A disappointing letter

Like, you, I have my disappointments in life. I had one recently that I would like to reflect on publicly, as I think there are a couple of lessons here for all of us.

James Island Baptist in Charleston, SC is one of the most receptive places I have been to in a long time. All my hosts are nice, but this church was especially nice. I spent a full day there speaking during Sunday School, the morning service, a three hour conference in the afternoon and closing with the evening service.

I shared some personal things with the church and they responded back with love and grace. They actually had me come stand down front at the end of the service and the people of the church gathered around me and prayed for me while I cried. It was really touching.

This is why I was especially disappointed when I received the following email. I had talked to my host about me coming back in January, and they had tentatively agreed.

Hi Josh,

I talked with Tom last night. His feeling is that we should opt out for January 21st. I have to say I am disappointed, but I understand his reasoning. He has not seen the results he was hoping to see from the "Double Your Class" seminar. This is no way any reflection on the conference or the content. You are absolutely on target. The failure is ours. Tom told me that what we need is how to implement what we learned - putting the idea into action. He is very interested in us both attending the workgroup you talked about in your last newsletter.

Rose

"Devastated" is too strong, but I was definitely blue for a few days. Not because of a cancellation. That happens in this business. With this church, it got personal. I really like this church and wanted them to do well. I was really disappointed that they weren't. Here are a few things I said to my host that I thought might be useful to say publicly.

Only a few get it

Here is a little known secret of church life. I was on the road for years before I realized this. In growing churches--even fast growing churches--only a few get it. You really only need a few race horses. The TIGER/ Double strategy is so powerful that the ones who get it normally really get it. I was just at Fielder Road Baptist in Arlington, TX. Jerry Morris told me about a Sr. Adult department that went through the material 6 months ago. Attendance is up by 50% in that department. But, if you look around Fielder Road you would find many classes who are not growing. Only a few get it, even in fast growing churches.

In a smaller church like James Island, we actually only need one or two race horses to turn this ship around and fast.

The lesson is this: love everyone, but feed and nurture the race horses.

Speed of the leaders;
speed of the team

John Maxwell is right. Everything rises and falls on leadership. Something happened to me some time back that forever impressed me about the importance of example.

I have been curious over the years about the curious and ever-changing rules about gizmos on airplanes. They have changed the rules numerous times about what you can and cannot have on when and where. Recently they changed the rules again so that you can now use your cell phone (on American Airline flights) immediately after landing. You still can't listen to your CD, or pop open your laptop, but you can make a phone call. I noticed when I was in Australia they had the same planes but different rules about what you can have on when.

The whole thing seems so odd to me that I have asked a number of people about it. They always give you the same song and dance. "Well it is not just this device, but the cumulative effects of multiple devices and the waves coming together in and out of phase and we are not sure what might happen and we have very sensitive instruments up front and it is best to just follow the rules."

One time I was sitting next to a pilot and asked him this same question. I got the same song and dance. "Well it is not just this device, but the cumulative effect. . .in and out of phase. . ." Right.

As we were about to land in El Paso, I noticed he turned on his cell phone. He turned on his cell phone during what is presumably the most dangerous part of the flight. This pilot, who should know about the actual safety of cell phones on airplanes, turned on his phone in the final 10,000 feet.

Question: what do you think I believe about the relative danger of cell phones and other devices on airplanes?

Thing is, this guy could be a nut. It doesn't matter. I will forever be influenced by his example. Let's get back to Sunday School.

The Pastor, Minister of Education, Music Minister, Sunday School director, etc. cast a very long shadow when it comes to influence. If they are happily involved in doubling groups, we have a chance of the influence spreading. The opposite is also true.

If I were a pastor I would list as #1 on the job description of every staff member, "Be happily involved in helping a group double."  If the staff cannot figure out how to double a class every two years or less, it is not likely the church as a whole will ever believe it is possible.

I am not saying that the staff have to be involved in helping groups double. I am saying you can't have it both ways. You cannot persuade people that being involved in a doubling group is possible and important and a wonderful way to live if the staff are not happily involved in helping groups double. Perhaps that is why the Bible lists "hospitable" and one of the criteria for pastors. (1 Timothy 3.2)

Key thing is, it really is a wonderful way to live. I had some friends over in my back yard last Thursday night. We had hamburgers, talked and watched a movie. It was great. It is a wonderful way to live. And, all we have to do to double is consistently and systematically invite people to that kind of thing.

Rewarding

Whatever gets rewarded gets done. Not what we ask for, what we reward gets done. I discussed this extensively in three recent newsletters. Set up a system of rewards. Perhaps something as simple as sharing the positive stories of classes that are making some progress during the Sunday evening service. Here are some more articles.

Culture

The goal is to make doubling part of the culture. Rewarding helps to do that. But there are other things we can do.

I have been in some churches that cancel their Sunday night service once a month and ask their groups to host a party on that night and invite every member and every prospect to that fellowship that Sunday night. This has a way of communicating to the masses that this is not just a nice idea and we are really serious about reaching people the Levi way. "Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them." Luke 5:29 [NIV]

It also addresses another issue. We have set goals and make plans about what we are going to do. When we do this, we also need to decide what we are not going to do. The evening we spend doing a party on purpose we can't spend having another worship service or doing visitation or doing prayer meeting. If doing a party is fourth or fifth in our priority system, it is not likely it will get done.

In other words, if we say to people (by our practice if not in words):

  • The first thing is, come to church on Sunday morning
  • Second thing is, come to church on Sunday night.
  • Third, we want you come on Wednesday night because prayer is important.
  • Fourth, we want you to come to visitation because outreach is important.
  • Fifth, we want you to give Friday nights to Jesus.

At some point, Jesus may want you to go to your kid's soccer game or take your wife out on a date. Spiritual maturity does not necessarily mean more church activity. Church leadership must prioritize this involvement. In my mind, parties with a purpose come second, just after worship and Bible Study on Sunday morning. You might put them a different place, but I will tell you if you put them fifth, it won't happen much. We have to decide what not to do, as well as what to do. I discuss this at length in this article.

For more on this topic, you might see my series, 8 Things Teachers Must Have From Their Pastor and Staff to Double. It is available in the following formats:

  • Cassette Version
  • MP3s
  • Video

Let's Talk!

I am not sure I know all the answers, but I am sure if we sat down with the right people for enough time we could figure out the next steps. That is why is am so excited about the new Double Your Church Conferences. It will provide us an opportunity to sit down together and talk through all the issues and figure out what we need to do next.