Author Archives: Robert Neely

On the move

The Wayfarer Blog is on the move. With the launch of 3DM’s new website in April 2012, we are now hosting our blog under the website. Check it out here.

Of course, you can still reach the Wayfarer Blog via wayfarerblog.com. But if you have us bookmarked or if you have subscribed (thank you!), you will need to change your settings to continue getting Wayfarer Blog content.

We look forward to continuing the conversation with you on the new Wayfarer Blog.

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Rules of attraction: When youth ministries shouldn’t (and should) use attractional models

By Robert Neely

There’s an old maxim that says you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. What the old saying doesn’t tell you is that once you start catching flies with honey, you have to keep giving them honey or else they’ll go away.

Too often, youth ministries overlook this reality when they seek to attract students to their events. We’ve all seen ministries that use all kinds of means to get students in the door. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen these students walk out the door never to return.

That’s because the means you use to attract students are usually the same means you must use to keep them.

Free pizza, concerts, and massive game nights are proven ways to draw crowds of teenagers. But we need to ask ourselves whether we are going to be able to keep that crowd – and if drawing the crowd that we’re drawing actually accomplishes our mission. This is the dilemma of the attractional approach.

The attractional approach is not bad in and of itself, and it would be foolish to make a blanket statement that it is the wrong approach for a student ministry to take. But it is something that requires significant analysis – especially because it is so common in the current day.

Here are three questions that youth ministries should ask about attractional models, whether they are existing or in the planning phase:

Is it sustainable? Attractional models make a promise that is hard to deliver on for two main reasons: finances and time. Putting together a whiz-bang worship service week after week after week requires a lot of time on behalf of the leaders, and it also requires a ton of resources for equipment, instruments, band costs, and more.

Likewise, an attractional model in which you feed students week after week quickly adds up to a lot of money. That’s fine, but if your entire ministry revolves around free pizza, what will students do when the pizza isn’t there anymore?

Of course, some large churches have the funding and staffing to provide food week after week or to put on a huge service each week. But even if the resources are available, leaders need to ask the question of whether the means of attraction are actually accomplishing the mission of making disciples – or if they are merely getting people in the door. If the latter is the case, the resources are better spent elsewhere.

Let’s get concrete: As a youth minister, what percentage of your time do you spend on your weekly gathering? Is it so preparation-heavy that it takes away from your time discipling students or simply hanging out with them? If so, is it worth that time? These are questions we must ask.

Is it authentic? Another problem with attractional events is that they are often so polished that they are not truly reflective of what the youth ministry really is about. If you draw in students with a concert with a seven-piece band, a light show, and a smoke machine, but your ministry is really about discipleship in huddles or small groups, you’re sending a mixed message. Even a description from stage about what the ministry is about can’t overcome the feel of the event for many students.

So attractional events should match the values and the feel of a ministry. If discipleship in personal spaces is important, then plan an attractional event that includes new students in personal-space-sized groups. You can do this through mission-project teams or through a fun competition night where students are in teams.

In this scenario, these kinds of attractional events better communicate the character and values of a ministry and also show students what it’s like to build relationships with students and leaders in smaller groups. A student who is looking for a personal-space connection knows that it’s available. Just as importantly, a student who returns to a subsequent event won’t feel like he or she fell victim to a bait-and-switch.

Is it intentional? Remember that our commission from Jesus is not to attract students – it’s to make disciples. So if attractional events and gatherings are part of our strategy, we must ask ourselves what the in-road to discipleship is.

Often, the transition from getting a student to attend a fun event to getting them involved in a discipling culture is difficult. The back door of such events is huge. To close the back door, both leaders and Christian students must be intentional at the attractional gathering.

The good thing about an attractional gathering is that it is a way of finding people of peace. A student who is willing to come to such an event – and who is willing to talk about it afterward – may well be a person of peace who is on the road to faith. But for the attractional event to work, there must be intentionality about using the event to find these people of peace.

This kind of intentionality may not be possible with a weekly attractional gathering. But it could be quite effective at quarterly or even monthly events. Such a timeline would give Christian students time to invite their friends and then to process what happened at the event afterward.

As we answer these questions and analyze our events, our burden as leaders is to figure out how the way we attract students helps us accomplish this mission – or if it detracts from making disciples. These are questions every minisry – big or small, attractional or not, should be asking.

What do you think? When has an attractional model worked well for your ministry? When has an attractional model failed? Share your story in the comments so that we can learn together how best to answer these questions in our ministry context.

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Come see us at Exponential

Are you coming to Exponential next week (April 23-26 in Orlando)? If so, we invite you to come and hang out with the Wayfarer/3DM team.  Our team will be leading several sessions on discipleship and mission and also hosting some special events.

Here’s a rundown of what our team is doing at Exponential:

Here are a few things about our time there:

 It really is ALL ACCESS to our team. Click here to register for the conference.
 Here are some of the workshops we’ll be doing.

WORKSHOPS

  • How to release a Missional movement by Discipling people like Jesus did
  • How to launch Missional Communities
  • Launching Missional Communities with Teenagers
  • How to plant churches from scratch
  • Attractional and Missional. Is it both?
  • How to create regional centers of mission
  • Missional Moms

We look forward to seeing you there!

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Tips for reaching specific groups of college students

By Chris Brooks

One of the things I loved about my time in college was the incredible diversity found within various friendship groups. In high school, students drew sharp lines to establish a social hierarchy. But at a university, a lot of lines began to blur or even disappear all together.

Now that I’m a college pastor, I still revel in the diversity and inclusivity of many of the various friendship and social groups I see among my students. But this still creates a challenge for ministers: even with the lines blurred, how do we cross them to minister and make disciples?

Here are few things my team and I have noticed when we have tried to pioneer inroads with specific circles of people on campus.

The University of Alabama wheelchair basketball team. Photo by Alexandra Browning on Flickr.

Reach one to reach the rest – I have three young children and one on the way, so my time is incredibly precious. I try to integrate myself into the life of the university as much as possible, but the model of ministry where the minister is at every university event, recital, or game every night of the week is not only unsustainable for me – it is sin. It’s not healthy for my family, my ministry, my church, or me.

So how do we reach specific groups? Here’s an example: I started discipling a guy who is on the university’s wheelchair basketball team this year. He is much more equipped and able than me to reach other wheelchair athletes. He also lives to work out, so practically everyone at the recreation center knows him by name. He is a person of peace. This is an example of how you can reach the few to reach the many, and it’s a great way to reach into specific groups of students.

Go to them before you ask them to come to you – We try to get our students into the missionary mindset. I have come to love the fact that our collegiate ministry has no space of its own in our church building. We are like a bunch of homeless squatters. At first, I thought that would be detrimental to an attractional style of ministry, but then I realized that this has been our greatest asset in creating a discipleship culture to “go and do likewise.”

Now we assemble with the explicit purpose of scattering. Our goal is not merely to get students to come to our church’s campus, but to get our Christian students to fully invest in theirs. We don’t need more Christian ghettos surrounding our universities so that it is possible for Christian students not to make one significant relationship with a non-Christian student during their full four years.

For us, scattering meant cancelling our Sunday evening service so our students could be in their dorms, apartments, and fraternity houses doing laundry, eating dinner, and sharing Christ with their lost classmates.

Don’t always ask them to fit into your programs – I am pretty passionate about having a simple holistic discipleship strategy in our ministry, but we had to also realize when to make an exception. Here’s an example: We had decent number of sorority students in our leadership team who were ministering to their sisters, but we couldn’t seem to get breakthrough for them in the discipleship process because their schedules were so crazy and their loyalty to their houses was so deep. So my wife, prompted by the Holy Spirit, partnered with another girl to start a Monday meeting just for sorority girls to walk through the basics of the Christian faith. It was incredibility successful and fruitful.

Partner with your university – My buddy Ish says it this way: “It would be kind of odd if you were a prison ministry and didn’t partner with the prison.” Why is it then as ministers that we often overlook (or even view as adversarial) the very schools from which our students come? I am a creative who thrives on innovation, and this means I am often guilty of trying to create something new when the best thing our team can do is improve on or simply get involved in what already exists.

A case in point is our international ministry. We poured a ton of time and attention into reaching out to the international community by hosting dinners, fellowships, and Bible studies. We had one ice cream social where like five international students showed up surrounded by about 30 of our American students. We scared them to death. That’s not at all what I think the Lord or Lottie Moon had in mind in terms of reaching the nations. But then we joined up with the Universities Conversation Partners Program. Through this, our students formed one-on-one relationships with international students in a comfortable setting. Now we have substantial inroads with our international community – and with our university as well.

We want the faculty, administrators, and university employees to know that we are a church ready to love and serve. This works outside of college ministry as well. Our youth pastor coaches tennis at one of his local high schools. Our church partners with the mayor on several of his initiatives for community restoration.

So here’s the question: Where are schools, city, or other churches (gasp) already doing something to reach out to the poor, the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan? How could you help equip them for even greater Kingdom impact?

Put yourself out of business – I remember studying in a seminary class on foreign missions that the goal in planting a church internationally is to raise up indigenous leaders who can ultimately put the missionary out of business. We try to remember this goal regardless of whether the group we are trying to reach is an unreached people group in the 10/40 window or a group that has bars on every window two blocks away in our community. The goal is to make disciples who make disciples who know how to feed themselves and how to teach others to do the same.

Look which way the wind is blowing – This is our constant lesson. We have a surplus of great ideas, plenty of quality students eager to serve, and an ever-increasing amount of phone calls and opportunities to reach out to various groups. But we are doing our best to discern which direction the “wind of God” is blowing. The temptation many of us will face once we have developed a certain level of organizational and leadership skills is to think that competency is all we need. Our communities and campuses don’t just need restoration – they need resurrection. Only the Spirit of the Living God has that on his resume.

What lessons have you learned about reaching specific groups of college students – or other students, for that matter? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.

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What you need to know before recruiting young people to your leadership team

By Mike Breen

The following is a brief excerpt from Mike’s forthcoming book Multiplying Missional Leaders, which comes out at the beginning of May. 

One of the problems about Millennials (or Gen Y, the generation right after Gen X) is that people within the generation have, in general, been over-parented. This is a sociological reality that has been studied to death. People born after 1980 have, by and large, grown up in a culture of parenting where parental responsibilities have clutched tightly as a reaction to the absentee parents of the previous generation. The parents we’re talking about don’t want to force onto their children the wounds that they feel were inflicted by their home life, and so they over-parent their children, to the extent that their children have never been trained to take responsibility.

To back up this broad-brush analysis, simply Google “helicopter parent.” You’ll find this is a whole new sociological field of research. A helicopter parent is a parent who hovers very close to his or her child all the way into adulthood. Human resource departments are now training their staff to negotiate not only with their employees but also with the parents of their employees. A very common trait in the employment process in the corporate world is that a parent turns up to an interview with his or her child, even though that child is in his or her mid-twenties, to help to negotiate the package for that child. This is so common that HR departments now have to do whole training seminars to deal with this reality.

A person who has been over parented to that extent is, in general, not standing up to the mature adult responsibilities that normally would be associated with the years of development between 20 and 30. As a result, that kind of maturation now doesn’t take place until between 30 and 40.

So the development of character and capacity is a huge responsibility. If you are largely working with young adults, know that the vast majority of these adults, even though they may look mature, don’t know how to tie their shoelaces. This is such a widespread feature in our society now that it behooves us, whenever we are thinking of bringing someone into leadership, to think through how we can assess that person’s character, capacity, the chemistry we might have with them on a team, and through those things, identify and endorse their calling.

If a person is joining a team and does not yet have the necessary character and capacity, I would suggest that your leadership pipeline recognizes that fact and trains people on such issues.

Multiplying Missional Leaders provides much more guidance on how to develop a leadership pipeline. Go to weare3dm.com for more information on how to order.

If you want to investigate more, here’s another excerpt from Mike’s blog

UPDATE: And another excerpt.

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How to calibrate invitation and challenge

By Robert Neely

Who is the best teacher you ever had? The best leader? The best mentor?

No matter whether you’re thinking about a teacher, a coach, a conductor, a parent, a youth-group leader, or some other guide in your life, chances are that the person who sprung to mind when you read those first three questions did two key things:

1)   He or she gave you access to his/her knowledge, expertise, experience – and maybe even life.

2)   He or she called you to be better than you were at a specific skill, talent, task – and maybe even life.

To put it another way, the best teachers and leaders and mentors both invite us and challenge us. Both are necessary to truly help a person grow.

This is true for music teachers, volleyball coaches, dance instructors, and head chefs, and it’s also true for people who disciple others to become followers of Jesus. As in all of these other areas, invitation and challenge are necessary to truly help a person become like Jesus was and to do what Jesus did.

So how do we calibrate invitation and challenge? Our team uses a matrix to help us evaluate what our culture is.

Failing to provide either invitation or challenge leads to a bored culture. We all know what this is like from our days in high school. The teachers who were disinterested (low invitation) and who let students skate by (low challenge) were the ones whose classes seemed to last forever. Even worse, it would take a herculean effort for a student to learn or develop in such a class.

None of us wants a bored culture, and most leaders who are leading by choice won’t fall into this trap. That’s as true in secular arenas as it is with those who are seeking to disciple others.

But often, we fall into the trap of emphasizing either invitation or challenge at the expense of the other.

When leaders are high on invitation but lacking in challenge, they create a cozy culture. This is a pretty pleasant place to be, quite honestly. Everyone feels good about being loved and cared for and included.

The problem is that a cozy culture doesn’t develop people. Again, think back to high school. The teacher who was a friend to all the students may have been popular, but you didn’t want that teacher for certain subjects. A cozy pre-calculus class, for example, leads to a miserable experience in calculus, because you weren’t challenged enough to learn the basics to succeed at the next level.

Obviously, this is a huge problem when we’re trying to develop followers of Jesus. The goal when we’re discipling isn’t only to make everyone feel included or loved – it’s to help people become more like Jesus. At some point, this will require challenge that a cozy culture simply fails to provide.

On the other hand, leaders who are high on challenge but lacking in invitation create a stressed culture. This is a culture where people can develop, but only if they have enough mettle and fortitude to survive the leader’s constant pushing.

In my hometown, one of the big inner-city high schools had a football coach who was this way. He was extremely successful, winning four state championships and turning the team into a nationally recognized powerhouse. But eventually, his rules started to wear on the players. Each year, his teams had fewer and fewer students sign up to play. Before long, his team was half the size of the football teams at other schools with similar enrollment, and he was pushed out of his job.

This coach knew how to challenge players to get better, but the level of invitation didn’t match the challenge. So kids just bailed. That’s a disturbing trend with a football team, but it’s downright catastrophic when it’s true of the people we’re trying to develop into followers of Jesus.

Ironically, a leader in a stressed culture often looks at dropouts and thinks about how they didn’t have what it takes. Too often we hear this kind of talk from fellow church or youth leaders. The truth is that the one who didn’t have what it takes was the leader, because the invitation was so lacking.

Instead of emphasizing either invitation or challenge, we need to calibrate both in order to develop a discipling culture. In this kind of culture, learners feel welcomed and gain a sense of belonging from invitation, and they also grow because they are challenged when it’s appropriate and necessary.

So how are you in terms of invitation and challenge? Here are a few diagnostic questions:

  • Are the people I’m leading too cozy? If so, what are the first steps of challenge that I need to begin to introduce?
  • Are the people I’m leading too stressed? If so, what steps can I take to add invitation into these relationships?

To learn more about invitation and challenge, check out the transcript of Mike Breen’s recent keynote at Anglican 1000, as well as these blog posts from Steve Bremner and Brian Williamson.

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Back to the future: What does the young adult ministry of the future look like?

By Rich Atkinson

“It’s time for a revolution – a revolution that changes those ever-depressing facts we hear about youth and young adults walking away from the church.” I’ve sat in so many meetings and conferences where I’ve heard someone (or been someone) giving this rallying cry. It seems we all agree that it’s time for something different that stems the tide of decline of young adults in the church.

Yet I sit here wondering … what on earth would that look like?

What does the youth and young adult ministry of the future, the one that brings in this fantastic revival, look like? How is it different from what we are doing today? What changes? In short, what does church for youth and young adults need to be like to see God bring in the next great revival?

I think that, to look forward, we need to look back.

Via popartmachine.com

We often think that the way to reach this generation of youth and young adults is to play a catch-up game with the world. We attempt to take on the entertainment industry and provide the latest in cool, hip, and culturally relevant church. Church places itself neatly into the entertainment box for youth and young adults, and then we sit around scratching our heads about how we created a generation of young people who walk out of the church to the nearest bar when they realize that the bar has better music!

As the young people leave our churches, we think long and hard about music styles, lighting shows, and youth buildings with the latest technology. The sad truth is that we apparently think that we need to make church look as little like church and as much like the world as possible. We figure that the future must look totally different, but since we struggle to re-imagine it, we base church entirely on the models the world offers us.

The problem is that what we have to offer isn’t about entertainment… it’s about changing lives. When we play the entertainment game, it’s like we have a bag of gold to give to a poor man but, instead of offering him the gold, we see the stale bread he holds in his hands and desperately attempt to make the gold look as much like his stale bread as possible.

This is why that I don’t believe the answer to the church of the future is in the future.

I wonder if, rather than constantly trying to re-imagine the church, we should learn to look at some of the successes of the last 2,000 years of church history.

I believe this generation of youth and young adults is called to be the generation that rebuilds the church in the western world.  We use Isaiah 58:12 a lot at St. Thomas Philadelphia in Sheffield, England, to help guide us as a generation attempting to build:

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

This generation of youth and young adults needs to be challenged and charged with the task of rebuilding the ruins of the church. This isn’t a challenge to build church separate in some way from other generations but rather a call to roll up our sleeves and get into the task of recapturing the essence of what this church thing was all about in the first place. (That’s life-changing following of Jesus, in case you’re wondering.)

And will raise up the age-old foundations

This is where we need to choose to learn from the past in order to build into the future. I don’t believe we’re supposed to be a generation that totally rethinks, re-imagines, and remodels the church in the future from a blank slate. We are called to build something new, but we are supposed to do so by building upon the foundations of the great saints who went before us.

At the moment I’m really struck by the lessons we can learn from the ministry of John Wesley. During his lifetime, a movement of people called the Methodists started and saw hundreds of thousands turn their lives over to Jesus at a time when the church was largely considered irrelevant to the lives of the everyday man, woman, and child.

Ring a bell?

So what were the keys to the Wesleyan revival? What is the Wesleyan foundation which we can recapture as a foundation from which we can to build? There are many, but I will start with one fundamental lesson we can learn: a lesson of grace and discipline.

The Wesleyan revival sparked out of a movement called the Methodist church. The Methodists were famous from day one for strict discipline and rules that helped them grow in faith. However, when John Wesley started his ministry, he attempted to live by these rules with his friends in order that he might secure his salvation. His misguided hope was that, by strict observance of the rules, he could somehow obtain security in his salvation.

As a minister in the church of England, he decided to travel to America. While he was on the ship to America, a great storm blew up, and the whole ship was threatened with death. John was terrified and became awestruck by a group of Moravian Christians who were totally unafraid of death because they were certain of their salvation in Jesus. Upon his return to England after a disastrous attempt at mission in America, John found some Moravian Christians to help him discover this certainty of salvation. When praying, John finally received this certainty as he encountered the grace of God for the first time. He famously described his heart as being “strangely warmed” so that he indeed was sure of his salvation by grace alone.

The curious genius of John Wesley was that he didn’t walk away from this amazing life-changing encounter with the grace of God and conclude that he should drop all of the rules he had created. Quite the opposite. John realized that, although these strict disciplines would not gain him salvation, they would help him and others continue to grow in their walk and discipleship with Jesus.

John Wesley was inspired to ride around the United Kingdom and America on his horse and preach the Good News of the grace of God. As hundreds began to give their lives to Jesus, he organized them in a way that enabled them to grow (but that’s a thought for another time) and gave them a structure that enabled them to grow. The discipline and rules by which the Methodists lived enabled the new converts to grow quickly despite the fact that many were from uneducated backgrounds. The amazing outpouring of God’s conviction and grace through the preaching of Wesley and others was followed with strict discipline, and this mix enabled the Wesleyan revival to burn through several generations.

If we want to rebuild a movement that burns through the generations instead of dying like a flash-in-the-pan encounter with God, then we need to enable people to translate the amazing encounters they have with God into life-changing discipline.

So as we look back to look forward… I see the future of youth and young adults ministry being marked by a generation that recaptures the truth that they have been transformed entirely by the amazing grace of God and then works that out with intense focus and discipline.

Maybe then our generation’s recurring comment will be, “The only response to the outrageous grace of God is a life disciplined to be totally orientated toward Him.”

Rich discusses these topics and Isaiah 58:12 in this video that St. Thomas Philadelphia created to promote an upcoming young adults weekend. 

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