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June 22, 2012

Finding the Right Ministry Strategy

Why you need to look at your church's culture before implementing what works for other churches


I recently finished reading Heather Zempel's new book, Community is Messy. It's not out until September (I'll review it in more depth then), but I want to share an insight with you. Heather, a contributor for, writes about the importance of understanding the culture, rhythm, and demographics of your church when planning for small-group ministry. Ministering at National Community Church in D.C., she realized that the natural rhythm of life is a trimester system—students and politicians alike follow a schedule that divides fall, spring, and summer. Additionally, she observed their churchgoers are young—many in their 20s and 30s—and looking for clear ways to grow in their relationship with God. And the demographic is fairly transient, with very few people staying for more than a few years.

With these things in mind, she and her team came up with a plan for small-group ministry that fits their church. NCC runs small groups on a trimester schedule, offers several discipleship-heavy groups (e.g., Theology 101, Old Testament Survey), and allows several "black market" groups to exist so that people can try out creative ideas—even if they don't fit the church's structure.

Heather is the first to admit that she's still learning and trying new things, and she fully expects to change their system in the years to come. But I think she's done something that we often forget when we're planning for small-group ministry: she first looked at her church culture when planning. It's too easy to read a book from "Big Community Church," get excited about their success, and try to implement those ideas into our own ministries without adjusting them to fit our church culture. It's too tempting to apply their exact methods instead of simply the principles.

I would guess that we don't look at our church culture first because it's hard work. It's difficult to have an objective eye as we look at our churches, researching the rhythms, culture, and needs. It's difficult to look at our own structures and ministries with a (constructively) critical eye.

I would urge you to take Heather's advice: look first at your own church. Only then should you research ideas for ministry that fit your context.

For more from Heather Zempel, click here.

posted by Amy Jackson at 10:03 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

June 11, 2012

Life Well-Lived for the Kingdom

Setting an example for emerging adults


Today our newest Practical Ministry Skills resource, Meaningful Groups for Emerging Adults, was released, and I'm very excited about it. I'm excited because (1)I'm passionate about the life stage known as emerging adulthood and (2)there are very few resources for ministering to this life stage. This resource isn't simply looking at a new generation; it's looking at an entirely new life stage. And it will help you understand the needs and tasks of emerging adults and how small groups can minister to 18- to 30-year-olds.

Included in our resource is an interview with Wheaton College professor David Setran. He explains how this new life stage came about and how the life stage is defined. He also shares how people in this life stage are formed spiritually, and hones in on the need for mentoring: What helps to spiritually form emerging adults? I think mentoring in particular is critical for their spiritual formation. They need older adults who can serve as guides as they move from adolescence to adulthood in such a way that they feel excited about the prospect of becoming an adult. One of the things I have found in my research is that adulthood is something to be held at arm's length, to be resisted at all costs. A lot of emerging adults see adulthood as this time when all excitement is lost, all freedom is lost, and everything becomes routine and static. They desperately need mentors that demonstrate life doesn't end when you become an adult. They need to see lives that are well-lived for the kingdom, that demonstrate to them that this is the beginning of something really exciting.

Mentors for emerging adults need to realize they don't need to tell them what to do, what to think, and how to live. Emerging adults are trying to form their own voice, and mentors can nurture, develop, and encourage that voice. The mentor should be someone who's going to walk alongside them. And, to be honest, I have found that emerging adults are really seeking mentors. A lot of times older adults actually feel intimidated to take on a role like that because they feel outdated or don't feel they understand youth culture, but that's exactly what emerging adults need—to see what life on the other side looks like and how to live that life well.

That's a convicting call for adults in the church!
Exactly! With the fragmentation of the family and shifts in culture, a lot of emerging adults haven’t really seen that modeled for them. So it would be great to see that in the church, in all the different stages of life. It's an urgent call.

Emerging adults need to see that older adults are living lives well-lived for the kingdom. They need to know that adulthood doesn't mean they will just sit quietly in the pews, letting the younger people go on adventures with God. They need to see that God uses us all in radical ways throughout our lives. Are you living a compelling, well-lived life? What picture of adulthood are you painting for emerging adults?

To find out more about ministering to emerging adults through small groups, click here.

How does your church minister to emerging adults? What mentoring experiences have you had with emerging adults? Share with us below.

posted by Amy Jackson at 8:54 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

June 1, 2012

Granting "Refrigerator Rights" and So Much More

What I learned at my Memorial Day barbecue


While several of our articles at explain that a measure of true friendship is granting “refrigerator rights,” this has been a hard lesson for me to learn. It’s not that I don’t understand—it makes sense that a good measure of comfort is the ability to open up someone else’s refrigerator looking for a drink—it’s just that it feels really strange. I have refrigerator rights at several of my friends’ homes. But when people are in my home, I worry that granting refrigerator rights only means I’m a lazy host—after all, why else would I make my friends get their own drinks?

I’ve wrestled with this idea for a while. When do I grant this right to my friends? How do I know they won’t be offended? And when is the right time to accept refrigerator rights from my friends?

This past weekend, though, I had a breakthrough. We hosted a barbecue with some of our closest friends. We were having a great time sitting outside, chatting about life, and laughing at ourselves. Then one of the women hopped up and asked if she could get some water. I startled myself with my response: “Of course! Glasses are above the dishwasher. There’s cold water in the fridge.” She ran inside and I sat, wondering how my response had come out so naturally. But I realized I was surrounded by close friends, people I share life with. So why shouldn’t that be my response?

After that interaction everyone felt comfortable getting their own drinks. And pretty soon people were helping me get out the sides and carrying the burgers to the table. The mood of the gathering relaxed, and we started sharing more deeply. Everyone felt more comfortable—not just because they had refrigerator rights, but because those rights signified that they had rights to our lives.

And while it may not seem super spiritual to allow others to open our refrigerators, it does signify something about our relationships. And I’ve decided to grant refrigerator rights to more of my friends. I’m excited to see what God does through this simple act of hospitality.

Who has refrigerator rights in your home? Do your group members make the list? Share with us below.

posted by Amy Jackson at 9:23 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)