August 2009

This church is big.  (How big is it?)

  • It’s so big that when we buy coffee at B.J.’s people question whether we have our own coffee company (think about that one for a second…doesn’t make sense, does it?).
  • It’s so big that at our monthly staff meetings, we’ll start off with an intro time of the new faces.
  • It’s so big that when our small group leaders wear orange shirts on Sunday, they throw off the landing patterns at RDU.

But mostly, it’s so big that we’ve learned that people simply must be intentional when it comes to relationships.

Here’s the cool thing about relationships at the Summit: they’re available.  We’ve designed environments like Summit Small Groups and Starting Point and BC12 and First Time Guest Tents and age-appropriate ministries that all have one goal: to take people from larger groups to smaller, relational groups.

However, intentionality is a must on the part of our people.  If they don’t intend to get into a group, they won’t.  If they don’t intend to “have a friend, be a friend,” they won’t.  If they don’t intend to go deeper, they won’t.

Intentionality is a must-have for a church this size.  How about it?  How intentional are you in making a big church little?

Beginning today and continuing through every Friday this fall, I’m doing a series titled “First Impressions Fridays.”  These posts are specifically designed for the First Impressions Teams at all of our campuses, but hey, read it anyway.  You might learn something useful.

The concept of “Wow Moments” comes from my friend Mark Waltz (I think I’m allowed to call him my friend by now…I’ve bought a ton of his books).  In his first book, First Impressions, he states that if a first-time guest to your church doesn’t say, “Wow!  I’m impressed!” sometime in their first ten minutes, then your guest services team has failed and should all be fired.

Okay, he doesn’t put it that strongly, but the point is the same: every Sunday morning, we should have systems in place that grab our guests’ attention and makes them want to come back.  A few examples should suffice, all of which I heard first-hand just yesterday:

  • One of our members was telling me about a guy she’s been trying to invite to the Summit for a while.  She casually mentioned that we have a coffee bar, to which he replied, “What brand of coffee?”  When she said Dunkin’ Donuts, he said, “Hmmm…I might have to come check that out.”  Translated: You didn’t cheap out with the Folgers Crystals.  Maybe you really do care whether or not I show up.
  • Another guy told me about his father in law who was visiting from out of town last Sunday.  He was flattered that we’d invest in Summit-branded coffee mugs as a “thank you” for visiting with us.  Word on the street was that he was also snapping pictures of the First Time Guest tent to try to implement back at his home church.  Translated: This church really does care that I took the time to visit.  They expected me to show up, and were ready for me.
  • In that same conversation, this guy told me that the first time he and his wife visited, they were allowed to take coffee into the worship center.  Translated: You care more about your guests’ comfort than the potential of coffee stains on the chairs.

It’s small touches like these that make guests say “Wow!  I’m impressed!”  Now, I should note that we’re not trying to buy guests’ affection or bribe them to return or anything like that.  But those little touches lower defenses, and lowered defenses yields a clearer hearing of the gospel, and a clearer hearing of the gospel yields changed lives.  That’s what we’re going for, and that’s why we’ll continue to try to “wow” people during their first few minutes on campus.

What are some “Wow!” moments that you’ve had at other churches?

Yesterday I had two great conversations with a couple of people about their journey to involvement at the Summit.  It’s conversations like that on a week like this that give clarity and energy to what we’re doing.  You’ve heard by now that we had 399 people identified as First Time Guests at the Summit last Sunday.  399 divided by the staff and deacons who are following up = three or four nights worth of phone calls.  Sometimes I’m asked: “Franks, is this stuff really worth it?  Do these people even care that we’re checking in to see how their experience was?  I don’t really even like calling people.  I don’t like people, period.”

And I always reply, “But J.D., you’re the pastor, you have to like people.”

(Just kidding.  It’s not J.D.  It’s Jason Gaston.)

Anyway, back to the follow up.  Conversation #1 was with a guy who was reminiscing on his very first visit to the Summit over a year ago.  He and his wife lived in Garner, and although they like the church, they were convinced they couldn’t find community in a church that large and that far away.

And then came Monday night, where they received a phone call from one of our pastors checking in to see how their experience was, if they had questions, etc.  Matt said that was the tipping point that convinced them the Summit was the place to be.  They returned, they continued to get plugged in…and we hired him.  He he now serves on staff with our Summit Kids ministry.  Score.

Story #2 happened with a guy who has been around for a few months now.  David told me that he had looked for a church in the RDU area for more than two years, but nothing fit.  In every church, he felt like community and the personal touch was lacking.  Although many of the churches he visited were great churches, he didn’t feel like he ever “cracked the code” to be an insider.

And then came the first visit, where several people (not just the folks with a First Impressions name tag on) came up and said hello.  And the second visit, when some of those same people sought him out, remembered his name, and did what they could to make him feel like family.  David stuck…and now he’s finishing up the Starting Point process and exploring the possibility of serving with Summit Students and our First Impressions Team.  Score, again.

These are two of hundreds of stories that could be told.  Is follow up important?  In the words of Sarah Palin, you betcha.  And although my dialing fingers are beginning to cramp up, I’ll continue to call our first time guests tonight, because although it might be old hat to me, it could mean the difference between staying and leaving for them.

It’s been a quiet day on the blog, because I have a head cold.

Not that you care, but seriously, I got stuff packed in there like six gallons of spaghetti in a four gallon pot.

And now I’m rambling, because I have medicine coursing through me, and it makes me say inappropriate things, as evidenced in the last paragraph.

So let me get to the point and get away from the online community before I have to pull the plug on my own blog: you’ll want to come back tomorrow, because there’s fresh content on the power of following up with a first time guest.

And then Friday, we’re going to launch a First-Impressions-Friday series that’ll take us through the rest of the semester.  All First Impressions, all the time.  It will make you happier than Starbucks Coffee with a double shot of Nyquil.

Did I say Nyquil?  I meant sugar free vanilla syrup.

One of the best parts of my job is reading the feedback that we get from First Time Guests.  Our First Impressions Team is chock full of awesome volunteers who consistently deliver incredible service, and it shows in the comments I read and hear about.

A church member recently tipped me off to a blog post that described in detail one of our guest’s first visit to the Summit.  (And even though she doesn’t mention the Summit specifically, the post author confirmed that we were the church she was talking about.  And even if she was talking about another church I’d be tempted to lie and say it was us just so I could use the quote.)

Here’s what Sara had to say, quoted with her permission…

Parking attendants were nice… and helpful (actually, they were awesome- and they gave us rock- star parking!!). The greeters asked questions, didn’t apply any pressure, and showed us where to go. The coffee bar was free (this was a major stumbling block overcome. It’s a long story, don’t ask). Worship started, and while the first two songs were relatively contemporary, the third song was “How Great Thou Art”… and it won my husbands heart. Everything was loud enough for me to sing and for no one to know how tone deaf I am … and that won my heart.

Please go to Sara’s blog and read the full post here.  Remember that every single week is somebody’s first time. What are you doing to make sure that we’re making a great first impression?

It was a huge day at Brier Creek AM on Sunday.  103 first time guests (and their families) showed up.  (If you follow the tweets, I know I said it was 99…4 more surfaced this morning.)  A few dozen folks began serving, some for the very first time.  Six people were baptized.  A couple dozen joined the Summit family.  Gallons of coffee was consumed.  290 college students packed out the Bay for the fall inauguration of Summit College Ministry.

The auditorium was packed.  The lobby was packed.  The choir was packed.  The energy level?  It was packed, too.

In just a couple of minutes we’ve got an awesome team of volunteers who will come in and begin processing the cards from yesterday.  It was an “all call” Sunday, meaning that we asked every single person to fill out the card.  Many of those indicated that they were receiving Jesus for the first time yesterday.

Will you take moment today and pray for our follow up efforts this week?  Here’s the specifics…

  • Pray that we’ll make contact with every single person who became a Christ follower, that phone numbers will be legible and schedules will sync.
  • Pray that our team of callers (pastors, staff, deacons) will be able to help these folks clearly articulate their decision, crystallize the message of the gospel, and point people to scripture.
  • Pray that the next step will be clear and immediate…Starting Point, baptism, small groups…

By the way, we’re celebrating today by doing lunch together in our first BC12 event.  We’ll meet at Jason’s Deli…come join us!

(at least on this blog)

Top Ten Reasons You Should Join The First Impressions Team

From the home office in Rougemont, NC

10. There’s nothing like the smell of freshly-printed worship guides, and you’ll have stacks of ‘em.

9. Work at the First Time Guest Tent, eat your weight in free peppermints.

8. Get giddy with unlimited power as you tell people where to sit.

7. Mess with new people’s heads by telling them the Summit has moved…they’ve arrived at an Amway convention.

6. Single guy + orange parking vests + carload of single girls = better ratios than you’re used to.

5. Secret access to the highly-guarded espresso machine.

4. Moving the pipe and drape will prep you for the javelin toss in the 2012 Olympics.

3. “Church Barista” looks darn impressive on a resume’.

2. After you say, “GoodMorningWelcomeToTheSummit” a half-jillion times, your face goes numb and the second half-jillion just spills right out.

…and the number one reason to join the First Impressions Team…

1. Three words: our guests matter.

Interested?  Join me for First Impressions Training at Frontline tomorrow morning.  More info here.

…at least I’ve never sat by while one of my children sang a song that included the words, “I shot a man just to watch him die.”

Still, she’s so cute when she says it.  Check it out:

Thanks to Amy Kendall for the tip!

Tim Stevens linked to a great website over on his blog today, promoting a company run by atheists who promise to take care of your pet once Jesus comes back.

No kidding.

Go read Tim’s post first, then come back here.  I’ll be waiting.  (Unless of course Jesus beats you to me.)

So here are my questions:

What if all dogs do go to heaven? Will the atheistic employees just show up to a Tim LaHaye / Jerry Jenkins – inspired scene where my dog has vanished, leaving behind only her collar and the little chip thing under her skin?  Do they keep my 110 bucks?  Gasp!  Do they keep the collar?!?

If some dogs go to heaven, would that mean…? Yes friends, if there is a pet heaven, there must be a pet hell.  And I know animals who would have made the cut.  My former dog Grace, for one.  She was an idiot.  There’s no way she could have understood her need for salvation.  And the cat of our former Children’s Director, Angie.  She was the Antichrist (Angie’s cat, not Angie herself).

What if your pet is a white horse? Won’t you need him later on, according to Rev. 19:14?  And if the atheists are holding on to your white horse, will they let you have it back?  Especially if you’re carrying a sword?

Can we make a movie about this starring Lou Gossett, Jr.? He’s in all the other cheesy rapture films.  I’m just sayin.’

We’re smack in the middle of Staff Retreat ’09, and unlike some of my pastor friends at other churches, we do call it “Staff Retreat” and not “Staff Advance.”  We’re getting the heck away from you people.  :)

Our staff has come a long way from my very first retreat back in May of 2003, when the entire staff (I think about 7 of us) could fit in the living room of a church member’s borrowed beach house.  Last night I had to introduce myself to some of the newest people on our team, and instead of traveling off site we’ve had to stick around closer to town this year, mainly because we can’t fit anywhere else.

The contrast between Summit staff retreats and those of other churches I’ve served is that retreats at the Summit are always more about the why than the what. At other churches we’d come in armed with our annual calendars and our ministry plans and our red pens and highlighters and boxing gloves just in case the student ministry’s World’s Largest Banana Split Night was planned on top of the worship ministry’s Fall Cantata (this year’s theme: Fall Into Worship…Leaf Your Cares Behind).

But here, I am grateful for the fact that while planning has its place, the priority goes to getting our souls in order.  For example, yesterday morning the first assignment was that we all pick up a $5 gift card to local coffee shops (thanks Uncle Tim) and head out for two hours of solitude, prayer, and reflection.  The idea was that we couldn’t be effective together until we had done business with God alone.  The rest of our time will highlight similar priorities, albeit with fewer Skinny Vanilla Lattes.

Of course, we have the obligatory annual team building time, where the agony of my seventh grade year resurrects itself in the athletic arena, but even that is a lesson in personal humility.

Sometime today, would you take a moment and pray for the Summit staff?  I believe that God has great things to teach us as we look ahead to 2010.  We’re not naive enough to believe that we have it all figured out or that there’s nothing else to learn.  On the contrary, the further we go down this rabbit hole the more crucial it becomes to depend on God’s ability to save us from ourselves.  Pray that God will use Staff Retreat ’09 as another spiritual tipping point among the pastors and staff of the Summit Church.

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