Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Reflections, Part 2



Even at an early age, Jack can outplay GrandBob on Guitar Hero!

It's not enough that all my kids can run rings around me in video games - now my grandson is doing the same things!

Well, maybe not yet, but you can be sure it won't be long.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reflections on Christmas, Part 1


Jack's first Christmas at GrandBob and Nina's has come and gone - much too quickly from our standpoint! The last 24 hours have been quite a whirl as Jon, Hallie and Jack came in from Boone and Jason and Jaime came in from West Virginia. After a quick supper last night, we went to see the Singing Santa (see earlier post). Jack wasn't scared at all - but he was fascinated by all the lights. Who knows, maybe we have another AVL tech in the making!
Now it's late on Christmas Eve, but our Christmas was all day long. Continuing a long tradition, we celebrate our family Christmas whenever we can all get together. It has been as early as 12/21 and as late as Christmas Eve, like this year. Anita and I decided long ago that we would reserve a full day at least for our kids (and eventually their kids) before we made the journey to Tennessee to see our parents and extended family. In spite of the gyrations it sometimes causes, we're glad we made that decision. Maybe this one picture illustrates it best. That's Jack (cool jams, Mom!) playing with one of his toys (from Uncle Aaron - well-tested at the store). The impromptu table is made up of three boxes that Granny sent for Jon, Hallie and Jack. My job? Just hold on to the back of the toy so Jack can play away!
The toy is a variation of one that's been around for decades - 5 animals that pop up when you push a button, turn a knob, or flip a switch. Jack was first attracted to the colors of the animals, but within a few minutes he figured out how to push the animals down. It was my job to make them pop up, but he learned how to make them go down. He was a quick learner (what else is a grandfather supposed to say?). He did it with support and encouragement from me, but it was mostly his curiosity and determination that made it work. The excitement and pure joy of a nine-month old is a special moment to treasure.
It was a very special day all the way from an early beginning through a late night. Now it's time to pack up and get ready for an early Christmas drive to Nashville TN to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and assorted friends. It will be good, but today was great.
Thanks, Jack, for making my Christmas day! It was your first Christmas, but it was a special one for me too.

Singing Santa


All our family is home! This is a group shot at Radiant Life Fellowship's Singing Santa in Plum Creek subdivision. Jack and Santa got along just fine!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Kids are Coming Home

Both my wife and I are on vacation this week, and we're getting ready for a momentous event: the kids are coming home. As in, we've had so many changes in our life since last Christmas, and this is the first time our expanded immediate family will be under one roof for the holidays. It will be a short time, but one we're really looking forward to.

We will be together for Tuesday evening and most of Wednesday, then our older son and family head back to their home for the holidays, and the rest of us will leave early Christmas morning in a caravan for Tennessee for a few days.

Posts here may be infrequent and brief, but for those of you who don't know, my family is what this blog is really all about. Here's my first blog post with the details.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas holiday time with your family!

Friday, December 19, 2008

What if Your Church Took the Night Off?

Dave Ferguson, lead pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville , IL had a great post on his blog earlier this year. Recently CCC is launching a new initiative entitled "Discover Your Dream" - I was fortunate to be a part of the first rollout and it was very challenging to me. I'm working on a presentation entitled "Turn the Ordinary into Extraordinary." In the past 24 hours, these three things have come together in a unique nexus. Read Dave's quick post below:

My high school daughter Amy is a barista at Starbucks. Earlier this year all the Starbucks across North America closed shop for three and half hours in the evening. Why? To hear from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz via video about the companies need to get back to it's original vision. Next, the store manager talked about several strategic changes that the store would make to give the customer better and more personalized service. And the evening ended by re-training everyone at that Starbucks store. When my daughter got home here is what she said to me, "Dad, you would have loved it!...It's really weird, I know that I really work at a fast food chain, but they made me believe that it really matters."

So here is my question:

If we were to close all the churches across North America for three and half hours and we had the chance to vision-cast and re-train every Christ Follower, what would need to be said and what would you do?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'll Have What She's Having...

Have you ever wondered why when your home team scores a goal or a touchdown, you pump your arm in the air? Or why, when you're at the movies and the heroine starts weeping, tears well up in your own eyes? What about the rush of exhilaration you feel when the good guy movie star dispatches the bad guy movie star - and you still feel it an hour later? Or the feeling of grace and beauty when you observe a ballet dancer? Or the soaring emotions of the symphony as the final notes cascade through the concert hall? That, my friend, what happens when your mirror neurons are at work.

Martin Lindstrom's recent book buy-ology is a scientific look into why we buy - both the truth and lies of our consumer captivated culture. Based primarily on a multi-year study using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and SST (a brain scanning technique which measures electrical activity in the brain) researchers discovered some amazing results about what drives consumer behavior. Why the importance of this research? Consider this: in 2007, corporations in the US spent over $12 billion on market research. Add to that actual marketing expenses: packaging and displays, TV commercials, online banner ads, celebrity endorsements, and billboard - which have a price tag of $117 billion in the US alone. Now for the kicker - even with all the research and marketing, eight out of ten product launches fail within the first three months. With these facts in mind, Lindstrom set out to prove that traditional market research was flawed because the major factors in consumer decision were taking place at a subconscious level that observation and surveys could not detect. Enter the fMRI and SST, and over two thousand willing participants in a three year study.

Back to those mirror neurons: when we watch someone do something, whether it's scoring a touchdown or playing a perfect piano concerto on a grand piano, our brains react as if we were actually performing these activities ourselves. In short, it's as though seeing and doing are the same thing.

Mirror neurons are also responsible for why we often unwittingly imitate other people's behavior. This tendency is so innate it can be observed in babies - just stick your tongue out at a baby, and the baby will most likely repeat the action (I plan on trying this with my grandson next week during the holidays!). When other people whisper, we tend to lower our voices. When we're around an older person, we tend to walk more slowly. Mirror neurons explain why we often smile when we see someone who is happy or wince when we see someone who is in physical pain. Researchers have even documented similar responses when subjects read a phrase like "biting a peach" and later view videos of people performing the same simple action.

In short, everything we observe (or read about) someone else doing, we do as well - in our minds. Mirror neurons not only help us imitate other people, they're responsible for human empathy. They send signals to the emotional region of our brains - the area that helps us tune in to one another's feelings and responses - so we can experience what it's like to walk (literally) in another person's shoes.

These concepts of imitation and vicarious participation are a huge factor in why we buy the things we do. Have you ever been disinterested in a certain product, then after a time, changed your mind? What happened? Sometimes, just seeing a product over and over makes it more desirable. As if this wasn't enough, research also indicates that mirror neurons work in tandem with one of the brain's pleasure chemicals, dopamine. Dopamine is one of the most addictive substances known to man - and purchasing decisions are driven in some part by its seductive effects.

What in the world does all of this have to do with your church and it's efforts to reach people who aren't connected to God in a personal relationship? Here are some of my thoughts:
  • Our front line greeting teams matter - a lot! How we extend greetings - verbally, physically, and through our gestures will often set the tone in the recipient's frame of mind to respond in like manner
  • The physical settings and circumstances of our facilities can spark positive - or negative - reactions from guests
  • The excellence of our ministry efforts - expressed through music, the spoken word, and our actions - will cause subconscious positive emotions in our guests
  • Conversely, our less than best efforts may subconsciously impact our guest in a negative way

These are a few of my thoughts - what else can you draw from this brief look at the power of mirror neurons? Leave a comment or send me an email and I will add them to the list.

Bonus question: Can you identify the movie scene from which the title of this post is taken, and why it is so appropriate?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Father-Daughter Time

Cafe mocha, hot chocolate, and pastries with my daughter talking about family, the holidays, and life in general. Possibly the highlight of my day.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

buy-ology

It's the height of Christmas shopping season - you don't need me to remind you that we're all consumers, right? Daily we're bombarded with thousands of messages from marketers and advertisers about products and brands. We're coming into the last weekend before Christmas, and the pace will be accelerating even more. Since I began typing this at 6 AM, I've already received 2 more emails - each from stores I shop at, announcing huge new sales coming up. And it's only 6:07!



Martin Lindstrom, a marketing guru and noted advisor to many Fortune 500 companies, has recently completed a study on neuromarketing, an intriguing marriage of marketing and science. He views it as a window into the human mind, unlocking what he calls Buyology - the subconscious thoughts, feelings, and desires that drive the purchasing decisions we make each and every day of our lives.


The book is filled with fascinating stories, insight, and understanding on how our unconscious minds drive our behavior. I'm diving into it to see how it fits into my supposition that church leaders need to understand the behavior of people as consumers because that's how people "see" the church - as a commodity.

Turns out, the world’s most successful brands, like Nike, Harley-Davidson and Guinness, stimulate the brain's emotional centres in a positive way and in a way that is similar to the stimulation of religion. They provoke a sense of community; they develop and promulgate rituals; they propose a common adversary. Apple succeeds because it poses as an enemy to its rival, Microsoft. His studies show that there’s an intriguing correlation between religion and powerful brands that make emotional bonds with us. fMRI scanning reveals that the same regions are activated in the brains of religious people when exposed to meaningful religious icons as those that light up in the brains of brand fans were exposed to iPods, Harley-Davidsons and Guinness.


What do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Planting Time

Change and innovation are two of my favorite topics to discuss and apply to church settings. Since change is a constant, there is never a shortage of the subject to talk about!

I participated in a Leadership Network webinar last week on 10 Discoveries About Innovation in the Church. They always do a great job, and this was no exception. I'm continuing to unpack the info from that webinar and will probably post about it later this week. It dovetailed with a book I'm reading; here are the main points.

Elaine Dundon, in her book The Seeds of Innovation, sees innovation as a process that can be cultivated. She finds that there are 3 main areas, with three steps in each one.

Understanding
  • Gathering information
  • Clarifying the real problem
  • Setting innovation goalposts

Imagination

  • Seeking stimuli
  • Uncovering insight
  • Identifying ideas

Action

  • Developing the innovation road map
  • Gaining commitment
  • Implementing the innovation road map

She also depicts the process of innovation as a continuum, with efficiency innovation on one side, evolutionary innovation in the middle, and revolutionary innovation on the other side.

Church Solutions magazine's December issue featured innovation articles as well. Be sure to take a look online for more interesting information.

What's your take on innovation? What innovative seeds are you planting now, and what kind of harvest do you expect in the future from your efforts?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Positive Thinking

I receive tons of information daily: phone calls, emails, web searches, reading, etc. As a consultant to churches, it's my job to know as much about the world we live and minister in so I can help church leaders find solutions to their opportunities and problems.

It's very easy to slide into a cloud of despair over what's going on in the world today. We all are facing potential impacts on our lives as our country struggles with economic uncertainty. There are a lot of things we can't change, but there are some things we can change - our own perceptions and attitudes.

Courtesy of smileandmove.com, here are some uplifting thoughts for you today. They were intended to use as part of a sales management training process, but I think they are very relevant to all of us - Enjoy!

How to Smile
  • Wake up - show others you care by giving attention to their needs
  • Be thankful - the opportunity to serve is a gift...not an entitlement
  • Be approachable - We're at each other's service and contact is where it starts
  • Complain less - we've got work to do
  • Smile. Really - it's where pleasantness begins

How to Move

  • Start early and go long - get lost in your service to others
  • Exceed expectations - dismiss mediocrity; expect more from yourself
  • Have a sense of urgency - predict and pre-sweat the details for others
  • Be resourceful and resilient - service is about giving someone what they need...no matter what

Smile - be happy!

Move - do something!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mid-Week Museings

Hey, it's not the middle of the week, but my Wednesday was too busy to post. I left home at 6:45 AM for a full day:

On the road for about an hour to have a breakfast meeting with a new local church pastor, part of my Together Tuesday initiative coming out of Catalyst 2008. A couple of weeks ago as I was returning from a meeting at one of our job sites, I took a different route home and passed by a church. I was impressed to contact the pastor, which I did when I got home. We set up a breakfast meeting for yesterday, and it was a good, God thing. He's relatively new to the area, and the church is doing well. We had a few similar interests and family situations, and it was good to fellowship together. He had a lot of interest in Catalyst so I left my summary with him and encouraged him to check into attending next year.

The monthly conference call with NACDB Advisory Board was next. I pulled over into a parking lot and our group of six spent the next hour reviewing recent developments in our business, making plans for our annual meeting in February, and looking ahead to 2009. Since I'm the secretary of the group, I took notes for later distribution.

Then it was back on the road to my noon meeting, about an hour away from my breakfast meeting. Taking advantage of technology, I had three mini-phone meetings with the office, an architect, and my editor. Safety note: I have a Bluetooth in-ear receiver for hands free talking!

Pulled into Boone for a design review meeting on a project with the church AVL team and Signature Sight and Sound, our AVL systems integrator on the project. 3 hours later, we had a major design modification, revised equipment list, and satisfied customers.

Since I was right around the corner from my son's house, I stopped by and dropped off a Christmas ornament for my new grandson. I knew they weren't there, but it was a great feeling just to pull into the drive of their new house and know that the work they were doing was going to make it a home.

Back on the road for a 2 hour drive to Huntersville, taking advantage of technology again to make a few calls.

At my home office, I did a quick review on a proposal for the next meeting, printed it out, and headed out to drop my son off at his youth group. My daughter arrived home on Christmas break as we were headed out the door.

The meeting at my next prospect went well: we submitted a feasibility study for them and had good dialog with the group. Some of the learnings from Church Unique are coming into play in this setting, and it will be interesting to see how they play out.

Back at home, and time to catch up on the paperwork of the day: Client Meeting Reviews for all my meetings of the day, both in person and on the phone. It's part of my 100% communication pledge: I type up our meeting comments for their review to make sure we all heard the same thing and are clear on next steps. I also typed up the NACDB conference call notes and a year-end summary.

I started and ended the day with a few WhiteBoard exercises: I'm finding the practice very beneficial in several ways. Currently, I have a flow chart of all the projects I'm working on - later today I'm going to translate them into the calendar for the rest of the month. Then I'll clean the board for a new day and a new thought process.

Ended the day with a quick read of a couple of chapters of a book I'm working through for our company's marketing/sales process. Called it a day at 11 PM.

That was a long, but satisfying, day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Got a Pet (Peeve?)

Over the past several months I have been in and out of several church worship services, and have been observing what's going on before, during, and after, as well as worshipping. In keeping with the current thread of conversation the last few posts, I wanted to talk about some pet peeves.


Dictionary.com has a couple of definitions: a particular and often continual annoyance; something about which one frequently complains; a personal vexation.


Wikipedia has the following: a minor annoyance that can instill great frustration in a very small group of people, yet is experienced by everyone. It also must be insignificant, so people insulting you is not a pet peeve. For example, if you find that elevator doors closing before you can get in annoys you, but does not annoy all the people around you, it is a pet peeve, as it meets all three criteria: insignificant, experienced by all, and only you and a few others are annoyed by it.


With those definitions in mind, here are a few pet peeves of mine related to the "operations" of a church. Names/circumstances have been changed to protect the guilty!


  • Audiovisual problems - churches that have minor (and major) AVL problems - not equipment related, but operator error. Most of these come down to a lack of training and practice. There's very few operator problems that can't be solved by regular training, rehearsal opportunities, and dedicated techs. This is my number one pet peeve, and one I'm most familiar with. I've been working with church AVL in some way since high school, so I know a little about this. Aside from equipment problems, there's just really no excuse for mics not on, music not cued up, improper mic placement, unfamiliarity with the program content, and on and on.
  • Wasting time - services should be planned to flow smoothly and unrushed, yet there should not be any dead time between the elements of the service. Special music require movement of a group to the stage? Block it out and go over it with the group. Presentation or discussion require handing something out? Make sure there are plenty of ushers with plenty of handouts stationed all over the worship center. You get the picture.
  • Handing out stuff before and during worship - papers tend to stick together. Don't lick your fingers and then hand me a piece of paper. There are plenty of ways to make this easy, but your spit shouldn't be one of them.
  • Inoperable double doors - designers plan on a double set of doors for a reason. Make sure that both work, and that both are used coming and going. It only takes a second to back up traffic flow when people have to use one door instead of two.
  • Chipped paint, pencil marks, smudged windows - like ESPN says, "C'mon, man!" What would it take for your cleaning crew to regularly touch up spots?
  • Out of date promotional items posted around campus - the event is over, take it down that day.
  • Exterior lights not set for time change - most noticeable in the fall, when it gets dark earlier. Note the date on your calendar, and reset timers or programming so the lights come on at least one hour before dusk.
  • Comfortable temperatures - seasonally adjusted as needed. No, you're not going to be able to please everyone. But you should plan to have a temperate climate in your worship center at least 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the service.

I'll stop while before I get too "preachy"! It's my opinion that these little things matter, and churches should do all they can to make a great first impression on guests (and members). Are these little, nit-picky things? Maybe - and maybe not. If they matter to someone, they should matter to you.

What's on your pet peeve list?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beyond Customer Service

Do you give up, clean up, or follow up?

The following comments were originally adapted from Zig Ziglar on Selling and Jeffrey Gitomer's The Sales Bible for a business development audience. In terms of what churches need to do to think about the "customer" they are trying to reach, I think they are very appropriate for church leaders to consider. Remember, guests to your church are measuring the experience they receive from you not to other churches, but to other customer-oriented businesses.

The days of “customer service” as the standard of excellence are long gone. Today, everybody talks about the importance of “customer satisfaction.” In this competitive market the only way to get ahead (and sometimes the only way to survive) is to go beyond customer service to customer satisfaction.

The best way to prevent a prospect or client from becoming unhappy is to provide excellent service before the problems are allowed to arise. The Norwegian word for sell is selje, which literally means “to serve.” Isn’t that a great sales strategy?

Here are some ways you can “serve” your prospect or client:

  • Satisfactory customer service is no longer acceptable
  • Customer service begins at 100%
  • The customer’s perception is reality
  • A mistake is a chance to improve the company
  • Problems can create beneficial rearrangements
  • Make the customer feel important
  • Learn how to ask questions
  • The most important art – the art of listening

Customer satisfaction in the never-ending pursuit of excellence to keep clients so satisfied that they tell others of the way they were treated by your company.

Is your church raising the bar on "customer satisfaction"? Or is it just the same old, same old?

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Eyes Have It

Okay, here's the deal - I've been really fortunate to be selected for presentations at national events the past few years. This year alone I have spoken at 8 conferences, giving a total of 13 presentations. The topics ranged from Creation Care Audits to leadership development. The topics were all submitted in advance, and chosen by the conference team. All were designed to give a lot of information to an audience (supposedly) interested in learning. And so I dutifully did the PowerPoint thing, with anywhere from 30-85 slides for talks ranging from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. They were deemed successful by the surveys and the conference team, and everybody seemed happy as they headed off to their next seminar.

What's wrong with this picture?

I have come to the conclusion that I am going about the right thing in the wrong way. I have had suspicions of this for many months, but it was brought home to me at the Catalyst Conference in October when I heard Seth Godin rip through well over 100 slides in less than 45 minutes. The kicker - it seemed like 5 minutes, and I was captivated by his presentation. Godin wasn't giving information out - he was telling a story. He issued a call to action through the story, and by the end everyone in the 12,000 + audience seemed ready to take him up on it. Oh, and by the way - the "information" was given out as his latest book - to all the audience - as he left the stage.


If you want to give out information, put it in writing.

If you want action, speak in stories.


So here it is the end of 2008, and I'm prepping for presentations coming up in January and February of 2009, with the likelihood of more coming throughout the year. And I'm pretty much starting with a blank page - or in this case, a blank white board. Using the ideas I've posted about recently, I'm crafting a new presentation that will be highly visual. The audience I will be speaking to will be expecting "information" - and the conference requires it - but it will come in written form after the presentation.

Here's my first attempt at white boarding on a big scale - as in a 4 x 8 whiteboard in my office. It's not a great picture, but maybe you can get the idea. What you can't get is the feeling of creativity, flow, and grasp by having the major points of what I am trying to communicate in front of me all at once.

This is going to be really fun.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Whiteboard for Skeptics

According to author Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin), there are three kinds of visual thinkers: people who can't wait to start drawing (the Black Pen people); those who are happy to add to someone else's work (the Yellow Pen people); and those who question it all - right up to the moment they pick up the Red Pen and redraw it all.

Hand me the pen!
Black pen people show no hesitation in putting the first marks on an empty page. They come across as immediate believers in the power of pictures as a problem-solving tool, and have little concern about their drawing skills - regardless of how primitive their illustrations may turn out to be. They jump at the chance to approach the whiteboard and draw images to describe what they're thinking. They enjoy visual metaphors and analogies for their ideas, and show great confidence in drawing simple images, both to summarize their ideas and then help work through those ideas.

I can't draw, but...
Yellow Pen people (or highlighters) are often very good at identifying the most important or interesting aspects of what someone else has drawn. These are the people who are happy to watch someone else working at the whiteboard - and after a few minutes will begin to make insightful comments - but who need to be gently prodded to stand and approach the board in order to add to it. Once at the board and with pen tentatively in hand, they always begin by saying "I can't draw, but..." and then proceed to create conceptual masterworks. These people tend to be more verbal, usually incorporate more words and labels into their sketches, and are more likely to make comparisons to ideas that require supporting verbal descriptions.

I'm not visual
Red Pen people are those least comfortable with the use of pictures in a problem-solving context - at least at first. They tend to be quiet while others are sketching away, and when they can be coaxed to comment, most often initially suggest a minor corrections of something already there. Quite often, the Red Pens have the most detailed grasp of the problem at hand - they just need to be coaxed into sharing it. When many images and ideas have been captured on the whiteboard, the Red Pen people will finally take a deep breath, reluctantly pick up the pen, and move to the board - where they redraw everything, often coming up with the clearest picture of them all.

Roam's conclusion of these different types of people?
Regardless of visual thinking confidence or pen-color preference, everybody already has good visual thinking skills, and everybody can easily improve those skills. Visual thinking is an extraordinarily powerful way to solve problems, and though it may appear to be something new, the fact is that we already know how to do it.


What color is your pen?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Your Visual Thinking Toolkit

The basic premise of Dan Roam's book The Back of the Napkin is that anyone can use a visual medium to powerfully communicate their message. Here are the main concepts - but I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book as soon as possible to fully understand, and implement, these powerful communication tools.

3 Basic Visual Thinking Tools
  • Our eyes
  • Our mind's eye
  • Our hand-eye coordination

4 Steps of the Visual Thinking Process

  • Look
  • See
  • Imagine
  • Show

5 Questions to Help Open Your Mind's Eye

  • Simple or Elaborate
  • Qualitative or quantitative
  • Vision or execution
  • Individual or comparison
  • Change or status quo

6 Ways We See and Show

  • Who/what - portrait
  • How much - chart
  • Where - map
  • When - timeline
  • How - flowchart
  • Why - plot

Tomorrow, I'm going to dive into how I'm using these concepts on a couple of brand new projects: a consulting project for a church in the Bronx, and a new presentation for the Church Solutions Conference in Phoenix next February. For now I've got to run - I'm sketching in my journal at Panera!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The White Board Experiment

You've seen the UPS ads - the guy standing at a huge white board, drawing a simple figure that turns into something connected with UPS and what Brown can do for you. It's mesmerizing, isn't it? Simple ideas, simple drawings, conversational style - what more could there be?

There's more than meets the eye, though. It's all about the narrative, the story the guy is telling. (By the way, that's not an actor - it's really one of the creative team that dreamed up the series). There's something about the power of a simple drawing that communicates.

I've been intrigued by a book by Dan Roam entitled The Back of the Napkin. As anyone who has been around me knows, I'm no artist. But the same group of people also know that if we're having a conversation, it won't be long before I've pulled out a napkin, piece of paper, or a journal page and started sketching. It's like I'm translating my hand gestures onto the page. Which is all about where this is going...

...I've got a whiteboard experiment in the works. Not just any whiteboard, mind you, but a big one - no, make that several big ones. As in 4x8 big. I'm sketching a project on it. Stay tuned...

Holiday High Gear

With Thanksgiving behind us, Black Friday over, and Cyber Monday ended, the commercial holiday season is in full swing. Life seems to be moving faster and faster now that December is here. Or is it?

I had a very long day yesterday; I left Huntersville at 6:30 AM to be at Winston Salem by 8 for a morning full of meetings; I had to be in south Charlotte at 2 PM for an afternoon of meetings; then back through Charlotte to Huntersville and home at 6 PM. In road terms, that's I-77 to I-40 to 168; then back 168 to 52 to I-85 to I-485 to 521; then back 521 to I-485 to I-77 and home - a really big loop. I went through rush hours in two cities, lunchtime traffic in one. When I finally got home last night and thought about it, it seemed, well - less busy.

Are our patterns changing? Are the swirls of Christmas commercialism fading?

Time will tell...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Power of Love

What do you call it when your 27 year-old son drives alone two hours one-way with his 8 month son to spend a few hours with you, then drives two hours back to his home?

Love.

It makes this dad so proud, and brings tears to my eyes.

I'm so blessed...

An Attitude of Gratitude

Some of the things I'm thankful for:
  • God's love for me-personal, powerful, and eternal
  • Anita - after 29 years together, she's simply amazing. Every day brings a little something new to our relationship, and she is beautiful, inside and out.
  • Jonathan, who is great father and a wonderful provider
  • Hallie - the love of a mother is a wonder to behold
  • Jack - energy, potential, and curiosity, all bundled up in one grandson!
  • Jason, quiet, creative, and hopelessly in love for
  • Jaime, who returns the love; these two were made for each other
  • Amy, 4'11'' of hyper - squared! Life, always fun, takes on new dimensions when she's around
  • Aaron - no longer a boy, not quite a man, but a tribal leader for sure
  • Parents who loved me and taught me the things I needed to know, and am still learning 50 years later, and hope to continue to teach my children
  • In-laws who nurtured Anita and gave her some of the qualities I love
  • Friends - Dean, Beth, Steve, Donna, Gary, and Debbie - it's wonderful to sit, talk, and pray with you
  • the joy of cooking - I've always secretly wanted to be a chef-I'll have to live it out through Jonathan!
  • Buying a highchair for your grandson's first visit - and watching your daughter put it together - twice!
  • Squirrels playing at work or is it working at play? My office window gives me a daily glimpse into their lives
  • Luke, our faithful dog-mat
  • Great neighbors, Jeff and Laurie - we've raised our kids together, took care of each other's pets

more to come...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Retailers Don't Know - But Churches Can Learn

For the final post on my review of Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy, it’s time to dive into the brains of retailers and take a look at what they don’t know – and what churches can learn from them.

  • How many of the people who walk into stores buy something? The quick, and wrong, answer is almost 100%. The conversion, or closure rate – the percentage of shoppers who become buyers – is almost always thought to be much higher than it actually is. Conversion rates measure what you make of what you have – it shows how well (or how poorly) the entire enterprise is functioning where it counts the most: in the store. It’s all about what happens within the four walls of the store.

Church Learning: How effective are you with what you’ve got in terms of ministry? Marketing, advertising, promotion and a great location can help bring guests to your church – but it’s the job of your leadership team, the ministries you’re attempting, and the entire church body to make sure the guests not only leave fulfilled, but return. Maybe as second timers, maybe eventually as participants and then members. The lesson: How are your assimilation systems working? Sure, you’ve got a great front door, and maybe even a few effective side doors – but how big is your back door?

  • How long does a shopper spend in the store? Assuming that he or she is shopping and not standing in line, this may be perhaps the single most important factor in determining how much she or he will buy. Studies have shown a direct relationship between the amount of time in a store and the resulting sales volume; usually a buyer spends almost 50% more time than a non-buyer.

Church Learning: There are certainly differences of opinion in the church world as to how long you want guests and members to linger before or after worship services. Churches with multiple services often need to have a smooth transition from one service to another. This is an area where design or renovation can play a critical role: make adequate space for a foyer, café, other gathering place so that those who choose to do so can fellowship with others. Another opportunity for evaluation in this area might be the pace of services – does the timing/scheduling need to be altered?

  • What is the store’s interception rate? Interception rate is the percentage of customers who have some contact with an employee. This is an especially important measurement in a time when stores use fewer full-time employees and more minimum-wage employees. Research has established a direct relationship: the more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer.’

Church Learning: This is a critical factor in making guests feel welcome to your church. Well trained and observant greeting teams should make all people feel welcome to your church by extending a verbal welcome and offering a handshake or other appropriate physical touch. Guests especially need to have a verbal interaction with someone beyond a cursory “Good Morning”. The key is to engage the guest as you are attending to their needs.

  • How long does the store make customer’s wait? Studies have shown this is the single most important factor in customer satisfaction. Few retailers realize that when shoppers are made to wait in line (or anywhere else) their impression of overall service plunges.

Church Learning: While church participants aren’t likely to leave like a shopper might in a long checkout line, it can happen. Most often you will find this expressed in the parking lot – I have been doing church consultations observing traffic patterns, and have seen cars pull in, find no parking spots, and pull right back out onto the street. Examine all your areas where waiting might occur – can you reduce, or eliminate, wait time?

  • Who are the shoppers in the store? Take the retail store who stocks pet treats on upper shelves, unaware that the main buyers of this product were senior adults and young children. Or the family style restaurant who had too many tables for two and not enough for four or more, which caused headaches during busy times. Or the Florida-based drugstore chain’s Minneapolis branch, where a full assortment of suntan lotions was on prominent display – in October.

Church Learning: This is probably one of the most important areas church leaders can discover – and one that many church leaders get wrong over half of the time. Who is in your target area of ministry? Who is coming to your church? Who is not coming to your church? Grouped under the broad area of demographics, this type of information is invaluable to help you understand who your neighbors are and how they may be changing. Once you understand the who, it is much easier to begin to answer the how, where, and why questions of ministry.

As I close this brief foray into the science of shopping, I need to remind you of a couple of things: First, there is a whole lot more about this area that I think could be very beneficial to churches who want to make sure they are doing all they can to attract and retain guests who come to their churches. As a matter of fact, this is just barely scratching the surface of an area broadly called assimilation. My focus has been on the front end of that - hospitality - and there is a lot more. Interested? Shoot me an email at badams@jhbatten.com for a conversation.

Finally, there are probably many who would say all this focus on the church guest and member in a consumer mindset is wrong. Certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine is that we live in a very consumer-driven, consumer-oriented society. The competition for churches seeking to reach new people is not other churches - it's any place and any experience that these people will compare your church to. Shouldn't we be doing the very best we can to reach them?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Parallels in the Retail and Church Worlds

Today is the second look at what the church can learn from the retail world. Below you will find a synopsis of work done by Paco Underhill, noted leader in the field of retail observation and analysis. After each section is a bullet-point application to your church.
If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something, and if once
there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse, boom.


This quote, by Why We Buy author Paco Underhill, was eerily prescient when written in 1999. In today’s economic crisis, we are indeed experiencing the turmoil of a shifting economy when people are rightly making wise decisions when purchasing. Even so, you almost have to make an effort to avoid shopping today. Stay at home to avoid all the stores? Internet shopping is available 24/7, delivered right to your door. No computer, no problem – home shopping networks will gladly sell you the latest gizmo for 3 monthly payments of only $39.99. But wait – there’s more! Don’t check your mailbox if you’re going to avoid all those catalogs, sales flyers, and direct mail offers.

The result – we are now dangerously over-retailed – too much is for sale, through too many outlets. Retailers are not opening stores in the US to serve new markets anymore. They are opening stores to try to steal someone else’s customers.

  • Church’s competitors aren’t other churches – today churches are competing with any other company, service, or event in which the customer has a positive experience. Remember that people are first consumers, and the environments they live, work and play in are the ones that will first attract, and then keep them to your campus. Guests to your service are making dozens of decisions about your church before they hear the first music of your worship team, or the great sermon you’ve prepared. Those decisions will play a major role in whether or not they will return.

Just a few decades ago, the commercial messages intended for consumers came in highly concentrated, reliable form: there were three TV networks, AM radio only, a few national magazines, and each town’s daily newspapers. Retailers advertised in those media, and the message got through loud, clear, and dependably. Today there are hundreds of TV channels; FM, satellite, and Internet radio; hundreds of magazines devoted to each special interest; and exponentially expanding Internet sites for information and entertainment. Simultaneously, we are witnessing the erosion of the influence of brand names. A generation or two ago, you chose your brands early in life and stuck by them loyally until your last shopping trip. Today, in some ways, every buying decision is a new one, and nothing can be taken for granted.

  • Churches, too, are heavily impacted by the fact that branding and traditional advertising are no longer as effective tools for connecting with potential members. While they may build brand awareness and help provide information, those factors seem to have a lessening impact in the final decision. Just as shoppers are becoming more susceptible to impressions and information they acquire in stores, guests to your church are being impacted by your physical campus. An important medium for transmitting messages and helping people make decisions is now your building appearance and “people flow” within in. Consider your facilities a great big three-dimensional advertisement for the ministries of your church.

Underhill's studies also proved that the longer a shopper remains in the store, the more he or she will buy. And the amount of time a shopper spends in a store depends on how comfortable and enjoyable the experience is.

  • Imagine a guest coming to your facility for the first time: what if they couldn’t find a convenient place to park near the main entrance; had trouble locating where to drop their kids off; got turned around and lost on the way back to the worship center because of the lack of signage; were dismayed by the dinginess of your children’s space; …you get the picture. Now imagine the same guest driving in a well-marked parking lot with greeters directing them to a guest parking spot right by the main entrance; another greeter welcoming at the door, and helping you find bright, cheerful, warm spaces that your child eagerly rushes into, staffed by caring leaders; color-coordinated signs direct your guests to and from the worship center with no confusion; and so on. Which guest is going to return?

So, the “science” of shopping can teach the church a lot about how our building appearances and our welcoming processes can improve our ability to attract, and retain, guests (and members). How does this “science” lesson translate to your church?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Shopping and the Church

In a somewhat satirical homage to consumerism and the importance of “Black Friday” (the huge shopping day after Thanksgiving), this week I want to dive into the science of shopping – and what it can teach the church.

Paco Underhill, the founder and CEO of Envirosell, Inc. wrote the book on the science of shopping – literally. Why We Buy is a witty and pragmatic report from the retail trenches on consumers' tastes and habits -- what makes them tick, what happens to people in stores, how to influence or change customers, and how and why customers change stores.Envirosell is a research and consulting firm that advises a blue-chip collection of Fortune 100 companies seeking to understand the behavior and motivation of the contemporary consumer. Envirosell films, records, and follows 50,000 to 70,000 shoppers through their retail experiences in stores, banks, and public spaces. Underhill uses video, trained “trackers” (researchers who discreetly cruise the aisles tracking shoppers and making notes on their activities), and photo analysis to help retailers understand why consumers buy – or don’t. Here’s a quick story that shows how Underhill and the Envirosell team’s research documented, then changed, the way many stores market a common item today.

A large company owned a chain of drugstores throughout the country. In efforts to understand buying patterns, they had Underhill study a typical store near their headquarters. It was located in an enclosed regional mall in the Northeast. The store’s sales were good overall, but in one category – analgesics – it was underperforming. Video study showed that the closure rate – the percentage of shoppers who bought – was below expectations. Plenty of customers picked up the packages, read the labels, but didn’t complete the purchase. The company’s previous studies had shown that the conversion rate was high, so there was another factor at work.

Over the course of three days, a pattern emerged. The aspirin was displayed on a main aisle, on the path to some refrigerated cases of soft drinks, which tended to draw many customers to that section of the store. The main customers for the cold drinks were teenagers, many of them mall employees on a quick break. They would rush down the aisle, grab a drink, and hurry back to the front to checkout. Along the way, they would have to brush by customers – often median and senior adults in the aspirin aisle. The video studies showed that many times the aspirin shoppers would simply stop their browsing and walk away empty-handed.

The primary learning was that a store has more than one constituency, and it must therefore perform several functions, all from the same premises. Sometimes those functions coexist in perfect harmony, but other times they clash.

Hello? Does this sound like your church? Do you not have various constituencies “competing” for the same space and resources? Does it often seem like a tug-of-war with no winners?

The solution for the drugstore chain? They moved the aspirin to a quieter section of the store, where sales rose 15% immediately. They also located a selection of cold drinks and snacks close to the front of the store – a move that has now become industry standard.

That’s what the science of shopping can teach the church. People have habits on how they move in spaces, interact with others, and make decisions. Why not study the retail world and apply those principles to the design and operations of our churches?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Senses and Sensibility - Getting Back to Basics

Do you long for the “good old days” when the pace of our lives was simpler and life was slower? As comedian Will Rogers once said, “Things ain’t what they used to be – and probably never was.” There’s no use longing for the good old days. In a world that is:

  • Increasingly hurried
  • Painfully insecure
  • Physically and mentally exhausting
  • Socially and economically fragmented, and
  • Psychologically and emotionally demanding

Millions of people are desperately in need of opportunities to feel:

  • Free from time pressure
  • Safe and secure in their surroundings
  • Pleasantly stimulated, physically and mentally
  • At peace with themselves and others, and
  • Ready to be open-minded, creative, and productive

Organizations that can provide such opportunities by re-imagining the customer experience will attract an enormous number of customers in the years ahead and keep them coming back.

Customer experience – in a church?
Here’s where the “common sense” comes into play. Just like the business you frequent often, churches delivering experiences that exceed guest’s expectations are those to which people return, again and again, until they’re no longer guests but full-fledged members of the church community. When a guest thinks “Wow!” it is because he or she feels affirmed or valued. The church has said, “You matter.”

While you may not be trying to sell a product, your guest (and potential member) is very much “shopping” for a church. More important, they are shopping for a spiritual experience that addresses their personal needs. Why not make sure you do all in your power to make it happen?

A Potpourri of Guest Improvement Ideas

Visit your church …again – How familiar are you with your own church building and campus? We all tend to get comfortable with our own surroundings and overlook what our guests see. Try to see your facilities through a fresh set of eyes – your guest’s eyes.
How easy is it to drive onto your campus and find convenient parking close to your buildings?
What’s the condition of the parking lots, sidewalks, and landscaping?
Are there greeters and parking lot helpers to guide you into the building?
Are the buildings and rooms identified?
Is there a welcome area that is warm and inviting and that has smiling helpful people staffing it?
Do you have a café or refreshment area nearby for guests and members?
If you have children, it is easy to find the right place for them? Do the security measures in place give you a sense of peace as you leave your child?

Visit another church in your community – What can you learn from visiting another church? How do they handle parking and greeting? What kinds of signage do they use? How are the people greeting one another? Do feel like they’re invading your “space”, or are you comfortable? When you first walk inside the building, what do you smell? Is the area visually cluttered, or pleasing? What’s the noise level like? Is there a café area? Is it clean? Overall, does the facility make you feel welcome? How does the personal impact of the people fit in to the surroundings?

Visit other types of places and engage all your senses – The next time you dine out, take on the role of a critic. Not just of the food, but of the total experience. What are your impressions of the parking area, the restaurant, host/hostess, wait time, staff – and don’t forget the food! How was the experience? What wowed you? You’re not trying to find something wrong – you’re trying to train yourself to use all your senses to imagine what guests are experiencing when they come to your church.

Identify potential distractions – and work to remove them – If your guests become distracted because they can’t find a place to park, or their children’s room has an odor in it, or whatever, you will have a difficult time re-engaging them for the real experience you’re trying to establish: a personal encounter with Jesus. When you eliminate potential or obvious distractions, you are one step closer to satisfying your guests.

Company’s coming – are you ready to “Wow” them? Use your common sense to engage all of your guest’s senses and their first impression will be a positive – and lasting one.

Expand your “sensory knowledge" by reading:
First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church, Mark L. Waltz.
How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb
Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough, Jonathan M. Tisch

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Senses and Sensibility - Church and Consumers

As you live your life day in and out, you are living the life of a consumer. Where do you consume? Where do you shop? Who provides service for you? Most importantly, why? You may stop at your favorite coffee shop for a good cup of coffee – and the conversations you have with the barista and the other regulars in the shop. Your supermarket always has good value and a wide selection of the food your family likes. Clothes from a particular shop just fit better – and the sales associates are always helpful with suggestions. The point is, you have established expectations of each place and the people that work there. Is it any different for guests and attenders at your church?

If your goal is to create a space and an experience that will positively impact people you must first plan and evaluate it from the perspective of its quality. You start that process by examining the daily places and routines in the offices, retail, and recreation spaces of the people you are trying to reach. The homes they live in, the offices they work in and the stores they shop in communicate a level of expectation they have for their space.

One subtle but powerful expression of this expectation is in our five classical senses: Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Leonardo da Vinci reflected sadly that the average human “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.” How can the church capture the powerful experiences of our senses and utilize them in their facilities?

A Brief Primer on How Our Senses Work
Sound
The outer ear catches and channels sound waves to the middle ear, which contains three tiny bones. These bones vibrate, transmitting the sound the inner ear, where thousands of hair cells are stimulated by the movement of the fluid within the inner ear. An electrical impulse is transmitted along the hearing nerve to the brain creating the sensation of hearing.

Sight
The experience of sight begins when photons from the world hit the lens of our eye, and get focused onto over 130 million receptor cells on the retina. These receptor cells convert incoming light into electrical signals to be sent to the brain, making sight possible.

Smell
Every day we are confronted with a smorgasbord of smells. Our five million olfactory cells can sniff out one molecule of odor-causing substance in one part per trillion of air. We take about 23,000 breaths per day processing about 440 cubic feet of scent-laden air.

Touch
Our bodies have more than 500,000 touch detectors and 200,000 temperature sensors. Each of these sensors gathers sensory information and relay it through specific nerve bundles back to the central nervous system for processing and possible reaction

Taste
The complex process of tasting begins when tiny molecules released by the substances around us stimulate special cells in the nose, mouth, or throat. These special sensory cells transmit messages through nerves to the brain, where specific tastes are identified.

Enough of the science lab! God designed our bodies to sense, interpret, and react to the millions of stimuli that occur around us every day. How do we use this knowledge to improve our facilities?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Senses and Sensibility, Part 1

First impressions of your church campus and facility last. First impressions are automatic – taken in and recorded by our senses, often registered for later recall. More often than not, they make an immediate impact on our decision to participate and to return – or not. We may not agree with it or not, but the consumer mentality of the world we live in has moved full force into our church world. Our churches don’t compete with the “world” so much as the experiences of the world. How can the church learn from this?

Think about the experiences your typical guest or attender encounters during his or her daily routine. Do they have a favorite morning coffee stop? Do they listen to a particular style of music on the radio on the drive in to work – or do they travel in silence? Once at work (or school, or wherever they spend the greater part of their weekday), what is the environment like? Do they have favorite pictures around them, reminding them of what’s really important in life? Do they have a candle or aromatic device nearby, silently wafting a pleasant scent in the air around them? When it’s break time, or lunch time, do they go out to eat – to the same place most days? Or do they bring something from home? On the way home, do they listen to the same music (or silence) as the ride in – or so they switch to something more relaxing – or energizing? By now you get the picture – or do you?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Home...for the holidays

One week from today it will be Thanksgiving, beginning what many refer to as "the holiday season". Thanksgiving is a time that I automatically connect with family. Some of my earliest memories of family gatherings (at least beyond my immediate family) revolve around Thanksgiving. As a very young boy, I remember waking up early to the smell of cooking permeating our house. The first scents I detected were that of sausage frying and biscuits just about done. They were my mother's contribution to early breakfast at our church, and a short Thanksgiving service. I don't remember any of the services; I do remember the food and fun with my friends as we sampled every variation of the traditional southern breakfast. One of my favorite foods was (and still is) a Krispy Kreme doughnut with chocolate frosting. That was a treat for me - one of the few times I could sample that delicacy! (Now, I sample them all too often, as my waistline shows!)

After church, my father, brother, and I headed off into the woods for our annual hunting trip. I won't go into details here, but the small game we were after usually succumbed to laughter at our efforts before our shots. That's a whole 'nother post!

At mid afternoon we gathered at my grandmother's house with aunts, uncles, and cousins for The Meal. It was a Norman Rockwell painting come to life - or at least that's how I remember it. We kids were relegated to going through the line last (isn't that a lot different today!), but there was always enough to go around. After seconds, maybe thirds on a favorite, the adults retired to the living room to solve the world's problems, and the kids went outside to play.

That stream of consciousness just came from hearing the phrase "home for the holidays" in a song on a late-night drive back from a client meeting. It all flashed by me in literally a few seconds, and made me think about how our traditions have, and are, changed. Thanksgiving in our family since Anita and I were married has always been at our house, for a simple reason: Serving on a church staff, we couldn't be gone from the church both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we always "volunteered" to stay on-call for Thanksgiving so we could drive back to Tennessee for Christmas. While we didn't have the extended family memories of Thanksgiving like the above, we have succeeded in making a few of our own: food experiments (usually good, but then there was that chutney); Macy's Parade in Atlanta; inviting college friends home; bonfire and S'mores; parades and football.

This year (and what a year it's been), home for the holidays is going to be different. Our two older sons now have families of their own, work schedules that dictate their availability to travel, and long distances to cover in a short time. One week out, we don't know what our Thanksgiving will be - except that it will be different. Maybe that will be a good thing...maybe it will be a God thing!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do Church and Hospitality Belong in the Same Sentence?

Yes - no, YES! That's my short answer. The long answer starts below and continues for, well we'll see!

Hospitality, like most words, has many definitions. Random House dictionary defines it this way:
  • the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers
  • the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests or strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way

That works for me - at least for starters. I think hospitality is also a spiritual gift (Romans 12:9-13). In this context, hospitality is the capacity to be kind to strangers. Some people just exude hospitality as second nature - but it's really "supernatural". On the other hand, 1 Peter 4:8-10 encourages all believers to practice hospitable acts.

Let's say that hospitality starts in your heart. How are you going to be "hospitable" today?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hospitality Lessons from the Real World

Can the church learn anything from Walt Disney, Starbucks, and the Ritz-Carlton? My answer is a resounding YES!



I'm beginning (actually, continuing with intentionality) a project that will dive into the world of hospitality and pull key principles that will have application to the church world I live and work in. The motivation for this renewed effort came from great guest experiences over the weekend from two establishments at opposite ends of the dining spectrum: Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and Taco Bell. In both instances, the staff went beyond the expectations to deliver exemplary service. You expect it at one, but are surprised at the other, right? Why should price be any indicator of the level of service delivered? What about a place with no "price" at all - the church?



The companies I named in the opening sentence are the primary research targets, but you could say that the hospitality industry in general will be my field of research. My proposition is that the world of restaurants, coffee shops, fine hotels, and the ultimate in customer expectation and experience - Disney - can provide tangible and beneficial principles for the church to adapt in welcoming guests and members alike.



My primary research will be visits to different establishments for observations and interviews - coffee at Starbucks and Panera, meals at restaurants, interviews with management and staff at Disney and the Ritz (I'm still working on an angle to get on-site visits as a business expense!).



Secondary research will include books and periodicals about the companies (I have multiple books on Starbucks and Disney; I just added a gem on the Ritz; a tangent branch of this study includes the science of shopping -5 books; if I continue that line, I'm sure my daughter will be more than willing to "research"!). I will also be following hospitality news via blogs and the Internet.



Another important contribution would be what you, the reader, could generate for me. I have a basic "evaluation form", if you will, that has been adapted from Mark Waltz's book First Impressions. If you are interested in being a "researcher" for me, let me know and I will get it to you for your use during the upcoming holiday season. What am I looking for? Any experience in which you encounter hospitality (or in the worst case, you expect it but don't receive it). Churches would also fit in this research - in addition to being the recipients of the findings, I believe that churches will be a prime area for what is working - and not.



Comments can be made on this blog, or you can reply privately to my email: badams@jhbatten.com. Please share this with as many of your friends as you would like - the more input the better the results will be.



Cheers!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hospitality with a capital H

Last night Anita and I took Aaron for his birthday dinner - to Ruth's Chris. Aaron loves steak, and we thought it would be a special treat for all us as the perfect end to a perfect day.

And it was great - all the way around. We certainly had great food - but what stood out most was the level of hospitality that all the staff - from the greeter to our server, with several others in between, including the manager - showed us.

Wouldn't it be great if churches could demonstrate the same level of hospitality?
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Forward March

If you have been following this post all week, you know I have been presenting sections of Will Mancini's book, Church Unique. First, the idea of the Kingdom Concept was introduced Tuesday; then, the Vision Frame was examined Wednesday. Today, the Vision Integration Model is the topic. If you haven't read the others, take a few minutes to go back to them.

The Vision Integration Model helps you deliver the vision that you developed in the Vision Frame. Behind the Vision Integration Model is one of the most important assumptions of the book: the success of advancing vision is directly proportional to the degree to which the vision is first aligned and integrated.

Alignment - the ironic part of advancing vision is that the most difficult and most defining work happens pre-movement. Alignment is the critical work that must be done early in the rollout of the vision. Just like a car that is out of alignment and cannot drive safely or at normal speeds, the church which finds itself out of alignment has severe limitations to missional effectiveness and efficiency. Alignment has four stages, but they look different in established churches (more than fifteen years of history) and entrepreneurial churches (less than fifteen years of history).

Attunement - what alignment is to structure and communication (the hard stuff of an organization, attunement is to human emotion (the soft stuff of the organization). Attunement is the attraction and emotional connection in the heart of the follower to a given organizational direction. Leaders must create a climate that produces real, dynamic, emotional resonance for your vision.


Integration Model

The Integration Model is not a system theory, but a conversation starting point. Mancini starts by looking at the church through five perspectives: leadership, communication, process, environment, and culture. For each perspective, he presents three principles for weaving vision into the life of the church. The result: 15 integration principles that will fuel your leadership team conversations for months. Here is a very simple outline of the five perspectives and their respective principles:
Developing Leadership - How will you use vision to recruit leaders, develop leaders, structure people, and divide your attention among the right leaders?
  • Staff: get people who get the vision

  • Structure: let strategy determine structure

  • Engine: lead leaders

Intentional Communication - Daily, your church is the steward of thousands of moments of truth - communication. Members talking to a neighbor, someone driving by your facility, ministry emails, staff business card left on a desk - the church's vision is distributed countless ways. The discipline of church communications must be approached with a tremendous amount of intentionality.

  • Attention: grab attention or hold nothing

  • Brand: communicate visually

  • Awareness: broadcast your position

Duplicatable Process - at some point your vision must transcend your skills and be deposited into the basic reproducible habits of the entire congregation. It's not about what you can do, but what you can duplicate.

  • Assimilation: help people attract people

  • Evangelism: Accessorize the mission

  • Multiplication: decide how you duplicate

Compelling Environments - the missional leader must constantly show that the church gathered is actually a time of preparation for "being the church" outside of its walls.

  • Worship: refocus Jesus, together

  • Connect: integrate everything relationally

  • Serve: serve inside out

Conscious Culture - the missional visionary is also a cultural architect. Transforming the future is made possible because the cultural perspective is held in conscious view.

  • Scripture: reveal God's signature

  • Folklore: retell the story

  • Symbol: mark defining moments

The Integration Model gives you a working vocabulary for pulling your unique vision together. The vision will not move forward unless it ties into and brings together leadership, communication, processes, environments, and culture. If it does, your Church Unique will capture your culture and build a movement that flows into your community with contagious redemptive passion.

The book is Church Unique. The author is Will Mancini. The message within is a powerful tool that will change your vision process, and by implication, the way you do life in a church. Get it today, dive into it, and buckle up for the ride!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Framed?

Continuing the journey into Will Mancini's book Church Unique, the second step on his Vision Pathway is Developing Your Vision Frame. The Vision Frame contains five components that define your church's DNA and creates the platform for all vision casting. The Vision Frame is expansive enough to include the church's evolving vocabulary that anticipates where God is taking you. Once a leadership team completes the grueling but rewarding process of clarifying vision, what are the right words to capture your Kingdom Concept? Which terms unlock the understanding of strategy? What language engages the hearts of your people?

A Framework for Missional Clarity: The Vision Frame
The central thrust of Church Unique is introduction of a framework called the Vision Frame. It contains five components that define your church's DNA and creates the platform for all vision casting. No leader should lead, no team should meet, and no initiative should start without a clear understanding of the vision frame.

Each component is critical to answering one of the five irreducible questions of leadership:


  • Mission as missional mandate: What are we doing? The missional mandate is a clear and concise statement that describes what the church is ultimately supposed to be doing.


  • Values as missional motives: Why are we doing it? The missional motives are shard convictions that guide the actions and reveal the strengths of the church.


  • Strategy as missional map: How are we doing it? The missional map is the process or picture that demonstrates how the church will accomplish its mandate on the broadest level.


  • Measures as missional life marks: When are we successful? The missional life marks are a set of attributes in an individual's life that define or reflect accomplishment of the church's mandate.


  • Vision Proper as missional mountaintop + milestones: Where is God taking us? Vision Proper is the living language that anticipates and illustrates God's better immediate future.

The Vision Frame components mus be clear, concise, compelling, ccatalytic, and contextual. If these five attributes are fused within the Vision Frame, amazing energy is released. It all funnels into an important reality: the vision is contagious.

Why the Vision Frame Works

During a recent lunch meeting with Will, I was captivated by his background and path to where he is today: a chemical engineering degree, working with a marketing company, and as a pastor. This unique combination of backgrounds gives him incredible insight into process, communication, and the heart of ministry. It also speaks of why the Vision Frame works.


  • It Carries the Kingdom Concept: Your Kingdom Concept "lives" as it is translated into the Vision Frame itself and not as a separate statement. Each church's unique Kingdom Concept finds many possibilities for expression.

  • It is Complete yet Concise: It is comprehensive and addresses the function of the church in a real and tangible way. It is also packaged concisely, enabling the DNA of the church to be portable in the life of the church.

  • It Communicates a Missional Reorientation: The Framework is a powerful tool to capture culture - drawing on the best of who God made you to be, drawing out your best as a people to live and serve in the community. Familiar planning words are used, but given a missional reorientation.

There is a consensus among missional leaders that a new language is needed for evoking our imagination and forging a new identity for the church at large and for your individual Church Unique. Will Mancini's Vision Frame is the framework for missional clarity that equips you to create this new language.

If you are looking for a dynamic, challenging process to re-energize your church and create a vision to carry your ministry to new levels of effectiveness, this is a resource you must have.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fuzzy Vision?

Will Mancini's Church Unique serves as a map that will help you discover and live a vision that creates a unique church culture in your ministry setting. The book outlines a process that will help you discover, develop, and deliver your unique vision by creating your own Vision Pathway. The clarity and practical application you will realize through this process will take you to new levels of effectiveness and to a lifestyle of visionary leadership.

In yesterday's post I noted that the Vision Pathway contrasts sharply with strategic planning. In the brief table below, you will see how author and consultant Will Mancini makes this clear:

Classic Strategic Planning vs. Church Unique's Vision Pathway
Vision as content vs. Vision as lifestyle

Mission as statement vs. Mission as missional mandate

Values as statement vs. Values as missional motives

Strategy as plan vs. Strategy as missional map

Measurement as goals vs. Measurement as missional life marks

The first step in developing your unique vision is to discover your Kingdom Concept. The Kingdom Concept is the simple, clear, "big idea" that defines how your church will glorify God and make disciples. The Kingdom Concept is what sets you apart from every other church: it's how you develop follower's of Christ for God's ultimate honor. It is where your church's unique experiences flow as a body of Christ.

The best way to find your Kingdom Concept is to look at the intersection of three circles that represent aspects of your church's God-given uniqueness.



Circle One: Local Predicament

Your community has all kinds of specific challenges. Do you know what they are? Defining your local predicament answers the question, "What are the unique needs and opportunities where God has placed us?" Understanding your local predicament is about having an intimate grasp of the soil where God has called you to minister.


Circle Two: Collective Potential

The second circle looks at the collection of individuals in your church and answers the question, "What are the unique resources and capabilities that God brings together in us?" What possibilities of cooperative potential are lying beneath the surface of your Church Unique?


Circle Three: Apostolic Esprit

A church's "apostolic esprit" is the area of focus that arouses an energetic style in its leaders. Apostolic anchors the missional mind-set: the understanding that we are "being sent." It is the empowering and direction of the Holy Spirit linked to the human side of passion and vitality that springs from team morale. What particular focus most energizes and animates your leadership team?


The three circles are simple yet profound. The real secret is not in looking for new things, but in finding fresh meaning in the familiar. It's the work of scrutinizing the obvious. The power of the Kingdom Concept is in the overlap of the three circles.


Again, the resource is Church Unique; the author is Will Mancini. If your church is struggling with fuzzy vision and uncertainty, the need is immediate!





Monday, November 10, 2008

School's Out - on Strategic Planning

As I've posted many times on this blog, Catalyst 2008 totally rocked my boat on a personal and business level - to the point of tipping it over! I'm still processing and talking about Catalyst, and probably will be till next year's Catalyst (yeah - I've already registered for it, along with the rest of my family - but that's another post).

My boat just turned over again.

Will Mancini, author of Church Unique and founder and Clarity Evangelist at Auxano, was kind enough to meet with me and the editor of Church Solutions magazine, Karen Butler, on the last day of WFX in Houston last week. Will was joined by Cheryl Marting, Chief Connections Officer at Auxano (already they win the award for coolest job titles). Since Will lives in Houston, the original intent was just to get to know him a little better in advance of next February's Church Solutions Conference and Expo. Karen set the lunch up, and was very kind to include me in. As soon as the conversation started, it was obvious to me that God had set this up all along to continue the "mind expansion" He set in place at Catalyst.

Church Unique was published earlier this year by Leadership Network. I'm a huge fan of Leadership Network -I attended a Leadership Gathering in 1995 and have participated in several national training events since then (thank you Sue Mallory for all you have done for equipping ministries in the church). Anyway, when LN publishes a book, I'm all over it. So when Church Unique came out, I picked it up - and it mesmerized me from the opening pages.

My experience with strategic planning matters goes back to seminary in the early 80's: Lyle Schaller, Aubrey Malphurs, Bobb Biehl, Kennon Callahan, Peter Drucker - these were the leaders in the field that we followed. Others have joined them in the years since, but all of these - and especially Malphurs - have influenced my own views of strategic planning in the churches I served and in the churches I work with now as a development consultant.

I had not gotten further than the introduction of Church Unique and a table contrasting strategic planning and Mancini's Vision Pathway than I knew my views of strategic planning and its place in the church world had changed - forever.

His approach centers on the powerfully simple concept that God has created all churches as unique. While we understand that God created His world with uniqueness (think snowflakes), and His children (DNA, environment, and culture) the same way, we think that churches are mostly alike. Do you think He would act any different with His church?

Over the next few days, I will be posting a few of the nuggets of Church Unique. But don't take my word for it - get a copy immediately, block out some time to dive into it, and prepare to put on a life preserver - your boat is going to be rocked!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

WFX Wrap-Up

The final day of WFX began with a great breakfast conversation with Mel McGowan, president and lead designer of Visioneering Studios. McGowan is a leading figure in the revolutionary thought and design of Postmodern church facilities. We talked about how the church tended to follow the lead of commercial design by a margin of 5-10 years, and how the lifestyle center developments were now being adopted by churches. His session in the morning was entitled "Christ-Centered Communities: Redefining Church Architecture". Using tools and methods developed by secular destination architects, his firm helps transform functional facilities into places brimming with energy, excitement, and life. Taking these ideas close to home, McGowan's firm is the lead design team on Elevation's first permanent facility here in Charlotte. David Dial of Living Stone Architecture is serving as the architect of record.

After the morning sessions, I had a brief conversation with Carl Harkins, Director of Architecture at GL Barron in DFW. Carl and I were later joined by Brian Blackmore, the publisher of Worship Facilities magazine, in a discussion about collaboration on future design ideas and processes for churches.

Two final thoughts for now, but more will definitely be coming in the future:

The most significant planned event during WFX came at a Friday lunch with Will Mancini and Cheryl Marting (of the consulting group Auxano, and authors of the book Church Unique) met with Karen Butler (editor of Church Solutions magazine) and me. Karen originally set up the lunch to talk about the upcoming Church Solutions Expo in February where all of us will be participating in various ways. It quickly turned into a stimulating discussion of future opportunities for Mancini's groundbreaking Vision Path ideas. I will definitely be posting more about that!

The most significant unplanned event came as I had the opportunity to get reacquainted with the Rev. Dr. Samuel Vassel, pastor of the Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene. I first met Pastor Vassel and some of his leadership team at WFX Indianapolis last April. They have an exciting, growing ministry in the heart of the Bronx. They face some tough challenges as they consider how to expand their facilities and ministries. As I talked with them last spring, my heart connected with them, and we closed in prayer for each other. We said goodbye on the closing day of the expo, and I thought I would not see them again.

God had other ideas!

On the expo floor last Thursday afternoon Pastor Vassel walked up to me with more of his leadership team; we were reacquainted with great joy. They had attended my presentations earlier in the day and were looking forward to sharing more of their story. Again, there will be more to post on this later, but God is at work at the BBC, and I am feeling that I might be able to play some small part in what He doing, and will do, at the church.

WFX Houston was a good week for me, both personally and proifessionally. In a similar way as at Catalyst, I have much to process and will be posting more in the future.

Friday, November 7, 2008

WFX Day 2 - backwards



We ended WFX Day 2 at Lakewood Church in Houston where Joel Osteen is pastor. The church is located in the former Houston Rockets arena. After a year of negations with the city, 22 months of renovations with a price tag of $80 million dollars, Lakewood Church hosts over 40,000 people per weekend on site and several million more through television broadcasts, podcasts, and special programs. From a church builder perspective, it was certainly breathtaking: the conversion certainly reminded you of what it used to be, but after sitting on the main floor for an hour video tour and Q&A with the pastor and staff, it certainly didn't feel like a sports arena. Osteen's background (he served for over 15 years as producer of his father's broadcast ministries before assuming the pastorate in 1999 at the elder Osteen's passing) certainly contributed to the unique setting of the staging, sight lines, and audio/visual enhancements. The children and student areas were very impressive, catering in a very age appropriate manner to the kids who would be there. I may not agree with Osteen's theology at times, and the whole atmosphere seems a little too much "Hollywood" for me, but Lakewood certainly takes the professionalism and excellence of its facilities to impressive levels.

A wonderful supper preceded the Lakewood Experience-my table guests included the staff of the EPA's congregational division (finally-a good use of my taxes!); the editor of Worship Facility magazine; the executive director of the National Association of Church Facility Managers; and the NACDB administrator.

The expo floor opened at 11:30, and I worked the NACDB booth from opening till it closed at 5:30. Around 4 PM I realized I had been on my feet since 6 AM, and was glad that the booth next to ours was a theater seating company! I tested their product out for about a half hour.

The keynote presentation of the morning was by Dave Ferguson, lead pastor at Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL. He talked about lessons that make innovations work:
  • The vision lesson: The God-thing has to precede your vision
  • The strategy lesson: If it can't be explained on the back of a napkin, your strategy is too complicated
  • Finance lesson: money always follows vision
  • Reproducing lesson: Take risks on emerging leaders and artists
  • The Future lesson: The future is in the "new"

Ferguson closed by standing on the edge of the stage and saying we should:

  • Value the risky edge more than the safe center
  • Value going more than staying
  • Value the lost more than the found

Ferguson's group also presented "Discover the Dream" at the pre-Catalyst sessions in early October. Here's my post and thoughts then. Ferguson and CCC are leaders in the multi-site movement and a new branch, reproducing churches. Pay close attention to what they are about!

The 9:15 session-Developing a Creation Care Audit for your Church- went pretty well. My main case study was Northland Church in Orlando, who did a fantastic job in their audit process last year. Some of their team was on site, and added a lot to the conversation.

My 8:00 session started off a little rocky-the AV contractors for the convention center did not have any of the video projectors set up. I told the group we were going "old school" and they would have to listen carefully. Luckily, the AV techs showed up about 5 minutes later and we were up and running my 10 after. The topic-Build the Team BEFORE the Building-has become one of my favorites. I'm constantly tweaking and adapting it for use with church clients. I will be presenting it at the Church Solutions Expo in February, but it will be completely different in presentation style. Stay tuned for an update on that!

I began the day with an Early Bird round table discussion on green church issues at 7 AM - the one brave person who came and I had a great conversation about her church project in CA.

So that's how my Day Two at WFX went, from last to first. But the most exciting thing happened on the expo floor late in the day, and I'm saving it for tomorrow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Early Start to WFX Day 2

This is my marathon day at WFX: I start with 3 presentations:

7 AM: Early Bird Roundtable on Green Church issues

8 AM: Build the Team BEFORE the Building

9:15 AM: Developing a Creation Care Audit for Your Church

Then, switch hats as a NACDB member:

11:30 AM: Expo hall opens, NACDB booth

Then, on to Joel Osteen's little church for the 5:30 PM Lakewood Experience


Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From First Time Guest to Raving Fans

The importance of building design and appearance, "customer service", and intentionality were the topic of this presentation. My boss David Batten was speaking on a related topic (Everything Speaks) this afternoon as well. Both of these topics are on my "front burner" of church consulting at this time. Most churches do an average job in this area - but why should they settle for average? We are trying to create a setting to attract people who may not be familiar with church stuff. In order to best understand what might attract them (as far as facilities or "experiences"), just take a look at where they shop, eat, and spend time away from home. Those are the kinds of tangible (and intangible) items churches should consider.