Monday, May 2, 2016

How to keep vision out of Death Valley

Every church needs vision; without it, there is little or no impact. Vision is simply knowing where we are today and discerning where God is leading us tomorrow and beyond. Discovering vision isn’t so difficult. God already knows the plan and He is faithful to reveal it to those who seek it. Typically pastors have no problem sharing vision. They can easily envision gospel impact and church growth. 

 Vision causes excitement. People will rally around "what can be" pretty easily. However, vision has to become more than just words; it must generate something deeper than an emotional moment. Vision is pointless without execution. When vision casting isn't followed by vision execution, it probably means the the vision is stuck in death valley. 

 Here's four symptoms when vision gets stuck in death valley:

  • No Vision Metrics:  Vision must be measured. If you can't measure it, you can't grow it. Vision must become more that a statement; it must become a movement. 
  • Micro-Managing: Whenever vision gets stuck in death valley, details and planning become an afterthought and people struggle to accomplish delegated tasks. As a result, the pastor or leader feels the need to be involved in every action and becomes a micromanager. 
  • Maverick Ministry: When there is a lack of vision clarity, leaders try execute plans for a vision that is fuzzy and confusing, which in turn, influences how they lead. Too often we label leaders as mavericks, when in fact, all they need is clarity. Good clarity brings good planning and empowers unified leadership.
  • Egyptian Mentality: Anytime vision is stuck, people eventually become frustrated. All the emotion and hype of "where we're headed" soon dies along with failed attempts to bring change. Often the leadership team will respond the same way the Israelites did when they faced adversity, "Let's go back to where we used to be." As a result, vision is abandoned and the church goes backward instead of forward.

Keep your vision out of Death Valley... 

 Vision requires more than nice language and attractive statements. Vision movement only happens when we build a bridge of systems and strategies to execution. Vision does not execute itself. A bridge of systems and strategies will provide the metrics, steps and processes that are needed for implementation. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Building a Leadership Development Cycle

 Successful churches understand strong leadership is non-negotiable; and leadership development is equally important. Unlike most secular organizations, it is imperative to create leadership beyond paid staff. Lay leadership is critical to the success and mission of the church. 

Leadership Development Cycle

 Jesus developed leaders by finding ordinary people and bringing out the extraordinary. He didn't find Peter the apostle; he found Peter the fisherman and developed him into an apostolic leader. Jesus didn't stumble upon Matthew the disciple; instead he found a tax collector and then developed him into a disciple leader. While there's nothing wrong with hiring leaders, it's pretty obvious that Jesus' life exemplifies leadership development. The apostle Paul echoes this in his letter to Timothy. He writes, 

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV

 Paul is telling Timothy, "What I've learned, I'm passing on to you, so you can pass it on to others." He's teaching Timothy the importance of a leadership development cycle. What does a leadership development cycle look like? Here's a tool I use for pastors and leaders. 

In addition to the 1 Timothy passage, you'll also see Matthew 13:44 in the center of the chart. This passage reads, 

 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

 While there is a beautiful literal meaning to this parable, let's make another application. First, we read about a man who found a hidden treasure in a field. Then, he sold his stuff and purchased the entire field. Why? Maybe he was thinking, "If there's one treasure in this field, there's bound to be more!" What if our congregations were like this field? What if God purposely placed people in our churches to be found and developed? What if the leadership needed to take our churches to the next level are sitting in our chairs every Sunday morning? 

In this tool, you'll see four phases. Each phase leads to the next and creates a development cycle. 

Discover: Bird v/s Egg  

One of the first steps of leadership development is creating ways to discover "who" has the potential to lead. In the parable, the man found a treasure, which meant he was looking over the field. I use the term, "Bird v/s Egg" because we tend to look for already developed leaders instead of potential leaders. We look for the bird, not the egg. However, when we look for the egg, we are looking for people who have potential inside, waiting to hatch and spread its wings. 

Excavate: Relational Investment 

In the parable, the man sold what he had and bought the field. Developing leaders requires us to find people with potential and invest in them. What does investment look like? Anytime we excavate treasure, we have to be willing to deal with the dirt. As leaders, we must be willing to invest in people by helping them deal with their dirt (we all have it) and grow into a deeper walk with Christ. 

Polish: Mentoring

After discovering and investing in new leaders, we must help them shine. Treasure shines best when its polished. We polish leaders by creating mentoring opportunities such as leadership small groups, huddles or formal coaching. 

Release: Intentional Mission 

Lastly, we can't forget that a cycle is on-going. We must be intentional in teaching new leaders the importance of going back into the field (the congregation), discover new buried treasure, deal with their dirt and help them shine for Jesus. 

What are your thoughts or comments?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What Southwest taught me about First Time Guests

Just last week I was standing in line waiting to board a Southwest flight, when someone tugged my jacket and asked what number I had. I turned around to see a kid who was about twelve years old. After finding his place in line, we began to talk. I learned he was from Chicago and this was his very first time flying. He asked me several questions about what to expect. It was obvious the kid was pretty nervous. I watched him gulp hard as our group begin to board.

We were sitting a few seats apart on the plane. I watched him as the flight attendants got on the microphone did their thing. His eyes were glued forward and he was listening to every word they said. Everyone else was either talking, reading or trying to get last minute emails out; but this kid was mesmerized. A frequent flyer would call these announcements redundant; but for the new flyer, the words were of the utmost importance. The attendants did a great job having fun with the announcements. The kid even laughed a few times. I could tell his nerves were beginning to calm.

Each Sunday there are first timers who walk into our buildings and sit in our chairs. Many probably feel the same way the kid on the plane felt; very nervous about the approaching experience. Like the flight attendants, we have to use language that is framed for the person who shows up for the first time and use it every single weekend. Yes, it is redundant to frequent flyers, but it makes all the difference in the world for the first time flyer. 

Here's five things I learned from Southwest about building first time guest language: 


I have never been on a Southwest flight where the attendant didn't say, "Welcome to Southwest airlines" and usually with a lot of enthusiasm. Every Sunday, we should always welcome new guests; they need to know we are very happy they are with us that day. They need to feel wanted and appreciated.

Next Steps

As the plane pulled away from the terminal, the flight attendant instructed everyone to fasten their seatbelt, place personal items underneath the seat and power down laptops.  Most everyone on the plane already knew this, but the twelve year old kid didn't. Each Sunday we should always share next steps for new guests. Instructing them to fill out a card, telling them where to take it and how to obtain specific information is helpful. 


It didn't take long for the flight attendant to discover it was the kid's first flight. Immediately she began to cater to him, laugh with him and help him feel comfortable. She didn't make an announcement or have the kid to stand up to be identified as the new flyer. We too must be able to identify new guests and discover ways to make them feel comfortable, celebrated and cared for without embarrassing them or making them feel weird. 


The flight attendant served the kid differently than she served the rest of us. She was careful to explain exactly what kind of drink products were available, because he simply didn't know. For the rest of us, it was simply, "Can I get you something to drink?" Our strategy to serve new guests should look differently than how we serve regular attenders. 


Once the plane landed in Nashville, I heard the attendant's voice come across the speakers with a line that I hear just about every time I fly, "We know you had many choices in your travel today, so we thank you for choosing Southwest." We should let new guests know that we know there are lots of churches to pick from, and how grateful we are that they chose ours. This can be done from the stage and a follow up letter the next day. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Creating Volunteer Health in your Church

If there is one common denominator among churches, it is the importance of volunteers. Both small and large churches have to be intentional when it comes to creating a healthy volunteer base. When we think of volunteer health, we probably envision a church where people are standing in line to serve; and once they commit, they actually show up. I have yet to see a church with a long line of people waiting to serve, but I have seen churches do it well. Here are three things I have observed in churches where volunteerism was healthy:

Finding Volunteers 

Most churches who have healthy volunteerism understand people are more likely to serve when they are found (and asked) by people they personally know. Creating a strategy for active volunteers to invite their friends and family to join them produces much better results than an announcement and a sign up sheet.
Firing Volunteers 

Seldom do people ever think about firing a volunteer, I mean, they’re hard enough to find as it is, right? Believe it or not, knowing when to fire a volunteer is just as important as finding them. Churches that have a healthy serving base also have a healthy volunteer policy. Tolerating continuous tardiness, no-shows and other bad behaviors will cause poor attitudes to spread to the entire team. When churches set specific standards to serve, they are more likely to attract people who have the same standards. Accountability brings productivity. 
Facetime with Volunteers 

Churches must rely on volunteers to get ministry done; I believe the apostle Paul speaks to this is 1 Corinthians 12. While we can’t (and shouldn’t) write a check to every person who serves, as leaders we should invest in the people who serve. Volunteer health soars when church leadership is intentional about giving volunteers some face time. This doesn’t mean the pastor has to spend time with every single person who serves, but he can schedule four or five “all-team” meetings per year to celebrate the wins, cast vision and encourage the people. That’s an investment that will bring a return. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Discovering Bottlenecks in your Church

Whenever I work with churches who are stuck, I start with tools to help bring perspective to the team. When teams discover where the bottlenecks are, they can begin to build and implement plans to break through the gridlock. One tool I use is called Discovery. This tool helps churches identify four specific people groups and then asks for the percentage of each group as they exist in the church. The people groups are: 

  • Non-Christian
  • New Christian
  • Growing Christian 
  • Mature Christian

Traditional-Style Churches

While percentages vary, the church’s worship and preaching style normally determines a predictable outcome. For example, a church with traditional worship and preaching styles usually end up with numbers like this:

New Christian
Growing Christian
Mature Christian

Many times, these numbers are given proudly as the team believes this indicates solid Bible teaching because they consider the spiritually mature the highest percentage of their congregation. However, this also indicates something else.  There are few guest attending, which results in a low percentage of new believers and growing Christians. And if 80% are really spiritually mature, why aren't they reaching new people?

Contemporary, Attractional Churches

Churches with contemporary worship and preaching styles usually land on different numbers. If they’re trying to reach today’s generation, their numbers often look like this: 

New Christian
Growing Christian
Mature Christian

These numbers may be given with some bragging about reaching new unchurched people. However, we also see a low percentage of growing and spiritually mature Christians. This reveals the church is attractional and reaching a lot of new unchurched people; many begin following Jesus, but there is a lack of disciple-making intentionality. Chances are, there are holes in their assimilation and a weak or missing discipleship pathway. 

Once I have gathered the data, I ask the team, “If you could wave a wand, what would you want your percentages to look like?” Regardless of whether the church is traditional or contemporary, usually the New Christian or the Mature Christian get the numbers, again, causing one or two people groups to become top heavy. 

So what does a healthy church look like? 

Healthy Church

New Christian
Growing Christian
Mature Christian

These numbers indicate good healthy movement. It tells us there is a strong invite culture, clear gospel presentation, easy next steps and disciple-making intentionality. When a church is top heavy in the Mature Christian box, it indicates a lack of reaching new people, as well as a low percentage of new people following Jesus. When the New Christian box is top heavy, it shows a lack of on-ramps for spiritual growth. Obviously it’s tough to create strategies and plans to build a perfect score card, but it should be our goal. Movement matters because discipleship isn’t a place; discipleship is a journey. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Creating Healthy Leadership Pressure

 It has always been said, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." This is true in both the business and the church. Because of this, leadership health is vital. Keeping leadership healthy requires many things like accountability, mentoring, and focus. In many ways, these things (and others) creates a pressure that enables leaders to function and thrive. When leadership pressure is healthy, leaders are healthy; when it's not, things can go badly pretty quick. Both too little pressure or too much is unhealthy for any organization. Check out the bell curve below. 

Too little leadership pressure results in low performance and too much pressure drives performance down as well. There are certain indicators that can reveal whether or not leadership pressure is too little or too much. There are also indicators that reveal healthy leadership pressure. 

The "Good ole Boy" Mentality 

When there is a lack of little or no leadership pressure, the "good ole boy" mentality sets in. This is especially true in rural churches and churches under 500 people. This sets a culture where performance takes the backseat and nursing hurt feelings become priority, even at the expense of failed tasks. Here's some of the things you'll see emerge when leadership pressure is on the bottom left of the bell curve:

  • Little or no accountability 
  • Poor (last minute) planning
  • No deadlines
  • No plans of execution
  • No consequence for consistent failure
  • Sanctioned incompetence 
  • Little or no self discipline among leaders

The "Us against Them" Mentality

When the pressure is too high, the "us against them" mentality begins to emerge. This is common in larger churches, where pastors begin to feel the frustrations of growth and change. This is usually followed with hiring and/or firing the wrong people, disunity, and eventually, vision drift. Here are some of the things you'll see emerge when leadership pressure is on the bottom right of the bell curve. 

  • Micromanaging people
  • Confusing abrasive with boldness
  • Meetings that turn into set-ups and ambushes
  • No room to fail or make mistakes
  • Unrealistic objectives and deadlines
  • No mentoring or coaching
  • Emerging silo ministries 

Healthy Leadership Pressure

When leadership pressure is healthy, leaders are healthy. This doesn't mean everything becomes easy, it simply means leaders can thrive because they are in the right environment. Notice when pressure remains in the top right and left of the bell curve, performance remains high. It's important to note that pressure will fluctuate, because the church has seasons of natural growth, change, etc. The trick is not to let the pressure fall to the bottom right or left. Here are some indicators of healthy leadership pressure.

  • Healthy teamwork 
  • Deadlines get met
  • Visible accountability 
  • On-going mentoring
  • Celebration of the wins
  • Staff unity
  • Vision clarity 

Here's five questions to help you plot your church's leadership pressure on the bell curve: 

1. Does the leadership make plans that seem to never get done?
2. Do you or your leaders feel the need to keep their hand in every ministry in the church?
3. Do you allow certain leaders to "get away" with consistent failures?
4. Are there two sides, with a line in the sand, during staff meetings
5. Are there consistent coaching and mentoring opportunities for your team?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Energizing Volunteerism

If I could give pastors a magic wand to fix one thing in their church, I believe most would wave the wand over their volunteer problem, especially in rural America. I can easily hear the pain of broken volunteerism. Words like burned out, tired and overworked hang in the air. 

There are a lot of things that can contribute to a lack of serving. While working with different churches, I have picked up a few things that seem to help people get connected. Here's three things to consider when trying to people to move into serving at your church. 

Build the Right Culture

  • Are you creating a culture of obligation or opportunity. A culture of obligation uses desperation and guilt to push people to serve. The whole "God's going to get you if you don't serve" spill seldom works. And when it does, the commitment is short lived. When volunteerism is presented as an opportunity, it can change the way people respond. How do you present volunteerism as an opportunity? That's simple. Share more about the "why" than the "what." Tie it to the vision, and if you can't, get rid of it. The weekend stage is one of the most important places to establish culture. If you don’t talk about it on Sunday, don’t complain when you don’t see it on Monday.

Create a One Stop Shop

  • How easy it for people to serve in your church? Here's an even better question, "How hard is it for people to serve in your church?" In many churches, getting involved isn't as easy as we think it is. When on-ramps to serve are limited to sign-up sheets or finding "Mike" (whoever that is), volunteerism goes away. It's helpful to have a "One Stop Shop" where people can learn more about getting involved. Make sure the kiosk or table is in an easy to find, easy to get to, location. Make sure the person manning the desk is passionate about serving and well-read about the available opportunities. Create a 24 hour policy; if someone shows up and signs up, they are contacted within 24 hours whether by phone, email or in person.

Utilize Small Groups

  • Small groups is a great place to help people take next steps in serving. People are more apt to serve when they are challenged from people whom they have a relationship with. Train your small group leaders to be intentional about helping people take deeper steps towards following Jesus. Remind them their primary goal isn’t to create a group experience, but to make disciples. Serving is an attribute of discipleship. Send out monthly emails to group leaders sharing which opportunities are available. Measure how many people move into serving from a small group. In doing so, you can develop best practices.