Archives For Discipleship

I love taking online relationships and going to the next level by meeting in person and even breaking bread.

This is one of the joys of travel. I’ve had several meetups this year and am looking forward to more!

I announce national meetups, giveaways, and links to tons of resources in my Facebook group.

Join us online! There are over 8400 church leaders from around the world discussing weekend worship and guest services every single day of the week.

Here’s where I’ll be the rest of the year. Please let me know if you’re going to be at any of these and we can meet.

  • Please note: There may be additional dates added and I will update this blog. *

Here’s where I was consulting over the last month: Albuquerque, Dallas, and Richmond, VA

Here’ where I’m going next:

And please join me online (from anywhere in the world) for our third online conference!

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!

I stay busy with church secret shopper consultations during the summer, as wise churches prepare for the Fall. Now that Summer has begun, let me give you 5 practical tips to implement at your church so you can prepare for a killer Fall. Here we go:

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

First impressions matter, so take them seriously and do all you can to remove distractions and barriers for your guests. Love and serve others like you would want to be loved and served.

Finally, give all the glory to God. It is He who uses us as jars of clay and melts cold hearts. The cool thing is we get to be a part of that supernatural process.

I hope you’ll implement these tips and have an amazing Summer. If I can serve you and your church in any way, I’d be honored. You can go here for more info on my consulting.

Would you like to strengthen your relationships at work? Would you like to strengthen your marriage? I have a few key concepts and phrases to share with you of which can do just that.

At my church we like to say, “No perfect people allowed.” If we know that nobody is perfect (except Christ), why is it that we act as if we’re perfect? Why is it so stinking hard to admit when we’re wrong?

I would venture to guess it’s due to pride. Most people struggle with pride at some point in their lives. Sometimes we don’t want to give our spouse the satisfaction of hearing they were right and we were wrong. Pride.

Sometimes at work, we act like we have it all together and we are incapable of making an error. God help us. Some pastors are the worst at this – they steamroll over their staff and volunteers and act like they are always without fault.

The reality is you’re not fooling anybody; you’re just upsetting a lot of people and ruining relationships. When you don’t own up to a mistake, a loss of temper, a bad email, a smart remark, etc., you damage the relationship and over time this damage becomes irreparable.

You’re not Superman or Superwoman. You are not invincible. You are not perfect. You make mistakes. You’re a sinner saved by grace – never forget that! You need grace and mercy. Your employees, employer, and spouse need grace and mercy. Make sense? I thought so.

So, quickly, let me suggest how you can repair your marriage, win friends, and increase your stock at work. Here are seven phrases that can save you:

1 and 2: “I’m sorry.” and “I apologize.”

Use whichever you feel seems most authentic and sounds like yourself. For me, I prefer, “I apologize.” I just said that to someone today and it saved a relationship. It’s freeing. It’s therapeutic. It’s the Christ-like and right thing to do. When you hurt someone, apologize. Word of advice, speak from the heart and face to face. Let them hear the tone of your voice and see the sincerity in your eyes.  

  1. “My bad.”

If you spout out some answer that you really haven’t thought through all the way and you suddenly realize you’re way off, just say, “My bad.” Own up to it. Note: “My bad” is good for casual, informal and small offenses. Don’t make a big mistake and try to say, “My bad.” Not smart. Use this phrase sparingly. Also note: This phrase can be abused and come to mean nothing if you really offend someone and try saying, “My bad.” Watch out!

  1. “I messed up.”

If you make a mistake and it comes to your attention, be quick to say, “I messed up.” When you take ownership of your mistakes, you take the venom out of your attacker’s darts.

  1. “I blew it.”

If you really mess up and you may get in serious trouble, the worst thing you can do is deny it. That will get you fired or divorced. If you blew it, say, “I blew it.” And I’d follow that up with an apology from the heart. Repentance is attractive. It’s hard to stay mad at someone that genuinely repents and asks for forgiveness.

  1. “I was wrong.”

Remember, you’re not always 100% right. When you’re not, say, “I was wrong.” And for added benefit on your part, add “And you were right.” I’m not talking about manipulating people here. I’m talking about being real, genuine, and authentic. This is a character issue, friends.

  1. “Please forgive me.”

Lastly, always ask for forgiveness when appropriate. If you accidentally spill coffee on someone’s shoe, you don’t need to beg for forgiveness. However, you also don’t need to ignore it or say, “Hey, watch where you’re going.” Or “That was your fault.” Those were free tips.

When you have hurt someone and they are feeling seriously wronged by you, it is entirely appropriate to ask for forgiveness. Again, you are not to manipulate people. If they don’t forgive, move on – you’ve done your part. If they forgive you, graciously receive it and then move forward in your relationship.

One final piece of advice (and I’m talking to myself here): You don’t outgrow these phrases. This is how to live as a person of integrity and character. If you were 99 years old, I’d still share this article with you. These are habits to carry on for life. God bless you as you grow in grace.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:18 (NIV)

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 of 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.

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?