The reasons churches stop growing fall into three areas

Every leader wants to see the church they are a part of grow; growing both in numbers of people and in the spiritual maturity of the people.

Much has been written on the subject of church growth. Recently there has been a swing to not just be a concern about numbers, but also about the spiritual health of the people attending; church health, not just church growth.

Tim Bice, one of my clients, who is the lead pastor of Greenbriar church in Albany, Georgia, has come to the conclusion that growth (or lack thereof) boils down to three key areas:

  1. The Leader
  2. The Systems
  3. The Culture

Here are some of my thoughts on these three ideas that Tim has pinpointed:

The leader(s):

I agree with John Maxwell when he says that everything stands or falls on leadership. As goes the leader (the leadership), so goes the church. I further believe that leadership is best carried out in the context of a team rather than based on one single dynamic leader. This is often referred to as a “Plurality of Elders.” The careful and prayerful selection of leaders is so important. 

Here are some questions to ask about a potential leader:

How is the leader’s relationship with Christ? Is it genuine and deepening?

  • Does the leader demonstrate consistent character quality--the kind mentioned in I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5?
  • Does the leader have the emotional and mental capacity to lead at the level the church is at and to continue to lead as the church grows?
  • Can the leader fit into the existing team and complement the chemistry that is currently experienced there? The ability to work well with others is absolutely essential.
  • Does the leader display a high degree of competency in an area that is currently needed, thereby adding value to the team--not just another body.

The Systems

Every good organization has effective systems to help it function well.  How healthy are the systems at your church? Is there a clear process for helping new attendees find their place in the body? Is there a process for vetting potential workers for key positions whether they be paid or volunteers? Is there a clear way to steward well the finances of the church so that everything is done honestly leaving no room for accusations? Is there a biblically-based process for church discipline when it is called for?

The Culture

The type of culture at a church is just as important as its vision and values. If the culture is toxic, dictatorial, unsafe and joyless, the vision will not happen in a God-honoring way and, perhaps, not at all. Is there a culture of grace, forgiveness and an absence of slander and gossip? In many situations people speak about people instead of to people--a clear violation of Matthew 5 and Matthew 18.  It starts with and is modeled by the key leaders and goes from there throughout the organization. If there is an unhealthy leadership culture at the top, it will result in an entire church with an unhealthy and harmful culture.



Ways that reading makes us better leaders

Leaders are readers…no getting around it.  When you stop reading you stop growing; when you stop growing you stop leading.

Here is Michael Hyatt with five ways reading can develop and empower you as a leader.

Originally posted by Michael Hyatt

Pollsters say reading is in decline. As an author and former publishing executive, the statistics make me wince. But I’m optimistic for another reason.

Why? A readership crisis is really a leadership crisis. And for people who know how to respond, crisis is just another way of saying opportunity.

I’ve been a serious reader for decades: business and personal development, history, the Bible, current events, theology, philosophy, and even some fiction. I’m a content glutton. It’s part of who I am. And it’s also enabled me to become the leader I am.

I’m not alone. I know very few leaders who are uninterested in reading. And some CEOs are famous for their libraries and wide-ranging interests. Steve Jobs was, for one example, obsessed with the poet William Blake.

Readers are likely to be leaders. And with reading in decline, readers possess a comparative advantage in today’s business and political environments. How?

Here are five ways reading can uniquely develop and empower leaders:

1. Reading Makes us Better Thinkers

Reading is one of the most efficient ways to acquire information, and leaders need a lot of general information to keep perspective and seize opportunities. But reading does more than give us a toolbox of ideas. It actually upgrades our analytical tools, especially our judgment and problem-solving abilities.

Research by Anne E. Cunningham compared the general knowledge of readers and television watchers. The readers not only knew more, but they were also better at deciphering misinformation. In other words, reading improved their judgment.

Correctly sizing up a situation—often with incomplete information and limited time—is critical for being an effective leader. I have strong natural intuition, but I’m convinced that my reading has sharpened my edge when it comes to judgment.

These improved analytic tools also help us see patterns and make connections between seemingly random information. We’re not only improving our judgment, we’re also boosting our problem-solving abilities.

I’m always surprised when I’m working on an issue and some out-of-left-field analogy comes to mind from something I’ve read that helps me put all the pieces together. Wesley Hill even recommends what he calls “irrelevant reading,” going outside your field to spark new thoughts and make fresh connections.

2. Reading Improves Our People Skills

Sometimes we think of readers as antisocial introverts with the their nose in a book and ignoring the people around them. But reading can can actually improve a leader’s people skills.

Stories give us an opportunity to walk in other people’s shoes and see the world through their experiences and with their motivations—this is especially true for novels, biographies, and memoirs. When asked about the reading that helps her lead her business, one CEO said the insights about human nature in fiction and poetry has made all the difference in understanding and relating to her people.

And the physical act of reading is actually what makes these lessons stick. Brain scans show that as we relate to characters in stories we make neural connections that linger days after we put the book down on the nightstand.

What this tell us is that the experience of reading has the potential to help us boost our emotional IQ and better identify with people. And empathy is a vital leadership skill for creating alignment, understanding motivation, setting organizational goals, and more.

3. Reading Helps us Master Communication

When we read, especially widely and deeply, we pick up language proficiency that transfers across the board, including speaking and writing.

Reading uniquely expands our vocabulary. According to Cunningham, the books, magazines, and other written texts we read as adults use double and triple the number of rare words we hear on television.

This is important for leaders because an expanded vocabulary means not only greater precision in our communication, but with the improvement in emotional IQ we discussed in Way 2, we’ll also be able to choose words that are more persuasive and motivate the kind of behaviors we want.

We can leverage this across all of our communication. I can personally attest to the fact that this kind of skill transfers to both writing and public speaking. I’ve been doing both for years now, and can’t imagine succeeding without the mastery of language I’ve learned through books and other reading.

4. Reading Helps us Relax

An ongoing challenge every leader faces is managing stress. The great news is that while we’re reading and picking up the benefits of Ways 1, 2, and 3, we can simultaneously lower our stress levels.

One study compared reading to other stress relievers like walking, listening to music, or drinking a cup of tea. Reading was found the most effective, and it worked to lower heart rates and relieve tension in as few as six minutes.

“It really doesn’t matter what book you read,” according to the doctor who conducted the study. “By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world.”

But it’s more than escape. Reading is “an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

This is especially helpful before sleep and why reading something light is part of my nighttime ritual.

5. Reading Keeps us Young

I recently explained why older people make better entrepreneurs. They typically have advantages in experience, knowledge, and social networks.

It’s the same with leaders—and readers are especially positioned to leverage these advantages because reading has been shown in research by Keith E. Stanovich to keep us mentally sharp as we age. By exercising our brains with books and other reading we might even be able to prevent dementia in later years.

There are a lot of things we can do to position ourselves in the marketplace. Reading is probably not the first thing many will think of, but it’s one of the best in my experience.

In fact, I cannot think of any other single activity that can produce this list of positive effects. And given the decades-long decline in reading, being a serious reader is an increasingly unique way to develop the insights and qualities essential for leadership.

If you want to lead, you simply must read. It’s one of the surest ways to develop the qualities that will make you stand out and simultaneously equip you to lead as your influence grows.




The Day I Put My Foot in My Mouth

A number of years ago, I had a very embarrassing and potentially “relationship-ending experience.” One of my values as I work with leaders is to help them create environments of trust by being open and honest with their teams and coworkers. Author and seminar leader Bill Thrall has given me new understanding about “forming high trust cultures.”

In an effort to do this with two leaders, I shared information with one about the other that I thought would help them talk honestly about an issue. In doing so, I inadvertently slipped over into the gossip arena, and  betrayed confidential information. When it became clear to me what I had done, I was truly repentant and asked for forgiveness. Here is what I e-mailed:

“I want to apologize (sensing I went too far) regarding our conversation about our brother ______.  In my attempt to broker healthy communication, honesty and trust between coworkers, I can sometimes share too much.  I so long for people who work together in teams to have communication that is open, genuine and with all the cards on the table.  There is so much wheeling and dealing, organizational politics, backstabbing, jealousy, envy, turf protecting, and competition that occurs, and it bothers me a great deal. I have both heard about and experienced far too many horror stories that would compete with Stephen King.  Maybe you have as well.

“I so long for you and _____  to be able to be honest and have trust with each other. I am sorry.  Pray that I would have wisdom to not betray confidences in any way but, at the same time, be able to facilitate "high trust cultures" that are key to so much good happening.”

I am coming to the conclusion that one of the key areas for a Christian leader is creating trust and being a person who can be trusted. Inappropriate “information sharing” can kill trust faster than just about anything. Possibly nothing will end a relationship faster than when one says, “I don’t feel I can trust you any more.” It’s like a knife slipped between “relational” ribs.

I can become proud, because I am privy to information and then exacerbate the situation by using it or sharing it in ways that do not promote relational health. An article in “Leadership In Action” (Volume 21, Number 5, November/December 2001) states: “Research by Stanford University among executives of Fortune 500 companies found that 90% of the leaders who failed did so largely because they lacked the interpersonal skills that are one of the key elements in emotional intelligence.” Gossip definitely flies in the face of the crucial interpersonal skill set!

Within a day or two of my embarrassing situation, I read Leviticus 19:16. For me, reading through Leviticus can sometimes be like swimming upstream in peanut butter. But in this verse, God clearly communicated a valuable truth to me: “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people.” I learned a great lesson that I am praying I won’t forget.


Characteristics of shallow leadership

If you are a leader, you want your leadership to be robust, effective and fruitful. At times leadership can go from deep and meaningful to shallow and dangerous. Here is Ron Edmondson sharing seven characteristics of “Shallow Leadership.”

Originally posted by Ron Edmondson

Growing in our leadership abilities — including growing in the knowledge of leadership and the relational aspect of leadership– should be a goal for every leader.

Sadly, many leaders settle for status quo leadership rather than stretching themselves to continually improve. They remain oblivious to the real health of their leadership and the organizations they lead. They may get by — people may say things are “okay” — but it isn’t excellent.

I call it shallow leadership.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before in leadership. Maybe you’ve been guilty of providing shallow leadership. For a season, at least. I certainly have.

Still wondering what shallow leadership looks like?

Here are 7 characteristics of shallow leadership:

1.  Thinking your idea will be everyone’s idea. You assume everyone is on the same page. You think everyone thinks like you. You stop asking questions of your team. You stop evaluating. 

2.  Believing that your way is the only way. You’re the leader — you must be right. You’ve had some success. It went to your head a little. So, you’ve become head strong. You’re controlling. You make every decision. You never delegate.

3.  Assuming you already know the answer. You think you’ve done it long enough to see it all. You quit learning. You stop reading. You never meet with other leaders anymore. 

4.  Pretending to care when really you don’t. You have grown cold in your passion. You may speak the vision but they’re just words to you now. You go through the motions. You’re drawing a paycheck. But, truth be known, you’d rather be anywhere than here right now.

5.  Giving the response that makes you most popular. You like to be liked. You never make the hard decisions. You refuse to challenge. You avoid conflict. You run from complainers. You ignore the real problems.

6.  Refusing to make a decision. You had a setback. Things didn’t go as planned. You’ve grown scared. You’re overwhelmed. You refuse to walk by faith. Your team won’t move forward because you won’t move forward.

7.  Ignoring the warning signs of poor health. Momentum may be suffering. Things may not be “awesome” anymore. You look the other way. Your soul is empty. You may be unhealthy. The team may be unhealthy. You refuse to see it.

We never achieve best with shallow leadership. The first step is to admit. 



Becoming a "Silly" Leader

STOP! Before you put this down, thinking it has nothing to offer you, consider the meaning of the word silly. According to Richard Stone, it has the same roots as the German word selig, which means blessed, fortunate, favored, and happy.

Many leaders seem to take themselves and their responsibilities far too seriously (I’m one of them). They live with the fear of failure, looking foolish, or appearing incompetent.  Consequently, it’s easy to opt for sticking with what you think will work and make you look good. I, for one, vote for being silly as a leader and, believe me, I’ve got a long way to go. I’m the poster child for leadership seriousness/stuffiness. I should listen to the advice of my former co-worker, Steve Gilmore, who said: “Life is a parade, be a clown!”

Seriousness can kill innovation, creativity and fresh progress. Silliness can restore adventure and curiosity. Now, when I advocate being silly, I’m not talking about making a complete idiot of yourself or becoming the laughing stock of your team. I’m talking about chilling out, lightening up, getting a life and tapping into your God-given creativity. Noted educator, Neil Postman, has observed that: “Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.” Maybe, at last, I’m ready to return to creative child-like silliness. I’m beginning to think that ministry and leadership should be fun, not an arduous task that drains and discourages more than it lifts and exhilarates. But, be prepared. Silliness is not generally well received. Many leaders tend to abhor and shy away from silliness and are critical of those who act silly. You might hear things like:

  • Let’s just follow the rules
  • That's not logical
  • Be practical
  • Don’t be foolish
  • That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of
  • Come on now, that’s pure nonsense

Bill Hybels shares that he got the idea of building a real bridge in the worship center for Easter to visually portray Christ being the bridge to eternal life.  Never been done before, highly unusual, possibility of being accused of being outlandish, extravagant.  It was just a wild, silly, unconventional idea. They built it and people, after the services, (much to the staff’s surprise) began to walk across it to signify crossing over from death to life. Bill quickly got on the phone with the builder up in the booth concerned that the bridge might collapse, triggering a lawsuit or, worse yet, visually demonstrating that Christ as the bridge wasn’t strong enough.  “Relax,” said the builder, “you could drive a truck across it.” It was an Easter service no one will ever forget.

A number of years ago I joined a Toastmasters club while living in Seattle. It was unlike any Toastmasters club I had ever been a part of. There was more fun, creativity and pure silliness per square inch than any group I’d ever been with. It rubbed off and affected me greatly. Many of those in the club were very unorthodox and imaginative. They had great off-the-wall, outside-the-box ideas. (I tend to do the same things in the same way, being the quintessential “rut thinker.”)

At one Toastmasters meeting, Dean gave his intro via a tape recording of his own voice and mouthed the words. He wore different hats at different points in the meeting, addressed the audience from the side rather than the front and used a number of other highly unusual and “never-been-done-before” techniques. The bottom line was, he was being just plain silly. We loved it. Everybody had a load of laughs and a great deal of fun. It enhanced rather than hindered our learning.

I suspect that, privately, many of us do things with freedom and abandonment. But in public we become conservative, cautious and fearful. Oh, to dance as if no one were looking, to live our lives out loud, to be free to let it all hang out and not be overly concerned with what others may think. I’m wondering how many of the truly creative and idea-rich leaders throughout history had a good deal of silliness in them--Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill for starters.

Richard Stone, author of “The Healing Art of Storytelling” says: “When I give adults in my training programs permission to be silly by asking them to make up fanciful stories, an amazing thing happens. Their energy picks up, their thinking begins to flow in unexpected ways, and they become more unified as a team. Perhaps most important, their ability to solve real-world problems soars.” The first rule of being a silly leader is to play the revolutionary and challenge the rules and conventional thinking.

One of my friends, Kurt Johnson, lives in Seattle. Kurt is the silliest person I know. He truly has a child’s spirit and curiosity. No “periods” with him; he’s all question marks and exclamation points! He has worked with both children and adults in his ministry through the years. He actually prefers working with children because they let him be who he is and are not critical. He is the free-est and most creative when in the presence of children. They just love him. You never quite know what Mr. J (as the kids call him) is going to do. He is a breath of fresh air; but many adults can’t handle it. A rubber chicken hangs from his pants pocket wherever he goes. Silliness bubbles out of him like laughter from children.

Here are a few suggestions on developing silliness:

  • Spend some time hanging out with the silliest, free-est and craziest people you know so you can  harvest some wild and silly ideas.
  • Read some children’s books. Dr. Seuss, for example. He is as silly as they come. Or, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C. S. Lewis.
  • Do something for the first time that scares you and makes you look foolish. It might surprise you how much people enjoy it and how much creativity it ignites.
  • Subscribe to a creative, wild magazine like “Wired,” or read a creative book like, “ A Whack On the Side of the Head,” by Roger Von Oech.

Go on, BE SILLY! You might like it, “Sam I am”!