Category Archives: Church Life

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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Download the PDF Now!

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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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4 Bracket-Busting Plays for Welcoming Guests this Easter

bracketbusters

It’s time for March Madness.

In the sporting world, March Madness is the NCAA Men’s Division One basketball tournament, dominating the next few weeks of speculation and conversation.

In the church world, March Madness is Easter Sunday, and every service leading up to it, dominating the next few weeks of speculation and conversation.

Many leaders will go all out to connect as many people to the Gospel of Christ on this largest guest attendance weekend of the year. Savvy church leaders are presently focusing their attention on the pathway and points of entry a guest will take to attend worship services this Easter. Spring is a natural and necessary time of year to take a look at your Guest Welcoming and Hospitality ministry, and like 64 basketball coaches right now, make adjustments to capitalize on one shining moment.

In the spirit of March Madness, here are four bracket-busting plays for welcoming Guests this Easter:

1. Tweak the Fundamentals

Nine out of ten guests this Easter will go to your website first. What will they see? More importantly what will they not see? Some estimate that last year the number of networked devices in the world DOUBLED the global population. If you are not already solid in the fundamentals with your website, then you are behind.

Some Easter-critical tweaks could be:

  • a clear and prominent “I’m New” button or page
  • Easter service times, and stylistic differences of services, if any
  • your address, directions, parking information and a map
  • a short description, with photo, or video clip of the worship experience
  • information on Children’s Ministry, including security/safety procedures

2. Remember, the Best Offense is a Good Defense 

Once a de-churched or unchurched Guest decides to attend this Easter, the enemy will use everything possible to distract and dissuade them from attending. This means that your Hospitality Team should be on point and playing defense once that family or individual reaches the campus. Two types of defense are:

Zone Defense  – Just like on the court, positioning people to cover a certain geographic area of your campus is key. This may even include having vest-wearing greeters at a key intersection or navigation point off campus, joyfully directing people toward life-change in Christ. One fundamental advantage of a Zone Defense in basketball is controlling the tempo of the game. Employing a Zone Defense in your parking lot, hallways and information tables is the best possible way to ensure the best possible the guest experience. An effective Zone Defense maps out the strategic points of connection in each area, and plants an informed, smiling face at each one.

Man-to-Man (M2M) Defense – There are times however, when a direct, one-to-one approach is necessary in the Hospitality Ministry. One huge area to play M2M is in the Children’s Ministry. This is a great opportunity to recruit additional volunteers to walk guest families to each child’s classroom, facilitating or explaining the security and sign-in procedure along the way. This simple action provides direct reassurance to each new parent that their child will be cared for, and could minimize a significant distraction to Gospel receptivity. Other M2M defensive areas could include altar calls, next step tables and guest receptions.

 3. First Make Four Passes, Then Take the Shot

What if every guest you have this Easter receives at least four genuine smiles, four warm handshakes or four verbal welcomes before they ever enter the worship environment? Everything that a new person experiences, good and bad will impact their receptivity to the message of Easter. From parking lot to pew, if your leaders are trained and positioned to deliver four smile-passes to everyone who enters, you can be sure that your worship experience and your message will find a wide-open heart, ready for the salvation-shot.

4. Crash The Boards

Specifically, on your knees. Instead of praying for a billion-dollar bracket, this could be a season of prayer and intercession on behalf of those who will attend this Easter. The Holy Spirit is already at work in the lives of those who will come, needing to be transformed by the Gospel. Lead your welcome team to pray regularly, for your guests this Easter, and every Sunday for that matter. Watch what happens as leaders catch the vision to welcome life change at a door, in a parking lot or beside an information table.

Each year, just 12 players get to cut down the tournament nets in victory. However, every leader in your church has an opportunity to celebrate the use of their gifts to see the lost be found this season.

There is no better time than now to get out on the court and press for the win.

This post first appeared on March 18, 2014 and has been updated.

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23 Ways Your Church Website May Be Driving Away First Time Guests

23WaysWebsite

Imagine if it was your first day on staff and you just discovered that your church’s front door was:

– hidden from view and hard to find

– still decorated from last Christmas

– covered in dirt and cobwebs

– cluttered with ministry flyers and notices.

Without hesitation, you would clean and repaint it immediately. You would then find a way to use people and signage, while leveraging every resource possible, to make the entrance beautiful, easy and obvious to find.

Your church website is more important than your front door. 

In fact, nine out of ten first time Guests visit online before visiting onsite, so your church website IS your front door. In 2015, the number of networked devices (phones, tablets, laptops) more than doubled the global population. Today, your church website is your digital front door for nearly everyone who will consider visiting your church, and then reconsider based upon what they find, or don’t find.

Here are 23 ways your website may be driving away first time Guests: 

  1. If it projects an “us vs.them” dynamic, using a term like Visitor instead of Guest.
  2. If it has your Christmas graphic on rotation… in February.
  3. When 80% of your web content is actually geared for members, making it little more than a very expensive calendar for a select group of people.
  4. If there are too many written words and the menu navigation becomes complex and confusing.
  5. When there are too many ministries and activities… because we all know today’s average family sits around looking to be busier.
  6. If your stock photography of diverse people projects an image far from your congregational reality.
  7. When you do not have a picture of the church building or of the front door.
  8. If your photos and videos are poor quality and improperly sized.
  9. If you have not given the Guest a clear next step to take in visiting.
  10. When you are missing a clear and obvious welcome of Guests with a link to critical information on visiting.
  11. If your service times are anything less than large and obvious, because that is really the main thing a Guest is looking for.
  12. When you have different service styles but they are unexplained… remember, one Guest’s idea of traditional worship might be another’s idea of contemporary.
  13. When your worship services or small groups have cute and creative names that are ultimately meaningless outside of those circles.
  14. When the pastor’s welcome letter is more about a Reformational Theology than a Great Commission Cardiology.
  15. When the pastor’s welcome video is too long and too creepy, and therefore not too inviting.
  16. If your photos are of lobbies and hallways instead of worship gatherings and people groups.
  17. When you are assuming that free coffee (which doesn’t taste all that great) is still attractional to lost people.
  18. If you have forgotten that social media is a great connector, because you still have a church directory and yellow page ads… it’s called Facebook.
  19. When you have made an obvious choice toward a low-cost and generic “church website” over a useful and attractive “digital front door.”
  20. If your content requires updating from multiple people, which never actually happens.
  21. When you post links for giving money when you have not linked giving to a vision beyond money.
  22. If the primary URL is a tagline or slogan instead of your church name.
  23. If there is no responsiveness to mobile device viewing, because smart phones are the new desktop computer.

At Auxano, we love serving as strategic outsiders to help churches realize breakthrough effectiveness on their website, through the lens of vision clarity. No service style or theological treatise will impact a true First Time Guest more than a clear sense of “who we are” and “what we are called to do” will.

Start a conversation with an Auxano Navigator today to learn more about our Vision and Communication services.

 

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