We’ve noticed this curiosity over the last few years when we share content related to Easter:
If we create content about planning Easter services and publish it when we think church leaders need it (e.g. in February), it goes unnoticed. If we publish content closer to Easter, when it’s mostly too late to make new plans or change existing ones, it gets lots of attention.
Quirks of the Internet, I suppose.
We always aim for our content to be practical. We don’t want to give you things you can’t use. So, with that in mind, this year we’re sharing some Easter prep ideas you still have time for. Circle up with your executive pastor and run through this list. If nothing else, it might spark an idea for an important area of ministry to polish before Easter gets here.
1. Get inside the head of the once-a-year visitor.
If you only showed up for church once a year, what are some reasons why that might be? What might they be feeling when they come? Guilt? Nostalgia? Obligation? Put yourself in their shoes. How can you make them feel cared for without being overbearing? What would turn you off? A clear understanding of their mindset can color your sermon preparation, the language you use in communication pieces and how your volunteers approach visitors.
2. Review your service plan with an eye for simplicity.
Plan a very simple and to the point service. Most churches do a lot of over the top stuff that actually complicates the purpose of the service. It can alienate the first-timer instead of engaging them. What do you need to cut from your service plan?
3. Resource your Children’s Ministry.
Meet with your Children’s Director and ask him or her to share one top resource that would take the experience to the next level for engaging for new families. Can you make it happen?
4. Cast vision and pray with your volunteer team leaders between now and Easter.
As the senior pastor, you are the primary vision-caster and the champion of the culture. Carve out time to pray with your leaders. Engage them again in the mission, and remind them of the win for their roles. It will trickle down.
5. Bring in a couple of secret shoppers.
We recommend this all the time, but few churches take us up on it. Who are you trying to reach? Ask some people who fits that description to attend a week or two before Easter. Ask them to share their honest opinions. Buy them lunch or coffee. Let them know you want to hear the truth. And then let their feedback influence how you communicate.
6. Make a (simple) plan to follow up with new guests.
What is your follow-up plan to engage the same new people the week after Easter? Most churches have a major letdown following Easter because they don’t plan ahead for it. Make sure it includes a very simple pathway for taking a next step (not for engaging in all of your programs).
We could share more, but the point of this article was to give you just a few ideas that still feel doable. There are still a couple of weeks left! Make the most of them.
Abandoned church buildings of all shapes and sizes dot the American landscape—from the Northeast to the Southwest. A massive steepled brick church on Main Street in my city was torn down a few years ago. The congregation could no longer afford to keep it open, and the city block was coveted. The newspaper reported outrage, but it didn’t matter. The church couldn’t sustain its piece of history with a declining member base, a fuzzy vision, and outdated strategies.
Here at The Unstuck Group, we help churches deal with the fuzzy vision and strategy part, and for certain, churches decline first and foremost because they stop connecting with people. However, we have some friends at Building God’s Way who can point to another reason why churches end up sitting empty: a failure to see how their facilities can be leveraged to actually sustain ministry.
Eric Bahme, CEO of BGW Sustainable Solutions, sees churches building sustainable forms of ministry that help them invest more of their resources into the actual mission. He shared some thoughts with me on a call last week.
1. How do you define sustainability as it relates to church and ministry facilities?
It’s more than just the building and how it was built. We define sustainability as a focus on longevity. You want to build your ministry to last. Every ministry has to have “people flow” and “money flow;” without both, you won’t be sustainable.
There are all kinds of reasons why churches need to feel the urgency of thinking more sustainably. Millennials aren’t giving to the local church; they have different priorities. Boomers are starting to pass away. Churches will likely have to start paying property taxes in the not-too-distant future. We need to start thinking differently.
2. How can churches take a more sustainable approach?
I was a senior pastor for 14 years. I started a church in Portland, OR where we saw nontraditional thinking about church facilities do amazing things. Our church opened one hotel and operated another. We had six weekend services, multiple church plants, job training programs and a drug rehab program. We thought of ourselves as mission-based entrepreneurs, and it was the best form of evangelism I’ve ever stumbled across—we saw 3,000+ people meet Christ through the hotel alone!
Today, only 0.3% of a church’s money goes into what they say they are about. The vast majority of it goes to buildings and salaries. You can let the building pay for itself! You’ll actually attract more Millennials—and they’ll be more likely to give—if you’re putting your money towards your cause, rather than your buildings.
This kind of thinking means you don’t put money ahead of your mission. The businesses promote the people-flow, while also solving the economics.
3. What are some of the most innovative things you’re seeing?
We’re seeing churches get out from behind the stained glass windows and into the marketplace. They own hotels, child care centers, senior housing, mixed-use retail space, and athletic centers, for example. Two churches we know—Hub801 (Genesis Ogden, UT) and Believers Church (Chesapeake VA)—operate successful event spaces.
The businesses are funding ministry. They don’t replace the need to build a culture of generosity within the congregation, but they exponentially increase the ministry’s capacity to reach out.
4. What are some of the first questions a church needs to consider when it’s exploring this path?
These are what immediately come to mind:
Are you willing to change?
What resources do you already have? Property? Entrepreneurs? Land?
What are the needs of your community from an economic standpoint? Don’t build a hotel or child care center if there’s no need.
Do you have enough space to combine a business and a church’s needs?
5. Can a church with an existing building, or a traditional building, do this?
Some of the old buildings can be converted into nice event centers. Other times, the property is worth more than the building. You can sometimes tear down the existing building, and with the equity, put up a multi-use property. Banks will lend based off the business potential rather than the giving records of the church. So, yes, an existing building doesn’t have to be a limitation.
6. What else do church leaders need to know as they consider how to become more sustainable as a ministry?
We recommend churches do not operate the businesses. We suggest they hire an outside management company (we have a number we recommend) to run the businesses. Churches get the benefit of ministering to the people, and the revenue, but they don’t run the business. If there’s an issue, the church can always fire the management company.
Eric’s book, The MBE Revolution, shares several more insights that will help church leaders plan for sustainability.
The Unstuck Group has an internship program for college students who are passionate about the mission of Jesus and helping the Church get unstuck. We are now accepting applications for our Summer 2018 Marketing & Communications Intern and Sales Intern positions.
Our Marketing & Communications Internship includes supporting our team in creating content to help church leaders get unstuck. Responsibilities include things like writing for blog posts, newsletters and social media; research and brainstorming to support eBooks, webinars and other content topics; collaborating with the communications team on marketing strategies; and more.
Here’s a note from our previous intern about the experience:
“My internship with The Unstuck Group has easily been the most meaningful experience of my college career. I have gained practical marketing skills, built important relationships, and discovered significant insights for church health. I highly recommend this opportunity to any college student who is interested in marketing and passionate about the Church. Seriously, don’t miss out on this experience!”
We are excited to announce our newest position: Summer 2018 Sales Internship. Our Sales Intern will support our business development team with their sales efforts. Responsibilities include building relationships with new church networks and denominations; assisting in moving a church from an initial contact into a client; assisting in the sales process, managing sales data and reporting and more.
Do you know a student who has a passion for the Church for excellent communication or sales? Share the details of this opportunity with them:
Holidays can bring new people to your church and create opportunities for impact. Most pastors can easily name the big days that bring high attendance. But knowing about big days and planning for them are two different things.
Too often, these calendar-given gifts sneak up on pastors, resulting in last minute planning and low impact. One of the biggest days comes early this year. Easter weekend is only a few weeks away!
When big days sneak up on you, the rule of thumb is to polish what’s working instead of trying to create something new. Creating new requires time and planning, and time isn’t on your side.
The most important thing to polish to enhance your Easter weekend impact? I think it’s probably your guest engagement strategy. Gary McIntosh’s book What Every Pastor Should Know reports the responses from a number of interviews with people who visited a church for the first time. These people were asked, “What made the biggest impression? What affected your decision to return the following week?”
It wasn’t the eloquent preaching, excellent worship or a fun kids ministry. The number one response by far was the friendliness of the church. Effectively engaging new guests with friendliness requires planning and intentionality. It can’t be something we hope happens; it must be something we make happen… because it can determine if they come back.
If your church is unfriendly today, chances are you won’t be able to turn things around by Easter weekend. (Though I’d make it a high priority after!) But if your church has a guest engagement strategy in place, take this opportunity to review it with fresh eyes and polish it up.
Ideas to Polish Your Guest Engagement Strategy
Invite a few “outsiders” to attend your church this weekend specifically to rate the friendliness of your church.
Ask a few people who fit the type of person your church is trying to reach, and let them know you want them to be completely honest. Offer to buy them coffee afterwards. Let them share their feedback however they are most comfortable.
Cast vision again to the First Impressions team.
Share the findings from Gary McIntosh’s book. Help them understand the vital importance of their roles. Help them understand how the First Impressions team engages guests. The right engagement can make a good impression on the people who wander into your church. Train your team with guidelines. For example, asking guests, “Would you like me to show you our children’s area? Would you like a cup of coffee?” can make guests feel very welcome as soon as they walk into the door. Consistency matters.
Reconsider where you locate your First Impressions teams.
Locate your guest engagement teams in the right places. While there is value in having door greeters, think deeper than the front door. Having intentional teams in the lobby, auditorium and hospitality areas can make a huge impact.
These teams should engage and celebrate all people—not just new people (identifying them can be a challenge in a growing church, especially on Easter). If a team member doesn’t know someone’s name, that person is the target. This will ensure both new and returning guests are engaged, feel God’s love and get a sense of community.
Think more strategically about how and why you collect guest information.
Obtaining guest information creates your second opportunity to engage guests after they leave the building. Most churches use some version of a connection card, but getting guests to fill out the card can be a challenge. Here are a few ways to polish your information gathering strategy:
Make sure your guest service area is highly visible, easy to access, and well-stocked.Ensure church members aren’t congregating there. New guests typically won’t fight a crowd to get to the table. Make sure you have the right information available. Easter is usually attended by families with children. Have strong communication pieces available that highlight your children’s and student ministries. Make sure volunteers at the guest service area are trained to collect the right information and explain quickly how it will be used. That leads me to the next thing…
Only ask for the bare minimum info and give people options for sharing their info. Do you really need their full name, address, email and phone number? Would you give all of that information out to a church you visited for the first time? Think about what information you actually plan to do something with, and get it down to the bare minimum.Many guests will not visit the guest area. Give people options for sharing their information (connect card, Facebook, church app, etc). A new guest gift can incentivize if it’s something people will actually want.
Review your first time guest follow-up communication with fresh eyes. If you’re collecting guest information, make sure your system for following up is buttoned-up. It’s tough enough to get someone to share their info. If you manage to do that and then don’t follow up well or at all, you create a negative impression.Keep communication short and purposeful. Always include a next step you suggest they take
What other strategies are working today at your church? Take a look at them with fresh eyes in the next few weeks. Polish what you can before Easter gets here.
Check out some of our free resources for planning Easter Weekend services here.
Leaders see it first: “stuckness” on the horizon. Leaders also take steps today to avoid landmines later on. In your small groups, in your worship services, in your staff meetings – leaders notice when things feel a little off. Like nothing is working like it used to, or when it feels like no one is moving forward. We know you carry the weight of it.
Stuck is a terrible feeling – especially when experienced alone. Leaders cannot live in isolation, and ministry was never meant to be done solo.
Getting your church unstuck is difficult, but we believe it’s better done together.
This Spring, we are introducing 4 new Coaching Networks in 2 different locations to help you grow in leadership and community, all while learning the principles and practical tools you need as a leader to lead an unstuck church.
By joining a coaching network, we will equip you with tools, systems, best practices and peer support to help you lead more effectively. Past participants describe the experience as challenging, fun, and highly practical—a key step in their personal leadership development.
Networks are available for single-site and multisite church leaders:
Leading an Unstuck Church
Through this experience, your team will learn best practices from healthy, growing churches and begin applying them in your church environment from day one.
Leading an Unstuck Multisite Church
While there are many different ways to design a multisite model, not all models are equally effective. Through this experience, your team will learn best practices for leading a healthy, effective multisite church.
Space is limited to just 7 churches in each network, and registration closes April 11, 2018. There’s also an early bird rate right now for the first four churches to register for each. We hope you will consider joining us!
Similar to the other phases on the right side of the life cycle of a church, the Maintenance Phase is hard to confirm and even harder to accept. In fact, our most recent data shows 60% of churches who took the team version of the Unstuck Church Assessment (which eliminates personal bias) were in Maintenance Phase, compared to just 20% of churches when the pastor took the individual assessment (which calculates the result based on his or her opinion-based responses).
That means as many as 40% of churches are in Maintenance Phase without realizing it. That should concern us.
Once your church has identified with the Maintenance Phase, you probably have one question: how do we get out?
Getting out of Maintenance Phase can be incredibly challenging—but it’s also the first necessary move towards Sustained Health. Here are two steps you can take to begin to move your way back to church health:
1. Renew the Vision
First, a disclaimer – mission statements and vision statements are not the same thing. The mission is a short statement (usually 12 words or less) that rarely changes. The vision, however, is a bit longer and tends to map out a church’s plan for the next 3-5 years. Because of this, it needs to be updated and refreshed.
Unfortunately, most churches don’t take a second look at their vision because they don’t realize they need to. It’s easy to assume that an attendance plateau or a little bit of decline is not a big deal, and short-term at best. Oftentimes, giving even remains strong as churches enter the Maintenance Phase, something Tony Morgan describes as “The Giving Lag” in his book, The Unstuck Church. Without close attention, you could be in Maintenance Phase and totally miss it.
If you want to return to health before the real pain sets in, begin with renewing your vision and establishing a clear picture of your church’s future.
2. Curtail the Complexity Creep
An unclear and outdated vision often leads to complexity in the church. Unfortunately, complexity is a surefire way to ensure your church stays in the Maintenance Phase or drifts into Preservation. Without a clear strategy to execute your established vision, complexity creeps in, takes root, and drags your church down.
Of course, adding a new program to your church schedule in an attempt to fill unmet needs is much simpler than redefining your strategy and asking tough questions. Strategy requires vision, time, commitment, and may offend some people in your church. Programs usually don’t. Over-programming simply guarantees your church members stay busy and your staff stays drained.
If you find yourself bogged down by programs and stuck in Maintenance Phase, a clear strategy is what your church is longing for.
Most importantly, strategy and vision are simply a means to one goal: that more people would encounter and grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. This is why churches exist, and why it breaks our heart to see churches stuck in places that are less than healthy. To learn more about Maintenance Phase, the church life cycle, and getting your church unstuck, check out Tony Morgan’s most recent book, The Unstuck Church:
Team health is vital when it comes to ministry effectiveness. A healthy team encourages vitality and growth, while malignant teams leak poison into the organization. However, creating healthy teams isn’t easy. Every church, large and small, experiences internal friction because people will always be people – and people are wired differently. Plus, we have an adversary who’s always trying to disrupt the work of the church.
There are many things than can generate antagonism – low job performance, vision drift, lack of communication and poor attitudes, to name a few. Regardless of the root of conflict, there are right and wrong ways to handle it.
Here are four common mistakes church leaders make when dealing with team conflict:
Sweep it under the rug and pretend it isn’t happening.
Say what people want to hear to keep all parties happy.
Have side conversations about the person(s) of conflict with other team members to build a case against them.
Pray a lot and hope it goes away.
So what is the proper way to handle team conflict? How can the pains of conflict make a team stronger? Actually, team strength happens the same way physical strength happens. Working out requires the willingness to endure pain in order to gain muscle. After you workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle. In other words, the workout damages existing muscle and the body repairs and rebuilds it with new muscle.
Leaders have to be willing endure the pain of dealing with the issues at hand. They have to be willing to stretch the old muscles. Yes, it may hurt and damage feelings, but that’s part of the workout. Contentious seasons, although never pleasant, can actually be an opportunity to build spiritual muscle and maturity on the team. Jesus constantly encountered conflict, often among the twelve disciples. And may I add, he never did any of the four things mentioned above.
Healthy team conflict isn’t easy, but it is possible. Here are four helpful biblical tips that can build team strength when conflict occurs:
1. Do not allow out-of-control tempers in the room.
“An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins” (Proverbs 29:2).
As the leader, you must set the tempo in the room. Allowing hostile and belligerent voices will create the perfect storm for the meeting to go sideways quickly. Provide guidelines before the meeting to establish boundaries and protocol. Remember the words of Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
2. Don’t attempt to resolve team conflict alone.
“But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’” (Matthew 18:16).
It is helpful to have other leaders (team members, elders, etc) in the room for support, accountability, and perspective. However, make sure those in the room are level-headed and in the know about the current situation.
3. Push for truth.
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Speak truth about the real problem. Don’t allow the conversations to be influenced by the symptoms of the underlying issue because treating symptoms creates its own set of problems. Remember, confrontation cleanses while sanctioned incompetence spreads and eventually infects the entire team. Deal with the heart of the conflict, despite the pain that may accompany the conversation.
4. Agree to disagree.
“After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated…” (Acts 15:36-39).
As mentioned in the workout analogy, strength comes as a result of to repairing or replacing muscle. In Paul’s case, it was time to remove Mark from the team in order to keep things healthy. Later on, Paul talks about how much he values Mark, so it seems that they eventually resolved the matter. However, at the time, Paul and Barnabas made a decision to agree to disagree and move on. Learn more here about why consensus shouldn’t always be your goal.
It’s not a question of if conflict happens, but when conflict happens. As a leader, you can allow it to infect your team or embrace it as an opportunity and become stronger and healthier as a team. Learn more keys to leading through conflict and change here.
Whenever we work with churches, we are always on the lookout for good stories to share. I recently got to talk with Brad Jenkins of Anthem Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. After 10 years of operating as The Gathering Church, Brad and his team merged with Liberty Church to further their reach—which meant Brad went from leading a church of 200 with five staff and one Sunday service time to leading a church of 500 with 12 staff and two services. Six months into the merger, Anthem contacted The Unstuck Group to help them sort out staffing, structure and ministry priorities through our strategic planning process.
Read on to hear about about what Brad and the team learned about leadership through the merger process.
Caroline: What led you to decide to merge?
Brad: I founded The Gathering Church in 2006. We had been mobile for almost 10 years before the merger and looking for a permanent location. Liberty Church had a pastor nearing retirement age and was in need of a fresh wave of Millennials and young families. We decided to merge and create a new beginning as Anthem Church because we saw God’s provision for our independent prayers in one another and had a strong belief that we would be better together.
Caroline: What was the most challenging aspect of merging?
Brad: While our merger has been incredibly successful and we feel great joy about what God has done, we have learned that bringing two churches together is incredibly challenging. I would say that the most challenging aspect is merging two different cultures, two different ways of doing ministry, and two different relational circles. All three of those challenges have caused us to carefully journey through our opening 18 months together.
Caroline: What has been the most impactful lesson you have learned through this process?
Brad: Leadership is all about trust. I have worked very hard to earn the trust of the great people of Liberty Church so they can follow me into the future. Earning trust has required getting a few wins under our belts in ministry and listening closely to the needs and concerns of the people during the transition. When people believe in the vision and trust its leaders they find it much easier to walk boldly into the future together.
Caroline: What should other pastors know about this journey if they are considering a merger?
Brad: It is critically important that both churches have a very similar DNA and they seek the advice of others who have led mergers in the past. We read extensively and sought the counsel of Jim Tomberlin (author of Better Together) very early in the process. Fortunately, both Liberty Church and The Gathering Church had very similar DNA (theologically and ministry philosophy), but we still had our own differences to work through. If our DNA had been more different, I don’t believe we would have had such a successful merger.
Caroline: How did engaging our team fit in?
While we were already 6 months into our merger, The Unstuck Group helped us to clarify the highest priorities for us to focus on in the midst of so much change. This was critical with the merging of two staffs, the merging of two congregations, and the merging of two ministry philosophies. We aren’t there yet, but we are headed in the right direction and we highly value the guidance.
Caroline: What are some of the results your church is now celebrating?
Brad: We are now almost eighteen months into our merger and we’ve seen 142 people make decisions to give their life to Jesus for the first time or rededicate their life to him! That is what we are celebrating the most!
Check out our 4-phase process to learn more how The Unstuck Group helps churches focus vision, strategy, structure and action.
If you were to ask someone who attends the church that I’m a part of why they first started attending, you’d more than likely hear something like this: “A friend invited me to that series with U2 music, because I love U2,” or “My first weekend was during that series about the wilderness,” or “I first attended because I saw your ad about the marriage series.”
Notice people don’t often say, “I came because I heard your bible studies are the best,” or “your church seems to have the cleverest phrases on your roadside sign.”
When sermon series planning is done right, it creates a compelling invite opportunity to hit at the heart of what people are searching for. If each time you begin a new weekend series you aren’t seeing a bump in attendance and engagement, there are four questions for you and your team to wrestle with:
1. What questions are the people in our community asking?
We’re all human. Sure some of us have needs that are unique, but for the most part, we all struggle with some common things. Too many times our sermon series are trying to answer questions people aren’t even asking. What are the people in your community struggling with, asking questions about, or in need of? Make a list when planning. Here are a few examples.
Help with parenting
Help in my marriage
How to improve my relationships
What is my purpose in life
If you’re struggling with ideas, ask the people in your church. Once a year gather some of your top stakeholders and ask them three questions.
What are the people you interact with saying they need?
What are the people you interact with in need of, but not talking about?
What are some ways we could creatively package those needs in a series that would be compelling?
2. What are the natural rhythms of people’s lives in our community?
Surprisingly our schedules aren’t all that different. This is especially true for families with kids. If there are a large number of younger families in your community you can predict when they might be vacationing, busy, or re-engaged with the church just by tracking the local sports schedules and school calendar.
You can then strategically plan your sermon series for when you’re most likely to have their attention. Schedule a parenting or marriage series in the fall when the kids are back in school and families are more likely to accept an invitation to church. Plan a financial series in February when parents get their post-Christmas credit card bill. Put your vision series on the calendar during the summer when it’s more likely you have more insiders attending than new guests.
3. What are the critical topics that need to be addressed?
Now that you know what questions people are asking and when they’re most likely to show up to hear about them, you need to decide what topics you will address over the course of the year.
Some topics you will only address once. Some topics, like relationships, you may want to cover twice, but in different ways. There will also be some other topics you might add because you know they need to be addressed. You may do a series with the intention of leading people to baptism or a series about volunteering in your church and community.
These may not be questions people are explicitly asking, but you know that they are felt needs lying just beneath the surface of their lives. Add these topics to your list.
4. How can we create a compelling invite for new guests?
About 80% of your first-time guests will come because they were invited by someone. This holds up with churches that we work with across the country. People attend because of personal invites. For this reason, creativity in the church matters.
Creating compelling invite tools for your current attendees to invite friends and family will drive weekend attendance. More than that, it will ultimately lead to more people hearing about Jesus.
One of those tools is packaging your sermon series in a way that the people of your church are excited to invite someone. Packaging isn’t just about what you call the series, but also how you talk about it, the look and feel of your invite tools, and the topic itself.
Here are some examples from the church I’m a part of:
Topic – Anxiety, Stress, Depression
Series – Monsters Under The Bed
Packaging – Dark, Haunting, Intriguing
Topic – Marriage
Series – I Want A New Marriage
Packaging – Cold, Distance, Relational
Topic – Purpose
Series – Me, My-selfie, and I
Packaging – Fun, Lighthearted, Unique
There aren’t easy, universal answers to these four questions. This process will take some time. You’ll need to do the hard work of truly connecting with your community. I would suggest you create a yearly rhythm of working through these questions before you calendar your series topics. Once you do, I believe these four questions will lead you to more effective sermon series planning and ultimately to more people hearing about Jesus.
Learn more about how sermon series planning and preaching can impact your church growth here.
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.