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. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Leading, Bleeding and Saying the Hard Things

Some of my fondest memories as a boy were hanging out with my neighborhood friends. In those days we were influenced by movies like Rambo, (Sylvester Stallone) and Missing in Action (Chuck Norris). My friends and I spent hours in the woods, fighting invisible enemies with plastic guns. We were typical boys. There was hardly a day that went by that someone didn’t go home with a scrapped knee or bloody elbow. 

When that somebody was me, I knew what to expect. My mom would wash the wound and then pour liquid hell on it. We called it, “the red stuff,” but the correct name was Merthiolate. If you’re my age or older and spent a lot of time playing outdoors, you probably know exactly what I am talking about. It was usually in a little brown bottle and lived in the medicine cabinet. And if you’ve ever had it applied to a cut, you can testify that the red stuff hurt much worse than the rock that scrapped your knee. 

In the world of church, we don’t see a lot of scrapped knees, but we do see people wounded by sin, both in the congregation and church leadership. When it comes to wounded leadership, it's usually the result of some sort of internal conflict. When contention surrounds critical areas of the church, leaders can get scrapes that can’t afford to be left unattended. There is value in having people around the table who ask the tough questions; but when resistance to mission and vision occur, it can be deadly. 

Confrontation Cleanses

As leaders, we have no choice but to confront the issues that can slow down the growth and impact of the church. Confronting disgruntled leaders is necessary because they typically have a level of influence in the church. It’s never easy, but neglect can create worse problems. No one enjoys saying the hard things no more than our moms enjoyed pouring the red stuff on our scrapped knees; but pretending it isn’t there is an open door for infection, that eventually affects the entire (church) body. 

Ignore the Noise

I wished I could tell you that at the age of twelve, I gritted my teeth and took the red stuff like a man, but I didn’t. Instead, I screamed like a girl. Despite my squirming and squealing, my mom didn’t stop dosing the wound with Merthiolate (she did always blow on it to soothe the burning…that’s what moms do). Like our moms, we have to ignore the noise people make when decisions are made for the health of the church. Saying the hard things can sting and burn; but at the end of the day, you have to do what's best for the overall body.

It's easier to please people than confront people

There will always be pushback and challenges when it comes to executing vision and mission. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. It’s easier to please people than confront people, which is why most churches are under one hundred in attendance. Leading requires saying the hard things and a splash of Merthiolate every now and then. People will squirm and squeal, but the end result will be a healthier body. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Leadership Unity and Vision Flow...

I am privileged to serve as both an XP for my own church and a ministry consultant for churches around the country (with The Unstuck Group). I get excited when churches grow, thrive and impact people for Jesus. Growth and impact doesn't come easy. It's hard work. In addition to the organizational challenges, the church also has to tend with a spiritual foe, who relentlessly tries to discourage the work of the gospel. 

When leading churches through strategic planning, I ask them to identify the top risks that could slow down or stop growth and impact. While different churches identify different risks, there is one that usually makes it into the conversation, the lack of unity. Disunity is a risk. Dividing a church usually starts by dividing the team that's leading the church. 

In Bible, the Psalmist talks about the beauty and importance of unity. He writes,

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running on the collar of his robes! Psalms 133:1-2, ESV

In this passage, we see four important pieces of unity that can be applied to the church and the vision. Allow me to run with some symbolism here...

The Vision

The Psalmist paints a beautiful picture of God's people united under a cause. The cause is more than a Sunday gathering; it's about the Kingdom. If we rewind to the Old Testament, we know the oil was symbolic of God's anointing and presence. It reminds us that Kingdom vision must flow from above, from God Himself. When the church is unified around God's vision, powerful things happen. Our responsibility is to keep ourselves and our church in alignment with where God is leading.

The Leader

Notice the oil is poured upon Aaron's head, who served as God's priest in the Old Testament. In the church world, this would be a picture of the lead pastor. This doesn't mean the pastor has all the answers or is responsible for the complete organizational vision of the church; but at the end of the day, he is the leader and must know where God is leading. A pastor can't unify a church around a vision that he isn't clear about himself. Knowing God's heart requires an intentional listening on our end. There is nothing that can replace time alone with God

The Lead Team

The oil runs from the head to the beard. The beard is a picture of a leadership team, or those who surround the head. They share the same oil; the same vision. The idea is, when the head turns, the beard turns with it. They are unified and focused on the same things. When this happens, it truly is beautiful. However, when there is a misalignment between the leader and the leadership team, the vision flow becomes interrupted and focus becomes lost. 

The Church Body

The most interesting fact about this Psalm is the collar of his robes. If the head represents the leader and the beard the team who surrounds the leader, then the body must represent...the church body. When you think about it, hair doesn't absorb oil as much as it carries it. It's the collar of the robes that absorb it. Here's the picture. When the leader and lead team are in alignment and unified, the church body becomes the recipient of the oil. Vision is carried to them. They become saturated with God's purpose and awesome things begin to happen. 

Things to Ponder...

1. What practices are in place to ensure strong unity between the lead pastor and leadership team?

2. How often does the leadership team come together and measure vision progress?

3. What are the best practices for leadership to carry vision to the church body? 

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.