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copy a mega-church

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Copy a Mega-Church

If someone asked you who you’re following in today’s church landscape, you could probably answer with a list of 3-5 church leaders and perhaps 3-5 organizations to whom you’re paying close attention.

Even if you say you don’t have a list, chances are you do.

Your list might simply consist of critics of mega-church leaders or mega-churches.

We all follow someone. Especially in our hyper-connected era.

I am actually exceptionally grateful for what God is doing in many mega-churches and have deep respect for many mega-church leaders. Critics who say “all mega-churches are ______” in my view simply haven’t done their research.

I’m also a massive advocate of adopting best practices from anyone and anywhere (business, church, thought leaders etc).

After all, no one learns in isolation. Very few of us ever come up with an idea ‘no one has ever thought of before.’

In fact, the church at which I serve is a mega-church strategic partner. We have borrowed a TON of insight, strategy and branding directly from North Point and a few others.

And it works. Even in Canada.

So why this post then?

Because there’s a world of difference between adopting best practices and blindly copying.

Here’s the difference.

copy a mega-church

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Blindly Copy a Mega-Church

So why wouldn’t you blindly copy a mega-church?

Here are 5 reasons I’ve both experienced personally and observed widely among other church leaders, and 5 ways to better adopt the practices you see and admire.

For context, I have adopted a TON of learning from mega-churches and many sources over the years, both through transitioning a church (leading three tiny mainline churches into one, growing church that grew to 800) and through church planting (founding a church plant that now reaches 1100 each weekend).

But here are the traps you’ll fall into if you blindly copy your favourite leader or organization:

1. You’ll mix up models

Even back in the dial-up days, some of us used to watch other churches.

I cut my teeth in the late 90s as a budding church leader watching Saddleback and Willow Creek.

Then I went to a conference in 1999 and where I met James Emery White. He asked me about the changes I was making our our three little church and I explained that we were taking best practices from Willow and Saddleback and a bunch of other churches and combining them.

I’ll never forget what he told me.

He said “You don’t understand church models. Those are incompatible with each other. They aren’t the same thing. Carey, you need to become a student of models.”

Guess what? He was 100% right.

So I became a student of models.

While churches like North Point, LifeChurch, Elevation and NewSpring look the same on the outside, they approach ministry differently in many areas: groups, kids ministry, how they structure staff, how they reach out in the community and even the programs they offer.

When you study church models, pay attention to the differences.

Otherwise you might be adopting what you think made them effective, but didn’t. You might end up implementing a fake version of whatever you thought was the original, like buying a Pollo shirt rather than a Polo shirt.

You can’t effectively adopt what you don’t understand.

2. You’ll create an incompatible hybrid

When you mix models, as described above, you can easily end up with a hybrid model that just doesn’t work.

Each effective church you’re studying (be it well known or not) is the product of years of development, prayer, trial and error and fine-tuning until it finally all worked together powerfully.

If you strip a part off one model, borrow another from a second church, randomly select something you like from a third and THEN try to combine into something effective at your church, you’re headed for almost certain failure.

Why? Because there’s a good chance the components you borrowed don’t work well together.

Think of it this way: you can’t easily fix your Android phone with iPhone parts, or your iPhone with Android parts. They’re both phones, but they’re not the same.

If you put most Ford truck parts into a Tesla, it won’t run. They’re both vehicles, but they’re not the same.

In the same way, all the churches you study are churches, but they’re not the same.

You want a compatible system.

Naturally, once you see that certain parts will fit into your system beautifully because you understand the ‘part’ and you understand your system, you can adapt them.

3. You won’t own it

This one’s huge.

It’s easy than ever to attend conferences, read books, skim blogs, follow leaders and borrow a bucketful of ideas.

The challenge, though, is two-fold.

First, the ideas you’re borrowing from the leaders in question was a hard-fought idea. They developed it, revised it, changed it again and reworked it until it finally became an idea worth sharing. It was a part of them before they shared it within anyone. They owned it.

Second—and obviously—you haven’t owned that idea at the same level. And until you do, it might not prove nearly as effective for you as it has for them.

All of that leads us to this: leaders who don’t own their ideas are rarely as effective as leaders who do.

Can you own an idea that you didn’t come up with?

Of course you can.

But usually first, you need to

Wrestle with it

Rethink it back to first principles

Revise it

Test it

Adapt it

Then it’s yours.

Often we steal ideas because we think they’ll work, but we don’t know why they work.

And if that happens, when people ask us questions about an idea, we usually can’t answer them well, if at all.

“It worked somewhere else” is not a convincing line of reasoning.

If you can’t answer a deep line of questioning around an idea, you don’t own it.

4. You won’t change your system

When you’re borrowing ideas from other leaders and organizations, the change you ultimately need to make is deep and structural.

Borrowing a promising idea can be like putting new siding on a house whose foundation is crumbling. It looks great, but you really haven’t solved anything.

As Andy Stanley explains in his classic systems talk, your system—more than anything else—drives your outcome.

Often the change you need to make is deep, systemic and permanent.

As I explain in Lasting Impact, a bad governance system or other structural barriers will restrict the growth of your church.

A pastor who insists on doing most of the pastor care personally will permanently stunt the growth of your church (I explain why here).

If you’re not willing to re-invent everything in your church, you’ll never be satisfied with the change.

Any change usually means a systems change.

5. You’ll ignore context

I’m a little hesitant to mention context because about 99% of the time I hear leaders misuse it.

How? Most church leaders use context as an excuse, not as an explanation.

If you want to be completely ineffective as a church leader, please use your context as an excuse.

I could say more about using context as an excuse (I’m super-passionate about the subject), but I’ve written more fully on it here.

Here’s the bottom line: you can make excuses or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

That said, there are two contexts leaders routinely miss: theirs and yours.

Think of borrowing ideas the same way you’d think about transplanting a tree: if you want the plant to thrive, you need to match the soil and nutrients of the transplant location to the soil and nutrients of the original location.

And not all plants thrive everywhere. Palm trees tend to do less well in Alaska than in Florida.

Study the source context for the idea:

Is the context a business context?

Is the church in the bible belt or a heavily unchurched area?

Is the church rural or urban?

What’s the ethnic makeup of the organization?

Is it a church plant or an established church?

What makes the leader I’m studying different from me?

Take notes and simply compare and contrast their situation to your situation. This will help you understand the why and the what of the idea or best practice.

Then make any adaptations you need to so the practice or idea thrives in your context.

But don’t use the differences as an excuse why something won’t work. Use it to gain understanding on how to make it work.

Poor leaders list a million reasons why something won’t work. Great leaders find the one reason it will.

Be that leader.

Borrow All The Best Practices and Ideas You Can

So what’s the bottom line?

Borrow (even steal) all the best practices and ideas you possibly can. Especially from successful organizations and churches.

And make sure:

You understand the models you’re studying

All the components of your strategy work together seamlessly

You own it

You’re making the deep system changes you need to

You understand context as way of ensuring your new idea thrives

That’s my best advice in this area.

What are you learning?

I’d love to hear from you. Scroll down and leave a comment.


5 Ways An Aligned Team Is A Better Team (What I’ve Learned From North Point)

Ever wonder what would happen if you got everyone in your church or organization moving in the same direction?

For the last seven years, I’ve led a North Point Strategic Partner Church and have learned so much about the benefit of having an aligned church. One of the key benefits of a simple church model (which North Point and its partners practice) is alignment.

Alignment happens when you have a team of people – from the top leadership right through to the newest volunteer – pulling in the same direction not only around the same goals, but using the same strategy.

Seems simple, but it isn’t.

Everybody I talk to is in favour of aligning their organization (why have hundreds of people working at crossed purposes?), but few people seem to be able to pull it off.

Rarely have I seen an organization more intentional about alignment than North Point.

When people approach us as a partner church, few leaders ever ask us about alignment. But as they are leaving after some time with us, they inevitably remark on the level of ownership the staff and volunteers have.

I agree. Team and organizational alignment is a powerful thing when it happens.

That’s the power of alignment. To get very different people rallied around a common cause is a wonderful thing.

An aligned team, quite simply, is a better team.


Here are five benefits to working in an aligned organization:

1. Alignment creates a badly needed dividing line 

Being everything to everyone is pretty much the same as being nothing to everyone.

Few organizations struggle with this more than the church. Alignment forces you to be about a few defined things rather than about everything (aka nothing).

Once you choose the things you are going to do and align around it, the people who want you to be about everything will sometimes leave, but that’s okay.

Being aligned almost always means you will accomplish more.

2. Alignment forces out personal agendas 

I learned this early on from Andy Stanley.

When the organization’s agenda becomes clear and the main priority for everyone, it forces out competing personal agendas.

Everything from politics to selfish personal goals get squeezed out.

Why does alignment do this? Well, alignment forces out personal agendas, because leaders commit to something bigger than themselves.

3. Alignment does not mean full agreement; it means full focus 

Critics of alignment say that alignment means you snuff out independent thought and, in its extreme form, create a culture of yes people. I disagree.

Most high capacity leaders actually want to work in an environment that is going to produce results.

Alignment around key objectives does that.

Alignment does not mean full agreement; it means full focus.

4. Alignment removes all excuses

We’ve had several staff join us our team who used to be part of other, less aligned organizations.

Within a year, they had the same experience I did once we got our teams fully aligned: all your excuses for a lack of progress disappear.

You can’t blame anyone else because everyone actually supports you and your agenda—because there is only one agenda.

This allows you to realize your potential, but the excuses you used to use for lack of results are gone. And church leaders can be notorious excuse makers.

5. Alignment allows you to harness more creativity, not less

Counterintuitively, having a common mission and strategy means that your team can harness greater – not lesser – creativity.

Because you agree on direction and priorities, you spend significant time getting creative about implementing your vision.

You no longer waste hours debating what to do. Instead, you can spend hours getting better at what you’ve agreed you’ll do.

What About You?

If you are facing internal or external resistance to alignment, I want to encourage you to move past that resistance. You’ll be so glad you did.

That’s what I’m learning and enjoying about being part of an aligned organization. What are you discovering?

How to Create an Energy Management List and Why Every Leader Should Have One

Almost every leader I know has a task list. (Come to think of it, I think  school children carry task lists these days.)

That’s awesome.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to track your to do list.

At various points I’ve used everything from a piece of paper, to sticky notes, to the notes app on my phone, to my calendar, to my inbox, to Evernote to track to dos, just trying to get better.

We could end the post there (just get a new app!), but chances are no matter how great your task management system is, you’re probably still feeling a bit overwhelmed right now as you look at your massive to do list.

No app can fix that.

But maybe this can.

What if you created an energy management list? It will  take you very little time, and it has the potential to change everything from your productivity to how you feel about your job.

Read more

6 Keys to Breaking the 200, 400 and 800 Attendance Barriers

While there’s a lot of ‘sensitivity’ around the subject of large churches v. smaller churches, the reality is many church leaders I know sincerely want to reach more people.

Which means, in the end, they are hoping their church will grow.

Surprisingly, only a tiny percentage of churches ever make it past 200 people in attendance. Why is that?

Well, as I shared in this post (which is also by far the most read post on this blog), there are at least 8 reasons why churches don’t make it past the 200 attendance mark.

In this post I want to offer 6 keys to breaking church growth barriers and address 6 more reasons churches don’t get there.

church growth barriers

Here’s What’s Missing

I’m going to assume leaders are praying and that the church is biblical and authentic in its mission. I’ll also assume that leaders want to church to grow.

But even with all those conditions in place, too many churches just can’t push through.

And even once you get past 200, some churches can’t make it past 400 or 800.  Again, not for lack of desire or opportunity.

So why can’t they grow?

They simply haven’t structured for growth.

My first post explores this in detail and I’ll also remind you again of the best book I’ve ever read on the subject: Carl George and Warren Bird’s, How to Break Growth Barriers. They go into detail about some of the barriers I raise in this post and the previous one.

Wise leaders position their church today to make an impact tomorrow.

And by the way, if you’re tempted to criticize this as ‘yet another strategy piece’, please read Exodus 18Luke 10 and Acts 6. (Apparently, God likes structure and organization too.)


6 Keys to Breaking 200, 400 and 800 in Attendance

While embracing all 6 things won’t guarantee your church will grow, every church I know that has successfully pushed past the 200, 400 and 800 barriers has navigated these changes (and dealt with the 8 problems in the other post).

Here are 6 keys:

Read more

Young Leader Mistake #3: Inadequate Leadership Development

inadequate leadership development

Most things don’t start big. They start small.

While we all want to see our mission and organization grow, nothing stunts the growth of a ministry faster than inadequate leadership development.

It’s a mistake almost every young leader makes. I did..and honestly, as much as our church has grown, I feel like I’m still learning on this one.

If you don’t handle leadership development well, at least three things happen:

Things that start small stay small.

Even if you grow, you keep hitting unnecessary growth barriers.

You miss the potential of the ministry God has given you.

As a young leader, I made three critical leadership development mistakes:

1. I tried to do too much by myself.

2. I used recruiting leaders as a substitute for developing leaders.

3. I didn’t articulate expectations clearly enough.

Ultimately you will limit your potential unless you address all three.

Here’s why inadequate leadership development is a problem:

Keep reading this post…

The Top 5 Ministry Excuses You Absolutely Need to Stop Making

Top 5 Excuses Ministry Leaders Make

Excuses. We all make them from time to time. But we should banish them from our vocabulary forever.

And here’s why I believe that’s so critical:

You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

Most of us want to make progress, but instead we make excuses.

I was reminded of that twice this week. The first time was in in this great post by my friend Casey Graham.

The second time was the day when my 17 year old son Sam and I were driving to his track meet (that’s Sam above racing on a really nice track near Toronto).

He and his team have qualified as provincial finalists in the 4×100 meter high school relay.

Sam and I were talking about training and which school have the best facilities.

My son’s school has a gravel track.

It has no marked lanes.

It’s not great for training.

They have to estimate hand-offs on the relay and practice their steps with best guesses because their track isn’t marked for any of that.

And yet his team has advanced to the provincial finals.

The team with the best track in the county (a multi-million dollar top rate install) has been eliminated.

I said I was surprised… Sam was too. He said as a rule the team with the great facility rarely does well, and yet his school always places first or second, even with the inferior training facility.

The conversation reminded me of the power of excuses.

It would be so easy for Sam and his team mates to try less hard and convince themselves that they’ll never make it to the finals unless they got a track like other schools.

But they didn’t. They trained like crazy anyway, and went all the way to the finals.

The conversation convicted me again: you and I absolutely have to stop making excuses now.

Question: Ever notice that ministry leaders often have a whole list of well-rehearsed excuses as to why their ministry isn’t more effective than it is?

Tell me if this isn’t true:

The leaders who make the most excuses make the least progress.

The leaders who make the most progress make the fewest excuses.

So in the name of getting on with our mission, here are the top 5 excuses I’ve heard church leaders make. (And regrettably, in different seasons, I’ve made some of them.)

1. Our context is different. Take those four words and burn them. I live in a country where over 90% of people aren’t in church on a weekend and 24% now identify as having ‘no religion’. Many churches are dying but some are thriving. Sure it’s hard work, but you can lead a growing church in a dying culture. Because we are aligned with North Point and Orange, people always ask me how much translates to Canada. I always answer ‘about 90%’. We listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, watch the same movies and TV shows and pretty much drive the same cars. If it doesn’t work, we tweak it or change it. But we don’t dwell on the differences. We dwell on what’s effective. So stop making excuses about your context. Or for goodness sake go invent something that works in your context. Just stop focusing on what doesn’t work.

2. I don’t have the right people. Great people don’t randomly assemble. They are attracted by clear and compelling missions (like the mission of the church). They are challenged, nurtured and inspired by skillful, humble, passionate leaders who have devoted their lives to a cause greater than themselves. The reason your ‘people’ aren’t like the people of the churches you admire is because you haven’t led them there. Get on your knees, look in the mirror and start leading or find someone who can. When you lead with all diligence, you call something out in people that God planted within them. People who have lived ‘ordinarily’ can begin to live ‘extraordinarily’ under the right leadership.

3. We don’t have the money. Vision and passion always precede resources. Here are three reasons most leaders don’t have enough money.

1. Your vision isn’t big enough. People give small sums to small visions.

2. Your vision isn’t fully aligned with the real purposes of the church. When your mission vision and strategy are aligned with the biblical vision of church, it resonates with people. They give more to something they know is authentic.

3. You haven’t challenged people to give sacrificially. My wife and I have always tried to give generously and sacrificially to ministry. But we weren’t seeing a completely generous culture at our church. I asked Casey Graham for help. Casey told me that I did a great job informing and inspiring people to give. But I did a terrible job asking people. I learned to ask, directly. People now give sacrificially. We’ve freed up significantly more money for ministry as a result.

4. I can’t get permission to do that. Really? Well go change your constitution (this post by Jeff Brodie on why your church constitution might be killing you is a must-read). Challenge the status quo. I’m not talking about being an obnoxious leader, but quietly, humbly, skillfully work for change. If it gets you fired, so what? Would you rather be ineffective, betray your calling and have job security, or would you rather change the world? I always say to our team, if you don’t do something that could get you fired once or twice a year, you’re probably not doing your job.

5. If our church was in Texas, we’d have 10,000 people. Listen, I’ve actually thought that too. Kind of embarrassing to put in writing though, isn’t it? What a terrible way to think about leadership. If you really think your church would be 10,000 people in Texas, move there and start a church. Otherwise shut up about it. You don’t have to be faithful with what God gave other people. You just need to be faithful with what he’s given you. So get moving.

How are you going to spend the rest of today, this week, or this year?

Making excuses?

Or making progress?

Because you can’t do both.

Any other excuses you’ve heard? Leave them in the comments.

And in the meantime, what excuses are you going to banish from your vocabulary today?

21 Leadership and Life Lessons I Learned from Reggie Joiner

21 Leadership and Life Lessons I've Learned From Reggie Joiner

I have been at the Orange Conference 2013 this week in Atlanta. If you’ve never been you’re missing out.

This is not an unbiased account, just so you know. I’ve had the privilege of working closely with Reggie over a number of years. We have written together, traveled together and spoken together.

But more than that, he’s become one of my best friends and he’s been an incredibly positive influence on my leadership.  He also officiated at my son’s wedding last year. I so appreciate his friendship and leadership.

While Reggie Joiner is passionate about families, he’s also one of the very best leaders I’ve ever met – anywhere. He’s creatively brilliant and strategically laser focused. And he’s an incredible friend to many.  I think anyone who knows Reggie would agree.

But I thought you might like to learn from Reggie the way I’ve learned from him. So I thought I’d highlight 21 leadership lessons I’ve learned from Reggie over the years.

Let’s start with some lessons on life, family and relationships:

1. Your legacy is going to be most important to the people you’re with right now. Invest in the people closest to you. I have seen this modeled in Reggie’s life. His investment in time and care in the people who know him is second to none. Although he leads thousands of people, he leads the few around him with completely commitment and humility.

2. The environment you want to create is one where no matter how far people might stray they want to come back. When people ask me what Reggie’s like, I tell them “He’s a creative genius…one of the smartest people I’ve ever met…he’s deeply relational.”  All of that is true. But he also just loves people and knows how to value them in their worst moments. If I was ever ended up in the moral ditch, I would ask for Reggie to come help me get out. He creates the kind of environment where no matter how far people stray, they would want to come back.

3. Nobody has more influence in the life of a child than a parent. Fact. Which is why no parent can ignore the 3000 hours of influence God gives us each year.

4. A parent is not the only influence a child needs. God never designed parents to handle their kids all alone.

5. Two combined influences have a greater impact than just two influences. When you combine the influences of church and family, you get something more powerful, like when red and yellow combine to produce Orange.

6. 100 years from now, the only thing that will matter in the life of a child is their relationship with God. Bam. If that isn’t perspective, what is? I have a coaster in my home I use every day for my morning tea. That’s what it says on the coaster.

7. God doesn’t use perfect pictures. He uses broken people. The ideal family doesn’t exist. Just read your bibles and breathe a sigh of relief. Most biblical families were just as dysfunctional as yours.

8. God wants to tell the story of redemption and restoration in every family. God meets us where we are, not where we think we should have been.

9. God’s story of redemption in a parent’s life gives a child a front row seat to the grace of God. When God begins to work in a parent’s life, the kids get a front row seat to grace. So beautiful. And true.

10. Every child needs another voice saying the same thing a loving parent would say. This may have saved my sanity as my kids move through their teenager years. Even though they might not want to tell me anything, they had other adults in their life they could talk to. Powerful.

11. You need to pursue strategic relationship for your kids before you need them so that they’re there when they need them. When you prioritize small group friendships and adult leaders who serve as mentors early, you set kids up for success.

12. People will not believe they are significant until you give them something significant to do. That’s why in Orange ministry, we give teens and even pre-teens significant opportunities to serve.

13. The Church convinced me for years that I was supposed to love people who are different, but they never gave me permission to like people who are different. Bam. Reggie has one of the most progressive minds I know when it come to thinking about who the church needs to be, how we need to act and what we need to do to love and like the people who are different than us. (The future of the church probably lies in our response to that issue by the way).

14.  The most important fight you can have is the fight for the heart. Reggie taught me what it was like to fight for people, not with people. My life will never be the same as a result.

And let’s finish up with some leadership principles

15. Push others into the spotlight. I don’t think anyone I know does this better than Reggie. He loves raising up leaders, handing over the mic, standing to the side and helping other leaders succed.

16. Change isn’t an option. How you respond to it is. I love talking/writing about change. Reggie nails it in this quote.

17. Strategic steps beat random programs. Reggie taught me to think steps, not programs. Our church is so much healthier as a result.

18. The problem with needs based ministry is there’s no end to need. Every time someone says “I see a need we should respond to”, I think about this quote from Reggie. You could go there as a church, but just know you are never going to solve every need you see. So we just pick one or two and go deep.

19.  Your strategy ultimately determines the success of your ministry. Effective ministry is not just about great content, mission or vision it’s about having a great strategy. A poor strategy will frustrate the execution of a great mission.

20. Teach Less For More. To cut through the communication noise our culture suffers from, teach fewer things for greater impact. All information is not equally helpful, relevant or engaging.

21. Focus on who you want to reach, not who you want to keep. I always wanted to be about unchurched people, but this principle changed my focus more anything else.

Those are 21 leadership and life lessons I learned from Reggie Joiner.

What have you learned from Reggie?

Casting the Vision Daily To Keep Your Team Aligned – Breakout Notes


The following is my talk outline for my Casting the Vision Daily To Keep Your Team Aligned talk given at the 2013 Orange Conference.

If you have questions feel free to leave a comment. In the meantime, here’s my talk outline.

Alignment is such a key issue for leaders. More than almost anything else, misalignment can derail even the clearest and most compelling vision. We’ll look at how leaders get misaligned and what you can do to keep your team on the same page.

1. In a perfect world, alignment would be automatic.

2. A leader never has to work at getting a team unaligned – it happens all by itself.

3. Organizations naturally grow toward complexity, (inner) competition and confusion.

4. Over time, minor misalignments become major gaps and, as a result, the common mission is lost.

5.  Just because you start in the same place doesn’t mean you end up in the same place.

So how does misalignment happen?

1. Misalignment rarely happens in a church on the mission and vision level

2. Misalignment almost always happens on a strategy level.

3. In particular, strategically unaligned programs become divisive because what you’re involved in becomes the mission

4. Leaders forget to talk about why we do what we do.

Why unites

What and how divide

Five Ways to Build and Keep Alignment

1. Take personal ownership of the strategy as leaders by:

1. Creating clarity around strategy.

2. Eliminating all competing programming (less is more).

3. Creating a common language.

4. This greatly reduces personal agendas.

2. Empower people who are already onboard.

a. Some of them are on your team…some are not.

b. Look for like minded leaders…with a proven track record.

c. Focus on strategic alignment, not just missional alignment.

d. Use financial records if necessary…giving is evidence of where the heart truly is.

e. Prioritizing the “who” of team will reduce friction and speed alignment as you discuss the “what” of ministry.

3. Build trust.

a. Trust is easiest relationally when people are aligned missionally.

b. Trust impacts speed:

i. Where trust is low, speed goes down and costs go up.
ii. Where trust is high, speed goes up and costs go down. (see Stephen M.R. Covey…Speed of Trust)

4. Eliminate alignment killers:

a. Unclear wins.

b. Ministry clutter.

c. Infrequent communication (your mission vision and strategy should never be ‘old news’ to anyone)

d. Infrequent relational deposits.

e. Infrequent follow through.

5. Stick to your strategy long enough to see if it works.

a. People aren’t used to alignment.

b. People aren’t used to clarity.

c. People are used to getting ‘their own way’

Ultimately, people gravitate toward a clear and compelling mission, vision and strategy.

And eventually, they even align themselves around it.

Those are my breakout notes. For more information on aligning a team, you can read this post that outlines 5 things I learned from North Point about team alignment.

What questions do you have about keeping a team aligned?

9 Signs Your Church Is Ready to Reach Unchurched People


9 Signs Your Church is Ready to Reach Unchurched People

Almost every church I know says they want to reach unchurched people. But few are actually doing it.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that many churches don’t really understand unchurched people (here’s a post on 15 characteristics of today’s unchurched person).

And part of the problem is that our model of church is designed to reach and help churched people, not unchurched people. Churches haven’t embraced change deeply enough.

So you can say you want to reach people all day long. You can teach about it every week. But if you haven’t designed your church around ministering to people who don’t go to church, you might as well be preaching that you want to lose weight while eating a triple cheeseburger.

Your model simply doesn’t match your mission.

So how do you know that your church is actually ready to reach unchurched people?

Here are 9 signs your church is ready to embrace unchurched people:

1. Your main services engage teenagers. I’ve talked with many church leaders who want to reach unchurched people who can’t understand why unchurched people don’t like their church. They would be stumped until I asked them one last question: do the teens in your church love your services and want to invite their friends? As soon as I asked that question, the leader’s expression would inevitably change. He or she would look down at the floor and say ‘no’. Here’s what I believe: if teens find your main services (yes, the ones you run on Sunday mornings) boring, irrelevant, and disengaging, so will unchurched people. As a rule, if you can design services that engage teenagers, you’ve designed a church service that engages unchurched people.

2. People who attend your church actually know unchurched people. Many Christians say they want to reach unchurched people, but they don’t actually know any unchurched people well enough to invite them. One of the reasons we run almost no church programs at Connexus where I serve (other than small groups and few other steps toward discipleship) is that we want our families to get to know unchurched people. We want them to play community sports, get involved at their kids school and have time for dinner parties and more. You can’t do that if you’re at church 6 nights a week. We don’t do many ministries because our people are our ministry.

3. Your attenders are prepared to be non-judgmental. Unchurched people do not come ‘pre-converted’. They will have lifestyle issues that might take years to change (and let’s be honest, don’t you?). Cleaning up your behaviour is not a pre-condition for salvation, at least not in Christianity. What God has done for us in Jesus saves us; not what we have done for God. Is your congregation really ready to love unchurched people, not just judge them? (I wrote about why Christians should let non-Christians off the moral hook here.) One of Jesus’ genius approaches was to love people into life change. If your people can do that, you’re ready to reach unchurched people.

4. You’re good with questions. This one’s still hard for me. I like to think that every question has an answer. I think one of the reasons unchurched people flee churches is they feel shut down when every question they ask has a snappy or even quick answer. They will find answers, but you need to give them time. Embracing the questions of unchurched people is a form of embracing them.

5. You’re honest about your struggles. Unchurched people get suspicious when church leaders and Christians want to appear to have it ‘all together’. Let’s face it, you don’t. And they know it. When you are honest about your struggles, it draws unchurched people closer. I make it a point to tell unchurched people all the time that our church isn’t perfect, that we will probably let them down, but that one of the marks of a Christian community is that we can deal with our problems face to face and honestly, and that I hope we will be able to work it through. There is a strange attraction in that.

6. You have easy, obvious, strategic and helpful steps for new people. I am still such a fan of thinking steps, not programs (Here’s an older but awesome (free) Andy Stanley podcast of all Seven Practices of Effective Ministry). One sure sign that you are ready to handle an influx of unchurched people is that your church has a clear, easily accessible path way to move someone from their first visit right through to integration with existing Christians in small groups or other core ministries. Most churches simply have randomly assembled programs that lead nowhere in particular.

7. You’ve dumped all assumptions. It’s so easy to assume that unchurched people ‘must know’ at least the basics of the Christian faith. Lose that thinking. How much do you (really ) know about Hinduism or Taoism? That’s about how much many unchurched people (really) know about Christianity. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Make it easy for everyone to access what you are talking about whenever you are talking about it.

8. Your ‘outreach’ isn’t just a program. Many Christians think having a ‘service’ for unchurched people or a program designed for unchurched people is enough. It’s not. When you behave like reaching unchurched people can be done through a program or an alternate service, you’re building a giant brick wall for unchurched people to walk into. You might as well tell them “This program is for you, but our church is for us. Sorry.”

9. You are flexible and adaptable. In the future, you will not ‘arrive’. I think the approach to unchurched people and the strategy behind the mission of the church needs to be flexible and adaptable. Don’t design a ‘now we are done’ model to reaching unchurched people. You might never be done. Churches that are adaptable and flexible in their strategy (not in their mission or vision) will have the best chance of continually reaching unchurched people. “How quickly can your church change?” will become a defining characteristic of future churches. (If you want to read more about change, I wrote Leading Change Without Losing It last year. Additionally, John Kotter’s Leading Change is a must-read classic.)

Those are 9 signs I see that your church is ready to reach unchurched people.

What do you see?

15 Characteristics of Today's Unchurched Person

If you’re like many Christians, you have an authentic desire to share your faith with people who don’t yet follow Jesus. I know I do.

One of my deepest longings is that every person would come to know the love and salvation that Jesus extends to them.

Our vision at Connexus, where I serve as lead pastor, is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend – a vision we share with all North Point strategic partner churches.

But unchurched people are changing.

Even since I started ministry 18 years ago, there’s been a big shift in how unchurched people think. Particularly here in Canada, we are a bit of a hybrid between the US and Europe. Canadians are less ‘religious’ than Americans, but less secular than Europeans.

Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman have outlined helpful characteristics of unchurched people in UnChristian and David tackled it again in You Lost Me. I won’t repeat those characteristics here. (Both books are fantastic reads.)

Post-modernism has a deeper toe-hold here than in almost anywhere in American except perhaps the Northwest and New England, where it might be about the same.

Here are characteristics of unchurched people that I’m seeing today.

1. They don’t all have big ‘problems.’ If you’re waiting for unchurched people to show up because their life is falling apart, you might wait a long time. Sure, there are always people in crisis who seek God out. But many are quite content with their lives without God. And some are quite happy and successful. If you only know how to speak into discontent and crisis, you will miss most of your neighbours.

2. They feel less guilty than you think. They don’t feel any more guilty about not being in church on Sunday than you feel guilty about not being in synagogue on Saturdays. How many Saturdays do you feel badly about missing synagogue? That’s how many Sundays they feel badly about missing church.

3. Occasional is regular. When they start coming, they don’t always attend every week. Giving them easy, obvious and strategic steps to get connected is important. Disconnected people generally don’t stick. (I wrote more about the declining frequency of church attendance here.)

4. Most are spiritual. Most unchurched people believe in some kind of God. They’re surprised and offended if you think of them as atheists. As they should be.

5. They are not sure what “Christian” means. So you need to make that clear. You really can’t make any assumptions about what people understand about the Christian faith. Moving forward, clarity is paramount.

6. You can’t call them back to something they never knew. Old school ‘revival’ meant there was something to revive. Now that we are on the 2nd to 5th generation of unchurched people, revival is less helpful to say the least. You can’t call them back to something they never knew.

7. Many have tried church, even a little, but left. We have a good chunk of people who have never ever been to church (60% of our growth is from people who self-identify as not regularly attending church), but a surprising number of people have tried church at some point – as a kid or young adult. Because it wasn’t a good experience, they left. Remember that.

8. Something is generous. Because even giving 10% of your income to anything is radically countercultural, the only paradigm of giving they have is a few dozen or hundred dollars to select charities. I hope every Christian learns to live a life of sacrifice and generosity, but telling them they are ungenerous is a poor way to start the conversation. They are probably already more generous than their friends.

9. They want you to be Christian. They want you to follow Jesus, authentically. Think about it, if you were going to convert to Buddhism, you would want to be an authentic Buddhist, not some watered down version. Andy Stanley is 100% right when he says you don’t alter the content of your services for unchurched people, but you should change the experience.

10. They’re intelligent, so speak to that. Don’t speak down to them. Just make it easy to get on the same page as people who have attended church for years by saying “this passage is near the middle of the bible.” You can be inclusive without being condescending.

11. They hate hypocrisy. Enough said.

12. They love transparency. When you share your weaknesses, everyone (including Christians) resonates.

13. They invite their friends if they like what they’re discovering. They will be your best inviters if they love what you’re doing.

14. Their spiritual growth trajectory varies dramatically. One size does not fit all. You need a flexible on ramp that allows people to hang in the shadows for a while as they make up their mind, and one that allows multiple jumping in points throughout the year.

15. Some want to be anonymous and some don’t. So make your church friendly to both. Also see the previous point. This is huge.

What are you seing? What describes your friends and the people you’re reaching at your church? Let’s grow this list.