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?

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?

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?

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.

Leaders Must Smoke What They Are Selling

Growing up in the “projects” of my hometown 50 miles outside of Boston I was exposed to my fair share of drug lingo.

yay-8663094The stuff I was exposed to is all legal now in some places and probably wouldn’t be a big deal now but back then it was still on the hush, hush.  I would sometimes hear those who operated in this world say that those selling “Needed to smoke what they were selling.”

By smoking what they were selling the seller of the illicit drug would be proving that the drug was of the finest quality.  If they wouldn’t smoke what they were selling they would lack credibility for themselves and their product and this would be a problem.

And while I am sure that it never in a million years crossed John Maxwell’s mind when he wrote the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership I think he would agree that leaders need to symbolically “smoke what they are selling” as this affects their credibility.

This is especially true when it comes to leadership in the church.  While no one expects pastors to be perfect, there is an expectation they would practice what they preach.  I know the sermons I have preached in my life were every bit meant for me as for those in the congregation.  Likewise, I felt if I asked the congregation to do something, I should be willing to do it myself.  The danger in the church when we don’t “smoke what we are selling” is it not only affects our credibility as leaders but we run the risk of disparaging the message of the Gospel as the messenger.

There will be times when we fail to live up to this standard.  I know I have on quite a few occasions.  This said, it is always wise to examine ourselves to ensure we are “smoking what we are selling.”

Are there other ways church leaders can ensure they are “smoking what they are selling?”

The Primary Mission Field of a Leader

It used to be the “mission field” was somewhere far off in another country where we sent brave souls to work to spread the Gospel.  Today, those same place we in the U.S. sent people are sending people to the U.S. as missionaries because they recognize that the U.S. is a mission field.  In working with churches I often encourage them to think of their community as a mission field and approach ministry like a missionary would in a far away land.

yay-4700246However, the primary mission field for a pastor, and any lay person for that matter, is his or her family.   A wise preacher once said that when it came to priorities one always had to remember:

  • God comes first
  • Family comes next
  • Then the Church
  • And never, ever get one and three confused.

That is the danger for many a pastor: getting one and three above confused.  One simply cannot sacrifice their family on the altar of the church.  This is true whether your family is 2.5 kids and a dog, just you and your spouse or your family is your extended family.

I think this is what Paul was getting at when he wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:12 that deacons must “manage their children and household well.”  I don’t think Paul was saying that a Deacon should not have hell-cat children (that would disqualify half the clergy I know including me!).  I do think Paul was saying that the family mattered in ministry.

Before we invest in building relationships, being incarnational, conducting demographic research, and strategizing how we reach our community for Christ, perhaps we should find ways to build Christ honoring relationships with those closest to us, be present with them, ask them about what they are doing and facing, and be intentional about being like Christ toward them.  They are our primary mission field, not the community outside the doors.  There is a time to minister in that mission field but not to the neglect of the primary mission field.

If you are like me you have failed and fallen a thousand times in making your family the primary mission field.  Thanks goodness for their forgiveness and the mercy of God.  May God give us the strength to reach, love and nurture our primary mission field.

Leadership Training in the New Year

yay-6430374The new year offers churches a wonderful opportunity to begin the process of leadership training and equipping persons for ministry in their various ministry positions.

Notice I said start the process.  Leadership training and equipping servants for ministry should always be an ongoing process and it should be varied in approach.  When most persons think about leadership training they think of getting together their board or council on a Saturday morning for an information dump and maybe some discussion.  Perhaps there is some redeeming value in parts of that approach.

How much better though to have an ongoing and intentional system for leadership development and training.  Maybe this happens through reading a book together and having discussion about the principles found in the book and how it applies to your church.  Maybe in conjunction with this you and your leadership plan on attending a conference together to spur innovation and creativity.  Maybe you bring in someone from the outside to do a mystery guest audit or interview key leadership to give you an outside perspective that leadership can then wrestle with and apply to your church setting.  The possibilities are limitless and there is no one way to do leadership training.  The most important thing is to have a plan and be intentional in nurturing this system of the church.

It is important for leaders in the church to not only be equipped themselves but to equip those who serve in their ministry areas week in and week out.  Maybe this is done with ongoing quarterly get togethers supplemented by sharing resources via email.  Persons serving want and yearn to be equipped for that they have said they would do it is necessary for leaders to provide such equipping.

How will you equip leaders in your church in 2015? 

A Fresh Set of Eyes Can Help Your Church

We just got done with my son’s seventh grade science fair project.  He studied and reported on “The Effect of Music on Plant Growth.”  He found that country music made plants grow best.

yay-4029188In the midst of “helping” him with his project I had to read his introductory page for the project.  As I read through it I corrected some spelling errors and some grammatical issues along the way.  Though he had read it over there were things he had missed.

The same thing would happen for me when I wrote a paper.  I would proofread it.  I might even proofread it twice.  Inevitably, I would miss something whether it was using “your” when I should have used “you’re” or forgot to add a comma or some other grammatical faux pas.  I am pretty sure this happens to everybody.  We get so caught up in our own writing that we miss the mistakes when we proofread.  This is why it is always best to have the fresh set of eyes of someone else to look at something we have written as they see it differently.  They can provide a fresh perspective and catch stuff we have been immune to seeing.

The same is true in our churches.  It is easy after one is in their particular local church setting for a while to get blinders.  The longer a pastor or a lay person is at a church the more susceptible they are to not seeing what needs to be seen.  When this happens then improvements don’t get made or changes do not occur.

This is why a having a consultant to come and spend time in your ministry setting can be a valuable exercise.  They come with a fresh set of eyes.  They don’t come with any history and should not come with any agenda.  They can be an influential outside voice to name some things that the church just has not seen because the people have been to close to it all.

This can be something as simple as having someone come to do a mystery guest audit at worship to hiring someone to come and evaluate all the systems in your local church.  One often overlooked way to get a fresh perspective is to ask the newest attendees and members of your church their opinion.  Did they feel welcomed?  Was there a clear path to get connected?  How did you hear about the church?  Why did you stay?

Don’t underestimate the value of a fresh set of eyes and the value they can bring to help the church make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Who is the E.F. Hutton of Your Church?

Quite a few years ago there was a television commercial for a stock brokerage called E.F. Hutton.  The memorable line from the commercial was “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”  The idea was that one could trust the wisdom and expertise of E.F. Hutton.  When E.F Hutton recommended something or spoke about any financial matter then people listened.  Check out the commercial below.

This leads to the question…who is the E.F. Hutton in your church?  Who  is the person that when he or she talks everyone listens?  Who is the person who has congregational capital to spend and holds great sway in the church with others?

Whoever this person is it is important to get them on your side if you seek to be a transformational leader in your church.  Spend time with them, cultivate a relationship with them, give them the “why behind the what” of changes that need to be made, and then encourage them to speak out.

What might this look like practically?  Let’s say you are seeking to relocate the church you are serving because they are landlocked and it is stunting growth and the ability of the church to reach more people.  Or, let’s say you are seeking to begin a second worship service to reach new people.  Or, let’s say your church is getting ready to hire a new youth pastor.  Then in the midst of a congregational information session or meeting or at the church council meeting encourage the “E.F. Hutton” of your church to stand up and proclaim their support and the reasons why they are supporting the change.  Because they have been there for many years, because they are well respected, and because if they are for moving forward whatever the issue, it must be OK.   Many persons will come around to this change.

So who are the E.F. Huttons in your church?  Who are the people to whom everyone else listens?  It is important to know who these persons are and get them on the side of doing whatever is necessary within the bounds of the Gospel to reach more people for Jesus.

Making the Most of the Committee on Lay Leadership

Most churches have finished their annual Charge Conference.  Hallelujah!  One of the fun things pastors and church leaders get to do every Charge Conference is fill in names next to leadership positions.  To facilitate this every church has a Committee on Lay Leadership (formerly called the Nominations Committee).

yay-1241428The Pastor of the church serves as the chair of this committee.  More often than not this committee in the church looks at the vacancies in church leadership and committees and then brainstorms persons they might think would do well in one position or another and then set out to beg, I mean ask persons to prayerfully discern, whether they would be called to this position.

All this is fine but what if the Committee on Lay Leadership did more?  What if, instead of just running around like crazy to get positions filled the committee, with the pastor leading the way, took seriously the call in Ephesians 5 to “equip the saints for ministry.”  In addition to filling slots for committee vacancies come Charge Conference what if the team met on a regular basis.

Here are a few things they might undertake:

  • Help the church as a whole develop a gifts based ministry.  This would include arranging for persons to discover their spiritual gifts through a one time or multiple week class.  Then the Committee on Lay Leadership might arrange for persons who have done a spiritual gifts discovery to meet with the pastor or other staff to find a fit for ministry.  Once a fit is found, arrangements could be made to connect the person with the leader for that ministry.  The pastor might also preach a series of messages on the spiritual gifts.
  • What if the Committee on Lay Leadership helped the church to provide ongoing training for the servants (volunteers) of the church.  This might be gently reminding other leaders of ministry areas (children, youth, greeters, ushers, etc.) to hold regular times of training or find other creative ways to train and equip those who serve.
  • What if the Committee on Lay Leadership arranged for one or two Servant Appreciation Nights where the church paid to have a meal catered for those who have been serving so faithfully just as a simple way of saying thanks.  Perhaps fun awards are given out at this dinner.  This Committee might also send handwritten notes to leaders in the church to thank them for service.
  • Ministry descriptions are wonderful things to have in place for the church so that persons know what they are being asked to do and there are clear expectations set out for servants.  The Committee on Lay Leadership might help to coordinate this effort asking ministry leaders to provide descriptions.

The Committee on Lay Leadership can help to ensure that the volunteer system of the church runs smoothly.  Why only meet once or twice a year to put names next to blanks.  What are some other ways the Committee on Lay Leadership might be even more effective?