Mix it Up this Christmas Going Old School – Lessons and Carols

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I’m starting out this holiday season with something Christmas themed this week and throwing a free resource your way. I’ve got a great resource for you pastors and worship leaders. I compiled a Lessons and Carols service that you can use with ease. Just follow the script and have a complete service put together for you. You can download it HERE for free.

Ever think about shaking things up? Doing Christmas totally different this year? Think again. Many years ago our church staff, driven by my idea, decided to go totally contemporary at our three Christmas Eve services. I was tired of the traditional Christmas service and thought we should rock out this year and do new arrangements of Christmas carols, led by our full band. It looked great on paper. What happened that night broke my heart.¦

As a worship pastor, my heart’s desire was to see people, young and old, connect with God during our corporate worship. I don’t care about being cool or slick; I want Christ to be honored and hearts to be changed. Please know that our band did “rock out.” We played our hearts out and played well. Quality was not the issue – you could have recorded us and played it on the radio. What broke my heart was the spirit in the room and the looks on the faces in the congregation.

As I was leading the songs and looking out at the people, it hit me as loud and clear as could be: this is not what people want on Christmas Eve. We are pretty contemporary and edgy 51 weeks out of the year, but on Christmas, people really want to sing traditional carols in a classic setting. I noticed a lot of people had family that had come to town for the holiday. Grandpa and Grandma, Uncles and Aunts, Cousins, etc. that hadn’t been to church in 20 years; these are the people that I was looking out at.

The next year I decided we would do a very traditional “Lessons and Carols” service. I looked at examples from all over and then put together our own service. It was a total success. From young children singing with their parents to parents singing beside the Grandparents, everyone participated and the looks on the faces and spirit in the room were totally different – in a good way! I was so amazed at the response and how much people enjoyed the service (which can be done on a Sunday morning or night, not just Christmas Eve) that I wanted to pass on our service for you to use as a launching pad. Please take this sample “Lessons and Carols” service and make it your own.

If you’ve done the modern Christmas thing for several years (like we did last year with glow sticks instead of candles), try this to mix things up and allow your congregation and the children of your church to experience an old-fashioned Christmas worship experience.

Thanks and happy holidays!

The First Impressions Workshop featuring Greg Atkinson

Join First Impressions Conference Founder Greg Atkinson as he teaches you how to lead first impressions in the new normal. Greg discusses the Post-COVID Church and how to welcome guests in the new reality.

Sign up here for access. http://firstimpressionsworkshop.com/

 

First Impressions and Church Guest Experience Podcasts

Hello, friends. I’ve had the honor of being on several podcasts over the years. Recently, I was a guest on some great podcasts where we discussed my books The Hospitality Ministry Handbook for Volunteers and my bestselling book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.  

I realized that I haven’t told you all about them, so I wanted to post them here for you to check out.

I’m in the process of recording several more, so stay tuned for updates.

For now, give these a listen!

Greg Atkinson Launches The Church Secret Shopper Certification

Greg Atkinson is a bestselling author, speaker, pastor, coach, and consultant who has worked with churches of all sizes, including some of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the country, as well as organizations such as Josh McDowell Ministries. Greg is considered an expert in church guest experience, first impressions, hospitality, guest services, and worship.

Greg has produced worship services for three mega-churches, served on Worship & Arts staffs, and been a pastor – serving the local church for the last 26 years. Greg also produced several large conferences including Leadership Network’s Innovation3 Conference, Catalyst Dallas, and the Rebecca St. James’s SHE Conference.

Greg was selected as one of the Top 30 Christian Leaders to follow on Twitter in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. To read the list featuring leaders like Dan Cathy, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Ravi Zacharias, Bob Goff, Russel Wilson, David Carr, LifeWay, Tim Tebow, Brian Houston, The Gospel Coalition, Dr. Sam Chand, Chris Brown, Frank Bealer, and others – go HERE.

Greg’s blog was also selected as one of the Top 35 Blogs Christian Leaders Need to Read in 2018, 2019, and again in 2020. His blog is listed with ChurchLeaders.com, Pastors.com, Michael Hyatt’s blog, and others. You can read the list HERE.

Greg has spoken at numerous colleges, seminaries, and conferences all over North America, including teaching “Intro to Praise and Worship” at Dallas Theological Seminary from 2005 to 2007. Greg has trained several church staff teams, including full-time staff at Saddleback Church and Prestonwood Baptist Church.

Greg is a contributor to many magazines and websites, including ExPastors.com, Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox Newsletter, Pastors.com, ChurchLeaders.com, Outreach Magazine, Relevant Magazine, Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, XPastors.org, Catalyst, FaithVillage.com, Preaching Magazine, ChurchCentral.com and Leadership Network.

You can hear Greg speak on the subject of first impressions on various podcasts here: https://gregatkinson.com/first-impressions-podcasts-greg-atkinson-church-secret-shopper/

Greg started and leads the Weekend Worship and Guest Services Facebook group. Currently, it is a thriving community of 15,000 church leaders from around the world. You can join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/worshipandguestservices/

Greg also leads the Church Assimilation and Next Steps Facebook group, currently boasting 5000 church leaders.

Greg is a coach and consultant – specializing in areas such as first impressions (also called hospitality or guest services), leadership, and the entire worship experience. Greg is a member of the Forbes Coaching Council and a Forbes featured contributor.

Greg has been a professional secret shopper for several aspects of the hospitality industry, including restaurants, hotels, and various forms of travel.

Greg is the Founder of the First Impressions Conference – the annual event featuring the leading voices for first impressions and guest services from around the world.

Greg is also the Founder of  Worship Impressions – a professional church secret shopper service. Greg has worked hard over the last two decades to build this consulting brand and reputation of a solid ministry to the local church. Greg specializes in church guest experience, first impressions, hospitality, worship, and production.

HERE’S THE BIG NEWS:

For years I have been asked to train leaders to be secret shoppers. I literally wrote the book on it and thought that would be good enough, but over time, the demand for hands-on training and mentoring has increased. So, I’m going to offer a secret shopper certification and train people myself.

If you’d like information, sign-up here: http://secretshopper.church/

NOTE: Like any certification, this will not be cheap. The book is cheap. 😉 If I’m going to invest in you and endorse you, you’re going to have to earn it. I look forward to hearing from you.

Reflections on 26 Years in Ministry

Greg at river baptism

I’ve now been in ministry for 26 years. I started in February of 1994. I started thinking about what I’ve learned over the years, serving churches of various sizes and types and speaking to and meeting with countless Church leaders across the country. The following are some thoughts that I had while reflecting on the plane last week. These are in no particular order and I’m sure I’m leaving something out. I may add more later. Here goes:

  • God uses weak people.
  • God uses broken people. God will break you eventually. It seems that brokenness is an on-going thing.
  • God uses us despite ourselves.
  • Everyone goes through pain in their life.
  • Hurting people hurt people.
  • Depression is real.
  • We all have highs and lows, mountains, and valleys.
  • Death stings and families grieve – no matter how old the deceased is.
  • God pursues me.
  • Servants/volunteers are precious.
  • As the Word says, “Be ready in season and out.”
  • Often people will come to you for help or counsel and you realize you’re more messed up than they are. Hah!
  • We all stumble and fall – some harder than others.
  • You can’t have success, wins, breakthroughs, and innovations without risks and failure.
  • Smaller churches are usually the most creative and innovative. I watch them for inspiration.
  • Weddings, funerals, and new births happen non-stop.
  • I’ve said it before: Sunday comes every week.
  • Baptisms are extremely important and special – never take them for granted.
  • Some pastors/ministers are just plain mean. I started to say jerks, but that wouldn’t be nice.
  • Sometimes God asks you to stay somewhere when you’re begging to leave.
  • Sometimes God asks you to leave when you want to stay and fight.
  • Never let a denominational affiliation keep you from pursuing friends in ministry. Some of my closest friends/brothers and sisters in ministry are from different denominations.
  • God can and often does speak through lost people to you.
  • Most pastors don’t know any lost people. I said: “Most pastors don’t know any lost people.” You have to be INTENTIONAL to get out beyond the four walls and form relationships with those that are not like you, don’t believe like you and may NEVER enter the doors of your church.
  • God’s creation/nature is His gift to you and should not be taken for granted. Let it refresh, refocus, encourage, and inspire you.
  • God changes lives. We simply get to partner with His Spirit.
  • Some people will refuse Christ. I have watched people with blinded eyes reject the Gospel and no academic or theological argument or debate could convince them of the truth. God has to draw them to Himself and open their eyes. You can’t debate someone into the Kingdom.
  • When you feel your weakest, God uses you mightily.
  • The Word truly is a lamp unto my feet.
  • Prayer warriors are God-sends.
  • I’m thankful for my mom, my wife, and a few precious people that consistently intercede and pray on my behalf.
  • Your spouse is along for your wild ride and weathers each storm with you. Sometimes things people say about you hurt them worse than you.
  • Leaders take bullets. Better have your shield up.
  • YOU CAN NOT MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY. Someone will not like you. Get over it.
  • Your devotional life is key. Go too long without it and eventually you’ll get spiritually dry and crash and burn or burnout.
  • Real ministry happens in small groups. Corporate worship is wonderful, but I really see God move in home groups and recovery ministries like Celebrate Recovery and Divorce Care, etc.
  • When all is said and done, the people, the memories, those you’re closest to, those that are so special and you’re special to them, are because of unplanned, out-of-the-ordinary events, crises, emergencies, tragedies, etc. It’s hardly ever your “job” or what you get paid to do or is on your job description that God uses to allow you to grow closer to an individual or group of people.
  • Life is messy. Don’t oversimplify.
  • Stop sending people and money overseas if you’re ignoring your own backyard/city. Some of the poorest and most lost people in the world are in your community. The US is the 4th largest unreached people group in the world. Christians in Africa send missionaries to us. Read that again.
  • I’m still young in ministry and there are many, many far much wiser than I.
  • Don’t boast in your strengths – you can do those in the natural. The supernatural kicks in in your weakness that’s where God’s strength is made perfect/evident.

I’ll end with 5 quotes from men I respect:

  1. “The world for which we were trained no longer exists.”- Pete Briscoe
  2. “We as a church don’t have a mission. The mission has a Church.” – Reggie McNeal
  3. “As I look back over fifty years of ministry, I recall innumerable tests, trials, and times of crushing pain. But through it all, the Lord has proven faithful, loving, and totally true to all his promises.” – David Wilkerson
  4. Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” – William Carey
  5. “Go straight for souls, and go for the worst.” – William Booth

How I’ve Done Church Assimilation and Follow-up

I was a Campus Pastor at a multisite church for 6 years. After just “winging it” for the first year, I talked to my friend, Nelson Searcy, and he suggested I read his book Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church. Now, mind you, many things are discussed in the Fusion book, including first impressions (which is HUGE – you know how much I’ve written about that in the past). I’m just touching on the area of assimilation today.

I first read the summary of the book by one of my sponsors (seen to the right) called Leaders Book Summaries. After I read the summary, I was hooked and I had our entire Lead Team (our Senior Leadership Team) order and read the book. I then ordered copies for my staff at my campus and we read through it together, too. It’s an amazing read and well worth the investment. I highly encourage you to go get the book (paperback or Kindle) HERE. The leader’s summary will give you the basics and highlights. The book will give you the full philosophy, principles, and strategy for the Fusion concept.

So how do we flesh this out at my church? How do we get guests to return and become fully engaged? Well, I’m a big proponent of the Communication or Connection Card (having people fill out some sort of response or communication card), so we can gather data, allow people to sign up, let us know if they are guests and various other uses. On the Connection Card, there’s a place for you to check off if you’re a First-Time Guest or Second-Time Guest. (One church I served also tracked third-time guests) – We contact both (this is important).

My admin goes through the Connection Cards on Monday and gives me a list of all first and second-time guests. For the first-time guests, I write a handwritten thank you note (this is key) to thank them for coming and encourage them to come back. Inside the note, we give them a $5 gift card to Subway (this is all covered in the book, as to the Why?).

I also have a first-time guest email that goes out to anyone that included their email on their Communication Card. If they included their phone number, I also try to call them at some point later in the week to see if they have any questions about our church and again encourage them to come back the following Sunday. Many churches now use text as a connection point. I encourage you to check out my friends at Text in Church – they’re a great resource tool and have tons of free templates you can use to follow-up with your guests.

Why is all this contact with first-time guests so important? Allow me to quote from the book:

When your guests return for a second look, you’ve won 80% of the battle of gaining new regular attenders and have increased the chances they’ll begin a journey with Christ. Their return signals a new level of interest and openness that is very exciting.”

Did you catch that? IF you’re guests return for a second visit, you’ve won 80% of the battle and they are much more likely to make a decision for Christ! Wow! So, we put everything into getting first-time guests to become second-time guests. What do you do for second-time guests?

For our second-times guests (that check off that box on our Connection Card), I send a form letter that is geared to a returning guest and I talk about next steps (like getting plugged into a LifeGroup or checking out our Discovery or Newcomers Class). In the letter and envelope is another $5 gift card – but this is to Sonic. You’ll have to read the book to understand the importance of all this. I also have a second-time email that I send to them, which outlines next steps and encourages them to begin to get plugged in.

Here’s one sample or template for you to check out. This is the first-time guest email I sent out each week to first-timers.

First Time Guest Email:

Hello. I’m Greg and I’m the Campus Pastor at Forest Park Carthage. I just wanted to send you a quick email to first of all thank you for visiting our church and secondly to encourage you to come back and check us out again.

We are a fun, friendly, family-oriented church that welcomes people with open arms. Please feel free to come up to me and introduce yourself this Sunday so I can put a name and face together. I look forward to getting to know you better and would love to take you to coffee. Just let me know when is good for you.

To keep up with me, my family and my daily life, please friend me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/greg.atkinson1. To keep up with our church on Facebook, like us here: https://www.facebook.com/fpcarthage. See you this coming Sunday. It’s going to be a great day!

One final thing: We’d really like to know what you thought of your first experience with our church. If you would, please take two minutes and go to this link and fill out our guest survey. We take seriously what we do at Forest Park and want to make sure we’re doing our very best to welcome people to our church. Thanks again!

Assimilation is an often overlooked or under-appreciated part of church ministry. It is vital to closing the back door to your church and helping your ministry grow. Another key, that I want to help highlight is how crucial it is to get people plugged in. When I was at Forest Park: We worship. We grow. We serve. – that’s our strategy. If people can get plugged into a LifeGroup (Grow) and/or begin to serve in some area of ministry (Serve), they are going to naturally be assimilated into our church and chances are, they will stick around.

This is all a work in progress for me and my church. We’re working the kinks out and tweaking our process. We don’t have all the answers. I just thought someone could benefit from this and thought I’d share it as a resource to you. I hope it helps. God bless you as you try to be a stickier church!

*** I mentioned how much I love a Connection Card. I put together a sample template pack of editable connection cards for you. You can download it (and other FREE PDFs I wrote) here. The sample connection card and PDF bundle is FREE!

*** PRO TIP: You’ll get more connection cards turned in if you offer a free gift. It’s also very thoughtful and appreciated. Ideas for free gifts are in the above-mentioned PDF resource.

*** BONUS: Did you know you can interact with me and nearly 15,000 church leaders from around the world? You can join us at http://guestexperience.church/

Also, we have a brand new group focused on assimilation and helping guests take their next steps. You can join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/churchassimilation/

We’d love for you to join our community as we grow together!

*** Be sure to sign-up for the First Impressions Conference coming in November. We’re currently in Early Bird registration so you’ll save half-off!

Greg Atkinson Knows Church Guest Experience

Someone recently interviewed me and asked me what I do. I thought I would state it plainly here on my blog again. I’m still coaching and consulting – yes, even in this crazy 2020 year.

Greg Atkinson and the team at Worship Impressions specialize in church guest experience. From the basic church secret shopper or mystery worshiper weekend experience to online presence evaluations to coaching and training – we do it all and stand ready to serve you.

I’ve recently partnered with a company and offer all kinds of services including renovation, AVL, signage, platform design, and more.

Greg Atkinson has been considered an expert in church guest experience, guest services, first impressions, hospitality, worship, and overall church leadership. You can read more about him HERE.

Interested in hiring Greg? Contact Greg by filling out the GET STARTED form (found at the top of his business website).

And be sure to check out the fourth all-new: First Impressions Conference featuring a killer lineup of over 100 speakers.

Did you know you can interact with me and nearly 15,000 church leaders from around the world? You can join us at http://guestexperience.church/

Also, we have a brand new group focused on assimilation and helping guests take their next steps. You can join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/churchassimilation/

Weekend Worship, Guest Services, Church Guest Experience, and the First Impressions Conference

Hey, friends! Did you know that there is a Facebook group where we talk about everything that happens on a weekend at the local church? There is!

If you serve as a pastor, church staff member (Communications, Children’s, worship, guest services, church guest experience, first impressions, hospitality – or even on the security team) – this is a great place to share best practices, ask questions, and learn.

Go HERE to join in the discussion with nearly 15,000 other church leaders from around the world! Remember – this week could very well be someone’s first Sunday at your church. LOVE and SERVE them well.

  • And if you haven’t already, go sign-up for the fourth First Impressions Conference. It’s November 4-6, and it’s all online (no travel). Featuring over 100 speakers. You’ve got to see this killer church guest experience and first impressions lineup featuring bestselling authors, pastors, practitioners, thought leaders, and church communications specialists.
  • See you in November! Register now for half off with the Early Bird discount. https://firstimpressionsconference.com/

 

The Timeless Art of a Personal Touch

We live in a digital world. Texting, IMing, Facebook DMs and Twitter’s tweets – it’s truly a whirlwind when it comes to communicating these days. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve found that a personal touch still goes a long way, especially in this season of Coronavirus when we can’t gather in-person.

Everybody loves to receive a hand-written note thanking them for their service on your team. Your volunteers and team members haven’t seen you in nearly 3 months. Take the time to write out Thank You notes to each and every one of them. If you have the budget, include a gift card in the note to them. Sometimes I did Chili’s gift cards for $25. Sometimes I could only do a $10 or $5 Starbucks card. Maybe you can do a DoorDash gift card since so many people are having food delivered to their homes. Whatever your budget can do – make it happen.

Another thing that goes a long way in this digital world is phone calls. It seems we’ve lost the art of picking up the phone and checking on our team and seeing how they’re doing. I used to go through my team’s list of names and give them a call just to see how they were doing and if there was anything I could pray for them about. This went a long way! I’ve heard great stories of church staffs that are going through their database and calling families to check on them. This is excellent!

How long has it been since you wrote a note? How long since you called a team member? Let’s surprise our team and volunteers with kindness in this Covid 19 season.

10 Questions to Ask Your Congregation Before You Reopen

“When can we reopen our church?” That is the question that keeps getting asked. I want to help you make an informed decision.

Pastor Judah Smith recently said that now is a great time to survey your congregation. We wholeheartedly agree. Our fear is that church leaders and pastors may be assuming things that their people aren’t thinking or on the same page with. 

What if you have a church of 500 people but when you reopen the doors only 100 show up? What if all 500 show up, but your Governor has put social distancing guidelines and maximum occupancy numbers in place?

What if it takes 50 volunteers to pull off a Sunday, but only 10 return? 

What are you going to do about children’s ministry? How will you keep them safe?

Who is going to completely sanitize the church? How will that be communicated to the congregation? 

Will you be adding services? Will you be roping off seats and dividing up sections of the auditorium for seating?

What about the drive-in church? Many churches are talking about starting back outside (drive-in) first before going back inside the church building?

Will you continue to live stream and do all the online church stuff you’ve been doing the past month? 

Will you continue to pass the offering plate? How will you handle giving? Are you adding giving boxes and continuing to encourage online giving?

How will you celebrate Mother’s Day? 

These are things that must be thought through and discussed as church leaders.

Here are some sample questions for your congregational survey to get you thinking. Use whatever works best in your context:

 

  1. When is the soonest you would consider coming back to the church building?
  2. Would you come if we had a drive-in service?
  3. Do you expect the church to provide you a mask?
  4. If you volunteer, are you planning to volunteer in the same spot if we reopen?
  5. If you have kids, will you be putting your kids in children’s ministry?
  6. Do you want the church to serve coffee and refreshments? (If you used to)
  7. When churches resume worship services in their facilities, will you be more likely to attend services in person, or online?
  8. In the last 6 weeks, how many times have you watched services online?
  9. How many times a month do you typically attend church?
  10. Have you ever given online to our church?
  11. Are you comfortable with us passing the offering plate?
  12. Are you comfortable with us serving Communion?
  13. Are you in favor of us rolling out house churches/small groups of 10 people to get back to meeting together physically until it is safe to do so at our full size?

Survey creation and sharing options:

SurveyMonkey.com

Google forms

Gravity form

JotForm

Formstack

Typeform.com

Your church’s ChMS (Example: FaithTeams, Tithely, Rock, Planning Center, CCB, Fellowship One, etc.)

 

SO… When you do decide to open up, here are some great resources like hand sanitizer stations from my friends at Outreach.

 

Articles and resources for consideration as you make these decisions:

 

https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/

 

https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/national-coronavirus-response-a-road-map-to-reopening/

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/church-after-quarantine-5-strategic-questions-help-your-ted-vaughn/

 

https://kenbraddy.com/2020/04/18/20-questions-your-church-should-answer-before-people-return/

 

24 More Questions the Church Should Ask Before People Return

 

https://www.tnbaptist.org/reopen

 

https://www.columbiametro.org/relaunching-your-congregation/

 

https://medium.com/@pastorbrandonweddle/how-to-re-open-your-church-after-covid-19-bd10ad5b2fd6

 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/april/what-relaunching-church-might-look-like-over-next-312-month.html

 

https://www.ministrytogether.com/what-to-do-now-as-we-enter-coronavirus-phase-2/

 

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/reopening-church

 

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/reopening-the-church-after-covid19

 

https://malphursgroup.com/ready-to-reopen-church-checklist/

 

https://www.smartchurchsolutions.com/blog/church-facility-re-opening-checklist

 

https://stateofthechurch.com/churchpulseweekly

 

*** For a free downloadable PDF of this resource along with tons of other resources for the Church and Coronavirus (including free webinars), join the Weekend Worship and Guest Services Facebook group and join the discussion of 13,000 church leaders from around the world sharing resources. You can join for free HERE.

SO… When you do decide to open up, here are some great resources like hand sanitizer stations and face masks from my friends at Outreach.

*** If you’d like a downloadable copy of this resource of top questions to ask to pass out to your leadership team, click HERE.