June 26th, 2012

The Mister Rogers Remix!

Alright, I know I’m going to make some enemies with this next bit, but here the truth of it: when I was a kid I absolutely hated Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Never had any use for it at all.

I’ve been called a plethora of evil names for my childhood treachery but I stand by it. I know he taught a lot of great stuff to a lot of kids, but tt just didn’t capture me.

This little remix clip, however, was impossible for me to look away from. If they were rolling like this when I was in grammar school I would have been all over this show like ugly on a gorilla.


June 13th, 2012

Magazine Article on True North…

Nice article on our church in Christian Standard magazine last week.  Check it out on their website here or just scroll down to read.

And somebody count how many times the author uses my last name. ‘Cause it gets a little ridiculous.


How Do We Reach People Who Don’t Trust Church? 

By Kent E. Fillinger

It’s a question Bert Crabbe and his staff ask themselves regularly. Suppose a person who knows nothing about church attends one of our worship services. Will we say or do anything that makes him want to run away?

Bert Crabbe, senior pastor of True North Community Church, Long Island, New York, says the best thing the church has done is not to worry about its growth.

True North Community Church officially started in 2005, but its true genesis started earlier than that. Bert Crabbe is a native New Yorker who had spent 15 years on Long Island before launching True North. As a youth minister at an area church for 10 years, he started a Sunday evening service for high school students and young adults. Soon, the parents of these students started attending, as well, and the numbers continued to grow.

Throughout this time, Crabbe was building relationships and laying the groundwork for what would eventually become True North. On day one, True North had a core of 250 in attendance.

The most important decision True North made from its inception, Crabbe said, is to constantly evaluate and filter every element of its ministry through the lens of an outsider. Crabbe and his team constantly ask, “If I am walking into church for the very first time in my life, is this weird?” Crabbe acknowledged that if somebody is “weirded out” by the message of the gospel, then that’s acceptable, but Crabbe is passionate that the gospel should be the only thing that “weirds them out.”

Crabbe and his staff consistently self-monitor to ensure they are not using jargon, “Christianese,” or “insider language.” That way they can keep their focus on the millions of Long Islanders who do not know what a church is. Crabbe notes that most people in his community don’t trust the church, or those in it, because the church is a foreign environment. This encourages Bert and his team to tenaciously remove anything that could be considered weird or a barrier to communicating the truth.

Even the church name was chosen with this in mind. Crabbe said the idea was to create a name that communicated to people that the church was a place that would help them get their bearings and point them toward home. It also helped that the name didn’t sound too churchy.

The First Step to Growth

Crabbe notes the best thing the church has done is not to care about the growth of the church. He said True North has chosen to focus on doing better, getting better, and making excellence its goal. Crabbe said he heard another church planter say, “Worry about doing better, and let God worry about your size,” and True North has taken this message to heart in its approach to ministry.

Since its beginning, True North has been in a constant state of flux; it has held worship services in five different locations in six years. Each time it needed to move, some people stopped attending due to distance, and some even said they would return once True North had a home. The church found a home last year when it signed a 20-year lease on a 32,000-square-foot building in a commercial space.

True North worked to retrofit the building to meet its needs. Currently, the church has a 350-seat worship space where it holds four Sunday services. After moving into its facility, True North jumped 400 in attendance; its average weekend worship attendance last year was 1,032. This year, the church is averaging almost 1,400 in attendance, and it is planning a capital campaign this spring to raise approximately $1 million to complete the repurposing of the building to include a 700-seat auditorium.

Finding the Best Ideas

As a leader, Crabbe finds ideas develop best in the quiet times. He said he “defends his Sabbath day with a machete,” and he takes a personal retreat annually so he can sit and be still. Additionally, Crabbe reads both Christian and secular books and magazines. All these strategies are especially important for Crabbe, because there are only six other people on staff. The church plans to hire additional staff this year to share the load and to ensure the church is positioned to keep growing.

Crabbe encourages new church planters to have a “Sabbath day” when they do not have to think about the church; to plan a one-week personal soul retreat annually to recharge; to “not drink the Kool-Aid of the church-growth message that is so prevalent” in ministry today (which can lead to a “rock star mentality” among ministers of growing churches); and to focus on being excellent, demonstrate love for the community, and depend on God for the rate of growth.

Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.

June 5th, 2012

Nathan Lee on Rikers’ Island

So I had a pretty heavy experience a couple of months ago. I have a close friend named Nathan Lee. Nathan grew up on the East Coast but has lived in Nashville for several years now, making his living as a singer/songwriter. Nathan’s songs wouldn’t really fit into the “Christian Music” category, but they are filled with stories and questions as deep as the Marianas Trench.

Recently, Nathan made a pretty radical decision career-wise. He began a non-profit organization called Send Musicians to Prison. His full time job is traveling to prisons and playing songs in what has to be the most difficult environment imaginable for an artist. The truth is, Nathan’s always been a little bit crazy but when he started sharing stories with me about playing his songs several stories underground in L.A. County Prison I was pretty sure he had finally gone around the bend.

Still, it’s a really amazing calling. I’ve been around the block a few times in church world and I’ve never heard of someone doing anything like this. And especially not for a living.

A few weeks later I learned that the warden of the infamous Riker’s Island Prison in New York City attends my church. What are the odds? I approached him and spoke to him a bit about Nathan’s work. He was immediately interested and before long, we had a date on the calendar for Nathan to fly in and do a concert.

I was invited along for the ride. Why? I’m not actually sure. I didn’t ask. I was just excited to get to go! Growing up in New York, Riker’s Island is one of those places that everyone talks about but few people have ever seen. In fact, as large as it is in the psyche of New York, most natives couldn’t even point to it on a map.

The day arrived and my friend the warden (whose identity will remain private) escorted us across the bridge and through several layers of security. It was daunting. The experience game me the distinct impression that I had left the world as I knew it and entered a whole ‘nother reality.

We were taken to an aging gymnasium where Nathan’s friends Clay and Ryan started setting up his piano and PA System. We toured the facility. An escort by the warden allowed us a rare opportunity to see the real thing. We walked among the inmates. I entered a cell and heard the door slam shut behind me. The sensation was indescribable. Spending day after day in a place that small? It was impossible to process.

When we returned to the gymnasium it was filling up. Row after row of orange jumpsuits. Nathan? Visibly nervous but ready to take care of business.

He poured his heart out to these guys. Song after song flowed out of him like sweat. And men teetering on the axis of hope and hopelessness were given a little something to cling to. The promise that there is a God who loves them – despite their mistakes – and that there’s hope for better days ahead.

The inmates were visibly moved by the encounter, and I’ve never been more proud of my friend.

Looking for something good to do with your money? How about you visit his website and make a donation? Better yet – decide right now to do something monthly. What Nathan is doing is an absolute good. And that, my friends, is a rare thing in this world.


May 30th, 2012

Love146′s Rob Morris on Alec Baldwin’s Blog!


If True North has been your home church for more than a few months, chances are you’re at least heard of Love146 and the amazing work they’re doing to stop child sex trafficking and exploitation.

Rob Morris is Love146‘s president and co-founder. He’s spoken at our church several times and I’m privileged to count him among my friends.

He was featured on Alec Baldwin’s podcast recently and I thought you guys might enjoy hearing what was said.

Check it out on Baldwin’s site, or stream it right here on The Right Thing.

Dig in.