From North Point

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:

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How to Write A Killer Bottom Line (For Your Next Talk)

So how exactly do you write a great talk, sermon or message?

Everybody has their own method, and I’m not sure there’s a universal formula (although, for sure, some work better than others).

But there is one practice that will make every talk better.

Wireless aluminum keyboard detail

Write a killer bottom line. 

A bottom line is the main point of your talk summed up in a single, memorable sentence.

It’s extremely difficult to come up with an accurate, memorable bottom line (at least it is for me), but so worth it.

Crafting a great bottom line will:

Make you a better thinker.

Help you understand your talk more deeply.

Force you to simplify complex subjects.

Make your talk more memorable for your audience.

So, how do you do it?

Keep reading…

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.)

Keep reading this post…

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.

5 Little Talked About Insights Behind North Point's Success

5 Little Talked About Insights About North Point

It’s been a privilege to lead Connexus Community Church for five years now. We’re a North Point Partner church, which has not only given us a front row seat to what’s happening at North Point, but the chance to implement the ministry model in our own (Canadian) context.

As I’ve noted in this week’s posts about North Point, Andy is one of the most quoted leaders in the church today (here are 21 of his quotes from Drive 2013).

To wrap up this series, I want to look at 5 little talked-about insights I’ve discovered about North Point. Being a partner for 5 years and having been around North Point for 7 years, I think there are some secrets about North Point’s success that aren’t that well known.

Before we get to the list, if you’re a bit cynical about ‘successful’ churches, just watch some North Point baptism stories. Genuine life change is compelling. And if God uses you to transform over 30,000 lives, well, seriously, how can that be a bad thing?

From where I sit, there are at least  five remarkable things about North Point many leaders don’t realize.

1. Healthy systems attract healthy people. I sincerely believe North Point is one of the healthiest organizations I’ve seen. That doesn’t mean there aren’t struggles (just read the beginning of Deep and Wide and you’ll realize Andy and the team have faced struggles as deep or deeper than any of us).  Get behind the scenes and you find leaders who have a deep humility and a commitment to character development, emotional health and spiritual growth. Andy is committed to making North Point a healthy culture. And healthy systems have a way of attracting healthy people. It doesn’t mean their team doesn’t struggle. Their crises are not much different than yours, but they are relentlessly committed to working through them in a spiritually, emotionally and relationally healthy way.

2. Character lubricates the friction of leadership. Andy has written about this, and so many leaders at North Point lives this out. Friction is inevitable in leadership. Get a big church and your problems get even bigger. But character (solid character) lubricates the friction of leadership. When you are selecting team members, don’t compromise on character. You need people committed to getting better personally, not just professionally.

3. Strategy trumps vision. Yes vision matters. And yes vision is everything. But have you noticed, everybody’s got vision? If vision alone was enough, every church would be having huge impact. North Point is tenacious in its’ commitment to finding the best strategy to implement that vision. Strategy might be a a bad word in some leadership circles, but here’s the truth: a bad strategy will kill a great vision. If vision is important, strategy is uber-important. Strategy trumps vision.

4. People’s gifts have a far greater impact when deployed strategically. Most leaders are tempted to allow every volunteer to launch a programe or ministry they happen to be passionate about. So the more people you have, the more ministries you have – not a single one of them strategically aligned to serve the mission or vision of the church. North Point has been dogged in its determination to do a few strategic things well, and to stick to that, no matter how much pressure others put on them. So instead of having a thousand high capacity volunteers running in a thousand directions, you get a thousand high capacity volunteers running in one direction. Which do you think will have a greater impact? Exactly.

5. Great preaching alone isn’t the secret sauce. Most people will tell you that while Andy is renowned for his preaching, he’s even a better leader. I think the hard work Andy has done on staying emotionally and spiritually healthy, the way he has surrounded himself with great leaders (I outline how to do that here), and the relentless focus (and ability to say no) have proven to be some powerful factors in North Point’s effectiveness.

As you have tracked with North Point, what have you noticed?

What are some other principles and insights that can help all of us get better at what God has called us to do?