Archives For worship

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!

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?

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I and my company Worship Impressions are committed to helping your church reach and keep guests. As specialists in Guest Services, Hospitality, and First Impressions, we come alongside you and what God is already doing at your church and give you a guest’s perspective, as well as suggestions and next steps to improve.

We don’t just do one consult and leave. I am committed to a long-term relationship. I propose next steps, introduce you to friends, specialists, and strategic partners. And I’m always one phone call or email away. I’ve had pastors call me up and ask a question years after I did a secret shopper for them.

The question becomes: When is a good time to bring in a church secret shopper or mystery worshiper? It really depends on your church’s season of life/schedule, budget and an attitude that says you’re ready to do whatever it takes to reach lost people for Christ.

One word of caution:

You will always be busy and you’ll always be getting ready for something. Please don’t let that stop you from investing in your church’s future and potential. Make time for a consultation if you are struggling, plateaued, declining, dead, or even if you’re booming and just want to go to the next level. The key is you have to be intentional. You have to be open to change and invite feedback. It’s scary, but oh so worth it!

So to show you how I usually help churches, here’s what a yearly schedule could look like:

  • I come in the Summer and help you Get Ready for Fall
  • I come in the Fall and help you Get Ready for Christmas and the New Year
  • I come in the New Year and help you Get Ready for Easter

There really is no right or wrong time to bring in a church secret shopper. Just pray about what works best for you and your ministry. Once you’re ready, let us know. You can reach me at my personal email: greg@gregatkinson.com or Worship Impressions at info@worshipimpressions.com.

I hope to meet you soon. The best days of your church are ahead!

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)

Worship Leader

Having been in several churches where we had a guest worship leader come in and lead for the morning, I have some thoughts to share.

  1. Know Your Role
    Your job is not to come in and teach new songs to the congregation. Your job is to fill in and maintain the status quo. Find out what songs the people know and love and choose from those. This is not only good for the congregation but good for the guest worship leader. If you sing crowd favorites, the people will have a positive impression of you and want you to lead again.
  2. Know Your Responsibility
    Your job as a guest worship leader is to choose songs/the set list, lead the weekly practice, lead the sound check and run-through on Sunday morning and then lead the music in the service. If you need to meet with the staff worship leader or senior pastor to pick out songs that go with the day’s theme/message – do that. Be prepared for the weekly practice. Get your songs out to the band as soon as possible. If you use Planning Center, get your songs uploaded and charts as well. Have charts ready for rehearsal and start and end on time. Tell the band and production team what time you want to gather on Sunday morning for sound check and run through and be the first to arrive that day. Make sure you’re finished with run through and have the stage cleared by at least half an hour before the service starts. Don’t be the guy rehearsing while people are coming in and sitting down.
  3. Know Your Music
    I can’t hold back here. If you are paid to fill in for an existing musician or worship leader, you need to come prepared and know your music. There’s no place for a music stand on stage. Memorize your music and play skillfully before the Lord and congregation.
  4. Know the People
    Find out from the existing worship leader the pulse and comfort level of the congregation. Don’t try to take them where they’ve never been. Just hold down what is the norm and don’t rock the boat. On Sunday morning, make it a point to get around the congregation pre-service and shake hands. Introduce yourself and keep from the rock star mentality of hiding in a green room. This will help people better connect with you on stage. After the service, don’t just pack up and leave. Stand around and talk with people after the service. This includes the band. Thank them for letting you come in and play with them.
  5. Know the Room
    Be sensitive to what God is doing in the service. Be sensitive to the senior pastor and where he wants to go in the service. If you need to play softly behind him during a prayer or response time, be ready and prepared. If you need to lead a reprise of a song during a response time, be prepared and ready. If people are praying or taking Communion, be softer and don’t overpower what is happening in the room. The main thing is to be sensitive and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.
  6. Know You’re Trusted
    Someone believes in you and has asked you to lead, so rest in that. Don’t get an ego and don’t get intimidated. Someone sees great talent and potential in you and is trusting you to lead his or her congregation in corporate worship. Please take that responsibility seriously and know there’s grace and you are loved.
  7. Know Your Part in the Bigger Picture
    Realize that this is not your show, your shot or even your church. You are a guest and you should respect what God has done before you arrived and what He is continuing to do in that congregation. There will be a lot happening on that Sunday, from parking lot attendants, to greeters, to ushers, to production, to children’s workers, etc. You are just one piece of the puzzle. Your job is to lead music that the people can worship with and connect to the Living God.
  • Lastly, thank God for the opportunity. Thank the worship leader that asked you to fill in. Thank the senior pastor for having you. Thank the band for being understanding and flexible and doing their best to support you and set you up to succeed. Do such a good job that you will be asked back and give God the glory.

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!

CCV-Communication-Card

We all come from different tribes, denominations, styles of music and sizes small to large. The one thing churches of all kind have in common on a day as huge as Easter is wanting to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. How do you do that?

One tool that I’ve used well over the years and highly recommend is having some sort of response card, info card, communication card or connection card – whatever you want to call it.

You can put these in the seats, in the bulletin or hand them out as people walk in. You can collect them in a variety of ways: Have the guests put them in the offering plate, or have the guests take them to a connection or collection area.

You can see a higher response rate by offering a free gift for people that turn them in at the designated area. Some churches give away books and some give away coffee mugs.

The point it to collect as many response and connection cards as you can. Please have a circle or box that they can check off that reads “First-time Guest.” Also good to ask is, “How did you hear about us?” Also have boxes for people to check off if they made a decision for Christ. Also good is a space for people to share prayer requests.

What you do with the card once it’s turned in – what you do post-Easter is key. As I’ve said before, “Assimilation is an often overlooked or under-appreciated part of church ministry.”

You can read all about how I did assimilation at my last church HERE

I hope you guys have an incredible and productive week and may you see much fruit this Easter season!

This is not leadership

We know we all should die to self daily, but seriously – how often do you do a serious heart check? I recently transitioned off a local church staff and had to reassess my heart, think about my identity, remember my calling, and refocus my time and energy.

But today I want to talk about reassessing our hearts. Monday night I was at a men’s small group worship night held in someone’s house. There were about 15 to 20 guys gathered around a living room and kitchen.

We sang and worshiped our Living God, but what struck me was that the guy leading worship (who happens to be a physician) was singing and playing like he was in an arena with 10,000 screaming worshipers (picture a Passion concert with Chris Tomlin).

I stood there amazed watching this guy just go for it and sing his heart out. He truly led us into the Presence of God. And then it hit me:

Should we sing any less louder or give any less effort when leading before a small group than on a stage? Absolutely not!

Jesus deserves our all – our best. Our utmost for His Highest. Nothing less. He is worthy of all praise and as we sang the other night: a living sacrifice.

So, how’s your heart?

rsz_quit

Last week my 13 year old son tried out for his middle school’s baseball team. He didn’t make the cut. As a father, this saddens me, but I know it’s a part of growing up and a valid life lesson for him.

I gave him the “Michael Jordan got cut from his basketball team” speech. I also shared how when I was in elementary school, I auditioned for chorus and didn’t make it. They told me I couldn’t sing. I went on to get a vocal scholarship to college and graduate with a degree in music.

“God never calls us to do something we’re capable of. God calls us to do things that are beyond our ability so He gets all the credit.” – Mark Batterson

Everyone faces challenges – it’s how we respond to those challenges that is the true testimony of our faith and where the rubber meets the road in our lives. I don’t know who I’m talking to today, but maybe you’re one day away from throwing in the towel. Maybe you’ve written your resignation letter.

“We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in two years, but we underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years!” – Mark Batterson

I would encourage you to pray and seek God for His leading. Don’t run away from a tough circumstance (or Board of Deacons or Elders) to greener pastures. Water the grass where you are.  Plant your stake in the ground and resolve to not move until God makes it clear that it is His will.

“Sometimes the power of prayer is the power to carry on. It doesn’t always change your circumstances, but it gives you the strength to walk through them.” – Mark Batterson

Too often we give up and quit right before a major breakthrough in our ministry. 

“If we had a larger vision of what God wanted to accomplish in us and through us, our petty problems would cease to exist because they would cease to be important.” – Mark Batterson

Read this last quote from Mark Batterson and just see if God speaks to your heart:

“You are only one prayer away from a dream fulfilled, a promise kept, or a miracle performed.” – Mark Batterson

I’m praying for you. I’m praying that God would pull you up out of the pit of despair, anger, frustration, brokenness, burnout, and hurt. I’m praying that you would be encouraged, inspired and hell-bent on chasing hard after God and His mission in your community.

I’m here for you. Many are counting on you. So – Don’t quit! We need you. 

Commit your work to the Lordand your plans will be established. – Proverbs 16:3

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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!