Archives For Vision

Playing PoolI used to play pool a lot when I was in high school and college–(I was never very good.) When we played we had the practice of “calling the pocket.”  Basically it meant that when you chose the ball you were going to hit, you had to call the pocket it was going to go in–otherwise, it didn’t count. If you hit the ball and it went into another pocket–If you didn’t call it, it didn’t count. This also prevented people from just hitting balls aimlessly hoping something will go in.  Our little practice really meant that we had to focus on what were trying to accomplish.  And, it helped us improve our pool playing skills.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been working on “calling the pocket” in our children’s ministry environment during weekend services. We have eight services over two locations–so maintaining and evaluating our environments is a prodigious task.  We believe that “calling the pocket” accomplishes a few very important things:

  • It allows us to more effectively evaluate how successful we were each week.
  • It helps us maintain a standard over several services in more than one location.
  • It keeps a very large team with several leaders on the same page.
  • It helps volunteers understand their roles.
  • It gives us several things to celebrate.
  • It gets everyone working together as a team

Here is what we developed (I owe Adam Duckworth at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale for the inspiration for this post. He titled each of these elements at the 2013 Orange Tour in Los Angeles.  I tinkered with the purpose of each element and added my own win.)

7 Elements of an Effective Environment

#1 Prelude—Everything from the parking lot until the program actually starts.

Purpose: Setting the tone of the experience

Win: When we disarm the skeptic (the 5th grade boy, the dad who has been dragged to church, the overprotective mom who is afraid to drop off her child); When we create suspense or interest in the core message.

#2 Social—the first 10-15 minutes of the program spent in small group before large group starts.

Purpose: A time for relational connection between the small group leader and child and a child and their peers.

Win: When a child feels that there is a leader who has a genuine interest in their life and they are eager to hear the story in large group.

#3 Transitions—the time between each of the elements of the environment

Purpose: to connect what they just experienced with what they are going to experience.

Win: When a child is carried away on the journey from one element to the next en route toward one core message instead of a series of isolated random activities.

#4 Story—the Bible story presentation.

Purpose: to communicate God’s truth in engaging ways.

Win: When the small group leader is set-up for conversation about the core message.

#5 Worship—Music and singing

Purpose: to invite kids to engage in large group and/or respond to God

Win: When a child emotionally connects with the music and becomes open to hearing the Bible story (before the story) when a child responds to the message they heard in large group (after the story).

#6 Group—25-35 minutes spent with a small group of peers and a leader.

Purpose: Activities designed to help a leader build a relational bridge with a child so that they can layer God’s truth into their life in a relevant way.

Win: When a child is open and transparent and a leader is able to connect God’s truth to that child’s experience in a personal way.

#7 Home—the stuff that happens at home during the week.

Purpose: to inspire and equip parents to become active participants in their child’s spiritual formation.

Win: When a parent does something more than they did last week to help their child take their next spiritual step.


How do you “call the pocket” in your ministry?




Henrietta MearsWednesday, October 23rd would have been the 123rd Birthday of Henrietta Mears.  In commemoration of Miss Mears’ impact and contribution to ministry, I thought it was only appropriate to share a passage of scripture that she often cited.

In Joshua 1: 2,3 God says to Joshua:

“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”

Henrietta Mears led Hollywood’s First Presbyterian Church Sunday School from 1928-1963, founded Gospel Light Press (1933), Forest Home Camp (1938), and GLINT. I don’t think that Henrietta Mears would have wanted for us to eulogize her achievements or her memory—as the passage says “Moses my servant is dead.”   In the same way that Moses vacated his position as the visionary leader of the people of Israel and passed it on to Joshua, so did Henrietta Mears. We cannot, as glorious as our past is, we cannot relive our past.  But it can inform and inspire our future.  It must inform and inspire our future. Although Moses was dead, Joshua would now enter the land that God had promised and take it. Taking the land wasn’t some sort of “name it and claim it” process, it was real work. While God fought many battles for the greatly outnumbered and untrained soldiers of the nation of Israel, they were still required to take the land.

Miss Mears took this passage literally. When she decided that the resort that would then become Forest Home was what she wanted—people thought her dream was impossible.  But, no one advised Miss Mears except God.  She believed that a training ground was needed to train the next generation of leaders that would take the Gospel around the world.  In spite of how impossible the dream seemed, she took the land. She went out and walked the property and asked God for every part of Forest Home her foot touched.  Through the prayers and gifts of 100′s of people, Forest Home was purchased for $30,000 in 1938.   It seemed that Miss Mears got what she wanted.

Today, I believe for the organizations that Henrietta Mears founded and the church in general, that God will give us “every place that the sole of [our feet] will tread upon”.  However, I believe that it will require work.  And, I also think it requires a return to the principles that Mears’ vision and leadership were based upon.  Don Williams in a message to the College Department, in June of 1963, summarized the core of Henrietta Mears’ vision as four things:

  • a Christ-centered Gospel
  • a Bible-centered church
  • a Mission-centered vision
  • a People-centered ministry

Here are some quotes from Henrietta Mears on each of these.

On a Christ-centered Gospel:

Growing youth is a vine seeking a trellis.  If you do not strike a pole around which a vine can climb, and to which it can cling, then it will trail along the ground.  This is just what is happening to youth today.  They reach out the tendrils of their senses and desires, and finding nothing to lift them up they crawl along the ground.  Strike the Lord Jesus Christ as a stake in the midst of young life, and see how this Presence will lift the child.  His personality will become  an integrated one around this great Savior and Lifter of men.  Put a child’s face between your hands and lift it heavenward.  Let him see the Savior “whom to know aright is life everlasting.”  Let the Light of the Word shine into His heart.

[We] must continually point pupils to Christ and the necessity of a commitment to him.  Christ says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  When we teach Him we teach everything.  We will never be satisfied until we see young hearts and lives committed, not to his teachings, but to Him.

On a Bible-centered church:

Do you teach the Word of God?  The Bible is the living seed that brings life.  We are born, fed, enlightened, equipped for service, and kept by the Word of God. Youth must know how to use this Chart and Compass.  Are you presenting the Word to each life and heart. Other things may be good, but this is the best.  Always specialize in THE BEST!

We have a statement that the Word is the seed.  This is what we, as teachers, will sow.  God has given us His Word but there is a false impression that all of God’s Word can be adapted to every age.  I believe the Bible clearly teaches that the Word contains “milk” for babes, “bread” for youth, and “strong meat” for men.  It is not all for everyone.  I believe it would be impossible to adapt the teaching in Revelation, for instance, to a six-year-old. . . . So there are portions of God’s Word beyond the realm of the experience of the child, but there is much that is within his grasp so that nothing need be substituted for the Bible in teaching him.  The Seed is the Word; this we know.  But good seed can be lost on the wrong soil.

We know there is nothing wrong with our textbook, the Bible.  It must be in the way we have presented the great facts and teaching of the Word.  When we consider the reasons for the tragic lack of interest that exists in the study of the Scriptures, we will have to admit that we have committed a spiritual crime.  We have made children say, “When I don’t have to, I’ll never go back to Sunday school.  There’s nothing there for me.”

On Mission-centered Vision:

Do you enlist for Service?  Are you helping youth find God’s plan for their lives.  We let them go out on an uncharted sea.  Let each one know that he is accountable to God for his life, and that the Lord has a place for him in this world.  What is more exciting than finding God’s plan in one’s life? Nothing gives greater satisfaction than the sense of building according to that plan.  Several hundred young people from our college department have found God’s plan for their lives and are today engaged in fulltime church vocations both at home and abroad.  But hundreds more have found that God’s will had led them into professions and business and the ministry of teaching.  Christ has all commissioned officers in His service.

Our duty is to enlist lives for the Lord and Master, and every opportunity is seized to accomplish this all important task.

We are training young people for world leadership in answer to Christ’s command, that they should “Go in to all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

On People-centered Ministry:

A good curriculum should be Christ-centered and child-concerned; the Bible should be our only textbook.  We believe that the child’s life experiences must be based upon the foundation of God’s infallible Word.  We must give him facts so that he will know how to build his life correctly.

Good curricula are written by those not only acquainted with the Bible but with the characteristics and need of the child himself.  It is just as necessary for the farmer to know his soil as it is for him to know his seed if he is to gather a good crop.  So the teacher must know the child’s heart in order to be effective.  It is important to remember that you are teaching children not materials.

The things that Henrietta Mears built ministry upon haven’t changed.  I believe future ministry still rests upon these four ideas.  What do you think?

StepsPeople are not born in crowds, nor do they die in masses.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our models of church ministry, a menu of programs or even trying to satisfy all the felt needs of people in the church. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you call it Sunday School, small groups, Bible Fellowship, 101, 201, 301,401, 1 Million and 1. The primary issue is not what model of ministry or what program, but what is happening to people?

Have we created a path for the unconnected to get connected in a relationship with someone who sees themselves as responsible for knowing and helping them take their next spiritual step?

I think we sometimes spend too much time programming to move crowds through programs instead of helping individuals move to higher levels of intimacy in strategic relationships.  Because I don’t have experience with every model of ministry, I’m assuming some models are more relational than others. I’m just guessing, small groups are probably better at connecting people in relationships than classes. If a person focused on relationships they could probably make any model work, but some may require more work than others.

Bottomline: good Sunday Schools do this, bad Sunday Schools don’t; good small groups do this, bad small groups don’t; good Bible Fellowship does this, bad Bible Fellowship doesn’t; I’m not sure how classes do this, but it’s probably a good idea to evaluate our programming (whatever that programming is) on its effectiveness at connecting people in forward moving, spiritual-step-taking relationships.

Just because we have one or all of these types of programs doesn’t mean that on the other side of it people who participate in these programs are any closer to a relationship that will help them take their next spiritual step. Especially when we spend more time focused on orchestrating programs than orchestrating steps into greater levels of relational intimacy. In fact, there are probably programs in our churches where people can stall out relationally and yet feel like they are “winning” when it comes to church participation.

It’s tragic when church participation and spiritual growth represent divergent paths.

While I don’t think I have a complete answer, here are few things I think we can do:

  1. Figure out the best environment for people to connect.
  2. Make that environment the destination.
  3. Eliminate any programs that are not steps to that environment.
  4. Create programs that make stepping into that environment easy, obvious and strategic.

I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online. So here you go.


Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church Presentation Slides

Seasons of the Soul Handout

Breakout Audio (MP3–This is audio of the same breakout from a different conference.)

If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me. Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.

Not a Fan of Church

October 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

In the last Pew Research survey nearly 34% of 20somethings raised their hands and said, “I am not a fan” of church. Basically when asked if they affiliated with a church, they checked the box marked “none.”

A few days ago, Ed Stetzer entered the fray and wrote an article entitled: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Cultural Christianity Is

I’d summarize his main point as: We are not seeing a real decline in actual believers, just nominal or cultural Christians who are no longer claiming an affiliation with church.

I’m just really glad that Ed Stetzer has clarified that the church isn’t really losing true believers, just its influence with nominal Christians who weren’t going to heaven anyway. So we should all breathe a sigh of relief—it’s not as bad as we might have thought.

All snarkiness aside, I agree with Ed Stetzer’s explanation.  The primary issue however, is not whether the “nones” are the “nominal” Christians of a previous generation.  The primary issue is about influence. “None” while more honest, seems to be a step in the wrong direction. It means that the church is losing influence with people in the community and it is losing influence at a greater rate and in a more pronounced way with 20-somethings.  That’s a big deal.   

Henrietta Mears was fond of saying, “The church is one generation away from extinction.”  It isn’t alarmest; it is true.  The situation is no less true because it is urgent.

The braver question is not “who?” but “why?”  Why this group now? And what role did the church play in creating this? What responsibility should we take and what changes do we need to make as a church to reach the next generation?

“The church leaders who are seemingly most concerned about the dropout rate of that demographic [18-25 year olds] are the very ones who create the weekend experiences that this demographic finds entirely uncompelling.  To say it another way, the group responsible for connecting eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds to local congregations are the catalysts for driving them away.”

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

I happen to believe that Christianity may be becoming less a part of our culture because many churches have fallen in love with a mid-century, cultural church model rather than falling in love with the mission of the church.  I’m speculating here, but my guess is, it is those churches that will be most interested in this explanation that seems to try and reduce the urgency of our mission.

The Gospel is offensive. Unfortunately, we offend people before we even get to the Gospel.

The Gospel is offensive

I’ve had several people ask about getting information on the breakout I did at San Diego called Why Children Are the Most Important People in the Church–Everything you wish your senior pastor knew about Children’s Ministry.

So here is the information you are looking for.

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Children

Breakout Audio (MP3–I fixed the audio so that it is a littler clearer than what you may have bought at CPC)

Seasons of the Soul

Thanks for coming to my breakout.

I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online.  So here you go.

Breakout: I’m Not Creative: Leading people who don’t think they are creative.

I’m Not Creative Presentation Slides  (I use  Click the link to the left.  You have to sign up for a free account to download it.)

Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church Presentation Slides

Seasons of the Soul Handout

If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me.  Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.

Just in the last year there have been several books written on the topic of youth leaving the church.  Among them You Lost Me by David Kinnamen at the Barna Group; Slow Fade by Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar and Abbie Smith; Sticky Faith by Kara Powell.  The topic of youth leaving the church is perennial—that is it seems to be a topic that pops up in cycles.  (Check out my post on an article called Why Do Teenagers Drop Out? From Teach Magazine Summer of 1963.)  While it draws a lot of statistical studies the truth is, for those of us in youth ministry it’s personal.  We know the kids who walked away from church and faith.  They are more than numbers they are faces.

This last week I had the opportunity to corner Chuck Bomar and ask him some questions about why youth drop out and what the church can do about it.

How do you create belonging in your church?

Measured on the dial, an hour a week to prepare a life for eternity is too brief a time to allow one wasted moment or one careless touch upon a soul.  Henrietta Mears

Let’s face it, the amount of time we have with a kid is not growing.  Once you take away vacation and sick days we probably only have 40 hours a year with our most faithful kids.  And, when I look at all of the non-purposeful unstructured time in many Sunday kidmin programs, we could have much less than that.  One estimate puts actual teaching time at only 17 minutes on an average Sunday.  That would be less than 12 hours per year.   The mission of leading kids to Jesus and the limited amount of time we have to do so each week, demands that we become intentional about every minute we have with our kids.

When “Sunday’s coming” it is easy to get into thinking “How am I going to fill the time?” versus “How am I going to leverage the limited time I have?”  If leveraging the limited time you have with kids each week is important, I think the best thing we can do to make every minute count is to clarify what a win looks like at every level.  A win is what are we aiming for in everything that we do.

Clarify the Win

In baseball, there may be all kinds of “wins” like strike outs, catching fly balls, tagging a runner out etc. .  . but the difference between a winning team and a losing team boils down to one thing: how many runners cross home plate.  The ultimate goal is to get as many people to cross home plate as possible. That’s it.

Define the “win” of your kidmin:  If you only accomplished one thing what would it be? 

Just like baseball, kidmin has wins. If you only accomplished one thing what would it be? You can define the win for kidmin itself, every program, every part of that program, every event, every volunteer role, every department.  A good place to start is defining the win for all of kidman.

A “win” is not a mission statement.

A “win” is more than a mission statement.  Mission statements tend to be broad and all encompassing: “We exist to magnify God by loving others the way Christ loved us to develop every person’s gifts to fulfill the great commission to reach the lost in Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth . . .”  That may be a great mission statement.  It says a lot of things.  A “win” is an irreducible minimum.  If we could only do one thing what would it be?

Here’s a great kidmin win: when a kid takes the next step in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  That’s a win.

What it might look like: It could be the first time an unchurched kid comes to your church.  That’s a win. When a kid expresses an interest in following Christ.  That’s a win.  When a kid is open and transparent for the first time in a small group and a small group leader is able to speak God’s truth into that child’s life in a deeply personal and life transforming way.  That’s a win.  All of those are steps in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Defining the win at this level will help you prioritize your ministry.  If you can’t clearly define how something you are doing, whether it’s a program, an event, or a part of a program helps a child take the next step in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, it might just be something that you should stop doing.  Here’s where you can begin making a list of things not to do.

A great resource for more on this topic is 7 Practices of Effective Ministry

In my next post, I will talk about what wins might look like for a Sunday Morning program.

What’s your ministry win?