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Top Posts of 2018 #2 “5 Core Issues that will Fuel Growth in your Church”

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Every church leader I meet with wants to know what they need to do to grow their churches. The majority of these leaders are well intentioned and really have a sincere desire to see people who don’t know Jesus, meet Him. I wrote this particular article at the beginning of 2018 hoping to give church leaders some insights, based on the 100’s of churches we work with at the Unstuck Group, that could help them fuel growth in their churches this year. I hope it was helpful.

Stuckness is no respecter of the “brand” or “flavor” of a church. All kinds of churches across America are stuck. Large churches, small churches, old churches, new churches, Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Nazarene churches, Presbyterian church and even non-denominational churches are stuck.

At the Unstuck Group we’ve literally worked with hundreds of churches and one of the many things we’ve learned along the way is that there are 5 Core Issues that keep churches stuck.

The good news is that in 2018 your church doesn’t have to stay stuck.

This year your church can take a different approach. I’m not talking about trying harder, I’m talking about trying different. I’m also not talking about making some risk free small tweaks. If you want different results you’ve got to adopt a different strategy and employ different tactics.

What are you and your team willing to differently this year when it comes to your approach to these 5 Core Issues?

Discipleship Pathway

I’ve seen a lot of churches that offer a myriad of classes, small groups, and a grocery list of ministries that clutter people’s lives and compete for time, promotion, money and participation. But it’s rare to find a church that has a clear strategic pathway for people who are new to following Jesus to move towards knowing and following him. Is your church providing a menu of ministry offerings or clear next steps for people who connect with your church to become more fully devoted followers of Jesus?

Leadership Development

While many church leaders search for an off the shelf tool or some new content that is promised to produce leaders in their church they forget that the Church itself is the greatest leadership development engine that’s ever been designed. How deep is the leadership bench at your church? Most churches are struggling to identify their up and coming young leaders. Is your church attracting, identifying, and intentionally developing young leaders? Most are hopeful that it will somehow happen, but hope isn’t a strategy. Check out these 10 Articles that will Help your Church Develop Young Leaders. Developing people is different than offering a class. What are you going to do to invest in people differently this year?

Mission / Vision

Clarity is king. Without clarity churches are left to fumble around in a fog and hope for the best. However, the clearer become the better decisions can be made and the faster alignment can be accomplished. When everyone on the team has clarity, and knows where you’re going and who is supposed to do what next things can really get moving. Unfortunately, the majority of churches aren’t very clear about their mission (why they exist) or vision (where they are going), and so they stay stuck. Here’s a post that will help you and your team gain more clarity on your mission and vision.

Communications

It’s not uncommon in churches to find ministries competing for “air time” in the weekend worship services. Many church staff members mistakenly think that if “their” ministry offering isn’t announced on the weekend then it’s not important and it can’t be successful. As a result, churches end up relying on the weekend bulletin and announcements in their services as the extent of their communication strategy. They communicate everything to everyone, hoping to get someone involved. If it’s not announced from the stage then they spam people to death with constant emails that are just ignored or deleted. Interested in learning more about church communications? Check out these 10 Findings from New Research on Church Communications.

Volunteers

A simple but deep truth that seems to have been forgotten is that volunteering is discipleship. Volunteering is not just about roles that need to be filled anymore but people that need to be developed. The role of the Church Staff Member isn’t to do the ministry but to equip the church to do the ministry. While most church staff would generally agree to that statement, few are actually doing it. Want to learn more about developing an effective Volunteer Strategy at your Church? Check out these 10 Articles that will Help your Church Build a Stronger Volunteer Culture.

If you behave differently towards these 5 Core Issues this year, you’ll get different results. And if you need help getting unstuck then connect with us at the Unstuck Group, we can help this next year be the best year of ministry you’ve ever experienced


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Top Posts of 2018 #3 “18 Churchy Things the Class of 2018 Won’t Get”

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This post was done by a friend of mine over at the Unstuck Group. It’s hilarious…and a little sad at the same time.

Around this time of year, the mainstream media and Internet meme-machines like to remind us how old we are by telling us all of the things this year’s high school graduates won’t remember because, well, they weren’t even born yet.

That list is usually all pop culture, technology and political references. But what about church? I bet we can make a good list.

In church leadership, we have a looooong memory. And for some reason, we expect the new wine to clothe itself with old wineskins to learn and accept every moment of our history as part of their own personal story.

This spring’s high school graduates were born in the year 2000. Here are some churchy things for which they have little to no context for…

  1. “Shout to the Lord”
    That was 1994, folks.
  2. When Worship Bands Were Edgy
    Carey Nieuwhof wrote about this very well in his article “The Impending Death of Cool Church.”
  3. Billy Graham Crusades 
    His last was in 2005. They were five years old.
  4. Televangelists Committing Fraud and Conspiracy
    More on why that should influence how your church talks about money in Tony Morgan’s article “It’s Not the ‘80s Anymore.”
  5. Giving Cash at Church
    The Unstuck Group’s intern this semester specifically mentioned “offering plates of all varieties… the strangest ones I’ve seen were velvet bags with wooden handles. Very retro.” Tony also said his church doesn’t take an offering in services anymore. And there are no “giving boxes” either.
  6. Why “See You at the Pole” Is a Thing
    Prayer at school is not a part of their collective consciousness.
  7. “I Can Only Imagine”
    Aka Contemporary Christian Music as an influential genre.
  8. Overhead Transparencies for Song Lyrics / Reading Songs from a Hymnal
    They have no idea why older people in your church don’t like projectors and screens.
  9. I Kissed Dating Goodbye
    But, that doesn’t mean they are dating—at least not in real life. (Ask a few teenage girls when was the last time a boy actually asked them out. You’ll get some eye-rolling.)
  10. Multisite as a New Thing
    In late 2005, there were already more than 1,500 multisite churches in the United States.
  11. The Charismatic Movement / The Word “Charismatic” Used in Spiritual Context
    Whether you’re for it or against it, they don’t understand why.
  12. WWJD Bracelets
    Ah, the ‘90s.
  13. Drama Teams
    Aka video clips without the magic of editing.
  14. Church Directories
    If you still have one of these, let me guess the average age of the people listed.
  15. Wearing Your Sunday Best
    See #2. It’s been mostly acceptable to wear jeans to work, and church, since before they were born.
  16. CD Recordings of the Sermon
    Where would they even play a CD? If it’s not digital, they aren’t listening to it.
  17. Tent Revival Meetings
    Similarly to Billy Graham Crusades, without the historical context, these make no strategic sense. Why would you set up a tent beside your building and have service every night? An 18-year-old probably won’t even bother to ask why. They’ll just chock it up to weird religious stuff.
  18. What You Mean by “Traditional” or “Contemporary” Services Style
    “Contemporary” isn’t a thing. The 1990s started almost 30 years ago. If you’re trying to reach Gen Z and Millennials, and you think you have a “contemporary” service that will reach them, there’s a good chance you’re trying to connect with them using a style that emerged before they were born. The literal definition of contemporary is “belonging to or occurring in the present.” Oh, that we would own that definition. The Holy Spirit belongs to and occurs in the present, just as much as he did when the past was the present. As for “traditional” services, I can’t say it any better than Amy Anderson, The Unstuck Group’s Director of Consulting, recently did: If you have a service you’re calling “traditional,” it’s probably not reaching new people for Christ.

Bonus, Unchurchy List

These things make all of the real lists, but churches still ignore these facts. This year’s college graduates don’t remember…

    1. Life Before Mobile
      The iPhone came out when they were 7 years old. We can’t close our eyes and pretend like we can still connect with them without a native mobile strategy.
    2. Having to Call Anywhere for Information
      You need a digital destination for any action you want them to take.
    3. Life Before Everyone Shared Their Whole Lives on Social Media 
      They were 4 years old when MySpace was a hit, and the social media landscape exploded as they grew up. If you’re just tacking on Facebook to your real evangelism and discipleship strategy, you’re going to miss them.
    4. Not Being Able to Google It
      Specifically when it comes to preaching, if you make claims about Jesus, God, the Bible, etc. that they don’t understand, they’re going to Google it. Be prepared for that.
    5. Not Being Able to Connect with You
      They expect to be able to follow you on Instagram or Twitter. They expect to be able to figure you out a bit by how you present yourself online, not just what you say on the platform.

I challenge you to invite some high school grads to join you and your staff for a conversation about what you’re doing that they don’t understand. Let’s not be so hyper-focused on reaching Millennials that we wake up one day realizing we’ve already lost Gen Z.


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Top Posts of 2018 #4 “5 Reasons Churches Don’t Grow”

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It still holds true that 80% of churches in America are plateaued or declining. It doesn’t have to be that way! I wrote this back in August and it quickly shot up to one of the top posts of the year.

It’s impossible for your church to grow and everything stay the same. I know it would be nice if everything could stay the same as the church grows, but it can’t. And the secret underlying truth is as your church grows you will lose some things along the way. But that’s kind of the point. You simply can’t move from here (current reality) to there (preferred future) and everything stay the way it is. If it did, you’d never get “there,” you’d just stay where you are.

While there are a lot of reasons why churches stall, sputter, and stop growing but there are a few big reasons that lurk beneath the surface of the worship services, ministries and organizational structure of the church and live within the heart of the leader.

#1 Control

Things could be done exactly the way you want them to be done at your church, but you’d be the one doing them or directing them. It would be nice, and neat, and tidy. No mess. You wouldn’t have to worry about staff members or volunteers challenging your ideas as the pastor because everyone would be executing your ideas the way you want them done. Unfortunately, you’d also never attract or develop any leaders, you’d only be training people to perform tasks that you assign them. You’d be creating followers and as a result putting a lid on the growth of the church. Controlling leaders stifle fun, innovation, and ultimately production. Your team needs to be empowered and unleashed to be who Jesus has created them to be. That’s when they’ll have the most fun and you’ll get the greatest results. The sad, and very dangerous, thing is controlling church leaders actually stifle personal growth in others and the expansion of the Gospel

#2 Preference

As churches grow, leaders either give up their personal preferences or they personally prevent the church from growing. The best leaders I’ve been around ask what’s best for the organization, not what’s best for themselves, and they defer their preferences for the performance of the organization. Which means one day we’ll all be saying why can’t we sing those old Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, or Jesus Culture songs. We are either constantly designing ministry for ourselves or for people who have not yet said yes to following Jesus. So do you prefer to reach new people with the Gospel or to go to a church that is designed to fit your preferences?

#3 Lack of Leadership

This may just one guys’ opinion, but I really believe that the greatest crisis facing the modern-day church is a crisis of leadership. We don’t have a “Gospel problem,” or a “God problem,” it’s a Church problem and that starts with leadership. The modern-day Church simply doesn’t attract, develop, or keep leaders. Leaders by their very nature are change agents, and because the unstated goal of most churches is to preserve the past, church leaders often times find themselves fighting the family instead of fighting the enemy.

#4 The Ingrained Behavior to Keep instead of Reach

New things attract new people and new churches reach new people. When a church is starting up it’s all about risk (church planting by its very nature is risky). Over time however it’s easier (and less risky) to do ministry programs to keep church people happy than it is to continue to reach out to people who are outside of the church. You know, those ministry programs that keep the core long-time Christians and long-term attenders happy but have no impact on people outside the faith. While the greatest intention of churches may be to reach new people, their greatest behavior is to keep the ones they have happy.

#5 Pain Tolerance

As I mentioned the leadership secret that no one is telling you about is that there is no leadership without loss. It may not be popular, but it is absolutely, “take it to the bank true.” Most people mistakenly believe that gaining leadership is all about gaining more power, gaining a more influential position, and gaining more prestige and popularity. But leaders who lead at the highest levels know there is no going up, without giving up. And the higher you go in leadership, the more you have to be willing to lose. And this is the reason why many churches stop growing. Simply because those leading them don’t possess the pain tolerance or humility to endure the personal challenge of change, discomfort and loss.


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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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