Early on in my career and ministry, everyone around me advocated the need for systems and told me I needed good ones to succeed. However, no one ever really took the time to explain what a system is and how to build one from scratch! Today I will do just that.

First, let’s talk about what a system is. Here’s my definition:

A system is a bridge (process) that moves things and people from where they are to where they need to be, and keeps them there.

A budget is a bridge that tells our money where to go and how it goes there.

A meeting is a bridge that tells everyone where we are, where we are going, and how we plan to get there.

A ministry is a bridge that tells everyone how they can get from where they are now  to where they want to be, and stay there! So what systems do we need to build?

What You Need to Know to Build a System

5 questions must be answered:

  1. Where are things sitting now?
  2. Where are the people now?
  3. Where do they need to go?
  4. How do we want to take them there?
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Messy Church

During my second full week of pastoring, one of the ladies of our church made a disturbing comment. Looking back, I believe her comment probably describes the attitude of many other churches and their members.

Our church was getting ready to construct a new building when I was hired. I’m sure the lady meant well, but you can imagine my shock when she said, “I don’t know why we are building a new building. We are a small town and only getting smaller.”

She was right. At that point in time, the town of 18,000 people had experienced a brief decline in population. However, her viewpoint missed one major fact: Out of the 18,000 people in the town, no more than 5,000 were active in a local church.

I kept my mouth shut, but my snarky brain wanted to shout, “Actually, we are building too small! There’s no way we could hold all the potential new believers in our town with this new building plan.”

What would prompt a person to overlook so many lost people in a town? It’s not ignorance of the situation. I believe most church members are tempted to write…

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Facebook

In a recent interview with WIRED*, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and cofounder of Facebook, shared that small group ministry is a model he considers when he looks to the future of his social media website. It’s an intriguing comment from the marketplace and it’s loaded with transferable insights for disciple makers. I think it’s important for me to note that Jesus’ way doesn’t require validation from the secular space, but in certain instances it should reinforce what we already know to be true.

In this particular interview, Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying, “When I started Facebook, the mission of connecting people wasn’t a controversial thing.” In recent times, Facebook has unintentionally become a contentious experience for some as they are confronted with their friends’ subjective opinions about politics, social issues, and news stories. What started out as a digital space for people to connect has morphed into an intense debate forum with differing levels of credible information. The article says it like this…

“As has repeatedly said… he believes his platform brings people together—despite the sea of evidence that in its stated mission to “connect the world” Facebook may be helping to tear…

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Almost anytime I mention numbers related to church life, I anticipate some responses about the value of numbers and congregations. In the 1980s, this type of discussion came primarily from more liberal churches that weren’t growing. Some of these leaders felt that declining membership and attendance was likely a sign of health. The members who really cared about the church were the ones who remained. They could make the biggest difference without the more nominal members remaining as obstacles.

Today, it is not unusual for me to hear from more conservative church leaders that declining church numbers may be a good sign because it is an indication that the numbers reflect true regenerate members. But, for the purpose of this brief article, let’s assume that attendance growth is a positive indicator. Presumably more people are hearing the Gospel and being discipled when a church is growing.

It is in that context that I hear almost every week from church leaders whose churches seem stuck at some level of attendance: 100, 200, 500, 800, and so on. I even got a call a year ago from a church where the pastor was concerned that attendance was stuck at 7,000!

After 25…

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“He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.’ The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, ‘You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?’ Jesus replied, ‘If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water’” (John 4:4-10 NLT).

Though most of our personal evangelism probably happens in the context of some kind of relationship (friend, family member, coworker, neighbor, classmate, teammate, etc.) there are countless opportunities we have throughout our lives to engage complete strangers with the Good News, just…

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Baptisms at Saddleback Church

At Saddleback Church, we’ve always given a lot of attention to baptism, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve had so many baptisms over the years. A little boy asked me one time, “When can I get advertised?” That’s the mindset I want our congregation to have about baptism: “When can I get advertised? When can I publicly proclaim that I’m a believer in Jesus Christ?”

The most basic way I spotlight baptism at Saddleback is by talking regularly in my sermons about the value, the purpose, and the benefits of baptism. The sermon doesn’t have to be specifically focused on baptism to make the connection either.

We have found that a sizeable number of people intend to be baptized, but they never do it. They say, “I’ll do it next month,” but then the next month they forget. So any time I promote baptism, I challenge people to commit on the spot to being baptized. There are a couple ways I do this.

First, during our services, we give everyone a card that includes a place where people can indicate a desire to be baptized. Asking people for a commitment…

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Sermon Cards

I attended a book-writing workshop recently that revolutionized how I write sermons. Let me explain.

The instructor had a great way of mapping out a book using what I would describe as a “building blocks” approach. Apparently, this is not a new technique, but it was new to me.

To accomplish this method, you take index cards and write every thought, every story, every illustration, and every quote on individual index cards, color coordinating them as you go (illustrations in green, your quotes in red, and so forth).

Once you’ve written it all down, you begin to assemble your thoughts and your cards piece by piece, in the order you want.

She explained that most people use Microsoft Word to write a book, which is incredibly slow and cumbersome because you have to copy and paste anytime you want to move your copy around. Additionally, you can only see a small amount of your work at a time.

Using her method makes it a lot easier because it allows you to lay it all out and organize it before you ever start writing.

As I was sitting in her workshop I thought, “This would be a…

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Windmill

If you’re human, and over 40, you’ve probably thought at least once, Are my best days behind me? (If you’re a pastor, you struggle with this just about every Monday morning!)

I’m not suggesting you need to be middle-aged or old to wonder about this question. If you felt like your high school or college years were some of your best, then you might have faced this disheartening question early in your life.

I know a guy who was a football star in high school, and he frequently talks about that time as the best days of his life – and he’s my age. It’s sort of sad. Especially since high school was over for him 40 years ago.

Recently I was at a retirement party for some friends. I’ve known them for about 20 years, and we worked together on a large church staff for five years. At this gathering, the staff said some very nice things about my friends, and there were quite a few honoring and funny stories told.

I was sitting there, listening, smiling, and remembering, when a question hit me hard. Were those years with them my best years in ministry?

Then I nose-dived into thinking…

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What I am about to share with you is the single most important church growth principle I have ever learned for senior pastors of churches under 1,000 in size. I call it Leadership Evangelism.

Leadership Evangelism is the process by which senior pastors single-handedly ignite a movement within their church that will cause it to double in size in three years or less.

Here’s a common occurrence:

A senior pastor leads a church that hasn’t grown in five years. Funding is tight. They have board members who don’t really get the larger vision. Their staff, if they have any staff, are underpaid, overworked, and just as frustrated as their leader. The senior pastor has tried everything to catalyze growth – drafting a new vision statement, tweaking the worship services, starting a new outreach program, trying to get people to invite their friends – all on top of working to the point of exhaustion. Yet, nothing to date has worked.

The majority of evangelical churches in English-speaking countries around the world are in this exact same boat.

“What would you do if you were me?” some have asked.

That’s when I tell them about Leadership Evangelism.

All senior pastor can lead their church to grow. Regardless of age….

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One of our core values at Grace Hills is, “We stay fast, fluid, and flexible. There are no sacred cows. We embrace the pain of change for the win of seeing more people meeting Jesus.” I wrote that one knowing that of all of our other core values, it would probably be the hardest to honor over the long haul. It addresses the crossroads where theology meets psychology, where truth, mission, and fear intermingle. Change is hard.

The American evangelical church is in a rather desperate condition. You’ve heard that America is a “Christian” nation and that Christianity is dominant. Perhaps it’s the popular religion, but far fewer people are attending church than we realize. And we’re only planting one-fourth of the number of new churches needed to keep pace with America’s current population growth and rate of decline in existing churches.

So churches absolutely must change and adapt if they will remain relevant to the culture.

I realize many Christian leaders don’t like that terminology, so let me clarify that God’s Word, the Gospel, Jesus,…

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Trees

We just had the Purpose Driven Church Conference at Saddleback. There were thousands of pastors who came to learn and grow. I was talking with one whose question was really good.

How can we possibly make sure groups don’t go crazy? I mean, we have so many scattered all over the place. We don’t want them going off the rails theologically or practically. Is that possible?

The answer to that is so easy. Yet the answer is also the most difficult answer in groups.

You can’t.

However, you can build the infrastructure in such a way that gives support, care, and guardrails to leaders and groups that and helps direct them toward the end in mind. But at the end of the day, you can never guarantee perfection. Here’s a Saddleback-ism you can take to the bank:

You can structure for control, or you can structure for growth. But you can’t structure for both at the same time.

If you want control, you can have it. But it comes at the expense of growth.

If you want growth, you can have it. But it comes at the expense of control.

So at the end of the day, there’s no way to guarantee…

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Photo Credit: Aaron Burden

If you want your church to have the impact of the early church, the New Testament shows us eight essential characteristics we need in our congregations.

Rely on supernatural power

“Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability” (Acts 2:3-4 NLT).

We don’t just talk about God; we experience him. This is what makes the church different from every other organization on the planet. We have the Holy Spirit.

Microsoft doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. The United States government doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. The Red Cross doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. No other organization has the power of God in it. God promised his Spirit to help his church.

Use everybody’s language

“And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability” (Acts 2:4 NLT).

This passage isn’t about speaking in tongues. It’s about the Gospel being communicated in real languages. People actually heard the early Christians speak in their…

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