(pictured L to R: Bob Merritt, Amy Anderson, Dale Peterson, Scott Anderson, and Jason Anderson) Thursday of this past week I had the opportunity to attend the 2006 Relevance Conference put on by Eagle Brook Church of Lino Lakes, MN. Eagle Brook is technically now a multi-site church, as it still has services and other on-goings at it's original White Bear Lake campus as well. The conference was wonderful. While there was no bad part, the part that really hit me the most was the times of corporate worship led by Matt Berry and Steve Duede, along with a band and worship team singers. I am constantly amazed at the collection of talent that has assembled at Eagle Brook Church. They would be the first to tell you that they are fortunate to have either Matt or Steve, and they have both. As I have stated on this blog before, they use mutiple elements to create a wonderful experience during their times of worship. First, the sound is without peer. It's clear wherever you sit. No echos or muddied sounds. The highs are crisp, and the lows rumble out of their generous subwoofers. Second, they use lighting better than any other church I have been in. Everything from simply raising and lowering lights, to colored lights and focused lighting to set a mood appropriate for the musical selection. Third, the musical selection is always incredibly well chosen. Fourth, the skill of the musicians is astounding. Fifth, they play for an audience of One. What they are doing reaches people in deep and meaningful ways. Most churches are simply satisfied with hoping the music doesn't drive people away.

The idea of the Relevance Conference is for Eagle Brook to share with surrounding churches what they are doing and what has and has not worked. They do this very openly to help build up neighboring churches, with the mindset that churches are NOT in competition with each other. I agree, and appreciate their investment of time, talent and finances to see this through. They share with whoever comes, answering whatever questions you might have. It is their hope that you can take things from the conference and modify them to fit your setting. They aren't telling you how to replicate what they are doing, this is not a "buy our program" type of event. The leadership team (pictured above) all present different sessions throughout the day, meaning you get to hear from the very top level people, the ones making decisions and effecting change in the church. A very good value for $40 (I think that is what registration was anyhow).

The first session of the day was led by Scott Anderson, the Executive Director of Operations. Scott's talk was titled "Can we paint that?" He gave some very good insights into how to go about making changes in a church (or really anywhere for that matter). His key point was that people need to understand the "why" if you are going to be able to make the needed changes. You have to discern if it is the right decision, if it is the right time for the change, and then get your stakeholders buy in before rolling the change out. To shortcut any of those steps can be disasterous.

The second session was Dale Peterson talking on "Can we do that?" Dale is the Exectuvie Pastor of Ministries, and he directly oversees the White Bear Lake campus on weekends. He talked about reducing the "whack-factor"- the unexpected part of change or of the impact of change. Dale went over the prioritization of beliefs, then values, purpose, mission, strategy, and goals all building one each other. He harped on the fact that you never change your beliefs and values, but that your strategy and goals will be constantly evolving. Dale also spoke about creating ownership in the people of your church, and that without that, you will struggle to accomplish anything of lasting significance.

The third session was led by Amy Anderson, Executive Director of Worship Ministries. Amy's talk was likely the most immediately impactful of the day because her topic was very concrete things. She spoke on "Can we see that?" and the main thrust of her session was figuring out where we can improve our weekends as churches. Can we improve in quality, creativity and relevance? We must. She highlighted 4 areas – video and media, music, technical area, and production. The one thing that she said that probably created the largest "stir" in those in attendance was the fact that at EBC they NEVER have more than 3 announcements from the stage. I didn't sit in on her break out session later in the day, but I would guess she fielded a number of questions covering that. I agree with all of what she said, and I appreciate the level of quality that EBC has on weekends. Their standards are higher anywhere else I know of, and it shows in every area of their worship services. They have grown over 3000 people in the past 4 months. This is not an ego thing for them, they don't run around bragging about this, but clearly God is moving in signficant ways in this church. The weekend worship services are so outstanding that people are nearly begging their unsaved friends, co-workers and family members to come to church with them. How many churches could benefit from this?

The fourth session was led by Senior Pastor Bob Merritt. Bob spoke about the four things that their staff have intentionally worked on to increase the effectiveness of their messages. His first point was that they have raised the risk factor in their messages. They don't shy away from things that will offend people, because the Gospel is offensive in its very nature. There is simply something about the truth that will offend people, and the Bible is Truth with a capital "T". His second point was that they insist that there be humor in all of their messages. It causes people to let their guard down, it disarms them. It gives you permission to deliver hard truth that people would otherwise be shut up against. The third point was to search for story. In our media driven age with very short attention spans, people connect well with story. Furthermore, it is the form Jesus primarily chose to communicate, and we likely can't improve on what Jesus has done! They use what they call "topositional messages" which combine both topics and expositional development of the topics. The fourth point was that every sermon gets the imput of a team as it is being developed. They get together on Monday afternoons after the person has been writing the sermon all morning and brainstorm off of what has been developed to that point. They come up with illustrations, stories, quotes, songs and video clips to name just a few things. These are drawn on by the sermon writer to create a better message. There are a few subsequent spots of refinement, but this is a key one to their sermon writing process. I can vouch that this system is really working, they are crafting some excellent messages.

The fifth and final session was Jason Anderson speaking on how they are stepping out in faith as individuals, as a team and as a church, and how God has been blessing them for that. The remainder of Jason's session was a Q&A with the full leadership team, with questions coming from the audience. From that came the info that their target audience on weekends are people who have a church background but have left the church somewhere in the past, and those who have never been in the church, balanced with those aready in the church (erroring on the side of the seeker). They discussed how they out source all counseling beyond pre-marital counseling to nearby Christian counseling services. They also staff their church in such a way that people are able to get breaks. They all work long and hard, and they need time off to recharge and reconnect. Another important thought that came out of that session was the idea that we as leaders need to create a "stop doing list" if we are ever going to regain or create margin in our own lives. We must prioritize and pare things down to increase our overall effectiveness.

The day ended with breakout sessions, where I was in with the church Leadership people (primarily Sr. Pastors) where Bob Merritt, Jason Anderson, and board member Duane Vik primarily answered questions and added in more info on a few points from earlier presentations.

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