Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seven Critical Activities For Growth: A Culture of Relevant Worship

Activity-Based New Church Growth: Relevant Worship Services and Events (Make Presentations)

Great churches and great network marketing businesses are built by focusing on activities rather than outcomes. This series takes a look at the 7 Critical Activities of successful network marketing and draws the corresponding activity in the new church start world.

Activity Three: Make Presentations: The product/service and business opportunity are demonstrated and presented in a professional manner. Consistency, timeliness, and personal testimonials are emphasized. Everyone is trained in the art of making quality presentations and sharing compelling product testimonials. Each presentation closes with an invitation to become a distributor and/or a customer. Network marketers are trained to “assume” that everyone who hears a presentation will say yes to becoming a customer and some will become distributors (leaders).

A Culture of Relevant Worship: “Meet The Parents”

Here is a tale of two families: Back in my single days, I was invited to the family dinner of a woman I was dating. I accepted the invitation but felt very nervous and anxious about meeting her folks since she was a physician and I assumed her parents were successful cultured people who might find my lack of pedigree unacceptable for their daughter. I struggled with what to wear, what I should bring, and even what I would say. Consequently I entered her family home with a very uncomfortable feeling that was confirmed by the chilly reception I received. I felt so unwelcome that I cannot remember engaging in conversation with anyone that day. The “never-again” experience ended at the dinner table with her elderly grandmother muttering “I sure don’t want my grandkids to look like him!” just loud enough for everyone to hear. Needless to say I never returned to her family’s home and our relationship was over. Her grandmother got her wish.

Years later, I was dating a wonderful woman I met through a mutual friend and she invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family. I had met her parents briefly before and found them pleasant and “down-to-earth”. I accepted the invitation on the condition that I could bring my elderly mother with me. Her parents were delighted I was bringing my mother and promised there would be people her age there as well. From the moment we arrived they treated my mother like royalty. There were over 50 people in attendance for their traditional family Thanksgiving and my mother was positioned with the matriarchs and patriarchs of the clan. Meanwhile, I was whisked into conversation after conversation about my life, work, hobbies, sports teams, and travels. I was told the family history and was even asked to participate in a family prayer. This family even has a time during the gathering when all of the kids (under 21) are asked to recite a poem or read an inspirational story. Some of the kids came prepared with poetry they committed to memory while others scrambled to find a familiar bible story or poem to share. The result was a sometimes moving, sometimes funny, and sometimes awkward moment of family bonding that I had never experienced. I got so comfortable that I joined into the act (ignoring the age limitation) and sang a song about family that touched everyone and especially my mother. Later my date’s aunt cornered me in the kitchen and said, “no matter what happens between you and my niece, you and your mother are always welcome here! You are family now so don’t be a stranger.” Before we departed, her parents made it a point to express the same message to me. Needless to say, 8 years and a wonderful marriage later, my mother and I still pack up and go to have Thanksgiving dinner with my wife’s family EVERY year. Her aunt got her wish.

The obvious lesson is that every new church service should be as welcoming and embracing as Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws. Every guest should feel like family before they leave and know that their presence is always welcomed.

You only have one chance to make a first impression, which makes a powerful and relevant worship service essential to growing a new church.

Powerful Worship is a product of “making room” for the presence of God in the service. Planning every moment of the service down to how many verses will be sung of each song leaves out the spontaneity that defines a spirit-led worship experience. Have you ever been singing a chorus in church and the message of the song sunk in so much that you had an emotional reaction? In those precious moments it is so refreshing when the worship leader perceives the impact of the song on those assembled and allows the chorus to repeat for a while (and sometimes ad lib’s words of praise, or worship, or encouragement). The next song on the schedule can wait or be eliminated altogether because this is an opportunity to linger in the presence of God.

Music should reflect the preferred tastes of the mission field. When you visit Africa or the Caribbean or Spain you will experience sacred songs set to the music of their culture – and God still manages to show up. Your mission field has its indigenous sound too and Christian songwriters have responded with a new catalogue of praise and worship music that touches the soul. Find out the style of secular music your mission fields loves (which is probably the same music you love if you are matched well) and seek out the sacred alternatives.

The dress code at new church should reflect the fashion norms of the mission field – from jeans and tee shirts to golf attire to business casual to suits and dresses. The key is making everyone feel welcome and loved without regard to clothing choices.

The configuration and decoration of the worship space should also reflect the culture of the mission field. For example, a new church in a mission field filled with young families must be ‘kid-friendly’. With a new church the nursery and children’s ministries must be done well and nicely decorated to create a unique environment. The fastest way to having a “one-time” guest family is for their kids to have a boring experience. Kids need to have fun while gaining exposure to the story of Christ and His love for them. The old “talking-head” approach can’t compete with the multi-sensory experiences they are getting on television, in video games, on the computer, and even in school. Many innovative kid’s ministries are making a great impact by using today’s cultural icons for kids, like Spiderman and Spongebob, to tell moral stories that are then related back to biblical stories. The same principles of creating welcoming, and comfortable spaces should be observed based on the cultural norms of the mission field. One of the most successful churches in Hawaii was planted in a high school and has grown to mega-church proportions. The space fit the mission field and created such a high level of comfort and community for the “non-Christians” who visited that the leaders decided to stay there and plant more locations in schools around the island rather than build a large “church” campus.

Relevant worship presents the love and story of Jesus in the language and culture of the mission field. It is best to assume the guests from the mission field are not “church people” with established liturgical traditions and biases. Culture is identified by musical tastes, fashion, art, and living conditions. Unless your new church start is in a community of “long-time, mainline church-going Christian homeowners over 60”, your worship service cannot be the standard Sunday-best attire wearing, hymnal-singing, creed-reciting, bible-readings, organ-music, lectionary-based sermon service. Above all, the level of energy and excitement must rise to the level (and sometimes above the level) of the mission field at a cultural event (ballgame, award show, concert, political rally, etc.)

Seven Critical Activities For Growth: A Culture of Invitation

Activity Based New Church Growth: Invite To Worship and Events (Set Appointments)

Great churches and great network marketing businesses are built by focusing on activities rather than outcomes. This series takes a look at the 7 Critical Activities of successful network marketing and draws the corresponding activity in the new church start world.

Activity Two: Set Appointments (Invite): The purpose of a contact list is to “invite” everyone to a “presentation” of your product or service. Belief in your product increases your confidence and desire to expose your contacts to a quality presentation designed to lead them to becoming a customer. Great network marketers believe “virtually everyone should be their customer — they just don’t know it yet.” Most prospects will not agree to hearing or attending a presentation the first time you ask but network marketers are trained to follow up on their list periodically and ask all of their contacts for referrals to others who might be interested in what they are offering.

A Culture of Invitation

It is critical that the “launch” team in a new church start to reach out to its “warm” market first to maximize the opportunity for success. The goal is to build these activities into the DNA of the church. I call this having a “culture of invitation” where every leader and member immediately becomes a missionary who intentionally seeks out people to expose to the gospel each week. This culture turns every Sunday into “Family and Friends” day where every guest is greeted like a VIP returning home. The acknowledgement of guests, and the resulting celebration, becomes one of the most anticipated parts of the worship experience. It’s like an explosion of love and appreciation for the privilege of sharing Christ’s love with the world.

One church I visited actually reinforced the habit of inviting at the end of every worship service. The service closed with the declaration “Lord bless me to meet someone to invite to church this week!” The benediction was said aloud by all in attendance and with great enthusiasm. Inviting is a valued element of their culture.

Here’s an action step. What are 10 ways to build a culture of invitation?

Seven Critical Activities For Growth: Build Your Contact List

Activity Based New Church Growth: Build (and Keep Building) Your Contact List

Great churches and great network marketing businesses are built by focusing on activities rather than outcomes. This series takes a look at the 7 Critical Activities of successful network marketing and draws the corresponding activity in the new church start world.

Activity One: Build (and Keep Building) Your Contact List: Make a list of everyone you know (family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, school friends, insurance agent, doctor, etc.) - this is your “warm market” and the most likely group to consider becoming your customers. If you believe in the beneficial product your business is based on then you will not hesitate to introduce it to anyone. You must also make a point to build you contact list on a daily basis by gathering the names and contact information of people you “naturally” meet in the course of your day.

A Culture of Family

“Grand Opening” services draw a crowd of friends, family, other churches, and spies. The drop off in attendance from week one to week two is often over 50%. The percentage of “Grand Opening” attendees that stick (become members) is less than 40%.

The vast majority of the people who become members are the launch team and the individuals they have connected with. Network marketing pros call them “warm market”, I prefer to call them “family”. Having multiple families as members of a new church start is a sign of potential grown because the level of commitment to and ownership of the mission tends to be higher. Launch teams should never be shy about inviting their family and friends to “taste and see” what they are up to for God (I will discuss this at length in a future blog). This process starts with identifying ALL of the launch teams local family members and creating a database of people to be prayed for and invited to church.

I suggest each launch team member be challenged to create a list of at least 100 people they know in the local area of the church (within a 45 minute drive). Jim Griffith of Griffith Coaching suggest that this list is also essential for raising financial support. While many people will not opt to be part of a new church start launch team they might be inclined to make an investment in the Kingdom building work of a close friend or family member.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Seven Critical Activities For Growth

The “market” for new church members is huge today. Studies say 60-70% of the people in any urban center are not attending church (or a temple or mosque for that matter). So why are new church starts failing at the same rate as Amway distributors? The reasons are the same — there is no substitute for consistently doing the right things with your time. Great churches and great network marketing businesses are built by focusing on activities rather than outcomes.

Critical Network Marketing (and New Church Start) Activities
I personally know two married couples that have achieved remarkable success in network marketing, building businesses with more than 5,000 customers that generate between $250,000 and $900,000 per year. In both cases they achieved critical mass in less than 3 years. They attribute their results to consistently executing and teaching their seven critical business activities. Not surprisingly there is a large over lap between these critical seven and those present in a successful new church starts.

Much like network marketing, building a new church from scratch requires a commitment to consistent activity. Can you see the parallels?

Build Contact List = Build contact list (this includes mailing lists)
Set Appointments = Invite to worship services or events
Make Presentations = Relevant worship services or events
48-hour Follow up = Follow-up with guests and ask for referrals
Celebrate Success = Celebrate guests/new members/inviting
Team-Based Training = Bible study/small groups/new member class
Lead By Example = Commitment to consistent, authentic activity

All of these activities need to be imbedded in the culture of new churches. From my perspective most of these critical activities represent a unique opportunity to create a beneficial church culture. In the remaining 7 blogs we will explore each activity in turn.

Until then, would you add anything to this list of Critical Seven?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The “Big 5” Kill Growth

I cannot get over how much feuding I see in the smaller (under 100 in worship attendance) United Methodist Churches I am encountering on my journey. My hypothesis (good SAT word) is...most churches cease to grow (and even decline) because of the influence of 2-5 people who are "dead set" on maintaining the status quo.

The “Big 5”

This "Big 5" usually are related or represent the two most prominent families in the church's history. In most every case the following is true:

  • The "Big 5" "love" the church and will do anything to preserve it
  • The "Big 5" have a great sense of "ownership" with regard to the church
  • The "Big 5" are in powerful leadership positions (SPRC, PPR, Ad Counsel, Finance, etc.)
  • The "Big 5" are more powerful than the pastor
  • The “Big 5” don’t respond favorably to pastors who want to change and evolve the church for growth
  • The "Big 5" understand the book of discipline better than most pastors and use that Knowledge to keep the pastor "in line"
  • The "Big 5" have the district superintendent on speed dial
  • The "Big 5" lead the charge to get rid of their pastors
  • The "Big 5" see the pastor's role as Chaplin (marry us, preach for us, bury us, pray for us, and get out of the way)
  • The "Big 5" are not concerned with the church growing in membership or visitors
  • The "Big 5" are not in favor of updating the worship style or music to increase membership
  • The "Big 5" have been "burned" and wounded by sub-standard "charge" pastors just passing thru (some of whom have been predators)
  • The "Big 5" are fiercely protective of their church family (which is mostly their biological family)
  • The "Big 5" are not comfortable taking risks
  • The "Big 5" have imbalanced lives that center on the "church" at the expense of other relationships in their lives
  • The "Big 5" truly believe they are always doing what is best for the church
  • The “Big 5” are usually among the biggest financial investors in the church

Churches ruled by the “Big 5” have the following in common:

  • Most "Big 5" churches have not grown in membership or baptisms in years (sometimes decades)
  • Most "Big 5" churches have not changed their key leadership (committee chairs, lay leader, etc.) in years
  • Most "Big 5" churches have a silent majority of members who want the church to evolve and grow but will not challenge the authority of the “Big 5”
  • Most "Big 5" churches lose all of their youth members after they graduated from high school (at 18 they run for the hills)
  • Most "Big 5" churches are surrounded by other churches that are growing in the same general community
  • Most "Big 5" churches have long standing, unresolved “family” feuds and conflicts that are ignored for months, years, and generations

These observations generate some logical questions for me such as…

  • What kind of “system” allows this “Big 5” paradigm to exist and thrive in the face of ever declining membership?
  • What can be done to allow the silent majority of the members to have a voice?
  • What can be done to resolve long standing family feuds and conflicts?
  • How does the “system” resolve the revolving door of under-motivated and under-skilled (leadership, entrepreneurship, etc.) pastors?
  • What should be done with churches where the value of the land and buildings is greater than the value of the ministry being done?

I know many of you reading this are nodding your head with me right now since the silent majority is the “majority” of United Methodists out there. I am just an objective outside observer who loves the church and makes his living helping them grow. I do not have all of the answers but my gift is facilitating honest conversations by asking the right questions.

In the future I will offer still more observations and even more questions. Want to speak up for the silent majority? Think my observations are inaccurate? Have any more questions to add? Feel free to respond with your take on the plight of United Methodist churches in America.

Let the conversation begin.

Shalom Y’all.

Christian Washington