Join us for our Exponential pre-conference - Reproducing at All Levels to Create a Missional Church Movement on Tuesday, April 26, 1 PM - 5 PM and Wednesday, April 27, 9 AM - 12 PM.  If you would like to know what it takes to grow from small group to missional movement, this is for you!  The NewThing Team is excited to provide this unique and practical training for leading your church to become a reproducing church.  Here are the topics we'll cover during our time together:
    • The Leadership Path
    • Why Apprenticeship is Really Discipleship
    • How to Reproduce Groups and Missional Teams
    • Reproducing Artists
    • Reproducing Multiple Sites
Register and learn more about the pre-conference here.

Our Big Idea for the opening day celebration service at Community Lincoln Square on March 20 was “I Heart My Community.”   In light of that, and because of our mission, we wanted to see something be different in the community the following week as a result of this new campus starting that day.  A couple months ago Tammy Melchien, our Campus Pastor, had a conversation with the principal at Chappell (the school where we meet), and he mentioned that because of budget shortfalls with CPS they had not been able to buy new books for their library for the past 2 years.  The librarian came up with a list of 150 books they would like to have for their students, and we challenged people to love on our community by providing these books for the school.  A local bookstore - The Book Cellar offered to sell the books at a discount and set up a table in the gym.  All 150 books were purchased that morning!  Over $2000 worth of books!!  In addition, someone gave $260 to the librarian for more book purchases and one new attender, who is a former librarian, volunteered her time to come in and help catalogue all the new books.  The school is feeling the love of God’s people and something was different in Lincoln Square that very week because we launched that day!

There’s a ton of excitement mounting as we near the date for the launch of our new Campus in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago on March 20th!  Equipment has been purchased, door hangers are being distributed, and launch team members are praying over their ‘Top Ten List’ of people they are hoping will join them for our grand opening.  Last week we held our second preview service, and I was reminded once again why we do what we do.

Dave Cox has been part of our launch team for several months.  Growing up, Dave attended COMMUNITY (Naperville Yellow Box Campus) with his parents on occasion, but he never really got connected and never made the decision to commit his life to following Christ.

For the past couple years, Dave will tell you that he had been feeling more and more like something was missing.  When he heard that COMMUNITY was opening new campuses in the city, he decided to do whatever he could to get involved - he joined a small group, began contributing on the set-up team, and last Sunday he made a public decision to follow Christ and was baptized!

Dave said:  The reason I chose to get baptized is to publicly say that I am making my relationship with Christ a priority in my life.  With my renewed faith in Jesus, I’m realizing just how blessed we all are and that a relationship with Christ makes each of us a better person.   I now realize that Christ has always been making an effort to connect with me, so it’s time that I make an effort to connect back with Him. Today I have chosen to publicly declare that I am a follower of Christ!
Church-planting and campus-launching is challenging yet incredibly rewarding work.  It takes tremendous planning, recruiting of people, and a steady focus on leadership development.  When God gets a hold of someone like Dave Cox, it’s a tremendous reminder that all the time and energy we put into this mission of helping people find their way back to God is absolutely worth everything we can give it!

Blast 2011 has come to a close, and once again I am one grateful father.  Over 800 students and leaders converged on the Kalahari Indoor Water Park at the Wisconsin Dells over President's Day Weekend.  For the first time ever, I had not only two kids who experienced our StuCo Winter Retreat, but my wife, Lisa, also enjoyed this power-packed weekend.  I remember when I was a kid and how much I depended on what I thought at the time was a large group of kids in the student ministry in my home church - Deer Creek Christian Church in the south burbs of Chicago.  There were probably 20-25 of us.   When it was difficult navigating the waters of my teenage world, it was that group of friends that I knew I could count on.  I loved my student ministry and I always hoped that my kids would be able to experience something similar themselves.  As a father, I can't even begin to express how grateful I am that my kids are part of one of the greatest student ministries on the planet.  Thank you Tim, Brett, Dori, Jake, BT, Brian, Zach, Gina, Jordan, Dennis, Renee, and the many volunteer leaders, musicians, and coaches who make Blast possible. 

Yesterday I shared some thoughts about making big asks.  Here are two good equations to remember when you need to have an empowering leadership conversation:

                                Need + Vision = Inspiration

                              Need – Vision = Desperation

How many times have you heard or maybe even delivered a desperate call for more people to work in the toddler room? It usually sounds something like this: “We have a huge need for more workers in the toddler room during our 8:00 a.m. celebration service. It only requires one hour a week and little or no preparation. Just show up and keep them from hurting themselves.”

Be honest. Are you inspired by that opportunity? It sounds pretty desperate, doesn’t it? Now ask yourself, “How often do I present a need without a missional vision?” That same need could be communicated with a little bit of vision, and it would sound completely different: “We have a great opportunity for you to serve the families of our toddlers during our 8:00 a.m. service. We know that the safety and security of a child is important, especially to newcomers who may be taking their first steps on their way back to God. Not only that, you have no idea who you may be holding in your arms in the toddler room—future leaders, difference makers, men and women who will go on to make a huge impact for God’s kingdom.”

To which ask would you be most likely to respond?
This afternoon I was meeting with my apprentice leader, and we were talking about those crucial conversations when we're asking a leader or potential leader to take the next step in his or her leadership journey.  We refer to these conversations as “making the ask.”  An “ask” is that pivotal conversation when you sit across from someone and ask him to step up and lead, often for the first time or in a more significant and influential way. One way to think about this is to recognize the difference between making a “big ask” versus a “mini-ask.” 

What is the difference between a big ask and a mini-ask, you might ask?  Jesus made big asks. He asked his disciples to go into hostile communities, cast out demons, call for repentance, and heal the sick, all while taking nothing with them—no bags, no money, not even an extra jacket. This was not a mini-ask. When it comes to the asks we make of potential leaders, we tend to minimize them—asking for the bare minimum rather challenging leaders to a significant opportunity. 

What Happens When We Make Mini-Asks?

When we fail to make the big ask and settle for a lower level of commitment, we place the development of that leader in jeopardy in a number of ways.

1. We Minimize that Person’s Potential.  When we dumb down a leadership ask, people go into whatever was asked of them with low expectations. We think we’re doing this person and the church a favor by getting the person to say yes to the ask, so we make it seem manageable or more doable. We figure getting them in is the desired outcome, rather than fulfilling God’s dream for them to reach their greatest potential.

2. We Minimize the Vision.  When we lower the bar on leadership asks, we make the mission of helping people find their way back to God seem insignificant, hardly worthwhile. Consequently, we are less likely to attract high-capacity leaders. Jesus’ challenge was to “follow me.” He told us up front that we might need to leave behind houses, family, and friends to do it. What if, instead of challenging his followers to a high level of commitment, Jesus had said, “What I’m asking you to consider is not that big of a deal, really. It will only take a few hours out of your week to follow me.” When we ask someone to step up to leadership or ask them to take another step forward in their leadership path, we are asking them to join a missional force that is called to change the world. That is a huge vision, and it demands a big ask.

3. We Minimize God.  When we make mini-asks of developing leaders, we are putting tight parameters on what God can accomplish through someone. Who says God can’t change the world through you? If we ask people to step up to a task that is small and manageable, we should expect only small, manageable results.

Tomorrow I will share a helpful equation to remember when you're about to make a big ask.

One of the questions I am asked most often is: “How is the transition into the city going?” When asked this, I usually respond by saying, “So far so good.” I get the feeling that there is an expectation that transitioning from the suburbs to the city is a difficult one.  And while we have only been here for five months, so far I would say that we love living in Chicago and the transition has not been particularly difficult.

My wife, Lisa, and I hope that through our experience in moving to the city, other families will consider making a missional move to the city as well. Here are just a few reasons why we love living here:

  1. People Are Everywhere.  As you may know, we just had one of the biggest snowstorms ever. I am a life-long native of the Chicago area.  I remember the big storms of  ’79 and ’99, but this is the first one I have experienced in the city. And one of the things that I’ve enjoyed is being outside shoveling snow and digging my vehicle out because there are people everywhere – helping each other and comparing experiences. It is interesting how something like a blizzard can become one big community-building experience.
  2. The City Is Walk-able.  We live on the north side of Chicago, between Clark and Lincoln Avenue, just south of Fullerton. Both Lincoln and Clark have numerous restaurants, cafés, pubs, stores, and more. Yesterday, in anticipation of the storm, Lisa and I decided to go out for lunch knowing that we might be stuck inside for the next few days. We only had to walk a couple of blocks to enjoy a quick lunch. And even today, with cars snowed-in on every street, my daughter and I managed to walk down the street for a quick hot chocolate at a local café that was surprisingly busy.  
  3. The Need Is Huge.   Living here has heightened my awareness of the need for life-changing faith communities in the city. On any given Sunday, just 10% of the population of Chicago is in church and the need to rally Christ-followers to work towards restoring neighborhoods is great.  While there is tremendous need for new churches in rural and suburban areas, the population of our urban centers continues to rapidly outpace the development of new churches. If there was ever a time for families to consider moving to our cities to start new churches, the time is now.
  4. The Many Cultural and Educational Opportunities.  While many public school systems are in desperate need of reform, Chicago has many outstanding public schools as well as private and charter
    schools. We are also finding a wide variety of cultural and educational opportunities in the city. The many museums, libraries, ethnic restaurants, and diversity of people provide opportunities to learn something new every day.

If you or someone you know would like to talk about the possibility of moving to the greatest city on the planet (Chicago) or any other city to be part of a new church plant, please drop me a note at jonferguson@communitychristian.org.  Or better yet, come in for a visit!

I love this pic!  Today was a day we won't soon forget at Community.  This morning at Leadership Community we commissioned three campus pastors and their teams to launch three new Community Campuses in the next few months:  Community Lincoln Square (Chicago), Community Lemont, and Community Huntley.  What I experienced this morning many people will never experience in their lifetime, and I am incredibly grateful to God and proud of each person on that stage as well as each person who raised their hands in prayer for these new campuses.   I'm especially grateful for our Campus Pastors:  Tammy Melchien, Dave and Heather Rich, and Perry and Becky Martin for your passion and desire to step out and let God do only what He can do.   You are all an huge inspiration, and I can't wait to see what God will do through you in these communities to help even more people find their way back to Him!

Ahhhh . . . a snow day in Chicago.  My son came how excited to report that school has been canceled at Latin School of Chicago tomorrow.  This is the first snow day they have had in 12 years.  And while my daughter is the one and only student at Ferguson Academy (home school), when her brother gets a snow day, she gets a snow day as well.  So needless to say, we have some happy kids in the Ferguson house tonight. 

Now, it's time to settle in and try to guess how much snow we will actually get in the next day or two.  In 1967 it was over 20 inches.  In 1979 it was a little over 18 inches.  In 1999 it was more than 21 inches.  So, how much snow will the Blizzard of 2011 leave on Chicago?  Take a guess.   The person who is closest to the actual total will receive a free copy of Exponential or The Big Idea.  Your pick.  Oh, and if there is more than one right answer, whoever leaves the correct answer first, gets the free book.

Yesterday I shared three lessons we've learned when we've had to navigate tough times at Community: 1) Stay Focused on the Mission,  2) Resolve Conflict Quickly, and 3) Be Present.  Here are the next three lessons.

4) Stay Healthy - When we've gone through difficult seasons at Community, we tend to work harder, longer, and later than ever.  And often that is necessary to get to the other side of the current challenge.  However, I have found that I need to be keenly aware of my physical well-being during these times so that my eating, sleeping, and exercising habits don't slip causing me to be even less effective in my leadership.

5) Manage the Conversation - Even for the most seasoned leader, there will be temptation to take your concerns and disappointment to the wrong people.  It is crucial during a challenging time to know who you can vent with and who you can't.  The people around you, particularly those you lead will take their cues from you.  in these situations, the family is a good metaphor.  In my house, when we're going through a tough time, Mom and Dad (my wife and I) will go in a room, close the door, and talk the dilemma through and come up with a game plan before we say anything to the kids.  Venting to the people I lead or saying something too soon that may cause undue panic or alarm does nothing but damage my leadership and put the mission at risk.

6) Keep Closely Connected to God - I have found that when I am going through a difficult phase of leadership or ministry that my connection to God moves in one of two extremes:  I either get closer and closer to him, depending on him more than ever or I let the situation get the best of me, and my quiet times of prayer, reflection, and journaling take a back seat.  I know that I am at my best when I am as closely connected to God as possible.  And during these difficult moments I need to be drawing on his strength and wisdom more than ever.