Archives For Discipleship

Hey, friends! Did you know that there is a Facebook group where we talk about everything that happens on a weekend at the local church? There is!

If you serve as a pastor, church staff member (Communications, Children’s, worship, guest services, first impressions, hospitality – or even on the security team) – this is a great place to share best practices, ask questions, and learn.

Go HERE to join in the discussion. Remember – this week could very well be someone’s first Sunday at your church. LOVE and SERVE them well.

  • And if you haven’t already, go sign-up for the first annual First Impressions Conference. It’s May 1-3 and it’s all online (no travel). Check out the speakers, sessions, and the schedule is posted at the bottom of the website. See you in May!

*** And just for readers of this blog: Use coupon code GREGATKINSON when you check out and save 20% off conference registration. Put the code in right under the word “Tickets.”

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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 2018).

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 about 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.

CCV-Communication-Card

We all come from different tribes, denominations, styles of music and sizes small to large. The one thing churches of all kind have in common on a day as huge as Easter is wanting to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. How do you do that?

One tool that I’ve used well over the years and highly recommend is having some sort of response card, info card, communication card or connection card – whatever you want to call it.

You can put these in the seats, in the bulletin or hand them out as people walk in. You can collect them in a variety of ways: Have the guests put them in the offering plate, or have the guests take them to a connection or collection area.

You can see a higher response rate by offering a free gift for people that turn them in at the designated area. Some churches give away books and some give away coffee mugs.

The point is to collect as many responses and connection cards as you can. Please have a circle or box that they can check off that reads “First-time Guest.” Also good to ask is, “How did you hear about us?” Also, have boxes for people to check off if they made a decision for Christ. Also good is space for people to share prayer requests.

What you do with the card once it’s turned in (what you do post-Easter) is key. As I’ve said before, “Assimilation is an often overlooked or under-appreciated part of church ministry.”

You can read all about how I did assimilation at a church where I was a Campus Pastor at HERE

Don’t have a Connection Card? Don’t know where to start? I created this sample pack (which has editable files) for you and your church. Go here to download for free!

I hope you guys have an incredible and productive week and may you see much fruit this Easter season!

If you’re like most pastors and church leaders, you’re probably already planning for Easter. It will be here before you know it. I was talking with a church recently and they said they wanted to help people get “from the street to the seat.” That’s cool and it’s what I do. I also help you turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

As a “secret shopper” in churches nationwide, I report specific reasons why I wouldn’t return for a second visit and why, most likely, their guests aren’t coming back. Whether it’s a church plant, established church, a small church or mega-church, some details are universal and quickly determine the first impression your church makes. Let’s look at eight:

The Front Door

Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus, he or she has probably already checked out your church website. What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Once clicked on, this should take you to a page that addresses FAQ’s, service times, directions, parking instructions (Is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?), what to expect (upbeat music and relevant, practical, Biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere, etc.), what to wear (Are jeans okay? Are shorts okay?), and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.

What Stinks?

It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. While sight is the strongest sense for short term memory, the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, that’s your sense of smell in action. Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Mold is a bad smell. Coffee is a good smell. Bleach is a bad smell. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell like urine. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever returning. As best you can, try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose.

Park Here

One of Tim Stevens’ three “growth lids” that he thinks every growing church should have is someone who is constantly watching parking. Tim says, “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church, they won’t go.” Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking. Of course some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority), but for the rest of newcomers, they are appreciative for a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture in an already intimidating and nerve-racking experience of attending a church for the first time, especially a large one with a huge campus.

This Way Parents

One way to assure guests will not return is to have a confusing, long or hard to find process, for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signage for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless. Regular attendees may know to go up to the check-in kiosk and enter their phone number or swipe their card, but guests will be clueless and need a manned station that is clearly marked for guests and have a volunteer walk them through the registration. Then have that person or another helper walk you to your kid’s class explaining what will be going on and how to go about picking their kids back up. If they must have a sticker with corresponding numbers on it to get their kids, this needs to be explained to them. Signage for the kids check-in should start in the entryway of the guest parking. Do not assume people know where to go once they enter the building.

Give It Away

Something subtle, but powerful is a church that has a generous spirit. Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL is big on this. They have a coffee shop, but they also have a designated area where people can get free coffee and not pay anything. They also give away their message CDs. Too many churches charge for everything and wonder why no one buys CDs of the message. If you want to bless people and create a generous spirit throughout your church, give away free coffee and message CDs (and other surprises throughout the year). I know churches that will have ice cream trucks pull up outside the church doors and give away free ice cream to congregants leaving on a hot, summer day.

Security Counts

One issue that is huge to a secret shopper and visiting families is security. If a parent is worried about their child’s safety, they will not enjoy the service and will likely not return. A children’s classroom must be clean, safe and secure. Security also includes the check-out process. If anyone can walk into a classroom and pick up a kid, you’re asking for trouble and will turn off potential newcomers. It’s important that your kids’ volunteers are trained well and know to ask for the parent’s sticker when picking up their kids. This is vital and goes a long way to ensuring a tragedy doesn’t occur and a parent has peace of mind.

The Visible Pastor

Accessibility of the senior pastor is another subtle and powerful statement of a church. Even pastors of the largest churches in America make an intentional and strategic effort to be seen, greeted and hugged after a service. They may have a bodyguard present for security reasons, but they are available and willing to pray with people that need to speak to their pastor. Some churches have a designated “Guest Central”, like Steve Stroope at Lake Pointe in Rockwall, TX or Brady Boyd at New Life in Colorado Springs. Some have a “Meet and Greet.” Some pastors stand down at the altar and meet and pray with people like Kevin Myers at 12Stone in Atlanta. Some walk around the campus shaking hands like Don Wilson at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix. Erwin McManus at Mosaic LA has an “After Party”, at which the pastor is present and available to meet with newcomers. This, especially in a large church, goes a long way toward countering the rock star or unavailable pastor stigma that so many guests walk into the church expecting.

Finish Strong

It’s simply not enough for greeters and parking lot attendants to say “Hello” or “Welcome” when one walks into their church. To go to another level, have your first impressions team stationed at their posts when the service ends to say “Goodbye” or “Have a nice week”. This goes a long way to wrapping a bow around the entire morning experience and will send them off with a lasting positive impression.

I’m really just scratching the surface, but these are some of the most crucial things to have on your radar. I cover all this and more in great depth in my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. You can check out that book HERE. If you’re interested in hiring me to serve you as a church secret shopper, go here for more info.

Look out for and be sensitive to these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return of second and third-time guests. And allow me to be the first to say: Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.

Hello, friends. I’ve had the honor of being on several podcasts over the years. Recently, I was guest on some great podcasts where we discussed my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

I realized that I haven’t told you all about them, so I wanted to post them here for you to check out.

I’m in the process of recording several more, so stay tuned for updates.

For now, give these a listen!

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

  1. Study the Master – How did Christ communicate (mustard seed, vine, and branches, children, wind, Living Water, seeds, a plank in your eye, etc.).
  2. 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?
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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

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

 

Did you know you listen every day with your eyes just as much as your ears? I listen every day as I read through Twitter posts, Facebook statuses, Instagram pictures, people watching, etc. Listening is an art, but it helps to approach it like a science.

I follow a wide variety of people on social media because I’m listening through technology – a science I learned from my friend Tony Steward. Christians, non-Christians, atheists, New Agers, Jews, Muslims, tech gurus, musicians, celebrities, churches, news outlets – you name it, I follow them. I get a pulse on culture and the world via the people and companies I follow and listen to.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while, he knows something.” – Wilson Mizner.

“The first duty of love is to listen.” – Paul Tillich

The thing about listening is it goes hand-in-hand with intentionality. I can only share this concept with you, but you have to put feet to it. I listen because I care. I listen because I want to learn. I listen because I want to grow.

I want to join God where He’s at work.

I often talk about having our spiritual antennas up. If your spiritual antenna is up, you won’t miss opportunities to be Christ to someone in need. In the book and study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says, “God’s activity is far greater than anything we could aspire to do for Him.”

Listening is another way of saying being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. If we truly believe God’s activity is greater, then we would have to take steps to seek His moving.

“Watch what God does and then you do it.” – Ephesians 5:1 (MSG)

As we open our eyes, ears, and hearts and truly listen with all our ability (again this takes intentionality), we have the great privilege and opportunity of getting on the same page with our Creator and joining Him in His work and mission.

As I said in a blog post for Outreach Magazine: If you want to be truly innovative and start doing new and exciting ways of ministry you must be dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah 33:3 teaches us, “Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.”

If we “call to God” and He promises to answer, this inherently requires listening on our part. God will reveal things that we would never figure out on our own, but we have to be ready, available, sensitive and actively listening.

Who are you listening to?

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 Summit is 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 spend a lot of time with pastors around the country. I get asked all kinds of questions. I’ll write another day about more in-depth communications strategy. 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.

Think mobile. Why? 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 all 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 book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

It’s 2pm on a Thursday and you are knee-deep in your sermon preparation and coming down the homestrech. The energy, caffeine, and momentum is just right – you feel you’ll finish before 6pm and make it home in time for supper.

Then it happens: You get that knock on your door and look up to see someone standing in your doorway saying, “Do you have a moment?” – they’re not interrupting your work. They ARE your work.

Ministry is about people;  it always has been and always will be.

One thing that bugs me is hanging out with pastors that say (not jokingly), “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people.” It pains my heart that pastors and Church leaders don’t get this simple truth. We are the Body of Christ and every member is important and special. We are called to shepherd God’s people and that involves getting our hands dirty and yes, being bothered and interrupted.

IMPORTANT: This isn’t about being an introvert or extrovert. This is about being sensitive to the Holy Spirit, who is always at work around us.

As ministers, we should seek the opportunities to show and express Christ’s love to those we lead and serve.

Speaking of seeking opportunities: You have to be intentional. What does your weekly schedule look like? How many breakfasts, coffees and lunches do you schedule each week? I fill lots of my calendar with people meetings and have for 22 years.

If you go from administrative meeting to meeting and never schedule any time with your congregation members, volunteers and staff, and people in the community, you’re missing a crucial part of leadership and the opportunity to be God in the flesh to someone in need.

Please note: It is very important to set boundaries. I used to do all sorts of late night meetings. Now, I make people schedule a meeting during office hours. There is the rare exception/emergency, but that’s to be expected in ministry.

My encouragement and exhortation to you is to leave some margin in your schedule for the unexpected. Have time set aside in your calendar that is empty, so when the interruptions come (and they will), you’ll be able to get back on track.

So where do you go from here? Here’s an action item:

When you notice someone down, frustrated, hurt or just not themselves, you should take the initiative to ask if they need someone to talk to or how you can pray for them. When you’re in the midst of busy/office work and someone calls, texts, emails, IMs, or drops by your office – take the time to listen and serve.

Be the hands and feet of Christ to those you come in contact with – it’s what we’re called to do and you’ll be a better and more trusted, respected and loved leader because of it.

So – confession time: Have you ever been in the midst of busy/office work and had someone drop by unannounced? How did you handle it? Do you have the presence of mind to be sensitive to the Spirit?

 

*** This is an excerpt from my bestselling book Church Leadership Essentials. Get copies for your team HERE.