From Strategy

radical change

How Long Will It Take For My Church To Really, Actually Change?

One of the most common questions I hear from church leaders is “How long will it take my church to permanently change?”

It’s such a great question because change sometimes feels, well, impossible.

You hear a constant stream of complaints

You’ve run into too many people who like things the way they are now (or the way they were a long time ago)

You’ve got too many friends who got hurt badly trying to lead change

The committees keep meeting and they keep stalling

You’re starting to feel like Moses in the desert with no Promised Land in sight

I get that, I’ve been there.

But don’t get discouraged. Change—even radical change—is possible.

The bottom line? Don’t overestimate what you can accomplish in one year. Don’t underestimate what you can do in five years.

radical changeOur Story: From Slow Death to Radical Transformation

I’ve led change in a local church for 20 years with the many of the same core group of people I started with when I was a seminary grad.

I began ministry with three small mainline churches whose total average attendance was less than 50. They churches were about as traditional as churches get: century old buildings, organs, choirs, committees, few kids and zero growth.

Within 5 years we had sold all three buildings and merged the three churches into a new church with a new name and a new mission. In the process, we changed the structure of leadership, engineered a radical overhaul of the style of worship, moved to an elementary school and launched a building campaign. In the process, we grew to over 10 times our original size.

Then 7 years ago, a core of us left the denomination we were a part of. We left a nearly paid for building to start again in neighbouring communities as Connexus, launching two locations at once. We moved from a permanent building to rented facilities and planted as a North Point Strategic Partner. Now, we see over 1000 people on weekends, 60% of whom have little to no regular church attendance in their background. This has helped us realize our vision to be a church that unchurched people love to attend.

I realize, that’s a lot of change. Have we lost people? Of course.

But we have reached many more. And many didn’t leave. Some have been with us through the entire 20 year journey.

Change refuses to make peace with the status quo. Change bridges the gap between what is and what could be.

I share those things not to boast—God receives the credit—but to let you know that change is possible. Radical change is possible.

Radical Change IS Possible

Your church doesn’t have to be stalled or dying to experience the benefits of change.

One of the best examples of this is how Jud Whilite took over the senior pastor role at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas after Gene Appel had led it from 400 to over 8000 in attendance. If you follow church world at all, those transitions don’t always go well (that’s an understatement). How do you build on that? Under Jud’s leadership, Central has become a distinctly different church and grown even more.

It changed. And reached more people. (Jud will be a guest on my podcast this fall by the way. You can subscribe for here free.)

Two more stories of rapid change can inspire you.

Both Ron Edmondson and Jeff Price have turned their churches around radically within a two year window.  While transformation will still take longer, their stories demonstrate without a doubt that change is possible sooner than you’d think.  Both interviews are (in my view) worth the listen, especially if you need hope and strategy as a leader.

To access Ron’s episode directly on your smart phone go here.

For Jeff’s, go here.

How to Begin Change

Before you start engineering change, there are at least three prerequisites:

1. A clear and compelling vision, mission and strategy. Most people have a vision and mission, but few have a strategy. Mission answers the question of what we’re called to do. Vision answers why we’re called to do it. But strategy is about how we will accomplish it. Strategy is often the difference between success and failure. And please, understand, I’m talking about embarking on good change here—godly, biblical, wise and courageous change that will result in a mission being accomplished.  Not some whim of a dictator like leader.

2. A team committed to bringing about the change. You can’t do this alone. You need at least a handful of people committed to the change. People who will pray with you and help broker the change. You can usually find them. You just have to look.

3. A deep resolve. Are people go to enthusiastically embrace even good change? Many will not, but most will—if you know how to lead them. Leading Change Without Losing It is a guide to help leaders navigate the nerve-wracking opposition that comes with change.

So HOW Long? (A Reasonable Time Frame for Change)

So how fast can you change? While times will vary, here’s what I believe is a reasonable timeframe for change based on an organization that is currently not on a path way to change:

12-18 Month Prep Period. Again, assuming you are going to bring up change in a change resistant culture, it might take you 12-18 months to get the prerequisites outlined above in place.

If you have a change-friendly context, you might be able to do this in 3-6 months. Either way, you’ll need to cast vision for change, create a vision, mission and strategy that will lead your church forward and share it all enough that is owned by at least a small group of people other than yourself (in our church of 50, we had maybe a dozen truly onboard to start).

One thing you can start changing in this window is your attitude. You can preach better, bring hope to meetings and inspire people. Attitude is something always in your control.

The goal of this prep period is to cast as clear and compelling picture as you can of who you are going to be and what you’re going to look like 5 years from now.

Then break the change down into short term (One year), medium term (2-3 years) and long term (3-5 year) goals.

Year 1. Year one is the time to get some quick wins under your belt. Move to a better curriculum. Preach better series. Introduce some new music. Change your meeting structure or frequency. Paint something. Pick some changes that are easy to make and will result in a better experience now.  Remember, these are clear steps that are going to help you get to your five year goal, not just random and unstrategic changes.

2-3 Years. Choose some structural changes you want to make. We reformed our governance structure, made initial plans to sell our historic buildings, started introducing new musicians and a band (as we moved away from traditional music), introduced some new spiritual growth initiatives and moved our kids ministry to where we wanted it to be. You need to start laying the structural support system for change now or by the time you get to year 5, your change won’t be sustainable.

4-5 Years. Make your final changes. For us, it meant that our transformation is Sunday service style, governance, structure and more was complete. The last 10% is always the hardest, so don’t quit. Don’t overestimate what you can accomplish in 1 year, but don’t underestimate what you can accomplish in 5.

5+ Years. Keep changing. You’re never done. And now you’ve got new issues to solve and anticipate that didn’t exist when you started. So keep going.

Change v. Transformation

You can create a lot of change in 5 years. But when does transformation happen?

What’s the difference between change and transformation? It’s two fold:

Transformation happens when the changes you make become embedded in the organizational culture. What was new has become normal. People assume it’s just going to be this way. And what was novel is now a foundation for all future decisions. The change has become a part of your organizational culture.

Most people no longer want to go back; they want to move forward. I say most people, because you’ll always have the dissenters. But most people want to move forward. They’re excited. Their vision has moved from being about the past to now embracing the present and future. The best is yet to come, and you can feel it.

So exactly when does transformation happen?

I believe transformation happens somewhere between Year 5 and Year 7.  

Once you’ve made the change, have demonstrated that you’re not turning back, and you’ve begun to see some of the benefits of change (you’re healthier and likely growing), then the shift in values and culture happens —almost silently.

You know it’s a new day when people can’t imagine going back to the way they once were.

And that is an incredible reward for those who navigate change. Not to mention to the people who will benefit from your renewed mission.

Another way to look at transformation is this. Transformation happens when externally imposed change creates a set of new, internally owned values.

In other words, people have changed. They now believe and embrace what they once resisted.

What have you learned about change?

What stumbling blocks—or accelerants—have you discovered?

If you want more practical help for you and your team in leading  your church through change, my book Leading Change without Losing It is available with a DVD and study guide designed for elder board and staff discussions at a discounted price ($18.99 for both—regularly $31.98). Get your book and DVD study guide bundle here

As always, you can get an eBook only version of Leading Change Without Losing It on Amazon (no study guide)  or iBooks.

attracting and keeping great leaders

Beyond Thank You—5 Non-Financial Keys to Attracting and Keeping Great Leaders

So you want to attract and keep great people. Who doesn’t?

Connexus, the church in which I serve, relies on hundreds of volunteers and several staff each week to do some incredibly demanding roles. How do you keep great people engaged?

Whether it’s staff or volunteers, you want to keep people engaged, motivated and committed to a common cause. While there are a variety of ways to do that, there’s one truth underneath it all that often gets missed.

Here’s how I believe people behave:

People gravitate to where they are valued most.

attracting and keeping great leaders

Think about it. You behave this way.

Your best friends are the people who make you feel valued.

The family members you talk to most regularly are the ones who make you feel most valued.

You’ve left jobs because you didn’t feel like you were valued.

You willingly give your time to organizations or causes where you feel like you are appreciated and making a contribution.

If you do this, why would your team be any different?

So as a leader, how can you make sure you are adequately valuing people?

You might think the key is to say thanks a lot or simply pay people. Well, maybe not.

Thanks. I believe that saying thanks should be the daily currency of every leader. Never underestimate the power of a hand-written thank you note or the power of looking someone in the eye and commending them for something specific they’ve done. Do it daily. But people still walk away from their jobs and roles after being thanked for what they’ve done. So thank people, but don’t stop there.

Money. Even for paid employees, once you reach a certain salary level, money alone is not a motivator. If your entire strategy is based on compensation, you will not make people feel valued. Many well-paid people hate their jobs. And it’s of zero help when dealing with volunteers.

So how do you really value people?

I think there are at least five things leaders can do to help people feel like they are valued. And they’re free. All they require is your attitude and heart as a leader.

5 Non-Financial Ways To Value Leaders

Here are five non-financial keys to attracting and keeping great leaders:

1. Listen 

Everyone wants to be heard. One of the best ways you can value people is to listen.

Ask them questions. Don’t jump to conclusions. Look them in the eye. Maintain undistracted focus. Take notes. Use your ears far more than you use your mouth.

This can be a behaviour you learn. I know because I’m a natural talker (plus I have convinced myself I can solve anyone’s problem in 20 seconds).

Practice the skill of listening. People will feel valued, because you actually are valuing them.

2. Trust

Trust people. Sure, I know you’ve been burned before. Join the line.

I’m not talking about blind trust, but I am talking about trusting people when they’ve shown even an inkling of character, skill and aptitude. Most people want to be believed in. You do.

And when you trust leaders, the best ones will rise to the occasion. They might even rise beyond it. And the others, well, you can deal with that when it happens. In the meantime, don’t punish the good people because you’ve run into a few bad ones.

Make trust, not suspicion, your default.

3. Respect 

When your talent or contribution is not respected or valued, it’s hard to want to stay. So respect the leaders you lead.

Give them your time, your attention, your ear, your heart and your gratitude. Men, in particular, crave respect.

4. Challenge

This one’s a bit counter-intuitive, but make sure you have high expectations of the people you lead. Challenge them! Higher standards motivate people. It calls out their best.

Very few high capacity leaders want to give their lives to something uninspiring or insignificant. High expectations usually yield higher returns.

5. Empower

Give them something significant to do. As my friend Reggie Joiner says, people will not believe they are significant until you give them something significant to do. So empower them. Give them something real. If you only have small tasks, you will attract small leaders.

But if you start to give away significant tasks and authority, you will attract the best and brightest leaders.

People gravitate to where they are valued most.

If you value them, guess where they’ll likely hang out?

What would you add to this list? Scroll down and leave a comment!

church is going extinct

11 Signs Your Church Is Going Extinct

In all the conversation among church leaders about the future of the church and declining attendance, the question remains, how’s your church doing?

Sometimes that can be difficult to discern.

Unless you’re in a free fall right now, it can be hard to know whether your congregation will thrive, survive or take a dive in the next decade.

But like most things in life, there are signs right now that will point to the direction in which you’re headed.

And if you can know now, why wait?

I am a firm believer that The Church (capital C Church) will survive and even thrive, but it will look different than it does now.

But in the meantime, amidst a rapidly changing culture, many individual congregations are endangered species. They could easily become extinct.

Change always brings dislocation, death and renewal. Personally, I want as many churches as possible to be on the side of renewal.

And that starts with an honest assessment of where you are as a church today.

church is going extinctI believe there are signs you can observe today that will tell you whether your church is going extinct.

These signs are quick gut checks that you can assess easily that will hopefully lead to deeper conversation and change.

If you want to go deeper, listen in on my conversation with Thom Rainer who outlines some other characteristics he sees in dying churches. You can listen on iTunes here or tune in below.  (You can  also check out more from Thom here on his blog.)

11 Signs Your Church Is Going Extinct

If your church is showing one or two of these signs, some change is in order to optimally position your congregation for the future.

If it’s showing more than half of the signs, then in my view there’s some serious work to be done. If it’s showing most or all of the signs, it’s time for some prayerful and radical repentance and reinvention before it’s too late.

1. No sense of urgency

Growing churches have an exceptional sense of urgency. Stagnant and declining churches don’t.

If every Sunday is just another Sunday—and you don’t have a burning sense that lives and eternity hang in the balance—then you’ve lost the edge that all great churches, preachers and movements share.

2. Urgency about the wrong things

It’s not that dying churches don’t have any sense of urgency. In fact, they will often feel urgency about two things: the budget and survival.

If your motive for growth is financial, you should probably close your doors or open your heart. Unchurched people can smell it a mile away when you see them as simply a means to an end.

Resources and people follow vision. If your only vision is to stay afloat, the end is near.

3. Decline has made you cautious

Growing churches take risks. Stagnant or declining churches don’t.

Churches that aren’t growing often end up in preservation mode—they try to converse what little they already have rather than risk it to grow again.

This is a critical mistake.

Ask yourself, when was the last time we took a real risk? If you can’t answer that, you’re far too cautious.

4. Success has made you cautious

It’s not just stagnation or decline that makes leaders cautious, success does it too.

Sometimes you become so successful you become afraid to break the formula. So you become cautious. You stop innovating. You risk little.

The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.

5. Your affection for the past is greater than your excitement for the future

Stuck or declining churches are nostalgic churches. They remember when everything was amazing, which clearly isn’t today.

To figure this out, listen to the way people talk. Is there an excitement for what’s next, or mostly a longing for what was?

When your affection for the past is greater than your excitement for the future, you’re in trouble.

6. You don’t understand the changing culture

Stagnant and declining churches often see a gap develop between them and the culture.

Because nothing has changed in a decade—or several decades—the world is seen at best as something they don’t understand, or at worst, as an enemy.

Outsiders who come in see a church like that as, at best, quaint, and more likely as irrelevant and misguided.

Jesus loved the world enough to die for it. The church should love the world enough to reach it.

7. You haven’t got new leaders around the table

Look around you. Are most of the people on your team the same people who were there five years ago?

I’m not advocating for high turnover in staff, but in far too many churches there is no plan to renew leadership.

Churches who position themselves for future impact intentionally integrate new voices and new leaders around the table.  I try to keep a balance of established, trusted voices and new voices around our table.

If all the people around your table are the same as 5 years ago, you might just all be 5 years older, not 5 years better.

8. You mostly listen to the voices of current members

When you make decisions, who are you listening to?

Hopefully, (naturally) to the voice of God and to scripture.

But when it comes to human voices…whose wins the day?

Too often, the voice of current church members drowns out the voice of the unchurched people you’re trying to reach.

In fact, smart church leaders will intentionally hang out with unchurched people and bring their voice to the table. How you do that is up to you. That you do it is critical.

9. Your conflict is about all the wrong things

There will always be some level of conflict whenever human beings gather, so what’s your conflict about?

Dying churches spend their energy fighting each other and fighting change.

Growing churches spend their energy fighting for new opportunities to reach unchurched people and speaking up for the change that will impact their lives.

10. Any growth you have is transfer growth

But wait, some will say, we’re growing. We had some new members last year!

That’s awesome. But who are you reaching?

If your growth is mostly transfer growth, you’re pulling from an ever-smaller pool of people.

If you’re reaching unchurched people with little or no church background, the future is much brighter.

11. The core team is not fundamentally healthy

How does your leadership get along?

Do you like hanging out with each other? Do you resolve conflict directly, quickly and effectively?

Are you growing in your faith and in your skill set?

Are you living in a way today-physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally—that will help you thrive tomorrow?

Are you aligned around a common mission, vision and strategy? (Here are five things North Point has taught me about team alignment.)

If you can answer yes to most of those questions, you’re healthy.

If not, there’s some work to do.

But here’s the truth: health at the top is health at the bottom. Dysfunction at the top is dysfunction at the bottom.

If you want a healthy church, grow a healthy leadership team.

Other Signs?

Those are 11 signs I see that a congregation might be going extinct.

What would you add to this list?  Scroll down and leave a comment!


Want More Conversation?

Interested in helping your church grow and get healthy? My new book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, launches next month (September 2015).

Sign up here to get all the details when Lasting Impact releases so you don’t miss a thing.

I’m also on Periscope (I’m @careynieuwhof) and will be Periscoping some Q and A on this post the week of its release.


Is The Smartphone Killing Weekend Church Services?

As almost everyone by this point has noticed, even committed church attenders are attending weekend church services less often.

Online options are one of ten reasons I’ve previously outlined on why even committed Christians are attending church less frequently (here are the other 9).

But just how seriously is technology digging into attendance and what can a church leader do in response?

The question is challenging because the change happening around us is so rapid, and those who fail to respond will likely be left clinging to a model that worked a decade ago.

weekend church services

I’ll Just Listen When I’m Running

You only have to be in your twenties to realize how much things have changed in the last decade.

Ten years ago, there was no smart phone. Computers still mostly used cords to access the internet, and internet was painfully slow (at least by today’s standards).

If you wanted to listen to a message by a pastor who didn’t live in your town or access pretty much any Christian content, you had to order a CD, wait for it to arrive and listen then. Some churches were still rocking cassette ministries.

Fast forward to today.

Your phone has more power than any device you owned in the 2000s. It’s always connected, and as a result, so are you.

Consequently, you (and millions of others) have access to any preacher, anytime and anywhere, including all the influential communicators. For free. Which is what a growing number of Christians are listening to.

And even in small churches, parishioners now have access to their pastor’s messages on iTunes.

Throw a few bucks into the mix and you can even grab your favourite worship tunes.

Which means that the two ingredients that have been the mainstay of church services for millions of people in Western Culture—a great message and some music— have become largely downloadable.

The implications of this are huge.

Many Christians are thinking ‘why bother going at a set hour and fight traffic when I can listen when I’m running?”

It’s a great question.

And to simply dismiss that approach as unfaithful is a bit simplistic.

This is a great season for leaders to dig deeper and ask why do we do what we do? That’s true any time change comes.

It’s also the conversation we’ve been having at Connexus Church where I serve.

Some great questions for any church leader to ask include:

What makes the gathering of the church unique?

Why do we gather anyway?

Are there aspects of our gathering that you simply can’t download?

Will technology eventually kill the weekend service?

Those are questions we’re all better off answering sooner than later.

The internet is not going away any time soon, and church leaders who ignore it do so to their peril.

For sure, as Will Mancini discusses below, the conversation should just not be about running defence—ignoring the internet and trends and arguing the only faithful response is to attend.

You can listen to Will’s insights on the player below or go straight to iTunes to listen to my conversation with him (it’s Episode 23).

But with that in mind, the question remains, what do we do with our online presence and our gatherings?

Toward Downloadable and Non Downloadable Experiences

For starters, I believe the church will always gather. (I outlined that among 10 predictions for the future church).

We always have and we always will.

Perhaps the best strategy is to increase your online presence as much as you can while deepening your in-person gatherings.

We need downloadable experiences AND we need non-downloadable experiences. It’s both and, not either or.

A greater online presence allows your ministry to impact people every day through social media, online messages and more.

Given that virtually every unchurched person in your city is online, it provides a portal to the unchurched in your community few could have imagined a generation ago.

In other words, something leaders could only dream of two decades ago is at your fingertips (literally), and it’s not even that expensive.

So the upside for online impact is staggering.

But that doesn’t make the church entirely virtual or downloadable.

Is there something that happens when the church gathers that doesn’t happen when you listen to a message when you’re at the gym or in the car?

For sure there is.

5 Things You Can’t Download

The times we’re in will make us drill down further on what elements of our life together are unique to physical gathering and which aren’t.

As we all intuitively know, there are some things you can’t download.

Leaders who understand and focus on these ingredients will always lead better churches than leaders who don’t, no matter how robust their online ministry might be.

So while this is early thinking (the dialogue will only get better with time), here are 5 ingredients I don’t think you can download.

I conclude each point with a leadership question that can serve as a filter or guide as you plan your services, gatherings and experiences.

1. Community

You might be able to download an artfully captured message and awesomely engineered music, but you can’t download community—at least not the deepest form of community.

And that’s what the church should be best at.

Don’t get me wrong, online community is great. I have thousands of connections online with people I would otherwise never meet. Some of the connections mean a great deal to me.

But they are not nearly as deep as the connections I have with people I know in my local church. People I meet with face to face. People I’m doing life with.

Churches that deepen community will always do a better job of getting people to gather than churches who don’t.

Consequently, if you still see church as a random gathering of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people, perhaps you’re creating an experience that can be downloaded.

But if you give people meaningful spaces in which to gather, to build relationship (small groups remains incredible for this) and to experience things together as a community, you will be getting back to the kind of experiences the early church knew and that will define the future church.

And don’t miss this—churches that broker authentic community create experiences the world is craving

Before you think you’ve passed the test, dig deeper.

Many churches claim to be great at fellowship, but they’re not. They’re great at cliques.

But a church that brokers authentic community for dozens, hundreds or thousands is offering people something nothing else can compare to. Especially because Christ is at the centre of that gathering.

It’s the community so many are longing for but no one seems to know how to find.

Leadership Question: Are we moving people toward authentic community in everything we do as a church?

2. Presence

One of the theological questions this discussion raises is this: “Is God present differently when the church gathers than he is in our personal lives?”

I think the answer is yes.

If you look at how God moved in the early church, it was often through groups of people. It’s not that God wasn’t with people individually—he was, and is—it’s just that the corporate presence is different and powerful and often changes the world.

I agree that often we misuse and abuse the concept of God’s presence as church leaders. We think God was present because the room was full, because the preacher was strong, or because the offering was good.

It’s not nearly that simply or straightforward.

But sometimes God is present—meaningfully, powerfully—when the church gathers.

While you can’t engineer God’s presence, but you can pray for it and anticipate it.

When we gather for communion, when we invite God to be present, when we make space in our services for God to speak…something often happens that you can’t quite control.

Even practically speaking, the focused attention a physical gathering demands can draw people into greater connection with God than those moments when we distractedly listen to a message at home while we’re frantically making dinner for the kids.

And remember…unchurched people long for an experience with God. If the church can’t facilitate that, who can?

The church should be the best in the world at moving people into the presence of the living God.

Churches that facilitate this will simply reach more unchurched people than those who don’t.

Leadership Question: Have we invited God into this and left space for him to move? 

3. Movement

The church is not an institution or even an organization; it’s a movement.

And movements by nature gather people and make an impact.

Cycling down a road all by yourself, listening to the latest podcast certainly is peaceful, but wouldn’t you rather actually be part of the movement?

If your church is gathering for the sake of gathering (you’ve lost the mission), there will be no sense of movement.

But the closer your church is to the mission of the original church, the greater the sense of movement will be.

The church at its best is a movement of saints and sinners, saved and unsaved—people from every walk of life and socio-economic background whose lives are being intersected by a saviour who rose from the dead.

The church at its best is an outward movement that changes families, cities and nations.

Leadership question: Is there any sense when we gather that we are part of the broader movement of the Kingdom of God?

4. Invitation

Perhaps the most exciting part of leading in the local church for me is that we never have a Sunday where only Christians gather.

We’re a church that we pray unchurched people will love to attend, and they do. It’s been a decade and a half since we had a service without an unchurched guest present.

The ministry of personal evangelism is important and a bit undernourished these days.

Even the person who’s best at personal evangelism ultimately wants to connect their friends to a wider circle of Christians.

It’s hard to invite your friend to a podcast. It’s easier to invite them to church.

And every Christians who feel insecure or ill equipped to talk to their friends about Christ (which is most) can still easily say “why don’t you come to church with me.”

The crisis in the church today is that most churches are not places anyone would want to bring their friends to.

Imagine if that changed.

Churches that facilitate gatherings that work for outsiders and insiders will be the most effective. If you want to know what that looks like, I think the best explanation is found in Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide.

Leadership question: Are our services great experiences for the churched and the unchurched alike?

5. Service

In the same way you can’t download community or invitation, you can’t download serving people either.

The church is one of the greatest places in the world to serve.

To serve each other.

To serve children.

To serve teens.

To serve unchurched people.

To serve the brokenhearted.

To serve the poor.

If all I do is download my favourite Christian content, the only person I end up serving is myself.

If volunteering at church becomes less about staffing positions and filling slots, and truly becomes about serving each other in love, the world will take notice.

When the church gathers to serve, we break the gravitational pull of selfishness.

Leadership Questions: How do our gatherings model serving one another in love?


What Would You Add?



21 Things You’ll Never Regret As a Leader

If you’ve led anything for any length of time, you already have some regrets.

You wish you could get back some situations, redo some moments and in some cases, start over again.

Why is that? If you look for common threads, you’ll often discover the problem was not in the situation, it was in how you responded to it.

Put another way, it was who you were when the hammer dropped.

But you can also look back on other situations and see you handled things well. That you really have no regrets.

Challenges come and challenges go in leadership. The difference between great leaders and poor leaders is often how their character responds to crisis.

Great leaders adopt practices, attitudes and positions that they quite simply never regret.

And that’s the key: there are some things you do as a leader that you’ll just never regret.

While I haven’t gotten every situation right in leadership (far from it), I took some time to make a list of 21 things I’ve never regretted doing as a leader. My guess is when you’ve done them, you’ve never regretted them either.

And if you and I keep doing them, we’ll have far fewer regrets moving forward.


21 Things You’ll Never Regret

1. Throwing your heart into whatever you do

I’m increasingly convinced that a white hot sense of passion is one ingredient in churches and other organizations that are doing an outstanding job these days.

Far too many leaders are phoning it in. If that’s you, hang up.

Fully engaging the task before you with all your heart is one of the best shots you’ve got at making an impact.

2. Taking the high road

It’s easy to get pulled down into mud…arguing, jostling and getting caught up in cheap accusations that lead nowhere good.


Take the high road.

You know what that is.

Be kind. Don’t fight back. Prepare to be misunderstood. Forgive. Show grace.

The high road isn’t the easy road, but it’s the best road.

You simply never regret taking it.

3. Saying you’re sorry

It’s easy to apologize when you’re new or just starting out. Everyone expects you to make mistakes.

It’s harder when you’re the leader.

It’s hardest when you’re a successful leader who’s been leading a long time.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re above reproach. You’re not.

In fact, I think the leader should be the FIRST to apologize (I outlined why and how to apologize well here).

So apologize.

4. Praying for your team

You will never regret praying for your team.

Pray for them by name. Ask them what specifically you can pray for.

A leader who prays for his team is a leader worth following.

5. Pushing through your fears

It’s not that great leaders have no fears. Pathological people may have no fears, but otherwise we pretty much all face them.

Great leaders push through their fears.

In this post, I outlined 5 signs that fear is undermining your leadership.

5. Smiling more

You’ll never regret smiling more.

I know I look grumpy unless I remind myself to smile. I’m actually not grumpy most of the time…I just look that way.

So smile.

6. Saying an encouraging word

Very few people I know would say they are over-encouraged.

Okay, no one I know has ever told me they’ve exceeded their lifetime dose of encouragement.

Encouragement costs you nothing as a leader but it means everything to the person you’re encouraging.

Think about that.

7. Saying thank you

Ditto with thank you.

When a leader starts acting entitled, followers lose heart.

Treat everyone—including staff—like they were volunteers. Thank them regularly and sincerely.

Even your staff have other options. They can quit. And if you fail to show gratitude, they will.

8. Helping someone who can’t help you back

Leadership ushers in responsibilities, but it also brings some perks.

At some point you might command a slightly higher salary than others, have access to expense account others don’t, or even have more control over your time.

Don’t use the perks of leadership solely for your benefit. Help someone who can’t help you back.

Buy them something. Be generous with your time. Open your home. Give them access to something or someone they couldn’t gain access to without you.

Can they pay you back? No, they can’t.

And that’s the point.

9. Finding a few great mentors

Leadership can be a lonely journey, but it doesn’t have to be.

Finding mentors is something you’ll never regret doing.

I look for leaders who are a stage ahead in life who are the kind of people I want to be.

10. Developing some replenishing relationships

Ministry can be draining. So can leadership.

You give all day and often go home exhausted.

Often, people will seek you out in your off time asking for ‘just a little more’.

My wife and I realized years ago that we need to have some friends who truly replenish us…the kind of relationships where time passes quickly and you leave feeling better than when you came.

11. Deciding ahead of time what your priorities will be

I am amazed at how often I have to re-establish priorities in leadership.

Deciding ahead of time what you will do and not do, when you will be off and when you will work, whom you will meet with and who you won’t, will help you keep first things first.

If you don’t do this, you will never have enough time and always be disappointed with the results you’re getting.

12. Adopting a fixed schedule

One of the best leadership moves I made was moving to a fixed schedule.

What I mean by that is I follow the same rhythm to my work every week with very few exceptions. I pre-determine writing time, meeting days and more.

Although the post is a few years old and some details have changed, I outline how to move to a fixed schedule here if you want more information.

13. Discovering what fuels and drains you

Ever wonder why some days you go home feeling excited and other days you go home exhausted—and yet you worked the same number of hours?

Some activities drain you and others fuel you.

Figuring out which does what can change the effectiveness of your leadership so much.

Great leaders will spend more and more time on the things that energize them and less on the things that drain them. It’s that simple.

I outline how to determine that in this post.

14.Investing in your personal leadership development

You can think of conferences, coaching, books, courses and development programs as expenses, or as investments.

If you think of them as investments, you will become a far better leader.

The best leaders never hesitate to invest in their personal development.

Becoming better is never a waste of money.

15. Taking meaningful vacations

Even when my wife and I were starting out and we had no money, we found money to take even a simple annual vacation.

It’s one of the best investments we’ve made over the years.

I say meaningful vacations because you’ll be tempted to cheat.

You’ll be tempted to say “3 days is enough”. No it’s not.

You’ll be tempted to say “We can just stay home and relax.” And maybe you can. But I just want to catch up on household projects when I do.

Taking a meaningful vacation doesn’t mean you have to drop thousands on Europe, but it does mean you need to rest and recharge. I wrote about my new rules for vacation in this post if you want more.

16. Developing a hobby you love

I could almost be a ‘work is my hobby’ guy. Maybe you could be too.

I love what I do and even writing this blog and doing my leadership podcast are “hobbies.” Work just doesn’t feel like work to me most days.

But I also realize I need interests outside of ministry and leadership. At least if I’m going to stay healthy and balanced.

It took me a bunch of false starts, but I’ve eventually settled on cycling and BBQing as hobbies (I’m a Big Green Egg enthusiast).

Despite what you think, you need a hobby.

17. Becoming an early riser

While there’s still a debate about whether early risers really do get the worm, I’m sold on getting up early.

I think you’ll never regret becoming an early riser because you simply get 1-3 hours to accomplish things when no one is texting you, bothering you or slamming your inbox.

Guess when I write this blog?

I think one of the keys to success is simply beating the patterns most other people follow. For me, getting up at 5 gives me (and you) a 2-3 hour advantage over almost everyone—and everything—else.

Try it.

18. Getting to bed on time

I am also a sleep evangelist. Having cheated sleep through my 20s and 30s, I repented.

I try to get as close to 8 hours of sleep I can every night. I really believe sleep is a secret leadership weapon.

There’s evidence that people who are sleep deprived operate with a similar impairment level to people who drink too much.

Leaders who are rested always bring more to the table than leaders who are tired.

19. Eating better

Diet can have a tremendous impact on mental clarity, alertness and even your quality of sleep.

Sugar and carb crashes happen to far too many leaders.

Cutting down on sugar and carbs has helped me not only lose weight, but feel much better throughout the day.


20. Working out

For years I resisted working out, but in the last ten years I’ve taken exercise more seriously.

It’s still a discipline, but finding something I love (like cycling) has really helped.

And most of the productive leaders I know take their health and working out at least somewhat seriously.

21. Carving out a daily time with God

Why is that the first thing to go in the lives of many Christians is our time with God?

Anchoring myself in scripture and prayer at the beginning of every day is a discipline I’ve never regretted.


You lead better when you hear from God.

What Would You Add?

I realize this can sound like a bit of a moralizing list, but just scan back through the headlines.

You really wouldn’t regret any of these, would you?

And that’s the point. Sometimes the key to better future is simpler than we think.

What would you add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


The Problem With Incremental Change

So you want to bring about change but you’re afraid of the pushback that you know the change will create?

Totally understand that.

So you’re tempted to do what many leaders have done. Instead of bringing about the deep or radical change you know needs to happen, you decide to introduce change incrementally.

Rather than remove the furniture you know needs to go, you move it an inch a week, hoping nobody will notice.

Rather than fire the poor performer, you transfer him to a new position and hope one day he’ll leave.

Rather than kill the programs that need to go, you add a few new ones instead and skirt the real issue.

Rather than make all the changes you know need to be made, you create a 10 year time line, thinking that people will better accept the change the longer you delay.

Sound familiar?

What’s wrong with this picture?

More than a few things actually.


The Problem With Incremental Change

The problem with incremental change…

…is that it brings incremental results.

If you want incremental results, then embrace incremental change.

The reality is that most leaders don’t want incremental results.

You dream of significant results.  Of radically different results.

Yet for some reason too many leaders fall for the leadership lie that incremental change will usher in radically different results.

It won’t.

Radical change brings the potential for radical results.

Incremental change never does.

Why Do Leaders Fall For This?

Why do you as a leader talk yourself into believing that incremental change will produce the results you’re looking for?

There are at least three reasons:

1. You fear people’s reaction to significant change

You’ve seen other leaders get crucified for ushering in change. And you don’t want that to be you.

Fear is one of the main reasons change isn’t happening fast enough in the church or in many organizations today.

Personally, I think it would be a terrible thing to stand before God one day and explain that the main reason you didn’t do what you were called to do is because you were afraid.

Do you really want fear to be your final epitaph as a leader?

Or would you rather go down trying?

Personally, I’d rather die trying.

2. Past opposition to change

You tried change once, and it failed.

Well, awesome.

You also had a bad meal once, but you didn’t stop eating.

Why is it leaders shy away from change once they’ve had any opposition to it?

Maybe the change itself isn’t the problem.

Maybe your strategy is the problem.

This is why I outlined 5 specific strategies to lead change in the face of opposition in my book Leading Change Without Losing It.  And why I’m so passionate about helping leaders navigate change.

Just because you failed at leading change once doesn’t mean you’ll fail forever.

Get a new strategy. What’s at stake is far too important not to.

3. Belief that progress should come without pain

Now we get closer to the heart of the matter. Many leaders secretly wish progress came without pain.

Progress almost never comes without pain.

Significant things are rarely accomplished without significant struggle.

Our heroes are always people who suffered to bring about a better end. Part of us wants to live like that, and part of us doesn’t.

The leadership question is whether you’re willing to endure pain for the sake of a better future.

Real leaders say yes to that. They honestly do.

So…if you want significantly different results, push past the fear and stop thinking incrementally.

Incremental change brings about incremental results.

Now you know what you’re dealing with.

What are you learning about change?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having

I was listening to a podcast recently that confirmed what many of us have intuitively known for a long time.

People are having spiritual conversations every day…they just never think of turning to a preacher or the church for answers.

I’m not talking about people who have other religious backgrounds. I’m talking about your neighbours, your friends, maybe even your family members as well as cultural leaders and thought leaders in our cultural context who are unchurched.

It’s not that people aren’t interested in spirituality; it’s that they don’t think the church can help them.

It’s completely worth the 45 minutes for you to listen to this conversation between Lewis Howes and Prince Ea. (The direct iTunes link is here). Lewis is a pro-athelte turned podcaster and Prince Ea has dedicated his life to fitness, inspiration and music.

As you listen to this conversation, you’ll see how much the dialogue has completely shifted. Lewis is clearly looking for answers to spiritual questions, and Prince Ea is giving them, but the conversation is completely different than any conversation I’ve ever heard in any church.

Jesus comes up once, but they quickly move on to having dinner with Buddha instead.

Truthfully, most of the people they reference in this conversation are people I’ve never read…or even heard of.

The dialogue is moving, friends, and we preachers and church leaders are increasingly not a part of it.

A Shrinking Audience

If many preachers and church leaders were musicians, I’d say we’re increasingly cutting records nobody’s listening to, let alone buying.

Yes, that’s a bit harsh.

And I write this in a year when our church is seeing a year of encouraging growth—mostly from unchurched people.

But I’m painfully aware that we have over 250,000 people within a 30 minute drive of our locations who are completely unchurched.

Who’s talking to them?

I think that’s crickets I hear.

I say this not so much as criticism as I do out of a sense of burden.

I just think we need to get better at this. need to get better at this. We all do.

6 Steps Toward Having the Conversation No One is Having

So how do we get better at this?

Here are 6 steps that I think can lead us toward the evangelism conversation far too few of us are having.

1. Listen to voices that don’t simply affirm what you already believe

Look, it’s great to listen to people who believe what you believe…to have your faith strengthened or your skills sharpened.

But don’t stop there.

Listen to people who disagree with you, people who think differently than you, people who don’t believe what you believe.

And I’m not talking about people who watch Fox News watching CNN or MSNBC as an alternative. Or people who listen to John Piper checking out Rick Warren for radically different views.

I mean just listen to people who don’t share your faith system at all.

Podcasting makes this so easy.

I love creating my podcast for church leaders every week (you can subscribe for free here, btw) and I love listening to other preachers and Christian leaders, but I make it a discipline to listen to other, non-Christian voices.

I have to get better at this, but simply listening to people who agree with you doesn’t make you a better thinker or preacher.

2. Listen to Top 40 radio

My personal music preferences don’t tend to lean toward Top 40 anymore. I like current music, just not the stuff the people I’m trying to reach are buying.

You might find yourself in a similar position as a Christian leader.

Making yourself listen to music your unchurched friends are listening to helps you get into their world.

Yes, you’ll find the music morally objectionable. And you won’t like the beats. But I’m not asking you to like what unchurched people are listening to…just to listen to understand it.

Music contains so many clues to the value system of our culture, the struggles of our culture and the hopes of our culture. A culture that I assume you’re trying to reach with the ultimate hope of Jesus.

If you want more on music and approach to church, Rich Birch and I talk about how even contemporary church music isn’t contemporary anymore in Episode 8 of my leadership podcast.

3. Read what your unchurched neighbour is reading

So this isn’t an excuse to dive into 50 Shades of Grey, but when was the last time you checked out the Amazon Top 100 bestsellers?

Or the New York Times Best Seller List?

The spiritual dialogue has moved, and the clues to what it looks like are found all over today’s best seller lists.

4. Understand the culture’s vocabulary

Even one listen to the conversation between Lewis Howes and Prince Ea will show you how much the dialogue has shifted.

Their conversation sounds nothing like anything I’ve heard from any church platform lately, but they’re asking all the questions Christians ask.

This doesn’t mean you should start talking street if you’ve got no street in you. You’ll come off as inauthentic, awkward and even weird. Avoid that.

But people will be able to tell if you’re trying to connect with them where they’re at.

Ask yourself some tough questions:

Would any message I’ve preached be easy to understand by anyone who had never been in church?

Am I answering questions people are actually asking?

Do I even know the questions people who have never been to church are asking?

Can I convey the answers in language anyone can understand?

5. Explore all the language of scripture

Most of us get stuck using only a few of the metaphors for God and faith that the scripture uses.

We might love preaching about the blood of Jesus, but to our culture, that seems increasingly weird. I’m not saying you should never use it, but if you do, try to explain why it matters.

And look for other metaphors. The Apostle Paul was masterful at this, engaging and quoting Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in front of a group of Greeks who had never read the Hebrew Bible.

He started with their language, rather than his. And culled from scriptural metaphors that would make the most sense to them as outsiders before getting to the resurrection.

So what are you favourite metaphors? Just listen to your last 20 messages or conversations and you’ll figure it out.

Then as you read your bible, get ready to get surprised at how many different ways scripture describes God or even salvation.

The metaphors Scripture uses to describe God are far richer than most Christian leaders realize.

6. Get around some people under the age of 30

If you want to hit the deep end quickly on understanding culture, this is it.

I was talking to Perry Noble recently and he completely surprised me by telling me he meets monthly with a group of high school students just so he can stay current. And he gives them his cell number so they can stay up to date.

This is a leader who leads one of the largest, fastest growing churches in America who finds the time to meet a dozen times a year or more with students so he can stay fresh.

If Perry can do it, you and I can probably find the time.

Whether you decide to meet with junior high kids, high school students, a group of millennials outside the church or whomever you choose to meet with, the point is this: meeting with teens or young adults who understand culture, where it’s at and where it’s going keeps you from becoming irrelevant.

I usually do random meetings with young adults, but this kind of structured intentional meeting really challenged me.

The truth is churched people will ask you to meet with them all day long. So will people your age.

Students never will.

Unchurched people never will.

Millennials never will.

So make the time.

The Goal?

Want to know where the hope lies in all of this?

Let me show you.

As most iTunes users will know, if you locate a podcast or even album on iTunes, it tells you what people who listen to that podcast also listen to.

Look at what I found under Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness Podcast.

I found Michael Hyatt.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 8.58.14 AM

Michael is a giant in the leadership world these days, as are John Lee Dumas, Pat Flynn, Tim Ferriss and other others listed.

But Michael is also a Christian. And he speaks about his faith often and openly in his writings and on his podcast.

The church needs more leaders like Michael who not only respond to culture, but influence it That’s exactly what Michael is doing…largely because he’s so great at leadership.

Wouldn’t it be great to see a day when people who are listening to podcasts on spirituality see a church’s or Christian leader’s podcast come up under the “Listeners also subscribed to…” section of an iTunes page?

What if that was you?

Or your church?

The better we get at understanding and addressing our rapidly change culture, the more frequently this will happen.

Two More Resources

If you want to drill down more on this subject, here are two more resources I’ve put together.

Blog Post: 5 Important Ways Evangelism is Shifting in Our Culture

Podcast: Churchless. Why and How America Is Learning to Live Without The Church: An Interview with David Kinnaman (also below).

Let’s Get Better At This Together

Got books you’ve read that have helped you get better at connecting with the culture?

Music you listen to?

Podcasts you’ve listened to?

Scroll down and leave a comment listing what you’re reading, listening to or discovered.

We can all get better together.


The Fastest Path to Becoming an Ineffective Leader

I was talking to a leader this week who has come under fire from a group in his church who is opposed to the change he and his team are making.

I won’t go into the details, but it’s a change about 99% of you reading this post would advise he make. It’s actually not even that controversial. It’s common sense.

You know what he’s doing? He’s leading.

But he’s getting a crazy amount of pushback from a tiny group of people, less than 10% of his community (as I wrote about here, the opponents almost always a tiny group even when you think they’re not).

He was clearly rattled.

It’s hard to come under fire.

It’s painful to have people spread untrue rumours about you.

It’s tough to see your popularity (even with a small group) sink.

At the core of it, he’s dealing with one of the hardest dynamics any leader faces: opposition. And handling rejection poorly creates the fastest path to becoming an ineffective leader.


We’re All Afraid of Opposition

Here are the dynamics around rejection and opposition most of us face.

You work hard on an idea. You

Sweat over it

Pray over it

Revise it

Perfect it

And you hope—really hope—that when your idea is unveiled, people will like it.

Before you dismiss that, and announce “I don’t care what people think!” have you ever unveiled an idea or project you sincerely hoped people wouldn’t like?

Didn’t think so.

So the desire to have your proposal accepted is pretty universal, isn’t it?

Almost every leader is afraid of one thing: opposition.

And not just personal opposition, but opposition that rejects your ideas as well. Your hopes. Your strategy. Your dream.

And your dream for the mission.

Here Comes the Trap

What happens next is critical.

When you announce your idea and it’s met with opposition—any opposition—most of us freeze.

That’s the position my friend was in. He was discouraged, dejected and rattled. (That’s actually a sign of a healthy heart by the way. It’s good to be bothered by criticism. Only pathological people aren’t.)

Faced with push back, even from a splinter group, here’s the mistake most leaders make.

Afraid of rejection, you and I revise our ideas until we think they have the greatest chance of acceptance.

And in principle, that’s a good idea. Who wants to introduce something that ultimately only 5 people on Planet Earth are going to find helpful?

But often, in the process of trying to get people to buy in to our initiative, we take the edges off of it.

We dilute it. We compromise. We talk about what’s acceptable, not about what’s best.

And we all die a little inside.

So, because you’ve been rattled, you then re-introduce your slightly watered-down idea/product/change/innovation hoping that people applaud wildly.

Except they don’t. People still don’t like it.

You hear from the critics

A few people leave

More people threaten to leave

You get really scared

So you retreat.

You revise your plan. You sand more edges off. You compromise more fully. You try to offend as few people as possible.

And you die even a little more inside.

Except now, your proposal becomes, literally,  unremarkable.

Maybe You Had Something Remarkable

Perhaps you originally had a remarkable idea.

And criticism, at its heart, is a sign that what you’re proposing is remarkable. Think about it: the presence of critics indicates you might have a truly remarkable idea.

Do you see what you often do when you water down your bold changes as a result of criticism? You change a remarkable initiative into an unremarkable one.

You’ve chosen inoffensiveness over effectiveness.

And being inoffensive ultimately makes you ineffective.

And Suddenly You’re on the Fastest Path To Irrelevance

And that’s why far too many leaders end in a place where they are too afraid to be bold. Too afraid to try something new. Too afraid to even dream.

They reduce potentially great initiatives to the least offensive form they can find, hoping everyone will buy in.

Except that your ability to attract new people just went out the window.

The only people who really like your new idea are a small core of the people who already liked your old idea…and any growth potential is jettisoned.

Here’s the lesson far too many leaders never learn about trying to offend as few people as possible:

If you attempt to offend no one, you will eventually become irrelevant to everyone.

Where does this land you as a leader?

With worship services that are bland enough to inspire no one, including almost none of the 40 or 400 people who are there but who strangely want to keep it that way.

Adopting mission statements so drab they could have been lifted from an HR manual.

With a vision for the future that looks far too much like the past.

It’s not that difficult to head down the path to irrelevance.

Lead Boldly

So what do you do?

Four things can help a leader usher in bolder change and avoid irrelevance:

1. Be Bold

Don’t stop dreaming. Introduce some bolder changes. Incremental change brings incremental results. Bolder change will bring bolder results.

2. Lead with Humility

No one likes an arrogant person; even fewer people like an arrogant leader. Being bold is not a licence to offend. Leading from a place of humility can help you broker change far better than leading from a place of arrogance.

3. Take the Long View

A key difference between leaders who successfully navigate change and those who don’t is the ability to stick out the initial waves of criticism.

The fact that some people don’t like your change is natural. Take the long view and realize that this too shall pass.

And it will pass sooner than you think.

4. Focus on Who You Want To Reach, Not Who You Want to Keep

If you focus on the 10% of people who don’t like the change, you will lose the thousands of people you can reach by making the change.

Again, this is not an excuse to be stubborn, arrogant or bullying. But it is permission to be courageous. To be true to your convictions, and to lead with some conviction and even some occasional daring. I share more specific strategies on how to effectively lead change here.

If your mission is as important as you say it is, it deserves your best leadership and courage.

My Guess Is…

…that you are not trying to be ineffective.

It’s just that gravitational pull we all feel in leadership to please everybody is almost always counterproductive. Sometimes, you even end up being nothing to anyone.

So what’s keeping you back from acting on your best strategy?

What’s keeping you back from being more daring?

It’s fear, isn’t it?

Fear of being rejected.

Fear of offending people.

Well…just know what’s at stake.

Inoffensive is ineffective.

In your attempt to offend no one, you just might become irrelevant to everyone.

My friend called me at just the right time. He hasn’t retreated from his team’s initiative. And he shouldn’t. He’ll keep leading, and his church and community will be better for it. And he’s leading humbly with grace.

Maybe you’re at the cross roads where the push back is becoming so intense from a small group that you want to throw in the towel.

If you have a great idea that you and the team believe is great, hang in there. Just hang in there.

After all, inoffensive is ineffective. And neither you nor your organization want to land there.

What do you think?  What would you add to this conversation?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

How Weekend Church Services Will Change In the Future

If you’re breathing, you know our culture is changing and that the church is undergoing a massive transition.

The question is, what do you do about that?

How do you lead in the midst of it?

And if you’re leading a church, how do you respond?

Questions like that have a lot of church leaders soul searching these days, including me. That can only be good for the mission of the church and for the future.

I frequently write about the subject of the current and future church on this blog because I care about the church deeply. Several months ago I wrote a 5 part series on why people attend church less often and how the church can respond. You can access that series here.

This is a follow up to that series.

While the way forward is not clear and will change, I offer these 5 guidelines on how our weekend church services will change in addition to the 10 predictions I made about future church attendance patterns here.

Naturally, not all might be accurate. But I hope they help further the dialogue in your mind and in your church.

1. Preaching And Teaching Will Go Hand In Hand

Most pastors lean toward preaching or teaching. Few do both regularly or well.

What’s the difference between preaching and teaching?

Without going all seminary for a moment, a broad distinction would be that preaching is announcing the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, and teaching is the instruction and building up of people who have become Christians.

For sure, it’s more nuanced than that. But the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes even in the early church the terms were used interchangeably, but the main distinction is between proclaiming the Gospel and instructing Christians.

There’s no doubt there’s a resurgence in teaching ministry. Many of the churches that are reaching people under 30 are doing it with strong teaching ministries. John Piper has a lot of Millennials listening. So do Louis Giglio and Jon Tyson.

This shouldn’t be surprising.

Churches that are reaching people with no church background have a developing issue. At Connexus Church, where I serve, over 50% of our growth is directly from people with no church background or attendance.

That’s amazing, but the question is how do you give people background to the faith they’re adopting while continuing to communicate in a way that expands the mission?

For sure, you can move off Sunday with teaching into small groups and other venues (and the internet gives us options for content creation that didn’t exist 15 years ago). But the fact remains that the Sunday morning message is when you simply have most people’s attention.

The challenge, of course, with having a predominantly teaching ministry, is that the church becomes about insiders and you miss reaching outsiders.

The challenge with having a predominantly preaching ministry is that the church can become all about outsiders and you miss teaching insiders.

The future church will have to have a both/and approach.

The communication skill set that will be most highly effective will be a preacher who can both preach in a way that motivates insiders and teach in a way that is accessible to outsiders.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to teach and preach moving forward. I think every preacher has to, regardless of your leaning.

By the way, Jon Tyson’s short summary of his methodology for sermon prep is not a bad lens through which to view the dual purpose of preaching and teaching. You can read it here.

2. The Gathering Will Become the Sending

For the many churches that have adopted an attractional model, the unspoken expectation is that people gather predominantly to come and see.

Combine that with a highly individualist consumer culture, and that’s how most people will view church: a place to gather, consume and leave.

Naturally, that’s a huge mistake, but it reflects the era we live in.

How do you combat that?

Instead of seeing Sunday only as a gathering, wise leaders will also see it as a sending. Tiffany DeLuccia had some great thoughts on this over at Tony Morgan’s blog recently.

The gatherings of the early church were not just a place to worship, learn and encourage, they  involved a sending out into the world to change the world.

The Reformed four-fold pattern of worship embodies this so well. While the church gathers, it also sends.

The goal of a service is not to applaud the message or talk about how amazing the music was. The goal is to go back out into the world for which Christ died better equipped to live out and share our faith.

Figuring out how not just to dismiss people when the service is over but to send people out in the world equipped to live and lead differently is critical.

Church is not a spectator sport. It’s a place of transformation.

Future churches will embrace that.

3. The Gathering Will Be More Of An Experience….Less of a Show

As people have more and more options and freedom with their time, and as guilt dissipates, people are trading in Sundays for what they think are better options.

Many churches have responded in the last decade by adding more lights, better sound, better video and fun moments in their services. I get that, and it’s not as inherently bad as some critics would say it is. The majority of churches who are doing this are reaching more people and seeing more people come to Christ than churches that don’t.

And yet when you live in an age when you can listen to any message on your phone when you run and stream your 3 favourite worship songs any time any where, the urge to gather seems less appealing to a growing number of people.

As I argued in this post, cool church is dying and something else is emerging.

What’s emerging, I think, is a more authentic church. And what’s emerging is more of an experience than a show.

When people show up at a church these days, they want to experience God, not just sing a few songs and hear a helpful message. They want God more than they even want advice.

This hunger is a good hunger. It will get us thinking about how to facilitate an experience of God for hundreds or even thousands of people.

I’m not talking about manufacturing something that isn’t there, but somehow facilitate that magnificent, imminent and transcendent experience between God and his people that the church has facilitated for millennia…and to do it in a way that connects with this generation.

That is not going to be found in a formula, but rather will be found on our knees, open and hoping to experience God ourselves in a way that radiates out as we minister to others.

You can’t podcast an experience…not fully.

When God is present, there is something about being in the room together with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of believers and unbelievers that is unique.

We have to recapture that kind of experience using the best of the past and the best of present.

4. Tradition and Innovation Will Become Companions

There has been a battle in much of church culture between tradition and innovation.

The traditionalists don’t want to innovate.

The innovators want little to do with tradition.

This trend has fresh wrinkles as it’s clear that some younger Christians, as has been prominently articulated by Millennials like Rachel Held Evans, are leaving evangelicalism and returning to tradition.

What many church leaders are realizing is that both tradition and innovation can be stale and dead.

Neither has to be.

Tradition needs innovation and innovation needs tradition.

In the future, tradition and innovation will become companions.

Innovative churches will recapture some of the best of tradition that has been lost, and traditional churches will blow off the dust and innovate, keeping the best of what they have and changing everything else.

Tradition and innovation have been somewhat mutually exclusive conversations and communities in the last few decades. Fusing the two could perhaps produce some incredibly healthy dialogue moving forward.

5. Community Will Matter, Greatly

The more connected our culture becomes, the more disconnected we feel.

In the future, the church will function more like a community.

Not just random individuals who gather in common space for an hour (the worst caricature of megachurch).

And not a community of insiders indifferent to the world (the worst caricature of insider church).

Instead, the future church will be a community of people who serve together, give together, invite friends together and do community beyond Sunday as well as on Sunday. And above all, it will be a community that is continually welcoming new friends and new family.

Among practically every person under 30 I talk to or listen to, there’s a palpable longing for authentic community—a desire to connect in person, for real, in depth.

Jefferson Bethke articulates the longing of many his generation so well in this Church Leader’s podcast episode (it’s so worth the listen).

The church that figures out how to bring old and young together at the table, Christian and non-Christian together in backyards, and the mature and the just-starting-out together in friendship will become a light to many in their community.

Naturally, the churches or groups of churches that figure out how to do this well for hundreds, and even for thousands or tens of thousands, will be able to see communities and regions transformed.

Community has been the hallmark of the church at its best for years. It will continue to be the hallmark of the church for the future.

Want More?

This is a huge topic very much in transition as we speak.

For those of you who want to dig deeper, in addition to the original blog and podcast series, here are some interviews from my Leadership Podcast I’ve done with church leaders on the changing nature of church.

Rich Birch on Whether Contemporary Churches Are Losing Their Edge

In Episode 8 of my podcast, Rich Birch and I talk about whether contemporary churches are losing their edge.

Geoff Surratt on Churches That Are Reaching Millennials

In Episode 40, Geoff Surratt and I talk about reaching millennials and look at specific churches that are doing a great job.

John Stickl on Leading a Church As a Millennial Leader

John Stickl took over a mega-church at age 29, and a few years later is reaching thousands more, many of whom are millennials. In this interview, he shares their vision and strategy.

Josh Gagnon on Adapting Church To Culture in New England

Josh Gagnon is another Millennial mega-church leader who talks about how to make church work in New England and on using tradition and reach unchurched people.

To access these interview for free on your phone or other devise, just subscribe.

You can subscribe to my podcast for free here on iTunesStitcher or Tune In Radio.

What Do You Think?

I think healthy dialogue always makes the conversation and the future better. I’d love to know what you think will characterize the future church.

Please know I also write this post as one committed to the future of the local, organized church. I realize there are many who are ‘done’ with church (I wrote a response to people who are done with church here).

I’m not sure how helpful it would be to use the comments to list how awful the church you used to go to is. So please don’t rail against the church leaders who are doing their best to lead a local church or even the people you know who aren’t doing their best or are poor leaders. We have enough of that online as it is.

But for those who want to make the local church better, or want to imagine a church they and their friends would attend, what would you add to this post?

gay marriage church christianity

Some Advice on Same-Sex Marriage for US Church Leaders From a Canadian

In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states, setting off a flurry of reaction by Christians and virtually everyone else on social media and beyond.

Ed Stetzer wrote a helpful background post to the shift in opinion that led to the decision and included links to a number of other leading articles in his post.

The social media reaction ranged from surprising to predictable to disappointing to occasionally refreshing.

I write from the perspective of a pastor of an evangelical church in a country where same sex-marriage has been the law of the land for a decade.

That does not mean I hold any uniquely deep wisdom, but it does mean we’ve had a decade to process and pray over the issue.

I hope what I offer can help. It’s my perspective. My fingers tremble at the keyboard because my goal is to help in the midst of a dialogue that seems far more divisive than it is uniting or constructive.

There will be many who disagree with me, I’m sure, but I hope it pulls debate away from the “sky is falling/this is the best thing ever” dichotomy that seems to characterize much of the dialogue so far.

The purpose of this post is not to take a position or define matters theologically (for there is so much debate around that). Rather, the purpose of this post is to think through how to respond as a church when the law of the land changes as fundamentally as it’s changing on same-sex marriage and many other issues.

Here are 5 perspectives I hope are helpful as church leaders of various positions on the subject think and pray through a way forward.

gay marriage church christianity

1. The church has always been counter-cultural

Most of us reading this post have been born into a unique season in history in which our culture is moving from a Christian culture to a post-Christian culture before our eyes.

Whatever you think about history, theology or exactly when this shift happened, it’s clear for all of us that the world into which we were born no longer exists.

Viewpoints that were widely embraced by culture just decades ago are no longer embraced. For some this seems like progress. For others, it seems like we’re losing something. Regardless, things have changed fundamentally.

But is that really such a big deal? For most of the last 2000 years, the authentic church has been counter-cultural. The church was certainly counter-cultural in the first century.

Even at the height of ‘Christendom’ (whenever that was), the most conservative historians would agree that Christianity as embraced by the state was different than the authentic Christianity we read about in scripture or that was practiced by many devout followers of Jesus.

Being counter-cultural usually helps the church more than hurts it.

If you think about it, regardless of your theological position, all your views as a Christian are counter-cultural and always will be. If your views are cultural, you’re probably not reading the scriptures closely enough.

We’re at our best when we offer an alternative, not just a reflection of a diluted or hijacked spirituality.

2. It’s actually strange to ask non-Christians to hold Christian values

As the Barna Group has pointed out, a growing number of people in America are best described as post-Christian. The majority of Canadians would certainly qualify as having a post-Christian worldview.

The question Christians in a post-Christian culture have to ask themselves is this:

Why would we expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?

If you believe sex is a gift given by God to be experienced between a man and a woman within marriage, why would you expect people who don’t follow Christ to embrace that?

 Why would we expect people who don’t profess to be Christians to:

Wait until marriage to have sex?

Clean up their language?

Stop smoking weed?

Be faithful to one person for life?

Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?

Seriously? Why?

Most people today are not pretending to be Christians. So why would they adopt Christian values or morals?

Please don’t get me wrong.

I’m a pastor. I completely believe that the Jesus is not only the Way, but that God’s way is the best way.

When you follow biblical teachings about how to live life, your life simply goes better. It just does. I 100 percent agree.

I do everything I personally can to align my life with the teachings of scripture, and I’m passionate about helping every follower of Christ do the same.

But what’s the logic behind judging people who don’t follow Jesus for behaving like people who don’t follow Jesus?

Why would you hold the world to the same standard you hold the church?

First, non-Christians usually act more consistently with their value system than you do.

It’s difficult for a non-Christian to be a hypocrite because they tend to live out what they believe.

Chances are they are better at living out their values than you or I are. Jesus never blamed pagans for acting like pagans.

But he did speak out against religious people for acting hypocritically. Think about that.

3. You’ve been dealing with sex outside of traditional marriage for a LONG time

If you believe gay sex is sinful, it’s really no morally different than straight sex outside of marriage.

Be honest, pretty much every unmarried person in your church is having sex (yes, even the Christians).

I know you want to believe that’s not true (trust me, I want to believe that’s not true), but why don’t you ask around? You’ll discover that only a few really surrender their sexuality.

Not to mention the married folks that struggle with porn, lust and a long list of other dysfunctions.

If you believe gay marriage is not God’s design, you’re really dealing with the same issue you’ve been dealing with all along—sex outside of its God-given context.

You don’t need to treat it any differently.

By the way, if you don’t deal with straight sex outside of marriage, don’t start being inconsistent and speak out against gay sex.

And you may want to start dealing with gluttony and gossip and greed while you’re at it. (I wrote more here about how to get the hypocrisy out of our sex talk in church.)

At least be consistent…humbly address all forms of sex outside of marriage.

The dialogue is possible. (Andy Stanley offers a great rationale for sex staying inside marriage here.)

We have that dialogue all the time at our church.

And people are grateful for it.

We also talk about our greed, our gluttony, our jealousy and our hypocrisy as Christians. It’s amazing. Jesus brings healing to all these areas of life, including our sex lives.

4. The early church never looked to the government for guidance

Having a government that doesn’t embrace the church’s values line for line actually puts Christians in some great company—the company of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Jesus spent about zero time asking the government to change during his ministry. In fact, people asked him to become the government, and he replied that his Kingdom is not of this world.

The Apostle Paul appeared before government officials regularly. Not once did he ask them to change the laws of the land.

He did, however, invite government officials to have Jesus personally change them. 

Paul constantly suffered at the hands of the authorities, ultimately dying under their power, but like Jesus, didn’t look to them for change.

Rather than asking the government to release him from prison, he wrote letters from prison talking about the love of Jesus Christ.

Instead of looking to the government for help, Paul and Jesus looked to God.

None of us in the West are suffering nearly as radically as Jesus and Paul suffered at the hands of a government. In fact, in Canada and the US, our government protects our freedom to assemble and even disagree with others. Plus, it gives us tax breaks for donations.

We honestly don’t have it that hard.

Maybe the future North American church will be more like the early church, rising early, before dawn, to pray, to encourage, to break bread.

Maybe we will pool our possessions and see the image of God in women. And love our wives radically and deeply with a protective love that will shock the culture. Maybe we will treat others with self-giving love, and even offer our lives in place of theirs.

Maybe we’ll be willing to lose our jobs, our homes, our families and even our lives because we follow Jesus.

That might just touch off a revolution like it did two millennia ago.

Perhaps the government might even take notice, amazed by the love that radical Jesus followers display.

5. Our judgment of LGBT people is destroying any potential relationship

Even the first 72 hour of social media reaction has driven a deeper wedge between Christian leaders and the LGBT community Jesus loves (yes, Jesus died for the world because he loves it).

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

People don’t line up to be judged.

If you want to keep being ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them.

Judging outsiders is un-Christian. Paul told us to stop judging people outside the church.

Jesus said God will judge us by the same standard with which we judge others.

Paul also reminds us to drop the uppity-attitude; that none of us were saved by the good we did but by grace.

Take a deep breath. You were saved by grace. Your sins are simply different than many others. And honestly, in many respects, they are the same.

People don’t line up to be judged. But they might line up to be loved.

So love people. Especially the people with whom you disagree.

Those are a few of the things I’ve learned and I’m struggling with.

The dialogue is not easy when culture is changing and people who sincerely love Jesus sincerely disagree.

I think there’s more hope than there is despair for the future. The radical ethic of grace and truth found in Jesus is more desperately needed in our world today than ever before.

Is the path crystal clear? No.

But rather than being a set back, perhaps this can move the church yet another step closer to realizing its true mission.

I was tempted to close comments off on this post, but I will leave them open just to see if we can continue the discussion constructively and humbly.

Rants and abusive viewpoints (on either side) will be deleted.

Show grace.

Respect those with whom you disagree.

If you want to leave a comment that helps, please do so.

But please spend at least as much time praying for the situation and for people you know who have been hurt by this dialogue as you do commenting on this post, on others like it or on your social media channels.

Maybe spend more time praying, actually.

That’s what we all really need. And that’s what will move the mission of the church forward.


Caleb’s Story

To help you navigate the issue a little further, I’m adding the interview I did on my Leadership Podcast with Caleb Kaltenbach into this post.

Caleb was born to parents who divorced to both pursue gay relationships. Caleb grew up to become a Christian and a pastor, and has spent his adult life fighting for the relationship with his parents. It’s a fascinating, moving story of grace in the midst of disagreement.

Your can listen here in the browser window below, or click here to listen to Episode 33 on your phone or other device.

You can subscribe to my podcast for free here on iTunes, Stitcher or Tune In Radio.