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 Pet Peeves of a Church Secret Shopper

 

Did you know first impressions matter? They do big time!

Sometimes there’s no coming back from a bad experience.

When I work with churches, I exhort them to put their best and brightest, their positive, smiling, warmest personalities on their front lines. Starting with the parking lot team and moving inside to greeters, ushers, and those working the welcome desk or information center. These people need to be friendly and welcoming. Most of all, they need to know how vital their role is to the mission of the church.

As someone who visits lots of churches for the first time, I have some pet peeves to share that I hope will help your church.

Parking lot attendants

Nothing drives me crazier than seeing parking lot attendants standing next to each other. There should never be two people (or more) standing next to each other and talking. Parking lot attendants should be spread out across your parking lot communicating with hand signals or walkie-talkies.

When I see parking lot attendants bunched up and talking to one another, it tells me they don’t know their purpose.

This means they don’t realize that their focus and attention need to be on greeting and pointing people in the right direction. Nothing is worse than driving by two parking lot attendants deep in conversation that don’t even acknowledge you. Trust me, I’ve experienced it and it’s a horrible first impression of your church. Give your parking lot attendants posts or positions and have them stay spread out. Remind them to focus on their responsibility and to smile and wave at cars as they drive by. Remember the atmosphere we want to create.

Greeters

Have you ever experienced over-zealous greeters? Greeters that freak you out because they’re too happy, too nosy, or too obnoxious? Greeters need to spread out too and leave space for people to walk. Please don’t form a wall that makes it awkward for people when entering your building. I had a bad experience at a large and well-known church one time. There’s no telling how many hands I had to shake to enter their building.

Ushers

I think we over-simplify when it comes to training ushers in the church. So many churches I’ve visited or consulted with told their ushers to, “Stand here and give each person a bulletin as they pass.” This is a poor vision indeed. If your only job is to hand someone a bulletin, you don’t take it seriously. You don’t do anything else outside that and it’s easy to get in a conversation with other ushers. If you haven’t picked up on it, I don’t like for conversations to be going on with team members. I think it’s rude and a bad first impression.

No one wants to feel like they’re interrupting your discussion to get a bulletin or find a seat.

Speaking of finding a seat, that is the job of the usher. I’ve seen churches that put bulletins on a small table and let the ushers usher. I love this! Ushers should be seating people and be helping those with special needs.

If your ushers can be replaced with a table, they’re doing it wrong.

Hands-free

I have one last bone to pick with all team members, and this is a big one! Make sure your servant leaders are hands-free. This means they shouldn’t be holding a cup of coffee or their cell phone. Imagine a single mom struggling to corral her toddlers and holding an infant’s carrier in one hand, walking in from the parking lot, and the guy or gal at the door is too distracted by their phone to open the door for her. Or the helper is trying to open the door and not spill coffee on her and her children.

You must talk to your team about sacrifice.

The reason your team arrives early (at least 30 minutes before the first service) is to talk to friends, get some coffee, and do other stuff that they shouldn’t be doing while they’re serving.

Once it’s go-time, they must be hands-free and focused.

This is just some of the feedback I hear from church visitors and have experienced myself. If you’d like me to help you make a great first impression, evaluate what you do on a weekend, and give you a report of my findings with next steps, check out my church secret shopper website HERE.

If you’re interested in coaching to take your ministry to the next level, check out my booking site HERE.

 

* This article is adapted from Secrets of a Secret Shopper by Greg Atkinson, published by Rainer Publishing and available from Amazon.

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!

Now that Easter is Over

Now that Easter is behind you, it’s time to take your Guest Services to a whole new level. Let’s create, build, and reinforce a culture of hospitality.

Join us in 2 weeks for the May 7-9 First Impressions Conference. You’ll learn from the leading voices and churches in the area of first impressions and guest services. This year’s theme is The Hospitality Culture.

Since you read my blog and I know you care about this, we’ve created a special discount code just for you. Use promo code GIFT and you’ll save 10% on your All Access Pass registration.

With the All Access Pass, you can watch the conference at any time on-demand. Yes, you can watch it LIVE, but if you and/or your team can’t view it live, you can watch it later – for as long as you want – with lifetime access.

Use promo code GIFT to save 10% and go here to learn more and register. You don’t want to miss out on this training and inspiration. Our team has worked crazy hard and we’ve put a lot of heart and soul, blood, sweat, and tears into this.

PLEASE NOTE: This conference is all ONLINE. There is no travel involved. You can sign up today and watch it in two weeks. No hotel. No flight. No rental car. Watch it at home, at the office, at your church, alone, or with your team.

It will truly be monumental in the life of your ministry. Join us!

– https://firstimpressionsconference.com/

The One Thing You Must Do this Easter

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We all come from different tribes, denominations, styles of music and sizes small to large. The one thing churches of all kind have in common on a day as huge as Easter is wanting to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. How do you do that?

One tool that I’ve used well over the years and highly recommend is having some sort of response card, info card, communication card or connection card – whatever you want to call it.

You can put these in the seats, in the bulletin or hand them out as people walk in. You can collect them in a variety of ways: Have the guests put them in the offering plate, or have the guests take them to a connection or collection area.

You can see a higher response rate by offering a free gift for people that turn them in at the designated area. Some churches give away books and some give away coffee mugs.

The point is to collect as many responses and connection cards as you can. Please have a circle or box that they can check off that reads “First-time Guest.” Also, good to ask is, “How did you hear about us?” Also, have boxes for people to check off if they made a decision for Christ. Also good is space for people to share prayer requests.

What you do with the card once it’s turned in (what you do post-Easter) is key. As I’ve said before, “Assimilation is an often overlooked or under-appreciated part of church ministry.”

You can read all about how I did assimilation at a church where I was a Campus Pastor at HERE.

Don’t have a Connection Card? Don’t know where to start? I created this sample pack (which has editable files) for you and your church.

Go here to download this resource for free!

I hope you guys have an incredible and productive week and may you see much fruit this Easter season!

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?

Signup for the May 7-9, 2019 (ALL ONLINE) First Impressions Conference here.

PLEASE NOTE: You don’t have to watch it all live. When you signup for the All Access Pass, you can watch all 18 hours of video content at any time later on-demand!

 

7 Crucial Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way

I’m thankful for a solid education at a Christian college and seminary. Really I am. But I have some crucial things that I’ve had to learn the hard way that they don’t teach you in school. Some of you may think: “Only seven!” I’m sure there are a ton of other principles and lessons that I could list or you could (and I encourage you to list them in the comments), but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to go with the first seven that came to me. Here we go…

Sleep On It

It’s inevitable. Sooner or later you are going to have conflict, problems, issues and disunity in your team. Somebody is going to do something rude, wrong, sinful, careless, hurtful, mean, off-mission, off-vision or all of the above. It’s bound to happen.

If you’re like me, you want to call the person into your office immediately when the issue is brought to your attention and let them have it. I have played potential conversations over and over in my head and thought about exactly what I want to tell the person that rubbed me the wrong way.

The best thing I’ve learned over my 18 plus years of ministry is to sleep on it. Take some time away to allow God to speak to your heart. Often we are so angry and self-centered that we crowd out the still small voice of the Spirit. My instincts and emotions take over and I don’t stop to listen and be still.

When I take time away to process, chew on it, reflect, and pray about what God wants me to hear, take away, learn and grow through the criticism, struggle or pain, I always end up not coming up quite so angry a day or two later. Please know I’m not advocating to procrastinate or dodge a conflict or situation that needs to be resolved. I’m not saying to sit on it indefinitely or brush it aside and pretend it didn’t happen – that usually leads to a bad outcome down the road when you’ve finally had enough and you blow up on someone and all your emotions come to a head in one ugly scene.

No, I’m talking about a few days. There have been a couple of serious situations where I’ve taken a week to seek counsel, process the problem with peers and pray, but for most things, I think just delaying judgement and resolution for a day to sleep on it and pray is wisdom well worth the time.

Vent to Your Spouse

The second thing I do when I have a problem with a team member or volunteer at my church (as long as it’s not a confidential matter) is to vent to my wife. There have been countless times where her cool head, demeanor and perspective have helped me to see things in a different light. Often times when someone has a disagreement with us, we tend to vilify them and think of them as the enemy. Trust me – they are not the enemy. We have a very real enemy and it’s not someone you work and serve with.

In sharing my heart with my spouse, I find that it is therapeutic and helps me to process out loud as I’m discussing the situation with her. I can’t tell you how many times my wife has saved one of my peers or team members from my wrath by talking me down and telling me to holster my weapon. Am I the only one that wrestles with this?

Get Over Yourself

This leads me to my next point: Get over yourself. Many pastors like myself have the gift of leadership and think we know exactly how things should go. The truth is we need to have a true desperation and dependance upon God and the Holy Spirit to guide us and be our vision.

Often times our pride and ego gets in the way of making decisions. We can think that a staff member’s idea isn’t the way to go because it wasn’t our idea. When we get upset over something someone said or a disagreement, we ought to step back and do an ego-check.

I just had this happen recently. I got furious over one of my peers who didn’t seem to appreciate my gifting, background and experience. I thought that the person didn’t appreciate what I bring to our team, but the truth is I was full of pride and was intent on bragging about what I had done instead of boasting in my weakness and giving God glory for how He’s used me over the years.

Respect What Each Person Brings to Your Team

When we put our pride aside and truly value those around us and who we work with, we are able to then respect what each person brings to our team. This truth is also fresh with me as we are in the midst of a building project and I co-lead a small build team that is meeting with the architect and planning our new building.

Because I had been a part of previous building campaigns and projects, I thought I always knew what was best. In some cases, honestly, I do. But in many cases, I have seen a layperson speak up with an idea that was priceless and truly not something that I would have thought of.

I have learned to appreciate each team member’s perspective, background, gifting and life experience. I do this with my staff as well. I like to throw a question out at my staff meeting and ask what the team thinks about it. I believe I can really learn something from others on the team (older, younger, male or female) and that they can help guide our ministry.

Recently, I suggested the idea of starting a new LifeGroup (small group) for young marrieds in our church to our Leadership Team. I even had someone in mind to lead the group – a young couple that is in their late 20’s/early 30’s. One of my Leadership Team members (a layman in his 60’s) spoke up and said we ought to have someone a little older lead the group – someone that had been there, done that and was in a different season of life. He suggested that the couple to lead this LifeGroup of newly weds be a couple that had kids that age and could be a parent-figure to them. It was a great idea and something I had totally overlooked.

Form a Leadership Team

Let me stop and point out that that idea would not have been heard if I hadn’t formed a Leadership Team at my campus. I meet with my staff weekly, but I invite some key lay leaders to join us monthly. The lay leaders mixed with my paid staff make up my Leadership Team.

In every church I’ve served, I’ve formed a Leadership Team. It is invaluable to your leadership and is key to working yourself out of a job or at the very least, duplicating yourself. It takes selfless leadership, but is something that all of you can do in your situation.

Children’s Pastors should have their own Leadership Team. Student Pastors should have a Student Leadership Team (we recently formed this at my campus). Even worship pastors can have their own Leadership Team. When I was a tech pastor, I formed a Leadership Team and literally worked myself out of a job. That Leadership Team at that mega-church still leads the tech ministry to this day.

Don’t Hit Send

The last two lessons I’ve learned come from my former boss and friend. He had much grace and patience with me and coached me on how to best respond to angry emails, comments and complaints. Sooner or later, someone is going to send you a mean or harsh email. Your (and mine) first reaction might be to immediately respond and fire off a passionate email.

I did that once at another church and got in trouble because my tone was seen as too harsh and argumentative. I had to apologize to the person and ask their forgiveness. My boss, as I said, was full of grace, but he made me do something for the next few months. If I wanted to respond to a tough email, he had me write up my response in a draft email and then had me not hit send. He would ask me to read it to him or some of my peers and get feedback. Was it too blunt? Could what I said be seen as mean, arrogant or rude? Do I come across as argumentative or prideful? Is there a better way that I can ask a question or make a point?

After discussing this with my boss and/or peers, we would decide if it was okay to send as is, needed to be edited or even if I should respond at all. And not to get all old school on you, but sometimes the best way to respond to an angry email is to pick up the phone and call someone so you can hear their voice and they can hear your tone. I’ve also found that a face-to-face meeting can work wonders. People are hardly ever as mean or bold to me in-person as they can be behind their computers. Maybe it’s because I’m 6’5”. Just kidding! Seriously, in person they can hear my heart and begin to understand why I made the decision I did or why I’m leading in a certain direction.

Always Assume the Best 

The last lesson I also learned from my old boss and mentor. He had this as a rule for our entire staff. We had to always assume the best of people. This simple truth has totally changed my outlook and the way I handle people and problems.

When something seems disrespectful, off-base or out of character for one of my team members or peers, I immediately think of this lesson I learned and I assume the best of them. Until I have hard proof that they are purposely doing something with ill intent or sinful, I will believe in them as a person and man or woman of God and with a strong character.

Several months ago I had a strong leader in my congregation question my leadership and the decisions I was making. I sat down with him (face-to-face) and I shared my heart and this simple philosophy. I told him of my love for God and for people and told him that my passion to reach the lost drives everything I do. I said, “If you ever question why I’m doing something, I want you to assume the best in me and know that I’m trying to reach people for Christ.” This went over well and has improved our relationship.

These are just seven lessons that I’ve learned over two decades of ministry. I share them with a sincere and humble heart. I hope you will try them out and pass them on to your team. May God bless you as you serve His Church.

4 Keys to Creating an Irresistible Church in 2019

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Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that basic and foundational things like prayer, discipleship, and evangelism (having an externally-focused church as I’ve stated before) are all a given. Each church should take the Great Commission seriously and have an emphasis on the “Go” and on the “make disciples”. I start everything with prayer and so please know that what I’m about to discuss is with the above-stated things as must-haves and what I consider foundational to a healthy church.

With that being said, let me share with you the “big four” that I look for when I visit a church, secret shop a church. or consult with a church. As the Scriptures encourage us – we should “compel them” to come in.

The big four that I look for when I do a secret shopper are First Impressions, Children’s, Security, and Worship. 

As many studies have shown us, people make up their mind whether or not they will return, long before the worship service and especially the sermon. Most visitors will know in the first 10 minutes if they will return to your church.

First Impressions 

Let’s start with what I consider to be the most crucial of all ministries at a church. Whether you call it First Impressions, Hospitality or Guest Relations – it matters and is paramount to breaking down walls and making guests feel welcome at your church.

“You’ve got 10 minutes.   Somewhere between the parking lot and the children’s center, the ten minutes pass. They should know they matter to us before they hear how much they matter to God.”- Mark Waltz,   Granger

Something I tell all the churches I work with is: “You must be strategic and intentional about breaking down any barriers of intimidation. You must be strategic and intentional about creating warm, welcoming environments.”

Now, I could spend an entire series on just first impressions. This is everything from your online presence (social media like Twitter, Facebook – as well as your website). For example, when I do a secret shopper visit, I create 10-15 pages in my report on just online presence before I ever leave to attend their physical campus.

Once one comes to your physical campus, the real fun begins. First impressions then include the parking lot, greeters, ushers, and people who greet you at your church’s Welcome or Information Booth. First impressions also include things like the smell (your church may stink), signage (your church may be intimidating and confusing for new people), and how your facility is kept up and maintained. All these things play subtle parts in a guest’s first impression of your church and their subconscious.

Children’s Ministry

Maybe I’m biased because I have three kids, but I believe in having a strong and attractive children’s ministry. A lot of churches target parents in their mid-twenties to mid-forties and the best way to compel them is to offer a children’s ministry so dynamic that kids drag their parents to church.

I dive deeper into the Big 3 that I look for in every children’s ministry in my book, but for now, let me suggest that you make children’s ministry a priority. I’ve seen churches that spent millions on their worship center and have dumpy children’s facilities. I’d never return with my family to churches like that. Show me and your community that kids are important and that you care about partnering with parents to be a help in their spiritual growth. We all know the statistics on the likelihood of people accepting Christ after age 18. Student ministries (children’s through youth) are vital to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Security  

This is probably the most overlooked part of most churches I visit. Most church leaders have never sat down and intentionally and strategically thought through how and why they do security. I wish this wasn’t important and that you didn’t have to have some kind of security presence, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. If there had only been one church shooting, that would be enough. I’m sad to say that several churches have experienced the tragedy of shootings – not to mention molestation and kidnapping.

Bottom-line: If I’m worried about my kids’ safety, I’m not going to enjoy the worship service and I will miss what God wants to do in my heart through the experience of corporate worship.

Security includes everything from people’s cars in the parking lot, to the safety of infants in the nursery, to children’s facilities, check-in and check-out procedures, mentally ill people acting out in the middle of a service, and protecting the senior pastor. Every great church with a well-known senior pastor that I’ve worked with had a bodyguard standing next to the pastor for his protection. This is not for show or something for rock stars – this is something real and needed to protect that man of God from people that mean to do him harm. When you stand for truth and speak against sin, you become a target for many that live in darkness. If you haven’t done so already, think through every aspect of security in your organization. I just returned from a church in California that had security people covering every single entrance and exit to their children’s ministry. It was a beautiful thing to see and made me feel safe as a parent.

Attractional Worship  

I know there’s a lot of discussion and debate about whether a church should be attractional or missional. I’ve talked extensively about it all over the country. I’m a both/and person and like for a church to seek to be both, but when it comes to the corporate worship service – I look for an attractional model. Again: COMPEL them to come in. Blow your people and your community away with excellence and an environment that allows the Holy Spirit of God to move.

I never got over Sally Morgenthaler’s book Worship Evangelism. I think lost people can be moved by witnessing genuine and authentic worship happening. I also know God moves through the preaching of His Word. Please know I’m not talking to just large churches. I work with several small churches. They do things with excellence and for a small church, blow me away.

Regardless of what size church you have, you should think through worship flow, song selection, authenticity, communication/ preaching and every aspect of what you want people to experience each week when you gather. Are sound, video and lights important? I think so, but you don’t have to have the best of the best to see God move. One of the most special and memorable services we did at Bent Tree when I was there had a stripped down music set with no technology.

Whether you’re in a school, movie theater, gym, or worship center – you can seek to create an environment where people encounter the Living God.

Please know these are not biblical laws or scriptural requirements. These are just four keys that I look for when I visit a church, and I’ve found over the years that the churches that do these four things well will see God bless their church in amazing ways. Think through each as a team and prayerfully consider how you can do each to the best of your ability.

*** The following is a book excerpt from my book Church Leadership Essentials available on Amazon through Rainer Publishing.

7 Simple Things You Can Do to Start the New Year Off Right

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2019 is coming upon us. Most people make new year resolutions like joining a gym, going on a diet, etc. I’d like to share 7 simple things you can do to get your new year started off right.

  1. Go on some sort of fast – Priorities and focus are more important at the start of a new year than resolutions that quickly fall by the wayside. You need to participate in some sort of fast from something you love to place your focus on God and make Him your priority. I’ve done short fasts, extended fasts, Daniel Fasts, movie and TV fasts and most recently a technology fast. Since it’s not healthy for me not to eat due to some medicine I take, I recently fasted one month (30 days) from social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat… you name it) and all things technological. I was shocked to see how dependent (in a bad way) that I had become on them. Getting away from technology for a month allowed me to spend more time in Scripture, prayer and with my family. It also gave me a healthy perspective on social media. I found myself wanting to post the silliest things that had no business being on Facebook. When I returned to social media, I had a new purpose and perspective and started using my social media platforms the right way. For some of you, it may be easier to go 30 days without eating than without social media. If that is the case, you have a problem and an intervention is needed. I’m kidding. Sort of.
  2. Get a watch – While I was on my recent fast from social media and technology, I found one thing happening over and over: My iPhone was constantly in my hand. I was attached to it. I realized that I always had it out, in my hand and would look at it during meetings, mealtime and other rude and inappropriate times. I jokingly told my wife, “I just need to get a watch. Then I could keep my phone in my pocket.” Sure enough, while out of town speaking at a conference, I stopped in a shopping mall and bought a watch. Now my lunches, dinners, coffees, and meetings are different because I’m not constantly checking my phone and appearing rude to whoever I’m eating or meeting with. Everything is going mobile and we need a healthy boundary and perspective for this technology.
  3. Read a different kind of book – I’ve often said, “Leaders are readers.” To start the new year off right, I want to encourage you to read something completely different and out of your comfort zone. For two decades of ministry, I bragged about only reading non-fiction and said I had no time for fiction. Guess what? God opened my eyes that truth and beauty can be found in fiction. I recently watched “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” again and I found myself saying, “Tolkien was a genius and God had His hand on His writing.” God used that eye-opening movie to open my mind to reading books out of my wheelhouse. Maybe you only read Christian or ministry books and need to read a business book. Maybe you need to read a historical book or biography. Whatever may be your case, branch out this year and read something totally different. You’ll be better for it.
  4. Go on a retreat – At the last church I pastored I would go on two different retreats at the start of each year (in January). One was with our church’s Senior Leadership Team. One was with my campus staff. I would put a lot of time and effort prepping for my campus staff retreat. I would think of things that my team needed to address, tackle and discuss. I would be sure to include plenty of social and bonding time as well. We also spent a great deal of time dreaming and talking strategy. There’s a lot of ideas and creative juices flowing at the start of a new year, coming off of the Christmas season and heading towards Easter. January or February is the perfect time to get away and pray, dream, create, plan, play, and bond.
  5. Go to a conference – I also try to take key staff to a conference in the early part of the year (pre-Easter). It’s another opportunity to get away, bond and feed your professional side. I’ve often said I’ve learned far more at conferences over the years than I ever did at school. Going to a conference as a team could be just the boost your team needs. You must stay sharp in the ministry world and the new year is the perfect time to fill up your tanks (spiritually, mentally, creatively) and to just all around be inspired. Definitely plan on attending the 3-day online First Impressions Conference. This is a must-watch for your team and no travel is involved!
  6. Visit another church – This is my secret that I’ve kept for 20 years of ministry. Whenever I can, however I can, I take any opportunity to visit another church. Maybe I’m on vacation. Maybe I’m out of town at a conference. Maybe I go to a Saturday night service or a Sunday night service. For two decades, every chance I got, I visited other churches. Good and bad. I’ve visited almost all of the churches on the largest church list, as well as the fastest-growing list. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do (I’ve visited some bad churches, too). The key is to see something different than what you’ve grown accustomed to. You see the same church week in and week out, 48 to 50 Sundays a year. You have to be intentional and make it a priority to visit somewhere else and learn what you can. I can not stress enough how important this is.
  7. Set goals – I’m extremely driven and goals are essential to the innovation and strategic leader. It was the late great Zig Ziglar that said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” At the beginning of last year, I asked my staff to turn in goals for the year for their area of ministry. You would have thought I had tortured them. It was like pulling teeth. I scratched my head in disbelief. Every staff member should set goals for his or her ministry area and then share them with the team. This is a concept called “Goal Contagion.” Scientists have found that you are dramatically more likely to accomplish your goals if you can see other people working on goals. You don’t even have to meet the person, simply reading about what they’re working on gives you a literal boost. As I have blogged about numerous times in the past, we must constantly be recruiting, equipping/training and growing in our given areas of ministry. If you have 10 volunteers, make a goal to get to 20 volunteers. If you are bad with communication, make it a goal to communicate better this new year. If you’re bad with follow up and assimilation, make it a goal to send out letters, emails and make phone calls this new year, each week. Make goals to grow spiritually and professionally. If you lead a staff or team, think of developing personal growth plans for each of your team members and check in with them each week. Don’t wait until the year-end evaluation to tell someone how they’re doing. If someone is doing a poor job, it should not be a surprise to them in a year-end review. Read that again. Communicate and set clear, measurable goals.

* Do these 7 simple, but crucial things and your new year will be off to a great start.