Corporate Worship: Ideas for Engaging your Congregation

In my roles with the RMCN and CBAmerica, I am exposed to a spectrum of styles of Sunday services. This continuum ranges from traditional services, that have an organ and hymnals (these are definitely fewer in number, thank goodness because those books are heavy), to rock concert like productions with laser lights and fog machines and often times, thank goodness, optional ear plugs. Oops, tipped my hat there a bit, didn’t I?
When I am in a Sunday morning service (as one pastor of a very large church told me, it is not a worship service), I often mentally pose the unspoken query for the pastor and worship leader, “What are you trying to do with this service?” Another way to put it is, “What is your philosophy worship (sorry, I am old)?”  or “What are you wanting me to do in this 1-hour experience?”
Do you want me to worship God? … be entertained? … gain more bible information? …commune with other believers? My hope is that if I knew what we were trying to do, that I could either relax and enjoy or perhaps join you in fulfilling your purpose. But to be honest, most times I do not have a clue what we are trying to do.
So I have asked a few “Worship Leaders,” that from my subjective perspective “get it,” to share some of their insights. The first to come to mind was my good friend Sam Hoffman. Sam is the volunteer worship leader at First Baptist Church of Sheridan, WY. I have known Sam for over 15 years. Vocationally, Sam is an optometrist. He and his wife Robin are the parents of three wonderful daughters.
First Baptist Church of Sheridan, WY is a church of 500 multi-generational attendees. The church recently called Chad Cowan to be their pastor.

Knowing Sam’s musical talent and leadership gifting, I knew that he would share some very practical observations about worship. He did not disappoint me.

From Sam:

I strongly recommend the book “Worship Matters” as a point where I learned much of the following.

In corporate worship, I try to gently lead people to worship God by singing songs that they already know and having them do so in keys that are singable, with the mind and heart fully engaged.

This means:

  1. We introduce a new song once every two weeks maximum, usually only once per month. We do not retire “old” songs very often: if they were good enough for worship 5 years ago, they’re probably still good. I look over old songs and try to do them a maximum of once every three months. For most people who are worship leaders or music-people, learning new music is easy and fun, so I think a major mistake that a lot of worship teams make is too much new music too fast (in fact, this is the primary problem in most churches in America today). YOU may like it, but the average congregant is likely struggling to follow along if you do too many new songs too fast. Also, pay attention to the demographics of your congregation: if it’s mostly older people, you’ll want more hymns. If it’s mostly younger people, you’ll want more contemporary songs.
  2. When we introduce a new song, I play the melody loud and clear on the piano in order to help people pick it up as we sing it the first couple times.
  3. Typically, we start with one or two upbeat songs, and move into more slow/worshipful songs at the end. We do four or five a week, but that’s not a magic number.
  4. All songs must have good theology. There are a lot of songs out there. No sense using one that has bad or even questionable lyrics. If you’re not sure, run it by the senior pastor or the elders. “What a Beautiful Name it Is” is a nice song, but some of the theology is suspect (or flat out wrong), so we haven’t done it.
  5. Key is very important. The average singer can sing from a “low” A (or G in a stretch), to a high C (or D in a stretch). Comfortable for most people is an even narrower range, perhaps a “low” C to a high A (less than one octave!). This may require transposing a song into a difficult-to-play key, but it is worth it to allow people to sing. “Songselect” is worth every penny for performing these transpositions. Guitar players can capo, and piano players (keyboarders) can grow by doing these in strange keys. Remember though that a lot of songs on the radio span an octave and a half or even two octaves (!). Don’t try to do these songs corporately!!! It won’t work!
  6. I sometimes change words in songs to make them fit more appropriately. I do not let this trouble me in the least. Most often it is changing “I” “me” and “my” to “We” “us” and “ours,” making individual songs into corporate songs.
  7. Follow the music and sing the notes as written. Leading worship is not a time to improvise or try something fancy. Keep it simple so people can follow. If your worship team can’t sing it perfectly in 2-3 times through, then leave it. (For instance, I really wanted to do “Jesus Friend of Sinners” recently, but after trying it twice, my worship team was struggling, so we scrapped it.)
  8. Sing songs with appropriate feeling and accompaniment. If you are singing “I Surrender All,” it will be more quiet and subdued than the upbeat song “Trading My Sorrows.” Certain verses of certain songs (see “How Great Thou Art”) call for quiet contemplative minimal accompaniment, and other verses of the same song call for HUGE sound. Play and sing appropriately. In a quiet restaurant, you will whisper “I love you!” to your wife, you don’t stand on your chair and scream it. Apply the same rule to your worship: make sure the volume, tone and presentation fit the words you are singing.
  9. As much as possible, the worship leader(s) should disappear. No stories about “how my week went,” or “You know, I’ve been thinking…” Let the pastor preach. My job is to lead worship, period. Brief exhortations are ok, but anything longer than about 30 seconds is too long (with very rare exceptions). 
  10. Remember it is never, ever, ever about YOU. This is not American Idol. It is about God.
  11. Point people to God, and get out of the way. Bad notes call attention away from God and towards the instrumentalist or vocalist. But a fancy guitar solo does the same. Don’t interrupt the flow. Even long song introductions are rarely worth it: four measures at most for an intro then get the show on the road! If you want a contemplative part in the middle of a song to give people time to pray, you must TELL them that this is what you’re doing… don’t expect them to know. 
  12. At the same time, there will be times when a certain song requires some kind of story or anecdote or thought to get into it gracefully. I do NOT invent these on the fly. I thoughtfully consider what I am going to say and often type it up (at least the keywords) so that I don’t ramble.
  13. Often before singing a song, one simple thing to do is to restate the main theme of the song in different words. Then sing the song. Easy to do but engages the mind. For instance, before “Amazing Grace,” you could say, “If you do not know that you were a wretch at one time, perhaps you do not understand the position from which you were saved.” or “God’s grace is so amazing it will cover every one of your sins,” or something. This needn’t be profound, lengthy, nor poetic. Keep it simple and grounded and relevant.
  14. Avoid 7-11 songs. There are many great worship songs out there. Too much repetition is awesome for about 3% of the congregation, the rest hate it. Trust that people get the message in 2 or at most 4 cycles through. “Jesus lead me where my faith is without borders…” can be grasped in 1 or 2 times around.
  15. Hymns are good, especially ones that are widely known. I do at least one per week, and I try to do them as people remember them. If you jazz them up too much or change them, people will be frustrated because “I wanted to sing it like I know it!”
  16. Don’t be too loud, or people can’t hear themselves sing. Don’t be too quiet so it feels like no one is singing. There’s a balance there, and your sound guy should know it (and will have a meter to find it). 
  17. Every so often, on songs the congregation knows well, have all vocalists back away from the microphone, stop the accompaniment, and let the congregation hear themselves sing.
  18. Don’t worry about the technical components of the sound. Let the sound guys worry about that. Trust your sound person.
  19. Remember there is a difference between leading (taking people where they WANT to go) and manipulation (taking people where they do NOT want to go). In leading worship, we do the former. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to take people out of their comfort zones if it will get them closer to true worship of the living God.
  20. Every so often, intersperse Scripture, a reading, or a responsive reading. If you can get the words on the screen, all the better (some people will not grasp it unless they read it). Make sure it is appropriate and meaningful to your audience.
  21. During powerful worship songs, people will have a hard time sitting. Let them stand.
  22. Don’t make them stand for the whole set, it can be a long time. Give them breaks at times to let them sit.
  23. Respect people’s time. Remember that many of the people on your worship team have 40+ hour per week jobs, spouses, kids, and other hobbies. If you call a meeting from 6-7 PM, make sure it is over at 7 PM… even if this means abruptly interrupting Suzie’s story about her son’s kindergarten class. (Even better, aim to get done at 6:50 so you have a 10 minute buffer). Also, you as the leader need to be ready to go at 6 PM: get there early to make sure things are in place so that others don’t have to pick up your slack.

Developing A Spirit of Generosity – Live Streaming

The Network is Back Up!

connecting-business-network-backgrounds-for-powerpoint“The Network is Back Up!”

By Stan Rieb

We have all experienced it.  It is a fairly common occurrence in our ever increasingly technologically connected world. Because it is our connection to the information we seek and a crucial path to the communication of our vision and purpose, a connection to the internet or “network” has become essential for many throughout the world. When that connection goes down, for many of us, our work comes to a grinding halt. But there is a small celebration once the network connection has been restored. Everyone in the office exclaims the same words, “The network is back up!”

As I travel around the Rocky Mountain Church Network, one question I always ask is, “How can we help you (the pastor) and your church?” Often the response goes something like: “Call us! Visit us! Connect with us!”

Since early this year, my focus in the region has been to be an IT Engineer seeking to restore and maintain Network Connection. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done, but please know my heart is to connect with the pastors and leadership of the churches in the RMCN.

When trouble shooting a network there are certain steps the provider must do and there are other steps the client can do. The provider must assure the client that the signal is reaching the router and that the router is functioning correctly.  The client is responsible to make sure that their end of things are connected properly, their cable is connected or their Wi-Fi is configured properly for connection.

As the provider we have to admit that we have not always done a good job. You need to know it is our desire to raise the reliability of our network.  We know we need to increase our up time.

As a member of the network we would ask that you help us maintain your connection. If we can help in specific areas (see the list below), please call.  If we can meet with you or the leadership of your church, please contact us.

 Connection Ports

  • Leadership Development
      • Learning Communities
      • Virtual Learning Communities
      • Pastor Coaching
      • Leadership Coaching & Retreats
      • Birkman Profile – Individual and Team Assessment and Coaching
  • Church Health
      • Ministry Mapping Church Assessment
      • Church Consulting
        • Life Cycle
        • Polity/Governance Development
      • Values, Mission, Vision training/development
      • MissionInsite Demographics
      • Conflict Resolution Coaching
      • Placement Resource
        • Pastoral Search Team Training
        • Criminal, Credit and Education background checks for pastoral and pastoral staff candidates
  • Church Reproduction
      • Church Planting
  • Other Resources
    • Guidestone Financial Services
      • 403(b) Retirement Program
      • Health Insurance
      • Financial Planning
    • Planned Giving Seminars
    • Church Insurance – Guide One



New Book on Becoming a Turnaround Leader

uniqueCovFINAL-203x300RMCN Board Member, Gordon Penfold, and co-authors, Bud Brown and Gary Westra have written a new book, Pastor Unique: Becoming a Turnaround Leader.  The publisher hasn’t given a firm release date yet, but they are hoping that it will be available around August 15.

You can read the Introduction by clicking on this link.

The authors are also working on additional resources for pastors, church leaders, and denominational leaders to help them get the most from this groundbreaking new work.


The authors of Pastor Unique understand the critical need for the development of turn-around pastor leadership, given that over 80% of churches in America are plateaued or declining in attendance. They bring their ministry experience and passion for healthy churches and effective leadership to bear on this epidemic. Their research of successful turn-around pastors has led them to identify the key behaviors and practices that non turn-around pastors can develop through assessment, training and mentoring. If you are a pastor facing the daunting task of leading a church that is plateaued and declining, Pastor Unique is a must read.

Stan Rieb
Executive Director
Rocky Mountain Church Network

The Missional Church

cropped-Indigenous-Ministries-Logo-shortBrother Stan Rieb and I had the privilege of sharing lunch together recently, and in the course of conversation, the comment was made that a certain municipality in Colorado now denies all church applications for building and expansion. I was struck with the fact that as I work overseas in Egypt, Iraq and Turkey, the very places where the Church originated, we find a very similar resistance in these areas today. In understanding church history, this resistance is not new. In fact as I look over the past 2000 years of extended Church history, the plight of Christians through the centuries, and our modern day partnering to plant and build churches in the Middle East, this is the norm.

For those who have a sense that we are owed some kind of privileged position due to being American Christians, it may be that we need to rethink our position. Rather than being surprised, shocked, or frustrated over such attitudes, let us be encouraged to look at our churches in a different light.

We are as U.S. Christians, really owed nothing, rather, the world asks us to give a reason for our validity. We can no longer grow the Church from the inside out, but we must assist people as they grasp the realities of a personal relationship with the Lord. He told us to be “salt and light,” and we are to continue to be a mainstream influence in our society, all in a culture that is growing more and more hostile to the truths taught in the Word of God.

We are seeing a culture shifting away from long held common beliefs, and have turned from a post-Christian nation to a pre-Christian nation. In fact, churches must adopt a missional outlook and perspective if we are to influence our communities. Before one becomes discouraged and feels confronted yet again with another “program” to be implemented, or how some other church reached “mega” status, let’s look at a few things that might help in assessing current direction, vision and actions.

I love Church history; not the one we were taught in Bible college and seminary that was primarily Western in its focus, but the dynamic growth and later decline of the Church in the Middle East from the first to the seventeenth century. The Church in the Middle East holds lessons for the U.S. Church today. How do we continue to influence in the midst of growing opposition as a Church engaged within the purposes that Scripture mandates?

Imagine for a moment that your church was in a foreign country, somewhat tolerant of Christianity, but not enamored with it either. How would you maximize your buildings, your congregation, your volunteers and your financial resources to effectively impact your “foreign community?”

Take a moment and think through this. When a missionary goes overseas and when all the excitement of support raising has been accomplished, and all the adventure of travel and settling into a new country has begun to sink in, he or she eventually comes to the question which I remember asking of myself in India, “now what?” It is from that question that one derives all future passion, vision and activity. It is one of personal and ministry assessment, and it is also what the Lord asked Moses in Midian when he stood before the burning bush, “What is in your hand?”

Pastor, what is in your hand? How can this be invested in taking your church into your community and being an influence for good? I’ve seen two churches standing side by side, one holding activities such as hiking clubs, MOP’s, day care, senior citizen lunches, community and political meetings, men’s BBQ’s, softball and basketball league participation, little league, and community road and parks clean up. This church I’m describing is seen as an asset to the community, contrasted with the neighboring church that never sees a car enter the drive until Sunday AM. As we look at a less than welcoming community, 1 Peter 2:12 reminds us to, “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

A Church looking exclusively at herself and her own ministries is in the beginning of a decline that, given enough time, leads to nonexistence. We’ve all been brought to tears when one of our own precious children trusts Christ as Savior; as wonderful as this is, let’s not be satisfied with this alone, but just as a missionary worth his or her tenure overseas diligently ministers in outreach, we too must actively seek ways to influence our community for Christ.

This influence requires vision and action. What is your vision for your community? Is it so big that God has to show up? Faith begets faith. The greatest affect for change is when people see genuine faith in action because of strong vision. Every man I know wishes for a moment when he can be a hero and make a strategic shift and positive change in someone’s life for good. Christ designed his bride to be his hands and his feet, in other words, you and I, the Church itself, are real life heroes reaching our neighbors with His love and forgiveness.

What is the Church to produce? Chevy makes cars, Cross makes pens, Harley-Davidson makes motorcycles (thank you, Lord). So the question then is, “what is the church to produce?” The Church produces new Christ-followers who become disciples. If we’re not accomplishing this, we’re not doing our job.

The beginning of the decline of the church in the Middle East was around the 13th century. Of course it was partly the result of a growing persecution of Christians by Islamic communities, and their rulers. Up to this time the Islamic communities had blended, accepted and in fact, interlaced Christians into their socio-political and economic societies. During the 13th century we begin to note a decline in influence and connection the Church held within the blended communities, a declination caused not as a result of outside pressure, but, rather, from inside the Church herself.

Pastors and bishops gradually exhibited a lack of academic engagement in Scriptures, passing this on to the Church. In other words, the Church began to “do ministry” because of traditions rather than reflect a vibrant interest in the Word of God, its vital truths and its impact on society and the human heart. Ultimately this attitude produced a lack of interest in reaching out to the unsaved. Believers became satisfied with passing on their faith primarily to their own children and family “dynasties.”

The decline of the Church from the 14th through the 17th century in the Middle East was first, persecution, of course, but a third underlying cause was also lack of vision for reaching out. Because of religious and political pressures, they choose compromise as an alternative and accepted marginalization within their communities rather than retain the role of vibrant changeagent. Families passed their faith on to their own family rather than reaching out.

In contrast, within the first century, despite growing persecution, the message of Jesus Christ exploded along the trade routes of both the Roman and Persian world, especially along the Silk Road to India and China. As an example, the Gospel, brought by merchants from Jerusalem, reached Mosul in Northern Iraq in 38 A.D. mixing the concepts of business and mission. In fact, one of the early hymns the Church in the East was “let us take the attire of merchants and bring the good news to the world.”

The decline of the modern Church is directly linked to the abdication of engagement in her communities through the daily influence in the lives of neighbors and co-workers, to accomplish what Christ commanded her to do, make disciples. When the Church is singularly focused on itself and fellowship, she loses her influence in society and the outcome is marginalization.

My dear friend, an Iraqi pastor, Douglas Bazi, has been shepherding a church of refugees from Mosul. Two years ago as Mosul fell, he was captured by ISIS, tortured and beaten many times. He was taken to be beheaded a number of times, but as he said, “the Lord has always been with me and watched over me.” After four months, miraculously, he was released and immediately resumed his role as pastor shepherding his flock who were now refugees in nearby Irbil, northern Iraq. Refusing to leave his flock, he has worked tirelessly to emigrate his congregation of over 200 families in the Czech Republic. His key leadership and life example have impacted thousands. Without pastoral leadership and a localized focus upon the people of our communities, the church will flounder.

So what are some action points to consider?

1. The Church needs a missional heart. Let’s not focus on what we want our community to do for us, but what we can and will do for our community.

2. The Church needs to be practical as Moses was when God asked him, “What is in your hand?” God knows our flaws and weaknesses and still chooses to work through us for His glory, and He will take the mundane and make it miraculous and pertinent.

3. The Church needs to be actively stepping into the mainstream of her community.

4. The Church needs to take courage and stand firm in her faith and confidence in the teaching of the Word. We’ve seen all that Satan can throw at us; this is nothing new. Yet the Church still stands because she is founded upon the immovable foundation of Christ and the eternal Word.

The Lord said, “I will be with you, to the very end of the age.” We may not all teach and preach well, but we can each make disciples, and as authentic, passionate Christ-followers we are linked to the ongoing pulse and unfolding history of the Church that is being made today.

John CookBy John W. Cook, CEO, Indigenous Ministries


Photo of John and his wife, Dee

A Heart For Commerce City

Prayer Station #2Good News Community Church has a heart to reach people apart from God in North Denver.  With a mission to “be and make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love others, and serve the world.”

Their multi-campus ministry focuses primarily on impacting Broomfield and Commerce City.  Lead Pastor Matthew Fite and Commerce City Campus Pastor Ryan Whitson lead a community of owners of a God shaped and sized vision to reach their communities.

The church owns property at 104th and Blackhawk which is a prime spot for reaching northern Commerce City.  Recently they placed a cross, seats, and a set of solar lights on the Commerce City land.

On Sunday, June 5th the Commerce campus had service out on the land – it was a special day!

They spent the morning praying for the city of Commerce, for the future of the church, and for God to use them as a vehicle for thousands of men, women, boys, and girls to come to know Jesus as Lord and savior… in Commerce and across north Denver.

It was a good day!

Why have we grown?

cothlogo11Recently, we have enjoyed a period of growth.  Twelve people have joined our church since the first of the year, ranging in ages from 10 – 65 years old, and four more are considering joining.

For our small church this has resulted in a 10% growth in membership and a 9% growth in attendance.  Plus, this Sunday we will be baptizing a young woman in our worship service.

A couple of months ago, two young men accepted the Lord Jesus downstairs in our Sunday School while their grandmother upstairs in worship rededicated her life!  Obviously the Holy Spirit was working on both floors that day.   Last Summer we baptized a family of four who are mostly new to the faith.

Why have we been experiencing this growth?  I can’t really say except we are being faithful to our vision of being living messengers for Jesus who share God’s love with others in all of our ministries.

A little over a year ago when we changed the name of the church, we had two prayers and goals in mind:  1. We desired to attract non-believers to our church. 2. We desired to attract believers who had recently moved into our community.

God has certainly honored both those requests in these new members.  I am pleased God has blessed our focus on vision and outreach.

Pastor Mike Lundberg,
Church on the Hill,
Montrose Colorado.

A Letter to the RMCN Family

Dear Rocky Mountain Church Network Family:   As chairman of the RMCN board I’m writing this letter on behalf of our Regional Executive Director, Stan Rieb, and the RMCN.   The RMCN supports regional churches in many ways.  The RMCN vision is: We envision a network of vibrant churches empowered by God and mobilized by passionate spiritual leaders, living out the gospel by serving their communities and making disciples of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.

Thus RMCN provides guidance and resources for pastoral searches, assessments for churches, ministry mapping, coaching for pastors, leadership learning communities, counseling and resources for struggling churches and pastors, and organizes the occasional regional leadership retreat for pastors, staff and their wives.

All of this boils down to one goal: to produce healthy and vibrant pastors and churches.  Stan is at the center facilitating the mission and has made great progress this past year in contacting and encouraging member churches.

My church has been the recipient of Stan’s expertise and is now experiencing growth in several areas for the first time in four years.   In our meeting last week, however, Stan informed me that we had to dip into our investments.  As a board we knew this day was coming but feel fortunate to have reserves to draw on.

So as a member church, I am asking you to consider a one-time financial gift, increase your current financial commitment or placing RMCN on your missions and outreach budget.  As you invest in RMCN, you are investing in God’s kingdom work in our region.     Please keep Stan and RMCN in your prayers.  May God richly bless you as you seek to make disciples through sharing and living out the gospel.

Sincerely in Christ,
Pastor Mike Lundberg
Chairman of the RMCN Board
Senior Pastor of Church on the Hill, Montrose, Colorado



Changing Your Church’s Name

Over the last few weeks, I have been asked a couple of times about churches changing their names, specifically removing “Baptist” from their name. Many churches are doing this and I believe that the trend will continue for some of the reasons that I will share. From the personal experience of having led a name change, I can tell you that a wise pastor treads these waters carefully and intentionally. Let me give you several areas to consider when it comes to processing this discussion.

Cultural Denominational Disconnect

Early American immigration history is at the heart of the vast denominational diversity in America. A denominational identity helped people connect with their cultural religious identity. Even 30 years ago many rural communities’ dominant denominational representation was reflective of the immigrant migrations of the late 1800’s and 1900’s. Northeastern Kansas, where my family settled as immigrants, was predominantly Lutheran because it was a center of the German immigrant communities. After WWII and perhaps even before that, America was losing that European nationalism with the homogenization of our culture.

Add to this the secularization of the American culture over the last 30 to 50 years. Our post-Christian culture has produced an ever increasing number of people who have no religious, let alone denominational, identity. For many past generations there was at least distant relationship with the church, if nothing else as the place where weddings and funerals took place. Even that is now waning in our culture.

In The Rise of the Nones, James Emery White notes that those who identify themselves as having no religious affiliation are increasing at a surprising rate. The Pew Research Center notes, “In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults.”

Because of this ongoing disconnect from the church, a non-religious individual’s understanding of the church and denominational branding has been formed by the media rather than by experiential knowledge. We know that the media, in general, does not paint a positive picture of the church. Baptist, along with many other denominational identifiers like Assembly of God and to a lesser degree Evangelical Free Church, are defined or judged by the unchurched by this media bias. Baptists are perceived by many in the public spectrum in a very negative framework, thus at times invoking a barrier to connecting with them.

Guilt by Association

For me the impetus to CONTEMPLATE DROPPING “Baptist” from the name of the church I was pastoring was the protesting by the Westboro Baptist church at the Matthew Shepard murder trials and their protesting at the funerals of military personal who were killed in the line of duty. People in our community made it clear that they understood that since they were Baptist and we were Baptist we must have been supportive of what they were doing.

One would need to assess the community’s perception of your church’s identity, part of which is your denominational connection, if that is part of your branding. This is not an easy task as many of the people in our church are insulated from the unchurched in the community.

Again, as we continue to generationally distance ourselves from the perceived American Christian culture from years past (each generation being increasingly identified as nones), our unchurched culture has an increasing deficit of understanding of the denominational distinctions. Even more important is their lumping all “Christian” faith groups together. For the unchurched there is little or no difference between any denomination, let alone those we in the church would identify as a cult. Their only perception is that some denominations are more negative or judgmental toward those who are not part of their group. 

Missional Focus

Most new church plants do not communicate a denominational identity. Tom Rainer notes that Newer churches are consistently using descriptors in their names other than denominational affiliation. Some are focusing on their location. Others are at least implying a distinctive doctrinal leaning. And still others are using more trendy and less common terms.”

New churches understand that evangelism and growth are essential to the life (ongoing existence) of the church. As one church planter noted, “It is really only churched people who are looking for a specific denomination’s name and researching what a church believes when deciding whether or not to visit. Our church isn’t targeting churched people at all. I can’t tell you how many of our friends came to our church because of a relationship they had with us or someone else and found out only at our membership class that we are affiliated with a denomination.”

One of the reasons that church plants avoid denominational, or even traditional terminology, is that they want to create open doors of gospel opportunity. They understand that the branding of their ministries which includes their name, social network or media presence, facilities and other things are doors of relational opportunity to fulfill their Great Commission mission.

Paul noted this missional strategy in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, “… To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” He understood there were individuals that were in the sphere of his missional influence and he did whatever he could to remove any barriers to his being able to communicate the gospel to them. He declared his missionary identity in the missional strategy.

In the ministry where we changed the church’s name we did so because even though we were reaching people across denominational heritages, there were still those in the community for whom the name Baptist was an insurmountable hurdle. Our people were not willing to allow a word in our name to be a stumbling stone to the people in the community knowing Jesus. It was not easy to part with their First Baptist Church name. The name was full of fond memories and had a deep rich meaning to many, but there was a greater good to be had in giving that up, removing any barrier to people coming to faith in Christ.

How do you prepare a church that is deeply vested in a name for this type of change?

First of all mission and vison should drive the conversation. Mission relates to purpose and the purpose of the church is a relationally redemptive purpose. Vision goes to painting a picture of what it will look like when we are living out our purpose in our community. A well-crafted and communicated vision of what can be will always make what is unacceptable, a motivation for change. Leverage the influence of the board as vision communicators. If they cannot be excited about the vision, how can you expect the congregation to be supportive?

Secondly, when possible, celebrate the past as the reflection of the outward focused mission and vision. In most cases you can point to times in a church’s past where they stepped out in faith to be obedient to a Great Commission, Great Commandment purpose. Point the congregation to changes that they have made in the past that have brought about good results.

Give people time. I love the quote from Resilient Ministry regarding leadership. Harvard professors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky have summarized that “exercising leadership might be understood as disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.” Wise leaders will bring people along, they will have thought through an intentional strategy. Introduce it as an idea that leadership is considering. Have multiple meetings where the leadership puts it on the table to have people express their thoughts and feelings. With that validate people’s apprehensions and feelings; often times people need the opportunity to express themselves before they can consider the value of the proposed change.

Why We Cancelled Christmas Eve Services

Matthew Fite2For years we’ve done a Christmas Eve service… in fact, we’ve generally done multiple Christmas Eve services, trying to meet the needs of busy people with full schedules.

And every year we’ve encouraged our people to invite their friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers who aren’t Christians. We gave them invite cards and yard signs to help in their efforts. And every year people invited the non-Christians they knew.

But every year I got the same sad report back, “I invited my co-worker, but he and his family are going to grandma’s house on Christmas Eve.” Or “I invited my neighbors, but they can’t come because they always do a big Christmas dinner and open gifts with the in-laws on Christmas Eve.” Sure, plenty of people have been coming to our Christmas Eve services all these years, but by in large it’s just been Christians.

It turns out that non-Christians are really busy on Christmas Eve and are unwilling to change their plans, even when someone invites them to a Christmas Eve service on December 24th. So this year we cancelled the Christmas Eve services and did a “Christmas Celebration” on December 23rd.

When we first started talking with the congregation about this idea, some were very disappointed (that’s a nice way of saying mad and upset). So we talked with the congregation about how this was an opportunity for us to meet the needs of the community. We talked about how we needed to put our preferences aside in order to introduce people to Jesus. We talked about how we needed to follow Jesus’ example when he said, “I have not come to be served, but to serve, and to lay down my life as a ransom for many.

The mumbling died down pretty quickly. People picked up small stacks of invite cards and took home a yard sign that said, “Christmas Celebration on December 23rd.” And I began to wonder if this was just another one of my stupid ideas (and I’ve had plenty) or if it really was inspired by God.

The first story I got back was from a woman who has probably never actively told anyone about God, but she was willing to put a yard sign in front of her house. She said that she had multiple conversations with neighbors who all told her that her Christmas Eve sign had the wrong date on it… It should say December 24th. This became her opportunity to invite each of them to the Christmas Celebration on the 23rd.

I shared her story with the congregation and told them all “thank you for being willing to try this big experiment for your neighbors and for everyone you’re going to invite.” The excitement grew… the stories kept rolling in… we ran out of invitation cards.

Finally the 23rd came and we did all the same stuff you do at a Christmas Eve service: sing Christmas Carols, tell the Christmas story, share the gospel, light candles, and all that good stuff. It was a beautiful service.

The Commerce City campus had 149 people… we ran out of chairs (that’s 50% larger than a normal Sunday and it was the largest service that campus has ever had)! The Broomfield campus had 235 people… again we ran out of chairs, plus ran out of parking spots (again, that’s almost 50% larger than a normal Sunday and people had to stand out in the lobby)!

And the best part was that we identified over 50 first-time guests who were not just visitors from out of town, but actually folks from our community who don’t yet know Jesus. We’re now in the process of following up with each of them, building relationships, and encouraging them to take their next steps towards a relationship with God.

Bottom line, doing the Christmas Celebration service on the 23rd was a huge, huge success!


     Matthew Fite is Lead Pastor at