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Monday, October 31, 2005

Why Church Planters Do What They Do

Motivation One of my favorite blogs to read is Gary Lamb's.  Gary is a church planter and loves to blog about the ups and downs of church planting.  He's a sharp guy.  Last week, Gary talked about some things that he's heard people say about progressive church planters that drives him crazy.  He shares some of this in a self-described 'rant' on his blog.  See if you can sense his frustration...

I have something that has been bugging me for a few weeks so I wanted to post on it. There is a mindset out there against pastors/planters that are doing more progressive church. They call us Church growth people. They say we are in it for the money. We are in it because it draws a crowd. We are in it because it is easier. Blah, Blah, Blah.You can't be serious.

Logically that just doesn't make sense.

I think one of the greatest myths about the type of church we are doing is that it leads to church growth. That simply isn't true. I know as many small church plants as I do established churches. They say that 2 out of 3 church plants will close by their second year. In our area there are several church plants. A couple are doing well. The majority of them are running very very low numbers. I don't say that to be mean, I just say it as a fact. A more progressive style of church is not a sure thing when it comes to building a church. The largest churches in our area are county seat churches. So if I wanted to just build a church, I could have taken an established one and tried to build it. So to say we do it for church growth is not a very smart or well thought out comment.

"Yeah but what about the money?" This is the one that makes me laugh the hardest. People actually think we start churches for the money???? HA!!!!! If I was in this for the money, I would have taken an established church. I have several friends who run less then half in attendance then we do, yet they make more then double what I do. When Tadd and I started RSC we were making I think $100 a week from the church. Trust me, we didn't do it for the money. The average established church in America gets about $21 a person on Sunday mornings. We just hit the $13 a person mark. We are teaching on giving right now but I don't ever expect our giving to reach more then about $16 a person because if it gets higher that shows me we aren't reaching unchurched people. If you saw how my wife and I lived last year, you would know we don't do this for the money.

As far as being easier. Nope. There is nothing easy about a church plant. We set up and tear down every week. Every Saturday we wonder if people are going to show up. We are the pastor, IT guy, graphic designer, etc. Pastoring an established church isn't easy either but it would be a lot easier sometimes to find a church that didnt have to deal with the stuff we deal with.

The fact is we don't do church the way we do to be cool. I am sure some do but they don't last very long. We do it because we think people are dying and going to hell. Because of that conviction, we feel as if we must do WHATEVER it takes to reach these people. I could care less about doing church the way we do it. If there was another way to reach lost people, we would do it. I admit I take it personally when people say these things because I know what fuels me and the church planters I know is very simply that fact that we have a burning desire to reach those people that would never darken the door of an established church. That is it. I don't care about anything else. We don't do it for the money, because it easier, because it is the way to build a church, we simply do it because people need to hear the message of Jesus Christ.

Every Monday I am so worn out I can barely get out of bed. Every Monday I tell my wife that I just want to find a small mountain church where all I have to do is preach three times a week and visit the members and get a paycheck. Every Monday I just want to find a place where they don't want the pastor to be the leader, have a vision or reach lost people. Sounds a lot easier to me. Then DeAnna reminds me that yes I could do that but that I would die a slow death. She is right. She always is.

As long as people are dying and going to hell and the % of people attending church is dropping I am going to keep on doing church in a relevant and creative way whether other people, especially other pastors like. I didn't start Ridge Stone for them.

I'm with Gary.  Those who read MMI much at all know my disdain for all those who poo poo against those people who are trying (and being effective) in reaching the lost.  If they're doing something differently that we would, we criticize.  If they're a part of a multi-site church; we say they should just plant a church.  If they plant a church, we say they're doing it for alterior motives, to make a buck, to grow a mega-church, to satisfy their ego, etc.  Argh.

Gary... I applaud your efforts... and I know God does too (no matter what others may think, and even have the nerve to write and say to your face).  I hope you continue to get up every Monday morning remembering the end result of your sacrifice... a growing Kingdom of God right there in your community.

Now... MY rant is done!


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October 31, 2005 in Leadership Issues | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

We Count People Because People Count

Hand_counter Mark Waltz has a great post over at his blog.  Mark is one of the pastors at Granger Community Church.  He's in charge of 'first impressions' there.  In this post, Mark discusses his perspective when it comes to counting people and measuring success.  Seems pretty balanced to me... see what you think...

It's not profoundly new or newly profound. It's not profound. It's not new. For critics of the mega-church or the seeker-sensitive church (again, I prefer "Jesus-focused and people-sensitive"), the issue of counting seems to be profoundly old and irrelevant, but that's another post.

Rather, I bring it up again because I'm wrestling with what I've allowed to transpire over the past year or so as I've led our teams to help connect our members and attendees in group and ministry team relationships. But before I get there, I offer the reminder that there are two categories of measurement for what any organization tracks when evaluating success (success is always about accomplishing stated goals, objectives, mission - and every church should have those):

  • Hard measurements -  visible, identifiable, trackable numbers and percentages
  • Soft-side measurements - feedback, stories that reveal perception, and in the case of the local church, life change

Here's the wrestling match for me. I swung the measurement pendulum so far to the soft-side to validate the power of story among relationships that no one on my team (including me) expected the hard measurements to be inspected. Remember: what's expected gets inspected.

So, I'm revisiting both sets of measurement tools: hard and soft. They both matter. Numbers are people - always people. And people matter. They matter to God and they matter to us. Period. A great story from a person is just that - it's great! But, when charged with the responsibility to create environments for people to connect to each other and Christ,  who and how many of our people are stepping toward Christ in those environments will determine whether or not we even hear stories of life change.

Part of the challenge for us at Granger is that we teach and encourage relationships - not merely groups. We have groups, we create groups, we have a group ministry; but we strive to practice authentic, caring, Christ-honoring relationships. Groups are a method, not the essence. This means that establishing a target is challenging. What number in group relationships is "success" or sufficient?

So, I'm curious. Since people matter - what are you measuring in your group environments? What are the gages you're putting in the pipeline to read outcomes? How are you filtering and communicating stories of life change from those relationships?


Mark asks some great questions... what do you measure?  how do you communicate life change stories in your church or small group?  Let's hear it!

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October 31, 2005 in Outreach and Evangelism | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Overworked Pastors vs. Lazy Pastors

Lazy Scott Williams is a former pastor who now looks back at his professional career differently.  He's posting a series called "I Was Wrong"... today's subject is the work load that he had while he was a pastor... see what you think...

ministers love to brag about how overworked they are.

it has been difficult for me to start this blog inasmuch as, of all the confessions i have made in this series, this one hits the closest to home. i have been grossly negligent in this area. for 20 years of ministry i have used this crutch to excuse all manner of laziness, poor scheduling, inadequate preparation and relational aloofness. and i'm not alone.

everything is work time. including blogging. and coffee with friends. and shopping and driving and phone calls and reading and praying and talking and writing and visiting and planning and napping and thinking and answering emails and surfing the net and going to the bank and reading the paper. many of you have full time jobs that you come home from in order to make it to the church on time for any number of reasons. i usually had a nice nap before the meeting because i would be putting in extra time.

on many levels it is an amazing life. you are your own boss. you can literally blow off weeks, even months, without anyone really knowing. all you need to do is be unavailable, look a little haggard and constantly whine about how busy you are and no one will know. trust me, i've tried it.

pastors love to point out how busy we are. we NEVER say that things are slack. pastors realize that people don't think they work much and there is something ingrained in their psychie that must justify their existence. it is frustrating to have people constantly make fun of you for working "one hour a week".

it is not as though some pastors do not get their hours in. many work chaotic shifts and are barraged by demands and complaints for which there is no obvious solutions. pastors complain that they are always working, which is an exaggeration, but even if that is true - they may be working but not always working hard. and frankly, a ton of pastors i know are just lazy. there is said it. i could give you lots of names.

my name would sometimes be on that list as well.

many pastors would react to reading this words. some are justified. others simply do not know or remember what it is like to have a real job. they live in a bubble of pseudo-activity and flexible scheduling. no one yells at them everyday at work. they don't have to drive 2 hours to get to the job site. they don't have to get up early, or pack a lunch, or listen to complaints all day. they can shut off their phone and not be fired. they don't get disciplined for being 10 minutes late to work. they can deduct their mortgage from their taxible income. they can write off any activity or expense. they are the only one paid to be at a funeral.

this is a very one-sided blog but i have, on many occasions, bemoaned the struggles of the pastor's life. it can be a very difficult vocation. very few people have, however, discussed the other side of the equation - the incredible perks, the lack of tangible accountability, the accolades, the tax breaks.

and right now i'm not even getting paid to blog.

OK, current and former pastors... any truth here?

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October 31, 2005 in Leadership Issues | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Attention All Church Staff: Make Today Count

KyleheadshotYesterday brought the tragic news of the unexpected death of Pastor Kyle Lake of University Baptist Church in Waco, TX.  Kyle was electrocuted when touching a microphone in the baptismal pool.  Kyle was an extremely gifted leader and a loved pastor at UBC. 

Events like this happen every once in a while, and they really cause me to take a time out and ponder many different things.  Of course, the obvious questions like, "Why, God, would you allow this to happen" are at the top of my mind.  But, quite honestly, I know that there probably won't be an answer to that one.  I do know, though, that there is peace in knowing God is still in control, even in this situation.

When things like this happen, it also reminds me that none of us really know how much time we have left.  That gives me a real sense of urgency to make every day count.  Just as Kyle never thought yesterday would be his last day of ministry, neither did Pastor Don Brown.  I shared his story with you just a little over a year ago.  Here's what I wrote then...

When Pastor Don Brown got behind the pulpit on August 10th, 2005, he had no idea that he would preach the most profound sermon of his life. He also didn't know that it would be the last sermon he would ever preach.

Pastor Don had just finished speaking on "Why bad things happen to good people" from the book of Job. As the congregation of First Baptist Church in Creedmoor, NC sang the closing song (Face to Face), Pastor Don told his Associate Pastor, Eddie Mauldin, that he "felt a little pain"; then walked out of the sanctuary. Mauldin recalls, "When he said that to me, I didn't give it a second thought because of his casual nature." After the closing prayer, church members found Pastor Don had died on the floor of the church library...

We have no idea why God chooses to work the way He does sometimes. Many times His plans for us just don't seem to make any sense at all. Sometimes devastating times do come to those who strive to do good...

Look at some of what Paul says in II Corinthians 1 (from The Message):

"He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort--we get a full measure of that, too. When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation... Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you're just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you're going to make it, no doubt about it... Now that the worst is over, we're pleased we can report that we've come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world--and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn't by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised."

If you're going through a tough time in ministry, take heart. God has a plan, and you're in it! The key is to run the race and to finish well. Just like Pastor Don did last year, and Kyle just yesterday.

Face to face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face--what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ Who died for me?

Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by!

Take a moment to pray for UBC; and particulary Kyle's family (wife Jen; and their 5 year old daughter, and 3 year old twin boys).  I'm sure it will be a long road to recovery for them.


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October 31, 2005 in Leadership Issues | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Pray for University Baptist Today

What a horrible tragedy.  I just read that Pastor Kyle Lake of University Baptist Church in Waco, TX was electrocuted this morning while doing a baptism.  This happened during a service with about 800 people in attendance.  Kyle leaves behind a wife, Jen, and three children.

Let's pray for Kyle's wife and family; but also the large church family that Kyle leaves behind.  There is going to be a long road of recovery, I am sure.

Who knows why God chooses to work the way He does?  I'm not God, and I sure don't understand.  I'm sure alot of people are asking these questions tonight as well. 


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October 30, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, October 28, 2005

Todd: Peacemaker or Warmonger?

Tank (MY APOLOGIES:  Typepad is having some major issues this week, and it's not formatting my paragraphs correctly on this post (which makes a little less enjoyable to read... sorry).

OK... get ready for a rant.  I don't often rant much (go off on any subject that really gets me irked)... but today I guess I'm just in the mood to let it out!  :)

Got an interesting email on the whole HYBELS:  Don't Ever Think This is Normal post.  An MMI reader wrote me to say:

I use to blog at MMI and I greatly offended another blogger, so I stopped.  It was perceived as hateful due to my view of God and yet I believed I was giving great hope in my advice, interesting isn't it?  I like checking in from time to time to see what's being bantered about and this caught my eye.  When I saw your "unbelievable" response to what had been posted I was curious as to why you didn't embrace even a particle of the hurt that had been expressed from the "elm and vine" church goer???  You've always been such the peacemaker!!
God bless 
Great email... and it deserves a response.  Do I automatically endorse the megachurch and denounce the smaller "elm and vine" church?  No.  But I do side where I see God working.
Here are the two extremes expressed, first in the blog comment by Bill Hybels and later in the comments by Jim, Ricky (and others).
BILL HYBELS:  ""You may think that a church that cares for lost people is normal.  The average church on the corner of Elm and Vine doesn't give a flying rip about people far from God. They're an annoyance. They use bad words. They sleep in the wrong bed. They drink too much booze. They're an annoyance."
Is this a legitimate comment?  In my opinion, yes... and here's why I think so:
I live in rural Ohio.  There are just 35,000 people in my county.  Yet there are over 120 churches.
That's one church for ever 300 people.
Grasp that.  One church for every 300 people.
And you want me to defend the 'elm and vine' church?
Jim, who wants some sympahty for the smaller church, called the 'elm and vine' church a 'crap hole'. 
He describes the church he works in as being "full of old people who are doing their best to get out of bed and get to worship on Sunday mornings - they minister to one another while watching each other die of old age."
This to me sounds nothing like a healthy church.  Nothing at all.
Jim continues... "What does that say for the poor pathetic pastor who will never live up to the "Big Guys" in the ministry? Is he any less of a pastor? Should he live with the stigma that he shoulda/coulda done better? My heavens…what will my family think of me? Never enough money in the bank because he chooses, or maybe… No… it may be that God has placed him in that annoying, bad word using, sleeping "in the wrong bed", booze drinking, crap hole of a body of believers at "Elm and Vine".
Does ministry happen at 'elm and vine'?  Sure.  Christians... even old, dying Christians need to be ministered to.
But that was not the essence of Hybels remarks.  Bill simply said:
"The average church on the corner of Elm and Vine doesn't give a flying rip about people far from God."
Sorry, but I have to agree with this statement.  Most of the 120 churches in my county obviously don't.  They may have good intentions. There may be people involved that do.  But corporately, as a church, they don't.  There's no way they could, or else this would be a way different place to live.
Let me ask this question... and turn the negative into a positive...
"What if the average church on the corner of Elm and Vine DID give a flying rip about people far from God?"
Think about that for minute.
Do I have any sympathy for the small 'crap hole' churches?  To be honest... not a lot.  And not any, when they strive to defend themselves for being small and dead and at the same time criticize the churches (of any size) for making converts and developing disciples.
Let me repeat that... (this is my rant!)...I don't have any sympathy for churches when they strive to defend themselves for being small and dead (ministering to people as they die off) and at the same time criticize the churches (of any size) for making converts and developing disciples.
I know many great people; and even good Christians, who spend their lives in this type of church.  Many are striving for change... to turn the place around.  Some have gotten tired and given up.  But I often wonder why they waste their time with a group of people (God's people, none the less) who really don't care 'a rip' about the lost.
Because, you see, if the 120 churches in my little county in Ohio started giving a rip, this would be a different county.  We wouldn't have 100+ churches fighting for their very existence while 20 other churches carry most all of the kingdom growth (and 20 is being probably very generous).
You see... then it comes right down to it... I'm going to side with the church that reaches out and reaches the unchurched.  Always.
CedarCreek (who the article was written about) has gone from 20 people to over 6,000 people in just ten years.  Literally thousands have been introduced to Christ through this ministry.  Thousands are currently being discipled.  I will support that and lift that up high as an example.  I'm sorry; but all the criticism ('are they REAL converts'; 'it's just transfer growth'; 'they've watered down the gospel to please man'; all the mega-church bashing, etc.) are really old arguements that hold no water with me.  The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
So, what if you're in one of these churches that doesn't get a rip?  My suggestion is to find a good church that does.  Warning:  this may not be an easy task.
What if you're a pastor in such a church (as are many of our readers here)?  I in no way want you to think I'm talking down to you, because that is not the case.  I agree that God has you where you are for a reason.  Minister.  Lead Change.  Do whatever you can to make your church 'give a rip'.  God ministers through all sizes and type of churches.  God doesn't love the mega-church more than your church.  Stay strong; and allow God to use you in your current ministry and He chooses to bless you.  All I ask is that you don't start defending small churches that have no interest in reaching the lost.  Please don't be content to be in this segment of our churches.
OK... I've ranted enough.  This was kind of on the fly... so hopefully everything makes sense.  I eagerly await your replies.  I'm wearing my thick skin today, so I should be able to take the criticism that this post will probably almost certainly bring.
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October 28, 2005 in Leadership Issues | Permalink | Comments (68) | TrackBack

Jesus Gifts: Merry Christmas

Bobblehead Are you like me?  Do you have anyone in your family that gets you a gift with Jesus on it for Christmas?  Jesus figurines (I never thought I was a figurine kind of guy); Jesus shirts; Books with the name Jesus in the Title... this is crazy.

Well, I just found something that I'm sure someone will get me this year.  And I can't wait!  (NOT!)

Check this out... I laughed when I saw it... thought it was a joke... but it's realer than real!  (And I'm sure that one of my distant loved ones will think it's the perfect gift!




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October 28, 2005 in For What It's Worth | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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October 28, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Pastor: Do You Live in a Bubble?

Bubbly Scott Williams is a former pastor who now looks back at his professional career differently.  Here's an interesting post... see what you think... Do you live in a bubble?

career ministers have absolutely no idea what the real world is like.

i remember a small group where i was pontificating the difference between men and women. i told the ladies present that when guys get together, away from their wives, they will usually talk about deep stuff, given the chance.

it was at this juncture that my male friend terry, who rarely said anything, looked at me square in the face and said something like, "what are you saying? normal guys aren't like that..." of course, being the idiot i was i argued with him. he continued to look at me like i was from another planet. he meekly told me that the guys he hangs out with are nothing like the touchy-feely guys i must talk to. it has bothered me to this day.

i didn't live in the real world as a minister. by my very presence i seemed to dictate how conversations would go. people acted different around me, hard to imagine. i asked penetrating questions that other guys would get laughed at for asking. i had license. i was a priest of sorts. people expected me to talk weird.

since leaving the pulpit i have begun to notice a subtle change in the way people talk to me and around me. i noticed this recently when i was standing at the back in church and people were gossiping right beside me... about the way the church was being run. in the 'before time' i would have never been privy to such a conversation.

ministers believe they have a firmer grasp on the human condition than most of those around them. they truly believe that they are paid to ask the big questions, to study humanity, to figure things out. it is not surprising then that they start to form elitist opinions about how people should behave, what they should think, and why things are the way they are.

it is hard for me to admit that i have had my head in the clouds much of my professional life. normal people did not think the same way i did. i based countless sermons on a misguided understanding of reality. if pastors live in a glass bubble then it is also true that they live in a nerf one. they are padded from much of what is really going on. sure they see the most graphic portrayals of sin, but only as an empathetic outsider. add to this the growing trend among pastors to demand better salaries, the prevalence of home-schooling and christian schools, the privileged positions they maintain in society, and you don't have a person who is anything like the welder he or she is trying to "reach".

What do you think?  Do you live in a bubble?    Are you able to think the same way as 'normal' people?  Does Scott's theory have any truth?

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October 28, 2005 in Leadership Issues | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 27, 2005

HYBELS: Don't Ever Think This is Normal

Cedarcreek Last week at the Multi-Site Conference, I had the opportunity to meet Pastor Lee Powell of CedarCreek Church near Toledo, OH (right in my back yard!).  CedarCreek's story is amazing... they are just celebrating their 10th anniversary and have grown over those years from a small core group to over 6,000 people worshipping every weekend.  Here's a great article featured recently in The Toledo Blade that discussed their anniversary celebration (featured Willow Creek Pastor Bill Hybels).

I really like Hybel's words to the CedarCreek family...  ""My greatest fear," he told the crowd, "is for you to think this is normal. This is so not normal."  In other words, God is working here in a great way... in a way that most churches and pastors only dream about... take delight in they way God is blessing you, but don't take it for granted.

Great advice. 

CedarCreek is hosting a "Change Without Compromise" conference November 1 (next week), if any of you are interested.  Wish I could get away that day!

Here's some of the rest of the article..

It was a different kind of "Blue Light Special." Kmart's signature sales gimmick had nothing to do with this illuminating event.

At a 10th anniversary celebration of CedarCreek Church last weekend, the Rev. Lee Powell asked those whom the church has led to become "fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ" to pick up blue-tinted penlights from the banquet tables and turn them on.

Suddenly, many hundreds of soft blue lights began glowing among the crowd of 1,500 who had gathered in the SeaGate Convention Centre.

It was a rare opportunity for mere mortals to get a glimpse into the spiritual world.

"My heart skipped a beat," Pastor Powell said afterward. "That's what it's all about for us. It makes all the work and all the years of laboring and all the praying and struggling - it just makes it all worth it."

The Rev. Bill Hybels, the keynote speaker and founder of the "seeker-sensitive" church model on which CedarCreek is based, had a catch in his voice and a tear in his eye when he stepped up to the microphone.

"I can't imagine how heaven felt," Mr. Hybels said of the blue lights, bringing to mind the Bible verse in Luke 15:7 that says, "There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent."

Mr. Hybels, whose 20,000-member Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, is a globe-trotting pastor who keeps a close watch on the way churches are impacting lives and cultures.

"What you're living right now is what Christian leaders all around the world - most of them, anyway - only dream about," he told the CedarCreek crowd. "They pray that they would see it in some fractional form, and most die without ever seeing it. And in 10 years, you've seen more - more redemption, more reconciliation, more compassion, more joy, more stories of God touching lives - than most churches have seen in their entire existence."

Mr. Hybels paused, his voice dripping with emotion. This is a man who has committed his life to bringing the Gospel to "unchurched" people - those who don't attend and have no interest in going to church because the church has let them down or turned them off at some point in their lives.

"My greatest fear," he told the crowd, "is for you to think this is normal. This is so not normal."

Ten years' worth of statistics bear him out.

CedarCreek began with a core group of 20 people who started the planning process in 1994, and on Oct. 8, 1995, when the church held its first service, 195 people attended.

In the fall of 1997, attendance was 300. Then the numbers really began to climb: 1,100 in 1999; 2,400 in 2001; 3,000 in 2002; 5,000 last year, and about 6,000 this year - with 10,000 at its seven Easter services. Not surprisingly, CedarCreek was named one of the nation's fastest-growing churches.

It's not just a matter of numbers, it's the lives they represent - those "blue light specials."

And the growth continues. In March, CedarCreek will open a satellite church in Monclova Township with worship pastor Kyle Gray serving as lead pastor.

"You may think that a church that cares for lost people is normal," Mr. Hybels said. "The average church on the corner of Elm and Vine doesn't give a flying rip about people far from God. They're an annoyance. They use bad words. They sleep in the wrong bed. They drink too much booze. They're an annoyance."

And yet the Bible shows time and again how Jesus cared for outcasts and sinners.

CedarCreek's style, from the casual dress and coffee cup holders to the video screens and screaming rock music, may not be for everyone. But everyone can learn from its commitment to reaching people and changing lives.

Any comments?

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October 27, 2005 in Church Growth | Permalink | Comments (42) | TrackBack