My Must-Read Books

I recently came across a book titled, 501 Must-Read Books. I have no idea how the author came up with their 501 books, but it made me think: what books would I include on a “must-read” list?

I was given a chance to consider this after moving into a new house recently. As I was setting up my office I was trying to down-size my library. There were some books that would obviously not make the list, as I had an easy time throwing them in my “donate-to-the-thrift-store” box. Others made me pause and think about whether it was a book that I might want to glance through again. Some easily made it onto my shelves because they had made an impact on my life and ministry and I did not want to part with them.

Here are twenty-eight books that have impacted me, in no specific order:

The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as If He Doesn’t Exist, Craig Groeschel (2010)

The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times, Robert J. Morgan (2014)

Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas (1996)

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, by Jim Cymbala (1997)

A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer, by John Piper (1997)

Visioneering: God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining personal vision, by Andy Stanley (1999)

Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church, by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson (2007)

Leading On Empty, by Wayne Cordeiro (2009)

And: The Gathered and Scattered Church, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (2010)

The Empowerment Pivot: How God is Redefining Our View of Normal, by Douglas A. Balzer (2020)

Divine Appointments, by Bob Jacks and Matthew R. Jacks, with Pam Mellskog (2002)

Who Moved My Pulpit? by Thom S. Rainer (2016)

Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, by Andy Stanley (2012)

No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church, by Ron Klassen and John Koessler (1996)

How to Thrive as a Small-Church Pastor, by Steve R. Bierly (1988)

The Monday Morning Church: Out of the Sanctuary and Into the Streets, by Jerry Cook (2006)

Communicating for Change, by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (2006)

The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving, by Randy Alcorn (2001)

The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, by R, Paul Stevens (1999)

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, by Skye Jethani (2011)

Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer is Awakening a Generation, by Pete Greig and Dave Roberts (2003)

Prayer Coach: For All Who Want to Get Off the Bench and Onto the Praying Field, by James L. Nicodem (2008)

Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach, by Tony Stoltzfus (2005)

Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking all the Rurals, by Shannon O’Dell (2010)

Don’t Invite Them to Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church, by Karen Wilk (2010)

Boondock Church: Small town – Massive Potential, Tony Warriner (2019)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip & Dan Heath (2010)

Every Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey (2000)

Those are 28 of my favorites, to name a few. Some of these have impacted me recently, others impacted me years ago, and I still remember being challenged as I read them.

If you were to create your own “must-read” books list, which books would you include?

Let me know in the comments – I’m always interested in recommencations!

Keep looking up,

Andy

8 Ways to Make New People Feel Welcome

I attended a funeral for the father of a lady in our church. She was from a Portuguese background. Her Dad attended a Portuguese Catholic Church in the city. We arrived at the church, having never been there before. We didn’t understand the traditions, and definitely didn’t understand the language. Even though I had been attending church all my life, the things happening here were foreign to me. We had to work hard to try to know when to stand and sit.

I visited a friend’s home church with him. Just before the pastor entered the church, from the back, everyone stood up, and remained standing while he walked up to the front. I wouldn’t have known what to do except my friend whispered instructions to me.

In one church I served the tradition was to stand when singing. Whether the music leader directed the congregation to stand or not.

I attended one church where the children were sent to their classes part way through the service. The problem was, there was no announcement made, and no direction on the screens. The children, or their parents, just knew at what point they were to head to their classes.

If you have visited a church for a first time, you probably have some of your own stories of feeling out of place. We need to go out of our way to welcome new people and let them know what is happening. We assume that because we know what is happening, and what to do, everyone else does as well. That is just not true.

Here are some ways that we can do better at making new people feel welcome:

1. Informative Website. Make sure that people can learn about your church on your website. (Contact me for a website audit.) The most important information should be on the front home page: your address, service start time, and phone number and email address so they can contact the church with questions. The site should be easy to navigate so visitors can quickly find a description of how your service works and what to expect, as well as what kind of activities and programs your church offers and how they can join. Make sure your buttons or page headings are clearly marked so that visitors can easily find your statement of faith.

2. Parking Lot. Make sure people know where to park. At one church I served, the parking was behind the church building. To find the parking lot you had to drive up a driveway past the church, which was not clear to newcomers. You might even want to have reserved spaces for guests nearest to the front door.

3. Welcome Team. Every church, no matter its size, needs to have a welcome team. These may be formal greeters standing at the door, or simply people who have signed up to be on the watch for new people to greet. This team should be trained in how to say hi to people, how to direct them where to go, or even to assist them with their children. Smaller churches may not need to have formal greeters at the door, if the Welcome Team members are familiar enough with church members to notice when someone is new. In your endeavor to make new people as welcome as possible, you might even want to have one or two people helping people find a parking spot.

4. Handouts. More and more churches are doing away with the paper bulletin, especially as Covid restrictions have affected that practice. While this is a practical response to the restrictions, paper handouts are valuable in providing people with something they can look at while they wait for the service to start.

If your church has decided against paper handouts, then ensure the church website is visible, perhaps on announcement or welcome slides, so people can have access to a digital version of a bulletin while waiting. To support accessibility, make sure your wifi and password information are also advertised.

5.  Clear Directions from Leaders. Make sure the leaders up front on Sunday mornings know how to guide the service and inform the congregation on what is expected. If the music leader wants the congregation to stand, then invite them to do so; if the music leader would like them to remain seated, then ask them to remain seated. When taking up the offering, give clear directions on what is happening and what is expected of guests. Never assume that everyone understands the practices and traditions of your church. If children are dismissed during the service, be very clear about when and what is expected of them and their parents. You might want to give a “heads up” right at the beginning of the service so the parents are prepared ahead of time.

6. Clear Signage. There is a lot happening each Sunday morning and people need to know how to navigate around the building. Make sure you have signs directing people towards the washrooms, nursery, and children’s classrooms. If your children’s ministry uses a check-in system, make sure to post instructions where people will see them, or on the screen at the front of the auditorium. Do everything you can to communicate clearly.

7. Welcoming Atmosphere. Encourage and train your congregation to be on the lookout for new people, and make an effort to initiate a brief conversation with them. Train people on possible questions and conversation starters. Maybe you include brief training on this in the Membership Class or at the Annual Meeting, anywhere you are speaking to the church’s core group.

8. Avoid Insideritis. Jeff Henderson, author of – Know What You Are For: A Growth Strategy for Work, An even Better Strategy for Life – talks about “insideritis”, where the focus is on insiders rather than outsiders. This is evident in how a church assumes everyone knows “their” language, or knows who they are talking about when they refer to Susie or John or Peter. Remember that a key purpose of the church and its services is to invite and include those who are outsiders.

Working hard to welcome guests is of utmost importance if you want your church to grow. People who are not welcomed or who feel offended or left out at some point, will not want to return. Do everything in your power to make new people feel welcome.

Keep looking up,

Andy

*A helpful tool to assess your level of welcome is to do a Welcome Audit. (Contact me to complete one for your church)

Find Ways to Enjoy Every Season of Your Life

The yellow and red leaves on the trees are ushering in our Fall season. I love the different seasons we have in Canada. There is a clear winter, usually with lots of snow and cold weather. There is a clear summer where it can get quite warm. We had 40 degrees Celsius this summer in northern Alberta. In between we have Spring where nature around us is waking up from its long winter nap. And we have Fall, when we see the green of summer change to the red and yellow of fall, and then the white of winter. Each season has an official day of beginning and ending, but nature follows its own schedule.

Each season has certain activities associated with it. Winter means more time indoors, or outdoors if you are a fan of the cold and snow. Summer is the natural time for vacations as students get a break from school. Summer is sometimes also referred to as the “construction season”, as crews try to do road construction before the cold returns.

A TIME FOR EVERYTHING

Ecclesiastes 3 has a famous poem about seasons:

1There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Our lives have seasons, as does our work life. There are times when life slows down a little, and there are times when life is so full that we feel we can hardly think. I have been in a busy season as my wife and I recently bought a new house, I changed jobs, and began my first Transition Pastor position.

The house required a couple of inspections, a lot of work to get the mortgage and insurance completed, some additional maintenance on the house, and the actual move. We had to clean out our rental and get it ready for the final walk through. We cleaned out our storage unit and started going through boxes to see what we had and where to put it.

My job required all the usual paperwork of a new job and joining a denomination I had not been part of for almost five years. I had to have Elder meetings and develop a Transition Plan. I had to get used to how things were working at the church and how I would schedule my week with them as I am commuting 110 km to serve them.

SLOW SEASONS

Some of you may be in a season that allows you to slow down a bit. You have some time to catch up with your jobs around the house that you have been putting aside. Maybe you are able to catch up with your spouse and with friends. Enjoy this season, and do the things you have been neglecting in your busy seasons. Be purposeful during this time to pursue the relationships that matter. Even though you still read your Bible and spend time with God, and connect with your spouse and family, use this time to dig in. Take more concentrated time to just be with Jesus, reading and mulling over what the scriptures say. Take time to go on that needed vacation with your family, or that date with your spouse. Enjoy sleeping in a bit. Bears hibernate so they are ready for spring. Use this time to be ready for the busy season that is most likely coming.

BUSY SEASONS

Maybe you are in a busy season right now. You feel overwhelmed with all that is demanded of you. You recognize that your emotions are at a limit, you get angry much quicker than usual. And you wonder how you will be able to hold it all together.

If you are in a busy season, here are a few things you might want to consider, not necessarily in any order:

1. Is this a capacity issue, or are you really this busy? Some of us can handle more than others, which of course means that some of us can handle less than others. We need to know how to work at our capacity, and find ways to expand that capacity. Be diligent about scheduling and arranging your days and weeks in the way that will give you the best time and energy to tackle all you need to do.

2. Determine what is yours and what you can hand off to someone else. Sometimes we are carrying a load that we do not need to carry. It may be that you are doing things that someone else can do. At work, do you have someone else on staff, or a volunteer, who can take some of the things you are doing? Have you taken on something that isn’t even yours? Hand that off, or even just put it aside. If you are doing things that are not your responsibility at work, why? If you are carrying things in your personal life that are not yours, let them go. Some of us are such caring “people persons” that we carry loads that are not ours to worry about. Give good advice, pray for people, and encourage them to work on solving their own issues.

3. Pray. Did you ever notice how Jesus took time to pray in his busy days? In Mark 1: 35-39 we read:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus had just had some very busy day of people and ministry. Very early the next day, the first thing he did was find a quiet place away from everyone, and pray. He needed to spend time with the Father before going about the work of ministry. And…the time of prayer helped him to renew his commitment to what God’s plan was. He didn’t work to appease the crowds, but continued on with what he knew his purpose was.

So, pray. Reset yourself to see and know God as the one who is truly in charge of your day, who will remind you what your main priorities of this season should be.

We all have seasons we go through in life. Some are very busy, but make sure you continue to remind yourself of what is truly your responsibility and what is not.

May God guide you and give you joy in all seasons of your life.

Keep looking up!

Andy

13 Ways to Make Prayer a Priority

I hope I don’t have to convince you that prayer needs to be a priority in your church. If I do, just take some time to skim through the gospels and notice how many times and circumstances you see Jesus praying. He gives thanks for a lunch, teaches the disciples the “Lord’s Prayer”, prays for future believers, and on and on. If the Son of God felt the need to talk with his Father that much, then we should follow that example. If that is not enough, then search “prayer” on your Bible app and you will see the many times Paul taught about it. We know prayer is important, so, I am going to focus on the many ways you can make prayer a priority in your church, teaching it and practicing it.

1. Pray During Church Services

I visited a church, where the sermon was teaching on prayer and I could not recall them praying even once in the service. Open in prayer, pray for missions, offer a Pastoral Prayer, give a prayer of thanksgiving for the offering, and close with a benediction prayer.

2. Offer Prayer Following the service

Many churches give opportunity for people to come to the front or to a side room for prayer following the service. They may have heard God speak and need to spend some time in prayer or have a leader pray with them.

3. Preservice Prayer

I like the idea of people praying before the service, sometimes with all who are involved in the service. I have a caution though; I think it is very valuable for the pastor to be greeting members and newcomers before the service, so do your preservice prayer early enough that you are done in time to be available to greet people as they arrive.

4. Prayer Night

It might be good to have an occasional or regular night of prayer. You could teach a little on prayer, and then focus the rest of the time on actually praying.

5. Prayer Trios

Ask people to commit to pray with two others weekly for a certain extended period of time. They could meet at any time that is good for them for fifteen minutes or more, praying for a specific concern.

6. Small Group Prayer

If your church has small groups, encourage them to regularly have a time of prayer for and with each other.

7. Elders/ Leadership Team Prayer

Make prayer a regular part of each meeting you have with the leadership team, elders, deacons or board. Pray about your agenda, pray for specific programs and people each time you meet. Or have a monthly meeting dedicated to praying for the church.

8. Plan a Prayer Emphasis

There have been a few times where I led our church in a three-week prayer emphasis with preaching on prayer on the Sundays around it. I prepared special prayer guides for each person prepared to give direction as they prayed.

9. Teach on Prayer

Teach your congregation how to pray. You could even preach through the Lord’s Prayer which Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray!

10. Prayer Chain

The Prayer Chain was a staple in some of the churches I pastored. One person received the prayer request and then passed it on down the line, phoning the next person who phoned the next person. Today we can just email or phone everyone at once, but find a way to quickly inform your congregation of prayer needs. Use this often and regularly.

11. Pray with People

When you visit with Christian friends, take time to pray together. When someone asks you to pray for them, do it. Do it right then with them, and then commit to praying for them.

12. Pray Prayers of Dedication and Commission

There are many occasions of celebration, dedication, and commission in a church and each of these events are great opportunities to pray and ask God’s blessing, direction, and presence be involved.

  • Every September I invited all who were going to serve in the church in the next year to stand, or even come to the front, and we prayed a prayer of commissioning for them for the role they were taking on for the next year.
  • When we had missionaries come speak at the church, who were heading overseas shortly, we would pray for them as well.
  • I love Child Dedications and enjoy praying a blessing on the child incorporating the meanings of the child’s name.
  • It’s important to pray for those who have just been baptized to protect them from Satan’s attacks, like the ones Jesus faced after his baptism.

13. Pray for Healing

This is sometimes a scary thing to do, but pray for those who are sick. They may be healed, and they may not be healed. But scripture makes it clear, Jesus healed people in the Bible. James teaches that prayer should be part of the church, specifically calling on the elders of the church to pray. Go to those who call you to pray for them, or have times where you specifically invite people to come forward for prayer for healing after a service. Sometimes we would connect this to a Communion Service.

There are many creative ways to pray, teach prayer, and lead in prayer.. Make prayer a priority by doing it.

Keep looking up!

Andy

Ask People to Give

Reaching people for Jesus costs money. Running a church with all its ministries costs money.

The truth is, your church needs money. Bills come in regularly for the electricity, gas, insurance, and on and on. Salaries must be paid. And vision needs to be funded.

Conversations about money make some people squirm. Especially if it is about their money.

As a pastor, you can talk about money in a number of different ways, some better than others. For example, you can hammer them with Old Testament scriptures and tell them they have to give, or you can tell them they need to pay for their ability to enjoy the services, like a user-fee.

MONEY AND DISCIPLESHIP

Or, instead, you can invite them to listen to God, and give as He directs. I like the idea of talking with the congregation about their discipleship and how being a follower of Jesus means allowing him access to all areas of my life, including my money. If we don’t give him control, money can become the root of all kinds of evil. Like anything else we don’t hand over to Jesus, it can become our god.

There are many great studies and programs that churches can use to help teach their congregation how to handle money as God would want them to, and help the congregation see how budgeting can help them handle their money with purpose. Tithing is an act of budgeting, even for those who do not have an actual budget. The effort of deliberately figuring out 10% is the beginning of budgeting.

You can teach them how even a little savings each month can add up over time for when they need to make a bigger purchase without borrowing. Borrowing money, using debt of any kind, always means the costs is actually higher. Saving ahead of time means you may not have to borrow, or not as much, when that big need comes along. My wife has been slowly putting money into a separate account over the last number of years. Her money, along with a tax refund I had, enabled us to recently have enough money for a down payment on a house. We can finally own a home again because of the savings she did!

MONEY AND VISION

I like tying any conversation about money, with vision. Clearly, to do this, you need to have a vision to point to. If you have a vision for your church that you and your leadership have prayerfully worked through, then you believe this is what God wants your church to pursue. Explain to your congregation how their funding of that vision will help make the vision a reality.

If your church’s vision includes winning youth to Christ, you might point to how their giving helps pay the Youth Pastor. If your church’s vision includes providing space for local 12-step programs, show how their giving helps provide a space for the community to meet. And just maybe, when those who attend the community programming are looking for a church, they will check out yours. You could even highlight a certain aspect of the church budget once a month and show how it enables your church’s vision to be accomplished.

And you could point to how sacrifice is an important part of the Christian life. Maybe your congregation needs a challenge, and maybe a bit of sacrifice, in order to accomplish great things for God in your community!

MONEY CONVERSATIONS

Be creative in how you talk to your congregation about money and their giving.

  • I have used some video clips that were very well done and got the point across without me needing to say anything.
  • Include a verse about money and giving with other onscreen announcements.
  • Say a few pertinent words just before the offering is taken.
  • Ask some people who are willing to share a short testimony about how God has guided them in their giving.
  • And of course, don’t hesitate to preach a sermon, or even a series, on finances.
  • And feel free to share about how you handle your own money.

It is important to highlight money and giving as part of discipling your congregation. You could schedule different creative methods to be used on a yearly calendar. Make talking about money a priority. Don’t be afraid to do it.

And keep looking up,

Andy

*If you are wondering how well your church is doing in light of its giving, and would like an outside voice, I can work through a Financial Audit with your church.

The Incredible Value of Checklists!

During one of our breaks from pastoral ministry, I learned to drive a school bus. It was definitely an interesting experience. When I was about to complete the season, another driver commented that I had lasted very well on the worst run in the city. I picked up inner city kids and took them to school. Most of them came from difficult situations, but I tried to find ways of connecting with them and encouraging them.

As I was taking my training for my Class 2 license, which you need to drive a bus, the instructor walked me through a detailed list of what to check each morning to ensure the bus was safe to drive. This is not unique to driving busses; truckers have a similar pre-trip check to do. Usually this is done with a memorized checklist, but when I was later driving bus for a different company, they had a specific checklist I had to go through and sign each morning.

Checklists help you to make sure you remember to check all the important things. This applies to many places in life.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I go through a mental checklist most evenings before I head to bed:

  • Is my lunch prepared?
  • Have I laid out my clothes for the next work day?
  • Did I brush my teeth?
  • Did I remember to take my medications?
  • Did I set my alarm?
  • Did I plug in my phone?

The list helps me to remember what I want to remember.

Checklists can help you to train new volunteers at church. Checklists are doubly useful in training, both for the trainer and the new volunteer.  A checklist ensures the trainer knows exactly what training needs to take place. The checklist will remind them of what paperwork needs to be filled out, or what activities need to be practiced. The new volunteer can also be provided with a checklist to remind them what needs to be done.

Let’s pretend you are training a new worship leader. You can have them work alongside a current worship leader like an apprentice for a few weeks. The leader can make sure they are following the current checklist, a copy of which is then provided to the new volunteer. The checklist could look something like this:

  • Get the theme and scripture from the speaker for that Sunday.
  • Choose 5 songs that fit into that theme.
  • Sort/find the music for all musicians that will be leading worship with you.
  • Send the music titles (and music sheets) to all the worship staff and volunteers on your team.
  • Practice the music yourself.
  • Arrange practice time and practice with team during the week.
  • Arrange for all the team to come early on Sunday to do Sound checks
  • Etc.

Create lists according to the tasks that need to be done in each role, and encourage new volunteers to add to the list as they notice things that may have been missed.

I use a checklist like this in creating my sermons. I have a fairly long list that has certain comments and questions that help me think through my sermon from every aspect I think is important. Here are just a few things on my sermon checklist:

  • Who is the original audience?
  • How will this appeal to the 12-year-old boy in the pew?
  • What practical application steps can I suggest?
  • What are questions this scripture answers?

This list reminds me of what I have found to be important in the creating of a sermon. Some of them remind me of certain steps in my research. Other items remind me how to develop a good application at the end of the sermon. This is a list I have slowly compiled over the years, adding or adapting items as I discovered more steps I wanted to remember to use.

Checklists need to be open to adjustment. Sometimes a good book will encourage you to add another step. Over time some steps may be eliminated if they become irrelevant.

Checklists are a great tool to become better at what you do, to develop consistency, and to train new volunteers.

I’d love to hear about how checklists have helped you.

Keep looking up!

Andy

Keep the Covid Wins

It has felt liberating to let go of the various covid restrictions on churches, as well as many other areas in our public life, since many restrictions have lifted where I live.

The tendency for many churches may be to go right back to doing what they did pre-covid, leaving behind the new creative ideas they were forced into as they tried to continue doing ministry while respecting the restrictions. This means that there will be some “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. Some of the creative solutions you came up with to continue to serve your congregation during covid restrictions may be of great value to your church over the long haul. Churches are often slow to introduce new things, but the restrictions required both church leaders and church attenders to be open to try new things because they had to.

Keep the wins!

Each church has made unique changes to respond to and adopt new realities over the last year and a half. It may be difficult to picture what the church will look like going forward, but those who are willing to learn and adopt some new methods for their future will benefit in the long run.

As I have heard stories from various pastors, I realize there have been many creative adventures that can continue post-covid. Here are some examples:

  • Maybe the online option can be continued so that those who are not able to attend on a Sunday can observe from home, or newcomers can check out the church before attending in person.
  • One pastor said they had conducted some services outside on their lawn while adhering to covid restrictions. They bought a transmitter so people could even sit in their cars and listen if they chose. Some unchurched people had tuned in, and joined them when they moved back into the building. This creative idea was so well received that they will continue to have monthly “lawn services” throughout the summer.
  • One church continues to host Zoom small group meetings because they worked so well for them.
  • One children’s ministry volunteer was disappointed that their church no longer requires children to be pre-registered for Sunday School, because this information ensured that there were always enough staff for the number of children attending.
  • Some churches purchased thousands of dollars of gift card to local businesses and then dropped them off for the small business owners. They offered to pray for them as well. This was very well received.
  • One church began a Facebook prayer group for their town. Community member joined the group. They were amazed when the mayor joined the group, but were thrilled when she submitted prayer requests for community concerns she knew about.
  • The church I attend sent little care packages to singles in the church to make sure they knew the church was thinking about them. Many people were struggling with loneliness when quarantined at home, and they knew this could be especially hard for single people.

As you read these examples, you may be surprised at the creativity, or maybe cringe inside – not all ideas will work for all churches. Think through the ideas your church came up with over the past year and keep the ones that worked well, or adapt some for ongoing ministry.

Don’t just revert to the way things have always been done without carefully and prayerfully evaluating the new ideas you came up with, and holding on to the ones that will benefit you long term.

Keep looking up

Andy

3 Steps to Getting People Back After Covid

Covid restrictions were, well…restricting. This meant that people were not able to attend church in the same way they were used to. Some regions did not allow churches to meet at all. Others, had limits on how many could attend and rules about masks and distancing.

Churches responded amazingly well by providing services online, many of whom had never attempted this before. While this allowed people to stay at home and “attend” services, it produced mixed results. For some people, this kept them connected long enough to want to return to live services as soon as possible. For others, this gave them the sense of “attending” church without leaving their house. These people may still be watching online rather than attending. For many, it just got them out of the habit of attending. Some still watch online while others have given up on church all together.

So how do we get people back who have not yet returned? Churchanswers.com suggests that about 15% or so have no desire to return to church. How do we encourage them to come back?

Whether it is covid related, or because of other reasons, we know there are many people who have previously attended our churches but are now absent. Here are 3 steps to getting people back to church.

1. Let them Know they are Missed

Some people have not returned because they had no one from the church connect with them during the restrictions of the last year and a half. They believe that no one cares that they are not returning, and no one cared for them while they were quarantined at home.

Let these people know they are missed. In smaller churches the leadership probably has a good idea of who has not yet returned. Reach out to these people and let them know you care for them. You could encourage those who are attending to reach out to people they have not seen for a while. Leadership could send notes and make calls to people to let them know they are missed.

Do not put them down for staying away! Instead, make it about showing them they are loved by the church. Do not make them feel guilty for staying home, but extend an invitation to return.

2. Pastor, Be Visible

Some church people feel that the “church” does not care about them. I have been frustrated in the past, by the proverbial hospital patient who believes the church has not visited them, even though they had friends and their small group leader visit. Their understanding of the church is reduced to the pastor.

Well, pastor, there may be a few places where your visit may make all the difference. Your phone call may be just the ticket to invite people back. Be present on Sunday mornings to encourage those who come. Some may very well be “testing” things out, to see if they are truly welcomed back. Take time to walk through the foyer before and after the service, making the effort to genuinely connect with people. Welcome them, make them feel noticed. Sunday morning is not the time to be in a pre-service prayer with a handful of committed members, but a time to be the face of the church to those who need it.

3. Plan a Welcome Back Sunday for September

People are more likely to attend a special event than a regular service. Members are more likely to invite others to a special event. Why not plan a Welcome Back Sunday for early September (or Thanksgiving), with some special fun additions to the morning. You could invite a team of people, including some small group leaders, to plan the event. Develop and distribute some well-designed and printed invitation postcards for members to use to invite friends. Send out email and text invitations. Have enough postcards for people to invite at least 3 people. Make sure that those who have not yet returned get at least one, or more, invitations. And invite newcomers as well.

Announce it as a big event for at least four Sundays before. Give some teasers on some of the special activities planned. Put a big splash on your home page of your website and promote it on Facebook.

And pray! Have special prayer times. Pray about the event and the people being invited. Ask God to bring people back, and for all who show up to feel welcomed and encouraged.

Believers need to be part of a church. Hebrews says, “Do not stop meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10:25) Do all you can to invite people back.

Keep looking up

Andy

Your Church Website is Your New Front Door!

I like seeing houses with a bright front door that stands out from the rest of the building.

Every building, every house, every church has a front door. It is not just a great place to put an accent color for your building, but the place that people enter.

In the past, we saw the front door of the church as the place where newcomers first made contact with  your church. That has changed.

Your church’s website is your new front door. People look you up online before they actually come to your building and take in a Sunday service. They can get a sense of what your church is like before they even show up.

How welcoming is your “front door”?

Here are three of the most important things you need on your website.

1. The Physical Address

Make sure the first thing people see when they open your website is your physical address. I know a number of rural churches have a box number for their mailing address, but this is not what people are looking for. It is important that a potential newcomer knows where the church is. Include a Google map with directions to your church, and check for accuracy before posting.

2. Service Times

If someone is considering attending your church, they want to know what time to show up. Not every church meets at 11:00 am today. Churches with multiple services should also include any differences between services, such as different ages available for children’s ministry. Make sure to update this every time a service time changes. There is nothing worse for a newcomer to show up late because you forgot to update your service time!

3. What to Expect

Some churches have a short description of what people wear. A common example could be something like: “Most people come in jeans and shirts, though suit and tie, or a dress, are fine too.” Here is a personal example: If you have never been to a symphony, you might want to know what to wear. I went to my first symphony with my brother-in-law, and I had not come prepared. I had no suit like everyone else was wearing, and I felt really out of place. People who have never been to your church want to know how to dress.

You might also lay out how the morning works. If you have coffee available, let them know they can take it into the auditorium with them. If you send the children out to their classes part-way through the service, explain how that works. Add anything that you think a newcomer might need to know when they show up.

If you have these three, you are way ahead of many churches!

There are a few more items people look for. Easy to find visible links to the following items allow searchers to quickly identify how to find the information they are looking for.

4. Contact information

Have a link to a page with all the information. This includes the church phone number and email address. It might be good to have the same for your staff. And while I think about it, post your pastor’s name somewhere that is easy for people to find. I am surprised at some websites. It seems the pastor’s name is a secret they don’t want to share, or just assume everyone knows. You might even want to have a brief video welcome from your pastor on your home page.

5. Beliefs and Values

When I moved to a new city, I decided to look for a church by first checking out a number of websites. One of the things I was looking for was a church that believed the same way I did.

6. Ministries and Programs

Have links to all ministry or program pages.

Children: Most families want to know what to expect for their children. Be clear about whether they are included in the main service, or if they are dismissed to their own service. There should be no confusion on this issue at any point for. Also, make it clear that families can choose to keep their children with them in the main service.

Make it absolutely clear that you have a plan to protect children from any harm. Describe exactly what your protocols are and how you screen and train your volunteers who will work with the children. Include links to any outside regulations or certifications adhered to by your church and denomination.

Youth: Provide clear information on what ages these programs are for and when they meet. Include the same safety protocols as with the children.

Small Groups: Most churches have some form of small groups. Explain how yours function and how someone can join a group.

Other programs: Let people see what you offer and where they can be involved.

7. Sermons

Have at least a few recent sermons recorded and available to download on your website. People might want to hear a sermon before attending, so they know what to expect.

There are many other options, but remember that the target audience for your website is new people. Yes, there are some pages that might be for in-house information, but the primary audience should be the newcomer.

If you would like to improve your “front door”, you can check out a Website Audit here. Call me if you would like some coaching help to improve your front door welcome.

Keep looking up!

Andy

5 Steps to Own Your Day

Time is precious. Learn to use it purposefully. Own your day!

As a pastor, I sometimes felt that others had more control over my schedule than I did. When you work for someone else, there will always be requirements of you, but hopefully you can find a way to plan out your own day in your own way. You want to accomplish all that has to be done, and even some of what you would just like to get done.

Planning takes time, which may feel counterintuitive, but I assure you that if you plan, you will most likely get more things done that you want to get done. If you do not plan and schedule, then others will take your time. Or you will get caught up in scrolling through Facebook. Plan your day so that you decide what you do today, and when.

1. Acknowledge the Demands of Others

Hopefully you do not have too many of these, but sometimes there are certain requirements placed on you that you need to find time for in your day. If these expectations are placed on you, at least you can plan on when you will give some time to them.

At the same time, evaluate the demand. Is this really something you need to spend your time with, or is it just a suggestion? Days fills up too quickly to take on unnecessary demands of others.

2. Big Items

If you are a pastor, you know that there are certain activities required of you. As the preacher, you will need to give large portions of time to sermon prep.  If you are teaching, that adds to your list of big items. My preference for sermon and teaching prep is to break the process into sections and do them in the morning when freshest. For example, on a typical workweek of Tuesday to Sunday, I do research on Tuesday, finalize an outline by Wednesday, compile the notes into an effective sermon on Thursday, and take Friday to make the final touches. Saturday, I practice, and Sunday I preach. A similar approach of breaking down the process to be completed over time can be done with teaching prep or other Big items.

As a pastor, I realize the work is never done. There is always something else to put on the schedule, so it is important to remember to schedule in your time off as well. Choose a regular day off. I always had Monday off. Choose the day that works for you and your family, and do something to relax and refresh yourself on that day. You might need to intentionally book something relaxing for the day, such as a walk with your spouse, or some golf with friends. Make sure to take a day free from the regular work responsibilities.

3. Personal Passions

This is the fun part. This is where you make sure to schedule in some time to do the things that God has laid on your heart that may not be directly tied to your job description, but are an important part of who you are. You are the one who chooses what to do with your day. Make sure you do what makes you excited. If it’s writing, then write. If it’s spending time with young leaders, then spend time with young leaders.

At one church I had a weekly breakfast with a couple of men where we talked through the next Sunday’s sermon. I loved these times, and learned to see the scripture through other’s eyes. It made my preaching more impactful – and I enjoyed doing it!

What is it that God has laid on your heart? What are some of your God-given dreams that will not take fruit unless you deliberately plan it into your life?

4. Determine what you would like to do but never have time for

If you have scheduled your day with the first three points in mind, you will realize your day is already quite full, and you may find yourself still unable to do everything you want to do. Is there a book you have wanted to read but never found the time? Is there a topic you would like to research but never get to? Is there a person you would like to have coffee with but it just never happens? Plan it in. Own your day. It is yours to live.

I always have a running list of things I want to do, or research, or work on. Then at certain times I would go through the list and make sure I scheduled it into my day or week. Any time you have a slower day or week, glance through this list and pull a few into your schedule. These are the things that no one else will ask you to do, but you think would benefit you. Plan them into your schedule.

And don’t forget to have some fun.

5. Delegate and Outsource

This might be the most important point. Do not be afraid to hand off certain responsibilities to others. Maybe there is someone in your church that can preach for you occasionally, especially if you take the time to coach them through it. At one church I had the privilege of helping teach one of the men how to preach. He already had a desire to teach, and did a great job. It will be extra work for a bit, but then he will be able to do it without your help and you will free up time.

In the small churches I served it was sometimes expected that I choose the songs for Sunday. Did I really need to choose the songs for Sunday? Do you really need to choose the songs for Sunday? Instead, maybe you could give someone else the theme and scripture for Sunday and ask them to choose the songs. If you have a song leader or team, give them the freedom to do that.

When you are used to doing certain things, it might seem difficult to hand them off to others who may not do it exactly as you would, but give them a chance. Coach them along and you will be surprised how much you can hand off to qualified volunteers.

Evaluate your role and what your primary responsibilities are and the additional tasks you have taken on. Maybe there is someone else that can do the bulletin. Hand it off. Ask an elder to do the devotional at the membership meeting. Find a tech-savvy teen to be your Facebook and website administrator. Train a few people to visit those in the hospital.

Find others to do what you don’t have to do – especially if you don’t enjoy doing that anyway!

Find a way to own your day! Plan it out so you can be your best you. Own your day!

Keep looking up

Andy