What is Holding Your Church Back

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I’m not sure where I read it, but Nelson Searcy said, “Your church is not realizing as much of its potential as it could.” This can be off putting depending on your view of the church and your view of leadership. If pastors and church members are honest, most churches are not realizing their potential. They are not doing all that God is calling them to, they are not as healthy as they could be and they are not seeing the growth in people that they could.

Often, it isn’t intentional, they are just allowing church to happen to them. They are working in the church.

In his book Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley says one of the most important things for a pastor to do is work on the church. This is different than working in the church.

Work on it means that to maintain your relevance, your sanity, and your effectiveness, you must carve out time in your schedule to step back and evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Many churches do this on Monday when they look back on the weekend and evaluate things based off what is the win for them. How they evaluate it will vary. Some questions I ask myself are:

  • What did God do that we can celebrate?
  • Was it Christ centered?
  • Was everything clear? Would someone without a church background know what we were doing at all times?
  • Was it relevant to everyone who came?
  • Did we help people take their next step? Was that next step obvious?
  • Did everyone who was on stage, taught, led and volunteered, did they bring their best?

This is helpful and something that should be done weekly.

One area that many pastors fail to work on their church is the bigger picture. This is why a summer preaching break is so helpful. The summer is the ideal time for this as you get ready to head into the fall ministry season, hit the holidays and then roll into the new year. The summer is a reset time in many ways.

Here are some questions to ask for your organization:

  • Are we doing anything that does not help us accomplish our vision?
  • What size are we right now? If we doubled in the next year, what would we stop doing? What will we start doing when we reach twice our size?
  • What things are keeping us from growing?
  • What systems need to be changed or fixed to maintain health as we grow?
  • How can the preaching calendar help us take the next step as a church?
  • Do we need to replace any leaders as we grow because we have reached their lids? What can do to help expand their leadership lids?

Working on the church is not just about evaluating the organization and ministry of the church. Pastors and leaders also need to spend some time looking at their own hearts, leadership abilities and lives.

Here are some personal questions to ask:

  • How is my energy level? How do I recharge before the fall season?
  • What do I need to put into place so that I don’t burnout in the next year?
  • What areas do I need to grow as a leader so that I can help lead the church in this next season (each year I focus on an area of my job that I want to grow in and read or get coaching in that area)?
  • Is God calling our church to anything new in the coming year?
  • Am I wasting my energy or time in any area of my life?
  • Am I keeping appropriate boundaries with social media?
  • Where do my deepest frustrations come from? What can I do immediately about them?
  • What is the single most important thing to do or decide to do right now to achieve my life vision and the vision for our church?
  • How am I failing to give my best time and energy to my family? What changes do I need to make immediately about this?

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How to Find the Right Boss

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The church I lead is hiring 2 new staff members right now and while I’ve learned a ton about hiring (a post coming soon), I have also learned a lot about how to pick a boss. Often, when someone talks about finding a job or a career, we simply look at the company, the perks, the pay, location and the values and mission of the church or organization and decide on that. Yet, studies show people leave jobs more because of their boss than anything else. In fact, people will take less money to stay with a boss they love. One of the questions I ask each person we interview is this: Tell me about your ideal lead pastor. What can he do to help you succeed? What things can he do to hamper your growth? These questions tell me a few things: do they know what they are looking for in a boss? Do they know themselves well enough to know what they need to succeed?

I believe, one of the reasons we don’t succeed or move forward in life is because we aren’t sure what that looks like.

If I was telling someone looking for a job who would not be the boss, but would have a boss I would tell you a few things:

  1. Know who you are. This means that you need to understand your gifts, talents, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. This may seem like an obvious thing, but many are unsure of how they are wired. If you aren’t sure how you are wired, you won’t know how will you fit with a boss or a culture. Do you like teamwork, working alone? Do you want a strict office or more laid back policies? Each church has a different culture based on its leaders, city and history and you need to understand this. I was on staff at a good church in Wisconsin and it was a terrible cultural fit. They wanted high extroverts who wanted a casual business dress with regular office hours. Doing student ministry at the time, this was not a good fit for me. Others would have loved it.
  2. Know what you need to succeed. This follows closely with the first one, but know what environment and kind of boss you need to succeed. Do you want a micro manager who one who is hands off? How much say do you want in the vision and culture of the church? What things are non-negotiable things for you and what are more open handed issues and beliefs? These questions will help you determine if someone or a church is a good fit. Otherwise, you will choose on location, style and pay and those are not always the best reasons to choose a job.
  3. Find someone worth following. If you are not the CEO, Lead Pastor or lead whatever, one of your main concerns is finding a leader you want to follow. That leader will decide so much about your career, livelihood, excitement, passion and happiness in your life that finding the wrong can be devastating. It adds stress, disappointment, hurt, possibly abuse and pain. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to spend time figuring out the kind of leader you want to follow, if the person you are interviewing with or working for right now is the leader you want to follow and make a choice. I think more leaders who not be the lead pastor need to spend more time thinking about the kind of person they are working for or following instead of judging a job based on salary and perks.

In the end, finding the right boss can be just as important as finding the right job. When you find the right boss, I would encourage you to think hard before you go looking for a new one. They aren’t easy to find, as anyone who has worked for the wrong boss can attest.

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Is It Biblical for a Church to have a Target?

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Recently, I did a series of posts on why a church should have a target, why every church has a target and how to make choices to reach that target (you can read them here). After the series, I got some questions about whether or not it was biblical to have a target. After all, are we told anywhere in the bible that a church should have a target.

The answer is yes.

In the book of Acts, we see how Paul had a target of the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Galatians 2:17) and how Peter had a target of the Jews (Galatians 2:17). Jesus in the great commission even gave the disciples a road map of who they were to reach and the order in which to do it (Matthew 28:18 – 20).

As you look at the New Testament, you see that certain people were better suited to reach certain people. Their backgrounds, the way they talked, how they understood certain world views, enabled them to be more effective in taking the gospel to places. The courage of some allowed them to plant churches others never would.

Does this mean that Paul never shared the gospel with a Jew? Or Peter with a Gentile? No, in fact we have evidence of them doing that. It means they were focused though and knew who their primary target was.

Churches are the same. The style of preaching lends itself to reaching a certain person. The pastors who have effective ministries are largely effective because of where they are located. That isn’t an accident. Instead of fighting against this, churches need to be clear about this. And, they need to support church planters who go to places they don’t.

Let’s admit a tension here: it sounds unloving to say we are better suited to reach a certain kind of person as a church. This is a reality though. Dress, style of music, age of the people on stage, how programmed or organic a church is. All of these go into who a church is best suited to reach. A church will reach people outside of the norm, but by and large, they will reach a certain kind of person more easily. When we fight against this, our effectiveness goes down. This is one reason that church planting is so important. It enables a church to reach different kinds of people within a city.

I think that is one reason God blessed Peter and Paul’s efforts. They led from their natural gifts, didn’t fight with each other about it (at least after Acts 15, so you can see what happens when we look down on each other) and they then encouraged each other by planting more churches in a variety of places with a variety of leaders.

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Systems Trump Hopes & Intentions

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Everybody has hopes, dreams and good intentions.

Everyone wants to lose weight, get out of debt, get a degree, start a business, or start a hobby.

Churches want to grow, reach new people, see people start following Jesus, see new givers take that first step, see people get connected into community or serve.

W. Edwards Deming said, “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.”

Put another way: systems trump hopes and intentions. 

This is true for every system.

The systems you have in place as a church are why you have the number of first time, second time and third time guests that you have. It is why you have as many people giving. Why you have the number of people serving or in community.

None of this is accidental and none of this “just happens.”

For Revolution, this is one reason we transitioned from small groups to missional communities. We found that small groups would give us a certain result and it wasn’t the result we wanted.

Think about it personally. What if you want to lose weight, get out of debt, get a degree or start a business. None of that will just happen. You have to have a system for it. Just hoping to lose weight won’t cut it. You can’t have the intention of getting out of debt without a system for it.

The reality of Deming’s words ring true in our businesses, churches and homes. We are getting the results our systems are designed to give us. It isn’t an issue or hope, wishes, intentions, but of systems and strategy.

At this point, once you realize this, the next step is having the patience for it to take root.

One of the reasons I see people not lose weight or get out of debt is they expect it to happen as quickly as they gained the weight or got into debt. 

That isn’t a reality. In the same way, after 10 years of unhealthy communication in a marriage, it will not change over night. It will take time.

What happens for many people is they put a system in place, that moves slower than they would like, so they give up and settle for the results they don’t want.

And then we are back to square one.

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Create a WOW Factor

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One of the best ways to turn a first time guest into a second time guest is to create a wow factor.

One of the best ways to create a wow factor is to give a guest something unexpected. 

When someone shows up at a church, they have some expectations. They expect their kids to be safe and secure. They expect their kids to have fun. They expect to be bored in the service at some point. They expect to look at their watch. They expect to not really feel anything. They expect something to be unclear to them. They also expect you to ask for something.

There are more, but you get the idea.

People show up every week with a list of expectations, and it isn’t always positive or expecting God to speak to them.

To give them a wow factor, to catch them off guard, meet their expectations, exceed their expectations and give them something unexpected.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Give them a gift. At the end of the service we point out gift bags we have for first time guests. These are on a table that is not manned by anyone. This is on purpose. It is a few feet from our welcome area, that has volunteers at it. This is so, someone can take a gift and leave without having to talk to anyone if they choose. If they want to talk to someone, someone is close enough for that to happen. A gift is important because people at a church expect you to ask for something from them. Giving them something instead catches them off guard and is unexpected. It is intriguing and interesting.
  2. Say thanks for coming. Most pastors assume going to church was the only option people have a Sunday. The fact is, they have tons of options for what they can do on a Sunday morning. So, say thanks for coming. Tell a guest you were glad they came and say thanks. It’s a big deal if a guest comes on a Sunday morning, act like it.
  3. Send them a gift. If someone fills out a card at Revolution, we send them a handwritten note with a Starbucks gift card in it. This is another unexpected “thank you.” I get a comment almost every week from a guest who thinks this is a cool. Again, something unexpected makes you intrigued.
  4. Tell them how long it will last and stick to it. I picked this up from Andy Stanley’s book Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. One of the main questions people have about church is how long it will last. So, tell them at the beginning and stick to it. In the welcome, we say something like, “For the next 75 minutes we’ll be looking at…”
  5. Make them feel something. Yes, the Holy Spirit makes people feel things and moves in their hearts and we have no control over that. What you do have control over is if you try to stop that (tons of churches do this without thinking) and how you will help people deal with the feelings they feel in the service. Think through how you will make someone feel something in the service. How will you help them process the Spirit moving in their heart since they might not know it is happening, only that something is happening.
  6. Help them take a next step. Why is this on the list of unexpected things? Churches are not very good at helping people take their next step. Whether that is in a sermon or into serving or community. Pastors preach, give no application and say, “The Holy Spirit will do that work.” That’s lazy. Be clear about it. Preach and in it say, “Because of the truth of this text, here’s a clear next step.” Talk about the next steps to get connected and make it obvious.

People don’t attend and come back to churches because they are like Disneyland or a rock concert. They don’t stick at churches for those reasons. They stick because of a simple wow factor, that caught them unexpectedly. Some of the unexpected things, a church has no control over. Some of them, they do. The churches that grow are the ones that

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How to Transition a Church from Small Groups to Missional Communities

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve shared 7 things that I and my church has learned since we transitioned our church from small groups to missional communities. At the time, things were going great. We had over 85% of our adults in a small group, but it wasn’t producing the change, discipleship and leaders we hoped it would. So, we made the change to missional communities. Below are 7 things we learned in the process:

  1. Always Start with Why
  2. Get Essential Leaders on Board
  3. How to Handle Someone who is not on Board
  4. Leaders Lead by Example
  5. Remove Barriers to What is Most Important
  6. Prepare for Losses
  7. Celebrate Small Wins
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Celebrate Small Wins

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Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at Exponential on the topic of transitioning a church with small groups to a church with Missional Communities. A few asked for some notes on it and thought I’d do a few blog posts on it.

The first step in this process is to start with why and the win of this transition. The second step is to get essential leaders on board. Next you need to handle leaders who do not get on board in a loving way, how leaders lead by example in showing a church what is most important and how a leaders shoots themselves in the foot by having too many options. Finally, when making any change a leader must learn how to grieve losses personally and help others grieve losses.

The last thing to keep a transition moving is to celebrate wins, no matter how small.

You may be great at celebrating things, but most pastors I meet, they are terrible at celebrating things. Part of it is personality, part of it is that they are trained to look for things that are broken and fix them, so they tend to focus on the negative. Many of them are big picture thinkers so they struggle to see how small things add up to big things, they are only looking for the life changing, new church, huge growth instead of the small, everyday life change.

If you don’t learn how to celebrate small wins, you will burnout and miss what God is doing. Your church will also wonder if it is winning.

One of the benefits to using the umbrella of discipleship as the win for your church and MC’s is that almost anything can be a win. That is a good thing. I also think that is how God wants the church to be. Baptism, people taking the step of following Jesus are win’s. But so is someone joining an MC, giving for the first time, reading their bible for the first time, sharing their story at MC, letting someone serve them when they have a need, serving someone when they have a need. All of those are wins because all of those steps are people taking steps to be more like Jesus.

To make any successful change, celebrate any win possible. To keep your church moving forward, having momentum, look for anything to celebrate and share it. Always point out to your people, we are winning, we are moving forward.

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How to Prepare for Losses in Leadership

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Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at Exponential on the topic of transitioning a church with small groups to a church with Missional Communities. A few asked for some notes on it and thought I’d do a few blog posts on it.

The first step in this process is to start with why and the win of this transition. The second step is to get essential leaders on board. Next you need to handle leaders who do not get on board in a loving way, how leaders lead by example in showing a church what is most important and how a leaders shoots themselves in the foot by having too many options.

What I wasn’t prepared for as our church transitioned to MC’s and what I think many leaders are not prepared for when a change occurs is the losses that come with that change.

This isn’t just about losing people, although any change is such that not everyone will go with you, but also as a church grows and MC’s multiply, there is excitement and pain associated with that, which is often not discussed in church circles.

First, to lead any change, a leader must be prepared for not everyone to go with them. Some leaders will feel this more personally than others. Some will feel paralyzed with the fear of people leaving, others will try to move past it “for the sake of the vision.” Regardless of your personality, you will feel this personally. Every person who leaves Revolution Church hurts personally on some level to me. I want everyone to be a part of what we are doing, but know they can’t.

Leaders do not grieve well. When someone leaves your church, regardless of the reason, grieve it. Allow yourself to feel it before moving on. Too many pastors try to move on quickly and then as losses pile up they eventually snap. If God has called you to what you are doing, then losses will occur, they will hurt, but you will be able to move forward.

Men, this is an opportunity to shepherd your wife. She will feel the loss of people more than you do. When people leave a church over something the pastor does, he is able to shrug it off, get back to work or chalk it up to “they weren’t on board.” Your wife can’t do that. She will often think about it. She isn’t able to compartmentalize it and get back to work. She can’t write a sermon about divisive people and take out her frustration (although I wouldn’t recommend doing that when people leave your church).

The last loss I was not prepared for when it comes to MC’s is the loss that comes from multiplying MC’s. The reason is, no one talks about this pain. The focus is on the mission, the excitement, the moving forward, new leaders developed, new spaces for people to get connected, disciples are being made, people are following Jesus. This is all exciting and should be the focus. But multiplying hurts. Friendships change. People who you used to be with, you no longer see. We’ve been doing MC’s for 3 years now and have launched 4 MC’s out of ours in that time. It is exciting and it hurts. If your MC multiplies, you must create relationships outside of your MC that won’t change regardless of how many times your MC does. This has also caused me to be slower about pushing leaders to start MC’s.

A leader must also prepare other leaders for this. Multiplying is the goal and is exciting, but can also hurt. A strong, healthy MC should multiply out a new one once ever 12-18 months. I think this is a good ratio because it doubles your MC’s each year, but also keeps your leaders sane and relationships close.

I realize unlike the other posts in this series, this one ends on a downer, but stay tuned. The next post is how to celebrate what God is doing in MC’s.

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What You’re Fighting About Isn’t What You’re Angry About

bookThink about the last fight you had with someone. It might be your spouse, child, a boss, employee. If you are a pastor, think about the last angry person you met with and the reason they gave for their anger and why they are leaving your church.

Now, the thing you were fighting about, the reason someone gave for leaving your church, that isn’t what they are angry about, that isn’t what the argument was about. 

I remember sitting in a counseling class in college. It was incredibly boring and then in a moment of God’s providence, I paid attention towards the end of one class and my teacher said this, “When life is stressful, when life is out of control, when people don’t know what to do, they take their anger out on the closest authority figure in their life. If you are a pastor, that will often be you.”

For 12 years as a pastor, this has proven to be true on a weekly basis.

Here’s a way to know if this is happening to you: does the response match the situation?

Often, fights happen in marriage and are started because of a crying child, something not being put away, something not getting done, a miscommunication and then…boom.

The fight isn’t about the child, something being left out or something not getting done. It is about the underlying issue that it represents. It is about being able to trust the other person, count on them.

What couples do, is fight about the issue at hand. They then continue to have the same fight for years with no resolution. It isn’t until they have a discussion about the actual issue, and only then, will they be able to move forward.

Here’s a church example. “We’re leaving because you didn’t start this ministry that I want.” That isn’t the issue. What is the issue at hand is either a disagreement in vision and where the church is going and/or an unwillingness for this person to follow a leader. They want more power or authority than they have. Or, “We’re leaving because you don’t preach deep enough.” That isn’t the reason. What they are leaving for is without their “deep preaching” they have to take responsibility for their spiritual journey, and, with all this “shallow preaching” going around this church, we have a bunch of unchurched people who don’t know Jesus showing up and they are acting like they don’t know Jesus and that is uncomfortable.

I remember when we first planted Revolution and people were coming and going quickly, which happens in a church plant. I tried to meet with as many people leaving as I could to learn from them and what went wrong. We still do this as often as we can as a church. In each of those meetings, we talked about what frustrated them about Revolution, but 50% of what we talked about at those meetings was their frustration around their job, their spouse or their child who wasn’t growing up like they hoped.

Proving my professor right.

When life is stressful, when life is out of control, when people don’t know what to do, they take their anger out on the closest authority figure in their life. If you are a pastor, that will often be you.

The next time you have an argument with a child or a spouse stop and ask, “Are we really fighting about this? Or is something else driving this?” Are you tired? Run down? When was your last date night? Katie and I argue about the silliest things if we miss a date night.

When someone leaves your church, listen to their complaints and then try to find the heart issue with it and try to discuss that. They will probably still leave your church, but at least you’ll know why they left.

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