How to Make the Most of Your Time

Without doing the calculations or using Google, I want you to guess how many minutes make up one week. I’ll give you just a few more moments. Some of you are refusing to answer, and some of you have already looked ahead. Shame on you both.

For those of you who played along, how many of you guessed 10,080 minutes?

That seems like a lot, doesn’t it? So, why is it that we feel so strapped for time?

Why is it our spouse and kids are always saying we don’t spend enough time with them?

Why is it we’re always scrambling on the weekend to get our work done?

Why is it that there always seems to be these elite few that are capable of getting done two to three times as much as the average person?

Because most of us don’t have a time problem, we have a time management problem.

And once we learn how to manage our time, our families will be happier, we’ll feel less stress, and we’ll be more productive.

Here’s how you get started:

  1. Schedule the Important. My pastor always says this, “You can tell what a person values by looking at their calendar and their checkbook.” All of us will say our marriage is one of the most important things in our life, but how often do you and your spouse go on a date? We’ll say we want our kids to love Jesus, but how often do we sit down with them to read the Bible and pray? The disconnect between what we say is important and how we actually live our lives causes the frustration we feel. If it’s important to you, it better be on your schedule.
  2. Learn to Say No. If you’re going to be able to schedule the important, you’re going to have to say no to a lot of other things, which is hard for pastors who are people pleasers. Just keep in mind when you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to something else. If you’re spending five nights a week at the church, that’s five nights a week you aren’t home with your family. If you have to make every hospital visitation, you’re probably going to end up missing some of your kids’ ball games. Many pastors have lost their families because they said yes to the demands of the church, which in turn meant saying no to their family.
  3. Give Yourself Deadlines. Don’t allow yourself to procrastinate. If the sermon is supposed to be done by Thursday, don’t wait till Thursday to start working on it. “But you don’t understand I keep getting interrupted and things happen,” see number 2 above. If you’re supposed to work till 5pm each day, don’t be getting home at 7pm. Form some deadlines, and stick to them.
  4. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate. The three suggestions above get so much easier if you learn to delegate. Write down the three or four most important things you do, and then delegate the rest. I believe it was John Maxwell who said, “If someone can do it 80% as good as you, let them do it.” If you’re mowing the church lawn, stop it! If you’re doing the church maintenance, stop it! If you’re doing all the visitation, stop it! Delegate those tasks out. Let someone else get the blessing.

I’m convinced that time management is one of the biggest differences between average leaders and great leaders. If you can learn how to do this well, you will see a huge difference in your church, but more importantly in your home.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your time management skills? Have you mastered this skill, or do you find yourself feeling frustrated? Leave a comment and let me know. While you’re here make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

4 Ways to Jump Start Growth

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

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

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

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

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

Two Secrets of a Healthy Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Tips on Church Growth

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

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

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

8 Steps to Creating a Contagious Volunteer Culture

How many of you are fans of Apple, not the fruit, the company that makes the iPhone? I became a fan several years ago because of my senior pastor. He bragged and bragged about their products, until I finally broke down and got the iPhone, then an iPad, then an iMac, and eventually a Macbook. Over the years I’ve fallen in love with their products, but I have to admit something…there are other companies that make products as good, if not better, than Apple. I don’t keep buying Apple products because they’re necessarily the best. I keep buying because of the culture Apple has created.

Samuel Chand says, “Culture is the strongest force in any organization. The best way to understand culture is the statement: This is how we do things here.”

It goes without saying that culture is a big deal when you’re trying to sell something. In fact one of the new sayings the church has adopted from the business world is “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

So, if you’re having a hard time getting people to serve in the church, then you may want to take a long hard look at your culture.

If it’s not working for you, you may want to try these eight steps to create a contagious volunteer culture.

  1. Raise Awareness. Ephesians 4:12 says that Jesus gave pastors the job of equipping His followers to do ministry. That means ministry isn’t something only pastors do, ministry is something we all do. Each of us has a ministry. You need to make sure people are aware of this.
  2. Have a Compelling Vision. Your vision should not only excite you, it should excite others. When my pastor was talking about the latest Apple product, he did it with excitement, which peaked my interest. Not sure what your vision is? Check out this post to help discover it.
  3. Tap a Shoulder. Many pastors ask for volunteers from the stage and have limited success. Don’t stop asking from the stage, but teach your leaders to tap a shoulder. You are ten times more likely to gain a volunteer from a one on one conversation than you are from asking from the stage.
  4. Develop Leaders. Speaking of leaders, you need to take time to develop them. They need to own the vision and be able to communicate it clearly to potential volunteers. The best leaders are those who have influence and a positive attitude.
  5. Change the Language. Try to never say the word need. For example, never say we need more nursery workers. Instead of needs, you have opportunities. We have an amazing opportunity for you to love on some babies. Also, try to avoid saying, “I have to serve today.” Instead develop a culture of saying, “I get to serve today.” There’s a big difference.
  6. Create Job Descriptions. Many people hesitate to volunteer because they are uncertain of what’s required. Job descriptions eliminate this issue. If you don’t have time to develop your own, send me a message, and I’ll send you ours.
  7. Offer a Trial Period. Another reason people hesitate to serve is because they’re afraid they’ll be stuck doing something they don’t enjoy. You can get around this by offering trial periods. I would make the trial period no longer than 3 months. Anything longer than that starts to give people anxiety.
  8. Show You Care. One of the worst things you can do is recruit a new volunteer and never follow up with them. Don’t make this mistake. Make sure you develop a system to check on new volunteers periodically and show them you care.

What would you add to this list? Let me know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget about the Small Town Big Church Coaching Network launching this fall. You can find out all the details here.

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.

How to Become a Leader

Basics - Leadership

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been blogging now for almost two years. In the early days of the blog, I covered some church issues that I deemed The Basics. It was foundational things that I felt every small town pastor should know–things like service times, websites, kid’s ministry, etc. It seemed only fitting that since we’ve been talking so much about leadership development that I do a post on the basics of becoming a leader.

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, here, here, and here.

Leadership can be complicated, but becoming a leader doesn’t have to be.

Actually, it’s very simple.

There are really only three things required.

  1. The desire to become a leader. This one seems like the easiest of the requirements, but I’ve been learning this desire is becoming harder and harder to find, at least within my church. The thing is your desire largely determines your leadership potential, and yet desire is the one thing that can’t be taught.
  2. The ability to build relationships. Leadership is all about getting people to go in a direction you set. So, you’d better have good relational skills. For some people this comes easily, for others it’s something they’ll always have to work at. The good news is anyone can get better at it if they desire.
  3. The ability to learn leadership skills and put them into practice. You can learn a lot about leadership through books, blogs, and podcasts, but the best way to learn is through an experienced leader. They will be able to teach you what works best in your environment and, hopefully, help you avoid a lot of the same mistakes they made.

If you’re interested in growing as a leader, I’m looking at doing some coaching for small town pastors beginning this fall. If you’d like more information about that you can leave a comment below or send me an email through my contact page. I’d love to hear about how I can serve you better.