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Before Your Congregation Dies: 6 Proactive Options For Your Church Property

Mon, 08/04/2019 - 9:47am

Just as my identity is not in my body, a church’s identity is not in its building – or it shouldn’t be.

In the next decade or two, we are going to see an unprecedented number of churches close their doors.

Unprecedented for North Americans churches, that is.

We know this is coming because we’ve already seen it happen in Europe. Many of their historic church buildings are as likely to be museums, offices, stores, apartments or empty shells as active places of worship today.

These losses will not just be among small churches. In the next 10 to 20 years, a lot of of big and megachurches will be gone, too. Especially those that have been built entirely on the talents and personalities of celebrity pastors.

In fact, it’s already happening. And the pace will increase.

Thankfully, many of those shuttered churches will be replaced by church plants, church restarts and so on. But, even so, when a church does close its doors, we need to do it well.

The church will last forever. Jesus promised that. But that doesn’t apply to individual congregations. History shows us that congregations have a finite life span – as I wrote about in 9 No-Fault Reasons Some Local Churches Close Their Doors.

The decisions about how to come to the end of a church’s life span need to start long before the final “sold” sign is on the lawn. Unfortunately, we have not been doing this well.

We need to downsize better.

Today I want to take a look at this difficult, but necessary topic by focusing on just one area that we could be making much better decisions in – what to do with the physical assets (mainly the land and building) of a dying church.

What Not To Do

There are three mistakes I constantly see being made by dying churches when it comes to property management.

First, the slow fade.

Some call it faith. Some call it hopefulness. ...

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This is a podcast test article

Fri, 05/04/2019 - 12:41pm

Leverage agile frameworks to provide a robust synopsis for high level overviews. Iterative Iterative approaches Iterative approaches Iterative approaches

Summer Finn, a narrator tells us, is an average woman in many ways— like height and weight,

though slightly above average shoe size.

Yet something about her arrests men's attention. She gets an average of 18.4 double takes per day. This is, we are told, "the Summer Effect."

She's the new assistant to Vance, who runs a greeting card company. Tom Hansen, one of the card writers, is struck by her presence. A few days later, in an elevator, she overhears the Smiths leaking from Tom's earphones. "I love the Smiths!" she says, then softly sings along, "'To die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die.'"

And so a relationship begins. But what kind of relationship is it? In a conversation soon after at work, Tom says it's possible to meet the one you were made for and fall in love forever. Summer says she doesn't believe in love; all she wants is to "have fun and save the serious stuff for later." At this, Tom's bug-eyed coworker McKenzie blurts out, "She's a dude!"

This movie charts 500 days in Tom and Summer's relationship, skipping forward and backward during that time (though preceding each scene with the day's number, to keep us oriented; this is not one of those artsy time-shuffle films that sets out to confuse you). And, though it's billed as a comedy, it casts a powerfully romantic spell. There will be proposals in the wake of this movie. Yet it's determinedly unsentimental, and there's nothing about it to repel male viewers. It doesn't look particularly romantic from the outside. It sneaks up on you.

What it does look like is an extraordinarily creative stretch of filmmaking. There are segments that recall Michel ...

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Wheaton's New Partnership with Christ Fellowship Miami: How You Can Earn Your M.A.

Wed, 03/04/2019 - 9:38pm

These new Master's students will study in Chicago in the summer and Miami in the winter.

Today, I’m glad to share that Wheaton College has partnered with Christ Fellowship Church in Miami, Florida, to create a unique learning opportunity for Christian leaders and pastors to deepen their skills in preaching and inspire their congregations as they lead from the pulpit.

This is not just for people in Miami, but for all over. It just happens to be in Miami… in January… so there’s that.

The Christ Fellowship Miami cohort is a group of like-minded Christian leaders who will undertake the M.A. in Ministry Leadership program together. This program allows pastors to grow in their biblical knowledge and leadership skills as they continue to lead from the pulpit. It’s designed to help any church leader translate theology into compelling expository sermons.

The cohort model offers a unique opportunity for pastors to support and learn from one another. Most cohorts include 15-25 students, and they often become a tight-knit community over the course of the program.

Rick Blackwood will teach in the program, having written on expository preaching and serving as the lead pastor of Christ Fellowship Miami, a multisite church of almost 10,000 weekly attendees in multiple campuses across Miami. He is the author of The Power of Multisensory Preaching and Teaching: Increase Attention, Comprehension, and Retention.

“We can’t be more excited about a partnership with such a well-regarded institution as the Wheaton College Graduate School,” said Blackwood. “This will be a blessing to leaders from all over, but even more so because of the engagement in our Miami context.”

Although M.A. students share the same hunger for growing in biblical knowledge, they also bring a variety of ...

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Announcing the Launch of the Global Diaspora Institute

Fri, 22/03/2019 - 8:27pm

The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College has partnered with the Global Diaspora Network to launch the Institute.

With migration becoming a megatrend of our times, the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College has entered into a partnership with the Global Diaspora Network to launch a Global Diaspora Institute which will serve two vital functions: (1) equip, connect, resource, and mobilize missional leaders in diaspora communities in North America and beyond and (2) help churches in North America to engage with the diaspora and the Global Church.

“We simply cannot deny the enormity of how God used the diaspora to spread the work and message of the gospel. It’s at the front and center of our Christian history,” said Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. “With hundreds of millions of people living and working outside their homeland today, many of them Christian, we have the opportunity to unveil creative ways to reach our world for Christ through those from many cultures and backgrounds.”

The Global Diaspora Institute is embarking on a significant journey to help churches and Christian leaders to engage the diaspora as a newfound opportunity for the Kingdom of God to grow and flourish. The multi-pronged effort will include research, training, convening, networking, and resource creation across multiple mediums. The Institute is being launched simultaneously with a Lausanne North America Diaspora Strategy Group comprised of top diaspora missiologists.

The Institute will be led by Dr. Sam George, who serves as a Catalyst of Diasporas for the Lausanne Movement. Sam is of Asian Indian origin, born in the Andaman Islands in India, and traces his roots to St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, India. He has lived, studied, and worked in several countries. Sam holds degrees in mechanical ...

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11 Significant Differences Between 1 Church Of 1,000 And 10 Churches Of 100

Fri, 22/03/2019 - 8:27am

The church has always been blessed by our differences.

Churches of all sizes have something to offer.

I know, I say that a lot.

I’ve even been told I need to be less accommodating to big churches. But it’s not an accommodation, it’s a reality.

Bigger churches do great things that small churches can’t do, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, because of their size, the benefits of small congregations are seldom seen as readily as the benefits of big congregations.

So here are a few typical benefits of a healthy big church (I’m using the baseline of 1,000), compared to the corresponding/contrasting benefits of healthy small churches (1,000 people in ten churches averaging 100 each).

If you’re looking for a church to worship, serve or lead in, this might be a helpful starting place.

The Benefits Of Big, The Blessings Of Small

1 church of 1,000 may have well-crafted sermons, but 10 churches of 100 will have more person-to-person pastoring.

1 church of 1,000 may have better administration, but 10 churches of 100 will have more volunteers.

1 church of 1,000 may have fewer financial problems, but 10 churches of 100 probably have more givers.

1 church of 1,000 is likely to have a more famous pastor, but 10 churches of 100 are less vulnerable in the case of a single pastoral failure.

1 church of 1,000 may have higher quality musicianship, but 10 churches of 100 usually have more people singing along.

1 church of 1,000 may have a great Christian Education facility, but 10 churches of 100 typically have a better student-to-teacher ratio.

1 church of 1,000 may have a lot of small groups, but 10 churches of 100 may already be offering the benefits of small groups on Sunday morning.

1 church of 1,000 may have more paid staff, but 10 churches of 100 will likely have more lay ...

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Pastors and Power: Part 4

Wed, 20/03/2019 - 8:26pm

What Does It Look Like to Embody Gospel-Shaped Power?

In this final post, I want to address practical ways pastors and church leaders can properly and biblically use power to help foster healthy churches and communities.

I suggest five key elements you can implement.

First, structure a church with pastoral accountability.

If the church structure does not have pastoral accountability, we need to question that structure, regardless of denomination or ecclesiological association. Good pastors recognize the need for accountability and their own tendency towards brokenness and sin.

Godly pastors with developed heart character long to shepherd well and want to mitigate their own sin so it does not run amuck and damage the church. They are thoughtful, careful, and they structure churches with pastoral accountability. If you want to be a good pastor, structure your church so your decisions are held accountable.

Second, seek accountability.

It’s one thing to structure a system with accountability, but it is a whole other thing to actually seek and be open to receiving accountability.

I can offer some personal experience on this point specifically. I have a boss; her name is Margaret Diddams, and she is the Wheaton College Provost, the college’s Chief Academic Officer. She can and has called me out and shut me down, because she's my boss. We all need someone like that.

However, the reality is that most pastors don't have an identified group of people who actually hold them accountable. And the accountability must be fostered and received. For instance, pastors should want to surround themselves with leaders who are willing to tell them “No” to protect them from blind spots and for the overall health and direction of the organization.

If you have a group of leaders ...

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We Do Small Church A Lot, Why Aren’t We Doing It Better?

Wed, 20/03/2019 - 8:26am

What would happen to small churches if we changed the way we talk about them?

By far, the most prevalent expression of the church throughout history is the small congregation.

More people have worshipped Jesus, been discipled, and reached out to others through the ministry of small churches than through any other tradition, method, format or denomination. Vastly more.

Even today, with the celebration of ever-larger churches, most congregations are still small, and more people worship in them than in any other type of church.

Why We Don’t Do Small Church As Well As We Should

We do small church a lot.

But we don’t always do small church well.

Especially in America and the western world, if a church is unhealthy and ineffective, it is most likely to be small. (That is not the same as saying if a church is small, it’s likely to be unhealthy and ineffective.)

Why is it that even though the small church is the most normative form of church, it’s also the most likely to be done poorly? Here’s a hint: it’s not the fault of small churches, their members, or their pastors.

In my years of studying this, combined with my own experience and conversations with hundreds of small church pastors and members, I’ve discovered that it starts with one misunderstanding.

We don’t always do small church well because too many of us don’t know that small church can be done well.

And if you don’t know you can…

Small and Failed Becomes A Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Instead of being told how many small churches there are, how many of them are doing extraordinary work all over the world, and how small congregations have done most of the church’s heavy lifting for 2,000 years and counting, we’re regularly told that if we’re doing church well at all, it won’t ...

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Power and Pastors: Part 3

Tue, 19/03/2019 - 2:24pm

Jesus schooled the world on how to understand and exert power.

This series is an expanded version of my talk from the GC2 Summit, December 13, 2018. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Jesus schooled the world on how to understand and exert power.

Rather than wielding it through a sword, a harsh tongue or a prestigious position of authority, Jesus exerted power through two particular images: a lowly servant washing the feet of guests and a suffering sinner hanging on a cross. What’s amazing about these two images depicted by Jesus is that He had no business doing either. He was God incarnate. He created the cosmos. He was the sinless Son of God.

If anything, Jesus should have been walking around demanding people bow down and worship him. But that’s not how Jesus acted. Rather, Jesus exerted power through service and sacrifice. In short, he exerted power not to demand something from people but to do something for people. Therefore, Jesus sets the trajectory for how believers—especially pastors and church leaders—understand and exert power.

In Part 2 of this series, we saw that the power of the Fall calls for extraordinary discernment. But Jesus teaches us at least two more ways to guard against the misuse and abuse of power.

Recognize the Challenge of Power and Our Need for an Extraordinary Shepherd

Power is a challenge.

In every environment, regardless of the situation, power is a significant responsibility. Pastors often don't recognize the extent of their power and the danger of that power going awry. Religious structures often have less accountability for the people in power, and people are often not even aware of the pastor's power in their lives and in the lives of others.

Scripture addresses these concepts. We see descriptions of how pastors are to lead in places ...

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The Most Successful Pastor You’ve Never Heard Of

Mon, 18/03/2019 - 8:23am

No matter what you think success in ministry looks like, this pastor is the real deal.

There are some pastors whose names are known by thousands, even millions of people.

They have the type of ministry in which their successes are obvious.

But that’s not the case with most pastors.

The typical pastor does ministry without much notice or name recognition.

Today I want to tell you about one pastor whose life and ministry may have seemed plain and average, even a failure to some people, but who was actually one of the most successful pastors who ever lived.

Finding A Long-Term Pastorate

This pastor spent an entire ministry in obscurity.

After serving in three short-term pastorates for the first few years of ministry, he settled in to a small church where he spent the rest of his life preaching, teaching, caring for the sick, baptizing people, and performing marriages and funerals.

There were up years and down years. For a few short periods of time it looked like the church might be reaching a point of growth where they would need to expand their facility, but then it would settle back down into predictable numbers again.

Some years there would only be one or two people who came to faith in Christ in that little church.

Not Many Visible Results

Despite working hard, praying harder, and learning as much as possible about church growth and health, very little seemed to change in that little church.

Other churches in town would occasionally spring up and grow big. Sometimes the folks in this pastor’s church would leave for the exciting new church. Yet still this pastor kept going. The church stayed alive, healthy and kept blessing their community.

When the pastor died, there were very few people left in their little church, and not a lot of folks came for the service.

The pastor’s children and grandchildren loved ...

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Should We Rethink the 30-minute Sermon Lecture?

Sat, 16/03/2019 - 5:22pm

Our message should encompass both Scripture and our congregants questions.

Recently, a group of pastors asked me this question: “Should we rethink the 30-minute sermon lecture in light of the many different ways classroom teaching is currently conducted?” They are part of a year-long initiative by the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Seminary to strengthen the quality of preaching. In an effort to answer this question, the group of pastors asked me to lead a preaching workshop centered on what we know about adult learning.

As I started to prepare, I asked myself, “What is underneath their question about sermon-as-lecture?”

Well, pastors want people to grow. Instead of having our carefully crafted words go in one ear and out the other, we hope for deep transformation. We hope that our communication shapes our listeners’ understanding of God, themselves, and the world so that their way of living would more closely reflect God and His Kingdom.

However, we know that just telling people what they should do is not enough. The old model of education believed that the teacher’s job was to deposit the information into the vessel of the student’s mind for future retrieval. Paulo Freire, who first used the term “banking” to describe this approach to learning, noted that teaching this way results in the facts becoming “lifeless and petrified…detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity.” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed 2000, 71)

In other words, teaching that is not embodied by the teacher and experienced within the relational community is at risk of being nothing but empty ...

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Churches That Play Together Stay Together

Thu, 14/03/2019 - 5:20pm

Pastors report the congregational gains of letting loose as a body.

In its new Households of Faith report, Barna researchers claim that one of the many reasons “vibrant households” stand out from others is because they engage in “meaningful, fun, quality time with both their housemates and extended household members.” That includes playing games together (32%), sharing meals (63% eat breakfast as a family and 75% eat dinner as a family), and enjoying other leisure activities. “These are practicing Christians who know the meaning of play—and indeed, half call their home life ‘playful,’” according to the report.

In other words, the old adage still rings true: Families that play together stay together, and more than that, exhibit signs of strong spiritual health.

The same can be said of the church family.

From softball leagues to book clubs, jazz ensembles to craft nights, churches that play together seem to stay together and grow together, too, adapting more easily to upheaval and building up the camaraderie, compassion, and collective resilience that are essential to a robust church body.

“Our congregation is experiencing some growing edges as younger families begin to assume leadership roles,” said Katie Nix, lead pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Moberly, Missouri. “Usually the generations become divided between gatekeepers and new people, but kickball helped to break down some of the walls of fear and create relationships. I believe we avoided several potential turf wars because the two groups experienced an opportunity to play together.”

Other pastors, too, report the unique gains of “letting loose” as the body of Christ.

Jackson Clelland, head of staff at Presbyterian Church of the Master in ...

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Power and Pastors: Part 2

Thu, 14/03/2019 - 2:20pm

Too many Christians fail to consider the propensity leaders have to abuse power.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, writes, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). Applying Andy Crouch’s definition of power—the ability to make something of the world—to this verse would suggest that those who know what they should do (or refrain from doing) in order to make something better of the world for the glory of God and the good of others but fail to do it, would succumb to sin.

In other words, failing to do the right thing in the context of using power—making something better of the world—would be a good description of the “abuse of power.”

In short, abusing power is sin.

Pastoral power abuse

When pastors abuse power it can be disastrous. Pastoral power abuse can to different kinds of sin, depending on where that abusive power is exercised. Pastoral power abuse can lead to the misuse of authority over church leaders or a congregation, the sexual harassment of adults, the abuse of children, and a myriad of other sins.

All are about the abuse of power; how the abuse is manifested is different depending on the person abusing the power and the local situation.

But Jesus and the gospel show us the better, more godly way to keep from being consumed by power, to wield power through the ministry of the towel—serving others.

Jesus, after washing the disciples feet, turns and tells them, “Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

The Apostle Paul captured such a humble posture of sacrificial service when he penned,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with ...

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Power and Pastors: Part 1

Wed, 13/03/2019 - 5:19pm

Recovering A Biblical Understanding of Power

The Billy Graham Center recently hosted a conversation at the GC2 Summit about sexual assault and abuse, harassment, legal issues, consent, responses to abuse, the important role of governmental authorities, the rule of law, and additional topics vital and urgent to discuss in today's culture. Church leaders—women in particular—are gaining a prophetic platform to call out injustices and abuses, both inside and outside the church, that have long been ignored, covered up, and even accepted.

During the conversation, I had the opportunity to address the summit about the proper use and the abuse of power in the church. Now, I want to take a deeper dive into the concept of power. In this first article, I want to help church leaders recover a biblical understanding of power by discussing the subtlety, scope, and stewardship of power.

The subtlety of power

Power is all around us, and in fact, it is within us. Yet, when it comes to the general public, both inside and outside the church, people don’t typically think of power as something they possess. People tend to think of power as holding a particular position (politically or organizationally), standing on a certain platform, having prosperity, or being popular.

In To Change the World, James Hunter notes that the concept of power is closely associated with the roles of elites in society. Power, therefore, is more associated with who a person is or what he or she has acquired—especially in relation to others.

However, according to Andy Crouch, power—in its simplest definition—is, “The ability to make something of the world.”

Couple this definition with the theology of the imago Dei and the creation mandate, and you arrive at the conclusion ...

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Put People First: Why Many Small Church Pastors Can Spend Less Time On Sermon Prep

Fri, 08/03/2019 - 8:12pm

The smaller the church, the more discipleship is caught through relationships than it's taught through preaching.

As pastors, we typically spend our time in three overlapping areas of ministry: communication, administration and relationships.

But our time is always limited, so on those weeks when time gets tighter, which of the three should we spend extra time on, and which of the three is it okay to spend a little less time on?

Everyone has a different a schedule, skill-set and needs, of course, but as a general rule, I’ve found the following to be true.

The bigger the church, the more important it is to spend time honing our communication skills, the smaller the church the more time we need to spend fostering relationships.

A church’s administrative needs obviously grow as the church gets bigger, but those can (and should) be delegated to others, so let’s look at the two aspects of leadership that most pastors will always have to do ourselves – the balance between communication and relationship-building.

The Big/Small Difference

In a big church, the pastor will have name-recognition relationships with a very small percentage of the people they’re communicating to on a weekly basis. When you add writing, podcasting and other forms of communication, it’s typical for the pastor of a large church to have a personal relationships with fewer than one percent of the people they’re communicating with.

But in a small church, the pastor will know most, if not all of the congregation members personally. Our lives are intertwined. So how does that affect our time management on the weeks when our schedule is especially tight (as in every week for a bivocational pastor)?

When a small church pastor has to choose between spending time on sermon prep, or interacting with congregation members, we should default towards ...

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Small Churches Are Stuck (But Not The Way You Think)

Wed, 06/03/2019 - 8:10pm

Churches on either end of the size spectrum are usually seen as fulfilling their calling. But those in the middle? Not so much.

If you are leading a healthy and effective house church, you may face some criticism for not getting bigger. But most people will start with the assumption that your size is appropriate for your calling.

If you are leading a healthy and effective big church, you may face some criticism for being too big. But most people will start with the assumption that your size is appropriate for your calling.

But if you are leading a healthy and effective small to midsize church, you are most likely facing a constant barrage of criticism for not getting bigger.

  • External criticism and internal criticism.
  • Intentional criticism and unintentional criticism.
  • Criticism disguised as an attempt to help you get bigger and criticism that’s not disguised at all.

What you will receive very little of is the assumption that your size is appropriate for your calling.

Why are the micro-mini church and the megachurch generally considered to be at an appropriate size for their mission (as they should be), but the in-between sizes are considered inadequate at best, and a failure at worst?

Our Size Is Not A Problem

No wonder small churches and their leaders often feel stuck. We are.

But we’re not necessarily stuck as far as health and effectiveness are concerned. Small and mid-size churches are stuck in an in-between zone that makes people assume we’re unhealthy and broken even when we’re not.

Certainly, most small church pastors want their church to grow. And that’s perfectly understandable. In fact, it concerns me when they don’t want to grow.

So I’m grateful for help to get stuck churches unstuck, unhealthy churches healthy, and dying churches growing again.

But helping to fix a small church’s problems is not the same ...

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One-on-One with Kadi Cole on ‘Developing Female Leaders’

Tue, 05/03/2019 - 5:09pm

“This book will educate and inspire you to better maximize the leadership potential of the women in your church.”

Ed: Why did you write this book?

Kadi: Over the course of my career as a leadership and organizational consultant, I have worked with churches and leadership teams in a variety of denominational settings. Recently, I’ve noticed a significant shift in the conversation around women in leadership roles.

Previously, when I would present at an event, the few women present would seek me out to get advice about being a female church leader. Surprisingly, last year, male pastors started to approach me, asking how they could best develop the female leaders on their teams.

I could tell they were genuine in their desire to learn. Unfortunately, many of the things they were trying weren’t actually helping. In fact, as I talked with the women on their teams, they often felt the opposite – that their perspective was not welcome and there was no further way for them to grow or contribute in a more significant way.

But I knew this wasn’t how their senior leaders saw them. There was a disconnect of some kind. That distance between what these high-level male leaders were doing to help women grow and what those women were actually experiencing was problematic and fascinating to me. I set out to research why this was happening and what we, as church leaders, could do about it.

After conducting in-depth interviews with 30 high-level female church leaders, surveying over 1,200 women in various church leadership roles, and collecting research from academic, marketplace, and ministry settings, ‘The Eight Best Practices’ for churches surfaced.

Ed: In the church today, we tend to divide our views of female leadership into cookie cutter categories based on denomination and theology. How do you address this in the book? ...

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