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2014 is coming upon us. Most people make new year resolutions like joining a gym, going on a diet, etc. I’d like to share 7 simple things you can do to get your new year started off right.

  1. Go on some sort of fast – Priorities and focus are more important at the start of a new year than resolutions that quickly fall by the wayside. You need to participate in some sort of fast from something you love to place your focus on God and make Him your priority. I’ve done short fasts, extended fasts, Daniel Fasts, movie and TV fasts and most recently a technology fast. Since it’s not healthy for me not to eat due to some medicine I take, I recently fasted one month (30 days) from social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+… you name it) and all things technological. I was shocked to see how dependent (in a bad way) that I had become on them. Getting away from technology for a month allowed me to spend more time in Scripture, prayer and with my family. It also gave me a healthy perspective on social media. I found myself wanting to post the silliest things that had no business being on Facebook. When I returned to social media, I had a new purpose and perspective and started using my social media platforms the right way. For some of you, it may be easier to go 30 days without eating than without social media. If that is the case, you have a problem and an intervention is needed. I’m kidding. Sort of.
  2. Get a watch – While I was on my recent fast from social media and technology, I found one thing happening over and over: My iPhone was constantly in my hand. I was attached to it. I realized that I always had it out, in my hand and would look at it during meetings, mealtime and other rude and inappropriate times. I jokingly told my wife, “I just need to get a watch. Then I could keep my phone in my pocket.” Sure enough, while out of town speaking at a conference, I stopped in a shopping mall and bought a watch. Now my lunches, dinners, coffees and meetings are different because I’m not constantly checking my phone and appearing rude to whoever I’m eating or meeting with. Everything is going mobile and we need a healthy boundary and perspective for this technology.
  3. Read a different kind of book – I’ve often said, “Leaders are readers.” To start the new year off right, I want to encourage you to read something completely different and out of your comfort zone. For two decades of ministry I bragged about only reading non-fiction and said I had no time for fiction. Guess what? God opened my eyes that truth and beauty can be found in fiction. I recently watched “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” again and I found myself saying, “Tolkien was a genius and God had His hand on His writing.” God used that eye-opening movie to open my mind to reading books out of my wheelhouse. Maybe you only read Christian or ministry books and need to read a business book. Maybe you need to read a historical book or biography. Whatever may be your case, branch out this year and read something totally different. You’ll be better for it.
  4. Go on a retreat – At the last church I pastored I would go on two different retreats at the start of each year (in January). One was with our church’s Senior Leadership Team. One was with my campus staff. I would put a lot of time and effort prepping for my campus staff retreat. I would think of things that my team needed to address, tackle and discuss. I would be sure to include plenty of social and bonding time as well. We also spent a great deal of time dreaming and talking strategy. There’s a lot of ideas and creative juices flowing at the start of a new year, coming off of the Christmas season and heading towards Easter. January or February is the perfect time to get away and pray, dream, create, plan, play and bond.
  5. Go to a conference – I also try to take key staff to a conference in the early part of the year (pre-Easter). It’s another opportunity to get away, bond and feed your professional side. I’ve often said I’ve learned far more at conferences over the years than I ever did at school. Going to a conference as a team could be just the boost your team needs. You must stay sharp in the ministry world and the new year is the perfect time to fill up your tanks (spiritually, mentally, creatively) and to just all around be inspired. For a list of where I’ll be speaking at in 2014, check HERE. I’d love to see you on the road. For a list of great conferences in 2014, check HERE.
  6. Visit another church – This is my secret that I’ve kept for 20 years of ministry. Whenever I can, however I can, I take any opportunity to visit another church. Maybe I’m on vacation. Maybe I’m out of town at a conference. Maybe I go to a Saturday night service or a Sunday night service. For two decades, every chance I got, I visited other churches. Good and bad. I’ve visited almost all of the churches on the largest church list, as well as the fastest-growing list. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do (I’ve visited some bad churches, too). The key is to see something different than what you’ve grown accustomed to. You see the same church week in and week out, 48 to 50 Sundays a year. You have to be intentional and make it a priority to visit somewhere else and learn what you can. I can not stress enough how important this is.
  7. Set goals – I’m extremely driven and goals are essential to the innovation and strategic leader. It was the late great Zig Ziglar that said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” At the beginning of last year, I asked my staff to turn in goals for the year for their area of ministry. You would have thought I had tortured them. It was like pulling teeth. I scratched my head in disbelief. Every staff member should set goals for his or her ministry area and then share them with the team. This is a concept called “Goal Contagion.” Scientists have found that you are dramatically more likely to accomplish your goals if you can see other people working on goals. You don’t even have to meet the person, simply reading about what they’re working on gives you a literal boost. As I have blogged about numerous times in the past, we must constantly be recruiting, equipping/training and growing in our given areas of ministry. If you have 10 volunteers, make a goal to get to 20 volunteers. If you are bad with communication, make it a goal to communicate better this new year. If you’re bad with follow up and assimilation, make it a goal to send out letters, emails and make phone calls this new year, each week. Make goals to grow spiritually and professionally. If you lead a staff or team, think of developing personal growth plans for each of your team members and check in with them each week. Don’t wait until the year-end evaluation to tell someone how they’re doing. If someone is doing a poor job, it should not be a surprise to them in a year-end review. Read that again. Communicate and set clear, measurable goals.

* Do these 7 simple, but crucial things and your new year will be off to a great start.

Greg Atkinson

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