Archives For Greg Atkinson

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 does 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 bombard 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 gold mine 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.

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.

 

Did you know first impressions matter? They do—big time!

Sometimes there’s no coming back from a bad experience.

When I work with churches, I exhort them to put their best and brightest, their positive, smiling, warmest personalities on their front lines. Starting with the parking lot team and moving inside to greeters, ushers, and those working the welcome desk or information center. These people need to be friendly and welcoming. Most of all, they need to know how vital their role is to the mission of the church.

As someone who visits lots of churches for the first time, I have some pet peeves to share that I hope will help your church.

Parking lot attendants

Nothing drives me crazier than seeing parking lot attendants standing next to each other. There should never be two people (or more) standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out across your parking lot communicating with hand signals or walkie-talkies.

When I see parking lot attendants bunched up and talking to one another, it tells me they don’t know their purpose.

They don’t realize that their focus and attention need to be on greeting and pointing people in the right direction. Nothing is worse than driving by two parking lot attendants deep in conversation that don’t even acknowledge you. Trust me, I’ve experienced it and it’s a horrible first impression of your church. Give your parking lot attendants posts or positions and have them stay spread out. Remind them to focus on their responsibility and to smile and wave at cars as they drive by. Remember the atmosphere we want to create.

Greeters

Have you ever experienced over-zealous greeters? Greeters that freak you out because they’re too happy, too nosy, or too obnoxious? Greeters need to spread out too and leave space for people to walk. Please don’t form a wall that makes it awkward for people when entering your building. I had a bad experience at a large and well-known church one time. I can’t tell you how many hands I had to shake to enter their building.

Ushers

I think we over-simplify when it comes to training ushers in the church. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve visited or consulted with who had told their ushers, “Stand here and give each person a bulletin as they pass.” This is a poor vision indeed. If your only job is to hand someone a bulletin, you don’t take it seriously. You don’t do anything else outside that and it’s easy to get in a conversation with other ushers. If you haven’t picked up on it, I don’t like for conversations to be going on with team members. I think it’s rude and a horrible first impression.

No one wants to feel like they’re interrupting your discussion to get a bulletin or find a seat.

Speaking of finding a seat, that is the job of the usher. I’ve seen churches that put bulletins on a small table and let the ushers usher. I love this! Ushers should be seating people and be helping those with special needs.

Hands-free

I have one last bone to pick with all team members, and this is a big one! Make sure your servant leaders are hands-free. This means they shouldn’t be holding a cup of coffee or their cell phone. Imagine a single mom struggling to corral her toddlers and holding an infant’s carrier in one hand, walking in from the parking lot, and the guy or gal at the door is too distracted by their phone to open the door for her. Or the helper is trying to open the door and not spill coffee on her and her children.

You must talk to your team about sacrifice.

The reason they arrive early (at least 30 minutes before a service) is to talk to friends, get some coffee, and do other stuff that they shouldn’t be doing while they’re serving. Once it’s go-time, they must be hands-free and focused.

These are just some of the feedback I hear from church visitors and have experienced myself. If you’d like me to help you make a great first impression, evaluate what you do on a weekend, and give you a report of my findings with next steps, check out my church secret shopper website HERE.

 

This article is adapted from Secrets of a Secret Shopper by Greg Atkinson, published by Rainer Publishing and available from Amazon.

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 for 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 new 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. Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.

A photo by dan carlson. unsplash.com/photos/oTQVwECws8o

Believe the unbelievable.

Expectation is the act or state of looking forward or anticipating; an expectant mental attitude. The mindset and posture in which we should approach God are one of expectation. We expect God to show up, move, lead, and guide. If He doesn’t then we are simply leading in the flesh and won’t make an eternal difference.

William Carey said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

The innovative and strange leader expects great things from God. The innovative and strange leader leads by faith and is rooted in hope.

Christian artist, Steven Curtis Chapman, wrote a song entitled “Great Expectations.” Let’s look at his lyrics to the chorus:

Believe the unbelievable. Receive the inconceivable.

And see beyond my wildest imagination Lord, I come with great expectations.

Can we really “believe the unbelievable” and “receive the inconceivable?” Several years ago, I got to hear Joel Hunter preach at Buckhead Church in Atlanta. He taught on expectation and defined it as “a belief that is centered on the future.” Joel said, “We can expect God to be: available, wise, gentle and tough, patient, comforting, strong, and relentless.”

Does your belief in God to be wise and strong affect how you lead and make decisions? If God truly knows what is best, do we trust Him no matter where He leads and no matter what He asks and requires of us?

I wait expectantly trusting God to help for He’s promised —Psalm 130:5 (LB)

I pray to God—my life a prayer—and wait for what he’ll say and do. —Psalm 130:5 (MSG)

My friend, Steve Komanapalli, who used to be special assistant to Rick Warren and a pastor at Saddleback wrote a guest blog for me a while back. In it, he said, “A farmer doesn’t plant some seeds and go to Hawaii for a year! He spends the time anticipating, expecting a harvest.” He also encouraged my readers to check out James 5.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. —James 5:7

Steve went on to say, “If I’m going to wait, I need to wait confidently. Micah 7:7 says, “I wait confidently for God.” Rick Warren says, “When the outlook is bad, you look up. That is what hope is.” It’s confident expectation.

The God factor

To lead an innovative organization, you must lead from a place, posture, and mindset of faith mixed with hope in Christ. The difference between business innovation and ministry innovation is the supernatural factor. We seek to be led by the Holy Spirit and not just think up new ways of doing things.

Once you’ve done your part of prayerfully seeking God and reflecting on His word, you must believe God will answer, lead, and direct you and your team. As you know, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)

In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning, I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. —Psalm 5:3 (NIV)

Psalm 5 is my encouragement to you, friends. Lay your requests before God and “wait in expectation.” This does not mean to sit on your hands and do nothing until you hear the audible voice of God. Sometimes we act, move or lead in expectation and anticipation of something we believe God has said or promised He will do.

If God has spoken to you through His word, His Spirit, or given you a vision for something, you should confidently expect God to move mountains on your behalf. Be humble and trust in God for the victory. Check out Ps 62:

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. —Psalm 62:1 (NLT)

An innovative leader is strange, prayerful, bold, courageous, decisive, a risk-taker, organized, motivated, commissioned, visionary, and on mission— as well as full of faith, hope, and an expectation God is going to show up and come through.

It reminds me of the lyric from Delirious band’s song “My Glorious,” which says “God will save the day and all will say my glorious!”

Do you believe “God will save the day?” When you’re backed into a corner, confused, scared, nervous, or just plain don’t know what to do in a situation, where do you turn? Do you expect and anticipate God to answer your cry for help and lead you down a new trail of adventure?

I do. I believe God has a plan for me, my life, my mission, and my ministry. I believe He is listening to my prayers and stands ready to answer and come to my rescue when I sincerely seek Him. And He will do the same for you!

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. —Ephesians 3:20–21 (NIV)

 

*Parts of this post were excerpts from my book Strange Leadership.

graceGRACE. It’s my favorite word. As a matter of fact, I named my first-born child Grace. I often tell her how special her name is. I know she gets tired of hearing it (or maybe she secretly loves it), but I point out every song, sermon, or movie that mentions the word “grace.”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently became the Executive Director of ExPastors.com. We have a mission statement that reads as follows: We seek to be a place of help, healing, and hope for ex-pastors, pastors, and church leaders. We do this by hearing their stories, connecting them with people and resources, and focusing on spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health.

When Tullian Tchividjian reached out to us and I talked with him on the phone, I heard a man that had committed a sin (a serious sin before God and that is a hot-button for many people). I heard a man that had experienced brokenness, shame, loneliness, deep and dark sadness, and regret over what he had done to his family, and how he let his church and followers down.

As a matter of fact, Tullian was in such a dark place of sadness, regret, loneliness, anger, and frustration that he set out to take his life. He even wrote a suicide note that he shared in the piece we published. You can read it here.

He did, however, address questions and accusations with RNS in this piece. A while back, when writing about Tullian, Charisma News wrote the following:

“Weak areas such as drugs, alcohol, pain meds, sex, anger, marriage issues, and so on are ‘opportune times’ for the enemy to strike. We must expose these areas through repentance, and install safeguards and accountability.”

I agree. Friends, I’ve been in ministry for over two decades and I know and have experienced the attacks, traps, temptations, and lies of the enemy. I urge you to pray for pastors around the world. And I challenge you to sincerely pray for pastors who have fallen (like Tullian), been fired for addiction (like Perry Noble), and burned out (like Pete Wilson).

We, as a ministry, and myself personally, took a ton of heat, bullets, and accusations by many upset and angry people. Did they have a right to be upset and angry? I don’t know. I just know that when it comes to truth and grace, I always lean towards grace. A therapist, professor and author that I respect said the same thing. Only Jesus perfectly embodies truth and grace equally. He is 100% truth and 100% grace. We all lean one way or the other.

On Wednesday night, after we and I took a beating on our website and on social media, I looked my daughter Grace in the eyes, with tears in my eyes and said, “You know how special your name is to me, right?” She said, “Yes.” I told her about the personal attacks I had received for showing Tullian grace. And I reminded her:

“Grace is unmerited favor. You can’t earn grace (thank God). We don’t receive grace because we’re perfect, deserve it, or have it all together. Grace is freely offered by God to us and we should freely offer it to others.”

Tullian’s grandfather, Billy Graham, wrote about grace and the unmerited favor of God here. I encourage you to read it. You can read more about what we, at ExPastors, believe and are about here.

So, Thursday after being emotionally drained and exhausted from the constant attacks on our website, social media, and people that targetted me personally and questioned my integrity, I went to see my therapist for our weekly appointment. Yes, I see a counselor. Yes, I believe strongly in therapy. And I’ve written and spoke out about it frequently. I think every pastor should see a therapist. One of the lies and traps of the enemy is isolation. If you feel alone and have no one to talk to, you will fall (or take your life), and be another statistic.

So, last week I met with my therapist. He said, “What would you like to talk about today?” I said, “I have a lot to talk about, express, get off my chest, and get some counsel on.” So, I told him about my week and the reason we published Tullian’s piece (which has since been removed). I told him that many pastors commit suicide each year. In an article by Charisma News, they wrote: “It’s this thought process that could have caused both Seth Oiler and Isaac Hunter to take their own lives after being caught in affairs.” God help us!

My therapist told me of another local therapist that used to be a Lutheran minister. He said this former minister is now a practicing counselor, who’s whole practice is dedicated to helping former pastors. Believe me, I will be reaching out to this counselor and getting to know him.

I told my therapist (and this is the God’s honest truth) that when I woke up Wednesday morning (after we posted Tullian’s piece on Tuesday), the first thought in mind before I even sat up and put my feet on the ground was:

JUST ONE. Yes, we took a lot of heat and bullets for posting the article, but if just one pastor read Tullian’s story of deep, dark depression that led him to consider taking his own life. If just one pastor decided to not take his life and seek help so they can keep on living – it was worth it all. 

My therapist encouraged me by reminding me of the “Starfish story.” You’ve probably heard it. Ever heard of the man walking along the beach and picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water so they wouldn’t die? Someone mocked him because there was no way he could make a difference and save every starfish. The man picked up a starfish, threw it in the water and said something like, “It made a difference to that one.”

Read my article on ExPastors.com entitled, “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. This is a Safe Place.” In the article I write, “We reach all kinds of pastors and ex-pastors: broken, hurt, wounded, mad, angry at God, angry at the Church, confused, on the verge of suicide (like Tullian Tchividjian shared), in transition, now in lay leadership, pastors who have burned out and are ready to quit, pastors who have resigned and now work a job outside the local church, pastors who were fired, pastors who were laid off due to finances or circumstances out of their control – all kinds of pastors and church leaders.

As my friend Pete Wilson once said, “It’s okay not to be okay.” And I would add, “This is a safe place. All are welcome here. Whether you like us or not, trust us or not, love us or hate us, agree with us or not, or are just checking us out – we welcome you.

And like it or not, Tullian is the very definition of an ex-pastor. For every mega-church pastor, author and/or conference speaker that finds themselves in a similar situation, there are hundreds or thousands of ex-pastors and struggling pastors that are hurting and/or burned out – they just pastor smaller churches and don’t have the platform that Tullian has. And to you, my friend, I also say, “This is a safe place.””

So, if you stumbled across this blog post and God has stirred something in your soul. If you’re a current or ex-pastor, we’d love to hear from you. Submit your story to us. It doesn’t matter if you pastor a church of 10 people, 100, or a 1000. We’re in this together and we hope to create a community where people can help one another get through tough seasons of ministry and life. If you’re at the end of your rope and need of help, contact us. We want to connect you with resources and other pastors.

Browse the site. Read through our articles. Maybe you’ll find something helpful and timely. Check out our Resources page and if you have a recommended resource, email us. Check the site often. Subscribe to our newsletter to get weekly email updates and subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with video content, including our new podcast (coming soon). FYI – When you subscribe to the ExPastors.com newsletter, you’ll receive a free copy of our Founder, Bo Lane’s best-selling book Why Pastors Quit.

Let’s be people known for and characterized by GRACE. That’s my story and my personal mission. I’m a grace dealer and I’m going to keep on dishing it out. God bless you pastors as you serve the Church. Keep pressing on. Don’t give up! You’re not alone.

expastors-mantra-twitter_profile-white-new

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.

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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!

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!

Music headphones

Often I get asked by a pastor or worship leader what I’m listening to and worshiping with. They realize that I travel the United States doing church secret shopper consultations and that I probably experience music and worship in more churches yearly, than just about anyone else to be honest.

So I hear a wide variety of styles and song selections. But I do have my personal preferences and songs that really move me and help me to connect to God. I bet you do, too. I’d like to introduce you to some that are my favorite (if you’re not already aware of them).

For the past 2 to 3 months, I’ve put YouTube on my TV and watched 2 artists, which I consider to be the best worship music in the United States. I think Elevation Worship is the best worship music in the US. I think Bethel Music is a close second. And they are very different, but I love them both.

Here are the songs that God has really used to minister to my heart and soul. I hope you’ll worship with them personally and consider them for corporate music.

Take Courage – Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music
*** My current favorite song! This song is brand-new and isn’t even on iTunes yet.

Call Upon the Lord – Elevation Worship (My current 2nd favorite song)

Resurrecting – Elevation Worship

Here As in Heaven – Elevation Worship

O Come to the Altar – Elevation Worship (great response song after the message)

King of My Heart – Bethel Music (I know Saddleback Church has done this several times recently)

Ever Be – Bethel Music

No Longer Slaves – Bethel Music

It is Well – Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music (for more traditional churches that want to breathe new life into an awesome hymn)

 

*** I’d love to hear from you. What’s playing in your earbuds these days? What songs move you?