Elevate Your Leadership Game

A Chess Not Checkers Book Review

I have a confession to make. I haven’t done a lot of reading this year, and by not a lot, I mean almost none. I would like to blame it all on my writing schedule, but the truth is Netflix may be the biggest culprit. I know, I’m disappointed in myself also.


I did however take some time recently to read Mark Miller’s book, Chess Not Checkers, and I’m so glad I did.

Reading this book was a great reminder as to why reading is so important to growing your leadership.

The content wasn’t necessarily new or groundbreaking, but the book gives a simple and effective formula for growing a church that anyone can take and put into practice immediately.

Most churches, simply react to problems as the arise. They’re basically playing checkers. To become a great church, you need to learn how to play chess. When you play chess you’re no longer reacting to problems, you’re forming an effective strategy in order to win.

Great churches win when they implement these four strategies.

  1. Bet on LeadershipGrowing leaders grow organizations.

You cannot be a great church without great leadership. This means not only do you have to make a commitment to growing yourself as a leader, but you also have to have a strategy in place to grow others on your team.

  1. Act as One Alignment multiplies impact.

Many of the issues that keep churches from growing can be contributed to a lack of alignment. When every ministry is doing their own thing instead of working towards a common goal, the church suffers. Mark Miller explains that, “Part of your never-ending role is to keep the organization aligned on what matters most. When your organization gets out of alignment, you lose energy, focus, momentum, and results.”

  1. Win the HeartEngagement energizes effort.

One of the most important questions you can answer for your team is, “Do you care about me?” When the team knows you care as much about them and their dreams, as you do about the vision of the church, they will do everything possible to help you accomplish the vision.

  1. Excel at Execution Greatness hinges on execution.

Not matter how well you perform the first three strategies, none of it matters if you can’t execute consistently. If you consistently execute well, you’ll succeed. If you consistently execute poorly, you’ll lose.

Chess Not Checkers is a quick read and a great reminder of what it takes to grow a great church. The four strategies I’ve outlined above are the core of the book, and the leadership nuggets and insights found within the book are well worth the read.

What are you currently reading? If you’re not reading, what’s keeping you from it? Let us know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Ignite Your Influence

Lessons from Phil Cooke

Recently, I was at a conference in which Phil Cooke spoke. I had heard of Phil before, but I didn’t know a lot about him. He’s actually a writer, producer, media consultant, and perhaps the Christian media’s biggest critic. Although, he’s quick to point out, he criticizes because he loves.


On the third day of the conference, Phil talked about six qualities every great influencer has. Check out the list and see how you stack up.

  1. Influencers have ambition.

Ambition, a strong desire to achieve something. I think most of us have ambition, yet sometimes life has a way of beating it out of us. Before we know it we’re spending our time sitting on the couch watching Netflix and eating cheese puffs. Influencers push through the pull of becoming average.

  1. Influencers are ruthless about their time.

God has given each of us 24 hours a day, no more, no less. Influencers have a way of making the most out of the time they’ve been given. They’re not sleeping in, and they’re not spending their time playing video games, they’re trying to impact the world.

  1. Influencers establish a creative routine.

Creative and routine may not be two words you’d expect to see together, but the fact is those who accomplish the most are those who do the same thing day after day. Influencers find out what works for them, then they stick to a schedule.

  1. Influencers develop a real skill.

Just as Seth Godin wrote in his book The Dip, influencers realize it’s better to be the best at one thing, than it is to be average at a bunch of different things. Once they find out what their one thing is, they spend their time developing that skill.

  1. Influencers take responsibility.

The world is full of people who can point out how they’ve been done wrong, or who did them wrong. Many of them never get over this. Influencers on the other hand don’t cast blame anywhere else except themselves. They own it, then they move on and are better for it.

  1. Influencers know how to focus.

The amount of information available to you on any given day is incredible. Many of us spend hours online or in front of our tv. Lack of focus, leads to a lack of influence. Those making a difference are those who can focus on what’s most important.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this list and how your influencing those around you. Let us know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox.

Branding Faith

Lessons from Phil Cooke

Recently, I was at a conference in which Phil Cooke spoke. I had heard of Phil before, but I didn’t know a lot about him. He’s actually a writer, producer, media consultant, and perhaps the Christian media’s biggest critic. Although, he’s quick to point out, he criticizes because he loves.


On the first night of the conference, Phil shared a wealth of knowledge on media, culture, and how churches can make the most of both. Check out the list below.

  1. In a media driven culture visibility is just as important as ability.

People today are spending more hours viewing media than they are sleeping each day. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. What advertisers have learned is that the more they put their product in front of your face, the more likely you are to purchase it. Churches must have the same mindset.

  1. In today’s culture, everything communicates.

Research has been done to show that people make decisions faster than ever. Church guests will make a decision whether to come back or not before they ever hear the band or preacher. This means your parking lot and foyer are just as important as what’s happening inside the sanctuary.

  1. The digital universe is unforgiving.

One hundred years ago it would take days, weeks, or even months for a major news story to make its way to most people. Now, it happens in seconds, and it doesn’t have to be major news, it can be as simple as you falling off the stage or having a slip of the tongue.

  1. Understand the power of a name.

Names are more important than we realize. If your denomination is in your church name, just know you’ve eliminated a large segment of people from ever visiting your church. Your church may be awesome, but if someone has had a bad experience at another church of the same denomination, they will lump you together.

  1. Speak the language of design.

Design is important, just ask Apple, Nike, or Starbucks. If you want to reach new people, you have to keep your design fresh. This means many churches need to do away with the pictures of doves, flames, and flags.

  1. It’s time to get serious about social media.

If Facebook were a country, it would have the largest population in the world. Yes, there’s a lot of junk on there, but the opportunity to reach people with the message of Jesus is unlike any we’ve ever had before.

  1. Know the story you need to tell.

In order to maximize your church’s voice, everyone needs to be telling the same story. You don’t need your Sunday School Director saying one thing and your Children’s Director saying another, everyone should be on the same page.

  1. Answer the question, why should I care.

Gone are the days when people felt guilt and shame for not going to church. Most just don’t think it’s important anymore. Before they’re willing to listen to your message, they want to know why they should care.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this list and how your engaging the culture around you. Let us know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox.

Chinese Bamboo and Church Growth

Have you heard the story of the Chinese bamboo tree? There’s some debate to the validity of the claim, but the story is powerful nonetheless. Besides aren’t all good preacher stories a mix of truth and fiction?


The story goes like this, somewhere in the jungles of China there exists a bamboo tree. This tree is said to be remarkable because it doesn’t grow like most trees. Most trees grow steadily year after year.

The bamboo tree once the seed is planted, barely gets out of the ground within the first five years of it’s life. Yet, it has to be watered each and every day or it will die.

Then in the fifth year, something extraordinary happens, the tree begins to grow at an astonishing rate. Some people say it can grow up to 90 feet during just six weeks.

How is that possible?

Because even though growth wasn’t happening above the ground, something was happening below the surface. Under the ground the tree was developing roots. Roots that would be able to sustain the tree once this incredible growth occurred.

Now, you may be serving in a church where you’re not seeing any growth. This can be disheartening for anybody, no matter how strong your faith is.

Many of us have been tempted to give up in this situation, to stop watering the soil God has given us. To be honest, it feels like we’re wasting our time.

But maybe, God is wanting to do something beneath the surface. Maybe God is testing our faith. Maybe God is waiting for us to put the right systems in place, before sending us the growth we so desperately seek.

You see all of us get really excited about growth, but the pastors who experience growth, are the one’s who put in the work weeks, months, and years, before that growth ever occurs.

What’s your favorite preacher story? The Chinese bamboo tree is it fact or fiction? Please 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.

Two Ways Student Pastors Can Prepare for Fall

Guest Post: Will Riddle

I love the summer. When the summer season rolls around, it means a return to one of my favorite pastimes… surfing. While I’m still, very much, a novice surfer, I love to surf. Throughout the summer, I often travel to Folly Beach in Charleston, SC for day trips just to surf. There’s nothing that allows me to truly disconnect from the grind of life like paddling out into the waves. Sitting on a surfboard waiting on a perfect wave ensures that there’s no email to read, there’s no text message to send, there’s no phone call to answer, and there’s no social media to check. Surfing, for me, is peaceful. It’s restful.

While paddling into the waves does bring some peace and rest during the summer season, I can’t say that it’s a good picture of what the majority of summer is for my family. Summer means that my kids out of school while I still have to work. Summer is getting my son to his baseball practices. Summer is planning a family vacation (and we all know the feeling of needing a vacation after a vacation). Summer is great on so many levels for my family, but it’s a chaotic season that can cause the months of June and July to feel like a full out sprint to August and the start of the fall semester.

The fall, for us, means a return to normal. Because summer can feel like a sprint, there’s a need for my family to hit reset as we head into the fall season. The travel slows down, kids return to school and the hectic nature that summer can cause is traded for a more routine and predictable pace. Slowing down and developing a consistent and sustainable routine is a high priority as we come out of a busy season.

Student Ministry is no different. Summer consists of mission trips, camps, and conferences and various other events to plan all while still executing the day in and day out of ministry. It’s a breakneck pace. Students are out of school with a lot of free time and we all feel the pressure to keep them engaged with the ministry and the church until the return of fall. Summer for ministry is just as chaotic as it is for my family. And just as with my family, there’s a need to hit reset in ministry as well.

Understanding the need to hit reset for my family and ministry has really shaped how our student ministry prepares for the fall season. At the close of every summer I want to ensure that we do two things above everything.


Although summer takes place at breakneck pace, the trips, camps, conferences and other events always generate excitement and are fun for everyone involved. As summer comes to a close and the pace slows down, I always plan a volunteer meeting to recast vision and refocus our team on the why behind what we do.

While the trip and event side of ministry is exciting, it’s not our main focus. Our focus as a ministry is relationship. Everything we do is done for one reason and one reason alone, to put us in a position to build a relationship with a student. We are called to lead, pastor, encourage and support students through healthy relationships that model and demonstrate the love of Jesus.

This seems like an obvious aspect of ministry that should go without saying, but in my experience, even the simplest concepts can be lost in the busyness of doing and executing ministry.

As you and your team head into the fall, make time to remind them and yourself of the why behind the what.


Just as my family hits reset in the fall and trades the hectic nature of summer for an even paced routine, other families do the same. Your ministry should help them do that as well.

Families are stepping out of the chaos of summer and they are looking for the fall to create a consistent and manageable pace and schedule. The fall schedule for your ministry doesn’t need to fight against what families are fighting for.

This doesn’t mean that ministry all of a sudden becomes boring or mundane. It does mean that you need to work to create a fall schedule that doesn’t keep families guessing or on the go. You can do this very simply with a couple things.

  • Create a calendar for the fall that’s posted to your church’s website. Also, have a hard copy available for parents to pick up at the welcome desk on Sunday or whenever you may host your regular student gathering.

This seems so simple, yet many of us in student ministry fail to follow through on some the most obvious and simple tools that best serve families.

  • Don’t plan extra activities outside of your regularly scheduled student gatherings. Students and families have spent an entire summer managing a schedule that kept them on the go and away from home. Your fall schedule doesn’t need to offer more of the same. Rather than creating extra events, maximize your regularly scheduled student gatherings to incorporate everything you’d like students to experience. For our ministry, we made the decision that we weren’t going to allow our lack of preparation to be an inconvenience for families.

As you prepare for the fall, gather your team, remind them of the why behind the what and help them enter the season with a clear focus. For families, meet them where they are. Embrace consistency that helps families engage with your ministry rather than avoid it.

Will is the Student Pastor at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Ga. He’s served in ministry for the past 17 years and joined the staff at Stevens Creek in 2011. He stepped into student ministry in 2013 and has seen the ministry grow from 30 students to 300 and volunteer teams grow from 15 people to 100 in less than three years. He loves what he does and loves working with other Student Pastors to help reach the students within their community. He lives across the Savannah River in North Augusta, SC with his wife Suzanne and their three children Aiden (9), Silas (7) and London (2).

Five Priorities of the Senior Pastor

If you’re the senior pastor of a small town church, your job description normally comes in one of two forms. The first is a long list of duties including everything from preaching to landscaping. And the second is similar except that nothing is actually written down, you just do whatever the congregation demands of you.


It would be funny, if it weren’t true. I’ve learned in ministry sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Yet, these are the expectations many churches place on their senior pastor. It’s no wonder less than fifteen percent of pastors will last long enough to retire from ministry.

Those who don’t burn out, end up wore out trying to live up to this impossible role. Many of them lose their passion, their effectiveness, and even their families.

What if there was a better way to look at the role of senior pastor, a more effective way? What if the senior pastor could accomplish more by doing less?

What if we narrowed the senior pastor’s job description to these five priorities?

  1. Be the primary weekend communicator.

Concentrate on preparing and delivering between 40-45 sermons a year that are unique, creative, and applicable.

  1. Be the chief vision-caster.

Spend time capturing the vision for your church and communicating it to the congregation.

  1. Be the primary fundraiser.

Raise money for the ongoing ministry of the church through speaking with large groups, small groups, and one on one conversations.

  1. Be a ministries’ champion.

Be outspoken about the amazing ministries within the church in order to create excitement and involvement.

  1. Be a person of integrity who is faithful to their spouse and family.

Most importantly, love your spouse and kids more than you love the church, and live a life of integrity.

I have no doubt that if we all adopted a similar job description for senior pastors that we would see a healthier more vibrant church, because we would have healthier more passionate pastors.

Is there anything else that a senior pastor must do? What did I forget? Please let me know by leaving a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, strategy, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

4 Ways to Say I Love My Church

Without Wearing the T-Shirt

The t-shirt, an American icon. First adopted by the U.S. Navy as early as 1913, it had become a staple of farmers and factory workers by 1944. In the 1950’s the t-shirt went Hollywood, and Disney found a way to put Mickey Mouse on t-shirts across America. Thus the advertising t-shirt was born.


In 1977 an advertising agency was hired to develop a marketing campaign for New York state. Graphic designer Milton Glaser came up with the logo including the letter “I” followed by a heart symbol and the state abbreviation. It didn’t take long for “I heart _______” t-shirts to pop up in every souvenir shop across the globe.

And then in the 2000s, the church jumped on the “I heart” bandwagon with their own variation of “I heart my church” t-shirts. Now, everyone can proudly wear their shirt to display their love for their church.

But what happens if the shirt gets dirty or if your shirt doesn’t fit anymore? How will anyone ever know you love your church if you can’t proudly display it?

I’ve come up with a few ideas.

  1. Show Up – to church, more than twice a month. While “I heart my church” t-shirt sales have been on the rise, church attendance has been on the decline with many Christians. If you really love your church, you won’t want to miss what’s going on each Sunday, and you’ll make it a priority to be there every week you can.
  1. Serve – in the church, at least once a month. That’s twelve times a year. Surely that’s not too much for someone who loves the church. I would argue someone who loves the church should actually want to serve more, not less, since we are called to be servants.
  1. Give – to the church, on a regular basis. The church’s main purpose is to go and make followers of Jesus. Your generosity helps to accomplish this purpose. If you love your church, you should have no problem giving to it. If you can’t afford to give, you can’t afford to buy the t-shirt.
  1. Pray – for your church and your pastor, every week. Your pastor carries an incredible burden for those inside and outside of the church. You can help them by lifting them up in prayer. The people inside your church have needs as well, even if we don’t always see them. Lifting them up in prayer can be one of the most important things you do each week.

I’d argue if you have a hard time doing any of the above, you might not truly heart your church. Or, it may be that you just heart something else more.

I believe a more accurate t-shirt for some of us would say, “I love my church” on the front, and on the back “But I love myself more.”

If that comes off as harsh, take comfort in knowing that it’s a t-shirt I wear from time to time as well. I just don’t want to get comfortable wearing it, and I don’t want you to get comfortable wearing it either.

What are some other ways we can love our church? I’d love to hear your ideas. Also, if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get ideas on church growth, strategy, leadership, and more direct to your inbox each week.

The 4 Be’s of Church Growth

I believe most, if not all, of us would love to see our churches grow. I also believe that God wants to see our churches grow. So, why are so many of our churches not growing? Could it be that we are not prepared for the growth that God wants to send us?


When the apostle Peter spoke on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people gave their lives to Christ. They became a mega-church overnight, but what they did after that, I believe, allowed them to sustain their growth.

41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

I believe these verses give us some great insight on what it takes to grow a church. Here are four keys that I see.

  1. Be willing to learn from others.

Verse 42 tells us that the early church leaders devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They had a desire to learn. Does that describe you and your team? What are you reading? What are you listening to? What are you studying? Are you willing to do what it takes to learn, or do you think you already have it all figured out?

  1. Be willing to sacrifice for each other.

Verses 44-45 say they had all things in common and were willing to sell their possessions to give to those in need. They placed others’ needs above their own wants. If you want to see a church grow, find a congregation that sacrifices for one another.

  1. Be involved in community.

Verse 46 goes on to say that they attended church together and fellowshipped in each other’s homes. The leaders placed themselves among the people, not above the people. They got to know the people they were serving. This showed they cared and created trust among the early believers.

  1. Be devoted to prayer and praise.

They never forgot that God is the one who brings people to repentance. Their prayer life was evidence of this, as well as their eagerness to praise God daily. If many of us prayed as hard as we worked, we probably would see better results.

So, as you can see, the keys are in the be’s.

If you’re in a situation where your church isn’t growing, ask yourself the question, Am I doing a good job of being– being willing to learn, being willing to sacrifice, being involved in community, and being willing to pray and praise the one who brings the increase.

What are some other keys to growth? What are you doing that’s working in your church? I’d love to hear about it, so leave us a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already.

Evaluate Each Ministry

One Thing Series

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


One of the areas that is often overlooked in the busyness of church work is the area of evaluation. Sure, many of us may know what is going right or wrong within a ministry in our church, but few of us actually sit down and write out an accurate evaluation.

Part of this is because we don’t feel like we have the time, and another part of this is because we just don’t like to face reality. Sometimes it’s scary dealing with what’s going on in the different ministries within our churches.

Yet, if we’re going to get better and if we want to see our churches continue to grow, we have to be willing to face these problems head on. This means evaluating the ministries within our church on an ongoing basis.

This doesn’t have to be super time consuming. You just need to answer these three simple questions for each ministry you’re evaluating.

  1. What’s going well?

It may not always feel like it, but in almost every instance you should be able to find something that is going well within the ministry. Our natural instinct is to look at the negatives, but I’ve found when you focus on the positives first you’ll often find it’s not as bad as it seems.

  1. What’s going wrong?

In similar fashion, ministries that are doing well are often not doing as good as they seem. In almost every case there’s some minor tweaks that can make the ministry better. Then, for some ministries the list of things that are going wrong may far outnumber the things that are going right. In these cases you may be tempted to do away with the ministry altogether.

  1. What needs to change?

This is the most important question you need to ask because without changes, the problems don’t go away. It’s great to diagnose the problem, but you have to be willing to take the medicine. Sometimes this can be painful, but it’s necessary to get the ministry well.

Answering these three questions should give you clarity to make your next move. This may mean replacing a leader, having a hard conversation with a volunteer, or doing away with an ineffective ministry.

Evaluation is not always a fun process, but I’ve found it to be a key to growth.

How often are you evaluating your ministries? What changes have you made because of it? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Also, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips just like this delivered to your inbox each week.

Six Ways to Connect More Volunteers

Guest Post: Kevin Lloyd

My youngest daughter, Sydney, has an arch nemesis at school.  Math.  Truth be told, she and I share this common villain.  Not only do we not enjoy it but it proves to be our kryptonite over and over.

What this means is the every afternoon is a marathon session of math homework.  There are tears, stress, frustration and terrible thoughts about multiplying fractions.  Sydney is pretty chill, those are just my reactions.

Similarly, there is an area of church leadership that proves to be a constant struggle:  Leading Volunteers.


The church is a volunteer-powered organization.  You depend on non-paying people to get ministry done.  The more committed volunteers and leaders you have, the more ministry you can do in your community.

Yet pastors never feel like we have enough volunteers, we do not have time to train them and simply wish they would show up on time.  Let’s be real, if they would just read our weekly emails to them we would feel like a success!

Today I want to share with you some principles we employ when it comes to leading volunteers.  These have enabled us to connect over 100 new volunteers just in just a few months.  I hope these 6 actions help you connect more volunteers to your team, train them better than ever and see them become leaders in your church.

Build a simple structure.

Every person who walks into your church has potential to be a minister. The role of leaders in the church is to equip and release others to do ministry. My church created a “Leadership Pipeline” to hold us accountable to that.  This is our method for connecting volunteers, identifying what they excel at and developing those leadership skills.

Download our Leadership Pipeline for your church to use.

Make it easy to get started.

Often we make starting out in leadership way too complicated.  Simplify the starting point.  Our church created an easy on ramp for people to get connected.  This is the entry point to getting involved at our church.  There are not multiple ways to connect, we narrowed it down to one simple class to attend.  We do not set the bar so high that a person who is brand new to faith or super busy cannot get started.

Create a system to “move up” the pipeline.

Every person on a ministry team falls into one of five categories.  Any department of our church that employs volunteers utilizes this structure.  When an individual steps onto a team, we do not need to immediately put them in positions of authority and responsibility.  There has to be a plan to how a volunteer will grow.

Keep it relational.

For some reason we feel like leadership has to be taught in a class.  While there is some value to that, we have two classes in our leadership pipeline, the best leaders are “grown.”  This process does not happen best in a lecture hall but in a coffee shop.  Sitting across the table one-on-one from someone and speaking into their life still remains the best way to recruit, train, challenge and empower leaders.  Be intentional about being relational.

Define expectations.

Never assume someone knows the next right thing to do.  If a volunteer is unclear about his role, the leader is unsuccessful in her role.  For every position on your team provide crystal clear expectations.  Just because you are in a church and leading volunteers does not mean you should not have high expectations.  The Leadership Pipeline defines expectations for each role’s level of leadership responsibility.

Train specific skills.

Every volunteer role has a specific skill set that is needed to thrive.  As someone progresses in their role, new skills are needed.  Do not increase responsibilities or authority without first increasing skills. A volunteer being “a good person”, “always showing up” or “having been here longer than anyone else” are not skills.  Define necessary skills for each role and take time to develop them in people.

Kevin Lloyd is the Executive Pastor at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia. He has worked in various form of ministry since 1999, including leading students, kids, young adults, adult discipleship, executive leadership, staff development, church planting and large group communication.

Kevin is also the founder of LeadBravely.org, which serves as a hub for practical leadership insights designed to help church leaders lead better today and prepare for the future.