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Beyond the Crisis.  Last time, I asserted that many churches are set up to serve as ER doctors – available when a family is in crisis – rather than as personal trainers – a group encouraging health through accountability.

The five rules of account management will help your church manage the people whom God has entrusted to your leadership. (Image from

What Is the Key to Account Management? 

A leading book on account management – by Robert Miller, Stephen Heiman and Tad Tuleja – boils account management down to this: “the key differentiating factor is the ability to build relationships that bring your customers measurable value over time.”  In church our motives are different: We don’t want profit; we want to help as many people as possible grow in their love of Jesus.  But most churches have demonstrated that they are really bad at “bringing their customers measurable value;” many of our people are stagnant and many of our churches are stuck.  What does account management have to teach us?

The Five Rules of Account Management.  For generations, businesses have been developing the science of “account management.”  It comes down to five basic principles:

  1. Define Your “Territory.”  Account managers need to know who’s in their “territory.”  Whom do I need to focus on?  Who belongs to someone else?  Think about how you can set up “territory” in your church.  Your small group leaders could be the mechanism you use; elders could be another; or there could be a corps of pastoral care volunteers.
  2. Keep Territory Stable.  If customers believe that they’ll have the same account manager for a long time, they are more likely to share good, helpful information.  And the account managers want to go deeper with the customers.  Periodic reshuffling is the enemy of effective account management.
  3. Know Your Customer.  The account managers need to do the wonderful, difficult work of getting to know the people in their territory.  The key is to determine what each person in your territory values.  Your account managers should learn answers to questions like these: Why are they at your church?  What’s their background?  How did they come to faith?  What are they involved with at your church?  Do they have close friends at church?  Whom are they trying to share their faith with?  How consistent are their devotions?  How are their families doing?  What’s their family situation like?  What ministries should they be connected with?
  4.  Reach Out Proactively.  Good account managers set up check-in calls at appropriately intervals – once a quarter is a good rule of thumb.  It gives account managers the chance to hear what’s going on with the “customer” and to tell the “customer” news about new services and products coming up.  In church, it might be an in-person meal or coffee every six months and “check-in” calls in between.
  5. Keep Great Records… So That You Can Know Your Customer.  As you reach out, don’t rely on your memory.  Have a spreadsheet or software system or a stack of notecards that help you remember what people told you.  Unfairly, everyone expects their church to have perfect recall of any prayer request or piece of information that they’ve shared.

There’s no magic.  It is that easy.  Next time, we’ll talk about how you can launch a light, agile account management system at your church.


Knowing Your “Customers.”  Find a business person in your congregation this week.  Ask who their major clients are.  They will immediately be able to list a few names of companies.  Then ask how they take care of those clients.  Again, they will be able to tell you several things that they do to care for these “key accounts” or “strategic accounts” or “major customers.”

Don't turn your pastors into ER doctors. Develop your approach to "account management" to ensure that your church focuses not solely on those in crisis. (Image from

It probably involves proactive face-to-face meetings; it probably involves a special level of service when the customer calls.  But – if the business has been around long – usually the best 20% of customers receive 80% of the attention.

Why Does Church Get This Wrong?  Now find a pastor.  Ask who keeps their church healthy.  They will have to think a bit, but they’ll come up with a few names.  Then ask how they take special care of those people.  The pastor will be stumped.  (Let’s be clear.  In church, I’m not talking about special attention the people who give the most money.)

Most churches are set up to triage.  People with failing marriages, deaths in the family, psychological issues, crises of faith, etc., receive the church’s first and best efforts.  Those who seem “OK” can go months or years without proactive personal outreach from anyone at church.

A business that only spoke to customers when products break would quickly go out of business.  A college that only spoke to the donors who call would not raise much money.  And a church that focuses all of its attention on its most difficult congregants will soon find itself with only difficult congregants.

Am I saying to abandon your people in need?  Of course not.  The Emergency Room is a critical service.  But by adding a “personal trainer” role, you can bring more spiritual health to more people.

Beyond ER Doctors: Next time, I will discuss how you can enlist your lay leaders to create – as in business – good “account management” to proactively keep your healthy people connected to the church and growing.  You can unleash an army of “personal trainers” rather than only connecting with congregants when they have become so sick that they show up in the spiritual emergency room.

The Half of the Brain We Miss.  “More than 50 percent of the human brain is dedicated to vision,” says Prof. Cornelia Fermueller of the University of Maryland. 

This is your congregation's brain. By using visuals, you will engage much more of it. (Image from

“So why does every pastor spend 95% of the sermon just talking?” asks blogger Cameron Doolittle.

If You Could See What They Were Thinking.  I’ve often heard pastors say that they wish they knew what their congregations were thinking as the sermon is delivered on Sunday morning. 

Unless you are using visuals, I can tell you what at least half of their brain is thinking: nothing.

In order to memorize their long speeches, Greek orators would envision themselves moving from room to room in a house and would represent each of their major points as items in the rooms in that house.  In other words, visuals are so memorable that they decided to turn ideas into visuals just to help themselves remember their ideas!

Lots of Options. 

  I have seen several pastors use visuals with amazing results.  A pastor in Malibu, California, included sacred art from various cultures in each sermon.  If we were in the Gospels, we were going to see how painters from two or three continents across time had interpreted the Gospel scene.  Powerful!

Sacred art -- like this painting of Salome and John the Baptist -- can help your congregation envision your sermon, adding power to your preaching. (Image from

Sacred Art.

Maps and Location Pictures.  Lon Solomon at McLean Bible Church (full disclosure: he’s a member of my Board and a co-founder of Jill’s House) uses maps and photos he’s taken in Israel to bring stories to life.  It is a beautiful thing to have him bring geographic context to stories you’ve heard since you were young.

Frameworks.  Venn diagrams, 2×2 matrices, and pyramids (like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) can all serve to support your sermon and drive home the main point.

Painting Pictures with Words.  Barry Arnold of Gresham, Oregon, used to serve as a missionary in Alaska.  His finely crafted stories of hunting and camping in the Yukon left indelible images on my mind.

Four Tips for Visuals:

  1. Start early.  Words are easy for pastors.  You think in words and coming up with just the right words is something at which you are gifted.  Finding a good visual is trickier.
  2. Use Just One or Two.  Don’t use visuals just because you can fit them in. 
  3. Focus Your Visuals on the Main Crux of Your Sermon.  They are so powerful that they can actually undermine the rest of your sermon.  On multiple occasions, I have chatted with people after church about sermons; where there’s been a powerful visual or story, they ONLY remember that and sometimes struggle to remember how it tied to the main point of the sermon!
  4. Don’t Use the Same Type Each Week.  The same types of visuals can quickly become cliché.  I’ve seen some speakers rely so heavily on movie clips that the listeners begin to deride them.  Watch out.

The Test.  If you doubt the power of visuals, let me challenge you to a test.  Include a visual or two in your next sermon – something that really captures the heart of it.  Then ask your elders or Bible study leaders to ask people in the congregation what stood out to them about your sermon.  See if they remember the nuanced point that you verbalized.  They’ll remember your stories and your visuals.

An Offer.  If you have a sermon upcoming, drop me a note at and let’s discuss how to make it more visual.  I know it’s a new muscle for many pastors.  I’m happy to serve as your “personal trainer” in building that muscle.

What’s the connection?  The Holiday Inn redecorates.  Miranda Lambert sings a country song.  Northwestern plays football at Wrigley Field.

As you form the soul of your church, remember that space and place should match your church's personality. (Image from

Give up?  The common thread is the importance of space.  The space in which your church meets doesn’t need to be costly, but it does impact the way that your people worship and grow.

Carolyn and I spent the last couple of years building a home for our family.  Drawings and decisions and “date nights” at Lowe’s.  And it paid off.  By God’s grace, we created the perfect space for our family.

The Holiday Inn Redecorates.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the Holiday Inn has realized that its hotels – essentially have no soul.  (Holiday Inn to Make Bar a Social Hub, October 28.)  And so they are giving the lowly hotel bar a facelift, trying to create better space – space in which people actually want to stay and connect.  That involves changing the space – adding game rooms and business centers.


Miranda Lambert Sings.  Country star Miranda Lambert performs a beautiful song – “The House That Built Me” – written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.  In the song, Lambert revisits her childhood home and reflects on the ways that the space shaped her.  Housecraft as soulcraft:

“Up those stairs in that little back bedroom / Is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar / I bet you didn’t know under that live oak / My favorite dog is buried in the yard / I thought if I could touch this place or feel it / This brokenness inside me might start healing.”

Northwestern Plays Football at Wrigley.  In “Look Out, Wall!  Misplaced Games Rock” (Wall Street Journal, November 22, 2010), Jason Gay discussed the recent trend toward playing games in offbeat venues.  Hockey in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field and Fenway Park, football at Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium.  The same game, in a different place, has a completely different appeal.

What It Means for Church.  I spent most of my youth worshipping in gyms.  I loved it.  I felt at home on a basketball court, so worshipping on one felt natural.  It drew a casual crowd that emphasized the Gospel and pragmatism over aesthetics.  Make no mistake: those churches in different spaces would have drawn a different congregation, which would have needed different teaching, and would have created a different kind of community.


How Can You Shape Your Space?  First – let’s get this out of the way – when you DO have a construction project or renovation to do, don’t screw it up.  But let’s assume that you’re – right now – not building or renovating.  How else can you shape your space?

You can do it with interiors.  (Check out the beautiful church interiors at watra.)

You can do it with lights, video and audio system.  (Check out the pros at Mankin Media.)

You can do it with pews or windows.  (Check out my favorite stained glass guy, Frank Llorens.)

You can do it with flowers or banners or altars or kneeling rails.

The point may be beauty, or sacred silence, or joyful celebration, or simplicity, or contemplative darkness, or brightness, or reflection on nature, or use of technology.  But it should reflect your church and your personality.

Space and place matter and shape souls.  Think carefully about yours.

Black Friday has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Someone realized that lots of people do their Christmas shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving and decided to create sales and discounts targeted at that date.  Believe it or not, the strategies retailers deploy on Black Friday have big implications for your church.

Retailers work to catch shoppers' attention on Black Friday. What are you doing to catch potential attendees attention as they decide where to spend Christmas? (Image from

Black Friday sales have grown dramatically over the past few years.  Online Black Friday sales grew at 16% in 2010.  Each year, some department store opens earlier than the rest to attract attention.  We’ve all got the friend that was at some Wal-Mart at 4 AM to get great deals.  This year, Kohl’s opened at 3 AM.

What’s going on here?  And what can it possibly mean for your church?

When People Are “Buying,” You Need to Be “Selling.” Throughout the year, our churches work to attract new attendees.  We try to get the music just right, design our sermons both for the believer – whom we know will be there – and the non-believer – whom we hope will be there.

What retailers have realized is that lots of shoppers are paying attention on Black Friday.  Since the shoppers will be paying attention, they decide that it’s the right time to do crazy things to get their attention.  Huge deals, early hours, “one per customer” limits.

Non-believers Are Looking for Your Church Right Now. During Christmastime, your “shoppers” are paying attention.  If someone is going to try out your church, they’re going to do it during Christmas.  In the Recession, anecdotal evidence is that non-believers are particularly likely to visit church.

This Advent is likely the best opportunity you have to attract new attendees.  There are people in your area who will visit church for the first time – or the first time in a long time – this Christmas.  It’s just a question of “Why should they attend your church?”  You don’t need to open at 3 AM and you don’t need to sell indulgences at outrageous discounts.  But you do need to find ways to get their attention.

Ideas. You are going to have ideas about the best ways to draw new people to your church.  Let me give you a few that I’ve seen work:

  1. The Kids Christmas Pageant. The National Cathedral here in DC has a Christmas pageant for children.  Those who want to participate show up 30 minutes early dressed as shepherds or angels and get to join in the fun.  This touches a couple key points of emotional connection: (a) many parents who don’t want “religion” for themselves are eager to somehow connect their children to something church-y; (b) Christmas pageants trigger warm memories for many who were raised in the church, but have been away.
  2. Live Nativity Scene. It takes some money – or connections to someone with a farm! – but some churches get traction with a live Nativity scene.  (Even the Mormon Temple here in DC has a Nativity scene!)  It creates buzz and is highly visible as people drive by.  Often they’ll visit for the Nativity scene and decide to come back for services.
  3. Caroling. As a kid, our church would Christmas carol on the weekend before Christmas – with the obligatory church cookie exchange afterward!  The carolers handed each family to whom we sang a candle and an invitation to church.  Carolers strike a nostalgic note.  Some close friends of mine came to Christ shortly after we caroled their home.  It spreads the word about your church, and gives your neighbor a beautiful picture of a caring community of believers.
  4. Facebook Advertising. So everyone runs an ad in your local paper, right?  Every church is there.  If you haven’t tried the “microtargeting” possible with Facebook ads, you are missing out.  For a ridiculously low budget, Facebook ads allow you to put your logo and image in front of exactly the demographic that you want to reach.  If you want me to walk you through it, contact me at

Again, just a few ideas to get you going.  Your neighbors are more interested this year than most years; and they’re most interested in checking you out this time of year.  What will you do to make sure that, when they decide to go to church, they decide to come to yours?  Happy Advent!

Homes Improving, Friends Diminishing.  Americans will spend $121.5 billion on improving their homes in 2010.  They’re picking drapes, adding rooms, redoing kitchens.  And yet loneliness is rising.  In 1985, only seven percent of people didn’t have a close confidante.  That number was 24% by 2004.

Emphasizing hospitality will build community and keep your congregation from being home alone. (Image from:

We spend more than ever building our homes and less time than ever inviting people into them.

We have more house and less hospitality.  Your neighbor just added a guest bedroom, but he has fewer guests.

And, unless you’ve been actively teaching your people about the biblical view of hospitality, pastor, it’s your fault.

The Way to a Vibrant Church.  As a young pastor, you quickly learned that you couldn’t be everything to everyone.  Ministry had to happen in a community, in a network, not just from the top down.

Imagine a church full of people who know one another and love one another.  They the names of one another’s kids.  They feel comfortable dropping by on one another.

It’s completely possible and most of the people in your pews want deeper connections that come in community.  But here’s the secret: Community doesn’t happen at church.  And it doesn’t happen in mid-week studies at church.  And often it doesn’t even happen in small group Bible studies.

It happens person to person, family to family, meal by meal, in homes.  In homes?

The Bible and Hospitality.  It’s all over the New Testament.  If God was going to form a new community of people with new beliefs, it was going to happen in homes.  Consider a quick sampling:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. (Hebrews 13:2)

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:9)

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.  (Romans 12:13)

Therefore an overseer must be…hospitable…. (1 Timothy 3:2)

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be…hospitable…. (Titus 1:7-8)

It’s so good and so biblical… So why don’t we talk about it?

The Sermon You Rarely Give.  You find yourself preaching often about the “glamour issues” – sexuality, money, power, service.  You’re often answering the questions about how we use our bodies, finances, influence, and time.  But what about how we use the homes that God has given us?

God talks about it a lot.  Why don’t you?

Next time, I’ll discuss ways to create community by encouraging hospitality in your congregation.

Extroverted Pastors.  Harvard Business Review reports that 60% of top-level executives show high level of extroversion.  Compare this to just 50% of the general population.  Barna found that the situation is more extreme at church: 75% of pastors are extroverts.  My hunch is that the numbers in the pews are not too different.  Why?

SNL occasionally includes "Shy Ronnie." How is your church including the fifty percent of the population who are introverts? (Image from:

Who But an Extrovert Would Show Up for Church?  Our churches all focus on reaching the unchurched – often by encouraging them to show up at church.  Think about what that asks of an introvert.  Psychology Today notes that they prefer to be reading, or writing, or thinking

But – at church – we asking them to show up, shake hands, and – if they want fellowship – they need to stay after church to make small talk and try to get to know people.  Or – even worse – we encourage them to sign up for a small group that requires that they show up at a stranger’s house and spend two hours talking and praying with strangers.

That’s hard enough for an extrovert.  For an introvert?  Forget it.

The Opportunity.  Your church has probably been missing the introverts in your area.  Look around in your Fellowship Hall: extroverts.  Your elder board?  Extroverts.   Your staff?  Extroverts.  Paying money to go on your church retreat?  Extroverts.

Where are the introverts?  If they’re there, they are the ones sliding out quickly after church.  They are more well read than the rest of us.  They are thinking deeply, listening carefully, and living more contemplatively.

Resources for Reaching Introverts.  Since introverts are more given to reading, it is a savvy man indeed who writes a book targeting them.  Adam McHugh is that savvy man.  Introverts in the Church is his book.  McHugh says that “introverts often end up feeling spiritually inadequate and marginalized.”  He suggests that churches should encourage introverts to be themselves, rather than trying to become extroverts.

Getting Practical.  A few ideas to help encourage the introverts in your church and reach those outside:

  1. Partner with an Introvert.  If you are more extroverted, consider partnering with an introvert, to bounce your concepts and sermons off of him or her.  The applications in your sermons may be geared toward extroverts.  Send your sermon notes or transcripts to an introvert (don’t schedule a meeting) to get their perspective.
  2. Share the Books You Read to Prepare Your Sermon.  Not everyone is going to “process” best in a small group setting.  Consider posting some suggested “Further Reading” on your website.  Introverts will process best on their own, with the help of some materials.
  3. Send Out Prayer Requests.  Prayer is a deeply personal and individual activity – particularly for introverts.  Don’t expect them at prayer meetings, but they are likely the real prayer warriors in your church.  Just send them lists and let them take them to God.
  4. Create Online Discussion Forums.  Early social media research suggests that extroverts are more into Facebook and Twitter, but that longer-form Amazon reviews and discussion boards are the province of introverts.  Create space for introverts to write and participate in your community without being face to face.

This is an area that deserves more attention.  Keep your eye on it, watch for introverts, and pray that God will show you how to make your church a safer place for the quieter half of the population.