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?


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 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
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.

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.

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.

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

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: Please share this with as many of your friends as you would like - the more input the better the results will be.


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


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.

Reframing the Design Process

Rex Miller (The Millinium Matrix) and Craig Janssen (Strategic Dimensions) are advancing the idea that the design/construction process used today is fundamentally flawed. They advocate moving toward integrated design process and lean constuction methodologym. Alignment of all the team members: architect, engineers, builder, major sub-contractors, and client - is the critical first step.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Design for the Next Generation

Fellowship of the Woodlands church in Houston recently completed an ambitious building program that included a fellowship plaza, baptismal fountain and prayer garden, bookstore and cafe, and a Chapel in the Woods. The primary feature, however, was a children's minisrty building.
It's designed for 3200 kids in clusters of age related venues. Going against a trend of the past few years, they utlize "timeless" design and architecture vs. creating themed design space. They create themes utilizing props and extensive AVL applications.
Key takeaways:
*Vision must be clear
*Space allocation important in design planning
*Keep non-negotiables up-front
*Opening of a new facility should be a great opportunity to impact community
*Design-build team needs to hear the heartbeat of the church
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

The long (coat) tail...

My only post on the election: Compare Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail" effect with the "coat-tails" of Barack Obama.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just arrived in Houston Texas

The 5th Worship Facilities Expo kicks off tomorrow morning. I will be posting regularly on what's happening throughout the event. I will be speaking 3 times on Thursday.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T