Hot air, bright colors & hype … is there more?

Loud, hot, colorful, bright, impressive – but just gas and flash.

By Scott Linscott

“What you win them with, you win them to.”

The flame heats up the air, the air fills the balloon, the balloon lifts the basket of passengers into the sky.

I’m attending a conference online. It’s giving me things to consider: things to think about.

It’s about starting new churches. Some appear to be cloning existing churches, some are trying very hard to be different and some just seem to be what I can best describe as “organic.” All want to help people discover life, purpose and meaning in Christ.

A rabbit trail between sessions led me to the quote above, “what you win them with, you win them to.”

Marketing hype, worship “experiences” and production are key now. Door hangers promise “the biggest,” lawn signs tell of helicopters dropping eggs and others advertise prizes and gas cards for those who visit. We can buy 10 second countdowns to add to our PowerPoint slides to build anticipation for the band’s big opener.

Every time the balloon pilot pulls on the gas valve, out comes a loud burst of flame and heat. It’s impressive. The show is spectacular.

When the gas is gone and the balloon deflates, a crew of workers roll it up and pack it away for the next event. The crowds head home wowwed and anxious to return for the next experience until the experience no longer gives them goose bumps.

I think of the depth of worship I’ve witnessed in third world settings. The carefully manufacted “experience” is lacking, the sound is usually bad and the musicians untrained. The buildings are bare and the acoustics are terrible. Plastic chairs, wooden benches and stumps have no holders for designer coffees in eco-friendly, recyclable cups.

Without fail, I leave feeling like our American churches are missing something. We come to get our experience tingles and pep talks. They come to meet with God and worship him. We leave trying to decide on a restaurant. They leave praying for enough to feed their children.

I don’t want a programmed, manufacted experience. I don’t want to be calling for more hot air for our most impressive balloon in town.

I want organic, natural encounters with the gospel that saves … sometimes loudly, sometimes in stillness, sometimes in plenty and sometimes in scarcity.

I long for organic. I long for the unproduced and raw. Messy is okay with me.

I don’t want to be a hot air balloon captain. I want to be a friend, a shepherd, a mentor, a coach and an encourager. I want to be a team member and partner in sharing life and living the gospel. I want to teach and I want to learn from others.

I enjoy the attraction of the large, brightly-colored, floating air balloon as much as the next guy but, in life and ministry, the hype and hot air of manufactured experiences eventually cools off and fades or lasts only until the next truck pulls in with bigger and more impressive balloons to inflate.
“Worship has to do with real life. It’s not just a mythical interlude in a week of reality.” John Piper

Amos 5:21-24


My Confession: I don’t want to go to church.

Enjoying Phil & Jan's pool.

Enjoying Phil & Jan’s pool.

Sometimes I feel like a school principal. It’s weird. People miss church and then send me a note through social media, text or email, “Johnny missed church Sunday because he had a fungus growing in his ears.”

No, it’s not that extreme but I feel a little weird when people feel like they need to tell me why they weren’t in church. It’s like they want me to know they aren’t just playing hooky but have legitimate reasons.

The whole “going to church” mentality is, as far as I can see, off the mark. I think years of perfect attendance pins and gold stars on Sunday School attendance charts have undermined what should pull us out of bed.

Here’s my confession: I don’t want to go to church. Really, I don’t.

What I do want to do is gather with my friends to worship our God, hear about their lives and make plans. I want to make their kids laugh. I want to kiss Ruth on the forehead and have Helen hand me a cough drop. I like Kip’s morning hug and teasing Vicki about her Cowboys. I love sitting in the lobby laughing with Cam and Sean, high fives and hugs from Sara and Shelby and hearing Sara call me “dude.” I love connecting with that row of Anthony, Kylie, Nicole and Adam, seeing Obrien smiles and teasing Kim. I could go on and on and list a hundred names from sharing baseball stories with Sally to seeing Nancy’s smile, from talking cameras with Al to laughing with Pam and Larry, name after name is popping into my mind right now. I like that.

I get up Sunday morning not to go to church; I get up because I want to gather with the church, the people, my family. I want to worship with the church, learn with the church and grow with the church in this big white building where it meets.

I hope that is, or becomes, your motivation. I don’t want you to feel guilty for missing “church” but I do hope we continue to build such a loving community that you miss gathering with the church when you are away.

Yes, I believe gathering regularly with and being connected with the church is vital. I think it is much more difficult to grow and navigate life without connecting with others who share our beliefs, values and purposes. When I do not make gathering with the church a priority, it impacts my life and my attitude negatively.

Summer is here! It is time for vacations, family cookouts and canoeing with friends. I love that. Please shake off the church guilt complex and kiss the perfect attendance pin goodbye to enjoy the beach house. Breathe deep, reflect, read a book and enjoy sabbath rest. I am thrilled you are getting away to be refreshed. I am happy that you are building memories that will last. I love seeing the smiles in the pictures you post on Facebook and I know my God loves it when you laugh and relax.

Know that no one is taking attendance here and know that we do miss you when you are gone but please don’t feel like you need a note or that the pastor is going to be upset because you missed church. This pastor is thrilled to see you loving your family enough to vacation and loving your spouse enough to take out the kayaks to head for the water.

I know that September is coming and I know that we Mainers need to grab these brief summer days while they are here. I can’t wait to welcome you back and hear about your summer fun.

I remember hearing someone once say, “Yeah, I felt so bad that I hadn’t been to church in so long that I never went back. It would be awkward hearing, ‘where have you been?'”

That’s silly.

When you get back just know that we love you and have missed you like crazy. We want to hear about your adventures. We’ll just pick up right where we left off.


I hope you are having a great summer. I hope you are squeezing out every drop of vitamin D each day offers.

I’m looking forward to seeing you when you get back whether it be next Sunday or this fall.

We don’t go to church, we are the church.

– Scott Linscott

Only sheep make more sheep.

shiftBy Scott Linscott

Statistics tells us that the church in America has been in decline for more than 30 years. Even while the number of mega-churches has enlarged, the church has shrunk.

I came across this cartoon that seems to sum up the American Church phenomenon fairly well…

True evangelism efforts focus on reaching unreached people groups whereas sheep shifting increases attendance by recruiting Christians from other churches.

Imagine an area where 10 shepherds watch over ten separate flocks of 100 each. The area has 1000 sheep. If the shepherd in pasture #1 manages to attract 20 sheep from the other 9 flocks his flock grows to 280 and is easily the largest flock around. Without the sheep doing their job and making other sheep, the number of sheep in the area remains at 1000. Shepherd number 1 could build his flock to 500 by offering more perks to attract more sheep at the expense of the other flocks. Is shepherd number 1 a success? If the goal is to have the largest flock he is a tremendous success but if the goal is to increase the number of sheep overall? No, nothing has changed.

My understanding of what Jesus has called us to is not shifting sheep but multiplying sheep. As God revitalizes our body and brings new life to our gathering one thing is for certain, we will see faces that are new to us. We’ll see some sheep wander into our flock attracted by the preaching style, the format of our services and the flavor of our music. Some sheep will find greener grass with us while some of our sheep simultaneously head for the greener grass of the pasture in the next town over. We’ll be excited about the faces that are new to us and we will give a warm and genuine welcome.

But what should we really want? We want to bring in faces that are new to Him!

We can focus on attracting sheep with a rocking worship team, cool mission trips and we can do all the stuff Christians are shopping for. We can invite our Christian friends to check out our new pastor or come hear the big speaker we are bringing in. We can build an event-driven, attractional ministry with a great show week after week complete with all the hype we can muster. But one thing to remember? Attracting sheep is not what Jesus has called us to. Jesus called us to make sheep.

The Great Commission doesn’t to go to Christian friends with, “come see what we’re all about.” Instead it tells us to go to those who don’t know. We are to go, live in the culture, rub shoulders and share life in Christ and invite. Shepherds don’t make sheep. Only sheep make new sheep.

As I wrestle with church revitalization and planting, I’m not really interested in spending big bucks to send out glossy mailers, put out lawn signs, hang invitations on doorknobs and hype up a big show that attracts Christians. I’m more interested in building a community of people loving and serving the people around them, praying earnestly to reach unreached people for Jesus.

Let’s not put on a show. Let’s follow after Jesus with everything we have and invite people along for the journey. Only sheep make sheep.

One of my favorite songs based on Amos 5:21-24.

How can we make our guests feel welcome?

By Scott Linscott

Are you excited? In the past two weeks we have had 16 first time guests! In the past month I count 12 guests who joined us on a Sunday morning and have returned and are becoming regular faces.

blog 11-12-13

We’ve made changes to make guests feel more comfortable and welcome in our gathering. When I put my messages together I always try to remember that we will have guests among us and work to speak to all ages. I want to focus on memorable and relevant messages, extend a vibrant welcome and make sure to laugh with our guests.

We have started into a new series to begin addressing barriers that keep outsiders from feeling welcome and accepted. Last Sunday I asked you to sacrifice three things: (listen here)

  1. Sacred cows. These can be anything that you have attached to God and elevated to a much higher place than He has asked. Sacred cows can be icons, formats, methods, furnishings, styles, music and even attitudes.
  2. Self-centered comfort zones. Like Paul, we must be willing to become all things to all people to win some.
  3. Fear of change. God calls us into scary territories but He NEVER sends us alone.

I asked that, before we fight and argue about any of our personal sacred cows, we pray,

“Lord, is this truly important to you? Am I fighting to advance the gospel or am I fighting to maintain a barrier? Am I fighting to preserve what I like or am I willing to lay my likes down for your purposes?”

The Apostle Paul went into Athens, known for worshiping dozens of Gods and erecting idols. It was an uncomfortable place but the message of the gospel compelled him to go. He put his traditions, preferences and history aside to walk among the people and even use one of their own idols to introduce Christ.

This week we will be continuing to look at Paul’s actions and address some of the specific barriers that keep guests from visiting or returning.  Our first step in growth is to pray that God bring us believers who will join the team He is building to make a difference in our community.

I enjoyed reading what Rick Warren wrote in a blog post about welcoming guests. He makes a lot of sense. I like several of his ideas for the future…


There are a lot of reasons a church might grow. Sometimes people come because of the preaching. Sometimes people come because of the music. Some people like the great programs for kids and youth.

But I’m convinced there’s an often overlooked factor in church growth: Growing churches are friendly to guests. All churches think they’re friendly, but when you take a good look at them, you often discover they’re friendly to people who have been attending for 15 years or more – not to new people.

A guest’s first 12 minutes dramatically influence whether they’re coming back or not. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. When non-Christians come to your church for the first time, their number one emotion is fear. What will people think? What are they going to do? Am I going to have to sign something, sing something, sacrifice something, or say something? They don’t know what’s going on, and they’re scared to death.

Your first goal with guests (and by the way, I never call them visitors) is to get them to relax. Then you can communicate with them. When people are afraid, their barriers are up and it’s like, “I dare you to teach me something!” No matter how good your sermon is, they won’t listen to the Good News about Jesus until they get past those fears. You need to put guests at ease.

How do you do that? Here are some ideas:

– Reserve your best parking spots for guests. It just shows you’re thinking about them. If you had guests for dinner at your house, you’d probably do whatever it took to make them feel more comfortable. You’d give them your best silverware and your best dishes. You might ask them about food preferences before you plan the meal. You should show the same type of courtesies to guests at your church.

– Station greeters outside your building. You need people strategically placed around your campus to greet guests. At Saddleback, we used to play a game. I would dare people to get into the building without having their hand shaken at least three times. We place greeters way out in the parking lot. Why? We’ve found that people hate to be greeted publicly during the service, but they love to be greeted personally.

– Set up an information table. Put all sorts of information on the table that might help people find their way around. Put maps out with classrooms and restrooms easily marked. Put out brochures about the church that give people information they can take home and read at their convenience. Most importantly, have hosts stationed there to help people find their way around. Make sure your hosts know where the restrooms are and where the children should go!

– Have taped music playing when people enter. In America almost every public building has music playing. Even in the elevator, music is playing. You go into the restroom and music is playing. You go into a restaurant and music is playing. Why? Because people expect to hear music. If you walked into a church right now and everyone was dead silent when you walked in, you’d probably be uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you heard fairly loud praise music playing, you’d feel much more comfortable.

Here’s something interesting I’ve found: If you play soft music, people talk softly. But if you play loud music, people talk louder. When non-Christians come into your church, they want it to be noisy. They want to hear what’s going on.

– Allow guests to remain anonymous in the service. Please don’t make guests stand up. The three greatest fears people have are going to a party with strangers, having to speak before a crowd, and being asked personal questions in public. So when we ask our guests to tell us their name and where they are from in front of everyone, we subject them to all three of their greatest fears at one time. Bad idea.

How do you identify guests if you don’t have them stand up? Have them fill out a welcome card. Then someone from the church can connect with them later.

– Offer a warm, casual public welcome that relaxes people. If you want to make guests feel welcome, you’ve got to be at ease yourself. That’s what most people expect – just watch the late-night TV shows. Like it or not, how the pastor and the worship leader interact with each other sets the tone for good or for bad in a service.

In early years at Saddleback we used to say, “If this is your first time at Saddleback, we’re glad you’re here. We want you take a deep breath, sit back, relax, and enjoy the service.” You know where I got that? I heard someone say it on an airline once! Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. All we’re trying to do is help them relax and then make them feel comfortable.

– Begin and end each service by having people greet each other. Five times in the New Testament Christians are told to greet one another and share affection. I’ll say during the service, “Turn around and give somebody a hug. Turn around and give somebody a handshake.” I’ve been told by some that’s the only physical touch they get all week. And human beings need touch. It’s a great way to help lower the barriers of your guests.

– Offer a refreshment table at each service. Today in our society, it’s not appropriate to just stand in a crowd doing nothing. You have to have something in your hand. That’s why they have cocktail parties. People like to have something in their hand when they’re hanging out and mingling. Out on the patio, I’ll see a 300-pound guy who thinks he’s hiding behind a Styrofoam cup! He’s very comfortable as long as he has something in his hand if somebody looks at him and he’s not talking.

You have to break down the fear barriers before people will ever open up to your message and consider coming back to your church.