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An interview with Geoff Surratt (and a book giveaway!)

Exponential Conference, Saddleback Church, Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from GrowingThis week I caught up with pastor, author, innovator, and Church catalyst, Geoff Surratt. He’s the new Director of the Exponential Conference and along with Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson is a part of the senior leadership team. The Exponential Conference is the largest gathering of church planters on the planet with an expected attendance of 5,000 this April. Will you be there?

Andrew: Describe your new role at Exponential in two sentences. What are you really going to be doing?

Geoff: In addition to overseeing the Exponential Conference my role includes aggregating, moderating and distributing content for church leaders as well as connecting church planters, church planting networks and church planting partners. Our goal is to catalyze reproducing church movements.

Andrew: When you attend the conference this April, what will you be focused on? Will you be learning how things run and watching the “behind the scenes” organization? In short what will be going through your head, given your new role?

Geoff: My main role at the conference this year is to make sure all of the speakers have all the Diet Coke they can drink. While this may seem trivial, it is really the engine the Exponential runs on. When I’m not pouring liquid manna I will be connecting with leaders and church planters and learning how we can better serve them in the coming year. Connecting with like-minded leaders is the best part of Exponential.

Andrew: The theme of the conference this year is around the idea of God’s leaders being “sifted.” Do you have a story of being sifted?

Interview with Geoff Surratt, pt. II: Churches and Online Community

"Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing" by Geoff SurrattFollowing is part II of our interview with Geoff Surratt from Seacoast Church and author of Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from GrowingSee part I here.

Sometimes church communities can appear insular to outsiders. How can churches create a more open environment for welcoming and engaging interested and new members?

“What is a church’s front door? The ‘front door’ of a church is not the physical front door and has not been for a long time. It is not the sign in front of the building. And it is not the Yellow Pages ad. The front door is on the Web. We have found that when coming to our church for the first time, a majority of people, even if they come with a friend who is already a member, checked us out on the Web first. Churches need to be aware of this. And these researchers do not just go to www.yourchurch.org, they go to Google. Everything that appears in Google is what they check out – everything about your pastor, your Facebook page, etc.

Interview with Geoff Surratt: On technology and stupid church things

Geoff SurrattGeoff Surratt is on staff of Seacoast Church, a successful and high-visibility multi-site church. He’s also the author of Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing. In a recent Zondervan interview Geoff shared his thoughts on how churches use technology to stay connected.

How do “old school” communications practices keep churches from growing and thriving?

“When I think some of the old school communications practices churches go back to again and again, two or three come to mind. A few years ago, the way you started a church or promoted a new event was to send out a mass mailer. I see churches continue to do that, but the response is going down and down and down. For the most part, response to mailers is completely dead. I also see churches communicate outside of their community via newspaper ads, and print newspaper effectiveness has dropped significantly too. Within the church, I see announcement services page used a lot. Public announcements are not very effective at communicating either. When you survey TV watchers after viewing three commercials in a row, nobody can remember the middle TV commercial. A few can remember the first, more the last. The same is true for announcements; most people are not hearing what is being said because they cannot. By the time a pastor hits three announcements, he has lost people.”

A Multi-Site Church Roadtrip: The Godfather of Video Venues

larry-osborneGeoff Surratt first met Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista California, at a Leadership Network multi-site church event in 2002. Seacoast was just beginning to dive into the world of video teaching and he immediately realized that Larry was the smartest guy on the planet when it came to leveraging technology to expand the Kingdom. And Larry wears really cool shirts. Over the years Larry has become a friend and a mentor both personally and through his books Sticky Church, Ten Dumb Things Christians Believe and A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God. Geoff recently had a chance to get Larry’s wisdom on the role of video, technology and more in the future of the multi-site revolution.

You pioneered the concept of the video venue at North Coast. What do you feel are two or three reproducible keys to your success in utilizing video that other churches could reproduce?

I believe a huge part of our success was our decision early on to only use video for teaching. Many things don’t translate well on a screen (for instance music, drama, and the like). But teaching plays well in almost every geographic and demographic setting.

In fact, the biggest shock when we launched our first Video Venue was that it was so readily accepted by virtually every demographic. We thought our older folks would reject it outright. We thought younger generations might find it inauthentic. We assumed churches in the more traditional parts of the country would be highly resistant.

But we were wrong. It played well just about everywhere.

Looking back we should have realized that teaching is uniquely suited for a big screen. It allows people to clearly see facial expressions and non-verbals – which is why most people in a large facility with a video screen end up watching the screen rather than the little person up on the stage.

The other thing that I believe is easily reproducible is our use of differing music styles and ambiances to broaden our demographic outreach. Both Chris Brown (our other teaching pastor) and I are able to reach a far broader demographic (traditionalists, country music fans, and folks with lots of body art) than we could if we had a one-size-fits-all sanctuary.

How important is it for a church using video teaching to have the very best technology available?

I think the need for the quality technology is vastly overrated. You don’t need the latest and greatest in order to succeed. You can’t be so cheap that your venues are cheesy. The video can’t look like a 1980′s VCR.

At North Coast we’ve always made due with less than the best technology simply because we often can’t afford the best. We’re not a rich suburban church. We’re a blue collar church that meets in an old warehouse. If we felt we couldn’t succeed without the best and latest technology, we’d still be saving up to launch our first venue.

We’ve learned that good enough is good enough when it comes to technology. I always tell the churches we consult to buy the best they can afford. There’s no need to hawk the future for cool technology you can’t afford and there’s no reason to hold off launching a new ministry just because everyone else has better equipment.

North Coast has multiple venues with live worship bands at multiple locations and multiple service times. How do you find enough musicians to have that many worship teams?

The secret to our plethora of musicians goes back to a decision we made long before we started our Video Venues. Because we believe the job of a pastor is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) our worship pastors have always been judged, rewarded, and paid for rising up other worship leaders rather than creating an all-star band.

I find you always get what you measure and reward. So guess what? Since we measure and reward rising up worship leaders, we get worship leaders. And better yet, once we turned the corner, we discovered that musicians draw musicians. So right now I think we have something like 24 adult worship bands to pull from.

In your book Sticky Church you describe the role of sermon based small groups in the life of North Coast. How integral do you think sermon based small groups have been to the growth of North Coast?

Our attendance was about 120 when we started our sermon-based small groups. They haven’t particularly drawn people in, but they have helped to slam our back door shut – and when the back door stays shut, a church tends to grow.

We’re pretty much a word-of-mouth church (we don’t do any marketing or advertising) so closing the back door has been an essential ingredient of our growth. But the biggest advantage has been the way these sermon-based groups have enabled us to get everyone on the same page – and keep them there. That’s made us a much healthier church not just a bigger church.

What did I not ask that I should have?

You didn’t ask why my books are so much better than yours – at least that’s what my mom thinks. Though my wife, Nancy, isn’t so sure.

Other than the comments about Larry’s books being better than mine (they are, but he didn’t have to bring it up) Larry once again stretched my thinking on what is effective and what is good enough in ministry. You can read more of Larry’s insight at his blog or in Multi-site Church Roadtrip.

favoring discipline over reconciliation

tst-logothe next chapter in geoff surratt’s ten stupid things that keep churches from growing is on “favoring discipline over reconciliation”.  talking about church discipline brings up many opinions among both church members and ministers.  we all know that reconciliation is the goal, but when and to what extent do we need to discipline?  geoff tackles these issues in this chapter.  here is the opening story that geoff tells.  how would you counsel pastor bob?

a friend of mine pastors a church of fifty people. he has pastored several churches in the time i have known him and every church eventually averages fifty people. i’m pretty sure he will always pastor a church of fifty people. the interesting thing is that he seldom pastors the same fifty people from year to year, so there is certainly variety. the pattern is almost always the same. my friend, we’ll call him pastor bob, will move to a new church in a new community. he will spend a lot of time getting to know the people in the church; he will visit them in the hospital, officiate at their parents’ funerals, and perform their children’s weddings. pastor bob will invite people in town to his church, and the congregation will begin to grow. everyone loves pastor bob and everyone comments that they have never had a pastor like him. before long pastor bob’s church has grown to sixty, seventy, even eighty people. and then it happens: someone in the congregation has to be confronted. someone is stirring up trouble in the church. an attendee may be spreading rumors about pastor bob, a leader may be living in sin, or a deacon just won’t get with the program. whatever the cause, pastor bob knows what has to be done. he sets up a meeting with the offending member and confronts this individual with his or her misdeed. this meeting seldom goes well; few people like to be confronted with their shortcomings. sometimes the censured members decide to leave the church; sometimes pastor bob asks them to leave the church. when they leave, they take several families with them. soon the church is down to seventy members, then sixty, and finally fifty. pastor bob would love to see his church grow beyond fifty, but he can’t just ignore issues that require church discipline, can he?

Chapter 8 cartoon

geoff writes in the chapter about free passes for everyone, what effective church discipline looks like, and profiles dino rizzo at the end of the chapter on the subject.

how about you?  what situations have you dealt with in the realms of church discipline?  what lessons have you learned?  how does your church handle discipline?  the first 10 commentors who leave a comment between now and next tuesday, 15 june, will get a free copy of geoff’s book, ten stupid things that keep churches from growing.

“rick warren is a lot easier to copy than bill hybels”

tsst-logowhen i was associate pastor in a little church in northern california i focused primarily on the youth – jr high through college age.  in one six-month period i was needed to preach a half-dozen times.  i needed some great material that would really touch the lives of the small congregation.  i had just finished reading a couple of john ortberg’s first books and aside from adding my own illustrations, used love beyond reason as the content of my messages.  

Chapter 7 cartoongeoff surratt admits his tendency to do this early on in his ministry in a rural texas church in chapter 7 of ten stupid things that keep churches from growing.  this chapter looks at copying another successful church.  “the problem i ran into was that unchurches harry and saddleback sam didn’t live in huffman, texas; we were surrounded by redneck bubba and unemployed eddie.”  he says “the challenge is when we stop learning and start leaning; when we try to simply copy what we’ve seen in another successful ministry.”

geoff asks 4 questions to his readers to help find the unique niche that God has created you to fill:

  • who are you?
  • what can’t you stand?
  • where is your church?
  • who’s not going to your church?

God calls us to lead the specific ministry in the way he has wired us to lead.  who are you called to lead and how do you lead them?  comment below on how you figured out these two questions; i’ll randomly select one commentor and send them a free copy of ten stupid things and a journal with the cartoon of this chapter on the cover.

clinging to a bad location

 

tsst-logowe have been going through each chapter in geoff surratt’s new book, ten stupid things that keep churches from growing.  chapter 6 looks into “clinging to a bad location.”  each chapter has wisdom and advice from a well-respected pastor who knows of what he speaks.  in this chapter, geoff interviews his brother greg, founding pastor of seacoast church.  below is the profile in its entirety.  

 

 

"we're located under the freeway behind the abandoned kmart"

"we're located under the freeway behind the abandoned kmart"

I am often asked what it is like working for my brother Greg Surratt. On the one hand, he is a good boss, a talented leader, and a visionary. On the other hand, he used to put me in painful wrestling holds until Mom would make him let me go. Since Mom made him start being nice to me a couple of years ago, working together at Seacoast has been a great experience. We try to keep the ministry and family stuff separate, but we are also able to cut through some of the communication barriers quicker than others because we are brothers. (Let’s just say we occasionally have intense fellowship.) Nepotism seems to work, at least for us.

 

 Greg started Seacoast in 1988 with a group of about sixty people out of Northwood Assembly in Charleston, South Carolina. Each year for the first three years, the church averaged fewer people on the weekends than the year before, but in 1991 the church began to grow and never stopped. Today more than nine thousand people attend each weekend in thirteen locations across three states. During the growth Greg has become a student of what will and will not lead a church to grow, and he has had the opportunity to share that knowledge with hundreds of church planters and pastors. I knew he would have insight into finding the right location for your church.

 What is the worst church location you have seen?

 A church planter came to ask my advice one time about a location he was looking at in his community. He said that it was easy to find, had good visibility, ample parking, a great auditorium, some side rooms for kids, the price was right, and to top it all off it was nearly new and immediately available.

I asked him where one might find such a choice piece of real estate, to which he replied that it was actually a funeral home. “Not good,” I thought. “No wonder it’s available.”

How do you explain to a well-meaning, naive, amped-up church planter that a place so closely associated with death is probably not the best choice of locations to plant a “life-giving” church? I have friends who won’t even go to their friends’ funerals because the thought of being where dead people are creeps them out. How are you going to get them to come to a place like that weekly? Sounds like a marketer’s nightmare. Let’s use common sense here. He didn’t listen, and within a few months they wrote the obituary for the once promising vision.

 How important is a good location to the growth of a church?

 In retail it is location, location, location. In church work I would argue that it is Spirit of God, Spirit of God, Spirit of God. But, that said, location is pretty high on the rest of the list. I think that God primarily draws people to himself and to our churches, but part of our job as leaders is to remove potential barriers that stand in the way of people finding their way to God. Location is definitely a biggie when it comes to barriers. If you can’t find it, or wouldn’t want to go there if you could find it, that poses a pretty big barrier. So I’d say location is pretty important.

 How important was Seacoast’s location to the growth in the early days?

 When we were looking for a permanent location for Seacoast, we wanted something that would allow us to be both local and regional. Pretty presumptuous for a group of two hundred people, but they don’t charge extra for big dreams. Local meant that there were neighborhoods close by; we could actually be a part of the community. If it was too local, though, buried too deep in a neighborhood and not close to major traffic routes, we would have a hard time reaching beyond it. Regional meant that it was accessible to more than just the local neighborhoods. People could easily drive from other communities, so we weren’t limited to just the few blocks around us. If it was too regional, it would be easy to get to, but no one would live there. Think airports, factory areas, and coliseums. Unless you are Joel Osteen, and you are not, it still might not be the ideal location until your attendance is about ten thousand or so. We’ve made mistakes being too regional with new campus plants. Easy to get to, but nobody lived there.

I think our choice of location definitely made an impact on both early growth and future growth. We researched where we thought traffic patterns and housing starts would trend toward. It is still a great location that is easily accessible to most of the Charleston area.

 What makes a bad location?

 Lots of factors make a bad location: you can’t find it, you wouldn’t want to go there if you could find it, no one lives there (and probably won’t anytime soon), the neighborhood doesn’t match the vision of the church trying to minister to it.

 What advice would you give to pastors whose churches are “stuck” in a bad location? What practical steps can they take?

 Move on. Sometimes the best thing you can do is throw in the towel and go somewhere else. About ten years into the Seacoast experience, I had the bright idea of doing church in a larger auditorium that happened to be a Masonic Temple. At the risk of sounding disparaging to both Masons and temples, it turned out to be a very scary place. Being a visionary, I saw only the potential — more room, better parking, easy accessibility — and ignored the huge downsides — children’s ministry would be done in a bar, frightening pictures in the foyer, occasional raffles and events that would supersede church services. I even brought in Peter Wagner to pray over the temple, and then I declared it a perfect fit for Seacoast. After six months of pushing a rope uphill, I finally admitted that the “temple of doom” experiment was less than successful. I ate some Southern-fried crow and we moved on. If you are in a bad location and you can do it, move on, but if you can’t . . .

Get God’s heart. If you are truly stuck, then it is possible that God has a plan for you and your place of ministry that you are not aware of yet. It will probably involve a change in the way you are doing things. We seldom change just because it is a good idea, so part of the “stuckness” may be a nudge toward being open to something different. I know a pastor who felt stuck. He didn’t feel fulfilled in that he was doing nor very fruitful in ministry; very few people were coming, and he felt like he couldn’t move somewhere else. So, as a last resort, he sought God — what a novel idea — and got a fresh vision for his community. The vision involved changing the way they did ministry and reaching out to a segment of the community they had previously ignored. Now they’ve had to move a few blocks away to a public school because the numbers of people they are reaching won’t fit into their previous location. Always remember your ministry location is never a surprise to God. He may very well have you where you are because he desperately cares about the people who live there and he wants to recommission you to reach them. But it probably won’t be with the same old, same old. Sometimes the best thing you can do with a bad location is to get a fresh vision.

Why do we promote talent over integrity?

tsst-logoIn chapter 5 of Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing author Geoff Surratt looks at how churches (his own included) sometimes find out the hard way that talent of some staff and volunteers gets them positions their integrity would not.  This is not usually unintentional. We all want people with both integrity and talent (and in that order), but there are a few times that we get blinded by the talent and fail to do a few checks on the integrity of the individual.

Chapter 5 cartoonSurratt has some fantastic insight not only in how to know if a talented leader has integrity, but also how to recover when a leader already in place has a lapse of integrity.  This kind of information could be beneficial for leaders of any organization, not just church leaders.

I want to share the IQ test at the end of this chapter.  Each chapter has an IQ test at the end of it, and this is one iIwould like for you to take and – if you feel appropriate – share your answers in the comments with everyone.  Your insight could be invaluable to other readers.

  1. How do we screen for integrity in new leaders in our church?
  2. How do we ensure new leaders share our core values? how can we improve this process?
  3. Has there been an instance in the past when we have promoted talent over integrity? what did we learn? how can we prevent this from happening in the future?
  4. What, if any, systems do we have in place for ongoing accountability in our leadership? how can we improve those systems?
  5. Are we having the hard conversations with our staff and key leaders? are any current leaders possibly struggling in the area of personal integrity? how are we going to discuss our concerns with them?

Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing is available in print or as an eBook.
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