Welcoming New Families: An Interview with Danny Franks

As I began my new position as Pastor of Connection at the Journey--Tower Grove in January, I began looking for resources on how to do my new role. Jared encouraged me to check out a blog by Danny Franks. Danny had just opened an invitation to participate in a unique training opportunity called Confab. I signed up, and in February I had the opportunity to meet Danny and his amazing team. Over the next several months, 11 other people and I read books together and learned how to create a more welcoming experience at our churches. Danny is a great teacher and more importantly a godly man. So, I asked Danny if he would be willing to answer a few questions for the readers of Gospel Centered Family. Here's what we talked about:

Jeff: Tell me a little about your family. 

Danny: I'm just a few months shy of celebrating my 25 year anniversary with my high school sweetheart. Merriem is without a doubt my better half... the perfect complement in life, parenting, ministry, you name it. We have four kids: Jacob is 21 and Austin is 20... both are in leadership at a local Chick-fil-A. Jase is 15 and a high school sophomore. Haven is six and about to start second grade, which--to hear her tell it--is a Really Big Deal. 

Jeff: Would you mind describing your role and the context of your church?

Danny: I started at the Summit in 2003 with a one-sentence job description: I was to close the back door in a rapidly growing church. My first task was to develop our membership class and structure a few opportunities to plug in. Through the years I've held different roles from small groups guy to campus pastor, but my favorite (and current) role is that of guest services: I oversee those systems at all of our campuses and for any events. 

Jeff: Why do you have a passion for people connecting? 

Danny: When I was interviewing for my job - and questioning with whether this was even a role for me - I remember hearing the story of a fringe attendee who had taken her own life. I didn't know the full story, but couldn't shake the feeling that it might not have happened had she felt known and loved. That's what I want: for the church to be a place where people believe we knew they were coming, we had a plan for when they showed up, and we can't wait for them to return. I want to pave the road to Jesus with so many kind words and actions, that people won't be able to resist asking how they can be a part of it.  

Jeff: What is one of the most common mistakes churches make when seeking to help guests feel welcome?

Danny: I think it comes down to simply not being aware. It's not that we don't recognize that we have guests, it's more often that we assume someone else is taking care of them. As inorganic as it sounds, we must systematize hospitality so that there are no more assumptions of care. We have to form a team, a strategy, and a follow up plan to move people from first-time to second-time guests. 

If there's a close second, it's that we lose the guest mentality. We forget to view our parking lot, our signage, our building, our language, and our traditions through the eyes of guests. What confuses them? Frightens them? Causes anxiety? Makes them curious? Angry? Aggravated? If we can simply remember how we feel in a new situation - whether it's at a job, in a restaurant, in a new neighborhood, or at the mall - we can apply that to about 95% of church situations and make our guests' experience better.

Jeff: Elaborate on that. How can we cultivate greater awareness of guests in our churches? 

Danny: It goes back to thinking from the mindset of a guest, looking at the situation through their eyes, and simply remembering that the ultimate goal is not to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31), but to "welcome others as Christ has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7). When we approach the guest experience from that perspective, it changes everything. 

It also helps us to not only form systematic approaches, but to have the impetus to live organic lives of hospitality. It allows us to lavish kindness and grace on people who are not like us, because we remember that we too were once outsiders. It gives us the chance to not just talk about the gospel with our words, but to demonstrate the gospel with our lives.

Jeff: How can churches help new families and kids feel welcome to a church? 

Danny: I'm convinced that if parents believe that their kids are safe, having fun, and (for parents who are already Christ followers) being exposed to the gospel, that is 90% of the battle. 

  • Safe: communicate your security procedures. Offer new parents a tour of your facility. Talk to them about drop off and pick up procedures, volunteer-to-kid ratios, etc.
  • Fun: is your kids' space colorful? Energetic? Are the leaders engaging? One of my favorite anecdotes from Disney history is that when the park in Anaheim was being constructed, Walt made his Imagineers strap on knee pads and "walk" the park from the perspective of a three year old. The effect - among others - was that windowsills were lowered so that kids could get in on the fun. Is your facility set up for kids or their parents?
  • Gospel: communicate the air war and ground war to parents. Air war is your overall strategy - the benchmarks that you will be hitting over the course of their child's life. Ground war is the takeaways that kids get each week: what is the one gospel truth you're instilling? 

Jeff: What are three books you would recommend for a church leader wanting to explore how to be more intentional in welcoming guests?

Danny: First Impressions by Mark WaltzBe Our Guest by Theodore Kinni,  and The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli

Jeff: What other ways would you recommend to help indiviudals and churches grow in helping people feel welcome? 

Danny: Get out of your church. I think we overlook opportunities to learn from other organizations and companies that are doing guest services well (and poorly!). The next time you're in a fast food restaurant, the mall, or a vacation destination, take note of what made you feel included and what made you feel left out, and practice (or avoid!) those things accordingly.

For more formal training, my team offers Weekenders (behind the scenes look at our guest services training and weekend experience), One-Day Workshops (targeted, practical training on guest services and volunteer culture), and Confab (a small coaching network for ministry practitioners). Find out more at dfranks.com/speaking.  

I'm grateful for Danny's willingness to answer my questions about connecting new families. What questions do you have? Leave your questions in the comments below.

Interview with Jaquelle Crowe ... and BOOK GIVEAWAY

A few months ago I started hearing rumblings about a young lady who had written her first book about the gospel and the teen years. A little while later, Jaquelle Crowe and her dad showed up one Sunday and joined us for worship. After reading her book, This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, which my kids will be reading this summer, I wanted to get this much needed book in the hands of the three groups of people who need it most: teens, their parents, and the church leaders that lead them. We have two copies to give away (more on how to enter later), but first I want to introduce to the author.

Pat: Tell me a little about yourself.

Jaquelle: I’m nineteen, and I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I graduated from university at the end of 2015 after studying communications and English and am a full-time writer now. I also run an online membership community for young writers called the Young Writers Workshop and host a podcast for youth with my dad called Age of Minority. And for fun, I love to read, cook, eat, explore, hang out with cool people, and write (obviously).

Pat: What prompted you to write your book?

Jaquelle: There were two primary reasons. First, because it was the book I wanted to read as a young teen – something that was gospel-centered and practical and written for the unique, specific stage of life I was in. I ended up reading a lot of fantastic books on Christian living, but they were all written for adults. 

Which leads to the second reason I wrote this book – because I saw a need. I began interacting with more and more young Christians like myself, and we were all looking for this kind of book. The Lord graciously began opening doors, and here we are!

Pat: Why do you think the teen years are so critical for faith development?

aquelle: J.C. Ryle referred to youth as “the seed time of full age … the moulding season in the little space of human life,” and I think that perfectly captures why the teen years are so critical for faith development. The teen years are preparing us for life. They’re cultivating the habits, virtues, vices, loves, and fears that will remain with us as adults. They’re when we learn the most, when we’re most shaped by what we hear and believe. This is why teens desperately need the life-giving truth of the gospel.

Pat: What was the process of writing like?

aquelle: The bulk of the book was written over a span of four months in 2016. I’m a planner, so I drew up outlines for each chapter, and then tackled each one individually. Most chapters went through 2-3 drafts. I’ve heard it said that writing is rewriting, and that was certainly true for me.

I also got a lot of feedback. My parents read almost every draft of every chapter. I had a team member at Crossway read each chapter and offer feedback. Before the book’s final edit, I had a group of teens and twentysomethings read the book and give their thoughts as well. So the process was a cycle of planning, concentrated writing, editing/rewriting, and receiving and implementing feedback. 

Pat: What do you hope your book does for those that read it?

aquelle: I hope it upsets the apathetic, that it communicates the hard truth that Jesus demands absolutely everything. But I hope it encourages the faithful, that it fills them with supreme joy and inspires them to know that they’re not alone. I hope teenagers love Jesus more. I also hope this is a helpful tool for parent-teen discipleship, that it gives parents more insight into their teens’ spiritual lives and that it sparks rich and honest conversations about faith and sanctification.

Pat: What’s next for you?

aquelle: Wherever the Lord leads! I’m focusing on the current things on my plate right now – traveling, speaking, leading the Young Writers Workshop, and writing. I’d love to go to seminary in the next few years, and I’d also love to write another book. But we’ll see what happens.

Here's how to enter the giveaway: Write something creative and post to Facebook and/or Twitter using the hashtag #GCFgiveaway2017. There will be one randomly selected winner from each social media platform who will each receive one copy of the book. Enter as many times as you'd like. The drawing will be held on Friday, June 30th, 2017.

Sending kids on mission: An interview with Brian Dembowczyk

Brian Dembowczyk, the new Managing Editor of Lifeway's Gospel Project curriculum, has just released a new mini-book / leader guide for children's ministry entitled, Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry. Lifeway Christian Resources has graciously allowed me to include a download of his chapter entitled, "Folding Card Tables: Are Kids the Church of Tomorrow?" Just click the link to take a look. You can purchase the full book from Lifeway here.

I really love what Brian is teaching here about the significance of kids as part of Christ's body and about training them to be on mission. I got the opportunity recently to correspond with him and ask some questions about it.

Jared: I loved the chapter where you describe how you feel when you hear kids described as "the church of tomorrow." Why does the phrase bother you so much? 

Brian: As I shared in the book, I think most people don't mean any harm when they say it, but what bothers me is the subtle implication behind it. Usually, kids are called 'the church of tomorrow' when it comes to investing in our kids—church budgets, time, resources, and so forth—and this is great and true. We need to invest in them and train them up. However, what I have rarely, if ever, heard is an appeal to invest in our kids because they are a vital part of our churches right now—today. We almost treat them like a retirement investment—valuing them primarily or solely for what they can do for us down the road, but not right now. The tragedy is this devalues kids as image-bearers of God and it robs the church of one of its greatest resources to impact our culture—kids who are on mission to reach other kids for Christ. 

As a father of three kids (12, 9, and 5), I want them to know God has plans for them right now. I don't want them wasting the time and opportunities God has given them today—especially my 12-year-old and 9-year-old who have trusted in Christ already and are fully part of His church. That's why it bothers me so much. 

Jared: So, kids who have trusted Jesus are part of the church right now. What are the implications of this for how we do children's ministry? 

Brian: The implications are massive! This thinking reframes how we see our kids and how we understand our kids ministries. We have to fight to see kids who have trusted in Christ as full-fledged members of our local churches. So, anything we expect of our adult members, we should expect of them and disciple them to that end too. 

Instead of measuring success by what happens on the church campus, maybe we should flip and measure it by what happens off campus more. 

Now, surely we need to filter these expectations through an age-appropriate lens. For example, expectations of being part of the church body need to be filtered through an understanding that kids are not autonomous when it comes to attending kids ministry activities. But we need to teach and encourage our kids about these things as we do adults. We need to hold them accountable—with love and grace as we would adults—too. We need to cast vision to them about how they can join in with God on mission into their schools, sports teams, and so forth. 

I think it is helpful to consider our goals as kids ministry leaders. Let's be honest, for many kids ministries, the goal is to gather a bunch of kids and give them a little Bible knowledge. It's often how we measure 'success,' right? How big is our kids ministry or how well can our kids do in Bible trivia or verse memorization. As I share in the book, there is nothing at all wrong with kids learning and excelling in these areas, but we have to want more for our kids. We need to disciple them as committed followers of Jesus who are on mission with Him today. Our goals should focus on the bigger win. So, instead of measuring success by what happens on the church campus, maybe we should flip and measure it by what happens off campus more. 

Jared: One of the implications I heard loud and clear in my read through the book: we need to train kids for mission. Practically, what does this look like?

Brian: I'm glad it was clear! I would contend it is the major implication of seeing our kids as part of the church today. Practically, this means we need to focus on casting vision to our kids being on mission as a normal rhythm of their lives, and we need to train and equip them for it. 

Remember: the gospel is like the ocean. It has parts shallow enough for a child to wade safely in and parts so deep we cannot reach the bottom.

So, I would start evaluating this in our Bible study teaching time. When it comes to applying what we study, do we regularly and faithfully talk about being on mission or does our application stop short? Let's say you are studying Jonah. Do you stop at talking about trusting and obeying God, or do you talk about being on mission, which I would say is the real point of that book—having a heart for the nations and joyfully sacrificing to take the gospel wherever God leads just as Christ joyfully laid down His life for us. That's what our kids need to ingest as a steady part of their diet. 

That covers the heart for missions. The other thing we need to do is train them. This means teaching on world missions and church planting as we pray God raises up some of our kids for those efforts at some point. We also train them how to share their faith today and talk about the gospel needs in your community. 

Jared: Any specific tips for helping churches train kids in evangelism?

Brian: Remember: the gospel is like the ocean. It has parts shallow enough for a child to wade safely in parts so deep we cannot reach the bottom. This is important because it helps us to appreciate that kids sharing the gospel is realistic! Teach your kids the core message of the gospel to share with their friends using language and illustrations that are not kiddish, but kid-friendly. Help them learn to talk about the gospel with someone, not to someone.

Also we need to teach kids that being on mission is more than articulating the gospel. While it is its core, we also are called to meet physical and emotional needs of others. Helping our kids develop EI, emotional intelligence, is huge. If we can help our kids be sensitive to when others are hurting, anxious, angry, and so forth, we position them well to have meaningful gospel-centered conversations with others. 

One other recommendation is to talk about being on mission regularly with our kids. Know who they are trying to reach. Ask them about those people. Ask about how they are using their platforms—schools, sports, activities, etc.—to develop friendships. Ask who has shared the gospel recently. And include your leaders in those times as well! Kids need to know their leaders are living out what they are sharing too. 

I'm so grateful for Brian sharing his time to answer my questions. Don't forget to order Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry from Lifeway. And keep the conversation about sending kids on mission going. What questions do you have about teaching kids to share their faith? Leave your questions and suggestions below.

Podcasts with Pat Aldridge

Podcasts are the new radio! And Gospel Centered Family has a star in the making. In Fall and Winter of 2016, my friend and collaborator, Pat Aldridge, did just a bit of a podcast circuit. He talks about children's ministry, hanging out, and tells a bit of his own story. Give a listen!

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Hanging Out (Episode 11 of Doctrine and Devotion on August 15, 2016). Jimmy Fowler and Joe Thorne are chaperoned by Pat Aldridge, the Community Life Pastor at Redeemer Fellowship. They brought in Pastor Pat to talk about an aspect of ministry seldom discussed or valued: hanging out.

Children's Ministry (Doctrine and Devotion on October 16, 2016) Pat talks with hosts with Jimmy Fowler and Joe Thorne about children's ministry. This is not so much about what programs work best for kids, but how the local church can come alongside parents to help them disciple their children.

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Interview with Pat Aldridge (Notes from the Road on December 9, 2016) "He’s doing what?" That's what Pat's friend Corby Stephens asked when he heard that Pat was in ministry. This episode of Notes From The Road reunites friends who have known one another since early in high school. They taught Children’s Ministry together as high school students and helped with kids camps. Listen in!