Starting Point


I believe in the local church. I love the spiritual body of believers that God assembles in cities and towns and neighborhoods all over the globe. I love the diversity, the community, and the viability that the local church provides.

I’m a fan of the local church. I’m also a fan of biblical covenant community (translated: church membership). While you won’t find the words “church membership” in scripture, you’ll find the fingerprints of it all over the Bible. We were created to belong. We were meant to identify.

We talk a lot about the will of God in our lives, so I’ll let you in on a little secret, if that’s what you’re searching for: if you are a Christ follower, it’s God’s will that you be a member of a local church

Maybe not this church, but a church.

But there’s a reason I would say that you shouldn’t become a member of this church. Ever. There’s a reason you absolutely should not join any church that’s larger than a couple of dozen people. You should not pass “Go.” You should not collect $200.

If you won’t join a small group, the Summit Church is not the church for you.

I get it. I understand that small groups take up precious time out of your week. I understand it means you’ve got to make new friends, and some of those friends are odd ducks. I know that it means there’s another cadre of people in your span of care.

I also understand that we don’t actually require that you join a Summit small group in order to join the church. Some might disagree with that philosophy. I might agree with some of your disagreements.

But that’s why I tell people all the time, if you’re not planning on joining a group, don’t join this church. Don’t join any church that’s bigger than the cast of Downton Abbey. Run…don’t walk…to another church. Somewhere smaller. Somewhere where you can be more visible and more known. This joint is too big for you to feel like you can find community among thousands. We weren’t designed that way as humans, and it won’t work that way at this church.

If you join a church but don’t join a group, you’ll eventually fall through the cracks. That’s not a prediction, it’s a promise. You’ll come in enamored by the size and quality and the pizazz of your brand new church, but quickly find that you can’t know and be known like you’d hoped. A crisis or sickness or need will take you out, and there will be no one to shepherd you back in.

I can’t promise that joining a group will guarantee smooth sailing for life, but it’ll be much smoother to be one out of twelve than one out of thousands.

There’s a spot where you can join both a group and the church, as well as get on a ministry team, find out about baptism, meet some new friends, and eat chicken sandwiches (I love chicken sandwiches). It’s called Starting Point, and you can RSVP for a future event right now.

Groups: they’re what you’re wired for.

Last Saturday night we hosted our monthly Starting Point event: a three hour, no holds barred, newcomer extravaganza designed to help connected people become committed people. It was by far the largest group of people we’ve ever had to complete the process in one evening: well over 100 folks ate chicken and heard about becoming a part of the mission of the Summit Church and the kingdom of God.

One of the features of the evening is always a thorough explanation of the gospel. I figure it doesn’t make sense to have a captive audience and not explain the most important characteristic of who we are as a church. So for 15-20 minutes of the evening, we walk from Genesis to Revelation, capturing the big story of the great exchange: our death for Jesus’ life.

After the event was over, I met Tracy. Tracy is a 39 year old mom of three who is new to the idea of the evangelical church. She started coming a few weeks ago at the beginning of our All In series, which is always a great time for new people to show up. (“Hey. You’re a sinner. Plus, let’s talk about your idolatry of money. And then, we’ll punch your grandma in the face.”)

Tracy told me that things “started clicking” in the middle of this series. She understood the gospel in the way she never had before. Things began to make sense. Jesus made sense. She came back week after week to hear more. She showed up at Starting Point, where she was inundated with another gospel presentation and a bonafide, genuine, bow-your-head-and-close-your-eyes, nobody-looking-ar0und invitation.

But it wasn’t until after Starting Point, when Tracy sat down with Drew, her table host, when the gospel stopped being intellectual and started being personal. Drew wisely walked her through her story, connected her story to God’s story, and asked the question, “Do you understand this?”

Tracy replied that she did. She got it. She recognized her sin and her need for a savior.

And then Drew closed the deal: “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t make this decision right now?”

There wasn’t. And on a little black folding chair on a fall Saturday night, Tracy met the creator of the universe and the redeemer of her soul.

Too many times, we’re content to share content. We toss out lots of information about how salvation happens, but we stop short of asking the question and closing the deal. We walk people down the Roman Road, but we fail to steer them to a point of decision.

I’m thankful for table hosts like Drew who listen carefully to the voice of the Holy Spirit. I’m grateful that nearly every month at Starting Point, we are seeing stories of life change. Not necessarily because people are hearing the gospel for the first time, but because an individual is looking them in the eye and asking them to deal with the gospel for the first time.

 

Our church is currently smack in the middle of a series called “All In.” If you’re not a part of the Summit, All In is a movement that is part capital campaign, part mission fund, part small group & ministry team push. (You can read more about All In here.)

Yes, there is a financial component to All In. And no, that has not been the only push we’re making. All In is really about a person’s entire life: financial, community, service, mission, holiness…you name it.

As a staff, we’ve been praying for our congregation (and ourselves) to embrace all of All In. And I had faith that would happen, but not necessarily enough faith to believe God for what I’ve already personally seen and experienced:

  • The gentleman who sought out our Starting Point director on Sunday morning to tell him “I’m all in.” This guy had had a couple of conversations in recent weeks about baptism, and was digging in his heels that he didn’t agree that he needed to be baptized. And yet, this series made him rethink that stance, and he was baptized Sunday morning.
  • The 3-4 conversations I had with people this past weekend who approached me out of the blue to ask how to become a covenant member of the Summit. In nearly ten years of ministry here, I can’t remember 3-4 unprompted conversations about that subject in that time frame.
  • The new believer I spoke to Sunday who said she didn’t really even know what tithing was, but she and her husband were excited to sit down and figure out how they could start giving to the mission of God.
  • The seasoned believer I spoke to that has never left the United States, but has committed to a mission trip to India in early 2013 so she can share the gospel with one of the most impoverished people groups on the planet.

Oddly enough, while these subjects have been alluded to, none of them have received top billing in this series. But what we’re finding is that All In is really causing people to consider going all in. Go figure.

I’m beyond excited about this movement. I’m thrilled for the stories I’ve heard and know I’ll continue to hear. I’m honored to be a part of a church to understand what it means to go all in.

Need to take your next step? Here’s how you can make it happen:

Every weekend, my role is to love people who are connected and people who are committed.

Every weekend, my goal is to convince people who are connected to become people who are committed.

(Feel free to go back and read those two sentences again. I’ll wait.)

Our church is full of connected people. Maybe they visited for the first time last Sunday. Maybe they only show up at Easter and Christmas. Maybe they drop a few dollars in the plate, volunteer to help one Saturday on a Habitat project, or have sat down for coffee and conversation with a pastor.

We do first impressions because we love the connected people. We love it when they show up, we love it when they come back, we love it when the light bulb suddenly appears over their head and they understand the gospel for the first time.

But connected is not enough.

I want to see people go from being connected to being committed. Connection says “This is a good church.” Commitment says “This is my church.”

Commitment means people move from a large auditorium to a small group. It means they figure out their sweet spot and serve on a volunteer team that exercises that gift. It means they put down roots, declare the church to be family, and officially join as a covenant member.

Connected people come and go. Committed people plant their feet and stay.

I love our connected people. I’m thrilled that they’re here and I’m dedicated to making their weekend experience the best it can be.

But part of that experience is to make sure they’re moving from connection to commitment. That they’re finding a family and discovering a purpose and pursuing a plan to give back.

Want to know more about moving from connection to commitment? Check out our next Starting Point event on November 10th. You can RSVP here.

 

‘Twas an incredible weekend around the Summit Church. Hundreds of people celebrated baptism, signifying their new life in Christ. Here at the Brier Creek campus, we saw 99 people baptized over the course of six services. Here are just a few of their stories:

  • Chris was raised in a cult, and for years didn’t trust any sort of organized religion. But the message on “putting the weight of glory on Jesus” struck a chord, and now he has a relationship with a Savior instead of more rules to follow.
  • Chelsea is a pregnant teenager, weighing her options on what is best for her baby. Merriem and I had dinner with her and some of her friends just a few weeks ago. Seeing all of them there to support her? Amazing.
  • Elena has been “doing life” with her small group for a while now. She made the decision to be baptized on Saturday night, but decided to wait until Sunday so she could make sure they were there for her. They were.
  • Wayne has multiple sclerosis. His obedience in making the decision wasn’t quite as simple as walking down the aisle. It involved a long, slow, painful walk. It involved multiple men  helping him into the tank. But it was a beautiful thing to witness his obedience as well as the body of Christ serving him so well.
  • A seminary student was baptized early in life, but realized that the symbolism of that baptism occurred before the reality of his relationship with Christ.
  • Paul was baptized, and then helped to baptize his son Philip. Jim was baptized, then helped baptize his wife Lauren. Fathers baptizing sons and husbands baptizing wives? It doesn’t get any better than that.

Those were just a few of the stories I heard. How about you? Comment below.

(By the way, if you don’t attend the Summit and you’re skeptical of how we do mass baptisms (decision counseling, logistics, etc.) check out this earlier post.)

We’re wrapping up a two day conference called The Gospel Summit. It has been an incredibly energizing experience to be with and learn from more than 300 pastors and ministry leaders from across the country.

The breakouts I’ve led have dealt with the areas of guest services and covenant membership. One of the biggest questions out of these sessions have been “What books do you recommend.”

Ah. So glad you asked. While my book recommendation list has likely been added to, here’s a clip from a Q&A blog post a couple of years back:

What kind of books do you read to help sharpen you skills as the head guru of First Impressions? Conferences? Magazines? etc.

Ah, books.  One of my favorite topics.  Here we go, no funny banter required.  (I was going to toss these into specific categories – volunteers, connection, membership, etc. – but I decided I didn’t want to.  So there.)

Read the entire post (and see the entire list) here.

A couple of weeks ago we gathered with our small group, as we do every Sunday. We ate a little barbecue and played a little Taboo and spent a little time in prayer for one another, and somewhere through the course of the evening it hit me:

We’re knit together.

I know small groups sometimes get a bad rap*: strange people! Boring discussions! I just sat in cat pee! And yes, there are groups that perhaps deserve that reputation. And yes, there are strange people in my small group (I refer to myself as Exhibit A).

But I love my group. I love it not just for the spiritual growth that happens each week from 5:30 to 7:30. I love it because we’re family.

Our group is incredibly diverse. We have a girl who was born in India, a guy born in Nigeria, a lady born in the Philippines. We have grandparents, an engaged couple, and single people. We have attorneys and hourly wage earners. We have couples with no kids and couples with four kids.

And yet we’re family.

Merriem and I don’t have biological family close by. Both of our families are 600 miles away. But our small group family? They’re ours. We play together. Pray together. Go out to eat together. Celebrate birthdays together.

We do life together.

I say this all the time in Starting Point: if you have no intention of joining a small group, you need to run, not walk, to a much much smaller church. It will only be a matter of time before you feel lost, marginalized, forgotten, uncared for. You simply can’t do community in a crowd. Come out of the crowd and find your family.

Wanna know more? If you attend the Summit, check out the small groups kiosk at your campus this weekend!

 

 

*More importantly, is it “rap” or “rep”? “Rep” should be short for “reputation,” right? But “rap” sounds so much more accurate.

Just in case you missed it, yesterday saw the close of a huge chapter of the Summit’s history.  After feeding thousands of people, setting up hundreds of tables, and repeating the process dozens of months, the Starting Point Luncheon is no more.

SPL began back in the mid-90’s under the cool hand of Rick Langston.  Back then it was known as “Discovering Homestead Heights” (the church was known as that too…not the “Discovering” part, just the…never mind).  Then when we went all Summit on folks, it changed to “Discovering the Summit.”  A couple of years ago, it morphed into the currently-known “Starting Point.”  But through it all, two constants have remained: we’ve gathered new friends over a plate of food, and we’ve shared the gospel in an attempt to introduce one more person to Jesus.

So the big question is, what’s next?  Is that it for Starting Point Luncheon?  No more lasagna, no more pot roast, no more filet mignon (you mean you missed that Sunday?)?  Here are a few ins and outs to help you know what’s coming next:

  • Beginning in September, the Starting Point Luncheon will morph into a Starting Point Reception. It will take place after each of our three services (on the first Sunday of each month), rather than one time at the end of the morning.  This option will give new guests the chance to get some immediate gratification and not wait upwards of 2-3 hours, as they are doing now.
  • Our pastors, staff, and table hosts will continue to drive the Reception. Part of the magic formula of Starting Point is the people behind it.  We’ll continue to have a rotation of people available after each service to meet, greet, answer questions, and get people connected.
  • Starting Points Part 2 & 3 will continue as normal. Both of these classes will now have a new home in the soon-to-be-refurbished Suite 111, but they’ll continue to happen on the two Sundays following the Reception.
  • Starting Point Marathons will continue to happen at Cole Mill, West Club, and Brier Creek Evening Campuses. Although you’ll see some changes coming in the next few months with the SP ministries at these campuses, for now it’s business as usual.

Yesterday was a bittersweet day, but I’m very excited about the future of this ministry.  Please join me in praying for these changes, and the myriad of details that have to happen between now and the launch in September.  And if you’d like to be a part of Starting Point, you can!  Contact Adam Moore for more details.

Perhaps the most unsung heroes of the Summit are the Starting Point Table Hosts.  This is a group of men and women who sit through the same process month after month, answer the same questions month after month, and eat the same food month after month in order to make sure that every guest at the Summit has the opportunity to get connected to life around this place.

I love every single one of my Starting Point team, from the Table Hosts to the Registration Team to the Food Team, but there are four people that need to be spotlighted today.  Last weekend we had our Starting Point Marathon at Danny’s BBQ, and through a series of unfortunate events the vast majority of our team had conflicts or last minute sunburn emergencies that forced them to miss.  That left Will & Janice Giles and Anthony & Stephanie Fontaine to set up, tear down, serve food, clean up food, register people, take pictures, do the Q&A time, mop up mystery substances on the floor, take out the trash, and on and on and on.

I told them afterward, and I really believe, that if I ever wanted to start a nefarious plot to take over the world, they’d be the first people I recruited.  Those jokers don’t play.  They get in there, get the job done, and just make it happen.  Like I said, I love all of my team (and by the way, homeboy & Associate Connections Pastor Adam was there for a while too, but he gets paid big bucks to do it), but these four rocked my world on Sunday.  Thanks guys, for taking one for the team.

Audience Participation Week rolls on. Today’s submissions came from First Impressions wonder-girl Kiani Arkus. You can see her three words as well as a primer on A.P.W. here.

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To the good people at Discovery Channel: if you ever need a host for a documentary on Professional Christians, I’d humbly ask that you consider me. I’ve had quite a bit of experience with them, and I think that I could accurately describe the habitat, habits, and natural predators of the P.C. Besides, I would get a real kick out of making fun of ‘em.

The Professional Christian is a species of church-goer that can be found in just about every house of worship in the United States. Typically, these are people who have just landed from another church, and they immediately begin the process of telling you why you need them, why you can’t live without them, and how the Holy Spirit was simply known as “Spirit” before they got involved. In other words, they’re pretty much awesome.

I’ve encountered roughly 6,412 Professional Christians in my career, not that I’m keeping count. Early on, I was quick to jump on the PC bandwagon:

“Well, Billy Joe Bob said that he single-handedly led Billy Graham to Christ and went on to ghostwrite all of his sermons and Cliff Barrows lip-synced to his actual voice while he secretly performed backstage, all while translating the New International Version of the Bible, so maybe we should put that guy in charge of something around here.”

“Have you met LuLu? She used to direct the WMU in four states all at once while also crocheting diaper cozies for every missionary kid in the world. She beat Beth Moore in the annual Women in Ministry Arm Wrestling Extravaganza, so obviously we should let her head up any estrogen-related ministry in our church.”

Editor’s note: You are sooooo fired for that remark.

The Professional Christian will usually roll up in the church parking lot and strip off all of our I [Heart] Durham bumper magnets, deftly replacing them with I [Heart] My Professional Christian [Ampersand] His Phat Ministry Skillz.

As I’ve gotten to know each and every 6,412 P.C., I’ve learned that each encounter is cause for me to reach for my sphygmomanometer, because my blood pressure is going to rocket. Or rock it, depending on your need for fun vocabulary today.

Here’s my issue with P.C.s: typically their mouths write checks their bodies can’t cash. They demand recognition while failing to seek humility. They insist on authority without first earning trust. They promote their agenda without thinking to align with God’s agenda. And in the end, I’ve met very, very few P.C.s who actually deliver on their grand promises. Usually they flame out, fizzle out, or just slip out while no one is looking. It’s akin to ecclesiastical apoptosis, where they huff and they puff and then…they’re just gone. Gone to the next church, the next big thing, the next opportunity to shine.

Please understand, I’m grateful for every person who steps up to serve. And I also realize that there are some people whom God has uniquely gifted to serve big from the beginning. However, it’s the attitude and the posture of the P.C. that gives me pause. Any time we assume that we are God’s gift to the church, we put ourselves in a very tenuous, tumultuous position.

The best antidote for a P.C. is this: seek to serve in humility, and let your leadership recognize your gifts and calling. Talk to a ministry leader about your passion and experience, and let them help you build a framework for how your passion lines up with the church’s vision.

Hey Discovery Channel peeps: on second thought, don’t call me, because now I feel pretty bad about promoting my phat hosting skillz.

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