Does your church have a podium or a stage?
That may seem like a strange question, but it is important if your church is going to attract and hold 21st century people. One of the major concepts that drive 21st churches is that worship is an experience—not a service. Services are by nature stable events that follow a standard, non-changing script. Experiences, on the other hand, are intended to be adaptive, creative and designed to communicate a story.
If the front of your church generally stays the same (yes, flowers may change or decorations may be added for specific seasons) you have a podium, literally, a place to stand. If the front of your church changes with the themes of the preaching; if it is designed to visually communicate in and of itself—you have a stage.
If your church has a podium I encourage you to make the shift in thinking from podium to stage. If you’re a church planter who already thinks in terms of stage, many times your challenge is you meet in rented space. You can’t set up a stage and leave it for six or eight weeks at a time. You have to create a portable stage.
There are some very good free resources to help you think creatively about designing a stage to help create your worship experience. Here are 3 YouTube videos with some great ideas to get you started on turning your podium into a stage.
Inexpensive Church Stage Design
3 Small Church Stage Design Ideas
Stage Design Ideas: LED Par Cans
The Team You Need to Pray With
The greatest outpouring of God’s power is found in the Gospels; we are still measuring the impact of Christ to Earth. But the story of the greatest disbursement of God’s power in human history is found in the book of Acts. Never before had so many humans, from so many places, been the means to the astounding activity of God. The outpouring of the Spirit of God brought forth love, sacrificial sharing, healing, miracles, and boldness in unprecedented occurrences. And almost every occurrence was accompanied by the prayers of many. In light of the 34 references to prayer in Acts we should ask: are we calling on God with the frequency or intensity of the first believers?
I think we know the answer and I believe we need to pray at 3 new levels.
There’s a lot of interest and activity surrounding discipleship today, and that is good! As I hear and read a lot of this discipleship talk, it often seems to be in the context of maturing those who are already believers—often lifelong believers. We need to continually remind ourselves that the discipleship journey includes life from unbelief to mature discipleship.
When we follow Jesus’ ministry we see a fairly seamless process as he meets people where they are and moves them from unbelief to active believer. Look at the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42. When Jesus encounters her at the well she’s not a Messiah believer. Jesus begins by establishing relationship. Then the two engage in a series of back forth questions and statements. Ultimately, Jesus gets to the heart of her life,
Jesus: “Go call your husband” Woman: “I don’t have a husband”
“You’re right, you have 5” “I see you’re a prophet”
“Believe me woman” “I know that the Messiah is coming”
“I am he” “Come, see. Could this be the Messiah?”
By the end of this story the woman is confessing her commitment of belief to her towns people, who by this time are ready to go and see for themselves. I believe this is a classic story demonstrating how Jesus met this woman on her terms, then deliberately led her to conclude that he was the Messiah of promise and worthy of discipleship.
Here’s the question you need to answer: Do the activities your church provides give people a clear, well-defined pathway to faith in Jesus then growth towards active discipleship?
Here’s a simple, effective five-step system that you can use to create a discipleship funnel to help your church create disciples while it grows in numbers and health.
Step 1: Encounter. If we believe that God is searching for and gathering people to himself, how do we meet these people? You must learn to turn encounters into meeting events. Your church needs specific meeting activities where you get to encounter people. Good meeting points often include one off events such as neighborhood parties, Vacation Bible Schools, and holiday activities. What truly characterizes a meeting point is you have to collect contact information, at minimum first and last names and their phone number or email. If you don’t get these, you can’t follow up. Not only do you leave people stranded, but all that energy you expend doesn’t do you any good. Your goal for encounter is to get to know people, listen for their spiritual story, and provide them opportunity for a next step. What are your most effective encounter activities that help you meet new people?
Step 2: Engage. Engagement is where people have opportunity to hear the gospel, ask questions, consider the gospel’s implications for their lives, and see how they fit with you, God's people. Good engagement activities are short-term, well-defined studies such as the Alpha course, Story of Redemption, or Let’s Start Talking. What I think makes these some of the best engagement activities is because they occur in small groups where there are multiple seekers. These small groups allow discussion and question asking; people get to think and process together so they gain a multi-dimensional look at the gospel. The believers in these engagement groups act as guides and gospel illuminators; they’re not teachers. The goal of engagement activity is to provide seekers the opportunity to make a valid decision about the lordship of Jesus in their lives. What activity do you repeatedly use so people can engage the gospel?
Step 3: Commitment. People need to have the opportunity to make a specific commitment to Jesus. Even more than that, they need people who care for them to ask them if they are ready to give themselves to Jesus. Good commitment activities include events like baptism days, special preaching series, and weekend retreats or summer camps. It's always important to give people the opportunity to respond to God's big ask in their lives. The goal of commitment is for people to make their confession of faith in Jesus and give themselves over to him in baptism. When and how do you ask people to make their commitment to Jesus?
Step 4: Essentials. When people are new Christians they need specific information, ideas, and guided experiences that help them integrate their new belief into practical life. In Kenya we had a year of specific teaching that oriented new believers to the Bible and we guided them through the basic practices of Christian life. Specifically prepared Bible classes and small groups for new believers provide good opportunities for new Christians to grow in an environment designed for their needs. The goal of the essentials period is to give new Christians the essential insights into Christian faith and life so their newly acquired faith can grow. What activities do you provide at your church where new Christians can be oriented to both scripture and their new life in Jesus?
Step 5: Experience. Again, in Kenya, we found it took several years of experience and growth for faith to become firmly rooted in people's lives. There was often a trial during this time where their faith would be tested. Sometimes they would make it, sometimes not, sometimes they would succumb then later return. Our role was to help them consider the possibilities and consequences of their decisions. Good preaching series, ongoing small groups, solid Bible classes and accountability groups are all good activities that allow experienced Christian living to form. How do you support your people through the trials of life that test their faith?
If you think of these five steps as a funnel, you want to always be putting new people into the wide end of the funnel where they can move down through these five sequential steps. The structure of such a process gives everything you do intentional purpose that creates movement. Without such structure, most churches find their activity becomes a hodgepodge of ever repeating events that simply maintains what they have. We find ourselves very active but without much movement or results.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you as you obey God’s great commission and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
How far out do you plan your sermons? Three months? A year? How about three years? I’ll admit, I don’t hear many of us talking about a three-year preaching calendar. But, vision typically stretches out three to five years. If your sermon planning only goes out one year, how do you expect to push your vision forward?
The visionary leadership power of the pulpit is immense. I want to give you a free, 3-step Vision Preaching Calendar template to help you release your God-given preacher super powers:
Step 1: Engage Your Vision
Your church depends on you, its lead pastor, to listen to God and lead them in the direction He intends for the church. This vision work is yours, baby! No one else can do it. Begin your sermon planning with a clear, compelling, concrete vision statement. What needs to be accomplished and what do your people need to bring the vision into reality? If it’s going to take collective prayer, how will you activate them? If it’s a lot of money, how will generosity be raised? If it’s serving your city, how will you motivate them? List the vision and people needs necessary to reach your vision these next three years, then order the needs by importance and logical sequence. Finally, sort those vision needs by year. What must happen this year and into years two and three?
Step Two: Plan your Seasons
The church calendar has a repeating rhythm of two seasons—Grow and Disciple. The Grow seasons are fall and spring while the Discipling seasons are winter and summer. Tom Nebel calls this the Two-Hump Camel Church Calendar (watch his video here).
The Grow seasons are about reaching new people. They’re seasons of attraction when you address the natural impulses of life that open people up to the gospel. Use high interest sermon series during the grow seasons. Create space in your church for invitation and outreach The Discipling seasons are about consolidating growth and maturing people in the Jesus lifestyle. These seasons are ripe for vision-casting, textual studies, and topical lessons that resource people to grow as Jesus followers
With your vision and seasons firmly in mind, map out this year’s lessons so you know that your vision is being moved down the road. Once you’ve filled this year’s calendar with seasonal lessons, you’ve completed 80% of your annual preaching calendar. You’ll be leading your people from the pulpit in ways that make progress on your vision while using the natural growth and discipling seasons of your church.
Step Three: Insert for Balance
Use the remaining 20% of your calendar to balance out your preaching with the needs that arise because of life. Some of you might leave these eight or so Sundays empty to give you room to wiggle, to adjust dates, allow guest speakers, (or take your vacation!). Others of you will feel more comfortable inserting ideas to work on. Either way, these open Sundays allow you opportunity to adjust the content of your preaching calendar to the unanticipated events of life.
If you haven’t already downloaded your free Vision Preaching Calendar, do it now. Feel free to adjust this calendar so it meets your needs.
The difference between Training and Coaching is that Training is with those who are not part of the game yet. Coaching is with the people who are already in the trenches and need sharpening. What better people to sharpen than your shepherding leaders?
Outside of my passion for the Kingdom is my involvement with coaching competitive youth soccer. I have spent much of my life having the joy of playing the game of soccer, and enjoyed getting to play through my college years. As I have gotten older, my body has decided that it is no longer willing or able to perform the way it used to. Though my body was finished with the game, my mind was not willing to give it up. Getting to coach kids is very similar to coaching leaders within a church context. Both are wanting to lead, both are in need of improving and sharpening the gifts that they bring to the team.
There are more similarities between coaching youth soccer and coaching shepherding leadership within the church than you might think. In both cases, you are developing individuals to become better and more focused. You are coaching your shepherding leadership toward putting the Values, Mission and Vision of your church into practice. You are equipping them to serve better, love better, be better. If your leaders are well-coached, they will be pouring into their flock to move people from non-believer to believer, to worker, and eventually into leadership.
Take a minute and read Mark 9:14-29. Looks at Jesus’ example as he coached his disciples on the importance of prayer . He explained prayer to them, but first he practiced and perfected it in his own life.
Whatever you coach your Leaders to become, you should also be practicing. And whatever they encourage the congregation to be become, they should already be in the habit of doing. Here are 4 principles to keep in mind as you deliberately coach your leaders to leader the church.
4 Principals of Coaching Your Leaders:
1. Major in principles rather than methods. Love. Obey. Pray. Serve. Teach the principles, but allow each leader to develop a personal skill set. It is amazing how God overlaps different people's talents to make one fully functioning body of believers.
2. Major in meeting the needs in people, rather than on developing and imparting techniques. Specifics on how to do ministry can shift with seasons and culture. Love is timeless. Hope has no expiration date. Care doesn't go sour.
3. Major in developing the thought processes, rather than the skills. Help your leadership keep the big picture in mind, even when urgent matters crop up. As God prepares the soil of your leaders' hearts, he will bear fruit in them and through them.
4. Major in how to trust God, rather than teaching theories on God. Does your leadership find strength in knowing about God or in knowing God? Do they function out of who and whose they are or how well they understand? Are they passing these truths along to the rest of the congregation?