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healthy person

I watched the big news yesterday that Derrick Rose got traded from the Chicago Bulls to the New York Knicks. What’s to note about this announcement is that Derrick Rose was supposed to be a Chicago legend and superstar originally. He is very talented and can make basketball plays and shots look effortless.

The problem is, unfortunately, like Grant Hill was, his career has been plagued by injury. He never reached his full potential. Your physical, emotional and spiritual health is huge. Without it, you’ll never reach your full potential. This applies to organizations as well.

If your organization is not healthy, it will not reach its full potential.

How do you address health in an organization? With its leaders. John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I agree. Does this happen by accident? No! You have to fight for health. Just like you make yourself go to the gym and eat healthy. You must be intentional.

“You don’t have to cultivate weeds. They grow automatically. In fact, weeds are a sign of neglect.” – @RickWarren

Don’t neglect yourself. Don’t neglect your senior leadership. Don’t neglect your staff. Don’t neglect your volunteers. I have talked with three pastors and one Director of Missions for a Baptist Association that took or are on a sabbatical. That’s awesome! Give your leaders a break. Go on a personal retreat. Take time to rest. Time to play. Time to have a hobby. Time to care for your family and house.

If your leaders aren’t healthy… If your org’s culture is not healthy… If your team is not healthy… Say it with me: You’ll never reach your full potential.

And even worse, you can cause harm, hurt others and do real damage. You need to protect health at all costs. I’m big on church growth, but I always say church growth is a by-product of church health. It’s the same for non-profits and businesses. Your health can fuel your growth, or it can have an adverse effect on your growth.

Friends, pray for your leaders. Pray for me. Pray for yourself. Seek after health – in every area. And BE INTENTIONAL. Health doesn’t happen by accident.

14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. – Luke 8:14 (NLT)

So, I ask: How’s your health?

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I and my company Worship Impressions are committed to helping your church reach and keep guests. As specialists in Guest Services, Hospitality, and First Impressions, we come alongside you and what God is already doing at your church and give you a guest’s perspective, as well as suggestions and next steps to improve.

We don’t just do one consult and leave. I am committed to a long-term relationship. I propose next steps, introduce you to friends, specialists, and strategic partners. And I’m always one phone call or email away. I’ve had pastors call me up and ask a question years after I did a secret shopper for them.

The question becomes: When is a good time to bring in a church secret shopper or mystery worshiper? It really depends on your church’s season of life/schedule, budget and an attitude that says you’re ready to do whatever it takes to reach lost people for Christ.

One word of caution:

You will always be busy and you’ll always be getting ready for something. Please don’t let that stop you from investing in your church’s future and potential. Make time for a consultation if you are struggling, plateaued, declining, dead, or even if you’re booming and just want to go to the next level. The key is you have to be intentional. You have to be open to change and invite feedback. It’s scary, but oh so worth it!

So to show you how I usually help churches, here’s what a yearly schedule could look like:

  • I come in the Summer and help you Get Ready for Fall
  • I come in the Fall and help you Get Ready for Christmas and the New Year
  • I come in the New Year and help you Get Ready for Easter

There really is no right or wrong time to bring in a church secret shopper. Just pray about what works best for you and your ministry. Once you’re ready, let us know. You can reach me at my personal email: greg@gregatkinson.com or Worship Impressions at info@worshipimpressions.com.

I hope to meet you soon. The best days of your church are ahead!

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As we quickly approach Summer, 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.

Now go have a great Summer and prepare for an unprecedented Fall season for your local congregation!

Worship Leader

Having been in several churches where we had a guest worship leader come in and lead for the morning, I have some thoughts to share.

  1. Know Your Role
    Your job is not to come in and teach new songs to the congregation. Your job is to fill in and maintain the status quo. Find out what songs the people know and love and choose from those. This is not only good for the congregation but good for the guest worship leader. If you sing crowd favorites, the people will have a positive impression of you and want you to lead again.
  2. Know Your Responsibility
    Your job as a guest worship leader is to choose songs/the set list, lead the weekly practice, lead the sound check and run-through on Sunday morning and then lead the music in the service. If you need to meet with the staff worship leader or senior pastor to pick out songs that go with the day’s theme/message – do that. Be prepared for the weekly practice. Get your songs out to the band as soon as possible. If you use Planning Center, get your songs uploaded and charts as well. Have charts ready for rehearsal and start and end on time. Tell the band and production team what time you want to gather on Sunday morning for sound check and run through and be the first to arrive that day. Make sure you’re finished with run through and have the stage cleared by at least half an hour before the service starts. Don’t be the guy rehearsing while people are coming in and sitting down.
  3. Know Your Music
    I can’t hold back here. If you are paid to fill in for an existing musician or worship leader, you need to come prepared and know your music. There’s no place for a music stand on stage. Memorize your music and play skillfully before the Lord and congregation.
  4. Know the People
    Find out from the existing worship leader the pulse and comfort level of the congregation. Don’t try to take them where they’ve never been. Just hold down what is the norm and don’t rock the boat. On Sunday morning, make it a point to get around the congregation pre-service and shake hands. Introduce yourself and keep from the rock star mentality of hiding in a green room. This will help people better connect with you on stage. After the service, don’t just pack up and leave. Stand around and talk with people after the service. This includes the band. Thank them for letting you come in and play with them.
  5. Know the Room
    Be sensitive to what God is doing in the service. Be sensitive to the senior pastor and where he wants to go in the service. If you need to play softly behind him during a prayer or response time, be ready and prepared. If you need to lead a reprise of a song during a response time, be prepared and ready. If people are praying or taking Communion, be softer and don’t overpower what is happening in the room. The main thing is to be sensitive and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.
  6. Know You’re Trusted
    Someone believes in you and has asked you to lead, so rest in that. Don’t get an ego and don’t get intimidated. Someone sees great talent and potential in you and is trusting you to lead his or her congregation in corporate worship. Please take that responsibility seriously and know there’s grace and you are loved.
  7. Know Your Part in the Bigger Picture
    Realize that this is not your show, your shot or even your church. You are a guest and you should respect what God has done before you arrived and what He is continuing to do in that congregation. There will be a lot happening on that Sunday, from parking lot attendants, to greeters, to ushers, to production, to children’s workers, etc. You are just one piece of the puzzle. Your job is to lead music that the people can worship with and connect to the Living God.
  • Lastly, thank God for the opportunity. Thank the worship leader that asked you to fill in. Thank the senior pastor for having you. Thank the band for being understanding and flexible and doing their best to support you and set you up to succeed. Do such a good job that you will be asked back and give God the glory.

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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 it to collect as many response 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 a 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 my last church HERE

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

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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.

This is not leadership

We know we all should die to self daily, but seriously – how often do you do a serious heart check? I recently transitioned off a local church staff and had to reassess my heart, think about my identity, remember my calling, and refocus my time and energy.

But today I want to talk about reassessing our hearts. Monday night I was at a men’s small group worship night held in someone’s house. There were about 15 to 20 guys gathered around a living room and kitchen.

We sang and worshiped our Living God, but what struck me was that the guy leading worship (who happens to be a physician) was singing and playing like he was in an arena with 10,000 screaming worshipers (picture a Passion concert with Chris Tomlin).

I stood there amazed watching this guy just go for it and sing his heart out. He truly led us into the Presence of God. And then it hit me:

Should we sing any less louder or give any less effort when leading before a small group than on a stage? Absolutely not!

Jesus deserves our all – our best. Our utmost for His Highest. Nothing less. He is worthy of all praise and as we sang the other night: a living sacrifice.

So, how’s your heart?

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Last week my 13 year old son tried out for his middle school’s baseball team. He didn’t make the cut. As a father, this saddens me, but I know it’s a part of growing up and a valid life lesson for him.

I gave him the “Michael Jordan got cut from his basketball team” speech. I also shared how when I was in elementary school, I auditioned for chorus and didn’t make it. They told me I couldn’t sing. I went on to get a vocal scholarship to college and graduate with a degree in music.

“God never calls us to do something we’re capable of. God calls us to do things that are beyond our ability so He gets all the credit.” – Mark Batterson

Everyone faces challenges – it’s how we respond to those challenges that is the true testimony of our faith and where the rubber meets the road in our lives. I don’t know who I’m talking to today, but maybe you’re one day away from throwing in the towel. Maybe you’ve written your resignation letter.

“We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in two years, but we underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years!” – Mark Batterson

I would encourage you to pray and seek God for His leading. Don’t run away from a tough circumstance (or Board of Deacons or Elders) to greener pastures. Water the grass where you are.  Plant your stake in the ground and resolve to not move until God makes it clear that it is His will.

“Sometimes the power of prayer is the power to carry on. It doesn’t always change your circumstances, but it gives you the strength to walk through them.” – Mark Batterson

Too often we give up and quit right before a major breakthrough in our ministry. 

“If we had a larger vision of what God wanted to accomplish in us and through us, our petty problems would cease to exist because they would cease to be important.” – Mark Batterson

Read this last quote from Mark Batterson and just see if God speaks to your heart:

“You are only one prayer away from a dream fulfilled, a promise kept, or a miracle performed.” – Mark Batterson

I’m praying for you. I’m praying that God would pull you up out of the pit of despair, anger, frustration, brokenness, burnout, and hurt. I’m praying that you would be encouraged, inspired and hell-bent on chasing hard after God and His mission in your community.

I’m here for you. Many are counting on you. So – Don’t quit! We need you. 

Commit your work to the Lordand your plans will be established. – Proverbs 16:3

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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

Hustle picture

The picture above is from a year ago. That’s how long I’ve been contemplating this post. I’m constantly watching friends like Carlos Whittaker and others, including Jon Acuff encourage others to hustle. I have no problem with that. I’m extremely driven, ambitious and have a stong work ethic.

As a matter of fact, I just purchased and began reading my friend, Brad Lomenick’s book H3 Leadership: Humble. Hungry. Hustle. I love Brad’s quote: “Leadership is more than hard work, it is habitual work.”

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However, in the hustle and bustle of 21st Century life, I often wonder if we hustle too much or too often. I wonder if we take time to be still, be quiet, think, meditate, and hear that still, small voice of the Living God. I wonder if we stop to smell the roses and take in the beauty of a sunset or sunrise. I wonder if we appreciate the little things in life and thank God for family and friends.

Do we savor the good times in life and mourn the tough seasons that will inevitably come?

My exhortation and encouragement to you my friends is to take time to Sabbath. Take time to pray. Take time to think. Take time to rest. I’ve said for years that we should work hard and play hard. If you focus only on “hustle,” you will just work hard. Take time to enjoy God and being in His Presence.

Remember the story of Mary and Martha and make sure you’re not too busy hustling that you miss out on an opportunity to worship and adore the Savior.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations,
  I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalm 46:10