For Ones Who Dig In...With Wild Abandon!

"We started in the basement with no mirrors, no money, no sound system."
"We came from a very dangerous neighborhood where kids die daily." 
"We have been together for years and our bond is unbreakable." 

These are just a few of the introductions from the groups that come to compete for fame, money and validation on all the summer contest shows. From America's Got Talent to World of Dance, the dreamers show up and give it their all. 

And I love it! 
I love their passion. I love their commitment to the craft and most of all, to one another. 

I believe the church is the place where we should see this same drive and wild abandon from volunteers. Where people are so crazy about who Jesus is and their love for God that they cannot NOT do whatever it takes to serve others.

To show up with so much gratitude that grace pours out of every word, look or action.

To be brave enough to be vulnerable with their hurts and struggles that mercy floods into the lives of the people they serve. 

I know it's possible because I have seen it. I have experienced it. 

So here's a challenge to the local church.

Let's stop sitting on the bench while the other team, the enemy, is on the field and running up the score. We must not be afraid to speak the vision or plan with intentionality for the few who will not get it. 

There will always be those who choose to walk away.
                        John 6:66 "After this many of his disciples turned back
                                         and no longer walked with him."

But, oh....the ones who stay. The ones who dig in.

Let's find them and serve them and encourage them!
Because there are hurting people out there.
Let's find them, serve them and encourage them!

And God will do the heavy lifting and do what only He can and will do.

We just need to do our part.

Let's get out there and move that ball down the field! 


Why Bother?

This post is a special one because it's a joint venture with my new friend, Rebecca Carlisle. She is simply A M A Z I N G I N G and I cannot wait for you to meet her!!!! This gal is on fire for the world to know Jesus and you can learn more about Rebecca at her website here. We get to present at several workshops together (click here for more details)  to encourage the local church in the area of hospitality and volunteers. So Rebecca and I decided to bring our thoughts and experience in one blog - enjoy! (and's a little long but remember, there are two women talking here.)  

Hey there! 

We are two gals, Rebecca and Mary Ann, who formed a bond before we even met in person! We talked on the phone and knew right away that our passions were intertwined and that we must do ministry together!

We love Jesus and share the same heartbeat for the local church: church should be the absolutely best place on the planet where people know that are seen, heard, and wanted. However, our journey that has gotten us here has been so different! And every time we get together, we are in awe how it seems we have been together all along.

So, we are combining our thoughts, ideas and passions into this one space.

Sisters forever with our hearts beating for volunteers in the local church. Enjoy!

AND this is a conversation so we look forward to hearing what your “why” is! Share your story with us!

Someone once said “if you’re functioning out of passion without purpose, you’ll burn out.” Knowing your purpose or your “why” is key
to fueling your passion when the “what’s” are going well
and when they go wrong.


My purpose behind my passion for First Impressions Ministry is Jesus. “There’s no greater act of hospitality than when Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that He might welcome us into His Kingdom.” (Piper)

There's nothing like feeling received - accepted - valued. Jesus did it for the Church and we must extend what we’ve experienced.

Over the course of my life, as a preacher’s daughter (don’t judge me), God has graciously made the significance of this ministry and its role in fulfilling the Great Commission clear.  When I was young, I loved imitating my parents who were always serving and loving, walking around the sanctuary before church talking to people, standing at the door after service telling people to have a great week…It was beautiful!

However, I did get exposed the good and the ugly of professional ministry-life and there came a time when I felt like the Church was attacking my family and I angrily distanced myself from it.

But God is so kind. He overhauled the junk out of my heart and I realized that the Church is made up of people...

People are hard to like sometimes and I know because I'm a "people". But, people are just those who want to belong and feel loved.  

Also, about the same time, I got food poisoning from a certain sandwich restaurant but I went back to that restaurant.

So, I went back to church.

God turned the stomach-turning bitterness into a passion to help build the Church to be what Christ died for it to be.

When I got married, my husband and I found our own church. I went from being at the same small town church where I knew everyone and it was obvious if there was a guest, to a large multi-site church where we were the guests.  We were welcomed at the doors, but got lost in the crowd on the other side. I never want people to feel like that.  As we sought community there, we served, rested, pressed in, and grew.

Four years later, church leadership called me to be the Hospitality/First Impressions Ministry Coordinator at a new campus.  It came out of nowhere for me, but it was what God had been preparing me for my whole life.

I had been seen and positioned in a place to allow my gifting to grow and contribute to Kingdom purposes. It changed my life and is why I’m so passionate about communicating the importance of this ministry and bringing as many people into this as possible! We must always remember that “people are the mission” (Danny Franks)! We have to SEE them, identify their God-given gifts, and position them for their good and God’s glory.

If we want people own the mission of the Church, we have to show them their valued place in it.  First Impressions Ministry perfectly allows for all of that.

My friend says there's only 2 things you can take with you to Heaven: the Word and people. Everything should be motivated by such purposes.

Ephesians 2 describes this purpose: “You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone…He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone…”

Jesus is the cornerstone and ultimate example of hospitality.

Hospitality shouldn't be something we tag on as another committee, but should be the very culture of our churches.  We can't get so comfortable in our pews that we get complacent. Our purpose is to turn strangers in to family...whether they attend our church or another. Accomplishing this will allow people to feel safe and bold enough to move from guest to disciple-maker. For their good, the strangers' good, and for God's glory!


I was raised Buddhist.

My Dad served in the Marine Corp and he met my Mom while stationed in Japan and together, they provided a solid home with all the traditions of holidays and family.

Growing up in the early 1960’s, school wasn’t diverse like it is today -  I was “it” and so began a journey of never feeling like I fit in or accepted, “as is”. In fact, my Dad’s family called me “half-breed”.

After college, I got married, started my career but 15 years later, in 1997, I found myself, divorced and a single mom with two young boys, 11 and 8 years old.

I suffered depression years earlier, but now the depression came back with a vengeance.

Any thought of “hope” was gone. And without hope, there is nothing.

Nothing to look forward to.

Nothing to live for. Not even for my boys.

And when you have zero support, zero community, your mind believes the lie that it’s better to not live at all….So I tried to end my life.

But God intervened.

And I then moved into a new neighborhood and met Jeff and Becky, with their 4 boys. I heard that they moved to NC to start a church. I was certain that “they” (those church people) wouldn’t like me and I knew I wouldn’t like them.  

For 2 years, Jeff and Becky would invite me for dinner, cookouts and holidays when I didn’t have my boys.  They were loving me “as is”.

Meanwhile, Becky was praying and telling her friends; “I have a neighbor who is a single Mom with 2 young boys and need Jesus, would you pray that she comes to church.”

I didn’t know God, but I knew Becky.

After 2 years of declining invitations to church, I finally attended in July 1999.  (In my 40 years, no one had ever invited me to church before. Ever.)

On August 10, 1999, I made an appointment with the Pastor to let him know that a Buddhist was attending his church. I remember the Pastor asking me, “Mary Ann, what are you waiting for?”

I surrendered to Jesus.

God connected the dots of my journey to show me: 
    Even though I was a single Mom.  I was loved.
    Even though I suffered depression. I was not alone.
    Even though I had totally ruined my life…and I could not fix it. God was restoring my life.
And then, God brought Dean into my life and this year we are celebrating 18 years of being married.

But my life is not perfect – I’m not perfect . I still have struggles and insecurities. In fact, the greatest pain in my life revolves around my oldest son, Alex. He has refused to make any contact with me or my extended family since 2008.

It continues to be the most painful part of my life to this day. There was a time when I would obsess over how to find him, talk to him.

But God led me to Luke 15:24 "..for this son of my mine was dead and has come to life again;.."

I noticed that the father never went out to the "far country" to find his son. He never used his power, position or money to get others to help retrieve his son. No, to the father, his son was "dead". There is nothing anyone can to for a dead person - only God revives us - wakes us - gives us a rebirth - brings the dead to life both literally and spiritually. I KNOW and trust and rely on the forever HOPE that He will bring Alex back as well.

So why bother?

I am on mission to remind the local church that there are so many more “Alex’s” out there that need Jesus. Those who need to be seen and know that they are wanted and belong.

The way Jeff & Becky accepted me and loved me into the kingdom is exactly what God is calling us to do. We can do it in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our gyms and absolutely in our churches!

God restored this gal from not wanting to live to living to point others to Jesus!

So, why do you sacrifice and pray and dig in and weep and give? 

Early In The Morning

So much happens in ministry behind the scenes….and I love it when God lifts that tiny corner of His Plan and I GET TO see a bit of it…. and then truly appreciate how He works through us when we least expect to see Him.

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to serve early and once again, I found myself remembering the sweet quiet of a few volunteers who were also moving through the building. 

So much happens in the bible “early in the morning”….

Genesis 19:27
And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Jehovah:

Genesis 20:8
And Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants,

Genesis 28:18
And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it

Genesis 31:55
And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them

Exodus 8:20
And Jehovah said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh;

Exodus 34:2
And be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mount.

Joshua 3:1
And Joshua rose up early in the morning;

Psalm 5:3
In the morning, O Lordyou will hear my voice; In the morning will I order my prayer to you, and will keep watch

I remember several years ago when God showed me His early servants. For some reason, my clock was “confused” and I woke up at 5am and left the house at 6am, unknowingly! One hour earlier than my normal routine. When I got to the church at 6:30am I was met with several of God’s “behind-the-scenes” volunteers:

Tom met me at the front door as he was already busy getting our building ready for Sunday – opening doors, carrying bulletins, setting out parking cones……helping me take apart and store the giant rainbow from the Volunteer Expo….all with a great big smile!

Jeff comes in the door next with a great big “Good Morning Sunshine!” as he arrives to prepare breakfast for our guests that rely on getting a yummy, hot breakfast when they come to church.

I get to the Shuttle lot and it’s raining. James is putting on his rain gear – coat and pants; picking up random trash and inspecting the lots.

The Shuttle arrives but it stops before getting into the parking lot. Mike gets out (in the rain) to set out more cones and Shuttle Parking Signs.

It’s like a silent, early morning “dance” as James and Mike work together to prepare for us and our guests.

I sit in my warm, dry car and say; “Thank you Lord for getting me here so early to witness your servants… early in the morning…”

Disney vs Trader Joes?

Ok, seriously, I love Disney, so this is not a slam or criticism of Disney. I have experienced their behind-the-scenes tour and they totally knock it out of the park in hospitality.

But lately, Trader Joes has really gotten my attention:

1.     They are smaller
2.     They are local-focused
3.     They invite you into their space
4.     They have a “happy atmosphere”
5.     They provide exactly what I want AND…
6.     They show me things/products that I didn’t know I really wanted/needed.
7.     They are laser focused on mission.
8.     They are all about PEOPLE over everything else. (Their podcast, “Inside Trader Joes” Episode #4 The Store Is Our Brand talks about why their people love their jobs)

AND their website concludes with:
“It’s not complicated. We just focus on what matters — great food + great prices = Value.”

I mean…FOCUS! All. Day. Long!

And this is a great reminder that if you are a church of less than 500 or 300 or 200, you have a place in this world.

In fact, I believe that every local church has a place in this world (large or small).  AND I believe that we can and must challenge ourselves to take note of of places like TraderJoe's and when they state “…. just focus on what matters…”

What if we simply took this model and to see what it could look like for the local church? 

1.     They are smaller..
According to Barna Study JAN-APR 2016, 
                                      46% attend a church 100 or fewer attendees
                                      37% attend a church 101 - 499
                                       9% attend a church 500 - 999
                                       8% attend a church of 1,000 or more

2.     They are local-focused.
What is happening in your community? Right now? Be aware and be intentional of community events to become a part of them rather than create a separate event. What local charity or community group could use a boost of hands or dollars?

3.     They invite you into their space.
Church should be THE MOST inviting space on the planet! So starting planning now for that person who is not attending any church! It's never too late! 

4.     They have a “happy atmosphere”
And I would add, updated, clean, fresh scented and joyful people. So why do we think it's okay to have frowns and furrowed brows greeting and seating guests? Joy in the midst of pain or trials is the point and we are called to encouraging one another toward great joy in the Lord! 

5.     They provide exactly what I want AND.....
There is no need to apologize for being about God and asking if we can pray for people and be intentional about it. Yes, we can be casual or fun but putting God first (or not) in how we start each and every service will be evident. And I believe that Huddling before serving is a huge component to being able to provide what God has planned for the day and His people. 

6.     They show me things/products that I didn’t know I really wanted/needed.   
This is where ALL the "What If's" come into play: What if volunteers voluntarily ran to the messes! What if volunteers came early so that people could tell "these people really care". It's not about being expensive or big but rather paying attention to details and stewarding all our resources well. 

7.     They are laser focused on mission.
Are there too many events, classes or topics that muddy the water or become "white noise" for visitors? 

8.     They are all about PEOPLE over everything else. (Their podcast, “Inside Trader Joe's” Episode #4 The Store Is Our Brand talks about why their people love their jobs).
People are God's most precious resource, so what if we trained, encouraged and equipped volunteers so well, that the overflow resulted in radical hospitality in ways that you could never train for? Why do we think all we need to do is tell people where to stand rather than pour into them and learn about their lives, their struggles and how to serve them first? That old adage People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." really is TRUE! 

As a “foodie” I am always looking for interesting and quality service in restaurants and grocery stores.

As a child of God, I am passionate that no other place or business on this planet should ever exceed the goodness, joy and love of the local church.

We can do this! I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it!




I Can't Talk Right Now, I'm On Post

That dreaded volunteer issue. It happens because we are human and we love to connect. But sometimes, too much connecting (I know, I'm stepping on some toes here) at the inappropriate time or place can get in the way of the ministry.

And when handled the wrong way, ever hear these comments?
            "But aren’t we supposed to be friendly at church?"

            "What’s wrong with talking with my peeps, my family, my squad…when I’m serving?
             Ya’ll are so militant! Ya’ll (can you tell I’m from the south?!) have too many rules! I quit.

First of all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with talking with your people. But as with anything that is good, when taken to an extreme, it can be a negative.  

So, let’s dig in and ask the question, WHY are we serving today?
    To be seen?
    To check off the list: I served today.
    To create a genuine welcoming environment for ALL those coming through the doors?

Here is the reality: sometimes we all can forget the WHY. And I get it! I LOVE talking with my friends! Most of the time, the only time I get to see them is when I’m serving.

First, let’s throw out a few exceptions where the issue of “too much talking” does not apply.
         1.     The talking is random and brief.
         2.     We are assuming it’s their people, but we could be wrong.

So, how do we handle the situation when a volunteer is always talking with friends and not able to focus on others, or honor their serving role? The easy answer is training!

Here are 3 Trainables:

1.     Help them find the right fit for the right post?

This may simply be a simple fix of finding the right place for the volunteer to serve. Sometime, people will serve in an area requiring a lot of flow, moving around or handing out of things and what they really want and need is a place to have conversations. So finding and even creating serving roles that allow conversations provides the best fit. OR maybe it’s a timing thing. Depending on when people serve; before, after or during the services can impact their focus.

2. Help them understand the WHY!

Tell stories!!! Have stories in your back pocket!

Remember when Sally visited our church for the first time?
I was talking with, Vicky Volunteer, and she was telling me about her husband’s upcoming surgery. I truly cared about Vicky’s husband but I also noticed that a woman was hanging out at the information desk and seemed to be waiting.
So, I interrupted Vicky and motioned for her to hang on for a moment.
I then quickly greeted this woman, introduced myself and
learned that her name was Sally.

Sally shared that it was her first time visiting and
was pretty overwhelmed with all the people.
I was able to chat with her and connect her to a ministry.

I found Vicky after service to apologize for interrupting our conversation and
that I wanted to know about her husband.
Jane used the “QTIP” training back to me!

“Mary Ann, I knew that our focus is for those who are new to our church.
And I knew what you were doing.
I can talk to you anytime!
I learned it was a QTIP moment from training:

3. Help them with specific HOW-TO’s get out of long-winded conversations.

This is a great example when role play is an effective training tool.

Sometimes, when a volunteer is serving at the same location, their friends learn this and know where to find them….for long, connecting conversations. We trained for these situations and provided a couple of options for the volunteer.

We gave them words to help them honor their friends and still be able to focus on serving. I reminded them that maybe…their friend finds them because that’s the only time they can time with them. We are all soooo busy and we can lose track of the last time we actually sat down and had conversations. They could say: “Hey! I love that you found me today and I really want to be able to sit down, focus and talk with you. Do you want to get lunch after church today?”

This is a loving thing to do because the volunteer is giving their friends exactly what they are craving; TIME!

We created simple, fun signals if the volunteer needed “rescuing”. Then the Team Leader would know to either walk over themselves or find another Leader to walk over and say: “Hey Vic Volunteer! Excuse me for interrupting, but I need to review something with you real quick. Can you walk over to the “__________” with me?

This provided just a minute or two for the conversation to break and most of the time, the friend would need to get into church or home or get their child.

If all else fails, leaders must have the conversation, one-on-one. Seeking first to understand and really lean into what the volunteers are saying is the best way to earn trust and create an open and loving culture.

And at the end of the day, if the most loving thing was for that volunteer to spend time with someone, one-on-one, then this is where grace lives. 

Leaders Are Followers

I've been learning to dance over the past few months. Oh sure, I can do the twist (I'm dating myself), a good wedding line dance or just a free-for-all. But I'm talking about Ballroom dancing like the Fox Trot, Cha Cha, Nightclub Two-Step and Swing dances like the East Coast Swing and the West Coast Swing. 

This dancing is a new world for me and I'm all ears and feet. I am digging in to learn, listen and practice as much as I can. The instructors call out steps to "Leaders" or "Followers". Leaders' steps and moves signal the Followers as to what is coming next. This signal or "lead"  is usually sent as a light touch of the fingers or a press on the shoulder.  As a new Follower, I rely on strong Leaders who know more than I do and have the kindness and patience for me when I mess up; a lot!

But then I noticed that there were Leaders dancing with Leaders. What is this?!  

Ahhhh...the really good Leaders will dance as a Follower with another good Leader so they can learn how to lead better. (I know...right?!)

A Leader explained; "I now understand why my Follower didn't make the move I needed them to make. I didn't give them the correct "lead"! 

Hey Leaders! You cannot lead with heart, compassion and credibility unless you have been where you are asking others to go. Even though you may be leading people to an unknown place or season, your past experience in trusting someone else to lead you to the unknown can be the perspective you need to lead well now. Did you experience those questioning thoughts or an idea that was not allowed to be given a voice to be heard? Did you hear those side conversations with others on the same journey as you and heard their fears, concerns or frustrations?

At church, we had a  remote parking area that needed volunteers to help guests with finding  where to wait for the Shuttle and helping with entering and exiting the Shuttle. Sending volunteers to serve there was a challenge and one team, in particular struggled more than the other teams. I listened to the leaders as they explained how they couldn't understand why they kept getting push back from their team. 

I asked: "Have you served at the remote post yourself?"

They looked at one another. They looked at me. And then shared it never occurred to them that they should do that!

"How can you understand the needs, concerns, barriers that your team is facing if you haven't stood where you are asking them to stand?" 

I saw the lightbulb moment. This was an opportunity to not only learn and understand the needs of this area such as:
             Which volunteer would this post be the best fit?
             What supplies would they need?
             What happens in bad weather or how long should they stay at the post?
But they also would be filling their Trust Bucket as their team saw them as Servant Leaders with the best interest of the team and the mission first! 

Learning as a follower can be the best education for strong leadership.



Celebrate Volunteers!

Jesus never stuttered or hesitated or worried about asking and calling people to serve

So when I hear the word "volunteer" I get giddy! Yep! The jumping-up-and-down kind of giddy.

I remember when I first started volunteering at church. I just wanted to somehow give something back to those who served me. To be a part of doing what others had done to love me into the kingdom. So, I was assigned to the new class of 4th and 5th graders called Club 45. I freaked out a bit because I was just given my first bible only a couple weeks earlier and I had no experience or clue about doing a "Sunday school class"! I did not grow up in church at all! In fact, I considered myself a Buddhist until I met Jesus at 40  years old. 

I had no idea how it would impact my life and my walk with Jesus. Sure, it would cost me time, but that's about it, right?


I became part of something bigger and grander than me.

I became part of a group of people that formed friendships, bonds and stories to last a lifetime. And we came with our baggage, our individual circumstances, education, experiences and heck, we even looked different!

But it was one of the most important and life changing decisions I have ever made. 

Which is why I am passionate about helping everyone find their place to serve!

If someone can discover that thing inside them that says; "THIS IS WHAT I AM MADE FOR!" then we, as a people, as a community, as a city, as a nation and as a world would be unstoppable. We would, without a doubt scream the very thing that Jesus meant when He said in John 13:34 -

"A new commandment I give to you,

that you love one another:

just as I have loved you,

you also are to love one another."

This thing called serving or volunteering. 

  • It's more than you think it is...
  • It's more than begging for volunteers -
  • It's more than pointing volunteers where to stand or what to do -
  • It's more than giving them a t-shirt and say go. 

It is the BEST thing as part of the journey to grow into the people that declares the gospel out loud and in the flesh, here on earth.

Seems too simple. 
Sounds just like Jesus to me. 

People over Processes...All. Day. Long.

Do you need people to greet at a door?
What about people to serve coffee or direct traffic?

How many people do you need? Ten? Seven hundred?

Here's the thing about needing people to volunteer to "do stuff".  It takes people.

And, if you know people, if you are a "people", then you cannot ignore the obvious yet most ignored fact about leading a group of people who volunteer - they are people. Which means, they/we, you and me, are messy.

Churches ask me to help train or provide information about leading a volunteer ministry to get people to serve and "do stuff".  While there is a certainly an important component to the logistics, it's more about serving, encouraging, empowering and loving on the people than just organizing a bunch of jobs or posts.

These are people that have lost jobs, lost parents, going through major health issues, struggling financially, worried about friends and pretty much simply - this is life with all it's mess. So I cannot simply say,

"Make sure you have smiling faces at the door!" Easier said than done most days.

How do you place "smiling faces at the door" on a consistent basis?

It all starts with the best and most important question ever...WHY?

  • Why should we be smiling when we are hurting?
  • Why should I smile at that person who is angry, or rude or ignores me?
  • Why should I even show up when I don't think it really matters or that it will make any dent in anyone's day...really.

If we ignore addressing the inner voices of our volunteers and their own personal circumstances and struggles, then we are ignoring the very reason Jesus paid the ultimate price - death - which is to rescue PEOPLE!

I have learned 3 Lessons:

FIRST: I have learned that the real work in leading a group of volunteers is to constantly remind myself of my own brokenness. How I can hurt others without even realizing it or intending to hurt them. How I can get territorial when nothing is mine to begin with and how I can push processes above people.

SECOND: We must remind one another to have the conversations that say - YOU matter. You are loved even though you made a mistake or behaved badly. We must say, tell and act out the belief that "people trump processes". And that if people really do matter to God, then people must matter to us.

THIRD: We must RUN to the messes - including the "hot messes". Especially when there are disagreements and, do I dare say, even fighting, gossiping, and angry words within the ranks. At church? Yes! Because the last time I looked, there are people at church. And I'm a hot mess too!

I'm grateful for the leaders who run to my messes. Who lovingly point out my weaknesses and areas where I can do and be better. I really do want to honor all that I have been given to steward.

Super grateful that Jesus died for me anyway.