Happy Thanksgiving

I am thankful for my wife and all her support and love. The Suncoast, what an awesome church! All the staff and volunteers. You guys would charge hell with a water gun! To my parents and family for all the help getting me to the well adjusted guy I am...

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Third Screen from Toilet Pipe

A few weeks ago we made a third screen deal out of 3 inch toilet pipe and bathing suit fabric from a fabric store. I got the inspiration watching the set of the CMA awards. Everything was asymmetrical so this was a small attempt at that. We have two side screens we use and this has a video feed hooked up to it and the other side of it has lights shined on it from behind.

Also there is a little bonus song from the band... it was smokin'

New Believers Letter

Have been working on revising our new believers letter for people who "check the box" on our Communication Card. Take a look. For a pdf of this letter shoot me an e-mail - brian@canthisbechurch.com

Weekend Update @ the Suncoast

Wow! This was a busy Sunday for me... set up / service / tear down / went and picked up some used storage carts from the guys at the Bay / went to my wife's school's play / 20 minute nap / student group at 7pm... Here are some thoughts:

Our crowd was a little lower than the past 4 weeks. We had 118. But over the past four weeks we have averaged 128 people. That is the first time we have been a month over 125. Think we have broken that one... on to 250 now!

We are going to two services in late Jan 2009. Do we need to... kind of... But I think we need to roll the dice as a church like we did in the early days 2 years ago. Stay tuned...

The band at the Suncoast has been rocking over the past few weeks. We have been doing a few Lee McDerment songs and I love the sound. Out new drummer is smokin' it!!!

Over the past four weeks we have had:
  • 46 first time guests
  • 30 second time guests
  • 9 third time guests
  • 12 people accept Christ!!!

I was in the second part of a new series called "BIG faith" (Click HERE for the podcast) and I think I did a good job with the talk. No glaring mess ups and the only stupid thing I said was something to the effect that the first time you hear someone teach the Bible in a practical way it is like "Biblical Crack". You can't get enough of it. Nice right?

It was stinkin' cold doing set up, only 45!!!

I am grateful we have some people at the Suncoast who will do whatever it takes to make things happen on a Sunday. Very cool peeps!

We did communion a little different. We had it right in the middle of a song. Not sure how it went because I didn't do it. I was back in my "green room". Thanks Steve for leading out.

We already need a bigger trailer... yikes!

Online Giving Now @ CanThisBeChurch.com

We finally got our online giving up and running at Church of the Suncoast. Why did it take so long... long story! But basically it came down to not wanting to use PayPal so we starting looking for other ways to process cards online. So if you believe in the vision of the Suncoast I would challenge you to give online and see just how easy it really is. I tried it out and it even posted on my account within minutes!


10 Things I Learned @ Activate

Went to Nelson Searcy's Activate Small Group event today. Lots of good stuff. Here are the top ten things going on inside my head right now:

10. Our small groups are too small! The best groups are 12 - 15 people because it takes a very skilled leader to lead a group of only 7 people or less.

9. You may not have to hire a small groups person if you split the role up among all your staff.

8. Summer group attendance is the same as spring group attendance.

7. Don't make people go to something else before they can sign up for a group.

6. Do group sign ups for a month and then close the groups for three months.

5. Don't split groups or even multiply groups. Multiply leaders!

4. It is possible to have more people in groups than on Sunday mornings!

3. If the entire staff (pastor too) is not in a group then this isn't going work.

2. Have new leaders lead the study they just did under someone else.

1. We oversell groups when it comes to relationships. We need to promote friendships not intimate, life-long, relationships! They might happen out of a group but are not where most groups are going to be.

0 (Bonus). If a group does not produce new leaders after two semesters kill it because it has become inwardly focused!

Things I Will Not Mention... (in an E-mail)

This morning I was reading in the Book of 3 John. When was the last time you read this 343 word book of the Bible? As a church leader you should! There was a lot I wanted to share but this last part was a huge reminder to me so maybe you need it like I did.

John says this to one of the leaders in the early church he writes to:

"I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face."

Here is how I read that:

"I have a lot of stuff I want to tell you but there are some things I will not mention in an e-mail. We need to talk face-to-face."

How many times have we done the exact opposite of that and it has turned around and bit us in the butt! We get all worked up and from behind our keyboard we get all kinds of courage that we don't have in real life and we just lay it all out there in an e-mail, a written copy that we can't take back. DUMB!

E-mail is a great tool. The best way to get a hold of me and get my attention is in an e-mail. I love e-mail. BUT, e-mail is NEVER something we should use when it comes to something we should be doing face-to-face! Man up! - I am telling myself that... MAN UP!

Have the guts and the conviction to talk face-to-face. - Again talking to myself here. No one likes having tough conversations, but just because we don't like it and it makes us nervous and want to throw up it is never a reason not to do the right thing. As a leader you don't want a written copy just floating out there. There are some things that can't be conveyed in text and when other people see our words they can be taken and used against us in ways we had never intended.

My challenge to every pastor and church leader is to do what John did even in his old age... say it face-to-face. If you can't say it face-to-face then it is not worth saying at all!!!

The History of the Suncoast Part 6

Part 5 - Click
Part 4 - Click
Part 3 - Click
Part 2 - Click
Part 1 - Click

This is the final post on our history up to now here at Church of the Suncoast. We are a 2 & 1/2 year old church plant as of November of 2008 and here is how we got to this point from where we left off in September of 2007.

Last time I talked about how right when things looked like they were about to explode we got kicked out of the school we were meeting in. I don't know if you have ever had a moment when you felt like God let you down but this was one of those times for me. I was so confused and on top of it all we had 1 month to find a new location to meet in. At the time there were no other schools in our area and no other locations big enough to house us. So as I started looking outside our community I drove past a middle school down in Hillsborough County on Lutz Lake Fern Rd. I stopped in and the vice principal was a joy to talk to. She said sure we could meet there and by the end of August 2007 we packed up everything and moved our portable church to Martinez Middle School. The school's cafeteria was smaller, the school was hidden, and maybe most damaging it was 15 minutes away from where we used to meet. Over the months there we lost a lot of people and again I felt like God had let us down even though I had tried to spin this as a win.

BUT, during those months at Martinez we had our biggest baptism celebration to date and almost weekly people were coming to Christ. Even though our overall numbers dropped into the 80's God was still doing stuff and still connecting new people to the Suncoast. Many who made the move back to SR 54 in Feb. of 2008.

During this fall at Martinez Middle we also opened up the Warehouse. The Warehouse is... exactly what it is named, a warehouse. We found a spot near the center of our area on 54 and rented out 2,400 sq ft of space. Half of the place holds our "stuff" and our 21 ft trailer that we store our Sunday stuff in. It also has an office that two of us share. There is also space for another make shift office we use and the other side we did up like a Starbucks. We painted the floors, added A/C, hung black movie curtains on the walls, and filled the place with furniture. It will seat about 50 people and has been used for Community Groups, student groups, volunteer dinners, and my HOA even meets in there. The Warehouse serves as our base of operation even though we still do portable church.

We ended our time at Martinez with a couple Christmas Eve services where I stunned everyone by wearing a suit jacket! And we had a couple weeks in January there to get ready for the big move back to 54.

February of 2008 comes and we planned two mailers to hit the week before our move back to SR 54 where we got things started in '06 & '07. We used a guy that was recommended to us but everything got messed up and not a single card hit for our grand opening back on 54 at Rushe Middle School. BUT, we still saw an instant bounce back into the 100's. Spring went by fast this year and for only our third Easter service we had 161 people and 3 people accept Christ!!! We were back. Go God!!! This summer our numbers blew up during a time of year you don't expect big numbers. We had 140+ people on the July 4th weekend. Crazy stuff. We also did One Prayer this summer which was our first try at video teaching and it rocked!

The fall of 2008 started a little slow for a few weeks but over the past month we have averaged 126 people and have seen over 10 people accept Christ! We feel like God is moving so we are moving with Him. In January of 2009 we will be going to two services at Rushe Middle School.

This journey has not been anything like what I thought would happen. I started this place when I was just 27 years old and thought I knew what would take place. I had read all the books, been to the conferences, talked to all the right people but nothing can prepare you for the high of the highs or the low of the lows. A church plant in many ways is a visible expression of the pastors walk with God. Like it or not the church becomes you. It is not all about you, but it is you. You can't help but be connected in a way that is very similar to marriage. So you obviously have to keep boundaries or it becomes your mistress. Or you get so hurt by people that you become bitter and burn out. By the grace of God neither of those has happened and I hold onto the vision God has given and the wife and partner He has blessed me with. The Suncoast was not my idea it was God's idea and I can't wait to see where it goes. Our best days are still ahead of us! Go God!

Small Group One Day Event

If anyone is near Tampa and would like to get some great insights into starting and growing small groups then please check out the link to Nelson Searcy's Activate Small Group One Day Event. Here is what you will get answered:

* How do I get 100% of my church involved in small groups?
* What are the basic elements of an effective small groups system?
* How do I recruit and train enough small-group leaders?
* What are the myths that are holding back my small groups?
* What is a good structure for small-group ministry?
* How do I get small groups involved in serving and evangelism?
* How do I get started?

For more info or to sign up click on the following link:

LINK for Activate Seminar

BIG faith - Series Intro Video

What Went RIGHT Yesterday

Wow, OK I have to share with everyone what went RIGHT yesterday at Church of the Suncoast. Go God's times 6:

We had 139 people in the middle of November!!!

We had 14 first time guests!!! (19 last week)

We had 14 second time guests!!!

We had 2 third time guests!!!

We had 8 people accept Christ!!!

We had a $9,200 offering!!!

That blows me away! Go God! Go Suncoast! You guys had a part in each of those, I am blown away! Speakless... Crazy right?

Here is what went wrong:

30 minutes before the service our PC that we run Media Shout on took a dump. A big one. A nasty one. No amount of reboots would help. We tried to use my old laptop but the VGA port is broken so that didn't work. We held people outside until 9:55 and finally had to open the doors with no media... and we are a media driven church. No 4B4 pre-service video which is the bands cue to take the stage... no lyrics... no graphics... no cool message intro... and 1/2 my message was on video! So fun stuff.

I have been praying the three prayers from "IT" (Stretch me, Ruin me, Heal me) Wow!

The History of the Suncoast Part 5

After our four preview services which we did every other week we officially launched Church of the Suncoast the Sunday before Easter in 2006. We had 67 people that day. That was what we were able to grab from the community since all the well wishers were back at their churches.

I want to point out one difference in what we did versus what other planters do. There are a couple schools of thought when starting a church from scratch. One is to gather a small core group and meet with them for months and months and months until you are sure everyone is on board and gets what you guys are about to do. From that you birth a Sunday service and hope to grow from there. At the Suncoast we went the other way. We grabbed a few people, or borrowed, just what we needed to start and we launched a service first hoping then to get people in the community to be our long term core. There are too many reasons to list here why we did this but the bottom line was we believe in starting with the community and then working our way to a core.

The proof of this was harder than I could have imagined. I’m not saying I would do it different, other than launch with more people, why? From that launch number of 67 and then 95 our first Easter I grew the church all the way to 32 – 34 people in the middle of that first summer. I know you are impressed right? Those were HARD days. I would go home after tearing down the little day care and be mad, I would cry, I would shut down. I don’t know why… but for some reason probably a God-thing I stuck it out and over the remainder of the summer we started growing again and by the time we made the big move to our first real location we had a strong group of 60 + people.

What we did in those days leading up to our big move to Oakstead Elementary was really cast the vision for a re-launch that we called a Grand Opening. It was one of the most exciting times I think for me. We all threw our hands in the middle and said lets do it. We moved into Oakstead in late August of 2006 and for our Grand Opening we had 163 people!!! It was a go God moment!!!

From there we settled in around the high 70’s to low 80’s with some weeks in the 90’s. Tons of new faces and again people coming to Christ for the first time. That is one of the most amazing things about our church. Since we started in 2006 we have seen over 90 PEOPLE RECEIVE CHRIST! We finished out 2006 with our first Christmas Eve service with another great day of 153 and a couple salvations.

That Christmas was also when someone gave Church of the Suncoast a gift that I don’t think they really understand how meaningful this was… I am getting a little misty just thinking back to this. That Christmas someone gave us a gift of $70,000. Yes that is seventy thousand dollars. For the first time I was able to really sleep at night knowing that next Sunday will happen now. I didn’t have to carry around that burden of if the church will be able to pay me next week or if we can make the rent at the school.

2007 brought a lot of optimism as you might have guessed. We started the year with a high attraction series on sex and saw some weeks in the triple digits and by that summer God really gave us some unexpected momentum in June of all months! We has weeks in the 120’s talking about money!!! Wow.

BUT, right when you could feel the flood gates about to burst I got the phone call that our school was kicking us out in a month. CRUSHED! That is how I remember feeling for weeks. What do we do? Where do we go? God why are you letting this happen?

And, that is where we will pick things up again next time in the final post on the history of the Suncoast. I hope you have enjoyed hearing our story.

Questions About Growing Spiritually

I recently came across a staff meeting podcast that Andy Stanley did for the people at Northpoint where he addressed the issue of growing spiritually at a "seeker" church. I loved his take on it so here are my notes plus some additional thoughts from me:

Answering Questions about Growing Spiritually
at Church of the Suncoast

Q: What is our spiritual growth or discipleship model?

A: We want people to fulfill our purpose statement. Take a next step with God by:

Loving Up (Worship, Sunday Services)

Reaching Out (Influencing Others for Christ and Inviting Them to Church)

Growing Within (Community Groups, Serving, Giving, Personal Disciplines)

Spiritual growth is not a linear progression. It is cyclical. A Sunday worship experience or serving on a team will mean different things to your faith at different stages of life. You don’t complete one and then move on the next, then the next, then what? We want people to stay in those things and God will grow a person’s faith through seasons of life and circumstances.

If you are already in all of those things then great! Keep on because God will grow you the more you are exposed to them.

Q: What about new believers?

A: Specifically which one? Are we talking about a general group or a person? Is there something we need to do for a specific new believer? We can deal with that! We can track the growth of specific people, we can’t as a group. We can’t rush growth.

Q: What do you have for mature believers?

A: We have opportunities for you to pour your life out into the lives of people that are not as mature. Mature believers do not need another Bible study or “deeper” worship. If you can use the internet then you can find answers to any question you might have. Mature believers should know better than this. What we need are people willing to share what they know with new believers and mentor them in our various environments. Maturity is not about only “knowing” more stuff!

(Most of the time this question comes from a group of people getting together and talking about all the things they would change about the pastor or the church. The reality is a mature believer may never “learn” anything new at our church and that is OK. If a person needs to learn there are tons of resources we can point them to like books, blogs, and websites)

At our church we have endless opportunities for you to pour your mature faith out into the lives of people that are not as far along as you are through relationships and authentic community.

Mature believers need to learn to be self - feeders through a daily quite time and learning to research things on their own. A sign of maturity is the ability to feed yourself and not always be dependant on the preacher, teacher, and or leader. The point of being a mature believer is being a self - feeder and able to feed others.

Monday Update

This past Sunday was great at the Suncoast. We had good numbers for November (125). The band did a new song by Jeremy Camp called "There will be a day" for part 3 of our series "So You're Dead... Now What?". I bombed the message. Just felt uncomfortable which has only happened one other time in 2 1/2 years up there. Who knows... have been praying the three prayers in "It" (stretch me, ruin me, heal me) so maybe that had something to do with it. Had a BUTT LOAD of new peeps!!! Go God!

Check out the last two parts of the History of the Suncoast later this week.

PS - We did a Halloweenie Handout on Friday night and gave out 112 hotdogs. Mad props to everyone at the Suncoast that passed out some dogs.

PSS - The Hurricanes beat Virgina in ACC play! Go Canes!