Accomplishing a Dream

The Lessons Learned

This Sunday we celebrated our ten-year anniversary at Strong Tower Church. As amazing as the last ten years have been, I believe that the next ten are going to be even greater.

Dream

In the fall of 2007, my pastor invited me into his home to share his dream of creating a church that would attract those who had given up on church. We had no idea how to accomplish it, but we were young and naïve enough to try anything.

There was one big problem among many smaller ones. Strong Tower Church had already existed for almost two years, and it wasn’t doing a great job of attracting people. The average attendance in 2007 was just over one hundred people. Not bad for a town with one red light, but far from the dream God had birthed in my pastor’s heart.

Fast-forward eight years and as we get ready to celebrate ten years as a church, we’re also getting ready to launch our second location. Who knew 100 attenders could turn into 150, then 250, then 400, then 600, then 700+, and who knows maybe even 1,000 by the end of 2016?

Yet, those aren’t the most important numbers. The most important numbers are the hundreds of people that we’ve seen give their lives to Christ and go public with their faith through baptism. Those are the numbers we really care about.

So, how do you go about achieving your dreams? Here are a few things I’ve learned.

  • It’s Harder than You can Imagine – Every dream has a cost attached to it. The bigger the dream, the bigger the cost. It’ll cost you friends, it’ll cost you money, and it’ll cost you sleep.
  • It’s More Work than You Thought – I’m convinced that God blesses those who work the hardest and the smartest. If you’re not willing to work harder than you ever have before, your dream will never be a reality.
  • It’s More Worth It than You Realize – As hard as it is, and as much work as it takes, it’s so worth it. I am reminded of that over and over again each and every week as I see this dream come to life.

I’ve been so fortunate to see this dream realized at Strong Tower Church, and I can’t wait to take this dream to a brand new community.

What goals and dreams do you have? How are you accomplishing them? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

What Season are You In?

Life has seasons. I was reminded of that a couple weeks ago when I met with my young adults LifeGroup. All of them are in a unique season of life where the opportunities are endless.

SeasonsofLife

I have to admit, I was a little jealous. Often I go through seasons where I feel like I’m not accomplishing enough. I’m not saving enough money. I’m not spending enough time with my family. I’m not investing in myself enough. I’m not developing enough relationships. And the list keeps going. Maybe you can relate.

Jon Acuff says this in his newest book Do Over

“There are different times in your life, career, year and week when you will hustle differently than in others. Perhaps right now you’re in family season. You’ve got young kids and need to focus on establishing your family. A dad of a four week old told me he was still getting up at 5am to try to work on his dream. I told him to stop that. He was already getting up at 3am to help feed the baby. He had enough dream to work on right now, it was called raising a human. That’s plenty for that season.”

Perhaps, you’re going through a difficult season right now. We’ve all been there. There are some seasons where it just seems like nothing goes right for us. The danger during this season is thinking it’s never going to get better.

Others of you may be going through a really productive season right now. We all want to be there. These are seasons in which it seems like everything keeps going right. The danger during this season is to think it’s always going to be this way.

The truth is every season eventually gives way to another. Winter eventually turns into spring, and summer eventually turns into fall.

I believe each season has something to teach us. It may be patience, it may be humbleness, it may be perseverance.

Whatever the season there’s a lesson to be learned.

What season are you currently in? What have you been learning? Make sure to share in the comments below.

Is Attending Church Hard Work?

I used to believe that some people didn’t attend church because they felt the church had little to offer them. I’m now starting to believe that people are attending church less because attending church is kind of like work, and none of us, me included, are crazy about work.

Getoutofbed

Now, before you write me off, just humor me for a minute. What does a typical church-going family’s Sunday experience look like?

Depending on what service time you attend, you may or may not be dragging yourself and your kids out of bed. You’re getting showers, baths, dressed, and if you have time, eating a quick breakfast.

You’re then driving anywhere from a few to several minutes to get to church. Depending on the parking situation, you may have a short walk, or you may have to be bussed over to your final destination.

You’re greeted and welcomed with hugs and handshakes from some people you may or may not know. You either wait in line to check-in your kids, or you drop them off to strangers who you hope have been background checked.

You make your way to the auditorium just as service is starting and get ready to stand for the next twenty to thirty minutes as the worship team sing songs you would never listen to on the radio. To complicate things further, during the middle of the music someone passes around a bucket or plate that you’re expected to put your hard earned money in. Just as your legs are about to buckle, thankfully the pastor takes the stage, and you’re allowed to sit down.

Depending on your church the pastor may or may not preach a message that you can apply to your life. Either way, thirty minutes into the message you find yourself wishing you had taken the time to stop and get a cup of coffee on the way in because you’re starting to doze off. Another fifteen minutes go by, and you’re asked to stand again, only this time you’re to bow your head until your neck develops a crick in it.

Then more music, dismissal, find your kids, find your wife, find your car, find a restaurant without a one hour wait, and then get home to watch the last half of the ballgame.

No wonder people are attending church less often, and this “make believe” family doesn’t even volunteer or attend a small group.

I have to admit attending church is hard work, but the benefits are fantastic. You would think the benefits would be enough to motivate people, but I’m finding in my own life that’s not always the case.

Let me explain. Several months ago I decided to start this blog. I didn’t want to take away from my family time, so I started waking up an hour earlier than normal to write posts.

It was incredibly fulfilling, and people actually started reading and subscribing. Then the holidays hit. Kids were out of school, I was off of work, and it became easier and easier to sleep in a little later each morning.

Before I knew it I was trading writing posts and spending time with God in for an extra hour of TV at night and an extra hour of sleep in the mornings.

I knew what I should’ve been doing, but I couldn’t find the motivation to do it. When push came to shove, I chose what was easy over what was beneficial.

It reminded me a little of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14,

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

There are going to be times in your life when you’re going to be tempted to take the easy way out, especially if you’re taking your cues from the crowd.

But, if you’re going to do anything that leads to blessings and benefits, at times it’s going to be difficult. It’s going to involve some work.

So, you have to ask yourself, “Are you going to get out of bed?”

Are you finding that people are attending your church less often? What are you doing to defend against that?

Transitioning a Traditional Church

One of the most trying times as a parent is trying to get your child to take antibiotics when they’re sick. You know this is going to help them get better, but that doesn’t change the fact that they hate the taste and are going to fight you every step of the way. The traditional church tends to act the same way towards change.

Transition

Several years ago my pastor had the unusual job of transitioning a traditional church that he planted just a year or two before. I don’t think he meant for it to be traditional originally, but it was really all we knew. This was before blogs and podcasts had become popular, so our view of what a church could be was limited to say the least.

This changed when he read the book The Creative Leader by Ed Young Jr. All of a sudden the church he had intended to create became a vision he could now see. The only problem was not everyone was ready to see that vision.

What ensued was a lengthy battle to put glasses on a group that didn’t think anything was wrong with their vision. In the end, a few families left, but the pastor’s vision became a reality.

I learned a great deal during that time, and if we had to do it again this would be our plan.

  1. Overcommunicate the Vision – As a pastor and leader, you can’t communicate the vision enough. It’s only when you get sick of talking about the vision that people are finally starting to get it. So, every chance you get, talk about the vision God has given you for the church.
  1. Build Trust – Transitioning a church is impossible if the key influencers in the church don’t trust you. Take your time building relationships with each one of these people before making any major changes. You need to show genuine interest in them and their well being before they are going to have any interest in your vision.
  1. Tread Soft & Slow – The biggest mistake a pastor can make when beginning at a new church or transitioning an older church is trying to change too much too fast. This is a quick way to lose trust and possibly lose your job. Take the time to get to know the church’s history and culture before you start making changes.
  1. Focus on what you can Change – In every church there’s things you’ll be able to change, and then there’s things that you may never be able to change. If you spend all your time worrying about the things you can’t change, you’ll miss your opportunity to change the things you can.
  1. Gain Momentum through Small Wins – By focusing on the things you can change, you’ll start to have some small wins. Tie enough small wins together, and you’ll start to build momentum. Momentum is everything during a transition, because momentum opens the door to change things you never thought possible.

Keep in mind this isn’t a foolproof plan. I know several pastors who did everything right, and yet the church still refused to change.

My prayer is that yours will because if the church refuses to change, we miss out on the opportunity to reach those far from God.

So, I hope you’ll put all these plans and lessons in place, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to transition a traditional church.

Have you ever tried to transition a church? What were the lessons you learned?

Your Next Hire

Guest Post - Brian Dodridge

Most churches in North America have only one staff member—the pastor. Some of those pastors have quarter or part time staff to assist them, and many simply rely on committed volunteers to help do the ministry of the church. But as the solo-pastor led churches grow in size or even ministry complexity, it will usually require an additional staff member.

NextHire

If so, how does a church determine what position is the most important positon to hire next?

I’ve witnessed four common (but flawed) approaches for determining which staff positions to create next:

  1. Replicating what other churches are hiring

There is not a one size fits all staffing model for churches. Yet, church leaders ask their peers from other churches what positions they’ve hired. But often these peers and their churches do not have much in common with their own church. It’s not apples to apples. Many times the church you’re asking has a different church culture, church size, and community.

  1. A historical approach: “What’s always been done?”

Throughout church history (and even modern church history) there’s been value placed on certain church staff positions and rightfully so. But times change, and what made sense for a church’s second staff position in 1970 or 1990 doesn’t make as much sense in present times.

  1. Basing position selection with a particular person in mind

A church will focus on a person they know well even if they’re not ideal for the position the church needs. With some exceptions, beginning with a person in mind doesn’t allow you a comprehensive process for determining the best position. The conversation happens this way:

I like Bob. He’s energetic. I’d like to work with Bob. What is Bob qualified to do? Okay, then let’s hire that position and fill it with Bob.

Instead, think position determination before person determination. Switching those around can cause problems.

  1. Hiring the position the church’s “power-broker” says should be hired

We like to think a church doesn’t fall victim to this, but often a founding family or someone with money or influence may give a directive about the next staff positon they think should be hired. But just because they have deep pockets or have been at the church since Noah doesn’t mean their nephew or next door neighbor is the next best person to hire or that the ministry area they love the most deserves a staff position.

While each of those approaches may have some merit, each falls short of the best decision for your church.

If these fall short, what approach can you use to determine what second staff person is needed for your church?

The answer is a position that aligns growth and strategy.

Growth Hires

This is not future growth, but actual growth. The kind of growth that requires a response of more manpower. When this growth happens, you create a new position and fill it with a person because growth demands it. Again, it’s not aspirational growth, but actual growth.

The most recent growth hires we’ve made have come by way of adding new campuses (multi-sites). We started with a skeleton staff at the new campus, and guess what? People came. Many came with babies. We needed to care for children, lots of children, and care for them well. So we hired for a growth position, in our preschool and children’s ministries.

Another example: if your “small town church” builds a new worship center, and you double or triple your church’s square footage, you may need to hire a custodian or facilities manager.

Strategic Hires

When you hire for strategy it may or may not have current growth factored in. Many times strategic hiring is done to allow for growth. To bring forth future growth. When you hire a strategic staff position, you believe the ministry area this position would serve is strategic in nature. It matches the vision to which you believe God has called your church, and it demands putting the resource of personnel to that strategic ministry area.

As an example, your church’s music ministry may have grown by 5-10% over the last two years. And it would make sense to put personnel dollars toward a music positon. But your church’s vision includes ministering to the burgeoning young family demographic in your town. While your church may not reflect a young family demographic yet, you believe this is what God has called you to do. So before any growth has occurred, you decide to make the next staff position a family minister. This is a strategic hire.

Best case scenario: Hire a position that is both growth and strategy

This best case scenario for hiring occurs when growth has begun to happen in an area that your church has determined is really strategic to church’s ministry as you look to the future.

Growth and strategy align. You hire for the growth that is occurring, and you hire for the likely growth that will occur as you add personnel to that strategic area. This alignment makes the decision point for position selection much easier.

An example, we have a multi-year strategy to minister to families who have special needs children. With existing volunteers and part-time personnel, we had seen growth in this ministry area. We saw early on that more growth was possible, but we had a limited capacity with the personnel we had. So we’ve chosen to put more personnel in this ministry area. The part-time position will become full-time and we’ve added dollars to the ministry budget. When a position is both growth and strategy—that’s your position to hire.

Every church has limited resources. Most churches also have the skeptical church member asking, “Why hire another staff person?” With these in mind, your church needs to hire not only the right person, but determine the right position to hire.

There have been many ministers who no longer have a job at a church, not because they were the wrong person, but rather, because the church decided on the wrong position to hire.

Determine new staff positions based on growth and strategy, and I believe your church and community will clearly see the value added when the position is filled.

For more, see a sample staffing model that shows how to capture growth and strategy via a PDF, or read my previous post on creating a church personnel budget at BrianDodridge.com.

Generosity: It’s About More than Money

When I think about being generous, my mind often goes to money, but what I’ve learned is that generosity is about so much more than finances. Generosity is a mindset that should influence every aspect of our lives.

BeGenerous

I met Jesus after twenty years of searching for a Savior in all the wrong places. Like many others I didn’t grow up in church, so I had no Bible knowledge, no Christian friends, and no idea what to do next.

What I did have was a church that was willing to be generous. They were patient with me, loved me despite my past mistakes, and never hesitated to invest in me. They were like Jesus in so many ways.

One of the biggest mistakes I believe churches make is not talking about generosity enough, not just financial generosity, although I believe that is important as well, but becoming generous in every aspect of our lives.

Our generosity is a direct reflection of our relationship with Jesus. With that in mind, here are a few areas I think every Christian should be generous in:

  • Time – I know you’re busy. Aren’t we all? But we should never be too busy to serve someone. That may mean volunteering in the kids’ ministry at your church, serving food at the local homeless shelter, or just taking the time to listen to a friend.
  • Skills – I believe God has given each one of us different gifts, and each gift complements one another. You do the church and yourself a disservice when you don’t use the gifts God has given you.
  • Advice – I’m so thankful for the godly advice I’ve been given along my journey with Christ. I can honestly say, I don’t know how things would’ve turned out without it. If a young Christian asks for your advice, do your best to guide them in the right direction.
  • Encouragement – Perhaps the easiest way to be generous is often the least utilized. That’s unfortunate, because so many people deal with self-doubt and negativity in their lives. You could work to change that just by being an encouragement to those around you.

Generosity has tremendous power to change lives if we would just utilize it. I happen to believe it’s our best weapon to reach a world that is searching for answers.

If you want to see God do something great in your life this year, find ways to be more generous.

In what ways has generosity worked in your life? How can you be more generous this year?

Did You Do Your Best?

Last year I read a story about former President Jimmy Carter. Before Mr. Carter was ever President, he attended Georgia Tech University and then went on to attend the Naval Academy. His dream was to get into the nuclear submarine program, but there was one man standing in his way, Admiral Hyman Rickover. Rickover’s reputation struck fear into every applicant, and Mr. Carter was no different, here’s the story in his own words.

RickoverCarter

“I had applied for the nuclear submarine program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job. It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time—current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery—and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen. He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat. Finally he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He said, ‘How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?’ Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, ‘Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!’ I sat back to wait for the congratulations which never came. Instead, the question: “Did you do your best?’ I started to say, ‘Yes, sir,’ but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, ‘No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.’ He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget—or to answer. He said, ‘Why not?’ I sat there for a while, shaken, and then slowly left the room.”

All of us are guilty of not giving our best from time to time.

Why?

I’m sure we can think of a dozen reasons, but if we had a chance to do it over, I bet we could all agree we wished we’d done more, tried harder, given our best.

Unfortunately, there’s not many second chances in life. So, let’s make sure we give it our best.

Has there ever been a time you’ve regretted not giving your best? What did you learn from it? Let us know in the comments below.

Six Keys to a Better Marriage

The most important relationship we have outside of our relationship with God, is our relationship with our spouse. But if we’re not careful the stress of ministry can put a strain on the marriage.

BetterMarriage

I am by no means a marriage expert, but I’d love to share with you 6 keys I’ve learned to navigate the stress, and see your marriage be blessed.

  1. Every marriage has seasons. Sometimes everything is going great. Other times it seems like nothing is going right. We are to love our spouses no matter what kind of season our marriage is in. The key is never giving up.
  1. Kids greatly increase the difficulty level of marriage. I absolutely adore my two girls, but I wasn’t ready for the added stress, time commitment, lack of sleep, etc. that comes along with having children. This in turn adds stress to a marriage.
  1. Being able to honestly communicate without getting angry or feelings hurt is a big key to success.  Don’t let something bother you to the point that you’re boiling over before you address it. Addressing issues early on will save you a lot of headaches.
  1. Make date nights a priority. My wife and I try to go out by ourselves at least once or twice a month. This gives us time away from kids, work, etc, where we can focus on each other and remember why it was we fell in love in the first place.
  1. At least once a year, take a vacation without the kids. We started this last year after hearing several pastors recommend this, and we plan on getting away every year from now on. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, it just needs to be a change of scenery.
  1. Do life together. After marriage and kids many couples never do anything together, which leads to them growing apart. So, you need to be intentional about doing something together. It can be a small group, it can be a serving area, it can be a hobby, just find something you both enjoy and do it together.

Those are a few things I’ve learned, but there’s people a lot smarter than me out there so I’d love to share a couple posts/websites for you to check out.

Perry Noble had this post on Six Things You Can Do To Improve Your Marriage. The post also includes links to books and other articles that are very helpful.

I also had the opportunity to meet Justin Davis recently, and he and his wife Trisha started refineus.org which is dedicated to creating healthy marriages. Look for an interview with these two coming soon.

What would one of your keys to building a better marriage be? Share in the comments section.

How to Measure Small Group Success

I’m probably not the best person to be speaking about small groups. The church in which I serve as the Small Group Director has never seen more than about thirty percent of our congregation in groups at any one time. Small group experts would probably call that a failure, and they’re more than likely right.

Success

We could definitely do better. We could do a better job training our leaders. We could do a better job of casting the vision for groups. We could offer more options. The list could go on and on.

If we did all of these things better, I think we might be able to get fifty percent of our congregation in groups, and some experts would still call us a failure. Churches like Saddleback and Church of the Highlands have set the standard for small groups, and they’ve set it really high. Over one hundred percent of their people are in a small group. Over one hundred percent doesn’t really sound mathematically possible, but it is because they have people that don’t attend their church attend groups within their church.

Now, I praise God for what Saddleback, Church of the Highlands, and other churches have been able to accomplish within their small group ministries, but I’m not sure if we should be comparing ourselves to them. In a way it’s like comparing every basketball player to Michael Jordan; they can’t live up to that standard, nor should they try.

My fear is that we’ll get so caught up in hitting the numbers that we’ll sacrifice the community. In order to boost our percentage, we’ll call anything a small group. So, worship practice is a small group. The cleaning team is a small group. The people smoking under the pavilion, they’re a small group. And what happens is we get a watered down version of community.

But watered down community never produces growth. So, I want to encourage you to adopt a new measurement for groups, one born out of the second chapter of the book of Acts, one that led to incredible growth.

44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47

I wanted to share with you four keys to community, but after reading this passage a few times and thinking about it, I realized it could be summed up much easier. The people who made up this group loved God, and they loved each other. They were generous because of love. They shared meals because of love. They met in homes together because of love. They fully embraced the greatest commandment that Jesus had set forth.

Maybe we should do the same. Maybe it would be best if we measured our groups’ love for God and one another instead of worrying about how many people are in groups–because if we have a groups ministry that loves God and loves one another, everyone will be drawn to it.

How do you measure the success of your groups ministry? Sunday school ministry? Have you ever been tempted to boost the numbers to make it look better?

The Difficulty of Showing Up

How difficult is it to show up? Some of us have a hard time showing up on time. Others don’t show up at all, and still others show up but are never really there.

ShowingUp

There was a time when the disciples had a hard time showing up. After Jesus’s death, the disciples went home. They started meeting behind closed doors. They even went fishing.

They stopped showing up.

The disciples had showed up every day for the past three years. They had devoted their lives to something much greater than themselves. They had seen miracle after miracle, and yet as soon as Jesus wasn’t around they stopped showing up.

So, Jesus comes back, and He says, “Go.”

I wonder how many of us need to hear this same word. Go.

I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to church today. Go.

I don’t think I have time to serve others. Go.

I don’t know about this small group thing. Go.

Do I really need to read my Bible? Go.

I don’t know if it’s worth pursuing my passion. Go.

Let me ask you a question. What made you think it was ever ok to stop?

At what point did you push the pause button on your life? When did you go back to fishing and give up on the life Christ called you to?

Jesus didn’t stop showing up. You did. You have to take ownership of that.

You get to choose whether you show up or not. No one gets to make that choice for you. Quit looking for someone or something to blame and start taking responsibility for the life you’re leading.

Because at the end of your life, I think Jesus is going to want to know, “Did you show up?”

What are the benefits of showing up? Name a time in your life when you didn’t show up and should have.