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. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Building a Leadership Development Cycle

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

Leadership Development Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discover: Bird v/s Egg  

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

Excavate: Relational Investment 

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

Polish: Mentoring

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

Release: Intentional Mission 

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

What are your thoughts or comments?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What Southwest taught me about First Time Guests

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

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

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

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


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

Next Steps

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


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


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


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


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Creating Volunteer Health in your Church

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

Finding Volunteers 

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

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

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