Simple is Harder but Better

Apple tried hard to create simple products that were easy to use, controlling every aspect of the user interface in order to keep things simple. Thom Rainer says churches who focus on doing a few things well are more effective than churches who have a wide variety of programs.  Some of the best designers and decorators use minimal techniques.  A six-color logo is usually terrible.

But creating something that’s simple is difficult.  It’s easier to muddy up the menu than fight over the few links that really should be there.  It’s easier to let the committee add and add until the original is barely visible. Often times, we have to decide what we are intentionally going to leave out.  Only then can what remains be what’s important.

Leonardo DaVinci said simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

He was right.

Lessons from a Half Marathon

On Thanksgiving Day, I ran a half-marathon.  I’ve NEVER run that far…in fact, the farthest I ran in preparation for this event was 5 miles.  My time was more in line with the length of a directors cut version of Avatar, but I finished.  Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  • If you need to stock up on winter clothes, just walk behind a marathon that begins in colder weather.  People were throwing off clothes left and right.
  • I didn’t feel prepared to run 13 miles, but I was determined to finish.  Sometimes you’re not fully-prepared, but you still have to make it happen.
  • Women on the corner yelling “wooooooo” junior high cheerleader style is flat out obnoxious.
  • I had to walk a little bit on miles 7, 8 and 9.  If slowing down helped me finish, then it was worth it.  And it’s not always feasible to go full speed all the time.
  • Eating wings and fries at Taco Mac the night before a half-marathon might not have been the best decision.  But they do have great wings.
  • The finish line of a race is one of the most encouraging environments I’ve ever seen.  Complete strangers urging complete strangers on.  I think the church should be more like that.
  • Funny audio books from Tina Fey can make the time go by a little faster. So does music from
  • As I crossed the finish line, I thought, “If I was running a marathon, I would only be half-way done.”  That’s so crazy to me.
  • I’ve started a lot of projects that went unfinished, so it felt good to start this and finish it.  In the future, I want to be as good at finishing something as I am at starting.

Strategic Seasons of Growth

If you look at church attendance trends, you will begin to notice that attendance often grows and declines with the season.  While there are stand-alone high days (like Easter), and certain spikes or declines attributed to specific events (move to the movie theater or staff member leaving), it’s helpful to look at the year from the perspective of seasons.

Winter, spring, summer and fall. Spring is a growth season, while things remain alive but dormant in the winter.  And different seasons evoke different feelings.   Summer is laid back.  Fall is for football.  In the same way, your church has seasons.  Two of your prime growth seasons are probably January and back to school time.

However, it’s time to take this principle to the next level.

THE SERIES BEFORE THE SERIES

When your are doing a series where our people need to invite and where we are focusing on the Gospel, your should do a series BEFORE that on the mission of the church, personal evangelism, etc.  Tell our people during one series what is coming during the next series, and let the two things work together.

Instead of just marketing the A-game series,  take several weeks to fire up your people about the mission of the church.  Lead them to pray for their friends, challenge them to invite their neighbors and connect them with what is coming.

Connect Bible reading, prayer, or fasting, making the series a real time of preparation.  You’re preparing the soil, and spiritually leading your people to understand that they are missionaries.  Even baptizing people is prepping the soil, showing your church that you’re praying to see more of that in the coming weeks.

Instead of just advertising the coming series, connect what’s coming to our people, and inspire them to invite.  Not just with an announcement or a video or by providing an invite card, but with a sermon series designed to communicate the Biblical imperative of evangelism.

THE SERIES

An A-game series is a series that is focused on the Gospel…giving people the opportunity to cross the line of faith.  You should be prepared for hundreds of people to respond to the Gospel.  You should do the advertising and marketing things to get people there.  You should pull out extra stops with set design, graphics, creative elements, etc.

When you’re doing a key invite series with adults, sync with what’s happening with kids and students as well.  Consider bringing in a guest speaker.

THE SERIES AFTER THE SERIES

After a key-invite series,  be prepared to help people take a next step.  Follow up with an appropriate series on volunteering,  connectivity, or spiritual growth.  During this series, continue to reference the people who have recently become Christians.  Baptize people and tell their stories, celebrating the wins that just happened.  Take just as much time to celebrate as you did to prepare.

Understanding how seasons of growth work will build momentum in our church and provide us natural breaks and times to focus on discipleship and systems.

Milk and Meat

God is love. That’s milk.
God is love, but God’s wrath is poured out on sinners. That’s meat.

Pray for the missionaries. That’s milk.
Live on mission. That’s meat.

Feel the Spirit. That’s milk.
Wrestle with the Trinity. That’s meat.

Be a kind person. That’s milk.
Sacrificially give and be a part of God’s mission. That’s meat.

Two Questions Every Leader Must Ask

I believe there are two questions that every leader must ask himself all the time. These two questions should make it to team meetings and fill many of your discussions. Here they are.

Question #1: Why?

Why are we doing this? Why is it priced this way? Why do we just accept this as normal? Why do we do that on Tuesday? Why is it set up that way? Why do we use this system? Why does it have to cost that amount? Why are those people always invited?  Why do we have to sing songs at church?

Question #2: Why not?

Why can’t we offer that for free? Why don’t we charge $10 for VBS? Why don’t we invite that person? Why can’t we make it bigger? Why can’t we make it smaller? Why can’t we cancel it? Why can’t we start it now?  Why can’t a volunteer do that?

Stuff I Starred

Here’s a weekly rundown of stuff I starred in Google Reader, favorited on Twitter or clipped into Evernote.

Finding Your Voice

I am absolutely convinced that one of the most important things any public speaker can do is find his or her unique voice.

There are enough preachers trying to sound like Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, Tim Keller or John Piper. We don’t need any more business leaders trying to present like Steve Jobs.

I’m not talking about learning from the experts; I’m talking about copying them. If you abuse inspiration, you will become a cheap cover band, playing a watered down version of someone else’s song.

Downloadable Discipleship Classes for Your Church

In 2009, we created a unique classroom environment in our church designed to teach people some of the truths of the Christian faith, including some of the “deeper” topics we weren’t able to cover on Sunday morning or in small groups.  These 4, 6 or 8 week classes met a great need for Biblical teaching with more of a classroom feel.  They were great for men who were skeptical of small groups, seasoned Christians who wanted to learn more than the basics, and the many people in the church who just like to learn.

A ton of people have asked for the resources, so I’m adding them to the list of products available on this site.

Each class is Biblical, practical and includes a teacher’s edition in Word format and a student booklet in PDF format. Simply give the leaders guide to the teacher, and print a student booklet for each person.  Here’s a preview of a student book.

Right now, there are three classes and they are $29 each.  Look for more classes in 2012, but here are three that are available right now:

Introduction to the Old Testament is a four week (you can stretch it to eight) class that walks students through an overview of the entire Old Testament.  It walks through each book in the Old Testament.

Add to Cart

Start Here is an eight week class for new Christians or those returning to the faith.  It’s a great introduction to Christianity. It covers topics like:

  • Can we trust the Bible?
  • Who is Jesus and why did he die?
  • How do I pray and does it work?
  • Who is the Holy Spirit?
  • How do I resist temptation?
  • What is the church?
  • How do I tell others?
  • What is my purpose in life?

Add to Cart

Theology 101 is a four week class that covers some of the big ideas of the Christian faith, including inerrancy, inspiration, justification, God the Father, the Incarnation, atonement, and regeneration.  It’s a great way to teach Biblical truth to your people.

Add to Cart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Reasons Your Organization is Stuck

While many leaders are full of vision and passion, they lack an effective strategy to accomplish their mission. That leads to a feeling of disorganization, and ultimately, a sense of being stuck. Here are three reasons why your organization might be stuck:

1. You’re focusing on bigger versus better. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, said, “when we get better the customer will force us to get bigger!” This means that we must take time to improve what we do, not just come up with bigger versions of what’s mediocre. Instead of trying to outdo your last event or program, get together with your team and improve the little things. Hitting consistent singles is much better than blasting the occasional home run.

2. You’ve got too many ideas and too little action. It’s more fun for leaders to brainstorm and dream, but that’s not the hard work of operations. Real effectiveness comes when we organize around a purpose, create processes to follow up leads, lead our team with intentionality and intensity. Visionary leaders often make the mistake of thinking that their organization can grow on vision. While vision is helpful and necessary, getting organized may have more long-term positive effects.

3. You’re distracted. As a leader, there are many things that you can do. Even good opportunities can sidetrack us from doing what matters most. Instead of chasing new opportunities, keep your eye on the ball. Don’t let too many new opportunities dilute your core purpose.

For what it’s worth, if you feel stuck, it’s the perfect time to bring in some outside help. Maybe a workshop or some custom consulting can help you get unstuck.

Sign up for the Best Stuff

I’m going to start sending my best stuff to those who have subscribed to the mailing list, so if you’re not one of the cool kids, here’s your chance.  Join the list now.   I send one email a week.

Three Kinds of Bad Debt

Auto loans.
This isn’t the worst kind of loan you can get, but cars (unlike most houses) depreciate in value over time.  That means you’re paying money for something that’s going down in value, and when it’s all said and done, you’ll have something worth considerably less than when you started.
According to Edmunds.com, new cars depreciate 11% the moment you drive them off the lot, and about 15-20% a year during the first five years you own the car.
But the thing that makes auto loans bad is the interest rate. If you buy a $20,000 car and finance it at 7% interest over 60 months, you’ll pay nearly $4,000 in interest charges.
Nearly 25% of your monthly payment does to interest.  You probably don’t consider this when you’re negotiating to buy a car, but you should.
New cars aren’t always a bad deal, and depreciation really isn’t a factor if you keep your car for a really long time.  And if you finance that new car at 0% interest (you’ll have to have a pretty amazing credit rating to get that rate), then you’re letting someone else pay the interest.
Credit cards.

According to mint.com, the average American carries $8,500 in credit card debt. At a minimum payment of $100/mo, it takes 6.7 years, and $4,257 in finance charges before you’re in the clear. 
Let’s say you spend $1,000 on credit card that has a 24% interest rate.  The minimum payment will come in around $50 and it will take you more than 75 payments to pay it off.
By the time you’re done paying off that new pair of True Religion jeans, you’re a completely different size.  Partly because you charged too many meals at Olive Garden and didn’t use the gym membership that’s automatically charged to your credit card every month.
If you’ve got a lot of credit card, consider transferring it to a low-interest rate card and get aggressive with the payments.  It doesn’t do ANY good to transfer the balance and let it sit there – you’ve got to make payments towards the principle.
Payday loans.  
By far, the worst kind of loan you can get is a cash advance or car title loan.  Would you sign up for a credit card that had a 300% interest rate?  That’s exactly what you’re doing when you get a paycheck advance.
Do yourself a huge favor and never, never, never go into one of these places.

What Church Leaders Need to Know About Volunteers

  1. They are busy people who think about church stuff all week like you do.  People don’t volunteer because they are bored.  They don’t have lots of time for meetings, and they don’t read all the emails you send.
  2. They need clear directions.  A written job description would be appreciated.  Let them know how much time they are giving and who to call if they have an issue.
  3. They want to meet your expectations.  They are not bad people and they don’t have bad motives.  They really do want to please you, and more importantly, they want to please God.
  4. They want to feel good about what they do.  Check boxes and completing tasks aren’t inspiring.  They want to be a part of something that leads to results, not plug away without seeing success.
  5. Their only reward shouldn’t be in heaven.  Appreciating people isn’t expensive.  Recognition and information are two great ways to appreciate people.
  6. They need a break.  No volunteer should be asked to commit to a position for life.  This is especially true for children’s ministry workers.  Give the setup team a morning off.
  7. Someone needs to care for their soul.   You are a shepherd, not just a leader.  Personally.  Family.  Spiritually.  Does someone know their kids?
  8. You gotta ask people to serve.  General requests from the stage get general responses from the audience.  Ask people personally.  Create specific opportunities for people to serve.  The more specific the opportunity, the better results you will see.
  9. It’s easy to use people.  People in your church are not a mechanism to help you accomplish your vision.  As a pastor, help people live their lives to the full.  Help them reach their goals.
  10. They need development.    They are not all leaders.  Some people are doers; some people are leaders.  Teach people skills that they can use in life, not just in church.

Dear Preacher

I may not be the typical church attender, but that’s exactly what I’ve been for the last five or six months.  For the first time since high school, I’ve simply been attending church.  I haven’t been the one delivering the sermons; I’ve been the ones listening to them.  I’ve been jotting down notes, listening to God through you and trying to make adjustments in my life based on what you say.  It’s probably always going to be tough for me to listen and not evaluate your delivery methods, but I’m trying.

With all that said, here are a few personal observations from someone who has been listening to sermons for the last few months.  This isn’t directed at anyone specifically – these are just general comments for anyone to speaks to an audience on Sunday.
  1. I’m trying my best, but it’s really hard to process all the information you’re giving me.  Maybe one point is better than five.
  2. Maybe you think this is shallow, but I want you to make me laugh.  I’m more engaged when I laugh.
  3. Sometimes, I know what God wants me to do, but I don’t know how to do it.  I appreciate it when you give me an action step that I can take.
  4. When you use real life examples, it shows me that you’re living in the real world.  If I feel like you understand my situation, I’m far more likely to respect what you’re saying.
  5. I consider myself a pretty smart person, and I like learning, but there are times when I wish you would stop talking.

What Could Have Been

Forest Gump is one of my favorite movies of all time. But did you know that Chevy Chase was first in line for the leading role. Can you imagine Chevy Chase saying “Jen-Nay” or “Mamma always said….”

Me neither.

There was an early script of Back to the Future, where the time machine was a refrigerator. A flux capacitor on a Whirlpool…I don’ think so.

Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix. Whoa.

Michael Jackson’s “Bad” was supposed to be a duet with Prince. Ghostbusters was originally set to happen in the future. I could go on and on.

All these things could have been, and it’s interesting to think about what might have been.

But what could have been isn’t reality. And wondering about it and agonizing over it won’t change the present.

From time to time I catch myself saying, “It is what it is,” which may not all that incredibly deep but is incredibly powerful. This moment matters. Today is where you are.

Wondering what might have been won’t change the present situation, so it’s best to embrace it.

Stuff I Starred

After taking a break for a few weeks, Friday returns with a new list of stuff I starred, a run down of some of the things I starred in Google Reader, clipped into Evernote, or favorited on Twitter.

  • Jonathan Dodson talks about the discipleship crisis in the church, in this Gospel-focused post.
  • Harper Collins has purchased Thomas Nelson, meaning that 50% of the Christian book publishing market is now controlled by News Corp.
  • Proverbs 25:14 Like billowing clouds that bring no rain is the person who talks big but never produces.”
  • Great guest post on Michael Hyatt’s blog on what to do when your leader fails.
  • Did you know the second word in the CAPTCHA words you have to fill in to verify you’re a human being is actually helping Google figure out a word for their digitization service?
  • $310 million was spent on PET COSTUMES this Halloween.  We will always find money to fund whatever is important to us.
  • Some new friends have launched a great marriage ministry. (I joined.)
  • Hiring someone new this week? 1 of Key factors 4 team member in new economy is being a self starter. Find a doer, not a talker. - @bradlomenick
  • Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. – Stephen King (via @tonymccollum)
  • “you are rich if you have extra money in your ashtray” – @AndyStanley
  • “There is always room for those who can be relied upon to deliver the goods when they say they will.” – Napoleon Hill