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Monday, November 2, 2009

Mistakes I Made In The First 6 Months Of Church Planting

I have come up with a list of 8 mistakes I have made during the first 6 months of church planting in Chicago. I am sure there are more, but this is what I am aware of so far.

1) Public vs Private Venue
Our goal is to gather 50 people into our core group before we do a BIG launch. We are actually not using monthly preview services as the sole strategy to gather a launch team. We'll use previews but for a different reason.

For the first 6 months we were gathering in a home environment. Over 60 people visited our weekly core group meetings during this time. However, I believe that gathering people to a new church, in a pre-launch phase and in a home environment is not a great approach unless they are all people you know really well. We are trying to gather together new people to join us. I believe that people find the home setting to be too awkward and base their decision on this rather than the vision of the future.

So we fixed this. We are now gathering at a Cafe to continue to build our core group. It's costing us more money, but people are sticking better and more people are visiting. I wanted to avoid the cost of rent but in this culture the church-in-your-home model is hard to win people to even if you tell them you are in a pre-launch phase.

2) Recruiting Core People Sooner
To be fair, we did have a list of people we wanted to recruit before we even moved to Chicago, but the politically correct way to approach these people is to ask their pastors for permission. Our list of about 15 direct invitations turned into a list of 1! We were turned down and somewhat crippled from gathering core group members ourselves. This is not a complaint because I know that God is ultimately in control of this. But it is definitely something I can learn from.

I wish 2 years ago I had started envisioning my circle of friends about my desire to start a church. I think that taking steps earlier to dream with friends about the possibility of planting together would have helped recruit more people ahead of time. Perhaps I was too insecure in talking about this, but if I could do it again I would have started a LOT earlier.

To make the best of this I've started exercising our new networks in Chicago and we've already attracted a potential worship leader from Minneapolis. In the end -- this is the way God wanted us to do it so I'm cool with it. But as a pastor now, I want to be more releasing to people who want to church plant. It would kind of be hypocritical if i wasn't!

3) Creating A Budget Sooner
We have a comprehensive budget now and our core people have pledged their giving over the next 12 months, plus we have a budget seminar this Saturday. However, I should have put this together before I hit the ground and got busy with immediate needs. We've fixed this, but I should have known better.

4) Not Starting Socials Sooner
Our strength and passion as a couple is having lots of people in our home and creating an environment for extravagant fun. But, it took us 4 months to start regular social events in our home. While this isn't totally bad, we needed a bit of adjustment and networking time, I wish we had done it sooner. We have now started building a strong sense of momentum and have been able to harness our new friendships and started gathering people more effectively. This also has provided a context for our core group to invite people into than just our weekly core gatherings.

We are consistently building friendships with people and gathering them into the community now. While these events are legitimately just for relationships, our hope, prayer and strategy is to bring people into the church.

5) Not Praying Enough
I have not been committed to prayer like I should have. I have seriously adjusted this aspect of my life. I am prayer walking, fasting and consistently asking for specific things on a daily basis now. I have always been good at praying in the moment but that is simply not enough. While it takes hard work to start a church is also takes a LOT of time in prayer. I just preached on this here. As a church we also only had a monthly prayer meeting. We've moved this to every other week now.

6) Sunday Afternoon vs Sunday Morning
Our core group was gathering on Sunday afternoons which has worked for many church plants but I don't think it worked for us. Other Christians who were looking in could keep going to their churches and simply visit us. This seemed good but in the end it hurt us. Since moving to Sunday mornings things are more black and white. Any Christian from another church who is considering joining us is now in the position to actively miss their church to visit ours. If they aren't willing to do this then they probably wont join anyway.

7) Telling My Mentors What Questions To Ask Me
I have some great men that I look to for mentoring and input. I have been on the phone many times since we moved to Chicago getting help with various things. This has been very important. However, I think I should have done a better job of telling them what questions to ask me rather than just presenting a situation for their input.

I have now asked for these questions to come my way when I call them:
  1. What new contacts have you made?
  2. How are you following up with them?
  3. What are you procrastinating on?
  4. What can you delegate?
  5. Have you initiated and protected time with the kids and with Heather?
  6. What have you spent money on this week?
  7. What time have you been going to bed?
  8. How are you handling sexual temptation? (I am already accountable for this but it's good to include the question again!)
  9. Is there anyone in the church you need to personally encourage this week?
  10. How are your devotions? How much time have you spent in prayer and the scriptures?
8) Expecting More Gathering Fruit During The Summer
During the summer we surveyed close to 600 people in the city. We attracted about 8 of them to 2 events we did on a Saturday afternoon. I thought that response was a bit lame, although still something to be thankful for. I now realize we made some BIG mistakes. We blew our invitation on an event which we called a 'Presentation', not the perception we should have given it, which was on a Saturday afternoon -- during the beautiful Chicago summer.

The topic of the presentation was 'Encouraging Community'. While community is part of our vision and a real need in the city, most people think that Chicago has a good community. In the end we only incorporated 2-3 people from this outreach. Not bad, but not great. The summer is a good time to sow but the reaping should be expected in the fall. Reaping in the summer was very hit and miss for us.

I had kind of pinned a lot of hope on building our core group from the massive amount of surveying we did during the summer. Since this didn't have the return that we had hoped for I lost my personal emphasis on networking. Having realized this in myself I have already started scheduling more coffee appointments again and working to connect new people I am meeting into our socials.

It is essential to evaluate and consider what could have been done better. I have been wrestling with God in prayer over the past few weeks as I felt that we should be seeing more fruit by now. Really, what we have seen is great and to be prized. Every new person we have won over is a HUGE blessing and a validation that God has called us to be doing this.

The biggest lesson for me is that growth comes from God so that he can get the credit and that my personal level of readiness in ministry and persistence in prayer CANNOT be overlooked. It has to be central. It doesn't rest on me, but God will never grow this thing beyond where I am at. I feel like we are right on track with the adjustments that have been made and I have faith for God to build our core group up to 50 people.

I've realized that church planting is much harder than I ever thought but I am encouraged that to launch this bad boy we just have to persist. It is going to take time but, God said it would happen and so we are leaning on that a lot right now.

Please continue to pray for us.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Church Plants in Chicago New Web Site

Check it out! Our brand new Chicago church web site to help new people to connect with us:

We have a number of cool things on the new site. Firstly, visitors can take a short survey and have the chance to win $100 of meat for a cook out. We are simply trying to encourage community, and serve the people of the city by stimulating deeper connectedness. If you know anyone in Chicago, please forward the web site link to them and encourage them to take the survey. I know some of you reading this will think, oh, that doesn't mean me, but yes, it means YOU. Please send your Chicago friends to the site to take the survey and have the chance to win $100 of serious meat!

Destination Church now has it's own official blog that has just launched. If you are interested in keeping up with how and what we are communicating to our people then go ahead and subscribe, you can sign-up via email or RSS on the homepage.

Our prayer partners section is still available for new people to sign up. It's under the "Get Involved" section. If you still haven't signed up, please join the dedicated team of over 200 prayer partners that we currently have!!!

We have a lot of information on the site about a campaign we are launching in Chicago called Encouraging Community. We are giving away 5,000 bottle openers and telling people to share a drink with a neighbor. We are also giving out 3 prizes of $100 of meat and asking people to host a community cook out. To top it all off we are offering a short presentation about the importance of community involvement, the reason human trust and relationships have broken down in society, some solutions to fix it and the vision of Destination Church.

My apologies for not having blogged for a while, I've been trying to meet 20 new people a week and it's INSANE! Keep praying for us, especially as our Summer Evangelism Interns are arriving today. Orientation kicks off at 1pm, so I'll have 8 guys sitting in my living room and I'm sure some of them will wet their pants at some of the things I am going to ask them to do!!! WAHAAHAHA!!!!


Monday, April 20, 2009

How To Choose A Church Name

Special update: I wrote a book for churches to give to first-time guests. It’s had a huge impact at bringing more people back as second-time guests and adding them into the church community. Get the Kindle version of Unforgettable: Your purpose in Christ here and the print version from Those outside the USA may need to order print copies from,, or
In my last post, 119 Cool Church Names, I explained my philosophy for selecting a church name. This last Sunday I announced the name to our core group. We surveyed Christians and unchurched people to find a name that would be attractive and acceptable to both. We wanted a one word name with the word "church" following it, and we wanted something original, hard to do these days. 

I had a number of people ask their friends which church they would be more likely to attend if they were invited by a friend or saw an advertisement. The four names we presented to our friends were:
  1. Message Church
  2. Crimson Church
  3. Destination Church
  4. Celebration Church 
Here are the results:

Message Church
Christians really liked this name. I personally liked it too. I got the idea when I glanced at my bookshelf and saw the Message paraphrase of The Bible by Eugene Peterson. Christians liked the simplicity and the theological strength of this name. It appeared to be a winner. However, nearly 100% of the unchurched and nonChristian people we asked about this name HATED it! It sounded preachy and redundant. Of course, those outside the church expect a church to have a message, and so, because it's in the very title of the church they felt like we REALLY had a message, perhaps a LONG and hell-bent message! This was eye opening. What Christians thought was a sound name with good meaning, nonChristians found repelling. This means Message Church is a poor choice if we want to attract unbelievers. 

Crimson Church
Christians were split on this name. Half the Christians we spoke to really liked it and half really didn't. It has some merit to be fair. It's artsy and young sounding, to help attract a new generation, and also has some strong theological meaning to it. Crimson is the color of blood. It represents the blood of Christ. Personally, I thought this could have worked well. However, most nonChristians disliked this name and found it suspicous. They didn't understand it. It gave them the feeling of being mystical and unclear. They felt immediately disconnected because it appears to be a name that Christians would understand, but they are somehow lacking in understanding. It is a barrier creating name. Some unchurched also felt that this sounded like a name for a TV Evangelist show! Yikes! That is a definate one to avoid. 

Destination Church
Over all this was well accepted. It was the second most popular pick among nonChristians. Christians also liked this name. There was a small percentage that thought it was a little bland or that the word had been overused, but this was a small group. It is true, tt has been used in some regards as a branding word, but it is not often used as the name of an organization. It still has originality. It has great theological meaning. Our destination is Jesus. Everything ultimately finds meaning in him. It speaks of purpose, clarity and goals. Most Christians thought it sounded strong and had lots of marketing potential. NonChristians shocked us with their opinion of this name. 90% of them really liked it. They understood it. It made sense to them and they thought it sounded pretty cool actually. Some even commented that they would expect to encounter spiritual truth at this church! Crazy! People from a relativistic society expecting truth! Amazing! This was the most favorable name for both Christians and nonChristians. 

Celebration Church
I personally disliked this name a lot. I thought it sounded happy clappy and weird. Nearly all Christians we surveyed thought the same thing. This name would potentially repell lots of new area Christians, which would not be a wise decision. However, and most surprisingly, this name was the MOST polular among nonChristians. Shocking! They liked it because it was positive and upbeat. They felt like church should be uplifting and so this name captured something good. They didn't really have the hangups that Christians had about it. In the end I felt it would not be smart to chose a name that Christians hated and nonChristians loved. We needed a cross over name. 

The Name?
The Newfrontiers Chicago Church Plant name will be Destination Church. There doesn't appear to be any churches in the world with this name, so it is highly original for a church name, and it is clear and attractive to both Christians and nonChristians. We feel it will be helpful for attracting city people, young families, students and young professionals. 

In the end a lot of this comes down to opinion. But the fact that this name doesn't turn people away is a positive. 

What do you think? 

Friday, March 27, 2009

119 Cool Church Names

Special update: I wrote a book for churches to give to first-time guests. It’s had a huge impact at bringing more people back as second-time guests and adding them into the church community. Get the Kindle version of Unforgettable: Your purpose in Christ here and the print version from Those outside the USA may need to order print copies from,, or
In the process of trying to think through a name for our new church in Chicago I brainstormed an initial list of 156 names. Some were so ridiculous that I had to remove them from this list, which now contains some less ridiculous names. 

I will not reveal here what the new churches name is. I'll be sharing that with the core group in a few weeks. In choosing a name I wanted to keep these things in mind:
  1. Something simple. One or two words with the word "church" after it. People need to know we are a church, so having "church" is important to me. Some exclude this, but I personally think that is a mistake. I wanted one or two words because some church names are so long it's hard to say them. I want things to be simple in this regard. 
  2. Would the unchurched be more or less likely to visit purely based on the name?
  3. Would the name connect with Christians?
  4. Be certain no other churches in close proximity had this name.
  5. Something that would work in different locations around the city.
  6. I felt that it was important to find something non-traditional, because we are targeting a younger urban crowd, yet something not too wacky that would turn away Christians who are looking for a church. 

I went through the process of having a number of Christians present 4 possible names to their unchurched friends in Chicago and pose this question: Purely based on the name, which church would you be most likely to visit if a friend invited you or if you saw an advertisement? This process was VERY eye opening and SHOCKING to some degree. Christians and unchurched people had widely different reactions to the names. I could not have predicted how our unchurched friends would have responded to the options. 

After hearing both sides, we have chosen a name. We'll reveal it soon, so checkout the brainstorm list and watch this space ... 

119 Cool Church Names (some aren't so cool!)
  1. ONELOVE church
  2. Recreate church
  3. Eklesia church
  4. Connect church
  6. The Race Church
  7. NewGlobe Church
  8. NewChurch
  9. Restorer Church
  10. Defender Church
  11. Rescuer Church
  12. Giver Church
  13. Act Church
  14. The Overture Church
  15. The Endeavor Church
  16. First Act Church
  17. Venture Church
  18. Great Endeavor Church
  19. The Exchange Church
  20. Truth Church
  21. The Source Church
  22. All Things New Church
  23. Pitch Church
  24. The Launch Church
  25. OutSetChurch
  26. Link Church
  27. Encounter Church
  28. 24 CHURCH
  29. First Love Church
  30. Replenish Church
  31. Global Church
  32. The Center Church
  34. Epic Venture Church
  35. The Root Church
  36. DANGERMOUSE Church (added for tobiwan)
  37. Renewal Church
  38. Renew Church
  39. OneWayChurch
  40. Landmark Church
  41. Century Church
  42. Central Church
  43. CleanSlate Church
  44. TombStone Church
  45. Kinetic Church
  46. Movement Church
  47. Motion Church
  48. Activate Church
  49. Dynamic Church
  50. Rhythm Church 
  51. Pulse Church
  52. Beat Church
  53. Sound Church
  54. Special update: I wrote a book for churches to give to first-time guests. It’s had a huge impact at bringing more people back as second-time guests and adding them into the church community. Get the Kindle version of Unforgettable: Your purpose in Christ here and the print version from Those outside the USA may need to order print copies from,, or
  55. New Music Church
  56. Portal Church
  57. Music of Life Church
  58. Rhythm of Life Church
  59. Reactivate Church  
  60. TheCause
  61. LIFECAUSE Church
  62. BeTheCause Church 
  63. Motif Church
  64. Designers Church
  65. ThePattern
  66. LifePattern
  67. PatternOfLife Church 
  68. TheDesign
  69. Redesign Church
  70. TheSketch
  71. Objective Church
  72. CityBeat
  73. Fresh Church
  74. Start Church
  75. TheFigure
  76. TheCrux
  77. TheCore
  78. Guardian Church 
  79. Keeper Church
  80. Director Of Life Church
  81. One Church
  82. The Messenger 
  83. Messenger Church
  84. Message Church 
  85. Stream Church
  86. Streaming Church
  88. VIBE Church
  89. Verve Church 
  90. Manifold Church
  91. Home Church 
  92. Open House Church
  93. Propulsion Church
  94. View Church
  95. Vision Church
  96. Honor Church
  97. Celebration Church 
  98. Churchopolis 
  99. Churchopia 
  100. Star Church
  101. Jesus Church
  102. New Tribe
  103. Kin Church
  104. Commit Church
  105. Change Church 
  106. Resolution Church 
  107. Enthuse Church 
  108. Overflow Church
  109. Drive Church
  110. Enter Church
  111. Embark Church
  112. Purpose Church
  113. Multiply Church 
  114. Reproduce Church
  115. Celebrate Church
  116. Access Church
  117. New Deal Church
  118. Joy Church
  119. Crimson Church 
  120. Red Church
Special update: I wrote a book for churches to give to first-time guests. It’s had a huge impact at bringing more people back as second-time guests and adding them into the church community. Get the Kindle version of Unforgettable: Your purpose in Christ here and the print version from Those outside the USA may need to order print copies from,, or

Monday, March 9, 2009

200 Prayer Team for the Chicago Church Plant

One of the most common mistakes that new churches make is to underestimate the level of spiritual warfare involved in church planting. Therefore, it is our desire to gather a BIG team of prayer partners who are willing to pray through a monthly (or sometimes weekly) itemized prayer list. Basically, if you are breathing and if you have an email address, you can sign up for this!

Our goal is to gather 200 prayer partners. As of a few minutes ago we had 67. I'm hoping that after this blog post we can bump it up quite a bit more! I'm counting on you! Here is how you sign up and pray for us:
  1. Visit
  2. Click "Join the prayer team" on the black box on the right
  3. Fill in your name and email address (please make sure you spell your email correctly!)
  4. CLICK THE LINK in the confirmation email. (VERY important step)
  5. As you receive prayer requests please take time out of your week to pray through them.
The process is very straightforward. When you are on the site please checkout the other things we have going on. Post a comment and share it with others who might be interested. 

Signing up for the prayer team will also be a good way to stay on top of our news and developments. 

Please visit: and become a prayer partner!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Innovative way to fund church planting

Special update: I wrote a book for churches to give to first-time guests. It’s had a huge impact at bringing more people back as second-time guests and adding them into the church community. Get the Kindle version of Unforgettable: Your purpose in Christ here and the print version from Those outside the USA may need to order print copies from,, or
Church planters either have time and no money, or money and no time. I think it is designed this way on purpose to keep us on our toes and trusting God. Having both time and money would not however increase the chance of a successful church plant. Money is not really the issue when it comes to church planting, although you still need it. So, in continuing to trust in Gods provision, I am going to reveal to you an innovative way to fund church planting that I have created. 

God's calling on our lives is the real foundation to being successful. If the calling is there, the money will follow. It doesn't magically follow, it comes when you ask people for it, work for it and pray for it. And, just to let you know, I've been working hard on something I believe God spoke to me about. In an attempt the lighten the load of freelance work, utilize my skills, focus on my calling and generate additional support I have just launched a multi-author blog which I'd like you to check out.

First, please watch this 60 second video to get a grasp on the purpose of the blog.

But how does it generate funding?

Before I give away the secret I want your help. Once you visit the new site (, please do as much as you can from the list below. Every action you take adds value to what we are doing and increases our support:
  1. Comment on the first post
  2. Subscribe via email or RSS
  3. Join the Google Friend Connect (on the right)
  4. Follow updates on twitter
  5. Become a fan on Facebook
  6. Share it, Blog it, etc ...
  7. And, keep an eye out for the free ESV Study Bible competition coming soon 
By the grace of God I managed to convince 6 other church leaders and church planters to become authors on the blog for 12 months. I chose guys who have a track record of writing good quality stuff and understanding the value of leadership blogs. This will provide me with 1 years worth of high quality content from men around the world who are engaging their culture and building God's kingdom. Authors can renew their blogging commitment or pass the baton to someone else. 

The purpose of the site is to resource all levels of church leadership so that people can become self-feeders. Our church culture unfortunately reflects our worlds culture in many ways. We have become consumeristic about church life and have lost our desire to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth. will be an ongoing resource to share and promote ideas, stories, principles, techniques and much more about how to develop maturity and self leadership in the people God has called us to lead. 

The blog offers related products, like study Bibles, which will be promoted using various online marketing methods (it's rather handy being an expert in search engine marketing). That's it. Pretty simple, right? The quality content from an array of authors will attract interest and boost the chances of selling some Bibles and study Bibles -- seems like a pretty honest business to me. 

If you read the last post and you feel the Lord tugging on your heart to directly support us then please review our pledge page. If you don't sense the Holy Spirit directing you in that way, then please visit and subscribe, follow, comment, join, blog etc ... and financially support us without giving us a penny. 

It is people like you who will make a success. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

An Important Message To All Our Blog Subscribers

God has spoken clearly that we should plant a church in Chicago. We have almost completed our Church Planting Training program in St. Louis and are aiming to arrive in Chicago at the beginning of April. We would like to ask all the subscribes to our blog to pray for us and to consider participating in the joy that we have ahead of us. Let's do a recap first ... 

So how did we arrive at this decision?
  • Leaders throughout my life have validated my leadership calling and gifting. In one way or another these men got me here through varying degrees of verbal confirmation and life input: Steve Whittington, Bob Hollway, Andy Back, Chris Jarvis, Pete Brooks, Steve Horne, Terry Virgo, Joel Virgo, Tommy Stanley, Dan Evans, Carl Herrington, Rick Hein, Curt Mccutchan, John Lanferman and Bryan Mowrey (I know I missed a few people).

  • When Heather and I first met we discovered that God had clearly spoken to us about a BIG calling on our lives. I shared a vision God had given me about my future and it almost identically matched something Heather had received as a young girl. God joined me with the perfect mate to support and encourage me through my adventures in leadership.
  • I grew up in Newfrontiers, a church planting movement, and have always had church planting on the map. I didn't know if I would lead a church plant, but I sure wanted to. Because of this we both undertook 3 years of Newfrontiers-USA leadership training through the Trilogy Project.

  • Life in Kansas City was getting frustrating. I had a successful marketing career, leadership positions in the ONEBLAZE Midwest Christian youth camp and at Grace Church in Lee's Summit had opened up. But I wasn't satisfied. God was disturbing me deeply and life didn't seem right. We had to go. 

  • In 2008 Jubilee Church in St. Louis started a Church Planting Training program. God spoke to me one day at work and said "I'm with you all the way!" It was broad and open ended but it was all the confirmation I needed. We left everything behind to pursue the call. I now have a plaque in my kitchen that Heather made with those words plastered across it! 

  • During the last worship gathering at ONEBLAZE in St. Louis 2008 God spoke to Heather and said "Chicago is yours for the taking". I had already been feeling that we needed to be in a big city and was strongly drawn to Chicago. So that was it -- Chicago! 

  • This year has been full of miracles which further validate His calling. God miraculously zeroed out a medical bill worth $2500 -- sick, I know. For Jones we only ended up paying $25 of medical bills. He gave us the most perfect apartment in St. Louis for this year of training. God moved David and Emma Hosier from London to Chicago in the midst of an economic downturn. God provided freelance work right at the moment of financial collapse. He instantly healed a man I prayed for at the gas station. God safely brought our son into the world. And the list goes on ... 
All of this was done in God's providence. He has also connected us with a small group of pioneering Christians in Chicago. He sent amazing people like Tim & Chloe Steinke ahead of us to get things ready. I can hardly believe what God has done -- without us doing anything. It is the continual working of His salvation. He does ALL the saving. His grace is sufficient. 

With all that history in mind, and some seriously cool history in the making, we would like to ask all our blog subscribers to prayerfully consider financially supporting us for the next 12 months. We know this is no small thing to ask especially in our economic climate. We are confident of Gods provision for us because He has already laid it on the hearts of others to serve the new work in Chicago. 

Please seek the Lord in prayer about a monthly or onetime gift to support us. If you do feel impressed my the Holy Spirit to partner with us go ahead and submit the pledge form here. Please also continue to pray for us. 

In Christ,

Matt, Heather, Jones & Macrae Sweetman

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Macrae Truette Sweetman

Our second son, Macrae Truette Sweetman, was born today at 11:51am. He weighed in at 10 lbs 2 oz and measured 23 inches long -- now that's a big baby! He is doing really well and seems like a happy little (or big) guy. Heather is doing OK. Some vomiting, but that can happen with c-sections. Our kids couldn't be blessed with a better mother. Man, I love my wife! 

The name Macrae means son of grace. I think that is rather fitting. Life is a complete gift. It's unearned yet occurs freely. He has been born because of the grace of God in our lives and on his life. He has come into existence because a creator God designed him and gave him life. What a miracle! 

Seeing a new born baby is pure evidence of God's existence and our need to be connected to him. Life is so fragile and we are so helpless. Yet, life is so meaningful and emotional at the same time. We all know we should have dignity but we know that we are also in great need. Only the fact that we were created by God and have fallen away from a relationship with him makes the scenario of life understandable. 

So, to all the sons and daughters of grace (that's you), may you find your joy in God and your peace in Jesus as you remember that every breath is a sheer gift of grace. Remember, your life is a gift, what do people usually do when they receive a gift from someone? Let's be thankful. Get on your knees and give Jesus glory for your life. There is no one like you, because there is no one like God!

Here are some photos of Macrae Truette Sweetman:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What are we inviting people to?

I just read a very challenging blog post by Ed Stetzer which opens with a gripping line "I continue to see movements gaining traction among Christians that do not seem to have many converts". Ouch! That line got me hooked to his challenging article. I am now asking myself if we have replaced the gospel with a way of doing church? And, are secondary issues (like spiritual gifts) taking place over primary issues (like sharing our faith)?

This subject is at the core of church planting and it is something I have been thinking about a lot in the past month. I recently blogged about church planting evangelism as I have found a fresh zeal for sharing my faith with people. Since Dec 19th I have shared my faith with 11 people and I have come to discover that there is nothing more exciting and worth celebrating than telling people about the amazing GRACE of Jesus and inviting them to follow him.

Please read Stetzers post if you want to be challenged. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts

Special update: I wrote a book for churches to give to first-time guests. It’s had a huge impact at bringing more people back as second-time guests and adding them into the church community. Get the Kindle version of Unforgettable: Your purpose in Christ here and the print version from Those outside the USA may need to order print copies from,, or
Over Christmas I read Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts by Jim Griffith and Bill Easum. If you are involved in any way in church planting you should read this book because it reveals years of learned experience through painful mistakes and the guidance of the Holy Spirit -- these guys are church planting experts! Let me qualify them ... 

In the first 22 years of ministry Jim Easum planted 5 churches and for the last 13 years has been assessing and coaching church plants. Having assessed over 1,500 candidates for church planting, trained people in over 8,000 projects and conducted over 100 autopsies on failed starts, he is an authority on the topic. Bill was a restart pastor and has consulted over 600 church plants/restarts. They have both encountered the same reasons for why church plants fail and have combined their wisdom to help future planters avoid the enormous pains of failure. I can't imagine a church planter not wanting to read this book.

The book is a short read at 118 pages and has the following 10 chapters which highlight and deal with each common failure:
  1. Neglecting the Great Commandment in Pursuit of the Great Commission.
  2. Failing to Take Opposition Seriously. 
  3. A Love Affair with One's Fantasy Statement Blinds the Planter to the Mission Field.
  4. Premature Launch. 
  5. Evangelism Ceases after the Launch. 
  6. No Plan for the Other Six Days of the Week. 
  7. Fear of Talking about Money until It Is Too Late.
  8. Failure of the Church to Act Its Age and Its Size.
  9. Formalizing Leadership Too Soon.
  10. Using the "Superstar" Model as the Paradigm for All Church Plants.
The first mistake is to neglect the great commandment in pursuit of the great commission. On page 6 they write "... the thrill of church planting and reaching people and building a new faith community takes precedence over the personal responsibility to grow spiritually." Page 7, "... [The church planters] goal is not to get people to come to church; their goal is to introduce people to the love of God." This actually seems like a common problem in leadership at large. Christian leaders often give and give and give and become so empty that they can burn out. Or, they get so focused on the business of the church and running meetings that they neglect spiritual renewal through discipleship. 

The issue here is for a planter to be purposeful about his own spiritual growth and to build genuine love for people. Church planting is not about getting people to attend a meeting but to encounter the grace of God and place their faith in Jesus. The danger is to become so focused on the tasks, the results or the numbers that the process of spiritual transformation is totally lost. The bride becomes the focus instead of the groom. Jesus has to be central to the leaders life. To avoid this they encourage planters to attend another churches worship services in order to engage and be refreshed and also to seek spiritual reflection and camaraderie from a mature Christian outside of the plant.

One thing I absolutely love about this book is that each chapter offers specific solutions targeted to resist and defeat each challenge. These "fixes" are pure gold! They are simple practical steps directed at the planter and to coaches. Most of these solutions are not obvious simply because the mistakes which necessitate them are common traps. Implementing these fixes from the start are the only way to avoid and minimize fundamental errors.

Chapter 3, titled "A Love Affair with One's Fantasy Statement", was tremendously helpful for me at this exact moment. I have elsewhere heard this referred to as "the church of your mind" or as they say on page 22 the "church in a vacuum." Right now on the CPT program (Church Planting Training) I am planning, learning, growing and preparing to launch a new church in Chicago. It is very exciting to be constantly thinking and dreaming about the name, the logo, the fancy mission statement, the location, the series we will preach, the strategic methods we will use to connect with new people and the day we will launch with hundreds of people! Ha! We WILL conquer this! But therein lies the problem. All this planning and preparation is outside the context of the mission field. This does not negate the process of church planting training, it actually increases the need to get it right -- which I'm thankful my training is doing! 

On page 23 they write "... the mission field dictates the tactics, not the fantasy statement" and "Church planting is about going out and getting more and more people. And after that it's about gathering those people and gradually forming them into a redemptive community." Articulating a set of values, a fancy mission statement and a trendy name does not mean success -- getting new converts and discipling them is the real measure of success.

Church planters are often so in love with their innovative ideas, their way of doing things or their trendy name, that they preemptively formulate, institute and therefore dictate a purely ideological and imaginary church which may or may not be effective at reaching the people around them.

Page 24 comments "Effective church planters intuitively say to themselves, 'This isn't working.' They have a come-to-Jesus meeting internally and say to themselves, 'We cannot continue down this road, we've got to adapt...NOW!'" I can tend to get dog-eared by things because I hate to quit. I will literally work at something for hours on end without a sign of quiting or rethinking my approach. I know it is a strength -- a God given ability to be steadfast and unwavering -- fighting to the end. But, it is also a huge weakness. Sometimes I will predetermine what I think will work best and then force myself to stick at it until I make it work. I need to strongly heed the advice in this book as this will not always work in church planting.

I am a planner by nature. I like to strategically think ahead and make the best preparations possible. Then, I would prefer for everything to go as planned. Yikes! I'm in for trouble if I don't adjust this way of thinking. This is another area in which God has used my wife to shape me. She is incredibly flexible and an "in the moment" type of person. This has caused conflict in our relationship which in turn has helped me mature in my understanding and appreciation for this God given characteristic. However, even with the growth I have made in being flexible and letting some things flow, rather than programming them, I still have a tendency towards control. If you have a moment please pray for me right now!

The solution for this is twofold. Firstly, I must work hard at developing a genuine love for the people in our area more than my ideological plan. Secondly, I must grow in my willingness to adapt my methods to the mission field. This is why I am currently fighting certain impulses to create a church identity before I have lived in Chicago. I want these things to be contextualized and organic to the people God is calling me to reach. Assuming something will work without really understanding or knowing the people it is supposed to "work on" is a sign of loving the church of your mind more than the people God is reaching. I have determined not to prescribe and identity from afar which I must admit is hard for me. 

Page 27 makes a painful point, if you have ever been a part of something like this then I apologise for poking the pain. They write "We often hear planters say, 'We're a multicultural church,' even though they only have a handful of people. Somehow they think they're effective because they have representatives from each mission field coming to their church, but that's a mistake. They now have a church for everyone, which means a church with very few distinctives." They also say "... planters often make the mistake of winding up with a church designed for 'everyone.' The net effect of this approach is thirty or forty people--forever!" Yikes! 

I have heard this language before. The desire to reach the nations is confused with having a small core group made up of a few individuals from other nations. From the experience of Griffith and Easum, this just never works. I'm not sure when people starting thinking that having 15-20 people from 5-6 different nations is somehow fulfilling the great commission when you consider that there are billions of people and hundreds of countries. The measure of success is not quantity of nations represented but indigenous growth. If a church plant is not growing then it is dead or close to death. A solid way to avoid this result is to constantly be in the community that one lives. Prayer walk it. Connect with the people there. Define what the local residents are like and then match the church plants methods to reach them. Don't be dog-eared -- adjust or die!

There is just too much good stuff in this book to review it all here so I will end with some worthy quotes:
  • Much of the opposition faced by planters comes from within the plant itself, p14.
  • Your team of intercessors needs to be "outside your plant" so they can pray deeply without an agenda, p18.
  • Usually the first group of people [to reach] is those people most like you, p28.
  • One of the recurring symptoms in failed church plants is premature birth, because the new church lacks sufficient infrastructure and development to survive on such limited resources, p34.
  • The gathered group [of a premature launch] is of such insufficient numerical size that it begins subtly to defend itself by citing the benefits of its size--intimacy, connectedness, and inclusiveness. Doing so unwittingly creates a barrier, making it impossible for any new people to find their way into the young church, p38.
  • You have to have a critical mass of people to add legitimacy and validity to it in the eyes of the public, p39. 
  • Evangelism in NOT a 'phase' of church life; it's the "LIFE" of the church, p47.
  • If the pastor ceases to model inviting the public and pushing the Great Commission then the congregation will become a closed system, p47. 
  • If you don't make contact after contact with the public, the likelihood of success is almost zero, p51.
  • Talk to one thousand people in the first year, p52.
  • The average church plant begins to decline the fourth or fifth year, p65.
  • Many planters mistakenly believe an increase in attendance will result in an increase in cash flow. Experience teaches just the opposite: more people actually increase the cash drain, thus accelerating the demise of the church, p78. 
  • Stewardship of money must be taught from the moment you begin to gather people, p79.
  • Someone else on the team needs to spend pastoral time with people on the fringe, p87.
  • Don't try to launch with a handful of people and try to act like a full-service church. One way or another, it will ruin you, p96.
  • The health of the church plant is in direct proportion to the health of the lead pastor and their family, p97.
  • Future leaders need time to prove themselves on the battlefield, p102.
  • People must earn the reputation of being a leader within your church plant, p103. 
  • Never become so enamored by what someone else is doing in ministry that your goal is to replicate what they are doing, p116.
  • If God has anointed you to plant a church, God will give you the vision, the wiring, and the abilities to do it God's way, p117.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Attracting Interns as a Church Planting Strategy

I believe that God has and is calling many people to serve his purposes in church planting today. This is true in my life and for my wife and kids. I continue to meet other people who attest to this. I am so confident of it increasing that I am planning to start an Internship Program early on in our church plant in Chicago. This will help those with a calling to develop quickly and begin to fulfill the purposes of God. At the same time it will allow them to build foundations in our church plant that will last into the future -- way beyond their internship.

Today I met with Lonnie Taylor the Director of Internships at The Journey Church in St. Louis. The Journey have been very effective at attracting interns and providing a quality environment where spiritual growth can occur. This pool of passionate and dedicated interns can often prove to be a base on which God calls full time staff members and people into further leadership roles. The purpose of internships is not a step towards a paid position or to guarantee a further ministry role, but to equip and release people into the calling God has over their life.

You may use the interface on the right to listen to the most recent podcast or download the mp3 of our conversation. It's about 55 minutes long, with a few interruptions from the waitress, and at a reasonable quality. Lonnie graciously allowed me to have a draft copy of their internship program and walked me through the process and philosophy they currently have. Please learn from this in any way you can. 

Interns for Church Planting Overview:
  • An internship is not cheap labor, it's about people fulfilling their calling and using their gifts in a way that "fits" the church. 
  • Find the interns "sweet spot" while simultaneously stretching them to grow. 
  • Every intern needs a mentor who builds with them relationally and modifies the format to fit the interns gift mix and calling.
  • Mentors evaluate interns at the end of each semester. Review goals, action plans and reading material. 
  • Interns are required to read one book a semester and provide a report to their mentor. This should focus on their area of service. 
  • Interns are fully self funded. They have a 30 day period before they are accepted to raise enough money to live on during the internship. This is not just a practical step but an important spiritual measure of the persons calling and faith.
  • Customize the internship for the intern.  
  • Allow new interns to enter at the beginning of each semester. 
  • Someone would be disqualified from the internship if they had the wrong motivation. I.e. they see it as a means to a paid position rather than a term of service.
  • Recruit interns from within the church and attract through web site. Internships are a good option for guys in seminary.
  • Whether or not you have a packaged internship program you will always have volunteers who serve and need spiritual mentoring so some sort of plan is necessary. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Interview with Steve Sudworth

Special update: I wrote a book for churches to give to first-time guests. It’s had a huge impact at bringing more people back as second-time guests and adding them into the church community. Get the Kindle version of Unforgettable: Your purpose in Christ here and the print version from Those outside the USA may need to order print copies from,, or
I had the privilege of interviewing Steve Sudworth who planted a church in Chicago back in 2004. Steve relates to New Covenant Ministries International and his church is just shy of gathering 100 each week. It was a real joy to learn from Steve's experience and to catch his passion for the church. You can use the interface on the right to listen to the most recent podcast or download the audio of our phone conversation.
Matt: Steve, when you first planted a Church in the City how did you go about meeting people and making new contacts?
Steve: Before we planted in May 2004, my wife and I came out a few days before just to see what God was saying about the city.  One of the key prophetic words that God had given us was about the need to build community, to build family.  So arriving here, May 2004, we gave every intention and every effort to be building from our home, having people in our home...anyone who would give us the time of day would look at us for longer than 5 seconds we would try to build a relationship.  

As those relations grew we had as many people in our home as possible.  In the states it has been much harder to get people into our home than it was back in South Africa.  You first have to build that relationship of trust before they are willing to come into your home.  So, we had about 3-4 people we knew in the city when we arrived. So, we worked with that group first at building relationship and trust and then encouraged them to bring people into our home and little by little we grew. So, building relationships and community were absolutely key.  

Before we came out here, we spent and hour or so with one of the guys who leads New Covenant, and we asked him the question, "what advice can you give us?" and he said "when you plant a church you are not going to be the greatest preacher, you are not going to have the greatest facility.  But one thing you need to do, and you can do, is to love people with all of your heart." We have really tried to embrace that-to love people fully and graciously and to express the love of Christ through our relationship with them.
Matt: In terms of you getting out there, building relationship, what would be your take on the spiritual climate in Chicago? How hungry are people for the gospel in the city?
Steve: Coming from South Africa, which even thought nation is struggling, the church in SA is incredibly strong.  Someone sneezes and 3 people get saved.  So, coming here it has been a real change to what we have been used to.  I feel over the last 3 years my eyes have been open to this incredible religious spirit that rests over this city.  There is a strong understanding of Christ, but Jesus is not a person who demands all of our worship.  There is a reluctance to give oneself fully and wholly to Jesus.  The issue of religion is the biggest thing we have faced. 

When we meet people and tell them what we do, their response is "what? Chicago needs another church?" I think that just summarizes the general attitude that resides over this city.  We believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit and in a city like Chicago...I am really intentional about building relationships with other pastors and it is just hard to find spiritual churches in the heart of the city, there are some in the suburbs.  There is just not an openness to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Matt: Have you found that people with a Christian background reject the Holy Spirit or embraced the Holy Spirit?
Steve: There has been both.  We believe that every person who comes into the community God has chosen to be apart of us for a season.  Certainly those who God has added, though they may struggle with the HS there is a sense of them wanting to embrace him.  We have a church that only a handful of the core leaders have grown up in a spiritual environment.  About 90% of our church has never had that experience, so we have very patiently, fearfully and wisely walking alongside of people.  Not expecting them to run before they can walk.  However, we have had people who have joined us and are excited about a new church experience, and then 2 or 3 months after they have been there they begin to realize where we stand on different issues and they find reason to move on.  So, there have been discouragements and temptations to dilute the truth. But we want to build, unashamedly, what the Bible teaches.
Matt: Where abouts in Chicago are you gathering from and what are those people like?
Steve: We are drawing people from a cross section of the city.  We were originally located in Lincoln Park, which is Caucasian, middle to upper income.  We weren't fitting into that community very well and drawing people from the North, West and South, and even having people coming from Indiana, which is a bit of a drive. We moved to Bucktown, and being more centrally located we have been able to draw more people from different parts of the city.  We really have not gone for a specific neighborhood or area of Chicago, but have felt that God wanted us to reach the whole city.  We want to draw people from North, South, East and West.  So, the neighborhood of Bucktown represents us better. 

As far as struggles, the majority of our church is between the ages of 22-38...we probably have an equal number of singles and marrieds.  The struggles have to do with marriage, jobs, relationships, family, not wanting to conform to the world, struggles like that are quite common.  I have a real heart for men in this city, and men in this nation.  And one of our biggest desires, as a leadership team, is to raise up a generation of men who are passionate and who are leading with intention.  Generally, men are rather passive, especially in this city. That is one of the struggles we are taking on right now.
Matt: Steve, where has a lot of your growth come from? Fresh converts? People moving in? Transfers?
Steve: Probably it is an even mix between transfers from more conservative church and new commitments or people who have back-slidden and made a decision to once again serve God.  In terms of advertising, we have not done much, not to much marketing.  We have really trusted to use word of mouth, encouraging people to bring friends and family.  We believe in outreach and marketing but in planting finances are tight and we also wanted to make sure we established a DNA of personal outreach versus relying on marketing.  Not so say we won't use it in future, but we are not focusing on it now.  As we move to events and series, we will use it but for now we are using word of mouth and inviting friends and family.
Matt: How has the church changed since you started in 2004?      
Steve: I think the church has changed, not to put over emphasis on this but there has been a significant change in the church as the Lord has changed my wife and I and the gifting and calling on our lives.  Especially, as we have felt a resolve to build on the principles we know to be Biblical, the church has taken on a new flavor. About a year and a half after we went through a season of real intimidation as to who we were and what we were called to be.  I realized that we were compromising on values that we believe are true and right.  So, as we have come through that and gained confidence in who we are, the church has really responded and that has been an incredibly exciting moment.  We have learned some lessons, we aren't saying we have arrived, but we have a much clearer sense of who we are and what God has called us to. We are not striving for the worlds view of in numbers and things, those are not driving us and I think that is a good thing 
Matt: As far as a Sunday morning, what type of setup do you have?
Steve: 8.30 the worship team gathers to setup, we have various small groups that take turns hosting with drinks, snacks, and literature and they also arrive at 8.30.  9.30 the leaders gather with the small group and we pray for the meeting, 9.45 we are there to great people, about 10am we have worship.  Generally the worship team prepares 4-5 songs, but we really try to give room to the HS to lead us.  There have been times when the worship goes on for an hour so the teaching is shorter, and there have been times where we have felt the worship time needs to be shorter because the HS wants to use the teaching time to really minister to people. So, we try to be flexible as we can. 

We encourage contributions, through the elders to help them.  If there are opportunities for ministry, we may pause for 10 min to do that.  Announcements are after the worship...we teach for about 40 min and we always try to work into the teaching the truth of the gospel.  At the end of every meeting we invite people to become Christians and always make prayer available and encourage people to hang out after the meeting. 
Matt: What is the leadership structure?  How does your staff look?
Steve: I work full time, employed by the church.  We do have an administrative assistant, who works 2 1/2 days a week.  She is the only other salaried person who works for the church.  The leadership team consists of myself and two other men who are elders.  And then we have a team of elders, we believe in an eldership team lead church, who I have the responsibility to lead the team, but the entire team leads the church.  We are all married, so our wives, while they are not ordained or pastors, they are involved in leadership decisions and meetings to bring in their  perspectives.  

We have a team of deacons, not in the traditional sense, but anointed men and women of God gifted to preach, prophecy, evangelism, whatever their gifting may be.  We have 3 couples who are deacons and we are about to release a single lady onto our deacon team.  So, those are the offices in our local church.  As a local church we relate to a Ephesians 4 ministry team called  New Covenant Ministries International.   That is a team of apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers who are invited through relationship that we as an eldership have developed, they don't come in as hierarchy but come to partner with the local elders to bring gifting and ministry, as it says in Ephesians 4,"so the saints can do the work of service and bring us to maturity."
Matt: How do you go about raising up leaders, identifying elders, do you have a system, or material or is more organic?
Steve: We have tried to incorporate both formal and informal. The informal would be having people in our home, especially if we feel like God has his hand on a couple we would spend more time with them, asking them probing questions. Getting a sense of where they are at, challenging them in areas of character, getting a sense of what is in their heart.  And then we have formal training as well.  I try to get together once a quarter with potential leaders to envisions them about where the church is going, find out what is going on in their lives, hear some testimonies. 

We also have a time of training which is broken into four areas.  We have leadership training from the Old Testament, leadership training from the new Testament, Leadership examples from The life of Paul and the life of Jesus.  As the time is right, and we invite people to come along, we make it clear that we are not asking them to become leaders we are just preparing them for what God is taking them it no, but the timing of that has to be worked out with God.  So, they know even though they are going through leadership training that does not mean they will be set in as leaders.  

Those we feel God is raising up as deacons or elders, from that group we will take them away and spend some time teaching on 'what is a deacon,' 'what is an elder,' 'what do they do,'...every time we get an Ephesians 4 ministry in we would set aside time for them to spend time with existing leaders and potential leaders.  We ask their perspective as well...who do they see sticking out from the crowd, who would they consider for leadership.  We ask them to give us some perspective on that as well.  And when we travel, if there are opportunities for us to minister in other churches, we try and bring potential leaders along with us. Because going on adventures together is a great way of building leadership.
Matt: My wife and I will be moving to Chicago to plant a church and we are praying about where we are supposed to be.  We feel like we are to be in the city. We feel that we want to be close to a university.  We have one year old and expecting another in late January. Taking those factors into consideration, what insight would you give in terms of choosing a place to live? Combined with that, what advice would you give us if you could do things over?
Steve:  To answer your first question, the trendy spots would be Lincoln Park and DePaul University, that is obviously an area with lots of young people and young families.  Lincoln Park and Lakeview would be that way.  For us, and the types of people we were drawing (gathering more of diverse group), that was not a good fit for us.  There are a lot of Caucasians, between the ages of 20-30.  There is another great community that is much more diverse which is further north.  Loyola University has a branch in the North, still in the city, the neighborhood is Andersonville/Uptown.  There is the medical district and UIC which is just to the south of the city.  That neighborhood is 10 years it would be a great place to plant, but there are not to many families there yet.  Those are the 3 that come to mind.  

In regards to advice or perspective, I think I really like what you are doing as far as taking time to look around, getting to know the city.  My wife and I arrived and our two young kids, not knowing anyone, and there was a lot of pressure to make something happen quite quickly.  That is part of the reason why it took us so long to find out who we were and what God has called us too.  We learned a lot on the fly, not that I regret that because we have learned so much and God had a particular purpose in that. 

But, I love what you are doing-taking time to learn the city and what it is God is calling you to, how you are gifted, where you fit best.  If I could do things over, I would ask for 6 months of salaried support so I could just live in the city, get to know the city, the pulse of the city.  I think as soon as you move here, get around the city as much as you can. Get to concerts, get to events, go exploring, spend time with people who have lived here for 20,30,40 years, be a student of the city.  As we have done that over the years we feel like we are just now grasping the heart of the city.  I feel what you are doing right now is outstanding.
Matt: Steve, thank you so much.  I have learned so much during this short time I have had with you, I really appreciate it.  


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Real Transformation: Regeneration

Wouldn't you like to know where genuine life-change comes from? If you knew, you could be more intentional about it and therefore more able to change. Do you ever wonder at what point someone experiences a deeply spiritual and personal conversion -- laying down an old life and starting a new one? Maybe something is eating away at you on the inside? Or, perhaps you've got the God bug recently? Yesterday I asked a stranger at Starbucks this question, "There are a lot of people who are interested in God right now. Do you ever think about faith or God?" He said, "I think about it all the time!" That comment told me something big was about to happen to that guy!

I'm going to explain how real spiritual transformation happens ... are you ready?

Jesus said in John 3:3 "... no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." This means that you cannot be set free from the slavery of self-centredness unless you completely start over. That's right, you need to die, and be re-born. There is no yin and yang here, no makeover, its a radical death and resurrection event! Jesus is tough but clear about it.

There is some confusion over the process of salvation. Some think that people can initiate their own spiritual transformation through their efforts of repentance, works or even meditation. Such verses as Romans 10:13, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved", seem to suggest that our response causes the change. However, the scriptures are clear that the re-birth of the soul, being born again, is something that we play no part in. Our part is repentance which comes as a result of regeneration. God initiates spiritual change in us and we respond. 

Titus 3:5 refers to this change as "regeneration" which is "palingenesia" in the Greek -- literally meaning "again birth" (palin again, genesis birth). We know that God starts this process because Ezekiel 36:26 says "I will give you a new heart." The word "I" in that verse is critical. God does it. Actually, regeneration is a work of both the Father and the Holy Spirit as indicated in 1 Peter 1:3 "In his [The Father's] great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope." and in John 3:8 "born of the Spirit."

What is the significance of this? It shows that being a Christian (the best life you can have) cannot come about by being good, going to church, being born into a Christian family or a certain country, but only through the divine intervention and initiation of God. The regeneration of the soul comes before we confess our wrong doing and before we verbalise a commitment to Jesus. This is illustrated by Jesus calling Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Jesus told him I'm coming into your life today before Zacchaeus repented and resolved to undo the fruit of selfishness in his life.

The Evangelical Free Church of America unfortunately has this the wrong way around in their statement of faith. It reads "We believe that the true Church is composed of such persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit ..." Regeneration actually precedes faith in Christ, not the other way around. Regeneration is not an external sign like repentance. Regeneration is a mysteriously inward event where by God gives someone a new heart and it starts to manifest itself in the way they live their life -- there is a radical transformation. 

As a follower of Jesus this gives me great confidence in the work He is doing in peoples lives. The guy at Starbucks yesterday could have said I'm not interested, leave me alone! But he didn't due to the work of God bringing about a change. It is this activity of God that leads a person to place their faith in Christ. The Bible says in Romans 3:11 "no one seeks for God." So, a person saying I've been thinking about God recently, displays evidence of the work of God. No one knows the point of regeneration other than God. But, I think it's better to assume that God is at work. This increases our faith in sharing the gospel. Not everyone who shows interest in God is regenerated, at least not yet, but they are sure getting close! Why not expect that God is doing something in the people around us?

A personal conversion to Jesus is not the end of true transformation -- it's the beginning. Genuine regeneration must bring about results in life. 1 John 3:9 says "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." This does not mean perfection, but it means an inward desire to do the right thing and to stop indulging in sin. I have seen this happen to people many times. They have a hunger to read the Bible, which they did not have before. They have a hunger to connect with other Christians, which they did not have before. 

The story of Zacchaeus helpfully illustrates that a change of heart, a regeneration of the soul, is different to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Zacchaeus had a radical turn around yet he was not filled with the Holy Spirit like we see in the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit initiated a change of heart in Zacchaeus but did not clothe him with power gifts for ministry. I make this distinction because while someone can be born again by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore have the Spirit in their life, convicting them of sin, they may not have received The Baptism of the Holy Spirit with power gifts for ministry and mission. 

Regeneration is therefore an act of God where he imparts new spiritual life to us which results in an outward repentance and transformation. This is the first stage in salvation. My sins are forgiven because Jesus came into my life and changed me, not because of the depth of my repentance. I have a desire for God now because my sinful nature has been crucified with Christ. We cannot claim this result in regards to something we have done. It is solely the initiation of again-genesis (re-birth) in our hearts by God. If you want genuine life transformation then be assured that God is at work in your life, otherwise you just wouldn't want it.