Categories
For Church Staff Leadership Marketing Overwhelmed

Maybe it’s time to close the doors to your church

Every now and then, I have to write a blog post that cuts deep. This may be one of those. Without using clickbait, or trying to stir the pot, I want to help you hear my heart and hear the hope in this blog post. If your church is on a path towards closing, please considering reading every word.

 

In this article by Thom Rainer, from Lifeway, he says that 6000-10,000 churches in America will close per year, which means that 100-200 churches that opened the doors last Sunday won’t open the doors this weekend.

It’s so sad to hear, and I wish that statistic didn’t exist. Honestly, I wish that there was only growth and not decline, but the reality is that’s not the case.

Here’s where it starts to hurt, and I’ll apologize in advance for how terrible this is going to sound: Objectively, it would be more helpful if the number of churches closing was higher.

Ugh. I don’t want that to be the case. I wish with everything in me that this didn’t make objective sense, but considering my experience with what I’ve seen and heard, first hand and through a network of people passionately hoping their church wasn’t on a decline, I know this to be the case.

Consider a business that’s in decline: profits have been down for many years, clients are decreasing, they are spending their available budget on staying afloat, taking on debt to pay salaries, or remortgaging their assets to drain their equity and pay the bills.

If this were the case for your business, it would be helpful for someone to come alongside you and say, “It may be time to sell while you still have equity in assets and find another source of income, or simply retire and enjoy your lifetime of work.”

We see this in outdated technology companies, retail stores that have lost out on a price war with big-box retailers, and restaurants that are in a ‘downtown core’ in small towns where retail is moving to the mall on the edge of town.

Where we don’t often see this strategy is with churches. Churches often hold on far too long to emotion, sentiment, and status quo beyond reason, in ways that businesses could never justify.

To be clear, I’m not talking to churches who have had a sudden upset in leadership, lost their building in a hurricane, or another catastrophic event. I’m also not talking to churches who have poor months financially or have gone through a split of some kind and your members are emotionally drained. I’m talking to churches who have a traceable track record of financial and membership decline over years or decades.

There are 2 paths for a declining church:

  1. Keep doing what you’re doing until there’s nothing left.
  2. Make a significant change and adapt in order to grow and make a difference in your community.

 

Path 1: Keep doing what you’re doing

Nothing is going to change. Insert the definition of insanity if you’ve kept doing what you’ve always done and expected different results, and then throw in a pile of other cliches.

It just seems so obvious to me that I can’t even justify boring you with the what, but I do want to dig into the ‘How.’

How is it that we can experience years or decades of decline, and still not be willing to change?

For each church, this could look different, but I believe any church can fall into this trap, either from success, indifference, or not knowing how to handle decline. This could be because:

  • We had a good month. A new family joined, and our finances were above our costs. Maybe this is a new trend!
  • We don’t want Pastor to lose his job, and he’s been doing this his whole career and he has a family, so what else would he do? We’ll continue to give a salary as long as we can.
  • From the Pastor: What else would I do? I don’t have a resume outside of working at my church and nobody will hire someone whose most recent track record is years of decline.
  • We’ve been in the community for many years, and our city just wouldn’t feel right without us here.
  • Maybe if we just pray more, this is just a season of difficulty we’ll pull out of.
  • We need to cut costs and remortgage assets, and now it looks like our cash flow is in the positive.
  • If we don’t reach our community, then who will? We’re here at whatever cost to be a light in our community.
  • Let’s just take it one step at a time. Let’s make sure that Sunday is good, then we’ll think about next Sunday.
  • People left the church because they saw a decline in the youth program, kids funding, social events, outreach opportunities, etc. We’re going to stick around and prove them wrong.

OR the case that I think most churches struggle with:

If we were to make a change, what would be the right change? What options actually exist? It’s easier to not make a change.

 

Either path means a change is coming.

Either you’re going to make a change, or you’re going to run out of people and money and a change is going to happen. You may be trying to preserve a building, or staff salaries, or your pride, but if you run out of people and money, you’re going to lose all of that anyway.

Ask yourself this question:

Based on our rate of decline (in attendance or finances) how many years do we have left at this speed?

Is holding on to hope without reason until our assets or membership hit zero the most effective way to help people in our community meet Jesus?

 

Path 2: Intentionally make a significant change

Often, the biggest obstacle here is knowing what a significant change could look like.

Here’s where the logic of ‘Objectively, it would be more helpful if the number of churches closing was higher,’ takes effect.

Here are some options for making a significant change:

 

Option 1: Merge with a growing church

You may have assets like a building, or investments, or a community center, and committed members, so what if you partnered with a church that is still meeting in a high school or renting space at a library, or trying to get the funding together to renovate a space in a strip mall, or looking to plant a campus in your city. You bring your assets to the table, and they bring a fresh system of what’s working to impact the community.

Your church’s legacy would be adding fuel to the fire of a growing church by providing a building, committed volunteers, and mentors. They’re contribution is taking your legacy and continue to reach your community.

In this case, remember that you’ll need to embrace their systems. This doesn’t turn into a “my house, my rules” situation since your way of doing things has led to a decline. You need to hand over the reins to their system.

One way to approach this option:

Give them the building, change the building to their church name, and let your members know that they can join the new church if they would like. Alternatively, there may be other churches in your area that are the same denomination or style where your current members may feel more comfortable.

It’s important to not present it as “They’re joining us” or “We’re joining together” but rather “our legacy is going to be gifting our assets to them. Consider joining their church in this building, or here is another alternative if you’d like something more in line with our style.”

In some cases, the members of the church gifting the building simply join another church altogether and hand over their keys (obviously with the proper due legal process).

 

Option 2: Liquidate your assets and help a new church plant or campus plant

You might have a substantial amount of equity between your building and property, but if your building is in need of renovations or a design overhaul, then it may not actually be considered an asset to a smaller, growing church or a church looking to plant a campus – it might actually be a liability to need to fix the roof, remove the wallpaper and paint from top to bottom or fix the parking lot that’s home to a few ducks and frogs and completely unusable every time it rains.

Consider liquidating everything and find a growing church to invest those assets into. Leverage your assets while they can make a difference, rather than waiting until they vaporize.

It could be tempting to “merge” with another church in your denomination, or a church of a similar style to yours, and pool your resources together. While I’m not advising against that, I would want you to consider if they are a growing church with upward momentum, or if you’re simply pooling assets to prolong their decline.

 

Option 3: Bring in new leadership SOONER THAN LATER

I’ll just let this one simmer.

If your current leadership (staff or volunteers) have only been able to create a track record of decline, then they need to have the self-awareness to step aside and say “I don’t know what to do, and for the sake of our church and our community, someone else needs to step in.”

Again, I’m not saying this should be the case after a few months or even a year or two of decline, but after more than a couple of years without an upside, (and in many cases, more than that) it’s time to look at the business side of things and say “Would a major corporation allow their CEO to lead for a decade of decline without making a change?”

Our mission as the church is much more significant than inventing a new gadget or turning a profit. Our commitment to reach that significance has to be reflected in our decisions, no matter how tough they may be.

This decision has to be made sooner than later. Waiting until there’s only red in the bank account and nothing left of the membership is like setting fire to potential. If you have any desire to see the organization turn around, give “the new guy” something to work with.

 

I’m not pretending this is an exhaustive list, and there may be another option that is a fit for your church and community but making the decision to make a change is the first step.

Do you know of any great resources that would be helpful for a church looking to make a change? Leave it in the comments below so we can learn together!

 

 

 

Categories
Build a Team For Church Staff Leadership

Slow down staff turnover at your church

I’ve been hearing a theme lately at conferences, podcasts, blogs, facebook groups, published books, (and in private messages and emails to me. Side note: adam@adammclaughlin.net if you want to chat) and it’s been on my mind, almost to the point of concern.

It’s not a point of concern because I disagree or I think it’s misleading, but the concern is that it’s true, and relevant to enough people to come up in so many unrelated contexts.

The theme:

Maybe it’s time to consider moving on from your church job.

This theme comes up in different ways like:

  • Working at a church can be a terrible job.
  • Let me guess: Your “other duties as assigned” are taking more time than your actual job description.
  • If you leadership (read: Pastor, Manager, Supervisor, Board of Directors) doesn’t trust you to do your work, then find somewhere that allows you to do what you know to do.
  • We know that often church wages are sub-par compared to wages outside the church. If that’s causing stress, there are other places you can do similar work, clock out at the end of the day, and make more money.

To be clear, none of the speakers or writers were making a suggestion, and all suggested ways to work out the details, but they all had the message that it’s ok to move on if you need to.

I wish I had a magic wand to solve all of these statements, and if you haven’t noticed yet, I don’t.

I don’t even have answers to most of them, and definitely not blanket statements that you as a leader can apply at your church, because your culture and context is unique from every other church, however what I do know is:

Leaders: The problem is your culture. 

 

Like it or not, your culture, informed by your values, drives every decision, delegation, and experience that your church is known for, whether internally with your staff or volunteers, or externally in your community.

I won’t pretend to even make suggestions about necessary steps, but, for a moment, here are a few things to consider when adjusting or evaluating your culture so your church is a great place to work.

 

Why Having Clearly Articulated Values Matters:

Your culture is informed by your values. Being unclear about your values (meaning discussing, writing them down, and having them come up in every discussion where a decision is made) doesn’t mean a culture doesn’t exist. It means that your culture is a wide net, with ever-changing results where it can feel like anything goes, and then nothing goes.

Whether you realize it or not, every decision made is based on values: What you wear, how you do your hair, whether you brushed your teeth, what you ate for breakfast, what time you woke up, which brand of toothpaste you use, whether you made coffee at home or picked one up on the way to the office – all of these decisions were made this morning based on your values, even before you left your house.

When you don’t have values articulated for your church, then each person is making decisions based on their personal values, which, understandably, are going to vary from one person to another.

This is why we get church splits over how to spend money.

One person values reaching people in our community and wants to update the carpet in the entrance to improve the first impression. Another person values reaching people who haven’t been reached and wants to use that money to build a church overseas.

Neither are wrong, and both could be the best answer depending on the organization and the situation, but the head-to-head values where one person can’t understand the other’s side creates an impasse.

When you make a decision for your organization or your staff, you’re making them based on your personal values, and each staff member is making their decision based on their values, and mixed together, that’s where ideas and opinions collide – actually, it’s where culture can’t come to terms with itself and either collides or separates.

Making group decisions based on only personal values is like trying to mix oil and water. Nobody is going to win.

Having clear organizational values fixes this:

When a church (or business, or organization) has clearly articulated your values, then an interesting phenomenon happens: People will allow the organization’s values to override their values when making decisions on behalf of the organization.

The conversation when making a decision moves from “I think we should….” to “Since we value X, then we could…..”

  • Since we value reaching our community first, then we could spend that money getting the old carpet replaced.
  • Since we value family, we could have a conference focussed around parenting, rather than a business conference.
  • Since we value multiplication, we could build a new campus rather than expand our current building.

Unless you’ve clearly articulated your values, there’s no way these conversations can happen.

 

What does that have to do with church staff?

I get it. Having 3-5 values doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to pay your staff more, or that they’ll produce perfect work the first time and won’t get their feelings hurt if there needs to be a revision.

Values allow a framework for discussions, and can inform:

  • How staff can have a respectful conversation with a different opinion from the leadership so they feel like they’re being heard. “Would you help me understand your decision based on our values?”
  • How and when you evaluate compensation.
  • Discussions for interviewing and on-boarding new staff so they’re clear on your culture
  • People who thought your valued something, but realize you actually value something different can move on to create a more cohesive team.
  • How staff help those they manage to understand the decisions they’re making. “Since we value X, the decision is to…. – Do you have any ideas on other ways we can help people experience that value in this situation?”

 

Need help discovering your church’s values?

If you’re a DIY, consider picking up a copy of Patrick Lencioni’s book: The Advantage. which talks about 6 questions that every organization needs to answer.

If you’re looking for a more hands-on approach, I help churches use this framework to create a Community Impact Strategy where we’ll not only walk through how to discover your core values, but also how to make them practical in a 6-month marketing strategy to impact your community. Ready to learn more? Send me an email: adam@adammclaughlin.net

 

What are your church’s core values? Leave a comment so we can learn together.

 

 

 

Categories
Branding For Church Staff Leadership

11 Pastor Appreciation Day Ideas for 2019

2019 Pastor Appreciation Day is Sunday, October 13

While these may not be the conventional “Tie and Hallmark Card” ideas (although, this tie on the right seems like $14.99 well spent) as church volunteers, leaders, board members, or staff members, here are some ways to truly show appreciation for your Pastor for an impact that will last longer than that Starbucks gift card.

 

ASK: What are your pet peeves that I can avoid?

I was talking with Ryan Wakefield from Church Marketing University, and he said one of the most successful questions he asked his boss was “What are you pet peeves that I can avoid?”

Maybe it’s when emails come in marked as high priority, or letting a call go to voicemail without leaving a message, or interrupting in a conversation, or texting while he or she is preaching that buzzes the apple watch, or (my favorite) giving a piece of paper when that could have been sent by email.

Learning what makes your Pastor tick is one of the best gifts you can give – not only to show that you appreciate your Pastor but also to learn and not accidentally invoke a pet peeve.

 

ASK: Is there anything I can help with for this weekend?

What this can sound like: I appreciate what you do, and I know there’s a lot resting on your shoulders, so is there any way I can help shoulder the load.

Thursday or Early Friday are great times to ask this question because that’s the point in time when we often realize there’s more ‘to-do list’ left than there is ‘week’ left.

This could be as simple as

  • Would you double-check that the coffee supplies got picked up? We ran out of sugar last week.
  • I’m looking for a picture for my sermon of a dog in a car. Would you help me find that?
  • Can you give me your feedback on this phrase in my sermon?
  • Could we change the sign out front by Sunday to say….?

There are often things that your Pastor will notice that others may not, and anything you can do to help take something off his or her mind.

 

INVITE: Bring someone to church

Nothing says “I appreciate our church” like believing in the vision and leadership like bringing someone to church. On Pastor appreciation, Sunday, October 13, 2019, start planning to have a day when everyone brings someone.

 

GIFT: Give a book that you’ve enjoyed or your Pastor has mentioned

Often, a Pastor won’t take the time to buy themselves a gift, so a simple gift can be a sign that you’ve been listening when they’ve mentioned wanting to read a book, and you’re supporting them as they learn and grow.

 

GIFT: Give them an unplanned day, or weekend, or lunch off

This could look different for each church, but offer to preach one weekend, or go to the “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast” as your church’s representative, or take some meetings, or plan a staff meeting, then instead of everyone showing up, it’s just your Pastor and Spouse for lunch at the restaurant (but let at least one of them know that you’re skipping out…)

 

GIFT: Outsource something that has been too much for your team to handle

Maybe your Pastor has wanted to have more sermon clips show up on Social Media (like through SermonClipper.com), or outsource your graphic design to Church Media Squad to give a boost to your design team and create a higher quantity of designs for your Pastor’s blog, or social media images or your email newsletter, or on screens during announcement.

If there’s something close to your Pastor’s heart, find a few people who will each commit to split the costs for a year personally and make that dream happen.

 

WRITE: A Hand-written note

Rather than ask your church to bring in a card, hand out a piece of cardboard where each member of your church can write a personal note to you Pastor for Pastor Appreciation Day 2019. This will mean way more than some guy in Hallmark’s office writing a card that someone from your church bought.

Not only is this cost-effective, so you can pool your resources for another type of gift, but it really makes a personal connection from each person in your church to your Pastor.

 

DO: ‘Steal’ your Pastor’s car, and get the oil changed, car washed and gas topped up

Ok, probably not steal, but let them know that while they’re in a meeting, you’d like to take their car for an oil change. While you’re out, top up their gas and get the deluxe-premium-super-duper car wash. Everyone loves driving a clean car and take something off the to-do list.

 

GIFT: An online course

Choose an online course from a person your Pastor respects, or a topic that he or she is interested in. If you’re not sure where to start, consider Hope Made Strong’s online course which talks about how to stay healthy in church leadership when you’re working regularly giving all of your energy to helping others.

An online course might not be something they would buy for themselves, but they can go through it with the leadership at your church and see a definite difference.

 

ASK: What is one thing you would like to see our church accomplish in the next 6 months?

This is one of the six questions that I ask churches when I help them develop a 6-12 month community-impact strategy.

This could be an outreach event, seeing a certain number of visitors show up at church, setting up a church follow up process using Text In Church or to build a volunteer parking lot team.

You may be surprised at what the answer is to this question – it may be something fairly obvious, or it may be something you’ve never considered before, but mark in on the calendar, loop in all of your key staff and volunteers, and work backward to figure out how to get from here to there – what steps will it take? Who needs to be involved? How can we track progress along the way? How will we celebrate when we hit our goal?

 

GIFT: Bring in someone to help build a community-impact strategy

When I work with churches, we take 3 days on site and create a 6-month community impact strategy. We start with 6 questions that every organization needs to answer and end with clear branding, a marketing strategy to evaluate your guest’s experience at your church and follow up process, and an outreach strategy to help you become known in your community.

Your Pastor leads your church because he or she wants to impact your community and introduce more people to Jesus. Show your appreciation for his or her passion by helping align your whole church (Staff, key leaders, volunteers, and attenders) around a common goal of reaching your community, and create a written 6-month strategy to do that!

As much as a staff member or church member you’ll appreciate the focus and clarity it creates, your Lead Pastor will thank you for helping put words, actions and checkpoints to his vision for reaching your community.

Ready to get started? Send me an email to start the discussion: adam@adammclaughlin.net

 

What are some of the best ideas you’ve heard for Pastor Apprecation day? Leave a comment below so we can all learn together.