Small Town Worship

Basics - Worship

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

smalltownworship

If I were to ask you what’s the one area in your church that could use the most help, what would you say? If you pastor in a small town like I do, I’m betting you would say worship.

I know worship can have many meanings, but for the sake of our discussion here, I’m talking about the singing that happens during service.

If you were being honest, how would you rate your worship?

I have to say be honest because in the church world often times we have the attitude of Paula Abdul when she was a judge on American Idol. She didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so she told everyone they were good.

This strategy works well for one person…the singer. It stinks for everyone else who has to listen to him or her.

I know that sounds harsh, and maybe I sound more like Simon Cowell, but there’s a lot at stake here.

Many people will choose to stay or leave your church based on the quality of the worship.

Isn’t that shallow? Maybe, but it’s reality.

Now, before you get frustrated and start thinking up all the excuses about how you don’t have any musicians or you can’t afford to pay a worship pastor, let me clarify something.

Your worship doesn’t have to be at the quality of a Hillsong Church or Elevation Church. In most cases in small towns, it just needs to be a little better than average.

Where do I find a band? I’m not saying you even have to have one. When I was in college I attended student services a Church of Christ put on and the worship was acapella. It was a much better worship experience than the churches I had attended in my hometown which all had bands.

If you have musicians on stage that can’t play, they’re hurting the experience not adding to it.

So, do we do away with all musicians? Not necessarily. I think that can work for some churches, but I think most people like music being a part of worship.

Here would be my suggestion. Find at least one person who can sing. They don’t have to be great, but they need to be better than average. Let that person sing along with a track until you can find capable musicians.

Isn’t that like karaoke? Yep, and it’s the same thing tons of professional artists do every week.

My bet is that you have at least a couple of people in your church that can sing. They’re probably not going to volunteer because they’ve seen what you’re allowing on stage and they don’t want to be a part of it. Find out who these people are and try them out.

If you can’t identify anyone to sing, go and visit a local college or high school talent show. I guarantee you’ll find someone who can sing, and there’s a good chance they love Jesus. Ask them to come sing at your church. If finances allow, offer to pay them to start leading worship for you.

It could be the best investment you’ll ever make.

If you pastor a small town church, what are you doing for worship? How do you find talented people?

Four Great Web Solutions for Your Church

Basics - Website

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

The year is 2015. I point that out because many churches are still operating like its 1985, and they’ve yet to receive their AOL disk in the mail.

That’s right, many churches in America don’t have a website. As many as 45% according to a 2012 study conducted by Duke University.

Now, I’m sure that number has decreased some over the last three years, but I believe we can safely assume that 30-35% of churches don’t have a website.

That absolutely baffles me. Here’s why. Roughly 280 million Americans are Internet users. That’s 87% of the United States population.

If your church doesn’t have a website by now you either;

  1. Think Technology is the Devil
  2. Don’t Know Where To Start
  3. Think it’s Too Expensive

If you think technology is the devil, there’s not much I can do help you. However, if you think its too expensive or don’t know where to start, let me offer you some suggestions.

Clover – Clover is the company we’ve used for the past several years. They may be a bit expensive on the front end, but the ease of use and support you get with them is unparalleled.

Cost – Initial $1000, Monthly $20

Faith Highway – Faith Highway builds you a site using the WordPress platform which makes your site easy to use and update.

Cost – Based on your needs and church size

Bridge Element – Bridge Element is similar to Clover in that it has its own custom church management system. This makes it easy to edit the website from the backend.

Cost – Initial $0, Monthly $29

SquareSpace – SquareSpace is for the church that’s looking to be a little more creative with their website. They make incredible looking sites at very affordable prices.

Cost – Initial $0, Monthly $18

These are just a few options out of hundreds. Once you do some researching you’ll be surprised to find how easy getting and maintaining a website is these days.

You don’t even have to break the bank to do it. So, what are you waiting for? Pop in that AOL disk and get started. You’ve got mail!

Does your church have a website? What company do you use?

The Death of Sunday Night Services

Basics - Service Times

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

sunday-night-service

I’m not sure when Sunday Night service died, but I’m glad it did.

That was my first thought as I woke from my Sunday afternoon nap, but that hasn’t always been the case.

For several years I was on the other side of the debate. Churches that cancelled Sunday evening services were shallow, unholy, and had lost their desire for God.

Now I realize they’re just smarter than the rest of us.

When you don’t do Sunday evenings, you can put all your energy and effort into making Sunday mornings great.

And let’s be honest, how many unchurched people are showing up to your church on Sunday evenings anyway? My guess would be almost none.

Sure, you can use that time to pour into the holy rollers, but aren’t they already getting that during Sunday school or small groups? Do they really need to hear another message?

Is it really worth burning out your pastor and volunteers?

What about an alternative? If you really feel like you need two services on Sunday, why not do them both on Sunday morning?

Instead of offering a 11am and 6pm service, what about a 9:30 and 11am service? Now, that makes a lot of sense.

Because here’s what we know, the most likely time someone is going to show up for a church service is between the hours of 9 and 11am on Sunday morning.

By offering two Sunday morning services you will automatically see an increase in attendance. People like options.

There are some mornings people are going to oversleep, no problem you got them covered. Just come to the later service.

Other times, people want to get church in before the game starts, the 9:30 service is perfect for them.

More service times means more opportunities and less excuses.

Here’s a couple of other benefits:

  • The pastor doesn’t have to prepare two sermons, he can preach the same one two different times. This not only makes him better as a speaker, it takes stress off of him, and prolongs his career.
  • When you have two services your volunteers now can serve one service and sit in another. This means your childcare workers aren’t having to miss service when they serve.

I know what some of you are thinking, we can’t do that it would interfere with Sunday school.

I would suggest you quit Sunday school, and offer small groups during the week, but if you insist on Sunday school, offer it during both service times. Who knows maybe you even see Sunday school attendance increase.

But we’re not running hundreds of people. Let me ask you this, how full is your sanctuary on a typical Sunday morning?

Fifty percent? Sixty? More?

If you’re filling your sanctuary to sixty percent capacity, you’re ready to start a second service. If you’re less than fifty percent, you need to remove some chairs or pews until you can get that number to over fifty percent.

Don’t make the same mistake we did, we waited far too long to begin another service. Do it as soon as possible, just don’t do it on Sunday night.

Is your church offering multiple services? Why or why not?

Clean Up Your Act

Basics - Cleanliness

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

Spring-Cleaning

Whenever my wife and I have guests over to our house, there’s a mad dash to clean up. I take out the trash, my wife vacuums and dusts, and we have the kids pick up all their toys. Why? Because we want to show our guests value.

It should be no different at your church. Each week guests walk through the doors of your church, and whether we want to believe it or not, the cleanliness of your church plays a huge part in determining whether they return.

So, what have you done to prepare for their arrival?

Here are 15 areas I suggest looking at as you prepare for guests each week at your church.

  1. Make sure the parking lot is clear of debris and clutter. Sweep leaves, rocks, dirt, etc.
  2. During the winter, make sure snow and ice are cleared from walking paths and sidewalks. Apply salt and sand as necessary to keep these areas from being hazardous to vehicles and pedestrians.
  3. Keep landscape up to date. Make sure grass is mowed, weeds are pulled, and dead flowers or shrubs are removed on a regular basis.
  4. Discard of any dead animals on property. This summer we had a bird try to fly through a window, which led to its death. This stuff happens.
  5. If your church is in a more secluded wooded area, make sure these wooded areas are trimmed so they don’t appear “overgrown”.
  6. If you have any water features such as fountains or ponds on your property, make sure they’re operating properly and not filled with stagnant water.
  7. Change light bulbs when they go out, not when you get around to it.
  8. Carpets should be vacuumed every week.
  9. Tile & vinyl floors should be swept and mopped.
  10. Every bathroom should be cleaned and neat. Make sure plenty of toilet paper is available, plungers and mops as well, in case of emergencies.
  11. Clean up any dead bugs or animals inside the building. Mouse and bug traps should never be visible to a guest.
  12. Clean all windows, handrails, and mirrors.
  13. Have children’s rooms clean and neat. Each toy should be disinfected. Carpets should be clean and have a pleasant odor.
  14. Clean any stains on chairs, pews, and carpets.
  15. All trash should be disposed of prior to guests arriving for services.

What areas have I forgotten? What would you add to this list?

Four Reasons Sermon Series Work

Basics - Sermon Series

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

SermonSeries1

Many people ask me what change had the biggest impact on our church growth. While I believe it wasn’t one change, but a series of changes tied to a vision to reach the unchurched in our community, perhaps the change with the biggest impact was switching from stand-alone sermons to sermon series.

For the first nine months of our church launch, we did stand-alone sermons. It was what everyone else in our community did. It was all we really knew. But after seeing our church go from 87 people in attendance on our first Sunday service to averaging 86 in attendance in our first year, we decided to make some changes.

So, why sermon series? I can think of four very good reasons to switch.

  1. Time to Prepare – I know far too many pastors who wait until Saturday night to start preparing their message for Sunday. My pastor was one of them. When we changed to a sermon series based model, it forced us to be better prepared, which in turn led to less stress each week. Now we’re planning four to six week series, months in advance. These series have a big idea, and each message in the series compliments that idea.
  1. Big Ideas Generate Big Interest – It’s hard to market or advertise a message you’re just coming up with on Saturday night. But when you plan a series in advance, you have time to advertise them, which in turn garners interest from those inside and outside your church. Every year we do at least one marriage series, and we usually place it around Valentine’s Day. We let our congregation know a couple weeks in advance so they can invite friends and family. By doing this, we have some of our biggest crowds of the year.
  1. Time to Get Creative – One of the best parts of planning sermon series is your ability to get creative with them. Because you’re planning them in advance, you and your team now have time to think of creative ideas that will enhance the message or series. Creative elements are so important in helping your congregation retain the message. Many years ago we had a toilet up on stage for a sermon titled “Toilet Water”. It was all about what couples allow themselves to consume and the harmful effects it can have on a marriage. Needless to say, people still bring up this sermon years later.
  1. People Remember Series not Sermons – If you ask anyone in our congregation the first sermon they heard at my church, very few could answer. But if you ask what series we were in, almost all of them could remember. Why? For one, they normally have a visual of the logo. We remember pictures better than words. Two, we spend weeks covering the same topic, and what gets repeated gets remembered. Isn’t that part of the goal? I mean we spend all this time preparing sermons, and don’t you want the congregation to remember what you spoke about? If you do, commit to doing sermon series.

What are some other benefits of doing sermon series? What are some drawbacks? I’d love to hear your opinions, just leave a comment below.

Three Keys to Every Great Childrens’ Ministry

Basics - Childrens' Ministry

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

kids

Children’s ministry may be the most important ministry in church today, and yet I see so many churches treat it as an afterthought.

Offering a Sunday School class for children is not enough. You have to be more intentional about providing an environment where kids can learn about Jesus on their level.

Nearly eighty percent of people in the church today decided to follow Jesus before the age of 18. Fifty percent decided before the age of 12. So, the best time to teach people about Jesus is when they are children.

By committing to provide an incredible experience for kids and parents, not only will you see more people come to Christ, you will see young families flock to your church. Your childrens’ ministry can be the greatest catalyst for growth in your church.

Here’s the thing, providing a great kids’ ministry doesn’t have to be that difficult or that expensive. Any church can do it. You just need to focus on these three key elements of a great kids’ ministry.

  1. Safety – Safety has to be your number one priority because it’s a parent’s number one priority.

I recommend that every one of your volunteers serving in kids’ ministry undergo a background check. It’s not that expensive, and in this day and age, it’s become a necessity.

In addition, I recommend that you have security personnel monitor all kids’ areas. This doesn’t have to be a police officer. This can be a volunteer whose purpose is to look for anyone or anything suspicious.

And last, I recommend you implement a check-in system for your kids’ ministry that ensures your children can only be checked out of class by those who checked them in. There are lots of options out there. We use a program called Excellerate.

  1. Creative Bible Teaching – The Bible is the most amazing book ever written, so we want to convey that to our kids in fun and interesting ways.

We strive to bring Bible stories to life by using songs, videos, live acting, small group discussions, and activities that keep the children engaged.

The best thing is, you don’t have to come up with this yourself. There are tons of great options available. Check out curriculum from Orange, NewSpring, and Elevate to get your started.

  1. Fun, Fun, Fun – Your kids’ ministry has to be fun. It has to be a place kids want to come back to week after week. Every week we have kids dragging their parents to church because they don’t want to miss kids’ church.

So, make sure the adults you have volunteer in kids’ ministry not only love kids, but they also know how to have fun. Don’t just settle for anyone. Make sure you get the right people in the room.

And that’s it. Kids’ ministry needs to be safe, fun, and a place kids can learn about Jesus on their level. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it isn’t that expensive.

You can do it. When you do, you’ll be overwhelmed by the blessings it produces.

How would you describe your kids’ ministry? How could you make it better?

Drop the Dress Code

Basics - Church Dress Code

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

Whether implied or not, many churches still have a dress code. The thought that you should dress your best for God is still alive and well in many churches across America. And it’s especially prevalent in small towns.

DressCode

Many pastors in small towns across America still feel like they have to wear a suit and tie on Sundays. Here is why you shouldn’t do that: it immediately disconnects you from the people you’re trying to reach.

People far from God have already painted a picture of what church and pastors look like, and wearing a suit and tie will only feed into their preconceived notions. It makes it more difficult for people to relate to you. It puts a barrier between you and them, and I think we can all agree that we already have enough barriers in our way of reaching people.

I’m not suggesting you dress like a slob. I’m suggesting you dress like the people you’re trying to reach. When you begin to do this, your congregation will follow suit, and your church will become a much more inviting place for your community to walk into.

I know what some of you are thinking, we’re supposed to give God our best. It’s funny how we want to apply that to the way we dress, but not to whom we allow on stage to sing.

John the Baptist certainly wouldn’t fit into your give God our best dress mindset, yet Jesus said, “Among those born of women, no one is greater than John the Baptist”.

Peter, James, and John were fishermen. They probably didn’t smell the best or dress the best. If every Easter play I’ve ever witnessed is an accurate depiction of them, and I’m sure it is, they wore a brown gown with a colorful sash.

And let’s not even bring up Adam and Eve.

God has made every one of us in His own image. The writer of Psalm 139 says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are beautiful creations, and when we judge people by the clothes they wear, we dishonor God.

One of our staff members recently asked a couple what they enjoyed the most about our church. You know what the lady said? “I love that I can wear jogging pants and a t-shirt to church.” Out of everything we do at our church that was the one thing she picked.

I happen to believe there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in your community who would try out your church, but they feel like they have nothing to wear. If you care about reaching those people, drop the dress code.

Do you have a dress code at your church? Why or why not?

Give it Away

Basics - Free Stuff

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

CoffeeHands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings

Basics - Happy Greeters

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

Greeters

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key is Connection

Basics - Connection Cards

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

postcard-gray-connect-card

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

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

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

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

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