Are We Trying Too Hard?

This is a post born out of a little bit of frustration with people, and a little bit of concern for the average pastor. As I scroll through Facebook and Twitter, I can’t help but notice the amount of promotion that pastors do for their churches. And I get it, we do the same thing, but does there ever come a time when we say enough is enough?

I mentioned Facebook and Twitter because those are the platforms I’m on, but many pastors are active on several more. It’s become part of the job, along with their other normal duties.

Many of them lead small groups in their homes. Many of them are active in their communities. And many of them run themselves crazy visiting people in various situations.

All in the name of, hopefully, reaching people for Christ and helping them take their next steps.

And I get it. It’s what we do, and I love getting to do it.

But there are some days when I just want to throw my hands up, because it feels like I want more for people than they want for themselves.

Do you get what I’m saying?

Like I shouldn’t have to sell people on wanting a better life.

I shouldn’t have to sell “Christ-followers” on serving or giving or showing up to church more than once a month.

I shouldn’t have to sell parents on taking their kids to student ministry or adults on getting involved in a small group.

If Facebook was around when Jesus was walking the earth, I don’t think He’d be on there begging people to come hang out with Him.

I just don’t get that from Him.

He seemed like a pretty straightforward guy.

Hey, if you want to follow me, take up your cross and deny yourself. If not, no biggie, I let you know what would happen if you didn’t.

Oh, those guys didn’t like what I said about eating my flesh and drinking my blood, too bad.

At what point do we say, look, you’re responsible for your own spiritual growth?

We’ll show you the steps to take and provide the resources you need, but the rest is up to you.

If you fail we’ll help pick you back up, but we can’t do it for you.

Nothing we say or do or post is ever going to take the place of someone just wanting more for their life and a closer relationship with Jesus.

Occasionally, I have these moments of frustration that I just need to share. I’m not sure if it changes anything, but it helps me feel a little better. If you need to do the same, leave a comment below, and while you’re here make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more in your inbox each week.

Five Ways to Ruin Your Sermon

How’s everyone doing today? That’s a terrible way to begin a blog post. It’s also a terrible way to begin a sermon, but many of us are guilty of it or some variation of it. We normally get a weak response, and so we ask everyone the same question again until we’re satisfied.

When you begin your sermon this way, here’s what happens, you let the audience control the energy in the room, which is almost always a terrible idea. Once you lose energy, it’s very hard to regain it.

I learned that tip from the comedian, Roseanne. She didn’t say it to me personally. She was on television giving another comedian advice, but it made so much sense.

So, I started thinking about other things preachers do to kill their presentation.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

  • Weak Openings

We’ve already talked about, “How are you doing?” You also shouldn’t open with, “How about this weather?” If you’re going to open with a question, make sure it creates some tension around what you’re about to talk about. There’s no need for small talk. You have a short period of time to grab their attention, and if you don’t get it on the front end, chances are slim that you will win them back.

  • Weak Closings

Long, drawn-out closings are the worst, especially if you’re already preaching more than 35-40 minutes. People’s attention spans are getting shorter all the time. If you take too long to close, you’ll lose them. A good closing should summarize your talk while also giving an applicable next step. That’s it.

  • Too Much Information

The more focused your sermon, the better. Ten Ways to Become a Better Christ Follower may sound like a great sermon idea, but there’s no way anyone will ever remember them all. The best sermons focus on one single memorable idea or thought. If you have more you want to say than will fit into a single sermon, consider making it a series.

  • Too Boring

This can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it can be the tone and cadence of your voice. Other times it can be that your subject matter doesn’t appeal to people. Pastors are notorious for preaching on topics that the average person cares nothing about. People are struggling with addictions, how to raise kids in the changing culture, and how to love their spouse. They don’t care that you know the difference between the Latin and Greek.

  • Too Distracting

This can also be caused by a variety of reasons. A lot of small town churches love having children be a part of the worship service. While I understand the sentiment, I also know that many people will be distracted because of this. Are you ok with that? Other distractions can be caused by repetitive hand gestures, sloppy dress, profuse sweating, you get the idea.

The good news is all of these issues can be fixed, except maybe the profuse sweating. You just have to be willing to listen to constructive criticism, or even better, film yourself and watch it.

I know it can be painful, but you know what they say, “No pain, no gain”.

What would you add to this list? Let us know by leaving a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get updates on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

You Can Afford to Give, Here’s How

Every Sunday we take up an offering at our church. If you’re a pastor, you probably do as well. If not, you may not be a pastor for very long. The offering goes to pay for the building expenses, salaries, ministry expenses, and so on. All of these things work together to produce life change through Jesus.

I can’t think of anything better to give to. I think most church people would agree, however there is a large percentage of people within our churches that don’t feel like they can afford to give.

But they can, and I’m going to show you and them how.

Quick clarification, I’m not talking about tithing. I certainly believe in tithing, and I think more people should do it. Current estimates show that only around 5% of Christians in the United States tithe. That’s sad, but I can’t fix that in five easy steps.

But everyone can give…something.

And I’m not talking about your time or talent, although I certainly appreciate those who serve. But serving doesn’t take the place of giving in our lives.

I’m talking about taking some of the finances that God has allowed you to have and giving it back to the church to be used to advance God’s kingdom instead of yours.

You see most people who say that can’t afford to give to church have no problem spending money on themselves.

Nevertheless, even those people can afford to give, if they’re willing to make a few small sacrifices in their life.

Here are five easy ones.

  1. Cut your cable/satellite costs.

Do you really need 200 channels? How much TV are you really watching in your busy life? Consider downgrading your package, negotiating a new rate, or cutting your cable completely. With all the streaming options available to us today, there’s no reason the average American should still be paying over a $100 a month for cable or satellite. (Estimated Savings $15+ a month)

  1. Bring your lunch to work.

I like going out to eat. I think we all do. But I’ve discovered that you spend a lot of money going out to eat as opposed to bringing your lunch. You can easily save 50-60% by eating a frozen meal, or bring leftovers and save 100%. You don’t have to cut out all eating out. Cut back to once a week, and see the difference it makes. (Estimated Savings $40+ a month)

  1. Drink water when eating out.

If you do eat out, instead of ordering a soft drink, order water. Soft drinks can range from 99 cents to up to $4. That really adds up, especially when you eat out as a family. I don’t like water, but I’d rather drink it than pay for an overpriced Coke. (Estimated Savings $10+ a month)

  1. Adjust your thermostat.

The United States is one of the few countries where heating and air exist. So if you live in the U.S., you should be thankful, but you should also realize that it’s not necessary for your home to be 65 in the summer and 78 in the winter. Estimates show that you can save around 3% on your electric bill for every degree that you move up in the summer or down in the winter. That means adjusting just 3 degrees can net almost a 10% savings. (Estimated Savings $15+ a month)

  1. Dinner or a Movie.

I admit there are certain things that just go together, bacon & eggs, peanut butter & jelly, dinner & a movie. But what if you chose to do just one or the other? Instead of doing both, eat dinner at home then go to a movie, or go out to eat then come home and watch a movie. It would be a significant savings. (Estimated Savings $25+ a month)

If you add these all up, a person could potentially save over $100 a month, which means they could afford to give $20-$25 a week to their church. That may see like a small amount, but if those not giving in my church would just do this, it would result in over $100,000 more each year.

What would it mean for your church? What would it mean for your community? And why won’t more people choose to give? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Easter Marketing 101

It’s hard to believe, but Easter is once again right around the corner. For pastors it seems like it keeps coming faster and faster year after year, which means more stress and anxiety for most of us, but it also means another great opportunity to reach those in your community with the Gospel.

My church, probably like yours, has already met and finalized plans for this Easter. If you haven’t yet, you probably want to do that as soon as possible. It will be here before we know it.

As always, I’m putting plans in place to make sure everyone in my community knows that my church is going to have a great Easter service and we would love for them to be a part of it.

You should be doing the same.

If you’re not sure where to begin to create a marketing strategy for this Easter, let me give you some ideas we’ve used in the past and we’ll be using this year.

Mailers

We’re not doing mailers this year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Mailers are a great way to grab people’s attention, especially if you’re in a small town because not many churches do them. They are expensive, which is one of the reasons we’ve went away from them, but if you have the budget and you want to get your church’s name out there, this is probably the best way to do it. Just make sure you do it well, or it could backfire on you. If you don’t have a professional graphic designer in your church, I highly suggest paying someone to design your mailer for you. Radiant Printing is a good resource. Don’t forget when you mail them you want to make sure they hit mailboxes the week before Easter to have the most impact.

Facebook Ads

We’ve moved from mailers to Facebook ads as our primary form of marketing. Facebook ads have two big advantages. One, it costs a fraction of the price of a mailer, and two, the ads are seen multiple times leading up to Easter not just when you pull it out of the mailbox. If you don’t know where to start, this video should help. I would suggest starting your ad 2-3 weeks before Easter. Again, make sure it looks good, or it could have a negative impact.

Invite Cards

The most effective marketing strategy is your congregation inviting their friends and family. You can make this easier for them by providing invite cards. We use business size cards because they’re easier for people to carry in their wallet or purse, but we have used larger cards in the past. This year we will begin giving our congregation these cards in bundles of five or ten a few weeks before Easter.

Website

Our church website will be updated a few weeks prior to Easter to include the Easter logo and all the important information about service times and egg hunts. I’ve seen other churches have a dedicated website just for Easter at their church. We’ve never done that, but it’s another idea you could try.

Other Ideas

You could hide Easter baskets around your town and post the location on social media. The first person to find the basket wins a prize. We did this last year, and it was a big success. We will be doing it again this year the week leading up to Easter.

Easter egg hunts are always a big hit with families. We brought the egg hunt back to our church last year after going a few years without one, and I feel like everyone enjoyed it.

I’ve heard of churches putting invites into Easter eggs and handing them out around their community. This could be another creative way to invite people.

What are you doing at your church to invite people this Easter? We would love to learn from you, so make sure to leave a comment and let us know. Don’t forget if you want more updates on church growth, leadership, and strategy make sure to subscribe to the blog.

One Big Mistake Rural Churches Make

And How You Can Fix It

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before. We really need to fire _______, but we’re worried because his/her parents are one of our biggest givers. Or so and so is never prepared, but if we say anything, it’s going to cause a bunch of drama. So, we end up doing nothing, and everyone else suffers.

Larry Osborne said it this way, It is not loving to kill the flock while you’re trying to be nice to one lamb.

Yet, rural churches make this mistake over and over again.

And I get it, because when you lead a small rural church, you can’t afford to make too many mistakes. Because of this, we tend to lead out of fear.

Here’s what I mean.

When you have a budget of $100,000, it’s really hard to make a decision that may cause a $10,000 a year giver to leave.

When you have 100 people attending your church, it’s really hard to make a decision that may cause 20 people to leave.

And it’s easy for people like me to tell you what to do, but it’s you who has to live with the aftermath of that decision.

So, let me just say I know it isn’t easy, and I know what it’s like to lead out of fear. I’m not sure that ever fully goes away, at least not for pastors in small towns.

But I also know the cost of not acting when you should, and the benefits of overcoming your fear and going through with those hard decisions.

So, if you have someone in a position right now, paid or volunteer, that may need to be removed, I want to give you a five step process to go through with them that gives them the best chance at success and gives you the opportunity to say I did everything I could to keep them.

  1. Reality Check

More often than not, people do not realize how they are doing. This is because most of us have never sat down and had a conversation with them about it. Many of us just hope and pray it gets better. You may have figured out that that strategy does not work. You have to let them know things aren’t going well, and they need to change.

  1. Ongoing Support

Let them know you are willing to do everything you can to help them succeed. If they have questions, ask you. If they need resources, you’ll get them. You are going to do everything you can to keep them in that position, and if that fails, they can’t say it was because they didn’t have your support.

  1. Timeline

It could be 30, 60, or 90 days. I wouldn’t suggest going past 90 because that’s a long time to let a ministry suffer. This is the window of time you’re giving them to change, and you’re providing your support during this entire time.

  1. Ongoing Evaluation

In order to make sure they are on the right path, you are going to meet with them throughout this timeline. It could be every week or every other week. I wouldn’t meet less often than that. During this time, you’re there to provide feedback on the progress that is or isn’t being made.

  1. Deadline

At the end of the timeline, there’s a deadline. Either they made the changes that needed to be made and you’re happy to go forward with them, or they didn’t and you’re going to have to make a change. Ultimately whatever happens here, it was up to them. They made their own decision.

Letting someone go is never easy, even if it’s a volunteer. You know his or her family, you run into them at restaurants, your kids go to school together. It’s hard in a small town.

But, sometimes it’s necessary to protect the vision of the church and the people they influence.

Have you ever had to fire someone? How did you go about it? 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.

4 Ways to Identify Leaders

How much would ten new volunteers benefit your church this year? The kind of volunteers who show up on time. The kind that jump in and help even when it’s not their day to serve. The kind that do everything you ask them to and more. Now imagine that they also have leadership abilities, so they’re a positive influence on those around them. They have a make it better mindset, and they have great character. Would that not transform your church?

But do these people even exist, and if so, how do you find them?

You might get lucky, and they may come to you. Although, as a general rule I’m a bit leery of people who come to me looking for a leadership position, but occasionally this will work out.

But more often that not, you’re going to need to go looking for them.

So, how do you identify leaders?

Here are four areas I look at.

  1. Potential

I’m learning that potential can be deceiving, but it’s still a good place to start. Anyone who you’re looking at as a leader should show signs of potential. Just don’t forget that potential is something inside someone that has yet to be realized. And as I’ve learned too many times now, it may never be realized. So, I make sure it’s combined with some other P’s.

  1. Passion

There are a lot of people who have great potential, but no passion for ministry. It can be one of the most frustrating parts of church leadership. A potential leader must have a passion for ministry. Otherwise you’re just wasting your time. Still potential and passion alone, aren’t enough.

  1. Patterns

You really start to learn who a person is when you start looking at the patterns in their life. Do they have a habit of being lazy? Are they always showing up late? Do they spend hours playing video games but can’t find the time to read their Bible? You get the idea. Don’t get me wrong people can break patterns. You just don’t want to bet your ministry on it.

  1. Perseverance

This is an added bonus, but I’m really starting to see the value in people who stick. This is people who have been serving in ministry for a long time and continue to sign up year after year. Right now in ministry it seems as though people are much more likely to burn out rather than stick it out. And I don’t want to make light of burnout because I know it’s a real thing, but you shouldn’t be burning out when you’re serving once or twice a month. That’s a copout, not a burnout.

So, if you’re looking for leaders, look for the four P’s: Potential, Passion, Patterns, and Perseverance.

What would you add to this list? Am I asking for too much? Let me know by leaving a comment and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Think Outside the Box

What’s your strategy for reaching the unchurched in your community? Have you even thought about it? You could read some books on the subject. Subscribe to a few blogs, this one in particular. Listen to the latest church outreach podcast. But, perhaps there’s a better strategy. You just need to start thinking outside the box.

In this particular instance, the box is the world of church growth, culture, leadership and a dozen other church buzz words. If you’ve been around awhile, you know what I’m talking about.

And there’s nothing wrong with church world. In fact, I enjoy it so much I bought a home here.

It’s just that it’s not always the best place to develop a strategy for your particular church and community. At least, not by itself.

You see before you apply the principles you learn in church world, you better know what’s going on in your world.

Because the communities we do ministry in can look vastly different from one another.

So, if you really want to learn how to reach the unchurched in your community, here are three ways you can get started.

  1. Get Involved in the Community

I know this seems obvious, but there’s still a large percentage of churches who have no community involvement. Make it a priority to involve your church in events the community is already doing instead of trying to do your own church event. Contact local schools and mission organizations and see if there are ways in which you can serve them as well.

  1. Listen to the People

Listen to the stories of people who aren’t going to church. What do their lives look like? What struggles do they have? Have they even been to church, or did they just stop going? Too often the church has wanted to do all the talking and hasn’t really taken the time to listen.

  1. Build Authentic Relationships

One of the elders in our church is an insurance salesman, and he’s one of the best in the entire state. He taught us his motto, “See the people.” He said in his line of work, you don’t make sales by sitting in the office. The same is true for us in ministry. We’re not making sales. We have a much more important job, to make disciples, and that doesn’t happen in an office.

So, this week and every week make it a habit to get into your community. Go to the local coffee shop or fast food place or wherever people hang out, and build some relationships with people outside of church world.

How often are you “seeing the people”? How has it helped your ministry? Leave a comment and let us know, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get updates on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Is Evangelism the Answer?

I guess it depends on the question. If the question is, how can we expose more people to Christianity? Then, yes. If the question is, how can we get more people to attend our church? Then, I would say evangelism isn’t the answer. At least, not the complete answer.

In fact, for some churches, telling your congregation to invite their friends to church may actually be a mistake.

That is, if you want them to come back.

Because you only get one chance at making a great first impression.

My wife sometimes drives me crazy because she wants the house to be spotless if we’re having someone come visit. And I like the idea of a clean house, but I live with a 4 year old and a 7 year old. So, we don’t invite many guests over.

As a pastor, you don’t have that option. You have guests showing up every week, especially if you’re asking your congregation to invite people.

So, your house needs to be in order. If it’s not, you may want to shift your focus away from evangelism and towards home renovation. Not forever, just for a season.

Some renovations give you more bang for your buck, right? So, let me give you a few places to start that I believe give you the most return on your investment.

  1. Friendliness

Is your church friendly? Do people other than the staff or board go out of their way to speak to new people? Do you have greeters? Do you have a parking ministry? When someone visits your church, do they walk away feeling like you were glad they were there? When we’re talking about connecting people to a church, I don’t think there’s a more important factor than this one.

  1. Really Good Kid’s Ministry

In most areas of the church, people will let things slide as long as they are at least average. This is not one of those areas. You have to offer a really good kid’s ministry. People don’t care about your excuses. They don’t care if you have enough volunteers or money to fund it. They just won’t come to your church. Do whatever it takes to make this ministry great. There is lots of very good curriculum available to you, some for free, and some at a cost. Make it happen. If your church is friendly and offers a great kid’s ministry, you will grow.

  1. Not Terrible Worship Music

Your church has to have a very good kid’s ministry, and it has to be friendly. Your worship music on the other hand, just needs to be not terrible. If it’s average or better, good for you, you’re ahead of the curve. Pastors usually aren’t great judges of this, so you may want to ask around. It may be worse than your realize. If it is, let me say this, an iPod and words on the screen is better than a terrible band and terrible singer. Our student ministry at one time had 150-200 students attending, and we never had a live band.

  1. Not Terrible Preaching

I know for all of us preachers this one hurts a little, but it’s true. Have you ever listened to a pastor of a large church and thought he’s not that good of a speaker? I know I have many times. Here’s the truth, if your church does everything else right, you don’t have to be a great preacher. But you can’t be terrible. If you’re doing the above three things right, and still not seeing growth, it may be time to look in the mirror.

Once you get your house in order by doing the four things listed above, then you can start encouraging your congregation to invite. If you do it before then, you run the risk of people showing up and never coming back.

This has the potential to be a controversial post, so if you disagree make sure to let me know by leaving a comment below. Also I’d love it if you would take the time to subscribe to the blog so I can send you tips on church growth, leadership, and more direct to your inbox each week.

They Came, They Served, They Gave, They Left

Recently, I received a message from one of our staff members informing me that a person in our church had decided to start visiting other churches. In a church our size this isn’t uncommon, people come and go all the time. A lot of the times we don’t even notice because the person never got connected, but this family was different.

This family had been with us for a couple of years, many of them were serving on volunteer teams, they had been a part of a small group, and they even tithed.

They did everything you want a church attender to do. They were connected in every possible way, and yet it still wasn’t enough to keep them.

To be honest, I never even replied back to the staff member’s text because I was so frustrated.

Do you ever have days like that in ministry?

There are so many times that I just stop and think, “Are we even making a difference?”

Because we’re giving everything we got, and people in our church are still leaving, they’re still getting divorced, they’re still getting drunk, they’re still getting arrested, they’re still not serving, they’re still not getting in groups, and they certainly aren’t tithing.

And like many other nights, I went to bed frustrated and stressed out.

Then I went to church the next Sunday, and we had a big crowd on a bad weather day, and we had a pretty good offering, and we saw six people take their next step with Jesus by getting baptized.

And this scripture came to my mind,

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

Forgive me if I take Paul’s words out of context, but I believe God was trying to tell me and maybe you that you can’t concentrate on the ones who have left you, you have to focus on the ones who want to take the journey with you.

Stop looking at what you’ve lost, and start moving forward with what you have.

The band Little Texas said it this way,

I try not to think about what might have been

Cause that was then and

We have taken different roads

We can’t go back again

There’s no use giving in

And there’s no way to know

What might have been

If you can’t find an illustration in the scriptures, just consult your old school country catalog.

God has something great He wants to do in your church.

Don’t get caught wasting time, thinking about what might have been.

How do you handle people leaving your church? Does it still hurt, or have you got used to it? Let us know by leaving a comment, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.