Getting Caught Up

It has been quite some time since I have updated my blog. I don’t want this to be misinterpreted as a sign that things aren’t going well. It is actually quite the opposite. Things are getting busier as Tidelands grows, and that means that I am going to have to be more focused and intentional about making time for my blog. I also took some time off over the holidays to be with family and relax. There you have it – my best excuses. I can provide more later if requested.

In other news, we had a few more “firsts” in December. Last December we were still only meeting once a month for worship, so this was our first time moving through an entire Advent season of worship together. I would typically preach one of the sermons during Advent when I was at Mountain View, but this was my first time planning and implementing all four weeks on my own. I have to say that I enjoyed it – other than the business of preparing for three worship services at once the week before Christmas with family in town (Christmas Eve, Sunday before and Sunday after Christmas). But it was worth it so that I could enjoy time off with family after Christmas. Having a Christmas Eve service was another of our “firsts” for Tidelands.

Our Missional Community had some wonderful time together over the holidays. We had Thanksgiving and Christmas meals together (not on the exact days, but close enough), we made cookies for the elementary school staff, had a “white elephant” gift exchange, watched some football, and continued to share the “Story of God” with our kids. A new family has begun joining us on Sunday nights. Christmas is a great time to introduce people to life lived for Christ! Most of our MC families also helped out with the giving tree at the local school again. We are still working toward helping the school district and the food bank develop a local “backpack program” (a program that provides food for the weekend to kids that need the extra help). The idea was that we would be launching the program this week, but we are running into some snags. Tidelands donated a significant amount of our local mission giving to get the program up and running, so the barriers are more procedural (and perhaps spiritual as well).

Some of the more mundane (yet necessary) things that we are currently working on have to do with the logistics of starting a new church. We registered for a EIN (Employee Identification Number) with the federal government, and we are now working on getting incorporated with the state. This also requires creating some articles of incorporation. Fortunately for us, this process is made easier by being under the umbrella of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We’re also getting more people involved with all of the details that go into Sunday morning worship: set-up, tear-down, children’s ministry, offerings, coffee bar, etc. Thankfully God is leading some amazing people to partner in this with us!

For me personally, I’m beginning to feel like the “honeymoon” is over. I’ll share more about what I mean in another blog post (hopefully on its way before another two months pass!).

Shush! The Pastor is talking!

What You Can't Say in ChurchTake a look at the following article that addresses the idea of interaction during preaching in the worship service:  “What You Can’t Say in Church.” I would love to know what other’s think or have experienced with this. At Tidelands worship gatherings I have tried to allow time after many sermons for questions and interaction. I have found that it is often one of the most profound moments in our time together. However, I also know that we are small and that is one of the reasons that we can get away with it. I like the idea presented in the above article though: Preach for a bit, ask a discussion question to be talked about with those seated nearby, and repeat. Of course, coming up with a worthy question would be the key.

Here we go!

Ahhh...vacation.

Ahhh…vacation.

Our family just returned from a wonderful two weeks of vacation! I have to say that I don’t ever remember feeling the need for a vacation quite as much as I did this summer. It has been a joyful, exciting, yet very tiring past year of our life. Last summer we were so busy trying to renovate our home on Camano Island and make the move from Marysville that we didn’t get much of a break. We had a great one week break for Spring Break, but sometimes it just takes me a bit longer to truly settle down and relax. So now we are back home and ready to launch into the fall. Kristina is already back to work (she’s a teacher) and the kids will start school next week. I start coaching fall soccer today.

Since I’m also busy writing updates for newsletter, council meetings, social media, etc., I’m  going to share one of those here that may be a repeat of some information but will give people a big picture view of where we are with Tidelands. Here it is:

Summer2013What a wonderful summer it has been to be living on Camano Island and starting a new worshipping community in Stanwood! Our first missional community (meeting on Camano Island) learned a bit more about “rhythm” together as we moved through our first summer of vacations, busy weekends, and late summer nights. With school out, it was more challenging to stay in touch with other families and bless the local school, so we took advantage of the location and weather and invited them to the beach! We built up some great relationships around the barbecue and campfire that we continue to pray about and will build upon this fall. In addition, we helped the PTA pressure wash and repaint the local elementary school playground and added a colorful USA map. Soon we will be helping re-launch the Watch D.O.G.S. program at the school.

This fall a couple of our MC members will be coaching soccer in Stanwood (and many of our kids will be playing on teams). We see this as yet another opportunity to meet and bless those that do not yet know the power of the Gospel. Looking forward, we are still hoping that we can help launch a “backpack” program in partnership with the Stanwood food bank that will allow elementary school kids in “food insecure” situations could take food home for the weekend. Keep in mind that all of this and more is happening through our first missional community. Our long-term plan is to have MC’s all over the Stanwood/Camano Island area blessing their neighborhoods in the name of Jesus!

Our Sunday morning worship gatherings have undergone quite a change over the summer. We ended up moving our worship to the Stanwood Community and Senior Center (on the hill above Stanwood High School). It is the historic Lincoln School Building. The facility has a welcoming staff and plenty of room for future growth in attendance. Also, our children now have a separate room to go during the preaching time. Heidi Adams has stepped up to coordinate this for us. It is little things like this that mean a lot when you are small and starting out!

Our relationship with the Stanwood Community and Senior Center is already becoming a great partnership and service opportunity for us! We discovered that there are a number of seniors living in the apartments attached to the Center that can no longer easily get out for worship on Sunday. They have readily joined us and are now an active part of our fellowship! These seniors weren’t exactly on our radar screen when we identified one of our target groups as those that “can’t “ make it to worship on Sunday (we were thinking more along the lines of those who had to work on Sunday), but they were certainly on God’s radar and the Holy Spirit has led us to them! What a blessing for us! Soon we will be repainting part of the entryway of the Senior Center at the request of the Center staff.

Our worship is still meeting every week and we are seeing slow but steady growth in our attendance. However, we continually remind ourselves that this cannot be the primary measure of our success or faithfulness in what God has called us to do. I pray every day that we will experience our first adult baptism. Please join us in that prayer as well as praying that God will lead other mature Christian leaders to help us in these early stages of development. I am especially hoping and praying for a worship team coordinator and administrative help.

We put off looking for an office during the summer as we made the transition into the Senior Center for worship, but we will be back at it this fall. We hope to find a small location in Stanwood that will give us a more permanent presence in the community.

Thank you all so much for your continual prayers and support!

Sheep Stealing?

wolf_sheepThere is an interesting tension we are beginning to experience in our start-up year as a church. While we are convinced that our first missional community is becoming all that we hoped it would be, and it does seem to work as a way or reaching those that have never been part of a church community, it is likely going to be quite some time before people coming through the missional community end up in worship with us on Sundays. More importantly, it will be some time before we develop mature leaders through this process. So how do we go about recruiting/attracting potential leaders in the community to join us without “stealing” from the existing congregations?

I’m convinced that churches (especially new church “plants”) are not always honest with themselves in this area. So often they  end up attracting a large number of people from other congregations because they are “fresh”, have better programs/music, more energy, or people are just unhappy with their current congregation. I’m sure anyone who has been in ministry for any amount of time can relate to having a conversation with visitors on a Sunday morning who begin explaining to you that they are at your worship service because they are unhappy with their current church. For me, this always triggered a red flag. More often than not (though I understand that there are legitimate exceptions), these people will “hop” on over to another place once they realize just how imperfect and messy your church is.

So now we are at a place where we are considering doing some of the things that we have not done much of up to this point. Namely, getting a building space, and doing more promotion to invite people to join us for worship. I think we need to do this because going forward we are going to have to find more people to join us in this work. We need a worship leader, we need a church administrator, we need people to help with children’s ministry, and we need others to join our missional community leadership so that we can multiply and start missional communities in other areas. And the big question in my mind is: How do we do this without simply pulling people out of their existing church community?

I have already met people that have recently moved to the area and are looking for a church home. The demographic research tells us that the Stanwood/Camano Island area will continue to grow. So that would certainly be a group to focus on. I also know that there are some people who travel a very long way to go to worship. While I understand that there are a variety of reasons for this, I also know that it is hard to truly be the church in your neighborhood or community if all of those in your worshipping community live 30 miles away. So perhaps there is some room there for people to reconnect their worship life with their community life.

We are just beginning this conversation as a leadership team. It will be interesting to see where this all goes. In the meantime, I have Jesus words ringing in my ears:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask
the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Church Shopping Lessons: What Churches Should be Doing on Sunday Morning

church shoppingOne of the most beneficial things for me during this church planting process has been the opportunity to take my family to worship with other churches on the Sundays that we are not having worship at Tidelands. (Right now we are having a Tidelands worship gathering once a month, worshiping with Mountain View once a month, and then visiting other churches on the open Sundays). Although we are not “church shopping” in the sense that we are looking for a new church home, we have been able to experience what it must be like for those that are. My wife and I have been taking our boys on this journey with us (ages 9 & 6). It has given me insight that may be helpful for others, and will undoubtedly be helpful for our leaders in the future. So without further ado, here is my list of…

WHAT CHURCHES SHOULD BE DOING TO WELCOME VISITORS:

  1. Keep your website fresh and updated! 

    I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people (and increasingly older generations as well) will want to check out your website before visiting. Here’s what they are looking for: worship times, worship style, information on children’s ministry/nursery, sermon examples, pictures of your worship space, directions, pastor’s name, a brief statement about what you believe. It also doesn’t hurt to give them examples of what to expect during a typical service. Remember: while information on all of your midweek programs may be what existing church people are looking for, visitors just want the basics to decide if it is worth the effort to try it out.

  2. Put up the Signs! 

    Church buildings in North America have got to be some of the craziest spaces in our cities. Many of them have multiple parking areas, multiple sanctuaries, and additions that go in every direction. Even the smallest church buildings often have additions on them that aren’t easy to figure out. Of course it makes sense to those that go every Sunday, but what about the visitor? Can they find the nursery without asking someone? Can they find the main entrance from wherever they end up parking? Will they know where they can and can’t park? I can’t tell you how many church buildings we just had to guess at a door for worship.

  3. Someone Say Hello! 

    It seems obvious, but you might be surprised at how people in small and large churches seemed to ignore our family of four. We visited one church where we walked into a worship with about 30 people. Everyone knew that we were new, but not a single person that morning said anything to us other than “The peace of Christ be with you” during the “passing of the peace.” Someone be courageous! Say, “Hi! Is this your first time here?” If you’re in a bigger church I understand that there is a fear that if you ask someone if it is their first time that they might say, “no, we’ve been coming here for a year” and you would be embarrassed. That’s ok! If they say that respond with: “I apologize for not introducing myself before. My name is …” and go from there. And in case your wondering, the pastor shaking hands at the door or the people giving you a bulletin on the way into the sanctuary don’t count! We all know that they HAVE to say hello!

  4. Make Children Welcome!

    Have information everywhere for parents. Put it on signs around the church, have someone in the Sunday School wing directing and welcoming people, put it on an information card in the pews and chairs and all over the website. Don’t leave parents wondering what they are supposed to do with kids! We’ve been there and it is not fun! Make sure that your children’s area looks like a place you would want to leave your kids. Ask yourself, if this were a school would I be ok with the way the hallway, classroom, etc. look? If the kids are invited to come “forward” for a kid’s message and then leave to a class, be sure to also invite those kids and parents still seated to come with the group as they leave to the class time. Visiting kids will rarely go to the front of a strange church! Our kids have had some amazing experiences and some where they wanted nothing to do with the children’s ministry and stayed in the service with us. Even worse, we’ve been to services where there is nothing for the kids during the service at all! No children’s message, no sunday school, nothing to draw on, no information about their ministry – Nothing! Our kids are longtime church kids, but there are places that were intolerable even for them. Imagine what a kid that has never been to church would feel! I can tell you that our children have had the best experiences at churches that had larger groups of kids together of various ages for a type of “kids church.” Walking into a classroom with three kids is very intimidating and uncomfortable for a visiting child so the large group puts them at ease and has more energy.

  5. Explain what you are doing in worship! 

    I realize that the “seeker sensitive” movement may have taken some things to extremes, but they also got some things right. Think about it: How is someone who has never been to worship or has come from a different tradition supposed to know what “passing the peace” is? What in the world are you doing with the bread and the wine anyway? Who is allowed to come? Why are you doing it? Even though I am a pastor, I have still found the eucharist to be very uncomfortable in some churches. How was I supposed to know that my little plastic cup went into a discard bin right next to the server up front? Should my children stay seated or come forward? Can we participate if we aren’t members? We don’t have to get rid of the liturgical elements in worship to make visitors comfortable, but we should take the time to explain them briefly. Also, if you’re doing the announcements, be sure to introduce yourself!

  6. Invite people to stay for coffee! 

    If you have a place with cookies, coffee, tea, etc., have someone upfront in worship invite people to stay and enjoy it. Visitors are in survival mode. They want to figure out what to do with their kids, find a place to sit, experience the worship, and get back to their car to debrief without being horribly embarrassed. If visitors like the worship, and come back, then they will be looking to experience more. So let them know that you have a place to hang out and meet people. Of course, this only helps if someone takes #3 seriously!

  7. Provide a way for people to meet with pastoral staff! 

    This doesn’t apply specifically to what we have experienced, but if we were truly “church shopping” then this would be important. Have a casual gathering a few times a year when people can meet with the leaders of the church and get to know others new to the church. Let them ask their questions (you could also solicit feedback!). Provide childcare, food, drink, and you’ll be on your way. Oh, and don’t be tempted to make this a “new members class.” They aren’t going to be ready for commitment yet.

I’m sure I’ll think of other things to add since we have a couple more months of this to go. I’ll update this entry as I think of them. Maybe you’ve been a church shopper and you’ve thought of some that aren’t on here?

One other note: This seems a little odd to write this article on this blog for the simple reason that these suggestions are primarily for an “attractional church” model (i.e. – “our doors our open every Sunday and you’re welcome to join us!). However, any church with regular worship gatherings is going to have visitors, even if it is just those moving into the community and looking for a church home. However, it does beg the question: How different would it be if the “visitors” in question had already been to the home of one of the regular attenders and was met by them in the parking lot on their first day at worship?

Kid’s “Church” Art

I had to share some artwork with you (click on an image to see it full-size). During our December worship gathering the kids took some time to make a play-doh nativity after hearing the Christmas story. They also did some drawing.

Church

Drawing by Cameron B. (8 years) of  “the Church”

I couldn’t be more proud of the drawing above! I don’t know if we adults are getting it yet, but the church is NOT a place, it’s a people! So cool!

The next one will require a bit of explanation. Be sure to look at it full-size so you can see Jesus’ face.

Jesus Cries

Picture of baby Jesus by Calvin B (6 years). Notice that baby Jesus is crying.

I had just finished telling the Christmas story, and during the story I let the kids know that Jesus cried as a baby just like all babies cry. Now, it doesn’t say that in the Bible, but it also does not say that Jesus didn’t cry! We know Jesus cried as an adult (John 11:35), and we know that Jesus was fully human and fully God. The fully human baby Jesus surely cried! Is this important? It is important in the sense that Jesus’ full humanity is important theologically. Beyond that, there is the implication that a “perfect” baby wouldn’t cry – bad in so many ways!

You probably noticed the pig as well with the tail that stretches to the sky. I’m not sure where it came from, and my first thought was: “Of all the animals he could’ve picked, he had to pick the one that would be most repulsive to a good Jew!” After a good chuckle I put it away. Later it hit me: Of all the people God could’ve picked to visit baby Jesus he chose the unclean Gentile astrologers (magi) and the physically dirty shepherds! So perhaps a pig isn’t as out of place as I thought at first.

One more picture. This is a picture of the play-doh nativity made by all the kids. Not much I want to say about this other than I love letting kids respond creatively to the Word in our worship gatherings.

Baby Jesus Playdough

Baby Jesus Playdough