Answer the Phone!

Several years ago the Barna Research Group conducted a study to determine the general accessibility of church representatives to people who contacted the church by telephone. The results indicated that personal contact was never established in 40 percent of the churches called, in spite of multiple call backs. Of those churches in which no one answered, almost half didn’t  have a voice mail system or answering machine to record messages ( from Simply Strategic Stuff, Stevens and Morgan).

This statistic is a few years old, so I’m sure the numbers have gone up – but the implication is still there nonetheless:

We don’t care enough to answer the phone.

What an indictment on the church’s ability to respond to the needs of our communities!

We need to make it as easy as possible for people to connect with our churches. Even if you are unable to hire someone or recruit volunteers to answer phones, most phone systems today have the capability to provide voice mail or call-forwarding services so no call goes unanswered.

Even if you already have a system in place, don’t assume it always works as intended. As a ChurchWorld leader, you should get in the habit of periodically trying to call your church to see how the systems are working.

  • How long does it take for someone to pick up the phone?
  • Are you placed on hold? If so, for how long?
  • Does the voice mail system operate properly?
  • Are you ever inadvertently cut off?

Once you receive calls, you must be prepared to respond to them. Do you have systems in place for emergency care and counseling? When people leave voice mail messages, are they responded to promptly?

Here’s my biggest phone pet peeve of all: of all days to have a “live” person answering the phone, Sunday mornings (from an hour before to an hour after your services) is the most critical time.

Think a live voice is a thing of the past in today’s high-tech world? Think again:

There’s a lot of buzz these days about social media and “integration marketing.” Our belief is that as unsexy and low-tech as it may sound, the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer’s undivided attention for 5 or 10 minutes, and if you get the interaction right, the customer remembers the experience for a very long time and tells his or her friends about it. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

These first impressions communicate a lot. If people have initial encounters filled with frustration because they can’t successfully maneuver through your phone system, they’ll quickly assume your church isn’t capable of helping them.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the message you’re trying to communicate.



The Dead Horse Award

When is the last time you recognized someone who stopped doing something?

It’s a natural no-brainer to recognize and reward someone who effectively expands ministry efforts – that’s a positive and encouraging sign for others to emulate.

At the same time, it’s also a rewarding practice to acknowledge leaders who ends a program or ministry that is ineffective or not aligned with your church’s mission or strategy. Don’t get caught in “the way we’ve always done it that way” trap. Instead, encourage people to ask whether or not it’s best to continue a particular ministry or program.

Tim Stevens, Executive Pastor at Granger Community Church near South Bend, IN, lists some ministry ideas and programs they have ENDED at Granger:

  • Gen-X weekend services
  • Intensive Bible Studies for students as primary outreach
  • Building committees
  • 8 AM Sunday services
  • Classes as primary adult-discipleship programs
  • Twelve-week membership classes

He stated that some of the above programs or ideas had minimal initial success, but all of them ended up having little impact. That’s not to suggest they won’t work in a different ministry environment, because there are successful examples of all of the above. They just weren’t working for Granger, so they pulled the plug.

As with all major changes, ending an existing program or ministry requires communication, time and prayer, but can definitely pay dividends for your church in the long run.

One side benefit of rewarding people who stop dead programs is that it encourages people to take risks. Your team will soon learn that it’s okay to try out a new approach to see if it will be successful. If it doesn’t work, you can just stop doing it. This helps create a culture in which change is not only tolerated, it’s expected. People will get very creative if they know you’re going to reward their attempts to bring about positive change, whether that change is successful or not.

If you’ve got a “dead horse,” it’s time to dismount.

–          Adapted from “Simply Strategic Stuff,” by Tim Stevens and Tony Morgan

001…Licensed to…Steal?

Bond…James Bond. You know – the British secret agent with the 00 designation, licensed to kill.

That was only in Ian Flemings spy novels from the 50s, translated into the super successful movie series that started in 1962 and is still cranking out a movie every few years.

There is another license that church leaders ought to consider – a license to “steal” other churches stuff. Let me explain…

I heard it first while attending a conference at Saddleback in the early 90’s – Rick Warren told the audience, “If my bullet fits your gun, then shoot it.” Tim Stevens, Executive Pastor at Granger Community Church, and writing in his book “Simply Strategic Stuff,”  puts it this way: “Visit other churches and steal their stuff,” and “Don’t worry about being original.”

This doesn’t mean you need to turn your brain off and blindly copy every innovative and creative element from churches that are having success. If you do just that, you will probably – no, certainly – be unhappy with the results. But there is a way to learn from others, framed nicely in this phrase:

Learn all you can about the principles from others, but then apply them in the context of your own setting and organization.

We need to figure out the best way we can to communicate the power of God’s Word to an increasingly skeptical potential audience. If that means hopping in a car with your leadership team and driving across town (or across the country) to visit and learn from another church – then do it. There are lots of churches (of all sizes) across the countries who have already figured out how to be effective in an area that you want to know more about. Learn from them! You can be innovative without being original.

Sometimes the most innovative idea for your church is something that was borrowed from somewhere or someone else. Stevens says that “most of our ideas come from taking someone else’s idea and making it work for us. We Grangerize it. That is, we make it work for our culture, and that is okay with us. If we can use the idea to impact our community, why does it matter if it is an already-been-used idea from LifeChurch or Willow Creek. Most churches need to get over themselves and just figure out what works.”

Of course, I’m writing this with a little tongue-in-cheek. If you quote from a message or book, give credit to the author. If you reprint published material or copy something, get permission first.

Just don’t think you have to dream up everything you want to do yourself.

Be the “secret agent” you’ve always wanted to be look for ideas and practices that are working somewhere else.

Learn what and why, and then apply the principles at your place.

Who knows – you may even get a YouTube video made out of your “theft.”