I read books outside the scope of my niche. I hope you do, too.
Reading books that speak in to areas where you’re not zoned in help stretch you in new ways, applying new truths to your well-worn paths. Not everything in these books will be applicable to you. Not everything will even be relevant. But at the end of the day, truth is truth. And truth is applicable across disciplines.
Business books help me think critically about the “system” of church. About how to spur on growth and change. About how to create systems that maintain growth over time.
John talks a lot about “branding,” much outside of the context of ministry. So let me give you 3 ways to process this book.
1. Brand = your local church.
What helps your “brand” of church stand out from other “good” things a person could be doing on a Sunday morning? What is it that motivates them to consistently worship with you, instead of skipping out? YES, if someone doesn’t consistently show up for worship (or small group) it’s a spiritual growth issue. But let’s craft our message in such a way that the image (or “brand”) of our churches doesn’t get in the way of the Gospel.
John consistently makes the connection between “trust” and “sales.” If you trust a brand, you’re more likely to buy from that brand. We in churches aren’t in a completely different field. We just happen to have the best product in the world: Jesus! The more trust we develop with our congregations, the more likely we are to close a sale.*
2. Brand = the ministry you’re a part of.
What is it that helps your ministry stand out from everything else? What helps your “brand” of small groups stand out from the noises of life that distract on a weeknight, like going to a movie or watching TV? What helps your “brand” of student ministry encourage students to forego other activities in favor of linking arms with other students on Wednesday nights.
3. Brand = professional.
Feel free to read the book as it was originally intended, and think through your life in the marketplace. Process it through the lens of your company. Or even your personal “brand” online and in your community.
I spoke with John, and he’s generously chosen to give a personally signed copy away. Just enter the contest here, and I’ll choose a winner on Friday, May 3, by 5:00 pm central time. Just fill in your information below and you’ll be officially entered. I’ll ship the book out next week.
Below each quote, I’ve included the question I’m personally wrestling with.
15 quotes from Brand Against the Machine
1. “Branding is about emotion, and emotion turns prospects into buyers.”
How am I stirring people’s emotions to help them “buy” into the idea I’m selling?
2. “People are willing to spend more money on a brand they trust. Do I want to drink a nice cold Kountry Mist or a Mountain Dew? Kountry Mist is a generic brand of Mountain Dew, and I have zero trust in that brand. Just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean I’m gonna have a sip. Plus, it’s annoying when brands get too cute with the spelling of their name. Spelling country with a K makes me worry about their education. It isn’t kool.”
Am I developing trust and innovating? Or just stealing from pop culture?
3. “Branding is not just about being seen as better than the competition. It’s about being seen as the only solution to your audience’s problem.”
What problem in people’s lives am I helping them solve through this idea? Am I communicating that through my pitch?
4. “You are your brand.”
Am I representing the church, and the ministry I lead, well in every avenue of life in-person and online?
5. “You may have an incredible product or service, and I truly hope that you do. But having a great product or service isn’t going to be enough. If no one knows you exist, the best product in the world isn’t going to save you. It’s estimated that 1 to 5 percent of people who come in contact with your brand will become clients. Are you coming in contact with enough people?”
Am I getting my message in front of enough eyes? Am I prepared for the vast amount of people I come in contact with to say, “No” to my pitch (to lead a small group, join a small group, or take the next step of faith?)
6. “When your message is focused and directed toward a certain group of people, those people respond. They respond because they realize it’s for them. That’s the kind of attention you want. With the attention of the right people and by taking care of those people, you can start to build trust and a loyal audience. You’ll never be all things to everyone, so don’t even try.”
Who is my “target audience” and are all of our communication pushes directed towards helping them move forward in faith? Or am I trying to be “all things to everyone?”
7. “Offer prospects a better product or service than everyone else. The most important element of branding is positioning.”
How am I positioning the ministry I lead as something that’s better than what culture promises them is best for their life? I.e., why is joining a small group worth bending your life around?
8. “Branding is all about emotion. Most marketing campaigns are lacking both emotion and passion. There’s nothing for people to get attached to. In fact, people rarely if ever feel an attachment to an individual marketing campaign, but they do feel an attachment with certain brands.”
How are we “branding” small groups? Are we using emotion (stories of life change) to drive our campaigns? Do people feel an attachment with groups?
9. “Fans are very attracted to a strong stance on something.”
Is our ministry positioned as something you “can’t live without?” What is it in their lives that’s missing without the element of healthy community?
10. “No one wants your product. They want their problem solved.”
What problem are we solving in people’s lives? Are we leading our promotions with that?
11. “The better you know your customers, the better you can create valuable content and products for them. There is no point in guessing, and making assumptions about your audience is extremely dangerous.”
How am I getting to know the people I lead at an even deeper level?
12. “You are your bigest advantage in business. What you sell may not be one of a kind, but you are. You create the value for people, not your business name or fancy logo.”
Every church in town has the same Gospel message. Every small group at our church has the same end-goal in mind. What separates one from the other is our beautiful uniqueness…are we embracing that?
13. “One of the main reasons people don’t visit a new church is because they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know which doors to go in. They don’t know how to dress. People are always afraid of looking stupid. A church could ease these fears by posting a simple video on their website with a tour of the church and what to do and where to go, starting from when they pull into the parking lot. Video can take the unknown element out of the equation for prospects.”
Are we overcoming fears through how we promote small group life?
14. “Price often gets the blame when a product fails. Although price could certainly be the culprit, most of the time it is not. The problem is that consumers failed to see the value in it. When selling your product or service, focus on value, not price.”
Are we selling the value of small groups well? So that people understand that the price (giving up a night of the week, finding childcare, forming new relationships) is worth the value?
15. “Your fans want to be a part of something that is fun, exciting, and has a real sense of community.”
Are we having fun? Or just doing a job?
The book is full of even more nuggets, but this blog post is already too long. Honestly, if you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed.
You can pick up a copy of the book for yourself HERE.
*In no way am I discounting the work of the Holy Spirit to awaken the heart. I just want to posture myself, and our ministry, to be most ready for His work.
Nobody wants to wreck their ministry. Nobody.
Everybody wants to be a part of a church (or non-profit) that is flourishing. Everybody that steps into ministry wants to be a part of an organization that helps others grow, and take courageous steps of faith. I’ve never met someone who said, “Gee, I’d sure like to ruin some innocent people’s lives today at my church. Let’s get after it!”
But the truth is that wrecking your ministry, and the ministry of others, is easier than you think. Typically, through a series of poor decisions (or a lack of intentionality), a slippery slope leads you quickly to a rocky, muddy ditch.
The good news, though, is that with intentionality, flourishing in ministry is possible.
How to wreck your ministry
- Have an affair
- Kill someone
- Quit praying
- Develop an illegal addiction
Not so obvious:
- Spend your “best” time serving others, not your family.
- Seek no counsel.
- Stop developing personally.
- Always think you’re right.
- Never support your team mates publicly.
- Neglect your daily leadership duties.
- Never ask for help.
- Read only the Bible.
- Always follow every rule to a ‘t,’ and never offer grace.
- Quit dreaming.
- Don’t join a small group where you can be open and honest.
- Spend 98% of your time in your office.
- Always work with a closed door.
- Never build relationships with people outside of the faith.
- Never go to conferences.
- Go to 25+ conference/year.
- Don’t become friends with any staff member.
For a long season, churches focused on relevancy. They wanted to look cooler, sleeker, hipper, and funner than the options that the world had to offer. Take this world and give me Jesus…the cool one with gel in his hair, a tat on his left arm, and when he speaks, LED lights shine through the thick fog that billows around his feet. The one that speaks in catchy phrases, never offends anyone, and focuses on being slick rather than worshiping the King.
I wonder if that trend is over.
I hope that trend is over.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being slick. Or using LED lights (we use them at Grace). Or having gel in your hair. Please, Lord Jesus, tell me there’s nothing wrong with gel in my hair.
The problem isn’t those things at all. In fact, the Church should be the most creative, mind-and-heart-stretching gathering on the planet. The problem is when make our aim and end-goal “relevancy.” The problem is when those things become our crutch, and substitute for what my generation is really looking for.
If you aim for relevancy, you’ll be frustrated every time. As soon as you find the coolest lights, you’ll realize that the touring Broadway company that comes through town just smoked you. As soon as you shoot the best video, you’ll realize that Hollywood just released a blockbuster with a budget of $250 million. As soon as you print off the best-looking bulletins that the church world has ever seen, you’ll realize that the start-up A/C company down the road sent out 15,000 mailers that make your bulletin look like the preschoolers colored it.
Maybe relevancy shouldn’t be our goal. Maybe we shouldn’t rely on the “cool” and “wow” factor to draw my generation in. (and I’m thrilled that my church doesn’t rely on these things to be the hook)
My generation wants counter-cultural. Not relevancy.
The Gospel is relevant. It always has been. And as long as there is pain, frustration, disappointments, failed expectations, failed families, abuse, neglect, and a desire for a more beautiful reality, the Gospel will continue to be. But it’ll never be relevant because of the lights, sounds, and hipster tight jeans.
If we want to reach my generation, counter-cultural should be our aim. Not anti-culture. Not oblivious-to-culture. Not naive-to-culture. And not enmeshed with the culture. Jesus seemed to do this pretty well, living in culture among us (John 1:14), but he stood out because of his love and radical grace.
Lights, videos, and billowing fog are great. But don’t forget the weightier matters: justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). That’s what’s going to hook my generation.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2
Leaders should dream, because without dreaming there’s no forward momentum.
But dreaming without leading can leave you out-dreaming your team.
A good friend of mine has a boss that lives in her dream world. Her boss is living out her dream of owning her own small business…this is what she’s wanted to do her whole life. And she gets frustrated when those she’s hired don’t have hearts that beat for the business like hers does, and when her employees aren’t as personally invested in her dream as she is. Though she has great employees (case-in-point, my friend), they feel like they can never measure up to the standard that their boss sets as a pace for the organization, even when they’ve accomplished their job well.
I’d love to say that this only happens in the secular world, but I’d venture to reason that you’ve seen this dynamic on Sunday mornings at church. Maybe you’ve even fallen into this trap.
Ever have a volunteer you’re responsible for not show up? Ever been frustrated by that?
When church leaders grow frustrated because they’re out-dreaming those they’re leading, they often heap guilt on others. Here’s a scenario for you:
Sorry, I can’t make it this Sunday…it’s been a crazy week…I’m tired, my kids are tired, and I’m just not going to be able to make it to volunteer in the parking ministry…
Sorry I can’t make it this Sunday, we’re going out of town next week and I need to get things ready…
Sorry I can’t make it this Sunday, I’m going to the _____ game Sunday afternoon…
To which every church staffer thinks
I’ve had a hard week too…I’m tired…and I want to go to that game!!
And the follow-up thought, if you’ll be honest with yourself right now, is this:
Do they really love Jesus? Because if they did…
I’ve fallen into the trap of out-dreaming those on my team. See, I’m living my dream right now. I absolutely love what I do. I love my church, the team I get to work with, and what I get to do within it. And sometimes…*shocker*…I have some volunteers that aren’t as committed to leading their small group as I am to leading this ministry.
I find a part of me growing frustrated that they’re not as invested in this as I am. Frustrated that I put long, hard hours into leading the ministry, while they have other dreams they’re pursuing (which, in the moment, I’d call less important). I’ve even thought, “If it were me, I’d give up _____ so I could lead my small group.” Or, “If I were them, I’d not let my kids do _____ so that I could love people and lead my small group well…” Those are some low moments for me.
In those moments, I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that this is my dream, not theirs.
Leaders: your dream is your dream. Don’t expect that everybody is going to be invested in it like you are.
Sure, you cast vision well. Sure, you recruit leaders well. Sure, you sell the mission well. But at the end of the day
- It’s your vision, not theirs.
- It’s your job, not theirs.
- It’s your passion, not (necessarily) theirs.
- You live for this, they don’t.
- They have other dreams, you don’t.
This shouldn’t discourage you from dreaming. But if you’re going to dream, dream well.
Leaders that Dream Well
- Allow people to dream with them. Maybe you’re dreaming too small. If you’re going to accomplish your dream, you’ve got to have other people on board. More people = more laborers = more ideas = more solutions = bigger, more effective dreams.
- Allow flexibility in their dream. In this, you may have to actually give up part of your dream, but in the process, your give your dream the chance to go further. Allowing flexibility means you work from a modified, but unified dream. More flexibility = more buy-in = more unified vision = bigger, more effective dreams.
- Equip people, but don’t leave them hanging. It’s not their job, after all, to make sure your dream is accomplished. Equip them to work well, but don’t send them out to do a job because you don’t want to do it. Help them accomplish the vision you’ve given them, don’t simply heap a burden on them. More support = more effective work = less burnout = bigger, more effective dreams.
- Lead well. Lead people to adopt your vision. Don’t look at this from the “You’re either all-in or all-out” vantage point. Lead people to buy in to your vision. Cast vision well, love well, and be patient. After all, how long did it take before you fully followed what God was calling you to do? More leadership = more leaders involved (leaders attract leaders) = more followers involved (leaders also attract followers) = bigger, more effective dreams.
Have you ever out-dreamed your team?
Have you ever been expected to adopt someone else’s dream that wasn’t your own?
Recently, my church, Grace Community Church, ordained me. It was an unbelievable kind of an experience for me. It was so incredibly special, and will be a great marker for me for the rest of my life.
But I had a lot of people ask me why I wanted to get ordained. Why, especially because I was already licensed (which is the process that the state recognizes for me to be able to marry and bury)? Why, especially because it wouldn’t change my title or job description at Grace? Why, especially because it wasn’t something our church had ever done before? Why, especially because it’s more of a ‘traditional’ church-y thing, and I’m not ‘traditional’ or church-y?
There are a few reasons why I wanted to be ordained, and why I wanted to do it at this point in my ministry.
Ordination affirms your call to ministry.
In the process of ordination, I got to share my story, and sit before the elders and others at Grace for them to question me on my calling, my theology, and my future aspirations. We talked through safeguards I have in place in my life, and how I pursue God. Those men affirmed God’s working in my life. And I needed that.
Ordination tells you that other people have your back.
In a sense, ordination is a time where other guys hear your story and say, “Yep, we understand what God’s calling you to do…now go do it! We’ve got your back.” And I needed that.
Ordination is an important step for pastors.
People often associate “you know what you’re talking about” with ordination. There’s a different level of respect. And it’s not that I think I deserve or have earned that…I don’t think I’m entitled to it. Rather, I know that the title “ordained” carries weight with it. And I’m ready for that weight.
Ordination helps others understand their call.
In the process of public ordination, a local church sees someone who has been called to full-time vocational ministry. And I’m convinced that when they see that, God works in their heart. And sometimes He begins to plant the seeds of ministry in their heart, too. Because I know that it’s been in hearing other people’s stories that mine has seemed to gain more clarity. And the church needs that.
Why at this point?
Ordination shouldn’t be rushed.
I’ve been on staff now for nearly 4 years. I could’ve been ordained sooner, but I wanted to wait until Grace really knew me and my character. I wanted many people in the church to be able to honestly say, “I can also affirm God’s call on your life.” If I’d gone through this process earlier, there would’ve been some people who would’ve come down to pray over me. But it would’ve likely been those people who just felt like they had to do it. Now, there were lots of folks who came down front to pray over me…and these people have actually done life with me for nearly 4 years. They’ve seen my character and served with me, and are truly willing to stand beside me as I continue fleshing out God’s call for my life. That’s much more meaningful to me than a forced ceremonial ordination.
I’m glad I went through this process. It’s help me sure up my call, surrounded me with men who know who I am, and given me a renewed sense of God’s call on my life.
Have you been ordained? Was it a good experience for you?
Though I could write for days and days on the University of Tennessee Volunteers, that’s not what this post is about.
I’m writing this post to thank the great volunteers that we have at Grace Community Church.
You see, each and every week, we have to set up and tear down our entire audio equipment. And video equipment. The entire stage. And preschool areas. And preschool stage. And their computer check-in stations…which so often don’t work. And children’s areas. And their stage. And their audio. And their video. And their computer check-in stations…which so often don’t work. The hallway, with the banners and the tables and the countless handout cards. The coffee. The welcome areas. Volunteer central. Information central.
We couldn’t do what we do without our amazing volunteers.
Laura’s (my wife) Grandpa has lots of “Grandpa-isms.” You know…things that only Grandpa would say.
Things that he has said tens of thousands of times. Things that he has said so many times that, when he begins to say them everybody around him can finish his sentence.
Things like, in speaking of children picking up toys,
If he sees it, he’s got to touch it, if he touches it, he’s got to tote it. To tote something means to take it with you.
When I grew up in Memphis, I would eat anything. I was never finicky. If you’re finicky you will starve to death!
Children…they’re the most precious thing you’ve got.
If he saw a piece of paper on the floor, he would repeatedly point to the paper, then to the trash, saying,
Paper…trash…paper…trash…(repeat 10 times).
When somebody would fall down, he’d say,
You gotta hold on with those prehensile hands.
All male under 5 are greeted with
There are 4 P’s that I do for my family: provide, procreate, protect…and make memories.”
I know…there are only three P’s…that’s ok, we just don’t point that out to him. If you hear these once, you hear them 10,000 times…and I’m not kidding. When he starts with just one part of one of these phrases, the rest of the family can finish them for him. He says them exactly the same way every single time.
Part of his repeating things like this is just his personality. The family sometimes jokes about this, but in a loving way. They love him, and respect the way that he has led his family and loved his wife. And there’s a great lesson we can learn from this.
Find your own “isms”
You know that people have truly caught the vision of your ministry or organization when they can repeat it to others. It’s so important to have these defining sayings, goals, and values. These values need to be repeated until you’re tired of hearing them.
Are there any “isms” define you and your ministry? What idea is repeated so often that your area of leadership becomes it? What characteristic, or action, or vision, needs to be repeated until people can finish your sentences when you begin to talk?
How can you instill in others the values that you are aiming for? What opportunities do you have to repeat your core values, even to the point where people begin to roll their eyes because they know exactly where you’re headed?
If you don’t yet have anything that is so engrained into you and those you influence that it has become your DNA, what would you like for your “isms” to be?
Here’s a video of Grandpa I put together. Everything he says here would also be included in his “Grandpa-isms,” and our family can attest to that.
I’ve been in my current ministry position now for a little over a year. Our church is structured around a three-fold strategy of creating followers of Christ: Gather, Commit, and Serve:
As we GATHER to celebrate Jesus and encounter biblical principles, COMMIT to one another in community groups, and SERVE by using the gifts God has given us to invest in the lives of others, we will grow in our passion for God, our compassion for God’s people, and our effectiveness in God’s work of developing growing followers.
That’s our system, and my role in the system is to facilitate, oversee, and help to develop community groups. I completely believe in our system, the simplicity of it (and the simplicity of what it means to be a be a follower of Christ), and am committed to it wholeheartedly. However, I’m always evaluating it, and specifically, the role of community groups in creating authentic community that fosters growth in godliness.
About two months ago, I was counseling a young man who had lots of questions about his next step in life. Basically, his question was, “What do I do next?” He needed help in thinking through future career options, future spouse options, financial next-steps, etc. He thought that his problem was that he struggled with change, and was afraid to take big steps. Over the course of only a few weeks, we determined that his problem was much greater. The next big step that he needed to take, the one that would determine the course of his life forever, was to become a follower of Christ. I told him that this decision would not necessarily make his life ‘easier.’ It would also not lay out in detail his exact next step. However, he would be resting his future in the hands of the One who created the universe (Genesis 1), who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), and whose hand cannot be stayed (Daniel 4:35). So, this young man decided to place his faith in Christ!
That’s great news, right? I should be rejoicing, right?
I am, but I’m also saddened.
This man has been in one of our community groups for over a year. He has sat in a group every week, and still was troubled by the question, “What is the gospel?” This man is very intelligent, and can easily comprehend difficult, abstract concepts, but still had the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” and “What does it mean to repent?” He didn’t know why we needed a sacrifice for our sins, and that Christ had offered himself as our perfect lamb.
If he was just a semi-regular Sunday morning attender, I could feel okay about this. But he’s there every single week, and is one of the most faithful members of his small group.
This bothers me. How could someone be plugged into what I thought was a disciple-producing ministry here at GCC and still have these questions? Let me reiterate that it was not for a lack of intellectual comprehension that this man did not know. He had simply not been asked the fundamental questions of the gospel and had the chance to interact with the Truth.
Is this an isolated issue, or pervasive? Is it a problem with the curriculum that we’re using? Is it a problem with the way that I communicate with my leaders? Is it our system? Is it a leadership training issue? Is it something that needs to be communicated more from the stage?
I realize that this post leaves me quite vulnerable as the leader of the small groups here at our church. But I want to be honest and say that this bothers me. I want to make sure that each of our group leaders is having gospel-centered discussions, both within the weekly group meeting and outside of it. So right now, I’m working through some ideas to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that difficult questions are being asked, fundamental gospel concepts are being discussed and applied to life, and that those who attend our community groups have the chance to chew on and digest the great, life-changing truths of the gospel.
Is the goal of your ‘system’ discipleship? If not, what is the goal of your ‘system’? Is that goal being met? If it’s not being met, how willing are you to scrap the ‘system’ in favor of the goal?
Next post, I’ll fill you in on what I think the problem is. I actually think I may have nailed the issue. We’ll see.