It’s probably not happening the way you planned

We study, preach, and minister to people, and yet it’s people who make other people feel connected. | by Don Corder

You can’t pastor a church, own a company, or be a boss and not have some mercy and grace in your heart. People make mistakes, but people are all we have, so we learn how to accommodate the frailties. And yet, at some point, someone in your organization has to care about quality and reputation. Someone has to make sure your church is doing what it says it will do. Someone has to make sure we are working the plan and connecting with people. Someone has to check the process.

Today, many people come to church not because they have to, but because they are at a vulnerable and susceptible place in their lives. They’re probably more ready than they’ve ever been to accept the gospel message and dedicate their lives to Jesus. We cannot afford to have someone on our team not get the message and the actions of the church right.

One of the first things I do when I start helping a church is get on their website and sign up for communications with a special e-mail account I keep for this purpose. You would be amazed at how many churches have no mechanism for connecting with people on their website. Every so often, I check that e-mail account to see what the church has been communicating. I want to know: Have they been faithful? Are they doing what they need to do? You might be surprised how often I receive nothing or what I do receive reminds me that I am an “outsider.” I recommend you do this for your own church, but don’t stop there. Get someone to “secret shop” your church for you.

We typically send groups of people to pose as visitors to test how a church connects with the neighborhood and community. We capture the visit on video and complete an exhaustive report on the experience (Go to to download a copy of the Provisum visitor report). Before we go, I ask the pastor what we will experience when we visit the church. Most of the time, we do not experience what the pastor thought we would experience. The way we interpret this is that either the team is not doing what the pastor has instructed them to do, or the pastor does not know what the people are doing. Either way, it’s a problem.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how hard we have to work to connect with the churches we visit. One of our “must dos” on these visits is we cannot leave until someone writes down our contact information. More times than not, we have to ask an untrained and unsuspecting volunteer if we can leave our contact info and request to be contacted by a staff or clergy member. About a third of the time, we have to walk through the church looking for someone to whom we can make such a request. This is what I call “somebody is having a nice day.” They are just not doing their job. And we still wonder why our churches are not growing.

One time, we sent a team to another state to visit the second largest church in a denomination. We had seven people: a couple in their fifties, a young couple in their twenties with two small children, and a single man in his twenties. I had already heard from the pastor what he expected us to experience on our visit. True to form, they had thousands of attendees but still managed to do a wonderful job bringing us in. The facilities were modern. People were friendly and talked to us. The worship was outstanding. Then the pastor stood in the pulpit and told the newcomers that right outside the door, we would find people waiting to connect with us at the “welcome center.”

The seven of us had come at different times, through different doors, and sat in different areas. We went out through different doors looking for the welcome center. There was no welcome center. There was a big sign over a small desk that said, “Connection Center.” As well-churched people, it was reasonable to assume that “Welcome Center” and “Connection Center” were the same thing. (They were.) What is not reasonable is to assume that newcomers, unchurched and undisciplined people, would know that a welcome center and connection center are the same thing.

As we joined each other one by one, we formed a line in front of a small desk with some dated literature about the church. One of us had a hidden video camera and recorded it. That’s how we know that we stood there for thirteen minutes. The reason we stood there for thirteen minutes was that no one was staffing the connection center. Then one of us noticed a small sign instructing us that in the event there was no one to greet us at the “Welcome Center” to please fill out the visitor “Welcome Survey” and someone would be in contact with us “soon.” I immediately noticed two things: 1. There were filled-out surveys from the previous week still lying on the desk and 2. The box labeled “Visitor Survey” was empty.

As we stood there, thousands of people poured out of the worship center doors and walked around us to leave the building. No one showed up at the connection center. No one stopped to help us. No one noticed that a volunteer position was not filled at the connection center. The next week, when we reported our experience to the pastor, he was shocked.

Pastor: “How could this happen?”

Me: “I suggest we ask the person who is responsible for outreach and connection.”

Pastor: “I’m not sure who that is.”

Me: “That’s how it happened.”

When managing people or process, there is one truth I am sure of: You get what you inspect, not what you expect. If you inspect little, expect less. This is one truth every pastor or ministry leader needs to own. Few if any people will care more about your ministry or the people and community you have been called to serve, than you. People need to see you care. They need to see you care enough to follow up and verify that people are being served and that people are doing what they say they will do.

When people’s eternal souls are in the balance, you need to know.

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