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.

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.