Greg Atkinson Launches The Church Secret Shopper Certification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HERE’S THE BIG NEWS:

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

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

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

Reflections on 26 Years in Ministry

Greg at river baptism

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

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

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

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

Greg Atkinson Knows Church Guest Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Questions to Ask Your Congregation Before You Reopen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will you celebrate Mother’s Day? 

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

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

 

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

Survey creation and sharing options:

SurveyMonkey.com

Google forms

Gravity form

JotForm

Formstack

Typeform.com

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

 

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

 

Articles and resources for consideration as you make these decisions:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

24 More Questions the Church Should Ask Before People Return

 

https://www.tnbaptist.org/reopen

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

https://stateofthechurch.com/churchpulseweekly

 

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

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

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

Will Your Guests Return After Easter? Here Are 8 Things to Consider

If you’re like most pastors and church leaders, you’re probably already planning for Easter. It will be here before you know it. I was talking with a church recently and they said they wanted to help people get “from the street to the seat.” That’s cool and it’s what I do. I also help you turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

As a secret shopper in churches nationwide, I report specific reasons why I wouldn’t return for a second visit and why, most likely, their guests aren’t coming back. Whether it’s a church plant, established church, a small church or mega-church, some details are universal and quickly determine the first impression your church makes. Let’s look at eight:

The Front Door

Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus, he or she has probably already checked out your church website. What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Once clicked on, this should take you to a page that addresses FAQ’s, service times, directions, parking instructions (Is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?), what to expect (upbeat music and relevant, practical, Biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere, etc.), what to wear (Are jeans okay? Are shorts okay?), and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.

What Stinks?

It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. While sight is the strongest sense for short-term memory, the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, that’s your sense of smell in action. Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Mold is a bad smell. Coffee is a good smell. Bleach is a bad smell. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell like urine. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever returning. As best you can, try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose.

Park Here

One of Tim Stevens’ three growth lids that he thinks every growing church should have is someone who is constantly watching parking. Tim says, “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church, they won’t go.” Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking. Of course, some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority), but for the rest of newcomers, they are appreciative of a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture in an already intimidating and nerve-racking experience of attending a church for the first time, especially a large one with a huge campus.

This Way Parents

One way to assure guests will not return is to have a confusing, long or hard to find process, for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signage for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless. Regular attendees may know to go up to the check-in kiosk and enter their phone number or swipe their card, but guests will be clueless and need a manned station that is clearly marked for guests and have a volunteer walk them through the registration. Then have that person or another helper walk you to your kids’ class explaining what will be going on and how to go about picking their kids back up. If they must have a sticker with corresponding numbers on it to get their kids, this needs to be explained to them. Signage for the kids’ check-in should start in the entryway of the guest parking. Do not assume people know where to go once they enter the building.

Give It Away

Something subtle, but powerful is a church that has a generous spirit. Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL is big on this. They have a coffee shop, but they also have a designated area where people can get free coffee and not pay for anything. They also give away their message CDs. Too many churches charge for everything and wonder why no one buys CDs of the message. If you want to bless people and create a generous spirit throughout your church, give away free coffee and message CDs (and other surprises throughout the year). I know churches that will have ice cream trucks pull up outside the church doors and give away free ice cream to congregants leaving on a hot, summer day.

Security Counts

One issue that is huge to a secret shopper and visiting families is security. If a parent is worried about their child’s safety, they will not enjoy the service and will likely not return. A children’s classroom must be clean, safe and secure. Security also includes the check-out process. If anyone can walk into a classroom and pick up a kid, you’re asking for trouble and will turn off potential newcomers. It’s important that your kids’ volunteers are trained well and know to ask for the parent’s sticker when picking up their kids. This is vital and goes a long way to ensuring a tragedy doesn’t occur and a parent has peace of mind.

The Visible Pastor

Accessibility of the senior pastor is another subtle and powerful statement of a church. Even pastors of the largest churches in America make an intentional and strategic effort to be seen, greeted and hugged after a service. They may have a bodyguard present for security reasons, but they are available and willing to pray with people that need to speak to their pastor. Some churches have a designated Guest Central, like Steve Stroope at Lake Pointe in Rockwall, TX or Brady Boyd at New Life in Colorado Springs. Some have a Meet and Greet.Some pastors stand down at the altar and meet and pray with people like Kevin Myers at 12Stone in Atlanta. Some walk around the campus shaking hands like Don Wilson at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix used to. Erwin McManus at Mosaic LA has an After Party, at which the pastor is present and available to meet with newcomers. This, especially in a large church, goes a long way toward countering the rock star or unavailable pastor stigma that so many guests walk into the church expecting.

Finish Strong

It’s simply not enough for greeters and parking lot attendants to say “Hello” or “Welcome” when one walks into their church. To go to another level, have your first impressions team stationed at their posts when the service ends to say “Goodbye” or “Have a nice week.”  This goes a long way to wrapping a bow around the entire morning experience and will send them off with a lasting positive impression.

I’m really just scratching the surface, but these are some of the most crucial things to have on your radar. I cover all this and more in great depth in my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.  If you’re interested in hiring me to serve you as a church secret shopper, go here for more info.

Look out for and be sensitive to these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return of second and third-time guests. And allow me to be the first to say: Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.

Walk Slowly Through the Pews

I was 18 years old and serving my first church. A little church out in the country. My uncle (a veteran minister) was coming to visit and I eagerly awaited his feedback. I was a worship pastor back then and my uncle had been a worship pastor since the ’70s.

We went to lunch and I asked, “So what did you think?” His words to me? “Walk slowly through the pews.”

I didn’t understand. I had sung well and led the choir and worship without messing up. I had smiled and sweated and given my all. However, my uncle noticed me rushing through the crowd – always busy and heading somewhere to do something. Flying by the people that were gathering to worship. It’s been over twenty years and I still remember that advice.

I try to walk slowly through my church. I try to make eye contact and shake hands and give out hugs. I go out of my way to be accessible and approachable. This has defined me as a pastor. I seek to put people first and realize it’s all about them. This is a chapter in my first book Church Leadership Essentials.

This is why I’m passionate about hospitality. It’s all about people. Always has been. Always will be people. Ministry is about people.

In the last year, I’ve worked with churches where I saw staff members hurrying around past people. One was a frantic children’s minister. The other was a worship leader with other things on his mind.

Take time to notice people, talk to people, and build relationships. Lead Pastors: This goes for you, too. They don’t want to just hear your message, they want to meet you. I cover this in the next to last chapter of my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

How is walking slowly through the pews possible? Preparation. Don’t wait until the last minute to get things done. Be prepared and ready for your duties so that you can relax, worship, and enjoy fellowship with God’s people.

So, my two cents to you, my friends: Walk slowly through the halls of church and in the auditorium. Smile. Shake hands. Give hugs. Let your people know you love them.

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.

The Power of an Apology

Would you like to strengthen your relationships at work? Would you like to strengthen your marriage? I have a few key concepts and phrases to share with you of which can do just that.

At my church, we like to say, “No perfect people allowed.” If we know that nobody is perfect (except Christ), why is it that we act as if we’re perfect? Why is it so stinking hard to admit when we’re wrong?

I would venture to guess it’s due to pride. Most people struggle with pride at some point in their lives. Sometimes we don’t want to give our spouse the satisfaction of hearing they were right and we were wrong. Pride.

Sometimes at work, we act like we have it all together and we are incapable of making an error. God help us. Some pastors are the worst at this – they steamroll over their staff and volunteers and act like they are always without fault.

The reality is you’re not fooling anybody; you’re just upsetting a lot of people and ruining relationships.

When you don’t own up to a mistake, a loss of temper, a bad email, a smart remark, etc., you damage the relationship and over time this damage becomes irreparable.

You’re not Superman or Superwoman. You are not invincible. You are not perfect. You make mistakes. You’re a sinner saved by grace – never forget that! You need grace and mercy. Your employees, employer, and spouse need grace and mercy. Make sense? I thought so.

So, quickly, let me suggest how you can repair your marriage, win friends, and increase your stock at work. Here are seven phrases that can save you:

1 and 2: “I’m sorry” and  “I apologize.”

Use whichever you feel seems most authentic and sounds like yourself. For me, I prefer, “I apologize.” I just said that to someone today and it saved a relationship. It’s freeing. It’s therapeutic. It’s the Christ-like and right thing to do. When you hurt someone, apologize. Word of advice, speak from the heart and face to face. Let them hear the tone of your voice and see the sincerity in your eyes.  

  1. “My bad.”

If you spout out some answer that you really haven’t thought through all the way and you suddenly realize you’re way off, just say, “My bad.” Own up to it. Note: “My bad” is good for casual, informal and small offenses. Don’t make a big mistake and try to say, “My bad.” Not smart. Use this phrase sparingly. Also note: This phrase can be abused and come to mean nothing if you really offend someone and try saying, “My bad.” Watch out!

  1. “I messed up.”

If you make a mistake and it comes to your attention, be quick to say, “I messed up.” When you take ownership of your mistakes, you take the venom out of your attacker’s darts.

  1. “I blew it.”

If you really mess up and you may get in serious trouble, the worst thing you can do is deny it. That will get you fired or divorced. If you blew it, say, “I blew it.”And I’d follow that up with an apology from the heart. Repentance is attractive. It’s hard to stay mad at someone that genuinely repents and asks for forgiveness.

  1. “I was wrong.”

Remember, you’re not always 100% right. When you’re not, say, “I was wrong.” And for an added benefit on your part, add, “And you were right.” I am not talking about manipulating people here. I’m talking about being real, genuine, and authentic. This is a character issue, friends.

  1. “Please forgive me.”

Lastly, always ask for forgiveness when appropriate. If you accidentally spill coffee on someone’s shoe, you don’t need to beg for forgiveness. However, you also don’t need to ignore it or say, “Hey, watch where you’re going.” or, “That was your fault.”

When you have hurt someone and they are feeling seriously wronged by you, it is entirely appropriate to ask for forgiveness. Again, you are not to manipulate people. If they don’t forgive, move on – you’ve done your part. If they forgive you, graciously receive it and then move forward in your relationship.

One final piece of advice (and I’m talking to myself here): You don’t outgrow these phrases. This is how to live as a person of integrity and character. If you were 99 years old, I’d still share this article with you. These are habits to carry on for life. God bless you as you grow in grace.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”- Romans 12:18 (NIV)

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!

3 Ways to Still Have a Team After Easter

So here we are – less than three weeks away from the biggest Sunday 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 Easter?

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 2019).

  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 Easter. We all know that Easter is the Super Bowl for churches. More people will visit your congregation than any other day 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 Easter season.

 

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

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