’t give them any ideas for not attending, but you need to be aware of what people give up to come along.

Whilst this might seem simple enough, the welcome and introduction are often overlooked when planning a gathering of God’s people.  If you are not the service leader or minister in your church, then perhaps you can pass this post onto them.  My hope is that churches expect visitors to come every week and that when they do come, visitors feel warmly welcomed.

What was Youth Ministry like when I began in 1991?

Youth Ministry in 1991Recently I was presenting a workshop at a youth ministry training event and I began by telling the participants that I started in youth ministry in 1991.  About half of the participants in the room indicated that they were born after 1991 and most of the others were very close to the same age.  While I was running the workshop I became more aware of how different youth ministry was when I began over 20 years ago.  Young culture and Church culture have changed so much in the last 20 years that I thought I would share some of these with you.

Now before we go any further this is not a historical overview of how youth ministry has changed in the past 20 years globally or even nationally.  I will share a few observations from the youth ministry in my church back in 1991 and if you were around youth ministry in 1991 please leave a comment to share your observations as well.  If you weren’t even born in 1991 then read this as a history lesson.

  1. Led by Parent Couples – when I first started in youth ministry every youth ministry had a parent couple attached.  These were a married couple, or several married couples, who would oversee the youth ministry.  In my youth ministry they trained and support the youth leaders, helped workshop youth talks and run the finances.  As a young person we felt safe knowing that parents were looking after the “hard stuff” like finances so that we could have fun.  In 2013 it seems that parent couples have almost disappeared from the youth ministry landscape.  I know some youth groups in 1991 that had to take a break until a parent couple could be found, something that would seem unreasonable in 2013.
  2. No professionals – in 1991 I don’t remember any professional youth ministry staff.  Knowing the history of youth ministry that I know now, there were a few professionals around but they were rare.  Youth ministry was a volunteer ministry that was often peer led.  In 1991 I never ever thought that I could spend 20 years of my life getting paid to lead youth and young adult ministry.  In 2013 the “high” turnover rate that some see as a problem stems from the era of the 1980’s and 90’s when everyone volunteered for 1-2 years as a youth leader then moved onto the adult congregation of the church.
  3. After church on Sunday night – in our location and many other churches in 1991 youth group was on a Sunday night after our 6pm Church service.  Back in those days many young people were still going to church on a semi regular basis so linking youth group with the church service seemed like a natural thing.  In fact in 1991 it was easier to recruit youth group members from the church congregation if the two were linked.  In 2013 the biggest question many youth ministries face is the opposite question, how do we get our youth group members to join our Sunday congregation.  In 2013 youth group is often set in concrete on Friday nights as though that was how it has always been done.
  4. Keeping young people in church – when I started in youth ministry in 1991 many youth would stop going to church about 15-18 or Year 10.  So youth ministry was a way of keeping young people coming along to church.  In 2013 youth ministry seems more about starting young people coming to church as most young people stop going in the children’s ministry age group, if they were ever attending.
  5. No mobile phones – In 1991 a friend of mine showed me his dad’s mobile phone and it was as big as a brick.  Only business people had mobile phones.  Young people not only didn’t have smart phones they didn’t even have mobiles.  Youth Ministry was the time to catch up with people for the week and if you missed youth group you missed a week of connection with your peers.  If you missed youth you may have missed news of a party or social outing and there was no way to catch up.  In 2013 if young people miss youth group they can catch up with all the news, gossip and party news within hours via Facebook or SMS.
  6. Film Cameras – this might sound really old fashion but only a few young people had cameras at events and it would take a week or two to send the film photos off for developing.  In 1991 there was always a physical photo wall or photo album put up three weeks after youth events to show what had happened at the events; it was a real way to keep the memories alive.  In 2013 the photos go up on Facebook and Instagram as the event is happening and are forgotten about within days.
  7. Youth Culture – in 1991 in my area there were the metal heads (Heavy metal music), wax heads (surfers), skateheads  (skateboarding) and nerds (those who weren’t part of the other groups).  Whilst I admit that I was a nerd, it seemed that there were only a few youth subgroups to fit into.  In 2013 the youth culture has split the youth subgroups in to thousands.  The music industry alone has thousands of music styles that weren’t branded this way in 1991.  Youth clothing has become more targeted in 2013 and costs a lot more money.  In 1991 if a young person had slashed jeans they weren’t $250 designer jeans, they were the cheap jeans showing signs of being old.

This is just some of the ways that youth ministry was different when I first started in 1991.  My hope is that some of my colleagues who were around in the 1980’s/90’s might add a comment with their observations from that period.

Whilst the specific details might vary from location to location in 1991 they also vary from location to location in 2013.  Rather than this being a post of the golden era of youth ministry from the good old days, I just want this generation of youth ministry leaders to recognise that ministry changes and that is OK.  Many of the things that some youth ministers think we have always done in youth ministry are in fact new additions that have improved or complicated youth ministry.  It is OK for youth ministry to change, in fact I hope that youth ministry continues to change and adapt as young people change and adapt to the culture around them.

Please leave a comment.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net

How to start something new in your ministry

Starting something newAt the start of every year churches seem ready to start something new.  The New Year brings a new season in your ministry rather than more of the same old routine.  Perhaps there is a ministry that was needed last year that you didn’t have the energy for or perhaps there wasn’t space in your program to start something new.  With the New Year comes new energy and we all think we can take on more projects.  So if you find yourself thinking this way this post will help you through the process.

With over 10 years experience in ministry consultancy, most people underestimate the time and effort it takes to start a new ministry.  Many ministry leaders hope to get something started with a few weeks preparation when really it takes months to prepare for a new start.  Recently I was reading a 2012 strategic plan for a church which included plans for a start up ministry in 2014.  In ministry we have to cautious of being inspired to start a new ministry on our holiday and hoping it is fully running the second week we get back.

As many of us begin our ministries after the long summer holiday break, here are a few tips to starting something new in your church this year:

  1. Narrow the focus – once you start planning to begin something new everyone wants to be included more than you had planned so you have to keep a narrow focus.  So a new junior high ministry shouldn’t include senior students as participants.  The new music team should also double as a bible study.  Don’t try to bite off too much when you first start a new element within your ministry; you can always broaden the focus later but it is harder to cut back as you launch.
  2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – there is such a tendency to launch something and work out the details later.  If you don’t prepare fully then you won’t be ready when you launch which will turn visitors off.  When we were starting a junior ministry in one of the churches we took six months to prepare even though we had 20 young people ready to go.  We needed time to prepare the first six months of talks, themes and research appropriate activities.
  3. Ride through the dip – six months into every start up the ministry hits a dip in numbers or energy, perhaps due to a lack of money, leaders or participants get bored.  What will be the dip in your ministry?  Seth Godin in his book “The Dip” believes that most start ups fail because they don’t know how to ride through the dip; those that ride through the dip are the ones that succeed.  Perhaps your dip will come in six weeks perhaps it will come in two years but you must ride through the dip in energy and numbers to be successful.
  4. Marketing is important – In his book on Church Marketing, Richard Riesling says that marketing is managing perception.  With any new element in your ministry you have to manage the perception that others have of what the ministry is about.  In the start up of our junior youth group we called it Blaze to evoke the image of a faith that is on fire for God; and we didn’t mention or offer pizza even once.  Mange the perception of your new venture so that people know this is long term and not a flash in the pan idea.
  5. Who will lead it when you are gone – perhaps you don’t need to answer this question before you begin unless you are planning on leaving within six months.  But from the very beginning you need to start training and preparing your replacement.  In fact sometimes other leaders won’t put their hand up until you are a success so start anyway.
  6. Have fun – starting a new ministry is a lot of work but it is so much fun.  Everyone gets excited and there is so much enthusiasm towards something new.  Enjoy this time and have fun serving your ministry.

It is important for us to be looking ahead to see how we can start something new this year that will meet the needs of people next year and into the future.  We can’t wait until our current programs fizzle out before we look to the horizon to see what is next.  Perhaps this year is a year of transition for you and your ministry, I hope and prayer that God leads you where you need to be.

Please leave a comment about how you have started a new ministry.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net

How to hold a ministry meeting at church

Church MP900405058Sometimes you just have to gather your ministry on your church property for a meeting.  You can’t always head off site for meetings as it breaks the connection between the ministry and your church.  In the previous post we look at holding an off site meeting, so here we will explore a few tips for holding a ministry meeting on your church site.

Each church property has a different combination of church/worship space, chapels, halls, foyers, meeting rooms and office space.  Some church properties have great meeting rooms whilst others have a lack of space that is difficult to deal with.  Some churches have a variety of meeting rooms whilst others just have one large multi purpose room (that never seems to service any event really well). Often we hold meetings on the church property because it will involve a larger group of people than you would invite to a café or your house.  But there are some important things to consider when hosting a ministry meeting at church:

  1. Service or meeting – you have to decide is it a church service or a meeting?  A church service has a liturgical form that may not address the issues that you are meeting about.  Sometimes people get confused if you have to hold a meeting in the main worship space of your church rather than the meeting rooms or hall.  So if you are going to meet in the church or worship space then make it clear that this is a meeting not a church service.
  2. Avoid the pews – it is important that everyone can see each other or see the people presenting the information that the meeting is about.  Church pews are very rigid, especially the ones that are bolted down.  If at all possible find a space where you can move the chairs to help people see each other.
  3. Put out the signs: many church properties are like Fort Knox or a Rabbit warren where it is confusing how to get to the meeting space.  Don’t assume that people know where to go for meetings, put out a sign or some directions.  Many people will head towards the worship space out of habit so direct people to your meeting from there.  If your property is locked up like Fort Knox then put signs on the outside gates telling people where they can get in.
  4. Find the smaller spaces – if you are meeting with 15 people then the 200 seat church may not be the best venue so find a smaller meeting room.  Find the space that suits the size of group that is coming to the meeting, not to small or not to large.  The size of the space can set the tone and atmosphere so choose wisely.
  5. Do you need tables: if you are expecting people to take notes or do some work then you need to provide tables for people.  A board meeting or team training event will work well in a venue with tables and chairs.  However a meeting that is discussion based may be better in an informal space without tables.
  6. Create interaction – sometimes when people come to church they are used to sitting and listening so break this pattern up with interaction.  Have a brainstorm or buzz session where people can throw ideas into the mix of conversation.  If you are talking about a particular issue in your meeting then ask people to turn to their neighbour or form small groups to talk about the issue.
  7. Provide food and drinks – it is important to have a bit of food and a drink at the meeting.  Often people have this as the first part of the meeting whilst people are arriving.  If people have come straight from home where they have had a meal then perhaps hold food and drink until the end.  If your people leave straight after the meeting to go home then have food and drink in the middle as a break.

Don’t be scared of holding a ministry meeting on your church property; it helps build a connection with the physical space.  It is great for people to feel at home on the church property rather than only coming to Church for formal occasions  The more at home people feel on church property the more they are likely to volunteer for ministry in your church.  So next time you have to meet with someone from church consider meeting them on church property rather than in a cafe.

Please leave a comment with your advice

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith.net

How to hold a Church meeting in a Cafe

Meeting in a cafeSometimes you need to with smaller groups of people in your ministry in an environment where it more personal and the church which seems too formal.  The café has become the town square in our western culture, people are always catching up in a café.  You only have to be in ministry for a short time before someone asks you out “for coffee”.  Whilst the reasons for meeting in a café may vary, it has become the prefered place for hosting smaller church meetings.

In my 10 years of ministry consulting I have been to a variety of ministry meetings in cafes and restaurants   Usually I ask the person I am meeting to pick the location because they know their area better than I do.  Many people pick a popular spot which has a downside; it is hard to get a table, it is very noisy, or  they know everyone in the room so it is hard for them to focus.  One time a person picked a café where the tables were 20cms apart, so not only could we hear the conversation of the table next to us but the table next to that as well.

After writing a post on holding a church meeting in your home, it got me thinking about how to make the most of meeting in a public space such as a café.  You can meet in a cafe for a discipleship or mentoring session.  You could catch up with your ministry team to debrief and event or plan a future event.  You could meet with someone to give them pastoral care or to held them discern a major decision.  You can meet in a cafe because people are dropping in and out at various times.

So here is my list of recommendations for holding a church or ministry meeting in a café:

  1. The bigger the better – find a café with a lot of tables and enough room for you to get some space away from other patrons; if you know that the café is always full then don’t go  there for a church meeting.  If a café needs a booking to get a seat go there with your friends but not with your ministry team.  Pick a café where you can seat everyone without sitting on top of another group of people.
  2. Conversation not coffee – some people pick a place for the best coffee in town but the atmosphere doesn’t generate conversation.  Most of the cafes that are “trendy” and serve great coffee are small, packed and often have loud music playing.  Pick a place where you know you can talk as the purpose of your meeting is conversation not great coffee.
  3. Avoid the traffic – avoid a café in the busy section of a shopping mall or that has all the seats in a busy walkway.  Sometimes people don’t want everyone seeing who they are talking to you, especially if they want to talk about an issue they are struggling with.  If someone might end up crying then get a table near the back.  If you really can’t be seen by members of your church then go to a café in another area.
  4. Don’t order messy food – don’t order the messy cake with extra cream or anything that might be fussy or difficult to eat.  If the person you are meeting with is sharing something personal you need to concentrate on them not your food.  Usually I just order a coffee and a glass of water or if we are eating I will order a muffin so it can be shared.
  5. Check the opening times – there is nothing worse that picking a location and it isn’t open when you are planned to meet.  Some cafes that open for breakfast close early in the afternoon while others that are open for late night coffee don’t open for breakfast.  There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a conversation and the owner asking you to leave because they are closing up.
  6. Not too expensive – there are some cafes that think their food and coffee is so good that they can charge anything they want, but don’t force everyone you meet for coffee to pay top dollar.  Most people will pay $3-4 for coffee so avoid the places that charge $6 for a latte.  If you are meeting with someone who can’t afford anything then suggest this up front so they will at least have something.  Also don’t expect your team members to pay for you all the time.

Finding a good place in your area that is suitable for holding a small meeting or ministry catch up is like finding gold, once you find it you will go back time and time again.  If you are always meeting with people from your ministry in a café then do your research and find one that suits.  Please leave a comment about your experience of holding a church meeting in a café.

markoffaith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald

How to hold a Church meeting in your home

In ministry we are almost always holding meetings, whether it is a team meeting, a planning day, a discipleship or mentoring session or a pastoral catch up.  The space that you choose for your meeting is really important in setting the boundaries and tone of the meeting.  Finding good spaces to hold meetings is part of your job in ministry.

At times I have held meeting in a few places that just didn’t work.  Perhaps the meeting room was next to band practice or the café was so popular that we couldn’t get a seat.  One time the café was public that everyone from our church that walked past stopped in to say hello, interrupting the flow of conversation.  In this series I want to look at choosing the right location for your Church or Ministry meetings.

In this first post we will look at holding church meetings at your house.  When my wife and I had kids it was much easier at the time to have people over to my house for a church meeting.  It was great for social events with a ministry team or a planning day that was going to take several hours.  The home environment gave us a greater opportunity to offer hospitality but there a few drawbacks as well:

  • Cleaning up – every time we have people from church over to our house there is extra cleaning to be done.  Whilst you don’t want to put on a show for people, the house can’t have the same clutter that your family might put up with every day.
  • Getting people to leave – at the end of the night you just want to go to bed but how do you encourage people to your house?  You have to set a finishing time before you start so that people know when you are expecting them to leave.
  • Kids – everything goes well if the kids behave but what if they test the boundaries just when the meeting is starting?  You should establish some ground rules with your kids before your ministry team arrive.

Several years ago when my wife and I were starting a church ministry we held the leadership meetings in our house.  We had a big house with an upstairs living area for our two boys so the boys could play whilst we held the meetings.  If you have a meeting in your family home don’t make your family sit in their bedrooms whilst you take over the house for meetings.  If there isn’t room for your family as well as running the meeting  then meet somewhere else.

Recently I read about the guidelines for a Vicarage within the Anglican Church, these are the standards that all houses should meet for a minister in the Anglican Church:

  • Four bedrooms – which are off limits to guests
  • Two living spaces – one for the family to live in and one that could be used for meetings
  • Study or an office
  • Separate toilet for guests

Whilst your house may not meet those requirements, if you are going to use your house as a meeting spot think of the needs of your family.  The advantage of having a meeting at your home is that your family can be part of your ministry.  It is a great blessing for your ministry team to witness what a family is really like.  But if your home is not suitable or it places too much burden on your family then choose another location for your church meeting.

In the next two posts we will look at holding church meetings in other places:

  • Public spaces like a Café
  • Church property

markoffaith, mark of faith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net