Help Your People Say “No”

noAbout five years ago my family and I went to dinner with a key family in my church. The objective of the dinner (besides fellowship and strengthening our relationship) was to have a hard conversation. I had seen all the warning signs and the shepherd side of me could not sit back and do nothing. What was happening you might ask?

I could see that the wife and mom I had asked to dinner was on the edge of burnout.

When I first started as pastor at my church three years ago, I was on a mission to recruit leaders, volunteers and build teams – and that I did. I identified and placed key leaders in every ministry in our congregation. Our church started to grow and it was evident God was blessing our community of faith, so why did I get concerned?

I noticed one particular person (a very sweet woman) that was showing up on too many of my ministry teams and leaders lists. She was a teacher in our kids ministry each Sunday. She was a small group leader for our youth group each Wednesday night. She was (along with her husband) an adult small group leader and they hosted the group in their home (I could do another post on why it’s overwhelming to both host and lead a small group, but others have covered this). She was also the point person and face of our Serve ministry.

The first three she was already doing. The last one was one that I had asked her because I thought she’d be a good point person and face for our Serve ministry. What changed? I noticed stress in her eyes, her voice, her family and she always seemed liked she was on the verge of crying when I talked to her. It was obvious she was overwhelmed, but she didn’t know how to say, “No.” So I arranged this dinner with our families and I set out to intervene before she burned out, broke down or quit the church all-together.

Here are some key concepts to consider as I look back on that preemptive conversation:

  • The person is always more important than the program.
  • Just because someone says “Yes” doesn’t mean you should let them.
  • Some people need help saying “No.”
  • Be sensitive to people that always volunteer when the request goes out.
  • Don’t take advantage of someone’s kindness or lack of boundaries.
  • Set limits and boundaries. We asked people to worship (attend church), grow (be in a small group) and serve (volunteer in or lead a ministry).
  • Show your people you care for their souls and prioritize their spiritual life and family life above your ministry need.
  • If you’re always needing more and more volunteers for new ministries, maybe you need to simply. I’m a huge believer in being a Simple Church.
  • It takes guts to make “the ask.” It also takes guts to believe God will provide when you give someone a break. Read that again.
  • Focus on broadening your volunteer pool/team. Don’t always go to the same people.
  • You may have heard “20% of the people do 80% of the work.” Don’t buy it. Don’t accept it.
  • Teach the value and reason for service and expect a dream team of servants to carry the load. (A good case study is to look at Church of the Highlands up-close and their use of their Dream Team)
  • Care more about church health than church growth. It will be better in the long-run. Don’t miss understand me. Growth is good – just don’t do it at the expense of church health.
  • Be an Ephesians 4 leader and raise up and empower other equipping leaders. I talk about this in my book Church Leadership Essentials.
  • Ask your staff and ministry leaders tough questions and be on the lookout for ministry burnout.
  • Pray for wisdom, direction and discernment daily.
  • Pray that God would bring to mind new people to serve.
  • Teach your staff and team leaders to always thank people that serve and let them know you care for them. Our staff sent out weekly, hand-written thank you notes. I write about this in my book, too (shameless plug).
  • Be proactive in giving people an “out.” Maybe have people sign-up to serve for a set time length (like 3 months or 6 months or for the summer).
  • Set the example. If you are spread too thin and on the edge of burnout yourself, you can imagine the example you set for your congregants.
  • Above all love and lead well. You’re a part of a bigger story than building your own kingdom.

What was the result of the hard conversation? The family thanked me for my concern and the woman cut her four ministries down to two and is still serving to this day. Be on the lookout friends and pastor your people well.

“The harvest is so great, and the workers are so few,” he told his disciples. “So pray to the one in charge of the harvesting, and ask him to recruit more workers for his harvest fields.” – Matthew 9:37-38 (TLB)

On the Plane Again

Today I leave for my good old hometown of Dallas, TX. I’ll be hanging out at the ECHO Conference for the next few days. If you’re going to be there, please find me and say “hello”. I’m looking forward to being back in a city that I love and getting to see several friends from around the country that are coming to the conference.

Friday, I’ll be leaving Dallas and flying to Salt Lake City, Utah to hang out for six days with my friend, Charles Hill (founder of The Sticks Conference). Charles is planting a church near Salt Lake City, Utah (which happens to be the most un-churched city in the US) and I’ll get to attend his second preview service this Sunday. I can’t wait to share with you all what God shows me from my time with Charles.

As you know, I have a big heart for church planters and church plants in general. I love all church planters, regardless of where they plant, but I’m very passionate about hard to reach and unchurched areas like the Northeast, Pacific Northwest and where I’m going to be in Utah.

I’m also praying through some big decisions these days and would appreciate your prayers, as I believe God is leading me to start a church planting movement. I’ll be blogging more about the vision of this movement in the near future, but for now – please just pray for me. I feel God is up to something and stirring something inside of me and I feel my time with Charles in Utah is going to mess me up (for good)!

Can you believe it’s almost August?

Most Common Mistakes Church Planters Make

I came across this blog post by David Putman and Shawn Lovejoy on I thought it was worth re-posting:

It happened again! Another one bites the dust! Each year thousands of new churches are planted across the United States, and each year hundreds – if not thousands – close.  When this happens the fallout can be great for the church planter, his family, and those who attend.

It’s hard to know how many church plants don’t make it each year. Some organizations suggest as many as 80 percent fail. One is too many. Avoiding common mistakes can improve the survival rate of new churches. Here are some common mistakes to avoid.

Rushing ahead

Most of us quick-start church-planter types are driven by the urgency of the calendar. We tend to focus on a launch date, and regardless if we are ready or not, we launch. Instead of being driven by the calendar, it would serve us well to be driven by milestones. Milestones focus on the accomplishment of strategic actions.

Here are some to consider:

  1. Vision is clear and communicated.
  2. The staff team has been recruited.
  3. The core group is in place.
  4. Worship leader and team have been recruited.
  5. The meeting place has been secured.
  6. A marketing plan has been implemented.
  7. Pre-school and children’s ministry plans have been made.
  8. A small group and volunteer system is in place.
  9. An assimilation strategy is in place.

This list is not intended to be comprehensive, but to get you thinking. Failure to reach critical milestones prior launch is a key reason churches plateau or decline early in their life cycle.

Underestimating the cost

If you haven’t planted a church, you can count on three things: It’s going to take longer, require more money, and be harder than you imagined! As church planters, we are often guilty of getting “drunk on vision.” We’re so “intoxicated” with the desire to plant that it clouds our good judgment. When we’re intoxicated, we fail to listen to others, think clearly, and make wise decisions. Jesus tells us to count the cost. It always pays to listen to him.

Violating the Sabbath

Planting a church comes with a high price. First of all, let’s dispel the myth that you can plant a church without paying the price. Because of this you have to make taking care of yourself a high priority. A church planter must nurture his vitality. This requires taking regular time to refuel your emotional, relational, physical, and relational vitality. Paying close attention to these gauges can add longevity and impact to your life and ministry.

For the last 10 years, we have been part of a church plant that has grown from a vision to over 2000 in regular attendance. Unfortunately we are just learning to pay attention to our own gauges. Fortunately our wives have been incredibly patient and honest with us. We are yet to find a church planter worth their salt who doesn’t have to work hard at this. As church planters, we’ve got to embrace what the Scriptures teach us about our time. There’s a time to work. Work hard! However, there’s also a set aside time to rest. Rest hard! As a leader, if you don’t nurture your own vitality and monitor your own pace, no one else will.

Hanging on too long

When you give birth to a new church, it’s your baby. The church you planted begins with the vision God put in your heart. When you first plant, everything begins with you. You have to do everything. However, as the church begins to grow, the longer you hold on to everything, the more you become the bottleneck. There simply comes a time when we must let go and empower others.

Church planters who don’t develop the skill of empowering others seldom grow beyond 75 to 125 people. You may launch your church. You may reach people; but you usually end up stuck. The most effective church planters understand the importance of raising up leaders and building teams.

Not having a coach

Church planting is the R&D department of ministry. Planters understand that we learn our way into the future. As we move forward, we assess our failures and successes and we build off of them. Like Churchill, we understand that “success is moving from failure to failure without losing momentum.” Church planters surround themselves with other leaders and learners. I was reminded of this when Will Henderson, our Australian church planter, returned from an ACTS 29 learning experience where they advocated that every church planter needs a minimum of five coaches in their lives. Those who grow in their leadership surround themselves with coaches.

As church planters we’re going to make mistakes. No one gets it right all the time. We can avoid many of these if we’re willing to be teachable and surround ourselves with people who have been where we are going.

To learn more about church planting, join us February 22-23, 2010, for our Velocity Conference.

*** I (Greg) will be at the Velocity conference. I hope to see you there!

ARC and Church Growth

prayer The other day I wrote about what magazines I had read lately. I mentioned that I wanted to come back and talk about Outreach Magazine. This issue was their 100 Largest and Fastest-Growing Churches in America edition.

There is a great interview in the magazine with pastors Rick Bezet and Chris Hodges – pastors of the fastest growing church in America (’09 & ’08). It’s a great interview and knowing how humble and sincere both pastors are, I thought it gave glory where glory is due – to God.

An interesting thing though that many may not realize is that not only are Rick and Chris (and their churches) ARC churches, they both serve on the board of ARC (Association of Related Churches). Not only that, Rick and Chris’ churches were the first 2 churches that ARC planted 8 years ago when ARC was birthed.

So ARC launched 8 years ago with Church of the Highlands (Chris Hodges) and New Life Church (Rick Bezet) and then fast-forward: Church of the Highlands is the fastest growing church in the US in 2008 and New Life Church is the fastest growing church in 2009.

I point this out because I believe in ARC and think they do a good job planting churches. It’s worth noting that this year’s and last year’s fastest growing churches are both ARC churches. I wrote THIS blog post a while back and mentioned all the great churches that you may not realize are ARC churches. If you didn’t read it, it’s worth checking out. You’d be amazed at how many great churches and pastors you’ve heard of are ARC churches.

Why do I do a blog post on “ARC and Church Growth”? Because as an ARC coach of church planters, I can personally tell you how much I talk about the importance of prayer in leading and growing/strengthening your church. I’ve met with church planters and pastors and begged them to make prayer a priority. I’ve begged them to gather on Saturday to pray for Sunday (like Chris Hodges has always done). I’ve begged pastors to begin an intercessory prayer ministry that prays throughout their morning worship services.

Fortunately, I’ve had the privilege of hearing both Rick and Chris teach on the importance and power of prayer. The very first thing ARC teaches at their CPR’s (Church Planters Roundtable) is that you must “win the war in the spiritual”. As Billy Hornsby says, “Prayer is a non-negotiable”. I heard Chris Hodges once say, “You can’t delegate prayer.”

I write this blog post because every “fastest-growing” list that comes out has a story behind the names on the list. There are some amazing churches listed on this year’s list. I know most of the churches. My word to you is that knowing these leaders, I know they wouldn’t point to a cool technology or church growth fad, but to the power and presence of our Almighty God.

God is using ARC in a mighty way and I’m thrilled to be a small part of it and not only contribute and consult, but I grow and learn all the time by hanging out and talking with the ARC team. Billy Hornsby is a new mentor in my life and I appreciate the investment he’s making in my life.

My encouragement to you is for YOU to get to know the ARC as well. If you’re a future church planter, look into planting through ARC. Contact me and I’ll get you started down the path. If you’re an already existing church, you can join ARC (like Craig Groeschel and and Mark Batterson and National Community Church) and begin to see your missions budget go straight to planting churches here in the United States. I’d be glad to talk with you about how your church can join the ARC and begin actively supporting church planting.

All Glory to God!

10 Days On The Road

Today I leave for 10 days straight. Boy will I miss my family! I fly to South Carolina this afternoon to speak at a worship conference Thursday through Saturday in Spartanburg, SC. I always enjoy this conference because it takes place 15 minutes from where I grew up and so I get to spend some time with my mom and sister. If you’re going to be at First Baptist Spartanburg, please stop by my class and say “hey”.

Then Saturday I fly from South Carolina to Birmingham, AL to join my new friends and team at ARC for a Church Planter Basic Training. From Saturday to Friday I’ll be involved with a week of intense training for church planters. I can’t wait!

Next week I’ll share with you a new project I’m doing with ARC that could involve YOU and your church. I’m pretty excited about it and hope you’ll be too.


Today is my first official work day with ARC (Association of Related Churches). I’m thrilled to begin working with this great, Kingdom-minded organization. My heart is strong for the Big “C” Church, as you know, and I’m pumped about working with a number of churches, church planters and leaders around the world.

What will I be doing? A number of things. My first project is to take their existing CPR (Church Planters Roundtable) – which meets at various churches throughout the country and build an online version of it, so that a potential church planter can stay at the comfort of his home and log in to take the CPR – which is one of the big 3 of the ARC process.

I’ll also be serving as a coach for church planters. Both pre-launch and post-launch, I’ll be helping, supporting, encouraging and challenging church planters as they are on their journey. I’ll also be involved in a number of other smaller projects, events and functions of ARC.

I’ll also start back doing some consulting with churches and organizations on the side, as well as writing and working on a couple of book projects I have on-deck.

Again, I’m honored to join Billy Hornsby and the ARC team and I hope you’ll get to know us. Whether you’re a potential church planter that is interested in planting through ARC or whether you’re an existing church that would like to partner with ARC to plant churches (that covers just about all of you) – I look forward to speaking with you and seeing what we can do together to build the Big “C” Church.

Just to recap: I’m no longer at Bent Tree. I’m beginning on staff with ARC. If you’re not familiar with ARC, read HERE. We’ll be eventually leaving Dallas, TX. This is big news. Please comment/respond and let me know you read this and know what’s going on in my life.

Have You Heard of ARC?

From time to time I’ve referred to the ARC (Association of Related Churches) – a church planting organization that I’ve been working with a lot lately. I just returned from speaking at their BUG Conference. What you may not realize about ARC is all the great churches that partner with them.

What do Craig Groeschel and, Mark Batterson and National Community Church, Chris Hodges and Church of the Highlands (remember they are the fastest growing church in the country), Greg Surratt and Seacoast Church, Jonathan Falwell and Thomas Road Baptist Church, Dino Rizzo and Healing Place Church, Matt Fry and C3 Church, Stovall Weems and Celebration Church and Rick Bezet of New Life Church all have in common? They are all ARC partners and choose to plant churches through the ARC.

I don’t know about you, but that’s an organization worth getting to know. I got to attend the ARC’s annual conference (All Access) back in April – it was awesome and can be seen on Daystar. I spoke at and attended their Bug Conference. I’m attending their CPR (Church Planters’ Roundtable) in September in Colorado Springs. I’m getting to see them real up close and personal and I like what I’m seeing.

I’ll share more about them in the near future, but I just wanted you to get to know them and explore some of their events and opportunities for growth. By the way, if you’re a church planter or about to plant a church: I want to hear from you! Give me a shout. If you’d like to know how your church can get involved and plant churches through ARC: Give me a shout.