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 guest on some great podcasts where we discussed my 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!

Why You Should Always Point People to the Church Website

I spend a lot of time with pastors around the country. I get asked all kinds of questions. I’ll write another day about more in-depth communications strategy. Today, I want to write about one of the most common things I say to churches. Here it is:

Always point people to your church’s website. Always. 

Before I finished this post, I took a quick poll of pastor friends of mine. I texted them and said, “Am I the only one that says this or is that what you also do with your church’s strategy?” They all agreed it’s the same for them, too. It’s what I always encourage pastors with when I consult with their church.

Think mobile. Why? Because people will check your mobile website out (most likely) first – before they sit at their computer and look. I’ve written in the past about being mobile. Let me just say this is HUGE. You have to have a mobile website or responsive design these days.

What are some examples of how this aforementioned principle plays out?

  • Your church’s receptionist and voicemail: When I call your church’s voicemail (and I do), I want to hear your service times and directions FIRST and then point me to your church website. You can list the departments and team members’ extensions later. When I call during the day and talk to your receptionist, she needs to be friendly, personable and knowledgeable. She shouldn’t have to ask someone for help answering a question. They need to know the services times, directions/address and they should ALWAYS say, “Please check us out online at www.yourchurch.com.
  • Social Media: Your social media reaches out to your community (and the world) and allows you to connect with your members, their friends, and family. How you use social media is a topic for another post (and others have covered this in great detail), but make sure your social media points people back to your church’s website.
  • Bulletin or Worship Guide: Guests don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much information on their first visit. It’s too much. Always remember: Less is more! Be selective about what you put in your worship guide and ALWAYS list your church’s website and point people to it. That is where they sign up anyway.
  • Announcements: Whether or not a church should have announcements in their service is a topic for another day, but whether you do live announcements, announcement slides, or pre-recorded video announcements, make sure you ALWAYS point people to your church’s website. Don’t stand up and make 10 announcements. Please stop. Please don’t. If you say anything, say something like, “If you’re looking for ways to get involved or plugged in here at Your Church, check us out online at www.YourChurch.com and you can find out what’s going on.” It’s concise, succinct, efficient, and effective. It’s actually more concise than that last sentence and more effective than if you announced each and every one of your announcements or listed them all in your bulletin (see above). To read some really great and well-thought-out thoughts on announcements, read Phil Bowdle’s blog post on the subject. I agree with everything he said.

Why?

Because we get such precious little time in front of, or on the phone with, or via social media to make a connection with people. The stage or platform, the phone, and your church’s social media channels are not the places to hit people with a ton of information or announcements.

What do a pastor speaking, a phone call, and a church’s social media channels all have in common? They are all highly relational. The worst thing you can do with any of those outlets is bombarded people with tons of information. Please don’t be broadcast-only on social media.

Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” – Nils Smith

Communication matters. How and what we communicate matters more. 

Do I believe in social media? Absolutely! Check out my social media channels. They’re very active. I use social media to connect with people – your church should, too. Church Facebook pages are wonderful. Interact with your congregation and community and respond to all comments.

However, your Facebook page doesn’t have a listing of your staff (with pictures) – it doesn’t have your Vision, Values, Beliefs, your church’s story, What to Expect page, etc. I could go on and on. Your church’s website (when used properly) is a goldmine of really important and relevant information.

Next Level:

Once people come to your church website, please encourage them to sign up for email updates (this is a genius add-on idea from my friend Nils Smith) and THEN you can keep the congregation informed on all that’s going on. Get it? There is a time and place for everything. And your church’s website is THE place to point your people to. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” – if that makes sense.

I’m telling you the same thing I tell all churches. I hope you’ll take this to heart and make the necessary changes. Let’s be clear, concise, and effective communicators of good news!

*** I go into more detail on this and other things I consult on in my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

Wonder: Old Story – New Song

I once asked Pastor Derwin Gray how he stayed so passionate and fired up about his faith, his ministry, and his relationship with Christ.

He said, “I just think about what Christ has done for me.”

I’ve been taking a little time to do some soul searching and reflecting. I think because I became a Christian so young, I have lost the “wonder” of my salvation and stopped singing a “new song.”

Our faith and the Gospel story is a very old story, but it should never get old to us. I know that in my mind, and am trying to live it out in my heart.

Pray for me, that I “stand amazed in His Presence” and sing a “new song” once again. I will pray the same for you.

Greg Atkinson’s Top 20 Blog Posts of 2016

I thought I’d take a look back at the most popular blog posts of 2016. Important to note is that there are a few that are targeted to pastors and preaching. There are also a few focused on Easter – which is good for this time of year.

There are also a couple on my church secret shopper ministry. You can go here to learn more about hiring me to evaluate your church’s weekend experience.

Also, please check out my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper – which goes into great, practical details on how to turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

HERE ARE THE TOP 20 POSTS FOR 2016:

Leadership and the Power of Momentum

Ministry, Leadership, Worship, and Expectation

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Life, and Lies

Preaching and the Power of Imagination

5 Ways to Improve As an Active Listener

Digital Real Estate Matters

Always Point People to the Church Website

The Seasons of a Church Secret Shopper

Help Your People Say “No”

5 Tips from a Church Secret Shopper

7 Tips for Guest Worship Leaders

Easter 2016 Review and Learn

The One Thing You Must Do this Easter

3 Ways to Still Have a Team After Easter

Don’t Quit! We Need You.

Don’t Tell Me Men Don’t Sing

You Don’t Always Have to Hustle

Have You Ever Considered a Church Secret Shopper

7 Lessons from Peyton Manning for Pastors

99 Questions When Hiring a Worship Pastor

The Results of a 2015 Pastors Survey

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The following are the results of the 2015 Pastor Survey conducted by ExPastors.com. I think you’ll find them very insightful. I also encourage you to participate in the 2016 Pastor Survey, which is currently going on and has new and improved questions to help us collect more data to better serve the ExPastors community. Please know these surveys are totally anonymous.

We wished to concern ourselves with getting accurate information on issues ranging from burnout and finances, to work hours and the demands on families With this objective in mind, we also chose to make our survey confidential and allow the option to answer basic demographic questions, the only exception being the initial question of whether the person filling out the survey was or was not currently serving in the role of pastor.

The 2015 Pastors Survey

Of the following, which is most accurate:
I am a pastor (170 / 62%)
I am an ex-pastor (89 / 32%)
I stepped away from the pastorate but am now serving as pastor again (16 / 6%)

At any time during your pastorate, have you doubted your call to ministry?
Yes (165 / 60%)
No (110 / 40%)

Would you consider yourself overworked?
Yes (166 / 60%)
No (109 / 40%)

At times, do you feel unable to meet the demands of the job?
Yes (222 / 81%)
No (53 / 19%)

Do you feel there are/were unrealistic demands or unwritten expectations of you and your family?
Yes (225 / 82%)
No (50 / 18%)

Have you ever considered leaving the ministry?
Yes (234 / 85%)
No (41 / 15%)

Do you constantly fight depression?
No (146 / 53%)
Yes (129 / 47%)

Do you consider yourself lonely?
Yes (174 / 63%)
No (101 / 37%)

Would you consider yourself having experienced burnout?
Yes (212 / 77%)
No (63 / 23%)

Do you have anyone you consider a close friend or someone you can share your struggles or burdens with?
Yes (207 / 75%)
No (68 / 25%)

Have you or a family member experienced a conflict with a church member within the last month?
No (158 / 57%)
Yes (117 / 43%)

What is the size of your church?
40-200 (147 / 55%)
200-450 (41 / 15%)
400-800 (28 /10%)
Below 40 (27 /10%)
800-2000 (21 /8%)
2000+ (4 /1%)

Next Step

Please fill out the 2016 Pastor Survey so that ExPastors.com may better serve you. Thanks.

What Grace Means to Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have You Heard of ExPastors.com?

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I became familiar with ExPastors.com and their Founder, Bo Lane, a couple of years ago. I’ve stayed in touch with Bo ever since. Over the past year, I’ve considered being more involved. Over the last month, I’ve now taken over as Executive Director of ExPastors.com.

I encourage you to get to know us. We’re not a place for people to bash the Church. We are a ministry that offers help, healing and hope to ex-pastors (for whatever reason they find themselves there), current pastors and church leaders.

We want to see all pastors be healthy physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

I encourage you to browse the website and its articles. See if there’s something there that might educate or encourage you in the season of life you find yourself.

This week (Tuesday) we have a very special guest post by an ex-pastor that hasn’t spoken out for over 2 years. Be sure to keep an eye on us and our articles.

You can do this by signing up for our newsletter, following us on Twitter, and subscribing to our YouTube channel (we are about to launch a new podcast). When you sign up for our newsletter, you will receive a FREE copy of Why Pastors Quit – a must read.

Read the newest post that is up there now. Maybe it will encourage you and offer you hope.

We get unbelievable emails from pastors and ex-pastors from around the world. Join our community and please know: If you’re tired, hurt/wounded, frustrated, burnt out, thinking about taking your life, depressed, anxious – whatever the enemy is attacking you with – I’m here for you. We’re here for you. You have people that care for you and want to help you.

God’s not finished with you. Neither are we. Don’t give up!

Digital Real Estate Matters

realtor-156501_960_720In 2009, I wrote a widely-shared blog entitled “Digital Real Estate.” In it, I pointed to people like worship leader Matt Redman and pastor Rick Warren, as well as churches like Life.Church and Willow Creek – that had claimed their name on Twitter, but were not yet tweeting. They just wanted to reserve their name in case Twitter took off. It did and they started to tweet. This, my friends, is what I call Digital Real Estate.

Years ago, I had to wait for another Greg Atkinson to let his domain expire and then I jumped on it. I’ve been blogging here at GregAtkinson.com ever since. I have my name (@GregAtkinson) on Twitter and Instagram.

I mentioned in 2009 that when Facebook started offering vanity names I was on vacation and missed grabbing my name by 2 days. On Facebook, my personal web address is www.facebook.com/greg.atkinson1, instead of www.facebook.com/gregatkinson. Another Greg Atkinson beat me to it!

Call me paranoid or egotistical, but I prefer words like intentional and strategic, which are used all throughout my writing.

I come to you today with something that has been on my mind for well over a year now. And that is: You need to reserve your church’s name on the .church domain. You can purchase your church’s name here (if it’s still available).

I was consulting with a church in February of this year and told them to buy it and they didn’t. Now their name has been taken. I told another church to buy their church’s name on the .church domain about 2 years ago (that’s how long this has been on my radar). They purchased their church’s name alright but didn’t quite grasp the concept. Instead of getting Grace.church (I’m making up a name), they purchased GraceChurch.church. The “church” is redundant.

I see smart and wise churches around the country grabbing their church’s name on .church. I strongly suggest you do the same. Follow the example of Life.Church and so many others.

Allow me to tell you what I tell churches that I consult with (and if I’m wrong then I’m wrong, but if I’m right…). I tell church leaders and pastors that in the near future when people think of churches on the web, they will automatically associate the name of the church with the .church domain.

So, for example when I told a local church (northrockhill.org) that in the future when someone hears about your church from one of its congregants, they will say something like, “Cool. I’ll check you guys out online. It’s northrockhill.church, right?” “Right.”

Just trust me: As familiar as we are with .com and .org, it will be just as normal and familiar for .church.

BOTTOMLINE: Go today and grab your church’s name on the .church domain. What do you have to lose?

PLEASE NOTE: I am in no way affiliated with the .church domain, nor do I receive any payment for writing about this. My link for you to buy it goes to GoDaddy.com because that is who I personally use, but I really don’t care who you go through to purchase it.

This is about future-proofing your church, which I talk about a lot in my consulting. 

Here is what Life.Church and Willow Creek’s Twitter account looked like when I first wrote about this in 2009:

lifechurch2009 willowcreek2009

I think they have no regrets in reserving their “digital real estate.” Now go grab yours! Trust me.

 

Don’t Miss Catalyst Atlanta!

This year, Catalyst Atlanta is going to be out of this world. I plan on going and hope to see you there. Please don’t miss the Early Bird Rates that end today! Register HERE.

Catalyst Early Bird

Catalyst speakers

Register

Exciting News for the Fall

YouVersion congrats

Hello readers! I am beyond thrilled and excited to partner with YouVersion by writing some new devotionals that will be coming soon, starting this Fall.

Here’s where you can see some of my new content that I’ve been writing or have coming out soon:

  • Rick Warren’s Ministry Newsletter
  • Pastors.com
  • ChurchLeaders.com
  • ChurchCentral.com
  • Christianity Today
  • Leadership Journal/CTPastors.com
  • XPastors.org
  • Church Fuel (look for a new eBook coming soon)
  • I will also be a guest on several church leader podcasts this Fall. I hope you’ll listen in on the conversations!

And lastly, I have BIG news: My 4th book entitled Secrets of a Secret Shopper will release this Fall. As you know I’m a consultant and church secret shopper. In this book, I tell you what I look for when I go to a large church and do a church secret shopper consultation.

I wrote this book primarily for small to medium-sized churches that may not be able to afford to hire me. So, if you want to make some killer improvements in the area of hospitality and guest services, be on the lookout for my next book. I can’t wait for you to read it!