Do This BEFORE You Ask Your Church to Invite

Do This BEFORE You Ask Your Church to Invite

For most, the Sunday morning service is the front door to the church.

It’s the first-time people will experience your church community.  It’s when people hear and sing the songs, listen to the sermon, and see others. I’m not saying this is all there is (or that it’s even the most important thing), but it is usually the most visible thing a church does.

That means your regular church service provides your biggest opportunity for church growth.

Not special events, not one-off programs, and not ministries that involve a few people. Those are great, but your church service is likely your best opportunity to reach people.

If your regular church service is a driver for growth, then inviting people to your church service is one of the biggest opportunities for growth.

Most churches know their church service is the front door to the church and that personal invitations are the best way to grow, but many churches aren’t really ready for new people. 

There’s a hope that people would experience God and community and be welcomed into the family.  But deep down, there’s also fear and anxiety about the kind of experience a new person would have.

It’s time to take an intentional look and what happens around Sunday and before Sunday, to make sure you’re really ready to challenge your church to invite and see guests show up on Sunday for the first time.

Before you spend money on advertising or encouraging your congregation to invite, you need to make sure your service is ready for guests.

If you’re going to challenge your church to invite (and here are some great ways to do that), there are some things you should do first.

Three Things to Do Before You Ask Your Church to Invite

#1 – PRAY

Church growth is a combination of the blessings of God and the stewardship of man. 

God-given results somehow teamed with human endeavors.  A combination of divine intervention and human leadership.

Since the Church belongs to God, growth is ultimately His responsibility.  But He chooses to use us in the process, and therefore, we have a stewardship opportunity.

Even though we should bring systems, strategies, processes, improvements, and tactics to bear, we must never forget the church is a spiritual enterprise.  It’s much more than a business or an organization.

It’s a spiritual organism with eternal implications.

That’s why any church growth strategy must begin with prayer. And any outreach opportunity should be covered with prayer. 

Pray for the church.

Pray for the service and the opportunity you have to share the gospel and encourage Christians.  Pray for the leaders, musicians, and teachers.  Pray over every environment.  Pray for the children in the classrooms.

Pray for the people you’re trying to reach.

In addition to praying for church activities and church services, don’t forget to pray for the people in your community.

In fact, leading your church to intentionally pray (and subsequently invest) in one other person is a great first step.  People often need a burden for a particular person before they see the opportunity to extend an invitation.

Pastor Joby Martin from The Church of Eleven22 in Jacksonville, Florida constantly talks about the idea of “one more,” reminding the congregation that evangelism is personal.

This rally cry is really meant to spark care and concern within the church for one person outside of the church.  They periodically organize and publicize “one more” weekends when a clear Gospel invitation is given. 

The initiative, made sticky with consistent terminology and strategy, is a way to create an inviting culture. 

It’s “preparing the soil” type of work. Pastor Jeff Bogue from Grace Church in Akron, Ohio adopts a similar prayer strategy with a big initiative to challenge the church to “pray for our three.” 

He teaches people to pray for three friends, neighbors and co-workers and that God would give them a “no-brainer” moment to extend an invitation or share their faith.

Both of these churches are leading their church to pray for an investment in members of the community.  That’s work that can be done apart from challenges to invite. 

When your church members are praying for their church and praying for people in the community, invitations (and an increase in first-time visits) is a likely outcome.

Prayer is always a good starting point and worthy activity. This is how you can ensure that God really is the one building His church and not us in our own efforts.

#2 – PRACTICE

If you were to watch a professional football team practice, you wouldn’t see a lot of time devoted to hail mary’s and trick plays.  Instead, professional teams work on the basic offense.  They work on the timing of normal plays.  They talk through game situations.

It’s a lot more boring than you might imagine.

That’s because a professional football team knows that the game isn’t usually won or lost with a trick play.  It’s consistent execution of the ordinary.

Your church service is like the 4-yard carry on first down, a successful play to a Super Bowl-winning team.

That’s why it’s so important to practice every element that goes into a church service. 

People can tell when singers, musicians, teachers, and preachers are prepared.  It communicates value. 

Make time in your weekly rhythm to practice everything that will happen on Sunday, from the announcements to the transitions to the Sunday School lessons.

It doesn’t cost any money to run through the songs, preach the message to a mirror, and let people practice key elements. In fact, this will be one of the most beneficial things you can do that will stand out to all of your churchgoers.

Making sure your church service is the best it can be is something you want to do BEFORE you have a bunch of first-time guests show up, who will absolutely make a decision to return

#3 – EVALUATE

Just like practice on the front end is free, evaluation on the back end is also a no-cost way to get better.

Pay attention to these six areas:

Let’s dive deeper into a few of those areas.

Evaluate the Service

What is meaningful to members might not be understandable to guests, so it’s helpful to look at each service through the lens of a first-time guest.

Most church members will excuse or overlook a lack of quality in the church service because they know the heart of people involved, but new people see this as a lack of importance or a lack of excellence.

When the service is over, talk about what worked and what didn’t work. Talk through what connected and what missed.

Make this normal, but a few times a year, make an evaluation a really big deal. Be honest and bring others alongside you who may be able to see things that you aren’t. Be willing to make changes if you need to.

Evaluate Your Language

Most church services are designed to encourage Christians.

They contain language and traditions that make perfect sense to insiders but often leave new people wondering if they belong. Just bring a non-Christian with you to a service. They are bound to leave the service in some confusion and with lots of questions (or they may vow to never speak of it again and just not come back).

You can do just about anything you want in a service – baptism, communion, and worship are all great things.  You just have to explain everything to new people. 

Just about any religious tradition can have a place in your service, just don’t rush into it without explaining the meaning and purpose to new people.  

We have several evaluation forms you can use to evaluate your church service, overall Sunday experience, special event, regular ministry, and staff. You'll find these resources, along with hundreds of others, in the Church Fuel resource library. Members get all of our resources and you can sign up here.

Evaluate Your Culture

I’ve never heard of a church whose members claimed they were unfriendly. In fact, most church members are stumped as to why people don’t like their church because they claim to be so ‘friendly.’

However, being a ‘friendly’ church can often mean you’re friendly to each other, but not to your guests.

A family reunion is tons of fun unless you’re attending someone else’s event.  That’s how a lot of guests feel when they visit a church for the first time.

That’s why you must continually look at everything you do through the lens of a first-time guest.  You need to hear their feedback and make adjustments.  You must look honestly at everything you’re doing to make sure you’re really ready for new people.

You want new people to visit your church.

But you don’t want them to misunderstand, have a bad experience, or refuse to return. 

Prayer, intentional planning, and evaluation can help you prepare for guests before they visit and ensure they have a great experience.

Take a Next Step

Once you’ve prepared your church for guests, it’s time to prepare your people to invite.  Simply asking them to invite their friends, isn’t enough.  You must equip them with relevant tools.

Get practical ideas and real church examples in this free resource.

Five Simple Ways to Actually Reach People Online

Five Simple Ways to Actually Reach People Online

Churches have always looked to accomplish two primary tasks. It’s the challenge given to us by Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples. Right there in that one sentence are the two basic jobs to be done by every local church.

  1. More growth. We are called to help the people in our congregation grow deeper in their faith, following Jesus with their whole lives.  This is the call to discipleship.
  2. More people. We are called to go into the world and make new disciples. This is the call to evangelism.

In 2020, we were forced to examine new ways to do both of these tasks.  We’re wrestling with important questions, including…

  • Can you truly disciple people digitally from a distance?
  • What does engagement really mean?
  • How can we reach new people online?

A lot may have changed in your church, but your mission is still the same.  We’re just looking at the opportunities ahead of us and trying to make sense of it. Besides, the challenges before us are really just opportunities for those willing to embrace some new ways of doing ministry. I want to share five practical things you can do today to begin to engage and ultimately reach new people online.  These ideas are not expensive (in fact, they are all free).  This list is the beginning of a simple strategy you can use to truly reach people online.

#1 – Really get to know your online audiences.

Just like shepherds should know the condition of their flocks, pastors should really be in tune with what is going on in the lives of the congregation Just like missionaries must first understand the context where they are called to serve, pastors should seek to truly understand the ups, downs, struggles, pain, and issues facing those who live in their community. If you want to reach people online in your geographic area, how well do you really know them?  How well do you understand them?  And how accurate is your information?

Here’s a free, customizable report based on your zip code that will give you a ton of information. 

You can dive into demographics, family status, relationship with money, and even learning style. It’s a good starting point for anyone wanting to better understand their mission field.

#2 – Start sharing helpful content.

Since we engage with so many churches around the country inside the Church Fuel membership, I get to read a lot of church email newsletters and see a lot of church social feeds. And it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that most of the information is announcements. Churches have gotten really good at talking about our own stuff.  Our services.  Our programs.  Our events.  Our new series. Justin Nava sums it up well with this appropriately snarky post: Your new series?  The outreach events?  The church programs? Those are great things, but unfortunately, that’s not what people in your community are searching for online (or clicking on or sharing).  That stuff is important to YOU but not interesting to them. What kind of stuff am I talking about.  Here’s a list of posts I wish churches would do.

  • 10 Local Shops We Love
  • New in Town Guide: The Most Important Things to Know About (City Name Here)
  • The Five Best Places to Go For a Run
  • Where Kids Eat Free in (City Name Here)
  • The Best Staycation Ideas in (City Name Here) Back to School Checklist for Kids and Parents
  • Best Spot for Watching Fireworks in (City Name Here)
  • A 21-Day Christmas Devotional Guide
  • 10 Things to Be Thankful for in (City Name Here)
  • Local Non Profits Who are Serving our Community Well
  • Can’t Miss Activities this Fall in (City Name Here)
  • Hometown Tourist: 5 Ways You Can Act Like a Tourist Near (City Name Here)

Can you imagine how your church would be perceived if you began publishing more content like this? It’s not that we should never talk about our new series or post about our events…those things are really important. But they are like posting selfies all the time. Use the other camera on your phone and start talking about stuff that is important to your audience. I’m going to give a lot of examples (and even share some free content that you can quickly customize) on this free training.  It’s Thursday, January 21 at 1pm EST and I’d love for you to join us.

#3 – Ask your church members to share helpful content.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting. Once you share something helpful online, now ask your congregation to share it.  This is how you expand your reach.  This is how you knock on people’s door. If the content you create is truly helpful (like the stuff on the list above), your church members will want to share it.  You’re giving them a pretty easy task, one that might even make them look good as they complete it. They just need a gentle reminder and some clear direction. When you post stuff like this to your channels, you’re reaching people who have probably already engaged with your church at some level.  Maybe they have liked your page in the past. But when your members share on their pages, you’re reaching their audiences.  You’re branching out to people who may not have a direct connection to your church.  In a small way, you’re going into the world.

#4 – Make it EASY for your church members to share helpful content

When you ask your people to take action, make it very easy for them to follow through. Here are some ideas:

  • Don’t just ask them to share, write a few sentences and ask them to copy and paste.
  • Create an image for them. Or a handful of images so they can choose what is most relevant.
  • Rally everyone at a certain date and time (even if it’s a little cheesy) like “Share it Saturday” or “Talk about it Tuesday.”

Remember, when your members share this stuff, you’re knocking on new people’s doors.  Ask them to do it, but work very hard to make it easy. Tactically speaking, I’m a big fan of creating a page like yourchurch.com/invite and putting all your congregation-facing inviting resources in one place.

#5 – Start having normal conversations with people who engage.

If this doesn’t really sound like Biblical evangelism or discipleship, you’re right.  Everything here is like a knock on the door. But once someone opens the door by engaging with this content, you have an incredible opportunity.  Now you get to engage.  Now you get to follow up. You’ve said hello, now it’s time to have a conversation. So make sure you have people ready to engage online, by liking comments, saying hi, and asking questions.  Not in a weird way, but like a normal human. You could even create a volunteer team or utilize volunteers to do this. Take a Next Step By no means is this a comprehensive strategy.  And by my own admission, this is a very “light” way to “reach” people online. But my goal is to give you a specific way to initially connect with people. We’re going to dive deeper into this topic, and talk about some other strategies on a free training called “How to Reach People Online.”  I’ve got examples from real churches and lots of practical next steps you can take. The webinar is free and it’s happening on January 21 at 1pm EST.  Reserve your spot here.

How to Stay Connected to Your Congregation

How to Stay Connected to Your Congregation

Leading up to the end of 2020, many pastors, church leaders, and ministry department heads were reporting the same discouraging findings.

We’re having a hard time staying connecting with people.

People aren’t signing up to serve, attending online services, and seem to have disappeared.

We just don’t know how to help people connect with the church in this strange time.

And church attendees sing similar tunes, mentioning “Zoom fatigue” and feeling isolated from their church family.

So, how can churches re-connect with their members after a period when many fell out of the holy habit of churchgoing? What can churches that are at least partially online-only do to help people stay connected in community?

Smaller churches have a leg up in this area. Because of their size, they can more easily gather contact information, notice when people are missing, and make personal visits without using a lot of resources. Many smaller churches are already doing the types of personal contact activities that help people feel more connected.

It’s time for every church to learn from and act as a small church. No matter your church size, here are a few ways for pastors and church leaders to stay connected with their congregations.

#1 – Create spaces for connection.

To help your congregation stay connected with the church is to provide ways for them to stay connected with each other.

Whether your church is meeting online, in-person, or both, something is better than nothing and even the simplest initiative can be a widely-appreciated space for people to fellowship.

Try these ideas:

  • A Zoom Lobby. Set up a Zoom meeting where people can log in and chat “face to face” before and after online services.
  • Facebook Groups or GroupMe groups. These services are free and can create a simple, accessible space for people to connect.
  • Small events for people to look forward to. Events outside of traditional small groups and church services, such as craft night, worship night, toy/coat/food drives, weekly live prayer services, or book discussions, can happen in-person or online and can be run by a layperson.

Church leaders can provide blueprints to help these spaces succeed (activity ideas, discussion questions, etc.) while allowing these connection spaces to be run by members of the congregation. Everything doesn’t have to be led by church staff. Simply creating the space and opening it up for people to connect can be a powerful way to see more engagement in your church. 

#2 – Go old-school.

With all of the emphasis on online connection in 2020, one of the best ways to re-connect with people effectively is to not do it from behind a computer screen.

Bring back the more “old-school” ideas. Your congregation is probably so used to Zoom calls, emails, and social media everything that it would be a welcome change of pace and a touching surprise.

Try mailing or dropping off special packages. We heard about one church mailing scavenger hunt kits for kids. You can create Sunday School bags or Advent boxes for kids or adults. Send a personalized card that includes instructions for how to share prayer requests. One Church Fuel member said that their church’s Christmas card ministry was booming and people really appreciated it more than ever.

If you’ve sworn off the old church directory or church cookbook, it might be time to bring them back or update them. Making contact information available makes it easy for people to reach out and check on each other. You can even make them more modern by including social media handles.

Sharing a recipe can be a nostalgic experience that not only gives people a tangible thing to connect over, but makes great memories that are tied to the church community. And both of these ideas (creating a church directing and compiling a church cookbook) can be done digitally.

Or as Stephen Brewster, a creative leader experienced in the music industry and church leadership, said on a recent episode of our podcast, take the time to call volunteers and donors just to say Merry Christmas. Or ask how their summer went.

A phone call or snail mail might seem like outdated ways to reach out to an actively online congregation, but they’re effective ways to make people feel seen, loved, and connected.

#3 – Keep it simple and personal.

When you think about staying connected to your congregation, you might assume that you need to set up a fully-staffed online campus, hire a Social Media Director, or start 50 small groups around special interests.

Those are all great things. However, some of the best ways to connect with people are also the simplest.

A quick text message or a one-sentence email (“How can I pray for you today?”) gets the job done.

Consider sending a survey with a few straightforward questions to find out how people are doing and make a plan to follow up with them.

Ask a few members to share stories in service of how they’re handling the current season or how they’ve stayed connected at the church (these can even be pre-recorded and shown virtually).

If you’re feeling disconnected from your congregation and wanting to help people remain strong in their ties to church community, give these tips a try. Your efforts don’t have to be fancy, expensive, or even managed by staff, but they can make a big impact for creating connection in your church.

Take the Next Step

We have pre-written emails that will help you communicate with clarity, care, and concern and offer the hope and consistency that people need in these uncertain times.

Our free 12 Emails to Send Your Church resource includes twelve prewritten emails to help you save time and communicate well.

You can serve through communicating and these emails can help you get started.

Free Download

12 Emails to Send Your Church
 

The Church Fuel Podcast Episode 2.9: How To Lead A Digital Church

The Church Fuel Podcast Episode 2.9: How To Lead A Digital Church

Guest: Kyle Ranson 

Kyle is Director of the Experience Team at Crossroads, the group that creates everything from videos to music to articles to apps to weekend services. He joyfully fulfills stereotypes about Millennials with his love of craft beer and woodworking and is passionate about people finding God. 

He’s also the brother-in-law of our very own Meagan Ranson! 

Is online church even biblical?  

The big C church and your church specifically, is heading toward an unavoidable tension point on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

You’ve likely already had these questions swirling in your head at night:

Do we keep doing online church when we can do in-person at full capacity? 

Is it even biblical to have online church? 

Questions that weren’t on your radar a year ago. 

Kyle started dealing with questions like this in 2015 when his church was rapidly growing but in an alarming way. Most of the growth was happening due to the addition of new sites instead of current sites getting bigger and bigger. To create growth in the communities Crossroads was already planted in, and have an impact on the people in those areas, Kyle and his staff started looking at using online church as a way to reach new people. 

And the first question they wrestled with was, “Is this biblical?” 

Like Kyle in 2015, you don’t want people to just hear your sermons. You people in your community to plug into your church and be involved with a healthy community of people. When COVID-19 first hit our shores online church was the only option if you wanted to continue making an impact for the Kingdom, but now you’re left to figure out if online church is a viable option for your church to continue creating a growing body of believers. 

What Kyle realized, and the same is true for your church, is that one of the church’s primary jobs is to reach people. If the bulk of people in your surrounding community are online that is where you need to be. 

Maintaining an online presence with your church will ensure that you continue to be seen by people who would never set foot in a physical church, and give your church a chance to impact more people in the community. Some churches like Crossroads started making the virtual world a mission field as far back as 2015, but you can keep reaching people online even when in-person services are completely back to normal. 

Everybody is still learning!    

You are not the only one still trying to figure out how to do online church in a way that feels exactly right and super effective. Online church hasn’t been around long enough for there to be an expert or an exact formula on how to do mission work online. 

At this point, if your church is doing the very best it can, you’re heading in the right direction.

In reality, the place that you reach people has never been static. People are always moving and it is part of the hard work of your church to meet them where they move to.  

The people who are aching to be back in the building and see people in person are going to come back to your physical building. But give yourself room to improve your church’s online experience so that the friend of a friend who would prefer a link over a ride to church still has a place to go and hear the Gospel. 

How do you disciple someone toward Jesus from a distance? 

The easiest part of online church is reaching people. Millions of eyes are on a screen every single day which means millions of people could be viewing your church’s online content at any given moment. 

And people want to consume your church’s content when they want how they want. As long as you have something for people to engage with, they’ll engage with it. 

Discipling those people from a distance may seem foreign, but it’s not a new concept for your church or any church for that matter. Think back to Paul and the many letters that he wrote to churches in places like Ephesus and Corinth. He wrote those letters from hundreds of miles away! With ink and pen, he was disciplining people from a distance. 

Paul used what was at his disposal to disciple people he could not see, or sit down with in-person to disciple. So what is currently at your disposal? 

Kyle’s favorite tool for learning is Youtube. 

Use videos like this to learn how you can reach and disciple people online. 

Watch this webinar replay of our Reaching People Online webinar to learn more about specific and easy to do strategies your church can use to make the virtual world a mission field. 

Listen to this recent podcast episode about using local SEO to make more people aware of your church. The more people who notice your church online, the more people you can turn into disciples.

Whatever it is, use something that is at your disposal to not only reach people online but make disciples online. 

Online church isn’t a nuisance. 

According to the Barna research group, the majority of people are going to become hybrid churchgoers over the next five years. You’ve probably already seen some of these people. They’re at church one week and viewing your online service from the tennis court in Florida the following week. They attend small groups via Zoom but prefer in-person worship on Sundays. 

So even if your church isn’t going to be a fully, “online church,” people are going to expect to be able to engage with your church online. 

That is why it’s so crucial to have a healthy mindset in your church’s online efforts. If you feel like it’s a chore, or that it is useless the quality of your online content will diminish. When it starts to diminish the hybrid churchgoers, the group of people that are becoming the majority will look elsewhere for a church that meets their preference. 

If you feel like creating a quality online experience for people, whether they’re online visitors or online members of your church, is important even though there’s a steep learning curve your efforts will certainly not be in vain. 

Instead of becoming the church that is stubborn and behind the times, you’ll become the church that people rave about to their friends who are hesitant to engage with or attend church in-person.

For help creating a sound and scalable online strategy check out our Systems Course

Whatever strategy, or approach you decide to use in your church remember two things: 

  1. Creating disciples from afar is not a new thing
  2. No matter what make your church a place where everyone feels they belong 

RESOURCES

How To Talk To The Camera

Reaching People Online

Localized SEO Podcast

Systems Course

Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode HERE.

Quotes from Episode 2.4

“Our job is to reach people and where people are is online. That is where they will discover us. And that's where they will discover Jesus. And if we're not there, we're not really being effective missionaries.” – Kyle Ranson

“I'm called to reach people who are online. And coming out of seminary, or in my first job, when I was a youth pastor I started learning how to talk on a stage. I had to acquire these skills and learn how to get people to pay attention. Now it's the same, there's a new set of skills that are easily acquirable. You can go to a YouTube channel and you can watch video creators for free. And you can pick up 10 things within 10 minutes that you can learn immediately.” – Kyle Ranson

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How To Rebuild Unity In Your Church After 2020

How To Rebuild Unity In Your Church After 2020

People aren’t offended by Christ. They’re offended by Christians. 

Too often, it’s Christians offending fellow Christians within your church, feeding into the self-segregating nature of modern Christianity when it’s left on auto-pilot. People in the church aren’t just drifting their gaze inward, but they’re creating their own little subdivisions and cliques within the church walls.  

One group prefers contemporary worship music while another only wants to worship with traditional hymns, so you start doing two different services in order to steady the waters. 

Using separation as a band-aid instead of unity as a salve. 

One generation wants to keep doing small groups on Zoom while the other is itching to meet in person, so you silently allow both to continue on. 

Yet again, using separation as a band-aid instead of unity as a salve.  

Before this past year, church leaders have been able to keep the quiet rumblings of disunity among your own congregation at bay… And then 2020 made things more divisive, more binary, more confrontational, and more political than ever.  

People built the walls that separated neighbor from neighbor even higher and made them even thicker. Gossip became malice and tension became explosive both outside and inside the church.

Whether you were a part of the wall building or misspeaking is beside the point. We all watched it happen throughout the year. 

So, how can you rebuild unity in your church after a year like 2020? 

It is entirely possible to do so. It’s going to take grit and grace from you as a leader but is possible. 

To “reunite” your church in 2020, you need to unify everyone around a common purpose.

For each individual to turn their eyes from inward to outward, beyond themselves and their preferences, lead your church in fixing its collective eyes outward. 

Not in a traditional, “there are people out there who need our help and need our Savior,” way, but in actionable ways that bring our Savior to the very people who are currently not a part of your church or God’s kingdom at all. 

Give people the opportunity to show the surrounding community who Christ is—together. Create the space for members of your church to come out from behind flagrant Facebook posts, to disassemble the walls of division, link arms, and look outward as one unified body. 

Leading your church to adopt an outsider-first approach is a great step toward rebuilding unity. It looks different in all churches, but for your church, it could mean…

  • You are intentionally designing your church services with outsiders in mind and calls to invite outsiders in mind.
  • You offer programs and ministries to meet the real needs of your community that require volunteers to get involved.
  • You are shifting resources from programs inside the church to supporting programs and organizations that serve your community without being a part of your church
  • You are constantly reminding current members of your church that it’s the people who are NOT in attendance that need your church to be united
  • You deploy programming that requires people already connected to your church to connect with each other.
  • You forgo your traditional church events and repurpose that time to shed light on organizations meeting current needs in the community that need volunteers.

In 2021, rebuilding unity in your church is not about growing your church. If it grows in the process, that’s a great benefit. But rebuilding unity is about leading your church in becoming more like Christ. 

Become the church known for being unified and seeking unity in 2021.

Become a church where the people who are already in attendance come together as one and first-time visitors feel welcomed enough to join in. Be one body with many beautiful members, not a fractured group.

Romans 8:14-15 reminds us that “All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children.” 

God’s sons and daughters. 

Adopted as His children. 

Siblings bicker and fight from time to time. Relationships are messy no matter how similar or dissimilar our blood is to one another. But being a family, being sons and daughters, demands that we lay aside our preferences, and choose to stand united. 

Try leading your church in treating outsiders like family and they’ll start treating each other like family along the way. 

Take the Next Step

For help creating a comprehensive and strategic approach to creating unity among your colleagues, your congregation, and your community, check out the FOR Starter Kit

The FOR Starter Kit gives you a complete roadmap to truly impacting your congregation and ultimately the community, and creating unity across the board. Don’t just throw ideas and vision at the wall and pray something sticks. Get the FOR Starter Kit and let it be your guide to building unity within your church and in your surrounding community. 

5 Elements of the Perfect Church Staff Retreat

5 Elements of the Perfect Church Staff Retreat

There’s nothing like a church staff retreat to get people on the same page, get excited about the vision, plan for the culture, and contribute to a positive team culture.

A church staff retreat gives everyone the opportunity to work on the ministry, not just in the ministry.

Done right, a staff retreat can be productive, effective, and fun. People will return to everyday ministry energized and excited about the future. But do it wrong and people go back to the office feeling two days behind schedule.

For it to truly work, you don’t just need a bunch of team development ideas or a few vision-filled team dinners. You need the right people with a focused agenda and the right activities.

The Perfect Staff Retreat Agenda

Now is a great time to plan your next church staff retreat, so as you put together the agenda, here are five things to include.

#1 – Your Staff Retreat Agenda Should Include Time for Spiritual Formation

Churches have a lot in common with businesses. 

Even though we use different terminology, we do a lot of the same things that for-profit companies do. Things like…

  • Finance, including budgeting and spending
  • Operations, including planning and strategy
  • Marketing, including advertising and outreach
  • Human resources, including hiring, firing, and developing people.

Your church is much more than a business, but it is at least a business.

In fact, churches ought to be some of the most well-run organizations on the planet because our mission is more important than anything else.

But as you plan your church staff retreat, make sure you lean into the spiritual side of leadership. Don’t make it all business and all planning. Make sure you include spiritual development on the agenda.

If you’re looking for a practical tool to use, here is a free resource. 

These devotions were written for pastors to use in team meetings and team retreats.

#2 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Leadership Development

Spiritual formation and leadership development are related, but they are uniquely different.

You want everyone on your team to get better, to keep developing skills that will make them better at their jobs or in their volunteer roles. When you get your leaders together in a retreat setting, make sure you build in some time to help them skill-up.

In our discovery phase creating The Leadership Course, we surveyed hundreds of pastors about the skills they wanted to see in their leaders and volunteers. We consolidated all of those skills into this list, which we call “12 Core Skills.”

Imagine if all of your leaders developed or continued to develop these skills in their personal lives.  

They would do their jobs better. They would lead better as a volunteer. They would be better moms, dads, employees, and people.

We created a curriculum around these 12 core skills and it’s a part of that leadership development course. You can access this curriculum (which has both digital resources you can use and video teaching that you can play) immediately when you join Church Fuel.  

Click here to join Church Fuel.  


This curriculum works great as a kickoff to a regular team meeting, or pick and choose topics for your next church staff retreat. 

#3 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include Team Building that Helps Create Culture

Team building isn’t all trust falls and personality tests.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni writes, “Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors.” 



That kind of trust isn’t built overnight, but every time you have a meeting or retreat, you can add a building block.



That’s why it’s important to carve out time to actually build culture and help people understand and trust each other.

Many churches do experience a ton of value by working through Myers Briggs or DISC and talking about interpersonal relationships. Tons of churches have grown together by processing through the Enneagram, perhaps bringing in a coach to help facilitate conversations.

While formal team development exercises can be helpful, don’t forget about less formal activities. Tanys Mosher, Communications Director at Southgate Community Church, says this:

Ziplining, hiking, Spelunking, road trip in an RV – these shared experiences have given us more personal connection and trust-building along with many laughs. We’ve worked through personality tests as well but the above has been far more productive on the human end of team building.

Fun Team Building Ideas for Your Church Staff Retreat

  • Brian Smith, a Church Fuel member, recommends Escape Rooms. “It was fantastic and required everyone’s ability to get out.”
  • Make a playlist. Ask everyone to submit a song that summarizes their life and listen during breaks.
  • Kari Sullivan remembers a staff and family camping trip with lots of time for just hanging out.
  • Make a bio book. Joan Garry suggests everyone write a 1-2 page personal (not professional) bio and put them together in a notebook. Have everyone read and give a quiz.
  • Wii Bowling or a tournament around some other video games.
  • Bill Rose, another Church Fuel member, says: “For some reason our most memorable was a Scavenger Hunt. It sounds youth groupish but we had 3 teams of 4, ages 31-66, piled in cars driving all over town and solving riddles for 3 hours.

Team building activities aren’t just for fun and games (though there’s certainly value there). But as your team learns about each other and learns to work together, you’re building a culture to support your strategy.

Jenni Catron says leaders are keepers of culture. Your church staff retreat is an opportunity to build and curate a staff culture. It’s much more than an event, it’s an opportunity to build on your values and help everyone learn to trust those who are working together on the same strategy.

#4 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Honest Evaluation

When you gather key leaders who care about the future of the church, one of the most meaningful things you can do is look back on what happened. 

When you look back, set aside phrases like “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that.” Your preferences aren’t what needs evaluation.

Instead, you should push hard to talk about effectiveness. Did this program accomplish its intended goal? Is this ministry helping us accomplish our mission? Those are far better questions.

Look at expectations and reality.  Talk about numbers. Evaluate plans compared to the outcome.

Ed Catmull of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation talks about the Braintrust, a group of people assembled to evaluate every movie and give notes to the director. In Creativity, Inc., he writes:

“The Braintrust is fueled by the idea that every note we give is in the service of a common goal: Supporting and helping each other as we try to make better movies.”

Evaluation isn’t just an activity. It’s a mindset. 

But each time you take an honest look back, you’re helping create a culture of continual improvement, a place where it’s normal to get better, not coast on past success or get used to a steady decline. 

Here is another tool to help you evaluate honestly. It’s a set of 7 distinct evaluation forms to help you look back on a special event, staff performance, a sermon, a church service, your website, and a ministry or program. There’s even a “secret shopper” form you could give to someone you ask to attend your church for the first time and evaluate their experience from an outsider’s perspective.

This particular resource is a part of the members’ Resource Library in Church Fuel.

#5 – Your Staff Retreat Should Allow Plenty of Time to Plan and Look Forward

There comes a time in most team retreats where some people feel like it’s time to start on the real work.  

This isn’t to say that spiritual formation and team development isn’t real work. In many ways, it’s the most important work.  

Team building and talking about the past aren’t good enough for some people. They want to make plans and get to work. While you’ll likely have to pull these people through the first parts of your staff retreat agenda, this is where they shine.

 

William Vanderbloemen says a staff retreat is an ideal time to cast vision or, “If your team has drifted from their mission, re-direct everyone back.”

At your staff retreat, you don’t want to look to the immediate future. You want to look into the near future and slightly beyond. The staff retreat isn’t the time to talk about this Sunday or even next month. You want to talk through the next horizon and the next milestone.

Dan Reiland says, “Be fierce about making progress, not merely dealing with more maintenance.” 

Our favorite tool for this is the Two Page Plan® – a strategic ministry plan that packs everything important into just two pages. There’s a PDF you can print, an online version where you can create, save, edit, and share, and a course to show you exactly how to use it.

The Two Page Plan gives you the space to talk about the vision for the future but keeps you from spinning off into visionary la-la land. The plan, not just a big vision, is what gets your team on the same page and moving in the same direction.

The Two Page Plan template really can guide your staff retreat planning session. And once you complete it, you can revisit from year to year, adjusting what needs to be changed for the current ministry season and reinforcing what should stay the same no matter what.

Mary Jinks, the Director of Operations at Grace Church in Knoxville experienced positive results as her team went through this planning process. Check out her story.

“Our entire staff went through about 5 months of deep depression. Then we decided it was time to do something about it. Stopped talking about “when things get back to normal” and started a whole new plan. Used church fuel’s ministry plan template. Spent 3 months developing and rolling out a completely revamped ministry plan. The staff is off the charts excited. Our people are re-engaging in new ways. Giving is up. In-person attendance is increasing. Online attendance is gaining momentum. Hang in there. Better days are ahead. Pray and seek. Love and bless. Go and do.”

Change Your Staff Retreat Agenda to Suit Your Needs

The perfect staff meeting usually includes components from each of these five areas.

  1. Spiritual Formation
  2. Leadership Development
  3. Team Building
  4. Looking Back
  5. Looking Ahead

But sometimes, you might need to throw out the perfect agenda and focus on just one or two activities.  

For example, in a normal year, this agenda might hit the sweet spot. But coming through all you’ve been through, you might prayerfully decide what your team needs most is a focus on emotional or spiritual health. It might be more important for you to rest and refresh rather than plan and advance.

Know your people. And pastor your people.



Other churches might find all five things in one event is still too much, choosing to break things into two parts. Something like this might suit your needs:

  • A Retreat focused on spiritual formation, leadership development, and/or team building
  • An Advance focused on evaluating the past and planning for the future

Adapt this agenda to suit your needs. Contextualize this plan to fit your context.

There’s nothing like a great church staff retreat to get people on the same page, excited about the vision and plan for the future, and contributing to a positive team culture.

Use the time to step back FROM the ministry and work ON the ministry.

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16 Book Recommendations for Pastors to Read in 2021

16 Book Recommendations for Pastors to Read in 2021

Whether you are able to fully open your church doors or not is completely out of your control. The number of digital viewers you can garner and members that will fully engage in the life of your church online will continue to vary. 

In the day-to-day activities of running and leading your church, physically and digitally, most things are out of your hands. Outcomes and results continue to remind you of how not in control you are. 

But you can control how much you invest in your own foundational education by reading various books throughout the year. 

As education and learning have evolved throughout history, books have stood the test of time. Fewer things do a better job of convicting you, teaching you more about yourself, and shifting your once stubborn perspective quite like the right book read at the right time. 

Coming out of a year as chaotic as 2020, there’s likely a lot of anxiety to settle, trauma to unpack, and practical leadership guidance needed to lead your church well in 2021. We compiled a list of books we believe will prepare your heart and inform how you strategize in the year ahead. 

Each text spans different topics, subject matter, tone, and author background which is intentional on our part. 

And each book will provoke you toward new actions, fresh strategy, and create a solid ground to stand upon as you lead your church in the new year.   

#1 – When Breath Becomes Air 

Author Paul Kalanithi writes a deeply inspiring and shockingly honest memoir that attempts to answer the question, “What is a life worth living?” 

He writes the entire book in the face of his own mortality as he suffers from stage IV lung cancer. Confronted with death he pens a beautiful reflection on the value of life. 

This book will remind you of your own humanity and the fragility of life itself. It will point you to the very giver of life and breath, and as a personal writer’s note, it will make sure you hug your spouse extra tight. 

#2 – God and the Pandemic 

You may want to escape the global pandemic and you’re likely suffering from “COVID Fatigue” along with everyone else. 

But as a leader of the church, it’s necessary to formulate responses to this global health crisis and its aftermath. 

Classically gentle yet firm, N.T. Wright sheds light on Scripture and how it guides our thinking on what this pandemic means, what God has to say about it, and how we can recover moving forward. 

In less than 80 pages, this book will reveal exactly how Jesus would speak into this situation, its consequences, and its implications. 

Read this book and you’ll be as Peter and John were to the Romans.

“Surely they have been with Christ.” 

#3 – Start With Why

Third most popular TED Talk of all time? 

There’s a reason for that and it’s backed up by one of Simon Sinke’s original works, Start With Why

Throughout the book, Sinek investigates how certain organizations and historical figures, though entirely unrelated, are more influential, more profitable, and more successful than others.

As the title foreshadows, it all starts with “why” and every principle in this book can be applied to how you lead your church. 

Staff members, volunteers, and your congregation will not buy into any direction, vision, or message unless they understand the “why” behind it. 

Make that idea a guiding principle in your leadership this year by reading this book. 

#4 – Dream Big

When you’re a kid, you dream big. But somewhere along the way, fear tends to take the wheel. 

Bob Goff’s third literary installment will remove fear from the driver’s seat and put you back into the driver’s seat. 

As a pastor, you have big, beautiful ambitions for your church. 2021 is the year that those ambitions finally come to life. 

Based on his wildly popular (and successful) Dream Big Workshops, Bob will walk you through a life-proven framework with practical steps that will turn the biggest dreams you have for your church into a reality for you and your community.  

No more hiding your own dreams from yourself. This book can alter the course of your life and your church for the good of the Kingdom!

#5 – Seeing Jesus From The East

The late Ravi Zacharias did so much to bring the powerful message of Christ into the complex conversations of apologetics, world religions, and geopolitics. 

Seeing Jesus From the East is one of his faster reads, but that doesn’t vandalize the integrity of the message. 

Living in the western world, it’s easy to forget—even as a pastor—the Eastern roots of Jesus. To fix your eyes on Jesus is, in reality, to fix your gaze to the East. 

This book will undoubtedly freshen your perspective on the parables you have shared for years and round your approach to the Scriptures as a whole. You’ll have no choice but to remember not just who Jesus is, but where He is from.

#6 – Atomic Habits

Do you think pursuing your New Year’s Resolutions will go differently this year? 

It’s okay to admit that they won’t. 

With Atomic Habits, Author and blogger James Clear will take your eyes off of goals and set them on daily habits that can create massive improvements in your life. 

As one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, Clear reveals practical strategies that will teach you how to break bad habits, form good ones, and master the little behaviors that create astronomical results. 

Instead of setting yourself up for failure with lofty goals and unfair expectations, spend 2021 making tiny 1% improvements each day that lead to your ultimate success. 

You and your church will be better off!

#7 – Necessary Endings 

Sometimes life demands that progress stems from ending things instead of starting them. 

Put a clear stop to relationships, activities, and personal perceptions that stunt the very growth in your church that you’re trying to foster. 

Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings will challenge you to achieve the personal and professional growth your heart desires by following through with the tough decisions. 

Decisions you don’t want to make and that scare the daylights out of you.  

To not put an end to the right things could put an end to your church. Read this book and put its guidance into action. 

#8 – Deep Work

Imagine a workday completely free of any distractions from social media, email, and random interruptions. 

Cal Newport’s book gives you the tools you need to live in a distraction-free world where you execute deep work day in and day out. If Atomic Habits is an appetizer, Deep Work is the main course.

It’s easy to feel like your life and therefore your work is dictated by distractions. Your screen is bombarded with advertisements and click-bait. 

The intense regimen and call to deep work in this book will ensure that your days are full of productive work that has a deep impact on the world around you. 

Read this book to make 2021 the year of influencing your surroundings instead of another year of letting your surroundings influence you. 

#9 – Loonshots

If you’re tired of team dynamics within your church stifling the growth of your church or the execution of plans, then this is the book for you. 

In Loonshots, Safi Bachal explores and explains the science of phase transitions and how it causes groups of people to suddenly reject what they previously embraced. 

Using an engaging and witty narrative, Bachal is able to unveil the behaviors that cause teams of people to change their behavior and derail an organization’s mission in the process. 

There are structures you can put in place within your own church that will keep everybody aligned on the same mission and this book will teach you how to do that. 

#10 – Ruthless Elimination Of Hurry 

If you have felt the desperate need to slow down over the past 9 months, you are not alone. 

Actually, if you have felt the need to slow down at all over the past 10 years, you are not alone. The evolving digital world can easily make you feel surrounded by damage and destruction. 

And that causes you to hurry from problem to problem, achievement to achievement. 

This is the pain and the problem John Mark Comer address in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Instead of using illusive inspiration as a bandaid for exhaustion, Comer uses sound truth as a salve for your wounds. 

In this book, he reminds you who you are meant to be and provides the roadmap you need to stay emotionally and spiritually healthy in our increasingly chaotic world. 

#11 – Tattoos On The Heart

It’s unfortunate that the past few years have politicized the phrase “lead with compassion.”

Because empathy and compassion are not political characteristics. They’re gospel characteristics. 

Gregory Boyle’s book Tattoos On The Heart serves as a joyful reminder of what God’s compassion looks like when played out here on earth. 

If you want to laugh and cry in one sitting, we cannot recommend this book enough. It’s not exactly Boyle’s compassion that will compel you to lead in the same way, but the stories he shares. 

#12 – The Freedom Of Self Forgetfulness

Everything in our world today makes it seem acceptable to connect every experience and every conversation to ourselves. 

In this super short (49 pages) pamphlet, Timothy Keller shatters right through that very idea. Keller argues that a heart supernaturally changed by God is neither self-hating nor self-loving. 

It is radiantly self-forgetful. 

Drawing from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, this short pamphlet will rock your world and the way you perceive yourself in it. 

If you want the gift of rest in 2021, first give yourself the gift of self-forgetfulness. 

#13 – Liturgy of Politics

Turn on any TV or open any social media feed and you’ll hear or read about the political division in our country. 

Your church has a role to play in the reconciliation and unification that God has in store for the coming years. 

Kaitlyn Schiess’ book Liturgy of Politics offers practical guidance on how to navigate the choppy waters where church and state collide.

Throughout the book, Schiess’ makes you aware of how your church’s politics are often shaped by practices and habits that you’re not even aware of. 

This book will make you aware of the political forces surrounding your church and offers historical Christian context to shape the conversation moving forward. 

#14 – Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes The Church

It’s no secret that in general, our houses of prayer have become houses of programs. 

In his thought-provoking and convicting book, John Onwuchekwa reminds you that prayer is as necessary to the Christian, and therefore the church, as breath is to the human body.

Prayer is often encouraged in the personal lives of congregants but less often practiced in the local church. 

This one book can turn prayer into the very lifeblood of your church and how your community comes together in 2021. 

#15 – Gilead

You are divinely wired for story, so we couldn’t make a whole list without including a few fiction stories. 

Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead is the type of captivating story that will move you to tears and to dancing all at once. 

She elegantly tells the story of America, our America, through an intimate tale of three generations of fathers and sons. The characters are wrestling with the spiritual battles and changing of times that still rage against us today. 

Read this book for a narrative that will fill any void you have felt throughout this year of discourse. 

#16 – Let The Trumpet Sound

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is often reduced to a handful of quotes on the third Monday in January. This pastor, author, and leader had a complicated life that left a lasting impact on our world. 

In this authorized biography, Stephen B. Oates examines the whole man and challenges you to see our current challenges in a new light.

Biographies are always a good way of altering the way we allow the past, and past figures, to shape our outlook on the present. 

Let this heavily researched book on one of America’s heroes deeply inform and even challenge the way you view the varying tensions in our world today. 

If one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to start your own personal library, this may be your launching pad. 

Read one or a collection of any of these books and witness God move in and through you in ways you’ve never expected.

Take the Next Step

The Pastor's Book Club brings pastors and church leaders notes, summaries, and action steps from the best business and leadership books.

Ministry insights can come from anywhere, and business books are an untapped source of wisdom.

Pastors and church leaders are often well versed in Bible study, theology, and ministry, but are ill-equipped to lead an organization. That’s why The Pastor’s Book Club focuses on bringing the best ministry insights from world-class business leaders.  

The Church Fuel Podcast Episode 2.8: Using Online Small Groups To Reach New People

The Church Fuel Podcast Episode 2.8: Using Online Small Groups To Reach New People

Where two or more gather, there is a small group. 

2020 is finally winding down, and the cat is for sure out of the bag: things didn’t go “back to normal” after Easter like they were supposed to. This pandemic comes with a lot of implications for your church. Reaching new people is no longer as simple as opening your doors on Sunday and welcoming new members of the flock. 

A new person’s first interaction with your church is becoming less and less likely to occur during your Sunday service, whether it’s online or in person. People are becoming more inclined to check out your church’s small groups before they ever engage with your sermons and Sunday activities. And with social distancing and restrictions on public gatherings, online small groups can become the most attractive opportunity for a person interested in joining your church. 

Moving into 2021, your church’s ability to use online small groups to reach new people will be crucial to your church’s ability to grow. 

Small Groups Then Vs. Small Groups Now

For many years churches have used small groups as a growth strategy, riding off the back of Sunday services. “Big church,” on Sunday was like the doorway into the house with a grand entryway, smiling greeters, and breathtaking art that’s fun to look at. Small groups were more like the living room, further into the house with comfier chairs and more intimate conversations.   

Up to this year, small groups have been viewed more in the discipleship vein. 

“Come to our new member class, and then, if you want to go deep, join a small group.” 

Now there’s a new way to use small groups. The digital wave that has swept over all churches has created the opportunity for your small groups to be an outreach tool. Instead of using your small groups for discipleship, you can leverage small groups as an evangelical opportunity to attract and reach new people. 

To be clear, you should still have small groups dedicated to discipleship — that third or fourth step in plugging into the life of your church. But as people continue to search for community, you must have small groups that serve as the first step in engaging with your church.       

3 Steps To Launching Small Groups For Outreach    

Step One is making these small groups topical. For people already involved with your church a general, “small group” is attractive because they already know people and likely have already taken steps in their faith journey. The people who have never been to your church before, or maybe any church for that matter, aren’t enticed by a small group where they don’t know anybody. 

Entice them with topics of interest in the surrounding community or hit on their own, currently felt needs. Think of the focus and commonality of a book club. It’s a small group of people meeting to discuss one specific topic and a particular piece of content.  

If you need help uncovering relevant topics for your community, visit churchfuel.com/kyc to get a free report on your community and what would be relevant to the people in your area that have never been to your church. 

Step Two is choosing the right format. For your small groups dedicated to reaching new people online is the way to go. People can engage with your church and meet new people, but when it’s digital, they’re able to do so in the comfort of their own home. The barrier to entry is way lower. It makes joining your church’s small group a more palatable first step for a brand new person. 

And if a small group member visits your church after being a part of a six-week, topical small group on Zoom, they’ll feel more connected than if they walked in your door with zero prior interaction.  

Step Three is making sure these online topical small groups have a defined start and end date. Keeping the time between six and twelve weeks is the best amount of time to keep new people engaged with your church. 

Once you reach the end of your small group’s set amount of time, you need to have a transitional call to action. It can be, “Hey, now that we’ve discussed this topic for six weeks, do you want to do six weeks on this completely different topic?” Or it can be, “Now that you’ve been a part of this small group for three months, are you interested in joining our new member class?” 

As with everything your church does, your online small groups dedicated to reaching new people need clear next steps. Our Follow-Up Course has tons of great content on how to follow up with people who have shown interest in your church but haven’t become consistent members yet. 

You’re not launching a new ministry. 

Whether you’re a big or a small church, this is an incredibly accessible thing to do to reach new people. You don’t have to purchase expensive audio equipment, hire new staff, or even cater a bunch of Chick Fil A that doesn’t get eaten. 

Follow the three steps we have given you and simply repurpose your usual small group efforts toward discipleship for evangelism. The goal is not to impress people or immediately turn strangers into members. 

The goal is to reach new people and create community around a topic that is relevant to them. 

RESOURCES

KYC Report

Follow Up Course

Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode HERE.

Quotes from Episode 2.8

“Churches have thought of small groups as a discipleship tool and what we're realizing with this digital wave that is sweeping over us, is that digital has created a new opportunity for us to use small groups as an outreach tool.” – Michael Lukaszewski 

“The cool thing about this is that you can use outside resources. If you wanted to do something about finance, you could walk through some sort of like financial plan and resource other curriculum for it. It makes it super easy for people who are going to be leading the pack, or leading the small group.” – Meagan Ranson

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How to Get Online Christmas Guests Connected in Your Church

How to Get Online Christmas Guests Connected in Your Church

Every year, we see more people come through the church doors for special occasions like Christmas. We get excited about the increased attendance and start looking forward to watching more people come to know Christ, step up to volunteer, and maybe even start giving.

But wait…where’d they go?

Those Christmas service guests can come and go before anyone has the chance to connect with them. They easily get lost in the in-person crowd and or in the corners of the internet when they watch online.

And for Christmas 2020, getting people connected to your church will be even more challenging as many people opt to attend online-only. 

But with some frontend preparation, there are ways to keep online Christmas guests from falling through the cracks.

#1 – Offer multiple methods

As the barrage of available personality tests shows us, people are incredibly unique in their preferences for communication and activity.

First, provide multiple ways for people to identify themselves. This can be through interaction in the livestream chat, a digital or physical connection card, a “Plan A Visit” page on the church website, etc. You can’t connect with people without first knowing that they’re watching or visiting.

To make sure that people get connected to your church no matter what their preferences are, make sure they’re able to find a way that works for them. Some people would love to receive a phone call from a church volunteer, while others might want to text to connect.

A “text to connect” option can even happen during services. Use a service, such as Text in Church, to allow people to send their contact information through text.

While some people might be willing to fill out a physical connection card and take it to a connection team volunteer face-to-face, there are many others who are much more likely to fill out a digital connection card that they can find on the church website or that shows up in their email. And the digital connection card doesn’t have to be fancy—a simple Google Form, CCB form, or any other digital form will do.

Just remember to emphasize methods of connection where people won’t get lost and fade into the church’s list of followers. “Connect with us on social media!” isn’t as effective as getting their email address or phone number.

#2 – Create a clear next step

The core question to ask when planning your follow-up process is: What are you asking guests to DO? (You can use our free Follow-Up Checklist to evaluate your process.)

Free Download

The Follow-Up Checklist
 
Perhaps there’s a next step option before their next step, such as a Facebook Group they can engage in before taking the leap of joining a small group. Have someone in the Facebook Group who is in charge of helping people move along in the process and usher them into the next step of joining a small group, meeting someone to connect over coffee, attending a Bible study, etc. This is a great role for a volunteer.

Sometimes people get connected to churches through things that aren’t connected to the church much at all. Their next step could be participating in a community outreach initiative or even a cooking class that the church is organizing. Ask people to do something for the community or in community, instead of just for the church. This is a more comfortable, low-stakes way of getting connected for some.

Another way to help people get connected that’s low pressure is to plan “demo-like” communications. This could be an email with a video introduction from the pastor that shares a little about the church or a webinar/Zoom meeting with a time for Q&A.

And of course, there’s always the option that’s popular in churches—adding them to the weekly newsletter. This isn’t a bad next step, but make sure the newsletter is new people-friendly first. Remove insider language that a new person wouldn’t understand and make sure the newsletter includes upcoming events and other opportunities that can be the next steps for them.

#3 – Nurture them

Businesses understand that people need to be nurtured before they “buy in.” So, they send helpful articles related to their industry, give away free samples, and consistently send follow-up emails to remind (and educate) potential customers of the products they were interested in.

While churches are not businesses, churches can borrow from this principle and use “nurture campaigns” to help people get connected.

A well-planned follow-up process makes sure that connections happen and keeps first-time guests, new believers, new givers, etc. from falling through the cracks. (Church Fuel members, check out the follow-up email templates in The Follow-Up Course and Resource Library.)

When you design a follow-up process for your church, consider point #2 again and begin with the end in mind. What is the ultimate action you want people to take?

Next, ask: What can we do to help them get there in the meantime?

To take another relevant cue from the business world, send people helpful content. Find out what people need (asking questions is how we get to know people, after all) and create resources that help fill that need.

When they answer your question (in service, through a Facebook ad, etc.), request their contact information to send them a resource on the topic. In the business world, these are called lead magnets.

For example, a church could use providing resources as a part of their nurture/follow-up process. If you ask, “What is your biggest spiritual need?” and someone chooses the answer, “I don’t know where to start with the Bible,” send them a Bible reading guide or devotional that your church put together.

Many people in your area might be struggling with job loss. Send career resources and let them know that a team of people are praying for them.

The parents watching your church online might feel like they’re running out of ways to involve their children in faith practices or just ideas to entertain them. Create and send a Bible exercises ebook for children or a list of fun, family-friendly community activities.

Sending people helpful resources nurtures their relationship with the church. People will engage with this casual support from the church long before they’ll consider becoming a member, volunteering, or even joining a small group.

Nurturing online guests or potential guests (whether before or after you have their contact information) helps connect people to God through being spiritually nurtured with resources and prayer, to other believers, and to their gifts—making them more motivated to get connected to the church and start serving God.

To learn more, listen to Season 2 of The Church Fuel Podcast where we covered how to reach people online. Start with these two episodes:

Take the Next Step

Tired of people falling through the cracks in your church? The Follow-Up Course provides you with the tools and templates you need to follow up effectively.

This insanely practical course will help you create, improve, and launch effective follow-up processes to get guests, givers, and new believers connected in your church.

13 Tips for Creating a 2021 Financial Plan in Your Church

13 Tips for Creating a 2021 Financial Plan in Your Church

As you look to make a new financial plan or church budget for next year, here are thirteen practical tips.

  1. Now is a great time to evaluate your ministries and programs for effectiveness and trim things that no longer work. Don’t keep programs and ministries you like but are no longer effective. Go through a season of evaluation right before you go into budget planning and then fund what is working. These evaluation forms can help.
  2. Underestimate your church’s income and overestimate your spending. “A budget is really a forecast, which at best is an educated guess,” says Joe Sangl of INJOY Stewardship Solutions. If you’re making guesses, it’s probably smarter to guess on the conservative side.
  3. Build a budget based on a percentage of last year’s income. Budgeting by faith sounds spiritual but it might not be the best financial strategy. Eric Owens, Pastor at Rincon First Christian Church says, “We base our budget on 85% of income for the current year and strive to have a reserve of 3-6 months operating expenses.” 
  4. Consider a shorter budget cycle if needed. If your church is growing or if you’re affected by COVID, a shorter timeline will give you a built-in mechanism to make adjustments.  Maybe your budget is for six months instead of twelve.Trying to plan out the entirety of the year could be difficult with the fast, changing climate we are currently in. Build for the first quarter, and then make needed adjustments throughout the year,” says Philip Scowden, Community Engagement Leader for Thrivent.
  5. Make sure your budget accounts for cash flow, not just total giving. When you receive and spend money matters. Connor Baxter, Campus Pastor at Watermark Frisco says, “Businesses are having to look at different numbers than years prior. Pastors should do the same. Don't just look at top of line donations, but look at your overall cash flow weighed against the expenses you've been able to cut this year.” 
  6. Build a budget that reflects the priorities you laid out in your strategic ministry plan.  And if you don’t have a strategic ministry plan, create one immediately. Chuck Taylor, CFO of Trinity Fellowship Church says, “Make sure that everything you spend can be directly tied back to your church's mission, vision, and strategy. Too often church leaders prioritize a cost but cannot explain why. From volunteer t-shirts to software, be intentional with everything you spend.” If you don’t have a written and clear ministry plan, here’s some practical advice (and a template).
  7. A good financial plan should have two parts. A spending plan, which most people call a budget. And a funding plan, which describes how you’re going to actually receive the money, which most churches don’t have.
  8. Get your stewardship committee, finance team, and leaders thinking about funding, not just spending. Most churches agonize over how they are going to spend it and give very little effort to strategically thinking through the funding side. This is a big shift for a lot of churches. We talked about five of these shifts here.
  9. Have a clear plan to talk about money. Talk about it consistently. Talk about it with purpose. Talk about it with a sense of hope. Here’s a free money message series, complete with message notes, graphics, and take-home tools.
  10. If you want your people to help fund the budget, make sure you have a strategy to help them win with their personal finances. This means you need to help them manage the 90% not just ask for the 10%. If you don’t talk about wise financial principles, who will?
  11. Stephen Kump, Co-founder and CEO of Charityvest, says: “Encouraging members to give stock rather than cash can increase donated amounts by a significant margin. When members give this way, they avoid paying capital gains tax on their stocks that have gone up in value, putting more money toward giving rather than the government. Having a simple way to receive donated stocks ensures you get the benefits without the operational headache of opening a brokerage account and coordinating the receipt of stock + paperwork yourself.” Charityvest is a great tool for this and it’s dead simple for churches.  
  12. Don’t be afraid to ask people to give. Jeff Henderson of The FOR Company says, “My responsibility is to ask. Their responsibility is to answer. Don’t shy away from asking big.”
  13. Say thanks. A lot. Sometimes, with a hand-written note.  Everyone who is currently giving to your church needs to know they matter. They need to hear you personally say thanks. People who work in non-profit fundraising know donor retention is more important than donor acquisition.

If you’re a Church Fuel member, you’ll find budget templates, cash flow worksheets, finance team training, and a lot more to help with the budgeting process in the Resource Library. Plus, when you sign up for membership, you’ll get immediate access to The Stewardship Course, our premium training to help you raise and manage money in the church.

The Church Fuel Podcast Episode 2.8: Using Online Small Groups To Reach New People

The Church Fuel Podcast Episode 2.7: Creating A Local Search Strategy

Guest: Jason Hamrock 

Jason guides the vision for how Missional Marketing can best serve our clients and church partners. He leads our sales team and is our lead church growth strategist. He was a Communications Director for 11 years at a megachurch named Central Christian Church of Arizona. From 1991-1995, he played football on a scholarship with Northern Iowa where he studied communications and marketing. He joined Missional Marketing in 2015 and was named CEO in July 2017.

Your Church Is A Brick & Mortar Store

On the whole “SEO,” sound like this big intricate thing that only men and women wearing white coats working in a lab 100 feet underground understand. 

But breaking it down and honing in on local SEO makes it much easier to understand and reveals why it is so important for your church to know how to use it. 

Local SEO has everything to do with your church’s physical, brick, and mortar location. When you’re hungry for a delicious burger you pull out your phone and Google, “yummy burgers.” The first things to pop up are restaurants that serve burgers within your immediate vicinity. You click on the map, look at a few pictures, salivate, and rush to the closest burger stand to satisfy your hunger.  

It’s no different when people in need within your community search, “churches near me.” Those first few links to pop up are the churches, including yours, no more than a 10-minute drive away. They click the map, read a few reviews, and hopefully pick your church to visit the following Sunday. 

Since 9 out of 10 people use Google for all of their searches and 7 out of 10 don’t scroll past the top three or four local options, failing to rank high in local SEO is losing the chance to share the Gospel with a new visitor to your church.  

Reviews & Photos Inform Every Single Decision

At this point, online viewers of all ages are conditioned to click the first option that pops up in their search and view that option in Google Maps. 

They scroll through various pictures and read all of the online reviews or at least glance at the number of starts each location has. Exactly the way you would if you were looking for a new restaurant to go to on date night, or about to buy a really expensive computer. 

You want to know what it looks like. You want to know what other people are saying about it. 

People thinking about visiting your church want to know what your church looks like and they want to know what other people are saying about it! 

As good as your church’s website likely is, that’s not where potential visitors are going to see what your church looks like anymore. They’re using Google, Facebook, and Yelp. 

So you have to ask yourself, “Would I go to my church after looking through photos and reviews on Google?” 

If the answer is no don’t panic! There are a few really easy fixes for boosting your local SEO. 

  • Ask for reviews! If someone searching for a church online doesn’t see any reviews of your church, their assumption is that there is nothing GOOD to report. Invite members of your church to write a quick review. 
  • Post fresh, updated photos of your church and its people. Exactly like reviews, if someone sees outdated photos of your church they’re assumption is that nothing new is happening there. Entice online viewers with consistently updated photos so that they know your church is growing. 

To make sure you set up a proven system for creating effective local SEO check out our Systems Course. It will show you a step by step process for creating any system in your church that can run on auto-pilot while you focus on your ministry.  

Negative Reviews Are Not A Bad Thing 

Through your Google My Business profile, you can do so many simple things that have a significant impact on the people viewing your church through a Google Search.  

One thing you should always do is respond to every single review and don’t ever hide or delete the negative ones. 

As tempting as it may be to highlight the good and hide the bad, reading any negative reviews on your church can actually help you in the long run. Aside from any reviews that are out of left field and purely mean a negative review can unveil an area in your church that needs fixing. 

Responding to negative reviews also shows other people looking into your church that you care! When people see negative reviews without a response they assume that the business does not care or pay attention to the reviews. 

When you respond to negative reviews you’re showing potential visitors that you are listening, and you want to heal any hurt even if your church caused it.

Accuracy Is Key

There are a few seemingly nit-picky things that can make a huge difference in where your church ranks in local searches. 

Your church’s name, address, and phone need to be correct and up-to-date at all times across Google My Business, your church’s landing pages, and any other online directories. If you are one church with multiple campuses you need to have a different Google My Business profile for each campus with relevant address and phone numbers. 

You also want to make sure the hours listed in Google reflect your real hours of availability and operation. If your church is renting from a school, and therefore only open on Sunday, make sure that your hours reflect that. 

Accurate hours of operation show Google that this organization is in this specific location and is open for business.

For incredible help on making sure your church’s information is accurate read up on Missional Marketing’s Local SEO For Churchs. 

Google Can Become The Biggest Donor To Your Church

Outside of members who are directly involved in the life of your church most people discover you, and the services you offer through a Google search or search ad. 

Some are Googling “churches near me,” or, “church service times.”

Others can stumble upon your church by searching, “help with anxiety,” or, “how to overcome a divorce.” 

People in both camps are hurting and looking for someplace to heal. Google can literally help you get in contact with these people and bring them into your church through Google Ad Grants. 

As a 501c3 organization, Google will give you an ad grant worth up to $10,000 for you to use to promote your church online. So beyond giving you exposure through organic local search, Google will let you apply for and give you money to spend on ads that funnel people in need directly to your church. 

Whether you’re an SEO wizard or completely new to SEO invest time and effort into your Google My Business profile and boosting your church’s local SEO performance. 

More than ever people are searching, literally searching, for places to meet their needs. When your church ranks high in local SEO, and what a searcher sees or reads is attractive, they decide to step foot in your doors. 

And when one person steps into your church, physically or virtually, they’re one step closer to knowing Jesus. 

Resources

Missional Marketing Website

Missional Marketing Podcast

Missional Marketing Blog

Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode HERE.

Quotes from Episode 2.4

“This is Google's world. We're talking about when somebody is doing a local search, their churches near me, or non-denominational churches near me, Christian churches near me, or best churches in my city. There are all kinds of search terms for people looking for a church. When somebody gets to the local pack, seven out of 10 times, they click on that map, those top three search results, or even maybe an ad that's above that seven out of 10.” —Jason Hamrock

“What I do when I'm looking for different restaurants, I'd never been to, I Google them. I Google like best restaurants. And you know what? I look at reviews and photos. What are you trying to say about it? And does the food look good? Church is no different.” —Jason Hamrock  

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