The Pain of Breaking the 200 Barrier

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Most churches in America never break through the 200 barrier, in fact, only 15% of churches break through it. Some pastors talk about it like it is the mythical unicorn. There are books, podcasts, webinars, and articles on how to break it. For years, Revolution would bump up against the 200 barrier and then go back down. We’d have seasons where we would stay above it and I thought we were through. Finally, we broke through it.

No light from heaven shone. There were no songs or angels. It just happened.

Since that moment, I’ve learned something.

Breaking through 200 hurts. A lot.

To break through 200, a lot of things in your church change and most of them are connected to the lead pastor. Teams you used to lead and meetings you used to be in, you no longer are. There is now a layer between you and someone you used to talk to every week.

If you are a planter, things your wife used to do you are now paying someone to do. People who were leaders from the moment of your church starting to get to 200 have hit their lid and are now replaced by other leaders.

This issue of control and feeling of loss looms larger than most leaders talk about. Don’t get me wrong, a growing church is exciting, but it is painful.

Here in lies why most churches don’t grow: the church and the pastor are not willing to go through the pain for it to grow.  What I mean is, people who feel connected to the pastor at 150 will often feel less connected at 200.

You will begin hearing things like, “the church doesn’t feel like a family anymore.” “I don’t know anyone at church.” “I used to have coffee with the pastor, but now I have to make an appointment.” People will lament it feels like a corporation instead of a church or that there are a bunch of new people. Pastors will have to stop micro managing and allow leaders to run with ideas. You will start to see things you don’t like in your church, the church you started. Not every pastor can handle this. Communication loops change. What used to take a phone call or a text, now takes a video, announcement or mass email. Putting together an event or work day used to take a few days of lead up now takes a few weeks to work out schedules across ministries. Where you used to know every leader and were able to put people into place of leadership roles, you now need a process to vet and check those who are leading teams. The world has changed. And this is why most churches break through 200 and settle back at 150. They don’t like the way things felt at 200. 

In addition to all this, there is another reason few pastors are willing to make the jump through 200.

Finances.

It is a squeeze on a church financially to break through 200. At this point, you need to hire some more staff and you won’t have the money for it. It will stretch your budget and your faith. You will take a step that depending on where your church is could sink your ship if it goes poorly. Many pastors and churches are not willing to take this step, are unsure of how to hire correctly and so they stay stuck. In the end, this boils down to a willingness to do what it takes to become the church God has called you to become.

If you are still with me and arguing with me in your head, let me hit the last reason churches and leaders don’t break through this barrier.

Their personal lid.  Many churches or pastors simply don’t have the capacity to break this barrier. Many will say, “Then they shouldn’t. We need small churches.” There is some truth in that and some lie. We need small churches, but we need those churches to be healthy, must be discipling people and helping people find Jesus and baptize them. Some churches do this, plant more churches and never break 200. Some planters start churches well, get it to 200 and pass the baton to go and plant another church.

In the end, the churches and leaders that break through 200 and go on to break 400-500 have the willingness to make the sacrifice so that a church can do more and help more people enter a relationship with Jesus so they can become who God has called them to be.

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What Pastors can Learn from TED Talks (2014)

If you preach on a regular basis or give any kind of lesson or business presentations, the one book you need to read this year is Carmine Gallo’s book Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. I’ve been a fan of his since I read The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, another great speaking book.

In his latest book, Gallo gives nine lessons every speaker can learn from the best TED Talks. Here are 9 lessons I took away for pastors:

  1. The world was and still is clearly hungry for great ideas presented in an engaging way. While many lament the changing culture and the lack of morals and change of opinion towards Christians. This is all true. Yet, the world is still looking for hope. Whether they are a follower of Jesus or have never walked into a church, those who show up on a Sunday are looking for hope, they are looking for change. They are hungry for the gospel.
  2. If you can’t inspire anyone else with your ideas, it won’t matter how great those ideas are, because great communicators reach your head and your heart. Pastors tend to reach either the head or the heart of someone. They are either incredibly smart so they engage them intellectually or they have a passion and can tell stories so they reach the heart. You have to reach both. Depending on your ministry background and theological camp, you know which one comes naturally for you. For me, I can reach anyone’s head. The speakers I listen to so that I can grow as a communicator tend to be the seeker-church guys (Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Craig Groeschel, etc). Why? They know how to do something that doesn’t come naturally for me and I want to grow.
  3. You cannot inspire others unless you are inspired yourself. For many pastors, they preach because it is Sunday, not because they have something to say. This has to do with their own heart, devotional time, sleep patterns, eating habits and how they are protecting themselves. Your church knows if you are inspired by what you are sharing or if you are just giving a sermon. Take care of yourself, prepare your heart, confess your sin and preach because you can’t keep it in any longer.
  4. Positive leaders are perceived as more effective and therefore more likely to persuade their followers to do what they want their followers to do. While their is a time for seriousness in a sermon, people must walk away feeling hopeful and knowing you believe what you said and knowing that you believe the gospel has the power to do what you said it can do.
  5. If you start with something too esoteric and disconnected from the lives of everyday people, it’s harder for people to engage. Always, always start with something that connects to real life. You have 30 seconds to convince people to listen to you. Showing them that you understand where they’re coming from and that you can help them move to a place they want to go goes a long way in raising the interest level in your sermon.
  6. Giving a presentation that truly moves people takes hard work. Let’s face it, many pastors are lazy. They become a pastor because it seems easier, they read a lot and most people don’t have a high expectation for a sermon to be great (sadly). They are simply hoping for short. Preaching is hard work. If you aren’t willing to put in the hard work, don’t preach. At the end of the day, someone pays a price for a sermon, the pastor or the church.
  7. Authenticity doesn’t happen naturally. This seems counterintuitive, because authenticity just happens. It takes practice. It takes learning how to share, what to share and when to share it. Sometimes, pastors in an effort to be authentic sound creepy. Sometimes, they skip it and sound like they never struggle with anything they are preaching on. One question I ask each time I preach and seek to answer in my sermon is: How has this passage affected and changed me?
  8. When you walk into a classroom you have two jobs: one is to teach and the other is to recruit everyone in that classroom to join the pursuit of truth. Let’s face it, preaching is about moving people to action. It might be for them to take a next step, follow Jesus, get baptized, start giving, work on an area of their life or join the mission of a church. A sermon is a call to move from where you are to somewhere else.
  9. If you can’t explain your big idea in 140 characters or less, keep working on your message. I’ve talked a lot in blog posts about having 1 big idea, one thing you are trying to get across. Not 3, 5 or 7. A pastor recently asked me to critique a sermon and after listening to it I asked him, “What was the main point?” He couldn’t recall it. Neither could his church. I love how Gallo says, “Every talk should be a twitter headline. If it can’t fit, you aren’t ready to talk.” For some great examples, just listen to Andy Stanley preach. By having a twitter headline, you are able to help control and influence what people walk out knowing.

As I said, if you speak, this is the one book you need to read this year. So, so good.

Monday Morning Mind Dump…

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  • The longer I preach, the more amazed I am at how much it takes out of you.
  • Yesterday was a day every preacher knows well.
  • Every week a preacher feels the weight of what they are doing, but some weeks it hangs over them in a different way.
  • That week was yesterday.
  • I preached on Galatians 5:16 – 24 and what it means to walk in the Spirit.
  • I could’ve spent 4 weeks on that passage.
  • If you missed it, you can listen to it here.
  • I’m excited because we are starting sign-ups for our MC’s this Sunday.
  • Also excited because we have some MC leader assessments this week.
  • Love seeing new MC’s get started.
  • My book is due this Friday so that will make this week a little busier than normal.
  • So excited though to take the next step.
  • I’m also pretty blown away by how much work writing a book is.
  • Not the glamorous coast one would expect.
  • Having lunch today with a guy from Washington who is thinking of moving to Tucson to plant a church.
  • I love how many churches are being planted in our city right now.
  • It was definitely a dead zone for church plants in the last 3-4 years but there is a new resurgence which is exciting to see.
  • Just found out that this past July at Revolution Church has been our best July ever in terms of attendance. We almost beat the month of May which is one of our highest months.
  • In the middle of summer!
  • Ava turns 9 this week.
  • I can’t believe I have a kid that is 9.
  • Definitely feeling old, but love the new season of parenting we are finding ourselves in.
  • I also love that football is about to start.
  • Got my email about fantasy football, so it is time to start researching that.
  • That will give me something to do next week when I don’t have a book to work on.
  • Time to get back to it…

How to Work from Home Successfully

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It is becoming more and more common to work remotely. Not only in offices, but for churches. Especially with the rise of church plants, more and more pastors find themselves working from coffee shops, their house or a shared work space.

The transition to this or starting your own business in your house can be difficult. After 7 years of working in a church office, we planted Revolution 6 years ago and I’ve been working from home and other places since then.

Here are 6 ways to work from home successfully:

  1. Have a designated work space. Depending on your set up, this can be hard but it is important that you have a work space. If you can have a room with a door, this is ideal but not completely necessary. I’ve had seasons where my office was a kids bedroom and that is part of it.
  2. Have a clear start and stop time. Some jobs that work remotely have this built in. I have a friend who works for a call center but does it in his house, so he has to sign in at a certain time. For others, like a pastor, this isn’t as clear. It is important define, especially if you are married and have kids, when you will start and when you will stop. This will help to prevent working more than you should and having a clear boundary.
  3. The water cooler factor. If you work in an office, interruptions are part of the day. People stopping by, you getting up to walk around. These can be helpful and intrusive. It is important that you plan for these in working from home. I try to break my day up into 90 minute increments and have a break in between that could be as simple as getting more coffee. You also need to keep this in mind as you think about how long your work day should be as your spouse probably isn’t stopping by to talk about fantasy football for 30 minutes while you work.
  4. Stay focused. It is easy to work from home and not stay focused. After all, you can see other things that need to be done and no one is looking over your shoulder telling you not to look at blogs, Facebook or the news. You must have a system to stay focused on the task at hand. One of the things I installed was Chrome Nanny and put in certain websites that are blocked during my work hours, like social media sites, to help me stay focused.
  5. Handling interruptions. Working from home, you will still have interruptions. Kids knocking on your door, your spouse asking you to do something. This is part of the flexibility of not being in an office, but you have to have a system for handling them, otherwise you won’t get any work done. There are times when my door is locked and the kids leave me alone and times when it is open and they can do schoolwork or play on my floor while I work.
  6. Disconnecting from work. If you work from home, you walk out of your home office and your home. You don’t get that 30, 60 minute commute to disconnect from work, listen to sports radio or have some silence before you connect with your family. I used to work and as soon as I was done go into family mode. This doesn’t work as I can be on edge or still thinking about work. Now, I workout, take a walk or read some sports blogs and then go into family mode. You have to learn how to make your commute happen without having a commute.

Working from home isn’t for everyone or for every job. Some people can’t handle the freedom that comes from not having a set start time or not having a boss look over their shoulder. We had someone on our staff team once that struggled to accomplish 30% of their job because of this, so you must be wise when deciding to work from home as it is a stewardship issue for you and your company or church.

If you work from home, what would you add to the list to be more successful?

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Sunday Prayer

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I’m preaching on the Holy Spirit at Revolution today from Galatians 5:16 – 24. I thought I’d share the prayer we’re using in our worship time to help you  start your Sunday off and help you focus on God:

O Holy Spirit,

As the sun is full of light,

The ocean full of water,

Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of you.

Vain are all divine purposes of love

And the redemption wrought by Jesus

Except your work within,

Regenerating by your power,

Giving me eyes to see Jesus,

Showing me the reality of the unseen world.

Give me yourself without measure,

As an unimpaired fountain,

As inexhaustible riches.

I regret my coldness, poverty, emptiness, imperfect vision, lazy service, prayerless prayers, praiseless praise.

Suffer me not to grieve or resist you.

Come as power, to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and keep me yours;

Come as teacher, leading into all truth, filling me with all understanding;

Come as love, that I may adore the Father, and love him as my all;

Come as joy, to dwell in me, move in me, animate me;

Come as light, illuminating the Scripture, molding me in its laws;

Come as sanctifier, body, soul and spirit wholly yours;

Come as helper, with strength to bless and keep, directing my every step;

Come as beautifier, bringing order out of my confusion, loveliness out of chaos.

Magnify to me your glory by being magnified in me, and make me redolent of your fragrance.

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

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Every Saturday morning I share some things from around the web that I found helpful, interesting or challenged my thinking and I hope you will too. If you want to see past links, go here. Enjoy your weekend!

Ted Kluck on Defending Tony Dungy’s right to have an opinion.

As soon as I saw Tony Dungy’s recent quotes about the Michael Sam situation, saying that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because he “wouldn’t want to deal with” the baggage, I knew he would be publicly castigated. Dungy deviated from our culture’s de facto “Things That Are Acceptable to Say About Michael Sam” talking points. Here’s a short list of those points about Sam, drafted this year in the seventh and final round as the first openly gay player in the National Football League:

  • He’s a hero
  • He’s courageous

And that’s about it.

Trevin Wax on What our culture believes about sexuality.

When we assume sexual orientation is fixed from birth and unchangeable, the question of identity naturally comes to the forefront: “Was he gay or not?” But Christianity rejects such a reductionist view of sex and identity. Everyone is warped in sexual attraction, at least to some degree. We are all sexual sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are marked by our need for grace, not our longing for sex.

Brian Howard on You have the wrong team around you.

Perhaps you hired a person early on but he is clearly no longer a good fit for your team. Perhaps a person seemed like a good fit at one time but turned out not to be the best fit over time. Perhaps you hired a person because he was there when you needed someone, but now is clearly in the wrong seat. You might have the world’s best vision, but you will never see it accomplished with a mediocre team.

What to do while you wait for your church to hire a new pastor.

Be positive. Your personal attitude helps set the pace for a successful transition period. Every word you speak about your church and pastor search team must be positive.

Ron Edmondson on 10 things I’d do differently if I weren’t a pastor.

7 things I wish someone told me before I started in ministry.

It took me a few years to realize that I mistakenly believed that saying no to work meant saying no to God. I would make my family wait because ‘the call of God’ beckoned. God may have called you to ministry, but he’s also called you to your family. Cheating your family for the sake of ministry forsakes your ministry.

What’s the Point of The Law of God?

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Not until the law has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until the law has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free. Not until the law has condemned and killed us will we call upon Christ for justification and life. Not until the law has driven us to despair of ourselves will we ever believe in Jesus. Not until the law has humbled us even to hell will we turn to the gospel to raise us to heaven. -John Stott

The principal point of God’s law is to make men not better but worse; that is to say, it shows unto them their sin, that by the knowledge thereof they may be humbled, terrified, bruised and broken, and by this means may be driven to seek grace, and so to come to that blessed Seed. –Martin Luther

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3 Essential Values for Teams

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Every leader and team have different values. Things that determine how they live and work with each other.

For each team I lead, I give each person 3 promises and ask them to make the same to me. If everyone on the team fulfills each of these to each other, it is amazing what the team can accomplish and how much people enjoy being a part of it.

Here they are:

  1. Never surprise me. There is nothing worse as a leader than being surprised. Most leaders know this conversation, someone comes up to you and says, “Did you hear what is happening in the kids ministry, or my missional community or _________?” You didn’t know, and depending on the situation, you might have to defend it, put your name and reputation on the line for it, or look like you have no idea what is happening. This is why honesty and being up front is so important. If you don’t surprise me, I can be behind you always and make sure I throw all my leadership change behind you. Don’t make me have to pick by being surprised, let me do so privately beforehand.
  2. Always make me look good. When people first hear this one, they usually pushback as if this is selfish. It isn’t. It is a value that each team member will do whatever they can to make the other members of the team look good. Put them in the best light, believe the best about them, speak highly of them in public and in private, to set them up to succeed instead of fail. This means, you are willing to make yourself look poorly so that someone else can look better. This is humility and no effective team can make it without this.
  3. Always have my back. This is loyalty, plain and simple. Teams can handle many things, but when loyalty is lost, the game is over. I can walk with a leader through many things, but if I’m not convinced they are loyal, I’m not that interested in riding the storm out with you. For the people that work under me, they want to know I will have their back. That I will be on their side, get what they need to succeed and do their job and that I will be there.

What are non-negotiables for a team you lead or a part of?

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You Aren’t Gospel Centered

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There’s been a resurgence in the last few years around the gospel. This is a good thing. We are starting to have a larger view of the gospel, seeing the gospel as more than just how one is made right with God, how one is changed and how one goes to heaven. We are seeing the gospel for Christians as well and how the power of the gospel changes us into who God has called us to be.

This is positive.

It has also created a new thing to complain about.

Now, preachers are gospel centered preachers. If you want to sell a book, throw the word gospel into it. Parenting, preaching, church planting, maybe even write a book called the gospel. 

Now, bloggers complain about writers and preachers who aren’t gospel centered. Maybe, if you are a pastor, you’ve had someone tell you, “I’m leaving your church because you aren’t gospel centered.”

When I’ve heard this personally, what this often means is, “You don’t preach the gospel the way I think the gospel should be preached.” In other words, “I think the gospel has specific components and need to be said in a certain order (ie. the Romans road) and if you don’t say them in that order, you haven’t preached the gospel.

This has also become code for deeper preaching and not having to move forward and do anything with a sermon someone gives.

So, if you are a pastor and get someone who comes up to you after a sermon or sends you an email telling you that you aren’t gospel centered, even though someone started following Jesus in that same sermon, what do you do?

  1. Ask them what it means to be gospel centered. Most of the people who will make this complaint have a prophet lens. For them, gospel centered is the gospel they heard when they got saved, how Tim Keller or John Piper tells the gospel message or something else, but something very specific. One of the best ways to learn from them and help them understand your perspective is to ask them what they think is gospel centered. Sadly, most people who make this complaint cannot actually articulate it. I had one guy complain about this for almost a year and he could never tell me what it meant to be gospel centered, only that our church wasn’t it. Finally, he said we were to sensitive to seekers, so that made us not gospel centered. At that point, you can actually have a conversation, when terms are defined.
  2. Lovingly tell them the gospel from your perspective. As you move forward, explain to them what the gospel is from your perspective. All over the New Testament, there is evidence of Peter and Paul communicating the gospel differently depending upon their audience. This is important for a pastor to keep in mind. So, what John Piper says at a Passion conference may have a different goal and audience than your church in New England or rural Nebraska.
  3. Understand the fears that come from someone with this complaint. Most of the complaints around this, and I can say this since the camp I’m a part of, the Reformed camp is the one blogging and complaining about this issue. It comes from fear. As we watch our country become more and more liberal, people are fearful that the church is going the same way, and many are. This is a legitimate concern, not fear. Scripture is clear that we are not to be afraid. This is a great shepherding moment for you as a pastor. Many leaders miss this opportunity in an effort to be right or win the argument.

In the end, gospel centered preaching should always push people to a decision. It should show someone, whether they are a follower of Jesus or not, who they are apart from Jesus, their default sinful nature and how their only hope for life, freedom and peace is found in the power of the gospel.

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11 Ways Churches Can Improve Hiring

The church I lead is in the process of hiring two new staff members so I’ve been reading blogs, articles and books on hiring this summer. There is a ton of incredibly unhelpful stuff out there, but also some great things that applies greatly to churches. One of them is It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz.

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I think people applying for a job should do a better job of interviewing the boss they’ll work for and understanding the church culture, but churches need to have a clearer hiring process as well.

Here are 11 things I learned from It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best:

  1. Success is rooted in relationships, in the people around you. You are hiring to make your church more effective, to move the gospel and the mission forward. Hiring should take a large part of your time if you have open positions. Yes, use other staff members or hiring firms, but you can’t delegate the whole thing. You must spend time on it if you are the leader.
  2. Humans aren’t programmed to make great people decisions. The first step in surrounding yourself with the best is to recognize—and correct—your own failings. Churches are notorious for being too nice and overlooking their tendencies. It is amazing to me how much of this book was about how to get past your personal biases. We have them and they hinder us from effectively finding leaders, volunteers and staff members. Studies show that adults gravitate toward those with whom they share something, whether it’s a common nationality, ethnicity, gender, education, or career path—even the same first-name initial! It is important to recognize these in ourselves and put a team around us to help us make these choices so we don’t fall into traps.
  3. Overconfidence in predictions is a pervasive human bias that has a dramatic impact not just on our financial or weather forecasts but also on our people decisions. I can easily make a choice right away based on my bias and be wrong. All leaders do this. We need to make sure we stick with our process that we laid out and not jump forward too much. One of those he pointed out was, “Unconsciously, we make choices based on what we already know.” Again, our bias gets in the way.
  4. Most of us are bad and slow at getting the wrong people off the bus. This is true of almost every church. Our goal is to serve, care and love people so it makes sense this would be a struggle. Yet, when this choice must be made, we must make it. For the sake of the church and the person. If they aren’t meeting expectations, it isn’t good stewardship to keep them in a role. If they need help or coaching, we need to do our best to make that happen. Sometimes though, a person’s time is done and they need to get off the bus and that is okay.
  5. Why hiring matters. At most companies, people spend 2 percent of their time recruiting and 75 percent managing their recruiting mistakes. Take the time to make the right choice, even if it means your ministry suffers some in the short term.
  6. Should you hire from inside or outside of your church? It is popular now to hire only from inside a church and sometimes this is the right move. Sometimes, you need an outside perspective to shake things up or take things in a new direction or add an element you don’t have on a team right now. Most churches though, do not evaluate the same. We simply don’t work as hard to evaluate insiders—not only in cases of CEO succession but in all appointments—and this is especially true when things are going well.
  7. Schedule interviews correctly. Don’t simply schedule an interview, make sure it is at a time when you are awake, alert and can focus. Great decision makers never schedule endless back-to-back meetings, and they never work hungry.
  8. Interview 3 people for a position. My expectation was that a larger pool of people interviewed would increase the stick rate, and that happened up to a point. But after three or four candidates, it rapidly declined, confirming that too many options generate suboptimal decisions. So three to four seems to be the right number, just as it is with the interviewers you involve in your key people decisions.
  9. Most people assume that the best hiring strategy is to find the best performers in a given field and get them on your team. I found this fascinating in that someone can be a star at one company or church, but not at another. The DNA, culture and systems of a church can often help someone and if those things aren’t at a new church, their star can diminish. This is important to keep in mind. Also, you don’t always need a star.
  10. Identifying potential should be our first priority. Most people look for a proven track record, and that is important. A proven track record is also attached to someone usually set in their ways, committed to one way of doing things and sometimes you have to untrain someone. This reminder of looking for what someone could be is crucial.
  11. Team effectiveness explains perhaps 80 percent of leaders’ success. Leaders, if you needed a reminder of why hiring matters, this is it.

If you’re hiring, you must read this book. I haven’t found a more helpful book out there on the topic.