Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to have a successful 'Friend Day'

Friend Days are an excellent way to boost attendance. More than ‘a one-time shot in the arm,’ these days should be a piece of the growth-strategy-puzzle for your church.

Why Friend Day is successful
  • Statistics don’t lie – the vast majority of people who visit a church are the result of a friend inviting them. Of those with no previous church affiliation, most (82%) say they would visit a church IF invited by a friend
  • A Clear Objective – Friend Days work because both, the church and those invited to attend, understand the purpose of the event. By making it a bi-annual event on the calendar, the church will focus prayer and energy on the effort. Every time the announcement is made, people begin to think about who they can invite. By having a meal and a special invite, friends think they are painlessly doing us a favor by coming, all the while enjoying the fellowship of a loving, positive congregation.
  • It restocks the visitation “pond” with viable prospects – Culture is forcing a change in visitation tactics. The day of “cold-calls” is quickly passing as more and more people isolate themselves from strangers and despise door-to-door “salesmen.”
  • The momentum created. Momentum is virtually impossible to create when a church has been in decline. Special days help the church refocus on the things that matter… gets their vision on something other than themselves… generates excitement by achieving goals and experiencing growth. New life is always a good thing.
Important Elements in a successful Friend Day
  • Prayer – concerted, specific, rigorous praying
  • A goal – 50% is a reasonable goal – If you avg. 50, your goal should be 75
  • Publicizing the event (bulletin, marquee, handouts, posters, newspaper, but the greatest of is word-of-mouth)
  • Organization – parking strategy, special music, ushers/greeters, welcome packets or brochures, visitor cards, promotional items, a simple gospel sermon (limit whole service to 50 minutes in length)
  • Have a work day to spruce up the building and grounds BEFORE the big day
  • A meal - Food prep (always have more than expected) – minimize wait time through sufficient staffing. Use nice supplies – table cloths, center-pieces, plates, cups, utensils, etc.
Those who come to Friend Day
  • Saved /satisfied members of other churches.
  • Lost people with little or no church exposure
  • Backslidden Christians who have fallen out of church
  • In each case, something productive has occurred. Those who are lost will be exposed to the gospel… those backslidden will be reminded of what they are missing… and those who are satisfied will remember the good experience should they ever be faced with the need to change. Never underestimate the power of people talking about their experience at your church.
What to do afterwards
  • Praise your people specifically for things they did to help the day be successful. 
  • Share the Statistics from the day and any testimonial you can think of that would encourage your people to do this again
  • Sit down immediately and write down any flaws or problems you can brainstorm and solve for the next big day.
  • Contact every visitor card with a nice letter from the pastor, thanking them for attending and saying SOMETHING about the mission, the purpose of the church and the hope of seeing them again soon
  • Have a “kind voice” call those cards that provided a phone number (keep it BRIEF!) Calls should be made between Thursday and Saturday night… no later than 8 PM.
  • Pray for those people who came on Wednesday night and get any “stories” you can use for follow up visits: “I understand you are friends with Jim and Judy Smith…”
  • Begin visiting those who are genuine prospects – keep the visit BRIEF
While a pastor should be contacting people on his own, the old saying “many hands make short work” is true. There is power in team-work. By having two days per year for the church to make a concerted effort, souls will be saved, families will be strengthened that might never have darkened the door of your church otherwise. Make the effort – and see what God will do!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

3 Tips for Preachers

Weekly we are inundated with sales brochures, materials, and conferences promoting some new strategy for pastoral success.  While many of these things are helpful, sometimes the message is lost in all their words.  If I could encourage you to make 3 small changes to your preaching, I would challenge you to:

1.  Preach Passionately - You must feel your sermons before you can expect others to be moved by them.  No, I am not encouraging you to turn on the tears like one might flip a light-switch, but I am encouraging you to ask God to ignite a zeal in your heart for the messages you bring.  Feel it.  Let it effect you emotionally.  Lord, deliver us from dry preaching.

2.  Preach Pointedly - Stay on point.  When your people leave they need to have a good grasp of the 'Big Idea' of the sermon.  What is the one thing you want them to remember?  Could they explain in one sentence what the message was about?  What action or step can they take to apply the message? Without a point, the best contextual analysis is lifeless and uninspiring.

3.  Preach Purposefully - Develop a preaching plan... a calendar.  Prayerfully outline ministry objectives and preaching schedules well in advance.  If you cannot produce an annual calendar, in the very least stay 3 months ahead of yourself.  This will give you time to think through your topics/texts strategically. This will help you avoid 'hobby-horse' preaching where we only hit the topics we are particularly interested in.

These three "tweaks" will dramatically improve your preaching.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why I believe Pastoral Visitation is STILL important

Thankfully I was taught the importance of in-home visitation from my Pastor 28 years ago. I'll never forget how he trained me to approach virtual strangers with the timeless appeal of the gospel, or to share time with a shut-in, or pursue a straying member.  While our culture no longer views pastoral visitation kindly, I still believe it should be a priority for most Free Will Baptist preachers.  Why?

1.  Because visitation allows you to build relationships - and relationship building is key to successful ministry. You will have an opportunity to lead people to Jesus through relationship.  You will be able to minister to hurting, lonely people through relationship.  You will be able to offer that timely piece of advice or counsel that might be life-changing because you took the time to build relationship.

2.  Because so few participate in visitation these days.  Many outside the South are not accustomed to preachers dropping by.  Some don't appreciate it and it would be good to be sensitive to their concern. I'll never forget one home I dropped by that had a sign next to the doorbell that read, "I shoot every 7th preacher who comes by, and the 6th just left!" However, most people treasure thoughtfulness and consider it an act of love that you take the time. If I attempted to provide a number for the times I've heard people say, "Our former pastor didn't visit," or "Preachers today don't visit like they once did," the number would be so high you would think I was exaggerating.

3.  Because the need for visitation is great.  Cultivate the habit of calling, texting, emailing, AND visiting your people.  They will appreciate your heart.  And besides, when they know you love them, they will allow you to broach the sensitive subjects.

4.  Because it is very difficult (and likely unfair) for you to expect your people to do something you don't do.  While the pastor shouldn't be expected to do ALL the visiting, he SHOULD DO his share.

Here are a couple of keys to good visitation ministry:

... Have a goal.  "This year I want to make _____ visits."  Break that number into weekly and daily goals.
... Have a plan.  Form a list of shut-ins who need visiting monthly.  Keep watch over your rolls to see who has  been missing service.  Utilize visitor-cards in worship as a pool to draw from. Find out where your people live and get to know their schedules. Drop by your young-peoples sporting events.
... Have a purpose.  While the art of communication requires us to engage people where they live, our conversations should always point people to Jesus.  Pray with them before you leave.  Tell them you love them.  Tell them you hope to see them again soon.
... Never go out without a card, brochure, or bulletin to leave in their door if they are not home.  Jot a little note with the time and date on it because some people don't ever use their front doors.

Enough of my rambling... time to go visiting!

Monday, March 30, 2015


Self-scouting is a tool used by football coaches that helps them discover tendencies in their team... weaknesses that can be exploited by their opponent.  Self-scouting is a helpful tool for preachers too. Studying yourself as you preach will be eye-opening... helping you identify those nervous tics, oft-repeated/overused words, distracting gestures, poor grammar.  The more honest you are in your evaluation, the more helpful it can be.

However, there ARE dangers to self-scouting too.  Here are 4 of the most obvious:

1) Perfectionism - You will never be perfect and you are going to frustrate yourself and those who follow you by being too hard on yourself.  Perfectionism will ooze out of your pores when aren't even aware of it - image will become too important - you will call your observations of others "honest," but the people around you will see you as "harsh."

2) Myopia - You might become everything you think a preacher or leader SHOULD be, but your perspectives might be entirely wrong.  If you think a "good preacher always does THIS" then you will also do it (even to your detriment.)  You will establish habits that are difficult to break.  Your methods will become stale and uninteresting.  You will be critical of others who are highly effective and miss out on necessary change.

3) Discouragement - You can be so hard on yourself that you constantly need the affirmation of others to prop you up.  That neediness is wearisome to those who follow you.  Self-preoccupation is counter-productive to ministry because NOT EVERYTHING is about you - but it will seem that way if you are always measuring yourself.  Failures will be blown out of proportion (and so will victories.)  That roller-coaster you are building for yourself won't be fun.

4) Pragmatism - results can become an insatiable idol that will lead you to down the shady-lane of hypocrisy.

Self-scouting can be likened to other good things (like exercise or dietary supplements.)  In moderation, those things are good for you.  But if you don't believe you can have too much of a good thing, try fiber :)

Monday, February 23, 2015

5 gifts every man should give his children

"Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth." Psalm 127:4

I am so thankful for my arrows. They are doing what "arrows" are created to do - inflicting harm to the enemy. Raising children to be used in the work of the Lord is the call of every Christian parent, but oftentimes we father's feel overwhelmed just doing our best to keep our heads above water. The "daily grind" becomes THE excuse for leaving the task of "nurturing" and "admonishing" our children to our wives. In the end, however, God will judge us men for how we have led our families.

God has given us these gifts and expects us to release them (as arrows) into spiritual battle. What are 5 gifts you should give your children that will help them "fight the good fight of faith?"

1) Fair expectations - I owe my children a heartfelt apology for the times I expected perfection - the times I was more concerned with image than integrity - the times I gave too much thought to the leering looks of critical church people who thought my children made too much noise or didn't look the part. Be fair in your expectations. I think this is what Paul meant when he warned fathers not to exasperate or frustrate their children.

2) Love - start by loving their mom, showing her affection, cherishing her friendship, respecting her feelings, inviting her thoughts. A girl learns how a man should treat a woman by watching her father love her mother. Affirm your children often. They need to hear two statements from you dad - "I love you!" and, "I'm proud of you!" Dr. James Dobson used to say, "Children spell 'love' T-I-M-E.

3) Prayer - Every-single-day! Pray for their heart. Pray for their salvation. Pray for their future mate. Pray they would hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit louder than the call of immature friends. Pray they would grow to love and serve God... that they would devote themselves to be "living sacrifices" to God.

4) Training/experience - Lead them and encourage them to serve the Lord and their fellow man. Give them opportunities to minister in the church. Look for ways to include them in your own ministry. Talk about serving God. Talk about the Word of God and the faithfulness and goodness of God. Teach them the importance of serving their family, showing love to the elderly, sacrificing for those less fortunate, encouraging the down-trodden, visiting the sick.

5) Forgiveness - The story of the Prodigal Son has always struck a chord deep in my soul. Here was a young man who essentially said to his father, "I wish you would hurry up and die so I could have my inheritance!" How that father's heart must have broken to see his son prefer the ways of the world to the warmth of his home. But what brings conviction to me as a father is the fact that this disobedient, undeserving, self-serving young man came to his senses and thought of returning home. Just the fact that he knew he COULD return home says something about the father, don't you think? Even though he had his speech prepared to say he would be a "servant," the very idea that his father would take him in after so much failure and disrespect, speaks volumes of the steadfast love of his dad.

Do my kids know I love them unconditionally? Do they know I will forgive them no matter how far they go or how bad they fail? Do YOUR kids know that? They need to... they REALLY need to.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Developing the Leaders around you

Good leaders aren't just a steady hand in an hour of crisis - they are constantly on the search for potential leaders they can pull into their circle and develop.  Every pastor should have a leadership team through which he runs the business of the church.  What are the benefits to such a team?

1) It will give you an opportunity to share your vision with those who are most likely to help it become reality.  Face it - you can do very little without the help of others.

2) It will foster a spirit of transparency and unity.  Sometimes people are guilty of "leading from behind."  They have a misinformed opinion about where the church is headed or how decisions are made.  Bringing others into the decision making process will quell some of the squawking that breeds division.

3) It will develop in your leaders the importance of teamwork and group-think.  Have you ever thought that some of the "freelancing" people do in church life may be caused by the way they perceive their pastor and how the pastor works?

4) It will improve your ideas.  Solomon tells us there is "safety" in a multitude of counselors.  If you surround yourself with people who have the freedom to express themselves without fear of harsh criticism, you will have some of your bad ideas culled and some of your good ideas improved upon. Just this Sunday afternoon I had a leadership team meeting and one of my leaders offered insight I had not even considered.  Through that insight, we were able to improve an idea.

5) It will give people a sense of purpose and a greater desire to be a part of the work of the church. We have some very talented people whose gifts are being wasted in the Lord's work.  There are people God has gifted who could be an incredible blessing to the church if invited to serve.

6) Another seldom discussed benefit to this concept of leadership is that people will give more when they take ownership of the work.

Why wouldn't you WANT others helping you carry the burden of leadership?  Are you afraid it will be a sign of weakness or that others might see it as a defect in you?  A fool calls it "weakness."  I call it "wisdom."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Walking through a minefield

Does your church ever feel like a minefield... like there are explosive issues just below the surface that might cripple your ministry (or worse?)  Need help safely navigating these devices?  Things to remember:

1) Satan is a destroyer and ultimately he is the cause of this.  While people do dumb things and allow themselves to be used by the schemer to hurt God's Church, Paul said, "we wrestle" with principalities and powers not of this world.  Jesus told a parable of a farmer whose enemy sowed tares in his wheat crop.  Satan is the real enemy... not the former pastor... not a deacon who feels called to keep you humble... not a councilman who rejects your plans to build.

It's Satan who is attacking your family with turmoil and strife.  It is Satan who is tempting a board member to disrespect you.  It is the "accuser-of-the-brethren" that attacks through circumstances and people in your life to discourage you.  Put a face on it and remember, it isn't a deacon, your wife, or a rogue church member.

2) Spiritual warfare must be fought with spiritual weapons.  Fall on your face in prayer.  Ask God for wisdom, self-control, and courage to do what is necessary.  Fortify yourself with the prayers of spiritual men who don't need to know all the details of the situation before they commit to heartfelt prayer.

3) Keep a brief journal of your actions and conversations.  That journal will be helpful to you as you recall important details, as you see God's faithfulness to you. and as you help other men navigate their minefields.

Become that unflappable leader you've admired at various times in history.  You remember, those stone-faced, steal-jawed heroes of earlier times who created confidence in their followers by their courage and character and well-timed words.  They don't have to know about your fears.  They don't have to know about the many times you have fallen on your face not knowing what to do.

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite leadership passages (Joshua 1:9)  "Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sharing your faith... with Christians

Typically we think of those outside the Body of Christ when we talk about sharing our faith - but Christians need to hear "the reason for your hope" too.  Why?

1.  Because Life is Hard - there are believers in every congregation who are on the brink.  Their circumstances are causing them to wrestle with their faith.  Each Christian will have those moments when he wonders, "Where is God in this?"  Parents who helplessly watch their child fight for life... the wife whose husband of 20 years rips their family apart chasing after an invading interest... young people whose professors are ripping apart all things metaphysical... life is hard.  Sometimes our faith is strong and comforting.  Sometimes our faith is like moth-eaten, stale fabric that has spent too many winters in the back of an overcrowded closet.

Broken people need you to share your faith with them.  Many of those "victims of life" are one disaster away from checking out.  Be a lifeline... an encourager.

2.  Because it is commanded - Think of the injunction, "Bear one another's burdens."  Solomon told us that a fitting word is like "apples of gold in settings of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).  All of us can remember a time when God led someone to us who said just the right thing to change our perspective or lift our spirits.  People need that.  Saved people need to know they are loved.  Too many pastors get so caught up pursuing new people that they forget those who have been 'in the trenches' with them. Discouragement is common among us because so much of what we do is attacked or seems fruitless or because we battle a sin nature that is often selfish.  That's why something so beautiful as "encouragement" has to be commanded - because we are so prone to think only of ourselves.

3.  Because it will bless you - Though we shouldn't strive FOR blessing but to BE a blessing, it truly is refreshing to be a part of making a difference in someone's life.  Though helping others can be exhausting at times - I know of no greater work... no richer blessing than being another man's Barnabas.  Think of what it meant to Onesiphorus to hear Paul say, "He has often refreshed me." When long dead and gone, the encourager's legacy lives on.

Jesus blessed others.  Though He often confronted those whose lives were empty religious shells, He had a magnetism that drew crowds everywhere He went.  Why?? Because He loved the unlovable, restored the fallen, and encouraged the weak.  Be like Him!  Look for ways to bring light to another's darkness.  Yes, even believers need to hear WHY they should trust the Lord.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Quiet Time - You need one

Since preachers write studies and sermons each week, we are tempted to forgo a daily devotional life. "It isn't like we aren't in the Word..." but it is important that we find nourishment too - beyond the typical wrestling with a text for others.  We NEED the discipline of a daily quiet time.  What's more, we need the intimacy of it.

Don't fall into the trap of reading the Bible as a textbook.  At the risk of sounding hokey, allow the Word to wash over you.  Invite God to change your thinking.  Ask Him to use His Word to shape you into the image of Christ.  Even ask Him to help you LOVE His Word.

What are the benefits?  A brilliant restfulness in the knowledge of God, His Will, and purposes.  As you confide in God (through prayer) you will find it less important to confide in man.  Your heart will change as God slowly and yet methodically transforms your mind.  You will better minister God's truth to others too - for the insight we need for life is only found in the wisdom of God. Peace... patience... mercy and grace all grow in the heart where the seed of God's Word is sown.

Set a time.  Do it.  And watch your heart change!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Second and satisfied

As I enjoyed the fellowship of another Free Will Baptist pastor, the subject of church staff, particularly associate pastors, came up.  We talked about how uncomfortable it is when someone you hired to help you subtly undermines you.  I told my friend, "It would be nice if a prominent associate in our ranks would write a book called 'Second and satisfied... how to flourish in the role of the associate."

Some of us unnecessarily view the role of the associate pastor as a stepping stone to the pastorate. When I graduated Bible College, I chose this path to the pastorate because I wanted to learn, hands-on, from a veteran.  There's nothing wrong with that.  But sometimes the associate gets caught in the cross-hairs of church dysfunction - where lay-leaders begin to promote or prefer the "new guy" (the associate) over the "old guy" (the senior pastor.)  Maybe, as in my case, the associate has definite opinions about the pastorate and doesn't shy away from making unfair comparisons or criticisms of the man they have pledged to serve.  Some men refuse to hire an associate because they have been "burned" by naive, fledgling leaders.

How can we adequately train men to be good associates?  What are the principles they must embrace to gain the necessary experience all the while offering valuable aid to the man and church that has employed them?  Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, the associate must understand his role.  You are there at the behest of someone else.  You owe the senior pastor your outspoken support and cooperation.  IF you cannot do that, IF he proves to be a man unworthy of your support, L-E-A-V-E.  You do not want to harm him or the church.  You are there to sharpen your ax, to add tools to your toolbox... not to destroy or disparage another man's work.

Exercise wisdom - those who stroke your fur now often have an agenda that is ungodly.  If they are using subtle tactics to undermine the pastor, you better know you are only a pawn to be sacrificed when you no longer serve their purposes.

Ask for a clearly defined job-description.  Life is much easier if the pastor is clear in his expectations. Often you are being hired as the "cure-all" to their problems.  Churches and pastors make the mistake of thinking that the "home-run-hire" will jump-start a dead or dying work.  I know one pastor who changes associates like some might change pants.  When the church doesn't grow, he fires his associate to keep himself off the hot-seat.  Every 18 months he makes a change.  Job-descriptions help you AND the church develop realistic expectations. (It would be wise to consider a pastor's track-record with associates BEFORE you sign the dotted line)

Every chance you get - lift up, stand behind, and encourage the senior pastor.  Pray for him.  Never give him a reason to suspect your motives.  Ask questions.  Look for ways to shoulder the leadership-burden.  Enjoy being second.  Some of the strongest churches in our denomination are led by staffs with great chemistry and loyalty.  Your life will be much more fulfilling if you cultivate a spirit of contentment wherever you are.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rogue Leaders

Rogue leaders... no matter how "cool" it may sound, being rogue is anything BUT cool.  Chafed by convention, these self-willed men behave as if they are above accountability... that God speaks to them and uses them in ways no one else could understand, and therefore, dare not question. What are some of the common characteristics of rogue leaders?

1.  The Rogue Leader surrounds himself with "Yes men."  Though scripture says there is "safety in a multitude of counselors," the rogue leader has fallen into the trap of Rehoboam - wanting advisers who always agree with him - who never challenge or question. Constructive criticism is always perceived as a personal attack.  Those who differ with them are quickly marginalized and ostracized. 

2.  The Rogue Leader is driven by ego rather than integrity.  He listens to the wrong people. Those who stroke him are those he values.

3.  The Rogue Leader uses the well-crafted apology as if it were a magic-wand.  He would rather ask for forgiveness than permission.  When enough people see his wrong, he expects grace without repentance.  When people seem slow to trust his new-found change of heart, he quickly resorts to personal attacks or invites them to leave.

4.  The Rogue Leader uses people for his own selfish gain - and when they no longer satisfy his needs, he discards them.

I know a rogue leader. Sadly, he has gifts and abilities God would bless and use,  but because he is so self-willed, he is blind to the carnage in his wake.  As I watch him destroy people, I must remember how I too have been that man.  I thank God for showing me my rogue ways and pray everyday I will never be that man again.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Basic Organizational tid-bits for a young pastor

When new to the ministry, it is hard to think with "intentionality."  It takes time to think clearly when you are doing your best to survive the daily demands of the pastorate.  Here are a few things you will be glad you got right from an organizational perspective:

1) Catalog your messages - Keep good notes on your sermons, illustrations, and speaking opportunities.  Later in your ministry you will appreciate and benefit from the groundwork you have laid in previous messages.  Date and file every sermon, notate where you have preached it, evaluate each sermon when you are finished (a brief note at the end of your sermon with any observations that will be helpful the next time you use it.)

2) Record statistics - Keep good stats on all your services.  You will be able - at a glance - to analyze the direction of the church, what areas need improvement, what changes need to be made. You will be able to determine patterns in attendance that might encourage you after a low day.  You will be able to see what days work best for special campaigns or pushes.  You will get a feel for the natural ebb and flow of your church.  Notate every salvation, baptism, church membership, funeral, wedding, baby dedication, special project, etc.  This info is easy to keep and might give you further opportunity to minister to a specific person or need.  (For instance, you might see that one of your members is approaching the anniversary of the death of a spouse or child and you can be sensitive to them and encourage them.)

3) Keep a calendar - it doesn't matter if it is electronic or manual, you need to keep track of appointments, visits, mileage, meetings, upcoming member-surgeries, etc.  Instead of letting your schedule happen to you, you must take charge of it.  A disciplined schedule will beat back those "overwhelmed" feelings that sometimes paralyze pastors.  Spend less time on time killers like social media and secular forums where you are tempted to be someone you are not. Keep your priorities straight and protect what is important.

Trust me when I say, the earlier you begin these things, the happier you will be!