Tag: volunteers

The con panna

When I was in graduate school, I worked at a coffee shop.

There, I developed a great love for coffee.  Good coffee.  Coffee that’s handpicked, handcrafted, and consumed at just the right temperature.  Coffee that’s paired with the right pastry, in the right season, at the right…heck, who am I kidding?  I’ll drink coffee anytime.

My all-time favorite hand-crafted masterpiece was the con panna.

photo via Justin Mcintosh

Con Panna means “with cream,” and it’s a simple drink to make.  Grab a canister of whip cream.  Then pull 2 (or, if you’re feeling extra frisky, make it 3) shots of espresso.  As soon as the shots are done brewing, transfer the shots to your demitasse cup, then top with whip cream.  It’s heaven. In a cup.

Most coffee shops, though, won’t have this drink listed on the menu.  They’ll have the traditional cappuccinos, lattes, and cafe mochas.  But no con panna.  And it’s not that they don’t know how to make it.  It’s just not a huge seller in America.  Most people in America want something with a little less kick…a little smoother and creamier.  They’re not looking for something with so much punch.

But if you want to be super cool, just order a con panna next time you’re at your local coffee shop. The barista will look at you with eyes that say, (*read the following with an Italian gangster accent)

How do you know about the con panna?

Then you’ll look back with eyes that say,

Hey! I know my stuff!

To which his eyes will respond,

A’right. A’right. I didn’t know. I’ll give ya a little respect.

To which your eyes will respond,

Don’t mess it up. I might mess you up.

I’ve shared the beauty of this drink with a lot of folks who frequent coffee shops.  You know what every one of them tells me?  “I am going to order that drink next time I go!”  Why?

Because everyone wants to feel like an insider.

There’s something about us that wants to feel like we have a leg-up on others.  That we’re a step ahead.  We know a bit more.  We are in a bit deeper.  We’re just a little bit more awesome than the rest of the people in this coffee shop.

You might spin that thought and think that it’s related to pride.  But I don’t think it is.  I think it’s a reflection of our desire to learn, grow, change, and improve.  And when it comes to leading people, this is an invaluable quality to overlook.

In leading people, help them feel like they’re insiders.

  • Let them know what’s coming next…before it comes.
  • Run an idea by them before it’s announced publicly.
  • Ask for their input in prep for your next event.
  • Tell them an idea you’ve been sitting on but haven’t fleshed out.
  • Ask them to lead in an area that you haven’t yet explored as an organization.
  • Encourage them to bring their ideas to the table…and then act on some of them.

The more knowledge you give people, the more valued they feel.

The more knowledge you give people, the more they feel like a vital part of the organization.

The more knowledge you give people, the more they will give of themselves.

The more knowledge you give people, the better results your entire team will experience.

Try it.


Have you ever had a con panna?  Do you even like coffee?


5 Easy Ways to Pursue Excellence as a church

Excellence doesn’t have to be expensive.

image via TypeInspire

A common misconception is that excellence is expensive. That you’re going to have to expand your budget, buy new “toys,” and constantly be on the cutting edge to have a service that is accomplished with excellence.

Thinking that excellence is tied with money is crippling. If you have the money, you’ll begin to rely on the money to do the work of excellence for you…that’s called laziness. If you don’t have the money, you’ll begin using the excuse, “We can’t do it as well as _____ because we just don’t have the resources.” Bologna. That’s a lack of utilization and equipping.

In the church world, where I spend my time and energy, I’ve seen plenty of leaders let excellence slide because they don’t have financial resources to pour into gadgets, lights, sound equipment, video equipment, new mics, and flashy “stuff.” And while that “stuff” looks nice, it doesn’t, in any way, guarantee excellence.

Want to pursue excellence as a local church? Here’s how you do it.

5 Easy Ways to Pursue Excellence

Execute your order of worship relentlessly.

I was recently a part of a service that was not planned well.  The worship leader didn’t know the lyrics well, and there were lots of gaps between songs, announcements, and the sermon.  Planning the order in advance so that everyone involved can see all of the details is crucial.  Running a rehearsal, including announcements, any videos, and any other elements are seen by everybody involved (before the live service) helps ensure major mistakes don’t happen.


The more programs you offer, the more diluted each becomes. And the less “excellent” each is, because each takes significant amounts of resources (time, energy, volunteers, money) to do well.  The simpler, more focused your church is, the more excellent you will be in each area.

Take pride in what you do.

Look around you. Take note of the little things. It’s often the small, seemingly insignificant gestures that go miles in promoting excellence. Here are a few things we do at Grace:

  • pick up stray trash
  • staff every door on Sundays with a welcoming person
  • keep printed material up-to-date
  • keep volunteers in the loop on information that new-comers will ask about
  • offer good coffee
  • set up an area on Sundays for moms with crying babies to still hear the service and not disturb others
  • keep your website updated
  • respond to emails promptly

Evaluate and improve constantly.

If an aspect of your church isn’t working, it’s time to change things up. Allowing a program to hang around because “we’ve always done it…” pushes excellence right out the window.  Evaluating, improving, and constantly being willing to change things that are broken encourages excellence across the board.


If you feed something, it lives.  If you don’t, it dies.  Feed those actions, those habits, those strategical and forward-thinking moves that staff members and volunteers take.  When you feed those actions, they (and those they lead) will notice what your church values.  Thank them publicly.  Send them a note.  Throw them a party.  Celebrate steps in the right direction.

Pursuing excellence isn’t about money. It’s about the details. If what you’re offering (the Gospel) is valuable to your congregation, then casting it in the best light is vital.  Pursuing excellence does just that.

Are you serving in a church that pursues excellence?  What steps have you taken to get there?




The Sunday experience

My wife and I ate at a nice, swanky restaurant recently.

We felt like we were eating food that could be served on the Food Network.  Which is a far stretch from what we normally eat.  I learned what amuse bouche is (I had a pan-seared sea scallop with a slice of grapefruit, in warm vanilla sauce).  I had rillette and risotto…both of which I had to Google to know what they were.  The food was unbelievably good.

And as impressed as we were with the food, we were equally impressed with the service.  5 things stood out:

  1. We made our reservations online.  We’d never made online reservations for a restaurant before, but this process was incredibly easy.  We felt served even before we arrived at the restaurant.
  2. Our waitress was cross-trained.  She served our food, and could also talk us through the complimentary flavors, the local farms where they purchase their meat, and the precise way that each of our dishes was prepared.
  3. Our waitress wasn’t our only server…when we needed something, any server walking by would attend to our needs.
  4. I got up to use the restroom, and when I returned, my napkin was refolded and placed back on top of the table.
  5. The chef was feeling generous, and gave us a free tasting of his newest soup.

In short, it felt like the whole evening was about serving us, like we were truly honored guests.  And shouldn’t we be treated guests like that on Sunday morning in our churches?  Do we really offer that same level of service?  Because there are lessons to be learned here, whether your church is strong or weak when it comes to your Sunday morning experience.

Principles for serving on Sundays

  • Look for ways to surprise your guests with generosity. We paid a lot for our meal, but the fact that we felt served made us think less about the cost, and more about the experience.  And if “time is money,” then the people visiting your churches are “paying” a lot.  Make it worth their time.
  • Cross-train your volunteers and staff members. Our waitress cared about our entire experience, not just getting her tip.  And healthy team members know that, while their area of service may be primary for them, there’s a lot more that goes into a given person’s experience on Sundays than just their one area.
  • Serve relentlessly and creatively. The whole refolding-the-napkin-when-I-go-to-the-bathroom trick was awesome.  And it only took them 10 seconds.  But it took intentionality.  All of their servers had to keep an eye out for people who stood up to leave their table.  And that’s what it’s going to take to serve people on Sundays, too.
  • Prepared in advance to serve well. Serving with this level of class takes planning.  It doesn’t just happen naturally.  You, as staff and leaders, must plan ahead if you want your teams to serve well.  Brainstorming, dreaming, and mapping out action plans, is key if you want your guests to feel honored.
  • Know that Sundays aren’t the first, or last, impression. Our experience may have technically started when we arrived at the restaurant, but it certainly didn’t start, or end, there.  Taking this into account is important as you’re thinking through the message your church is conveying in your community and online.

Think, “What would this look and feel like for a first-time guest?”  Let that question propel you to creatively brainstorm with your team.

We’ve become raving fans of this restaurant.

Are you creating raving fans of your church?

What are you doing to creatively serve your guests?


Cultivating the drone

Do you celebrate volunteers who do exactly what you ask them to do?

Or do you encourage creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and pursuing God-given passions?

Teaching people to punch a button is easy.  Raising up (and giving space to) leaders who are creative and innovative is not.

Raising up creative leaders is:

1. Messy – When you ask somebody to think outside of the box, it ceases to be “clean, concise, and manageable.”

2. Decentralized – It’s difficult to have a two-hour training on this stuff.  It’s more about cultivating an environment than about transferring information.  And allowing creativity to permeate each person (rather than having those you lead simply parrot back a response) means that you won’t be the sole trainer.

3. Slow – Since it’s not chiefly about transferring information, it takes much longer.

4. Difficult to replicate – Many times, this process differs from person to person.  Creativity is unique to the individual, and thus not exactly duplicate-able.

5. Risky – Asking people to think outside the box means that they may go off in a direction that you didn’t intend.

However, I think that it’s worth dealing with each of the above.  Because in the long run, organizations that embrace and encourage creativity will produce innovators who work through plaguing problems, promote development, and help a company (or a church) sustain long-term growth.

If you’re content doing things the same way you’ve always done them, then you’re going to raise up leaders with that same value.


Go Vols!

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.


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