The Vineyard Southwest Church Planting Conference

I just wanted to share a bit about the conference I spent most of the weekend at.  Pastor Bob, Andy Rodriguez, and I went down to the Houston area.  Like a lot of these things, there was some really good “watermellon” to eat, and a bit of seeds to spit out, if you catch my metaphor.  It did help me, in that it really illuminated the road blocks that still stand in my way of making a church plant happen.  My prayer is that God would show me the answer to these roadblocks and clarify.

Here is a little bit of what Bert Waggoner (Vineyard USA National Director) had to say on Friday night.  It was a really great message.

Google Voice, A Church Planter’s Best Friend

Google Voice's main panel

Google Voice's main panel

I haven’t talked about this much yet, but Google has been creating a set of tools that can literally change the way churches do business.  Yes, yes, I know that they have a great search engine (and are upping the ante with a new search engine process called Caffeine), but the exciting stuff is all out of Google Labs, their experimental wing.

One really powerful tool for busy pastors (or anyone) who really want to stay connected is Google Reader.  This isn’t new.  It has been around for quite some time, but many people are still not aware of it.  Google Reader allows you to look at all the different blogs or websites that you regularly check (it isn’t that great for straight news sites) all from one page.  It presents the information sort of like how your email is.  If you set up the view right, you see all of the sites in a chronological list with an abstract in the next column.  One click allows you to read the article in full, and another throws it into the trashcan from your virtual desk.  A lot of people have asked me how I can possibly read so many blogs.  Reader is the answer, and I do it in 10% of the time because of it.

Thanks to Ed Dale, who taught me that one.  You revolutionized my life with that, and I can’t think of Twitter in anything but an Australian accent now, either.

But the most exciting thing for churches (and especially church plants)  is Google’s newest project, Google Voice.  First, let me paint a picture of what a typical church plant looks like:

Most church plants (newly started churches, under 2 years old) are led by one pastor and a team of lay leaders.  The pastor is usually bi-vocational at best, or even pastors without taking a salary at all.  Either way, almost all pastors of church plants have a full time job outside of the church.  Most of these churches have no paid staff outside of their solo pastor.

Because of this, any time someone calls the phone number of the church, it goes straight to voice mail.  The pastor is working way too long and too hard to worry about such trivial things as returning messages, especially when 8 out of 10 messages are some sort of church telemarketing…No, I don’t want to go to Bible Bash and Bake Sale 2009!  On the other hand, the 2 calls out of 10 might be someone looking to start attending the church.  They don’t get called back, and they never come.

Enter the game-changer, Google Voice.  I cannot think of any other digital tool that may be as helpful to a new church plant as this one.  When you start with Google Voice, the first thing you do is pick a phone number…a local phone number…a real phone number…like the kind with an area code and 7 other digits.   You can even search for available numbers that you like.  If you want your number to be (555) the-vine (555-843-8463) you can search for that.  Of course, it isn’t that easy to get what you want.  They have to buy a block of numbers like any other company, and someone might already have that number, so be patient.  It took me a couple hours to decide on mine.

After you pick your number, it is live and real.  Anyone can call it from that point on, and yes, it is free.  I am not going to go on and on about all of the myriad and incredible bells and whistles that this offers, other than to say that some of them are things that most people didn’t even know were technically possible.  But those aren’t within the scope of this post.  We are interested right now in how this changes the picture we have painted above.  So, let’s retell it after the point where the church has set up the Google Voice number as their main number.  In this illustration, their Google number has been associated in the Google control panel to the pastor’s cell phone, home phone, the pastors wife’s cell phone, and one of their main lay-leaders cell phones.  Let’s see what happens now, to a fictitious church plant:

Annie calls First Church to ask some questions about their church.  When she dials the number, it simultaneously rings Pastor Bill’s cell and home phones, his wife’s cell, and the cell of the lay leader.  Bill is busy, as is his wife, but the lay leader isn’t.  He looks at his caller ID, and sees that it is someone calling the Google number.  He answers and hears an announcement saying it is Annie.  He presses 1 to talk to Annie.
“First Church, this is Ed.  How may I help you today?
“Hi, I’m Annie, and…”

If no one had been available at all, Annie’s message would have been recorded, and put on the Google server so that any of the churches leaders could hear it from the online account, or accessed from a phone, the same way all voice mail is done.”  A transcribed text message would then be sent out by the system (I have this disabled on mine) to all of the cell phones with Annie’s message.  Whoever got to it first could return the call.

Ahh, the wonders of Google voice.  Try calling mine right now.

Semi-Liveblogging the VNC (Session 3)

Tonight I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much.  Don Williams was speaking, and I’ve heard him quite a bit in VLI.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Don Williams.  He is obviously brilliant.  He has an amazing heart for God.  My experience has been that he rambles a bit, and it is sometimes hard to follow him.

He blew my expectations out of the water.

He spoke about the Holy Spirit.  He showed how the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us and in our ministry is biblical, indespensible, and powerful.  He told his testimony of encountering the Holy Spirit.  He read the testimonies of famous modern Christian leaders in the same regard.  He was funny.  He was clear.  He was short.  Yes, that is right.  He didn’t talk for an hour.

Then he asked us for the people under 35 to come forward to receive a filling of the Holy Spirit.  They did a similar thing at the last conference.  I went forward.

Just as an aside, I don’t know what it is due to, but there is a huge difference in the age demographics between this conference and the last one in Anaheim.  Last time the building was full of rapidly graying hair, bald spots, Hawaiian shirts, and creatively secured Bermuda shorts.  There was a smattering of under 40’s, but it was clear who was in charge.

This time was clearly different.  It was trendy shirts, spiked hair, and tattoos.  The under 40’s were large and in charge.  We are energized.  We are networking.  The Hawaaian shirts are smiling, but I suspect that is from fear (j/k).  There is a definite sense of passing the baton.  This was my big prayer last time.  Now, we just need to not forget that the Hawaiian shirts have a lot of wisdom and experience.  They are godly men and women we can learn a lot from.  The tattoos bug me a bit though, I must admit.

So back to Tuesday night: I stood there for a long time, just waiting on God.  I really felt the Holy Spirit early on, and I was bursting with laughter.  Not the kind of laughter that is at something funny, just a bubbling up from joy kind of thing.  I can’t really explain it.  What I do know is that everyone around me was weeping, and I was laughing…that is so me.  But then I realized that people could feel that I was laughing at them.  So I tried to stifle the laugh.  I stood there shaking as I held it in.  But I knew God wasn’t done with me.

As I stood there I had the growing sense of being totally alone.  I am not going to go too much into this (I’m probably sharing too much anyway), but this is a feeling beneath the surface that I’ve always had.  Sometimes I feel totally alone no matter who is around me and what they say.  Other times, it is not so bad.  Lately I think I am in a season where this is more of a reality anyway, so I think it has been bubbling under the surface for quite some time.  I can’t always identify it, but it has been there.

I began to weep.  People prayed for me.  I wept harder.  More people prayed.  I wept harder still.  Finally, a pastor from Philadelphia named Paul came, and he asked me what I was feeling.  I told him.  He prayed for me with power.  I felt the Holy Spirit ministering to me, and touching my soul in a way I haven’t felt in a while.  I am very thankful for him.

I’d like to say I spoke in tongues as I rolled on the floor in the Spirit (OK, maybe I wouldn’t like that, really) but I didn’t.  I think last night was just a time for God to minister to my heart.

Semi-Liveblogging the VNC 2:00

I just attended the seminar on Growing Your Chruch in Times of Change.  Here are my thoughts:

His stuff was really good, except for a mathmatically flawed example about triangles.

He started by saying that it was important to settle the issue that God wants your church to grow.  This is a real issue, and one that I feel we don’t focus on enough.  God wants us to multiply.  I really feel that we need to set a goal at Grace to multiply our Sunday morning service.  He intimated that this was a good thing to do.  Frankly, as long as there is anyone in Arlington who isn’t in a vital and growing relationship with Jesus, we shouldn’t stop growing.

He said that statistically most people only have 60 relationships within their church.  If the church is only 60 people, then they know everybody.  If the church is over 60, they might say this, but in reality they don’t know any less people.  They might say “I don’t know anybody anymore,” but in reality what they mean is “I don’t know everyone anymore.”  There could be two reasons for this:
1- They don’t have the influence within the church that they used to have.
2- They are looking for meaningful relationships.  In this case they need to be connected to a vital small group.

Never use the word “divide.”  Always use the word “multiply.”  Oops!

This was a big one for me, and one I will be instituting even more:  “Never do any ministry without bringing someone with you to learn how to do what you are doing!”  In the past, I have often said, always ask “What am I doing that someone else could do?”  I think this is better, and is my new paradigm for youth ministry.

As an aside, he said that they have recently asked the question, “What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”  This has led them to formulate 3 commitments that someone at their church should have: 1-A commitment to Christ; 2-A commitment to the Church; 3-A commitment to the cause [of the Church].

I think that last one may be the topic for my sermon on Sunday.  I’ll know better as the week progresses.

Semi-Liveblogging the Vineyard National Conference (Session 1)

Vineyard USA National Conference

Bert Waggoner spoke.  I’d like to say that he’s riveting, but I’d be lying, and we know where liars go…politics.  Here is what I wrote while he was speaking:

I’m sitting in the Vineyard National Conference.  Bert Waggoner is speaking about “Heroic Leadership in a Time of Change,” which is the conference theme.  He’s using the book of Esther as a template for a paradigm for heroic leadership.  It is nice to see that we are focused on “a time of change” right now.  I wonder if we are really late on this, but a lot of denominations haven’t caught on yet.  His message is:

Heroic Leaders are:

1-     Compelled by a controlling value
2-     Committed to a Necessary risk
3-     Captured by sacrificial love

He used the words “post Christian” and “fall of Christendom” quite a few times, maybe too many.  It seems odd to be eulogizing ourselves, although I know that we aren’t proclaiming the death of the Church.  I fear that somehow we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Christian America hasn’t been all bad.  I am dying for a change now, though.  I am praying that I hear or experience something powerful and transforming for our movement.  I want to hear something heroic.  I haven’t yet.  I’m keeping my eyes open.

After the session I prayed for Jason, a church planter about my age.  He was a great guy.  He prayed for me, against any cynicism.  I needed that.

Semi-Liveblogging the Vineyard Conference (a)

Vineyard USA National Conference

This week I’m on Galveston Island, southeast of Houston, for the Vineyard USA National Conference.  I am going to be semi-live blogging the event.  I can’t actually get internet in the conference room, and I’m blogging from a laptop.  I will be posting my thoughts that I have penned the old fashioned way and typed out.  I know, I feel like a luddite…or something along those lines.

Galveston was ravaged by hurricane Ike over a year ago.  The flood waters have subsided, or course, but there is still lingering destruction.  Peichi asked me tonight if there were any buildings left.  I guess that the media made it sound like that.  There are.  The whole place was underwater, but many of those places were cleaned and repaired.  But many places were also totally destroyed.  The closer you get on the island to the sea wall, the more you see hotels standing uninhabited, and buildings that look like they’ve been through a hurricane (duh).  The convention center the conference is at has no working elevators anywhere.  This is because of the flooding.

The most difficult thing for me is the fact that half the street signs have all been blown away, and have yet to be replaced, as if replacing street signs for me are a top priority to the city.  It is hard to find my way around sometimes because of it, though.

I’ll be taking pictures and will include them on a different post when time allows.