Is the Government Really Giving My Church Free Money?

By now you have certainly heard all about the Payroll Protection Program to help churches retain staff under the CARES Act. I’ve received several links to webinars, blogs, and articles over the last week, but I still had questions, so I texted my friend Josh who is a pastor and an Executive Consultant for Ministry Renewal. 

You may remember Josh from the blog I wrote about how we raised $1.5 million for our church. He walked us through that entire fundraising process. He also wrote this blog about church fundraising for Excellent Pastor. 

Below is our text conversation about the Stimulus program. I hope it helps you like it helped me. If you have more questions he is offering to help you too. You can find his contact information at the bottom of this email.

Jason: Hey Josh, I know you’ve been helping churches navigate this stimulus relief package. I was hoping you could answer some questions for me.

Josh: Sure.

Jason: I guess my first question is, is this for real? Can my church get 2.5x our monthly payroll, and not have to pay it back?

Josh: Maybe. There is so much that we don’t know. We have already helped churches successfully apply for the program, but I am increasingly concerned about the predominant narrative out there among pastors that “this will be easy.”

Jason: It feels too good to be true. I feel like there will be a catch somewhere. I’m worried I might regret it in a few months when some other shoe drops.

Josh: It is true that the loan terms are outrageously generous. I just don’t know that it’s going to be that simple.  Do we really believe that if a church can pay its bills perfectly on its own, the government is going to just pad the church’s savings account?  That is not in keeping with the spirit nor goals of this program.  

I think it’s more likely that you are going to have to prove the need, to supply documentation of your income. The math on this is going to get complicated.  Documenting compliance will be arduous.  

Most importantly, we don’t exactly know how a church is going to have to account for how this money is spent in order to have the loan converted to a grant.  The rest of the process might be much more difficult than the application process.

Jason: So, could I just take the money, pay my staff, and then use the money I would’ve have used to pay staff for something else?

Josh: The predominant narrative essentially says this (even my church’s auditor issued us this guidance, which I continue to debate): Open a separate checking account and have the PPL funds disbursed electronically to the new account.  Use that account to cover payroll and all other expenses that are convertible for an 8-week period.  Retain your staff.  After 8 weeks if you spend 100% of the money from the checking account on the right things, you don’t owe a dime back. 

But, we are coaching churches to assume this will be a loan unless you meet the specific criteria connected to the stated purpose of the bill: (1) retain staff that you otherwise would have to lay off or (2) rehire staff that you have recently furloughed or laid off. 

Jason: Ok. Thanks. One more question, couldn’t I just take the money and if it becomes a loan pay it back. Aren’t the interest rates really good?

Josh: We are seeing loans beneath 2%, which is really great, but regardless of that, they are still loans that must be repaid. My concern is that churches are going to spend the money assuming it will be forgiven and then have to repay it later, but not have the resources to do so.

Jason: That makes sense. So is your suggestion that if I need the loan to keep the doors open, I should apply for it, but if I don’t think I will need the loan, I should pass?

Josh: I don’t think that I can make that judgment for a church, but hopefully you were applying a Dave-Ramsey-Style approach to your personal budget and your church’s finances!

Josh and his team at ministry renewal are available to help coach you through the initial application, ongoing compliance, and loan conversion process. You can call them today at 404-665-7007, email, or visit

Healthy Leadership

3 Reminders Every Church Leader Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis.

The reality has probably settled in by now… you’re not having church (in person) for a while. It took me about 10 days to work through the stages of grief. (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.) But now, we find ourselves at a place we’ve never been before, so what do we do?

Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve talked, texted with, and read articles from countless pastors all trying to figure out the same thing: what now? The truth is, no one knows for sure; how could they? With humility and the same uncertainty as everyone else, here are 3 things I’m reminding myself during the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Rest

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing. As leaders, we feel a need to step up, lead the way, and rally the troops. Our mind is racing with potential ideas or acts of desperation. We’re wrestling feelings of fear. What if we have to shut down the church? What if no one returns once this is over? What if everyone just decides to join a megachurch online? (Am I the only one who’s thought that?) When those thoughts fill your mind, something instinctual kicks in, and you believe you have to do something… anything!

The truth is there’s not much you can do right now. Yes, check on your people. Yes, make sure the elderly have what they need. Yes, prepare to provide some type of spiritual leadership online this weekend if you feel you need to, but remind yourself, God is not expecting you to save the day. He doesn’t need you to. Go home. Spend time with your spouse, kids, and grandkids. Work on a puzzle, read a book, grill a burger, take a nap, have a tea party with your daughter, take another nap. You get the point. It’s harder than it should be, but find ways to rest. What a tragedy if when this season is over, you’re too tired to relaunch with fresh passion and energy.

2. Focus On What Is Absolutely Essential

Napoleon made a habit of not responding to his mail in a timely fashion. He instructed his secretary to wait three weeks before opening any correspondence. When he finally heard what was in a letter, Napoleon loved to note how many supposedly “important” issues had simply resolved themselves and no longer required a reply.

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Herbert Simon

I thought of Napoleon’s story this week as I continued to scroll and scroll and scroll on my phone, reading more research, satire, and church updates. I convinced myself that it was important. I needed to stay up to date on what was happening, but in truth, it really just drained my optimism and peace.

Focus is essential when your options are limited, but you’re consuming what other churches are doing. I’m not saying don’t draw ideas from others, just be careful that in your attempt to collect ideas you don’t create a false sense of urgency that keeps you from resting. You don’t have to post a daily FB live devotion. You can, if you want to, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to buy thousands of dollars in new video equipment or create a new social network platform. Be careful that during this time, you don’t get caught in a rat race, thinking you have to keep up with other pastors and churches. You don’t. 

Do the minimum you can to get the message out. The gap between great (cool, novel, HD) and good enough is closer than you think, especially during a crisis. Ignore what the church with millions of dollars of equipment and large platforms is doing. The most effective ministry you can do during this time probably doesn’t involve a computer. Make phone calls, drop off groceries, go pray in the empty church building. When there are times you need to be online, be there, but it’s not as much as you think. Don’t focus on trying to reach the entire internet. Focus on your congregation and provide what they need. Then take a nap. Did I mention that already?

3. Be Honest With Your People

Let’s just address the elephant in the room: you’re worried about offerings, or lack thereof. You’ve probably already run the numbers a hundred times in your head. You’re worried. I get it. Here’s my advice; just be honest with your church. People aren’t stupid, they may not have thought about it yet, because they’re worried about their financial issues, but once you explain the situation, they will understand. Don’t over-spiritualize it, use guilt, or be passive-aggressive. Try something like this: 

“Hey church, it looks like we’re still going to be unable to meet together in person for a while. I wish I could say we have enough savings to defer offerings while we aren’t meeting in person. However, the reality is, we still need people to be obedient and generous during this time so we can stay open to meet the needs of the church and the church members who need help. I’ve provided the link below to give online. Thank you for your generosity.”

God owns all the money. Go back and read that last sentence again. Read it one more time.

We’re going to get through this. God is still building his church. Keep your head up and on straight. I’m praying for you. Thank you for everything you do to help build His church.

My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them, for they will refresh your soul.

Proverbs 3:21-22

3 Follow-Up Ideas From Your Christmas Service(s)

I know you’re excited about a new year and new possibilities, but before you jump into 2020 I want to give you 3 ideas to help you close out 2019 and even get ahead on planning for your Christmas services in 2020 (yes, I know…. It’s a long way away.)

Whether you had 1 Christmas service or 20, the best time to plan for next year is on the heels of this year’s service while the wins and frustrations are fresh on your mind. I’ve already set up a few google calendar/Siri reminders for Oct. 1 to make sure I don’t forget the things I’m thinking about now.

Here are 3 takeaways from our Christmas services that may help you plan for next year:

1. Offer more services sooner?

We had 5 Christmas services this year, and to my surprise, the largest crowds came furthest from Christmas Day

Here is the list of our Christmas services in order of attendance:

  1. Sunday 11:45am (Dec. 22)
  2. Saturday (Dec. 21)
  3. Thursday (Dec. 19)
  4. Sunday 10:30am (Dec. 22)
  5. Sunday 9am (Dec. 22)

I have several guesses as to why people came to the earlier services, but regardless of why; in back to back years, people have chosen to attend the earlier services. So I’m wondering if we should offer more services, sooner. It may be something to consider for you too.

2. Scrape the list

This is a phrase we picked up from the amazing team at 7Hills Church in Florence, KY. The idea is simple: If you want more people to show up for Christmas, go through and contact the people in your database. This is not a new idea but possibly forgotten.

Research has proven that it’s easier to “market” to someone who already has a relationship with your church. If someone is on your list, that means they have engaged with your church in some way and have given you permission to contact them.

This year, we chose to contact anyone who has engaged with our church in the last 3 months and had a team of volunteers make a personal phone call. It allowed us to have personal contact and, in some cases, pray with people over the phone. And yes, we saw people come to our Christmas services that we hadn’t seen in a while.

It’s simple but effective.

3. Is Bigger Better?

After preaching 5 times this year, and watching our team work so hard to create a fabulous Christmas experience, I loved it! But I can’t help but wonder if it’s the best strategy for us moving forward.

I’m not saying we won’t offer Christmas services. Of course, we will, but I’m not sure we will try to “Wow” people with a Christmas production type of service. We may go back to a more traditional “Christmas carol/Christmas story” kind of service and less of a production.

I’m just thinking out loud for our church, so please don’t hear something I’m not saying. Obviously, high-level Christmas services are working all over the country, but for me, I’m wondering if the effectiveness matches the effort required. Would something simpler still provide equal value?

These are just a few thoughts/reminders I’m thinking about Christmas as we close out the year, and I don’t want to forget them next year. Make sure you do the same somehow. You’ll be glad you did.

P.S. You’re going to start seeing fewer emails from me. I will be sending out monthly emails instead of weekly emails in 2020. I still want to provide as much value and resources as possible. Just wanted you to know

Thank you for everything you do to help build the church. I hope 2020 is your best year of ministry yet!


The 5 Best Leadership Books I Read in 2019

I’m not sure who originally said “leaders are readers,” but there’s some truth to it. 

I try hard to schedule my week, so 1 day is reserved for introspection. That usually involves reading, writing, or dreaming. It doesn’t always work out, and my week gets full, but I try to prioritize learning and thinking time, and I would encourage you to do the same.

I read a bunch of great books this year, but I narrowed them down to my top 5. (I provided Amazon links)

1. Atomic Habits by James Clear

There seems to always be one book every year that stands out above the rest, and Atomic Habits was that book for me this year. It’s a book about changing behavior but it’s written in a very simple way. So much I could say, but this was a game changer for me. Amazon link

2. The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzaro

I believe every pastor should read this book. After I read it for myself I read it again with my staff, and it had a profound effect on our team. Peter talks honestly about the struggles leaders face beneath the surface of our public leadership. It packs a punch. Amazon link.

3. Heromaker by Dave Ferguson

I read this book in 2018, but read it again with our staff, and I loved it even more. You can listen to my interview with Dave on the podcast here. It has changed how we look for, develop, and empower leaders. This is great for teams to read together.Amazon link.

4. Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

I listened to this audiobook on a road trip and really enjoyed it. It’s not a Christian book, but I love Ryan Holiday’s books, and this latest one is his best, in my opinion. It describes the struggle of most pastors I know. Amazon link.

5. Irresistible by Andy Stanley

This was another audiobook for me, and I listened to it twice because the first time was pretty disorienting. I know it’s controversial, and honestly I’m still torn on a few of Andy’s opinions, but overall, the second time through I agreed with most of it. If you haven’t read it I think it’s an important read, even if you don’t agree with him. Amazon link.

Other Nominees

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Thirst by Scott Harrison

Also, I purchased Warren Wiesrsbe’s Expository Commentary set this year, and they have been my favorite commentaries I’ve ever used. Very practical and helpful for sermon building.

One last thing, If you haven’t tried audiobooks, you really should. I’ve been using audible for almost 2 years now and I love it. I know a lot of people think they won’t like audiobooks, and I felt that way too until I tried it. My only requirement is that it’s read by the author. Give it a try. Use this link for the audio version of my book Toxic Soul and Audible will give you a 30 day free trial.

I’m always looking for good books, so if you’ve read something recently that was a game changer for you, reply back and let me know what it was so I can check it out.

Church Growth

7 Healthy Goals for your Church in 2020

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The start of a new year means a fresh start, and if your current ministry reality isn’t going so well, the new year is a great time to dream new dreams or refocus around the mission.

I’m one of those guys who loves to set goals, especially new year goals, so I want to encourage you, if you haven’t already, to set some goals for your church, BUT I want you to set healthy goals.

What are healthy goals?

Healthy goals are realistic goals set with pure motives. As you begin to think through your goals, ask yourself, “Why do I want to accomplish this goal?” Of course, one of the reasons is to grow the kingdom of God, but be honest enough with yourself to admit whether your goals are good ideas or God ideas.

It’s also important to set realistic goals. I’m careful to use the word, “realistic” because I want you to lead with faith. No doubt, there are some things God wants to do in your life and in your church that is unrealistic, but if you set unrealistic goals, you will lead discouraged and feel like you’re failing when you’re really winning.

I’ve put together a Free 2020 Pastor’s Bundle to help you get ahead and feel prepared heading into the new year. It includes:

  • A 2020 Preaching Calendar,
  • A 2020 One-Page Budget
  • An End-of-Year Staff Review Document
  • A Staff/Team Meeting Notes

It’s Free. Click here to download your free bundle.

Let me give you 7 healthy goals your church should have for the new year.

1. Use a Preaching Calendar

I’ve already written a lot about using a preaching calendar in this post, “4 Reasons You Should Be Using A Preaching Calendar” but let me give you the biggest reason why you need to use a preaching calendar: planning brings peace of mind. You can be as detailed or as loose as you want to be, but by taking the time to think through 52 weeks of preaching you are getting ahead of the game. Don’t feel like you have to put together sermon outlines or manuscripts, just prayerfully write in themes and big ideas that will allow you to plan ahead and gather ideas and resources.

Just a reminder, you can download a free Preaching Calendar as part of the 2020 Pastor’s Bundle. Click here.

2. 10% attendance growth

I’ve never, ever, met a church leader who didn’t want to grow. I’ve met pastors who were discouraged by their lack of growth, so they acted like they weren’t interested in growth as a self-defense mechanism, but every leader wants to experience progress, and when it comes to spreading the gospel message, church growth is one of the indicators of progress.

10% growth is a healthy goal, because it will cover for the 3-4% of members who leave your church, and it’s achievable for every church no matter what size. If you average 20 in attendance weekly, make it your goal to average 22 by the end of the year. If your average attendance is 1000, make it your goal to average 1100 by the end of the year.

The beauty of percentages is it’s an even playing field for everyone. You may feel like growing by five people isn’t successful, but if you average 50 people, that’s the equivalent of a church of 10,000 growing by 1000. Don’t be afraid to talk about growth to your church. Announce it to everyone, “we want to grow by 10% this year. If everyone will pray, show up, and invite someone to come with you, God will help us.”

3. Extended vacation time for the pastor

A pastor finding the time and help to take time away is not a small church problem, but the logistics are a greater struggle for smaller churches. Often the pastor and his family perform so many of the tasks on Sunday morning that their absence leaves a huge hole. Eventually, the work required to be gone is greater than the satisfaction of being gone, so you never take a break. Here is my challenge for you: Set the goal now to take back to back weeks of vacation AWAY from your church. Huh?

There are so many healthy benefits for you taking an extended vacation, I don’t have time to list them all, but let me give you these 4 real quick:

  1. It requires you to empower other people in your absence.
  2. It identifies anyone in your church who will be offended by your personal health and reveals who doesn’t have your best interest at heart.
  3. It identifies how much of a control freak you are.
  4.  It sends the message to your family that they are important, and you’re willing to be away from the church to be with them.

At the end of the day, you need a break to be at your best. The very fact that you want to push back against this idea proves that you need to do it. Go ahead and get your calendar out, identify a time in the year when the calendar is in a bit of a lull (lower attendance, no activities, etc.) Call a guest speaker, or inform someone in the church who could speak, and assign the responsibilities you normally cover to other people.

Are you ready for me to tell you something you won’t believe? When you get back, the church will still be there! It’s crazy I know, but it’s true, and don’t be offended if people talk about how great the services were without you.

4. A 1-time record-breaking attendance event

I talked about 10% attendance growth already, but I think it’s important for you to have a record-setting attendance event one time this year. Think of it like a balloon or a rubber band (or anything that stretches). By stretching your church to its maximum one time you are increasing the capacity for weekly growth.

If God doubled your church tomorrow, you probably wouldn’t have the systems or volunteers to maintain it, but you could rally the troops one time to try and reach a large number of people in your community. The benefits of a record-setting event are many:

  • You spread the word about your church to the community
  • You give people an opportunity to get excited and get involved
  • You raise the morale of the congregation and leaders
  • You have the opportunity to cast vision for what will be in the future
  • You could lead a large number of people to a relationship with Jesus

Pick a date and have a plan. You could use Easter, or a holiday event, or you could pick a random time. My personal preference is what our church calls “Sunday Funday” it’s just a new spin on “Friend Day.” We rent food trucks, and spend weeks promoting the event and encouraging the congregation to invite their friends and family. It’s always a big day for us. Again, keep percentages in mind. An extra 20-30 people could be the equivalent of an extra 5,000 for a megachurch, but whatever your context do it big, do it right, and do it wow!

5. Give the staff a Christmas bonus

This may not apply to you if you don’t have a paid staff, but if you do (or if you receive a paycheck) plan now to save in order to give a Christmas bonus to all the church employees. This is a healthy goal because everyone loves a bonus, but more importantly, it requires you to budget, save, and plan the church finances.

Unfortunately, many churches wait to see what the finances look like in December to decide if they can give anything extra. Obviously, if something unplanned arises or giving is down tremendously you may have to call an audible, but if you budget for it, you can accomplish it.

At my church, we use a 1-page budget, (you can download the budget in the 2020 Pastor’s Bundle) and build in Christmas bonuses for all paid staff (we do 1 week’s salary, but it can be whatever you plan for). The important part is not the bonus it’s the budget, but it’s a win for everyone if you can pull it off.

6. Take a mission’s trip

When I started pastoring my church 10 years ago, I was blown away to find out that in the 90-year history of the church it had never taken a mission trip. I couldn’t believe it! My dad started taking me on mission trips every year since I was 12, it’s just always been a part of my summer. Whether your church has never taken a trip or it does randomly, plan now to take at least one trip this year.

We took 19 people on our churches first mission trip to Argentina, and the effects are still being felt. You don’t have to travel to another country (although I do think there’s something powerful about leaving the US) but plan a trip that requires people to take time off work and sacrifice financially. Not only do mission trips help the people you serve but it broadens their world view. I’ve never taken anyone on a trip that did not come away more humbled and sensitive to what God was doing in the world. If you can make missions trips a consistent practice for your church, I believe you will also see missions giving increase… which brings me to the 7th goal.

7. Give away an offering

I saved this goal for last, but it’s definitely not least. If you made me pick just one goal from this list for your church, I would pick this one, “Give away an offering.” I know what you’re thinking, “That would be great, but we can’t afford to do that.” I get it. The struggle is real, but don’t we preach every week to our people that we can’t out give God? Don’t we teach that sacrificial giving unlocks God’s best blessings? Do you really believe that?

If you asked me what one thing has made the biggest difference in our church over the last 10 years I would say giving away money, and it’s not even close. We call it “Imagine,” and over those 10 years we’ve given away $500,000 (our goal is $10 million lifetime), but it didn’t start like that—it started with small projects and offerings of a few hundred dollars.

As you begin to practice generosity as a church organization, you will experience the momentum and excitement that only generosity can bring. Tell the people what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If your heart is where your treasure is then you need to spread some treasure to other churches or mission projects.

I wrote a blog about how my church gave $1000 to a megachurch in our town. You can read it here. If it’s just absolutely impossible to give away an offering, start by giving away some of the offerings. Tell the church what you’re giving too and celebrate it BIG! What get’s celebrated gets duplicated. You’re probably underestimating how much your people will LOVE this idea, especially millennials.


8 Metrics More Important Than Your Sunday Attendance

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It doesn’t take long in pastoral ministry to feel the pressure and need for numerical growth; it doesn’t start out that way. When you preached your first sermon or led your first Bible study, your focus was not on the attendance, but rather the opportunity. Slowly but surely though, over time, we want to grow whatever it is God has trusted us to lead, and that’s not a bad thing. I believe the desire to make progress is God-given. Where it gets’ tricky is assuming that numerical growth equals progress. Of course, it can, but Sunday attendance only tells part of the growth story of your church.

Over the last few months, my team has been thinking and talking about engagement, specifically how we can track it more effectively. As we have experienced numerical growth, I can’t help but wonder, “Is anyone spiritually growing? Are people becoming more like Jesus? Are our systems and structures helping people take the next step?” Those questions involve different metrics and data than just counting heads. Luckily for us, we were able to use our database search features to begin measuring not only the attendance but the engagement of our congregation.

Let me give you 8 metrics to track more important that Sunday Attendance.

1. Total Reach

You probably know this, but you are reaching more people than your average Sunday morning attendance. A church of “300” is really a church of 450-500 everyone just doesn’t show up on the same day. Your Total Reach is the total number of people who you have engaged in a specific time. You can use whatever criteria you choose, but we use the following criteria in our database search function.

Show me the names of people who have: 
[Checked in a child] OR [Made a donation] OR [Attended a small group] OR [Volunteered in a service] OR [Registered online for an event] Over a certain time

This criteria gives you a fair representation of the total number of people who have engaged with your church over a period of time (1 month, 3 months, 6 months, etc.) Why is that important? As church attendance becomes less frequent, even among Christian families, it is helpful to know your reach is increasing even if attendance is not.

2. Group Attendance

Spiritual growth can be hard to quantify. How can you be sure people are reading the Bible, praying, or obeying? You can’t. That’s why it’s crucial to pick a “next step” metric to gauge for your congregation’s spiritual development. For our church, we chose group attendance. You may want to use different criteria such as Sunday School, that’s fine. Just pick something beyond Sunday morning attendance so you can attempt to measure discipleship effectiveness.

We require our growth group leaders to keep attendance, which allows us to know the exact numbers of weekly group attendance for the semester. Again you can choose any criteria you want, but we decided the following formula:

Average weekly group attendance % by Average adult worship attendance (over the semester)

You get to define success. Depending on what you read, anything over 30% is above average. Our group attendance percentage has grown to over 50%, and we’re excited about the way it’s trending. We believe if a person is regularly attending a group, they will grow in their faith.

3. Involvement

Church is more than a service; it’s a family, and every pastor wants its members to become involved in the life of the church. For us, we decided that if someone was attending a group or serving on a hope team, they were more than an attendee; they were engaged. 

Our search criteria are:

Show me people who have been [scheduled] and [confirmed] as volunteers OR [attended a group] in the last [#] of weeks.

It’s worth noting that we did not include giving in our criteria for engagement, because while giving is an essential identifier for someone’s heart for the church, we also found that people who grew up in a traditional church background, are apt to give but not be involved in the life of our church. We made the decision if someone is ONLY giving, but not attending a group or serving on a team, we did not consider than engaged. You may disagree, but whatever criteria you decide, it’s important to know who is engaging with your church beyond Sunday services.

4. First Time Givers

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” which means that when someone takes the faith-filled step to begin giving to your church, they are indicating that their heart is invested in your church. That shouldn’t be taken lightly or overlooked. 

There are several things you can do to celebrate someone’s decision to begin giving, a handwritten note, a small gift (we’ve given away The Treasure Principle book in the past) a phone call or automated email, etc.) but whatever you do, do something to celebrate people’s spiritual growth in giving.

I can’t speak for all church database systems, but in most cases, a simple search with the following criteria should give you a list:

Show me people who have [first donated] of [any amount] in the last [#] of weeks.

5. First-time Guests

First Time guests are the lifeblood of a church experiencing momentum. Measuring the number of guests who visit your church is also a great way to measure your evangelism effort, marketing strategy, and whether your current members are excited enough about their church to tell anyone about it.

There are many ways to capture a first-time guests visit. I wrote more about the specific strategy our church uses in this post, but most churches use some form of “connection card” or “guest card” and ask guests to fill it out and turn it in. If you use that model or anything similar, it’s effortless to keep track of the total number of guests who visit your church every year. It’s also easy to track trends of guests and know the seasons in your church when guests are more likely to show up.

According to this post by Tony Morgan, a growing church needs more guests each year than you have people in your total average attendance. In other words, a growing church of 500 will need more than 500 guests in a year. We haven’t experienced that percentage total of guests in our church, but we have experienced over 50% of guest to attendance ratio. Don’t be intimidated or discouraged. Whether you have 1 visitor or 1,000 just keep track, so you have the best data to make the best decisions in the future.

6. Guest Retention

Keeping track of your first-time guest numbers is crucial to creating an effective assimilation plan. The next step is to measure the number of guests who return and eventually get connected to the life of your church. This can be tricky if you haven’t created a way to know if a guest returns. At our church, we also track the number of 2nd-time guests who return. I wrote more about our system in this post.

In our language from the stage, we say, “If you’re a 1st or 2nd-time guest, be sure to go by the connection booth and pick up your gift.” This allows our connection team to know if a guest returns and gives us better information to try to take the next step. We believe that when someone returns for a second visit, they are letting you know they are seriously interested in getting connected to the church. We take that as permission to follow up and connect with them.

The next step for our church is “Launch Class,” which is our “next step/membership” class. At the end of Launch class, someone helps them decide where they want to try serving on one of our hope teams (volunteer) and then they receive a follow up from the leader of the volunteer team. Eventually, our goal is to see a 1st-time guest take the next steps to be a group attending, serving, giving church member. Not for us but for them.

We don’t use search criteria to measure Guest Retention, we use a spreadsheet and manually input the data because it involves a lot of personal follow from our team. The spreadsheet has columns for all the next steps we want to help a guest take. I’ve provided the spreadsheet template we use if you would like to use it just click here to download.

I guess if you wanted to use search criteria you could use something like this:

Show me people whose [first attendance date] was [time period] and have [given] or [served] or [attended a group]

As long as you’re keeping the data, this should provide the information you need.

7. New Group Attendance.

I’ve already talked about how our church uses group attendance as the metric to measure spiritual growth. It’s not a perfect metric but is at least something that allows us to gauge effectiveness.

Similarly, we want to measure the number of people who are joining a group for the first time. You may have noticed that the people in your church who do everything, do everything, and everyone else does very little. It’s the classic 80/20 principle. At our church, we want to know if anyone has decided to join a group for the first time because we want to measure our effectiveness at onboarding new people.

As long as your groups or Sunday School require registration and/or an attendance report, you can produce a list for first-time group attendees. While your church is small we’ve found the best way to measure this number is with a highlighter and a list printout, but as your church grows you might need to define a more complicated search criteria that looks something like:

Show me people who have [registered] for [current group time period] AND EXCLUDE people who have [registered] for [past group time period]

8. Inactive

See if this sounds familiar, you have a church database system with thousands of names in it because over the years you have added families, but the information isn’t up to date, and most of those people are actively involved in your church. Every pastor knows the frustration of having way more members “on the books” than people actively attending. Is there a way to know when someone is no longer active in your church unless they tell you? Yes!

Through the power of automation, you can categorize names in your database as “inactive” based on any criteria you choose. This is a powerful feature because the more accurate your information, the more effective your planning can be.

To create an inactive list, use criteria similar to this:

Change [Membership Status] of people who have NOT:
[Checked in a child] OR [Made a donation] OR [Attended a small group] OR [Volunteered in a service] OR [Registered online for an event] Over a certain time
Church Growth

6 Things First-Time Guests Notice But Pastors Overlook

This blog is sponsored by Faith Teams is a web-based church management software with all the features your church needs, and priced so that any church can afford it. You can click here for more information and to sign up for a free 14-day trial.

The term “curse of knowledge” was coined in a 1989 Journal of Political Economy article by economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein, and Martin Weber. It’s is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand. Simply put, the curse of knowledge is what causes you to forget what it’s like to not know what you know.

Once you know 2+2 = 4 you can never not know. The same is true for teachers who have mastered a subject but are unable to understand the struggle of a new student. Or a long-time employee who knows how to complete her job without a manual but struggles to explain the procedure to a new employee.

In a 1990 experiment by a Stanford University, a group of subjects were asked to “hum” well-known songs, while another group tried to name the melodies. When the “hummers” were asked to predict how many of the songs would be recognized by listeners, they would always overestimate. The “hummers” were so familiar with what they were humming that they assumed listeners would easily recognize the tune, but they rarely did.

That’s the problem with the curse of knowledge, familiarity causes you to assume something is obvious while other people are oblivious. Specifically, in terms of leadership, the COK lulls you to sleep, and what was once new or effective or obvious, blends into the background of your responsibilities.

For a church leader, it is a dangerous problem, since we are trying to reach new people with the message of the Gospel. We’ve walked through the doors of our church 300 times, but they haven’t. We’ve sung the worship songs 50 times, but they haven’t. We’ve pulled into the parking lot 1000 times… you get the point. The guests who visit your church don’t know what you know, so you shouldn’t assume their experience is the same as your experience.

How can you protect yourself against the curse of knowledge? It’s not easy. It requires intentionality and enough humility to admit that your way may no longer be the most effective way, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the feedback of fresh eyes, you can work towards being sure that guests have a great experience, even if they don’t know everything you know.

Let me give you 6 things first-time guests notice that pastors often overlook:

1. The Parking Lot

In most cases, the pastor or pastoral staff arrive at the church very early, much earlier than the regular attendees and guests. That means you’ve probably never experienced what it feels like to park 3 minutes before service starts, or what the environment feels like when you step out of your car.

When it comes to your parking lot, don’t just think about parking space, think about the kind of first impression you want to make. The parking lot is the first experience a guest has with your church. Is there anyone to meet them? Is there any music playing to create a mood? Does it look organized or clean? If they had to decide whether or not they will like the church based on the parking lot, what do you think they would say?

A couple who are now leaders in my church told me about the first Sunday they visited. They sat in their car for 15 minutes deciding if they wanted to come in the building or not. They were people-watching to see if this was the “kind” of church they thought they might like.

After hearing their story, our church decided to make the parking lot a priority. We have plenty of places to park cars, but we wanted to make sure when someone pulled in we sent the message, “We’re glad you’re here, and you’re going to be glad you’re here.”

  • We placed 2-3 parking lot volunteers outside. We call them pastors of the pavement. (We made them wear the bright orange vests, even though they didn’t want to because it looks professional)
  • We installed a speaker loud enough to be heard throughout the entire parking lot and play upbeat, fun music throughout the entire day.
  • We started parking cars on the front grass (when the weather is good) even though we have room in the back because it looks like more people are there (most people want to be a part of the crowd)

It doesn’t take a lot of money; it just requires a lot of intentionality, but a great parking lot experience can be the first step in opening someone’s heart to the message.

Bonus tip: First-time guests often arrive earlier than regular attendees (they don’t know everyone shows up late ????) so be sure to have parking lot volunteers in place as early as possible. There’s nothing worse than showing up to church 20 minutes early and feeling like you’re all alone.

2. Property Cleanliness/Upkeep

Similar to the parking lot experience, the outer appearance of your church sends a strong message to first-time guests. Whether it’s fare or not, if your property looks like no one cares about it, the assumption by a guest is that no one will care about them. It probably wouldn’t take a lot of money to make significant improvements, a fresh coat of paint or new plant can go a long way.

I wrote more about how the appearance of your property has the potential to reach the thousands of cars which drive by every day in this post but it’s worth considering the following questions when it comes to the appearance of your property:

  • Are their weeds that need to pulled?
  • Is the grass cut each week? (preferably on a day close to Sunday)
  • Is the parking lot well-lit at night (this solution is more expensive but has the potential for you to stand out in the evening)
  • Would a colorful banner help convey the personality of the church?
  • Does the outside of the building need to be pressure washed or painted?
  • Does any trash need to be picked up?
  • Could fresh flowers give the property a new look?

Because we see the church property almost every day, we become familiar with things that are out of place or unclean, but you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Bonus Tip: Set a recurring date on the church calendar each year to have a church clean-up day around the start of springtime. I’m willing to bet one good Saturday would make a big difference.

3. Building Signage

Have you ever been to a new restaurant and not been able to find the bathroom? Or has a store recently changed the aisles and now you can’t find things in their usual place? It’s really frustrating, isn’t it? That’s how first time guests feel when they can’t find their way around the building.

I know it seems obvious to you, but that’s because you know every nook and cranny of your property and have keys to all the classrooms. How would someone who has never stepped foot in your building know where to check-in their children, or find the restroom?

I stubbornly fought the need for signage for years. Our church is an older A-frame building with a Sunday School square, so I just assumed everyone knew where they were going, I mean there’s only left turns! I was wrong. If someone feels lost, they are apprehensive. They don’t want to have to ask where to go, and neither do you.

At a minimum, you should have visible, clear signage that directs people to the bathroom, kid’s classrooms, and the sanctuary. If you don’t know how to create a sign or have the ability to do so, call your local print shop, and they will be able to help you easily.

At our church, we decided to take this a step further a few months ago to help people find our “next steps” class. The class is towards the back of the building, and for years, from the stage, we would say, “just exit the sanctuary and take a left, you will see the room on the right.” It seemed easy enough to me, but I’ve been at my church for 15 years. Now we have a volunteer stand the lobby following each service with a sign that says, “Follow me to Launch” and they walk with each participant to the classroom (it also allows them a chance to get their name and “hand them off” to the class leader with a personal introduction.)

Bonus Tip: The best signs in your church are your volunteers. We stress to our team, “Don’t point. Walk with.” In the event someone still needs directional help, it’s an excellent opportunity for a volunteer to strike up a conversation and connect while they walk with someone to their destination.

4. Kid’s Safety

There are many ways to get guests to return to your church for a second visit, but let me give you one way to be confident they won’t: A parent believes their child was not cared for.

Nothing is more important to a parent who visits your church than the way their child is treated, and if that parent believes in any way their child is not safe, it doesn’t matter how great your sermon, facility, or worship is, they’re not coming back. The opposite is also true, though. If a child tells their parent about a great experience, it doesn’t matter how good the sermon, facility, or worship, they will be back.

The quality of the children’s ministry can be a challenge when resources and volunteers are limited, but the good news is it doesn’t take state of the art technology to convince a parent their child is cared for. A first-time guest parent wants to know 3 things when they visit: It is safe? Is it fun? Is it clean? And all three of those things can be accomplished at any size on any budget.

Here are a few ideas to help you provide a safer and cleaner children’s ministry:

  • Require kid’s check-in and check-out
  • Ask the parent for any vital information (allergies, medication, etc.) when the child is dropped off the first time
  • Position a cop or volunteer security guard at the main entrance to the children’s area
  • Have the children’s leader or pastor follow up with the parent during the week just to encourage the parent.
  • Have volunteers come in during the week and wipe down the toys with Clorox wipes
  • Walk with the first time family to introduce them to their child’s teacher

These are just a few examples that put a first-time guest at ease. For better or worse, most pastor’s kids are very comfortable in the church, and most pastors are comfortable with their kids having a lot of freedom in the church. That makes it challenging to see your children’s ministry from a guests point of view. The whole time they are sitting in your service, they are thinking about their child. Are they ok? Are they having fun? Do I need to go check on them?

If you’re past the age of having small children, or you’re unsure about how to make your children’s ministry safe, clean, and fun, ask a few moms to help you create a strategy. It’s too important not to fix.

Bonus Tip: Almost all check-in software will tell you when a child in the database has a birthday. We have trained our volunteers to celebrate birthdays when the computers notify them upon check-in, and they get a postcard in the mail the week of their birthday. It doesn’t take as much work as you might think.

5. Insider Language

Of all the things we do at church to isolate guests, none is probably more prevalent than insider language. It’s hard to catch because it comes so natural to us. We assume everyone knows what we mean, but they don’t.

I’m not just talking about “Christenese” phrases or worship metaphors, even though the point could be made, I’m talking more about insider language that assumes everyone knows everything in the church. See if any of these phrases sound familiar:

  • “Just stop by the office before you leave”
  • “The meeting will be at the Wilson’s house Wednesday night, let them know if you can make it.”
  • “Pick up the papers off the table in the foyer”

Insider language unintentionally sends the message, if you don’t know what we’re talking about it, you can’t participate. No pastor wants to convey that message, but often time we fail to plan our announcements and “filler” talk, and we revert to what’s comfortable and familiar… to us. (raise your hand if you even prayed a bunch of extra times in service because you didn’t know how to transition ????‍♂️)

Here are a few suggestions to help you guard against using insider language:

  • Make sure every place has a name and a sign, that way everyone who touches a microphone knows what to call it (is it a foyer or a lobby? A sanctuary or an auditorium? etc.)
  • Write out announcements ahead of time. It can feel unnecessary, but when preachers start winging it we get long winded and less clear.
  • Introduce yourself every week as the pastor
  • Use an “official” sign up/registration method for all your events and activities. It may feel like overkill, but it makes it accessible to everyone

Bonus Tip: Nothing will help you identify insider language like personally inviting an unchurched friend to church with you. If it’s been a while since someone came to a church based on your invitation, begin praying for God to open your heart and some doors to connect with people who need Jesus.

6. Friendliness (clicks)

If I asked you whether or not your church was friendly, I’m almost certain you would say, “yes!” If nothing else, you’re friendly, and you try to connect with new people, so that counts for something, right?

The curse knowledge probably affects the area of relationships more than any other because when you are connected, you assume, it’s easy for everyone to connect, but it’s not. When a first-time guest walks through the doors of your church, they notice everyone who doesn’t talk to them, AND they notice who everyone is talking to.

This Sunday, minutes before the service begins, go into the sound booth or somewhere where you can see the whole sanctuary and look at where pockets of people form. I think you’ll find a few people gathered together enjoying conversation, but with their backs turned to the rest of the congregation. You’ll probably also find guests sitting by themselves not talking to anyone. No one does it on purpose, but over time, natural groups form and people end up ignoring those they don’t know.

Unfortunately, the church doesn’t have a reputation of being the friendliest place to visit, but the good news is that means the bar of expectation is set low, and any effort to be kind and welcoming goes a long way. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Schedule “talkers” whose job is to walk around the sanctuary before service and talk to anyone who looks new. Often we schedule volunteers to greet outside of the sanctuary so once a guest gets to their seat no one talks to them for the rest of service
  • Add 3 “touches” of contact from the parking lot to the pew. I know some people say too much greeting is annoying, but err on the side of too much hospitality and kindness.
  • Send a personal handwritten postcard to every guest who feels out a connect card.

Bonus Tip: Give guests something to signify they are a guest. Everyone else doesn’t have to know, but the key staff and volunteers will know so they can identify who the guests are. Our church gives the gift for a first-time gift in a blue bag, so anytime we see someone carrying a blue bag, we know it’s their first time.

It can be intimidating and exhausting to try and think of all the ways to create an exceptional guest experience, but it’s essential to try to see things from their perspective, and over time that gets harder and harder to do.

Church Growth

7 Reasons Why Your Church Should Add A 2nd Service

I’m just old enough to remember a day when having multiple services was not a popular idea in the church. Only out of necessity was a church willing to add a second service, while they figured out a plan to enlarge their facility. In the past, the popular strategy was to build a big enough building to have 1 service in 1 location, and as the church grew the buildings got bigger and bigger… and more expensive.

While there is no shortage of large church buildings, the general consensus now seems to be offering more, smaller services in more locations, and I’m a fan of that idea. A BIG fan. Currently, we have 4 services and are trying to add a 5th at our second location as soon as possible.

The more services you add, the better you get at the logistical challenges, but the emotional challenges of adding a service never really get easier. You’re always nervous about losing momentum, having enough volunteers, or preaching to an empty room. If you can ever gather the courage to take the leap, though, I believe adding a second service can be an effective strategy to move your church forward and give you momentum.

Let me give you 7 reasons why you should consider adding a 2nd service:

1. You Can Offer an “Attend 1 Serve 1 Opportunity”

When you prepare to launch a second service, there’s no doubt you will need to grow your volunteer base, but you might be surprised to find that more people are willing to volunteer if they have the option to attend service as well. With only 1 service, if someone serves in a kid’s class, they cannot participate in service. Their day is strictly an act of service. And in most cases those volunteers are serving more than once per month, so multiple times each month they are having to miss corporate worship.

Once you’re able to promote an “Attend 1 Serve 1” opportunity, more people will be open to the idea of serving. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting people will be lining up outside your office to serve, but I am suggesting that wanting to experience the worship service is one of the biggest deterrents for people wanting to serve.

So ironically, adding a service has the chance to grow your volunteer base, and increase volunteer morale. Go figure.

2. You’re Forced To Empower More People

Similarly to the “Attend 1 Serve 1 opportunity,” adding a second service forces the church leadership to empower more people. I know what you’re thinking. “ I would love to empower more people. I don’t need a second service to do that.” But actually, you do. Let me explain.

Certain people will not offer to serve unless they know they’re needed. Even if you’ve told them they’re needed, they’re paying attention and waiting until you HAVE to have to them. Before you’re too quick to complain about it, you’re probably the same way with your kid’s ball teams, school parties, or anything else outside of church that asks for your help. Most people are willing to get involved if they feel it is absolutely necessary, and by adding a second service you can say to them, “We’re adding a 2nd service, and we need you to help us.”

To be clear, I’m not saying you need to launch a new service simply so you can find more volunteers, I’m suggesting that when you do add a service, the necessity of volunteers will force you to be a more empowering leader.

Bonus Tip: Know your numbers before you start asking people to step up. Tell them, “we currently have 17 volunteers but to successfully launch a second service we need 30. Will you be 1 of the 30?”

3. You’re Forced To Develop Systems Not Dependent On One Person

Most small churches (define that however you want) are incredibly dependent on a handful of extremely talented and dependable people. In a congregation of 50-75 people, there are usually 2-3 people who carry the bulk of the responsibility. Thank God you have them, but the downside is that you are incredibly dependent on a few people.

By adding a second service, you are forced to begin to think in terms of systems instead of personalities. While technically it’s possible for those same people to double their responsibility, eventually, with more services you will have to develop a repetitive system out of necessity. The vast majority of churches are personality based not system based. The areas of ministry are effective as long as a particular person is in charge of them, but it rises and falls on the shoulders of one person. The more your church begins to multiply the more your leaders can’t be everywhere at once and must create repeatable systems that a trained volunteer can execute.

Bonus Tip: The book “E-myth revisited by Michaell Gerber” in an incredibly helpful book that will help you get your ministry teams and church structurally organized. It’s required reading for every new staff member at our church.

4. You Prioritize Progress Over Convenience

Adding an additional service is not merely a matter of solving logistical problems, it’s also an opportunity to cast vision and identify people who are unwilling to be inconvenienced for the sake of progress. You would think everyone in your church would want to grow and reach more people with the gospel, but unfortunately, not everyone does. It’s not always easy to know who is on board and who isn’t as long as no one is asked to sacrifice, but sacrifice is always the best indicator of commitment, and make no mistake, adding a service requires sacrifice.

There is no scenario where the church grows, and the leaders are not inconvenienced. You need to know that. Sometimes it’s easy to believe that progress will make things easier, but it doesn’t. Progress make things more complicated. The more children my wife and I had the less selfish I had to be. The same is true for the leaders in your church.

I’m not suggesting that every person who doesn’t love the idea of a second service is against you, they may just need to hear more vision communicated, but you might be surprised once you start courageously casting vision and moving forward who is excited and who is not.

5. It Challenges The “Small Church” Mindset Of “I Know Everybody”

The truth is, if you’re church has more than 100 attendees, then the people don’t know everybody, but they feel like they do. And for the record, there’s nothing wrong with that, until the preference of familiarity trumps the progress of the church.

Once you add a second service, it’s impossible for everyone in your church to recognize every face. Moving forward though, every new attendee who starts attending after you add a second service does not have the expectation of getting to know everyone, and that’s a great thing because now you have a chance to promote the need for small groups.

Many churches I know, including my own, have experienced increased small group participation as the number of services increase. It makes sense. In a 1 service church with a “small church” mindset, it’s the pastor’s job to connect me, but in a multi-service church, people assume it’s their responsibility to get connected. A second service eliminates the expectation that everyone needs to connect with everyone, and instead creates an expectation that everyone needs to connect with someone.

6. It Provides Options And People Like Options

The only people who really care if the sanctuary is completely full on a Sunday are preachers and singers. To be honest, most people would prefer it NOT be full. You would too if you weren’t a pastor.

Think about the last time you went to a restaurant. What time did you go? Probably when you like to eat dinner, right? Have you ever shown up to eat and found a place closed? It was frustrating, wasn’t it? Or what about the last time you went to the movies. Did they have multiple showings or just 1? I personally love to attend empty theaters for an afternoon movie by myself, but my wife likes the excitement and buzz of opening night.

When you only offer 1 service time, you are excluding everyone who can’t attend at that time. There are moms currently attending who think your service is too early for their family and other moms who think your service is too late for their family. I’m not suggesting we poll people and give them exactly what they want. The movie theater doesn’t ask you what time you want, they simply offer times, and you choose what works best for you, but there’s no denying people like options, and a church with options is appealing.

7. You Present The Perception Of A Growing Church

This is the least important benefit, but it is important. There are people in your community who are paying attention to your church trying to decide if they want to visit. They drive by the church each day going into work, or follow your facebook page, or talk to a friend who attends. When you become a multi-service church, you send the message that you are a growing church, or at least you are a church that is moving forward. Adding an additional service promotes progress. I’m not advocating adding an unnecessary service to give the impression you’re growing, but I am suggesting that as things trend upward adding a service helps validate the trends.


Episode #30 – The Emotional Challenges of Church Growth

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We spend a lot of time trying to solve the logistical challenges of church growth, but it’s the emotional challenges that hinder us more than logistics. This episode we talk about how to make the hard decisions to keep momentum going in your church.

This was recorded during a staff meeting, and there was an “S-Curve” visual being used on a dry erase board. This is the picture that was shown.

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