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.

What Happened to Passion?

When I look for volunteers or leaders in the church, one of the most important qualities I look for is passion. I want them to be excited and enthusiastic about Jesus, His church, and using their gifts to reach those who don’t know God. Although, lately it seems that these people are getting harder and harder to find, and I think I may know why. Passion literally means to suffer, and no one likes to suffer, including myself.

PassionDesert

Rusty Rustenbach, a name that it looks like I made up, said it this way,

“You and I live in an age when only a rare minority of individuals desire to spend their lives in pursuit of objectives which are bigger than they are. In our age, for most people, when they die it will be as though they never lived.” – Giving Yourself Away

I was talking to a young gentleman the other day that has a bright future ahead of him. I asked him how he was spending his free time, his response, “I’m really into leisure time.”

Aren’t we all? Given the choice between suffering and leisure, I believe we all would pick leisure.

Yet, nothing great has ever been accomplished through leisure. It only comes through suffering.

Great musicians suffer through hours of daily practice because of their passion for music. The calluses on a worship leader’s hands can testify to this.

Michael Phelps didn’t become the most decorated Olympian ever without suffering. During the peak of his training, he trained six hours a day, six days a week, and ate a whopping 12,000 calories a day.

God always seems to have a special way to use suffering in people’s lives.

Noah spent 120 years building a boat.

Abraham was told he would be a father of a great nation and spent 25 years waiting for a son.

Joseph was thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, then betrayed and forgotten in a dungeon.

David was anointed king, yet spent years running from Saul.

Daniel was thrown into a den of lions.

Jesus was crucified.

Each suffered greatly, and each experienced greatness.

You can’t have one without the other.

On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your passion level? How do you keep the passion alive? Let us know by 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.

The 4 C’s of Church Staffing

Having the right team of top-level volunteers and/or paid staff is crucial to church growth. But how do you find the right people? It starts with asking the right questions.

Staffing

Over the years I’ve been responsible for getting leaders in place, both paid and volunteer. Many of them have worked out great, but there are a few I’ve missed on.

I wish I could say I have this incredible interview process that separates the good candidates from the bad, but the truth is, I basically just went with my gut instinct.

There has to be a better way, right? Well, I think I’ve found one. Samuel Chand in his book Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code suggests asking these four questions.

  1. Competence: Can you do the job?

One of the seemingly easiest questions to answer is one of competence. However, this gets complicated because ministry is different than any other occupation. Most ministry positions require getting people to do things who aren’t getting paid to do them. I suggest looking for people who are leading others as a volunteer before you think about putting them on staff.

  1. Character: Can I trust you?

Character and trust are always important, but they’re exponentially important within a church. One person can easily destroy a church of thousands. Make sure you go above and beyond to find any character issues before you place someone in a position. This means checking references, stalking them on social media, and asking important questions to those who know them best.

  1. Chemistry: Can you fit in our culture?

There’s nothing more frustrating for a church staff than a person who doesn’t fit within the culture. On our staff, you have to know how to have fun, otherwise you’re not going to be hired or placed in a high-level volunteer position. Want to know if someone fits within your culture before you hire them? Take them on a weekend retreat with the staff and see how it goes.

  1. Capacity: Can you grow with us?

When you’re part of a growing organization, you can’t just hire for the here and now. You have to think long term. Is this a person who is going to be willing to put in the work to grow with us? A great indicator of this is what are they doing now to grow themselves? If they’re not reading books, blogs, and listening to podcasts, they’re probably not interested in growing.

Even though I’ve not used this method before, I can tell you that I can look at this list of questions and the people we’ve hired or put in volunteer positions and see why they’ve been successful or why they’ve been a failure.

These will definitely be four questions I will be asking in the future.

Are there any other questions you would add to this list? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on leadership, church growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Six Ways to Connect More Volunteers

Guest Post: Kevin Lloyd

My youngest daughter, Sydney, has an arch nemesis at school.  Math.  Truth be told, she and I share this common villain.  Not only do we not enjoy it but it proves to be our kryptonite over and over.

What this means is the every afternoon is a marathon session of math homework.  There are tears, stress, frustration and terrible thoughts about multiplying fractions.  Sydney is pretty chill, those are just my reactions.

Similarly, there is an area of church leadership that proves to be a constant struggle:  Leading Volunteers.

Volunteers

The church is a volunteer-powered organization.  You depend on non-paying people to get ministry done.  The more committed volunteers and leaders you have, the more ministry you can do in your community.

Yet pastors never feel like we have enough volunteers, we do not have time to train them and simply wish they would show up on time.  Let’s be real, if they would just read our weekly emails to them we would feel like a success!

Today I want to share with you some principles we employ when it comes to leading volunteers.  These have enabled us to connect over 100 new volunteers just in just a few months.  I hope these 6 actions help you connect more volunteers to your team, train them better than ever and see them become leaders in your church.

Build a simple structure.

Every person who walks into your church has potential to be a minister. The role of leaders in the church is to equip and release others to do ministry. My church created a “Leadership Pipeline” to hold us accountable to that.  This is our method for connecting volunteers, identifying what they excel at and developing those leadership skills.

Download our Leadership Pipeline for your church to use.

Make it easy to get started.

Often we make starting out in leadership way too complicated.  Simplify the starting point.  Our church created an easy on ramp for people to get connected.  This is the entry point to getting involved at our church.  There are not multiple ways to connect, we narrowed it down to one simple class to attend.  We do not set the bar so high that a person who is brand new to faith or super busy cannot get started.

Create a system to “move up” the pipeline.

Every person on a ministry team falls into one of five categories.  Any department of our church that employs volunteers utilizes this structure.  When an individual steps onto a team, we do not need to immediately put them in positions of authority and responsibility.  There has to be a plan to how a volunteer will grow.

Keep it relational.

For some reason we feel like leadership has to be taught in a class.  While there is some value to that, we have two classes in our leadership pipeline, the best leaders are “grown.”  This process does not happen best in a lecture hall but in a coffee shop.  Sitting across the table one-on-one from someone and speaking into their life still remains the best way to recruit, train, challenge and empower leaders.  Be intentional about being relational.

Define expectations.

Never assume someone knows the next right thing to do.  If a volunteer is unclear about his role, the leader is unsuccessful in her role.  For every position on your team provide crystal clear expectations.  Just because you are in a church and leading volunteers does not mean you should not have high expectations.  The Leadership Pipeline defines expectations for each role’s level of leadership responsibility.

Train specific skills.

Every volunteer role has a specific skill set that is needed to thrive.  As someone progresses in their role, new skills are needed.  Do not increase responsibilities or authority without first increasing skills. A volunteer being “a good person”, “always showing up” or “having been here longer than anyone else” are not skills.  Define necessary skills for each role and take time to develop them in people.

Kevin Lloyd is the Executive Pastor at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia. He has worked in various form of ministry since 1999, including leading students, kids, young adults, adult discipleship, executive leadership, staff development, church planting and large group communication.

Kevin is also the founder of LeadBravely.org, which serves as a hub for practical leadership insights designed to help church leaders lead better today and prepare for the future.

One Leadership Development Formula

Despite my best efforts of scouring the web and networking with some of the greatest church minds around, I’ve yet to find the perfect formula for developing amazing church leaders. If anyone ever does figure out the perfect formula, they wouldn’t have to work another day in their life.

Formula-_-scientist

I have, however, developed a system I really like, although it’s hardly a system. It’s really just being intentional about spending time with the right people.

We call it Second Sunday. As in the second Sunday of each month, we gather all of our leaders together to basically hang out. Here are the specifics in case you want to borrow the idea.

  1. Greet / Eat / Play (40 minutes)

The majority of the night we spend eating, laughing, and playing games. Fun is a prerequisite of being on our team. If you don’t like having fun, you’re not going to like hanging out with us. I’ll let you in on a little secret: if you’ll make your meetings fun, more people will show up to them. So, we play really fun games, laugh a lot, give away prizes, and work on our team building. There’s food normally involved as well because everyone loves food. I could’ve easily called this section fun, food, and fellowship, but it sounded too churchy.

  1. Leadership Talk (30 minutes)

Once we’ve had our fun, it’s time to learn something. One of our other pastors or myself will give a short leadership talk to stir the hearts and minds of our leaders. If we’re feeling really brave, we’ll follow it up with some question and answer time. There are tons of topics to teach on. If you’re struggling to come up with something each month, just pick up John Maxwell’s book The Twenty One Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and teach through it.

  1. Worship (10 minutes)

After the leadership talk, we like to sing one or two worship songs in thankfulness and celebration of all that God has done for us. You can do this before the talk if you want, however we’ve found that it’s easier to eat and listen than to eat and sing. And a lot of times our people are still eating during the talk.

  1. Need to Know / Volunteer of the Month (10 minutes)

The last ten minutes of the night are spent on announcements that need to be made including upcoming events, dates, or something we need to work on. For example, we might say we’re in need of more kids’ ministry volunteers, so let’s be on the lookout for someone we can ask to start serving. Then, the last part of the night is announcing our volunteer of the month and celebrating them. Remember, what gets celebrated gets replicated.

That’s it. Pretty simple. It’s basically just hanging out with each other. And if you think about it, isn’t that what Jesus did? He basically rounded up a group of people and hung out with them for a few years. And in the end they became incredible leaders. We’re just trying to do the same.

How does your church handle leadership development? Do you think it’s working? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered straight to your inbox.