7 Systems Every Growing Church Needs

7 Systems Every Growing Church Needs

Pastors aren’t always great with the business side of church. 

Preaching, casting vision, helping people…those are usually right in their wheelhouse.

But strategy, operations, planning, technology, and finances often feel like they get in the way of real ministry.

 “If I didn’t have to do this business stuff, I could do more real people ministry,” pastors think.

Such is the case with systems.

The word “system” itself can create division, with one camp thinking systems and processes are nowhere in the Bible and have little place in the church. 

But set up correctly, systems truly enable ministry. 

Digging trenches and installing pipes might feel like construction, but if you’re trying to get clean water to people who need it, it’s ministry. Ultimately, good systems in your church could mean that you’re more effective in your mission to make disciples.

Here are seven systems every church needs, along with a few ideas and next steps for each one.

#1 – Every church needs a follow-up system.

In The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley advises churches to “think steps, not programs.”

Follow-up is one of the most important parts of ministry, and these follow-up steps happen throughout every ministry and program. As we seek to move people from Point A to Point B, programs and ministries can certainly be involved, but the process itself matters a great deal.

What happens when someone signs up to volunteer? You shouldn’t wonder what to do at that moment; you should have a system.

 What happens when a guest visits for the first time? Don’t hope they meet the right person and end up connecting; put your documented follow-up system into place.

Whether you’re following up with first-time guests, new givers, volunteer sign-ups, or event registrations, here are five questions you should ask before designing the actual system. We call this The Follow-Up Framework. 

  1. What does success look like?
  2. What do you want people to know?
  3. What do you want people to do?
  4. What do you want people to feel?
  5. What do you want people to believe?

Answer these five questions before you write your emails or set up your automated texting campaign.

We dive deeper into this framework and give recommended campaigns for all sorts of actions in The Follow-Up Course. Learn more here.

#2 – Every church needs a volunteer system.

Churches of all shapes and sizes consistently need volunteers to help do the work of the ministry. The more your church is growing, the more pronounced the need.

I’ve never worked with a church that had too many volunteers.

You can’t rely on great sermons every now and then to fill the volunteer pipeline.  And throwing more vision at a group of semi-engaged people isn’t going to be enough.

Since you always need volunteers, you need a great volunteer system.

This volunteer system should have three parts.  

  1. What’s your plan to recruit volunteers, either a lot at a time or all throughout the year? In The Volunteer Course, we’ll show you the two main approaches and tell you why you shouldn’t try to mix them.
  2. You MUST have a system to train new and existing volunteers so they can actually be effective. The typical meetings may not work…we’ll show you some better ways.
  3. This is the missing element in most churches. Your volunteers should be the happiest people in your church, not teetering on the verge of burnout. Your system should help you actually pastor and shepherd the people doing the work in the church.

We’ll unpack all of this, plus give you lots of resources and actionable ideas, in The Volunteer Course. You can get it here and it’s included for all Church Fuel members.

#3 – Every church needs a preaching system.

For those who preach every week, you likely have a rhythm to your preparation.  Honestly, creating a sermon is a deeply personal experience. 

But the more you can streamline your process, the more you can improve as a preacher. And the more you can involve (and even develop) others.

I think about building a sermon in much the same way I think about building a house. Except you don’t have months and months—you have to build a new house every week.

  • First, there’s the foundation. Just like a foundation is the most important part of a home, the spiritual health of a pastor is the most important part of a sermon. Without this, things eventually fall apart.
  • Next, you frame the house. Asking key questions about the text, topic, and audience will give you a good structure on which to build.
  • After framing comes finishing. This is where you write the actual message.
  • Finally, you furnish and move in. Finally, you practice and evaluate in advance, making sure everything is personalized to you and your congregation.

The Preaching Course, created in conjunction with Ministry Pass, is included in your Church Fuel membership. If you preach on a regular basis or want to develop other speakers in your church, get the course and go through it. 

#4 – Every church needs a giving system.

How do you raise money?

How do you manage money?

How do you talk about money the right way?

All important questions for church leaders.

 This is not a topic to avoid, because money usually means ministry. 

Your giving system is so much more than creating a budget and managing expenses. Your giving system should actually result in an increase in regular giving.

 Once a year, finance teams and ministry leaders embark on a process of updating the budget for the new year. 

Every church is different, but it’s not unusual for two or three months of reports, requisitions, comparisons, and planning to be debated, crunched, and ultimately presented to the congregation.

 A lot of work goes into making a budget, the document that shows how all this money is planned to be spent.

Then throughout the year, there are checks and balances to ensure accountability and wise financial decisions. 

But do you know what’s an afterthought in many churches?

Where the money is going to come from.

That’s why we include practical training on the funding plan side in addition to lots of help creating the spending plan part of your budget.

You’ll find this training in The Giving Course, which you can get here. It’s also included for all Church Fuel members.

#5 – Every church needs a connection system.

How do you move people from the community to the congregation to the core?  How do you keep people from leaving out the back door? How do you help people engage? 

These are all important questions and answering them is crucial to your connection system.

It starts by defining what connected means in your context. Every church is different, but I can tell you how we defined it at the church I helped lead.

We started by answering the question: What do we really want people to do?  Then we whittled the answers down to three key actions that went beyond attendance.

  • We wanted people to give.
  • We wanted people to join a group.
  • We wanted people to serve.

Those are all measurable, which means we could quickly identify who was NOT doing them. But if people were doing 2 out of 3, we considered them connected. 

Today, we call these the “three key actions” and we have lots of resources to help you lead your church to engage in this way. 

How do you define connected or engaged in your church? And do you have a system to lead attenders there? Are you measuring this?

#6 – Every church needs a leadership system.

 They asked Ed Catmull, president of Pixar, whether ideas or people were more important.  

Here’s his answer.

“Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. Ideas come before people. Therefore people are more important than ideas. Find, develop, and support good people, and they, in turn, will find, develop, and own good ideas.”

He went on to say that if you give a great idea to a team of mediocre people, they will screw it up. But if you give a mediocre idea to a team of great people, you’ll have a hit.

In churches today, leadership is the biggest barrier to growth.

Not denomination, facility, or service times. 

Leaders.

This means that developing leaders is one of your best opportunities for growth. 

It’s not going to take a lot of money, but it is going to require a lot of focus. To do this effectively, you need two things.

  1. Your leadership development cadence answers the question: “When do we do what?” Most development conversations, team building retreats, and training sessions don’t happen because this stuff never makes it to the calendar. It’s something you want to do but not something that actually makes it to your actual calendar. By defining a cadence, you’re setting yourself up for success.
  2. Even if the meetings and conversations are scheduled, you need the content to make it happen. You need the skill-based lesson to teach in the meeting.  You need to evaluation form and the growth plan template to have that one-on-one. You need the agenda and toolkit to run the annual strategic meeting.

You’ll find both the cadence and content waiting for you in LeaderPulse. This premium product is a complete leadership development system, easy to customize for your church. It’s not just the recipe, it’s the Hello Fresh style meal prep kit, so you can get going right out of the box. 

#7 – Every Church Needs a Communications System

So much of church ministry is communication and messaging.  You have to get the right message to the right people.

 This means identifying your audiences, creating content, choosing channels and tools, and building a team. 

All Systems Fit Together

As you read through this, you probably know a couple of these systems in your church need work. Maybe they don’t exist. Maybe they need a refresh.

You also know they all work together and can help enable ministry.

With the right people, the right programs, and the right processes, you can have a healthy and growing church.

Take the Next Step

Churches tend to focus on people problems, but behind the scenes, broken systems are what’s holding you back. 

The Systems Course gives you the training and resources you need to create healthy systems in key areas of your church. This course focuses on key systems like follow-up, assimilation, and stewardship and includes insanely practical video training and actionable resources to help you implement effective systems and processes that help people follow Jesus.  

7 Steps to Building a Healthy Church Culture

7 Steps to Building a Healthy Church Culture

Your church culture is like a force.

Not like the (pantheistic) force you find in Star Wars.

But a force like a momentum that leads your church to do what you do and don’t do.

In a spin on Samuel Chand’s popular definition, think of church culture as the why and the what of what you do. It's your values, beliefs, attitude, purpose, habits, behavior, norms, tone, and more.

It’s what you do.

It’s why you do what you do.

It’s what you feel and experience in your church.

A healthy culture will create a torrent of positive momentum in your church whereas an unhealthy church culture will eat away at your church body like cancer.

Whether you’ve just planted a church or you need to restore a toxic culture, there’s some good news:

Culture is always evolving—it’s not static or fixed.

Said another way, you can influence your church’s culture for better or worse.

But here’s what you need to know:

The culture in your church will evolve into something regardless of whether you want it to or not.

Do you want to create a healthy church culture?

Need help fixing an unhealthy culture in your church?

In this post, I’m going to share six ways you can build a healthy church culture, and one thing you must do if you need to fix an unhealthy culture.

Let’s get to it!

#1 – Healthy Leaders Build Healthy Churches

Building a healthy church culture is challenging.

Multiple things are fighting against your efforts:

  • Personal struggles
  • Sinfulness of people
  • Constant move toward negativity
  • Preexisting unhealthiness in your church

Not only is this the case, but one big mistake many church leaders make about church culture is thinking just their church needs to change—not themselves or their church leaders.

In an organization like a church, which is a social institution, it’s challenging—if not impossible—to create a healthy culture apart from good leadership. As a church leader, your beliefs, values, and actions will influence your staff, church leadership, and your entire church. In other words, your presence will set the course for your church’s culture.

Are you a healthy, life-giving leader?

Then expect your church leadership and church to move toward a healthy church culture.

Do you have a personal struggle and a heavy-handed leadership style?

Don’t be surprised when the seeds of your sinful tendencies or poor leadership blossom in the life of your church.

Does this mean individuals or groups of people within your church can’t be healthy?

No—far from it.

Again, when it comes to church culture, I’m talking about the environment of your church. Within this environment, individuals and groups of people can be healthy. But it will be difficult for these folks to live their lives in light of the church culture, which will influence them to value and pursue an action for better or worse.

What’s the moral of the story?

Healthy leaders will build healthy churches.

You can't have one without the other.

Before striving to build a healthy church culture, the first step you must take is to look in the mirror. You have to honestly ask yourself whether you’re a healthy church leader.

Here are three things you need to do:

  1. Take a break
  2. Find a mentor
  3. Consider counseling

It’s hard to do an honest self-evaluation in the normal ebbs and flows of life. Often, you’ll need to take a break. From taking off for a long weekend to planning an extended sabbatical, schedule time off for personal reflection.

After you schedule time off, it’s best to plan what you’ll do during that time. Going into a break with the goal of personal reflection won’t happen by accident. Prepare a list of questions you want to reflect upon prayerfully. Write down your thoughts in a journal. Read some books.

Where should you start?

Without knowing you personally, it’s hard to say. I encourage you to invite your spouse, church leaders, and close friends to provide ideas. Be prepared to listen to their advice, and follow through with their suggestions.

Know what else?

Plan on unplugging from everything during this time.

Leave your phone, tablet, and laptop at home. Purchase a disposable phone for emergencies, and only give the number to your family and a few key leaders in your church.

Another key to becoming a healthy church leader is finding a mentor.

We spoke at length about the importance of having a mentor and how to find one, and you can read that article here.

Finally, another idea to consider is counseling.

There’s nothing wrong with having a counselor. This isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s just a good idea to have a trained counselor not affiliated with your church who you can confide in and receive unbiased feedback from.

Taking these three steps won’t make you perfect. But they’re like sitting on a three-legged stool. They’ll provide support for you to be the healthiest church leader you can be.

#2 – Clarify Your Values

To create a healthy church culture, the first step you must take is to clarify your values.

This step isn’t only about writing down some pithy statements. This step requires you and your church’s leadership to invest time into prayerfully considering your church values. From how you teach the Bible to sharing the gospel with your community, your values are really your church’s DNA—they inform everything your church believes and does.

Without taking this step, the rest of what I have to offer below won’t matter.

Be prepared to park on this step before you move forward with the other suggestions. Creating a healthy church culture without clarifying your values first would be like trying to build a house without laying a proper foundation.

There are three big benefits to taking this step:

  1. Identity
  2. Decision-making
  3. Reproducing

The first benefit of clarifying your values informs the rest of the benefits, which will make sense in a moment. As you clarify your values, you’ll better understand the identity of your church.

At this point, your goal isn’t to clarify your beliefs.

You should already have these ironed out, and the only time you really need to spend extra time on clarifying your beliefs is when your church is wrestling through a significant issue.

As for your identity, clarifying your values will help your church better understand who you are and why you do what you do. In other words, you won’t be concerned with keeping up with the “Joneses.” Instead, your focus will be on living out who you are in light of who God says you are.

When you have a better understanding of your identity, then your church will be able to make better decisions. Think about it.

Do you need to start a [fill-in-the-blank-with-the-latest-trend]?

How will you handle first-time guests?

Do you need to launch or grow your small groups?

Should you cancel your Sunday school?

Regardless of what decision you need to make, after you’ve clarified your values, then you’ll possess a compass for the direction you should take. Not only will this be helpful for big decisions. But maintaining a clear picture of who your church is will guide the decisions you make every day.

The third significant benefit to clarifying your values is your ability to reproduce your values in your church staff and church. Clarifying your values makes effectively reproducing your values within your team and throughout your church (especially for new staff and church members) a whole lot easier.

#3 – Analyze Your Church

The second step you need to take toward building a healthy church culture is to analyze your church.

On the surface, this step is easy in theory.

All you “need to do” is to compare your church’s values with your church’s behavior and see how well they align with each other. Like I said, easy, right?

Not so fast.

This process takes time.

Not only will you need to assess your church. But you’ll need to empower a decent portion of your church (say 10%) to provide feedback.

For this step to be effective, you’ll need to make sure a wide variety of people respond—not just your closest friends or the most vocal people within your congregation.

Don’t rush this process.

Take the time you need to hear from the people in your church.  

Don’t feel like you need to create this process from scratch. There are plenty of resources available you can use to assess your church culture. Shaped by God’s Heart by Milfred Minatrea is one such resource.

#4 – Communicate Your Church Values

To build a healthy church culture, you’ll need to consistently communicate your values.

This is why:

Church culture isn’t static.

There will never be a time when your church culture “arrives.”

From the presence of sin, people leaving your church, and adding new church members, you’ll need to lead your church to embrace your values consistently.

In large part, what you do throughout the week will reinforce your church values and many people will follow what you’re doing. In other words, church culture is most often caught—not taught.

But here’s the deal:

What you do will only go so far.

Many people are motivated by the why behind what you do—not what you do per se.

What is more, your church culture will naturally drift away toward unraveling. By consistently communicating your values and by casting a vision before your church, you’ll help your church course-correct along the way.

Here are some practical ways you can communicate your church’s values:

  • Model
  • Bulletins
  • Newsletters
  • Social media
  • Sermons or sermon series
  • Church announcements
  • Church membership classes
  • Small groups and Sunday school
  • Celebrate people living out your values

This list will get you started.

#5 – Model the Culture Yourself

Are you the senior pastor of your church?

Do you serve in a key leadership or staff position?

As a leader with a public position in your church, everyone’s eyes are on you, and how you live and lead is a significant influence on your church’s culture.

Talking about your church’s values isn’t enough.

You cannot expect your church to embrace a value if it’s not a part of your life.

Think about it like this.

If you are a platoon commander, then you must lead your platoon in battle from the front. Leading anyone or especially a group from the back is difficult.

Do you want your church members to evangelize, be generous, and be servant leaders? Then you must take the lead in modeling these behaviors.

Remember, values are often caught—not taught.

The actions you take as a leader will influence your staff, volunteers, and ultimately everyone in your church. If your actions do not reflect your church’s values, then what you do will be a more significant influence than what you say.

#6 – Remove toxins

Creating a healthy culture is challenging.

Attempting to repair a broken culture is another story, and it’s extremely difficult.

It takes (a lot of) time, prayer, and participation from many people in your church to move in a new direction. During this process, like a skillful surgeon, you’ll need to understand the harmful toxins in your church’s body, and work through or possibly remove them.

There are three common toxins you need to be aware of:

  1. Sinful patterns of behavior
  2. Toxic people
  3. Unnecessary ministries

The first toxin you need to look for is sinful patterns of behavior. In your church, can you observe consistent and ongoing sinful behavior, such as sexual immorality, jealousy, and fits of rage? Be mindful of sinful patterns in your church, and address them as necessary (see Galatians 5:19–21).

There’s no way you can completely avoid toxic people in your church, and how you respond depends upon the context. In general, if you don’t feed into the negativity of a toxic person, then he or she will move on.

However, there may be a time when you’ll need to directly address someone (church member or staff), bring them under church discipline, and move toward reconciliation. Before you go this route, be sure you and your church leaders follow whatever process you have in place.  

In the life of your church, there will likely come a time when you’ll need to end an unnecessary ministry. Oftentimes, these ministries aren’t toxic per se, unless they are a petri dish of sinful behavior. But the ongoing existence of a ministry that no longer reflects the values of your church nevertheless will inhibit you from moving forward.

In creating a healthy church culture, this step isn’t easy.

Be courageous.

Be prayerful.

And be humble.

#7 – Celebrate

What you celebrate, you create.

When it comes to building a healthy church culture, the values you celebrate are the values you’ll reinforce throughout your church.

When it comes to highlighting people in your church, there are two groups you want to encourage:

  • Your staff
  • Your church members

As a church leader, it’s easy to forget to celebrate your staff.

I get it.

Life in your church is busy, and there’s hardly enough time to keep things afloat.

But here’s the deal:

To build a healthy church culture, you have to reinforce within your staff the values your church adheres to. Neglecting this important step is one surefire way to maintain the status quo in your church.

Acknowledge your staff (and volunteers).

Regularly sing their praises.

By celebrating the acts you want to encourage, you’ll reinforce the healthy aspects of the culture you want to create.

You also want to highlight your church members.

Observe the behaviors you want to reinforce in the life of your church members, and celebrate them. From mentioning them during your church announcements or sermons to sharing their image on social media with a note about why they’re important, there are many little things you can do to make a big difference in the life of your church.

Building a healthy church culture

The culture of your church isn’t something you can ignore.

Remember, the culture in your church isn’t set.

For better or worse, it’s always evolving.

In order to create a healthy church culture, you have to be purposeful. Start with clarifying your values, taking a long look in the mirror, and actively modeling and communicating what you believe, and, in time, you’ll mold your church’s culture.

I pray you can have the same confidence that the Apostle Paul had when he said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

The Best Follow Up Process for First Time Guests

The Best Follow Up Process for First Time Guests

Churches spend a lot of time, money, and energy encouraging guests to visit their church. And rightfully so.

Our churches should be places where the community is welcomed and where guests are expected.  We should create welcoming environments, equip our people to invite, and constantly be on the lookout for fresh ways to advertise and promote.

But getting people in the front door might just be the easier part of a two-step process.

One of the biggest challenges churches face is how to invite first-time guests back and help them connect with the life of the church.

Not just to attend, but to stick.

Not just to visit, but to connect.

With all of the focus on reaching first-time guests, we can’t forget that the follow-up or connection process is what helps new people find their place in the church.

Without a good follow-up process, your front door will be more like a turnstile, inviting people in and just sending them back to their regular lives.

Church's First Time Guest Follow-up Process

So what should you do after a first-time guest visits? What makes a great follow-up process?

First, a few very important principles.

#1 – Your follow-up process should be intentional.

Guests are going to visit your church in the coming weeks, whether you are ready for them or not.

That’s why it’s smart to think through what you want to purposely happen next.

There’s no need to rely on hope. You can carefully craft a strategy and a process that happens every single time.

Your follow-up process should have an intentional ending. In other words, it should lead to one clear place. What do you really want these new guests to do? Where do you want them to go? You don’t need ten different options; you need one clear step.

And speaking of steps, you can intentionally design each step of the follow-up process. Whether it’s an email, a text message, or a personal invite, each step should be there because it’s important.

#2 – Your follow-up process should be personal.

It’s important to realize that your church can’t follow up with people; people at your church can follow up with people. So even as you design an intentional process (and can use automation in that process), it needs to be personal.

If you send emails, make sure they come from a real person and can receive a real reply. If you send text messages, make sure they come from a real person and can receive a reply. If you send a handwritten notecard, make sure it’s signed by a real person who leaves a real phone number.

I’ve seen churches adopt a “concierge” approach for guests – a volunteer or staff member acting as a single point of contact for a new guest. We think this is one of many awesome ideas to stay connected to your guests.

#3 – Your follow-up process should be automated.

As you build your intentional and personal follow-up process, remember that a good bit of it can be automated.

This is particularly true when it comes to email.

New guests to your church don’t need to be subscribed to your weekly or monthly e-newsletter, dropping into regular communication without any helpful context. Instead, they need a carefully crafted series of introductory emails. They should receive these messages before hearing anything else.

A new person needs to know the basics before they hear about what’s current.

Craft an email sequence that introduces them to the regular ministries (not just the special events), shares the story and heart behind your church, and invites them to the most appropriate next step.

If you’re a Church Fuel member, login to the resource library and download the automated follow-up campaign. It’s a Word document so you can quickly customize it to suit your needs. You’ll also find a coaching video explaining how to set things up and what types of technology to use.

Building Your Follow Up Process

With those principles in mind, let’s talk about some action steps you can take to build an intentional, personal, and automated follow-up process.

#1 – Decide

The first step in building a follow-up process is to decide what you want people to do.  You’re beginning with the end in mind and asking the question, “What’s the main thing we want guests to do?”

You must intentionally craft a process that leads to this one clear step, not provide a myriad of options that will confuse new people.

If your current follow up process isn’t working well, clarifying the desired outcome will help.

#2 – Draw Up the Process

Once you know where you want people to end up, it’s time to draw out your process. There are all kinds of technological tools you can use to create flowcharts, but at this point, I recommend you keep it simple.

Get a few people together in a room with a whiteboard and start drawing. The first-time guest is a stick figure on the left side and the action you want them to take is on the right side. Then start debating the steps.

Once you’ve got it on a whiteboard, it might be helpful to draw it in a flowchart. I use a Mac tool called Omnigraffle to make org charts and flow charts, but there are lots of other tools online.

Again, if you’re a Church Fuel member, you’ll find a template (PDF and original Omnigraffle version) in the Resource Library.

#3 – Implement

Once you’ve decided the goal and determined the steps, now it’s time to implement your process.

If you’re a visionary leader, this might be when you mentally check out. Visionaries often think decided is the same thing as done. But it’s actually executing the plan that leads to results.

If you are a WOW type of leader, involve a HOW person to help make your process a reality. Set up the systems and implement the automation that will make the follow-up process actually work.

This may take a few weeks, but don’t give up.

#4 – Measure

Once you implement your process, there is a good chance it won’t work. I know that’s not very encouraging. But your process is just your first draft. It hasn’t gone through editing, improvement, or quality control yet.

That’s why you need to collect data on your process and look at it carefully. Are people opening or clicking on the emails? Are people responding to the text messages? Is your one clear step actually the right step or is there something simpler or better that should take its place?

Don’t just tweak your process based on a gut feeling; use real numbers.

Figure out your guest connection rate, which is the number of new people connected after six months of visiting divided by the total number of guests in the control time period.

Measurement just might be the secret sauce of the entire follow-up process.

#5 – Adjust

If you know what’s working, keep doing it.

But if your careful analysis of the numbers and process uncovers some things that aren’t working well, make changes.

In other words, if your process isn’t working the way it should, change it. Get the same group of people together and come up with version 2.

Join Church Fuel

If you’re looking for more help creating and implementing a first-time guest process, join Church Fuel.

We are a community of pastors who value practical coaching and resources and encourage one another to grow healthy. Reaching new guests and helping them get involved in the life of the church is a regular topic among our members.

Every month, we release a brand-new master class, covering topics like volunteers, connecting people, preaching, finances, and more.

Members also get access to a resource library full of documents, spreadsheets and templates, including lots of follow-up resources. There are members-only office hours and round tables where you can get personal help when needed.

There’s no long-term contract and a money-back guarantee, so you can check it out without pressure. Learn more here.

Establishing Healthy Staff Rhythms

Establishing Healthy Staff Rhythms


“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” – Genesis 2:2-3

This passage from Genesis intrigues me. God is infinite, all-powerful, and isn’t constrained with a physical body to maintain. In other words, it’s not like He needed to take a break. However, He decided to do so anyway.

So, why did God decide to take a day off?

Was He trying to set an example for His creation?

Since He’s infinite, and there’s no real hurry to get stuff done, did resting simply make sense?

I don’t know for certain, but if He saw the wisdom in a rhythm of working hard, then resting…perhaps we should follow His example.

Here’s the deal:

Our physical bodies can’t remain in a constant state of movement or rapid pace. Neither can our churches (staff, volunteers, and congregation included).

We need rest and time to catch our breath. However, many churches run at a frantic pace trying to reach as many people as quickly as possible. While that goal is admirable, is the pattern of constant busyness really helping us achieve that objective?

When you look at your church’s calendar, when is there time available to breathe?

Does this look familiar?

  • August-September: This marks the start of a new year for many churches. That’s when most schools are back in session, so this marks the start of a new year, especially for youth/kids ministry areas.
  • October-November: We barely get through back-to-school when fall activities begin, notably Thanksgiving (which often involves a holiday outreach).
  • December: Up next is the big one…Christmas!  We have Christmas parties, special programs, and services to celebrate.
  • January-February: Once the New Year starts, we have a bit of a break before we begin to prepare for Easter in February.
  • March-May: We’ll spend lots of time preparing for Easter in March, not too much going on in April, then we’ll start having a flurry of high school and college graduations in May (along with Mother’s Day, National Day of Prayer, and Memorial Day).
  • June-July: Father’s Day, then VBS, various youth trips, and Independence Day. And then we start the cycle all over again in August.

Oh, and that’s all in addition to regular services and any other special events or outreaches your church provides.

If you fill-up the church calendar with events or special services throughout the year, your staff will start to wear out. A marathon runner doesn’t try to sprint 26.2 miles. He paces himself to ensure he makes it to the finish line.

So, how do you get off the busy path and find a healthy rhythm for your team?

Tip #1: Identify your church’s current rhythm.

Many times we don’t realize what’s going on until we pause to see the big picture. That’s where a church event calendar can come in handy (if you don’t already have one, this is a great time to create one). This calendar should include all services, events, Bible studies, Sunday School classes, outreaches, etc.

Review your church calendar and consider the following:

  • Are there any months in which you don’t have a special event (anything in addition to weekend services)? If not, are there any weeks where that’s the case?
  • What months have the fewest holidays or special events?

These less hectic months are the ones where you have some natural downtime to some extent. That means you can use this time to let your team breathe.

Tip #2: Build margin into your church schedule.

If you have something going on at the church every day of the week or several special events each month, you lack margin. Anytime the church is open, there’s a high likelihood someone on staff has to be there. If that’s the case, when can your team take time off or just have a “normal” schedule?

Maintaining margin also gives you time to invest in your team through training, for people to take vacations without feeling like they need to check in, and for you to seize opportunities that you hadn’t planned for but are suddenly available.

If you don’t already have some margin, check out Tip #4 on how to start building it into the schedule.

Tip #3: Make sure your staff takes time off.

You and your team need a full day off once a week (Sabbath is still a great idea, even though the specific day isn’t too important). Each team member will also benefit from at least one full week off during the year.

Time off, whether it’s a day or longer, gives you a chance to recharge. A week long vacation can help you relax, regain a healthy perspective, and rest. Don’t let your team not use paid vacation days (especially if they don’t roll into the next year).

This may require a team effort to cover for someone when he’s out or developing volunteer leaders who can keep things moving for weekend services. Each team member should train and mentor a backup to cover his responsibilities when he’s on vacation. The backup may need to be a volunteer and that’s actually a great way to live out our responsibility to equip the saints for ministry.

“for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” – Ephesians 4:12

Tip #4: Decide if something’s gotta give.

If a program trips us up on our way to fulfilling our mission, we need to eliminate it. – Brandon Cox in Building Rhythm Into the Life of Your Church

Maybe that one event your church has hosted for a decade just isn’t bearing fruit anymore, but folks are reluctant to let it go. Regardless, if your church calendar is jam-packed, it’s time to take a hard look at each event.

  • Is participation declining?
  • Is the amount of work (number of hours and money spent) worth the results you’re seeing?
  • Can the purpose of the event and the people it’s intended to reach/serve be met in another existing event?
  • Will anyone care (or even notice) if you stop doing this event?
  • Is this event creating the results you’ve determined are the purpose of the event?

If the event isn’t achieving much and if people aren’t attending it as much as they used to, then perhaps it’s time for it to go.

Eric Geiger recommends three options when it comes to burying a church event:

  1. Cancel and Combine
  2. Attach to an Existing Program
  3. Keep, but Use More Strategically

Removing any program or event can be tough since we tend to be emotionally invested in them. However, a church schedule with zero margins isn't sustainable for long, so tough decisions may be necessary.

Tip #5: Build in rest after big events or busy seasons.

Between campaigns and holidays, we regroup. Most years, we close our offices between Christmas and New Year. It’s okay that some weekends are intentionally designed to consume less energy than others. – Pastor Rick Warren, Finding a Rhythm and Raising the Energy Level in Your Leaders

God built rest into His design, plus we all know our physical bodies have limits. After a big push leading up to Easter or Christmas, give yourself and your team some extra time off. You all need to rest, recharge, and spend quality time with your loved ones.

If you’re thinking this sounds lazy or unproductive, consider this:

First off, God worked on creation for six days and then took a day off. He modeled a work hard, and then rest rhythm.

Second, once your team returns, they’ll be well-rested and looking forward to getting back to work.

However, if you try to push through yet another busy season with minimal rest, you (and your team) will likely be frustrated, exhausted, irritable, and not as effective. Working hard and being diligent is great, but so is taking some time to recharge.

An exhausted team will not perform as well as a refreshed team who knows their pastor is dedicated to cultivating a healthy environment. Take a few minutes this week to review your church event calendar. Talk with your team about the current pace of the church and if they think it’s healthy or not.

Be willing to make some tough decisions to cancel events or not add new ones that aren’t the best for your church to do at this time. Pray, seek God’s direction, and ask for wise counsel from others. A healthy team can stay in ministry for the long haul…a burning out team simply won’t last. Which kind you have is up to you.

Leading a Staff

You're supposed to lead your staff and develop leaders in your church, but where do you start?

To make it simple we created a FREE resource called the Senior Pastor's Guide to Leading a Staff. This simple guide will help you with practical ideas and resources on leading a staff intentionally and consistently.

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When the Senior Pastor Doesn’t Love Processes

When the Senior Pastor Doesn’t Love Processes

Ever since we started talking about healthy systems, I’ve heard comments like these again and again:

“I’m just not a systems person.”

“We’re more of a make-it-up, week-to-week kind of church.”

“We don’t want to organize the Holy Spirit out of church.”

I feel you.

Believe it or not, I’m not naturally wired for systems and processes.

Before starting Church Fuel and creating The Systems Course, I was a church planter. And before that, I was a youth pastor. It’s not like those two professions are known for being organized.

Even today, I’d rather dream up plans I don’t have to execute and talk big picture strategy that someone else will manage.

What to do when the Senior Pastor doesn't like processes

If you can relate, here are three things to consider.

#1 – You don’t have to be good at something to value it.

Just because you’re not good at something doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I don’t have to be good at basketball to appreciate Michael Jordan. I don’t have to be good at investment to appreciate Warren Buffet. I don’t have to be a talented musician to value The Beatles.

There are lots of talents I do not possess that I admire and value.

The same is true in your church. You don’t have to be a process person to see the value of creating healthy systems.

Don’t let your personality keep you from assigning value – that’s a sign of immaturity. A great leader will recognize that his or her personality doesn’t paint a complete picture of how the church should work.

Don’t let your personal wiring become a prideful roadblock. Even if you’re not a process person, understand the value they can bring in the first place.

#2 – Systems are in service of something greater.

When people tell me they don’t like systems, I try to dig a little deeper and get to the root benefit.

See, systems aren’t about personality. They aren’t even about organizing everything and making things go more smoothly.  

Healthy systems are about the mission and vision of the church.

Better systems lead to better disciples.

That’s really the point of it all.

A proven process to move people into groups will accomplish far more than a passionate sermon on the topic. A simple and repeatable process to follow up with guests and help them take the first step will do more than casting vision for creating a welcoming church.

Systems are not the point…where the system leads is the point.

If you’re not a process person, that’s okay. Because there’s something far more important at stake. Systems support the vision, and that’s what matters.

#3 – Someone in your church thinks this way.

If you’re not a process-loving pastor, don’t try to change your wiring. God didn’t make you that way, and that’s a good thing.

But don’t discount the fact that God wired other people differently. There are people, volunteers, and leaders in your church who think systems first.

That’s why we recommend you choose a champion to help you implement healthy systems. Even if you wanted to, you can’t do it all. You need others, or at least one person, who is wired for details. The same details you hate are the details they love.

Here’s another way to say it: How people need wow people. If you’re a visionary leader who doesn’t want to come down from the visionary mountain, that’s okay. Your church needs you to be the wow person.

But don’t be shortsighted. All wow with no how isn’t going to lead anywhere. You’ll actually just wear people out with ideas and vision. So get a few how people around you – people who know how to get things done. Don’t diminish their contribution just because it’s different from yours.

If you’re not the type of pastors who loves systems and processes, you can still value them and see the benefits from them in your church.

More Resources for Senior Pastors

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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.

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Closing the Back Door of Your Church

Closing the Back Door of Your Church

Not everyone who visits a church stays at the church. And not everyone who initially connects stays involved over the next few years.

Every Church Has a “Backdoor”

I know this isn’t a shocking revelation, but if you’re struggling to connect people, involve people, and close the back door of your church, here are some important steps you can take to close the backdoor.

#1 – Know the numbers.

Most pastors didn’t go into ministry so they could look at trends and study spreadsheets. But an understanding of some basic numbers can really help pastors shepherd their churches well.

According to Lifeway Research, only 12% of first-time guests become regular members. If these are the averages, how does your church stack up? The only way to know this is to track the numbers.

If you’re a senior pastor, you need to know the numbers. And if you want to focus on closing the back door, pay special attention to these two.

  • First-Time Guests. Closing the back door begins with getting people in the front door. How many brand new people attend your church every weekend? Whether you find out through checking in kids or promoting a communication card in your service, this is a number you need to know.
  • New Members. You should know how many people become members (or small group members, or whatever designation you give to people who you consider fully involved).

#2 – Find out WHY people are leaving your church.

Sometimes people don’t connect with a church for good reasons. Maybe they were visiting from out of town or are already active in another church. But many times, people don’t connect with a church over something you could fix.

You might feel like you’re doing a good job, but do you know the facts? Instead of making decisions based on feeling, why not gather some facts? You can absolutely know why people are leaving your church if you ask them. Here’s how to do this.

Once a month or once a quarter, run a report of people who used to attend but no longer participate in church. Then call a few people and ask them for their feedback. Say something like this…

This is Pastor Chris from City Church. Real quick…I’m not going to ask you to do anything and I’m not even going to ask you to come back to church. But I’m trying to learn and I wonder if I could have about five minutes of your time for some feedback.

When you get people on the phone, ask them why they didn’t connect. Ask them what they didn’t like about the church. Give them permission to be honest, and then listen. You’ll need thick skin to do this, but if you follow through, what you learn will help you like nothing else.

You can send surveys, but actually talking to a few people every quarter will give you much more information. You might even engage the help of a few key staff members or volunteers and go on a learning journey like this twice a year.

Here’s a great article from John Pavlovitz on why people are really leaving you.

#3 – Create a clear guest follow-up process.

In the next 12 months, you are likely going to have first-time guests visit your church. Even if you do nothing to intentionally invite people, someone will be in town visiting family or someone will stumble in the doors accidentally.

What’s amazing about this is you get to design what happens next. You can’t guarantee that first-time guests will become fully involved participants, but you sure can do a lot to set that expectation.

Your first-time guest follow-up process might include:

  • A phone call or a text from someone who could act like a personal concierge
  • A personalized, hand-written note thanking the person for visiting
  • A series of automated, scheduled emails over the next 40 days in order to provide important information and create a connection.

Creating an environment that’s welcoming to guests and then designing a first-time guest follow up process that works is one of the most important things you can do as a church.

#4 – Point people to one clear next step.

Closing the back door of your church is most effective when you have clear steps. And the best clear steps begin with one clear first step.

Instead of offering and promoting ten ways to get connected, work hard to create a first step for everyone. Work hard to make it a quality experience. Work hard to communicate the benefits of participating. And work hard to make it effective. Possible first steps include:

  • 101 Class
  • Small Group Kickoff Night
  • Pastor’s Reception after Church
  • New Members Class
  • Dinner with the Pastor

The important thing is to choose a first step that makes sense for your church and be consistent. The first time you do it, it might not work. But if you’re consistent and you make it a real thing, it will work.

#5 – Provide opportunities for people to connect relationally.

The relationship you should talk the most about in church is a relationship with Jesus. People don’t need more religion – they need Jesus. Our church services should clearly articulate the Gospel and be a picture of what it’s like to truly follow Jesus.

But people also need relationships with other people. The Bible word for this is fellowship. How well does your church do at facilitating relationships?

Maybe you’re great at distributing information. Whether it’s a sermon or a class, information really is important to the Christian faith. But relationships are also a tremendous catalyst for faith and your church should facilitate them

Of course, you can do this through small groups and volunteers teams. But you could also intentionally create a few environments throughout the year that give people an opportunity to hang out and get to know one another. Sharing a meal, hanging out with families at the park, or doing something fun together can go a long way to facilitating relationships.

Organize a church picnic. Throw a party. Create opportunities for conversations to happen. These go a long way toward closing the back door.

#6 – Focus on relationships and responsibilities.

There’s a good chance your church is busy. Maybe even too busy.

But events and programs on their own will not close the back door of your church. In fact, they can be a detriment to closing the back door. If you want people to truly stick in your church, they need one or both of the following: relationships and responsibilities.

  • People stay at a church because of relationships. People don’t connect with a church, they connect with people at a church. If they have friends, they are more likely to stick. If their family is there, they are more likely to stick. If they know a pastor or some of the leaders, they are more likely to stick. Programs and ministries are important in the sense they facilitate relationships.
  • People stay at a church because they have responsibilities. Volunteerism is not a way to get stuff done; it’s a way to encourage people to follow Jesus and build up the body of Christ. If you want people to stick, give them a responsibility (not just tasks). Work hard to communicate the benefits (not just the need) of serving and connect people to volunteer teams.

#7- Connect kids and students.

One of the best ways to close the back door in your church is to focus on creating a thriving, growing and healthy family ministry. If you’re a parent, you’ll be far more likely to commit to any organization that serves your kids well.

Children’s Ministry, Student Ministry, and Family Ministry give you a great opportunity to connect with people desperately in need of relationships. For many churches, this is a tremendous growth opportunity. And if you’re looking to close the back door in your church, there’s no better place to start.