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.

50 Shades of Church

50 Shades Tie
I once preached in a small church in rural Missouri (pronounced Miz-zour-a). There was a time in my life when I traveled and preached quite a bit. So every service would be a different church in a different town or state. After a while you sort of learn to roll with the customs of each particular church. On this night I rolled in to realize that for starters I was way over dressed. This church was casual and not just casual, but country casual. I had left my Levi bootcut jeans at the store somehow. In those days my typical preacher attire was a suit and tie. Being nimble of mind, I quickly nixed the tie so that my top button open dress shirt might create unity with this Levi wearing crowd. How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity and all of that. I didn’t remove my jacket, I never remove my jacket once wearing one. That’s too high of a price to pay for unity to me for some reason. But I digress. Several of the men of the church welcomed me when I arrived and by welcome I mean stood around me trying to determine if I indeed was going to “bring the heat” at this service. One of the men, the older one, decided to provide some leadership for the questions and encouragement that was being offered to me. Evidently one eye was better than the other because when he would make a statement he would twist his head to put his “good eye” on me. At first, it was some statements about “take your liberty” or “do what you feel led tonight.” I’ve never stepped into a pulpit without knowing exactly what I intended to do. Not for sure if that’s considered liberty or not, but I assured him with as much Holy Ghost gusto that I could manage that I would indeed take my liberty. Not satisfied at all, he did the head turn and a little bit of a chin tuck so the good eye would really be prominent. I pause to say, at this point I realized that his admonishment to do what I felt led was really a hope that I would do what he felt led. Back to the good eye, now squinting with spiritual intensity. Looking up from the hypnotizing Holy Spirit stare he said, “tell us what we need to hear, you go ahead and skin our heads.” I was raised in this area of the country and speak the language, so I quickly translated this to understand that he was requesting some type of spiritual punishment at tonight’s service. With many words he admonished me, as the other two men supported him, to bring some type of spiritual spanking to the church. They were in the mood for some chastening on this Sunday evening. The request was odd, the excitement and fervor for it was really odd. I’m just not into that. I’m not judging you if you are. I’m just not into it. It got me thinking though and I have wondered about that mentality for a long time. The mentality that finds harsh words or heavy preaching to be enjoyable. Sort of a spiritual pleasure pain principle. Have you ever met someone who seemingly enjoyed feeling bad? For some it seems like it feels good to feel bad. The mentality seems to be “the worse I feel emotionally, the stronger I feel spiritually.” For those people or groups you can’t preach it hard enough. I’ve been in some church services and conference type meetings where a safe word probably should have been provided. Whether its guilt over behavioral issues, or despair over how dark the world is, it seems to make people feel godly to feel bad. I’m not against sorrow. The bible says that godly sorrow brings repentance. Of course, that same bible also says that it’s the goodness of God that leads people to repentance. We’ve all done some things we are sorry that we did. However, guilt never takes us anywhere. It’s the goodness of God that can lead us down a road where we are truly sorry and change our behavior. I’ve termed this phenomenon “Christian Guilt.” The idea that feeling bad, feeling guilty, feeling intense seems to put me on a higher spiritual plane. Happy people, hope filled people, optimistic people are spiritual novices. Intense, guilty, and doom filled people are the ones who appear to be the more spiritually “promiscuous” and experienced. We look to them from our innocence to introduce us to the pleasure world of Christian Guilt. There is actually good money to be made by making people feel bad. Many books have been sold and sermons preached on the premise of people should feel bad who have it too good, have too much money, or they are lazy and aren’t doing enough for God. I know what you are thinking. Actually, I don’t. This blog is filled with innuendo and I’m not for sure how that makes you feel. But, you should be thinking, “shouldn’t we be challenged or corrected?” That’s a great question and the answer is yes. We absolutely need to be disciplined and corrected in our spiritual lives. However, that discipline and correction should take us somewhere. Guilt, feeling bad, being intense all of the time never really produces any change. Something is wrong when you like to keep church spicy with spiritual discipline and enjoy either feeling or causing pain. Honest, life giving correction should lead us to 3 things:

1. Faith – The bible never denies the reality of negative circumstances. People have ungodly behavior that leads them into bondage. The world is full of very burdensome circumstances that try to take away your joy. It’s not spiritual growth to be angry and intense about the world and people of the world. It’s spiritual growth to have joy in spite of how dark the world is. Joy after all, and not intense anger, is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, “in this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.” When talking about how dark people are, or how dark the world is, we should never stop until we have built people’s faith that Jesus has already overcome the world. You won’t get a cookie at the end of the age because of how dark and intense you were.

2. Grace – Here’s the deal. Guilt has never saved one person. Not one. No one has ever been guilted into salvation. On the other hand, all of us have been saved by grace. We don’t deny sin or the affects of sin. Sin is terrible. It separates us from God and all sin has consequences. We don’t deny the consequences of sin and even the sorrow it can bring. We also don’t leave people in guilt, we lead them to the grace of God. Guilt is an emotional prison, Grace is a never ending well.

3. Love – Love never fails. Prophecy will one day cease. Tongues will one day cease. Knowledge will vanish and be no more, but love will never fail. How bad will the world be? I really don’t know. How dark will the culture we live in be? I can’t answer that question either. I do know this though. Regardless of how bad the world is, and regardless of how dark our culture becomes, love will still never fail. Somewhere, in some tangible way, love will be prevailing. Abiding in all seasons will be faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.

Perhaps you enjoy spiritual intensity. Perhaps the scripture of Jesus with a whip in the temple excites you. I’m not here to judge. Yes, we need to be corrected and yes, there are some things that are wrong in people and the world. However, we shouldn’t allow the world to rob us of our faith, hope, and love. There are a lot of different shades of church. Regardless of the shade, the world, people, you, me, we all need faith, hope, and love to grow in the grace of God. Let’s be life giving, and provide people with an atmosphere of grace to grow and change.

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.