[Editor’s note: before you read the following post, please take notice of two things:

1. It was originally penned on April 1. (APRIL. FIRST.)

2. And if April 1 does nothing to jog your brain, you should definitely click the link at the bottom. No seriously. Please click it.

Okay, carry on.]

SocialMEdia logo

Every once in a while an announcement comes along that’s just too good to sit on any longer.

In just over a month, the Summit Church is launching a brand new initiative called socialMEdia™ Small Groups. For the last nine months, I’ve been collaborating with Spence Shelton, our Spiritual Formations Pastor, as well as a ton of our IT people in order to roll out this launch. Nine months is an appropriate time frame, because in many ways it feels like we’ve been preparing to give birth. We’ve labored over it, cried over it, wrestled with it, but we’re ready to introduce this proverbial baby to the world.

 

THE BACKGROUND.

Every “what” needs a “why.” Here’s ours: we know that getting into a small group is tough. Every month we see hundreds of people attempting to join a group, and the truth is, it’s hard to keep up. We want to have well trained group leaders, but training takes time. And time is something that prospective leaders and members just don’t have.

But one thing Americans (even American Christians) seem to have time for is social media. Whether you love it or hate it, most of us are tech junkies. We love our Twitter, our Facebook, our Instagram, and our MySpace (shout out to our 90’s brethren!). So last year several of our pastors asked the obvious question: Why can’t we do both?

Why can’t we increase involvement by CHANGING commitment?

Why can’t we lower the risk and give a better return?

Why can’t we – for lack of a better term – dumb down the process?

So that’s exactly what we did!

We took the best that social media had to offer and applied it to the fast paced lifestyle of the 21st century disciple. We worked with some of the best and brightest tech people out there to flush out the kinks in the system. We vetted the go-getters of the online community to build a new kind of community, and we think you’re going to love what you see.

 

THE PRODUCT.

Imagine: what if you could have all of the benefits of a small group without the difficult commitments? What if you could connect with your fellow disciples anytime, anywhere? What if you never again had to walk into a strange living room, endure a long and awkward prayer request, or risk rejection from a group that’s already gelled before you showed up? Maybe you laugh at those examples, but then again, maybe you’ve never had to face these realities.

socialMEdia™ Small Groups changes all of that. For starters, you choose the group that’s right for you. When the SMSG site launches, you’ll complete a profile that describes your preferences. You can tag your profile with any descriptor from seeker to serious, from dog lover to Democrat, from Lecrae devotee to Larry the Cucumber fan club president. From those tags and profiles, our database will run an algorithm that will generate up to ten social groups that might be right for you, much like E-Harmony or Match.com. You can pick one or several, and try them out at your leisure.

Some groups will meet weekly, much like our traditional groups. Others will meet at more random times: sometimes every other week, sometimes several times a day, sometimes once a quarter. Because there are no houses, childcare, and schedules to deal with, the sky is the limit and the pressure is off.

Group facilitators will be chosen by the group members. Once a group has been formed for two weeks, group members will take an online poll to select the person who appears most qualified to lead. It’s Seth Godin’s Tribes principle at it’s best: find someone who seems to be passionate about what they’re doing, and follow them.

Then the fun begins: once your group is fully operational, you have the opportunity to fully explore all that the socialMEdia™ Small Group has to offer. We’ve pulled in all of the major social networking sites to give you the opportunity to integrate your discipleship with your everyday lifestyle:

  • “Like” your group on Facebook and post it to your wall so that your non-Christian friends can see what they’re missing.
  • Encourage other group members on Twitter. Discipleship doesn’t have to be lengthy; sometimes it can happen in less than 140 characters.
  • Watching a great documentary on Jesus? Link your Netflix account so your other group members can join in the learning. (Or comment on your favorite Walking Dead episode; we won’t judge.)
  • Set up a Google Hangout in order to discuss the weekend sermon in real time.
  • Connect your LinkedIn profile to remind your friends to live out the gospel at work.
  • If you’re one of those who tagged yourself a Lecrae fan (98% of you), let people know you’re listening to him on Spotify.
  • Share inspirational sayings, gospel-centered kids craft ideas, and home improvement tips with Pinterest.
  • Want to get together with a group member for a meal? Make a recommendation on Yelp and a reservation on OpenTable.
  • And that’s just the beginning. Share a mini-message with Vine, a funny selfie with Instagram or Snapchat, or a sermon link on YouTube.

Keep in mind that all of this is just the beta version. In the months to come, we’ll be integrating VimeoPathFlickrUrbanSpoon, and tons more. The best is yet to come!

 

THE PAYOFF.

So how does learning happen? While you’ll still have the opportunity to participate in the Summit’s alignment series like Sent, socialMEdia™ Small Groups will give you far more flexibility on what you learn and when. The voted-on group facilitator will be able to select from all the resources of the internet. We’ll provide links to LifeWayGroup, RightNow Media, even Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You find something that looks interesting and go to town. And of course, group members can access the material by simply downloading to their Kindle device or app. Amazing.

I am incredibly excited about what the future holds. Our team believes that – while admittedly non-traditional – this model may soon overtake traditional groups in popularity. Life is busy, so “doing life together” will necessarily look different.

Imagine: connected to the community without the constraints of community. Life together while doing life solo. Growing in grace without getting off the couch. It’s a new kind of paradigm for a new kind of pilgrim.

 

GETTING STARTED.

socialMEdia™ Small Groups don’t officially launch until mid-May (just in time for your summer travels), but you can join the waiting list and fill out your profile starting today. Simply follow the link to get started.

Get ready to get social!

 

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Recently one of our First Impressions team members moved out of state. As her team leader was conducting an “exit interview” of sorts, he asked her about the type of church she’d be looking for in her new city. Here’s what she said:

“While I’m nervous to have to look for a new church, if the Summit has taught me anything, it’s that I felt the most connected and cared for when I was serving. So thanks for the awesome example y’all have been in that for me and hopefully I can lead a ‘sent life’ when I move away.”

What this awesome volunteer learned is that serving is more than simply caring for others: it’s making sure that you’re cared for as well. Some of the strongest relationships I see at the Summit are those that are birthed out of serving shoulder to shoulder on the parking team, the seating team, the Summit Kids team…you name it. There’s something about serving together that builds trust, camaraderie, and a common purpose.

Does that mean that small groups aren’t important? Absolutely not. We say that we’re a church of small groups, not a church with small groups. Our goal is that every single person that calls the Summit home would also be a part of a smaller group of believers.

But if the passages on spiritual gifts are to be believed, believers should be serving. And as believers serve, those connections points are naturally going to be established.

What are your “I serve with my friends” stories? Comment below.

Four Reasons Why You Might Feel Disconnected From Your Church(via @NathanRouse, HT @JustinKBuchanan) Don’t read the post without also hitting the comments. Yes, I agree with all four of Nathan’s points, but I also know that even those things aren’t always enough.

A common phrase that pastors hear when a family leaves their church is “We just don’t feel connected.” I’ve heard it countless times. When a family makes this statement to me I always ask the following four questions. The answer inevitably is almost always no to each. Here they are:


Eight Photos You Didn’t See From Obama’s Trip to South Africa
(via @ninaippolito, HT @persinger) I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for behind-the-scenes photos of politicians. These are pretty incredible.

GWB


Coke commercial absolutely nails the joy and insanity of early parenthood
(via @22words) There aren’t enough words for how much I like this.

A couple of weeks ago our kids were out of school for spring break. Because we’re the type of parents who prefer to show our love by shoving a bucket of trans fats in their hands and paying lots of money to sit in a dark room, we decided to take children #2 and 3 to see The Croods.

(Side note: I  highly recommend this movie, mainly because Nicholas Cage is a much better animated actor when you don’t have to look at his pained facial expressions. And the toddler was strangely familiar…)

But I digress. Someone had given us a Fandango gift card, so I called a local theater to make sure we could use it there. This was the convo:

ME: Um, yes. I was wondering. Do you take Fandango gift cards?

NON HELPFUL LOCAL MOVIE THEATER CUSTOMER SERVICE REP: Yeah.

ME: Uh, okay. And were you also hired exclusively on your ability to mumble and give one word answers? (I didn’t say that. But I wanted to. Oh, I wanted to.)

So off we went to the theater, where I asked for four tickets and handed the lady behind the window the gift card. As you might have guessed, there was a problem:

NON HELPFUL LOCAL MOVIE THEATER CUSTOMER SERVICE REP: Uh, we don’t take these.

ME: Well actually, I just called, and someone (who sounded amazingly like you) told me that I could.

NON HELPFUL LOCAL MOVIE THEATER CUSTOMER SERVICE REP: [quick staff meeting with manager] Yeah, we take ’em for the concession stand, but not the tickets. You hafta order the tickets online using the card, then bring in your confirmation number and we’ll give you the tickets.

ME: [Yosemite Sam style cuss words]

So in order to use my gift card, I had to step away from the window, pull out my phone, open the Fandango app, locate the theater, order the tickets, scratch off the little silvery cancer-causing agent on the back of the card, tap in the 742 digit Fandango number, realize that I used up all of the value on the $25 card, pull out the other $25 card (I have a generous friend), get more silvery asbestos under my fingernail, tap in another 14,221 digits / letters / incomprehensible symbols, enter my email information, hit send, wait on the email confirmation to pop back, present my phone with the confirmation number to Non Helpful Local Movie Theater Customer Service Rep, who proceeds to tell me that The Croods was no longer playing in that particular theater, since six months had passed since I first walked up to the window, and my children were also significantly older and my wife had starved to death waiting on her popcorn.

Now let me ask you this question: if you’re a Local Movie Theater Customer Service Rep and someone calls in asking whether you take Fandango gift cards, do you (a) assume that they want to use said gift card to buy tickets (WHICH GETS YOU INTO THE LOBBY) or (b) use them at the concession stand, or (c) all of the above?

Here’s the issue: Non Helpful Local Movie Theater Customer Service Rep answered my question. She even answered my question correctly. But she bombed my experience by failing to answer the very obvious question that I didn’t know to ask. Experience should’ve told her that if someone asks about gift cards, they want to use those gift cards to buy tickets. But because she had to use all of the Spring Break energy she had to grunt out a “Yeah,” she missed the chance to wow me.

And we do the same thing in our churches.

When asked “What kind of church are you?” we give answers that line up with denominational preference, but fail to capture the spirit of the congregation and culture within the community.

When asked “What do you have for my kids?” we say we have childcare, but fail to talk about how they have their own environment custom designed to help them become disciples of Jesus.

When asked “How do I get to know people?” we might think to mention small groups, but fail to talk about why circles are better than rows, the life change we’ve experienced, and make a personal invitation to join our group this week.

You see, outsiders who attend our churches don’t always know the questions they’re “supposed” to ask, so it’s our job to fill in the blanks. It’s our job to answer the questions they’re not asking. It’s our job to make their search easier.

What are some other areas where we fail to answer what they’re not asking? Comment below.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that Fridays are usually reserved for archived posts. But that was before @MichaelMears tweeted this question yesterday:

Are you gonna blog any on connecting new peeps at Easter & follow up? Just an idea :)

Y’all know I’m not one to back down from a challenge. Unless it involves push ups. Or sit ups. Or chin ups. Or licking a scorpion. But give me a free idea for fresh content and I’m on that like stink on a monkey. So here we go, thanks to Michael…


Easter is over. You’ve put your good suit back in the closet, you’ve had your Sunday afternoon coma nap, and you’ve finished off the last of the leftover ham sandwiches.

So what now?

What do you do about the stack of guest cards that are sitting on your desk, waiting on your Monday morning arrival? How do you follow up with the people God sent your way? What’s the best way to turn a first time guest into a returning guest?

  1. Get good information. One of the cardinal sins of ministering to guests is getting them to your church, but not knowing they’re at your church. Prior to your first Easter service, remind your First Time Guest Team the importance of capturing good information. “Bob” written on a card is not good info. Get email, phone, address, family members’ names, whatever. Oh, and make sure it’s legible. [our guest info card]
  2. Provide a reason for them to leave their information. Some guests like to remain anonymous. While you should honor that, you should also make the information capture as painless as possible. We try to do that pre-service at our First Time Guest tent. It’s outside and in the way so that people (a) have to walk past it and (b) feel like that’s a “safe place” to find out where to go next. We also give ’em a gift bag as an incentive to stop by. And finally, we let the guest know that leaving their information means that a pastor will follow up via phone call or email to see how their experience was. We try to offset fears of someone showing up at their house on Monday night. (We also capture information in the service on a tear-off card, but the tent provides a face and a conversation and facilitates a friendship.)
  3. Send an immediate follow up email. If you can get a team of volunteers to enter information into a database as it comes, great. Many church offices close the Monday after Easter (ours does). In full disclosure, we probably won’t be able to get all of that info entered and finalized until sometime Tuesday, but you should strive to be more awesome than us. :) We use MailChimp and a pre-formatted email complete with links to our website, Starting Point event, etc. MailChimp keeps you from being blocked as spam whether you’re sending a few dozen or a few hundred emails.
  4. Make a phone call. This is such an easy “touch” that so many pastors leave out. I’ve made thousands of 2-3 minute phone calls in ten years at the Summit, phone calls that generally pay huge dividends in helping a guest feel like a huge church isn’t so huge. The purpose of the call is simple: I thank them for coming, ask about their experience, and invite them to a next step. My goal is always to be off the phone in three minutes – but that’s in honor of their time. If they have questions or want to talk more, I’ll spend whatever time necessary. [sample phone script]
  5. Provide a next step. For us, that’s Starting Point, and we specifically scheduled it for two weekends after our big Easter rush. We’ll pull out all the stops to get everyone to that event, which highlights various on ramps into the church, from small groups to service to baptism to covenant membership. Your next step might be a welcome reception, or a new believers class, or a party, or whatever. But provide a quick way for people to further connect.
  6. Empower your people to do their own follow up. Most of this weekend’s guests will be there at the invitation of a friend or family member. If you’re a pastor, your job is to equip them to do the work of the ministry. Don’t cheat ’em. Encourage them to take their guests to lunch and discuss what they’ve heard. Remind them to invite their guests to return again the following weekend. Or provide a resource: challenge them to study the gospel of John with their unbelieving friend, or to go through a deeper study like Christianity Explained

I’ll bet you know an item or two I’ve left out. I want to hear from you. Comment below!

Other good content from around the web:

Today we begin a new weekly series called Taking the Guesswork Out Of Guest Services. If you’re a pastor or ministry leader of a church with no guest services team, a lagging guest services team, or a firing-on-all-cylinders team, or anywhere in between, we’re going to talk about the factors that make your team great. Submit your questions for future weeks in the comments below.

Some ministries need a good mercy killing.

That’s harsh, but it’s true. Many of us have ministries in our churches that are extremely cutting edge…for 1962. We do things the way we do because it was good enough for grandpa, and doggone it, it’s good enough for us.

Now if you’re a regular reader of this blog, chances are I don’t have to convince you that an outdated guest services culture is bad. You’re painfully aware that what’s happening in your church just isn’t working. Maybe you have greeters who don’t actually greet…ushers who don’t actually ush…or a hospitality team that isn’t all that hospitable. Maybe they haven’t authentically greeted a newcomer in years. Maybe they’ve just been going through the motions for the last year or two or twenty. But the way they do what they do is so ingrained in them, it’s hard to convince them that there’s a better way.

But if your church is ever going to be effective, the ineffective culture has to be killed, starting today.

That takes courage. It takes a fresh set of eyes. And it takes a leader with a big vision and a deep passion to lead the charge.

So how do you kill culture so you can rebuild it? Here’s a start:

  1. Ask the “Why are we doing this?” question. A lot. “Why?” is a great litmus test for much of the “what?” that you’re doing. “Why don’t we plan the weekend with guests in mind?” “Why do we structure our team this way?” “Why don’t we have greeters in more strategic places?” “Why aren’t we training our team on a regular basis?”
  2. Assess the messages you’re sending to your community – both overt and covert. The overt messages are easy – what does your church communicate on a regular basis? Can people find you based on signage? Website? Other advertising? What about your church sign? For many of us, the church marquee is the death knell of your communication to your city. Get rid of it. Covert? That’s stuff like the cleanliness of your facility, accessibility to your guests, and reputation within the city.
  3. Confront the “We’re friendly” myth. There’s not a little old lady in a little country church anywhere in America who would admit that her church is unfriendly. “We just love each other!” she’ll tell you. But that’s the point: they love each other. Friendly does not equal intentional. I’m friendly to people I know. It takes intentionality to move your church to the next level of a guest-friendly culture.
  4. Take a hard look at what’s not working. This is where you have to put on your big boy pants. Got an usher who hasn’t smiled since Carter was president? Maybe he needs to be retrained, or maybe he needs to be replaced. Got a hospitality committee whose only purpose is to guard the holy of holies tea party supply closet? Dismantle ’em. Do what it takes to clear out what’s broken to pave the way for what will work.

What’s missing from this list? What would you add, and what have you experienced when it comes to killing culture? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Next week: starting fresh with an organic culture.

Check out the entire series:

Last weekend I blazed through Nelson Searcy’s new book Connect: How to Double Your Number of VolunteersI’m sure I’ll return to this blog in the weeks to come to more fully unpack some of the content, but there’s one tiny little phrase that’s been rolling around in my brain ever since I read it:

[His] attitude did not match the atmosphere.

Pick whatever context you’d like: a surly waiter in an upscale restaurant. An over-eager worship leader during a subdued worship moment. A berating parent when a child needs care and comfort. Whatever you pick, it’s the attitude that doesn’t go with the atmosphere.

We see it on our guest services teams: depressed, frowning, Eeyore-style faces that don’t match the atmosphere that Jesus is alive and we’re grateful guests have come to hear that truth. Follow up processes that – well – never actually follow up, leaving guests to wonder if the church really wants them involved or not.

Team leaders that see their obligation rather than their opportunity.

Team members that serve not because they get to, but because they’re guilted to.

A church where the attitude is not We’re glad you’re here! but You took my seat!

If the attitude you express doesn’t match the atmosphere you’ve created, then pretty soon those attitudes will create a different kind of atmosphere. And I can guarantee it’ll be one you neither intended or wanted.

One of the scriptures that drives our First Impressions Team is Colossians 4:5-6:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

While it’s true that Paul was writing this verse in the context of evangelism, it’s also true that the end goal of a weekend First Impressions team ought to be connecting people towards the gospel. That means that every weekend, with every guest, in every conversation, and at every opportunity, we ought to be prepared to flip a switch from parking cars to sharing the gospel. Or from finding a seat to sharing the gospel. Or from pouring coffee or opening doors or taking up offering or handing out pens to sharing the gospel.

We have to remember that it’s not either/or. It’s both/and. We demonstrate the gospel in order to have a platform to proclaim the gospel. We do the tasks of a First Impressions team so that we can do the work of an evangelist. We lay the foundation so we can build a conversation.

Our staff just finished reading Bill Hybels’ Just Walk Across the Room, an incredibly practical guide to living evangelistically in our every day relationships. Here’s his take on Colossians 4:

Look, we can’t bust these doors open – only God can do that. But once he does, we’ve just got to make the message clear to people! Please hear me: you must stop doing damage to the cause! Stop acting unwisely toward unbelievers. Toss out any obnoxious, overzealous, superiority-clad verbiage and actions that push people away! Just – be – wise. Be emotionally and relationally intelligent. Be sensitive. Pray and listen before you preach. Exercise great care when you tell your story, when you tell God’s story.

Walk in wisdom. Be prepared for every opportunity. And watch for God to bust some doors open.

This weekend the Summit played host to representatives from a couple of different church staff teams. They were spending time with us in order to observe some of the ministry initiatives they’re intending to launch soon.

All weekend long, I’ve watched our teams in action. They’ve shared content, traded tips, provided insight, and cast mountains and mountains of vision. I’ve been proud of them, not just for their generosity, but because it’s so obvious that they simply ooze the vision that God has placed in their hearts.

We give away content, ideas, and strategies like crazy, and there’s two primary reasons for that:

  • It’s probably not ours to begin with. Pastor J.D. reminds us all the time that there are very few original ideas. We all stand on the shoulders of those who’ve blazed the trail before us. I recently re-read a friend’s book and was a little shocked by how many of his ideas had somehow become “mine” over the years (oops). Why would we be selfish in the way we share when so much has been shared with us?
  • It sharpens our own focus. When I have to share the “why” of a ministry model with another church leader, it forces me to review the rationale of that model. Sometimes it’s left wanting. Other times we find a way to tweak it and make it better. But in all cases, talking about it creates a better product in the end.

The Kingdom of God cannot be populated by hoarders. We can’t build our own silos and refuse to share the abundance that God has graciously given us. Whether you’re a pastor or a plumber, a ministry leader or a management analyst, you have skills that someone else can build on. What will you give away today?

 

By the way, if you serve in a role related to guest services or covenant membership, I’d love to hear from you so we can collaborate on some content. If you haven’t made contact through our Connections Ministry survey, you can start that 90 second process here.

Whether you manage a store or minister at a church, sometimes you have to face the harsh reality that your culture is broken.

Exhibit A: last Thursday I went to a local big-box store for a quick errand. One item on my list, five minutes from the time I left my car until the time I got back in. And yet during that time, I witnessed two employees complaining about something that happened the night before rather than focusing on their task at hand. Another employee was driving the store’s motorized wheelchair around the entryway, saying “I’ve got to do something to have fun around this place.” The lady at the checkout desk acted as though my presence (and my money) was putting a serious cramp in her ability to have a conversation with someone else. And two more employees were having a heated conversation as I left, something about “They told us to…and I’m not going to do…”

Exhibit B: that night I drove to a local pizza chain to pick up dinner. They told me it would be ready in 20 minutes. It wasn’t. The tiny lobby was crammed full of angry people whose pizza also wasn’t ready. The floors were filthy. The place didn’t smell like pizza. And all of the managers’ missives to his employees were posted in clear view of the customers. The lady at the register had been hired exclusively on her ability to mumble and not make eye contact, and when I had the audacity to present a coupon, she sighed so loud I thought the coupon (and me) would blow out the door. And then without a word, she walked to the back of the store, where she stayed for four minutes, doing I don’t know what, except I hope against all hope she wasn’t adding extra ingredients to my pizza, if you know what I mean.

Two stores. Two businesses that depend on customers for their livelihood. And two examples of places where culture is broken.

The employees either don’t know or don’t care that – as a customer – I should be their priority. The management apparently stopped caring a long time ago. And if the broken windows theory holds true for retailers, they’ve started a downward spiral that will be difficult to fix.

We see the same things happening in our churches. We forget that we’re not the proverbial museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. We forget that when it comes to the weekend and the reception of our guests, everything speaks. We forget that a cold, unfriendly greeter can override the warm hospitality of the gospel. And we forget that our job is not to angrily react to the outside invading culture, but to lovingly and proactively create a new culture – one where people are honored and the gospel is proclaimed.

When churches forget their role in culture, their own culture will pay the price.

I don’t think the examples listed above are beyond fixing. Neither do I think that a church who has forgotten it’s God-given vision is past repair. Culture breaks. Sometimes culture breaks quickly and dramatically. But for the sake of our guests and the glory of the gospel, we have the responsibility to own the broken culture in our churches and do what it takes to fix it.

What part of your church’s culture is broken?