What I Learned from North Point (Part 4): Constantly Cast Vision

After partnering with North Point Community Church, I thought I’d share what I learned. I shared that I learned the value of being strategic, being unique, and being clear in my previous posts.

In my final post in this series I wanted to focus on my single biggest takeaway from my North Point partnerships: A compelling vision is powerful but easily forgotten.

You won’t hang around North Point long before you realize the value of constant vision casting. “Vision leaks” according to Andy Stanley. North Point’s vision is “creating a church unchurched people love to attend.” That is compelling and emotive.

I discovered three significant benefits to a church’s vision being saturated throughout the team:

1) Creates Unity

People tend to cheer for each other more and compete less when they see that together they are accomplishing a shared vision.

Every staff member (more than 300 at North Point) should be able to quote the church’s vision verbatim. You might say, “Yeah, but NP’s vision is short and simple vision statement!” Exactly. “It’s not portable until it’s memorable” – Andy Stanley.

Each staff member/volunteer should be able tell you the part they play within that vision. There is something energizing about walking the halls and talking at staff meeting knowing that everyone is on the same page pursuing the exact same goal. It’s incredibly unifying.

2) Provides Clarity

When the vision is clear it helps make the “no” and “yes” easier. It makes budgeting, staffing, and programming direction clearer for everyone.

As I’ve said before, one of the greatest gifts a leader can provide staff, volunteers, and church is clarity.

3) Encourages Momentum

When the vision is clear we know what to celebrate.

When the vision is unclear people will celebrate different things. What gets rewarded gets repeated. There are lots of things we could celebrate at church (attendance, offerings, mistake-free services, facilities, people signing up on ministry teams, etc.). We usually celebrate the success of the ministry in which we are involved.

A clear vision allows us to celebrate together when progress is made toward a shared vision. That’s when momentum can be “felt” throughout the entire church.

Knowing that vision “leaks”, when was the last time you reinforced the church’s vision with your leadership team? With your key volunteers? With your church? When was the last time you equipped them to be “vision casters”?

Two great books on this topic are Andy Stanley’s Visioneering and Will Mancini’s Church Unique.

What I Learned from North Point (Part 3): Be Clear

After partnering with North Point Community Church, I thought I’d share what I learned. I shared that I learned the value of being strategic and being unique in my previous posts.

Today I’ll share the value of clarity.

I have a friend that recently visited a multi-site church’s brand new campus. After the service he was visiting with a long-time friend who was serving as a volunteer at the new campus. The volunteer said he was drawn by the vision for the new campus “to reach the unchurched”. However, he expressed frustration because most of the volunteers were not sure what they were supposed to be doing or what part they played in the vision. He went on to say that he wasn’t sure the church was pursuing the original vision any longer. The volunteer loved the vision, his church, his pastor, and God. Yet he was considering stepping down because he didn’t have clarity.

North Point’s #1 practice is “Clarify the Win”.

Whether it’s a 1 sentence job description for everyone (including volunteers), one bottom-line truth in each sermon, or one big idea for children’s ministry each month – for North Point CLARITY is KING. Many of the volunteers wear a lanyard each week with their ministry team logo on the front and their 1 sentence job description (“win”) on the back.

To help people conceptualize the purpose of each ministry environment and the steps they want everyone to take, they created their now famous ministry model: foyer – living room – kitchen. Why? It provides greater clarity.

One of the greatest gifts you can provide your staff, volunteers, and church is clarity.

Every staff member and volunteer wants to know the answer to these three questions: Where are we going as a church? How are we going to get there? What is my part in the process?

If you’ve already read the book 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, here are some free audio files that might be worth a download.

Next time I’ll share my single biggest takeaway from North Point Ministries.

What I Learned from North Point (Part 2): Be Unique

After partnering with North Point Community Church, I quickly learned the value of strategy. I also learned the forgotten value to be unique.

Today as church leaders we learn from each other more than any previous generation but in the process we often lose our voice.

Many of us are following the calling of other ministry leaders.

Culture pushes churches to be the same. Our local communities need churches to be unique.

Here are 4 unique ministry practices of North Point:

1) Fight for Simplicity

In 1996 NP began with a simple approach. All churches start with “a blank piece of paper and no money” so the context almost requires simplicity. However, churches naturally gravitate toward complexity.

North Point has been unique because they persistently maintain a simple ministry approach.

Maybe this year we as church leaders should celebrate the ministries we strategically end instead of just the ministries we start.

2) Partnering with Parents

Somewhere along the way we parents got so busy that we abdicated the spiritual leadership of our children to the church. That’s a strong statement but I think you’d agree. North Point dared to be unique with their children’s ministry approach. They work hard to equip/encourage parents to spiritually lead their children at home. They believe “what happens at home is more important than what happens at church”.

Using the Scriptural encouragement for parents to be the primary spiritual influence in their child’s life (Deut. 6:7), North Point was the birth place to Reggie Joiner’s Think Orange children’s philosophy. I once heard Andy Stanley say at a Drive Conference, “When people ask me the secret to North Point’s growth I tell them it’s our children’s ministry.”

3) Small Groups

In 1996 small groups were not as common as they are now. Not only did they utilize a ministry that wasn’t common – they went “all in” making small groups the heart of their ministry.

They don’t celebrate (publicly or privately) attendance, offerings, buildings, or services like they do small group participation. Small group participation is the only numeric goal NP has ever had! That’s why they have more than 30,000 adults participating in weekly small groups.

The NP Small Group model utilizes “closed” groups. Everyone in the group commits for a period of time (typically 12 – 24 months) and the group is closed to outsiders to encourage deeper, more meaningful relationship development.

Unique.

4) Outsider-Focused

Andy Stanley is the best speaker I have ever heard at speaking to both the church goer and the skeptic (insider/outsider) simultaneously. Using his unique gifts, it made sense for North Point to be intentionally sensitive to “outsiders” in EVERYTHING they did on Sunday.

This has caused many in ministry to “throw rocks” at NP. But being unique requires courage and resolve.

I admire the unique ministry decisions that NP made. Like NP, when you’re unique AND successful you won’t be unique for long.

How about you? Is your vision specific to your unique leadership team gifts, unique congregational makeup, and unique community opportunities/needs?

What are you prayerfully considering at your church today that may one day be common?

A great book to further read on this topic is Church Unique by Will Mancini.

Lessons Learned from North Point: Be Strategic

North Point Community Church (launched in 1996 – pastored by Andy Stanley) is now the 2nd largest church in the country averaging nearly 30,000 in weekly attendance plus more than 9,000 people who attend one of their partner churches across the country.

If you want to learn how to create brand loyalty then partner with Apple Computers. If you want to build a championship sports franchise then partner with the Dallas Cowboys. (Okay . . . I might be a little biased.) If you want to learn how to build/transition a church to become strategic then partner with North Point.

I once heard Matt Chandler, speaking at Catalyst, say, “If you want to have a strong church strategy you should learn from North Point. They are in the ‘Ivy League’ of church models and systems.” I couldn’t agree more!

After partnering with North Point these past two-and-a-half years, I thought I’d share what I learned in a series of blog posts this week.

My first impression from North Point leadership was how incredibly strategic every decision is.

NP’s mission is “leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ”. Simply-worded but not terribly unique. I believe what makes the mission effective is the strategy behind it.

A mission is most effective when it has an accompanying strategy. North Point’s strategy to accomplish their mission is to “equip and encourage people to pursue three vital relationships: Intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders“. Then their ministry model and each environment is formed with this strategy in mind.

I was recently reading an online hotel review when the reviewer referred to the hotel as “pretty but not functional”. Unfortunately, that is how I have seen many churches approach their mission statement. Lots of prayer, work, and time go into crafting the exact wording and message of a mission statement. However, with time it often becomes nothing more than ink on paper or a forgotten page on a website because there is a strong “what” but no “how” (strategy).

The culture at North Point is soaked in strategy.

Quick Example: Athens Church (a North Point strategic partner) pastored by Sean Seay hosted an Easter Egg Drop a few years ago. They raised money for the event (contract labor, marketing, helicopter, eggs) and ended up having more than 2,000 people from the community attend the event. However, they decided to never do it again. Why? Because they determined it wasn’t a strategic step toward their mission.

You see for the rest of that year Athens Church Children’s Ministry asked guests to fill out a survey. In this survey they asked guests “How did you hear about Athens Church?”. Even though more than 2,000 people attended the Easter Egg Drop event, the survey revealed that virtually no one came to the church because of it.

My first lesson learned at North Point was a mission or a goal must be guided by an accompanying strategy. Determine the “what” and the “how”. Otherwise, it’s “pretty but not functional”.

What’s your church’s mission statement? More importantly, what’s the accompanying strategy to accomplish it?

Is Your Church Choosing the Short-term Over the Long-term

“I promise u Sunday’s gonna b THE BEST service you’ve ever attended so bring EVERYONE u know. You’ll b blown away & FOREVER changed!!!!!!!!!!”

We’ve all read a similar tweet or Facebook status update like this one by someone . . . often a well-meaning church staff member. It’s understandable. After all, we’re genuinely excited about this weekend’s services. We’ve invested hours planning. We believe there’s big impact potential. And, we’re desperate for God to change lives. All good things. (BTW, I’d rather have an over-excited leader than an under-excited leader.)

However, we can unintentionally “over-promise & under-deliver”. Unfortunately, our passion can turn into a HYPE machine or short-term capitalism. Seth Godin recently wrote an insightful blog on this concept.

This got me thinking. What are some examples in which churches are guilty of pursuing the short-term over the long-term. Here are some examples I think qualify:

Adding new ministries hoping to create immediate excitement vs. improving existing ministries

Spending more resources on temporary stage designs vs long-term environment improvement

Trying to get more “out” of volunteers instead of pouring “into” them

Viewing leadership development of staff as an expense vs. an investment

Having a seasonal or annual vision vs. persistent improvement toward a long-term vision

Pushing too hard for people to make a life-changing decision in today’s service vs. encouraging spiritual steps

Focusing on attendance & offering vs. people movement (service teams, small groups, etc.)

Do you agree that churches are often tempted to choose the short-term over the long-term? If so, what is it that causes us to choose the short-term over the long-term?

I Missed Talking to My Wife

“The key to finding the right spouse is finding someone you enjoy sitting on the couch talking to.” That’s what an elderly man, who’d been married for more than 50 years, told Ginger and I when we were first dating. “Because,” he said, “when you’re in your 70‘s conversation is all you’ve got!” 🙂 I immediately thought, “Ginger’s the one for me because I love talking with her”! But as the years went by with 4 young kids, my job, Ginger’s job, and the busyness of life – finding alone time was seemingly impossible. We found ourselves talking mostly at night when we were both in bed and exhausted.

When we were first married 15 years ago, Ginger & I walked almost every evening. A big perk to those walks was the built-in one hour conversation. Ten years ago our first child was born so we put her in a stroller and kept walking . . . and talking. Eight years ago our second child was born and we simply bought another stroller. Six years ago when our third child was born we replaced one stroller with a double-stroller and kept going. By the time our fourth child was born three years ago our oldest was too big to share a stroller and our family walks suddenly ended. So did our daily “conversation time”. I miss those walks but I missed those conversations even more.

We tried several solutions over the last three years: 1) We tried getting the kids to bed a little earlier and talking, reading a book together, etc. (We were usually too tired for this time to be consistent and meaningful), 2) Date nights (we schedule these monthly but it doesn’t replace daily conversations, and 3) Family nights (these are fun but little conversation time for Mom & Dad)

So recently Ginger said, “Let’s get up a little earlier in the mornings so we can have some coffee together and talk.” So the next morning we set the alarm earlier, had some coffee and, best of all, we rediscovered our talk time. We have done that every day since. I love it! In order to guard this time we work hard to get everyone to bed earlier, prepare/set the coffee maker the night before, and get up with the alarm clock (“opportunity” clock as Zig Ziglar calls it). Ginger’s an incredible woman and I enjoy talking/dreaming/planning with her.

How about you? How do you make time to talk with your spouse?

Taking Bold Steps (Part 2 – Three Drawbacks)

This week I shared 3 surprise benefits I’ve experienced from taking bold steps. Today I want to share 3 drawbacks to taking bold steps.

1. You Might Fail

No one wants to fail. But accomplishing something significant usually requires failure to remain a possibility.

Questions to ask yourself: Could your confidence handle failure? Could your marriage handle failure? Could your faith handle failure?

2. People Might WILL Misunderstand Your Motives

We see this throughout Jesus’ life on Earth. We shouldn’t expect to be an exception.

Questions to ask yourself: What are my motives? Who am I trying please?

3. It Will Cost You Something

Unfortunately, it may be a relationship(s), money, reputation, comfort, time, etc. But it will cost you something. You may not get to choose what it costs you.

Questions to ask yourself: What am I willing to pay? What am I not willing to pay? (marriage, family, etc.)

Taking Bold Steps (Part 1 – Three Benefits)

We all want to have the courage to make bold decisions. After all, great accomplishments are almost always preceded by acts of boldness. Accomplishing great things is a possible benefit of boldness. But I am learning that there more certain benefits on the other side of boldness.

You see I’m an average guy with average boldness. Yet almost 3 years ago I took a bold step by leaving a long-term ministry position to plant a church. Now, in less than 3 weeks my family will take another bold step by moving across the country (from Texas to California) to pursue God’s next step for us.

I wanted to share three benefits I’ve experienced in the last 3 years:

1) Clearer Perspective

> I realize pursuing dreams is better than settling for comfort (not easier but better)

> My wife and kids have become more significant to me

> New appreciation for The Church. I have discovered incredible churches with different ministry styles pursuing Christ’s mission. We really are all on the same team.

2) Encouraged others to take bold steps

More and more people share their dreams with me. I love this! As they share, my heart beats fast sensing their passion and I want to scream “GO FOR IT”! When it comes to dreams I’d rather be “ready, fire, aim” than “ready, ready, aim, aim, never fire”. (Recently Seth Godin wrote a great article about this.)

3) Heightened dependence on God

For the first time my faith was genuinely challenged. I chose to depend on God despite what I didn’t feel and didn’t hear at times. I chose to lean harder into Him based on what He had done in the past and Who I believed Him to be. This season has strengthened my faith in my God.

“I am convinced that God longs to put His fingerprint in our lives, to act on our behalf and surprise us with His magnificence. I am equally convinced that most of the time we do not give God a context in which to do this. The mundane is not really the best context for a miracle. When we play it safe, we squeeze God out of the formula. If we go only where we know and do what we’re certain will succeed, we remove our need for God. Whenever we respond to God’s invitation, our need for God becomes heightened.” Erwin Mcmanus – Chasing Daylight

What are some benefits you have experienced from taking bold steps in your life?

On Thursday I’ll share three drawbacks associated with taking bold steps.

My World Trade Centers Pic

In 1994 I took this New York City skyline picture from the Empire State Building observation deck.

“I will remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:20-23