Somebody's gotta launch Lego Church. Might as well be us.

Somebody’s gotta launch Lego Church. Might as well be us.

I spent the last few days in a guest services geek’s dreamland: I was fortunate enough to sit around a table with seventeen of the sharpest church hospitality minds in the country. We came from churches of different backgrounds (from maybe-sorta-traditional to hey-wow-you’re-not-traditional-at-all), churches of different sizes (from really big to good-glory-are-you-a-church-or-the-population-of-Montana), and churches with varying philosophies and approaches to how we do just about everything.

But one thing united us all, and that’s our vision that churches nationwide must step up to reach those who are far from Jesus. In addition to being missional communities who send people out, we have to be attractional communities that welcome people in. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

By the time the first sixty minutes of our conversation had elapsed, my brain was full. I picked off enough ideas and “aha!” moments to last me for months (and I’ll share many of those with you in the days to come). Even this morning – a half a day removed from the event – my mind is racing as I try to process some of the things I learned and some of the topics we discussed.

But here’s my first big takeaway: planning is not the same as dreaming. 

I plan a lot of things: from weekend volunteer teams to training opportunities to large scale events, planning runs in my blood. I love it. I love wrestling a spreadsheet under my control, ticking every little item off my to do list, and seeing it all come together at the end of the day. And the insidious nature of planning the work and working the plan is this: you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

But planning isn’t the same as dreaming. Executing a plan doesn’t mean you’ve created an experience. I can plan an event down to precise detail but never see the experience change from one time to the next. So if I never take time to dream, my plans will never really evolve into something better.

When it comes to guest services, I’m prone to take the easiest, cheapest, simplest, pragmatic-ist way out. I want it to be replicable across eight campuses. I want it to be simple for our staff and volunteer teams to understand. I dumb down the plans in the name of simplicity. But creativity is not the enemy of simplicity.

Here’s what I learned this week: sometimes you need to just dream. Forget the practical nature of what you do. Forget the budgetary constraints. Forget your lack of volunteers. Yesterday eighteen of us spent a couple of hours simply dreaming: “What if we could implement this?” “What if we had a blank check?” “What if we had an unlimited staff or a bottomless pool of volunteers or 27 hours in a day?”

When we get to the end of the “What if?” road, we know there will still be some limitations there. We’ll never have unlimited cash or the millions of volunteers we hope for. But the great thing about dreaming is that it knocks the ceiling off of some of our preconceived notions. When we get out of the world of spreadsheets and checklists and start staring into the blue sky of creativity, we see new things evolve. New initiatives arise. New values emerge. And sometimes those new insights may indeed mean just adding a couple of volunteers here or a couple hundred bucks there. But that small tweak is the thing that raises the bar and helps us truly create an experience that captures the imaginations of our guests and points them to the truths of the gospel.

So how about it, guest services friends? Ministry friends? Leader friends? Are you planning or are you dreaming?


To find out more about what we’ve been up to the last few days, check out a couple of posts by our fearless leader Bob Adams here and here.


(photo credit: Mike McKee)

(photo credit: Mike McKee)

You’re looking at a picture of this morning’s kickoff of the 2014 Connections Cohort. To give some context, last year we started a monthly meeting of anyone who’s paid to to Connections Ministry at the Summit: full time, part time, interns, First Impressions, Starting Point, whatever…if they got a check, we met. We discussed guest services and assimilation philosophy, theory, best practices: you know, heady, nerdy stuff that would make the average mortal cry bitter tears (in between dozing off from boredom).

But as year one wrapped up, we decided that the collaboration didn’t need to stop there. So not only are the paid folk continuing to meet monthly, we started another group and invited 1-2 “high capacity volunteers” (HCVs) from these ministries at each campus. This group began a nine month journey this morning that will serve to infuse them with the guest services DNA of the Summit. They’re already great at their craft…now they’re going to move from practitioner to visionary.

It’s not a light ask, by any means. We’re asking them to show up once a month…at 6:30 AM. We’re asking for 90 minutes of intense focus and conversation. We’re asking them to roll in late to work or school on those mornings. We’re asking them to read a book a month and show up ready to rock. And we’re asking them to drip this vision on down the line to the volunteers on their team and the people in their circle.

But in the end, it’s going to be worth it. So worth it. Even this morning as I watched the room come alive with discussion and saw the lights come on in their minds, I knew that we’d just scratched the surface of what God could accomplish through a team of willing, humble, servant-hearted volunteers. As conversations went on and one “aha” moment catapulted into another, I knew that they were taking their weekend task to a newer, deeper level. They were learning not only what hospitality looks like from a corporate worship standpoint, but how that translates into their Monday through Friday lives as well.

This is part of what it means to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. This is part of giving them the tools they need to serve well and to put the gospel on display in a huge way. This is what it means to replicate ministry, person by person, team by team, campus by campus.

Do you have a cohort? For years, I didn’t. For years, I received knowledge through books and mentoring and conferences and networks, but didn’t do anything to replicate that knowledge in others. But now I know what was missing. I know how I was squandering the things that God had generously shared with me. And by the way: lest you think that this is a 90 minute information dump where one guy lectures a room full of people, I was able to sit back this morning and listen to these incredibly wise men and women teach one another and learn from one another while I was able to learn from them. It was indeed the body being the body.

What does this look like in your context? Maybe you’re not a ministry leader, but you are a business leader. Who are you raising up? Maybe you won’t gather 17 people, but could you invite one to sit down over a cup of coffee and a good book? Where are you replicating the gifts God has given you?

I’d love to hear your model and where you’ve seen success. Comment below.

A bit of backstory: at the church where I serve, our Brier Creek Campus has a venue that opens during the fall and spring, our peak attendance times. We call it “BC South,” and it’s relaunching this weekend. We don’t ask people to attend that venue out of a sense of need or duty, but out of mission: the mission to free up space in both venues in order to make room for guests.

It’s that mission that Kim – one of our First Impressions team members – embraced, and that mission she asked her small group to rally around. The (slightly edited) email below is reprinted with her permission.

Hey besties!

Yay! Great news! I am writing this email to feel ya all out on a possible worship/serve change. The Summit has a strong need to free up over 200 seats for first time guests and returning college students. Church is about to get slammed! Waahoo! BC South is going to launch this Sunday and is located a few blocks down the sidewalk. It has its own worship band and campus pastor. Best part…We get to watch Pastor JD on the big screen! Just like we are at a super cool movie theatre! Sooo fun!

Why this amazing move change?

  1. We want to make BC South a cozy campus where people feel comfortable and at home.
  2. We want to help avoid BC South being an overflow campus (where people attend after the main campus is full).
  3. Many first time guests may not make it to church on time due to…time confusion…Where do I park?…Kids, where do they go? We don’t want them to be a frazzled mess and finally make it to the front door to be asked to walk another 100 miles down the sidewalk to the south campus. Did you know that first-time guest usually decided whether or not they will return to the church before the service starts??
  4. We love to free up seats and new experiences.
  5. Kim is going.
  6. Because we’re all in!

If you currently serve at North you’re in luck. South has a greater need for volunteers than the North. If you would like to start serving you’re in luck. I will hook you up!

Something to think about…more importantly pray about. I know how much we all love our seats and community at church and completely understand if you are unable to make this move. Let me know your thoughts.

So who is with me? I may or may not be providing gummy worms and Reese’s Pieces for anyone open to exchanging the real deal JD for the movie star JD. Just saying.


I love it when our people get the mission. I love it even more when they live the mission. I lose my flippin’ mind when they get others to live the mission with them. Thanks Kim, for leading the way!

It’s the last week of a six part 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, a firing-on-all-cylinders team, or anywhere in between, we’re going to talk about the factors that make your team great. If detail-oriented nerd talk makes you sick, watch this video of a guy cutting up a watermelon instead.

It takes a foundation to raise a village.

Well alrighty: in reality, it takes several foundations to raise a village. But work with me here.

If you’ve followed this series from the beginning, you know we’ve talked about culture, vision, leadership, and staffing. But that’s just the beginning. You can get all of those elements in place within the first few months of your team’s existence. But then what? What do you do to maintain momentum? How do you grow the ministry while protecting the DNA? How can you allow other people to speak into the vision of the team?

This is an area where I struggle greatly. As our church has gone multi-site over the last several years, it’s been harder and harder for me to keep my arms around the First Impressions ministry of the Summit (spoiler alert: I shouldn’t be trying to do that anyway). But I know that I have a responsibility to keep the core vision intact at all of our campuses. We shouldn’t have a thriving FI team at one location and a lackluster, “who-gives-a-rip” team at another. But regardless of whether your church has one site or many, how do you protect the vision while the organization is ever progressing forward?

  1. Circle the wagons. You have to be crystal clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing. That means that key leaders (in our case, FI directors at each campus) have to be on the same page when it comes to ferociously protecting the vision. I haven’t always led well in this area, and 2013 has seen a renewed focus on bringing the voices of the Connections Team around the same table, regardless of our campus affiliation. We’re working diligently to make sure we’re in complete alignment as we continue to grow.
  2. Watch for sacred cows. What is fresh, new, and innovative today will be stale, old, and outdated tomorrow. We have to make sure that the programming of our ministry can stand the test of time. That’s why there’s a difference between protecting the vision and propping up the vision. Your leadership team needs to have the integrity to know when it’s time to tweak focus, overhaul initiatives, or wipe the slate clean and start over.
  3. Remember your mama. Chances are you don’t lead a First Impressions Team that exists on its own. We all have a “mothership” – the church body that we’re serving each weekend. I’ve seen far too many ministries of churches that go rogue and no longer support the vision and mission of the church that birthed them. Don’t be that guy. Make sure you not only remain in alignment with your First Impressions leadership, but with your staff and elder leadership as well.
  4. Build systems that scale. I had a conversation recently with one of the wisest people on our staff. She said ” Remember that what works now with seven campuses will never work for twenty.” Will we eventually have 20 campuses? I have no idea. What I do know is that our current tendency to be five degrees off at each campus works for us…at least for now. It won’t work then. That’s why we’re attempting to go back to the drawing board to draft systems, plans, and strategies that will work at one or 100 locations (I got tired just typing that).
  5. Give ideas a greenhouse to grow. This is not the time for you to rule with an iron fist. It’s not a chance for you to assert absolute authority over your teams, whether you’re a single site or multi site church. While you do need to have a solid foundation and scalable systems, there needs to be a culture of idea generation that permeates the organization. For us, we allow campuses to “test market” certain ideas and then scale those that work to the entire ministry across the board. I learned a long time ago that I’m not the best idea generator around our Connections Team table. That’s why I’m honored to have men and women who are blazing those trails and letting me learn from them.

As I said, this is an area where I’m still weak, but hopefully growing. I want to hear from you. What are the ways that you protect and progress? Comment below, and thanks for playing along in the Guesswork series!

Check out the entire series:

It’s week three of a new 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.

If you’re not a pastor or ministry leader and this sort of guest services nerd talk bores the mess out of you, feel free to watch this video of a sloth swimming.

A solid team begins with a strong vision.

Notice that I didn’t say a solid team begins with casting a strong vision. Plenty of people are great vision casters. Too few are great vision setters. And there’s a difference.

A strong vision at the outset of your team will define the team’s future culture. It will help you know your benchmarks, wins, and goals. It will almost self-define your to-do list as you try to get your team and your system off the ground.

But to help your team get the vision, you have to set the vision. So how do you do that?

  1. Study the subject of guest services like crazy. There are a growing number of resources out there from books to blogs to Twitter accounts, all authored by men and women who eat, drink, and breathe this stuff. Reading them will help you clarify what your process will look like. Here’s a post I wrote a few years back on some of my favorite resources, and here is a more updated document. In addition, one of my new favorite voices is Bob Adams’ blog. Also, you should visit lots of churches of lots of sizes who do guest services well. One 2-hour visit to another church will give you as many (if not more) ideas than a 200 page book.
  2. Contextualize for your setting. One of the great sins of church ministry is that we try to drag and drop what works in someone else’s context. Hear me: a megachurch first impressions model will not work at Possum Holler Baptist in Lickskillet, WV. In addition, not everything that works in a church your size can or should be replicated in your setting. We steal lots of ideas from lots of people, but at the end of the day we recognize that a model must be modified to fit our values, existing ministries, budgeting, staff structure, etc. In other words, we Summitize it.
  3. Develop some plumblines. A plumbline is simply a short, pithy statement that illustrates a big value. This took me a painfully long time to recognize and implement. As a matter of fact, it’s only been within the last year that we’ve built ’em. But they have done more to help us figure out what we value (and don’t value) than anything we’ve ever done. My goal is that every member of our team will be able to rattle off these plumblines in their sleep. The plumblines will be the thing that helps them define the right thing to do and the right moment in which to do it. We’re still clarifying and revising these, but you can see the starter series here.
  4. Build collaboration. Find some kindred spirits within your church. If there aren’t any, create some. Invite a friend or staff member or volunteer to read through a book with you, to visit another church with you, or to ask the “what if?” questions with you. Doing this allows you to invite someone in to see your blind spots, to dream bigger than you can, and to balance out the ministry you’re seeking to create. Besides, it’s just more fun to have a sidekick.
  5. Ask “What’s next?” Now that you have the vision cemented in your brain, how do you get it out there? How do you cast the vision to your future team? How do you get buy in from your leadership? How do you bring the lead pastor or staff on board? Again, a strong vision will self-define a lot of your to-do list. So start brainstorming, listing, and implementing.

What did I miss? Comment below.

Check out the entire series:

The best ministry leaders are dreamers. Huge visionaries. Think-ten-years-ahead kind of people. They know what the end result should look like, and they stack strategies and fund budgets and build teams to move the dream down the field.

Leaders think big. They can’t help it. It tends to be hardwired in their DNA. But leaders also know that the strongest vision is cast to the smallest audience. They know that they receive a greater return on investment if their pitch goes to five rather than 5,000.

For example, I can ask a crowd of 1,000 to consider serving on one of our weekend volunteer teams. Once they fill out the card and reply to the email and sign up for the training and commit to a team, I might have ten that stick.

Or, I can go to ten people that I know. Ten people that I’ve done life with. Ten people with whom I have some relational collateral. Same question. Same ask. But often it’ll be a much better response. Ten one-on-one conversations may yield an 80 or 90% return, while one blanket announcement to 1,000 will return about 1%.

The point? We have to grow small before we go big. We have to invest in real-life relationships. We have to cast vision one person at a time, one cup of coffee at a time, one friendship at a time. And over time, those one-on-one conversations yield radically committed people who are just as driven by your vision as you are. And those people become team builders right alongside of you.

Grow small. Go big.