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10 Ways to Leverage Christmas To Reach More Unchurched People

You’re probably wondering if there’s anything you can do to leverage Christmas better to reach the people in your community who normally don’t attend church. I’m with you.

The conversation is even more important as our culture becomes more and more post-Christian. As the general population thinks less about the Christian faith, Christmas provides a unique opportunity to reach people who no longer ordinarily attend church.

After all, there is now only one time of year left in our culture when people still celebrate something Christians hold dear—and that’s Christmas.

What’s surprising is that many churches don’t really leverage Christmas to make the impact it could.

Over the years at Connexus Church, where I serve, our Christmas service wins hands-down every year for both overall attendance AND attendance by unchurched people.  Although, theologically, Christmas will never be bigger than Easter, practically, our Christmas outreach is always bigger than Easter simply because the culture is paying attention.


Too Many Christians Blow This

If you follow many Christians on social media leading up to Christmas, too many people lament over the culture’s disregard of Christ.

Well, you can see the obstacle. Or you can see the opportunity. I choose to see the opportunity. There are so many connection points with our culture you’ll miss if you only see the glass as half full.

When else will you ever hear theology this solid playing from speakers in a mall:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

(Charles Wesley)

This is no time for the church to be more cynical than the world, which still remembers something is different at Christmas, even if they’re not exactly sure what it is.

Our culture pauses for Christmas in a way it pauses for little else in the year.

TV and film celebrate Christmas in all of its expressions.

Almost everyone decorates their homes, businesses and cities.

On December 24th and 25th, the Western world comes as close to stopping as it ever does.

I’m not sure there’s a better time to connect with your friends and neighbours who rarely if ever go to church.

The Biggest Mistake Churches Make

So what’s the biggest mistake many churches make each Christmas?

Simple. Too many churches hold a quiet Christmas eve or Christmas Day service for members and leave it at that.

Others will do little to nothing special.

That makes Christmas be the biggest missed opportunity of the year.

Unchurched people want to celebrate Christmas. Why can’t your church help them?

10 Ways to Leverage Christmas to Reach Unchurched People

Here’s are 10 ways you can leverage Christmas to connect with unchurched people:

1. Hold multiple services

Not everyone can make it to your ‘one’ service. This year we’re doing 5 services over two days (the 23rd and 24th).

Yes, those are long work days for staff and volunteers, but you could reap a harvest all year long from that investment.

2. Theme the event around the community, not around your church

For a few years now, we’ve decided to call our Christmas Eve Services Christmas Eve in Barrie and Christmas Eve in Orillia (the cities in which we serve). Cross Point recently did a similar thing, creating a Merry Music City Christmas.


My theory is that’s how unchurched people think. They’ll be asking where they can celebrate Christmas in their city. Why shouldn’t your church be the one to help them figure that out.

Chances are the URLs for ChristmasInYOURCITY.com are still available. Go buy them today.

3. Hand out invitation cards

Make up some full colour cards with details on it people can hand to their friends.

This year we tied candy canes to the Instagram-like cards to make them easier to hand out to friends.

It’s even easier to invite a friend to something like Christmas than to a regular Sunday morning.

4. Make posters

A few years ago we experimented with creating really beautiful posters advertising our Christmas Eve services. They popped up all over our cities in places like Starbucks, hockey arenas, community centres and more.

We’re doing that again this year.

5. Build a special Christmas website

Don’t just buy the websites for your city, build a special site.

Our team built two new websites this year for our two locations that are devoted only to Christmas Eve. Use an easy to remember URL. We used the names of our cities (ChristmasEveInOrillia.com and ChristmasEveinBarrie.com).

6. Use social media

Sure, maybe you don’t have the bandwidth to build fresh websites. Just do it for free using social media. Create a Facebook event or promoted posts. Use all your social media channels and get the word out.

Even encourage your people to share with their friends. We’re going to be all over that.

This year we’re doing a Photo Booth at our campuses that will create some fun Instagram moments with dressed up kids and people holding a “Join us for Christmas Eve” signs.

7. Sell (free) tickets

Free tickets of course, but tickets help create demand.

They have also helped us manage fire code.  Eventbrite is an inexpensive and easy solution.

Plus, having tickets drive decisions and commitments to attending.

8. Love your community

This year we again participated in BeRich. We’re sponsoring children through Compassion, giving to our local food banks, raising money for local partner charities and serving friends and family.

It’s a way of not only giving back, but of capturing a community’s attention at a key time. In one of our locations a few years ago Be Rich made the front page of the local paper.

Generosity makes an impression on unchurched people.

9. Invite them back

Every year, without hopefully sounding like a commercial, we invite people back for January.

They get a card explaining the new series and dates, times and locations.

We don’t usually have services the Sunday after Christmas, so we let them know that too.

But we tell everyone they’re invited for the first Sunday in January.

I know inviting can sound basic, but you’re dealing with unchurched people. Think about it, you would never go to a party unless you knew you were invited.

Unchurched people don’t know they’re invited unless you invite them. So invite them.

10. Plan a call to action

God’s grace is sovereign. We’ve had people commit their lives to Christ during volunteer events and during series about tithing.  So God can do anything.

But you need to do your part. Don’t let people walk away bored or with a big warm fuzzy. Challenge them.  People will leave mostly unchanged unless you create a different expectation.

Almost every year, we give people an opportunity to surrender their lives to Jesus…and it’s amazing how many people do. And when we invite them back and offer them steps to take in the new year (like beginning Starting Point), Christmas starts a journey for them that often ends with them surrendering their lives to Christ.

What are you learning?

Got any tips?

Share them in the comments section below.

A better start to 2016

Want 2016 to be better for your church? So do I.

That’s why I recently released my brand new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow. It’s designed to tackle seven of the biggest issues that keep churches from realizing their mission: why people are attending church less often, why your church isn’t growing faster, how to engage high capacity volunteers and more.

Plus, I wrote it so you could tackle the issues together as a team. Study questions and action steps are included in each copy of the book. You can read the reviews here.

And if you’re looking to order copies for your team, you’ll find some special bulk discounts here.

Here’s to a better 2016 for every church!

grateful leaders

5 Reasons Grateful Leaders Make the Best Leaders

Ever notice the leaders you’re most attracted to tend to be the most grateful?

At least that’s true for me.

Grateful leaders make the best leaders.

And yet being in leadership can make you ungrateful…quickly.

You feel a pressure few others feel. You have responsibilities that will never fit into a job description.

You carry a weight around with you wherever you go.

It can wear you down.

One of the disciplines I’ve had as a leader is learning how to become grateful and stay grateful.

Sometimes the best way for me to do that is to remind myself why grateful leaders make the best leaders.

Here are 5 reasons why that’s true.

grateful leaders

1. Your overall gratitude impacts your overall attitude

A grateful leader tends to be a great leader. An ungrateful leader, well, never is.

I find when my gratitude is high, I just lead better.

I’m kinder. I’m more compassionate. I’m less resentful. I’m less suspicious.

Your overall gratitude impacts your overall attitude. So be grateful.

2. A grateful leader sees opportunities others miss

I believe a grateful attitude is tied to an abundance mentality. I’m a firm believer in abundance thinking.


If we have a God who created everything we see out of nothing and who rose after he died, he can accomplish anything—through me, without me and in spite of me. If he uses me…wow…that’s amazing!

Being grateful for what you have is tied, in a meaningful way, to thinking abundantly about the future.  Again…why?

Well, an ungrateful mind tends to translate what hasn’t happened into what can’t happen, what won’t happen and what will never happen.

A grateful mind thinks about everything that happened, gives thanks, and trust that even greater things can happen, will happen and should happen.

A grateful leader will almost always find the path to an abundant future.

And, for the ‘realists’ out there, you think feeling grateful won’t change anything?

Few people said it better than Henry Ford when he said, “Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you’re right.”

As a leader, what you think determines what you do.

3. Gratitude fuels generosity

I learned this principle years ago from Andy Stanley. Nothing fuels generosity more than gratitude.

Think about it. If someone’s given you anything (cash, a gift, their time), nothing makes that person want to give again quite like gratitude.

If you’re thankful for the time you’ve spent together, they’ll want to get together again. If you’re not, they won’t.

Ditto with giving to a church or organization. Leaders who are genuinely grateful for whatever they receive tend to be surrounded by people who want to give more.

Ungrateful leaders are soon surrounded by non-givers or, ultimately, by no one.


4. Teams gravitate toward gratitude

Your team gravitates toward gratitude. Far too many people despise their work because they feel underappreciated.

You should always pay people well—as generously as you can in fact.

But even money has its limits.

Eventually, you can’t pay people enough to overcome an ungenerous spirit.

I’ve known people who have taken pay cuts because they would rather work for someone who was grateful than for an ungrateful leader.

Leaders, remember: gratitude is the greatest currency with which a leader can pay a team.

And, when it comes to volunteers, gratitude is pretty much all your volunteers run on.

The best leaders realize that even their employees are, at their core, volunteers. Every capable person could work somewhere else.

5. Gratitude neutralizes your anger and jealousy

Grateful people are rarely angry.

And angry people are rarely grateful.

Ditto with jealous people.

Cultivating gratitude will make you far less angry (you’ll realize no one owes you anything) and it will make you far less jealous (because you’ll realize God has given you what you need).

Want to be far less angry and jealous? Stay on your knees long enough to be grateful.

What Makes You Grateful?

What helps you cultivate gratitude? I’d love to hear from you.

I wrote this post on 5 things that make me more grateful when I’m feeling ingratitude.

I’d love to hear your perspective. Scroll down and leave a comment.


How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches

Of all the mysteries that shouldn’t be mysteries, why most churches remain small is perhaps the greatest.

I’m sure there are a few leaders who want to keep their churches small, or who don’t care about growth.

But most small church leaders and pastors I meet actually want to reach more people. They want to see their mission fully realized. They hope and pray for the day when they can reach as many people as possible in their community.

But that’s simply not reality.

The Barna group reports the average Protestant church size in America as 89 adults. 60% of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. Only 2% have over 1000 adults attending.

As a result, the dreams of pastors of most small and even mid-sized churches go unrealized. Why?

I outlined 8 reasons most churches never break the 200 attendance mark in this post, but today I want to drill down deeper on one that kills almost every church and pastor: pastoral care.

If pastors could figure out how to better tackle the issue of pastoral care, I’m convinced many more churches would grow.

Here’s why. And here’s how.

shutterstock_62970499How Pastors Die Trying

When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding and funeral and make regular house calls, attend every meeting, and lead every bible study or group, he or she becomes incapable of doing almost anything else.

Message preparation falls to the side, and providing organizational leadership for the future is almost out of the question.

The pastoral care model of church leadership simply doesn’t scale.

It’s somewhat ironic, actually.

If you’re a good pastoral care person (and many pastors are), people will often love you so much that the church will grow to two hundred people, at which point the pastoral care expectations become crushing.

Inevitably, pastoral leaders with larger churches can’t keep up and end up disappointing people when they can’t get to every event any more.

Caring for 30 people personally is possible. Caring for 230 is not.

Many pastors burn out trying.

The pastoral care model most seminaries teach and most congregations embrace creates false and unsustainable expectations.

Consequently, almost everyone gets hurt in the process.

The pastor is frustrated that he or she can’t keep up. And the congregation is frustrated over the same thing.

Eventually the pastor burns out or leaves and the church shrinks back to a smaller number. If a new pastor arrives who also happens to be good at pastoral care, the pattern simply repeats itself: growth, frustration, burnout, exit.

It’s ironic. They very thing you’re great at (pastoral care) eventually causes your exit when you can no longer keep up.

Or, if you stay for a long time, your church settles down to around 100 people and you simply can’t grow it beyond that.

Why? Because, as I explain in some detail in my new book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, you haven’t structured bigger to grow bigger.

Complication 1: Pastors Who Won’t Let Go

Several other factors make pastoral care complicated.

Many pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature (if that’s you…read this). Wanting to not disappoint people fuels conflict within leaders: people want you to care for them, and you hate to disappoint them.

In some respect, pastoral care establishes classic co-dependency. The congregation relies on the pastor for all of its care needs, and the pastor relies on the congregation to provide their sense of worth and fulfilment: the pastor needs to be needed.

Complication 2: Congregations That Won’t Let Go

Many congregations define the success of their leader according to how available, likeable and friendly their pastor is.

It’s as though churches want a puppy, not a pastor.

Since when did that become the criteria for effective Christian leadership?

By that standard, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, the Apostle Paul and perhaps even Jesus failed the test.

The goal of Christian leadership is to lead, not to be liked.

That’s no excuse for being a jerk or insensitive, but still, leadership requires that at times, you need to do what’s best, not what people want.

If a church is going to grow, congregations have to let go of the expectation that their pastor will be available for every medical emergency, every twist and turn in their lives, every family celebration and every crisis.

That’s a tough sell for many congregations, but if a church is going to grow, it has to happen.

How to Break Through

So how do you deal with this?  Have the courage to shift care to the congregation.

The best answer I know of for pastoral care in a larger church is to teach people to care for each other in groups.

Groups based care isn’t just practical. It’s biblical.

It’s thoroughly biblical: going back to Exodus 18, when Jethro confronted Moses about doing everything himself.

Even Jesus adopted the model of group care, moving his large group of hundreds of  disciples into groups of seventy, twelve, three, and then one.

I have been the pastoral care giver in a small church. Some of those original people are now part of our much larger church where care happens in groups. In the process, both they and I have made the transition.

As a result, here’s what I’ve come to believe about pastoral care: 98% of pastoral care is having someone who cares. It doesn’t have to be the pastor.

2% of the time you’ll have situations where the need of a member exceeds the ability of the group to help. That’s what trained Christian counsellors are for. The tool kit of a trained Christian counsellor is deeper and better than the counselling ability of the vast majority of pastors.

I rarely if ever counsel people. Why? Because I care about people too much. Instead, I send them to people who can actually help them.

If you’re wondering how to start the discussion, I started it with my elders and leaders when we were about 100 in attendance and told them my role would be changing. I used this book as a resource, and told them that we would never break 200 in attendance unless I stopped doing pastoral care.

It was a tough, but we made it.  We now have a church of 2300 people with almost 1100 in attendance on weekends.

It’s tempting to say I’d be dead if I was still trying to do pastoral care personally, but that’s simply not true.

I’d be alive, very tired (it’s not my key gifting) and our church would be under 200 people. I also likely would have quit. We would never have grown. That’s the reality.

It’s simply impossible for a church to grow beyond 200 under one person’s direct care and leadership.

Too Scared?

Too scared to have the conversation?

If you’re a people pleaser, do what you need to do to get over it. Go see a counselor. Get on your knees. Do whatever you need to do to get over the fear of disappointing people.

If you’re afraid to have the conversation, have it anyway. I actually designed my latest book, Lasting Impact, to facilitate 7 critical conversations like this directly with your board and leadership team.

Courageous leadership is like courageous parenting. Don’t do what your kids want you to do; do what you believe is best for them in the end.

Eventually, many of them will thank you.

And the rest? Honestly, they’ll probably go to another church that isn’t reaching a lot people either.

I’m convinced that if we changed how we do pastoral care, we’d reach more people. And in the process, we’d care for people much better than we do now.

If you want to go deeper, on Episode 58 of my free weekly leadership podcast, Beth Marshall explains how they do pastoral care at NewSpring church, a church that reaches over 40,000 people each weekend.

What do you think? Scroll down and leave a comment.


7 Things Every Growing Church Struggles With

It’s easy to believe that there will come a day when your church will never struggle and you’ll never struggle as a leader.

As tempting as that is to believe, it’s just not true.

Every church struggles. And every leader struggles. And—yes—even growing churches struggle.

Last week I outlined the struggles smaller churches experience in my post 5 Things Every Small To Mid-Sized Church Struggles With. Having started ministry in very small churches, I can relate to each of those struggles personally.

But your struggles as a leader or as a church don’t go away when your church starts to grow. They simply change.

I’ve always said I’d rather have the challenges associated with growth than I would the challenges associated with decline (and that’s absolutely true), but it still means you have challenges.

As our church has grown from a handful of people to 1,100 people who now attend and 2,300 people who call our church home, we’ve navigated all of these challenges. So has almost every church that’s grown.

Here are 7 things every growing church struggles with.

growing churches struggle

1. The pastor being less available

I began ministry in a church of 6 people (and that was a normal Sunday…a bad Sunday was 2 people). When your church is really small, you’re pretty much available to do anything anyone needs. How can you argue you’re not available when you lead a tiny church?

But as your church grows, you need to begin a transition away from being available all the time. If you don’t, you will implode or your church will stop growing.

You can be generally available to 20 people.

You will wear yourself out trying to be consistently available for 200 people.

You’ll die trying to be available to 2000 people. Frankly, you’ll never even serve that many people because it’s humanly impossible, even if you worked 7 days a week, 20 hours a day. People will just walk away, their calls unanswered and their needs unmet.

As my friend Reggie Joiner says, the problem with needs-based ministry is there’s no end to human need.

Your church will struggle with the pastor being less available as it grows.  But it will struggle even more if you don’t restructure to grow bigger.

To reach more people, you need to be available to fewer people.

I wrote more about scaling your ministry through different stages in my new book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, available here.

2. The pastor not doing everything

A companion of being less available as a church grows is the reality that a pastor can’t do everything.

Many pastors of small churches start out as jacks of all trades: preacher, pastor, chaplain, wedding officiant, funeral officiant, bible study leader, team leader, curriculum designer and even friend who drops by.

When your church is small, it’s natural for the pastor to do almost all the work, because it seems there is no one else available to do it, and no money to outsource it or to hire anyone else.

When I started in ministry, in addition to preaching, teaching and vision casting (my primary gifitings) I also designed and printed the bulletins, created any computer graphics, performed weddings and funerals, visited in hospital, led the church bible study and was actively involved in our kids ministry. I was only mediocre at most things on that list, and terrible at a few.

As our church has grown, my role has become narrower and narrower.

At 200 Pastoral care became a groups and congregational responsibility. So did bible study (which became small groups instead).

At 400, I let go of graphics and design entirely (thankfully).  I also go out of direct involvement in student and children’s ministry as we hired people (I still share the the vision, but no longer own the responsibility).

At 800, I stepped back from leading and attending most meetings and almost everything else to focus on preaching, teaching, vision casting and senior leadership.

The struggle here is dual: you will struggle with letting go, and people will struggle with you letting go.

If you want to grow, you have to let go.

And, of course, as Andy Stanley says, by doing less you’ll accomplish more. Far more.

This sounds like a small thing, but it’s a big thing.

3. Not knowing everyone’s name

People who are part of a small church panic about not knowing everyone’s name as a church grows.

Time to challenge that assumption. Why panic?

Truthfully most people don’t know everyone, even in a church of 50.

Human reality dictates we can only truly know about 5 people deeply and about 20 people well.

Which again leads to small groups and serving teams. You can (and should) organize hundreds and even thousands of people to be known in smaller circles of groups and teams.

The point or church is not for everyone to know everyone. The point is for everyone to be known.

I think I have a personal capacity to know between 1,500 to 2,000 people by name and then my mind fries. Our church (and my life) has grown beyond that. At one point I tried to know all of our volunteers by name, but even now, I get stumped (the volunteer name tags really help me).

If you’re leading a growing church, embrace that. Create a church where everyone who wants to be known…is.

You will reach far more people if you do.

4. Shifting from leading people to leading leaders

If you’re going to lead a growing church effectively, you have to begin leading leaders instead of leading people.

That’s a hard shift for many people, including church staff.

There’s a temptation to want to be known and recognized by everyone you’re leading. The truly great leaders are prepared not to do that.

They realize that their greatest success will be found in leading staff and volunteers who can, in turn, lead others.

Which also means sometimes they get the credit rather than you. Which again, is fine if you’re committed to becoming an effective leader.

If you’re not fine with others receiving the credit, you’ll eventually stunt the church’s growth to the level of your insecurity.

If you struggle with insecurity, by the way, this is an amazing conversation with Josh Gagnon, who leads a top 5 fastest growing church in America and has had to battle his own insecruities in doing so.

But you must shift from leading people to leading leaders if you hope to reach more people.

5. Adding systems

This is a hard one for any entrepreneurial leader (like myself). I love freedom and even spontaneity.

But for your church to ever sustainably pass 500 in attendance, let alone 1000, you have to have systems.

Many entrepreneurial leaders are afraid of systems and structure because they think it means the creation of bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy stifles mission. Great systems fuel it.

Like an office tower designed to house thousands of people, great systems and structure support the goals of the organization with lean but solid processes around finances, management, discipleship and even the weekend services a church offers.

Without structure, freedom collapses into chaos and disorganization.

The novice leader values freedom from structure. The mature leader values freedom in structure.

Without great systems that foster care for people, you won’t care for people.

6. Saying no

‘Yes’ gets you to initial growth; ‘No’ gets you to sustained growth.

Many pastoral leaders are people pleasers. As I argue here, that can be deadly.

Most great organizations become effective not just because they decided what they are, but fundamentally because they decided what they are not.

As you grow, more and more people will show up with ideas about how to make things better.

Having a clearly defined mission, vision, strategy and culture will help you decide what to say yes to and what to say no to.

The leader who says yes to everything ultimately says yes to nothing.

7. Dealing with critics

So once you start growing, all the critics will disappear, correct?

Sorry to break the news…but just the opposite. They’ll line up.

You’ll have internal critics who want things to be the way they used to be. After all, the people heading for the Promised Land always want to go back to Egypt.

But the critics are not just internal, growth attracts a growing number of external critics.

Our generation seems to specialize in encouraging leaders and organizations to grow and then criticizing them when they do.

And before you accuse others, there’s a 99% chance you’ve thought or said something negative about a large church pastor you resent.

Growth attracts critics. It just always does.

So how do you process the criticism when you’re the one being criticized?

The best way to process what your critics have to say is to understand why they say it.

First, take whatever good there might in what they said and reflect on it. You’re not perfect. You can learn and develop from it.

But then process why the critics are often so mean-spirited.

What usually fuels a critics’ animosity toward success and growth? Three things:


A need to justify their own lack of progress


Once you understand that a critic’s arguments are often less about you than they are about them, you’re free to show compassion and even concern for them.

Want More?

I wrote more about the issues the stop and fuel growth in my new book Lasting Impact.

And I’d love to hear from you. What other struggles have you seen or experienced in growing churches?  Scroll down and leave a comment.

leadership myths

5 Stubborn Leadership Myths You Should Abandon Immediately

How do you know you haven’t fallen for a leadership myth that simply isn’t true?

Answer: sometimes you don’t.

Too many leaders hold a few damaging core beliefs that simply aren’t true.

Myths are everywhere in our culture.

It’s not that hard to roll our eyes at people who fall for urban legends.

That’s one of the reasons I really appreciate Snopes.com, a site dedicated to debunking urban legends.

Remember the stubborn myth a few years back about hotel operators using hotel key cards to download all your personal information? Because I stay in hotels regularly, so many people warned me about my hotel key. Thanks Snopes…..

But there are also leadership myths: But there are also leadership myths: things that many leaders believe that really aren’t true.

I think we’ve all fallen for a few.

But how many stubborn leadership myths are you still falling for?

Once you abandon them, you’ll be amazed at the progress you make.

leadership myths

5 Leadership Myths You Should Abandon

Here are 5 that I hate to admit I have fallen for at one time or another in my leadership.

1. Success will happen overnight

Who hasn’t fallen for this? And if you don’t believe it, you’ve secretly wanted it, haven’t you?

Yet there are very few overnight successes.

Whether it’s bands like PassengerThe Band Perry or even the Beatles, musicians often struggle in obscurity and near defeat for years before they break through.  Same for writers, businesses and many other leaders.

Even North Point Church, launched in 1995, actually declined in attendance from its initial launch over its first few years before rebounding and becoming the story many church leaders know today.

Just ask any of the founders: they’ll tell you those first few years were lean and very difficult.

So what do you do?

Set realistic expectations. Work hard. Celebrate progress, even incremental progress.

As Winston Churchill (whose life was characterized mostly by disappointment prior to Word War 2) said, success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

2. Smart work, not hard work, will win the day

Okay. Working smarter is better than simply working harder. Very true.

Working 100+  hours a week is the answer to very few problems and completely unsustainable for more than a season. If you can be more efficient and more effective, by all means do so.

But smart work is no substitute for hard work. Working smarter doesn’t mean you can put in a few hours, hit cruise control and coast to victory.

You will always have to work hard on your leadership. You’ll always have to work hard on leading yourself, your team and your mission.

That might not mean 70 hours a week, but it won’t mean cruising into the sunset. When you stop growing, so do the people around you.

And eventually, the good people will leave. They want a leader to push them and push the mission forward.

3. I will get universal buy in

This myth is so seductive.

There will be a day when I become a good enough leader that I will announce our next move and everyone will applaud wildly, right?


That day will never come.

You might get most people to buy in, but you will never get everyone to buy in.

This kills most leaders because it causes them to procrastinate. The myth makes them ‘wait’ until all the conditions are right to launch their big move.

Conditions will never be perfect. ‘Everybody’ will never buy in.

Sometimes you just need to lead.

If you want to read more about how to lead change in the midst of opposition, I wrote Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies that Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change While Facing Opposition to help leaders lead without universal buy in.

4. There’s a silver bullet

So there’s one thing that will turn everything around right? A silver bullet? A model I can just embrace and press play and everything will magically be wonderful? Right?

If I only became a North Point strategic partner, my church would automatically grow….

If I only had person X on my staff, all our problems would be gone….

If we had a brand new building, it would solve all the issues we’re facing…



As my friend Casey Graham says, systems trump silver bullets.

And they really do. If you have a problem, the system you’re using created it.

To change the outcome, change the system. There is no easy way out.

5. One day I will arrive

No you won’t.

And if you do, you’ll arrive to learn you’ve missed the point.

Effective leaders keep growing. They never stop.

One of the characteristics of great leaders who stay fresh is curiosity (I wrote about how to become a more curious–and less cynical–leader in this post). They are just relentlessly curious, and the curiosity keeps them growing.

Organization that become complacent, like people who become complacent, inevitably decline.

The more successful you are, the more you will be tempted to think you have arrived.

That’s why the greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.

Busting those 5 leadership myths have helped me grow as a leader.

How about you? What myths are you busting through?

Leave a comment!


5 Things Every Small To Mid-Sized Church Struggles With

Of all the subjects I deal with on this blog, church size generates a LOT of reaction and emotion.

This post on why most churches never break the 200 attendance mark struck a deep nerve.

As I outline in my new book, people clearly have strong opinions and emotions about the size of churches that can (and should) be overcome.

But I can also totally relate to the dynamics of leading a smaller church.

When I began in ministry, I spent about 3 years leading a small congregation (under 100) that grew into a mid-sized church (under 500) and then grew into a larger church.

I remember the emotions that swirl around small and mid-sized churches. I also have lived through the struggles those congregations face.

This post (like the last one) is written for church leaders and teams that want to reach more people. If you don’t want to grow, this post won’t help you much.

It’s critical that as church leaders we understand the tensions we’re facing. In the same way that diagnosing that pain under your kneecap when you’re trying to run a race is helpful, diagnosing what you sense in the congregation can be critical to taking your next step forward.

Overcome these tensions and you’re closer to progress. Avoid them or fail to deal with them and you can stay stuck a long time.

So, here are 5 problems every small to mid-sized church encounters.

shutterstock_2915936241. The desire to keep the church one big family

This pressure is huge.

Many people believe that the church functions best as one big family.

The reality is even when our church was 40 people, those 40 people didn’t know each other—really. Some were left out, others weren’t.

Even at 100 or 300, enough people will still believe they know ‘everyone’. But they don’t.

When people told me they knew everyone I would challenge people (nicely) and say “Really, you know everyone? Because as much as I wish I did, I don’t.” They would then admit they didn’t know everyone. They just knew the people they knew and liked and often felt that growing the church would threaten that.

The truth is, at 100-300, many people are unknown. And even if ‘we all wear name-tags,” many of the people in your church don’t really have anyone to talk to about what matters. The one big family idea is, in almost every case, a myth.

Once you get beyond a dozen people, start organizing in groups. Everyone will have a home. Everyone who wants to be known and have meaningful relationships will have them. And a healthy groups model is scalable to hundred, thousands and even beyond that.

2. The people who hold positions don’t always hold the power 

In many small churches, your board may be your board, but often there are people—and even families—whose opinion carries tremendous weight.

If one of those people sits on the board, they end up with a de facto veto because no one wants to make a move without their buy in. If they are not on the board, decisions the board makes or a leader makes can get ‘undone’ if the person or family disapproves.

This misuse of power is unhealthy and needs to be stopped.

In the churches where I began, I took the power away from these people by going head to head with them, then handed it back to the people who are supposed to have the power.

In two out of three cases, the person left the church after it was clear I would not allow them to run it anymore.

It’s a tough call, but the church was far better off for it. When the people who are gifted to lead get to lead, the church becomes healthy. When we got healthy, we grew.

3. The pastor carries expectations no human can fulfil

In most small to mid sized churches, the pastor is expected to attend (if not conduct) every wedding, funeral, hospital call or meeting, visit people in their homes, write a killer message every Sunday, organize most of the activities of the church, be present for all functions AND have a great family life.

In other words, the pastor carries expectations no human can fulfil.

The key here for those who want to grow past this is to set clear expectations of what you will spend your time on.

I visited people in their homes and in hospital for the first two years, but then we went to a groups model. I explained (for what seemed like forever) how care was shifting from me to the congregation.

I stopped attending every church event.

We developed a great counseling referral network. And I started focusing on what I can best contribute given my gift set: communication, charting a course for the future, developing our best leaders, casting vision and raising resources.

Many small church pastors are actually more burnt out than large church pastors.

Small church pastors, please realize this: if the key to growing your church is to work more hours, you’re sunk. Work better and smarter with clearer boundaries and expectations. Don’t just work longer.

Once you master that, you can thrive, even as your church grows.

If you want more on burnout and recovery, this post has some helpful insights on burnout and what to do to get over it.

In addition, Beth Marshall from NewSpring Church explains how pastoral care can and should scale as your church reaches hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of people in this podcast below. You can listen on the player below on download the podcast on your phone here via iTunes.

4. Tradition has more pull than vision

This is not just about traditional churches—it’s true of church plants too.

The past has a nostalgia to it that the future never does.

Even the recent past. Remember how great the church felt when it was smaller, more intimate and met in the living room/school/old facility?

The challenge for the leader is to cast a vision that is clear enough and compelling enough to pull people from the familiar past into a brighter future.

5. The natural desire to do more, not less

As you grow, you will be tempted to do more. Every time there are more people/money/resources, the pressure will be strong to add programming and complexity to your organization.

Resist that. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Often the key to reaching more is doing less. By doing a few things well and creating steps, not programs, you will help more people grow faster than almost any other way.

The two books that have helped me see this more than any other resources are Andy Stanley, Lane Jones and Reggie Joiner’s Seven Practices of Effective Ministry and Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church. These two books helped our team resist the pressure to do more simply because we could.

Complexity is often the enemy of progress.

What tensions do you face or have you faced in small to mid-sized churches?

How are you handling them? Scroll down and leave a comment.

And if the subject of small churches versus large churches still bothers you, have a listen to this interview I did with Karl Vaters. The direct download off iTunes is here.

slowly imploding

5 Signs Your Character is Slowly Imploding

There are few better friends for a leader than self-awareness.

You’ve seen leaders who think they’re doing great when, in fact, everyone around them begs to differ.

How do you not become that leader?

One of the best things you can do is monitor the signs of any pending crisis. And among all the things to watch, one of the best things you can monitor is your character.

After all, in leadership, your competency will take you only as far as your character can sustain you. Character, not competency, determines your capacity.

So how do you know the state of your character?

Here are five signs I’ve watched in my own life and seen in the lives of other leaders that help me determine if my character is in check or if it’s slowly imploding.

slowly imploding

1. There’s a growing gap between what you say publicly and how you live privately

Character rarely implodes suddenly. Instead, there’s almost always a slow erosion until eventually your character implodes.

Consequently, wise leaders keep an eye on any gaps between what they say publicly and how they live privately.

Quite obviously, this extends to hidden vices like drinking too much, porn use and the like.

But it goes deeper than that. There are socially acceptable ways Christian leaders self-medicate that should grab our attention (I wrote about them here).

It also extends into any gap you see between your words and your deeds.

When you preach grace but snap at your wife, kids and staff, that’s a problem.

When you teach financial responsibility but your personal finances are a mess, that’s a problem.

When you say you care about people but you make zero time for anyone in need in your personal life, that’s an issue.

What’s the solution?

Never say publicly what you’re unwilling to live privately.

This is why people have had problems with preachers for years. Most people suspect preachers don’t live up to their talk. Often they’re wrong (I’m amazed by the integrity of many Christian leaders I meet), but sometimes they’re right, not because there are hidden vices, but because the talk is out of proportion to the walk.

So speak honestly from the front. Make sure your talk matches your walk. Be honest about any flaws you have, and speak from your weakness as much as your strength. If you want guidelines on how, I wrote about how to be appropriately transparent in this post.

And if you have a growing gap that needs to be addressed, address it. Get help. Tell a friend. Go see a counsellor. Get on your knees.

And in leadership, try to make sure that what you say publicly is how you live privately.

Any growing gap shows your character is slowly imploding.

2. Your emotions are inappropriate to the situation

A sure sign of something being wrong with your character is emotional responses that are disporportionate to a given situation.

You fly off the handle over small things.

You feel nothing when people tell you something sad or upsetting.

You can’t celebrate someone else’s success.

Those could be signs of burnout, or they could flag something deeper—a character issue.

Your character is at its best when Christ takes over the deepest parts of who you are–your heart, mind, soul and strength. And when he has control of these things, your reactions become much healthier.

You rejoice when people rejoice.

You mourn when they mourn.

You can celebrate someone’s success and not be jealous.

You feel compassion for someone when they’re down and don’t gloat or think they deserve it.

The only way my character stays at this level is if I submit my heart and life fully to Christ on a daily basis.

But when your emotions are disproportionate to the situation, it’s a sign of danger ahead.

3. You have less and less grace to give

When my character has been at its weakest, a sure sign is that grace is in short supply.

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards as a leader. There’s a tremendous amount wrong when those high standards cause you treat people like dirt.

Frankly, on a spiritual level, grace runs out in your life when God runs out in your life.

If you need more grace, you need more God.

If you have less and less grace to give, it’s a deep sign your character needs some serious work.

4. Your leadership has become about you

Great leaders serve people. They don’t believe people exist to serve them.

When your character begins to implode, you will forget that.

Usually at the heart of a character implosion is unresolved pain. And pain, by its nature, is selfish.

Think about it. If you hit your elbow in the next ten seconds, you will completely forget about this blog post and anything else going on in your life and focus only on the pain.

Why? Because pain is selfish.

If you’re a selfish leader, it’s because there’s unresolved pain in your life.

So get on your knees, see a counsellor, get help.

When you resolve the pain, you’ll lead well again.

After all, when your leadership becomes all about you, you’ve stopped leading.

5. You keep justifying your bad actions and decisions

There’s a certain point in the journey where you realize there’s a problem but refuse to deal with it.

How do you know you’ve hit that point?

When you start justifying your bad behaviour and decisions.

You start saying and believing things like:

If you had this much pressure in your life, you’d do it too.

Nobody understand how lonely I am.

It’s impossible for me not to be this way given everything I’m carrying.

Well, believe that if you want to…but also believe that your complete implosion or erosion of authority is much closer than you think.

Leaders who justify their bad behaviour lose their authority to lead.

Conversely, leaders who recognize it and seek help almost always get better.

Some Hope

If you’ve read through this and now have that sinking feeling, there’s hope.

If you get help, all of these conditions are reversible.

And what’s really great is I think leaders who have been broken this way but then get healthy actually become better leaders than they were before.

It creates a humility and vulnerability in you that helps you lead from a place of great strength.

So get help. And look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It shines pretty bright.

I wrote an entire chapter about becoming a healthy leader and leading a healthy team in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow. You can learn more here.

In the meantime, what are you learning about the collapse of character in leaders?

Any other signs you’d add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

exit a church well

5 Ways For a Church Member to Leave a Church Well

Sometimes people remember how you arrived. They almost always remember how you left.

Especially if you leave poorly.

This is true when people come to your church and when they leave, as some inevitably do.

I was out driving through our neighbourhood recently and I passed the house of someone who goes to our church.

I had that thought that I think every ministry leader has had at some point.

Hey…I don’t think I’ve seen them for a while. Has it been 3 or 4 months? (Pause). 

I wonder if they left?

exit a church wellIt also made me think about how people tend to leave churches these days.

Some leave angry and cause a fight. 

Most just disappear, often without a word.

We don’t have a lot of the first kind at our church these days, but I’m sure we have some of the second.

It got me thinking…

Is there a good way to leave a church?

If I wasn’t in full time ministry, how would I leave  a church?

Ideally, I think you’d stay with one church your whole life.

But because we live in an imperfect world, I’ll just assume everyone has one (or maybe at the most two) lifetime church changes in them while they are living in the same community. I understand that churches change, leaders changes, you change, and so a readjustment in your church home is not out of the question.

I’m not talking about drifting from church to church, consuming church like it was some product you use and dispose of, church surfing or church shopping.

I’m talking about a “we went to this church for two decades but now this is our home” kind of change.

Why one or two churches over your life? Because that way you can have the greatest impact and make the greatest contribution.

And, obviously if you move, that’s a different story.

So I’ve penciled in some thoughts.

If people were to leave a church well, I think these steps could be helpful and result in the church being stronger, not weaker.

5 Ways to Exit Well

As a church leader, you can’t guarantee people will follow these steps (or steps like them), but you can guide them along in the journey, helping them to exit well.

Most people want to do the right thing. They’re just not sure how. As a leader, you can help them.

1. Own your piece of the pie

When you’re ready to leave, it’s so easy to blame everyone else and never look inside.

Ask God to show you what part of your dissatisfaction is you and what might be related to others.

Even get input from others to see if you are seeing things correctly, not in a gossipy way, but in a “What part of this problem is me?” kind of way.

As a tip to church leaders, if you meet with someone who’s leaving, own your part of the pie too. Admit that your church isn’t perfect, empathize with their dissatisfaction and try to learn from it. Often there are things you could do much better.

Great things come from honest conversations in which people take responsibility.

2. Talk to someone

Too many people leave without a conversation.

Don’t leave without a conversation—a healthy, respectful conversation.

In a small church, that might be with the pastor directly.

In a larger church, that might be your group leader, someone you serve with or campus pastor.

Either way, don’t just slip away.

3. Clarify the problem

 I find most people leave over one of two issues: Misunderstanding or misalignment.

A misunderstanding can be clarified.

More information, an apology, or a new perspective can often move a person from being upset to being at peace quickly.

In fact, the person might not even end up leaving or the church might end up changing.

Misalignment is another issue. If you are fundamentally at odds with the approach of the church, it’s an alignment issue.

And because no local church is the entire body of Christ, healthy leadership should be excited for you to find a church that better aligns with your understanding of church or your personality.

I’m not talking about preferences here (we like the music better), but I am talking about finding your fit in a way that is going to help you become a thriving part of a local church.

Misaligned people never thrive.

I have often encouraged people to find a church that better fits their approach to ministry and am honestly thrilled when they find a good fit.

4. Leave with grace

Say goodbye well.

Don’t burn relational bridges.

Affirm the good in what you see in the church you’re leaving (remember at one point you thought it was awesome).

Take the high road. You won’t regret it. The high road isn’t the easy road but it’s always the best road.

And besides, the church is the bride of Christ. When you insult the church, you insult Christ (I don’t say this lightly).

If you really want to know what the standard is for exiting with grace, ask yourself: Five years from now, what will I wish I had done? That question clarifies so much.

5. Find and commit to another local church

Your goal is not to consume church, but to be the church.

Find a church where you can serve, love, give, invite and share the life-changing transformation that Christ is bringing about in you.

Those are my thoughts on leaving well. I offer them because it can help you if it’s time to go AND because it might help you (as a church leader) to help people exit well.

Leaving a church staff position is another matter entirely. I wrote this post on some of the unique challenges church leaders face when they exit church leadership (and why so many end up attending nowhere).

What are your thoughts when it comes to church members leaving?

What are the best practices you’ve seen? What are the worst?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

church survival guide

The Post-Modern Church Leader’s Survival Checklist

Question: What does it take to survive in today’s church leadership environment as culture moves away from Christianity and into a more pluralistic, post-modern environment?

Answer: More than it used to, and likely more than you think.

The good news is that you easily discover not only what it takes to survive in today’s leadership culture, you can discover what it takes to thrive. 

After two decades in church leadership (with a few more to come…I hope!), here are ten things that leaders who are thriving these days almost always have in common and almost always have in abundance.

And, conversely, leaders who are missing most of these generally don’t survive in our changing culture.

The good news is you can thrive—not just survive—in today’s church culture if you pursue the right things.

church leader's survival checklistHere are 10 things that I would put on the post-modern church leader’s survival checklist.

As you’ll see, few of them directly tie into the cultural shift happening before us as Western culture shifts away from Christianity. You can read more about that here or in even greater detail in my new book, Lasting Impact.

Instead, the checklist I offer here is tied to the personal strength and resilience a leader brings to their calling.

Why is the checklist so personally oriented?

When a movement becomes counter-cultural (as is increasingly the case with Christianity), it takes greater leadership skill and resolve to make an impact than it otherwise would.

In some ways, it’s like leading into a head-wind rather having the tail wind your predecessors may have enjoyed.

As a result, seeing results might take longer. Leadership is probably going to be harder. It’s certainly going to be more complex.

But it definitely will be worth it, and the potential for impact is huge.

With that in mind, here are 10 things church leaders need to thrive in our post-modern, post-Christian context:

1. A few great friends with whom you can be 100% honest

Ministry is hard. Isolation makes it much harder.

When you’re transitioning a church (and these days, we’re ALL transitioning churches because change is so rapid), it’s important you have a trustworthy few with whom you can be 100% honest.

You can’t publicly or even privately complain about the situation you’re facing with the people you’re leading. It’s bad leadership.

You do need a few people who understand your situation and who can empathize, pray with you and correct you (you’re not always right and your attitude needs adjusting from time to time).

In this respect, I usually find I connect best with peers who hold a similar position and responsibility in another city. They get what I’m struggling with, and I can play the same role for them.

2. Leaders who are one or two steps ahead

Having a few friends with whom you can be 100% honest is different than finding a few leaders who are one or two steps ahead of you.

The first group functions as friends and colleagues, the second as mentors.

You don’t have to piggy back your leadership on someone famous. Too many leaders hold out for that opportunity to be mentored by Andy Stanley or Perry Noble, and then decide they can’t settle for anything less.

Guess what? That will probably never happen. (It was also one of the reasons I started my leadership podcast, so you could be mentored by leaders like Andy, Perry and Craig Groeschel, even virtually. Best of all, it’s free).

But nothing is stopping you from finding a pastor or church leader who is just one or two steps ahead of you. Maybe you’re trying to break the 200 attendance barrier and he’s got a church of 300. Ask to go for lunch and come with great questions and an open notebook.

Maybe you’re looking to handle more volunteers than you’ve ever handled? Find the ministry leader who’s handling twice the number you are and ask her for lunch. You’ll learn a ton.

Mentors are closer than you think and more accessible than you think.

3. People who give you energy

This group isn’t necessarily people with whom you can be 100% honest. They’re not even mentors. It’s different.

This group is about people you personally find energizing.

I frequently ask ministry leaders, “When was the last time you went out for dinner with a couple who left you feeling completely energized and replenished?”

The blank looks and the looks of shock and disappointment on leaders’ faces tells the story.

We don’t do this nearly enough.

Ministry is giving. And because ministry is giving, it can be draining.

Your leadership is like a bank account. You can only give so much without becoming overdrawn. Be overdrawn long enough and you go bankrupt.

Go find some friends who energize you. Then hang out!

4.  A bullet-proof devotional routine

You got into ministry because you love Jesus. But far too many leaders fall out of love with Christ while in ministry.

Why is that?

As Bill Hybels has famously pointed out, too often we let doing the work of Christ destroy the work of Christ within us.

The best way I know how to keep your passion for Christ fresh and alive is to develop a bullet-proof devotional routine.

By bullet-proof I mean it needs to work at home and when you’re on the road, when you’re busy and when you’re on vacation, when you’re at your most stressed and when you’re at your most relaxed.

I outline mine here.

5. Exceptional clarity around how and when to say no

The enemy of great leadership is not lack of opportunity; it’s the overabundance of opportunity.

The more successful you become, the more opportunity you will have. At first, your temptation is to say yes to everything. After all, you’ve waited your whole life for a crack at some things.

But saying yes to something good means you’ve likely said no to something potentially great.

Doing a few things extremely well always trumps doing many things adequately.

If you’re struggling with how to say no (and most of us are), here are some guidelines I use.

6. Regularly scheduled work-on-it time

The problem with most of our jobs is that they are largely reactive unless you decide they won’t be.

You can spend an entire day answering emails, responding to messages and attending meetings you didn’t call only to hit 6:00 p.m. and realize you didn’t move the mission forward one iota.

Long terms, this will kill your ministry.

Realize that in a post-Christian culture, momentum doesn’t come naturally.

The most effective leaders always budget significant blocks of time to work on their ministry, not just in it.

Here are 7 work-on-it things you should start budgeting more time for starting this week if you want to be effective.

7. A diversified learning menu

The challenge for many of us in church leadership is that we listen to the same voices over and over again.

You become a fan of a certain preacher, a certain theologian and you read and listen to only them.

I find I often learn the most from people who are least like me.

Sometimes the answers to your problem lie outside your discipline, not within it.

8. A great marriage or healthy personal life

It’s hard to lead well at work and at home. Usually one suffers at the expense of the other.

You either use your best energy at work and have none left for home.

Or you use all your energy on your personal life and have little left for work.

As a result, married leaders who excel at work often end up with a less than ideal family life, and single people who pour their heart into their ministry end up with a much reduced personal life.  (I wrote about what I’ve learned in my marriage here.)

Neither is a great scenario.

If you pour the level of intentionality into your life that you pour into your leadership,  you will have a better life.

9. A hobby that takes your mind off things

One of the challenges of leadership in ministry is that it requires both your mind and your heart. And the great leaders always throw their heart and mind fully into it.

Which means it can be hard to turn things off when it’s time to go home. Keep that up, and the result is burnout, something both Perry Noble and I experienced.

I talk to too many leaders who just can’t seem to turn it off.

Which is why having a hobby or something else that takes your mind off of work is one of the best things you can do.

What works? Anything that will take your mind off of your day job. That can be cycling, cooking, wood working, hiking, art, or watching a movie. Anything that gives your mind a break.

10. Enough financial margin

If there’s one thing the future will require, it’s more sacrifice.

This seems a bit tough in an era in which many church staff are underpaid and many are bi-vocational.

But developing financial margin is critical. Having no margin severely limits how you can respond to the opportunities in front of you.

I think more of this will be required in the future than in the past as church budgets struggle and as governments inevitably take away tax savings from churches and church staff.

The bottom line is this: the more margin you have, the more opportunities you can seize.

The less margin you have (as a person or as a church), the more those opportunities will pass you by.

What Do You See?

What’s becoming essential to you as a leader as times change?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


How To Tell If Your Church Is Actually Producing Disciples

One of the frequent criticisms I hear of churches that are trying to reach people who don’t attend church is that they fail to produce ‘disciples’.

Honestly, this is a criticism that, off and on, has been levied at our ministry for years. And it bothers me.

I know it’s a criticism that has followed many of you as well.

So…how do you engage it? Better yet how do you respond to it?

For a while I wasn’t sure how to answer back.

Over the years we’ve worked hard on our discipleship process, engaging people in groups, serving, giving and inviting non-Christians to explore Christianity. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting better all the time.

And yet any process begs the question: how do you know if you’re producing spiritually mature disciples or not? How do you measure?

Finally a few years ago I stumbled on a test that for me, at least, answers the question as well as I’ve heard it answered. I’m hoping it clarifies things for you and your team as well.

discipleshipFirst, Some False Tests

I’ve written about how the church today is getting discipleship wrong in this post and again here.

If you listened to many in the church these days, you’d think knowledge equals maturity. The more you know, the more mature you are.

Scripture suggests that’s a false test. After all, as Paul points out, knowledge puffs up; love builds up.

Knowledge makes you arrogant. Love transforms you.

This sheds light on one of the greatest puzzles of the church today: why is it that the Christians who claim to be the most spiritually mature are often the most:






And even angry?

When did an arrogant and judgmental heart become evidence of Christian maturity?

It’s not.

And it never was.

In fact, as I argue here, many things Christians think are signs of spiritual maturity actually aren’t.

A Much Better Way to Tell

So how do you know whether your discipleship strategy is effective—whether it’s producing followers of Jesus who are maturing?

Enter Jesus. He summed up the proof of discipleship as succinctly as anyone.

I was reading through this passage again a few years ago that I finally realized Jesus gave us the test that defines discipleship exceptionally well.

He simply said: “By their fruit you’ll recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?”

In other words, look at someone’s life for the evidence.

What evidence? Evidence that the Holy Spirit is transforming someone, or as the ancients used to say, evidence that someone is being sanctified.

That sounds great, but what does that look like?

Back to Paul. He actually defines what it’s like to be transformed by the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5.

He begins by listing the fruit of people who are NOT being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Paul says people who are not under the direction of the Holy Spirit have lives characterized by, among other things:



Sexual immorality


Impurity and debauchery

Fits of rage





So…look at the people who are following Christ in your church and ask yourself: is this what their lives look like?

If so, you have some work to do on your discipleship strategy because it’s not producing what the Holy Spirit produces in people’s lives when he’s at work.

So what does the Holy Spirit do in peoples’ lives?

When the Holy Spirit gets a hold of someone, he produces:










So, (here’s the test again) look at people who follow Jesus in your church and ask “Is this what characterizes their lives more than it did a few years ago?”

If the answer is yes, you have an effective discipleship strategy.

If the answer’s no, you have some work to do.

You can’t set perfection as your standard because we live on this side of heaven.

Will everyone who claims to be following Jesus ‘be there’? No.

Will everyone stick around? Nope, you’ll lose a few. (If you have no back door you’re either running a cult where no one is allowed to leave or you’re really not growing.)

But people SHOULD be more like Christ than they were.

And that’s the point.

Their character and heart are being re-shaped by the Holy Spirit. That’s effective discipleship.

As the ancients knew, sanctification (the process of being made holy) is a life-long process. God isn’t done shaping you until you’re dead. And even then, he has plans for you.

Bringing This Home

The more I thought about Jesus’ teaching (by their fruit you’ll know them) and Paul’s definition of fruit, the more I realized that maybe despite the critic’s claims, we actually have an effective discipleship strategy.

Why could I say this?

I looked at the people we baptized 3 to 5 years ago and ask where they are now and what they’re like now.

First, most of them are still around. They’re still following Jesus. AND, when I see where they’re at in their lives, they actually are more loving, more patient, more kind. They’re exercising more self-control (sometimes remarkably so) and many would tell you they have far more peace.

They also display less immorality, less envy, less divisiveness, better control of their temper and greater humility.

Guess what?

The scripture tells us that that’s the Holy Spirit at work. They’re being discipled. They’re becoming mature. 

The Irony

The irony I see (and I have to be careful how I say this), is that often the people who slam churches for not producing disciples are the people who display the fewest fruits of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, their accusations are often characterized by anger, hostility, pride and sometimes jealousy (their criticism often targets growing churches). At a minimum, you don’t get the sense that their question is motivated by love.

You see the incongruity, right?

The people who claim to be the most spiritually mature fail the biblical definition of maturity.

And the people who don’t claim to be spiritually mature often pass it.

What Do You Think?

It’s just something to think about the next time someone claims yet again that your church fails to produce disciples.

And it’s a great way to evaluate your own ministry.

Just look for the fruit. You’ll see it. One way or the other, your ministry is producing something in people’s lives.  Wise leaders know what it is.

What are you learning about discipleship in your ministry? Scroll down and leave a comment.

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