7 Often Overlooked Needs in Church Revitalization

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | No Comments

I have written and spoken at conferences extensively about church revitalization. I have served as pastor in two church plants and two church revitalizations. I’m currently helping in a church revitalization at my home church. I love church planting and still hope to be a part of it in the future, but I also believe God would want us to restore health to churches whenever possible. And I know that established churches can grow.

The work is hard. I know first hand that it’s harder to rebuild something than it is to start something from scratch, but it is rewarding work.

One reason some in revitalization haven’t been as successful is that there were things they didn’t know or didn’t do. What can be surprising is that there are often areas you weren’t expecting to have to address. It took some hard lessons for me to learn some of these.

Here are 7 often overlooked needs in church revitalization: 

Laypeople willing to stand up to other laypeople. This is huge. Established churches can become very passive aggressive in addressing conflict. Many times the pastor is the last to know there is a controversy stirring. People may be upset about change, and they talk to everyone else, but the pastor doesn’t find out until the problem has brewed out of proportion.

There needs to be people willing to do as Barney Fife would say, “Nip it in the bud.” They are willing to ask, “Have you said this to the pastor? If not, I’m not sure we should be talking about it.” And people willing to steer conversations in a positive direction and publicly and privately support needed changes.

A pastor willing to stay through the process. I wrote about this previously, but this may be the most important decision a pastor leading revitalization has to make.

In my experience, the longer the church has been in decline the longer it takes to be healthy again. It always takes longer than we hope it will. But until a pastor decides they are in it until the turn comes (or God makes it clear they are released) they will fail to put their best energies into the work. 

Willingness to address the sacred cows. These may be programs, the placement of a table donated by a previous church member (who isn’t alive or doesn’t even attend the church anymore) or paint colors. Sacred cows often have stories behind them and they are seldom “Biblical” issues.

They aren’t easy to change, and not all of them need to be, but if you can’t redirect or remove some them it will be difficult to see the church healthy again. And that should be done carefully and strategically. 

Finding an energizing path forward. You must find something that will build momentum and get people excited again. People need to feel an enthusiasm for church again; enough that they will want to bring people with them.

This can often be in an area the church has excelled in before. If, in their best days for example, the church had a strong missions program, this could be a place where the church can be motivated again.

Discovering and celebrating the “good” past of the church. Let’s be honest. Not all the past of the church is good or there wouldn’t be a need for revitalization. If there’s nothing to find, it might be best to take your energy somewhere else. Life is short and the Kingdom need is too great to waste time on a toxic church that has no interest in recovery – or isn’t wiling to make the changes necessary.

But there will likely be things from the past that, while you don’t have to repeat them, you can celebrate them. (The principle I use here is to repeat principles not practices.) You want do things the same way, but the idea or motive behind them are often “historically significant” moments that the church will rally behind. 

Repentance. It could be there has been a series of bad leadership decisions, which injured innocent people. It could be conflicts or broken relationships that were left unresolved. God may not be able to honor the church with growth again until repentance has occurred.

This doesn’t have to be church-wide unless the offenses were. I like to speak a lot on forgiveness during these times, but reconciliation needs to occur. Unity in the body is paramount to a healthy church.

Disciplined and balanced use of time. You can only do so much. The people in the church can only do so much. The Scripture encourages us to make wise use of our time because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:16) This means you may not be able to do everything previous pastor did. You may need to delegate hospital visits, for example. It might mean that some programs have to go so you can do other programs better.

For another example, as pastor, the time you put into Sunday messages is incredibly important. This is your best time in front of the church. You may need more time in front of key leaders, staff or volunteers. Again, you can only do so much. You must do the things which will most effectively move things forward. 

I love helping churches think through the process of revitalization. I have limited time for consulting in this area. If I can help your church, please contact me and let’s discuss some options. 

When Silence Can Be an Indicator Of a Healthy Team

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | No Comments

I’ve often said good leaders never assume silence means everyone is in agreement. In fact, there’s a whole chapter on that principle and some good questions you can ask to assess the team’s health in my book The Mythical Leader.

Especially during seasons of change the leader can’t assume everyone is on board because they aren’t hearing complaints. On one extreme people may feel there will be retribution for stating their opinion. The reality is leaders can be intimidating just by position – whether they intend to be or not.

On the other extreme people may not say say what’s on their mind simply believing it would be something the leader already knows. All of us only know what we know. We don’t know anymore.

The leader doesn’t always hear what they need to hear, which is why good leaders ask good questions.

There is one caveat to this principle, however.

  • When a team is healthy – really healthy – so that the leader is approachable and team members know they are encouraged to participate in discussion.
  • When there is no unresolved conflict or underlying drama.
  • And, when people are on the team not just for a paycheck, but because they believe in the mission and love the team.

When the team is healthy,

Silence can be interpreted as agreement.

That’s because:

  • Freedom to challenge is present
  • Fear of retribution is absent
  • Power of unity is prominent
  • Spirit of cooperation is elevated
  • Synergy of differences is celebrated
  • Collaboration of ideas has been utilized
  • Sharing of thoughts is welcomed (And good questions are being asked)

When you are on a healthy team people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they aren’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.

I’ll be candid, I’m not sure I have been to this point more than a few times in my leadership career. New staff members joining changes this. Seasons of rapid change alter this. But I like to remind our team of this principle and the ramifications of it and always be working towards it.

A good personal evaluation for the leader is to ask yourself this question:

What does silence on my team indicate?

If people aren’t pushing back against change what does that really mean?

And, for your sake, I hope it means you’re really serving with a healthy team.

7 Potholes That Can Destroy Your Leadership

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 7 Comments

We all know the stories of a once successful pastor or leader who flamed out too soon. It could be a moral failure or burnout, but somewhere they got off track and had a hard time regaining traction. So sad.

In years of studying leadership, both in the business world and in ministry, I’ve seen some consistent traps which get in the way of a leader’s long-term success. I’m referring to them as potholes.

These potholes can become deep, and when they do, and you hit them, you can literally lose your leadership influence.

Often, also in my experience, if we know the potential dangers we have a better chance of addressing them – and, hopefully even avoiding them.

Here are 7 potholes that can destroy your leadership:

Pride

When a leader ever feels he or she has all the answers – watch out! Pride comes before the fall. And I’m convinced it’s the most unattractive leadership trait we can have.

Great leaders remain humble, knowing they didn’t get where they are on their own nor will they stay there without the help of others.

Passiveness

Leadership is hard some days – okay, it’s hard most days. Good leadership isn’t a popularity contest. The leader afraid to challenge will create an environment where mediocrity, chaos, and unhealthy team environment prevails – and eventually it will bite them.

Leaders should be willing to address known concerns, not be afraid of healthy conflict, and challenge status quo even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.

Isolation

A leader who removes his or herself too much from the people doing the actual work, who isn’t visible to their team, or who doesn’t bond well with them never gains significant influence. Even worse, they are more vulnerable to failing personally, as well. As much as the enemy loves busyness, he works also in isolation. Sin festers in an absence of accountability.

At every level of leadership and regardless of the size organization, the more a leader can do “hands on” work, even if only occasionally, the more “in touch” the leader will be. And the more respected he or she will be by the people trying to follow.

Loneliness

Leadership can be lonely. Every leader I know has struggled with it at some level. They feel they are alone to make the vast number of decisions before them. It may seem no one understands the weight responsibility they have.

If a leader doesn’t address this, and ask for help when needed, especially during extremely high stress periods, the leader could be heading towards crash and burn territory.

Leaders should seek out other leaders, take risks on trusting a few people, and be willing to ask for help before it’s too late.

Boredom

I have often said boredom is one of the leading causes of marital failure. It’s true in leadership also. Leadership is about going somewhere. When things get routine for too long, the best leaders will get bored – and boredom can be dangerous.

Leaders who last for the long haul are always seeking new opportunities for growth and development.

Success

Just as failure can hurt a leader, so can success. If not kept in check, success can lead to complacency. A leader can begin to think it will always be this way and eventually start taking success for granted. Disaster! These leaders are soon fighting for the success “fix” again – and often make tremendous errors in the process.

Great leaders are always cognizant the success today isn’t guaranteed tomorrow – so they keep working on developing themselves, their team, and the organization.

Elitism

When a leader becomes “too good” for the people trying to follow – they stop serving a team and start managing people chasing a paycheck. They quit finding willing followers and are only surrounded by employees. Leaders, especially today, have to be authentic, real, and believable.

There are always people on a team who believe they could do a better job than the leader – and the reason they feel this way is because it’s probably true in some situations where they have more expertise. Teams are developed by mutual respect and appreciation.

Great leaders never see themselves better than the people they are trying to lead. In fact, the best leaders I know purposefully surround themselves with smarter people.

What other “potholes” have you seen in leadership?

The “Secret” and Hardest Part for Pastors Attempting Church Revitalization

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization | 11 Comments

There is a part of church revitalization we don’t talk about much – if ever. Yet, pastors think about it a lot. 

I know this from personal experience and from talking to literally dozens of pastors attempting church revitalization. 

Although it is a secret, I’m convinced it’s the hardest thing any pastor will face who wants to see a declining established church ever thrive again. 

I hate to pull the cover back on my pastor friends on this one, but often it is not until we admit a problem that we can really focus on some solutions. 

So, here’s the secret, hardest part I’ve observed about church revitalization:

Deciding if you will stay long enough to see a turn. 

That’s it. 

And this can honestly be said about many other changes we make as leaders. You have to decide if you are going to outlast the tension change naturally creates. 

To test my assertion, if you are in the first couple years of leading church revitalization, see if any of these apply: 

  • You wake up some days and don’t know if you can do it anymore. 
  • You and your spouse dream about where you could work – maybe another church; perhaps even in the marketplace.
  • Secretly you search job site boards looking for other positions for which you might qualify or be interested.
  • You wonder if you are alone and if anyone else struggles this way.
  • There are times you wonder if the problem is you – if you’re doing something wrong, if maybe it is a sin to even be thinking as you do some days. 

Any of those sound like your story? 

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of these. Those are raw human emotions. Change is not only hard for the congregation – it’s hard for the one leading it. And some of it may simply be a way to cope and survive. You get little “mini-mind breaks” that keep you going. 

But here’s what I know to be true: Until you decide if you’re going to outlast the critics and weather the storms of change you will likely never realize the success you really came to achieve. 

Of course, there is never an excuse to be arrogant, tyrannical or controlling. I always tried to be humble, but purposeful. God had sent me and the church had called me to do a job. Helping a church revive again requires change. And leading change is hard and the reactions to it are not always pretty. 

The question in church revitalization is not if it is going to be difficult. Someone told me that the longer the church has been in decline the longer it will take to revitalize. I know for sure it takes longer than we often hope it will. The question is if you are going to last through the difficult to get to the potential wonderful. 

And I’m not even suggesting you have to or should. That’s a much more personal matter with many different parameters that depend on your unique circumstances and the church. Some churches can’t be revived. There are no guarantees and no perfect formulas to follow.

I’m simply pointing out something I have learned the hard way. 

In an upcoming post I’ll offer a few suggestions for staying through the hard seasons. In the meantime, I’m saying a prayer for all of you who will read this post and are in the middle of discerning whether to stay or go. 

Where Many New Ideas Come From

By | Change, Innovation, Leadership | 6 Comments

In my experience, many of the new ideas for our organization…and for my life…have come while I was doing something else.

Usually when we are working on planning a service it’s when the best ideas for a service develop…

Often when I’m working on a blog post, I get several new ideas for a blog post…

Look at most great inventions and they were discovered while doing something…many times while doing something totally unrelated to what was discovered…

That’s because…

Read More

The Most Critical Step in Introducing Change

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When it comes to making changes, and doing so successfully, whether that change is: 

  • In a home
  • In an organization
  • In a business
  • In a church

The way you introduce change is equally important to the change you introduce.

That’s the most critical step. The way you begin will impact everything else. It’s like a first impression – very hard to come back from if done wrong. If you want the change to be effective, you’ve got to invest time in introducing it well – especially to those that will be most impacted by the change. 

And that often means using intentionality in:

Communication – And you can’t over communicate.

People – And this is where you probably need a Stakeholder Analysis .

Timing – And remember speed of change is always relative.

Steps – And the bigger the change the more you need to invest time in the plan.

But the way change is introduced – the way you begin the process of change – will almost always be an important part of whether or not the change is successful. 

The Emotions of a Pastor or Leader’s Spouse in Times of Transition

By | Change, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Encouragement, Family, Marriage | 10 Comments

When I’m talking to a pastor or other leader who has accepted a new position or is in a time of transition – after I hear the excitement in their voice of what they see God doing – I almost always ask the same question:

“How is your spouse dealing with the change?”

I like to encourage pastors and other leaders to remember their spouse’s emotions in the process of transition.

When I ask the question I often hear a short pause, followed by an “umm” of some sort, then a statement such as, “She/He seems to be doing okay.”

Push a little more (which I usually do) and I’ll hear something like:

It’s been harder on him/her than I thought it would be.”

Pushing even further, I have even heard something like, “I don’t understand why he/she is not as excited as I am. We agreed this was what God had for us.”

Many times, when the leader is honest, the transition hasn’t gone as well for the spouse as it did for the pastor/leader. It will likely come in time – if given time – but for now, the spouse is simply not as excited about the change in positions as the one who made the change in career is.

Why is this?

Well, consider it from the spouse’s position. (This is always a good practice in any relationship issue.) The pastor/leader who moved to a new opportunity came with their center of gravity and purpose defined. You know what you are going to be doing with your time and energy. Most likely the spouse will feel a sense of loss and have to look for theirs. That takes time.

Often a new pastor, for example, comes home at the end of a long day and has something exciting to share about the day. Whether the day is good or bad things are moving, changing, and challenging them daily. So, even on days things aren’t going well they have drama in their day they can’t wait to share.

Many times, right now, the spouse has days which basically look the same.

Since a majority of my readers are in vocational ministry, let me say a word to the new pastor. This is just a typical scenario I have heard many times.

You arrive at your new position, come home at the end of the day pumped at what God is doing, so naturally you share your enthusiasm with the one you care to share with the most – your partner in life and ministry.

But if you’re not conscious of your spouse’s emotions, depending on their state of mind, they may hear, “My life is exciting. Yours is boring.”

Or worse, “My life has meaning. Your life has none.”

Granted, you are not and would not think those things – and would never want your spouse to think you do, but emotions are high in times of transition. Don’t be surprised if they produce irrational thoughts and actions at times. This is part of change.

Your spouse likely moved from friends and has to learn who to trust again. They may even be more relation-centered emotionally. Their heart may transition slower. The roles they held in the church or community haven’t been replaced yet.

You moved forward in your career and passions. Many times the spouse may have taken a step backward. Or, at least, seems to have for now. This will change in time, and the spouse probably knows this intellectually, but emotionally they feel a sense of loss which will take time to replace with a sense of purpose equal to yours.

The key is to remember your spouse is an individual person, with individual needs for a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Failure to acknowledge this and be sensitive to it is not only unfair it can damage the relationship and slow the process of acclimating in the transition.

5 Questions to Ask When Facing Rejection as a Leader

By | Change, Church, Fear, Innovation, Leadership | 11 Comments

When I started an insurance business from scratch, I made hundreds of cold calls. Lots of people told me no. I’ll be honest, I hated this part of starting the business, but in time I got accustomed to rejection.

It still hurt sometimes, but I learned it was a natural part of successful selling. I couldn’t get to a yes (which paid the bills) without a lot of no’s.

Life is this way also. People aren’t always going to buy-in to what you’re selling or presenting. This is never more true than as a leader. No one is going to love every idea you present.

Leaders lead to somewhere they are hoping will be better than today. But this always involves change – and tension always accompanies change. Always.

And for the leader – part of their success may be their tenacity through rejection.

The fact is no one likes rejection.

Your proposal. Your product. Your presentation.

You love it. You believe in it. You want it to go forward. How could anyone reject what you’ve put your heart into?

It’s difficult not to make rejection personal, but it should be understood rejection isn’t always against you. Many times – maybe even most times – people reject because of their own level of comfort or acceptance of whatever they are rejecting.

When my ideas are being rejected I like to ask myself some questions.

Here are 5 questions to ask when facing rejection:

Is the rejection based on truth?

Many times rejection has no basis of truth. People may reject because of their own misunderstandings or their unwillingness to accept something new. If you are selling a product, they may not want what you have to sell. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a poor product, it simply doesn’t match their needs.

And, then, there are rejections based on truth. The idea you are proposing is not good – or it has some flaws. You need to hear this rejection – discernment is a huge part of leadership. Be willing to listen and learn. If you will allow it, their rejection may actually make your idea better.

Is the rejection about you or your presentation?

If it is personal rejection then it’s a bigger issue, but if it’s rejection of something you only represent then it should be viewed differently – not taken personally. You’re simply a messenger. This goes for a product you sell or a Gospel you tell. If someone rejects the Gospel they aren’t rejecting you as much as they are God. Let Him deal with rejection.

If rejection is about you may need to ask yourself bigger questions, such as: Am I too pushy? Do I have a caring approach? Do others genuinely think I care for them? How can I communicate the importance of whatever I’m proposing, without devaluing them or their opinions?  (You may need to get coaching and insight from others if your ideas are constantly rejected because of your approach.)

Am I the wrong person to present the idea?

Sometimes rejection comes because you’re not an opinion which matters to them. This may sound harsh, but you weren’t called to minister to or lead everyone. A mentor once told me to find my affirmation among the people God sent me to minister to. Great advice. As a church planter, I would have many ideas (ideas dealing with methods, not theology) which were easily rejected by people in established churches. But, they weren’t to whom God had called me to minister. Why should I be bothered by their rejection?

I’ve learned I’m not always the one to propose something to an audience. I’ve had ideas, for example, which I believe could make our community better. I’ve learned those ideas are often more easily accepted when I can get some seasoned business or community leaders excited about them first. Their opinion often matters more than a pastor who has only been in town a few years. The same is true in the church. Some ideas come better from a volunteer than a paid staff member.

Is the rejection permanent?

Sometimes people say no – even many times – before they say yes. They have to warm up to the idea. They need to process it in a healthy way. I’ve found these people often become the best supporters, because they have wrestled through their objections first.

Persistence often makes the difference with great salespeople – and some of the best leaders. No one likes a pest or someone who can only see their ideas as valuable, but don’t be quick to dismiss an opportunity after initial rejection. It may prove to be the best idea ever if you wait. Timing is often everything.

Is the rejection based on a part or a whole?

This can be huge. Did the rejection have more to do with the overall idea or just some aspect of the idea? This is where you have to learn to ask good questions, know your audience, and be willing to compromise on minor issues and collaborate on major issues. This is where good leadership is necessary. You may have to educate people on what they don’t understand. You may have to allow input to make the idea stronger and more acceptable. If it doesn’t impact your overall goal or mission, be willing to listen, learn and make the final result even better.

Rejection doesn’t have to mean the end. Instead, it could only be an obstacle and be used to improve things in the end. The best destinations are met with many roadblocks. Standing firm through the rejections are a part of good leadership.

7 Times the Speed of Change Can Be Faster than Normal

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 6 Comments

Change takes time. There are no “quick fixes” in the world of change leadership. And there shouldn’t be. I’ve seen many leaders try to rush change through only to destroy themselves, the organization they are trying to change, or the change they are trying to make.

There are occasions, however, when the speed of change can change.

There are unique opportunities where change can be introduced and implemented quicker than other times. The leader should be careful to strategically plan each change, but taking advantage of these times can help facilitate change faster.

Here are 7 times the speed of change can be faster than normal:

When there is a new leader 

The honeymoon period can be a benefit. Honestly, from my personal experience, I believe the period is becoming shorter than it may have once been. I don’t know how long this period ultimately lasts – perhaps only a few months or up to a year – but some change seems almost expected in the beginning days of a leadership position.

Disclaimer: This is not usually “major” change. That should still be strategically planned over time, but certainly some changes can be made quickly. Use wisdom here.

When the change needed is imminent

There are times when everyone agrees something must be done. When a needed leader unexpectedly resigns, for example, no one likely questions the change in staffing to hire someone new. When everyone agrees something is “broke” it’s okay to bring change that attempts to “fix” it. When “it is what it is” there is an expectation to make a change. Take advantage of these times to introduce healthy, smart change.

Disclaimer: Many times people overreact during these periods. Wisdom is still very important even when changes is expected. These type changes can often set precedents for future change.

When an organization is new

In the early days of an organization time can move quickly. Everything is new and so change may come rapidly. I experienced this in church planting. Change is almost an expected part of the process.

Disclaimer: The more you can slow down decisions in these days the better you will be long-term. Many times you make decisions fast only because you can and not because you have to make them fast.

When there is a crisis at hand

I’ve seen this in government, the church and among individuals. When something happens, which shakes the core of your being and scares people they’ll be more accepting of any change which seems to protect them.

Disclaimer: Sometimes these changes are regretted once emotions heal. Sometimes helping people deal with grief and giving them a sense of stability buys you time to reconcile the best changes needed.

When there is overwhelming support

There are times you can move swiftly simply because the support is overwhelming. Momentum for change is often fueled by public opinion.

Disclaimer: It should be noted that this type change can sometimes be dangerous it isn’t built on rational thought and is simply emotionally driven.

When situations are beyond control

Sometimes you can’t do anything to stop needed change. When government, or other powers, demand change, you can rebel or you can change – often quickly. You may not agree with the change forced upon you, but may have to react faster than you expected.

Disclaimer: This is one reason staying alert to future trends and predictions is important. It could be studying movements in the courts or government, tax changes, or cultural trends.

When you aren’t concerned about the outcome

There are times when the results simply don’t matter much in the scheme of things. As a pastor we would schedule baptisms almost any Sunday, for example. Sometimes we may not have a baptism scheduled, but knowing baptisms helped fulfill our key function as a church, we would quickly change our schedule to accommodate. Some changes are so in support of your vision you simply make them as soon as an opportunity presents itself.

Disclaimer: Be careful with this one. In atmospheres more receptive to change we can, as leaders, sometimes take advantage of this and fail to see the weight change is having on the people we lead. Even when much freedom is given to us to lead change we must be mindful of the real reaction of people we lead.

There are probably equally good illustrations for refusing to make change quickly. (There are probably even 7 of them.) Feel free to share them with me and my readers.

When have you seen the speed of change change?