Manifest The Concept

Up until this past weekend, a worship experience (called 801South) in a new modern venue on the campus of Matthews United Methodist Church was nothing more than an abstract thought in the minds of a few individuals. Today, however, the concept that began as a vision on paper is now a tangible experience.

So how does one move from an ethereal idea to something people can touch, taste, and feel?

One word: movement.

Just keep moving. When a challenge, issue, or problem is presented, remind yourself why the original idea first came to your mind, then take a step. Each step might not be perfectly in line with the path you had hoped, but I promise you’ll still be closer to where you want to be than if you had stood still. Unforeseen bumps in the road will knock you off course. There is always time and opportunity to correct along the way. Don’t stop.

The answer is not superior intelligence, luck, money, or knowing the right people–although all of these factors play a role. The answer, however, is movement. Some days, when starting something new, you simply adopt the well known tagline made famous by Nike: “Just Do It.”

The whole journey over the past 10 months has been a blast and I can’t wait to see where God leads us as we continue to put one foot in front of the other. I am so humbled and honored to be working with incredibly passionate leaders who desire to serve Jesus through serving people. I have already seen evidence of life change and transformation through this process; which will only grow more abundant through the 801South environments in the future.

Here are some pictures of what can happen when a group of generous people commit to a vision and “Just Do It”:





Tight Shot




Wide Room

Remember, this is just the beginning. We are incredibly excited to share our story as it continues to unfold and resource others to “Just Do It” as well.

Would you like to come alongside for the journey?

Seeing Life Thematically

My buddy, Brian Zehr, talks about seeing life thematically. Sometimes it’s the songs that come on the radio, the books we read, or the shows we watch on television. We have seasons in life during which the world around us is centered around a particular theme.

I feel this way right now. Whether it’s a book someone recommends or even the new album from my favorite singer/songwriter, there seems to be a theme. The current theme I’m experiencing in life is simple: don’t give up. Very interesting that I’m in the middle of launching a new ministry and the theme I feel is not giving up.

The truth is that if doing what we are trying to do through 801South was easy, then lots and lots of people would do it regularly. But it’s not easy. In fact, the other day Ken Lyon (senior pastor at Matthews UMC) and I had the chance to share with a group of pastors about our experience in starting a new ministry. We were asked the question, “What have been some of the challenges you’ve experienced so far?” My answer is everything. The whole endeavor is one big challenge. And I think it’s fun to meet the challenge. Most days I’m having a blast figuring this out, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, and watching other leaders thrive as we move toward launch.

But there are some days that I might not describe as “fun.” These are the rare days that I have to overcome listening to the voices in my mind telling me that failure is imminent. These are the days that require the most courage. So, again, it’s interesting that what I’m reading and hearing these days has to do with overcoming voices and being courageous.

Here are a couple examples:

John Mark McMillan, whose music speaks to my soul more so than that of anyone else, writes in his new song about not being able to do life alone when times get hard. He sings,

“Where the bombs break/
Right outside my door/
And I can’t shake the onset of my wars/
When the stakes are raised/
We hold the hand we’ve drawn/
You’re what I’m counting on”

I have stated from the beginning that if left up to our own intelligence, skills, and intellect, then 801South has no chance of being the movement we all hope to see. We have to be continually open to God’s direction and guidance as we allow Him to lead us through this vision.

In his latest book, David and Goliath, Malcom Gladwell writes, “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.” Gladwell affirms that courage is something earned from putting one foot in front of the other and knowing that the end result is not going to be as bad as the voices tell you. We are definitely earning our courage these days.

These are just some of the ways the world seems to be speaking to me today. How about you? Do you ever see life thematically? Do all the incoming messages seem to share a particular message as you journey through life? If you’ve never stopped to consider listening for a theme, you might just find it helpful.

What Are You Trying To Prove?

Several weeks ago I was asked a great question from a very smart guy. “One year from now, what are your goals?” he said. Then the followup question: “What would you like to see in the lives of the people you are shepherding?”

See, I told you he is smart. What a great way to think about what we’re doing, because what we hope to see in a year should determine the decisions we make now.

I could simply copy and paste the table of metrics we have developed and used when applying for grants, which would show you our goals for the number of people in worship, small groups, and in service to the community. But I chose to take his questions a little differently and perhaps a little deeper. I interpreted this guy’s questions as, “What are you trying to prove?”

What are we trying to prove through this whole 801South initiative? There are several different ways to approach this question and a lot of the answer can be summed up by our five key values. But rather than pointing people to a spreadsheet with numbers or going through the story of how we arrived at our key values, I decided to give this question more thought.

What am I personally trying to prove? Am I trying to prove that I am cool and capable as a leader? I hope not. I’ve never been particularly cool in the past so I’m not going to try now. As far as being a capable leader, the only thing I try to do is surround myself with the smartest and most passionate people I can find. And then I give them permission to dream. So far this strategy is working well. If it comes across as capable leadership, that’s another win.

So I’m not really trying to prove that I can be cool or a capable leader. Instead, I think about the people whose lives will be transformed through the environments of 801South. I suppose I’m trying to prove two things. First of all, I want to be a part of an environment that is created around (unapologetically) introducing people to a life in Jesus Christ. The settings for worship and small groups are designed around easily inviting people to enter into this relationship, which provides more peace and purpose than any other relationship in life.

Secondly, I would love to see people who have already chosen to follow Jesus to also reflect their created-ness in being more intentional and thoughtful about their rhythms.
I continue to see people in our society today, myself included, who can too easily float, exist, and even thrive according to the world’s standards without making much space for thoughtfulness. Too much is left to the notion of fate or chance. I would love to see families make decisions based on what is best for them and their relationships, rather than just filling schedules with all that is available and affordable. What if families said “no” to more of the stuff in this world—even the really good stuff—so that they can say “yes” to one another. This has a lot to do with the simplicity of 801South: worship, small group, and service. That’s it.

Is it all a utopia? Maybe. But it’s what continues to fuel our vision and ultimately it is what I’m trying to prove.

Mind The Gap

I’ve heard from several of you that I’m causing guilt in your life. “Your posts keep building up in my inbox and I want to read them, but I keep putting them off and then I feel guilty” is one comment I’ve received. Not that I’m totally above using guilt, but hopefully I have relieved some of this by taking a break from posting last week.

Everyone caught up? Good. Let’s get to this week’s idea; which I think you will find very helpful.

When you hear the word “gap,” what comes to mind? A clothing store? The space between the tube and the platform in London’s Underground subway system?

A gap can be a break, opening, empty space, interval, wide divergence, difference, disparity, among many other definitions; however, I was recently introduced to another concept of the gap—the gap between what is now and what can be. Taste is the cause of this gap. Vision is another concept that works alongside taste; the two of which go hand in hand.

This idea came to me through a video I received from one of our children’s worship directors here at Matthews UMC. She mentioned it in a hallway conversation and I was very interested so I asked her to send me the link. When I sat down to view the short clip and read the attached article, immediately I became incredibly grateful to hear someone explain this phenomenon in these terms. The video and a link to the article are below.

Honestly, I wish I could produce a high-quality photograph (with appropriate hipster filter applied, of course) of what I picture in my mind when it comes to the environments of 801South—worship experiences, small groups, serving opportunities. There are similar ministries out there to which we have directed people through websites, publications, and even site visits as we continue to develop this new ministry. Ultimately, it will continue to change shape and form as we move forward with more people coming onboard who add their own taste.

As opposed to the artistic mediums of paint or music, which are sometimes derived from an individual, the art of fashioning new environments for the church often include a team. Fortunately, I continue to be impressed by our 801South team. These servants are working hard to give us the best start possible; however, no matter how much time and effort our team applies to the launch, ultimately there will be a gap between my vision for these 801South environments and what actually materializes. I’m ok with this. I have to be. Knowing the gap is inevitable helps me understand that we have not failed just because the initial experience does not perfectly match the original picture. The full potential of 801South will not be realized at its inception.

I found this concept of the gap between taste/vision and the tangible work very encouraging as we near the launch. No matter what 801South looks like at launch, I still know my tastes are “killer” and our greatest impact is yet to be realized.

via PetaPixel

The Branding of a Beginning (801South Logo and Video)

How will people know about it???

This is one of the most asked questions I hear when telling groups of people about the 801South venue launching later this spring. My immediate answer is, “Well, you, mainly.” We want to see relationships drive through 801South so naturally, a face-to-face invitation extended to those who are currently disconnected is the best marketing we can encourage.

There are also some other plans in the works for getting the word out in the community—that there is a new space for new people—that fall under the category of “marketing.” But how exactly do we package that which we hope to market?

I recently read a response to an article written in the New Yorker Magazine about the concept of brands and branding. The blog was written by Brody Bond, who co-leads a brand development agency in Baltimore, MD. If you are at all interested in the concept of marketing, I highly recommend you read both the original article and Brody’s response. What I loved most from the response is how he defines the term brand. Brody writes, “A brand is a promise of an experience.” What a great and thought-provoking definition! For us, it begs the question, “What kind of experience do we hope people encounter from the time they enter the parking lot to the moment they drive away…and beyond?” This starts us down the path of preparation to best provide this pre-determined experience.

We recently rolled out some helpful relational tools for our launch team to use when explaining, as well as inviting others into, 801South. The first is a short video; which explains some of 801South’s genesis.

The second tool is a small, simple invite card; which features the logo (a small part of branding) and a picture of people in relationship on the other side. This is not the final product that the launch team will receive at our next event on Tuesday, March 4th, but it is a prototype.


Invitation Card Final.Large

These relational tools aside, what is it that we want people to experience? This question guides so much of what we form as a worship experience for adults and for children. The worst thing we can do is to brand 801South with a promise that in no way matches a person’s actual experience. For example, if we promise that our band sounds exactly like Coldplay, but they actually sounds more like that band you started with your buddies back in middle school (mine was named Tempest) then we have lied about our brand.  Or if we promise that all people will be warmly welcomed and that our hospitality team will serve them from their very first time on campus, but no one even speaks to them (or even worse-ignores a clear need), then our brand is not particularly valuable. And further marketing within the community only exacerbates the problem when the experience does not match the promise.

I know that God is at work here. I have incredible confidence in this vision. The people behind 801South will play a role in shaping lives for years to come. I can’t wait to see how lives are changed and futures are transformed through Jesus. Yes, we have a logo—I love it and we’re super excited about it. Yes, we have some promotional material. Yes, we have a plan for marketing the worship experience to the community. Yes, we have someone developing a website. But if there is a gap between our promise and the experience, then our brand will miss the mark. This is why the heart of the 801South servant is critical. The leaders are providing training, but without the servant’s heart striving for excellence in his or her ministry, the brand ultimately suffers. Those who serve through 801South have an opportunity to be a part of changing someones story forever. Yeah, it’s a big deal.

So maybe the question is not “How will they know about it?” But instead, “What will they tell of their experience?”

And in full disclosure, Brody Bond played lead guitar in Tempest.

Arriving At Simple

It seems like everywhere I go these days I hear about simplicity. The concept of simplicity is a buzzword, especially in the worlds of marketing and design. I see it in commercials for car dealers and read about it in articles written by branding professionals (marketing, not cattle). There are even whole books dedicated to the concept.

Simplicity is also one of the five key values that we use to filter decisions for 801South, but what does it mean? (The other four are Relationships, Reproducing, Unchurched, and Fun.)

There are several definitions and perspectives of simplicity, but perhaps the best definition for our context is the freedom from complexity, intricacy, or division into parts; which I pulled from Notice how simplicity is not the opposite of complexity. I’ve heard it explained that simplicity is the other side of complexity. Simplicity is a destination at which you arrive only after driving through much complexity. And the drive is hard work.

The natural trend in any organization (and life itself) is toward complexity, because it is so much easier to add than replace. For example, in the context of the local church, when someone wants to add a policy, ministry, or staff person, we typically say, “Great, let’s do it!” But often times we don’t spend adequate time considering all the implications this addition brings to the overall organization. So how do we avoid and fight complexity?

What about life in general? How many of you would say that life is simpler than it was five years ago? Ten years? If so, I would guess that you put in the hard work driving through complexity and were intentional to arrive at a simpler life. But for the rest of us, life is most definitely more complicated, because we’ve added (children, responsibilities, bills, expectations, land, etc.) without much thought toward giving anything up to accommodate what is added. We want it all and we want to do it all. And many of us can…for a while.

There are lots of layers to peel back when it comes to simplicity, but one of those layers is mission. If we take an example from the early church, we see a great illustration of the hard work required to arrive at simple. In Acts 15, the decision makers convene to discuss an issue facing the church. There were some who wanted to add a requirement to those joining The Way (technically they want to remove something–painfully). Finally James stands up for the mission. After much discussion, he says, “I conclude that we shouldn’t create problems for Gentiles (non-Jews) who turn to God.” He then suggests a short list of essentials: avoiding what has been sacrificed to/associated with idols, avoiding sexual immorality, avoiding eating meat from animals that have been strangled, and avoid consuming blood. (Personally, I’ve got the last couple mastered. I’ve been very successful in NOT drinking animal blood.) Peter and James both used the mission of the church to navigate toward simplicity while working through the complexity.

The simplicity of 801South–worship, community (small groups), and service–is part of its beauty. We strive not to have competing systems or ministries. The 801South Coaches are meeting regularly to take the drive through complexity together. (Off-roading is always more fun with a vehicle full of friends anyway.) Our goal is to arrive at simple and always fight to stay there.

How much time do you spend thinking about how to drive through the complexity to arrive at a simpler business, home, life?

2014 Trends (801South Small Groups and Training)

Have you heard all the latest design trends for the new year? According to iStock photo  (which is where I was hunting a cool image to use for this post) some of the big trends this year are beards, multi-racial models and “lens flare;” which used to be seen as a photographic blemish but is apparently now an expression of authenticity.

People in our culture today seem to have a fascination and genuine hunger for real (and facial hair). People no longer want to be force-fed the picture perfect ideal. Instead, people want to see the blemishes. Perhaps because blemishes are inevitable. Therefore, I’m really doubling up this year, because my beard is far from perfect and I don’t spend much time trying to make it look like it is. (Actually, I started growing it assuming I’d be asked to replace Phil Robertson, but then A&E decided to kiss and make up.) I’m not sure, however, that I can take advantage of the whole “multi-racial model” trend. Any suggestions?

The other big trends soon to catch on (which oddly were not on the iStock list) are 801South small groups and ministry training! The 801South ministry coaches are meeting regularly to plan for the next Launch Team event on the evening of January 23rd. Go ahead and add the date to your calendars–more details will be announced soon. At this event, we will focus on the next steps for our Launch Team as we move closer to the launch of our 801South worship experience in April.

Some of the next steps include equipping those on the Launch Team for serving in our areas of ministry: Hospitality, Band, Tech, Set-up, Creatives, Children, and Small Groups.

Along with the ministry training, participation in the intentional community of small groups is a key component and an expectation for all Launch Team peeps. Here is a sneak peek of the small group offerings prior to the April launch:

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 1.33.51 PM

We will be tweaking the details of these groups and adding more groups next week. The final list will be available at There will also be a form through which you can choose a group (if you have not already spoken to one of our trained small group leaders).

We are also putting together some relational marketing tools for our Launch Team and other Matthews UMC church peeps to use while inviting others to come alongside for this 801South journey. We are especially excited about a very short promo video; which will launch at our next event on January 23rd.

So what trends do you notice for 2014?

Are you reordering your priorities in 2014 to make space for intensely focusing on launching 801South this year?

If not you, do you know of someone who might be interested in participating?