The Why and How of Volunteer Central

At the beginning of this year, we turned our largely unsuccessful “Next Steps” room into “Volunteer Central.” I realize it’s only been a few months, but I’ve been very pleased with the results. So much so, that I would say if you don’t have a designated space for volunteers in your church, you should make one.

Here are a few reasons why.

  1. It fosters community.

Before we created a centralized location for volunteers, they largely just showed up and went to their designated areas. They had relationships with those they served with, but that’s about it. By creating a central location, you cross paths with people you wouldn’t have before. This not only creates community, but it also creates unity within your church.

  1. It centralizes communication.

In our volunteer central room, we have copies of every ministry schedule for volunteers to take with them. We also have a board that displays all these schedules. If a volunteer isn’t sure when the next time they serve is, all they have to do is look at the board.

  1. It shows appreciation.

There’s something special about having a room with your name on it, especially a room that has perks, which we’ll talk about it in the how section. If you’re going to keep volunteers motivated, they have to feel appreciated.

Now here are the important pieces of the how.

You need a room.

If you don’t have a room, you at least need a couple of tables in a corner of a room. But a room is certainly preferred. Most churches have rooms they’re not using or rooms they’re not using wisely.

You need a leader.

This piece is really important. You need a leader or leaders that set the tone for church that day. We have an amazing couple that has been doing ministry for years. They’re highly relational, really passionate, and love to serve others. This is what you’re looking for in a leader for this ministry.

You need a way to get people to show up.

A room with a leader and some volunteer schedules gets boring quickly. It’s going to take more than that to get people to keep showing up week after week. So, you’re at least going to need some food. We’ve had everything from granola bars to bacon and pancakes. Nothing gets people to show up like food. In addition to that, we do a monthly drawing for random prizes that are displayed throughout the month. It may cost a couple hundred dollars a month, but your volunteers are worth it.

In addition to retaining the volunteers you already have serving, this is a great way to recruit new volunteers as well. People start smelling bacon frying, and they’ll be waiting at the door to sign up.

Do you have something similar for volunteers at your church? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let me know, and 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 Keys to Empowering Leaders

The word empower is deceiving. It sounds real fancy, yet the definition is so simplistic: to give someone the authority or power to do something. Regardless, if you want to grow a church, you are going to have to empower some leaders.

I’ve been an executive pastor for just over six years. During that time the church I serve has doubled in attendance and doubled in locations.

When I started in the position, I oversaw just about every ministry in the church. Now, I personally don’t oversee any ministry. Instead, I oversee a group of leaders both paid and volunteer who oversee each ministry.

It’s been quite the transition for me personally. I miss being closely connected to each ministry, but our church wouldn’t be where it is today had I not empowered some other people to lead.

Through the years I’ve learned some things through my own experience, as well through books, blogs, and others’ experiences as well.

Here’s what I’ve found. Empowerment done well has five key components.

  1. Train Them

Don’t make the mistake of just throwing someone in a position without first training them. I understand there are some things you can’t train, but train them on the core competencies of the position. Far too many leaders have failed because they never got the training they needed.

  1. Trust Them

If you place a leader in a position, you should trust them to fulfill it. You should be their biggest supporter. For their success or failure is not just their responsibility, it’s shared by you. Yes, it requires risk, but it’s a risk worth taking.

  1. Communicate the Expectations

Andy Stanley calls this defining the win. What does a win look like for the student ministry? If you don’t clearly communicate it, don’t be surprised when you and the student pastor aren’t on the same page. Expectations should be set and agreed upon up front.

  1. Give them Authority

This one’s a tough one for me because I don’t always like giving people control. Yet, it’s necessary for people to feel empowered. Just know people are going to make mistakes. When they do, resist the urge to take back the control, and use it as a teachable moment.

  1. Encourage Them

Think back to the first person that gave you a chance to serve in ministry. Maybe it was that first opportunity to preach or that first opportunity to sing. Remember what it felt like for someone to believe in you. That’s the type of support you want to give to those you empower. Help them through their struggles, and celebrate the victories together.

Empowering people means you believe in them. Just like so many people believed in you and me all those years ago. Empowerment is a beautiful thing when it’s done right. So, what are you waiting for?

Who was the first person to empower you? I’d love to hear that story. Share it in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog for tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Going Pro

Inside Elevation - Session Two

In March, I was able to attend the Inside Elevation conference hosted by Elevation Church. It was a great experience for our entire team, and as always, the main sessions led by Steven Furtick were the highlight for me. Steven Furtick is an incredible leader and has great insights for churches of any size. If you weren’t able to be there this year, no worries, I’ve got you covered. If you missed Session One notes, you can find them here.

Going Pro

Whether you’re a volunteer or a full time staff member at a church, you can still act like a pro.

In this session Pastor Steven unpacked the differences between pros and amateurs.

  1. Pros give themselves to the process. Amateurs are always looking for the promotion.

If you will plow, God will promote. You have to crucify your need for credit. Pros don’t confuse credit with contribution. I can enjoy the win, even if I don’t get the credit. Do you want to be a part of a winning team, or do you have to be the star? Process reveals potential.

  1. Pros produce. Amateurs project.

Pros get the job done no matter what obstacles are in the way. Amateurs always have excuses. Well, I would’ve had that done, but so and so didn’t show up so it didn’t happen. Amateurs always project the blame onto someone or something else other than themselves.

  1. Pros view correction as an investment. Amateurs make you pay for correcting them.

Pros view correction as a compliment because they want to get better. Amateurs hate correction because nothing is ever their fault. Some of the greatest athletes in the world have trainers and coaches. When someone stops correcting you, that’s when you should be worried because that means they’ve given up on you.

  1. Pros submit their personality to their purpose. Amateurs submit their purpose to their personality.

Stop saying, that’s just the way I am. We don’t give anyone else a pass like that. That may be the way you are, but you should want to get better. I’m an introvert but not on Sunday mornings. You may have a temper, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a jerk to everyone. Get better!

  1. Pros know parameters and work within them. Amateurs are always asking permission.

Pros save you a lot of time because they know how you think and what you like. Amateurs take up your time because they can’t be trusted to think for themselves. You can tell a pro a broad idea and they’ll run with it, but you have to give an amateur step-by-step instruction.

Be on the lookout for my notes from Session Three next week, but in the meantime, what would you add to this session? Let us know by leaving a comment, and make sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out on church leadership tips delivered to your inbox each week.

One Big Mistake Rural Churches Make

And How You Can Fix It

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before. We really need to fire _______, but we’re worried because his/her parents are one of our biggest givers. Or so and so is never prepared, but if we say anything, it’s going to cause a bunch of drama. So, we end up doing nothing, and everyone else suffers.

Larry Osborne said it this way, It is not loving to kill the flock while you’re trying to be nice to one lamb.

Yet, rural churches make this mistake over and over again.

And I get it, because when you lead a small rural church, you can’t afford to make too many mistakes. Because of this, we tend to lead out of fear.

Here’s what I mean.

When you have a budget of $100,000, it’s really hard to make a decision that may cause a $10,000 a year giver to leave.

When you have 100 people attending your church, it’s really hard to make a decision that may cause 20 people to leave.

And it’s easy for people like me to tell you what to do, but it’s you who has to live with the aftermath of that decision.

So, let me just say I know it isn’t easy, and I know what it’s like to lead out of fear. I’m not sure that ever fully goes away, at least not for pastors in small towns.

But I also know the cost of not acting when you should, and the benefits of overcoming your fear and going through with those hard decisions.

So, if you have someone in a position right now, paid or volunteer, that may need to be removed, I want to give you a five step process to go through with them that gives them the best chance at success and gives you the opportunity to say I did everything I could to keep them.

  1. Reality Check

More often than not, people do not realize how they are doing. This is because most of us have never sat down and had a conversation with them about it. Many of us just hope and pray it gets better. You may have figured out that that strategy does not work. You have to let them know things aren’t going well, and they need to change.

  1. Ongoing Support

Let them know you are willing to do everything you can to help them succeed. If they have questions, ask you. If they need resources, you’ll get them. You are going to do everything you can to keep them in that position, and if that fails, they can’t say it was because they didn’t have your support.

  1. Timeline

It could be 30, 60, or 90 days. I wouldn’t suggest going past 90 because that’s a long time to let a ministry suffer. This is the window of time you’re giving them to change, and you’re providing your support during this entire time.

  1. Ongoing Evaluation

In order to make sure they are on the right path, you are going to meet with them throughout this timeline. It could be every week or every other week. I wouldn’t meet less often than that. During this time, you’re there to provide feedback on the progress that is or isn’t being made.

  1. Deadline

At the end of the timeline, there’s a deadline. Either they made the changes that needed to be made and you’re happy to go forward with them, or they didn’t and you’re going to have to make a change. Ultimately whatever happens here, it was up to them. They made their own decision.

Letting someone go is never easy, even if it’s a volunteer. You know his or her family, you run into them at restaurants, your kids go to school together. It’s hard in a small town.

But, sometimes it’s necessary to protect the vision of the church and the people they influence.

Have you ever had to fire someone? How did you go about it? 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.

They Came, They Served, They Gave, They Left

Recently, I received a message from one of our staff members informing me that a person in our church had decided to start visiting other churches. In a church our size this isn’t uncommon, people come and go all the time. A lot of the times we don’t even notice because the person never got connected, but this family was different.

This family had been with us for a couple of years, many of them were serving on volunteer teams, they had been a part of a small group, and they even tithed.

They did everything you want a church attender to do. They were connected in every possible way, and yet it still wasn’t enough to keep them.

To be honest, I never even replied back to the staff member’s text because I was so frustrated.

Do you ever have days like that in ministry?

There are so many times that I just stop and think, “Are we even making a difference?”

Because we’re giving everything we got, and people in our church are still leaving, they’re still getting divorced, they’re still getting drunk, they’re still getting arrested, they’re still not serving, they’re still not getting in groups, and they certainly aren’t tithing.

And like many other nights, I went to bed frustrated and stressed out.

Then I went to church the next Sunday, and we had a big crowd on a bad weather day, and we had a pretty good offering, and we saw six people take their next step with Jesus by getting baptized.

And this scripture came to my mind,

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

Forgive me if I take Paul’s words out of context, but I believe God was trying to tell me and maybe you that you can’t concentrate on the ones who have left you, you have to focus on the ones who want to take the journey with you.

Stop looking at what you’ve lost, and start moving forward with what you have.

The band Little Texas said it this way,

I try not to think about what might have been

Cause that was then and

We have taken different roads

We can’t go back again

There’s no use giving in

And there’s no way to know

What might have been

If you can’t find an illustration in the scriptures, just consult your old school country catalog.

God has something great He wants to do in your church.

Don’t get caught wasting time, thinking about what might have been.

How do you handle people leaving your church? Does it still hurt, or have you got used to it? 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.

Top Posts of 2016

2016 was an incredible year for me. My church launched a second campus, my wife and I celebrated ten years of marriage, and I went to Africa. So forgive me if I’m not quite ready to move onto 2017 just yet.

Before we move forward, let’s take a look back at the Top 10 Posts of 2016.

  1. 4 Types of Pastoral Leadership – What type of pastor are you? Are you a shepherd, teacher, entrepreneur, or administrator?
  1. Talent Isn’t Enough – But if you combine talent with knowledge, work ethic, and character, you have something special.
  1. Confessions of an Adulterous Pastor – An incredible guest post from my friend Jon Sanders, every pastor needs to read.
  1. Planning a Church Service – The basics of what my church service looks like. This is the same plan that grew my church from 70 to 700.
  1. Small Town Church Growth – The post that started it all continues to be one of the top read posts each year.
  1. A Christmas Conundrum – Do you have church on Christmas Sunday? If you cancel does it mean you hate baby Jesus?
  1. 4 Ways to Say I Love My Church – My favorite post I’ve ever written. I’m convinced if Christians would just do these four things our world would be a much better place.
  1. 5 Shots to Revitalize a Dying Church – Is your church stagnant or in decline? This post will give you some ideas on how to turn it around.
  1. The Best and Worst Ways to Recruit Volunteers – Having a hard time recruiting volunteers? We have too, here’s some ideas that my help.
  1. 5 Stages of Church Growth – Conception, baby, child, adult, and senior adult, what stage is your church in?

What was your favorite post of 2016? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church leadership, growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Building A Firm Foundation

When you think about your church, who makes up the foundation? Jesus is the simple answer, and I don’t disagree with that, but what about after Jesus? Is it the pastor, the board, the staff, the prayer warriors? I don’t think it’s any of those people. I think the foundation of every church is the volunteers.

orgchart

Seth Godin recently wrote a post titled, It’s not the bottom, it’s the foundation.

The post begins with this statement,

Organizations are built on the work of people who don’t get paid very much, don’t receive sufficient respect and are understandably wary of the promises they’ve been hearing for years.”

I believe we could rewrite that statement for some churches.

“Churches are built on the work of people who don’t get paid at all, don’t receive enough appreciation, and who all too often feel taken advantage of.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way you can build a firm foundation.

  1. You can care about your volunteers. I mean really care about them, and not just what they can do for you. That starts with learning their names then moves to learning about their families, then their hurts, and their hopes. That takes time, and if you don’t have it, make sure someone on your team is doing it.
  1. You can appreciate your volunteers. Telling your volunteers you love and appreciate them from the stage is good, but a handwritten thank you goes a lot farther. Sometimes you may even want to put a gift card in that thank you for those who are going above and beyond. Then at least once or twice a year, gather all your volunteers together for a big celebration.
  1. You can communicate with your volunteers. One of the biggest complaints churches get from volunteers is that no one is communicating with them. Not only should you be reminding your volunteers when it’s their turn to serve, you also can make them feel important by letting them know what’s coming up in the church before you tell the rest of the congregation.
  1. You can adequately train your volunteers. Another common complaint churches hear from volunteers is they don’t feel they have enough training to do the job. This is one of the quickest ways to lose volunteers. It’s always wise to let a potential volunteer shadow an experienced volunteer for a time until they feel they’re ready.
  1. You can recruit more volunteers. There are a few special people in the world who are able to serve week in and week out without needing a break. Most people aren’t like that. They need breaks, which means they need someone to fill in when they’re not there. You can help alleviate their concerns by continually focusing on recruiting more volunteers.

Volunteers aren’t the bottom of the org chart. They’re the foundation of everything you do as a church. If you want a healthy church, you have to start with a firm foundation.

I’d love to hear about what you’re doing to appreciate volunteers in your church. Make sure to scroll down, and leave a comment. Also, make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Is Your Church Average?

I’m a big fan of Tony Morgan. If you’re not familiar with him, Tony is a church consultant and blogger who started a company called The Unstuck Group that is dedicated to helping churches get healthy. Several years ago, we brought Tony into our church and his insight was incredible. I highly recommend it. This week I got an email from him with some interesting statistics.

averagechurch

Did you know the average church has…

  • 59% of people in small groups or studies?
  • 45% of people on volunteer teams?
  • 7% of people baptized each year?
  • $43 given by the average person each week?
  • 1 staff member for every 77 attendees?

It didn’t take long for me to realize that my church isn’t average. Here’s what our numbers look like this year.

  • 30% of people in small groups or studies.

It’s no secret that we’re not great at small groups. We’re working to get better, but the struggle is real.

  • 40% of people on volunteer teams.

We have some incredible volunteers, but it seems to be getting a little harder to get people to start serving. We are putting some plans in place to grow this number going into next year.

  • 10% of people baptized this year.

The number I’m most proud of. We continue to see above average numbers in baptisms each year. A big part of this was offering a creek baptism during the summer. Many people want to be baptized the same way their parents or grandparents were, and that means going down to the creek.

  • $17 given by the average person each week.

Giving has to be the struggle of every small town church. At least I hope it is, or we’re doing something wrong. We continue to look for ways to teach people about finances, budgeting, and the importance of supporting the local church.

  • 1 staff member for every 110 attendees.

When giving is lower, staffing ratios are bound to be higher. We would love to hire another two to three people right now, but the budget just won’t allow it. We need to look for ways to get creative with volunteer staff or unpaid interns.

Tony’s research was based on a survey with over 200 churches. That may seem like a large sample, but when you consider that there are more than 300,000 churches in America that hardly scratches the surface.

Either way my church isn’t average, and I bet yours isn’t either.

How does your church compare? Post your numbers in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more sent to your inbox each week.

5 Ingredients to a Great Children’s Ministry

Very few ministries in your church are as important to guests as your children’s ministry. If you’re looking to reach families, children’s ministry is without a doubt the most important ministry in your church. I hate to break it to some of you, but flannel graphs and coloring pages don’t cut it anymore.

traviseaster

I didn’t grow up in church. My family would’ve been described as the Easter and Christmas crowd when I was very young but eventually stopped going all together. My childhood church memories basically consist of one photo of me sporting a pastel yellow suit hunting Easter eggs, and that’s it.

I was lucky to have a friend who invited me to church when I was 20 where I accepted Christ into my life. I am part of the small percentage of adults who make that decision. The majority of salvations in America happen between the ages of 4 and 14.

That’s why children’s ministry is so important. Each week we have the opportunity to introduce kids to the love of Jesus. So, how can we make the most of this opportunity? How can we make sure that church is the highlight of their week?

I would suggest these five ingredients that have worked for us tremendously over the years.

  1. Prioritize Safety

The world we live in is a scary place. Your children’s ministry shouldn’t be. Make sure every children’s volunteer passes a background check, no exceptions. Also, you should have a safe and secure way to check children in and out of rooms. Planning Center is a great web-based option, while Excellerate is great for those without a reliable wi-fi signal.

  1. Be Creative

It seems that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter these days for kids and adults. That’s why it’s so important to be creative. Keep children engaged by using a combination of music, videos, games, and activities each week.

  1. Teach on Their Level

Make sure to break down your kid’s ministry into different age-specific environments. Different ages learn at different levels. You’re not going to have much success teaching preschoolers with 5th graders. Once you learn to teach Jesus on their level, they can start reaching their full potential in Christ.

  1. Encourage Friendships

Perhaps nothing will better determine the direction your child will go than the friends they have around them. That’s why we want to build the best friendships at church. We try to do this through age-specific small groups that take place each week after the lesson.

  1. Have Fun

This may sound crazy, but we actually are more concerned with kids having fun than we are with them learning a Bible lesson. Here’s why, when kids have fun they beg their parents to bring them back to church the next week. The more they attend church, the better chance they have of giving their life to Jesus.

We’ve learned so much over the years from some great children’s ministries, but the greatest resource we’ve found is KidSpring, the kid’s ministry of Newspring Church.

They provide all of their resources for free, and in my opinion it’s the best curriculum in children’s ministry. Check it out, and I know you’ll be blown away.

What does the children’s ministry look like in your church? What curriculum are you using? Let us know be leaving a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Build Your Fantasy Church Team

Tonight, September 8th, 2016 the NFL season begins with the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos taking on the Carolina Panthers. But for millions of us, a much more important season begins. No, I’m not talking about the fall. I’m talking about Fantasy Football Season.

fantasy_football

For those of you who may not be familiar with Fantasy Football, let me explain how it works. You join a league made up of a number of your friends or complete strangers. Each one of you has a team, and you are responsible for picking players for your team.

Each team normally has a quarterback, a running back or two, a few wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker, a defense, and a number of bench players. Each week the players on your team score points based on how they perform in the actual game. For example, if your quarterback throws a touch down pass in his game, then he would get six points for your team.

Each week you’re matched up against someone else in your league, and the team with the most points at the end of the week is the winner. It’s almost like playing actual football only you never have to get off the couch.

The better you are at picking players, the better your chances of winning.

When you think about it, it’s not much different from church leadership. The better team you have around you, the more likely your church is going to have success accomplishing its mission.

So, Pastor, ask yourself this question, “If you were to build a team around you from scratch, what type of people would you pick? What characteristics would they have?”

Here are five qualities I would look for:

  1. Passionate

I feel like a broken record when I talk about passion, but it’s just so important and so rare. If you find someone who loves Jesus and loves to serve people, you have found a treasure. This person will show up early and stay late. This person won’t complain about having to serve but will look for ways to serve more often.

  1. Self-Motivated

This characteristic goes right along with passion. I don’t want to have to jump start someone’s motor. I want it to be running when they get out of bed in the morning. This person is always looking for ways to make the church better. They are reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and reading books based around their area of serving.

  1. Relational

Ministry is highly relational. In fact, there is no ministry without people, so this person is good at building relationships. You’ll find this person hanging out in the lobby between services looking for someone to connect with. They’ve never met a stranger, and they love pointing people toward next steps to grow in their faith.

  1. Self-Aware

This person knows their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. They are willing to admit when they make mistakes, and they know how to handle constructive criticism.

  1. Team Player

This person realizes there is no “I” in team. They have no problem putting the good of the church before their individual ministry. They look for ways to add value to other areas of ministry and never utter the words “that’s not my job.”

I hope you will take the time to develop your own list of team values. Tony Morgan wrote an article recently saying team values are more important than core values for churches.

Once you get the right people on your team, your church’s culture will start to change, and before you know it, you’ll be winning more than you ever have before. Good luck.

What would your five team values be? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, fantasy football, and more delivered to your inbox each week.