Five Numbers to Watch this Fall

I’m a numbers guy. I’ve always loved them. Math was my best subject in school, and I graduated college with a Business Management degree so I could count more numbers. When I was asked to become the Executive Pastor at the church I serve, counting numbers was the easiest part of the transition. Unfortunately, a lot of pastors don’t share my same love for numbers, but regardless there are a few numbers you need to pay close attention to this fall.

Historically, September through November has always been a season of growth at the church I serve. Summer is over and temperatures start dropping, which means people are spending less time on vacation or at the lake and more time showing up to church. The kids have gone back to school, and parents have gotten back into their regular routine.

It’s not uncommon to see ten to fifteen percent more people showing up to church in the fall than in the summer. More people gives you the chance to build momentum and get more people connected to the mission and vision of your church.

This fall should be a win for your church…if you measure it.

If you don’t measure it, how will you ever know when you’re winning?

Here are the five numbers I’ll be measuring, and I think you should be measuring them as well.

  • Attendance. Every pastor should be measuring weekly attendance. How many people are showing up at your church for weekend services? Once you get this number you need to do something more with it than just put it on a board in the back of your church. You need a way of tracking it over a long period of time. Church Metrics is a free online platform that allows you to do that and a lot more. Once you start tracking these numbers you can go back and compare them in order to give you a better idea of the health of your church.
  • Giving. I’m guessing even if you don’t count the attendance, you probably still count the offering, right? Of course you do, you’d be crazy not to. This fall I’m looking for my weekly giving numbers to be ten to fifteen percent higher than during the summer. How do I check that? You guessed it, Church Metrics.
  • Groups. The fall may be the best time of year to launch new groups. That’s why this fall I want to measure how many total groups the church is offering and how many total people are showing up to them. Groups are difficult in a small town. You can read my thoughts on why, here. But, they are vital to keeping people connected to the church. I’m really excited about our groups this fall, and I haven’t been able to say that in a couple of years. If your church offers Sunday school instead of groups, you can still use the same measurements.
  • Volunteers. The fall is also a great time to recruit new volunteers. The closer we get to Thanksgiving and Christmas it seems the more people get in the serving spirit. Just last month we added 15 new volunteers at one of our campuses. That’s huge in a small town church, but we still need more. So, this fall I’ll continue to measure the number of volunteers we have, as well as the number of new volunteers that have been recruited. If you need help recruiting and retaining volunteers, you can find out more here.
  • First Time Guests. One of the most important numbers I’ll be measuring this fall is the number of first time guests. They’re the key to church growth. I heard someone say once that in order for your church to grow the number of first time guests that visit during a year needs to exceed your average weekly attendance. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s definitely a number we’re striving for. That means if your church averages 75 people on a weekend, then in order to grow you need to have more than 75 first time guests throughout the year.

Of course, we’ll also be measuring salvation and baptism numbers as well. We just don’t see as much change in those numbers during the fall. Again, you can track those using Church Metrics.

I’d love to hear some of your number goals for the fall. Are you trying to break 100 in weekly attendance? Trying to add 10 new volunteers? Trying to serve 50 first time guests? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe. Also, if you’re looking to grow your church this fall in an incredible way strongly consider becoming a part of the first ever Small Town Big Church Coaching Network. You can find more details here.

Four Big Day Ideas to Grow Your Church this Fall

I believe it was Nelson Searcy who originally came up with the idea of growing your church through “Big Days.” A “Big Day” is an all out push toward a single Sunday in order to see a large increase in attendance on that day. He actually wrote an entire book around the idea called Ignite: How to Spark Immediate Growth in Your Church. The idea is that if you can get a large number of people to your church on a single day and create a great experience for them, then there’s a very high likelihood that many of them will stick. So, with that in mind I wanted to share with you a few “Big Day” ideas for this fall.

The Tailgate Party

If you live in the United States, you understand how much people love football. It doesn’t matter if it’s College Football or the NFL. Either will draw millions of viewers each week. The only thing Americans may love more than football is eating. So, what did they do? They decided to combine them into a single event called “Tailgating.” The premise of this idea is simple, you just ask your congregation to tailgate before and after your weekend services. They can bring their own grills, their own tents, and wear their favorite team’s colors. Don’t be afraid to ask your local high school or middle school sports teams to get involved as well. They are often looking for ways to fundraise and an event like this gives you the opportunity to connect with these families. It’s a win for both teams.

The Pumpkin Patch

What’s the most anticipated product this fall? Not the new iPhone. It’s the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. People go crazy for anything pumpkin around this time of year. I’ve heard families will actually pay good money to go out into a field and pick their own pumpkins during the month of October. I may have been guilty of doing it myself. So, why not create your own pumpkin patch at church and give away the pumpkins to kids? It may be a little late to start planting pumpkins, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a farm to buy them from. For a few hundred dollars you can create a big day and make a lot of little kids very happy, not to mention the farmer you bought them from.

The Petting Farm

The only thing kids may enjoy more during the fall than picking out their favorite pumpkin is petting their favorite farm animals. Most of the time, you can find someone who operates mobile petting zoos that will bring the animals to you for a few hundred dollars. But, if you don’t have access to one or your just looking to save some money, how about asking one of the local farmers in your community? You don’t need to have an entire zoo. A few goats, a couple of rabbits, and the Thanksgiving turkey would suffice.

Trunk or Treat

Trunk or Treat is the perfect event for the Sunday before Halloween. If you’re not familiar with Trunk or Treat, you basically ask people to decorate the trunks of their cars for Halloween and hand out candy. Lots of communities have them, but by tagging it on to your weekend service, you can see a lot of new families come to your church. If you’re worried about celebrating Halloween, you can post guidelines for what’s acceptable decorations or even theme your Trunk or Treat. For example, you could have a superheroes and princesses theme. Nothing scary about that.

If marketed well, these four events will definitely get more people to your church.

Just keep in mind, the experience the guest has while they are there will determine whether they ever come back again.

So, before you do any of these events, you need to make sure your Sunday experience is a good one.

If you need help in that area, don’t miss out on your chance to be a part of the first ever Small Town Big Church Coaching Network. It’s six months of coaching designed to help your small town church go big. Find out more by going to my coaching and consulting page, and as always don’t forget to subscribe to this blog so you never miss tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Small Town Big Church Coaching Network

How’s your church doing? Is it growing or has it plateaued and begun to decline? Do you feel like there are questions you don’t have the answers to? You’ve gone to the conferences and you’ve read the books, but none of the information seems to translate to your small town context.

We get it. That’s why we started the Small Town Big Church Network, to help small town pastors like you, see big time growth and impact in their churches.

And this fall we’re excited to announce the very first Small Town Big Church Coaching Network designed to help small town pastors go further faster.

During this six-month program, we will cover the essentials of leading a growing church in 12 live video coaching sessions. Sessions will include:

  • Developing Mission and Casting Vision
  • Doing Ministry with Excellence on a Small Town Budget
  • How to Assimilate First Time Guests into Growing Disciples
  • Creating First Impressions that Bring Guests Back
  • Creating a Kids’ Ministry that Kids and Parents Love
  • How to Talk about Giving and Grow Your Budget
  • How to Recruit, Train, and Lead Volunteers
  • How to Develop Leaders that Help Carry the Load
  • How to Preach Better Sermons
  • How to do Marketing in a Small Town Church
  • How to Start, Build, and Grow a Small Groups Ministry
  • How to do Worship with Excellence in a Small Town

Each live video session will include a 15-minute introduction to the topic followed by 45 minutes of question and answer time.

Along with the two live video coaching sessions, you will also have a one-on-one 30-minute phone call with your coach to discuss any topic in further detail each month, as well as 24/7 email access, access to a private Facebook group, and access to any and all resources we currently have or develop.

We understand that many small town churches don’t have a large budget for leadership development. That’s why we’ve made our coaching network as affordable as possible, while keeping in mind the value of our experiences and resources.

The cost for the 6-month coaching network is $200 a month, or $1,000 if paid up front. We believe this network will more than pay for itself, but if you’re not satisfied you can request a full refund within the first three months with no questions asked.

In order to provide the most value to our participants, we are limiting registration to 12 small town pastors. We also ask that you either be the Senior Pastor, Executive Pastor, or Associate Pastor of a church in order to participate.

The Small Town Big Church Coaching Network starts soon, so leave a comment below, shoot us an email, or visit the contact page if you’re interested in being a part.

Small Town Big Church Coaching Network Coaches

Jon Sanders

Lead Pastor of The Rescue Church, a small town multisite church with locations in South Dakota, Illinois, and Jamaica. Jon has a heart for helping pastors in rural communities realize their full potential. Learn more at jonsanders.org.

Travis Stephens

Executive Pastor of Strong Tower Church, a small town multisite church with two locations in northern middle Tennessee. Since coming on staff at Strong Tower Church six years ago, the church has tripled in attendance, expanded its facilities, and launched a second campus. Travis has a desire to help small town churches go big and writes about church growth and leadership on his personal blog.

What’s Next?

This Thursday, September 7th, 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of this blog. It’s hard to believe it’s already been two years. In those two years, I’ve written 200+ posts, interviewed names like Bob Goff, Tim Stevens, and Chris Surratt and developed relationships with small town pastors all around the world. It’s been an incredible journey, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.

My goal has always been to help small town pastors grow the churches they serve. The blog was the beginning, but I always knew I wanted to offer coaching and consulting some day.

I’m excited to say that day has finally come.

Early into this journey, I met a pastor named Jon Sanders, who leads a multisite church with locations in South Dakota, Illinois, and Jamaica. We share the same passion for helping small town pastors.

This fall we are teaming together to launch the first ever Small Town Big Church Coaching Network.

I’ll be posting all the details this Thursday. Trust me, if you’re a small town pastor who wants to take your church to the next level, you want to be a part of this network.

We’re taking everything we’ve learned in the past 10+ years about growing churches in small towns and sharing it with you over a six-month period. We’ll be answering your questions, we’ll be giving you resources, and we will help you grow your church.

Because we want to value you and your time, space is limited to just 12 participants. That means if you want to be a part, you need to let us know as soon as possible.

Full details on Thursday. Let’s take the next step in this journey together.

Don’t miss Thursday’s post or any other. Take just a few seconds to subscribe today. And if you know you want to be a part of this coaching network, please visit my contact page and send me a message or message me on Facebook.

Two Year Anniversary Stats & Giveaway

Two years ago I set out on a journey to help small town pastors see their churches go big. While the journey is far from finished, I definitely feel like we’ve made some progress. Whether you’ve been here from the beginning, or you’ve joined us somewhere along the way, I want to say thank you. Thank you for serving the communities you’re in, and thank you for allowing me to serve you.

Next week I’ll be sharing a huge announcement about the next step in this journey, but for today, let’s take a look back at where we’ve been so far.

  • The blog has been visited by over 13,000 people representing 143 different countries. Up from 115 countries last year. I’m not ready to say I’m a global sensation, but I’m making strides.
  • I’m most popular in North America, Great Britain, Canada, France, and Australia. Good day mate! If you’re reading this post in a country outside of the US, leave me a comment and let me know where you’re from.
  • Those 13,000 people viewed over 25,000 pages of content. The top pages include, 4 Types of Pastoral Leadership, Confessions of an Adulterous Pastor, Small Town Church Growth, Planning a Church Service, and Talent Isn’t Enough.
  • And last but not least, the blog has received over 5,000 comments, of which over 95% have been spam. Is that normal?

To celebrate the two year anniversary I’ve decided to give away a collection of three of my favorite books: The Unstuck Church by Tony Morgan, Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley, and Greater by Steven Furtick.

There’s a couple different ways you can be entered to win. One, leave a comment below with your name and your favorite blog post I’ve written. Or two, share this post on Facebook or Twitter and remember to tag me in the post. Make sure to does this between now and noon (Central Standard Time) on Friday, September 8th to be entered. Good luck to everyone.

P.S. Over the past year I’ve focused mainly on producing content and less on marketing the blog. After the big announcement next week I plan on posting a new blog each Monday morning and marketing it throughout the week. If you’ve found this blog helpful would you do me a favor and share it with someone who could benefit from it as well. This journey’s not finished, it’s just getting started…

Creating Team Alignment

A few years ago our team read a book called The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. The book was on everyone’s must read list that year and still remains one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read. The main idea of the book is organizational health is what differentiates great organizations from mediocre ones.

For an organization to be healthy, everyone needs to be on the same page.

Which doesn’t always happen in churches. In fact, it rarely happens.

Most of the time, there are multiple people with their own agendas pulling in totally different directions. This leads to confusion, jealousy, turf wars, and church splits.

Luckily, there’s a way you can prevent this. You just need to get everyone working from the same playbook.

Your playbook should answer these six questions.

  1. Why do we exist? What is our mission and vision? What’s our purpose?
  2. How do we behave? What are we going to need to value in order to accomplish our mission?
  3. What do we do? A simple, direct explanation of our church or organization. For example, “We share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
  4. How will we succeed? What’s our strategy? Who’s our target? How will we reach them?
  5. What is most important, right now? This question helps us define our priorities. We may have a core strategy as a church, but what do we need to add to that in this season to take us to the next level?
  6. Who must do what? What role is everyone playing, and who is responsible for what?

If you can answer the questions above and get everyone on board, you can accomplish a goal.

When my church worked through this process, we said our goal was for our church to become an evangelism juggernaut, so that we have no choice but to add more services or more locations.

We knew there were some things we did well that were our core strategy. For example, we had relevant preaching, great kids’ ministry, a heart for serving, and passionate worship.

We also knew there were some things we needed to add or do better. For example, increase group leaders and participation, developing leaders, creating wow experiences, and providing invite cards.

Looking back now, I see that we didn’t follow through as well as we should have in a lot of these areas, and we didn’t see the growth that we would’ve liked.

Looks like its time for me, and maybe you, to develop a new playbook.

Do you have a playbook for your church? What about a goal for the next season? I’d love to hear more about it, so don’t forget to leave a comment below. And if you’re interested in working through this together, I’d love to talk to you more about that. Just shoot me an email through my contact page, and I’ll be in touch soon.

Creating a Successful Team

It seems that every year sports writers around the nation debate the greatest teams that have ever played. Several years ago in college football, it was the USC Trojans with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, who went on to lose the National Championship to the Texas Longhorns. A few years later, it was the New England Patriots, who had gone undefeated up until they lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. And this year in basketball, it was the Golden State Warriors with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and a host of other great players. All of those were great teams, but what does a great team look like within a church?

This post is part of a six part series on leadership development, largely taken from my notes on John Maxwell’s book, Developing the Leaders Around You. You can check out the other posts in the series here, here, and here.

In the previous two posts in this series, we talked about developing individuals. In this post I want us to think about what it would look like to have a great team of leaders. Because we all know individuals don’t win championships–talking to you, LeBron–teams win championships.

And great teams, whether it’s football, basketball, or even church, tend to have some common characteristics. Here are a few of them I’ve observed.

  • They care about one another. A lot of times we call this team chemistry. How do they get along? How do they interact? I don’t know if there’s anything more important than this. We’ve all seen teams with incredible talent underachieve because there was no team chemistry.
  • They have fun together. If you watched the NBA Finals this year, did you notice which team was having more fun? You could say, yeah, the Warriors were winning, so that’s why they were having more fun. That’s true as well, but I just don’t think the Cavs enjoyed playing together like the Warriors did. Either way, great teams have fun together. It’s important. Schedule time for fun.
  • They know what’s important. No one has to guess what they are trying to achieve. I’m a Tennessee Vols fan, and when our coach, Butch Jones, made his “Champions of Life” comment, I just shook my head. I get the big picture of what he was trying to say, but as a fan, you want your team to win championships. Does everyone on your team know what’s most important?
  • There’s good communication. On the playing field, often teammates can just look at each other and know what the other is thinking. That’s a sign of great communication. Does your team have that, or is everyone left in the dark? Good communication builds trust among a team.
  • They put the team first. There is no “I” in team, right? Good teams share common goals. They win together, and they lose together. If you have someone on your team who’s always trying to do his own thing, you need to have a tough conversation.
  • They’re willing to sacrifice. Greatness doesn’t come easily. Success is hard work. Those who find it are those who are willing to spend the time to practice and prepare. They’re also willing to put their personal desires aside for the betterment of the team. I believe God blesses those who are willing to work hard.

Here’s the good news for small town churches. You can have a great team in a small market. Look at the San Antonio Spurs. They had an incredible run because of great coaching, team chemistry, and player development. Your church can do the same if you’re willing to put in the work.

Who’s your favorite sports team? Do they have the characteristics of a great team? Why or why not? Leave a comment and let us know, and take ten seconds to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Creating a Leadership Development Climate

One of the more positive trends happening in the church today is a focus on leadership development. The problem is, very few have figured out how to do it well. That includes the church I serve, and we’ve been talking about it for years now. So, this summer I was excited to read John Maxwell’s book, Developing the Leaders Around You. I took a ton of notes, enough for a six part series on leadership development that I would love to share with you. Let’s start by learning how to create a leadership development climate.

Where I live, if you were to walk into most of the churches, it would be pretty obvious that leadership development isn’t happening. That’s not a shot at those churches because many of them have great pastors and some great volunteers.

But in most cases they’re not developing leaders. They may be developing doers, those who do some kind of volunteer work, but not leaders.

And that’s a big problem because when the church doesn’t have leaders, the church doesn’t grow.

Sure, they may get to a hundred in attendance and a few who have great preachers may even get to two hundred, but it’s almost impossible to grow past that number without good leadership.

Maxwell says, An organization’s growth potential is directly related to its personnel potential.

This is why leadership development is so important. In fact, if you’re pastoring a church, I would say that acquiring and developing people is your most important task.

And it’s up to you to set the climate for leadership development. What you value, your congregation will learn to value. So, you have to develop the climate.

Here are a few ways you can do that.

  1. Model leadership development. No one else is going to develop leaders until you start developing leaders. What you model, they will follow.
  2. Call out the potential within people. Most people won’t see themselves as leaders. This is especially true in small towns, so you have to see what they can’t. Then pull it out of them.
  3. Show that you care. You’ve heard it said a hundred times, no one cares what you know until they know that you care. Find out their desires and needs, and help meet them.
  4. Take the focus off positions and titles. Jesus made it very clear that we are to be servants. The people we lead do not serve us, we serve them.
  5. Provide opportunities for growth. Sometimes I forget that the majority of people in my church don’t know of all the great resources available to them. One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is, “What does this person need to grow?”
  6. Make the hard decisions. Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to become a leader will have the desire or commitment level needed to accomplish it. There will be times when you need to stop investing in them in order to better invest in others.
  7. Never stop growing yourself. I’ll say this again, what you model, the people will follow. If you become satisfied with where you are, don’t be surprised if people become satisfied with where they are. You set the pace for your church, so continually invest in yourself.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the climate you’re setting. Your attitude and a positive atmosphere can encourage people to accomplish great things.

How many of these things are you doing in your church? Are you seeing it pay off? 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.

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.