Thursday, February 28, 2008

random stuff

The weather in Frisco is beautiful today. Clear, 66 degrees. I think it's actually warmer here than it is in Tampa.

Anne and I found a new Thai restaurant last night. It's called Zak8. The food was great! It may have just passed my former fave, Benjarong in Tampa. However, it was a little awkward when the fire alarm went off shortly after they brought us our food. Apparently the restaurant next door burned their bread.

I was driving to an appointment today, listening to my mp3 player, (the Dell DJ) when I realized that I've been using the same one for three years now. Three years is like 20 in mp3 years. :) It looks OLD SCHOOL! But, it's still cranking out the tunes.

Speaking of tunes, my picks for this year's American Idol are David A. and Alaina.

**UPDATE (9:50PM)-I was surprised that Alaina got voted out tonight. I'm pretty sure this is the earliest my pick has gone home. I know that she didn't do very well this week, but I thought there were enough others with bad performances that she would make it through. She has a great voice, and I think she would have gotten better with experience. I guess America didn't have the same vision...:)**

Speaking of American Idol, I deleted Fantasia from the DJ today. Just didn't make the cut for me.

I'm going to the Mavs game tomorrow!! I'm pumped!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pay Attention

Last week in our life group we were discussing a chapter in our book titled "Love Pays Attention." This quote really grabbed me:

"God's greatest commandment for building community is 'love one another.' A primary work of love is paying attention. It is such a valuable thing that we don't just give it-we pay it. It's like money."

I had never thought of it that way. When I talk to someone and give them my attention, I am giving them something valuable. I guess it makes sense, because I always feel more valued when someone gives me their attention. But the book goes on to say more:

"One of the great miracles of life is that God pays attention to us. This is partly why the writers of Scripture speak so often of God's face. The great priestly blessing that God himself taught the people of Israel says: 'The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.' (Num. 6:24-26)"

How humbling it is that the God of the universe, who probably has a lot on his mind, has the time to turn his face toward us and give us His attention.

I have really been convicted about this lately, and have started to make an effort to pay attention to those I care about the most. It really is difficult, when I have a lot of things swirling in my mind, to stop and look at one of my children as they tell me some tidbit that seems insignificant. The truth is, they probably don't even care that I know the information they are giving, but want to know that I care enough to pay attention. I don't always pass the test...

Last week, we watched the tv show "Supernanny." (I like to watch that show, because it makes me feel like I'm not the worst parent in the world). :) The nanny was at the home of Wendy Wilson, daughter of Beach Boy Brian Wilson. She made a comment that stung me. She said that her father was "not present. Whether he was at home or away, he wasn't available." She went on to say how that relationship had affected her parenting and every other relationship in her life. I want to be present for my kids...

This morning before work, I was sitting on the couch, drinking coffee and watching Good Morning America. Anne was asking me some questions when she finally said, "Mark, will you pause the show. I'm trying to have a conversation with you before you leave for the day. I've asked you seven questions and the only answer I have received is 'I don't know.'" She was right. I hadn't turned my face, or even thought about her question enough to give her an answer. The truth was, she really didn't need to know any of the information in the questions she was asking, she was just trying to get my attention. By not paying attention, I was sending the message that I didn't value her. Ouch. I guess I've got a long way to go...but I hear that acceptance is the first step. :)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tech Stuff: Blu-Ray Wins

Earlier this week Blu-Ray was declared the winner over HD-DVD as the standard for high definition discs. I am so glad that we're finally going to see a lot more support for high def now. I realize that I am becoming a high def snob, but I can't help it. Once you get used to the clarity, it's hard to go back. I realized that this week when we rented Oceans Thirteen. Not only was the movie a total waste of time (all that star power but no story), but even at 480p on DVD it didn't draw me in because it didn't have the crispness of HD that is becoming more and more prevalent. At Target, there was an endcap display with a Blu-Ray loop and I couldn't take my eyes off of it. It kept showing "Cars", "Surf's Up", and "Spider Man" and I couldn't look away. I told Anne I definitely NEED one of those. She reminded me of several other things that she considered higher priority, including the fact that one of our daughters doesn't have a dresser in her room for her clothes. Hey, I think the plastic bins work very well. She usually just uses her floor anyway. Besides, I can't have my friends over to ooh and ahh over a new dresser. Didn't work....but the Blu-Ray is definitely on the list. :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What about Childcare?

If you've been involved in any kind of small group ministry before, where you are asking people to open up their homes and have people over to participate in bible studies, the question always comes up, "What about the kids?" If you have a church like ours which is predominantly made up of thirty-somethings with young children, it will definitely pose an issue. We knew that we had to come up with something that would help to overcome the obstacle to getting involved as a leader or a participant. We decided to create a night at the church for life groups with children 5th grade and younger. While the groups meet, children's ministry is provided. This night is not promoted and is not the "Married Couples Ministry." It is simply an option for those married couples groups with kids who choose to meet at the church. These are the only life groups that meet on the church campus. all others happen in homes. During our Married Couples Connecting Point event, couples with young children were identified on their name tag with an orange sticker. This turned out to be a great identifier, and helped couples gravitate toward people in their same stage of life. Some Married Couple leaders were trying to form groups that didn't include small children, so it gave them an easy way to find those who were empty nesters, or didn't have children yet. In the end, we had six groups who decided to be involved on Sunday nights. The groups who meet at the church all study the same thing at the same time. We meet together at the beginning of every meeting, and then split into our groups for discussion and prayer. So far it has worked great. We'll have our first challenge when we add more groups in March. But now I don't cringe whenever somebody asks the question, "What about Childcare?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Connecting Point

Yesterday, I mentioned that our church had spent the last three months transitioning to a whole new system of life groups, and that we have doubled our involvement. How did we do it? We developed an event called Connecting Point that happens four times a year, for the express purpose of connecting people to groups. The reason why it only occurs four times a year, is so that there are a good number of people who want to be involved in a group. If you are connecting a couple of people every week, they would have to go to an established group. The benefit of Connecting Point, is that everyone who joins a group, starts at the same time. It also allows groups that are currently meeting to remain "closed". This is a difficult concept for some established groups to understand at first. They are so used to inviting people and marketing their group, that it takes a while for them to just focus on the relationships inside their group, and point new people to Connecting Point so that they can be involved in a new group. In some cases, I have found that leaders of established groups have felt relieved, because whenever someone had asked to be involved in their group in the past, they felt obligated to invite them, even if they really didn't have any more room. This way, they can talk about the benefits of the group, how much it has meant to them, and then point them to the next Connecting Point so that they can experience it as well. What happens at Connecting Point? Well, it's a little bit crazy and hard to describe, but I'll do my best. We have people register in advance so we know how many to expect, (you can see our registration form here). I also have leaders in place that have been through the training process and are ready to start a group. (You can see our Life Group Leader process here). When the event begins, I tell everybody there that the purpose of the evening is to meet as many people as possible. I give them some icebreaker questions, we have snacks and drinks available, and I tell them to just start meeting people. At this point, they shouldn't be asking about logistical questions like when or where a group will meet, but just finding out about who is there. The leaders are in the midst of everyone and meeting new people as well. This event is about people connecting to people, not just people connecting to leaders. There may be people who meet each other and think, "hey, I'd like to be in a group with them." Then they go together to find a leader. After the initial thirty minutes of mingling time, I have everyone sit down and I talk to them about the next step. I introduce the leaders who are there, giving a brief idea of their stage of life, or where their group is located. Then, I ask everyone to think about the people they met, and begin to connect in groups. I also warn them that God may be preparing them to be in a group that is not what they expected. They may have come to the event with an idea in mind of their "perfect group" and the group that they end up in may look totally different. But, if they will give it a chance, it may be the exact group that God had prepared for them. It's really cool to see how groups came together. There were even cases where a whole group would form, but they wouldn't have a leader. At that point, I asked if there was anyone in the group who felt like they would be willing to be a leader. When someone volunteered, I would "fast track" them through the leadership training over the next week or two. We probably started five new groups this way. It's amazing how God can work in these crazy minutes. After the groups form, I give them time to talk about the logistics of their group. When and where are they going to meet. Each group that begins that night is asked to commit to meet together for two months to see how it goes. This makes most people feel comfortable that they're not going to be stuck with people that they don't like. Everybody writes down their contact information and copies are made so that everyone in the group has everyone else's contact info. Then, the groups are given curriculum that the church provides to get them started. We use a book called "Groups: the life giving power of community." So, at the end of the event, everyone is in a group, has met the whole group, knows when their first meeting is, and has the curriculum they're going to use. Because there is already accountability, most groups have had a great turnout for their initial meetings. I know that there are probably some details that I'm leaving out, and reading this might prompt some of you to have questions, so feel free to post your question in the comments and I will do my best to answer it. What happens at the end of the two months? If groups feel like they are going well and they want to continue, the sign a Life Group Covenant together and commit to each other to meet together for the next sixteen months. Tomorrow I'll answer the big question, what about childcare?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Life Groups

All the way back on my first day here at Hope Fellowship, I was asking God to give me some new ideas for connecting people to life groups. As we were developing the mission statement that I wrote about last time, one of our primary focuses was developing environments where people could Grow in their faith, as well as grow in authentic relationships with others. The best way that we have found to accomplish this is through Life Groups. Life groups are small groups of people who commit to meet together for a period of time for bible study and prayer. The big question was, how do we get more people to understand the benefit of being in a group, and take the step to get involved. As I started looking into our life groups more, I discovered a couple of things. First, the method we had in place for connecting people to groups was clumsy. We would provide newcomers a list of all the groups meeting and tell them, "Go find one." The problem with that method was that there was a lot of hit-and-miss. Just by looking at the list, it was difficult to tell what type of a group it was, how long it had been together, if the people in the group actually liked each other, etc. The other thing I noticed was that if someone happened to meet a group member and they invited them to the group, the chances of that person liking the group went up dramatically. The only problem with that method was that there was no way to ensure that everyone was going to be invited to a group. Last fall, I went to a small groups conference and listened to the way that Northpoint Community Church handled groups, and I started to rethink how we structured our groups. There were two things that they said that really seemed to make sense. One, was that groups that start together seem to have a greater chance of staying together, and two, that groups were more likely to develop authentic relationships when they stayed the same without adding new members, or were "closed". The second point was something that made sense the more I thought about it. Many times I have spoken to leaders who talked to me about the "revolving door" of their group. They would have new people come into the group, and more established people leave the group constantly. Because they had to be "open", and their name was on the list, they were constantly "marketing" their group. Sometimes this posed a problem if they were a good leader, and word got out, and they had more people that wanted to be in their group than they could handle. All of those changes made it difficult to actually achieve the goal of the small group, which was to build authentic relationships. So, with all of these things in mind, we've spent the last three months transitioning our Life Group ministry in a whole new direction. The good news is that we've doubled our involvement in Life Groups, and I've received a lot of great feedback as to how the new groups are progressing. How did we do it? I'll tell you tomorrow...