Monday, August 8, 2016

Three Things that can Cripple Discipleship in Churches 500 & less




In Acts 3, we find Peter and John going to an afternoon prayer service at the temple. As they approach, they see a lame man at the gate. There, he sat and asked people for money as they walked by. When Peter and John came near, the lame man asked for an offering. Peter answered, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6, NLT) 


The formerly crippled man's life was changed forever. He was healed. While this was probably the man's first Jesus experience, it wasn't his first begging experience. He was 40 years old and was born crippled. It's even likely he sat in the same spot for years.  In those days, most of the handicapped were totally dependent on the benevolence of others. 

Over the years, I have thought about this story. I can see this guy sitting on the ground at the gate called Beautiful, week after week, year after year asking the same question, "Can you help me?" And I can see the nice church people passing by; some giving money, while others pretend not to notice him. I have often wondered why someone didn't bring him to church or invite him to their home. Maybe he was obnoxious. Maybe he was anti-church. Who knows. But what if it was something else. What if the church was just as crippled as the man? I assume if the church could spend money to build an extravagant gate, they could probably afford to help this hungry, crippled man who lived in their community and sat right outside their door every week.  

Unfortunately there are churches that mirror the dysfunction of the lame man; they have members (people) who aren't functioning the way God designed them to. This is especially true in churches with attendance 500 and less. While it's easy to blame church stuckness on uncommitted or lazy church members, the real problem lies much deeper. The real problem is a lack of discipleship. When a church makes disciples, growth happens. 

Here are three common issues that can cripple discipleship in churches 500 or less:

Problem #1: Assimilating people into members, instead of disciples

There is a reason approximately 85% of the churches in the United States average under 90 people in attendance. A recent survey showed that out of all the people who drop out of church, 82% drop out in the first year. This means our assimilation strategies are broken. Too often churches are more focused on people becoming church members instead of disciples. When this happens, they gain a lot of names on the membership role, but few butts in seats. Assimilation must give people easy next steps that lead towards relational environments where they are challenged to follow Jesus. 


Problem #2: Pushing people into programs instead of relationships

There isn't anything wrong with Bible studies or programs, unless they are your only means of making disciples. If Bible classes made disciples, the church would be full every weekend (there usually isn't a shortage of classes). At the end of the day, you can't program discipleship because you can't program life. Everyone is in a different stage of life, which is why churches need different flavors of small groups. Small groups is the best engine for making disciples. Churches 500 and less often struggle or fail at small groups because they are unwilling to stop the things (classes, programs) that compete with groups. You have to be willing to bury the things that aren't producing life change and resource the things that are (or will) produce life change. Burying a ministry can be tough, especially when it's been around a while. Click here for a tool that may help. 


Problem #3: Building small groups without B.C. Entry Points

If the church's vision is about reaching the unchurched, the discipleship (small group) model must align with that vision. Small groups must have easy on-ramps for B.C. (before Christ) people. This means the model must make anyone, including non-Christians, feel comfortable to participate as much or as little as they like. It must foster an environment that is highly relational and gospel-centered. Actually, that's the way Jesus did it. When a church has small group model like this, great things happen. People can invite their unchurched family and friends without reservation; and because the gospel is the centerpiece, life change happens. In this way, small groups becomes both an evangelism and discipleship engine. 





Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why You Need more than a Vision Statement




I remember the days as a lead pastor when word smithing a vision statement was of the utmost importance. Once crafted, I would post it everywhere a person may have the opportunity to read it (including the back door of the stalls in the men's bathroom). I wanted people to memorize it, understand it and quote it at a moment's notice. I think I may have been the only one who met those expectations. 

Vision statements, regardless of the innovative language, does not equate vision movement

I have seen some pretty nifty vision statements plastered on church walls and printed in bulletins. I have listened as leadership teams told me how many hours they spent creating their sticky vision blurbs. I am not knocking vision statements; if you have one, roll with it. However, a vision statement alone will not cause vision movement, regardless of the innovative language used.

While working with different churches over the years, I have listened to leaders share vision. In many cases, their vision sounded more like their mission. Understanding and differentiating vision and mission is critical. When I help a church build a mission statement, I try to help them build something that captures the reason their church exists. A mission statement should answer these three questions: 

1. What are we called to do as a church?
2. Who are we called to reach?
3. What makes us unique?


If you can measure it, you can grow it

Mission statements are important, however a mission (or vision) statement alone will not result in movement. Statements are stationary. They are created to be printed, read and bring identity to an organization. However, despite the crafty and inspiring language found in statements, there's one thing missing that is absolutely necessary to cause a vision to begin moving. I am talking about vision metrics. When I help a church build a vision, I like to ask questions around the metrics of their ministry (attendance, baptisms, financials, etc). After capturing their numbers on a flip chart, I like to ask these questions: 

1. Where are we today? 
2. Where do we want to be in the next few years?
3. What must be measured and monitored to move forward?

Wrapping metrics around a vision allows you to measure it; and if you can measure it, you can grow it. It also gives permission to ask the right questions and identify what needs attention. If you stop looking at the numbers, the vision will slowly drift into left field and by the time you notice it, consequences are inevitable. 

Vision Statement < Vision Map

So what's the answer in terms of vision? Instead of creating a vision statement, think about gathering your team and create a vision map. Ask the right questions and gather the right data to get clear perspective of where you are right now. Next, ask the questions, "Where do we want to be in one year, two years, five years?" Again, it's important to look at the current numbers and then determine where you believe you'll be in the next few years. Don't be afraid to dream. God loves dreamers. 

Once you have landed several vision metrics (current and future), you're ready to begin building strategic plans that will fuel and propel the vision. At the Unstuck Group, we lead churches through the StratOp process to help them determine what those strategic plans look like. When good plans are built and executed, church growth and life change happens at a higher level. 







Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Friendliness Factor



Being a preacher's kid, I have seen my share of churches, especially rural churches. I have a lot of great memories from those experiences. I still remember the guys who stood at the front door, ready to shake my hand every Sunday. I also remember the infamous homecomings (which included a lot of fried chicken and casseroles) where church people talked, laughed and committed acts of gluttony. There are many churches (especially those 500 and less) that define friendliness by social church gatherings and greeters at the door. However, engaging outsiders (or the unchurched) requires more than comfort food and handshakes.  

While working with rural churches, I have noticed many are quick to claim their friendliness level as high. They believe the warm and fuzzy family feel is inviting to everyone. However, the family feel is often a big part of the problem, because the family typically doesn't include outsiders.  There's nothing more unfriendly than awkward stares and internal conversations.

Being a friendly church to outsiders must become a part of the mission, meaning the why becomes more important than the what. Why be friendly? Because friendly churches get talked about. They're like a good restaurant; you don't need a billboard, because you can't hide a good restaurant. In Gary McIntosh's book, What Every Pastor Should Know there were a number of interviews conducted with people who visited a church for the first time. They were asked, "What made the biggest impression? What effected your decision to return the following week?" It wasn't the eloquent preaching, excellent worship or the fun-filled kid's ministry; it was the friendliness factor. They based their decision to return on how they were treated. The interview proved that the number one answer by far was the friendliness of the people. Gary goes on to say, they determined the level of friendliness by the number of people who talked with them. Many conversations equaled friendliness. 


Three myths churches of 500 or less believe


MYTH #1: We're a friendly church because we're friendly with each other 

Many churches believe because they are friendly with each other, they are automatically friendly to others. As a secret shopper, I can't tell you how many times I have seen churches talk and laugh with one another, while completely neglecting the new guy in the room. Engaging new guest with friendliness requires planning and intentionality. It can't be something we hope happens; it must be something we make happen...because it can determine if they come back. Creating the right first impressions team can amplify friendliness. 


MYTH #2: We're a friendly church because we have door greeters

 In my experience, I have seen door greeters who serve people well...and those who don't serve so well. There is nothing worse than a greeter having a conversation with another member, who pauses long enough to say hello to a new guest, and then quickly return to the conversation. This is no different than a Walmart greeter. They have a job to do and saying hello to people is simply part of the job. Guests hate this. Asking door greeters to make eye contact, share their name and always open doors (as guests approach) can be a real game changer when it comes to friendliness. 


MYTH #3: We're a friendly church because everyone is welcome

I have never yet found a church who didn't say, "We welcome everyone!" Yet, what I have discovered is this: Most churches love the idea of being a welcoming church; but not all churches welcome everyone. The reality is, many churches have their own version of the no shirts, no shoes, no service sign. While there isn't a  physical sign posted, it's communicated by the unwritten standard expressed in dress codes, internal language and complex next steps. Creating a casual environment and building easy next steps fosters a friendliness that can help new guests build relationships with other people and with Jesus. 





























Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Building a Ministry Scope






Every organization comes with its own set of challenges. This is true in both the church and corporate world. While the challenges may differ, there are some common denominators that land on both sides, and one of those is management. Managing is asking the question, "How are we doing?" And if you ever stop asking, you'll soon learn how important that question is. 


For pastors, management can be challenging because ministry has many moving parts. Hospitality, teaching, youth ministry, kid's ministry, budgets and small groups are just a few. While each part is important to the mission, it's impossible for a pastor to keep a finger in everything; and when pastors attempt to, they move into micromanagement and quickly find themselves (and their teams) frazzled. 

the big idea

A few years ago, I had an idea about a tool to help with management. Believe it or not, the idea came from deer hunting. I typically use a rifle with a scope while hunting deer. When I look through the scope, I see crosshairs (or a quadrant). The goal is to place the target at the center of the crosshairs. If the scope is tuned well and my target is in any part of the quadrant, I'm likely to hit my target. If my scope isn't zeroed, I'm likely to miss, even if my target is dead center in the crosshairs. Any scope that gets used will need consistent tuning. Now, let's bring this into church leadership.

First we need to answer the question, "What is the target on Sunday?" Obviously the answer is going to vary, but at the end of the day, we can probably land on "gospel impact" as our target.

what are the mission criticals?

If gospel impact is the target, then we can ask, "Which things are most critical to the mission?" There are probably many things that are important, but we need the top four "mission criticals" (criticals isn't a word, but it fits here). Check out the scope below. While these four things will be different in each case, you'll see what most pastors say is critical for gospel impact. 





tuning the scope

Once you have determined the four mission criticals, then we must learn how to keep our scope tuned. Remember, if the scope isn't consistently zeroed, we soon begin missing our target even though we're aiming at it every weekend. In order to tune a ministry scope, we simply need to get our teams around it and ask the right questions. I recommend gathering your team, asking the right questions and tuning the scope at least four or five time a year. Look at the example below. 





When tuning the scope, you may ask your team, "How is our weekend hospitality going?" If they inform you it's beginning to tank, you start looking for solutions. If they tell you it's amazing, you ask, "How can we make it better?" You are able to tune the mission criticals by asking the right questions...and the questions can (and should) change over time. 

Once you learn the process, you can departmentalize the scope throughout the organization. For example, a children's pastor can gather his or her team, draw a scope and put the words fun, safe, organized and gospel-centered in each quadrant. Afterwards, they would ask the right questions to tune the four things they believe are critical to the mission of children's ministry. 

Consistent tuning of your ministry scope will ensure a consistent hitting of the target each weekend and as a result, your teams will lead well and reap the harvest. 


Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Strategic Calendar and Ministry Health





Last month I released a blog about planning an annual preaching calendar. Hopefully you have a desk calendar on the wall decorated with colorful sticky notes. If that makes no sense to you, read Building a Strategic Preaching Calendar first and then come back to this blog. 

Building a strategic calendar is a critical piece of strategy and enhances team planning. When a team keeps a visual of the entire year in front of them, upcoming events get talked about and deadlines get met.

A strategic calendar does more than ensure good planning, but can also keep ministry healthy. Too often churches focus on the ministry of the church and overlook ministry health. When ministry starts bearing the fruit of unhealthiness on Sunday, it means it has been sick for a long time. 

Here are five important pieces to add to your strategic calendar that will help keep ministry healthy. 


Vision Communication Nights

It is easy to run through the year with the assumption that everyone is clear on vision. While the staff may have clarity, it is possible (and likely) that others do not. I usually recommend that pastors schedule at least four vision evenings per year and invite everyone who serves in any capacity to attend. When you invest an evening with the people who are vested (serving) in your church, it brings unity and momentum to the weekend.

Volunteer Appreciation 

There are different thoughts on how often churches should schedule volunteer appreciation gatherings, but my suggestion is to schedule one per year. This is not the time to talk about the upcoming needs or manpower that’s needed. This is a time to celebrate the people who make Sunday happen. Allow your department leaders to share a “God-story” around the efforts of their team. Be sure to talk more about “WHY” we serve, instead of “WHAT” we do. Have fun, make it high energy and make sure every single volunteer leaves feeling like they are part of ONE team.


Planning Retreats

I encourage pastors to schedule two planning retreats per year; one in the spring and one in the fall. This is a great opportunity for team building, sharing and building a strategic calendar. If possible, it’s best to have the retreat off-site in a fun place, where creative juices can flow during the day and the team can relax and have fun in the evenings. 

Assigned Reading

It takes more than meetings to keep ministry and staff healthy; there has to be intentionality in development and growth. Choose four or five leadership books. Write each title on a sticky note, and place each note on your calendar. Be strategic, meaning, don’t assign a book two weeks before Easter. After reading the material, gather the team and discuss the take aways and applications. This is a great way to promote self-growth and develop leadership. 

Performance Evaluations


I recommend two performance evaluations per year (usually one at six months and one at the end of the year). There are several good evaluation tools floating around out there, but some of my favorites are the ones where each team member evaluates themselves. I always make sure two questions are asked at each evaluation: 1) What is your current greatest struggle? and 2) How can I help you succeed? 


What else do you think is important enough to put on the calendar that would promote ministry health? 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Three Attributes of an Executive Pastor

Earlier this year I made the transition from lead pastor to executive pastor. This transition gave me more flexibility to work as a ministry consultant with The Unstuck Group to help churches get unstuck through strategic planning and coaching.  

After being the lead guy for over sixteen years, being the #2 guy was a breath of fresh air. While I enjoy teaching and preaching on the weekends, my true passion is coaching pastors and leaders to help churches grow. 

As an XP, I have several responsibilities that pertain to the daily operations of the church. However, my most important tasks surround the lead pastor and staff.  When health and vitality surround the visionary and his or her team, vision execution happens well. Here’s three attributes that should be visible in an executive pastor:


Encourage: No one knows the pain that comes with being the lead guy (unless you’ve been one). While a stage and microphone may look appealing to some, it also comes with a price. Leading people can be both a burden and a blessing. Low attendance, disgruntled families leaving the church or financial strain are just a few things that can bring frustration and anxiety to a pastor. I remember countless Sundays, driving home feeling discouraged and ready to quit. Actually, all pastors feel this way at different times, they just don't share it. A heartening email, text message or a phone call goes a long way, as does a listening ear. 

Equip: A lead pastor is only as effective as their team. Equipping the team is a vital role for an executive pastor. Creating a place of team development expands the opportunity to dream and achieve bigger vision. There are many ways to provide growth opportunities for your team. For example, have your team to read different leadership books throughout the year. Afterwards, (as a group) ask three questions: 

  • What are your three takeaways from the reading? 
  • How can you apply the takeaways to yourself? 
  • How can you apply the takeaways to the church and/or your position? 


While this may seem elementary, consistently equipping your team is vital to the success of your mission. 

Empower: Lastly, as an executive pastor, I want to bring empowerment to my pastor and team through a healthy environment of accountability and rhythm. This means I must be willing to ask the right questions (and sometimes the hard questions). It also means I must be intentional about helping the team find (and keep) a rhythm for work, play and rest. Working hard, playing hard and finding rest is critical to team health and performance.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Importance of Sunday Flow



One of the most important elements of church is the Sunday gathering. There, people are invited to worship Jesus, hear God’s Word and challenged to grow in their faith. This is also the typical entry point for new people, which makes it that much more important. Each week we should strive to become more excellent by asking, “How can we make it better?” If there is one thing I could underline that makes or breaks a weekend gathering, it would be the flow of service. 


understanding FLOW

There should be a natural, but intentional flow of the weekend gathering from start to finish. I like to use the analogy of a swimming pool. Imagine the sanctuary or auditorium as an empty pool. As soon as the first video plays or the opening song begins, the pool begins to fill up. Each song builds on the other, and the pool gets fuller. There’s a smooth transition into preaching and then response time…and then dismissal. Everything feels great because everything FLOWS.

Unfortunately, services do not always flow so well…and some don’t flow at all. Here are some key factors to create and keep a healthy service flow:


start on TIME

Making sure the service begins on time is very important to flow (and it shows professionalism). When services consistently begin on time, it helps those participating find a groove and develop a “business as usual” mentality. 

don't drain the POOL

One of the quickest ways to drain the pool is to allow dead spots. There's nothing worse than the awkward silence that happens between worship songs or between the last song and the pastor taking the stage. Dead spots drain the pool and kill the flow. Using intentional transitions can solve this problem. Initiating applause (let’s give God praise!), continual background music or going directly into the next song is a great way to keep the pool full and everything flowing. 

BUMPERS are your friend

Video bumpers are a great tool for making a transition from worship to preaching. Bumpers are typically 30 to 45 seconds and are branded with the message or series with music in the background. The purpose of the bumper is to kill the dead spot between the last worship song or prayer and when the pastor takes the stage. 

leverage pre-recorded MUSIC

Most pastors begin their message with a welcome, a little humor and then moves on to the text. Eventually, as the pastor winds down towards the end of the message, there is a shift. Usually it begins with, “Let’s all bow our heads for a moment.” This is a great time for the A/V team to begin playing soft, pre-recorded music. Doing so keeps the pool full and allows a great transition for the worship band to take stage again (most people have their heads bowed, so they don’t see even it). 

utilize EXIT songs


Regardless of how you conclude your Sunday, you always want to make sure people leave in an upbeat, high energy environment. Having the worship band to play the first song from their worship set is a great way to create that. When you end with energy and excitement, it creates a vibe that makes people want to come back…after all, we have a lot to be excited about.