Make the Most of Your Offering Time

I think everyone knows what I mean by offering time, but just in case, I’m speaking about the specific time during service in which you take up tithes and offerings. I realize some churches don’t have an offering time during service because they apparently don’t need the money that bad, but my church isn’t one of those. I bet yours isn’t either.

So, for all of us struggling to meet budget, I want to share a few tips specifically to help you see more people give during this time.

Some of these may seem obvious, but it’s still important to mention them.

For example.

Offering Envelopes

I’m guessing every church has these. If you don’t leave me a comment and let me know why. You want to make sure your offering envelope is easy to fill out, larger-than-expected, and bonus points if it can be mailed in after they get home with no postage necessary.

Timing

If you rush through this time, which many of us are known to do, you will miss out on gifts. Because, people need time to write their checks or count their cash. Many people are not planning ahead for this moment, especially new givers. So, allow two to three minutes for people to prepare.

Giving Talks

What do you do during those two to three minutes? You’re telling people why they should give. Here’s what that can look like, “In a few moments where going to worship God by giving back to Him. While our ushers are getting ready, let me tell you a story,” or “Let me share a scripture with you…” This gives them a heads up on what’s about to happen and gives them time to get ready.

Lighting

The darker the auditorium, the less likely people are to give. For one, they can’t see to write a check or fill out the offering envelope. For two, you lose the motivation that comes from people worrying about other people seeing them not give. If that last statement makes you uncomfortable, then you need to stop trying to guilt people into praying and reading their Bibles.

Timing

Sounds so nice, I had to mention it twice. Not really. I’m talking about when you take up the offering during service. The church I serve used to take up the offering at the end of service using two ushers at the back door holding buckets. This is a terrible way to take up the offering. It feels like an afterthought rather than an important part of the service. Not to mention many of our volunteers would have already left the service before we even took up the offering in order to get in place for the next service. We’ve now placed the offering time smack dab in the middle of our service at the end of the music and before the preaching. It’s made a world of difference.

These are a few simple ways I think you can see significant increase in your giving this year. If you’d like to build on this, I speak more about a complete giving system in this post.

What does your offering time look like? Are you satisfied with the results? Let us know by leaving a comment and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

4 Important Vision Questions

Leadership and vision go hand in hand. You can’t be good at one without the other. If you don’t have a vision for where you want to go, you won’t really be leading anyone anywhere. Likewise, you can have a vision for where you want to go but not have the leadership skills to get you there.

When the church I serve was planted over a decade ago, it had very little vision.

It was an ever so slightly more contemporary copy of the other churches in the community.

Their pastors wore suits and ties; our pastor dropped the suit. Their churches played hymns; our church played a blend. If they were church version 1.0, we were version 1.1.

After the first year, our church attendance had grown by a negative one. No one was looking for church version 1.1. They were looking for version 2.0.

Luckily, our pastor discovered this and got a fresh vision from God for our church moving forward.

Moving from version 1.1 to 2.0 wasn’t without its difficulties. We’ve seen several people leave along the way, but it was still the best thing we’ve ever done.

Before you install a fresh vision into your church, you need to clarify these four questions.

  1. What is God calling us to?

What is God’s unique calling for your church? Who does He want you to reach? The popular answer is young families, but that may not be the case for your church. Look at the churches in your community. Is there a segment of the population that is being overlooked? Look at the gifts of the people in your church. Is there something you can offer that no other church in your community is offering? Clarify your calling.

  1. How are we going to accomplish it?

God didn’t just tell Joshua to take the city of Jericho. He showed him how it was to be done. It didn’t make sense at the time, but it worked out pretty well. Spend some time writing down exactly what you believe it’s going to take to accomplish this calling. You may have to remodel your church. You may have to make a hire that you don’t have the money for. You may need to remove some people from leadership. These are tough decisions that many pastors aren’t willing to make.

  1. Who needs to be involved?

One thing I’ve learned for certain is that it’s impossible to accomplish your calling without involving others. Gather a team around you to start talking about this new vision, get their ideas and support, and then you get their influence. Then work your way through the leadership of the church, to the volunteers, and eventually to the congregation.

  1. When should you begin?

You can have a great idea derailed by terrible timing. You may be looking to move to two services. Don’t try to start it during the summer. Be strategic about your timing. Make sure your church is experiencing momentum and capitalize on it. And whatever you do, don’t begin until you’ve answered the first three questions.

Implementing God’s vision for your church is going to be scary. It takes risk, it takes faith, and it takes perseverance. But if you’ll take the time to think through these four questions, I believe you’ll be much better prepared going forward. Good luck.

Name one big vision you’ve implemented at your church in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it. And while you’re here don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

My Apple Experience

Why you should always get it in writing?

I’m a big fan of Apple products. I just upgraded to the iPhone 7. I have a MacBook I’m using to write this blog, and I have a 27” iMac in my office at church. So, when my wife asked me for the Apple Watch for her 29th birthday, I was happy to oblige. But my happiness turned to disappointment when the face randomly popped off the watch a few weeks ago.

Upon doing some research, I discovered this was a fairly common problem with the Apple watch. So, I contacted Apple support.

I hate talking on the phone so I was glad to discover they had a chat option.

After just a few seconds, I was connected with an Apple representative and was able to explain the issue. They asked me to send a picture of the Apple watch, which I did, and then they explained to me my options.

This is where I started to get a little concerned. I had heard about the incredible customer service of Apple. I had even bought the book, The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty.

So, why was I getting the run around?

They let me know my watch was out of warranty, and there was no guarantee they would fix it or replace it for free. Even though the face of the $250+ watch popped off after 16 months.

If they decided it wasn’t their error, it would cost me $199 to fix.

I let them know I wanted to send it in to see if they would replace it for free, but to contact me if they were going to have to charge me.

The representative let me know this was fine, but informed me I may have to pay to have it shipped back to me. I agreed.

They sent me a confirmation email to confirm I was sending the watch in for repair, which led to me having to provide payment information.

This alarmed me. So once again I asked the Apple rep if they would contact me before charging me, and they said yes.

I sent my phone in, and within two days a replacement had been sent back.

I never received an email or phone call to confirm, so I assumed they had replaced it at no charge.

I was wrong. A $217 charge showed up on my credit card a couple days later.

I tell you this story for one reason. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get things in writing and save important emails and documents.

Luckily, I had saved the transcript from my chat with the Apple rep. After a couple of phone calls, they had apologized and refunded my money and allowed me to keep the replacement at no charge.

I don’t think that would’ve been the case had it just been my word against theirs.

Hopefully, this saves you some time, trouble, and money in the future. And if you’re thinking about buying an Apple Watch, you may want to get the extended warranty.

What’s been your experience with Apple products? Have you been amazed by their customer service? 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.

Is Church Membership Necessary?

That was the question the leaders of my church started asking themselves several years ago. After studying what the scriptures had to say about it, we concluded church membership was not mandatory, and we did away with it in our church. If it’s working for your church, great, but it just wasn’t working for us.

My guess is if you’ve found your way to this post, church membership isn’t really working for you either, but you think it would be wrong to do away with it.

I would disagree with that, but there are a lot of people much smarter than I am who would argue church membership isn’t a matter of preference but one of biblical obedience.

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church and really smart guy, is one of those people. If you happen to be searching for an answer to the church membership question, you will no doubt find his post aptly titled, Is Church Membership Biblical?

In that post he asks three questions based upon certain scriptures to support his argument. I’d like to take a look at those and just share some of my thoughts.

  1. If there is no understanding of local church membership, then who are we to submit to and obey?

I believe ultimately we should submit to and obey the teachings of Jesus. Hopefully, we find a church that does the same. I’m not sure how having your name on a membership roll changes any of that.

  1. If there is no understanding of local church membership, who should the pastor and elders be held accountable for?

I believe we’re accountable for what we teach and what we allow to be taught within our church. We’re accountable for those who are attending, listening, and engaging. We have responsibilities in regards to how we spend God’s money. Again, I’m not sure how having names on a roll changes any of that. Do we care less for those who aren’t members?

  1. What about church discipline?

For some this seems to be the primary reason for membership. Yet, in my mind this whole system in fundamentally flawed. Chandler uses the example shown in 1 Corinthians 5:1-12, where Paul tells the church to kick this person out of the church because they’re celebrating sin and show no signs of repentance.

A few thoughts on this. If you want to kick someone out of your church or discipline someone for his behavior, what does it matter if he is a member? Shouldn’t the only requirement be that he is a Christian? If you baptize someone this week and they come in to church next week drunk, are you going to check to see if they’re a member before you have a conversation with them?

Secondly, what about the members who are sinning privately? We had a policy that said you couldn’t become a member if you were living with someone of the opposite sex that you weren’t married to. Yet, we probably had members that got drunk, smoked pot, and treated their spouses like dirt throughout the week. We just didn’t know about it. It was a double standard.

And if we really want to get biblical about it, in this same scripture that Chandler speaks about, it says to not associate with the sexual immoral, the drunkard, the swindler, or the greedy. If we just kicked out the greedy people in our churches, our attendance would plummet. When’s the last time you kicked someone off your church roll because they weren’t giving?

I think we have to be really careful about saying something is a biblical requirement. Just because the New Testament church did it doesn’t make it a requirement.

It may be a good idea for some, but for others it may not.

Think of it like foot washing. At your church it may be one of the most impactful services you have all year. At my church it would freak everyone out and they’d never come back.

Do what works for you.

Does your church have members? Do you think that’s a good thing? Why or why not? Let me know by leaving a comment and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get updates on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

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.

The Ideal Team Player

According to Patrick Lencioni

I discovered Patrick Lencioni a couple of years ago when I picked up his book The Advantage. It was the best book I read that year and still remains one of the best books I’ve ever read on organizational health and leadership. Every pastor should read it. I recently came across his newest book The Ideal Team Player and wanted to share the main premise with you.

People are the most important part of your church. That goes without saying, but you have to remember they can either make your church or break your church.

Every successful church is successful because of the people in it.

Every church that has failed has failed because of the people in it.

I’m not trying to take God out of the equation. God is constant. The people are the variable.

So, you have to get the people part of this thing right, especially the people on your team.

Patrick Lencioni says there are three virtues that make up the ideal team player.

  1. They are humble.

People with big egos don’t perform well in a team setting. If they’re more concerned with their success than the team’s, you have a problem. A person who is humble will always look for ways to compliment someone else on their performance and will be slow to seek attention for their own. An arrogant person who makes everything about him will destroy a team by creating resentment and division. Humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of a team player.

  1. They are hungry.

Hungry people just want more. More to do, more to learn, and more responsibility. They are self-motivated. They are constantly thinking about what’s next. Hunger misdirected or taken too far can be a negative. Healthy hunger is a commitment to doing a job well and a willingness to go above and beyond when necessary. Lots of people will project a sense of hunger to try to get a job or position. That’s why it’s always best to look at their past patterns to discern if it’s real.

  1. They are smart.

They may not be the most intelligent person, but they possess a common sense about people that makes them invaluable. They are relationally smart. They know how you talk to one person may not be the best way to talk to another. They learn the team. They ask good questions and spend time listening to what others say. They understand the impact of their words and actions, so they don’t say or do things without thinking about the likely responses of their teammates.

If just one of these virtues is missing in a person, they become significantly more difficult to have on the team. It requires all three. So, when you find a person who possesses all of these qualities, you would be wise to get them on your team as quick as possible.

What do you think about these virtues? What would you add? Leave a comment and let us know, and while you’re here don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

More Logs, Less Kindling

The Secret to Sustained Success

I’m not much of an outdoorsman. I don’t own a grill, and I’ve never made a fire. Although I would like to believe I’ve watched enough reality TV that if I was ever put in a situation where I needed to make a fire, I could. I know you start with the little stuff that burns easily, and then you add your bigger sticks and logs. The problem I see in many churches today is too much focus on kindling and not enough on logs.

Let me explain. Kindling is the dry twigs and branches used to start a fire. It’s extremely valuable. You would have a hard time starting a fire without it.

But it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to only use kindling on your fire. It would burn up way too quickly. That’s why you need logs.

In ministry we get really excited about kindling. It may be a mailer we’re sending out, a new series we’re starting, or an outreach event.

These things can produce a lot of excitement and momentum, but it’s very short lived. They can start a fire, but they won’t keep the fire burning.

You need something with more substance for that. You need logs.

Churches fall into the trap of always wanting to create a spark, so they will keep on adding kindling all the while wondering why the fire never stays lit for very long.

Don’t make this mistake. Focus on these three logs instead.

  1. Get the Right People in the Right Places

It doesn’t matter if it’s paid staff or volunteers. You have to have the right people in the right place. That means no grumpy door greeters, no creepy kid’s workers, and no out of tune worship singers. I wrote an entire post about this here.

  1. Get the Right Systems in Place

Andy Stanley says, “Your systems are perfectly designed to give the results you’re getting.” If you’re not happy with your results, it’s more than likely a systems issue. What’s your system for getting guests to come back? What’s your system to get people to serve? What’s your system to get people to give? Without the right systems in place, your church will always struggle to grow.

  1. Get the Right Culture in Place

It used to be that systems and people were everything. That’s no longer the case. People have quickly realized the culture of your church sets the tone for everything else. When a guest walks into your church, do they feel loved? Do they feel welcomed? Do volunteers feel appreciated? Is there a level of excitement when you meet?

You can waste a lot of time and money going through kindling, so I would urge you to spend the time to get the right logs on the fire.

Have you seen this to be true in your church? Let us know by leaving a comment, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Do You Trust Your Mirrors?

Guest Post: Cody Hogden

Being a bi-vocational pastor brings challenges and opportunities for the pastor as well as the church. Being successful isn’t easy…unless you have your mirrors set right. Leading a church of any size, either as a fully or partially funded pastor, is much like driving a car. There are many parts and pieces all working together with one purpose (and no…the challenge of backseat drivers is not the topic of this post :D).

One of the biggest struggles in driving and ministry is not having your mirrors adjusted correctly. Did you know that your vehicle is designed to give you a 360 degree view with only slight head movement? Yet, because we’ve never been taught how to adjust our mirrors properly or simply ignored it, we are now adding equipment (blind spot indicators) to compensate. And we rely on the blind spot indicators instead of the mirrors. Here are three (or four) driving tips for all you bi-vo (and fully funded) pastors out there.

  1. Setting your mirrors right.

This is not a Church Polity blog either…but the Bible gives us a lot of wisdom when it comes to the leadership, staff, and workers of the ministry. Part of setting your mirrors correctly is understanding your role and the role of others. We can get a glimpse of how this looks with just a couple of verses.

“Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” Acts 6:3.

Whether you use teams or committees…call them elders or pastors…God is clear that you can’t do it alone. Remember the wisdom of Jethro? No, no…not Jethro Bodine! Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law. Here was his advice:

“The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” Exodus 18.

God will give you leaders to handle your administrative tasks, digital media tasks, building maintenance tasks, etc. If He doesn’t, maybe that task can wait. When we get bogged down doing things we shouldn’t be, we run a great risk. Stats can be deceiving, but there is a lot of alarming information out there.

This looks differently for each Body of Christ. Which road is God leading you and the Body to travel? What type of vehicle has he equipped you with? Or you can put it like this…what’s the vision? Knowing where you’re going gives you a better understanding of how to set your mirrors. And just like our cars…they need to be adjusted at times. Like when there’s growth. Adjust. When there’s more passengers. Adjust. Evaluating where you’re headed and the road conditions should be a part of your overall routine.

2.  Trust your mirrors.

I know…it’s hard. We’ve gotten so used to turning our heads to check those blind spots. Remember, they were made to enable you to see all around the vehicle with just a quick glance. That’s how we should treat our leaders. Trust them. Let them do their job. Sure, check every once in a while to see if they’re still in the right spot and don’t need to be adjusted. But you should trust your mirrors.

3.  Don’t trick out your car and stay in your lane as a leader.

Believe me, I know how much stuff there is to do. And I get overwhelmed with trying to do it. But it’s not what you’re called to do. Here are a couple more verses to remind us of our role.

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4.

Oh yeah…that’s my role. How about Ephesians 4

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

That’s right, we equip the saints for the work of the ministry NOT do all the work of the ministry. This is the most difficult for me to practice.

Just a quick word for any saints (members) that snuck in to read about bi-vocational (or vocational) pastoring, you have a huge part to play. Get in the game. Volunteer. Don’t hide from the work…run to the work.

A famous coach was once asked, “How does college football contribute to the national physical fitness level?”

“Nothing!” He replied. “The way I see it, you have 22 men down on the field desperately needing a rest and 40,000 in the stands desperately needing some exercise!”

A similar situation exists in many churches today. A small group of workers “down on the field” while most are more like spectators.

Cody Hogden is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Orangefield, Texas. He’s been married to his wife Ginger for 24 years, and they have a 23 year old daughter named Brooklyn. He is also the founder of Twenty TwentyFour Ministries. 

Three Hurdles Every Pastor Faces

To say pastoring is difficult would be an understatement. Yet, it’s not difficult in the sense that the work is hard, although it can be at times. It’s difficult in every other sense, emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical, because emotional and spiritual stress have a tendency to take a toll on the body.

Don’t get me wrong. There are seasons that can be very joyful, and productive, and motivating, seasons in which you see God’s blessing throughout your church.

Then there can be seasons in which you see no fruit at all, and you wonder why you ever got into this profession. And you start contemplating, is it even worth it?

Then there’s this place you come to as a pastor where the seasons seem to change every day.

On Sunday you are rejoicing because you preached and people gave their lives to Christ, but on Monday you get a call from someone leaving the church, and your rejoicing turns into mourning.

This is the life of a pastor, on the mountain one minute and in the valley the next.

One of the keys to making it in ministry is to not allow yourself to stay in the valley for too long.

You’ll be tempted to stay there. There will be times when you just want to stay in the bed and avoid facing the day.

You have to get past this hurdle and several others along the way.

I’ve found the most common hurdles pastors face fall into these three categories.

  1. Get Past Your Past

You may have been fired from a previous position. You may have had struggles in your marriage. You may have regrets. We all do, but you can’t dwell on the past because you can’t change the past. You have to focus on what’s right in front of you. The greatest stories in the Bible and in life are stories of people who overcame their past and began to live with purpose.

  1. Stop Focusing on Others & Their Opinion of You

Too many of us, myself included, give too much power to other’s opinions of us. If they’re not my God, my spouse, or my kid, then their opinion about me doesn’t really matter. We lose too much time and sleep worrying about what someone has said or thinks about us. You can’t please everyone, so focus on pleasing the one’s that matter.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

I blame church boards and terrible bosses for this one. Too many of us are afraid to try something different because we’re afraid of what happens if it doesn’t work out. If you’re in a situation in which you have to fear losing your job if an idea you have doesn’t work out, you need to find a new situation. If that isn’t the case, then take some chances. If it doesn’t work out, at least you learned something.

I’m sure these aren’t the only hurdles pastors face. I’d love to hear yours. So, leave a comment below, and if you like tips on church growth, leadership, and more then make sure to take a second and subscribe to the blog.