The Jolt That Jump Started the Momentum

Have you ever had one of those days where you dream about the future?

Maybe you had one of those moments talking with a trusted friend where the conversations turns to what could be and your heart starts to beat a little faster. You mind races as you bounce back and forth imagining what life would be like if we could just ______________. 


Unfortunately, as I’ve talked with pastors and church leaders, I’ve noticed one huge, discouraging problem! 


This problem plagues both organizations and individuals. 

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If you’re like me, the decade markers of our lives tend to be the moments when we evaluate our progress to date. Some people have panic attacks, others have a mid-life crisis. I landed somewhere in between. I was having a fair amount of success in my job (not in the church) but wasn’t having the kind of impact I had always imagined my life would have. I was working hard, enjoying my life but I wasn’t making any progress towards anything that remotely resembled my “life’s work”. My own life was plagued with the same, huge, discouraging problem. 


So, what was the huge problem I saw?


The problem can actually be separated into two equally important parts.


1. No clear, actionable plan to move toward the dream. 

More often then not, the dream of the future is much clearer than the steps to get there. That’s probably because dreaming is the easier part. Working out an actionable plan means working through a truckload of variables. It requires the ability to uncover what’s most important and which steps require priority. It requires a clear understanding of the current situation, as well as, what’s happened in the past. 

It commonly requires some type of change management, which undoubtedly requires conviction and focused energy. 

Teams need more than emotional enthusiasm; they need solid planning and strategy that empowers and executes the vision.
— Tony Morgan

That potential for conflict can stop any sort of actionable plan dead in its tracks. 

An aggressive actionable plan requires an appropriate amount of tolerance for risk and ambiguity, matched with the right timing, level of details, understood variables and defined tasks. None of which all come naturally to one person and therefore require some level of healthy conflict. 


2. No jolt, to break you from your current reality.

A jolt is most often the required ingredient for teams to overcome the fear of conflict.  That event that can serve as a catalyst to open the planning process and present the need for immediate action. 

Better yet, an external guide to help the process can help the team move beyond personalities. An outsider, who doesn’t, as they say, have a horse in the game can provide an unbiased focal point for your discussion and planning.  

A couple of years back, our church hit a turning point by going through this exact type of process. We hired an outside organization to walk us through a process that would point us toward a much clearer path moving forward. Starting with a two-day offsite (a jolt) we spent the following year moving through a clear actionable plan. Not only did we have a map to follow, we now had a taste for clarity and focus.  


Why I became StratOp certified.


That experience is precisely why I became StratOp certified. It has always been a passion and a calling of mine to help those I care about find clarity and purpose in what they do. The StratOp process provided the clarity and longevity to accelerate that impact. It’s why I now offer a Lead Forward process based on the Strategic Operating plan pioneered by the Paterson Center over the last 30 years. 


Leading forward to the dream and vision you have for your church’s future means is what you were meant to do. Don’t stay still and grow stale, jump forward and lead your church to the next level. 

10 Ideas You Can Steal From Guest Focused Companies

It goes without saying that a growing church is a guest focused church, so paying attention to how we can better engage those we are reaching is something that comes with the territory. The church, just like these businesses, isn't watering down what they do. It's just acknowledging their guests and communicating the importance of who they are trying to reach. 


Here are 10 ideas you can steal from guest focused businesses: 

Disney//Embrace your problems. 

Not long after Disneyland opened, Walt decided he wanted to turn the Sleeping Beauty Castle into a walk-through attraction. As he brought the engineers in to begin designing the attraction they came across a mob of feral cats. Walt knew he couldn’t exterminate the problem without an uproar so he embraced his problem. Realizing that feral cats, by nature, avoid humans, they spayed and neutered them and invited them to stay under the agreement that they keep the rodent population at bay. The relationship has worked out well and is still in place to this day. Idea: Make a list of your current top 3 obstacles. Brainstorm how you could turn these problems into opportunities. 

Google//Empower your team. 

Google creates a lot of space for their team members to stay customer focused instead of being micromanaged by rules and policies. They have implemented a number of methods to encourage increased creativity, loyalty and productivity. For example, their cafes encourage people from different teams to interact and exchange ideas; employees are encouraged to directly email any of the company’s leaders; “Google Moderator” is a tool that allows anyone to ask any question at a team meeting and the team to vote on which questions they most want to be answered; “20 Percent” allows employees to spend 20% of their work week on things that interest them most; plus they hold an end of week session where all employees can ask questions directly to the team of executives. Open communication empowers team members to do their best, most informed work. Idea: Get creative with your staff meetings, include key volunteers. Talk more about your church's strategic opportunities with more team members and open "the circle of trust".

Starbucks//Turning eyesores into marketing tools. 

I recently was sitting in my local Starbucks as it was preparing for the holiday season. Just like many other stores, Starbucks transforms its stores during the holiday season and that means more merchandise and more decorations. Most stores don’t have the space to store the extra boxes necessary for this big events so Starbucks does something genius. They place the pile of boxes where customers can see them and then slap a sticker on each box. “Anticipation is half the fun! No peeking till after closing on November 15th.” Even I want to know what’s in those boxes! Idea: Forget the storage room. New shipments coming in for Christmas services? Store them in the lobby with signs creating mysterious anticipation.

Amazon//The empty chair.

Maybe you already implement this idea in your small groups, but this “empty chair” idea is something that Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, implements in even his boardroom meetings. It’s not just an empty chair, it’s something he periodically points out to remind the team that the empty seat is for their customer, “the most important person in the room.” While I can imagine that it get’s old hearing Bezos talk about the empty chair, the reminder is one that is incredibly important. Idea: Empty chair at every meeting…even the small staff ones. 

Tesla//More than one dashboard.

Tesla has found that engaged teams drive 15% more profitability, are 30% more productive and lead to 62% less safety issues. A big piece of that team engagement is built around data sharing. Tesla created a dashboard to display results from it’s valuable (and anonymous) internal survey that let team members share feedback and concerns. They also provide a deeper dive into the results through the team dashboard. Idea: Do you have a dashboard for your staff and key volunteers? How do they know what the current wins and obstacles are? 

Nordstrom//I’ll solve your problem, even if it isn’t my fault. 

As a church grows and more people become involved it’s easy for the team to pass the blame. Just think of the poor delivery guy who just wants someone to accept a delivery only to have each team member dismiss him because they don’t want to take ownership. Nordstrom decidedly fights against that mentality. Their return policy is the gold standard among department stores. There is no return counter, just approach any sales associate and they will take back any item, anytime, receipt or not. That’s putting the customer first, absolute first. Idea: Every team member is a tour guide. Instead of pointing or saying “You should talk to Jim”, walk each person to the appropriate place or person (whether that’s the delivery man or a first-time guest). 

Sweetwater//Keeping it personal. 

Sweetwater is an audio and video online merchant, a business segment that can very easily be transactional. While they are a growing company (last tracked at 850 employees) they make every interaction feel personal. Immediately after every order, each customer receives a confirmation email with a personal feel. Then one of their sales engineers calls just to see if you had any questions (no up-sell, just checking in). Customers may even get another phone call after they receive an email confirmation that their order has shipped. Idea: Personal follow up with every guest. Even in today's digital leaning society, a phone call can stand out.  

Chick-fil-A//Have a little grace. 

Chick-fil-A employees are taught to sit up and pay attention to the fact that “every life has a story, and often our customers and our employees need a little grace and a little space when you deal with them because they are either experiencing a problem, just finished having a problem, or are about to have one.” That statement couldn’t be more true at church. Idea: Any time a team member starts to complain about a situation or person in the church, remind them that everyone needs "grace and a little space”.

USAA//Leverage Technology

Having worked with a number of banks over my life, USAA stands firmly at the front of the line and I have yet to meet someone that will leave this bank (not something you hear very often about banks).  USAA leads the pack in a very competitive industry by leveraging technology to power customer experiences and foster trust. They use everything from biometric authentication on their mobile app to messaging bots powered by natural language processing and machine learning technology. USAA uses technology to make their customer’s lives easier, not more complicated. Idea: How are you leveraging technology? Most people, in this day and age, expect to be able to do anything digitally that they can do in person. Is that true at your church? Think event registration, giving, and even message notes.

KLM//Easy to reach. 

KLM, a Dutch airline, is pushing the boundaries as they explore using Facebook Messenger to interact with their customers. Using the Facebook app customers can download boarding passes, get updates about delays and even get in touch with a human support rep. Not only does this create a better experience for their customer, but it also gives them a direct line of communication with each of their customers. Idea: Explore using Facebook messenger to interact with your guests. How cool of an experience would it be for someone exploring faith and checking out your church to be able to connect with a real person? 

These 10 companies are examples of customer focus, they aren't just functioning as a business type. Neither should the church. You aren't leading just any old church. You are leading a church in a specific community to unique people and reaching those unique people is your responsibility. 

What other customer focused experiences can you learn from? Who are the companies you most enjoy interacting with and what can you do to make your church the same kind of experience? 

Why Church Stats Aren’t As Bad As You Think

How big is your church? 

The question the single-handedly created a whole new category, the “Pastor Numbers”. 

235 is supposed to round up to 300, right? 

It does in Pastor Numbers. 

If you read that and laughed, that’s awesome. While it’s a sad truth, at least we can laugh about it. If you read that and it makes you crazy, I understand…but don’t let it completely ruin the value of counting. 

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While deep down we know that pastoral ministry is about souls, not stats…but stats can still have some value in our soul seeking endeavor. 

Let’s agree on one thing, the goal of our life’s work is to introduce people to Jesus and teach them what he has taught us. That’s our ultimate objective. 

If you can agree with me on that, then measurements can help us move toward that. 

The Thermometer 

Just like a thermometer, measurements can help us diagnose what’s happening (both good and bad) in our church. It’s easy to be discouraged when less people show up this week then last, but if you are able to look back at the same month in past years you may see that previous years experienced the same trend, giving you a healthy dose of perspective.

It can also help to uncover which ministries are working and which are not any longer. Knowing how things are going helps you assess whether the investment in time, money and volunteer manpower is having the effect you planned. 

The Problem With Feelings

Sometimes your gut is right, sometimes it’s not (it may just be influenced by a one-off conversation). I remember a few season ago, we made a big change to how we advertised our small groups. Most of the long-standing group leaders complained that the new group's catalog was too confusing. Thankfully we reviewed our signup numbers and realized that while it might have felt more confusing to long-standing leaders, we actually had significantly increased the amount of people who signed up for groups. If we had gone only with our “gut” we would have ditched a completely successful marketing tool. 

Scoreboards Help With Momentum

Everyone wants to be on a winning team and it’s tough to know if you're winning if you don’t have a scoreboard. Imagine you are talking to your neighbor about your favorite sports team without talking about any sort of stat. What would you say? “My team is the best. They play hard. They practice on Wednesday nights and have games on Sunday mornings. Plus you should see their logo. It’s such a great team.” I don't know about you, but wouldn’t be that impressed. 

But if instead you said, “My team is the best. They have twice as many rushing yards as this time last year. Plus they have sold out the last 3 games.” If you invited your neighbor to join you at the next game, do you think they’d be more likely to join you? 

Numbers can be useless if all we use them for is vanity. But if you choose to harness them to your benefit they can be incredibly helpful. 

Bonus: If you’re looking for a simple (and free) way to start tracking some of your numbers check out It’s a simple customizable resource that will help you point to the numbers that matter. Just make sure you enter real numbers in there…not those pastor numbers.