Five Elements of a Great Worship Experience

Experiencing church for the first time as a twenty year old young man was quite the experience. I’ve been a part of brush arbor revivals, where you go out into a field and gather some sticks and build a structure to have a church service in. I’ve been in church services where they couldn’t find anyone to play the piano or sing, so we skipped that part of the service. And I’ve been in services in homes where people got so “filled with the spirit” they started knocking things off walls, which led to a quick exit for me.

All that to say, I’ve been in some pretty bad worship experiences.

Even in the church I currently serve, we haven’t always had a great worship experience.

There were times in the beginning in which we never got started on time, prayer time turned into gossip time, and testimonies turned into the second sermon of the day.

It’s really amazing that our church survived those early days, but the one thing we had working for us was a love for God and a genuine love for others.

Once we combined those two things with a great worship experience, we really started to see our church take off, growing twenty, thirty, and even forty percent some years.

So, what makes up a great worship experience? I believe it should consist of these five elements.

  1. Energy. The same buzz and excitement that Jesus brought to every town He visited, I believe we should try to bring to our worship services. Greet people with hugs and high-fives. Provide coffee so people aren’t falling asleep. Create a kids’ ministry that parents have to drag their kids away from. Use high-energy music to set the mood for the day. The world has a way of beating people down throughout the week. Make sure your service lifts them up.
  2. Flow. Nothing–and I mean nothing–will kill energy faster than a bad flow. Not getting started on time, fumbling transitions, dead time between songs, too many announcements, these will all ruin the experience. Most churches should be doing a full rehearsal of the service before the service. I lay out a good format for the worship experience in this post.
  3. Creativity. Creativity builds anticipation, and anticipation creates energy. So, while you should have a consistent flow, you also need to sprinkle in creativity. This could be a video element. It could be a sermon illustration or even a small giveaway that helps them remember the sermon. Each week people should be thinking, I wonder what they’re going to do this week.
  4. Outsider Focused. One of the biggest reasons small churches don’t grow is because they focus too much on those already in the church rather than those outside of it. Andy Stanley wrote a great book on this subject called Deep and Wide. Every church leader should read it. Prepare with the outsider in mind. What do they need to hear? What are the issues they’re facing? Chances are the issues they’re facing are the same as the insiders. The insiders just hide it better.
  5. Intentional Next Steps. If you have the four previous elements mentioned, you’ll have a great opportunity to call people to action. What do you want them to do with the information you just shared with them? If you have a hard time answering that question, chances are your sermon isn’t helping anyone, and you need scrap it and start over. If you teach on money, encourage them to sign up for a budget class. If you teach on the importance of community, encourage them to sign up for a small group. If you teach on grace, encourage them to take Jesus up on his offer to follow Him. Whatever you do, don’t miss your opportunity to help them grow in their faith by putting it into action.

I’d love to hear about your crazy church experiences. Please share them with me in the comments below and let me know if I left anything out. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to make sure you get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week. Know someone else who could benefit from this information? Your next step is to share or forward this on to them. Thanks for your help in equipping small town church leaders around the world.

4 Ways to Jump Start Growth

The weather in Tennessee this time of year is unpredictable to say the least. It’s not uncommon for it to feel like four different seasons in one week. It may be scorching hot on Monday, cool and breezy on Wednesday, tornadoes on Thursday, and then frigid on the weekend. It’s not good for the allergies, and apparently it’s not good for my car battery either. Recently my car wouldn’t start as I was trying to leave work. Luckily, I had some jumper cables with me, and a friend who helped jump-start my car.

Some of you are trying to lead a church with a dead battery, and in this post I want to be that friend that helps give you a jump.

These four ideas by themselves aren’t enough to keep the engine running, but I’ve seen them create the spark necessary to get things started.

  1. Ignite passion in people. It’s impossible to grow a church without passionate people. If passion is lacking in your church, I want to encourage you to do three things. First, make sure you’re seeking Jesus in your personal life. Second, make sure you are constantly celebrating stories of life change within the church. And third, make sure you’re having fun. If you do these three things, you’ll start igniting some passion in people.
  2. Place people into the story. Whether you’re just starting out or your church has been around for hundreds of years, your church has a story. Make sure you take some time to learn it. Once you know what the story is, then I want you to invite other people into the story. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. You just need to help them identify what part they should play.
  3. Find your focus. Too many churches try to be all things to all people. When you try to reach everyone, you actually hurt your chances of growing. Find what makes your church unique, what you can do better than anyone else, and make that your focus. Then cut everything else that doesn’t make sense. Find out how to make a playbook for your church here.
  4. Deal with the hard stuff. Pastors tend to be people pleasers, which is great if you want people to like you but isn’t great if you want to grow a church. Right now, almost all of you reading this know of situations in your church that need to be dealt with. Quit pretending they are going to go away on their own, and start leading your church. Have the tough conversations with staff, board members, and volunteers who are hurting the church. Yes, they may leave the church, but I’ve learned sometimes addition happens best through subtraction. For more on this topic check out this post.

Thanks so much for reading. What would you add to this list? Which of these four is the biggest struggle in your church? I’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment below. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Two Secrets of a Healthy Ministry

I’m probably the last person who needs to be giving health advice. It’s currently 10am, and I’ve skipped breakfast and opted for a glass of Mountain Dew served in a mason jar. It’s not exactly the breakfast of champions but more like the official breakfast of Nascar fans and rednecks. Git-R-Done!

Although my personal health may be in question, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a healthy church team for going on seven years now.

We’re far from perfecting this, but we’ve learned a couple of things that have been key to our success: the importance of healthy expectations and periodic check ups.

  1. Healthy Expectations
  • Stop Comparing. I am a comparison junkie, and it’s not healthy. The problem is we always compare up. We always compare ourselves to those who are doing better than us. And for me, it’s not just better. I want to compare against the best of the best. So, if my church isn’t growing as fast the Top 100, then I’m failing. If we don’t have at least 100% of our church involved in groups, I’m a loser because apparently it’s possible. I’m not satisfied with just being in the NBA, I have to be better than Michael Jordan. I realize how silly that sounds, and I’ll promise to do better if you’ll promise to do the same.
  • Lower Expectations. I just finished reading “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done” by Jon Acuff. It’s a book all about reaching your goals. One of his main points is to cut your goal in half or double the time you plan on accomplishing it in. For example, if you want 50% of your church involved in groups this fall, Acuff would say, cut it to 25% this fall or 50% by next spring. His reasoning is that most of us set unrealistic expectations and quit once we don’t meet them. By cutting the goal in half or doubling the time, you’re more likely to accomplish the goal, and more likely to continue with it. It makes a lot of sense.
  1. Periodic Check-Ups
  • On Yourself. Your main concern and first priority has to be your own health. If you’re not healthy, you’re not going to be able to take care of anyone else. Make sure you’re spending enough time with God and your family. Make sure you’re getting enough rest. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to see a Christian counselor. It could be the best decision for you.
  • On Your Team. This could be paid staff or key volunteers. You should be meeting with them on a regular basis, not just to talk about the ministry but also to check on how they’re doing personally. How’s their marriage? Are there any family issues they’re dealing with? When’s the last time they took a vacation? Do they still enjoy what they do? If not, they may be dealing with burnout.
  • On Your Congregation. You’re going to want you team to be healthy so they can help you check up on your congregation. What are some of the needs in the church? Who’s in the hospital or funeral home? Who’s on the brink of a divorce? Who needs to be encouraged? Who’s drinking too much Tennessee moonshine?

Hopefully this post gave you a laugh or two and taught you a few things about church health. I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

4 Reasons Rural Churches Should Consider Going Multisite

Guest Post: Brett Bixby

There are lots of multisite churches in America today, and they are predominately located in cities. I think smaller, rural churches need to consider going multisite as well. Thom Rainer recently wrote, “Multisite used to be something only large churches tried. Now, smaller churches are getting in on the strategy.” Here are four reasons why adding an additional campus needs to be on your radar as an option for your growth needs.

  1. There is a need for the people in the next community over to be reached with the gospel. Whether we like it or not, our church will only reach people in a certain proximity. Sure, we can point to that family that is driving from 45 minutes away to attend our services, but they are usually the exception. They are usually not the ones who are inviting their neighbors to make the drive and check out our ministry. I believe people who are far from God will not drive over 15-20 minutes to attend a church with any regularity (most of our regulars won’t drive that far either). With this in mind, there is a need to take the ministry of the Gospel to the surrounding communities where our people are driving from in order to help them invite their neighbors, friends and co-workers to church. If the community is large enough to have its own elementary school, then it is large enough to handle an effective ministry in the town. The elementary school shows there are enough young families with children to warrant a ministry geared to reach them.
  2. Launching a second campus doesn’t have to be costly. There are ministries out there that are dropping $8 million on each campus they launch. This does not have to be the case. Being creative in a small community can enable a ministry to start a campus with very little money invested. There are usually buildings around that can be used, and the start-up costs are mostly in the renovations. We have launched sites in a True Value Hardware store, an American Legion building, and a church building that had been closed down. For under $100,000, a new location can be launched, and this would include the additional staff expenses for the first year. Almost immediately, new people in the area will be invited and reached to begin financially supporting the ministry.
  3. Launching a second campus is just like starting an additional service, except the service is held in a location 25-30 minutes down the road. When 80% of the chairs in your auditorium are taken, you are perceived as full to any new person who walks in your doors. As you watch your seats fill up, you will want to begin talking about your next move. One of those options is to start a second service. If you are from a small town like I am (1,400 people and a stoplight), you begin to realize people are driving over 15-20 minutes to get to church. Learning where your people are coming from will help you identify where you could potentially start a second campus. We had around fifty people who were driving from a town about 25 minutes away called Hallstead. Hallstead does not have a stoplight but does have 1,100 people and an elementary school. We sent those fifty people to start a Bridgewater site inside an American Legion building in their town. We said that we were just starting a fourth service, and it was meeting in a different location. They preach the same sermon, sing the same song set, and are named Bridgewater just like we are. We are one church meeting in many locations. We now have done this four times and have five sites with ten services on a Sunday morning. We are committed to reaching communities for Jesus by starting additional services this way all over our geographic area, and many of your ministries could do this as well.
  4. Starting a second campus will offer twice as many of your people an opportunity to use their gifts and abilities in serving ministries. I realize this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there will be many ministry roles that need to be filled once you start a campus in the next town. The flip side of this is that there will be many opportunities for people who are currently standing on the sidelines of ministry to get involved! We have found that if people have a role or responsibility on Sunday, there is a greater chance they will attend regularly. We do not struggle with a surplus of people who desire to serve. I don’t know any ministry that has this problem. But, we have found that when ministry opportunities are available and when we ask people to step up and take on a larger responsibility, they will. When we ask some who are helpers in children’s ministry to become teachers or classroom leaders, we see them stepping up and taking on the responsibility. We ask each person in a ministry at Bridgewater, whether paid or unpaid, to be working to find their replacement even before they need one. This allows us to have someone available to serve when we launch another campus.

There are many reasons why I believe smaller, rural churches need to consider going multisite. It has been a growth engine at Bridgewater and has allowed us to see God reach far past our community and into several additional communities around us.

Brett Bixby is the Executive Pastor at Bridgewater Church. They have 5 campuses spread across Northeastern PA and the Southern Tier of NY. He has been a pastor for 20 years and has been at Bridgewater for the last 8 years. He is married to Nicole, and they have 5 children.

Ten Tips on Church Growth

Sometimes we make ministry harder than it should be. Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. We all know that’s not true. I’m just saying, it’s usually not as complicated as we make it out to be. I’m guessing that most small town churches could see substantial growth by just doing a few of the things on this list.

  1. Get Back to Prayer. You may not fall into this trap, but I do. Sometimes I get so caught up in thinking systems and strategies that I forget about the most important piece of the puzzle, Jesus. He’s the head of the Church for a reason. He’s a Iot smarter than all of us. Don’t forget to spend time with Him.
  2. Learn the Community. Think of your community as a mission field, because it is. You need to learn how they think, where they hang out, what they value. It’s hard to connect with the community if you don’t take time to learn about it. A friend of mine wrote a post going into a lot more detail here.
  3. Learn the Competition. I’m not talking about other churches in the area. I’m talking about activities. Are youth sports a big deal in your community? Are you near a lake or beach? What are people doing if they’re not showing up to church? You may not be able to compete with them, but can you find ways to get involved with them in order to develop relationships with the people where they are?
  4. Create a Culture of Serving. We talk about serving at the church I serve all the time. You want to know why? Because serving is the best way to keep people connected to your church, and it’s the best way to disciple those same people. If you want people to show up to your church more often, get them using their gifts.
  5. Exceed Expectations. You have a distinct advantage in this if you’re a pastor of a small town church. Here’s why. People’s expectations are usually pretty low because of what they’ve heard about church or what they’ve experienced in the past. If your church is just welcoming, it will exceed a lot of people’s expectations. However, keep in mind it’s just as easy to reinforce their own negative expectations through a bad experience. If you have a grumpy greeter, you’re losing people.
  6. Embrace Change. Remember that grumpy greeter we just talked about? It’s time to replace him or her. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been doing it for twenty years. There is no tenure in volunteerism. Right now, you know of some people who need to be replaced. You know of some ministries that need to be shut down. Don’t be afraid of change. It’s the only way you’ll ever grow.
  7. Focus on Relationships. Did you know that 98% of people will stay at a church if they have at least three friends there? What are some ways you can foster community? Is it through small groups? A meal after the service? Or a combination of things? Preaching and programs don’t keep people connected to your church, relationships do.
  8. Celebrate Every Step. If someone starts serving, celebrate it. If someone signs up to lead a group, send them a thank you card. If someone gets baptized, go nuts. Andy Stanley says, “What gets celebrated, gets replicated.” And he’s absolutely right.
  9. Encourage Evangelism. At the end of every service, you should invite the audience back next week and tell them to bring a friend. Then give them the tools to do that. This could be invite cards, or it could be a post they can share on social media. Evangelism is just getting a person one more step closer to Jesus.
  10. Genuinely Love People. What did Jesus say the greatest commandment was? Love God, and love people. If the church would just do those two things, the church would explode.

There’s a lot more I could add, but I’d love to hear your tips on church growth. What’s working for you? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.