Church Leadership family management Marketing

Finding a church home: Journey Community Church

finding a church home: journey community churchSeveral weeks ago I shared that our family would document the church search process. And this past weekend that search continued as we attended Journey Community Church in La Mesa. 

It’s worth pointing out right away that a ton of people I work with go to Journey and suggested that we check it out. Everyone at work says the same thing, “I love Journey.” With that ringing endorsement… why not visit?

First impressions: Journey recently bought a shopping center. So their campus is spread around in a typical California shopping center kind of way. (For you midwesterners, this means that its designed like a mall, but the walkways aren’t indoors.)

As we pulled into the parking lot Kristen told me “if you flash your lights at a parking attendant they’ll know you are a visitor and you can park in the front row.” Apparently, she read that on the website. As soon as she said this I swerved to park back by the student center. Getting out of the car, the kids could tell this didn’t look very much like a church. In fact, Paul said “can we go to a regular church next week?” (Kaleo meets in a movie theater.) So we walked to what looked like the main building and started looking for signs to the kids area. 

When we got to the lobby we were pointed towards the kids registration area. So far, so good! As we made our way through the maze of hallways we saw lots of pictures of things the church had recently done, I liked that a lot. (Good to know they do stuff today.) The child check-in process was painless enough. After checkin the desk printed some badges for the kids and we were led upstairs to the kids rooms. 

The kids rooms were well stocked and the staff was clearly well-trained. Our kids were nervous, Paul particularly, and they were fine with us giving them a little extra attention before we headed to the service. 

From there, Kristen and I made our way to “big church” for the 9:00 AM service. The room has a lot of very comfortable chairs, the room is laid out a lot like a typical conference room. Big sections of seats, bleachers near the back, big stage, and two big screens so people in the back can see. 

The service. The music was familiar to us. In fact, the order of service was pretty familiar to us as well and we found comfort in that. Couple songs, announcements, shake some hands, couple more songs, offering, song, sermon, song. The music was good, nothing about it really captured my attention strikingly good or bad. If nothing else, the songs were performed fairly closely to how they are recorded. It was clear when we came in that they were trying to do something artistic in the room that day. There were several prayer stations in the auditorium. Let’s see, lighting was good, display of stuff on the screen was good, sound was good. From a technical aspect the only thing that was distracting was that their transitions were pretty rough leaving the service feeling very disconnected from its elements choppy. Plus, the very fact that I was sitting there thinking about the service order, lighting, set design, and transitions should tell you a lot about the service. 

The message. Clearly the people like the teaching pastor. I found him to be an acquired taste and struggled to pay attention for longer than a minute or two at a time. The people listened intently and followed along on the outline diligently. (Well trained!) About 10 minutes in Kristen leaned over and said what I was thinking, “Can we get something in the middle?” This meant at Kaleo the sermons are so deep that it’s easy to get lost but at Journey it just felt very light. Not knowing the mission of the church its impossible to know if this teaching approach is right for this fellowship and the people they reach, but I’m just being honest in reporting that I didn’t connect with the message or the teaching pastor at all. His message ended with a transition to some prayer stations. It was really clear to me that there was a disconnect between the preparation of the prayer stations (art guy) and the communicator/instruction of the prayer stations. (teaching guy) When the speaker told people to get up and shuffle to the stations I looked at Kristen and just said, “Let’s go!” Yep, we bolted. 

The church. It was really hard to grasp the heart of Journey in one visit. It’s a big church with a ton of people and a ton of things going on. I know from people who attend that it’s a very loving church and people grow a lot in small groups. In our visit, we didn’t feel the love. (yet) What came across to Kristen and I is that Journey is a programmatic church. You can see that in the kiosks and the endless bulletin. Now, there is nothing wrong with a programmatic church where there is something for everyone. Certainly, a lot of churches operate this way and are successful in reaching people. But not having been to one in a long time… it was a shock to the system! I kept thinking… where in the world would we start?

Kids ministry. Our kids were happy. They told us all about the reward system of verse memory. They told us about the game. They showed us their crafts. They talked about how nice the teachers were. They told us they sang songs, but couldn’t remember what the songs were. Paul didn’t like the puppets but did like a guy dressed like an astronaut or something like that. (Did this really happen?) But when we asked them what they learned about God they looked blankly at us and said “I don’t know.” This is our families normal routine as we talk about what they learned in church… they are really good about telling us what they learned. But for some reason the lesson didn’t stick and 10 minutes after leaving they couldn’t remember. But they did get a nice goodie bag and were very entertained by that. 

Overall. Let’s just say that I’m glad our process requires a second visit as we feel it’s not right to judge a ministry based on a single visit. Likewise, we know from our friends who a involved that this is a great community to be a part of. Yet, judging from Sunday services alone you can tell where this review would lead a decision for us. Let’s hope on our second visit we’ll get to meet a few people and get better connected to the heart of Journey. 

A HUGE upside to Journey is that I know they have a rocking student ministry. Since we don’t have kids in that age bracket I didn’t get to see that in action. I’ve been in the middle school room, met the middle school pastor, and met a few of her volunteer staff… so when push comes to shove, I’m a youth ministry dude and having a great youth ministry is going to trump a lot of other stuff.

Church Leadership family management Marketing

Finding a church home: Kaleo Church

Our first stop on the search took us to Kaleo Church that meets at the AMC 20 in the Mission Valley Mall. Obviously, this being the first one we’ve visited it was pretty high on our list of places to explore.

And we weren’t disappointed. Parking is a non-issue obviously. The location is easy enough to get to and was just 1.4 miles from the hotel. I think this campus would be roughly 10 miles from our new house… so a little far for our liking. But they also do something closer to us on the campus of San Diego State University that we may want to check out as well.

I don’t really have a format to these “reviews,” so I am making it up.

First impressions. I kind of dig the movie theater thing. Reminds me of Granger when it first started. It’s informal and comfortable to me. I could see myself easily inviting people to a movie theater. We were greeted by a few official greeter people and since we were awkwardly early for SoCal (15 minutes before service) there was absolutely no one in the auditorium! Thankfully Kate [wicked good violinist] was uber friendly and showed us where to take the kids. Boy were the kids happy they didn’t have to sit through the whole service.

They seem pretty confident in their format. I like confidence. While it was odd there was no soft buffer music for those of us who came early, I was perfectly comfortable chilling with Kristen while the countdown clock was on.

The service. It was very chill, but not overly chill in that the people up front came across as unprepared. The service order was very simple. 2-3 songs at the beginning, a message, 1-2 songs at the end with communion pretty much ending things. There were some short announcements at the beginning. But other than that it was a very basic service. Did I miss an offering? If they did it I didn’t notice. The lack of lighting, video, or even mics at times was both cool and different. For this group simplicity worked.
Environmentally I don’t think they take full advantage of the space… but that’s OK and wasn’t annoying. I think their simple style reflects their values without coming across as bland.

I really liked the style of the band though I’d never heard any of the songs. I gathered that a husband/wife team lead the band and we sang originals. Stylistically, I can’t quite label it… Hawaiian maybe? Very cool and raw sound. No production elements whatsoever for worship times. For my comfort level I could have dealt with a little Tomlin or Crowder mixed in, but the worship was… worshipful. So that’s good.

The message. Yikes, I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for the depth. I had listened to parts of a couple of recent messages so I knew I would like the style of the primary preaching elder, David (I think that’s his name.) I liked that the message was designed in a way that acknowledged my intelligence and yet made me think. It was conversational, he even stopped a few times to ask for thoughts. It was very personal to the audience, a few moments he directed certain portions to individuals in the church that a segment applied to. If I had to find something negative it is that it felt a little like a college lecture. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing at all… just an observation.

It was a tough passage (one I’ve always shied away from preaching) so I am not certain if that led to the length of the message… maybe 50 minutes? (Matthew 13) If I were designing the service I’d shoot for a little less preaching, but it seemed like he preached until he was done. The message only felt long at the end when he prayed… FOREVER! (Take that with a grain of salt as I’m trying to be “picky” here. How can you rush prayer?)

I can’t really compare the message to anyone else I’ve heard. Definitely not “feel good, one big idea” like Andy Stanley and not quite “holy cow that’s a lot of stuff” like John Piper. But more leaning towards Piper than Stanley. If I knew more about Mark Driscoll I’d guess it was more like him.

The church. One thing Kristen and I strongly identify with Kaleo is its mission. They are seemingly passionate about reaching the community. I noticed on their website they have a new ministry to exotic dancers as well as a homeless outreach and several other community projects. I liked feeling as though I could likely contribute something to Kaleo if God wanted us to partner with them.

One thing I like is that Kaleo is a church plant of the Acts 29 network. While I don’t think we’re 100% exactly matching their theology… it is quite solid. If we proceed I’m going to really understand their position on women [not] in ministry as well as a couple other positional differences. But no deal breakers that I know of. But I know a couple other Acts 29 planters and a little bit of networking goes a long way to gaining credibility in my world.

Kids ministry. Being selfish parents… kids ministry is pretty important to us. It was a big deal that the kids both wanted to go back. Megan asked several times throughout the day if we could go back to that church. “I know we want to look at a few churches before we decide, but I really liked the people there.” Megan even told me “it was awesome” during lunch. She is a pretty shy girl, so she must have really connected with the leaders and kids to say that.

Paul… he was bored and hungry when we picked him up. It’s no surprise he was hungry as he’s always hungry. And I don’t think he was really all that bored. When I asked him later in the day if he’d like to go back to the “movie theater church” he asked if he could go back and told me he really liked it there. One thing they both liked was that the kids got to come into “big church” for the worship portion of the service. I also noticed that most of the parents seemed to go get their kids and bring them to the end of the service with them… we’d probably do that again.

Overall. Kristen and I really liked what we saw. From a first impression standpoint we really dug the service and it made us curious about the church. We will definitely come back when we move out in a few weeks and give it a second look. I’d be quite interested to see how school starting effects both the attendance and demographics of the congregation. I think there were about 100-150 people in the service this morning. (I could have been WAY off too as Kristen and I sat about 5 rows to the front.) Age wise, we’re in our early 30s with kids… and we felt a little high on the age radar. I felt like we could definitely connect with some of the other couples, maybe even get involved somehow in mentoring the engaged/young marrieds. The young demographic is not a bad thing at all! It was also noticeable that they don’t have any student ministry of any kind. 10 years as a youth pastor and that stuck out like a sore thumb. At the same time, if you aren’t ready for student ministry it’s best to just allow someone who is to do that. With that said my mind started to wander and wonder… “I bet they could do a service at the same time for high schoolers.”

As Kristen and I made our way to the food court after church we both agreed, Kaleo’s service was definitely heartfelt and decidedly not fake. That’s a great impression to leave on two “battle tested” church staffers. We’ve been inside the walls enough at church to smell fake.

Follow-up. I filled out the card and talked to someone after the service. Actually, I thought it was cool that a couple of other new people introduced themselves to us. They just moved here from Texas and have been going to Kaleo about a month… that conversation awkwardly died… but yeah, it was cool new people said hello to newer people. So I’ll just wait and see if/what we get for follow-up.

Church Leadership management Marketing

3 Lies of Church Growth Experts

Right now there are a lot of people making a lot of money telling churches how they can grow. Along the same lines, there are a lot of church boards and pastors wasting a lot of time discussing church growth strategy.

An observation. Have you noticed that churches that want to grow (100 to 1000 people) flock to churches that grew 10, 20, or 30 years ago but have since plateaued? It’s like asking Bill Gates, “How do you start a software company?” Bill wouldn’t have a clue! When he wants to start a software company he buys one! In the same way, asking a church of 10,000 how to grow is a waste of time because they knew how to do it in their town 10, 20, or 30 years ago but haven’t a clue how to do it today in your town!

So let me save your church some time and money. Here are 3 guaranteed ways NOT to grow a church. There must be 20 conferences, 50 books, and 100 consultants based on these three lies. 

#1 You have to have a great ____ ministry. This lie has been out there forever. A church with a great van ministry that’s really reaching people will one day go, “Hey… let’s start teaching people how to start a van ministry so they can copy us!” Same thing with student ministry, kids ministry, music ministry, puppet ministry, after school ministry, seniors ministry, etc. None of these programs will grow your church! It’s just a marketing lie to think that you can grow a church by having a great program. Having great programs is vitally important to the mission of any church (reaching and discipling people) but there isn’t a program out there that will grow a church from 300 to 1000 people! If you see a conference, book, or consultant who tells you “If you just have ____ you’ll see the growth you are looking for” just know that you’re being sold an idea that worked in one location and won’t work in yours. The best consultants will look deeply into your organization before recommending anything!

#2 If You Build it They Will Come Building stuff and remodeling stuff is highly addictive. But buildings and environments don’t grow churches. I’ve been to some real dumps that were exploding in growth. And I’ve been to some beautiful buildings that were empty. Have you ever been to Europe? There you can visit some of the best looking church buildings in the world, they are mostly empty on Sunday mornings. As a 16 year old I toured the Cathedral in Strasbourg France. Completed in 1439 the cathedral is amazing in its beauty. It was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874. Talk about a city on a hill! Want to know how many people go there now? None.

A ministry will endure when it focuses on its task at hand way more than its location. Location means squat. (Just ask the Chinese!)

If someone is telling you that a new building or a new _____ will grow your church, they are either deceived or trying to sell you something. Take a tour of some of the fastest growing churches in the United States and you won’t be overly impressed with architecture, ornate decoration, or interior design. What’s on fire in those places is not the building!

#3 “You have to be more focused on reaching people than keeping people.” This is just ignorant marketing! It’s even worse pastoring.

The best thing you can do to grow a church is to lead, grow, and love the people in your church. If they are growing, being lead  to deeper expressions of their faith, and feeling loved by the people of the church, they will tell their friends. That makes sense along every front a church looking to grow. Marketing, strategy, leadership. 

The only church growth advice that I’ve ever heard that is truly a guarantee is “All healthy organisms grow.” That is dead on. If only the folks looking to grow their churches would focus on getting the church they have today healthy, it would grow. But to take an unhealthy church and try to grow it with a new building or a new program or a new focus is just silly. 

Q for Church leaders: What do you think? Do you think I’ve captured 3 lies in church growth? Or do you think those experts out there really have something that can help you grow your church?

Church Leadership Funny Stuff hmm... thoughts Marketing

Finding a church home: Pre-search thoughts

Pre-search thoughtsThis week marks the beginning of a new era. For the first time in more than 10 years Kristen and I begin a search for a new church home. Sure, there were other searches before– but they were always tied to employment so that’s a little different. Now that I don’t have a church job we are looking for a new church from a whole new vantage point, and that’s kind of exciting!

And so the search begins in earnest.

What are we looking for? There’s no simple answer to that. I wish I were one of those people who could say, “I’m looking for a church of 350-500, a certain type of music, a certain program of discipleship, a certain set of theology, a certain demographic, and looking for families like ours.” But I’m not that kind of person and this isn’t that simple.

So, here’s the deal. We’ll visit a church at least two weeks in a row before deciding if its worth more of our investment or not. It’s simply not fair to judge anything on one shot. (Well, unless the vibe is bad. Then we may not stay beyond the cup of coffee.) We’ll play the role of visitors. We’ll fill out the cards, chat with the people welcome team, etc.

How will we chose the churches to visit? The old fashioned way. We’ll ask some friends. We’ll search the web. We’ll drive around where we live. Stuff like that. But we’d be open to a church marketing to us. Want us to check you out and play secret shopper? Leave a comment or send me an email. Here’s a family of four looking for a place to not only attend, but contribute… come and get us! San Diego, East San Diego County, bring it.

The non-negotiables… because we do have some standards.

– We’re looking for a church that teaches the Biblical truth.

– We’re looking for a church where kids are important.

– We’re looking for a church that expects us to jump in and get involved but will be patient enough to let us settle in.

– We’re looking for a church that is practically passionate about reaching the community we live in.

– We’re looking for a church that values its people, all of ’em.

Other than that, we are open. It can be an old church or a church plant. A big church or a little one. One that has a pretty white steeple or meets in a store front. A church that is huggy… uh, better skip the huggy ones. Fast and loud music or soft and boring.

Last Sunday during the service I looked at Kristen and said, “I’m ready for the next step.” She nodded in agreement. As much as we loved our time in Romeo, it is time.

Funny Stuff Marketing Video Clip

Marko busted: The Pinnacle of Loserocity

If you’re in youth ministry, you know Marko. He’s the President of Youth Specialties and an all around fun guy. This spring he challenged youth workers to join him in a contest they created called, “Are you a bigger loser than Marko?” It’s a take-off on the hit show… and a bunch of people did it.

Well, last week it was announced that Marko had actually won his own contest. Yesterday, this video appeared on Marko’s blog.

OK, that’s just funny! It seems like what they are really doing is announcing more winners. But I like that they didn’t just say… “Uh, we’re going to give these people prizes.” Instead the produced a very cool video announcing the same thing.

Marketing Web/Tech YMX

Twitter takes off in Youth Ministry

twitIn the last two weeks Twitter has gotten extremely popular among Youth Ministry people. The two biggest Youth Ministry companies, Youth Specialties and Simply Youth Ministry put their Twitter accounts in this weeks newsletter. (YMX was ahead of them by a couple months on this one!) And it seems like every youth pastor around is jumping on the bandwagon now that Andy (the main dude at Simply) has a battle with Doug Fields to get to 1000 Twitter followers. (Both YS and SYM seem to be using Twitter for viral marketing, bravo!)

I maintain that Twitter is a fad that will fade as soon as a more interesting platform is created. But for now Youth Ministry is on fire with Twitter.

What is Twitter all about? (see the video) It answers the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters or less. Think of it as “open” instant messaging. I look at it as a back-channel communication for my friends. No fluff, no pontification… just simply “What are you doing?” I’ve found it a cool way to get to know people in a new capacity.

Here’s what is happening on my Twitter right now.

You can follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Books Marketing

Disagreeing with the Alma Mater

moody studentDo you ever have times when you look at your college and you go, “What are they thinking?That’s how I feel about my alma mater, Moody Bible Institute lately.

Actually, I don’t have a single problem with the education they are providing. The longer I’ve been away from MBI the more I’ve appreciated their focus on ministry preparation. They are doing what 99% of Christian colleges refuse to do, prepare students for vocational ministry at the undergraduate level. I am very thankful for the excellent degree I earned from Moody. If anyone is looking for a ringing endorsement of their programs… you’ve got one from me.

But I am disappointed in Moody Press. (An arm of the school) I’ve reviewed several of their books in the past and one of the things that drives me nuts is that they seem to have a negative bend on pop culture. (Look at their website, you’ll get a glimpse on the style of fear they use to sell books.) For instance… the books I read last year all mentioned September 11, 2001 in the opening chapter as a literary hook to the books over-riding topic of spiritual warfare. [Sorry, I think that’s as cheap as appealing to Hitler to talk about politics.] And this year they have released a couple of books with a negative view of “emerging church.” (Something I’m neutral on.) Now, it doesn’t bother me that
they want to write apologetics for “traditional evangelicalism” as that’s to be expected from an institution who forced out a bunch of professors who took a positive view on something as benign as progressive dispensationalism. What is bothersome is that these publications approach cultural questions from a defensive, rather than discussion, angle. (Here’s my review of their hot title right now, “Sex, Sushi, and Salvation.”) In Sex, Sushi, and Salvation… the author essentially made fun of the emergent discussion. To me this lacked class as it devalued the many good people who are exploring it legitimately.

Let me clarify. I don’t think this is an abnomaly/conspiracy for Moody. I think this is very much the “old traditions” doing what they always do… keep the base happy, don’t take risks, publish things that are safe even if it offends the majority with its simplicity.

What breaks my heart about this approach is that as they continue to publish books with a very “1990s” approach to culture and the result is that readers are paying less and less attention to what is being published. I can’t think of the last time people were buzzing about a Moody book.  That’s a concern. I want to see the best stuff with my alma maters name on it… and if it weren’t for Ray Pritchard I’m not sure I’d be excited about anything they are publishing. I keep trying and will keep trying, it just hasn’t been rewarding lately.

Marketing YMX

Youth Ministry Ad Network

youth ministry ad networkMaybe you’ve noticed that there is a small block of ads on the right side of my blog. What is that all about?

Patti & I have been thinking of a very focused, very profitable (for both advertisers/bloggers) niche` ad network for youth pastors for a long time.

Essentially, our goal with it is to connect the best youth ministry bloggers with the best youth ministry advertisers. Its a natural fit… but it needed someone to be the conduit. That’s where YMX stepped in.  For the last two years we’ve built relationships with many of the best companies in youth ministry and we’ve done “direct sales” of ads since the beginning. In other words, we’ve had our own internal ad network for a couple years… so creating another separate network was a natural fit for us.

Next step. From there it was all about finding the right people and letting people know about it. From January 1st-March 31st we ran a pilot program. When that went well, we decided to keep it going… and here we are!

Why is it different? Unlike the two most common forms of online advertising (Pay per click [google ads] and Pay per action [affiliate links]) our bloggers are guaranteed payment just for displaying the ads. That isn’t altogether unique… but our payment structure is! The ad network only makes 20% of the revenue… whereas the accepted standard is 50%. That means we’re passing almost all the money onto our youth ministry bloggers. They are happy. Our advertisers our happy. It’s a cool thing.

Funny Stuff Marketing

Taco Liberty Bell

liberty bellMy favorite April Fool’s joke of all time was brought to you by Taco Bell. In 1996, they ran the ad below in 6 major newspapers across the country announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell.

Taco Bell Buys The Liberty Bell
In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s most historic treasures.

It will now be called the ”Taco Liberty Bell” and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.

Liberty Bell Hoax

What was so great about this prank is that it was almost believable. News of the sale spread all over, thousands of people were calling to complain, and no one put the whole thing together. By about noon, Taco Bell let the cat out of the bag… it was a prank. With that the media went nuts… they loved it, everyone loved it, and Taco Bell goes down as the king of the corporate prank.
What about you? What was your favorite April Fools prank?

management Marketing

Do you need a resume? It depends.

resumeRecently, Seth Godin made this statement on his blog.

I think if you’re remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a resume at all.

The reason is simple. If you are really, really good at what you do [remarkable] the resume is just a formality. I’ve been on plenty of job hunts both from both perspectives and I know this to be true. When I’ve been looking for a job I have always translated “We have your resume and we’ll be reviewing it soon.” to mean “You aren’t our top choice, we’ll call you when the #1 person isn’t coming.” And when I’ve been looking to fill a position I have already talked to the best candidates before I start collecting resumes. Or worse, when I’ve started looking for resumes it means that I don’t know what I’m looking for exactly.

What is a resume, anyway? It’s a self-marketing tool. That’s all it is. You are casting a light on yourself to highlight what you are good at and hide what you aren’t good at.

Confession time. In both my ministry and my health insurance career I have been “lucky enough” to land on head hunters phone lists. What that means is that I have occasionally gotten calls from people whose job is to talk happy employees (me) out of their jobs to try a new business or ministry. [Trust me, I’m not going anywhere! 28 years left on the mortgage.] My response has always been the same two fold answer.

  1. “Why would I leave a place I’m happy with for a place that had to hire a head hunter to get someone?”
  2. “Why should I send you a resume when you’re calling me tells me “they” want me because you’re calling me out of the blue to try to talk me into leaving this job?”

In that instance, my resume isn’t important. When a headhunter calls you, you are already in the drivers seat for that job. That’s a scary place to be but it is the truth of the situation.
When is your resume important?

  1. When you are looking for an entry to mid-level job.
  2. When you are trying to get a first job in a new location or field.
  3. When you aren’t sure exactly what you want.
  4. When you are forced by circumstances to cast a wide net. (laid off, fired, or living in Michigan)

When is your resume unimportant?

  1. When you’re not looking but get a call asking for it.
  2. When you’re a “known” entity in a job field or location.
  3. When the aggressor in the job search is the employer.

If all three of those are true, you might as well send them a napkin with your phone number as you’re skipping the pre-screening phase and going right to the big interview.

What do you think? What are your job searching tips?