One of my favorite “details” stories revolves around Van Halen and their brown M&Ms.

Disclaimer: I didn’t listen to much Van Halen as a kid. I remember when “Jump” made it big on the radio. I saw Mr. Lee Roth’s tongue on MTV before Miley’s tongue was even born. But as a born and bred Southern Baptist, I was too busy listening to Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patti (before she dropped the “i” and added a “y”).

But I digress. If you know anything about the 80’s glam bands, you also know of their infamous contract riders: the multi-paged, insanely detailed demands that kept many a concert promoter up late at night: rooms set at 67°, a gallon of freshly squeezed orange juice, a deli tray that includes three-bean salad, that sort of thing.

Van Halen was famous for their insistence that all of the brown M&Ms be removed from the dressing room. That’s right: one candy shell of the wrong shade was enough to give them the right to call off the entire concert, even at the last minute (and at an insane cost to the promoter).

Diva behavior, right?

Maybe not.

In David Lee Roth’s 1997 biography, Crazy From The Heat, he finally came clean about the method behind the madness. I found this fascinating:

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors, whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function.

So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say ‘Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes…’ This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: ‘There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.’

So I would walk backstage, if I saw brown M&M’s in that bowl…..well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

See? Fascinating. The brown M&M served as the canary in the coal mine. It was a simple thing that alerted them to a serious problem.

What’s your brown M&M? What’s the thing that you look for and listen for to make sure all of your systems are working? What’s the external visual that signals internal problems in your guest service teams?

Maybe it’s a volunteer who can’t seem to get over the V-word.

Maybe it’s a long time member who still jockeys for a front parking space.

Perhaps it’s a staff member who keeps reminding you that a guest services team isn’t necessary, because the church is already friendly.

Any of those things can serve as a brown M&M. Any of them can point to a system that’s broken, but fixable. Any of them can highlight a deeper cultural issue.

What are some other brown M&Ms you’ve seen? Comment below.

Here on the ol’ blog, I talk a lot about the mechanics of hospitality: systems, structures, and staffing that takes a biblical virtue and puts it together on an institutional level.

But perhaps more important than hospitality’s mechanics are its organics: what is the church’s true culture towards guests? Are we saying we’re a guest-friendly church, but not backing it up with actions? Do we expect the official greeters with laminated name badges to be the only ones who reach out to a stranger?

That’s why it’s necessary to look at very practical things that help raise the organic culture at our churches. And that’s why Uncle Danny’s Tip Of The Day is:

Park far away from your building.

For several years Merriem and I lived out in the country, and every day I’d pass a little rural church that had five little rural signs in the little rural gravel parking lot, all lined up in a little rural row. The two signs farthest from the front door were designated as visitor parking (an automatic no-no). The next closest to the door were two reserved handicapped spaces. But the spot smack in front of the main entrance? “Reserved for our Pastor.”

Every time I passed those signs I’d get madder and madder and tried to find verses that would justify vandalism. (Vandalism done in the name of the gospel? Evandalism. But I digress.)

Now I think I know what happened: that church was trying to honor their shepherd. I’m sure the pastor never opened a business meeting by pounding his fist on the pulpit and demanding his own parking spot. But what did that well-intentioned sign placement say to a guest? “We’re more concerned about our comfort than yours.”

That’s the reason we encourage our staff and leadership to park as far away from the front entrance as possible, and why I’d encourage you to do the same.

A long Sunday morning walk will do four things:

  1. It raises your “guest awareness.” You have a built-in weekly reminder that there’s always room for someone else, and when you walk by those guest parking spaces, you can pray for the people who will eventually park there.
  2. It communicates what you value. I want our people to see our staff walking to our cars after church. Not because we’re jockeying for the Parking Martyr Christian Service Award, but because it says that we value the comfort of a guest more than our own.
  3. It gives you a chance to look at your facility. Weeds, trash, and junk can be turn-offs to a guest. Walking the property gets your eyeballs where they need to be.
  4. You get a little exercise. Let’s be honest: you could stand to lose a couple of pounds.

What are some other ways you raise the guest awareness in your church? How are you doing at instilling organic hospitality? And most importantly, how many more Nicholas Sparks movie titles can we repurpose for blog posts?

Comment below.

Six ways to maximize church stage announcements. (via @timrpeters, HT @persinger) As a part time Pastor of Announcements (shut up. It’s a thing.), I totally agree with all of these. (Except for the  “5-10 minute” time frame. What church allows their announcements guy to ramble for ten minutes?!? I want to go to there.)

When you’re deciding what you’re going to communicate from stage, unless it’s an abnormal situation, you want to ask yourself: Does this impact 80% of the audience sitting inside our worship center? If the event, ministry, serving opportunity or message does not impact 80% of your audience, then you do not want to dedicate stage time to it.

Ten common first impressions mistakes that churches make(via @TroyPage) Only ten? What are some others you’d add?

No clearly defined theme and next steps from the total worship experience. Often the music, message, video, offering and announcements all feel like separate comments with multiple agendas.

How you know you’re staying at a good hotel(via @Metapicture) Details matter.


Yesterday I received an email from a pastor who is trying to revamp the guest services ministry at his church. He asked the “structure” question: How do you have your team organized? Since that’s a question I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with in a full post, I thought I’d give it a shot here. (And if this sort of guest services nerd talk makes you want to find a nearby cliff to jump off, feel free to watch this video of a really loud monkey instead.)

Keep in mind that – while we want our teams to be structured similarly at all campuses – each campus may look slightly different depending on size. Your church will, too. The structure below should be adjusted based on congregation size, number of worship services you offer, and the total number of guest services sub-teams (Parking, Outer Entry, Coffee Bar, etc.) that you plan for.

First Impressions Director. This is the man or woman that oversees everything at a campus level. If you’re a single-site church, this is the pastor responsible for overseeing guest services. The FI Director is ultimately responsible for everything from identifying and training new volunteers to setting vision to troubleshooting problems to…everything else. They’re the point person, so they need to eat, drink, and breathe hospitality on a heart level. It has to be part of their DNA.

Shift Leader. The person who directly oversees each service time. Most of our campuses will have 2-4 shift leaders. We invest heavily in these people, because they are the feet on the ground that carry out the vision and instill it in Team Leaders. Shift Leaders make sure that their team is adequately staffed, Team Leaders have all the resources they need, and they ensure cohesion between all sub-teams. In addition, they handle the oversight of all of the service “systems,” such as offering collection, resource table inventory, etc.

Team Leader. Much of our guest service “secret sauce” rises and falls on this crew. A great Team Leader will empower and lead a great team. And a bad Team Leader? Well, you don’t want a bad Team Leader. Team Leads are chosen first on their servant ability. We don’t put someone in that position just because they say they can lead. We look for people who are already serving with a humble, teachable spirit – preferably on that specific team – and see who is already following them. A Team Lead has to be able to switch from “do” to “delegate” – a task that’s not as easy as it sounds. They are not responsible for carrying out the task each week, but responsible for leading the team to carry it out. That means a tremendous amount of coaching, vision casting, correction, and encouragement. They also function as the shepherd of the group. If a Team Member is sick, hurting, or AWOL, we expect the Team Leads to know it and respond accordingly.

Team Member. Every team is made up of 8-15 people on average. We divide our teams up into “sub-team” categories. Again, every campus is different, but the typical representation is Set Up, Tear Down, Parking, Outer Entry, First Time Guests, Next Steps, Auditorium Entry, Auditorium Seaters, and Auditorium Greeters. Depending on campus size, some of these teams may be combined. Every Team Member is required to go through a two week orientation: week one is a 75 minute classroom setting where we cast vision, define our plumblines, and assess the best fit for the team. Week two is hands-on training, where Team Members are matched with their potential Team Leader in a shadowing capacity.

Breaking our teams down in this way helps to ensure that no one person is responsible for too large of a span of care. We don’t want to overwhelm a FI Director by making them shoulder the load for 50 or more people. In this system, every person has a small number of people that they are responsible for.

Now, that’s our model. I’ve seen other churches have equal or better success by structuring their teams differently. The point is, you should know your structure, and your teams should know your structure. Everyone should know who their “shepherd” is. It makes for a better volunteer culture when people know who’s there to serve them when the questions and needs arise.

Have a guest services question? I’d love to collaborate with you. Leave a comment below.


Other posts that might be helpful:

How To Keep A Library Of (Physical) Books. I love me some books (especially the ones that deal with grammar). Ryan Holiday schools us on how to organize an incredibly large library.

I’ll be real clear about the benefits of owning physical books: You own them. They are there, physically, in your house. You cannot forget about them. A different app is not one click away. You can see patterns. You can gauge your progress. You can show off your efforts (and you should–reading is something to be proud of). You can look for what you need, find it on the shelf and satisfyingly say “Ah, here it is” and find the exact passage you marked for this purpose.

The secret of the five top. (via Seth Godin) There are some great nuggets in here for churches. Newcomers’ events, anyone?

In my experience–I’m sharing a hugely valuable secret here–you score a big win when you put five people at tables for four instead. Five people, that magical prime number, pushes everyone to talk to everyone. The close proximity makes it more difficult to find a place for the bread basket, but far, far easier for people to actually do what they came to do, which is connect with one another.

Father and Four Year Old Daughter Sing “Tonight You Belong To Me”(HT Tastefully Offensive) This is quirky, sweet, and hilarious all at once. Makes me want to learn how to play a little pink guitar.

Process Practice: Do You Get It? (via @robertvadams) Everybody seems to have good ideas while in the shower. Bob shows us how to generate those kinds of “aha” moments by hardwiring them into our teams.

Inspiration generates ideas, and the process helps to shape efforts in a way to keep the team moving towards a fully developed idea.


Dear Friends of Waiting Adoptive Moms: Some Things You Need To Know (and also, we’re sorry) (HT @rjdoherty) Some great prayer points in here if you’re friends with families who are adopting.

We’re moms without children. It’s an ache that doesn’t go away. It starts before we see their faces and only ends when they’re in our arms. So, we walk about with half our heart missing. It’s hard to breathe, to think, to speak. Something always feels missing. Because they are.


Breanna and the Quarterback (via @_michaelkelley) I’m not much of a football fan (that’s the ball with the pointy ends, right?), but I agree with Michael: this guy just became my favorite college player. I dare you not to cry.

…every few weeks, University of Memphis quarterback Jacob Karam volunteers at St. Jude children’s hospital. He doesn’t do it through any programs at his school. He’s there on his own, playing games with the kids, organizing crafts, and playing the piano either with the kids or as background music as families eat.

According to the strict dictionary definition, I’ve been in leadership for over twenty years now. I’ve led student ministries, volunteer teams, small group leaders, and the occasional victorious camp rec team (Go, Long Billed Dowitchers ’99!).

But in my gut, I know that just because I’ve carried the title doesn’t mean I’ve held the position. For the vast majority of my leadership life, I’ve been much more comfortable doing rather than leading. I’d rather get in there, roll up my sleeves, figure out how it works, and determine what makes a system hum. And some of that is okay – as long as there’s a handoff. As long as there’s someone I’m bringing alongside.

As long as reproduction is happening.

But too often, I feel like it’s safer to just continue to do it myself, to hang on to jobs that I’m under-qualified for, jobs that I’m no good at. And all the while, the ministry or team or organization suffers, because I’m holding on to a role rather than giving it away.

Contrast that with what I saw this weekend: I sat in on a leadership meeting of our First Impressions Team. I was there as an observer, not a leader. But the leader who led, led with the intention of giving ministry away. I’ve watched him raise up and send out leaders during his time here. What’s more, I’ve seen his counterparts do the same thing.

I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or just the fact that I’ve surrounded myself with people smarter than myself (not a difficult task), but I much prefer this model. I couldn’t really call myself a leader if all I was doing was producing followers. It wasn’t until I realized that leadership comes with a replacement and reproduction mentality…that’s when I think I really started leading.

So does this mean I’ve arrived as a leader? Not a chance. Even this week, there are a dozen things on my to-do list that I’m selfishly hanging on to, things I should be giving away, things I should be bringing others along to learn with me.

I couldn’t be prouder of the team God has given me. They are top-notch leaders who are raising up top-notch leaders. As I watch and learn from them, I’m discovering what it means to really lead. The students have become my teachers.

Who are you reproducing today?

Last week I was talking to a guy who has virtually no first impressions experience, at least in the church world. But it was immediately obvious that he was a Who that already understood the Why. He valued people. He understood how to make them feel valued. And he knew that the end game was not a good parking spot or a hot cup of coffee, but a distraction-free worship experience that pointed people towards the gospel.

Those are the Whos that you want to have on your team. Those are the Whos that you unapologetically steal from other ministries, set a huge vision in front of them, and then turn them loose to run after it.

It’s that Who that you want to pursue.

Read the entire original post here.

Last week we were back home in Tennessee, hanging out with family and enjoying a little summer downtime. As usual, part of the Extended Franks Family Experience involved food. Lots and lots of food. I come from a family that takes eating to an art form, and last week we toured the whole flippin’ gallery.

One of our regular stops is my hometown Mexican restaurant, La Fuente or El Toro or Niños Gordos or something like that. And like most Mexican restaurants, the menu is huge. Immense. There’s a page for the lunch specials, a page for dinner specials, a page for special specials, a page for a la carte items, and a page for combos. And then I’m pretty sure the whole menu starts over, just to mess with your head.

I love La Toro Gordos. I really do. The food is always great, but the on ramp to the food is frustrating. Let’s face it: whatever I ever order at any Mexican restaurant on the planet is going to involve some sort of layering of three ingredients: meat, cheese, and rice or beans. That’s it. It might be beans / cheese  / meat, or it might be cheese / meat / beans, but there ain’t a lot of creativity outside of that. And yet because of the menu, all 20 or so members of my extended family sound like we’re trying to deactivate a bomb…

Ummm…I think I’ll have theeeee….number 27…NO the combo 6…NO WAIT THAT’S NOT IT the mixed fajitas…NO THE RED WIRE! CUT THE RED WIRE!

See? Frustrating.

Contrast that to one of the newer-style chain Mexican restaurants, such as Chipotle. Chipotle takes the same menu items (meat, cheese, rice or beans) and simplifies it. You walk into a Chipotle and instead of dealing with a menu that looks like the 2013 US Federal Tax Code, you basically have to answer three questions: what do you want (burrito, taco, bowl)? What kind of meat do you want (chicken, steak, pork)? What do you want on it (rice, beans, salsa)?

Same options. Different approach.

Chipotle has done all the heavy lifting for us. Without taking away any of our options, they’ve removed some of our choices. And by the same token, they’ve removed most of the frustration.

I still get a great burrito, but I don’t have to look through six pages of options to get there. At a glance, I can see a clear pathway to get delicious Mexican goodness into my belly.

What does this have to do with church? I’m glad you asked!

Our menus stink. Too often we give people 47 million choices, when they just need a simplified next step. We want to talk to First Time Guests about how they can become a covenant member and start tithing and rock babies in the nursery and go on a mission trip…when they just need to know where the bathrooms are. We want to start a member down a 472 step discipleship process, when really they just need a list of the small groups in their zip code. We’ve taken the simple and made it complex, and by doing so we’ve frustrated people and possibly sabotaged a next step.

What is simple to us is complicated to our people. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

What menus do you have that you’ve overcomplicated? And where have you taken the complex and made it simple? I’d like to hear more…comment below.

(Oh, and Chipotle, if you’re listening, I’m currently accepting sponsorships.)

Once a month I get together with our Connections staff from all of our campuses. It’s a way-too-early discussion fueled by way-too-awful coffee that always yields way-too-awesome conversations. This morning was one of those.

The question of “who gets to serve?” was brought up. In other words, if an unbeliever comes to your church, should they be allowed to volunteer for various ministries? Or if a believer attends your church but have not yet submitted to membership, can they serve?

Although there are great and valid points on both sides of the issue, my opinion (and it is only that) is a resounding YES. Here’s why:

  1. Allowing non-members to serve allows them to take a safe first step. I’ve seen it hundreds of time in my tenure at the Summit: people think the church is a good fit for them, they think it’s a place where they want to put down roots, but they’re still timid. Unsure. “Prayerfully considering.” And so allowing them to join a team where they’ll get to know like-minded believers is a good thing. They build relationships, build community, and ultimately make a move towards formalized membership.
  2. Allowing unbelievers to serve immerses them in evangelistic environments. You will never see a Christian in their most authentic form until you put ’em in a parking vest and send them to an asphalt lot on a 95 degree day while they’re trying to dodge insane people with fish on their bumper. Mixing unbelievers with believers gives them the opportunity to live life with one another, and seeds are planted for the gospel.
  3. Allowing unbelievers to serve gives them a chance to see the “one anothers” in action. The New Testament is filled with “one anothers”…we’re to love one another, encourage one another, rebuke one another, send Farmville requests to one another (oh wait, that’s entirely unbiblical). Serving alongside one another lets them see a Christlike community in progress. Yes, they’re exposed to the bad as well as the good, but it seeds the ground for faith to grow.
  4. Allowing unbelievers to serve communicates “you matter.” We should never relegate unbelievers to the non-serving sidelines, as if they’re second tier citizens in the church world. True, they’re not yet citizens of the kingdom, yet they’ve already been gifted with talents, skill sets, and giftings that can be used for the kingdom. Our job as leaders is to develop all people – believers and unbelievers alike – but developing unbelievers with an eye towards moving them closer to Jesus.

Are there potential pitfalls in allowing unbelievers or non-members to serve? In the words of that great theologian Sarah Palin, you betcha. Not everyone should have access everywhere. I don’t want a non-member serving as a host in a membership class. That seems sort of hypocritical. And while an unbeliever would absolutely be allowed to park cars, help people find seats, or set up and tear down, we’d obviously restrict them from leading a small group or taking on a team leadership role.

I think the bottom line in this discussion is that we allow unbelievers and non-members to serve with intentionality. And that intentionality comes from us more than it comes from them. If we maintain an “anybody can serve” mentality, then ministry leaders need to know the status of everyone on their team. Who’s not a believer? Who needs to (eventually) become a member? Regular audits of our team will keep us from being lulled into a false sense of security that our teams have “arrived.”

I’d love your thoughts. Fire away. Comment below.