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church growth strategies

10 Church Growth Strategies That Cost Zero Dollars

So you want your church to accomplish its mission and reach people.

But so often in church leadership, it’s easy to believe growth can’t really happen unless you spend money on some new initiatives.

And that leaves a lot of church leaders stuck. Why? Because the vast majority of churches are underfunded, not over-funded.

Faced with a lack of resources, too many church leaders throw in the towel and believe growth isn’t possible.

But that’s a fallacy.

Vision always precedes resources. If you’re waiting for people and money to show up so you can get on with your mission, you’ll wait forever.

So how do you start growing now, even with zero dollars?

Here are 10 ways.

church growth strategies

1. Exude more passion

It’s amazing to me how little passion many church leaders exude.

We have the most amazing mission on planet earth. And we have a generation of young adults in front of us who want to give their lives to a cause that’s bigger than themselves.

Yet it’s easy to believe that the only way to reach the next generation is by spending money on lights, gear and sound. As I outlined in this post, that’s just not true.

You don’t need a polished church to reach the next generation nearly as much as you need a passionate church. Because when it comes to reaching the next generation, passion beats polish.

2. Cut the weird

Christians can be socially weird.

Too often, we use unnecessarily weird language—like this:

“This is good coffee, brother.”

“Amen. Hallelujah.”

Why not just talk like you do at church the way you talk at the office or at a football game or on a Saturday by the pool? (Actually, if you talk like that normally, you probably don’t get invited out too often.)

Here’s what’s actually at stake: if someone actually has to learn code to join your church, you likely won’t have many people joining your church.

Our challenge is to reduce the human barriers that keep people from Jesus, not to erect new ones.

And, no, being weird does not mean you’re being faithful. It just means you’re being weird.

3. Expand your vision

Vision is a leader’s best friend, and it’s free.

After two decades of leading and communicating in the local church, I am convinced it is impossible to overstate or overestimate the vision of the church.  As Bill Hybels has said, the local church really is the hope of the world.

If you don’t dream big dreams for your church, who will?

If you don’t communicate big vision for your church, who will?

4. Encourage people to fall in love with your mission, not your methods

The reason change is so difficult in many churches is because members fall in love with methods, not with mission.

A method is a way of doing things: programs the church runs, the style of music, the architecture of a building or facility, a staffing or governance model.

Those are all simply methods that can and should change with every generation or even more frequently.

The mission is what you’re doing (like reaching people with the love and hope of Jesus), and it never changes.

The more you focus on the mission, the easier it is to change the methods.

5. Smile more

I know ‘smile more’ sounds trivial. But just look around you. Hardly anyone smiles.

If the Gospel is good news, you would never know it from looking at many Christians.

I have to remind myself when I communicate to smile more. It’s not my natural facial expression.

A smile can make a huge difference in any almost any relationship.

So smile more and remind your people to smile more. Honestly, this makes a huge difference in how people perceive you.

6. Stop fighting

I have no statistics on this, but my guess is in-fighting has killed more churches than moral failure has.

Christians, it’s hard to convince the world that God loves it when we constantly fight with each other.

If your church is fighting, there should be zero mystery as to why it isn’t growing.

7. Pay much better attention to first time guests

I have almost never met a church whose members claimed they were unfriendly.

In fact, most church members are stumped as to why people don’t like they’re church because they’re so ‘friendly.’

But being a ‘friendly’ church can often mean you’re friendly to each other, not to guests.

Change that.

Make sure guests feel genuinely appreciated, welcomed and that their questions are answered. This does NOT mean making them stand up in the service or socially awkward things like that (see point 2 above).

It does mean treating guests the way they want to be treated.

8. Treat your volunteers better

Many leaders fall into the trap of thinking that great leadership comes only when you can hire a great staff.


You have a great team—they’re called your volunteers. And as I outlined in this post, you can pay your volunteers in non-financial currencies.

If you create a healthy volunteer culture, you’ll be amazed at how well your volunteers serve.

No matter how big you get as a church, you will never have enough money to hire all the staff you want. And you will always need a growing group of passionate, committed, aligned volunteers.

I write an entire chapter on creating a great volunteer culture in my book and video series, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

The bottom line? Passionate volunteers create a passionate church.

9. Invite someone

So there’s this thing out there called personally inviting a friend. Ever heard of it?

Okay, maybe that was a little sarcastic. But I am amazed by how often most of us neglect personally inviting our unchurched friends to church.

Many actually say yes when asked.

If everyone invited one person next weekend, think of what might happen.

Church leaders, encourage people to invite friends, and start by inviting someone yourself.

10. Become friends with people who aren’t Christians

Last time I checked, friendship was free too. Which is a good thing.

The sad reality is that the reason #9 is impossible for some people is because many Christians don’t actually know any non-Christians.

Change that.

Be a friend.

Hang out with that guy at work. Throw a party for the neighbours in your back yard. Talk to the other parents at school.

Get out of the Christian bubble and into the world Jesus died for.

If you’re at church 7 nights a week, you can’t be friends with non-Christians. So cut a few nights and go live the mission.

That’s why our church has almost no programming on week nights other than small groups. We want our people to love the community.

The only way you can love a community is to actually be in the community.

You can’t love people you don’t know.

Want More?

Well, that’s a lot of free and that’s exactly where you should start. You can accomplish so much if you just begin.

If you want to know how to raise more money for ministry (without a capital campaign), there’s also practical help. While we use all of the above strategies at Connexus Church, where I serve, we also have raised more money for ministry. The Rocket Company offers the exact process we used at Connexus to raise more money for your mission.

It’s called Thrive, and it will help your church raise money for ministry without a capital campaign. Using the approach outlined in Thrive has helped grow our giving by 90% over the last 5 years. You can get more information on Thrive or sign up here.

What Do You Think?

What have you done in your church that’s helped you reach more people?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

morning people

5 Ways Morning People Really DO Have a Leadership Advantage

So you’re trying to be more productive—to get more done in less time.

Here’s the question: does it really make a difference whether you’re a morning person or not when it comes to productivity?

One of the more frequently asked questions I get as a leader is ‘how do you get it all done?’   (church, blogging, podcast, speaking and writing books).

My answer is usually a variation of “It’s amazing what you can get done before 8 a.m. if you try.”

As painful as that may sound to you, it’s probably also true for you. The best leaders I know get more done before 10 a.m. than many people get done in a day.

Let me show you why and how.

morning personI Wasn’t Always a Morning Person…

I wasn’t always a morning person.

I spent my university days choosing classes based on how late they started so I could sleep in.

I’ve made the transition from NOT being a morning person to getting up most days between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m.

How did that happen? Well, the journey got started when my wife and I got married (I decided to get up at 8 because she was a morning person).

Having kids a few years later threw my schedule out the window and I started rising around 6 and kept that discipline up through my 30s. Usually I would get up early, pound through some email (after devotions) and then make breakfast and then start work in earnest around 9.

I spent my 30s wanting to write a book and having friends tell me I should. But I didn’t.

It wasn’t until my 40s that I started getting up earlier and really committing to a 5:00 a.m. wake up call.

Since then, I’ve led our church to the largest it’s ever been, published three books, blogged regularly, launched a podcast and spoken more regularly at conferences…plus spent meaningfully more time with my wife and kids than before.

Is that ALL because I got up earlier? No, age and stage have their advantages.

You accumulate (hopefully) wisdom, learn to do things faster, and your kids get older and don’t demand 24/7 attention like they used to (although I’m still convinced parenting teens requires as much or more time than parenting toddlers). Could I have done all of this in my 30s? Probably not.

But if I got up at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. most days, I’m convinced all I’d be able to handle is my day job…and I’m convinced I would do it more poorly at that. In other words, I’m not sure I’d be doing anything more than my day job had I kept sleeping in.

So how does being a morning person give me (and many other leaders) a distinct advantage?

Here are 5 reasons:

1. Your brain is (probably) at its best

Personally, there’s no doubt I get my best work done before 10:00 a.m. My most creative thoughts, best insights and clearest analysis happens well before lunch.

I’m amazed at how many high capacity leaders I know tell me the same thing.

Some research backs up my personal findings—that morning people do significantly better overall than night owls do.

Other studies show a more balanced view with night owls gaining a few advantages over morning people.

My guess is we could trade studies all day long to make our points, but I’ve personally never been better than when I’m up early.

Your most important asset as a leader is your mind.

And personally, my brain just does better when it’s fresh off of rest. (I think sleep is the secret leadership weapon no one wants to talk about.) By working early (even if it’s just an hour), you do your most important work when your brain is at its best.

Naps can also reset your brain during the day…and I will often take a nap if I can. However, I find a nap recharges my brain for far less time than a 6-8 hour sleep will.

Your brain simply serves you better as a leader when it’s rested.

2. You’re more efficient because you beat rush hour

Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 a.m., it could take you three times as long to travel the same distance.  

These days I do everything I can to beat traffic, not just on the road, but in life. I do most of my shopping at off hours.  My wife and I have even begun to do off-season travel.

Why? Because we end up having have more time to do what matters most.

Ditto with work.

Guess who’s texting you at 5:30 a.m.? Nobody.

Guess who’s emailing for you an urgent response at 6:15 a.m.? Nobody.

You’ve got the work lane all to yourself, which means you can work un-interrupted. You can think uninterrupted. You can actually accomplish all your most important tasks completely distraction-free.

And for a naturally ADD guy, I’m grateful for that.

By the way, this reason alone is enough for me to recommend starting early to any leader.

Working when no one else is working gives any leader a distinct advantage.

Any other time of the day, people are trying to communicate with you. But rarely do they do that before 8 a.m.

3. You get to work on your most important tasks

You know what’s fascinating about leadership?

Nobody asks you to accomplish your most important priorities. They just criticize you if you don’t.

In fact, not only will your colleagues never ask you to accomplish your priorities, they will usually ask you to help accomplish theirs.

Which is why you never get your work done.

That’s also what email is, by the way, other people asking you to do things that aren’t on your task list.

By starting early, you can accomplish your priorities and THEN be available to help others with theirs, in person or via email.

Starting early eliminates so much of the push and pull of the every day. Plus you’ll be far more kind and gracious when you interact with them, because you’re already done.

4. You already have series of wins under your belt

Sometimes all you need as a leader is some kind of win.

Starting early gives you that:

You got a jump on your message.

You came up with a great idea.

You discovered a new strategy.

You banged out a chapter you were not expecting to write.

You got the retreat planned ahead of scheduled.

With one or two wins under your belt, the rest of the day is easier.

So much of leadership remains undone at the end of the day–except for what you got done first.

5. Your big to-do’s are already done

Not only is SOMETHING done before 10:00 a.m., if you use your time well, the most important task for the day is done by mid-morning.

I’ve never tried this, but I suspect if I stopped working at 10:00 a.m. most days I’d still be 70% as productive as I am now. And more importantly, I’d have the most significant things done.

The way I usually spend my later time is in meetings, answering email or doing other tasks that require less mental energy.

But again, even if those don’t go well or take longer than expected, the big stuff is already accomplished. Which means you’re kind of already done for the day.

Think about what that could mean to you and the people you love: when you start early, you get your evenings back, your weekends back and your life back. Because your big work is…done. 

Start Now

So how can you become a morning person?

I’d try setting your alarm 15 minute earlier every week until you hit the time you think you need to be up. In a month, you could be operating one hour earlier than before.  (And remember to go to bed earlier too. I’m generally in bed between 9:30 and 10 most nights.)

Michael Hyatt has some great ideas on becoming a morning person as well.

The bottom line is: start now.

Wanting to be a morning person brings you none of the benefits of becoming a morning person.

What Do You Think?

Well morning people? What do you think? And night owls, we love you. We really do.

But I’d love to hear from everyone what you’re learning about productivity and time shifting.

Scroll down and leave a comment! Let’s get better together.

asking better questions

7 Keys to Asking Better Questions (What I’ve Learned From My Leadership Podcast)

If you want to become a better leader (and who doesn’t?), the key is simple: learn to ask better questions.

I wish I knew that 20 years ago when I started.

I thought leadership was about giving answers, not asking questions.

I still have to reign myself in from talking too much and listening too little, but I’ve worked hard on the art of asking questions over the last few years.

In mid-2014, I became immersed more deeply than ever before into the art of asking questions as I prepared to launch my leadership podcast (you can subscribe for free here).  It’s been an amazing journey, as 20 months in we just celebrated passing one million downloads. (Thank you to everyone for making the podcast so amazing!)

In addition, last year, I started interviewing for 100 Huntley Street, a national TV show in Canada (here’s an interview I did with Ravi Zacharias).

One of the surprisingly consistent questions I get is how I come up with the questions for my guests.

People seem to notice the approach I take and want to know how I prepare the questions.

The reality is I haven’t known how to answer that question except to say “I don’t know, I just do it.” Not very helpful.

I also get interviewed frequently these days, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are better lines of questioning, and not-so-great lines of questioning.

So I sat down to try to figure out the principles behind the art of asking better questions.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. I think the principles work whenever you are interacting with someone…whether it’s the foyer on a Sunday, in a meeting, or for a podcast or show.

Asking better questions is foundational to better leadership.

So how do you learn to ask better questions?

I want to keep growing in this field, but here are 7 things I’m discovering.

better questions1. Put yourself in their shoes

You may be getting together to discuss an issue, but behind every issue is a person.

When you speak to the person behind the issue, not just the issue, you always have a better conversation.

How do you do that?

Start here: imagine what it’s like to be them.

This is true if you’re talking to Andy Stanley or whether you’re talking to a college student anxious about what’s next after graduation.

People have emotions, fears, dreams, hopes and experience everything else you do.

A great way to access this stream of thinking is to imagine the questions you would have if you were them.

Imagine launching a church that grows exponentially. What would your hopes, dreams and fears be?

Sure, the person you’re speaking with might respond differently than you would (and be open to that), but this at least gets you into the same emotional ball park.

If you can imagine what it’s like to be them, your questions will not only become better, but they’ll like you. Why? Because you just showed interest and empathy. And we all respond better to an interested, empathetic person.

2. Avoid putting people on the defensive

Most people heading into an interview or conversation are a bit worried—whether that’s a job interview, a podcast or TV interview, or a meeting where you’re asking questions.

They’re afraid they’re going to say something they’ll regret. Or afraid you’re out to make them look bad.

People sense right away whether you’re trying to make them look bad. And they respond to you accordingly.

Any cheap press or momentary victory you get from a controversial quote is in my view, so not worth it.

I never want to make anyone look bad. Even if I disagree with a person.

I just want them to tell their story…and if you put them at ease, they will.

“But what about the truth?” say the suspicious among you.

Well, that doesn’t mean you don’t ask real questions. But in fact, when someone is at ease, they’ll often tell you far more than they would if you put them on the defensive.

If you want to listen to a couple of very authentic interviews on very controversial topics, you can listen to my conversation with Justin Dean on the collapse of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, or Aaron Harris on what it’s been like for him to grow up in the church as gay man.

3. Ask what it felt like

I’m a logical guy. I think a lot. I’m a law school graduate. Most of what I do these days boils down to thinking, solving problems and then figuring out how to communicate what I’ve learned.

As a result, I constantly process principles behind why things are the way they are, and why people do what we do.

But deep down, we’re all emotional creatures. I am. You are.

So is anyone you talk to.

If you really want to connect with the person you’re speaking with (or interviewing), when they tell you about a critical moment in their life (good or bad) ask them what it felt like.

What was it like to learn you had cancer?

What did it feel like to have half your church walk out overnight?

What did it feel like for you as a leader to go from 100 people to 1000 people attending your church overnight?

What were you feeling when you failed out of college and had to go home to tell your parents?

In those moments, you move from head-to-head conversation to heart-to-heart conversation.

And those are my favourite conversations. That’s the kind of stuff around which friendships and bonds form—both between you and your guests, and your guests and any listeners.

4. Look for the counter-intuitive or exceptional

Lots of counter-intuitive things happen in life.

Follow that trail.

For example, when I interviewed Perry Noble about burning out in Episode 2 of my leadership podcast, he mentioned it happened when his church had never been bigger and when things had never been ‘better.’

That really surprised me, and we spent a good part of the interview exploring that.

Exploring the counter-intuitive usually leads to great places because it attacks widely held assumptions. For example, people assume you burn out with things are going poorly, not when things are going well.

In a similar way, people are surprised that successful people struggle.

In my view, that’s what made the interview I did with Passion Ministries founder Louie Giglio so riveting. He talked openly and honestly about how success led him to break down and how he battled back.

Bottom line? If something surprises you, chase it.

5. Drill down

Our world is filled with 2-minute sound bites.

The best conversations in my view never happen in 10 minutes or between commercial breaks. They happen long after people have used all their sound bites and pushed past their ready-made answers.x

I took a risk in doing long-form podcasting when I launched (the average episode is around an hour). The reason I chose that path is because meaningful real life conversations tend to be longer, not shorter.

Taking your time also allows you to drill down on key issues.

Whether it’s my podcast, a meeting, or even a job interview I’m conducting, most of my questions are unplanned. I always write questions out ahead of time, but you can’t really anticipate the good stuff.

When you hear something someone says that piques your interest, drill down on it.

Go further. As in:

What do you mean by that?

Fascinating…tell me more.

What happened next?

What…say that again? What happened?

That kind of questioning opens up the floodgates for new insights and principles.

If you just move onto the next question, you usually lose a goldmine in the process.

6. Be curious

Curiosity is your best friend as a leader.

When you’re interviewing, act more like a 6-year-old than a 36-year-old.

Ask why…a lot.

If you’re genuinely curious, ask:

Why did you think that?

Why do you think that happened?

Why didn’t you quit?

Why did you make that decision?

‘How’ is another amazing curiosity question:

How did you even think that was possible?

Wait, how did that happen?

How did you possibly think that might work?

Even in a meeting setting, you will learn so much more about the person you’re talking with or the issue you’re studying if you stay curious.

The best leaders I know are insatiably curious.

They want to know how and why things work, and they want to know more about the things they don’t know about.

So…be curious.

7. Forget about yourself

Too many leaders are interested in making a point rather than asking a question.

And that’s a critical mistake.

If you’re always trying to show how smart you are, you accomplish the opposite.

When I started my podcast in the fall of 2014, my wife listened to the first few episodes and said (in a very loving way), “You talk too much.”

I felt like saying, “It’s MY podcast!”

But she was right.

Since that time, I try to talk less than 10% of the time in a interview (unless the interview is designed to be a two-way conversations, as a few have been).

I’ve tried to talk a lot less in my daily leadership as well. It’s way too easy for me to dominate meetings and I have to put a constant check on my tongue and brain.

After all, leaders, when you listen first and speak second, people are far more interested in what you have to say.

What Do You Think?

Hopefully asking better questions leaves you and whoever you’re talking with feel amazing after a conversation. That’s my goal whenever I talk to a leader, on air or off air.

If you want unlimited free access to my podcast, you can subscribe for free here on any of these channels:



TuneIn Radio

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In the meantime, what helps you ask better questions? Scroll down and leave a comment!

learn about you as a leader

What People Learn About You as a Leader Without You Saying A Word

As a leader, people are always anxious to figure out who you really are.

It’s understandable. A leader’s primary commodity is trust. People follow leaders they trust. Violate that trust, and people stop following you.

Many leaders talk a good game. And that’s understandable.

Yet habits and actions reveal more about any leader than words. And that’s what people study. As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” And that’s exceptionally true in leadership. 

So what actions are people looking at? What are they really studying to see whether you are a good leader to follow?

In my experience, there are at least 5 things that reveal who you really are as a leader. It’s also easy to overlook these 5 things, or to convince yourself that what you say will compensate for what you do if what you do falls short.

Yet nothing a leader says eventually outweighs what a leader does. Your actions—not your words—create your leadership and your legacy.

without using words

So what should you be watching as a leader?

1. Whether you deliver on your promises

You never need to open your mouth for your team to determine whether they can trust you.

Trust, after all, is confidence.

The best way to establish confidence as a leader is to do what you said you’re going to do when you said you’re going to do it.

The challenge, of course, is that’s much harder to do than it seems.

Be careful about what you promise.

Be even more careful about how you deliver. It is far better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to offer assurances that mean nothing.

And if you mess up, own up. People respect that.

And then do everything in your power not to repeat the same mistake again.

2. Whether you truly value your family or their family

I was talking to a leader the other week who was trying to figure out how much time to take off when there was so much to do at his rapidly growing church.

As we discussed this, it occurred to me that how he valued his family would signal whether he wanted his staff to value their families.

Most team members want a senior leader to go home at night to see his family.

The late night, early morning and all weekend emails actually discourage your staff.  So do the seven day work weeks.

Even if you tell your staff “you take time off, I need to work,” they rarely feel secure in taking that time off.

Unfortunately, it took me years to learn that my working longer hours communicates to the team that it’s never safe for them to take time off.

How you value your family signals to your team whether you value their families.

3. What your real priorities are

You don’t need to tell people what your true priorities are; they can see them.

Often there’s a disconnect in many leaders’ minds between what they think their priorities are and what they actually are.

What reveals your real priorities?

What you spend your time on.

What you spend your money on.

What you measure.

What you reward.

You can say someone or something is important, but if you never fund it, never spend time on it, never assess results or reward progress, people will rightly conclude it’s not a priority.

If you say reaching young families is a priority but you budget $500 a year for it and refuse to put your best staff or volunteers on the project, it’s not a priority.

As a leader, your calendar and your organizational budget reveal what you value most.

4. Whether people matter to you

Leaders juggle so many issues that it’s hard to not be constantly distracted or pre-occupied when talking to someone.

It’s easy to become a leader who brushes people off, looks impatient and simply sees people as a means to an end.

People aren’t a means to an end; they’re actually the end. Ultimately, we’re all in the people business.

When you meet someone, ask yourself:

Did you stop? 

Did you listen?

Did you look them in the eye?

Did you follow up?

How you treat people is a sign that they matter. Or a sign they don’t.

5. What you’re really like when the pressure’s on

Most of us like to grade ourselves on our good days or on our average days.

And that sets the tone of a lot of your leadership.

But what do people really watch for?

How you handle things on bad days.

How you responded during your last crisis will tell you exactly where your character is at.

Most of us will look back to the last crisis and wince. But that’s okay: it establishes the baseline from which progress needs to be made.

Crisis reveals character, and, as much as you wish it wasn’t true, your team is watching you intensely on your bad days.

What Else?

If you want more on character, heart, health and leadership, I wrote a full chapter about it in my best selling church leadership book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

In the meantime, what do you look for in other leaders?

And what do you look for in yourself?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


5 Things Great Leaders Know About Their Emotions That Others Don’t


Some days you orobably think it would be better if you could lead without them.

You get excited about a new idea only to become discouraged when no one else thinks it’s a great idea…or it doesn’t work.

As a church leader, you spend most of Monday wishing Sunday had been different, and it’s rarely healthy.

You get one nasty email and it ruins your day week.

Your bad day at work becomes a bad night at home.

Your mood dictates too much of the tone at the office.

Misunderstood and unaddressed emotions sink more leadership potential than most of us realize.

If you don’t understand your emotions or know how to manage them, you will never reach your leadership potential.

And yet emotions are absolutely necessary for great leaders.

So how do you manage your emotions?

There are 5 practices effective leaders adopt when it comes to their emotions. Knowing them can make a huge difference in your leadership.


So what do effective leaders do with their emotions?

Well, great leaders:

1. Never let today’s emotions drive tomorrow’s decisions

When emotions drive decisions, you almost never make great decisions.

For sure, great decision making is a combination of the head and the heart.

But think about all the terrible decisions you’ve made when you were emotional:

You said terrible things.

You fired someone you wish you hadn’t.

You hired someone you wish you hadn’t.

You lost your temper in a meeting.

You broke up.

You ate too much.

You drove so fast you got a killer ticket.

You almost quit.

You did quit.

Wise leaders know that. They realize that rash things they do today impact tomorrow.

They have come to realize that no matter how they feel in the moment, a good night’s sleep, some prayer, discussing the matter with wise friends and even some distance will make for a better decision down the road.

I had to learn this the hard way, but it’s such a good principle: Don’t make tomorrow’s decision on today’s emotions.

2. Refuse to let emotions distort reality

Emotions distort reality.

It’s never as bad as you think when you’re emotional. And it’s likely not as great as you think either.

Emotions make you see negative things more negatively than you should, and positive things even more positively than you should.

Even positive emotions can hurt you when they are detached from reality. If you’re overly positive, you can ignore reality, miss impending dangers and gloss over problems that actually require your attention.

Time is your friend when it comes to making wise decisions. Putting a little distance between your emotions and your decisions is a great strategy.

So is wise counsel. Great leaders trust the judgment of other people as much as they trust their own.

And when they’re emotional, they trust the judgment of others more than they trust their own.

3. Won’t let emotions spawn selfish behaviour

Bad days or bad emotions are most often fueled by pain.

A stinging email triggers a deep hurt. A bad staff situation eats away at your joy. A season without momentum erodes your self-confidence.

You end as a leader in pain. And pain is selfish.

In the same way that stubbing your toe makes you forget about whatever else you were doing until the pain is resolved, your emotional pain (no matter its source) makes you more selfish as a leader.

People in pain:

Don’t listen well to others.

Withdraw and sulk.

Blame others.

Eventually turn every conversation to a conversation about themselves and their needs.

Want others to share their misery or sadness.

Seek attention.

And selfish leaders are never effective leaders.

Effective leaders know that.

The best way to get rid of your selfishness is to get rid of your pain.

Pray about it. See a counsellor. Drill down on your issues.

4. Let emotions fuel passion

Emotion isn’t all bad.

After all, who wants to follow an emotionless leader?

In fact, when you look at churches that are doing a great job of reaching adults under 35, passion is an indisputable characteristic (here are the other 4). Passion is directly fueled by emotion and is incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to fake.

Consequently, great leaders realize there is no sustained or contagious passion without emotion.

You are attracted to people who are passionate, or at least you can’t easily dismiss them.

When you lead with passion, teach with passion and preach with passion, your leadership becomes far more magnetic.

Plus, passion ends up fueling you. It’s what makes you get out of bed in the morning and drives you on.

Effective leaders are emotional, but they ensure that the emotions that drive them in leadership are the emotions that positively impact others.

5. Keep their hearts fully engaged

Your heart gets beat up in leadership, and as a result it’s easy to pull your heart back. To never engage. To stop trusting. To withdraw.

Effective leaders simply don’t do that.

They realized that the great leaders push past the hurt, the cynicism and the pain and keep their hearts fully engaged.

They decide to hope again, to trust again and to believe again.

Why? Because when your heart is engaged and alive, you become a better leader.

When you feel a full range of emotions (both positive and negative) you can empathize with people who are hurting and celebrate with people who are celebrating.

You can walk with a group or congregation through a hard time and celebrate joyfully in the great moments.

To do that, you need to keep your heart healthy and in tune.

I wrote about the top 10 habits of leaders who effectively guard their hearts here.

And if you think your heart isn’t, here are some signs it might be burn out and some resources to help you get your heart back.

What Are You Learning?

If you want to drill deeper, I wrote more about the impact of emotions on leadership in my best-selling book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

Managing your emotions in leadership is one of the things that distinguishes great leaders from the rest.

What are you learning about managing your emotions as a leader?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Church shoppers

5 Key Differences Between Church Shoppers and the Unchurched

Every week you hope to have new people at your church.

But there’s a world of difference between reaching the unchurched and attracting serial church shoppers.

I’m fortunate to be part of a church where we’ve had first-time guests every single weekend since we launched eight years ago.

While it’s easy to think of a visitor as simply a ‘visitor,’ not all visitors are the same.

Like many of you, our goal is to reach the unchurched. And in nearly every community, there’s a growing number of unchurched people to reach.

But there’s another group entirely that shows up at your church regularly: church shoppers.

Serial church shoppers are not the same as the family that moved and is looking for a church in their new community who might try five churches before settling. Nor are they the same as family that is leaving a church they’ve been part of for years, has exited well (here are some thoughts on how to do that) and is looking for a new place to call home for a long time.

Families moving to your community and Christians who transfer well out of another church can be welcome additions to any local church.

But serial church shoppers are different. They’re consumers.

If you end up facing a true church shopper, you might discover that they’ve been to 5 different churches in the last 10 years, and will soon have another one (that’s not yours).  Or you might discover they’ve never settled down anywhere and have 3 churches they sample regularly, when it’s convenient.

As a leader, being aware of the difference between church shoppers and who you truly want to reach is critical.

I have seen far too many church leaders waste time and energy trying to please church shoppers, to no avail. Do it regularly, and it will take you completely off mission.

Trying to appease a serial church shopper is an exercise in pleasing the un-pleasable.

Here are 5 key differences between church shoppers and the unchurched every church leader should know to ensure your church stays on mission.

Church shoppers1. Church shoppers think their job is to evaluate; the unchurched are looking to learn

A church shopper comes into every church with an evaluation mindset.

Is this my kind of music?

Is the preaching good?

Did the people notice me?

Do I like this place?

It’s not that unchurched people don’t ask the same questions. They do. And be honest. To some extent, we all do.

But a church shopper thinks the church exists to please them. After all, that’s why they left the last eight churches.

An unchurched person might start with evaluation, but they ultimately don’t stay there. They want to learn. They want to grow. They want to challenge and explore, and most are very open to a much deeper journey than one that starts and ends with evaluation.

Church shoppers ask, “Did I like it?” And the moment they don’t, they’re done.

If you really boil it down, serial church shoppers think their mission is to criticize, not contribute.

2. Church shoppers move quickly from love to hate; the unchurched warm up to you gradually

It’s not uncommon to have a church shopper tell you how much they love love love your church on the first Sunday.

But over the years I’ve seen this pattern: people who love your church immediately and go out of their way to tell you how it’s the best thing ever rarely feel that way for long.

In fact, they often end up disliking your church just as strongly. And they’re vocal about it.

The unchurched (and healthy Christian transfer growth) is different. They might like your service, but they’re a little more reserved in getting involved or even letting their heart buy in.

In my experience, the people who begin a little cautiously or at least moderately and who gradually warm up turn out to be the healthiest church members in the long run.

Contrast that with a church shopper. Sometimes it seems like everything church shoppers love about your church today they will dislike tomorrow.

3. Church shoppers want your church to be like the last church (that they left); unchurched people don’t

I continue to be amazed at how often a church shopper will tell you how much they didn’t like their last church but then ask you why your church isn’t more like that church.

Our old church had a men’s ministry.

Our old church had more singable music.

Our old church had far more mid-week activities happening.

Which makes me want to ask: “Then why did you leave?”

It’s actually a good question.

The unchurched, if they have any concept of a ‘last church’ are usually opposed to some stereotype of church that revolves around judgmental preaching, boring services and outdated methods.

Often they’re railing against a straw man from the last generation. And they appreciate the alternative you’ve created.

4. Church shoppers blame the church when things go wrong; the unchurched take responsibility

Somehow, the fact that a church shopper doesn’t like any church never seems to be their fault.

It’s always the church that lets them down.

In preparing to write this post, I put feelers out on social media, asking what frustrations people experience with church shoppers. Jason Stockdale, who pastors the three month old Hills Church in Memphis, shared this story from another ministry he was part of:

A couple had been to 4-5 churches over the last 2 years, I followed up with their “connection card” when they visited. They claimed they never could get “connected” at any other church, but really liked our church the few times they had been. Proceeded to then tell me the son plays competitive baseball 6-7 months out of the year and the dad often travels with him on the weekends, the daughter plays competitive volleyball and soccer (pretty much year around) and the mom travels on the weekend with her. The mom worked nights as a nurse so they had no nights during the week available to get connected in a group and were rarely ever going to be at church together as a family.

I did everything I could to get them involved in one of our Sunday morning small group classes we offered, they lasted about 6 months and then he called me one day and said they were going to start looking for another church, they just didn’t feel connected to ours.

I think every church leader can relate. Sure, shift work is tough, but there are other choices in the mix that might have prompted more introspection and ownership.

Sadly, I suspect the pattern for this family might repeat itself again and again.

Why is it the people you do the most for are the people who claim you failed them?

In my experience, the unchurched, by contrast, take far more responsibility if things don’t work out. They’ll say “Hey, I’m just not sure this is the right thing for me. Keep doing what you’re doing. But I think I’m out.”

Sure, that’s disappointing, but it’s healthy.

Before we leave the subject of responsibility, here are 5 things people blame the church for…but shouldn’t.

5. Church shoppers want to lead THEIR ministry; unchurched people want to get involved in THE ministry

If a church shopper gets involved for a season, they’ll often want to lead THEIR ministry rather than get involved with your ministry.

Maybe it’s a group or something they did at their old church, or a special cause they’re passionate about.

Often with serial church shoppers, ministry involvement is more about them than it is about the mission.

Unchurched people are usually fine getting involved with the wider mission of the church. They’re content with finding their part in a larger story. They don’t have to be the story.

What Do You See?

Am I saying that ALL church shoppers are unhealthy and ALL unchurched people are healthy?


There’s likely a story under some serial church shoppers’ experience that explains the behaviour.

And is every unchurched person healthy?

No, not at all.

But I will take a genuinely unchurched person over a serial church shopper any day, not just because that relationship is far more on mission, but because it actually has the potential to change a life.

Serial church shoppers are more interested in changing a church than they are in changing their life.

Here’s to staying on mission. And if some serial church shoppers settle down in the process, that’s amazing.

In the meantime, what has you spinning your wheels when you could be reaching the unchurched instead?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

demotivate the people you work with

The 10 Best Ways To DeMotivate the People You Work With

Of all the dynamics you handle as a leader, leading people is by far the most challenging.

Very few leaders I know actively set out to discourage their team, yet all of us do it—most often unintentionally.

There’s an edge that comes with being a leader. You see problems others miss. You also see opportunities. You’re passionate. And most days, you’re driven.

And while these are great things, they also have a shadow side.

Sometimes as a leader when you think you’re doing the right thing, you’re doing the wrong thing. When you think you’re motivating people, you’re doing the opposite.

So how do you end up demotivating people in leadership?

Here are the ten very common ways leaders do it all the time.

And in case you think I’m judging, I’ve made most of these mistakes more than once. Experience is a great teacher—if you listen.

shutterstock_3997004021. Make your team do the work but steal all the credit

When a church or organization is small, you end up doing the lion’s share of the work as a leader. As a result, you get a lot of the credit when things go well.

It’s easy to get addicted to receiving credit.

But naturally, as an organization grows, more and more people do the work you used to do. That’s as it should be. The best leaders do less every year, focusing on their core strengths.

This becomes a pivot point for every leader. Insecure leaders will still want all the credit, and they’ll do whatever it takes to receive it.

One sure way to demotivate your team is to make them do the work but steal all the credit.

Secure leaders love to push other people into the spotlight. Insecure leaders don’t.

If your team is doing the work, give them the credit.

2. Micromanage people

Micromanaging only seems attractive to micromanagers. It’s never attractive to the micromanaged.

So why do leaders micromanage?

Sometimes it’s a control issue. But often it arises because a leader doesn’t know how to scale an organization.

When a church or organization is small, you can know all the details and sometimes you should know all the details.

Many leaders become addicted to knowing all the details and being in on all the decisions. And they simply can’t let go.

As a result, they’ll only ever attract followers, not true leaders. And they’ll artificially shrink the size of their organization to the span of their control.

3. Be disorganized

Disorganization demotivates. Period.

If the event you’re attending is disorganized, you want to leave early (or take over).

If the hotel you’re staying is disorganized (no rooms available when they promised…the room aren’t clean and the valet takes 30 minutes to find your car), you want your money back.

If you’re disorganized, you make it exceedingly difficult for your team to succeed.

One the greatest things you can do for your team as a leader is to become more organized the more your organization grows.

You should get better at order, not worse, even though the task of leadership becomes more complex and demanding.

If you do the hard work of figuring that out, you’ll be a much better leader.

Here are some of my top time management tips that have helped me become much more organized.

4. Change your mind…constantly

I can be impulsive. I’m not alone in that in leadership.

Too many leaders direct their organizations according to their whims.

Every time the leader:

Reads a new book

Attends a conference

Studies a new model

Wakes up with a new idea

…the organization changes course.

This exhausts your team.

No leader builds a great future by changing course every few months.

The truly great ones find an effective strategy and stick with it.

5. Be unclear

Leadership is complex and often confusing.

So it’s natural to not be 100% certain.

Even when you’re not certain as a leader, you can be clear.  Just be honest with people that you’re not sure about the long term course, but in the meantime, tell them the 3 things you’re going to focus on.

Your team needs clarity. No one can follow ambiguity.

6. Delay decisions

Leadership is complex. We all need time to process. But leading well is learning how to make solid decisions quickly.

Can all decisions be made quickly?


But sometimes leaders fall into a rut of delaying every decision for no good reason. It becomes the leader’s default, and that’s always demotivating to a team.

Beware: the leader who always needs more time eventually runs out of time. Constant delay leads to eventual decay.

7. Don’t execute

Too many leaders live in their heads.

Great thinking is a critical part of any leader’s job, but thoughts that never see action never produce results.

Failing to execute also creates a cycle in which the team hopes, only to be disappointed. Star team members will only be disappointed for so long. Eventually, they’ll leave.

Execution separates a leader with great ideas from a leader with a great organization.

8. Say one thing and do another

Too many leaders make public statements of what they think they should say, but then live another way.

Big mistake.

Doing what you said you were going to do is the foundation of integrity. Your team loses respect for you every time they see a disconnect between what you say and what you do—organizationally or personally.

What you say publicly should always be what you do privately.

9. Offer abundant criticism

Most strong leaders I know find that criticism comes naturally.

SometimesI hate the fact that I can walk into a room and spot ten things I would change in the first 60 seconds.

Of course, that’s also strength…being able to spot the problem is one of the reasons many organizations make progress.

But that can lead leaders to always be critical. You can have a spectacular event but obsess over the three things that went wrong.

Eventually, your team will get deeply discouraged and you’ll have trouble keeping great leaders.

If you only obsess over what went wrong, you’ll never build a team committed to getting it right.

The key is to truly celebrate what went right, identify what went wrong, and keep moving.

10. Rarely encourage them

No leader has ever quit an organization because they were over-encouraged. Many have left because they were completely discouraged.

How do you know someone needs encouragement?

Simple. They’re breathing.

As a leader, you should be encouraging people every time you interact with someone. Finish an email by saying ‘thanks,’ or ‘hope your day is going well,’ or ‘I love your commitment to the mission.’

Thank volunteers for working hard, but also thank your paid staff.

Encourage your paid staff as though they weren’t paid. The positive environment that encouragement creates will eventually become worth more to them than the salary.

Don’t believe that?

Choose between a $55,000 a year job in workplace with a terrible culture, or a $50,000 a year job where you are encouraged, developed and grown.

Which would you pick? Exactly.

Should you pay your people well?

Absolutely. But in addition to giving people a raise, raise the level of encouragement you give to your team.

What Would You Add?

I wrote more about creating a positive team culture in this post. Have a look.

In the meantime, what would you add to this list? What demotivates you? Or what have you done as a leader that demotivates others?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

subtle signs your church is dying

7 Subtle Signs Your Church Is Dying

How do you know whether your church’s best days are behind it?

It’s a question that all leaders should ask—even leaders of growing churches.

As with almost everything in life, there are subtle signs your peak may be near or you may be cresting past it.

Other times, the signs of death are evident to everyone but the leaders.

If you recognize the signs early enough, you can reverse the trend, regain your energy and momentum and run with enthusiasm into a new season.

Let the signs go unattended long enough, and things could be very different.

A few weeks ago I talked to a good friend who had just finished dozens of meetings with leaders of small, struggling churches. Like me, his most recent context has been a larger church. I asked him what he discovered.

He told me of meeting after meeting of well-intentioned, Christ-loving people who were now in their 70s leading churches with just a few dozen remaining attenders. Time and again, my friend said, these leaders would tell him they never intended to take their church down this road.

It just happened.

So how do you know your church is dying?

What are the earliest warning signs?

Here are 7 I’ve seen and watch for constantly in our church.

church is dying

1. The passion of key leaders is waning

Passion is a rare and beautiful thing.

It’s often so easy to come by in your first years of leadership, but so hard to sustain for a life time.

Yet passion is so vital to leadership because the passion of a church will rarely exceed the passion of its leaders.

How hot is your passion? Here are 5 signs it’s white hot.

2. Innovation is rare

In the early days, most churches innovate.

You have to.

But as churches grow larger and more effective, it’s easy to let innovation wane.

Do this, and the innovators will eventually leave your church, having grown bored. They’ll throw their energy behind a church that will experiment.

Down the road, that will leave you in a place where—even when you want to innovate—you can’t innovate, because all the ideas people have abandoned ship.

When was the last time you did something truly new? If you can’t answer that question, beware.

3. Management is beginning to replace leadership

The start-up phase of any church is leadership intensive, and, frankly, there’s not much to manage.

As your church grows, that will change. You will need to manage what you’ve built.

I found great management became a major need for us at Connexus Church, where I serve, when we were between the 800-1000 attendance mark. Without great systems and organization, you will never be able to sustain something that size, let alone steward it well.

The trap here is that once you start managing, you may stop building anything of value. Instead, you simply manage what you’ve already built.

If all you do is manage what you’ve already built, you won’t have much left to manage in the future.

The key is to manage well but keep leading—keep innovating, keep changing, keep experimenting and keep figuring out new ways to accomplish your mission.

4. Maintenance is beginning to trump mission

When I meet leaders of dying churches, they are almost always in what I call ‘maintenance mode’—maintaining the organization they’ve built has become more important than the mission that got them started.

In fact, when you drill down, very few can articulate or agree on what the mission is. They just agree they need to maintain what they’ve got.

As long as the mission is central (especially in the church), you will have a bright future.

When maintenance begins to trumps mission, the end is near.

5. Your church has become fixated on being…your church

Effective churches get noticed. Especially these days when they’re rarer than before.

How you respond when you receive attention is critical.

We’ve all seen celebrities who become obsessed with being famous. Whether it’s Kanye or the Kardashians, you can make an industry these days out of simply being you.

If your church is getting a reputation (even in your small denomination or community), don’t let it distract you.

Help other leaders for sure.

But stay on mission. Be more obsessed with the mission than you are with anything else.

What got you there (the mission) will keep you there long term AND force you to reinvent.

6. You criticize younger, upstart leaders

Every leader is a young leader at some point.

Young leaders bring innovation, ideas and strategies to the table. In fact, they likely got your church to where it is today. Which is amazing.

But no one stays young forever.

After a decade in leadership, you’ll find yourself surrounded by younger leaders with different ideas.

Rather than deciding to learn from them, leaders of dying churches resist them, dismiss them and sometimes ridicule them.

That’s a critical mistake.

When you find yourself sitting around a table criticizing the ideas of young leaders, get nervous.

Someone used to dismiss you, and look what happened to them.

7. Your relationship with God has gone flat

Every leader has ups and downs in their relationship with God.

I do. You do.

Over a prolonged period of time, you cannot let your personal relationship with God go flat. Yet it does for so many leaders.

When your relationship with Christ goes flat, sound the alarm:

Get on your knees

Go see a counsellor

Tell a friend

Take a vacation

Buy a new bible

Get whatever help you need

Behind every vibrant church you find leaders with a vibrant faith.

When you’re recruiting new leaders to your team, find leaders whose passion for Jesus and the mission burns white hot.

If you’re surrounded by passionate people, you will almost automatically become more passionate.

What Have You Noticed?

I outline other issues facing the church in my latest book, Lasting Impact, 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. You can get a copy for you and your team or even read a free chapter here if you want more.

Thom Rainer and I also talk about why churches die in this episode of my leadership podcast. Subscribe for free and listen on iTunes or listen right here:

I’d love to hear from you.

What are some subtle signs of a dying church you’ve seen?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Ministry is harder than it was a decade ago

Why Ministry is Harder Than It Was a Decade Ago

Ever feel like ministry is harder than it was a decade ago?

You’re not alone.

I am an eternal optimist when it comes to the church, but I agree that ministry is more challenging than it’s ever been.

Understanding why is key to figuring out what to do and how to respond.

You may or may not like the change in culture you see around you, but the fastest path to ineffectiveness in the church is to ignore the change you see around you.

So why is ministry a little more challenging than it used to be?

Here are 6 reasons…and a beacon of hope to guide us into a better future.

ministry is harder than it used to be

1. The automatic return to church is over

There was an assumption in ministry (it still lingers in certain circles) that although young adults who grew up in the church might walk away for a season, they’ll come back as soon as they have kids.

The research shows that’s just not true.

Ditto the assumption that unchurched people will turn to the church the moment they hit a bit crisis in their lives.

Unchurched people think about church about as much as the average Christian thinks about synagogue—rarely.

Will you occasionally have people who turn to the church in times of crisis? Of course. Or young families who come back? Absolutely.

But if you treat the exception like the rule, you’ll be deeply frustrated with your inability to realize your mission of reaching people with the Gospel.

2. The gap between what Christians believe and the culture believes is bigger

If you’ve sensed that the values many Christians hold are significantly different than the values our culture holds to, you would be right.

What Christians believe about sexuality, money, love, drugs, ethics and compassion are increasingly different from what our neighbours who don’t go to church believe.

So how do you bridge that gap?

Too many preachers just yell at the world for not believing what we believe.  Ditto for Christians on social media.

Not only is that a mistake; it’s a terrible strategy.

Guess what, Christians are supposed to be different than non-Christians. It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s happened.

Sharing why we believe what we believe in love is a far more effective strategy than yelling at the world in hate.

In a few weeks on my Leadership Podcast, I’ll be interviewing David Kinnaman, President of Barna Research, on how Christians should interact with a changing culture.

To make sure you don’t miss the conversation, you can subscribe to the podcast for free.

3. Christians are seen as irrelevant

A few years ago I connected with a news anchor who has worked for the major TV networks in the US and Canada.

He was shocked that anyone under 50 attended church. He had no idea that there were still churches that were actually growing.

That attitude shouldn’t shock Christians, but it does.

I’ve been introducing myself as a pastor for two decades now. At first people seemed either impressed or dismissive. Some people were glad to see a younger leader in ministry. And many were open to checking out a church that was making changes.

There were always a few who showed disdain when I mentioned I was a pastor, often, I suspect, because they had had a negative experience with church.

Today when I introduce myself, I’m more often greeted by bewilderment or confusion than anything.

People just don’t seem to have a category for people who work at churches. It’s like people feel sorry for us.

Irrelevance is more difficult than relevance because there is no common ground. You have to establish it from scratch.

But it also provides opportunity.  Imagine becoming known as the most radically loving group of people anyone has ever met.

4. Fewer gifted people are entering ministry

This one bothers me.

I talk to leaders every week who talk about how hard it is to find great leaders to staff their ministry.

Naturally, you should raise up leaders from within, and we do that.

But the truth is fewer and fewer bright, capable young adults are considering full time church ministry as an option.

That’s heartbreaking.

I’ve written a few posts on the subject.

Some people might say “Well, people just don’t feel called into ministry.” I get that, but I think it might be time rethink what it means to be called into ministry.

Similarly, I think many leaders who could make a huge contribution to ministry are in the business and start up space instead. I’d love to see more entrepreneurs enter ministry.

5. Contemporary churches are less rare than they used to be

In the 90s and early 2000s, churches that switched to better music, more relevant teaching and generally became more effective at what they did were few and far between.

Many early adopters who made changes like this would find themselves as the only church in their town/region/denomination that had adapted to a more contemporary form of church.

That’s not the case anymore.

Many churches that have adapted a contemporary form of worship or even a particular sub-style of church now find themselves in cities with other churches doing exactly the same thing.

When it comes to contemporary churches, what was once unique is now commonplace. What was innovative is now normal.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing. And it helps explain that what got you far a decade ago doesn’t take you as far today.

Cool church itself might even be dying, as I argue here. But again, that’s not a bad thing. Something far greater and more effective will emerge.

6. The internet happened

A decade ago, there were no smart phones and a meaningful percentage of people were still on dial-up.

No more.

Today, anyone can listen to any preacher or worship leader any time, anywhere, on any device, pretty much for free.

Courtesy of the internet, the local pastor is not the sole voice in a congregation’s life.

You and I are being compared against people who are often far more talented that we are. And again, that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing.

There will always be a role for a local communicator and pastor who knows his or her people and loves them. A powerful role.

But many in your church now have a handful of pastors and leaders they follow. Maybe dozens.

It’s just different.

Why None of This Is Hopeless

So, is it time to lament and console ourselves?

Not at all.

First of all, it’s Jesus’ church, not ours. Jesus has more invested in the future of the church than any of us do.

The church will prevail because it’s His, not ours.

The first step in solving a problem is diagnosing it, and hopefully this helps get us  up the field.

As I outlined in this post, great leaders never make excuses. Instead, they study the reasons things are the way they are, and then they make progress.

Where one leader sees obstacles, another sees opportunities.

I encourage you to see all of these as opportunities.

What does that look like? Well….

If you’re relying on the automatic return to church, stop that. Develop a strategy to reach the unreached.

Speak into the gap between what you believe and the culture believe with love, not with judgment.

If you’re seen as irrelevant, develop some common ground and even friendships with people who don’t understand why you do what you do.

If you have a leader crisis, challenge some leaders to leave what they’re doing and serve full time in church leadership.

If lots of churches are doing what you’re doing and what you’re doing isn’t working for you, change what you’re doing.

Instead of feeling threatened by the internet, use it. We just completely redesigned our website at Connexus Church to become mobile optimal, added an online campus and made many more changes to reach the unchurched. Everyone who’s not in church is online. Go to them if they haven’t come to you.

That’s what I’m learning these days about some of the challenges facing all church leaders.

I address numerous practical solutions in my book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow if you want more.

In the meantime, what are you seeing and how are you responding?

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church culture

A 5 Step Guide on How to Create An Amazing Church Culture

Every church has a culture. Yours does. Mine does.

If the culture is healthy, amazing things happen.

People love being there.

People grow.

Great leaders come and stay.

Your church becomes attractive to the community and more fully accomplishes its mission

 But sadly, for many churches, the culture isn’t healthy.

Culture is invisible but determinative. You can’t see it, but it defines so much.

A bad culture will consistently undermine an amazing mission, vision and strategy.

As Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Think about it:

Culture is the reason you love shopping in some stores and despise shopping in others.

It’s why you love some airlines and pass on others.

It’s why some families always have fun when they’re together and others can’t stand to be in the same room.

So the question becomes: how do you create an amazing culture?

church culture

I’ve worked hard on creating a better church culture over the years.

As I’ve gotten healthier, our church has gotten healthier.

Two years ago we finally wrote down six cultural values at Connexus Church, where I serve.  It took us a year to define what those values were. You can access them here (scroll down when you reach the page), and I’m emailing a PDF copy to everyone on my email list if prefer your own version (subscribe to my email list here). I also preached through our cultural values in this weekend series called Doing Time.

So how did we get there?

We started with a one day off-site where our leadership team brainstormed around some of the concepts outlined below. Then, for about an hour or two each month during our leadership team meetings, we refined the concepts and the language behind our values until we came up with our final six.

Throughout the process, two resources were particularly helpful for us:

Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage

Andy Stanley’s two-part Leadership Podcast episode, Defining Your Organization’s Culture.

Although this resource wasn’t around two years ago, Craig Groeschel has a fantastic new leadership podcast and his most recent episode is on creating a values-driven culture. It’s a must-listen.

Capturing your organization’s culture is helpful because it allows you to reproduce it and export it as you grow. If your culture is healthy, it will become one of your greatest assets.

If you want an easy way to acclimatize every new staff member, board member, volunteer or person to your organization, having defined, memorable and repeatable values is one of the most effective ways to do it.  If your organization’s cultural values are NOT written down, acclimatizing new team members can take a year, or actually, it might never happen.

You can cut that time in less than half and double the buy-in by having your culture defined. Having a healthy, exportable culture is a key to every effective organization’s growth.

What follows is a 5 step guide on how to create a healthy church culture that echoes throughout your organization, even if you’re starting with a bad culture.

Step 1: Identify and eliminate the toxins

Church culture isn’t naturally healthy because people aren’t naturally healthy.

As a leader, one of your chief jobs is to figure out why your culture isn’t healthy and change that.

Look for the toxins that are making your culture unhealthy.

Conflict, selfishness, personal agendas or even toxins like a lack of passion for the mission can be lethal in a church.

If you want to drill down further, I outline 6 warning signs that your church culture is toxic in this post. And I outline 6 early warning signs that a person is toxic in this post.

You can’t eliminate what you don’t identify, so identify the things you want gone from your culture.

Step 2: Model the change you want to see

Here’s a sobering reality for all of us who lead: your church will only be as healthy as you are.

Expecting a church to be healthy when its leader isn’t is like expecting an athlete to run a marathon with a missing heart. It’s not possible.

Any conversation about church health starts in the mirror for a leader.

As I discuss in detail in my book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, healthy leaders produce healthy churches.  The healthier you are as a leader, the healthier your church will be.

The same goes with all the change you want to see.

As a leader, you need to embody the things you want your organization to embody.

Want to see a church that invites people on Sundays? Then invite people on Sundays.

Want to see a church that gives generously? Then give generously.

Want to see a church that has deep passion for the mission? Then exude passion.

You see the point.

As a leader, culture starts with you.

Step 3: Start with WHO embodies your values

So how do you find your values? There are a lot of words in the English language. You have to choose just a few of them to define you.

Further more, how do you avoid meaningless platitudes like “Value Excellence” which sound great but practically mean nothing.

On that first off-site day we did, I had a spontaneous thought that ended up moving our team forward immensely.

Rather than start with what we valued, I decided to start with who embodied the best of our church.

Let me explain.

I went to the whiteboard and asked “Of all the people who attend our church, who best embodies what we’re about and WANT to be about in the future?”

Immediately, names started coming to all of us. I wrote them down.

Your church has these people too: they are amazing. They are all you want to see in a church member and more.

Then I asked a simple question: “Why? What is about them that makes them the embodiment of our mission, vision and strategy?”

I’ll come back to those answers in Step 4.

But before we move on, I also created a second list.

Next we made a list of people who, honestly, didn’t embody our mission, vision and values, or to put it more positively, who are the people we would need to really encourage along in order to get them in line with our real mission? We actually wrote their names down (and then I burned the list).

And we asked the same question: “Why? What is it about them that makes them the opposite of what we want to accomplish?”

I know that’s dangerous.

Maybe it’s even sinful.

But it’s true. And you know it’s true.

And it was SO clarifying.

Figuring out who you value helps you discover what you value.

Step 4: Isolate the unique principles

Figuring out why some people embodied our mission, vision and strategy and why some people didn’t was a break through for us. It helped us get to the values that we, frankly, valued. And those we didn’t.

When I asked our team why the people who best embodied what we’re about and WANT to be about in the future were their top choices, the team started saying things like:

Because they serve so selflessly

Because it’s not about them

Because they are so generous

Because they are always considerate of other people

Because they make it happen

Because they are all about our common mission, vision and strategy

Those were the first clues as to what our cultural values were.

“Make it Happen” actually made it to the list of final values a year later. We just love people who are willing to do what it takes no matter what the obstacle, and we didn’t want to lose that value as we grew.

Similarly, when I asked our team why the people who didn’t embody our mission, vision and strategies make it on the list, our team started saying things like:

Because it’s always about them

Because they criticize but don’t contribute

Because they don’t actually value unchurched people

Because they want to be served, rather than serve

Again, that helped us understand what our values were.

Try it. On a sheet of paper write the names of ten people who embody what your church is all about and what you WANT it to be about. And then write down why.  Do the same for people who AREN’T what your church is all about, and again, write down why.

You will learn a ton about what you value. Then burn the lists and save the principles.

For a few hours each month, we chiselled away at the principles we unearthed that day until a year later, after a lot of debate, discussion and prayer, we had our final six values.

Step 5: Create memorable, exportable language

It’s one thing to know what your values are as an organization.

It’s another to phrase them as a way that’s memorable and exportable.

In our case, we decided to create a two word phrases for each value (i.e. “Battle Mediocrity”) followed by a question (i.e. “Am I allowing what is good to stand in the way of being great?”).

Having 6 two-word phrases allows the values to slip into every day language, and the question makes the application personal.

We also wanted the values to be both prescribe and describe our church. In other words, we want it to be accurate enough that people say “for sure, that’s you,” but aspirational enough that it keeps us motivated to keep getting better.

However you do it, having short, memorable phrases will help the values spread through your organization.

It means you can bring new staff and volunteers up to speed much faster and that as you expand, what you value will remain shared.

Does sharing your values this way work? Well, as I mentioned, our values proved so popular with our volunteers (who kept telling us they wished their workplace/family operated the same way) that I ended up preaching through them on the weekend. You can watch the Doing Time series here or listen via podcast.

What Have You Learned?

That’s what I’ve learned about how to define and reproduce cultural values.

Again, I’ll email out the PDF of our cultural values (including a frameable artistic version we did for our church) later this week to my subscribers. You can get that by subscribing here.

What are you learning? Scroll down and leave a comment.