David Heinemeier Hansson

Delivering Happiness :: Q & A with Tony Hsieh, Jason Fried, and David Heinemeier Hansson

Posted by | Notes | 72 Comments

On Tuesday, September 7, Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos, stopped by 37signals office in Chicago on his Delivering Happiness Tour to do Q&A with Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson, and 37 other guests. I was stoked to be a part of the conversation! Below are some of my notes from the Q&A. Enjoy!

On writing the book Delivering Happiness:

  • Tony went on a retreat to get the book written.
  • Once I was in the mood to write it was easy.
  • The hard part was getting into the mood to write.
  • Tried alcohol, caffeine, RedBull, coffee beans in vodka, etc.
  • They just started a 3 month long bus tour hitting 23 cities to promote the book.
  • They’ve already been on the road for 11 days,  and have hit 4 cities so far.
  • The tour is more about the message, less about the book.
  • They are using the tour as an opportunity to see and learn about what’s happening out there.
  • They want to inspire and be inspired.
  • Learn more at and

Tony to Jason and David: One of the challenges of a bus tour is that there are 2-3 events per day. It’s like planning 80 weddings over a few months. The bus is like a startup. You guys are all about productivity and efficiency… what tips do you have?

  • Typically, we wouldn’t do a 3 month bus tour; we’d stay in 1 city for 3 months.
  • Everything we do is all about doing it the simplest way possible first.
  • Instead of taking on many possibilities, we take on the easiest one first.
  • Anything you do is more than adequate for people who want to get to know you.
  • Go as low-fi as you can go… add on extras only when you need to.

Tell us about what Zappos stand for, what makes it different, what is your book about?

  • Zappos has evolved.
  • It started in ’99 during the height of the dot com boom.
  • It initially all about selling a lot of shoes online
  • 4 years into it they had to figure out what they wanted it to really be all about.
  • They decided they wanted their brand to be all about delivering the best customer service
  • In 2005, they shifted to make culture their #1 priority.
  • Everything else would happen naturally with a strong culture.
  • As many companies get larger they tend to lose their culture.
  • At Zappos, they want to scale their culture to make it stronger and stronger as the company gets larger
  • Having a strong culture causes you to be very explicit about what people’s jobs are all about.
  • Your job is not a job you do, it’s a culture that is a part of what you do.
  • Making customers and employees happy is their thrust to deliver happiness.
  • Check out
  • They help other companies figure out their core values to build their own strong cultures.
  • What’s important is having a strong culture.
  • What separates good companies from great companies is a strong culture and a vision that has a higher purpose above money or profit.
  • By having a higher purpose you generate more.
  • Zappos’ higher purpose is about spreading the idea of happiness as a business model

How did you implement culture 4 years into the life of your business?

  • They had 100 people when they decided to make culture the priority.
  • It’s different than when you are starting from the beginning.
  • When you are at the beginning of a start-up everyone knows each other… it’s easy to know when someone isn’t fitting in.
  • It’s hard as you get larger to have a handle on that.
  • Tony used to interview everyone personally
  • Zappos established 10 core values as a means to establish and define culture.
  • The problem with most core values is that they sound like a press release and are incredibly lofty… you can’t tell the difference between a company and their competitor.
  • They aspire to have Committable Core Values.
  • They hire or fire people based on their values.
  • Core values are a way to scale culture.
  • Core values are a formalized definition of our culture
  • They are the DNA of the company
  • There are no leader birds in the movement… each bird has simple rules embedded in their DNA that allows them to fly in unison

What is 37signals take on all of this?

  • When you are small you can talk to almost everybody.
  • Lead by example
  • You can’t have the disconnect of asking people to do something and not do it yourself or show them how.
  • You have to set the best example
  • The trick of being a small company is that you have to learn how to do everything.
  • You have to get better at doing everything.
  • If you’re not good at what you are telling people to do it won’t work.
  • Small companies must be focused on efficiency; there’s no room for slack.
  • Half of their company is in Chicago half is in 10 cities around the world.
  • Now that they’ve built an office there is a more unique experience for people who are in Chicago, to keep balance and a sense of keeping everyone on the same page, most of their communication happens online via Campfire, even if they are sitting across the room from one another.

To Zappos: How do you manage the decision making process?

  • I [Tony] do as little decision making as possible
  • Decision making is pushed to the front lines as much as possible.
  • The advantage of that is that all of the teams are much happier.
  • Customers experience the consistent culture.
  • Zappos tries to align themselves culturally with all of their vendors.
  • Any place that has a distributive force makes it difficult to ensure culture.
  • Zappos has 2,000 employees… 1,000 in Kentucky and 1,000 in Las Vegas
  • Visit to see their office if you are in Vegas.
  • They send employees in both directions…  every employee has to see the packaging and shipping in action.

Jason Fried to Tony: You aren’t price competitive. What’s cool about that is that on the internet people go to the cheapest place. Zappos culture and service is more important than price. Was that intentional?

  • Zappos doesn’t offer coupons, etc.
  • They want customers to shop with them for service and selection, not the price.
  • They launched as discounted service site they offer but doesn’t have the same service, etc
  • Whatever doesn’t sell on Zappos goes to 6PM. It’s like an outlet mall.

To Jason and Tony: In Rework: you say failure is not a rite of passage, they you shouldn’t learn from your mistakes, etc. In Delivering Happiness, Tony says that we need to fail our way towards success.  Please explain!


  • There is something to be learned from failure.
  • There’s a lot to be learned from success.
  • Not enough people focus on that.
  • If you keep focusing on what didn’t work you’ll keep learning what not to do.
  • Since everyone is talking about failure,  look at what’s working instead.
  • Keep doing what’s working.
  • You get better by doing something better each time.
  • It’s not a great way to learn if you keep looking at what you did wrong.


  • Learning from your mistakes is an oversold idea.
  • Failing doesn’t mean you’re succeeding.


  • There’s a difference between correlation and causation.
  • Learning from success can be hard because you could be learning the wrong thing from your success.
  • There are very few entrepreneurs who did their first thing very well to the point that it succeeded.
  • If people fail at something they can look at themselves as a failure.
  • Failure is part of the path to where you are going to end up.
  • It’s a necessary step in the journey.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit is about optimism and creativity.
  • Being an entrepreneur is like being MacGyver for business.
  • It’s never a question of not having a enough resources but not having enough resourcefulness.

How do you both feel about the issue of transparency?


  • I don’t know what transparency really means.
  • Transparency doesn’t mean everything is available to everyone.
  • Some things are not people’s business.
  • It doesn’t benefit anyone. It’s like trivia. It doesn’t help.
  • It’s fine to give something away for free but you have to have something to sell.
  • Example: First Citywide Bank skit from SNL:
  • It’s only in the web industry where FREE is a qualification for success.


  • One of the fastest ways to grow trust is through transparency.
  • Initially focus on being transparent with your employees.
  • Transparency gives every employee the feeling of greater ownership.
  • They livestream all employee meetings to the general public.


  • There’s a lot of techniques for running companies and building culture that work at a certain skill.
  • Techniques and tools are different dependent on the scale. Advice can be very context-specific.

The service industry has a bad reputation… if you have a huge staff in customer service, how do you instill value in them?

  • It goes back to having a greater purpose.
  • They are building Zappos to be all about delivering happiness to the world.
  • The same tasks have different meaning and value to people.
  • There’s many ways to motivate employees [money, fear, incentives].
  • There’s a major difference between motivation and inspiration.
  • If you can inspire your employees with your higher purpose and values that match their own you can accomplish more.
  • Motivational incentives are detrimental to creative/knowledge-based fields.

To Jason: How did you decide to NOT take money from investors when you were starting out?

  • Fundamentally, it all comes down to your schedule.
  • Are you on you own schedule or someone else’s?
  • When you take money early on you are someone else’s schedule.
  • When you start something and invest in it yourself, you are on your own schedule.
  • 37signals started as a design company and now they do software… they choose to do what they do.
  • Being on your own schedule, deciding what you want to do, how you want to do it, etc is the best way to go.
  • Own your own schedule, don’t rent it from someone else.


  • Control and progress are essential ingredients in happiness.
  • Faster progress can be addictive.


  • If you do take money you give up control.

Rapid Fire Q&A

  • Slow down growth to build for the long term.
  • Most entrepreneurs have a strong bias towards fast.
  • Slow down growth by raising prices.
  • Focusing on culture isn’t expensive.
  • Be explicit about allocating attention to culture.
  • Implement your personal core values from day 1.
  • In the interview process at Zappos, they ask people what their top 5 happiest moments are in their lives. Those uncover your key core values.
  • People desire connectedness and being a part of something bigger than yourself.
  • Happiness looks different for different people.
  • Once you break even, invest as much as possible into your customers.
  • At Zappos, most money that would have been spent on marketing is focused on building the customer experience.
  • Customers will do their marketing for them via word-of-mouth.
  • Interestingly, people who spend the most aren’t the ones who talk the most.


ECHO 10 :: Reworking Church Communications

Posted by | Church Communications, ECHO 2010 | 18 Comments

It’s always weird to post your own notes from your own talks, but here goes! I was incredibly honored to have the opportunity to have a breakout session at the ECHO Conference to share some ideas and thoughts that have been running around in my mind.

Thanks to all who were there and who tweets and thanks to ChurchJuice for sharing your summary of my talk as well!


We Live in a Different World

  • It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the world around us is changing rapidly
  • With advances in media/technology along with the recent economic shifts happening, the world we are living in is a different place.
  • The world has become smaller as we’ve become citizens in new global community and as we’ve become tribalized.
  • The way we work and communicate has changed.
  • We are living in a new day and a new area and are literally seeing the world change around us every single day.
  • With every major cultural shift has come a significant move of God.
  • In Gutenberg’s time we had the beginnings of the Reformation.
  • In the industrial age we saw revivals and the birth of many of our modern-day denominations and church movements.
  • We stand as leaders in an ever-changing world with the unchanging message of the Gospel.

The church has never been more equipped to advance the message of the Gospel and we are living in the days of significant opportunity.

  • With that opportunity comes immense responsibility… we will be held accountable for how we steward the resources God has given us in a digital age.
  • We need to be people who are like the men of Issachar, who are able to see the times and know hwat to do are indispensable in churches that are growing and thriving in the western world
  • We are now able to go to places we’ve never been able ot go before and can literally take our message around the globe with the click of a mouse.

The challenge for all of us is that we’re leading in a time of change, and as we know, the church is often very slow and resistant to change…

  • We’ve got to learn how to lead up while leading from the middle and lead the church forward in communicating one of the most important message with clarity and conviction.

The world around us has seen that we’ve got to change to survive.

  • Seth Godin says “the factory has died” and economist Richard Florida talks about the fact that we are in a cultural reset.
  • The rules have changed.
  • In order to survive, we have to change.
  • We’ve got to change the way we work and stop holding tightly to the idol of “church as we’ve always known it’ and lean into the opportunity God has given us to extend his message to a world that is searching for authencity, hope and turth.

REWORK-ing Church Communications

No one Cares About your Church

  • People’s view of church in general is on a significant decline.
  • People don’t care because we’ve lost credibility and trust.
  • We’re all big fish in our small fish bowls
  • We’ve got to realize we’re not at the center of culture anymore.
  • The challenge is to show that we care, genuinely care, about what people care about.
  • This gives us an incredible opportunity to re-present the church to culture but it will be through focusing on the needs of our community and caring about what they are care about.
  • We’ll only have a voice when we take the time to listen first.
  • We’ve got remove the focus from our programs our needs and focus on people’s needs and the needs of our communities around us.
  • It’s only when we show genuine care that people will begin to give us their time.
  • We earn the right to be heard.

Know Your Real Competition

  • Your competition isn’t the church down the street.
  • We can oftentimes get competitive with other churches or look with envy at what’s happening over there instead of focusing on what God is doing right here.
  • Our competition isn’t other churches because were’ all on the same team.
  • Our real competition is the forces of darkeness around us.
  • Our competition are things that people give their time, energy and attention to outside of the church.

Forget Your Mission and Your Vision

  • Vision is important.
  • Without a vision people perish.
  • The problem is our vision can sometimes not be very compelling.
  • A lot of our vision is pretty bland and sterile.
  • It doesn’t motivate people to act.
  • Vision is picture of where we want to go and who we want to be.
  • Our passion is what truly motivates us.
  • So many people these days say “if your church ceased to exist what would people miss’
  • I’d say if you had to strip everything you do away to one single thing, what remains would be your passion.
  • Passion is what motivates people.
  • More than a vision we need a cause that people can be passionate about.
  • We’re a generation that’s looking to be moved and who wants to give ourselves to something.
  • In the Bible it says of Jesus, that passion for God’s house consumed Him.
  • There’s nothing we can be more passionate about and give our lives to than the church and the cause of Christ.
  • Your vision is where you want to go, your mission is how you’re going to get there and your passion is what will fuel the journey.

Technology isn’t the savior.

  • I know it’s odd to say that at a conference all about church media but it’s true, technology isn’t the savior.
  • The church has endured for 2,000 years without it and while I believe that it’s a significant oppporutnity for us, it’s not that end all be all.
  • It’s great that we are able to broadcast our services do online baptisms and communion and all sorts of things that create buzz and I do believe that those things are effective
  • BUT technology isn’t the savior, but we can use it to help point people to the Savior.
  • One of the great things that having chuch online does and what having an active social media presence does is that it enables you to take your message and your experience to people that you may never have the opportunity to connect with otherwise.

Be Inspired, Don’t Imitate.

  • One of the first glimpses we see of God and his character in the Bible is the fact that he’s a creative God
  • Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created…”
  • Creation is unique and God doesn’t create clones, He’s marked all of his creation with a sense of individuality and uniqueness
  • So why in the world can we be some of the most uncreative people
  • I think the greatest sin any of us commits in our work life is the sin of copying and pasting.
  • We all learn by imitating but eventually we find our voice.
  • It’s easy to copy and paste and sometimes you’re in a bind and it’s a quick fix
  • But the problem with copying is that it skips understanding and understanding is how you really grow.
  • Copying rips off the final layer and neglects the thought, energy, and intentionality that went on behind the scenes
  • We feel we’ve got an excuse because “we’re the church” and I do think it’s great that there are people and churches who freely share things they’ve produced… and some charge.
  • Your church is unique… you have a unique voice, DNA and call God has given you and our role is to cultivate God’s creativity and present our church and our message in a way that’s reflective of our context and community
  • Copying what worked somewhere else doesn’t mean it will work where you are.
  • This doesn’t just go for other peple’s work it applies to things you always do.
  • Don’t just rely on what worked before.

Constraints are a Blessing

  • I think I very common conversation at these conferences goes something like “we’re waiting for the budget to get that… we’re working on a new site… we’re going to change our logo…”
  • We get way too preoccupied with what we don’t have or are consistently thinking we need more than what we’ve already God.
  • Most churches are feeling the affects of the economic climate we’re in right now and have been forced to cut back our budgets and spending.
  • And honestly, I think it’s a good thing.
  • All too often we use what we don’t have as an excuse.
  • Your videos aren’t going to get better with a camera… the pixel quality may improve but if it’s a dumb video, it’s a dumb video.
  • Content is what matters most and having the best doesn’t mean you’ll do the best.
  • Having less means you’re forced to maximize and make the most of what you already have.
  • Constraints force you to be creative.
  • In our age of abundance it’s easy to rely on what we’ve got and less and less on seeking God for His divine inspiration.
  • Having less will increase our dependence on Him.
  • You don’t have to do everything you just have to do what’s right.
  • Less really does more.
  • Jesus fed 5,000 people with 2 loaves and some fish and had more than enough left over.
  • He can take our little and make it much

Flawed is the New Perfect

  • We are trained to not trust marketing anymore
  • We don’t believe what we are told at face value
  • We connect with real people and with stories
  • We feel closer to people when we know what’s going on behind-the-scenes in their lives
  • The movies, TV shows and music that we consume tend to show the down and dirty and a raw with emotion and authenticity
  • So why in the world do we try to wrap everything we do as a church up in a pretty package?
  • Life is messy
  • We shouldn’t be afraid to show our flaws.
  • There’s beauty to imperfection because it shows people you don’t have to have it all together to be a part of your church
  • It’s all about simplicity
  • Talk like you really talk
  • Use real pictures of real people who go to your church
  • Reveal things people don’t want to talk about
  • It’s ok to not be perfect because that shows you’re really being genuine.
  • A well produced, polished service will pale in comparison to raw story of someone who is on the journey of finding their faith.
  • We see how to do this most clearly in the life and ministry of Jesus… he told people, “come as you are…”
  • We say that but do we really show that in how we present ourselves?

Stop Speaking in Tongues

  • We need to be interpreters.
  • We have created our own language in the church subculture.
  • The challenge we have is that language matters.
  • Language is oftentimes our first impression.
  • Are we speaking in a way that people easily understand?
  • Does what we say make sense?
  • Are we creating easy onramps for people or creating barriers with our language.
  • It’s not about dumbing down the Gospel but making it easy for people to connect with and understand
  • Remember to have an outside set of eyes and ears.
  • Jesus was a pro at this, he used everyday terms and ideas to express some of the most significant spiritual truths.
  • We’ve just created our own language trying to explain it all.
  • Go back to the basics.

You Don’t Need a Marketing Budget

  • The rules of marketing have changed dramatically with the rise of social media.
  • It’s now more about what other people say than what you say about yourself
  • In an overmarketed-to culture, we do better off to realize that marketing is effective but only when it’s done right and oftentimes, we’re pretty bad at it.
  • Marketing is often expensive and the return on investment isn’t often very high.
  • We’re getting our message out there, like scattering the seed, but is it really taking root?
  • Everything your church does is marketing.
  • Your church marketing is the sum total of everything you do… it’s the experiences and interactions you have with everyone and your marketing team isn’t some people who sit around a table it’s the people who attend your church.
  • What other people say is what matters most.

Don’t Communicate, Curate

  • One of the most critical roles in any museum is the role of a curator
  • What matters most isn’t what’s on the wall but the stuff that’s not
  • You don’t make a great museum by putting everything on display, you make a great museum by saying no
  • The curator decides what needs to stay and what needs to go
  • In an age of information overload the discipline and tact of editing is an indispensible quality
  • We’ve got to learn to stick to what’s truly essential
  • We’ve got to pare things down until only what’s most important is left
  • We can always add more later, but it’s really about getting your core message, your core idea, the thing that makes your church what it is front and center.
  • It’s not about events or programs its’ about people
  • We’ve got the best message that’s out there and an immense responsibility to share it in way that connects with people
  • That means we have to sacrifice some good ideas for the great ones
  • That means we have to be actively engaged in the life of our church and listening and collecting stories
  • We need to shift from communicating to the intricate task of curating

Closing Thoughts

  • We have a tremendous responsibility and an incredible opportunity and it will require us all to think differently, look at the world around us with new eyes, to listen with ears that are open and to realize that we are all shaping the way the world around us sees the church.
  • We’re not geeks or techies, and what we are doing isn’t about being hip and cool and trendy, what we are doing is leaning into the opportunity that God has given us to communicate his truth to a world that’s desperate and seeking for answers.
  • It’s not about how many followers or likes we have, how many hits or comments we get or how many people fill our multiple campuses and online venues each week
  • It’s about true life change and people finding their story in God’s story.
  • We’re pursuing a holy calling and our labor and our work is for something so much greater
  • Communicating for the church is a big deal, especially in today’s hyper-connected world.
  • I hope we can REWORK the way we work and communicate so the greatest message that’s out there can be heard with clarity… that people might get connected to our church communities and ultimately, to Christ.

Huge thanks to 37signals for their inspiration and for the book REWORK!

REWORK-ing Church Communications

Posted by | Books, Church Communications, Principles, Resources | 41 Comments

Alrighty, here’s the fourth and final post in a series of posts inspired by REWORK.

If you haven’t been convinced to get a copy by now, you are just plan ignorant.

So since I’m a ‘church communications guy’ I thought I’d devote my last post some thoughts on REWORK-ing Church Communications.

Stop Being a Communicator, Start Being a Curator

What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls. Someone says no. A curator is involved, making conscious decisions about what should stay and what should go. It’s an editing process. There’s a lot more stuff off the walls than on the walls. It’s the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Be a curator. Stick to what’s truly essential. Pare things down until you’re left with only the most important stuff. Then do it again.

This pretty much echoes my hero Kem Meyer’s mantra “Less Clutter, Less Noise.” If you haven’t picked up you copy of her book, get it when you order REWORK. It should be required reading for any church communications person.  PS, have you noticed the similarities between the cover of her book and REWORK? Great minds think alike.

Stop Sounding So Profeshional.

Sound like you.  Language is often your first impression – why start it off with a lie? Don’t be afraid to be you. That applies to language you use everywhere – talk to customers the way you’d talk to friends.

We’re a church for Pete’s sake! While we should have proper grammar and sound somewhat intelligent, we shouldn’t come across as being polished and sterile. Your church has a distinct personality and a unique style… let that come across in all of your communications. Toss your copy of the AP Stylebook and discover your own voice. [I intentionally misspelled professional.]

Marketing isn’t a line in your budget.

“Marketing isn’t just a few individual events. It’s the sum total of everything you do.”

Marketing isn’t what we do to get people to come to our Easter and Christmas services. Marketing is everything we do… from print, web, email, social media to individual encounters people have with our churches. It’s not something you control but it’s something you can influence. What is what you’re doing saying about you? What needs to change?

Forget writing Press Releases.

“If you want to get someone’s attention, it’s silly to do exactly the same thing as everyone else. Do something meaningful. Be remarkable. Stand out. Be unforgettable. That’s how you’ll get the best coverage.”

Last year we put on the Cultivate Conference. Over 400 people came from around the country for a day to talk about the web, social media, and communications and how they impact the Church. The event got coverage in the Chicago Tribune and NBC Chicago. And you know what? We didn’t send a single press release.

Say No by Default

“Use the power of no to get your priorities straight. You rarely regret saying no. But you often wind up regretting saying yes. People avoid saying no because confrontation makes them uncomfortable. But the alternative is even worse. You drag things out, make things complicated, and work on ideas you don’t believe in.”

We get asked to do a lot. Too much in fact, because “it’s all for the Lord.” Some of you may not have the freedom to say no as much as you want to, but as someone who is guilty of saying yes too frequently, I’ll testify that the consequences of saying no far outweigh committing to something you didn’t want to do in the first place. I think one work around to saying no is by offering options. Don’t tell people what you can’t do, but put the ball back in their court by telling them what you can do instead. [That’s a nicer way of saying, “your idea is stupid.”]

Good Enough is Fine

“When good enough gets the job done, go for it. It’s way better than wasting resources or, even worse, doing nothing because you can’t afford the complex solution. And remember, you can usually turn good enough into great later.

My friend Shawn Wood has written a lot about “good enough” and is wrestling with excellence and what that means in the church space.

We’ll never be perfect so stop straining to get everything just right. Good enough is fine. I think half of the things we obsess over are things no one would even notice. That’s not an excuse to get lazy but it’s freedom from worrying about being perfect. In the grand scheme of things a font or a Pantone color isn’t going to mean life or death, so stop killing yourself trying to get it just right. Most of the time our desire to be perfect comes out of selfish ambition or pride anyway. Yes God is a God of excellence… but He’s God, we’re not.

Don’t Commit the Sin of Copy + Paste

The problem [with copying] is it skips understanding – and understanding is how you grow. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding the all the layers underneath. So much of the work an original creator puts into something is invisible. Be influenced, but don’t steal.

The cardinal sin of church communications is our use of copy + paste. I’m not going to do the original vs recycled argument, but will say this much: STOP IT!  Churches are notorious for copying. For some reason we  feel we have permission and entitlement to copy, steal or imitate what’s not ours. Open source is great, learning from others is invaluable, but every church has a unique audience and importing what worked somewhere else might not translate in your context. You learn the most by doing things yourself. And, God is the author of creativity [Genesis 1:1], maybe if we spend some time with Him some if it can rub off on us.

Closing Thought…

Communicating for the church is a big deal, especially in today’s hyper-connected world. We have the greatest message that’s out there, and all too often we do a pretty poor job of communicating it. I hope  we can REWORK the way we work and communicate so the greatest message that’s out there can be heard with clarity… that people might get connected to our church communities and ultimately, to Christ.

“God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16, The Message

This post was inspired by reading REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals. It’s an important book that I think should be required reading for any next generation church leader.

I’m giving away one more signed copy…? Here’s how to win…

  1. Tweet This: I just entered to win a signed copy of REWORK! Comment here and RT to enter:
  2. Comment Below: With your Twitter handle [so I can verify you did step 1] and share something you’ve been challenged to REWORK in your church communications.
  3. Check back at 5 PM CST Friday: I’ll randomly choose someone to win!

Congrats to @TonjaC… you snagged the last copy of REWORK!

10 Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working for a Church

Posted by | Books, Principles | 68 Comments

I’m nearing the 10-year mark of being a church employee. That practically makes me a veteran. Ten years, four churches and millions of cups of Starbucks later [I’m convinced that’s the drug of choice for church workers] I’ve had a first hand-look at how the church works [by work I mean how it functions day-to-day in the church office] and after reading REWORK I’m convinced we’ve got some things that drive me crazy that need to change.

Before I continue, let me say this: I love what I do. Every single day [except meeting days] I’m excited to be a part of the life of the Church. It’s an immense privilege to be able to do what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything…  well, most of the time.

With that… here’s 10 Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working for a Church

1. We are really good at burning people out.

For some reason we feel like working long hours against ridiculous timelines and neglecting our personal lives, health, or families is a good idea… as long as it’s for God.

Not so much.

The average church employee stays at a church for about 2 years before they peace out.

“It doesn’t pay to be a workaholic. Instead of getting more done and being on top of your game, you actually start a chain reaction that results in decreased productivity, poor morale, and lazy decisions. And don’t forget the inevitable crash that’ll hit you soon enough.”

We all need to learn one simple word: NO. Even though something may be for a great cause, it’s not worth losing your soul to make it happen.

2. We focus way too much on what we don’t have.

One of the most common complaints I hear from church staff members has something to do with what they don’t have.

In the Gospel account of the feeding of the 5,000 all they had to start with was 5 loves and 2 fish, but in the end, there was more than enough.

“Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.”

Celebrate simplicity. Remember God can take nothing and make it into something.

3. We are afraid of change.

I guarantee we’ve all been a meeting where the phrase, “well we heard people say _____________ about _____________….”

Fill in the blanks… the music was too loud, they didn’t like that message, they don’t like this, they don’t like that…

These conversations usually center on a sensitive topic in the church: change.

And how do we respond? We quickly turn down the volume, change our minds, or reverse a decision.

“Sometimes you need to go ahead with a decision you believe in, even if it’s unpopular… remember negative reactions are almost always louder and more passionate than positive ones… so when people complain… let them know you’re listening. Show them you’re aware of what they’re saying. But explain that you’re going to let it go for awhile and see what happens.”

Give change time and be more concerned with what the voice of God is saying to you and let that influence you more than the voices of other people.

4. We use “let me pray about it” as an excuse to get out of making decisions.

I absolutely believe it’s important to pray about major decisions that impact the life of the Church – we shouldn’t move unless we feel God leading us. But all too often we use the “let me pray about that” card to delay simple decisions.

“Whenever you can, swap “Let’s [pray] about it” for “Let’s decide on it.” Commit to making decisions. You’re as likely to make a great call today as you are tomorrow. Don’t make things worse by overanalyzing and delaying before you even get going.”

Pray about what’s important but don’t sweat the small stuff… just make the call and ask for forgiveness later if need be.

5. We LOVE meetings.

For some reason we love meetings. Planning meetings, prayer meetings, planning meetings for prayer meetings. I feel like we have entirely too many and lose valuable time we could be devoting to things that matter. 

“Meetings are toxic. If it only takes seven minutes to meet a meeting’s goal, then that’s all the time you should spend. Don’t stretch seven into thirty. Think about the time you’re actually losing and ask yourself if it’s really worth it.”

What’s one meeting you could condense or remove from your schedule? DO IT!

6. We try to do way too much.

Most churches are hyperactive and never sleep. We thrive on activity. The whole “less is more” thing hasn’t sunk in yet.

What if we focused on doing a few things REALLY well l instead of doing a million things half-aced? << that’s my PG version

“Cut your ambition in half. Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.”

What are some good things you’re doing that could be sacrificed for great things that will make a greater impact?

7. We try to be something we’re not.

If I see one more 40somethings pastor dressed in Abercrombie so help me…

Ok, but for real… not just pastors but churches in general tend to have a problem of trying to be something they’re not.

“Don’t be afraid to show your flaws. Imperfections are real and people respond to real. There’s a beauty to imperfection. So talk like you really talk. Reveal things that others are unwilling to discuss. Be upfront about your shortcomings. It’s OK if it’s not perfect. You might not seem professional, but you will seem a lot more genuine.”


8. We spend too much time looking at other churches.

We spend way too much time looking at what other churches are doing, be it a church across the country or the church across town. It’s great to watch and learn from others’ successes, but if you look at other churches as you competition your focus is waaaay off.

“Focus on competitors too much and you will wind up diluting your own vision. Your chances of coming up with something fresh go way down when you keep feeding your brain other people’s ideas. You become reactionary instead of visionary.”

Your church has a unique and specific role it’s meant to play in the life of your community. If your church ceased to exist, what would people miss? Whatever that is should be where you focus your time and energy.

9. We worry about people leaving.

We’re quick to cater to the needs [or demands] of people who have been around for a while instead of focusing the needs of people who are new.

We should spend more time figuring out how to create a wider front door instead of focusing on how we can “close the back door”… even if that means losing people who give us a lot of money [there, I said it].

“Scaring away new [people] is worse than losing old [ones]. Make sure you make it easy for [new] people to get on board. That’s where your continued growth potential lies. People and situations change. You can’t be everything to everyone. [Churches] need to be true to a type of [person] than a specific [person] with changing needs.”

10. We don’t feel trusted.

For whatever reason churches tend thrive in a weird culture of mistrust. It’s not or conducive to a positive working environment. Some churches have crazy rules, policies and procedures that create layers of red tape that, while probably well-intentioned, communicate a lack of trust.

“When you treat people like children, you get children’s work. Yet that’s exactly how a lot of companies treat their employees. When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers. You create a boss-versus-worker relationship that screams, ‘I don’t trust you.’”

This is one I don’t have a quick answer to but know it’s something I’ve experienced and something I hear about consistently from others who are in the trenches. BUT, I will say working in a church that has a trusting environment, I’ve never felt so empowered to do my job and that has fueled my productivity exponentially.

Final Thoughts…

Church work is tricky but I will say the blessings have far outweighed the frustrations.

The challenge of being on staff at a church lies in the fact that we don’t have the option to leave our work at the end of the day.  Our work is deeply connected to what we believe and to our faith community. It’s easy to get passionate about what we do because we do is attached to something that’s incredibly personal to us.  We’ve got to learn the discipline of drawing boundaries.

While the Church has endured throughout the ages, each generation has had its unique challenges and opportunities. I believe the challenge and opportunity facing next generation leaders lies in how we manage and steward the resources we’ve been blessed with.

We’ve never been more resourced than we are today… which is why things like REWORK are important for us to latch on to. We don’t need to change what we do [connecting people to Christ], we need to change how we work.

My prayer is that we can REWORK and do the work God has called us to do, not simply by applying business ideas, but by seeking God, being led by His Spirit and serving the Church with excellence and humility.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…” – Colossians 3:23

This post was inspired by reading REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals. It’s an important book that I think should be required reading for any next generation church leader.

I’m giving away three signed copies this week… Here’s how to win…

  1. Tweet This: I just entered to win a signed copy of REWORK! Comment here and RT to enter:
  2. Comment Below: With your Twitter handle [so I can verify you did step 1] and share something that frustrates you about the way the Church works.
  3. Check back at 5 PM CST Thursday: I’ll randomly choose someone to win!

Congrats to @DaveSandell, you’re the winner!

The Church is a Business

Posted by | Books, Principles | 22 Comments

This is Part 2 of 4 in a series of posts reviewing and sharing ideas gleaned from REWORK.

Disclaimer: This post isn’t about the work of the Church [proclaiming the Gospel, being a biblical community, loving God, loving others, etc], this post is solely about HOW the church works.

Dear Church Leader,

The Church is a business… get over it and start acting like one.



I think one of the tensions most church leaders deal with is the issue of the church being like a business.

No one likes organized religion.

And the idea that the church is a business where the pastor is a CEO and the product we sell is salvation [or fire insurance] isn’t completely accurate.

The fact that I’m a paid “professional Christian” give me anxiety some days.

We can try to ignore it or deny it, but the truth is, churches have a business side to them…

THIS IS TONGUE IN CHEEK: We have customers [our congregation] who pay us, well… God, [tithe] for the services we provide [services, classes, experiences, etc].

Some churches employ hundreds of people and bring in millions of dollars each year. My own church employs over 30 people and has an annual budget of $4 million.

You can say all of that is wrong and that churches shouldn’t be like that, but it’s the reality of what the Church is… and we need to figure out how to live and do what we do in spite of it.

This isn’t consumer-driven Christianity, it’s just Christianity in a consumer-driven world.

This tension is nothing new.

In Acts 6, we read about the early church and how people [customers] started complaining about systems in the church that were broken. The apostles realized they needed to focus on what was important [preaching/teaching] so they appointed people who were good at business [elders] to run the day-to-day operations of the church. They had to REWORK the system. And you know what happened? It says that Church grew. [Coincidentally, one of the people chosen was also the first martyr of the modern church, but we’ll overlook that.]

That doesn’t mean pastors need to be professionals, it just means we need professionals in the areas of the church that act like a business.

At Park, our lead pastor focuses completely on what he should… teaching and providing vision for the church. We have an executive pastor [who acts like a CEO] and a director of operations that oversee the day-to-day operations and finances of the church. Our lead pastor has no clue who gives what and isn’t involved in issues that relate to finances… that’s not his area of giftedness or what he should be doing with his time.

From first-hand experience and leaning in to the experience of others, I’ve seen that churches are notorious for turnover, burnout and low employee morale.

I think there’s one key reason why: the way we work.

We say  “we’re a church” too frequently as an excuse to be unprofessional, work inefficiently, and do things that no other business or organization would get away with doing.

Have you ever wondered why many of the premier church leadership conferences feature speakers from the business community? They say things most of us would be stoned for saying and challenge the ways our systems work.

Think about how many pastors and church leaders have books by Seth Godin, Maclom Gladwell, Jim Collins, Daniel Pink, the Heath brothers, etc. on their bookshelves. We love what they have to say but often fail in implementation.

We’re afraid to act like a business in the areas and spaces where need to the most.

I’m tired of seeing churches that have great potential never reach it because they can’t figure out how to work properly. I can’t tell you how many incredibly gifted and talented people I know that have been a part of churches who have been burned out and would never work for a church again.

As the Church, we have a responsibility to wisely steward the resources we have… be it money or our people… and while everything we do is ‘spiritual work’, it’s all influenced the decisions we make day in and day out as to how we run and operate.

We need to change the way we work, we need to REWORK.

Tomorrow I’m going to post 10 Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working for a Church.

This post was inspired by reading REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals. It’s an important book that I think should be required reading for any next generation church leader.

I’m giving away three copies this week…

Here’s how to win…

Congrats to @DaveSandell, you’re the winner!

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