A Christmas Conundrum

Ah, December, what a great month to do ministry. People are more cheerful, they’re more giving, and they’re more likely to invite their friends and family to church, especially for Christmas. But what do you do when Christmas day happens to fall on a Sunday like it does this year?

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The simple answer would be to go ahead with service as usual. I mean Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’s birth.

But it’s not that simple because you and I both know that a large percentage of people will not show up to church on Christmas day.

So, what’s the answer? I think you have four different options this Christmas.

  • Celebrate on Christmas Sunday.

It makes sense to go ahead with church on Sunday. You’d be hard pressed to find a better day to worship Jesus. You realize your crowd is going to be down, but it will be an incredible blessing for the people who are there.

  • Celebrate on Christmas Eve.

More and more churches are moving to Christmas Eve services, and some would argue that Christmas Eve can be a bigger day for your church than Easter. That hasn’t been the case at the church I serve, but I can see how this makes sense for some churches.

  • Celebrate on Another Day of the Week.

We’ve decided to hold our Christmas Services on December 23rd the past few years. This gives our staff, volunteers, and congregation the 24th and 25th off from church to spend as they wish. We believe we get a higher attendance this way because people don’t have to decide between church and family obligations.

  • Celebrate the Sunday Before.

Some churches elect to cancel services for Christmas weekend, and celebrate Christmas the weekend before. This does give your staff and congregation time off, but you also lose a week’s offering by doing this.

Some churches can afford to do this. We’ve never been one of those churches.

I don’t think any of these options are better or worse than the other. The important thing is finding out what works best for your congregation.

Christmas is a great time of the year, and I hope your church makes the most of it, whichever day you choose to celebrate it.

So, I’d love to know, what day are you celebrating Christmas? What have you found that works best for your congregation? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and if make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox every week.

Building A Firm Foundation

When you think about your church, who makes up the foundation? Jesus is the simple answer, and I don’t disagree with that, but what about after Jesus? Is it the pastor, the board, the staff, the prayer warriors? I don’t think it’s any of those people. I think the foundation of every church is the volunteers.

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Seth Godin recently wrote a post titled, It’s not the bottom, it’s the foundation.

The post begins with this statement,

Organizations are built on the work of people who don’t get paid very much, don’t receive sufficient respect and are understandably wary of the promises they’ve been hearing for years.”

I believe we could rewrite that statement for some churches.

“Churches are built on the work of people who don’t get paid at all, don’t receive enough appreciation, and who all too often feel taken advantage of.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way you can build a firm foundation.

  1. You can care about your volunteers. I mean really care about them, and not just what they can do for you. That starts with learning their names then moves to learning about their families, then their hurts, and their hopes. That takes time, and if you don’t have it, make sure someone on your team is doing it.
  1. You can appreciate your volunteers. Telling your volunteers you love and appreciate them from the stage is good, but a handwritten thank you goes a lot farther. Sometimes you may even want to put a gift card in that thank you for those who are going above and beyond. Then at least once or twice a year, gather all your volunteers together for a big celebration.
  1. You can communicate with your volunteers. One of the biggest complaints churches get from volunteers is that no one is communicating with them. Not only should you be reminding your volunteers when it’s their turn to serve, you also can make them feel important by letting them know what’s coming up in the church before you tell the rest of the congregation.
  1. You can adequately train your volunteers. Another common complaint churches hear from volunteers is they don’t feel they have enough training to do the job. This is one of the quickest ways to lose volunteers. It’s always wise to let a potential volunteer shadow an experienced volunteer for a time until they feel they’re ready.
  1. You can recruit more volunteers. There are a few special people in the world who are able to serve week in and week out without needing a break. Most people aren’t like that. They need breaks, which means they need someone to fill in when they’re not there. You can help alleviate their concerns by continually focusing on recruiting more volunteers.

Volunteers aren’t the bottom of the org chart. They’re the foundation of everything you do as a church. If you want a healthy church, you have to start with a firm foundation.

I’d love to hear about what you’re doing to appreciate volunteers in your church. Make sure to scroll down, and leave a comment. Also, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Growing in Generosity

I recently had the opportunity to go on a Vision Trip with Compassion International to Kenya. Even though I’ve been back for a few weeks now, the things I experienced continue to impact me every day. The story that continues to inspire me the most involves a young man, a piece of candy, and a lesson in generosity.

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Whenever you go on a trip like this, you can’t help but fall in love with the kids.

They run to see you, they hold your hand, they want to be held, and they rub your arm hair. Rubbing your arm hair may just be a Kenya thing. I’m not sure, but they’re excited to be around you.

Throughout each day I found there was always one or two kids that I especially connected with for whatever reason.

On one particular day, we drove two hours outside the city of Nairobi to a very rural area to be with children who were part of the Maasai tribe.

The Maasai are known for very intricate bead jewelry, and many of the kids were wearing bracelets, necklaces, and other pieces of jewelry.

I told one young man I really liked his necklace, slipped him a piece of candy, and went about my day not thinking much about it.

Our group went on to explore the grounds, which included the church and school there, and later went to visit a child’s home so we could get an idea of how they lived.

In every home visit we made throughout the trip, I was constantly amazed by the conditions that these kids and their families are living in. This particular home was made of mud and sticks and may have been a hundred square feet total with a five-foot ceiling.

As we walked back to the project for lunch that day, the young man who I’d complimented on his necklace and given a piece of candy to came up to me with a gift in return.

He handed me his necklace.

The necklace he had spent hours on making by hand. The necklace, which was one of only a few possessions he would even have.

I was overcome with emotion and blown away by his generosity.

I told him I couldn’t take it, but he insisted.

I had blessed him by giving him a simple piece of candy, and he decided to bless me back by giving me much more than I deserved.

I’ve always felt like I was a generous person. I’m learning that I have a long way to go.

Have you ever been blown away by someone’s generosity? I’d love to hear the story. Make sure to leave a comment below, and if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Multi-Site on a Budget

Guest Post: Sam Pickard

I am super-excited about the future!  In fact, I’m always eager to move forward.  Often I’m so eager to move forward that I forget to take a minute and celebrate what God has already done.  Recently, I have been looking back on how God has allowed a church in a small rural Midwest community to impact multiple communities, even outside of the US.

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In 2009, God gave our Lead Pastor a vision to reach thousands of people for Christ in rural communities through a multi-site strategy.  He began sharing that vision. In early 2012, the first campus outside of our original campus was launched, and God did it with our very limited resources.  Five years later we have five campuses, including one in Jamaica.  We have also launched our iCampus (what we call our online campus).  God has done and is doing amazing things!

Sometimes, we can be tempted to look at the mega-churches with the big budgets and think that they are the only ones that can do big things.  That’s just not true!  We have very limited resources, and I want to share seven things that have allowed us to do Multi-Site with a limited budget.  It’s my prayer it will encourage you as you attempt to accomplish what God has called you to.

HAVE A VISION – You have to have a vision for what God has called you to AND you have to share that vision with those in your church.   If you don’t have that vision, you need to get on your knees and start begging God for one.  Spend time in prayer, fasting, and silence.  Do what you have to do to see a vision for the local church you lead.

BUILD A COMMITTED TEAM – As we were getting ready to launch into multi-site, we desperately needed a strong committed team of leaders, but we didn’t have funds to hire them.  That’s when a pastor friend shared the idea of a volunteer team.  That team is expected to attend meetings and have real responsibilities.  In fact, they have job descriptions.  We ask them to commit for a year and at the end of the year, they can step off the team if they need a break or it wasn’t a good fit.  (Most of them have stayed on longer than a year.)

Even as we have begun hiring paid staff, there are very few people who are full time: three pastors and our secretary.  We have four pastors, including our lead pastor and our executive pastor (me), who are bi-vocational (working at least two jobs).

ENCOURAGE GENEROSITY  It’s no secret that many churches shy away from talking about giving.  Don’t.  Entire sermons series, blogs, and probably books have been written on this topic, so I won’t go too deep in the weeds except to say that you need to encourage people to give and provide them that opportunity.  Providing an opportunity isn’t simply taking an offering each week, though that is part of it.  It’s much bigger than that.  Here are three specifics:

  1. Teach about money.  It was important enough for Jesus to talk about, so we probably should too.
  2. Make needs known, and not just financial.  We have had drum kits, TV’s, computers, etc. donated.  We even had a building donated.  Let people know what you need for God’s vision for your church to be what He wants it to be.
  3. Check out Giving Rocket.  They have some great tools.  We utilize their idea for a Christmas Offering.  At a time when many are in a giving spirit, it gives people an opportunity to be generous for a great cause, something bigger than themselves.  In our case, at times we have used part of these funds to go towards future campus launch.

FIND FREE AND INEXPENSIVE RESOURCES – There are some great ones out there.  Here are some that we use:

  1. TechSoup.org – We are able to get a variety of computer programs and software at a greatly reduced price.
  2. Google Hangouts – We are spread out and have people joining meetings from all over.  Hangouts is a free video chat tool that allows us to meet remotely.
  3. iMovie – There are a lot of video editing platforms out there.  We use iMovie.  It works for what we need, and it comes installed on newer Macs.
  4. Dropbox – This is a file sharing platform that allows a person to put a file in a folder and have it available to everyone with access to that Dropbox folder.  It’s been a great way to share videos to all campuses.  We started with the free version, but due to the size of the videos, we upgraded to the paid version for $100 per year.
  5. Podcasts – Our leaders listen to a lot of podcasts, and why wouldn’t we?  It is free training from a variety of people on a variety of topics.  Want to have everyone discuss a topic but don’t have the funds to buy a book for the entire team?  Listen to a podcast, and discuss it.

GET CREATIVE – I know that I am biased, but we have some great stage designs. And we do it with next to no cost.  We have used corrugated metal from old farm buildings, furnace filters, and a variety of items that were laying around.  There are some great things you can do for cheap.

You can get some great ideas on the internet.  One of the ways we saved a couple thousand dollars was to build a rear projection screen versus ordering one.  The Campus did it for less than $50 with a shower curtain and some framing materials.  It was an idea we found online, and it looked great!

MAXIMIZE VIDEO – We had to figure out video in a hurry in order to support video venue.  (BTW, Dave Horn at Truth Seekers is a great resource. www.geartechs.com). Once we did that, we realized we could do so much more.  We began doing an online campus. People know Jesus today because of our iCampus. We started publishing videos to YouTube, Vimeo, social media, and our website.  One of the people on our staff first connected through one of those videos.  Others at our church checked us out for the first time through those videos.

SHARE YOUR VISION – This is here twice because it is that important.  You have to have a vision for what God has called you to, AND you have to share that vision with those in your church. Don’t wait to have all the answers.  I’ve heard it said that a God-sized vision has more questions than answers.  Embrace that tension. People are willing to volunteer, give, get creative, and tell others about our church because they believe in our vision.

These past five years haven’t been easy, but it’s exciting to see what God has done. He is working and lives are being impacted in real ways.

Sam Pickard loves people and is a leader in the rural midwest. His professional leadership began in a factory setting and continued into retail where he had the privilege of leading large teams at International Fortune 500 companies for more than 15 years. Currently Sam works as the Manager at Pickard Insurance Services in addition to being the Executive Pastor at The Rescue Church. He is married to Eve, his wife of nearly two decades. They have three amazing kids and future leaders: Miriam, Micah, and Kirti. If you want to connect, Sam is on Social Media at @iamsampickard and blogs at sampickard.com.

Creating a Simple Church Budget

It’s not uncommon for some small churches to operate without a budget because it’s not uncommon for many people to operate without a budget in their personal finances. The church I serve operated for the first few years without a budget. In their minds as long as the incoming was greater than the outgoing then everything was fine.

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In my mind, everything wasn’t fine, in my mind that seemed like a terrible way to handle church finances. They needed a budget, and your church does too.

A budget allows you to not only see where the money is going but gives you the ability to plan where the money is going.

The interesting thing was they weren’t opposed to a budget, they just didn’t know how to set one up. You may be in the same situation, so I want to show you how to create a simple church budget.

A budget is made up of income and expenses.

Income is pretty simple. It consists of tithes, offerings, and any other type of special giving. The income in your budget should reflect the average giving in your church over the last few years.

If your church has been growing or declining, it can be wise to look at the trends over multiple years. For example, say your giving in 2014 was $250,000, in 2015 it increased to $300,000, and you’re on track to receive $350,000 in giving in 2016. If this is the case, you may feel comfortable budgeting your income at $400,000 for 2017.

Remember you can always go back and readjust if giving is more or less than you expected.

Now, let’s move on to expenses. The great thing about tracking expenses is that you can see exactly where the money is going. To keep things simple, let’s put our expenses into five categories.

Employee Compensation

In this category you want to track salaries, but don’t forget about the additional employee expenses such as: housing, bonuses, insurance, retirement, payroll taxes, etc. All of these should be included in this category. The average Protestant church spends around 45% of their total budget in this category.

Facilities

Facilities include mortgages, leases, utilities, landscaping, and maintenance. We also include expenses like cleaning supplies, paper towels, hand soap, toilet paper, etc. This category should make up 20-25% of the total budget.

Ministries

For us this category consists of any expense related to the ministries in our church including: kid’s ministry, first impressions, small groups, student ministry, worship ministry, and leadership. This category should be around 10% of the total budget.

Outreach

Outreach includes foreign and local missions, marketing, and benevolence, as well as other administrative costs. This category makes up 5-10% of the total budget.

Weekend

This category consists of expenses directly related to the weekend worship experience. A large portion of this budget is related to special events like Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, and Christmas. It also includes things like coffee, doughnuts, free gifts, and creative elements in the service. This category is around 5% of the budget.

Hopefully, if you’ve done the math correctly, you should have 5-10% of the budget leftover for savings. However, don’t be surprised if unexpected expenses arise that take a portion of this percentage.

If you’ve never had a budget before, you may have to guess on some of the expenses the first year. Don’t let this keep you from doing a budget. What you’ll find is that each year you’ll get better and better at knowing where the money is going, and that’s a very important thing.

Does your church have a budget? If not, I’d love to help you get one set up, just go to my contact page and send me an email. Also, if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog and get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Is Your Church Average?

I’m a big fan of Tony Morgan. If you’re not familiar with him, Tony is a church consultant and blogger who started a company called The Unstuck Group that is dedicated to helping churches get healthy. Several years ago, we brought Tony into our church and his insight was incredible. I highly recommend it. This week I got an email from him with some interesting statistics.

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Did you know the average church has…

  • 59% of people in small groups or studies?
  • 45% of people on volunteer teams?
  • 7% of people baptized each year?
  • $43 given by the average person each week?
  • 1 staff member for every 77 attendees?

It didn’t take long for me to realize that my church isn’t average. Here’s what our numbers look like this year.

  • 30% of people in small groups or studies.

It’s no secret that we’re not great at small groups. We’re working to get better, but the struggle is real.

  • 40% of people on volunteer teams.

We have some incredible volunteers, but it seems to be getting a little harder to get people to start serving. We are putting some plans in place to grow this number going into next year.

  • 10% of people baptized this year.

The number I’m most proud of. We continue to see above average numbers in baptisms each year. A big part of this was offering a creek baptism during the summer. Many people want to be baptized the same way their parents or grandparents were, and that means going down to the creek.

  • $17 given by the average person each week.

Giving has to be the struggle of every small town church. At least I hope it is, or we’re doing something wrong. We continue to look for ways to teach people about finances, budgeting, and the importance of supporting the local church.

  • 1 staff member for every 110 attendees.

When giving is lower, staffing ratios are bound to be higher. We would love to hire another two to three people right now, but the budget just won’t allow it. We need to look for ways to get creative with volunteer staff or unpaid interns.

Tony’s research was based on a survey with over 200 churches. That may seem like a large sample, but when you consider that there are more than 300,000 churches in America that hardly scratches the surface.

Either way my church isn’t average, and I bet yours isn’t either.

How does your church compare? Post your numbers 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 sent to your inbox each week.

To Vote or Not to Vote

Today is Election Day in the United States. I’m sure many of you are voting, and many of you may have decided not to vote. With two candidates surrounded by suspicion, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, this has been an election unlike any other. And regardless of who ends up winning today’s election, I would guess that the outcome will have very little impact on your church.

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Something we can’t always say about votes inside the church.

Now, you may be a part of a church that doesn’t have business meetings and congregational voting. If so, be very thankful, but I’m guessing many of you leaders serve in a church that does.

And if you serve in a church that allows the congregation to vote on every little thing long enough, you will quickly find out why that’s a bad idea. People get mad, people get their feelings hurt, decisions don’t get made fast enough, and people often leave the church.

If this is true, why do so many churches still choose to operate this way?

Simple, it’s the way they’ve always done it.

  1. They want to micromanage. They want to vote on the color of the carpet, the new youth pastor, and the Sunday School curriculum. Congregational voting takes away the power from the people doing the ministry week in and week out and gives it to people who hadn’t given it a thought before they walked into the meeting that day. Tell me how that makes sense.
  1. They want to keep everyone happy. In order to not hurt anyone’s feelings churches will demand consensus on every decision. This will often cause simple decisions to get prolonged for months or even years. I went on vacation with my wife’s family this year, and we couldn’t agree on where to eat. How can we expect a church of one hundred people to come to a consensus on every decision?
  1. They don’t trust the staff. We live in a world of paranoia, just look at this year’s election. Trust is not something that comes easily to us. This is especially the case in many churches. When a church doesn’t trust the pastor or staff, it never ends well. If you can’t trust them, fire them. Otherwise, let them lead.
  1. They’re insider-focused. How many times have you heard something like this? So and so left because they didn’t like…(you fill in the blank). Some people aren’t happy about…(you fill in the blank). These churches never think about those outside the church. Their only concern is keeping those they already have.

Democracy has worked great for America for the last 200 years or so. It hasn’t worked nearly as well in the church. If it’s not working in your church, start taking the steps to change it.

Does your church have business meetings? What do they look like? I’d love to hear about it, leave a comment below. Also, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Church Planting: A Wife’s Perspective

Guest Post: Melissa Thompson

Two years ago my husband, Dustin, and I planted Refuge Church in Cookeville, Tennessee. At first I fought this idea for a long time. I knew that if we committed to this dream, I would need to be all in along with my husband. I would need to help carry this vision into reality, and this responsibility scared me. Now, two years into the journey, I am leading and loving it. Along the way, I have learned some valuable lessons in life and leadership.

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First, you and your spouse have to be on the same team. When you decide to live for Jesus and lead in your church, Satan will attack. Dustin and I are a team! We are there for each other. When he is down, it is my job to be there to lift him up. When I am down, he fights for me. We carry the weight of the vision God has for our church together. We problem solve together, dream together and cry together. We don’t always agree, but once a decision is made, we are united. Come what may, we are going to fight for it together.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

To maintain being on the same team, you have to talk about things that bother you. You and your spouse have to be open with each other. If you harbor hard feelings about anything with your spouse, it will grow and divide you.

Second, finding balance in life is unobtainable, but living with rhythm is what you should strive for. Every church I have been apart of has talked about finding balance. You have to balance being a wife, mother, employee, pastor’s wife, children’s director and the list goes on and on. You begin to feel like a circus clown trying to keep spinning plates on a stick. One plate starts to wobble, so you focus on that plate. By the time you get it going again, another plate wobbles. This keeps going until eventually plates start crashing to the floor. We cannot feasibly be excellent in all areas at all times.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Then Solomon goes on to describe a rhythm. The same applies for church. There is a season of high intensity with outreaches, groups and big weekends. You also have seasons of lower intensity where you can focus on family. Finding this rhythm is essential. You cannot burn the candle at both ends for very long. You will burn out! Once this rhythm is established, you can be intentional in each season. When it is go time for the church, you are all in and ready to give all you have because you have taken time to rest. But when it is a season of low intensity, you can be intentional with your family. You can do this by planning ahead.

My husband is great at establishing a calendar. He will plan ahead for the next year. He will find the pockets of low intensity and plan little trips to look forward to. So in those moments when it is hard at church, you feel spent and have nothing left, you have something to look forward to. And in a season of rest, you can focus on family time and pray and dream for the future.

Last, God has equipped each of us specifically to make a difference. Sometimes, I struggle in the “shadow” of my husband. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true. Satan will use this to disregard the plan that God has for me. It is so easy to lose sight of your purpose. You can get caught up in all the drama and forget that God needs you. God has equipped me to reach people for Christ just like my husband.

The Great Commission is just as much for me as it is for anyone in our church.   I have to be intentional about keeping my focus on Christ. This may be me serving in the kids’ ministry, praying for someone after service, or even just making sure the bathrooms are stocked and ready. God has equipped us all with the ability to grow God’s Kingdom. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

These are three lessons I have learned so far in church planting. I still have so much to learn! What are some of the lessons you have learned?

Melissa Thompson is a small town Tennessee girl with a big heart for God’s people. She has led in the secular workplace in the restaurant and banking industries and has served as a Children’s Director and Business Administrator in churches in both Tennessee and Missouri. Currently she serves in both of those roles at Refuge Church in Cookeville TN. Melissa is married to Dustin, has two kids, Avail and Archer, and enjoys quilting and knitting. For more information or to connect, you can find her on Facebook.

4 Reasons Your Church Should Partner with Compassion

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to go to Kenya on a vision trip with Compassion International. You can read about my experience here, here, here, and here. If you’re not familiar with Compassion, they are a Christian based organization dedicated to fighting child poverty, currently in twenty-six countries.

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I always thought of Compassion as a child-sponsorship program, and while that is a big part of what they do, it’s not all they do. They also have programs dedicated to child survival, leadership development, and complementary interventions.

When you put all these programs together, you see an organization that is making a huge impact in the world today. Not only are they fighting poverty, they are also seeing children and mothers come to Christ at an amazing rate.

If you currently don’t have a missions ministry at your church, or even if you do and you just want to take it further, I want to highly encourage you to consider Compassion.

Here are four reasons why:

  1. They Work Through the Local Church.

Compassion forms partnerships with churches that are already active in reaching children in their communities. Compassion realizes that while they come alongside and provide financial support, it’s the local church’s responsibility to disciple children and families.

  1. They are Focused on Bringing Up the Next Generation.

From day one, Compassion’s focus has been releasing children from spiritual, economic, social, and physical poverty. Today, they currently minister to more than 1.3 million children. They realize the best opportunity we have to introduce someone to Christ is when they are children.

  1. They have Financial Integrity.

I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of money that has been donated to various organizations only to find out later that a very small percentage actually went to the people who needed it. This is not the case with Compassion. Compassion is so serious about stewardship that it is mandated that eighty percent or more of their expenditures go directly to improving the lives of their sponsored children.

  1. They are Growing Future Leaders.

Graduates from Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program who show exceptional potential for leadership are recruited to participate in the Leadership Development Program. This program enables students to receive a university education and Christian leadership training to help them become effective Christian leaders and make a positive difference in their communities and countries.

After spending a week experiencing all that Compassion does, there’s no doubt in my mind that they are one of the best run organizations that I have ever seen, and they are making a huge impact in the world today. I would highly encourage you to join them in their mission to eliminate poverty in the name of Jesus.

Are you currently working with Compassion? What has your experience been like? Leave a comment and let us know, and if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.