8 Reasons a Church Plant May Not Grow

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I’ve worked with a lot of church plants. And, I’ve been involved in two — as a planter. Every planter goes into the process hoping to see lives changed with the Gospel. Hoping to grow. Some work. Some don’t. 

Why is that? 

Well, of course, there are spiritual factors at work. Some sow seeds and others reap harvest. Sometimes God uses the plant in a unique way — that doesn’t produce huge numbers of attendees. And, frankly, sometimes the planter had no business planting. It was never really what they were called to do. It looked “exciting” from the outside — all the “cool” people are doing it, but God had a different plan for the planter’s life. 

But, speaking specifically about strategic type of reasons a church plant doesn’t grow, I’ve observed a few things. 

Here are 8 reasons a church plant may not grow.

You live by someone else’s rules. I’ve seen it so many times. A church plant has the rules of the denomination or an association and they simply don’t work where they are located. The plant doesn’t contextualize the structure to the culture and community around them. The exact same model won’t always work in two different church plants — even across town from each other. Principles are often transferable, but not necessarily practices. 

You try to be like everyone else. This is similar to number one but has to do more with the planter. The planter has a vision but it’s someone else’s vision. They have a desire to look just like someone else they admire. Every plant needs it’s own vision birth by God in the heart of its own planter. The truth presented should be the same as every other church plant, but the style of deliverance will have some uniqueness to the planter.   

You depend too much on outside funding. Rather than developing givers and volunteers from with inside the plant, the plant waits for the outside checks to come. The problem with outside funding is that it eventually disappears. It is rarely sustainable long-term. And, if not careful, the planter becomes dependent on these resources. Obviously there are exceptions. Some plants may never be able to fully fund themselves. But, in my experience, many times this problem exists because the planter has not discipled the people attending in the area of giving. 

You build programs over relationships. This is a common problem I’ve seen too. A church planter enters an area, implements a few programs, and believes that people will naturally acclimate to those programs. And they may for a short time. But in the end programs will not sustain people. Relationships will. 

You worry too much about structure. You’ll get there. And you need structure. But, especially in the initial days, focus more on loving a community. Then building structure. My advice, is to have some basic structure in place, but not have that structure so rigid or controlling that you can’t adapt quickly to the needs of the community. Then spend your greatest energy loving people. 

You waited for them to come to you.  You thought “new” would be enough. Build it they will come works in the movies. But, that doesn’t even work in established churches anymore, why would it work in church plants? The future attendees in any church are usually outside somewhere waiting to be asked. And, sometimes they don’t even know it. It’s our job to go find them.

You didn’t protect yourself and your family. We can’t count the number of church plants that never really accomplished all that they could have because the planter wasn’t healthy enough to see it through. It could be a moral failure, burnout, or a family that is falling apart under the stress of the plant. (Let me speak specifically into this one. Every planter needs mentoring, discipline and accountability. From the start. Not after the need is discovered.)

You held too tightly to your way.  Church plants can recruit entrepreneurial leaders. It’s a natural attraction. Given the authority to actually lead this can be one of the most powerful benefits of the church plant. When the planter ignores this and keeps people from feeling empowered, growth is limited to the church planter’s abilities. The planter should certainly control — or maybe the word is protect — the theological foundation, but implementation of vision should be shared  with others. 

Those are just a few observations. As with the purpose of this blog, they are meant to be helpful. If God has called you to a church plant — plant well. I’m pulling for you.

25 Things You’ll Never Hear God Say

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Recently I wrote “20 Things God Might Say”. It was a popular post. All were designed to be easily tweeted with a simple copy and paste.

I thought there might be a companion post. I believe, based on Scripture, that we can trust God not to say some things — especially in these days of grace.

Here are 25 things you’ll never hear God say:

“Oh yea. I forgot about her.” #ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Well I don’t know what to do now.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so worried.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I just don’t understand him.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Don’t call me again until you turn your life around.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“This one’s too big for me.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“That’ll make me love you less.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“What did you say your name was?”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Forgive me. I made a mistake.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I just need a vacation.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so tired of being interrupted.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“This one’s beyond me.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I can’t take it anymore!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m sorry, I can’t take your call right now, but if you’ll leave your name and number…”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“That little sin won’t matter.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m scared.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I give up!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Since the world is changing so fast, I’m thinking about changing my ways.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I wish I had thought of that!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I need your help to make it happen.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so confused.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m all tapped out for this month.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Don’t blame yourself. That one was my fault.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I didn’t know anything about that.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m a little behind the times.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

Any you’d add?

The Immediate Need to Create a Lasting Legacy

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Succession has been a hot topic in a whole lot of church circles lately.

I visited with my friend William Vanderbloemen who just wrote a book on the subject called Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, which is a church leader’s comprehensive guidebook to understanding what you can do now to prepare for the day your church faces a leadership transition.

The church needs this book. Here’s the interview.

Ron: What is the “big idea” behind this book?

William: It really comes down to one sentence: Every pastor is an interim pastor.

Why? Because unless you plan on pastoring your church after Jesus returns, every church will have to face the reality of a leadership transition. Are you ready? Most people aren’t. Many church leaders equate succession planning to retirement planning. However, smart church leaders realize that succession planning is much more than that. We hope that this book will be a conversation starter and a guide for pastors and church boards as they look to the inevitable reality of transition.

Ron: In Next, you mention the old adage, “Everyone wants to talk about succession…until it’s their own.” Why do you think that is?

William: What we found in our research for Next is that no career ties identity to job more than the pastorate. What other job coincides with more key parts of life? Who else performs their daughter’s wedding at work? Who else buries longtime friends as part of their job? What other career ties personal spiritual formation to career performance? It is a difficult job to leave because our identity as a pastor is tied to our church, but this is why focusing on leaving a legacy through a healthy succession plan from day one in the pastorate matters so much.

Ron: You give countless real-life stories of pastoral transitions in Next. Since every succession is different, what defines a successful succession?

William: I encourage church leaders to first ask themselves, “What would success look like three years after the hand-off from the outgoing pastor to the successor pastor?” Even if you’re part of an appointment system where you have no say in the person who will follow you, you still have a huge influence in how you end, how well the church is prepared for a successor, and what path and direction the church’s momentum will be moving toward when the successor arrives. For pastors who have no idea where to start with succession planning, chapter 2 of the book includes “The Ten Commandments of Succession Planning” which walks pastors through ten steps that they can do today to prepare for succession.

Ron: As the Baby Boomers near retirement, perhaps more pastors will be thinking about succession planning now than ever. What advice would you give outgoing pastors?

William: Great question! But before answering it, I’d love to point out one golden rule of succession planning: It’s never too early to start. I would be thrilled if pastors in their 30’s bought this book and began planning now. When I was a young pastor, John Maxwell told me, “William, spend your younger years creating options for your later years.” I believe that more than ever now.

But onto your question….Too often pastors stay at a church not because they’re thriving but because they don’t have anything else to put their passion into. Having a plan for how you will spend your energy after you leave your church is crucial to a healthy succession. Chapter 4 of Next helps pastors frame when it’s time to move on from your present place of service, but the more fundamental issue is figuring out what you should do next in God’s big picture for your life.

Ron: You and your co-author Warren Bird from Leadership Network did hundreds of interviews for the research on the book. What was the most surprising trend you found?

William: There are a whole lot of surprises that we found, but two trends come to mind: I was shocked to see the average ages of the pastors of the largest churches in the country. There are some great infographics and tables in the book with that sort of information. Seeing it laid out in one spot convinced me that succession planning is a looming crisis for the church.

Secondly, I never realized how much of a good succession rises and falls on the outgoing pastor’s spouse. There are a number of great stories in the book that highlight this. Smart churches will pay attention to that dynamic and find ways to address it as they face transitions.

This is a topic that I think about myself as a pastor and leader. I encourage every pastor to order Next and start thinking and talking about succession on a regular basis.

Order Next: Pastoral Succession That Works now at NextPastor.com and save $5.

Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You: Generation Z

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Here is a guest post from Jeremy Kingsley. Jeremy is a Best-selling author and Keynote speaker. He has been featured on CNBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, FOX BUSINESS, WALL STREET JOURNAL and many more large media outlets. Learn more at JeremyKingsley.com

Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You: Generation Z

The generation that by most definitions we call the Millennials are becoming well established in the workforce. They’ve paved the way for their elders to become more accustomed to tattoos, more appreciative of diversity, and less insistent on spending office hours in an actual office. So now it’s time to start preparing for the next round—the young people being dubbed “Generation Z.”

Following the most common definition of Gen Zers as being born after 1996 means they’re still in school, for the most part, but they’ll be arriving as part-time workers and interns before we know it, and it’s not too soon to start building some insight.

Even more than the Millennials, Gen Zers are, to use Mark Prensky’s term, digital natives who have grown up in a world of technology. If you’re old enough, you may remember joking about how a three or four-year-old helped you troubleshoot your network connections. These are those kids. They can’t remember a world without high-speed Internet, social media, iPads, smartphones, and they’re completely comfortable interacting, learning, and working online.

Partly because of technology, Gen Zers are born multitaskers. It may drive you crazy that they’re looking at something on their phone while you’re talking to them, but from their perspective it’s not rude but sensible to use the leftover parts of their brain on other tasks. Expect the line between company and personal time, already blurred by the Millennials, to become even more obscured.

Technology also means they’re comfortable in global diversity. They’re growing up with people, food, and entertainment derived from around the world. Where older people may be comforted by homogeneity, Gen Zers are mistrustful of its limits.

Again building on a trend begun by earlier generations, Gen Z is socially and environmentally aware. They’re attracted to organizations with initiatives in place for diversity, employee volunteerism and service, and environmental sustainability.

Finally, they’re entrepreneurial and flexible. They’ve grown up in a world where technology radically changed the way we live and do business, and the old familiar structures of the workplace are history as far as they’re concerned. They’re looking for innovation and independence.

Each new generation brings its own set of challenges and opportunities for growth. Whether you’re 25 or 85, whether you’ll be encountering Generation Z as employees, consumers, or clients, it’s your ability to bring together their new ideas with your own experience and hard-earned wisdom that will keep you on top and ready for Generation Z and whatever comes after Z.

One Simple, Free, Exceptionally Great Leadership Tip

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Here’s a great leadership tip. 

And, it’s one you already know, but sometimes forget. Or just don’t do it enough. 

This leadership tip was shared with me years ago by one of my leaders. I have practiced it in every leadership environment since then. It’s one of the smartest things I do. 

It’s genius. Simple. And, best of all, it’s free.

Do you want to be a better leader? 

Implement this leadership tip today. And repeat often.

Ready? 

Get out of your office.

See how simple that is. And just think — you made it this far in the post just for that.

But I’m telling you it works.

Walk the building. Tour the grounds. Talk to people.

It takes you out of your paradigm. It puts you on more neutral ground. You appear more approachable. 

Ask questions. 
Talk to people doing the work. 
Let people ask you questions.
Smile. Engage. 
Hear stories. 
Get feedback and input. 
Reinforce vision in person. 

It’s so simple. Yet how many times do we neglect it because we are stuck at a desk? Doing paperwork. Answering emails from the people we could see in person. 

Leadership looks so much different when it’s done with the computer screen in front of us. But email can never replace the value of human interaction. People are more than names on a page. 

The best leadership is always done in real time, but with real people. Eyeball to eyeball. Face to face.

You can’t do it exclusively, but when you can it’s masterful. 

Get out of your office today. Get with real people. 

Improve your leadership.

7 Easy Ways to Put a Not Welcome Sign on Your Church

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I was running recently on a route I’ve run many times, but I missed this sign until this particular run. It was too “good” not to stop and take a picture with my phone.

I saw the sign and the first word that popped in my head was “Closed”. As another sign I saw in a store window said recently (which I don’t completely understand) “Closed for Business”. (How can you be closed “for” business?)

None of us would intentionally place a sign like that on our church doors. “Closed for business”. I’m sure that’s not the intent this church has with this sign. Yet I’m certain that some of our practices serve the same purpose.

Over the years, Cheryl and I have visited dozens of churches. Whenever we travel we try to find a church. I’ve spoken at and consulted with a lot of churches. All types and sizes.

From personal experience — here are some ways you can place a closed sign to visitors on your church.

Only do “church” on Sunday. Don’t attempt to build community with people who attend — especially not with someone new to “the community”. Let people know by your actions — or lack of actions — that you’re comfortable with the people with you now and there is little room for new friendships. Don’t reach out to people you haven’t seen in a while. We recently visited a church, filled out a visitor card, and only placed our email and phone number on the card. Two months later we have yet to hear from anyone.

Don’t act like you’re happy to see people. Have no one greeting in the parking lots or at the doors. I once was the guest preacher at a church. Not one person greeted us in the church. I literally had to go find somebody to tell me when to preach. Not one other person besides the person I found ever spoke to us. I realize that’s the extreme but I wonder how many times visitors feel that same way in our own churches.

Confuse people. Display confusing signage or, better yet, none at all. And, don’t think about using people as guest hosts. I can’t tell you how many churches we have been to where it was very confusing which door to enter and where to go once we entered the door. At times, if I weren’t the speaker — as an introvert especially — I might have left. Just being honest. I have to be honest even more and say that was somewhat true of the church where I am pastor now. Hopefully we are making strides towards correcting that with signage and people.

Make it uncomfortable for visitors. If you really want a closed sign up, everyone should talk to the only people they know. It’s either that, or you could make visitors feel very conspicuous. Have them stand up maybe — or raise their hands — and keep them up until an usher comes by.

Have your own language. Use acronyms. Yes acronyms please. Just pretend like everyone already knows what you’re talking about. Don’t differentiate between VBS and vacation Bible school. Everyone knows that, right? And, use names during the announcements that no one knows but the regulars without any explanation of who they are.

Have closed groups. And don’t start any new ones. When any small group has been together more than a few years — with no new people entering the group — it’s a closed group. A new person coming in will not feel welcome. They won’t know the inside jokes. They don’t know the names of everyone’s children’s. They feel left out when personal conversation begins.

Beat people up without giving them hope. Be clearer about how bad they are than how great the Gospel is.

Those are a few of my suggestions. If you’re looking for a way to put up a closed sign.

What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do?

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What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Wow! How many times do I hear people asking a question like that? It seems to be a daily occurrence.

Or maybe not just like that, but they want to know what to do — and they don’t know what to do. So they ask a question about what to do. (Are you following? :) )

Unfortunately, knowing the right thing to do is not an exact science. If only I knew every time I’m asked. In fact, if it were, many of us in my profession would either be out of a job — or making a lot of money.

Of course, the first answer is to talk to God, but how many times have you done that and still cannot discern what He is saying. What do you do then — when you don’t know what to do?

Again, I don’t always know. Wish I did. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I simply have some principles I can share.

Here are a few suggestions when you don’t know what to do:

Phone a friend. Someone who knows you well. Isn’t it wonderful how God puts people in our life who can speak into our life? The challenge is often having the courage to ask and then yielding to those voices. Have you been listening to people God has been sending your way?

What would daddy or mama do? What do the morals you were raised with say you should do? If you were raised with good principles go with them. Many times we actually know the right thing to do but our question is whether we want to do what we know is right.

Do nothing. Don’t be afraid to not make a decision if you don’t have to. Sometimes it’s okay just to be still. In fact, sometimes that’s the best decision.

Follow your gut. If, that is, your gut is good. And it’s very important that your gut be good. But, if you are in a good place in life, and you know you are making wise decisions in other situations, then you can often trust the voice within you.

Take a risk. Now may be the time to put all safety concerns aside and go for it. Most risks come with an element of the unknown. You will often have to pull the trigger on moving forward without all the answers to your questions. Don’t be surprised about that. Or afraid to do it. If it is something you feel strongly about, it isn’t sinful, and it doesn’t go against some of these other principles, then GO FOR IT!

Stop worrying. It won’t help. It won’t solve the problem. And it’s probably distracting you from making a good decision.

Walk by faith. Hopefully you have a faith in God. If not, we need to talk. But if you are a believer, then you have access to a power greater than your ability to make a good decision. The Spirit of God lives within you. Take full advantage of that privilege.

Those are just a few suggestions when you don’t know what to do.

Do you have any you would add?

25 People You Should Say Thank You To Today

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Thankfulness is a virtue that we often ignore. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own little world that we forget to thank the people who have helped us the most. Then there are people who just simply need thanking to help them feel better about their own situation. Everyone likes to be appreciated.

I thought I would use my platform to encourage a little thankfulness.

Here are 25 people you could easily thank today:

The person who gave you a start in your career.

Someone who encourages you that you only know online.

A random stranger God lays on your heart.

A teacher who had the greatest impact on you.

A friend who was there when you needed one most.

A pastor who helped shape your understanding of God.

The person you know who prays for you regularly.

The person who waits on you everyday — somewhere — and you don’t even know their name.

A politician you admire for doing the right thing — as best as you can tell.

The unexpected person who was there for you at just the right time in your life.

A person who may not receive encouragement from anyone else.

A leader you admire.

Someone who has invested in you and doesn’t even know it.

The person who has been the most patient with you.

Someone who believed in you when no one else did.

An emergency services professional — police, fire, military, etc.

Your childhood best friend.

The person who introduced you to the person you married.

A college professor who challenged you to think bigger.

Someone who inspires you with something they do well.

Someone who was a good friend to your parents.

A person you think is under appreciated.

Someone who has a smile that encourages you.

A family member who holds the family together.

The parent who paved your way.

A few suggestions.

I’m sure you have many more. Send a card. (Handwritten notes are awesome — and rare.) Write the email. Make the phone call. Plan a personal visit. Say thank you.

By the way, if you can’t thank the person anymore — thank their family. Can you imagine how encouraging that would be?

7 Examples of Tough, But Smart Leadership Decisions

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Leadership is tough. It’s especially tough when it involves people. :)

It is interesting, however, in my experience, how often the toughest decision is the smartest decision. It’s the one we know we need to make but it’s the hardest one to make. Every leader I know wants to be liked. They want to limit frustration among the people trying to follow. They want to be effective and for people to appreciate and value their leadership. Those are normal human desires.

And, making tough calls seems at times like they may jeopardize some of those things.

Yet, the ability and willingness to make the tough calls — and doing it well — is what often separates the successful leaders from the not so successful.

There are many examples of tough, but smart leadership decisions. You have your own. I’ll just share a few of mine that come to mind.

7 examples of some tough but smart leadership decisions:

If the answer is going to be no. Don’t delay saying it. It’s easier to say “let me think about it” — or to delay saying no for a time, maybe even saying what they want to hear, but if you already know you’re eventually going to say no, the smarter decision — as tough as it is — is to say no now. It saves a lot of grief for you and other people. This includes saying no to good things so you can say yes to best things. One of the toughest calls for me as a leader is telling someone I can’t meet with them. I hate it. I want to accommodate everyone. But, I’ve learned that I’m not always the right person. I sometimes complicate things by getting in the way, and I am not very effective if I don’t prioritize my time. As tough as it is, leader, if you don’t protect your time to do the things you must do, everyone on your team will suffer. If the answer is no — just say no.

Instead of making excuses. Own the problem. I don’t know about you, but I can always find someone or something to blame. That’s easy. Tougher is to admit it. We blew it. We made a mistake. We messed up. And, if the fault is clearly mine — I MESSED UP! People appreciate honesty. It’s smarter, by far, to be transparent than to always pass the buck.

When you aren’t sure what to do next? Admit it. I’ve learned there are usually people on the team who have some ideas that can help me if I’m humble enough to ask. As tough as it is to admit you are in over your head, you’ll gain support by seeking input. Strange as it may seem, you actually add credibility to yourself as a leader.

If you’re about to crash. Raise the white flag. This one seems especially needed for pastors. No pastor I know — and frankly no leader — is comfortable admitting they are facing burnout. The fear is we would lose support. But, the smarter decision is to confide in someone who can help. Getting help before you crash allows you to finish the race. It would be better to limp across the finish line than to be taken out of commission for a permanent injury. Get help now if you need it!

Challenge the sacred cows. Every leader knows that change is hard. And, changing the things people say can’t be touched are the toughest changes. Truth be told, I’ve learned some of these aren’t as sacred as they appear. It was just that no one ever challenged them. But, I’ve also learned that if a leader shies away from change he or she knows has to take place — for the long-term good of the church or organization — everything will eventually become a “sacred cow”. All change — even small changes — will face opposition.

Release your right to get even. That’s so tough — isn’t it? Because holding a grudge is much easier than offering forgiveness. Leadership involves power and every leader is tempted at some time to use that power in revenge. Don’t do it. It never proves smart in the end. A leader is severely injured in ability to attract loyal, trusting followers — who have the potential of becoming leaders — if he or she is ever seen as one who gets even. That leader may have followers, but they’ll turn on a dime against the leader when given a chance.

Take a risk on an unproven person. Good leaders like to surround themselves with competent people. Experience makes life easier for all of us. But, some of the best leadership discoveries I have made came with untested people. We took a risk. Giving a young pastor a chance before they graduate from seminary has proven to be some of my riskiest and yet wisest moves.

Those are 7 examples of tough, but smart decisions I have to make in leadership.

Which of these tough decisions do you need to make today?

Do you have any you’d share with me?