An Important Lesson from Carnival Cruise Lines

This summer I had the opportunity to go on a Carnival cruise with a group of pastors who are part of the same association. It was a fun and relaxing trip, and one that gave us the opportunity to talk through some issues our churches are facing. It also reminded me of a very important lesson many churches need to learn: Decide who you’re trying to reach.

It was apparent from the first day that Carnival had yet to decide this, and because of that, the ship felt like it had multiple personalities.

On one hand, they tried to portray a luxurious feel.

On another, they tried to portray they were family friendly.

And another, weird third hand they portrayed a party atmosphere, which in my opinion was probably what they really were. They just weren’t quite ready to fully admit it.

Here are a few observations that led me to this conclusion.

The ship I was on had a very fancy dining room called The Monet. During dinner the first night, a man dressed as a pirate came around to each table, and you were required to have your picture taken with him holding a knife to your throat. To make matters worse, it wasn’t even a good-looking pirate costume.

The ship did have a play area for kids on one of the tops decks, but the toys looked to have been thrown together by going to random yard sales. There was no rhyme or reason to it, and I never saw anyone on staff tending to it or cleaning the toys.

They did have a slide on one of the main decks, which was an attraction for kids, but it also overlooked the party pool.

They had an art gallery next to the arcade and casino.

I could go on and on.

In their attempt to appeal to everyone, they missed their opportunity to be great for someone.

Nothing they did was bad, but nothing they did was extraordinary either.

In the end, I’m guessing everyone left with just an ok experience.

So, what does this have to do with your church? Everything.

Far too many churches try to be all things to all people and end up being just ok at everything.

Here’s the problem with that. No one talks about ok. No one thinks about ok. And no one invites his or her friends to experience ok.

So, decide who you want to reach.

If it’s young families, then make sure your kid’s ministry is extraordinary.

If it’s creatives, make sure your worship service is on point.

If it’s retired people, make sure your senior ministry is going strong and you sing every hymn in the book.

Just whatever you do, don’t settle for ok. Ok?

Have you ever been on a cruise? Would you ever go on one again? Why or why? Let me know by leaving 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.

5 Keys to an Effective Evangelism Strategy

How many people have you invited to church in the last week? The last month? The last year? I’ll be honest, for me the answer would be not near enough. But in my defense, I generally see the same 3-5 people each week in my small town, and they all have a home church. All of them except Nancy who works at Dollar General, I’m still working on her.

The truth is evangelism is difficult in a small town. There are only so many places to go, and so many people to invite. And almost everyone has a home church, even if they aren’t really attending it.

To further complicate matters, most of the community commutes thirty minutes or more outside of the town to go to work. This makes inviting coworkers more difficult because most of them aren’t willing to travel to a smaller town to go to church.

I’ve also heard in some churches, probably not yours, congregants are too embarrassed to invite their friends. They’re worried that someone’s Aunt Edna is going to be led to sing a special, and Aunt Edna can’t sing a lick but no one has the heart to tell her.

Given our current set of circumstances, we have two options.

We can do like a lot of churches and throw up our hands and say that’s just the way it is, people don’t love Jesus enough to invite their friends and family anymore.

Or we can start getting really intentional about developing a strategy for evangelism.

I’m hoping you’ll choose an evangelism strategy, and if you do here are a few key components that you’ll need.

  1. A vision for reaching the community.

This seems obvious, but it’s a key that many churches are missing. The natural pull over time for a church is to focus on insiders over outsiders. As the pastor you need to keep the focus on reaching rather than keeping.

  1. Teach people to live out their faith.

If the church looked more like Jesus, I have no doubt that our seats would be filled. The world is searching for love, kindness, and peace. We just have to teach our people to demonstrate it, wherever they are.

  1. Be the example.

Don’t expect your people to be evangelistic if you aren’t. You must lead the way. Look for opportunities to invite, and then share those stories, both successes and failures.

  1. Get everyone involved.

Not everyone is going to be comfortable going up to a stranger and inviting them to church. Not everyone is going to have a long list of friends and family they can invite. Some people are going to be tellers, some are going to be bringers, and the rest need to be pray-ers.

  1. Offer multiple on-ramps.

Evangelism shouldn’t be just about Sunday morning. If it is, you’re seriously limiting your effectiveness. Utilize multiple on-ramps such as small groups and special events. It’s not always about getting people to step through your doors. Sometimes it’s just getting them to step in the right direction.

On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate the level of evangelism currently taking place in your church? What could make it more effective? 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.

3 Reasons Church Members Resist Change

There are some great leaders in the Bible. Some come to mind quickly, and others you might have to think about for a bit. But who would you consider the greatest? Let’s take Jesus out of the running, because He always tends to win these things, but out of everyone else, who would be your pick?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but I think I might lean towards Moses.

He was a reluctant leader, but once he realized God wasn’t going to take no for an answer, he had a pretty incredible run.

He convinced Pharaoh to free the children of Israel from slavery and let them return to their own land. When Pharaoh quickly changed his mind and gave chase, Moses led the children of Israel across a parted Red Sea. And Moses was responsible for jotting down the Ten Commandments that he received from God not once but twice.

But in the words of Shania Twain, “That don’t impress me much.”

What impresses me the most about Moses is how he was able to put up with the children of Israel’s constant complaining, bickering, and backstabbing.

He wasn’t always perfect. He got mad a few times, but if I was in his shoes and God offered to wipe the complainers off the map and start over, I’m not sure I could’ve been as merciful as Moses.

Moses loved the vision God had given him of the Promised Land, but he loved the people God had put him over even more.

I’m guessing you have some complainers in your church. You have some people who will tell you what you should be doing but will never help you do anything. The hardest they will ever work is when they’re working against you.

As long as you maintain the status quo, they’re often satisfied. It’s when you start trying to change things that they get the loudest.

The temptation is to want them to go away, and sometimes that’s necessary. But sometimes God may want you to love them through it.

It’s certainly not easy to love someone who is fighting against you, but I think it helps when we understand why. Whenever people resist change, it’s often because of these three reasons.

  1. They’re living in the past.

All of us have a way of idolizing the past. If you have any sort of card collection in your closet or attic, you’re as guilty as anyone. People who’ve spent a lot of years in the same church tend to want to hold on to the traditions of the past. They would call them the good ole days.

Instead of ignoring the past, one of the best things you can do is take some of those past traditions and tweak them to fit into your current context. This helps you to accomplish your vision without stomping on their memories.

  1. They’re comfortable in the present.

I believe the United States is full of comfortable Christians. They sit in the same chair every week, they serve in the same area, and they give the same five dollars that they’ve given for the past five years. And they would be perfectly happy to do that until God calls them home.

Change scares them because they know it will take them out of their comfort zones. You have to paint a compelling picture of the future that’s better than what they’re experiencing now. A large percentage still isn’t going to change, but you only need a few to start gaining momentum.

  1. They’re fearful of the future.

Who are the loudest critics of moving from a Sunday school model to a small group model? The Sunday school teachers, right? What about moving to two services? You may have lots of critics because people like seeing everyone.

Sometimes the best way to overcome these types of fears is to talk about what would happen if you don’t change. You may want to say things like, our fear of not reaching our community has to be greater than our fear of not seeing all of our friends on Sunday.

What you’ll find from most people is that they’ll resist change until the change happens. Once the change takes place, they’ll realize that it wasn’t that big of a deal to begin with.

Or they’ll still be mad about it and leave. Sometimes that happens, and you just take comfort in knowing you did the right thing for the church.

Who’s your favorite leader in the Bible? Why? 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.

5 Signs Your Church is Dying

I don’t think I’m good with plants. The Easter bunny brought my daughters flowers to plant in these little pastel pails. One seems to be doing alright, but the other is struggling to survive. It’s odd because they’ve received the same amount of sunlight and the same amount of water, yet one’s growing and the other is dying. Maybe your church can relate.

You’re doing the things other churches are doing. You’re preaching out of the same Bible. Your worship music may be similar.

Yet, the church down the road is growing, and yours seems to be dying.

You need to find out why because before you can fix the problem, you need to diagnose it.

In most cases of churches that are in decline or have died, these were some of the early warning signs.

  1. A Refusal to Let Go of the Past

Sometimes a successful past can be your worst enemy. People love to glorify and even live in the past. Especially church people. And when you attempt to change something that may have worked in the past but currently isn’t, you’re going to have a fight on your hands. We’re not talking about biblical truths. We’re talking about changing out the pulpit. The sad reality is many churches would rather die than change.

  1. A Lack of Care for the Community

Thom Rainer said, “When a church ceases to have a heart and a ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death.” I couldn’t agree more. Many churches isolate themselves from the community they’ve been called to reach. Their sign may say “Everyone Welcome,” but how they react to someone new showing up communicates the exact opposite.

  1. A Budget that Primarily Focuses on Insiders

It should come as no surprise that churches who isolate themselves will become completely focused on meeting the needs of those already there. When budget cuts have to be made because of the church dying, those items focused on reaching others are the first to go, which in turn only accelerates the inevitable.

  1. A Steady Decrease in Evangelism

Many churches started off great fulfilling the Great Commission, yet over time they refused to change their methods. Going door to door may have worked years ago, but now it’s a quick way to get shot, especially if you live in the rural south. But instead of just changing the way they reach out, they quit reaching out all together.

  1. A Loss of Purpose

What does the scripture say? Where there is no vision, the people perish. You could also say, where there is no purpose, the people perish. And churches that die are churches that long ago lost their purpose. The dying church’s mantra is, “This is the way we’ve always done it.”

Here’s the scary thing about death, it has a funny way of sneaking up on us. Rarely is it quick. Normally, it’s a slow fade that is hard to notice. Hopefully, these warning signs will help you discover the problem before it’s too late.

Have you ever been a part of a dying church? What were the warning signs? Let us know by leaving 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.

7 Reasons Why You’re Not Ready to Go Multisite

Back in 2012 Leadership Network released a report that said there are now over 5,000 multisite churches in America. That number ballooned to over 8,000 in 2014, and I’m sure it’s well over 10,000 today. And it’s not just big city churches anymore. A growing percentage of smaller rural churches are trying their hand at multisite.

And why not? More churches mean more people, more salvations, more baptisms, more life change.

Why wouldn’t you go multisite?

Maybe because you want to keep your sanity. Maybe because it’s not always the best thing for your church.

I spoke with a pastor recently of a very successful church and asked him when he planned on launching a campus. He told me they had no plans to ever launch one. It wasn’t the vision for his church.

There was something refreshing about that answer because I think a lot of us feel the pressure of going multisite just because it’s the current trend.

That’s a terrible reason to do it, and one that’s doomed to fail.

  1. God hasn’t told you to.

It may be the current trend, but that doesn’t mean God has called you to it. Keep in mind male rompers are the fashion trend of the summer. Just because some people are doing it doesn’t mean you should. Make sure God has called you to multisite.

  1. You don’t have a campus pastor.

You may think you can plug anyone in to be your campus pastor, but that’s definitely not the case. It takes a special person with incredible skills to be able to pull this role off. If you miss on this person, chances are your campus will not survive.

  1. You don’t have enough money.

Whatever you think it’s going to cost you, you probably want to double it. Not only can it cost a lot in the start up phase, but more than likely your sending campus will have to foot a large portion of the bill until the new campus gets on its feet, which could take years.

  1. You don’t have enough leaders.

It could be just my church, but it seems to be getting harder and harder to find people who are willing to step up and lead. When you don’t have enough leaders, the burden falls on a select few and can be too much for them to carry.

  1. You don’t have enough volunteers.

You need enough volunteers to be able to send plenty to the new campus without leaving your current campus short-handed. Volunteers are easier to find than leaders, but they still are pretty scarce.

  1. You don’t have the right location.

Most experts will tell you location is more important than facility. I would agree. The problem is, when you’re doing church in small rural communities, finding a good facility in a great location on a budget is next to impossible.

  1. You don’t have the right systems in place.

Let’s say you have the first six reasons covered, things can still fall apart if you don’t have the right systems in place. How are you following up with guests? What process do you use to get people connected? What happens the first time someone gives? Have you taken the time to answer these questions in detail?

I want to see churches grow. I want you to succeed. But I want to warn you to be cautious jumping in to multisite. Take your time, and make sure to count the cost. That may make all the difference.

Are you thinking about going multisite? Why or why not? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below, and while you’re here don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Developing a Focused Plan for Your Church

I recently finished reading The Unstuck Church by Tony Morgan. It should be required reading for every pastor. I have never read a book that so clearly articulates the steps necessary for a church to grow, even those churches who have been stuck for years.

I’m sure I’ll be sharing ideas and thoughts from it for years to come, but in this post I want to share and define the four elements your church needs to develop a plan to move forward.

  1. Mission

The mission defines the primary purpose for the church. Jesus laid it out pretty clearly as recorded in Matthew 28, and churches have put their own wording to it. Basically it should answer the question, why do we exist, in twelve words or less, according to Morgan.

  1. Vision

Many churches and pastors get mission and vision confused or think they’re the same thing. They’re not. While the mission answers the question, why do we exist, the vision should answer the question, where are we going? The vision should have a timetable of between three and five years, and it should be specific and measurable. Bigger vision is always better, as long as it’s realistically possible with the help of God.

  1. Strategy

Now that you have your mission and vision, you need a strategy to accomplish it. Tony Morgan would say that the first step is identifying your growth engines. What are the areas in your church that are most likely to help you grow? For some it’s kids’ ministry. For others it’s music. For others it’s preaching. Step two is defining what’s important now. What are the changes that need to take place? Hires that need to be made? Those types of things. In order to grow, a change is going to have to come.

  1. Values

What are the principles that are going to shape the culture of your church? Your values should drive the actions and decisions of every member of the team. Morgan suggests focusing on internal values first because the character and personality of the leaders will ultimately shape the culture.

I’m a church growth strategy junkie, and these simple definitions were so helpful to me. I love the clarity that Morgan brings to each one.

I would encourage you to take the necessary time to sit down and think through each of these four elements for your church. You will see that these four will form the foundation of everything you do.

Have you taken the time to define each one of these for your church? Why or why not? Leave a comment and let me know, and while you’re here don’t forget to subscribe in order to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

4 Ways to Identify a Vision Vandal

When you ask what vision is in the church world, you’ll get a dozen different definitions. My favorite comes from Bill Hybels. He says, “Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.” I love that definition. But I’ve also learned the hard way that passion goes two ways.

When God gives you a vision for your life or your church, in your mind you see people rallying behind it because of the difference it’s going to make.

And the majority of people will rally behind it and will be passionate about partnering with you to accomplish it.

On the flip side of that, there are going to be some in your life and your church that are going to be just as passionate about making sure your vision never comes to pass.

I call these people vision vandals.

And they’re in every church just waiting for their chance to strike.

Many of them are great people. They have good intentions. They can even appear to be some of your best friends.

Yet, a new vision brings out the worst in them. Because a new vision means things will have to change, and vision vandals hate change. They will fight it every chance they get.

The saddest part is many times the vandals win, and good pastors lose.

I don’t want that to happen to you.

So, let me give you a few ways to spot these vandals before they hijack your vision.

  1. They want to control rather than serve.

One of the easiest ways to spot them is they’re quick to sign up to be on committees and boards, and yet they never sign up to actually serve anyone. Watch out for families who nominate their relatives. This could be a power move by them to gain more control.

  1. They will manipulate to get their way.

Vandals will always bring complaints to you but never give the names of those complaining. I would advise you to ignore these. Refuse to listen to them unless they give you the name of the person complaining so you can speak directly to them. Most of the time, you’ll find that they are really the person with the complaint, but they want to make you feel like it’s the entire church.

  1. They will talk behind your back and others.

If they have the tendency to come to you to complain or gossip about someone else, just know they’re doing the same thing to you. They will work behind the scenes to erode trust in you so that when you get ready to launch a new vision, ministry, or initiative they can tear it and you down.

  1. They are not team players.

They don’t play well with others. Instead of believing the best about their teammates, they will find a way to complain about them. They will tear down the team’s accomplishments in order to try to make themselves look better.

Many times they will show a complete lack of respect for others. Don’t let this slide. You’ll regret it later.

Ministry is hard enough without having your own people fight against you. Do everything you can to eliminate the vision vandals in your church as soon as possible. Because believe me, given the chance, they’ll eliminate you.

How have you handled vision vandals in your church? Leave a comment and let us know. Also take a second to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

20/20 Vision

I believe I was in second grade when I got my first pair of glasses. In those early years, I moved back and forth between contacts and glasses, but I’ve probably worn glasses exclusively for the past 15 years or so. It can be annoying at times, but I have terrible vision without them.

I have what the experts call astigmatism, which I believe is a fancy word for saying I can’t see stuff.

Google tells me it’s a defect in the lens, which results in distorted images, as light rays are prevented from meeting at a common focus.

No matter what the definition is, the fact is I’m a danger to myself and others when I’m not wearing my glasses.

My vision stinks.

Perhaps you or the church you serve has the same issue.

Scripture tells us, Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18a

And it’s true. We all know people wondering aimlessly through life, and we all know of churches that have to close their doors because they lost their vision.

Andy Stanley, in his book Visioneering, says vision brings four things into our daily lives. We can also say vision brings these four things into our churches.

  1. Passion

The better your vision, the stronger emotion it invokes. It’s almost impossible to have passion without a vision. And those without a vision live passive lives. A strong vision stirs something within you that can’t be contained.

  1. Motivation

Without a vision for the future, there’s no need for motivation. Motivation needs a destination, otherwise you’re life will always stay in park. Weight Watchers realizes this, that’s why they’re always showing before and after pictures of their customers. If you’re a pastor, a big part of your job is painting a clear picture of what the future could look like for your church.

  1. Direction

Without a vision for where you want to go, you never know where you’ll end up. Clear vision sets the direction of our lives and helps us prioritize what’s important. If it’s not getting us closer to our goal, then it’s not something we need to do.

  1. Purpose

People with a clear vision for their lives are more likely to live their lives on purpose. As Stanley says, “A vision gives you a reason to get up in the morning.” I believe God’s given each of us a purpose. If you haven’t figured out what exactly that is yet, you may want to check your vision.

I can’t express enough how important vision is for your life and your church. It makes all the difference in the world. If your vision isn’t real clear right now, I encourage you to take some time this week to get focused.

Does your church have a crystal clear vision? What about your life? Let us know about it in the comments 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.

5 Signs that You’re the Growth Barrier

Why is your church not growing? Is it the stubborn deacon who refuses to change? The Sunday School teacher who is plotting against you? Or maybe the worship leader who insists on singing “Beulah Land” every Sunday? Chances are it’s not any of those things. More than likely the biggest growth barrier to your church…is you.

That can be hard to accept, however the quicker you accept it, the quicker you can make the changes that are necessary to take your church to the next level.

And don’t feel bad about it. Almost every pastor starts out making these same mistakes, and few of them ever change.

That’s why most churches will never break 200 in weekly attendance.

However, you’re not most pastors, so let’s take a minute and see if you’re making any of these five mistakes.

  1. You’re the Primary Care Giver.

To put it more plainly, you do all the visiting, counseling, and any other ing’s. And your church loves you because of it. It’s probably at the top of your job description, but it’s holding your church back.

  1. You’re Always Available.

Someone needs something, you’re the first person they call. Everyone in the church has your phone number. It may even be on the church sign. They can call any time of day or night. You attempt to be omnipresent and never miss a church event whether it be a prayer meeting or a birthday party. You’re unwillingness to say no to the small things is costing you the opportunity to do big things.

  1. You Don’t Delegate.

See above. You feel bad asking anyone else to do anything, or you don’t think they can do it as well as you. So, you lead every meeting, preach every sermon, mow the yard, take out the trash, and anything else that needs to be done. Even Jesus had a team of 12, and you’re no Jesus. Start giving others responsibility, or you’ll never grow.

  1. You’re a Terrible Planner.

If you don’t know what you’re preaching from week to week, you’re a terrible planner. And don’t give me this waiting on the Holy Spirit to show you. God is the ultimate planner. He planned how this world began, and He’s already planned the end. God had a vision for what He wanted to create and the outcome He wanted to see. Do you?

  1. You Ignore the Numbers.

What was your average attendance last year? How many guests have you had this year? How many salvations? How many baptisms? You don’t track it because you don’t want responsibility for it. If you tracked it, you might have to admit you need to change because what you’re currently doing isn’t working.

Do any of these sound like you? If so, you’ve found the problem, and that’s 90% of fixing it. Now, just be willing to do the other 10% and change.

Have any of these ever described you? How did you change? Let us know by leaving a comment 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 Ways to Communicate for Connection

Do you know what the number one fear is for most people? Public speaking. Number two on the list, dying. Most people said speaking in front of an audience was scarier than dying. And I can sort of relate. As an executive pastor I don’t preach often, but when I do I certainly have a healthy dose of fear. Not so much as I’m preaching, but the anticipation of preaching. It’s kind of like riding a roller coaster for me; the wait is the worst part.

Now, my fear has gotten a lot better over the years as I’ve had more experience, and I’ve learned how to adequately prep to preach a sermon.

Which is a good thing because I don’t think they’d let me back on stage if I hadn’t.

And who could blame them?

A recent survey from Pew Research noted that quality of sermons was the number one factor for those looking for a church home, more important than feeling welcomed, style of service, and even location.

So, you better make sure your sermons are connecting with your audience.

With that in mind, here are four tips on how you can communicate better:

  1. Find Common Ground

My pastor is the absolute best at this. He has never met a stranger, and he knows connection starts in the community before it goes to the stage. This means simple stops at the bank, can turn into thirty-minute conversations. This means he’s often late for meetings because he’s busy connecting. This means more people connect with his teaching because he’s taken the time to care for them.

  1. Keep It Simple

I want to let you in on a little secret. No one in your audience cares how smart you are, what seminary you went to, or that you read the Bible in the original Greek. Big words and complex information aren’t helpful to them. They need clarity. What do you want them to know, what do you want them to do, and how will their life be better because of it? And it would help if you would say it in less than 40 minutes.

  1. Make it Fun

Think about the people you enjoy watching or listening to. How would you describe them? Funny? Entertaining? Inspirational? I bet you wouldn’t say boring. Yet, too many preachers bore their audiences to sleep. Make it your goal to capture their attention, use humor, use visuals, use stories. Say things in a way that people remember.

  1. Inspire People to Action

At our church we call it taking a next step, and we try to have a next step at the end of each sermon. Once you’ve told them the why, the what, the how, you need to give them a clear action step. Based on what you’ve just taught, what do they need to do? It’s the action that changes lives, not the teaching.

These four tips have helped me tremendously, and I’m continuously working to get better. You should too.

What would you add to this list? How do you make sure you’re connecting with your audience? Leave a comment and let us know, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.