I Couldn’t Do It

dad-and-daughter

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t watch my child be tortured. Yet, that’s exactly what a Christian leader in Syria had to do when he wouldn’t renounce Christ and turn back to Islam.

“The relatives said ISIS militants on Aug. 7 captured the Christian workers in a village whose name is withheld for security reasons. On Aug. 28, the militants asked if they had renounced Islam for Christianity. When the Christians said that they had, the rebels asked if they wanted to return to Islam. The Christians said they would never renounce Christ.

“The 41-year-old team leader, his young son and two ministry members in their 20s were questioned at one village site where ISIS militants had summoned a crowd. The team leader presided over nine house churches he had helped to establish. His son was two months away from his 13th birthday.

“In front of the team leader and relatives in the crowd, the Islamic extremists cut off the fingertips of the boy and severely beat him, telling his father they would stop the torture only if he, the father, returned to Islam. When the team leader refused, relatives said, the ISIS militants also tortured and beat him and the two other ministry workers. The three men and the boy then met their deaths in crucifixion.

“ ‘All were badly brutalized and then crucified,’ the ministry leader said. ‘They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them.’ ” Christian Aid

It’s one thing to stand in front of a crazed shooter who’s asking if you’re a Christian that holds your life in his hands, I think I could do that, but it’s another thing when your kids are involved.

I don’t think I could do it.

I think I would renounce Christ. I wouldn’t mean it. I would have my fingers crossed. I would be praying for forgiveness the entire time, but in that moment, when my child’s life depended on it, I believe I would give in.

I don’t know if Jesus would be disappointed in me. I don’t know if Jesus would forgive me. I don’t know what kind of an example that would set for others. I’m just trying to be honest with myself.

I hope I’m never put in that situation.

No one should ever be put in that situation.

The fact that this goes on in our world and no one is doing anything about it, absolutely baffles me. I believe those in power who have the ability to do something about this, and don’t, should be held accountable for their actions.

I just hope if I’m ever put in that situation, I’m not held accountable for mine.

Six Reasons Leaders Avoid Change

Change

I was recently flipping through the radio stations in my car when I came across one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs. The band doesn’t get played a lot on the radio anymore, so I glanced at the station and noticed it was 105.9 Classic Rock. When did Pearl Jam become classic rock?

Everything changes over time. The music industry is a great example. I never would have guessed fifteen years ago that CD’s would one day become obsolete, but that day is just around the corner. Music distribution has gone from vinyl records to eight tracks to cassettes to cd’s to mp3’s just within the last sixty to seventy years.

So, why is it that so many church leaders avoid change when they operate in such a changing world? I can think of six reasons.

  1. Laziness“Change just means more work for me.”

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been in ministry long enough to realize that some leaders are just lazy. Some leaders can find time for everything else they want to do in their life, but when it comes to ministry they want to do the least amount of work possible. To them, leadership is more about a title than anything else.

  1. Complacency“The status quo is fine. We can pay the bills. People are showing up. There’s no need to change.”

Many leaders are far too easily satisfied. They view keeping the lights on and the doors open a success. As long as the Word is being preached, they believe their job is done. They never let numbers or statistics upset them because they rarely look at them.

  1. Doubt“What if it doesn’t work? What if I make a mistake?”

Moses wasn’t alone in his doubts. Many of us suffer with the same anxiety. We doubt our abilities, we doubt our knowledge, and we doubt our calling. Yet we would do good to remember that it isn’t about what we can do, but what God can do through us.

  1. Busyness“I don’t have time to. I’m too busy preparing sermons, counseling, visiting, you fill in the blank.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that if you serve at a church you’re busy. It seems like the work never ends. The key is prioritizing what’s most important and raising up other leaders to help share the load. If you wait until you have time, the time will never come. Make it a priority to focus on changes that need to be made to help your church grow.

  1. Fear“The people don’t want change. What if people leave? What if they fire me?”

Many of us are so afraid of failing we never try. We would rather watch the church die, than make someone mad at us. I believe that’s why one of God’s favorite phrases was “fear not.” Many of us need to quit fearing man, and start fearing what will happen in our communities if our churches refuse to change.

  1. Pride“I know what I’m doing. It worked back then, so it can work now.”

If you’ve been in ministry for very long, you’ve heard this phrase: “We’ve never done it that way before.” It’s the cry of a dying church, and unfortunately the cry of many church leaders. It’s difficult to change something that at one point worked well, but it’s absolutely necessary if your church is going to continue to reach new people.

How silly would it be if U2 decided that they loved their sound on cassette tapes so much that it was the only way they were going to release their music? We would call them crazy, and then we would call them bankrupt. Yet, we see this in churches every day.

Don’t let this be your church. Choose to get rid of your excuses, embrace change, and trust God with the results.

What are some other reasons churches avoid change? How can you lead change in a church that is against it?

Give it Away

Basics - Free Stuff

Every Monday I post one of The Basics. The Basics are simple steps every church can take to grow. They are the same steps that led my church from 87 people in attendance to over 700. These steps have helped my church see hundreds of people saved and baptized in just a few short years. Most of these steps you can take this week without even having a board meeting. These are The Basics.

CoffeeHands

Over the past nine years, my church has given away over 65,000 glazed doughnuts. Why? Because people love free stuff.

McDonalds serves free coffee. Kids eat free at the IHOP. And millions of people join Amazon Prime to get free shipping, free music, free movies and more.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking? You don’t want to bribe people with free stuff in order to get them to your church. That’s fine, but let me ask you this question. In the Gospels, did people follow Jesus for what they could do for Him or for what He could do for them? Initially, it was always about what they could get from Jesus.

I believe Jesus was ok with this because He knew that would change over time. As people spend time with Jesus, we see them change from someone who is looking to be served, to someone who is becoming a servant.

With that in mind, here are 4 things we give away at my church in order to entice guests to spend more time with Jesus.

Coffee – Depending on what survey you look at, between 60-80% of Americans drink coffee, and most of the coffee consumption takes place during the hours your church is meeting. Providing coffee for your guests promotes fellowship, brings energy to the room, and keeps people from yawning through your service. 

Doughnuts – Families with young children struggle to get to church on time. By providing doughnuts or some other food option, they don’t have to worry about missing breakfast because you’ve got them covered. What we’ve seen in our small town is many families struggle to put food on the table each week, so this may be the only breakfast they’re able to get.

Bible – Living in the Bible Belt I’m constantly surprised at how many people do not have a Bible in their homes. We make the announcement each week, that if you don’t have a Bible, we’d love to give you one. You can find the Bible we give away here. It’s a great Bible for those just getting started with their faith.

First-Time Guest Gift – If someone visits our church for the first time, we want to know about it. One of the ways we make sure we get their information is offering them a free gift. We’ve offered a variety of gifts over the years, but the two we give away most are coffee mugs in the fall and winter and water bottles in the spring and summer. Make sure you spend the money to have these items personalized with your church logo and information, that way any time someone uses them, they’re reminded of your church.

All four of these things come with a cost, but I believe not being generous comes with a greater cost.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “The generous will prosper, those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

We’ve certainly seen this within our church, and I believe you will be amazed by the difference you’ll see in your church when you start to give things away.

What do you give away to guests at your church? Do you believe the benefits outweigh the costs?

Man in the Mirror

Native American man looking in mirror

“Sometimes the words too busy are substitutes for too lazy.” – Eugene Cho

At least that’s true for me. I didn’t always realize it though. For years, I considered myself a hard worker, always getting as much as possible done. If I wasn’t able to do something, like say reading my Bible, dating my wife, or spending enough time with my kids, I would use the excuse of busyness.

It’s kind of my go to excuse. That, or I feel like I’m getting burned out. That’s another good one I tell myself. And yet, despite my busyness, I always found time to play games on my phone, to watch my favorite tv shows, to sleep a little longer in the mornings. So, after a long, hard look in the mirror, I decided to make a change. (Mandatory Michael Jackson Reference)

Over the summer I began waking up an hour earlier than normal. I spend the time reading, writing, and investing in myself while my family sleeps. By waking up early, I’m not sacrificing time with my family later in the day. My goal is to become more devoted to the things that really matter in life.

Acts 2, is a pretty important chapter in the Bible. It’s where the church began. I love verses 42-47. Here’s an excerpt:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

What are you devoting your life to? Google defines devotion as showing great love or loyalty to. Maybe a better exercise would be to ask those around us what they think we’re devoting our lives to. We’re not always the most honest with ourselves.

Whatever it is we’re devoting our lives to, is it adding to your life? If not, maybe it’s time you made a change.

Church should be a Piece of Cake

 

 

This weekend I took my wife to her favorite restaurant, Maggiano’s. Maggiano’s serves incredible Italian food, but the highlight of the evening is always their Chocolate Zuccoto Cake. Each slice is 5 inches tall, 4 inches wide, and weighs just short of a pound. This cake is a sight to behold, not to mention it tastes incredible.

maggianoschocolatecake

Here’s five things this cake has that your church needs.

  • It draws attention – I was talking to my friend Will about our chocolate cake experience, and he brought up a great point. He said, “The thing is, they parade that cake around the restaurant so everyone sees it, and after seeing it, you have to order it.”

Are you doing things to bring positive attention to your church? Are you actively involved in serving the community? If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would the community notice?

  • Presentation – I’ve watched enough Chopped and MasterChef to know that presentation is a huge deal in the food world. No matter how good the food tastes, if it’s just thrown on a plate haphazardly, it creates a negative first impression.

So, what do guests experience when they drive onto your property? Is the landscaping nice? Are they being greeted in the parking lot? What about when they walk through your doors, are they greeted with a smile? Does your building smell nice and fresh, or does it smell old and out of date?

  • More than they expected – I’m guessing most people in the United States have experienced chocolate cake in some form or fashion. So, when you order a chocolate cake from a restaurant, you already have an expectation of what it’s going to be like. Maggiano’s chocolate cake blows that expectation out of the water. It’s unlike any chocolate cake I’ve ever seen.

Church is no different. Most people in the United States have an expectation of what church is going to be like. In many circumstances that expectation is going to be less than positive. So, what can you put in place to change that? First Impressions is an easy place to start, but Kid’s Ministry may be your most important area. By creating a great first impression and then providing a great kids environment, you will already surpass most people’s expectations of church.

  • It’s meant to be shared – No ordinary human can eat the Chocolate Zuccotto Cake in one sitting. It’s meant to be shared with others. Your church should be the same way.

So, what are you doing to foster community within your church? Are you offering groups throughout the week? Are friendships being formed? Are people doing life together? If not, it’s time to rethink your strategy for getting people connected.

  • People will drive a long distance to experience it – The closest Maggiano’s to my house is in Nashville, TN, just over an hour away. There are plenty of Italian restaurants closer to my house, but none of them can come close to the experience you get there.

If you want to get guests to show up to your church, give them an experience that they can’t get anywhere else. Ask yourself, what can we do better than anyone else is doing, and then go do it.

I’d love to hear about your favorite restaurants and what keeps drawing you back to them. Post it in the comments section below.

Greetings

Basics - Happy Greeters

Every Monday I post one of The Basics. The Basics are simple steps every church can take to grow. They are the same steps that led my church from 87 people in attendance to over 700. These steps have helped my church see hundreds of people saved and baptized in just a few short years. Most of these steps you can take this week without even having a board meeting. These are The Basics.

Greeters

On any given week of the year, millions of guests step foot inside a church. How they are greeted plays a huge role in determining if they come back. Greeting ministry should be one of the easiest things to pull off each week for a church, but over and over again I see churches that are doing a horrible job at it.

Some churches make the mistake of not even having a greeter ministry, which is like inviting guests over and saying “just let yourself in.” Others make an even bigger mistake of having the wrong people serve as greeters. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of guests who have been turned off before they ever walk through the church doors. All it takes is a wrong look or a poor choice of words for a first-time guest to become a last-time guest.

So, how can we make sure that doesn’t happen? How can we have a greeter ministry that gives a great first impression?

  1. Greeters should be people who smile. I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many sour-faced greeters there are in churches all over the country. What makes it worse, are pastors and ministry leaders that allow this to continue to happen week after week. If you have a grumpy greeter serving in your greeter ministry, immediately move them out of that position.
  1. Greeters should open the door. NewSpring Church in South Carolina has a policy that says no guest should ever have to open a door. They place volunteers at every entrance of their church to open the doors for their guests. You should do the same. It’s a simple way to serve your guests, and a great first impression of your church.
  1. Greeters should be good at remembering names. One of the most valuable tools in ministry is a good memory, especially when it comes to remembering names. Greeting guests with a smile and handshake makes a good first impression. Remembering their name when they come back a second time makes a great second impression. By remembering a person’s name, you’re placing value on them, which makes a huge impact on people.
  1. Greeters should reflect who your church is trying to reach. If your church is trying to reach young families make sure you have couples with young kids greeting. If you’re trying to reach empty nesters, make sure you have older adults greeting. This doesn’t mean you can’t have diversity within your greeters, you should. But it wouldn’t make sense to have only retired adults greeting in a church that’s trying to reach young people.

If your greeting ministry reflects these four simple ideas, you will automatically see more guests come back to your church.

What are some other ways we can make the church more welcoming to guests?

Why you should start reading

reading

Looking back now, I’m sure I spent entirely too much time working on the farm and playing baseball during my boyhood, and not enough time with the books. –Billy Graham

Reading is in decline in the United States. Despite the popularity of books like Harry Potter or the Twilight Trilogy, the number of non-book readers has tripled since 1978 to 23 percent. That’s right, one out of every four Americans didn’t read a single book last year.

And really, can you blame them? With all the choices on television and the Internet these days, why would you waste your precious time reading?

Pay no mind to the fact that those who earn a salary of $75,000 or more a year, also read more than those who earn less than them. I’m sure that’s purely coincidental.

The fact that billionaires, like Steve Jobs or Phil Knight, have huge personal libraries, I’m sure, had no bearing on their success.

Ignore the fact that readers are better thinkers, better communicators, have better people skills, and are less stressed than the rest of us.

Besides, who really has the time to sit down and read? Sure, Steve Jobs may have had all this free time on his hands between inventing the iPhone, but I have a family.

Where would I ever find the time? I’d like to offer you three suggestions, just in case you change your mind about reading.

  1. Wake Up Early – You don’t want to sacrifice time with your family to read, so read while they’re still asleep. Wake up an hour earlier than normal. Be selfish at 5 a.m. If you’re not a morning person, learn how to become one.

I know what you’re thinking, but I like my sleep. What means more to you, that extra hour of sleep or that promotion at work? That extra hour of sleep, or achieving your dreams?

Most of us would rather stay in bed and dream rather than wake up and work on accomplishing our dream. Just remember while you’re sleeping, someone else is hustling, and that someone is accomplishing what you can only dream of.

  1. Stay Up Late – For most people, it’s not realistic to read while the family is still awake. There are too many distractions. So, you’re going to need to stay up after they’re in bed.

If you’re used to watching television when the kids go to bed, this can be a dilemma. You’re going to have to make a choice. Is reading more important than the latest episode of CSI? Is reading more important than checking my Facebook?

For most people it isn’t. You can choose to be most people, or you can choose to better yourself and those around you.

  1. Make the Most of Your Downtime – If you’re not willing to sacrifice sleep, you’re going to have to make the most of your downtime. I spend 30 to 45 minutes waiting to pick my child up from school two to three days a week. I bring a book with me.

How much time do you spend mowing your yard each summer? Can you download a book on your iPhone and listen to it while mowing? How long is your commute? Can you listen to an audiobook each morning and afternoon on your way back and forth to work?

This may mean missing out on your favorite talk radio show. A small sacrifice to pay, but one many people aren’t willing to make.

Those who make reading a priority in their lives accomplish more with their life. It’s been proven over and over again. But in the game of life, most people will choose pleasure over progress. Don’t be most people.

What are you currently reading? How could you make time to read more?

Jesus and Gardening

Pruning

Even though I grew up on a farm, I know very little about gardening. To be honest, most vegetables and I don’t get along. If broccoli and I made eye contact at the local Piggly Wiggly, it would be very awkward. We haven’t spoken in years.

Jesus, on the other hand, seems to know a lot about the subject. He actually refers to his Father as “the gardener” in the book of John.

“I am the true grapevine, and my father is the gardener.” John 15:1

But it’s really the next verse that catches my attention.

“He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” John 15:2

Google defines pruning like this:

Prune – to trim by cutting away overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth.

So, is it possible that Jesus is saying there are things in our life, or things in our church, that often need to be cut away in order for us to produce the most fruit? I think so.

Henry Cloud says it like this in his book Necessary Endings.

“Pruning enables rosebushes and other plants to realize full potential. Without it, they are just average at best and far less than they were designed to be. If you think about it, there should never be an average rosebush. By nature, there is nothing average about them at all. They are designed for incredible beauty and lushness. But if not adequately pruned, they never make it.”

I think Jesus would say, replace the word rosebush with Christ-Follower or church. There should never be an average Christ-Follower. There should never be an average church. Cloud goes on to say:

“A rosebush cannot reach its full potential without a very systematic process of pruning. The plant has enough life and resources to feed and nurture only so many buds to their full potential. In order for the bush to thrive, a certain number of buds have to go.”

So, how do we go about determining what needs to be pruned out of our lives, or out of our churches? Cloud gives three suggestions.

  1. Healthy buds or branches that are not the best ones,
  2. Sick branches that are not going to get well, and
  3. Dead branches that are taking up space needed for the healthy ones to thrive.

We all have bad habits that we need to do away with. We all have ministries within our churches that died years ago, that we’re keeping on life support, in order to keep the mourning to a minimum. And we’re all guilty of filling our calendars with far too many good things that are keeping us from doing the best things.

But, if we’re ever going to reach our full potential as Christ followers, and if our churches are ever going to reach their full potential, we must be willing to go through the sometimes painful process of pruning.

What are some of the benefits of this idea of pruning? What are some things you need to prune out of your life or church?

The Key is Connection

Basics - Connection Cards

Every Monday I post one of The Basics. The Basics are simple steps every church can take to grow. They are the same steps that led my church from 87 people in attendance to over 700. These steps have helped my church see hundreds of people saved and baptized in just a few short years. Most of these steps you can take this week without even having a board meeting. These are The Basics.

postcard-gray-connect-card

If you want your church to grow, you have to begin focusing on your guests. I recommend starting with a connection card. These little cards are the most important pieces of paper you should be handing out each week. You can use these cards in a variety of ways, but the most important thing a connection card provides is a way of following up with guests. This is important because guests who are followed up with within 48 hours of their first visit are much more likely to visit your church a second time.

If you’re not currently using a connection card, you can download a great template here. Once you have your connection card in place, it’s time to put it to use. Here are some steps we’ve used over the years, and other churches are using, that are highly effective in getting guests to return to your church.

  1. Make sure every guest gets a connection card. We do this by placing a connection card in every bulletin and having our ushers pass them out to everyone who enters the auditorium.
  2. Don’t ask for too much information. The more information you ask for, the less likely a person is to fill it out. The main thing is you have a way of getting in touch with them, so focus on emails, phone numbers, and addresses. If you ask for an address make sure your guests know no one from the church will be making a surprise visit to their house. We always say at our church, “We’re not going to show up at your door. We’d just love to send you a letter saying thanks for checking us out.”
  3. The connection card should be explained from the stage every service. Don’t just ask guests to fill out the card, encourage everyone to fill out a card each service. If everyone else is filling the card out, the guest doesn’t feel like they’re being singled out.
  4. Follow-up as soon as possible. We’ve done this in a variety of ways through the years, but I believe a handwritten letter from a staff member or pastor to be the most effective. We normally write these letters on the following Monday, so they can be mailed Tuesday morning.
  5. Pray for prayer requests. If your card includes a place for prayer requests, make sure someone prays for them. We have a care team that prays over each prayer request, and sends letters and cards to those who request prayer. Every staff member is also emailed the prayer requests.

While there are many other areas in the church that affect guest retention, this process is a great place to begin.

What does the guest follow up process currently look like in your church? How can you improve it?

Crowded Beds and Crowded Hearts

crowdedbed

I feel like I’ve been hit by a car. Not a big car. A small car, perhaps a Volkswagen Beetle. Not going real fast, just fast enough to throw my body over the hood and onto the gritty pavement below. This is what it’s like waking up in the mornings after sleeping in my queen size bed with my wife and two year old.

If you have a wife and kids, you know what I mean. You know what it means to fight for the tiniest sliver of blanket. You know what it means to be kicked in the head by little feet. And you know how to contort your body into the shape of an L in order to make the most of the limited space you have available.

If my five year old has been watching “Goosebumps” on Netflix before she goes to bed, she may decide to join us in the middle of the night as well. Now, the VW Beetle becomes a VW Minibus. Instead of being thrown over the hood, you’re just run over and chances of survival are slim.

This is my reality. A reality I cherish. For I know it won’t last long.

I wonder if Jesus doesn’t have similar feelings about us. I love the story, found in the Gospel of Mark, of parents bringing their children to Jesus. The disciples are trying to shoo the parents and children away, but Jesus will have none of that.

Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. Mark 10:16

I wonder if Jesus thinks I better take advantage of this opportunity, because they may not always want to spend time with me. There may come a time when they feel like they don’t need me anymore. Their life may become so busy that I’m just an afterthought.

Spending time with Christ usually isn’t an issue when we’re first introduced to Him. We want to know more about our Savior, so we’re reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, discussing Jesus with other believers.

But for many of us, over time, that desire starts to fade. Now, we’re only reading our Bible in preparation for Sunday’s message. We only spend time in prayer when we want something from God. We’re like that college kid who comes home on the weekend just so his mom can wash his clothes and his dad can give him gas money. Before we know it, the bond we once had with Jesus is gone.

So, how can we keep this from happening? Jesus provides the answer.

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. John 15:9

The key to a healthy relationship with Jesus is to remain in His love. Jesus isn’t going anywhere. Jesus will always be there. But it’s up to us to cultivate that relationship. It’s up to us to set aside time to spend with Jesus every day.

And Jesus makes us this promise. If we will remain in Him, our lives will be fruitful. Our lives will produce a great harvest. Our lives will impact those around us.

So, what are some practical things you’re doing to cultivate your relationship with Jesus? Let us know in the comments below.