From Strategy


7 Easy Ways to Ruin an Otherwise Great Sermon, Message or Talk (And How to Fix It)

If you’ve ever spoken in front a group, tried to motivate a team, or if you prepare messages almost every week like many of us do, you’ve probably wondered what makes for a great talk.

In fact, you’ve probably asked questions like these:

What’s the difference between a talk that flops and a talk that people still buzz about years later?

What’s the difference between a merely good message and incredibly great message?

What’s the difference between a sermon that changes someone’s life and one that no one can remember even as they drive out of the parking lot?

If you’re like me, those questions might even bother you.

I hope they do. They haunt me.

And yet every week gifted communicators kill the messages they bring by making at least 7 predictable, fixable mistakes.

The good news is that once you identify the mistakes, though, you can address them.


 7 Easy Ways To Ruin Your Talk

I’m writing from the perspective of a Christian who speaks. And as I wrote about here, I realize that the Holy Spirit is involved in a special way when we speak. He redeems terrible talks and converts people through his power, not our persuasive words. I get that.

But that shouldn’t be your fall back week after week.

The Holy Spirit’s work is not an excuse for laziness. It’s also no excuse for failing to develop a skill set that supports your gifting.

So if you’re at all interested in honing your gift set, identify and then address the 7 mistakes communicators make that almost always ruin a message:

1. Inadequate preparation

Here’s a tension every communicator faces: people will only ask you to do things that take away the time you’ve set aside to prepare your message; then they’ll criticize you for not being prepared.

I’m not slamming people. It’s just human nature.

That’s why you have to be exceptionally self-disciplined in setting aside time free from interruption to work on your talks. Yes your inbox will fill up. Yes the people who want to meet with you will be disappointed. And no, nobody is ever going to email you and ask you “Did you take 8 hours today to work on your message?”

So grow up. And take responsibility for becoming an excellent communicator. Eventually, people will thank you and understand you are making a valuable investment.

2. Poorly constructed introductions

Too many sermon introductions begin with a “Good morning”, and then maybe a weather report and some banter that’s supposed to create rapport. I used to do this too until I realized that as natural as it is, it’s not nearly the best way to connect with your audience (unless maybe you’re a guest preacher and need to connect with people you don’t know).

You’ve got about 30 seconds to capture people’s interest or lose them.

The best way to do this is to establish common ground.

Tell a story.

Talk about a tension or problem everyone faces.

Introduce the subject in a way that establishes why it matters.

Orient people to your topic (talk about the series, where you’re at and why it matters).

The truth is that too many communicators actually don’t think about how they will start. Change that. Even the mere act of intentionally thinking through your introduction will make it better.

3. Stories that go nowhere or everywhere

Stories are among the most powerful and memorable devices a communicator has. But there’s an art to story telling.

I am not a natural storyteller, so I have to work on ensuring I have enough stories to support a message. Some of you have the opposite problem. You have so many stories that you could fill 30 minutes with stories without even trying.

I know my challenge is to find a story that supports the point I’m trying to make…otherwise I will end up telling a story that goes nowhere just so I have a story in my talk.

If you’re a story person, your challenge will be to cut the number of stories you tell down to the level where each one supports a key point in your message. Otherwise, your stories will end up going everywhere and people will completely lose your point (assuming you have one).

4. Too many points

Every topic is a jungle. There are so many things you could say when you give a talk. A great talk focuses on the one thing you must say.

That’s really your job: to take a vast subject and zero in on the essence of what is most important. And it’s incredibly hard work.

It takes far more work to be clear than it does to be confusing.

When pressed for time, here’s what most of us do: we take 5 or 6 points that are interesting and staple them together and we call it our talk.

The more difficult thing to do is to distill all your learning into a single sentence around which you build the entire talk.

If you want some examples of how bottom lines work, you can access our Starve the Monster series from Connexus Church for free here. If you click on the ‘discuss’ button, you’ll see the bottom line for every week above the study questions. It’s hard to find a single sentence that crystallizes all your thoughts, it’s so worth doing. (My favourite bottom line of that series, by the way, is the bottom line from Part 3).

5. No clear call to action

Most messages focus on what people need to know.

As a result, most communicators fail to answer a crucial question: what people are supposed to do with what they’ve heard?

Are people supposed to think differently? Well, that’s good. But it’s so vague.

Here are two recent calls to action at Connexus, where I serve. During the Climate Change series, Jeff Henderson challenged people to ask three people (and God) this question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me.”  I did, and it generated several hours of amazing conversation.

During Skeptics Wanted, I told people it kind of lacked integrity to dismiss a book they hadn’t read, and challenged people to read the Gospel of Luke in 24 days; one chapter each day.

Because the call to actions in those messages were clear, people did something as a result of being in the room. Doing is almost always more powerful than simply hearing.

 6. Crash landings

I’ve been guilty of this too many times: crash landing a message. In the same way communicators don’t pre-plan their introduction, many of us fail to think about how we’ll end a message. So we crash land it.

Better to think it through.

These days, I usually close my reminding people of the call to action, reflecting on what will happen if they do it (some inspiration), and then often repeating the bottom line of the message.

You can create your own pattern for endings, but the point is to have an intentional ending, not an accidental ending.

7. Resistance to feedback

I realize how terribly painful it is to listen to a talk you’ve given, or worse, to watch a video of you giving the talk.

After decades of public communication, I still don’t like the sound of my own voice.  And I think I look like a complete geek on video. It’s painful to watch and listen to myself.

You know what most communicators do because of this?

They never watch or listen to themselves.

Question: why would you expect people to watch you speak if you won’t watch you speak?

You have to become methodical about evaluating yourself. Watch. Listen.

And create a system for feedback. Every Tuesday, six of us meet to review the weekend service. And everyone gets a chance to critique my message. Yes, it hurts sometimes. But I want to get better. I have to get better.

Read your inbox too. Don’t be defensive, but humbly ask God to let all feedback grow you as a person and as a speaker.

The more open to feedback you are, the better you will become.

Want Someone To Help You Get Better?

If you want more on how to become a better communicator, I would encourage you to sign up for the Preaching Rocket’s Core program. (affiliate link). Jeff Henderson is an incredible communicator, and through Preaching Rocket he shares his technique and the very best learnings from communicators like Andy Stanley, Judah Smith, Louis Giglio, Perry Noble, Nancy Duarte and more.

Right now they’re offering a free 7 day trial. Personally, Preaching Rocket has helped me take my communication to the next level. I hope they can help you as well.

What Mistakes Do You See?

I hope this is helpful.

What mistakes have you made as a communicator?

What mistakes have you seen others make? How would you address them?

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

how to make your church ineffective

9 Surefire Ways to Make Your Church Completely Ineffective

Very few leaders go into church leadership as pastors, staff, board members or volunteers hoping to be ineffective.

And yet so many churches and church leaders end up that way—ineffective.

You might be stuck in a church like that right now. Or even if you would say your church is ‘effective’ overall, there’s a very good chance there are areas of your ministry that aren’t. Or maybe you realize you’ve become less effective than you used to be.

Why is that?

Sometimes it’s because people have lost faith or lost their faithfulness. But often that’s not the case.

I see many churches populated with people who love God but have become completely ineffective.

And often the issues are behind that are practical, and fixable.

If you’re willing to go where most leaders don’t go, that is.

 how to make your church ineffective

9 Ways to Make Your Church Ineffective

What do I mean by ‘ineffectiveness’? Great question.

I simply mean not accomplishing what you set out to accomplish.

For most of us in church world, that means something like leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus and growing by becoming a church unchurched people love to attend.  At least that’s what we’ve set out to accomplish (it’s kind of the universal mission of the church). I imagine you are not that far off.

So, with that in mind, here are 9 ways to lose your effectiveness in ministry.

1. Don’t dream

The church should be the place where dreams are born and where dreams soar.

In far too many cases, churches have become the place where dreams die.

People with imagination, hope and optimism get squashed enough times that they stop dreaming.

And eventually, an ineffective church is marked as a place where people have long since abandoned thriving and are focused on merely surviving.

Want to be ineffective? Kill dreams.

2. Focus on yourself

Ineffective churches are almost always self-focused.

The natural mission of the church (and almost every healthy organization for that matter) has an outward thrust to it.

But many unhealthy organizations lose their focus on outsiders and instead focus on insiders.

I realize you might be pushing back on this and thinking Well, we can’t just ignore our insiders…we can’t ignore ourselves.

Change gears for a second. Do you know any people who focus exclusively on themselves?

That’s right. We call them self-absorbed, or selfish. And nobody really thinks hanging out with them is fun.

Why would anyone feel differently about a church that behaves that way?

3. Try to keep everybody happy

Trying to keep everyone happy is a recipe for misery. Yet so many churches serve dinner from that cookbook everyday.

You can’t keep everybody happy. You won’t keep everyone happy.

In fact, you will do the opposite: you will make everyone miserable. It doesn’t work in your family, so why would it work in your church?

Operating out of your convictions, with some empathy and sensitivity for those who see differently, is a far better approach.

Still not convinced?

I wrote more about why your church isn’t for everyone in this post.

I honestly wish more churches would just get on with trying to reach a certain group of people, realizing that in the process they will reach far more than that.

4. Squabble

I really want to walk into a great church fight. Said no unchurched person ever.

Squabbling, faction and division in the church has killed our evangelism efforts as effectively as anything.

So stop it. Just stop it.

Confess. Repent.

What if our churches became places of humility, grace and forgiveness?

Could you imagine?

5. Make mediocrity your standard

So solve a few problems and you’ll be more effective.

But as long as you’re mediocre, you’ll never reach your potential.

And for some strange reason, churches seems to love mediocrity.

Barely good enough seems to be good enough for many church leaders. Rather than try to do something well, churches have become famous for doing almost nothing well.


I think at the heart of it is a tension between inclusiveness and effectiveness.

This often comes up in places like a music team when someone who can’t sing wants to sing, and many church leaders cave to the pressure. (There’s a strategy around that, by the way.)

Last year, our church adopted 6 values. One of my personal favourites is “Battle Mediocrity: Am I allowing what’s good to stand in the way of what could be great?”

I could camp on that all day.

6. Treat every Sunday like just another Sunday

If you’re bored heading into next Sunday, why wouldn’t everyone else be?

In the church, every Sunday is resurrection Sunday. The same power that was at work to raise Jesus from the dead is the same power that is at work in us. (And no, I didn’t make that up.)

If every Sunday is boring to you a leader, maybe you haven’t read the Bible. Or don’t know God. Or don’t get amazed by seeing what happens when God gets involved in someone’s life.

7. Never articulate a strategy

Passion is one thing…and you’ve got to have passion.

But passion combined with an effective strategy is explosive.

Many churches are afraid to articulate a strategy because it’s divisive. Leaders are afraid that not everyone will like it. And that’s true. But see point #3 above.

Ironically, you will eventually become more effective because your strategy is a little controversial. In fact, a clear strategy is one of the secrets to creating a highly motivated team.

Finally, if you have a clear strategy, your team will become more passionate about it. (You can’t become passionate about fuzz, after all.)

This post will walk you through the process of getting your church passionate about your mission vision and strategy.

But first, of course, you need to articulate a strategy, as scary as that might sound.

8. Avoid all risk

Christians teach their kids stories like David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, and then spend all their time trying to make sure no one gets hurt, nothing gets lost, and everyone is ‘safe’ in the end.

The disconnect is profound if you think about it.

Read the Bible. Live the opposite way: Don’t trust God. Play it safe. Live an insignificant life. Risk nothing. 

How do you know whether you’re trusting God or just being stupid? I outlined that distinction here.

But for the most part, we’re just not trusting God nearly enough.

9. Decide you don’t like unchurched people

Too many churches have defined themselves by what they’re against, not what they’re for.

If you really don’t like the people you’re trying to reach, why would they hang out with you? Seriously.

That’s one of the reasons I love what Gwinnett Church is doing with their #forgwinnett campaign.  Seriously, you should check it out..

Do you love your neighbours? Really love them? Or do you judge them, look down on them, think you’re better than they are?

Love ‘em, and you’re likely to reach them.

Don’t and you won’t.

Not judging unchurched people is one of the 9 signs you’re ready to actually reach unchurched people. (Here are the other 8).

Any Other Ways?

Any other sure-fire ways to make a church completely ineffective?

Or, alternatively, what you have done that has helped?

Scroll down and let me know in the comments!

likeability in leaders

3 Hard But Powerful Truths about Likeability and Leadership

So you probably want people to like you. Who doesn’t?

Often when people say they don’t care whether people like them, it’s because they used to care whether people like them, but they got burned and as a result have become a bit jaded, closed and maybe even cynical.

If we’re gut-honest with each other, most of us would rather be liked rather than not liked.

The rise of social media makes this tension even more present daily. Did anyone ever post a picture or update and not want it to be liked or shared? Social media is turning already insecure leaders into like-aholics.

Which poses a challenge for all of us who lead.

Do we lead? Or should we be likeable?

Can you lead and be likeable?

And what happens if you choose one over the other?

This is a tension that ruins a lot of leadership potential. But it can be managed. Here’s how.

likeability in leaders

3 Hard But Powerful Truths About Likeability and Leadership

The tension between likeability and leadership is much older than social media. Every leader in every generation has had to struggle with it at some level.

While you may never resolve the tension, understanding it and keeping it in front of you will help you navigate it better.

Here are 3 hard but powerful truths about the tension.

1. If you focus on being liked, you won’t lead

Leadership requires you to take people to destinations they would not go without your leadership.

Stop for a moment and, if you would, re-read that sentence.

Do you see the challenge?

Leadership is inherently difficult because it requires a leader to take people where they don’t naturally want to go.

So you have a choice as a leader.

You can focus on leading people, or focus on being liked.

When you focus on being liked, you will instinctively try to please the people you’re leading. And when you do, you will become confused.

Pleasing people is inherently confusing because people don’t agree. One person wants it one way. Another wants it another way.

And soon, you’re bending over backwards to make everyone happy, which of course means that in the end, you will end up making no one happy, including yourself. It’s actually a recipe for misery for everyone.

It’s also a recipe for inertia.

If you focus on being liked, you won’t lead. You will never have the courage to do what needs to be done.

By the way, if you’re a real people pleaser by nature, here’s a post outlining 5 ways people pleasing undermines your leadership.

2. You will have to withstand seasons of being misunderstood

Effective leaders are prepared to be misunderstood.

There will be seasons in leadership in which you will be misunderstood.

Your motives, strategy and skill will be questioned.

It happened to Moses. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul. It will happen to you if you’re leading.

There are two extremes that happen when leaders are misunderstood.

Some leaders think everyone else is wrong and they’re absolutely right.

Some leaders believe the critics must be right and question themselves…to the point of quitting the change or quitting entirely.

We’ve all seen leaders who are convinced they’re right and everyone else is wrong. Not fun.

So how do you ensure you’re not that person without becoming the person who caves or becomes paralyzed in the face of opposition?

Simple. Test your motives. Ask yourself:

Is this change really going to help people? Or am I doing it for a selfish or questionable reason?

If the change isn’t faithful, helpful or going to help people in the long run, abandon it.

If it is faithful and it’s going to help people in the long run, stick with it.

Leadership is a little like parenting. You do things your kids dislike because it’s good for them.

And in leadership, you lead people through seasons they don’t want to go through because in the end, it’s good for them.

And if it’s good for them, most of them will thank you in the end. Your job is to get them to the point where they benefit from the change.

Which is why you need to learn to endure being misunderstood when the misunderstanding arises from a legitimate change that, in the end, moves the mission and the community to a better place.

If you struggle with opposition to change, I outlines a detailed five part strategy on how to navigate change in the face of opposition in my book, Leading Change Without Losing It.

3. You can lead and still be likeable

So, you might think, you’re basically saying I have to be a jerk  or a cold, calloused human being to lead?

Not at all.

Just because you’re leading people to a place they would not naturally go doesn’t mean you have to abandon grace, humility, kindness, forgiveness or mercy.

In fact, the more you embrace characteristics like mercy, kindness, forgiveness, grace and humilty, the more effective you will be at leading change.

The trick is that there might not be an immediate pay back.

There’s a tendency in all of us that longs for the dynamic of ‘offer and acceptance’.

I offer you forgiveness, you accept.

I offer you mercy, you say thank you.

I show kindness, you reciprocate.

There will be entire seasons of your leadership in which you will offer all of the above and more and people will not reciprocate.

You have to learn to be okay with that. Even when you’re not okay with it.

When people don’t respond in kind, you must still be gracious, still be humble, still be kind, still be forgiving, even if it hurts. And it will hurt.

But in the end, your character will win out.

Usually, if the change is a good one and you have led well, people will ultimately see it was a good move. And they will eventually be thankful for it and often for you.

Sometimes—even if the change is good—there will be a few who never thank you and still don’t like you. That’s okay, because you took the high road. You can look in the mirror with some satisfaction knowing you did all that you could and did it with all integrity. You fought the good fight.

God sees what people don’t.

And sometimes, that’s enough.

So do the things that make someone likeable without worrying whether people will like you.

You will lead better.

And people will be well led.

What are you learning about leadership and likeability? Anything you’d add to this list?

Scroll down and let me know what you think in the comments.

how to control your calendar

6 Ways to Control Your Calendar So It Doesn’t Control You

StevensTimIf you struggle with time management, you don’t want to miss today’s guest post by Tim Stevens, a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders.

Previously, Tim was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.

Tim just released his latest book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.


Mark Batterson wrote, “If you don’t control your calendar, your calendar will control you.”

Alan Lakein said, “Time is life. It is irreversible and irreplaceable. To waste your time is to waste your life, but to master your time is to master your life and make the most of it.”

Scott Peck is credited with saying, “Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”

And I’ve heard a hundred preachers say, “Show me your checkbook and your calendar, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

I agree with all these statements. Leaders who don’t have control of their calendars will constantly be spinning out in the dirt without making much progress. Life will seem frantic and hurried, yet it will be difficult to pinpoint what they are actually getting done.

how to control your calendar

I’m not the king of time management, but I do live and die by my calendar. Everything that is important in my life goes on my calendar.

Here are six principles that help me:

1. Put priority items on your calendar first

Perhaps you’ve seen the illustration where the presenter tries to fill a jar with a combination of big rocks and little rocks. If the presenter fills the jar with the little rocks first, he is not able to fit very many big rocks in the jar. However, if he fills it with all the big rocks first, then he can add many of the little rocks in and around the big rocks.

The analogy breaks down if you go very far with it, but the foundation is true.

You must put priority things (e.g., time with your spouse and kids, vacation, strategic planning, and vision time) on the calendar first.

Otherwise you’ll never find time for those priorities.

2. Stack your meetings

If it’s within your control, try to schedule all your meetings on the same day or two each week.

I knew I wouldn’t get much productive work done on those days, but I was going to have some great conversations, help move the ball down the field on some projects, and keep my staff moving forward because of our connections.

Stacking your meetings will keep you from getting bitter about meetings ruling your life, and it will leave you with a couple days where your schedule is relatively open.

3. Schedule your rest

If you don’t plan for rest and renewal, it won’t happen.

My calendar will always fill up if I don’t plan for some down time. I’m always amazed when I hear people say, “I’m going to try to take a couple days off next week. I just have to see how the week goes.”

What? Are you kidding? You can’t wait for the right time to unwind or take a vacation with your family. It will never happen.

Get the dates on the calendar months in advance. Always be looking at your schedule for busy seasons ahead. Make sure you plan some time in the middle of those seasons to unwind and get centered.

4. Manage your travel schedule

If you don’t travel, skip over this one. But many leaders have to be on the road.

A few years ago I noticed my travel schedule was getting out of hand. One year I was gone eighteen nights, the next year it was twenty-five, then thirty-two, then forty-seven. This was not a good trend.

Because my kids were younger, and because my wife was not able to travel with me often, I was unwilling to see that trend continue.

So I sat down with my wife and my boss, and we figured out that thirty nights away from home was a reasonable number for me during that season. Any more than that, and my priorities started to get out of whack.

If it was much less than that, it was more difficult for me to get my job done. I don’t think the number thirty is magical, but I do think it’s important for anyone who travels regularly to find the right amount that balances family, business, and personal health.

5. Go home before the work is done

This is difficult whether you are in business or the church world. (In ministry, we convince ourselves someone might go to hell if we go home too soon!)

When you go home before the work is done, it means you are leaving something really good behind. But you can’t wait until your to-do list is complete or until the phone stops ringing before you head home to your family.

The work is never finished. Just go home!

(Note: If you are a slacker, then please ignore this point. You actually shouldn’t leave until your to-do list is done.)

6. Leave room for people and leave room for God

It is easy to fill up your calendar and not leave room for what God might bring along your path.

I had a friend who called these “Godadents” instead of accidents. If my calendar is booked solid, I don’t have the flexibility when someone drops by my office or a crisis comes up that needs attention.

I try to monitor this by blocking more time than is needed for appointments, leaving a buffer between appointments, and keeping my door open as often as possible.

This is just as important for Christian business leaders. Part of your calling as a follower of Jesus is to love and care for people—and that begins with the people already in your life. Make room to ask your employees about their lives, their dreams, and their hurts.

John Maxwell summed up calendar management this way: “The key to becoming a more efficient leader isn’t checking off all the items on your to-do list each day. It’s in forming the habit of prioritizing your time so that you are accomplishing your most important goals in an efficient manner.”

FairnessIsOverrated[1]-2What are you learning about controlling your calendar? What interferes with your desire to manage time?

Scroll down and leave a comment! And remember to check out Tim’s new book, Fairness Is Overrated


CNLP 017: Your Excuses are Gone—How to Grow a Big Church Anywhere (Even In New England). An Interview with Josh Gagnon

It’s easy to use your context as an excuse (it’s SO tough to grow a church here…).

There are some areas in which you just can’t grow a church, right?

Maybe not.

Lead Pastor Josh Gagnon shares the strategy behind Next Level Church in New Hampshire—a church that grew to 4 locations and 2000 people in 6 years in a region where churches pretty much never grow: New England.

So how did that happen you ask?

Welcome to Episode 17 of the Podcast.


Guest Links

Josh Gagnon

The Joshua Gagnon Leadership Podcast

Josh on Facebook

Josh on Twitter

Next Level Church

Next Level Church on Facebook

Next Level Church on Twitter

Links Mentioned in this Episode


Andy Stanley

Craig Groeschel 

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

When you take a look at reasons why your church is seeing little to no growth, are you making excuses or making changes? Here are three things you can do to turn things around at your church:

  1. Be willing to change anything. Change what you need to change. Put everything on the table. Do what it takes to reach your audience and be willing to try new things. Josh said he visited churches in the South to see what worked with those congregations, and he was able to take new concepts and implement them into his strategy for growth. Look continually for what’s resonating and what’s not, and make changes accordingly. The goal is what’s effective, not what you think is effective.
  2. Define yourself by what you’re for, not what you’re against. Josh said that people have found it freeing that his messages aren’t focused around major political topics. Statistically, only 3% of people in New England go to church, and to reach unchurched people, he says to focus on what you stand for, not what you’re against. A lot of people have felt rejected by the church, and a church should never be unaccepting of a person. If people don’t feel like the church is for them, it can do more damage than good.
  3. Implement the 3:1 rule. For every minute you spent talking about a problem spend 3 minutes discussing a solution. Insist your entire team do this. Your culture (and mindset) will change.

Quotes From Josh

A New Episode Every Week…Just Subscribe

The podcast releases every Tuesday morning.

Subscribe for free and never miss out on wisdom from great leaders such as Derwin Gray, Ron Edmondson, Jon Acuff, Rich Birch, Ted Cunningham, Tony Morgan, Craig Jutila, Kara Powell, Casey Graham, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley.

Subscribe via



TuneIn Radio

Appreciate This? Rate the Podcast.

Hopefully this episode has helped you lead like never before. That’s my goal. If you appreciated it, could you share the love?

The best way to do that is to rate the podcast in iTunes and leave us a brief review! You can do the same on Stitcher and on TuneIn Radio as well.

Your rating and review helps gets the podcast in front of new leaders and listeners. Your feedback also lets me know how I can better serve you.

We’ve had 150 reviews so far across all platforms. Leave one and I may feature yours on my podcast page. I read every one and appreciate them all!

Thank you for being so awesome.

Next Episode: Brian Orme

How do you get people to share the content you create? Can you make something go viral? I this epsiode, we answer those questions and much more as we talk to a leader who’s had experience getting 100 million unique visitors a year on his website — Brian Orme, Editor at FaithIt, SermonCentral, and Outreach Magazine.

Subscribe now, and you won’t miss Episode 18. Plus next week’s episode comes with a free download with tips and tricks from Brian on how to make your content more shareable.

Got a question?

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

7 Surprising and Endearing Characteristics of Highly Effective Church Leaders

What makes a successful leader successful?

And—here’s the next question— could you adopt any of their characteristics to help you become a more effective leader?

Sometimes it’s easy to think that some people were just ‘born’ successful or that they ‘have it’ and you don’t. For sure, some people are gifted communicators, visionaries or organizational wizards who seem to naturally know how to lead churches and organizations.

But the recipe for a leader’s effectiveness does not all lie in the gene pool.

The good news is there are common traits and characteristics that make highly successful church leaders successful.

And the really good news is that these characteristics can be learned and then adopted by leaders like you and me.

Last year I launched a leadership podcast (you can subscribe and listen for free here) and so far have had the opportunity to interview over 20 top church leaders. Not only has this been a fun journey, but early on I started to notice common characteristics among all these leaders as we did the interviews.

The common characteristics are so simple they’re surprising, and you might be tempted to dismiss them. But they’re incredibly endearing. And I think they are in part what makes each of them effective in their own realm.

And there is absolutely nothing stopping you from adopting each of the characteristics in your own leadership starting today.


7 Surprising and Endearing Characteristics

So what do leaders like Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Jon Acuff, Jeff Henderson, Pete Wilson, Derwin Gray, Tony Morgan, Kara Powell, Casey Graham, Ron Edmondson and others have in common?

Of course they’re gifted speaker, writers, thinkers, strategists and more. But they also do the following 7 things very, very well.

And before we jump to the list, you can get the full list of leaders here and can listen to any or all of the interviews by subscribing to my podcast (for free) on iTunesStitcher or TuneIn Radio.

Here we go:

1. They show up on time

I know a lot of leaders who manage far less than any of my guests who are always running late. Usually they talk about how busy they are and excuse it.

But not one of my guests has been late so far for their interview. They are precise. To the minute.

This challenges me because as much as I value being on time, I sometimes show up a few minutes past due. This might only happen a few times each month, but it’s still a failure on my part as a leader.

When you show up on time, you not only steward your time well, you steward other people’s time better too.

2. They do their homework

I make it habit to send out questions and an interview tip sheet before each interview.

Honestly, I never expected most of the leaders to read it. I know how busy they are and felt fortunate to get an hour of their time.

Every leader I interviewed had read the questions in advance. What blew me away is some of them took it further.

Andy Stanley made notes. So had many other leaders.

So just how busy are you again as a leader?

3. They call you by name

Many of the people in these early days of the podcasts are my friends and colleagues, but some truthfully I just knew well enough to ask to be on the show.

But what blew me away is how all of them called me by name, not just in the pre-recording set up, but during the interview.

It’s very endearing when someone knows and remembers your name.

As a leader it’s hard to remember the names of everyone you meet. But it’s so important. I wrote this post a few years ago about my struggle to remember names and outline some techniques I use to help me when I’m stuck.

If you want to be a better leader, remember names. And use them. It’s that simple.

4. They’re okay not being good at everything

You would think that some leaders are just naturally great at everything.

Not true.

I record the interviews via Skype, and I was surprised by how many leaders had to get other people to help them get online (not everyone, but more than a few). Some leaders had to create accounts for the purpose of the podcast. They’d just never used Skype before. Others used other people’s user names and got that person to get them online because they weren’t sure how to do it.

What’s interesting is they all seemed at peace with it.

No apologies. No trying to pretend like they knew what they were doing. Just an honesty and a gratitude for the friend or staff member who got them online, and then a focus on our conversation and the upcoming interview.

And maybe that’s a secret of their success.

When you try to be great at everything, you can end being excellent at nothing. The world is not going to stop spinning because you need a friend to help you do something you haven’t taken the time to master yourself.

They were just super cool not being great at everything. And I think that’s super-cool.

5.  They follow through. Fast

Sometimes there’s follow up to an episode. We’d cover something in the interview I wasn’t expecting to cover and after it was over, I’d ask whether they could provide the link or resource they talked about.

A great example is Perry Noble’s interview on burnout (such an amazing and compelling story by the way). We referenced a number of articles on his blog and resources he and his team had pulled together on burnout, depression and suicide.

Perry and his team got me the notes within an hour of promising they would. And it was no small project. Have a look at the show notes.  The coolest part is that those notes have literally helped thousands of leaders at this point.

Follow through—and fast follow through—is a characteristic of almost every effective leader.

The lesson is simple. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. And when you promise, deliver.

6.  They take their work — not themselves — seriously

Every guest I’ve interviewed so far takes their work seriously, but not themselves.

It’s so refreshing to find leaders who are absolutely passionate about their mission, but who don’t take themselves that seriously.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is. Jim Collins identified humility as the defining difference between a Level 4 and a Level 5 difference. The leaders who go the furthest, even in business, are the most humble.

Want to be a better leader? Take your work more seriously than you take yourself.


7. They’re incredibly down to earth

I often get asked, so what’s                          really like?

I love that question, because of the top church leaders I’ve met and know, the answer is they’re incredibly genuine people who walk the talk and who are good to be around.

I was a little intimidated in some of the interviews, but the warm demeanour, kind words and down to earth approach of every guest was disarming and encouraging.

I’ve met some leaders of small things who take themselves too seriously and are anything but down to earth.

I think that limits your leadership.

The leaders I’ve interviewed all know whether they’ve come from, realize that leadership is a stewardship and make others feel at ease.

What if you and I made others feel the same way.

What Do You See?

These are 7 characteristics I’ve seen in the high capacity leaders I’ve been around on my podcast in and in my leadership.

What do you see in the leaders you admire?

What can we learn together on this subject?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 leadership conversations every church leader

7 Key Leadership Conversations Every Church Team Should Have in 2015

Happy January!

So…what conversations are you planning on having with your team this year?

One of the things I love about a new year is the Top 10 lists that help us look reflect back and plan ahead. They can certainly provide fodder for worthy leadership conversations.

In that spirit, I’ve already shared my Top 10 Posts of 2014 and the Top 5 Podcasts from my new leadership podcast. Here are a few other lists worth checking out from Brian Dodd, Thom Rainer and David Kinnaman and the Barna Group.

It’s great to measure what’s resonating (usually top 10 lists are based on views or listens), but there’s also another category of conversations every leader should take seriously: the conversations you should have, not just the conversations you want to have.

To some extent, it’s the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important.

The best leaders figure out what conversations they need to have and then do whatever it takes to ensure they happen.

In my view, here are 7 conversations every church leader and their teams should have in 2015.

You might already be having some of them, and if so that’s amazing. Maybe the posts can help.

And if you’re not talking about these subjects yet, let me just encourage you to begin. Maybe the posts below can act as a springboard.

 7 leadership conversations every church leader

The 7 Conversations

These topics below are in no particular order, and they’re based on what I think are some of the most pressing issues church leaders face (or should be facing).

A few notes:

1. I frame each conversation as a question because questions, not statements, make for the best conversations in my view.

2. I frame the conversation briefly and then offer between 2-10 posts I’ve written in the past that might be helpful in assisting you and your team in the conversation. Naturally, you’ll find some more relevant than others, but it makes for a quick guide to what I hope will be helpful posts on the subject in question.

3. The team you discuss this with might be different, depending on your circumstance. In a big church, it would be your key staff and perhaps elder board. In a smaller church, likely all staff, elder board and maybe a few volunteer leaders would be involved. If you are super small and barely have a structure, I’d just pull in a few key promising leaders and start there. I would strongly recommend NOT making these conversations the stuff of congregational meetings. If you’re puzzled about that, here’s my reason why.

So with that in mind, here are 7 conversations I’d love to see every church leadership team have this year.

#1 Why Are We Not Growing Faster?

There’s no question that church growth is a felt need issue among church leaders. I meet very few church leaders who hope their church declines in the next year.

But before you stop at conversation #1, realize the other six are all tied to growth. Unhealthy churches won’t grow. Churches that fail to release high capacity leaders struggle with growth. Churches that ignore the culture will struggle. You’ll see the pattern if you look.

Here are some articles that can help you pinpoint why your church might not be growing, or might not be growing as quickly as you’d like:

10 Very Possible Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing

8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark

5 Things That Won’t Make Your Church Grow, Despite What You Might Think

5 Telling Questions to Ask If Your Church Isn’t Growing

7 Reasons Churches That Want To Reach Unchurched People…Don’t

9 Signs Your Church is Ready to Reach Unchurched People

The focus, of course, is not on growth for growth’s sake, but for the sake of being effective in our mission and vision of reaching people who need to know the love of Christ in their lives.

I’m passionate about church growth because the world is at its best when the church is at its best.

#2 Are Our Leaders Healthy….Really?

Healthy leaders create healthy churches. And a lot of our leaders aren’t healthy.

I’m passionate about this because I became unhealthy as a leader who was, by many accounts, ‘successful’.

If you only do one thing as a team on this issue, listen to Perry Noble tell his story about burnout.

CNLP 002: How Perry Noble Hit Rock Bottom While Pastoring One of America’s Largest Churches, And How He Battled Back

Perry Noble Podcast Episode Show Notes (tons of helpful links here)

5 Socially Acceptable Ways Church Leaders Self-Medicate

7 Painful Truths About Leadership and Burnout

Even if your church doesn’t study this issue this year, I’d so strongly urge you to study it yourself. The only way you will ever last in ministry over the long haul is to stay spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally healthy.

#3 What’s Keeping High Capacity Leaders from Engaging Your Mission?

One of the biggest tragedies in many churches is that high capacity leaders stay unengaged in the mission. They might attend, but they don’t engage as volunteers or even really dig in as donors.

Why is that? Why do the best leaders often lend their leadership to things other than the mission of the local church?

Here are some posts to kickstart the discussion:

6 Very Avoidable Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers

7 Questions Every Volunteer Asks But Never Says Out Loud

What’s at stake in this discussion? Engaging your best leaders will take your mission to a whole new level. It simply will.

#4 Why Are Young Adults Walking Away from Church?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog or if you follow the amazing people at Orange, you know this issue bothers me and many leaders.

Few people summed up the issue as well as Kara Powell did this year in her podcast interview. I’ll also include other links that could help from the blog:

CNLP 004 Why Young Adults Are Walking Away From the Church And What You Can Do About It – An Interview with Kara Powell (iTunes link here.)

5 Reasons Many People Have Stopped Attending Your Church (Especially Millennials)

The Impending Death (And Rebirth) of Cool Church

My favourite quote from Kara’s interview was this: “It’s not doubt that’s toxic to young people’s faith. It’s unexpressed doubt.” What if your church became a safe place this year for people to express their doubt? Just imagine….

#5 How Do We Respond as People Attend Less Often?

As we shift further into a post-Christian culture in North America, people feel less guilty, less loyal and more free to do what they want with their time.

The rise of online options for people means physical attendance and participation seems less desirable.

Here are a couple of articles that can jump start the conversation with your team:

7 Ways to Respond as People Attend Church Less Often

15 Characteristics of Today’s Unchurched Person

The jury is still out on where this is all heading, and there are no clear answers. But to not have the conversation is to bury your head in the sand. I would love for 2015 to be a year of big breakthroughs on this topic.

#6 What Cultural Shifts Are We Ignoring and What Are We Losing as A Result?

Culture keeps changing, but the church doesn’t. That’s a mistake.

Here are a few articles that encapsulate some of the cultural change happening around us.

12 Cultural Changes Church Leaders Can’t Ignore, But Might

5 Things Netflix is Showing Church Leaders About the Future

11 Traits of Churches That Will Impact the Future

Revivals Are Dead: 5 Things That Will Never Be The Same Again

#7 What Are We Actually Willing To Change?

I saved the most difficult conversation till last.

You can have every conversation listed above, but if you’re not willing to change, you’ve wasted your breath.

And the reality is, most churches, people and organizations struggle with change.

So while you’re having the other conversations, make sure you have this one. Without it, you’re dead in the water.

As you read through this rather long list, don’t miss the interviews with Ron Edmondson and Dom Russo from my leadership podcast as they explain how they’ve led change in very traditional settings:

Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Navigate Change When You’re Facing Opposition (For the Kindle version, click here.)

Planning On Closing Anytime Soon? 21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change

What To Do When People Want Your Church To Grow…But Not Change

CNLP 010 How to Rapidly Navigate Change in A Traditional Church Context—An Interview With Ron Edmondson (iTunes link here.)

CNLP 015 How to Turn Around a Declining Church Without Blowing It Apart—An Interview with Dom Ruso (iTunes link here.)

The Single Best Way to Lead Change When You’re in A Very Old, Traditional, Or Resistant Setting

How to Get Alignment, Agreement and Consensus Around Change

How to Lead Change When You’re NOT the Senior Leader

7 Things NOT to Say When You’re Leading Change in Your Church

7 Things You Can Do If You Want Things to Change and No One Else Does

Here’s to Incredible Conversations

Well that’s my list of conversations and conversation starting posts for 2015.

I know this is a ton of stuff, but if you bookmark the page or clip it to Evernote, hopefully you can use it as a resource you come back to as a team again and again.

So…here’s to some incredible conversations that I pray will advance the mission of the church this year.  In my view, the mission of the church is just too important not to have these conversations like these.

I’d love to hear your comments, so please scroll down and leave one.

I will come back to this thread again and again in the comments, so if you and your team have questions, fire away.


5 Simple But Powerful Ways to Accomplish Far More in 2015

Did you get everything done you wanted to get done this year?

Probably not. Who did?

Making a bigger list probably isn’t going to help you get more done. Often, putting more on your list just leaves you feeling more frustrated.

What most of us need is a new strategy.

Here are 5 things I’ve found have helped me and other leaders get ahead.


1. Eliminate wasted time

Most people are busy…busy wasting time they’ll never get back.

Let’s just be honest. We all waste time.

I do. You do.

If you want to see want to see what a life without much wasted time looks like, read this profile of 17 year old budding hockey star Connor McDavid.

Since Connor was a kid, he did little else but play hockey and develop his skill set. He skipped prom, doesn’t really play video games and missed a lot of the social life of high school. Except now, at 17, he’s likely to be drafted #1 in the NHL.

It might not be your idea of an ideal life to pursue one thing with your time. That’s fine.

But does binge watching whatever your favourite series is right now really help you become a better person or better leader?

Does scrolling endlessly through Instagram or Facebook half watching lives you’re interested in really make you a better leader?

Often people who have ‘no time’ to spend time with God end up with all kinds of time for binge watching.

So just stop wasting time.

Or at least be intentional with the time you waste.

By intentional, I mean saying to yourself: I’m going to waste 30 minutes. Then go waste it.

Do that and you’ll be far less wasteful. And as a result, you’ll accomplish far more.

2. Stop letting other people set your priorities

How many times have you finished a crazy day and realized you didn’t even put a dent in your most important priority?

Often that happens when you let other people set your priorities.

You do this when you:

Constantly check email

Refuse to turn off the notifications on your phone

Allow people to interrupt you when you’re at work (no that’s not their issue…it’s yours)

When people text you, email you, call you and interrupt you they are asking for you to ditch your priorities for theirs.

Do this 20, 30 or 40 hours a week and you will lead an extremely unproductive, busy and frustrating life.

The best way to overcome this is to only check email a few times a day. Ditto with the phone. And close your office door or even put a sign on it that says “I’m happy to see you at 2:00″, and then budget 2:00-2:30 for interruptions.

Guess what? Half the people who were going to interrupt you won’t even remember what they were going to ask you about by the time 2:00 rolls around.

3. Be proactive

There are two kinds of leadership: proactive leadership, and reactive leadership.

Proactive leaders make things happen. Reactive leaders react to what’s happening.

Which one makes the better leader long term? Quite obviously, leaders who are proactive.

A significant part of leadership is creating something out of nothing…of making things happen that are currently not happening. Whether that’s building a team, advancing a cause or even finding a solution no one else seems to be able to find, leaders make things that don’t normally happen, happen.

No one will ever ask you to do those things.

Consequently, they require proactivity.

Check your to do list.

Are the things that require that kind of proactivity on it?

Is your to-do list really attempting to advance anything meaningful? Or is your to-do list a reflection of point #2 above—it’s merely a response to everyone else’s priorities?

Your to do list should always have some big goals that no one else is going to ask you to work on.

For example, if you’re a preacher, prioritize sermon prep. Why? Because nobody’s ever going to call you and ask you to spend time researching your message. They will call you to ask you to meet with them, pulling you away from your message prep.

Ditto to the big, audacious goals you want to accomplish. They need to migrate to your daily task list.

What’s most important to you? What would significantly advance your ministry?

Spend at least 10 hours a week on that, and things will change.

4. Do your best and worst, first

One of the best ways to keep your day (and your priorities) from being hijacked is to do your most important (not most urgent…most important) task first.

I like to get most of my ‘big thinking’ projects done before 9 a.m. I’m at my best then, and most people aren’t at work. So I can be incredibly productive and get my big stuff done before anything else happens.

I leave my routine things until the afternoon when I’m not as sharp, but when sharpness doesn’t really matter as much as it does when I’m writing a message, writing a series or tackling a high level problem.

You’ve probably also got other things on your to do list that you resent, things you hate doing (maybe like returning a phone call, answering a tough email, or doing something administrative, like an expense report).

Get some of those done early in the day too, right after you’ve expended your best energy on your biggest priority.

Doing something you don’t want to to do early gets a win under your belt and you’ll feel much better about the day. It’s like having a weight lifted off your shoulder. You’ll feel like you can tackle more.

And as a result, you will.

5. Get some sleep and some solitude

The problem is that when most of us are off, we’re not off.

We just run 100 miles an hour at something else; family, hobbies, friends, social engagements, gaming, social media, movies…whatever.

As a result, we cheat sleep.

That’s one of the worst things a leader can do.

Refusing to rest is like trying to run your phone for a full day on 15% power.

I’m a bit of evangelist on sleep because I really think a lack of sleep cuts into every leader’s potential. I wrote about why sleep is a leader’s secret weapon here.

Once you slow down enough to sleep adequately, you might also become more comfortable with another best friend of many top performing leaders: solitude. So many high performing leaders I know begin every morning in silence.

Christian leaders do this in their quiet time. But even non-Christian leaders I know will take time to meditate, or simply sit in silence.

Making time for retreats or for regular silent space to work on it, not in it, are practices of almost all top performing leaders.

This isn’t just a leadership trick. It’s a spiritual discipline.

Solitude has long been a Christian discipline that’s been all but lost. Regain it. In this post, I share 8 reasons why leaders need solitude and ways to find it.

Ironically, you would think that to accomplish more you would need to spend less time sleeping and less time in solitude.

Just the opposite.

Getting a full night’s sleep every night and finding regular, disciplined solitude will make you far more effective.

Now it’s your turn. What helps you accomplish far more?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


CNLP 015: Turning Around a Declining Church without Blowing It Apart – An Interview with Dom Ruso

So how do you turn around a declining church without blowing it apart?

Can it even be done? Or will it always take years to do, if it’s even possible?

Dom Ruso talks about how he leveraged the past to help bring a church into a new future, more than doubling in size in just two years.

Yes, it can be done, and Dom explains what he did to help bring it about.

Welcome to Episode 15 of the podcast.


Guest Links: Dom Ruso

Temple Baptist Church

Temple Baptist Church on Facebook

Temple Baptist Church on Twitter

Dom Ruso on Facebook

Dom Ruso on Twitter

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Exponential Conference

Leading Change Without Losing It on Amazon (The book’s official website with 12 free bonus videos)

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

With change, you take chances. You want to take the intentions of the past and apply them to the future, and sometimes those methodologies don’t work. But the heart from the previous generation is the same heart that wants to drive the future. Here are three ways that can help guide your church through a smoother transition:

  1. Understand the church’s history. People think that change equates to disloyalty, but in fact, you may find that not changing is being disloyal. Learn and listen, and review what didn’t work in the past. See how the church evolved, and look at how you can preserve the history. Explore what sacrifices were made and compare them to the sacrifices your church may have to make.You can leverage the past for the sake of the future. This will show that you have the church’s best interest in mind.
  2. Gauge the temperature for which the community can build change. If you invest into the church’s future, your congregation will trust you. If you can help your congregation focus on the mission, you can broker the past to leverage the future. But let them grieve. Listen and acknowledge their feelings because older generations of church members placed value on previous traditions.
  3. Celebrate the small wins. In his preaching, Dom celebrated. You don’t have to wait for a special occasion; you can weave celebration into the small milestones because they’re worth recognizing. Place emphasis on God’s blessings and what makes those moments special. Dom also recognized he had to pastor his team as they pastored the church. It gives encouragement to your teams that they can handle the growth. Coach your team to lead leaders.

Quotes From Dom

A New Episode Every Week…Just Subscribe.

The podcast releases every Tuesday morning.

Subscribe for free and never miss out on wisdom from great leaders such as Derwin Gray, Ron Edmondson, Jon Acuff, Rich Birch, Ted Cunningham, Tony Morgan, Craig Jutila, Kara Powell, Casey Graham, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley.

Subscribe via



TuneIn Radio

Appreciate This? Rate the Podcast.

Hopefully this episode has helped you lead like never before. That’s my goal. If you appreciated it, could you share the love?

The best way to do that is to rate the podcast in iTunes and leave us a brief review! You can do the same on Stitcher and on TuneIn Radio as well.

Your rating and review helps gets the podcast in front of new leaders and listeners. Your feedback also lets me know how I can better serve you.

We’ve had 150 reviews so far across all platforms. Leave one and I may feature yours on my podcast page. I read every one and appreciate them all!

Thank you for being so awesome.

Next Episode: Jeff Henderson

Can anyone become a better communicator? Jeff Henderson thinks so.

Whether you speak every weekend or are simply trying to improve your presentations in the boardroom, Jeff shares what will kill your next presentations or talk and what will make it great.

Subscribe now, and you won’t miss Episode 16.

Got a question?

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

The Impending Death (and Rebirth) of Cool Church

Everything has its season.

And the season of the cool church is, in many ways, coming to an end.

There was an era when simply being a cooler church than the church down the road helped churches reach unchurched people.

There was a day when all you had to do was improve the church you led to gain traction.

Trade in the choir for a band. Turn the chancel into a platform. Add some lights, some sound, some haze. Get some great teaching in the room. And voila, you had a growing church.

But we’re quickly moving into a season where having a cool church is like having the best choir in town: it’s wonderful for the handful of people who still listen to choral music.

Somethings changing. And a hundreds of thousands of dollars in lights and great sound gear are probably not going to impact your community like they used to.

So what’s changing? Plenty.


Cool Isn’t Enough (Anymore)

You might think I’m against churches have bands, lights, and creating a great environment. Not at all. In fact, as we speak, our team is building a facility for the church at which I serve that facilitates all of that.

If you are going to gather people, gather well.

My point is not that you shouldn’t.  My point is that it’s no longer enough.

And maybe it never was.

The mega-churches many of us watch today didn’t get to be as effective as they are simply by being cool.

If you really study how most large churches have become effective in leading people to Jesus (and yes—haters step aside—many large churches are effective in leading people into a real relationship with Jesus Christ), they have always been about more than just lights, sound and show. There’s substance. More substance than critics would ever give them credit for.

Are mega-churches universally healthy? No.

But neither are many small churches. In fact, sometimes the dysfunction in small churches eclipses that of medium sized or large churches.

As Geoff Surratt has so helpfully pointed out, you can’t say that just because a few mega-churches have collapsed that they are all the same. Churches like North Point, New Spring, Cross Point,  SeaCoast and Life Church, to name a few, have developed great leaders on their local campuses and across their teams. They’ve moved far beyond a structure based on one ‘famous’ name.

So why would cool church be fading into the sunset?

3 Reasons Cool Church Isn’t What It Used To Be

Decades ago as cool church started to take root among very large, rapidly growing churches, many other, smaller churches and church plants followed suit.

And for a season, it ‘worked’.

Getting some awesome lights, better sound, better music, and a slightly more hip communicator grew churches.

Sure, some of the growth was transfer growth, but a big percentage of what many churches experienced was not transfer growth. People invited their friends and their friends came back.

So what’s changing?

But now most cities have a great selection of cool churches. Many towns have at least one.

It’s no longer unusual to have a band in church. It’s not even that novel to have lights and great sound or to play all the cool songs.

And…in the process of all this imitation, three things happened:

1. Cutting edge keeps changing…fast

What was novel isn’t novel as novel for long anymore.

The rise of technology and social media means that you now hold access to pretty much anything you want in your hand whenever you want to.

You used to have to hire experts or do some exploring to find cool things.  Sometimes you even had to travel. Now you just download an app, watch a video, stream a song or follow whatever trend you’re passionate about in the moment—whenever you want to. Instantly. Usually for free.

Consequently, there’s kind of a trend-fatigue or indifference happening. Trends are shorter, less interesting, and we’re all growing oh-so-bored with what’s novel.

Which means that it’s harder than ever for churches to be cutting edge because cutting edge keeps changing.

2. Indifference to church has grown 

As this helpful Barna research points out, even in the US, people are increasingly indifferent to church.  That’s certainly been true in Canada, Europe and in places like Australia and New Zealand for a while.

So a decade ago having a cool church would have gotten you more traction than it does today.

If people aren’t into church, it doesn’t matter how cool, hip or trendy your church is, people won’t be that interested.

You behave this way. If you’re on a health kick, you’re not going to order the burger and fries, even if they are the best in town. And if you’re not on a healthy kick, the spinach, arugula, kale salad with tuna isn’t going to capture your imagination, no matter how healthy it is.

3. Imitation killed innovation

Of all three points, this one probably bothers me the most.

To begin with, when churches imitate each other, we rarely borrow all the best practices—we just borrow the ones that are easy to see or seem obvious.

But what’s made growing churches grow is deeper than the cool factor. Consequently, leaders who finally get what they were longing for—a cool church—are often shocked to discover they don’t deliver what they promised.

And in the process of all that imitation something even more important is lost: innovation.

What’s needed now more than ever is church leaders willing to pioneer….to go deep into a culture that keeps changing to reach people who are increasingly resistant.

What’s needed most as we look at what’s ahead is innovation. And it’s sorely lacking among many church leaders.

Should you never imitate? No…that’s not wise either. To refuse to borrow best practices from others is arrogant and, to a large extent, futile thinking.

The point is simply this: don’t let imitation kill innovation at your church.

Irrelevance Isn’t the Answer Either

So should you run from all things cool, trendy or hip?


Relevance is better than irrelevance.

The answer to the challenge of keeping up with relevance is not to return to irrelevance.

Relevant church has many critics, but to not bridge the cultural gap is even more ludicrous (in my view) than trying to bridge it and maybe failing.

To agree to be irrelevant, ineffective and bad at what you do is a terrible option.

So what do we do as we head into the future?

5 Keys to Rebirth

The church can take many forms. But for all those leaders who, like me, believe in gathering people together for the sake of a larger mission, what does the future look like?

I think you stay relevant (and maybe even a bit cool), but you go beyond that. Dig deeper.

Here are 5 keys I see to a future of greater impact. In many ways, they are the new cool. Authenticity is the new cool. The mission is the new cool. Hope is the new cool. Community is the new cool. And so is experimentation.

1.  Authenticity

Sometimes under cool is an inauthenticity. Dump that.

Authentic resonates. People are looking for what’s real, what’s true and what’s authentic.

Here’s a post on how to be an appropriately transparent leader without oversharing.

2. Prioritize the Mission

The church has always been about something bigger than itself. At the centre of our mission is Christ.

A church that is focused on a larger mission will never become self-obsessed. Cool can carry with it a sense of narcissism.

You lose your narcissism when you lose yourself in a bigger mission.

And that, by the way, is something Millennials are longing to give their lives to.

3. Deal Hope

We leaders are dealers in hope.

And Christianity provides more hope than anything.

I’m 100% behind making messages practical, applicable and helpful. I think the Gospel is that. But it is also much more than that.

If all we have is this life, we’re to be pitied more than anyone (pretty sure the Bible says something about that).

In an age where all most people see is that which is imminent, people need to be ushered into the presence of Someone who is transcendent.

Christianity at it’s best has always been about both imminence and transcendence.

4. Elevate Community

I’m all for lights, sound, relevance and even video walls if they help the mission.

But as my friend Reggie Joiner says, the church will never be able to out-Disney Disney.

And that’s true, we will never have the budget or resources to entertain or engage the best. But even if we did…what would be the point?

While we can’t out-Disney Disney, no one should be able to out-community the local church.

God is in the people business. He loves us. And the goal is to connect people with Christ and with each other.

As your church grows bigger, it also needs to grow smaller by connecting people relationally. I know we’ve said this for years, but it’s never been more urgent.

5. Experiment

Experimenting is the key to innovation.

And, as we’ve seen, in an age of imitation in the church, innovation has been sidelined.

Bring that back.

Do what you do now, but start experimenting on the side to see what’s really going to make the biggest impact in the future.

The truth is I don’t think anyone knows what that is right now.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

If you’re looking for more, here are 11 traits of churches that will impact the future.

What Do You Think?

What are you seeing in the church today.

It’s easy to criticize, but what can you add in terms of contribution?

Scroll down and leave a comment!