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Hello, friends. I’ve been making the rounds doing several podcasts to promote my new bestselling 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 we are in the midst of 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.

I hope you’ll implement these tips and have an amazing Fall. 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.

Nationwide survey shows many churches saw declining or flat giving in 2015, while at the same time seeing the need for modern digital giving solutions.

For a copy of the 19-page report with ten key findings, seven graphs, and recommended resources to increase church giving go to our Sponsor, Tithe.ly’s page here

In the 6th installment of the ground-breaking research on church giving authored by Brian Kluth of Maximum Generosity, we asked nearly 1,600 survey participants from mainline, evangelical, non-denominational, and other Christian groups to report on their giving patterns and practices.

The findings from the 2016 survey reveal a dramatic shift in giving over the past three years, compared to the last time the survey was conducted in 2013.

Giving has flat-lined or decreased for the majority of those surveyed, which has many churches scrambling to implement more modern giving solutions.

Key findings from the 2016 State of the Plate survey:

  • 59% of churches surveyed reported flat-lined or decreased giving over the period 2015 to 2016. (A previous survey from 2013 revealed 53% of churches had an increase in giving that year.)
  • Only 41% of churches surveyed saw giving increase by 5% or more.
  • 79% of churches surveyed offer website giving (up from 29% in 2010), 46% offer cell phone/text/app giving (up from 4% in 2010), and 32% have a kiosk/iPad in the lobby for in-person digital giving.
  • Generous church giving is not limited to the older generations. 63% of those in their 20s-30s give 10% or more to their church.
  • Only 41% of those surveyed said they give weekly, while 46% give once or twice a month.
  • The top five reasons for missing church services are: out of town (74%), sickness (42%), serving during the worship service (16%), social commitments (13%), and had to work (14%).

DOWNLOAD REPORT

 

 

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I’d love to introduce you to my newest sponsor: Tithe.ly. Tithe.ly was one of the first giving apps allowed into the Apple app store in 2013. Giving via a mobile device was born out of both a need and opportunity they saw when they first saw what Apple did with the iPhone and the coming app economy.

Before Dean Sweetman co-founded tithe.ly, he had been a church planter and overseer of churches for 30 years. This put him in a unique position to know exactly what churches needed to help with several 21st-century problems concerning steady and consistent income to fulfill the mission of the church.

Problem Number One:

Church members are not coming as often to services as they used to. And as any pastor knows, if members are not in church then they are most probably not giving. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just that they don’t have the opportunity. Simple recurring giving set up in seconds solves this.

Problem Number Two:

Most people under 35 don’t carry cash or checks anymore.

They use debit/credit cards for just about everything. Most millennials don’t even know what a routing number is and where to find it on a checkbook if they even have one. Giving anywhere, anytime with a phone was the easy answer.

This and other obstacles for people giving to the church they love is to provide a simple app that lives on a device they virtually never let out of their sight, their smart phone.

Fast forward five years, Dean has retired from full-time ministry and is the CEO of tithe.ly one of the fastest growing FaithTech companies in the world. They now serve thousands of churches in three countries and plan on adding another 30+ countries in the first quarter of 2017.

They have a product suite that includes everything a church needs to move away from cash and check donations and facilitate digital giving, via text, free app, custom designed church apps, full back office support and a few more exciting additions they are announcing very soon.

At tithe.ly, they love what they do. They talk to pastors and church leaders every day about getting them the tools to increase giving so they can focus on serving their church and fulfilling the great commission of preaching the gospel to a desperate and fearful world whose only hope is Jesus.

I’m proud to partner with these guys. Please check them out here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.               Assess areas of strength and weakness.

2.               See what visitors see.

3.               Give objective appraisal.

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

1.               Visitors who don’t return

2.               Decreased attendance

3.               Lack of influence in the surrounding community

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

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

Read that again!

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

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

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

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

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One of the biggest challenges every leader faces is how to continue developing and growing as a leader while still getting things done and moving things forward.

With the ever-increasing demands on our time and energy, often the first thing that goes is investing in ourselves. We know that isn’t wise; it’s really very short-term thinking, but under the pressure of the moment we often make that choice.

One reason we do that is that we don’t see immediate consequences. The consequences of not investing in ourselves now often show up later—a year or more later, when the challenges are even bigger and we aren’t ready for them.

One way to address that is to change our reading habits. We have all heard that “readers are leaders” and that “growing churches are led by growing leaders.” But the average reader takes 4-6 hours to read one book. It can be a challenge to find that time on a regular basis! Most of us end up with a bunch of unfinished (or unstarted) books that we know we should read but just don’t have time to get to.

Maybe it’s time for you to check out Leaders Book Summaries. They summarize books for busy leaders. They condense books down to 12-15 pages, and then also provide a 2-page summary of the summary. An average reader can go through a whole summary in just 15-20 minutes. That’s a lot more efficient than 4-6 hours!

You’ll get summaries of the titles you should be reading. Leaders Book Summaries was started by pastors, for pastors. They are practitioners, not just theorists. They know what it’s like to be in the trenches, and they pick and summarize books that will help you make a difference.

They issue thirty (30) summaries of leadership books each year. The books are written by both secular and religious authors. Recent examples include…

  • Leading Congregational Change, by Herrington, Bonem, and Furr.
  • The Leadership Playbook, by Nathan Jamail
  • Amplified Leadership, by Dan Reiland
  • Be The Best Bad Presenter Ever, by Karen Hough
  • Supersurvivors, by David Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz.

In addition, titles by Andy Stanley, John Maxwell, Henry Cloud, and other well-known leaders fill their library.

A subscription is normally about $7 a month, or $119/year if you want the archives (over 150 titles). Leaders Book Summaries is currently offering a special discount to our blog readers. Instead of paying the full rate, you can get the monthly rate for just $5.95/month, or the Premium subscription, giving you access to their whole library, for just $99/year. And that covers all the new summaries coming out in 2016 as well!

This is a win-win-win. You can save time, save money, and invest in your own leadership development. You can’t do much better than that!

Click here to get the discounted rate. (It isn’t being offered anywhere else!)

By the way, besides providing summaries to those who subscribe, the folks at Leaders Book Summaries go a step further to support God’s leaders. A tithe of the profits is given to church planting efforts in the U.S. and Mozambique. Additionally, they give free subscriptions to third world pastors, who often can’t afford to buy books. When you subscribe to their service, you are also investing in other leaders around the world.

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I’m taking a break to write my next book this month. Today’s blog post is a guest post from Tom Harper. Tom is president of Networld Media Group, a publisher of online trade journals and events for the banking, retail, restaurant and church leadership markets (including the mega-blog www.ChurchCentral.com). He is the author of Leading from the Lions’ Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible (B&H). Here’s his post:

How do people like Bob Dylan cultivate their creative genius? They do it in part through dry spells.

“The act of being stumped is an essential part of the creative process,” says Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works. “Before we can find the answer—before we probably even know the question—we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach.”

After ascending to the pinnacle of his music career, Dylan withdrew to a remote cabin to escape the pressures of writing and performing. An emotional block had descended into his brain, and he decided to quit altogether.

But sitting in that cabin, he found breakthrough.

“Before Bob Dylan could reinvent himself, writing the best music of his career, he needed to believe that he had nothing left to say.” While Lehrer’s conclusion certainly doesn’t inspire creativity in itself, there are much easier ways we can stimulate our own breakthroughs.

Relax to Awaken Insight

The rest of us non-rock stars can’t rely on hopelessness to produce our work. That’s why I love Lehrer’s advice on how to buzz our brains with positive, creative waves.

Researchers have discovered that alpha waves in the brain result from a relaxed state. (Maybe this better explains Dylan’s breakthrough.) When our minds are at ease, we’re more likely to direct our attention inward, connecting with the brain’s right hemisphere, which churns out new associations between unrelated ideas.

But when we focus on a problem by analyzing its details and force ourselves to reason our way to a solution in left-brain fashion, we actually prevent the right-brained alpha-powered connections that lead to insights.

Ever had a great idea in the shower? The relaxed feeling stimulates alpha waves, even when we’re tired. Many people feel creative in a coffee shop because the relaxed ambience makes waves in their right hemispheres.

Go Blue to Awaken Insight

Another way to alpha-charge the brain is with color.

According to researchers, people associate red with danger, which makes them more alert and aware. If you’ve got a red environment, you’ll be better at activities that require accuracy and attention to detail, because the brain will be more alert.

Blue, on the other hand, generates much more creative output. The color automatically triggers associations with the sky and ocean.  “We think about expansive horizons and diffuse light, sandy beaches and lazy summers days; alpha waves instantly increase,” says Lehrer.

So when you daydream, pay attention to your insights, and let your imagination roam. You just might be able to convince your boss you’re working while you’re staring out the window.

Go to the Kitchen to Awaken Insight

When Steve Jobs ran Pixar, he forced people to have random conversations.

He did this by locating the kitchen and bathrooms in the middle of the building, creating chance encounters in the hallway and around the coffee pot.

“Office conversations are so powerful that simply increasing their quantity can dramatically increase creative production,” says Lehrer. “People have more new ideas when they talk with more people.”

Pixar’s producers would mingle with its animators, and what started as small talk often blossomed into an exchange of ideas and breakthroughs that ultimately led Pixar to its award-winning Toy Story franchise.

Got a problem that needs a creative solution? Forget brainstorming with a group. Take in the sky, go to the kitchen, linger in the shower.

And let the waves flow over you.

 

Overview-Cover

Eric Bryant has a new project that just released called A Fruitful Life: Becoming Who You Were Created To Be.

Eric serves at Gateway Church in Austin, and previously he served at Mosaic in Los Angeles. His previous book is called Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World (also known as Peppermint-Filled Pinatas).

Here’s more on the project from Eric:

We have the capacity for unlimited influence!

According to Jesus, no matter where we come from or what we’ve done or what limitations we may think we have, we actually can become live a transformed life and transform the lives of others. He promises that we can have a level of spiritual influence far beyond what we might imagine. We can bear fruit 30, 60, and even 100 times more than what was sown.

In the parable of the soils, Jesus explained that if we can avoid being like the first three soils, we could have a life that is described as fruitful. In other words, if we can learn to be receptive (hear God’s voice), tenacious (not give up on what we know we should do), and intentional (avoid distractions), we will be who we’ve always wanted to be.

Derived from Jesus’ parable of the soils, A Fruitful Life will help you with the following:

  • Discover your calling.
  • Make decisions using a grid for hearing God’s voice
  • Overcome the most painful moments of life.
  • Make progress in areas where you are most tempted.
  • Experience renewal and bring change to others.

 

Applying the Scriptures to our life and developing the skills derived from the parable of the soils really is life-changing.

I have seen God do remarkable things in my life, in the lives of others who went through this material in small groups, and in the lives of those who experienced the material in the context of a retreat or sermon series.

When we are spiritually receptive, tenacious, intentional, and proactive, we are in the right place for God to work in our lives and through our lives.

I think this message is more important now than ever. As a society we’ve moved from hunting to farming to working in factories into what is now called the Information Age. Seth Godin refers to this period as the time for artists to emerge.

I would like to think of this as the Age of Influence. Technology has given us the opportunity to influence people from across the planet the instant we post something online. The world is smaller and our opportunities are larger.

For a free download of the overview, go to A Fruitful Life: Becoming Who You Were Created To Be.

Be sure to go to the last chapter in the overview to discover how to sign up for a chance to win the entire series.

Check out this video with Eric sharing more on A Fruitful Life:

Dr. Eric Michael Bryant serves with Gateway Church in Austin as the team leader for Central and South Austin and as part of the teaching team. Known for their mottos: “no perfect people allowed” and “come as you are, but don’t stay that way.”

Eric coaches church planters and campus pastors, teaches on Post Christian Ministry, and leads a cohort for a Doctorate of Ministry in Missional Effectiveness through Bethel Seminary where he earned his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership. More on these opportunities can be found here.

LOGO_RisingStar

Like over 5 million people, I watched and participated with the premier of ABC’s new reality singing competing “Rising Star” this past Sunday night. I waited to blog about it to see how the world reacted to the premier. Many called it a failure, citing lack of quality singers and glitches (like how the West Coast votes, etc.). I see it as a step in the right direction of television and a true innovation. Like the book says: The Road to Success is Paved with Failure.

As I was watching the show and participating on my iPhone with the show’s special app, I was thinking of how this technology and concept could be used with a variety of shows. Think of how many times you’ve watched a reality show and wanted to vote someone on or off in real time. I think ABC has started something new (innovation) that will evolve and adapt and change the way we watch and interact and engage with television for years to come.

What did you think?

*** For more on the subject of innovation, check out my new book Strange Leadership.

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I went to go see the movie ‘Son of God’ on Palm Sunday to prepare myself for the upcoming Easter week. It was a great way to get my heart and mind focused on the coming week. The movie is not perfect and like most Hollywood movies, they take some creative liberties and change the story a few times, but it also has its great moments.

Here are the moments that stood out to me and moved me to tears:

  • The birth of Jesus
  • The calling of Matthew the tax collector (this is one of the most powerful scenes in all of film I’ve ever scene)
  • Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah in the temple and seeing people’s reaction to what he says

These are the most powerful moments to me that stand out. Of course I was moved by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. What about you? Did you see the movie? Did you like it? What moved you? People from all over the world are sharing their experiences with the movie. Take a look:

For more about the movie and to share how it’s impacted you, go to sonofgodstories.com