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It’s Time to Change. No, Really. It Is.

December 6, 2012 in Featured

I recently read an article in one of the national broadcast publications I receive that made me stop and consider its relevance in the Christian world, most specifically, to the church at large.  It was about how larger, successful companies understood the danger of status quo and what they do to avoid plateauing. It spoke about how they remain relevant in an ever-changing world. In short, the article said that great companies and organizations know the importance of cannibalizing themselves before other companies eat them up. Not really “church speak,” but allow me to share the association I made from this article.

First, let me say this; while many church leaders avoid publicly speaking in these terms, most of them understand that their church is absolutely in competition with the church down the street. It may not be crafted in an “eat you up” strategy, but make no mistake, churches that understand how to compete for the available demographic will put churches that don’t into financial stress – to a point where the lack-of-money will end up dictating their ministry decisions. The very place from which the devil wants us to operate -  on earthly terms, not heavenly.

Here’s what the article made me realize most vividly.  Change for the sake of change is important if you want to remain relevant and grow the value of your organization. Simply put, if the culture you’re trying to attract is changing (and they all change) then your method of reaching those people must change. Notice, I did not say the church’s message must change. But if we do not aggressively seek change and mold-breaking ways of operating and delivering our message, the decline in churches will continue at a faster and faster rate.

Working in the broadcast and marketing industry since the age of 12 (wow, 38 years can fly by when you enjoy what you do) I have seen companies launch, re-launch, and re-launch again. Often, because they’d fought change and fell behind, making a re-launch necessary for all the wrong reasons. But the MOST successful business re-launches were birthed from a conscious, intentional and singular purpose. They wanted to shake things up in order to be noticed by the new generation that was now in the bulls eye of their demographic profile.

One of the most famous re-launches was the New Coke project. Not only did Coca Cola have the vision to see the end result of their well-crafted hoax, but they had the sheer guts to change the very product that made them the #1 brand in the world. They re-launched it as something completely different. And while many people today argue that it wasn’t as much a vision as it was a mistake, it’s probably safe to say most of those people are not risk takers or visionaries. Coke calculated the benefits of change for the sake of change, in order to gain a larger share of the marketplace. And since taking that risk, has never relinquished their hold on #1.

Another truth from the business world that the church needs to consider is that revolutions, or large scale shifts in success, don’t happen with small, safe, incremental change or by making things only a little better, a little at a time.  Positive and successful revolutions happen by upsetting the status quo to the point of upsetting some of their core consumers who helped them get to the top, even though everything is currently working and productive. The author of the article puts it this way: “Revolutionary businesses seek ways to deliver their product to customers in better ways, and work to disrupt… to make their offer more attractive.”

What this means to the church is clear. We must stop trying to satisfy the traditions of our past at the expense of reaching the future.  Instead, we must start growing at the expense of those who resist growth, if that’s what it takes to reach the new generation. Too many pastors and church leaders are confused. They believe that traditions are equivalent to the message. Some have even blurred the line between traditions and the very Message of Jesus Christ. But God warns about this too often throughout scripture and his promise for demise is clear. We simply cannot worship tradition and expect to satisfy God.

I’ll conclude by saying that the traditions I’m speaking of are not always the same as Doctrines and tenants of faith. And we should continue to support the traditions that help us uphold the precepts of God, like: giving, taking care of widows and the hungry, observing the Sabbath, worshiping in spirit and truth, etc. But if we’re afraid to change how our message is delivered or packaged, then we will become to the lost what the Edsel became to the automotive consumer – irrelevant and more-of-the-same-ol. As most economists agree, Ford’s aim was right at first, but when the target moved, the company failed to move. Even though our message inside the church offers a better ride than any car on the market, no one will ever know unless we meet them where they are and entice them to open the door and step inside.  And that takes change, and the courage to make it. Whether you think it’s necessary or not, chances are, it is.

Side note: Anyone who knows me knows I’m a proponent of change. I have never fought it and try to always welcome it. I find it keeps me honest and on my toes. I used to have a boss that would say, “Smith, we’re not going to make a change just for the sake of making a change.” Notice I said, “used to have a boss…” :)

REACH BAND Videos

November 8, 2012 in Featured, For Worship Leaders, Uncategorized, Worship Team

Each time we mix a new video, you’ll find it here!

WE STAND (remix)

BRANDING YOUR CHURCH: Jesus Christ & Mickey Mouse

April 25, 2012 in Featured

(This article was first written more than 3 years ago. I thought it was more relevant today than then, so here it is again.)

When All Praise Ministries began in 1998, we not only worked with churches on music, but also spent some time working with pastors on some of the more intangible aspects of the church. From critiquing their sermons, to helping them with the overall marketing of the church. We would delve into nearly every aspect of the inner workings of the organization. Over the next 4 years, we did lots of research, and worked directly with about 20 churches. As a result, we came up with a four-point recipe for successful churches. Branding, Engagement, Commitment and Endurance – all measured by the congregation’s definition of success, which is (1) attendance, and (2) conversions.

BRANDING is essential to any product. And make no mistake about it, churches have a product – the most incredible product ever presented to the World, Jesus Christ.  But we can learn a lot from the worldly masters like Coke and Starbucks, who understand that being top-of-mind is everything. They are the best at selling the brand and tattooing their product’s brand on the consumer’s mind. They are tremendously consistent with how their brand is presented and sold. From print advertising to radio and TV – even the signage at the Point of Sale – is all created and presented with a unified mission to brand the same message over and over.

In church, we often find bulletins, billboards, street signs, hand outs, all using different logos, tag lines, messages, images, etc, creating a confusing and mangled message that, to many people says, “no one here is in charge and we have no clue who we are.” Branding isn’t made up of a single idea, but a single lifestyle. When you go to Disney World, everyone who works there believes in Mickey. Employees are referred to as “Cast Member.” Every cast member believes in the power of “the ears.” Mickey’s ears are everywhere. Employees understand their power over kids and parents. Ask the same question to a hundred Disney employees and you’ll get the exact same answer from every single one of them. From “where’s the bathroom” to “what’s the best ride in the whole park?” Every answer is scripted, rehearsed and required.  Is Mickey Mouse and a dead creator worth more of a branding effort than a church and Jesus Christ?   Do the deacons, ushers, leaders and members know what you stand for? Would they have the same answer to questions like, “what is your church’s mission statement?” Or, “how can my 13 year old get involved?” Chances are Disney is more organized than most churches….and all for the sake of a mouse.

Effective branding also requires a target. The most successful churches in America today know who they are going after. It’s important that you target the most available segment of the population in your area, not just people who look like you, or the low hanging fruit. Does your community have a high black or Hispanic population? If so, do you have someone from those races on your team and in charge of reaching out to them? Are you targeting upper middle class white families because that’s what YOU are, or because that’s the makeup of your community? Targeting and branding go hand in hand. One is useless without the other.

ENGAGEMENT is arguably the most important step in creating long-term success.  Engagement covers a lot of areas, but what does it mean in terms of churches?  We all know that congregants who just show up on Sunday morning to be fed are typically more of a liability than an asset to our mission. We also know that many psychologists agree with The Bible — that the number one desire of a person is companionship.  We were not made to experience life alone, nor were we created to experience God alone. Churches who fail to engage their congregation into active discipleship don’t grow. And as the saying goes, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”  Unfortunately, many churches waste time engaging people into meaningless subgroups whose goals may or may not be the same as the church’s overall mission, and do not develop followers of Christ.  Women’s groups, Men’s groups, Wednesday night suppers, bible studies, the declining traditional Sunday school model, and even quilting groups (yes, I said quilting) can be ineffective relics of days gone by and in many churches rarely provide a two-way means of communication and engagement, as people who attend these are typically involved in activity that doesn’t reach the lost in the community, but instead caters to the members of that group. They may even be big monetary givers, but they aren’t reaching out past their sub group to usher in a new generation of sinners and subsequently leading them towards Christ. This needs to change.

In 1999, we helped a church conduct a study of its 27 different ministry groups. By the way, this church had only 400 members.  We asked a lot of questions, found a lot of issues and made a lot of changes. The biggest change was the church cut 27 ministries down to 8. In the six months prior to the change, the church recorded 9 conversions through baptism and had 4 new families who joined the church. The following 8 months after the changes, that same church had 36 baptisms, and 8 new families. The conclusion? If everyone is focusing on ministries that don’t reach out into the community, but only exist to serve the members of the church, the church dies. But those who are willing to kill ineffective ministries, live and grow.  Engagement can not only be between believers. It MUST reach past the four walls of the church and make fully devoted followers of Christ. It is the suggestion of All Praise that your church look at all “programs” and groups, and decide which ones are creating a true two-way engagement between saint and sinner. Keep and nourish those. Kill the others. Immediately.

COMMITMENT.  To accomplish a consistent brand and create active, God-pleasing engagement, it takes total commitment. It starts with the lead pastor and/or the board of men and women who direct him  The leaders of the church must have a clear vision, a consistent brand, a plan to engage the people in Christ-centered activity, but must also be completely sold out to those causes. All Praise preaches that the path towards Excellence starts when we remove obstacles that keep us from our goals, and continues when we add things along our journey that help steer us towards our goals. Until the leaders come together and commit to removing obstacles (i.e. the ineffective sub groups) God’s desired potential for your church may not be realized. By the way, the 19 sub groups that were killed in the church referenced above, were ended on one day, with one statement from the pastor and the other leaders of those groups. It was never up for discussion among the attendees, nor was there “one more meeting to say goodbye.” They died a quick death and the church started growing immediately.

ENDURANCE is required to get through the first three points above. Especially after groups are put to death. We must endure the slow times. There’s a new startup period that begins when a new direction is forged. And we must be committed to getting through the tough times to experience the rewards of a well-focused mission. Through the years, we’ve found churches who were willing to downsize their programs, found a new level of buy in from their remaining members – those who didn’t complain, pout or leave – became more engaged and became leaders in the efforts to reach out past the church walls. More leaders, more saved, more members, more people living for Christ. That’s the purpose of The Church.

All Praise Ministries can help you with the target and the branding of your Church. We can help you engage the members in a unified effort to reach the lost. We can coach you through the process of getting total buy in and commitment from your team, and we want to help you endure the hard times. If your church isn’t creating more salvations today than you were 5 years ago, there’s a reason. And most likely it’s because leadership and members are not on the same page. Lets work together to put Christ in a position above Mickey Mouse.  Let All Praise Ministries help you become the church God wants you to be.

Two More Tips For Worship Leaders

March 29, 2012 in Featured, For Worship Leaders

This post is for Worship Leaders who are responsible for the majority of the elements involved in a worship service. Lets face it, the number of churches with a dedicated Technology Director is somewhere around 2% of all churches, and less than half of those have a fulltime Worship Arts/Media staff.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re not in that 2%.  But even if you are, there are things you need to pay closer attention to. Here are two of them:

How Your Services Look. At my church, our lead and associate pastors have input into all we do. But at the end of the day, they empower me to determine how our stage, room and presentations look.  Effective Worship Leaders probe and seek out solutions to achieve the feel and the look of a service they want.  What technology or materials do you need in order to pull off an idea with excellence? What do you have in your inventory that you could be using differently to achieve better results? Who, on your staff or in your congregation can help you implement these ideas?  Successful leaders are never satisfied. They constantly anticipate change and lead others through that change. We should constantly look for ways to move our services forward with new or existing equipment and tools. And with today’s plethora of inexpensive gear and material, there is never a good reason for the look or sound of your service to become stagnant. Remember, we do not compete with other churches, but with movies, podcasts, Youtube videos, gaming and creative services suites, which come standard on nearly every computer in the world. Your product is being compared to every form of entertainment they’ve been exposed to throughout the week. Why would we allow THE MOST IMPORTANT MESSAGE IN THE WORLD to fall short of their expectations? Unless you believe the new Pepsi message is more important than the New Testament message, your Sunday service’s production value should be on par with the best commercials, TV shows and movies your congregation is exposed to every day. Lets not allow what we can’t do, get in the way of what God wants us to do. Get creative. Find a way. Don’t settle.

 How Your Services Sound: Even though our church is blessed with a seasoned Tech Director and an awesome FOH guy, the sound that comes off that stage is still under my authority. Every entity has a message. In the church, ours is Jesus. It’s our job to make sure the message of Jesus is heard clearly. But almost as important, is that the message-in-song be presented consistently.  People want to know what to expect in your service. Sure, specific elements of surprise within a service are necessary, such as using a rapper in the middle of a well-known song, but The Three Ms – Music, Mix and Message – need to be consistent from week to week.  Does your band have an identity via their core sound? If I heard a recording of your worship team, could I identify them in the first three notes (think Lincoln Brewster)?  Or do you sound like everyone else? Do you understand audio mixing methods and have a grasp on the processing & effects tools that are currently in your arsenal to pull off the sound you desire? If not, start learning. Pull in experts in your area to give you advice and tips on creating a consistent sound that helps you deliver God’s message in a way that people will accept, respond to and tell their friends about. God’s message deserves to be heard in a relevant and compelling way. Your mix is crucial to the success of that goal.

 Much of this is no-brainer reminders of everything you already know. But many of you will read these two points and realize you need to pay more attention to the look and sound of your service. Below are a few websites you can use to move you ahead and get you out of any rut you may have been stuck in. Of course, if you need some one-on-one consulting, All Praise Ministries can help you with that as well. Hit us up and lets start discussing your specific situation and find a solution that works for you!

 Blessings,

Jimmy Smith

RESOURCES for How You Look:
I like to visit websites and look for thought starters. Here are some sites that have plenty of ideas for staging.
Church Stage Design Ideas
Staging Concepts

Concept Design Productions

There are too many sources for live sound for me to dare list them all here.
We can help you find a qualified sound consultant in your area. Just give us a call.

How to Attract and Retain Great Musicians

March 27, 2012 in Featured, Worship Team

I get asked all the time, “how do you find such great musicians.” And while my answers have always been straight forward and to-the-point, I’m still disappointed to see their reaction to my answers:

  1.  Be Great!  Greatness attracts greatness. If you’re a mediocre leader or musician, chances are the great players will not want to be on your team. Ok, ok. So you’re not great, but still need solid musicians. Fine, call people you know who are great at what they do.  Don’t know anyone like that?  Then hit the social trail and tell everyone in the whole wide world that you have a need and want the best of the best to audition. It’s more time consuming than a great reference, but may be your only shot at this point.
  2. Take Care of Your Musicians! This one is a no brainer, yet the second most rejected piece of advice I give on this subject. Musicians are typically “different” than most others on a church staff. And typically the lowest paid as well. The LEAST you can do to help compensate them for their time is to provide three simple  staples: Food, Water, Rest.  You’ll be surprised how eager musicians become to serve with you on a full stomach and a rested body. At every rehearsal, we feed our team. And we feed them WELL!  Not just pizza or sub sandwiches, but Chicken or Steak, Mashed potatoes or Mac and Cheese, green beans or Corn. I’m talking, a Southern heart-attack-on-a-plate meal! We eat for thirty minutes, chat about the music a little and then rehearse. Talk about getting your team there on time? This will help!
  3. Pay them!  By the way, THIS is the #1 most-rejected piece of advice I give. But you pay your pastor, your youth director, your janitor! Do you expect more of a commitment from the unrewarded? You get what you give. “Musician” is typically the one position that  requires a high-level, single-minded skill set. Yet, many expect them to offer those skills for free in the name of The Lord.  God wants YOU to be fair to everyone on your ministry team. He also wants you to reach for excellence.

By implementing one or all of these steps, you increase your chances of finding, retaining and multiplying great musicians for your church. Talk about these in your next staff meeting and let me know how it goes! Until then, if you need a leader, musician or singer for a worship service, All Praise Ministries can help. We know a lot of GREAT players and singers for hire. But if you ever want to use them again, you’d better treat them well.