Archive for Observations

Reaching Millennials (5 of 5)

5. Show a Willingness to Change

We will never be ready to embrace change. When we force the change, we will stir up resentment and anger. Why? Change usually happens when we aren’t enough prime for change. We can convince ourselves that proposed change needs to be close to perfect before we pull the trigger.

G.K. Chesterton was a Believer who often debated writer and atheist George Bernard Shaw during WWI. Once when Shaw was attacking the lack of love from Christians, Chesterton made the point that all Believers are on a journey and learning as we move forward.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” – G.K. Chesterton

A church that attracts the millennial generation is one that is teachable and willing to change, even when the details aren’t complete. If we wait till we have all the answers or even clear plan for success with change, we’ll likely never even start down the path.

The message the church sometimes sends, “When this or that happens, then we will be ready for the change.” Guess what – we will never be perfectly ready for a change. It’s understandable that the Old-timers in a congregation especially resist change. They’re dead set on avoiding the discomfort of getting out onto the thin branches.

I’ve heard ditty “The older you become, the wiser you will be.” For the most part, the truth is “The older you grow, the more careful you become.”

Take a risk. It’s almost a guarantee that we will raise the ire of some who are defensive about any tinkering with the church they seem to own. Those already here is their “Church family” as they see it, and you don’t want to mess with someone’s church family. Research, as well as experience, tells us that it’s not possible to be in the family of any sort that is larger than about a dozen. Anger that comes from the old guard stems from the fear that they will not be comfortable any longer – which might be partly accurate. They want to be part of the group they’ve grown close and the predictability. As well, they like being a big fish in a little pond.

If you want to help these folks, smile and show them patience. Point them to the fruit that is coming as God opens to people like them who were once new once upon a time.

When we embrace change with a smile on our faces, they will be more likely to cooperate with the new thing – the new atmosphere – that God is building.

Bonus Tip: Fun, fun, fun!

God has built into all of our hearts the desire to embrace life with joy. The Westminster Catechism nails it down in a sentence:

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” — Westminster Catechism 1.1 & 1.2

Some in this generation have decided that to fit into the Christian world, they need to become angry. I know that was the message I heard from well-intentioned veteran Believers.

God’s presence creates an atmosphere that creates the best party imaginable. When we take ourselves too seriously, we destroy the feel of a party and can create a funeral service. I figured out that no one is looking for a funeral. They’ve had enough of that during their week.

When we take ourselves too seriously, we will likely kill the party that God wants to build. I’ve found there are ways to redo parts of the typical Sunday service. For example, at the end of worship, instead of going through the robotic words of, “Say hi to your neighbor” mix things up with non-religious ways to accomplish the same thing.

Try this – Turn to your neighbor and say, “I’m getting hungry. I hope doesn’t thing doesn’t run too long.” They will laugh and even with more enthusiasm connect with those around them.

A church with momentum has the feel of a party – the opposite of a funeral service. People are in a desperate search for healing and encouragement.

Funerals don’t change people. They just make them even more miserable than the way they came in. Positive parties bring encouragement, joy, and even healing.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” —Plato

Sometimes a good way to start this change is to adopt a motto. Here’s one of mine –

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is… fun!” (2 Cor. 3:17, KJV)

Reaching Millennials (1 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (2 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (3 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (4 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (4 of 5)

4. Lead and Challenge New Behaviors

This generation isn’t just willing to be challenged – they nearly demand it. A significant part of their mentality is they want to make the world better than they found it, whether their focus is on the environment, or putting an end to bullying. They are just waiting for the call to action to jump into a life of influence, particularly when it comes to learning to love the people around them. Their requirement is that you take the role of a “Lead goose” in the V-formation. Where you go, they will follow. It’s a doing thing, not a talking one.

Call them to change the world with you, not for you.

Provide them with simple, doable tools that will get it done. One that I’ve seen work incredibly well is going into the community to reach out to those in need (I like that term versus “The weak” – using the first gives room for change. Just because they are needy now that’s not a category they will live in all their lives).

It’s easiest to begin outreach to these folks.

Even if your knees are shaking from fear, they will be thankful and show you their love.

Reaching out is as simple as bagging up some sacks of groceries. Recruit, a couple of friends. Find an area where people seem like they might need some food or know of a neighbor who does. I usually say, “Do you know of anyone around here who could use some groceries?” I learned to say it this way after blowing it by asking, “Are you poor?” Like I said above, even though I was goofy, they thanked me profusely. There is an excellent communication network among people in need – far better than suburbanites. If they need the groceries, they will let you know. Otherwise, they will point you down the street. When you connect with someone who needs the groceries, spend a little bit of time with them. Ask them if they could use some prayer. They will always have a prayer issue. Then pray on the spot. When millennial folks do this even once, they will be lit.

Coming soon: Part 5

Reaching Millennials (1 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (2 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (3 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (3 of 5)

3. Build an Accepting Community

Pastors who lead congregations that feel “Stuck” – no sense of momentum, resistance to any new idea or direction.

In conversations with dozens of pastors and leaders, I hear the same sentiments.

“We are a very loving congregation, but no matter what we do, we have no momentum.”

After sitting in on some of their services, it seems right that their group is loving. On the other hand, those congregations are usually dug in and unwilling to upset what is already there.

Sometimes I’ve followed up on a list of their recent visitors to ask how they felt in visiting the church and if they will likely return. More often than not they too picked up on the love between members, but they didn’t feel love aimed at them. One couple said they felt “invisible” among the people. Acceptance goes beyond the required, “Turn to your neighbor and say hi” at the end of the worship.

When you go into the community to bring God’s kindness, you send an invitation stop by and check it out. Ask yourself (and detractors who might put fear into the mix) by saying something like, “If we open the doors too widely, who knows what sorts of people would show up – and bring in their problems here.” It is easy to justify attitudes and situations that stink, and that will cocoon us from being soiled by new people.

I usually ask them, “‘I hear your concern.’ How about this question, ‘Who isn’t welcome here?’ Here’s another one that goes with the first. ‘How long does it take for someone to change? As far as I can tell, it’s God who does the heavy lifting when it comes to hearts breaking. Our job is to love them and accept them as they come to us.’ Remember – acceptance isn’t the same as approval.’”

Every couple of weeks, at the end of services I usually ask the congregation to invite some others out to lunch. Usually, three individuals or couples are easier than just two. The new person will be more likely to say yes to dinner with three than two.

I suggest they take the new people out to lunch on their dime and maybe get them a burrito “that’s as big are your head” to give them a touch of the generosity they need to show. It’s amazing what can happen over a 45-minute lunch, even at Taco Bell (if that’s more in line with your budget).

Coming soon:4-5

Reaching Millennials (1 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (2 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (2 of 5)

2. Outward Focus on Loving the City

Millennials are not just open to being outward toward the world around them; they are also open to the possibility of failure. Unlike most, they are willing to take the risk.

Possible failure isn’t something we naturally embrace at any age, but the younger we are, the less we are concerned with it. No matter the typical age of a congregation, if we hope to reach Millennials we need to take more risks. The tendency of established churches is to avoid danger in the least.

Risk-adverse churches will fail to draw the majority of Millennials. On the other hand, those that are willing to take a chance at possible failure are the ones that this generation will be magnetic to them.

Congregations that insist on playing it safe are the least likely to tinker with what they already have in place – what feels safe.

  • Their image
  • Money
  • Time
  • Enthusiasm

It doesn’t have to be that way forever. We can change to become a church that draws Millennials.

  • By investing money with less regard for what might happen
  • By talking/teaching about it without it bearing fruit
  • By recruiting many in the congregation
  • By training leaders who join up but don’t stick with it
  • By the current leaders begin to do what they want the rest of the flock to do
  • By being willing to look possibly dumb by the critics

To begin to reach regularly out a congregation needs simple and realistic tools that will allow them to get to work. Anyone wants to see a return from the seed they plant. Mainly they just need practical tools that will enable them to get to work.

An easy outreach project to begin with that is likely to succeed is the “One-dollar Carwash.”

  • Set up some sign holders/cheerleaders to draw cars.
  • Go to the trouble of getting professional vinyl signs – you will communicate excellence. In future outreaches, they will still look great.
  • Have an array of washers to do different parts of the car. The introverts don’t need to risk talking to drivers. We can do that by walking through some new doors. Put a couple of enthused, friendly outgoing people who find it easy to connect with drivers.
  • Put a “Designated Evangelist” in place to explain what you are doing. When they go to pay for the wash, tell them, “Oh, you don’t understand. We pay you for the privilege of serving you with this.”

I often ask if I can pray for them for ten seconds. Of the hundreds I have offered prayer to, only two have turned me down so far. That shows a bit of the spiritual hunger of most people. Sometimes people tear up. Of course, we get questions. The three most common are: “Where do you meet?”, “Do you have something for kids?” and, most telling, “How long do your services last?” (Gulp!) Most can’t imagine giving more than an hour to a service.

Coming soon:3-5

Reaching Millennials (1 of 5)

Reaching Millennials (1 of 5)

There is no magic to reaching the Millennial generation. On the other hand, if we hope to get them, we simply need to do and be what God’s word has called us to be about all along.

Sometimes working with Millennials is about as frustrating as trying to use Jello as a baseball. The truth is they are not just a gift to your church. They are even the strongest booster rocket you can desire.

They call us to think through what we want to see. As you look this over realize a couple of matters. These are descriptions of the sorts of churches that Millennials will consider joining.

As you read these over, resist the trap of “Cognitive dissonance” – that is, the tendency to assume the best about what we are doing, even when our image is far from reality. This confusion is more prevalent in the church world than any other.

When we begin to make changes those already in our church usually resist – even to the point of threatening to leave or even worse, to stir up others to leave because all of the sudden “My” church has changed to a different direction.

1. Be Generous with Money

In the eyes of many Millennials, the church seems to exist mainly to for self-perpetuation. More than their predecessors, they live out the line “Put your money where your mouth is.”

To reshape that assumption, let’s be known for our extravagant generosity. Let’s even go so far as to be willing to nearly “Squander” money on the world around us. All hyperbole aside, let’s drop any caution and now define ourselves as incredibly giving without being overly concerned with that self-interest mindset.

The Orthodox Jewish Bible uses the word “Generous” to describe one of the marks of the fruit of the Spirit in Ephesians chapter 5. When we show generosity, we establish credibility. As we go into the community to give away bottles of water at a stoplight, sometimes people ask how we can afford to pay for all of this.

“Oh, we pay for it out of our offerings. We can’t help but spend a lot of money in our community to bring the same love that Jesus showed in his day.”

“But how do you cover all the expenses your church needs if you give so much away?”

“We see the city is worth investing in – worth showing love by serving. We believe that if Jesus were walking around town today, he’d being doing this sort of thing.”

As we loosen our grip on funds, our reputation as a giving church will begin to spread like a life-giving tsunami. As it was with Jesus, when we get into the community “Advertising” will take care of bringing all the attention we need to notice and experience God’s tsunami, his love, attention, and acceptance, they will start to “Gossip the Gospel.”

When we start to flow with God’s generosity, we are merely opening the door for our people to do what has already been in their hearts.

When it comes to outreach to the needy, pantries are good, but don’t let that be the limit of your outreach. Sometimes those with the greatest needs can’t get to any pantry without a lot of difficulties. Jesus reached out to the poor in a variety of ways. The most common way Jesus reached out was to meet needs as he ran across them.

Invest a given percentage of the congregation’s income back out into the community. A smart way to begin is to commit to percentage giving. If you already have required portions, you are expected to pay – tithes to the denomination, the denomination’s requirement to foreign missions, etc. You can negotiate those percentages.

Coming soon: 2 – 5

8.5 of My Favorite Mistakes of 2015

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

– G. K. Chesterton


I take a bit of time at the end of each year to take an honest, deep look into how the year gone by has gone. I group these together as “Mistakes” that are as positive as possible – I try to see them as stepping stones going into the new year.

As much as I know that my memorable mistakes will lead to learning opportunities that will propel me into the coming year.

I tend to have short-term memory problems with what I learned in previous years. It is important that I take a to heart the AA saying that launches the 12 Steps.

“I choose to take a fearless, moral inventory” of how things have gone, where they are now, and where I hope they will go from here.

It is easy to fall into the opposite belief of the Chesterton quote above.

We can fall into the false belief that a successful life is built on the appearance of outward success. Jesus’ hand picked mentees, the Twelve, make it clear that God sees mistakes as key elements that will lead to personal growth and spiritual health.

Why call them my “Favorite” mistakes? These are the ones that have taught me the most over the past year. Without mistakes we won’t have traction we need in order to move forward. Mistakes are the rough surface that allows us to grip the wall in front of us.

Unless we make some great mistakes, we are destined to stay stuck in the ditch we’ve built from the false belief that perfection is the goal. The only difference between a ditch and a grave is the depth of each.

We tend to run from our mistakes – treat mistakes as though they were a sign of our incompetence.

We tend to hide our mistakes from our for fear they will categorize us as incompetent or immature. If others see our mistakes that draw that conclusion they need to rethink their view of an effective life versus one that only looks successful on the surface.

These are my “Favorite” mistakes of 2015. Believe it or not I had to pare my list down in order that this post won’t become too lengthy! As you read through these a button or two might connect with you and maybe even help you see more clearly about your life. Read More

Are You Really Outwardly Focused?

outward-focusedHave you noticed that the U.S. Church tends to go through trends every now and then? Books are written, conferences are held, programs come and go and the voices of experts in these areas rise to prominence.

When these trends flow, we are naturally excited about the possibility of these manifesting around us, We dream about what it would be like to walk in that reality right now, but the dream world and the real world aren’t one and same.

When there was a lot of hoopla about worship, I helped a church that was doing “Contemporary” worship but failed to connect with their community around them in Pasadena. They were baffled that they weren’t connecting with younger families, even through there was no shortage of those around them.

But I discovered that their worship song rotation included a number of Gaither Band songs. I like the Gaithers as much as the next person. I even have a song or two of theirs in my iTunes collection, but to call their songs contemporary is big stretch.

Currently the trend moving through the Church is a return to the importance of outreach, and I couldn’t be more enthused! As I see it, this is the core of any other practice. Jesus modeled outwardness above all else. Again the question boils down to “Are we really pulling off outreach, or are we just excited about the importance of it? Is it a goal we celebrate at conferences, or is it a current reality?”

What are we to do? Let’s live differently, strategically and begin to walk it out. As the motto of this site goes, “Making the dangerous doable.” Let’s move toward some dangerous but doable stuff together.

How do we pull that off? That’s a longer discussion than we can have today, and that’s exactly what this site is about. We will have scads of discussions here down the road, but today let’s kick it off with a couple of practical assignments.

  1. Commit to the work it will take. I’m lazy by nature, and I’m in good company. When we are lazy it is easy to fall prey to living in a fantasy world. Do what it takes to sweat. As the Army saying goes, “No one ever drown in sweat.”
  2. Resist the temptation to advertise until you’ve practiced it. If you are like me it’s tough to resist plugging a book you like even before you’ve finished reading it. If you are a visionary you’ve probably pulled that one off a time or two. It’s good to be enthused, just hold on to your hat until you have finished it. When you begin to reach out keep it on the quiet side at first. Don’t wave the flag more than your experience can support. Do outreach with a handful of others and as you learn and have fun, then begin to spontaneously share your stories one on one before you broadcast them to the entire congregation.
  3. Start small Great things have small beginnings. That’s biblical and that’s the pattern of church history. Small starts are not the mark of failure by any means, rather they are usually the mark of assembling a runway for God’s Spirit to land with his presence in a big way.


How To Pastor During the Holidays… After the Loss of a Loved One

There are probably more in your church who’ve experienced loss than you  realize. At a time of festivity, some in your congregation are struggling. The “Holidays” are no holiday for them. It’s a time of pushing emotional hot buttons.

If you want to minister to a large percentage of your folks, figure out a way to convey some practical thoughts that will make an adjustment. Send an email, weekly ezine, or just build these into the end of a message…

Read More

How to Increase Your Reach

God has placed in your heart and mine a desire to reach out beyond ourselves. The problem is often that we don’t know how to begin to pull that off. Many times we have tried this or that “Program” in an attempt to touch those around us. I’m not talking about outreach necessarily, but connecting in all of our relationships.

Here are some thoughts I’ve been pondering lately about how to grow in relationships in general.

Read More

7.5 Lessons I Learned About Outreach At Burning Man

The famous Burning Man Festival is happening right now in the desert north of Reno right now. About 50,000 people from all over the world are gathered together to celebrate – uh, all sorts of things. If you ask them, they will give lots of different answers as to why they are gathered together, but one thing is for sure, BM is a great place to connect with people who are in search of a spiritual connection.

As you watch the news footage about Burning Man on Labor Day, the lessons below might put things in better perspective.

There are two of the little known facts that people generally don’t know about me.

A. A few years ago I went with a team of friends to serve folks at Burning Man, and

B. I was a guest on the Jerry Springer Show. (Yes, you can see the episode on YouTube, but I’ll save the story for another article.)

Here are a few lessons I learned at the Burning Man festival when I was there with a team a couple of years ago.

1. Being around extreme people tends to beat negative religion out of a judgmental person like me.

We will not be effective in outreach as long as we carry around judgmental attitudes towards not-yet Believers. Pretty much all of us have some measure of a judgmental attitude, it’s just that we are in denial of that truth.

As far as outreach goes, it’s vital that we break free from the grip of negative, judgmental attitudes. When I use the “R” word, I’m referring to human attempts at making something spiritual happen without the power or presence of God. That kind of religion is common, but it is something God hates, something that people outside the Church hate and above all, something God despises.

Extreme people are a gift to Believers. God will bring Burning Man people into your life – not literally mind you – but those he will use to reshape you. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself and only hang out with those who think, look like you, drive cars like you and who work where you work.

2. We need big hearts for others if we hope to be successful in outreach.

You will never get a heart for others while you are stuck at home just thinking thoughts or reading books. Change happens when you get around others.

3. To be successful in outreach we need to destroy ridiculous myths we carry about regarding “Those kinds of people.”

Perhaps in all of our lives, there are some we categorize as ones who are impossible for God to reach. We think of them as “Those kinds of people.” They may be people who have wronged us, or maybe they have even done something wrong to all of America. We may feel obligated to dislike them.

As my friends and I drove up to the entrance gate of the BM event I was rubbing my eyes a bit like Mr. Magoo (if you have seen those cartoons of the nearsighted man on TV Land). I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was real. It was a scene that resembled what I imagined Woodstock would have been like only a few steps beyond that event. People sported fluorescent wigs and crazy get ups beyond that even.

I had always had categories in my mind – that there were “easy to reach” people, then there were the “hard to reach” ones. People at events like Burning Man were in the latter category because of what seemed to be their wild ways. But surprisingly, when I actually got around them, I quickly discovered they were super nice, very approachable, and in many ways, easier to reach out to than middle-class people I’d been reaching out to for decades in the suburbs across America. Go figure!

It was important that I just stop judging them, open my heart, talk to them, and most of all, listen to them. As my inner chatter stopped a bit he began to speak to me about his love for them.

4. To effectively connect with not-yet Believers, I have to be myself, with no attempts at looking any different than I really am.

In other words, I couldn’t have been anyone other than myself and gotten away with it. Folks at BM have a highly developed BS detector – even more sensitive than most others in the general culture.

Being myself is a high value for me, and probably for you as well. When I drove through the gates at BM I realized that this was not a place where you could fake it for a minute and get away with it.

As well as being transparent, the question was whether I was willing to be a little flexible and join in on the fun. Either you wore a neon wig or you didn’t! (Hey what’s wrong with that! You might look good in one yourself. “All things to all people…”)

5. To walk powerfully in outreach we need to be stirred with love for those outside of Christ.

God will give you a heart for others if you are open to being touched. Just ask him for his heart. He is in the business of touching hearts with his passion for others. Warning: His heart is sometimes offensive to your sensibilities and background.

6. Outreach – especially the practical kind – can connect with radical not-yet Believers more than church folks think is possible.

We found it fairly easy to connect with folks at BM. We reached out a couple of ways – the water give away as already mentioned and something pretty different that fit the BM crowd – Biblical Dream Interpretation. We saw some amazing responses. In a future entry I’ll blog about that unique outreach.

7. The Holy Spirit is strongly at work in the lives of not-yet Believers around us, no matter how they appear on the surface.

In addition to serving BM people, we followed that up with a simple question – “May I pray for you for ten seconds?” Many at BM had a different version of the spiritual world than us, but we brought them the Kingdom’s presence as we prayed for them – for ten seconds. Jesus prayed for less than ten seconds most of the time and amazing things happened.

7.5 Outreach is big fun!

We learned this important lesson. We gave ourselves permission to have fun as we loved and served others. One thing is super clear when you drive onto the grounds of BM – everyone there has come to play!

At a place like this you can’t take yourself too seriously. How often in life will you sit on a toilet only to notice later that your backside is completely covered in blue from the body painted person who went in before you. Hello! That was another blow to the remnant of negative religion in me.

We experienced the favor of God at this festival. We crossed paths with the founder of Burning Man and ended up hanging out with him. He liked us and, though I’m not sure he fully understood what we were doing in serving people with God’s love, he really loved our idea. We ended up hanging out with him for a while and in the end he asked one of our team guys to be on a regional board for him.

I’m not sure I’d recommend going to Burning Man willy nilly unless you feel called to serve and minister to people. If you do end up there, one thing’s for sure – God will “Mess” with your heart and mind and it will be difficult to be the same again. As it turns out that was something I desperately needed.