As a pastor, it seems like the work never stops. Events happen after hours, you’re planning, attending meetings, making visits, and many of you side hustle when you can find the time to in your busy schedules.
We know you work incredibly hard to ensure the health and growth of your church.
But we believe that there is a reason God created rest.
He didn’t need to. He is beyond physical limitations.
But he did.
We’re not completely sure why, but we have a hunch it was to be an example to us. To let us know that we constantly need to come back to Him. Because all this hard work will be a hamster-wheel effect without regularly finding physical and spiritual rest.
And we need this daily, weekly, and annually.
So, let’s walk through 10 ways you can recharge on your time off.
1. Plan Big and Small Breaks.
In the same way you add work events and meetings to your calendar when you’re working, be sure to add in non-work events for when you’re off.
Scheduling in time to rest and recharge helps you remember and hold yourself accountable for doing it. See a free 30-minute gap? Schedule a walk around the lake or a time to read a book. Have an hour? Add a non-work related lunch meeting with a friend to your calendar. Having this downtime on your calendar gives you something to look forward to.
If you’re looking forward to a big vacation or sabbatical, add it to your calendar and set a countdown. The Momentum browser extension for Chrome helps eliminate distractions on your new tab page and also has a countdown widget. Apps like Countdown Star (iOS) or Countdown Days (Android) allow you to keep a countdown on your smartphone.
2. Read a Book.
When you can’t fly away to spend time on an island far away, losing yourself in a good story is the next best thing.
Studies have shown that reading reduces stress, enhances your imagination, and even helps you sleep better. Pastors read the Bible and theology books often, which is great of course, but when is the last time you read something else—purely for fun? A self-improvement, humor, or fiction book?
There are a lot of everyday moments to make us laugh (or make us cry, to be honest) but why not use your time off to let loose and laugh on purpose?
It turns out there’s some truth to the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughing has numerous health benefits. It can reduce stress hormones, stimulate organs, and relieve pain. A 2017 study found that patients who listened to CDs of comic shows over a period of eight weeks saw a decrease in blood pressure.
We don’t need to convince you that sleep is a good thing. You know that, even if you don't get enough of it. We don’t need to convince you that the “after church on Sunday nap” is the best nap there is. Everyone knows that.
Getting some sleep is one of the best ways to recharge, so when you have time off, use that time to truly be “off.” Take that time to practice waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, which has some real benefits.
You can use a pen-and-paper sleep log to track your sleeping patterns. The Power Nap app helps you take effective, grogginess-free naps and the Sleep Cycle app analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you up in the lightest sleep phases (also reducing grogginess). If you struggle with pressing the snooze button too many times, the Kiwake alarm clock app can help with that.
5. Step Outside.
Psalm 96:11-12 says, “ Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and all that fills it resound. Let the fields and everything in them celebrate. Then all the trees of the forest will shout for joy…”
As created beings, we go through a lot in our lives on Earth. But gazing at the beauty of the One who made our bodies and minds is a great way to recharge. His amazing work is all around us.
Rent a bike and ride it around your city. Many cities have bike trails designed specifically for this. Check out the local schedule of outdoor festivals. Commit to walking for 20 minutes on the beach or in the park. Find any way to relax and recharge outdoors—engaging with nature is good for you!
6. Explore Your City.
There is a reason your are pastoring or are on staff at your church. You’ve committed to being a part of your city for a time, whether short or long-term.
That means you are hopefully a fan of your city or God has called you there, even if it isn’t your favorite place.
The greatest cure for cynicism is thankfulness. And if you’re not cynical or unhappy about your city, this skill is still a great practice.
Find something you love about your city. Maybe it’s an undiscovered bike trail, a new restaurant you’ve never been to, or a local gathering that happens once a month. You can use tools like Yelp, Facebook Events, and your city’s website to find out what’s going on in your area.
This could be a great staycation idea as well!
7. Learn or Practice an Instrument.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano.
I thought it was too late for me–that you had to learn how to play as a child. But the keys player in our worship band recently retired and began to offer piano lessons because there is a large need in our band for more keys players.
The thought of trying out a new hobby is exciting to me. I don’t know if I’ll be any good, but I know I enjoy music already and it can be extremely therapeutic to sing and play guitar with my husband during a long day.
It’s never too late to learn something. Even if it’s not musical!
8. Spend Time With Friends and Family.
We know you’re not a stranger to the concept that we’re made to be in community.
You tell this to your church all the time and encourage them to get connected to others. To join some sort of a small group environment.
But this is much easier to tell other people to do than to do it yourself.
It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day. You have to plan events, sermons, get coffee with people, and work on nights and weekends.
There’s a difference between being with people on ‘work-mode’ and being with the people that you don’t have to “work” to be around.
These are the people you can be honest about how you’re doing (which is vital as a pastor), who you can have game nights with, laugh with, and grieve with. Whether it’s in a small group, your family, or fellow church staff, find these people and plan time to relax and “recharge” together. Together is always better.
9. Write Something.
Writing is a skill that’s pretty essential in life. I’ve gotten by without having to do much math, but you can’t usually work any job without having some skill of written and verbal communication. It’s an important skill to have even if you’re not the next Mark Twain.
Not a great writer?
The only way to get better at anything is to just do it.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or a work of fiction. Trying keeping a journal and using it for your prayers or just write down how you are feeling that day, an experience you may have had recently, or a couple of things you’re grateful for.
Pick something fun that you and your spouse would both enjoy doing or trying for the first time.
Take a Next Step
The #1 barrier to church growth starts with you.
If the senior pastor, or church leaders, are not intentionally taking the time to get better, no one else will follow suit.
We know it can be difficult to know where to begin or even where to go to grow personally. That's why we developed a FREE resource for you. The personal growth plan. All of us on staff at Church Fuel use it because it's that useful.
Take some time this week to fill this out and make your personal growth plan. Because in addition to learning how to recharge on your time off, you'll need to know what to do with your time.
It’s a common refrain among church leaders in charge of small groups: How do we get more people involved? The average church has 6 out of 10 attendees involved in some kind of small group ministry. That means 40 percent of your church is likely not connected to a group.
As more ominous statistics are released each year detailing the decline in American church attendance, many church leaders have started focusing on small group participation as a key indicator of the health of their church.
“In the future, church attendance won’t drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance,” writes Toronto pastor Carey Nieuwhof on his blog. “The goal will become to get people engaged faster and to engage people more deeply in the true mission of the church…”
While there are many ways to engage more deeply with your members, small group participation is one of the surest signs that an attendee is moving toward deeper involvement in the life of your church. Which is to say: healthy churches need healthy small groups.
Connecting that other 40 percent to a small group won’t be easy, but it can be done. Here are a few time-tested ideas to get you started.
1. Get more leaders!
Obviously, the number of your small groups is typically dependent upon the number of leaders you can enlist. It’s certainly easier said than done. But start by raising the profile of small group leaders. It’s not hard. Small group leaders are on the frontlines of your church. Their ministries are flush with stories. Tell their stories from the pulpit. Share them on your website. Speak of these leaders as heroes, those who make great sacrifices to make an impact in your church and in the broader community.
Also, take a look at your requirements and expectations for group leaders. Your strategy may dictate your expectations, but make sure you don’t have any outdated expectations that don’t fit today’s culture.
2. Leadership must model small group involvement.
Small groups can’t just be something your church leadership talks about. Your leaders must actually participate. This includes your senior leader. Small group involvement for leaders, particularly senior leaders, has its pitfalls. Depending upon the personality of the leader and the others in the group, having senior leaders step into a small group can stifle natural conversation. Senior leaders may also find it tough to be completely open during group discussion.
But it’s so crucial to the overall success of the small group strategy that leaders and the groups they’re in must choose to work through these difficulties together. You could try things like having the senior leader actually host a group, back off, and let another leader take over. This can be a great time for the senior leader to get to know their church members on a more personal level.
Church bodies can smell a “small group faker” from a mile away. If your leader encourages people to participate in groups he isn’t a part of, it’ll seem hollow and will ultimately fail.
3. Consider using multiple types of small groups.
There’s no rule saying you have to follow a particular small group strategy rigidly. Many of the strategies out there accommodate (and even encourage) an investment in other kinds of groups. Just because you offer sermon-based small groups doesn’t mean you can’t have some missional groups (in fact it doesn’t mean your missional groups can’t also do sermon-based studies as well). Just because most of your groups are closed doesn’t mean some of them can’t be open.
4. Give people a short-term group option.
You’d be surprised what a person would be willing to do for four or six weeks that they don’t want to commit to indefinitely. Even if your church prefers models that support long-term small groups, start a few short-term groups at key points in the year (after Easter, beginning of summer, the start of school, etc.). Target times when people’s schedules may be in flux (like at the beginning of new seasons or the start or end of school). Once these new groups form, encourage participants to consider extending their time together by suggesting a follow up study.
Are you struggling to get small groups working in your church? Are they just not getting the traction you want them to get? Are you frustrated people won’t join or attend regularly?
Small groups are a great way to help people connect to the church and follow Jesus. They provide context for relationships, pastoral care, and Bible Study.
But they don’t always work.
Here are four reasons small groups might not be working in your church.
#1 – The ministry menu is already too crowded.
Most churches compete for the attention of their members.
Some churches give men the option of participating in a 6am Men’s Bible Study every other Friday at a local breakfast spot or joining a nightly small group with their wives. Be honest…which of those is easier?
Some churches organize 5 women’s ministry events throughout the year, with various committees and planning teams, then also ask them to prioritize small groups throughout the week. How many people have that much time?
Some churches ask people to devote 2, 3, or 4 nights a week to various church meetings and activities and wonder why small groups can’t get traction.
I’m not dogging on activities and ministries, but I am asking a priority question.
Do you want men in your church involved in small groups or coming to a random dinner or church work day?
Do you want teenagers in your church involved in a consistent small group or do you want to busy them up with events and activities?
Do you want volunteers in your church to serve at a bunch of one-off programs and ministries or do you want them showing up consistently with the same group of people?
The question is one of competition. Not in that very moment or on that particular Sunday night. But as to how many things people can juggle. It’s tempting to think, “This program doesn’t really compete with anything and the building isn’t even being used at that time.”
But every time you add something, it requires thought, planning, and communication. Your congregation feels all of that.
That’s why we believe the key to growth in your church might not be something you start, but something you stop.
If you took an honest look at your ministry menu and cancelled things that were no longer effective, then redirected that energy to the things that lead to healthy growth, good things will happen.
Use our Ministry Evaluation Form (available as a part of Church Fuel's Resource Library) to have an honest conversation about how well a program or ministry is really working.
#2 – The senior pastor isn’t personally bought in.
I’m convinced one of the reasons groups didn’t work well in our church plant is because I wasn’t involved in one of them.
I was asking people to do something I wasn’t doing.
That’s just bad leadership.
I had all kinds of excuses like being too busy, conflict of interest, and not finding the right people.
But it was wrong and dumb.
I erroneously insulated myself from people in the church.
As I’ve worked with other churches over the last years, I’ve seen it over and over again. Whether it’s groups or giving or mission trips or justice or inviting…the church follows the leaders.
The congregation notices what is omitted.
The congregation picks up on the priorities.
One of the most effective announcements for small groups are those “by the way” stories the pastor works into the sermon. When you talk about your group, even in passing, it reinforces to the congregation that it’s important.
#3 – You aren’t willing to invest financially.
This isn’t just a groups thing; it’s much bigger than that.
One of the big reasons any program or ministry doesn’t work is a lack of funding.
If you say student ministry is important, but the fall festival budget is bigger and you ask kids to do ridiculous fundraisers, then student ministry isn’t important.
If you say groups are important, but there’s a miniscule line-item in the budget, then groups aren’t important.
Your budget illustrates your priorities as a church.
For groups to work, you need to adequately fund the groups budget. And it’s not about the dollar amount; it’s about prioritizing and percentages.
What do you need a groups budget for?
Curriculum. There is a ton of free stuff on the Internet, but you do get what you pay for. Find something great that works with your budget. It’s probably not the free option.
Kickoff events. When you have training meetings or kickoff events in the evening, you should have food and childcare. Make it easier and enjoyable for people to participate.
Leader training. Get your leaders a Church Fuel subscription that includes Team Training or find other ways to pour into them. These are the people leading your groups and they need encouragement and resources.
Speaking of leaders…
#4 – You don’t focus on developing great leaders.
The quality of your groups ministry depends on your intentional process for developing leaders.
Notice I didn’t say it was due to how many leaders you have.
You can’t control that right now.
There is not a secret stash of great leaders being horded by a rogue ministry leader. You have the leaders you have.
A pastor with a growth mindset does not complain about a lack of leaders. Instead, work on your leadership development process. Get ready for God to bring you people. Start looking for people to put for the process.
Whether your church has 1, 10, 100, or 1,000 leaders, leadership development is tough and it requires your focus. But it’s the secret sauce for a strong groups ministry.
Take a Next Step
One thing we’ve noticed about leaders in the church is they typically crave training. Leaders love opportunities to get better and develop their skills. Yet too many churches don’t provide any leadership training to their people.
This resource will help you:
Learn how to lead yourself because it starts with you!
Lead others so your church can thrive on strong leadership for decades
Lead projects so nothing or no one gets lost in translation
With Team Training through Church Fuel, you can share the videos with your staff, elders, and leaders and they can watch on their own schedule.
A few years ago, my wife Nancie and I hosted a Q & A luncheon at a youth pastor’s conference entitled, “Married and in Ministry.” The room was packed. Not because of us, but because of the topic.
As couples asked questions, I wasn’t surprised to hear that they were too busy and that it was taking a huge toll on their marriage. What did surprise me were their reactions to some basic suggestions on how to change that. We mentioned things like boundaries and they responded with things like, “What do you mean by boundaries?”
Then we brought up the absolute necessity to date. For many, it was if we had suggested they take a trip to Disney World . . . every week. Date night? Who has time for that? We have people in our church who need us, who have real issues. We are out of the house most nights of the week—doing ministry, taking our own kids to their activities.
I’m thinking to myself, how could such obviously smart people be so reluctant or even unknowledgeable about the need to take time for their marriage? As we passionately tried to give them permission to do so, we could tell some of them weren’t buying it.
As we were debriefing afterward, Nancie wasn’t as surprised by their responses as I was. She reminded me that making marriage a priority when you are ministry is basic to us. Why? Because we’ve had the unbelievable, and UNIQUE blessing of being surrounded by great marriages our entire marriage. From day one of our marriage, we’ve had couples around us who modeled date night and have held us accountable to it. She reminded me that day—and I have been reminded many times since in my interactions with pastors—that people in ministry need people to encourage them to do, among many things, date.
So whether you are a dating pro or haven’t been on a date since Reagan was in office, I have a little challenge for you. Go out on a date—this date. Remember what it was like to have fun with your spouse, and not just decompress from ministry or debrief about your schedules.
If the date works, then send some the couples in your church on the same date. Maybe start with your staff and volunteers and then move to a church-wide challenge, maybe even provide childcare. Bottom-line if you like the date, share the date.
Why date night? Experiences and laughter and affirmation all have one thing in common: they connect you as a couple. And connection is what dating is all about it. Date nights are not about to-do lists or solving all your issues. They’re about enjoying your marriage. And as Proverbs 5 illustrates, maybe one of the best ways to protect your marriage is to enjoy your marriage.
So continue or start dating. It’s not extra. It’s essential. And don’t forget to let us know what happened, by posting a pic with #mpdates.
(For more information about resources that can help your marriage and the marriages in your church and community, visit MarriedPeople.org.)
Ted Lowe is the director of MarriedPeople, the marriage division of Orange, that helps churches help marriages. He’s also the co-author of the book for leaders Married People: How Your Church Can Help Build Marriages that Last, and the author of soon to be released book for couples, Your Best US.
I love watching sermons online. Churches really have stepped up their game with online services and the technology makes it great. Honestly, it feels like you’re there.
We’re also a part of a small group through our church. That’s where we connect with others. That’s where a big church becomes a small church for us, but we still go to the church building on Sunday morning. And one of the big reasons is our kids.
Every week, we drop our kids off with a few volunteers and head to the adult worship service. While we sing, give, and listen to a sermon, our kids do the same thing. Just on their level. After about an hour, we pick them up and we always ask the same two questions. And always in this order.
I’m not sure where we learned to ask these questions, and I’m sure the reason we ask them in this particular order should be the topic of a counseling session, but it’s always the same two questions.
Question #1: Did you have fun?
Question #2: What did you learn?
We’ve been taking our children to church for 13 years now, and for at least 10 of them, it’s been those two questions every Sunday morning. And I’ve talked to other parents and they ask the same questions, usually in that same order. We want to know if our kids had a good time, and then we want to know what they learn.
It’s as if we know kids need to have a good time and need to have fun and need to feel safe before they will learn anything.
There are too many kid's environments filled with truth and Bible and Jesus but lacking in fun and happy and safety. And because all the focus is on the former with little thought to the later, kids get neither.
Children’s ministry shouldn’t be entertainment, but it should be entertaining.
Because when we help kids laugh, we can help kids learn. When they have a good time, they are more likely to learn about Jesus.
This is one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the Orange movement. It’s intentionally fun so both parents and volunteers can intentionally lead children to follow Jesus with their lives. You'll also want to register for The Orange Conference .
So, What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not?
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. Are we being good stewards of what He's given us? Are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?
We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. So we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.
Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers today.
Christians tend to fall into one of three groups when it comes to doubt and questioning God. People move from group to group over time. Some people have a foot in two groups at once, but in any church you will find all three, and each of them needs a certain kind of care.
Group 1: Never Had a Question
“God says it, I believe it, that settles it” is the motto of this bunch. At first glance they appear to be people of unassailable faith, certain of their beliefs, ready for anything. But dig a bit deeper. Ask them why they believe what they believe. You’ll often find that the appearance of faith is more like a well-designed movie set – upon closer examination it is a pretty façade with nothing to support it. They’ve never explored the promises or character of God. Their faith has never been tested. When life hits them with a storm their faith is at risk of crumbling.
Group 2: Never Stops Questioning
“Yeah, but” is the common refrain you hear from this group.
Yeah, I know God is good, but . . .
Yeah, I know God is in control, but . . .
Yeah I know, God is infinite, but . . .
They demand proof and evidence of claims about God and the experiential sort is not good enough. Some are assailed by existential doubts while others are skeptical more in the vein of the scientific method. Many times these folks appear to have the strongest intellects; they intimidate because they have the follow-up question to every answer. No answer is good enough, and because of that, it is hard to know what state their faith is actually in.
Group 3: Has Questions, But Can’t Ask
They grew up in church and heard, either explicitly or implicitly, that questioning God was sinful. Questions indicate doubt and doubt is bad. Their questions come from a place of yearning and longing to know more, to find assurance, to see clearly. But they aren’t sure who they can ask or even if they can ask at all. Is it safe? Will God be mad? Will my church family accept my questions? Will I be judged? Their faith often looks fragile but in reality is strong – even if they don’t yet know it.
How Can You Respond?
Group 1 must be faced with questions. They must be led to explore the mysteries of God and scripture and to acknowledge the hardships that don’t come with neat and tidy answers. They must realize that the Bible, while a perfect revelation of God, is not a revelation of all of God and his purposes. It gives us all we need, yes, but not every answer. Those answers are found only in knowing God deeply enough to see His infinitely perfect character. If this group is not led to a place of questions their faith will fall apart when tested.
The answers to Group 2’s questions are found in the same place as group one, just coming to it from another direction. They too need to see God’s character above all else, His nature, His infinity. When they come to know Him they will see both that He can be fully trusted and that he cannot be fully understood. There is no proof or evidence that will fully explain something that is beyond human capacity to fathom. But God is so deeply good that the nagging doubts and skepticism can be washed away over time by being in His presence.
Groups 1 and 2 needed to know God’s character more deeply. Group 3 likely already does and simply needs encouragement to connect His character to their questions. God welcomes questions. He wants His children to come to Him with fears and frustrations and “I don’t knows.” He is a perfect Father. Group 3 needs to know that any question asked of God, so long as the desire is to know Him better, is an act of deepening one’s faith. No matter what they were told growing up or have experienced in previous churches, if they look to God’s rich love for His children, His command to have childlike faith, they will see that they can ask and ask and God will give them the answers they need.
By introducing people to Jesus, to His full deity and humanity, you are showing them the depth of the riches of God’s character. For it was God who sent us Jesus so that believers could have hope and peace and be rescued from sins. It was God who sent Jesus so that after a perfect sacrifice was made believers could have the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of blind souls, breathe life into dead hearts, stir up faith, teach curious minds, soothe aching souls, assure doubting hearts, spur us to action, and be ever-present in the lives of believers.
Barnabas Piper blogs at The Blazing Center, is the author of The Pastors Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy Of Faith, and co-hosts The Happy Rant podcast. Piper writes for WorldMag.com, contributes to numerous other websites, and speaks frequently at churches and conferences. Barnabas serves as the Brand Manager for the Leadership Development team at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
So What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?
We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. As a result we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.
Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers today.