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February 14 2014


January 31 2014


Greg Atkinson on 4 Keys to Creating an Irresistible Church | unSeminary

Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadPodcast (video): Play in new window | Download | EmbedSubscribe to the unSeminary Podcast: [iTunes] [RSS] [Stitcher] [TuneIn] // [VIDEO iTunes] [VIDEO RSS]On today’s podcast we have church consultant, author and pastor Greg Atkinson. We’re talking about four areas that every church should work on to become more irresistible in the coming year. This episode is overflowing with helpful thoughts on how to make your church the kind of church that people will want to attend and to tell their friends about. We based this conversation around a chapter of Greg’s book “Church Leadership Essentials“. Listen in on this episode for some practical insights on things you could improve at your church in the coming weeks and months.Greg Atkinson // [Website] [twitter] [Church Leadership Essentials: What Every Pastor Needs to Know]Interview Highlights00:30 // Greg’s ministry experience01:10 // Greg is the editor of an online magazine02:00 // Greg’s new book, ‘Church Leadership Essentials’02:20 // Becoming a more irresistible church in 201402:45 // Becoming more irresistible in the area of First Impressions03:16 // First Impressions begin online before a guest has attended your church03:20 // Guests should know that they matter to us before they hear that they matter to God03:49 // The fastest growing churches in America expect guests05:30 // Greg asks ‘is the pastor approachable, accessible?”06:02 // Rich recalls a time when he was mislead to an empty new comer room08:25 // How humbling that the pastor of one of the largest churches in America is still available to speak with after each service10:06 // Walking slowly through the pews11:00 // Becoming more irresistible in the area of Children’s Ministry12:16 // Kids environments must always be Clean, Safe and Secure16:40 // Paint goes a long way17:17 // Impact of impressive Kid’s environments is greater on parents than kids19:52 // Becoming more irresistible in the area of Security20:11 // A mega church that Greg failed in the security area25:59 // What’s involved in good ushering28:57 // Becoming more irresistible in the area of Attractional Worship29:55 // Church success is dependent upon people inviting their friends31:56 // Greg reminds us that we don’t want to offend a guest by anything that is within our control33:59 // Greg’s book – Church Leadership Insights: What Every pastor Needs to KnowLightning Round HighlightsHelpful Online Resource // Gmail, Google HangoutBooks That are Having an Impact // Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry, Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp, What the Plus by Guy KawasakiInspiring Ministries // Crosspoint, North Point, NewSpring, SeacoastInspiring Leader // John MaxwellWhat does he do for fun? // Date nights with his wife, hanging with his kids, movies, guys night outCheck This Out // 8 Effective Ways to Follow Up With Guests at Your ChurchInterview Transcript //Rich – Well, welcome to the unSeminary Podcast. Rich Birch here, your host. We have got a real treat here to kick off the new year today. We have got speaker, writer, consultant, Greg Atkinson with us. Greg is a 20 year veteran of church work. He’s a real expert in so many different areas and a gift for us as we kick off the new year. He’s actually left the local church environment to make himself more broadly available to serve churches all across the country, ultimately around the world. Also is working with an online magazine right now. Greg welcome to the show. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the online magazine you are working with these days.Greg – Thank you for having me. I am in a season right now where I am speaking, and writing and doing some freelance writing. Working on some book projects that will be coming out in 2014, 2015. And I am the editor of Christian Media Magazine. It’s an online magazine and we are going in a new direction. We just have a whole new look. A whole new feel. We went through a rebranding process and are coming out in the new year going strong trying to reach church leaders of all types to get them to read the magazine, to learn about media resources for them.Rich – Nice. Very cool. We will link to that in the show notes so people can get a sense of that and learn more about that. It’s obviously a great resource for people to get plugged into. Well one of the things you wrote, you have written a number of books and we will talk about your book a little bit later. One of the books you wrote recently, I have it on my kindle so I apologize to those who can’t see that….’Church Leadership Essentials”. It’s a fantastic resource you should check out. If you over the holiday season got your new Kindle, you should buy this book. It’s only $5, common! One of the chapters in there we what to really drill into for churches, because I think a lot of churches can benefit from this, is How to be Irresistible. How to be more irresistible as a church. You actually talk about 4 different things in there and I think that’s a great for all of us. It would be great if in 2014 our churches were more irresistible than they were in 2013. So let’s talk about those 4 areas. What’s the first area churches should think about when they want to be more irresistible?Greg – Well in the book, and in my writing and my teaching I talk about 4 areas and the first area is First Impressions. And that, as you know, starts before they come to the actual campus. I include online presence in that. I Include your use of social media, your website. Most people nowadays will check out your church online before they ever come to it physically. Once they get there, Mark Waltz from Granger has a great quote in his book where he talks about how you’ve got 10 minutes somewhere between the parking lot and the children’s center 10 minutes will pass. They should know they matter to us before they hear about how they matter to God. So I like to focus on those first 10 minutes and letting people know that they are welcome, they are loved and that we were expecting them. One of the things I found when I work doing my consulting is that the fastest growing churches in the country actually expect guests, they aren’t surprised when they show up.Rich – Oh wow. That’s good.Greg – It’s like they gear everything towards the first time guest. Everything from Welcome Centers to Children’s check in, to signage, to parking lot greeters, everything is geared towards that first time guest. So they are ready and waiting for that first time guest to show up. Just having that good first impression in that first 10 minutes.Rich – Ya that’s good. Is there something that you’ve come across that some church has done on that first impression stuff that has been particularly intriguing to you? Wow, that’s something I’ve never seen before. To kind of make those first time guests feel extra special and welcome as they arrive.Greg – A lot of churches that I have worked with will do some kind of either a VIP room after the service, or a Guest Central after the service, or a meet the pastor. Some kind of opportunity where you go into a separate room, decorated like a party atmosphere, I love the VIP rooms that churches do and they have the little giveaways, maybe a little bag with goodies in it with stuff about the church to welcome people. And then you get to actually physically shake the pastors hand and some of the other key leaders at the church. Some kind of way that they get to actually make that connection on the first visit. Actually, when I consult with churches, one of the things I look at in my report is ‘Is the pastor approachable, accessible?” And that’s something that visitors are looking for, are they going to get a chance to talk with him, to hug him, to pray with him. So that’s something that I like to see is at the end of the service, to have some kind of guest central or visitors spot where people can come in and meet key leaders.Rich – That’s amazing. That’s a great tip. My wife Christine and I, when we were first married, it was within the first year. We were looking for a new church. We had moved into a new community. And we went and visited, it was kind of one of those churches that was going and blowing in town, it was doing a great job. And during the service the church said ‘we’ve got this new comer room, we’d love for you to be there’ You probably see where this is going. And they had some signage out in the foyer saying here’s where the newcomer room is. And it was a little bit weird because it was downstairs and kind of off in a corner but we were like, oh this is fine. So we go and we stand and there’s sure enough a big sign, ‘new comers’ in front of the door. And we go in there, and we just stand there. And there’s no one there in the room. And I was like, and I’m like a Christ Follower. I love Jesus, big-time. And we are standing there feeling so awkward, what’s going to happen next, and no body came in. So we just kind of slinked back out the door.Greg – That’s poor execution.Rich – We slink back out to the parking lot. You know, that’s a great church. I’ve often thought of that with the guest services stuff at our church, because that’s a great church. They do a great job and are doing a lot of fantastic things. And there are are weekends when things go wrong and your normal system doesn’t happen. But you know what, the reality of it is, there are people that visit every weekend so you have to nail that stuff 52 weeks of the year, or however many weeks of the year you do services.Greg – You gotta give it attention. You’ve gotta give it your presence. You’ve got to make it a priority. One thing I like to help churches do as a resource is to brainstorm creative names. I mentioned you could call it a VIP room, a Guest Central, a New Comers Welcome. One of my favorites is Erwin McManis in LA calls it the After Party. And so they have a party after each service and you can meet each pastor, and Erwin if he is there live. Love to throw out different ideas.Rich – That’s fantastic. On that front, still to this day, Bill Hybels, you know I find this humbling, after all these years he will hang our at the front and talk to every person and shake a hand and interact. I think there are a lot of pastors of churches that aren’t 30 thousand people, or however many Willow has gotten to these days, who are like “i’ve got things to do, I’m a busy person.” I commend Bill on that! He’s willing to stand around. I had brought a friend to Willow in the last year and we were at their last service, we did the tour thing and poked around and popped into the auditorium at the end and sure enough, this is now an hour after the last service and Bill is still hanging around, shaking hands, talking to people. And I was like, hmmm, that’s a humbling sign for me because I think I am often just rushed on Sundays.Greg – It speaks volumes. When I consulted with 12Stones in Atlanta, their pastor Kevin Myers, they were just recently named the fastest growing church in the nation, but he’s down front praying with people, hugging people, crying with people, counseling with people after each and every service. We all have that potential to be rushed, like you talked about, it’s human nature. I wrote a chapter in the book about walking slowly through the pews. That is something that I learned many years ago, nearly 20 years ago from my veteran uncle who had been a minister for many years. He came up to me after one of the services and I said, ‘What did you think?’ I was a worship leader and I thought I had done a good job leading and I thought that was all that mattered. And he said “Greg, walk slowly through the pews. You rushed right by people, you just rushed down the aisle, and you were always in a hurry to get places, and you didn’t make eye contact and shake hands and speak to people.” And so I never forgot that, and we always have to be intentional about walking slowly through the pews.Rich – That’s a good bit of wisdom for sure. So first impressions, that’s the first area. What’s the second area we should be worrying about in 2014 if we want our church to be more irresistible than last year?Greg – In Childrens Ministry, we as evangelical modern churches we are often trying to reach parents with young kids. And how you welcome kids when they come, how your rooms are decorated, all that speaks volumes, what they learn, is it just babysitting or do they actually learn stuff about the Bible and about God. Great churches send kids home with devotional material, or homework to go over with their parents. I love the ORANGE philosophy and the thought of partnering with parents where we send resources home, at my church, with the kids for them to show their parents, and the parents bring it up over dinner. ‘Ok, this Sunday you talked about Daniel. What did Daniel do? Then the discussion. Actually in some ways it’s like a reverse discipleship because a lot of the parents aren’t strong Christians at all. But the big three that I always talk about, and there’s a chapter in the book about this, is Clean, Safe and Secure. Clean: If a parents drops off a child and it is a wreck. it’s not clean, it’s not sanitized, presentable, it’s not nice neat and tidy. It’s going to give a negative first impression. Again, they are going to feel like you weren’t expecting guests and they’re going to get a negative impression, and you don’t want anything negative in the first 10 minutes. Clean, Safe and Secure. Safe means that there’s nothing dangerous in the room, there’s no jagged corners or corners sticking off the edge of some rusty table that a kid could fall and cut their eye open on. It’s got to be safe. And last, secure. It’s got to be secure. How you get in, how you get out, how a child get’s checked in. That’s why so many churches use database systems like Fellowship One, where you get the name badges, and you have to have a matching number to check the child out. And also secure meaning there’s not a back door that’s unattended in the children’s facility where the kid could wander out into the street and get kidnapped or picked up. In my church there’s one way in and one way out of the children’s part of the facility and those were monitored by security guards. We had a great security team. And you didn’t get out with a child unless you had a matching sticker. It was very secure. Clean, Safe and Secure.Rich – Very cool. On the children’s ministry front are there some common low hanging fruit that churches could implement even in these first months of the year. I think a lot of times people get overwhelmed when they go to a church like North Point or Mariners out west and be like ‘oh my goodness, this is Disney World, we are not going to be able to do this.” But are there some low hanging fruit that, people could do, even right away to help improve their children’s ministry.Greg – Ya, we recently, the church where I was most recently the campus pastor, we were a multisite church and we moved into a new facility. I wanted to do something like North Point, Mariners, kind of a wacky world theme. Where Wacky World comes in and decks out the walls but we couldn’t afford it so we hired a local designer, a local print shop to make us those appliqués that stick to the walls, that look like Wacky World. So it was done very economical, very cost effective, but it looks professional. It looked like something I’d seen because my old church I was pastor at in Dallas, they had used Wacky World so I was familiar with what their stuff looked like, and it looked like it, but it was done by a local print shop so it was very economical. My thing is excellence in all things, so if you can shoot for excellence, it doesn’t have to be Wacky World if they are not in your budget and you can’t afford it, but if you can try to, you know I was looking at a church…I visited a church two weeks ago and they are a great church, a large church, a mega church, but walking down the halls to their children’s facilities, they were just bland. It was like khaki, or cream walls, just walking all down the hallways. There was no vibrant color, nothing inviting, nothing exciting letting me know that I was in the children’s wing of the building. Just real drab and bland.Rich – Absolutely. Ya, the environment piece is a huge deal. It’s amazing. Even if you are a church listening here today and you are thinking I’m not even sure we can afford to get some printing done, well you should look into it because it’s not as expensive as you think it is. But even if you can’t afford that, you would be amazed by what you can do with paint.Greg – That’s what I was going to say, paint will do it.Rich – Absolutely. You can paint some walls. We just went through a renovation of a facility and people are blown away by the kids environments but when you step back and look at it, it’s mostly paint. There’s some environment stuff too but mostly what you are impacted by. There was a study done recently, I believe it was by Cogun I need to go back and check the reference on that, where they basically went in a studied and asked kids and parents and families in these church environments where they’ve had the kind of Wacky World environment pieces and the impact that it’s had on them, and what they feel about the church, if it’s the kind of place that they can invite their friends. It’s interesting, what they found is, the kids…those environments, very quickly, within a couple of weeks, they just become paint on the walls. It just becomes kind of expected. They think of course I go through a slide to get into my kids environments. But listen, for parents, it almost lasts for years.Greg – It’s the parents. It speaks volumes to the parents.Rich – Absolutely, years later you are thinking ‘oh my goodness, I can’t believe my kids get to go down a slide to the kids environment!’Greg – That’s what I wish church leaders would realize. They think, ‘they are a 3 year old, what do they care, let’s give them some crayons and let them color.’ They don’t realize we are trying to reach the 20-30 something parents that the kids are precious to them, their pride and joy, and when they come to a church that is inviting and welcoming to kids and has that Disney Land kind of feel, colors and attractive, compelling looking appearance, it just speaks volumes to the parents. And that is included in that first 10 minutes. Making that first impression when they think my kids are happy, I am happy, and because it is clean safe and secure and I am not going to worry about their safety so I can worship and actually pay attention to the message and pay attention to what God wants to do in the service. I can allow God to speak to me. I am not worried if my child is going to go out that back door, or hit is head on that rough corner of the table. They are not worried when it’s clean, safe and secure and they can focus on what God wants to do on their hearts in the worship service.Rich – Absolutely. That’s a huge lesson. That’s one of those things I wish more church leaders would take to heart when it comes to their physical facility. OK first impressions, children’s ministry. What’s another area that we can invest in this coming year to make our church more irresistible?Greg – Yes, the third area is security. A lot of churches don’t think about this. That clean, safe and secure, the word secure there, that applies to adults as well. They want to feel secure. I worked with, I’m not going to say which church it was, but it is a well known giga church, mega church with a well known worship leader and pastor. Amazing church. And I worked with them as a secret shopper and I did my report and the last question says would I return to this church. Would I come back as a guest and I said no. And they were stunned and shocked but they were also pleased that someone was honest with them. That someone would shoot straight with them. And that’s what a consultant is supposed to do. I’m not just supposed to tell you what you want to hear. And they said ‘tell us more about this. Why wouldn’t you come back? We have some of the best worship in the country?” And I said but you’re not secure, and I didn’t see any security present. I didn’t see any people with ear pieces in. I didn’t see any police officers roaming around which should happen in mega churches. I didn’t see anything around to let me know that I was safe. We live in a world now…I’m a movie guy, I love movies. And just the other week at my local theatre there was a shooting that I was almost there and I would have saw it and it would have wrecked my life for the rest of my life to have seen it. But a guys wife went out on a date with another guy, and the husband came and gunned down, the guy shot him 5 times in the movie theatre parking lot, and everybody around that was going to a movie saw it and I was this close to being there and seeing it. You know, there has been a number of church shootings. There’s been kidnappings and disgruntled parents coming in and grabbing their kids out of kid classes. A divorced dad taking their kids without their mom knowing. So security, if you want tour church to be irresistible, and if you want it to be welcoming and inviting and again that God factor. You want people to focus on Christ and the worship service, you don’t want them worrying about are their lives in danger. You gotta have security measures in place. So when I work with churches, and I only work with very large churches, but I’m looking for the people with ear pieces in their ears. I’m looking for people with the walkie talkies. I’m looking for the people with guns on them. I’m looking for the people that give me a dirty look if I try to go somewhere that I am not supposed to go. Because I’ll try to get into children’s ministry areas that I am not supposed to get into as a secret shopper. And I’m looking for people to stop me and say ‘whoa, where do you think you are aging?” and I’m testing that security as a secret shopper. It’s just something that in this day and age, as much as a I hate to say it, now we are in 2014, you got to be secure and you have to take security seriously. We had an incident about 2 months ago at my church where I was campus pastor where a guy came in drunk. And he was known, he was a guy I had been counseling about alcoholism, and had been trying to get him into AA, and he was too proud to get into AA. He said he could beat it all on his own. He needed to be in AA and he had a reputation for being very violent when he got drunk and getting into a lot of bar fights and beating people unconscious. He was like a MMA fighter, lethal. He could really hurt people. And so he came up to me on a Sunday morning and said ‘Man, I’m sorry, I failed. I went out to a concert last night and I have been drinking all night and I’m so sorry.” And he was just wreaking of alcohol and I patted him on the back and said ‘I love you man, maybe God will speak to you today.” And he went into the service. As campus pastor I went to all our security guys, we have two police officers, off duty police officers who just always carry guns with them. And then we have ushers and security folk and some ex-military guys and I just went to each of them and I pointed the guy out. And I said he’s drunk and if he makes a move for the stage, tackle him, don’t let him get to the stage. And I just had to point it out. And that’s just me doing my job to keep our church secure and safe. Thankfully nothing happened. He left, he cried after the service, he said that God was speaking to his heart and he left but who knows how many drunk people show up to churches on a given Sunday. But I had every eye in there on him security-wise, trained on him just watching him to see if he made any sudden moves to rush the stage and so just gotta take precautions.Rich – That’s obviously, pardon the put, but that’s a sobering thing to talk about. It’s the kind of thing that we don’t think about a lot but it’s the kind of thing that a lot of us go back and loop back on our security procedures for this coming year and say what is it that we need to improve on this front. Maybe we need to be a bit proactive.Greg – This is something that doesn’t get talked about all that often. Some of it is just within your first impression ministry you have parking lot, you have greeters, you have people that attend a welcome center or information center or guest central. But you also have ushers and you don’t want to forget the art of good ushering or good ushers that not only seat people, but are active and attentive during a service. We had a situation, it was a year ago last January, where we were, I’ll never forget it because it was our last service in our old facility before we moved campuses. We were getting ready the very next week to move to our new facility as a campus and this was our very last service in our old building and it was a very special, meaningful service and I shared memories from people because we had met in that building for 5 years and I shared stories. And as I’m talking, I’m up front sitting on a stool sharing stories form people having a very powerful meaningful moment, this women with dementia started walking up to the front started screaming and yelling at the congregation, and talking about her husband thinking she was cheating on him and her husband had been dead for years, he wasn’t even alive. Her husband thought that she had done something with her husbands brother and she talked about people climbing through her window and she was just talking out of her mind and in my mind I was thinking where are the ushers ushering this women our of here. I didn’t want to be the mean bad pastor that tells this woman to be quiet. So I was patting her on the back saying ‘ok, ok, ok’ and I’m just patting her on the back and thankfully she wasn’t mic’d. I didn’t hand her a microphone so most of the people couldn’t hear what she was saying it was just gibberish, but I was hearing the nonsense that she was saying. So we had a meeting after that where we said, ‘if something like that happens, if you see anyone like that come up to the stage that shouldn’t be coming up to the stage you need to just grab a hold of them and say please come with me we need to usher you out. Just ushering, just basic ushering. I’ve seen, I remember in college seeing someone rush the stage and try to take a swing at the pastor as he was preaching. I’ve seen a lot of stuff in my days. Twenty years of ministry, so security is important. You want people to feel safe at church. If somebody tries to run a the pastor and try to take a swing at him, you remember years ago Charles Stanley, Andy Stanley’s dad got punched in the face. So when stuff like that happens people don’t feel secure and safe so we just have got to take precautions. That’s all I’m saying is take precautions.Rich – That’s good. That’s a good one. Alright so First Impressions, Children’s Ministry, Security which we just talked about. And what’s the fourth area that we could be looking at this coming year.Greg – That would be excellence in attractional worship. And that means that you put everything you’ve got into that. Whether you meet on Saturday night or Sunday morning or Sunday night into that worship experience, or worship experiences…giving it everything you’ve got from worship flow, song selection, authenticity, your communication, preaching, teaching, sound, video and lights, making services memorable and powerful. I think of that passage where it says go out and compel them to come in. Things are done in such a way, and we really had this at my last church, it was such an amazing worship experience that people wanted to tell their friends about it. And I remember years ago attending the evangelism conference at Willow Creek and hearing Bill Hybels talk about the success at Willow Creek has always been and will always be people inviting people. And that was hard for me to hear because I am a marketing guy, I am big into marketing. I could market with the best of them. I’m big into marketing. But I needed to hear it’s about people inviting people. At the end of the day it’s about word of mouth. Word of mouth will always be the best form of marketing. So when you craft services where people can encounter the living God and where they are guest friendly and you don’t use churchy talk, you don’t say anything in which you would have to explain and get into the Greek and get into theological reasons of why you would have to use that word. We try to avoid all churchy lingo and try to talk just like you and I are talking right now, just common, casual conversational language. And make it where our people feel safe. So you have your core there, where your people are attending and they trust you and love you. And trust is that key word, they have to trust you. They have to feel comfortable. They have that person that they have been building a relationship with at work or at school and they say ‘hey, why don’t you come check out our church. I think you would really like it. It’s not like any other church. Come give it a shot.’ And then everybody tells those stories of the week that their guest that they have been inviting for so long finally shows up and they have that cringe factor. They are thinking oh I hope everything goes all right. I hope the pastor say something stupid. I hope he doesn’t preach on money today. They have that cringe factor and they see that the stakes are high and they want it to be a great service for their guest that they have been praying for. So we as pastors, as worship leader, as service programmers, we are always aware and sensitive to the fact that it is somebody’s first time at our church. And that happens every Sunday, it is somebody’s first time at our church and we want to make sure that they are not offended by anything that is out of our control. If they get offended by anything Gospel, we can’t help that. The Gospel can be offensive. But if they are offending by bad lighting, or poor communication, or music that’s not done with excellence and you have an off day musically it just turns people off. So just doing your best when it comes to the actual worship experience.Rich – Absolutely, that’s one of those lessons to let just soak in. There’s a lot there. There’s a lot to unpack but continuing to invest in what happens Sunday from your own teaching, to what happens in the musical piece in the morning and all those individual elements. Maybe you take one or two of those and say ‘I am going to spend three months with our musicians so say ‘how can we bring this up? How can we bring up the quality from there?’ Then we take another 3-6 months and work just on teaching, on that piece. Work your way through the service to bring the quality up so it does have that attractional outsider focus. This has been an incredible conversation. I want people to understand, today we, this is a bit awkward, but this whole conversation has been based on one chapter of Greg’s book. Now, I’m not a book sales guy, but you really should pick up this book. Today we’ve been talking just about one piece of this and we’ve pulled a lot out, it’s been like a 1/2 hour conversation and the thing I love about this particular book ‘Church Leadership Insights: What Every Pastor Needs to Know, it’s similar to the kind of content that we do at UnSeminary. It’s really practical and it’s stuff that they just don’t teach you in seminary. They are not wrestling through this kind of content. I think it’s the kind of thing you could pull apart, you could use it for training with your team, buy a bunch of copies and use it in that environment. Or just walk through it and say what difference does this chapter make in our church and how do we just go out and apply that. Is there anteing else on this content that you want us to wrestle through before we move onto the lightening round?Greg – I was just going to say, when I first came to my campus they were in decline and they were struggling and I was actually the third campus pastor in three years and they had dropped down to a very low number of people and were really struggling and so I just went into evaluation and assessment mode. I had been a consultant before I came to the church so I looked at the weak links and they were first impressions, children’s ministry and worship. Those were the weak links at the church. So I hired a part time children’s minister and if money is an issue don’t let it because I could have had a lay leader do it, a lay leader be the children’s minister but I hired a very part time kids pastor to oversee kids and take that to the next level. And then we had a transition with our worship. We had an interim worship guy. We had a transition and then did a nationwide search to find a worship guys and it was great. We found a guy who was from a North Point Strategic Partner Church, one of Andy Stanley’s strategic partners church. And he did a great job. He got our concept of church for unchurched people and reaching the lost and he took our worship to a whole new level so we started slowing turning things around. And then honestly, first impressions was always a work in progress. We doubled or tripled our team in size but we kept adding greeters, we added a parking lot team, we added two people to the information center and started expanding the role of ushers and just started putting a lot of beef and emphasis into those areas. So it was, when I write about this, this is what I was dealt when I came to this campus as campus pastor, these were the week links that I had to address. So all of my writing is born out of experience. And like you said, it’s not stuff they teach you in seminary, it’s not stuff they teach you in BIble College. This is just stuff you learn the hard way so I hope it helps people. http://www.unseminary.com/gregatkinson/

Playwright Zoe Kazan on The Dinner Party Download

Zoe Kazan stole a good many hearts (and Paul Dano’s) as the muse-come-to-life in indie film favorite “Ruby Sparks” — a story she also wrote.  She’s also made memorable turns on TV shows like HBO’s much-missed “Bored to Death.”  But in addition to her regular film and TV gigs, Zoe’s no stranger to the stage, acting in several plays and penning a few of her own. Her latest effort is “Trudy & Max In Love,” which wraps up its world premiere run this Sunday at the South Coast Repertory theater in Southern California.  Zoe sat down to talk with Rico about why theater is like an illicit love affair, about the challenges of monogamy, and about a super-cute orphan chihuahua named Wiley …who by the way (breaking news!) has now been adopted.

January 14 2014


BG 253: A Mindfulness Manifesto » Buddhist Geeks

Podcast: Download Episode Description: Kelly Sosan Bearer speaks with Ed Halliwell, journalist, teacher, and author, about his new book The Mindful Manifesto and its themes of mindfulness, Buddhism, and Science. Ed describes his personal experience with stress and depression and his journey to Buddhism and mindfulness practice as a way to get healthy. He defines “mindfulness” and then leads the Geeks through a ”3 step breathing space practice” meant to reduce stress. Episode Links: The Mindful Manifesto: How Doing Less and Noticing More Can Help Us Thrive in a Stressed-Out World The Guardian Integral Chicks Transcript: Kelly:    Hello Buddhist Geeks.  This is Kelly Sosan Bearer and I’m joined today over Skype with Ed Halliwell, mindfulness teacher and writer at the Guardian.  And today we’re going to discuss his newly published book The Mindful Manifesto.  Thanks for joining us Ed. I’m stoked that you’re my first Buddhist Geeks podcast. Ed:    Hi, Kelly. It’s lovely to be with you. Kelly:    Awesome.  Well you have a new book out and it’s called The Mindful Manifesto.  But before we dive into that, I just wanted to get a little bit more of your Buddhist background and journey and maybe you could share a bit about that with us and how you came to Buddhism and mindfulness, and you know, people that may be you studied with or maybe that influenced you in this journey.  Just to give a little bit of background about where you’re coming from. Ed:    Of course.  Of course.  Well I came to meditation practice and Buddhism and mindfulness primarily through my own experience with stress and depression.  So I was in my 20s.  I was working in the media.  I was working as a journalist.  And it was kind of a fast paced, fairly unreflective world, I think it would be fair to say that I was in, or at least that was my experience of it.  And I basically collapsed, I basically collapsed under the weight of stress and I was desperate for ways to kind of work with this.  So I kind of realized that something was not okay in my world and I wanted to do something about that. And that led me on a journey through psychotherapy and through kind of looking at how I was in the world.  And kind of at several points through this Buddhism and meditation practice came up both in books I was reading and people would kind of say to me, “Ed, have you ever thought about practicing meditation?”  And this happened often enough that I kind of reached the point where I thought I need to do something about this and not actually just read about it but actually investigate this on a practical level. And I was lucky enough to live very close to the shambhala meditation center in London. It was literally a 5 minute walk from where I was living.  So I went along and basically said can you help me.  And what I discovered in meditation practice probably over a period of months and then years and ongoing is that it gave me a way of working with my mind and my body that I didn’t connect with in the same way with some of the other things that I was trying.  It really gave me–it started to give me a freedom that I’ve not experience from anything else.  So I guess in that sense I was, I felt that connection and that connection has continued over the years. Kelly:    Wow.  That’s really cool.  So a real personal experience with mindfulness and how that actually helps you in your day to day.  What specific things about mindfulness practice helped you the most do you think? Ed:    Well there’ve been different elements to it.  I mean when I came to meditation practice, I didn’t know anything about mindfulness in the form that we present it in the book, which is primarily coming from the mindfulness based stress reduction model.  I was very much connecting with Buddhism and with the principles and practices of the dharma.  And that was so, and remains so, and I continue with that sort of my path led me.  I spent a year working at Dechen Choling Meditation Retreat Center in France.  And it was actually when I came back from there in early 2007 that I started to hear about mindfulness as it’s presented in the kind of more, I guess I don’t really like the word secular versus religious, but in the kind of health world if you like. Kelly:    Kind of like the John Kabat-Zinn model for instance. Ed:    Exactly.  Exactly.  And so I’d already got a huge benefit. I’m incredibly grateful for what I’ve discovered through practicing Buddhism and in that form. I think then on top of that what the mindfulness based stress reduction model has brought me is that kind of synergy with a western way of approaching the mind and the body.  And that combination of the great wisdom that’s been passed down to us from thousands of years of practice and practitioners then allied with the way of kind of working with the mind that comes from looking at the mind scientifically and from a western psychology perspective, that combination I found enormously powerful over recent years. Kelly:    Yeah, beautiful.  Thank you so much for sharing just that background with us.  The geek in me likes to make sure that we’re all on the same page with our terms and definitions.  Can you share with us your definition of mindfulness and how you’re using it in your book? Ed:    Yeah.  First of all I’d just like to say that I’m a little kind of leery of definitions.  I think for meditation practice is something that you have to experience.  And mindfulness is something that you have to experience.  And it is, trying to sort of put it into words, really is, it’s pointing your finger at the moon, as the sort of traditional description, one traditional description has it.  And if you want to actually experience it yourself you got to try it and see what happens.  However, I do think the fingers can be useful as well to know where it points to.  So primarily I guess we’re using the John Kabat-Zinn, one of his definitions which is paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally, and sometimes added onto that is something along the lines with open hearted compassion. I also like very simple way of describing mindfulness is simply observing things as they are and learning from that.  I think that’s a lovely very kind of straightforward way of describing what mindfulness is.  And being somebody who kind of likes ways of remembering things that is simple, I sometimes describe mindfulness as being an A, B, C skill.  The A being awareness, the B being with so actually staying with our experience, and then that leading to choice so that freedom about how we then use what we’ve learned to hopefully act more skillfully in the world.  So those are some ways in which we kind of approach mindfulness in the book.  I also love the word heartfulness which is sometimes use as a kind of way of describing mindfulness.  I think it’s very interesting that in the West we use that word “mind”, and “mind” tends to be used to describe what’s going on in the head whereas mindfulness practice is a meditation practice is very much about relating mind and body.  I’m also aware that classical descriptions of mindfulness in Buddhism may have some other connotations as well.  And I wouldn’t describe myself as a Buddhist scholar in any way at all, but I am aware that there are enormously fruitful and interesting debates about what mindfulness means.  So I think in the end I come back to using these descriptions as way of connecting with that experience of being. Kelly:    Great.  Thank you so much for that.  What I found really interesting about The Mindful Manifesto is that it brings together the themes of mindfulness, Buddhism and science.  And that’s something that we’re obviously exploring day in and day out over here at Buddhist Geeks.  Why is this important and how is it helpful to Buddhism in the West do you think bringing together these three themes? Ed:    Yeah.  Well science is an important mode of knowing and it’s a way of understanding our world from a perspective and using a particular method or series of method.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way of understanding what’s going on or the complete way of understanding what’s going on.  But it has great value and it’s also one that’s culturally validated. Kelly:    That’s always helpful.  [laughter] Ed:    Yeah.  So you know if you’re a–I quite often [am] sort of presenting mindfulness to people who wouldn’t set foot inside a Buddhist center, and wouldn’t be interested in exploring Buddhism, and you could sort of try to work with that and perhaps explore what their notions of Buddhism are and you know bring them in that way.  But for a lot of people there isn’t that connection.  However if you explain meditation practice from a scientific perspective and say this is what’s happening in your brain and this is what the clinical studies are showing are the potential results of meditation practice, then a whole range of people who previously might have dismissed meditation as being a bit flaky, a bit kind of new age or religious in a way that they didn’t want to get into are now able to connect with meditation and  are benefiting from that.  And I think that’s enormously important actually in the world that we live in where there’s so much personal distress and societal distress.  And meditation practice I believe has a huge rule to play in helping us work with that.  So, science is kind of a way of transmitting the dharma perhaps to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to, or wouldn’t otherwise approach it or be convinced by it. Kelly:    Yeah. It’s kind of like science is a portal for folks that are more in the secular world interested in mindfulness techniques per se but not wanting to get into the religious traditional aspect of Buddhism. Ed:    Yeah. Yeah.  I think that’s right. Kelly:    Cool.  Well that’ really interesting.  What do you think about the convergence of these three themes and how is that helpful to Buddhism in the West? Ed:    Well I think it brings a rigor to the claims of Buddhism.  It’s all very well kind of saying you know as I might have done a few years ago, “well, I’ve been practicing meditation for a number of years and I’ve noticed these changes in the way I relate with my experience,” and some people might be interested in that and they go “well good for you.”  But if you have the methodology and the rigor of science supporting this, then I think that brings another dimension to practice. I mean the Dalai Lama says, I think, he said, and obviously the Dalai Lama has been supportive of this kind of dialogue between western science and Buddhism, and he said, “If science can prove tenets of Buddhism are mistaken then Buddhism will have to change.” The converse of that is that science has to and is, or scientists have to and are, starting to engage with Buddhism in a way that perhaps doesn’t have the preconceptions that might have been there you know say 10, 20, certainly 30 years ago. So I think there’s this creative dialogue going on, and that has benefits not just to people who might not be interested in Buddhism, but has benefits to Buddhism itself in that sense of I think what we’re all doing perhaps with our practice is we’re inquiring.  We’re investigating.  We’re testing what we’ve been told with the kind of the, you know, in the fire of our own experience if you like.  And that’s how we, perhaps how we develop and how western Buddhism will also kind of develop and how it will kind of come to be in whatever forms it develops into over the coming 10, 50, 100, 1000 years and so on. Kelly:    Yeah.  Great. So to dig into your book a little bit more.  What’s the one key principle you hope people will receive by reading The Mindful Manifesto? Ed:    We primarily aim the book with people who perhaps might be skeptical about meditation practice.  So there is quite a lot of engagement with the scientific research.  We wanted to present that as clearly as we could.  And we’d also at the same time try to engage with the history of meditation practice, particularly the Buddhist history of meditation practice.  I think there’s a lot of books on mindfulness perhaps don’t go there quite as much.  So we thought it’s very important to kind of acknowledge actually there is this wisdom tradition that these practices are coming from.  And to kind of bring that together in a way that sort of can offer people a taste of the practice as well.  So I guess if there’s one key principle it would be that the great wisdom of practitioners over thousands of years is now being validated by the methods of science and showing that training in meditation, whether that’s the traditional Buddhist perspective or whether you’re going to your doctor or other healthcare practitioner and learning meditation practice in that way.  This practice can change our minds and our bodies and our hearts in the direction of greater awareness and compassion.  That’s open and available to anybody who wants to engage with it.  So I think that would be my one hope for the message that we get across in the book. Kelly:    That’s awesome.  And something that just came up spontaneously so feel free to decline my offer if it doesn’t fit for you.  But would you be willing to lead us through a one minute exercise of mindfulness perhaps. Ed:    Yeah.  Sure.  I mean what I could do is do you know the three step breathing space that sometimes used in mindfulness based stress reduction courses?  We could… Kelly:    Sure.   Yeah.  Let’s go through that. Ed:    Okay.  So this is a practice that is taught on a lot of mindfulness courses.  It was first used I believe in a course called mindfulness cognitive therapy which was actually developed in the UK by Mark Williams and his colleagues.  And this practice is called the three step breathing space.  So this is a practice that can be used kind of anywhere any when.  So it’s something that hopefully you can engage with wherever you are right now. And so first of all taking an upright dignified posture wherever you are, if you’re sitting in a chair then feeling the connection of your bottom on the chair and your feet on the ground.  So feeling that connection with earth and also sensing your body rising up into the air.  So perhaps if you’re sitting on a chair then having your back away from the back of the chair so that your spine is self supporting.  Keeping your eyes open or close as you prefer.  And the first step is acknowledging.  So acknowledging what’s present in your experience right now.  What’s going on in your thoughts?  What’s going through your mind? Acknowledging what’s present also in your emotional experience at the moment.  Feeling what’s present, perhaps sensations in the body.  So noticing where any emotions that you’re feeling are being expressed in the body and body sensations also more generally.  So any pain or discomfort or restlessness or tiredness whatever it might be.  So acknowledging, acknowledging what’s here?  What’s present right now? And so the second step is gathering, and for this step gathering your attention into the breath.  So come into rest your attention on the breath maybe in the lower abdomen and sensing the flow of the breath, the waves of the breath as they flow in and out of your body.  Just this breath.  This moment. And now the third step is expanding.  So, expanding your awareness from the point of attention, the breath in the lower abdomen, the belly and expanding that out to bring awareness to the whole of your experience in your body.  So including thoughts, emotions, body sensations and resting now with this wider awareness of what’s going on.  Perhaps expanding this also to space around you that’s going on in your environment.  And as best as you can just being with whatever is present, being you, here in this moment. And now letting go and coming out of the practice and opening your eyes if they’ve been closed and just connecting in with what’s around you.  And seeing the possibility perhaps for continuing that connection, that mindfulness that we’ve been cultivating over the last few moments together, continuing perhaps to notice that connection through the next period of the day, whatever it is that you’re moving on to do next. http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2012/04/bg-253-a-mindfulness-manifesto/

January 07 2014


The Walking Eye Monster Hearts Revew 1 Hour

Justin Says: December 10th, 2012 at 3:44 pm Fun review, folks! I’m glad you enjoyed Monsterhearts. I’ve played a few sessions with my group, and I hope to play a few more sometime soon. I’m really interested in the difficulties you’ve had with color first play. In retrospect, I can see those struggles in all the AW games you’ve recorded. My group had some similar problems when we started playing AW games, and I have a few suggestions for how to approach this kind of play. 1) Clarify, clarify, clarify! – Whenever there’s misunderstanding or ambiguity about what a character is doing, take a second to clarify what’s going on. These games don’t work unless we have a solid understanding of what’s actually happening in the fiction. We don’t have to pause constantly, but if there’s some kind of significant action someone doesn’t understand, it’s probably worthwhile to clarify. 2) Play for action, not for effect – These games tend to get really strange if you narrate with the intent of invoking a move. Don’t think about how to Lash out Physically, think about whether your character is going to punch that douchebag. In my experience, if you think about the moves first, then the action tends to stagnate, and narration becomes an obligatory chore rather than the meat of play. These games need you to be interested in what your character is doing right now, not in the particular mechanical effect you’ll produce. 3) Don’t plan the narrative – Characters can plan all they want, but players should probably avoid it. First, if you’re following the rules and using the moves, any plans you make will quickly crumble. It’s kind of a waste of time in that respect. Second, if you actually try to enact the plan, these games will lock down and stagnate. These games completely rely on having a play space that is only constrained by what’s been established in the fiction. If there’s some kind of external sense about how the game’s “supposed to go,” then everyone’s going to have to fight the rules to make it go that way. In my group’s play, those situations have always been the least interesting and least engaging. 4) Talk about the moves – Before game. During game. Whenever. All the time. I mean this regarding moves in general and specific moves. Everyone has to have a fairly close understanding about how moves work and under what circumstances each particular move triggers. This smooths our interactions with the moves, and helps us have more consistent expectations for overall play. It can definitely be jarring to be surprised by the presence of absence of a move. For what it’s worth, I think you folks did great, and it was really fun to listen to. http://www.thewalkingeye.com/?p=1980
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