family-hug

I don’t usually share much about my family on here, but I will today. I have three teenagers. My only son is 13 and he’s a handful. He argues with everything I say and shows great disrespect. I’m told this is normal and I remember going through a similar stage of adolescence when I was 15.

I was bringing my son before the Lord in prayer and I sensed God saying, “Kill him with kindness.” You may not realize it, but this has great personal meaning to me.

I have a book coming out in the Fall entitled Secrets of a Secret Shopper. In the introduction, I give the Biblical mandate for hospitality and why it matters. I also remind us of when we’ve been served well. I recall every time I’ve been to Chick-fil-A and thanked them, they would say… Say it with me! “My pleasure.”

So in the book, I encourage you to “kill them with kindness” when it comes to serving others and showing hospitality. In God’s own way, He reminded me of my own words and is leading me to out love, out father, out give and outlast my son by surrounding him with kindness.  May the fruit of the Spirit be evident in my life and in all of us as leaders, spouses, and parents – and may we love unconditionally like we are loved by a Holy God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23

Darkness

In the midst of unspeakable darkness and trials, I’m calling on the Church and her leaders to rise up and shine forth. Be unifying in your words and actions. May God guide us as we shepherd His people. I’m praying for you.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. – James 3:17 (ESV)

healthy person

I watched the big news yesterday that Derrick Rose got traded from the Chicago Bulls to the New York Knicks. What’s to note about this announcement is that Derrick Rose was supposed to be a Chicago legend and superstar originally. He is very talented and can make basketball plays and shots look effortless.

The problem is, unfortunately, like Grant Hill was, his career has been plagued by injury. He never reached his full potential. Your physical, emotional and spiritual health is huge. Without it, you’ll never reach your full potential. This applies to organizations as well.

If your organization is not healthy, it will not reach its full potential.

How do you address health in an organization? With its leaders. John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I agree. Does this happen by accident? No! You have to fight for health. Just like you make yourself go to the gym and eat healthy. You must be intentional.

“You don’t have to cultivate weeds. They grow automatically. In fact, weeds are a sign of neglect.” – @RickWarren

Don’t neglect yourself. Don’t neglect your senior leadership. Don’t neglect your staff. Don’t neglect your volunteers. I have talked with three pastors and one Director of Missions for a Baptist Association that took or are on a sabbatical. That’s awesome! Give your leaders a break. Go on a personal retreat. Take time to rest. Time to play. Time to have a hobby. Time to care for your family and house.

If your leaders aren’t healthy… If your org’s culture is not healthy… If your team is not healthy… Say it with me: You’ll never reach your full potential.

And even worse, you can cause harm, hurt others and do real damage. You need to protect health at all costs. I’m big on church growth, but I always say church growth is a by-product of church health. It’s the same for non-profits and businesses. Your health can fuel your growth, or it can have an adverse effect on your growth.

Friends, pray for your leaders. Pray for me. Pray for yourself. Seek after health – in every area. And BE INTENTIONAL. Health doesn’t happen by accident.

14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. – Luke 8:14 (NLT)

So, I ask: How’s your health?

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I and my company Worship Impressions are committed to helping your church reach and keep guests. As specialists in Guest Services, Hospitality, and First Impressions, we come alongside you and what God is already doing at your church and give you a guest’s perspective, as well as suggestions and next steps to improve.

We don’t just do one consult and leave. I am committed to a long-term relationship. I propose next steps, introduce you to friends, specialists, and strategic partners. And I’m always one phone call or email away. I’ve had pastors call me up and ask a question years after I did a secret shopper for them.

The question becomes: When is a good time to bring in a church secret shopper or mystery worshiper? It really depends on your church’s season of life/schedule, budget and an attitude that says you’re ready to do whatever it takes to reach lost people for Christ.

One word of caution:

You will always be busy and you’ll always be getting ready for something. Please don’t let that stop you from investing in your church’s future and potential. Make time for a consultation if you are struggling, plateaued, declining, dead, or even if you’re booming and just want to go to the next level. The key is you have to be intentional. You have to be open to change and invite feedback. It’s scary, but oh so worth it!

So to show you how I usually help churches, here’s what a yearly schedule could look like:

  • I come in the Summer and help you Get Ready for Fall
  • I come in the Fall and help you Get Ready for Christmas and the New Year
  • I come in the New Year and help you Get Ready for Easter

There really is no right or wrong time to bring in a church secret shopper. Just pray about what works best for you and your ministry. Once you’re ready, let us know. You can reach me at my personal email: greg@gregatkinson.com or Worship Impressions at info@worshipimpressions.com.

I hope to meet you soon. The best days of your church are ahead!

noAbout five years ago my family and I went to dinner with a key family in my church. The objective of the dinner (besides fellowship and strengthening our relationship) was to have a hard conversation. I had seen all the warning signs and the shepherd side of me could not sit back and do nothing. What was happening you might ask?

I could see that the wife and mom I had asked to dinner was on the edge of burnout.

When I first started as pastor at my church three years ago, I was on a mission to recruit leaders, volunteers and build teams – and that I did. I identified and placed key leaders in every ministry in our congregation. Our church started to grow and it was evident God was blessing our community of faith, so why did I get concerned?

I noticed one particular person (a very sweet woman) that was showing up on too many of my ministry teams and leaders lists. She was a teacher in our kids ministry each Sunday. She was a small group leader for our youth group each Wednesday night. She was (along with her husband) an adult small group leader and they hosted the group in their home (I could do another post on why it’s overwhelming to both host and lead a small group, but others have covered this). She was also the point person and face of our Serve ministry.

The first three she was already doing. The last one was one that I had asked her because I thought she’d be a good point person and face for our Serve ministry. What changed? I noticed stress in her eyes, her voice, her family and she always seemed liked she was on the verge of crying when I talked to her. It was obvious she was overwhelmed, but she didn’t know how to say, “No.” So I arranged this dinner with our families and I set out to intervene before she burned out, broke down or quit the church all-together.

Here are some key concepts to consider as I look back on that preemptive conversation:

  • The person is always more important than the program.
  • Just because someone says “Yes” doesn’t mean you should let them.
  • Some people need help saying “No.”
  • Be sensitive to people that always volunteer when the request goes out.
  • Don’t take advantage of someone’s kindness or lack of boundaries.
  • Set limits and boundaries. We asked people to worship (attend church), grow (be in a small group) and serve (volunteer in or lead a ministry).
  • Show your people you care for their souls and prioritize their spiritual life and family life above your ministry need.
  • If you’re always needing more and more volunteers for new ministries, maybe you need to simply. I’m a huge believer in being a Simple Church.
  • It takes guts to make “the ask.” It also takes guts to believe God will provide when you give someone a break. Read that again.
  • Focus on broadening your volunteer pool/team. Don’t always go to the same people.
  • You may have heard “20% of the people do 80% of the work.” Don’t buy it. Don’t accept it.
  • Teach the value and reason for service and expect a dream team of servants to carry the load. (A good case study is to look at Church of the Highlands up-close and their use of their Dream Team)
  • Care more about church health than church growth. It will be better in the long-run. Don’t miss understand me. Growth is good – just don’t do it at the expense of church health.
  • Be an Ephesians 4 leader and raise up and empower other equipping leaders. I talk about this in my book Church Leadership Essentials.
  • Ask your staff and ministry leaders tough questions and be on the lookout for ministry burnout.
  • Pray for wisdom, direction and discernment daily.
  • Pray that God would bring to mind new people to serve.
  • Teach your staff and team leaders to always thank people that serve and let them know you care for them. Our staff sent out weekly, hand-written thank you notes. I write about this in my book, too (shameless plug).
  • Be proactive in giving people an “out.” Maybe have people sign-up to serve for a set time length (like 3 months or 6 months or for the summer).
  • Set the example. If you are spread too thin and on the edge of burnout yourself, you can imagine the example you set for your congregants.
  • Above all love and lead well. You’re a part of a bigger story than building your own kingdom.

What was the result of the hard conversation? The family thanked me for my concern and the woman cut her four ministries down to two and is still serving to this day. Be on the lookout friends and pastor your people well.

“The harvest is so great, and the workers are so few,” he told his disciples. “So pray to the one in charge of the harvesting, and ask him to recruit more workers for his harvest fields.” – Matthew 9:37-38 (TLB)

Men praying

You may not know this about me, but there are many people who will remember that I have signed numerous emails, cards, and even my books when someone asks me to sign them with the tagline:

“Keep Pressing On!”

Life is tough. I mean really hard. There are days I don’t want to get out of bed, but I’m driven by the Holy Spirit inside me that has called me and given me a purpose to live. This is where my drive and ambition come from – God. I remember someone once said, “Showing up is 98% of anything. Hard work pays off.”

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14

So whatever you’re going through, know that I know it’s rough. I know it hurts. I know life isn’t fair. I know life can sometimes seem upside-down. Better yet: God knows – He sees. He hears. He cares. So, get up anyway. Press on anyway. Love anyway. God is worth it. He’s worth it all.

Think of all the hostitlity He endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:3

 

Best days

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As we quickly approach Summer, let me give you 5 practical tips to implement at your church so you can prepare for a killer Fall. Here we go:

  1. Vision cast to your Guest Services team
    So often, people that serve on a church’s guest services team feel unimportant. They think they are not good enough to sing on stage, lead a small group or are not tech-savvy enough to serve on the production team. It’s vital that your leadership over communicate that this is not the B-team. This is not a place to serve for people that have no talent. This is a vital ministry and is a front door to your church. People make up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes. First Impressions matter!
  2. Pray with your team before your first service
    Never, ever forget the God-factor when you serve in ministry. We are but vessels. We need the Holy Spirit of God to love, lead and serve through us. Pray each week with your team that they would be the hands and feet of Christ. Pray for God to break down walls of fear, skepticism, and distractions. Pray that the lost would come to Christ and that the hurting would find healing and hope.
  3. Remember it’s always someone’s first Sunday
    I really can’t stress this enough. No matter the size of your congregation, chances are, someone is entering your doors for the first time. The larger your church is, the more this is true. Churches of 200 can expect at least 5 to 8 guests a week. Larger churches welcome even more into their midst. When you gather with your Guest Services team to pray before your first service, remind your team of this simple truth. Focus them on their mission to welcome all who enter with love and to be a servant.
  4. Free up your hands
    One of my pet peeves is when I see people on the Guest Services team that have a coffee or cell phone in their hand. This is a red flag for me. I want my team shaking hands, hugging regular members, holding open doors and pointing to where people need to go (or even escort them there.) If your team member is distracted by looking at their cell phone, it is one of the rudest and worst first impressions you can give a newcomer.
  5. Focus on your guests and not your team
    A lot of times when I visit a church or even attend my local church, I’ll notice team members in conversation with each other and talking while guests pass by them. Again, this is a red flag and a big no-no. Another pet peeve of mine is parking lot attendants standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out and not bunched up together talking. Door holders, ushers and greeters should be focused on their role and not engaged in conversation with friends. Make eye contact with all who enter, smile and welcome them.

First impressions matter, so take them seriously and do all you can to remove distractions and barriers for your guests. Love and serve others like you would want to be loved and served. Finally, give all the glory to God. It is He who uses us as jars of clay and melts cold hearts. The cool thing is we get to be a part of that supernatural process.

Now go have a great Summer and prepare for an unprecedented Fall season for your local congregation!

Worship Leader

Having been in several churches where we had a guest worship leader come in and lead for the morning, I have some thoughts to share.

  1. Know Your Role
    Your job is not to come in and teach new songs to the congregation. Your job is to fill in and maintain the status quo. Find out what songs the people know and love and choose from those. This is not only good for the congregation but good for the guest worship leader. If you sing crowd favorites, the people will have a positive impression of you and want you to lead again.
  2. Know Your Responsibility
    Your job as a guest worship leader is to choose songs/the set list, lead the weekly practice, lead the sound check and run-through on Sunday morning and then lead the music in the service. If you need to meet with the staff worship leader or senior pastor to pick out songs that go with the day’s theme/message – do that. Be prepared for the weekly practice. Get your songs out to the band as soon as possible. If you use Planning Center, get your songs uploaded and charts as well. Have charts ready for rehearsal and start and end on time. Tell the band and production team what time you want to gather on Sunday morning for sound check and run through and be the first to arrive that day. Make sure you’re finished with run through and have the stage cleared by at least half an hour before the service starts. Don’t be the guy rehearsing while people are coming in and sitting down.
  3. Know Your Music
    I can’t hold back here. If you are paid to fill in for an existing musician or worship leader, you need to come prepared and know your music. There’s no place for a music stand on stage. Memorize your music and play skillfully before the Lord and congregation.
  4. Know the People
    Find out from the existing worship leader the pulse and comfort level of the congregation. Don’t try to take them where they’ve never been. Just hold down what is the norm and don’t rock the boat. On Sunday morning, make it a point to get around the congregation pre-service and shake hands. Introduce yourself and keep from the rock star mentality of hiding in a green room. This will help people better connect with you on stage. After the service, don’t just pack up and leave. Stand around and talk with people after the service. This includes the band. Thank them for letting you come in and play with them.
  5. Know the Room
    Be sensitive to what God is doing in the service. Be sensitive to the senior pastor and where he wants to go in the service. If you need to play softly behind him during a prayer or response time, be ready and prepared. If you need to lead a reprise of a song during a response time, be prepared and ready. If people are praying or taking Communion, be softer and don’t overpower what is happening in the room. The main thing is to be sensitive and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.
  6. Know You’re Trusted
    Someone believes in you and has asked you to lead, so rest in that. Don’t get an ego and don’t get intimidated. Someone sees great talent and potential in you and is trusting you to lead his or her congregation in corporate worship. Please take that responsibility seriously and know there’s grace and you are loved.
  7. Know Your Part in the Bigger Picture
    Realize that this is not your show, your shot or even your church. You are a guest and you should respect what God has done before you arrived and what He is continuing to do in that congregation. There will be a lot happening on that Sunday, from parking lot attendants, to greeters, to ushers, to production, to children’s workers, etc. You are just one piece of the puzzle. Your job is to lead music that the people can worship with and connect to the Living God.
  • Lastly, thank God for the opportunity. Thank the worship leader that asked you to fill in. Thank the senior pastor for having you. Thank the band for being understanding and flexible and doing their best to support you and set you up to succeed. Do such a good job that you will be asked back and give God the glory.

Death was arrested

So, you made it through the big weekend. Now the real work begins! Now you focus on turning those first-time guests into second time guests. This is where your assimilation process kicks in. I wrote about my process here. I also wrote about taking care of and thanking your volunteers and staff here.

Now would be a good time to run Facebook and Instagram ads promoting your new series that either just kicked off or kicks off this coming Sunday. Encourage your people to invite. Post plenty of sharable content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Encourage your people to share the media and invite their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.

So, let’s review! Here’s what jumped out at me from my contacts and friends in churches around North America:

  1. Songs of the season: “Death Was Arrested” by North Point, followed by “Resurrecting” by Elevation Worship. I wrote about the song for Easter two years ago here. It was “Forever” by Kari Jobe and I know a ton of churches still did that song. A powerful response song is “Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship. Many churches used that this year as a song to follow the message, which is very appropriate as it has lyrics about Christ being risen from the dead.
  2. Signs of the season: Man churches created awesome, colorful, text-rich signs to hold for greeters, parking lot attenders and baptisms.  Signs 2 Welcome signs 2

Baptism signs

3. Next level guest services: With the welcome signs as seen above and the fun transportation for kids as seen below, churches rolled out the red carpet!

Kids ride

4. Intentional return tactics: Realizing that many guests were there for the first-time, many churches gave out invite cards to invite people back for the next week. Remember if you can turn first-time guests into second-time guests, they are 80% more likely to get plugged in and start a relationship with Christ. (Nelson Searcy – Fusion).

Invite to return

  • So get together with your team and review this past Sunday. See what worked, what didn’t work, where you can improve and ideas that you can implement in the future. It’s never too late to start doing things with excellence. Guest services and first impressions matter.
  • If I can help you in any way, contact me here. Let’s reach this nation for Christ!

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I was worshiping with Chris Tomlin’s song “At the Cross” the other night and I thought it was the perfect testimony for me. I share the lyrics with you now as a Good Friday testimony and reflection:

“At The Cross”

There’s a place where mercy reigns and never dies
There’s a place where streams of grace flow deep and wide
Where all the love I’ve ever found
Comes like a flood
Comes flowing down[Chorus:]
At the cross
At the cross
I surrender my life
I’m in awe of You
I’m in awe of You
Where Your love ran red
and my sin washed white
I owe all to You
I owe all to You Jesus

There’s a place where sin and shame are powerless
Where my heart has peace with God and forgiveness
Where all the love I’ve ever found
Comes like a flood
Comes flowing down

[Chorus]

Here my hope is found
Here on holy ground
Here I bow down
Here I bow down
Here arms open wide
Here You save my life
Here I bow down
Here I bow down

[Chorus]