January 2013

Practical Tips for How to Make More Time for ReadingI love me some books. But over the last year my intake has tanked. I’m hoping this‘ll get me back on track.

If I’m honest, even though my days are very full, I do spend a lot of time each week on relatively meaningless, brainless activity.  I actually think I could read significantly more than I already do!

Please note, I don’t believe every single moment of our day needs to be in an intense “growing yourself” exercise.  I place high value on community, rest, and simply ‘being.’  But I know we all have our little time suckers in a given day.

Do Truck Drivers Matter to God? I was talking to a friend recently about other peoples’ perception of him being “just” a restaurant owner. Here’s the thing about my friend: he’s called. He’s equipped. He’s insanely talented and loves what he does. Why would he (or a truck driver, or [fill in your own career]) ever be relegated to a “just”?

The musician told the listening world how his brother was once a truck driver but gave up trucking in order to serve the Lord as an assistant pastor. This drew hearty affirmation from the host, who was actually laughing at the comparative insignificance of truck driving. The music star then recounted his congratulatory words to his brother: “I always thought you had more in you than being a trucker.”

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Lyrics Translated to Other Languages. Just skip to 2:55 and thank me later.

The folks at cdza ran an experiment where they used Google Translate to run the theme song lyrics of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air through other languages (and back into English) and then performed it. Jeremie Harris plays Will Smith in this musical experiment.

Then & Now

Those babies up there? That’s us.

January 16, 1993 was the day we said “I do.” We were kids. Children. Nineteen years old, crazy in love, and convinced we were ready for the road ahead.

We’d dated for two years. Been engaged for fourteen long months. And on that unseasonably warm January afternoon, two very immature people launched into one incredible journey.

Five cities, two states, four houses, two apartments, four kids, one adoption, countless stupid dogs, and a couple of minivans later, it’s still a great journey. I still love my Merriem. If I have five minutes or five days, I’d still rather spend it with her than with anyone else. She’s the one who puts up with my corny jokes, patiently talks me down off the ledge, and consistently brings out my best.

She challenges me, loves me, takes care of me, and dreams with me. Nobody else can make me more spittin’ mad than her, and nobody else can make my heart skip a beat like her. She’s seen me through better and worse, richer and poorer, and sickness and health. She’s taught me more about the gospel than any preacher, any book, or any sermon. She’s been a living, breathing example of Jesus to me, and constantly, consistently points me to him.

And doggone it, she’s cute.

I shudder to think what the last twenty years would have been like without her by my side. Has it always been a fairy tale? Far from it. We’re a couple of sinners that have often tried to make idols out of each other and went to war when our puny gods failed us. But by the grace of the God who redeems us and our marriages for his glory, we keep pressing ahead.

Outside of the cross, she is the clearest picture of the mercy of God in my life. I love her heart and soul, and she’s still the one I want to grow old with. My “I do” stood twenty years ago, and today?

I still do.

I love you babe.

My friend and first impressions guru Mark Waltz has undeniably drilled in my skull the importance of “wow!” moments: small or large gestures designed to communicate to guests, customers, or friends, “You matter.”

A few weeks ago I was on the receiving end of my own “wow!” moment. My wife is from a tiny north Alabama town, and in that town is a burger joint that is the stuff of legends. Whenever I meet someone from her hometown, I don’t bring up the local football team (let’s face it, I wouldn’t carry the conversation), the cow to human ratio (although it’s sizeable) or the fact that two of my children were born in the local hospital (there’ll be a sign with their name on it at the city limits someday).

No, I immediately bring up the burger joint, and suddenly we’re lifelong friends. It’s a hole in the wall place that’s lined with old news clippings, family photos, and remnants of grease splatters from burger eras gone by. It’s also a local hangout located just off the town square…the kind of place where real political decisions get made over a plate of greasy fries and a large Coke.

Every time we go home, Merriem goes there. It’s a non-negotiable. If we’d had a pre-nup, that would have been in it.

So when her mom and dad visited us recently, they decided to surprise Merriem, her brother, and the rest of the family with – you guessed it – cheeseburgers from everybody’s favorite burger joint. My mother in law called the owner and asked him what the chances were of transporting burgers 11 hours across two states, and of course he said that the quality would be terrible and the food poisoning would be awful. But then he told her, “Hey, give me thirty minutes and come on down here. I think I have an idea.”

Now in full disclosure I should pause at this point and tell you that the restaurant was actually founded by my wife’s great uncle and is now owned by my mother in law’s first cousin. And for potential legal reasons, trademark burger grease violations, common sense, and the fact that there will be a chaotic rush on the joint, I’ve decided not to name names, although anyone from her hometown who stumbles across this will know where I’m talking about.

But I digress. What the owner did had nothing to do with being family (Merriem’s family is spread from coast to coast, and I’ve never heard of this before). It had everything to do with communicating “you matter.”

When my mother in law arrived, he had a box of freshly-patted burger patties wrapped in wax paper and foil and ready to freeze. He gave her instructions on how to cook the special-recipe burgers (always on a flat top, never on a grill, since the magical ingredients would fall apart that way), and – get this – he refused to let her pay for them.

A few days later, we had a burger feast for the ages right in the comfort of our North Carolina living room. And you’d better believe when we went home for Christmas, we stopped by to say thanks.

If you’re a church leader, you have the opportunity every weekend to communicate the fact that your guests matter. True, you may not send them home with raw hamburger meat (I can’t even think of a scenario where that would be okay), but you can seize the moments to serve people generously and connect with them in a way that screams “you matter.”

What are some of your “wow!” moments, either that you’ve given or received? I’d love to hear ’em. Comment below.

It happened again this weekend.

I was going through my normal weekend routine at the Summit when somebody walked up to me and – in a hushed whisper usually reserved for only CIA-level conversations – said, “Hey, did you know that ______ is here?” (Although they actually filled in the blank, because otherwise that would be just weird.)

And sure enough, _____ was there. At our church. Staring at our video screens. Sitting in our seats. Shoot, maybe even taking advantage of our plumbing facilities.

You see, we’re not a special church. We’re just a big church. And we’re a big church with lots of people who have lots of relationships, and sometimes those relationships yield an invitation to someone with a big name. And sometimes, those big names show up.

Over the years we’ve had collegiate sports stars, local TV personalities, up-and-coming NBA players, NASCAR drivers, big-time politicians, and even the occasional musical prodigy. And every time I get wind that one of these folks is at one of our campuses, I want to meet them at their car, pull them to the side, and say, “Before you walk through that door, let me go ahead and ask your forgiveness, because you’re about to see a bunch of Jesus people lose their ever-lovin’ minds.”

And the reason is, we don’t know how to deal with celebrities in our culture, much less in our churches. We don’t know what to do with the star athlete who’s worshipping with abandon two rows up. We don’t know how to treat the person we’ve seen on the national stage when they take communion out of the same dish that we do.

Now don’t get me wrong: I can be star struck just as much as the next guy. Remind me sometime to tell you the story of when I stood beside Wynona Judd in a Lifeway Store in downtown Nashville. (Actually, that’s pretty much the whole story. So scratch that future blog post.)

I’m grateful for the fact that “big names” are visiting our church. I’ve had the chance to strike up conversations and/or develop friendships with some of these men and women from time to time, and have found every one of them to be genuinely likeable, down-to-earth, put-their-diamond-studded-skinny-jeans-on-one-leg-at-a-time folks just like you and me.

And yes, we can and do use the influence of these folks occasionally, with their permission, of course. We’ve featured Duke football players and UNC basketball players in videos and interviews. We try to be very careful, strategic, and appropriate with those things, because we recognize that even in getting a person of note to tell their story, we can be guilty of exploiting them.

I also recognize that part of being a celebrity means that they have a certain expectation they’ll be approached for an autograph or a photo op. My argument is not that we should ignore celebs and leave our autograph books woefully empty (except in the case of Kim Kardashian: Let it go, Kimmy!). My argument is that we should decrease the culture of fame inside our churches so that we can increase the fame of Jesus.

So here’s one pastor’s meager attempt to help us gain a bit of sense when it comes to celebrities at our church. After all, I know a bit about celebrity culture, myself. I once had a lady hound me incessantly at a Denny’s for my autograph. (Turns out it was just the waitress trying to get me to sign my credit card receipt, but still…)

  1. Create the culture. I tell our First Impressions team often that it’s our job to create the culture for the weekend. If you’re a leader of any sort, the same goes for you as well. Leaders, you set the tone for this. The way you react and snap photos and point and gawk will give others permission to do the same. We’ll serve the church (and the celebrity) well when we maintain a sense of normalcy as much as possible.
  2. Honor their space. To you, they’re a big deal. But to them, they’re just trying to go to church. Don’t stare. Don’t point. Don’t whisper. Don’t ask them, “Hey, do you know who you are?!?” (Trust me. They do.) And above all, if they’re sitting close to the front, don’t you dare try to get a seat beside them when you haven’t exited the back row in six years, you stinkin’ hypocrite.
  3. Let them be “off.” They get enough requests for special favors in the public eye. Let the church be their sanctuary (pun intended). Think about it: if you’re a professional, there are times you just want to be Average Joe. Doctors don’t want to diagnose your rash at a dinner party. Accountants don’t want to give you tax advice at a ballgame. And as a preacher, if I never pray for another dead chicken at another family reunion, that’ll be okay by me.
  4. Focus on what you can give, not on what you can get. Sure you should engage them in conversation if the opportunity naturally arises. But rather than asking for an autograph or a photo or jockeying for tweeting rights, how about giving them some affirmation, some encouragement, a word of welcome? That holds true for all of us, but especially a certain 15 year old son of a certain Connections Pastor who had a certain celebrity sign a certain arm cast yesterday. (You know, hypothetically speaking.)
  5. Give them their privacy. Don’t broadcast on Twitter, Facebook, or any other manner of social networks that they showed up. Doing so escalates the celebrity-crazed culture that we find ourselves in, and makes it harder for them to worship unhindered on their next visit.
  6. Pray for them. If the celebrity is not a believer, pray that the Holy Spirit would work in them during the few moments they’re here. Pray that God would take their national stage and turn it into a platform to make much of himself. And if they are a believer, pray that their faith would strengthen and they would get beyond common temptations that money and fame tend to bring.

Should we celebrate the celebrity when they come to our churches? Absolutely we should. But we should also celebrate the business professional, the plumber, the homemaker, the college student, and the skeptic. We should celebrate every single guest that God sends our way, because they’re all the outsiders that we’re called to make insiders.

James had some strong words to say about singling out people in church for special honor. Let’s be careful that we’re not making a bigger name out of a celebrity than we’re making of The Name that we’re supposed to point the celebrity to.

In the words of that great theologian Huey Lewis, “Is this the 50’s or 1999? …Gotta get back in time.”

At the First Time Guest Tent last Sunday, a guest filled out one of our info cards.  At the bottom of the card, we always ask this question: “How did you hear about the Summit?”  Here’s her response…

Read the entire original post. You’ll be bewildered.

Three links, crankin’ now. (Remember, click on the bold stuff to see more.)

Clean BathroomsHave I mentioned lately how much I like Seth Godin?

It turns out that just about everything we do involves cleaning the bathrooms. Creating an environment where care and trust are expressed. If you take a lot of time to ask, “how will this pay off,” you’re probably asking the wrong question.

Some Wonderful Customer Service By Lego. This almost makes me want to buy my ten year old a few more expensive plastic blocks. Almost.

Normally we would ask that you pay for a new one if you lose one of your minifigures and need to have it replaced. My bosses told me I could not send you one out for free because you lost it but, I decided that I would put a call into Sensei Wu to see if he could help me.

A Guy with AMAZING Sign Flipping Skills [from Laughing Squid]. I wanna hire him to work on our Parking Team.

We’re wrapping up a three-day series called Dancing with the Elephant, where logistical nerds cackle with glee about how to pull off a large scale event in the guest services realm. Never fear, non-logistical nerds: we’ll have a better day for you tomorrow (spoiler: SIGN FLIPPING). You can catch up on the earlier posts here and here.

All of your pre-planning and preparation will ultimately go to waste if you don’t spend some time after the event thinking through and talking about what went well and what didn’t. Here are a few things that will help that process:

After Action Reports: for years now, I’ve kept an AAR for most of the events that I’ve been a part of. It’s a digital file or a physical folder where I keep notes about best practices, actual timelines, random to-do lists, and other things that we didn’t have a contingency for going into the event. And it’s a file that I refer back to when we’re doing the same event or something similar. Some of the items in the AAR make their way in there before the event even begins. It’s those emergencies that pop up in the last two days before the event that remind me what I need to plan for the next time. But most of the AAR happens in a 15 minute self-debrief once the event is over: what worked? What bombed? What could I have delegated? What “wow” could we add next time?

FI Team / Volunteer Feedback: on the last night of Christmas at DPAC, I sent all of our team leaders a quick email, thanking them for serving and asking them to give me their version of the AAR. Because these men and women were on the front lines in the parking garages, on the sidewalks, and on the seating teams, they had a much better idea of what translated well from paper to practice. The best debriefing I get always comes from these emails. Those team leaders tell me exactly what can be tweaked to make the next event better (and inadvertently rope themselves into serving again). [Sample]

Group Debrief: next week, our entire DPAC planning team will sit down to talk through the event. Representatives from Worship, First Impressions, Production, Summit Kids, and Communication will all gather to hash out our individual AARs. We’ll talk about big picture things: were five services necessary? Was the timing right? Did we like the venue? And most importantly: how do we get started for next year?

Show Your Gratitude: part of every event’s follow up needs to include a huge thank you to volunteers. I scheduled time on the last night of DPAC to email a thank you, prior to heading home on Christmas Eve, prior to getting caught up in my post-Christmas coma. That thank you is a non-negotiable: your volunteers were the catalyst to cause the event to happen; you need to be the conduit of gratitude to thank them for serving. [Sample]

Next Steps: in a completely separate email 1-2 weeks after the event, I usually send an invitation for new volunteers to become a regular part of the First Impressions Team. Every large scale event draws new people: they want to serve in some way, and signing up for a two hour stint seems like a reasonable request. But what many of these volunteers discover is that they actually love what they were asked to do. As a matter of fact, before I could even send the “Next Steps” email this time, I heard from a couple of volunteers asking how they could do more. Don’t miss the opportunity to turn connected people into committed people. [Sample]

So there you have it: define your win, develop your systems, and debrief the event. What about you? What strategy, system, or question would you add to this equation? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below…


Other posts in this series:

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the importance of defining the win when it comes to pulling off a large scale event. Knowing the event’s nature, the budget you have to work with, and the mechanics of the event itself will do plenty in helping you prepare. But for those of us in the guest services world, there will perhaps be no greater component to event planning than getting the right volunteers in the right places.

That’s why step two of the Dancing with the Elephant series is to develop your systems. Specifically, your systems for determining, inviting, assigning, and training volunteers. Again, using Christmas at DPAC as our model, here are the systems and steps we followed to make sure we had the right vols in the right spot:

1. Figure out which teams are needed, and how many on each team. In a new venue, this is a key question, and we had to do a couple of walk throughs and a few days of plotting to figure out the answer. Facility layout determines volunteer need, and a facility the size of DPAC was certainly no exception. Using floor plans, seating sections, numbers of doors, physical location of parking garages, and even the street layout of downtown Durham, we determined that each service needed 153 First Impressions volunteers broken down into 12 sub-teams.

2. Hand pick your team leaders and key volunteers. My right hand man through all of Christmas at DPAC was Josh Lawrence, a First Impressions intern who oversees our Brier Creek South Venue as well as assisting with special events. Josh was the official FI Team Director at DPAC, though I was also there to offer helpful annoying suggestions.

We then asked full time pastoral staff to serve as team leaders for four out of the five services, since that was the staff expectation for DPAC anyway. While it’s true that meant we overlooked our seasoned, every-week FI volunteer leaders, I knew that many of these folks would be out of town and/or couldn’t commit to that expectation so soon before Christmas. (One benefit to this was that we only had to train one set of team leaders, rather than five sets of team leaders. And the longer that leader served, the better they got at anticipating every need.) So we went to particular staff and asked them to be head over particular teams, and then we spent time making sure they knew what we expected of them (more on that later).

But then we asked our seasoned volunteers to serve on their normal teams as much as they could. Having their expertise meant that the DPAC services carried the same DNA as a regular service at one of our campuses.

3. Push service opportunities and plug the spreadsheet. We started inviting people to serve at the same time we began promoting DPAC (about four to six weeks out). Volunteer sign up happened on the Christmas at DPAC website, which pushed volunteers to a Wufoo form where they could choose the service they wanted to work as well as pick between the Summit Kids or First Impressions teams. This form closed 48 hours prior to the first event to give us ample opportunity to place all the last-minute sign ups.

And then we began populating the DPAC Volunteer Spreadsheet, which was a panoramic view of where we needed volunteers. Our rule of thumb was that we wouldn’t staff any team for any one service more than 50% full until all of them reached that halfway point. Further, volunteers couldn’t choose the specific sub-team where they served. Allowing that creates tons of confusion and alterations for “special circumstances.” We’ve found that it’s easier to address those individual needs after the initial assignment, rather than giving too many options at the outset.

One more thing: we kept the spreadsheet on Google Drive, which gave all of our volunteers real-time access to the frequent edits. Only Josh and I had editorial rights, but anybody could view the changes as soon as we made them, using the original link they’d been sent.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. By the time Christmas at DPAC was over, not one single person said they’d suffered from a lack of communication. :) Volunteers received an automated message as soon as they signed up, letting them know we had their information and would be in contact at least one week prior to the event (that gave us a window to make changes and refine teams up to the last minute). Once the initial assignments had been made on the spreadsheet, we sent another email with a link to both the spreadsheet and a four page document of detailed instructions on everything from guest services philosophy to dress code.

In addition, we sent a couple of brief reminders and updates just prior to both days of DPAC, letting volunteers know of some pertinent last-minute changes.

For team leaders, they got all of the information above, plus a 28 page leader guide (I’m not even kidding) to get us all on the same page. That guide included specific instructions for each team, facility maps, and volunteer placement grids for seating, entry doors, and sidewalk teams. We also asked all team leaders to meet the day prior to the event to do a two hour walk through and orientation at DPAC. In turn, they took that information and trained their teams when they showed up prior to their shift.

5. Prepare for every contingency. As with any event, we knew there would be moments where we’d have to roll with the punches. But we did everything possible to make sure we anticipated every punch before it landed. Here are a few key areas that helped all five services run smoothly:

  • Count on an 80% retention rate. Lots of people get jazzed up about signing up to serve at a big event, but we’ve found that only about 80% actually surface. Whether it’s sickness, forgetfulness, or last-minute schedule changes, we knew that we needed to plan for that drop off.
  • Not all services get all teams. The timing of a Christmas Eve service means that a lot of people want to attend on Christmas Eve, but few want to serve on Christmas Eve. From the very beginning we knew that we might have to scrap a few teams for the 2 PM and 5 PM services and reassign those volunteers to more key teams (you’ll see that reflected on the volunteer spreadsheet).
  • Make sure vols know where to go when they get there. Nothing is more stressful than having 153 volunteers seek out the FI Director to ask “Where was I supposed to go?” That’s why we had predetermined meeting spots for each team. But we also had a Volunteer Headquarters (VHQ) in the main lobby, where vols could go to check their coats and purses and ask any questions they had. Our ladies who staffed that VHQ knew every location of every team, and had real-time access to the volunteer spreadsheet so they could both find the vol’s spot and sign up anyone who walked up willing to serve.

Other posts in this series:

In my role at the Summit, one of my hats is to help run point for some of our larger-scale events. Things like Church at the Ballpark, The Gospel Summit, and Christmas at DPAC fall to a team of us who are responsible for executing everything from publicity to registration to guest services to worship to Advil that’s passed out like M&Ms on the day after the event.

Now I’ll lay all my cards on the table: I’m a big event guy. I love ’em. I love the intensity, the excitement, the planning, the process. But I’m also a perfectionist and a procrastinator, meaning that I hate pulling the trigger on a system before I know it’s going to be flawless. And that’s the death knell for event planning.

That’s why I’ve spent a lot of my nearly twenty years of ministry tweaking and refining systems to help pull off events of this nature. Working through what works and laying aside what doesn’t has been incredibly helpful to making each event run a little smoother, and each planning process go a little easier.

So for the next few days, I’d like to share with you some of the resources that have assisted in eating the elephant of large scale events. For this particular context I’ll be specifically dealing with the guest services piece of the puzzle, and using our recent Christmas at DPAC event as the practical model. (WARNING: if you’re not a logistics nerd like me, you’re not going to enjoy this. Spend the next three days watching this video of a basset hound puppy instead.)

Step one: define your win.

I mentioned that I’m one of the members of the large events team. I’m not the team. That means that I have peers and superiors that I start communicating with months before the event. And in those initial meetings, I do everything I can to figure out what the scope of my role will be. Am I solely responsible for guest services? Am I responding to a pre-defined environment, or am I designing the environment? Will there be other hats I’ll wear on the day of the event (emcee, etc)?

Knowing what I’m responsible for and what my team will be in charge of goes a long way in planning for all contingencies. There are three primary factors that guide my questions:

  1. What is the nature of the event? In August, I didn’t know if Christmas at DPAC would be primarily a congregational worship service, a band-led musical performance, or an hour long dance recital of performers dressed like Frosty and Rudolph. Getting feedback and intention from our worship team helped to inform what the “feel” of our guest services team should be.
  2. What is my budget for the event? Dollars drive design. I need to know if I’m working on a shoestring budget that will buy a few sandwich trays for our volunteer team, or a massive budget that will bring in a pastry chef to make personalized monogrammed homemade cinnamon rolls for every attendee. Example: our 2011 Christmas Eve service was held at our main campus, which meets in a warehouse. It was overly familiar to our people and very non-Christmasy. So we opted to rent some artificial snow machines to make it feel a little more festive as people came in. For 2012, the event was at the Durham Performing Arts Center, a very sleek, modern, fancy-schmancy facility downtown. Snow machines – though nice – would have been complete overkill. So we said no to snow and used that money elsewhere.
  3. What are the mechanics of the event? When we did Church at the Ballpark, it was one massive service for 7200 people. Christmas at DPAC, however, covered two days’ worth of five services with 1800-2000 people each. One event required one large guest services team. The other required multiple teams with multiple schedules. in addition, every venue requires different needs. The ballpark featured our largest to date baptism services, which meant we needed to have hundreds of baptism counselors available. But DPAC required multiple levels of seaters and door greeters for a multiple-level facility.

There are probably dozens of other smaller scale questions that I’ll also ask: Food or no, and am I responsible? Are we feeding volunteers who serve a several-hour stretch? How many attendees are we expecting? Where does our nose end and our venue hosts’ nose begin? How much time do we have for set up and tear down? If we’re renting a facility, what parts of the facility will be off limits? Is it theoretically possible that I could theoretically be late for the Christmas Eve service because I theoretically have to make a mad dash to a theoretical store and buy one more theoretical last minute Christmas present for my theoretical wife?

Defining the win at the very beginning goes a long way to making sure your piece of the puzzle fits into the overall event picture. I’d love to hear some of the other questions you ask when defining your win. Please take a moment and comment below.

Other posts in this series:

Headin’ into the not-so-wayback machine in 3…2…

…at 3:30 AM, I decided that the only thing that would put that kid to sleep was a car ride. (Also a horse tranquilizer, but I was fresh out of those.) And so off we went, driving the streets of Durham in the wee hours of Saturday morning. I saw the inebriated people at Waffle House. I saw the inebriated people at Cook Out. I saw the inebriated people at K-ville.

Read the entire post here. Happy Friday.

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