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Church Strategy

Tools and Trends for Strategic Planning

Monthly Archives: April 2010

Conversations That Only Happen with Kingdom People.  At a recent small group at our church, one guy talked about how the last few years felt like he’d been in “reverse” spiritually.  “I wake up early to spend time with God, and there’s always a baby crying and I don’t feel like I know or love God as much as I used to.”

A woman talked about the pain from a sexual assault years before that she was just now coming to terms with.  “I felt unprotected and I haven’t been able to give my husband all of myself.”

A couple discussed the grief they are experiencing.  God had led them to adopt a child; they had been through years of waiting and forms and prayer and confirmation.  And now it seems like God is changing course on them.  And their vision for their family is shifting.  And it’s painful.

There were tears and prayers and laughter and verses quoted and wisdom shared and recommendations made.

As they huddled to pray at the end, someone said, “This kind of thing only happens with church people.”

"The Authenticity Hoax" explains how marketers prey on our desire for the impossible. But is authenticity impossible?

When the Culture Tries Its Hand at Authenticity. 

Andrew Potter recently wrote a book – The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves.  Paul Beston reviewed it for The Wall Street Journal (“Why It’s So Hard to Get Real,” April 13, 2010).

Potter is describing the urge that we all hear in so many conversations.  The desire for the real, the simple, the authentic, the organic, the local.  Our culture has turned on the corporate, the complex, the manufactured, the distant, the plastic.

We are weary of being marketed to.  And so marketers are marketing to that weariness.  Potter calls the authenticity hoax – “a dopey nostalgia for a nonexistent past.”   According to Beston, Potter believes that “there is no paradise back there.” 

The Spiritual Desire Beneath Our Consumer Desire.  Potter’s solution is to tell us to quit crying and realize how good we have it.  How healthy and wealthy we are.  We should be happy.  But we’re not.  What gives? 

If we have all the things that were supposed to satisfy us, why are we still longing for this authenticity?  C.S. Lewis talked about this “dopey nostalgia for a nonexistent past” with a bit more grace:

C.S. Lewis tells us that we yearn, not for something unrealistic, but something only found in God.

These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited….

So this longing for authenticity is a spiritual problem.  And spiritual problems require spiritual answers.  And your church is uniquely equipped to offer spiritual answers.

How Are You Leading Authentically?  On authenticity, I don’t have a step-by-step guide.  There’s just one step: Lead with your own authenticity.  Your people will never be more vulnerable and real than you are.  This is something that my pastor, David Hanke, does extraordinarily well.  He’s the first to say that he doesn’t have it figured out.  His admissions aren’t always comfortable, but – wow – do they create space within our community to hurt and laugh and grieve and be real.  And, in our seen-it-all, done-it-all suburb, the authenticity of our people and our relationships is the best “marketing” there is.

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Church of the Valley, Shenandoah, Virginia

A Church on a Sleepy Road.  Church of the Valley Independent Brethren Church sits on a bluff overlooking US Highway 340 and the valley beyond in Shenandoah, Virginia.  The location is beautiful, but it’s a little out of the way.  If it wanted to expand its outreach, its opportunities would be limited since the surrounding area is sparsely populated.

“What’s Unique About Our Church?”  But Church of the Valley sat back and thought about the unique things God had given it.  They realized that they had two critical assets:

First, a location on a beautiful road that – on weekends – is frequently filled with groups of bikers.

How could God use this shed?

Second, a shed out back.

Not much of a platform for ministry, right? 

Wrong.

Church of the Valley’s location made it a perfect place for a ministry to bikers.

“Bikers Welcome to Worship.”  And so, when you drive south on US 340 toward Elkton, Virginia, you’ll see the church on the bluff, with a custom-made sign on a fence out front: “Bikers Welcome to Worship.  Rain Shelter in Back.”

I placed a call to Rev. Al Comer, who has pastored Church of the Valley since 1977.  He hasn’t called back.  I like to think that it’s because he’s riding a hog through the Shenandoah Valley with some of the bikers whom he’s introduced to Jesus.

What This Means for Us.  Think carefully about the ways God has uniquely equipped your church.  What’s different?  What are the unique gifts that people in your congregation have?  What are the unique interests or assets your church possesses?  If a location on a sleepy highway and a shed out back can be tools God uses for ministry, imagine what He could do with what He’s given you!

Church of the Valley, Shenandoah, Virginia

A Church on a Sleepy Road.  Church of the Valley Independent Brethren Church sits on a bluff overlooking US Highway 340 and the valley beyond in Shenandoah, Virginia.  The location is beautiful, but it’s a little out of the way.  If it wanted to expand its outreach, its opportunities would be limited since the surrounding area is sparsely populated.

“What’s Unique About Our Church?”  But Church of the Valley sat back and thought about the unique things God had given it.  They realized that they had two critical assets:

First, a location on a beautiful road that – on weekends – is frequently filled with groups of bikers.

How could God use this shed?

Second, a shed out back.

Not much of a platform for ministry, right? 

Wrong.

Church of the Valley’s location made it a perfect place for a ministry to bikers.

“Bikers Welcome to Worship.”  And so, when you drive south on US 340 toward Elkton, Virginia, you’ll see the church on the bluff, with a custom-made sign on a fence out front: “Bikers Welcome to Worship.  Rain Shelter in Back.”

I placed a call to Rev. Al Comer, who has pastored Church of the Valley since 1977.  He hasn’t called back.  I like to think that it’s because he’s riding a hog through the Shenandoah Valley with some of the bikers whom he’s introduced to Jesus.

What This Means for Us.  Think carefully about the ways God has uniquely equipped your church.  What’s different?  What are the unique gifts that people in your congregation have?  What are the unique interests or assets your church possesses?  If a location on a sleepy highway and a shed out back can be tools God uses for ministry, imagine what He could do with what He’s given you!

How can your church reach the office? (Image from Getty Images.)

Where Your People Live.  Your people’s lives are built around work.  Showering and getting ready for work, commuting to work, being at work, relating to people at work, wondering whether they’re in the right job, trying to make it home from work, and then – increasingly – working some more once they’re home from work.

If you want to change lives, you will have to change the people work.  I hear more and more 30-somethings wondering, “Is this job my calling?”  “Is this where God wants me?”  “How do I glorify God with my work?”

Why You May Be the Wrong Guy to Talk To.  And then they come to talk to their pastor.  And their pastor – by definition – has chosen not to be in the secular marketplace.  Pastors fall into two camps:

  1. They’ve always been in ministry.  God called them early and they’ve stuck with it.
  2. They used to be in a secular vocation and then switched.

In your sermons, you try to work in application examples that sound like they relate to work – “What if you really decided to love that guy at work that annoys you?” – but the examples are pretty hollow and don’t really connect to the work your people actual do, nor the decisions that they actually have to make.

What’s a pastor to do?

  1. Affirm the secular marketplace.  At The Falls Church, in addition to praying for “missionaries,” the worship guide includes four “parishioners in ministry.”  It might say “Jim Swisher, Attorney; Shannon DeVore, Business Consultant; Matt Risberg, Teacher; Karen Matthews, Homemaker” and the congregation together prays for these names, simultaneously blessing them and affirming the occupations that 90% of the congregation is headed back to.
  2. Go to their office.  In Michael Lindsay’s book, Faith in the Halls of Power, which I strongly recommend, he notes that, of the hundreds of people he interviewed, only one had had their pastor visit them at work.  And it was decades ago.  That parishioner recounted in detail what had happened that day and whom they had talked with.  How can you seriously pretend to understand your people if you’ve never visited the place where they spend the vast majority of their waking hours? 
  3. Connect them to one another.  Just recognize that you’re not the guy to counsel them on calling.  My experience is that, even pastors who want to believe that secular vocations matter in the Kingdom, don’t really believe it.  When your pastoral salary feels a little low, and the commitments feel a little high, and the emotional toll feels extreme, pastors console themselves with thoughts that their work probably does matter more to God.  Again: You are not the person to counsel on vocation.  It’s a little like getting marital counseling from a single person: You keep thinking, “Does this guy really understand?”  Instead, find ways to connect your marketplace ministers to one another; older people with younger people; ideally people in similar vocations.  Offer to have the church buy the lunch (up to a reasonable amount) when they get together.
  4. Ask them how they might use their vocational skills at church.  We all know the story of the business person who feels like the church just wants him to stay in his job so that he can tithe.  Ask your people whether they want to use their marketplace skills in the church, and ask their suggestions on what that might look like.  They will surprise you.  At our church, we have a brilliant digital marketing guy who has breathed life into the ways we connect with our people digitally.  Others have decorated our sanctuary for various seasons.
  5. Ask good questions about work.  It’s OK that you don’t have an MBA or an MD or haven’t been to welding school.  Your people will have grace with your questions.  Just ask dumb questions until you understand their job.  Then, once you understand their job, ask them how it connects to their faith – “What does serving God well look like in your job?”  “What does last week’s sermon have to say about your job?”

I led a couple discussions with the guys at our church on this question.  If you’d like the materials that I used, drop me a note at Cameron@church-strategy.com.

Drinking More.  Gatorade has announced the most brilliant strategic move I’ve seen in months: rolling out drinks for before and after a workout.  Read about it  in the Wall Street Journal — “Gatorade: Before and After.”

Here’s how it works: We’ve always had Gatorade during games and during practices.  But what if I wanted to get people to drink more Gatorade? 

Drinking Gatorade Before and After Gatorade.  “Well,” you can hear Gatorade executives thinking, “We can’t get people to drink more Gatorade while they’re drinking Gatorade….  But what if we got them to drink more Gatorade before they drink Gatorade?”

“Yeah, and what if they also drink Gatorade after the other Gatorade?”

Seems silly, but we all know athletes who load carbs before a workout, and then who replenish with something afterwards.  Now Gatorade will sell you drinks for all three occasions.  Smart.

Get to the Point.  So what’s this have to do with church?

Glad you asked.

Gatorade has looked at the lives of its customers and then fit its product to match their lives, to deliver as much value as they can at each point in the customer’s workout experience.

Now let’s think about your people.  How can your church provide services that meet their needs, whether throughout their week, or through the various seasons of life?  How can you paint a vision for them?

Exercises to Unearth Your “Customers'” Latent Needs.  Let’s do a little exercise:

  1. Think of a specific person in your congregation.  Not your hard-core, lives-in-the-pews person.  Someone marginal.  Someone who could go either way.
  2. Write down what you think their schedule looks like during the day.  Be specific.  Type up a whole page.  “Wake up, brush teeth, pour cereal, sit with kids at breakfast, load kids into car, drive to school,” and so on.  Really try to get into their shoes.  What are they thinking and feeling along the way?
  3. OK.  You’ve got your schedule of their day.  Now, what are the needs that they are feeling?  Are they lonely?  Are they busy?  Are they pointless?  What are they feeling?  Where is God in this?  When they think of Him, what are they doing?
  4. Now draw up a list of the things that your church could do to meet those needs.  Where could you be a blessing and help expand the “footprint” that God leaves in their life?
  5. If you like it, run others at your church through this process and see what you come up.  I’m not trying to get you to launch more programs; I’m trying to get you to think about the needs of your people.

So that’s one way to think about the customer experience at the “weekly” level. 

The Customer Experience Across the Course of a Life.  The smart folks at Willow Creek have done some great work for the Kingdom with their “Reveal” survey.  What they found was pretty awesome.

The congregations identified themselves as “Exploring Christianity” or “Growing in Christ” or “Close to Christ” or “Christ-Centered.”  As we grow spiritually, our needs change.  It makes sense, but Reveal shows us what – on the whole – believers in each category need.

Here’s what they found:

What believers need at each stage of closeness to Christ. (From Reveal: Where Are You?)

So Willow Creek is now working to provide what people tend to need at each step of their journey toward Jesus.  Paul talked about this as moving on from milk toward solid food.

Gatorade’s Strategy: Is It In You?  Just as Gatorade is now delivering products for each stage of its customers’ workout, your church can be thinking more intentionally about how to meet the needs that your people have.  If you want to discuss it, drop me a note at cameron@church-strategy.com.

The wounds your church is called to heal may have been inflicted by other churches. (Image from pastormarkschilling.files.wordpress.com)

Healthy Church, Worried Pastor.  I had the honor of speaking with an amazing young pastor in Missouri today.  His church is reaching out, serving the poor, growing quickly, and has seen God provide for its needs time after time – a building, a website, marketing, salaries.

But he’s troubled.

Too Tired to Have a Vision.  “We have a gifted group of people.  Most pastors would kill to have people like we have.  But they don’t see the need or have the desire to dig into the vision,” he said.  We’ve told them repeatedly, ‘We’re a platform and we’re here to help you fulfill your role.’  But most people are too tired to have vision.”

When we unpacked this more, it seems that most of these gifted people who aren’t engaging have been recently hurt by churches.  They’ve been at suburban churches and flee to my friend’s church in the city looking for something more authentic, more Jesus.

As we spoke, we realized that what these people need isn’t more programs, or more “plugging in.”  They need a respite center; a place to heal from the wounds inflicted by other churches; a place to just be.

Christian-on-Christian Crime.  The Barna Group looked at this phenomenon recently and found that 37% of adults avoid church due to negative past experiences at church or with church people.  Rob Bell’s Easter podcast included stories of Rob having to apologize for wounds that his own church inflicted.  There seems to be a Christian-on-Christian crime wave.

The good news at my friend’s church is that his congregants aren’t fleeing church as a whole; they recognize that they need to stay connected in order to heal.

And their pastor – who pours himself out in preaching and programs – can be forgiven for wishing that these people too would catch the vision and engage in ministry.

But there’s a time to heal.  I wish I had a magic four-step formula here, but I don’t.  My intuition is that healing requires some time; it also requires something more than time.  How can a church actually wade into that pain, and engage with it, and help people process it?  How can the church reassure people that – just because they were used elsewhere – doesn’t mean that this church just wants to use them.

Ministering to Unexpected Refugees.  Here’s my run at it: Sometimes the ministry God gives you isn’t the ministry you requested.  My friend planted a church to touch the city and turn outward.  Coincidentally, they have a ministry to refugees – those who have fled physically.  But God is also calling him to spiritual refugees – these gifted, wounded souls fleeing spiritually.

When cycling is your church's outreach strategy. (Image from: airforcetimes.com)

Cycling as an Answer to Prayer. 

Mary, a woman at our church, has recently come to faith, and she’s been praying that her husband would join her in the faith adventure.  She got him to show up on Easter.  My (amazing) wife struck up a conversation with him and learned that he liked cycling.  “That’s great!” she said, “There’s a bunch of guys here at church that meet up on Saturdays at 6:30 am to cycle.”

Saturday morning, there he was.  (And, as one who couldn’t keep up, I’m here to testify that he really can cycle.)  He found that the guys at our church were decent guys – and pretty strong cyclists (myself excepted!), and was at church again last Sunday.

I don’t pretend to know where his heart is, but here’s the trend that I see as I talk with people across the country: God’s people pursuing their passions with other believers, and inviting non-believers to join.

Harder to Invite People to Church.  “Church” has more and more baggage.  Outsiders see it as political, superficial, or just generally “not me.”  In the old days, you could invite someone to church as a way to reach them.  That’s getting tougher.

But as that gets tougher, the need for deep connection and community grows.

Become What You Are.  Paul used to say, “I have become all things to all men so that… I might save some.”

Becoming “all things to all men” sounds hard.  In most of our cases, paradoxically, we just need to encourage our people to become what they already are.

Beau Garrett at ChurchMarketingSucks.com had a great post on this.

Some Ideas.

  • Are your people artists?  Have them get together to paint, or discuss art.  Your church could chip in to cover the costs of the coffee and canvasses.
  • Do they like to serve the poor?  Have them bring their non-Christian friends along.
  • Do some parents in your church have kids with special needs?  Create space for them to relate around that.
  • Chuck Gschwend of Fellowship Bible Church in Jonesboro, AR, told me recently that he’s thinking about launching a small group for lawyers, since he’s a lawyer.  Some international students at his church are launching a group for other international students.
  • Here in the suburbs of Washington, DC, we can easily envision groups focused on reading Jane Austen, or discussing wine, or playing poker, or watching the Washington Redskins.

The early Christians were known for the way that they loved one another.  How often do non-believers even get to see the people in your church love one another?

How can your church put wind in the sails God made? (Image from bigsails.com)

Putting Wind in the Sails God Made. 

Affinity groups (to use a nerdy term) create the space for community to form between believers and for relationships to form between your people and their neighbors. 

How can your church get behind these kinds of activities?  How can you put wind in the sails that God has already given your people?

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