Small church vs church planting

Leading a Small Church vs a Church Plant

Since starting in my new ministry placement this year I have come to realise that leading a small church is a very different style of ministry to either medium church ministry or church planting.  When I say that I’m in a small church, I’m talking about an average Sunday attendance of 25 people.  There are some real joys of small church ministry, namely the sense of connection with the people I’m in ministry with.  Yet there are some unique differences to ministry in other settings.

Small churches and church plant have small numbers but they are very different styles of ministry.  It was almost ten years ago that I tried to plant a church with a small group of 25 people.  Whilst the church plant closed after three years of ministry I learnt a lot from season of ministry.  Being with a small group of 25 once again, it might be tempting to borrow some of the lessons from church planting with my small church.  Yet I’ve noticed that there are some key differences between leading a church plant and pastoring a small church. 

The point of this post isn’t to suggest one style of ministry is better than the other.  This post is suggesting four ways that leading a small established church might be different to leading a small church planting team.  Even if both ministry settings have a similar size group there are some interesting differences to make not of.

Whilst I don’t really want to pit small church ministry and church planting against each other, here are four big areas where the two style of ministry are very different:

  1. Newbie or Founder – are you the founder of your ministry or are you the newest member?
    • Small church – when you take on a small church ministry placement it is likely that you are the newest member of your church. Some of the existing members of your small church may have been around a long time, it may be their only church experience.  These people have seen past leaders come and go, seen many styles of ministry come and go.  Your church members may not be that impressed with what you consider the new bright idea about ministry.  Whilst these established members can provide stability to your ministry, change management in an established small church will be much slower than in a church plant where everything is new.
    • Church plant – when you plant a church it is likely that you are the founding member of your church. You might be the first person to have a vision for your church plant; nobody knows the vision and the dreams of your church plant like you do.  As a church planter you will spend so much of your time explaining and casting the vision of your church plant to onramp others to the vision.  Whilst this can be repetitive, it can also be energising to share your vision with people and see them take hold of the vision.  The small group of people you are ministering to in the early stages of the church plant are relying on you to grow the vision.
  2. Legacy or Vision – are you running on the legacy of the past or the vision of the future?
    • Small Church – it is likely that the past is a dominating factor in your ministry in a small church setting. There is often a period in the past when the church was at its strongest and as the new leader you must find out what hold the past has on your church.  You need to discern if there are elements of the past that you can leverage for future growth in your ministry.  Is there some part of the DNA of your small church that is the key to future health in your ministry?  Perhaps there are ghosts of the past that are holding your church back until the church finally deals with them.  Small churches don’t lack vision however you need to build on the legacy of the past so that you can cast a strong vision of your future. 
    • Church Plant – it is likely that future hopes and dreams are dominating your ministry as a church planter. You have hopes and dreams of being bigger that you currently are, drawing more people into the ministry and having a strong future.  Your church or ministry doesn’t have a past so there is not much baggage to deal with, except any baggage from previous churches that your members may have belonged to.  The challenge for you as a church planter is to build something that can become a legacy for future generations to build on for a healthy vibrant church.
  3. Age or Youth – is your membership dominated by age and experience or youthful enthusiasm?
    • Small Church – small church ministries often are small because it got stuck with an older generation that didn’t hand off to a younger generation. Therefore, your church will have people with wisdom and experience but not a lot of intergenerational connections.  If you don’t want your ministry to die out then you need to get some youth and new Christians into the ministry to bring in fresh perspectives.
    • Church Plant – church plants often begin with young adults because of the youthful enthusiasm to start something new. Therefore, your church will have a lot of enthusiasm and drive but perhaps not a lot of Christians with wisdom and experience.  I’ve often heard church planters pray for one or two mature Christians who can mentor and disciple the new Christians.  If you don’t want your church ministry to be a flash in the pan then you need to get some mature Christians who can mentor and disciple the young people into your church plant.
  4. The burden of Maintenance or Poverty – are you struggling under the weight of maintaining your existing church buildings or the weight of no resources?
    • Small Church – if you are taking on a small church ministry in an existing facility then be prepared to spend a lot of time on maintenance and/or renovations. It is likely that you have facilities that you can use for ministry right away but the facilities are often tired or run down or outdated.  They might be built in a previous era when what was trendy is now considered ugly.  It can be hard to create a fresh look for your ministry because of the capital it takes just to maintain the current facilities let along renovate them to bring them up to date.  Whilst your church planting friends might be struggling to find facilities to use, your struggling to use the facilities you have.
    • Church Plant – if you are planting a new church then it likely that you are struggling to find the facilities and resources to grow your church. You need to buy everything and you can’t seem to get enough of money to buy everything you need to grow.   Whilst your small church ministry friends can use their old equipment until they can afford to replace it, you don’t have anything to use unless you buy it.  The challenge for a church planter is to decide what can you borrow, what can you buy second hand and what is the best option to purchase for now that will also work as your ministry grows.

Small church ministry is not always a bad thing, research suggests that 90% of churches have less than 200 members.  Church plants might be a great growth strategy but the first five years of a new church are very different ministry in an established church. Taking a church planter and imposing them on a small church just because they have the same number of people can be a recipe for conflict. Both styles of ministry are a blessing to the church if you know what leadership style to apply to each setting. 

My hope is that you can lead your church to be a health church.  If you church is a fresh new church plant then I hope it becomes a healthy sustainable church.  If your church is a small established church then I also hope that it continues to be a healthy sustainable church for future generations.  Using the right style of ministry for the right context can make all the difference.

Please leave a comment on how you see small church ministry….

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald

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What is your comparison point?

We all compare new experiences to a benchmark we have in our head.  When we try a new cafe and we compare their coffee to our best coffee experience at our favourite cafe.  When shop in a new shopping mall we compare it to the benchmark that we have in our mind about our ideal shopping experience.  When we visit a new church or ministry we compare it to our ideal church or ministry whether we know it or not. 

So as the leader in your ministry what is your comparison point?  Sometimes it can be another church or ministry.  We tell ourselves if we could just do it ministry like church X or church Y then we would get it “right”.  These other churches may have totally different circumstance and resources to us but that doesn’t stop us from comparing our ministry to theirs.  The key thing is to know what your bench mark is so that at least you are honest with yourself and your team.

Perhaps your comparison point is not another church but a previous era at your own church.  Remember the good old days when we got ministry “right”.  Church members often compare your current situation to a previous golden era where everything seemed to work so smoothly.  The trap with this style of thinking is that our world and culture has changed so dramatically.  Imagine comparing youth ministry pre Facebook to the Facebook era; let alone comparing ministry practices from the 1980’s to ministry to youth today.

What ever your comparison point is you need to identify it so that the unconscious comparison becomes more conscious.  Comparison is not a bad thing as long it it encourages us to be better rather than it weakening us.

Finally it is most important to compare our ministry to what God is calling us to.  The Holy Spirit is moving your forward not trying to recreate the past.  Compare your ministry to what God has in store for you, not the previous golden era.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald

Does the Good News sound like good news in your public speaking?

When presenting the gospel to people in your ministry setting does it sound like good news? Sometimes as christians we get so used to our christian language that we present the gospel as it was presented to us, not realising that culture and language has changed. Recently I heard an evangelist say that is so hard these days to get people to understand how sinful they are and much they need a saviour. Whilst this is the heart of the gospel perhaps it is an outdated style, it certainly doesn’t sound like good news to me.

Our culture has shifted and we are no longer living in a christian society. The phrases and language that used to make sense to christians no longer has the same meaning in our society today. The self help industry doesn’t promote sinfulness and our inability to help ourselves, it promotes self help and your ability to work yourself out of any situation. The 24 hour news cycle promotes a constant flow of negative news and stories or horrific tragedy all the time. Perhaps people don’t need more negative news such as “you’re a sinner”, but that need some good news such the God who created the universe loves you personally.

For example Judah Smith, the pastor of City Church in Seattle, presents and speaks in a way that seems to captivate a younger audience and even the hipsters. When you listen to him he is constantly talking about Jesus yet it is hopeful, positive and motivating. Recently at a conference Judah Smith stated that we have to preach the gospel in a way that sounds like good news to an audience who doesn’t understand “christianese”.

As ministry leaders we have to be aware of the trends in language and culture so that we can speak into it. We need to communicate the Good News in ways that people understand. It is very clear in the New Testament, start in 1 Corinthians 1-2, that the gospel can make sense to everyone; you shouldn’t need a theology degree to understand it. So my suggestion is that the next time you have to give a talk, a keynote or a sermon ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Would a non-Christian think this is good news? Even if you are speaking to a room full of christians we need to constantly practice speaking in a way that non Christians will understand. This will also train our audience to invite non Christian friends because they can trust that you will speak to them.
  2. Is there a sense of hope? Some ministry leaders are technically correct with their theology but there doesn’t seem to be any hope in their message. You can’t fault their theology but people don’t put into practice that theology because there doesn’t seem to be any hope. Being constantly reminded of our sinfulness doesn’t teach us to be new creations in Christ or that we can do anything because Christ strengthens us (Phil 4:13).
  3. Have I motivated people to want to know more? Some sermons leave people feeling “if that is what christians are like I don’t want it”. You need to motivate the audience to find out more about Jesus and the Gospel. Perhaps you can share your passion for the gospel as a way of motivating them to learn more. Perhaps you need to be upbeat and positive rather than factually correct. Perhaps you need to add in life based examples rather than examples from Christian history.

A word of warning – the bible is very clear that we are not to “tickle the ear” of others when we present the gospel. Whilst the Gospel should sound like good news to those who hear it, we still need to present the truth of gospel and not some feel good pop psychology. No matter what language we use, the gospel is going to be difficult for some people to hear because it challenges then out of their comfort zone.

Presenting the Good News is not easy in a world with so many conflicting messages. However if we are truly going to make an impact in your ministry, you need the Good News to sound like good news to an audience who doesn’t understand all the christian buzz words and images. Try to think through your language and adapt it to the community and setting that you’re ministering into.

Please leave a comment on how you have done this in your ministry setting.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald

A parent perspective on Youth Ministry – Part 2

In a recent post I shared with you a few thoughts on becoming a parent in youth ministry when my son went off to his first youth camp. I had high expectation for the camp and so on his return I was waiting eagerly to hear something spiritual about the camp. Instead he was full of stories about the fun, games and pranks that took place on camp.  After many interesting stories I asked my son what will he tell his best friend about the camp, the one who didn’t attend youth camp, and he replied “he totally should have been there”.  It was this one sentence that made me realise that something significant happened on camp. 

Over the next few days I had many conversations with my son about youth camp, none of them were deeply theological but they all helped me know my son on a deeper level.  In the week following the camp I watched him to see if there was any behaviour change and  I noticed that he was a little more reflective and a little more considerate but mostly he was the same kid who loves playing his video games.  At some level it was reassuring to me that there wasn’t a radical shift in my son; he was the same son just grown up a little.

In reflecting on the experience there are a few things that I learnt from hearing about the camp from my son:

  1. Leaders are important – whilst my son only seem to talk about the pranks the leaders got up to, he spoke with a great respect and admiration for the leaders.  It seems that he looked up to the leaders and when I dug deeper they really encouraged him in his faith.  As a parent I am so thankful that my son had some young adult leaders who were passionate about their faith and willing to share it with my son.
  2. Christian friendships are important – My son will spend most of his time with non-christians so to meet some committed christians is a really important thing.  We spent a lot our conversation time this week talking about the people that he met on camp.  I am sure that some of these people will become his long term friends even though they go to different schools.  In an increasingly secular world it so important to encourage our young people to seek out and develop christian friendships.
  3. The next step is important –  the youth ministry that ran the youth camp knew how important the next steps were and had pumped up the young people to attend friday night youth group.  My son was talking about it all week and was so excited to go that he was encouraging me to leave the house to drive to church.  Yet this is just the first in many “next steps” that my son will take.  As adults, parents and youth ministers, we need to roll out the next steps so that young people who have never done this before know where they are heading.
  4. My own faith is important – as a parent the conversation can be directed at my son; I want to know about your experience.  Yet the conversation seemed to open up opportunities for me to share my faith with my son.  As adults, parents and youth ministers, we can direct our conversation at the young people by asking them leading questions, yet we need to allow them to ask us questions.  I have to create a space where by my son can ask me questions about faith, prayer, theology, church, girls, dating etc etc.  Sharing my faith journey with my children is so important.
  5. This is just the beginning – I will admit that my son and i have had some great conversations but this is only the beginning on his faith journey.  My son still prefers to play video games and watch tv, so he his not an eager theology student by any stretch of the imagination.  My son and I have even had issues where i have had to discipline him and I am sure that this is just one of the many ups and downs we will experience over the coming decade know as “the teenager years”.

These reflections as part of my experience in shifting from a youth minister to a parent.  As I dropped my son off to youth group, which i had witness hundreds of times, I got the “you can go now” look from my son.  In an instance I had shifted from youth minister to daggy parent.  

My hope is that if you are a youth minister without children of your own, these reflection may help you minister to families in a better way than you currently do.  My hope for parents of young people is that these reflection may put into words some of the feelings stirring in you and perhaps pass them onto your youth ministry team.

Please leave a comment.

markoffaith, mark of faith, markoffaith.net mrmarkmcdonald

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

Is your church ready for Visitors?

Is your church entrance sending the message that visitors are welcome?

Is your church entrance sending the message that visitors are welcome?

In the New Year people will visit new churches, try out new ministries and attend prayer meetings.  So it is likely that there will be visitors hanging around your church buildings this month and next month.  So what do you think the church buildings look like?  Now try to think how new people will see them.  We need to tidy up the church buildings in the same way that we would clean up our home if we thought visitors were dropping in.

Recently we invited neighbours to come to our place for lunch and we thought we better clean the place up.  Looking at our house from the perspective of a visitor I noticed a whole lot of mess piled up on our front porch.  For weeks I had walked past it without noticing it but with visitors coming over I paid more attention to the details.  Most of the items just needed to be put away so the place looked tidy.

The same is true for your church buildings.  Recently I visited a church foyer that was spotless and had clear signage telling me (a visitor) where to go.  However I also attended a church where the foyer was a mess, it still had Christmas items laying around in February.  Sometimes we need to imagine our church through the eyes of a visitor and here are a few things they will notice:

  1. Can I find the correct room?  It is so important to a first time visitor that they can find the room they are supposed to be in.  Try to think like a first time visitor, is it really obvious which door they should enter?  If not then you need to have a person or sign directing people where to go.  Can parents find the kids ministry room?  Can young people find the youth group in the various rooms on your site?
  2. Where are the toilets?  Often people will ask where the toilets are so it isn’t a big deal but if they are really hard to find then put up a sign.  Often visitors will go to the toilet before your service because they are nervous about how long the service will take.
  3. Is the space tidy?  A visitor should not have to see decoration failing down or mess from a previous event.  Have the musicians kept their area tidy or is it a mess?  Is the hospitality area clean?  Are the toilets clean?  Are there tidy facilities for parents to change a nappy?
  4. Stay up to date – replace any old posters or out of date event material.  Make sure that the bulletins from each week are put in the recycling bin.  One church I visited had flyers for a theological college that were five year out of date.
  5. Less is better – don’t try to fill your foyer or notice board.  If a space is too cluttered then the mix of things confuses people and everything blends in.  Instead of trying to advertise every ministry event in your district, give clear message to visitors about what you would like them to attend.  One church I visited just put up new notice boards and they filled it with at least 50 ministry events across the city to the point that their own ministry events got lost in the noise.
  6. Where is the coffee?  If you go to the effort of putting on tea and coffee make sure that visitors know where to find it.  Don’t expect them to follow the crowd; they will most likely avoid the crowd and go to their car.

Every time we have visitors to our house we hope that they love our home as much as we do.  The same is true with our church buildings except we want them to love our church not the buildings.  Richard Riesling in his book on Church Marketing says that visitors have made many decisions about your church before the service even begins, make sure that they are the right decisions.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, 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 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

Is your ministry getting ready for Christmas?

Is it really time to be thinking about Christmas, it is only September?  Before you panic, this post is about working on your environment now so that you are welcoming community by Christmas.  We know that many people come back to church for Christmas so you need to start working on creating a welcoming environment so that you can keep them into the new year.

It is a well known that attendance numbers drop off during the winter months, especially at Sunday night services.  People think it is too cold or too dark to got out, it might be raining or they want to somewhere warmer than a cold church building.  So it is likely that your ministry has dropped a few people over the winter months but now is the time to start welcoming them back.  Just as the trees and plants spring to new life around this time, perhaps the ground work you do during September and October will prepare you for a growth period over December, January and February.

Here are a few common sayings in ministry and how you might need to address these at the moment:

  • People always come back to Church at Christmas: each parish has a group of Christmas and Easter Christians that you will see coming back to church this Christmas.  Whilst you might not like it but if you don’t ask then they won’t come; if you are not welcoming then they won’t stay.  Recently I heard that the biggest growth group in Australia is the unchurched who don’t love or hate the church; they just have never been asked.  We often listen to the vocal minority who are vocal about their opposition to the Church but the majority of Australians don’t hate the church; some of them will return this Christmas.
  • Vision leaks:  has your ministry grown tired and lost the energy that it had in the beginning of the year?  Whilst you might know where you are heading you need to tell the people in your ministry as the vision leaks.  Some leaders say that when you get sick of reminding people of where you are heading then people are just starting to get it.  For more on this topic check out the article, Where are you heading?
  • Good habits drop easily but take months to re-establish: perhaps you were a welcoming church at the start of the year but with no new people coming over the winter your team lost the habits associated with a welcoming church.  So in the coming months you need to re-establish these habits so that it comes naturally when the Christmas season rolls around.  For more on this check out this article, Creating a Welcoming Church.
  • Narrow the Focus: whilst you might want to stir up energy by adding new programs to excite people you probably need to narrow the focus rather than widen it.  Sometimes people get confused with where they should put their focus, as the leader you need to target one or two things for people to focus on.  Don’t bring in 50 strategies for creating a welcoming church, perhaps just work on a good greeting before the service/event and unexpected hospitality after the service or event.
  • Good branding just makes bad products fail faster: if you spend a lot of time and effort on marketing your service and events without improving them then they will only fail faster.  Some leaders wait until people turn up to start improving things, which only shows new people how bad things really are.  Improve your Sunday services and midweek events first then invite people to experience the revamp.
  • A good spring clean makes for a good summer: perhaps this is more a gardening image than a ministry one but I think it applies well here.  Some teams plan to leave all their cleaning up for the “downtime” in January but that is when you need to be taking a break and a holiday.  January is not just about your members taking a holiday, you need one as well.  Perhaps a good spring clean in September and October will bring much needed focus and energy ready for the Christmas season when people feel like coming back to church.

So whilst you might think it is too early to think about Christmas, just remember that you need to give November over to thinking about the New Year, which I will post on shortly.  If you need to start your planning for next year in October and November then it is better to start preparations for Christmas now.  Remember we are not just talking about the Christmas Service but the welcoming atmosphere that you hope comes naturally around that time.  A little bit of extra work now will reap better results for your ministry come Christmas.

Please leave a comment about how you are getting ready for the Christmas rush.

Youth Ministry and the disposable razor theory

We all know that young people are growing up in an era where new consumer products launch or are updated on a constant basis.  With the launch of the iPhone 5 last week there will be millions of consumers desperate to get of their current phone contracts just so they can have the latest phone.  In the current marketplace we see many good products relegated to the scrap heap every month just because the latest version is released.  We can trace all of this back to the theory of the disposable razor.

Traditionally a man would buy one high quality razor to shave their face every morning.  The good blades would last a lifetime, which the manufacturer thought was bad for business.  It was in the interest of the manufacturer to make blades that needed replacing so that people would have to buy more product.  Thus the creation of the disposable razor blade; a company would make more money over the long term selling thousands of cheap items than selling one high quality razor.

Fast forward through the years and we see that many products lowered their quality so that people would have to buy more products.  Many products developed component parts that needed replacing so as to sell more products; before digital cameras Kodak made more money from selling film than they did by selling cameras.  The disposable razor theory originally applied to low cost and low quality items.  In recent years the disposable or replaceable concept has been getting more and more expensive. What do people do with their old mobile phone when they buy the new iPhone 5?  When did a $700 phone become as disposable as a $2 razor blade?

Young people today want the latest technology which is totally understandable.  If I needed to buy a new phone or laptop then I would buy the best I could afford too.  However, the rate of change in consumer products is creating a transient culture where young people move from product to product without much loyalty.  Whilst the disposable razor theory was always about products it seems that it is now affecting organisations also.  Sporting clubs find it harder to keep junior players for more than a few seasons.  Scouting groups find it hard to attract young people because it asks for a weekly commitment rather than random participation.

In the Church we too are affected by the transient culture emerging in young people.  The Church is just one organisation dealing with the rate of change in our culture.  Perhaps like some other organisations we have been caught out ‘selling’ the same products in a marketplace that wants change.  If young people update their phone every two years, is it unreasonable to think that they expect some change in their church experience every two years?  If the fashion and music scene changes every six months is it unreasonable to think that young people might expect the look and feel of their church experience to change every six months?

I don’t think anybody ever thought that the disposable razor theory would ever apply to the Church, is it possible that this is what we are now seeing in youth and young adult ministries?  Is it possible that young people are so used to the rate of change that they expect change all around them?  So what should we do about this in our churches and ministries? If we look at Apple, they win the customer by changing the product.  We can’t change the Gospel, but that is not the ‘product’ that we are selling.  We are selling programs and activities in order to win people to Christ.

In our ministries, perhaps we should think about the packaging of our message and line up some ‘disposable razors’.  Here are a few examples:

  • A short course on a topic that is the hottest issue within the community
  • A few camp options within the year from overnighters to week long camps.
  • Opportunities to visit other churches for guest speakers or worship nights
  • Change the theme every school term
  • Have two to three options for high schoolers rather than one youth group for Year 7-12.

Yes this is harder for the youth and young adult ministry but can we really bury our head in the sand and keep everything static?  If we don’t make our programs the disposable razors the risk is that Jesus becomes the disposable razor and young people move onto another spirituality.  We can keep doing what we have always been doing or we can decide to work with young people as they are developing.

My hope is that together we can improve our ministry to youth and young adult to see more ‘customers’ being won to Christ.  If Apple are able to keep winning loyal customers then surely we need to as well, perhaps we need to be a bit more thoughtful in how we can win loyal followers of Christ.

Please leave a comment

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