When to Change Things in Your New Church

yay-13800336It is that time of year again.  No, it is not tourist season I am thinking about.  No, it is not bear season I am thinking about.  It is the season for United Methodist pastors to move.  Moving day was a few weeks ago and a couple of Sundays have already come and gone.  Pastors might find themselves ready to change a few things in their new church.

When I was knee high to a grasshopper as a young clergy person those with many years of wisdom taught me that unless the church was sacrificing cats don’t change a thing for the first year.  This conventional wisdom reasoned that just the new pastor’s arrival was change enough.  Further, like Mark Twain said, the only persons that likes change is a wet baby.  Your people in your new church don’t want you changing everything.  Who do you think you are!

This wisdom worked well for me.

However, in a recent appointment of my own I received different wisdom that was counter intuitive.  Before I arrived I met with the lay leader of the church and he said if I was going to make changes, particularly when it came to worship, then make those changes now.  He said I would have a grace period, a honeymoon if you will, a window to make changes.  He went on to say that persons at this church expected the new pastor to make changes and put his or her stamp on things.  So, I made changes and am happy to say I was not run out!

It appears to me there are at least two consideration when it comes to making changes early in a new appointment.

First, the pastor must consider the level of change.  Moving the time of offering to a time after the message so persons give in response to the Word proclaimed is one thing.  Changing the time of worship in your second week is another thing.  In considering change, and the level of proposed changes, it behooves the new pastor to be as wise as the serpent and gentle as the dove.

Second, not only must the level of change be considered but also the amount of change.  While in certain contexts change can occur early in a appointment, a wise pastor keeps a count of the number of changes made.  Too much change too fast is like a trying to quench your parched throat by taking a drink out of a fire hydrant.  You might end up choking!

Whose wisdom is right?  Does it depend on context?  What has been your approach to change in a new appointment?

Making the Most Out of Quarterly Giving Letters

Stewardship is intended to be an ongoing emphasis in the church.  For too many churches, the annual stewardship drive is seasonal and only brought before the church once a year.  When this happens the church misses a great opportunity to teach throughout the year about stewardship.

yay-16067444One of the many ways to connect with church members and attendees is through a quarterly giving statement and letter.  This is a typed and hand signed thank you letter sent out to regular givers to the church.  This letter can be used to highlight how ministry dollars are being used to make an impact.

It is important to not use this quarterly giving letters to remind people about their pledges. 

I would suggest you consider doing away with the pledge as they are unreliable for budgeting and the pledge itself appeals mostly to an older generation who values institutional loyalty.

It is important to include how giving dollars are being used to transform lives, make a difference in the community, spread the Gospel or result in some other exciting ministry.  Here are some ideas to include in your next letter:

  • A brief youth testimony
  • A report on Vacation Bible School
  • A brief report from the church sponsored missionary
  • The story of the baptism you celebrated last Sunday
  • Number of people served through a food pantry, thrift store, or other church sponsored outreach

What other things would you include in a quarterly giving letter?

Home Field (Dis)Advantage

I am a Red Sox fan.  A month ago my family and I went to Baltimore to see the Red Sox play the Orioles.  We had great seats right next to the Red Sox dugout.  There were quite a few Red Sox fans but by far we Red Sox fans were the minority.

yay-1546048I am a Red Sox fan because I was born and raised in Massachusetts.  We still go back every summer for a vacation week and we usually take in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.  When the Red Sox have home field advantage at Fenway it is a whole different experience than when they are the visitors at Camden Yards.

The church used to have a home field advantage.

When an upstanding person moved to a new area they would join the Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist or Catholic church.  This was true especially if they wanted to do business in town.

Back when the church had home field advantage the two main social events in the life of the community were school and church.  In some communities schools did not give homework on Wednesdays because that was the midweek church gathering time.  Stores closed on Sunday so families could worship.

The church also enjoyed respect when it had home field advantage.  The church was looked upon as a place where morals were instilled and truth was taught.

Today, and for a long time now, the church no longer enjoys home field advantage.

Persons no longer join church by default when they move to a community.  There are a myriad of options on Sunday and every other day of the week for persons whether it be travel sports, shopping, traveling or catching up on chores persons were too busy to do in the week.  The church has continued to lose respect year after year.  Some of this the church has brought on herself with foolish squabbles or high profile indiscretions.  The media though has also been all too happy to paint the church in a less than flattering light at every turn.

No one can argue that in 99.9999% of communities in the United States the church no longer enjoys home field advantage.

Why then do we as the church often continue to practice ministry, worship, evangelize and disciple like we did when we had home field advantage?

We expect that people will just come if we have good enough programs or powerful enough preaching.  We hope that if we spend $3,000 on postcards somehow this will spur someone to attend church.  We hope that children will come for religious instruction while we still use flannel graphs to tell them the greatest story ever told.  The list could go on and on.  You get the picture.

Changing the way we do things in the church because we recognize we no longer have home field advantage can fill quite a few books.  One important first step is becoming aware we no longer have home field advantage.

Does your church still do ministry like it has home field advantage?

Two Ways to Avoid Discipleship by Accident

Most churches will claim as part of their mission statement that the church exists to raise up disciples of Jesus Christ.  The statement might be to raise up “Fully devoted followers of Jesus.”  Or, in my own tribe, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

yay-3227823The problem is that in most churches, including ones I have led and been a part of, discipleship happens by accident.  As new persons enter into the church we just hope they will catch on to the myriad of opportunities one has to become a disciple.  We hope they will catch on that Sunday School or Bible Study or participation in a small group is a good thing.  Or, that part of being a disciple means serving outside of the church, in daily life or in the life of the church itself.  Most churches lack any direction for newer persons (or persons who have been attending a long time for that matter) when it comes to how to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

There are at least two ways churches can begin to remedy such a situation.

First, stop defining discipleship as information transfer only.  To be sure we are to love God with all of our mind and read, and learn and study.  Too often, however, discipleship in the church has been reduced to whether or not a person has gone through Disciple Bible Study or Christian Believer.  Yes, study both individually and collectively is an important part of growing as a disciple but it is only a part.  It would be good to expand our definition of discipleship to include things like spiritual disciplines, stewardship, service inside and outside the church, and much more.  It would be good for each church to spend time defining what a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like using scripture as their guide.

After all, how can we make disciples of Jesus Christ if we do not know what a disciple looks like?

Second, churches can move away from discipleship on accident to discipleship on purpose by having a clear pathway for persons to grow in their faith and love of God and others.  Everyone knows that discipleship is not linear or is not just a bunch of boxes to check off but this should not stop us from providing some type of guidance for those who attend church to know how they can grow in their faith.

I remember attending a Conference where the speaker was talking about his realization about how the church needed to do better with discipleship on purpose.  He said he had opened up the altar for prayer (remember when this used to occur?), and a young man came forward and with tears and in fervent prayer came to the altar and gave his life to Christ pledging to follow Christ and then with tears still running down his face asked the pastor “Now what?”

What is your church saying to the new follower, the new attendee, the revived attendee who asks, “Now what?”  It is a good question to answer and is worth pondering.

5 Ways to Reach More People Through Your Church Preschool

More and more churches are offering a preschool for families in the community.  This is a great thing as it fills a need for affordable childcare and pre-Kindergarten education.  The church preschool can be a great ministry to use to reach new families.

yay-15208846Now, make no mistake about it, the primary purpose of any church preschool must be to lovingly nurture and teach young children in their care in a Christ-like atmosphere.  While this must always remain the primary purpose of the preschool it is also wise to recognize that the church preschool offers a great opportunity to reach new families that might not attend your church or any church.  Here are five ways.

  1. Gift and Invite!  Ensure every preschool family receives a gift and an invitation at different times throughout the year to attend worship or some other event.  Back to school in September, Christmas, Easter and at the end of the school year for Vacation Bible School are great times to gift and invite.  A small gift such as a church coffee mug filled with chocolates and an invitation to Christmas Eve or a small flowering plant for Easter are great ways to gift and invite.
  2. Be Present.  At least once a month or more the Lead Pastor as well as other church staff should be greeting parents and children on a regular preschool morning.  One of the pastors should lead a monthly chapel service to connect with the children.  Being present at the Christmas Concert and other events is also important and this time should always be used to give a soft invite to parents and families.
  3. Offer a Parents Night Out.  What a wonderful Christmas gift for families to offer 4 hours of childcare for busy parents to shop, wrap or just enjoy some adult time during the Christmas season.  Send the kids home with a craft that invites the family back for Christmas Eve.
  4. Build Relationships Through Groups.  Try offering a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group or a book group or a Bible study.  This will not only allow parents to get to know one another and build community but will allow church staff and lay persons to build relationships with preschool parents.
  5. Sponsor a Family Mission Project.  Have parents come in early one day at preschool and package rehydration kits or stock the food pantry or visit a nursing home.  If you are making something to give away like rehyrdation kits be sure to have a time of dedication at your Sunday service that you invite preschool families to attend.

I have never heard someone talk poorly about a church preschool.  I am sure there are bad church preschools but I think most are really great.  Why not take your preschool ministry to the next level and come up with some creative ways to offer Christ to your preschool community.

What are other ways to utilize your preschool for reaching new people?

Celebrating Gospel Impact

Human beings seem to be wired to focus on what has not gone well or what needs improvement while giving scant attention to what has gone well.  This happens in every organization including the local church.

yay-12595754Celebrating the win in the church is important to testifying to the power of God working in the midst of the congregation and it helps the church see how its mission is being lived out.  In both leading churches myself and in visiting many local churches, I have found that churches do not celebrate nearly enough the Gospel Impact occurring in the church.

Bryan Rose, writing about leading change in the church, writes

Effective church leaders tell stories of Gospel impact and Christ-centered transformation, while pointing ahead to the next sunrise God is preparing.

Telling the stories of Gospel impact and Christ-centered transformation are critical to casting a compelling vision for the church and keeping the church aligned to such a vision.  A story about a husband who lost his wife and was left raising three kids on his own but discovered Christ and community at your church is a story of Gospel transformation.  A video testimony from three youth that went on the youth mission trip and how they were changed in the midst of such a mission is a story of Christ-centered transformation.  The person who moved this year from tipping to tithing, the person who found strength to deal with an addiction because of their small group, or the family who successfully transitioned from living in a motel to living in permanent housing all represent stories of Gospel impact and Christ-centered transformation.

Telling these stories with creativity testifies to the power and work of Christ in the world, the community and your church.  When people see the difference Jesus makes and the difference that followers of Jesus can make then they volunteer more, they give more, they invite their neighbors more, they participate more.

How are you telling stories of Gospel impact and Christ-centered transformation to point ahead to the next sunrise God is preparing?

The Right Door

It might seem silly to church folks to think anybody would not know which door to go in to attend worship.

yay-830075The reality is that many of our church structures have a myriad of doors and it is not readily apparent which door one should enter to attend worship.  Regular ‘ole church folks take it for granted that everybody knows what door to use.

Can you imagine as a guest coming to a church for the first time, driving up a little bit late and you get our of the car and you do not know whether to go in the side door, the front door or the back door.  After trying the first set of doors and finding they are locked said guest may just turn around and go home to watch the pregame show or or catch “Joel!” on TV.

This simple issue of hospitality can be remedied through effective signage.  A church might have effective signs on the building or near the building clearly directing guests which door to enter to go to worship or the multipurpose space or some other place.  This is important to remember as well when the church has multiple worship services that meet in two different places.

After trying the first set of doors and finding they are locked said guest may just turn around and go home to watch the pregame show or or catch “Joel!” on TV.

This is also remedied by having parking lot greeters and outside the door greeters before worship begins who hang out for a few minutes even after worship begins.  Even after they go in at least a guest will have the signage.

Some may think it silly or too much work to have greeters or too expensive to have signage.  Think about it this way though…what if that person who is coming for the first time is giving the church and God one more chance and they get frustrated because they don’t know where to go in.  What if they are on the brink of hurting themselves and are turning to the church but the church found it too hard or too expensive to ensure they were welcomed.

Then that is on us as the church and shame on us.  We need to do all within our power within the bounds of the Gospel to ensure persons are welcomed to our churches so they might experience the life changing power of Jesus Christ.

5 Benefits to Utilizing an HTML Email

One great way for churches to keep lines of communication open with those who attend regularly is by utilizing an HTML email.  HTML emails allow for graphics, vibrant colors, videos and links and an overall better design than a plain text email.  HTML emails are easy to do week in and week out and do not require huge amounts of time once they are set up.  You don’t need to know any code.  As long as you can cut and paste you are good to go.yay-7595576

There are a number of benefits to utilizing an HTML.  Here are five of them.

  1. The first benefit to an HTML email is its cheap.  Most companies that you will use to set up your HTML email will give you up to 500 free email addresses before they start charging you.  If you are able to replace your printed newsletter with an HTML email you will save on paper, on stamps, on bulk rate permit costs, and volunteer time.
  2. The HTML email offers more opportunities for persons to engage.  Let’s say you are starting a new class.  You can easily write about the new class in your HTML email and put a link in to a sign up so persons can sign up from the comfort of their computer or mobile device.  You can link to free sign up sheets from Google.
  3. The HTML email keeps people connected.  Let’s say someone misses on Sunday.  On Monday they receive an email from the church with up to the moment news, with a link to Sunday’s sermon, and with an opportunity to give through online giving.  The HTML email helps to prevent people from falling through the cracks.
  4. The HTML email list can also be used to highlight other special events or ministries.  Snow cancellations, church picnic, or Easter Egg hunts are great to send out under a separate cover.  Be careful here to use the list wisely.  You do not want to go and send too many emails and needlessly fill up peoples’ inboxes.
  5. Lastly, and probably most importantly use of the HTML email enhances communication.  It is one more way to communicate.  Some people can read it in the church bulletin and get it.  Some can hear it in an announcement and get it.  This is just one more way for people to “get it” and create a way for people to be “in the know.”

In my experience, I have used both Constant Contact and MailChimp to generate HTML emails.  They were both great.  Just do a Google search for “HTML Templates” and you will find plenty of companies.

Why Your Church Should Never Have Enough Money

Much time is spent in church talking about money problems.  Usually it is about not having enough money.  This is usually caused by a lack of vision, a decrease in attendance, or no clear emphasis on stewardship (Jesus talked more about money and possessions than heaven and hell combined) to name a few.

yay-783478Those are all things that can be remedied.  I believe though that beyond these things the church should never have enough money for another reason.  If you have enough money as a church to fund your vision then your vision is too small.  I believe that vision should always outpace financing.

I once heard that every pastor should keep in his or her desk a rough architectural sketch of future building expansion in case a large donor comes and offers a large gift and asks “where can it best be used?”  Of course, vision is not primarily about buildings but what about keeping a plan and vision for an after-school tutoring program, or a vision to provide housing for unwed teen mothers or a vision to plant 250 churches in 30 years?

In the end, if you have funded your vision it is time to ask God for a newer and more bold and ambitious vision for God’s glory.  When we do this we make a statement of faith and claim the promise that God is indeed able to far more than we can even ask or imagine.

So, I hope your church never has enough money!  Not because of a lack of vision, or attendance issues or because leadership refuses to talk about giving.  I hope you never have enough money because God has given you a vision so large that without God’s help it cannot be accomplished.

Church Announcements 101

It is funny how making announcements becomes a contentious issue in the church.  Some people wonder whether there should even be announcements.  Others can’t stand when the announcements go on for 10 minutes.  Still others find the placement of the announcements within the worship service is disruptive.

announcementsWhen it comes to whether or not there should be announcements in the church, then answer is it depends.  It depends on the style of worship you use, the size of your church, and what other means of communication you use to let people know what is happening at the church.

I have been to many small churches where the announcements are folksy, from announcing next Saturday’s Ice Cream Social to announcing the BBQ and Gospel Sing at the Ruritans in a few weekends.  There is nothing wrong with this and the guest is not turned off when they come to church and hear these announcements.  In many of these places church is still an important part of the community.

For a large church with many things going in it might be impractical to rely on announcements from the pulpit to communicate church and community happenings.  If a church is new and never had announcements, why start now?  Again, it is important to find an alternative way to communicate.

Church announcements, despite what some people think, are not the holy grail of communication nirvana.  I have heard many a church member say “If we can just get the pastor to announce it on Sunday!”  This is lazy and chances are persons are not listening especially well anyways during the announcements.  Send an email to your group and stop putting all your eggs in one basket relying on the pulpit announcement!

If you do have to make announcements in church, limit them to a warm welcome from the pastor and two major announcements that apply to the whole church. Don’t make announcements that pertain to the ten women in the United Methodist Women or the six couples in the Sunday night small group.  Ensure they are church-wide announcements.  Believe me, you will not make friends if this has not been the practice of the church.  But for the sake of the guest and flow of worship you must institute such a rule and be consistent.

Call me a control freak but I always think the Pastor should make the announcements.  I never wanted someone wandering down a rabbit hole when they made an announcement, giving a sermon, or not talking loud enough for people to hear.  It is also one of those things, once you let one person do it you open the floodgates.

Lastly, don’t ever say, no matter how small your church, “see Mary Jane who is collecting orders for pie if you want to order a pie.”  Not everyone knows who Mary Jane is- don’t assume they do.  Always have some type of written announcement with contact info.

What are some of the worst announcement practices you have seen?  What are some of the best?