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Today wraps up a discussion that began earlier this week.  You can catch up here and here.

We’ve been talking about creating “Wow!” moments for our guests.  Yesterday we discussed the sometimes months-long process to move people from being a Consumer to Worshipper to Minister.  The question remains: why do we give so much attention to the consumer?  Why not just rebuke their sorry, sin-sick, selfish soul and tell ’em to buck up and shut up and slap the coffee cup out of their hand and make ’em smooth out their faux hawk and put on a tie, for crying out loud?  In other words, why don’t we do church the “right” way?  You know, the way that many of us experienced growing up?

Answer: because it doesn’t work.

Church-as-usual has a proven track record, and it’s a failing record.  Rituals, traditions, rules, regulations, secret handshakes, all that stuff has done more to turn people off of Christianity than we’ll ever know.  And the funny thing is, it has nothing to do with Christianity.  So the model of guest-services-in-church is a decidedly different approach.  So why do we cater to the consumer?

Answer: because often (not always) it does work.

In Win Arn’s work The Church Growth Ratio Book, he cites research that shows that the average church in America will keep about 16% of its first-time guests.  (Rapidly growing churches such as the Summit tend to keep 25 to 30% of their first-time guests).  However, if a church is worthy enough to bring a guest back for a second week, they will retain 85% of those guests.

After reading that stat a couple of years ago, my mindset on guest services shifted.  My goal now is not just to provide a “Wow!” experience, but it’s to convince them to return.  As I said yesterday, rarely does someone become a Christian on their first visit.  It takes weeks of questions answered, time invested, and relationships built for someone to lay down their defenses and accept the Gospel.  The stakes are too high for us to let someone slip out after the first visit, never to return, and a Summit-branded coffee mug is a very small price to pay if it means that they’ll be more open and available to hear the Gospel.

One last thought: they’re not always going to return.  The Consumer – Worshipper – Minister model won’t always work.  It certainly didn’t seem to work for Jesus, and he was Jesus!  However, his mandate was to reconcile people to the Father, and he made himself available for every last person that he encountered.  Our mission and mandate is the same.


Yesterday we began a discussion that you should read if you haven’t yet, because I’m gonna pick up where I left off starting…now.

I resonate with Blake when he says, “I am afraid that sometimes that is all they will get.”  Our strategy follows that of Jesus: we meet people where they are, but love them too much to leave them there.  For the last few years, I’ve had a personal unwritten strategy for the people that find our church, a three-stage process through which I want everyone to move:

  1. Consumer. Yep, they’re coming.  And yep, if we have French Vanilla Creamer and a cup with a little cardboard sleeve, all the better.  Up-front parking?  I’ll take it.  I can wear shorts?  Sweet.  You’re going to call me and check to see how my experience was?  WellAlrightyThen.
  2. Worshipper. Our goal in First Impressions is not to make people coffee drinkers, but to clear the way so they can worship.  A mom is not going to hear the message if she’s worried about the fact that no one listened in Summit Kids when she told them about her child’s peanut allergy.  A dad is not going to loosen up and hear the gospel if he’s still ticked because of the surly treatment of one of our parking guys.  And no one will be happy if there’s no toilet paper or they felt like they stood out or they could sum their morning up in the words awkward or uncomfortable.  The First Impressions Team removes those potential obstacles so people can engage in worship.  They’ll experience the music.  They’ll hear people sing to Jesus.  They’ll hear the preacher.  And many times, they’ll respond to the gospel.  This isn’t always a one-day process.  (In fact, it rarely is.)  But week after week, month after month, as their preconceived notions of what church is supposed to be are stripped away, the gospel will become increasingly clear, and before you know it, Jesus has stepped in and changed their life.
  3. Minister. This is where Elton John’s Circle of Life soundtrack should begin playing.  This is where it gets beautiful…when a formerly self-absorbed, up-front parking, cappuccino-swilling, where’s-my-complimentary-umbrella complaining, I-don’t-think-I’m-gonna-like-this thinking consumer has a change of heart.  They see where they were the beneficiary of grace, and they make the decision to dispense the same grace to those who came after them.  I see it all the time, and it never ceases to amaze me. Reached people reach people. That’s a fact.  When they truly realize what they’ve received, they can’t help but give some back.  We have people who started attending just a few weeks ago who are now serving at our Information Table.  We have people who received free childcare who are now taking care of the kids of others.  We have people who used to get to park right up front who are now deliberately taking spaces far away from our building so that guests will be able to park closer.

But again…is it guaranteed?  Can we absolutely be sure that this three-stage process will happen?  I’ll share an interesting insight with you…


Friday’s post generated the following question that I don’t want you to miss.  Rather than answering it in the comments section, I’ll pull it front and center.  Blake asks:

By trying to create a “wow” moment for everyone are we buying into our culture of consumerism?  America is all about how much can we consume.  People will come to our church because they get coffee but wouldn’t because another church didn’t offer that to them?  Are we helping people be just consumers?  Now I know that once they are in the door that is not the message that is preached.  The gospel is preached and that changes lives. I know that you have to get them there but I am afraid that sometimes that is all they will get.  Anyways just some thoughts from a seminary guy, I am looking forward to your response.

In full disclosure, Blake is one of our Parking Team guys and posed this question to me in person on Sunday morning.  I asked him to toss it out on the blog because I grew up Southern Baptist and therefore enjoy public, scathing arguments.

Editor’s Note: He’s kidding.  I think.

But really, are we helping people to be consumers?  Are we creating some franchised version of McChurch where everyone is asking, “What’s in it for me?”  Believe me, I ask this same question every time I see our coffee bill for the month.  I ponder it every time I approve a new design or feature of our First Time Guest bags.  I’m mulling it even now as we’re about to invest some serious coin into signage for one of our campuses that will point guests to premier parking.

The short answer is, we’re meeting guests where they are. Just as Jesus never asked anyone to get cleaned up before he changed their life, we don’t expect our guests to take off their consumer hats when they walk in the door.  I get aggravated when a 20-year member is upset because we don’t have their special blend of hot chocolate, but  I will drive to Target and get it if a guest raises the question. The “Wow!” moments get their attention.  They build a platform from which we can speak.  They communicate care, excellence, and the fact that we are glad they’re here.

But is that enough?  Are we fostering an atmosphere where, as Blake says, “that is all they will get”?  The discussion continues tomorrow.  Stay tuned…


Last week our family took our first cruise. Merriem’s mom & dad loaded us up, tossed us on the fun ship of the seas, and forced us to eat food around the clock as their way of saying “Merry Christmas.”

(I think it worked.)

Spoiler: we had a great time. I loved eating, I loved sitting around and reading, I loved eating, I loved spending some rare quantity time with my kids, I loved eating.

But it took me approximately 2.1 hours after boarding the ship to start feeling rather icky. And not the “Hey there, that horizon – which was quite still a few hours ago – is definitely bobbing up and down like a two year old on a Skittles rush” kind of icky. No, I’m talking about the American consumer, everything-on-a-silver-platter, sit-at-the-pool-and-let-people-bring-me-refreshing-beverages kind of icky.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being pampered. I like ice in my tea, flavored creamer in my coffee, and bedsheets that smell like a field of flowers. But if you’ve been on a cruise, you know the culture is so you-centered that it’s almost overwhelming. “What can I get you, sir?” “Would you like another steak, sir?” “You’re looking far less green today, sir.”

And that you-centered culture begs the question: Are we creating the same environment in our churches? Are we inviting people to pull up a chair and let us pamper them until we hit the next port of call, where they’ll roll their full bellies off the ship in search of another entertainment venue?

As our pastor asked in a sermon a few years back, are we a cruise ship, or are we a battleship?

A cruise ship coddles and pampers. A battleship stands and delivers.

I think we’re both. I think we have to be both. I believe that we need to meet people right where they are: in need of being served, loved, cared for, needs anticipated, and voids filled. And of course those things have to stem out of an overflow of the generosity of the gospel and they must point people to Jesus. I see nothing unbiblical, wrong, or incongruous with loving people with lavish generosity when they first step onto the ship and treating them like the honored guests that they are.

But we must also move them from deck chairs to battle gear. We have to change them from consumers to ministers. We have to help them see that just as they have been served, so they must serve.

A church that maintains cruise ship culture from the first visit until the final day is an unhealthy church.

But a church that has a healthy balance between “come and see” and “go and tell,” between “let us serve you” and “let us help you serve others,” between “cruise ship” and “battleship,” …that’s a picture of health. Bring in the broken, the unconvinced, the skeptics, the scoffers. Love them well, serve them well, honor them well. But refuse to leave them there. Equip them to serve as they’ve been served, to love as they’ve been loved. That’s where people stop asking “What’s in it for me?” and start asking, “What’s in me that God can use for others?”

Also read: Creating Consumers (Part 2)

Costco is the new KFC.

There was a day when you could find all the Baptists scarfing down drumsticks and mashed potatoes & gravy every Sunday afternoon at the Colonel’s place. If the Methodists ever wanted to launch a pre-emptive strike on the Baptists (“Immerse this, denominational no-gooders!”) they could just waltz on over to the KFC buffet and take care of business.

But there seems to be a new after-church trend, and it has “Costco membership card” written all over it. Church goers take to the cavernous warehouse on Sunday afternoons, perusing aisle after aisle of freebie samples. “Salmon dip? I’ll take summa that.” “Swedish meatballs? Yessir.” “Dinky cup of organic granola? What the heck.”

I find it fascinating that we (I) shamelessly approach the sample counter to wolf down things we have no intention of actually buying. Never in my life have I considered buying a six pound tiramisu from a warehouse club. But put a sample cup with a plastic serving stick in front of me, and I’ll send my nine year old back for seconds (“Turn your baseball cap around. She won’t recognize you.”).

It’s fitting that it seems to be church people who are invading SampleLand every Sunday afternoon, because it seems they’ve just come out of an environment where they’ve done the same. They pull freebies from aisle after aisle of ministry options, but never consider committing themselves.

They take advantage of “free childcare,” but never step up to invest in the next generation.

They grumble about being told where to park, but never consider donning an orange vest and stepping outside.

They’re quick to criticize the lack of options for a small group, but never think about opening their home to host one.

Please don’t misunderstand: this isn’t a Monday morning rant against consumerism within the church. I believe that one of the greatest joys of ministry is taking care of the consumers that God sends our way (I wrote an entire series on that here). But there comes a time when consumption has to end and commitment has to begin. There’s a time when we have to stop sampling the proverbial salmon and purchase the dad-gum fish.

The body of Christ known as the Church has to get better at this. If we are marching under the banner of Jesus, then we have to serve like Jesus. We have to consider others better than ourselves, get our hands dirty, invest. Give back. Serve.

If you’re a part of the Summit (specifically our Brier Creek campus) and you’re ready to jump in, then it’s go time. Get in touch with me at the “Make Contact” tab above. I’ll help you.

If you’re a part of another church, email your pastor. Call the church office. Shoot, just show up on Sunday and tell somebody you want to volunteer.

Life’s too short to survive on Swedish meatballs and somebody else’s ministry. Make it your own.