Lies We Believe – Part 1

Today we begin a voyage, a journey if you will, to the heart of statements that have found a home in our thinking. The problem is that these statements, beliefs, or general understandings may not be true. We live in a world of narrative and spin. Everyday through social media and being in constant connection to the media outlets of our day we are bombarded with narrative. It’s important to understand the power of narrative because narrative isn’t something you see, it’s not anything you can touch, but it subtly shapes the world we live in. We hear things, believe them, act upon our beliefs, and slowly begin to create a world that aligns with the narratives we believe. That’s why there is such a strong push to control what people hear and have access to. Whoever controls the narrative in some ways has the ability to begin to shape the world. Which brings me to the point of this series of articles. There are false narratives that are affecting the beliefs of people who then are acting or sometimes worse, taking no action, because of wrong beliefs shaped by these false narratives.

For our first narrative I would like to discuss the phrase Christian Nationalism.

Lie #1 – Christian Nationalism is a Threat to our Nation

I have to admit that I was unfamiliar with the phrase “Christian Nationalism” until recently. I’m thinking that I became familiar with the phrase within the past 2-3 years. I may have known the phrase longer, but over the past couple of years it has gained much more prominence in our national narrative. There are entire books dedicated to the phrase Christian Nationalism. My first perception of Christian Nationalism was a negative one. Probably because the popular narrative around this phrase is extremely negative. Over time as I began to assess this phrase it caused me to reassess my feelings toward it. In all honesty I had to admit that my feelings were being shaped by a narrative, but not by understanding from God’s word. As I began to research and study not what culture says, but what God’s word says it reframed my view on the phrase Christian Nationalism.

First, let’s define a nationalist which is where the term nationalism comes from. A nationalist is someone who supports the freedom of their nation from other nations and has a strong interest in the activity and interest of the nation. In other words, most everyone who has ever voted or participated in someway in our nation is a nationalist. Secondly, if you are a Christian aka someone who follows Jesus, and believes the Bible to be the truth of the Word of God you are a Christian Nationalist. You are also a great threat to our country in the popular thought on Christian Nationalism. My point in defining this is to say that roughly 80% of our nation identifies as a Christian and my feeling is the majority of them vote. Whether or not we vote our Christian values is a topic for another day, but what it means is the majority of our nation is people who identify as Christians who are engaged in activity of our nation. Recently President Joe Biden caused a bit of a stir when he said of our military personnel serving in Afghanistan that they had answered the call to go and serve. In making this statement he quoted the prophet Isaiah and used the scripture “here I am Lord, send me.” People took issue with this because certainly it wasn’t the context that Isaiah was referring to. However, I personally don’t believe he was way off base. For many people serving in the military they may have felt it was a call of God on their life. I believe serving in our military is a noble calling and one to be celebrated. So what was taking place when a President quoted a Bible verse talking about people serving in the military. It was Christian Nationalism.

Here’s my observation from pondering the national discourse that takes place around this topic.

People tend to only have a problem with Christian Nationalism when it conflicts with their political activism.

Everyone is fine using the Bible when they feel it aligns with their political views. If someone needs to pull a Bible verse to support their political views then it’s completely appropriate to do so. However, if you use the Bible to conflict one of their other political beliefs the cry back is Christian Nationalism and you are a threat to the democracy. It’s ironic, but many people who are negative towards Christian Nationalism come from a standpoint of being a Christian and being engaged in the political activity of our nation. In other words, they are being a Christian Nationalist while condemning others for being a Christian Nationalist.

I believe the church needs to embrace it’s role as being both fully committed to the principles of Christianity and also very active in the activity and direction of our nation. One of the last things Jesus told his followers to do was to play a role in discipling the nations.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭28:19‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Here’s 3 reasons we should live out our Christianity on the national scene:

1. There is no place of spiritual neutrality.

We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. If you turn the lights off darkness takes over. We need to recognize that we have a leadership role in the world. We are to bring Jesus to the world and advance the kingdom of God in every sphere of influence in society. If Christians abandon or surrender different segments of society those places don’t stay spiritually neutral. If we abandon politics governments don’t become this magically utopian space where people get treated fairly and everyone gets a unicorn. They become a space filled with darkness, authoritarianism, and an uncontrolled thirst for more power. The Bible makes everything better. Christianity makes everything better. God’s kingdom advancing into every sector of society makes everything better. Let’s assume our leadership role in the world and advance the principles of God’s kingdom in our nation. The Bible says it rains on the just and the unjust. People who aren’t even followers of Jesus get blessed when the righteous are leading our nation. It’s not true when you reverse the scenario. People are very vocal against Christians taking positions of prominence and power. That’s because the enemy hates to lose. Let’s remember we are on the winning side and walk with confidence.

2. There is a battle for territory.

Everyone looks to government because it is the highest form of power and authority on earth. As Christians we should look a little higher. There is a kingdom of darkness and a kingdom of light. We are called to be representatives and ambassadors of Christ on the earth. Not to belabor the point, but how much of a failure is it if there are no ambassadors and representatives of Christ in our national leadership? Jesus didn’t come to overthrow the governments of the world. There will be a day when the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ. However, I believe most people have a flaw in their theology. It’s true Jesus didn’t come to overthrow the Roman Empire, but evidently he did come to influence it and take it over. I can say that confidently because that’s exactly what Christianity and the early church did. Governments without the influence of Christianity are dark, very dark entities. We need to represent well the kingdom of King Jesus within the government of our nation.

3. We speak truth to power

The Bible, among other things, is basically prophets and preachers speaking truth to the world in which they lived. In some instances it was to audiences who were receptive and in some instances it was a tearful prophet like Jeremiah speaking to an audience that didn’t want to hear it. I think we’ve lost a little bit of our moxie. Let’s rediscover the conviction of saying “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Let’s rediscover our prophetic edge to speak the truth in love to the world we are called to serve. Here’s an understanding many believers need to receive. We’re the good guys. Is the church perfect? Certainly not, but do we have the truth of God’s word? Yes, yes we do. Is the truths of Christianity superior to any other belief system? Yes, yes they are. The nation is better when the church finds its voice. Not to speak down to people, belittle them, or even to heap condemnation on them. The church needs to find its voice to lift our nation by lifting up the principles of God’s word.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. And I would also say, it should not be hidden.

5 Things I’m Feeling Right Now – Part 4

4. Church and Pastors will become more politically involved

First of all let me state that I don’t think this is the desire of most pastors. Most pastors have avoided politics like a plague. Like a plague. That used to seem like such an antiquated saying until recently. The general idea of the non political sentiment was that politics was something out in the world, but shouldn’t be brought into the church. Politics separated people and the church was the umbrella that was big enough to bring us all together. I think most pastors just wanted to reach people regardless of their political persuasions. Certainly you didn’t want people to feel like they needed to join a political party to feel at home in your church or feel like they needed to join a political party and then maybe they could find salvation in Jesus.

The heart behind this was that most pastors don’t want to create boundaries where boundaries don’t need to exist. Jesus said the Pharisees “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” by creating manmade boundaries. In another place Jesus said they “taught for doctrine the commandments of men.” I believe politics have been viewed through that lens in the church world for a long time. Let’s don’t create boundaries for people coming into the Kingdom of Heaven that God didn’t create and let’s not teach good ole American values as doctrine. I’ll get to my main thought in just a moment, but one of the problems with that thought is that much of our nations laws were shaped by Judeo Christian values. In other words things like personal freedom and personal responsibility are kingdom principals. When they are espoused by Christians and this is rather mind blowing, but, even when they are espoused by non Christians it still brings blessing. The principals of the word of God lift a nation and society.

The reason I believe that churches and pastors will become more political isn’t because the church is becoming more political, but because the world is.

To say it another way. Sometimes you pick a fight and sometimes a fight picks you.

This isn’t a fight many would have chosen, but it is the fight that has chosen us. The world around us has turned political. Watching a football game is now political, watching a movie or tv show is now political, watching a freaking commercial is now political. Going to school. Political. Going to College. POLITICAL. Going to work sadly for many people has become political.

I’ve always said that ministry felt like you were constantly tap dancing through a political mine field. One wrong move, one false step, say one thing wrong and boom! The world was turning more and more political, but in 2020 it became a run away train that lost its brakes. Everything is now political. There is a reason behind this that I will write about at a future date.

As culture rampages down the tracks of politics it is picking a fight with the church. Opening the Bible is now political. Reading a verse that says God created them male and female. Political. Reading a verse that says you were shaped in your mother’s womb. Political. Reading a verse that tells children to honor your Father and your Mother. Political. These aren’t even the hard sayings of scripture.

Everything that God does and everything that God allows is moving his plan, purpose, and story of redemption forward.

This is from the paraphrase version of the Bible:

At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” Ephesians 1:20-23 MSG

God’s focus is on his church, his kingdom, and his people. Everything God does or allows is for the betterment, enlargement, judgment, correction, or purification of his Bride, the Church. You can’t ignore where we are in this moment in history

Obviously God is using these historical moments to position, reposition, and I believe ultimately enlarge his Church and Kingdom.

My encouragement is to boldly and clearly embrace the moment. Everything that is happening in the world right now is for the betterment and purification of his Church. It must be so frustrating for the enemy to have so much influence. It feels like the enemy is influencing government, media, education, entertainment, big tech, and big business. You would think the whole world would have been led astray, but it’s not. It must be frustrating for the enemy to have so much influence and so many resources and yet Pastors behind their pulpits are literally pushing back the gates of hell with the preaching of the Gospel.

The church isn’t losing ground. It’s gaining identity. We will be stronger, better, larger, and have more influence when our battle is over. The war will continue until Jesus ends it. Our job is to fight the good fight of faith even if we didn’t pick the fight.

5 Things I’m Feeling Right Now

As the title might imply this will be a series of posts that are based on things that I’m feeling. Please note the title isn’t “5 things I”m certain of right now.” These are things that have been rolling around in my heart and mind for quite sometime. Maybe that’s me hedging my bets, taking the cowards way out, or being insecure. You can judge me accordingly, but the title is an honest assessment of what I’m working out in my own personal thoughts. These will also probably be lengthy. Heck, this introduction is longer than most blogs and I haven’t even gotten to what I want to say just yet. If you are looking for brevity this probably isn’t the place, but I do have somethings in my heart that I hope you will engage, ponder, and possibly dialogue with me.

Here’s the first thing I’m feeling:

1. Excellence Matters More Than Ever Before

One of the most popular illustrations the Bible uses to describe people is sheep. From the Old Testament to the New Testament the gathering of people and even the idea of an isolated person getting lost or scattered brings multiple uses of the illustration. We are the sheep of his pastures. Leaders are often referred to as shepherds, and God self describes himself as our Great Shepherd. It’s almost a little insulting when you consider the IQ level of sheep. They aren’t known as the brightest or most intelligent of the animal kingdom. The point of the illustration probably isn’t to insult our intelligence, but to highlight the flock mentality of people. Sheep function best when gathered and flocked together under the faithful care of a leader known as a shepherd. This may surprise you or even shock you, but I’m not a shepherd by vocation. So this is where I will direct our thoughts more to a spiritual application versus an actual study of sheep and their innate habits.

In a spiritual sense sheep gather where they are cared for and protected. We, people and not sheep, it’s 2021 so I felt compelled to clarify. We tend to go where we are valued, loved, cared for and protected. You could say we herd where we are heard. We gather where there is an acceptance placed on us. For this reason I believe excellence is a virtue that will win the day. Something happened during the height of the Global Pandemic. In the name of safety extreme inconveniences were placed on people. I live in Southwest Florida where the temperature consistently hovers around the same temp as Satan’s radiator. During the height of the pandemic it wasn’t unusual seeing people standing in line before being allowed in a store to make a purchase like they were in line at Disney awaiting a thrill ride on Space Mountain. Sweating profusely while they waited. Many, many rules were placed on people. I have no explanation for this, but many stores and restaurants seemed dirty and unkempt. Most likely that was due to being short staffed, but it also feels like its more than that. Recently my family and I took a day to experiment with a situation. I was on hold with an airline that I have been loyal to for many years. We stayed on hold for as long as we possibly could. It became a family event as I had to frequently respond to text messages and return phone calls from a family members phone. We took turns holding the phone and listening to the hold music and intermittent messages about how valuable I was and how important my call was to them. We made it over 5 hours and never got anyone on the phone before finally having to surrender to defeat and end the call. I had so much time invested a little piece of my heart broke off when my son hit the button to end the call.

Here’s why I think excellence matters like never before. It feels like people aren’t being cared for. Whether it’s being judged harshly at their work place for what should be private and personal decisions. Being misinformed, sometimes it seems intentionally, by political or health leaders. Even companies and stores whose revenue is generated from customers and customer service have no problem placing burdens on people spending their hard earned cash with them.

My suspicion is that we’re losing our value of people. Which is why I believe the Bible uses terms like sheep and shepherds. Gathering people and caring for them is how God wants us to value one another. Excellence plays a role in this because excellence is how we honor God, but it’s how we care for people. Excellence is our practical expression of love for people. In other words, we don’t just say we love you. We show it by having a clean campus, a well orchestrated service, a safe and orderly kids ministry and the list could go on and on. Excellence comes from understanding your worth, the value of what you do, and the value of who you do it for. Ultimately all church is an expression of worship to Jesus so obviously we want to do our best. In addition, we need to see the value in the sheep God is sending our way. People are lost, broken, hurting, confused, fearful, lonely, and many times taken for granted.

Excellence shows that we care for people. Our attention to excellence shows that we see and value people. Excellence shows that we don’t take people for granted.

Gathering is important. It’s actually more than important, it’s vital. We are compared to sheep because like sheep we gather. Even people who are anti community and anti society will form a community and society to be anti community and anti social with. Let’s care for the flock with diligence. Caring for the spiritual needs, but also the practical needs of people. I really feel like the role of a shepherd in these days is to make sure people don’t feel like a burden or a problem. Let’s see the value in people. For church it’s far more than “customer service” it’s shepherding well the broken and hurting of our world. I truly believe the sheep will gather where shepherds care for and protect them.

Stay connected for the second thing I’m feeling in this season.

The 10 Commandments of Social Media for Churches and Church Leaders

Social media networks projecting out from smartphone. Editorial

I’m an avid social media user. In the early days of CoastLife Church we had no money for advertising or letting people know about our church. We barely had money for things like electricity and insurance. With no budget to use for typical means of advertisement we went to Facebook. It’s been a great tool to connect with our community. Did I mention that its free? Like most things there are pros and cons to social media. The same platform that helps get information out to large amounts of people instantaneously also creates disagreements and arguments. This started out as rules of engagement for the leaders at CoastLife Church, but I thought it might be helpful to others as well. Here are my 10 commandments of social media:

1. Use it – 1 billion people used Facebook in one day recently. There are 5 million more people who have a smart phone than a tooth brush. I have personally received friend requests from people who are homeless. People from all walks of life are on Facebook. We are called to reach, encourage, love, and inspire people. There is no better medium for this today than social media. Use it.

2. Be careful with politics – Ed Stetzer once said, “when you mix religion and politics you get politics.” I don’t personally endorse any candidates. My ministry is to people from across the political spectrum. If you aren’t careful with politics you will end up being the mouthpiece of a political party instead of being a minister to the people of all parties. You shouldn’t have to belong to a particular political party to feel welcomed at Church. It’s a fine line. I believe Christians should be engaged and active in the world, but I also believe we are called to serve people. All people, not just the ones who agree with us politically. I’m afraid if we aren’t careful we will win in our politics and lose in our purpose of reaching people.

3. Endeavor to keep unity – Division is a tool of Satan. Satan uses Facebook as well. Social Media allows every issue to be discussed and many times there is more than one side to the issue. No one wins when there is division in the body of Christ. Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4. Avoid foolish debates – Those are the Apostle Paul’s words and not mine. However, he probably had a prophetic vision of Facebook when he penned those words. Somethings just aren’t worth the time to engage them. Be careful about getting lured into a discussion that simply just doesn’t matter. If the whole world operated by this principle Fox News and CNN would only be on air about 2 hours a day.

5. Maintain correct doctrine – There are many different ideologies out there today. There are tons of motivational and inspirational quotes floating around. But there is only one source of timeless truth and that is the Word of God. If it doesn’t line up with scriptural doctrine don’t post it, don’t like it, don’t share it. The world is held captive under darkness, don’t help spread that darkness. Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life. Share him, share the word in a life giving, grace filled way.

6. Don’t manipulate – Don’t heap guilt on people. Don’t shame people. For heavens sake, don’t try to be a religious bully. I’m tired of people trying to manipulate others. Now, prove how much you love Jesus by liking, sharing, and commenting on this blog.

7. Be loving towards non christians – It saddens me sometimes to see people struggle through life without Christ. It angers me sometimes when people post things that are offensive towards Christianity. Social Media is a place where people can flippantly say things in a thoughtless moment that they would never say directly to a person. I’ve seen things that both hurt and angered me. However, if I only love people who think like me, then the genuine love of Christ is not in me. Even the world loves those that think like them. It is the true benchmark of Christianity to love even our “enemies.” If someone is a serial offender I may unfriend them, but that is an extreme case for me. As much as I hate to see what they post, they need to see what I post. The love of Christ does prevail even over the most extreme of cases. Remember, no one was ever reached by being out debated or perhaps insulted.

8. Don’t go negative – Is there anything praiseworthy, anything lovely, of good report? Post about these things. Our speech is to be with grace. Especially when we are posting to the masses.

9. Never publicly speak against a church, church leader, or fellow Christian. Never. – The largest group of unfriended people for me are believers who speak negatively of other Churches, Pastors, or Christians. You don’t win when another Pastor or Church fails or gets caught in a scandal, only the enemy does. So why be a part of tearing someone down? When an accusation or rumor is stirred about a Church, Pastor, or fellow believer we need to use extreme caution in what we post. If you don’t know them personally don’t speak about it. If you do know them personally than deal with it personally and not on Social Media. Again, no one wins when a Church, Pastor, or Christian fails. I really believe we will answer for our social media posts in eternity when we take a shot at the “mega” Church or Pastor because we don’t like what they said or did. The kingdom of God isn’t advanced through that stuff only the kingdom of Satan.

10. Don’t forget to be genuine and personal – Here’s an idea. Why don’t you let people into your non Pinterest life? No, don’t post pics of your dirty undies in the laundry hamper. But not every pic has to be of a cappuccino with a perfect design and an inspirational quote. Not every post should be a deep and revelatory thought. You probably don’t walk around all day in the 7th heaven full of inspiration and revelation with a perfect cup of coffee. Post about sports, post about family, post something funny, post about whatever, just try to take people on an authentic journey of your life.

I am a Joel Osteen Fan

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Victoria, bless her heart. I’m from the south and that’s our polite way of approaching a situation where someone has said or done something that wasn’t wise. Usually its said with a facial gesture that is a mix of pain and bewilderment and accompanied by a slow head shake. To be proper it goes, painful facial gesture to show displeasure, slow head shake to show disagreeement/bewilderment, and the phrase “bless her heart” is used to show compassion. I’m not for sure when the video originally aired, but it has taken social media by storm over the past couple of days. It’s a video of her attempting to encouraging the church to worship, but it goes terribly off course and quickly. I think what she was attempting to say was that God takes delight in the worship and service of His people. I think she also was trying to say that the best thing you can do for yourself is to worship and serve God. Something about God loving a cheerful giver and delighting yourself in the Lord and all that. I think. What she said came out terribly off course. Naturally, the christian community filled with the love and grace of a crocodile has pounced on both Joel and Victoria. Which brings me to the point of this blog. Dishonor, in any form is dishonor. Whether it be in conversation, social media posts, or in action.

In my bible reading this morning I read the story of the bronze serpent in the wilderness. Snakes were attacking the Israelites because of their sin and a bronze serpent was raised up to save them. They could simply look at the bronze serpent on the pole and they would live. The interesting thing is the confession of the people. Their confession to Moses was, “we have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.” Included in their confession is the sin of dishonoring leadership with their words. But Joel and Victoria deserve it. They are wrong. Joel has botched media interviews, Victoria has said something that most of christendom would find unbiblical. They deserve the ire of the public. Moses was doctrinally incorrect as well, but God still spoke to him like a friend, used him mightily, and ultimately received him into glory. A chapter before the people confessed about speaking against Moses we find the story of Moses striking the rock a second time. God said to speak to the rock and not to strike it. Moses disobeyed, he didn’t follow the word of God, he completely tampered with the doctrine of Jesus Christ who was once and for all stricken to meet the needs of humanity, and God dealt with him. This post isn’t to condone doctrinal error. Instead, it’s to point out that God both uses and deals with His leaders. If social media would have been around in biblical times I wonder what would have been tweeted about David when he had an affair and was an accessory to murder, but was still a man after God’s own heart. I wonder what the Facebook posts would have said when it came out that Abraham had lied and spun a story for selfish reasons not trusting in God’s protective hand, but yet was still imputed righteousness. I wonder how many people would have been quick to post videos of Peter by a fire letting the profanities flow in order to prove he didn’t know Jesus, but yet still kept preaching. I promise you that video would have gotten a lot of shares, comments, and likes. I wonder what we would have posted when God dealt with Moses for striking the rock and didn’t allow his leadership to extend into the Promise Land. Here’s the deal. Leaders are, have been, and always will be imperfect, but be careful because what you say can bite you. Social Media Pharisees love to point out the splinters in the lives of others all the while ignoring the beam in their own eyes.

I am not an overseer of Joel and Victoria. I trust and hope that they have good people in their lives who can talk to them honestly when something has gone wrong. You and I aren’t those people. I see people bashing “celebrity” preachers and pastors on social media and it really bothers me. First of all, God raises up leadership according to the hearts of the people. If you don’t like your leaders, look in your own heart. Secondly, I lost my voice of criticism and my rocks to throw when I started sinning myself many years ago.

Here’s a simple way to approach the seeming failures of leaders that you aren’t personally involved with:

1. Trust – Trust that they have people around them to correct them and trust that God will deal with them. God really is in control and in charge. He really does raise leaders up and take leaders down. He really does determine our times and seasons, and how long we experience His blessing and favor. Fortunately for me and other leaders, He has more grace than the general public.

2. Pray – It’s so simple it’s cliche, but it needs to be said more than ever before. Pray for people instead of using social media to besmirch their character. The only person who wins when a pastor or christian leader fails is Satan. Not God, not you, not me, not the church, the enemy wins when pastors and christian leaders fail. Pray.

3. Be life giving – There is a time and place to confront people who have done wrong. Churches and pastors need accountability in order to bring correction when they have done wrong. However, if you and I are not part of the accountability process then the best thing we can do is to use our words to build up rather than tear down. We can use our words to speak life rather than death.

I want to go on record. I am a Joel Osteen fan. I am a Joyce Meyer fan. I am a T.D. Jakes fan. I am a Jentzen Franklin fan. I am a Kenneth Copeland fan. I am an Andy Stanley fan. I am a Mark Driscoll fan. I am a Chris Hodges fan. I am a fan of the bivocational pastor who works 60 and 70 plus hours a week just to fulfill the vision God gave him. I am a fan of the pastor of the mid size church in the mid size city that most of us will never hear of. He fails sometimes, he succeeds sometimes, but he imperfectly walks out his calling before God. Ultimately God’s grace covers him and God’s glory will receive him when his time is finished. I am a fan of anyone who is trying to lead people to Jesus and build His church. I’m even a fan of Victoria, bless her heart.

Big Church in a Small Venue – Part 2 (Multi service/chairology)

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Okay, let’s talk multi service and chairology. First of all, one of the major perks of a small building is that it doesn’t require much growth in order to build momentum for your church. You can have a relatively small amount of growth, but because your facility is small you are now “packing the place out.” People will say things like you are “blowing up Bro.” You are crushing it, killing it, and several other serial killer type phrases. In reality you grew by 20 people, but your building is so small it makes it feel full. In order to grow you will need to create space. The best way to create space is by going to a multi service format.

Alert: This blog will be full of personal opinion. I, in no way, claim to be a multi service expert, but will share with you my real world experience and thoughts about the process. We currently offer 3 services on Sunday at 9, 10:30, and 12:00. 

My first observation is that percentages feel differently in a small venue versus a large venue. Many people look at how full an auditorium is by percentage when deciding on whether or not to offer multiple services. The idea is that you need empty seats in order to grow. Speaking of percentages, that is 100% correct. You need empty seats and room to grow. However, my opinion is that a small venue needs to maintain a higher percentage than a large venue. For instance my brother, Steve Warman, pastors a church with a facility that will seat 2700 people. I, the underachieving brother, pastor a church with facilities that will seat 150. If his facility is at 50% and my facility is at 50% it doesn’t feel the same. Yes, they are both at 50%, but there is a big difference when 50% is 1,350 people and when 50% is 75 people. Here’s the catch, in a small venue you need it to feel full and energetic. The feeling of an “empty” building can be a momentum killer even though you are adding services and growing. However, you also need to add services in order to grow. When you add a service you obviously split the percentages and end up with an awkward amount of people in your facility. So what do you do? Do you keep “blowing it up Bro” and not have future growth, or do you add a service and endure an awkward season of feeling like you are in an empty building? Here’s the deal… add the service and play chairology. The first time I heard the phrase “chairology” was from my friends Dan Lord and Bryan Larson from the Life Church of Memphis. I can’t remember which one said it first, so I will take credit for the idea.

Chairology 

If you are like me, you inherited your small facility complete with glorious wood and upholstered benches we call pews. The happiest day of my life was when a Haitian church from Fort Myers rented a large truck and came and picked up our pews and baptismal tank. I openly and unashamedly weep joy filled tears upon the remembrance of that glorious day. I would highly recommend getting rid of pews for any reason, but especially if you are planning to do a multi service format in a small venue. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do a multi service format with pews, we went to two services with pews, I’m just saying it’s going to suck.

A few helpful principles:

1. Get church chairs and chair dollies and get ready to move chairs frequently

2. Make your small venue even smaller. Instead of connecting your church chairs, space them a part about 8 inches. This will allow you to have rows that are in the same location as the week before, but you will have less chairs per row.

3. Increase the size of your aisle ways. Space between chairs and a little extra room for the aisles will eliminate a lot of chairs, but won’t drastically change the look of your auditorium. We have had as little as 120 chairs in our room without making the room feel “empty.” The seats look full and the building “feels” full, but there are less people in it because we have them spread out through multiple services.

4. Know your crowd. One service is going to be larger than the other. It’s rare that you get a perfect split every weekend. Typically, one service will be more attended than the other. Our ushers wheel chairs in and wheel chairs out depending on the service. Typically our 9:00am service is our medium service, 10:30 is an overflow service, and 12:00pm is our low crowd. We have a typical set up for 9, we add rows for 10:30, and we take them out for the noon. We have done this for a while until recently our church grew enough to make all 3 services typically “feel” full.

By the way, the percentage difference between large venue and small venue matters on Saturday night service as well. Typically, larger churches don’t get as full of a percentage on Saturday nights as they do on Sunday mornings. We tried Saturday nights in a small venue and found that it didn’t work for us. We have a much better percentage split with three services on Sunday. Again, this is an opinion based on personal experience and offered as food for thought.

 

Big Church in a Small Venue – Part 1

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This is part 1 of a blog series dedicated to building growing churches in smaller venues. If you research the methodology of most church planting organizations you will find they recommend starting in a venue with 300 or more seats. The reason, the size of your venue seems to shape the culture of your church. However, many churches and pastors like me, are fighting the fight to grow beyond limited facilities and build a growing church. Let’s talk excellence in a small venue. If you are going to build a great church it will require excellence. Excellence costs more and requires more, but it also produces more. There are many enemies of excellence, but one that is prevailing in small venues and small churches is particularly damaging to building a healthy culture that leads to growth.

Principle #1: Avoid the “it’s just us mentality”

I remember a Sunday night in the early days of CoastLife Church. We had planned a Team Night where we would assemble all of our staff, volunteers, and those interested in joining the team. With staff, volunteers, and people interested in joining the team we had about 12 people in attendance. We were small and we had limited resources, but we bought into a scripture that night.

Zechariah 4:10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin,

I literally tear up now when I read that passage of scripture. We truly believed that even though we were small, God was rejoicing to see the work begin. So how do you despise the day of small beginnings? By subscribing to the “it’s just going to be us” mentality. Our team made a decision that in spite of the fact that our average attendance was 30, we would operate with excellence as if we were a church of 300. For us, excellence was tied to our love of people. If we loved people we would operate with excellence. When someone special is coming to your home you typically clean more than usual, use better dishes than your every day plates and cups, and maybe even light candles and add some special elements. Our thought was, very special people are coming to God’s house this Sunday, we are going to attend to every detail, put out our best, and then add some special touches. Now that we are a church that has exceeded the 300 mark, this principle still guides us. The trap for small churches is that we don’t put in the effort to create an atmosphere of excellence because “it’s just going to be us.” It may just be your team of 12 people, but do it right, because God is rejoicing to see the work begin.

Here are some thoughts on excellence to keep a healthy culture in a small venue:

1. Excellence is connected to your love of people. Very special people are coming to God’s house this weekend. How can we do our best?

2. Excellence is connected to our love of Jesus. We have church for The One. If “no one shows up” we are still having service for “The One.” Regardless of the crowd size we are still conducting a worship service in the name of Jesus Christ. If we are going to attach the name of Jesus to our service, then we should give it our very best.

3. Excellence is connected to our love of the church. I love the House of God and I want the very best for it. I believe Hillsong Church in Australia coined the phrase, “Heart for the House.” When you have a heart for God’s house you will get there early, stay late, attend to details, and make sure it operates at its very best. When it’s in my heart to build God’s house, I will do this regardless of the crowd size. I will do it because I love His house.

The “it’s just us mentality” becomes a self fulfilling prophecy for many churches. Fight the fight, keep the faith, and operate with excellence because you love Jesus, people, and the church.

Big Church in a Small Venue

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Over the next few weeks I will be writing my thoughts and experiences about having a growing church in a small venue. For the purposes of this blog I will define a small venue as one that seats less than 200 people. Like it or not, the size of your venue will greatly alter the culture of your church. A small venue can be a trap that forever snares a church as a “small church.” Many churches have a much larger vision than their facilities, but because of the venue they get trapped in a small church culture. The small church culture then chokes the life out of the big dreams and vision of the church. I believe there are several cultural points that have to be dealt with to ensure the vision and culture stay in alignment to cultivate an atmosphere of growth.

Here is the list of upcoming blogs:

– Excellence (Sloppy is bigger in a smaller venue)

– Energy/Atmosphere (It’s not in your facility, you will have to create it)

– Awkward Vision (Yes, I know there are only 8 people in the room, but you will have to cast a big vision anyway)

– OMG Kids (the g is for goodness and not God cause that would be sacrilegious)

– Multiservice/Chairology

My qualifications on this subject are as follows:

– I pastor a church of 350 people in a venue that comfortably holds 150 chairs. If we max out the chairs and diminish aisle ways we can get an extra 20-25 chairs. A comfortable seating arrangement is approximately 150 chairs.

– Our total square footage is 7,000 sq ft. When we started it was 5,600 sq ft.

– Our largest crowd to date has been 530 people in a facility that comfortably seats less than 200.

Let’s talk… would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the subject.

How to Keep an Empty Church Empty

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According to the leadership guru John Maxwell, everything rises and falls on leadership. I believe it’s the will of God for every church to grow, expand, and increase. After all, Jesus said he would build his church, and I don’t think its likely that he will fail in that mission. In addition, Paul gave an assurance that if people were “planting” and “watering,” God would give the increase. The question becomes, “why is new growth and increase so hard to come by?” Certainly there are more variables than can be discussed in one blog, but I think when it comes to dormant churches much of the answers fall at the feet of leadership. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made in order to remove obstacles to the increase and growth God is wanting to send. It’s a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, now you are singing Beauty and the Beast. Let’s get back on track. Growth usually rides on the back of something new, and a slow death has a strangle hold on the old, like when I put my 5 year old on my shoulders and through a sheer terror of height he grips my neck with other worldly strength. This scenario is played out in scripture as the Pharisees (the old) respond to Jesus (the new). The leadership of the Pharisees shows us how to successfully lead the demise of our organization while simultaneously missing God’s plan and kingdom here on earth.

John 11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

How to Keep an Empty Church Empty:

1. Protect the current status 

“the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” – The Pharisees were afraid if they continued to let Jesus do miracles they would lose their current status with the Roman government. The irony is that they despised their current situation with the Roman government and wanted to be free from it. However, when faced with the reality that things were about to change, they chose to try to protect their current situation instead of trusting God and stepping boldly into the unknown.

2. Subscribe to the greater good theory

“it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” It seems like the right choice is rarely in the majority. Those stubborn little decisions that move us by faith into the full fledged kingdom of God always seem to hang around in unpopular territory. Again, the bible points out how Caiaphas was unknowingly and ironically prophetic with this statement, but also how he failed to lead people into an ever expanding kingdom initiated by Jesus Christ. It’s the difference of leading a growing organization or maintaining a failing one. Managers measure decisions by looking at what will be the most popular, leaders look at what is right and will ultimately be the healthiest for long term growth in spite of immediate popularity. 

You can’t reach for what God has for you while holding on to what is current. At some point God will ask you to take a step of faith. That step of faith probably won’t be easy or popular, but it will put you squarely centered in God’s expanding and eternal kingdom. Remember, we walk by faith and not by sight.

The Biggest Failure of My Life

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In 2010,  with a group of less than 20 people, my wife Heidi and myself relaunched CoastLife Church. We had a big dream, a large vision, a huge passion for the local church and not much else. I was still learning who I was and discovering how God wanted me to personally do ministry. The very small team of people that were doing ministry at our first service were predominately teens or young adults and were completely inexperienced. We had no money, in fact it was difficult to keep the electric bill paid. The term “resources” was something I had heard of, but like the tooth fairy, nice to think about just not likely. To recap, we had a Pastor who was on a spiritual journey of discovering his ministry, we had a team of youth with no experience, and very little financial backing. It wasn’t exactly a recipe for success. With all of that going for us, I decided in 2010 that we would set the goal of reaching 1,000 people through CoastLife Church by Easter of 2014. If you talk to most people they would tell you not to set a numerical goal for growth for your church. As a side note, you should probably listen to them. Most people set goals only to get frustrated and decide to quit after not being able to attain them. However, we were determined that we would reach people, see God grow our church, and build a life giving, life changing, multi service, multi site church in Southwest Florida.

So, Easter of 2014 has now come and gone. I have to confess that we failed. We did not reach 1000 people this weekend. Here’s what happened instead: 530 people came to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ at CoastLife Church. Because of limited seating it took 4 services to be able to accommodate this many people. Of those 530 people, 15 people made decisions to follow Jesus Christ and 10 people made commitments to be baptized. In addition, a team of over 50 people served flawlessly pulling off 4 incredible services that glorified the name of Jesus Christ. We failed to reach 1000 people. Instead, we have relaunched a dying church, reached literally hundreds of people, baptized, equipped and trained people for ministry, and have built a life giving, life changing church. That is one huge, incredible, amazing, and overwhelming failure. Would I set a numerical goal again? Yes, I’m already praying about my next “failure.” Again, this may not be for everyone, but here’s why I like setting big goals:

1. I never want my faith to limit my God. (I’m convinced that God wants to do exceedingly and abundantly above what we ask or think. That almost sounds biblical.)

2. I want to consistently have a dream that is bigger than my circumstances. (I believe that if we had not had a dream bigger than our circumstances, our circumstances would have defined us as a small, pitiful, broke church that was not reaching its community. Instead, our dream began to define us and not our circumstances. In spite of the very pitiful circumstances, we truly believed that we were called to do something significant in our community)

3. I want to leave room for the impossible in my life. (Old Testament Reference Alert, I don’t want to find out that I should I have struck the ground with arrows 5 or 6 times, when I only struck it 3. Go look it up, it will bless you.)

I heard Pastor Greg Surratt teach recently to, “set big goals, but don’t be afraid to adjust your expectations.” Go ahead and set a big goal and verbalize a big dream, but don’t define your life by the exact outcome. Trust me, I’m overjoyed with what God has done at CoastLife Church. Did we fail? Technically yes, but it’s the biggest and best failure of my life.