Church: Margin Maker or Margin Killer?

My last post was on the necessity of margin for mission. Not surprisingly, it got a lot of traction. I don’t think that’s because it was particularly insightful, well written or clever. It’s because we’re all a bunch of stressed out, overscheduled, busy people! And we’re all looking for something to make it better.

As a Christian, I believe that answer is ultimately found in Jesus and His gospel. I also believe following Jesus and being committed to a local church are inseparable. If you add all of that up, it should mean that a dynamic relationship with Jesus and participation in a local church increases the margin in our lives.

The problem is that most churches are margin killers, not margin makers.

Sometimes it feels like church leaders are determined to come up with so many programs, classes, conferences, meetings, trainings, discussions, forums, retreats, seminars, workshops and breakfasts that any possible white space on our calendars is obliterated. Of course, we still haven’t accounted for the sports leagues with other churches or the special Christian aerobics classes. Don’t forget about small groups, those are essential. By the way, only people who hate Jesus refuse to serve in the kids ministry. You also need to go on a missions trip. And, above all else, come on Sunday…and bring a friend!

The problem is we don’t have any friends to bring because we’re so busy doing church things that we haven’t developed an outside friendship in years. Margin killing churches are ultimately mission killing churches.

At Restoration City, we’re trying to be a margin making church. Here’s what that means:

• A simple process for discipleship. We don’t ask people to do much but the stuff we do ask is really important. To grow in a relationship with Jesus, we need to come to church on Sunday, join a community group and serve somewhere.

• A willingness to say no. Our commitment to our discipleship process forces us to say no to a lot of other good things. Margin gets killed one good thing at a time.

• A commitment to champion margin. Christians tend to feel guilty when they aren’t busy. American Christians are the worst. The gospel frees us from all of that and calls us to a life with margin.

I’m not saying we do this perfectly as a church. But I want to put the target on the wall as clearly as I can. We want to be a margin making church, not a margin killing church.

Mission Requires Margin

Over the weekend, I did a little gardening at our new house in DC. By the way, when I say gardening, you should be thinking more “hacking my way through a rainforest” and less “planting nice little flowers.” I’m not 100% sure anyone has done anything remotely resembling yard work at this house for a decade or more. I was ripping out weeds, slashing back over grown bushes and doing anything else that would make my allergies go crazy.

Then this morning, I realized I need to do the same thing with my calendar. It’s gotten a little overgrown and could use some pruning. Too many meetings, too many commitments, too much wasted time and too many obligations that aren’t serving our church or my family well. For the record, I do realize I just compared people to weeds and that’s where my little analogy gets me in trouble. I know everyone on my calendar is immensely valuable in God’s eyes and I’m called to love them. But I also know I’m not loving anyone well by letting myself get overwhelmed or depleted.

Personal sanity and health would be enough of a reason to get control of our calendars. But for those of us who follow Jesus, there’s something even more significant at stake. We’re called to a life of mission – a life of loving service to others and a life of sharing the gospel that transformed us. But that kind of mission requires margin. For many of us, the greatest obstacle to getting to know our neighbors, to interacting with co-workers outside of the office and to meeting people at the local coffee shop is time. If we’re honest, we don’t have time to be used by God. And that’s a really big problem.

At Restoration City, we’re passionate about being a community on mission. We exist for the good of our city and the benefit of people who don’t go to our church. We live to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”(1 Peter 2:9) So, when we don’t have time to do the thing God saved us to do, something needs to change. How overgrown is your calendar right now? My guess is there are meetings you don’t really need to attend. My guess is there are chunks of time that are being totally wasted – watching reality tv while sort of answering emails on your phone. There are requests we need to say no to so we can say yes to the things God is asking us to do.

My simple encouragement to all of us today is to take a hard look at our calendars and make the changes we need to create margin. You’ll be happier and more fruitful if you do.

Sunday Recap – July 27th

Yesterday was a huge day in the road to planting Restoration City!

During this pre-launch season, our team meets weekly on Sunday mornings but once a month we host a larger worship gathering designed for people who are interested in learning more about RCC and serving with us in planting this church. Yesterday was the first of those monthly gatherings in the Synetic Theater and God completely exceeded our expectations. Every one of our teams did an amazing job. I heard so many of our first time guests talking about how easy it was to find the theater thanks to “all those people in green t-shirts.” Way to go, Connect Team! The Production Team did a great job pulling off a service for the first time. Maybe the biggest surprise of all was seeing 6 kids having a great time at Restoration Kids! I couldn’t be prouder of our team or more grateful for all God is doing.If you weren’t there yesterday, you definitely don’t want to miss our next monthly gathering on August 24th!

Here’s our calendar between now and then:

  • Sunday, August 3rd: Meeting in the Synetic Studio at 10am. Childcare Provided.
  • Sunday, August 10th: Meeting in the Synetic Studio at 10am. Childcare Provided.
  • Sunday, August 17th : No Gathering – Sabbath Break
  • Sunday, August 24th: Worship Service in the Synetic Theater at 10am. Childcare Provided.

August is going to be a great month for RCC! Can’t wait to see all God has for us!


RCC Community Group DNA

The Community Group Laura and I are leading met last night for the first time.  We loved being able to open up our home, share a meal and take the first steps toward gospel-centered community with a new group of friends.

At Restoration City, we want our Community Groups to be characterized by four descriptors.

Welcoming.  Our Community Groups need to be open to anyone regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey.  Community Groups aren’t just for the spiritually elite.  They aren’t just for those who are new to the faith.  They aren’t even just for Christians.  We want our Community Groups to be welcoming for family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who haven’t yet placed their faith in Jesus or understand that faith differently than we do.  Jesus lived in such a way that “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him.” (Lk. 15:1)  If we’re preaching His gospel and becoming more like Him, there should be non-Christians wanting to join our Community Groups.  It’s our job to welcome them.

Loving.  Throughout the Scripture, Jesus calls His followers to love one another. (John 13:34; Romans 12:10; 1 John 3:11)  Our love for one another is a testimony to the world, a tangible reminder of the gospel and a means of growing in grace.  But we can’t love well if we hardly know each other.  That’s why our Community Group meetings start with 30-45 minutes of time to hang out over a meal, dessert, coffee or whatever.  The point of that time isn’t feeding people – it’s giving us space to develop meaningful relationships.

Transforming.  God is working in our lives to make us more like Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:3)  The tool He uses more than any other for this project is His Word.  It’s His Word that renews our minds, rebukes us, reveals the idols of our hearts and prepares us for every good work. (Romans 12:2, 2 Tim. 3:16) So, we want to study the Bible.  Not books about the Bible but the Bible itself.  God’s Word will always be central to our gatherings because it’s the clearest way for us to hear God’s voice.

Multiplying.  Healthy groups will grow.  If our Community Groups are welcoming, loving, transforming places, more people are going to want to attend.  As more people come, your group is going to outgrow whatever living room it’s meeting in currently.  That’s a good thing – because it means we’re ready to plant a new group out of your current group.  Yes, it can be painful to see members of your group leave to go start a new one but it’s a beautiful reminder that our mission is more important than our comfort.  Besides, if we want to plant new churches, planting new Community Groups is a good first step!

Community isn’t optional in the Christian life.  As Tim Keller says, “In short, there is no more important means of discipleship – of the formation of Christian character – than deep involvement in the life of the church, the Christian community.” (Center Church, Pg. 313)  Don’t sit on the sidelines wondering why you aren’t growing – jump into community as see how much God uses it in your life!

RCC July Newsletter

Hello, friends!

This past month has been pretty amazing at Restoration City as our team has started gathering weekly in DC.  Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • We’ve launched 5 mid-week Community Groups.
  • Our Connection, Production and Kids Teams are forming.
  • We started offering childcare at our weekly gatherings.
  • God continues to add new people to our team every week.

As we look at where we are as a church, we’ve been feeling God leading us to start opening our doors to the city even before our weekly gathering turns into a public worship service this fall.  If you’re interested in serving with us at Restoration City, we would love to have you join us on one of these Sunday mornings:

  • July 27.  10AM in The Synetic Theater.
  • August 24.  10AM in The Synetic Theater.
  • September 14.  Baptism Service.  Location TBD.
  • October 5.  10AM in The Synetic Theater.

The Synetic Theater is located in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va and is less than a block from the Crystal City Metro stop.   Directions to the Synetic are available here.

Please help us spread the word about these Summer Gatherings.  If you’re interested in joining us, great.  Even if you can’t make it, you may know family or friends in DC who are looking to get connected with a gospel centered church.  We would love to have them serve with us.

Please help us spread the word about these Summer Gatherings.  If you’re interested in joining us, great.  Even if you can’t make it, you may know family or friends in DC who are looking to get connected with a gospel centered church.  We would love to have them serve with us.

As I think about these Summer Gatherings, I keep coming back to Luke 10:2 where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  There’s so much to be done in DC and we’re asking God to raise up laborers who will carry the vision of RCC with us and lovingly serve this city for the sake of the gospel.  I would love to have you praying with us toward that end.

For Restoration in DC,

John McGowan

***If you would like to join the RCC mailing list and receive these monthly updates in your email, you can sign up here.

Sunday Recap – July 20th Edition

I had such a great time this weekend preaching at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham but, wow, did I miss my Restoration City family!  As hard as it was not being at RCC, it was every bit as encouraging to hear how well things ran with me out of town.  I knew Dan was going to do an amazing job teaching God’s Word and I keep hearing that he killed it yesterday!  I’m so glad you got to see The Synetic Theater where we’ll be meeting next Sunday – it’s a pretty sick space!  So, I’m feeling like it was a pretty awesome weekend at Restoration City.

In case you weren’t there either, here’s what you need to know:

1.  We still need additional people to serve in our Kids, Production and Connect Teams, so be thinking about where you could serve. The next time to sign up will be on Sunday, August 3rd.

2.  Our Community Groups are going to start meeting this week.  If you haven’t joined one yet, send our team an email at and we’ll let you know which groups still have space so you can join in this week.

3.  Next Sunday we are going to be meeting in The Synetic Theater at 10am for a time of worship and teaching and we will be providing childcare.  You’re going to be hearing a lot about this one over the course of the week!  It’s your best chance yet to invite new people to come join us at RCC, so spend this week praying and inviting people to come with you on Sunday!

I love you guys and the church Jesus is bringing to life in DC.  I can’t wait to see all of you next Sunday in the Synetic Theater!


Love & Obedience

We don’t normally link love with obedience. We certainly don’t do it the way Jesus does when He says, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Excuse me?!?! If that doesn’t sound a little strange to you, here’s what you should do: take your best friend out for coffee and suggest this as the new organizing principle for your friendship. My guess is that isn’t going to go so well! But we don’t have the luxury of dismissing something as crazy when Jesus is the One talking. We need to understand this link between love and obedience. John 14 shows these ideas are linked in at least two different ways.

Link #1: Love Precedes Obedience

Jesus spends the first 14 verses of the chapter giving His followers reasons to love Him deeply. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Belief in Jesus combats anxiety. (Verse 1)
  • Jesus is preparing a place for us in His Father’s eternal house. (Verse 2)
  • Jesus is coming again. (Verse 3)
  • Belief in Jesus is the only way to enter the Father’s house. (Verse 6)
  • When we see Jesus, we see the Father. (Verse 9)
  • Jesus’ miracles testify to His divinity. (Verse 11)
  • Jesus hears and answers our prayers. (Verse 13-14)

All of that lays the foundation for three simple words in verse 12, “believe in Me.” Jesus isn’t trying to crush His followers into submission. He wants to capture their hearts. He wants them to see Him for who He really is and fall in love with Him.

Jesus is concerned about love before He ever gets to obedience. That’s the essence of the gospel. Jesus never tells spiritually dead people to clean their life up and then come to Him. He awakens dead hearts to His glory and leads people who once hated Him to delight in Him.

So much of our evangelism looses sight of this truth. We want to convert people to the Christian lifestyle before they are converted to Jesus. But that’s not how Jesus does it. Love precedes obedience.

Link #2: Love Produces Obedience

That’s verse 15. And 21, 23 and 24. A heart that has truly been captured by the glory of God will joyfully obey Him and submit to Him. Why? Because we know He is good, wise, faithful and will never lead us astray. We know our hearts are deceptive, our emotions are unreliable, we lack wisdom and we’re plagued by a horrid selfishness that clouds our judgment.

Somewhere along the line, people started to peddle a version of Christianity that divorced love and obedience. It’s a version of Christianity that goes something like this: Jesus just wants to be your buddy and you can live life however you want; in fact, He’s a useful antidote to guilt. That’s not the Jesus of the Bible. He’s not a beggar hoping you’ll let Him into your heart. He’s a Sovereign King who is infinitely worthy of worship.

If we love Him, our hearts will be marked by an increasing desire to obey Him.

It’s easy to focus on obedience. We get really good at keeping score in our lives and in the lives of others. But all of our score keeping yields little change. True change comes when we shift our focus to loving Jesus. As we fall more in love with Him, obedience will by the inevitable by product.

Sunday Recap

Yesterday was an amazing day at Restoration City.  There were so many “firsts” to celebrate:  we were able to offer childcare for the first time in our weekly gatherings,  five community groups came to life and we started meeting in a larger room to accommodate the growing number of people interested in helping plant RCC.  In case you missed it, here are three updates you need to know:

  1. We are going to be hosting our first ever Monthly Worship Gathering on Sunday, July 27th at 10am in the Synetic Theater!!  This is a huge step forward for us in our journey to plant Restoration City.  Although the church doesn’t officially launch until this fall, we are going to start opening our doors to the city on a monthly basis starting on the 27th.  We are doing these gatherings for two reasons:
    • Think of them as dress rehearsals for all of our Sunday morning teams.  Our production, connect and kids ministries have been doing amazing work preparing for the fall but we need a few trial runs over the summer to work out all of the details and see how we can best serve the people who will start calling RCC home this fall.
    • We want to serve this city, point people to Jesus and welcome new people into our community this summer.  We need more people to serve with us and we want to open our doors to people who weren’t part of the initial launch team but are considering getting involved at RCC.
  2. Next Sunday’s weekly gathering will be in the Synetic Studio (this is different from the theater) at 10am.  Our time will be built around 1 Peter 2:4-12 and preparing for July 27th’s worship gathering.  We’ll be together as a community for half of the time and breaking up into various ministry teams for the other half.  So, it’s a really big Sunday for us as we get ready for the 27th.
  3. If you weren’t able to join a community group this past Sunday, that’s fine – the groups don’t actually start meeting until the week of July 20th.  So, you haven’t missed anything.    You can sign up this coming Sunday or email if you’re ready to join a group now.  Here are the groups we’re launching this summer:
    1. Jess & Ben Mann’s Community Group.  Monday nights at 7 in the Pentagon City area (Metro Accessible).
    2. Laura & John McGowan’s Community Group.  Tuesday nights at 6.30 in the Potomac Yards/Del Ray area (not easily metro accessible).
    3. Dan Iten & Shea Casper’s Community Group.  Tuesday nights at 7.00 in the Ballston/Clarendon area (Metro Accessible).
    4. Jenn & Tim Elzea’s Community Group.  Wednesday nights at 7.00 in the Alexandria area.
    5. Kevin Shade & Mandi Hart’s Community Group.  Wednesday nights at 7.00 in The District (exact location TBD).

There’s so much good stuff ahead in July!  I can’t wait to experience it together and to see all that God has for us and for the amazing city we call home.

Happiness Has A Shelf Life

“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

– Ecclesiastes 2:9-11

Have you ever noticed that happiness has a pretty short shelf life?  There are so many things in life that give us a quick hit but ultimately leave us unsatisfied.  Those things aren’t necessarily bad; they can even be quite good.  The problem is they just don’t last.  A good cup of coffee seems to buy 2-3 hours of bliss in my world.  A great date night with Laura might carry over for a day or two.  An awesome vacation might last for a week or two.  But none of it lasts.  It all fades.

Sometimes it fades slowly and some times it crashes dramatically.  The awesome night on the town is obliterated by a killer headache the next day.  A few hours of lustful passion is overwhelmed by guilt and shame on the way home in the morning.  The need to tell someone off ends up killing a friendship.  The “retail therapy” shopping trip just pushes you further into debt.

That’s what Solomon is warning us about in this passage.  All of our best accomplishments will ultimately let us down.  The high won’t last.  We’ll enjoy it for a moment and then desperately start looking for our next hit.  We’re always searching and striving, never satisfied, always yearning for what’s next, what’s more, what’s better.

The story of humanity is a story of thirsty souls.  That’s why Jesus’ words are so compelling, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”(John 4:13-14)  He was talking to a broken woman by a well who kept looking for happiness in relationships.  But He might as well be talking right to us.

In Jesus we find a joy that never fades.  In Him, we find everything our souls are craving.  His mercies are new every day.  His promises endure forever.  He’s constantly good and working for our good.  He’s fully aware of the desperate need of our souls and He’s fully able to satisfy the thirst.

Jesus has no shelf life.  He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb.13:8)  Let’s not get so caught up in the temporary, the fleeting and the fading.  Let’s pursue the fountain of living water and allow Him to satisfy our souls fully and completely.

The Stress of Indecision

When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, my natural tendency is to try getting as much off my plate as quickly as possible.  I’ll do anything to relieve the pressure, including pushing off decisions I don’t absolutely need to make today.  Call it intentional decision procrastination.

Or we could call it what it really is: a terrible idea!

Postponing a decision rarely relieves the stress of having to make the decision – it only guarantees you’ll carry the stress longer.  In deciding not to decide, I’m giving myself one more day to think it over, dwell on all the ways it could go bad, envision all of the people who could be upset and think over how much it could cost me if I make the wrong decision.  I end up wallowing in the stress I’m trying to reduce.

Yes, there are times we can’t make a decision today because we need more information.  I totally understand and agree with that point.  But I’m not concerned with those decisions because they don’t produce the same anxiety.  My mind really can punt those until I do more research, hear back from someone or see the outcome of another decision.  We arrive at some decisions slowly, through prayer and with outside counsel – great, no need to rush those.  But my guess is those aren’t the ones eating away at our joy.

I’m talking about the decisions where we already have all the information we need.  In some cases, we even know what we’re going to decide.  We’re stalling.  We don’t need more information.  We just need to decide.  For example:  When are we having dinner with that couple?  Am I going to break-up with this guy?  Do I go to my friend’s wedding?  Am I buying a new printer or not?  Should I approve that purchase at work or not?

Where are you suffering from decision procrastination?

Take some time this weekend to make a list of decisions you’ve been putting off and then…decide.  Right then, right there.  Make a decision, communicate it and be done with it.  You’ll feel a whole lot better as the stress of indecision fades.