Sunday, October 31, 2010

First-time Guest

Today, the Jennings family worshipped in Boone, Iowa.  I was invited to be the guest preacher for their Consecration Celebration.  I noticed that Nathan didn't go up for the Children's Time.  In the car on the way home, I asked Nathan why he didn't go and his answer was very telling.

Nathan said, "Well, it was my first time there and I didn't know what to expect.  Next time we go to church there, I'll go up."

This is how I imagine most folks feel when they come to a new church for the first time.  I know that I feel the same way when I go somewhere I haven't been before, and it always helps when I know what to expect or can go with someone else.

I've seen some creative devices employed by churches to minimize the discomfort that comes with the unknown. Some put pictures of their entrances on their websites.  Some will put images of their worship on their sites.  I really like it when churches put video tours on their sites, with snippets of the music, the preaching, and the congregation worshipping so that potential guests can get a good feel of what they might experience when they come.

While these devices are great, nothing can beat the human element.  A vast majority of people visit a church for the first time after being invited by someone they know.  Inviting someone is the best way to reach out to new people and when you invite someone, that is the perfect time to tell them what they might expect.  Tell them what you wear to church.  Tell them what style of music they'll hear.  Tell them that they are welcome to participate in every part of the service, including communion.  Tell them what is available for their children.  Tell them why you go to this church.   This will alleviate their anxiety about coming for the first time.

But don't stop there.  Offer to pick them up, or meet them at a specific time in the parking lot and walk them in.  Introduce them to people so they'll know someone there besides you.  Introduce them to your pastor.

It doesn't end when the service is over.  Go to lunch and talk about the experience.  Give them an opportunity to ask questions.  Invite them to come again.

Help them to feel welcome before, during, and after worship.  Maybe this will help them to come back again and participate in the things they just weren't sure about the first time.

Practice your faith every day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Church Family Photo Album

Starting tomorrow, the people of Christ Community Church in Marion will be getting their pictures taken for a photo directory.  This seems like a simple thing, doesn't it?  Who knew it would be such a production.  Actually, the process is pretty easy.  But getting people to agree to get their picture taken has been anything but.

It's just a picture, right?  Maybe it's not that simple.  Several people asked if they could just submit a picture they have already had taken.  But copyright issues mean that releases have to be signed if the pictures aren't snapshots.  Then there is a matter of formatting.  And most significant for me, anyway, is that submitted pictures look out of place in a church directory.

I suspect that the reason this has been so hard is because people don't like having their picture taken.  This comes from the insecurities we all have about ourselves.  We don't like our hair (not my issue).  We don't like our body shape.  We don't like our double chins.  We don't like our smile.  Whatever it is, when we look at our own picture, we see nothing but flaws, most of which no one else sees.  At least with a picture that has already been taken, we can limit the things we don't like.

But pictures of us are for us.  They are for other people.  They are for the people who know us or want to know us.  Directory pictures are for the people in your church who like you despite the flaws you see in your picture.  They are for new people to figure out who they were talking to at the coffee station when they forget your name.  They aren't you.  They are a representation of you so that people can know what you look like.

In a way, this is one of the roles of Jesus.  Jesus was God in human form, not for God to see what He would look like as a human, but for us to see God and to know what God looks like.  Relating to God is much easier with the life and teachings of Jesus.  Sure, it may be just a snapshot of God, but it helps.

Thank you for having your image captured in Jesus, God.

Thank you for having your image captured on paper, Church.

Practice your faith every day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Tonight at the Make a Difference Tour, Max Lucado said that when we worship, we are feeling God's muscles, feeling His strength, which makes us stronger.  I like that.  It's especially true when you are with thousands of people worshipping at a concert with TobyMac, Third Day, Jason Gray, and Michael W. Smith.

But as great as the music was, and as great as it was being there, I found myself at several points looking for the people of Christ Community Church, who were in a few different places in the arena.  I wasn't sitting with them, but I was still with them as I enjoyed the show.  I also saw several people that I knew, including Stan Wierson, who mentored me into ministry.  Somehow, the concert was better because all of these people I knew were there to share the experience.

I think this is true for much of life.  Experiencing life with others is what makes the journey more joyous during the great parts, and more bearable through the tough parts.

Part of tonight's experience was an invitation to sponsor children through WorldVision.  At the Pastors' dinner before the concert, we were asked to have a Make a Difference Weekend at our churches.  If you would like to sponsor a child, you will have the opportunity to sign up in December.

Practice your faith every day.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

face time

Technology can make things possible.  Today, I went to a meeting in Des Moines without ever leaving Cedar Rapids.  Web-conferencing isn't new, but it isn't used much in the United Methodist Church in Iowa.  But since the meeting was about the communications ministry, it makes sense that we would use this communication tool.

We spent a great portion of the meeting discussing social media, like Facebook and Twitter, as well as web pages and email.  Christ Community United Methodist Church has a Facebook fan page and I have a Twitter account.  I am past Twitter.  I think it has largely become an advertising tool.  I think that the fan page has great potential for ministry.  In today's world, if we don't use these tools, then we are missing out on opportunities to reach people for Christ.  I embrace these tools.  I only wish I used them more effectively.

If you know me, then you aren't surprised by these revelations.  What might surprise you is that even though I attended this meeting via the web, I prefer face-to-face meetings.  I chose this option because of travel time and expense.  And as far as the technology has progressed, there are still great limitations.  It is harder to read expressions.  It is harder to gauge when it is acceptable to speak.  And it is harder to stay focused.

So today, I tried something new.  I drove to my friend's office, set up my laptop, and we attended the meeting together.  We had a great time with side conversations and we got to eat lunch together, instead of alone at our desks.

We are built to be in relationships, that's how God made us.  That is why Facebook is so popular.  On Facebook, I can stay connected with people from high school that I have seen for years.  I can reconnect with people that I went to Summer Games with.  From the very beginning, we have been connected to others.

This is one reason why we need church.  Sure we can have a relationship with God without being in the presence of others, but it was never intended to be this way.  People have gathered together to worship since the beginning.  It is still important for us to gather to worship.  There is more energy, more passion,  in community than there is alone.

As we find new ways to connect across the distance, it is important for us to remember that nothing will replace face time.

Practice your faith every day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

getting started

Moving to a new place can be hard.  Think back to a time when you moved to a new place.  Remember how hard it was to leave the place you had grown to love?  Remember how hard it was to feel like this new place was home?  It takes awhile to get established in a place: to find a favorite coffee shop, restaurant, mechanic, hair stylist (well maybe not for me), not to mention making friends and finding a church.

Wendy and I have been in Marion for a little more than a year.  It didn't take long for us to know that this was the place God was calling us to, we knew that right away.  This year has been great for us.  That being said, we are still feeling our way around.  We don't know where every thing is.  We don't know the quaint little spots in Marion and Cedar Rapids.  We don't know when all the festivals are, or which ones are worth going to.  We would love for people to tell us these things.

How would someone new to Marion know about the gem that is Stone City and how great the General Store is for dinner?  We went a couple of weekends ago and enjoyed the turning of the leaves around the river that Grant Wood painted.  The General Store was a great surprise.  The staff was friendly.  The atmosphere was cozy and interesting.  The food was excellent.  I kept thinking that I wanted to take my parents there the next time they visit.  And at the end of the meal, the waitress brought marshmallows to make s'mores.  Bonus!

It's the little things that you love that people need to hear about.  Share your great experiences with people.

This is especially true with your church.  Christ Community Church is a great place to make connections and to find a church family, but whose going to know that unless you tell them?  How are they going to know they are welcome unless you ask them to come?

Help people get started in their new community.  Give them great info about the hidden gems in the community, like a great place to eat or a great place to worship.  Better yet, offer to take them with you next time you go.

Thank you for making us feel welcome.

Practice your faith every day.