Develop Where You Are

Little green seedling grow from tree stump

I’ve seen so many potentially great leaders waste opportunities because they were waiting for the perfect scenario before they begin to develop as a leader.

They don’t enjoy where they are currently in life or work — so they think there is nothing to be gained where they are now.

They aren’t in their dream job — so they don’t look for the benefits of being in the present situation.

They don’t respect the leader they are supposed to follow — so they close themselves off from learning anything  — whether good or bad — from him or her.

They don’t plan to stay in their current work location — so they overlook personal growth opportunities.

They don’t enjoy the people with whom they work — so they miss the potential of building future relational connections.

They are waiting for the “right” opportunity — so they never give their best effort, not realizing their “off-paper” resume (what others say about them) follows them. 

What a mistake!

Here are a few things I’ve learned by experience.

There is no guarantee your next location will be any healthier.

Or the leader will be any stronger. 

Or you will like it any more.  

If you don’t work well with the people you are currently working with — what if the problem is more you than them?

In fact may end up being a worse opportunity — the grass which appears greener on the other side often turns out not to be.

Here’s my advice:

Take advantage of where you are now.

Learn all you can now — from every opportunity.

Grow where you are now.

Give your best now.

Build relationships now. 

Develop where you are today.

It will build your character.

It will make you better prepared when you reach the job you do love.

And, most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

If you don’t see yourself in your current position five years, or even one year from now — that’s okay — give the next whatever time you have the best you’ve got. Bloom where you’re planted.

There are lessons, principles and wisdom to be gained in every situation. Never waste those opportunities. 

Help all of us. Describe a time when you developed as a leader in an environment you didn’t enjoy.

5 Tests to Determine If You’ve Forgiven Someone

Mother and teenage daughter giving each other a big hug.

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13

Wow! Those are hard words, aren’t they?

Whether in business, in church, or in family — relationships can cause pain and separation.

It’s tempting to get even. Holding a grudge is easier. Our first reaction is not always to forgive.

But forgiveness is not an option for the believer — even for the person who has hurt us the most.

And, there is another wow moment — especially if you know it applies to you.

Even with the importance the Bible places on forgiveness I frequently hear people give excuses for not forgiving someone. Things such as:

“You can forgive but you can’t forget.” And, that’s most often true. Only God (and sometimes time and old age) can erase a memory.

“I’ve tried to forgive them, but they haven’t changed.” This may be true also. Forgiveness can be a catalyst for change, but it doesn’t guarantee change. And, I don’t seem to read those qualifiers in the commands to forgive.

“I may have forgiven them, but I’ll always hold it against them.” Okay, while it may sound logical, it’s not really forgiveness. Sorry, to be so blunt.

Forgiveness is a releasing of emotional guilt you place upon the other person. It’s a choice. It happens in the heart. It’s not a release of responsibility or an absence of healthy boundaries. It doesn’t even mean justice — legal or eventual is removed from the situation. It is, however, a conscious choice to remove the right to get even from the person who injured you. It’s a release of anger and any bitterness or grudge.

Plain and simple, forgiveness is hard.

I was talking with someone who wants to forgive the person who has hurt her the most. She wants to be free from the guilt of holding a grudge. She wants to follow the example of Christ in Biblical obedience. The problem? She’s not sure she has truly forgiven, because she still hurts from the injury.

I shared with her that while forgiveness is a decision — a choice — it is not an automatic healer of emotions. It helps, but emotions heal over time. Then I shared some ways she could determine if she’s truly forgiven the other person.

Here are 5 ways to tell if you’ve forgiven someone:

The first thought test.

When the first thought you have about them is not the injury they caused in your life you have probably extended forgiveness. You should be able to have normal thoughts about the person occasionally. Remember, you are dropping the right to get even — the grudge you held against them.

An opportunity to help them test.

Ask yourself: Would you help them if you knew they were in trouble and you had the ability? Most likely this is someone you once cared about — perhaps even loved. You would have assisted them if they needed help at one point. While I’m not suggesting you would subject yourself to abuse or further harm, or that you are obligated to help them, or even you should, but would you in your heart want to see them prosper or would you still want to see them come to harm? This is a huge test of forgiveness.

Your general thoughts test.

Can you think positive thoughts about this person? Again, you’ve likely been on positive terms with this person or in a close enough relationship for them to injure you to this extreme. Is there anything good you can come up with about them which is even remotely good? If not, have your really forgiven them?

The revenge test.

Do you still think of getting even with the person? There may be consequences which need to come for this person and you may have to see them through to protect others, but does your heart want to hurt them? If so, would you call this forgiveness?

The failure test.

When someone injures us we can often wish harm upon them. This is normal, but it’s not part of the forgiveness process. Have you have stopped looking for them to fail? If you have truly forgiven someone, then just like you would for anyone else, you would want them to succeed or at least do better in life. Forgiveness means you’ve stopped keeping a record of the person’s wrongs. That’s how believers respond to others. We consider their best interests.

I realize this is a tough list. Those struggling with forgiveness will most likely push back against it a bit. I know this, however, for your heart to completely heal, you eventually need to forgive the one who hurt you the most.

And, if you’re struggling to “pass the test” don’t beat yourself up. Pray about it. Ask God to continue to work on your heart. 

Have you seen a lack of forgiveness keep someone from moving forward in life?

What would you add to my list?

25 Questions for a Prospective New Pastor to Ask a Church

Portrait of an attractive young man talking about himself during a job interview

I have been asked frequently for questions a prospective pastor can ask a church. There are lots of resources for churches who are interviewing their next pastor, but I personally believe the pastor needs to equally interview the church.

In the few times I have interviewed with a church — and in the dozens of times I have coached people interviewing with churches — I asked or encouraged lots of questions. Additionally, I ask to see the church budget (including payroll for staff), bylaws, personnel policies, most recent business meeting minutes, and current financial statements.

As for questions, in my experience the process of hiring (or calling) a pastor is long, so there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions. I decided to list some of my favorites.

Here are 25 questions for a prospective new pastor to ask a church:

  • What are you averaging currently on Sunday mornings? (Adults and children total)
  • What are you averaging five years ago? 10 years ago?
  • When was the highest average attendance in the life of the church?
  • How much did you grow as a percentage in attendance and budget last year?
  • How much debt does the church have? How old is that debt?
  • What is your biggest obstacle to growth?
  • What is your biggest opportunity or growth?
  • Who are the current staff members and how long have they been at the church?
  • How did you select your pastor search committee? Who are they and what role do they play in the church?
  • Do you have deacons? What role do they play?
  • What is the church known for in the community?
  • What would you say are some of the core values of the church? If you were to describe the church in a few words, what would you say?
  • How many committees do you have? Which does the pastor typically attend? Is the pastor a voting member?
  • What percentage of Sunday morning attendance are in some sort of Bible study program?
  • How motivated do you think the church is going to be to follow someone my age?
  • What are your top requirements or needs in the new pastor?
  • What are the non-negotiable’s when it comes to changing something? What is off limits?
  • What was the last major change the church experienced?
  • What are the demographics of the community? How has that changed over the years?
  • What are the demographics of the church? How has that changed over the years?
  • Do the demographics of the church mirror the demographics of the immediate surrounding community?
  • What was the last major church argument? Has there ever been a church split or large exodus of people?
  • How are decisions made in the church? What is the overall governing structure?
  • How are staff hired or fired?
  • What is your process/timeline in recruiting and calling the new pastor?

Those are some of my suggestions. Obviously some answers will trigger follow-up questions. Be thorough in the process. Of course, if God is calling you here the answers won’t matter, but they will help you prepare to lead. And, I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in where we serve. He has lots of places where we can live out our calling.

What questions would you suggest?

3 Questions to Consider When the Church No Longer Reflects the Community

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I was coaching a group of pastors recently and asked a question I’ve encountered but never really answered. It’s a question which seems to come up frequently these days. It’s actually a great and relevant question for our times. In fact, I think it’s one many churches need to consider. It’s a common dilemma churches face today. 

In church revitalization, I often encourage churches to consider whether the church can be revived. Frankly some churches cannot. Some churches have a culture which works against them. The energy, in my opinion, would be better spent elsewhere.

And, some churches have had their community leave them. The community has changed and they no longer look like their community demographically. 

Now, to avoid confusion, I’m not talking spiritually. The church never reflects the community there. The church usually is counter-cultural in terms of how we reflect God’s standards In our communities. I’m strictly talking demographically. 

That’s the one scenario which triggered this question.

Background. This church had for years been overwhelmingly a white, middle class church. The community is presently less than 20% white. The dominant demographic is Hispanic.

The question was: How can we grow now that we don’t represent the demographics of our community?

Great question. I’m not sure my answer was what he expected, but I think it’s a good answer. (If I can be bold and say that.) Before I share my answer you need to know I’m a realistic, bluntly honest person. Plus, I don’t think I can tell him or the church what to do. I can only help them consider the options. 

I think he’s asking the wrong question — at least the wrong initial question.

I think the question a church in this situation has to ask is what they are going to do — not how they are going to do whatever they do. More importantly, the why behind what you do will ultimately fuel the church to achieve it.

Furthermore, I went on to advise him that I believe the church needs to answer this question collectively — or at least more lay leadership needs to be involved in the answer. Whatever the church decides to do will determine the future of the church. Pastors may come and go, but those in the church will likely have to live with the answer for the remaining life of the church. 

In my opinion — and its only an opinion — there are really only three options.

Become like the community. 

You can strive to represent your community again. This may require staffing and programming changes. You’ll have to ask a lot more questions such as what the community needs and how best to address them. You’ll need to engage current community leaders — and this is not just elected leaders but community activists and people who know the community. It won’t be easy and it will challenge your people, but it’s a noble goal. It’s likely the community reds more churches which do reflect the community. But, getting there won’t be easy.

Leave the community. 

You can relocate. You can relocate to a demographic that better represents who the churches now. Some will disagree, but i don’t believe this decision would mean you don’t care for the community which is here now. The church is just different. You should know this can be an expensive option, because you likely will not be able to sell your current facilities for what it will take to relocate. Possibly you can. Or, you could be very kingdom-minded and help a church who does represent the community establish in your existing facility by gifting it to them or significantly discounting the price them.

Slowly die in the community. 

This is an option. It wouldn’t be my favorite, but it is an option. It could actually be a viable option if at the end of your time you realize your building is going to be better used by a church that does represent the community. You could begin to share your facility with a church like that now and coexist for the for seeable future, then when your church officially closes its doors the new church inherits the building.

I realize there are strong opinions with each one of these answers. And, none of the answers come easy. Frankly, to me it doesn’t matter as much which you choose — as much as it does that you do. We need churches of all kinds in all kinds of communities. I firmly believe, however, that answering the question of which choice you are committed to make will ultimately determine what you do next.

As an organizational guy, I can tell you that trying to address the how before you determine the what and why is almost always wasted energy.  With so much Kingdom-building needed who has time for that?

7 Natural Barriers to Sustained Church Growth

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In church planting, we defied the rules of growth for several years. There are “rules”, which when they happen will naturally stall growth. We were convinced they didn’t apply to us. What we learned is it just takes more time – sometimes.

Recognizing these early and addressing them is key to sustaining growth and momentum.

Here are 7 natural barriers to growth:

Facilities –  There is something to the 80 percent rule of capacity. When your attendance at in service reaches 80 percent full you will eventually begin to stall. It’s not immediate, but it is eventual. In church planting we defied this one for several years. We were convinced it did not apply to us. And it didn’t for a while. I am still convinced it can be addressed without the only solution being building bigger facilities, but leadership must be intentional. One way we addressed it was to use “fullness” as a part of our vision-casting. It works for a time but eventually one of these other barriers begins to occur.

Mindset – When the resistance to change is greater than the need for change you can expect growth to stall. It doesn’t matter if it’s a church plant or an established church — eventually people get comfortable with the way things are and traditions begin to take shape. When you begin to alter those traditions some people will naturally resist. To continue to grow leaders must consistently challenge the norm and encourage healthy change.

Burn-out – It could be volunteer or staff burn-out. In a church plant, after people have spent so much time setting up and tearing down, eventually they grew tired. The key is to find ways to motivate them again or continually add to the volunteer base. And, doing both is probably the best option.

Complacency – When people no longer seem to care if growth occurs or not. They may be satisfied or passive, but their attitude is always contagious. This is why leaders must continually cast and recast vision. It’s also why we must continually embrace change, because “new” stirs momentum.

Country Club small group Bible studies – I’ve noticed this one is often overlooked in the established church — especially when church growth has already plateaued. Whenever a group sits together with no new people entering long enough they become closed to outsiders — even if they think they are not. Newcomers can’t compete with the inside jokes and confidential information the group has already developed together. One way to address this is by continually starting new groups. Some churches “force” or strongly encourage groups to break up and start over with new people.

Leadership void – Continued growth requires new leadership. There will need to be new initiatives, creative ways to do things, and simply replacement of the leaders who move or quit. One key to sustain growth is a successful leadership development program.

Leadership lid– This one is the capacity of the senior leadership. If a leader is controlling, for example, there will be a cap. The church will be defined to the leader’s personal abilities. When leaders realize they have reached their personal lid they must be humble enough to admit it and seek help from others. Empowering and delegating become even more important. (Of course, they always are important.)

These are some I have observed — and experienced personally. I’m certain there are others. The biggest mistake I see leaders make, and I’ve done this as well, is to deny they are issues. They may be subtle for a tune but if you wait until they are obvious the damage will be much more difficult to address.

7 Questions to Ask Before You Post on Social Media

typing laptop

There is no doubt the impact of social media on our society. It’s huge.

It seemed strange the first time I heard a news story refer to a Twitter feed as a “source” of information. Now it’s commonplace. Employers often review a person’s social media prior to hiring them. Friendships are made and lost through what’s posted online. Who would have thought that just a few years ago? We now “follow” those we are most interested in and “unfollow” those we aren’t — yet we remain “friends”. The number of “likes” and “favorites” determines some people’s sense of well-being or worth for a day. Crazy.

But, it’s the culture in which we live.

More than likely, most of those who are reading this post will make a post of their own today. It could be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any of the other dozens of forms of social media. And, if not posting for yourself — you’ll be reading the post of another.

With so much activity it seems harder to know what to post and when. One thing I do frequently in my profession is help people think through making the right decisions in life. I don’t want to make decisions for people, so many times I use questions to help them process on their own. I thought I’d provide some questions to think through your social media posts.

Here are 7 questions to ask before you post on social media:

Who is going to read this?

Think through future employees, friends of friends, family members, etc. It’s amazing how many times I didn’t know someone was even keeping up with me comments on something I have posted.

How will it impact the reader?

How would it impact you if you were to read something like this? Would it hurt your feelings, make you angry, or would it motivate or encourage you? There’s nothing wrong with simply being funny or sharing something of interest — even helping to shape public opinion. But, a mature person (certainly a believer) thinks through how others will be impacted by what we post.

Will they understand my intent?

It’s more difficult to communicate intent in a written format. In person you would have more opportunity to explain yourself, use hand and facial gestures to help clarify, etc. Read it back to yourself and think like someone else who may be reading it — maybe someone who doesn’t know you well.

Can it easily be misconstrued or taken out of context?

Remember, you only have what’s written. There’s no “background” to the story or supplemental information. Will they “get” what you’re intending to be “got”?

Do I want this around for a very long time?

Because once it’s posted — it’s forever.

Am I acting in anger, frustration, or vengeance?

We seldom communicate most effectively when we act out of emotions. We usually say things we wouldn’t say under more “normal” circumstances. Do you need to hold the post until your emotions have calmed and see if you still feel the same way?

Is this the wisest way to express myself?

Or, is there a better way to accomplish what you hope to accomplish? For example, if it’s really aimed at only one person, would it be better to make a phone call? If it’s addressing a larger concern, is your post going to make things better — or further add negativity to an already tense situation?

These are just suggestions. You may also read 7 Ways Christians Should Behave Online or 12 Ways Christians Can Be Less Mean.

Are there any questions you would add to help us discern better posts?

7 Ways to Better Ensure Your Email Gets Read

Young man receive mail over tablet

When our youngest son was in college I realized he wasn’t reading all the emails he should have been reading. A few times we almost missed paying some fees he had due for college, which could have made him miss some deadlines for school.

You see, Nate’s a busy college student. He’s consumed with school work, church activities, and a host of social activities. If you want to lose his attention quickly — send him a really long email.

And, I don’t think it’s just my son. I see it as a trend among a younger generation. They don’t read all the emails they receive. I talked to one millennial recently who said if his inbox gets too full he just deletes a bunch of emails — without reading any of them. He figures they’ll text or call if they need something quickly — or send another email.

I hear some people my age — the age who received some of the first emails long after we were adults. Some would say that’s rude. Inconsiderate. Uncaring. Unprofessional.

And, yet, I feel a certain kindred spirit with our younger generation.

I can’t complain, especially because of my son, because he’s wired like me. He is always busy doing something, hates unproductive time, and some emails — if they tend to ramble — simply don’t capture his attention. I realize it’s ultimately our problem, not the sender, but to us it almost seems a waste of time to process an email which could have been written with the same information in a much shorter form.

Just being honest. I don’t read all the long emails I need to read. At least not in their entirety. Sometimes I miss details, because the email was too long to process or was so poorly written. I never check my Spam folder. I quickly divert emails to other people if I think I’m not the right recipient. And, an email in all caps — please no.  

That’s my honesty. And, for some one who holds responsiveness to such a high value it bothers me not to thoroughly read and respond to each one. It seems, however, I constantly get a ton of chapter length emails. Over the years the volume of email keeps growing yet my time to focus on them hasn’t. It has prompted me to think through what I believe helps an email get read. I certainly want my emails read. If I’m sending it I must believe it’s important enough for someone to take time to read it.  

If you want to ensure I read your email — and maybe other busy people —  people like me who receive literally several hundred emails a day — I want to share some suggestions. Please understand, I’m being brutally honest here trying to help. I realize some who read every line of every email they receive can’t understand. But, everyone is not like you. Yet, I assume you want your email read also.

Here are 7 ways to better ensure your email gets read:

Make sure your name is clearly listed in the FROM line

I am more likely to read an email from an individual than I am an organization or a group. I know it’s probably not fair, but if it’s coming from an “organization” I assume it applies more to the masses than to me personally. If I’m covered up with emails I’ll pay more attention to the ones that are from a person rather than an institution.

Make the recipient — ME

I’m less likely to read an email addressed to a group, even if the group is summarized by your name. I’m okay with being in the BCC line for a hidden group list, but if I see a group of 20+ addresses in the “To” line I’m probably assuming it’s not as important I read it.

Write a great subject heading

“Hey” is probably not a great one. The subject line needs to capture the reader’s attention enough to want to open the email — and read it. Give me some clue the general purpose of the email and what I can expect to learn from it. And, a FWD message rarely excitedly grabs my attention — especially if FWD is in the subject line.

Get started immediately with the main idea

Similar to the rules of writing a letter, you should instantly begin dealing with the subject of the email. If you’re inviting me to something — say that immediately. If you have a suggestion — tell me you do. You can explain later, but you need to hook the reader into the email early.

Give pertinent details, but don’t write a book

Please — don’t send an email just to ask me to call you. That’s so unfair that I have to wonder what you want. Tell me the basics in the email. Just don’t tell me the basics and everything else you every thought about the basics — plus three stories to go along with it. Again, the length of an email is critical to ensure it gets read. I often suggest people write bullet points. Sometimes they help make the email easier to read.

Another way, especially where the email has to be longer is to have two sections. The first section has “just the facts” section at the top with bullet points of pertinent facts,followed by a longer section for those who may want to read more detailed explanations. The person can read all they have to know in a couple minutes and then scan down to learn more details about items about which they are interested.

Finally, I especially appreciate if the absolute most pertinent information — such as dates, times, or the one single question or point you’re making — is highlighted or made bold in the email.

Read before sending

Before pressing send, read the email aloud. Listen for how it sounds. Email can be terribly misunderstood and this helps. Also, look at the overall length of the email. Would you read it? Or, would the length encourage you to put it aside for a later read — or skip it altogether? Remember many — maybe most — may read it on a smart phone and the email will appear even longer.

Give the option to ask questions

Close your email with the opportunity to ask questions if the reader wants more details or information. Even better — if appropriate — provide links in your email to websites or pages with additional information.

The more emails we send and receive, the more important it becomes that we write better emails. Writing emails which are to the point and concise ensures a greater chance of them being read. I would assume this would be a goal if we are going to take the time to send one.

Now your turn to be honest. When you receive a really long email, how do you respond?

What would you add to my list? What ideas do you have for writing emails that get read?

4 Ways Leaders Create Capacity in the Organization

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Great leaders know the more capacity the organization has the more potential it has. And, when the organization begins to exceed its capacity for too long things eventually stall. To spur growth — increase capacity.

Therefore, one of the best ways a leader can impact an organization is to create capacity so the organization and its people can grow.

Here are 4 ways a leader can create capacity:

Paint a void

Allow others to see what could be accomplished. Leaders help people see potential — in themselves and the future — they may not otherwise see. This can be accomplished through vision casting and question asking. It may be helping people dream bigger dreams of what could be next in their own life or for the organization. It could be through training or development. Extra capacity energizes people to find new and adventuresome ways of achieving them.

Empower people

When you give people the tools, resources and power to accomplish the task and you’ve often created new capacity. Many times people feel they’ve done all they can with what they have. Provide them with new tools — maybe new ideas — assure them they can’t fail if they are doing their best. Continue to support them as needed. Then get out of their way.

Release ownership

Let go of your attempt to control an outcome so others can lead. Many people hold back waiting for the leader to take initiative or give his or her blessing. The more power and ownership you release the more others will embrace. The more initiative they will take of their own.

Lead people not tasks

If you are always the doer and never the enabler then you are not a leader. More than likely you are simply an obstacle to what the team could accomplish if you got out of the way. Many leaders don’t see this in themselves. Frequently ask yourself: Am I leading or am I in the way? And, if you’re brave enough — ask others to evaluate you — even anonymously.

When the leader creates capacity the organization and the people in the organization increase their capacity — and things can grow.

5 Secrets of Church Revitalization

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I’ve written frequently about church revitalization. As one who has planted a coupLe churches, I know the challenges are unique. One thing I’ve noticed is the number of pastors who enter revitalization thinking the church just needs new leadership. Or better sermons. Or them. 

I’ve learned there is so much more.

Here are 5 secrets of church revitalization:

Have a clear vision. 

You have to clearly know where you are heading. What does a revitalized church look like? Specifically what does this church look like?

In my experience, unless you are starting over completely, people need to be able to “connect the dots”. It must make sense where you are going. That means whatever is next will likely have some similarity to the past. You can’t take people too far from the root DNA.

Keep in mind, vision doesn’t change frequently — if ever. For a church, a vision might be “to make disciples”. The next season after revitalization will still be to make disciples. There may have been some time since people experienced that in the church, but it’s likely still what can motivate them. If the church has a deep heritage in missions, the future will likely need to have a strong missional aspect.

Honor the history. 

Hopefully this theme is clear from the previous point, because it’s paramount. I’m convinced you simply cannot be successful if you don’t at least attempt to honor the past. I frequently say rediscover don’t reinvent.

Unfortunately I hear so many pastors who go into a church as the champion of everything new. They alienate people who have given their heart and life to the church — making them think everything they have ever done is wrong. These pastors can never seem to get traction.

One of the single biggest days in the life of the church since we’ve been in revitalization was the day we had a “homecoming” type of day and invited the two former pastors to attend. It seemed to rally all aspects of the church. If there were “sides” they seem to come together this day. I knew we needed this to occur if we had any hopes of moving forward successfully.

Innovate.

What can you do new which will reach new people — without hijacking the church?

How can you build momentum?

Whatever you do it will almost always involves change. In fact, I’m not sure you can define revitalization without some form of change.

The end goal should be to create a healthy environment for sustained change and growth.

Ask questions such as:

What are we doing which requires more effort than the results produced? (Eliminating things gives you margin to do better things?)
What are people no longer excited about doing? (These usually zap energy from other things.)

What is something everyone gets excited about at this church? (You can usually build upon these. For example, our church gets excited about big events.)

What is one thing we can try next? (Keep a list and try several of them — not all at the same time.)

If money was no option, what would we do? (This question can often help build momentum for something you can do.)

This is where you get the best minds in the room and brainstorm. These people may or may not be the current leaders. I wouldn’t even be shy about inviting people from outside the church. They could be from other churches — in the community or outside the community. (We visit with another church every year to learn from them.) Or, what if you asked people in the community what they would look for in a church? You don’t have to implement their ideas, but you might just learn something. (I spent a lot of time the first year talking to community leaders.)

Attack your fears.

It can seem daunting to revitalize a church — especially once you actually start making hard decisions. People can be intimidating. In fact, when you change some things, you’ll find people can be mean. You will likely have to face some direct confrontations. People you thought were the sweetest Christians may smile at you on Sunday and give send you the nastiest email Monday morning. Some may grandstand at business meetings. Others will work behind your back. (All true for me — and more.) 

You have to love the calling you have to revive a church more than you love popularity — or an absence of conflict. And, you have to have patience and tenacity.

It will take longer to realize change than in a church plant. Much longer. Usually the longer the church has needed revitalization the longer it will take to see improvement.

But, know this. There are usually those in the church desperate for change and solidly behind you. You have to look past the loud negative voices to find them. That requires faith and perseverance. (In my experience, God rewards those who faithfully serve.)

Forgiveness and repentance. 

If things were done wrong in the past — lead people to recognize and admit them.

I felt the need to preach on forgiveness and unity — a lot — in the early days of church revitalization. And, I challenged people when I heard bitterness or anger.

Closing thoughts. 

Church revitalization is had. But it is so needed. And, there are so many Kingdom opportunities out there. 

And, these aren’t “secrets”, even though I used that in the title. Yet, they aren’t always our natural reactions in church revitalization. We tend to want to do all new things. We ignore conflicts, rather than address them. We back away when things get too difficult.

Let me know other “secrets” you have learned or observed in church revitalization.

If you’re attempting revitalization now what has been your biggest struggle?

4 Ways to be a Church for Dummies

dunce cap

Several years ago, while pastoring a church we planted, I received email feedback from someone who attended our church. The lady had not grown up attending church very often, but wanted to learn the Bible and about “the things of God” (her words). The part of her email which caught my attention most was when she thanked us for being a “church for dummies“. (And, again, that was her term — not mine.)

I laughed at first but then I wondered how I should receive the remark. I decided to contact her and ask for a better explanation. She was gracious and explained she used to leave church more confused than when she arrived. After attending our church for a year, she was starting to understand the Bible and wanted to continue learning more. In the past, she could never seem to understand what it took to “fit in” at the church or become involved. With us she was already in a Bible study and serving as a greeter.

She concluded by saying she was thankful for a church which challenged her to grow in her faith, made her feel welcome — regardless of her background — and helped her easily get involved in the life of the church.

Wow! I took it as a high compliment!

As I processed the meanings behind her statement, I thought of a few reasons she may have felt as she did about our church.

Here are 4 reasons she might call our church a “church for dummies”:

Instruction

We taught truth everyone needs to know, but we tried to use language people who grew up outside the church could also understand. If there were Biblical terms not common to everyday language we tried to explain the word rather than assume they knew it or leave them guessing. We shied away from an insider language.

Our goal was to first engage the heart, create a passion for knowing Christ more fully and being like Him, then provide them with resources, environments and service opportunities which help them grow as a believer. We knew engaging their heart first was a key to helping them take ownership in their individual spiritual growth process.

Application

We tried to help people apply the timeless truth of God’s Word to their life today. We wanted them to take next steps in life according to the truths of an unchanging God. The Bible is not only historical, but also practical and applicable to everyday life, so we tried to help people understand how to adapt their life to the truth of Scripture.

We used illustrations to relate truth to people, much as Jesus used parables. The illustrations we used were mostly from current, modern day and very transparent examples of how God works in a person’s life. Whether a personal story from our life, someone whose life was changing in the church or a video element we purchased, examples of real life help people better understand the Bible and how it should impact their life.

Simple strategy

Our strategy was simple. And repeated constantly. Gather. Connect. Serve. (In the church where I serve now we adopted a similar strategy: Gather, Grow, Serve). We wanted people to quickly know how we functioned as a church. We consistently shared this strategy. There were banners for each one. It was shared weekly from stage. It was in all our publications. You would have had a hard time being in our church and not know these three words.

Easy entry points

We tried to make fun try points into our strategy easily accessible.

Gather: We used good sign and lots of people to make sure when you arrived on campus you knew where to go and what to do. Our campuses were in school buildings so it was a necessity, but it proved to be a blessing to new people. We consistently heard good things about our first impressions for visitors because of how welcome they were made to feel.

Connect: To promote Bible studies, we had Bible study fairs where leaders of different groups set up a booth and people walked through all the options. These were highly promoted “big” days in the church. We even fed people lunch at times as an incentive to attend the Bible study fairs. Groups were mentioned from stage every week. As pastor, my job was to weave groups into messages frequently to highlight their importance.

Serve: To get people to serve we set up a booth which allowed you to sign you up to serve immediately. It was positioned in a premium place in the school where we met. You couldn’t get to the service without seeing it. We wanted people to know they could find their place among us. We had open positions available every week which needed to be filled. We also posted “job openings” in our publications for various positions. We created “test serve” days where people could try out a job before they committed. We allowed people to shadow a seasoned volunteer for a while before they launched on their own.

I’m in an established church now, but we are attempting to be a “church for dummies”. And, people who aren’t. If we’re doing our job, then people who are mature in their faith or people who are new to faith or still exploring faith can discover truth and be challenged to adjust their lives to that truth. Everyone should be able to find their place to grow and serve.

I now don’t mind being labeled a church for dummies. In fact — the term has since grown on me a little.

How does your church help people outside the faith or new to faith learn and grow in faith?