50 Lessons for Young Leaders

My name is Greg Atkinson and today is my 47th birthday. As I get closer to the big 5-0, I started thinking about lessons I’ve learned over my nearly 5 decades on planet Earth.

I was thinking of leaders like you when I wrote this. I pray God will amplify the words that are just for you.

I was the high school intern at my home church in 1992 and ’93. I started on staff at my first church, as a freshman in college, at the ripe old age of 18 (in February of 1994). That was 28 years ago. Wow!

I had to learn a lot of tough and powerful lessons over the past nearly three decades of ministry. I saw a discussion happening on Facebook about things you wish you knew in your 20s. I had too many comments to share in one Facebook post, so I decided to write about it.

Please allow me to share lessons that God has taught me and continues to teach me. These are in no particular order and I’m positive I’m leaving something out.

1) God uses weak people. God uses broken people. God will break you eventually. It seems that brokenness is an ongoing thing. 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.

2) The gospel is about repenting and believing. Constantly repent and believe the good news of the gospel. You are who God says you are. Your identity is a child of God – not a pastor, not an ethnic group, profession, gender, or any other thing – your identity is a child of God. Meditate and daily reflect on justification. This will ground you and free you to be who God is calling you to be. It will also give you a great sense of thankfulness, wonder, peace, love, and joy.

3) God uses us despite ourselves. No one is perfect. All pastors and church leaders sin daily. Repent. Thank God for His amazing grace.

4) Everyone goes through pain in his or her life. I’m living proof that there is a purpose to the pain. As Rick Warren says, God never wastes our pain.

5) Hurt people hurt people. You must live and practice forgiveness.

6) Depression is real. Don’t oversimplify mental illness into not having a quiet time or healthy prayer life. Study the brain and do all the reading you can on mental illness and the church.

7) We all have highs and lows, mountains and valleys. God is near to the brokenhearted. Cry out to Him.

8) Death stings and families grieve, no matter how old the deceased is.

9) God pursues me.

10) Staff, servants, and volunteers are precious.

11) As the Word says, Be ready in season and out.

12) Often people will come to you for help or counsel and you realize you’re more messed up than they are.

13) We all stumble and fall, some harder than others.

14) You can’t have success, wins, breakthroughs, and innovations without risks and failure.

15) Smaller churches and church plants are usually the most creative and innovative. I watch them for inspiration.

16) Weddings, funerals, and new births happen non-stop.

17) I’ve said it before: Sunday comes every week.

18) Baptisms are extremely important and special, never take them for granted.

19) When you arrive, never bash your predecessor. When you leave, never burn a bridge.

20) Sometimes God asks you to stay somewhere when you’re begging to leave.

21) Sometimes God asks you to leave when you want to stay and fight.

22) Never let a denominational affiliation keep you from pursuing friends in ministry. Some of my closest friends in ministry are from different denominations.

23) 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.

24) Study doctrine and Scripture, but live grace. Jesus was full of grace AND truth. Model compassion, mercy, unconditional love, and unwavering integrity.

25) God’s creation/nature is His gift to you and should not be taken for granted. Let it refresh, refocus, encourage, and inspire you.

26) God changes lives. We simply get to partner with the genius of the Holy Spirit (as Dave Browning says). I’ve come to learn (the hard way) only God saves. Only God heals. Only God restores. And only God can set someone free from whatever they struggle with (pain, pride, addiction, you name it.)

27) 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.

28) When you feel your weakest, God uses you mightily. The Word truly is a lamp unto my feet. Abide in Christ. Cling to Him. Rest in Him.

29) Don’t neglect your health. Prioritize your spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational, and financial health. Too many pastors have dried out spiritually. Too many pastors don’t eat well and exercise, thus not having healthy outlets for stress and anxiety. Hire a coach and/or see a professional counselor (both should be someone outside your congregation). Relational health is often over looked. Don’t use people. Be intentional about making friendships and prioritizing relationships with those inside and outside your congregation. Get and stay out of debt. Be an emotionally healthy leader. Constantly practice being self-aware. Go away on a retreat and ask God to reveal your blind spots and weaknesses to you. Ask for help. Get plenty of sleep and weekly rest. Take a vacation. Take a sabbatical. Encourage your staff to take vacations.

30) Always assume the best in others. Most people (not all) have good intentions. Don’t be quick to demonize others. Don’t be quick to rush to judgment. Give others the gift of trust. Until you are proven otherwise, assume the best. Note: Ask your leadership to do the same with you.

31) I’m thankful for my wife, my mom and step-dad, and a ton of precious people that consistently intercede and pray on my behalf. Don’t be afraid, ashamed or too proud to ask for prayer! Prayer warriors are Godsends.

32) 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. Always listen to the counsel of your spouse. Make decisions as a couple and move forward together in-sync.

33) Leaders take bullets (from the Enemy and people). Better have your shield up. You cannot make everyone happy. Someone will not like you. Please try to accept that. Not even Presidents have a 100% approval rating. Leadership is not for the faint of heart. For the tenderhearted, yes, but you must be strong and courageous.

34) Don’t be a bully. Read that again. I don’t care if your DISC Profile says you’re a “High D.” Don’t be a bully. And NEVER shame anyone – not a staff member, not a leader, not a volunteer, not that guy that never serves, that person that never gives, not your congregation that doesn’t share their faith – no one. Never shame. Exhort and encourage. Lead and challenge, but be above shaming people into doing what you want them to do.

35) Your devotional life is key. Go too long without it and eventually you’ll get spiritually dry and crash and burn, or burnout. I’m speaking from personal experience. Allow God’s Living Word to refresh, revive, encourage, and guide you.

36) 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. At my church, we say, Life happens best in circles, not rows.

37) 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.

38) Life is messy. Don’t oversimplify. Spiritual and social issues are complicated and messy. Don’t oversimplify.

39) Please don’t just send people and money overseas if you’re ignoring your own city. Some of the poorest and most lost people in the world are in your community. The U.S. is the 4th largest unreached people group in the world. Christians in Africa send missionaries to us. Read that again.

40) In my experience, it seems every breakthrough or victory by God is followed (and often preceded) by attacks from the enemy. Be alert, full of hope, and don’t let the enemy steal your joy. The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

41) Leaders are readers. Leaders are life-long learners. Leaders are listeners. Never stop growing. Never stop being teachable. Never stop caring.

42) Lost people are not targets and notches on your belt. Be a champion of relationships. Don’t get a twisted philosophy of befriending someone just to convert them. Genuinely care for people whether or not they come to your church, accept Christ, or get baptized. People matter. Life is all about relationships.

43) Pride will sneak up on you. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal areas of pride, arrogance, boastfulness, and self-righteousness to you daily.

44) Have a mentor. I’ve been blessed over the years (and still am) with tremendous men twenty years older than me to pour into me, invest in my personal and professional life, and when needed, speak the truth in love to me.

45) Surround yourself with godly counsel. God will often speak through others to get your attention. There’s usually a grain of truth in every criticism. Dig deeper. Do some soul searching. Listen to feedback. Pay attention, and know when to acknowledge fault. Apologize when you mess up.

46) Pick your battles. Not every hill is worth dying on. Wisdom is knowing when to say, Yes. Let’s wait. or No.”

47) Lead by example. If you don’t build relationships with those in your community, don’t expect your congregation to. If you don’t serve others well (with grace, mercy, and compassion), don’t expect your congregation to.

48) Don’t mail it in. Whether you preach, sing, lead youth or children, create videos and communication pieces – whatever you do – do it as working for the Lord. Give your best effort. Have a value of excellence.

49) Less is more. I can sum up the book Simple Church (which I highly recommend) by saying, “You can accomplish more by doing less.” Most churches are too busy. Stop putting more things on your people’s calendars and encourage them to be involved in the community and an active parent at every ball game, piano recital, band concert, you name it – be present. I’ll add: Lead Pastors, don’t make a staff member choose between a church activity and a family activity. Our first ministry is to our family.

50) All of life – ALL of it – the good, the bad, the ugly, the highs, the lows, the struggles, the pains, the hurt, the sickness, death, and disease, the study of Scripture, prayer, godly counsel, hard lessons, your kids, your parents, your spouse, your friendships, your congregation and all its issues, your neighbors, your calling, your devotional life and spiritual disciplines… ALL of life is to conform you into the image of Christ. God has a purpose and He’s molding you, shaping you, pruning you, refining you, and making you into the image of His Son, as a part of the Body of Christ. Thank God for His work through you. Praise God for His constant work IN you. 

 

BONUS: Never lose sight of the faithfulness of God. Be a worshiper. Plan on finishing well and enjoying the journey. May I, and you, be found faithful.

 

I’ll end with 7 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

6) “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

7) “Your greatest ministry will most likely come from your greatest hurt.” – Rick Warren

 

SO… What would you add? What are your life lessons? 

17 Simple Ways to Make Your Church More Welcoming in 2022

Is everyone welcome at your church? I know you’re thinking, That’s crazy. Of course, everyone is welcome. Don’t be defensive my friend. I mean, really, really welcome. Like not just in theory, but in a practice. If we want to be welcoming we have to be on the offense. We need to be proactive but we need to go deeper. Sure everyone may be welcome to come through that door, but what happens next? Entry is just the first step.  I’ve been working in the field of disabilities for over 10 years, and I’ve also been a youth pastor. I can tell you that people with disabilities don’t want to be treated like they’re special, in fact, some people even hate that word. They just want to be treated like everyone else. So the best approach is working in advance to ensure that guests at your church of all abilities feel welcome.  So aside from guests, what about church members with disabilities? One of the most prominent truths that is pointed out to me by my disabled friends is this:  They don’t want to just feel welcome to attend the service, they want to be able to participate in the service. Worshippers of different abilities want to be able to lead or teach or sing and experience God in as many ways as their nondisabled believing friends.  Below are 17 Tips to make your church more accessible for everyone in the New Year.

  1. Resolve to take your disability access to the next level in your church. Church members take their cues from their leadership.  If the leadership makes accessing worship and all the benefits of your church seriously, then the congregation will follow suit. (Well, most of them, but we can pray right?).  Also, some churches may need to adapt or enrich their philosophy from providing services for respite for families touched by disability (which certainly may be important) to finding more ways for them to worship together as a family.
  2. Remember this! Disability access is more than just accessible parking. After all, it’s getting everyone into the church and then helping them find ways to engage with God that’s most important– but of course improving your grounds and parking access is a great way to start. Make sure you have plenty of Accessible Parking. The term accessible parking is becoming more common and is the most acceptable term.  Ensure that the designated accessible parking is located closest to the most accessible entrance and that it’s clearly marked.  As an aside, be sure to offer accessible parking for individuals in cars, and for people in vans or larger vehicles as well.
  3. Look for a Sign. Signage and directions are important and helpful for everyone.  You really can’t overdo the signage as long as it’s clearly labeled. It’s also not much more expensive to add braille to your church doors inside the building as well for your blind or visually impaired guests—especially on the bathrooms.
  4. Let Your People Go. Speaking of restrooms. Individuals with a variety of disabilities need the appropriate bars and handles and adequate space. Many churches still don’t have adequate bathroom stalls for disabled members and guests.  Accessible bathroom stalls are non-negotiables really.  Guests won’t be back if a prospective church doesn’t offer a private, adequate space to take care of basic needs. Besides, everyone can benefit from more spacious bathrooms, better signage, grab bars, and appropriately sized sinks, right?  The most intuitive tools are best: example, touchless faucets that don’t require twisting, towel dispensers or dryers that don’t require pushing or pulling.
  5. Labels! Ok so it’s one goal of the church to avoid labels maybe, but not where food is concerned. It’s really best practice for everyone to label foods and snacks that are made available especially at official church functions like Homecoming Dinners, Christmas, and Thanksgiving feasts. When there are ten bowls of potato salad on the table, it’s always good to know which bowl of potato salad is your favorite, like the one made by your Aunt Ethel, right? Some people have strong food sensitivities and listing a name for the dish, the ingredients, and who prepared it is just another way to make the event, and your church all the more welcoming for everyone. It may be awkward at first, but it’ll soon become a helpful tradition.  Important note: visitors with strong or life-threatening allergies beyond simpler sensitivities may not even attend, but just in case they do, show that you care by warning about nuts, eggs, and other serious allergens.
  6. Stop cramming! Make the written word accessible. I’m not talking about THE WORD, (that should always be easily accessible), I’m talking about church bulletins, handouts, and anything you put into the hands of people in your church.  Big tip–white space is always helpful.  We’ve all seen church bulletins that are crammed so full and the words are so small they’re almost illegible. It’s frustrating for everyone, especially anyone over 40 (Yes, I went there).  White space is not only pleasing, it helps readers visually organize information, and it helps those with visual disabilities as well.  No font should ever be smaller than 12pt. in a church-wide bulletin, and yes that means, you may have to use more paper. Remember, it’s about being welcoming and accessible. When it comes to font styles and themes, some fonts are better choices than others for people with visual disabilities, and for learning disabilities.  Avoid using curly, squiggly fonts that can be confusing. Times New Roman, Arial, and Verdana are all good choices, but there are many out there.  Also, it’s super helpful to spread the information around. If you offer information in written form on paper, offer it on the web, and project it onto screens. Why not go wild, and add an audio file on your church webpage, too!
  7. Project your welcome too! Much of what was said in number 5 applies to what you project on your worship screens as well.  Add lots of space between what’s written, and remember certain fonts are better than others while keeping your font size readable.  It’s easy enough to add more slides.  When it comes to your screen projection, pay attention to color contrasts also. Of course, if you have announcements on your slides, try your best to have those same announcements represented in other places as well. Above all make it a point to encourage speakers and worship leaders to describe what’s on the slide as they’re presenting at any opportunity.
  8. Caption this! Add captions and transcripts when and where you can. This one can be controversial because of the costs involved. Many churches are on a limited budget and most churches don’t have captionists or transcription experts on staff (or even in the congregation for that matter). Consider this: when something is spoken, whether on a video or in your church service, there’s probably someone present who can’t hear it.  Captioning and transcription helps everyone, not just people with disabilities access and appreciate the information.  There are some very quick and easy captioning services.  Rev.com is a great and quick resource. While sites like Rev may be considered reasonable in the everyday captioning world, captioning is still not cheap (think a dollar a minute on a minimum).  Online services can take your sermon or your church video (with a link or uploaded file) and have it captioned or transcribed literally in a few hours. Captions take your videos and services to another level and everyone can benefit.
  9. Untangle your web. Church websites are becoming increasingly valuable, helpful resources, but many church websites are still not accessible to people with a variety of disabilities– especially those with visual impairments or blindness.  Ask your church web designer to add an accessibility checker widget to your website. Some enhancements are really quite simple.  If you add photos to your website, go in and add a photo description and alt-tags. If you upload a PDF, be sure it’s an accessible PDF. Otherwise, a blind person using a screen reader to surf your website will only see a random image message rather than the words you intend for them to read.  Also, fancy flashing photos and moving web pages are often inaccessible. Some such effects can even cause seizures. If you have videos or audio on your website it’s always best to caption them. Ask yourself this: Is your website meant to be entertaining or informational? Don’t sacrifice the message for fancy features. You can have a classy, clean or fun site without sacrificing accessibility. It’s about making everyone feel more welcome and letting them know you took the time to make a difference just for them.
  10. Amplify the Word. Many churches are providing headsets, FM systems, or small pocket amplifiers for checkout during service hours. Even a small church can have a couple of those on hand. They don’t have to be expensive. In fact, many have become very reasonable.  It may be as simple as the speaker wearing a transmitter around their neck or pinning it to their lapel which amplifies the message to the person wearing the receiving device.
  11. Adapt Your Curriculum, Programs, and Resources. If you want to be welcoming, look into a variety of adaptable materials. Many are even reasonably low-cost.  For example, people of different abilities and ages may have trouble with small pens, pencils or crayons. It’s best to have a variety of sizes available in the pews and in the classroom. Also, your recreation department may want to have adaptable recreation equipment on hand. It is also thoughtful to have alternative instructional materials, and enlarged print copies of materials or at least the ability to get them.  Assess the needs of students and participants in your classes, courses, and programming. Unfortunately, many people hold back on their needs until they’re asked.
  12. Most church leaders already try to find ways to engage the congregation more. This is particularly helpful for people with attentional issues, and people who like tactile, hands-on activities. Consider purchasing a clicker system (an automatic audience response system).  These systems are integrated with your projector.  Wanna survey the flock or check for understanding? Do you want to gauge your congregation’s opinions or thoughts on a particular subject or check to see if their views are anywhere close to in-line with the latest research? Clicker response systems will give you immediate feedback that will post results and project onto your screen right as you ask the question. Just be sure to purchase an accessible clicker system so everyone can be involved, and remember to read the results with the congregation, otherwise, your visually impaired guests and members won’t be able to participate and that will defeat the purpose right?  Some clicker systems can be easily integrated with your members’ and guests’ cell phones with little to no other equipment needed.
  13. Get Feedback! Speaking of surveys. The best way to know what your congregation needs or wants is to survey them regularly. If there’s something you need to know, take a survey. There are some great free online survey resources. Be sure to offer your survey on paper too.  You might start with topical surveys. How welcoming is our parking situation? or you might choose a comprehensive approach about facilities, programs, and services.  Some churches are incorporating online anonymous comments and suggestions.  Be sure to listen, and let people know you used the surveys in your decision-making, and remember some responses should be taken with a grain of salt, and others with expedience. They key is letting them know the feedback matters.
  14. Make your welcome official! Consider making a welcome packet for families with connections related to disabilities or at least make those resources available in your current welcome packet. Sometimes people just need to know they’re welcome, and they need to hear it and see evidence that you really care.
  15. Assume competence! Train your staff to always assume that people with disabilities no matter how seemingly simple or complex the disability, are competent and able to participate, they just may need some adaptations.
  16. Check it out! Church libraries and media centers should provide a variety of materials and resources. It’s great to have plenty of audio resources and books on hand as well or at least a way for members to request or order them. The church library is also a great built-in resource to start a request or check-in/check-out service for assistive technologies.
  17. Go Team! Start an access team, or dare I suggest, committee. An access team or committee can address accessibility in your church and find ways to make your services and programs more accessible. If you initiate a team, it’s great to have some people with differing abilities on the team for perspective.  If your church is larger and has the resources, nothing would say you care about these issues more than adding a paid staff member to your leadership—maybe a Pastor or Director of Welcome and Access. These teams or individuals can consistently address not only needs of people with varying abilities, but they can also assist in plugging people into the church service and leadership roles and making sure the facility, events, and resources are accessible to everyone.

 

In the end, the most welcoming aspect of a church is the attitudes, openness, and compassion of its people. Taking action by doing any or all of the tips I’ve listed will begin to send the message that everyone matters at your church and that everyone is not only welcome to attend, but to participate in sharing a message that will impact hearts and ultimately change the world.

 

BIO: Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator and graduate instructor, a former K12 principal, and teacher, former US Congressional staffer, author, and blogger.  He is co-author of Tennessee’s Dyslexia Is Real” law and he has presented on disability and leadership-related topics from Appalachia to Africa.  He sits on nationally recognized disability related boards.  A leader in education, non-profit advocacy, parenting issues, access and policy, Chester has been quoted in major media outlets such as CNBC, Yahoo, the Washington Post, Forbes Leadership, and others. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Edutopia. More importantly, he loves God and is an active member of his local church. You can learn more about Chester by visiting his website at www.chesterg.com. He and his wife live in Tennessee with their teenage son.

Twitter: @chesterwgoad 

3 Ways to Still Have a Team After Christmas

So here we are – less than three months away from the biggest church season of the year. I just left a planning meeting with the worship pastor at my home church. We were talking about ways to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. We brainstormed about setting up a tent outside to welcome guests and give them a gift, as well as info about next steps.

The reality is all we planned to do takes a huge amount of volunteer leadership. I coached him on delegating and equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4).

But here’s the real question:
How do we still have a team going forward after such a stressful and busy season as Christmas?

Here are some thoughts:

We live in a digital world. Texting, IMing, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and daily tweets – truly a whirlwind when it comes to communicating these days. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve found that a personal touch still goes a long way (yes, even in 2021).

  1. A Handwritten Note

Everybody loves to receive a handwritten note thanking them for their service on your team. We’re coming up on one of the busiest times of the year with Christmas. We all know that Christmas is like the Super Bowl for churches. More people will visit your congregation than any other season of the year.

Your volunteers are going to work countless hours (your staff, too). Take the time to write out ‘Thank You’ notes to each and every one of them. If you have the budget, include a gift card in the note to them. Sometimes I do Chilis gift cards for $25. Sometimes I can only do a $10 Starbucks card. Whatever your budget can do – make it happen.

  1. Phone Calls

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

  1. Personal Touch

One final thought I’ll mention on a personal touch is to give out hugs. You wouldn’t believe it, but a hug goes a long way. Now I know that some people don’t like to be touched and freak out if you try to hug them. You need to be aware of body language and know if you’re making someone uncomfortable, but by and large, most people like a good ole hug.

On Wednesday nights, I greeted my team members with hugs and asked how they were doing. This is in contrast to barking to get your post or “Did you hear about the changes we made?”

I’ve made it a point to not let something business come out of my mouth first. The person is always more important than the thing we’re trying to accomplish or produce. Check on them first and then update them on the changes. Lastly, greet them with a warm smile. Let your people know you love and care for them.

This is about valuing people over production. People are more important than what they can produce and we shouldn’t prostitute them and their gifts. God has entrusted them to us and our team and we should value them.

How long has it been since you wrote a note? How long since you called a team member? Given any hugs lately?

Let’s surprise our team and volunteers with a personal touch and an attitude of gratitude this holiday season.

 

*** Want help reaching and KEEPING more guests at your local church?

Signup for the November 10-12 (ALL ONLINE) First Impressions Conference here.

PLEASE NOTE: You don’t have to watch it all live. When you signup for the VIP Replay Pass, you can watch all 18 hours of video content at any time later on-demand! (Plus you get some amazing bonus content)

Introducing the First Impressions Challenge

Who else wants to fix their church’s guest retention problem once and for all?
The average church guest makes up their mind if they’ll come back for a second visit within 7 minutes of driving in the parking lot…
Long before you step into the pulpit and deliver the sermon you’ve been working on all week, people are deciding if they’ll come back for a second visit.
I know what it feels like to be frustrated by this problem because I’ve served for nearly 3 decades as a pastor at small, medium, and large churches that struggled with this exact issue.
In fact, we had so many guests who would show up once or twice then never return that we actually called them “drive-bys!”

That’s why I created the FREE 5-Day First Impressions Challenge.

 

So you can discover how to close the ‘back door’ and get people coming back and plugged into the life of your church.
During this free workshop you’re going to learn:
  • How to collect guests information in the most efficient and effective way possible
  • How companies like Chick-fil-A and Disney WOW their guests
  • This is the same follow-up system I use to train the largest and fastest-growing churches in the world to quickly connect with people and see them return for a second and third visit

Join the free 5-Day First Impressions Challenge today: https://firstimpressionschallenge.com/

Greg Atkinson is The Virtual XP

Greg Atkinson is open (currently) to work with one to two churches as a virtual XP (Executive Pastor). Greg has no plans to move but is available to a church (ideal size is 500 to 1500 average attendance) that is looking to hire expertise and experience without the expense of a full-time staff member with benefits.

Greg has served every size church in his nearly three-decade ministry career, including being on staff at 3 different mega-churches. Greg has also been a consultant to some of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the US, with congregations of 30,000+.

Greg has worked with a number of coaching clients, but this is different and more intense, with more access to Greg, who would be flying in once a month to be onsite at your church. Throughout the week, Greg would be available via text, phone, and Zoom, as agreed to upon the retainer and what the client needs.

Greg can oversee staff and be a great support, friend, encourager, and counsel to the Lead Pastor and Senior Leadership of the church. You can read more about Greg here.

If you’d like to explore this option with Greg, please contact him at greg@gregatkinson.com.

Why Churches Shouldn’t Be Meeting In-Person During COVID

Hi. I’m Greg Atkinson. If you’re new here: WELCOME! I’ve been blogging since 2003. If you don’t follow and keep up with me on Facebook and YouTube, you may not know that I’m working with a new writing agent on a big new book and have been busy prepping for that. I’m taking the whole month to write and focus on this book proposal that my agent will be pitching to major publishers. Pray for me, please.

In my brainstorming session with a pastor friend last night, I told him what I really think of churches meeting during the time of COVID and what it means to love our neighbor and wear masks. He agreed and it was a great discussion because it was a place of safety. Allow me to share with you what I shared with him in a “safe place.”

I asked him to pray for me as I’ve been thinking about blogging and writing an article to help church leaders think through this. We’ve got to realize that Covid/the pandemic is worse NOW than it was in March and April when we canceled services.

I told him that in 2020 (during a pandemic) Elevation Church saw over 9300 decisions for Christ! Saddleback Church saw over 16,000 decisions for Christ! That’s 80 a day. And Mike Todd and Transformation Church in Tulsa saw over 22,000 decisions for Christ!

Friends, you’re not being persecuted. You’re not being discriminated against. Your church isn’t being attacked by the government or the CDC. This IS NOT about your rights. But you say, “The church is essential.” Sure. So go to church online. But you say, “Studies show that people are healthier that go to church every week.” Sure. I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I go to church online every week since March 8th, 2020.

As I said on my third podcast with Carey Nieuwhof, the Gospel has never been proclaimed so broadly, so loudly, and so boldly as in the time of Covid. If you’re wondering what Paul (who wrote letters and became all things to all men) and Jesus (who took a boat out on the water to speak to a crowd because it amplified his voice) would have done – they would have used technology. God gave us this technology.

 

Friends, I’ve been blogging about church online since 2008. That’s right: 2008. For 13 years, I’ve been begging churches to use technology and broadcast the Gospel. We have the tools. We have the technology and equipment. There’s no need to gather in-person and put people’s lives at risk and be a negative witness in our community and like SO MANY churches, become a super-spreader and make the news in a negative way. I watched a church in Charlotte get blasted on the news the other night for gathering with a large crowd and spreading Covid.

Why do I write about this all of a sudden today? I guess it’s a tipping point. I had an executive pastor reach out to me last night and say someone that came to their church on Sunday tested positive yesterday for Covid and he wanted my help writing a press release (which I’ve helped several churches with).

Then today: Today, not one, but two different church staff members reached out to me in tears saying that their church is refusing to shut down and is in the midst of a Covid spike in their community. One church just had a Covid outbreak with several people, shut down for one week, and is planning to open back up next week.

Both church staff members asked for my help, my prayers, my advice, and asked me to intervene and talk with their leadership to talk some sense into them and tell them not to meet in-person. I speak with so many church staff members that are on the verge of quitting because they’re putting their lives on the line for bosses that make them show up to work during the highest outbreak of Covid we’ve ever seen, in the biggest outbreak country in the world (the USA). I know other church staff members who did quit earlier this year because their leadership wouldn’t listen to reason.

I encourage you to read Carey’s blog and learn from the shifts that he’s talking about. Listen to my podcast with him about online engagement. Be encouraged by the stories of Elevation and Saddleback and Transformation Church and SO MANY others that are fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment by not meeting in-person and going online FOR A SEASON.

Lastly, read Rick Warren’s thoughts that he shared recently. I’ll link to his article below. Pastor, this isn’t about your rights and you’re not being targeted. Here are Pastor Rick Warren’s own words:

“U.S. churches,” he said, “have not faced discrimination.” He also said churches should promote the wearing of masks.

“They might have a discrimination case if theaters weren’t closed, football games weren’t closed,” Warren told Relevant. “But they are. We’re not being discriminated against. This is a safety issue.

Regal Cinemas closed down 650 theaters. Disney laid off 28,000 people. We’re not being discriminated against. Some churches are willing to gamble the health of their people. I’m not. The good shepherd prays for his sheep, cares for his sheep. One day I will be responsible. I don’t want to be a super-spreader. I’m not doing this out of fear; I’m doing this out of love. You wear a mask for the love of your neighbors, yourself.”

I’m praying for you pastors and church leaders. I’m here for you. I’ve been writing, blogging, speaking, teaching, consulting, and coaching on the online church for over a decade. I want you to reach people for Christ. I just know for a fact that you can do that through technology. I want you to disciple people. I just know for a fact that you can do that through technology (I’m in a Zoom small group). I want you to love your neighbor and that’s real and tangible and practical now by not putting them in danger and keeping your people safe and not becoming a super-spreader.

Lastly, I was talking with my friend Dave Gibbons yesterday and he lives near LA. My heart hurts over all the hospitals that are overrun and out of beds and out of ICU space and have ice trucks in the parking lot for a morgue. This isn’t political friends. Some in leadership have tried to make it political and partisan and they’ll have to answer for that. This is science and this is about saving lives.
Yes, the US is #1, but not in a good way. We lead the world in Covid cases and deaths and hospitalizations. If the Church would lead the way, we could get this under control. A watching world is watching us and wanting to know if we truly do care for others and if we truly do love our neighbor and our community.
Friends, listen to me: It’s NEVER BEEN ABOUT THE BUILDING. I’m a hospitality guy and even I know that. Take a break for a season. Watch online and trust God. You’ll still see your church grow.
Personally, I gave financially to my home church the most I’ve ever given in my life and I haven’t stepped foot in the door since February. I still worship. I still do discipleship. I still talk with my pastor. I’m still growing in my faith and spiritual journey. You can do it. Just trust God. Trust God to provide for your church financially. Don’t meet in-person simply to collect an offering. I know that sounds harsh, but I heard it directly from a pastor in my Facebook group. God is bigger than that. TRUST GOD.
If we all do our part, we can be a solution to the greatest crisis we’ve ever gone through, and guess what? It will actually help our economy.
I have friends in Australia and New Zealand that used to be under lockdown because they have better leadership and guess what? They don’t have any more new cases of Covid. It’s gone. It’s over and they can go back to their church buildings and they can rebuild their economy.
This isn’t about your 1st Amendment and God forgive those foolish pastors threatening the 2nd Amendment. This is about practically and tangibly loving your neighbor by PUTTING OTHERS FIRST. The first line of Pastor Rick Warren’s bestselling book Purpose Driven Life is “It’s not all about you.”

I have friends in other countries that look at us struggling with Covid and say, “What’s up with Americans and their rights?” We need to live out the Gospel and the words of Jesus. We need to put others first. We need to resist being selfish.
The American Church is bleeding right now and yes, we are in desperate need of a revival, but it won’t come through any political leader. It will come through worship and sacrifice and honoring others above ourselves and when the world sees that: WATCH OUT!
I’m praying for you and I’m stepping down off my soapbox and praying I still have some friends left after this. 😅 I love you.

Here’s Pastor’s Rick article that I referenced: https://www.christianheadlines.com/contributors/michael-foust/rick-warren-most-us-christians-have-a-political-worldview-not-a-biblical-worldview.html

FREE COVID-19 Christmas Resources

Hi. I hope you’re doing well. I’m not going to lie to you. COVID-19 is on the rise and is the highest it’s ever been. This Christmas is going to be the most unique Christmas we’ve ever experienced.

Some churches have canceled in-person services and gone back online-only (I, personally, think that’s the right call). Some are doing a hybrid approach.

We at the First Impressions Conferencealong with one of our speakers, Ben Stapley of Christ Fellowship Miami, have put together a FREE COVID Christmas Resource Kit for you to help you and your team prepare for what’s sure to be the most unprecedented Christmas we’ve ever experienced as the Big “C” Church.

Go HERE to download your FREE resource. No strings attached. Enjoy!

Thanks and happy holidays!– Greg Atkinson, Founder Worship Impressions & First Impressions Conference

 

 

*** Again: Download your FREE resource list HERE.

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.