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…

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.

7 Traits of a Successful Coach

In my last post, we discussed what it looks like to be a part of a winning team. They care for one another, they communicate well, and they put the team’s needs before their own. All of those things are great, but we all know, if a team is going to be successful, they have to have a great coach. So, how do we know if we’re doing a good job coaching our team?

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, and here.

If you look at great leaders and coaches, whether they’re serving on the football field, basketball court, or leading a church, they all have similar traits that I believe make them successful.

  1. They choose their players well. This doesn’t mean they always choose the most talented players, but they always choose the best players that fit within their team. They’re great at identifying strengths and weaknesses and filling those gaps.
  2. They’re great at communication. They know in order for their team to execute the game plan, they have to be great at communicating it. They also have to be great at inspiring their team. If you can’t get your team excited, you’re going to have a hard time winning. Great coaches are great communicators.
  3. They’re not afraid to make adjustments. The Atlanta Falcons held a 21-3 lead over the New England Patriots in the 2017 Super Bowl and ended up losing the game. Why? Half-time adjustments from a great coach. How often are you evaluating what’s working and not working in your church? Great coaches are willing to make the adjustments that will give them the best chance to win.
  4. They’re problem solvers. If you’re pastoring a church, you’re going to have problems. Some will come from people on your team, some will come from people in your church, and some will even come from people outside your church. Your ability to make the right decisions at the right time will go a long way in determining your success.
  5. They provide support and encouragement. When’s the last time you sent a thank you letter to someone on your team? If it’s been more than a week, you need to stop reading and start writing. Your team needs to know you care about them and you’re there for them.
  6. They earn the players respect. If you’re lazy, the team is not going to respect you. If you’re not trustworthy, the team is not going to respect you. If you’re not willing to make hard decisions, the team is not going to respect you. Don’t think because you have a title you deserve respect. Respect always has to be earned.
  7. They know how to delegate. John Maxwell says, “Learning how to delegate effectively is the most powerful tool any coach has.” Your time and expertise is limited, which means you’ll need to bring other people around you to help accomplish your vision. The best coaches know they can’t do it by themselves.

Take a minute and look back over this list and evaluate yourself. How would you rate yourself as a coach? Are there areas you need to work on?

Sometimes the best thing we can do is get coaching ourselves. I plan on doing some coaching for small town pastors in the near future. If you’d like more information on that, please leave a comment or send me a message through my contact page and I’ll keep you updated.

Six Steps to Equipping Leaders

I think if I had to pick the area that I feel like I’ve failed at the most as a pastor, it would be equipping leaders, for a couple of different reasons. One, I’ve always been self-motivated, and I’ve expected others to be also. Two, equipping is an ongoing process that takes time and consistency. I’ve often gotten caught up in the day-to-day operations of a church and dropped the ball on leadership development.

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 first two posts in the series here and here.

Those are my excuses, and I’m sure you have yours. Regardless of what those excuses are, I think we can all agree if you want to lead a growing church, you have to prioritize leadership development.

And not just for a season. That’s a mistake we’ve made. You think, ok, I’ve done this yearlong training. Now, we’re ready to take the next step as a church, but as soon as you stop equipping, your leaders start slipping.

They forget the vision of the church. They forget the why behind the what. They turn insider focused. And before long you’re taking two steps back, for every one step forward.

At least that has been some of my experience.

So, we know equipping leaders has to be a priority within our churches. Now, where do we start?

I think we need to focus on these six areas.

  1. Build Relationships. You have to have a relationship with those you lead. Otherwise, they aren’t going to follow you. Relationships not only build trust, but they help you to identify their potential strengths as well as weaknesses.
  2. Share the Vision. Don’t assume people know what you know or feel how you feel. Share your dreams and your heart every chance you get. When people hear what motivates you, they will be more likely to help you achieve your dreams.
  3. Ask for Commitment. John Maxwell says, “Commitment is the one quality above all others that enables a potential leader to become a successful leader.” This is something I’ve often avoided because I feared it would scare people away. Yet, what I’ve learned is it’s better for them to be scared off on the front end than quit in the middle.
  4. Set Goals for Them. People want to know if they’re being successful. Don’t keep them guessing. Give them goals that will stretch them but won’t overwhelm them. Small wins build momentum.
  5. Provide Training and Tools for Success. Don’t just tell them how to do something, show them. Then have them do it in front of you, and give feedback. People learn by doing. Also, spend some money on things like books and resources you can give them to develop their leadership. It wouldn’t hurt to even introduce them to blogs like this one.
  6. Check Up on Them. When it comes to equipping leaders, your job is never done. Even after you’ve given them goals and the training and tools to achieve them, they still need to be checked up on periodically. If they’re doing well, encourage them. If not, then give them some feedback on how they can get better.

If you will make the commitment to do all six of these things to equip your leaders, I can almost guarantee you’ll see results. And when leadership grows within your church, your church is able to grow with it.

How are you equipping leaders within your church? What would you add to this list? Let us know by leaving a comment and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Leadership = Influence

If you’ve never read a book by John Maxwell, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. He has more leadership knowledge in his big toe than I have in my entire body. I’ve never met him, and probably never will, and yet he’s had a tremendous influence on my life.

In Maxwell’s book, The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day, he says, “Leadership impact increases as influence increases.”

There’s no place that leadership is more important than the local church because the church works primarily through volunteers.

We don’t have the leverage that other organizations do. We’re not offering a salary and benefits.

As pastors and ministry leaders, we have to rely solely on our leadership and influence.

If the leader has no influence with the people they’re trying to lead, then they’re never going to follow.

It’s one thing to be obedient to God. We should certainly do what He says, but for leaders, obedience isn’t enough.

You need people to help accomplish the vision God’s given you, and if you can’t get people to follow you, then you’re going to fail your mission.

So, with that in mind, let me share with you a few thoughts on leadership and influence.

  • Leadership is Influence

Think about it. Leadership is about getting people to follow you. The only way you do that is through influence. The more influence you have the easier it will be to get people to follow you.

  • Our Influence can be Positive or Negative

You already know this. That’s why we’re so concerned about who our kids are hanging out with. You should be just as concerned about who’s leading in your church, especially in kids’ ministry, student ministry, and small groups. A lot of church splits happen because of someone using their influence in a negative way.

  • Good Leaders use their Influence to Add Value

Whenever I write a blog or post to social media, I’m thinking how can I add value to someone else. Otherwise, what’s the point? Before you look to get something out of people, you need to make sure you’ve done a great job pouring into people.

  • With Influence Comes Responsibility

Remember the story about the twelve spies sent into the Promise Land? Caleb and Joshua said we can take the land, but the other ten disagreed and started a rebellion. Their negative influence resulted in every one of their followers dying in the wilderness. Don’t take your influence lightly.

Remember, influence takes time. So, if you’re the new pastor at a church or the new leader of a ministry, it may take some time before people are ready to follow you. Don’t let that discourage you. Be willing to put in the effort it takes to become a great leader.

What are you currently doing to increase your influence? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 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.

5 Types of Pastors Who Fail

Depending on which study you look at, anywhere between 7,000-10,000 churches close each year in America. There are, of course, a variety of reasons why, but leadership has to be at the top of the list. Many pastors just don’t have the skills or desire to learn what it takes to lead a church in an ever-changing culture.

In many cases these pastors have made a good living doing what they’ve always done, so they’ve had very little incentive to change. In my experience a lot of them are doing much better financially than even pastors of growing churches.

The situation only becomes worse when the only accountability they have is to the church they serve. So, as long as they have good relationships with their congregation, they’ll always have a job.

These pastors look successful, but I’m afraid they’re setting their church up for failure.

From what I’ve studied and witnessed, the pastors usually fall into one of these five categories.

  1. The Seeker

The seeker is always looking for a pat on the back. They love to be recognized and praised. Often they are great at pastoral care because it gives them the approval they are seeking.

  1. The Lazy

There’s absolutely no excuse for being a lazy pastor. I hate that I even have to write about this, but the truth is they do exist. When there’s low accountability, some pastors will become lazy.

  1. The Avoider

This one I can much more relate with. Having hard conversations and making difficult decisions isn’t fun, so some pastors will avoid it all together. If you choose to be this pastor, you’re no longer leading.

  1. The Ignorant

Something we say in the south when we insult someone is “bless their heart.” For example, that pastor doesn’t know what they’re doing, bless their heart. Some just don’t have the basic skills it takes to lead a church.

  1. The Burned

Some pastors have tried their best to lead, and yet they’ve been worn down in the process. You go through enough of this, and it’s not uncommon to just give up. The path of least resistance may not be what’s best for the church, but at least you’ll keep your job.

There has to be something bigger that drives us, otherwise these numbers are just going to get worse and worse.

We can’t be content with where we are in the present when the future of the American church is at stake.

What are you doing to set your church up for success in the future? Share your thoughts below and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Six Reasons Our Marriage Has Worked

Cowrote by Samantha Stephens

This post was originally written for the LifeTravelers blog here.

This past December my wife and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I take that back. Our anniversary is on December 16th, and I’m pretty sure we hung out at home that night. We actually celebrated a couple months earlier with an all-inclusive trip to Cancun without the kids.

Now, I realize ten years isn’t really that long, but statistics show couples are more likely to get divorced within the first ten years of their marriage than at any other time.

Marriage statistics vary and are constantly changing, but from what I have found, it looks like around 35% of first marriages fail to make it at least ten years. I say first marriages because statistics get worse with each subsequent marriage.

So, what do I know that 35% of couples don’t?

Probably not much, that’s why I asked my wife to weigh in on the subject.

Here are the six things she believes has contributed to our success.

  1. Open Communication

Being able to tell your spouse exactly how you feel and why is vital to the success of your marriage. We weren’t great at this the first year or two of our marriage. We both had a tendency to hold things in until it created a much bigger problem. Over time we built up trust with one another and have become comfortable sharing exactly how we feel without becoming angry at each other.

  1. Realistic Expectations

As much as my wife would love for me to be more romantic and affectionate, she realizes it’s not how I’m wired. This doesn’t mean I should never try. It just means that she’s not holding me to a standard that I’ll never achieve. Putting unrealistic expectations on your spouse always sets you up for disappointment.

  1. Putting Your Spouse First

There’s a verse in the book of Philippians that my wife lives out. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself. She’s incredible at this. A lot of couples that have kids make the mistake of putting the kids first instead of their spouse. This can seem to make sense in the moment, but it’s a terrible idea and can lead to a lot of problems in the marriage.

  1. Have Fun

This seems so simple, right? But most marriages fail because the couple stopped having fun together. I don’t like spending money, and fun often comes at a cost. I’ve learned the importance of putting fun in the budget. We enjoy going to the movies. We’ll see a couple of concerts this summer, and we try to take a mini vacation by ourselves every year. Those things add up, but it’s a lot cheaper than a divorce.

  1. Take Divorce Off the Table

From our initial engagement, my wife and I have been adamant that divorce would never be an option for us. I know most couples say that, we meant it. When you take divorce off the table, you have no choice but to work things out. So, we’ve never allowed ourselves to even bring up the word divorce in arguments. We’ve also tried to always sleep in the same bed even when we’re angry at one another. This hasn’t always worked, but we try.

  1. Umm…Lots of “Alone Time”

This is a bit awkward to bring up, but my wife insists. And she’s right, sex is really important in a marriage. We have confirmed it through every couples small group we’ve even been a part of. Husbands almost always want more sex than they are currently getting, and wives almost always want more romance than they are currently getting. When you don’t get this part of your relationship right, it can have devastating effects as people start looking for that intimacy somewhere else.

This is in no way a complete list of why our marriage has worked. There are a lot of other factors that go into it, most importantly our relationship with God. But, hopefully, this will give you a few ideas you can use to improve your marriage.

How have you managed to prioritize your marriage while working in ministry? I’d love to hear your suggestions 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.

How I Should Be Organizing My Time

I have a confession to make. I’m not putting into practice everything I write about. That’s not to say I don’t believe in it, it’s just easier said than done sometimes. For instance, I think people who wake up before 5am get more accomplished. However, after trying it for about a year, I decided to go back to sleeping in. This is going to be one of those posts. I’m not currently doing this, but the plan is to put this in place very soon. In fact, this post is as much for me as it is for you.

Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t get much accomplished. I’m easily distracted. I can be lazy at times. And I like the dream a whole lot more than doing what it takes to accomplish the dream.

Even while writing this, I’m thinking about how I wish I could be watching Netflix right now.

Discipline is difficult for me, and the more people I talk to, it seems that I’m not alone in that statement.

Yet, if you want to accomplish anything significant in your life, you have to be disciplined.

And since it doesn’t come naturally to me, I need to develop a checklist to live by. Otherwise, there are going to be things I’m going to miss or forget or ignore.

I’m going to encourage you to do the same. Here’s what the breakdown might look like for me.

Daily

Personal

  • Read the Bible/Devotional.
  • Pray
  • Spend 30 minutes playing with my kids.
  • Spend 30 minutes in conversation with my wife.
  • Spend 30 minutes reading a book.
  • Exercise (Ha, I said this was hypothetical, right?)

Professional

  • Post to social media.
  • Respond to email.
  • Send an encouraging text.
  • Various other job related duties

My day-to-day work duties change quite a bit, so it’s going to be necessary for me to create a different list for each day.

Weekly

Personal

  • Help around the house.
  • Mow the yard.
  • Go to the grocery store.

Professional

  • Send three thank you cards to volunteers.
  • Meet with my senior pastor.
  • Host a small group.

Monthly

Personal

  • Take my spouse on a date.
  • Have a family day.
  • Pay the bills.

Professional

  • Meet with the elders.
  • Have lunch with a staff member or key volunteer.
  • Evaluate my weekly and daily checklist.

Yearly

Personal

  • Take a family vacation.
  • Take a mini vacation with my wife.
  • Set goals for the new year.
  • Create my budget.

Professional

  • Set goals for the new year.
  • Celebrate last year’s wins.
  • Look for ways to improve.

It’s going to take some time to put all of this together. I’m sure I’ll need to make some adjustments along the way, but in the end I think it will be worth it.

Do you use any kind of checklist? How do you stay accountable to yourself? I’d love to know the secret so leave a comment below. Also don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.