Are we equipping kids and youth to engage the world?

As followers of Jesus we are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-18)
We are a part of this world, this culture, and cannot be separated from it – it is the water we swim in. At the same time, we belong to Jesus and we are a part of His Kingdom, which is not of this world.

If in our kids’ or youth ministry (or adult ministry for that matter!) we are trying to separate people from world and protect them with platitudes, Christian circles and discussing only in-house issues we are not serving them well or helping them grow to maturity in Christ. It will not go well for them when they encounter the real world or hardship! Further, it is not going to help them connect with people that have not been a part of the Christian subculture. It is not ultimately going to help their own faith or someone else’s faith.

Without realizing it our ministries we often encourage kids/youth to lead a double life – one life at church/youth group and another life at home, school and in their neighbourhoods.
We encourage this advertently or inadvertently
by only celebrating what happens in our ministry not in the community,
by encouraging kids/youth to only hang-out with Christians,
by talking about issues that are irrelevant to the rest of the world,
by encouraging them to miss out on other events/sports for the sake of the ministry,
by labelling certain things “bad” without nuance or discussion etc.
What if instead we celebrated kids/youth being the light in the world and equipped them to live their faith everyday, everywhere?

Here is my hope:
We would be leaders, mentors and parents that support and equip our youth/kids to know how to live in the real world, prepared for complexities and challenges.
Often kids/youth are in better positions than us to join God’s work in the world. They are a part of the culture and have lots of connections in their neighbourhoods. IF they have been prepared to recognize God’s work around them and have been given the tools and encouragement to engage thoughtfully with the real world, watch out world! We’ll see them join God’s transformative work in the places where they live, work, study and play.

My prayer is our youth/kids would…
• be in the world and know how to reflect Jesus in the world.
• be in the world, but know how to think rightly about what is going on. They’d be able to discern what is reflecting the messed up, distorted part of our fallen world and what is reflecting God’s goodness in the world.
• be in the world, but asking the tough questions.
• be in the world, knowing their deepest, truest identity is as a child of God.
• be in the world, showing and telling the Gospel in today’s culture
• be in the world as God’s light in places where they live, work, study and play.

Let me give one example of how we can equip kids/youth with tools to do this.
One big area that can lend itself to these conversations is media.
It is estimate that teens spend an average of 9 hours/day on media!

In talking to kids/youth about this I’ve stolen a line from Walt Mueller and talked about “using your head to guard your heart” (Here’s a great resource from him.)
Rather than mindlessly absorbing the messages coming at us, we talk about stopping and examining the messages coming to us in ads, songs, TV shows, movies, tweets, Instagram pictures, facebook feeds, YouTube video, snapchat… and compare it to God and God’s ways.

Look at an ad, YouTube video or song together and talk about it.
Ask these questions:
1. What’s the main message/topic?
2. How does the video/song/post/media make the person watching it feel?
3. Are they trying to make you feel, act, think, talk or live a certain way? What are they suggesting?
4. Are they suggesting a certain way to happiness/fulfilment?
5. How’s that line-up with who you are?
6. How’s the line-up with who God is and God’s best?
You could add more questions.

A song that is getting old now (2004), but it helpful, is “Cult of Cool” by the O.C. Supertones. It is a Christian song talking about not letting consumerism suck you in and make you believe its lies. Playing this song and giving kids/youth the lyrics can lead to an interesting discussion! (See the lyrics here)

One more resources – here is a youth group lesson about social media from the “Ministry to Youth” website. 

Friends, leaders, parents – help kids and youth be thoughtful engagers in this world!
We believe God is using kids/youth to join Him in changing neighbourhoods!

-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood

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Millennials value authenticity. So what?

I have heard for a while now that millennials (born 1980-2000) highly value authenticity, transparency and vulnerability. I’ve been pondering with some others (like the group of millennials that make up my advisory team, the Y&F Working Group, and our millennial summer student) what this means. Here are some of our thoughts.

• Millennials aren’t staying away from church because they’re not interested in spiritual things. They are staying away because the church doesn’t jive with their values. They highly value authenticity in themselves. Rather than “hang-out” somewhere or with a group of people that don’t match their values, they stay away.

• Gimmicks won’t work with millennials. They see right through them and are suspicious of churches. They are watching for any hint of bait and switches from the start. The free gift for filling out the visitor card will just make them want to fill out the visitor card less. Just give them the real reason, the WHY, behind why they should fill in the visitor card, give money, be a part of an event…

• Millennials get excited (expressing itself in multiple hashtags or Instagram pictures of them jumping up in the air) when a group of people start making a real difference in the world. Hmmm….didn’t Jesus come bringing His Kingdom that rights wrongs, heals brokenness, corrects injustices and frees the oppressed.

• If you don’t have places in your church for people to find safe, authentic community where they can be real with each other about life, millennials won’t stick around long.

• Millennials like to know they are getting the real you, especially if you are one of the upfront leaders. Share yourself, share stories and be vulnerable – from the stage, on social media and in community. It has stuck with me that a millennial told me they were at a leadership event where they were talking to one of the “known”, key leaders. They’d asked this key leader how they were doing and they responded with an over the top “Great…” explaining how well things were going. This millennial said they were two steps away when that key leader started saying to someone else how tired they were in this season. That was all it took for that millennial to be completely turned off that leader.

• Millennials are open to intergenerational relationships that talk about real life and where they can see real life lived out. They are not just looking to hang out with their own age group, but especially value spending time with anyone that will listen, value their thoughts and opinions and be vulnerable back.

• Millennials value experiences, because experiences are authentic. You are experiencing the thrill/emotion/newness for yourself and no one can take that away.

• Millennials look for character, especially in their leaders. Character is revealed over time as they see their leaders in various situations and settings. In a class I teach to both undergrad and graduate students (mostly millennials in the class), I set-up a debate arguing for either competence or character in leadership. While the obvious answer is we absolutely need both, it was clear the millennials highly valued character.

• Millennials are interested in getting to know the real Jesus, not the Jesus constructed by an institution. They want to see a Jesus that works and makes a significant difference here and now.

Church is completely foreign to most millennials, and so can feel inauthentic because it is so outside their normative experience.

Help us out – what are the implications of these things? How do we use this awareness to connect with millennials?

-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood

who-are-millennials

(Source: Odyssey)

8 reasons you should get your kids & youth involved with camp

I grew up going to camp, camping with my family and then working at camps. When I think back to summers they are filled with memories of campfire songs, canoe tipping adventures, leadership lessons learned on a long hike up a mountain, swatting blackflies and deep conversations as the last embers from a fire burned out.

Here are 8 reasons to get your kids & youth involved with camp – whether you are a parent, youth leader, pastor or someone that wants to invest wisely in the next generation.

1. Camp gets personal – Camp allows an opportunity for a kid’s faith to become their own, as they are away from their parents, home church and usual environment. They are encouraged to listen for and respond to God in fresh ways for themselves.

2. Camp is a confidence builder – At camp you are thrown into trying new activities encouraged to use your gifts and skills in new ways. Without parents and siblings there, kids have to figure it out for themselves and dig deep to find their own inner strength. Kids receive lots of support and encouragement from staff as they try out their independence in new ways.

3. Camp is a memory creator – Stories and experiences from camp stick. Talk to anyone that went to camp as a kid and they will still have stories to tell and lessons to shared from camp.

4. Camp invites simplicity – In today’s complex world camp is a great get away. It allows the space and environment for kids/youth to reconnect with creation, with others, and with God.

5. Camp provides role models – Camp staff are amazing people for kids to look up to as they see faith lived out within the day-to-day community of camp.

6. Camp promotes community – Camp is an accelerated bonding experience. I’ve seen so many kids arrive on the first day of camp unsure, shy, feeling like they don’t know any one and then by the end of the camp they have a best friend(s) for life. Parents/leaders we need to find ways to help these kids/youth continue these connections after camp and have community all year long with others who are exploring Jesus.

7. Camps rock at leadership development – Camps are always identifying kids, youth and young adult who can be leaders. They give these young leaders amazing training from a young age, give them real practice in trying out their leadership skills and mentor them along the way. Camps are exceptional incubators for leadership development.

8. Camps are an amazing deal – Seriously, they provide: food, cabins, programming, activities (amazing ones) and spiritual influence every day. Camps do a lot with our money.

Next week I’m speaking at one our camps and I can’t wait to be back at camp!
In Atlantic Canada there are 14 CABC camps spread around our four provinces. You can find the list of camps with a link to each of their websites HERE.
There are lots of other great camps too.

Ok, as a bonus for those of you who have read to the very end of this blog, I will let one of my camp stories out of the bag. I have ended up with a few nicknames over the years, one is “Bulldozer.” This nickname emerged after a camp retreat with some youth. Some of our girls invented a new camp game. You know the slippery, pee proof mattresses they tend to have at camps? They are really slippery, especially on laminate click flooring! The invented game was to run the first part of the hallway with the mattress in your hands and then to jump onto the mattress seeing how far down the hallway you could slide. The person to make the mattress go the furthest would be the winner. Now, I have a competitive streak that I know I have to keep in check. With the youth spurring me on, I lined up to take my turn intent on getting the record for the farthest mattress slide. The youth were all watching, their faces peeking out of the dorm rooms that lined the hallway. I gave it my all, starting my sprint down the hallway. Just then one of our sweet youth, who happens to be of small stature, stepped out into the hallway. Here is where the version of the story differ. I recall sticking my arm out to protect the youth from a head-on collision with me. The youths’ recollection is me pushing the youth out of the way, so nothing would get in the way of my mattress run. In either version the youth went flying backwards, landing on her back. Thankful she was ok, no injuries. From that moment forward the youth started calling me “Bulldozer.” For the record, I did not win the mattress slide competition. I did learn important lessons that day about letting youth invent games & lead, about the strength of my competitive nature and about humility each time I’m called “Bulldozer.”

Create your own memories and nicknames – get to camp!

-Renée (a.k.a. Bulldozer) @r_embree #1neighbourhood

3 Reasons Why I love Springforth and Why You Should Too

SPRINGFORTH 2016 PROMO from Atlantic Baptist Churches (CABC) on Vimeo.

If you have been following any of our CABC Youth and Family social media you know that our biggest event of the year, Springforth, is happening this weekend… and I am jazzed. I’ve been part of the planning team for 8 years and every year it gets better. Here are 3 reasons why I love Springforth and why you should too.

1. It’s just fun.

Whoa Andrew! That doesn’t sound very spiritual! Cool your jets friend. Springforth at its core is to introduce youth to the love, grace and truth of Jesus Christ. But who said you can’t have fun while doing it? Deep meaningful relationships are key for youth to experience Christ and many times those relationships start around just having fun.

2. It’s a great “zoom out” button.

When I use my GPS I often use the “zoom out” button. I can get by with Siri giving me directions at the street level, but l enjoy seeing the entire route from point A to Point B because it gives me context. Springforth gives context. Many times we cant see and forget all that God is doing across Atlantic Canada. Springforth is a place where youth can see they are part of a larger narrative.

3. It has your neighbourhood in mind.

God is on a mission to bring all things under the rule and reign of Jesus, including your youth and the neighbourhoods they live in. Whether its through the amazing speakers, the powerful worship, the relationships that are built, or hearing hearing the gospel for the first time, we want Springforth to be a catalyst. Its a catalyst for youth and youth leaders to join God’s mission in changing Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time.

I’m excited for Springforth but more excited to see our youth saturate Atlantic Canada with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

6 Common Myths about Small Groups for Youth and Children

Myth 1 – Children/youth can’t lead their own small groups

The truth is, children and youth can absolutely lead a group of their peers. Often peer lead groups build trust and meaningful discussion faster because the leader clearly understands the world of their peers. Yes, these younger leaders need adult support and encouragement. We had our middle schoolers leading small groups of their peers at youth group and they took a high level of ownership of these groups – praying for them, bringing in a treat for their group, connecting outside of youth group and investing in growing as a leader for their group. We had short training sessions for these young leaders on topics like how to deal with difficult people in your small group, how to encourage everyone to share, how to get your group praying, and how to care for each other in your group. Kids and youth lead small groups all the time at school, in clubs and on sports teams. We’ve got to give them opportunities to lead groups in the church too!

Myth 2 – The small group leader needs all the answers

The truth is, the role of the small group leader is much more as a coach or facilitator, than that of a teacher. The main teaching part can take place in large group time. The small group time is about helping people apply the Bible to their real, everyday lives (more on this later.) Therefore the small group leader doesn’t need all the answer, what the need to be able to do is listen and ask good open ended questions (or be given good questions to ask.) The 80/20 rule applies. The group participants should be doing 80% of the talking and the leader should be doing 20% or less of the talking.

Myth 3 – Small groups should focus on the Bible Story/Scripture

The truth is the Bible Story/Scripture gets presented most often during the large group time (opening/devo/sermon…). Small groups invite people to take the more abstract story and think it through with others who can help them apply it to their real life today. Small groups are about application, in the context of relationships. Kids/Youth grow with a leader they know. Small groups are a place where the leader and participants can take a genuine interest in each other lives. Small groups are the place to ask every time, “Where did you see God at work, this week, in your neighbourhoods (the places where you live, work, study and play)?” This allows kids and youth to get use to recognizing God’s work around them and through them. It helps them see God’s truth is meant to be applied and lived out. Small Groups push us towards application.

Myth 4 – The large group teaching time is more important than the small group time for kids

The truth is both are important, however kids/youth five years from now, or even next week, are more likely to remember the relationships built, support received, and applications discussed during their small group then they’ll remember the fantastic point you made in the teaching time. Small group time shows we value community and that life is not done in isolation.

Myth 5 – Kids/youth lives are easy, so small group time will be simple

The truth is if your small group time is simple, you’re missing getting to really know your kids/youth and the messiness of their lives. Kids and youth lives are complicated. There is no such thing as a trivial problem. If the kid/youth perceives it as a problem, it’s worth talking about together. Small groups for kids/youth are just as messy as adult small groups and can be a place where God teaches us how to show grace, love and support for others. Give time for kids/youth to get to know each other in the small group – share names, likes/dislikes, highs and lows in their life, celebrate joys, lament disappointments, share challenges… They will open up about their lives and struggles. Teach kids/youth to support, encourage and pray for each other in their small groups. These things are much more difficult to do, especially on a relational level, in a large group. Small group environments create space to sort through the messiness of our lives.

Myth 6 – Small Groups can’t change neighbourhoods

The truth is small groups of kids/youth are changing neighbourhoods in Atlantic Canada! They are finding ways to be good news in their schools, joining in welcoming new refugees to Canada, supporting kids affected by HIV/Aids to go to Kamp Tumaini, starting anti-bullying campaigns, partnering with the poor in fight poverty, starting Alpha groups in their schools, building relationships with lonely seniors, welcoming new people that move into the neighbourhood around their church, welcoming stranger to their group and much more. If kids, youth, children’s ministry and youth ministries are going to join God’s mission in our neighbourhoods in Atlantic Canada they’ve got to have groups where they can wrestle with what that means and how to live out the ways of Jesus every day. Furthermore, small groups can be powerful forces when they join their efforts to show and tell the Gospel in the neighbourhoods where they live, work, study and play. God is on mission and we join Him on that mission every day.

-Renée
@r_embree

Why we still need Youth Pastors in 2016

In the 1980’s and 1990’s a lot of churches hired Youth Pastors, often with pure and great motives, but also with underlying hopes that this Youth Pastor would be their “saviour” – growing the church, pleasing parents, and attracting a younger generation.
I’m sad to see in this current day era, where finances tend to be a little tighter and in some cases parents are less vocal (often because parents aren’t in the church either any more), youth pastor positions are disappearing or being squished into part-time hours or part-time responsibility in an ever increasing job description.
This concerns me greatly.
We need Youth Pastors!
Not to be a saviour. Not to attract (that doesn’t work so well any more). But…
We need people who will lead us in connecting with this younger generation!
We need people who will lead us in showing and telling the Gospel in relevant ways to this younger generation!
We need people that are inviting the church to ask the tough questions of whether we are truly making new disciples and remind us why the church exists today.
If anything the gap between the younger generation and the majority of our church cultures has gotten much wider and we need Pastor who will help us and lead us in bringing that gap.

Here are eight important reasons we need Youth Pastors today:

1. To help us engage in relevant ways with the culture today. Churches need help to understand and engage the culture. Youth Pastor must keep up on culture, trends and influences to understand the younger generation. They can help your church know how to stay relevant and apply God’s Word to meet people where they are today and invite them onward with Jesus. Youth Pastor train adults, youth leaders and all of us in the church to engage well and meaningfully with today’s culture.

2. To lead us in connecting with the younger generation. Youth Pastors can be our bridge builders between generations, helping us to understand each other. They can be bridge builders between parents and youth, helping parents understand their youth, youth culture and how to connect faith to their youth’s real life, every day. Youth Pastors are not meant to do the work of sharing the Gospel with youth and discipling youth for us, they are to lead us into doing that work together. Youth Pastors are to equip us and lead us into the culture, not do all the work for us. Youth ministry is not meant to be a silo of the church, but part of the body of Christ, with inclusion and bridges between generations in the church being the rule. Youth Pastors are connectors.

3. To be translators for us, articulating the Gospel in ways the younger generation will grasp and understand. The Gospel doesn’t change but the method and ways we present it and share it changes, it has to, to make sure it is truly understood. Youth Pastors help us re-articulate and re-package the Gospel for today’s younger generation. And then they can help us see where we are using “insider” language or old language that is not understood.

4. To create an environment where youth can explore Jesus. Youth Pastor create an environment where the younger generation can safely explore Jesus and His ways. Yes, this environment needs to look very different than your Sunday morning church service! It needs to. Please note, this isn’t a contradiction to the statement above, that Youth Pastors are not to do the work for us nor are they to be a silo. It’s a both/and situation. Youth Pastors, with their team, help create an environment for youth to explore Jesus, but they also build bridges to the wider church and community and train youth and adults to do the same. Youth Pastors create environments where students can explore Jesus and His ways.

5. To engage the younger generation with their tough questions. Today’s youth are faced with (or will be faced with, in their near future) tough questions about sexuality, tragedy, the validity of faith, end-of-life issues, relationships, decisions about the future, consumerism, media, multi-faiths etc. Youth Pastors help ensure there is a group of caring adults who are not avoiding these tough questions, but entering into these questions with youth. Youth Pastors need a robust theology, to lead us into engaging youth with their tough questions. (This is also part of the reason I’m a strong advocate for Youth Pastors having seminary training. Full disclosure, I also work a percentage of my time for Acadia Divinity College.)

6. To lead the Church forward now. Youth Pastor invite youth to use their leadership skills and gifts now. We need youth to help the church move forward and flourish in being the body of Christ in our churches’ neighbourhoods. With the support of Youth Pastors and mentors youth are leading the church now, if we listen and let them. Youth Pastor develop and support young leaders.

7. To continue the work of making disciples of all nations, all ages. The job is definitely not done. There are 340,400 children between the ages of 0 and 14 in Atlantic Canada. Our job is not done. There are many youth and children out there who don’t know the real Jesus and His invitation and what it’s like to be a child in His Kingdom. Sorry churches, but a lot of what you are currently doing will never reach them. Youth Pastor can train youth to reach their peers and create an environment that’s conducive for the younger generation to explore Jesus.

8. To help us innovate as a Church. Youth Pastors often have more freedom to experiment with ministry. They can try new things with the younger generation without the same scrutiny of trying something new with the older (or all) generations. Churches can learn from the younger generation and their experiments of doing community, being the church, worship, format, using media and much more.

Pat your Youth Pastor on the back today, they have a tough job. Let them know you appreciate them.
Don’t have a Youth Pastor? Pat your volunteer youth leader on the back today, they are trying to do this vital and important job in their spare time!
Don’t a Youth Pastor or Volunteer Youth Leader? Let’s chat!

You know, some churches are deciding the Youth Pastor role needs to be full-time, while the Senior Pastor role is part-time. I’m just saying.

I am thankful for our professional, passionate, dedicated Youth Pastors in Atlantic Canada.
We need them!
Value them churches!

Share your thoughts below.
-Renée @r_embree

Advice from a young adult on being a welcoming church

Today we have a guest post from a University student, Sara Appleby, who captured for us her impressions of visiting churches. Spoiler alert: sometimes the things we’re doing that we think are helpful are not that helpful!
She’s got great advice for us as we welcome people to our communities.

Here’s Sara…

My name is Sara and I love going to church! I like seeing how different churches do things, and how they spread their joys and passions to those around them. However, one thing I have noticed about churches is that being in my late twenties and a single person can make it seem difficult to find meaningful ways to get connected at a new church. I decided to informally do a social experiment to see how churches interact with new people/visitors on a Sunday morning.

From September to December 2015 I attended a different church each week in Moncton, NB. I took notes of each church, but they went beyond “Were people friendly to me?” because, frankly, that should be an automatic thing in church. I would like to share my generalized findings with you. Please know that I did this out of a love for the church as a whole as I want to see churches continue to grow and increase their reach into the community. They are listed in no particular order, so please don’t think that what I list as number one is more important than number five.

As a side note, any time I use the phrase “at the front” I am referring to anyone that addresses the congregation whether a pastor, worship leader, or someone making announcements.

1. Individuals who have the role of being a greeter at a church entrance play a vital role in the overall experience of a visitor. If you find yourself in that role, here are my suggestions to help facilitate a positive experience. Engage individuals that you suspect may be new / that you do not know, but don’t over engage. Perhaps ask a few general questions, or comment that you are glad they decided to come to church that morning. Leave it at that, unless that person has questions. One church I visited, the greeter overwhelmed me to the point that I wanted to leave. She started by asking introductory questions, which is good, but then she kept introducing me to several people and suggesting places I sit etc. After the service, she hugged me good bye. I’m an introvert that dislikes hugs, especially from people I don’t know. Maybe I am alone in that, but I doubt that I am. So engage, but don’t over do it.

2. Anyone at the front should introduce themselves. Visitors that are seeking a church home typically like to know who people are, and who they should talk to if they would like to get involved. Video announcements are a great idea. If your church has gone that route, ensure you have each person’s name (and maybe job title if applicable) on the screen as they are speaking. Include a specific welcome to new people. It helps us to feel noticed, and make sure that anything directed at them is clear. If you ask visitors to stop by the “Welcome Centre”, ensure it is easy to find and marked as such. It is really helpful to have signs up directing individuals around the church to places such as a Welcome Centre, offices and washrooms.

3. Explain what is going on! For example, to a non-church person, communion is really weird and potentially uncomfortable. Please explain what communion is, why and how you are going to do it BEFORE passing out the elements of communion. Rarely, at the churches I visited, did anyone explain what the purpose of communion was beforehand. Also, it was never explained that communion is meant for believers. Communicate to the congregation that they shouldn’t feel like they have to participate if they don’t feel as though they are in a place spiritually to be a part of this. I also suggest explaining the offering beforehand, and again letting visitors know they shouldn’t feel obligated to give.

4. Having a guest fill out a visitor card seems common practice, and I generally like the idea. What is done after one is filled out though? Sometimes when I handed one in, I received a welcome gift, usually a mug, filled with information about the church. The information was usually helpful, but including a gift is a bit odd and, to an extent, unnecessary. I have so many mugs from various events and companies that I don’t know what to do with them all. One church that I have attended does something different, and I LOVE the concept. For each visitor card they receive, they donate $5 to the local homeless shelter. Awesome! It made me want to fill out a card, and it is an excellent way for the church to reach out to the community!
Along side of that, is there any follow up to the visitor cards? Sometimes I received an email, occasionally a text message, a phone call, or no follow up at all. Personally, I think email is the best option. Text messages are impersonal and annoying to reply to, phone calls may be awkward. Emails allow the visitor to know you appreciated them coming, they are professional and personable, and enables them to reply if they have questions.

5. I like church bulletins! It is something people can take home with them so they can remember upcoming events at the church if they are wanting to participate more than just a Sunday morning. Please include contact information to allow easy follow up for visitors. Many bulletins I saw said “Talk to Nancy about joining a small group”. Great, who is Nancy? How do I find her? Include an email address and/or phone number.

6. Finally, please make sure church websites are up to date and accurate! On some websites that I visited it would say “Join us at 11:00 for worship”, but then in another part of the website it would say “Sunday services begin at 10:45”. Which is it? Most websites also include information about available kids programs, parking areas and directions. Those are great! Keep up the great work with that!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this! I hope that it has helped you to honestly evaluate how your church does with regard to welcoming visitors and new people.
-Sara Appleby

Thank you Sara for helping us! This is great advice. That’s a brilliant idea to donate money to a local cause when visitor cards are handed in.

Add your comments and thoughts below – how do you like to be welcomed at a new church? What things can churches do to connect with new people?

-Renée @r_embree