Why I’ve Been Blogging For the Past 12 Years

Before I tell you why I blog, let me start with how I got into blogging. In the summer of 2006, my friend Don Chapman of WorshipIdeas.com, was visiting me in Dallas. I was driving to Oklahoma City to speak at a conference and Don came with me. It was about a 3 hour drive and I started sharing some ideas, resources and new companies that I had come across. Don directly and boldly said, “Dude, you have got to start blogging. Church leaders would really benefit from what you’re sharing with me.”

Not only that, that night Don went online to GoDaddy and bought the domain name: ChurchVideoIdeas.com and said, “Here you go. Now get to blogging!” I started a cheesy-looking WordPress blog and the rest is history. Thanks to my great Charter Sponsors, I was able to give my blog a face-lift. It’s been through several design changes over the years.

The “why” is simple. I have a heart for the Church (capital “C”). My heart and passion is for the Kingdom and equipping Church leaders – that’s why I write, that’s why I consult, that’s why I speak at conferences. I love Christ’s Bride and want to be a friend, helper, encourager and equipper to Church leaders around the world.

Praise God, people actually care what I have to say. I’m blessed that thousands of Church leaders from around the world read and share this blog each week. That, to me, is surprising, shocking and extremely humbling. Almost every day I receive an email from a Church leader asking me a question and many of you reading this, who have sent me an email, hopefully have seen that I try to answer your email promptly and to the best of my knowledge.

The truth is: I don’t know it all. I don’t even come close. I just share what I’ve learned on my journey and if I think someone else can answer your question better, I point you in their direction. What would I like to change? I’d love to see more interaction on this blog. More of you making comments. There are a couple each day, but I can see (via my tracker) that a ton of you are reading this blog or receiving it via RSS or email, but apparently not commenting. I always try to pose some type of question and ask for your feedback, ideas and I sincerely want to hear what you’re doing in your own ministry setting.

SO, with that being said… I’m glad Don talked me into blogging, I’m grateful to God for the sponsors that make all this possible, I praise God that he’s given me a passion and desire to write something fresh each day and I’m humbled, honored and excited that you are reading this and we have this cool sort-of virtual connection. What a great time to be alive! By the way, give a look (over to the right) at my sponsors and check them out. I’m only partner with people I believe in.

My blog was also selected as one of the Top 35 Blogs Christian Leaders Need to Read in 2018. This blog is listed with ChurchLeaders.com, Pastors.com, Michael Hyatt’s blog, and others. I’m honored! You can read the list HERE.

As always, I want to again mention that I love meeting you in real life, too. If you’re ever in Charlotte, let me know. If we’re at the same conference, let me know. I’m speaking and traveling a lot this Fall. You can hear me teach at the First Impressions Fall Conference in Atlanta in September and the SALT Conference in October. If we’re at the same event, conference or school, hit me up!

So, to wrap up: Glad to be blogging. Glad you’re reading. Hope you’ll continue to. Hope you’ll comment and add to the discussion. Also, feel free to email me questions or suggestions of topics to blog about. You rock!

How I’ve Done Assimilation

I was a Campus Pastor at a multisite church for 6 years. After just “winging it” for the first year, I talked to my friend, Nelson Searcy, and he suggested I read his book Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church. Now, mind you, many things are discussed in the Fusion book, including first impressions (which is HUGE – you know how much I’ve written about that in the past). I’m just touching on the area of assimilation today.

I first read the summary of the book by one of my sponsors (seen to the right) called Leaders Book Summaries. After I read the summary, I was hooked and I had our entire Lead Team (our Senior Leadership Team) order and read the book. I then ordered copies for my staff at my campus and we read through it together, too. It’s an amazing read and well worth the investment. I highly encourage you to go get the book (paperback or Kindle) HERE. The leaders summary will give you the basics and highlights. The book will give you the full philosophy, principles, and strategy for the Fusion concept.

First Impressions Podcasts

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!

Walk Slowly Through the Pews

I was 18 years old and serving my first church. A little church out in the country. My uncle (a veteran minister) was coming to visit and I eagerly awaited his feedback. I was a worship pastor back then and my uncle had been a worship pastor since the 70’s. His words to me? “Walk slowly through the pews.”

I didn’t understand. I had sung well and led the choir and worship without messing up. I had smiled and sweated and given my all. However, my uncle noticed me rushing through the crowd – always busy and heading somewhere to do something. Flying by the people that were gathering to worship. It’s been over twenty years and I still remember that advice.

I try to walk slowly through my church. I try to make eye contact and shake hands and give out hugs. I go out of my way to be accessible and approachable. This has defined me as a pastor. I seek to put people first and realize it’s all about them. This is a chapter in my first book Church Leadership Essentials.

This is why I’m passionate about hospitality. It’s all about people. Always has been. Always will be people. Ministry is about people.

In the last year, I’ve worked with churches where I saw staff members hurrying around past people. One was a frantic children’s minister. The other was a worship leader with other things on his mind.

Take time to notice people, talk to people, and build relationships. Lead Pastors: This goes for you, too. They don’t want to just hear your message, they want to meet you. I cover this in the next to last chapter of my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

How is walking slowly through the pews possible? Preparation. Don’t wait until the last minute to get things done. Be prepared and ready for your duties so that you can relax, worship, and enjoy fellowship with God’s people.

So, my two cents to you, my friends: Walk slowly through the halls of church and in the auditorium. Smile. Shake hands. Give hugs. Let your people know you love them.

Weekend Worship, Guest Services, and the First Impressions Conference

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.”

 

Does Your Church Website Have an Easter Page?

Does your church website have an Easter page? It should.

Here’s why:

  1. People check you out online before they check you out in person.
  2. It shows people that your Easter services are a priority and something you’re really hoping that they attend.
  3. It gives your social media posts, images, promotions, and ads somewhere to point to (a permalink).
  4. It is shareable.
  5. It gives you one spot to announce how many services there are and if there are time changes just for that day.

Tip: Use this special Easter page as a sort of “What to Expect” page for all your incoming guests. 

Tip: Make sure this page is mobile-friendly. People will look at it on their phone to find out your service times.

I recommend creating a page on your existing church website that is located at /easter and is something easy to point all your people and promotions to. Unless like some churches have done, you make your entire homepage (above the fold) an Easter promo.

Here are some examples (NOTE: Most are last year’s page. Also note: These are not ranked – just listed as I came across them.):

  1. West Ridge Church – Great website. (They also have a separate Easter page.)
  2. Life.Church (This is still last year’s services, but I assume they’ll be updating it soon.)
  3. North Point Community Church (This is still last year’s services.)
  4. Willow Creek
  5. Liquid Church
  6. Elevation Church
  7. Buckhead Church
  8. Church of the Highlands (Notice the What to Expect section)
  9. Rock Church
  10. Bayside Church
  11. First Dallas (NOTE: They have a long permalink. Make it short and simple like /Easter.)
  12. Cornerstone Church
  13. Christ Fellowship
  14. Potential Church
  15. Canyon Ridge Christian Church

I have a whole chapter dedicated to Online Presence in my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. Buy it today, share it with your team, and do all you can to turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

NOTE: I’m writing this now so you have plenty of time to work on something before early March and promote your Easter services for about a month.

 

Will Your Guests Return After Easter? Here Are 8 Things to Consider

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.

Quick Keys to Effective Communication for Pastors

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!

 

How to Reach More First Time Visitors for Your Church

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.

Why You Should Always Point People to the Church Website

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 do 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 bombarded 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 goldmine 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.