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Church Strategy

Tools and Trends for Strategic Planning

Monthly Archives: July 2010

I reach into the mailbag to answer a question about a divisive pastor... or member? (Image from

One of the joys of having this blog is that you honor me by sending me questions about your own churches and your own situations.  Sometimes I have a reasonable answer; other times I am as stumped as you are, but have the chance to pray with you for your church.

Question 1: “What do I do when a pastor divides a church?”  My CEO, Tom Monahan, used to say, “When you aren’t getting along with someone, first, assume that they’re good, and assume that they’re smart.  And then ask yourself why they’re behaving as they are.”  In church, it’s amazing how quickly God’s people will impute motives to one another.

In this question from a reader, there’s an assumption that I hope she can verify: That the pastor is willfully creating a division in the church.  That doesn’t seem to be in any pastor’s interest, so let’s assume that he’s good and that he’s smart, and see where we land.  I have two theories:

  1. He might be making a doctrinal point that some in the congregation disagree with.  That’s not divisive; that’s his job.  You’re paying him to teach the Word; sometimes you’ll love what it says; sometimes you’ll hate it.
  2. He might be pursuing a strategy that you disagree with.  Good strategy is 10% about saying “Yes” to the right things, and 90% about saying “No” to the wrong things.  If something isn’t consistent with the direction the pastor is called to lead the congregation, then, yes, it’s going to feel like divisiveness to you.

For this reader, I have four steps:

  1. Pray up.  It’s amazing how many times we get upset about things and then, in our still, quiet times with God, He gently corrects us.  Keep this before the Lord for at least a week before speaking with your pastor.
  2. Think up.  Something the pastor is doing is touching you at an emotional level.  Before going to the pastor, figure out, “What is it about ME that is so frustrated by this?”
  3. Speak up.  Not to others, not to me, but to the pastor.  Matthew 18 couldn’t be more clear about how to handle things when you feel someone is at fault.  If he agrees with you, you’ve won.  If he doesn’t, you need to understand that you’re under authority.  God, through your elders or denomination, called him to lead your congregation.  Following his leadership when you agree is easy; it’s not really following at all.  But how do you follow when you disagree?  That’s the mark of your submission to the authority God has appointed.
  4. Shut up.  I know enough church people to know that this is the point where they start talking to one another.  Oh, it’s never gossip; it’s just “something that’s been on my heart” or “something I wanted you to pray about.”  Because those are loopholes Scripture allows, right?  Remember that Christ indwells your pastor; if you are talking trash about your pastor – even behind your spiritual veneer – you are talking trash about Christ.
  5. Move on.  If the issue is so egregious that you believe God is calling you to break fellowship and find another community with which to worship, do so carefully and quietly.  You don’t need to tell people your reasons for leaving; you don’t need to give a big farewell address.  God has simply called you to another place.

Next time, I’ll dip into the mailbag again!  And let me know how you would respond, or what the question is that you’re facing by e-mailing


Best Buy is learning how to reach women. How do their lessons apply to your church? (Image from

Women a Rare Sight at Best Buy.  You’d think it would be happy days for Best Buy.  Its longtime rival, Circuit City, is vanquished, and, for every five dollars Americans spend on electronics, they spend one of them at Best Buy!

So what’s the problem?  Only 16% of those dollars come from women.  To continue growing, Best Buy has to do what most men cannot: figure out how to talk to women.

The Opposite of Church.  Before we go farther, you’re asking, “Why are you talking about women?  My church has plenty of women.  It’s the men that are the problem!” 

The stats back you up.  On any given Sunday, more than 60 percent of the adults in the pews are women.  (And many of the men may be there at the behest of – or to meet – those women!)  More than 20% of married women regularly worship alone.  Five out of six American men call themselves Christians, but just two of those six show up to church.

So why talk about reaching women?

A Good Target Demographic.  I’ll leave the questions about WHY American men hate the American church to others.  Maybe they’re busy.  Maybe church and Christian men seem wimpy.  Maybe they can’t find it because they won’t stop to ask for directions.  Whatever.

When businesses go out to sell their products, they find a group of customers – a demographic – that seems likely to buy.  Each business has a choice: Try to sell more stuff to our current demographic, or try to sell stuff to a new demographic. 

It’s always easier to sell to the kinds of people that you already know.

For the church, for whatever reason, despite allegations of being patriarchal, we know how to reach women.  The way to grow your church is usually not to figure out “what are we bad at?” and then try to figure out how to get better.  Instead, it’s usually to figure out “what are we good at?” and then double the effort you give to it.  Women are a great target demographic for your church.

What Do Women Want?  Let’s see what Best Buy has learned about women and what it might mean for your church:

  • Connect church to daily life.  Best Buy redesigned some parts of its show rooms to resemble kitchens.  That made it easier for women to see how Best Buy’s gadgets might fit into daily life.  As you preach, consider painting word pictures that connect to women’s daily lives and daily moments.
  • Connect church to school.  Best Buy created a loyalty program that let customers donate their points to local schools.  Women’s lives disproportionately revolve around their children’s schools and activities.  Are there short devotionals that you can encourage women to listen to as they drive the “family taxi”?  Can your church connect a handful of families who have children at a local school so that they can together launch a prayer ministry or outreach to other families at the school?
  • Support the work-life balance.  Working moms face an uphill, time-oppressed life.  A lot of your outreach to women occurs during the day, when these moms are at work, which adds to their guilt and disconnection from church.  How can you reach the working mom in those few moments she can spare in her day?  Perhaps it’s providing “evening care” so that she can reconnect with her husband, or just focus on one of her other children.  Perhaps it’s a lunch-time conference call prayer group.
  • Make it beautiful.  Best Buy’s focus on women has led them to feature more beautiful products more prominently.  My wife, Carolyn, derives much more joy from beauty – flowers and art – than I do.  To reach women, pay attention to aesthetics: make it beautiful and women will be more likely to think that you care.
  • Make it sanitary.  Best Buy’s research led them to realize that moms avoided the video game kiosks (where kids try out new games) because they didn’t see it as clean.  Best Buy added sanitizer to allay concerns.  Since women often have to bear the brunt of it when the family gets sick, they tend to be much more germ-conscious than men.  Consider having little Purells around the church so that they don’t feel yucky after the “passing of the Peace” or “say hi to the person next to you” time.
  • Focus on children.  Best Buy is rolling out a program to sell used (lower-priced) video games, which they found to be important to moms who want to keep their children entertained, but also tend to be more cost-conscious than men.  Women are more likely to feel cared for when your church LOVES their children.  To speak to women, ensure that your nursery and Sunday School classes convey security and love.

Let’s be clear: We are dealing in broad generalities.  God made women and men different, but it doesn’t mean that all women are like x, or all men are like y.  The risk with focusing on one gender is that I might hurtfully propagate gender stereotypes; the risk with ignoring gender is that we become less effective in speaking to the specific needs and values that genders have.  If you agree or disagree with Best Buy’s conclusions, or want to tell other churches about a way that your church is reaching women, let me know at

What will eBooks mean for your church? (Image from

A Quiet Milestone. 

As milestones go, it wasn’t Brown v. Board of Education, or Lou Gerhig’s consecutive-hits record, but we hit a significant milestone last week: Amazon sold more e-books than hardbacks (“E-Books Elbowing Hardbacks Aside,” Wall Street Journal, July 20).

The right time to think about new technologies is always early – as they’re cresting.  That way, you don’t end up being the last church in town singing praise choruses with hand-written transparencies (You know who you are), or the one church without a website.

What Could the Shift to eBooks Mean for Your Church?

Bye-bye bookstore.  Lots of churches have on-campus bookstores.  It’s a great way to tell the congregation “THIS is material that we think is really good.”  The bookstore have great signal value.  They keep the congregation reading orthodox stuff amid the sea of drivel out there.

Watch for Christian publishers to come out with ready-made online bookstores for your parishioners.  They will give churches the chance to pick and choose the selections that show up on your church-sponsored retail outlet.

Can you point me to the library?  If your church is older, it may still have a library filled with Zig Zigler and the Pictorial Bible Dictionary.  (Again, you know who you are.)  You’ve probably seen traffic and check-outs diminishing.

Here again, watch for opportunities to have the church buy the digital to rights to a book and “check them out” virtually to parishioners.

eBook Giveaways.  It’s a great tradition for churches to give away copies of books at Mother’s Day or Christmas or Easter or when they’re starting a series.  Why not be the first to give away gift cards to a particular eBook?

Is He Texting or Worshipping?  “Turn in your Bibles to II Kings 3” may soon look a lot different.  It already seems a bit old-school to pack a physical Bible to church each week.  One cool lady at our church reads the Prayers of the People from her iPhone.  As a pastor, prepare for a shot to the ego.  I’ve already had to apologize to one preacher whom I thought suspected me of texting in church when I was following along on my eBible!  (He didn’t notice.  Score: My paranoia 1, his awareness 0.)

What else?  I’m sure you can think of some.  The hymnal rack is probably on the way out.  Hello, legroom!  There’s already talk of eBooks shortening the average length of a book, since people seem adverse to reading long works on small screens; perhaps that makes it more plausible that your whole congregation could read a quick book.

Let me know what eBooks might mean at your church.  I’m always available at

Discerning God's direction can be tough. My mentor shared five ways to tell which signs to follow. (Image from

Dinner and Disillusionment.  As I talk with friends in their late 20s and early 30s, it’s stunning how many people don’t think they’re where God wants them to be.

Last night, we had dinner with a couple that’s been married for a year.  They were at Stanford with us.  She’s now a lawyer at a top-tier firm here in DC; he is a management consultant as a top-ten firm.  She is bored out of her mind.  He travels too much.  Neither feels God in their work.  Talented, brilliant, beautiful creatures made by God, but not knowing WHY He made them or WHAT He wants them to do.

Guidance from My Mentor.  Earlier this year, I met with my mentor and one of the world’s best guys.  He’s a busy private equity guy and so I try to impose as little as possible. 

Each quarter, I send him a question in advance related to the interplay of business and our faith.  “How does a Christian fire someone?” or “What do you look for when you interview people?”  This time, the question was, “How do you know when God is calling you to the next thing?”

Five Hard-Earned Principles.  As always, my mentor had a well-thought-out answer:

“First, God rarely calls you out of something; He usually calls you TO something.”  It starts with a sense that you’re supposed to be someplace else, and then that vague sense of “someplace else” starts to become more concrete — maybe two or three places come to mind — and then finally, there’s one job or one geography or one person that’s on your mind.  Not every call is like that, but my mentor’s view was consistent with my experience.  Do something worth doing!

“Second, you know it’s time to God when you start buying into the cynicism at a place.”  Each office has some people who are on board – derisively called those who have “drunk the kool-aid” – and others who are negative, disaffected, and cynical.  You don’t need to be in the former camp, but when you are in the latter camp, it’s time to go.

“Third, discern where your family is.  There are rhythms to life.”  There are times to take a lifestyle job – the 8:30 to 5:30 with a  one-hour lunch and government-type benefits jobs – and there are times to “go long” – try a startup, do something adventurous.  Sometimes your family will need more of you; sometimes they’ll be functioning pretty well with a smaller dose of you.

“Fourth, don’t be afraid to fail at things.”  Staying put for safety’s sake is rarely God’s call in your life.  He’s a pretty big and pretty powerful God.  He’s got you in His hand.  If fear of failure in the next venture or adventure is your motivation, get over it and get going.

“Fifth, get behind others’ dreams.”  Paul talks about Timothy “taking a genuine interest in others’ concerns.”  That’s the kind of person you want to be.  What dreams and visions are others having, and how can you help enable them?  Find BIG dreams, whether others’ or some that God has laid on your heart and see if He wants to make them happen.

As God would have it, that was the day I left my job as a management consultant.  The adventures since then have been the greatest imaginable.  Is God calling you to a better story?  And are you ready to let Him write it?

Could these gardeners be the future of ministry? Your church should be providing financial fuel to ignite the passions God has given your people. (Image from

How Will We Reach Those No One Has Reached?  Last time, we discussed the idea of using your church budget to fund innovative ministry ideas.  Today, let’s take it someplace more tangible.  If I were at your church, here’s what I would propose:

Innovation Groups Proposal.

Summary.  We have done a great job providing opportunities for people to connect to the broader needs of the community, and to other believers through Small Groups (Care Groups, Connect Groups, Your-Name-Here-If-You-Donate-Enough-to-the-Church Groups).   This initiative – call it Innovation Groups – aims to create ways for our church’s members to connect the people they see every day – their friends, neighbors, and family – to our church and, ultimately, God.  How can we do this?  By supporting – with a framework and funding – the passions that our people already have.

The Need.  In our community, the success rate on inviting people to church – even good friends – is fairly low.  Life is busy.  Church is threatening.  But we have a community that God calls us to reach.  Simultaneously, most people in our community are desperately lonely, wanting community, but unsure how to get it.  They don’t articulate it as a need for God, or a need for community.  It’s below the surface and not quite conscious.

In our church-skeptical community, building connections to God’s people through these kinds of affinity groups creates a much more inviting door into the our church community than an invitation to church.  That’s why I’m proposing Innovation Groups.

The Idea.  This initiative aims to come alongside the passions of our church’s members, turning their existing interests into platforms for connecting.  We would provide seed funding and a framework.

Framework.  The Innovation Groups will be intentional, focused on touching the unchurched in our lives.  Our church would surround leaders of the Innovation Groups with accountability, marketing support, structure, and prayer support.

I envision an application process, monthly meetings of Innovation Group leaders to pray and share ideas, accountability on metrics (number of people attending, percentage non-believers, non-believers invited, etc.), and accountability on praying individually, or with the cosponsors, for the group.

Parameters for groups could include:

  • Should be co-sponsored by two other church members.
  • Should meet at least monthly.
  • Should be open to all and advertised in the bulletin/worship and on the website/ Facebook site.
  • Should be content neutral.  Not about studying a Christian book.
  • Should be demonstrated to connect with passions of secular people in our community.
  • Should occur within 15 minute drive of our church.

Funding.  Church members who want to start an Innovation Group would apply for funding at a set level of, say, $100 per month.

A Pilot Program.  To test the concept, I would like to propose that we accept applications and select no more than four groups to receive initial rounds of funding.  If each group requests $100 per month, this would cost us $2400 across the next six months, at which time we would reevaluate. 

Partnering with Your Passions.  What kinds of groups do we expect?  Perhaps someone will use the $100 to fund the coffee break on a weekly cycling outing.  Someone else might choose to use the $100 to offset the cost of a monthly wine group.  Another might have a book group that subsidizes the cost of the books.  Someone could start a farm share.  Someone could subsidize a foodie group visiting different restaurants or doing cooking projects each month.  Someone else could have a gardening group and fund some supplies.  Someone could buy chips and beer to watch [fill in popular football team in your area] games.  Someone could rent some space for artists to get together and paint.

As we get going, we have no idea what will work and what won’t.  And that’s the point of Innovation Groups.

Have fun and let me know what you think at  I love you guys.

How is your church funding great ideas to reach those no one else has reached? (Image from

The Importance of Innovation.  Why is America known around the world as a leader in innovation?  Why is this the place that great minds from around the world head to ply their trades and develop new inventions?

Consider: Last year, nine of the 13 Nobel prizes went to Americans.  When the world’s investors decide (through foreign direct investment) where to send their dollars, they have sent $2.1 trillion to the US.  Despite the rise of China, more foreign direct investment came to the US than China last year.

Why is this the case?  And – more importantly – what’s it have to do with your church?

To Have Innovation, You Need to FUND It.  A friend of mine in business school explained his country (which shall remain nameless) to me this way: “We study hard in school and learn how to execute.  Americans learn how to create.” 

Economists differ on a lot of things, but there is widespread consensus that the venture capital system in the US – the ability for investors to fund small ideas and help them grow – is at the heart of the American miracle.

Bringing this down to the level of your church, how are YOU funding innovation? 

Tim Keller, probably thinking about innovation, or getting upset that I'm misquoting him. (Image from

Innovate to Reach the Unreached.  My awesome pastor, David Hanke, is fond of quoting Tim Keller.  And I am fond of quoting David Hanke quoting Tim Keller, so here goes my paraphrase:

 “To reach people no one has reached, you need to try things no one has tried.”  It’s innovation!

To a person, we all want to reach people that no one else has reached.  We love Jesus and want to show other people what an amazing relationship they can have with him.

How to Innovate?  Create a Market.  In the March issue of Harvard Business Review, Nathan Myhrvold suggested that “the world needs a capital market for invention like the venture capital market for start-ups and the private equity market for revitalizing inefficient companies.”  To keep innovation and invention happening, we need a dynamic market in which good ideas are attached to funds.

Brooke Astor liked to say, “Money is like manure.  It’s should be spread around.”

Spreading Your Church’s Money Around.  I’m going to guess that 90% or more of your church’s money isn’t spread around to new and interesting ideas.  Like most churches, your big line items are staff and a building and – if you’re healthy – missions or outreach or whatever you call it.  That can be fine, but it depends how you USE them.  But how are you USING your staff – what new and innovative things are they trying to reach those no one else has reached?   How is your staff thinking differently about church and about changing lives?  How are you USING that building you have?  How is your missions budget providing seed funding to great ideas that just need a little fuel, in the form of finances?

Next time, I’ll lay out one way that your church could become an innovation laboratory.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your most interesting or innovative ministry.  What are you trying that no one else has tried?  E-mail me at  I love you guys.

When Millennials meet your church's workplace. Five tips for those managing the next generation of ministers. (Image from

Over the last week, I’ve been discussing succession management, which has raised a good question.  The logic was: “I have some ideas about who my successor might be, but he’s a lot younger and I’m not always sure I’m connecting with him.”  In other words, a Baby Boomer understands the Baby Boomer mind, but isn’t sure what a Millennial pastor needs or wants.

Big Ups.  First, let me commend you for (a) wanting to pour your life into your successor, and (b) recognizing that managers need to speak their employees’ language.  Great managers don’t have a “management style”; they read their people and manage each employee differently based on their “employee style.”  It’s a critical distinction.

In May, Harvard Business Review ran a concise piece (Mentoring Millennials, HBR, May 2010) from Future Workplace consultants Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd.  Meister and Willyerd polls 2000 professionals across industries, asking what they value.  The most interesting findings came from the Millennials.  (Millennials are generally considered those born between 1980 and 2000, so they likely include the youngest people on your ministry staff today.)

The Book on Millennials.  Millennials are generally known for needing constant feedback and being unwilling to “pay their dues” – wanting success now.  I’ll let psychologists sort out why this is the case, but most theories center on “helicopter parents” and technology providing constant support and immediate gratification.  Send that into the workforce and you have an utterly different kind of employee than those to whom Baby Boomers are accustomed.

What Millennials Want from You.  Meister and Willyerd do us all a tremendous favor by ascertaining “What millennials want.”  From their bosses, Millennials want these five things:

A boss who will help me navigate my career path.  When was the last time you had a “career path” conversation with the people on your team?  In church, career paths tend to not be about “changing titles” or “growing compensation.”  Instead, pastors tend to measure career progress in terms of opportunities.  Opportunities that you can give your staff include: preaching, counseling, launching new ministries, taking over the reins of mature ministries.

A boss who will give me straight feedback.  Many Millennials have gotten too much affirmation – they got trophies for “participating” and they had friends and family on hand to celebrate their graduation… from junior high… as though it were an accomplishment.  To quote “A Few Good Men,” Millennials are saying, “I want the truth.”  And they CAN handle the truth.  As Christians, we often think that being encouraging means censoring any constructive criticism.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We all need more feedback – more positive AND more negative.  We all have blindspots and those who speak truth are giving a wonderful gift.  The writers of Proverbs warn us that fools can’t always handle rebuke, but let’s assume that the people on your staff are not fools!

 A boss who will mentor and coach me.  We will discuss mentoring methods soon, but for now let’s just say this: The people on your team are often taking very little money in order to serve Jesus.  They want to know what you think.  They want to hear how you process situations.  My management style errs on the side of absolute transparency for two reasons.   First, I want my people to learn how I’m thinking about challenges we encounter; nothing sets patterns in your team’s thinking like seeing you give a play-by-play on the way you’re navigating a “live ammo” situation.  Second, honestly, I need partners in the race.  As a leader, decisions are often lonely.  Verbalizing the situation for your direct reports brings camaraderie and lightens the burden.

A boss who will sponsor me for formal development programs.  In the church context, this is a bit of “putting your money where your mouth is.”  Your church probably doesn’t have “formal development programs.”  What this means instead is that you invest a bit in letting your people attend conferences and learn new skills.  One of my direct reports just traveled to Atlanta.  I honestly could not tell you what she did there or what she learned.  (My bad.  Things are busy.)  But letting her spend $600 on airfare and a Holiday Inn was worth more than a $5000 raise.  It let her know that I value her, and I want her to continue to raise her game.

A boss who is comfortable with flexible schedules.  Face time is the opposite of the Millennial mindset.  Tracking hours worked – and when they’re worked – is a fool’s errand with Millennials.  If they want to disengage and spend their time at work on Facebook, they will.  And you won’t know it.  Measuring input metrics (hours worked, calls made, newsletters written) doesn’t connect with Millennials.  Tracking input metrics is left over from a bygone era when people worked at pretty much the same pace and did pretty much the same tasks.  In that factory context, clocking in and clocking out made sense. 

Some bosses have made an unforgiveable mistake: abandoning metrics altogether.  (OK, maybe not unforgiveable since we’re Christians, but a big mistake nonetheless.)  Don’t do it.  Instead, you must figure out how to measure OUTCOMES with Millennials: either the youth group grows or it doesn’t; either congregational surveys say the music is good, or they don’t; either the new campus launches on time or it doesn’t ; either the congregation says they love Jesus more this year or they don’t.

We need to have a whole series on performance management and metrics, but that’s a bit to get you started.

Wrap up: Learn to manage your millennials.  So those are the five things Millennials value in a boss.  There’s nothing unattainable there.  Give a lot of feedback, measure outcomes, show that you care about their career, and spend some time mentoring them.  I love hearing from you and it helps me improve this blog when you write me, so to discuss this in more detail, drop me a note at