A Church You Would Attend

I have always enjoyed meeting visitors on Sundays. I am always fascinated by why families decide to visit churches. I often ask where they live and how they heard about the church.  One common conversation I often have with visitors is about how hard it is for people to find a church that truly fits them. People often talk about how it takes months of visiting churches before they find something they want to attend.

I heard church leadership experts talk about building your church not on who is there, but on who is not there yet.  They often argue that you have all the people you have because of who you are now.  If you want more people, you have to change to try to attract those who are not there yet. Knowing this, I used to  spent a lot of time thinking about how to make our church a place where people would want to attend.

So I decided to spend time and effort focusing on doing things that I thought would attract and keep visitors.  I started to question the format. I worried about aesthetics. I worried about what I would wear.  I worried about who was on stage and what they looked like.  As a Spirit-filled church I worried about what people would think if visitors were to come who didn’t understand the type of gifts we believe in. I put my focus on changing who we were in order to become a church that people would want to attend.  I even found myself making changes that I personally did not enjoy, but I did them to please potential visitors. After all that effort, we didn’t have any more success in keeping visitors. The worst part is, now not only did visitors not want to attend, I didn’t want to go there either!

After exhausting myself trying build a church that some imaginary family would want to attend, I started to think about what kind of church I would want to attend. It was a question I asked our team during our vision discovery process. As our team discussed it, I realized that for the most part, the people who were already there all wanted similar things.  We had similar values and were all there because we wanted to be there. We took those things and made them our core values.   What a freeing decision that was. I no longer had to  worry about whether a visiting family liked us or not. We knew who we were and the type of church we wanted to be. 

This is one of the best parts about being a pastor.  You get build a church you would want to go to.  Its sounds sort of self serving, but it is actually not. As pastor, you should love your church. You should be its biggest fan.  Plus, you will only be effective in doing the things you feel the most passionate about. You can change all you want, but if you don’t love what you have become, what good is it?

Instead of trying to chase the illusive goal of building a church that some imagined visitor would want to attend, why not spend your energies working to build a church culture for the people who have already said this is a church they want to attend.   You can go out of your way to change for the people who aren’t there, but often when we do that, we alienate the people who are there!  While its true, that some visitors may not fit what you are trying to do. But lets be honest, that is happening anyway. There are people out there looking for a church that cares about what you care about. 

If you don’t love your church, start by asking yourself a simple question. If you were to leave your church today and had to search for a church to attend, what would you look for?  Write those things down. Discuss them with your team.  Then put your energies toward building that kind of church.  When you love it, when your team loves it, when your church members love it, others will want to join you.

A Pastors Conference That Actually Helped

young-pastorsI don’t know about you but most of the time when I go to pastors conferences, I walk away discouraged.  Not because the people who spoke didn’t do a good job or don’t have good things to say. But many times I wonder if the speakers have any idea what it is like to be an average pastor of an average church.  To be fair, no one would come to a conference if the keynote speaker is a guy like me who no one has ever heard of.  The only way to get people to come is to have speakers who are nationally known.  And those are usually the people who have very large churches.  But when they share strategies they have learned in those large churches, I feel even more alienated.  Skills in big churches do not translate well to skills in small churches.  That’s the reality.  And as long as conferences continue to ignore the 82% of us that pastor average size churches I will continue to be skeptical with their conferences.

This is how I felt going into the YoungPastors conference held in Texas two weeks ago. I was bracing myself as I saw the list of who’s who on the bill.  What I experienced was surprisingly refreshing.  From the very moment it started it was different.  It wasn’t hype. It wasn’t presentation. It was all about spiritual formation for the called.   It was local. It was affordable. It was encouraging. I came way with ideas. I came away with free books.  It was a conference that actually helped.   Here is my brief recap with some of the most meaningful things for me:

Shane and Shane:  They opened with a couple songs of worship.  Just two guys and a guitar.  We sang and praised God as people who rarely get to just focus on worship.  They made it simple.  I felt at home.

Alicia Chole:  Noted speaker and author Alicia Brit Chole shared from her book Anonymous.  A topic many of us average pastors identify with.  Many speakers talk about the successes, she focused on how to handle obscurity.  She talked about the hidden years and how to embrace them.  It made me feel good about being anonymous.

Leonard Sweet:  Distinguished professor and author Leonard Sweet spoke on practical communication of the word of God that all of us could apply as we preach.  He discussed the importance of story in communicating the gospel.  He also threw in a couple ideas parenthetically that I took away. Including a commentary on how the church is “franchising” instead of being “zip code focused”.

There were several practical panel discussions of Innovation and Pastoral health.  Rob Ketterling spoke about changing before you have to.  Choco DeJesus gave encouragement to go further with more anointing.  Scott Wilson brought us to our knees in looking for the idols of success we have made.  Every session was encouraging and never made me feel out of place as a pastor of a small church. Every session was for me.

Two particularly helpful sessions I took away from the conference were these:

Dr. Sam Chand:  Sam Chand, the coaching guru to the largest of churches had two talks that helped me.  One was “Take care of your wife, take care of you kids, take care of your money”.   Such a simple admonition from a guy that coaches the worlds largest churches.  Yet all pastors, no matter the size, all struggle with those three areas.  The second was his talk with lead pastors on helping your staff know you.  He shared that Pastors always assume their church and staff knows them.  But he recommends that a pastor give his staff a user manual.  In it outline “This is how I communicate” “this is how you should give me ideas” “this is how to disagree with me” and several others.  That was gold to a pastor like me that doesn’t get to sit down with my staff very often.

Rob Hoskins of ONEHOPE shared about missional strategy.  Most churches have a mission. But does your  missions program match your mission as a church?  I realized that our church supports missions because we know the missionary or like the place where they are serving.  But this generation is not loyal to denominational brand or people. They want outcomes or they wont give.  They want to see their missions giving match the vision of the church.  He encouraged us to have a missions strategy that looks for missionaries and projects based on missional criteria and that evaluates the effectiveness of each dollar.  We are now working on a strategy in my church for how and why we do missions that will be a better reflection of what God has called us to do.

In this day when the divide between large churches and small churches continue to grow, I found this conference refreshing.  I didn’t feel like an small church pastor. I felt like a person called to serve God’s church. And I felt like every speaker, no matter how famous, felt that way about me too.  It was a conference for average pastors. I am glad I went.

The Difference Between Vision & Mission

mission-and-vision-statement
You have heard leadership experts say it:  Every church should have a mission statement.  Wait…or is that vision statement?  What is the difference?  I am confused…or at least I was.  But I found out the difference between a mission and a vision for our church. Maybe it will help you as well.

One of the most important things for all churches to understand is why they exist.  Until a church understands this they will never live out their true potential.  Each church has it’s own DNA much like each human being has a unique DNA that makes them who they are.  And who they are will determine what they do.

My church leadership & I went through a one year vision process through the Assemblies of God revitalization program called Healthy Church Network.   One of our tasks was to come up with a vision statement, a mission statement and a list of values.   As our team discussed these things, it was clear that we understood our values (our church culture), but were not really sure of our mission and vision.   Dr. Ron McMannus and the Healthy Church helped clarify that for us.   Here is what I learned:

Our Mission –  Mission of the church does not change. It is the mission Jesus gave his church. It is the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and the great commandment (Matthew 22:37).  We are to make disciples, to love God and  to love people.  No matter your denomination, style or location, we all share this mission. So here is what we came up with:   New Life Center’s mission is to make disciples who love God, love people and reach others for Christ.

Our Vision –  The vision the unique role that our church plays in the body of Christ.  No two churches are the same. So what makes your church unique?  What are you best at?  Why did God want your church to exist and why did He call you to pastor it?  For us we identified three things that made us unique from the church across the street. So our vision is:   New Life Center’s vision is to be a Spirit-filled, multi-generational & community-focused church.  

For us our vision statement helped us define our DNA:

  • Spirit Filled – Our church would be a place that emphasized the Pentecostal tradition of Spirit filled worship and culture.
  • Multigenerational –  Our church is a place where every generation can feel at home.
  • Community Focused – Our Church values partnerships with existing community organizations over attractional outreach events.

Many other churches with us in this HCN process picked vision statements like:  “Love God, Love People” or “Connect, Grow, Serve”.  While the application of that can be very useful as a church and easy to remember, it doesn’t necessarily reveal the church’s identity.  All churches should “love God and love People.”  For us, it ultimately didn’t help us define what God wanted us to be because it was too generic.  Our vision was what we wanted to be.   Our vision statement is the standard by which we can determine if are the Church God wants us to be.  No matter our size, if we fulfill this vision, we are what God wants us to be.

To me this is the difference difference in vision and mission. From the standpoint of mission, we all look the same.  In our vision, we each are different to meet the different needs of people and our community. As an average pastor, I would encourage you to take your key people through a process of discovering your unique vision for your church.  God made you unique!  Embrace who you are and what He is calling your church to become.