As the Sunday School Director at my church and as a Christian who wants to effectively help bring new believers into the body of Christ and new church members into our congregation, I read with great interest the book Fusion by Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson. I read the older 2007 version rather than the 2017 revised edition linked in this review. With thousands of churches implementing the system detailed in the book over more than a decade since the first edition’s publication, readers of the later edition will benefit from the experiences of many additional churches who have incorporated these methods into their regular practices.

The purpose of the book is captured in its subtitle: “Turning first-time guests into fully engaged members of your church.” That is something churches seek to do regularly as they strive to grow Christ’s church. But how does a church do that effectively in God-honoring ways? That is the challenge that this book seeks to answer not just from a theoretical basis, but from the proven experience of Searcy’s church The Journey and the thousands of additional churches who have implemented his assimilation system.

First, let me confess my juvenile and immature mental hurdle regarding the word “assimilation.” I can’t hear the word without connecting it to the Borg from Star Trek while hearing in my mind the phrase, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” As alien antagonists who forcefully take over other populations and turn them into drones, that is hardly the mental image I want of how we as churches are to assimilate newcomers into the church. But that’s my problem, not the book’s, so let’s move on…

You will be pleasantly surprised at the level of practical detail this book offers church leaders regarding assimilation, biblical hospitality, being intentional about making great first impressions, following up with first-time and second-time guests, creating opportunities to guide guests into gradual next steps through deeper relationships and commitment to service, faith and church membership. Specific examples are given of communication cards to be completed by worship participants, emails, letters and hand-written notes to send, schedules of what to do when for first-time and second-time guests, brief online surveys for guests to complete, checklists for the first-response team, an outline for a new members class, a membership covenant sample, and more. In fact, if you go to the website listed at the back of the book you can freely download a host of related resources for this assimilation system as well as a free e-book on The Eight Systems of a Healthy Church.

One simple outline that is easy to remember regarding the system is the three Rs of retention: Return, Relationships and Responsibility. Put simply, the church’s goal for the first-time guest is to get them to return. When they return, the goal shifts to one of guiding them into deeper relationships with others through various means, especially (but not exclusively) through small groups. And once relationships start to develop, leading them to deeper ownership and personal responsibility will be the next level of commitment that leads to a fuller commitment to faith and service through church membership. Return, Relationships, and Responsibility – an easy overview of the goals for assimilating guests into the life of the church.

The authors make a great point that you don’t have to buy into the entire system at once exactly as outlined (although it would probably be more effective if you did). If you choose, you can follow the suggested “seven small things you can do to get started right away” from the conclusion of the book to start tackling the beast of effective assimilation sooner rather than later. Chances are pretty good that many churches are already doing some such things to some degree now. Reading the book will help you recognize the things you’re doing right as well as a number of opportunities you may be missing. Some of these opportunities can be grasped quickly while others will take more planning, time and resources to do well.

I appreciate the note from Searcy and Henson that you need to give these efforts time to produce results. Don’t try these methods for a few weeks and then get discouraged and quit. Plan thoroughly and execute consistently for at least six months because it may well take that long for the church members and guests to adapt and respond positively to the efforts to a noticeable degree. The book reminds us of Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

All churches aren’t alike and there may be a few things you’ll read in the book that you decide just don’t fit your style or church culture. That’s OK. However, I am reminded of one evangelist’s response to someone’s objection of his approach to evangelism: “I prefer my way of doing evangelism to your way of not doing evangelism.” Ouch! If you and your church are not currently effective and intentional at assimilating guests into the life of your church, then considering Fusion‘s approach is worth of your consideration. Thousands of churches have done so and have the positive results to prove it.

People don’t necessarily go to the church that is nearest to them. They go to the one that is dearest to them. Your intentional efforts at assimilation can be a huge factor in making your church the dearest for your guests so that they choose to come back and eventually fully invest in with their lives.

Fusion is not an impersonal set of actions to implement like a cookie cutter to make drones like Star Trek’s Borg. In fact, the conclusion of the book says “The Kingdom only grows one person at a time. So focus on the one, and the one will turn into many.”

I heartily recommend the book if you are genuinely interested in reaching and keeping newcomers to your church. Do what it suggests for the glory of God and I believe you will see positive results. I look forward to being more intentional, organized and effective in my own efforts going forward as a result of reading Fusion.

As the Sunday School Director at my church, I’m keenly interesting in leading our Sunday School toward continuous growth and accomplishing its several purposes well. That is no small challenge in our inner-city congregation that currently runs about one-fourth the number of people present on Sunday mornings as it did when my family first joined there in 1988. There are many reasons for those smaller numbers, but they are not the subject of this post.

I have only been the Sunday School Director for a little over a year since early 2019. My slow approach has been to take time to observe and talk with others – sitting in on classes to see what really happens, taking notes along the way of what is admirable and where there are opportunities for improvement. Many hours of discussion have filled up meetings with my pastor and others as we ponder needed improvements. We’re on the cusp of some significant and necessary changes to accomplish what the Sunday School is designed to accomplish in the local church. That process of change will be yet another post on this blog down the road as we have some successes (and hopefully not too many failures) behind us.

In preparing recommendations for improvements to our Sunday School, my pastor handed me a book off his shelf called Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur: A Sunday School Growth Strategy for the 21st Century by Ken Hemphill. To say it is influencing our recommendations for improvement would be an understatement. We are, in fact, completely changing an earlier major recommendation that was nearly a year in the making after running into a wall of opposition from a handful of vocal opponents. We aren’t changing our goals, but we are revamping our suggested means of accomplishing them, and the ideas and insights in this book will help shape the revisions in the plan for the better.

Ken Hemphill authored the book when he was president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His prior service in churches and as director of the Southern Baptist Center for Church Growth as well as pastoring several churches gave him great experience and knowledge to share with others on the subject. Even though the book was published in 1996, I believe it is just as valid and helpful for churches today as it was years ago.

This easily digestible 176-page paperback book has the following chapters:

  • If the Sunday School is a church growth tool, somebody unplugged mine!
  • Is Sunday School a dinosaur in a technological world?
  • Establishing a Great Commission vision for the Sunday School
  • Designing an effective Sunday School
  • Organizing the Bible study program
  • Designing an effective outreach ministry
  • The ministry of assimilation
  • The ministry of teaching
  • Putting it together – keeping it working

The book begins with a brief history of the Sunday School, pointing out the apparent change in focus somewhere in the second half of the 20th century that shifted its focus from evangelism and fellowship and teaching the Bible to only fellowship and then teaching the Bible. Guess what happens when you don’t focus on evangelism? You don’t evangelize! And if you don’t evangelize, you don’t grow. Not only that, but if you do evangelize but then don’t disciple those new believers and assimilate them into the life of the church, the back door will be just as large as the front door and you still won’t grow as individuals or as a congregation. So the opening chapter lays a foundation of six principles of Sunday School growth church leaders should know and implement.

Hemphill is generous with stats that demonstrate the lackluster performance of churches and their Sunday Schools in the latter decades of the 1900s. He offers a number of problems contributing to the decline of the Sunday School: lack of evangelistic focus, loss of emphasis and commitment, loss of vision for the total work of the Sunday School, dismantling the Sunday School’s component parts over time, lack of a clear purpose statement, and fear of innovation. In contrast to these problems, however, he offers nine solid reasons why the Sunday School is the growth tool of the future.

At the heart of the book is understanding the three components of a balanced strategy for the Sunday School. They are evangelism, assimilation, and discipleship. None of the three can be given more weight than the others in importance, or the whole structure will be off balance and will fail to accomplish all three of its purposes effectively. If there is one key takeaway from the book that is easy to remember and to serve as a foundation for your understanding of what the Sunday School is to be about, it is these three terms. In our case, we’ll substitute the word relationships in place of assimilation and we’ll use outreach instead of evangelism as we reshape our understanding as a church of the three equal purposes of the Sunday School, but the three legs of that stool are essentially the same regardless of the term you prefer.

I appreciate the author’s reliance on supernatural power in the process of revitalizing the Sunday School. We must remember that we are not just completing prescribed tasks touted by a church growth strategist; we are faithfully working under the leadership of God to accomplish the purposes of the Great Commission for the glory of God. We can’t do that apart from the very presence and power of God at work through us and those with whom we minister and serve.

No major effort of revitalizing the Sunday School is going to happen if you don’t organize (or reorganize) in ways required to accomplish the purpose. Hemphill provides a number of possible structures that will vary depending on church and staff size. While this means that the structure won’t look exactly alike from one church to the next, Hemphill is rightly adamant about the need for strict age grading throughout the Sunday School including throughout the adult classes. I agree with him on that. I’ve witnessed when having fuzzy or no age boundaries for adult classes only leads to groups staying together for decades and feeling quite content with who is in the group, rarely keeping their zeal for outreach as much as they do for fellowship among themselves. New classes or better aligning existing classes with stricter age ranges can help meet the needs of all participants, especially newer participants who are less likely to feel welcome or comfortable among a group of people who have been together for many years. Age grading can also bring into glaring light the age group gaps in your congregation that may not otherwise be obvious.

The chapter on designing an effective outreach strategy gives practical suggestions for visitation, evangelism training, and making contacts. The assimilation chapter is filled with practical tips of how different people and groups can work together to integrate new people into the life of the church and in relationship with one another. The suggested organization for care groups seems critical to making it work through the Sunday School.

If you asked a random group of people, “What is the purpose of the Sunday School?” I suspect most would answer along the lines of “to teach the Bible.” They are right in part given the three areas of focus mentioned above. Bible teaching and learning is certainly at the heart of what happens in the bulk of the time given to the Sunday School when it meets together as a class. Much of what happens in terms of outreach and relationships can happen outside the Bible study time, but the Sunday School is not close to achieving its purposes without strong Bible study and discipleship. To this end, Hemphill provides a number of suggestions for teachers and church leaders to assure quality teaching.

The final chapter provides a host of specific gems of advice to sum up in one place the key points made in earlier chapters and to provide final thoughts. Key points are categorized into sections on integrating the work of the class, building the church through the Sunday School, and creatively providing space. That makes the key takeaways from the book easy to reference in the future and easier to remember.

Many may think the Sunday School is a dinosaur. I disagree or I wouldn’t be a Sunday School Director. I wouldn’t devote time and energy to participating as a student or teacher. I certainly wouldn’t devote many volunteer hours to trying to grow our church through the Sunday School if I didn’t believe it is both possible and the right thing to do for all ages within the church. For those and other reasons mentioned above, I commend to you the book Revitalizing the Sunday School by Ken Hemphill. It is practical, informative, challenging, encouraging, and just as relevant now as when it was first published. Keep an open mind and heart as you read it, then seek the Lord’s wisdom in how you can use this info to strengthen your church through the Sunday School for the glory of our awesome God.

Last month I wrote a blog post about my decision to walk away from Facebook and Twitter for a month. Now that the month of self-imposed exile is behind me, it’s time to reflect on the experience.

Not surprisingly, there is both good and bad that comes with ignoring channels of communication where one is accustomed to being very active. I still had 24 hours in my days, but now about two or more of those hours would not be spent in social media outside of work as had been my habit previously. So what changed?

There were definitely some things I missed – things I found myself instinctively reaching for my phone to pursue before remembering they were off limits. (It helped that I deleted the icons for the apps from my phone for the month.) Some of those moments were deer-in-the-headlights times when I thought, “Now what do I do? This is a time where I know I’d normally be on my phone.”

Specifically, the things I missed while away include:

  • Seeing photos of family and friends on Facebook;
  • Keeping current with important events in the lives of friends, extended family, and acquaintances I’m only connected with on Facebook or Twitter;
  • The doses of humor I get regularly from my funnier friends;
  • Dog photos;
  • Assisting with the Facebook and Twitter efforts of my church on Sunday mornings during our worship.

However, the things I enjoyed more while away is longer:

  • I read more. The 1.5 books I read during the time isn’t a lot, but it’s about 1 more than I usually read in a month.
  • I slept more. My body keeps telling me to do more of this. Not wasting an hour sitting in bed watching Facebook videos before going to sleep helped.
  • I felt freer to take more and longer walks with my dog, Callie. Add to that the now mandatory working from home due to the coronavirus and Callie worships me now more than ever if that’s possible.
  • I had to get over the temptation to narrate my life online and just live it instead. Living it is better.
  • I enjoyed wonderful meals without feeling the need to take a photo and post it somewhere. I just savored the food and the moment.
  • I had more time to do needed volunteer work in my role as Sunday School Director for my church where we are in the midst of some significant changes.
  • I enjoyed seeing far fewer political rants that just get my blood boiling and change nobody’s opinion.
  • I spent a little more time initially on LinkedIn browsing content related to my profession, but I eventually set a 10-minute daily limit on that through my phone’s app timer. I didn’t just want the month to be substituting one form of social media for another.
  • I more frequently browsed NextDoor.com as well to see what was going on in my neighborhood, but also set that to a limit of 10 minutes per day.
  • I took the time to more thoroughly explore Reddit for the first time. I can’t believe that hasn’t been in my regular repertoire of social media sites, but it hasn’t. I found it just as addictive as the others and deleted the app from my phone within 24 hours of first checking it out. I haven’t been back.
  • I fed my election year political hunger through regular visits to RealClearPolitics.com, but gave it the same 10 minute limit daily.

It would be nice to say that I did far more meaningful, transformational, important things with those 2-3 hours of time daily previously given to Facebook and Twitter, but this was an experiment to see what I would do – not a planned effort to do any predetermined list of replacements.

So what are the main takeaways for me from this experience?

  1. I’d rate my life as generally better for the month without Facebook and Twitter than how things were previously.
  2. If it was better without them, it would be silly to return to the earlier practice after the experiment.
  3. If I return to some degree to social media, it would be foolish to contribute to that which I was glad to get away from (such as politics), and wise to do more of what I missed (humor).
  4. Since there is some good in social media, I’ll return to it but in a time-limited capacity. For now, I’m going to use my phone’s app timer to limit each social media platform to 10 minutes a day outside of work or church-related service. That’s still more time in total than I should give to it if I max out all channels any given day. However, I usually didn’t hit the timer limit on many, if any, apps during the past month, so I don’t expect to do so going forward, either. You don’t have to choose either total addiction or total abstinence when it comes to social media. You can find a healthy balance and be disciplined in how you approach it.
  5. I encourage everyone who is on a computer or phone outside of work for an hour or more a day to seriously consider such a time away as I had this past month. So many people are addicted to their phones or other devices. You keep your head in it at home, at work, on the go, and in gatherings where life can be better and more meaningful if you are present in the real world and not in social media land. Try it! It will reveal some things to you about yourself and what you’re missing. If you’re like me, the detox will be time well spent, and social media has been my profession and personal passion for the past decade! I promise you’ll survive without it.

Life is a journey. We come to crossroads and we choose a path. At this point in my journey, it seems right to dial back to a reasonable daily limit how much non-work time I give to social media. There is too much else that is more important to do – including relaxing and doing nothing at times.

Peace.

Social media has been my profession since 2010. I manage a large, 70,000-person internal community for a company that’s #56 on the Fortune 500 list. I served many years on its social media team and now perform those same functions from its Corporate Communications team. Through the years, I’ve had responsibilities that include the company’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts as well as some external customer-facing communities and our employee advocacy program. I love my work and the company that allows me to have this much fun while working with amazing people and getting paid for it.

Personally, social media has been a huge part of my life as well for even longer. I’ve had an active role in my church’s social media for a number of years. Like many of you, I check my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts multiple times daily in addition to other online communities that are important to me. I’ve been in a pattern for many months where my main way of winding down at night before going to bed is to enjoy a number of Facebook videos that make me laugh or smile. It isn’t uncommon for me to spend at least a couple hours a day outside of my work duties browsing personal social media – mostly Facebook with a little Twitter and LinkedIn thrown in.

It is no small decision for me, then, to take a break from Facebook (and Twitter) for the next month beginning today – February 17, 2020 – and going until at least March 17. Why am I doing this?

Not in reaction to any particular stimulus.

Not as a protest against anyone or anything.

Not because I’m angry (I’m not).

Not to try to convince anyone else to do the same.

So why? Because I want to see what my life can be like if I reclaim that 2+ hours a day spent voluntarily online and invest that time elsewhere. I need to read more. I need to sleep more. I need to volunteer more. I need to do more around the house. I need more real-life, face-to-face time than Internet-based interactions with people.

I’ve thought about taking a short break from social media for years, but have never made the decision to do so because I enjoy it so much. It’s fun. It’s my profession. I connect with so many other wonderful people (and a few jerks) online. But I don’t like what I sense is a huge negative impact on time and meaningful relationships because of so much time with my head staring at a screen when it doesn’t have to be. So I’m putting that part of me on pause for a month.

I make no promises of what will happen after the month is up. Maybe I’ll go back to exactly the way things were. Perhaps I’ll learn some things in the next 30 days that cause me to make some permanent changes. We’ll find out together.

After this blog post is published and shared on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I’ll be signing off Facebook and Twitter until March 17. I’ll still check LinkedIn with my usual once-every-few-days frequency for a few minutes since that’s mostly professional. I’ll visit the professional community of my peers around the globe hosted by The Community Roundtable. But I will try to get my head out of the Internet personal cloud and back on earth where I suspect it is better off.

If you need me in the coming weeks, call or text me if you know my number. If you don’t have that, my personal email is jeffkross@yahoo.com.

Peace. Enjoy the next month.

My 2020 Goals for Body, Mind and Spirit

Posted: January 25, 2020 in Goals
Tags: , , ,

It’s been a few years since I’ve spelled out on this blog specific goals for a new year. I always have goals, of course, both for my professional and personal life, but I don’t always write about them publicly. Like many of you, I’ve had years of achieving some goals while falling short on others. Occasionally, I’ve been too ambitious and found myself burdened by trying to tackle too many personal goals. That ends up being discouraging and counterproductive.

For 2020 I’m trying to be balanced and simple in my goals. My professional goals will be documented at work in the system of record for that. For my personal goals I’ll document here, I like the categories of body, mind and spirit, so I’m coming back to that framework this year. I’m also going to keep it simple by only having one specific goal in each category.

Here they are:

My goal for my body this year is to average at least 10,000 steps per day for all 366 days of this leap year. Ideally, I won’t go any day this year with less than 10,000 steps, but injury and illness can play a part over which I have no control, so I’ll be content with averaging that for a total of 3.66 million steps this year. How I get them doesn’t matter – walking, jogging, treadmill, walking the dog – whatever. I’m writing this on January 25 and so far I haven’t had a day with less than 10,000 steps, so I’m off to a good start.

My goal for my mind this year is to write two blog posts per month – one personal on this blog site and one professional on either LinkedIn or another site. With nearly 700 blog posts under my belt between this site and elsewhere, it should be evident I enjoy writing, but I’ve gotten out of the habit the last few years and haven’t been consistent. I can do better. Writing helps me clarify things in my own mind and reflect on various topics in a way that’s also hopefully of value to a few others. This post counts as the personal post for January, so I have one more to do in the next week on LinkedIn to be on track. I already know what it’ll be about, so I just have to set aside the time to do it.

My goal for my spirit is to spend one hour per day in private Bible study and prayer. For more years than not throughout my teen and adult life I’ve been pretty consistent in my reading and devotional times. Last year was probably my worst, though, in many years and I felt it. I’m in the middle of reading and praying my way through the Reformation Study Bible, so I should be able to complete that this year and start on another study Bible I haven’t yet read when I’m through with this one. There is nothing in my life any more important than spending time with the Lord, learning His Word, and becoming more like Him. If other things on my schedule have to go to make time for this, then it’ll be a good trade. So far I’ve only missed one day in January and that was a Sunday where several hours were spent in study and worship at church and when guests in the home took the remainder of the day and evening, so I won’t feel too bad about that. Still, private time is needed on Sundays as well because the nature of private devotions is very different than public study and worship.

Sharing goals with others helps one be accountable, so I invite any of you to check in with me from time to time and ask how I’m coming on the goals.

What about you? What are your goals for 2020? Leave me a comment.