What Account Do I Draw From to “Pay Attention”?

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.

A few years ago, my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to plan and deliver The Adams Family Adventure – a week-long trip to Walt Disney World for my immediate family of fifteen: six children and nine adults.

All week long I had the most fun watching the rest of the family as they experienced Walt Disney World, most for the first time. We captured that trip in over 3,000 images, whose primary purpose was to bring up stories from our memory from that single image.

As we departed four different cities on the first day of our trip, we were texting and FaceTiming about our various experiences. It was the first airplane flight for four of the grandchildren (they did great). They left their homes early in the morning, took long flights, got on a big “magical” bus, and arrived at our resort.

To our grandchildren, it must have been a little strange. From the time they came running off the bus, throughout all of the fun adventures of the week, to the goodbyes at the end of the week, they were a little overwhelmed, maybe even overstimulated about the whole process – and I began to see all over again what it means to be curious.


You can, and must, regain your lost curiosity. Learn to see again with eyes undimmed by precedent.   – Gary Hamel

My grandchildren’s curiosity was brought sharply into focus when I recently read the following:

In childhood, then, attention is brightened by two features: children’s neophilia (love of new things) and the fact that, as young people, they simply haven’t seen it all before.   – Alexandra Horowitz

On LookingAlexandra Horowitz’s brilliant On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes shows us how to see the spectacle of the ordinary – to practice, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle puts it, “the observation of trifles.”

On Looking is structured around a series of eleven walks the author takes, mostly in her Manhattan neighborhood, with experts on a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. She also walks with a child and a dog to see the world as they perceive it. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and the cognitive aspects of what it means to be an expert observer.

Here’s an illustrative example as Horowitz walks around the block with a naturalist who informs her she has missed seeing three different groups of birds in the last few minutes of their walk:

How had I missed these birds? It had to do with how I was looking. Part of what restricts us seeing things is that we have an expectation about what we will see, and we are actually perceptually restricted by that perception. In a sense, perception is a lost cousin of attention: both serve to reduce what we need to process of the world “out there.” Attention is the more charismatic member, packaged and sold more effectively, but expectation is also a crucial part of what we see. Together they allow us to be functional, reducing the sensory chaos of the world into unbothersome and understandable units.

Attention and expectation also work together to oblige our missing things right in front of our noses. There is a term for this: inattentional blindness. It is the missing of the literal elephant in the room, despite the overturned armchairs and plate-sized footprints. 

Horowitz’s On Looking should be required reading for ChurchWorld leaders. How often do we fly past the fascinating world around us? A world, mind you, that we have been called to serve.

How can we serve a neighborhood or community or a block of our subdivision if we haven’t paid attention to it?

To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro – walking down the street, traveling to work, heading to the store or a child’s school – is unremembered. It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens. It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with.

Will Mancini, co-founder of Auxano, the vision clarity-consulting group I serve on, has written eloquently on the subject. In his book Church Unique, he introduces a principle called “The Kingdom Concept” with references to artist Andrew Wyeth:

 Most artists look for something fresh to paint; frankly, I find that quite boring. For me it is much more exciting to find fresh meaning in something familiar.   – Andrew Wyeth

Mancini goes on:

What’s particularly interesting about Wyeth is that in more than fifty years of painting he never tried to capture a landscape outside of the immediate surroundings of his home in Chadds Ford Pennsylvania, and his family’s summerhouse in Maine.

 Ponder this starling fact for a moment: This man has touched the world with an ability he never exercised outside of his own backyard! His creative mind and brilliant skill, turned loose for ten hours a day and for years on end, can be forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

 It seemed to me that he was doing something inherently visionary, and critically important for ministry leaders to do as well: his ability to observe his immediate surrounding enables him to discover and express meaning in life that other miss.

The role of today’s leaders is to clarify what is already there and help people perceive what has gone unnoticed.  These are the skills needed to lead a Church Unique.

Questions to Ponder

  • How do you observe the all-too-familiar in order to discover new meaning and discern the activity of God that others miss?
  • What do you look for?
  • How can you learn to scrutinize the obvious?
  • What does it mean to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary?
  • How can you lead your church to find exponential impact through a simple and local focus?

A good place to start is simply looking…


The Dangers of Words Getting in the Way of Your Vision

A guest post by Auxano Navigator Bryan Rose

John F. Kennedy from Rice University at the dawn of the Space Age.
Dr. Martin Luther King Junior on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Ronald Reagan in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

All three of these iconic moments share one critical ingredient: words that created worlds. A language of vision has the power to move people to reach the moon, cross racial divides and tear down political walls. But, words can also get in the way.

Auxano has more than 13 years of walking alongside hundreds of church leaders seeking clarity of identity and direction. As a part of this team, I am more aware than ever of how the right vision language, or the lack thereof, can make all of the difference in the world. Here are 3 painful ways that I have seen words get in the way:

1. When there are too few vision words to foster alignment. Your leaders are leading to a vision. If you have not invested time and team resources into articulating identity and direction for your top level of leaders, their vision leadership is siloed and not shared. Conflicting ministry vision always leads to sideways energy and wasted resources. A senior leader with too few words likely spends more time mediating staff conflict than meditating on God’s preferred future. Jesus did not hesitate to paint a clear and detailed picture of the crucifixion, fueling sacrificial alignment in each disciple’s life from Pentecost forward.

2. When the vision words are too generic to inspire hearts. Safe vision language is actually dangerous to the health of your church. We live in a world of competing messages, in which skilled marketing practitioners move your congregation to buy their latest product or vote for their latest candidate. Many leaders fail to realize that their safe, yet sound words, either fly under the radar or over the heads of busy families and distracted people. Jesus never shied away from powerful words that struck the deepest nerve in the hearts of His listeners: “From now on I will make you fishers of men” wasn’t a slick marketing tagline, it was a vibrant and specific picture of His compelling calling.

3. When there are too many vision words to create confidence. The team cannot execute if the play keeps changing. Overhauling your language and vision with every new conference method or leadership mantra leaves your leadership confused. If everything changes every six months, why should they ever be involved to begin with? The fast-following leader’s desire for “new” starts to get old very quickly. Instead, seek to emulate Jesus as He consistently deployed a simple message of faith and repentance, to the point of rejection and ultimately, death.

Vision Headwaters is a two-hour trek designed to safely start the right conversations among your leadership. This engaging tool will calibrate your vision language using challenging assessment questions and memorable church-personality profiles.If you are not sure which, if any, of the above fits your church, you can be sure that the rest of your team does! To employ an honest assessment of your vision language, download your free copy of Auxano’s latest tool for break-thru leaders: The Vision Headwaters TeamUP 

In this TeamUP tool you will:
Unpack your communication baggage in order to properly prepare for the vision journey ahead
Plot your “Trailhead Type” using key waypoints of missional language and church age
Step onto the clarity pathway with experienced trail guides cheering you onward

Don’t continue to let words get in the way of the world God is calling you to create!

Is It True Collaboration… or Is It a Team?

At Auxano, we practice what we preach.


Our primary tool for working with organizations is the Vision Frame, consisting of Mission, Values, Strategy, Measures, and Vision Proper. Before we led the first client through the process over 11 years ago, the original team of Will Mancini, Jim Randall, and Cheryl Marting worked out Auxano’s Vision Frame – which we still follow today.

One of our Values is Collaborative Genius, which is accomplished partly by the fact that we are a virtual company of over 20 team members living in 15 cities across 4 time zones.

I only thought I knew what collaboration meant!

In my adult work career, I have served as the accountant in an office setting for a food services company, an audiovisual technician as part of a team of 7 for a seminary, various roles on 3 church staff teams, a church consultant for a design-build company, and as the Vision Room Curator for Auxano.

That’s 36+ years in an environment of multiple team members, ostensibly working together for the good of the organization.

Was I collaborating with others, or merely part of a team?

Collaboration is not the same thing as teamwork. Teamwork is simply doing your part. Collaboration involves leveraging the power of every individual to bring out each other’s strengths and differences.  – Greg Cox, COO, Dale Carnegie, Chicago

At Auxano, we don’t just do our part, we collaborate to deliver excellence in all we do. Here’s a great example: our book summaries for leaders, called SUMS Remix.

The original concept of SUMS was dreamed up by our founder, Will Mancini. When I joined Auxano as Vision Room Curator, it was natural that the SUMS project fall under my guidance. Working from a curated list of books with a focus on the Vision Frame, I read the designated book and wrote the draft summary with recommended resources. I then oversaw the following process:

  • Proofing by Mike Gammill, a scholar and grammatical genius
  • Navigator Applications written by 4 of our full-time Navigators, applying the concepts to the local church leadership context thru their unique lenspowered by auxano
  • Editing by Cheryl Marting, who has eagle eyes
  • Review editing by Angela Reed, a production editor at our parent company, LifeWay
  • Design by James Bethany and our Creative Team, who produce a visual masterpiece every time
  • Final review and approval by Will

Beginning in the fall of 2012, every two weeks, a SUMS was distributed to the SUMS subscriber list. Practically every day of that two weeks, some of the actions above were taking place within our team as we work on multiple books at the same time.

That’s collaboration.

As we neared the end of our second year of SUMS, Will and I refined a concept that came to be called SUMS Remix. Instead of a single summary of one book, SUMS Remix consists of brief excerpts from three books, focused on providing simple solutions to a common problem statement that ministry leaders are facing every week in their churches.

SUMS Remix launched in November of 2014, and we release an issue every two weeks. And a similar collaboration process described above is still taking place.

The collaboration process for SUMS Remix is very similar to the one above, but on steroids! Because SUMS Remix involves 3 books for every issue, and we have a 5 week production cycle, and we release an issue every two weeks – well, without collaboration, it just wouldn’t – no, couldn’t – happen.

At any given time during that 5-week cycle, books are being read, notes are being taken, drafts are being written, drafts are being revised, additional research is being conducted, finished drafts are being designed, proofs are being reviewed, and the final SUMS Remix issue is being delivered.

That’s collaboration!

Want to see the end product of that collaboration? You can learn more about SUMS Remix here.

Midnight LunchI’m indebted to Sara Miller Caldicott, great grandniece of Thomas Edison and author of the book Midnight Lunch, for translating Edison’s world-changing innovation methods for use in the 21st century. Here are some of her thoughts on collaboration:

True collaboration embraces:

  • A discovery learning mindset versus a pure task orientation
  • A belief in anticipating and creating rather than merely reacting and responding
  • Presence of inspiration across multiple facets of both individual and team endeavors
  • Coherence of purpose
  • A dedication to elevating the performance of every team member
  • Connections to human and social networks of influence

Do these qualities sound different from the ones valued by your team? Do they draw upon ideas that feel new or seem broader than your current concept of what teamwork embraces?

Based on my experience, the answer would be yes.

So what are you going to do about it?



Understanding and Using a Journey Map

Journey maps are documents that visually illustrate the particular range of activities of a Guest over time. Many journey maps plot the entire course of a Guest’s relationship with an organization – all of the steps that Guests take as they discover, evaluate, attend, access, use, get support, and leave – or re-engage – the church. Others zoom in to just one particular part of the journey.

The scope of the journey map, the exact visualization, and the degree of detail it contains vary based on how the organization wants to use it.

Jonathan Browne, Forrester Research

At Auxano, our version of a simple journey map is called “The Seven Checkpoints.” We believe the first place to start is to imagine seven checkpoints for your guest. Think of the checkpoints as “gates” or even “hurdles” that any first time Guest must navigate to get from their comfy family room to your worship service.


With every gate comes a simple question: Has the church removed the inherent difficulty of navigating the gate for the first time? 

More specifically we look for every opportunity to make each gate simple, easy and obvious to navigate.

The Seven Checkpoints

#1 Before Departure: Are directions and service times immediately accessible to Guests from your church website, phone recording and yellow pages (yes – they’re still around!)?

#2 Travel to Location: Do Guests know where to turn into your church location?

#3 Parking Lot: Do Guests know where to park?

#4 Building Entrance: Do Guests know which door to enter?

#5 Children’s Ministry: Do Guests know where to take their kids?

#6 Welcome Center: Do Guests know where to go for more information?

#7 Worship: Do Guests know which door to enter?

These seven checkpoints can be plotted on a graph that illustrates how your Guest ministry is doing: is it simple, easy and obvious where your hospitality creates a WOW! or is it complex, confusing, and frustrating where your Guests cry out “Someone help me now?”

Any particular difficulties created by your location or facility should be viewed as hospitality opportunities. By providing a great solution to an obvious barrier, you enhance the wow-factor of the hospitality.

Have you ever considered creating a journey map for Guests coming to your church?

Part 3 of a multi-part series based on the book Outside In

Outside In

These posts “translate” the world of customer experience to the language and setting of Guest Experiences in the church.


>> Read Part 2

What Does Your Church Brand Say?

What do the following have in common?

Uncle Ben, Charlie the Tuna, Morris the Cat, Tony the Tiger, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the Marlboro Man.

You probably guessed that they are all advertising characters. But did you know they were all created by the same man, Leo Burnett?

In 1943, Burnett met for lunch with Forrest Mars, who had just bought the rights for a new milling process for rice and was looking to market to a wartime economy. Mars had already settled on the name of the product – Uncle Ben’s Converted Brand Rice, named after the owner of the farm that was supplying the rice.

During their lunch, Mars told Burnett he wanted every home in America cooking Uncle Ben’s rice for dinner – even though rice accounted for less than 10 percent of the nation’s starch consumption at the time.

Burnett considered Mars’ ambitious goal, then pointed to the dignified gentleman serving them and said, “If you want everybody eating your rice, you better have somebody real friendly like him serving it.”

Mars took one look at the broad-grinned, slightly balding black man who had been serving them and called him to the table. He made an offer for the man to sit for a portrait, telling him only that he wanted all rights to the picture. The waiter agreed, and in January 1944 Forrest Mars introduced the nation to the now familiar orange box with the picture of “Uncle Ben.”

Burnett believed in selling products with strong yet simple imagery that spoke to people in a friendly manner. His philosophy, later called the “Chicago School,” went on to have a huge impact on American branding.

It’s a great, true story – but what does it mean for leaders in ChurchWorld?

Branding is simply how your church builds relationships with communication tools.

If you want to know more about the concept of branding for churches, start here with an introductory post by Will Mancini on “The Three Branding Strategies for Churches.”

If you want to have a conversation with a talented church design team, learn more about Auxano Design here.

Your church has a brand – even if you don’t know it. Shouldn’t you be the one shaping your brand?

Is Your Church Practicing the 4 Habits Behind a Successful Guest Experience?

I have no talents. I am only passionately curious.   – Albert Einstein

One of the joys of my work at Auxano is that I get to serve in multiple roles. My primary role of Vision Room Curator allows me to thrive in my giftedness of research and curiosity, as I am constantly looking for content that creates break-thru clarity with church teams to realize their vision.

In addition, our value of Carnivorous Learning is demonstrated daily in my research, reading, and curation of the cloud of information available for church leaders.

But when my primary role of Vision Room Curator intersects with my secondary role of Guest Experience Navigator, it’s a really good day.

Today’s Vision Room post “4 Habits Behind a Successful Guest Experience” is a great example of the mashup of my two roles. The post speaks to the idea that a primary factor in creating a great Guest Experience comes down to having great people on your front line teams and training them well.

7-Guest Experience

The post itself stands alone, but I was also able to connect it to our most recent SUMSa free book summary – on Judgment on the Front Line by Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy. The book is essential reading for any church leader whose role involves leading Guest Services, Hospitality, or First Impressions teams. The SUMS is a good introduction, but I encourage you to pick up the book as well.

What makes it a great day is that I get to live out the ideas and thoughts above in a couple of ways: this weekend, I will be conducting a Guest Perspective Evaluation for one of our client churches. Front line interaction is a key indicator of the success of a church’s Guest services. During my evaluation, I will take over 400 images and 3-7 minutes of video, which will be edited into a 2-hour presentation for the senior leadership team the following Monday.

In that presentation, I don’t really have to say much – if “a picture is worth a thousand words,” the several hundred images and a few minutes of video have to be worth a book!

On any given weekend, Auxano Navigators are at a church somewhere across the country making the same kind of evaluations for our clients. It’s a powerful service that we love providing.

Beyond the occasional onsite consultation, I also get to live out my role mashup by serving on a Guest Services team at my church, Elevation Church’s Lake Norman campus. After 4 years as a Guest Services Coordinator at our Uptown campus, I stepped over to the launch of our newest campus in the Lake Norman area to serve on the parking team. (I serve an additional role on the Leadership Development team for the church as a whole, but that’s a story for another day).

My Team Coordinator Skyler and Team Leader Jason have demonstrated an excellent grasp of the 4 activities mentioned in the Vision Room post above:

  1. In spite of intentional preplanning for the launch, they listened to our team’s suggestions each of the following 3 weekends to improve traffic flow, increase pedestrian safety, and make sure our Guests felt welcome at all times.
  2. As Coordinator, Skyler is working with our Boot Camp Team (Elevation’s volunteer enlistment strategy) to make sure Parking Team members have a great attitude.
  3. Our Parking Team – like all Elevation teams – is crystal clear on our purpose, because it’s the same as our church purpose: To reach people far from God so that they might be raised to life in Christ.
  4. Our Team Leader Jason encourages creativity and autonomy – from Ryan who “hooks and lands” VIP (first-time Guests) cars into special parking to Christiana who leads the Lake Norman Taxi Team (golf carts to get our Volunteers from their designated lot 1/3 mile away from the church) to Lindsay whose smile contest makes us all laugh – and smile even bigger.

If you lead or serve on a Guest Services, Hospitality, First Impressions or similarly functioning team, I hope you will click on the links above to read more.

Want to know more? Leave a comment below or use the contact tab above to get in touch with me.


How your front line teams represent themselves – what they do (or don’t do), what they say (or don’t say) – that’s the powerful human “first impression” your Guest is experiencing – and will remember.

The Vision Room Launches Today

Auxano’s Vision Room goes live today.

For almost as long as I have known Will Mancini, he has dreamed of the Vision Room. When I first met him in 2008 at a conference we were both speaking at (courtesy of Karen Butler, editor of Church Solutions magazine), he was talking about it.

In dozens of conversations since then, he has continued to talk about it.

In February of this year, he was still talking about it – and in the same breath, asking me to join Auxano as the Vision Room Curator.

I’m still like a kid in a candy store about that…but, here it is:

You can read Will’s official welcome to the Vision Room here.

You can read my initial take on being the Vision Room Curator here.

Of course, I’m sure that will be changing as the dream has become reality…

But for now, the Vision Room is live and


Come on in, look around, but just don’t be a Guest – register your own MyVisionRoom and let me know what you think.

The Guest Perspective

Along with Network Navigator Jeff Harris, I am onsite this weekend in Houston, TX, conducting Guest Perspective Evaluations for two clients. Jeff and I spent time Saturday cruising the communities around the two churches, conducting a “windshield survey” of the areas.  Even though we have also spent time in the digital world of Google Maps, it’s always great to see and experience first-hand the neighborhoods of the churches we are working with.

On my flight out from Charlotte early Saturday morning, I continued reading Andy Stanley’s newest book Deep and Wide. It’s a great book for a bunch of reasons, but I’m going to pull a few quotes out here for their relevance to what Jeff and I are doing today.

Every Sunday people walk onto your campus and determine whether or not they will return the following week before your preacher opens his mouth. And that’s not fair. But it’s true. The moral of the story: Environment matters.

Environments are the messages before the message. The messages your environments communicate have the potential to trump your primary message.

By the time I (Andy Stanley) stand up to deliver what is traditionally considered the message, everybody in our audience has already received a dozen or more messages.

The quality, consistency, and personal impact of your ministry environments define your church. To put it another way, your environments determine what comes to mind when people think about your church.

I think we should determine the messages our environments communicate. We should choose the messages before the message. It’s our responsibility to shape the way people view our local churches.

The moment a church, or even a group of leaders within a church, catches a vision for capturing the hearts and imaginations of those who consider themselves unchurched or dechurched, environments take on new significance.

The longer you’ve served where you are and the longer you’ve done what you are currently doing, the more difficult it will be for you to see your environments with the objectivity needed to make the changes that need to be made. The shorter version: Time in erodes awareness of.

Every one of your ministry environments is being evaluated every week. Based on that evaluation, some people choose not to return. Additionally, every volunteer and staff member is evaluating the success of his or her particular environment against some standard. If you don’t define what excellence looks like for your staff and volunteers, they will define it for themselves. And when you don’t like what you see, you will only have yourself to blame.

Stanley’s words are a powerful reminder of just how important your Guest Experience is.

I’ve got my talking points for the Guest Perspective Evaluation with the Executive Team:

Environment matters.

Time in erodes awareness of.

Those phrases, with several hundred images and about 5-7 minutes of video, will make for a very interesting time come Monday morning.

Washington DC Walking Tour

I was in Washington DC for the “Greening America’s Congregations” Conference on September 13. The conference was held at the Executive Office Building next to the White House, and concluded with a reception at the National Cathedral that evening. As I am a history buff, I took advantage of being in DC by staying an extra day and taking a quick one-day walking tour of some of my favorite memorials and museums.

Here are just a few of my favorite photos:

The US Capitol


The Wright Brother’s First Airplane at the National Air & Space Museum


US Air Force Predator, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – my son is a Sensor Operator on the updated version, the Reaper


US Capitol viewed through 2 of the 50 flags encircling the Washington Monument, being flown at half-staff in honor of the deaths of US Embassy staff


The Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool


Wall of 4,048 gold stars at the WWII Memorial, each one representing 100 Americans who gave their lives for freedom


The Lincoln Memorial


A tribute left at the Viet Nam Memorial


President Obama flying from the White House on Marine One


Vision Clarity at the White House