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graceGRACE. It’s my favorite word. As a matter of fact, I named my first-born child Grace. I often tell her how special her name is. I know she gets tired of hearing it (or maybe she secretly loves it), but I point out every song, sermon, or movie that mentions the word “grace.”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently became the Executive Director of ExPastors.com. We have a mission statement that reads as follows: We seek to be a place of help, healing, and hope for ex-pastors, pastors, and church leaders. We do this by hearing their stories, connecting them with people and resources, and focusing on spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health.

When Tullian Tchividjian reached out to us and I talked with him on the phone, I heard a man that had committed a sin (a serious sin before God and that is a hot-button for many people). I heard a man that had experienced brokenness, shame, loneliness, deep and dark sadness, and regret over what he had done to his family, and how he let his church and followers down.

As a matter of fact, Tullian was in such a dark place of sadness, regret, loneliness, anger, and frustration that he set out to take his life. He even wrote a suicide note that he shared in the piece we published. You can read it here.

Why did we share his piece? I shared today on ExPastors.com, we didn’t share it because he had “arrived,” or we thought he was “fully restored,” or that we believed he was “ready to re-enter ministry.” We don’t know any of that – that’s between him and God. He did, however, address those questions and accusations with RNS in this piece. A while back, when writing about Tullian, Charisma News wrote the following:

“Weak areas such as drugs, alcohol, pain meds, sex, anger, marriage issues, and so on are ‘opportune times’ for the enemy to strike. We must expose these areas through repentance, and install safeguards and accountability.”

I agree. Friends, I’ve been in ministry for over two decades and I know and have experienced the attacks, traps, temptations, and lies of the enemy. I urge you to pray for pastors around the world. And I challenge you to sincerely pray for pastors who have fallen (like Tullian), been fired for addiction (like Perry Noble), and burned out (like Pete Wilson).

We, as a ministry, and myself personally, took a ton of heat, bullets, and accusations by many upset and angry people. Did they have a right to be upset and angry? I don’t know. I just know that when it comes to truth and grace, I always lean towards grace. A therapist, professor and author that I respect said the same thing. Only Jesus perfectly embodies truth and grace equally. He is 100% truth and 100% grace. We all lean one way or the other.

On Wednesday night, after we and I took a beating on our website and on social media, I looked my daughter Grace in the eyes, with tears in my eyes and said, “You know how special your name is to me, right?” She said, “Yes.” I told her about the personal attacks I had received for showing Tullian grace. And I reminded her:

“Grace is unmerited favor. You can’t earn grace (thank God). We don’t receive grace because we’re perfect, deserve it, or have it all together. Grace is freely offered by God to us and we should freely offer it to others.”

Tullian’s grandfather, Billy Graham, wrote about grace and the unmerited favor of God here. I encourage you to read it. You can read more about what we, at ExPastors, believe and are about here.

So, Thursday after being emotionally drained and exhausted from the constant attacks on our website, social media, and people that targetted me personally and questioned my integrity, I went to see my therapist for our weekly appointment. Yes, I see a counselor. Yes, I believe strongly in therapy. And I’ve writen and spoke out about it frequently. I think every pastor should see a therapist. One of the lies and traps of the enemy is isolation. If you feel alone and have no one to talk to, you will fall (or take your life), and be another statistic.

So, last week I met with my therapist. He said, “What would you like to talk about today?” I said, “I have a lot to talk about, express, get off my chest, and get some counsel on.” So, I told him about my week and the reason we published Tullian’s piece. I told him that many pastors commit suicide each year. In an article by Charisma News, they wrote: “It’s this thought process that could have caused both Seth Oiler and Isaac Hunter to take their own lives after being caught in affairs.” God help us!

My therapist told me of another local therapist that used to be a Lutheran minister. He said this former minister is now a practicing counselor, who’s whole practice is dedicated to helping former pastors. Believe me, I will be reaching out to this counselor and getting to know him.

I told my therapist (and this is the God’s honest truth) that when I woke up Wednesday morning (after we posted Tullian’s piece on Tuesday), the first thought in mind before I even sat up and put my feet on the ground was:

JUST ONE. Yes, we took a lot of heat and bullets for posting the article, but if just one pastor read Tullian’s story of deep, dark depression that led him to consider taking his own life. If just one pastor decided to not take his life and seek help so they can keep on living – it was worth it all. 

My therapist encouraged me by reminding me of the “Starfish story.” You’ve probably heard it. Ever heard of the man walking along the beach and picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water so they wouldn’t die? Someone mocked him because there was no way he could make a difference and save every starfish. The man picked up a starfish, threw it in the water and said something like, “It made a difference to that one.”

Read my article on ExPastors.com entitled, “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. This is a Safe Place.” In the article I write, “We reach all kinds of pastors and ex-pastors: broken, hurt, wounded, mad, angry at God, angry at the Church, confused, on the verge of suicide (like Tullian Tchividjian shared), in transition, now in lay leadership, pastors who have burned out and are ready to quit, pastors who have resigned and now work a job outside the local church, pastors who were fired, pastors who were laid off due to finances or circumstances out of their control – all kinds of pastors and church leaders.

As my friend Pete Wilson once said, “It’s okay not to be okay.” And I would add, “This is a safe place. All are welcome here. Whether you like us or not, trust us or not, love us or hate us, agree with us or not, or are just checking us out – we welcome you.

And like it or not, Tullian is the very definition of an ex-pastor. For every mega-church pastor, author and/or conference speaker that finds themselves in a similar situation, there are hundreds or thousands of ex-pastors and struggling pastors that are hurting and/or burned out – they just pastor smaller churches and don’t have the platform that Tullian has. And to you, my friend, I also say, “This is a safe place.””

So, if you stumbled across this blog post and God has stirred something in your soul. If you’re a current or ex-pastor, we’d love to hear from you. Submit your story to us. It doesn’t matter if you pastor a church of 10 people, 100, or a 1000. We’re in this together and we hope to create a community where people can help one another get through tough seasons of ministry and life. If you’re at the end of your rope and need of help, contact us. We want to connect you with resources and other pastors.

Browse the site. Read through our articles. Maybe you’ll find something helpful and timely. Check out our Resources page and if you have a recommended resource, email us. Check the site often. Subscribe to our newsletter to get weekly email updates and subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with video content, including our new podcast (coming soon). FYI – When you subscribe to the ExPastors.com newsletter, you’ll receive a free copy of our Founder, Bo Lane’s best-selling book Why Pastors Quit.

Let’s be people known for and characterized by GRACE. That’s my story and my personal mission. I’m a grace dealer and I’m going to keep on dishing it out. God bless you pastors as you serve the Church. Keep pressing on. Don’t give up! You’re not alone.

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I became familiar with ExPastors.com and their Founder, Bo Lane, a couple of years ago. I’ve stayed in touch with Bo ever since. Over the past year, I’ve considered being more involved. Over the last month, I’ve now taken over as Executive Director of ExPastors.com.

I encourage you to get to know us. We’re not a place for people to bash the Church. We are a ministry that offers help, healing and hope to ex-pastors (for whatever reason they find themselves there), current pastors and church leaders.

We want to see all pastors be healthy physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

I encourage you to browse the website and its articles. See if there’s something there that might educate or encourage you in the season of life you find yourself.

This week (Tuesday) we have a very special guest post by an ex-pastor that hasn’t spoken out for over 2 years. Be sure to keep an eye on us and our articles.

You can do this by signing up for our newsletter, following us on Twitter, and subscribing to our YouTube channel (we are about to launch a new podcast). When you sign up for our newsletter, you will receive a FREE copy of Why Pastors Quit – a must read.

Read the newest post that is up there now. Maybe it will encourage you and offer you hope.

We get unbelievable emails from pastors and ex-pastors from around the world. Join our community and please know: If you’re tired, hurt/wounded, frustrated, burnt out, thinking about taking your life, depressed, anxious – whatever the enemy is attacking you with – I’m here for you. We’re here for you. You have people that care for you and want to help you.

God’s not finished with you. Neither are we. Don’t give up!

listening-earLet 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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

realtor-156501_960_720In 2009, I wrote a widely-shared blog entitled “Digital Real Estate.” In it, I pointed to people like worship leader Matt Redman and pastor Rick Warren, as well as churches like Life.Church and Willow Creek – that had claimed their name on Twitter, but were not yet tweeting. They just wanted to reserve their name in case Twitter took off. It did and they started to tweet. This, my friends, is what I call Digital Real Estate.

Years ago, I had to wait for another Greg Atkinson to let his domain expire and then I jumped on it. I’ve been blogging here at GregAtkinson.com ever since. I have my name (@GregAtkinson) on Twitter and Instagram.

I mentioned in 2009 that when Facebook started offering vanity names I was on vacation and missed grabbing my name by 2 days. On Facebook, my personal web address is www.facebook.com/greg.atkinson1, instead of www.facebook.com/gregatkinson. Another Greg Atkinson beat me to it!

Call me paranoid or egotistical, but I prefer words like intentional and strategic, which are used all throughout my writing.

I come to you today with something that has been on my mind for well over a year now. And that is: You need to reserve your church’s name on the .church domain. You can purchase your church’s name here (if it’s still available).

I was consulting with a church in February of this year and told them to buy it and they didn’t. Now their name has been taken. I told another church to buy their church’s name on the .church domain about 2 years ago (that’s how long this has been on my radar). They purchased their church’s name alright but didn’t quite grasp the concept. Instead of getting Grace.church (I’m making up a name), they purchased GraceChurch.church. The “church” is redundant.

I see smart and wise churches around the country grabbing their church’s name on .church. I strongly suggest you do the same. Follow the example of Life.Church and so many others.

Allow me to tell you what I tell churches that I consult with (and if I’m wrong then I’m wrong, but if I’m right…). I tell church leaders and pastors that in the near future when people think of churches on the web, they will automatically associate the name of the church with the .church domain.

So, for example when I told a local church (northrockhill.org) that in the future when someone hears about your church from one of its congregants, they will say something like, “Cool. I’ll check you guys out online. It’s northrockhill.church, right?” “Right.”

Just trust me: As familiar as we are with .com and .org, it will be just as normal and familiar for .church.

BOTTOMLINE: Go today and grab your church’s name on the .church domain. What do you have to lose?

PLEASE NOTE: I am in no way affiliated with the .church domain, nor do I receive any payment for writing about this. My link for you to buy it goes to GoDaddy.com because that is who I personally use, but I really don’t care who you go through to purchase it.

This is about future-proofing your church, which I talk about a lot in my consulting. 

Here is what Life.Church and Willow Creek’s Twitter account looked like when I first wrote about this in 2009:

lifechurch2009 willowcreek2009

I think they have no regrets in reserving their “digital real estate.” Now go grab yours! Trust me.

 

This year, Catalyst Atlanta is going to be out of this world. I plan on going and hope to see you there. Please don’t miss the Early Bird Rates that end today! Register HERE.

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YouVersion congrats

Hello readers! I am beyond thrilled and excited to partner with YouVersion by writing some new devotionals that will be coming soon, starting this Fall.

Here’s where you can see some of my new content that I’ve been writing or have coming out soon:

  • Rick Warren’s Ministry Newsletter
  • Pastors.com
  • ChurchLeaders.com
  • ChurchCentral.com
  • Christianity Today
  • Leadership Journal/CTPastors.com
  • XPastors.org
  • Church Fuel (look for a new eBook coming soon)
  • I will also be a guest on several church leader podcasts this Fall. I hope you’ll listen in on the conversations!

And lastly, I have BIG news: My 4th book entitled Secrets of a Secret Shopper will release this Fall. As you know I’m a consultant and church secret shopper. In this book, I tell you what I look for when I go to a large church and do a church secret shopper consultation.

I wrote this book primarily for small to medium-sized churches that may not be able to afford to hire me. So, if you want to make some killer improvements in the area of hospitality and guest services, be on the lookout for my next book. I can’t wait for you to read it!

Mobile website and phone_

I spend a lot of time with pastors around the country. I get asked all kinds of questions. I’ll write later about the most common things I see when I do a church secret shopper consultation. Today, I want to write about one of the most common things I say to churches. Here it is:

Always point people to your church’s website. Always. 

Before I finished this post, I took a quick poll of pastor friends of mine. I texted them and said, “Am I the only one that says this or is that what you also do with your church’s strategy?” They all agreed it’s the same for them, too. It’s what I always encourage pastors with when I consult with their church.

Why does this post have a picture of a mobile phone? Because people will check your mobile website out (most likely) first – before they sit at their computer and look. I’ve written in the past about being mobile. Let me just say this is HUGE. You have to have a mobile website or responsive design these days.

What are some examples of how this aforementioned principle plays out?

  • Your church’s receptionist and voicemail: When I call your church’s voicemail (and I do), I want to hear your service times and directions FIRST and then point me to your church website. You can list the departments and team members’ extensions later. When I call during the day and talk to your receptionist, she needs to be friendly, personable and knowledgeable. She shouldn’t have to ask someone for help answering a question. They need to know the services times, directions/address and they should ALWAYS say, “Please check us out online at www.yourchurch.com.
  • Social Media: Your social media reaches out to your community (and the world) and allows you to connect with your members, their friends, and family. How you use social media is a topic for another post (and others have covered this in great detail), but make sure your social media points people back to your church’s website.
  • Bulletin or Worship Guide: Guests don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much information on their first visit. It’s too much. Always remember: Less is more! Be selective about what you put in your worship guide and ALWAYS list your church’s website and point people to it. That is where they sign up anyway.
  • Announcements: Whether or not a church should have announcements in their service is a topic for another day, but whether you do live announcements, announcement slides, or pre-recorded video announcements, make sure you ALWAYS point people to your church’s website. Don’t stand up and make 10 announcements. Please stop. Please don’t. If you say anything, say something like, “If you’re looking for ways to get involved or plugged in here at Your Church, check us out online at www.YourChurch.com and you can find out what’s going on.” It’s concise, succinct, efficient, and effective. It’s actually more concise than that last sentence and more effective than if you announced each and every one of your announcements or listed them all in your bulletin (see above). To read some really great and well-thought-out thoughts on announcements, read Phil Bowdle’s blog post on the subject. I agree with everything he said.

Why?

Because we get such precious little time in front of, or on the phone with, or via social media to make a connection with people. The stage or platform, the phone, and your church’s social media channels are not the places to hit people with a ton of information or announcements.

What does a pastor speaking, a phone call, and a church’s social media channels all have in common? They are highly relational. The worst thing you can do with any of those outlets is bombard people with tons of information. Please don’t be broadcast-only on social media.

Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. “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.” – Nils Smith

Communication matters. How and what we communicate matters more. 

Do I believe in social media? Absolutely! Check out my social media channels. They’re very active. I use social media to connect with people – your church should, too. Church Facebook pages are wonderful. Interact with your congregation and community and respond to all comments.

However, your Facebook page doesn’t have a listing of your staff (with pictures) – it doesn’t have your Vision, Values, Beliefs, your church’s story, What to Expect page, etc. I could go on and on. Your church’s website (when used properly) is a gold mine of really important and relevant information.

Next Level:

Once people come to your church website, please encourage them to sign up for email updates (this is a genius add-on idea from my friend Nils Smith) and THEN you can keep the congregation informed on all that’s going on. Get it? There is a time and place for everything. And your church’s website is THE place to point your people to. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” – if that makes sense.

I’m telling you the same thing I tell all churches. I hope you’ll take this to heart and make the necessary changes. Let’s be clear, concise and effective communicators of good news!

*** I go into more detail on this and other things I consult on in my upcoming book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. Look for it this Fall.

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So here we are – less than two weeks away from the biggest Sunday of the year. I just left a planning meeting with the worship pastor at my home church. We were talking about ways to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. We brainstormed about setting up a tent outside to welcome guests and give them a gift, as well as info about next steps.

The reality is all we planned to do takes a huge amount of volunteer leadership. I coached him on delegating and equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4). But here’s the real question: How do we still have a team going forward after such a stressful and busy season as Easter?

Here are some thoughts: 

We live in a digital world. Texting, IMing, Facebook pokes, Instagram posts and daily tweets – it’s truly a whirlwind when it comes to communicating these days. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve found that a personal touch still goes a long way (yes, even in 2016).

1. A Handwritten Note

Everybody loves to receive a handwritten note thanking them for their service on your team. We’re coming up on one of the busiest times of the year with Easter. We all know that Easter is the “Super Bowl” for churches. More people will visit your congregation than any other day of the year.

Your volunteers are going to work countless hours (your staff, too). Take the time to write out Thank You notes to each and every one of them. If you have the budget, include a gift card in the note to them. Sometimes I do Chili’s gift cards for $25. Sometimes I can only do a $10 Starbucks card. Whatever your budget can do – make it happen.

2. Phone Calls

Another thing that goes a long way in this digital world is phone calls. It seems we’ve lost the art of picking up the phone and checking on our team and seeing how they’re doing. I used to go through my team’s list of names and give them a call just to see how they were doing and if there was anything I could pray for them about. This went a long way!

3. Personal Touch

One final thought I’ll mention on a personal touch is to give out hugs. You wouldn’t believe it, but a hug goes a long way. Now I know that some people don’t like to be touched and freak out if you try to hug them. You need to be aware of body language and know if you’re making someone uncomfortable, but by and large, most people like a good ‘ole hug.

On Wednesday night rehearsals, I greeted my team members with hugs and asked how they were doing. This is in contrast to barking “Get to your station!” or “Did you hear of the changes we made?”

I’ve made it a point to not let something “business” come out of my mouth first. The person is always more important than the thing we’re trying to accomplish or produce. Check on them first and then update them on the changes. Lastly, greet them with a warm smile. Let your people know you love and care for them.

This is about valuing people over production. People are more important than what they can produce and we shouldn’t prostitute them and their gifts. God has entrusted them to us and our team and we should value them.

How long has it been since you wrote a note? How long since you called a team member? Given any hugs lately? Let’s surprise our team and volunteers with a personal touch and an attitude of gratitude this Easter season.

rsz_men_singing

I’ve heard it for a decade now and I’ve had enough. I remember ten years ago in 2006, leading worship at my church in Dallas and we had a guest speaker that day: David Murrow, the author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. Since I knew the author was preaching that morning, I chose “Beautiful One” by Tim Hughes as a worship song. I just knew he’d love it. He didn’t. He actually referenced it in his message and talked about how men can’t connect to God with songs like that. I wholeheartedly disagree.

I think it’s safe to say that no lost person connects to God through song. They just sit back and watch and try to figure out what is happening in the moment.

However, if someone (male of female) has had a genuine encounter with the Living God – they sing, sometimes loud.

How do I know? I’ve witnessed it numerous times over 22 years of ministry and 40 years of life. I’ve seen and heard it in my local church and most recently, I have witnessed it in two very different environments.

First, I do prison ministry. I’ve been in prisons with a room full of tattooed, hardcore men (some with teardrop tattoos signifying they’ve killed someone) that are singing to the top of their lungs. They unashamedly worship our great God and Savior knowing the consequences and that some other prisoners may see this as a sign of weakness or make fun of them. Time and again, these men blow me away with their passion for God and love for worship music. Have you ever been led in worship by a praise band and choir made up of prisoners? I highly recommend it. They will rock your world.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Those guys have hit bottom – Of course they sing out to God.” Hold on. Secondly, I attend an invitation only men’s worship night that is held in a mansion-of-a-house in Charlotte on Monday nights. In this room are people like Executive Coaches, Life Coaches, ER doctors, a pediatrician, an orthopedic surgeon, an attorney and the list goes on and on.

These guys fill the living room and kitchen at the host’s home with sweet music as the pediatrician leads songs on an acoustic guitar. Are these men at the end of their ropes? Yes! In a different, but similar way. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

We’re all desperate for and dependent upon God. When we realize our need for Jesus, we cry out to Him. We lift our voices and shout, “Hosanna!”

So if you tell me men don’t sing, I’d ask you to come visit the imprisoned, sick, poor, along with the wealthy, prestigious, and influential leaders of our community and just be a fly on the wall. I think you’d walk away with your thoughts on the matter changed. We serve a powerful, amazing Creator God and He is worthy of unending praise.

So put your ear plugs in and buckle up because some men are going to lift Him up loudly. Will you be one?

He (Jesus) answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” – Luke 19:40

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A lot of people have heard or read that I’m regularly doing secret shopper or mystery worshiper visits to churches around the country. The question has been raised (and it’s a valid one): Do you need a secret shopper?

As someone who takes the mission to reach the lost and unfilled seriously, I think it’s a wise investment. It takes about a month for you to lose your new eyes, new ears and new nose. Things that you may have become used to or accepted, a secret shopper can spot on their initial visit.

I once had a great Secret Shopper visit with a local church plant in the DFW area. I then had great meeting afterwards where I shared constructive and encouraging feedback with their senior pastor. I was reminded of how even young church plants can quickly lose their new eyes and start to miss things that are obvious to a newcomer like me.

The pastor emailed me saying that they’ve worked on several of the items I listed and are excited about their future. Now, many years later, my secret shopper process has evolved. The last church I worked with was Menlo Church in California, pastored by John Ortberg. I evaluated all 5 of their campuses and went over a 22 page report with their senior leadership team. 

In one month, I’ll do another secret shopper visit at a mega-church in Dallas, TX. I’ve already begun my pre-assessment, as I take a thorough look at the church’s website and online presence.  This is a church that is seemingly doing well and has a large congregation in a metroplex, but they want to improve and tweak things and I applaud them for that.

I came across some good words on Mike Holmes’ blog that I’d like to share with you. He mentioned that a secret shopper or mystery worshipper can do a few things:

1.               Assess areas of strength and weakness.

2.               See what visitors see.

3.               Give objective appraisal.

He also shares the story of his experiment as a secret shopper, which is convicting and inspiring. He goes on to share signs you need a secret shopper or mystery worshipper:

1.               Visitors who don’t return

2.               Decreased attendance

3.               Lack of influence in the surrounding community

I would add an eye for excellence and an attempt to be better at hospitality. It’s always healthy to look at your Sunday morning experience through the eyes of a newcomer and especially the eyes of a lost person. You may get only one chance to make a positive impression on them.

We all know a guest makes up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes.

Read that again!

When you bring a guest to church, you instantly become sensitive to your surroundings – the people, the seats, the ushers, the greeters, the kids check-in, the sermon, the music, etc. You want everything to be perfect for your visiting friend (especially if they are not a Believer). A mystery worshiper can spot these crucial areas out for you, before your lost friend does. It’s an investment, but I think a wise one.

Nelson Searcy (in his book “Fusion”) says that if a first-time guest turns into a second-time guest, they are 80% more likely to get plugged into your church and eventually commit their life to Christ. That’s huge and that’s what I do. I help churches remove unnecessary barriers and bad impressions and turn first-time guests into second-time guests. 

I once read an article in the Wall Street Journal on secret shoppers. As the article states: “Department stores hire mystery shoppers. Restaurant chains bring in undercover diners to rate their food and service.” Isn’t what we do on Sundays as church leaders more important than department stores and restaurants? Seriously, isn’t it???

If you’d like to pick my brain or ask what’s involved in a secret shopper visit, contact me. If you’d like to read through endorsements of my ministry, check out the Worship Impressions website. Keep pressing on and know that what you do matters!