Anthony Coppedge | Healthy Church Systems Consulting is using WP-Gravatar
If I were to sum up the most used hashtag at every church conference over the last several years, it’s going to include “growth”. Maybe it’s #churchgrowth or #smallgroupgrowth or, simply, #growth, but there is a huge amount of attention and effort aimed at growing churches. I celebrate growth, but I respect health.
I’ve been watching The Nines online conference for the past two days and have taken away a lot of What’s Working stories and, at least for me, the best stories have been about What’s Not Working. I love that Leadership Network has created this brilliant concept, but I also have a caution in my heart when so much of the content talks about or at least mentions church growth. It reminds me of hearing a pastor I love and respect say this truthful statement to a packed out room of thousands of pastors: “Healthy things grow.” That’s true, but what I saw blow up on the conference Twitter stream and in conversations after the talk was the emphasis on “growth”.
Yes, healthy things do grow. But what God spoke to me immediately was “Cancer grows, too.”
The focus on growth is emphasizing the wrong end of the sentence. “HEALTHY things (grow).” Growth is the by-product, not the point.
Do I not want or endorse growth? Not at all. Healthy things DO grow and there SHOULD be a numerical increase that follows spiritual formation. Evangelism will yield more believers. Discipleship will produce more leaders. But measuring numbers before measuring spiritual fruit is always problematic, because it places the emphasis on quantitative measurement instead of first measuring qualitative growth.
I’ve been to hundreds of churches over the years in my consulting, so I’ve seen declining churches, plateaued churches and growing churches. Having spent time with the leadership and entire weekends in close proximity to their staff and lay leaders, I can say with humility and honesty that only a small percent of these are demonstrating healthy team dynamics and/or healthy church polity. I wish this wasn’t the case, but when looking for character attributes and the obvious evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it’s often not displayed in intra-team discussions and communication.
Perhaps the reason that health is not a focus before growth is because it requires leading with a culture of grace in an atmosphere of productivity. When you see churches that lead with this kind of Gospel-oriented accountability, the results always include numeric growth as a direct result of a healthy culture.
I’ve written on burnout (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & also this one) and volunteer issues before, but the key to avoiding those issues is right-fitting volunteers and placing safe boundaries around their workload.
In my experience, there are three parts (Recruit, Train, Retain) to this process, so I’ve included my 7 Steps of Recruiting, Training and Retaining Volunteers. Feel free to share and comment.
1) Invite someone to learn with you. There’s something powerful about being invited and asked to participate in something bigger than ourselves. Most of the best volunteers I’ve met at hundreds of churches came because someone asked them if they’d like a chance to see what it was like to do what we do! Your pool of current volunteers are the best possible recruiters. Why? Because, chances are, they are friends with people similar to themselves. That means techies know more techies. It also means that your non-techie volunteers (more on that below) know people like them, too. Leveraging the spheres of influence that your volunteers have is the best way to invite new people to your ministry.
Another important recruiting tip is to find college interns, stay-at-home moms and retirees who have the time to give on a Monday thru Friday basis. Unlike your other volunteers with full-time jobs, these folks have more flexible schedules and can help you with a host of necessary areas including volunteer scheduling, administrative support, copywriting, organizing, documenting and encouraging other volunteers with handwritten notes. I have had men and women help me out during the week so that I was freed up to do the work that only I could do instead of work that anyone could do. One of my best volunteers was a brilliant administrator; she just kept me organized and helped me with the myriad of daily tasks that I didn’t like or have the time to do.
When you use interns, keep a log of what they do and give them the chance to apply their time and effort towards their high school or college credits. It may mean you need to go and visit with their high school counselor or college professor, but those real world on-the-job training hours can result in applicable hours towards their degree.
2) Guide someone through the process, initiate them slowly through the ropes and give them a lot of freedom to watch and observe. There’s a great deal of safety in knowing that an invitation to come into the tech booth has no expectation for them to perform. If possible, have a trained techie with the observer to point out what’s happening and to answer their questions. De-mystifying the tech is a big part of alleviating their fears.
3) Encourage those who have a giftedness at certain tasks or in certain areas. We all love hearing when we’ve “got it” and like to know we’re doing something well (or have the potential to do so). Your best volunteers will ‘own’ their role, taking your ministry to new heights because of their joy, passion and talent! Plus, really happy volunteers are also highly motivated volunteers who show up early and stay late.
4) Develop the people who show the most interest, have the best servant attitudes and are teachable. I’d much rather have a person who is inexperienced and teachable than an “expert” who can’t be taught. If you’ve got a soccer mom who doesn’t know technology but is highly teachable, pour into her and see where she can serve. I’ve quite often found that soccer moms make some of the best presentation software volunteers and excellent camera operators. Truly, you don’t have to have a techie person to keep up with detail work. They don’t have to know the operating system or even how the camera really works. They just operate with confidence and style!
5) Evaluate honestly. Hurting feelings doesn’t have to be a part of the job, so be gentle when you have to redirect people out of areas where they can’t accomplish the job. Keep written records of evaluation and offer tangible steps for people to either improve or find new ways to serve.
Also, as blog reader Mark Alves points out, evaluation is easier when done against a set of pre-defined expectations – a job/role description. He’s right, too, because it’s hard for a volunteer to hear they missed a mark they didn’t know they were supposed to hit!
6) Participation has to be consistent. There’s not an expert or professional on the planet who simply showed up and started being a genius without any failures or dedication to their role. This is a “team sport” and it takes all of us working together in unison and not flaunting individual talents.
For worship and church tech arts, I’m personally a fan of having a volunteer team serve the entire weekend and then not serve again for at least two more weeks. This means you will have the same team for all rehearsals and services so that you’re all very consistent and work fluidly as a unit. By building these teams and operating in a one-week-on, two-weeks-off rotation, they’re consistent in their roles while having the time off to recoup from a long weekend.
7) Reproduction should be a natural part of someone becoming seriously qualified and competent in their role. Far too many churches have “the sound guy” (as in ONLY ONE PERSON) or “the worship leader”. While there can (and should) be a leader for decision-making and administration, a team of leaders is the only way to obtain consistency, quality and growth. An example of this reproduction came from my own life as a volunteer. One of my roles at a large church was as a volunteer trainer. Sure it was training, but I looked at it as loving on volunteers. It was also the first time I viewed myself as a volunteer pastor, by taking the time to connect with these other volunteers outside of weekend services to listen, encourage and share life with them.
How are you recruiting, training and retaining volunteers? Leave you comments below and share your successes, lessons and failures with us!]]>
“You can’t win alone, but you can practice alone.”
You may or may not follow Football (the real name, but we call it “Soccer”), but the picture above is of Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player alive and – many believe – the best to ever play the game. When Leo was a little boy, he was smaller than most kids and youth his age. But he was fast. Very fast. And he had a natural talent with the ball at his feet. He couldn’t play as physically as the bigger kids, but he did learn how to use his diminutive size to his advantage.
He has built up some impressive stats:
But what I find most fascinating about Leo is his reported work ethic. The worlds’ best athletes often work hard – but generally don’t have to work as hard as those without their legendary talent. Here’s a guy who has arguably the most talent and he’s still working harder than almost any other athlete. That list of stats above is directly proportional to his work ethic and the level of commitment he inspires for his teams (both club and national).
A scant few of us have the chance to be world-class at something. Yet I firmly believe that we are unique creations, each with a destiny for the greatness of God’s plan for our lives. While work ethic is important, what is speaks of is a diligence for never-ending improvement – even if we’re already very, very good at something.
QUESTION: What kind of work ethic do you apply to your spiritual walk and in your relationships?]]>
I remember the first time I heard of IDEO - a famous firm that seemingly few have heard about – a company that helps others innovate. It was at a company meeting with Fellowship Technologies where CEO Jeff Hook was inspiring us to help innovate in the church market. I was surprised at the number of products that we use today were actually birthed at IDEO on behalf of the company that gets all the credit. Notable examples are Apple’s first mouse, Microsoft’s second mouse, and the Palm V PDA. Major clients have included Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Microsoft, Eli Lilly, Ford, and Steelcase.
What struck me most about them was that they’re not an invention firm, but an innovation firm.
I think innovation is the art and science of taking something that exists and improving on it in a significant way. This, of course, has huge implications for local churches, who have the timeless message that never changes but innumerable methods for applying that message to culture. Where I think churches trip up along this journey is when traditions become more important than the teachings from the text.
Traditions begin as personal preferences. I made this simple statement in a blog a couple of weeks ago:
“I have preferences. We all do. Some of these preferences have meaning to us, so we create a consistent pattern around them. Before you know it, we’ve told others how to operate within our preferences. One step removed from us, what was once a preference is now a tradition. I think traditions are a lot like money: they’re neither good nor bad – it’s all about how you approach it. If a tradition gets in the way of loving people, it’s a clear sign that the tradition has to change or go.”
It is my personal experience and opinion that the main reason mainline churches are failing and dying is because they’re holding onto denominational or local traditions at the expense of connecting culturally with their communities. Further, they hardly ever bother to acknowledge the other Christian denominations (or non-denominational churches) in any of their community efforts. Even in (perhaps especially in?) small town, rural settings, the row of various churches along main street fight to keep their own and avoid being associated with – much less collaborating with – these other faithful flocks. Even Jesus himself said “if they’re not against us, they’re for us”.
Traditions are powerful and can be helpful – as long as they follow the heart of the Father and not merely the letter of the law. I do not believe traditions are inherently bad, but the very nature of perpetuating traditions eschews innovation. We live in a time when change is constant and communication is real-time. At what point can a tradition offer itself on the altar and die to facilitate needed innovation?
Our culture is moving on. Perhaps for the sake of the Gospel we can move on and innovate, too.
QUESTION: Is tradition really in the way of innovation? What say you?]]>
I was recently asked to present a webinar for churches and non-profits on how to extend digital media. In it, I covered trends and stats and offered my recommendations for churches that were not new to social media or strategic communications, but also ensured those still ramping up their digital media efforts would not be left behind in the conversation. The very kind and talented folks at Limelight Networks hosted the webinar. Theresa Bui, their Director of Content and Product Marketing, interviewed me and also ran real-time polls and Q&A during the webinar.
I’m happy to share the recorded webinar, including both the slides I shared and the full audio, here on my blog. This is 1 hour, 1 minute worth your church leaders’ time to help them understand the need to think and communicate using digital channels – and specifically via mobile, which is a large portion of the content I share. I hope your church benefits from this recording. Please share it with your pastor friends!]]>
“Great moments don’t just happen; preparation makes them possible.”
Our culture celebrates success, excessively. From highlight reels to election results to victory parades, we love seeing the big wins played out on screen or stage. So it is with churches. We create entire lists of the fastest-growing and largest churches in North America, which in and of itself is just fine; the problem occurs when we begin to look at their size or growth rate as the point, rather than an outcome.
I’m all for celebrating what God’s doing in these churches. I actually have friends on staff at quite a few of them, and I celebrate with them. My caution is that when we focus on the rate of growth as a snapshot in church history, we’re only seeing a momentin time; an outcome of many, many years of hard work, faithfulness and lots and lots of prayer. What we’re not seeing is actually the more important part of the story, and one that churches need to consider and research before making decisions to model ministries after the Instagram snapshot of the cover for a special edition magazine about these churches.
Duplicating good ideas is only a good idea when the idea matches your vision. Any other time, they’re either sideways energy towards good, but not great, or end up being a complete distraction for the unique vision of your own church, in your own community.
QUESTION: What has been your experience in applying ideas from other churches into your unique context?]]>
“Dont’ be impressed by experience or ability; be impressed with heart and availability.”
I’ll never forget the Sunday that we moved in to our new church auditorium, replete with all the new gear to make the room look and sound great. That’s when Mr. Expert showed up.
It turns out he’d been attending for a few months prior to the new building opening, but hadn’t approached me about volunteering in the Tech Arts ministry. But once opening Sunday came and we had the new equipment, he was suddenly Johnny-on-the-spot ready to sign up!
But he didn’t come to me, the Pastor of Tech Arts. No, he made a beeline for another, higher-up staff member, where he rattled off his impressive credentials and years of live sound mixing experience, including a prestigious performing arts venue in town. As quickly as his introduction was complete, he was introduced as one of our new “sound guys”.
I loved that he had so much experience and talent (greater than mine or anyone else on our team, for sure), so I invited him to spend a few minutes after service wrapping cables on the stage during the post-service stage reset. He declined. “I don’t do stuff like that anymore,” came his reply. “Well, we’d love to have your help, but everyone on the team helps with the room reset,” I shared in response, hoping he’d catch the hint. He didn’t. Instead, it took only a few weeks for the powers-that-be realized that Mr. Expert’s experience and ability were all he brought to the team. No heart for our team members or our roles. No availability to do anything other than shine as a top-rated mix engineer.
The problem when a Mr. Expert shows up is that while their talent can be appreciated and applied, the poisoning of team chemistry and morale is too high a price to pay for pure talent with no heart or humility.
QUESTION: How does your church handle your own Mr. Experts?]]>
“Tradition: what has come before. Rationality: exercise of logical thought. Revelation: a perspective outside of the box.”
I recently posted an Instagram photo of a piece of art that said “color outside the lines”. My comment was simply “what lines?” Perhaps it’s my personal viewpoint of looking at things through God’s hard-wiring of my mind, but I really don’t like the idea of being restricted to artificial limitations. I do, however, like knowing the boundaries because they help frame the conversation and focus. I said all of that to set up today’s #thinkchurch post: How are you approaching your ministry work?
Tradition. I have preferences. We all do. Some of these preferences have meaning to us, so we create a consistent pattern around them. Before you know it, we’ve told others how to operate within our preferences. One step removed from us, what was once a preference is now a tradition. I think traditions are a lot like money: they’re neither good nor bad – it’s all about how you approach it. If a tradition gets in the way of loving people, it’s a clear sign that the tradition has to change or go.
Rationality. Oh, boy, do I fall into this one all the time. I am l.o.g.i.c.a.l. all of the freaking time. Rational thought is useful, but it can easily miss the mark of being redemptive. If this, then that can lead to decisions without heart. It’s a good management technique, but a poor one for leadership.
Revelation. What box? I have often been told I’m an excellent conference speaker because, as one young man put it, “Coppedge is a quote machine!” I used to think that this was proof of how smart I was, until Holy Sprit gently said to me “You think those are your thoughts that come out of the blue?” Hmmm. I now recognize that when I say something and I have to repeat it to know what I just said, yeah, those are not me, that’s revelation from God. I’m not that good, but He sure is! The Lord’s Prayer says “…Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” How much of our thinking is Kingdom focused and under the subjection of God’s will?
NOTE: This thought process came from reading a wonderful post this morning by Dr. Skip Moen, entitled Rationality Fatigue. Skip is one of the greatest theologians concerning Hebrew thought and meaning, and I cannot recommend his daily Hebrew word study highly enough. Skip uses the tax-deductible funds (you choose how much to pay) to fund ministry for others.
QUESTION: What has been your experience with tradition, rationality and revelation?]]>
“When this is first (love), everything else isn’t as important.”
My experience with pastors puts them into two general categories: highly relational-minded or highly performance-minded. Sure, there are relational pastors who are also focused on getting results, but in the thousands of conversations I’ve had with pastors, this seems to be the dividing line. You’ll see the in their churches, too, where there either is – or isn’t – a premium placed on performance.
No matter where you fit into these generalized camps, the truth is that leading with love first ensures that the best outcomes are at least possible. Highly relational? Lead with love and both manipulation and taking advantage (either way) are forced out of the picture. Highly focused on performance? Lead with love and your high-capacity teams will not only do better work, they’ll be more loyal and will likely stick around even during hard seasons. It is, after all, one of the Greatest Commandments.
QUESTION: Think about your most recent interaction with your boss or your staff. Did love lead first?]]>
“We don’t need more technology. We need less noise in our technology.”
Today, Facebook announced Facebook Home (see story by Mashable), currently available for Android only (interesting to me). Facebook Home is a collection of apps you can install to automagically turn an Android phone into a Facebook phone. It is an always-on, Facebook-focused graphical interface that makes Facebook’s news feed, notifications and chat a part of using the phone – even when you’re using another app. As if we needed an ever-present distraction that doesn’t even require us to sign in to Facebook to be inundated with more noise.
I’ve come to believe that for the average person, filtering your “friends” list in Facebook and organizing who you follow on Twitter into practical Lists is a necessity to keep the signal-to-noise ratio down to something that is not only manageable, but useful. While this could, in theory, still be achieved organizationally via Facebook Home, the ever-present cover feed would introduce more distraction than is viably useful.
As an aside, I also wonder if their video and website showcasing Facebook Home hints at their targeted demographic: teens and early 20-somethings, a market that is beginning to leave Facebook.
My recommendations are still the same: use the right tools to manage your inputs and execute a strategy to make technology work for you and not the other way around.
QUESTION: How is your church managing the noise to find what’s valuable in social media?]]>
“Twitter’s most powerful feature is the ability to mobilize people to give, serve and share.”
Since 2007, I’ve been finding new ways to leverage the power of Twitter. From reaching large groups of not only people I know, but the people they know, Twitter has been a great tool. But, like any technology, there are plenty of uses of it that are – at least to me – time-wasters. I think a good number of pastors view Twitter with a skeptical eye. But that doesn’t make Twitter any less useful; people behaving badly is nothing new.
In 2009 I published my first ebook, “The Reason Your Church Must Twitter”. In it, I outlined the practical benefits of the mass text-like messaging medium, but what I never saw coming was that its most powerful feature is the ability to mobilize people. From Janis Krums “miracle on the Hudson” picture aboard a ferry used to rescue stranded passengers of the US Air jet that landed in the Hudson River, to the staggering success of the Obama campaign (“organizing for action”) to rally young voters to contribute (80% of the $639 million dollars Obama raised came from donations that were 20 dollars or less), Twitter is a powerful tool that churches should be strategically using to engage and mobilize their attendees and community.
QUESTION: What’s working – and what’s not been working – with how your church uses Twitter?]]>
“Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick any two, because all three at once doesn’t exist.”
I certainly didn’t invent this concept, but I came to appreciate it – as us Texans say - right quick. On face value, it’s obviously true, yet I am still amazed at how often all three are expected in oh-so-many churches I’ve worked with over the years.
Look, it’s possible to buy good technology, get it fast and install it cheap with volunteer labor; but that’s not the meaning of this paradigm. This reality is about outcomes, not process. When someone wants something good, fast and cheap (that’s their desired outcome), they’ll inevitably find that there are always - always - trade-offs. Where I think many people get caught is in the definition of cheap. Cheap doesn’t always mean inexpensive. Cheap can be an attribute of quality, whether in craftsmanship, durability or lasting value.
If cheap is the highest priority, then the lowest priority will always be good.
QUESTION: Where has your church been hurt by missing this simple but profound principle?]]>
“Good enough isn’t GOOD when the outcome is STATUS QUO.”
Day in and day out, there are those things to do that seemingly never end. Often, the tyranny of the urgent limits our ability to put our effort into the right things all the time. If we don’t consistently re-prioritize and focus on what’s truly important, mediocrity will creep in and lower the bar four our efforts. We can’t let this happen without frequent checks. Why? Because keeping the bar low doesn’t elevate our effectiveness.
QUESTION: How do you keep “good enough” from being not good enough?]]>
“Less is not only more; it is, more importantly, less.”
I’ve been taken with the idea of “less is more” for some time now. Simplicity can be elegant. Of course, like anything taken to extremes, less can drift into minimalism and risks becoming more of a statement than a practical solution. The idea that I want to convey is that less isn’t the absence of something, but the appropriate use of only what is necessary.
From how often we communicate, what we choose to say (and not to say) in our communications and selecting the proper channel to reach the right audience, less is best.
QUESTION: How could your church or ministry benefit from “less”?]]>
“The best volunteer teams excel when the expectations are set by defining the right outcomes, not the right steps.”
No one likes being in the hot seat. Setting volunteers up for failure is a sure-fire way to both kill volunteer involvement and decimate volunteer morale. With this in mind, church leaders often do their best to set up volunteers for success. The only problem is that the good intentions of protecting volunteers often leads to defining exacting steps and rigid procedures. For some volunteers, this kind of structure is safe and easy. Yet the best volunteer teams are those which are empowered to step outside of the lines and respond to personal ministry opportunities not outlined in a training manual.
Your best volunteers need a framework to operate within and the freedom to make decisions that are people-focused. Guidelines are just that: guides. Define the right outcomes and you’ll find your best volunteers making the right steps to high engagement. That’s a win-win-win scenario.
QUESTION: What areas of volunteer ministry need to shift away from rules and focus more on relationships?]]>