How to Baptize a Bunch of People

In a society that seems to be “losing its religion”, is it possible to baptize a bunch of people? It’s no secret that churches are struggling. Our local newspaper recently published an article about the decline of many churches in our area. The Southern Baptist Convention has been experiencing declining baptisms for at least a decade. I serve as the evangelism director for our local Baptist association. In 2017 over 40 of our 60+ churches reported 0 baptisms. Something has to change.

Finding an answer and making a change is what motivates every pastor, including myself. I found that the answer to baptizing a bunch of people is not in doing a new thing, but in doing what we do more intentionally and prayerfully.

This summer at Liberty, we baptized 72 people. Scott Barkley of The Christian Index wrote a great article covering the story. Personally, we learned a lot from this experience and our plan is to build off of it. So, how can you not only ignite evangelistic fervor in your church but turn the traditional summer slump into an amazing ministry opportunity? In the past couple of weeks, several people have been asking how we did it at Liberty. Here is what we did and what I learned from the experience.

Hopeful

After studying some of the issues churches are having in baptizing people, I envisioned an outdoor baptism for our church. I thought of it as a goal we could set for our summer that would help us bring better focus to our ministries.

I pitched the idea to our leadership, but I also painted a picture. I talked about what each of our summer ministry opportunities could bring to the table in accomplishing our goal. We shouldn’t just be trying to accomplish a calendar of events, we should be seeking to accomplish a God-ordained mission. We shouldn’t be just going over the calendar. We should be seeking to obey Christ’s command.

We began to pencil in some plans. Then it was time to share the vision with the congregation. But I didn’t want to simply tell the church what we were doing, I wanted to get people personally invested.

Use the word “imagine.”

Johnny Decker led his 81 year old father to the Lord. Johnny helps him out of the water after his baptism.

The word “imagine” is a powerful word. I asked each person to imagine them standing in the water with someone they loved as they were being baptized. I asked them to pray for that person. Invite that person. Have gospel-centered conversations with that person throughout the summer. A group of people with a hopeful vision and an active imagination is a powerful thing!

There was hardly a week that went by that I didn’t use the word “imagine.” I wanted our people to visualize it. See the possibility of it and bring it to God in prayer. Even on the final Sunday, I asked our people to imagine that person standing with them being baptized “tonight!” I asked them to make one more call. To issue one more invitation. Use the word imagine – a lot!

Intentional

The curious thing about our summer is that we “did” what we “do.” We kept our summer schedule as is – VBS, youth camp, Sunday services, Wednesday activities, Celebrate Recovery . . . We did what we do, but we did it with greater intentionality.

  1. We set a goal and we set a date. Our goal was 30 baptisms on August 18. That gave us roughly 12 weeks to work our plan. We broke our baptism goal down into tangible ministry objectives. If we were going to baptize 30, that means that we would like to see X number of people reached at X ministry opportunity.
  2. We set numeric goals for each ministry and event. If we set a goal of having 60 men at a men’s event, our next question was, “What do we have to do to get 60 men there?” Here’s a way to get 5 here. 15 there, these 20 will come if we . . . We didn’t just set goals, we broke them down and created action plans for each goal. Some people are critical of numeric goals. I usually don’t hang out with those people :). But I say often, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”
  3. We worked at getting better at gathering information. We’ve always done a good job of gathering crowds at Liberty. We have not done a good job of getting information. If you don’t get people’s information you can’t continue the conversation, you won’t lead them to salvation, and there will be ZERO follow up. Being transparent here, but over the course of the summer we missed and lost a lot of information. Had we retained that info and carried through with our follow up, we might have baptized 100 people this summer. We’ll never know. But it happens and we made sure we learned from our mistakes.
  4. We evaluated our lists on a weekly basis. As people were responding throughout the summer we made a list and evaluated it regularly. Each week we looked at the list as a staff and made adjustments and assignments in light of our goals and objectives. We tried to communicate with key leaders and help them meet baptism goals in their areas of ministry.
  5. We encouraged those being baptized to invite their family and friends. We not only encouraged those invitations, but we helped them with those invitations. We sent cards and invites. We created social media posts that people could share with their friends.
  6. We made lots of calls. One of the most exciting things about the summer happened in the final two weeks. We had set a goal of 30 baptisms. About 3 weeks before our target date, our list surpassed the 30 mark. A week later it surpassed 40. Then we began making calls to our baptism candidates as a means of answering questions, sharing information, and encouraging people. We were just trying to help recent converts follow through with their commitment, but those calls turned into so much more.

    So I would make a call and that person would tell me about a person they had invited to their baptism. They would then tell me about how they shared Christ with their friend, and their friend was saved. They would then ask me, “Would you call ____?” YES I WILL! That happened about 10 times as I was making calls. The list then went over 50, then on to 60 just because people were inviting people. It became a very “Book of Acts” kind of experience.

Prayerful

At Liberty, we end our Sundays and we begin our week together in the altar. Yes, we do have a Sunday night service. Yes, it is a smaller crowd, but it is a critical crowd. For the most part, these are our leaders. On Sunday nights we practice corporate prayer. Each Sunday night we layout 2-3 things before the Lord and we agree together about in prayer. As we approached VBS, we would pray for VBS and for our goals for VBS. We did that all summer for each ministry opportunity. Each Sunday night of the summer, we prayed for the lost. We prayed for our goal of 30 baptisms. We agreed together and WOW did the Lord answer!

Gospel

It should go without saying that as a church everything we do should be evangelistic, but it isn’t! Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to draw crowds that we forget that we should also be drawing the net. We should be fishing for men! We should be telling people about Jesus and inviting them to repent of sin and turn to Him in faith.

We made sure, this summer, that we were sharing the gospel clearly in every ministry opportunity and that we were inviting people to make a decision of turning to Christ in repentance and faith.

The Lost and Found Sermon Series

I also preached a sermon series that emphasized the importance of evangelism and the urgency of the gospel. The series was called Lost and Found. You can watch each message here on my YouTube Channel. You can also access the sermon series in audio and video via the Liberty sermon archive.

Here is a rundown of message titles and texts.

  • Lost and Found – Luke 15
  • Totally Lost – Romans 1:18-32
  • Religiously Lost – Romans 2
  • Eternally Lost – Revelation 20:11-15
  • The Seeker, Zaccheus – Luke 19:1-10
  • The Hater, Saul – Acts 9:1-22
  • The Outsider, Cornelius – Acts 10
  • The Thinker, Paul at Mars Hill – Acts 17:10-34
  • Baptism, Importance – 1 Peter 3:18-22
  • Baptism, Picture – Romans 6:1-14
  • Baptism, Obedience – Acts 8:26-40

Powerful

The end result of being hopeful, intentional, prayerful, and centered on the gospel was POWERFUL. I’ve seen some amazing things in 22 years of serving Christ as a pastor, but seeing 72 people come to Christ – baptizing 64 of them in one day – it was truly amazing!

For me, the highlight of the day was in baptizing a young guy, probably late 20’s, who was recently saved in a prison Bible study. He began attending Liberty mid-summer and has been truly loved by our people. After he came up out of the water he gave me a hug and said, “I never thought my life would be like this!” Me neither bro! Me neither!

How to be a welcoming church.

Does the Bible encourage misogyny?

I Love My Church!

The Christian Index published a great article about the growth of the church I serve as pastor and the completion of our recent Hwy. 76 campus. This article is a great testimony to a God who provides all of our needs and a great group of people who will not give up!

I love my church! Way to go crew!

Read the article here: https://christianindex.org/liberty-one-congregation-on-three-campuses/

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Just the Quotes from Exponential East 2015










Jim Tomberlin
  • “If they can do this in Mississippi, it will work at your church.”
  • “Growing churches have collaborative leadership teams.”
  • “God breathed into us the desire to be fruitful and productive.  God mastered multiplication (Gen. 1:28).”
Ying Kai
  • “We’ve been asking people to come when we should be telling people to go.”
  • “People don’t share the gospel because they don’t know where to start and they don’t know what to say.”
  • “Don’t ask for permission to share the gospel.  We don’t need permission to share Jesus’ love.”
Steve Murrell
  • “Jesus’ job, build the church.  Our job, make disciples.”
  • “In the western church ‘discipleship’ is a class to help members become better members.”
Joby Martin
    • On Matthew 16:19, “Are you building key rings, or handing out keys?”
  • Steve Stroope
    • “Acts 1:8 is not sequential, it is simultaneous.”
    • “Leadership is anticipation.”
Dave Ferguson
  • “The words we use reinforce the values of our culture.”
J.D. Greear
  • “Get beyond the idea that the call is for very few and the rest of us are just here to pay for them.”
  • “The future of the Great Commission is not in the hands of pastors, but in the hands of ordinary people who are disciples who make disciples.”
  • On John 16:7 “We are better off with the Holy Spirit in us than we are with Jesus beside us.”
  • On James 4:1-4 “How much of what we ask for, do we ask for as an adulterer?”
  • “What we do in church will not reach a majority of people because a majority of the unchurched people have no plans to be there.”
Mario Vega
  • Rough translation, “I had one of our men call me this week and ask, ‘How can I plant a church in Chattanooga?’  I don’t even know where Chattanooga is, but I told him, ‘Here is how you plant a church.’”
Michael Frost
  • “It is the stories we tell that give us the courage to believe and the strategy to reach the goal.”
Randy Frazee
  • “Is your church a starfish or a spider?”
Mark Jobe
  • On restarting dying and declining churches. “What you do with the first one will either open new doors for you, or close them forever.  Other people will hear how you do this.”
Derwin Gray
  • “Is who we are worth multiplying?”
  • “What we need in America is multiplied weakness; tear filled pastors.”
Danielle Strickland
  • “Let them see you bleed.”
Bob Roberts
  • “We don’t know how to do ministry in the open square because we don’t know how to love well.”
Ajai Lall
  • “We live in a world full of extremists.  It is time for Christian extremism.  Extreme love.  Extreme compassion.  Extreme forgiveness.  Extreme concern for the lost.”
Max Lucado
  • “Your actions have no thermostatic impact on God’s love.  God has determined to love you.”
  • On John 2, “‘They have no wine.’ You will never find a more naked, honest prayer than this one.”
  • “If prayer depends on us, we have no hope.  If prayer depends on the one who hears, then we have incredible hope.”
  • “Give your problems to Christ before they get to you.”
Oscar Muriu
  • “Do not let the smallness of your vision limit the greatness of our God.”
  • “Most of us know only sustaining faith (as opposed to mountain moving faith).  We under-challenge God.”
  • “An over abundance of caution is killing the church today.”
  • “Brave means God does not have to explain Himself to you.”
  • On Galatians 2:20, “Dead men are not afraid.”

Best and Worst from Exponential East 2015

Last week I spent four days at Exponential East hosted by Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, FL.  Exponential is a movement of reproducing churches envisioned by Dave Ferguson, lead pastor of Community in Chicago.  This was my first time participating in the conference and I plan to return in 2016.  I left the place with a notebook full of takeaways.  Here is my list of the BEST and WORST from Exponential East 2015. 

  • WORST – Realizing how un-cool I really am.  Maybe it is the shape of my head or the shape of my face, but there is nothing about me that can pull off the whole “I’m wearing a toboggan in Florida in late April” thing and make it look awesome.  Scanning the crowd I realized that I was one of only a handful of people who did not have facial hair or a forearm full of tattoos.  As a matter of fact, I think I saw the other ten clean shaven, tat-less preachers at the Jacksonville pastor’s conference in January.  Hey fellas, next year let’s sit together and exchange Ike Reinhard tapes.  I am so 41, suburban, white guy pastor.
  • BEST – Not coming home from Tampa with tattoos, a toboggan, or facial hair.  Tattoos look like they hurt.  I’m too old to get that sort of thing started.  I sweat a lot, so a toboggan would only be torture.  My wife loves me clean shaven – AND THAT is all that really matters (if you know what I mean)!
  • WORST – The technical glitches during Eric Bramlett’s segments.  
  • BEST – Realizing that my church is not the only one Satan hates.  Technology remains very much in the realm of Hell and the Devil messes with all of us equally well.  
  • BEST – Eric Bramlett’s introduction of Max Lucado to a parody of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  Even if somehow it remains possible that you are a Christian, have never been to Lifeway to pick up communion wafers, and know nothing about Max Lucado, you can still appreciate this.  If you know anything about the great Max Lucado – you will love this!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16Gg537_WrY
  • WORST – Looking on Google maps and thinking Port Richey is not far from Lutz; only to realize once you’re there that Florida is nothing but long stretches of toll roads.  Flight from Birmingham to Tampa – $250.  Daily commute on toll roads – flying is cheaper.
  • BEST – The 2 hour nap I took on Monday afternoon at the Hampton Inn in Port Richey. Great staff, great room, great price, very clean.  Pastor crash – much needed.
  • BEST – The Brazilian thing I ate for lunch on Wednesday.  I’m sorry that I can’t remember the vendor, nor do I have any idea what you called it – but HEY that big wrap of meat and stuff, it was really good. 
  • WORST – Thank you Exponential for the strategically placed snack baskets in hidden corners.  Your volunteer staff gave me the warm-fuzzies,,, BUT,,,, have you ever eaten a Nature Valley Oats and Honey bar?  Fiber – GOOD, resulting dental bill from eating honey coated concrete – BAD.
  • BEST – The Exponential red t-shirt volunteer staff.
  • WORST – The Exponential red t-shirt volunteer greeter guy that kept trying to touch me – on the way in – on the way out – OF EVERY SESSION.  Dude – I’m not a hugger.  Slow your roll.
  • BEST – The worship band with the mysterious violin girl – very Mumford of you all.
  • WORST – The worship band sitting behind you on the flight home and feeling the pressure of failing to share Jesus with the obnoxious Alabama fans beside you, while also having to exercise the Fruit of the Spirit – Don’t Punch People, the worship leader is watching you and so is God.
  • BEST – Propaganda.  Because most of my readers are probably more familiar with Bill Gaither than with hip-hop artists, allow me to explain.  Propaganda is a collision of Scripture and urban plight in spoken word.  In his lyrics he is harshly honest about what the church believes itself to be, what if fails to do, and what it categorically ignores about itself and the world it is called to engage.  I am not cool enough to have ever downloaded any Propaganda tracks.  My daughter loves him.  Yet at Exponential I was glued to every word.  Incredibly convicting. 
  • WORST – The moments when I imagined myself before my church, on stage beneath a single smoky spotlight, without notes, wearing a torn T-shirt, bringing rhythmic, poignant, edgy spoken word to the good Baptists of Northwest Georgia.  Not good.
  • Even worse – The guy who actually tried to do that last weekend at his church.  Please send YouTube link!
  • BEST – If @prophiphop would give me a follow back on Twitter!  I would get a ton of awesome pastor/dad points.  (That’s @BrianBranam just in case).
  • BEST – Multi-site workshops.  This is not to say that the other workshops were not stellar, but I actually signed up for Exponential because of the multi-site workshop, so I attended nothing else workshop wise.  I saw a lot of room 214 in the children’s wing.  The entire conference was more than I expected, but the multi-site sessions were everything I needed.  The speakers brought a great balance of content for the guys way down the path of multi-site while remaining relevant for those of us who are just entering the on-ramp.  
  • WORST – When I showed up a few minutes late to Randy Frazee’s session, he stopped what he was saying and asked, “Guy in the red shirt, who just joined us – why are you here?”  Oh crap, the guy who re-wrote the Bible just called me down like a sixth grader.  Me and Frazee, we’re good.  He emailed me his notes.  Great session.  Sorry I was late.  Please don’t tell on me to Max Lucado.  Yay Church of Christ.  He Chose the Nails, The Story, I’m a big fan.  Won’t happen again.    
  • BEST Quotes –
    • Jim Tomberlin
      • “If they can do this in Mississippi, it will work at your church.”
      • “Growing churches have collaborative leadership teams.”
      • “God breathed into us the desire to be fruitful and productive.  God mastered multiplication (Gen. 1:28).”
    • Ying Kai
      • “We’ve been asking people to come when we should be telling people to go.”
      • “People don’t share the gospel because they don’t know where to start and they don’t know what to say.”
      • “Don’t ask for permission to share the gospel.  We don’t need permission to share Jesus’ love.”
    • Steve Murrell
      • “Jesus’ job, build the church.  Our job, make disciples.”
      • “In the western church ‘discipleship’ is a class to help members become better members.”
    • Joby Martin
      • On Matthew 16:19, “Are you building key rings, or handing out keys?”
    • Steve Stroope
      • “Acts 1:8 is not sequential, it is simultaneous.”
      • “Leadership is anticipation.”
    • Dave Ferguson
      • “The words we use reinforce the values of our culture.”
    • J.D. Greear
      • “Get beyond the idea that the call is for very few and the rest of us are just here to pay for them.”
      • “The future of the Great Commission is not in the hands of pastors, but in the hands of ordinary people who are disciples who make disciples.”
      • On John 16:7 “We are better off with the Holy Spirit in us than we are with Jesus beside us.”
      • On James 4:1-4 “How much of what we ask for, do we ask for as an adulterer?”
      • “What we do in church will not reach a majority of people because a majority of people have no plans to be there.”
    • Mario Vega
      • Rough translation, “I had one of our men call me this week and ask, ‘How can I plant a church in Chattanooga?’  I don’t even know where Chattanooga is, but I told him, ‘Here is how you plant a church.’”
    • Michael Frost
      • “It is the stories we tell that give us the courage to believe and the strategy to reach the goal.”
    • Randy Frazee
      • “Is your church a starfish or a spider?”
    • Mark Jobe
      • On restarting dying and declining churches. “What you do with the first one will either open new doors for you, or close them forever.  Other people will hear how you do this.”
    • Derwin Gray
      • “Is who we are worth multiplying?”
      • “What we need in America is multiplied weakness; tear filled pastors.”
    • Danielle Strickland
      • “Let them see you bleed.”
    • Bob Roberts
      • “We don’t know how to do ministry in the open square because we don’t know how to love well.”
    • Ajai Lall
      • “We live in a world full of extremists.  It is time for Christian extremism.  Extreme love.  Extreme compassion.  Extreme forgiveness.  Extreme concern for the lost.”
    • Max Lucado
      • “Your actions have no thermostatic impact on God’s love.  God has determined to love you.”
      • On John 2, “‘They have no wine.’ You will never find a more naked, honest prayer than this one.”
      • “If prayer depends on us, we have no hope.  If prayer depends on the one who hears, then we have incredible hope.”
      • “Give your problems to Christ before they get to you.”
    • Oscar Muriu
      • “Do not let the smallness of your vision limit the greatness of our God.”
      • “Most of us know only sustaining faith (as opposed to mountain moving faith).  We under-challenge God.”
      • “An over abundance of caution is killing the church today.”
      • “Brave means God does not have to explain Himself to you.”
      • On Galatians 2:20, “Dead men are not afraid.”
  • WORST – That convicting feeling you get realizing all of the things you could have done and should have done.  The sense of loss in the years you did less than that for which the gospel calls.
  • BEST – Knowing that we have a redemptive God who is sovereign in all things.  He never fails.

The Mistake of Making Easter Ultimate

Easter presents the church with a natural attendance spike.  There will be a lot of effort put into extending invitations and even offering incentives for people to come to your church.  For the most part it will work.  There will be  a huge swell in attendance.  There will be people who hear the gospel for the first time.  There will be people who will be saved Easter Sunday and it will be a huge turning point in their life.  There will be those who reconnect to church who have been away for years.  The Lord will bless the day and the efforts of a people who truly exalt His Son, but there will be some things that happen after Easter Sunday that will not meet your expectations.
Some people will show up and leave never to be seen or heard from again.  Some of us will work hard to get a friend to attend church with us.  They will come.  Eventually though, the conversation about returning may grow stale, perhaps even awkward as we drift off into the summer months.  Why is this often the case?
For some people we make a huge mistake when it comes to Easter.  We make Easter ultimate.  What I mean by making Easter ultimate is that the entire conversation and invitation has been about attending church with you on Easter Sunday.  Been there.  Done that.  Now leave me alone.
For those that do everything we dreamed they would on Easter Sunday; loved it, coming back, saved, changed, connected . . .however you want to quantify success, those people are like low hanging fruit.  For whatever reason they were ready for a change.  There was something the Lord was doing in them that made them ready to respond.  Yet for those that are thinking only in terms of kindly responding to your invitation to Easter, of whom responding to Christ or coming back to church is not even on the radar, what do we do so that Easter is not the ultimate end of their exposure to the gospel?
Easter as third space.
For that seemingly unresponsive friend you invite to Easter service, you might as well be inviting him or her to outer space.  The technical term for Planet Easter Service is 3rd space.  
The concept of 3rd space, or 3rd place, was first introduced in the early 90’s to describe a place outside of home (1st place) or work (2nd place) in which people meet and interact.  Evangelicals extended this concept, inspired by a talk given by Erwin McManus, to describe a strategy for Christian cultural influence.  1st space is a place where everyone is familiar.  2nd space describes a broader group of working relationships.  These people are less immediate in your life.  They are less like you, but they are the people you interact with everyday.  In 3rd space you are an alien, a complete foreigner.  You don’t know the lingo.  You don’t know how it works.  3rd space is a realm in which you have no relationships, a place you will only go by invitation.
Think about it, for church goers, your church is a 1st space.  It may be a 2nd space at worst.  You are familiar with the surroundings, the customs, the lingo, and the people.  But for those you invite to Easter, church is 3rd space.  It is unfamiliar and strange.  
You call it worship.  But for a person unfamiliar with church, the words on the screen look like Christian karaoke.  The sermon is a sales pitch.  The invitation appears to be the walk of shame.  The offering is probably offensive.  You may love church, but your friend is alien to the whole thing – and perhaps extremely uncomfortable during the experience.  Don’t let the smile on their face fool you.  They are being polite. 
Allow me to wax prophetic about your post-Easter conversation with your friend, which may take place as soon as the parking lot or perhaps the next day at work. 
“So what did you think?”
“It was good, I enjoyed it.”
“So would you like to go back with me sometime?”
“Sure.”
To the alien mind the word “sure” means, no chance.  Weeks will go by.  Your friend will not return.  At some point they may even communicate to you the not so subtle hint that they would like for you to quit asking.  Because you made Easter the ultimate end, your Easter service was the unfortunate end.  
Your friend was kind to you.  He or she came to the service.  They felt foreign to the whole thing.  Who in their right mind wants to continue subjecting themselves to an alien experience?
Here is the key.  The conversation about the gospel can’t find its ultimate end in 3rd space, it has to work its way into something more familiar.  How can you accomplish this?  Below are some suggestions on how to change the space:
  1. Extend the Easter experience into a more familiar space.  After Easter service, have a plan to move from 3rd space back to a 1st or 2nd space where the two of you have common ground.  Go on a bike ride.  Plan on sharing Easter lunch with your friend at your home.  Don’t just digest the meal, somehow digest the message.  Talk though the experience.  The more immediate you are with this the more effective.
  2. Don’t be offended by criticisms.  If your friend talks about parts of the service or the message that made him or her feel uncomfortable, or perhaps even points they disagreed with, don’t freak out.  The gospel is offensive.  Sympathize with the comment and work through it.  Humor is a great way to disarm tension.  Don’t laugh at your friend by laughing at their objections, but don’t shy away from laughing at yourself.  If you don’t think Christians are funny, visit John Acuff’s “Stuff Christians Like.”
  3. Don’t belittle questions.  Your friend may ask questions that seem elementary to you, but if you make them feel stupid Easter will be the end.  For instance, not everyone understands that the Bible is broken down into books.  When your pastor says, “Go to John” that could be taken several different ways.  Never assume anyone knows the most basic stories of the Bible.  When your friend asks questions, it is an invitation from them to you to reduce the alien nature of the church as a 3rd space.      
  4. Make mental clips into conversation pieces.  If your church has an app, webpage, or you pastor writes a blog, use that content to share with your friend and keep the conversation moving forward.  You can do this in a not so awkward way by sharing thoughts from past sermons or articles that pertain to the natural course of conversation.  “My pastor said . . .”  “I read the other day . . .”  Instead of, “O.K. so now I want you to sit here and watch this 30 minute message from last week and let’s talk about it tomorrow.”  Make your own mental clips into conversation pieces.  Your friends are like you.  They need answers to life.  Surely something your church is saying is meaningful to that conversation.  
  5. They came to your 3rd space, accept an invitation to come into their space.  McManus’s talk on 3rd spaces was really focused more on this concept.  The reason most of us make very little cultural impact is because we will receive very few invitations into 3rd spaces.  If you do make it into 3rd space, you may be every bit as uncomfortable with that experience as your friend was with their Easter experience.  Recently I have accepted several invitations to speak to groups that were galaxies away from my normal Sunday context.  Don’t be afraid to venture into a galaxy far, far away from Easter.
  6. Don’t farm out follow up.  I mentioned this in my post about making Easter effective, and I want to reiterate this point again.  Your pastor is a comeback killer.  If all your friend gets from Easter is a call or a visit from your pastor, they will never come back and they may want to kill you :).  The pastor is the master alien.  The visitation team is merely his minions.  Your friend probably won’t appreciate an alien invasion from 3rd space.  If you wait on the pastor and his minions, you have immediately moved the gospel conversation back into outer space!  You keep the conversation going in 1st and 2nd space.  
  7. Help your church get over Easter.  To be successful at reaching people, your church needs to ultimately become less of a 3rd space.  Sometimes churches become calloused environments focused only on meeting the needs of the people already there.  Eventually the church becomes a closed group that becomes more and more difficult for you to invite friends.  We need an honest answer to this question.  How many people do you see each Sunday inviting their friends?  If people are not inviting people to your church, something needs to change.  People will bring people to a place that is meaningful and exciting. 

    Look around.  Does the nursery look like a kennel for Christian babies?  Does the seating look KJV?  Do the Sunday School or small group spaces look like a visit to the principal’s office circa 1953?  If the bathroom at the rec. field has more going for it than the stalls at God’s house, oh my!  You see the needs before your friends do.  Help your church get over Easter by getting involved in the daily process.  If you are prone only to serve at your church on clean-up day or at the egg hunt Easter week, Easter has become your ultimate end.  Be a servant all year long. 

Easter can be an ultimate experience or the ultimate end.  Think of how you can use this incredible holy-day to keep the conversation about Christ going with your friends.

An Effective Easter

Easter presents the church with its greatest natural opportunity on the calendar to share the gospel.  Here is a short list of ways you can help your church have an effective Easter.
1) The Lord wants to bless your Easter services, make sure He can.
God has proven that for those who will exalt His Son, obey the commands, love Him, and love people that He will bless with bountiful growth (John 12:32, Acts 2:42-47).  If God can see that a local church is serious about obeying the commands, preaching the gospel and discipling people He will send people their way.  Make sure you do nothing in attitude or action that God would say, “I can’t bless that.”  Let there be no apathy, selfishness, or self-righteousness.  Make sure the sermon is faithful to the Biblical text, the music is Scriptural, and the teaching in every group is doctrinally sound.  Make sure that the building is uncluttered and reflects that it is owned and operated by the redeemed people of a Holy God.  Be a people God can bless and you will be blessed with people!
2)  The invitation begins in the parking lot.
The parable of the sower and the seed shows us that the battle for fruitful response begins early, not late (Matthew 13).  Many people who come to your church campus for Easter services have been fighting battles for years.  Don’t make them struggle even more to find parking, nurseries, or comfortable places to sit.  If they feel uncomfortable at the front door they sure won’t feel comfortable in the altar.  Remove every obstacle, fear, and feeling of awkwardness.  Make sure they know their kids are safe.  Help them understand what is about to happen in the service.  Use the bulletin.  Use sermon notes.  Make a friend, sit with them and explain to them what is about to happen.  Communicate clearly from the stage what you want people to do, sit, stand, pray – give them cues don’t leave them guessing.  Also remember, if you are not willing to fill out a card, no one else will.  If you are not willing to give, no one else will.  If you are not willing to sing, no one else will.  If you are not willing to listen, no one else will.  And most importantly, if you are not willing to respond to the invitation, not one else will.  Lead people to the altar, don’t think they will awkwardly walk the plank alone!  It is hard to be new.  People want to respond, but they are looking for cues from you that what they are doing is OK.
3)  Everyone is a greeter.
Melanie Smollen from Faith Perceptions says that guests at your church want to know:  Do you see me?  Do you hear me?  Do you know that I am here?  Do you care?  People expect to be greeted by the pastor and the greeters.  People will determine if they are seen, heard, acknowledged and cared for by a church if they experience those things from people who are not expected to do so.  Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  That word was for everyone at your church, not just the greeters! 
4) People will come if you ask them.
Thom Rainer shares some startling statistics from his insightful book The Unchurched Next Door.  82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.  This means most people are just waiting on you to ask.  However, only 2% of church members will actually invite an unchurched person to church.  In a given year, 98% of church-goers never extend an invitation.   
5) Don’t farm out follow up.
Don’t expect someone else to follow up.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if a person is going to be birthed into the Kingdom that they must go through the church office.  Meet someone this Easter at your church.  Get their name.  Find out how to contact them and you follow up.  They expect a letter from your pastor.  If you want to leave a lasting impression, let them hear from you; not because it is your business, but because you care.
6)  People will be talking about your church when they leave, it’s up to you to determine what they will be talking about.
What do we want them to say about the nursery?  What do you want them to say about the music?  If you are the pastor who will be delivering the sermon, will you say something so impactful, simple, and memorable that people will be talking about it for several days?  What will people be saying about your building?  People will talk, positively or negatively.  Give them something great to say about their experience at your church this Easter.

7)  Tell people what’s next.  

Church folks are notorious about complaining about people only coming to church Christmas and Easter.  If you want to remedy that, tell them what’s next.  Otherwise, in many people’s minds, Christmas is next.  What’s your next event?  What is the sermon next Sunday?  What will the children, students, or small groups be doing next?  Are you playing softball this Spring, going to lunch this afternoon?  The leaving is just as important as the greeting.  If you don’t have anything worth coming to within a week after Easter, you might as well wish your guests a Merry Christmas as they walk out the door.  

Effective Ways for Your Church to Get Guest Information

Early last year a small group of people in our congregation came together to work through Nelson Searcy’s book Fusion.  I think everyone at Liberty had the right heart.  We want to see new people explore what God is doing in our congregation and we want them to stay and become a part of what God is doing here.  Passion has never been our problem, but execution was a real issue.  We had guests each and every week, but we noticed very few of them were returning.  We needed a plan.  Enter Fusion

One of the first principles Searcy points to is the ratio of first time guests to regular attenders.  The first week we met, someone on our team turned to me, the leader, pastor, shepherd of the church who sets the tone for everything else and said, “How many guests do we average each week?”  Every other person on the team turned to me expecting an answer.  Embarrassed I had to admit, “I don’t know.”

Before I share with you what I have learned, allow me to share with you where we are now.  In 2014, about 8 months after we started being intentional about assimilation, we are seeing our attendance increased by 50 to 100 people each week compared to our numbers from 2013.  Since October of 2013, we have averaged 18 guests per week.  This past Sunday (2/23) we had 42 registered guests.

So what made the difference in us going from passion without a plan to growth?

  1. Pay attention to what is actually happening. 

    I shouldn’t say “no one” in our church was paying attention to guest registration.  I also don’t want to convey that I was totally apathetic about it, but I was merely going through the motions.  The few guests we did register would come across my desk as letters to sign.  I would sign them and send them on. 

    For the few that saw where we were falling short and would call my attention to it, I would give them a standard answer, “Yeah, that’s something we need to do better.”  That answer is like the next breath you get on a ventilator while in a comma.  It keeps you alive but accomplishes little else.  Once I started paying attention and reading up on the subject, I could see where we needed to improve.

    As pastors we are guilty of dreaming and whining, wondering, and wailing when the dream doesn’t match reality.  Yes, I wanted guests to come and stay.  Tons of them, but it wasn’t happening.  Nothing changed until I payed attention to reality.  Hey pastor, if you want things to change, pay attention to what is actually going on instead of thinking only about what you would like to happen.

  2. Learn together.

    Our Sunday School director is the one who first introduced me to Fusion.  He discovered the book when he attended a Sunday School growth conference.  When he asked me to read it, I’ll confess, I told him I didn’t have time.  When I finally began to read it, I saw the potential.  But I’ve been down this road before.  Great book.  Great ideas.  It all vanishes in total frustration because no one else gets it.

    I learned a long time ago.  If I want things to change, I can’t be the only guy who reads the book.

    Instead of only two of us reading it, I invited several people to form a group so that several of us could learn together.  I had one of our team members create a PowerPoint presentation of the key ideas in the book.  I shared the presentation with our staff.  I asked several key leaders in the church to come together for a session on a Saturday morning and we shared the information with them.  The information was shared multiple times, even in meetings that had nothing directly to do with assimilation (ultimately it is ALL about assimilation).

    The more we shared the ideas the more they caught on.  This happened not so much because we were sharing the ideas in a way that we were telling people what to do, we were sharing them as we were learning together.  Our approach was less “let us tell you what to do” and more “let us invite you into what we are learning.” 

    Another critical takeaway from this point is pastoral honesty and humility.  Pastors, it is dishonest to take someone’s ideas and parade them around as if they are the product of your own work.  Furthermore, I have found it true that as a pastor, even for the people who love you, when you suggest change, people don’t think you know what you’re talking about.  I can’t tell you how many times I have brought someone in who will say what I would have said, but our people received it because they perceived our guest as an “expert.”  Use a book.  Tell them what Searcy said, or what whoever you glean ideas from said.  You’re just the pastor.  You can’t possibly know what you’re talking about :)!  Be humble, point them to the “book” guy!   

  3. Register people everywhere, all of the time, a lot of different ways, for everything.

    If there is any point in the process in which our failure was glaring, it was in getting our guests to use our registration cards.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  You’ve tried it all.  Me too!  I’ve tried passing a folder down each row for everyone to sign in.  In the past I’ve had our ushers hand cards directly to our guests.  Tear offs, pew cards, gift bags . . . if it has a perforated edge . . . I’ve used it.  It all ends at the same point of frustration.  You can’t get everyone to use it . . . whatever it is.  So we would move on to the next thing.

    That’s the problem, we move from one thing to the next.  Some people will respond to some things.  Some people will respond to others.  So don’t use just one thing, use as many as you possibly can

    We register people at the door.  We register people in our classes.  We register people as they drop off children.  We register people who respond at the end of the service.  We don’t have just one time or one way we register guests.  We are meeting people all along the way.  We even have people who carry around cards and register people when they meet them.  If they won’t fill it out, we will do it for them.  We register people all of the time, everywhere, and we use almost anything we can.  We are about to launch a church app with a module for people to register on their device.  Some dude may not use your card, but that same joker will sit there during your sermon and use his phone!  Hey, at least you may somehow entice him to be responsive to something you say. 

    If you have only one way and one time you register guests, you are making a big mistake.

    Are we batting 1.000?  Nope, but great major league hitters, Hall of Famers, bat just over 30% and I promise you we are past that.  There was a time that 30% would have been a monumental improvement.  There were several weeks last year in which I know we had guests but received 0 response.  From judging our average of 18-20 per week and knowing that we registered 42 last week, it looks like we may now be effectively registering at least half of our weekly guests.

  4. Pull it all together.

    So we started registering people everywhere, all the time, with everything.  PROBLEM.  No one was pulling it all together.  We had Sunday School registrations.  We had children’s church registrations.  We had front door registrations.  Because we were now paying attention we knew we were having guests, but we were still getting very few actual records from their visit.

    We were getting people to register, but we were not compiling the information into one central location.  In leadership meetings we would assess the day and wonder where the guest information was.  “I know so and so was here, but where is their information?”  For a short time this meant we were doing a great job getting people to share their info, but we were dying on the vine when it came to following up.  The simple solution was to create a way to pull it all together.  If you decide to register people everywhere, all of the time, and use anything you can, don’t make the mistake we made by allowing those stacks to lay around and get lost.  Designate someone, somehow to pull it together.

  5. Put a card in every hand.

    The biggest mistake we were making a year ago is that we were trying only to get registration cards in the hands of our guests.  Big mistake.  Searcy was a great help to us on this one.  Your guests don’t want to be guests!!!  No one enjoys being new – unless you just have some odd thing in your life we should probably talk about.  Your guests want to come in and leave without a lot of special attention being directed their way.  By targeting our guests we were not winning them over, we were making them feel uncomfortable

    Easy solution.  Everyone gets the same thing whoever they are and wherever they are.  If you want your guests to register their children, they should have to do so, not because they are new, but it is what everyone else does. 

    This leads to the next critical change we made.

  6. Get everyone to use a registration card every week.

    At Liberty, we call them “Connection Cards.”  These cards are not simply guest registration cards.  Our Connection Cards are for prayer needs, sermon response, and sign ups for events going on at the church.  In our service there is no special guest card.  Everyone has the same card and we use it for everything

    Again, everything you use needs to be for everybody.  The more reasons you can create to use the same card, the more likely you will be in getting the people you really want to use it.

  7. Refer to the registration card as many times as you can from the pulpit.

    We made a big mistake in trying to give cards only to our guests.  As stated previously, we were also making a big mistake in trying at only one time to get them the card.  We found that the more times you can refer to your card, whatever you call it, the more effective you will be in getting guests to use it.  This is a step that has been the biggest challenge for me.  Problem #1, I am a creature of habit.  Problem #2, I am sermon focused.  I feel your pain, pastor, in trying to add one more thing you need to talk about to the day.  But I can tell you this.  The difference in registering 15 guests and registering 42 is how many times I talk about the card

    In recalling this past Sunday, I counted 5 times we talked about our Connection Card.  The result was that it was one of the most effective days we have had registering guests.  I’m partial, but I think the most critical times were the times I asked for everyone to put their cards in front of them both at the beginning of the sermon and at the end.  I began the sermon by telling the people we were all going to use the card to respond to a specific idea from the day.  We created a real sense that you needed the card to be able to effectively listen to the sermon.  That was a game changer.  It was no longer “we want this from you”, it was rather, “you are going to need this.”

  8. Create a “culture” that expects guests.

    We still do things that Liberty has done for years, but we do them with a different mindset.  One example is hand shaking time.  Most churches like ours are very friendly and view a time of shaking hands during the service as being almost as sacred as the hymns.  The time we once used for “greeting your friends” we now use for “meeting our guests.”  It is not about saying “hello” it is about making introductions.  Before we shake hands I like to call attention to that fact.  It used to be, “Turn around and shake hands with two or three people around you.”  Now, especially with 20+ guests per week, it is “If you see someone you don’t know (and you probably will) introduce yourself.”  The people at Liberty know that each of them are a critical part of our church’s growth.  They must not only bring guests, but they must meet our guests.  Everyone at Liberty is a greeter

    The biggest reason we miss our guests is the same reason you may get bit by a copperhead on a trail.  You weren’t looking for it.  Learn to look for guests.  We have people in our service, who are not designated greeters, who do nothing but look for guests so that they can introduce themselves.  And yes, they carry registration cards!

  9. Realize whatever you do will never be perfect. 

    Are we perfect in what we do?  No way, but we are doing better.  Do people still fall through the cracks at Liberty?  Yes, but it isn’t because we weren’t paying attention.  I continue to be frustrated by some of the things that we don’t do well.  But my frustration is overshadowed by the satisfaction I draw from our drastic improvement that has resulted in growth. 

Who are your guests?  How many guests are attending your church each week?  If you can’t answer these questions some attention to the problem and intentionality could change the culture of your church.