Archives For August 2015

A couple of years back my good friend Jose Cortes Jr organized a march against violence in New York. I always wondered what it would look like to do the same in other cities. Thanks to his template, last Sabbath afternoon the members of over 40 churches in the Atlanta area totaling close to 1,000 people gathered in Plaza Fiesta in Atlanta to walk together and align ourselves with peace and not violence. We were able to impact thousands of onlookers, get over 25k hits on social media in one day because of press coverage, and let the community know we care.

This was part of concerted effort in Atlanta where we finished a SEASON of SERVICE with thousands of acts of kindness with eternal impact. (

Here are the benefits I saw:

  1. Changes perceptions of the community.

The comments on the Facebook page from the news outlet reveal the positive impact that the community had towards the church. Comments like “it’s about time the church did something that matters” and “thank you Adventist church” were common. In case you had not heard, Christianity has an image problem, specifically with millennials. This helped the community see we care about what they are going through.

  1. Changes lives of victims.

Without revealing too much as a result of the activity a life was saved, a victim of domestic abuse was delivered from a horrible situation and when they saw hundreds marching felt empowered to say enough. I’m pretty sure they are not the only ones.

  1. Changes perspectives of our members.

Some members were hesitant but at the end saw the impact we did. We were able to pray, build relationships with law enforcement as well as the media and property owners of the mall we walked around. The owners which were skeptical at first, invited us back for a Christmas concert or other similar activities.

Here is the process we used in 10 steps:

  1. Pick a date 3-6 months in advance.
  2. Pick the cause. We chose End it Now campaign because its worldwide, recognizable and a felt need in our community. Here is the website for artwork, videos etc.
  3. Secure permits. At least 3 months before. Talk to the police and if applicable the property owners of where the march will take place.
  4. Promote like crazy. Ask people to bring posters that say our name. The Youth Federation (UJAM) was instrumental. Check out all the pictures of the event as well as videos here  
  5. Expect some pushback. Any idea that matters will. Don’t let it disturb you.
  6. Wear similar colors. (Check out the sea of white above)
  7. Let the media know through press release at least one month prior, then 2 weeks, then the week of.
  8. March. Usually 1-1.5 miles is great. Have flyers available with information of upcoming events you may want to promote that help the community.
  9. Have a short ceremony to end. Pray, a short speech and thanks, maybe an instrumental number.
  10. Clean up your area.


Any questions, please let me know.

I know what you’re asking. What is GSC? It stands for Gulf States Conference. It’s one of the smallest conferences in NAD.

Last weekend I had the privilege to be one the speakers at their Hispanic camp meeting on a sweltering upper 90’s humid Alabama countryside with no air conditioning in the main meeting space. This was no ordinary camp meeting. This was different from many of the others I attend. Here are three principles I observed:

  1. Intentionality.

In preparation for the camp meeting called “Sharing Hope” all the churches had evangelistic series. That resulted in over 60 new members to be baptized at camp meeting. That’s probably happened in other places, but I’ve never heard of it! As my good friend Richie Halversen likes to say: Evangelism works if you work it.”

Take away is this: when you plan events, what outcome are you after? I believe interesting programs are important, but they are not an end in themselves. Why have speakers that don’t call for people to follow the Jesus they are talking about?

  1. Excellence.

You have to understand something. Only some short years ago, the GSC had around 200 Hispanic members. Today they have close to 3,000. The influx of new members can provide challenges. One of them is the lack of experience in implementation of programming. This was not the case. From the professionally designed color coded programs, the awesome (and I mean awesome) food, decoration, quality of speakers, and so many millions of details others usually miss, the organizers proved you don’t have to have a multimillion dollar budget to provide excellence. Sara Garcia was superb in this. Three cheers for spouses that love ministry.

Take away: Excellence honors God and inspires people. Don’t slack on the details, because details matter. (and nothing beats great food!)

  1. Follow-up.

The camp meeting was not the end. That only led to the next stage that lasts until December. One of our weak areas in the Adventist church is retention. GSC has learned that the greatest apostasy preventer is to provide the new members with an opportunity to work. They are planning Season of Service fueled by Compassion for the fall and will finish the year with another reaping event.

Take away: in what ways are you providing the new believers in your sphere of influence and opportunity to serve?

If you want more information about the plan, the process and the purpose please contact the Hispanic Ministries Director Pastor Nilton Garcia, a young up and coming leader in our denomination.

I have always wanted to use a mystery guest, and it finally came true! I paid a young adult (in Thai food) to attend a church and fill out a survey (see below) about the experience. It opened my eyes about the benefits of having a mystery guest attend church. Here is why:

  1. Because it increases self-awareness.

After 23 years of working with churches of every size I have found that self-assessment only doesn’t work very well. We all have blind spots. The longer you’re at a congregation, the less you notice the imperfections, bad smells, and overtly quirky personalities that can drive people away. After a while deficiencies become normative and that’s not the best way to grow the kingdom. A mystery guest will provide a set of new eyes. Check out the reviews in the aforementioned church

Strong: Well-kept facilities, internet presence.

Growth: No one at the door greeting, no one sat by me all service. (Interesting because I was preaching about the importance of connecting with visitors, people said loud amens, and no one connected with the visitor they were saying amen about!)

  1. Because it can facilitate change:

It can help your case as a leader, as another voice pointing out areas of improvement as well as areas of strength. People in churches tend to be all or nothing many times. It’s either we are terrible or “nothing to see here everything is fine”. The assessment gives you areas to celebrate as well as confirmation where help is needed. Not everything can be fixed in a day, but several details can be fixed very quickly and that starts the momentum rolling the right way.

  1. Because it can help you track your improvements.

If I were to go back to a local church (believe me, it’s very much in my radar) I would have a mystery guest come twice a year, every year. It would be helpful to see how much we have grown in an area where a clear deficiency was present and what areas still need to markedly improve.


I’m a fan. Hope you can catch the bug.

Here are some resources that might be helpful:

Here is a sample form for a mystery guest. My thanks to Adam Flint for sending it to me.

Here is a company that does that sort of thing. Haven’t used it, would like some feedback if someone has:

Here is a short version I created myself

Recently a study came out about diversity and faith communities. This followed another report a couple years ago about the fastest growing denomination in North America. Guess who’s at the top?

Does our church have areas it must improve? Sure, but it also has areas where we can praise the Lord and rejoice. I see three attitudes (or groups) that prevail in our midst:

1.The sky is falling, woe unto us, we can’t do anything right, camp.

2.The we are the remnant church and nothing is wrong, ever, and if there is we ignore it, avoid it or explain it away, camp.

  1. The we have issues, as well as inspiring stories, camp. One of the best ones is pictured above, when I baptized my mother in law, who 25 years ago said: I will never leave my catholic church. (famous last words 🙂

I don’t know where you would be right now. I pray to be in the third camp. I guess the best place to live  is within a healthy tension where in one hand you rejoice when you see God working and in the other hand you address deficiencies valiantly and decidedly. That’s why we need evangelists to draw us in, pastors to encourage us with good news, and prophets to call us out when we stray.

As I read the news of the diversity I felt three things:

  1. I rejoiced.

I never want to become so jaded with tragedy that I fail to enjoy the triumphs. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. Have we come a long way? Amen!

  1. I celebrated.

All is not awesome. All is not awful. It’s ok to rejoice. We don’t need “yes, but” attitudes. Maybe “yes. But” It’s ok to celebrate what God has done.

  1. I loved it.

We have all given the church grief. Our actions have been less than holy, our words have been less than kind. Conservatives and contemporaries, pastors and laypeople, young and old have fallen short of the glory of God. Yet God gently rebukes while making sure we know how special we are. What if we did the same? What about loving on the church for a while?

What if we used social media this week to speak about a positive story? What if we prayed for our leaders every day? What if we decided that its OK to celebrate God’s sovereignty and blessing?

Let’s give the church some love.