Setting High Expectations for Volunteers

Man pushing a boulder on a mountainOne of the realities of leading in a ministry setting is that getting things done means recruiting and leading a lot of volunteers. For me, leading volunteers is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I get to do ministry as a job, but there are hundreds of volunteers at our church who give some of their free time each week to take part in furthering our mission and vision: to help people meet and follow Jesus.

One of the tensions ministry leaders live in is how to set the bar high for our volunteers while acknowledging the reality that they are unpaid workers giving their time—meaning we can’t really limit their vacation time each year. Volunteers are amazing for what they give, but every pastor knows the feeling of holding the bag because a few volunteers forgot to tell you they’d be out of town or someone volunteered to lead a program but didn’t follow through. How do you lead exceptional teams of volunteers without being a dictator that volunteers eventually don’t want to work with?

Lead with vision

If you’ve been burned by low commitment in the past, it’s tempting to lead volunteers with a heavy hand. A volunteer is late two weeks in a row? They can’t serve if they’re not committed. Someone calls in at the last minute? Your response is…firm. Volunteers are just like anyone else: They want to be a part of something that matters. Inspiring a volunteer is far more effective than being a dictator. Sure, it takes some extra effort, but in the long run, it’s worth it.Continue Reading

10 Lessons From a Year of Assimilation

Multiethnic People with Startup Business Talking in a CafeOn Monday I shared about a change in my life a little over a year ago as I transitioned from being a youth pastor in to a position at our church that combined the leadership responsibility for small groups, assimilation, and guest services into one role. In reality, I had next to zero practical experience for this new position, other than having led small groups for teenagers as a youth pastor. When it comes to assimilation—the practice of helping people become connected into the local church—I’ve learned a ton in the past year, mostly from others who have been willing to put down in book form what they know as well as from my own mistakes. Here are some of those lessons:

1) Assimilation is a weird church term to anyone who has never led or worked in a church.

This is true especially for those who are Star Trek fans (resistance is futile). And as much as I love systems—my pre-ministry background is in mathematics—it’s a really impersonal term. Assimilation is about helping people connect with your church, so about two weeks into my new position I asked if I could change my job title from “Pastor of Small Groups and Assimilation” to “Small Groups and Connection Pastor.”Continue Reading

10 Lessons From a Year of Guest Services

2447778421_be0dc88c3f_oLast January, I moved from my position as a youth pastor at our church—I had been a youth pastor for eleven years at that point—to a newly created position that combined the leadership of small groups, assimilation, and guest services into one role. Though I attended seminary, enjoyed working with people, and leading teams, I really had no experience or specific expertise to take on this new challenge. They were areas that we knew as a church we were weak on, and my task was create systems and build teams to help us improve in those areas.

It’s been an incredible year of learning. On a personal level, I have had to rely more on the wisdom and experience of others in the form of books, mentoring, and visiting other churches than I ever did the first eleven years of vocational ministry. In that respect I’ve grown as a leader far more than had I done a job that I felt like I had a pretty good handle on. Still, most of what I’ve learned has been trial and error, and I thought it might be time to jot down a few (or ten) of those lessons.

1) Guest services volunteers are at the front lines of your church’s mission and vision.

This might seem dramatic, especially since guest services isn’t exactly the sexiest (am I allowed to say that on a ministry leadership blog?) ministry in your church. But think about it: The first people that a visitor—including someone who has yet to meet Jesus—encounters on your campus are your guest services volunteers. So yeah: guest services is more important that you think.Continue Reading

Insider Communication vs. Guest-Friendly Communication

WelcomeBlueClouds636363-1How you speak to guests can make a huge difference in how they experience your church during their first visit. Chances are, they’re unsure of what they’ll find when they walk through the doors of your church. How you communicate with them can either lower their defenses and help them enjoy their time at your church, or it can raise some walls and keep them from being remotely open to what God might have in store for them. Does your language and culture make them feel like an honored guest or like an awkward third wheel left out of an hourlong set of inside jokes?

Use everyday language to describe everyday things

When you go to a baseball game and get a little booklet that includes information about the home team and that particular day’s game, it’s called a program, not a bulletin. Use language that your guests will be familiar with. It’s not that you can’t use creative branding that enhances your church’s atmosphere; just don’t use cute names that can only be deciphered by long-time members.Continue Reading

Getting Guests to Come Back

A Door To The PastFor most church leaders, one of the goals of Sunday morning (or whenever your church meets during the week) is that guests pay a first-time visit to your church. You may even program your worship services with guests in mind, especially those who don’t yet know Jesus. In many churches, a lot of effort and energy is spent on getting a first-time visitor to walk through the front door on a Sunday morning. But how is your church helping guests make a return visit after you’ve met them for the first time?

1) Expect guests

My wife and I have two girls in elementary school, and at times one or two foster children as well. It’s very rare that the floor is devoid of toy land mines in our house (think Lego pieces, matchbox cars, and beads; lots of beads). But when it is, you can bet there’s one reason: someone’s coming over. When you’re expecting guests in your home, you see your home differently. The same is true of your church. If you expect guests each week, you’ll see your building, your guest services team, your signage, and your nursery (why is the floor so sticky?) a bit differently. Take your signage for example; this is the first thing people see so you need it to grab peoples attention. You could look into a company like if you are looking for ideas. If you aren’t expecting guests, they probably won’t come back after a first visit.Continue Reading

Why Being Ready For Guests is So Important

2082696639_a8144a2d91Last month, I was reminded why expecting guests at our church on Sundays is so important. Early one morning, my phone rang. Someone had passed away unexpectedly, and the family was requesting a pastor. I got ready as quickly as I could, and headed to meet with the family. Such pastoral emergencies are never easy. This one was tougher than most, because it was a mom who wasn’t yet 40, and the youngest son was in junior high.

What made this particular tragedy make me think of why we should be expecting guests every single Sunday was this: the mom who had passed away had attended our church a few times having been invited by friends who attend our church. Now, I don’t know much about what this mom thought about our church or what she experienced, other than that she enjoyed it and planning on coming back regularly. And out of respect to the family, I won’t share much about her spiritual background here. However, this question rang in my mind after I left that family: What if we hadn’t been ready? What if we weren’t expecting guests the first Sunday she visited our church?Continue Reading

Gravity, Insiders, and Reaching People Who Aren’t Here Yet

WelcomeBlueClouds636363-1It’s not uncommon to hear from people who have been a part of our church for a long time that when it comes to reaching people who are far from God and caring for those who are already here, there needs to be a balance.

I respectfully disagree.

Consider this: When something goes wrong on a Sunday morning in children’s ministry or in the worship service, who do you hear from, guests or insiders? (Let me save us some time by giving you the answer: the insiders.)

Okay, what about this: Imagine you get a complaint that a ninth-grade boys small group spends too much time hanging out around a bonfire or playing soccer and not enough time in “deep” Bible study. Is it more likely that it’s coming from a family who has never been connected to a church or parents who are insiders? (Hint: see answer to the previous question.)

Last one: Who is most likely to complain the loudest in your church when you change a service time? (If you answered insiders again, you’re catching on.)

It goes without saying that it’s important to care for and lead the people that are already a part of your church. That’s why you do funerals, make hospital visits, and stay at your office late to meet with a married couple who’s going through a rough patch. But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we feel a pull to please the people in our church we see each week at the expense of serving those who have yet to set foot in our building on a Sunday morning. And who can blame us? Insiders are the ones who are most likely to bend a pastor’s ear (or email inbox).

But it’s those who have yet to meet Jesus that we’ve been commanded reach, to serve, and to share the Good News with. The problem is that since we are more likely to hear the complaints of those within our organization, gravity pulls us, our energy, and our resources to be directed towards those who are already there. We don’t accidentally reach people we don’t yet know–we have to push against the gravity that pulls us towards insiders to do it. Here are three things you can do to fight the gravity:
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