The Importance of a Local Watering Hole – or Eatery

Small communities often struggle to provide enough meaningful services for their community. Some don’t have enough places to shop for clothes. Others don’t have a local hardware store. Some lack enough sports facilities to meet the needs of their children and youth.

SONY DSCA while back we were without a local restaurant in our town. We have a small corner store/grocery store, a gas station, a liquor store, a bar, and a place to buy some snacks, but we didn’t have a place to sit down for a meal of meet someone for coffee. We do not even have the usual hockey arena. This limits where people can gather socially in town. We do have a great community hall that has activities every couple of months, but we needed a restaurant.

It opened up again just a few months ago. People were talking about it in the community and looking forward to it with great anticipation. The first week I was in there at least three different times. I met one man for coffee. I had breakfast with a community friend. I had lunch with a member of the church who leads my care group. There was a place to meet with people in a casual friendly way. Not everyone enjoys coming to the church office for a visit, but a community restaurant isn’t threatening at all.

Rural ministry needs places where one can meet with people to build relationships. Many of my meetings take place over a meal or a cup of coffee because there is something disarming and relaxing about enjoying a meal together. So I am very grateful for the local restaurant we have.

We Need More Scoring Chances

I was listening to a local sports talk show the other day. They were analyzing what happened for the Calgary Flames in the last game. One commentator said, ” They didn’t have enough scoring chances.” I had been thinking about how few new believers we have had in our little church in the last couple of years, and so I immediately thought about how this fits with our desire to have our friends come to know Jesus.

We need more scoring chances! We need to find ways of setting things up for a conversation about Jesus. I don’t mean we treat people like projects or statistics. Nothing like that. But we do want people to surrender their lives to Jesus. After all, the Bible is clear that if they do not, they are headed to hell. So we want to have conversations with our friends where we introduce them to Jesus. We wan to be able to talk about the prayer Jesus recently answered. We want to talk about the peace we experience as we are in relationship with Jesus. We want to talk about how our life with Jesus gives us a purpose beyond just the endless rat race of life.

hall12So we need more scoring chances. These will come as we intentionally connect with our friends. And as we are playing Dominion with them, or as we enjoy ice cream at Dairy Queen. These opportunities to talk with them about Jesus will come as we hang out together over the years talking about our kids and our holidays, maybe even sharing holidays together! We will find times to talk about Jesus as we go through tragedy’s and joys together. Opportunities will come as we continue to pray for them and love them and care for them. Some of those opportunities might come as we invite them to events at church.

Jesus loves our friends even more than we do. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He understands when we weep over our friends. And as we pray, Jesus has promised to send his Holy Spirit. Pray that the Father would draw our friends to Himself. Pray that the Spirit would open their eyes to the truth of Jesus. As we look for more opportunities to love our friends, the time will come where we can help them come to faith in Jesus!

Learning from Rural Pastors, from Duke, and from Billy Graham

I am having one of the greatest privileges of my life right now. I am writing while on a “field trip” to North Carolina.

I am on a team with 3 other pastors who lead the Rural Church Pastors Network. We have had the privilege of spending a couple of days with pastors and professors connected to the Duke Divinity School at Duke University. What a great opportunity to learn as we got to visit with three United Methodist pastors and learned how God was working in their churches. It was encouraging to see their passion for rural ministry, their joy of the Holy Spirit, and their love for what they are doing. We were able to sit in on a chapel at Duke as well as help lead a Rural Thriving Communities colloquium on the campus of Duke.

And now we had a day of touring both the Billy Graham Library and the Cove. These are a great tribute to the man and a celebration of what God has done as Billy has faithfully preached Jesus. Billy is nearing the end of his life, but there are many who are continuing the work and ministry of what was begun by his crusades years ago.

The four of us have been talking as we drive and as we eat meals together. It has been a great experience of sharing what we are hearing and learning and as we are listening to God for the future of the Rural Church Pastors Network. God has great things in store. We believe it. We are looking ahead with great anticipation!

VBS Still Draw Kids!

It has been a while since I actually helped with a Vacation Bible School even though our church has run one just about every summer, but it’s awesome! We have a great team and have had attendance that exceeded our expectations! Here are some of my thoughts about VBS.

It still draws kidsDSCN0168 DSCN0162

We have had more kids show up than we expected. In our small town of 650 with an attendance under 100 in our local elementary school, we thought we should plan for about 40. We had 34 show up the first day and new kids have come each day. We have now had close to 50, though not every kid has come every day! It still draws kids.

It’s worth doing

It’s worth doing. In a small town with not much happening, it offers something in town for the kids to do. I’m sure that part of why the parents send the kids is so they can have a few quiet hours at home. But it is worth doing because you can share the gospel with children, many of whom do not attend church regularly, if at all. It’s worth doing.

It’s worth doing well

Too often we do what we have always done and don’t take time to add in something new. I pushed our group to develop a team and to meet to plan things months in advance. It’s too easy to just expect things to work without putting in the effort. It’s worth doing well.

Make sure that it connects with the kids

Do your best to find a theme that connects with the kids. There are all kinds of great curriculum out there. Find something that will tell the salvation message but in a creative way. You want something that allows for great decorations and songs. Maybe your crafts and games can even tie into the theme. Make sure you connect with the kids.

Connect with the families

We have the privilege of meeting the parents or grandparents as they drop off their children. And we plan a Friday night Wrap Up Supper and Program specifically with the hopes that the parents will want to come see what their kids did all week and we will have the opportunity to meet them. Connect with the families.

Thank you ladies

Most VBS programs happen during the day. Most men work during the day. So thank you ladies. You are the ones who are leading VBS programs all across the country. If you have men in the church who can come and join in, do your best to get them involved. It’s great to have ladies, but the children benefit from seeing that the men are also part of the church activities. Thank you ladies.

It’s a great outreach

VBS still works in rural communities as a means of sharing the gospel message with the children of your church and community. The message come out in the songs and crafts as well as in the Bible stories. And the message can be shared briefly as part of the Wrap Up night so the parents hear it as well. It’s a great outreach.

Hey Church Guy!

What are you called? I don’t mean just your name, but what do people call you? I have a lot of labels. I’m Dad.  I’m Lion Andy (I’m part of the local Lions club). My pharmacist greets me, “Hi Henry”. The other day I was being introduced to a new neighbor just 3 houses down, when the lady from across the street – who doesn’t attend our church – yells across the street, “That’s our pastor!” I’m Pastor Andy. A boss I had when I worked at Zellers always called me Andrew. Henry is my first name but I go by my middle name, A100_0735ndrew, but that isn’t even quite right as I have always been called Andy.

The other day, one of the 4 yr. olds in church was trying to get my attention while I was talking with his mom so he said, “Hey Church Guy!” I like that. He wasn’t quite sure what to call me and only knew me as the guy at church, but he really wanted my attention.

People give us a label based on how they know us. So how do people know us? What is the name that people give you when you aren’t around and they are talking about you to someone else? Joe and Terry might call me neighbor. Rob might call me a friend. Gary might call me a fellow Lion.

My relationship with people determines what label they might give me. I guess Church Guy isn’t that bad. But I hope there are people in my circle of influence who see me as more than a church guy and more than a pastor and more than a fellow Lion but who see me as someone who loves them with the love of Jesus! Do I care for people? Do I take time to listen to what is going on in their life? They may not call be “Care-er”, but I would love it if they saw me as someone who cares. They may not call be “Confidant”, but I would hope they felt free to confide in me when they need someone. I don’t ever want them to call me “Jesus”, but wouldn’t it be great if they felt the love of Jesus through a friendship with me – or with you?

Get Rid of the Baby!

Here’s my challenge to you this Christmas. Get rid of the baby Jesus. The little plastic one in your nativity set. Throw him in the garbage – or if that seems to harsh – put him back in the box. When you set up your nativity scene – don’t include the baby Jesus.

Why would I say that?

Don’t you think it’s kind of weird that when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we always think of him in the manger? We celebrate the empty tomb at Easter, why not the empty manger at Christmas?Star-of-Bethlehem

When you celebrate your birthday do you always pull out the pictures of you in your crib? Happy 4th birthday! And you have a picture of you in your crib. Happy 16th birthday! And you have a picture of you in your crib on the Dairy Queen cake. Happy 24th birthday! By now you might have a baby of your own. Do you put a picture of you in your crib on display at your Birthday party with your friends? Do you pull out a picture of you in your crib at your 65th birthday?

I know, there is something really neat about that nativity scene we put up every year. Even the parts that aren’t really in the story – but hey – its tradition!

But my concern is that we forget that that baby grew up. He was the one who was crucified, and rose from the dead. He is the one who ascended into heaven. He is the one who said he was going to prepare a place for those who love him. He is preparing heaven right now!

So…if your “baby Jesus” is getting in the way of you remembering the grown up, risen, ascended Savior Jesus – then maybe you need to get rid of the “baby” Jesus and really get to know Jesus.

Let’s celebrate our Saviour this Christmas. Happy Birthday Jesus!

Which Hat Do I Put On Now?

We all wear all kinds of hats. The cowboy has his hat. The farmer wears a ball cap farmer hatpromoting a certain tractor or herbicide. A hockey player wears a helmet. The snowboarder has his toque.

And we function in many different roles. I’m a husband. I’m a father. I’m a neighbor. I’m a pastor. I’m a community board member. I’m a Lion in the Lion’s Club. I’m a friend. I’m a colleague. The average man or woman is all kinds of things at different times of the day or week.

But do we ever put on a “Christian” hat? Now I’m a Christian. Or is that the right way of thinking? I think too many of us see our “being a Christian” as a hat we wear at certain times. We don’t wear that hat to work or to play ball with the boys. We don’t wear that hat when we are “the husband”.

We act a certain way and speak  a certain language depending on what hat we wear. “Daddy” may speak baby language at home with the little one, technical language at work, and crude words when “one of the boys”.

And we have built a life that separates all the different roles into distinct worlds that do not cross over. It makes me think of a Seinfeld program from years ago where George doesn’t want to introduce his girlfriend to his friends because it’s “like two worlds colliding”. He doesn’t want one world to wreck the other world, so its easier to keep them separate.

So should we wear a Christian hat? And when we wear that hat we speak “christianese” and talk about prayer and Jesus and church – but we don’t let that world collide with the others?

I don’t think so. I think we should be like the sweat stain that a well worn hat gets. Whatever hat we may be wearing, our life as a Christian should be so “soaked in” that our life with Jesus is part of every role that we find ourselves in. farmer hat sweatyAt work we may wear our tough guy hard hat, but Jesus should be guiding our words and actions. In the neighborhood community association meeting we may be trying to wear a different hat, but again, Jesus should be in our interactions with everyone around us.

Christianity isn’t another hat to add to the collection but should be a part of our life, no matter what hat we wear. I wonder if we really understand that?

The Blessing of a Praise Offering!

My church has a great tradition that started before I arrived, in fact, I think it came from the mother church that planted us back in 1996. Every October we receive a Praise Offering and have a special Praise Sunday. This is a Sunday dedicated to Praise. We read Praise Psalms. We wrote praises on large posters on the side of the room. We sang praise songs. And took up a Praise Offering that was over and above our regular tithes and offerings each week or month. All this was followed by a great lunch together!

Our Praise Offering this Sunday brought in $15739.60, that’s about 11% or 12% of our total budget in one Sunday!! (and people can still add to that total over the next few weeks if they want) But our hope is not to need any of it for our General Fund Budget. We want to give at least a tithe (ten percent) of the Offering to something outside of ourselves. Here is how we are designating it:

  1. $850 goes to sponsor a nursing student in Africa who is going to use her training to move to an unreached part of her country
  2. $2000 will be given to a church plant we are part of. They had their first public service this past Sunday.
  3. $2000 will be set aside to find ways to “love on” our community or people in our community over the next year
  4. We will use what we need to cover Budget shortfall as there often is as we get to the end of the year
  5. The remainder will be put in our Building Project Fund

Everyone is always excited when those counting the money bring the little post-it-note with the total to me and I announce it as they are finishing up their lunch. This year again, there was great Praise even in the result of the Praise Offering.

Chili Brings Them Out!

I like planning events that the church can use to invite friends to church. Our most recent Chili invite 2013 picone was this past Sunday – our third annual Open House Sunday & Chili Cook off. We have our service – pretty much the same as usual. We added in a Chili Trivia Quiz and took time to announce our programs for the fall. We had a shorter sermon than usual and dismissed our children and youth during that time to be introduced to their classes. And then we had chili!

In our posters and invitations we announced that people could enter a chili in the chili Cook off. We had 18 entries! And 4 of P1030472them were from people in the community who have never been to a church service before! One couple had been to our children’s choir presentation in December. We had all kinds of chili. The have to name their chili so we had names like Blazing Saddles, Divine Intervention, Chili Sundae, Hillbilly Chili, and even Chilly Chili which was a Chocolate pudding and marshmallow “dessert” chili. We planned for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prize prizes – $100 to a nearby train car restaurant, $20 Tim Horton’s card, and a BIG chocolate bar. Everyone got to try all the chilies and then vote for their favorite.

It was a great morning. Our average attendance is around 60 and we had 92 people out. We had at least 20 new people! Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun! During the service, the gospel was presented as one young man shared his testimony and also through the sermon.

And now the people who came are promoting our church and our event to others! One ladies writes a blog and she posted a very favorable entry about the whole event.

Our desire is that these events will do two things: 1. help people to invite their unsaved family and friends, and 2. that the event will help all who come take one step closer to Jesus. Many people today want to Belong before they come to Believe. We think this morning helped to make people feel welcomed. We’ll see what God does with this one fun event.

Plan It Well!

Our church does a few annual “Big Days” or special events.

We begin the fall season with an “Open House Sunday & Chili Cook-Off”. This is our “kickoff” to the new season. We invite our friends and family and announce the event 6510028_origeverywhere we can. People can take special invitations to give out with all the details on them. This is the Sunday we announce our Care Groups and begin our Children’s Ministry. People prepare their favorite chili’s and people get to try all of them and vote on the one they like the best. A silly prize is given out.

Christmas Eve is one of the common ones among many of us. We usually have a full house as we celebrate with the Christmas story and carols. We’ve had hot apple cider for after which has gone over very well.

We always try to make the Sunday before Family Day a big event. We again prepare invitations for people to hand out. The day begins with a pancake breakfast – actually this year it was waffles and sausages. And we always have some kind of fun activity to do together. We have played “Name that Tune”. This last time we moved chairs to the side and played some “Sunday School Picnic” type of games before we had an abbreviated service.

3943719_orig 2040929_origOur Easter Eggstravaganza takes place at the community hall. This has been a big hit for our community. We have had up to 250 people and we usually average 60 at our regular services! Again, we give out invitations, have a few fun activities, offer free family pictures by a local photographer, and have activities on the tables. We do a breakfast, an Easter service, and then the Easter Egg hunt for the kids.

While we do other things, these are a couple of our big ones. And we try our best to plan them well!! I’ve developed a checklist template that guides our planning.

How to plan a Big Day well:

  • Special Day Details: Event ____________/ Date _____________/ Time ______________
  • Purpose: Why are we doing this? We need to be clear of why we are doing the event and what we are hoping to accomplish.
  • Food: Food – usually there is food. What will it be? Who will prepare it? Who will buy it? Will it be served? etc.
  • Service: What will the church service look like? Will kids be part of it? Will the sermon address a related theme to the special day? Will there be testimonies? What about special music or scripture readings? Any video clips? How will the Gospel be presented? How will a “decision” be asked for? How will people be invited back to regular services or church activities?
  • Activity Details: What will the activity be with this Big Day? Who will plan it? Who will run it? Where can we do it? Is there any special planning needed?
  • Promotion/ Publicity: Are posters being printed? Where will they go? Who will put them up? Are invitations being printed? Will they be ready at least 3 Sundays before the event so they can be handed out to the congregation for them to use? Any advertising in the local paper? What about a sandwich board in front of the church? Can we send some papers home through the local school?
  • Set up/Take down: What tables and chairs need to be put up? Who will do that? Who will put them away? Are there decorations to put up? Who can do that?
  • Take Home: What will people take home? It’s always good to send people home with something. A Bible? A little gift? A Jesus DVD?
  • Contact Information: How will we gather information from new people who attend? One thing that we have used quite often has been a Connection Card where we ask them to fill out their information and leave it on the tables. Or you can have a “Guess how many Jelly Beans” Jar and ask them to fill out their information along with their guess as to how many candies in the jar. Remember to give the candies out to the closest guess.
  • Prayer Plan: How will the church be praying for this event? What prayer reminder can you give people? I’m thinking of giving everyone a Chili Bean in September to remind them to pray for our Open House and Chili Cook-off event.
  • Photography: Is anyone going to take pictures for later? Who? How will they be stored? Who will get them onto the church website and Facebook page?
  • Budget: It’s a good idea to build a little budget before the event so you can plan your spending. Remember that you can always bring some money back in through charging a little – if appropriate – or through asking for church or community sponsors. We’ve had different opportunities to partner with community groups who like certain events we are doing and they are willing to help support them
  • Celebrate: How will you thank your people afterward for all their prayer and invitations and hard work? How will you let people know what actually took place? How many new people? How many new conversions?

I hope you have many great events, events that are fun, that bring friends out, and invite those present into a relationship with Jesus!