Book Notes: The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

Here are my notes from Andy Stanley’s the Grace of God, one of the books on my 2012 Reading List. The first half of this book could be called “Grace in the Old Testament” and would make a great sermon series. In fact, much of the material in the book comes from sermons Andy has preached. Here are some highlights and quotes.

  • Grace is what we crave most but what we are hesitant to extend.
  • When we are the receiving end, grace is refreshing. When it is required of us, it is often disturbing.
  • You can no more deserve grace than you can plan your own surprise party.
  • Creation is all about grace. When you look at the Garden of Eden, you’ll see that his expressions of grace were innumerable and his requirements were minimal.
  • Sin brings shame and blame.
  • In the life of Abraham, God showed that a righteous standing with God comes through faith.
  • Grace is not reserved for good people.
  • In the life of Joseph, we see that the law of sowing and reaping was thwarted by grace.
  • With the Ten Commandments, we see that God initiated a relationship with his people before he even told them what the rules were. God’s law does not establish a relationship it confirms an existing one.
  • The purpose of the law is not to make us good but to keep us free.
  • Grace is slow to judge and quick to deliver. When people around me mess up, I default to the opposite.
  • In the life of Rahab, we see God punishes sin, AND extends grace to the sinner.
  • In the life of David, we learn discipline is often an expression of grace. If grace had a limit, David’s actions would have exposed them.
  • You can run from God, but you can’t outrun him.
  • In the life of Jonah, we see that the purpose of God’s discipline is not to pay people back but to bring people back.
  • Receiving grace is often easier than dispensing it.
  • The New Testament reveals people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus and Jesus liked people who were nothing like him.
  • Jesus did not strike a balance between grace and truth. He dispensed full measures of both.
  • Jesus was not uncomfortable surrounded by those who needed grace.
  • Nichodemus showed us grace is not a reward for good people but it’s God’s gift to forgiven people.
  • It’s always easier to talk about theology than our pain.
  • We can talk about fairness, but the grace of God isn’t fair. Philip Yancey talks about “the scandalous mathematics of grace.” Interestingly, we don’t complain about fairness when we something works in OUR advantage. Jesus was extravagantly unfair.
  • The church is most appealing when the message of grace is most apparent. The church is most effective when the message of grace is most evident.
  • If the local church is God’s vehicle for dispensing the message of grace, then the local church is clearly not for church people. It’s for everybody.
  • The church should not make it difficult for people who are turning to God (See Acts 15:23-29)
  • As much as you may want to qualify this with statements like “what about the person who…,” grace can’t be qualified.
  • First and foremost, God celebrates restored relationships.

Here’s a Great Sermon Illustration

Here’s a great sermon illustration that you could use in your preaching.  After you read, would you leave a comment and share your feedback.  Is this helpful for you?  Do you think you would use it?  Would you save it for later?

Title: How a failed video game led to the most successful game franchise in history
Tags: failure, second chance, leadership, mistakes

In 1980, a Japanese company called Nintendo came out with an arcade came called Radar Scope. If you’ve ever seen a game called Space Invaders, it looked a lot like that. It was a shoot-em-up, one button, one joystick video game.

It quickly became Nintendo’s biggest game of the year in Japan and Nintendo looked to expand into America. Hiroshi Yamauchi, who took over the company from his grandfather in 1949 set up his son-in-law to run Nintendo of America.

Yamauchi decided to go all in on Radar Scope and started manufacturing thousands of cabinets and shipping them from Japan to a warehouse in New Jersey. They were able to pre-sell about 1,000 of them, but 2,000 more remained in that New Jersey warehouse collecting dust. Nobody was biting…nobody was buying.

When they realized that Radar Scope wasn’t going to sell anymore, they began promising a new smash hit.

So here was Hinoru Arakawa with 2,000 useless video game consoles and a promise to deliver a smash hit that nobody had developed yet. He announced an internal competition and received several ideas from a young employee with no video game experience.

He took a basic story – a guy trying to rescue a girl from an evil villain. And the villain would be a giant gorilla. They made the decision to take these 2,000 Radar Scope video games and convert them to a new game.

At the time, conversion kits were commonly used to update older games to get a few more quarters out of the kids. It’s the equivalent of reheating yesterdays leftovers.

They took the Radar Scope cabinet and turned the monitor sideways, so the game would play from the bottom of the screen to the top of the screen. They created a story…a common plumber saves a girl from an evil villain. The little plumber with the mission of rescuing the girl was known as “jumpman” and was given the name Mario, a suggestion from the owner of the warehouse where these 2,000 video game cabinets were being retooled. The evil villain holding the girl hostage would be a giant gorilla. The game would be called King King.

They removed the old game board and put a new one in. They connected the wiring harness, slid out the old plastic art and slid in new art panels. It took two months, but all 2,000 video games were converted.

The hero from King Kong would go on to star in several other video games, including Super Mario Brothers…Nintendo’s biggest selling video game ever. Mario has starred in more than 200 titles.

If Radar Scope had been more popular, Donkey Kong probably wouldn’t have been invented. But a leader named Arakawa and his team at Nintendo took a failure and turned it into a successful game, and in the process, created the most successful video game character of all time.

WHERE YOU COULD TAKE THIS

1. Second Chances. 
“God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together. God, you pulled me out of the grave, gave me another chance at life when I was down-and-out.” – Psalm 30:2 (The Message)

2. God isn’t through with you. “…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” – Romans 11:29

3. Failure isn’t fatal. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength
of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:26 (NASB)

Unimportant #DinosaurRoom Recap

Early Thursday morning, I joked on Twitter that I wanted to organize a conference called Dinosaur Room to discuss unimportant issues in the church that nobody cares about anymore.  Of course, this was a funny follow up to the Elephant Room, where very important issues were discussed.

A few other people jumped on board, and later that night, #DinosaurRoom became a worldwide trending topic for a few moments.  It was actually crazy to watch it all unfold.  Lots of fun all the way around.

Here were some of my favorite #DinosaurRoom tweets.

  • When you use the Bill Gaither Trio to explain the Trinity (3 people, one song), it’s a “Possibility” you’re in the #DinosaurRoom – @Tobymeis
  • The potluck is the true and better buffet.
  • A real church is where songs come out of a book and not off the wall. – @chadhunt
  • Do you call the youth ministry service X-treme or Souled Out?
  • We are very open to tongues in our church…someone sings El Shaddai almost every Sunday. – @hasonbhuffman
  • Those guys literally ripped a phone book in half with their bare hands, then I got saved.
  • What color robes do the young people like? – @cnieuwhof
  • It’s not a skit…it’s an interpretive movement.
  • Is it a vestibule, an atrium, or a narthex? We’ll decide in the #DinosaurRoom. – @jayhardwick
  • The WMU is broadcasting for 24 hours from the roof of the fellowship hall this Sunday
  • Should we take down the thrones on the stage that pastors sit in or leave them? – @caseygraham
  • Do we sing the 3rd verse, or skip it and go right to the 4th?
  • When is the best night to make everyone cry at youth camp…the first night or the last night? – @charlieswain
  • Should offering plates be gold or silver? – @willgoodwin
Some funny comments are still rolling in.  Thanks to everyone who participated in the Dinosaur Room.

Don’t Build for the Fringes

Here’s how things become complicated.

You launch a simple product with a simple interface, and one person requests an additional feature. They simply can’t use the widget unless it has the ability to sync with a particular device. So you add it, and one person is happy.

Two weeks later, you get alternate – even opposite – feedback from another customer. To keep that person happy, you release version 1.0.2. Before long, you’re adding features, re-releasing manuals, and updated 16 different links.

And this isn’t just a product issue.

  • One of your seventeen employees tweets something inappropriate so you react with a six page social media guidebook
  • One person says your emails are too long so you immediately change your writing style.
  • One person says the service is too expensive, so you slash the price.
  • One person says they would pay more, so you raise the price.
  • You read about a specific meeting at company XYZ so you add it to your weekly meeting flow.

The principle here is important. You might need to respond, bud you don’t need to react. Creating a rule or policy to deal with the exception isn’t smart. Building a business or installing a model in response to your fringe customers isn’t good.

How to Write an Email Subject Line

Most churches send out some sort of weekly or monthly email. And most of those emails aren’t opened or read. But did you know that there’s one simple thing you can do to ensure that your email is opened and read by more people?  Write something good in your subject line.

A good email starts with a good subject.

Here are five tips, adapted from the book Advertising Headlines that Make You Rich. (Yes, the book is expensive, and yes, the book is worth it.)

  1. Draw attention to a problem or desire that people have. So instead of saying, “Financial Class on Thursday night,” say something like, “Learn how to save money for your dreams this Thursday.” That let’s people know that the information you’re communicating is about them, not just you.
  2. Show people how to avoid mistakes. Instead of “Small Group Leader Training next week,” say, “Avoid these Five Mistakes in Your Small Group.” Negative headlines (five mistakes, three dumb things, etc.) have better reader rates.
  3. Use comparisons. There’s a reason that spam emails say things like “you can have the body of a supermodel.” It’s because comparisons frame the discussion and speak to peoples desires. “Kids volunteers are like superheros” is better than “Thanks for serving.”
  4. Show people that something is easy. “It’s easy to become a student ministry volunteer” is much better than “New volunteer opportunities.” People need to know that they can do it.

Put a little more thought in your email subjects, and more people will connect with your message.  For what it’s worth, these principles also apply to blog titles.  That means I should have called this post “You’re Killing Your Emails with Terrible Subjects” or “Write Email Subjects Like Joel Osteen.”

If you want to learn more about this important subject, I partnered with Giving Rocket to release an eBook called “Why Nobody Reads Your Emails”.  It’s full of a ton of coaching and ideas that will help you communicate with your church.

Principles Over Lists

Leading a team and managing a staff are two entirely different things. If you want to attract high level leaders to your organization, you’re going to set aside the management tactics and adopt a healthy leadership strategy. Top employees don’t want to be managed, but they crave good leadership.

In order to attract the right kind of people, and see them succeed in their jobs, you need to choose principles over lists.

A to do list is a management tactic, and high-level, qualified leaders don’t want to be handed a list of tasks. Instead of giving them a list of things to accomplish, they need to understand the guiding principles. Give them principles and let them operate within those principles.

Here’s an example. A manager with an employee might tell them to create a website. Put this menu at the top, this video goes in box 1, use this graphic, here’s the colors, and I like this font. That’s a list, and you’re going to get exactly what you ask for, until the high level designer gets tired of having creativity squashed.

Instead of giving a list, give principles. We need to create a simple to navigate, one page site that has a clear call to action. A good employee will ask follow up questions as needed, but they won’t be bound do your list.

If you’re leading high level people, share with them the guiding principles. Do the hard work of clarifying the values. And then get out of the way and let them lead.

Tina Fey Rules of Improv

I’m a few weeks into my 2012 reading list, and just finished Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I started this as an audio book (while running my first half-marathon and finished with the print edition a few days ago. I didn’t know much about Tina Fey, other than she was hilarious as Sarah Palin, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book. There were some great insights from her early career to her time at Saturday Night Live to her current work on 30 Rock.

Tina Fey got her start in Improv comedy, and her Rules of Improvisation have incredible applications in leadership.

Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv

1. Agree and Say Yes. In improv, you can’t shut down a scene with a “no.” You have to respect what your partner is delivering to you and go with it. People that lead with no are not fun to be around. I want my default answer – in life, business or ministry – to be a yes.

2. Yes, And. Not only should you say yes, but you need to add something to the discussion. Don’t just agree…agree and add your own voice. Introduce a new character. Add something interesting. I want to be the kind of person that makes things better. I want to leave things better than I find them. If you have ideas and suggestions, don’t keep them to yourself. Speaking up is worth the risk.

3. Make statements (as opposed to asking questions). In improv, you can’t just ask questions…that puts all the work back on the other person. You’ve got to solve problems and advance the story. If you’ve ever worked with someone who asked questions but never offered solutions, that can be extremely frustrating. Asking questions is great, but sooner or later we need to make decisions, make statements and move on.

4. There are no mistakes, only opportunities. Things are going to go haywire and wrong, and that’s no time to shut things down. Fey writes, “If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike…. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.” I love this, because I’ve made mistakes. We can sit around and whine about them, or we can move on to whatever is next.

The book was very entertaining (there is some adult humor and language) and insights like this made it a great read.

Theological Time Management

Recently I attended a monthly gathering of church planters in Atlanta, many of who are a part of the PCA. The meeting included a time of training on time management. As a self-professed organized person, this was right up my alley. Not only was the training super-helpful, it was refreshingly theological.

Time Management in the Bible

I was challenged to manage my time, not for production purposes, but because of personal values. Instead of diving into apps and methods, I was reminded of the importance of personal values. We all live for something, and our time management is a reflection of those values. I realized that while I had agonized over the core values of our church plant, and have coached numerous organizations through the process of creating and communicating core values, I had never written my own personal core values.

Managing my time is a stewardship issue…it has less to do with productivity and more to do with values. I need to spend my time on the things that are truly important, not allow the urgent or the unimportant to keep me from “making the most of my time.” (Ephesians 5:16)

Jonathan Edwards on Time Management

Jonathan Edwards says that people have a freedom of the will. In other words, people will find time to do what they love. I’ve often said that people will always find money to spend on what they truly value, but I’ve never thought about this principle in relation to time. No matter what I say, my calendar is a reflection of what I truly value.

 

Top Three Ways I Can Help Your Church in 2012

I believe the local church is the hope of the world, and in 2012, I would love to help your church. Here are the top three ways I can do that.

1. I can visit your church on a Sunday and do a “Secret Shopper” evaluation. Here’s a sample report recently delivered to a client. And here’s where you can get more information.

2. I can lead a half-day workshop focused on reorganizing your staff, creating an annual calendar, organizing your volunteers around the mission or a custom topic designed to suit your needs.

3. You can get Docs and Forms – a collection of 65 editable documents that will help you improve your systems. No need to start from scratch – these documents and forms will save you time.

Why Smart Leaders Fail

When Leaders Fail

In 2004, Sydney Finkelstein of Dartmouth College published an article entitled “Why Smart Executives Fail.” Eric Jackson from Forbes revisited the seven habits of spectacularly unsuccessful executives in a recent article. Here are those bad habits, followed by some personal observations.

Seven Reasons Smart Leaders Fail

1. They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environment. They vastly overestimate the extent to which they actually control events and vastly underestimate the role of chance and circumstance in their success. CEOs who fall prey to this belief suffer from the illusion of personal pre-eminence: Like certain film directors, they see themselves as the auteurs of their companies. As far as they’re concerned, everyone else in the company is there to execute their personal vision for the company.

2. They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and their corporation’s interests. CEOs who possess this outlook often use their companies to carry out personal ambitions. The most slippery slope of all for these executives is their tendency to use corporate funds for personal reasons. . Being the CEO of a sizable corporation today is probably the closest thing to being king of your own country, and that’s a dangerous title to assume.

3. They think they have all the answers. Leaders who are invariably crisp and decisive tend to settle issues so quickly they have no opportunity to grasp the ramifications. Worse, because these leaders need to feel they have all the answers, they aren’t open to learning new ones. Leaders who need to have all the answers shut out other points of view.

4. They ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t completely behind them. CEOs who think their job is to instill belief in their vision also think that it is their job to get everyone to buy into it. Anyone who doesn’t rally to the cause is undermining the vision. The problem with this approach is that it’s both unnecessary and destructive. CEOs don’t need to have everyone unanimously endorse their vision to have it carried out successfully. In fact, by eliminating all dissenting and contrasting viewpoints, destructive CEOs cut themselves off from their best chance of seeing and correcting problems as they arise.

5. They are consummate spokespersons, obsessed with the company image. Instead of actually accomplishing things, they often settle for the appearance of accomplishing things. When CEOs are obsessed with their image, they have little time for operational details. As a final negative twist, when CEOs make the company’s image their top priority, they run the risk of using financial-reporting practices to promote that image. Instead of treating their financial accounts as a control tool, they treat them as a public-relations tool.

6. They underestimate obstacles. Part of the allure of being a CEO is the opportunity to espouse a vision. Yet, when CEOs become so enamored of their vision, they often overlook or underestimate the difficulty of actually getting there. And when it turns out that the obstacles they casually waved aside are more troublesome than they anticipated, these CEO have a habit of plunging full-steam into the abyss.

7. They stubbornly rely on what worked for them in the past. Many CEOs on their way to becoming spectacularly unsuccessful accelerate their company’s decline by reverting to what they regard as tried-and-true methods. In their desire to make the most of what they regard as their core strengths, they cling to a static business model. They insist on providing a product to a market that no longer exists, or they fail to consider innovations in areas other than those that made the company successful in the past. Instead of considering a range of options that fit new circumstances, they use their own careers as the only point of reference and do the things that made them successful in the past. The problem is that after people have had the experience of that defining moment, if they become the CEO of a large company, they allow their defining moment to define the company as well – no matter how unrealistic it has become.

I want to revisit this list and add some of my own thoughts geared specifically to church leaders. My comments are part personal reflection and part warning.

Seven Reasons Smart Church Leaders Fail

1. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders see themselves and their companies as dominating their environment. From someone who once preached a sermon series called “Dominate,” I can relate to this warning. With rose colored glasses, I looked at what we were doing as unique, amazing and unlike any other church in town. My belief that churches of all styles and traditions were valuable was not backed up in my actions. I had a chip on my shoulder, and it wasn’t pretty.

2. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and their corporation’s interests. Starting a church was more than my job – it was my hobby and my obsession. Focusing on leading at a high level led me to insulate myself from people who couldn’t help me to get to the next level. I didn’t have hobbies. I didn’t have friends. I was the church. And the church had my personality. In retrospect, healthy separation would have been a good thing. Hobbies, friendships and energy spent outside of the church would have been good for me.

3. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders think they have all the answers. Confidence quickly becomes cockiness, especially in church leadership. This is something I struggle with constantly, and stubbornness usually isn’t helpful. Yes, there are times when you must lead with commitment and make executive decisions, but refusing to learn from other viewpoints is not a commitment to vision, it’s a character flaw. For me, I ran with a tribe of leaders who did ministry the same way – though I realized that the Kingdom was bigger than me, my world was small.

4. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t completely behind them. Vision is super important in any church – young or old, but vision can become an idol. It can cause us to shut people out who don’t share our opinions or only associate with people of similar preferences. Please don’t misunderstand – clarifying and communicating a vision is important, but policing who is in and who is out should not be an obsession.

5. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders are consummate spokespersons, obsessed with the company image. Obsessing over image sounds a lot like focusing on the form but ignoring the substance. We all know brand perception and name recognition is important, but what we look like is not more important than what we stand for. Instead of working on your image and reputation, perhaps we would be better off building substance. In my personal life and ministry, I was overly concerned with my followers and fans. Social media became a device to carefully manage my (and the church’s) image.

6. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders underestimate obstacles. People that lead with vision are often so disconnected from the operational details that they lose touch with how things really work. No matter how vision and goal oriented you are, if you don’t have the pulse of what it takes to make that vision happen, you aren’t going to lead well. We emulate the platform and schedule other leaders have, so we try to go there before it’s necessary and before we’re ready. As a leader, you must do more than steward the vision.

7. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders stubbornly rely on what worked for them in the past. I love defining moments, but trying to recreate them can be deadly. And before we start criticizing the traditional churches with pews and stained glass, stop to realize that you’re probably just as committed to your traditions. When you have to repurpose or reimagine something you initially created, you’ll understand just how hard this is.

Gifts for First Time Guests

One of the best ways to welcome guests to your church is by offering them a gift.  It really does convey value – even if they don’t stop to pick it up. This could be anything from a Bible, to a message CD, to a t-shirt. Here’s what we gave guests at Oak Leaf Church.

What Can You Give First Time Guests?

Here’s what we gave first time guests (and every church planter who ever visited) at Oak Leaf Church.

That is a mailing tube, wrapped in a full-color label, filled with a few goodies.  During the welcome, I would frequently hold one up and say something like this:

If you’re a guest with us today, we’re so glad that you’re here.  We have a special gift for you at the table in the lobby.  Just go by, let them know it’s your first time here, and take one of these home.

The fact that the gift was hidden, secret or concealed made it intriguing, and I believe it contributed to so many being picked up.  When the guest stopped by the table, a friendly volunteer would ask them to fill out a connection card.  We’d get their information so we could follow up, and they would walk away with something interesting.  I liked this idea because it was different.

What was inside the guest tube?

A variety of things.  We’d always include some information about the church.  Sometimes, we would include some candy or treats.  Usually, there would be a t-shirt or a sports bottle.   Here’s a picture of what we typically included:

How Much Do You Spend on First Time Guest Gifts?

The entire thing cost between $3 and $8, depending on what we included.  We could ramp things up or ramp things down based on the season of ministry (or the finances of the church).  Exceeding the expectations of a first time guest is absolutely worth the expense.

A volunteer team assembled them, and had a great time doing it.  We ordered the blank mailing tubes from uline.com (we used 3″ x 12″ but you can experiment with different sizes) and printed the label on a full-page label sheet purchased from an office store.  I recommend you assemble about a month’s worth at a time.

If you don’t do this all the time, consider something like this for special occasions…like Christmas or Easter.

Andy Stanley Sermon Notes // Going Public

Going Public – A Message on Baptism from Andy Stanley

Everyone has an opinion of baptism that’s shaped almost entirely by their church tradition. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus told his followers to go into all the world and baptize people.

The Meaning of the Word “Baptize”

The word “baptize” is a transliteration of a Greek word. Transliteration isn’t the same as translation – it’s taking the Greek letters and just writing their English counterpart. In Greek, the first century word we use for baptism literally means to “wash, plunge, soak or dip.” A first century recipe would have said in order to make pickles, you baptize them in vinegar.

Mark 7:4 and Luke 11:38 use the word baptize to indicate washing. So in one sense, this word didn’t have an overly religious connotation. Here’s how the word came to be associated with religion:

Between the Testaments, groups of Jews came up with a way for non-Jews to “convert” to Judaism. Each group had a slightly different list, but there was a ceremony involving:

  1. Circumcision (it’s a wonder there were any male converts!)
  2. Covenant meal (perhaps a replica of passover)
  3. Acknowledgment or memorization of the law
  4. A special sacrifice
  5. A ceremonial washing

Gentiles who wanted to become Jews went through a personal ceremonial wash to indicate that they were adopting this new way of living.

Around 30 AD, a guy named John showed up preaching that being Jewish wasn’t good enough. He talked about repentance. He told people their heart mattered. And he baptized people. This was a brand new thing, and he picked up the nickname “John the Baptizer.”

What Does Baptism Mean Today?

Baptism symbolizes a close identification with a message. It is a public declaration of a new association. It’s also a personal declaration of a new association. It’s not a condition of salvation, but an evidence of salvation.

When it comes to baptism, the form isn’t as important as the timing. Christians should be baptized as soon as possible after they make their declaration of faith and choose to follow Jesus.

Learn Before You Plan – Lessons from an Egg Drop

As soon as I learned about an Egg Drop, I knew we wanted to do it.  So I spent half a day driving from Atlanta to Greenville and back to watch one in action.  It was a year in advance, but it gave me a great frame of reference for planning our own event.

We still got a lot of things wrong, but we ironed those out by year two.  Even though I had seen the event, I had to learn where to get things, how to set things up, how to communicate internally, how to promote it to the community, how to register kids in advance, and how to leverage the event to actually invite people to church.

Everything we learned is now in this resource, and it will keep you from making the mistake we made in our first year.  Learn from someone else’s experience.  Even if you’re not planning an egg drop, see who has done what you’re thinking about doing, and learn from them.

What Should You Preach on Easter?

Easter is about 90 days away, and since it’s Superbowl Sunday for many churches, now is a great time to think and pray about what you’re going to preach on Easter.

In my years as a church planter and a pastor, I’ve seen it all.  I’ve seen churches plan to kickoff a crazy felt-needs series and I’ve seen churches preach right through the book of James.

One year, we did a series called Tattoo and talked about how our lives should be internally marked by Christ. It had an interesting tie in to the Apostle Paul and the Resurrection, yet nobody seemed to remember it because at the time I was fascinated with trying to be cool and we gave a guy a tattoo on stage during the message.

I don’t have any data, but I think the best Easter sermons are simple Gospel presentations. I tended to try and do too much on Easter, failing to realize that the Gospel is the power, not our creative elements.

For what it’s worth, we kicked off one of my favorite series ever, a series simply called “Questions” one Easter. I answered the question, “Did Jesus Really rise from the dead” and went on to talk about alcohol, divorce, and racism in the following weeks. It allowed me to deliver a fairly traditional message on Easter yet encouraged people to come back during the following weeks to hear the other topics. If you’re interested, you can get all of those message notes and graphics for FREE right here.

Seven Ideas for Planning Easter

With Easter Sunday less than 90 days away, here’s a short list of ideas you can consider right now.

  1. Instead of your typical handout, create an “at-a-glance” bulletin for your people. Instead of telling them what’s happening in the next few weeks, tell them about the important things that happen in your church all year long.  Emphasize groups, kids ministry, student ministry…the bread and butter stuff.
  2. If you do any children’s summer activities like VBS or camp, go ahead sign up people on Easter Sunday. Those who are guests at your church might be interested in these events and they will sign up on the spot.
  3. Consider doing a special Easter offering to meet a need in your community. Those who are not regulars will often give to a special project.
  4. Consider adding an extra service or two. Think about an “off-time” service on Thursday or Saturday night.  Encourage your regulars to attend during one of those services to free up seats for guests on Easter Sunday.
  5. What can you put in the hands of everyone who visits your church on Easter? Don’t wait until April Fools day to shop for a guest gift.
  6. Pull together a small team of staff members and volunteers to brainstorm ideas for Easter weekend. You have people in your church who would LOVE to share their ideas. Go ahead and schedule this meeting for early February and invite 10 people.
  7. Consider doing an Egg Drop.  It’s like an Egg Hunt, only way cooler.  Here’s a resource that combines step-by-step instructions with all the graphics, documents and samples you’ll need.