• “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

    This is a question we’ve probably all been asked, or we have asked someone else. Now that you actually are a grown up, how did things turn out? Is it like you thought it would be, or did life take you down some unexpected twists and turns that led you to a destination where you thought you would never be? What’s interesting is that when we ask children that question — What do you want to be when you grow up? — they will often say something like, “a doctor,” “an astronaut” or “a baseball player.” That’s because when we ask the question (What do you want to BE when you grow up?), we usually get a here’s-what-I want-to-DO answer. The response really means: “I want to listen to people’s hearts with a stethoscope,” or “I want go to the moon,” or “I want to hit homeruns.” What we want to BE is actually a very different thing Do you want to be generous? Do you want to be kind? How about authentic and genuine? Do you want to be loving, even loving people who are different from you? Do you want to be willing to learn new things? What do you want to be when you grow up? Even if our numerical age says we are grown up, we are never finished growing. There is always room to seek how we can be more like Jesus. He is great at being —  being wise, being patient, being full of grace and truth, being humble … the list could go on and on. Increasingly, I hear people struggle with some type of church hurt. Could that be because we are focused so much on doing that we forget to BE? Or maybe what we became when we grew up is a result of our own hurts, struggles and pain. There is a world out there that needs to see who Jesus is. Maybe it’s time to set aside our to-do list for a moment and make a to-be list. Maybe it’s time to make sure our kids know that their character is more important than their occupation. Maybe it’s time to make sure our church staff culture focuses on that, as well as our volunteers. When we give our lives to Jesus, we surrender ourselves to learn to be like Him. The reality is, when we learn to be like Him, doing things like Him will come naturally. As a church leader, slow down for just a moment. What do you want to be when you grow up? Denise Craig, CCA is a strategic leader who is passionate about helping others discover their God-given purpose so they can live and lead well. With more than 20 years of personal experience in church leadership, Denise is honored to serve as the Chief Executive Officer of The Church Network. She serves on the advisory panel for Church Executive Magazine, and is a regular speaker for conferences, Bible studies, and financial seminars. Denise received a BS Degree in Vocal Music Education from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga and did graduate studies in Teaching and Learning at Cumberland University, and in Biblical Studies at Berea Bible College. Denise became a Certified Church Administrator (CCA) in 2006 and is a Certified Financial Coach with Ramsey Solutions. Denise can be reached at denise@thechurchnetwork.com.  

Risk Management
  • SCAMS ARE ON THE RISE: How to stay safe

    By Sharon McDowell Your cell phone dings. It’s a text message from an unknown number. The message is from a service company warning that your account has been hacked and urging you to call them right away. The landline rings. The person on the other side of the line tells you the electricity is going to be turned off unless you pay right now. You question whether you forgot to pay your bill. Isn’t it set up on auto payment? You sign into your email and the first message is from your bank saying your account has been locked. Again, you are instructed to call a certain number right away. These examples might be familiar because rarely does a month go by without us experiencing some attempt to convince us to share some aspect of our financial information or access to our accounts. Last year, Americans received 376,032,773 spam text messages a day, an increase of 1,024 percent over 2021. In 2022, there were more than 50 billion scam and spam phone calls in the United States with victims losing a total of $39.5 billion to the callers. Phishing emails increased 29 percent over last year. Text messages are especially effective as people tend to read them quickly. We are often on our phones and are excessively engaged with our technology. Scammers know this and use highly emotional language filled with urgency and danger to trick us into acting without thinking.  With such a high number of daily attacks, how do we keep ourselves safe? It’s not always easy, especially when many scam messages look like they are from big corporations such as Amazon, FedEx, UPS, Chase, and Bank of America. Here’s what you need to keep in mind Scam messages have four main components: #1: They usually claim to be from a well-known organization or company. #2: There is a problem, or a prize involved. In addition to the examples above, you might also be told you earned a reward, are getting a tax rebate, or someone wants to give you a gift card. #3: There is an urgency to the message with pressure to act immediately. #4: Payment is required or requested in a very specific way. The first recommendation is to avoid reacting to the urgency of the call or message. Take a deep breath. Did you pay the electric bill? Check your records and find out.  To discover if an account is truly locked, go to the account and see if you can log in.  To really make sure, call or visit the local branch of your bank or utility account and ask them. If these steps don’t fit the situation, the next step is to carefully look at the company’s logo. Are the colors correct? Is the name spelled correctly?  Check the URL. Does it end with a “.com” or with something else? For example, well-known organizations will not use a “.me” in their website address. Scammers buy domain names with the letters jumbled, such as “eBya.com” or a name somewhat like a real company’s name to fool viewers, such as “Arnazon.com.” These fake domain names will sometimes come with a fake website that might appear legitimate.  Pay attention to where the domain name is in the URL. The portion of the address directly preceding the “.com” should be the website you are visiting. Still unsure if that text, email or phone call is legit or not? Never give any personal information. Don’t even text back to advise someone your number is the wrong number. Instead of clicking on a provided link or calling the number they suggest, go to your records and find the organization’s main number. Keep in mind that when you enter or provide your name and password, you give complete access to that account. Gaining access to Netflix or Spotify might not lead to any direct consequence, but for many people, that log in password might be one you use elsewhere, like your checking account. If you logged into a fake website before you realized it was a scam, change all similar passwords immediately. Better yet, use different passwords for every account so if one password and account is compromised, your other accounts will not be. General tips for online safety Make sure the website starts with “https” and not just “http.” The “s” means it is secure. Some browsers will warn you the website is not secure. Pay attention to those warnings. When purchasing anything online, make sure the sites are using “https” and all transactions are secure and traceable. Look also for the lock symbol to the left of the URL. The lock icon also indicates that the website is secure. Don’t forget to clean and keep storage accounts like Dropbox or Google Drive up to date. Phishing attacks on these accounts usually don’t amount to much, but sometimes the scammer strikes gold because people tend to ignore these sites and forget exactly what information is stored there. Consider using a password manager. A password manager is a computer program that allows you to use and store passwords on your device. They can also generate passwords and fill out online forms. Every account can have a different and complex password you won’t need to remember, and the password manager won’t sign into a fake website. Block website pop-ups. Don’t open any suspicious links and only go to websites with trusted certificates. Use a VPN. A VPN is a virtual private network that adds another layer of security. It hides your identity when you are on the internet. Being connected to a VPN and your virus protection software won’t keep you 100-percent safe, but it will make it harder for the criminals to gain access to your information. The proliferation of scams is mind-boggling; by practicing caution, you can significantly reduce your risk of being the victim of a scammer. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. While MMBB made every attempt to ensure that the information Read More >

Pastor-Friendly A/V
  • 4 audio/video/lighting/architecture trends to pay attention to

    If the goal is to really reach people (and it is), there’s a shift underway towards things like integrated architecture, spatial audio and more.   So, what do I mean by all that? Well, through my work with our firm, I’m finding that some of the newest trends are decidedly old school-meets-new school.  #1: Having a “platform look” — one that doesn’t change — as part of your church’s branding. A platform look helps people to connect and builds trust. As an example, think of Joel Osteen’s stage with the ever-present giant, spinning globe. You can picture it, right? That’s the point.  This represents what we call “studio church platforms,” something we’re implementing a lot of lately. The idea, here, is to have a flexible space as a part of the platform, but then have it anchored by “sets,” or a look that never changes. This way, when people see the space on video or in person, they can tell exactly where they are. A platform look relies less on the people on stage and more on the statement made by the “look” of the platform.  In coming years, this method will change the way we think about church audio/video/lighting and architecture.   Think about some of your most trusted shows — Johnny Carson or Jimmy Fallon, for instance. The sets don’t change, yet there’s a space for everything. You see a shot of the set, and you know and trust. We’re observing this in a lot of new churches, and I believe the ones that adopt it first will reap the biggest benefits.   #2: LED-wall integration into church architecture. LED walls are a huge trend right now. Gone are the days of a black stage with screens and lights, or just windows; we’re seeing that, with architecture, you can change the dynamics of a worship space while having a set that doesn’t need to change every month.  LED walls let you mimic stained glass windows on the walls, or a view of the outdoors. You can use them in backdrop effects and incorporate logos. We’re seeing LED walls act as digital skylights instead of installing real ones. We’re even seeing churches use fully immersive LED wall stages and ceilings that enable a space to serve dual purposes: for worship on the weekends and as a movie / commercial set, which can be rented out, during the week. This configuration has the added benefit of helping pay for the facility and the technology.  #3: Cinematic cameras and robotics. Movement and focus — the tools that master filmmakers use to tell stories — are being used more and more to create a way of storytelling in the Church. Movement can be achieved with the focus of lenses, as well as from movement of the camera using jibs (the projecting arms of cranes) and track.  Static images in which everything is in focus are boring and won’t keep people’s attention with all the other content floating around. You need your video to look great and have that “focusing” movement to keep viewers locked in.   Pushing cameras on tracks involves manpower, whereas using jibs requires the use of robotic cameras on tracks that can move side to side and up and down, creating sweeping moves.  Both help capture and keep the audience’s attention. #4: Spatial audio is on the rise! You hear a lot about spatial audio on iTunes, and now you’ll start experiencing it in more and more churches.  I’m an early adopter of this 360-degree sound format and have been designing these systems for more than 25 years. I learned most of what I know about it during my time working at Sight & Sound Theaters in Lancaster, Pa., where Bible stories come to life on the stage. It was very effective, as the sides of the stage in this space surround the audience.   In using spatial audio at Sight & Sound, we had to think differently about how sound affects people. Through the years, people have started to see the benefit of this type of connection. Effectively, it gives every person a unique experience — one might say that it harkens back to “old school” sound, before big mono audio systems became the norm.  With spatial audio, viewers can actually hear where people are on stage. It locates congregants to the reality of what they’re seeing and really starts to make them forget about the sound system, and that they’re not hearing them directly. Very powerful.  When a “surround” aspect is incorporated into the space, the room becomes multifunctional: good for speech, but also great for worship and congregational connection.    When we think of worship technology, the “flash” of some modern churches might immediately come to mind; but actually, those churches represent a very small subset of the nation.  In my experience, a church can benefit much by exploring new (if, in some ways, old-school) ways of thinking and reaching people with its audio, video, lighting and acoustics.

Mission & Travel
  • Holy Land journeys: A disciple-making tool or Christian vacation?

      Walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the land of the Bible is the ultimate hands-on disciple-making experience for Christians — not just a vacation to a destination related to church.  Educational Opportunities Tours (EO) President/CEO James Ridgway recently interviewed Rev. Tom Smith about how Holy Land journeys have changed lives and inspired the faith of people who traveled with him in the Holy Land. James Ridgway: How did your first Holy Land journey influence your life and ministry? Rev. Tom Smith: It’s safe to say that it began to affect me even before I returned home. But the immediately noticeable influence was the way that it affected my preaching and teaching. I found myself painting word pictures of a passage of Scripture as I would preach or teach. I would give little tidbits of what it means to go ‘up’ from Jericho or the winds affecting the Sea of Galilee as they funneled into that area. It was like I had an entirely new resource to add to my library as I prepared for a sermon or class. Ridgway: When did you decide to start taking groups to the Holy Land? How did the people respond? Smith: I went the first time without a group. But after returning, my excitement was obvious. I talked about it constantly.  As soon as I was introduced to Educational Opportunities and learned of how I could ‘earn’ a trip, I decided to go back and take as many people as possible. As soon as I mentioned that I was putting a group together, people started signing up.  A journey to the Holy Land is in the hearts of a lot of people — not as a vacation but as part of their faith development — so there was natural interest in participating. Folks were excited that they could travel with me because they trusted me as their pastor.  Ridgway: Afterwards, what did you see in the lives of those who experienced the Holy Land? Smith: They were changed. They engaged with Scripture differently. They talked about the way they heard the sermons differently. They began to participate more readily in Sunday School, study groups or accountability groups. Many of them became more open and expressive of being leaders in the congregation. They have a renewed/revitalized faith, it seems.  Ridgway: What other benefits come from the Holy Land journeys? Smith: One of the things was how close the group became. They bonded with each other as they shared the experience.  They also bonded with me, as their pastor, differently. Instead of hearing me teach or preach a couple of hours per month, they spent 12 to 14 hours a day talking and experiencing this profoundly moving journey. We formed some truly lasting bonds.  They also came back with a deeper understanding of the current issues facing people in the region. They experienced not just what the news media shared, but what they themselves saw. They could ‘put a face’ to it, and it opened doors/eyes in a way that nothing else could do. Ridgway: How does a pastor plan a journey to the Holy Land?  Smith: There are two ways a pastor could begin this journey.  First, they could participate in an EO Familiarization tour. After experiencing the Holy Land personally, they could start planning a group journey. Personal experience helps while recruiting a group.  The second way is to jump right in and organize an EO Holy Land journey for their group by going to www.eo.travelwithus.com and reviewing the different itineraries offered and finding one that best suits what they and their folks would love to see. Then, they can reach out to the EO team to partner and build the journey that will help make disciples for Jesus Christ. The EO staff will provide all the tools necessary — including ongoing support — to build a life-changing tour for the congregation. 

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