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!

December 25, 2013

#7 on the Ministry Vision and Planning 2014 Countdown: 7 Practices for Keeping Jesus at the Center of Church Staff

Will Mancini's Gospel Centered Church vision and planning

Merry Christmas everyone! This post is about keeping baby Jesus in the middle of our “daily mangers” all year long.

Before my ministry path took me down the consulting road, I served as a pastor of spiritual formation. My first love, theologically speaking, is sanctification. Most of my motivation for going to seminary was to learn how to walk with God (I know, maybe not the best place to learn that). I often couldn’t wait to get my coursework done, in order to devour the “spiritual reading” of the scores of mystics and saints from centuries past.

As a guy that most people put in the “organizational box” the roots of my org-based work come from my passion for gospel-centered spiritual formation. For example, I  assert that there is no church vision that is not a discipleship vision first, and there is no discipleship vision that is not a Gospel vision first. With the recent popular emphasis on Gospel centrality, i.e, the need for “the explicit Gospel” to use Matt Chandler’s phrase, I thought it would be helpful to look at vision and planning this year through the lens of strengthening our emotional connection to the Gospel. How do we rely more substantially on Jesus and the power of His Good News as we do our planning as a church?

#1 Model more prayer time for the adoration of Jesus

How you pray reveals much. And how you pray is an act of leadership. If you are like me, prayer time can naturally drift toward pragmatic stuff of the organization or the unceasing needs of our people. Why not mark your planning time, and team gathering moments early this year with a more lavish experience of praise and exaltation of Jesus. Make sure to prepare your heart first and model this with genuine passion.

#2 Identity and take responsibility for the organizational-cultural idols within your church

It’s easily to rely on ourselves when it comes to “feeling good about church” and being satisfied with our job performance. In each culture there are unique expressions of what the leaders may rely on. For example:

  • Creativity and recent attendance momentum
  • Flagship standing in the denomination
  • Hitting  a point of financial sustainability as a young church
  • Success of a new service or program or campus
  • Your prior reputation at a previous church
  • Financial security as a church

What are you tempted to add to the Gospel in order to make your church work? What could you be trying to substitute for the Gospel as the functional driver of life-change? Please be assured that there is some answer to these questions. Your opportunity as the leader is to identify them, take responsibility for your role in sustaining them and then encouraging personal and group repentance.

#3 Repent more often and more visibly as a leader with your leaders

This is a tricky one as many leaders have no category for this kind of leadership. It is very freeing once you give it a try. Simply put, you want to find opportunities, at the appropriate “levels” and places to reveal your struggles as a leader and confess your sins as a human being. Remember its not about you or even your leadership- its about the Gospel. One obstacle to taking the Gospel more seriously is taking ourselves too seriously. And the Gospel will have no life and vitality in the organization if the leadership is not letting it expose and restore and give hope amidst the daily grind.

#4 Recalibrate your leadership language

Whatever we love will show itself through the sophistication of our language. I love to mountain bike and I love to fish for smallmouth bass in rivers. I would be glad to unpack the vocabulary of cadence, 29″ wheels or head tube angles. I can go all day talking about Rapala and Tiny Torpedo lures, 6-poind test or  the pound-for-pound thrill of landing a fish after a topwater hit.

So how is your Gospel fluency? More importantly how do practice using gospel images and phrases each day? How often do you make the Gospel explicit? Here is a powerful reference called “Atonement Grammars” from Tim Keller to get you started. Here is a free book summary from our SUMS tool for Keller’s Center Church. 

#5 Cultivate urgency

Where the Gospel is clear and strong, urgency will be felt. How can you call your staff or volunteer leaders to respond? How can you mark planning retreats or staff meetings not only with hope but with a sense courage? For example, instead of just talking about a partnership with a local ministry, why not go there, pray for them and give to them and THEN discuss a potential partnership with your staff. As the leader you can create and model a Gospel-centered bias for action.

#6 Invite new accountability

I am amazed and encouraged by the common thread of interest in Gospel-centrality among staff throughout the country. Why not find a buddy to check in with once a month for ideas and encouragement? I bet everyone reading this post has a friend or two at another church or ministry who would enjoy a twelve-month partnership to this end.

 #7 Read together as leaders

This year you may want to allocate more time to reading through the gospels. The YouVersion Bible App has a reading plan for this.  A great recent book to use (that actually discusses gospel-centered culture in church) is Creature of the Word by Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger and Josh Patterson. Here is a link to some free tools our SUMS free book summary.

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!

September 21, 2013

10 Rules of Raw that will Make Your Church More Relevant

Will Mancini - The Austin Stone

Raw is the best way to articulate the new relevance of church. Keep in mind that the term itself has varied definitions, most of which are helpful in describing mindset of church leaders that are better at reaching people in their 20s and 30s.

Raw =

  • not processed, undiluted & unvarnished
  • frank, overt & stark
  • powerfully impressive & hard core

For this post I will not reference demographics, but summarize the ambiance I see regularly in churches that have a stronger edge in attracting and sending younger leaders. To provide illustration, I will use a recent service I attended at The Austin Stone.

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

If you haven’t noticed, it really doesn’t matter what your style is, it just matters that you are true to whoever you are. When that happens, the passion and the “being good at being you” factor, trumps genre.

At Austin Stone for example, an African American worship leader led a primarily Anglo congregation. At one point we sang a hymn, at one point we screamed our heads off, chanting recently written worship choruses.

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

Does “excellence” really matter anymore? In some ways yes and in other ways no. The basic expectations of our culture bring a “quality threshold” that a public gathering like a church should meet. But people don’t notice when you have it. It’s a permission-to-play thing; they only notice it when you don’t. What they do notice is the vulnerability of the leader. If he or she is refreshingly honest, there is respect and attraction.

When Tyler David bookended his message with an illustration, it wasn’t just helpfully clear and it wasn’t just funny. It was revealing. He was willing to make fun of himself and that made a huge difference with his audience. When it came time for serious application of the text, sharing his own weakness was natural.

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

The hunger for relationship and connection not only requires honestly but proximity and access. People want to be up-close with others. You can impress people from a distance but people don’t want to be just impressed, they want to be known. And they probably want you “closer” than you realize.

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 9.38.26 AMAt the Stone, platform leaders stayed around and mingled. The put up slides to introduce their leadership- they wanted to be visible. The greeters were incredibly engaging. After-the-service opportunities to connect were very clear with people-savvy people “lining the way.” Albeit a large service (I am guess over 2,000), the environment invited people into relationship.

Austin Stone Welcoming

#4 Bold is beautiful.  Raw = Magnify reality

The opportunity to be bold is related to the first three rules. So don’t try to be bold if your not being real. But when it comes to the overall tone of your organization and your leadership style, boldness is desirable. This is not the time, or the generation, to shield the truth about sin, or leave the benefits of the gospel understated. Don’t paint in muted colors; show more contrast and create higher definition in all you do.

The message at Austin Stone had many short punchy statements that carried a boldness factor. The lyrics and the volume of worship could be described as bold. Perhaps the first bold impression  is the name of the church itself. It is not “Austin Stone” it is, “The Austin Stone.” Does that sound too arrogant to you? Maybe it’s just being bold in a way that you’re not used to.

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

Model preaching during my years of seminary carried an “indirect factor.”  We looked for metaphors to carry the force of a point. For example, you didn’t say, “You need to be more accepting.”  You tell a story about someone who took down their fence, and say, “Take down your fences.”

Today it is possible to be too indirect.  Some specific statements in Tyler David’s sermon include:

- You can’t see God, you can’t see Jesus, you can’t see the Holy Spirit…What can you see if this Gospel is good? You see community.

- It’s easy to think you are loving when everyone you love is like you.

- Some communities simply feed our egos and hide our arrogance.

- Without mission our communities turn our gifts on each other and nitpick in the name of holiness.

Sometimes a go-for-the-throat style is more appreciated. Have you noticed this trend over the last few years?

THE NEXT FIVE RULES…

In the next post I will unpack the next five rules of raw:

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

#7 Challenge is expected.  Raw = Go hard core

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

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

#10 Feel something.  Raw = Move me

August 29, 2013

Incredible Coaching Opportunity for Pastors in Texas: Missional Megachurch co::Lab with Lead Pastor David Saathoff


David Saathoff of City Church San Antonio

How would you like to get 24 hours of vision, strategy and missional leadership coaching from one of the most effective lead pastors in the country? David Saathoff, lead pastor of City Church in San Antonio, will be leading a Vision co::Lab in Houston, TX from September – February, located conveniently near Hobby Airport at my home church- Clear Creek Community Church

I am particularly excited about this opportunity to learn from David. 

Personally, I have never seen a more effective staff or church culture when it comes to embodying the value of reaching people far from God. 

Some amazing things that God is doing at City Church:

  • Reaching 7,000 in worship on less than 6 acres
  • 9 services in 3 locations
  • 50% Hispanic, 35% Anglo, 15% African American
  • Radical permission giving “be the church” vibe
  • Attract all lifestyles: bikers to bankers, gays and lesbians & addicts
  • They openly share lots of experiments & mistakes

City church is unbelievably ordinary but experiences extraordinary results. In the end, David humbly shares: “We’ve figured out that missional activity actually works by living it out daily.” Not many megachurch leaders can say that.

And that’s why I am thrilled to have David lead a co::Lab in Houston. Our co::Labs are co:ntinuous and co:laborative communities where 8 churches come together (4 people per church) to walk the Vision Pathway. We meet six times, one time per month, for four hours of training on topics like:

  • Reading the culture of your community
  • Assessing your congregation’s strengths
  • Rallying people to a common cause
  • Shaping a church’s internal culture
  • Leading a vision process
  • Mentoring staff
  • Releasing the church for community impact
  • Radically simplifying the mechanics of church

Of course you will get the standard deliverables and toolkit that come with every Church Unique Vision co::Lab. And I will be joining David for several sessions.

To learn more about this incredible coaching opportunity, e-mail Cheryl to get the dates, cost and further details.