Archive for the ‘hospitality’ Category

I don’t think it’s any mistake that I have been reading (and watching) the “Hobbit” while we as a church have been launching our 3rd campus. It’s hard not to see all the similarities. There have been times of uncertainty; times of anticipation; times of blind faith; times of re-mapping our course. There have been unlikely heroes and a few occasional dragons along the way. But we finally made it this past weekend!

For those of you who are unaware, our church, Southland Christian Church, bought a run-down mall property in Lexington, KY, about 20-25 minutes from the main campus (although we try not to say “main” campus, as that encourages a ranking system of every site when each one is very much equal). Over the course of a couple years, it has been renovated into a great building with lots of room for people. Over the course of the opening weekend, around 4,700 people attended a service at the new campus. We were blown away! The best part about it was meeting people who don’t have a church home and were just coming to check it out because it looked interesting. We want to multiply the kingdom, not add and subtract from other churches.

RR Launch-WorshipWe also launched LIFT, the middle school ministry of Southland, at the new campus during the opening weekend. We have yet to hire a Student Director for that campus, so for the time-being I have been overseeing the middle school ministry at two campuses. (Our third campus in Danville has been going strong in middle school ministry under Scott Hatfield’s leadership!). It has been a tall task to try to prepare for a large ministry launch while also building another one, but I loved the challenge. We have a great student ministry team that has poured so much time and energy into the student ministry room and the programming.

When we opened the doors on Sunday, we had more than double the amount of middle schoolers than we anticipated. We actually ran out of chairs! We were throwing couches and random seats in the back row to fit more students. It was a great problem to have. When thinking about middle schoolers and the launch of a new ministry, here are a few things I have reflected on this past week:

  1. If the adults are excited about it, the middle schoolers will be excited about it. With so much energy coming from the stage in the main service, along with our incredible volunteer launch team talking about it everywhere, students expected to be blown away when they came to LIFT at the Richmond Road new campus. They were excited before ever setting foot in the programming because we had earned their trust and excitement in other arenas. Don’t neglect or ignore the power of your staff’s and volunteers’ excitement with middle schoolers.
  2. Sneak-Peeks are gold. The week before the launch we had an open-house at the new campus for anyone to walk through and get a tour of the facilities. When they came to the student ministry room, we had music blasting, games were being played, volunteers were welcoming, and so forth. Additionally, we made an Instagram account (@LIFTRR) and put up some “sneak-peek” pictures that got students really excited.
  3. Activities and games in the room are a must-have. For a middle school guy to walk into a room and feel comfortable, he needs to have an activity to join. At that age guys are not comfortable walking into a room where there are only couches and RR Launchchairs. That’s incredibly intimidating. Encourage conversation with leaders by centering it around activities. In the new student ministry space we have foosball, an arcade basketball game, air-hockey, 4-square, and 9-Square-in-the-Air (which is by far the biggest student favorite!). Eventually we’ll have carpet ball and gaga ball as well.

I’m sure we have a lot to learn still, but these are a few lessons I will take with me for future new ministry launches. There are a lot of questions to be answered, but with the right volunteers and high energy, you can create an environment that’s attractive so middle schoolers can come and encounter Jesus in worship. Remember, the room isn’t the end; it’s only the means to an end.

(If you’re interested in how our children’s ministry is handling the launch of the new campus, check out Jason Byerly’s blog at

What would you add to that list? What are some must-haves for middle school students?


For those of you who missed my most recent blog post, I reflected on what it felt like to be in transition. My wife and I have been in full-fledged transition for what feels like the past 12 months. In fact, when I look back at our lives one year ago today, it almost makes me chuckle at how different our lives are now. New state, new job for me, new job for her, new friends (though we haven’t let go of the “old” friends, so don’t worry), new lives together. While it is all very exciting, transition is never the easiest thing to process.

And, as I mentioned in the last blog, this has everything to do with the lives of middle schoolers too. Everything about their stage of life is transition. Transition to high-pitched voice to bass-toned voice. Transition from 4’0″ tall to 6’0″ tall. Transition from kid to teenager (or adult). “Changes” is the name of the game.

As we experienced our own transition, I tried to take note of the things that people did that made the transition easier or even more fun. With the hopes of understanding some new ways that I can help middle schoolers in the same way, I tried to record my own emotions and responses (as well as my wife’s) to the people who went out of their way to minister to us in this transition. Here are a few quick things that made our experience better:

  1. Invitation. Whether it was the people back in Colorado who invited us to a special dinner to celebrate with us before we left, or the people here in Lexington who invited us to simple things like watching NCAA basketball with them on the day we arrived, the invitations always made us feel incredibly loved. At some points we almost had more invitations than we could handle, and that’s a good problem. It’s hard going to a new place and wanting to get to know the culture and people without being too presumptuous. When people extended invitations to me and Nicole, the transition felt like normal life to us. And wasn’t Jesus a master of invitation too? He knew the effect it had on people. An invitation is a beautiful request to share lives. When was the last time you invited a middle schooler to share some aspect of your life?
  2. Intentionality. I have to admit that I’ve been a little jealous of my wife since we’ve been here. So many women have been intentional with asking her out to coffee, grabbing a bite to eat, or even joining a Bible study. I don’t know if there’s a special personality trait that all of these women share, but it’s as if they knew coming to a new state would be difficult for us. Nicole would leave for hours at a time, sharing lunch or coffee with lots of different women who had been intentional with her. Are we that intentional when middle schoolers are going through transition? Perhaps a better word here would be empathy. Do we empathize with middle schoolers as they go through so much change?
  3. Grace. If you got a hold of a transcript of my conversations over the past few months, I’m almost positive one of the most-repeated words of mine would be “sorry.” I find myself apologizing a lot for not knowing little things like how the copier works, or who to talk to about ministry event details, or other things of that nature. Thankfully I work with an awesome group of people who have shown so much grace to me, knowing that it would be a steep learning curve. (I am especially thankful of our administrative assistant Mallory, because I honestly don’t know if I could have survived without her constant grace and help.) Obviously grace is sort of a big thing for Jesus. Jesus was and is the master of grace. In light of this, do we show enough grace to middle schoolers who are in transition? When they start acting up during worship, do we just get upset and discipline? Or do we stop to think about where they’re coming from? This is a big one that I’m still learning, and one that probably needs its own blog post.

I am trying to learn not just from the example of people who made this transition a better experience for me and my wife, but also from the one, Jesus, who really exemplified these traits.

How might your own middle school ministry change if you started being more invitational, intentional, and gracious? If you are a parent, how might your relationship with your child be affected if you employed more invitations, intentionality, and grace in your family?

The Power of Hello

Posted: November 21, 2011 in community, hospitality

“Hey! I’m David. How’s it going?”

I’m starting to wonder how many times I’ve repeated that phrase or something similar to it in youth ministry settings. I think it’s a pretty natural thing to say. It doesn’t take a youth ministry veteran to think of that one. But I’m starting to think that God has divinely blessed that exact phrase because of the impact it’s had on so many kids I know.

Okay maybe that’s over-stating it a little (though I’d like to see you prove me wrong!). But recently I have truly been amazed when I look around our middle school room and see some faces consistently every week that I never thought would become some of our core kids. These particular kids were those kids who came to our church every single week and even hung out with each other, but never stepped foot in our middle school theater. (Yes, our church is in an old movie theater. And yes, it is awesome to have a whole theater for middle school stuff.). I really have a heart for these kids.

On one hand, I can say that I don’t blame them. It can be really intimidating walking into our crazy room with the music blasting and kids running around playing ping pong and foosball or hanging out on the couches. It’d be easy to turn the other way into the safe anonymity of the “adult scene.” I get that. But I refuse to accept it.

Every time I see a middle schooler outside of our room, I make it a priority to say “hello” to them even if it’s just for a second. I don’t pressure them to come to youth group. I don’t guilt them for not joining one of our Life Groups. I just say hello. And I’m starting to think this should become our new outreach program!

I’m thinking of two students (a guy and a girl) in particular who have become regulars in our youth group when they used to avoid eye contact as they walked past the middle school room. When I first met the guy, he was very shy and seemed really uninterested in socializing. I think our conversation lasted a solid 30 seconds before it slid to an awkward, painful halt. In my early years in ministry that would have frustrated me beyond anything. But I have learned that those short, awkward conversations are all seeds in God’s plan for these students. Every week I’d find the area he’d hang out in and commence our normal, short conversation before the first service. Each week I’d learn one new interesting fact about his outdoor interests, his love for reading, and so forth. Finally after months of minute “hellos”, he stepped foot in our youth group. Not long after that, he started serving as a student leader. Now he’s connected to other students and has become one of the most dependable students we have – one that doesn’t just show up for fun, but truly wants to grow.

When I first met the other student, a girl, she had that deer-in-the-headlights look when I said hello. I’m pretty sure “hello” was the only word I could get out before she would turn to find a friend or something to do. But I refused to stop saying hi. Every week I’d make it a point to say hello even if I felt like she didn’t care either way. Then some of our female leaders took the extra step to get to know this student in non-church settings. All of a sudden this girl showed up to youth group! And she didn’t just hide either; she really engaged with other students. Now she has become one of our regulars who is also involved in our Life Groups. She even talks to me now! Haha!

These may be simple stories that don’t really impress many of you. And that’s ok. My intention is not to impress, but rather, to un-impress you with the simplicity of ministry. Sometimes we create programs and events so elaborate, there is no way they can be repeated or sustained. And in our busy-ness of planning, we neglect the informal “Greeting Ministry” AKA saying hello to students! I have such a strong conviction about this that I do my best to say hello to every student that walks through our doors on a Sunday. This can be very difficult with the large number of kids that have been coming to our ministry. But as a pastor, I am simply not okay with a student coming to church and not being greeted by at least one person.

We have to remember that one of the biggest roadblocks to evangelism and discipleship in our ministries is the front door. If you really think of it, the front door is usually the biggest hump that students have to climb in order to feel like church or youth group is a place that they want to be at. The first impression of a youth group can often be a lasting one.

This is a lesson I re-learn every week. We are not perfect. I get new inspiration to make our ministry more welcoming every Sunday. But I try to remember above all the simplicity of saying “hello”. I have a strong conviction that saying hello can be the first seed in a student’s life to help them encounter the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

How hospitable is your ministry? How hospitable are you? If you were a teenager in your church would you feel welcomed by the staff, volunteers, and students in your youth group?