The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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It is time for Spring Training, and all across the American sports landscape, excitement steadily grows because baseball is back for another season!
You might not know it, but the relationship between baseball and the church is a deep one…
    – Early stadiums were once known as Green Cathedrals.
    – In both, crowds find their minds wandering during middle inning pitch counts and over-repetitive worship lyrics.
   –  And today, Cubs fans are entering month five of living-up to God’s miraculous response to their prayers.
With such a close connection between the Church and the Game, here are 22 ways church services would be better if they were more like a baseball game:
  1. announce attendance count just prior to sermon
  2. lucky number giveaway in bulletin on preschool volunteer ad
  3. costumed apostle-races instead of forced-prayer while worship leader capo-segues
  4. statistic keeping for sermon points: home runs, expository errors, thoughts left on base
  5. near-constant “adjustment” by skinny-jeans-wearing worship pastor
  6. sunflower seed spitting from deacons on front row
  7. senior pastor can pull youth minister during mid-announcement rambling and call groups pastor in from bullpen
  8. three words: ice cream helmets
  9. skyboxes with TVs so members can flip over to Joel Osteen, Charles Stanley or CBS Sunday Morning
  10. play-by-play radio broadcast option for purists
  11. parking passes guaranteeing best spots up close
  12. dizzy offering plate races for ushers
  13. t-shirt cannon (protestant churches only)
  14. seventy-ith minute stretch with hymn sing-along
  15. communion element hawkers roving up and down the aisle
  16. baptism excitement magnified by crowd doing the wave
  17. no more artificial turf on senior adult men or the executive pastor
  18. organ sound effects when pastoral jokes don’t land
  19. last call on communion wine before doxology and closing prayer
  20. sell ad-space on the baptistry wall
  21. new “retro” sanctuary design featuring hard wooden pews, teal carpet and big golden chandeliers
  22. real-time scoreboard with other local church attendance and giving stats, ranked city-wide

 

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6 Natural Opportunities to Expand Small Group Engagement

It happened again.

You just made the same small group announcement.
Sure, it happened on a different Sunday, during a different series. However, you just made that same hope-full announcement and received that same life-less response.
All across today’s church, leaders are saying more, yet somehow congregations are hearing less.

Every prop and trick lay used, relegated to a back-of-the-stage pile of ineffective effort. The funny videos made lots of people laugh, but no one dropped their carefully curated “perfect life” façade to live in heart-level relationships. The moving testimony video made plenty of people cry, but no one took that first, fear-fueled step into schedule-wrecking community.

Our best, most creative emphasis and announcement efforts bounce harmlessly off the Teflon-strong force field of the family calendar. For most in today’s church, a crisis-level lack of family engagement in groups boils down to this: the felt-need of life in community has yet to surpass the real-pain of an over scheduled life.

All of the church-speak generic “life together” reasons for “living in community” through “life groups” ring hollow as cul-de-sac gatherings, travel team parent bonding, and friends (with boating benefits) deftly imitate true and Gospel-centered relational connection.

After all, who needs yet another night away with yet another group of people?

We make the announcements but fail to articulate the value of community, especially with other people experiencing life-change. We promote the seasonal sign-ups, but neglect the most natural entry-points during life-stages.

groupengagemetConsider the many, fear-inducing moments of change and seasons of adjustment that every family experiences. Most are perfect opportunities to leverage the wisdom and comfort of community as a real and natural need to be a part of a group.

Here are six life-stage opportunities to expand engagement in small group life:

Newlywed / Engaged Couples. The first friends as a couple are typically life-long. Leverage premarital counseling and intensive wedding preparation seasons to focus young lovers on building depth of community into their marriage, not simply crafting Pinterest-worthy moments into a ceremony.

Expecting Parents. Parents-to-be, especially when it is their first child, are usually scared to death and more open to asking questions and being influenced by parents who have “been there, done that.” Working together, the preschool minister and groups leader have a natural opportunity to encourage and resource parents into group life.

Baby Dedication. More than preparing for a Sunday moment, this is a natural time to gather families in a small-group environment as a prerequisite to participation. Gather new parents to discuss a book or parenting bible study for 4-6 weeks before the Sunday morning ceremony. Church leaders can reinforce gathering in a home as more important than standing on a stage, and see those groups continue for years.

Kindergarten / Grade School. The tear-filled eyes of parents driving away from the campus after dropping their “couldn’t possibly be this old already” child at school are indications of shared emotions. They are also likely indications of an openness to prioritize time with other parents wiping their eyes as well. Giving parents a place to do more than cope or commiserate, groups in this life stage encourage connection and iron sharpening. Start the conversation by introducing parents to the children’s ministry while at the same time introducing them to other parents just as scared and hopeful as they are.

Middle / High School. Puberty, dating and social media… enough said. Parents with children entering middle school or high school need help, and quickly. As your next group of youth age-up into the student ministry, do more than just meet with parents and talk at them. Make it a goal to get those parents talking to each other and finding common ground together. Convene a round table on important topics, and spin off discussion groups that can grow into meaningful small groups or bible study classes.

College / Empty Nest. The last 18+ years have been spent focused on successfully getting their children out of the nest, and prayerfully staying out. Now these suddenly purposeless parents struggle to reconnect and establish the new normal once their baby birds finally fly off. Graduation Sundays offer a great chance to celebrate each student, but also a great connection with the parents wondering “what’s next.” What if leaders offered one or two strategic gatherings over the summer to prepare parents for this new normal, all the while pointing to a Fall season of group life?

Families in your church are physically, emotionally, and spiritually right where you have led them to be… in groups and not.

Now is the time to stop thinking about small groups in ways that work on a ministry calendar or for a pastoral preference.

Now is the time to start engaging families during the seasons and moments in life that actually matter to them.

Now is the time to truly engage people in meaningful Gospel-centered community, not just make that same small group announcement.

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One Reason You Struggle to Actually Make Disciples

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When asked, there are many reasons church leaders give for lack of effectiveness in making disciples. Here are a few common responses:

“We have uncommitted volunteers”

“We reach many distracted families”

“We suffer from ineffective curriculum”

“We find ourselves with unavailable leadership”

“We are experiencing diminishing giving”

“We need to get beyond our under-performing staff”

“We are stuck through over-complex processes”

While the above may be resonant, they are likely not the actual reason your church continues to struggle to make disciples. From observation of hundreds of churches over the past few years, disciples are not made for one singular, and strikingly simple, reason:  actual, biblical discipleship takes much more time than expected and produces very little immediate return on investment.

Herein lies the problem. Rather than thinking long-term process, and setting expectations five to ten years down the road, we lead through short-term programming. We lead by constantly changing the discipleship curriculum, schedule or structure every few months. We lead with the expectation that discipleship requires only a season, rather than years of nurture and growth.

The approach and practice of making disciples is more like running a tree farm than tending a backyard vegetable garden.

Vegetable gardens, while taking some time – maybe a few summer growing months – yield a rather immediate harvest and tangible results. Within weeks, seeds germinate, vines grow and blooms emerge. Soon after, windowsills and countertops are overflowing with vegetables and fruit, ready for eating, canning and freezing.  And as the cool mornings of fall consistently make their annual appearance, plants are removed, soil is turned and beds are prepared for a new, fresh season of production.

Tree farming requires a completely different process and outlook. Saplings take root – not with an expectation of months-long nurturing – but years of grooming, tending and shaping. The average 8-foot Christmas Tree takes seven to twelve years to mature and be ready to stand proudly as the centerpiece of holiday celebrations. Running a tree farm requires a commitment to think long-term and necessitates a patient discipline for measuring results in observable quality, through the health of the plant, rather than numeric quantity.

When we treat discipleship as a seasonal activity, expecting immediate results we produce undernourished and unprepared followers of Christ. We then blame volunteers, travel baseball, or ineffective systems for our own misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship.

Here are three practices for 2017 to help reframe the heart of the disciple-maker through the mind of a tree-farmer.

  1. Mark time in seasons of a life, not seasons of the year… because discipleship takes more than two or three semesters of study. What would we develop in a young married husband if we pictured a healthy tenth anniversary? How would an incoming sixth grade girl be biblically prepared for the upcoming challenges of high school? What are the spiritual habits of a senior adult that develop a next generation of Christ-likeness?
  2.  Measure health of each individual, not the number of individuals who appear healthy… because not all growth is spiritual growth. What are the marks of a growing disciple in your context? What are the daily habits and practices of growing followers that produce and reproduce dependence on Christ? What small indicators can be identified that build to big steps of growth
  3. Celebrate annual multiplication of a few, not seasonal addition of the many… because what is celebrated gets replicated. How might you point beyond collective programs toward individual development? What rites of passage in your culture would mark significant progress in spiritual growth? What consistent language can you develop to encourage participation from every church member?

 

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3 Visionary Ways to Engage the Heart of the Prodigal Family

ProdigalFamFall is the time of year when the days grow shorter and the fireflies glow softer. The season when the amber aura of Friday night stadium lights illuminate the welcome relief of cooling dusk hours.

As sunburns fade and school assignments increase, many families make their annual migration back to church from weekends at the lake or ball field.

In these Fall Sundays, church leaders have an unnervingly short window to reintegrate these passive parents into active biblical community and reinvigorate in them blessing of body-life. Instead of finger wagging at their summer delinquency, the grace-full leader will leverage this opportunity to welcome families back home.

You do not have to affirm seasonal church attendance to reconnect with a seasonal church attender. If you hope to engage prodigal families this fall, keep these thoughts in mind:

Do not ask for more time… cast vision of great impact.

Paint a picture of the value to personal and family growth by connecting in a group or in a volunteer role. Remember, these families have demonstrated a willingness to prioritize their finances and calendar to the things they perceive will matter. Instead of giving them another event to put on their already-too-busy calendar, build deep wells of engagement by speaking of the impact missional involvement has on their family.

Do not ask for more money… give opportunity for investment.

Use vision language to speak to the real and immediate consequences of a mission activity, season of ministry impact, or facility need. The average family in our culture spends the fall paying down their “perfect summer” of credit card expenses, just in time to run them up again in the name of perfect Christmas memories. Remember, parents will invest resources where they sense a real and personal return. Today is the best time to help them see beyond the rusting, moth-ridden pleasures of now to the eternally stored treasures of heaven.

Do not ask for more guilt… share an abundance of grace.

It may be convicting to realize that our generic “life together” descriptors and ineffective development strategies are the reason families disconnect so easily. Many parents in your congregation see very little difference in spending time with travel ball parents criticizing coaching or referees, than they do circled around God’s Word with youth group parents. Many of these fathers and mothers have not been discipled or taught to see the value of Biblical community over sporting competition. Encourage parents to engage each week with meaningful bible studies or teaching points, supported by intentional next-step discussions beyond the Sunday morning pulpit.

When it comes to engaging families this fall, remember:

Giving Value > Getting Time

Helping Invest > Raising Money

Abundant Grace  > Heaping Guilt

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How to Effectively Cure the Church Budgeting Blues

Church Budget Blues

Working on the Youth Ministry Budget

Fall ministry around the church staff and leadership table usually means one thing: budgeting.

No other time of year strikes more fear, and evokes more creativity, in youth ministers than budget preparation time.
Test for yourself and say the word “BUDGET” at your next staff meeting and watch the ministry energy and excitement migrate across the table like south-bound geese to your Administrative Pastor.
The Resourcing Team at Auxano knows the challenges of leading during this season, and has put together a terrific plan to redefine the grueling grind of budget preparation through an engaging, visionary budgeting retreat.
Read more about leading a visionary budgeting retreat with this Guest Post from Auxano Campaign Navigator, David Putman and Director of Campaigns, Todd McMichen. Scroll down for a step-by-step guide to planning your first budget retreat.

We all desire to do a better job when it comes to our church’s budget. How many times have we had to move funds from one line item to another creating a lack of clarity, confusion, and frustrations among our board and staff? How many times have we over-funded the wrong program while under-funding the right opportunity? Imagine for a moment a way forward with your budgeting that is clear, concise, catalytic, compelling and most of all on point. Imagine leaving a budgeting meeting as a team energized about the next ministry season instead of weighed down by spreadsheets and numbers.

One way forward is a vision-based budgeting retreat. The following is a simple step-by-step process to consider.

Prep

Reconsider your languageLanguage creates culture. This is especially true when it comes to your church’s budget. Does your language indicate scarcity or provision? A church with a generous culture chooses its language carefully. A budget becomes a spending plan or investment plan that funds your vision. Your budget retreat becomes more about how you “finance the mission” and less about how you divide up the “money pie.” Regardless of what language you use, connect it to your vision.

Turn a “have to” into a “get to.” Long before your budget is due, plan an offsite meeting for the purpose of resourcing next year’s vision. Nothing frustrates a team more when it comes to budget than to be excluded or have budget planning sprung on them at the last minute. Budgeting can be stressful enough without creating unwanted urgency with last minute planning. People are down on, what they are not up on. This includes your staff.

Do some spiritual prep. Before the offsite, consider spending some team time working through a book or some devotions on generosity. Encourage your team to begin a journal noting how God is speaking to them related to their specific area of ministry and better collaboration as a whole. You may consider using a tool like Leading A Generous Church by Todd McMichen.

Work on your vision. The question we need to answer prior to any attempt at budgeting is, “Where is God leading us?” This is the question that underpins all of your stewardship. Remember, budgeting is about resourcing your vision. An excellent resource for working on vision is God Dreams, a book written by Auxano founder Will Mancini and Warren Bird.

A potential action point is to have a God Dreams Retreat six months prior to your budget retreat.

During

Start with your vision. If you worked on vision prior to the retreat, spend some time updating the team on the previous vision work. Let the team give you feedback. You can do this around four questions: 1) What’s right? 2) What’s wrong? 3) What’s missing?  4) What’s unclear? Collect the team’s responses on a whiteboard or flipchart. You can refer back to it at another time. Don’t allow the team to get bogged down. Remember this is simply about getting vision in front of the team. If they were part of your earlier vision work, this should move fast and create synergy. If you’ve failed to do any vision work prior to your retreat, you’re not ready to work on your budget. Remind the team that the budget is about funding the vision.

Evaluate last year’s ministry effectiveness. An additional grid for resourcing the vision is evaluating your ministry effectiveness. There are three types of results that you need to evaluate as you consider how you are going to invest next year’s resources – they are input, output, and impact results.

Input results by far are the easiest to assess. Numbers don’t lie. Output and impact results can be more difficult to measure. Have your team share stories related to output and impact results. For example, an output result would include a story of life change, while an impact story may include a story of community impact. Make sure you pause long enough to celebrate your effectiveness.

Pay attention to your financial details. Wow! Up until this point this hasn’t felt or been like any other budgeting meeting, but you must drill in and pay attention to the details. This involves paying attention to your finances at the macro and micro levels. There are a number of things to consider at the macro level in order to learn more about how people give and how you might disciple them.

They include:

  • Did you meet budget?
  • Are you living under your means or over your means?
  • How many people contributed to your budget this previous year?
  • How does giving grow as an individual’s engagement in ministry grows?
  • What was the average gift?
  • How did giving break down by amounts?
  • How many people use some form of electronic giving? What were they?
  • Did you have unbudgeted expenses?
  • Do you have large capital needs on the horizon?
  • What are your cash surplus levels?
  • How is your debt to budget ratio?

Once you have a handle on the big picture, it is time to dig deeper and pay attention to your budget at the micro level or ministry level.

This includes:

  • Were there areas that were over budgeted?
  • Were there areas that were under budgeted?
  • What ministries are in growth, plateau, or decline?
  • What ministries did you see the highest and lowest return on invested dollars?
  • What ministry line items could be reduced or eliminated?
  • What ministry line items need to be increased or added?
  • What new investments do you need to make to support your one-year horizon and measurable results?

Be willing to give “up in” order to “go up.”  Give your team some time to make adjustments based on all that has taken place up to this point in the retreat. Let them work in subgroups. You will be surprised how this collaborative process will open up the willingness for team members to make sacrifices. When you include them in the process, they are more than likely willing to lead the way and the charge. Ask every team to give up something for the common good. Create a spirit of sacrifice by leading the way.

Conclude the retreat with a season of celebration and prayer. Model the way by affirming the contribution of the entire team. Celebrate the specific contribution of team members by highlighting how they have lived out the values of your church. Call the team to a season of fasting and prayer for next year’s vision.

After

Scrub the results before presenting the final budget. This next step requires time. Let the team know that the executive and finance team will pray and look at everything over the next few weeks before presenting the final budget to the entire team. Make sure you don’t over promise and under deliver. It is better to under promise and over deliver. Have a defined time when you will bring closure to the budgeting process. Informally include the entire team in the scrubbing process by soliciting feedback when needed.

We are recommending a process that is more vision based than most. Why? It keeps the process fresh and every year people know you rally around the vision. This will help diminish silos, personal entitlements, relational fears, and prevent you from just doing the same thing every year. Vision based financial leadership will also create the necessary clarity that when enacted properly will produce generosity, confidence, and surplus.

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5 Steps to Surviving Summer Staff Meetings

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Download the Church Staff Summer Bingo PDF

Ahhhhhh Summer… when the days grow progressively longer and church staff meetings grow regressively shorter.

Some weeks – Thanks VBS! – they do not even happen at all.

In the end, most of us agree with every idea, good or bad, just so we can leave for a “long lunch” by the pool with our family. Like an Old Testament Prophet I implore you with these words: do NOT waste another summer church staff meeting!

Instead, wake up your humidity-drenched life…
Liven up your depressingly-empty office…
Spice up your dutifully-curated social media feed… 

…and play Church Staff Summer BINGO!! 

Here are 5 steps to surviving summer staff meetings:

1. Download the Church Staff Summer Bingo PDF, making sure every staff member has a copy.

2. Decide on a really valuable prize, go ahead and pull it from the VBS budget somewhere.

3. Winner is first to phone-pic 5 of these moments across one row, column or diagonal on the card.

4. Start every staff meeting (that you manage to actually have this summer) with updates.

5. For even more fun, share your moments with all of us on instagram using #staffbingo

Posts also tagged #auxano will be eligible for random vision swag all summer long!

Go ahead, and do more than survive another Summer church staff meeting.

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3 Ways Words Get in the Way

John F. Kennedy from Rice University at the dawn of the Space Age.
Dr. Martin Luther King Junior on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Ronald Reagan in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

All three of these iconic moments share one critical ingredient: words that created worlds. A language of vision has the power to move people to reach the moon, cross racial divides and tear down political walls. But, words can also get in the way.

Auxano has more than 13 years of walking alongside hundreds of church leaders seeking clarity of identity and direction. As a part of this team, I am more aware than ever of how the right vision language, or the lack thereof, can make all of the difference in the world. Here are 3 painful ways that I have seen words get in the way:

1. When there are too few vision words to foster alignment. Your leaders are leading to a vision. If you have not invested time and team resources into articulating identity and direction for your top level of leaders, their vision leadership is siloed and not shared. Conflicting ministry vision always leads to sideways energy and wasted resources. A senior leader with too few words likely spends more time mediating staff conflict than meditating on God’s preferred future. Jesus did not hesitate to paint a clear and detailed picture of the crucifixion, fueling sacrificial alignment in each disciple’s life from Pentecost forward.

2. When the vision words are too generic to inspire hearts. Safe vision language is actually dangerous to the health of your church. We live in a world of competing messages, in which skilled marketing practitioners move your congregation to buy their latest product or vote for their latest candidate. Many leaders fail to realize that their safe, yet sound words, either fly under the radar or over the heads of busy families and distracted people. Jesus never shied away from powerful words that struck the deepest nerve in the hearts of His listeners: “From now on I will make you fishers of men” wasn’t a slick marketing tagline, it was a vibrant and specific picture of His compelling calling.

3. When there are too many vision words to create confidence. The team cannot execute if the play keeps changing. Overhauling your language and vision with every new conference method or leadership mantra leaves your leadership confused. If everything changes every six months, why should they ever be involved to begin with? The fast-following leader’s desire for “new” starts to get old very quickly. Instead, seek to emulate Jesus as He consistently deployed a simple message of faith and repentance, to the point of rejection and ultimately, death.

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Click to download the Vision Trailhead

If you are not sure which, if any, of the above fits your church, you can be sure that the rest of your team does! To employ an honest assessment of your vision language, download your free copy of Auxano’s latest tool for break-thru leaders: The Vision Trailhead TeamUP 

Vision Trailhead is a two-hour trek designed to safely start the right conversations among your leadership. This engaging tool will calibrate your vision language using challenging assessment questions and memorable church-personality profiles.

 

In this TeamUP tool you will:
– Unpack your communication baggage in order to properly prepare for the vision journey ahead
– Plot your “Trailhead Type” using key waypoints of missional language and church age
– Step onto the clarity pathway with experienced trail guides cheering you onward

Don’t continue to let words get in the way of the world God is calling you to create!

Blaze your team’s trail to clear vision and new growth at the Vision Trailhead.

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