Category Archives: weekend services

Kidmin Take Over!

Kidmin Children's church

Kid Nation at South Hill's Church

For the past two weekends our Children’s Ministry (Kidmin) has taken over our church…and it has been fantastic.  Last weekend Pastor Justyn Smith and his team took over our extended campus and this weekend they took over the main campus. From the Kid’s worship team leading songs with bubbles and confetti, to Pastor Jesse and the comedic antics of Cowboy Curley Joe bringing the point home. From the story telling sound effects of  Timmy to the powerful message from Justyn… it was truly amazing!

Why would we do that? Why would we allow the Children’s Ministry to take over the main service. The primary reason… Kids are important! Very important!  The two secondary reasons are one, to highlight what an amazing Kidmin team we have, and to allow everyone to see what their kids get to experience every week. Second, volunteer recruitment. When people see what an amazing ministry this is, and how exciting and rewarding it is to help in that area, they are much more likely to come on board than with the typical “sign up table” or announcement in the bulletin.

I know what many of you are thinking “that’s great for you, but we don’t have those kinds of resources.” Even if you are at a smaller church, you can still have a fantastic Children’s Ministry. There are great resources available too, if you just know where to look. Join a Celera Kidmin group, check out the blogs of the Kidmin Coaches, many of them have free resources and great ideas. Kidmin should never be an after thought, it should be at the top of the list. When a Children’s Ministry is strong healthy and growing, then chances are much better that your church is strong, healthy and growing.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


“If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God!”

-Dwight L. Moody


Growing with Multiple Church Sites

satellite church campus

Satellite locations can be a great way to expand your church

There are many great reasons for using a multi-site approach when it comes to church growth.  Satellite campuses can be a great way to plant a church in a new community without starting completely from scratch. Satellite campus are also a great way to expand when you have outgrown your main church campus. For example, at South Hills we were maxed out in our Sunday services, so we launched a satellite campus at a local high school.

There are also many ways to conduct a satellite campus. Currently, the high school is close enough that we staggered our service times, and I speak at both locations.  When our satellite location was further away, we recorded the message given at our Saturday evening service, and that was shown at the satellite on Sunday morning.  Mark Batterson has been a forerunner in the multi-site church approach, and I have included some incites from his blog regarding the why and how his church approaches the multi-site model.

Multi-Site Model

We continue the Gospel series this weekend. All of our campus pastors are teaching live! Two of them are teaching for the first time at NCC!

In our multi-site model, we have have one teacher each weekend. We have 3-4 live messages and 6-7 video messages. I preach about 36 times per year. Joel Schmidgall and Heather Zempel, our Executive Pastor and Discipleship Pastor, form our teaching team and they teach about 10-12 times times collectively. And our Campus Pastors teach live once a quarter. We honestly don’t have many guests speakers, though we do try to get my friend and mentor, Dick Foth, in the pulpit whenever he is in town. In fact, he is an ad hoc member of our teaching team.

For what it’s worth, I used to teach 48-50 times per year in the early days, but I didn’t feel like it was a sustainable pace for me because of my various callings and commitments. I also think it’s valuable for our congregation to hear different voices. A teaching team is more stereophonic.

Your Responsiblity = Their Opportunity

I think one role of leadership is creating opportunities for others. If you do everything yourself, your potential is limited to your abilities. I know that sounds obvious, but the obvious eludes us! If you’re doing things that others can do 80% as well as you can, then you are not just wasting your time. You are wasting other’s gifts! Think of it this way: your responsibility = someone else’s opportunity!

If you learn to unleash others and create opportunities for them to step into their gifts, then your potential for impact multiplies exponentially. That’s one reason I love multi-site. It forces us to raise us six times as many people to use their gifts.

I think today was such a great example of that principle. Mike Whitford, our new campus pastor at Ebenezers, preached for the first time. Kurtis Parks, our new campus pastor at our Potomac Yard location, preached for the first time. And Travis Mason, a new NCC protege, led worship for the first time. So proud of them. Few things are as emotionally rewarding to me as seeing people step into their gifts with holy confidence and letting God use them!

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

-Andrew Carnegie

Loving and Leading the youth of the “Next Generation”

happy teens

Reach out to the youth in your community and encourage them to Thrive

On the Weekend of July 3rd and 4th South Hills Church vibrated with a new energy, an energy and vitality that comes from youth who are on fire and passionately following Christ. For it was on that weekend that “Remnant Youth” took over all of South Hills services. Beginning in our Saturday night service and carrying through all of our Sunday mourning services, the youth and youth staff took over or assisted in every aspect our services.  From ushering, to leading worship, to announcements they were there, and not just physically but in a very real, connected, vibrant way. Finally, our fabulous Youth Pastor Chris Harrell (affectionately known as PCH) gave the message. It was an amazing weekend!

So now you may be asking, why? Why would we trust our weekend services to a bunch of kids and a youth pastor? There are several reasons.  First of all we take reaching out to the youth in our church and our community very seriously, and the reason for this is…

  • Research from Barna states “That young adults between 17 and 35 make up approximately 35% of our population nationally, but within our churches, most are lucky if they average 10%.

Secondly, teens and young adults are passionate and want to share that passion. Under the right leadership that passion can be directed to do amazing things. Here at South Hills we have made having the right leadership a very high priority and now have an amazing team of staff and volunteers to love on and guide these kids. Their passion in our services is contagious, with their uninhibited praise of the God they love. Also, most often youth thrive when given responsibility. When they are trusted with something big and given the right tools and guidance to complete the task, I have seen truly great things happen.  This 4th of July weekend was no exception.

I asked Pastor Chris Harrell to sum up the why and how of Remnant Youth, and the following is what he had to say…

Remnant: A group that remains after the majority no longer exists.

At South Hills, our youth or Next Generation ministry (this includes Jr. High through the 20 something crowd) is called Remnant. We, as Remnant, desire to be what is left from what Jesus originally asked of His followers. Most of what is thought of Christianity or ‘church people’ isn’t really biblically accurate. We want to redefine what our culture believes about Jesus and His Church… and by church, we do not mean the building, but the people who enter the doors. At Remnant we call our ‘services’, gatherings, because it’s a ‘church’ that is gathering rather than a ‘service’ they are getting. At South Hills, our leadership believes in raising up the Next Generation and actually gave us COMPLETE freedom over an entire set of weekend services. I can NOT bold, underline or italicize how much of an impact this had on our young people. They KNOW they are believed in, supported and encouraged to be all God has them to be.

It is our goal at Remnant that we will be known for our love above all else and we will celebrate everyone because everyone matters!

We believe Jesus meant it when he said to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and “They will know you are my disciples when you love one another” (John 13:35)

For too long the message of love and grace has not been found amongst Christians, but instead the opposite was to be expected… hate and condemnation. We have made this our priority; to love without judging, no strings attached. Our generation (teens, tweens and 20s) is seeking truth, seeking transparency, seeking that which is genuine. And so we are transparent, we offer truth, and strive to be genuine.

We have found that when you offer unconditional belonging to a generation who is used to circumstantial love, that walls will fall, voices will be heard and hearts will be opened. This is where the church must invite people, including the youth, to come to and then be ready to journey with those who come.

I’d love to tell you all the stories. I’d tell you about girls who were Atheist and now believe in Christ, and are learning how to walk their mom through her fight with breast cancer. I’d tell you of the cutters who have given us erasers and blades as a surrender to the healing power of Christ. All would say they thought church was so outdated, irrelevant, or just not for them. But love is for everybody. So at Remnant, they realize that the church is for them, and they are for the church. Countless students who wanted nothing to do with God or church, have again found themselves surrounded by a love they could not explain… and months later have discovered what it means to be a part of a family. Students have walked away from addictions, girls have found their identity as daughters of God, relationships have been healed, and young men have learned who they are in Christ instead of how cool or popular they are at school. It’s not a perfect group of people…quite the opposite. That’s how we know that it’s healthy….alive…moving….and changing lives.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12

“Make a Difference in the Next Generation!”

children's ministry

Making children a priority is vital to every church

What comes to your mind when you think of growing your church? When you are visualizing reaching your community for Christ, who are you picturing? I think it would be probable to say that no matter what your vision of church growth may be, the people most of you are picturing reaching out to,the people you are envisioning filling the seats of your church are adults.

I recently read this article by Greg Baird (one of our new Celera Kidmin coaches) who was a guest writer for the Pastor’s Coach. In his article, Greg shows us the importance of a strong, impactful children’s ministry both for those who already attend your church and for those you are reaching out to in your community.  I challenge you to read the article, and then take a good, honest look at your children’s ministry.

“Make a Difference in the Next Generation!”

“What do you want to do when you get out of college?” is the question I was often asked. “I want to be in full-time ministry” was my standard response. Of course, that always led to the next question, “What area of ministry?” And my usual response? “I’m not sure, I just know it won’t be with kids!” God has a sense of humor.

I grew up immersed in ministry. My parents led Junior High groups and discipled college students in Japan (Dad was in the Navy). Then, after he retired and graduated with Bible and Counseling degrees, they moved our family to the mission field to plant a church. I saw many aspects of ministry, and decided early on it was for me – I just wasn’t sure in what area. But I knew I wanted to be a leader who made a difference. Just knew I wasn’t interested in working with kids. As a 16 year old I taught a first and second-grade Sunday School class on the field in Australia. Nope, didn’t want anything to do with kids after that!

After college, things changed. A friend invited me to work at a kids’ camp. That’s where I found my calling. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but over the few months I was there God’s voice was clear: “I want you to reach my children, and I want you to do it by equipping others.” That was it. That was how I was going to make a difference in people’s lives.

What God impressed on me during my time at that kids’ camp is the value of children in His eyes. Jesus tangibly modeled this with the familiar story found in Mark 10:13-16. He rebuked the disciples for their lack of value of children and then tells them that the faith of a child is exactly the kind of faith we need to have! With that, Jesus does more than He was asked to do – He not only touches them to bless them, but He takes them up in His arms and fervently prays over them. They were of great value to Him, and He greatly loved them.

Children are no different today. Innocent and vulnerable, yet fully capable of a very real faith, they represent the single greatest mission field in the world. Children are, by far, the most responsive to evangelistic efforts. Some studies indicate that as many as 85% of those who accept Christ as their Savior will do so between the ages of 4 and 14.

Since that time at the kids’ camp, as I have pursued my calling and sought to equip others to reach kids, I have discovered much more about the world of children in the church. Children’s Ministry is a complex and challenging ministry, encompassing the greatest developmental range of any ministry age group. It represents the area of highest risk – be it for physical injury or unlawful conduct by adults. It presents the greatest communication challenges — as adults try to communicate the love of Jesus and Biblical truth in age appropriate and engaging ways. And children’s ministry represents the rewarding but never-ending challenge of recruiting, training, and retaining large numbers of volunteers!

Yet as I work with churches across the country, I too often find that Children’s Ministry is viewed as childcare. The prevailing, yet often unspoken, sentiment is “keep the children busy while the real ministry (to adults) is happening.” The unrecognized attitude is nothing less than that of the disciples. I often wonder what Jesus would think of how churches approach ministry to children.

Recently I was consulting with a Senior Pastor and we engaged in a very candid discussion about the value of Children’s Ministry. He was wrestling with how his church ought to approach it, and shared how very few churches within their denomination, and even within their region, gave children the kind of value that I was urging him to consider. I told him that perhaps he ought to be the one to set the example for not only his own church, but other churches within the denomination and region. With some hesitancy in his eyes, he asked me what that might look like. I think he thought I was suggesting he take his turn teaching in the three year old class!

I assured this Pastor that I was not suggesting he teach the three year old class, nor was I suggesting that Children’s Ministry take over the church. Instead, I recommended three ways that he and the church could give appropriate value to children:

1. Cast vision to match the incredible potential of spiritual formation within Children’s Ministry.

The potential that resides in children as the most spiritually receptive members of the body, mandates reaching them for Christ as early as possible and equipping parents to disciple them at home.

  • Talk about the vision of reaching children for Christ at every opportunity
  • Train parents and volunteers to lead children to Christ
  • Offer training for parents on how to effectively disciple their children (on-going, in-house training, or seminars open to the whole community)
  • Provide materials for parents to use in discipling their children (take-home “talksheets” provided with curriculum, family devotionals, etc.)

2. Invest appropriate time and attention to match the vision.

Ensure the Children’s Ministry staff and volunteer leaders are adequately equipped and trained.

  • Assist core Children’s Ministry leaders (paid or unpaid) in creating and following a leadership development plan and facilitate their participation in leadership training (conferences, coaching, etc.)
  • Design a Children’s Ministry training schedule for volunteers

Provide time in adult venues to cast vision and share ministry opportunities.

  • Have an annual “Kid’s Day” in the main service to cast vision and recruit leaders
  • Create opportunities for kids to serve in the main service, or participate on a regular basis

Encourage volunteers, knowing that encouragement from senior leadership of the church is priceless to the heart of those serving.

  • Put a note of thanks in the bulletin, say something from the pulpit, or write 3 cards to volunteers each week
  • Walk through the children’s area once a month to say thanks to volunteers

3. Resource your Children’s Ministry for success.

By its very nature, Children’s Ministry requires greater resources than most other ministries.

  • A minimum annual budget of $75 per child (avg. weekly attendance) is an acceptable guideline

Understand staffing needs and hire/recruit appropriately.

  • One full-time (or equivalent part-time) paid staff per 150-175 children is a minimum acceptable guideline
  • Maximum adult/child ratios should be: infants = 1 to 3; preschool = 1 to 7; elementary = 1 to 12)

In short, resource Children’s Ministry with equal value to other ministries within the church.

Children did not dominate the ministry of Jesus – most of His time was spent with adults – yet He recognized their value and gave appropriate time and energy to them. How would you evaluate your children’s ministry in light of the thoughts in this article?

As church leaders we balance many priorities. Like Jesus, we have many demands for our time and attention. It’s easy to overlook areas that are not our strength or passion, and too often that area is Children’s Ministry. But like Jesus, a little interest can speak volumes.

I encourage you to value your Children’s Ministry for the spiritually ripe field that it is. Articulate vision, invest appropriate time and attention, and provide resources they need. A little interest will go a long way, and the impact on the lives of children, families, leaders and the church as a whole will be felt for generations to come.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow black, (brown), white. All are precious in His sight. Jesus love the children of the world.

C.Herbert Woolston (1856-1927)

Mixing it up…”Electric Guitars and The Apostle’s Creed”

apostle's creed church growth

Sometimes we need to switch things up in our weekend services

When was the last time you and your team stopped to ask, “why do we do what we do in our weekend services? Is what we are doing effective at reaching the community, or is it only appealing those who have been here for ages? Do we have traditions that we preform week after week just because we always have? Is our music relevant? Is it dated, is it too loud (loud does not automatically equal good)?”

Don’t get me wrong, traditions are not automatically a bad thing. Older music, loud music, no music, drama, dance, congregational readings, none of these things are good or bad. My point is this, if what you are doing in your services is truly effective at reaching your community as well as feeding those who already attend… great! If not, maybe it is time to change some things. And sometimes you just need to switch things up in order to let some fresh air in.

Following is a recent blog entry from Mark Batterson, (lead pastor at one of the healthiest, fastest growing churches on the planet) regarding this very thing.

Electric Guitars & The Apostle’s Creed

We continued the Sabotage series this weekend. Talking about heresy. I thought you’d enjoy a study I cited. Churches founded before 1945 are more likely to recite creeds as part of worship. That isn’t surprising. But here is the part of the study I loved. Researchers found an inverse proportion between churches that use creeds and those who have electric guitars in their worship bands. We broke the trend this week by reciting the Apostle’s Creed together.

We’re always trying to mix it up and disrupt the routine. We did that this weekend by going into communion with a contemplative reading that was on the screen and coming out of communion reciting the Apostle’s Creed. Pretty cool to hear people not just recite it from left-brain memory but proclaim it because they believe it.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.

– Gail Sheely

To Seek and Save the Lost


Embrace the "Merlins" God sends your way

God has called us to seek and save the lost. He did not tell us to seek and save those whom you connect with, those whom you are alike, those who are “normal”. He said “the lost”. Will the lost sometime be those whom you connect with, you are alike and are normal? Absolutely! But sometime the lost will be the racially different, the dirty, smelly homeless, the openly gay, or the just plain weird. We do not have the luxury of being selective. Evangelism cannot be selective. We need to open our arms and hearts wide. We need to cast out a bigger net. As fishers of men we need to embrace every soul that God places in our boat. Below is a compelling article by Pastor Clark Cothern that was originally published in Christianity Today. It really makes you stop and think, “who have I tuned off to the gospel because of my cold shoulder?”

Church Shows Love to New Age Visitor

Pastor Clark Cothern tells this story to illustrate how God speaks to us through his Word:
A self-appointed New Age guru glided into our church wearing an outfit that rivaled Merlin the Magician’s best duds. It was 10:55 a.m. and I was changing for a baptism, when a couple of deacons popped their heads in and said, “Pastor, I think we have a situation.”

After explaining who had just entered the sanctuary, they asked, “What do you want us to do?” Underneath their question was this subtext, “Do you want us to throw him out?”

Perfect love casts out fear. That was my first thought.

“Well,” I said while buttoning my robe, “we should demonstrate that we love him and that he’s welcome here.” The second thought that came to mind: For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

“Tell you what,” I said, grabbing a towel. “If he’s here seeking truth, let’s let him listen. God’s Word will be proclaimed, and God’s truth will be revealed. If he’s here to make trouble, we’ll know it soon enough. If that’s the case, I’ll warn him once not to disrupt the service, and I’ll politely ask him to stay afterward so we can get to know him better. If he persists in making trouble, then we’ll follow through on our promise to politely remove him. And if that happens, one of you should call the police—just in case.”

The moment I stepped into the baptistery, I looked out and saw that man and began a silent prayer for him to know that he was loved. God’s perfect love was casting out fear—in the messenger.

I found out after the service that one of our elderly members, a gentle fellow named Elmer, had seen the Merlin look-alike walking in and had whispered to his wife, “Oh, good! It looks like we’re going to have a skit today.” He and all the others in the church had smiled graciously and warmly welcomed our guest, Merlin costume and all. That morning our congregation loved that uniquely clad man. He stayed. He listened. He didn’t cause trouble. He heard the gospel. And he even stayed after to discuss the gospel with several of us for nearly an hour.

Those thoughts that rushed into the brain back in the changing room? That was God talking.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

Making a Connection

Connecting with group

Does your connecting have the right focus?

I recently received this great newsletter from Dan Reiland about connecting to the people visiting your church. As we work to help our churches grow, we must always remember the primary function of the church is, “to seek and save the lost”. Our church should be designed to connect with those who are seeking…

“Connecting In”

When I walk into a new restaurant I can tell within a couple of minutes whether or not I feel a connection. The vibe of the restaurant, from the general atmosphere to the host or hostess, immediately tells me what the experience is likely to be. The actual meal is only part of my connection to a restaurant; the whole experience determines whether or not I’ll come back.

People want that connection, especially when they travel. I know I do. That’s why chain restaurants do so well. Customers have already made a connection, they know they like it, and marketing shows people choose what they are comfortable with, meaning, they choose where they connect. This doesn’t indicate an aversion to risk. As a matter of fact, when I travel, I love to try new places. So I ask the people who are hosting my trip to tell me their favorite place to eat and tell them not to include a chain restaurant. I’m trusting their connection! I recently traveled to in Oklahoma City to meet with some of their key leaders. I traveled with Lance Young, one of the pastors on our team at 12Stone. He lived there for about 3 years while on staff at LifeChurch and so I asked him to drive us to one of his favorite restaurants. We went to The Redrock Canyon Grill. From the moment I walked in, the connection was on. Great service, mixed it up with the server (fun), cool vibe, and the crab cakes were to die for. Here’s the key. I’d go back.

You know where I’m headed, so let’s go there. This idea of connection is the same in your church. Whether you are part of a chain, or mom and pop café, or an independent, people want to connect with your experience or they’re not coming back. And keep in mind, it’s not all about the meal (sermon), it’s the whole experience.

Connection on whose terms?

I think it’s best to set the connection to the environment on their (the guest) terms and set the connection to the church mission on your (church leaders) terms. It’s often done just the opposite in many churches.

Here’s what I mean. When you set the connection based on the new person’s experience, you set the environment to make them feel at home. So we make the space itself feel good, we have a Coffee Shop for the fancy stuff, and free coffee stations too, the aroma is important. The dress is casual, we don’t make visitors stand, we don’t make them were a name tag that says “Hey everybody, look at me, I’m new, I don’t belong here.” They don’t have to do anything, say anything, or commit to anything to come to church. Those are the terms new people love when trying a church. And like a restaurant, they know real fast if they like it or not.

In churches where the environment is set on the church leaders’ terms, the guest is required to embrace any number of things such as dressing a certain way, wear a name badge, sit in a special section, stand up, go to a room, accept a visit, meet the pastor after the service, and the list goes on. All these things can be good, but keep in mind one crucial issue, your guest might not want to!!

Set the guests connection to your church’s mission on your terms. You are not running a cruise ship. It’s not your primary responsibility to create programs to make Christians happy. Regardless of how you say it, your mission is to reach people for Jesus and disciple them in their maturing faith. That’s it. So when people join your church or sign on the dotted line in whatever way you do that, you set the terms. Be bold about the mission and how people connect in.

First Impressions Matter

We know that first impressions make a difference. You can lose people from your church in the parking lot. I don’t mean because it’s so big they literally get lost. If your parking lot is utter chaos and there is no leadership out there, new people, especially people disenfranchised from God and the church are already turned off before then set foot in your door.

At 12Stone Church we have a team of heroes. “Parking Warriors” are the words printed on their shirts. The team is led by amazing men like Jimmy Lastinger, Hector and Louis Morales, Gerald Minor, Dan Shogren, Dan Strader, Jason Frady and others. The whole team is out on the blacktop on all three campuses regardless of whether it’s freezing cold or sweltering hot. They help people get in and out of the lot as easily, safely and quickly as possible. Without them, it doesn’t matter how good the worship experience is!

Perhaps you have plenty of room and easy access in your parking lot. Your ushers, greeters and nursery team complete your first impressions team. Friendly and well trained ushers and greeters who have a heart to serve make a huge difference on whether or not people connect with you and your church.

There is a physical component to first impressions. Buildings, landscaping, and signs make a difference. If a family pulls into your parking lot and the paint on your building is chipped and cracked, the plants are in sad shape and the signage isn’t helpful, you are sending a message. Unfortunately not the message you want to send. You may be a loving church with an incredible vision to reach people for Christ, but they may never give you a chance because you didn’t tend to your first impressions.

Organic or Linear – Which makes for the best connection?

After first impressions, the real connection begins. Once a person has found your church friendly, culturally relevant, and the worship experience has genuine impact in their life, they begin to decide if they will become involved and to what degree. It’s the “What’s next?” question, and the answer must be clear and simple.

You may have a linear approach. Rick Warren launched a brilliant process using a baseball diamond. The people in his church deepen their connection to God and the mission at Saddleback Church around the bases. It’s very linear and very good. Some churches have a linear expression, but with an organic feel like North Point Church led by Andy Stanley. They use their three environments of Foyer, Living Room and Kitchen. With a relational bias they move people toward small groups (the kitchen) where the people grow in their faith. At 12Stone Church, we also have a blend but lean toward a more fluid approach. Our process wraps around the three elements of Inspire, Share, & Give. There are linear pieces such as a “Discover 12Stone” event, and a 4 week class for those who are new in their faith called Day One, but you don’t have to do things in order.

Personally, I think people are more organic in behavior because they like to choose their own path. There must, however, be enough structure to be clear in your answer of the “Next Steps” question. What is most important is that you make your choice of more organic or linear intentionally.

Overall, my advice is to keep it as simple as you can. If your church is smaller, you will likely feel or experience two things. 1. No need for a process of connection. 2. A tendency to over complicate your process. You may not need a formal connection process at your current size, but you will need one. So why not practice now? But keep it simple. If your church is large you will likely feel the pressure of actually making your process work. Don’t give up. There is no perfect process. Just keep working on it and remember that good leadership is more important than which approach you actually choose. Good leadership can make an average system work. Poor leadership can’t make a brilliant process work.

I encourage you to share this article with your team and talk about your process of connection.

Until Next Time,

Chris Sonksen


– Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success. – Paul Meyer

– On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 – Acts 16:13-14

A Pastor’s Passion for Small Groups

The senior pastor's love for small groups is the biggest factor in predicting their success.

There are many different approaches to church growth, some more affective than others.  Here at South Hills, we have a simple three point approach which is to  1.invite people to one of our weekend services,  2.promote small groups, and 3.encourage  involvement through serving.  We have found that the more connected someone feels, the more likely that person will continue to attend our church and/or church in general.  For that reason I frequently, enthusiastically promote small groups in our weekend services and other venues. The following article excerpt by Josh Hunt, has some great insight to the importance of small groups.

Sticky Church
Rick Warren taught us that to grow a church, you need to think about five concentric circles:

  • COMMUNITY Those living around your church who never or occasionally attend.
  • CROWD Those who attend your church regularly but are not members.
  • CONGREGATION Those who are committed to both Christ and membership in your church family.
  • COMMITTED Those members who are serious about growing to spiritual maturity.
  • CORE Those members who actively serve in ministry and mission in your church.

The idea of disciplemaking and church growth is to move people ever closer to the center.

What Larry Osborne adds to the conversation is this: it is a whole lot easier to grow a church by concentrating on the inner rings– moving the crowd to the congregation and so forth, than it is to concentrate on the outer ring — moving the community into the crowd.
Much church growth thinking concentrates on the opposite — how to attract a crowd. I think Larry Osborne is right in saying that the fastest path to growth is to concentrate on the inner rings.
This seems to be the way Jesus operated. He concentrated on the few more than the masses. This was Robert Coleman’s theme in the classic work, The Master Plan of Evangelism.  While not ignoring the masses, Jesus seemed to concentrate his energy on the few. As time went along and the cross grew closer, he seemed to concentrate more and more of his energy on the few.
My own research corroborates this approach. I did a survey where I asked four questions to five hundred churches:

How many attend?
How many attended a year ago?
How many visitors do you have?
How many join?

I discovered there was very little difference between growing churches and non-growing churches in terms of their how many visitors they had (calculated as a percentage of worship attendance). There was a huge difference in terms of how many stuck around. They big difference was in what I called the “Velcro factor,” not the “magnet factor.” This is the theme of Larry’s Osborne’s book, Sticky Church.

How to Make a Church Sticky
Here is my answer: invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. Have a party once a month and make sure every member gets invited. If we can get them to the party you would not be able to keep them from class.
Here is Larry Osborne’s answer: sermon-based small groups.
Larry spends five chapters discussing how small groups change everything. People grow in small groups. Small groups need to be right-sized. Small groups dispel the Holy Man myth. Small groups dispel the Holy Place myth. And so forth.

The last half of the book is why sermon-based small groups make a church sticky.
At this point, I am feeling a little stupid. I read the book twice, then skimmed it to find the answer to this question: WHY? Why are sermon-based groups better than other kind of groups at getting visitors to stick around?

Here is my take: sermon-based groups are no better or worse than other types of groups. The key variable is the Senior-pastor cheer-leading the groups.
Imagine two churches. One has a Senior pastor who is a real cheerleader of groups. He regularly attends a group and regularly tells stories about his group from the pulpit. These could be home groups or Sunday School style groups, open or closed groups, any type of groups. They key thing is, the pastor is a huge fan of groups.
Down the street we have a church that follows the sticky church model to the tee. They attend the conference. The staff all read the book. They attempt to implement the plan as carefully as they can. But, they can’t get the pastor really on board. He does a little push at first, but then he looses interest. His interest is the worship service. Groups are not that important to him.
Which church do you think will have the best groups?
Groups don’t work at North Coast because they are sermon-based. They work because the Senior pastor cheerleads them.
That is not to say that sermon based groups are a bad idea. They are not. But, they are not the silver bullet. The senior pastor’s love for groups is the single biggest factor in predicting the success of groups at any church–not the details of the model. Pick a model, any model: old fashioned Sunday School, Cho’s small groups, Carl George’s meta groups, Northpoint’s (Andy Stanley) closed group model, neighborhood groups, or any other–and get the pastor thoroughly excited about it and I will show you a model that is working.

One closing thought, small groups are an important source of connection and growth for the people of your church, and it is highly valuable for them to here this from the pastor who leads them.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


“Encourage every member to join a small group. Not only do they help people connect with one another, they also allow your church to maintain a ‘small church’ feeling of fellowship as it grows. Small groups can provide the personal care and attention every member deserves no matter how big the church becomes.”                                                                                                                                          – Rick Warren

Connecting with Visitors

receptionist on phone

Follow Through is Key in Connecting with Visitors

Statistics show that the majority (91% on average) of the first time visitors to your church will never return. There are many reasons for this…

  • not feeling welcome
  • uninteresting services
  • child care issues

One main reason is simply lack of follow through on our part.  I recently came accross this article at

Does Your Church Use Welcome or Visitor Cards?

September 24, 2009 by Bill · 1 Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized

Does your church use welcome cards or visitor cards for people new to your church? They can be a key tool to help you connect with new people in your church.

I have attended many different churches over the years and have found that not all churches use welcome cards or visitor cards. By welcome and visitor cards I mean the cards that allow a visitor to fill in their details if they want to know more, or if they want to be contacted.

The most basic of these cards, which are also the least imposing, ask for the visitors name, phone number and more recently e-mail address. Some of the more detailed cards can also ask for prayer requests, what information the person is interested in, marital / family status, address and more. My personal preference is a card that sits sort of in the middle, with all the details on the basic card, plus a section for prayer requests and possibly asking what sort of information the person wants to know. The additional information can always be found out later.

I reckon that a lot of the time the person who fills out a card is not a new visitor. They are often a person who has attended the church a few time, and now is ready to learn more and want to engage more with the church. Well, at least that’s how I have always used them.

Follow Up is Key

One of the keys to making the best use of your welcome and visitor cards is to follow up with the people who fill them out. If you don’t follow up on them then the cards are really not even worth the paper they are printed on…

A few months ago I attended a church with some friends. I filled in the visitor sheet because I wanted to learn more and they had the option to join the pastor for a pizza lunch. I had been following the pastor’s blog for a while and thought I would be really interested in learning more about the church and the pastor.

Unfortunately there was never any follow up from that church. I had to wonder if the lack of follow up happened often and how many people were never able to connect at that church and went searching elsewhere.

The visitor card or welcome card can be a key tool that you use to connect with people new to your church. If used incorrectly though it can isolate and actually push people away.

So, ask yourself this, “how well are we following up with visitors?”

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


“When you get right down to the root of the meaning of the word “succeed,” you find that it simply means to follow through.”

– F.W. Nichol

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing – part 2

Build Creative Teams

Build Creative Teams

As I pointed out in part one of “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing,” weekend services are where your vision comes to life, team efforts are seen, are catalysts to life change, and the a weekend service is usually a visitor’s first impression of the church.  Creativity is often the missing piece in making predictable weekend services memorable, inspirational and impactful.  I know this can seem like a huge overwhelming task…


Some of the benefits of creative teams are they:

a) Make you better than you are
b) Keep you from getting in a rut
c) Reduce stress
d) Reduce your work load
e) Multiply your talent base
f) Give you greater buy in
g) Expand your knowledge of the audience

Two teams you can build to help keep your services creative are:

Team #1 – Teaching Team

Purpose:  To create the monthly themes for each weekend series and the
outlines for each week’s service.  They assist in providing illustrations,
examples, scriptural insight and creativity.

Participants:  Lead Pastor, few key staff/leaders – size of team can vary from 3-5

Step 1 – Mapping out the year

·3-4 months prior to the coming new year the team will meet for prayer and discussion on monthly themes for the following year.
·There will be several meetings before the themes are finally decided
·Various themes become staples for the following year.  (Family Month, Spiritual Emphasis, Vision, etc…)
·The goal is not to create working titles, but general themes.

Step 2 – Mapping out the month

·The Teaching Team meets once a month, to create series titles.  (including titles for overall series and weekend titles)
·The Team works approximately 2 months in advance (this is necessary to help programming team in creating elements for the service)
·These meetings include the Programming Director and the Graphics Director (this allows them to gain insight for the series which helps the Programming Director prepare and the Graphics Director for branding)

Step 3 – Mapping out the weekend

·The Teaching Team meets approximately 10-12 days prior to the weekend services
·The meetings last approximately 2 hours and are held weekly
·The purpose of these meetings are to create the actual outline of the weekend service.
·The team provides scriptural insight, creative illustrations for the message, quotes, examples or anything that will enhance the message for the person communicating that weekend.

Team # 2 – Programming Team

Purpose:  The purpose of the Programming Team is to create and design the elements of the services.  Their responsibility is to enhance the overall experience that the audience has when attending a weekend service.

Size of group:  6-10 (take caution in making it too big)

Programming Team process:

·The Programming Director takes notes from the “Mapping out the Month” meeting and distributes them to the Programming Team.
·Individuals from the Programming Team are asked to come with 2-3 ideas for the services based on the themes.
·The Programming Team will meet 6 weeks prior to the start of the new series for the purpose of creativity.
·Ideas from the teams will include:  special songs, staging, branding, videos, dramas, life change videos, life change moments, and illustrations
·A white board is used a lot in these meetings.  The 4-5 week series is divided on the board and the ideas are placed in each week as they are presented.
·After all ideas are given, the team begins to narrow down the best ideas.
·Assignments are given out and the Program Director follows up with each person as the weekends approach to assure completion of the assignment

Programming sub/review team:
·Smaller group of the programming team meets each week.
·Team reviews the elements and services from the week prior
·Programming director reviews plans for the upcoming 2-3 weeks to assure we are on schedule for the upcoming services.

Pre and Post service process:
·Programming Director meets with those involved in service (sound, lighting, stage hands, worship team, drama team, anyone speaking from the platform)
·Meeting lasts 5-7 minutes
·Purpose of the meeting is to review plans for the service that is about to happen to make sure all bases are covered.
·This meeting happens before the first weekend service
·Immediately following the first service of the weekend 4-6 people (Tech Director, Program Director, Drama Director, Stage Hand Director and anyone speaking from the microphone) meet to review the service and make any last minute changes for the upcoming services.

With minor adjustments, these teams can work for any size church. While some of the specifics may change the principle will remain the same. Here’s how:

a)Find the most creative people you can (it’s ok if 1-2 of them don’t go to your  church)
b)Be flexible with the schedule (nights, mornings, weekends)
c)Be prepared (don’t waste their time)
d)Let the directors have ownership
e)Get the system in place (difficult up front, but will make life easier)
f)Start somewhere…but start
g)Have a lot of fun

Finally, you must remove your excuses. Excuses such as, “adding creative elements is too expensive.”  “There are not enough creative people around me.” “I/we don’t have enough time.”  I don’t work that far in advance.”  “The facilities we are in won’t work for creativity.”  Make a commitment to look for solutions to challenges and not give in to them. The ability to connect with your audience and have greater impact is too important to let these or any other excuses stand in the way of  having creative, inspirational services.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

“Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.”
— George Kneller