Welcoming New Families: An Interview with Danny Franks

As I began my new position as Pastor of Connection at the Journey--Tower Grove in January, I began looking for resources on how to do my new role. Jared encouraged me to check out a blog by Danny Franks. Danny had just opened an invitation to participate in a unique training opportunity called Confab. I signed up, and in February I had the opportunity to meet Danny and his amazing team. Over the next several months, 11 other people and I read books together and learned how to create a more welcoming experience at our churches. Danny is a great teacher and more importantly a godly man. So, I asked Danny if he would be willing to answer a few questions for the readers of Gospel Centered Family. Here's what we talked about:

Jeff: Tell me a little about your family. 

Danny: I'm just a few months shy of celebrating my 25 year anniversary with my high school sweetheart. Merriem is without a doubt my better half... the perfect complement in life, parenting, ministry, you name it. We have four kids: Jacob is 21 and Austin is 20... both are in leadership at a local Chick-fil-A. Jase is 15 and a high school sophomore. Haven is six and about to start second grade, which--to hear her tell it--is a Really Big Deal. 

Jeff: Would you mind describing your role and the context of your church?

Danny: I started at the Summit in 2003 with a one-sentence job description: I was to close the back door in a rapidly growing church. My first task was to develop our membership class and structure a few opportunities to plug in. Through the years I've held different roles from small groups guy to campus pastor, but my favorite (and current) role is that of guest services: I oversee those systems at all of our campuses and for any events. 

Jeff: Why do you have a passion for people connecting? 

Danny: When I was interviewing for my job - and questioning with whether this was even a role for me - I remember hearing the story of a fringe attendee who had taken her own life. I didn't know the full story, but couldn't shake the feeling that it might not have happened had she felt known and loved. That's what I want: for the church to be a place where people believe we knew they were coming, we had a plan for when they showed up, and we can't wait for them to return. I want to pave the road to Jesus with so many kind words and actions, that people won't be able to resist asking how they can be a part of it.  

Jeff: What is one of the most common mistakes churches make when seeking to help guests feel welcome?

Danny: I think it comes down to simply not being aware. It's not that we don't recognize that we have guests, it's more often that we assume someone else is taking care of them. As inorganic as it sounds, we must systematize hospitality so that there are no more assumptions of care. We have to form a team, a strategy, and a follow up plan to move people from first-time to second-time guests. 

If there's a close second, it's that we lose the guest mentality. We forget to view our parking lot, our signage, our building, our language, and our traditions through the eyes of guests. What confuses them? Frightens them? Causes anxiety? Makes them curious? Angry? Aggravated? If we can simply remember how we feel in a new situation - whether it's at a job, in a restaurant, in a new neighborhood, or at the mall - we can apply that to about 95% of church situations and make our guests' experience better.

Jeff: Elaborate on that. How can we cultivate greater awareness of guests in our churches? 

Danny: It goes back to thinking from the mindset of a guest, looking at the situation through their eyes, and simply remembering that the ultimate goal is not to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31), but to "welcome others as Christ has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7). When we approach the guest experience from that perspective, it changes everything. 

It also helps us to not only form systematic approaches, but to have the impetus to live organic lives of hospitality. It allows us to lavish kindness and grace on people who are not like us, because we remember that we too were once outsiders. It gives us the chance to not just talk about the gospel with our words, but to demonstrate the gospel with our lives.

Jeff: How can churches help new families and kids feel welcome to a church? 

Danny: I'm convinced that if parents believe that their kids are safe, having fun, and (for parents who are already Christ followers) being exposed to the gospel, that is 90% of the battle. 

  • Safe: communicate your security procedures. Offer new parents a tour of your facility. Talk to them about drop off and pick up procedures, volunteer-to-kid ratios, etc.
  • Fun: is your kids' space colorful? Energetic? Are the leaders engaging? One of my favorite anecdotes from Disney history is that when the park in Anaheim was being constructed, Walt made his Imagineers strap on knee pads and "walk" the park from the perspective of a three year old. The effect - among others - was that windowsills were lowered so that kids could get in on the fun. Is your facility set up for kids or their parents?
  • Gospel: communicate the air war and ground war to parents. Air war is your overall strategy - the benchmarks that you will be hitting over the course of their child's life. Ground war is the takeaways that kids get each week: what is the one gospel truth you're instilling? 

Jeff: What are three books you would recommend for a church leader wanting to explore how to be more intentional in welcoming guests?

Danny: First Impressions by Mark WaltzBe Our Guest by Theodore Kinni,  and The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli

Jeff: What other ways would you recommend to help indiviudals and churches grow in helping people feel welcome? 

Danny: Get out of your church. I think we overlook opportunities to learn from other organizations and companies that are doing guest services well (and poorly!). The next time you're in a fast food restaurant, the mall, or a vacation destination, take note of what made you feel included and what made you feel left out, and practice (or avoid!) those things accordingly.

For more formal training, my team offers Weekenders (behind the scenes look at our guest services training and weekend experience), One-Day Workshops (targeted, practical training on guest services and volunteer culture), and Confab (a small coaching network for ministry practitioners). Find out more at dfranks.com/speaking.  

I'm grateful for Danny's willingness to answer my questions about connecting new families. What questions do you have? Leave your questions in the comments below.

Family Friday Links 7.21.17

Here's what we've found helpful online this week:

Trevin Wax wrote a post for The Gospel Coalition on the topic of parenting teens. He wrote, "From the moment we became parents, my wife and I have felt inadequate and unequipped to be parents. Now, at the threshold of a new stage of life, I am reminded that, just as we've had to do at every point until now, we must entrust our children to the Lord's care."  Trevin lists three fears he has entering this stage of parenting. Parents would do well to read this.

Scott Kedersha had a post on unmet expectations. He shares three reasons why unmet expectations lead to frustration and what to do about it. This is a great read for couples regardless of length of relationship.

Our friend, Marty Machowski, was interviewed by Tim Challies about writing for kid audience. With the publication of Dragon Seed, his first work of fiction, Marty is candid about the process from start to finish. Go read the interview and get Marty's books, they will aid in the spiritual enrichment of your family.

What have you been reading online this week? Leave a link in the comment section to check out.

Vacation... Not According To Plan

"This was the worst vacation, EVER!"

That's a quote from my son--his reflections on our recent vacation that was cut short after two days when my Mom, who lives with us and was with us and was on our trip, had medical issues that sent her to a hospital. The complications are still ongoing weeks later. Oh, and did I mention the hospital she's been in is a couple hour drive from the house? Yes it's true, I wouldn't make this up. Maybe the kid is right.

"Normal" got redefined for my family a couple years ago, when we bought a house big enough to accommodate us and my mom. It's been great having her with us. It's been a real win-win situation. But now it's time to switch gears. She going to need more than she's giving. My wife and I knew that going into this. It was part of the deal we signed up for.

For my wife and I, we felt convicted to buy a larger home and have mom move in with after my dad passed away. My mom, being and introvert, would have probably survived on her own, but she wouldn't have thrived. Even introverts need community. This arrangement gives my mom not only a sense of community but also a sense of purpose. While this type of arrangement is not a command of Scripture, it's certainly is a gospel implication. This arrangement allows us practical ways to demonstrate to gospel in everyday ways. She gets to see how the gospel is lived out. Because of this arrangement, we've had many conversations about a wide range of topics that we wouldn't have had otherwise.

So now, "normal" around our house is about to change. More than likely, at least in the initial stages of her recovery, mom shouldn't be left alone. This means my wife and I will have to change our work schedules to ensure one of us is there all the time. We will accompany her to all doctor appointments and follow ups to make certain we understand how to care for her and help her take care of herself. Basically we are going to get "all up in her business". We've gone so far as to set up a temporary (we hope) bedroom on the first floor of our house to keep her on the main level. All of this to best care for her. While there may be easier ways, we wouldn't have it any other way because we know this God's plan and we trust him.

We've been blessed in many ways by having mom with us. Now, it's our turn to be a blessing to her. Because this is what family does, it's takes care of each other. Just like God taking care those he adopted into his family. Just like the family of God does for each other.

Family Friday Links 7.14.17

Here's what we've been reading online this week:

Jen Thorn had a post entitled "When Jesus Isn't Enough". The title enough was enough to draw me in. She came to this realization when, "... that my heart has wandered to a place where Jesus isn’t enough. Where his providence is not appreciated and his goodness is doubted." We all can get to the same place and need to be reminded of all God has done our behalf.

Jason Allen had a post about sitting next to kids. Most adults find this can be annoying (even if they are our kids). Dr. Allen gives us seven reasons to put our preferences aside. This post is a helpful reminder for those churches that have kids in corporate worship (or a reason to have them there).

The ERLC (The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) had a post on talking to kids about sex. This is typically one of the hardest conversations parents have with their kids. It reads in part, "Children are exposed to sexually charged programming, information and contact at an increasingly earlier age. So, we need to be intentional in playing offense. If we play defense, we’ll have to deconstruct what they've heard first. We want to be the ones who frame how our kids see the world." (emphasis added) Parents, read this it's helpful. Pastors, pass this along to the parents in your church.

What have you been reading online this week? Leave us a link in the comment section to check out.