Here’s something fun: Ask your child, wife, staff member, deacon, elder, small group teacher: “What did I speak on 3 weeks ago?…2 weeks ago?…this past weekend? Ouch! Maybe that isn’t so fun. Why do their answers sting so much? Because, as communicators, we desperately want to reach the people that we’re speaking to. How can we improve in the art and science of communication?
Study the best communicators
Study the Master – How did Christ communicate (mustard seed, vine, and branches, children, wind, Living Water, seeds, a plank in your eye, etc.).
Study people in Scripture – Check out leaders in both the Old and New Testaments. Study Peter and Paul. Look at Acts 17 – How did Paul communicate differently in verses 16-32 than he did at the beginning of the chapter?
Study present-day communicators – Who are your favorite speakers? What do you like about them? How do they capture your mind and your heart?
Practice the disciplines of your craft
Creativity – Consider all that our Creator made; the many different species, colors, people, etc. Let Him inspire you to use every ounce of your talent and imagination in crafting messages. Michael Slaughter, Pastor of Ginghamsburg Church said, “Electronic media are the language of our culture. Our strategies for designing worship MUST be visually engaging.”
Learning – Study “how to” learn and be a continual learner yourself. We should all be constant students of God, His creation, His Word, the people He died for, the culture we find ourselves in and how to communicate effectively. Stretch yourself. Read constantly!
Risk-Taking – Great communicators take risks. Risk and faith go hand in hand. When we stand up to preach, do we rely more on our experience and education or the Holy Spirit? When Rob Bell was the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, the entire first year of their church, Rob preached on the book of Leviticus – and the church grew from zero to three thousand members. Talk about risk-taking! Like him or not, Rob Bell is a phenomenal communicator.
Be intentional and employ the following
Storytelling – Paint a picture with your words. Never forget the power of the imagination. Everything doesn’t have to be on the screen. Dan Kimball said, “Because people in the emerging culture don’t know the story, preachers must become storytellers again.”
The Arts – Praise God. the arts are coming back to the church! For so long, you had a place to serve in our churches if you taught, sang, or played the piano/organ. Now, everyone is (or should be) welcome to use their gifts and talents for the glory of God whether they are a “techie”, painter, dancer, poet, sculptor, seamstress, designer, video producer, actor, etc. Find the artists in your church and allow them to partner with you in communicating the Gospel.
Shift from auditory only to multi-sensory worship – One doesn’t have to research too long to see that most people learn today through other means than hearing. Leonard Sweet’s book Post-Modern Pilgrims laid out in detail his EPIC concept. Len Sweet suggests (and I agree) that our worship services and sermons should be Experiential, Participatory, Image-based, and Connective. Sweet says, “When you have a choice to make about how to deliver a particular element of your worship service, push the bounds — make it dynamic, relational, and most of all, make it visual.”
Never Lose Your Focus
You must shift from Information to Transformation – Preaching in the modern church focused on a logical presentation of facts to move people toward a decision – now you need to move beyond words and be interactive and engaging. Our worship gatherings should not be a social or academic meeting of people “coming to church” and learning.
The goal is changed lives – Our worship gatherings should be a spiritual, authentic, life-changing encounter for God’s people connecting with each other and their Creator by experiencing His Presence in worship and confronting truth expressed through His Word and understood through His Spirit in an atmosphere of love, grace, peace, and joy!
Rely on His strength – With the reality that it’s not about us and that God knows whom we are trying to reach and how best to communicate to them, the obvious comes back to the forefront: Prayer is the key to all, the lifeline from which we “live, move, and have our being.”
l’ll close with 5 thoughts
You can’t do it alone – If you haven’t already, put together a creative planning team and work with them on your message and series planning.
Evaluation – The only way to truly grow and improve as a communicator is to constantly evaluate your teaching. Suggestions for this are:
Video yourself teaching
Listen to just an audio recording of yourself teaching
Ask others to evaluate your teaching.
Remember: All our media are simply tools – Our responsibility as leaders are to help people stay focused on Jesus, not the experience itself. If they leave our churches saying, “What a cool video” or “What a great sermon” instead of “What an awesome God!” we’ve missed the boat.
Watch and listen to other communicators – Great teachers study other great communicators. I get to see and hear from Steven Furtick almost weekly. I know he watches other communicators and has truly mastered the art of communication. I listen to Matt Chandler and others via podcasts. Each time I listen to Chandler, I am amazed at how he captures the ears and hearts of the listener. PRO TIP: Both Furtick and Chandler weave humor into their messages. Never underestimate the power of humor and laughter. Who do you resonate with and learn from? We can all grow in this area.
Please don’t forget the power of imagination – Read THIS article I wrote last year on tapping into this powerful gift from our Creator God.
If I had to summarize my heart on preaching, I would say to work at your craft and put the time and effort into improving as a communicator. I believe in you. You can do it. Keep pressing on!
Are you a pastor or church leader with a full schedule and only limited hours in the week? If so, are you struggling to find ways to reach more first-time visitors with the limited time you have?
Being a pastor isn’t just preparing for Sunday’s message every week but the scope goes much more beyond that. And on top of all of that, you must find a way to reach more visitors and to spread the message of Christ.
There just isn’t enough hours in the week for everything a pastor must do.
And with that, I am so excited to invite you to the Church Hacks Summit to Reach More First Time Visitors!
They’ve assembled 25 of the world’s leading church first impressions, guest services, and marketing experts to teach you their secrets on how to reach more first-time visitors and grow your church.
I’m honored to kick off the Summit with the opening talk on why hospitality matters. I’ll be making the Biblical case for why you should take this area of ministry seriously.
This is going to be a free online event (no travel) for equipping your church with proven systems and strategies to connect with new first time visitors in your community! We’ll show you how your church can be a magnet for first-time visitors without being gimmicky, breaking the bank, or setting unrealistic expectations.
And the best part of the Church Hacks Summitis that it is 100% absolutely free! If this is something you’re interested in, just click this link and register today! And if you know somebody that would benefit from this Summit, make sure to let them know.
I thought I’d take a look back at the most popular blog posts of 2016. Important to note is that there are a few that are targeted to pastors and preaching. There are also a few focused on Easter – which is good for this time of year.
There are also a couple on my church secret shopper ministry. You can go here to learn more about hiring me to evaluate your church’s weekend experience.
Also, please check out my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper – which goes into great, practical details on how to turn first-time guests into second-time guests.
Expectation is the act or state of looking forward or anticipating; an expectant mental attitude. The mindset and posture in which we should approach God are one of expectation. We expect God to show up, move, lead, and guide. If He doesn’t then we are simply leading in the flesh and won’t make an eternal difference.
William Carey said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
The innovative and strange leader expects great things from God. The innovative and strange leader leads by faith and is rooted in hope.
Christian artist, Steven Curtis Chapman, wrote a song entitled “Great Expectations.” Let’s look at his lyrics to the chorus:
Believe the unbelievable. Receive the inconceivable.
And see beyond my wildest imagination Lord, I come with great expectations.
Can we really “believe the unbelievable” and “receive the inconceivable?” Several years ago, I got to hear Joel Hunter preach at Buckhead Church in Atlanta. He taught on expectation and defined it as “a belief that is centered on the future.” Joel said, “We can expect God to be: available, wise, gentle and tough, patient, comforting, strong, and relentless.”
Does your belief in God to be wise and strong affect how you lead and make decisions? If God truly knows what is best, do we trust Him no matter where He leads and no matter what He asks and requires of us?
I wait expectantly trusting God to help for He’s promised —Psalm 130:5 (LB)
I pray to God—my life a prayer—and wait for what he’ll say and do. —Psalm 130:5 (MSG)
My friend, Steve Komanapalli, who used to be special assistant to Rick Warren and a pastor at Saddleback wrote a guest blog for me a while back. In it, he said, “A farmer doesn’t plant some seeds and go to Hawaii for a year! He spends the time anticipating, expecting a harvest.” He also encouraged my readers to check out James 5.
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. —James 5:7
Steve went on to say, “If I’m going to wait, I need to wait confidently. Micah 7:7 says, “I wait confidently for God.” Rick Warren says, “When the outlook is bad, you look up. That is what hope is.” It’s confident expectation.
The God factor
To lead an innovative organization, you must lead from a place, posture, and mindset of faith mixed with hope in Christ. The difference between business innovation and ministry innovation is the supernatural factor. We seek to be led by the Holy Spirit and not just think up new ways of doing things.
Once you’ve done your part of prayerfully seeking God and reflecting on His word, you must believe God will answer, lead, and direct you and your team. As you know, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)
In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning, I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. —Psalm 5:3 (NIV)
Psalm 5 is my encouragement to you, friends. Lay your requests before God and “wait in expectation.” This does not mean to sit on your hands and do nothing until you hear the audible voice of God. Sometimes we act, move or lead in expectation and anticipation of something we believe God has said or promised He will do.
If God has spoken to you through His word, His Spirit, or given you a vision for something, you should confidently expect God to move mountains on your behalf. Be humble and trust in God for the victory. Check out Ps 62:
I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. —Psalm 62:1 (NLT)
An innovative leader is strange, prayerful, bold, courageous, decisive, a risk-taker, organized, motivated, commissioned, visionary, and on mission— as well as full of faith, hope, and an expectation God is going to show up and come through.
It reminds me of the lyric from Delirious band’s song “My Glorious,” which says “God will save the day and all will say my glorious!”
Do you believe “God will save the day?” When you’re backed into a corner, confused, scared, nervous, or just plain don’t know what to do in a situation, where do you turn? Do you expect and anticipate God to answer your cry for help and lead you down a new trail of adventure?
I do. I believe God has a plan for me, my life, my mission, and my ministry. I believe He is listening to my prayers and stands ready to answer and come to my rescue when I sincerely seek Him. And He will do the same for you!
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. —Ephesians 3:20–21 (NIV)
Let me say up front that this post is longer than usual, but if you read it all and truly wrestle with it, you’ll be a better leader and your family and congregation will thank you for it. Let’s dive in!
Communication is key to being an effective leader and I would argue a genuine human being. After being called out by my wife, previous employers and team members for interrupting, I had to do some deep soul searching and take an introspective look at how I communicate, dialogue and interact with people in general. I realized I didn’t intentionally practice active listening.
Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.
Honestly, this is an area I’ve dealt with for years and am just now actively working on improving. I think I’ve always known that listening is key; I just haven’t done a good job at it in every area of my life.
I actually wrote about leaders needing to listen in my last book Strange Leadership. In the book, I said, “Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. Leaders are listeners.” I even pinned a TwitPic to my Twitter wall to share it with others. It’s been retweeted over 1200 times. I think we all know this is true deep down. The question is do we live this out? Do I live this out?
I’ve blogged and posted on social media numerous times that I see a counselor or therapist. I have for years and I highly recommend it, especially for pastors. Lately, this is what I have been working on with my therapist. I asked him to help me be a better active listener. So each week we work on active listening.
Here’s what I’m learning and here are five ways to evaluate yourself and do your own introspection:
Leadership: Employers, are you open to feedback? Do you know and practice bottom-up leadership? Do you learn from your employees?When you lead and interact with your team and staff, do you really listen to them? Do you know their dreams, their passions, their struggles, and frustrations? Do you hear them when they say their hurting, or tired, or burnt out and in need of rest? Employees, do you understand what your employer wants from you? Do you actively listen when he or she gives you instructions and corrections? Do you get defensive and interrupt them when they critique you or give you a performance evaluation?Pastors and church leaders, are you listening to your congregation? When you plan sermon series, do you have a good pulse on what your people are going through? Do you actively listen to their concerns, fears, and frustrations with where the church or leadership is heading? Do you encourage open dialogue?
Counseling: Pastors, when you counsel people in your congregation, do you cut them off and interject your thoughts and opinions? I have in the past. Do you practice active listening in such a way (like a therapist would) that you can repeat back to them what they said? Good counselors and therapists will listen to you vent and share and then respond with, “So what I hear you saying is…” I know you have a Biblical worldview, a strong grasp of Scripture and theology, but there is much to be learned in this area. My wife is a counselor and they go through a grueling two-year grad school program to learn counseling techniques – techniques we would benefit from learning. A book I highly recommend is entitled Toughest People to Love. I’ve read it twice and found it thoroughly helpful and insightful. I also recommend you reach out to a local therapist and pick their brain. Ask them to teach you how to be a better active listener. And, if you’re not already doing it, make an appointment with a counselor. You will benefit greatly from it. Your family and congregation will benefit because of it, and you might learn something.
Social media: Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. My friend, Nils Smith said, “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” The biggest problem I see when I do an online presence evaluation as a church secret shopper is churches using social media as a broadcast tool only. They don’t truly create conversations and safe places for people to react, interact, and dialogue with the church and its leaders. My friend Brandon Cox wrote a helpful and insightful book entitle Rewired. In the book, Brandon writes, “The world around us is having a conversation about life, meaning, culture, and eternity, and we have an amazing opportunity not just to join the conversation but also to lead it. But too many in the church are struggling to keep up with this cultural shift and failing to use these communication tools to their full advantage. And this shift we are seeing toward a more mobile, social environment is actually a return to the form we were created for: to be in relationships, to have conversations, and to share our stories–and God’s–with each other.” I encourage you to strategically and prayerfully rethink your social media strategy as a church with a focus on listening.
Family: Did you know that if you learn this skill of active listening and utilize it intentionally and regularly, you will have a better relationship with your spouse and children? I can’t tell you how many times I’m watching TV or working on my computer while my wife is talking to me and then she says, “Greg, tell me what I just said.” I usually struggle to repeat her words back to her. Since I’ve been coached on active listening, I’ve gotten better at this. I’ve still got a way to go, but I’m growing and learning. You’ll find that your parenting skills and dynamics change with your kids if you truly pay attention to them, make eye contact with them, and say back to them, “If I heard you right, you’re feeling…” If you accept my advice and heed my own testimony, this skill can improve and for some of you, save your marriage and/or relationship with your kids.
Relationships: One of the things that I’m proud of is that I’m a good friend. I truly care about those that I’m in a relationship with. When I interact with my friends now, I’m trying my best to actively listen. Too many times we’re quick to interrupt and interject our thoughts without allowing them to finish their thought and express how they feel. If you want to go to the next level in your life and relationships, learn to listen and then respond with grace and love.
You know who’s really good at active listening? Coaches and counselors. I think we, as church leaders, could learn a lot from them and apply this same technique to our various areas of ministry and service.
These are 5 things that I’m working on in my life and if you prayerfully assess and evaluate your own areas, you’ll have no regrets. Remember: Leaders are listeners. Let’s seek to lead and listen exceedingly well.
One last thing, friends and you haven’t heard me say this in YEARS: Go to my YouTube channel and subscribe! I am about to start recording regular content for pastors and leaders. I’ll be doing series for areas and subjects such as leadership in general, pastoral ministry, helps and coaching, guest services training and insights, ministry thoughts, mental health issues and awareness, and other things that I get emailed about. Please SUBSCRIBE today!
Often I get asked by a pastor or worship leader what I’m listening to and worshiping with. They realize that I travel the United States doing church secret shopper consultations and that I probably experience music and worship in more churches yearly, than just about anyone else to be honest.
So I hear a wide variety of styles and song selections. But I do have my personal preferences and songs that really move me and help me to connect to God. I bet you do, too. I’d like to introduce you to some that are my favorite (if you’re not already aware of them).
For the past 2 to 3 months, I’ve put YouTube on my TV and watched 2 artists, which I consider to be the best worship music in the United States. I think Elevation Worship is the best worship music in the US. I think Bethel Music is a close second. And they are very different, but I love them both.
Here are the songs that God has really used to minister to my heart and soul. I hope you’ll worship with them personally and consider them for corporate music.
Take Courage – Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music
*** My current favorite song! This song is brand-new and isn’t even on iTunes yet.
Call Upon the Lord – Elevation Worship (My current 2nd favorite song)
Resurrecting – Elevation Worship
Here As in Heaven – Elevation Worship
O Come to the Altar – Elevation Worship (great response song after the message)
King of My Heart – Bethel Music (I know Saddleback Church has done this several times recently)
Ever Be – Bethel Music
No Longer Slaves – Bethel Music
It is Well – Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music (for more traditional churches that want to breathe new life into an awesome hymn)
*** I’d love to hear from you. What’s playing in your earbuds these days? What songs move you?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My best friend, Thomas Rose, is a worship leader in Nashville and also has a band called The Rose Factor. Here is their video of “Oceans” by Hillsong United. Let this arrangement and the graphics that go with it inspire you. Maybe consider adding a click track to the video and using it as a video track at your church? Go for it! Worship God with this beautiful song.