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15 Truths from Brand Against the Machine

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.

I recently read Brand Against the Machine by John Morgan (on Twitter, Facebook, and Blog), and found it to be full of nuggets applicable to ministry.

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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.

Giveaway contest:

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.


Serving as a small group

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.


It’s clear in Scripture that God’s heart tips toward the orphan, the widow, the poor, the imprisoned, and the brokenhearted. But how – with the urgency of our weekly responsibilities – do we ensure that serving our community and showing compassion to those in need are priorities? And how do we make it simple for our groups? We will share how we’re learning to make this an integral part of our ministry.

I. How are compassion and service integrated into your church’s strategy?

A. We must manage the tension between serving as a ministry (what we do) and service as a value (how we do it).

  1. When serving becomes a ministry, we are learning to make it simple.
  2. When service is a value, we are making it a priority.
B. To gain long-term traction…
  1. Service must be anchored in the strategic language of your church. (at North Point, they often say, “Relationships fuel service and serving fuels relationships)
  2. You must have a mechanism for mobilizing people to serve.

II. What is the role of compassion and service in groups?

A. We must manage the tension between mobilizing groups to serve and equipping groups for effective service.
B. When we mobilize and equip, people will do good well.
C. We want to move people from awareness to engagement to identity. (see groupleaders.org/berich for an example of what they’re doing this season.)

III. How will you make serving a priority in your groups?

A. We must manage the tension between finding engaging service opportunities and meeting the real needs of our communities.
B. We partner; we don’t pioneer. To non-profits they say: We need you, and you need us.
  1. This allows us to leverage our resources to help our partners go further, faster.
  2. Partnering instead of pioneering multiplies our influence in the community.


Our mission is to point people to the One who transforms, and it is the most important mision in the world. Service is a catalyst to this transformation, and the transformation is multiplied when we serve in and as a community. As a result, it is incumbent upon us to equip and mobilize groups to serve in astrategic and helpful ways – to make it simple and make it a priority.

Why I’m a small grouper for life

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Andy Stanley taught in this main session.

Leading a group is the hardest and the best thing that a volunteer at North Point can do.

The only numerical goal that they’ve set as a church is groups. The goals you set focus the attention and affection and resources of your church. The goal was to connect 100,000 people in groups. Because of that, it’s impacted how they’ve budgeted and staffed. Groups is central to their entire congregation.

They say this often:

Life change happens in circles not rows.

Andy Stanley started a small group because he couldn’t attend Sunday school. And his first groups experience as a couple wasn’t a part of a program. It was just a need that he knew he could meet.


There are no perfect groups. Because people are there.

They have a closed groups model, and their secret to adding and growing groups is Group Link. This year they’ve connected over 6500 people in groups. 50% were new to small group life.

I’m not a small group lifer because:

  • I’ve learned so much in small group.
  • I like to connect with new people.
  • I’m expected to participate.
  • I look forward to Monday night.

I am a lifer because:

  • Group provides a relational first step for disconnect new or non believers.
  • It’s an environment where Sandra and u can nub user together and use our complementary gifts.
  • I’m faced with a variety of faith journeys that never fail to build my faith
  • Our children witness firsthand the importance of community.
  • We believe life change happens within the context of relationships.

North Point says this often:

Everybody needs to be in a group and when you’re ready, you need to lead a group.


Why circles are better than rows

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Andy Stanley kicked the conference off in his opening session.

He started off by saying

Your greatest investment in the local church may be in preparing the way for your child or grandchild. – Andy Stanley

He also dropped this jewel

The best thing you can do for your church is develop a groups strategy.  – Andy Stanley

8 Lessons why Circles are Better than Rows

A groups model frees adults to serve on the weekend. Sunday school is a system that doesn’t allow everyone to experience groups. I you’re serving, you can’t ge in a group. Now they want people to worship for an hour and serve for an hour.

1. A groups model provides an opportunity for everyone to participate in a group…even the staff.

If you are really committed to spiritual formation, you’ve got to have a system that allows everybody to participate. Vision/selling point: we want everyone to grow spiritually. We want everybody to be in circles, not just rows.

2. A groups model provides the optimal environment for care.

Relational care is far superior to pastoral care. Te most difficult situations are the ones where people are not connected. If you have a pastoral care problem in your church, the answer is not that you need more staff. You need more groups. Groups also allow students to serve younger students.
A groups model is a growth engine for the weekend services. The problem with on campus groups is that you have to basically double the size of your campus.

3. Groups allows you to double your capacity.

It’s easier to invite people to one hour programming than 2+ hours. 1 hour programming allows you to use a smaller facility to reach more people.

4. A groups model is far less expensive than an on campus classroom model.

When you do small groups in homes, you never run out of parking or space. Paying for babysitters is much cheaper than building a building. Not spending money on a building also allows you to spend resources on hiring staff, not paying for a building.
5. A groups model is a growth engine for connecting people.

With on-campus groups, you often find yourself not wanting to build a building big enough to connect that many people. And they won’t come because you don’t have anything for them. And the cycle continues.

6. A groups model allows us to deliver message content and critical information beyond rows and into circles.

This gives the chance to give content that you can’t deliver on Sunday morning. North Point calls this the ‘insider edition’ and they put it online and on DVDs they give to groups.

7. A groups model is a catalyst for identifying, enlisting, and developing leaders.

In the classroom model, teachers surface quickly. In groups, leaders surface quickly, because every group needs a leader.* If you care for people, you care for people.

The true Church is never facility dependent. And neither is it preacher dependent. Small groups open up tremendous opportunities to lead people to Jesus.

*25% of North Point staff served as an adult group leader before being hired.




It’s not you, it’s me

I had just finished my freshman year in college and made my way home for the summer. It had been a good first year, and countless opportunities were to soon dot the landscape of the next 2 months. But dread and fear and ache loomed in my heart as I stood outside the door. On the other side of the door stood a conversation I knew I needed to have.


image credit: Flickr user dolfi

I reached my hand up to knock, but jerked it back down, the internal battle manifesting itself as my sweaty palms looked for anything to do besides sweat. This was absolutely what I needed to do, but in the moment I wanted to do anything but.

Have you ever broken up with someone? You knew it was the right decision, but it was hard and there was a part of you still very much resistant to the whole notion.

That’s where I was the week after my freshman year in college.

And yesterday.

But yesterday took the cake.

Have you ever had to go through that whole heart-wrenching break-up routine 4 times in one day?


Then you’re crazy. But I’ve got still got you beat.

Ever broken up with 2500 people on the same day?

I have. Yesterday.

As I stood on stage yesterday at Grace, I “broke up” with my church. I explained how God’s leading us somewhere else, to a new adventure and a new people. It was the hardest announcement I’ve ever had to make. As excited as I am for what’s next, I’m equally being ripped apart because I love the people at Grace, whom I’ve served for the past 5 years.

It’s not you, it’s me.

This has been the most difficult decision of my life. Fleeing a burning building is one thing. If a building is on fire, everybody would tell you, “Get out of there! It’s time to run!” But fleeing one you love, one that’s growing, and one that’s full of people you love and care for is something else entirely.

But it’s when we grow comfortable that God often calls us to take a big step of faith. A step of faith that gives us the chance to trust God in a new way that we couldn’t if we stayed planted in the same spot.

Comfort and faith rarely go hand-in-hand.

I will be starting at Long Hollow in Hendersonville, TN, on October 1, as their small groups pastor, working to create a healthy small group structure, investing my life in small group leaders.

I hate walking away from Grace, but am thrilled to be joining the team at Long Hollow. Thrilled for this next season in our lives. Thrilled to pour out blood, sweat, and tears (well…likely I won’t pour out blood…but you get it) to create healthy, authentic, God-honoring communities all throughout the Hendersonville/Nashville area. Absolutely stoked.

Big changes for the Reed family.



Christian Fatigue Syndrome

Growing up, I went to church (I know…that’s a theologically loaded phrase. Just hang with me) a lot. A lot. (read that last sentence slowly for dramatic effect, please)

image credit: CreationSwap user bokeh20

On any given week, we had Sunday morning services, Sunday school, youth choir, discipleship classes, student ministry, Tuesday night outreach, Bible drill, Royal Ambassador’s, and Friday night at the gym. Sprinkle in the occasional Saturday brunch, outreach event, and Judgment House, and our lives revolved around being at the church building. (I’m incredibly thankful for the commitment my parents made to raising me in a godly home…it set me on a trajectory that would shape my life in massive ways)

I remember vividly one late Sunday afternoon sitting on the back deck grilling with my dad. My little brother was swimming in our blue kiddie pool, and mom was there taking it all in. I felt guilty the moment this thought passed through my head, but I let it pass anyway. I guess I was just a little devil child.

I sure wish we could just skip out on going to church tonight.

As I thought it, fire from heaven spit down into my eyes and scorched me.

Turns out, though, the rest of my family was thinking the same thing. We weren’t trying to be heathens, choosing to indulge in our sin rather than worship Jesus. We just all wanted to be together as a family and relax…ahem *Sabbath*…instead of cleaning up, putting on our “Sunday best,” and driving across town to our second worship service of the day.

Maybe you grew up in that sort of environment, too. It’s not that churches set out to heap burdens on people and create guilty feelings when they even think about not attending a Sunday evening service. “Stuff” just happens. One good idea gets thrown on top of another, and before you know it, every night of the week is loaded with a different event.

The Simple Life

“Simple church” (HT: Thom Rainer) doesn’t happen unintentionally. No church drifts into simplicity. Currents take a church towards complexity. Towards an increasing number of functions, events, and opportunities to “go to church.” Since each of these events is linked with a grand idea, a dynamic leader, and the heart of a person who wants to lead people to Jesus, they’re incredibly difficult to stop even when the timing is right.

“Simple” churches give families the time to invest in one another. Time to serve their community. Time to enjoy a Sunday Sabbath. Time to minister to their neighbors. Time to invite people into their home. Time to be the church, rather than simply go to church.

Complex churches give people “Christian Fatigue Syndrome,” wearing people out with good things and not freeing them up to do what’s best. When people are hit with CFS, they become desensitized to authentic worship, boil evangelism down to sharing a tract, and treat biblical community as just another activity on their already-too-busy schedules rather than the life-giving gift God intended it to be.

Time to quit giving people Christian Fatigue Syndrome.


What does your church ask you to do? Is it increasingly simple? Or complex?



Small groups pastor opening

Grace Community Church is a rapidly growing church plant that started with 11 couples in September 2005. We have grown to averaging 2500 Sunday morning attendees over 2 campuses. We are a church of small groups, hovering around 100 adult small groups. We also integrate small groups and the concept of healthy, biblical, authentic community at every age level.

We currently meet in two high schools, rented facilities, with plans in the near future to build our own permanent facility on land that we own and have paid off. Our vision for a building is centered around a facility that is not just used on Sunday mornings, but is used consistently by our community throughout the week. From day 1, we want to intentionally build a space that does not sit vacant throughout the week, and is a blessing to our city.

We have a staff culture that is innovative, creative and relaxed. We have high expectations of our team, and set the bar high for the work that we do; however, you will find our environment laid-back, fun, engaging and collaborative.

Clarksville is a growing city of 150,000 people. It is unique in that it is closely tied in with Ft. Campbell, an Army base, and Austin Peay State University, with ~11,000 students enrolled. Clarksville is a short 35-45 minute drive to Nashville.

We are looking to hire a Connections Pastor to lead the charge of spiritual growth and small groups.

What you need to be:

  • Team Player
  • Team Builder
  • Strong communicator (not necessarily a preacher, but this role will involve communicating with leaders regularly)
  • Strategic thinker
  • Strong recruiter/motivator
  • Have a heart for small groups
  • Value creativity and innovation

What the position will include:

  • Developing processes and pathways that allow people to find and pursue their next step of faith
  • Consistently beating the small group drum for our staff and our church
  • Recruiting and developing high capacity leaders

Interested? Think you might be a good fit on our team?


Fill out the form HERE (scroll to the bottom), and we will be in touch soon.



To the guy who tries to “fix” everybody during prayer request time

Stop it.



Open-door decision making

When people are talking about what next step they should take, whether they should take a new job, buy a new house, or start a new relationship, they often talk about ‘open’ or ‘closed’ doors.

“I was going to get married to _____, but God closed that door.”

“I didn’t know what school I was going to go to, but God just kept opening doors to _____, so I just kept walking through them.”

Ever heard a statement like that?

image credit: Creative Commons user Documentarist

If the door is metaphorically closed, it’s like trying to get into Ft. Knox. Or like trying to get your cable guy to shrink the time frame of when he’ll show up to fix your problem. Forget it. You’re not getting through.

If the door is metaphorically open, it’s like a magical door opened with the help of magical elves. And if you walk through it, everything smells like a fresh rainbow.

There’s a problem that exists with the swinging door. And I’d like to propose a better way to know what your next step should be.

Here’s the problem: you’re depending on something that could just as easily be the work of the Devil himself as the work of God.

An open door doesn’t always mean you need to walk through it. Likewise, a closed door doesn’t always mean you need to stop. If the apostle Paul used this theory, he would’ve given up on the Galatians. And he would’ve never gone to Spain.

If Jesus would’ve relied on the “open door” to follow God’s will, he wouldn’t have gone to the cross. He walked through a “closed door” with confidence. (Luke 22:42-44)

Don’t depend on swinging doors in trying to determine your next step.

3 Things to Depend on in Decision-Making

Depend on God’s Word.

This is the one thing that we can depend on every time. If the Bible clearly instructs us on something, we should follow its teachings. If you’re trying to decide whether to murder someone or not, I’d say not…Exodus 20:13. If you’re trying to decide whether to take a job that will keep you from your family, think again. The Bible instructs us to make a priority out of our home. If the Bible has clearly instructed, you’ve found your first answer. Sometimes the Bible guides by specific directives…other times it’s by principles. But it’s always to be trusted.

Depend on prayer.

I’ve never prayed and, as a result, seen the heavens open up and drop me a note with the answer I was looking for. But I often get much clarity through prayer. That’s a great gift God gives through the Spirit when we depend on Him. When you depend on God, He honors that. And not necessarily in giving you the answer you want to hear. Often, His answer is, “Keep trusting me. I’ll reveal the next step you should take.” Depending on prayer is important, too, because we see that the heart of God is moved when we pray. Last time I checked, that was a big deal. (Exodus 32:11-14)

Depend on people who know and love you.

Don’t make decisions by yourself. Ultimately, the decision may be yours to make and yours to deal with the consequences, but it’s foolish to operate alone. You may have your best interest at heart, but it’s hard to see the best course of action to take because you’re zoomed in too closely to your own situation. Find a group of people (I believe these people are often found in small groups) who have your back, have your best interest at heart, and will encourage you to seek God’s best.

Don’t depend on your circumstances, though they inform. Don’t depend on past decisions, though they also inform. Don’t depend on open or closed doors, though they may help sway.

There are 3 things you should depend on: The Bible. Prayer. And people who love you.


Ever heard people use “open doors” as the primary way they decide what course of action to take?



Friday Favorites (3/9/12)

Here are some of my favorites from around the web this week:

It only grows in secret – Justin and Trisha Davis

The power of temptation is not in it’s ability to cause us to sin; its in its ability to keep us quiet. This is a powerful post.


If you want to attract leaders – Ron Edmondson

We’ve got a ton of leaders at Grace Community Church. Here are some of the keys that have gotten us there, from one of our pastors, Ron Edmondson.


Top tips for building relationships with volunteers – North Point Community Church

Some of the team from North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, share tips on building relationships with volunteers they lead.


When Bible study becomes idolatry – Allen White

Can studying the Bible really become idolatry? Allen White thinks so.


Small Group show – Steve Gladen and Brett Eastman

This is really a great resource for small group point people. On this episode, they cover 10 good ideas for utilizing Easter as a catalyst for small group growth.


Recruiting volunteers – Brandon Reed

The first thing you need to understand is that it’s better to put someone in a role than it is to just plug a hole. My brother, Brandon Reed, does a great job explaining the difference in recruiting volunteers and simply filling a hole.

You come across anything noteworthy this week?

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