Author Archives: Craig Whitney

Assessing Trajectory

Carlos grew up in church.  He married a woman he met in the college ministry he belonged to, and today they have four kids that keep them busy.  An advancing career brought them to your community, and they stopped you after service on Sunday to ask for more information. As a growing family, they are faithful in attending church and small group and they volunteer in Children’s ministry.


Kirsten grew up in a broken home where there was no mention of Jesus unless someone was swearing — and that was pretty often.  Without much love or guidance, Kirsten made her own way and lots of mistakes.  She hit bottom last month and found her way to AA to stay alive.  She met a friend there who introduced her to Jesus.  Last Sunday, she found her way to your church for the first time.


As a church planter, how do you think about these two encounters?  Do you focus on where they are or where they are going?  Maybe it’s just my own humanness, but I think we naturally assess where people are.  In church, that becomes: how much do they already look like the people we want them to become? We would be more effective as leaders, and disciples-makers, if we learned to instead assess trajectory.


You see, Carlos knows a lot about the Bible but he hasn’t actually read one in months. He’s hoping to find a small group because he works long hours and if his wife makes new friends, so she won’t give him such a bad time about being at the office until 7 or later every night.  His trajectory is nowhere.  But Kirsten is hungry for Jesus.  She is reading large chunks of scripture everyday.  She has lots of questions, but she also has vibrant simple faith that takes God at his word and is willing to do whatever He asks.  Her trajectory is straight for Jesus and she is moving fast.


You can assess trajectory by looking at three elements:

  • Path – what direction is the person travelling? Towards Christ and Christlikeness? Or away?
  • Pace – how fast are they moving?
  • Proximity – this is very subjective, but, essentially, how close have they gotten? How long has it taken them?

Learning to ask those simple questions might give you very different ideas about how to lead both Carlos and Kirsten to become more like Jesus.

Setting the Bar

I attended a very small Jr. High School.  One of the benefits was anyone who was willing, got to play a sport.  There were no tryouts – only invitations to try out a sport so there would be enough players.  Which explains how I ended up on the track and field team as a high jumper.  I still remember what that bar looked like.  If you set it low, you approached it with a confidence that “anyone could jump over this.”  If you set it high, it felt like Impossibility.  No one could jump that high – certainly not me.

One of the most common questions I’ve faced from church planters is: where do you set the bar?  I hear things like:

  • “I met this amazing drummer who wants to play in our band – he also lives with his girlfriend, isn’t sure what he things about Jesus – but he really wants to play.”
  • “There is this great couple who want to join our core team and lead our hospitality ministry, but when I talked with them about our core covenant they said they didn’t think giving 10% was a New Testament thing.”

These are tough questions, but a simple axiom can help you navigate these decisions:

“Lower the bar of community and raise the bar of leadership.”

Many churches have the bar of community set way too high.  To someone on the outside, it looks impossible to get in.  You’d have to perfect like Jesus.  Which is why we say “No Perfect People Allowed.”  There are no perfect people.  Anyone and everyone should feel like it is a place they could belong, make friends and explore faith and even use their gifts to serve others.  So lower the bar of community.

At the same time, it is vital to raise the bar of leadership.  Too often, in a desperate attempt to fill spots, we act like my Jr. High track coach – lowering the bar so anyone can lead.  The problem is that lowering the bar of leadership is ultimately lowering the bar of discipleship.  If you let people lead who are not committed to Jesus nor submitted to His leadership in their own life, you communicate that discipleship isn’t really important.

Doing both simultaneously – lowering the bar of community while raising the bar of leadership –  will help you create a culture where everyone is welcome and everyone encouraged to keep moving towards Jesus.

Creating a Culture of Story

“When they were off by themselves, those who were close to him, along with the Twelve, asked about the stories. He told them, ‘You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight. These are people—

Whose eyes are open but don’t see a thing,
Whose ears are open but don’t understand a word,
Who avoid making an about-face and getting forgiven.’”
(Mark 4:10-12 from The Message)


Raising up the church out of the culture means helping people who are not yet the church become all God intended them to be.  They are the people, according to Peterson’s translation, “who can’t see it yet.”  How do you “create readiness”  or “nudge them toward receptive insight?”  I love how he says this, “everything comes in stories.

Here a few ideas for creating a culture of story in your new church:


Value stories enough to capture them.  In the early days of a church plant there are so many things going on that great stories get lost.  It’s like the great vacation that was so full of fun and memories that you forgot to take pictures.

  • Keep a journal
  • When someone tells you a story, ask them to send it in an email
  • Almost every phone has video camera, record people telling their stories

Build stories into all your communication.  We have more communication channels than ever.  Most of what get’s distributed is pointless and powerless. Leverage all of your communication channels to tell stories.

  • Include stories in newsletters whether they are print or electronic
  • Capture stories on video, post them to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
  • Make it a goal to Include storytelling in every personal conversation
  • Use your gathering to highlight stories that shape culture and inspire action

Repeat the stories that build your values.  The stories you tell until others repeat them are the ones that will shape your culture.  Don’t let a story shape your culture just because it’s cool, or powerful or inspiring.  Choose the stories that clearly embody your values and then tell them as often as you can.


Remember that stories will communicate God’s grace truth and love more powerfully than your best exposition.    Jesus could have exposited Ezekiel 37. Instead he told the stories of the lost coin, lost sheep and lost son.  And told his disciples “to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories.”

Adding Meals to Your Scorecard

One of our Cultivate Training  groups was recently discussing the concept of relational momentum, and how to encourage it in the early days of starting a church.  The question was: How do you know if you’re really gaining momentum?  What do you use for a scorecard?


The conversation worked its way around to food.  Which is an interestingly Biblical destination.  Jesus was constantly sharing meals with his disciples, the Pharisees and – much to their disdain –  tax collectors and sinners.  The early church “devoted themselves to the breaking of bread.“  The Corinthian church ate and drank so much that Paul accused them of gluttony and drunkenness!


There is just something about eating together.  We most often share our meals with family and close friends.  We seldom eat with strangers. What better way to know if strangers are becoming friends and family, than to pay attention to how many meals we are sharing with them?  I would suggest that you add meals to your church plant scorecard by asking these questions regularly of your core team:

  • How many meals have we shared with others?
  • How many meals have we eaten together?

You will know you are creating relational momentum when, instead of planning which nights you will invite others over for a meal, you’ve reached the point where you have to schedule which nights you will eat alone.


3 Tips for Mobile Ministry

Did you know that 90% of all americans are within 3 feet of their cell phone at all times?

Drew Goodmanson shared that stat last night at the Biola Digital Ministry Conference. It really got me thinking.

Is your church ready for mobile ministry?  Here are a few simple tips to get you started.

Use mobile communication to build, not replace, face-to-face relationships and community.

The church is not a list of people who follow a feed, much less a personality.  Church is people who do life together centered around Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Groups and teams can easily use mobile communications to share prayer needs and answers to prayer, as well as pass along important information.  Given that people respond to text messages within minutes instead of hours or days, as they do with email, it’s also a great way to pass along important information about activities, events and meetings.  This will increase their time together, rather than inhibit it.

Use mobile communication with permission.

The physical mailbox is the place you receive paper you don’t want – I watch my neighbor go to his mailbox, walk to his garbage can and then go back inside empty handed. What you send people in the mail has a lifespan of about 10 steps.  Email has become almost the same thing, and filters mean that I probably see only half the emails sent to me. Yet I probably only miss 1 out of 100 text messages.  Why? Because only people I know, and want to hear from, text me.  So, before you start spamming people’s phones with details about your next meeting, get their permission. Simple tools like this can make it easy:

Use mobile in the right social space.

Edward Hall introduced the concept of Proxemics back in the 50′s.  He refers to public (such as in public speaking), social (with acquaintances), personal (close friends) and intimate (hugging, whispering) spaces. How do we translate this concept of physical space to mobile/digital settings?

I would suggest this:

  • Your church website is public space, a billboard for all to see.
  • Your church Facebook page is social space, an online porch where likeminded people hang out and share activities and interests.
  • Mobile communication, on the other hand, is personal space, a virtual conversation that normally would have taken place face to face, over coffee or a meal.  Using mobile communication in the right space means not violating someone’s personal space by using it to spam people with promotional messages.
  • It also means not expecting it to deliver more than it is capable of – because intimate space requires touching, and you can’t do that with a cell phone.