Why Young Adults Don’t Attend Your Church

I used to visit a restaurant that had two separate dining areas, one slightly larger than the other. The larger dining area was always where I sat to eat, even though I had to walk right by the smaller dining area to get there. To be honest, it never occurred to me that I could sit in there if I wanted to. The reason was quite simple. It was where all the ‘regulars’ sat, who were also all much older than me. There was sort of an ‘exclusive club’ feel to the place. Everything about that space screamed, “Private Party” even though it wasn’t.

Sadly, our churches often send this same message to the younger generations, without even realizing it.

Let’s split up the ‘younger generation’ demographic into two categories, those (1) not interested in God and those (2) interested in or pursuing God, and focus on the latter group. It’s not hard to miss these people in our churches today, especially in the small to mid-sized churches. 

Why aren’t they attending more of our churches? 

I suspect the following 5 reasons might answer that question.

1. It feels like an insiders club.

Young people aren’t interested in learning the secret handshake so they can be part of the church. If they visit the church a few times and feel like an ‘outsider’ for very long, they’re not going to stick around. It is super important church leaders ask the question, “What (formal & informal) hoops have we created that people have to go through before they are accepted and integrated into the life of our church?”

In other words, how long will it take & what needs to happen before they are treated like family? More than any other age group, we need to be intentional about making this process simple, both practically and emotionally. 

2. It reminds them of their ‘mom & dads’ church.

I’ve heard young adults echo this phrase many times over the years. They leave the church they grew up in and find themselves at college or on their own. Eventually, they check out some churches in the area. From the moment they walk through the doors until they leave, their experience reminds them of church growing up. Only, for many of them, the Sunday morning experience growing up wasn’t for them, it was for the adults, for mom and dad. 

Although technically “adults,” many young people aren’t interested in acting like the ‘older’ adults they’ve been around their whole life. They want to express themselves as the younger generation. Churches who are actively reaching this group of people are also finding ways to enhance the Sunday morning environment to better appeal to them.

3. There is nothing interesting for them to do.

Despite the fact that young adults have a history of sitting in front of their devices, TV’s and xbox’s growing up, they don’t want to just sit around at church. They’ve grown up having a lot more freedom and control over what they get to see and do than those before them. And they are going to get bored real quick if they are forced to just do and go where everyone tells them to. They want to have a say in what’s going on and they want to do something important and interesting.

Churches who are thinking of this generation will quickly get them involved in ministry. They will encourage them to reach out to felt needs in the community. And they will provide lots of fun activities that are designed to keep young adults engaged with one another and the church family.

4. There is no one interesting to hang out with.

Many young adults who visit your church are looking for new connections. Surprisingly, not just with peers, but with people who can act as mentors and leaders in their life. That said, peers are important. Many a young person will walk in a church, scan the crowd, and determine to never return simply because there is no one else around their age. Churches that can reach a small ‘quorum’ of young adults have the beginnings of a foundation to build on, relationally.

It shouldn’t stop there. One of the best ways to truly connect to this auspicious group of people, is by inviting them into the homes and lives of your church families. I’ve never heard of a young person who turned down an invitation to dinner and who doesn’t secretly enjoy experiencing ‘family’ away from their own family.

5. Their questions are not getting answered.

Young adults hate watered down and pat answers. They have questions and they are genuinely interested in the answers. They want to know the Truth. But they have little patience for flowery speeches, big words, and long explanations. They want it simple. They want to get it. They want it fast.

Communicators need to brush up on their skills and not assume what worked ten years ago will work today. They need to know how to tell great stories and they need to be consistently asking themselves how they can connect with young adults. More than ever before, church leaders must, “be prepared in season and out of season.”


What other reasons are young people staying away from our churches?

Four Terrible Assumptions Church Leaders Make

I was standing in the lobby of a local church talking to an unchurched first time guest. It was one of the first times he had ever visited a church and he knew nothing about God or christianity. The service had just completed and people were filtering out of the sanctuary and collecting in small groups, visiting with one another. It was a warm, friendly atmosphere. I was so glad when the pastor noticed me and came over to talk to us.

Alas, my joy was short-lived. The pastor introduced himself to my new friend and then proceeded to talk about his sermon and how important it was for “us Christians.” It was sort of an “insiders” conversation. I wanted to step on his toe or something. I wished he could read the urgency in my eyes. In desperation, I finally interrupted him and blurted out, “Pastor, I didn’t know if I mentioned this or not, but this is our friend’s first time here this morning. Did you get to meet his wife and kids yet?” I’m still unsure if the pastor got the message, but I was at least able to distract him from the unhelpful conversation and redirect it to a more safe topic. Ugh.

I happen to know this pastor has a heart of gold. He’s a great guy, a seasoned minister, and truly loves both his congregation and the people in the community. I know he has a heart for the lost.

But he has fallen into a trap. One that, unfortunately, is very easy for pastors and church leaders to stumble into. He’s forgotten that the people who sit in his congregation are not like him. He’s making several bad assumptions about the people in his church, and I’m afraid it’s potentially turning them away.

Four Terrible Assumptions Church Leaders Make:

Since I visit a lot of churches as a ‘Mystery Guest,’ I have the chance to experience their church from a very unique perspective. Following are four terrible assumptions I have seen church leaders make way too often. 

Assumption #1: Guests Know What To Do

It saddens me greatly when church leaders assume guests have experience attending churches and know what’s going on, what they are supposed to do, where they are supposed to go, etc. They forget that the church environment, one they are intimately familiar with, is a brand new environment for many guests. Even those who have, perhaps, attended church before may still be in the dark, especially if their ‘church experience’ was from a different denomination or style of church.

Imagine visiting a place that you have never visited before, where everyone but you feels at home and nobody thinks to help you get acclimated. Even better, go find that place and check it out. Perhaps your local health club or golf club, I don’t know, try the New York Stock Exchange. Visit that place and be reminded that your guests are experiencing something similar.

They don’t know what to do with their kids. They don’t know the words to the songs, and probably feel a little uncomfortable singing them. They don’t know if they are supposed to give money or take communion. And they don’t know when to stand, when to sit or what to say. At one church I visited, everybody quotes, from memory, the Lord’s Prayer and sings the Doxology every week. Your guests know neither of those things.

Assumption #2: Guests Know the Bible.

Walk up to just about any adult in America and you will discover that they know how to drive a car. It’s a given – and it’s pretty much assumed. After all, everyone we know eventually ends up behind the wheel. Sometimes we ride with them while they drive. That sense of familiarity has seeped into many churches regarding the Bible. Church leaders spend a ton of time with other people who read the Bible, understand what it’s about, and know all the stories. So it’s not that great a leap for them to assume that anyone who is in the church has Bible knowledge.

Imagine walking into an advanced physics class at your local university. Even better, go visit it sometime. Don’t tell anyone who you are or why you are there. Just let the instructor & students talk to you as if you’ve already been through the other physics courses, like everyone else. You get the picture.

You’re guests probably don’t know where to turn in the Bible, if they even own one. And it’s likely they don’t know the story of Jonah, David & Goliath, the parting of the Red Sea, the Last Supper, Pentecost and quite possibly even the story of Jesus’ death & resurrection. You learned all that as a kid in Sunday School; they didn’t. For many of your guests, the most they know about the Bible and it’s stories is from what they’ve seen at the movies. Do you really want to briefly mention Noah after they just watched Hollywood’s rendition of the story? 

Assumption #3: Guests are Christians

Perhaps one of the worst assumptions church leaders can make is that guests are already Christians. The tragedy behind this assumption is that, by making it, there is little to no room to actually open up the most important conversation that individual may ever have. When we assume someone has already discovered Christ’s love and forgiveness, we no longer think to share the Good News with them. Even worse, when we talk to unbelievers like they are already believers and part of the family, we may even give them the false impression that they are, in fact, Christ followers. They may end up attending and serving in the church for months or even years, and have never truly grasped the simple, yet profound message of the Gospel.

Imagine being invited to a football party with a bunch of people you don’t really know. What if, without being asked, everyone assumes you’re rooting for the same team as everyone else in the room? When a touchdown is made, everyone cheers and slaps five and nobody even stops to think that you aren’t rooting for that team, and maybe don’t even like football! Is it possible that our Sunday morning environment and the way we talk to and treat guests aren’t too far off from that hypothetical situation?

There is no guarantee your guests know God, or understand God. Jesus Christ may simply be a religious and historical name. Salvation? Forgiveness? A loving God? Atonement? All may be totally foreign words or concepts. The next time you shake the hand of that guest, assume nothing about their faith in God. Realize that they could be completely unchurched, or an atheist or agnostic; or to complicate matters, even possibly a Mormon, Buddhist, Muslim . . . you get the idea.

Assumption #4: Guests have it all together.

I’m convinced most Christian leaders would make terrible police officers. We have no idea how to truly profile another person. I’m pretty sure if we were sitting in the police car with an officer, watching the same people, we’d point out the nicest people as being potential criminals and totally miss those truly guilty. Sad to say, but I think a lot of church leaders look at our guests and falsely assume that, if they’re smiling, dressed well and friendly, then they are happy, well off and emotionally healthy; and if they’re scowling, dressed poorly and want to make a quick exit, then they are grumpy, in loads of debt and emotionally unstable.

Think about what you’ve gone through, personally, this year. I know you’ve faced a few challenges of your own – we all pretty much do. If this has been a good year, then go back a couple years until you hit that particularly difficult situation. Now, how many of the employees knew about your challenge at the local supermarket when you were buying milk? No. They thought you were fine. 

Philo of Alexandria once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” That includes your guests. We don’t know if the battle is a recent loss, an addiction, a broken relationship, a serious illness, major debt or a lost job. Whatever it is, you aren’t going to see it when you introduce yourself and welcome them to the church. Don’t be fooled. They need the hope, love, healing, peace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

How about you. Which assumption are you most guilty of making?

Communicating For A Change

I’ve listened to a lot of public speakers. Unfortunately, many tend to operate under the assumption that they are ‘good’ speakers when, really, well, they aren’t. Don’t worry. I won’t name names (that way I can ensure my name stays off the list too). I think we can often come to the conclusion that we know how to preach, or teach, because people listen to us – and maybe even nod their heads at times.

Of course, the real issue isn’t whether people listen to us so much as what happens after they are done. Is there any change or transformation taking place in their hearts? Do they have something they can and will do? Are they motivated to become more of what God desires of them?

Every preacher or teacher wants to see people’s lives impacted for eternity through their message. This is why I am recommending the book, Communicating For A Change, by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones. This book has played a HUGE role in my own career as a speaker. That’s not to say I’ve ‘arrived’, but I know I have grown. If you don’t already own it, I urge you to purchase and devour this book this week! If you do own it, I recommend you crack it open and give it another read. I know you won’t be sorry.

Here’s a great & simple excerpt from the book:

Create A Map: ME, WE, GOD, YOU, WE.
With this approach the communicator introduces a dilemma he or she has faced or is currently facing (ME). From there you find common ground with your audience around the same or a similar dilemma (WE). Then you transition to the text to discover what God says about the tension or question you have introduced (GOD). Then you challenge your audience to act on what they have just heard (YOU). And finally, you close with several statements about what could happen in your community, your church, or the world, if everybody embraced that particular truth (WE). page 120

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How to Lead a Good Meeting

 

I’m beginning to wonder if boring meetings are bad for your physical & emotional health. Really. Think about it for just a second. When we’re bored, we tend to have bad posture and if the meeting is long, then we’re in that pose for a good while. So that can’t be good for your body. Even worse, boring meetings tend to be stressful for everyone present. We’ve all got other things we could be doing. And then there’s the fact that boring meetings usually mean we aren’t paying attention, which means we might miss something or not get proper buy-in for an upcoming new venture. And that leads to less than great results, which also leads to stress. Stress isn’t good for the body . . . you get the idea.

A while back I wrote a post about “16 Ways to Lead a Bad Meeting” that you might find mildly humorous (I hope.)

Nobody wants to lead a bad meeting. So I’d like to share some pointers I’ve learned over the years on how to lead, well, a ‘good’ meeting instead. I hope you find them helpful.

Begin the meeting on-time.

People can be notorious for being late and we hate to start without them. Here are a couple of suggestions for doing this effectively. At your next meeting, let the whole team know that you have personally been irresponsible to the team for not honoring all of their time by starting the meeting late. Inform them that, beginning today, you will be starting all future meetings on time.  If someone comes in late, you will give them the benefit of the doubt the first time. After that you will be addressing them following the meeting regarding their lateness to the meeting. 

Prepare.

I can personally attest to the great difficulty in properly preparing for team meetings. We are all so busy and hold so many meetings throughout our day and week that it’s so easy to just jump from one meeting to the next without more than a passing thought to what will be happening when you get there. However, ANY preparation you give prior to the meeting will reap great rewards during the meeting. The more you give, the greater impact the meeting will have. Your meetings will have more depth during conversations, be much more interesting, and may possibly even finish early.

Create a Realistic Agenda.

It is very demotivating to team members when there are more agenda items than you could actually ever address. You don’t want demotivated people in your meeting. It ruins momentum. When you don’t address an item on the agenda that is important to a team member, it can seem to them like it isn’t really important to you, especially if you don’t get to it several weeks in a row.

Hold Others and Yourself Accountable.

You should regularly review action items (to do’s) that have been assigned to members of the team to ensure they are getting done. If and when they are not, there should be accountability with the team regarding the breach in fulfilling an agreed upon commitment. If this is an issue for you and your team, then for now, I recommend you read both of the following books: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Crucial Confrontations.

Avoid Rabbit Trails.

You get the analogy of that little phrase, ‘rabbit trail’, right? It jumps off quickly and captures everyone’s attention without them even knowing it. This is particularly true if the topic at hand is boring or getting drawn out or is a difficult topic of discussion. “Let’s talk about something more interesting!” The effective team leader will work very hard at minimizing this activity. Every once in a while you may decide the rabbit trail is important to entertain for a while. However, it should rarely happen and should almost always come back to the original topic. One idea when people seem to want to go down a rabbit trail is to say something like, “Let’s add this conversation to the February 8th meeting agenda.” or some such thing.

Set Expectations First.

It’s important at the beginning of certain discussions that you clarify your expectation of the discussion. Is this discussion meant to stimulate creative thinking? Is it to discuss tactical options? Will there be a vote? Or is the direction already decided and you want people to express their opinions and concerns? Are we brainstorming or are we evaluating? What do you want the end of this conversation to look like and sound like?

Ask Lots of Questions.

The point of most meetings is discussion and feedback. This usually doesn’t happen by itself. Many (though not all) people need to be encouraged to speak up and their opinions/ideas drawn out. This will happen by asking both general and specific questions about the topic at hand. Sometimes it is good to put one or more team members on the spot for their input. If the team member has been tracking with the conversation she will have something to say, even if it’s just, “everything we’ve said so far makes total sense to me.”

Ask for Clarification.

If you are not sure what a person means during a discussion . . . even a little bit, ask for them to clarify their point or re-ask their question. When necessary, repeat it back to them in your own words and ask for confirmation that this is, in fact, what they are saying. If not, keep exploring until you are all on the same page. 

Confirm Your Team’s Understanding.

It is often very good to ask the team if everyone understands what is being discussed or what has just been said or decided. Just because you understand what’s going on, doesn’t mean others do. Watch out for glassy eyes which could indicate, “I have no idea what was just said but am embarrassed to say so.” When in doubt, ask someone else in the room to repeat back what has been said or decided.

Confirm Buy-In.

It’s important you don’t assume everyone agrees with what has been said. Sometimes, when it SEEMS like everyone agrees there are individuals who don’t but are afraid to say so because they don’t want to rock the boat. Ask a few probing questions to give people a chance to ask an additional question or raise a concern. Two really great follow-up questions to consider which will help with this is: “What do you like best about this idea?” and “What do you think we might do to improve on this idea?”

Embrace Silence.

Learn to embrace silence. People need time to think and respond. An insecure leader will ask, “Does anyone have anything to add?” or “Does anyone have questions about this idea?” and will allow a scant 5 seconds for responses before moving on. Wait 30 seconds (an eternity). Halfway through you can say, “I’m not afraid of a little silence here. I just want to make sure we are all on the same page.”

Openly Expose Elephants in the Room.

I don’t know how else to say this. If there’s an elephant in the room you need to stop everything and talk about the elephant. You also need to give your team members permission to expose elephants too. It’s very possible (probable) it’s standing right behind you and you don’t even know it. Just be honest and say, “Listen, I could be wrong, but is there something going on right now that we are all not talking about and should? Specifically, . . . . ?” Check out this post entitled, “Exposing the Elephant in the Room

Say What You Think & Feel.

Similar to the elephant exposure idea, you need to be free to honestly express something you think or feel as the meeting facilitator. Of course, your team members should have permission to do that too. If you feel like the meeting is getting boring, why don’t you say so? If it seems like people are falling asleep on you – ask if they are. If it seems like everyone seems confused about what you are talking about, say so. It’s always possible you are wrong, but what if you aren’t? 

Listen.

Listening is really hard to do, especially for the leader of the meeting. Often, the leader has the most at stake in the discussion and wants to make sure the conversation is going where they want it. A good meeting facilitator will force himself to listen, ask for clarification, and ensure everyone has had their say before the discussion ends. He needs to be able to express his viewpoint as well, of course. Often that should happen near the end of the discussion or at the very beginning. Sometimes the meeting leader will need to make comments or reorient the discussion because it’s getting off-track, but the primary job of the facilitator is to lead the DISCUSSION, not the DECISION. This is especially important if the meeting leader is the leader of the organization. Usually, people want to just go with the leader and will not express viewpoints if the leader has already said everything he (or she) thinks.

Think Before You Speak.

Important. Very important. Did I say important? If you want to say something, go ahead. But make sure you have gathered your thoughts and whenever possible select your words carefully. As the team leader, everyone is taking their cues from you. As the organizational leader they are also deciding if it’s safe to talk because of you. Learn catch phrases that will facilitate conversations like, “I wonder if . . .”, “Is it possible we are forgetting . . .”, “I could be wrong, but . . .”.

End On Time or Early.

Your team will thank you. Work hard at being the hero and finish early, or at the very minimum, on time. If you’re meeting seems like it might end up going late, let everyone know a good 10-15 minutes beforehand, if possible – and release anyone who has other appointments coming up right away so they can rearrange them or leave your meeting on time.

 

Don’t Hit ‘Send’ When It’s Personal

dont-hit-send

I made a leadership mistake last week. I sent an email prematurely. I actually remember pretty vividly having my finger over the ‘Send’ button on my Kindle. I paused a minute and the thought flitted through my mind, “Should I really send this email?”; then I pushed it aside and hit ‘Send’.

It felt good too. I was able to communicate my frustration and disappointment about something someone did that I disagreed with. I set them straight. Told it like it was. That sort of thing. 

It’s not that sending the email, in and of itself, was wrong – and being a writer, it’s not that it wasn’t written well. In fact, in other scenarios I could probably have written something very similar to what I wrote and it would have been totally appropriate. In this case, I messed up. Why?

I shouldn’t have done it because it was personal.

It’s Leadership 101, but it’s also easier said than done. When you’re reacting (via email) to something someone has done or said that is personal, don’t hit ‘Send’ on that email. At least, don’t hit it right away. In my case, I realized after the fact that I was rude and defensive. Ugh.

I’ve often quoted Ambrose Bierce who once said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” This is even more true in emails. Once you hit ‘Send’ it’s gone for good and there’s no taking it back. The problem for many of us leaders is, we don’t always know when we’re angry. We confuse anger with our desire to ‘fix’ or ‘help’ others. That’s what I did.

Here are a few pointers I was reminded of while backpedaling and revisiting this experience.

When you should wait to hit ‘Send’.

  • If it hurts you.
    If it hurt you, in any way, you should wait. None of us are immune to pain, and none of us are at our best when dealing with pain. That means we’re probably not saying what we really should say, if we should say anything at all.
  • If you’re mad.
    Similarly, when you are in a state of anger, your brain is quite naturally on the defense. Whatever you communicate in your email (or verbally for that matter) will very likely be defensive. People, in general respond to defensive behavior from others by defending themselves. Now everybody has got their dukes up. Not helpful.
  • If it hurts them.
    It goes without saying that, as leaders and believers, we are above hurting others. It’s the antithesis of what it means to be a Christ-follower and following His great command to love others.
  • If you don’t know them.
    If you have never met, or spoken with, the other party, you need to pause when sending that email. As leaders, we have a certain degree of ‘permission’ to influence and correct those who have given us permission to do so. But if you’re trying to correct someone else on their words or behaviors, and they haven’t given you permission to do so, you’re very likely overstepping your bounds.
  • If it’s long.
    Some of us can be real wordy and get preachy in our emails. Uh, like me at times. If it’s a corrective email and it’s really long, forget it. Don’t hit send. Pick up the phone or schedule a meeting instead.
  • If it’s a big deal.
    If the content of the email is a big deal to someone – either you or them – you need to pause over the ‘Send’ button. The likelihood is real high that if what’s being discussed in the email has a personal bearing on either party or is potentially wrought with emotion, it shouldn’t be said over email.
  • If it’s complicated.
    By complicated, I’m not referring to the issue, I’m referring to the relationship. If the relationship has a history of confusion, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, etc. it’s not really good to do a lot of email communication – at least regarding personal issues.

What to do while you wait.

  • Pray.
    There’s nothing better than asking the All-Knowing God for wisdom and discernment. It goes without saying that He can and likely will shed light on how you should respond and if you should send that email.
  • Get A Second Opinion.
    I’m not talking about counselling. I’m just talking about another opinion, preferably from someone you trust and shares the same values you do about loving others in leadership.
  • Wait.
    This seems redundant to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. Wait for a while. I’m not talking about waiting for an hour or a couple of hours. Usually, it’s good to wait 2 or 3 days minimum. Give yourself time to get some perspective and cool down, if necessary. I wouldn’t be surprised if 3/4 of those emails never get sent simply because you waited long enough to realize it’s not worth it.
  • Ask For Time & To Talk Live
    Sometimes it’s not appropriate to leave people hanging. So ask for permission to wait a while, and maybe meet to talk it out live. Keep it down to about 4 sentences that might sound something like this: “I’m going to need some time to think this through first and I’m wondering if email is, perhaps, not the best means of communication for us to use on this topic. Is it possible we could schedule a time to meet over coffee, on Skype or over the phone later this week?”
  • Send A Different Email
    Once you’ve exhausted the above ideas, you may discover that starting from scratch and sending another email will work just fine. Now that you’ve had time to clear your head, you can keep the communication simple and leave out the defensive tone that was in your first email.
  • Drop It
    Sometimes the right thing to do is to just drop it. There are many reasons why this may be the best solution. It could be that the issue is relatively small in the bigger picture and not worth making a big deal about. Often, we may realize that the person wasn’t trying to be mean or hurtful, and we can just let it go. Sometimes it’s plain that there are much bigger issues connected with the situation that should really be addressed before this issue can properly be dealt with. 

What to do if you hit ‘Send’ prematurely.

I think there’s really only one thing to do when you realize you’ve said things that were best left unsaid. Find a way to apologize and ask for forgiveness. This means you:

  • Humbly confess what you did.
    “I sent that email when I was still processing what was said, and I wasn’t really thinking straight.”
  • Acknowledge what you said that was inappropriate.
    “I said some things in that email that were inappropriate, defensive and disrespectful.” 
  • Sometimes you might even point out specific things said as well.
    “…like when I told you ‘That was stupid.'”
  • Ask for forgiveness.
    Would you be willing to forgive me for my hasty words and bad attitude?

And of course, when you are asking forgiveness of the other party, it’s usually not wise to begin defending or explaining yourself – and certainly you shouldn’t start expounding on what the other person(s) did wrong. That should be left for another time.

Check out my other posts regarding confrontation. I particularly recommend: “Four Steps in Healthy Confrontations

Thoughts on Interviewing For a New Hire

interviewingOne of the biggest mistakes churches make when they are looking to hire is in not taking the interviewing process seriously. Often, it’s never done or just brushed over. The reasons church leaders miss this step range far and wide. It may be that they already feel they know the candidate. Or perhaps they think they will get a ‘sense’ of the person from a casual conversation over coffee. I know some leaders who would simply say, “I’m going to let the Lord lead me.”

Whatever the reason, I’ve come to the conclusion that leaders will likely never regret doing an interview – but they will often regret NOT doing one.

Just recently I was coaching a pastor who was getting ready to hire a new youth pastor. His team was sure they already knew who the ‘right’ hire would be – and were thinking of skipping this step altogether. I urged them to collect other applications and do a few interviews anyway. They were pleasantly surprised and shocked when a totally different candidate rose to the top during the interview process – becoming their ultimate hire.

In today’s post, I thought I’d share just a few random thoughts when getting ready for an upcoming job interview. I hope you find them helpful.

  • Ask yourself, “Am I hiring a leader or a manager?”
    There is an important distinction, and it means you’re looking for different qualities/competencies. Leaders lead change. Managers guide systems.
  • Investigate Them.
    Even if you already know the candidate, take the time to get acquainted with them before you meet. Study their resume. Call and speak with their references, check out their facebook, twitter, or blog, speak with their previous employer.
  • Get a Personality Test in Advance.
    As part of your investigation, have them complete a thorough Personality Test in advance (not the day of the interview). This will help you generate questions during the interview regarding how they might handle potential challenges they may face which their personality doesn’t match very well. For example, let’s say you’re hiring for an analytical bookkeeper type job and the person happens to have a laid-back people oriented personality. That could be a problem. My favorite Personality Tool is found at ministryinsights.com and is called the “Leading From Your Strengths Profile“.
  • Begin with Prayer.
    Invite the Holy Spirit to be part of the interview right up front. This reminds everyone in the room that we’re trusting God rather than man to ultimately lead the process of finding the best hire for the position.
  • Create a Safe Place for the Interview.
    I’ve already talked about the idea of ‘Creating Safety’ right here. Establish a place where the interview can take place in a non-threatening & comfortable environment. Try to stay away from the ‘leader behind the desk’ approach. If possible, move to eye level with them and remember to smile a lot.
  • Ask Them to Tell You About Themselves
    It’s important to get them talking right away. Ask a few questions about their life, family, hobbies, plans for the summer or vacation. Keep it light and informal at first. Don’t begin with potentially loaded questions like, “How did you like where you worked in your last job?” I find almost everyone likes talking about their kids or grandkids, so usually that’s a great place to begin.
  • Share the Agenda of the Meeting Up Front
    I think it’s important that the candidate knows what to expect at the meeting. This will help them feel safer too. For instance, I might say something like, “Here’s what the interview is going to look like. We’re going to ask you a series of questions and will also be asking you to do a little typing test for us on the computer over there. We use four ‘C’s’ to guide us in the decision-making process, let me tell you what those are right now…. After that, you will have a chance to ask us any questions you may have. When the interview is over, we will give no indication as to whether we plan to hire you or not. At some point in the next couple of weeks, we will contact you to let you know our decision and, if appropriate, ask you in for a second interview.” 
  • Watch for Nonverbal Communication.
    It’s important that you, or someone with you, can read some non-verbals during the interview. Many times, it’s their nonverbal communication that is answering the question, not their verbal one. For instance, if you ask, “How are you when it comes to dealing with conflict?” and the person says, “Good” while they fidget or won’t look you in the eye, it’s possible they aren’t being completely honest with you or themselves. It’s normal for most people being interviewed to be a little nervous, so you do need to take that into account. However, if you’re interviewing for a leader role, hopefully they are able to handle the relatively minor stress of an interview – after all, they’ll eventually be facing a lot more stress than that someday!
  • Create Mock Scenarios to Use During the Interview.
    Plan in advance and describe two or three circumstances that you would expect your new hire to one day face. Ask them to describe how they think they would handle the situation.
  • If Possible, Give Them a Real Test.
    If you’re hiring someone to do a lot of typing, ask them to take a typing test online during the interview. If they will be writing articles or creating graphics or pulling together a bulletin, ask them to do so as part of the interview. The best way to ascertain their competency is to test it live, when possible.
  • Start With the Interviewee, Not the Position.
    It can be very tempting to begin the interview by trying to ‘sell’ the interviewee on the job. We do this by talking about the job and what we are looking for in the best candidate. Don’t do this. All you’re doing is feeding the information you want them to give you in advance of the interview. Rather, start by interviewing the candidate and end with giving information about the position.
  • Include Two Interviewers In The Room.
    I think it’s wisdom to include at least two interviewers in the room during the interview. There are a lot of great reasons for this. I have always found it super helpful to be able to debrief with the other interviewer and get insights as to what they thought and noticed during the session. Often, they will have picked up on things I didn’t because I was busy talking or focused on the conversation. Additionally, it is a lot easier to communicate to others why the candidate is a good fit – or not so good of a fit – when you had two people present who agree together.
  • Refrain From Making False Promises.
    Again, sometimes we can get carried away after a great interview and say things at the end, like, “I think you’re a great candidate. We’ll probably end up hiring you.” OR “Yeah, I think you’re the one we want.” Don’t do that. I falsely leads them on and only increases their emotional letdown if you change your mind later. Just let them know you enjoyed spending time with them and that you’ll get back with them later.
  • Use Four C’s As Your Guide.
    Whenever I do an interview, I explain and use four words to guide my questions. I talk more about The Four C’s in this article. Here they are in a nutshell:

     

    CHARACTER: The fruit of the Spirit are your benchmarks, but I usually like to also have a few other qualities I’m looking for as well, like ‘teamwork’, ‘committed to the local church’, ‘giver’, ‘submitted to leadership’, etc. This might be a great place to ask about their spiritual walk as well. Often I will ask if the candidate has a ‘life verse’ or what the Lord has recently been speaking to them in their quiet times. I will also listen throughout the interview for areas where they struggle with bitterness or anger towards previous employers or people.

    COMPETENCE: This is where we confirm they have the right skill-set to do the job. Do they have enough leadership experience? Do they know how to host an event? Have they ever created a decent website before? These are going to be the standard interview questions you will ask to ensure they can do the job.

    CHEMISTRY: It’s real important the candidate will work well in the culture you have established in your ministry. This means they will be OK with the work environment you will be offering them, that they will ‘fit’ with the other team members and that both you and the candidate will be able to work comfortably together. This is a hard one to interview for, but it’s still important to evaluate. If I seem to have a hard time ‘connecting’ with the candidate during the interview or just feel uncomfortable about them, it’s possible it has something to do with chemistry. The fact is, some people ‘fit’ in certain cultures better than others. 

    CALLING: I make it real clear to the candidates that they need to feel a calling to the position we are offering and we need to feel called to hire them. This is not meant to be an excuse to not hire them. It’s meant to be an honest indicator that we’re trusting God to lead us (and them) in making the right choice. Simply put, the candidate could be perfect for the job, but either they, or we, don’t feel a release from God to bring them onto the team at this time. One time I was interviewing for a secretarial position and a young man applied. He seemed fit for the job. When I asked him what he wanted to do with his life, though, I discovered he wanted to work outside and stay away from administrative things. It was easy for me to see that he wasn’t called to do what I was looking for, even though he was qualified.

What other things do you like to remember during an interview?

Image compliments of Knape at istockphoto.com

Four Steps in Healthy Confrontations

healthy-confrontationsI’m not afraid of most confrontations. That doesn’t mean I like them. I don’t. They are draining and full of both negative and positive potential. Unlike the rest of our daily communication with our friends, coworkers and loved ones, confrontation has the most likely chance to end with hurt feelings and greater misunderstanding. So, I said I’m not afraid of the confrontation, and most of the time I’m not. What I do fear, though, is the results.

Like you, I’ve experienced my share of confrontations that didn’t go well. But I’ve also experienced some awesome confrontations that increased awareness and empowered both parties to grow together and get the things done they were called to do. Over the years I’ve discovered some steps we should take when it’s time to confront others. I’d like to share them in this post.

Please note: you’ll get a lot more out of this post if you also check out ‘Three Keys to Effective Confrontation‘ & ‘Confrontation 101: Maintain Safety At All Times‘.

The Four Steps to Healthy Confrontations

Step 1: ESTABLISH SAFETY.
When somebody does or says something threatening or unexpected, our natural urge is to fight or flee. Scared people don’t always think clearly. Their judgement is limited. So it’s super important that both parties aren’t scared or feel threatened. Instead, they should know that you respect them and care about what’s important to them in the scenario. I talk a lot more about this in the aforementioned article: ‘Confrontation 101: Maintain Safety At All Times‘. I suggest you give it a gander.

Step 2: DESCRIBE THE GAP.
The ‘Gap’ is the difference between your expectations and what actually happened. When a coworker is consistently late to a meeting, the gap includes those minutes between when you expected him to be there and when he showed up. When someone leaves the room dirty after their event, the gap includes the condition of the room as you expected to find it and how you actually found it. 

The ‘Gap’ can be very difficult to describe; especially when it’s about behaviors. There is always room for error and misunderstanding. And usually confrontations include heightened sensitivities and emotions. That’s why I’ve broken down the process of ‘Describing the Gap’ into five parts:

  1. What.
    First, describe ‘what’ happened. Focus on the facts as you understand them and stay away from feelings or interpretations. You should stay away from labeling statements like, “You were being a jerk.” For example, “Two weeks ago at church I asked if you could return the books I lent you. Last Friday I also mentioned it again and you said you’d get them to me right away.”

     

  2. How.
    Next, describe ‘how’ it makes you feel. Focus on your personal concerns and feelings regarding the situation. Keep away from statements like, “You made me feel stupid.” Instead, just describe how you felt. For example, “I know this sounds crazy, but I’m beginning to feel like you are not returning the books because you are angry with me about something. I’m also afraid that perhaps something has happened to them and you can’t find them.”

     

  3. Why.
    Explain why this is important to both you and the other party. This helps bring context to the situation, and will hopefully clarify why the gap is bigger than perhaps the other party realizes. For example, “This is really important to me. I don’t want us to have anything hidden in our friendship, and I believe you don’t either. Plus, I promised my boss I’d let him borrow one of those books and I haven’t been able to get it to him.”

     

  4. Admit.
    This is important. After you’ve outlined ‘What’, ‘How’ & ‘Why’, you should express your desire to understand the truth of the situation and ‘admit’ that you may be wrong in your understanding or impression of the situation. For example, “I suspect there might be something happening here that I’m not aware of. I know it’s possible you already returned them and I didn’t know.”

     

  5. Ask.
    Finally, you should always finish describing the gap with a question. This lets the other party know that you genuinely want input & feedback and opens the door for the third step in the process. For example, “Can you help me understand?” or “What happened?” or “Am I misunderstanding something?”

Step 3: DIG FOR THE TRUTH
Up until now, all you’ve done is talk and share your perspective. Now is the time to mine for the truth of the situation. This is the place where the other party works towards getting understanding of your perspective and you do likewise with theirs. Here are a few pointers when digging for the truth:

  • Ask God to give you both discernment.
  • Listen closely to the other party and work hard at understanding.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Repeat back what they’ve said in your own words (and encourage them to do the same with your words).
  • Tackle the problem as a team rather than as opponents.
  • Stop to establish safety whenever necessary.

At the end of this stage of the confrontation you should be able to summarize the problem as being the result of one or more of the following causes:

  • Confusion.
    One or both parties were confused about expectations.
  • Motivation.
    One of us isn’t or wasn’t motivated to do or behave a certain way.
  • Ability.
    One of us doesn’t have the tools or experience to do or behave as expected.

Step 4: MOVE TO ACTION
Finally, it’s time to end our conversation with a ‘next step.’ This ensures it won’t happen again and all parties have learned from the situation. Everyone involved should agree together on what should happen next or in similar scenarios in the future. Sometimes, you may have to agree to disagree and come up with your strategies keeping mutual disagreements in mind. 

Of course, what happens next will be greatly determined on if the problem lies in ‘Confusion’, ‘Motivation’, or ‘Ability’. Let’s look at each:

  • Confusion
    If someone doesn’t understand expectations, then your next action will likely focus on clearing up confusion. Confusion may include behaviors as well. For example, let’s say someone told me to ‘go take a hike’ and raised their voice while they did so. If we have determined that that person was confused and didn’t realize their behavior was offensive, my ‘next step’ may sound something like this, “Rather than saying, ‘Take a hike’ would you be willing to say, ‘I don’t like that idea very much?'” 
  • Motivation
    If the problem lies with motivation, then we have to tackle the source of ‘why’ the person is demotivated. Is it because they feel like it’s a waste of time? Does it seem demeaning to them? Is it possible they don’t understand the importance of the activity? Or is it because of something personal? Whatever the situation, it needs defined and a plan of action put in place. For example, let’s say someone is showing up late to a meeting because they feel like the first 10 minutes are a waste of time. The action steps might be changing what happens in the first 10 minutes, asking that person to lead the first 10 minutes, or explaining why the first 10 minutes aren’t action oriented.
  • Ability
    If the problem lies with an ability problem, then we need to address the problem by changing circumstances so they are within the realm of ‘possible’ for the other party. Perhaps someone is late because they can’t catch a ride until later in the morning. So you might move the meeting up a 1/2 hour or offer to give them a ride to work that morning. Maybe some training needs to happen to increase skill sets. There may even be ‘ability’ challenges in regards to how people respond in certain scenarios. For example, highly analytical people tend to have a very difficult time sitting through strategic ‘big picture’ conversations. It’s not a motivation problem for them, it’s an ability problem. They aren’t wired that way and trying to wire them for that isn’t worth the effort. The solution might be as simple as excusing them from the meeting and giving them a summary of what’s relevant to them afterwards.

Don’t forget to check out this article, which talks about preparing YOURSELF for the confrontation before it ever happens.

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Confrontation 101: Maintain Safety At All Times

confrontation-maintain-safetySomeone once told me that if you stare at a cat long enough, they will get angry. Years ago I was at the zoo watching a lion pace forward and backward over and over again. The lion exhibit was packed with people watching him. It was awesome and I was mesmerized.  After a while I remembered what my friend had told me about staring at cats. So I decided to try an experiment. I lined myself up with his pacing so that every time he walked back towards the crowd I was standing directly in front of him. Each time he paced towards me, I made and held eye contact with him. I did this for a couple of minutes. Suddenly, the lion stopped in mid-stride, stared me in the face and let out a mighty roar. The hair on my neck stood on end. It was loud and scary!

What’s interesting is the response of everyone around me. They all went crazy. Some screamed, kids cried, most jumped and several took off running. This despite the fact that we were all completely safe. The lion was behind two sets of bars. He wasn’t going to hurt us. And yet, for a few moments, we all totally freaked out. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. 

When people feel threatened, they don’t think reasonably. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. When we’re scared our bodies go into defense mode. We have a natural desire to either fight or flee. In a sense, our reasoning shuts down and our God-given instincts take over. 

Danny Silk explains this in his book, ‘Culture of Honor‘. Check it out.

“God put this little gland inside our brain called the Amygdala. It is an almond-shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobes of the brain. This gland is important for determining emotional responses, especially those associated with fear. When somebody does something threatening or unexpected in your environment, when somebody is not safe, your Amygdala kicks on and begins to flood your body with these messages: react, defend, disappear, fight, or flee.

These are some of the responses in which we show our worst. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discover that people who are scared are not at their creative best. If you’ve ever been near a person who is drowning and scared that he or she is going to die, then you know it would be a good idea to keep your distance. Throw a rope or extend a pole, but do not let that person get a hold of you or you will become a buoy. Oh sure, the person will apologize later, if you lived.

But scared people are not thinking about the team, family, church, or anyone else beside themselves. Fear is a dangerous element for humans to navigate through. Most do not manage it well.”

So what does all of this say about how we should communicate with others, especially during a confrontation?

Hopefully, it’s blindingly obvious. In any confrontation, we must find and maintain safety. We need to help the other person know the conversation is going to be ‘safe’. That is, that we will honor them during the conversation; that we care about and respect them. People feel unsafe when they believe one of two things:

  • You do not respect them.
  • You do not care about their goals (or what’s important to them).

If you want to experience transformative conversations with others, learn how to maintain safety. Be sure the other person knows you are for and with them. You can do this by reading through ‘Three Keys to Effective Confrontation‘. But you will also do it by checking to be sure the other party still feels safe throughout the conversation. At any time, if you sense they are becoming defensive, it’s time to stop talking and begin working at reestablishing safety.

The fact of the matter is, if you or I feel unsafe in a conversation we will quite naturally get defensive and will emotionally fight or flee. There’s no point in talking when we get to that point, at least not until we’ve calmed down again.

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Colossians 4:6 reminds us to, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Confession time – I still struggle with this. Especially with my spouse and kids. The people I most want to feel safe will sometimes feel the complete opposite when I’m around. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m committed to getting there. Are you?

How safe do others feel around you?

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Three Keys to Effective Confrontation

confrontationIt takes courage to confront others . . . well, let me qualify that. It takes courage to confront others right! Anybody can blow up, say something mean or hasty or brush through a confrontation without giving thought to others’ feelings. But it takes a lot of intentional thought, courage and patience to successfully confront people properly.

Let me share just a few pointers I’ve learned about confrontation that might help you next time you find yourself preparing for this super intimidating experience.

1. Remember the Goals of Confrontation
Contrary to popular opinion, the goals of confrontation are not to be right or get back at someone who hurt you. If that is truly why you want to talk, it’s better to simply keep your mouth shut. When your goals include the following, then you’re almost ready to begin.

  • A Better Understanding
    Your goal is to gain understanding where it is lacking. There is almost always something you don’t know about the situation. You may lack context which drove the offense. There is often emotions, motives & outside circumstances that you were completely unaware of. Confrontation should be a truth-seeking venture to help you understand others’ perspective better.
  • A Positive Change
    Your goal should include a positive change. In other words, whether the offense is rooted in something you did or said or not, you should wholeheartedly desire to help others learn and grow through the confrontation. It should seem more like a learning or coaching experience than a hand-slapping experience.
  • A Growing Relationship
    If strengthening and growing your relationship with the other party is not a goal, then again, it may be better to just leave well enough alone. Your goals will drive your behavior and what you say. If you genuinely want a stronger relationship after the confrontation, you will naturally ensure that happens throughout it. If you think there is a good chance the confrontation may burn bridges or destroy the relationship, you will take stock and make sure the confrontation is truly worth it before proceeding.

2. Begin With Three Fingers Pointed at Yourself
It’s an old illustration, but it works well. Whenever you point your finger at someone, there will always be three other fingers pointing back at yourself. Before you begin any confrontation, the wise person will evaluate their own motivations, feelings and thoughts first. Each finger is asking one of the following questions:

  • Am I Part of the Problem?
    Is it possible that the conflict in question was somehow impacted by your actions? Did you not communicate something clearly? Is there a chance your lack of participation discouraged others? Is there anything at all that you might have done that could have helped prevent the conflict from taking place? Be open & honest with yourself before you sit down to talk with others.
  • Am I Telling Myself Ugly Stories?
    Some of us have a tendency to assume the offending party was intentional about hurting us. We make up stories by patching together random events from the past and by attributing motivations to the person that he or she may never have had. We label them in our minds with words like, “mean” or “rude”. Or we imagine things like, “they hate me” or “they are so cocky”. If you enter into a confrontation with stories like these in your brain, the whole conversation will be seen through that filter and you won’t find the healthy resolution you are seeking.
  • Am I Being Defensive In My Approach?
    If you are feeling defensive before or during the confrontation, your chance of success has been neatly cut in half, if not ruined from the start. Most people can read a defensive stance from miles away – and what it usually means is that they need to take up the same stance as well. If you look like you’re ready for a fight, I guess I better get ready too. That’s how we emotionally respond. Resolution will never be made if our goal is to protect ourselves. 

3. Move To One Finger Pointed At God’s Servant
Just this morning I heard a story about a woman who has been able to experience a restored relationship that you and I would probably have thought impossible. When asked how she was able to put up with all of the pain and disappointment she experienced while trying, she simply pointed out, “if God loves them so much, who am I not to”. A great reminder to us all. We should be asking ourselves:

  • Am I Treating Him/Her with Honor?
    We dishonor God when we dishonor His people. We should approach every conversation with a holy reverence, as approaching one of God’s most fascinating and beautiful creations. 
  • Am I Assuming the Best?
    Rather than telling ourselves bad stories, we should do the opposite. Why not make up stories of why the conflict may have happened that believes the best of the person, rather than the worst? Taking this approach will help you relax, it will honor the person you are confronting, and it will empower them to confess wrong motives if they are there – because they won’t have to be defensive.
  • Am I Taking Our Differences Into Account?
    It would be very presumptuous to assume that others think the same way as you. We all process life differently, we make choices differently, we view life through a different filter of expectations, experiences & values. This is often even more true if you are working with individuals from other ethnicity’s or cultures. I will bring value to the conversation by removing my assumptions and expectations and seeking to understand the frame of reference others come from.

These aren’t academic points to me. I work hard to honor them during confrontations. And when I don’t I always regret it. Ironically, it gets harder and harder to successfully confront the people we care about and love the most. Which is why it’s so important we work at it together.

Which of these three points do you forget to do most often?

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Trust vs Suspicion, Andy Stanley

Sometimes there is a teaching that has tremendous potential to be a game-changer for churches & ministries. This is one of them. A healthy, thriving church/ministry has a ‘culture of trust’ among the leaders, the teams and, ultimately, throughout the rest of the organization.

Here is who should watch this video. Pastors. Staff. Elders. Deacons. Board Members. Volunteer Leaders. Ministry Teams. 

Rarely do I plead with people to do something. But in this post, I am. Please watch this and ask your teams to watch this. And please make it a launching pad to establish/re-establish/strengthen trust in your ministry. Thanks. 

 
 
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