Archives For Phil Cooke


Lifeway Research recently polled thousands of nonbelievers about what it would take to get them inside a church. When I thought about it, the results made perfect sense, but most church leaders never consider these possibilities. The survey focused on Americans who do not attend church, and here’s what they said would draw them into one:

62% – a meeting about neighborhood safety
51% – a community service event
46% – a sports or exercise program
45% – a concert
45% – a neighborhood get-together
35% – a worship service

Notice that only 35% of nonbelievers responded with a worship service.  Pastor Tony Miller at The Gate Church in Oklahoma City was already thinking this way. Because of his personal passion for unity, and as a result of the recent racial issues in cities across the country, Tony held a Forum for Transformative Cultural Reform at his church. He invited local politicians, the police chief, the superintendent of schools, an Imam from a local mosque, a Jewish rabbi, the president of the local NAACP, the executive director of Black Lives Matter, the vice president in charge of diversity at the university,…

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I find it fascinating that many people who handle social media for very large churches and ministries find it difficult to share their faith on their personal social media platforms. And others do it in an incredibly obnoxious way. Every new technology gives us another possibility for telling the greatest story ever told, but we have to do it with honesty and sincerity.

Krysta Masciale, CEO of Big Deal Branding puts it this way: “For me, it’s important that I share as much on social media as I would in person. Since I don’t speak about my faith until I’ve gained trust and been given permission to do so in a relationship, I use that same philosophy with my social media accounts. Also, know your audience. If Christians follow you and are expecting spiritual insights, give it to them. If not, be aware that you’re building a relationship, not trying to sell a car.”

Krysta is exactly right. So I asked Kristen Tarsiuk, Creative Director + Community Pastor at Liberty Church Brooklyn to give us some suggestions about sharing our faith without screwing up the message. Here are her…

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Whenever I visit local churches, most of the time I’m faced with a frustrated local media producer who’s at his or her wit’s end. They’re usually good producers, often with extensive experience, plus a real calling to use media to take the Gospel to the culture. But in nearly every case, he or she is either burned out, upset, or ready to quit.  Ninety percent of the time, I get the same response – “The pastor just doesn’t have a vision for media – especially television.” It also comes in numerous other laments, such as “Every time I try something new, the pastor hates it.” Or the tried and true: “The pastor just doesn’t get it – he doesn’t even watch TV himself, so he doesn’t understand how to use it as a tool to reach the community,” and last but certainly not least: “I’ve never had the budget I really needed.”

In the words of a former President: “I feel your pain.” I’ve worked with enough pastors, evangelists, and ministry leaders over the last three decades to know the…

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There’s lots of media talk about the British government being in “chaos” as a result of the “Brexit” vote. There’s a lot of exaggeration there – after all, the media is about sensationalism, since that’s what sells newspapers and media advertising. But there’s no question that many companies, churches, and nonprofit organizations experience times of chaos, and many times over the years, I’ve been asked to consult during these catastrophes.

During those times, I’ve helped them navigate through the storm. So the question becomes, how should leaders react when things fall apart? When everything breaks loose, what’s the best approach for righting the ship and getting the organization moving forward again? While each story involves complexity and time, here’s my suggestions from the start (and feel free to pass this along to our British friends):

1) The best leaders understand the business.  During times of crisis, everyone will step up with “advice,” and many of those ideas will be crazy. The best way to navigate the overwhelming tide of outside opinions and ideas is to know the business well. Know your team, and…

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I’ve been involved in a great many organizations transitioning to next generation leadership, and the issue of “legacy” always comes up. How should the founder be remembered? When should the founder let go? The Billy Graham organization asked some of those questions when they designed their library and museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Many nonprofit and ministry organizations are making that transition right now, and when it comes to the hand-off, here are some thoughts:

1) It’s never too early to start. If the founder has reached his or her late fifties or sixties, it’s time to start thinking about legacy. At that age, the slightest health problem could derail their work, so we need a backup plan. Especially if you’ve built a major church, ministry, or non-profit, we need to start thinking about a successor. The succession doesn’t need to happen right away, but you need a solid plan. I know major ministry leaders who died unexpectedly, which made for some serious scrambling by their organizations.  So don’t be caught off guard.

2) The line, “Success without a successor is failure” is a myth. The fact is, not every organization is meant to extend to…

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When it comes to engaging in public policy and challenging today’s culture, one of the least likely strategies is one built around criticism. The growing number of churches and ministries that are constantly “against something” has always been a disturbing trend. On a regular basis, I see an avalanche of direct mail campaigns and magazine articles by organizations upset about the latest movie, court decision, TV show, cartoon series, or mad at the homosexual community or some other special interest group.

But while a healthy debate is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, the truth is, just being critical changes very little.  After all, as Christians, we of all people should be known as being for something. We have the greatest story in the world, but instead of focusing on that story, we continually get distracted by turning our focus on issues peripheral to our real calling.

Yes – many of these issues are important. Christians are American citizens, with every right to vote our conscience and speak in the public square. It’s one of the reasons I support My Faith Votes. We also have the right to campaign against candidates or issues…

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I have a friend who’s life is defined by “busy.” He doesn’t really accomplish much, and I think that’s why he’s embraced an identity of always being busy.  He can’t talk without complaining how busy he is, he starts most of his emails with “I’ve been so busy recently that…,” and he never seems to have time to read a book, reflect, or think. It’s another symptom of this disrupted culture we live in. So if you occasionally feel overwhelmed and can’t really define why, here’s a few new rules for living in the constant “on” culture:

1) Turn off your computer and mobile device notifications.  Every app these days wants to be able to notify you of discounts and special deals. I looked at my wife’s phone recently and she had 22 apps that all had notifications turned on. It was pinging all day long. And that’s not counting email, text, and social media notifications. Just turn them off. Do you really need to know the moment a person responds to your Twitter post? Do you need to be alerted the exact second every email arrives? Talk about overkill. Let it rest.

2) Schedule 2-3…

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Some time ago, I received a call from The New York Times. The reporter was curious if I knew of any pastors or ministry leaders who were changing their tune because the economy wasn’t going so well. That call reminded me how much the world looks at our message as adaptable, changeable, and flexible. When it comes to those pesky issues like absolute truth, can’t we just change God’s principles to accommodate a changing culture, financial problems, or difficult circumstances?

So if you’re facing financial challenges with your organization, here are some suggestions:

1) Be Confident in the Validity of Your Message.  If you really feel God has given you a message for this generation, outside circumstances shouldn’t impact the essential truth of that message. In other words, don’t pull back on your core message – in fact, it probably should be stronger than ever. You can re-think the way we package the message, or how you present it, but don’t pull back from the message itself. Be confident in your calling, and bold in your message. You have this platform because your voice matters. Don’t allow fear to hold you back.

2) Keep…

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Looking at the direction of the culture, the shape of trends, and the current challenges we face, here’s a handful of ideas to look for in 2016. I strongly recommend that you share this with pastors, ministry and nonprofit leaders you know, because from a media perspective, these are the critical areas that I believe we should focus our messages on in the coming year:

People will be looking for deep answers, not just “practical” advice.  The last 20 years has been a time of “practical” teaching in the church. It was based on the assumption (not always wrong) that people needed to look at the Bible for answers to everyday questions. But too many pastors started preaching shallow topics like “The 5 Keys to a Successful Marriage,” “3 Steps to God’s Healing Power,” or “The Secrets of a Better Prayer Life.” Many of those topics may have been helpful, but if you look at the Christian section at a typical bookstore, it doesn’t look much different than the secular self-help section. Our message has become Oprah in a “Christianized” package.

Colleges are getting the same message by the way. After the last 50 years of…

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Recently, at a major CEO conference Lou Holtz, one of the most successful college football coaches in history, shared his insights about success, failure and leadership. His thoughts are worth hearing, and here’s a few powerful moments that stood out for me:

On Vision:

“This is what I believe: You have to have a vision where you want to go. Without a vision you have nothing. You have to have a plan of how you’re going to get there. And you have to lead by example. What holds a country together, what holds a family together, what holds a business together are core values. And core values are something you would not compromise.”

On Mistakes:

“The biggest mistake I see: You have so much success, the expectations get so great that winning is a relief. Losing is a disaster. And so, because of that, they fail to raise the standards. I went to Notre Dame. I took a program on the bottom, we took it to the very top. For nine straight years we went to a Jan. 1 bowl, the Sugar, the Cotton, the Orange, or the Fiesta. We took it on top and we…

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After decades working with churches around the world, I’ve discovered that one of the most difficult challenges pastors face is finding the right “Executive Pastor.” In a significant number of cases, local pastors don’t really understand the role. In my opinion, one of the best XP’s in the country is Mike Buster, Executive Pastor at Prestonwood Church in Plano, Texas. He’s worked with Pastor Jack Graham for 28 years, and they’ve become a remarkable team. In fact, in my opinion, Jack Graham is one of the greatest leaders in the church today, therefore the standards at Prestonwood are high.   So I asked Mike to tell me about the purpose, role, responsibilities, and challenges of being an XP. Here’s what he said:

Phil Cooke:  What’s the purpose of an “Executive Pastor”?

Mike Buster:  The Executive Pastor should know the heart, vision, goals and desires of his pastor. He should have the fortitude and wisdom to take the skeleton vision provided by the pastor and put flesh on it. He is to be a steward of the church’s resources and the pastor’s vision. The XP should be able to see the…

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Now that my friend Brian Houston’s new book “Live Love Lead” is out and being read by plenty of leaders, I thought it was time to ask him some questions. As founding Pastor of Hillsong Church, with locations in at least 15 major cities around the world, his leadership principles have impacted thousands of pastors and ministry leaders. Plus, “Hillsong Music” is the most popular worship label worldwide, and the feature length motion picture “Let Hope Rise” – about their band “Hillsong United” – is in the works. So we had a lot to talk about:

Phil Cooke:  Hillsong seems to be taking off like a rocket these days. You’re continuing to open churches in major cities around the world, the conferences are growing, Hillsong music is exploding, and the feature film “Let Hope Rise” will be released soon. With everything that’s going on, why did you decide to write the new book right now?

Brian Houston:  God’s grace never ceases to amaze me. Last year I turned 60 and celebrated 40 years of ministry – and…

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