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I became familiar with ExPastors.com and their Founder, Bo Lane, a couple of years ago. I’ve stayed in touch with Bo ever since. Over the past year, I’ve considered being more involved. Over the last month, I’ve now taken over as Executive Director of ExPastors.com.

I encourage you to get to know us. We’re not a place for people to bash the Church. We are a ministry that offers help, healing and hope to ex-pastors (for whatever reason they find themselves there), current pastors and church leaders.

We want to see all pastors be healthy physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

I encourage you to browse the website and its articles. See if there’s something there that might educate or encourage you in the season of life you find yourself.

This week (Tuesday) we have a very special guest post by an ex-pastor that hasn’t spoken out for over 2 years. Be sure to keep an eye on us and our articles.

You can do this by signing up for our newsletter, following us on Twitter, and subscribing to our YouTube channel (we are about to launch a new podcast). When you sign up for our newsletter, you will receive a FREE copy of Why Pastors Quit – a must read.

Read the newest post that is up there now. Maybe it will encourage you and offer you hope.

We get unbelievable emails from pastors and ex-pastors from around the world. Join our community and please know: If you’re tired, hurt/wounded, frustrated, burnt out, thinking about taking your life, depressed, anxious – whatever the enemy is attacking you with – I’m here for you. We’re here for you. You have people that care for you and want to help you.

God’s not finished with you. Neither are we. Don’t give up!

listening-earLet me say up front that this post is longer than usual, but if you read it all and truly wrestle with it, you’ll be a better leader and your family and congregation will thank you for it. Let’s dive in!

Communication is key to being an effective leader and I would argue a genuine human being. After being called out by my wife, previous employers and team members for interrupting, I had to do some deep soul searching and take an introspective look at how I communicate, dialogue and interact with people in general. I realized I didn’t intentionally practice active listening.

Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.

Honestly, this is an area I’ve dealt with for years and am just now actively working on improving. I think I’ve always known that listening is key; I just haven’t done a good job at it in every area of my life.

I actually wrote about leaders needing to listen in my last book Strange Leadership. In the book, I said, “Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. Leaders are listeners.” I even pinned a TwitPic to my Twitter wall to share it with others. It’s been retweeted over 1200 times. I think we all know this is true deep down. The question is do we live this out? Do I live this out?

I’ve blogged and posted on social media numerous times that I see a counselor or therapist. I have for years and I highly recommend it, especially for pastors. Lately, this is what I have been working on with my therapist. I asked him to help me be a better active listener. So each week we work on active listening.

Here’s what I’m learning and here are five ways to evaluate yourself and do your own introspection:

  1. Leadership: Employers, are you open to feedback? Do you know and practice bottom-up leadership? Do you learn from your employees? When you lead and interact with your team and staff, do you really listen to them? Do you know their dreams, their passions, their struggles, and frustrations? Do you hear them when they say their hurting, or tired, or burnt out and in need of rest? Employees, do you understand what your employer wants from you? Do you actively listen when he or she gives you instructions and corrections? Do you get defensive and interrupt them when they critique you or give you a performance evaluation?Pastors and church leaders, are you listening to your congregation? When you plan sermon series, do you have a good pulse on what your people are going through? Do you actively listen to their concerns, fears, and frustrations with where the church or leadership is heading? Do you encourage open dialogue?
  2. Counseling: Pastors, when you counsel people in your congregation, do you cut them off and interject your thoughts and opinions? I have in the past. Do you practice active listening in such a way (like a therapist would) that you can repeat back to them what they said? Good counselors and therapists will listen to you vent and share and then respond with, “So what I hear you saying is…” I know you have a Biblical worldview, a strong grasp of Scripture and theology, but there is much to be learned in this area. My wife is a counselor and they go through a grueling two-year grad school program to learn counseling techniques – techniques we would benefit from learning. A book I highly recommend is entitled Toughest People to Love. I’ve read it twice and found it thoroughly helpful and insightful. I also recommend you reach out to a local therapist and pick their brain. Ask them to teach you how to be a better active listener. And, if you’re not already doing it, make an appointment with a counselor. You will benefit greatly from it. Your family and congregation will benefit because of it, and you might learn something.
  3. Social media: Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods.  My friend, Nils Smith said, “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.” The biggest problem I see when I do an online presence evaluation as a church secret shopper is churches using social media as a broadcast tool only. They don’t truly create conversations and safe places for people to react, interact, and dialogue with the church and its leaders. My friend Brandon Cox wrote a helpful and insightful book entitle Rewired. In the book, Brandon writes, “The world around us is having a conversation about life, meaning, culture, and eternity, and we have an amazing opportunity not just to join the conversation but also to lead it. But too many in the church are struggling to keep up with this cultural shift and failing to use these communication tools to their full advantage. And this shift we are seeing toward a more mobile, social environment is actually a return to the form we were created for: to be in relationships, to have conversations, and to share our stories–and God’s–with each other.” I encourage you to strategically and prayerfully rethink your social media strategy as a church with a focus on listening.
  4. Family: Did you know that if you learn this skill of active listening and utilize it intentionally and regularly, you will have a better relationship with your spouse and children? I can’t tell you how many times I’m watching TV or working on my computer while my wife is talking to me and then she says, “Greg, tell me what I just said.” I usually struggle to repeat her words back to her. Since I’ve been coached on active listening, I’ve gotten better at this. I’ve still got a way to go, but I’m growing and learning. You’ll find that your parenting skills and dynamics change with your kids if you truly pay attention to them, make eye contact with them, and say back to them, “If I heard you right, you’re feeling…” If you accept my advice and heed my own testimony, this skill can improve and for some of you, save your marriage and/or relationship with your kids.
  5. Relationships: One of the things that I’m proud of is that I’m a good friend. I truly care about those that I’m in a relationship with. When I interact with my friends now, I’m trying my best to actively listen. Too many times we’re quick to interrupt and interject our thoughts without allowing them to finish their thought and express how they feel. If you want to go to the next level in your life and relationships, learn to listen and then respond with grace and love.
  • You know who’s really good at active listening? Coaches and counselors. I think we, as church leaders, could learn a lot from them and apply this same technique to our various areas of ministry and service.
  • These are 5 things that I’m working on in my life and if you prayerfully assess and evaluate your own areas, you’ll have no regrets. Remember: Leaders are listeners. Let’s seek to lead and listen exceedingly well.
  • One last thing, friends and you haven’t heard me say this in YEARS: Go to my YouTube channel and subscribe! I am about to start recording regular content for pastors and leaders. I’ll be doing series for areas and subjects such as leadership in general, pastoral ministry, helps and coaching, guest services training and insights, ministry thoughts, mental health issues and awareness, and other things that I get emailed about. Please SUBSCRIBE today!

realtor-156501_960_720In 2009, I wrote a widely-shared blog entitled “Digital Real Estate.” In it, I pointed to people like worship leader Matt Redman and pastor Rick Warren, as well as churches like Life.Church and Willow Creek – that had claimed their name on Twitter, but were not yet tweeting. They just wanted to reserve their name in case Twitter took off. It did and they started to tweet. This, my friends, is what I call Digital Real Estate.

Years ago, I had to wait for another Greg Atkinson to let his domain expire and then I jumped on it. I’ve been blogging here at GregAtkinson.com ever since. I have my name (@GregAtkinson) on Twitter and Instagram.

I mentioned in 2009 that when Facebook started offering vanity names I was on vacation and missed grabbing my name by 2 days. On Facebook, my personal web address is www.facebook.com/greg.atkinson1, instead of www.facebook.com/gregatkinson. Another Greg Atkinson beat me to it!

Call me paranoid or egotistical, but I prefer words like intentional and strategic, which are used all throughout my writing.

I come to you today with something that has been on my mind for well over a year now. And that is: You need to reserve your church’s name on the .church domain. You can purchase your church’s name here (if it’s still available).

I was consulting with a church in February of this year and told them to buy it and they didn’t. Now their name has been taken. I told another church to buy their church’s name on the .church domain about 2 years ago (that’s how long this has been on my radar). They purchased their church’s name alright but didn’t quite grasp the concept. Instead of getting Grace.church (I’m making up a name), they purchased GraceChurch.church. The “church” is redundant.

I see smart and wise churches around the country grabbing their church’s name on .church. I strongly suggest you do the same. Follow the example of Life.Church and so many others.

Allow me to tell you what I tell churches that I consult with (and if I’m wrong then I’m wrong, but if I’m right…). I tell church leaders and pastors that in the near future when people think of churches on the web, they will automatically associate the name of the church with the .church domain.

So, for example when I told a local church (northrockhill.org) that in the future when someone hears about your church from one of its congregants, they will say something like, “Cool. I’ll check you guys out online. It’s northrockhill.church, right?” “Right.”

Just trust me: As familiar as we are with .com and .org, it will be just as normal and familiar for .church.

BOTTOMLINE: Go today and grab your church’s name on the .church domain. What do you have to lose?

PLEASE NOTE: I am in no way affiliated with the .church domain, nor do I receive any payment for writing about this. My link for you to buy it goes to GoDaddy.com because that is who I personally use, but I really don’t care who you go through to purchase it.

This is about future-proofing your church, which I talk about a lot in my consulting. 

Here is what Life.Church and Willow Creek’s Twitter account looked like when I first wrote about this in 2009:

lifechurch2009 willowcreek2009

I think they have no regrets in reserving their “digital real estate.” Now go grab yours! Trust me.

 

YouVersion congrats

Hello readers! I am beyond thrilled and excited to partner with YouVersion by writing some new devotionals that will be coming soon, starting this Fall.

Here’s where you can see some of my new content that I’ve been writing or have coming out soon:

  • Rick Warren’s Ministry Newsletter
  • Pastors.com
  • ChurchLeaders.com
  • ChurchCentral.com
  • Christianity Today
  • Leadership Journal/CTPastors.com
  • XPastors.org
  • Church Fuel (look for a new eBook coming soon)
  • I will also be a guest on several church leader podcasts this Fall. I hope you’ll listen in on the conversations!

And lastly, I have BIG news: My 4th book entitled Secrets of a Secret Shopper will release this Fall. As you know I’m a consultant and church secret shopper. In this book, I tell you what I look for when I go to a large church and do a church secret shopper consultation.

I wrote this book primarily for small to medium-sized churches that may not be able to afford to hire me. So, if you want to make some killer improvements in the area of hospitality and guest services, be on the lookout for my next book. I can’t wait for you to read it!

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?

Men praying

You may not know this about me, but there are many people who will remember that I have signed numerous emails, cards, and even my books when someone asks me to sign them with the tagline:

“Keep Pressing On!”

Life is tough. I mean really hard. There are days I don’t want to get out of bed, but I’m driven by the Holy Spirit inside me that has called me and given me a purpose to live. This is where my drive and ambition come from – God. I remember someone once said, “Showing up is 98% of anything. Hard work pays off.”

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14

So whatever you’re going through, know that I know it’s rough. I know it hurts. I know life isn’t fair. I know life can sometimes seem upside-down. Better yet: God knows – He sees. He hears. He cares. So, get up anyway. Press on anyway. Love anyway. God is worth it. He’s worth it all.

Think of all the hostitlity He endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:3

 

Best days

Death was arrested

So, you made it through the big weekend. Now the real work begins! Now you focus on turning those first-time guests into second time guests. This is where your assimilation process kicks in. I wrote about my process here. I also wrote about taking care of and thanking your volunteers and staff here.

Now would be a good time to run Facebook and Instagram ads promoting your new series that either just kicked off or kicks off this coming Sunday. Encourage your people to invite. Post plenty of sharable content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Encourage your people to share the media and invite their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.

So, let’s review! Here’s what jumped out at me from my contacts and friends in churches around North America:

  1. Songs of the season: “Death Was Arrested” by North Point, followed by “Resurrecting” by Elevation Worship. I wrote about the song for Easter two years ago here. It was “Forever” by Kari Jobe and I know a ton of churches still did that song. A powerful response song is “Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship. Many churches used that this year as a song to follow the message, which is very appropriate as it has lyrics about Christ being risen from the dead.
  2. Signs of the season: Man churches created awesome, colorful, text-rich signs to hold for greeters, parking lot attenders and baptisms.  Signs 2 Welcome signs 2

Baptism signs

3. Next level guest services: With the welcome signs as seen above and the fun transportation for kids as seen below, churches rolled out the red carpet!

Kids ride

4. Intentional return tactics: Realizing that many guests were there for the first-time, many churches gave out invite cards to invite people back for the next week. Remember if you can turn first-time guests into second-time guests, they are 80% more likely to get plugged in and start a relationship with Christ. (Nelson Searcy – Fusion).

Invite to return

  • So get together with your team and review this past Sunday. See what worked, what didn’t work, where you can improve and ideas that you can implement in the future. It’s never too late to start doing things with excellence. Guest services and first impressions matter.
  • If I can help you in any way, contact me here. Let’s reach this nation for Christ!

3

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.

Jesus Laughing

Last night I was doing my regular Thursday night thing – watching the comedy shows back to back on NBC (like I have for years). I was reflecting on how good and healthy it was to laugh and unwind. Then I was reminded of some of the best leadership advice someone ever gave me:

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Great advice and a good reminder for all of us leaders who struggle with pride and trying to always know the right thing to do. I used to always have a picture of Jesus laughing hanging on my office wall (seen above). Want to smile? Google “Jesus laughing” and look at the images here.

When is the last time you laughed so hard that you started to cry? I try to have fun moments with my family and friends where we laugh regularly. I hope you do, too. Have you noticed how good it feels to laugh hard? It’s therapeutic.

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted an article two weeks ago entitled “The Science of Laughter.” In it, they tell us:

“A positive emotional state is a benefit in helping us deal with the stresses and strains of being human. Second, having a good sense of humor helps us to rally social support around us when times are tough. Having people in your corner during tough times is very good for you. There’s clear research around that. Third, and most intriguing to me, is that making jokes about the challenges in life can fundamentally change the way we think about those challenges.”

In my travels, consulting, coaching and networking, I meet with a lot of leaders – a ton of pastors. I had coffee with a pastor yesterday and am having lunch with another pastor today. I’m constantly trying to encourage and be encouraged by other leaders.

I don’t know who I’m talking to, but I want to free you up to take a load off and laugh. Learn some jokes and try sharing them with others. I know some churches and businesses that ask you to tell a joke in their interview process. This is a test to see if you have a sense of humor and if you can be “normal.”

If you can’t laugh (and laugh at yourself), you need to do an ego check. Too many leaders are too serious and no fun to be around. Just look at the morale of their team. It’s sad to see.

So, if I can encourage you and give you one thing to work on this Summer – it’s to laugh more and have fun with your team. They’ll thank you and you just might last longer in this tough calling we call “leadership.”

AndyStanley2-642x336

As the Southern Baptist Convention was going on, I was following their tweets with the #SBC14 hashtag and noticed that Andy Stanley was showing up in my feed. I clicked on his Twitter profile and saw that he was taking on the SBC and challenging them. I was fascinated and followed his feed for a couple of hours. I even retweeted a few of his posts. I thought he made some great points, but many got upset.

North Point Community Church lead pastor Andy Stanley clarified to The Christian Post about tweets he made earlier in the week that appeared to be criticism of Southern Baptist Convention leaders calling for a spiritual revival, explaining that he was talking about local revival rather than a Great Awakening-style revival.

Andy Stanley preaches to an estimated 33,000 people every Sunday at North Point Ministries’ five metro-Atlanta campuses. His television program, Your Move, is viewed by an audience of nearly one million each week.

On Tuesday, Stanley tweeted,

  • “Instead of praying for revival leaders of the SBC should go spend three weeks with @perrynoble Why pray for one when you can go watch one.”
  • “Praying for revival equates to blaming God for the condition of your local church.”
  • “Why not call the Church to pray for the things Jesus & New Testament writers prayed for? Why add Revival to the list?”
  • “Churches that need reviving most are the very churches that resist it most.”

Stanley conceded that the conversation spiraled beyond what he had intended it to be after he and others began diverging on what they meant by “revival.”

Continue reading.