Tim Stevens and Tony Morgan share 11 strategies to wake up your church.
Meetings, committees, budgets. Is your church drowning in the details and losing sight of its mission to reach the unchurched?
More than 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention within the Church. And although 4,000 new churches open each year nationwide, more than 7,000 close. The details, meetings and time it takes to run a church can often turn the Great Commission into the drained commission as pastors, staff and members physically, mentally and spiritually burn out.
Sound familiar? Here, we give you 11 proven ways to take the lead and wake up your church!
1. Read the Bible and Fast Company
That’s right. Read Scripture and secular magazines, books and Web sites. Not at the same time, for the same length of time or with the same trust of the authors. But make sure your reading is varied and diverse.
Have you ever met a pastor who’s the real-life version of the phrase “so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good?” He or she can quote boatloads of Scripture but can’t carry on a conversation with a gas station attendant or a waitress. These pastors spend 100% of their time with Christians, engaging in church conversation, studying the Bible, reading Christian magazines or books by Christian authors, preparing messages and going to Christian conferences. They have no connection to the real world.
Of course it’s essential to read the Bible every day. But it’s also important to spend some of your time reading material that can prepare and equip you to reach your community. Check out some secular books or magazines that offer best practices from the business world, and learn what you can do to lead your church more effectively. Moreover, newspapers, movies and books that are culturally relevant can help you tune into your community.
By augmenting your spiritual study with secular reading and viewing, you’ll likely discover new ideas and information that can help your church. Topics often explored in-depth in secular publications—innovation, creativity, financial management and growing an organization—translate well to the church.
And you’ll know firsthand what many in your church and community are reading and watching, helping you relate and connect with the unchurched people around you.
2. Eliminate committees and multiply the ministries
Ever hear of a church that had so many committees it even had a “committee of committees” to keep all the other committees organized? It exists—no joke. It doesn’t take a church growth expert to know that’s too many committees!
Get rid of committees and create ministry teams, who will meet occasionally to plan, reflect, set goals and measure performance—but their primary function will be ministry.
This doesn’t have to be as radical as it sounds. Simply changing your terminology can make a difference. The word “team” connotes vision, goals, purpose, unity, equal effort and accomplishment. The word “committee” is draining; it communicates bureaucracy, policy, power, status and lots of meetings.
If your church’s culture values people more highly in meetings than in ministry, then you need to begin to change your culture. If your church has a team mindset but uses “committee” instead of “team,” then you need to change your terminology and re-educate your congregation on the difference.
God calls us to ministry, not meetings.
3. Recruit constantly
As a ministry leader, one of your primary roles is to recruit continuously to build teams and help people plug into ministry.
Always be on the lookout for new people to fill ministry roles. Plug them into ministry and help them develop relationships that offer mentoring and discipleship. Some ministry roles need committed Christ-followers. Some require skilled technicians. Others need servants who are available and willing to be trained.
This idea of constant recruitment may sound sacrilegious to the purists out there, those who believe that when it comes to asking people to step into ministry, there’s an appropriate path volunteers must take. Many believe people must wait until they’ve attended a church for at least 12 months and have taken a spiritual gifts test. Or they have to be Christ-followers with baptism certificates.
But the reality is that some people will go through the strategic steps you’ve established. Others will never get connected in relationships and, unless someone asks them to join a ministry team, they may never take steps toward a spiritual journey. It may be only through that volunteer experience that they build the necessary trust with team members to ask the tough faith questions and meet Jesus for the first time. Increasingly, people are “belonging” before they are believing.
You’ll never have enough volunteers, so the recruitment process should be ongoing.
4. Throw parties
We’re all 2-year-olds at heart, aren’t we? We love to be cheered and affirmed. Even though our heart’s desire is to deflect that attention to God, it sure feels good to be appreciated.
However, when we grow up, we tend to overanalyze potential responses to any praise we might offer: “If I praise him too early, he may think the job is done and he doesn’t have to finish.” Or “If I give her too much praise for a small success, what am I going to do for something big?” Or “If I make a big deal about this, won’t it set a precedent that obligates me to do the same thing every time for everyone?”
The key is to not think about it. Just do it. Don’t determine your action based on a predicted response. Don’t worry about precedent or patterns or “what ifs.” Just choose to develop a culture in your life, and in your congregation, that notices and affirms the smallest successes.
There’s really no way to mess this up. Model this attitude for your church, and develop an environment that consistently lauds people for their contributions to the mission.
5. Read your comment cards
If your church is growing, you’re likely designing a weekend service to reach a certain target audience. Whoever your audience and whatever your purpose, it’s essential to know if and why something isn’t working.
Unfortunately, you can’t simply ask people, especially first- or second- time guests, how they feel and expect to get an honest answer. In being kind and considerate, they won’t tell you the truth.
Instead, include a reply card in the program or bulletin. Or follow up on Monday with an e-mail if they listed an address. Title it: “Tell us about your experience today.” Include ample space for people to tell you about the good and bad of their worship experience. Whether the card is signed or anonymous, read every response.
You’ll learn tons of stuff—everything from how the lawn sprinklers are spray-ing car windows to the worship band is too loud. You’ll also get positive input and suggestions.
Whatever your system is, figure out a way to get some honest feedback from attendees, especially first-time guests. Take to heart what needs to be addressed and forget the rest. And then, remember to act.
6. Frequent visit other churches and steal their stuff
Unfortunately, some church leaders don’t see value in visiting other churches. They firmly believe the Bible is God’s revealed will, and all the necessary ideas will be found in His Word. But we are to be students of our ever-changing culture and should therefore continue trying to figure out the best way to communicate the timeless message of the Gospel. Tens of thousands of churches across the world are engaged in the same effort. Many of them have already figured out how to be effective in an area in which you’re looking for answers.
Jump in a car or plane to visit a church that’s hitting the ball out of the park in an area where you need help. Everywhere you go there’s something to be learned, and perhaps even stolen.
Of course, the word “stolen” is figurative. If you quote from a message or a book, give credit to the author. Get permission to reprint published material or copy a logo or graphic design. Typically, churches are honored to be asked and recognized.
Possible ideas that can be adapted from other churches:
• Compassion care ministry from Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, La. (healingplacechurch.org)
• Drama scripts from Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Ill. (willowcreek.com)
• Creative theme ideas for children’s rooms from Church on the Move in Tulsa, Okla. (churchonthemove.net)
• Youth-building ideas from Resurrection Life Church in Grandville, Mich. (reslife.org; getfloored.org)
• Advertising ideas from Cedar Creek Church in Perrysburg, Ohio (aroundthecreek.com)
• Video venues from North Coast Church in Vista, Calif. (northcoastchurch.com)
• Weekend message series ideas from David Foster at Bellevue Community Church in Nashville, Tenn. (hopepark.com)
• Flexible auditorium design from Northwoods Community Church in Peoria, Ill. (nwoods.org)
• The Purpose-Driven Church model from Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. (saddleback.com)
7. Fuel the pioneering spirit
Church leaders often have good memories of their early days in leadership. Phrases like “Everyone was pulling in the same direction” and “We knew we were accomplishing something big” are common. There was a sense that God was using them and that everyone was serving and contributing because there was so much to do. They were always looking forward to the next week to see what God would do.
That’s a “pioneering spirit,” probably similar to the spirit of the early pioneers who headed West. They saw the whole country before them, even when they weren’t sure what was waiting for them around the next mountain or through the next forest. They anticipated the adventures that lay ahead.
Often, a church loses that pioneering spirit as it ages and “settles in.” People stop serving, excitement wanes and complaining becomes more prevalent than vision casting.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to strategically build events or occasions in the life of your church that innately produce momentum and motivate involvement. Work with your staff and ministry teams to plan churchwide events, campaigns or projects at least every six months to generate and maintain momentum in your congregation and in your community.
Schedule “momentum builders” on the calendar every six months for the next two years. In his book, The Maxwell Leadership Bible (Nelson), author/pastor John Maxwell says, “Without momentum, even the simplest tasks can seem insurmountable. But with momentum on your side, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small and trouble seems temporary. With enough momentum, nearly any kind of change is possible.”
8. Bring in the hired guns
Sometimes, we tend to deceive ourselves, thinking we have all the information we need and overestimating our experience and knowledge. We’re involved so deeply that we can’t rise above the meetings, the events and the people to see objectively—nevitably, we lose perspective.
Occasionally, we need someone from the outside to come in and evaluate what we’re doing with “fresh eyes.” They can tell us what’s working well and affirm the steps we’ve taken. They can also help us tweak systems and procedures. Often, we just need someone to say, “Don’t give up!” Other times, we need some of our key leaders to hear the “expert” legitimize seemingly radical changes we’ve initiated or hope to launch.
When you begin the search for a consultant, remember these tips:
• Talk to recent clients and ask them about their experience. What was his or her style? Personality? What were the results?
• Don’t expect profound new concepts. Many times, a consultant will open your eyes to very basic ideas that simply needed new perspective. You’ll likely hear something and say, “Why didn’t we think of that?”
• Objective affirmation is worth money. Even if “You’re doing a great job!” is one of only a few comments, it’s worth the expense. That kind of encouragement can give you and your staff strength and stamina for the next ministry phase.
• Look for people who aren’t necessarily full-time consultants. Your best candidates may not consider themselves experts. He or she may be the pastor of a church a little larger than yours, a small-group director who’s doing a phenomenal job of connecting people, or a children’s leader who has a renowned ministry to families. Find those people and tell them you’d like to buy a day of their time.
Remember Prov. 12:15: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (NAS). When we don’t have counsel, we fail. So avoid failure by finding someone with fresh eyes to help you.
9. Never launch a ministry without a leader
How many times have you heard someone in your church suggest, sometimes strongly, that the church establish a new ministry? Maybe it’s a ministry for more community outreach, a new program for single parents or an initiative targeted to the next generation. For most churches, each one seems like a valid ministry initiative; however, many times, the people recommending them aren’t prepared or skilled to step up and lead them.
Many excellent ministries may fit your church’s mission and vision, but if God hasn’t also helped identify a leader for that ministry, it’s probably not the right time to launch. Often, ministries begun prematurely end up on a staff person’s plate. Unless you plan to remove another ministry function from your or your staff’s responsibilities—and that’s a valid consideration—don’t commit to starting a program without first selecting a leader.
If you determine that a new ministry fits the church’s purposes, identify someone—often a layperson—to lead it. Select a leader only after you’ve chosen someone on your management team, paid or unpaid, to oversee that new initiative. For example, to begin a divorce-recovery ministry, choose one of the senior management team pastors to oversee the effort, and charge a staff or volunteer leader to run point and execute it.
Identifying leaders before starting new programs forces you to focus on the Church’s primary purpose—to fulfill the Great Commission. Don’t just evaluate every ministry proposal, weighing whether or not it fits the church’s mission, vision and values; determine if there’s someone to effectively lead this ministry.
10. Create a church culture that expects volunteers to do ministry
Want a foolproof way to stop ministry from happening in your church? Each time a task must be completed, hire a new staff person to do it.
In any church, growth and outreach require pastors and staff to empower volunteers to do the ministry. Your church will never have enough money to employ people to fill every key ministry role, so only hire people when unpaid servants can’t accomplish the task.
In October 2002, Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind., had more than 1,800 people connected in some form of ministry, either through small groups or task teams. That’s more than 50% of the weekend attendance. With only 35 full-time equivalent employees on staff, attendance growth would have stalled a long time ago had the church not released ministry to lay people.
On any given weekend at church, Granger has nearly 1,000 children from birth through fifth grade involved in the children’s ministry, which is staffed by only three people. Obviously, these three people can’t come close to touching the lives of these kids on their own. Instead, the church has 255 active volunteers in the children’s area who serve from week to week.
These volunteers have grown accustomed to the practice of encouraging people to attend one service and serve during a second service.
Some volunteers check children in. Some prepare art projects, lead music or direct dramas. Others provide care for children as they form small groups. Some volunteers teach. Several key lay people oversee entire age groups in significant leadership roles. The list goes on.
The three people on the children’s staff are the vision champions, ensuring that the children’s ministry team is focused on fulfilling the church’s mission. They build teams and equip volunteers to carry out the ministry.
It’s a simple strategy—volunteers need to do it first.
11. Tell stories
Announcements—you may call them “family time” or “strategic concerns.” Often people are arriving, getting settled and taking off their coats as announcements are made. After three or four minutes, people finally begin to focus and see that someone on stage is talking.
But what if you and other speakers enlisted the compelling art of storytelling during the announcements or other parts of the service? A personal story may last only 60 to 90 seconds, but it will get their attention. For example, if you’re announcing sign-ups for children’s camp, tell a story of a camp you attended as a child and how it made a difference in your own life.
Stories keep people focused. Moreover, they remember them. After all, Jesus’ primary style of communication was storytelling and anecdotal.
When practiced consistently, these 11 strategies have the potential to raise morale, build momentum for life change, involve more people in ministry and wake up your church to reach the world outside its doors.
Tony Morgan is the executive director of ministries at West Ridge Church near Atlanta. He’s also a strategist, coach, writer, speaker and consultant who equips leaders and churches to impact their communities for Christ. Follow Tony’s ministry at TonyMorganLive.org.