Simply going to church for most of my life didn't make me an expert on church freshness. Being married to a pastor for decades didn't do it either, but it certainly helped fine-tune that urge. My pastor/husband and I have had the privilege of serving in innovative, growing churches. We've had the thrill of helping start a new church, serve in a medium-sized church and in a large church. Most of the ideas in this book have been tested and proved in those settings.
But when Steve and I moved to Indiana, where he serves as executive director for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, we were suddenly attending several different churches every week.
And I noticed a consistent common denominator
among growing, vibrant churches of every size:
There should be no such thing as a stale church. We serve a life-giving, vibrant, exciting Savior. Worship in his house should be no less!
When you attend the same church for years—as you should!—you tend to think that every church does everything exactly like your church. To some extent that's true. But I quickly observed that every church has its own way of doing things—its own personality, if you will. To be honest, it's not usually big things that add freshness to a church. Small adjustments can make a world of difference.
This book is a collection of small ideas, simple things to help freshen up how your church does church. It's organized as a reference tool for church leaders, divided into seventy-five topics. Each topic offers several simple ideas, designed to squeeze your creative juices. It's a fun book, and you don't necessarily need to sit and read every page. Just browse and dream, consider and pray.
You may want to read it with a highlighter in hand, crossing off the ideas you already implement, scribbling the ones you don't like, and circling some ideas you'd like to try. No, not every idea will fit your church. Some will delight you. Some won't. Some will make you laugh hysterically. But I'm praying that at least a few ideas on these pages will reignite your fire for serving God, fit your church perfectly, and help freshen up how your church does church.
"Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!"
(Ps. 51:12 The Message)
"So those who accepted his message were baptized."
It's more significant than a wedding ceremony or a graduation. Need fresh ideas to make baptism day special?
Prepare printed invitations and e-mail invitations for baptismal services at your church, with blanks for adding the date, time, and name of the person being baptized. A new Christian most likely has an entire circle of friends and family who are still unbelievers. What a great time to reach out to them!
Stand Up, Friends
Make a baptismal service even more personal by asking friends and relatives of the new Christian to stand during the baptism. This request may be verbally stated during the baptism or printed in the program. An alternate suggestion: Before baptizing a new Christian, ask everyone present who has taught, shared a witness, or prayed for him or her to stand during the baptism. This could include acquaintances in Bible study, Sunday school teachers, discipleship leaders, choir leaders, friends, and relatives.
Read Their Testimony
Ask each baptismal candidate to write out a brief, clear personal testimony by finishing these three sentences.
"Before I received Jesus, my life was..."
"I came to realize I needed Jesus when..."
"I received Jesus into my life by..."
Laminate the printed testimony and read it from the baptistery. What an effective way to explain to guests how to know Jesus!
A Meaningful Memento
Create a computer-generated baptismal certificate, inserting a digital photo of the baptism. Add the new Christian's name, date of baptism, and church information. It may be signed by the pastor, a staff member, deacon, or baptismal committee chairperson. Present the certificate, along with the laminated testimony, as a reminder of this significant occasion.
One slide of the preservice audiovisual could announce, "Jake Matheus will be baptized today!" During the baptism display the name of the baptismal candidate on the screen. Even better, show a live video of the baptism.
Take a Photo
If it's appropriate at your church, take a photograph from the side of the baptistry during the baptism.
A Confirming Question
"Jake, is it your testimony that you have asked Jesus Christ into your heart to be your Lord and Savior?" can be answered, "Yes, I have!"
All Together Now
If immediate family members are being baptized during the same service, an additional minister can join the pastor in the baptistry with them. Individually introduce, individually read testimonies, then baptize them at the same time.
Sunday Morning Baptism
If your church normally baptizes on Sunday evenings, consider celebrating it occasionally on Sunday morning. Most unsaved people attend during that service, and God can use those testimonies to touch lives.
A Traditional Song
After the last person was baptized, our church traditionally concluded each baptismal observance with the congregation joyously standing to sing the chorus "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." Choose an appropriate chorus that fits your church's personality, and sing for joy to celebrate baptisms!
An Annual Montage
Create a cumulative montage with a video or still photo of each person baptized at your church that year. It should show celebration and joy and could be used in conjunction with a sermon about how God changes lives.
A Whole Worship Service
Did several youth receive Christ at youth camp? Was the evangelistic revival a life-changing event for many? If your church has many brand-new Christians at once, why not plan an entire worship service around those baptisms.
Celebrate New Birth
Need ideas to celebrate a friend or relative who is a new Christian awaiting baptism? See "New Christians" section for meaningful ideas.
Some churches prepare a celebration reception. In many churches in Germany, friends of the new Christian share encouraging words at an afternoon dessert fellowship.
The Time is Now
Yes, salvation is a personal decision. But if many attenders in your church are Christians who have never been baptized, plan an enormous baptism Sunday. Announce ahead of time that many will be baptized on that date, and ask them to make a reservation. Assign a church leader to each baptismal candidate to confirm his or her decision for Christ. The angels will rejoice!
If your church has no baptistry or is remodeling, find water! I've seen baptisms in a river, an apartment hot tub, a lake, a bathtub, a swimming pool, an ocean, a portable baptistery, and a horse trough! The Ethiopian eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36 NKJV).
"The one who oppresses the poor insults their Maker, but one who is kind to the needy honors Him."
Need fresh ideas to show his love to the poor in your church's community?
Project: Jesus Loves the Little Children
It's my favorite benevolence project. Create a huge "shopping" area at your church where you can distribute school supplies and kids' clothing and give free haircuts to underprivileged children. We used an outside pavilion; but a large classroom or fellowship hall would work well. Ask church members to bring backpacks, lunch boxes, and school supplies. Collect gently used shoes and clothing for kids and teens, along with new socks. Carefully organize clothing by size and supplies by grade supply lists. Obtain proper state approval so volunteer hairstylists can give haircuts for children. Treat every parent and child with dignity and Christian love. "Project: Jesus Loves the Little Children" will remind children of God's love for many months.
Build a Wall
Need to stock up supplies for your benevolence food pantry? Challenge youth to collect enough boxes of crackers or cans of vegetables to build a wall in the youth area of church.
The Great Giveaway
Organize a huge garage sale at your church but with a ministry twist: Everything is free! Church members contribute the furniture, bikes, clothes, trinkets, and treasures for the event. You might even have a used car! Add importance to the sale by using a large tent and playing recorded or live Christian music. Organize the sale items attractively and set up a free lemonade and homemade cookies stand. All people who stop by are freely and joyfully given any and all items they desire, and absolutely no monetary donations are accepted. Of course, the giveaway refers to church members sharing the good news! Distribute Bibles or Jesus videos. Present each shopper with a witness tract and a printed invitation to church on Sunday.
For a lovely and purposeful December benevolence project, invite church members to bring new socks of all colors and sizes to give to the less fortunate. As socks are collected, roll each pair into a ball and place it on a Christmas tree using an ornament wire. The sock tree will remind everyone to bring socks for the needy. Gloves work well for this project, too.
All year long stockpile toys that are donated to your church's benevolence ministry, then create a "Christmas store" for parents in need. Clean and repair the used toys, dolls, and bikes; then plan a free shopping day for the needy near Christmas. Allow parents to select a certain number of toys for each of their children. Serve punch, play Christmas music, and perform Christmas puppet shows to entertain kids while parents shop. All in Jesus' name!
Our church youth group's annual "food fight" replenished our benevolence food pantry each November. No, not that kind of food fight. Each grade challenged the others to see who could collect the most nonperishable food. During the three-hour event, they picked up bags of food from church members and friends. The team with the most pounds of food won the annual event, and the benevolence pantry was stocked for the holidays.
It may help replenish your church's food pantry to request specific staples. For example, post reminders around the church that September is Spam month or April is peanut butter month.
More than Food
All workers in a church benevolence ministry must be trained to share the gospel. At our church's food pantry, we took the client's food order first. While the order was being filled, the gospel was shared. Conversely, the gospel was shared as part of an exit interview at our free medical clinic.