April 6, 2014

Why Your Church is Probably Operating at Less than 50% Effectiveness

Church Mission StatementMost of you will disagree with what I am about to suggest. Nevertheless, I will try my best to share with you what I’ve learned over the last 13 years. Keep in mind that this post title is not a theory; it comes from a front row seat watching real transformation of senior pastors, their staff, their lay leaders, and eventually their entire congregation.

First, I’ll share the problem and give some quick illustrations of churches in the transformation process. Secondly, I will give two analogies to reinforce my point.

THE PROBLEM

The problem is that most churches have a general sense of their mission rather than clearly defined and contextually crafted mission.  What does it mean to be working with a general sense of mission? Let’s illustrate. I just surveyed the top 10 staff at a large church (and by most standards a successful church) running over 1,000 in weekend attendance. When asked to state their mission, the answers included:

  • Extending the joy of following Christ to all people
  • To make disciples and serve the community
  • Reach people and growing disciples
  • Being God’s agent in world to make a difference in the world, everywhere we go.
  • To provide worship, small group and service opportunities

These statements of mission illustrate “leading from a general sense” for two reasons. First, they are not articulating the same words. Second, they are general re-articulations of the great commission. Any nuance among them is due to the bias and experience of the individual. One sounds operational while another sounds missional. One is a follower of John Piper, and one just read, “The Externally Focused Church.” You get the idea.

Now, some may object and suggest that these generic restatements aren’t a problem at all. Isn’t having a general orientation toward a disciple-making mission enough? I don’t think so.

REAL MISSION

In the last 4 years, I have worked with three churches all within a 10 minutes drive from one another in Dallas, Texas. All of these churches run over 1,000 in weekend attendance. Below is the new articulated mission of each church. Keep in mind that when I started working with them, the key leaders only had a general sense of mission.

Church #1: Inviting people into the unexpected joy of desperate dependence on Jesus.

Church #2: Rescuing one another from cultural Christianity to follow Jesus every day.

Church #3: Calling the Christian-ish to become passionate servants of Christ.

Each one of these churches has a mission that reflects:

  • Aspects of denominational heritage (Bible, Baptist & Methodist, respectively)
  • Clues to their corporate strengths and passion as a congregation
  • Nuances guided by their location and facility assets within Dallas
  • An outward posture based on engaging the Dallas culture

Last week I had a follow-up visit with two of the churches. Here are exact quotes from their staff:

  • “We are not the same church we used to be.”
  • “Everyone in our church ‘gets it.’  They know who we are and what we are about, and this creates powerful synergy.
  • “As a result of our focus with leaders in the body, we gave $550,000 more than we ever have to a one-time missions offering (50% increase in giving).”
  • “Our greatest challenge is a willing readiness of our people to do more!”

More energy. Greater resources. Better synergy.  Would you like to have that right now at your church? Sure you would. Would you have guessed that the first step toward this “more” is defining for the first time what your specific mission is as a church? Probably not. And that’s my point. As a result of your generic mission you are most likely operating at less than 50% of what you could be. If you don’t know your mission, you certainly don’t have a culture of mission. And if you don’t have a culture of mission, than what are people in your church really doing? Why are they there?

TWO ANALOGIES

The first analogy is a restaurant start-up. Imagine that we were excited to start a new restaurant and believed it had the potential to be a successful franchise. To get off the ground we want to attract investors and a few talented people to join our ambitious dream. How successful do you think we would be if our mission were to “make food and serve the community?” You guessed it— not very. Why? The language of mission does nothing to differentiate us from the thousands of restaurants that already exist. Nor does it guide our thinking, synergy, planning and communication for practical next steps. We really need to decide whether we are a fast-casual Italian or fine-dining seafood? Right!?

Consider another very different example. My wife Romy is a very talented artist. Sometimes she paints a random scene or an image that inspired her. Sometime she paints with a purpose, selecting a pre-determined location for a painting with a specific objective that guides the content, color and emotion of the work. What might look like the same act to an unknowing observer—Romy painting two similar paintings—is actually very different. One painting requires no pre-thought or preparation. The other work of art is very calculated; she paints with a completely intensity and focus. Purpose changes everything!

So now it’s up to you. If this post means anything to you, conduct a litmus test: do your people know your mission? Is it meaningfully articulated based on your understanding of what your church can do better than 10,000 others? If not, then I think you are operating at a capacity less than 50% of what you should be. And that’s not an exaggeration. And, if you want to talk about it just let me know in the comments below.

If you already do run with a clear, concise, compelling and contextual mission, I would love to know about it and share it with the world. Let me know your mission in the comments section below.

Life if short and ministry is hard. So let’s lead with stunning clarity!

February 9, 2014

What’s More Important: A Culture of Mission, A Culture of Discipleship or a Culture of Leadership?

Culture of Mission

It’s amazing how “a culture of” lingo has been trending over the last couple of years. And for good reasons. The understanding of culture, especially with regard to congregational leadership, is very helpful. In fact when I pitched Church Unique in 2007, there were no popular leadership books with the title “church and culture” in the title. My working title for the book’s contract was:

OOZE VISION: How to Shape Church Culture to Guide Church Growth.

Since Church Unique, there have been at least five significant book titles (there are several others)  that have tried to leverage the idea of “culture” in the title:

So, the natural question seems to be, what kind of culture is most important? Does a culture of leadership trump a culture of discipleship? If I am working on a culture of mission, do I need to work separately on a culture of generosity? How many “cultures” am I supposed to be working on anyway?

Let’s start by eliminating the easy ones. As much as I believe in a culture of leadership and a culture of generosity, these are clearly subordinate to the biggest ideas of the church’s identity. Simply put God does not command us to go into the world and make leaders or centers of generosity. (More on Jesus use of leadership terminology.)

That leaves us with a culture of discipleship or a culture of mission. What is more important?

I don’t think there is an objectively correct answer to this question as much as there is a practically useful answer depending on your context. In the current context of North America in 2014, I believe the more useful answer is a culture of mission.

Why? There are four primary reasons:

  1. Most churches can easily mistake a programmatic culture for a culture of discipleship. Therefore the terminology doesn’t wake them up to their problem. A culture of mission has more teeth.
  2. The term discipleship tends to connote contextually, although not biblically, an inward or internal church focus. A culture of mission forces you to grapple with the people far from God whom you are poised to reach.
  3. A culture of mission subsumes a culture of discipleship so directly and clearly, but gives broader application to the nuances of each church’s application of mission. Mission is a bigger idea than discipleship in this regard.
  4. A culture of mission more clearly integrates all of the functions of the church better than a culture of discipleship. Again, this is not necessarily true at all times and places, but I believe there is a slight advantage to seeing it this way today.

Clearly a culture of mission and a culture of discipleship should take us to the same place. But I think it is more possible for a church to think of themselves as good at making disciples and be unclear on mission, than for church to be crystal clear on mission and not be focused on making disciples.

Another way I would support this point, is to ask the question, “What was in Jesus’ mind when he selected his first disciples. Mission or discipleship?” I did a fun post on this looking at three disciple-making catalysts in the life of Jesus. 

I am dying to hear your thoughts. What do you think?

February 7, 2014

One Simple and Powerful Practice to Create Staff Core Values that Perry Noble Forgot

NewSpring Church Core Values

First, I want to clarify that I am a big fan of Perry Noble and NewSpring Church. I  encourage any church to visit them as a benchmarking experience. Yet, when a highly platformed leader models a “missed practice,” friend or not, I am compelled to create a learning experience for the benefit of your vision and your team. I am highlighting Perry because so many churches utilize his church values list for inspiration and I know he won’t mind me teasing him a bit.

Recently, Perry blogged about his “staff core values” a common practice among visionary, creative type of pastors. Years ago, I worked through this with Chuck Swindoll who had list of  “church core values” and “ministry values” at Stonebriar.  At Faithbridge, where I serve as a leadership coach, we also had a separate list of values for the church and for the staff in the early days.  The impulse to do this is essence of leadership; guiding, shaping and directing the team! But one simple and powerful principle is often overlooked in the process of creating a tool for your staff.

Let’s unpack it so you can put it to work!

YOU DON’T NEED “LIST NUMBER TWO”

When it comes to creating “staff core values” or “guiding team principles” or whatever else you want to call them, don’t take the misstep of creating “list number two.” Don’t fragment your communication. Don’t create more complexity.  Don’t forget that your organization is a unified whole by creating a totally separate list of ideas. 

The good news is that you didn’t really need “list number two” for your staff.  You need better understanding of “list number one.” By creating “list number two,” you inadvertently do more work for less traction with your staff.

Minor thing, you say? Not really. Let me remind you that your followers don’t need more ideas; they need deeper ownership of the best ideas that you bring to the table – the biggest ideas that God has given you to lead with.

Put another way, your church does not need “staff core values,” your church needs “church core values” that the staff can live, model and operationalize. 

The key principle today: It’s hard enough to shape culture, so don’t dilute your efforts by segmenting cultures in your organization. There are lots of good things you need to segment, but your culture is not one of them.

REVISITING NEWSPRING – WHAT PERRY’S STAFF VALUES COULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE

Here are the five core values of NewSpring Church.

  • Found People Find People 
  • Saved People Serve People
  • Growing People Change
  • You Can’t Do Life Alone
  • You Can’t Outgive God

When Perry articulates his “staff core values” the list includes

  • 3 Imperatives (Listen to Jesus, Commit to CHANGE, and the Best is Yet to Come)
  • One imperative has 5 sub-points
  • One imperative has 9 sub-questions

It doesn’t take much to see how these values are related. So let’s see how one simple and powerful practice keeps Perry focused on leading one culture, not two:

Use staff “demonstrated by” statements for your church core values to explain, clarify and model how the staff uses them.

For example, the value of “growing people change” can have “staff demonstrated by” statements that build out the 5 sub-points. For example:

  • At NewSpring, staff demonstrate the value of “Growing People Change ” by maintaining a genuine posture of CARE for each person, even when the tasks feel overwhelming.
  • At NewsSpring, staff demonstrate the value of “Growing People Change” by practicing AWE; never forgetting where we came from and how far God has brought us.

Imagine, for example, how powerful Perry’s 9 sub-questions as decision-making filters would have been if he placed those under the value of “You can’t do life alone.” If you look at those questions they are all about being in communion with Jesus, the Spirit and the community of other leaders at the church. Now this core value would have some depth and dimension to it rather than just being a hammer to pound people into small groups.

BREAK-THRU CLARITY FOR YOUR TEAM

Why not take an hour as a team and work on some “demonstrated by” statements as a staff? (I actually did this a week ago and will share it in another post.)

  1. Review your values as an organization
  2. Give everyone a chance to individually record how they demonstrate these day to day in their role
  3. Have everyone write down their 3-5 statements
  4. Share these as a team when everyone is done writing
  5. Highlight the ones that resonate with the entire group
  6. Create new “demonstrated by” statements  together through 30 minutes of discussion
  7. Assign a final wordsmith and redistribute to the team
  8. Build the review of these into monthly or quarterly meetings
  9. Use these for staff self-evaluation and review
  10. Read this post as fuel for the conversation
December 30, 2013

14 Posts You Loved (of over 500 Written) – #3 on the 2014 Ministry Vision and Planning Countdown

October 20, 2013

10 Rules of Raw Part Two: How to Reach 20 Somethings (with Illustrations from Austin Stone)

Jacob Mancini. Will's son at Austin Stone ChurchIf you have not seed the first part of this series, check out the explanation and illustration of the first five Rules of Raw. The post was spawned by the last 5 years of seeing the patterns of churches that do an excellent job reaching the 18-29 year olds. These churches display not a certain “worship style” per se, but an atmospheric tone that I describe as “raw.” I am using my recent visit to Austin Stone to illustrate some of these points. If you have read the first post, here is the refresher of the first five:

#1 Integrity of self-expression is stylish.   Raw = Don’t try to hard

#2 Honesty is the new quality.   Raw = Be vulnerable

#3 Influence is proximate or not at all.  Raw = Get closer than comfortable 

#4 Bold is beautiful.  Raw = Magnify reality

#5 Direct gains respect.  Raw = Don’t spin, don’t schmooze

Okay, let’s unpack the next five:

#6 Keep it simple or throw it away.  Raw = Make it obviously usable

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 2.12.25 PMOur culture is increasingly ruthless when it comes to functionality.

At Austin Stone, I was impressed with two things that highlight this point. First, they do a great job of turning a high school into a church. No small effort goes into making the facility itself usable. For example they use large blue banners to make the long, labyrinth-like journey, totally clear. I mean, they use lots of banners to create a highly visible popcorn trail.

I also observed their groups placement process for missional communities. They made the “how of connecting” incredibly simple. People, videos, maps, and easy-to-navigate kiosks all contributed to a seamless and user-friendly experience.

For example, groups had a clear decision-making pathway: Choose geography first, then weekday preference, then affinity interest. I could talk with people in the groups selection process, or could work the group selection filters privately and easily on iPad. Connecting in Missional Community at Austin Stone

#7 Challenge is expected.  Raw = Go hard core

Some of our churches need to think more like cross-fit trainers. People, generally speaking, are wanting to be pushed and challenged more than we think. As inferred by the book directed toward students, “Do Hard Things” a whole generation is sick and tired of a dumbed-down, expect-less faith.

Here are some of the final imperatives in the message I took in:

  • Do you want the presence of God in your life? Repent often!
  • If you are you in a missional community, then renew your devotion!
  • If you are not in a missional community, repent of not giving yourself away to others!

#8 No acceptance, no good.  Raw = Take everything “as is”

Churches have been talking for a long time about creating a “come as you are” culture. We have seen mantra’s like “no perfect people allowed” and creating a “safe haven” for people seeking God. If you have progress with a culture of acceptance that’s awesome. But keep pushing the throttle. A 20-something will hit the eject button on your church if they sniff the slightest hint of judgement- even levels of judgement considered prudent by previous generations. The litmus test these days is your church’s posture toward gays and lesbians.  How are you progressing at extending gospel-centered acceptance to people despite their current lifestyle or sinful choices?

#9 Young is smart.  Raw = Let the rookies play

One impressive upside to the various aspects of “raw” these days  is an openness to people development. There is a cutting edge of getting people in the game, not just with all the stuff we over-recruit for at church (greeters, set-up, children), but with more extensive leadership functions.  This is immediately experienced at Austin Stone by a teaching team presence, visible pastors of “leadership development” and open invites into leadership opportunities. The day I attended, the lead pastor didn’t preach. Yet it was one of the “most important” Sundays of year for the senior leader to be visible, from a traditional viewpoint. In a raw culture, we cling to people development more than production excellence. 

#10 Feel something.  Raw = Move me

Perhaps the greatest sin in the pursuit of “raw” is to be boring. In a day where our media-saturated lives are bombarded with lots of stuff, please don’t miss that the stuff is more story rich, humor-savvy, and extreme “sportified.” The news gets to us faster with less filters. We don’t read about the what happened yesterday in Iraq. We see it live. iTunes doesn’t just sell music online, they host a 30-day global music festival in London for free. The “Red Bull effect” is in full swing and your church can leverage it for the gospel.

In some ways the last element of raw is the culmination of the first nine. When I am accepted and hear the gospel with humble transparency; when I am challenged and invited to a more real life; when people get close and imperfect people really are important— I am moved. 

Don’t be afraid to be louder and truer. Take the risk to be more honest more often. Be bold but be yourself. Try out some “raw” and see what happens!