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What I Wish I Had Known Back When
By: Bill Easum

My education let me down over the years. The only thing I use on a daily basis from high school and nine years of college, seminary, and graduate work is typing.  And I use all my fingers and not just my thumbs! Even spelling is down by a spell checker. All in all, I feel greatly let down by my education.  If fact, Iím not at all convinced if I had to do it all over again I would have gone to college.

My superiors (Iím United Methodist) werenít much help, either. In fact, most of their advice was totally wrong.  Like, ďDonít do anything new in your first year. Just get to know them first.Ē Perhaps thatís some of the worst advice ever given because most church turnarounds come in the first year of a pastorís tenure. That was one piece of advice I didnít take. I knew it was dumb. 

That gets me thinking Ė what do I wish I had known when I restarted the church I stayed at for 24 years? Here are a few of things that would have saved me lots of heartache.

I wish I had been taught how to hire and fire people. I tried to save my first pastoral hire. He was a good man, but he was a chaplain type and I needed a self-starter. But I was told to do whatever I could to help him succeed.  I did Ė for three years. I wish someone had come alongside of me and said, ďAsk the Bishop to move him, right now!Ē I finally did, but waiting cost the church three years of growth.

I wish I had known that most churches need a program/pastoral type paid person for every 100 people in worship, including children and youth.  We had solid growth for 24 years, but it took me five years to become acquainted with this ratio. When I finally used the ratio, the church grew much faster because we retained more people due to the relationships the staff formed with new people.

 I wish I had known that it was better to stay in crowded conditions and add more worship services than to build as soon as possible. We had three services, two of which were full so I felt we should build. The problem was we had to build small because we didnít have the money.

Now, as a consultant, I have learned that some of the largest churches remained in cramped quarters, putting money away, so that when they did build they could build for a longer future.

I wish I had known that it was easier to retain people than to attract people. If I had known this, I would have instituted a small group system earlier than we did. People have to be involved in something more than just setting in worship or going to programs. 

And that brings up another thing Ė I wish someone had told me that programs werenít the way to go. The more you invest in people, the more people are introduced to Christ.

I wish I had known that the more I got people involved in the community the more people we would have in worship.  Oh, we did many community projects, but not every week. Most of the growing churches today they have their people out in the community doing ministry almost every week.

I wish someone had told me that there are only four processes that grow a church. You have to bring people to Christ or the church. You have to retain them. You have to grow them. And you have to send them back out to be backyard missionaries. By the way, my partner and I write about these four core processes in our new book, Effective Staffing for Vital Churches: The Essential Guide for Finding and Keeping the Right People. If I had known this, I would have eliminated any program that did not contribute to one of the four. And we are doing a mini-tour around them starting in May.

I wish someone had told me a church didnít need an elaborate structure in order to thrive. This is the one thing that cost me years of growth in my church. In 1986, we had 360 people on boards and committees all mandated by my denomination for a church our size. I lived with it for several years. It took months of lobbying to get anything done. When Bil Cornelius and I wrote ďGo Big,Ē we compared the time he spent getting new things done to the time I spent. Bil had a board of three people, none of whom were church members, and no committees; I had a board of 150, plus over two dozen committees. His church grew to 8,000 in 10 years, and mine grew to 2,000 in 24 years. We concluded I lost six to eight out of 24 years trying to get things through committee and past the board. I spent more time lobbying the larger we became. It sort of reminds me of our Federal government today. In late 1986, we eliminated our board and all committees, and the church exploded with growth.

Finally, I wish I had known how and when to start a second service. I started a second service my first year, but the way I started it was wrong. I put it at 8:30 to avoid Sunday School, and I didnít treat it like starting a new church and advertized it to the community. It wasnít long after that I began to realize that Sunday School for adults was on its way out and started a service at the same time, and it quickly became the second largest service out of the three.

Bill Easum is the founder and president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christians for global impact, www.effectivechurch.com.

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