September 2013

What do people assume about your church at first glance?

I’m not talking about your building, your property, or your curb appeal. No, when people park their cars and approach the front door, what would they assume by the team that greets them?

Based on the people you’ve placed on the outside of the building, your first time guests will make some immediate assumptions:

  • There’s no one here my age.
  • No one looks like me.
  • I’m underdressed.
  • I’m overdressed.
  • I don’t have anything in common with these people.

I believe that the church should be a reflection of the community. It should contain the same economic diversity, skin hues, and educational breakdowns as the city in which it lives. But I also believe that the guest services team on the outside should serve as a precursor to who is inside.

Is your church multi-generational? Then don’t staff your front door with all twenty-somethings. Or all eighty-somethings.

Is your church multi-cultural? Then make sure your parking team isn’t filled with caucasians in orange vests.

Does your church have a diversity of educational and vocational backgrounds? Then your sidewalk should be filled with greeters who are professors, plumbers, lawyers, and laborers.

Is your church filled with people who dress up as well as those who dress down? Then encourage your team to show up in suits and shorts, in dresses and denim.

This takes intentionality. It may take some uncomfortable conversations, It will definitely take some growing pains and uphill battles. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it for your guests. It’s worth some of your initial discomfort for their long term comfort. It’s worth it so they can know at a glance who your church is and whether or not they can feel at home.

How do you best represent your church before people ever walk through the doors? Comment below.

Time to open up the wayback machine, boys and girls.

…The order taker was a most unhelpful young man who had been hired exclusively on his ability to mumble and get my order wrong. After placing the order, there was no less than 20 seconds of silence while he did – I don’t know what he was doing – maybe playing Words With Friends, I don’t know. But when he read the order back, it was wrong. So I tried again. Another 20 or 180 seconds (triple word score!). He read it back. This time, I think it was right. He could have been mumbling the weather report, for all I know.

Discover some context (and the original post) here.

I read things. You read things. But life gets fun when we share what we’re reading, thinking about, and chewing on from around the web. Here are three of my “things” from the past week. Remember campers: if you’re new, click on the bold print for the original article.

Guest Services: The Basics. It’s not a secret that I owe much of the last decade of my ministry life to my friend Mark Waltz. He literally wrote the book on First Impressions. If you’re new to that game, this post will help you wade into the art of the guest at your church.

I’ve been asked lately about some bottom-line “musts” to establish and/or take guest services excellence to the next level. This isn’t an exhaustive list (that’s why I wrote a few books on the topic), but these core essentials will provide a foundation to make your serve to guests excellent and personable.

Why You Should Spend Your Morning In A Cave. (via Fast Company) This is an absolute must for me. What’s your first-part-of-the-day work habit?

Let the independent start the day in her cave, free of email, drop-in meetings, and other subtle suckers of productivity. Then have everybody assemble around the campfire at a regular hour–like maybe around lunchtime.

“Then everybody knows what to expect and will accomplish more,” she says.

A (Slightly) Awkward Interview on Crazy Busy. (via Justin Taylor) A book promo video that has already made its way around the interwebs over the last week, but it’s still the Funniest. Book promo. Ever. Take six minutes and thank me later.

Raise your hand if you’re sick to death of clicking on this blog and seeing posts about Church At The Ballpark!

(Oh, that’s right. I can’t see you.)

But I promise, this is the last CatB post. At least until tomorrow. I’m still just scratching my head at what God accomplished and how he was so gracious to allow us to see it happen.

As Pastor J.D. said on his blog last week, the work is just beginning. Campus Pastors and campus staffers are processing through long, long lists of names, making phone calls, sending emails, setting up a time to grab coffee and begin or continue a fruitful discipleship process. We know that it’s not healthy to baptize and run. No, our commitment needs to be to stick it out over the long haul to see the gospel continue to infiltrate the lives of 554 baptized on September 15th, and the 83 more who were baptized last weekend.

I’ve seen our Campus Pastors take all manner of approaches to continue to preach the gospel to those who were baptized. One of my favorites came from our North Durham Campus Pastor, Ryan Doherty. Ryan sent the following letter to everyone from his campus who was baptized at the ballpark. And as good of a reminder as it was for those fresh out of the water, it was just as good a reminder for me, 28 years after my own baptism. I hope this encourages you to remember today.

September 15, 2013

We are so excited that you decided to take the next step in your faith by being baptized. I want you to know that it was my privilege, honor and joy to baptize you and to share this experience with you. I am excited about the work that God is doing in your life and can’t wait to walk this journey of faith alongside you. This is an exciting time in your life in that you got to publicly express before others, that God has saved you and that you are now a follower of Jesus.

I want you to keep this letter as a reminder of the decision you made this past Sunday at the Summit Church. I want your baptism to serve as a “marker” in your life that you can look back to when life gets tough. I want you to read this letter and remember the decision you made to follow Jesus. Especially when the enemy starts whispering doubts about God being good, doubts about God loving you and doubts about your salvation, I want you to be confident that in Christ, there is NOTHING you can do to make God love you anymore than He does right now. And there is NOTHING you have done, can fail to do or will do to make God love you any less than He does right now because of Jesus.

Remember that you shared your decision to follow Christ through baptism in front of thousands of people at the Summit Church because you wanted to be obedient to Christ’s command to be baptized. Remember also that you believed that baptism is not a requirement for salvation, but is an important next step for you as a Christian.

Remember that the waters you were baptized in were only symbolic to what has already happened in your life. This external symbol was showing others what has already happened in your own heart and soul. Remember there was nothing special or magical about this water you were baptized in. Durham’s City water didn’t save you-Jesus did!

Remember your new life as a Christian. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). “For by grace you have been saved though faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Remember the symbolic picture of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).

Remember that your sins were paid for and you were given hope for eternal life because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Remember that you were completely submerged under the water to show that Jesus’ blood completely covered you from head to toe, removing ALL sin by washing you white as snow.

Remember that when I asked “do you believe that Jesus has done everything necessary to save you” You said, “Yes!” and then when I asked, “Since, Jesus is now Lord of your life, are you willing to do whatever He asks you do to and go wherever He asks you to go?” You said, “Yes!”

Always remember the day you decided to follow Jesus, it was the best decision you could ever make!

I am so proud of you.

Ryan Doherty
The Summit Church|North Durham Campus Pastor

In case you missed the service this weekend, here’s the 2:38 recap of one of the most fun weekends we’ve experienced in a while.


1,300 volunteers gathering for a early morning rally (courtesy Mark Rothrock)

1,300 volunteers gathering for a early morning rally (courtesy Mark Rothrock)

Around our offices, the buzz is still going about Church At The Ballpark. Yes, yes, I know that it’s now out of sight, out of mind, and many of you are moving on to bigger and better things, like the new iPhone (now in living TechniColor®).

But there are so many more stories emerging: stories of life change, stories of wow moments, stories of heroic volunteers. And it’s those volunteers I want to highlight for a moment this morning.

I’m still processing the fact that we had over 1,300 volunteers who served. 1,300 people. That’s more than we had in our church ten years ago. And these 1,300 didn’t just serve, they served with complete passion. They served because they got to, not because they were guilted to It was an amazing, humbling thing to see hundreds lined up at 7:30 AM, waiting in an incredibly long registration line, just so they could prepare to serve thousands who would soon arrive.

I think of my friend Brad Caldwell from our West Club Campus, who was on vacation in Baltimore, but woke up his wife and four year old son at 3 AM so they could get back in time for him to serve as a baptism counselor.

Or Tom Lepkowski. Tom and his wife Barb serve faithfully and tirelessly every single week on our Brier Creek parking team, so he was a natural fit to lead the charge on the streets of downtown Durham. Shortly after Highway 147 was backed up for miles with people waiting to get off the exit, shortly after the Durham PD were just scratching their heads that a “church event” had gone this far over their expectations, shortly after we filled all three planned garages and then went on to fill one and a half more, someone asked Tom, “Things got crazy out there, huh?” Tom’s simple reply was accompanied by a wide smile and a, “Yeah. Crazy GOOD!”

Amy Bell & Cynthia Mann, from our North Durham and Summit en Espanol campuses, respectively, were the team leads for our First Time Guest tents. A wi-fi fiasco neutralized our high-tech plan for registering guests, but Amy and Cynthia simply changed course, reworked the plan on the fly, and made the experience seamless for more than 500 households who showed up for the first time.

Anisa Scott from Brier Creek served in multiple areas, but perhaps the most important was our staging room that she set up on Saturday. It made all of the Sunday last minute stuff about as organized as it possibly could be.

TJ Fenwick (North Raleigh Campus) was another who seemed to be everywhere the entire weekend. He just spotted a need and made sure it was taken care of, from delegating tasks to other volunteers to managing a trash-emptying system that left the park neater than we found it.

I think of the countless young moms who showed up extra early with babies on their hips and infants in strollers, the people who’d worked 40 and 50 and 60 hours that week, yet spent their weekend serving beyond themselves, and the more “seasoned” volunteers who were not in the health to stand in the heat and serve, yet defied us to tell them otherwise.

There are dozens more stories I’ve heard and I’m sure hundreds more to be told, but these are just a few. In short, our volunteers made sure that the entire weekend was set up to be a “Wow” experience. When things went well, they celebrated. When lines got long or systems got tweaked or plans went crazy, they showed patience and grace and ingenuity to reengineer as we went.

I’m honored to serve with such a talented force of people. And the Summit is honored to have their giftings on the front lines. So once again, would you join me in thanking them? What volunteer hero stories did you see this weekend? Please comment below.


Saturday, 11:15 AM. We snuck to Mellow Mushroom to wolf down some pizza before the set up team arrived.

These are my people.

This is the team that I get to do shoulder-to-shoulder ministry with on a regular basis. There are more people beyond this team: more that I love, more that I respect, more that I’m honored to serve alongside, but this is the core, in-the-trenches, alpha team that I depend on and trust in and want to give a public thank you to today.

Events like Church At The Ballpark can bring out the best or worst in teams. We learn more about each other’s work styles, personality traits, character flaws, and heroic efforts than we’d have the opportunity to do in any other forum. If one gear in the machine fails, we all feel it. If one team member goes above and beyond, we all benefit from it.

Several times over the last few weeks, people asked me if I was stressed over the Ballpark event. After all, it’s a one-shot, make-or-break, win-or-lose deal. There were no do-overs or take-backs.

And my honest answer? “I’m a little panicked that I have nothing to panic about.”

That answer was possible because of five people that were the unsung heroes of the guest services / baptism element of Church At The Ballpark. Will you indulge me in a little gratitude fest? From left to right in the photo above:

Josh LawrenceJosh is my special events volunteer coordinator. He managed to oversee a sign up list of 1300+ volunteers for the overall event. He fielded questions that had already been answered, special requests that were almost impossible to fulfill, and last minute cancellations that made him scramble to shuffle the decks. He owned that Google spreadsheet like a boss, and made every volunteer feel like their request or email was the first and only one he’d ever received.

Clayton GreeneIn my first impressions cranium, Clayton is the frontal lobe. Or the hypothalamus. Or another part that I don’t actually know what it means, but it’s probably important. (And he’s cringing right now because he’s actually a medical person and knows I’m outside my element.) Clayton knows what I’m thinking before I say it. He’s got a plan before I ask for it. He takes all of my random chaotic options and tell me which one is the best and why. He gets guest services at a heart level, and makes our team 400% better.

Kristy BurgessKristy is the glue that holds our group together. An administrative assistant extraordinaire, she could single handedly lay out a plan to invade three small countries before noon. She’s never met a budget, spreadsheet, or system that she couldn’t tame into color-coordinated submission. Over the last six months she’s had to juggle the changes and reboots that come with an event of this magnitude. She keeps every last one of us focused on the big win and helps us remember how all the pieces fit.

David TalbertI don’t know a more humble, gracious pastor than David. He carried the burden of planning for hundreds of baptisms, and ensuring that every one of them would feel like a personalized experience. David prays by name for every name that comes through our processes, whether it’s on-the-spot baptisms or the monthly Starting Point event. He is a logistical genius, and knew down to the minute how long to plan for “x” amount of baptisms. Every towel, baptism t-shirt, and tank appeared on that field because of David’s leadership.

Bradley NorrisUtility man. Numbers cruncher. Overboard OCD. Those are just a few things that describe the guy who took a stadium map and figured out how to place over 11,500 people in seats as quickly as possible, how many offering buckets were needed per section, and how many volunteers it would take to manage such a crowd. Bradley kept detailed stats down to the level of excruciating pain for a non-numbers guy like me. But once I turned over the seating team to Bradley, I knew that I could keep my hands off of it. He owned it all.

Oh, and I should mention that with the exception of Kristy and David, none of these guys are full time. Even David just transitioned to a full time role two weeks before Ballpark went down. That’s right – they all made the event happen over the course of evenings and weekends on top of their full time jobs that actually pay a few bills…oh, and on top of already overseeing their respective ministry areas on a weekly basis, and on top of being husbands to Janessa, Kristen, Katie, and daddy to Cara (you’ll have to figure out who goes with whom). I find that remarkable.

So Summit Church, would you join me in thanking them? Most of your “wow” moments this weekend came as a result of their tireless labor over the last few months. You can do that by commenting below or tossing some love their way on their Twitter accounts (linked above).

I recognized that moment immediately yesterday. It was the same moment I’d experienced two years prior. It was the experience of seeing hundreds of people leave their seats, walk the concourse, take the steps, head to a tent, and move from death to life in a relationship with Jesus.

It’s that moment where all the months of planning, praying, and strategizing comes to a screeching halt, and we tangibly saw God moving people into his plan, the plan he’s had since the beginning of time.

And it’s that moment where I was simply rendered incapacitated for a while, unable to do anything except stare, mouth agape, tears flowing, throat constricting, and heart overflowing with gratitude to the God who doesn’t need us, but allows us to participate in the joy of this journey.

When the dust settled, the final count was 11,500 in attendance, 530 baptized (79 of those were first time salvation decisions), somewhere around 1,300 volunteers, and $75,000 in cash and two truckloads of supplies given to Urban Ministries of Durham and Salvation Army Women’s and Children’s Shelter.

More Church at the Ballpark posts and stories will be coming later this week. But for now, enjoy some of the images captured this weekend, and thank God for his mercy and kindness in the tiniest of details.

(Big thanks to Brett Seay for providing most of these incredible shots!)

The excitement is at a fever pitch around the our office and throughout our church family. Church at the Ballpark ’13 is coming this Saturday. I thought it would be entirely appropriate to go back into the archives today and show you some pictures from the 2011 event. Enjoy.

And show up Sunday. You’ll be glad you did!

View the “Speechless” photos.

Your Theology Doesn’t Matter (via @BenReed, HT @AlanPace). Simply put? Ben nails it.

If you want to make loyal “customers,” (people who don’t just show up once, but come back regularly) that doesn’t start in the pulpit. That doesn’t start with your theology.

People could care less about where you stand on the authorship of the book of Hebrews or how long it took to create the Earth. They don’t even care what you believe about the Bible.

Repenting of our lack of response and follow up (via @VillageChurchTx). This is gutsy, raw, and real. As a church staff member who deals with the same issues, I applaud Village for taking this seriously. We can learn from them.

As a church staff, we need to humble ourselves before you and repent for our collective lack of response and follow-up. Historically, we have garnered and earned a reputation for lackluster response to emails and phone calls and for not following through on what we say we will do.

LG pranks unsuspecting job applicants with a fake meteor crash (via @LaughingSquid) I really, really hope these are real reactions, and not staged. Amazing.

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