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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

baseballchurch
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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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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Vision Is Not…

Vision isn’t a moment on a Sunday – Vision is a movement happening everyday.
Vision isn’t a one-time event – Vision is an ongoing eventuality.
Vision isn’t a statement on a wall – Vision is a state of mind led by a call.
Vision isn’t a leader’s style – Vision is the substance of all leadership.
Vision isn’t a featured project to reveal- Vision is a future projection in which to revel.
Vision isn’t a upcoming program to launch – Vision is an ongoing picture to paint.
Vision isn’t a building for a church’s function – Vision is a framework for God’s future.
Vision isn’t a crystal-ball prognostication – Vision is a bent-knee revelation.
Vision isn’t a good idea for that one-day – Vision is God’s idea for your every-day.
Vision isn’t a realm for envied conference speaking preachers – Vision is the reality for every congregation serving pastor.
Vision isn’t a contemplative mountaintop excursion- Vision is a collaborative group discovery.

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The Official 2016 Church Vision Generator

It’s that time of year again.

Time to resolve and time to budget. Time to exercise and to excise. Time to engage, and especially, a time to envision.

It is this time every year, that leaders across the Church landscape will dream, plan and inspire toward God’s preferred future. A few will dig in and collaborate with their teams to develop a viral language of vision. Others will read a book that explains and guides them to craft vision, like Will Mancini’s upcoming release God Dreams.*

But unfortunately, many well-intentioned church leaders will simply imitate successful statements from other congregations. Or even worse, they will piece random visionish-type words together that sound catalytic… yet remain catatonic.

For those in the later category looking for a bit of help, once again this year, with tongue firmly-in-cheek…

Here is your Official 2016 Church Vision Generator:

Vision Generator 16

Click to Enlarge

*God Dreams, is the anticipated follow-up to Will’s first book on crafting vibrant vision: Church Unique. God Dreams releases January 1, from Amazon and other retailers. Download a preview PDF of Chapter 1 here

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Waking Up from the Field of Dreams Approach to Church Buildings

FODOne of the best, and most misused, quotes from the wonder-years of 1980s movies comes from the classic Field of Dreams: 

“If you build it, he will come.”

These seven words caused an Iowa farmer to plow part of his corn fields and leverage every resource his family had toward the building of a baseball field. Every bit of this effort, we learn, was to the end of having a long-missed game of catch with his Dad. Spoiler Alert: Shoeless Joe Jackson also gets to play ball again. He and Kevin Costner’s character have my personal favorite exchange in the movie: “Hey, is this Heaven? No (pause and smile) it’s Iowa”

This classic baseball movie represents all that is right about heart-string tugging storytelling for every 40-something adult male like me. Unfortunately, the “If you build it, ___ will come” thinking also represents all that is wrong about building-committee facility planning for church leaders like us.

Some combination of these seven words have caused many Christian leaders too leverage every congregational resource toward the end building of some structure for reaching long-missed segments of the population. Spoiler Alert: While new folks in the community will show up initially, without an intentional strategy for engaging and growing them as disciples, they will quickly fade away like Shoeless Joe in the outfield.

It’s time for a new approach to facilities that recognizes that church buildings are not vision, but can be great tools for accomplishing vision.

It’s time for a Great Commission-biased conviction to compel us to push all of our leadership chips into preparing people to BE THE CHURCH, not BUILD A CHURCH. 

It’s time to remember this first-things-first reality: “If we go, He will bring them.”

And in time, the buildings that we do build will have lasting, intentional and everyday impact on making a difference for Christ in our communities. This is a field worth dreaming about.

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2 Clear-Cut Needs in the Complexity of Pastoring Creatives

PixarMontageWhat do these 4 films have in common? Up, Inside Out, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc.

A. They Are All Hit Movies from Pixar

B. They Have Highly Compelling Stories

C. They Are Kids Movies that Make Grown Men Cry

D. All of the Above

Pixar Studios tells a story like no other team of creatives, anywhere. In fact, if you can watch this clip of Carl & Ellie’s love story in UP without crying you have a heart of stone.

Recently, I read the story of Pixar, entitled Creativity, Inc., authored by Ed Catmull. Ed is a co-founder of Pixar and president of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Creativity, Inc. is a fascinating book to me both as a participant in the creative process (possessing a design degree in Architecture) and a fan of the stories that Pixar tells (possessing every DVD from Toy Story through Monsters University).

I have also struggled to lead and pastor creative teams well during my ministry years. Suffice it to say that I had to fire a couple of worship leaders along the way, both of whom were poorly hired and poorly led, to be honest. I read Catmull’s book accordingly, as a process developer and pastoral leader, in order to understand and help other leaders develop and nurture a depth of creativity in their creative teams.

As anyone who regularly pastors or leads creatives knows, harnessing artists and individuals to accomplish a singular vision can be a complicated endeavor. While great content on navigating the often-choppy waters of developing creative teams stands out in the reading of Creativity, Inc., as I went back and reviewed my Kindle highlights, two clear-cut needs in the complexity of pastoring creatives began to emerge.

Need #1. The Need to Work Your Hardest on Building the Team, not the Idea

Ideas come and go, and let me risk being the first to ever tell you as pastor, that your ideas are not as great as you think they are. Every senior leader needs a great team of creatives around them to develop and execute even the very best of ideas. If you are ideating and executing creativity on your own, even in a church of 100, you are likely spending your time on the wrong things. Pastors who tend to be solo acts in the creative sphere are generally lacking in other key leadership areas – I know… I have been one myself.

“Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.”

“Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”

“Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas.”

“Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.”

Great teams should be…

… Balanced in collaboration style, this post describes creative team balance.

… Blended in perspective and ability, break the homogeny, invite risk into the room.

… Built with no freeloaders, including you.

Everyone should have a role to play in the meeting and nobody should walk away from a creative meeting without something to do, create or execute. People without skin in the game tend to either naysay and tear apart good ideas or push toward impossible unachievable goals in creative meetings.

Building the team needs hard work because a poorly constructed creative team will struggle to help a good idea… but a well-built team can rescue any bad idea. If a pastor will spend more time and energy investing in the people above the ideas, they will reap the return of engaged leaders, along with highly creative experiences in which to share the power of the Gospel.

Need #2. The Need to Celebrate Your Loudest over Discipleship, Not Attendance

Seems overly simplistic to state, but the reminder is worth hearing again, that our Great Commission calling is not “go and have great services,” or “go and be highly creative,” or “go and blow people away with your team’s ability to create.”  The clear call is to make disciples, teaching them to go and do the same. In the end, even the best team, developing and executing the greatest ideas, fails if all we have done is pull off a cool moment or memorable service.

I have observed and participated in creative teams when next steps after the service we were planning were an afterthought, if even thought–of at all. It was time, effort and resources spent in doing something remarkable rather than developing someone replicatable. Often, the accelerating downward spiral of being the Buzz Church places a higher value on output from skilled leaders, than input needed to develop leadership in valuable people.

Catmull tells the story in Creativity, Inc. of leading the Pixar team to work hard toward an almost impossible deadline, and team responded as everyone worked beyond his or her limits, even to the detriment of their own health. The wakeup call came one day when a team member, being so tired and burnt out, forgot to take their child to daycare and left them in the car. Immediately no deadline or project was more important than the health of the team members. In the church, no creative element or programed event can become more important than the resultant output of growth as disciples for those service attenders or event participants.

“…we had failed them—causing them pain by putting them in a position they weren’t ready for.”

“…it is the focus on people—their work habits, their talents, their values—that is absolutely central to any creative venture.”

“If we are in this for the long haul, we have to take care of ourselves, support healthy habits, and encourage our employees to have fulfilling lives outside of work.”

Highly creative teams often walk the line between catching converts “out there,” by leveraging their potential to reach and impact from the community and the opposing need of developing leaders “in here,” by leaning into the potential to lead and grow IN community.

There exists in every church a need to focus on outreach and marketing. The greater priority is multiplying your pastoral leadership and growing the people right around you in their relationship with Christ. The investment of Jesus’ leadership throughout the Gospels, was not directed toward drawing the largest crowd of people, but to developing the closest group of disciples.

Remembering these clear-cut needs, to work the hardest on the team itself and celebrate the loudest over disciples made, can help keep the complexity minimized when leading creative teams toward their greatest Kingdom success.

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