Last week I had lunch with a brother in Christ and elder in my local church. He's the kind of guy who literally puts his phone number out there for anyone to call him. And many guys do, about one per week on average.
Many of these guys say they want to get connected in the church in some way. In the past, this brother would send an email listing out the various groups guys could join, figuring that based on time and location, they'd select the best fit.
The response rate on this old way of outreach was 1 guy out of 10 would respond to the email.
After a recent conversation where we talked about how striking it was for me in California when a guy reached out to buy me coffee and just get to know me, this brother decided to try a new tactic.
Now he emails guys with a simple request to get coffee and get to know them so he can help guys figure out where to connect.
The response rate on this new approach is 9 out of 10 guys respond to the email.
That's a 900% increase in response rate in under 60 days!!!
So what can we take away from this?
- People like to connect with people, not programs and groups.
- We need people willing to put their name and number out there.
- This takes time and commitment, this elder has had 10, maybe 20 coffee appointments over a couple months, which he just counts as the cost of making disciples.
Sometimes I think it's helpful to know, very practically, what people do with regards to their faith.
I remember when I met Francis Chan wanting to just ask him, how much do you pray and when? Where do you go to pray. Real practical details!
So anyway, one thing I've realized about myself is that it's really helpful for me to have blocks of time scheduled in my calendar to pray, read Scripture, and be with other Christians so that God can work through all of those things.
Here's what that looks like right now:
10:00a Get to church 30 min. early to talk to people
All-day Whitney and I literally block Sundays from work and big trips
6:30a I hop on a 60 min. call to pray with guys from the Philly New Canaan Society Chapter
5:30p I hop on a 45 min. call to talk life with New Canaan Society guys from across the country
All-day I typically fast, replacing meals with prayer
6:30a I meet guys from my church for breakfast and to check-in on life, we also often read a book
6:00p Monthly a group of guys talks life as part of the New Canaan Society Philly Chapter
7a Once a month I grab breakfast with guys from the New Canaan Society Philly Chapter
11a Every week I hop on a 1-hour call with a dear brother to talk about our ministry in common, writing about our faith journey
Above and beyond this, there is my own unscheduled time in Scripture, in prayer, and in fellowship, which has times of intensity and times when it is less so. I like that it isn't schedule or formulaic, but I also very much appreciate the discipline and rhythm that this schedule has provided for my faith.
By no means am I saying this is the right amount, for some its not possible, for others it wouldn't be enough. I yearn for a time when I do far more, Whitney and I are eyeing volunteering to at church and admire people who are more active in ministry or leading worship and all the extra time that entails.
In closing, as I've alluded to in this recent blog post about building a deep church family, I think making these kinds of sacrifices of time are essential, not to mention Biblically sound, and I hope this is helpful and an encouragement to some of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I want genuine church family. The kind it talks about in the Book of Acts.
People that I know and who know me--strengths and my weaknesses.
People I can repent to, and who will hold me accountable and sharpen me.
People I'm going to support (and by supported by) materially and spiritually.
The kind of church family that I trust to help raise up my kids.
Since 2012 Whitney and I have searched for this, we've looked at lots of churches, big and small. And this type of community is hard to come by.
If I have to point to the top reason why, it's simple, it's not a priority for most people. Instead, we'd rather:
Be in lots of other social circles
Have ourselves or our kids in a bunch of activities
Preserve time to just be with our own family
Work a bunch so we can afford a more comfortable life
Also, for the most part, we pretty much wait to connect with them around church programmed small groups, picnics, or other functions.
The problem is, however, that most of us are pretty much booked solid, and so our only hope to connect more deeply is to either 1. quit stuff, or 2. bring our church family into the activities of our regular life. And I actually propose must of us need to do both!
Make no mistake, I'm guilty of this too.
The only "leg I have to stand on here" is that I'm fighting this fight. I've quit stuff (watching sports regularly, physical training, hobbies), and Whitney and I are also doing the following:
- We've joined a small group. I meet guys on Thursday morning for an hour to check in on life and typically we're reading through a book. Whitney does the same on Fridays.
- I show up at the Men's breakfasts and other events whenever I can. Even more, I've signed up to help out once in awhile.
- We've started reaching out to anyone who shows any sign of wanting to connect more. We give them our number and get theirs, then text them. This usually leads to us inviting folks over for dinner, and we take it from there.
- I've targeted specific people to talk to, typically men who exhibit real commitment or wisdom, and ask to have coffee with them just to learn who they are, and figure out ways we might work together.
- We pray for people we meet and to connect more deeply, and we sometimes will let people know we're praying and if we've gotten any sense from the Lord about it.
- Whitney and I have couples over for dinner every few months.
- We sign up for the opportunities to meet other new members, for example, our church has a "Dinner for 8" program to keep us meeting new people.
Is this a formula for deep spiritual community. Not at all.
In fact, it's going much more slowly that Whitney and I would like. We're a long way away from sitting down with other families to talk about our possessions and what we need to sell to support each other, like it says in Acts 2:45.
But we're not giving up, and we're trusting that God is going to provide this in the right season. And in the absence of it, as we've prayed about it, we've sensed that God is saying to us, "right now, I am enough." He's also given us a vision about one day having deeper community, and we trust His promise there.
I'm also starting to get more upfront about what I'm looking for in the church. I've been telling guys that I want to talk about the serious aspects of life, or I just start talking about them myself.
Recently, one gentleman in the church and I sat down and started thinking through how we can challenge more guys to be interested in this kind of community. It's a work in progress, but we've got a few ideas we're going to try.
Galatians Chapter 5
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
A couple months back I attended a pretty swanky affair at the United Nations. Most of the attendees were either very wealthy, accomplished, popular, or all three! Seriously, George Soros' son was walking around, so to Meryl Davis, and many others. It's not clear why they let me in...
Nonetheless, in a room with smart, rich, young people, I had a notion that I'd be hard pressed to find anyone wanting to talk about faith in God. After all, if you read the reports, those are precisely the factors with a high propensity for disinterest in religion. Boy was I wrong.
I wasn't there a full day when I started to hear conversations about God. In fact, that first night on my walk back from dinner, I ended up having an hour long conversation with a mildly practicing Jewish woman about Jesus. It was remarkable and had me literally choked up to tears.
Night two, I spoke with the leader of a major movement in Mexico--this guy literally has a million people following him on social media and in other places. I asked him what drives him and was floored when he replied that it's when he's ministering to people, that's where he meet's Jesus. Again. Ryan. Choked. Up.
A Saturday evening soiree I stopped by was called "Shabbat Unplugged." I had no idea what it meant, but as soon as I entered I was greeted with a blessing by a woman who seemed to be the host. In the hour or so event, the hosts of the event, a husband and wife duo, stood on a couch and the husband prayed over the wife. We all raised our hands to pray with them. They broke bread and then passed it around the room to the 100 in attendance. A guy jumped up and recited an amazing poem. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought I was in a lively church fellowship and worship session right there in Trump Plaza!
There was a special breakout session specifically to explore religion and how the world religions could get along. I thought I'd be one of a few to show up, again, wrong, it was standing room only. At lunch I sat with a table with a Hindu, Atheist, Universalist, and some other kind of -ist. To start the discussion, we prayed in four different traditions.
What really blew me away though, was a series of questions they asked the crowd. First, raise your hand if you identify with only one religion. Only about 25% of the hands went up. Then, they asked, raise your hand if you have had some experience with "the other" that you cannot explain, but which is central to your faith. Almost every hand went up!
People are being touched by God, that much is clear. They just don't know what to make of it, that sense that there is something bigger doesn't easily line up with what they see as the available options of religion around them.
Now I was soaring high, really sensing God move in and through this crowd. Why wouldn't He, for Scripture says in Proverbs 21 that God controls the kings of this world.
It kept growing, the reality that God and faith and Jesus were all around New York City and among this group. One night, on a yacht sailing around the Harbor, I got to talking with a wealth adviser from California. I don't remember how faith came up, but when it did she revealed to me that she was beginning to get inquiries from her clients about how faith should be factored into their finances. She was uncertain about how to respond, especially since some of them feared an "end of the world" scenario, and so I offered to be of counsel to her anytime.
Another guy I met raved about his start-up, and how it enables people to find each other to do service projects much easier. Curious, I asked him what drove his vision for the whole thing. He leaned in and he told me that, secretly, it was a vision from God, and that he'd love to tell me more if we could set up a call for a week later.
This was all a great encouragement to me, and also, with it there was a real weightiness. The realization that in this world there is not a battle against flesh and blood but against principalities of evil. Realizing that where there is good, there is an enemy that seeks to destroy and to devour around every corner. How will people come to know these truths?
In the days after the event, I got a flurry of emails from folks I had met who intended to keep in touch. One such email included a hint about the faith that sustained the sender, a young man. I checked his LinkedIn profile for clues, and then when I replied that I was a believer, and was praying for God to use me for the good of this group, I was quickly introduced to a handful of others who had found each other and were already praying and planning seeking to serve the community with grace and truth.
In closing, I'll tell you about a documentary film maker I met at the event. A super personable guy, we hit it off and he beamed about how he had shot 19 videos, that we set to air on a major network about this movement. His job was to capture it and tell the story. I replied to him that there was an unseen current beneath this movement that he has to capture, and that is the faith of these people, and the very hand of God. Just then someone got up in front of the room to pray.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stoneand give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." Ezekiel 36:26-27
I was traveling on the East Coast, and I took a bite into a Chik-fil-A sandwich. They aren't so prevelant in San Jose yet. I posted a picture of said sandwich, to which a reply was soon posted that I was supporting a hate group.
When I read the message, I had an immediate sense that a serious division was being dropped between myself and this dear brother. I prayed right away. I was in a good place at that time, in the Word, feeling full of peace and love. And so I called this brother, no answer. I left a message. There was nothing to hide, even though I simply like Chik-fil-A's chicken sandwiches, I am full aware of the positions both for and against their Christian stance.
Days go by, no return call. I call again. Still nothing. The weight of division growing wider caused me distress. I decided to pray and fast over it. I enlisted others to pray with me over it. One night, while praying with a friend, the friend pointed out that it was not be who had division in my heart, but rather this brother who did. So we shifted our prayer for the brothers heart, that God would work in it and soften it toward me.
Within 48 hours, I received a call from this brother. It was on Mother's Day, I will never forget it. As I received it, I looked up to the sky through the trees and at the son, and I said that you Jesus. On the phone, this brother said to me that he wants to talk to me when the time is right, but more importantly that he loves me, and that he knows I am a good guy. He was reminded of this because he ran into a guy while playing softball who, after putting "two and two together" realized he knows me, and who then gave this brother of mine unsolicited words about how I am a good guy. These words were received and they rekindled a love for me, and that is why he was calling.
As I heard this story over the phone, tears came to my eyes. I just kept saying in my thoughts, "praise you God, praise you!" To see a prayer work so clearly, so dramatically, so fast, it is amazing to behold! Only God can change hearts like this, without any human interaction between us in the meantime. Where the Enemy (Satan) seeks to divide and destroy, God is all powerful for redeem.
To top it off, this brother of mine concluded by saying that it was too long since he'd seen me, and that he would book a flight for a visit within a week, which he soon did. This was an amazing turn of events, and I was delighted. Though, mixed with my delight was a growing concern around this conversation I would have with this brother. I knew that he had a firm belief that Chik-fil-A and their Christian stance, specifically in favor of the traditional family, was wrong. And I know he knows that I share the same Christian values, so what would become of our conversation?
Upon his visit a few weeks later, we had a delightful time. There was no early confrontation, and through much prayer and fasting before his arrival, I felt well prepared to talk about anything, especially Jesus! We took a day trip to Sonoma to visit wine country. A great day, but as we left, my dear brother did not stop imbibing on wine. In fact, he opened a bottle in the backseat of the car, and against protests, kept drinking. Soon he was becoming confrontational, angry even. He began to come at me "swinging" for my beliefs.
The situation became very uncomfortable. I did not want to even speak or rationalize with someone who was drunk. And yet, the tirade had to stop. I raised my voice, "Let me tell you why you are here," I said. I reminded him how a month or so ago he would not return my calls, how he was angry at me because of my post about Chik-fil-A. He said he remembered this. I told him how it distressed me so that I prayed and fasted for several weeks. He was silent. Then I recalled how he ran into someone, quite randomly, who exclaimed my character so that he had a change of heart, and called me, which led him to take the trip to visit. I said, "Can't you see, God loves you, he brought you here!" As I said these words, my dear brother broke down in tears, he accepted the love of God in that moment, I believe, and he even repeated the words, "God does love me, he does." It was a tender moment, we both cried.
I wish I could tell you that the division was eliminated entirely on that night, it was not. After all, drunkenness and shame were still present. The next day, there was a sheepish sense and my brother wanted to avoid me, I think. However, there was no reason for it--that would just be allowing victory to the enemy. And so I sat next to him, put my arm around him, I told him I love him, that we can always talk and even when we do not agree, we will still love each other in words and in action. He apologized for his behavior, and I immediately forgave him. I said we must forget about it, and was determined to move on and have a fun day, after all, it was my birthday!
In conclusion, what I learned most about this trial is that God heard my prayer and fasting brought a brother to me, He changed a heart, put someone in my brothers path to remind him. I also learned that in this case, that far more than words or a carefully constructed argument, it was my life itself that likely spoke to my brother. It was how my wife made such a big deal over my birthday with thoughtful gifts and homemade recipes. It was how we visited an early morning prayer group and the guys were so welcoming. It was how we played golf and a friend stopped to pray before we tee'd off and my pals were fighting over who could pay for lunch. It is the authentic overwhelming love of Jesus, expressed in relationships and community, that draws someone to God.