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. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Building a Strategic Preaching Calendar

If there is one thing I’ve learned about planning, it’s the importance of a calendar. In most cases, if it doesn’t make it to the calendar, it doesn’t get done. Building a strategic calendar takes discipline and time…but brings a great return. 

An old friend and mentor of mine taught me the importance of having an annual calendar in front of me all year long. The easiest way to build a strategic calendar is to buy a desk calendar, tear all the pages off, lay them face down in chronological order and tape the back. Now you have the entire year in front of you. Writing events on different colored sticky notes gives you the ability to schedule and move things around without having to write in the actual calendar. Here's the one in my office. 

I usually encourage pastors and leaders to build their strategic calendar in the fall of the year around four themes:

  1. Preaching/Sermon Series: 
  2. Personal Vitality 
  3. Giving
  4. Ministry

In this blog, we’ll talk about the preaching calendar 

While the pastor is the primary communicator, there is value in planning the year with a team. Team approached planning brings imagination and creativity to the table and gives the team a great visual for the year. Preaching calendars are usually planned around six or seven ideas or themes. You don’t necessarily have to know exactly what you’re preaching, but landing different themes and ideas on the calendar can help sermon prep, worship and creative arts excel. Good planning allows more opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak and tweak the plans that you have put together for the year. You're also showing your team the importance and discipline of organizational planning.

Here are some suggested themes to help get you started:

  • Jan: Vision Series: This is a great time to introduce new vision and/or change, as most people are open to new things at the beginning of the year. It's a great time to share new vision direction and objectives as well as challenge people to get on board.

  • Feb: Love Series: Here’s a great place to build a series about loving (and reaching) your neighbor. Spin off Valentines Day and have fun with it. Tie it to Loving your Neighbor and use it as the groundwork for next month's series.

  • Mar-Apr: Invite Series: Easter always lands in late March or early April. Launching an invite series before Easter can greatly impact the big day. This is an opportunity to build an invite culture in your church by teaching that inviting isn't an act of hospitality, it's missional and can result in life change. 

  • May-Jul: Christian Discipline Series: Typically after Mother’s Day, the weather is warm and churches begin to see the first fruits of the approaching summer slump. While attendance may decline, your core people still show up. This is a great opportunity to preach different sermon series that challenge people to follow Jesus more deeply.

  • Aug-Sep: Marriage and Family Series: Once the summer winds down, families begin to get into the rhythm of school, activities and, yes...even church. A marriage and family series fits nicely here. Be creative and relevant with how you package the series. Deal with current issues and tie in your core values. 

  • Oct: Evangelism Series: Hopefully your church has new faces from the natural fall-autumn growth, which makes October the perfect month for intentional evangelism. Build series around questions like, "What happens after I die?" or "Why do I need to be saved?" These are questions unchurched people are asking, but not out loud. 

  • Nov-Dec: Holiday Series: Obviously these two months are ideal for holiday messages on thanksgiving and Christmas and a great opportunity to build end of the year giving initiatives...which is another subject. 

 Remember, if it doesn't make it to the calendar, it usually doesn't get done. A strategic calendar can greatly impact your sermon planning and will be helpful for your entire team. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Three conversations to help Small Churches get UNSTUCK

  The Unstuck Group works with a lot of churches around the country, most averaging 1200 people and up. A couple of years ago Tony Morgan and Mark Meyer unleashed Growth Solutions, which focuses on churches that average 500 people or less. We believe every church, large or small; rural or urban; can grow if it becomes healthy. Healthy things grow. 

A recent survey showed the majority of North American churches (mostly rural churches) average less than 87 people each Sunday. Another study (from 2011) showed the majority of North American churches either aren't growing or have been in decline for the last 30 years. This stat is still pretty accurate. While the majority of churches are under 90, there are churches who make it to the 200-400 mark, only to find themselves stuck as well. In addition to churches in decline or stuck, many are closing their doors. 

In March 2016, Ed Stetzer pushed out this tweet:

"In a given week in the United States, 77 churches were planted, and 71 were closed." -from our @LifeWayResearch report at @NewChurches.

These are scary stats and makes one wonder what the future of church looks like. Before you panic, let me remind you of what the Bible says. First, Jesus is the builder of the church (Matthew 16:18). I'm pretty sure He is aware of these stats, and I'm also sure He isn't freaking out. Second, we know it's God's will for churches to grow, which means, He's on our side, which is a very good thing. 

The question remains, "How can smaller churches who are stuck or in decline begin growing?" 

I work with smaller churches around the country and lead coaching networks for rural pastors at Nebraska Christian College. In my experience common denominators always seems to stand out among churches that bring about stuck-ness.

Here are three conversations churches should have when talking about how to get unstuck.

1. What are you married to?

Notice I didn't say who, but what. In most cases, stuck churches are married to the traditions of the church instead of a vision for the church. You can't be married to both. One will be jealous of the other and they will always compete for attention and resources. Getting unstuck begins by clarifying vision and embracing change, even if it means you have to divorce (and bury) past traditions that stand in the way of vision implementation and progress. 

2. Who's in the Cab?

Jim Collins talks about the importance of the right people on the bus. I like Larry Osbourne's analogy better.  Once while sitting with a handful of pastors at a Leadership Network gathering, Larry used this story...

"A [small] church is like an S-10 pickup truck. The pastor is the driver and usually the two guys who helped him get it started is in the cab with him. Soon people climb in the back of the truck; growth is happening. Then, because the truck is so full, people begin falling out. The pastor thinks, 'I need to get to the next town so I can buy a bigger truck!' Unfortunately, the pastor doesn't know the way. Just then, he looks in his rear-view mirror, and sees a guy in the back with a map sticking out of his pocket. He thinks to himself, 'I need that guy in the cab with me.' However, there's only one way that can happen. The pastor must be bold enough to ask one of the two guys (who have been with him since day one) to go to the back of the truck and let the new guy come to the cab. If the guy in the cab is good leader and understands the vision, he'll go to the back of the truck and lead well. If not, he'll leave the truck and may take a few with him." 

As a pastor, you have to make sure you have the right people in the cab, or you'll never break growth barriers. This means you may have to ask people who have been with you since the beginning to move to the back in order to make room for the guy who has the gifts and talents to help you get to the next level of ministry.

3. Who are you trying to reach? 

While almost every church agrees their target should be people who aren't Christians, most aren't see unchurched people on Sunday. I have learned that every church loves the idea of reaching unchurched people, but not every church loves reaching unchurched people. When a church says, "Our mission is reach the lost!" I will counter with, "What evidence is there on Sunday that proves this?" Worship styles, preaching styles and facility changes are just a few things that are vital to reaching the unchurched. This means "it's not about me" anymore. Getting unstuck requires more than changing the way you think; it also requires taking action as well. 

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 you'll experience 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.