Why Bring Greg Atkinson, the Church Secret Shopper, to Your Church This Year?

Greg Atkinson is the bestselling author of Secrets of a Secret Shopper and The Hospitality Handbook for Volunteers – and is a speaker, coach, and consultant who has worked with churches of all sizes, including some of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the country. Greg has also consulted with numerous businesses and nonprofits, including Josh McDowell Ministries.

Greg has produced worship services for three mega-churches and been a pastor – serving the local church for the last 20-plus years. He has also produced large conferences including Leadership Network’s Conference and Catalyst Dallas.

Greg has a unique ability to see things that you miss due to his “fresh eyes” and experience in knowing what to look for that makes a difference to guests visiting your church.

Whether your church is historic and traditional like Menlo Park Presbyterian in California and First Baptist Dallas, or modern and rocking like New Life Church in Colorado Springs and Bayside Church in Sacramento (where Lincoln Brewster leads worship) – Greg will make sure your church is doing things with excellence and an eye towards hospitality.

Greg is available to come to your church over the weekend this year and give you a detailed and lengthy report of his finding and action items to do to help your church go to the next level. Greg goes over the entire report with your church’s leadership team, takes questions and points you in the right direction. If you’re serious about reaching the unchurched and making your church guest-friendly, contact Greg.

Here’s what some amazing leaders said after hiring Greg to work with their church:

“Greg’s ministry provided a really valuable perspective on our weekend experiences as a church. His heart for the Kingdom and passion to see every church reach its maximum potential is a gift to those of us who care deeply about seeing our churches thrive.” – John Ortberg, Senior Pastor, Menlo Church, Menlo Park, CA

“Greg came into Grace Community Church and gave us a top to bottom look at who we are as a church to the people we are most trying to reach. He is thorough and detailed in his report but tries hard to be helpful, explaining his findings in a context that fits with the church culture. He knows that culture well because he knows churches, people and he does his homework. This is money well spent!” – Ron Edmondson, Former Co-Pastor, Grace Community Church, Clarksville, TN, CEO of Leadership Network

Greg Atkinson is smart, detailed, thorough and saw things that we would never notice. His feedback was invaluable and we are making several strategic changes as a result of his visit. We will use him again. I encourage to you do the same. In a word – he’s the best.” – Ray Johnston, Senior Pastor, Bayside Church, Sacramento, CA

“Visitors to your church are more often than not people who don’t know Jesus and are looking for an excuse to not come back. Greg’s evaluation of your church helps you dig into where you can significantly improve a guest’s first time experience. He makes you think and leaves no rock unturned. Probably the best money we’ve spent all year long.” – Ashley Wooldridge, Senior Pastor, Christ’s Church of the Valley, Peoria, AZ

“I highly recommend Greg as a “Secret Shopper” for your church. He helped us see things we had missed and confirmed what we were already working toward. His insight will help your church feel like a home.” – Brady Boyd, Senior Pastor, New Life Church, Colorado Springs, CO

“Greg has a great ability to see and assess ministry detail. His work in many churches brings considerable experience and insight to your staff team. Greg’s church Secret Shopper process offered us a fresh set of eyes to help us take excellence to the next level. Very helpful!”– Dan Reiland, Executive Pastor, 12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, GA

“Greg was able to bring things to our leadership team’s attention in areas that we had missed. His perspective and ideas have helped us develop new strategies to help us grow and reach more people. As we take the ideas for improvement and implement them we look forward to seeing more people come to connect with God, grow and learn to live generously.” – Steve Smothermon Sr., Senior Pastor, Legacy Church, Albuquerque NM

“Greg brought a fresh perspective to our campus and offered a frank assessment of where we were honoring our guests and where we might need improvement. It’s easy for us to miss the obvious when we experience it week in and week out. But Greg knew what to look for and where to find it! His input has shaped a key area of our strategic development.” – Danny Carroll, Senior Pastor, Water of Life Community Church, Fontana, CA

“It is easy to get lost in the day-to-day operations of the church and not see some of the glaring issues you may have in your church. Greg has the unique ability to look at the church from a “first-time guest” perspective and communicate with you that experience. His insights were invaluable.” – Scott Wilson, Lead Pastor, The Oaks Fellowship, Red Oak, Texas

“Greg provided detailed and thorough feedback regarding his experiences before, during, and after his visit to First Baptist Dallas. He helped confirm some things we already knew or suspected, and brought others to our attention for the first time. Greg will help you make sure you are doing everything possible to reach as many as possible for Jesus Christ.” – Ben Lovvorn, Executive Pastor of Operations, First Baptist Dallas

“Greg’s approach is thorough and holistic. From the conversations before the visit to the detailed report following, you can tell Greg knows what he is doing and that he cares deeply for the local church. Our weekend services benefited a great deal from his critical feedback and observations.”– Ted Vaughn, Chief Creative Officer, The Rock Church, San Diego, CA

“You want your church to Thrive? If so, pay attention to the little things. They add up to a big impact! Greg can help your church become more effective in just one visit!” – Dr. John Jackson, Executive Director, Thriving Churches International, Executive Pastor, Bayside Church

“Greg Atkinson helped us look at our weekend services with fresh eyes. His feedback was intelligent, balanced, and helpful.” – Steve Stroope, Lead Pastor, Lake Pointe Church, Rockwall, Texas

To inquire about more information and get the process started, fill out Greg’s brief intake form here.

* Happy New Year!

Here Are Five Summer Tips from a Church Secret Shopper

I stay busy with church secret shopper consultations during the summer, as wise churches prepare for the Fall. Now that Summer has begun, let me give you 5 practical tips to implement at your church so you can prepare for a killer Fall. Here we go:

  1. Vision cast to your Guest Services team
    So often, people that serve on a church’s guest services team feel unimportant. They think they are not good enough to sing on stage, lead a small group or are not tech-savvy enough to serve on the production team. It’s vital that your leadership over communicate that this is not the B-team. This is not a place to serve for people that have no talent. This is a vital ministry and is a front door to your church. People make up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes. First Impressions matter!
  2. Pray with your team before your first service
    Never, ever forget the God-factor when you serve in ministry. We are but vessels. We need the Holy Spirit of God to love, lead and serve through us. Pray each week with your team that they would be the hands and feet of Christ. Pray for God to break down walls of fear, skepticism, and distractions. Pray that the lost would come to Christ and that the hurting would find healing and hope.
  3. Remember it’s always someone’s first Sunday
    I really can’t stress this enough. No matter the size of your congregation, chances are, someone is entering your doors for the first time. The larger your church is, the more this is true. Churches of 200 can expect at least 5 to 8 guests a week. Larger churches welcome even more into their midst. When you gather with your Guest Services team to pray before your first service, remind your team of this simple truth. Focus them on their mission to welcome all who enter with love and to be a servant.
  4. Free up your hands
    One of my pet peeves is when I see people on the Guest Services team that have a coffee or cell phone in their hand. This is a red flag for me. I want my team shaking hands, hugging regular members, holding open doors and pointing to where people need to go (or even escort them there.) If your team member is distracted by looking at their cell phone, it is one of the rudest and worst first impressions you can give a newcomer.
  5. Focus on your guests and not your team
    A lot of times when I visit a church or even attend my local church, I’ll notice team members in conversation with each other and talking while guests pass by them. Again, this is a red flag and a big no-no. Another pet peeve of mine is parking lot attendants standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out and not bunched up together talking. Door holders, ushers, and greeters should be focused on their role and not engaged in conversation with friends. Make eye contact with all who enter, smile and welcome them.

First impressions matter, so take them seriously and do all you can to remove distractions and barriers for your guests. Love and serve others like you would want to be loved and served.

Finally, give all the glory to God. It is He who uses us as jars of clay and melts cold hearts. The cool thing is we get to be a part of that supernatural process.

I hope you’ll implement these tips and have an amazing Summer. If I can serve you and your church in any way, I’d be honored. You can go here for more info on my consulting.

5 Ways to Improve As an Active Listener

listening-earLet me say up front that this post is longer than usual, but if you read it all and truly wrestle with it, you’ll be a better leader and your family and congregation will thank you for it. Let’s dive in!

Communication is key to being an effective leader and I would argue a genuine human being. After being called out by my wife, previous employers and team members for interrupting, I had to do some deep soul searching and take an introspective look at how I communicate, dialogue and interact with people in general. I realized I didn’t intentionally practice active listening.

Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.

Honestly, this is an area I’ve dealt with for years and am just now actively working on improving. I think I’ve always known that listening is key; I just haven’t done a good job at it in every area of my life.

I actually wrote about leaders needing to listen in my last book Strange Leadership. In the book, I said, “Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. Leaders are listeners.” I even pinned a TwitPic to my Twitter wall to share it with others. It’s been retweeted over 1200 times. I think we all know this is true deep down. The question is do we live this out? Do I live this out?

I’ve blogged and posted on social media numerous times that I see a counselor or therapist. I have for years and I highly recommend it, especially for pastors. Lately, this is what I have been working on with my therapist. I asked him to help me be a better active listener. So each week we work on active listening.

Here’s what I’m learning and here are five ways to evaluate yourself and do your own introspection:

  1. Leadership: Employers, are you open to feedback? Do you know and practice bottom-up leadership? Do you learn from your employees? When you lead and interact with your team and staff, do you really listen to them? Do you know their dreams, their passions, struggles, and frustrations? Do you hear them when they say their hurting, or tired, or burnt out and in need of rest? Employees, do you understand what your employer wants from you? Do you actively listen when he or she gives you instructions and corrections? Do you get defensive and interrupt them when they critique you or give you a performance evaluation? Pastors and church leaders, are you listening to your congregation? When you plan sermon series, do you have a good pulse on what your people are going through? Do you actively listen to their concerns, fears, and frustrations with where the church or leadership is heading? Do you encourage open dialogue?
  2. Counseling: Pastors, when you counsel people in your congregation, do you cut them off and interject your thoughts and opinions? I have in the past. Do you practice active listening in such a way (like a therapist would) that you can repeat back to them what they said? Good counselors and therapists will listen to you vent and share and then respond with, “So what I hear you saying is…” I know you have a Biblical worldview, a strong grasp of Scripture and theology, but there is much to be learned in this area. My wife is a counselor and they go through a grueling two-year grad school program to learn counseling techniques – techniques we would benefit from learning. A book I highly recommend is entitled Toughest People to Love. I’ve read it twice and found it thoroughly helpful and insightful. I also recommend you reach out to a local therapist and pick their brain. Ask them to teach you how to be a better active listener. And, if you’re not already doing it, make an appointment with a counselor. You will benefit greatly from it. Your family and congregation will benefit because of it, and you might learn something.
  3. Social media: Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. My friend, Nils Smith said, “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” The biggest problem I see when I do an online presence evaluation as a church secret shopper is churches using social media as a broadcast tool only. They don’t truly create conversations and safe places for people to react, interact, and dialogue with the church and its leaders. My friend Brandon Cox wrote a helpful and insightful book entitle Rewired. In the book, Brandon writes, “The world around us is having a conversation about life, meaning, culture, and eternity, and we have an amazing opportunity not just to join the conversation but also to lead it. But too many in the church are struggling to keep up with this cultural shift and failing to use these communication tools to their full advantage. And this shift we are seeing toward a more mobile, social environment is actually a return to the form we were created for: to be in relationships, to have conversations, and to share our stories  with each other.” I encourage you to strategically and prayerfully rethink your social media strategy as a church with a focus on listening.
  4. Family: Did you know that if you learn this skill of active listening and utilize it intentionally and regularly, you will have a better relationship with your spouse and children? I can’t tell you how many times I’m watching TV or working on my computer while my wife is talking to me and then she says, “Greg, tell me what I just said.” I usually struggle to repeat her words back to her. Since I’ve been coached on active listening, I’ve gotten better at this. I’ve still got a way to go, but I’m growing and learning. You’ll find that your parenting skills and dynamics change with your kids if you truly pay attention to them, make eye contact with them, and say back to them, “If I heard you right, you’re feeling…” If you accept my advice and heed my own testimony, this skill can improve and for some of you, save your marriage and/or relationship with your kids.
  5. Relationships: One of the things that I’m proud of is that I’m a good friend. I truly care about those that I’m in a relationship with. When I interact with my friends now, I’m trying my best to actively listen. Too many times we’re quick to interrupt and interject our thoughts without allowing them to finish their thought and express how they feel. If you want to go to the next level in your life and relationships, learn to listen and then respond with grace and love.
  • You know who’s really good at active listening? Coaches and counselors. I think we, as church leaders, could learn a lot from them and apply this same technique to our various areas of ministry and service.
  • These are 5 things that I’m working on in my life and if you prayerfully assess and evaluate your own areas, you’ll have no regrets. Remember: Leaders are listeners. Let’s seek to lead and listen exceedingly well.
  • One last thing, friends and you haven’t heard me say this in YEARS: Go to my YouTube channel and subscribe! I am about to start recording regular content for pastors and leaders. I’ll be doing series for areas and subjects such as leadership in general, pastoral ministry, helps and coaching, guest services training and insights, ministry thoughts, mental health issues and awareness, and other things that I get emailed about. Please SUBSCRIBE today!

How I’ve Done Assimilation

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 leaders summary will give you the basics and highlights. The book will give you the full philosophy, principles, and strategy for the Fusion concept.

First Impressions 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!

Weekend Worship, Guest Services, 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, 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. 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 first annual First Impressions Conference. It’s May 1-3 and it’s all online (no travel). Check out the speakers, sessions, and the schedule is posted at the bottom of the website. See you in May!

*** And just for readers of this blog: Use coupon code GREGATKINSON when you check out and save 20% off conference registration. Put the code in right under the word “Tickets.”

 

How to Reach More First Time Visitors for Your Church

Are you a pastor or church leader with a full schedule and only limited hours in the week? If so, are you struggling to find ways to reach more first-time visitors with the limited time you have?

Being a pastor isn’t just preparing for Sunday’s message every week but the scope goes much more beyond that. And on top of all of that, you must find a way to reach more visitors and to spread the message of Christ.

There just isn’t enough hours in the week for everything a pastor must do.

And with that, I am so excited to invite you to the Church Hacks Summit to Reach More First Time Visitors!

They’ve assembled 25 of the world’s leading church first impressions, guest services, and marketing experts to teach you their secrets on how to reach more first-time visitors and grow your church.

I’m honored to kick off the Summit with the opening talk on why hospitality matters. I’ll be making the Biblical case for why you should take this area of ministry seriously.

This is going to be a free online event (no travel) for equipping your church with proven systems and strategies to connect with new first time visitors in your community! We’ll show you how your church can be a magnet for first-time visitors without being gimmicky, breaking the bank, or setting unrealistic expectations.

And the best part of the Church Hacks Summit is that it is 100% absolutely free! If this is something you’re interested in, just click this link and register today! And if you know somebody that would benefit from this Summit, make sure to let them know.

The Interruptions Aren’t Interruptions

It’s 2pm on a Thursday and you are knee-deep in your sermon preparation and coming down the homestrech. The energy, caffeine, and momentum is just right – you feel you’ll finish before 6pm and make it home in time for supper.

Then it happens: You get that knock on your door and look up to see someone standing in your doorway saying, “Do you have a moment?” – they’re not interrupting your work. They ARE your work.

Ministry is about people;  it always has been and always will be.

One thing that bugs me is hanging out with pastors that say (not jokingly), “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people.” It pains my heart that pastors and Church leaders don’t get this simple truth. We are the Body of Christ and every member is important and special. We are called to shepherd God’s people and that involves getting our hands dirty and yes, being bothered and interrupted.

IMPORTANT: This isn’t about being an introvert or extrovert. This is about being sensitive to the Holy Spirit, who is always at work around us.

As ministers, we should seek the opportunities to show and express Christ’s love to those we lead and serve.

Speaking of seeking opportunities: You have to be intentional. What does your weekly schedule look like? How many breakfasts, coffees and lunches do you schedule each week? I fill lots of my calendar with people meetings and have for 22 years.

If you go from administrative meeting to meeting and never schedule any time with your congregation members, volunteers and staff, and people in the community, you’re missing a crucial part of leadership and the opportunity to be God in the flesh to someone in need.

Please note: It is very important to set boundaries. I used to do all sorts of late night meetings. Now, I make people schedule a meeting during office hours. There is the rare exception/emergency, but that’s to be expected in ministry.

My encouragement and exhortation to you is to leave some margin in your schedule for the unexpected. Have time set aside in your calendar that is empty, so when the interruptions come (and they will), you’ll be able to get back on track.

So where do you go from here? Here’s an action item:

When you notice someone down, frustrated, hurt or just not themselves, you should take the initiative to ask if they need someone to talk to or how you can pray for them. When you’re in the midst of busy/office work and someone calls, texts, emails, IMs, or drops by your office – take the time to listen and serve.

Be the hands and feet of Christ to those you come in contact with – it’s what we’re called to do and you’ll be a better and more trusted, respected and loved leader because of it.

So – confession time: Have you ever been in the midst of busy/office work and had someone drop by unannounced? How did you handle it? Do you have the presence of mind to be sensitive to the Spirit?

 

*** This is an excerpt from my bestselling book Church Leadership Essentials. Get copies for your team HERE.

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