May 2012

It’s the day before the day that strikes giddiness in the heart of radio DJs everywhere. Here’s a smattering of what I’ve been reading this week:

Great Impressions…Can Turn Not So Good…Now. A great reminder from Mark Waltz.

Maybe you’ve watched this happen with someone else. Or maybe it’s actually happened with you. You’re on your game. You’re serving well. You’re engaged. You making a great first impression with a new guest at your church (or place of business).
And then, you cross a line. You went… just too far. [read more]

The Cost and Construction of Apple’s iPhone Charger
Apple nerds, unite!
Have you ever wondered exactly why Apple’s tiny USB Power Adapter for the iPhone has such a large price tag? The diminutive cube costs US$29.00, while similar USB wall chargers are available from retailers like Monoprice for as little as $6. Ken Shirriff wondered the same thing, so he went all iFixit on one of the Apple chargers and tore it to pieces to see what’s inside. [read more]

Those Dang Car Makers and Their Tear Inducing Commercials. 
If you’re a daddy of a little girl and you don’t read Life To Her Years, you’ve missed out on one of the finer things in life.

(video) Those Dang Car Makers

I grabbed lunch yesterday with a friend who has long been one of my unofficial productivity coaches. Our meeting was spurred by this post, where I discussed how we best process the mountains of incoming data hitting our radar every day. We talked about systems, processes, and other nerd-like topics that probably made the free spirits at Chili’s want to spew out their baby back baby back baby back ribs.

Our conversation – and the tools he shared with me – reminded me that there is no such thing as “leftover time” in our day. There will rarely be a moment that is unaccounted for; rarely be an hour where we’re twiddling our thumbs and looking for something to do. On the contrary: most of the time what we do not have is time.

That’s why every day should be marked by your main tasks…your big rocks…your non negotiables that will occur that day, regardless of what else happens.

A couple of years ago I read Ken Blanchard’s On Time, On Target Manager. In it, he tackles the topic of procrastination, and says that people procrastinate because they don’t know what is important. They put off main tasks because they don’t know they’re supposed to be main tasks. That’s why Blanchard suggests that every single day, you should triage every single activity. You should ask, “Is this vital?” “Is this necessary?” “Is this important?”

While I don’t triage my activities every day, the days that I do tend to be most productive. If I know that I’ve got to write some teaching material or review a budget or make a phone call, it makes it much easier to knock those things out early and leave the rest of the day for more menial tasks.

That doesn’t just apply to work life, but to family and spiritual life as well. What are the non-negotiables in your time with your spouse? Your kids? With Jesus?

Today’s question: how do you triage?

A few weeks back I wrote about our new parking policy which stated that if a regular attending yahoo decides to park in First Time Guest parking, we’d tow them several zip codes away and also cover their car with outdated Summit bumper magnets and maybe say disparaging things about their mother.

Of course that post was a total April 1st-inspired farce, but two days ago, low and behold…we towed our first car. Here’s what happened:

When I arrived on Sunday at about 7:20 AM, there was a car parked smack dab in front of our main entrance (if you didn’t grow up in southern middle Tennessee, that means “inconveniently located”). There were only two of us on campus at the time, and neither of us drives a car that nice.

There was an envelope on the back seat, so we ran the name on the envelope through our database…nothing. We asked volunteers as they arrived if they knew the owner of the car…nothing. We prayed with faith the size of a mustard seed and asked the car to be picked up and hurled into the sea…nothing.

So there we were, with an hour to go before the service began, with a car sitting in the main entrance (usually an area reserved exclusively for pedestrian traffic), and in the exact spot where our First Time Guest tent needed to be set up.

We didn’t know if the car was broken down, out of gas, or if the owner made it to our lot on Saturday night and realized he needed a designated driver. But we knew it needed to be moved.

So the question, readers: what would you do? How do you maintain a good first impression to a total stranger who is inadvertently throwing a wrench into your morning? Do you play the role of megachurch jerk and tow it off to an unknown location? Do you let business continue as usual and run the risk of scratching or dinging the car? Do you sell raffle tickets to raise money for missions and give the car away during the 11:00 service?

Here’s what we decided to do: we called a local towing company and asked them to rush over and tow the car at our expense. However, we only moved it about 50 feet down the parking lot. Then we drafted a letter of explanation which we stuck under the windshield, detailing the reasons we needed to move it. And finally, we tossed in a $5 Starbucks gift card for their troubles, and of course an inviter card to come back to the Summit (ironically, we had already towed the car to First Time Guest parking).

Did that actually communicate a good first impression? Well, we don’t know the end of the story. We know that the car was eventually retrieved. We don’t know the amount of head scratching that took place when they saw a tent where their car used to be. We don’t know if they were an unbeliever that had a tiny bit of faith restored in organized religion, or just a Starbucks connoisseur who enjoyed an afternoon pick-me-up.

We do know that we did what we could with what we had, and tried to honor the individual while protecting our systems.

If you’re a guest services guru, I’d love to hear your “tow away” stories. What’s a similar situation you’ve dealt with in your ministry, and how did you handle it? Comment below.

Recently our church hosted The Gospel Summit, a two-day intensive conference for pastors and church leaders from around the country. During one of my breakout sessions, I talked about some of the previously-unwritten “plumblines” that guide the first impressions ministry at the Summit. Each Monday I’m unpacking one of those plumblines for an expanded discussion. This is the second in a five-part series. You can catch part one here.

The why is more important than the what. 

The First Impressions Team tends to attract a lot of Type A people. They want to know the bottom line, the main objective, the 42 point checklist that will make them the most effective at their job.

That’s what I love about our volunteers: they want to know what it takes to get the job done. The Parking Team wants to understand the ingress plan, lot by lot, in order of priority. The Seating Team wants to know exactly when they’re supposed to drop the barriers in the rear of the auditorium and the nicest phrases to use to move people front and center. The Set Up Team wants to know what goes up in what order to maximize the morning: signage first, then traffic cones, then tents, then the auditorium and lobby walk through.

And we do provide a procedures plan for most of these teams, and we work with team leaders to revise these plans often. Our goal is a standard baseline of service so that we’re not reinventing the wheel every week when it comes to basic tasks.

But the greater goal goes beyond something that we can record on paper or measure with any set of metrics. All of the things listed above are whats: those items that help people accomplish their jobs. But the why is what we ask our team to focus on: the reason they’re showing up every week.

For us, the why is that we serve our guests as a reflection of the generosity of Christ. As our pastor says in his book Gospel, “As Jesus has been to me, so I will be to others.”

We serve well because we’ve been served well. We love well because we’ve been loved well. And we do both of those things in order to move people towards a relationship with Christ.

If we help our teams understand this, then the checklist fades into the background. The what helps our team prepare for guests; the why helps them respond to guests. When your team gets the why, they will understand the right thing to do in just about any situation. When they know the why, they don’t need you to hold their hand through their morning of service. When the why moves to a heart level, they’ll foster an environment that will make every person feel like a valued guest.

The why will give you the big idea…the win for your team.  Memorize the why, guard the why, and make the why part of your team’s DNA, and you’ll always have the right answer or course of action.

Seth Godin says it best: “The minute you follow instructions,  you’re no longer an artist.”

So what’s your team’s why? Start the discussion below.

Check out the rest of the Plumblines series: Part OnePart ThreePart FourPart Five.

We’re in the process of getting out of the rental and closing on our new house, which means memory lane is filled with past attempts of selling our old house. Here’s one of the more fun “discussions” we had over the last five years:

I’m convinced that home builders – when they are not sitting around talking about joists and vapor barriers – partner with Satan himself to figure out how to make the future homeowner the most miserable.  Take, for example, the painting of a bathroom.  Non-pagan, Christian homebuilders would have installed toilets that would lean forward at an angle, thereby allowing you to paint behind them without placing your head in a Very Unclean Space.  But no, the Lucifer Alliance that built our house installed a standard toilet, which means that there were several times this weekend that I was embracing the entry point to a sewage system.  Many times when I was painting, I had the very distinct, very disturbing thought: “My head is laying where my rear end was sitting just minutes ago.”

Read the entire post here.

Not everybody’s workin’ for the weekend. Me? I’m workin’ for Thursday. That’s when I let other folks do the blogging for me. Here’s some of what I’ve been watching and who I’ve been learning from this week:

Jerusalem Filmed in IMAX 3D. I’d never heard of this film project before seeing this clip, but the preview is fascinating. Since I don’t work at one of those churches that sends you to the Holy Land on your nine and a half year anniversary, this’ll have to do for now.

This Is The Day = Giddy
 My dear friends Matt & Katie Pearson have been on a roller coaster adoption journey dotted by heartache, but one that is finally coming to a beautiful conclusion this week in Ethiopia. Read Matt’s entire series of posts, beginning here:

In about 2 hours we will eat lunch here at the Guest House and then travel to meet our little girl. It is hard to believe the day is finally here. Anticipation has built and built and built. It’s here. Today is the day. I will, God willing, get to embrace this little girl and begin a father-daughter relationship with her. [read more]

Matt & Emily: A Don’t Give Up Story
Some other great friends are – sadly – on the other side of the emotional spectrum. Just a few weeks ago they buried their newborn son Jacob. I have been humbled to watch them walk through this valley with their faith intact and their fingers still pointing others towards the resurrection. Their friends Ray & Kelly Siler captured the day of the memorial service in video and photos, and the Bennetts graciously gave me permission to share it with you. It’s a powerful symbol of Matt & Emily’s amazing faith in Jesus even through their loss.

Around nine months ago, while in Jordan, they found out Emily was pregnant with their first child, after six years of marriage. Over time, they learned their little miracle of a son had conditions making him “incompatible with life.” Advised to terminate the pregnancy, Matt and Emily chose instead to carry their son and allow room for a miracle. They started praying for one day with Jacob. On April 20, 2012 Jacob Bradley was born, silently, into this world. [read more / see the video]

Back on Easter weekend, we celebrated new life in Christ by baptizing 181 people. On-the-spot baptisms pose a lot of logistical challenges, not to mention the fear that we might baptize someone who isn’t quite ready (for an explanation of how we try to foolproof the “readiness question,” check this post).

But one of the things that made this year’s Easter baptism so special was the add in of our limited-edition, you-can-only-get-one-if-you’re-baptized, no-Mr.-Senior-Pastor-I-just-said-you-can’t-have-one t shirts emblazoned with “Jesus In My Place” in four foot high letters (give or take a few feet).

One of our college students was baptized that day, and she sent us this note to explain how “Jesus In My Place” got far more press than we’d bargained for. Check out a portion of Katrina Wertz‘s story.

I wanted to tell you about something pretty cool that Jesus did with [the] Jesus in My Place baptism t-shirts.

On Wednesday, Kendall Marshall, PJ Hairston, Dexter Strickland, and all the rest of the UNC basketball team tweeted about a huge pickup game the team was going to play with students outside one of the dorms. I am a freshman here at UNC, so I went.

To determine what students get to play, everyone rushes the court and the first 5 people to make freethrows earn the right to check “playing against Roy’s Boys” off their UNC bucket list. For whatever reason, I decide to run onto the court too. Here is where Jesus decides to make heaven laugh. He’s like, “Yo, guys.. I’m about to get my Name out to a whole bunch of people. Watch Me now!”

So He grabs Kendall Marshall. Kendall was leaning against the fence, watching the mob of UNC kids duke it out to shoot. He notices me on the outskirts and says, “Hey! hey, let her shoot first.” Oh dangit… I haven’t shot a basketball since I airballed on Senior Night. But.. duty calls! So I shoot… and it hits the rim and bounces out. Hand the ball to the next person, but Kendall goes, “Naaah! I saw a lane violation. You shoot again.” And this time somehow I swish it. And I proceed to play 5 v. 5 with the UNC basketball team, surrounded by many students from UNC… all while wearing our Jesus in My Place t-shirt. I was just baptized on Easter!!!

So here I am, telling you all this improbable story because I want to do two things: highlight the crazy ingenuity of how Jesus chooses to work, and rejoice over what He did! PJ Hairston saw the shirt and called out, “I’m gonna guard Jesus in My Place over here!!” This short game was watched by tons of UNC kids, and has now been viewed more than 25,000 times on Youtube… because Yahoo News decided to put the video on their front-page for a bit.

And there’s a girl in there about 1:34 minutes in laughing inside at how Jesus gets His name out there, in big bold white letters: JESUS IN MY PLACE! Just wanted to thank you and Summit for the crystal-clear t-shirt. Our Lord produced the unexpected opportunity to wear it in front of thousands of people. All is subject to Jesus… Summit, Kendall, UNC, and Yahoo News, it is incredible. He is Lord of all, willing or unwilling!

Check out the video in question below (which incidentally, now has nearly 800,000 views)…

You only have to be a semi-regular reader of this blog to know that I’m a big proponent of just about anything Mark Waltz writes on the subject of guest services. Mark was a Connections Pastor before Connections Pastors were cool (Hey, we’re cool. Shut up.), and we’ve become good friends over the past few years. Much of the philosophy and practice behind the Summit’s guest experience was either borrowed or blatantly ripped off from Mark and his team.

I’ve recommended his first book, First Impressions, to more people than I could possibly count, and given away quite a few to boot. His second book, Lasting Impressions, picks up where the first left off (you can read my review of that one here). When Mark’s latest book was published last summer, I had my assistant overnight my Amazon copy to me while I was on vacation. That’s how geeked out I was to read it (but a cool kind of geeky…see the previous paragraph).

It’s this book that I believe will be Mark’s most practical one yet. While First and Lasting deal heavily on the subject of theory (the “why behind the what” as we frequently talk about), How To Wow Your Church Guests: 101 Ways to Make a Meaningful First Impression is a veritable how-to guide for churches of any size. Mark consulted with pastors and ministry leaders from across the country to compile this “best practices” guide. In full disclosure…he was kind enough to ask me to submit a few ideas. And no, I don’t get royalties from the sale of his book. (Unless sales spike as a result of this review, and then my people will contact his people.)

If you’re thinking about starting a team or trying to refine the team you already have, you’ll find at least half the suggestions in the book to be things you can put into practice this weekend. If you lead a team of four or a team of 400, you’ll be able to use this book. If your current volunteer team’s idea of guest services is “don’t glare at new people for more than 20 seconds in a row,” then you need this book.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from How To Wow:

  • #7: Prepare Your Mind. How easy is it to rush into a guest service opportunity from home, work, or even the church office…on autopilot? …Be present. Live in the moment. Make eye contact with everyone you engage. Be ready, usable, and open.
  • #17: Surprise Your Guests. The point isn’t to merely surprise your guests for the sake of surprise. Rather, the carefully planned surprise communicates care and value. What is it that your guests are not expecting? Do that.
  • #29: One Thing. Only One. …quickly identify the ONE thing the guest most needs now. Don’t overwhelm them with what you know. Listen. Ask questions. Care enough to be curious about their real interest.
  • #64: Control and Correct. On Sunday, you are responsible for controlling only three things: your smile, your response to challenges, and the value you place on people impacted by the challenge. That’s it. Three things. You can’t fix it on Sunday. You deal with it, you can respond to it, but you likely can’t correct it.
  • #83: Information Matters. …when our guest services teams in our churches are ill-informed, we hang them out to dry. We frustrate them, because they feel incompetent and unprofessional. And we sabotage the experience of our guests, who leave wondering who’s leading the chaos.
  • #96: Identify Quality People. Warm bodies won’t cut it. Willing servants aren’t enough. From what I see of Peter in the Scriptures, he may have been a disciple of Jesus, but he didn’t have the qualities needed to make the cut on my team.

How To Wow is a book that you need to have on your shelf…but you don’t need to keep it there. There are enough sticky, immediately-usable practices in this little book to keep you reaching for it over and over again. Buy that rascal today.

Recently our church hosted The Gospel Summit, a two-day intensive conference for pastors and church leaders from around the country. During one of my breakout sessions, I talked about some of the previously-unwritten “plumblines” that guide the first impressions ministry at the Summit. Each Monday I’m unpacking one of those plumblines for an expanded discussion. This is the first of a five-part series.

The Gospel is offensive. Nothing else should be.

Let’s face it: most of us live in a Christian bubble. We only listen to K-Love, we only watch 47 Kids and Counting (being careful to fast forward through the icky TLC commercials), we only eat at Chick Fil A on Tuesdays from 10:00-11:30 AM, because that’s when we’ve determined that most pagans don’t visit there and thereby risk infecting our kids with pagan cooties.

That’s why it’s important to step back from time to time and think about what we’re saying at our churches. If you are a part of a church that presents the full gospel, then you are not presenting an “I’m okay, you’re okay” message. You’re presenting an “I’m a wicked sinner who was rescued by Jesus, and unless he rescues you you’ll split hell wide open” message.

That’s not very touchy-feely. As a matter of fact, it’s downright offensive. Paul noted that offense in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Many churches have chosen to reply to that offense by dumbing down the message. Rather than talk about sin, they talk about shortcomings and character flaws. Rather than present Jesus as the truer and better anything, they present 12 keys to a better you. The seeker-friendly movement has produced quite a few good conversation points that I would agree with, but one of the key problems is that it’s robbed the gospel of its power.

Flashy programs and sparkly Sundays will only last so long. As Mark Dever says, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” There’s a balance between seeker-driven, attractional services and a more reformed, fundamental style of weekend planning. I don’t believe that you have to choose between “I’m okay, you’re okay” and checking the length of sinners’ hemlines as they come through the door.

That’s why we say that though the Gospel offends, nothing else should. By the time a guest gets to the seat and listens to the message being preached, we should have done everything possible to pave the way with rose petals and puppy fur. In other words, we should take a biblical virtue (hospitality) and put it together at an institutional level.

For us, that means a parking team that attempts to place people in the same zip code as the service they’re attending. It means a First Time Guest tent that’s staffed with our very best greeters to act as advocates for the guest. It means a team that is trained to anticipate, design, and respond to every part of the guest experience. In some venues it means a hot cup of coffee and a Nutri Grain bar. It means an eye-catching, warm and friendly kids area so that parents don’t feel like they’re dropping their kids off to gray cinderblock walls and flannelgraphs.

Some would argue that this caters to (or worse – creates!) consumers. But move it from a corporate to a personal level, and you’ll see that this argument doesn’t wash. God is not glorified in your personal hospitality when you invite someone to your home, but give them poor directions, a cold fast-food meal, and a half-hearted conversation. You would never treat a guest in your home that way. Why on earth would you treat a guest at your church that way?

The hospitality of a church can adorn the gospel and encourage faith. And on the flip side, a cold, unfriendly church contradicts the gospel message.

Pastors, continue to preach the unfiltered gospel. Run the risk of offending people with their sin and shocking them with the unending love of Jesus. But equip your people to set the table in such a way that nothing else offends them. Seek to create the kind of environment where your guests will say, “I don’t necessarily agree with what I heard, but I can’t argue with how I was treated.” That environment will eventually turn cold hearts warm and lead people to the gospel.

I’d love to hear your comments and start a dialogue. Jump in below.

Check out the rest of the Plumblines series: Part TwoPart ThreePart Four. Part Five.

Jumping in the Wayback Machine in 3…2…

[O]ver the last two days I have read well over 500 pages of books, sat through nine hours of meetings and conversations, typed up 11 single-spaced pages of notes, listened to at least five podcasts and sermons on my commute, scanned 200+ blog posts and hundreds more Twitter feeds, and attempted to catch a few minutes of the TV news.  (And you thought preachers only worked on Sunday!)

…there’s something about these last two days that has convinced me that I must do better.  I need to do better.  I have to create space to process.  Before I open the next book, before I book the next conference, before I confer with the next pastor, and before I pastor the next church member, I have to make room to capture and process what I’ve been given.  To do otherwise is to squander the gift of the original information.  It’s bad stewardship at best, and it’s a lost investment of time, money, and resources at worst.  I have to create space.  You have to create space.  We have to create space.

Read the entire post here.

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