How to Survive the Summer as a Church Plant

As Memorial Day flew past us here in Florida it reminded us that summer is here. School is now out and the attendance on Sunday really showed :-) This is only our second summer as a church and I was thinking about some tips for surviving the summer as a church plant. Things are just different so I hope no matter what the size of your church these might fuel some creative thought:

Tip #1 - Put out fewer seats
Most of you meet in rented facilities or in ones that you can control the number of seats. If that is you then try putting out 25% fewer seats. Obviously, you want to keep some back ups ready to go at a moments notice, but put out fewer chairs. This does a couple things. It gives the illusion that you are still full and it is exciting when you have to take out chairs. One of the worst feelings in being in a room that is 1/2 full. Don't kill the feeling of momentum by having too many chairs in the summer. It also says something to your people when they see the ushers scrambling to set out more chairs. It says, "Wow! We have a big crowd today." I can't even tell you how many times we have had people comment on the crowd when it is no where near our high attendance. All because we first set out fewer chairs.

Tip #2 - Watch your bottom end
No, I am not talking about your butt. I'm talking about where the bottom of your attendance is. For us our bottom end has steadily grown from 30, 50, 70, and now about 90. In the summer you are not going to break any attendance barriers. But, if your bottom end is higher that means you have actually grown!

Tip #3 - Stress personal invites
Most of the time you don't do a lot of promotion in the summer. So make it a weekly habit of stressing to your people from the stage and in e-mail to BRING SOMEONE with them each week. Summer is a great time to connect people, but it takes the invites. Raise that bar in the summer at your church.

Tip #4 - Have a 4th of July picnic
Take advantage of the family and fun feel of Independence Day weekend. Last year our highest attendance day in the summer was July 4th weekend. Why? We had a picnic right on the grounds after the service. We got one of those inflatable games for the kids and just had fun being a church.

Tip #5 - Cast the vision
Summer is a great time to re-cast the vision of your church. It is a time to rally the troops around a common cause in the fall. Maybe it's a second service. Maybe it's a new children's environment. Maybe it's new small groups. Maybe it's moving to a new location in the fall. Find something and rally people around the cause.

Tip #6 - Relax your service
We do a lot of creative stuff at Church of the Suncoast in our services. We use a lot of media. In the summer relax a little and maybe do a little less. Allow yourself to just breathe. Keep the excellence there, but maybe scale back the creative stuff. Creative thinking is the most draining!

Tip #7 - Don't let camp happen on a Sunday
We are doing our first MS & HS camp this summer and I made it clear we can't have it overlap with the weekend service. It's all about Sunday and you need those young people there. Schedule camp during the week. For us that is another 15-20 butt's in seats.

Tip #8 - Take a Sunday off
I know as a church plant this seems like an impossibility, but this summer I am going to do just that. I'm just not going to show up one Sunday. AND, DON'T ANNOUNCE IT the week before. That is stupid. Just don't show up. Find a guy from a friends church that maybe does the student ministry or the college ministry or is a teaching pastor and give them a shot at your church. Make sure they fit the vision and values of your place, but do it. Use your volunteers and trust them with things. Take some time off.

I hope these tips have fueled some thoughts of your own. Summer doesn't have to be death for your church. Just step back and ask yourself, "What can I do the maximize the circumstances?" Let me know what you come up with. Have a great summer.

(2) New Video Resources

I am constantly looking for new ways to use media and video in services. I don't think we have ever had a service at the Suncoast where we didn't use this powerful tool. I came across this new site that has a lot of really cool FREE videos. We are using one this weekend as we wrap up our "Reenergize Your Life" series:

Church Tech Talk

I also came across a new place where you can buy 10 - 15 second stock video clips. Since google seems to be stopping the ability to download theirs this is a great tool for backdrops and message intro videos. Plus you can pick one up for only $5:


If you know of any other great video sites let me know and I'll post them here on the Church Insider.

Staff Meetings for a Church Plant

Today we have our bi-monthly staff meeting so here is what I will be doing for those out there that might be wondering what we do as a church plant with mostly volunteer and part time staff. Church planters e-mail me for more detailed info:

What stories do you have from the past two weeks that let you know we are still accomplishing our purpose of helping people take their next steps with God?

Relevant Environments
It takes all three of these ingredients to create relevant environments for God to work. So was the: A) CONTEXT appealing , B) PRESENTATION engaging, C) CONTENT helpful???

Staying Blessed
Three things keep people positioned for blessing and favor: Purity, Maturity, & Unity. So:

Have you been running from temptation?
How have your quiet times been?
How is your financial giving?
Who have you invited to church recently?
What negative conversations have you squelched?

Ministry Reports
What is going on in your area of ministry? What do we need to know?

Book Look
We will be going over "The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team" part 1.

Sunday (5.20) in the Rearview

Some random thoughts:
  • We had a decent crowd of 103. (Wow, it is cool to be able to say a decent day is 103... this time last year that would have been amazing. 13 + months into a church from scratch and we can have a decent day of 103... From 10 people in my living room with no idea how we would pull this off to today. Cool stuff. Go God!)
  • We did a Queen song in church. (Actually, it was the My Chemical Romance version of "Under Pressure") I think we had the vocals too low and we should have had some backup singers. Our little band did a great job though considering they don't get much practice! Try pulling off worship & special music in a 45 minute practice :-) I wish I was that talented.
  • Next weekend is Memorial Day and the beginning of summer in our area. It will be interesting to see how low we go this summer. Last year we dropped our numbers in 1/2!!! We started in April, had about 6 good weeks and then summer hit. If you are thinking about launching a church in the Spring THINK AGAIN!!!
  • Next week we will be making a big announcement about our future (I hope).
  • The message went well. Very few times as a communicator will you walk off the stage and feel good about things. This was one of those rare times (even though my big joke bombed)
  • God is going to do something big this fall at the Suncoast! It's building and I can feel it.

How to Deal with Negative People (Part 2)

Last time I said the first thing to do is DON'T GET DOWN IN THE MUD WITH THEM. Here is something to DO:

DO ASK GOD IF THERE IS ANY TRUTH IN IT. About 50% of the criticism I have received over the years has had some element of truth to it. I have heard some guys say there is always truth to it, but I really don't think that is the case. Either that or they have never met some of the whack jobs I have. Starting a church brings out the whack jobs! See if there is any truth. Then, and this is the tricky part, you have to separating that little element of truth from the emotion and the hurt in the rest of the criticism. Here are some tips for doing that:
  • Don't read anonymous letters! If you open a letter and there is not return address or name at the bottom throw it away before you even glance over it. If they don't have the guts to put their name then you don't need to read that. The same goes for anonymous e-mails.
  • Delete critical e-mails. Once you have read an e-mail or letter that has been signed, and you have prayed to see if there is any truth, delete the e-mail! Don't keep it around just to stumble back on one day. Delete! It feels good...

DON'T GIVE PEOPLE AN OPEN FORUM. Whenever you are doing something that has anything to do with the vision or direction of the church NEVER open the floor for questions! All it takes is one person going negative to ruin everything that you just worked for. Tell people that if they have questions or comments to please come up to you one-on-one after the gathering or service.

DO NIP NEGATIVITY IN THE BUD. This is something none of us like because we want people to like us. We are human too. We want people to think we are a good guy or gal. BUT, we can never let that get in the way with nipping negativity in the bud. I mean confronting people who you know have been going negative. Here is an idea I just recently came across at our last Growing Healthy Churches Network:

Have your financial person send you a weekly report of everyone that gave and how much. If you are uncomfortable knowing what everyone gave I would say first to get over it. The Bible tells us there are people who have the gift of giving. Would you not want to know who had the gift of evangelism or helps? BUT, if you just can't get over it at least get a copy of everyone that gave. Then if you see someone that stops their regular giving (and they haven't lost their job or something) you can almost be certain they have gone negative. And, if you let it go they will affect the social circle around them!

Negativity is a cancer that has to be cut out! You wouldn't think a little bit of cancer was an OK thing in your body so why let a little of it in the Body of Christ? Let people know in loving ways they are free to find a church where they can buy into the vision and values of what is going on. Free people up to leave your church!!! You need a big front door and you need a backdoor. Not a big one... but you need one for the people that go negative on you. Don't let even a little negativity to stay in your church. If they can't support you then let them leave (OR ask them to leave if you have to).

People who go negative will 9 times out of 10 never be able to come under your authority and leadership. If you let them leave well you help them find a new place to belong and you free your church up to seat more people who can buy into your church.

One last thing. The people who will go negative the most... Christians! Most of the time if someone has taken their first steps with God at your church they are on board. It's the believers from other churches that will give you the most trouble. They have all that church baggage they bring in. They say things like, "At my old church..." When you hear that run!

How to Deal with Negative People (PART 1)

I was wondering how long it would take before the honeymoon was over in this church plant and it looks like a little over a year. At least I am just now beginning to hear the rumblings of negativity from within. I'm sure that means they have been there longer. Hmmm...

So this week I want to talk about how to deal with negative people. The only way you won't have to deal with negative people is if you never do anything. As long as you play it safe and do things along the status quo no one will ever go negative on you. BUT, if you are planting a church my guess is that is one of the reasons you are planting. You can't stand the thought of doing another year of ministry in the status quo. Bottom line: You will be criticized and complained about! (Encouraging right?)

Negativity is a disease. And if it is left unchecked will eat away at the very foundation of your ministry. In a church planting context this can be especially devastating because negativity will come from the place you least expected it. Those brave souls that first started this venture with you will be the first to go negative.

Why? Because they have the big fish, little pond syndrome. In the beginning they were a big fish in a little pond. They had your ear. They could get to you. They felt like their opinion mattered. Move past 100 people and start bringing on some staff and BOOM. They are no longer the "leaders" of the church and they have become a little fish in a big pond. Sound harsh? Just ask any planter and they will tell you the first people to bail on them were the founding members.

So what do you do? How do you deal with negative people? How do you keep from grumbling under your breath every time you see them? Just one piece of this today and the rest you will have to come back for:

First: DON'T GET DOWN IN THE MUD WITH THEM! That is what they want. They want you to open up a dialogue with them and waste precious ministry time chasing negativity. Stay above the fray! You will never convince them or be able to explain things to their satisfaction. You will never be able to give them enough facts or explain the vision clearly enough. Thank them for their input but don't get in the middle of it and think you have to defend yourself or explain yourself. Stay above the fray! Read the story of Nehemiah and how he handled his critics. That will be some good reading until PART 2 of how to handle negative people.

5.13 Rearview (Update)

Just had a chance to look at the report from Sunday and had two more things to share:
  • We had 2 people take their first step with God!!!
  • We had 16 first time guests!!! (Which was a good thing since we had a ton of regulars not there for Mother's Day)

Mother's Day '07 in the Rearview

Yesterday was a lot of fun. We of course celebrated Mother's Day at the Suncoast. We had two adorable little kids give each mom / woman a flower. We also had a special prayer time for moms and a really funny video.

We also kicked off a new series called "Reenergize Your Life." I had a creative contest here on the Church Insider and my wife won the prize, "Nepotism, nepotism..." So, Cheryl will get a $5 Starbucks card and you can too if you read below and send me a creative idea that we use in the next two weeks.

Here are some more thoughts:
  • I have never seen people come to church as late as this week. When the countdown clock stopped at 10:02 we had 12 people in the seats!!! By the end of the service we had 98...? Did anyone else have this happen this week?
  • We were down this week which was a bit of a surprise. Usually Mother's Day is your last big crowd before Summer. This was one of our lowest crowds in the past 6 weeks?
  • Our tech guys keep getting better and better. Media Shout crashed hard about 20 minutes before the service and we didn't have a chance to practice. BUT, they nailed it. Sound, media, lights... all perfect.
  • We have a great group of volunteers!!!
  • The service went about 10 minutes over last week so this week I promised to be 5 minutes shorter. During my talk I kept rushing things and never felt comfortable with it. Don't think I will ever make that promise again :-)
  • Everyone seemed dead this week. I think our 3 key laughers were not there so everyone else was afraid to break the silence. Either that or my jokes really sucked?
  • It takes a long time to get a Diet Coke flat. I used an illustration of how so many of our lives have lost their energy, their fizz, their carbonation and then I shook up a bottle of Coke and opened it on people. It was flat though to make the point... It took me 3 days to get the dumb thing flat enough to pull that off.
  • I don't know what God is up to right now with this church, but I think we are going to have a big fall here at the Suncoast.

Assimilation @ the Suncoast (Part 2)

Earlier this week I shared about our assimilation process at Church of the Suncoast. I said that assimilation begins in the parking lot. Read below for more info.

Here is what happens after the weekend is over (assuming your service is something people want to come back for):

Communication Cards are Processed
We use a communication card at the Suncoast. It is a 3 x 6 inch card that we print and ask everyone to fill out. We have blanks or boxes for: Name, address, phone, e-mail (make sure you leave enough room for long e-mails), are they married, did they spouse come today, do they have kids, are they here, & is this your first, second, or third time. It also has a "next step" section to the right for decisions for Christ, baptism, serving, volunteering, and small groups.

On Monday these cards are processed and put into our database (we used to use Outlook so don't freak out about this and spend more cash than you have to). We track first time guests, and second time guests. We also keep track of the "next steps" that are checked. All of this information is then sent to me on a 1-page report that has all the first time guests names, addresses, along with second time guests and the "next steps" people took.

I Send a Hand Written Note
For every first time guests we have I write a little 3 x 5 size hand written note. Yes it is hand written! This is another part of the WOW factor. It is only a few lines and I always include these things:

Thank you for coming
Come see us again soon
Some invite cards
A $5 gift card to Starbucks (or a gas card)

I know that seems like a lot of time and money to keep up but think about this. You have already spent all this cash on promotion to get them there. Why not spend a little to draw them back.

I Send a Letter
I also send a standard letter about me and the church to all the second time guests. E-mail me for this if you want it.

Next Step Follow Up
For anyone that receives Christ, wants to get baptized, volunteer, or find a community group we send out the appropriate letter telling them about that. For people who received Christ I also send them a NLT Bible with their letter talking about now what do I do... For any of these e-mail me

Area Fellowships
We then try to get people to attend an Area Fellowship. These casual, relational, times happen about once a quarter and usually at a restaurant we rent out. They allow people to get to know each other outside of Sundays. It is a stepping stone for our:

Community Groups
One of the first places we try to plug people into is our Community Groups that meet in homes on Wednesday nights. Serving and groups are the two best assimilation deals out there!

Volunteer Convergence
We also do a quarterly deal for our volunteers to appreciate them and re-cast the vision for why they do what they do.

So far we have not done membership or any of the 101, 201... type deals. We are a year into this and it still is about 6 months away for me.

For more info e-mail me at

Growing Healthy Churches (5.14 / Tampa)

This Monday the Tampa Growing Healthy Churches network will meet again for our regular 2nd Monday of the month gathering. We meet at the Italian Club in Ybor City for resource ideas, ministry insights, encouragement and more.

Growing Healthy Churches
Monday, 5.14.07
10am - Noon
Italian Club, Ybor City, Florida

After we will eat as always at the Green Iguana. Bring a friend or church planter you know.

Assimilation @ the Suncoast

Assimilation... it's a scary word. So this week in a two part deal I will lay out what Church of the Suncoast does because assimilation begins in the parking lot! Sound strange? Here is what we do:

Assimilation Begins in the Parking Lot. Really it begins before that. Can people find your church or where it meets? Do you have good signs along the main road if you are off of it? Do you know where to turn? We have two large signs along our main road and 3 smaller signs directing people to our school. For less than $300 we have taken the guess work out of finding us. This will be a common theme, but if that helps even one person find us and get plugged in they will out give that in one year!

Park Here. We Are Glad You Are Here! Once people come onto the campus we have parking lot guys to direct people into our lot. Don't get me wrong. There really is no other place to park, but this sends a signal to people that we are thinking about having guests each week. It also is our first chance to thank people for coming today.

Here's a Program. Go This Way. Next we have greeters stationed at each and every turn leading up to the cafeteria where we meet. These people are friendly and outgoing and they are able to direct people who might be looking for something.

Come on in. Here's Some Coffee and a Seat. Finally, we have greeters at the doors of the cafeteria to direct people to our FREE coffee and donuts. This is a piece of our WOW factor. It cost us about $160 a month to stock this area with donuts and good coffee. Again, you spend thousands of dollars on promotion, why not wow them a little when they do decide to come? It lets people know we care about them and the fact that they might have had to skip breakfast to show up on time.

Notice I have not said a thing about follow up, discipleship or other things you might associate with assimilation. That is because the average person decides if they are going to come back within the first 7 minutes of being at your church. At our place that means they have parked, dropped off their kids, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down. That is 7 minutes! No music, no videos, no preaching... And in that time they have decided if they are going to come back. That is why assimilation begins in the parking lot.

Later this week I will talk about what happens during and after the service. For more info e-mail me at

Sunday (5.6) in the Rearview

This past Sunday was only the 56th service at Church of the Suncoast. We also put the wraps on our series "Live in HD." (If you are a church planter out there I would love to send you this series on a resource cd with the messages, graphics, service scripts and so on... E-mail me at and don't forget to include your address)

Here are some first thoughts:
  • I made a real, you know, out of myself when a drama we used went longer in practice then I had planned. We made some adjustments to the video playing with it and all was fine. The point... I had to apologize. Never fun.
  • The music was really good. I had some of the toughest critics I know in the audience and they both said they enjoyed it. (I have been praying for our band and music for the past month and God seems to be moving them to a new level.)
  • Speaking of music we did a Van Halen intro number that was cool.
  • Our attendance was down a little from April. We had an even 100. BUT, our bottom is higher so that means growth. April was a great month. We averaged 112!
  • This series has been good. It covered a lot of the basics, but we all need to be reminded of those.
  • Our new volunteer central has been a hit. Really simple food and just a place to hang out has made a real difference in the volunteers mood before a service. They seem more relaxed...
  • We had a little ministry fair deal after the service and we had 8 people sign up for a ministry of their choice! Others might return the card this week. I was praying for 12 new volunteers.
  • I finally nailed a joke :-)

Calling All Creative Readers...

NEXT weekend at Church of the Suncoast we are starting a brand new series called, "Reenergize Your Life."

We are comparing the excitement and energy we had as kids playing the board game to our lack of excitement and energy for the real thing today. We will be talking about how to:

> Restore Your Passion // Mother's Day

> Reduce Your Pressure

> Refocus Your Priorities

So who has some creative ideas for videos, songs, drama ideas, anything... If you send me an idea AND WE USE IT... I will drop you a gift card to Starbucks in the mail and give credit to you right here on The Church Insider (Hey, over 650 people have read this thing from every part of the planet in 4 months. What more do you want? I'm a no name church planter.)

E-mail me at

The more specific you can be the better (movie clip times, the links to stuff...)

Good Luck! Get Creative!