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20% Growth!

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20% Growth! (for one day)

Clearly, in a smaller church context, we were doing something right when it came to getting the Word out.  The trouble was that we weren’t keeping the people in.

I remember it vividly – a Sunday morning that brought in 42 new visitors at once, among a congregation that typically ran 200.  42 visitors!  The balcony was full!  The place was buzzing with excitement.

As a young pastor, I was thrilled. We had launched an outreach campaign a few weeks previously, and we’d sent out thousands of content-rich magazines to give people biblical answers to common life problems.  And here we were, seeing some very tangible fruit.

Then there was a day when we’d jumpstarted a multi-site campus option and saw 92 people stream into the service – just a few weeks after launch day.  Wow!

But sadly, most of those 42 never returned.

The next week we had less than 50 attendees.

Clearly, in a smaller church context, we were doing something right when it came to getting the Word out.  The trouble was that we weren’t keeping the people in.

  • Was it our antiquated building?
  • Was it our stretched-too-thin staff?
  • Was it a lack of follow-up?
  • Or a lack of immediate engagement opportunities for newcomers?
  • Was it my preaching?
  • Was something unclear, or unsaid, or undone?

I’m sure all of those were factors.  But at the core, what I think we were missing during those learning experiences was a comprehensive strategy.

We had an excellent game plan to get the gospel into the hands of people around us.  We had a workable (though probably not excellent) strategy for getting people to visit our services.  But altogether, we needed a strategic plan that would have tied together things I had been treating as independent challenges:

- our need for better worship spaces

- our need for additional team members/funding for staff

- our need for small group and follow-up apparatus

-our need for clear spiritual growth plans and on-ramps to those plans

A robust strategic plan would have organized and prioritized those challenges for us.  That’s why inviting Leadership Outreach to assist your church as it reaches out and grows is a step worth taking.

Perhaps, when your 42-visitor-Sunday arrives, you’ll be ready.  The systems, the seating, the staffing, the programs, and the spiritual health of the church – it will all be ready to accommodate the harvest.

But those things won’t ready themselves. We have to be intentional.  We have to have a plan.

By the way: Our church celebrated the success of our outreaches in hitting our primary target – which was to get the gospel out.  We wanted the kingdom to grow more than our church organization.  We definitely saw spiritual fruit on a large scale (relative to our church size), and I would do the whole program again in a heartbeat.  But next time, I want to be more intentional about what happens next – about how we connect the dots for people who enter the front door.

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Challenge Questions

If you had a 20% first-time visitor Sunday, would your infrastructure be ready for it?

Are you boldly outreaching in a way that makes this problem a realistic one to worry about?

Do you have a strategic plan to love, serve and share with the next visitor who walks in the door?

Dan Jarvis is a certified strategists with Leadership Outreach and a free-lance writer. He is the editor of Revive! Magazine, a publication of Life Action Ministries. Dan is the author of Commissioned, a book detailing the explosive growth of the local church in India. Dan can be reached at Dan@leadershipoutreach.com.

Strategy in the Original Greek

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I’m not down on seminary. Really.  But it did leave me dramatically underprepared for the actual “work of the ministry!”

Four years in Bible college and three more years of seminary had me well versed in the impeccability of Christ, but not so well-equipped to handle my first deacon’s meeting (and the second, and third, and fortieth, and two-hundredth). I love learning the Scriptures, and I still do, and for that reason I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I had to learn and grow in school.  But when it came to strategy, business organization, volunteer management, vision-casting and leadership development, the real schooling was on the job.

Maybe it should be this way, I don’t know.

But through it all, I’ve learned what not to expect:

  • Don’t expect that preaching prowess has any relationship to leadership development.
  • Don’t expect that a large congregation means a great strategy is in play.
  • Don’t expect that elders, deacons and trustees will arrive at the right answers, if none of them have studied the subject matter.
  • Don’t expect a pastor to be a superhero, leading, preaching, counseling, vision-casting, strategizing, accounting, and shepherding well at the same time.

Some coaching:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for (and even pay for) outside help. I’m not just saying that because I’m on the Leadership Outreach team, a group that offers consulting and strategic services to church leaders.  (But the shoe does fit.)  Outside help could be anything from inviting a veteran pastor to look over your strategy, to buying up the leadership book aisle at your local Christian bookstore, to hiring a professional strategic planner to help your organize your game plan for the coming year.

2. If you’re not through with seminary yet, be sure to ask for tracks and classes that include practical management of local church issues.  It’s not always the most enjoyable subject matter (I’d rather debate predestination!) but things like team-building and staff management are going to come in more handy for you (unless, I guess, you were predestined to do a poor job at those anyway.  In that case, carry on.

3. Don’t be afraid to play the Acts 6:1-8 card (“I need to focus on teaching and prayer, and hand off this administrative stuff to others”), but don’t use that card as an excuse to ignore your calling as a leader.  Leadership is about more than preaching.  The people of your church need someone to follow even more than they need someone to hear.  Take an active interest in answering the question: “Where is this church going, and how will it get there?”  When you run into areas beyond your ability or motivation, tap your team.  If your team lacks the expertise to get things moving, call in some help.

What Vision is your Church Talking About?

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Remember the old adage, of something particularly mundane: “It’s nothing to write home about”?

I’m not sure that people write home anymore, but the principle still makes sense.  Some things are worth sharing, some things aren’t.

Which side of that fence is your church on?

Here’s what I mean: when your people are out to lunch, on a business trip, or catching up with their long-lost friends, is there anything about your church they’d want to report?  Is there anything so contagious, any vision so compelling, that they feel like they have to speak up, with the same pride that drives grandparents to show off pictures of their grandkids?

It is certainly possible.

For example, the church I attend at present has such a fantastic children’s ministry, I feel compelled to share about it whenever church enters a conversation.  I remember at various times during my days in the pastorate I would hear good reports about something big we had underway, and those reports would be coming from third or fourth-hand sources.  “I heard you guys were doing that . . .”   How did they hear?  Who told them?

When things are excellent or compelling, word spreads quickly.

So, right now, let’s do a gut check on your congregation, and your vision.

What is happening right now that is generating buzz?  What has people talking?  What has people looking for ways to bring up church in a conversation, just so they can talk about it with their friends?

Or, to bring things down a level (life isn’t always quite that exciting), how about this question, posed to someone who is not on your leadership team:

So, what is our church doing this year?  What’s going on?  What goals do they have?

If the answer is, “That’s a great question, I’ll have to ask,” or “I’m not sure,” you might have a gap in vision (or in the communication of vision).

Here are a few questions to ponder: 

  • Pastor, what you reaching for, in Christ’s name?
  • Who are you serving boldly with the gospel?
  • What kingdom goals are being completed right now?
  • Who is being trained up for ministry?
  • What new ideas are percolating through the leadership team right now?
  • How will your church be different in six months than it is right now?

I don’t believe we always need a “shiny object” in the church that is somehow new and improved, and we shouldn’t be worried about generating buzz for its own sake.  There might be long seasons of faithfulness required in between “big, new things.”  But even then, the goals can be clear. Their connection to the Great Commission vision must be established.

In kingdom work, there is always something we can write home about.

About the Author–Dan Jarvis is a certified strategists with Leadership Outreach and a free-lance writer. He is the editor of Revive! Magazine, a publication of Life Action Ministries. Dan is the author of Commissioned, a book detailing the explosive growth of the local church in India. Dan can be reached at Dan@leadershipoutreach.com.

The Best Opportunity for Non-Profits

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What if faith-based non-profit activity could be a bridge between culture as it is today, and culture as we wish it could be?

If churches are the place where people are supposed to “meet with God,” what will happen if churches continue their decline?  The statistics are certainly alarming, and the trend lines don’t look good for “church as usual” (at least in the West).  Where will people meet God, if churches fade away from a community?

Part of the answer may lie with spiritually-based non-profits.  I know of many organizations that do good for the world, and many volunteers and dollars are drawn to these important causes, which can “make the world a better place.”

But what if these non-profits more overtly dedicated effort to help people meet God?  Some non-profits shy away from being “pushy” so as not to offend donors or recipients.  The calculation is that being a good example will attract people, and eventually this will lead to spiritual conversation.  I often fall into this category myself.

But what if we changed this paradigm? What if non-profit groups consciously looked for ways to bring God into the conversations, and by doing so, share the “good news” right alongside of their “good deeds?”  Wouldn’t that accomplish the mission?  Isn’t that the most helpful thing any person or organization could do?

Leadership Outreach has helped non-profits do just this.  It is exhilarating to facilitate pathways for non-profits to close the communication loop as they deliver their services.  We help them not only reach out to help by delivering their services, but if they desire, we can help them refresh the spiritual dimension of their ministry work.  I believe getting such a strategy woven into a non-profit’s vision/mission is the “secret sauce” to real strategic planning and leadership development.

Can non-profits be a significant discipleship path?  Could they assist churches as they renew their own vision and cultural significance?  Why not?  They are more likely to draw young and old in large numbers.  Once someone has God at work in their own heart, they are more apt to be open to what churches offer. What if faith-based non-profit activity could be a bridge between culture as it is today, and culture as we wish it could be?

Well, non-profits – are you up for the challenge?  And as you strategize to help your constituents physically, emotionally and – as I’m suggesting – spiritually, would you like some help?  Leadership Outreach would love to partner with you in pursuit of your mission, and toward the larger mission we read about in God’s Word.

Jean Cholka is leadership coach and organization strategist with Leadership Outreach.  She has served in leadership and HR roles in fortune 500 companies and start-ups/turnarounds.  Most recently she was the CEO of Freeborders, Inc. a global consulting company based in San Francisco, CA. She can be reached at Jean@leadershipoutreach.com

 

4 Things I Learned Doing a City Wide Outreach

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Church Growth

Rather than inviting people to come “in” to our services and programs, what if we took the message “out” to every home?

I had always preached about “reaching our community” and everyone would nod in grand approval.  But what were we really doing to accomplish that vision?

There came a day when I decided to take concerted action on this point, and to start floating to my leadership team the idea that we should develop a coordinated strategy to reach the city we were in – the entire city – as in every home!  I had heard of other churches approaching things this way, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed right for us.  Rather than inviting people to come “in” to our services and programs, what if we took the message “out” to every home?

After a few meetings to discern what our community needed, and what skill sets we had, our church landed on developing a magazine-style print campaign that would land in more than 28,000 mailboxes – six times in a row!  For us, it felt like a dramatic undertaking, but we knew that the topics our magazines would address (finances, marriage, purpose, forgiveness, addictions, and stress) were exactly what our community needed to discuss, particularly the Bible’s wisdom in those areas.

We formed teams to study each topic and also to prepare for any response that might come in from the mailings, and these teams took on the identity of “their issue” of the magazine. (Being a member of the “love” team was much more attractive than being on the “addictions” team to be sure!)

The whole process was good for our church.  Not only did we involve most of our adult congregation in a direct community outreach, but we did actually reach our whole city with the gospel. In six separate magazines over a little more than a year-long period, we offered the truth right in mailboxes – not just promotions to “come and hear” the answer, but – here, in friendly four-color – is the answer!

Church Growth – Our Experience:

The success is difficult to measure, but here’s what happened to us:

  • In the year of the mailings and then the following few months, I believe nearly 1,000 people visited our church for the first time.
  • The conversation of our town was remarkably shaped by this. Our members reported countless conversations that started with, “Wait, are you from the church that sent me the…”
  • A large number of adult attenders of our fellowship got involved in small groups (teams) and evangelistic conversation – many of whom had never done so before.

Here are four things I learned from our city-wide outreach:

1. People want to share the gospel, but they need a practical pathway. We had no problem finding volunteers and donors to make the whole program happen – but they wouldn’t have gotten involved without a specific pathway to do so.  The plan itself is all they were waiting for!  I didn’t need to preach more about outreaching, I needed to lead the way.

2. A strategic plan was necessary from the outset. Those who made the project possible (our church family) needed to see that initial PowerPoint presentation where I showed charts of the number of households in our church area, the religious affiliations of those households, cost projections for reaching out, and more.  They needed to see the plan before they could work the plan!  And that process required prayer, creativity, lots of meetings and plenty of offline conversations.  It was well worth it in the end!

3. City-reaching is a wide-open market. Most churches build their organizational structures and keep things afloat for the general benefit of their members.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se, except that Jesus didn’t found the church to be an end in itself!  Elevating outreach to the top of the priority list at our church changed the temperature of the people.  It also gave our internal ministries renewed purpose and vision.  When I say city-reaching is an “open market” I mean that very few churches are really doing it.  Many talk, but few get strategic and practical with that talk.

4. Bolder is better, as long as its realistic. I don’t suspect the momentum or change in our church (or the actual effect of the effort) would have been the same if we had taken action on a smaller scale.  We did have voices in our church arguing for smaller or more conservative plans.  “Isn’t this too expensive?  Shouldn’t we do _______ first?”  My favorite piece of feedback came from a non-Christian after the mailing of our first issue.  He wrote, “This is awfully aggressive for a church. Please remove me from your list.”  Amen!  Imagine, people who believe the gospel is the only way to heaven – being aggressive!

As you contemplate strategic planning and leadership coaching in your congregation, my encouragement is to think out of the box. Gather a leadership and creative team together and begin with the question: “How can we complete the Great Commission in our community?”

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Strategies: How to turn them in Action Plans

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You know the feeling, Pastor.  At least I do.

You’ve cast a bold vision in front of your congregation, you’ve verbally committed to a project that would change lives!  But then, in the hustle of daily responsibility, and the grind of ordinary human weakness, those good intentions go un-fulfilled. People who were nodding in excited agreement at the new ministry prospect went back to their own priorities, never giving another thought to yours.

The plan doesn’t advance past “go” and you’re called to account a few months later: “Pastor, whatever happened to….?”  Or, “So, who is working on…?”

Strategies: Your heart was right, your vision was clear.

You may have even laid down a good set of strategies to accomplish the objective.

But in the end, crickets.  And, honestly, embarrassment.

The failure was in the conversion of strategy to action plans.

Strategy talks about how an objective gets completed, action plans assign specific responsibilities and prescribe detailed steps.

What is step one and who will take it?  When?  How much will step one cost, and where is that money coming from?

What is step two, and who is responsible for that?

Strategies: An action plan turns a bright idea into a concrete to-do list.

As a pastor, I didn’t lack for vision, or even for strategies. I had a pretty strong sense of what should be done, what would probably “work,” and even the right pathway to get there.  But I struggled a lot when it came to implementation, delegation, assignment, and (MOSTLY) accountability.

I would be lamenting the lack of “buy-in” or volunteerism from people, when really I should have been making a spreadsheet.  My people weren’t unwilling, they were just weren’t directed.  And whose fault was that?

One reason I recommend the strategic planning process to churches is not because an outside coach has all the right ideas.  They probably don’t.  YOU probably do, at least as far as how ministry should work in your context.  What a strategist can do is help you turn those good ideas into specific actionable plans, the kind that get measured, and the kind that get DONE.

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Why I Started Leadership Outreach

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“Your mission is too important to attempt without a plan.”  

Simply put, something’s got to change. The statistics are scary. Churches are folding. Pastors are quitting. Non-profits are failing. You’ve read the stats. But what can we do? It’s time we re-think what we are doing. It’s time we reevaluate our methods and programs. It’s time we renew our commitment to the gospel. It’s time for a change.

Perhaps I’m a bit unusual, but change excites me. I love to see, hear, or read about people, organizations, or churches that have overcome incredible odds to reach their mission or fulfill their purpose. It inspires me. Change becomes necessary when we begin to lose momentum, when we acquiesce to status quo, when we encounter a major obstacle or when our environment changes around us despite what we want.

We all face obstacles that stand in the way of our progress…whether it’s a financial hurdle, a physical ailment, or the baggage from a bad decision in the past.

Non-profit organizations and churches, just like people, must find ways to move toward their desired future while overcoming the obstacles before them… pushing forward their unique calling and purpose. They need to change to make this happen.

Having been a pastor for over twenty years, I know the frustration of trying to decide what is the next “right” step for our organization. In a world where the stakes are high (dealing with the eternal souls of people), it is extremely important that the leaders of the organization make wise choices.

A church that tries to do it all, be everything to everybody, reach every man, woman, and child, runs the risk of dying from exhaustion…exhausted people, exhausted resources, and exhausted funds. One church simply can’t do it all. One powerful result of strategic planning is determining what our church or NPO will NOT do.

 

Successfully leading an organization through change is difficult…especially if the people do not yet realize the need for change. That is why it is so important to define reality before attempting a big initiative or a change in direction. Are the people ready for change? Is there data (demographic analysis, survey results, health assessments, etc.) that support a need for change? Change for the sake of change can be disastrous.

 

Wise leaders do their homework and prepare their staff and people for the process of discovering God’s next steps for the organization. This is where Leadership Outreach consultants become so helpful to churches and NPO’s. Our teams of facilitators work with your people to discover God’s plan for your ministry and then establish the framework for seeing that vision accomplished.

If your church, ministry, or non-profit organization is in need of change, call Leadership Outreach today to discuss how our team of trained strategists can assist you in developing your unique, God-ordained strategic plan.

 

Tim Neptune is the founder and president of Leadership Outreach. A seasoned pastor with over twenty years ministry experience, Tim is a facilitator, strategist, and leadership coach. He can be reached at

tim@leadershipoutreach.com or by phone at (239) 775-5323.

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