This week, our podcast focused on creating an inviting atmosphere in our 200churches. We believe that an inviting atmosphere begins with the people who attend your church, and we outlined five steps that you can take at your own 200church that will get you started on cultivating a warm, welcoming environment wherever you are, and no matter the size of your budget.
While we start with ourselves as people whose characters, personalities, and practices are what shape the atmosphere of our services, we should also pay close attention to the overall feel of our church facilities. Environments are important and we should take time to consider the message that we're sending to people as they walk in our doors.
No matter where a church is located or how many people are attending, we should always be ready for visitors to walk into one of our services. As leaders, we're ultimately responsible for the experience that people have when they attend, and a large part of that experience is related to the environment of our church.
The longer you've been at your church, the more difficult it is to be an accurate barometer of its atmosphere. When I first came to work at the church where I now serve, I had so many ideas on how we could make a change here or there to impact the overall atmosphere in our facilities. As time has passed, however, I inevitably have lost some of my ability to recognize those areas. This happens to all of us, so here are some easy ways to get a feel for what your environment is currently like, and how to move forward.
It may sound trivial, but if our church environments are less than appealing, we reduce the likelihood of attracting and retaining new attenders. Not only that, but we're doing a disservice to the people who are currently attending our church by not working to ensure that the place where they come to worship is always inviting, welcoming, and friendly.
Here are a few final questions to ask on environment:
If you had to give bad answers to any of the above questions, what can you do about it? Who is going to address these areas? Are there leaders or volunteers who are gifted and passionate in any of these areas, to whom you could delegate some tasks? You may not need to spend much, if any, money, just a little time and energy removing the old, and straightening, cleaning, polishing, and painting what's left!
Before anyone comes to visit us, my wife and I spend some quality time picking up, cleaning up, and working to make sure that someone's visit to our home is as pleasant and enjoyable as possible. Whether it's students from our church or some friends we're having over for the first time, we know that environment is important. We understand that about our homes, but because of familiarity and shared ownership, we miss it at church. It's time we applied the same standards to our churches!
As leaders of 200churches, our desire should be that our churches would, at the very least, be welcoming. There really is only one chance to make a first impression and we want people to experience a welcoming and friendly atmosphere when they come into our church. But how?
In Andy Stanley's excellent book, "Deep and Wide," he writes about creating irresistible environments, and much of what he focuses on has to do with facilities. While we'd encourage you to read his book and take his thoughts to heart, we also recognize that as leaders of 200churches we often have very limited budgets and facilities to work with. We can keep the church clean, but we couldn't possibly afford a remodel.
What we'd encourage you to start with isn't facilities, but people. We can have a welcoming and inviting environment at our church, and it's the people who will create that environment. It begins with the leadership, but eventually bleeds down to everyone in our congregation.
At 200churches, we believe there are 5 elements to a welcoming atmosphere, and all of them can be easily achieved no matter what your budget or facilities are:
When it comes to connecting people in ministries, we should learn a lesson from the Cable TV companies – we should bundle! Instead of overseeing twelve different ministries in your 200church, what if we appointed four volunteers, or board members, or deacons, or elders over three ministries each? Then you would only need to connect with four people instead of twelve.
Some people are wired to serve in a ministry, others to lead a ministry, and still others to oversee several ministries in your church. It is very common to have people who serve, and people who lead, but too many 200churches do not bundle. They do not utilize people to oversee several ministries at once.
In our 200church, we have doctors, business owners, teachers and professors, supervisors, small business entrepreneurs, people who are self employed working from home, etc. Even though our church is relatively small, we have many people who can oversee several ministries at once, and I'll bet your church does too! All we have to do is change our thinking, expectations, and our approach.
Perhaps our thinking is just too small. By nature I am a person who enjoys serving more than I enjoy being served. That's actually a large part of why I became a pastor, to serve others. If I am not careful, my internal make-up will unwittingly work against me in this area of how I think about equipping the Body to serve.
I have had to learn to think differently about this. I used to think that people were too busy to serve. Now I know that we make time for the priorities in our lives. I used to think that people came to church to receive ministry, now I know that people are the church, and that they were made for ministry. I used to think that I was the one equipped for ministry, now I know that my main role is to equip believers to serve each other and our community.
I have had to adjust my expectations about believers serving in ministry. I used to expect very little, and that is what I got. I used to expect people would not want to serve, but now I expect that when I match people with ministry according to their gifts and passion, they love to serve and they live to serve. I used to expect that people would not do "the job" as well as I could, but now I'm beginning to realize that some people are better suited for certain responsibilities than I could ever be.
Too often in 200churches, we act reactively when someone quits or steps out of a ministry. We respond to the crisis by grabbing anyone to fill the slot. Instead of trying to push someone into a ministry on the fly, we should concentrate on finding people early and equipping them for ministry. As leaders of 200churches, we should keep the deck stacked, and the bench deep, so that there are always others ready to step in, move up, or slide over to meet a ministry need.
Bundle for Survival!
This is an area where we are growing in our approach. In fact, the way we think, what we expect, and how we approach - these are all areas where we constantly have to be intentional. These things certainly don't just happen by accident in a 200church!
As our churches grow from 25 to 50, 50 to 100, or 100 to 200, we have to develop mid-level leadership between us and our members serving in ministry. Where most 200churches fail is that we don't intentionally delegate two or more ministries under one lay leader's oversight. When we do, it makes our administrative tasks so much more doable and allows us to accomplish more by personally overseeing fewer people.
If we have five or ten Sunday School classes, we often will have a director of some sort overseeing them. In the same way, we can bundle similar ministries together and place one director to oversee them all.
We have bundled youth and children's ministries; small groups, fellowship, and assimilation; discipleship and pastoral care; and we are currently working on bundling greeters, ushers, and hospitality under one couple who will oversee the recruitment, training, and scheduling of all three.
We do have to think differently about letting go of ministry in order to hand it over to capable and passionate members of our church. We can change our expectations and see how people live up to higher levels when we believe in them. And when we think differently and expect different outcomes, our approach naturally changes in positive ways.
While "bundling" may not always work for our financial benefit in the world of utilities, it sure can help us navigate and survive a growth spurt in our 200church!
In 200churches, we have the opportunity to get to know new people the first Sunday that they walk into our church. Chances are, your church has fewer than 300 members, and new faces stand out to you a mile away. That’s great! But how do we turn those new attenders into new volunteers? How long does it take us to get people involved in ministry?
We believe that 200churches should get people involved ASAP. For us, that means either the first or second week that somebody starts to attend our church. But a lot of times, pastors and leaders hesitate to move that quickly? What’s standing in our way?
Fear: (What are we afraid of?)
So we know there’s a problem. What’s the solution? How do we get new people involved more quickly?
First, we need to define ministry properly.
Ministry looks like God’s people using the gifts and abilities he’s given them, to serve him and others. Most of the ministry that God will do through the people in our church will happen outside of the four walls of our building.
(So even though we’re talking specifically about how to get people involved in our local fellowship or gathering – we can’t forget that the big picture is about equipping our people to be ministers and to be serving God at their workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, and homes.)
Second, we have to be committed to trying to only do what only we can do.
Andy Stanley really has stressed this over the years. It is very hard to do, certainly impossible to do all the time, but it is a great target to shoot for.
Third, when it comes to ministry, together is always better.
We need to take people with us, and invite people to join us as we do ministry together. A couple weeks ago we wrote a blog called “The Importance of Delegation – Don’t be a Hero”. In it we talked about delegating to others, and multiplying our efforts.
Fourth, we need to change what we're afraid of:
Local church ministry can be the beginning of understanding that “ministry” is much larger than what happens on Sunday mornings. What are other ways you have used to get people serving sooner rather than later?
In the average 200church, how long do you think it takes a person to go from their first time visit to their first time involvement in ministry? A month? Two? Six? That’s a good question, and I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer to it, but I am willing to bet whatever the length of time, it’s too long! Why does it take us so long to use people, encourage their participation, employ their gift, engage their heart, and let them serve?
One of the answers is fear of the unknown. We don’t know them. We don’t know their past, their successes and failures, their abilities and competencies, or their theological understandings. We are fearful of whether or not they can contribute, or if they will be a drag or blight on “our ministry”. Perhaps we’ve been burned before by someone who got involved quickly, took charge, and then performed quite badly in a number of ways, damaging our credibility as a leader.
Another reason we don’t quickly engage people in serving is because all of our slots are full. Sometimes we have people who hold a death grip on their ministry position, are almost defined by it, and are quite unwilling to give it up. Their importance and identity are bound up in their ministry, so they are no longer serving it, it is serving them. In this environment, there is little openness for new people to step in and get involved.
Think about your church. Who is the most recent entrant into a ministry role? Do you have any new people serving in your Children’s ministry, Worship ministry, or Greeter’s ministry? Who is helping you administratively, custodially, or as a pastoral care giver or small group leader? Is there anyone involved in one of these roles whom you would peg as a recent attender?
If your answer to the previous question is yes, then ask yourself why. How did they come to be involved in that ministry? Who invited them to church or small group? Who made “the ask” and got them involved? How can you replicate that process with others?
If your answer is no, there is no one serving who is a recent attender, then ask yourself, Why not? What is keeping new people from getting involved in serving? Are there any new people you can even get involved?
In an article entitled Leadership and Church Size Dynamics – How Strategy Changes with Growth, Tim Keller writes “Generally, in small churches policy is decided by many and ministry is done by a few, while in the large church ministry is done by many and policy is decided by a few.” Keller notes that in a small church, there needs to be consensus before change happens, even though the pastor(s) tends to be the predominant ministry person. But in a larger church (200+) much of the pastoral care, discipleship, and program leadership is done by lay people, while decisions are made by a smaller group of leaders.
If we get new people involved quickly in serving, our church will grow more naturally, as the gifts of the Body are employed in Kingdom building. If we as pastors try to do it all ourselves, we stunt the growth of the church, the Kingdom.
In the next 200churches Podcast, Episode 6, we are going to talk about how to quickly engage new people in ministry. We are going to explain why, when someone shows the slightest interest or initiative, we try to get them involved the same day or the same week!
Jesus himself said that the greatest among us would be the servant of all. When we let our people serve, we build the Kingdom of Jesus! Who do you need to involve in your ministry, quickly?
Brian Hanson, director of Gatekeepers Ministries, stopped by this week to talk about how his organization is equipping church leaders and laypeople to minister within their own sphere of influence. You can check out what Brian and Gatekeepers are doing here.
Ministry is sometimes ugly! Pastors, elders, deacons, and other leaders can often be filled with pride, selfishness, or materialistic greed. There can be gossip, double-crossing of others, lies, slander, dishonesty, defensiveness, and other not so nice character deficiencies. Pastor can betray pastor, youth workers can lose the trust of a pastor or parents, and even relationships that look good on the outside can be falling apart. Ministry is sometimes ugly!
As a pastor, I have long been inspired by a verse from the New Testament. This verse challenges me to be the best servant and minister I can be. It scares me with the simple forcefulness of the pastoral charge. In a single verse, my bearings are set back on due course as it relates to the ministry of what a pastor is. Whenever I go to this verse I am moved and motivated to care more and do more than I have ever done as a pastor.
That verse is 1 Peter 5:2, and it says
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve…”
Several ideas jump off the page of that verse to me even now as I read it.
Be Shepherds. God wants me to help him take care of his sheep.
It is God’s flock. These people are not mine, but God’s! I need to remember whose people I am caring for.
God has put some people under my care. I get to care for them. I get to love them. I get to do the deepest parts of life together with them. While they are God’s people, he has temporarily put them under my care.
Watching over them willingly. I don’t like to be relied upon to watch over stuff. I like to do my own thing, come when I want to come, go when I want to go. But God has put some people under our care and said to us “watch over them”. And he wants us to do it willingly.
We are not to do it for riches or great wealth. The King James Version says “not greedy of filthy lucre.” I still remember the Three Stooges video of them jumping around singing “We want the filthy lucre!! We want the filthy lucre!!” God wants us to watch over people not for love of money, but for love of him and others.
Finally, we are to be eager to serve! When we get to the point where we are tired and lethargic in serving, we need a break. When we want to be served more than serving, we are in trouble. Read through the Gospels and observe how eager Jesus was to help and to serve. More than once he said - "What do you want me to do for you?" Eager is the active ingredient and should be our attitude goal as we love our people.
Ministry is sometimes ugly, hard, difficult, and impossible. As pastors of 200churches, we can remember that we are shepherds and God has put some of his people under our care. That is the true north for our ministries: shepherding those in our care.
Recently an “old time religion” type of preacher was heard railing against those wimpy preacher guys who “get them up a sermon” on the Internet. I am tempted right now to go to www.downloadsermons.com and see if it’s a site (I just made it up). Hang on a second and I will check…
No kidding! Want to know what I got? Here is what it said at that website: Site Temporarily Offline for Maint. Check back shortly. I suppose that’s good, right? Boy, I hope it’s up and running by 9:00pm Saturday night when all us wimpy pastor types start our message prep!
In 200churches, there are lay pastors, bi-vocational pastors, young pastors and old pastors. Generally, we are called upon to "do it all". At times we are very pressed for time to get a message prepared. Suddenly it's Saturday night!
Honestly, have you ever just sat and stared at a blank Word document on a Saturday night and decided to go online and find a message? I don’t know about you, but I know I can’t just download a message and preach it. No way. It’s not that I couldn’t live with doing it, it’s literally that I just cannot pull that off. It would be more work for me to do that than it would for me to just study, use my tools, and develop my own message.
I have been presenting sermons, messages, and talks, whatever you want to call them, for over 25 years. Here is what I have learned about using the Internet to help me.
The Internet is too great a resource to fear or avoid in message preparation. So is the Holy Spirit of God. Let’s remember that after we have done all we can in preparation for a message, God is the one who can use our words to change hearts. Our confidence is in him no matter the preparation. Let’s never confuse an abundance of sermon material with a message that originates in God’s heart, travels through ours, and changes both our lives and the lives of our hearers.
How do you use the Internet in your sermon preparation?
In a 200church, we may have only one or two other staff members who work along with us. This means that if you and the “other guy” are at odds, there may not be anyone else for you to talk with! Staff relationships are so crucial in churches with just a few staff. Perhaps it’s you and a part time assistant, or you and a part time youth worker. Maybe it’s just you and your elders, deacons, and/or leadership team. No matter who you’re working with, the relationships that you have with those people are extremely important to the life of your church.
In this podcast, Jonny and Jeff talk about the importance of successful staff relationships and discuss some ways to create a healthy environment where they can thrive.
The four major themes they discuss regarding staff relationships are:
The common thread through all of this is communication. A staff cannot shine without excellent communication. As staff, communicate your expectations and communicate your appreciation to each other. If there is “a thing” between you as staff – step up to the plate and deal with it! Your 200church deserves nothing less, and you will enjoy successful staff relationships!
Am I the only one who sees the irony in unhealthy healthcare workers? It seems somewhat backwards when the people caring for you at the clinic or the hospital are in worse shape than you are. Yet as pastors, I think we all have sympathy for the stress and pressure on doctors and nurses, and know that their hectic lifestyle may not make practicing what they preach all that easy.
If we are not careful, we can fall into the same trap in ministry. We can speak to others about the habits they need to have in their lives if they are going to grow and thrive spiritually. At the same time we can forget the essential of vibrant spirituality – the wonder and tenderness, the strength and sustenance, of a close, intimate relationship with the God who loves us. We as pastors need that friendship, that ongoing dialogue with Jesus and the Spirit who lives within us.
How about you today? Monday morning check-up time Pastor! How is your prime time with God going? Do you think of him, talk to him, consider him, and recognize his persistent presence? Have you been striving in your ministry, trying to accomplish more, visit more, preach better, manage better, etc.? Isn’t it so easy for us to speak about one thing on a Sunday only to forget it altogether Monday morning? Before you start on next Sunday’s message, is there something that you need to apply from your own message yesterday?
So today, what is the essential for you? What is the one thing you could do today to build your friendship with God… your boss? I mean, we do work for him, and we have the absolute best employer on earth, because he is willing to do all the work for us! Recognize him, consider him, and talk to him. Today. Build that relationship!
As the leader in your church you are no bigger, badder, or better than anyone else in your church – you just happen to be the Shepherd. You are the one to bring comfort and encouragement to others, and you need that same comfort and encouragement yourself. Remember the rules on-board an airplane for the oxygen mask? Of course you do. Yes, you have to help yourself first, to make sure you will be able to help others.
After all your caring for others, and speaking about the love God has for others, what about his love for you? Are you living in that love and grace he has for you? Have you forgiven yourself for sins and failures, just as he has forgiven you? Are you spiritually healthy, since you are the chief spiritual healthcare worker in your church? Take the time today to do what it takes to care for your friendship with God.
You don’t want to get caught being the smoking doctor, now do you?!
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