Thinking is Hard Work!

How many times this month have you noticed some problem and didn’t try to find a solution? I bet it happens a lot more than you are willing to admit. You walk to your car and notice, again, how inadequate your parking lot is; or you are reminded during your Sunday service that the drums overpower all of the other instruments during worship. Perhaps you have a recurring problem with Sunday School volunteers showing up late; or you find yourself embarrassed to discover that your website is out of date again.

This weekend I got to spend a day talking about strategic planning with some of the leaders at River of Life Fellowship in Copenhagen, NY. It was exciting to hear about the recent growth they have been experiencing as well as some of their future plans. Their unique mix of excellence and their commitment to the cause of Christ for their congregation and community were so refreshing.

We ended our day brainstorming ideas on what they might improve or change in order to accommodate ongoing growth. They were full of some new and great ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they implemented some of those new thoughts within a few short days.

That day reminded me how often we tend to let problems slide simply because a solution isn’t obvious or readily available. Usually, we simply don’t want to stop and really think things through until we find a solution.

Thinking is hard work. I’m not talking about the kind of thinking we do every day to operate our vehicle on the way home from work. I’m talking about the kind of thinking we engage in when we have to complete a final exam, prepare a sermon, or learn something new. The energy and focus necessary for that level of thinking is taxing, which is why we shy away from it. I know I do. It’s a lot more satisfying to see a problem and find the solution without breaking into a sweat first!

Last night I revisited some of my own past posts regarding critical and strategic thinking. It seemed appropriate to point them out to you this week as well.

That’s why I’d like to introduce you to my new e-book:

Thinking for a Change: a fresh look at critical thinking

I’d love it if you would consider purchasing the book and letting me know what you think. You can learn more about this e-book right here or feel free to purchase it right now! Cost is only $3.99. Thanks!

How to Keep Missional Momentum

A couple of weeks ago my son purchased a small dirt bike for $25 at a yard sale. We checked to make sure the engine worked before we made the purchase. What we didn’t check was to see if the clutch worked. Oops. It didn’t. Benjamin would open the throttle all the way and just barely move a few inches at a time. Thankfully, the owner took the bike back and returned our money!

The same thing can happen in our churches and ministries when it comes to staying focused on our mission. We can get so caught up in everything else that we forget to keep mission, well, front and center. The next thing we know, we go for a ride and discover that we have very little missional momentum.

Here are a few ideas to gain and keep missional momentum.

  • Create a Relevant Mission Statement
    I have several posts about why your mission statement is important and how to build one. You can check them out here.
  • Preach Your Mission
    You should do this often. You don’t need to title the message in the same way and it doesn’t have to be the same message, but you should preach the concepts of your mission regularly. If you don’t, well then I would suggest that perhaps you don’t really have buy-in to the mission of your church. 
  • Use Missional Language Whenever You Can
    Don’t get tired of hearing your mission statement. Include it in every possible conversation, both public and private. Use pieces of the mission statement as well as the whole thing. For instance, our mission statement at EGC includes the word “transforming”. That word is part of our language. Talk about fulfilling your mission when you give key announcements, receive the offering, during a message, during small group, and while counselling. If you haven’t used ‘missional language’ in the last week, then it’s very possible your starting to slip away from your missional focus.
  • Ensure EVERY Leader Knows the Churches Mission
    Any leader that doesn’t know your church mission is a leader who will not be pushing your mission, focusing on your mission, and building your mission into your church culture. Worse, there’s a much greater chance those leaders may slide in their focus, slowly drawing the ministry they lead away from what’s most important.
  • Connect Your Mission To Every Ministry of the Church
    Every ministry in your church should be clearly connected to the mission of your church. They should not have a separate mission statement. Ideally, the leaders will also preach the mission and use missional language whenever possible.
  • Connect Your Mission to Every Volunteer Position in the Church
    If you can’t explain how a volunteer position ultimately helps to fulfill the mission of your church, then you should re-evaluate that position and ministry. Ideally, your volunteers understand the connection as well. For example, perhaps you have a volunteer to lay and spread mulch outside every Spring. Does that volunteer understand that, by spreading this mulch, our community, guests and congregation will drive into the lot feeling welcomed and knowing this church cares about excellence. This (combined with a lot of other things) will motivate and inspire people to come and hear about Christ’s transforming love.
  • Put Your Mission in Print
    Your mission should be on your letterhead, website, in your bulletin, on the wall and anywhere else you can find a place for it to remind you and everyone else why your church is here (perhaps even a t-shirt).
I’m sure there are more thing you can do to stay missional as a church. These will certainly help. Take two minutes right now and ask yourself how you are doing in each of these steps.

Image compliments of hnfg at istockphoto.com

The Language of Creation

 

I recently got to hear Robert Morris share something I had never really heard before. He noted that the language God used when creating the world in Genesis was very unique. In particular, he sometimes used language that brought something from nothing. Other times, he created something out of something else and commanded that something else to be the sustenance for that created thing.

 
For example, in the below two passages God created something from nothing.

Genesis 1:3-4 “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.”

Genesis 1:6-7 “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so.”

However, in these passages he created something from a created thing (land) and commanded that it find it’s sustenance from that same source.

Genesis 1:11-12 “Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:24 “And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so.”

Fascinating. God built ‘systems’ at the beginning of time allowing His creation to sustain itself. System-building is one of the basic functions of the creative process.
 
Man is only just scratching the surface of discovering just how vast and awesome God’s creation is. Check out this video made by the American Museum of Natural History that does a great job showing just what man knows to date.

 

The Strategic Process Summary

strategicI’m a firm believer in using The Strategic Process (developed by Erika Andersen in her book, “Being Strategic“) to help you think through the various challenges you face as well as to build plans for your ministry’s future. However, there are a lot of differing ideas on what Strategic Planning should look like for the local church. In fact, one of my favorite bloggers recently claimed that ‘Strategic Planning’ doesn’t really work anymore. As I drilled down the article I realized he was talking about a model of planning that was embraced by businesses and organizations in the 80’s and 90’s – and one in which I don’t personally promote.

That said, let me walk you through what I call the Strategic Process. These five steps can be very helpful in dealing with the various challenges your organization faces. For example, recently a pastor told me his church was struggling getting their teens involved in the church’s youth group because another larger church offered a youth group experience that was attractive to teens, but not very relevant spiritually. This is a great example of a challenge which The Strategic Process can help find solutions for.

The Strategic Process will also be a great tool to walk you through long range strategic plans for your church or ministry. For example, let’s say you have a vision to build a powerful children’s ministry that reaches all sorts of families in your community. The Strategic Process will force you to think through this challenge strategically and critically, allowing you to build a plan towards your goal that is much more likely to succeed.

The Strategic Process Summary
I need to give credit where it’s due. Much of these ideas have been generated and enhanced from Erika Andersen’s book, “Being Strategic“.

  1. Define the Challenge
    Your first step is to clearly define what your challenge is. You’ll do this in no more than 3-4 sentences. This step is critical in that it helps you stay on task during the rest of the process. Without a clearly defined challenge, you may be tempted to get sidetracked and end up creating a strategic plan that won’t really solve your problem. To learn more about how to ‘Define the Challenge’, visit THIS PAGE.
  2. Clarify ‘What Is?’
    In your next step you will stop and take stock of what is. This is where you determine what your current resources are, what you are presently doing to tackle the challenge, and how effective your efforts have been to date. Perhaps you’ve heard the term, “SWOT Analysis”. This is the step in which you engage this tool to evaluate where things stand right now. To learn more about how to ‘Clarify What Is?’, visit THIS PAGE.
  3. Envision ‘What’s the Hope?’
    You can’t effectively build a plan towards a desired future until you’ve determined what you hope that future will look like. In this stage of strategic planning you will build a realistic and fairly detailed picture of what you hope to eventually accomplish. To learn more about how to ‘Envision What’s the Hope?’, visit THIS PAGE.
  4. Face ‘What’s in the Way?’
    Your almost ready to build your plan. Before you do so, there is one more critical step you should first accomplish. You need to acknowledge any barriers which may be in the way of accomplishing your goal. Some barriers may be external barriers – situations or circumstances that may get in the way; other barriers will be internal barriers – attitudes or ways of thinking that could derail your plans. To learn more about how to ‘Face What’s in the Way?’, visit THIS PAGE.
  5. Determine ‘What’s the Path?’
    Finally, you are ready to build your strategic plan. This is where you lay out all the information gathering and research you’ve done in the first four steps to identify how you will most effectively get from ‘here’ to ‘there’. There are actually two VERY IMPORTANT pieces to this step. The first is to identify your top three or four ‘Strategic Steps’. These steps should tackle your most relevant barriers and be the most obvious ‘first steps’ towards your goal. The second piece of the path is to clarify your ‘Tactical Steps‘. This is where the rubber meets the road. Until now, everything has been in the realm of ideas, dreams, and hopes. Your tactical steps are sometimes the hardest to identify and fulfill – because it means somebody actually has to DO something. However, without your tactical steps, you’re plans will remain on paper and all of your time has been wasted. To learn more about how to ‘Determine What’s the Path?’, visit THIS PAGE.

One final note, we don’t often think to utilize ‘The Strategic Process’ enough. There are many times when I will speak to a staff person or leader who has been trained to utilize these steps and who are struggling with a problem and don’t know what to do. It’s obvious on paper, but not so obvious in real life – walk your problem through ‘The Strategic Process’! You may also find THIS STRATEGIC WORKSHEET a great help as well.

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.”

Some Great Mission Statements

Image & Mission of Living Bridge Church in Gibsonia, PA. 2011

Here’s a well guarded secret that I intend to now make known to all (at least to those who read this blog). Nearly every good mission statement is going to reflect the same ideas as other Christ-centered churches. That would be because we are all getting our instructions and mission from the same Person and from the same Book. That makes sense.

That said, every church’s mission statement should reflect who they are and why they believe God has placed them in their location. I don’t recommend that you just grab another mission that sounds good to you – at least until you’ve walked through the strategic process with your team first.

If you are interested in learning more about how to build a mission statement, then consider checking out the following blogs: Mission, Vision, and Values…Oh, My!; Make it So.; Why Mission?; How to Draft a Mission Statement.

Check out these great mission statements from churches around our nation.

Elim Gospel Church in Lima, NY: “To help one another experience Christ’s transforming love so that we can love Him, ourselves, our families, our church and our world.”

Granger Community Church in Granger, IN: “Helping people take their next step toward Christ…together.”

Faith Fellowship Church in Dexter, NY: To live in the light of Jesus Christ: revealing God’s love, restoring true hope, transforming lives.”

Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC: “To help spiritual seekers become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”

Living Bridge Community Church in Gibsonia, PA: “To change the way people think about church.”

Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL: “Helping people find their way back to God.”

Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, TX: “To lead all people into a life-changing, ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, GA: “To lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Sagemont Church in Houston, TX: “To provide living proof of a loving God to a watching world.”

LifeChurch.tv in Oklahoma City, OK: “To lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.”

Pathways Church in Denver, CO: “Helping lost, broken people become passionate, devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”

Poplar Creek Church in Bartlet, IL: “To create a people with whom God can fellowship, who reflect His glory and are transformed in His image.”

First Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines, IA: “To bring people to Jesus by winning the lost, building and equipping believers, and sending them into their ministry to honor God.”

 

The Power of Why

This post has been removed. It is now part of my new e-book entitled:

Thinking for a Change:
a fresh look at critical thinking

I’d love it if you would consider purchasing the book and letting me know what you think. You can learn more about this e-book right here or feel free to purchase it right now! Cost is only $3.99. Thanks!



Strategic Planning Worksheet

 

A few months ago I introduced the five step “Strategic Process” through a series of posts which have become quite popular. The post series was entitled, “Guest Experience“. I even provided a worksheet to help you get started utilizing the process in everyday challenges you face. Since that time I have been in communication with the author of the book “Being Strategic“, Erika Andersen. She has graciously given me permission to provide her version of the “Strategic Process Worksheet” to my readers. I’ve discovered I like hers better than mine.

Feel free to download and use this worksheet as often as you like. It will be of great assistance to you in strategic planning and critical thinking.

 
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.”

Finding Your Sacred Cow

This week I suggested that your church may have a ‘sacred cow‘ or two that you’ve been holding onto. I haven’t been entirely fair in my blunt and vague references to the ‘cow’. Today, I will attempt to be more clear and practical.

 

Definitions:

  • Wikipedia defines a ‘sacred cow’ as something considered (perhaps unreasonably) immune from question or criticism. 
  • Dictionary.com proclaims it as an individual, organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning. 
  • Miriam Webster’s Learners Dictionary says it best from my perspective though: someone or something that has been accepted or respected for a long time and that people are afraid or unwilling to criticize or question.
A Real Example:
Several years ago I was leading a Strategic Meeting at Elim Gospel Church. We were discussing the number of programs, events, and activities that were potentially sideways energy and not centered around our primary mission as a church. The reality was that some of these activities were stealing our best people and resources – and they weren’t strategically helping our church and it’s people grow. We had just read Andy Stanley’s book, Seven Practices for Effective Ministry (required reading at our church) and decided we needed to “Narrow the Focus”.
 
So far, so good. We all acknowledged that we needed to streamline our church programs to maximize effectiveness and make room for focused growth. Our next step was when the sacred cows stepped into the room (Note: cows don’t mix with elephants very well!). We wrote down on a white board all of the church related activities that could be counted as something that should be evaluated. Once we built our list we systematically began discussing each activity to decide what to do with them. At the end of the meeting we had decided to cut exactly ZERO things.
 
Here’s what the conversation sort of sounded like, 

Wayne: “So how about VBS? Is that something we should consider ending?”

Team Member: “No. We can’t lose that. We have hundreds of children attend that each year and it’s attracting a lot of families from the community.”

Wayne: “OK. Well, let’s consider the ‘Women’s Community Bible Study’.”

Team Member: “No, no. I feel we would really be making a big mistake there. A lot of women from the other churches attend that event. It’s a great way to serve those other churches and it’s very well attended.”

Wayne: “Umm. Our Easter Production?”

Team Member: “Wow. You really think we should consider doing a normal service? Besides Christmas Eve services that Sunday service is our highest attending service of the year!”

Suffice it to say, that was not one of our funnest meetings. I left that meeting feeling deflated and as if we had wasted several hours of everybody’s time. What we realized was that although we wanted to do the right thing and cut back, none of us were committed to really questioning these and other events. They had become sacred cows for us. (Note: I specifically used those three examples from our discussion for a reason. We have since successfully ‘killed the cow’ in each of those cases. If you’re interested in how we did it, shoot me an email or post a comment.)
 
Three Disclaimers:
  1. Before you look at the final section below, please be reminded that IF one of these have become a ‘sacred cow’ it’s possible you either don’t know it or aren’t willing to admit it. I talk about that in my post entitled, “The Smelly Cow“.
  2. I am NOT trying to say that the below examples shouldn’t be happening in your church. It’s quite probable that many of them should. However, what may be very appropriate, strategic, and anointed by God in one church may in fact become the opposite in another.
  3. If you look closely at the above definitions you will note that a sacred cow is NOT NECESSARILY something that you shouldn’t be doing. It can also include something that you should be doing, but that you ARE NOT willing to question. So here it is, “Are you willing to question any or all of the below examples in your church ministry?”
Sacred Cow Examples:
Following are a few examples of activities, events, etc. that COULD end up becoming ‘sacred cows’ for your church. I’d love to listen to your internal dialog as you read them. Hopefully, they won’t sound that meeting we had many years ago!
  • A Program or Ministry.
    It is possible your church supports a ministry that happens every week or month that isn’t really an integral part of your church’s mission. This may include a men’s or women’s program, a children’s program, a class, perhaps even your mid-week service {gasp}
  • An Event.
    Of course, there may be many events that you host occasionally or even annually that really need to be questioned and evaluated. Understand, you shouldn’t really be checking to see if the event is successful based on how many people attend or even how effective the event is. Rather, you want to know, “Is it strategic and fulfilling our mission as a church?” An event may include a special service like an Easter or Christmas service, a youth overnight retreat, a seminar or conference that you host, maybe even your Vacation Bible School.
  • A Service Element.
    A service element may include ANYTHING you do immediately before, during, or after a Sunday service. Often, churches get so used to doing the same things every week that they become sacred and untouchable. This is how church services can become ineffective and irrelevant in reaching their communities. Your members who have been around for years don’t even question what happens each week, but your guests sure do! Examples of service elements include your style of worship, how you receive the offering, the volume of the service, the temperature in the room, how you give the announcements, how you host communion, whether Aunt Edith should play the piano and possibly even how you preach every single week! Ouch.
  • Your Language.
    Sometimes the words you use every week are inappropriate and unhelpful to your listeners – and in particular to your guests. This will include the obvious words like “sanctification”, “justification” and what-not. However, it may also include words like “visitor”, “heathens”, and “secular”. (Example: We no longer refer to new people each Sunday as ‘visitors’ – it sounds like they won’t be staying long. We now call them our guests.) Finally, your language will also include the many assumptions you may make from the pulpit about your listeners, like ‘everyone here already knows all the stories/people in the Bible’ and ‘everyone here understands our church’s history and culture’.
  • Your Things.
    What would happen if you walked down the hall and removed that picture of the founding pastor from 50 years ago? What things does your church possess and most often display that have become sacred cows? How about the seats in the sanctuary? The offering baskets? The stained glass windows? I’m not suggesting you clean house this Saturday – if you do so, you may end up with a church split. I AM suggesting that you may have some sacred cow ‘things’ kicking around that should be identified. What to do with them is another topic entirely.
  • Your Building.
    Every pastor and leader understands intellectually that the ‘church’ is the people, not the building. However, we can often be guilty of giving our building more ‘sacred value’ than our people. Nowhere in your mission statement is there a reference to your building (I hope). How have you preferred your building over your people? Additionally, parts of the building can become sacred cows – like the color of the carpet or walls or the wall that divides two rooms which could really serve your church better as one big room.
  • Your People.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling your people cows. However, sometimes we can have people in positions of influence or ministry in the church and nobody is willing to question whether they are really serving the church well in that role. Just because someone has been on the worship team, an elder, or a greeter for the last 20 years does not mean they should be today and tomorrow.
  • Your Systems.
    You may not realize it, but you have systems. They are the procedures that you either officially or unofficially utilize to get things done. Here’s the deal with systems: rarely do the same systems serve the church forever. In fact, just like the parts of your car, systems can get old and wear-out. A growing church will always be evaluating how decisions are made, how the bulletins are produced, how guests are followed up on, etc. to ensure those systems are still serving the ministry of the church as best as possible. If you ever hear someone respond to the question, ‘Why do you do it this way?’ with ‘Because that’s how we’ve always done it.’ then I submit that you may have a system that has run it’s course.
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.”
Image Source Unknown

Thursday Quote: Shutting Down Low Performing Ministries

Will Mancini

My Thursday quote this week is from Will Mancini’s blog entitled, “3 Strategic Alternatives to Shutting Down a Low Performing Ministry“. If you’ve been following the thread of this week’s series about ‘The Sacred Cow‘ then you’ll also discover this article particularly helpful.

Here’s a teaser from Will’s post:

“Is it time to close a program in your church? Many leaders will tell you, “When the horse is dead, dismount.” But this classic advice rolls of the tongue much easier than it plays in real life.

As a leader in ministry you have no doubt faced ministries that just ought to go. Like sour milk, they live past their shelf-life. But for various reasons, you just can’t do it. Maybe there is still a group of precious saints being served by the program. Or maybe the decision-making culture of the church just requires more time to process.”

Want to read more? Check it out RIGHT HERE.

 

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