Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easter Impact!

Easter is THIS Sunday. It hardly seems possible. We have been planning for months and the time has finally arrived. We begin a new message series this weekend called "Desperate Households." The message for this Sunday is "Desperate for Hope." Every human being longs for something more and seeks hope that the struggles they face can ultimately be overcome. This Sunday will be a day filled with hope for all of our families. Easter is a day of hope. Here is how Eugene Peterson paraphrased some of Paul's profound words in 1 Corinthians 15:

If there is no resurrection, there's no living Christ. And fact it - if there's no resurrection for Christ, everything we've told you is smoke and mirrors... If corpses can't be raised, then Christ wasn't, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ wasn't raised, then all you're doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It's even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they are already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

But God doesn't just resurrect bodies, he resurrects lives. He resurrects relationships. He resurrects families. The power of Easter is available for us NOW. We are Easter people. We are people with a living hope. That hope will be the foundation of our experience this Sunday at our 9:00 and 11:00 gatherings. We expect our campus to be buzzing with hundreds of people, some coming for the very first time.

Please come this Sunday with the intent of reaching out to new people. Even if the service really rings a bell for them (and we pray that it will), the most important impression will be the one you make. The most important word will be the one that you speak. Please continue to pray for "divine opportunities" to invite family and friends that are far from God. Eighty-two percent of those who are invited to church by someone they already know will say yes. Your gracious words could be catalytic in changing someone's life now and forever. I can hardly wait to see what God is going to do as we gather in His name to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior.

"He is risen. He is risen, indeed!"


Monday, March 30, 2009

Still Trying to Take It In!

Yesterday was a great day. I'm still trying to take it all in. We launched our second worship gathering - not really knowing what to expect - and God blew us away AGAIN.

We had 230 people worship with us Sunday. There were lots of new faces. Both services were nearly identical in adult attendance (there were 15 more people at 11:00 than at 9:00).

Sean hit it out of the park with the message and the praise team did a great job at both services.

I know that two gatherings means more work - you are all living proof of that. But it also provides more opportunities for us to "connect real people to the real God for real change." Thanks for all you are doing...Praise God for what He has done!

I'll be praying over those invite cards you took home yesterday. Easter is only two weeks away. These are desperate times - please pass those cards on to those you know who are "Desperate for Hope."

This Sunday I'll wrap up our "Famous Last Words" series with Jesus' ultimate expression of "FAITH". I hope to see you there. Bring a friend. It's not that hard...simply invite.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ramblings From An Incredible Weekend!

I literally could not sleep last night with images of the weekend still bouncing around in my head.
Friday was Prayerfest. Our members came and made their way through six stations praying for every aspect of our church's life and ministry. Every time that we have chosen to pray, really pray, God has responded.

We had a huge turnout for our workday on Saturday. At one point I counted 15 people painting together in the Heartland room. That doesn't include those working in the Pulse space, offices, auditorium and outside. A number of really cool upgrades are happening.

We closed the day with a great crowd of regulars and newcomers for our Pizza Throwdown. We had one new family show up @ Community for the first time for that event. She even brought a dessert to enter in the competition - and she placed third out of sixteen entries. They were back Sunday morning and attended our LIFE Group last night. They found us through our website... and were drawn by our Heart 4 the Homeless and Adopted in Him ministries. While they were on our website they saw pictures of people they already knew... and couldn't wait till Sunday to join us.

Speaking of Sunday morning - are you kidding me!!!! At one point one of our ushers was trying to find seats together for a family of three...and there weren't any. Our second service is coming right on time. Chris and the team led us in an awesome time of worship and God moved in powerful ways. Remember to pray for Bob, who has been far from God for years, and came home yesterday after being reminded of God's forgiving heart. Pray for the Smiths, who a mourning the loss of a young family member who was murdered last week while working for the Peace Corp in Africa. As we stop just "going to church" and start "being the church" we will be in over our heads in "real-life" issues in people's lives. But this is exactly where God wants us to be.

By all accounts, this was a great weekend for our congregation. Our children's ministries and youth ministries are still buzzing about everthing that transpired. The meeting for training those to who are greeting our newcomers was packed yesterday afternoon and volunteer roles are filling fast.

I just want to close by saying thanks to those who who are working so hard and offering countless hours and resources to God's work here at Community. I feel blessed to be serving Jesus alongside you. Have a great week.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What Can I Do To Help?

I know many of you believe that adding the second service is critical to the growth of our ministry at Community. It is an exciting, somewhat intimidating, next step on our journey. So, the question arises, what are some simple things each of us can do to help ensure adding this second worship gathering is successful. I'll to give you a short list, then elaborate more in the coming weeks. Our launch is currently 23 days away. Here goes...
  1. If you don't have kids in Heartland, consider attending the 9:00 AM service. Heartland will only be offered at the11:00 AM worship gathering. It likely will not be difficult for us to fill the 11:00 gathering again. Yet, our goal is to have at least half of the chairs full during each worship time. Studies say the likelihood of success is increased dramatically if we can fill 50% of the seats. It will be easy to choose a service for convenience - or getting a little extra sleep. We're asking you to make you choice based on God's mission here.
  2. Please plan on attending one worship time and serving during the other. This is a great opportunity to be able to attend the first worship time and serve in Heartland during the second. A lot of servants here are already pulling double duty - and have been for a while. We can definitely use your help. We will need growing numbers of volunteers to serve the folks God is bringing our way. There will be a number of service opportunities during each service. Nursery workers will be needed during both services. If kids aren't your thing, consider serving as a greeter, traffic/parking assistant, chair mover, etc. or just mingle in the foyer between services intentionally greeting newcomers.
  3. Invite, Invite, Invite. This is probably the most intimidating, yet most critical thing any of us can do. If we just split the people we currently have, it won't be good. But, if we commit to making room - and inviting others to fill it again - more people will have an opportunity to connect with God and His people. To help as you offer invitations, this Sunday we will be providing attractive Invite Cards for the launch of our Second Worship Gathering. Next week we will have Invite Cards for our Easter series. We hope you'll use them to Simply Invite...
  4. Attend our Work Day on March 14th. Come and get your hands dirty. We have a ton of work to complete before our move to a second service and in our prep for Easter. We can really use your help from 8:00 to 3:00. It's a great way to help the church and work up an appetite for the Pizza Throwdown.
  5. Provide a financial gift to assist in upgrading our facilities. I even hate to mention this because, in difficult economic times, you continue to be incredibly generous. Yet, the truth is, the upgrades to our children's and youth spaces and our parking lot will cost some extra money. What we are able to do will depend on the funds available. So, if God has blessed you with some extra funds, via a tax refund, saving, etc. and you can supply some help in addition to your tithe, we will put it to use creating inviting spaces on our campus. Just place any gift in the offering plate on Sunday. Please do whatever you feel God is leading you to do.
Please pray with your family about how you will contribute to the success of our second worship time. Adding this worship will provide you options. I pray God will lead you to not simply to enjoy these options yourself - but will guide you to seize this kingdom opportunity to reach and serve others who are far from God. I'm excited to see what God will do with our offering...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Why Will Our Two Worship Gatherings Be Exactly The Same!

Reason 1:
The primary reason our additional worship will be identical to our current one is that we believe God is blessing what we are currently doing. Most of our guests seem to love our worship and it is meaningful to nearly all regular attenders. It other words, what we are currently doing is becoming increasingly relevant to our surrounding culture.

Here's what I believe: God expects us to make the message of Jesus relevant to the culture we engage in Salisbury, MD in 2009. He will hold us accountable for doing this. Most churches are dying because they have refused to embrace this principle. Many have chosen to address the 60's, 70's or 80's head-on, and are suffering the consequences. Our message (Jesus) never changes. The modes and methods of communicating Him must adapt to become relevant to the culture in which we live.

I have heard a couple of people express a desire to shape our additional service to be more "traditional." This would mean more hymns and a service more like what they had experienced growing up, or at some point in their past. This would make some of us who have been in church most of our lives more comfortable and the worship time more enjoyable.

Here are my issues with proposal: (1) longing to experience something from the past is usually what draws people's attention away from what God is trying to do with them in the present; (2) traditional worship, by its very nature, seeks to engage the past rather than the culture we presently live in; and (3) our leaders are striving to be mission-driven and not member-driven. In other words, we will always ask, "What will help us fulfill the mission Jesus has given us" rather than "I wonder what our members would like us to do" or "what would make our members most comfortable." I think beginning a more traditional worship experience would be a decision to make a subset of our members happy, rather than a decision based on the mission of Jesus. Let me say this though: I think hymns, which are upgraded to a contemporary style have the potential to be very relevant. Doing this provides the double blessing of being both relevant and a connection to our Christian heritage. You'll notice we have begun to do this occasionally in our worship.

Reason 2.
I think a decision to segregate our church members based on the style of worship music they prefer, rather than unite them around the mission of Jesus has incredible potential to split the congregation. Worship preferences have split more congregations than any other issue in history. It is a historical fact that when church members begin to focus on their own preferences and petty desires the results have been catastrophic. When this happens, my group becomes those who have the same preferences I do. Everyone else is an outsider.

So, we have chosen to focus on Christ's mission in making our decisions. Many will join us as we pursue this mission, others may choose to go to a church where they are more comfortable. All we can do is to do our best to be faithful to "complete the work that God has given us to do" (John 17:4).

There would be only one reason our leaders would consider changing the style of our worship for an additional worship gathering: to create a new worship environment targeted specifically toward a group of people who are far from God. This might mean a change of location (rented space outside our facility) or a change of style (i.e., edgier to reach a younger generation) but I promise our decision would be based on God's mission.

May God bless as follow His leading and continue His work...

Friday, February 27, 2009

With A Second Service Aren't We Just Splitting the Church?

In some ways it will feel like it. There will be likely be fewer people attending the worship gathering you are part of, at least initially. It will feel different. There will be people you know that you will see less often, if they choose to attend at a different time. There will be some discomfort in all of us the first few weeks. There will likely be some "wilderness" time when we will feel like things were better back in Egypt (Numbers 14:3) and the only "rational" response would be to go back there.

But, like the Israelites, we must understand that the future God has for us will not be found in our rear-view mirror. And, His future, will require us to make sacrifices and make room. It is "making room" that is the key. Not only must we intentionally "make room" for newcomers; we must also allow God to use us to "fill it up" again. God's passion is to have two (then ten) of our worship spaces filled with people who are connecting with Him and having their lives changed by the encounter. He wants people you do life with, live next to, meet on the street, work in the cubicle beside, care about - to meet Him through your invitation. Rather than fret about what we might lose, can we instead rejoice in what they might gain - if we make room?

If we just divide up the attenders we already have...we lose. But if we can catch a vision of God's love for those who are far from Him and commit to partner with Him in brining them home - our lives - and our church - will never be the same.

Simply Invite.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Couple of Additional Thoughts

1. "Community" must never become more important to the church than reaching newcomers or those far from God.

2. Isn't it wonderful that God is blessing our church with new people when 85% of the congregations is the United States are either plateaued or in decline?

I just posted a pretty disturbing article on my blog regarding trends in church attendance. You can get there by following this link:

By 2050, Only 10% of Americans will be in church on a given sunday…

Losin' that Lovin' Feeling

Ask any group of congregational leaders what the strength of their congregation is, 95% of the time they will say “friendliness.” This holds true regardless of a church’s size. Ask about their number one fear when starting a second service, most will say: we're afraid we'll "lose that lovin' feeling." Well, if they were really cool that's what they'd say. Yet, even as they say that, it is difficult to pin down what they mean.

Sociologist tell us that a human being can only maintain a strong relationship with 40-50 people. We can recognize the faces of more people than that, but when it comes to knowing their names, kids names, pets names. 40 or 50 is about all we can handle. So, if we target our church size to the number of people we can have really close ties with, our churches would never grow above 50 people. But that's not ususally how it works.

I've been in congregations of less than 50 people that were cold as ice. And I've been in congregations with thousands of members that felt like a huge extended family. Friendliness and family feelings have little to do with size. This church was welcoming and relationally warm at 100 and we are welcoming and relationally warm at 200. Even in the midst of new faces, names we can't remember, an ever-increasing crowd, it still feels like family. Newcomers sense it immediately. It is a part of our DNA that we must never lose; whether we are 300 or 3000. It is part of who we are and what God has created us to do best.

We won't lose "it" by going to two services. We may have to be more intentinal about connecting with folks who are attending worship at a different time. Make use of the combined connecting time between the services. Look for opportunities to be together outside of Sunday morning. Serve together during the week.

The truth is the larger we grow, the more important our LIFE Groups will become. It is there we will find a large part of our 40 or 50. We grow our strongest relationships there as we "do life together."

One of the biggest questions growing families faces is "will we make room." It is true in our physical families when Mom and Dad bring home a new brother or sister. It is true in our spiritual family when God "adds to our number" (Acts 2:47). Our willingness to make room doesn't make us any less of a family - it only enlarges the number touched by "that lovin' feeling."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What Will Adding A Second Worship Time Do For Us?

1. It will help us stay on mission.
God is not finished with us yet. We haven't arrived. It's not time for us to coast into retirement or ride off into the sunset. We don't get an extended period of "me-time." God still has an urgent mission for us. We have not completed it. In many ways it feels like we are just getting started. Adding a second worship service is a critical next step toward completing the work God has given us to do.

The goal of our ministry is to connect real people to the real God for real change. It is easy to see God at work among us. When God is at work He attracts a crowd. Jesus wasn't put-off by that. He continually invited any and all to come. That was His invitation, and it must be ours. Yes, crowds cause chaos. There are always adjustments. But every crowd is filled with unique individuals that Jesus gave His life for. He would have us welcome each one. Here's the issue: studies say that when our worship space is over-crowded, 70%-80% full, new people perceive their is no room for them. It would be a tragedy if even one newcomer felt unwelcome because we didn't love them enough to make room.

If there are no new faces, adding a second service doesn't make much sense. Just splitting up our existing crew would be no fun for anybody. The excitement comes as God, through you, brings new families, we extends His welcome and see their lives changed. Remember, the church doesn't exist for us - we are the church and we exist to connect people to God through Jesus Christ. This second service will help keep God's mission first.

2. It will bless our volunteers.
I'm not sure when Melissa Dasher attended adult worship last. Likely over a year ago. No, she hasn't lost her faith - but has chosen to put it into action. You see, she and her Heartland volunteers have made a huge sacrifice. They have bailed on the blessing of attending adult worship, in order to serve our kids and help them connect with God. One of the most exciting prospects of a new service is that volunteers will be able to experience our worship and serve others on the same Sunday morning. More people are already volunteering to work in Heartland, because they know they won't have to sacrifice worshiping with their church family.

Our second service is an intentional effort to make our worship available to more and more people. I pray that you will warmly welcome...and simply invite.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Second Service

It is now officially - 1 month, 4 days, 18 hours, 37 minutes and 30 seconds till the launch of our new worship service.

Upgraded Spaces!!!!

I’m just saying…I need to find some people to work with who won’t frivolously toy with my emotions. Jim Waldo came into my office this morning with a concerned look on his face. He sat down and said: “we got an alert from the bank this morning.” My countenance fell and I said something like “are you kidding me.” Every other time Jim and I have had conversations start that way, it has not been good news. He let me stew a while and then said: “that’s how I felt when I first saw the email…then I remembered I had set the account to send me an alert when our balance went over a specified threshold, so I could set some funds aside for Mission and Building Maintenance.” If he wasn’t a Marine I probably would have hurled myself across the desk and grabbed him around his not-so-scrawny neck. The blessing is that, while many, many churches are struggling financially in these difficult economic times, we continue to grow healthier with each passing week. We are not out-of-the-woods yet, and we're definitely not over-funded - but thanks to better management and your sacrifices - things are improving. Thank you for your partnership in the work God is doing here.

Speaking of what God is doing… let me give you a heads-up on some of the plans we have in place for the weeks leading up to Easter.

As you know, our growth has caused some space issues for our ministries. More debt is not in our future, so we have to begin to utilize the space we already have as creatively as possible. In the coming weeks there will be a few renovations and space reallocations happening in our church.

First, we are going to frame in two new offices on the north end of the Chestnut Room. My office will move into one of those new spaces. This move will have our staff offices located together. This can be done inexpensively utilizing the people and resources we already have in place. The plan is to complete this project before our workday on March 14th.

Second, the nursery will be relocated to my current office. This will allow all of our childrens ministry spac to be self-contained. This will provide greater security and a better connection between different aspects of our childrens ministry.

Third, the Chestnut Room will be decorated to be a more kid-friendly space for Heartland and utilized less as a multi-purpose room. It seems wrong to deprive our kids of a fun and exciting space because we might have two wedding receptions in that room each year. We chose to make that room an investment in our children.

Fourth, the Fellowship Hall will decorated and dedicated to our teens. We are going to upgrade the technology and create a welcoming space relevant to our teens and their friends to gather and learn about God.

Fifth, the our large current nursery will be set aside as a classroom and meeting space for adults. Any adult gatherings too large for that room will use our multi-purpose auditorium.

Sixth, we plan to make short-term improvements to our parking area.

Tons of work ahead, but without a ton of expense. These improvements will locate our office, student, and adult spaces in different sections of the building – allowing us to better utilize the space God has already provided.

If you would like to help with the upgrades in any of these areas, please contact the church office (410.742.5601) or the ministry leader overseeing the project. We really need everybody to pitch on our Work Day, March 14th. These are our plans, our prayer is to have them completed before Easter. Please jump in.

New Office Spaces Thom Keeton
Children’s Ministry Melissa Dasher
Youth Ministry Ken Dasher
Adult Spaces Church Office
Parking Lot Upgrades Dave Pfingst

Monday, February 2, 2009

Growing Pains, Growing Plans

Last Monday morning the peacefulness of my first cup of coffee was shattered as I opened my email program. As I scanned the subject lines of the incoming email, there it was. You know the kind. All you have to do is look at the subject line and you just want to go back to bed and start over. The subject line read “Concern in the Camp.” I was pretty sure the camp in question had nothing to do with holding hands around a campfire and singing Kum By Ya! The email was from one of our elders (there’s some good news). It was not only addressed to me but to all the other elders and to Sean. My first thought was “Ok, what did Sean do now!” Not really. My first thought was #%*@&! They say confession is good for the soul. Yes, you still need to pray for me. I clicked on the email and this is what confronted me...


I thought it best to get this info out ASAP. There was a disruption of sorts yesterday morning at the morning worship time. It appears that when Ingrid & I entered the corporate worship area to take our seats, to our surprise, we could not. Why you ask? Because someone we didn't even know had taken ours. Preposterous I say! On top of that, another CCC family of 5 had to relocate to other seating because of the very same thing.

LOL...Praise GOD, that there is "Change" in the wind & this "Change" isn't coming from President O. Thank you Brent & Sean, for the on going face-lift @CCC.



Let me say first that this type of email is just wrong. I’m old and my heart is not as strong as it used to be. Second, you and I both know that Charlie is right. Quite a few folks have seen unfamiliar faces in their sacred spaces recently. And it seems like every Sunday there are more of them than the Sunday before. The only seats available are the ones on the very front row (and the ones next to Ken).

Here’s the issue, we are running out of space. It’s not my fault. You’ve heard my preaching. If you have to blame someone, blame God. He is drawing them. Now that we have assigned blame sufficiently, let’s talk about what to do. (Praying that God would stop sending new people is not an option! Don’t even think about it).

In the short-term, I’d like to ask our regulars to choose seats further toward the front. Yes, I said it. And furthermore, someone is going to have to sit on the front row (i.e., in the spray zone) for this to really do any good. B.Y.O.U. (Bring Your Own Umbrella). This will ensure our guests don’t have to make the “walk of shame” to the front row after the service has already begun.

Our longer term plan, as I mentioned on Vision Sunday, is to begin a second worship service. Our plan is to make the transition on March 29th. I hope we can wait that long. Why the 29th. That will give us a couple of weeks to work the kinks out before Easter. The first service will begin @ 9:00 AM the second @ 10:45 AM. There will be a half-hour transition/fellowship time in between. As plans stand right now, Heartland will be offered at the second service only and the first service will have more of a family feel. I’ll be sending out information over the next several weeks to help prepare all of us for this transition. Yet, we believe strongly that God is calling to make more seats available at optimum times, so more and more people can connect with God and experience real change through our ministry at Community. The elders and I welcome your feedback.

Yes, this is another change. Yet, it is a change that moves us more deeply into the mission God has for us. Besides, you might even get your old seat back.

I’m glad to be on this journey with you. I pray that you will continue investing in the lives of those who don’t know Jesus and inviting them to experience God’s grace that flows in this place.

Grace and Peace,