7 Things Great Leaders Do: Advice For Today’s Young Leaders

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Recently I was asked to speak to a local youth leadership program on — well, it makes sense — leadership. That’s what they are attempting to learn.

I’ve led in the business world, elected office, and now in ministry – and on dozens of non-profit boards. Along the way I’ve observed a few things about leadership.

And, some great leaders have appeared along the way.

I culled together 7 things I’ve observed and shared with the group things I felt they should know.

Here are 7 things great leaders do:

Great leaders never quit learning.

Never. So, if you want to be a great leader. Systematize your learning. Read one chapter a day that you don’t have to read. Never attend a meeting without some way to take notes. That may sound trivial. It’s not. It helps you remember but it also communicates you care about what is being discussed.

Side note: If you take notes on your electronic device (phone), be sure to tell people that’s what you are doing. They’ll assume you’re not paying attention.

Fact is, we gather far more information than we can retain. Get a system to help you keep up with the information that comes your way. I use Evernote. Find what works for you.

As soon as you think you already know what the teacher, professor, or someone older than you is talking about you’ve mentally closed your mind to learning anything new. I’ve got 3 post high school degrees and that’s about enough education to convince me I don’t know everything.

Great leaders never underestimate a connection.

When someone introduces you to someone, consider it a high compliment. You’ll be surprised how often these relationships will come back around and work for good. Never burn a bridge. Be careful what you place on social media. Those are future connections. And, Respect your elders. Showing respect to people older than you now will ensure you receive natural respect from others when you’re the elder in the relationship.

Great leaders have great courage.

The fact is, if you’re a leader, you’ll not always know what to do. Seldom will you be 100% certain. The best leader is not always the smartest in the room. In fact, the best leaders I know surround themselves with people smarter than them. The best leader isn’t the most outgoing or the most extroverted. I’m perhaps one of the more introverted people in the room, but on Sundays, I appear otherwise.

The best leader is usually the one who is willing to lead others places they aren’t willing to go on their own. The one who has the courage to face the risks of the unknown.

Great leaders are motivated to lead for the good of others, not for personal recognition.

As a leader, you’ll many times feel under-appreciated. This is so huge — especially for your generation. You’ve been accustomed to rewards for achievement. Life isn’t always like that. There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. Great things. Trophy-deserving things — and people will act — it will seem at times — like no one noticed and no one cares.

And, that may not be true. They may simply not have taken the time to let you know what an impact you had on them. Eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of “I did the right thing” as much, if not more, than the public recognition of that work.

Great leaders learn the words of successful leadership early.

The words of a leader carry great weight. If a leader makes it “my” team no one will buy-in to the team except the leader. But, then is that person really a leader?

Anyone can be a boss. To be a great leader your words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Great leaders know they can’t get there on their own so they become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. They don’t brag on themselves they brag on their team.

The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win. Be an encourager — invest in others — and people are more likely to follow you.

Great leaders know that success often starts with humble beginnings.

Never underestimate the power of a moment.

All of the best things in life happened in a moment.
· A wedding proposal.
· A child is born.
· A college scholarship award is received in the mail.

We often look for the grandiose occasions, but the seemingly smallest moments can often have the biggest long-term impact. Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. That’s still a viable option — and the reward feels greater when you built it the hard way.

Great leaders learn to discipline themselves to decompress.

It’s not usually built-in to the system. No one makes you rest.

During the busy seasons of life — when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence — which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself.

· To re-calibrate.
· Refocus.
· Rediscover the passion that once fueled you.
· Re-connect, if needed, to those you love.
· To meditate, read, play tennis or golf, go for a run.

You have to discipline for that. And, I’ve learned it’s life-essential.

Our bodies are designed, I believe created, to need rest. Sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re stressed with school is to go for a walk. Never neglect your soul – it will protect you and help you sustain for the long-term – and help you finish well.

These are obviously random — but in my life they’ve become realities.

Soak up leadership principles. Keep learning from others. Whatever field of work you choose, the world is still in need of great leaders.

5 Words of Encouragement to the Church Planter or Young Leader

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Recently I was able to share some encouragement with church planters in Chicago. Having been a planter twice, I understand the unique challenges facing planters. They are constantly struggling with leadership issues, finances and simply knowing what to do next.

I get it. Most of what I know now came from experience and the wisdom of others.

Many of the suggestions I shared are suitable for young leaders in any field.

Here are 5 words of encouragement:

The more specific you are the more we can help. Established churches have systems. Processes. Committees. Structure. Too much you might say and that’s why you’re planting. But we have budgets that have likely been approved long in advance. The more detailed you can be with what you need the easier it is to meet the need. Otherwise, it seems overwhelming. And, don’t be afraid to talk about money. Everyone knows you need it. Just don’t be surprised if help is more readily available in other ways.

Surround yourself with some encouragers. Make sure you have people who speak regularly into your life. People outside the work you’re doing. Some days they’ll keep you going.

Seek your affirmation among the people God sent you to minister to. Great advice someone gave me. You’ll many times feel under-appreciated. You may not feel you’re doing any good. You’ll second-guess yourself and your calling. Get back into helping the hurting people — the work, whatever it is — God called you to. Be recharged.

Everything great starts with a humble beginning. Either in your personal humility or the humble beginnings of your work. Take your pick. We all want the grand and instant success. That’s seldom the reality. Those who launch big often had enormous stories of previously being humbled. “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah‬ ‭4‬:‭10

Protect your soul — and your marriage. You have to discipline to decompress. Paraphrase of Jesus: “Come to me all who are stretched, burnt-out, weary and heavy-burdened — I will give you refreshment for your soul. Live this truth daily. Put it as a regular practice of your life.

God bless you planter. Leader. Friend.

4 Realities to Help Discern a Vocational Call to Ministry

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Discerning a call to vocational ministry can be a tiring and trying experience.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking with numerous young people and couples who are possibly experiencing a call to full-time, vocational missions or ministry. They don’t always know what they are supposed to do — usually not — but they know their vocation is to be a part of the mission of Christ.

Talking with people at this stage of life is one of my favorite things to do. It fuels me in ministry to help others process their call.

Having also wrestled through this issue years ago with two teenage sons makes this something very personal to me. Obviously I have my own experience in this area of wrestling through a call to vocational ministry. My wrestling was a 10 year process.

The counsel I gave my boys came to me suddenly one day. I’m not pretending it was inspired, but it certainly is a product of my personal experience and time spent with God struggling through this issue. I’ve used this teaching many times since then.

Basically I like to help people understand that the “call”, in my understanding, is not a call to a group of people or a geographic location as much as it is to a person; the person of Jesus Christ.

That’s important, because a lot of times someone begins to sense a calling after a mission trip to a certain area and feel as if that is the place they must go to serve God. That may be the place God wants to use them, but it could be that God just wants their availability, right where they are or elsewhere and God used the specific place to stir their heart towards serving vocationally.

I’m not saying He doesn’t send people to specific places or groups of people, but I do believe He reserves the right to change that at any time, because ultimately a person is called into a relationship with God first and a location second. In fact, I’ve several times in my call sensed God was even giving me freedom to choose where I served

After establishing that the ultimate call is to the person of Christ, I share a few principles. These are actually realities — based on my experience — of the vocational call. These won’t make the decision for the person. I can’t do that. They are intended to help someone think through their calling. The person who is sensing a call can often begin to discern that this IS the call based on the way they respond to these four words.

Four realities of call of God on a person’s life is:

Irresistible

You can’t refuse this kind of call and still live at peace with God. He will still love you. You may even be successful in what you are doing, but something will always eat at you until you surrender to this type of call. (Think of Jonah on the boat, attempting to run from God — even before the storm came.) That was the case in my situation. As much as I wanted success in business — and I had some — none of that brought me peace until I surrendered to God’s will for my life.

Irreplaceable

Nothing else will satisfy a person like this call. Nothing will fill that void — that emptiness. If God’s greatest desire for a person’s life on whom He places the “call”. I found no real joy in my work, until I was serving in the career choice God wanted me to serve.

Irrevocable

God doesn’t take this call away from a person once He has placed it on their life. At times, especially when things are stressful in ministry, I have glanced at other opportunities, but I know I cannot go backwards from this call God has placed on my life. I may serve Him in a number of capacities and places over the years — I believe that could even be in business if He chose that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as a pastor or in a local church — but I know one decision in my vocational career is solved — I work for Him. My end “product” of my life is advancing His mission — not mine.

Immediate

The call of God on a person’s life begins at the moment of the call. Often people want to get the right degree or start drawing a paycheck before they live out the call God has placed on their life. I don’t believe that’s the call. The call is to “Go” and the time is NOW. (Jesus taught this reality in Matthew 8.) That doesn’t mean the person shouldn’t gain education, experience, or even a paycheck, but if a person has received a call from God on their life the time to get started doing something towards that call is now! When I realized a vocational call to ministry was being placed on my life, I started immediately; with no promise of income or position. I simply started serving people. Opportunities and specific assignments quickly followed.

Are you feeling those four words heavy on your heart? Perhaps God is trying to get your attention.

For a Biblical example of this type calling which includes each of these four points, read Jonah’s story again.

Have you wrestled or are you wrestling through a vocational call to ministry? What was your experience?

7 Ways to Lead People Older — and Often Wiser — than You

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In my first management position, I was a 19 year-old college sophomore working full-time and leading a small staff of four people in the men’s clothing area of a major department store. I was placed in the position almost by default, because the previous manager left unexpectedly and I was already there and eager to lead. Everyone working for me was older than I was, including one man who was in his sixties.

Today, even though I have aged considerably since then and had years more leadership experience, I continue to have positions where people older than me, with more experience than I have in many areas, report to me by position. In fact, in the current church I pastor, I didn’t just “inherit” people with more experience — I recruited them. On purpose. I do not believe we could have had the success in revitalization we’ve had without their input. We needed — and keep needing — younger voices on our team, but these seasoned leaders have helped navigate major change in ways I couldn’t have done on my own.

In our church plant, where I was the founder, most of our staff was younger than me. But, even there, I personally recruited a staff member almost 15 years older than me, which meant there were literally three generations of leadership in our church plant. It was gold for our organizational structure.

It can be one of the more challenging parts of leadership, but I highly recommend it.

I work with many pastors and church planters who, as they begin their ministry career will likely encounter the same experience with either volunteers or paid staff. I can tell you, from experience, that your leadership will be better if you learn how to lead people older — and wiser — than you are today. Don’t be afraid to recruit them.

Here are 7 tips for leading people older than you:

Recognize the difference

When a person is 10, 20, or even 30 years older they likely have different needs and expectations from their leader and the organization. They may need different benefits, different work schedules, and even different leadership styles, depending on their age and stage of life. You should maximize your leadership by adapting your style to the person you are leading anyway, but this will be especially true when you lead someone who doesn’t always “need” your leadership.

Give credit for wisdom earned

This is key. If you don’t recognize and value that age and experience has given them something you may not have you’ll never effectively lead someone older than you. Most likely there will naturally be things the other person has experienced that you haven’t. Don’t let that intimidate you. Allow it to work for you by gleaning from that wisdom.

Stand your ground, but do it respectfully

If you are in the position, then do your job. They were probably raised in a generation where they expect you to lead, but as you should with any person you lead, be respectful. If someone is older, most likely he or she will be more sensitive to a younger leader being disrespectful and react negatively when you are not. They may not say anything — because this may be part of their culture too — but you won’t have their full respect if you aren’t leading.

Learn from them

Be honest when you don’t know how to do something, such as leadership or handling difficult issue or people. If the older person knows how, let them show you. It’s okay that you have some things to learn. We all do. The older a person becomes the more in tune he or she becomes with the fact that no one knows everything. Ask good questions. “Have you ever experienced something like this before in your leadership?” “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” “Am I missing anything in your opinion?”

Be clear on expectations

More than likely a person from another generation is more accustomed to structure than you are. There were days past when expectations were more clearly defined and people knew what was expected. Organizational charts were more linear. Job titles meant more about what a person did on the team. Be aware of this. You don’t have to change your leadership to accommodate them necessarily, but you do need to recognize and understand when they may need a little more clarity on your expectations. They may wait until they know for sure you want them to move forward on a task or project.

Don’t play games — even if you are intimidated

I have seen this many times. The leader is intimidated by the older team member, so he or she dances around an issue or fails to handle conflict. The leader might make excuses for not knowing something or pretend they have more experience than he or she actually has with an issue. People with life experience can usually see through that type behavior. The age and maturity will make them less intimidated by you. Be kind. Be respectful always, but be direct. Shoot straight with them. Stand firm when needed. The fact is that the older team member will probably have handled worse situations. They will welcome your secure leadership — if it’s handled appropriately.

Be patient with them

This is changing rapidly, but sometimes the older team member may not be as culturally, technologically, or trend savvy. They may need a different form of communication or you may need to explain something in a different context. But they will make up for it by adding to the team in other ways. Be prepared to allow extra training for them if needed — even in some things which appear basic for you.

There were many times in business where I would have never made it without someone helping me who had more experience than I had. That’s still true today. I continue to surround myself with mentors in life and church.

Granted, if the person is cranky, rigid, or troublesome — don’t add them to your team. But, that’s true of all ages.

Here’s the deal — When you shy away from someone for your team because they are older or more experienced than you — you ignore some of the most loyal, hard-working, dedicated team members. And, the humility in knowing you are leading people wiser than you will make you a better leader.

Do you lead people older than you? What would you add to this discussion?

7 Steps to Achieve Your Dreams

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I love and encourage dreaming.

I think dreaming is healthy for our emotional well-being. It’s a process that helps us accomplish great things personally and for God.

We are told we serve a big, creative God, whose thoughts will always be bigger and better than ours. We are to walk by faith. We are to trust God into the unknown. Dreaming should be natural to believers. Dreaming stretches the vision of churches and organizations, it fuels creativity, and many great opportunities develop first as a dream.

The reality is –‘however — that more people have dreams than attain them.

Perhaps you have dreams you have yet to accomplish. I certainly do. One reason dreams never come true is that we don’t have a system in place to work towards them. I love to be an encourager for people with great dreams, so with that in mind, here are some steps to help you move towards reaching your dreams:

Identify your dream – This is where you list specifically what the dream would look like. Obviously it needs to be attainable. If your dream is to create a new moon you may be disappointed, but don’t be afraid for it to be a stretch either. For example, suppose your dream is to be to be an author. That’s a dream you can accomplish, but it may not be realistic to write the next Purpose Driven Life.

Make an action plan – Write down specific action steps you can take towards attaining your goal. (The writing down part is important.) Sticking with the the idea of being an author, perhaps you could start with a blog for which you write post regularly to build the discipline of writing. Then move to outlining chapters. Then you might set aside a few hours a week to actually write the book. Record realistic dates to begin/complete each step.

Develop accountability – Most of us work harder when we know someone is going to challenge us to do so. Consider the success of programs like Weight Watchers. Accountability works, so share your plan of action with a few people who will continue to challenge you to completion.

Share the load – Even though it is your dream, the best ideas are accomplished when people work together towards a common vision. Don’t be afraid to invite others to help you accomplish your dream as needed.

Take a risk – If you really want to succeed, you must be willing to risk failure. Every great dream has an element of risk involved and the ones who achieve their dreams are the ones wiling to assume the risk.

Stay consistent – If you want to achieve your dreams, you will have to keep at the task, even during the set backs. Push yourself to complete scheduled action steps even on days you may not want to do anything. These is how habits are developed. Many give up too soon, often just before the tipping point towards success occurs. Unless you know it’s time to try another dream, stay consistent with the one in front of you.

Get started – The longer you wait, the more you delay achievement and the less likely you are to begin. If you know the dream is worth achieving, if you are confidant it’s a God-honoring, morally right, and worthy dream, then start today!

What is one dream you have yet to attain? Why not take one meaningful step to get started today?

A 4 Word Script to Evaluate Any Event

Smiling Asian businesswoman doing a presentation

I think evaluation is important. In fact, it may be equally important to the planning that goes into any event. And, for churches, just as we ask God to direct our thoughts and energies in creating and implementing an event in the church, we should ask God to direct us in evaluating what worked and what didn’t work.

We recently evaluated a major day (Easter) with some of our team. It flowed naturally. We got great feedback and learned some things to improve next year.

The evaluation process doesn’t always go that easily.

When evaluation isn’t being productive or your team isn’t in the routine of evaluating, let me share an idea that might help.

You need to script your evaluation process.

(Granted, some will struggle with the word “Event” being used to describe Easter weekend. And, I understand that, so you can call it anything you want. I’m using the word so that this idea can help you evaluate more than just Easter weekend.)

First, make sure the right people are in the room. I’ve done this in large and small settings, but you want voices at the table that can speak to most of what you were evaluating. For example, we since we were evaluating our Easter weekend, it would have made no sense if the only ones evaluating were the worship team and me. We were on the platform most of the time or only in our worship center. We needed people who could observe how guests were treated, what was happening in our parking lots, if children were cared for and whether or not the bathrooms were kept clean. Of this group, I also want positive-minded people who love the church and want to continue to see us improve — even if that means change.

So, after the right people are in the room, here’s something I’ve done when things aren’t progressing. It’s simple, but it works.

I’ve often gone to the board (I have one whole wall in my office painted with whiteboard paint) and written an outline for us to follow — a script if you will — to guide our thoughts to evaluate effectively.

Write down each of the words in bold, ask the questions — and you can think of better questions to add — and let people talk through each one.

Duplicate –

  • What did we do well?
  • What worked best?
  • What do we know we want to do again next time?

The goal here is to talk about and discover those things that need to be repeated next time. They worked. They fully helped you live out your vision and the goals for the event. These are often the “no-brainers” and are usually easily drawn out from the discussion.

Develop –

  • What was good, but could be better?
  • Where did we see the greatest energy, that with a little more effort could be huge?
  • What do we know is a part of our values for the event — or for our church (or organization) — but it didn’t get enough attention?

This is perhaps the most important part of the discussion. Here you want to discover those things that have the potential to really take your event to the next level. Try to keep discussion centered only on the development of existing things you do at this point — not new things — you will get there in a minute. You don’t want to add a ton to an event unless what you did was terribly bad and you need to start completely over with all new. Most of the time developing what you currently do and making it better is easier, more palatable for people’s tolerance to change, and more effective.

Dump –

  • What do we not need to do again?
  • What didn’t work at all?
  • What was the most draining effort, but produced little or no return for the investment?
  • What is tired, worn out, ready to be laid to rest before we do this again?

I tried to word those questions as pleasantly as possible, and if you prefer, use the word “delete”, but the idea here is what do you need to not do next time? You need to discover what needs killing. Don’t be shy here. This could be the hardest one, because this is where turf wars develop and feelings can come to the discussion, but you have to do it. If it didn’t work and it was expensive or labor-intensive — get rid of it next time. And, the reason it’s so important is that you can use that energy to pour into things you listed under the develop heading. And, that’s important too, because you don’t just want to take too much away from people without giving them something back that’s even better.

Dream –

  • What’s the wildest idea we could think of to do next time?
  • What could we add next time that has the potential to be a “signature” aspect?
  • If money was not an option, what would we do to make this better?

I love this one, but don’t put a ton of time into it — and don’t do it at all until you’ve done the others — but give some time to dreaming about the future. Honestly, I prefer the Develop one over this one as far as sustainability and productivity goes, but some really great ideas can originate here. Perhaps time this and stop when the ideas begin to turn really crazy, but allow people an opportunity to stretch the event into something no one has imagined.

Leader, you don’t have to be the moderator of this. Depending on the group someone else may be better at this and let you participate more in the discussion.

Make someone is the recorder in the room. We sometimes write ideas under the words and take a picture of the board — but I always suggest someone record these ideas into a document of some kind. We frequently create a Google Doc that we can share with others and store for later use. The more organize you are with your notes the more useful they will be next time you’re ready to do the event again.

Finally, I’d limit the time on this whole process. Maybe allot time to each one and then come back to them if you have time. It can grow stale if you linger too long in one of these discussions.

Hope this helps — and I’d love to hear from you if it does.

7 Things the Church Can’t Do for the Pastor

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Pastor, there are some things your church can’t do for you.

They simply can’t.

Please understand. I love the church. Greatly. I’m a local church guy. But, they simply can’t do these things for you.

And, if you think they can, or you leave it up to them to do these things, you’ll someday find out the hard way — they can’t.

I’ve watched it many times as pastors didn’t do these. They followed the demands of the church and somehow expected the church to be providing these needs. It caused a void.

Some pastors have even crashed and burned waiting for someone else to do for them what only they could do.

Granted, you may have the greatest church of your ministry career, but regardless of how wonderful the church is they can’t do all the things for you that your soul, personal life and ministry demands.

You’ll have to do them yourself — by God’s grace — if they’re going to be done.

Here are 7 things your church can’t adequately do for the pastor:

Hold you accountable. The church can’t guard your heart and character. It doesn’t matter how many rules or committees they have, if you want to ruin your life, you’ll find a way around the structure.

Love your family and protect your time with them. They may love your family. They may respect your time with them, but if you really want to protect your family — you’ll have to take the lead role here.

Understand the demands on your time. They can’t. And, you’ll only be disappointed if you expect them to. All jokes aside, they know you work more than Sunday, but they don’t know all the pressure placed upon your role. They can’t understand anymore than you can understand what it’s like to sit at their desk, or operate that machine they operate, or drive that police car or teach that classroom. We only know what we know and we can’t fully understand what another person’s experience is until we experience it.

Ensure you discipline your Sabbath time. You can teach it — they can know it — but if they need you they aren’t going to necessarily understand that you’re on a Sabbath. If you’re going to rest — if you’re going to have a Biblcially commanded Sabbath — you’ll have to discipline yourselves to take it.

Read your mind. People are usually waiting to be led. They are looking for a vision to follow. They can’t follow an unspoken vision.

Build your sense of self-worth. If you’re waiting to hear how wonderful the message was, what a good job you’re doing, or how much the church loves you in order to feel you’re doing a good job — you’re going to be very disappointed most of the time. You’ll have to find your sense of self-worth in your relationship with God and living out His purpose for your life — the same place you’re hopefully encouraging the church to find their sense of self-worth.

Completely discern your call from God. Some may be used of God to speak into your life, but your personal calling is between you and God. They won’t always understand when you’re “called away” or when you feel “led” to lead in a certain direction. And, you can’t expect them to.

Don’t expect others to do for you what only you — by God’s grace — can do.

10 Reasons to Consider Church Revitalization — Even Over Church Planting

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I meet with young church planters frequently. I hope that continues. We had great experiences in two successful church plants and it’s certainly in my heart. Currently we are working to plant churches in Chicago. I love the energy of planting. We need lots of new churches.

In this season of my life, God has called me into revitalization. We are positioning an older, established church, that was once in decline, to grow again. And, it’s been amazing — and challenging — and rewarding — and hard.

God began to encourage my heart towards revitalization when I considered my home church — the one where I served in lay leadership until I was called into ministry late in my 30’s. That church introduced me to Christ, help me grow, and I wouldn’t be in ministry today without them.

But, that church has seen better days. (Thankfully, they are in revitalization now and a friend of mine pastors there.) What will become of the established church? That was a burning question on my heart and God lined my heart up with a church in need of revitalization.

Now, after the experience of the last few years, when I meet with church planters, I often encourage them to consider church revitalization. I realize church revitalization doesn’t have all the attraction of church planting. I left behind my skinny jeans to enter church revitalization. And all God’s people said amen. But, here’s the thing: the attraction in church revitalization is in the mission. And, that’s hopefully the same reason anyone enters church planting.

Here are 10 reasons to consider church revitalization — even over church planting:

You love the thought of restoring history. Our church is over 100 years old. Wouldn’t it be a shame to see that history come to an end — if we can reverse the decline?

You are ready to go to work now. There are far more opportunities in church revitalization. I read that near 90% of established churches are in decline or plateaued. There’s work to be done immediately.

You like having an established base of financial support. The good thing about many established churches is that they have loyal supporters. Sometimes those are the ones holding out until the doors are closed — they never want to change — but many times those people are just waiting for leadership to take them somewhere better than where they are today.

You love inter-generational ministry. In an established church, if you start to reach younger people, you’ll see a blending of generations. That’s a beautiful experience. It’s been one of our favorites in ministry. And, personally, I think it’s healthy and a very Biblical model of church.

You like a challenge. I didn’t put this as my number one, but don’t be misled. You will face opposition if you try to change things from where people are comfortable. You don’t face that same challenge in a church plant. But, you didn’t get into ministry expecting it to be easy did you? You agreed to walk by faith, right? And, you’ll have that opportunity in church revitalization. Everyday.

You won’t run from every conflict. You mustn’t. You must stay the good course. The mission is too vital.

You enjoy healthy structure. Granted, it might not be healthy, but you’ll find structure. And, as long as you’re not doing away with structure completely — which isn’t healthy anyway — you can usually tweak structure to be healthy again.

You are Kingdom-minded. You see the bigger picture. There are more Kingdom dollars being under-utilized in stagnant churches than may ever be invested in church planting. What are we going to do about it? If you’d like to know the answer — maybe you’re a candidate for revitalization.

You can endure a long-term approach. It likely won’t happen immediately. In church planting, we could change in a weekend. That’s not necessarily true in the established church. There are many things that can happen immediately. Certainly we saw some immediate, very positive changes and the church began to grow quickly. But, the best changes have taken time — but they have paid off dramatically because of our more methodical approach.

You truly love the local church. I didn’t love everything about the church that I came to pastor — or the established church I attended all my life until surrendering to ministry. But, I truly love the local church. Enough that I’d be willing to invest energies in trying to save one.

Let me be honest. Some churches can’t be — and may not need to be — saved. There, I said that. They’ve been toxic since they began — running off pastors so a few families can remain in control. They aren’t interested in reaching a lost world. They are looking for a comfortable place to hang out with people just like them.

But, there are so many churches who are ready to grow again with the right pastoral leadership. And, I encourage some of our young, eager, pastors — even some who may be considering church planting — to consider allowing God to use you in revitalizing an established church.

An Exponential Interview about Church Revitalization

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson5

Tom Cheyney and I will be hosting a pre-conference Revitalization lab at Exponential East this year entitled: Finding New Life for an Old Church. Tom and I were talking recently and we both agreed — we are surprised more pastors are not considering revitalization. In addition to church planting, revitalization has tons of Kingdom-potential. And, there are lots of opportunities out there — lots of declining churches need help.

Up for a challenge — consider revitalization! 

Of course, Church revitalization involves change. And no matter how necessary the change, some people will fight until the end preferring to let the slowly die, but the church can change — and thrive again.

Exponential recently interviewed me to find out more about this bonus session:

What do you hope to accomplish through this pre-conference?

I hope people will leave with some of their questions answered about church revitalization and what it takes to be successful. We are really thinking in terms of best — and frankly worst — practices. We have some experience personally and working with other churches that we think can help. I’d love to think some church planter mindsets would reconsider revitalizing an established church.

What are some of the reasons you decided to do a pre-conference on church revitalization?

Obviously it is and should be a calling. You’ll need it, but we also need a renewed interest in revitalizing existing churches. In my estimation, we have more Kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches. Someone said it takes 30 years for a declining church to die. Not trying to be cruel, but that’s too long. If it’s not going to revive, maybe an immediate closure and redistribution of resources is warranted. Wow! Did I just say that?

What are some tensions you have faced in this area?

It involves change. That’s never easy. But, you can’t produce growth from decline without change. All my tension has been from change. Yet, the real root of tension is in an emotional response to change. Change always produces an emotional response — positive or negative. So, I’ve dealt with a good deal of emotion over the past couple years. But, that also doesn’t mean everything has to change. Some traditions may actually be good and should be celebrated. And, we will talk about that at the conference.

What are some of the differences in leading this generation and culture from the past?

Time commitment and loyalty are different for the newer generation. There is less of it. That can be difficult, because it sometimes means we see them less often and they are can be quick to disengage if something else comes along. On a positive note, they are very driven to make a difference. They prefer a “hands on” experience. With motivation and opportunity this generation can make huge Kingdom differences. By the way, this should be a very attractive element for younger generations of pastors entering church revitalization. Many times in an established church the resources and people are there — that if energized again for the vision — a church can hit the ground running much faster than in a church plant.

What can someone expect to takeaway from attending your pre-conference?

I think there will be some frankness and some challenge. We are going to give lots of practical information, but even more, we are here to invest in church leaders. As Exponential does so well, we will be learning together and build community quickly with other church leaders. This should be very helpful and applicable.

We are excited for this Revitalization Lab. Make sure you are there by registering for the main conference + pre-conference with code: revitalization15. You will receive $30 off of your conference registration and a FREE pre-conference as well as access to Bonus Sessions. Register here!

5 Reasons a Church or Organization Stops Growing

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I was talking with a church recently that had explosive growth, but things have slowed. They wanted to know why they were not growing any longer.

Honestly, I do t know. There are probably different reasons for every church that stops growing.

But, this church is seeking answers. So, I decided to share Some thoughts to consider. And, I’m sharing them here.

Obviously, God is ultimately in charge of a churches growth. There are times where God is giving a season of rest and preparation for a church for something to come. In some situations, God may have even taken His hand from the church.

God is into church growth, however. I’m convinced He likes it when a church grows.

It’s our mission as believers to produce disciples and our model example of the first century church was a growing church, so outside the God factor, there are usually reasons for stagnation in a church. Because the church is an organization made up of people, these reasons are often similar to those you may find true as to why growth stalls in the life of an organization also.

In my experience, the are some common variables when growth stalls.

Here are 5 suggestions:

You get comfortable

It’s okay to be comfortable, but when you hang out there too long, it can be dangerous, because you stop trying new things to spur growth and excitement.

You quit dreaming

Dreams inspire, challenge, and grow people and organizations. What could the church accomplish to reach its community? You’ll never dream bigger than the dreams God has for you or your church.

You stop taking risks

You can’t succeed at anything without a measure of risk. Playing it safe never grows anything. The call of God always involves risk-taking.

You start maintaining

When you fall into the mode of protecting what you have, you’ll be less likely to encourage growth for fear of losing ground.

You fail to walk by faith.

Especially for the church — we are a faith-based organization. If you aren’t walking by faith in what you are doing it is impossible to please God. (That’s Biblical. Look it up!)

Those are my quick thoughts.

Obviously, there is so much more to this issue and to each one of these answers. These are general responses and there are specific issues with every church or organization. Hopefully thinking through each of these as a paradigm for brainstorming may help trigger thoughts towards actions which can spur future growth.

But, I’ve also learned that activity leads to activity. Maybe just having the discussions will begin to stir new momentum. Pray hard and ask God to stir big.

What would you add?