(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

Let’s start by getting one thing straight: the above photo is a piece o’ stock photography I ripped off of the interweb. Anyone in their right mind knows that the first step in drinking a cup of Starbucks is to line it up: the mermaid on the cup sleeve goes over the mermaid on the cup, and the hole in the lid is centered right above the “b” in Starbucks.

Whew. OCD Danny feels better now.

I’m somewhat of a Starbucks fan. I drop by 1-2 times per week, and most of the time my order is of the hot variety. I need the aforementioned cup, sleeve, and lid to keep the sloshes at bay and make sure my coffee stays either in my cup or in my mouth.

And Starbucks is no slouch on their packaging materials. They provide all of the above in copious quantities, including the nifty little “splash stick” in case you’re taking a coffee to a friend or want to keep your order hotter longer.

The only problem is, roughly one out of every four Starbucks lids fails me. There I am, taking a swig of my grande blonde roast, one Splenda and a dash of cream, when a tiny rivulet of coffee escapes from underneath the plastic dome and dribbles down the side of the cup, or worse…on my shirt or pants. It’s not that I missed my mouth (fat chance of that); it’s not that I didn’t properly attach the lid. It’s that the lid and cup don’t quite match up in the “hermetically sealed” arena.

I have no doubt that Starbucks is a quality company (nearly $15 billion in net revenues last year). I have no doubt they put out quality products and provide a quality experience. But I fail to recognize any of that when I’m forced to wear the remnants of my blonde roast on my shirt for a 9 AM meeting. At that moment, I don’t want to drink a beverage from a billion dollar company; I just want a lid that works.

What’s the “leaky lid” in your ministry? Sure, you can put a sizable chunk of your budget into crafting a quality experience. You can hire the most talented leaders and recruit the most gifted volunteers. You can shuck and jive with the best of them when it comes to playing the numbers game. But one wayward drip can lessen the impact:

  • Maybe it’s a reputation for not returning emails.
  • Perhaps it’s a volunteer who’s a little on the brash side.
  • It could be a facility that’s in poor condition or a strategy that’s outdated or a system that’s broken.

Whatever your leaky lid, that tends to be the things people focus on, whether you want them to or not. How can you plug a leak today?


Special thanks to Jason Gaston for the post idea.

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

I work in a church office. And while we have a good number of ladies on our staff, we have a huge amount of dudes. And basic math tells you that lots of dudes = lots of mess. Not to be too judgmental, but there are days when “looks like a frat house” would actually be a nice description of our office’s cleanliness. Messy desks, cluttered bookshelves, bathrooms with bacteria so big you could rope ’em up and ride ’em in a rodeo.

So a few weeks ago, the – ahem – neatniks on our team took some action. We developed a quick and dirty guide (pardon the pun) to keeping things clean around the office.

Why is that important? Is it because we like mandating regulations and ruling with an iron fist, crushing anyone who dares to violate? Well, yes. (Who doesn’t?) But more than that, it’s because we believe that a First Impressions culture has to start with the leaders. And if we can’t pick up after ourselves, we can never expect volunteers to help us keep a clean facility and therefore be ready to welcome company on the weekend.

Maybe your staff culture works the same way. Maybe “culture” doesn’t describe a code as much as bacterial crud. So with that in mind, I present our ten point manifesto, slightly amended for public use.

Enjoy. And keep it clean out there, kids.

Ten Practical Tips to Keep the New Space (and Old Space) Clean: 

1. Pick up the trash. Inside. Outside. Your space. Someone else’s space. If you see a gum wrapper, SummitKids pick up sticker, or discarded copy of People of God, consider it yours and throw it away.

2. Wipe down the sink. When you wash your hands (and you should), spend an extra fifteen seconds wiping up the water. Don’t forget faucet handles and walls that you might have splattered.

3. Be choosy with leftovers. We get it: your meeting participants only drank ¾ of that 2 liter and you want to bless others with it. But ask yourself: will anyone drink the Sam’s Choice Diet Cola in the kitchen? Probably not, because you’re cheap and it’s gross. Pour it out.

4. Turn out the lights. Make Al Gore proud. If you leave a room and you have reason to believe no one will reenter the room within 15 minutes, save some electricity.

5. Return the space as you found it. Scratch that: return it better than you found it. Chairs up, table clean, white board erased.

6. Pick up your packages. UPS, Fed Ex, and USPS delivers daily. As you’re wandering by the front, check the labels and take your stuff where it should go. And even if you didn’t order any stuff, somebody did. And if it looks good to you…

7. Clean the kitchen. Seriously…no one should have to say this, but your mama doesn’t work here. Facilities covers a lot of areas, but washing your dishes is a big NO in every category. If you’re not willing to wash it, don’t use it.

8. Report what’s broken. Burned out bulb? Chipped paint? Stopped up sink? You can always go to [internal form] and put in a request.

9. Take out the trash. This is varsity level stuff right here. If you’re at the end of an event or the middle of your work day, don’t assume that someone else will come along behind you to take out overflowing trash. If it’s full, bag it, take it to the dumpster, and replace the bag.

10. Keep your space clean. Having an office is a HIGH privilege at the Summit (ask any intern with a plastic folding desk). If you possess one, keep it presentable. Spending just 5-10 minutes per day straightening up can make a world of difference.


Related post: Leaders Pick Up The Trash

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

The first time my wife and I went to a Broadway show, we saw the value of a good usher in action. From the moment we entered the theater, we were literally ushered to our seats. If you’ve ever experienced Broadway, you know the drill: The usher who scans your ticket points you toward the correct entrance…there is another usher who points you toward the correct aisle, where there is yet another usher who walks you directly to your row and motions to your seats. In that first Broadway experience, we knew that as long as we had our ticket in hand for the ushers to see, they would do all the work. We were along for the ride. That’s usher service. [emphasis mine]

Read the entire original post here.

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…when things get familiar, we tend to get sloppy. We turn inward to our own convenience rather than outward for the sake of our guests. We structure systems around our comfort rather than ease of use for someone who’s new.

That’s why I’d encourage you…every once in a while…to take another look. Arrive at your weekend worship experience with the heart of a pastor and the mind of a critic. Look for things that are incredibly basic to you, but might be incredibly confusing to a guest.

Read the entire post – including six ways to take another look – here.


The Art of Reading, Remembering, and Retaining More Books(via @Buffer) Speaking of speed-reading, you’ll have to do it to this lengthy article, but there’s some good stuff here.

 I look at books as investments in a future of learning rather than a fleeting moment of insight, soon to be forgotten. I store all the reviews and notes from my books on my personal blog so I can search through them when I need to remember something I’ve read.


Pleasantly Persistent: 5 Rules for Effectively Following Up(via @dailymuse) We all have to “circle back around” at some point. Here’s how to do it without being pushy.

The average person can get a few hundred emails a day. That makes it pretty tough to respond to all of them, and things naturally fall to the bottom of the list. If you don’t get a response, it doesn’t mean that someone’s ignoring you—it just may mean that he or she is too busy.


How Long Does it Take to Watch… (via @Premium Funny) Admit it: most of you are just as geeked about 24 coming back on as I am. Sadly, fans of Jack Bauer have wasted the most possible TV time of anybody out there. (Instead of “wasted,” I prefer “investing in crucial knowledge or else the terrorists will win.”)


“Spy” Considerations for Easter Sunday(via @ThomRainer) Easter’s coming. You ready?

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

As we approach the season of Resurrection Sunday—when guests are more abundant at our churches—perhaps these questions will help you consider what guests experience at your church. You might want to evaluate over the next two weeks so you are more prepared for Easter Sunday.


Why UPS Trucks Don’t Turn Left(via @Priceonomics) Remember: two wrongs don’t make a right. But three rights will make a left.

UPS engineers found that left-hand turns were a major drag on efficiency. Turning against traffic resulted in long waits in left-hand turn lanes that wasted time and fuel, and it also led to a disproportionate number of accidents. By mapping out routes that involved “a series of right-hand loops,” UPS improved profits and safety while touting their catchy, environmentally friendly policy.


Street Painter is a Master Craftsman(via @22Words) I dare you to stop watching this video before it’s over. You can’t. It’s too awesome.

(photo credit: Brian Fleming Photography)

(photo credit: Brian Fleming Photography)

My adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina is known for a lot of things: we’re the City of Medicine. We’re historically a tobacco town (because smoking and medicine go great together). We’re the home of Duke basketball. And we have a grilled cheese food truck (your move, Charlotte).

But one of Durham’s best attractions is our own Durham Bulls baseball team. I’ll be honest: I’m not a baseball fan, but I’m a huge Durham Bulls fan. Our church has partnered with their organization to host a couple of large scale events in the park. I love their staff, I love the organization, I love the park.

That’s why I was so excited to see them come to the end of a recent 20 million dollar renovation. The goal was for them to finish prior to opening day last Thursday, but that’s not exactly what happened. While the game went on as planned, there were hiccups across the board: concessions weren’t up to par. Construction wasn’t finished. Credit card machines were down. Their pets’ heads were falling off.

As an event guy, I get it. I appreciate it. Stuff happens, and sometimes that stuff is out of your control. Durham faced an insane winter that kept construction from happening on time. And by the way: I’m glad to know we’re not the only ones who see deadlines flash past us no matter how hard we work. It happens to the best folks out there.

On opening night, I genuinely felt bad for the Bulls’ organization as I saw the critics take to Twitter to highlight their first world problems: You ran out of fresh-squeezed lemonade! I had to stand in a line longer than the foot-long corn dog I was standing in line to buy! Your credit card machines wouldn’t allow me to go into debt for a beer!

But I digress. I was thrilled to see the way that the Bulls’ General Manager Mike Birling handled the situation. The following day, Birling sent an email to all ticket holders. He didn’t spin it, he didn’t defend it, he just owned up to the fail and told fans what he was going to do to make things right.

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So what do you do when your good systems go bad? When your good plans go awry? When your good intentions get kicked to the curb? How do you handle a guest services fail?

You can ignore it. You can chalk it up to “just one of those things.” You can tell people to suck it up and stop being consumers. Or you can take a cue from Mike Birling: own it. Apologize for it. And tell what you’re doing to fix it.

That’s one way to hit it out of the park.

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

I heard it again last weekend: another story from one of our guests who had contacted someone about something, and that someone never got back with them.

Nor did the next someone.

Or the next.

Or the next.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a staff member, a ministry leader, or a volunteer. Allowing people to fall through the cracks is an all too real phenomenon in our churches. And before you check out of this post and write this off as a “big church” problem, you should know that this happens at churches of all sizes, every single day. A phone message gets lost. An email gets forwarded and reassigned and ultimately forgotten. A meeting request goes unanswered.

It’s happened to me, too. More times than I can count. I’ve been on both sides: the guy who falls through the cracks, and the guy who allows it to happen.

Can we totally eradicate it? Maybe not. Churches are made up of systems, structures, and people, and all three are going to be imperfect. But because people are the mission, we can’t hide behind an imperfect system and expect that “connect attrition” is just a sad reality. Nope, we have to be ever-diligent, knowing that every request carries a world of weight to the person who makes it.

So here are five things that we can do to (hopefully) keep our people from getting lost in the system:

  1. Figure out your preferred communication style. I talked about this recently, but it carries weight here: you need to know what process will get your attention. For me, I’m really good at answering emails. But I forget all about voice mails, texts, and Post-It Notes. The trick is to get my “non-preferred” system to match up with my preferred system. (And yes, I may or may not have emailed myself the details of a voice mail before, just so I’ll be sure to handle it later. #nerd)
  2. Respond within 24 hours. Don’t let a “simple” request get buried under other things. Be insanely vicious about getting back with someone within one business day. Even if you don’t have the information they’re looking for right then, you should let them know (a) you’re working on it and (b) when they can expect to hear from you. And by all means, make use of your out of office reply. If you’re going to be out on a weekday, you should let folks know that.
  3. Take, don’t point. I’m ripping this right out of Mark Waltz’s First Impressions book. It’s intended for the weekend experience, but it equally applies here. You’re not Mr. Answer Person for every request that comes through. But rather than saying “It’s not my problem, here’s who you need to speak to,” go the extra mile. Email the right person on their behalf, cc’ing the asker. Set up a meeting. Walk them over. Do whatever it takes to make sure you’re not adding an unnecessary, burdensome step.
  4. Follow up. Whether you’re personally handling the request or asking someone else to, set a reminder for a day or a week or a month to make sure the asker got connected. This is where I blow it. For me, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” far too often. I replied to the email or returned the phone call or made the connection, so I assume everything is hunky dory. But that’s not good enough. Make sure you circle back around at some point in the near future.
  5. Set a structure for accountability. Great guest services and communication practices are everyone’s job within a church. We can talk all day about org charts and ministry departments and jurisdictional leadership, but if someone isn’t responding to requests, that’s everyone’s problem. So light a fire. Ask the question. Shake things up. Make sure this isn’t just a new practice for you, but for your entire team: paid staff, volunteer leadership, everybody.

What did I miss? Are there other items you’d suggest? And … (deep breath) … how have I / we violated this with you? Are there open loops that I can help close? Comment below or contact me via email. It’s my preferred style, you know.

(photo credit: Mike McKee)

(photo credit: Mike McKee)

You’re looking at a picture of this morning’s kickoff of the 2014 Connections Cohort. To give some context, last year we started a monthly meeting of anyone who’s paid to to Connections Ministry at the Summit: full time, part time, interns, First Impressions, Starting Point, whatever…if they got a check, we met. We discussed guest services and assimilation philosophy, theory, best practices: you know, heady, nerdy stuff that would make the average mortal cry bitter tears (in between dozing off from boredom).

But as year one wrapped up, we decided that the collaboration didn’t need to stop there. So not only are the paid folk continuing to meet monthly, we started another group and invited 1-2 “high capacity volunteers” (HCVs) from these ministries at each campus. This group began a nine month journey this morning that will serve to infuse them with the guest services DNA of the Summit. They’re already great at their craft…now they’re going to move from practitioner to visionary.

It’s not a light ask, by any means. We’re asking them to show up once a month…at 6:30 AM. We’re asking for 90 minutes of intense focus and conversation. We’re asking them to roll in late to work or school on those mornings. We’re asking them to read a book a month and show up ready to rock. And we’re asking them to drip this vision on down the line to the volunteers on their team and the people in their circle.

But in the end, it’s going to be worth it. So worth it. Even this morning as I watched the room come alive with discussion and saw the lights come on in their minds, I knew that we’d just scratched the surface of what God could accomplish through a team of willing, humble, servant-hearted volunteers. As conversations went on and one “aha” moment catapulted into another, I knew that they were taking their weekend task to a newer, deeper level. They were learning not only what hospitality looks like from a corporate worship standpoint, but how that translates into their Monday through Friday lives as well.

This is part of what it means to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. This is part of giving them the tools they need to serve well and to put the gospel on display in a huge way. This is what it means to replicate ministry, person by person, team by team, campus by campus.

Do you have a cohort? For years, I didn’t. For years, I received knowledge through books and mentoring and conferences and networks, but didn’t do anything to replicate that knowledge in others. But now I know what was missing. I know how I was squandering the things that God had generously shared with me. And by the way: lest you think that this is a 90 minute information dump where one guy lectures a room full of people, I was able to sit back this morning and listen to these incredibly wise men and women teach one another and learn from one another while I was able to learn from them. It was indeed the body being the body.

What does this look like in your context? Maybe you’re not a ministry leader, but you are a business leader. Who are you raising up? Maybe you won’t gather 17 people, but could you invite one to sit down over a cup of coffee and a good book? Where are you replicating the gifts God has given you?

I’d love to hear your model and where you’ve seen success. Comment below.

Let’s ease into the 2014 edition of the ol’ blog, shall we?

(Yes. We shall.)

It’s a new year, and new years mean new resolutions, new resolve, new get-out-there-and-kick-your-day-in-the-face type of stuff that will cause you to explode in a fiery cloud of awesomeness, because you’re so doggone on top of things.

(That’s the theoretical you, you understand, not the in-reality you, the you that couldn’t separate the coffee filters this morning because your eyes hadn’t yet opened, leading to a catch-22 for the ages. Been there.)

So I thought it would be fun to crank out the first post of the year with my three of my favorite productivity tips & tricks. Granted, two of these are brand new to me, and I’ve just started experimenting this week. I’ll let you guess which.

Get out of the inbox death trap. Here’s what I know: there are more days than I can count where I do nothing but manage an inbox. It’s like a whiny, digital child, constantly screaming for another cup of juice. That’s why I love the “three a day” rule: I spend 15-45 minutes reading and responding to email (depending on volume) three times: in the morning, right after lunch, and the end of the day. The rest of the time, I set my email to “offline” mode. I refuse to sneak a peek at the inbox on my phone. And the emails that I do need to send simply sit in the outbox until I go online again.

Confession: I don’t nail this every single day. It’s a discipline I’m still working on. However, I know two things that are true when I do this:

  1. I almost always get to the elusive “inbox zero.”
  2. I always get lots of other stuff done.

For more ammunition against the insanity, see Peter Bregman’s Coping with Email Overload over at Harvard Business Review.

“But what about…?” I know where you’re going with that question. If you really do implement the three-a-day, what happens when you’re cranking out your other stuff and realize there’s an email you really need to send? One that just can’t sit in your outbox until you start working online again?

That’s why I’m excited about Let.terLet.ter is a “send only” app that ties to your contact list so you can send an email without receiving any emails. Genius. There are a few quirks: you have to use keyboard shortcuts to get to specially formatted text like bold and italics. You don’t have the benefit of an automatic email signature. But other than that, I think I’m gonna like it. ($4 from the App Store, only for Macs. Sorry, PC peeps.)

“But I like my email signature.” So do I, kids. So do I. An email just feels a little nekkid without it. That’s why I’m also excited about a great little text expander tool that I found called aText. At $5, it’s a steal over the much-more expensive options out there. And so far, it worketh just fine. Let’s say you have an email signature that you just have to include, or a few standard lines that seem to always make their way into a bunch of your daily emails. I don’t know, something like: “I’m so sorry that our Student Pastor made your seventh grade son cry because he said he reminded him of a more feminine version of Justin Bieber. Rest assured he has been reprimanded, and we have cancelled his subscription to Field and Stream as punishment.” (You know, in theory.)

With aText, you slap those sentences in the app, assign a short code (such as *Gaston) and when you type *Gaston, the entire sentence pops up. Genius.

How about it, fellow nerds? What did I miss? What are your best tips and tricks to get junk done? Comment below.