Measuring your ministry will help to increase its impact
I’m a numbers guy. I love to challenge people with goals we can measure. So when God called the Rock Church to be “first responders” in sharing God’s love in the community, naturally I looked for ways to measure our success.
First, some background. I started the Rock Church in San Diego in 2000. By God’s grace it has grown to be the city’s largest, averaging 12,500 worshippers each Sunday. With that comes some incredible opportunities and challenges. The biblical stances we have taken on politically charged debates sometimes put the Rock in opponents’ cross hairs. But they also open doors to ministry and to relationships with community leaders.
San Diego County is approximately the size of the state of Connecticut. Like many regions in the United States these days, we’re facing serious budget cuts and reduced services. Likewise, the city of San Diego, the eighth largest in the U.S., is hurting. One out of every 10 people are without work, and more than 12 percent live below the poverty line.
We need to equip young adults to help change their world
I am the product of spiritual genetic engineering. God has placed a passion inside of me to see global change through young people.
Never in history have we been faced with these demographics—60 percent of young people live in Asia and 90 percent of the world’s youth live in developing nations. These countries are part of what’s known as the 10/40 Window—a geographical region that is the most densely populated and yet the least evangelized.
Young adults worldwide are facing horrific issues, which we must confront. The average age of human trafficking victims is between 10-18, and 60 percent of those rescued from brothels in South Asia are infected with HIV. Approximately 1 million youth and children are sold into the sex industry annually.
Those, as young as age 5, are being recruited and forced to serve in combat in nearly 50 wars worldwide. Child labor is another concern in developing countries. Forced labor threatens the physical, emotional and mental well-being, as well as the proper development of a child. The International Labor Organization estimates that 215 million children, as young as age 5, have been forced to work in order to pay off the debts of their parents.
Seek the best for your community and see your influence grow
Imagine a church of 850 in attendance winning nearly 2,000 people to the Lord in the space of just 12 months. In addition, imagine that church being featured in Charisma magazine as one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation. Imagine this church had been stuck at a plateau for over three years. Sound unimaginable? That’s exactly what happened to my church in 2009-2010.
When our church was at a plateau, I become weary in attempting to motivate my congregation to regularly evangelize. Some responded, but I didn’t get the results I was looking for. I couldn’t understand why most wouldn’t or just didn’t. I needed a unique strategy for our house.
First, I began to focus on increasing their love quotient. I believe evangelism flows best out of a heart overflowing with love for the Lord. So, I talked more about God’s attributes and personality—attempting to cause their hearts to soar. I motivated the church to focus on intense prayer, asking the Lord to mark each heart with His presence.
We must be carriers of Jesus’ presence to a dark, broken world
Recently, we partnered with local leaders and organizations by opening the first Dream Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.,a free medical clinic for women who are underinsured or uninsured.
The small clinic space was given to us and sits right across from the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) office, where the poorest families in our city go to apply for food stamps. This is the first of many ministries we plan to open. Soon, we want to have a home for single parents who are afraid to come out of the shadows of homelessness for fear of losing their children to the foster system. We also plan to open homes for kids who are too old for the foster system and have no families.
We are not doing this out of guilt or to be trendy or popular. We are certainly not out to prove to the world that we really are nice people despite the caricatures of Christians.
Why Jesus wasn’t big on asking unbelievers to follow Him to church
Growing up, I was not too interested in church or religion. When I became a teenager, I was invited a few times by Christian classmates to attend their church youth group activities and Bible studies. I was pretty good at saying no. I was not ready to dive into their world. However, I couldn’t keep them from diving into mine.
I am forever grateful that Ron Musselman, the First Presbyterian youth pastor, did not just invite me into his church world; he jumped into my not-so-churchy world. Ron engaged my culture and my community because I was not interested in engaging his.
Jesus gave the greatest demonstration of engaging culture and community when He left the streets of gold in heaven to walk the dirt roads of the Roman Empire. Showing up was just the beginning. While here, He was the expert at engaging all types of cultures and communities that were disenfranchised by the religious elite.
If we don’t pray, how will we really know what God has for us?
Passionate spiritual zeal is one of the most important, evident qualities of having an authentic relationship with God. It is key to our witness. It is vital to moving His church forward. Passionate Christianity should be the norm for every believer—not the exception. Our spiritual passion should be something we fight to protect.
It has been through times of drawing closer to God through prayer and fasting that I have received some of the most precise, specific direction for my own life, my family and our church. Without fail, each time I fast I look back in amazement at what God has done in my heart and what He has revealed to me, and I wonder, What if I had not fasted? I would have missed out on what God had for me and our church.
The first 10 years of my ministry at Celebration Church felt like life with Jesus in the fast lane. I ran so hard and so fast. My relationship with God was great, but the church grew so rapidly I had to sprint to keep up. I suppose it’s OK to be in the fast lane, but it is so important to ensure we are making regular stops along the way to get alone with God. If not, the other voices, business and pressures of ministry crowd out the voice of God.
Could you be pursuing the right ministry for the wrong reasons?
I have come to love the people of the Hawaiian islands in the 27 years since we planted New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu. The warmth of the Aloha spirit in the islanders wonderfully complements the islands’ perfect temperatures. A unique blend of nationalities and languages here creates some of the most beautiful people on the globe.
Yet, at the start, much of my love was a choice. I didn’t always live here. I received my education and early experience in ministry in the Pacific Northwest. But it was a love for the island people that compelled us to come here and stay here. And no matter where I travel, that love has never left.
Love for people, even love for an area of the country, is mandatory for a church to succeed. A church God loves to bless is one that loves the people in its community as well as its call to reach them.
How we can remember ‘the forgotten’ among us, even as our churches grow
But He needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). In Jesus’ time, Samaria represented a land of cultural difference and prejudice for many Jews—a land they’d rather go around. I believe our cities and towns too have “a land we’d rather go around.” Jesus’ conviction was clear: He had to go through Samaria. And I believe that as His body, so must we.
For years I felt I had nothing to offer people unlike me. Because of my upper-middle-class upbringing and the fact that I pastored a church full of people who looked like me, I was led to believe that I was incapable of being used by God to make an impact in a different cultural context in our city.
The key lies in knowing how to develop strong leaders
Strong, healthy small-group ministries succeed because they develop strong, healthy small-group leaders. So, naturally, one of the top concerns ministry leaders have is how to develop strong group leaders. How can you be sure they’ll lead well? What will slow down the turnover rate? How do you get more people to lead?
Healthy leaders are empowered leaders. Empowered leaders are trained for success and entrusted with authority.
I'm a big believer in tapping into freelancers because hiring them often means matching the best talent to the right project. Full-time creative people are nice to have on the team, but many ministries can't afford the luxury. Here are some things I've learned through the years:
Nine keys to building a dynamic team of volunteer communicators
Corporate consultant Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great about the principle “First Who, Then What” and how it applies to teamwork. When building teams, Collins says, our responsibility as leaders should be to get the right people on the bus—and the right people off the bus—and then determine where the bus is headed.
This is the case when building a church communications team. This group, often powered by volunteers, is central to telling the story of a church community through its weekend services, special events, environmental design, print pieces, community outreach, online sites and more.
Consider these nine principles as foundations that will help you work with and build volunteers for your church’s communication team.
1. Match strengths, not availability. Just because someone is available to help out doesn’t mean it will result in someone helping you out. So what if they know how to use Photoshop. The question is, do they know how to use it in a way that results in outcomes you are expecting? Always look to match the strengths of a volunteer, not the availability of a volunteer.
2. Remember reciprocity. Volunteers are volunteering because they get something in return. It may sound selfish, but it’s just the way we’re wired. Whether it’s in the form of satisfaction, a free meal, kudos, recognition, promotion or just smiles, the concept of reciprocity is alive and well.
Don’t forget this, because when you know what volunteers are looking for, you can better help them obtain it.
3. Realistic expectations. Be realistic about the expectations you have for volunteers. Expect too little and you’ll never cause them to rise to the challenge. Expect too much and they’ll feel like they failed you. Communicate upfront what you’re expecting and give them opportunity to respond.
4. Spend more time on the front end. The more time you spend upfront talking through the project or outcomes, the more the volunteer will feel enfranchised and enabled. The more we sow upfront, the more we reap on the other side.
5. Educate, enfranchise, empower. Educate volunteers on everything you can about your project or expected outcomes. Graft them into the team that, with their help, is part of making this project happen. Give them the tools they need to accomplish your expectations.
6. Seek out the troublemakers. Consider the volunteers who don’t always play by the rules; the ones who test the limits; the ones who color outside the lines; the ones who talk back a little; the ones who require a little extra faith on your part to let go.
7. Hire strength, manage weakness. I employ people for their strengths, knowing I’ll have to manage around their weaknesses. For example, the insane project manager who is not so great with people: I’m hiring her project-management skills, and I know I’ll have to work with and around her deficient people skills. The same goes for volunteers—recruit their strengths and work around their weaknesses.
8. It’s OK to fire them. Isn’t it funny how we often have a harder time firing volunteers than we do paid staff? It’s OK to let volunteers go, to transition them, to move them out.
9. Be thankful (with gifts, cards and more). You never can thank volunteers enough. From throwing them celebration dinners to giving them gifts and cards, go overboard in expressing appreciation for your volunteers.
Brad Abare is the director of communications for the Foursquare denomination, founder of the Center for Church Communication (cfcclabs.org), and president of Personality.
I’m embarrassed to admit how often I forget one of the most basic communication principles: Know your audience. It’s easy to take this principle for granted, especially if you communicate to your audience regularly. Here are nine things I’ve learned that may serve as reminders to you.
1. Create people-cards. Ad agencies do this all the time. Profile your audience with by using real data and research, and then create posters or cards for a few of the people who represent the overall audience you’ve profiled. Hang these in front of your writers, designers, creators and others who work on your products so that they always have those people in mind when they communicate.
2. Conduct surveys and polls. This is as easy as using Web sites such as SurveyMonkey.com, PollMonkey.com or MyChurchSurvey.com. These sites make it possible for you to get feedback from different groups of people. The more you know about who you are communicating with, the better you get at communicating.
3. Communicate so the audience will understand. Often when I speak at events, I tell the story of Robert E. Lee, the famous Civil War general. He never sent a communiqué to his generals before first asking a private to read it. The private had to read the letter and then restate in his own words what the call to action was. If the private didn’t get it right, Lee would rewrite it until the communication was perfectly clear.
4. Immerse yourself in your audience. Watch the shows they watch. Play the games they play. Eat what they eat. Read what they read. The more you understand their lives, the better you will know how to connect with their realities. This is not about compromising your character or unique personality but about understanding theirs.
5. Anticipate their future. Don’t get caught up just in what they’re doing now; anticipate where they will be in a few weeks, months and years. When you know where they’re going, you can arrive early and be waiting.
6. Translate accurately. Pay attention to how your message is being translated into other languages. Even popular ad slogans have been translated inappropriately. The famous “Got milk?” phrase was translated in some Latino markets as “Are you lactating?” Perdue Farms ran a campaign years ago that claimed, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken.” When translated it became, “It takes a sexually aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.” If Coca-Cola can figure out how to communicate to the other side of the world, certainly your church can communicate to the people across the street.
7. Be one of them. Shadow a few people from your profiles (see No. 1). Follow them for a day from morning to night.
8. Observe their behavior. This is the opposite of immersing yourself in what they do. Instead of doing what they do, observe how they interact with what they do. See what makes them cry, what makes them laugh. What scares them? What moves them to action?
9. Direct your communication to the people in the middle. Don’t always aim your communication at the masses by trying to capture or engage everyone. Go for the people in the middle, the largest representation, and target them. When you try to reach everyone, you reach no one. When you try for someone, you can reach many.
Brad Abare is the director of communications for the Foursquare denomination and founder of the Center for Church Communication (cfcclabs.org).
In a skeptical world, authentic worship matters more than you may think
As a young pastor in training, I heard my father-in-law, the late John Osteen, tell an interesting story about a businessman who brought one of his attorney friends to church. The businessman was concerned the worship might be too exuberant for this dignified attorney. Sure enough, the person who worshiped beside them was very expressive. The businessman was certain his friend would be turned off by this.
Yet his friend’s comment after the service took him by surprise: “Please tell me what motivated that man to offer God such passionate praise. If I thought a relationship with God would bring me a reason to praise God like that, then I’d be interested in becoming a Christian.”
My father-in-law’s story both intrigued and inspired me. I knew I wanted to build an authentic church someday that could effectively reach mainstream America. I wanted the church I led to convince everyday people to open their hearts to God’s presence and power.
Yet I knew how skeptical they were. I also knew the answer to their skepticism needed to be more than theological; it had to be experiential too. And I knew that God wanted to do immeasurably more than all I asked or imagined according to His power that was at work in me (see Eph. 3:20).
Even today, I have not lost sight of this two-sided coin. How do we bring everyday people into an authentic relationship with God that inspires passionate praise? In our smaller city, we have found success with two simple concepts: relationship and relevance.
We like to say at Faith Family that “we hope to be the perfect church for people who aren’t.” We want to make it clear to people that God really doesn’t demand righteousness of us; rather, He develops it within us for our own good.
Jesus described God as a wise and merciful Father with arms open wide. But so many in our society don’t see Him that way. Instead, they see Him as the God who points an accusing finger at their weakness.
Fifteen years ago Sylvia came to our church. All we could tell about her initially was she was an attractive, single woman in her late 20s. But behind closed doors, she lived with a broken heart. Later she told me the only reason she stayed in our church the first year was because she loved learning the life-enhancing truths. She never planned on living fully devoted to God as those she saw around her were. After all, she was a lesbian and figured God was upset with her, not in love with her.
As she sat in church that year, something changed in her heart. She began to understand that God is a loving Father. I wept as she explained to me how in her prayer closet one day, she asked God to help her come out of the closet and into His arms. She asked Him to help her become a happy wife and mother. And that’s exactly what she is today: a happy wife and mother of three passionately praising God among us.
She’s also a leader in our church who has helped many people receive healing from a troubled past. She is known for her ability to repair and rebuild people who are seeking God.
As I watch her worshiping in our congregation, I rejoice in the heart of Father God who didn’t say to Adam after his sin, “What have you done?” but rather, “Where are you?” God knew glorious, redemptive blessings follow the understanding that He wants to construct people, not condemn them. Let’s help our world know it!Jim Graff is the senior pastor of Faith Family Church in Victoria, Texas, and founder of Significant Church Network (significantchurch.com).