Leadership = Influence

If you’ve never read a book by John Maxwell, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. He has more leadership knowledge in his big toe than I have in my entire body. I’ve never met him, and probably never will, and yet he’s had a tremendous influence on my life.

In Maxwell’s book, The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day, he says, “Leadership impact increases as influence increases.”

There’s no place that leadership is more important than the local church because the church works primarily through volunteers.

We don’t have the leverage that other organizations do. We’re not offering a salary and benefits.

As pastors and ministry leaders, we have to rely solely on our leadership and influence.

If the leader has no influence with the people they’re trying to lead, then they’re never going to follow.

It’s one thing to be obedient to God. We should certainly do what He says, but for leaders, obedience isn’t enough.

You need people to help accomplish the vision God’s given you, and if you can’t get people to follow you, then you’re going to fail your mission.

So, with that in mind, let me share with you a few thoughts on leadership and influence.

  • Leadership is Influence

Think about it. Leadership is about getting people to follow you. The only way you do that is through influence. The more influence you have the easier it will be to get people to follow you.

  • Our Influence can be Positive or Negative

You already know this. That’s why we’re so concerned about who our kids are hanging out with. You should be just as concerned about who’s leading in your church, especially in kids’ ministry, student ministry, and small groups. A lot of church splits happen because of someone using their influence in a negative way.

  • Good Leaders use their Influence to Add Value

Whenever I write a blog or post to social media, I’m thinking how can I add value to someone else. Otherwise, what’s the point? Before you look to get something out of people, you need to make sure you’ve done a great job pouring into people.

  • With Influence Comes Responsibility

Remember the story about the twelve spies sent into the Promise Land? Caleb and Joshua said we can take the land, but the other ten disagreed and started a rebellion. Their negative influence resulted in every one of their followers dying in the wilderness. Don’t take your influence lightly.

Remember, influence takes time. So, if you’re the new pastor at a church or the new leader of a ministry, it may take some time before people are ready to follow you. Don’t let that discourage you. Be willing to put in the effort it takes to become a great leader.

What are you currently doing to increase your influence? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. While you’re here make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Why I Haven’t Given Up on Small Groups

If you’ve been following the blog for very long, you’ve probably noticed I have a love/hate relationship with small groups. For the ninety minutes or so I’m attending a group, I love it. Outside of those ninety minutes, I’ve tended to hate it more than anything. But over the past few months, I’m starting to have a Julia Stiles, Ten Things I Hate About You moment with it.

I hate the way you take up a free night

I hate it when the kids get in a fistfight

I hate it when no one wants to lead

Probably because they have an entire group to feed

I hate that I can’t find anyone to lead the ministry

And the fact that no one attends because of ball

But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you

Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

Before I wrote blogs, I wrote poetry. My mom said I had a gift.

Regardless, the truth is, as much as I want to hate groups, I have to admit I need them.

And so do you.

Here’s why:

  1. Groups are a great way to evangelize.

Your neighbors may not be ready to come to church just yet, but they would attend a group focused around how to make their marriage better. Once they’re a part of your group, they make friendships, their marriage gets better, and they realize maybe they need Jesus.

  1. Groups can be great for discipleship.

I’ve discovered most people aren’t thinking about how to grow closer to God. They have too much going on already, and it gets pushed to the background, unless they’re part of a group that talks about it.

  1. Groups can be a great way to identify and train new leaders.

If someone can lead a successful group, there’s a good chance they can lead a ministry. If they can’t lead a successful group, then you know they probably shouldn’t be leading a ministry. Either way, you’ve discovered something very important without much risk.

The benefits of a healthy group ministry are tremendous. I hesitate to say it because of my past frustrations, but I almost think it’s vital to the health of your church.

And so, I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of work to do in this area because it may be the difference between a stagnant and a growing church.

On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate the small group ministry at your church? Do you have any frustrations? I’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

An Important Lesson from Carnival Cruise Lines

This summer I had the opportunity to go on a Carnival cruise with a group of pastors who are part of the same association. It was a fun and relaxing trip, and one that gave us the opportunity to talk through some issues our churches are facing. It also reminded me of a very important lesson many churches need to learn: Decide who you’re trying to reach.

It was apparent from the first day that Carnival had yet to decide this, and because of that, the ship felt like it had multiple personalities.

On one hand, they tried to portray a luxurious feel.

On another, they tried to portray they were family friendly.

And another, weird third hand they portrayed a party atmosphere, which in my opinion was probably what they really were. They just weren’t quite ready to fully admit it.

Here are a few observations that led me to this conclusion.

The ship I was on had a very fancy dining room called The Monet. During dinner the first night, a man dressed as a pirate came around to each table, and you were required to have your picture taken with him holding a knife to your throat. To make matters worse, it wasn’t even a good-looking pirate costume.

The ship did have a play area for kids on one of the tops decks, but the toys looked to have been thrown together by going to random yard sales. There was no rhyme or reason to it, and I never saw anyone on staff tending to it or cleaning the toys.

They did have a slide on one of the main decks, which was an attraction for kids, but it also overlooked the party pool.

They had an art gallery next to the arcade and casino.

I could go on and on.

In their attempt to appeal to everyone, they missed their opportunity to be great for someone.

Nothing they did was bad, but nothing they did was extraordinary either.

In the end, I’m guessing everyone left with just an ok experience.

So, what does this have to do with your church? Everything.

Far too many churches try to be all things to all people and end up being just ok at everything.

Here’s the problem with that. No one talks about ok. No one thinks about ok. And no one invites his or her friends to experience ok.

So, decide who you want to reach.

If it’s young families, then make sure your kid’s ministry is extraordinary.

If it’s creatives, make sure your worship service is on point.

If it’s retired people, make sure your senior ministry is going strong and you sing every hymn in the book.

Just whatever you do, don’t settle for ok. Ok?

Have you ever been on a cruise? Would you ever go on one again? Why or why? Let me know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

5 Keys to an Effective Evangelism Strategy

How many people have you invited to church in the last week? The last month? The last year? I’ll be honest, for me the answer would be not near enough. But in my defense, I generally see the same 3-5 people each week in my small town, and they all have a home church. All of them except Nancy who works at Dollar General, I’m still working on her.

The truth is evangelism is difficult in a small town. There are only so many places to go, and so many people to invite. And almost everyone has a home church, even if they aren’t really attending it.

To further complicate matters, most of the community commutes thirty minutes or more outside of the town to go to work. This makes inviting coworkers more difficult because most of them aren’t willing to travel to a smaller town to go to church.

I’ve also heard in some churches, probably not yours, congregants are too embarrassed to invite their friends. They’re worried that someone’s Aunt Edna is going to be led to sing a special, and Aunt Edna can’t sing a lick but no one has the heart to tell her.

Given our current set of circumstances, we have two options.

We can do like a lot of churches and throw up our hands and say that’s just the way it is, people don’t love Jesus enough to invite their friends and family anymore.

Or we can start getting really intentional about developing a strategy for evangelism.

I’m hoping you’ll choose an evangelism strategy, and if you do here are a few key components that you’ll need.

  1. A vision for reaching the community.

This seems obvious, but it’s a key that many churches are missing. The natural pull over time for a church is to focus on insiders over outsiders. As the pastor you need to keep the focus on reaching rather than keeping.

  1. Teach people to live out their faith.

If the church looked more like Jesus, I have no doubt that our seats would be filled. The world is searching for love, kindness, and peace. We just have to teach our people to demonstrate it, wherever they are.

  1. Be the example.

Don’t expect your people to be evangelistic if you aren’t. You must lead the way. Look for opportunities to invite, and then share those stories, both successes and failures.

  1. Get everyone involved.

Not everyone is going to be comfortable going up to a stranger and inviting them to church. Not everyone is going to have a long list of friends and family they can invite. Some people are going to be tellers, some are going to be bringers, and the rest need to be pray-ers.

  1. Offer multiple on-ramps.

Evangelism shouldn’t be just about Sunday morning. If it is, you’re seriously limiting your effectiveness. Utilize multiple on-ramps such as small groups and special events. It’s not always about getting people to step through your doors. Sometimes it’s just getting them to step in the right direction.

On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate the level of evangelism currently taking place in your church? What could make it more effective? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

3 Reasons Church Members Resist Change

There are some great leaders in the Bible. Some come to mind quickly, and others you might have to think about for a bit. But who would you consider the greatest? Let’s take Jesus out of the running, because He always tends to win these things, but out of everyone else, who would be your pick?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but I think I might lean towards Moses.

He was a reluctant leader, but once he realized God wasn’t going to take no for an answer, he had a pretty incredible run.

He convinced Pharaoh to free the children of Israel from slavery and let them return to their own land. When Pharaoh quickly changed his mind and gave chase, Moses led the children of Israel across a parted Red Sea. And Moses was responsible for jotting down the Ten Commandments that he received from God not once but twice.

But in the words of Shania Twain, “That don’t impress me much.”

What impresses me the most about Moses is how he was able to put up with the children of Israel’s constant complaining, bickering, and backstabbing.

He wasn’t always perfect. He got mad a few times, but if I was in his shoes and God offered to wipe the complainers off the map and start over, I’m not sure I could’ve been as merciful as Moses.

Moses loved the vision God had given him of the Promised Land, but he loved the people God had put him over even more.

I’m guessing you have some complainers in your church. You have some people who will tell you what you should be doing but will never help you do anything. The hardest they will ever work is when they’re working against you.

As long as you maintain the status quo, they’re often satisfied. It’s when you start trying to change things that they get the loudest.

The temptation is to want them to go away, and sometimes that’s necessary. But sometimes God may want you to love them through it.

It’s certainly not easy to love someone who is fighting against you, but I think it helps when we understand why. Whenever people resist change, it’s often because of these three reasons.

  1. They’re living in the past.

All of us have a way of idolizing the past. If you have any sort of card collection in your closet or attic, you’re as guilty as anyone. People who’ve spent a lot of years in the same church tend to want to hold on to the traditions of the past. They would call them the good ole days.

Instead of ignoring the past, one of the best things you can do is take some of those past traditions and tweak them to fit into your current context. This helps you to accomplish your vision without stomping on their memories.

  1. They’re comfortable in the present.

I believe the United States is full of comfortable Christians. They sit in the same chair every week, they serve in the same area, and they give the same five dollars that they’ve given for the past five years. And they would be perfectly happy to do that until God calls them home.

Change scares them because they know it will take them out of their comfort zones. You have to paint a compelling picture of the future that’s better than what they’re experiencing now. A large percentage still isn’t going to change, but you only need a few to start gaining momentum.

  1. They’re fearful of the future.

Who are the loudest critics of moving from a Sunday school model to a small group model? The Sunday school teachers, right? What about moving to two services? You may have lots of critics because people like seeing everyone.

Sometimes the best way to overcome these types of fears is to talk about what would happen if you don’t change. You may want to say things like, our fear of not reaching our community has to be greater than our fear of not seeing all of our friends on Sunday.

What you’ll find from most people is that they’ll resist change until the change happens. Once the change takes place, they’ll realize that it wasn’t that big of a deal to begin with.

Or they’ll still be mad about it and leave. Sometimes that happens, and you just take comfort in knowing you did the right thing for the church.

Who’s your favorite leader in the Bible? Why? Let us know by leaving a comment below and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

5 Types of Pastors Who Fail

Depending on which study you look at, anywhere between 7,000-10,000 churches close each year in America. There are, of course, a variety of reasons why, but leadership has to be at the top of the list. Many pastors just don’t have the skills or desire to learn what it takes to lead a church in an ever-changing culture.

In many cases these pastors have made a good living doing what they’ve always done, so they’ve had very little incentive to change. In my experience a lot of them are doing much better financially than even pastors of growing churches.

The situation only becomes worse when the only accountability they have is to the church they serve. So, as long as they have good relationships with their congregation, they’ll always have a job.

These pastors look successful, but I’m afraid they’re setting their church up for failure.

From what I’ve studied and witnessed, the pastors usually fall into one of these five categories.

  1. The Seeker

The seeker is always looking for a pat on the back. They love to be recognized and praised. Often they are great at pastoral care because it gives them the approval they are seeking.

  1. The Lazy

There’s absolutely no excuse for being a lazy pastor. I hate that I even have to write about this, but the truth is they do exist. When there’s low accountability, some pastors will become lazy.

  1. The Avoider

This one I can much more relate with. Having hard conversations and making difficult decisions isn’t fun, so some pastors will avoid it all together. If you choose to be this pastor, you’re no longer leading.

  1. The Ignorant

Something we say in the south when we insult someone is “bless their heart.” For example, that pastor doesn’t know what they’re doing, bless their heart. Some just don’t have the basic skills it takes to lead a church.

  1. The Burned

Some pastors have tried their best to lead, and yet they’ve been worn down in the process. You go through enough of this, and it’s not uncommon to just give up. The path of least resistance may not be what’s best for the church, but at least you’ll keep your job.

There has to be something bigger that drives us, otherwise these numbers are just going to get worse and worse.

We can’t be content with where we are in the present when the future of the American church is at stake.

What are you doing to set your church up for success in the future? Share your thoughts below and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Six Reasons Our Marriage Has Worked

Cowrote by Samantha Stephens

This post was originally written for the LifeTravelers blog here.

This past December my wife and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I take that back. Our anniversary is on December 16th, and I’m pretty sure we hung out at home that night. We actually celebrated a couple months earlier with an all-inclusive trip to Cancun without the kids.

Now, I realize ten years isn’t really that long, but statistics show couples are more likely to get divorced within the first ten years of their marriage than at any other time.

Marriage statistics vary and are constantly changing, but from what I have found, it looks like around 35% of first marriages fail to make it at least ten years. I say first marriages because statistics get worse with each subsequent marriage.

So, what do I know that 35% of couples don’t?

Probably not much, that’s why I asked my wife to weigh in on the subject.

Here are the six things she believes has contributed to our success.

  1. Open Communication

Being able to tell your spouse exactly how you feel and why is vital to the success of your marriage. We weren’t great at this the first year or two of our marriage. We both had a tendency to hold things in until it created a much bigger problem. Over time we built up trust with one another and have become comfortable sharing exactly how we feel without becoming angry at each other.

  1. Realistic Expectations

As much as my wife would love for me to be more romantic and affectionate, she realizes it’s not how I’m wired. This doesn’t mean I should never try. It just means that she’s not holding me to a standard that I’ll never achieve. Putting unrealistic expectations on your spouse always sets you up for disappointment.

  1. Putting Your Spouse First

There’s a verse in the book of Philippians that my wife lives out. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself. She’s incredible at this. A lot of couples that have kids make the mistake of putting the kids first instead of their spouse. This can seem to make sense in the moment, but it’s a terrible idea and can lead to a lot of problems in the marriage.

  1. Have Fun

This seems so simple, right? But most marriages fail because the couple stopped having fun together. I don’t like spending money, and fun often comes at a cost. I’ve learned the importance of putting fun in the budget. We enjoy going to the movies. We’ll see a couple of concerts this summer, and we try to take a mini vacation by ourselves every year. Those things add up, but it’s a lot cheaper than a divorce.

  1. Take Divorce Off the Table

From our initial engagement, my wife and I have been adamant that divorce would never be an option for us. I know most couples say that, we meant it. When you take divorce off the table, you have no choice but to work things out. So, we’ve never allowed ourselves to even bring up the word divorce in arguments. We’ve also tried to always sleep in the same bed even when we’re angry at one another. This hasn’t always worked, but we try.

  1. Umm…Lots of “Alone Time”

This is a bit awkward to bring up, but my wife insists. And she’s right, sex is really important in a marriage. We have confirmed it through every couples small group we’ve even been a part of. Husbands almost always want more sex than they are currently getting, and wives almost always want more romance than they are currently getting. When you don’t get this part of your relationship right, it can have devastating effects as people start looking for that intimacy somewhere else.

This is in no way a complete list of why our marriage has worked. There are a lot of other factors that go into it, most importantly our relationship with God. But, hopefully, this will give you a few ideas you can use to improve your marriage.

How have you managed to prioritize your marriage while working in ministry? I’d love to hear your suggestions so leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

How I Should Be Organizing My Time

I have a confession to make. I’m not putting into practice everything I write about. That’s not to say I don’t believe in it, it’s just easier said than done sometimes. For instance, I think people who wake up before 5am get more accomplished. However, after trying it for about a year, I decided to go back to sleeping in. This is going to be one of those posts. I’m not currently doing this, but the plan is to put this in place very soon. In fact, this post is as much for me as it is for you.

Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t get much accomplished. I’m easily distracted. I can be lazy at times. And I like the dream a whole lot more than doing what it takes to accomplish the dream.

Even while writing this, I’m thinking about how I wish I could be watching Netflix right now.

Discipline is difficult for me, and the more people I talk to, it seems that I’m not alone in that statement.

Yet, if you want to accomplish anything significant in your life, you have to be disciplined.

And since it doesn’t come naturally to me, I need to develop a checklist to live by. Otherwise, there are going to be things I’m going to miss or forget or ignore.

I’m going to encourage you to do the same. Here’s what the breakdown might look like for me.

Daily

Personal

  • Read the Bible/Devotional.
  • Pray
  • Spend 30 minutes playing with my kids.
  • Spend 30 minutes in conversation with my wife.
  • Spend 30 minutes reading a book.
  • Exercise (Ha, I said this was hypothetical, right?)

Professional

  • Post to social media.
  • Respond to email.
  • Send an encouraging text.
  • Various other job related duties

My day-to-day work duties change quite a bit, so it’s going to be necessary for me to create a different list for each day.

Weekly

Personal

  • Help around the house.
  • Mow the yard.
  • Go to the grocery store.

Professional

  • Send three thank you cards to volunteers.
  • Meet with my senior pastor.
  • Host a small group.

Monthly

Personal

  • Take my spouse on a date.
  • Have a family day.
  • Pay the bills.

Professional

  • Meet with the elders.
  • Have lunch with a staff member or key volunteer.
  • Evaluate my weekly and daily checklist.

Yearly

Personal

  • Take a family vacation.
  • Take a mini vacation with my wife.
  • Set goals for the new year.
  • Create my budget.

Professional

  • Set goals for the new year.
  • Celebrate last year’s wins.
  • Look for ways to improve.

It’s going to take some time to put all of this together. I’m sure I’ll need to make some adjustments along the way, but in the end I think it will be worth it.

Do you use any kind of checklist? How do you stay accountable to yourself? I’d love to know the secret so leave a comment below. Also don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

5 Signs Your Church is Dying

I don’t think I’m good with plants. The Easter bunny brought my daughters flowers to plant in these little pastel pails. One seems to be doing alright, but the other is struggling to survive. It’s odd because they’ve received the same amount of sunlight and the same amount of water, yet one’s growing and the other is dying. Maybe your church can relate.

You’re doing the things other churches are doing. You’re preaching out of the same Bible. Your worship music may be similar.

Yet, the church down the road is growing, and yours seems to be dying.

You need to find out why because before you can fix the problem, you need to diagnose it.

In most cases of churches that are in decline or have died, these were some of the early warning signs.

  1. A Refusal to Let Go of the Past

Sometimes a successful past can be your worst enemy. People love to glorify and even live in the past. Especially church people. And when you attempt to change something that may have worked in the past but currently isn’t, you’re going to have a fight on your hands. We’re not talking about biblical truths. We’re talking about changing out the pulpit. The sad reality is many churches would rather die than change.

  1. A Lack of Care for the Community

Thom Rainer said, “When a church ceases to have a heart and a ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death.” I couldn’t agree more. Many churches isolate themselves from the community they’ve been called to reach. Their sign may say “Everyone Welcome,” but how they react to someone new showing up communicates the exact opposite.

  1. A Budget that Primarily Focuses on Insiders

It should come as no surprise that churches who isolate themselves will become completely focused on meeting the needs of those already there. When budget cuts have to be made because of the church dying, those items focused on reaching others are the first to go, which in turn only accelerates the inevitable.

  1. A Steady Decrease in Evangelism

Many churches started off great fulfilling the Great Commission, yet over time they refused to change their methods. Going door to door may have worked years ago, but now it’s a quick way to get shot, especially if you live in the rural south. But instead of just changing the way they reach out, they quit reaching out all together.

  1. A Loss of Purpose

What does the scripture say? Where there is no vision, the people perish. You could also say, where there is no purpose, the people perish. And churches that die are churches that long ago lost their purpose. The dying church’s mantra is, “This is the way we’ve always done it.”

Here’s the scary thing about death, it has a funny way of sneaking up on us. Rarely is it quick. Normally, it’s a slow fade that is hard to notice. Hopefully, these warning signs will help you discover the problem before it’s too late.

Have you ever been a part of a dying church? What were the warning signs? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.