Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Three Giving Mistakes Churches Make

If a church is going to become intentional about reaching people for Jesus, there’s a few things that must be in place. The church must be welcoming to unchurched people; children’s ministry needs to be top notch and obviously there must be a clear gospel message. There’s something else that is critical as well, and that’s giving. It’s not a popular subject, but the reality is, it cost money to reach lost people. Taking an offering isn’t a strategy designed by the church; it's God’s strategy. Giving is meant to accomplish two things. First, it ensures God has our entire heart. Jesus said, “No one can worship God and money…” (Matthew 6:24). It’s no surprise that money often competes for our heart. Secondly, giving is God’s plan to finance the work of the gospel. Although scripture is clear about how Christians should handle money, many churches still struggle financially. In many cases, this isn’t the result of disobedient church members.

Here are three giving mistakes I often find in churches:

Don't try to sneak it in...

I have attended churches where it felt like the offering was slid in during announcements. When this happens, usually very little, if anything, is said about the offering. Buckets are quickly passed during a video or someone sharing upcoming events. It almost feels like the offering is snuck in, in hopes that no one will notice. The problem is, many times people don't notice or if they do, they don't give it any attention (because the leadership doesn't). As a result, giving per capita goes down and ministry doesn't get funding. Giving shouldn’t be bundled with announcements to save time or keep things comfortable, which are usually the excuses I hear. Giving is an opportunity to share God stories from the stage, as well as create a teaching moment for the people. 

Missing the Moment...

I have also seen churches who refuse to take an offering. In their opinion, passing a plate or offering bag is too pushy. Instead, they let everyone know there’s a box in the back of the church where people can give if they wish to. I know a few churches who handle giving this way and actually do well, but most don’t. Despite the financial success, we need to remember that giving is an act of worship. When churches choose not to take an offering, they are removing the opportunity for people to worship God. There should be a moment where people can express their worship through generosity. An intentional worship focus on giving can create an experience of devotion that can enhance the weekend experience.

Don't Guilt People into Giving...

There’s nothing worse than feeling guilted into doing something. This is especially true when it comes to giving. When leaders use defunded ministries and failing budgets to "guilt" people into writing a check, few usually respond and those who do, don't last long. While financial transparency is important, creating an environment of guilt and desperation never works well. Giving should be presented as an opportunity to fund vision and reach people with the gospel, not an obligation to appease guilt-filled demands. 

At the end of the day, tithes and offerings are vital to reach lost people. If your church isn’t healthy financially, determine which ministries aren’t producing life change and bury them. Take the resources from those dead ministries and place them in areas that are making impact. No one wants to invest in a sinking ship; but Christians will give to a vision that’s reaching people for Jesus. Learn more about How to Bury a Dead Ministry and increase gospel impact.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fixing the LOW or NO Baptism Problem

In my experience of working with The Unstuck Group, I typically see common denominators of stuck churches. In addition to attendance, other things decline as well. Unfortunately one area that usually takes a negative hit is the number of baptisms. 

When helping churches build vision, I ask, “How many people do you think you’ll baptize in five years?” If the church has a history of low or no baptisms (which most stuck churches do), this question causes the team to pause. If there’s one bullet point that should be a part of every church’s vision, it’s reaching people with the gospel. It’s biblical. Jesus reminds us of this during a conversation with Peter after a fishing trip (Luke 5:10). 

“…Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people! ”

At the end of the day, Jesus has called the church to fish for people. Unchurched people. 

Here are three core issues I have found in churches that have low or no baptisms

Fishing in the Wrong Place 

A good fishermen knows where to fish. If you're fishing for crappie, it’s a good idea to fish around underwater stumps. If you’re after catfish, you'll need to make sure your bait is on the bottom, because that's where catfish like to hang out. Likewise, the church needs a strategy that targets areas where unchurched people hang out. Establishing a presence in the community and on-ramps to relational environments often gives the church permission to speak into the lives of people who aren’t Christians…and this can produce great results for the Kingdom.    

Fishing with the Wrong Bait

While many churches in America have moved towards a post modern, contemporary style, most have not. If we are going to catch the younger generation of people, we have to use the right bait. The only alternative is an aging, dying church. Old school ideologies, dry services and trying to preach in Old English is the worst kind of bait. That's like trying to catch a catfish with a piece of broccoli…it isn’t going to happen. Your facilities, dress code, worship style, children's ministry, etc should be attractive to the people you're trying to reach. If your church is only attractive to Christians, then you're using the wrong bait. 

Fishing without a Hook

 While there are different places to fish and different kinds of bait to fish with, one thing never changes, and that is the hook. Without a hook, you can fish in the right spot, attract fish with the right bait, but you'll never reel one in. When it comes to reaching people for Jesus, there is only one hook; the gospel. The gospel never changes and without it, nothing else matters. 

If you want to see conversions and baptisms increase in your church, discuss these questions with your team:

  1. Are we focused on reaching the unchurched in our community and city? What resources are we putting into this? What results are we seeing?

  1. Does our weekend experience make sense to someone who isn’t a Christian? How would someone who has never been to church describe their first time experience? Is it weird? Confusing? Awkward? 

  1. Are we giving a clear, gospel presentation each weekend? Are we giving people easy, simple steps to follow Jesus? Do people have options to respond to the gospel? 

  1. Are we following up with people who respond to the gospel? Is the follow up effective? What needs to change? 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Power of Planning

It seems like every year there’s a new diet plan that's guaranteed to work. Whether it’s a new piece of exercise equipment, a bottle of pills or special meals shipped to your home, they all promise to make the pounds melt away (and usually with little effort). Regardless of the promotions and promises, there is really one basic truth when it comes to a healthy way to lose weight. Burn (or lessen) more calories than you consume. That’s it. 

There is, from time to time, some new thing that promises instant success in the world of church. Some leaders believe if they can only find it, buy it or build it, growth will happen. Usually it's something along the lines of a new building, cool stage lights, adding staff or more money. However, much like losing weight, at the end of the day there is really only one healthy way to grow a church...and that is prayerful planning. Sure, the other things help fuel growth, but prayerful planning is the core engine.  

Here’s a few scriptures that validate this truth:

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:3

Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22

May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed. Psalms 20:4

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? Luke 14:28

The reality is, God wants the church to grow. He wants the church to change lives. That’s why He established it. I believe God has a plan for every church; we simply have to pursue Him in order to find it. God loves to be sought after. 

Here’s three things you can do to start planning for growth.

Dream as a Team

While the lead pastor is the visionary and primary communicator, it is helpful to determine “what’s next” as a team. The Bible says 

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers(Proverbs 11:14)

Ask your team, "What is God saying to you?" Push them to dream. Capture all their thoughts on a whiteboard or flip-chart. It's amazing how God can use these conversations to paint a beautiful vision for the church.

Plan as a Team

Once you’ve determined where you’re going, ask “How will we get there?” Ask your team how, don't tell them how. Give them an opportunity to engage. Inviting the team to answer the "how" releases creativity in the room. It allows them to participate in the brick and mortar stage of planning. Participation creates ownership and ownership heightens commitment.  

Execute as a Team

One of our core philosophies at The Unstuck Group is, “We is smarter than me.” We understand the value of a strong team. This is especially true when it comes to executing plans. While every team needs a leader, execution should be a joint effort by a focused team. When details and deadlines surrounds a team, strong execution happens.

Unfortunately, planning isn’t like the diet gimmicks. It doesn't promise or produce instant success. But in time, growth happens. And slow growth is usually healthy growth. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Squirrel Proof Your Staff Meetings

My wife and I recently relocated to the Lake Cumberland area in Bronston, KY. We love our new home, new friends and the lake isn't bad either. There are a few things I miss about our previous home. For example, I miss our large deck that was surrounded by huge oak trees. The oaks provided plenty of shade in the summer, but they also provided something else...squirrels. During the first few years we lived there, they weren't an issue. Fast forward several years and the squirrel population grew. After that, it didn't take long to learn that squirrels could be a real nuisance, especially when they found their way into the attic. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to exterminate them, because the people who bought our house inherited the new fluffy-tailed family. 

Staff meetings are another place squirrels seem to invade and cause problems. Obviously I am not talking about the nut-eating animal who live in the trees (and sometimes your attic). I am talking about the disruptions and distractions that often find their way into staff meetings. When this happens, the ability to stay focused and productive becomes a struggle and results in poor planning. Here are some signs that your staff meetings may have a squirrel problem:

  1. Staff meetings never start or end on time
  2. Social media fights for the attention in the room
  3. New ideas and offline conversations override the agenda
  4. Everyone leaves with little or no clear accomplishments

If any of these sound like your staff meeting, there's a good chance you have a squirrel problem. Here are three things you can do to help squirrel proof your meetings

FUN on the Front End

Start your staff meeting with fun. Encourage your staff to share a fun story, a youtube video or hilarious tweet. Believe it or not, this can be key in setting a productive team environment. You'll be surprised how your team will look forward to this part of the meeting each week. Laughter can help people solve problems that demand creative solutions, by making it easier to think more broadly and associate ideas/relationships more freely. Recent research shows that people in a lighter mood experience more eureka! moments and greater inspiration (read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Jay Goleman ). Suggestion: Establish the first ten minutes as "FUN." During this time, anything goes. But when the ten is gone, it's time to get to business. 


 After having some fun, it's time to drill down into the details of the meeting. It is helpful to make the transition with prayer, asking Jesus to lead the upcoming conversations. Hopefully you are prepared and everyone is fully aware that social media, text messages and side stories have been put to bed. Bringing focus to your team requires staying true to the agenda and ensuring everyone is engaged without interruption. Recently the New York Times published research from The University of California that showed it can take up to 25 minutes to regain focus after being interrupted. If that's true, technology and side conversations can be a coffin nail to planning meetings.


There always seems to be that last squirrel hanging around at the end of meetings, waiting to jump in. This particular squirrel is usually the one responsible for meetings lasting much longer than they should. While there are always exceptions, as the team leader, it is important to finish on time. When a team consistently starts and finishes on time, rhythm happens. When a team finds their rhythm, stuff gets done. 

So, if you need a standard squirrel proof meeting agenda, here it is:

  1. Fun
  2. Focus
  3. Finish

In what ways are you adding health to your staff meetings? 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Building an Invite Culture in your Church

Growing a church isn't easy. It takes dedication, hard work and good planning. Even though there are tons of books and blogs out there about it, many churches still struggle in attracting new people. Despite the latest greatest growth strategies, friends inviting friends is still the most effective way to bring new people to church. When people become intentional about bringing their unchurched friends to church, they get to witness life change up close and personal...and when that happens, the church moves into a culture of invite. 

Here’s three things to help build an invite culture in your church: 

  1. Design a gospel-centered invite culture
  2. Determine your invite platforms
  3. Develop people to be path leaders 

Creating the Design 

A healthy invite culture must be designed around the why more than the what. When we focus on the why, it removes us from the what and automatically answers the whobecause the why is always about people who aren't following Jesus. It's about the gospel, which means unchurched people become the "who" by default. When a church begins to value inviting unchurched people, their culture begins to shift; because whatever a church values eventually shapes their culture. Suddenly preaching styles, worship styles, internal language and yes, invite strategies are designed and evaluated while looking through the lens of the person who needs Jesus. 

Determining the Platforms

In addition to a gospel-centered design, you will need to determine and leverage invite platforms. There are natural platforms that happen every year like Easter, Christmas, the new year and mom’s day. In addition to natural platforms, it’s important to create other platforms, such as hot topic series, family series or create a community-based event. Invite platforms provide opportunities for congregants to invite their friends to something besides church; and they still hear the gospel. Congregants are more comfortable inviting their unchurched friends to an Easter drama, a Christmas play or a themed weekendPastors and leaders often make the mistake of treating sheep like shepherds. It’s usually easy for pastors and leaders to invite people to church; however, the average lay person can find it uncomfortable. When you give them the right motive (life change) and something to invite their friends to (the right platform); you'll soon see new faces and new opportunities to reach people for Jesus. 

Developing Path Leaders

Eventually, the goal of an invite culture is to move congregants from inviters to path leaders. New people showing up isn't the endgame. The real win is when church members walk alongside their friends on a journey to help them follow Jesus more deeply. Another word for this is discipleship. When people invite their friends to join them on a discipleship pathway, lives drastically change. Imagine people saying to their friends, "Follow me to small groups, connect class or our partnership class. I'll go with you!" 

In order for this to happen well, a clear pathway is critical. New people showing up is always awesome, but profits little if there aren't clear next steps to help people follow Jesus and become a disciple. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dealing with a SICK Budget

I have heard the word sick used in the context where it meant good or awesome. But in this case, we'll use it by it's true origin. There’s nothing more frustrating than sick budgets. There are different levels of budget sickness. Some budgets have a weak cough; others are running a fever; and some are bleeding to death. I have worked with churches where Sunday offerings determined the weekly attitude of the team. The entire team rides the rollercoaster of emotions. Not a very healthy environment for anyone. 

There are a lot of different reasons budgets get in trouble. Here are three common factors I see that contribute to financial sickness.

Too Little Talk

I have heard pastors and leaders say, “We don’t talk about money in our church.” When I ask why, the reply is usually, “It makes people uncomfortable.” What’s even worse, some tie a theological string to it. The truth is, talking about money makes a lot of pastors uncomfortable because of possible pushback. Here’s my philosophy; if you don’t talk about it on Sunday, don’t cry when you don’t see it on Monday. When pastors refuse to teach generosity, they are cheating people from experiencing God’s blessing. The Bible has over 2,000 verses about money and possessions, including sixteen of the thirty eight parables. The gospels alone talk about money 288 times. Refusing to teach people about generosity is the same as refusing to teach people to pray or serve. They are all Christian disciplines and even more importantly, they are all commandments from Jesus. (Matthew 23:23)

Remedy: Utilize offering time as an opportunity to encourage and teach generosity. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should unload a twenty minute sermonette on giving every weekend (although generosity sermons should be on your preaching calendar); there are other ways. Sharing scripture, life stories and especially vision is the best way to build a culture of generosity. When people can see God’s vision for the church, it becomes about more than money. People are more likely to give to what they see, not what they hear. Paint the picture and teach people that giving is an opportunity (not an obligation) to be a part of God’s BIG plan for the church and His Kingdom. 

Too Much Salary

When staff salaries bleed out resources, ministry is always the first thing that gets defunded. When that happens, lifelessness is just around the corner. Ministry is the life vein of the church and when there’s no investment, there’s no return. This can result from having too many people on staff and/or high salaries. At the Unstuck Group, we recommend one staff person for every hundred people. Salaries should be between 45%- 55% of the total budget.  

Remedy: Cutting budget can be painful, especially when salaries are involved. The first step is to gather all the numbers and determine each percentage. Create four or five categories and plug each percentage into the appropriate place (e.g. salaries, mission, operational, capital, etc). I like using the pie chart. This will show what is eating most of the pie. When a church is salary heavy, the strategy is obvious. Cut the salary slice so you can fatten up the other slices (especially the ministry slice). Doing so will breathe new life back into the church and in the end, the staff will be healthier. 

Too Little Accountability 

Numbers aren’t the most important thing in the world of church (or business); but if you ever stop looking at them, you’ll think they are. When financials aren’t properly monitored (by a team or board, not a person), things can go south quickly. I have seen financial reports that were so vague, determining financial health was impossible. Too often, board meetings leave out conversations about finances and focus solely on ministry. While this may keep the meetings more comfortable, it will eventually bite you in the butt. Mission must be financed and it cost money to reach lost people.

Remedy: Make sure financial review is always a bullet point on the agenda. I recommend a snapshot of the financials on a monthly basis and detailed report each quarter. The snapshot report should show income and expenditures from the previous month (or weeks). The quarterly report should show patterns and trends for giving and income, as well as whether or not the church is on track with the budget. While this may sound elementary, you’d be surprised how many churches never have those conversations until things are already very sick and bleeding. Health prevention is your best friend when it comes to budget. 

For more resources around church health, be sure to get the eBook Vital Signs from the Unstuck Group

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Growth in the fast lane, pixie dust and other issues of growing weekend attendance

  I am privileged to be a part of The Unstuck Group, where I have the opportunity to work with churches around the country. I get to meet wonderful people and hear great stories about how God is impacting lives through the ministries of the local church.

  I primarily work with churches who have 500 or less in attendance, which is a totally different dynamic than the larger/mega churches The Unstuck Group normally work with. One major difference in working with smaller churches is the visibility of growth...or the lack thereof. For example, if five families leave a church that's averaging 1,200 people each weekend, it's unlikely their absence would be noticed the following Sunday. That's like throwing a stone into a lake; it makes a ripple, but very small. However, when five families drop out of a church that's running 120 people, that's like throwing a stone into a puddle. The following Sunday the pastor sees the empty space. There's a huge splash and everyone gets wet. 

  This is one of the main reasons churches 500 and less look for growth in the fast lane. They want to walk in on Sundays and see the room full. They want quick results. They want instant increase. They want a bag of pixie dust. Chasing growth in the fast lane seldom ends well. It usually creates more problems and more frustration. And if the pixie dust did exist...every church would be full. 

There is no Pixie Dust for Church Growth

  I remember being a young pastor, running from conference to conference looking for my own pixie dust to grow my church. I wanted growth in the fast lane and I wanted it now. It took me five years of pixie dust hunting to realize church growth was dependent upon leaning into Jesus and working my butt off. Growing a church is hard work and there's no way around it. Building good strategic plans doesn't always result in less work; but good strategy brings clarity so the right work can be planned, executed and measured. If you want your church to grow, you must be willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. 

Slow Growth is Healthy Growth

  I have always told pastors, "Never put a 4th grader on the bus and expect him to come home an 8th grader. Growth takes time." If the 4th grader did return an 8th grader, it would be unhealthy growth. There is, as always, an exception to this thought. I have seen churches grow very quickly as a result of God's intervention, the right leadership and good planning. However, churches that have been stuck for years usually don't see quick growth. In my experience it takes at least twelve months before a stuck church starts seeing tangible growth; and up to three years to see significant growth. It really depends on how long the church has been stuck and the ability to lead change.

Growth means Change means Loss

 Lastly, when a stuck church is ready to grow, they must be ready for change, which can also mean loss. When a six year old loses a baby tooth, no one calls the ambulance. Even with the kid screaming and blood everywhere, the parents don't freak out. They understand that losing (baby teeth) is part of growing. It's normal. The same is true with churches. When a stuck church begins to grow again, change occurs; and there are things the body outgrows. Some common areas I see affected are governance, decision making processes, worship styles, target audience, staff and burying ministries that aren't making a difference. Is it messy? Yes, and sometimes it bleeds...a lot. But we know change and loss often proceed growth and is therefore, necessary.