Improving the Part of Your Ministry You Cannot See or Hear

by Cal LeMon

In your ministry, you know when you sound good, look good, and produce good results. You can consult a mirror, watch a DVD, or scan attendance and financial records. You know the in-your-face facts do not lie. But there is another part of your ministry that may remain ethereal and elusive.

In business, we call it the corporate culture or the buzz. In education they refer to it as the learning environment. And in the church, this sightless commodity has no name. We just know when it is present, and especially when it is noticeably absent.

I call it the Palpable Positive Presence (PPP).

Pinning Down the Palpable Positive Presence

In his book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel carefully examines the nonvisual aspects of doing business. In commenting on the Whole Foods grocery store chain, Hamel pulls apart the company’s mission statement (which is titled a Declaration of Interdependence) and treats his readers to the company’s secret, silent, and sightless weapon-of-choice when confronting its competitors … constantly working at creating value for customers.

This pragmatically means Whole Foods employees are constantly examining and replenishing their fresh produce and dairy products. In a Whole Foods store nothing can appear to be wilted, withered, or dated. If so, they immediately discard that particular item.

The ultimate result of providing value for the Whole Foods customer is this: Every employee must come to work committed and engaged every business day … and every day. In other words, there is a buzz in the air that freshness is never compromised by anyone at Whole Foods. And, their customers come in droves to savor their fanatical commitment to freshness.

If you have read books like What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, The Southwest Airlines Way by Jody Hoffer Gittell, and The Starbucks Experience by Joseph A. Michelli you know about the Palpable Positive Presence when it comes to making money. Companies that have significant face time with customers and are intent on being No. 1 are committed to PPP. They have no choice. When you are not the only show in town, it is essential that you distinguish yourself from your nipping competitors by establishing an interior atmosphere that makes second place impossible.

So what about your ministry? Do the members of your staff, congregation, board, faculty, janitors, nursery volunteers, or your whatever communicate a Palpable Positive Presence to those who receive your ministries?

Your immediate response to this question will probably be a resounding yes. I am not questioning the veracity of your answer. What I am questioning is whether or not any of us, who often have our personal identity wrapped tightly around our ministry, can be the honest arbiter of whether or not PPP marks our expression of the body of Christ.

Three Questions to Detect the PPP in Your Ministry

Since the Palpable Positive Presence always results in more business for Toyota, Apple computers, or Nordstrom department stores, the conclusion must follow that when the interior atmosphere is right, the marketplace will expand.

So, the first question for your ministry is, “Is there numerical growth?”

The textual touchstone for Pentecostals is obviously the dramatic and visceral account of the violent wind that crashed through the Upper Room and resulted in the attendees speaking the “wonders of God” in languages they had never learned.

The end result of this headline-grabbing event was: “Those who accepted his (Peter’s) message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). The atmosphere was palpable with a divine invitation to become the Church.

Throughout the centuries the church has written long lists of all the factors that muzzle the declaration of the good news (spiritual competitors, the weather, the government, the spirit of the age, etc.) but none of these factors seem potent enough to keep the church from spontaneously growing when the Palpable Positive Presence of God shows up.

The second question follows on the heels of the first, “Is your best evangelism methodology the irresistible witness of the redeemed?” For the church to grow from the inside out, the word-of-mouth methodology will become a natural public relations asset.

How many times have you heard, “You just have to take a ride in the new Z6 BMW. You will not believe the ride and quality of this car.” Or, “Have you tried Starbucks’ Americano with two shots? Now that is a cup of java.”

The buzz between satisfied customers always trumps a $50,000 print ad in the New York Times. If we bump into confirmed believers who gush with their affection for a particular product, their endorsement is always the best advertisement. When there is Palpable Positive Presence in your ministry, the changed lives will always be showing potential new believers through the front door.

The final question to determine the efficacy of the Palpable Positive Presence in your ministry is, “Are the adherents asking for more?”

“More what?” you ask.

More opportunities to be engaged.

You hear it all the time, “We are so busy. Sorry, we cannot help right now.” With iPhone immediacy, our lives move to the beat of new drummers who tweet, scan, and download their way through another exhausting day.

And, at the same time, we admit we always have time for our passion (mountain biking, surfing the Net, soccer practice, international travel, etc.). The legacy of participating in a ministry marked by Palpable Positive Presence is a large appetite for more exegesis of God’s Word, more venues to give away God’s grace, and more time to celebrate Christ among us.

The Pragmatics of the Palpable Positive Presence

The Palpable Positive Presence can be episodic in a worship setting. There are those moments when the Holy Spirit drives us to our knees as we suddenly whisper to each other, “We are on very holy ground.” I am also convinced the Palpable Positive Presence becomes the buzz in a ministry when churches follow the following disciplines:

First, churches create PPP when there is a determined effort to keep the language in its spiritual community positive.

Here is an assignment: Have someone put in hard copy the verbiage spoken during a public worship event. How many times were the words not, never, cannot, difficult, except, We don’t do that here, I cannot help you unless … and We are not that type of.

What is the reward for returning to a community that spends the majority of its time and energy wagging a finger in a face telling people what they absolutely cannot do?

Second, we augment the PPP by positive facial cues and the legitimacy of laughter. Arrange with a parishioner or friend to video tape your leadership in a public ministry setting. Remember, this could be a worship service, leading a monthly elder meeting, teaching a class, etc. Sit in a room by yourself and turn on the video but mute the audio. What are the emotional messages your face and body are communicating? Oh, and to keep you humble, invite someone who loves you to also evaluate your nonverbal messages. After observing the videotape, are you a resonant person who draws people in and makes your presentation irresistible?

Third, Palpable Positive Presence is the direct result of refreshing your relationship with your God, whom you represent.

The best sermons are the ones that the preacher first preached to himself.

Francis Schaeffer in his infamous book The Mark of the Christian,constantly reminds his reader the world is looking for Christians who have personally stood at the mouth of the empty, gaping tomb and found a future. The buzz, atmosphere, and presence will always be palpable when the messenger has first experienced the message.

The Power of What You Do Not See or Hear

Do you remember Circuit City, Washington Mutual Bank, Lehman Brothers Investment Bank, your grandfather’s Oldsmobile? The landscape of American commerce is pockmarked with empty dreams that failed, not because of what someone saw, but what remained invisible. And, when these companies figured out they needed to decipher the silent messages they were receiving from their marketplace, it often was too late. The same principle is true for the church.

There is immense power, both positive and negative, in what you do not see or hear in your ministry. The Palpable Positive Presence of God is the ultimate attractor and sustainer of our ministries. What initiatives do you need to take today to make sure the Palpable Positive Presence arrives before your congregation walks in?