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How to Change things up and get your Church Growing Again

When momentum fades and growth begins to slow down at your church it can be tough to know exactly how to get things going in the right direction again. When plateau and stagnation set in it can be even more difficult to know what to do next.

Many church leaders I’ve talked to become paralyzed by the tension of wanting to keep long term people in the church around and engaged while also trying to reach new people by using old methods and approaches in an attempt to keep those long term people happy (wow that sentence is a mouthful). Change in this kind of a situation isn’t simple. If it were, every church that is plateaued or declining would turn around. While there are certainly some commonality in plateaued and declining churches there is not a “one size fits all” solution.

Most churches in this situation tend to adopt a measured approach to make incremental changes over time. While there are times when the wise approach is to make incremental changes over time, when things are stuck or declining it may take more courageous measures, because incremental change gets you incremental results.

“Incremental Change gets you Incremental Results”

If you’ve been leading in a church that is stuck or declining then you most likely already know what is getting you the results you’re currently getting, because you’re already doing it…it may be time to really do something different and take a different approach to get different results. Here’s a few things you can do right now to begin to change the trajectory of your church.

Listen to Different Voices

If you keep listening to the same people that you’ve always listened to you’re not going to generate any new ideas. Find some new voices. Instead of inviting the same old people to the meeting who have the same old ideas, change up the invite list. Bring in people from a different generation, background, or layer of the organization. I guarantee you’ll walk away with different ideas. Or make your next couple of hires from the outside. They’ll bring new ideas, different experiences and a new perspective to things.

Stop Learning from Other Churches

The Church is the only organization or people on the planet that has been entrusted with the Gospel and mission to share the Gospel with everyone on the Earth. But the Church does not have a corner on the market when it comes to innovation, organizational design, or leadership. So get outside of the Church and visit leaders from different industries and learn what principles can be transferred back into the area you’re leading in. A Chick-fil-A Executive once told me that they don’t look at other fast food companies to learn from, they go outside their tribe to other global industry leaders to learn from.

Fire Yourselves

This exercise will help you…I promise: Imagine that your entire leadership team has been removed and a new team is going to start. Before you pack up your boxes and move everything out, take a moment to write down the key issues you’ve never tackled and the changes you wanted to make. Help the new leadership understand what’s working, what’s broken, and what’s missing. Communicate the new initiatives they need to tackle and the things the ministry needs to stop doing. Once the departing team has confirmed that new direction, become the new leadership team. Start over, but this time follow through with everything you just agreed to do when you were out of a job. The reason this exercise is so helpful is that it helps to remove the emotions connected with core issues and new initiatives. It also eliminates the investment in ministries or strategies you’ve engaged in the past that aren’t working. A new leadership team wouldn’t have those attachments. They would start fresh. That’s what you need to do too.

Get some Outside Eyes

Bringing in an outside experienced professional with fresh eyes and different questions is a great way to help you begin to think differently. I know some great consultants at The Unstuck Group (the consulting group I’m involved with) that love the local church and want to see you win. We’ve literally helped hundreds of churches get unstuck!


Posted in Leadership

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Why it may be Good and Time for a Church to Die

A dying church doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a failing church. Death and failure are not the same thing.

The mission of the church is not to build a sustainable business that is annually profitable for shareholders. The Church is not a business, it’s the body of Christ and the mission of the Church is to help people meet, know and follow Jesus.

It is very possible for a declining church that is in the maintenance phase or preservation phase of their lifecycle to begin a new lifecycle of growth and impact in a community (for more explanation of the lifecycle phases of a church check out The Unstuck Church). However, churches that are in the life-support phase rarely recover.

When a church ends up in the life-support phase of the lifecycle they are headed towards one of two possible scenarios. They are either going to close their doors or experience some kind of relaunch (typically as a completely new church or a new campus of another church).

Unfortunately, many churches would choose to close their doors entirely than experience a relaunch or rebirth. It’s the attachment to the past, though, that leads to the church’s ultimate demise. Traditions win over adopting new approaches to ministry and experiencing life transformation. Personal preferences crowd out sacrifice and full devotion to helping new people meet, know and follow Jesus. Attendance dissipates and finances to keep things propped up eventually run out. But remember what I said a moment ago…

“A dying church doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a failing church. Death and failure are not the same thing”

According to the scriptures even King David served his purpose in his time and then died (check out Acts 13:36).

So, what’s a church to do if they’re in the life-support phase and they’re headed towards a certain death?

Invest in a Start Up

There are many existing church facilities in geographic areas around the country where the value of real estate is cost prohibitive for a church planter to begin a new work. That growing cost could actually become a ceiling that prevents new church plants to flourish in high dollar real estate markets. That new work would be greatly accelerated and have a better shot at success if a church on life support was willing to have the foresight to hand over their facility and remaining assets to a church planter and core team that has identified that location as a strategic opportunity.

Turn Over the Keys

Another option for a church in the life-support phase is to become a campus of a growing multisite church in the region. Many large growing multisite churches have a proven track record and the expertise needed to navigate this kind of a move.

Reinvest the Remaining Assets

Denominations have a tremendous responsibility and opportunity in today’s church climate. With many smaller denominational affiliated churches already in, or headed towards, life-support denominational leaders can liquidate these assets to remain in existence (and essentially cannibalize themselves) or reinvest these assets into new Kingdom expansion.

All of these options provide a dying church to not only die with dignity, but with their last act to deliver great Kingdom impact to the next generation. There can be dignity in death, particularly when led through in an honorable and healthy manner. While I would rarely advocate for the closure of a church, there are moments where it is the wisest course of action.


Posted in Leadership

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5 Characteristics of Churches that Change

Over the past 7 years working with the Unstuck Group I’ve consulted with all kinds of churches. Small churches, large churches, single site churches and multisite churches, churches that are denominationally entrenched and non-denominational churches, urban churches, rural churches and yes suburban churches.

Many of those churches have gone on to get unstuck and produce all kinds of great fruit, seeing many people meet Jesus and experiencing a reinvigorated season of ministry.

Unfortunately, not every church gets unstuck, but for those that do there are some common characteristics that I’ve observed.

Personal Ownership

Churches that change and get unstuck take personal ownership. They don’t blame previous leaders, they don’t blame the economy, they don’t blame what’s happening in their community, they don’t blame the people attending the church, and they don’t even blame the devil. Churches that change get to the point where they stop making excuses for not growing and reaching new people for Jesus. These churches don’t play the role of a victim. These church leaders intuitively know that you can’t change what you can’t control…and they know you can’t control much…but you can control your attitude, your effort, and your approach. These churches are willing to change all three of those things.

Justice Oriented

Somewhere along the line the leaders of churches that experience real genuine change acquire a holy discontent with the status quo. They begin to see that staying where they are and doing things the way they’ve been doing them would actually be wrong. Maybe even sinful. A sense of justice rises up in them prompting them forward to a new future with a different approach that produces different results.

Courage

Churches that actually change understand that change is going to be difficult. They know that it’s going to be painful. They know that not everyone is going to go with them on this new journey to reach people far from Jesus. They often times even admit that it’s going to be a bit scary. They simply have the courage to do it anyway.

Action Oriented

Often times these churches have gotten stuck because they’ve been risk adverse or more oriented towards keeping people they already have happy as opposed to doing new things to reach new people. Every church that I’ve seen change and get unstuck has adopted a new approach that has required them to take new action.

Strong Point Leadership

Something that I consistently see in churches that get unstuck and change is that they’re led by strong Sr. Pastors. Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. They’re not all led by dynamic communicators or incredibly gifted leaders. But they are led by Sr. Pastors who are strong and are willing to leverage whatever gifts God has given them to move the ball forward. Often times that simply means that they’ve accumulated relational trust over a long period of time and they’re willing to cash that trust in to move the church forward. Instead of riding off quietly into the sunset they’re willing to go out with their guns blazing so to speak.


Posted in Leadership

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How Healthy Is Your Church? Take a Look at the Latest Benchmarks

Church Trends from the Q1 2019 edition of The Unstuck Church Report

More than eighty percent of churches are currently sitting on the downward slope of the typical church life cycle.

That feels staggering to me. And truthfully, it can be discouraging looking at data like this.

At The Unstuck Group, we measure church growth by life change. I’m glad if people are visiting your church, but if few of those are experiencing and meeting Jesus, something’s missing.

I feel a responsibility to equip leaders with the resources to lead more people to Christ. And gosh, if I can be part of more life change, that’s something I definitely want to do. But my hope is you’ll take advantage of these resources to bring change and lead more people to Jesus.

We recently launched the Q1 2019 edition of The Unstuck Church Report. It’s a 6-page PDF that highlights 20 updated metrics in key areas of church health. And this quarter, we included a new section that specifically shows significant changes over the past year.

We release an updated report each quarter with new insights and highlighting new trends. If you want in, you can sign up below (we’ll deliver it to your inbox for free :-))

In ministry, I’ve learned that perspective goes a long way. I talk about it a lot, because I’ve seen stuckness linger because leaders lack perspective. Looking at something from a different angle with more insight can bring powerful awareness. This report is a good place to start.
If you’re interested in checking out the data, download it here.


Posted in Leadership

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Avoiding My Multisite Mistakes

For the past seven years I’ve been serving as an Executive Pastor in a large multisite church in the Phoenix metro area…before that it was a single site megachurch in the Phoenix metro area…but adopting a multisite strategy changed everything. If you’d have asked me back in High School when I was called into ministry if I ever wanted to be an Executive Pastor at a Mega-Multisite church I probably would have replied, “What’s an Executive Pastor and what does Multisite mean?”

Recently I’ve been hearing stories of churches that went multisite somewhere along the way as a strategy to reach more people and deliver growth to a new community that are now releasing those campuses to be their own independent churches, shutting campuses down, or abandoning their multisite approach altogether.

I’m a firm believer in multisite as a strong and successful strategy to deliver growth into new communities for the right churches. I believe in it so strongly because I’ve seen so many people get to meet, know and follow Jesus that otherwise would not have been reached. But not every church is ready to go multisite.

The statistic still holds true that only 15% of multisite churches ever get past 3 campuses. It doesn’t have to be that way for you and your church. Here’s a few mistakes that I’ve made along the way that I hope you can learn from.

The Campus Pastor

Unfortunately, every time we’ve hired a Campus Pastor from the outside it hasn’t worked, every time. However, every time we’ve promoted someone from the inside, even if they’d only been on the team for a year, it’s been a win. One of the worst mistakes I made was hiring in a Campus Pastor from the outside and putting him on a campus that was the furthest away with the least visibility to coaching and the Central Team. He wasn’t a bad guy by any stretch of the imagination, we just didn’t put him in a situation to succeed.

Location, Location, Location!

We’ve started one campus in a set up and tear down situation. It met in the biggest, newest high school in the community. The room they met in had a pitched floor, theatre seating and a great stage. It was nicer than most churches! The problem was it was in the wrong location, it was buried in a neighborhood. As soon as we relocated that campus to their own facility on a major road with the right volume of drive by traffic, parking and accessibility it grew by nearly 50%.

Give Rope Don’t Take It

Multisite provides the opportunity to come up with all kinds of new solutions. Those new solutions 9 times out of 10 don’t come from central team that serves all of the campuses, they come from the campuses, because they’re the ones closest to the people. The trouble is when every campus is coming up with their own solutions it can make for not only complexity but straight up conflict between campuses and the central team. I’m all for innovation, but we’ve learned that there’s no innovation without first communication…and we’ve learned it’s much easier to give a little rope along the way and margin to contextualize and innovate than have to corral the horses and take that rope back once it’s already out there.

It Cost More Than You Think

Going multisite forced us to change our entire financial approach. We had church planted for years, and honestly church planting was a pretty low financial investment compared to starting a new campus. When you plant a church, you may send out a leader or two, you may send some families to go with them, you financially invest in it for a season and you may provide coaching for a while. But then once it’s birthed it’s pretty much on its own. When you launch a multisite campus you’re on the financial hook for the whole thing. If finances get tight you have to figure it out. You can count on multisite costing more than you think.

Need some help with the multisite journey at your church? The Unstuck Group has a unique process designed specifically for multisite churches. Follow this link to learn more!


Posted in Leadership
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