Make Next Year the Best Year in Your Church (7 Practical Steps)

Make Next Year the Best Year in Your Church (7 Practical Steps)

The last couple of years have been among the hardest ministry years for most pastors.  So many of us are ready to turn the page.

You certainly don’t me to give you a list of all the difficult things you’ve dealt with.  You’ve lived it.

But I’m also sensing a renewed spirit of optimism in the church.  We’re looking ahead with optimism, trying to leave behind anxious thoughts and move on from tough decisions.  We’re ready to get back to the ministry we’re called to do.

I want 2022 to be a year filled with optimism, energy, and a renewed sense of purpose.  Years from now, when you look back on this season, I want you recall how this next year was the turning point.

With all this in mind, here are some ways you can make 2022 a great year in your church.

 

#1 – CUT BACK ON PURPOSE

Over the last two years or so, many of us have had to cut things out of our budget and out of our programming.  You likely did this as a response to something, maybe even feeling like you didn’t have a choice.  

But now you have the opportunity to cut back, not out of a response, but out of purpose.

If you've ever written a book, you know that editing is often the hardest process. It's pretty easy to put the words on a page, but what turns a good book into a great book is editing. And editing is largely cutting things down and removing the non-essential.

As we look ahead toward 2022, there are things in all of our churches that are not really tied to our core mission, things we've been holding onto that are just not effective anymore.

they may be programs, ministries, legacies — things that are no longer moving the ball forward, but just existing. Maybe you inherited them. They are taking resources, and they are taking people.

When I was pastoring a church, one of the most impactful books I read was Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger. It gave me permission to stop trying to be all things to all people, but to make sure every program and ministry was intentionally aligned to a greater purpose.

As you move into this next year, cutting back on purpose could actually be key. We have a saying at Church Fuel, “The key to growth may not be something you start, but something you stop.”

So many times we go to conferences, webinars, or trainings, even from people like me, and you try to add these new ideas to an already crowded menu. It doesn't work because the key to growth isn’t just adding more and doing more. It's usually stopping something and taking that energy and putting it into what's already working.

The most important ministries in your church – we call them Keystone Ministries – deserve an unfair advantage.  They need more money, more volunteers, and more focus.  When you stop doing things that are off-mission, you can focus on these keystone ministries.

Pruning brings new growth. Don’t wait for things to be almost dead to remove them from the venue. Be proactive. Cut back, but on purpose.

 

#2 – CREATE A REAL STRATEGIC PLAN

Most strategic plans in churches are worthless. They're usually 50 pages long, and expensive consultants come in and help you create these impressive but unactionable documents.

A real strategic plan simply answers the how questions, not the wow questions. You know we're going to change the world. But how are we going to do it? A strategic plan translates your purpose and your vision into tangible, actionable steps.

I'd love for you to gather some of your church-minded leaders to say, “Hey, it’s not about what are we going to do next year, but how are we going to do it?

Strategy, not vision and not purpose, is the key to alignment.  I know everyone has tried their best to convince you that a big vision is the key.  But rah-rah rallies about some big destination isn’t going to help you get people on the same page.  If you’re not united around HOW, the big vision will actually de-motivate people over the long haul.

Strategy is what gets people on the same page; it’s not just agreeing where we're going, but how we're going to get there. If I fly on the plane and you drive in the RV across the country, we're arriving there at very different times, having had very different experiences.

The strategic plan we recommend is called The Two Page Plan.  It’s a unifying exercise that raises some great questions and promts some powerful discussions.  But in the end, it’s actionable, sharable, and meaningful.

Learn more at twopageplan.com. 

 

#3 – CREATE CHURCHWIDE GOALS

I encourage you to create three to five churchwide goals – not what are we trying to do in general, but what are we going to do specifically.

Most churches have grandiose purpose statements like “we exist for the glory of God” or “we make disciples of all the world.” Those are very big ideas, and we should have those.

We need these big ideas to anchor us and ground us, but we also need to know specifically and tangibly, what are we trying to do in this next year.  Are we trying to connect people in small groups? Are we trying to grow our attendance? Are we trying to grow? What are we trying to do specifically?

These goals need to be churchwide, bigger than any one specific ministry.

What gets us in trouble with goals and churches is that all our ministries, programs, departments, volunteers have their own goals. And when you put them all together, there's nothing cohesive that holds them together.

We need to have churchwide goals, reflected in all of our ministries and programs. When we get clear about who we are, when we get clear about our strategy, that strategy should point to something specific.

One of the most helpful things I think you could do in this next year is say, “Hey, here is specifically what we're trying to do as a church.” Your deacons, elders, small group leaders, staff, team, key leaders, everybody needs to know clearly what those are and know how what they do feeds into them. And they're unifying and they're uniting because the whole church is involved in seeing those goals.

 

#4. TAKE A FRESH LOOK AT JOB DESCRIPTIONS

Too many times, job descriptions are not useful documents. We create them when there is a job opening and they are accurate for a couple of weeks.  But a few months in, nobody looks at that document.

If you were to pull out your job description, you might say, “Oh, I don't do that anymore, and it's missing these 12 things that I actually do.”

Our job descriptions don't reflect reality. They don't reflect the changes that our church has gone through over the last couple of years.

Instead of just being this HR document that sits in a folder in a filing cabinet somewhere, a job description  can be something that clarifies what we do to contribute to our church’s goals, strategy, and mission.

At the beginning of the year, take a fresh look at everybody that has a job, whether it's a full-time, paid position or a part-time volunteer role.  Update it to reflect current reality.  Use it to cast clarity.

After all casting clarity might just be one of a leader’s most important tasks.

We have 50 different sample job descriptions in the member site of Church Fuel, one for every role that could exist in a church.  Many of these templates have KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) that help connect the dots between tasks and outcomes.

One of my favorite resources in Church Fuel is called the One Page Job Description. It will help you summarize your job in one page.  It’s an amazing, clarifying exercise.

Imagine if everybody that had a job at the church did that and said, “Of all the things that I could do, this is what matters most. This is what we're focusing on this year.”

 

#5 – BRING LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT FRONT AND CENTER

Leadership development in church is really discipleship. 

You have some people in your church who are leaders, who are potential leaders, and they need you to disciple them.

Luke 16:10 describes the challenge many churches are facing in this area. If you're faithful with a little, then maybe God would bless you with more. It says he who is faithful with a little can be entrusted with more. We know this in parenting. We know this in finances. The better stewards we are, the more trust we build, the more likely we are to be given more.

You have some leaders, or you may have only one, but what is your plan to disciple and develop them?

As we focus on developing the leaders we have, I believe God will send us more. We get this backwards in church. We keep asking God, “Send us more, send us more.” And I wonder if he's like, “Hey, you have a whole bunch. You're not doing anything. Why would I send you more?”

Let's develop and disciple the leaders that we already have. Let's commit to having one-on-ones with them. Let's commit to taking our meetings and retreats and the things that we already have and making them more meaningful. We don't have to necessarily add more to the calendar, but we can be more intentional with what we're already doing.

We have a resource, a whole system really, called LeaderPulse. It's meetings and retreats.  It’s leadership development curriculum. There are videos, there are guides, there are exercises that you can work on together to bring intentionality and focus to helping all the leaders in your church get better.

Three Templates to Create Your Leadership Development Plan

Three Templates to Create Your Leadership Development Plan

Leadership Development is a top priority, but it rarely happens. 

To actually develop the leaders God has assigned to your church, you need two things: cadence and content.

Our Leadership Development Plan helps you create a clear cadence while LeaderPulse gives you all of the necessary content to encourage, lead, and inspire your people. 

When you invest in your team, the investment multiplies as they are encouraged, motivated, and equipped to invest in the people and projects around them. 

You can access the Leadership Development Plan for free.

We have three versions for you: 

Printable PDF 

Google Template

Miro Template

Each version is customizable and designed to fit your needs. Whether you prefer to work with a physical product or an online collaborative product, there’s a version for you.

Here’s how to use them:

Printable PDF

Direct download the PDF to your computer, or select the printer icon in the top right corner.

You’ll notice that the PDF has two pages. The first page is the calendar. This is where you will develop your cadence. 

There are 4 rows (Meetings & Retreats, Exercises, Training, and Leadership Development Books) with 12 squares, one for each month of the year. You don’t necessarily need to fill in all of the squares, but they are available to you.

The second page is the content. Each of these squares act as a “sticky note” for you to place on your calendar. Some squares already have content on them. This is the content that is provided within LeaderPulse and is ready for you to implement.

If you don’t have LeaderPulse, or if you have an exercise or Leadership Book you would prefer outside of LeaderPulse, we have also provided blank sticky notes for you to write in your own content. These are also color-coded to keep everything organized and clear.

Tip: Laminate the pages so you can use them over and over again.

Google Template

To get started, click the blue “Use Template” button in the top right corner. This will create a new document in your Google Drive (you must have a google account to use this version.)

The first page is an example of a Leadership Development Plan using all of the pieces of content available in LeaderPulse.

The second page is your working document for you to drag and drop your content onto the page. On the right side of the page, you’ll find all of the sticky notes for you to drag and drop as well as blank ones for you to create your own.

Tip: Invite your team to the document to make it collaborative.

Miro Template

Miro is an online collaborative whiteboard platform. Imagine a whiteboard that you can view, edit, and collaborate with from anywhere.

Once you select the Miro template (button below), select the blue “sign up for free” button at the top of the screen.

You will be prompted to create your free Miro account. Once your account is created, you’ll be able to duplicate the board into your own account. To duplicate the board, click on the title at the top left, then select Duplicate.

Some Miro Tips:

Zoom In and out using the magnifying glass in the bottom right of your screen.

To move the elements on the plan, select the cursor in the left toolbar.

 

Here's an example of a completed Miro Board:

 

 

You can also add your team to this board to make it collaborative. Miro can be a fun and useful tool for your team.

 

LeaderPulse is the only solution that gives you all the content you need – for use right out of the box or easily customizable to meet your need –  to train all the leaders in your church.

But it’s more than a calendar…we have a whole library full of training materials…every meeting agenda, retreat plan, development exercise, training tool, and devotion all wrapped in an easy-to-customize plan.

Finally, you have an actual toolbox to DO leadership development, not just design a hypothetical system. 

Get LeaderPulse today (available until November 19th, 2021).

Three High Priorities for Pastors Right Now

Three High Priorities for Pastors Right Now

I'm often asked by pastors “of all the things I have to do, what is most important right now?”

It’s a difficult question to answer because it could vary depending on the church. What is most important for one person may not be as important for another. But what I do know, based on my experience of coaching pastors over the years, is that there are three things you should never neglect if you want your ministry to thrive and grow in the long term. 

And churches historically struggle with each of them.

 

#1 – Create a real strategic plan.

 

Most churches have purpose statements – big picture, vision-laced, sometimes bloated statements meant to inspire. 

Some have goals – something they are trying to accomplish in this next ministry season. 

Very few have any semblance of a strategic plan – a documented, step-by-step answer to the HOW questions in ministry.

Strategy isn’t about grand plans, big ideas, or fancy tools and tactics. It’s about defining a set of choices that will drive the mission of your church forward. 

But this is the glue that holds everything together, the actual plan that will get your people on the same page.  The thoughtful process describes how you'll do what God has called you to do.

The template we created for you is called the Two Page Plan.  Page one will help you clarify who you are and page two is where you document what you do.

If you don't have this granular level of clarity, this is where I would start.

 

#2 – Double down on pastoral communication to your congregation.

 

I know you want to reach your whole community. But to do that, you'll need more than a staff and some committed leaders.  You'll need to engage and empower your congregation, releasing them to do the work of the ministry.

Start with your volunteers.  Make sure they know your purpose, vision, and strategy.  Make sure they feel appreciated and loved. 

Over-communicate to your donors.  Send them an email every month letting them know how you're being a good steward and how you're staying on mission.  Steal this one and customize it for your church.

And yes, email is the channel you want to use.  I know it's boring and not as trendy as the latest social media app.  But tell your members it's your #1 way you'll communicate with them and make it meaningful.

It's easier than ever to lose touch with your congregation.  Time is well spent here.

 

#3 – Put leadership development on your calendar.

 

One of the biggest problems churches are facing today is the lack of leaders.  

Not money, facilities, or denomination.

It’s not even more people or more volunteers.

Leadership is the tip of the spear.

The problem is there’s no quick fix.

You can’t just preach a sermon, make an announcement, or download some new tool and suddenly have more qualified leaders to do the work of the ministry. 

You can’t recruit leaders with an announcement and developing them looks more like a long-term discipleship plan than a quick online course.

You need to start focusing on this right away, even though there are surely more urgent matters facing you.  Because if you don't make time for this now, you'll be playing catch-up until you do.

It Pays To Play: Team Building 101

It Pays To Play: Team Building 101

Why creating space for play will move your ministry forward

You set a big goal, started a new ministry, developed a new system. Whatever the mountain was that you recently climbed, it was a lot of work and you invested a lot to climb it. But you did it. Either the deadline has passed or the work is done and the view is astounding. Look at how far you have come!

So now what? Do you look around for another mountain to climb? If this were a real mountain, before you even thought about the descent you would celebrate the mountain top. 

Everyone is designed to work hard. But if our focus remains working hard and continuously climbing mountains, it’s too easy to miss out on the rest and restoration that fuels the hard work. Without a healthy rhythm of work and rest, we (and our team) end up burnt out with broken relationships and misaligned priorities. 

If your team has climbed a big mountain and/or is feeling exhausted, you need to pay yourself and your team back for their investment. When you invest into your team, the investment multiples as they are encouraged, motivated and equipped to invest in the people and projects around them.

That’s where a team-building retreat comes into play. Your Team Building activity doesn’t have to be deep or lengthy. It may be as simple as “what was something fun you did this weekend?”

Here are five benefits of team building:

1. Team Building Builds Trust

“The only relationships in this world that have ever been worthwhile and enduring have been those in which one person could trust another.” – Samuel Smile, British author and biographer

Trust is one of the most valuable assets your church could have. Trust is currency, and it will make or break your team. However, you cannot build trust without time. In every mention of trust, it’s followed by a verb; “build trust, “earn trust” “lose trust” “gain trust”. Trust is an asset that is developed, over time, with intention. 

2. Team Building Reduces Conflict

When your team builds trust with one another, they are less likely to fill a gap of information with suspicion and more likely to fill it with trust. Fewer assumptions are made, less judgment is given, and your team can come to conflict resolutions more quickly. 

While time together does not guarantee trust, it does help facilitate it.

3. Team Building Increases Collaboration

When you schedule team-building activities into your annual calendar, you are not only paying your team back for their investment, but you are investing in them so they can turn around and invest in others around them.

4. Team Building Improves Morale

When people make a commitment to spend time together, it can change the way they relate to each other and work together. A retreat centered on relationships communicates that your team is important enough to invest a significant amount of time and energy into. This factor alone contributes to a boost in morale and overall employee satisfaction.

5. Team Building Provides Insight 

Time together does not guarantee trust. When you gather your team together for team-building, it is a great opportunity as a leader to observe who works well together, who avoids others, who leads, and who follows. A team-building retreat will give you an extended length of time to observe the relationship dynamics of your team in a way that work-focused activities will not.

If thoughtfully structured, Team Building Retreats can clarify roles and expectations, ease tensions and identify the unique contributions of each staff member. 

If you continue to build into your team, your team will be more productive and available to build into the people around them. 

Investment multiplies.

And remember, team-building isn’t an activity you do to get it out of the way but something you do to actually develop relationships. 

That requires time, patience, and opportunities to step out of your comfort zone.

From bowling to a ropes course to the movie theatre, there are tons of activities that are fun, will spark people’s imaginations, and (hopefully) invoke a lot of laughter. Consider what your local area has to offer; while you may not have a ropes course, you might have a racetrack or an amusement park. 

Whatever you do, have FUN!

 

Leadership Development in Church…What’s Working Now?

Leadership Development in Church…What’s Working Now?

We hear this question from pastors all the time…

 How do we develop more leaders?

 It’s an important question. Because the health and growth of a church is often tied to the health and growth of leaders.

If your leaders are giving generously, the people in the church often follow. If your leaders are making disciples, the people in the church will be encouraged to do the same. If your leaders are intentionally getting better and developing skills, then your church is more likely to grow.

 We asked pastors three crucial questions about their strategy to develop leaders, and their answers might surprise you.

 

Question #1: “What is your strategy for developing leaders in your church?”

 

We learned that 67% of pastors said their church really didn’t have an intentional strategy to develop leaders.

But here’s what is interesting: They didn’t say it was unimportant.  They didn’t say they didn’t care.  They didn’t say it wasn’t a priority.

But 2 out of 3 pastors said they didn’t have any type of intentional strategy to do leadership development with their staff, elders, deacons or key leaders.

You and I both know that a goal without a strategy to reach that goal isn’t likely to be reached.

So we asked a second question…

 

Question #2: “What tools do you currently use to develop leaders?”

 

53% of pastors said they regularly read books to help their leaders get better. 

 Books can be a great tool. We love this idea and even have a recommended list.  The Pastor's Book Club might be a good next step as well.  Books are great sources for leadership material.

50% of pastors also said they personally attend conferences and events and try to take people with them.

That’s gotten a little harder since the challenges 2020 brought us, and expenses are always a challenge when it comes to travel and in-person training.

While Books and conferences are great leadership development tools, and they can be a piece of a leadership development strategy in your church, I would argue they aren’t enough. 

Not everyone learns best through reading books and cost/logistics might keep you from taking all of your leaders to the best conferences and events. 

 

Question #3: “If you don’t have a leadership development strategy, what holds you back?”

 

This was an open-ended question and pastors responded honestly.  In looking through all of the responses, we can summarize the responses in just one word.

Time.

 The biggest hindrance to leadership development was time. Again, pastors didn’t tell us leadership development was unimportant.  A lack of concern wasn’t the challenge.

It was simply a matter of prioritization. 

We completely understand.

Ministry takes a lot of time. 

There are sermons to write, meetings to attend, events to organize, and people to help.  Leadership development is something you’re planning to get to…as soon as things calm down.

You know it’s important.  You know it’s one of the keys to future success.

But finding the time and energy to do this right now, when there’s a slew of other opportunities right in front of you, is difficult.

Leadership Development is a top priority, but it rarely happens. To actually develop the leaders God has assigned to your church, you need two things:

  1. Cadence
  2. Content

Recently, we hosted a workshop called LeaderPulse. We unpacked a few principles and big ideas, but then we helped about 5,000 pastors design their leadership development plan for the next year.  

The idea was to decide what to do and when to do it.  

By the end of the event, every plan was decided and documented. 

 Get the LeaderPulse Workshop replay here.

 

How to Change Minds – Book Notes from The Catalyst

How to Change Minds – Book Notes from The Catalyst

This month in the Pastor’s Book Club, we are breaking down The Catalyst.  In addition to a breakdown and discussion guide you can use with your team, there’s a video with ministry insights.  Learn more about The Pastor’s Book Club here.

Imagine how hard it is for a hostage negotiator to get someone to change their mind.  The stakes are high there.  

Even though it’s not usually that dramatic, people don’t want to change. Isaac Newton famously noted that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, while an object at rest tends to stay at rest.  Inertia is real.  

Some people think that if you just push people, give more information, more facts, more reasons and arguments, or more force, people will change. But people are resistant to change 

They push back.

Whether you’re working on a sermon, trying to convince people to join a small group, or writing the church newsletter, there are some principles in this book are really going to help you.

In chemistry, chemists use catalysts, special substances that speed up chemical reactions. They do this not by increasing heat or pressure, but by providing an alternate route. In other words, faster change with less energy.

Being the catalyst is equally powerful in the social world. It’s not about trying to be a better persuader or be more convincing. It’s about changing minds by removing barriers.

Push people and they will snap. Tell them what to do and they probably won’t listen.

Catalysts start with this basic question: “Why hasn’t the person changed already? What’s blocking them?”

Reactance

Berger starts with story of Chuck Wolfe, who was asked to get teens to stop smoking in Florida.  The recommendations and the warnings weren’t working.  In fact, many times when we tell people to STOP doing something, they start doing it more.  That’s what happened when TIDE asked people to stop eating TIDE pods.  Even Rob Gronkowski getting involved couldn’t make people listen.

Chuck Wolfe took a different approach.  Instead of trying to persuade people he let people persuade themselves.  They stopped telling kids what to do and just started laying out the facts, particularly the ones about how the cigarette manufacturers were manipulating and influencing politics, TV, movies, and teenagers themselves.  

“Here’s what the industry is doing…you decide what you want to do about it,” was their message.  They trusted people to make their own decisions.

And it worked.  

People have an anti persuasion radar, and they’re constantly scanning for influence attempts. If they find one, they set up countermeasures, such as avoidance and ignoring the message.

Pushing, telling, even encouraging people to do something often backfires. They need to see their behavior as freely driven, as their idea.

No one likes feeling someone is trying to influence them. After all, when’s the last time you changed your mind because someone told you to?

Endowment

Even though new things are better, people will still cling to the old.  For example, many people use their old phones even though they know new ones will work much better.  The hassle to change, even if there’s a promise of improvement, just isn’t worth the effort.

Change is hard because people tend to overvalue what they have, what they already own, or what they are already doing.

Duke University students were willing to pay around $200 for Final Four tickets, but students who already had tickets wanted $2,000 to sell them.  What we have is worth more to us.

Research suggest the potential gains of doing something have to be 2.6 times larger than the potential losses to get people to take action

When things aren’t terrible, or if they are just okay but not great, it’s hard to get people to budge.  In most of our churches, services are filled with people who are doing okay.  That’s a challenge for any preacher.

To combat this, we have to convince people of the cost of doing nothing. 

Cortez had to burn the ships.

The IT department has to say, “we’re not supporting the old system after this date.”

Inaction has to be removed from the table.

Distance

If you already believe X, the truth about Y probably won’t convince you.

That’s why one person’s truth is another’s fake news. 

And exposure to the truth doesn’t always help because of confirmation bias.  In fact, studies show that exposure to the truth can often lead to increased misperception.

It’s why two sets of fans who watch the same football game will have a different perspective on play, no matter the outcome.  

Making a moderate appeal and going after the middle may be a better approach.  That’s what worked in Oklahoma when they were deciding whether to re-legalize alcohol after Prohibition.  As you’re preaching, what action step would appeal to most of the people?

Another approach you could take is finding the subset of people most likely to embrace or support your position.  You may not need to convince everyone, just the subgroup that needs it most.   If you’re trying to lead a big change in your church, getting a small group of the right people involved may be the wise, first step.

You could also ask for less.  Instead of pushing people to do something they don’t want to do, you could ask them to agree to a small, related ask that moves them in the right direction.  That puts the final task within the zone of acceptance.  

“When trying to change minds, the tendance is to go big.  We want to shift people’s perspective right away.  We’re looking for that silver bullet pitch that will immediately get someone to quit drinking soda or switch political parties overnight.  But look closer at big changes, and they’re rarely that abrupt.  Instead, they’re often more of a process.  A slow and steady shift with many stages along the way.” – The Catalyst, Page 112

Uncertainty

We devalue things that are uncertain.

People hate uncertainty. It’s worse than known negatives.

The more ambiguity there is around a product, service, or idea, the less valuable that thing becomes.

Uncertainty is good for maintaining the status quo, but terrible for changing minds.  It acts like a pause button in the decision-making process. 

How to combat uncertainty:

  • Trialability: How easy to experiment with something?  Can you imagine buying a car without test-driving it?  What about joining a small group?
  • Freemium: This was the approach Dropbox took when launching.  Can people start using right away and take more steps when they are ready?
  • Reduce up-front cost: Zappos was among the first to offer free shipping.  How might this apply to something like mission-trip participation?

The real barrier isn’t money, but uncertainty.

Corroborating Evidence

People don’t have strong feelings about pine trees, prime numbers, or serif fonts. Those are weakly held attitudes.  You’ve got an opinion, but it’s probably not that important and it’s relatively easy to change. 

Politics or your favorite sports team…that’s a different story.

Are we talking about pebbles or boulders?

If an opinion is important to you, it takes more evidence to change. We discount info that we disagree with, so more proof is required for more certainty.

You are more likely to accept an opinion from “Another you” someone who is like you, in terms of likes/dislikes, concerns/values.  This is why you laugh more when you’re with people who are like you are also laughing. 

Actions, even ones like donations, are shaped by social influence.  People are more likely to donate if they know someone who has already done so.  

Pastor's Book Club

To read the full breakdown of The Catalyst, check out the Pastor’s Book Club.  Each month, you’ll get a book breakdown of an important business book and a ministry insight video you can share with all of your leaders.