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Top Posts of 2018 #5 “4 Indicators your Church is Moving in the Wrong Direction”

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The “why” behind church growth and decline are always topics that generate a lot of interest here and this year was no different. This post was the 5th most popular post of the year!

You may have heard me tell the story of a church that started years ago in the Phoenix east valley. This church plant grew rapidly. Helping new people meet Jesus, they became one of the first mega churches in the east valley. Eventually the pastor, under whose leadership this growth took place, left and the succession didn’t go very well. Neither did the next succession. Or the next. In fact, that church went through 18 straight years of decline until at the end of that decline they ended up merging with another church.

Today the new campus averages more than 1,000 people in weekend attendance and is helping new people meet, know and follow Jesus.

Unfortunately for most churches in decline there’s no great comeback story. Churches decline for all kinds of reasons and it’s usually more complicated than one simple decision that was made somewhere along the way.

There are a lot of reasons why churches begin to decline and eventually die. Most don’t ever recognize it until they’re really stuck or worse it’s too late to even turn around. But there are some lead indicators that can be early warning signs that things are moving in the wrong direction.

1. A Lot of Money in the Bank

The Unstuck Group recommends that churches have six to eight weeks of cash reserves in the bank. We recently found in our Q1 2018 Unstuck Church Report, that benchmarks trends in U.S. Churches, that a majority of churches have the equivalent of 17 weeks in cash reserves. This suggests that many churches are in a financially healthy position. They’re in a position advance the Kingdom through investing in new initiatives but aren’t. They’re sitting on money in the bank that could be invested to reach more people for Jesus. Too much money in the bank can turn a church from an advancement mentality to a protection mentality.

2. Comfort is the Opposite of Growth

If you don’t have a list of new ideas that you can go to and possibly implement at any given time, then you’re probably spending a lot of energy propping up old methods and programs. And those old methods and programs bring a certain comfort with them, because they keep people who are already in the church happy. Every idea has a shelf life. If your church isn’t constantly evaluating and strategically stopping old things and starting new things, then you’re probably moving towards becoming insider focused. And while that’s comfortable it’s a lead indicator that you’re moving in the wrong direction.

3. Over Structure

One of the most common misunderstandings of strategic planning is that the goal is not order or structure. The goal of strategic planning is to actually accomplish the vision. In a growing church you want planning and management to lag slightly behind the chaos of change and movement. It’s possible to manage and plan your way into losing momentum. Policies and structure can shrink the box of creativity. They set the standard for how we do what we do, every time we do it. It’s possible to policy and structure yourself right into decline. When planning and order become higher priorities than chaos and movement your church will start moving in the wrong direction.

4. Protective of the Past

One of the most difficult things to navigate in a church is change. If you lead in a church long enough, eventually you’ll hear someone say something like, “But we’ve always done it that way.” That way was someone’s good idea and it may have been the best way at one point. But often times that past way becomes a barrier to a future and better way. When a church is busy defending the past instead of building the future it is moving in the wrong direction. When a church becomes risk averse and starts making choices based on who they are going to keep as opposed to who they are going to reach, the church is in trouble. The real danger in playing defense is that it becomes a cultural mindset that actually stands in opposition to the Gospel. You see the Gospel was never meant to be or does it need to be defended its intended to be unleashed.

Church decline can be avoided and even turned around. If your church is stuck or in decline I’d encourage you to start a conversation with the Unstuck Group. They have proven track record of helping churches get unstuck.


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Top Posts of 2018 #6 “4 Ways Churches Misspend Money”

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I was a bit surprised that an article about church finances made it into my top 10 for 2018. But it just goes to show that finances are a pressure point for church leaders and when a church’s resources are misaligned it can be lid to growth.

Churches get funny when it comes to money. Generally, churches have a hard time talking about money publicly and few have a clear generosity strategy. When it comes to financial planning and actually spending money in a way that gets them to the vision God’s called them to, the majority of churches I’ve interacted with are all thumbs.

Here are 4 ways I’ve seen churches misspend money and a couple of ideas to hopefully challenge your thinking.

Budget on Hope

I’ve interacted with too many churches that build their budget based on hope. Instead of budgeting based on the previous year’s actual financial performance, they forecast future financial growth on their gut or their version of “faith.” Churches that budget this way often experience little financial margin, budget freezes, hiring freezes, and even layoffs. If this is your church, I’d challenge you to take a wiser approach to money and keep in mind that Proverbs is in the Bible too.

No Cash Reserves

Some churches live hand to mouth financially. There are a lot of reasons this happens. The real danger in living hand to mouth financially and having little cash reserves on hand is that churches unknowingly put themselves in a position that doesn’t allow them to follow Jesus. By not carrying 6-8 weeks of cash reserves on hand not only are you unnecessarily exposing your church to financial risk in lean moments, but you are also not positioning yourself to say yes to opportunity that Jesus may bring your way.

Too Much Cash Reserves

You may have just read that and thought to yourself, “This guy is crazy, I’m never reading this blog again!” How could a church possibly have too much cash in the bank? When churches choose financial security over taking risks and following Jesus…It may be time to take some of that money out of the bank and fuel somethings that could reach some new people for Jesus.

Build the Budget Based on the Past

I’ve found that many churches keep the same basic financial line items year over year with little change throughout the years. Carrying those line items forward consistently and allocating based on the past instead of aligning money to new vision can be dangerous. Great budgeting starts with vision clarity. Once you have clarity about where you’re going building a calendar that reflects your strategy about how you’re going to get there is next. Once that’s complete, budgeting becomes fairly easy because money is just the fuel that funds the strategy that gets you to your vision.


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Top Posts of 2018 #7 “What Makes Emotionally Intelligent Church Leaders Different?”

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Emotional Intelligence is the latest leadership frontier that’s being explored. It’s not just a business world conversation, even in  church-world it makes a huge difference…and the best church leaders know that it’s actually rooted in the Bible.

The best church leaders don’t simply spend time learning new stuff about the bible, praying 24-7, discovering new management techniques or understanding organizational theory. They spend time on becoming better at the art of leading through relationships. After all relationships are both the glue and the grease that make work, happen.

And before you blow this post off and chalk it up to a bunch of business stuff being applied to church world…think again…this is all rooted in the Bible.

Emotionally Intelligent leaders are great at building effective interpersonal relationships with their team. Which is essentially the combination of being simultaneously self-aware and others focused.

But what are some things that these leaders actually do differently?

The Art of Timing

It’s a gift to say the right thing at the right time. The Bible puts it this way in Proverbs 15:23“Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!”

Emotionally intelligent leaders are disciplined with their words and craft their words intentionally. Not in a manipulative manner but in a way that serves people well. They don’t always say everything they see or feel for that matter. They are wise about giving people what they can handle or need at the time to help them move in the right direction.

Others Focused

Emotionally intelligent leaders are others focused. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul linked spiritual maturity to living an others-oriented life. Jesus said“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

While Paul put it this way in Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t focus on themselves they focus on the team, because they know that the team out performs the individual every time.

Self-Awareness

The best leaders I’ve ever been around are quick to take personal responsibility when things go wrong. Instead of looking outward and shifting blame they choose to shoulder the blame themselves. This takes a tremendous amount of confidence and self-awareness. And of course, the enemy of self-awareness is self-deception. Self-deception can be a dangerous thing. It can make you believe more or less about yourself than you should. You can even fool yourself into thinking more or less about others than you should. Emotionally intelligent leaders are sober minded, they know who they are, and they know who they’re not, and they do what’s best for the team. They are quick to take personal ownership when things go south and give out praise when things go well.

Jeremiah 17-9-10 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.”


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Top Posts of 2018 #8 “5 Ways Successful Church Leaders Think Different”

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This post came in at number 8…I’ve been around some successful church leaders. They really do think and act different. In fact this post outlines 5 ways I’ve observed successful church leaders thinking and acting differently than the average church leader.

Successful church leaders naturally think differently than the majority of church leaders. It’s one of the things that set them apart. The good news is you can learn to think just like them.

#1 They think about who they’re trying to Reach instead of who they’re trying to Keep

Another way to say this, is that they’re consumed with the mission that Jesus gave the church. To reach the nations. They make decisions based on who they are trying to reach not who they’re trying to keep.

#2 They think about Solutions instead of Problems

They don’t focus on problems and everything that could or does go wrong. Instead they focus on solutions and figuring things out. You could even say they’re optimistic in their thinking (either by nature or by choice).

#3 They’re Strategic Thinkers

They’re not just satisfied with having a clear picture of the future (vision), they want to act on it and build a roadmap to get there (strategy). They plan their work and work their plan. Which consequently their preparation allows them to be flexible when new opportunity arrives, or they meet unforeseen roadblocks.

#4 They Involve the Team

They’re not obsessed with coming up with the best idea. They’d rather be able to execute the best idea than get credit for it. They know the team out performs the individual, so they involve their team in great thinking.

#5 They Don’t Dwell on Failure

It’s not that they completely ignore failure, they don’t. They learn from failure. It’s just they don’t dwell on it. They pivot away from what didn’t work and move on quickly to the next thing.


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Top Posts of 2018 #9 “Are You the Type of Person that can Work at a Fast Growing Church”

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So when I wrote this post I knew it wouldn’t make everyone happy, and I was right, it didn’t…but that’s not the point…I’m not trying to make everyone happy, I’m trying to shift people’s thinking about church leadership.

Not everyone gets to work at a fast-growing church. Yes, I know a list comes out every year that identifies America’s top 100 fastest growing churches and there’s a lot of staff members represented in those top 100 churches. But in context to the more than 400,000 churches in America that’s a pretty small percentage of church staff members.

In fact, most people in ministry will go their entire ministry career and not get the opportunity to be a part of a fast-growing church. That’s one reason, by the way, if you’re serving at a fast-growing church you should thank Jesus, soak it in, and enjoy it while you can. You’re sitting in a seat that few will ever get to.

There are all kinds of contributing factors to a church going through a period of fast growth, and at the top of the list is the Holy Spirit. In today’s booming market of church leadership and church growth strategy we would be making a mistake not to give credit where it is due. Jesus said He would be the one to build His Church.

That being said, I’ve had the unique blessing of serving at 3 very fast-growing churches. One went from 1,000 to more than 3,000, another went from 2,500 to 6,000 and the church I currently serve at I’ve had a front row seat to see it grow from 3,000 to 8,000.

While there are a lot of factors that contributed to those seasons of incredible growth one of the things I’ve observed in all of them is that the staff that work at fast-growing churches are different. Here’s what I mean…

1. Agile

They’re able to adapt to changing circumstances quickly and they don’t mind changing directions on projects. They become, “masters of midcourse corrections.” They love being on the team and they’re willing play different roles at different times based on what’s needed for the team to win. Ambiguity doesn’t bother them all that much because they trust and believe in the team and they know that together they’ll, “figure it out.”

2. Sober minded

They are self-aware enough to know what they’re good at and they play to their strengths and they play their part on the team. They’re also humble enough to do what’s best for the church and not for themselves or their career. They’re willing to change roles or have someone hired in over top of them so they don’t become the lid to growth.

3. Low Control

In a fast-growing church, you can’t have a staff member that is high control. There’s not time or bandwidth for micromanagement or perfectionism. In a fast-growing church, high control prevents you from generating new ideas and getting those ideas implemented and keeping up with the pace of growth because by the time the idea or new “product” is good enough to release you’ve missed the opportunity. Remember, the Gospel wasn’t meant to be controlled but unleashed.

4. Solution Oriented

Instead of focusing on problems and the past they’re focused on solutions and the future. Instead of talking to their supervisors about all of the reasons they can’t do something they’re bringing ideas of all the things they could do. They’re not as concerned about constraints as they are about what must be figured out. While there may be a lack of resources these team members are resourceful and they find a way.

5. Resilient

These church staff members have an unusually high pain tolerance. They’re typically leading through change and with change comes criticism. They know how to listen to the right people and ignore the rest. They’re laser focused on the vision of where they’re going and they’re willing to endure pain to get there, because it’s worth it to them.

6. Approach to Credit

These church staff members would rather the team win than worry about if they get any of the credit for it. They’re quick to accept responsibility and take credit when things go poorly and they’re equally quick to give away credit to others when they go well.

I’m sure there’s some characteristics that I’ve missed. If you’ve served in a fast-growing church what are some characteristics of the team members that made them different than other teams you’ve served on? Leave a comment!


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