November 2013

Behind the Scenes of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade(via @AOLJobs) I thought it was just about holding on to some balloons.

Macy’s has standards and no smoking, eating, drinking or gum chewing are permitted once in costume. Given that I’m at the end of the parade, I’ll be marching for at least three hours. So I plan to keep my fluid intake to the absolute minimum. Those who march in the front of the parade can finish in 45 minutes. Some have been known to get back home in time to see Santa on TV.


Funny Thanksgiving Help Line Calls(via @ReadersDigest) Back in my student ministry days, one of my favorite annual traditions was the Wednesday-night-before-Thanksgiving phone call to the Butterball hotline. We’d put the turkey expert on speaker phone, quiz her on turkey trivia, and send her a prize package. Boom.

A disappointed woman called wondering why her turkey had no breast meat. After a conversation with a Talk-Line operator, it became apparent that the woman’s turkey was lying on the table upside down.


The Story of Thanksgiving as Told by Kids. (via @PremiumFunny) Sit back, crank your speakers, and thank me later.


There are two businesses that I frequent on a regular basis. (And by “regular” I mean “compulsive.”) These are different businesses, with two different product lines, two different bottom lines.

Both businesses are great. Both are leaders in their industry. And the particular franchises I’m referring to? Well, they’re simply top notch.

But like all businesses, there are times (albeit infrequent) that there are missteps. Incorrect orders, inattentive employees, underwhelming experience.

Infrequent, although it happens. Sometimes.

But here’s the difference: when it does happen, there’s one business that I tend to be more forgiving of. One that I intentionally overlook the misstep, forgive the inattention, and know that the next experience will be better.

The reason? Relationship. At one business, I’m known. I’m on a first name basis with most of the employees. They know my regular order. They know my face. They know my family.

At the other, I’m…well…not known. I know a couple of employees, but not more than that. I recognize some of the regulars, but I don’t feel like a regular. And a lot of that is my fault. Before I grouse that they haven’t gotten to know me, I have to realize that I haven’t made a concerted effort to get to know them, either.

Both are great places. Both are staffed with great people. But it’s the relationship with one that sets it apart.

It works the same with our churches and our guest services teams. We’re more likely to forgive the inevitable missteps when we know the people doing the misstepping. It doesn’t excuse mistakes, but it does soothe mistakes. And that’s one of many reasons that relationships matter.

So what are you doing to facilitate relationships between your servant team and those they’re serving? I’d love to hear your success stories. Comment below.

I’m dialing the archives back five years today. Enjoy a tip o’ the pilgrim’s hat to next week’s holiday:

Really Old Pilgrim Picture

The obvious guests for the celebration would have to be the Indians; so instrumental were they in the pilgrims’ survival.  The pilgrims immediately issued the invitation, but were stunned to learn that many of their guests would be boycotting the dinner because the term “Indian” connoted savagery, beastliness, and an incorrect geographical location of origin.

Squanto was unable to come because he was the target of a lawsuit by the local farmers’ union. His tutoring to the pilgrims on how to plant corn constituted a violation of the local agricultural standards and “no-compete” clauses.

Miles Standish was being investigated by the EPA and USDA for implementing Squanto’s practice of using dead, rotting fish to grow the crops.

PETA showed up and protested the cruel and inhumane treatment of the turkeys prior to the meal.  One of the pilgrims suggested that inhumane treatment was probably okay since the turkeys weren’t actually human, which only served to anger the PETA protesters and caused them to throw raw giblets onto the gathering crowd.

The Democrats came and declared that the pilgrims’ crop had netted too many vegetables.  They forced the pilgrims to hand over half of their vegetables, which they promptly reallocated to a neighboring colony that didn’t have as many vegetables.

Read the entire post here

Why It Matters What Outsiders Think. (via @davidcmathis) David Mathis hits it out of the park again. (Earlier I linked to his previous post, A Reason To Really Be Offended.)

Paul prominently mentions “outsiders” again in 1 Corinthians 14. This time the context is corporate worship, and far from ignoring them, or planning things in such a way as to turn them off, Paul wants to engage them. To win them.

Can Excellent Customer Service Really Be Delivered Over Email? (via @HelpScout) This is a lengthy read, but oh so worth it. If you ever email clients / customers / supporters / guests (hint: that’s all of us), you need this in your toolbox.

Many might tell you that email is too impersonal to deliver the kind of quality service that customers remember—but is that really the case?

In order to answer that question, I ventured out to see if I could find examples of customer service over email that were so good that the customer just had to share his or her experience.

Best Ride Photos From Disney’s Splash Mountain. (via @PremiumFunny) These are amazing. Absolutely amazing. The Jenga photo is jenius. (Um, genius.)



photo credit:

I thought this article from Help Scout was pretty interesting. The skinny: researchers examined the effect of customer loyalty programs on…you guessed it…customer loyalty. The test involved handing out two sets of “free carwash” cards. On one set of cards, customers needed to get eight car washes to earn a free one.

On the second set, customers had to earn ten car washes for the freebie, but the first two boxes were already stamped, thereby giving them a head start.

Now if you’re awesome at the maths, you know that in both cases, they’re buying eight washes to get a free one. And if you’re awesome at common sense, you’d think there would be no difference in response.

But you’d be wrong. The people with the “head start” cards had nearly double the rate of loyalty as those who were eking out an entire punch card on their own.

So what hath customer loyalty programs to do with Jerusalem?* Obviously there are stark differences: we’re not getting people to buy into a product or an organization, but into a mission. And it’s not about what people can purchase from the church, but the gospel that the church has been called to freely distribute. However, I believe that there’s a connection between loyalty programs and guest services within the church:

People are more likely to “stick” if they feel like an insider.

I understand that plenty of churches want people to remain anonymous as long as they want to remain anonymous. I have friends who oversee guest services in those churches, and I completely get their reasoning. And while we can’t force anyone to identify themselves, we do everything possible every weekend to make self-identification not only easy, but a natural first step.

And when they do, we want to make that first time guest feel like a family member as quickly as we can. It’s a delicate process: too much information feels like we’re desperate, clingy, and assuming way too much (kind of like picking out china patterns on the first date). Too little information leaves guests confused, wondering what they should do next, and often not even knowing the right questions to ask.

But there are a few simple things we try to do to make outsiders insiders, and thereby make them stick:

  1. Clear access points. From the first moment a guest drives onto a campus, we want them to know we’ve prepared for their visit. We do that through signage, greeters, and an obnoxiously in-the-way first time guest tent that just dares them to bypass it. Guests can choose to self-identify, and when they do, we help take the edge off of an anxious first visit.
  2. Targeted conversations. While there’s a certain “one size fits all” approach to dealing with guests, we all know that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. That’s why the goal is always to figure out how we can specifically connect with a specific guest’s specific needs, and respond appropriately.
  3. Tailored event. We offer a newcomer’s event once a month at every campus called Starting Point. More than anything else we do, Starting Point makes the Summit feel like home over the course of a couple of hours. I’ve known people who have attended here for years, yet they said that it wasn’t until they (finally) showed up at Starting Point that they had one of those infamous “AHA!” moments and felt like they’d infiltrated the bubble. That’s why our goal is to get every first timer at Starting Point within one to three months of their first visit.

The point of all of these things isn’t to build the attendance metrics of the Summit. It’s not to bump our membership stats. The goal is to create an environment where people who are on the outside can relatively quickly move to the inside. Because when that happens, it’s fertile breeding ground for the gospel to go forward and truly impact their lives.

*It’s a takeoff on a quote by Tertullian, and when I say junk like that I feel 24% smarter.

We like what we know.

Whether it’s our favorite lunch spot or trusted vacation destination or a go-to pair of shoes, we’re fans of the familiar.

And familiar is okay, as long as we remember that one man’s familiar is another man’s uncharted territory.

Because when things get familiar, we tend to get sloppy. We turn inward to our own convenience rather than outward for the sake of our guests. We structure systems around our comfort rather than ease of use for someone who’s new.

That’s why I’d encourage you…every once in a while…to take another look. Arrive at your weekend worship experience with the heart of a pastor and the mind of a critic. Look for things that are incredibly basic to you, but might be incredibly confusing to a guest.

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Identifying signage: if someone is driving down the road past your church, do they know that you are a church? Is there signage to point them your way? You know that there’s a building behind those trees on the frontage road, but do they?

Greeters in the great outdoors: we tend to staff our volunteer teams from the inside out. We focus on the auditorium, the kids area, the lobby, etc. And when guests arrive, they tend to see backs…lots and lots of backs headed away from them and into the building. But what if you had a few friendly faces outside for the entire morning? What if you lowered someone’s defenses by maintaining an outward-focused posture?

Clearly marked entry points: if you have a traditional church building, you may have more entrances than you have people. What if you structured your guest parking in a way where every first timer parks in the same lot and enters the same door? Their worst nightmare is to walk in the wrong door and end up in the “forbidden hallway.” (and yes, nearly every church has one)

Lots of signs, complemented by lots of people: signage is important. You should have lots of it, at a viewable level, that clearly communicates the areas you want people to know about. But signs don’t replace people and conversations. If someone looks confused, a volunteer should be trained to react and respond appropriately and to get them where they need to go.

Blind spots and fear of the unknown: does your auditorium have a wooden door separating it from the lobby? (yes) What will you see when you open that door? You know the answer. But your guest doesn’t. Wooden doors should be paired up with yet more people, placed there as a security blanket to help guests feel more comfortable about what’s on the other side.

Confusing language from the stage, temperature of the auditorium, spell check on the screens, screaming babies in the back…: you name it, there’s something else that you’ve become all too familiar  and comfortable with. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably learned to tune it out or ignore it altogether. But your guests won’t. And those things could make or break whether or not they return. So this weekend, take another look. It might be an eye-opening experience.

In light of our current Staying Faith series, I thought this was a fun post to pull out of the archives for today:

Our people simply respond well to the call to give. Whether it’s turkeys for the Durham Rescue Mission or coats for students at Neal Middle School or school supplies for teachers at Eastway Elementary, they just give. And give. And give.

And it’s not just structured giving – the kind where somebody stands up and tells a sad story and shows pictures of sick kittens and plays a Sarah McLachlan song and then asks people to empty their pockets and maybe sell a vital organ and then go dig a well. No, this culture of generosity goes deeper than a corporate call and digs into the heart of individual mission.

It’s the small group raising money to pay for an uninsured surgery. It’s the campus staff gathering funds to fill a family’s propane heater before winter. It’s the sound tech arranging for a sound system to be loaned to a school for their Christmas program. It’s the young professionals who host an auction to fund a ministry to street kids in Rwanda.

Read the entire original post.

Chemo Crud. Courage. Community. (via @MarkLWaltz) If you’re a regular reader here, you know of my friend and far-off mentor Mark Waltz. What you may not know is that his wife Laura has been fighting cancer valiantly for the last few months. Their fierce love for Jesus and each other both inspires and convicts me.

IMG_6529Everyone sees Laura after chemo crud week. When she’s happily engaging conversation at our church building, Starbucks or elsewhere in our community. It’s truly remarkable to see her smile. To experience her genuine worship as she leads us with the arts team. To admire her strength and courage.

I see her as she is now. Completely wrung out. Nauseous. Achy – from her shoulders to her toes. Tired of laying in bed, but too tired to be anywhere else.




My Family, In Black and White. (via @CTmagazine) While I certainly haven’t felt all of the things that author Megan Hill talks about, I know that “I’m-getting-dirty-looks-and-maybe-someone-is-thinking-about-dialing-911-because-I’m-buckling-my-screaming-biracial-child-into-a-car-seat” feeling all too well.

I’m not happy about the people who stop me in the grocery store to question my fitness to be a mother to my kids. Not happy about the double- and triple-takes everywhere. But, as a parent, I’ve learned to be almost thankful for it. This scrutiny enables me to enter into my kids’ experience of a racially conscious world and to set for them an example of how to navigate it.

Someday (sooner than I’d like to imagine), my kids won’t be with me every time they go out in public. People’s nosy questions and unfriendly looks right now are the best chance I have to sympathize with my kids’ minority experience, the best chance I have to model for them how to act in the face of prejudice or false assumptions.

son No-No’s(via @MetaPicture) A glance at the tutorial that animators get when working on The Simpsons. Details matter.

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Earlier this year I told you about Ministry Grid, an online training tool that will help you take church leadership development to a new level. I’m honored to be a small part of the Ministry Grid video family, and excited that the site goes live today. 

Following is a quick tutorial on what Ministry Grid is and how it can serve your church and ministry. Check it out and sign up today!

It’s finally here. Whether you have been waiting with baited breath or this is your first time hearing about it, Ministry Grid has launched. We are excited about this dynamic platform for training the church. We believe it will provide unprecedented opportunity for churches to develop leaders and servants in every area from the parking lot to the pulpit and are pleased to partner with them.

Ministry Grid bases their entire ministry on the vision of Ephesians 4:11-13:

“11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[a] and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. . .”

Their vision is to see churches built up and equipped to do the work of the Kingdom, and they have provided a unique and unparalleled resource to do this.


Ministry Grid is a customizable platform designed to help churches develop all their leaders, no matter which area they serve in. Ministry Grid makes training leaders simple with content available to leaders anytime, anywhere, while giving pastors unprecedented control and insight into how their people learn. Launching with more than 1,500 training videos for pastors, staff, volunteer leaders, and every-day church goers, Ministry Grid covers, or will cover, every topic a church needs from the parking lot to the pulpit.


Ministry Grid’s Learning Management System enables your church to customize training to fit the unique needs and goals of your people. Select built-in tracks, choose from Ministry Grid’s 1,500+ video sessions, or add videos to create your own customized training. With tracking and administrative tools, Ministry Grid allows leaders to assess an individual or group’s skill level, assign training content, and view progress. It is accessible from computers, tablets, and smartphones with a native app that allows offline training, so users can train anywhere, at any time.


While video training itself is not a new concept, it has historically lacked a way to manage and track a user’s progress. A Learning Management System like Ministry Grid’s allows you to assign content and track the progress of every person using Ministry Grid in your ministry or organization. Ministry Grid’s Learning Management System gives unprecedented insight into how training is taking place, allowing you to easily view a group at a glance or see an individual’s progress, provide accountability, and measure effectiveness. Ministry Grid comes with built-in training tracks and assessment tools that can be customized according to your needs. You can also build your own.


Ministry Grid is for the entire church, with pricing based on your church’s average weekly attendance. Content is organized into four areas of development—pastoral, church staff, lay leader/volunteer, and personal development—with a wide range of topics videos averaging 15 minutes in length. Ministry Grid works with churches of any size, and because you can upload your own content, there’s no limit to how you can utilize the platform. Ministry Grid is also perfect for organizations and non-profits that are developing Christian leaders on matters relevant to their ministry.


Ministry Grid is unprecedented in terms of the quantity, quality, and range of training content available. Every aspect is customizable according to your church’s needs, including the ability to skin the site with your own colors, drop in your logo and church branding, and upload your own content. You may also choose from Ministry Grid’s 1,500+ video sessions or disable access to content not relevant to your assigned users. No other training platform comes close in its ability to perfectly fit your specific needs.


Yes. Ministry Grid features apps for iOS devices and Kindle Fire. The mobile app allows people to watch training content on the go. You can even download content to your device to watch when offline, and connect your mobile device to a project—perfect for churches that do not have wi-fi access readily available. The Ministry Grid app is a free download, but requires a Ministry Grid subscription to use.

Photo credit: Jae C. Hong, AP, via USA Today

Photo credit: Jae C. Hong, AP, via USA Today

Saw this article over the weekend in USA Today. The AP reports that “dozens of gatherings” of atheists are popping up across the U.S. after gaining ground in Britain. Here’s a clip:

Hundreds of atheists and atheist-curious packed into a Hollywood auditorium for a boisterous service filled with live music, moments of reflection and an “inspirational talk, ” and some stand-up comedy by Jones, the movement’s co-founder.

During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of “Lean on Me,” ”Here Comes the Sun” and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA.

At the end, volunteers passed cardboard boxes for donations as attendees mingled over coffee and pastries and children played on the floor.

I’m baffled by this. Truly baffled. I think back over forty years plus nine months of my own church experience. I can probably count on two hands and two feet (and have a toe or two left over) the number of times I’ve not been at church on a Sunday. Whether I was always there for the right reasons or not, I was always there.

But to gather just for the purpose of gathering is curious to me. I’ll be honest: if I were not a person of faith, I could think of plenty of other things I’d rather do on the weekend: sleep in. Grab breakfast with friends. Sleep in. Get all introverted and read. Did I mention sleeping in?

Way way down on the bottom of my list would be to show up to a large event with a bunch of strangers, sing some songs, and put money in a box.

To have a service when there’s no One you’re serving…well, that would be like inviting friends over for a movie night, but staring at a blank wall. The concept is good, but the execution is empty.

I don’t come to church because I get to sing, or talk to strangers, or have one more thing on my calendar. As a matter of fact, as one who’s more of an introvert, those things make the weekend a challenge for me. No, I sing and talk to strangers and schedule “church” because of the One the church is built upon. It’s the life of Jesus that informs my church life.

The point of church has never been to simply sing or gather or give. Yes, those things are a part of it. But the point of church is to point to Jesus. And without Jesus as the center, without someone who serves as the recipient of what we do, I remain…baffled.

My goal is not to bash atheists who gather corporately. I’m not out to question the sincerity of people who probably sound really good when they sing “Here Comes the Sun.” (As a matter of fact, if you attend one of these gatherings and happened to stumble across this post, I would genuinely love to have a dialogue with you so that I can learn from you.)

But here’s what I gleaned from the article: even people who don’t believe in God believe in relationships. According to Sanderson Jones, one of the co-founders of the movement:

“…it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in. If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

That, I understand. That’s where Jones nails it. People are looking for community. We’re hard-wired for relationships. And that’s why our churches must be places where people can connect, can get to know one another, can serve each other and live beyond themselves.

That’s why we have to plan the weekend experience with both believer and unbeliever in mind. Whether someone is a disciple or disillusioned, sold out or skeptic, apologist or atheist, we have the responsibility to plan for people who are like us, not like us, and don’t like us. We have the mandate to think outside the walls when it comes to people who wander inside our walls. We have to meet people where they are, not where we think they ought to be.

But as we do it, we must think bigger than corporate singing or generous giving. We must go beyond an inspirational sermon or strong relationships. All of those things should be present, but all should be a catalyst for something more. Sermons and singing and giving and relating has to point somewhere. It can’t be an end in itself.

It has to point to Jesus.

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