Excellence in Hospitality! Secrets of a Secret Shopper

Secrets of a Secret Shopper CoverGreg Atkinson is one of those folks who actually knows what he is talking about. He has been in hundreds of congregations as a member, guest, and especially as a secret shopper. Out of those experiences he has written a book that is "ultimately about excellence and doing what you do well." (pp. 145-146 in Secrets of a Secret Shopper. As a person who is really big on congregational vision--see Captured by Vision: 101 Insights to Empower Your Congregation at Captured by Vision--I love the various references in the book to casting the vision in the manner in which hospitality is extended to guests.

Greg has been a secret shopper so many times that he has a whole list of "bones to pick," "soapboxes," and "pet peeves." He points these out in the book, but then tells you what to do about them. This is not a book of lists. It is a book that covers key topical areas around hospitality, provides examples of congregations, and references other writers who have made helpful statements.

Instead of a preacher for your next revival, a Bible teacher for your next congregational wide study, or the next music guest person or group, invite Greg Atkinson to come visit your congregation, but don't let anyone know he is coming! Then in addition to sharing the report he provides, buy a copy of this book for everyone in your congregation who works on hospitality issues. Or, just start right now by buying the book and absorbing it. You cannot go wrong!

“I Started a Church Today!” Response: Are you sure?

Church Planting 01“I started a church today!” exclaimed Samuel Powers our congregation multiplication director as he returned to the office from a successful field visit with the potential sponsor of a new congregation.

I responded as the missions division leader, “No, you didn’t. You simply had the first meeting with a potential sponsor.”

“Yeah, but they agreed to start the church. I am putting it up on the board as number 23 this year,” Samuel said as he grinned at me as we both knew what was going on here.

Samuel liked to count new congregations as successes from the first discussion about launching the congregation. I insisted we talk about the seven phases of launching and developing a new congregation, of which the fourth phase was when we formally counted them as a new sustaining congregation.

Consider the full life of a congregation. What happens when a congregation first experiences the waning of its initial empowering vision from God that launched it into a life of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and mission. At some point when vision wanes, it decides it is time to re-envision, revitalize, renew, reinvent, or resurrect the congregation.

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Congregations Must Play at the Top of Their Game in the March Madness

Duke and March MadnessI am writing this as March Madness—better known as the NCAA Division 1 College Men’s Basketball Tournament gets underway. Although as an Atlantic Coast Conference fan I expected the first day of the basketball season both Duke University and the University of North Carolina would be in the tournament, that did not mean they failed to engage in readiness to be in the tournament.

At least for Duke it was an up and down season. Even their legendary coach—Mike Krzyzewski—was out of commission for four weeks with back surgery, and various other injuries and even bad behavior by a player or two threatened that they would miss the tournament, it was still a reliable prediction that they would be in tournament.

With all their challenges, by the end of the season they were playing at their very best. It took more than 30 games for them to get ready for the tournament. They could not just short hoops around Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC for six months and get ready for the tournament. They had to practice hard, play hard, and anticipate the next game as soon as a game ended.

Congregations are too often not like that. They want to play around being a congregation, doing whatever comes naturally to them, and then at a certain point when the pain is too great declare they need help, a silver bullet, a newly drafted pastor, or some other magic to transform. They want to do this without a highly-disciplined season of readiness.

Laying a Strong Foundation for Congregational Transformation

Mill Field RoadWhere I live in a northeast suburb of Columbia, SC is geologically known as the sand hills side of town. A mile up the road from my house is an urban village called the Village of Sandhill that has been developed over the past 15 years as a mixed-use residential and commercial space like ones built in many locations throughout North America. It is where my wife and I go for much of our shopping, dining, and movies.

Nearer to my house is a cut through road called Mill Field Road. It is only a half mile long, is narrow, and has a suggested speed limit of 25 miles per hour that is routinely ignored. This road is a bunch of asphalt laid on top of sand, and called a road. It even has a state government designation as State Road S-40-2041.

The foundation or road bed for Mill Field Road was poorly engineered and constructed. Because it is a low priority road it also does not have a drainage system. When it rains it floods. What seems like monthly I drive around road crews and their trucks who are filling in potholes with loose asphalt as if the patching of the holes is going to solve the problem. It simply has a bad foundation.

Many congregation more than one generation old are built on a sand foundation instead of rock. So, they have a bad foundation. When their founding vision wanes, they start patching up their congregation with various quick fixes that quickly become pot holes once again.

Congregational transformation begins with a firm foundation or readiness to respond to the new thing God is in the process of doing in your congregation. It is solution-based and not fixed-based. While Mill Field Road is a low priority road, your congregation is a high priority to God. The call of God upon your congregation deserves the building of a strong foundation for a spiritual and strategic journey that is transformational.

Congregational Typology

SSJ-16x9-White-BackgroundCongregational typologies have been around for many decades, if not centuries. Each has a foundational organizing principle. In keeping with the theme of a Spiritual Strategic Journey, I offer the following five categories as a typology that looks at the engagement intensity of congregations in a spiritual and strategic journey.

Remember that typologies always state where something—congregations in this case—generally find themselves. It is not the same as typing congregations. Congregations can move from one category to another with some regularity. For example, Perfecting congregations will not always be Perfecting. The same is true of the other four categories.

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