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BEYOND RELEVANCE MUSINGS ON CHURCH, STRATEGY, AND CULTURE

BY RICHARD REISING

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Sep 28

Becoming WillowBack.

Sep 28
Sep 28

I run across churches all the time that are struggling to break out of their old mold. They see flagship churches execute services flawlessly with tremendous attention paid to the details in areas such as lighting, sound, service flow, building cleanliness and guest services. They see this and think, "We are going to have to do things differently." They are no longer satisfied with how their teams execute church compared to the "model" church they have just experienced  (I'll call it WillowBack). They have been enlightened and things are going to change...

This enlightenment is often followed by a knee-jerk get-together with their lead team to talk about what they saw at WillowBack and show them how serious we are about immediate improvement and the unwillingness we should all have to tolerate anything less than this perfection. Team leaders pound the table with passion and commonly say something like, "We just need to get rid of that person who does the PowerPoint. I told him to do it this way and he didn't do it." In their newfound pursuit of improvement, they become ready to eliminate anyone who does not deliver flawlessly. What is driving this leader is a picture in the leader's head of perfection and he is frustrated by those around him who cannot or will not deliver on what he sees. The once happy-go-lucky minister has become a heavy-handed enforcer in the pursuit of flawless execution (which he calls "doing things with excellence"). Does this at all sound familiar to anyone?

Here's the deal... You do not become WillowBack overnight, and the way you learn to execute well is not by creating a culture of tyranny. The secret is standards. Standards are the greatest tool for training your team and they are, for the most part, missing in the church today. Why? I think we feel so grateful for Bob (the guy who volunteers to do the PowerPoint), that on his first day, we do our best to make sure we do not upset him. After all, what if he stops coming? Then what are we going to do? No, what we will do is give him the least amount of information about his duty we can (as we do not have time to really train him) and then we will put up with him not doing it perfectly since he is so faithful (of course he has no real idea what perfection to us is), until one day we get fed up and fire him from his post and crush his spirit by telling how he "never" does it right, when we never trained him what right is.

There's an old adage: Set your expectations, then inspect what you expect. This is about training and managing based on standards. Tell the PowerPoint guy, "Thank you for volunteering, you have joined a team that has very high standards and it's an honor to be on this team. I am in charge of training you and what we will go over are the standards for this position; I will cover not just how to do your job, but why to do it that way. I will give you a vision for what it looks like when you do it perfectly, and we will make that vision into a standard. I want you to be an ace and will meet with you every week for the next month then every month going forward to discuss how well you are meeting the standards. I'm expecting great things from you."

Then, when you meet to give feedback, you are able to collaborate with Bob on how to improve things as he has bought in as an investor in the process of rising to the standard. This is a picture of what managing by standards looks like. Standards are not rules. Rules are what you must do. They are driven by consequences. Standards are what you could do. They are driven by vision. The main difference is the culture that is created. Rules create an atmosphere of fear and trepidation. Standards create an atmosphere of ownership and healthy pride in doing things well.

So here's the deal, you don't do it as well WillowBack. So what are you going to do about it? You have a choice. You can build your change around rules or you can become a better leader and train people to uphold and raise standards with vision. Standards will require more forethought from you as a leader. It will require that you create a visionary job description and give positive and corrective feedback on a regular basis. It will cause you to dedicate more to training than you ever thought you would. It is a lot of work. But, it's up to you.

In the end, would you rather be a part of a church that is known for its rules... or its standards?

20 comments

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Scott

Very nicely written. It's true...the Church often strives to imitate other churches that look and do things 'better.' Sometimes the problem is realizing that those churches have worked on getting 'better' for many, many years. But standards, not rules, do seem to be a key. It's hard to develop standards, though, when many people want to have a say in what those standards are.

Posted on Tue, Oct 6, 2009 @ 8:45 AM CST

Natalie

Great article. I believe accountability is key to any person's success and management; standards provide something for people to be accountable to and therefore measure their development and performance against. Without standards, there can not be accountability and without accountability, there is no direction; without direction people have only two choices - wander around aimlessly or make up their own job description and become accountable to that (mavericks - as mentioned by Scott)...there are plenty of such people in the Church. The Bible is our greatest manual for standards and man's accountability to them, yet as the Church we often shy away from talk of standards, performance, management and the like viewing them as 'worldy'. Church leaderships need to claim back that which the world has taken and conterfeited and put it back in its rightful place.

Posted on Thu, Oct 8, 2009 @ 7:22 AM CST

ssmith

This article really struck a cord in me....I think many churches can relate to almost everything in this article. The key I find is Process. Having a good process in place so that ministries/church can grow. The process is directly related to standards. The next step is consistent training once a process is established. This site is great!

Posted on Tue, Oct 13, 2009 @ 1:52 PM CST

Jmetz

I don’t really agree with you. In answer to your very last question I immediately thought “neither!” I don’t want people coming into my ministry because it has high standards. I am not saying I do not like things to be a certain way, but, actions speak louder than words and if I showed that my ministry (worship and music) was driven by only standards that I have set, then I fear I would loose my current members no one else would join! Sure, “standards” are not “rules” in the light that you are using this term, (rules=consequences, standards=vision etc). But that sounds largely synthetic to me. If you set standards you imply that there are still consequences when people do not meet those standards, and whether or not you act on the consequences in your church, the implication is always on the person’s mind and I believe hinders their ability to worship. Rather, for me ministry is a collaborative process, where the only goal I have is the goal of making our worship to God first, image after, (the person in the ministry is second, and image can come somewhere after that). If someone messes up, they know its okay and therefore they are that much more motivated to be on the team. The person before the ministry, not the ministry before the person. So the answer to your last question is that I want my ministry to be known for reflecting God’s grace because that’s what God shows us and is what saves us. I would not want to worship a God that expected to me live up to standards and I am glad that I do not! Again, if high standards were my only goal, I would be teaching them that this church does not show God’s grace first, and that looses sight of my first vision.

Posted on Sat, Oct 17, 2009 @ 5:47 PM CST

Sarah

Amen to that, Jmetz. That is exactly what I was thinking when I read this. Why ARE we even trying to market the church?? To me, that sounds empty, and I don't believe that Jesus had any marketing strategies when he had his ministry in the bible, except to live his life according to God's word and be a living testimony of His greatness. I feel like if our hearts are right in ministry, and we are being lead by the holy spirit and living out God's word, then people's lives will be effected in a significant way. I feel like this approach to "market" the church is very americanized, and very capitalistic.

Posted on Wed, Oct 21, 2009 @ 10:19 PM CST

GW

After many years in the church and music ministry, I became burnt out. Now I can hardly bear to listen to the "Christianese" so many of my friends use as what just feel to me like fillers -- you know, "praise the Lord" instead of "umm". Frankly, the mega churches make me sick.That's not what God wants for His people. Small groups are where ministry happens, not huge services where people sit back and are Powerpointed to sleep or talked to in a one-way stream. After many years I am just now starting to attend a homegroup. I am so turned off by the western church though.

Posted on Thu, Oct 22, 2009 @ 1:19 PM CST

Ed

Interesting... Our pastor just hit the reboot button on our church after 2 years. In the past few staff meetings we came to realize we were not headed in the direction of the vision for our community so on Wed. the church membership was zeroed out and all staff were released....The pastor began sharing the vision in small groups at his home, the staff where told to pray and seek God's will in thier lives and apply to the vision God laid on thier hearts....It's like being on a rollercoaster and the 1st hill is topped now for the fun of what it means to follow God's purpose and will.....

Posted on Thu, Oct 22, 2009 @ 9:36 PM CST

Richard Reising

Wow. I am really amazed at how much passion this post brought out. I wrote it because I see many church leaders desiring to improve how their own church does things and not really knowing how to create this improvement in a healthy manner. I am in no way suggesting that improving your service is a replacement for our need for Christ or the presence of His Spirit in our services. It does not mean that a church is becoming systematic or that they are in error--only that they are trying to improve. I find it hard to fault someone who is trying to simply do things better. While some churches might become unhealthy--focusing on presentation and packaging over what really matters--that is not what I am referring to here. I am talking about a church that simply wants to improve (sometimes as a result of being exposed to a church with high quality in certain areas).

Be careful to not judge these "follower" churches. They are often pastors who are struggling with spiritual and financial challenges that we have not seen the likes of. The desire to improve the quality of what they do. Which is ok, right? I mean, is it not healthy to want to greet visitors better? To enhance the quality of worship? Is it not a good thing to want to improve the quality of what we do? I mean, as my worship leader friend above leads worship (Jmetz), I cannot imagine he is not asking his team to practice, show up on time, know the words and and follow the standard of the drumbeat and bass line.

Jmetz, I appreciate your posture of grace. And while you might not want to be known for it, I see that you are a man of high standards--also of high grace. That is a beautiful combination. Standards mixed with grace was the heartbeat of the Apostle Paul. He challenged us to live on a whole new level (Phil 3:12) , but would not let us forget that we all fall short and need God's grace (Romans 2-6).

The purpose for my post was to challenge church leaders to seriously understand that when the team you have does not execute to the level you wish (and that is going to happen from time to time), it is more common that they do not understand what is expected of them, than it is that they are either unwilling or incapable of doing it. What these team members need is to know what it needs to look like--they need vision for what it should be. And they need us as leaders to work with them personally to be a part of the improvement. And a hardy "amen" to Jmetz' point--they need grace no matter what.

To recap, this post was meant to challenge the church leader to use vision as a means of getting your team on board. I travel constantly and stand in over 100 services a year from church plants, to churches over one-hundred years old--from beautiful small fellowships to the biggest of the bigs--and in the meetings that follow, I unfortunately see too many leaders demanding results of their team that they were not equipped to accomplish. So if you find yourself to be one of these leaders trying to improve, please know that "how" you improve matters. Work with your team to improve. Let them take ownership in it. Give them grace, love and encouragement. Jmetz, thanks for your point. It wasn't until I read your response that I realized that the intent of my post was not as clear as it could be. I hope its clearer now.

Posted on Sun, Oct 25, 2009 @ 10:04 PM CST

Gord Jones

Standards are the answer? Wow!!! Has anyone told Jesus about that? Just look at the folks he hung around with... what kind of personal or organizational standards does that represent? Grace, maybe... but standards, I rather doubt it.

Too many churches seem to be overly impressed and influenced by organizational business-speak and too little impressed by the dysfunctional nature of how Jesus led and raised up leaders. Today we rely on employees to head up and carry out our spiritual enterprise (which we seem to see as not being that much different than a business, albeit for God.. of course... and hopefully well run) whereas Jesus seemed to rely on disciples and discipleship... dysfunctional in so many ways, but ultimately disciples none-the-less who were willing to invest and pay with their lives (as was sometimes the case).

I have my doubts as to whether business-speak of any sort will ever transform the prevalent employee-mentality (hire professional Christians to do all the important stuff) into discipleship-mentality (believing in and relying on the amateurs as Jesus so obviously did).

Jesus, it seems, was playing on a different playing field and in what would appear to be an almost entirely different game than most churches are today, but we seem to be unwilling to acknowledge that or possibly even unable to see that.

I'm saddened by the fact that we seem to have moved so far away from where we started out and so much of it doesn't seem like progress at all (unless of course you want to measure that in terms of real estate and professional salaried Christians, in which case we are much further ahead than Jesus was). I often wonder what Jesus would think of the enterprise today. Would he be proud of us?

Posted on Fri, Oct 30, 2009 @ 2:19 PM CST

Don

I wonder whether some of the comments here recognize the fact that a dysfunctional, frustrated leadership is a bad witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ. What I see in this post is a very useful tool to help those who are being asked to serve (paid/unpaid no matter)to serve in the best way possible. Too often we ask people to do things, never give them vision, never train them and then wonder why they end up frustrated and angry, hating the church. I agree that Jesus wouldn't be so hip on standards for the sake of standards but wouldn't he be in favor of excellence that reflected passion and organization? Especially if it worked as a tool to attract more people to understand what grace is in the first place? Good leadership equals love for a lot of people.

Posted on Tue, Nov 10, 2009 @ 5:40 PM CST

John Mulholland

Good article and thought-provoking comments. Here's a question:

How do you create standards in a culture where none exist?

How do you set new expectations?

(Ok...two questions)

Posted on Sun, Nov 15, 2009 @ 4:24 PM CST

Jacob Fogg

How can you say that Jesus didn't require standards from his disciples? Did He not say that we must "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul"? Is that not a standard? A standard to the level, or amount, of Love we have for God. Did He not say, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God"... There is another standard if I have ever seen one. Paul even exhorted us to "Examine yourself to see that you are in the faith"... To make sure you are living according to God's standards.

Doesn't the Bible also say "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord" Col 3:23... Is that not God saying we should do things with excellence???

Here is the thing, as a part time youth pastor in a smaller church (150ish), I have limited resources (time & money) and limited talent (people). I often find myself frustrated trying unsuccessfully to encourage people to give even a modest effort in the tasks God (or myself) has set before them. I grew up an a larger church (1500ish), with a mentality that if you don't do something with excellence, it not worth doing. Because of that, we all worked hard at building and growing successful ministries that reached a multitude of people. In the smaller church, the motto is always: "Do the best with what you have" ... but is usually interpreted as ... "Do the lest you can to get by". I believe this is a flawed attitude, shows a poor work ethic, and does not demonstrate God's desires for us found in Colossians 3.

Does that mean we need to be a Tyrant, demanding people operate beyond the level of their natural abilities? NO! I think that was the whole point of the article, to encourage leaders to be healthy in their fulfillment of Colossians 3 regarding their ministries.

A comment was made... "Would God be proud" of the "enterprise" that has been made? No, I honestly don't think so! But let me ask this: Would God be proud of a ministry that is performed with the least effort required to get by?

Posted on Mon, Jan 11, 2010 @ 2:34 AM CST

Joy

The word "perfection" ruined it for me. I understand your point... we are to pursue excellence and give our service our all, not our leftovers. But what happened to grace? This might be THE area where Power Point Guy feels like he's making a valuable contribution, and you just made him feel like he isn't good enough to serve where his passion lies. I agree with the training, etc... but NOT with the attitude. There should be guidelines in place: Welcome to the Audio/Visual ministry. This is what you're signing up for: quarterly training sessions to build skills, 2 Sunday services back-to-back twice a month, etc.....
but God gives us each a different creative flare. Any attempt to force others into a mold mocks the God who gave those servant's their creativity.

If Power Point Guy has a passion for what he's doing, and is giving it his personal best, God is delighted with his service, and we should be too. Even if it is quirky sometimes.

If people are hung up on how "perfect" the service is, then they have a much bigger heart issue that needs addressing than who's in the sound booth.

Posted on Fri, Jan 15, 2010 @ 12:40 PM CST

Finny Varghese

I have wrestled with such questions of the need for rules/standards and find that they can be easily solved by simply seeing them as a means to an end. They are to be followed or enforced for the ultimate purpose of glorifying God. We fall short whenever we abide by them for our own glory or when we see them as an end in itself.

So the idea is not to become WillowBack overnight, rather how to best bring glory to the same God they and we worship. Bob needs to know that! Once he does, he becomes more aware of the need for rules/standards as the means to bring God glory. Grace must be applied whenever he fails.

Thank you and good article!

Posted on Mon, Jan 18, 2010 @ 12:25 PM CST

Wade Meyer

I have had upwards of 12 employers in my 25 years experience in which I lost my job because the corporation was bought, went bankrupt, or merged. The language I'm hearing that I most commonly think of as hiring and firing employees is being applied to volunteers? Volunteers aren't paid anything so their motivation has to come from something other than money. Let's assume the most noble reason for being a volunteer in these cases like someone who does Powerpoint or MediaShout for example. I would bet that if you treat that person as an equal, a member of something larger than themselves, and with coaching and resources be completely adequate.

I just can't imagine a paid ministry leader getting to the point where they are blaming volunteers for church attendance is all. That is really small.

I have been the custodian at my church for 6 years now and what I see is the way members treat church property. I see lazy people choosing the best parking spaces by putting ruts in the grass and not willing to walk or ride the golf carts from marked off parking areas. Imagine me going to McDonald's and instead of finding a parking place I straddled the sidewalk and put the bumper up by the bushes. I see members spilling entire cups of coffee on the carpet without the least feeling of responsibility that they need to clean it up or pick it up. That is in the worship service!

Trash, candy wrappers thrown down, communion cups thrown down. Its like an AMC movie theater or the high school football stadium no difference. Sometimes I don't even know what is worship anymore with the coarsening of society.

Posted on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 @ 12:10 AM CST

bill stout

This information is fine from the point of view of setting standards in ministry and then striving to meet them. But it's totally off in thinking that all of us want a "slick production" church. For many of us the most genuine worship experience includes leaders who make mistakes and laugh it off, lay leaders who are nervous,seminary students who are still learning to preach, teens offering their first offering invitation or communion prayer, eight-year-olds who haven't quite figured out the bell choir yet, acolytes with singed eyebrows, stroke victims who take forever to hobble up to receive communion but are too proud to have it brought to them, old acquantances who actually rush to greet someone they have not seen recently, and developmentally disabled adults who gurgle and screech during prayer. For many of us worship is more about participation in a community festival than performing or watching a Broadway-quality production.

Posted on Fri, Oct 1, 2010 @ 1:48 PM CST

Matt

I came across this article because I followed a link a friend sent along about a Starbucks marketing like a church, then I just clicked on one of the words at left that caught my eye, and here I am.

This article seemed more about leadership than about standards and rules. It is clear that rules still remain. After all, rules are simply a codification of where standards are or how to accomplish them. This really looked more like a study in how to present and enforce the rules you have. As this, the article does go through a nice example of how one might work in ministry to get the outcome he wants.

It seems pertinent to me that God himself lays out rules. He is not shy about it, and he makes no apologies for it. In fact, reading the rules is one of the ways we are able to discern the standards.

Posted on Mon, May 30, 2011 @ 6:56 AM CST

larry fries

READ 1 COR 14 THIS IS YOUR COMMANDS FOR A PUBLIC CHURCH SERVICE EVERY VERSE ,KILL ALL THE ENTERTAINMENT,DO INTIMATE WORSHIP NOT SNOOZY CHRISTIAN RADIO.OBEY EVERY VERSE THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS PUT THESE COMMANDS THERE NOT MAN, TRY NOT ON CHOKE ON VERSE 39,

Posted on Mon, May 30, 2011 @ 10:23 PM CST

Matt J.

I'm looking forward to checking out the rest of the site...

One thing I'd like to add, the Gospel has been adapted by the Church in every culture and in every generation to be relevant for the folks God had placed around them.

I think people making some of these comments are just caught upon their perception of what certain words mean to them... 'marketing' is really only relative... it's relative to your intended audience... if it's not, then it's not marketing... it's not taboo because you think it looks like a car dealership commercial.

Our lead pastor's motto is "we major on the majors, not on the minors." Why we are the Church, trumps how we do it.

Like I said, I can't wait to dig into the rest of the site.
Thanks Richard!

Posted on Fri, Mar 1, 2013 @ 3:51 PM CST

Richard Reising

Matt,
Huge thanks for the encouragement. I couldn't agree more. If you love the blog you'll love the book, too. Don't forget to check out Church Marketing 101!

Blessings,
Richard

Posted on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 @ 9:19 AM CST

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