3 Mistakes that Kill Church Growth

Are you killing the growth possibilities of your church? Chances are you are, and you don’t even realize it. Every pastor desires for their church to grow, but what if you’re the problem?

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I have been blessed to serve under a great pastor for many years now, but that doesn’t mean we’ve always done everything right. In fact for many years we made these same mistakes. At times we still make them today.

They are mistakes that can be easily avoided, but they’re also mistakes that have a way of sneaking into our lives despite our best efforts to keep them out.

If you can manage to keep these mistakes to a minimum, you have a great chance of seeing your church grow. However, if you’re not careful, these three mistakes will kill any chance your church has at growth.

  1. Only Focusing on the Now

What’s wrong with the now you ask? Every week Sunday is coming, and you have to be prepared. The problem is if you only think about the here and now, you will jeopardize your future.

Great leaders take the time to plan ahead. This gives them the ability to see opportunities and obstacles in enough time that they can still do something about them. All of us are busy, but that shouldn’t keep us from looking forward and planning for what’s next.

  1. Trying to Comfort the Critic

Pastors are people pleasers. This can be a blessing and a curse. You want to be a pastor who has a good reputation with the people, but you don’t want to spend all your time trying to appease a critic.

We hear comments about the volume level of our worship music just about every week. We’ve had people get upset because we took the attendance and offering numbers out of our bulletin. And every time we send out a mailer we have people ask us to take them off the mailing list. If we spent time responding to each one of these people, there wouldn’t be any time left to do ministry. Yet, so many pastors make this mistake. Quick piece of advice, ignore the critic. They’re going to leave your church anyway.

  1. Ignoring the Numbers

You can’t evaluate what you don’t measure. So, make sure you’re tracking your numbers. Check out this post if you need help knowing which numbers to track. Two numbers I want on my desk every Monday morning are weekly attendance and giving.

I’m amazed by pastors who are trying to grow their church but never look at their numbers. That makes about as much sense as trying to lose weight but never stepping on a scale. You need to know how many people are attending week to week, and, maybe more importantly, you need to know the giving numbers. Weekly giving can determine whether you’re able to keep the doors open in a small town church.

Are you making any of these mistakes? We did for far too long. But, once we started looking toward the future, ignoring the critics, and tracking our numbers we started to see the church grow. I pray that you will do the same.

Which one of these mistakes have you made? What did you learn from it? Let us know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox.

Five Star Wars Preaching Tips

I just finished watching episodes I-VI of Star Wars for the very first time. No, I do not live under a rock, and no I am not a part of the dark side. It just didn’t seem that appealing to me, and after watching them, my intuition was correct.

StarWars

Even though I wasn’t amazed by the movies, I realize that I’m probably in the minority. There are millions upon millions of people who absolutely love them. So, I don’t want to be too quick to write them off, because there are some things we can learn from them.

In fact I believe they can teach us a lot about preaching messages that connect with our audience. Here’s five tips I took from the movies:

  1. Hone Your Intro.

Is there a movie intro any better known than the Star Wars scroll with the theme music behind it? I don’t think so. The introduction invites you into the story. Yet, so many preachers mess this up week after week. “How’s everyone doing today?” or “What about this weather?” is not an acceptable introduction, although it is the quickest way to get people to tune you out. Your introduction should grab people’s attention and get them excited for what’s to come.

  1. Tell a Great Story.

Every great story ever written pales in comparison to the story God has already wrote. One of the reasons I believe Star Wars is so popular is because the main storyline “Good versus Evil” is a direct reflection of the Bible. When you’re preaching, place your audience into the story you’re telling. How will their story look differently if they follow Christ? Answer that question for them.

  1. Get Creative.

George Lucas introduced us to some incredible characters and places. He wasn’t afraid to get creative, and it paid off huge. You should do the same. Just remember there’s a fine line between being creative and being annoying. I’m thinking of you JarJar Binks? Don’t be afraid to use a whiteboard, props, or a song that will help illustrate the story better.

  1. Leverage Technology.

The technology used in the first Star Wars films was revolutionary at that time. No one had ever seen anything like it. This created a buzz around the films that has lasted decades. We now live in the most technologically advanced era of all time. People may not be carrying their Bibles to church, but they are carrying their phones, so make use of the YouVersion Bible App. Integrate pictures, videos, and the scriptures on screen. People will remember more if you stimulate multiple senses.

  1. Finish Strong.

The highlight of my entire Star Wars viewing experience was the fight between Obi Wan and Anakin at the end of Episode III, followed by the emergence of Darth Vader. It was an incredible moment. The end of your sermon should be no different. You’ve spent thirty minutes telling a great story, now is your opportunity to invite the audience into it. Don’t shy away from it, the force is strong with you.

Every preacher is going to have their own style and preferences, but I believe the use of these five tips can be beneficial to us all. I may have not been a fan of the movies, but I am a fan of good preaching, and we all know preaching the gospel is a great way to fight the dark side.

Are you a Star Wars fan? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below, and if you’re interested in more preaching tips subscribe to my mailing list to get my free Ebook “8 Steps to More Impactful Preaching”.

Every Sacrifice Demands Another

Balance. It’s a popular word when we talk about our lives. But is it possible? And if so, is it even something we should be striving to achieve? I think it depends on what we have to sacrifice in order to get it.

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My family, like so many others, is in the midst of tee ball season. My six-year-old daughter enjoys it, my wife loves it, and I’m able to tolerate it for the eight weeks or so it lasts. We sacrifice to make it happen.

For some, like me, it’s a bigger sacrifice than others. I would rather be home catching up on reality TV during the week or taking my wife out on a date on the weekends. However, the enjoyment my wife and daughter get from it outweighs my sacrifice.

Tomorrow, I’m going to play in a charity golf tournament. I play golf once or twice a year, which means I’m terrible at golf. But it’s for a good cause, and I get to hang out with my friends. I’m sacrificing time with my family, but they’re ok with it because I prioritize them throughout the year. At least I think I do.

You see, what worries me is that, if we’re not careful, we can lose sight of the sacrifice. And before we know it, we’ll sacrifice our family, when we thought we were just sacrificing time with them. We’ll sacrifice our marriage, when we thought we were just sacrificing date nights. We’ll sacrifice our spiritual life, when we thought we were just sacrificing a few Sunday services.

My fear is that we’re so consumed by the here and now we may end up sacrificing our future.

We overvalue the urgent and marginalize what’s really important.

Husbands, we cancel dates with our wives to get some extra hours in at work.

Wives, we neglect intimacy with our husbands so the kids can sleep in the bed with us.

These seem like small sacrifices with little consequence, yet over time they can demand a much bigger sacrifice.

We all would be wise to ask ourselves, “Is it going to be worth it?” If not, start taking steps now to change your future.

How have you seen small sacrifices lead to bigger sacrifices in your own life? What would you tell someone else who is going down that path? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments below.

4 Keys to Gain & Retain Volunteers

If you’re a pastor or church leader, you need more volunteers. How do I know this? Because I’ve been in ministry long enough now to know that you can never have enough volunteers. In this post, I’m going to show you how you can not only gain volunteers but also keep them serving for years to come.

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One of my favorite roles I’ve ever filled in the church was one called Volunteer Coordinator. In this role my main job was getting people moved from sitting to serving.

I absolutely loved it. There’s something amazing about getting people to recognize the gifts God has given them, and then use those gifts to impact someone else’s life.

Recruiting volunteers isn’t in my current job description, but it’s something I still love to do. What I’ve discovered is there are four keys to gaining and retaining volunteers. Get all of these keys in place, and your job just got a lot easier.

  1. Vision – If you’ve been involved in church for any length of time, you know it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a guest. Here’s a reminder: guests don’t sign up to serve unless they know the why behind it. Your vision should answer that why. My pastor says it like this: “You’re never more like Jesus than when you serve.” Its simple, its compelling, and it answers the why.
  1. Culture – Culture is how people describe your ministry when you’re not in the room. Let’s face it, most small town churches have a reputation of burning out their volunteers. If this is the culture at your church, don’t expect people sign up to serve. First, you have to change the culture. Tell your volunteers “thanks” every chance you get. Handwrite them letters, and brag on them from the stage. Your goal should be to make everyone who is not serving jealous because of how well you treat your volunteers.
  1. Invite – Once the vision is clear and the culture is great, you’re ready to start inviting. As the pastor, you can do this from the stage and get good results, but I’ve seen even better results take place when one friend invites another to serve alongside them. I even wrote a post about all the different ways you can invite people to serve. Remember, when you’re inviting don’t talk about needs; talk about opportunities to use your gifts. People don’t get excited about needs. They get excited about making a difference in someone’s life.
  1. Train – Last but certainly not least, you need to train them in their role. This doesn’t have to be extensive training necessarily. You just need to make sure they know what they’re doing. I’ve found the best way to do this is by having a new volunteer watch someone else do it first, and then having them do it while an experienced volunteer is there to help. Once they feel comfortable, they’re ready to do it on their own. Don’t forget the quickest way to lose volunteers is putting them in a position for which they don’t feel qualified. So, take the time to make sure they’re adequately trained.

That’s it. A compelling vision, a healthy culture, invite some people, train them up, and your church should be full of great volunteers. Oh, and don’t forget to appreciate them throughout the year.

What are some things you’re doing that are making an impact in your volunteer ministry? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe so that you get tips on leadership, church growth, and more straight to your inbox.

Thank Your Givers

One Thing Series

This post is a part of the “One Thing” series. Often we feel like we have to take drastic steps in our life or church to see significant change, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes the small things create the biggest impact. In this series, we’ll focus on “One Thing” you can do that will get you and your church moving in the right direction.

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I was meeting with a couple of pastors this week, and we started discussing church finances. I was surprised to learn that neither of them was sending thank you letters to their givers.

Both of them agreed it was important, but neither of them had made it a priority.

What made it more surprising is that both of their churches are in very critical seasons where finances are a huge deal. Yet, they weren’t doing this one simple thing.

At my church our pastor sends handwritten letters each week to:

  1. Every first time giver.
  1. Every giver who gives a large gift. (For us that’s anything over $500.)

If you’re concerned about the pastor knowing what people in the church are giving, just have your finance person send the list of names and addresses without the amounts to the pastor each week. Problem solved.

Sending these letters has several advantages.

  1. It creates a wow. Most people aren’t expecting this, so it gives them a nice surprise. You can read more about the importance of Creating Wow here.
  1. It creates a connection. Having a connection with the pastor is one of the number one reasons people stay at a church. This is an easy opportunity to create one.
  1. It shows appreciation. The church doesn’t thrive without people who are willing to be generous. How often are you showing these people appreciation? I bet not often enough. This gives you that opportunity.
  1. It allows you to connect their giving with the vision. We can’t communicate the vision of our churches enough. This is an excellent opportunity to do that. One of the statements we’ve been sharing with our church lately is “Generosity changes lives.”

The amount of return you will see when you start doing this far outweighs the short amount of time it takes to write the letters. I’ll even leave you with an example to use.

Dear ______,

Thanks so much for giving to ______ church. Your generosity is changing lives. ______ church exists to reach those far from Christ, and your giving allows us to accomplish this mission. Please let us know if we can ever serve you in anyway.

Pastor ______

Do you send thank you letters to your givers? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below. Also, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips just like this delivered to your inbox each week.

Preach a Series on Marriage

We are in the middle of a marriage series at my church, and I couldn’t be happier. Attendance is up, groups are filled, and married couples are going on dates for the first time in years.

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I love a good marriage series. Over the years we’ve done several. While they’ve had different names: From This Day Forward, Going All the Way, and Happily Ever After, they have one common goal, to strengthen the marriages in our church and communities.

Each series typically lasts four to six weeks, and we focus on topics such as how to deal with stress, how spouses should treat one another, how the relationship can change when kids come along, how to keep our minds pure, and on occasion how to have enough sex. The last one really draws the guys in.

If you still need convincing why you should do a marriage series every year, here’s four more reasons.

  1. It Draws a Crowd

Our church loves when we do a marriage series, so they’ll make sure to show up week after week. Not only do they show up, but people in the community are more likely to show up. People are also more likely to invite their friends because everyone knows someone who needs a little help in their marriage. It’s not uncommon for us to see a 10-15% increase in attendance during these series.

  1. Marriages are Under Attack

When someone asks to speak to a pastor about counseling in our church, the majority of the time it’s because of their marriage. About 50% of marriages in Tennessee end in divorce, and in the communities my church serves, that number can be much higher. Trousdale County is about a 15-20 minute drive from either of our campuses, and their divorce rate is close to 90%. More people are getting divorced than married in that county.

  1. Group Attendance Increases

We’ve struggled to get people in groups at my church, but that isn’t the case for groups talking about marriage. These groups always seem to fill up because people want to dive deeper into this topic. I’ve been part of groups that have been filled with laughter, and part of groups that have brought you to tears. They are always deeply impactful. We’ve tried to leverage this by doing a church-wide campaign to go along with the series this year.

  1. Marriage is Part of God’s Design

In Genesis God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” In Matthew Jesus said, “For this reason a man will leave his family to be joined to his wife. The two are united as one.” And in Ephesians, Paul shows us that a marriage should be a representation of Christ and the Church. It has always been a part of God’s design, and we must guard and protect it.

I’m convinced that the majority of the prominent issues in our world can be traced back to the decline of healthy marriages. We may not be able to curb the trend, but I’m hoping we can put a dent in the communities around us.

Are you doing a marriage series this year? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more straight to your inbox.

3 Questions that Lead to Connection

My small town church recently launched its second location. To make sure the campus has the same look and feel as our central campus, as well as a healthy leadership presence, we’ve been rotating the church staff from campus to campus.

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This has accomplished our goal. However, there was one major flaw in this strategy; it was very difficult to make relationships.

For example, you might meet a new couple on one Sunday, but the next Sunday you were at a different location. It would be at least two weeks before you see them again, and if they happen to miss a Sunday, it could be a month.

Relationships depend on consistency, which was one thing we lacked. No consistency, no connection, that’s a major problem.

My church has always thrived on connections, so as soon as we saw that slipping we knew we had to make a change.

So, we’re implementing some changes that will get us in front of the same people week to week, but getting in front of people isn’t enough.

  • Is this person real?

One of the greatest hurdles we have to jump over with unchurched or dechurched people is the perception that Christians tend to be fake. They act one way inside the church but quite another outside. Many of us have been so concerned with impressing each other with how righteous we are that we’ve totally alienated those outside the church. Before someone wants to connect with you, they need to know that you’re real. They want to know that you share their struggles as well as their desires.

  • Do they care about me?

Once they know you’re real, they want to know you care. Are you hugging them because you’re a greeter, or are you genuinely glad to see them? Do you make it a priority to remember names? This goes a long way in showing you care, and you get double points for remembering their kids names. Are you engaging in conversation to find out more about them, or are you just looking for the next hand to shake? Showing you care takes time. It doesn’t happen over night. Care is an investment, and it’s an investment worth making.

  • Can I trust them?

Once they know you’re real and you truly care, people may still be hesitant to connect until you answer the last question. Can they trust you? I believe we have to be the most skeptical country in the world. The media provides a constant stream of how the world has lied to us and done us wrong. To say we don’t trust easily is an understatement. It’s going to take time, but it can be done. The best way to gain trust is to do what you say you’re going to do and be who you are.

After you’ve answered these three questions, a connection is made that is not easily broken. These are the people you will see step up to become your best volunteers, group leaders, and trusted friends.

It takes some work up front, but the benefits to answering these questions can last a lifetime.

Do you agree with these three questions? What are some other questions people are asking? How can we better connect with them? I’d love to hear your responses. Make sure to leave a comment below.

4 Steps to Improving Any Ministry

I’m not easily satisfied. The status quo does not get me excited. Even when things are going well, I’m constantly looking for something to improve upon. If you’re a pastor, I bet you can relate. If you can’t you probably don’t need to be pastoring.

Improving

There are some negatives to being wired this way. I can easily be frustrated, stressed, and discontent. If I’m not careful, I can take this out on the people around me.

The better option is for me to use my frustration to build a strategy and plan on how we can improve. This is what I want to share with you today.

I believe you can improve any ministry in your church in four simple steps.

  1. Identify Where You Are

Most ministry areas never improve because leaders and pastors never take the time to honestly evaluate the ministry. They would rather stick their head in the sand before having to make the difficult decision of replacing a volunteer or making a needed change. Don’t be this type of leader. Constantly evaluate the ministries in your church and look for areas that can be improved.

  1. Identify Where You Want to Go

After you know where you are, you’re ready to plan where you want to go. Take the time to write down what you would want the ministry to look like. Be realistic with your expectations. If your church has an attendance of two hundred people, don’t expect your student ministry to run one hundred. Be as specific as possible. This will come in handy later on.

  1. Set a Timeline with Built in Benchmarks

When do you want this to be accomplished? Again, be realistic with your expectations. Most major changes are going to take anywhere from 12 to 24 months, maybe longer. In the meantime you can set healthy benchmarks along the way. Benchmarks give you healthy goals to work towards in the short-term while not losing sight of the long-term goal.

  1. Evaluate Every 90 Days

Benchmarks also give you the opportunity to evaluate. You should be evaluating every 90 days, if not more often. This makes sure you’re on track to accomplish your goal. If your goal is to be averaging 50 students by the fall, and you’re only averaging 30, you know there’s some work to be done and possible changes to be made. Without evaluation, you don’t know if you’re winning or losing, so evaluate often.

Some churches never grow because they’re not willing to take an honest look at themselves. Some churches don’t grow because they have no vision for the future. They’re perfectly happy where they are. Some churches struggle to grow because they make changes but never evaluate those changes to see if they’re working.

Don’t be some church. Be the church that is willing to put in the work to reach those far from God, no matter the cost. The steps are easy. You just have to be willing to take them.

What’s one area in your church that you know could be improved? What steps do you need to be taking? Let me know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, strategy, and more delivered right to your inbox.

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Living Fearless

Recently, I made the choice to downgrade my satellite package and jump on the Netflix bandwagon. Even though the movie selection isn’t the greatest, there are some good series to watch, and my kids absolutely love it. One of their favorite series is Goosebumps. They love being scared by garden gnomes, mutant monsters, and dummies that suddenly come to life.

Slappy

There’s just one problem. No matter how many times I tell them that Slappy isn’t real, there’s no such thing as monsters, and garden gnomes don’t suddenly come to life, the kids still find their way into my bed at night.

To them it doesn’t matter if the monsters are real. All that matters is that the fear is real. And the interesting thing about fear is that we never seem to outgrow it; we just learn to fear new things.

We no longer fear ghosts, we fear committees. We no longer fear vampires, we fear the people who suck the life out of us every Sunday. We no longer fear the dark, we fear what may be brought into the light.

At the root of it all is our greatest fear, failure. We’re afraid we’re going to screw something up, we’re going to be found out, we’re not going to have what it takes.

I believe that’s why God spends so much time telling us not to fear in the scriptures.

“I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. Genesis 26:24

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. Ruth 3:11

Say to those who are fearful-hearted,“ Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Isaiah 35:4

For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’ Isaiah 41:13

“But do not fear, O My servant Jacob, And do not be dismayed, O Israel! For behold, I will save you from afar, Jeremiah 46:27

And he said, “O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!” Daniel 10:19

Fear not, O land; Be glad and rejoice, For the Lord has done marvelous things! Joel 2:21

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Matthew 10:28

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Luke 5:10

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. Revelation 1:17

Without God we have every reason to be afraid, but with God we have nothing to be afraid of.

Stop living your life in fear, and start living the life God has called you to. For He is with you, and together you’re unstoppable.

What are you most afraid of? How have you overcome your fears? I’d love to hear your story, so make sure to leave a comment below.