(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

My kids’ school system could take a lesson in getting to the point.  On snow days or snow-delayed days, we receive an automated 5 AM phone call to let us know the status closings or delays.  This is an almost word for word recap of what they say:

Hello, this is [guy’s name], superintendent of the [I’m not telling you which school my kid goes to, stalker] County School System, calling to update you on the status of school closings for [today’s date].

Road conditions in the county have deteriorated overnight because of the winter precipitation that began last evening.  We have had crews out since 4:00 this morning, surveying road conditions to see if they are safe enough for buses and our teenage student drivers.

Because safety is of the utmost priority, we want to make sure that we take utmost precautions when making a decision on closings or delays.  Although most of the primary roads have been cleared, some outlying areas might still have slick road surfaces, especially because temperatures are hovering around freezing, the barometric pressure is 29 and falling, and my artificial hip is flaring up again…

 

Click to read the entire original post.

I’m currently kicking around Southeast Asia, spending some time with two of our teams who are engaging with locals. If you missed yesterday’s post you can catch up here

Watch your language.

Our mamas teach us that foundational principle from the time we learn to speak: don’t talk back. Don’t use potty language. If you can’t say something nice…

I learned the cultural equivalent of this on Sunday, when I spoke at a local fellowship. I’ve learned the hard way that you don’t write a fresh message for a cross cultural context, so I pulled up what I thought would be an oldie but a goodie and started modifying.

I trimmed. And cut. And hacked and chopped and minced. I cut out every American inside joke and cultural reference I found and wished multiple times that I had a Southeast Asian joke book (1,001 Funnies to Laugh Your Way Through A Language Barrier). But in the end – even after cutting more stuff five minutes before I walked to the front – I learned a valuable lesson:

Familiar to the speaker doesn’t translate to understandable for the hearer.

You see this every weekend in your context: congregational inside jokes, ministry-specific names, obscure theological terms, and an assumption of biblical understanding that’s just not there.

So trim. Cut. Hack, chop, and mince. Do whatever it takes to make the message understandable. Because if they don’t understand it, it’s going to be hard to build on it.

 

 

I’m sorry for using such strong language in the title of this post. But sometimes “ain’t” is the only word that will suffice. So I apologize to all of my English teachers from the past, whom must be very disappointed in me.

Editor’s note: “who.”

My English teachers. Pay attention.

A few weeks ago I endured that American tradition, the event that’s as American as apple pie and baseball and beating Ghana to a pulp in the World Cup. That’s right: the DMV.

I love my local DMV, because one visit gives me roughly 14 months of blogging material. It’s like the What Not To Wear of the guest services world. When I go to the DMV I’m exposed to surliness. Excessive rudeness. Confusion, anger, and anxiety. (And that’s just me after standing in line for twenty minutes. The actual DMV employees are much worse.)

But I digress. My plainte de la journée (sorry, French teachers) for this visit centered around signage. Lots of signage. Everywhere-you-look signage. Confusing signage. Too much signage.

Had I taken the time to read it all, I would have known that I was supposed to have No Food or Drinks. I would have realized that DEBIT CARDS ARE NOT ACCEPTED. I would have seen that I needed to go left for Dup. Registration or right for Duplicate Titles (I’m sorry, didn’t you just duplicate that?).

The DMV is a visual wonderland of signs, signs, and more signs. New signs. Old signs. Faded signs. Torn signs. Misspelled signs. Signs with masking tape. Signs with Scotch tape. Signs upon signs upon signs.

Hey DMV: if you’re looking for a sign, I’ll give you one…SIMPLIFY.

Our churches run the same risk. It may be too much signage. It might be too many brochures on the information table. Or too many handouts in the welcome bag. Or too many options on the website, or…or…or…

Too much on the menu doesn’t reduce anxiety, it creates it. I walk into my local DMV and don’t know what to look at first. Because everything screams HEY I’M IMPORTANT LOOK AT ME, nothing is important. And so I still have to wait in line to talk to someone who’s been hired solely on their ability to growl, and direct my question to them.

Take a look around your facility. What do you see when you look at:

  • Your front doors? Is the glass or wood covered in flyers, posters, or outdated event notices?
  • Your guest bag? Do you include easy, understandable, achievable next steps? Or do you try to sign a guest up for a volunteer team on their first visit?
  • Your information table? Is it covered with brochures for kids ministry, women’s ministry, the church softball league, and the local homeschoolers group? Does the material compete for quality (in other words, one brochure is professionally printed while another was designed by a volunteer with five minutes of word processing experience)?
  • Your worship guide? Do the announcements on the guide match what’s being said on stage? Are you shoving every. Last. Thing that you can come up with in there? Do your guests really need to know what’s on the Wednesday night supper menu six weeks from now?
  • Your stage / screen? If you use visual announcements, are they short? Relevant? Engaging? If you use a communicator for announcements, is he/she able to stick to a few main talking points and call for action?

Simplify. If it’s all important, nothing is important.

 

(If you’re looking for a couple of great books that go into fantastic detail on this subject, check out Less Clutter, Less Noise by my friend Kem Meyer, and Dangerous by my buddy Cleve Persinger, et al.)

It’s that time again, campers. Thursday: where I serve up the stuff that’s been rattlin’ around in my skull this week. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy…

 

Lighten Up, Christians, God Loves a Good Time. (via @CTMagazine, HT @_MichaelKelley) Send this to a stuffed shirt you know and love. And remind yourself of it, while you’re at it. I know I need to.

Look over our day-to-day lives. How do we parent, for example? Rules. Fears. Don’ts. Don’t jump on the couch. No gluten in this house. Get down from that tree. Quiet down. Hold still. We live as if God were an infinite list of negatives. He is holiness, the rawest and richest of all purity. In our bent way of thinking, that makes him the biggest stress-out of all.

 

Six Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers. (via @cnieuwhof) This has sparked more than a few discussions over the last couple of days. See if it does the same for you.

3. You’re disorganized

Few things are more demotivating than giving up your time as a volunteer only to discover the staff person responsible didn’t set you up to succeed.

The tools they need to do the job are missing or incomplete. The rest of the team is late.

Or maybe—worse—they’re not even 100% sure what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to do it.

You can always find people who will put up with disorganization, but many more will simply give up.

And high capacity people will make a beeline for the door.

 

If you can spot what changed in Google’s new logo, you have an amazing eye for detail. (via @22words) Don’t anybody ever call me OCD again.

Here’s the updated version…

Google Logo - After

And for reference, here’s the previous one…

Google Logo - Before

 

Wedding Crashers

Last weekend I attended two weddings in northern Virginia. The first I was invited to: the oldest son of our seminary besties got married, simultaneously taking the best selfie that I’ve ever personally witnessed.

The second was not one that I was necessarily invited to, unless you count “invited” as “I used my spiritual gift of nosiness to watch a wedding go down at the hotel where we were staying.”

I emerged from my hotel room at about 9 AM Sunday, fully expecting to grab a cup of coffee from the hotel lobby and kick back with my Bible to get some literal quiet time. (We were traveling sans three year old, so my wife and sons were exercising their spiritual gifts of sleeping until check out.) But the quiet time never happened. I walked out into the cool Virginia morning to hear the nadaswaram rocking and to see the stage being set for a genuine Hindu wedding.

If you’re like me, you didn’t grow up with genuine Hindu weddings. You grew up with genuine Southern Baptist weddings: elegant soirees with the exact same vows usually officiated by the exact same preacher followed by a reception in the exact same gym decorated with the exact same lattice while you enjoyed the exact same butter mints. 

Oh sure, I knew lots of different couples who got married in lots of different churches, but all the DNA of all the ceremonies were a 99.14% match. In other words: I’m familiar with Southern Baptist weddings. I know how they work. I know what all the traditions and trappings mean (for example: butter mints mean you’re too cheap to spring for a buffet).

But a Hindu wedding? Entirely unfamiliar. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when 9:55 rolled around and an announcer took the stage, explaining that the wedding would be commencing in five minutes and that she would be serving as an emcee of sorts, explaining what each of the traditions meant as we went along.

And so she did. From the entrance of the groom and the welcome of the bride’s family to the exchanging of garlands to the blessing of the couple by the priest, the emcee broke down every element of the service for the non-Hindu wedding guests and the non-guest / creepy pastor who was hanging out fifty feet away. While I couldn’t stay for the entire ceremony (Hindu weddings go long but my check out time only went till noon), I caught as much as I could, aided greatly in my understanding by the helpful emcee.

What does this have to do with the price of chole bhature in Delhi? Quite a lot, actually. I was struck on Sunday morning not only that I was a minority culture, but that I felt like a minority culture. I was an outsider in the truest sense, trying to make heads or tails of traditions that were entirely foreign to me. I was trading my 20 minute wedding ceremony for an all-day affair, my church gym reception with a lavish party, and I didn’t have a clue what any of it meant.

But the emcee did. And she faithfully guided us through the meaning of each element of the service. And so, as an outsider, I was able to feel a little more like an insider.

Every single weekend, someone shows up at your church with the same level of knowledge that I had at a Hindu wedding. They don’t understand communion (“Okay everybody, time to drink the blood and eat the flesh of the man who died for us.”). They don’t understand baptism (“So I went to this church, and they pushed this fully clothed guy under the water for no good reason.”). They definitely don’t understand the offering (“I told you those church people were just after my money.” / “Is it okay if I make change?”).

Churches that plan for their guests and want them to return will provide an emcee of sorts. Churches that want to make outsiders insiders will take frequent moments throughout the service and explain what’s about to happen and why. It doesn’t have to be a theological defense. It doesn’t have to be an extended soapbox. It just needs to convey the value of the moment and the value of the guest.

It’s time to grade your service: how do you address the wedding crashers?

Book

The Art of Reading, Remembering, and Retaining More Books(via @Buffer) Speaking of speed-reading, you’ll have to do it to this lengthy article, but there’s some good stuff here.

 I look at books as investments in a future of learning rather than a fleeting moment of insight, soon to be forgotten. I store all the reviews and notes from my books on my personal blog so I can search through them when I need to remember something I’ve read.

 

Pleasantly Persistent: 5 Rules for Effectively Following Up(via @dailymuse) We all have to “circle back around” at some point. Here’s how to do it without being pushy.

The average person can get a few hundred emails a day. That makes it pretty tough to respond to all of them, and things naturally fall to the bottom of the list. If you don’t get a response, it doesn’t mean that someone’s ignoring you—it just may mean that he or she is too busy.

 

How Long Does it Take to Watch… (via @Premium Funny) Admit it: most of you are just as geeked about 24 coming back on as I am. Sadly, fans of Jack Bauer have wasted the most possible TV time of anybody out there. (Instead of “wasted,” I prefer “investing in crucial knowledge or else the terrorists will win.”)

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You know the drill, campers: Thursday is lazy day. I cut and paste, you humor me and pretend I did some work.

 

Easter Was Not Enough… Expectation Shapes Experience 51 Other Sundays(via @thebryanrose, HT @robertvadams) Don’t pull a bait & switch: you dressed up for company last week, do it again this week. And the next…and the next…

This anticipation of guests every Easter causes us to see our systems and facilities with outside eyes, and respond appropriately. Just like we would at home, we straighten up “for company” and plan to make a great impression. Every Easter, we are more diligent because we know that “they” are coming. And one of two messages is communicated by our guest’s experience…

 

They’re Your Words, Choose Them(via @ThisIsSethsBlog) Seth Godin = genius as usual.

There’s no legal requirement that signs have to make you sound like a harsh jerk in order to carry weight or to inform the public.

 

DHL Pulls Trojan Package Prank on Other Shipping Companies(via @PremiumFunny) Well now this is just evil. And hilarious.

At Chick-fil-A, HATCH comes first – even before the chicken or the egg(via @robertvadams) My friend Bob Adams gives us a behind the scenes tour of Chick-fil-A’s new innovation center. How are you thinking ahead in the guest service experience?

hatchwelcome

If you’re going to innovate in ministry, you will have to find ways to identify the fledgling innovators in your church and then find ways to support some of their seemingly crazy ideas.

Five things we expect (and rarely get) from conference sessions(via @360connext) Good stuff here. If you are a part of organizing, leading, or speaking at conferences, these are great things to keep in mind.

Ensure content isn’t completely redundant. If speakers keep saying “well I guess Joe already covered this,” that’s not the presenter’s fault. Planners and organizers should know who is presenting what and how it can benefit the audience.

Things I’ve said to my children(via @NathanRipperger) Yep. Guilty.

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(click the photo for the entire list)

 

Neighbors accuse church of too much joyful noise(via @latimes) What’s the balance between being a blessing to your community and risking annoyance? Discuss.

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“Is this a church?” Sidonie Smith said as she stood outside Grant Elementary in Santa Monica. “I’m so excited about the impact it will have on our community. I’ve been praying for a church to come here for 40 years.”

Not all residents share Smith’s enthusiasm. Since late January, some neighbors have expressed dissatisfaction with the arrangement between City of God church and its landlord, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

Might as well burn that bridge all the way down to the pilings(via @ThisIsSethsBlog) Work with guests? The public? People who are breathing? Might wanna read this today.

When someone gives you gentle feedback, it’s because they want to connect, not because they want to help you finish burning down the bridge you ignited in the first place. They don’t want an excuse, a clever comeback or a recitation that you’re just doing your job.

Snake fights crocodile in five hour battle to the death…then eats it(via @22Words) Australia: one of the 1,001 Places You Need To See Before You Die If You Want To Die.

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Once the 5-hour reptilian brawl ended, the snake dragged the crocodile to shore. It then began at the crocodile’s head and over the course of just 15 minutes, completely swallowed the entire thing.

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Let’s start with the basics: we should aim to talk to our guests all the time. When they show up on the weekend, they are our honored guests (that’s why we call ’em guests, and not the V-word).

But there are strategic times during the worship service when we should especially address our guests. When we do so, we serve not only our guests, but our members and regular attendees as well. Addressing guests reminds a growing church that there are newcomers in the midst, and encourages a plateaued or declining church of our evangelistic responsibility.

Keller says it this way in Center Church:

Almost every Christian, if they pay attention, will be able to sense whether a worship experience will be attractive to their non-Christian friends. They may find a particular service wonderfully edifying for them and yet know their nonbelieving neighbors would react negatively, and so they wouldn’t even consider bringing them along. They do not think they will be impressed or interested. Because this is their expectation, they do nothing about it, and a vicious cycle begins. Pastors see only Christians present, so they lack incentive to make their worship comprehensible to outsiders. But since they fail to make the necessary changes to adapt and contextualize, outsiders never come. The pastors continue to respond to the exclusively Christian audience that gathers, and the cycle continues. Therefore, the best way to get Christians to bring non-Chrsitians to a worship service is to worship as if there are dozens of skeptical onlookers. If we worship as if they are there, eventually they will be.

So you should make a plan for talking to guests every single week. Here are six specific times that you can do that:

  1. At the beginning of the service. Within the first five minutes someone should deliver a welcome. Most churches do that, but we have to be intentional in recognizing that there are guests present. So welcome them. Let them know you’ve planned the weekend with them in mind, and you’re glad they showed up. (“Some of you may be with us for the very first time. We want you to know that we’re especially glad you’re here. There are a lot of places you could be or other things you could be doing, and we’re grateful that you’ve trusted us with your time.”)
  2. During the sermon. Your preaching shouldn’t be exclusively focused on the guests in your midst, neither should it be exclusive to the seasoned saints among you. So every weekend in every sermon, address the common doubts, questions, and “so what?” moments that your guests are certainly having. (“If you consider yourself an agnostic or atheist, skeptic or seeker, this [passage / statement / point] may be confusing or it might make you downright angry. This is a place where you are welcome to ask your questions…I still have lots of them as well…let’s work through this together.”)
  3. Prior to communion. Whether your church offers communion weekly or quarterly or anywhere in between, you have a responsibility to “fence the table” appropriately and explain the significance of the event. (“This church offers many things that are wide open to you. But if you’re here today and you’re not yet a believer, the Bible is clear that this one act of worship is not intended for you. As the elements come by, we respectfully ask that you let them pass you, and rather use this time to reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for you.”)
  4. Before the offering. Nothing riles a newcomer’s fur quite like the money bucket coming around. So give ’em a pass before it’s passed. Let your guests know that the service isn’t about what they should give, but what they can receive. (“If you’re a guest, we don’t want you to feel compelled to give in any way, we’re just glad that you’re here.”)
  5. At the end. As you’re dismissing the service, remind guests of an appropriate next step. For your church, that might mean a stop by the Welcome Center or First Time Guest Tent. Whenever we remind guests of that opportunity, we always see an uptick in those that drop by. (“Maybe you saw the First Time Guest Tent when you entered. That’s set up especially for you. We have a gift there for you and would love the opportunity to get to know you.”)
  6. Any time something is unclear. Baptism. Communion. Commissioning. The stand up / sit down / stand up / sit down game that is Baptist Aerobics. No, you don’t have to specifically address those explanations to your guests, but an occasional description of what is coming next will benefit not only first timers, but long-timers. (“This morning we’re sending out one of our families to serve as church planters overseas. Any time we do this, it is our privilege to pray for them as they go out.”)

So what area(s) did I miss? Are there other times when we definitely should address guests? Comment below.

Coming tomorrow: when NOT to talk your guests.