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Church Growth

4 Habits That Separate Great Pastors from Good Pastors

When you first felt called to ministry, your dreams of future opportunities were probably big, bold, and courageous. Your admired great pastors and bold leaders, you didn’t dream of maintaining the status quo—you hoped to innovate and break barriers. Over time, though, after you’ve seen enough members walk away, the fear of people leaving the church can kill your courage, and you become a manager instead of a leader

You might assume the churches with the most to lose play it the safest, but it’s’ usually the opposite— the churches with most to lose experiment the most. They understand that leaders who are afraid of subtraction never experience multiplication. If you’re willing to be a courageous leader, being led by the Holy Spirit in spite of what might go wrong or who may leave, you will take new ground, reach new people, and seize new opportunities.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Leaders who are afraid of subtraction never experience multiplication.” quote=”Leaders who are afraid of subtraction never experience multiplication.”]

Every courageous pastor I know exhibits these four characteristics:

1. Don’t apologize for vision

Every conference and leadership book you read talks about vision, but there’s a reason; it’s the most important characteristic of a leader. People want to follow a leader with a vision. Vision is the desired destination, and even though you will be excited about the destination, you need to know not everyone will agree with you. Often the greatest resistance to change will come from those who were on the cutting edge of innovation in a previous generation. They traded imagination for memories, and change threatens their current position or influence.

Make sure you have a vision and not a version of a vision. Over the years I tried to tell my church I had a vision when the truth was I had a version of a vision I was copying from another church. It’s okay to be inspired by other churches and ministries, but God has a unique vision for your church. Sure, it may resemble another church—there are only so many ways to conduct a church service—but is your vision authentic? Does it look, smell, and feel like your God-given DNA? If you’re not sure if your vision is unique, it’s not. If you’re unclear on what your vision is, your team and congregation are confused as well. When you begin conversations about making changes in your church people are going to want to know why, and you better have an answer stronger than, “because I think it would be cool.” Or “because I saw it at another church.” You don’t owe everyone an explanation for every decision, but the bigger the change, the larger the pressure to explain why. Your vision is your why.

2. Have the hard conversation

What separates the best leaders from everyone else is their willingness to have tough conversations. While other leaders dodge or avoid painful meetings, courageous leaders confront it, because they know issues left unresolved don’t go away; they only get worse. Your church is probably two difficult conversations away from breaking through a growth barrier.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Your church is probably two difficult conversations away from breaking a growth barrier” quote=”Your church is probably two difficult conversations away from breaking a growth barrier”]

After reading the last sentence, you immediately had a person come to your mind because you’ve known for a long time you need to have a difficult conversation with them, but you’ve avoided it out of fear they would be hurt, leave the church, or even influence other people to leave. Is someone still singing who shouldn’t be? Is someone still in leadership because their family has been at the church the longest? Is someone still on staff because they have relatives in the church? You will not grow around the elephant in the room. Change requires hard conversations. That’s what separates leaders from managers; leaders have hard conversations and managers avoid them. It won’t be fun, but it will be fruitful.

3. Pull the Trigger

Sometimes the hardest thing to do after your vision is clear is to pull the trigger. When I say “pull the trigger,” I mean start, press go, move! There always comes a moment of absolute terror before life’s most important and courageous decisions, “Am I making the right decision? Will this work? Will anyone follow me?” The longer you wait, the stronger the voices of doubt become.

Do you need to start an additional worship service? Do you need to hire a new staff member? Do you need to launch a building campaign? Rest assured, starting new ideas ruffles old feathers— I don’t mean old as in age, I mean old as in mindset— but every time you pull the trigger on something new, you’re learning lessons, gaining experience, and building your faith muscle. After all, it was God who said, “I am doing a new thing.”

4. Pull the Plug

Leaders love to share a vision and start new things, but starting something new usually means ending something old, and that’s not fun. You can think of something in your church right now that has lost its effectiveness and is draining resources, but to pull the plug would upset someone and you don’t want to risk it.

I’m embarrassed to share this story, but when I first started pastoring, we made the decision to end Sunday School and move to an in-home small-group model. Almost everyone was on board with the idea, except a few elderly members who loved their Sunday School class. In an attempt to be diplomatic and keep everyone happy I allowed them to continue meeting. Over the next few weeks and months, as we made more changes in the church, the teacher of the class grew unhappy. He didn’t like the young pastor making changes to his church and began sharing his frustrations with the class. When I confronted him about it, he got mad and left the church.

Here’s the embarrassing part, after a few weeks without a teacher the members of the class approached me and asked if the former teacher could come back and continue teaching the class. There was a catch though; he wasn’t going to attend the church, he was just going to teach the Sunday School class, and then leave to attend another church down the street. To recap, a disgruntled member, who did not like me or the vision of the church wanted to teach a class and then leave to attend church elsewhere. No leader in their right mind would agree to that, except me. I said, “yes” because I was afraid of telling the senior adult class no. As you might expect, it was a disaster. Eventually, we had to shut down the class anyway, but everything could have been handled so much more effectively if I had made the courageous decision to lead with vision and pull the plug at the beginning when I knew it was the right decision.

What is the decision you need to make, but you’ve been putting it off because you’re afraid of who it will upset? What program, ministry, or event needs to end, but you’re afraid it will cause people to leave the church? Pull the plug! Yes, people will be upset, some may even leave, but the people who will stay and the people God wants you to reach need courageous leadership.

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5 Things Pastors Want To Tell Church Planters

I can’t speak for everyone, but I love the church planting revival, and the focus on church planters, happening in the church right now.

The stats don’t lie, planting a new church in a community is the best way to reach new people with the gospel. I’ve never felt called to plant a new church, but I love partnering with church planters financially and spiritually to help them get started. Over the past 10 years our church has given away $500,000 to help missionaries and church planters, and that has allowed me the chance to talk to a lot of planters. I wrote more about how our church has created a generous culture in this post.

Let me give you 5 things I’ve said, and other pastors want to say to church planters over the years:

1. We believe in you

Don’t do it alone. Don’t think that no one wants to help you or no one wants you to plant your church. We do. We aren’t as excited about it as you are, naturally, but that doesn’t mean we are against you. If we haven’t called you back yet, we’re not ignoring you. We want to help you. We may not be able to give money right now, but we will pray or share our facility, or let you borrow our hymnals. (ok kidding about the last one) For what it’s worth, it’s hard to encourage someone who conveys arrogance. Lead with humility. Ask my opinion now and then. Sometimes the reason you feel no one is behind you is because you accidentally sent the message you don’t need anyone. Just know I’m watching and applauding you. I need to remember to tell you more often.

[clickToTweet tweet=”CHURCH PLANTER: Sometimes the reason you feel no other pastors are behind you is because you accidentally convey the message you don’t need other pastors help.” quote=”CHURCH PLANTER: Sometimes the reason you feel no other pastors are behind you is because you accidentally convey the message you don’t need other pastors help.”]

2. We’re a little bit jealous of church planters

When we leave meetings with people who want to fight over petty things, we always think of what it would be like to plant our own church and not have to deal with dumb problems. We know you have you will have challenges of your own, but the chances are, you probably won’t be slowed down by arguments about Sunday School, paint color, and whether you have to wear a tie or not. We either don’t have the guts or don’t feel called to plant a church, but every time we hear you talk about your vision, there is a little part of us that wished we could do what you are doing.

3. Don’t say, “there’s no one in the community doing what you’re trying to do.”

Depending on where you are planting, there are probably a few hundred other churches. Someone is doing similar things to what you want to try. We understand you have a vision and are excited about it, but when you say those things, it makes you sound like you have some revelation that no one has. At the end of the day you bring people together, worship, teach, pray, make relationships, and serve the community. God set it up that way. You are going to do great things, but start your church based on what you are for, not what you are against. When you say, “No churches are reaching unchurched people,” or “No churches in the area are reaching the community” you sound arrogant. Whether you realize it or not you’re insulting pastors who have spent their lives sowing seeds in the community. Instead try this, “God is doing incredible things in ______, and we want to get in on it.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”CHURCH PLANTER: When you say, “There are no churches doing what we’re trying to do” you’re insulting pastors who have spent their lives sowing seeds in the community you’re trying to reach.” quote=”CHURCH PLANTER: When you say, “There are no churches doing what we’re trying to do” you’re insulting pastors who have spent their lives sowing seeds in the community you’re trying to reach.”]

4. If you need some people from our church to help you launch, we just want you to talk to us first. We’ll help.

It takes a solid foundation of faithful serving, attending, tithing people to get a church off the ground. The irony is it seems your starting your church to reach the unchurched people in the community you say no one else is reaching, by marketing and recruiting church members from other churches. I’m sure I’m a little sensitive about it, but you will experience the pain of someone leaving for something “better” soon. I know you think this makes me selfish, inwardly focused, and not kingdom minded, but I will send them with you, I just want you to talk to me first. The fact that you don’t want to is the very reason you should do it. Don’t put my people in the tough spot of having to tell me something you should have told me. I want to launch them not lose them. One more thing, please don’t say, “I didn’t recruit/steal anybody. They approached me.” That may be true, but we both know you can lead the conversation in any direction you choose. Just be a leader with integrity and shoot straight with me. I can respect that.

5. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

90% of pastors don’t finish their careers in ministry. Right now you may think your only challenges will be raising enough money or finding a place to rent, but you will find out the emotional swings of pastoring people are crazy. The highs are going to be so high there are going to be days when you feel like you could never fail, and the lows are going to be so low you won’t be able to get out of bed. Pace yourself; God will grow your church. How you start matters. Character, integrity, honesty, they are essential. Don’t burn bridges with other pastors; you don’t realize it now, but one day you will need to cross those bridges. Go for it, dream big dreams, do big things, reach your city for Christ. We are brothers, and we are in this together. I’m praying for you. Please pray for me.

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Church Growth

3 Ways I Shrunk My Church From 400 to 200

Every leader is hungry for knowledge and insight from those who have breathed the rare air of church growth. I bet you’ve read hundreds of blogs and books about the topic.  I love those blogs, but this isn’t one of those. Instead, let me tell you how I shrunk my church. Hopefully, I can save you from some of my mistakes. Let me give you a little backstory first.

Looking back now it was inevitable; I started pastoring at the age of 24, which was probably not the wisest decision at the time, but you couldn’t have convinced me otherwise back then. I was a cocky, stubborn, opinionated young leader convinced I knew what needed to be done to grow a church.

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Church Growth

4 Things Every Pastor Needs To Remember After Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday has come and gone, and if you had a big attendance day, you will most likely ride a high emotionally for a few days after. It’s common to break attendance, salvation, and baptism records on Easter, and there’s no substitute for the feeling of a full room. But each year it seems like there is more and more pressure for pastors to do Easter BIG! It’s true Easter is a great day statistically, but no matter how many people showed up it’s a great day because Jesus is alive!

[click_to_tweet tweet=”PASTOR: It’s true Easter is a great day statistically, but no matter how many people showed up it’s a great day because Jesus is alive! @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: It’s true Easter is a great day statistically, but no matter how many people showed up it’s a great day because Jesus is alive!”]

As you recover from Easter Weekend let me remind you of 2 things: #1 Your Easter attendance numbers don’t matter. #2 Your easter attendance numbers matter ALOT! Let me explain:

Why the Numbers Matter

You don’t have to look very far to find cynical voices who say, “If we worked this hard every Sunday….” or “It’s not about the numbers….” I understand their cynicism, but their sentiment is not true. The truth is, if you worked as hard every Sunday as you did for Easter you most likely would not match your Easter attendance because Easter has a built in cultural factor that you can’t reproduce. In general, people have a desire to attend church on Easter, and that accounts for 80% of your attendance boost (I made that stat up, but it sounds about right.) Let me give you two reasons why your Easter attendance numbers are important.

1. You Get To See the Potential of Your Churches Influence and Reach

Every church and story are slightly different, but most church’s attendance spike isn’t a large majority of first-time, “cold call,” guests, it’s a mixture of guests and your inconsistent attenders all showing up on the same day. Your church’s head count of people who claim that your church is their home church is probably 3x or 4x larger than your average attendance but instead of taking turns attending once a month they all decide to show up on Easter, so a church of 250 is actually a church of 350-400 when everyone attends. Celebrate the crowd that you count on Easter because it gives you a chance to cast the vision for the future possibility of your church. You can say to your leaders and volunteers, “With God’s help, hard work, and buy-in, every Sunday can feel like Easter Sunday in time.” Easter attendance can indicate whether or not you have raised the numerical ceiling since last year.

2. People Matter so Their Number Has to Matter

Do churches inflate their attendance reports? Yes! Do pastors feel too much self-worth from church attendance? Yep! But does every number matter, of course, it does. I had been praying with my friend Haley for her family to come to church with her for eight months, and last Easter I looked up and saw Haley with her whole family sitting together towards the back of the room. A big smile filled my face, knowing how much it meant to her to have them there. If my goal as a pastor is to count heads then I’m probably in an unhealthy place, but if my goal is to know their name and their story I am doing what God called me to do, so why should I apologize for celebrating more names and stories? I shouldn’t. The Bible says that heaven throws a party when ONE sinner repents, what do you think they do when 30 repent on Easter Sunday.

So numbers matter, names, and stories matter, attendance records matter because we are trying to build God’s church. Numbers tell a story, not the whole story, but they still tell a story.

If you have great attendance on Easter this year, don’t apologize, celebrate! I remember the first time our church had 300 in attendance on a Sunday morning. We had worked so hard to break that barrier that had challenged us for months, so on the week following our Sunday with 309 for the first time, I got jars and filled them with 300 M&Ms and gave them as gifts to all the staff and Elders. Celebrate!

Why the Numbers Don’t Matter

While attendance numbers can represent so many positive things, there is a dark side as well. Let me give you two reasons why Easter attendance numbers don’t matter.

1. Because You Were a Good Pastor Before Easter and You’re Still A Good Pastor Next Week When Half the Crowd Returns

I remember feeling so discouraged a few years ago when it felt like our church had stopped growing, and nothing we tried helped spur new momentum. I was talking to a pastoral coach of mine, whining a little bit, and I’ll never forget what he said to me, “Jason, are you telling me you’re a bad pastor because a family decides to go to the lake on the weekend instead come to church? Are you telling me you’re a bad pastor because you had 299 instead of 301?” Sadly, I had to admit the answer was yes. I had lost perspective.

For an extended period of time, we stopped counting our attendance numbers. I told our staff it didn’t matter how many showed up; it mattered who showed up, defining success based on what God was doing in individual lives. We’ve started counting again, but something is different this time, I care, but not like I used to. If you are driven and want to make a difference, you will have to wrestle this for the rest of your life, but do whatever it takes to not let attendance numbers define you.

I wrote a lot about this idea of discouragement based on attendance in my book “Toxic Soul: A Pastor’s Guide To Leading Without Losing Heart.” Don’t let numbers determine your emotional health. You can pick up your copy on Amazon.

2. Because God Loves You No Matter What

I just wanted to remind you that God loves you not because of what you do for him but because you are His. That’s all. Whether you had 10,000 this Easter or your church is flooded and you don’t get to meet together, God is crazy about you, and he doesn’t rate your performance the way you rate your performance. He loves Andy Stanley and Chris Hodges as much He loves you. Start believing that and it will change your life.

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Church Growth

Should A Pastor Have Ambition?

Recently I took my kids to one of those indoor trampoline parks. We’ve been several times before but decided to try a new business on this occasion. When I started to pay the bill, I noticed the price was higher than the place we regularly visit. I was informed each of my children had to purchase $2 “Altitude” socks. I insisted it wasn’t necessary, but it was required, so I paid the $6.

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4 Things Your Pastor Needs But Will Never Tell You

Let me start by acknowledging the fact the TV preacher you saw that one time came across really cocky, and seemed to only care about getting your money.

I’ll even concede the fact you’ve seen a few Facebook videos of preachers who gel their hair and wear sequenced shirts, looking more like Rick Flair than Jesus.

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12 Books Every Pastor Should Read in 2017

I love to read, so it’s not uncommon for me to finish 3 books each month.

I mostly read nonfiction, with an occasional dip into a fiction novel, but over the years I have collected a mental list of the books I wish every pastor would read. Why not read them in 2017?

I’ve recommended 12 books, 1 per month, some old and some newer, along with a link to amazon to purchase the book. If one of these titles or descriptions get’s your attention buy the book and get started as soon as it gets shipped to you. The more you read the more you will want to read. Readers are leaders.

Here are 12 books every pastor should read in 2017.

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Why Your Church Needs More Coffee and Less Classes

13 years ago I was sitting in Fellowship Church at the C3 conference when I heard Ed Young say, “Pastor your church like it is twice the size it currently is.” His point was you have to get ahead in leadership and if you structure and pastor like a church of 500 attendees even though you are a church of 250 you will create the “space” for your church to grow. I understand what he was trying to say, many churches struggle to get past the small family church mindset, and it hinders the possibility of their church, but sitting there 13 years ago I completely misinterpreted what Ed Young was saying, and it affected my ministry for ten years.

Since that conference, I have overcomplicated the process of leadership so many times, all in an attempt to lead and structure myself like a church bigger than my current reality. It’s not Ed Young’s fault, I just misunderstood, and I see so many of my friends doing the same thing in an attempt to structure for growth.

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4 Secret Weapons of Great Pastors

I’ve been privileged to meet and get to know many great pastors, and what separates them from the rest is probably not what you think. Sometimes we are guilty of judging a pastor or leader based solely on their public giftedness. In other words, we believe great pastors are great speakers or visionaries. While they probably exhibit those qualities, I have found 4 consistent qualities in almost every truly exceptional pastor that I know.

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How To Tell Your Pastor You’re Leaving Your Church

In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to read this article, because you’re never leaving your church.

The reality is, though, at some point, you may decide to leave and will want or need to have a conversation with one of your pastors about it.

Before I give you a few tips to make the conversation easier, let me try and explain something almost impossible to explain. When you’re talking to a pastor — especially a senior pastor — about anything having to do with the church, you are not just talking about the church, you are talking about the pastor’s life, heart, and soul. I know you think you love the church as much as they do. I know you even believe that you’ve sacrificed and served the church as much as they have, but you haven’t. I don’t say that to be rude or mean; you just need to know that while you think about the church anywhere from two to ten hours a week (depending on your level of involvement) they are thinking about it all the time. They wake up and go to bed thinking about it. It’s probably unhealthy, but they can’t help it. They’ve invested everything in the church. They’ve sacrificed their family, health, marriage, and life to make the church the best it can be. It’s important you know that because every statement you are getting ready to make is going to be personal. It’s going to hurt, and we are probably going to get defensive.

Knowing that, let me give you some advice on how to tell your pastor you are leaving the church.

1. Don’t say, “It’s not personal.” Instead say, “I know this is going to hurt, but…”

I’ve already explained it, but this is probably the worst thing you can say. I know you don’t think it’s personal, but trust me; it’s as personal as it gets. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “We’re going to be looking for another church. Please don’t take it personally because it has nothing to do with you, it’s just…” It makes me want to scream. It would be like me saying to you, “I can’t be your friend anymore because I don’t like your kids. Please don’t take it personally because I love you and your wife, it’s just your kids.”

2. Don’t say, “I feel like God is leading me.” Instead say, “I want to leave…”

In all my years of talking to members who are leaving, I’ve never met anyone who started praying about leaving a church and heard a “no” from God. In other words, once you start praying about leaving, you’re going to leave. If you’re completely honest, you probably didn’t hear God tell you to leave; there are just some reasons you want to leave, and God didn’t stop you. That’s ok. The reason people like to use the “God card” is because they feel protected. After all, who’s going to tell you you’re lying about hearing from God? Always be leary of a God who never tells you what you don’t want to hear.

3. Don’t say, “I’m not getting fed.”

You telling a pastor you’re leaving because he doesn’t preach deep enough, or you’re not getting spiritual stimulation is like telling your spouse you’re leaving because they’re fat and ugly. It’s the most hurtful thing you can say because the pastor is doing everything they can to help their people experience God. It’s also incredibly arrogant because, whether you realize it or not, what you are saying is, “I’m at a superior spiritual level, and this church isn’t challenging or meeting my spiritual needs. And since you are the one responsible for setting the spiritual tone, I must be more spiritual than you, too.” There are many people in the congregation who are being “fed” by the teaching of the pastor. There is no good way to say this, so just don’t go there.

4. Say you’re sorry

You probably don’t feel like you need to, but it will make a big difference. If you can understand that after meeting with your pastor they probably won’t be able to sleep that night, and will probably either cry or feel like a failure once it’s over, you can understand why an apology is significant. Leave with humility and class. Leave with enough self-realization to admit it’s probably more about something going on in you than it is the shortcomings of your pastor or church. The church you’re leaving is probably doing the same things it was doing when you started attending, and you loved it and talked about how amazing it was.

Your pastor loves you. That’s why it hurts so much. He prays for you, and even though there are times you frustrate him, God has given him a burden for your soul, and when you leave you are ripping out a part of it. They understand that people are going to leave, their leadership and the church aren’t perfect, and you aren’t trying to be hurtful. Regardless, go about it like you’ve got the tweezers and you’re playing Operation — very carefully.