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Why Plant Churches?

Should churches plant new churches? In addition to the fact that it’s how the gospel grew in the NT and all through history, here are 7 key reasons why churches should aim to plant new ones, and why Grace is starting to do so:

1) New Churches reach new people. Studies have shown that churches younger than 3 years old reach 300% more non-believers than churches older than 15 years. Plus, surveys showing the “rise of the nones” (i.e., upwards of 25% of Americans not affiliated with any religion) demonstrate a whole bunch of people who are not coming to current churches. New churches reach new people.

2) People Need People in all of life. It’s cliche that “life is a team sport”, but it’s true. First, New converts to Christ need a family, a hospital, a nursery… just as assuredly as a newborn baby does. A church is that family, nursery, hospital. Second, Ongoing disciples need each other to grow as God intends. “Churchless Christianity” is not part of the Scriptural vision of following Christ. Believers in real relationship is where grace grows. Third, the Lost are hungry for community, and the church is filled with it. “People need people in all of life”… so let’s plant more local bodies.

3) Exponential Potential. A church that grows from 300 to 1000 in ten years is a great thing.  But, if over those same ten years, that church planted every 18 months, and each of the plants did to, you’d have 64 churches in 6 cycles… each with several hundred. If you run it out to ten planting cycles, you find 1,000 churches (not just 1,000 people in our church). Growth at one location is straight-line growth. Growth that establishes new locations is exponential!

4) It “forces” God to raise up leaders.  If it takes 100 leaders to keep Grace Fellowship moving, then it would take 100,000 leaders to keep those 1,000 churches moving! Same exponential potential. Moreover, the more leaders the more people are relying on God’s Spirit and power to work in their lives. As you step out to lead for Christ, he pours himself into you more and more.

5) More people grow more in lean/young churches. As there are new church plants, new people (not even leaders, necessarily) step up to pitch in, help out, and jump on a team. They take a chance on new things because there’s a ‘pioneer’ spirit that says, just try it! In established or larger churches, there seem to be more people who are timid to jump in or would rather simply stay in the ‘back row’ and receive. That’s not a knock on the larger church; it’s an observation of human nature. Instead of 20% of the people doing 80% of the work, a new or small church has a “pitch in and let’s see waht happens” atmosphere. More people grow more in lean/young churches.

6) The US church is no longer a chaplain, it’s a mission force. If there was a time when the US was a “Christian” culture, then the church’s role was often to hold culture’s hand, and help it along. They would look to foreign fields to do missions… among the pagans who don’t know of Jesus. Well, increasingly the pagans who don’t know of Jesus are our neighbors and people in this country! The “missions” calling now includes our own communities. We are no longer chaplains, but missionaries at home. Let’s start reaching out like missionaries.

7) Grace Fellowship’s DNA is primed to plant churches. We prize authenticity in relationships centered on Christ. Our HouseChurch model means we have ten leadership laboratories  and a decentralized, agile structure. We are a body that practices sacrificial discipleship, consistently giving and serving and pouring out for others. We have a leadership culture at Grace–so many gifted leaders in the community, in business, in the professions, in academics, and in ministry. And, we have a missions heart, given to us by God. Why do you think? so we would be burdened wherever we’d find a mission field.

God is on the move… in Grace, in the world, in this country, and in our own mission strategy and ministry vision. I can’t wait to watch God raise up, train up and send out church planters over the next decade. To reach countless thousands for the gospel.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

Max Lucado writes about finding your sweet spot in his book “Cure for the Common Life”. Where is it that you thrive? What were you created for? He uses a framework called “STORY” to help us think through these things.

What are your Strengths?

What is it that you like to do?  Fixing things. Organizing events. Listening to those in need. Helping teams. Loving children.

Look for the verbs that arise: fixing, organizing, listening, helping, loving, etc. These point to your strengths… the things that come naturally to you, or that don’t seem like work.


What is your Topic?

If strengths are Verbs… your Topic comes from the nouns: the things you like to work with.  Children. Animals. Marketing campaigns. Numbers. Concepts. Arts and Crafts. Sales calls. Urinary Tracts.

What fascinates you? Where are you at home? What do you love to be near, with, around? What are the things you like to work with.

For me, I love People, Scripture & Numbers. I love to work with each of these. That’s one reason why teaching is so fun: it’s Scripture and people together!

What ‘topics’ are yours?

What are your Optimal Conditions?

How do you like to work?

Some love to respond to a need; they jump into action when someone is in need, and they seem to meet it every time. Others, like to improve a process: put them on a team or a project, and they are always finding ways to make things better, friendlier, more efficient.

Some love the same thing every day (high value of routine and predictability), others love the unknown that comes in their job (spontaneity). One likes to blue-sky ideas… another likes to put the nuts-and-bolts in place. Achieve goals or solve problems.

Design or develop or stabilize. This is a great framework from Bobb Biehl: Every concept, idea or project is either in the Design phase, the develop phase or the stabilize phase. It’s an idea on paper/in someone’s head (design), it’s a working model or beta form & getting streamlined/improved (develop), or it’s working well and needs to have some one work it well (stabilize).

My first full-time ministry job was all stabilize. I directed hockey camps that were established and the system was running well. I oversaw the process for 2,000 young hockey players to encounter Christ in week-long camps. It was all stabilize. My personal wiring is a hybrid between design & develop. I didn’t really love my job, but couldn’t figure out why.

UNTIL… I learned this Bobb Biehl framework. My optimal conditions for my Sweet Spot are in design-develop. My then-current posting was in stabilizing. I knew I wasn’t in my sweet spot. And, along with my boss, I moved jobs.

What are your Relationships

How do people factor in to your sweet spot? Think to when you have thrived or known you were most engaged, productive, fruitful, effective. Were you a lone-ranger? In a close-knit duo or trio? On a larger team? In a giant army?

Do you want to be the primary leader or the 2nd in command? Or, a strong member of the team? Perhaps you are wried to be the devil’s advocate on things?


This is that intangible factor in your S.T.O.R.Y.  Times when you’ve had the thought: “I was made to do this” or “I could do this again and again” or “They pay me for this?” It’s the Eric Liddel quote: Olympic gold-medalist in the 20s who wouldn’t run on Sundays. “God made me fast. He made me fast for a purpose. When I run, I feel his pleasure.”

What is that, when you do ti, you feel God’s pleasure? Find that. It’s in or near your sweet spot!

Strengths / Topic / Optimal Conditions / Relationships / YES!  Use these to discover the story of your Sweet Spot!

When “Doing Hard Time” = God’s Special Time

Many of us reading this just cannot grasp how hard it is for prisoners serving time. I’ve never done it. I’ve never known what it’s like to have my life fully regulated by others with no personal freedom. I’ve never known what it’s like to long for my family’s touch. I’ve never known what it’s like to re-live an act and hate myself for what I did; or to relive a conviction for something I didn’t do.

Click on this link to read an article from the Greenville Daily Reflector on the Kairos Ministry next week at Maury Correctional Institution in Maury. “Kairos” is the greek word for “appointed season” or “special time” and is used for the moment when God does something amazing.

We are trusting God to use the team from Grace and other churches to bring a Kairos Moment for the men of ECI.  Pray for them May 18-21.  …and read the article above – you’ll be glad you did.

(Then pass this along to others!)

Lost in a good story

Could you imagine trying to read a great novel 3 paragraphs a day? Or, even 3 pages per day? You’d die a thousand deaths of boredom. You’d never understand the characters or plot. And you’d put the thing down within two weeks (or in the first 30 pages!). Forget it. Novels are stories and we read them as such: devouring it, hooked by the plot’s unfolding.

When you think about reading the Bible, don’t you try to squeeze in a few verses today (rushed!), and quickly think about them, pray and move on with your day? At least God has to bless you – you’ve spent time in Scripture. But, truth be told, it’s not that compelling, is it?

The bible might seem kinda boring or confusing, and you never really get to know the plot or characters. It’s like trying to read a John Grisham ten lines at a time. Or, it’s like trying to watch Rogue One in ten minute increments. A horrible way to get lost in the story!

What if you read Scripture and let the stories draw you in. Joseph’s story is Genesis 37-50. Read it over 2 days instead of 20. You’ll see Joe’s life and trials and triumphs with crystal clarity.

Or, Daniel’s story. Daniel 1-6 is the action in that book (7-12 are the visions). Read 1-6 in one sitting and you’ll discover God’s message of why his life matters for us.  Abraham – Genesis 12-25.  The book of Acts. Each of the Gospels. Stories, all of them.

Or, take 1-2 Samuel. There are 56 chapters that you could spend 2-3 months reading bit by bit. But, it’s the single story of David’s life. Why not spend a good week or two motoring through it? Watch as God unfolds big themes and grand plot-lines.

You get the idea. Yes, there is a place for slow, methodical study line-by-line and verse-by-verse, and pondering. But there is also a needed place for simply getting lost in the story. Changing your scenery from your life and burdens and worries, into the life and times of Peter, Ruth, Isaiah, etc. And, you discover by entering their story that God meets them… and will meet you too.

One of the great things about a novel or movie is that we can escape our lives for a time. Do that in Scripture. Let its stories be your escape, and the change of scenery that is so helpful to living life.



If you can talk to God, he can talk to you

“Prayer,” as a word, doesn’t communicate great things.  It’s tragic. The fact is, you and I hear that word, and we think (1) I don’t do it enough; (2) dull prayer meetings; (3) does it even work?  Prayer as a concept engenders guilt, boredom or failure.

How tragic.

Today is the National Day of Prayer.  Prayer, in reality, is THE strongest weapon in our arsenal in spiritual warfare (Eph 6).  It is THE doorway to a life of fulfillment, meaning and purpose. And it is THE vehicle by which God gives us peace in all things (Phil 4).

Moreover, think about this: If you can talk to God, he can talk to you. Prayer is THE conversation between you and the Living, Eternal, Gracious, Majestic, Holy & Kind God. It’s the two conversation. Your heart to his heart. Your mind to his mind. Your will to his will. Your mouth to his ear, and his mouth to your ear.

At this morning’s Prayer Breakfast, Pastor Anthony Lawson noted three things about prayer:

It is Talking to God. Think about the person in history you’d most like to talk to, or have a conversation with. I’m fascinated with John F Kennedy. I think it would be a blast to spend the afternoon with him. Or, Henry VIII. Or, Mother Teresa. Or, Martin Luther. Why? Because these people are historical figures, they have mattered, and have accomplished things or witnessed things. How much more so is God. Prayer is that ‘afternoon spent with the famous person’. Do you think of prayer like that?

It is Getting God’s Wisdom. How many times in life would you have made a different decision, taken a different course, said a different word… if you had just that one more piece of information? We see it in hindsight, but we didn’t see it in the moment. Prayer is getting that piece of information, that God-originated wisdom for our moment. “In all your ways acknowledge him (ie., look to him, seek him, pray!), and he will direct your paths.” (Prov 3:6). You can hardly find a clearer promise in Scripture for our daily lives. And yet, so many of us go from Sunday to Sunday without really praying.

It’s Accessing God’s Power. When a 2 year old cries out for help to her dad, that dad jumps into action. That dad brings his 200 pounds of muscles and strength to protect that little 35 pounds of weakness. That dad puts his life experience, his financial resources, his authority and his loving heart into action on behalf of his daughter. Don’t you see? That 2 year old ‘prayed’ to her dad – called out to him. And the did responded.  “Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). It just doesn’t get any clearer than this.

This National Day of Prayer, may God’s gracious gift to us of calling out to him, and talking to him, and learning from him be our theme all day long.

Lord, we love you, and rejoice that you invite us to talk to you, praise you, ask of you, give thanks to you, and give ourselves to you. Help us to pray. Teach us to love talking to you, and banish all thoughts of guilty, boredom or failure. You are worth it! Find us on our knees often today and every day, we ask in Christ’s Name. 


“Can you earn love? Can you exhaust grace?”

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. And we will never be bad enough to exhaust God’s grace.

Think about that. Read it again. We need this message because people relate to God all wrong. You might be one of them. (I don’t mean to offend you! Just startle you.)

Some relate to God as if they are trying out for a baseball team: Going above and beyond. Fielding every ball. Swinging hard in practice. Running the bases with abandon. All because you have to secure a spot on the team. You gotta prove you are worth it.

Here’s the thing: baseball tryouts and the Gospel are totally at odds. The Great and Good News of the Gospel is this: we will never be good enough to earn God’s love. You can stop ‘trying out’ now. If God loves you, it’s not because of your performance or accomplishments. It’s because he has set his love on you, even when you are unlovable. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) That is great news.

Even with all our good works, our regular church attendance, faithful service in the Nursery, giving money, time or anything else, we are still filled with selfishness, pride, pettiness, and inner-heart-ugliness. (Again, I don’t mean to offend you!) But God loves you anyway. God sent his son to rescue you, in spite of your sinfulness.

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. The pressure’s off. Coming to God is not at all like going to a baseball tryout. The coach wants you to make the team; all you have to do is ask from the bottom of your heart!

Similarly, you can never do enough to exhaust God’s grace. This astounds us for two reasons. First, we can’t fathom limitless grace. We get frustrated with someone (our kids, an employee or co-worker) who falls short repeatedly, and still asks for another chance. Why? Because our ‘grace’ is not limitless; it has an end point. God’s doesn’t. Everything about God is infinite. And, that includes his grace and love.

In fact, the enemy of our souls does not want us to believe this: he’d rather we hide from God when we sin. He wants to keep us isolated from the source of infinite grace. So, he speaks lies into our heads: “God won’t forgive you.” “Again? You did that again? For the 500th time? Don’t you think God is sick of you?” Lies like that.

Just remember God’s grace is infinite – for the humble heart who comes to God in humble confession and repentance, there is nothing from God but grace!

Second, we can think: “but someone will take advantage of it?” Well, yes. That’s the risk of grace. If God didn’t want that risk, he would have structured reality differently. Grace means you risk of being taken advantage of. I think this is why we don’t love to extend grace in our lives—we don’t want to be ripped off. But, that’s the vulnerability of grace.

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. The pressure is off! Live in response to that love. We will never be bad enough to exhaust God’s grace. The pressure is off! Live in willing confession and his increasing power to live for him, and risk extending grace to others. In this way, we’ll watch our community be transformed.

Good Friday Devo April 14

Read Lamentations 1:12, and consider that Jesus could say this from the cross.

  1. Now, read Matthew 27:26-46 and replay the many sorrows of Jesus. It hardly seems possible to endure so much.
  1. Truly, in the Last Supper, Jesus was right: “this is my body broken for you… this is my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Give thanks for his body and blood.

Pause to worship Christ Jesus for the cross! Use this simple communion prayer, by Horatius Bonar:


Here O My Lord, I see thee face to face,

Here would I touch and handle things unseen,

Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,

And all my weariness upon thee lean.


Here would I feed upon the bread of God,

Here drink with thee the royal wine of heaven,

Here would I lay aside each earthly load,

Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.


I have no help but thine, nor do I need

Another arm save thin to lean upon;

It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed—

My strength is in they might, thy might alone.


Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness,

Mine is the guilt by thine the cleansing blood;

Here is my robe, my refuge and my peace,

Thy blood, they righteousness, O Lord, My God.

Thursday April 13 Devo

Read Psalm 22:1-8 & 14-19. Jesus quotes the first line of this from the cross.

  1. What do you think David (as he writes this Psalm) is going through? Do you think he is enduring quite as much as he writes?
  1. Sometimes poetry (or song lyrics with music) give us a voice that we would not otherwise have. What Worship music is most meaningful to you? Give thanks to God for that gift.
  1. Which of the lines of Psalm 22 are also true of Jesus at the crucifixion? Note them, and meditate on them. (If you need to, refer to Matthew 27:26-50)
  1. Look at Psalm 22:19. It’s true of David, but not of the Son of David. Ponder what Jesus was going through as he hung there for us.


Sing/pray this song of adoration to Christ:


O Sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down,

Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, they only crown,

How art thou pale with anguish, With sore abuse and scorn!

How does that visage languish Which once was bright as morn!


What thou, my Lord, has suffered Was all for sinners’ gain:

Mine, mine was the transgression, But thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place;

Look on my with thy favor, Vouchsafe to me they grace.


What language shall I borrow To thank thee dearest Friend,

For this thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever! And should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never Outlive my love for thee!

[Attr. to Bernard of Clairvaux]

Astounding an Egyptian News Anchor

We have learned with horror of Palm Sunday’s attack on an Egyptian Coptic church and cathedral. We have prayed for their families and their country: that the roots of the gospel will sink deep and bring eternal redemption and reconciliation for millions of Egyptians.

The gate-keeper at the Cathedral in Alexandria stopped the bomber from entering, and suffered martyrdom, but saved hundreds. One life to save many.

Is God at work in this? Take two-and-a-half minutes, and watch the astonishment and the comments of a Muslim News Anchor after an interview with gatekeeper’s widow. This aired on Egypt TV in the last couple of days. Click here.

The following letter comes from my friend Ramez Atallah, General Director of The Bible Society of Egypt.  He references the News Anchor below.

Dear Friends,

Thanks to all who expressed concern and prayers following the tragic bombings in the churches of Tanta and Alexandria.

Palm Sunday is one of the busiest days on our church calendar. Egyptian Christians carry intricately woven palm branches. They chant “Hosanna to the King of Kings.” It is a day of joyful celebration.

Then the first bomb exploded.

Instantly, many robed chanters participating in the liturgy exchanged their now-bloodied, earthly robes for martyrs’ robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). A few hours later, the second bomb exploded in Alexandria as a suicide bomber detonated his explosive device outside Saint Mark’s Church. Altogether, 46 people went from celebrating by faith to celebrating by sight, meeting their savior face to face. Many more were wounded.

The funerals were a mixture of wailing and rejoicing, as a bishop explained:

“True, we love martyrdom. But we also love life. We don’t hate life on earth. God created us on earth to live, not die. The fact that we accept death doesn’t mean our blood is cheap, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to us. We do not commit suicide. But we witness for Christ, whether by our lives or by our transition to heaven. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.”  

Social Media is abuzz. In many instances, Muslims who are outraged at the blind and evil hatred of this atrocity, have expressed frustration with Christians in all their talk of love and forgiveness.  As with previous attacks, the sense of revenge is minimal as families embrace martyrdom as a gift from and to God. [Witness] the Muslim interviewer’s astonishment with the widow of the gatekeeper who prevented the suicide bomber from entering the Alexandria church yard, thereby saving countless lives. What is happening in Egypt is not a 2000-year-old legend, but a modern, living testimony to the power of the Christian faith.

Please pray for the Church of the Martyrs, as they seek to faithfully apply the teachings and example of Jesus to forgive and carry on.  Pray for patience in the midst of sorrow and grief.  Pray for victory over bitterness and anger. Pray for our church and government leaders.

And as you celebrate this weekend, may you be inspired by the witness of many Egyptian Christians whose faith epitomizes the true meaning of Easter.

Sincerely in Christ,

Ramez Atallah, General Director, The Bible Society of Egypt


Friends reading this blog post: be in prayer for Egypt. Visit to see the work there. Perhaps a short-term mission trip from Grace is in our future?!

Pray for us believers here… We’re not in physical danger, so we are lulled to sleep. I don’t hear the kind of radical forgiveness from Christians in the West. “Radical forgiveness” = gospel forgiveness. Rather, I hear us complain and murmur, and try to squeeze Jesus into a busy life, and wring our hands at the decline of our cultural norms, and yearn for ‘days past’.

But I think we need to dive into the life of radical forgiveness & radical devotion to Christ exhibited our Egyptian brothers and sisters. We need their leadership to help us grow.  I wonder how we are short-circuiting God’s deeper gospel work in our culture?

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Wednesday April 12 Devo

Read today the final segment of the Servant Song – Isaiah 53:7-12

  1. vv.7-9 speak of the Servant’s responses to the unjust affliction. What are they? Why do think that is important?
  1. In v.10, what are the two aspects of God’s will mentioned here?
  1. In v.11, we see the outcome of the “anguish of his soul”. What is it?
  1. v.12 describes the end of the matter. Consider what we learn here. Jot it down, and ponder it. How does it reflect or echo the opening line of the song, 52:13?


He was wounded for our transgressions,
He bore our sins in His body on the tree;
For our guilt He gave us peace,
From our bondage gave release,
And with His stripes,
And with His stripes,
And with His stripes our souls are healed.

He was numbered among transgressors,
We did esteem Him forsaken by His God;
As our sacrifice He died,
That the law be satisfied,
And all our sin,
And all our sin,
And all our sin was laid on Him.

We had wandered, we all had wandered
Far from the fold of “the Shepherd of the sheep”;
But He sought us where we were,
On the mountains bleak and bare,
And brought us home,
And brought us home,
And brought us safely home to God.

Who can number His generation?
Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?
Millions, dead, now live again,
Myriads follow in His train!
Victorious Lord,
Victorious Lord,
Victorious Lord and coming King!

[Thomas Chisholm]

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