Christian Reflections Blog Tour Survey Results

I've done the Christian Reflections National Pop-Up Blog Tour for 2 years now. I figured it was time for a major assessment of how it's going and how it could be improved/developed.

1. What I Like About the Blog Tour

I've really loved doing these events - it's been a great way to catch up with friends and supporters around the country and make new contacts. It's also been a great way to see different cities and suburbs.

As the results show, people really appreciate the evenings - so I think it gives people something they benefit from.

And also the events have consistently brought around $2 000 back into my ministry at UTAS, which is awesome as well!

I like how the blog tour connects a bunch of thoughtful, ministry-minded Christians, from a range of churches and a range of ages - both paid and unpaid. It gives all these people a fun opportunity to dig deep into practical ministry philosophy in a great environment.

2. What the Survey Revealed

  • It was eye opening to me to realise that 120 people had attended at least one blog tour event over the last two years! So even though the events were generally smallish (around 15 people) - the overall reach of the tour was fairly broad.
  • 33 people replied to the survey - which is well above the standard reponse rate to surveys like this apparently! So that in itself demonstrates buy-in.
  • People from Brisbane, Wollongong and Newcastle were slow to reply to the survey. Too busy chilling out and surfing I guess?
  • Most people heard about the events through myself or the local hosts (45%) or through a friend (30%) and a smaller chunk heard via Facebook (24%) - 2 others heard via a denominational email list.
  • We got a Net Promoter Score of 21- which is pretty good. Anything above zero is considered 'good' and above 50 is 'excellent' so I'll take 21!
  • In terms of things that people were most interested in for future events, the most significant things were 'Fresh Interesting Content' (81%), Nice or Convenient Venue (37%) and Free book or other product (37%).
  • I gave the options of 4 possible formats - 3 sessions plus dinner for $45, 2 sessions and a light snack for $30, 1 session and a coffee for $20 or a webinar for $10. 53% opted for 3 sessions. 50% opted for 2 sessions.
  • When asked if they would be willing to host the event for their ministry leaders as a whole, 47% said Yes and 33% said Maybe.

3. What I'm Thinking for 2016 

  • A big challenge is to reach beyond the people who already like me or love the events, to people who don't. Helping my primary audience (those who already like Christian Reflections) reach a secondary audience is a really big thing.
  • I'm going to approach pastors about possibly hosting the Blog Tour event as an in-house training event - that way they either pay in bulk for people to attend, or strongly encourage all their leaders to attend. This would guarantee a higher base attendance.
  • I'm going to stick largely with the 3 sessions and dinner for $45, although maybe do the 2 sessions and light snack for $30 in one or two places.
  • I'm toying with maybe producing some kind of mini-book that could be available for free to registrants and then maybe sold cheap afterwards?
  • I may still do 1 or 2 webinars and see what happens.
  • I'm toying with visiting Melbourne again, plus Perth and maybe maybe Adelaide or Canberra?
  • I think Mexican food has run its course, so I'll be thinking of a new food angle.

Open to ideas and suggestions from readers about what director the blog tour could take into the future.

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5 great proverbs on preaching preparation

At the recent Challenge RAW Conference in Hobart, Al Bain shared a great quote from Alistair Begg on preaching preparation:

  • Think yourself empty,
  • Read yourself full,
  • Write yourself clear,
  • Pray yourself hot,
  • Be yourself
  • But don't preach yourself

Have you  heard that before? I reckon it's a very helpful outline. Except the 'pray yourself hot' is a bit odd. Listening to God's word to me gets me much hotter than my feeble words back to God. 

I also think his 'be yourself but don't preach yourself' is a much more helpful maxim than the mildly anti-human lyric from 'May The Mind of Christ' song:

And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

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A personal history in books 2: L’Etranger

I read this in Grade 12 French. That was actually also the same year that I became a Christian. I don't think we actually read it in class. I think I just found it in a storage cupboard. Pity. Grade 12 French would've been better if we read more literature.

It's a bleak, hollow book. The existentialist man is just kind of permanently stoned, wandering around disengaged, disenchanted and dull. He objectively observes swimming, his dead mother, annoying bright sunlight, killing an Arab. 

Although super-famous,'The Outsider' never really grabbed me. Much later I read La Nausee by Sartre, and that grabbed me much more. I think the conceit of the apathetic modernist man can make for great novels and films. But it can also be implausible and dumb. For me, The Outsider is the latter.

I kept the Elizabeth College copy of the book and several years later, through pangs of earnest young Christian conscience, I resolved to sell most of my books (to free myself up from worldly clutter) and return those books that belonged to others.

So I met with my former French teacher, Maria Giudici, and told her I'd become a Christian and offered the book back. She said I should just keep it. So I did.

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Helping parents of young kids engage with night sessions at church camp

I heard a cool idea that Hunter Bible Church tried at their church camp this year, to help parents engage in night sessions at their church camp:

  • Put a sheet on each accommodation door with names and ages of sleeping kids, plus mobile number of a parent;
  • Have a roster of 2 roving people who walk between rooms and listen out for any crying/waking kids - then text/call parents.

I thought it was a cool system, that lessens the number of people absent from evening sessions of church camps.

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A personal history in books 1: A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man

I found this on my parent's bookshelf when I was 15. It belonged to my Mum. From the first page I realised this was the kind of book I wanted to read. And so began a love of modernist fiction. My Mum died about a year later, and so this copy is a special token for me, who keeps little memorabilia.

I love the vivid soup of stream of conscious writing. I love the way it captures childhood and adolescence. I love traveling to a this smoky world of turn of the century Ireland.

There is a shockingly vivid and awful (in both senses of the word) Roman Catholic sermon on 5 senses' experience in Hell. There is a striking description of sexual awakening. There is a sustained, pretentious philosophical discussion of aesthetics.

It's a winner. And it won me over to James Joyce. I have since read Dubliners, Ulysses and Finegans Wake.

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Mirrors 11th September 2015

1. Why we fail at family devotions. How are you going in this area?

2. 9 things to consider for church staff meetings.

3. Tim Chester's post on 'Why I Don't Do Evangelism' really resonated with me.

4. Don Carson gives some theological insights to Christian ministry and then applies it in a few ways. Good stuff.

5. Some Uni Fellowship students/alumni have started a podcast, and gotten a show on the local Christian radio station. In this episode they have some good stuff to say about church music.

6. Gavin Ortlund goes beyond the standard blog post type advice on preaching. The item on illustrations is especially rich.

7. I like this diagram about what makes someone resilience, by Beyond Blue. This is a Facebook link because I couldn't find it on their website. It doesn't capture the spiritual side of things, but it's good as far as it goes.

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Caring for the chronically and severely ill in the church

I don't have an answer to this one. But I know of wise commenters who know a lot about this from experience: from living through it, from minister to others, from being let down, and from being lifted up.

So please do comment on the blog or on the Facebook Page. I might ask you for permission to post your comments in a follow up post, too - so if you are happy with that, you could maybe put an asterisk in your comment? :-)

A couple of thoughts though:

1. We could do better. Those who don't fit the model of the 'normal', the 'happy', the 'healthy', the 'ministry candidate' often get overlooked, undervalued, disenfranchised. We need to talk about people bearing up under difficult illness, honour them, pray for them, apply the Scriptures to them in our public teaching.

2. We can't fix it. Those experiencing serious illness suffer in a whole range of ways. Their experience is, among other things, one of pain and grief. One day Christ will return, restore their bodies and wipe away every tear. But now things will be hard. The church might not be able to take that pain away. The suffering person might experience all sorts of pain as a part of their Christian life and church life that can't be fully removed.

3. Try to love the chronically ill the way you love the critically ill. What things do we do for short term emergencies and disasters? Which of those can reasonably be done on occasion for those who are chronnically ill? I know of a couple where one had chornic fatigue. They hear of another person who got chronic fatigue and sent them flowers.

4. It is hard to care for people outside of the normal routines of life. We will always find it easier to do things and love people that fit into our normal routines of life. To love people who are out of our way is very dfificult for people with full lives. This has all sorts of implications:

  • The church needs to work hard to build in new routines and structures to make it easier to consistently care for people.
  • Those who are ill would do well to try wherever possible to fit into regular structures and rhythms.
  • Relying on spontaneous love is mostly unrealistic - 

5. Figure out what things should be done by church leaders and what things by church members.

  • It will be hard for church staff and leaders to meet all the needs of the sick in the church.
  • Set up systems of loving care in the church, so that those who are ill are regularly cared for practically and spiritually.
  • Realise that this 'counts' as church love.
  • Realise that at the same time, the symbolic love from the minister or the elders is still important and powerful, even if less regular.

6. Use a range of media - from physical visits, to emails, letters, gifts, practical help. Think about how you can share more of the weekly church gathering than just the sermon podcast.

7. Remember to support family and carers. Even when we do a great job of loving the sick person, we can forget to support the family and carers. Carer for the severely ill can take an enormous toll in terms of depression, loss, loneliness, fatigue, anxiety, financial pressure and a sense of feeling trapped.

8. Consider how the church building serves those who are ill. What is entry access and disability parking like? Are there places where someone can sit in a quiet? Are there places where someone could lie down if they needed to?

9. Work hard to understand. Ask questions. Be slow to judge. Be patient with 'good days' and 'bad days' and last minute cancellations. Check often to see what will actually be helpful.

10. Keep your promises. Don't talk big and then fail to deliver. Better to offer a little bit and actually follow up on it. In the slow pace of serious illness, disappointements can sometimes stand very tall.

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Growing your church up Part 5: From individualised care to general paths of care

Everyone is an individual and should be cared for uniquely, sensitively and genuinely.

But as churches get bigger and older, the ability to consistently care for anyone at all becomes less. And people can just get lost in the larger church organisation, even if they are being loved by a few people.

And so in addition to the ongoing need for a culture of personal care, systems need to be in place to care for everyone as best as we are able to, in general ways.

Of course this will never be perfect, and it will let people down. And of course we must be willing to allow exceptions to the rule, so that we can treat people as they are, rather than forcing them into a sausage machine.

But strangely, sometimes, in some ways, people are also cared for better by knowing the general path for care. Sometimes its easier to know how to get involved in a community when there are some clear courses or information systems. Sometimes you finally get around to serving in a ministry when there is a structure for helping you do so.

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Mirrors 4th September 2015

1. This piece explores how we are in this weird point in history, where the rhetoric about straight marriage is "Get free from the suffocating confines of monogamy" while the rhetoric about gay marriage is "Eagerly desire marriage".

2. Nathan Campbell quotes from a book that argues that a great need our culture has is to find a good place for intimate friendships that are not sexualised.

3. Does "nature" even exist? is it a helpful category for thinking about the environment? From ABC Hobart local radio.

4. Mick Fanning's sponsors failed by being noticed. It's a funny thing, isn't it, making promotions work properly?

5. There was lots of really helpful stuff for me in this podcast about staying fresh and joyful as a leader over the long haul.

6. Key Performance Indicators are really helpful measures to include in business or church, I think. They just help you stretch, assess, and set expectations. But as a tool for deciding on financial rewards, unless we are very careful about it I agree with Ross Gittins, that is dumb.

7. Signs your success has outgrown your character.

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Email Ninja: A great online training course on the basics of email use

These Tassie guys have pulled together a great online training resource for people wanting to equip their staff, volunteers or workplace in the basic best practices of email use: Email Ninja.

The videos are beautiful, short, clear and right.

If you are personally in an email hell, or you work on a team with toxic email habits, this is well worth the money!

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