ISIS, Ebola, and a Nagging Voice

Direction

It will soon be decision time in our country. We are blessed with the privilege of electing our leaders, instead of having them be chosen by lineage or force, as is the case in other nations of the world. The ability to choose is a true sign of the blessing and prosperity we enjoy in our lives. Choices define us and determine the destiny of our lives. A destiny is comprised of daily decisions we make for ourselves. Choose well and you will arrive at a great destination. Choose poorly and well, insert a mental image of the sad Charlie Brown walk here. Choices are made based on internal voices of reasoning inside the minds of each of us. Of course, sometimes there are other voices that get into our heads. When we are overloaded with a choir of voices that over power us we sometimes lose our sense of direction and common sense. With social media, television media, and an abundance of politicians, businesses, and people vying for our choices it can sometimes cause us to get lost in the shuffle. Every commercial you see is touting a lifestyle choice, every politician you hear is preaching a message they want you to believe, and social media pulls us in as we stare at little screens dozens of times per day. Little by little, all of these voices push us in different directions. I believe with all of my heart that we are in a season when our choices will define our future like never before. I can’t help but think that many people are in the center of a culture war being waged on every front imaginable and are wrestling with personal decisions that will ultimately determine a future destiny. The reality is that every person’s personal decision builds on another’s decision until the course of a people group is set. At the risk of sounding like a proponent of doom and gloom, I can’t help but wonder if people are looking out at the world and reevaluating their internal voice of reason. With the instability of our economy, the incredible atrocities by ISIS and other terrorist organizations, and not the concern of Ebola in our world and nation, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a nagging voice. A voice that is trying to guide us, a voice that is compelling us into a direction, a voice in the midst of many voices trying to lead us in the right direction.

Isaiah said, “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.”

Surrounded by a cacophony of voices, I believe there is a still, small voice of the Holy Spirit that prompts us. I believe many people are looking out at the world with concern, and inwardly, there are two voices that are trying to lead us on the path of peace and prosperity. Those voices are the voice of sound reason, and the voice of the Holy Spirit. God speaks, we listen, we tell ourselves what God said, and then we make a decision to obey. We find a good path. The world speaks, we listen, we tell ourselves to follow the well trod path of the world. Head low, chin on chest, we walk a hard road.

Each of us has to decide for ourselves which prompting we will follow. The majority of our individual choices will decide our corporate direction. It’s much more than a vote in November, it’s a daily lifestyle choice we make. The majority will decide something much more important than an election. The majority will decide our destiny.

Here’s 3 ways to hear the right voice:

1. Common Sense – There is right and wrong, and even today its clear. Choose what you know to be right based on the word of God and not on what’s popular in our culture.
2. Turn down the other voices – Take a few minutes and pray. Turn off the television, social media, and other devices and listen. Prayer is about talking to God, and God talking to you. He still speaks, the only question is, are we listening?
3. Sound Advice – There are still leaders in the world worth following. God will never leave a generation or people without a voice. There are godly people who are speaking biblical truth. Tune in to what they are saying

Joshua 24:15New Living Translation (NLT)

15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

Each of us gets to choose the direction of all us. Choose well my friends.

Separated for What (To the Tune of Turned Down for What a Psalm of Jason)

Separated for What

The word holiness is often misunderstood and even more times misapplied. The term holy itself evokes images of cathedrals, priests, and large print bibles. Holy places, holy people, and holy books. Not only does the term holiness cause confusion, but its definition even gets misapplied. The term holiness means to live a consecrated or separated life. It’s the separation that seems to cause confusion. The Amish have claimed separation, but seem to struggle with their own humanity just as much as the next group of people. You can wear heavy black garments to cover the skin, but it will do little to cover the darkness of our own human nature. Clothing and religious garb give the feeling of separation, but still the human condition remains. What is often the reality is that many have chosen isolation rather than separation. Isolation allows me to find a level of comfort with myself and like minded group. Sure we have our problems, but it’s our problems and we don’t have to deal with the problems of others. However, it’s clear that isolation or being different for the sake of being different wasn’t the intention of scripture. We are most definitely to be in the world. We are called to engage the darkness, we are called to invade the wrong, we are even called to build our churches at the gates of hell. We are called to be in the world, just not of it. How do we become separate without become isolationist? I believe the answer lies in understanding separation. Many times people focus on what we are separated from. The list could go on forever, and just when you have the list complete something new comes along. Personally, I believe that a lot can be solved not by looking at what we are separated from, but what we are separated to. This isn’t meant to be a complete list, but here are 3 things that I feel every person has been called to be separated to:

1. I am separated to the call of God on my life. – This means that instead of trying to relive the glory days of my youth I will honor God’s call on my life. While many are trying to be fiercely young and independent in a season of life that calls for faithfulness and maturity, I will embrace the role that God has called me to play. I am called first to be a follower of Christ, secondly a husband to Heidi, thirdly a Dad to Mackenzie and Jadon, and Fourthly a Pastor to CoastLife Church. I am separated to these things. I embrace my role as believer, husband, father, pastor, and friend. My marriage isn’t supposed to end in divorce because I seek my own desires. My kids are not supposed to be abandoned to a personal agenda that outweighs parental responsibility. My church isn’t to be abandoned by a shepherd that chose lust, greed, or personal ambition over the needs of my flock.

2. I am separated to be salt and light in my community. – This means extra snacks. Hang with me for a minute. My beloved son in whom I am well pleased started kindergarten this year. He’s such a stud. He has come home each day reporting the friends he has discovered in his new class. The first day it was a report that he met a girl that was ticklish “all over.” He also learned that it’s a class rule to keep your hands to yourself. No more tickling. Soon he came home with the report of a friend that never had a snack. In his class the parents are supposed to put a snack in the student’s back pack in addition to the lunch they eat at school. Our son told us that his friend ate “old” food at home and didn’t have any money. I’m not for sure if the parents are neglectful or maybe just can’t afford the snacks, but I know one person who doesn’t care. My wife could care less about the cause, she only cares that a child doesn’t have a snack. I can guarantee you that there will be snacks a plenty for the remainder of the school year for that student. We are separated to do and be good in a world that is filled with bad. We have been taken out of the kingdom of darkness and separated into the kingdom of light. Let your light so shine that others may see and glorify your Father in heaven.

3. I am separated to be a worshipper of Jesus Christ. – This weekend me, my wife, and my children will be at church on Sunday. This won’t be the only Sunday we attend this month, in fact, we will be there next weekend barring sickness or other types of emergencies. We won’t attend sporadically, and we won’t just claim a title of christianity. We will leave our home, we will join with others of our faith, we will lift our hands in surrender, and we will worship Jesus. Any job that prevents me from doing this won’t be a job that I have for long. Any hobby that prevents me from doing this won’t be a hobby that I have for long. Any issue I have that prevents me from doing this, won’t be an issue for long. I am separated, called out, to be a part of body of people known as a church. In fact, the term church simply means people who have been called out to gather for religious purposes.

Holiness isn’t weird, holiness isn’t being different for different sakes, holiness isn’t isolation. It’s knowing what God has called you to and denying the world and sometimes even our own selves from robbing us of God’s great plan for our lives. Separated for what?

The Grind (Staying Fresh in Ministry)

Staying Fresh in Ministry
Staying Fresh in Ministry

Getting started is usually a great deal of fun. The first day on the job, the launch of a new endeavor, or the beginning of a new project usually contains a good bit of excitement. At this point I will politely and tactfully mention honeymoons without elaboration. Moving on. My kids just went back to school and were really excited about that first day. However, it didn’t take long for the excitement to wear off and for the early mornings and long days at school to start to take their toll. At some point the excitement wears off, the honeymoon is over, and the weight of responsibility begins to kick in. I call this “the grind.” I remember when I first became a Pastor. It was an exciting endeavor to me. It was something that I had prayed for and dreamed of for a long time. Then “the grind” set in. Those Sundays seemed to keep coming every seven days. The work and preparation for each weekend was now a responsibility and soon became a tangible weight. It’s inevitable that even the things we love to do will become a weight of responsibility and over time become a grind. The question becomes, how do I stay fresh in ministry when what I am doing is no longer fresh?

If you run out of gas in your car it will be inconvenient. In fact, this morning I picked up a gentleman on the side of the road that ran out of gas taking his little girl to school. We left his wife and daughter in the vehicle while I ran him to a gas station. He confided in me on the way to the gas station that his wife wasn’t very happy with the fact that he had forgotten to get gas. His daughter was now late to school, insert bible passage about a quarreling wife here, and you get the idea. It makes for a rough morning. If you run out of gas it’s inconvenient. However, if you run out of oil it’s going to be more than inconvenient, it’s going to be damaging. Some people are running out of gas and that can cause problems, but some people are running out of oil and that can cause major problems. In ministry it’s the oil of the Holy Spirit that keeps us fresh and running without burning out. The problem many people make is they think a vacation will solve the problem of feeling the grind. Vacations are great. A weekend away, a week on a beach, or trip to a favorite destination can be very refreshing. Everyone needs time to rest and recover. A vacation is a great way to reenergize yourself and to fill up your gas tank for another long stretch. The problem is that even with a full tank and energy to burn we still need fresh oil for our lives. A vacation is good for the body and mind, but we need oil for our soul. After 17 years of preaching and doing ministry, here are 4 things I recommend to keep the oil flowing in your life and to keep ministry fresh long after “the grind” has set in:

1. Find a worship environment that is more about the awe of God than the attributes of the service. Sometimes in ministry we attend worship services, but don’t truly engage God in them. The service and worship time is about making sure everything is going good and that all of the needs of the worshippers are met. I confess that many times my mind is on my sermon and what I feel like God has laid on my heart to share that day. Ultimately the worship time becomes about what I am doing for God. To stay fresh in ministry you need to intentionally seek out worship moments that are about what God has done for you and not about what you are doing for God. We are recipients of God’s amazing grace, His incredible love, and a multitude of His blessings. Be intentional about finding a place of worship that is simply about the awe of what God has done for you. It’s oil to my life when I worship God with a grateful heart.

2. Find a vision environment that is larger than your current vision. It’s cliche I know, but sometimes you can’t see the forrest for the trees. Sometimes In ministry and being faithful to tend to our one tree or group of trees we forget that we are a part of something much greater. One of the healthiest things you can do is to go to a conference of other believers and christian leaders to be a part of something larger than just you and your tree(s). It adds oil to your life to see what God is doing in the lives and ministries of others. My wife Heidi and I love to go to a larger church in our area at their Saturday night service. It adds oil to my life each time as I see the larger picture of what God is doing in our community through the local church

3. Find a prayer environment that lifts you up. I pray, I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe in praying for everything at all times. However, there are moments when I don’t need to pray, but rather I need to be prayed for. I still believe in the laying on of hands and I still believe in impartation. You need to be intentional about having someone pray for you. There have been strategic moments in my life when godly leaders have laid hands on me and prayed for me. It was oil for my life and ministry.

4. Find a word environment that builds you up. I am a Jentzen Franklin fan. In fact, I got the chance to meet Jentzen a few weeks ago. When I met him I said, and I quote, “hey Pastor Jentzen, you are my man crush.” I thought it would be funny, but instead I think I embarrassed him and myself in the process. Have I mentioned that I am an idiot? Nevertheless, I listen to Jentzen’s podcast, Chris Hodges’ podcast, Andy Stanley’s podcast, and several others. Jentzen preached a message recently that was exactly what I need for this season of my life. I have listened to the message no less than 5 times and it moves me to tears each time I hear it. It’s oil to my life. If anyone knows Jentzen, please tell him I’m sorry.

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.