Six Things I’ve Changed About The Way I Preach

Six Things I’ve Changed About The Way I Preach

The last couple of years have been an interesting time for us all. Many churches closed in-person gatherings and just as many leaders had to learn the awkward art of preaching to the cold face of a machine.

(YouTubers, we’re learning from you!)

There was much to learn all round but for me the most valuable lesson was found in the opportunity to take some time and space to truly reflect.

In that time, I made some substantial yet subtle changes to the way I communicate as a preacher.

Here are six things I’ve changed about the way I preach.

1. Choosing the right topic (even if it sounds boring)

I’ve spent less time thinking about how to attract interest (although that’s still helpful to do) and more time thinking about what people specifically need in the season.

E.g. I preached on living a quiet life recently (lol who wants that…and yet it turns out everyone does deep down).

2. Letting the word speak for itself

I’ve felt less need to dart about to pull intricate (and sometimes disjointed) thoughts together. Instead I’ve let the actual scripture speak more from the context it was written – often in greater chunks.

3. Resisting the urge to add more

One of a preacher’s greatest fears is running out of things to say but this has literally never happened and never will happen lol.

We must be content knowing that each preach accomplishes something specific. We don’t have to nail everything in a single 30 minute slot. Go deep and narrow instead of wide and shallow.

4. Adding more ministry and less wow

How awesome I feel is rarely an indicator of how God is touching a human heart. More space to breathe and let the Holy spirit minister is worth a thousand of my wonderful quips (although they are very wonderful).

5. Searching for obedience instead of response

Being obedient to delivering the word God has for the people is what matters. How people respond doesn’t.

Focus on faith over affirmation. Online was an amazing reset in that there is zero response. And let’s face it we were all getting tired of the chat.

6. Feeling ok about what the Bible actually says

Much of God’s word is deeply contrary to the culture we live in today. It’s challenging and in its very nature deeply offensive to many.

Let’s preach it anyways.

We’ve done recent series on big topics like hell, judgment and even sex. We need more than just grace messages and Christian success culture.

Interested in developing and discovering your voice as a preacher or communicator? Find out more about preaching workshops here.

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Stop Trying To Include Everyone

Stop Trying To Include Everyone

One of the interesting things that happens in today’s age is that many people have enough cultural knowledge of Christianity to think they know what Jesus actually taught.

And frequently that leads to a common opinion about what Christians should do and how they should treat others. Even from other Christians.

Here’s some examples:

Christianity should always be inclusive

God is love so he wouldn’t tell people how they should live

You need to be more accepting like Jesus was

Unless of course that’s not what Jesus actually taught...

One of my favourite Bible stories is this one time where Jesus is preaching as he often did. He said something challenging and pretty much most of the people there got up and left. (Read John 6:60-69).

Let’s look at what Jesus didn’t do.

1. Change his message.
2. Call them up the next day.
3. Chase them down and apologise.

Nah he legit turns to the guys who are still there and says this:

Are you going to leave too?

We Can Always Keep An Open Door

Of course we should always keep an open door so people who are genuinely seeking can experience Jesus.

But remember that the focus of Jesus was going deep with a few (not going shallow with many).

So stop trying to please everyone and start discipling those who are there.

In business, don’t worry about getting more clients – instead start serving the ones you have.

In life, don’t itch for more influence when you could be utilising the light you already have.

Spending too much time trying to include or reach those who don’t necessarily want to be in the picture often means we miss out on the very thing we’re supposed to be doing.

And that is our actual purpose – discipleship.

Blanket Inclusivity Is Overrated

Because although everyone is welcome but not everyone wants to be there.

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How To Get £100,000 Free Advertising Every Year For Your Church

How To Get £100,000 Free Advertising Every Year For Your Church

You read it right. I can guarantee there is no click bait happening here.

At some point in history, Google decided that they wanted to help nonprofits by giving them free advertising. They do this by giving charities a whole load of spend (approx £100,000 in sterling) each year with their Google Adwords programme.

Did someone just say one hundred grand worth of free advertising? For some reason this fact is remarkably unknown in the church space.

A few caveats before we start:

1. This is only for registered charities (which most churches are or at least should be)
2. I’m not familiar with all of the rules outside of the UK but it seems that the requirements are very similar

So what is Google Adwords?

Google Adwords basically provides adverts to people who are using Google search. What’s so cool about online advertising in general is that you have the ability to target people who are already looking for you.

When you give out 10,000 flyers around a neighbourhood, a whole bunch of people don’t actually want your flyer. Not only do you potentially irritate some but you definitely waste a lot of time in the process.

With Google Adwords, you can make sure that every single person you connect with is at least vaguely interested in finding out more.

Google of course is the largest search engine with over 70% of the market share. Second is YouTube which is of course owned by Google too.

How churches can use Google Adwords

Most simply, you can start by advertising to people who are looking for a church in your area. If someone types into Google “church near me” or any other plethora of options then you can hit them up with an advert which will appear right at the top of their page. Not too shabby.

Running successful paid advertising campaigns requires a good knowledge of keywords and SEO to maximise your results. Think about how brands engage the community with campaigns. “Come to church” is an ok start but there are plenty more opportunities to take a hold of.

(You might like this campaign I helped design which captured 500 email addresses of first year students: The Hidden Gems of York)

Google does have some rules about minimum engagement on your ads to stop spam so it’s worth doing properly.

So wait… how much are they giving us again?

You get $10,000 USD per month to use on Google Adwords. This works out (depending on when you check the exchange rates) as £100,000/year.

How do we sign up?

Google offers this free advertising in the form of a grant. All you have to do is head to https://www.google.com/grants/ and apply.

Expect to be taken through a fairly bitty process full of forms, verification, back and forth and the like. Or reach out if you’d like some help accelerating up the process.

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How To Design YouTube Thumbnails That People Click On

How To Design YouTube Thumbnails That People Actually Click On

Hopefully someone already told you that YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world after Google. And if they didn’t… well at least you know now 😉

What do people do when they have a problem? They search the internet. This is of course a fantastic opportunity for business owners, content creators and church leaders.

If people are actively looking for answers then they are already looking for you. They just don’t know it yet.

All we have to do is figure out three golden questions:

1. What problems do people have?
2. What language are they using to describe said problems?
3. How do we attract their attention?

In all honesty, some of this is trial and error and not every video we create is going to hit the mark in all of these categories.

But don’t worry, the wonder of the algorithm means no one will see it if it doesn’t. Keep on putting yourself out there and experimenting.

As we work on figuring this out, our aim is to do the following:

1. Create good content that helps people solve their problems
2. Use the right keywords that reflect what they’re searching for
3. Have engaging thumbnails that grab people’s attention

Today we’re focusing on the third aspect. Because even if you have great SEO, people may be reluctant to click on your video if it looks rubbish. This is where we come to understand that design is not just about art but achieving a specific purpose. In this case, getting someone to click.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

One of the most common errors with YouTube thumbnails is simply to use them to repeat what the title says. Instead as much as possible you want to expand on the concept of the video.

Let’s search on YouTube for “places to visit in London”. Here’s what comes up.

How To Design YouTube Thumbnails That People Click On 1

Whilst this thumbnail includes a lot of the same information there are some crucial additions:

1. Big Ben in the background is a strong association for London.
2. The colour of the text is tuned to the Union Jack.
3. Heart eyes emoji & the smiling girl paint a picture of tourist wonder, joy & happiness.

How To Design YouTube Thumbnails That People Click On 2

Here’s why this thumbnail isn’t as good in my opinion:

1. It’s not immediately obvious what the background image is.
2. Is that a child? Lol – I wasn’t sure at first glance.
3. Orange text colour isn’t very London.

Use Your Thumbnail To Tell A Story

Here’s an example from YouTube legend Mr Beast.

(By the way, one of the best ways you can learn about thumbnails is to go and look at successful YouTubers and how they do it).

How To Design YouTube Thumbnails That People Click On 3

I know what you’re thinking – if you were making a video about giving away $100,000 then it wouldn’t matter too much what the thumbnail looked like. But consider how the thumbnail expands the story:

1. Working at McDonalds is seen as the ultimate low paid job.
2. The size of the money compared to the person shows how much this could transform a person’s life
3. The expression on the person’s face is a mixture of sadness (from working at McDonalds) as well as shock, wonder and joy at the prospect of $100,000

Create Intrigue By Challenging Assumptions

How To Design YouTube Thumbnails That People Click On 4

Many of us have heard that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. In this example, the text on the thumbnail challenges this belief and creates intrigue.

Don't Go Bonkers Though

If you’re thinking that YouTube thumbnails need to be fun, loud, controversial and surprising then you’re absolutely right. But be careful to make sure that they are always relevant and connected to the content you are creating.

If you create crazy looking thumbnails but your actual video is very different then users will be frustrated with you. Of course it’s not fair to trick people. This will also undoubtedly affect the algorithm which will show your videos to less people.

What About Thumbnails For Churches

Here’s one final example from our church YouTube channel (C3 Reflect):

How To Design YouTube Thumbnails That People Click On 5

This was a snippet of a preach which was repackaged to try and reach more people.

1. The background image looks trippy (like your mind)
2. Shot of the person actually talking in the video (yes that’s me ha – we take separate images just for thumbnails)
3. The text “THIS IS WEIRD” adds to this specific story about the subconscious.
Bright and clashing colours help grab your attention

Creating YouTube thumbnails is definitely an art not a science. And experimentation is the key so go test some things out. Pay attention to the results and then adjust as you go.

For more training on levelling up in design, you might also find a Design Workshop helpful.

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How To Lead Worship Better - Digital Rabbi

How To Lead Worship Better

Practice the Presence of God

It’s not like God goes anywhere. He’s always present. And yet we don’t always experience his presence.

We must practice and learn the art of entering into the presence of God.

Otherwise how can we lead others there?

Teach People How

As a worship leader, there is (or should be) a reason why you’ve been given the responsibility of leading people.

We are never to be irritated or frustrated that people don’t engage in worship. Instead we should teach them how. That’s why you’re there of course.

Be strategic about using moments throughout a worship service to invite and teach people how they can connect with God.

It needs to be done swiftly and succinctly though rather than long verbal essays.

Read The Room

Context is everything. Leading a small group with an acoustic guitar is different to an epic youth conference.

No need to force anything into being. Gently lead people towards Jesus in the context you are in.

Some of the most powerful moments can be experienced if we can simply fix our eyes on Jesus. Use and embrace the atmosphere you have.

Get Rid Of Distractions

You fumbling over the words is a distraction. You playing the wrong chords is a distraction. You looking grumpy is a distraction. Changing the key of a song in the soundcheck is going to create some potential distractions. And so on.

Leadership begins with preparation. Most of worship leading is actually rather unglamorous. So do the BTS (Behind The Scenes) well.

Embrace The Awkwardness

Don’t feel like you have to rush straight into the next thing. And don’t feel so tied to the schedule that you begin to worship it (instead of God lol).

If you feel the Holy Spirit doing something, go with it. Even if it’s a bit awkward.

Pause. Wait. Listen. Stop.

God is found in the gaps.

Actually Worship

Get lost in the moment. Lose yourself in the presence of God. Cast your cares onto him. Don’t simply try to be authentic. Actually love Jesus.

Grow Your Skill

Playing guitar is hard. Singing and playing guitar is even harder. Singing and playing guitar and leading people into worship is still even harder.

If you’re not good enough to do the base layers without thinking (like when you drive a car), your mind is distracted by technicalities and you will struggle to focus on what the Holy Spirit is doing.

Discipline yourself to get better.

Empower The Team

Imagine what could happen when every person on team aligns their heart, soul, mind and strength to worship Jesus.

Everybody involved is leading worship, not just those leading songs or visible at the front. God loves unity and alignment. Working hard to encourage the gift of others is the work no one sees but has a huge impact on the future.

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How To Deal With Criticism - Digital Rabbi

How To Deal With Criticism

1. Take it on board for proper processing later

Don’t assume you’re not in the wrong. Don’t make the mistake of not properly listening.

And in the moment, definitely don’t make the other person feel like they need to repeat it.

2. Consider the practical things you can change

What can you do to learn from this critique? How can you grow as a person?

Make this less about your response to an attack and more about an opportunity to grow.

3. Thank the deliverer of feedback

No one likes to be criticised but we should be grateful for those who are willing to enter the awkwardness it can bring. Assume the best of intentions (even if they’re not there).

4. Weigh the critique

Not all critique is fair, good or right. Once we’ve gleaned for the good and practical, we can now consider whether it comes from a helpful place.

Make a mental note for future.

5. Get another perspective

Don’t go and moan to a friend who will always back your perspective. Instead ask a good friend if this was fair and what you could do to use this as a learning opportunity.

6. Make an apology

If you have genuinely made a mistake then own it. And if there’s something you an do better then admit it.

Note that even if most of the criticism is wrong, you can still acknowledge the bit that is fair.

7. Don't over-apologise though

You can bring a spirit of humility without agreeing to things that are untrue. People will always sense insincerity too so be sure not to over-apologise.

8. Make practical action steps

This is a learning opportunity so treat as one. Make changes and then make space for getting future feedback to check your progression.

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Eight Leadership Mistakes To Avoid - Digital Rabbi

Eight Leadership Mistakes To Avoid

1. Running Too Hard

It’s important that leaders don’t move too fast. Moving fast gets things done (good) but often at the expense of people (bad).

In other words, not everyone is able to keep up with the pace and so there is a natural drop out.

2. Being Invulnerable

This is a team game and leaders naturally carry a lot of weight. But if a leader can’t be honest about how they’re handling life then they are set up badly for the future.

You don’t have to be vulnerable with everyone (obviously) and there needs to be a maturity in how we guard our hearts. But it’s important that there are key people on the team who we can share the emotional load of the journey.

3. Being 'Too' Successful

The Bible says that a person is tested by being praised. Success is often a double-edged sword for a leader and it’s only natural to slightly relax and rest upon the laurels of the accomplishments of old.

But failure to deal with the seeds of pride will inevitably cut short future success. Don’t let success define you, instead give both the failure and the successes of life over to God.

4. Getting Cynical

The more experience you have, the more you start to see the patterns. Leadership always involves a lot of disappointment – it’s part of the job.

But so is dealing with it. If we project our past disappointment onto our future relationships then we end up in a place called cynicism.

5. Comparing Ourselves

Interestingly enough, both thinking of ourselves as better than others is pride and thinking of ourselves as less than others is also pride.

Either way, we are attaching our significance to what we do as opposed to who God is. Comparison stops us from running in our lane but it also kills innovation because we’re always copying someone else.

6. Breaking The Sabbath

It’s funny how taking a day of rest can be such a chore to a leader. But God literally places the Sabbath as the fourth commandment – ahead of not murdering people, stealing stuff or committing adultery.

When we break the Sabbath, it’s because we don’t respect our limitations. Which in turn means we show little regard for the boundaries of others.

7. Neglecting Friendship

Friendship takes time which is why many leaders don’t prioritise it. But when the job stops, who’s still with you?

Friendship is one of the great joys of life – people who want to be around you for you being you, not for the influence, favour or opportunities that you can open up for them.

8. Entitlement

Entitlement starts in the little things and ends in the big things. A leader starts to become entitled when they start to feel resentful about how much they do for others.

It’s the product of creating an image of a super leader – start to actually believe we are superior.

Are You Making Any Of These Mistakes?

The first step to change is awareness. Send this post to someone who cares about you and start a conversation.

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Six Reasons To Be In Church This Sunday

It stops me from being a spectator. Or worse a critic.

It costs me something. That’s what true worship is.

I become accountable to others. Transformation happens in the context of community not isolation.

I can encourage others. My presence will be a blessing.

I experience the presence of God. And it’s different than on my own.

But most importantly, it is an act of obedience. Share this with someone to encourage them to get back to the house of God this weekend.

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Man at table with empty coffee cup using laptop to search on Google

Boost your social proof with Google Maps

Imagine the scene – you’re new to the city and looking for a church. Or you’ve been learning about faith online and you’re exploring the idea of going to church. You have a quick Google search for churches in your area and see the following reviews pop up.

Average Google Review
Positive Google Review

Which church are you going to go for? Well of course the second one for obvious reasons. There are more reviews (33 vs 4) and fewer bad reviews.

Once upon a time...

Before the internet, if you wanted to go to a new restaurant or place you’d have to ask your friends for recommendations. And whilst that is still incredibly powerful, we can now access these sort of recommendations in just seconds thanks to smartphones.

What’s important to note is that when people search on Google, these results are often connected to business listings on Google Maps. Meaning the easiest way to get your church to show up to people in your area is to make sure your Google Maps listing is strong.

(Interested in strengthening your church presence further? Check out this article on why churches need branding).

Get started with your Google Business Profile

Our first step is to create your free Business Profile with Google. You may already have a listing for your church but do you manage it?

Head to https://www.google.com/intl/en_uk/business to do this. It’s a fairly easy and intuitive process.

In the process, you’ll also want to verify your business. This will cause your listing to show higher up in the search and allow you to be in full control of what you share.

Google will send you a postcard with a verification code to your business address to check you are actually there and then you can use this verification code on your business listing.

If you’re in rented facilities or a temporary venue, it’s still worth doing this and in my experience most venues don’t mind at all as it’s helping profile their location.

There is plenty you can do with your Google Business Profile but I would suggest starting with the following:

1. Update your details

Make sure all of your details are up to date. Think address, website, opening times etc. It’s too easy not to get right so make sure you do.

2. Upload photos

Upload as many photos as possible that capture who you are and what you do. Don’t just upload fancy stage shots (although that’s cool too). Make sure you include photos of people who actually go to your church. Children & families (with permission of course), young adults and so on. Think coffees and conversation.

Try to look through the lens of someone who doesn’t know what to expect – what would they like to see? (This is a key part of the process of branding for your church). It’s definitely worth investing in professional photography as these images will literally get thousands of views but the most important thing is to upload something and get started where you are right now.

3. Ask for reviews

Ask your congregation to leave reviews that are genuine, honest and specific. Most people won’t think at all to do this but this is the real power of social proof. You will have to ask people regularly (try an email that explains how helpful it would be). Make sure these reviews aren’t at all fake or too glossy as you can see through them a mile off. You can also reply to each review through your Google Business Profile.

Here’s how you might frame it in a church-wide email:

“Would you be able to help us reach more people by leaving a review on Google? It’s so helpful for new visitors to be able to see what church is like and hear from the community before eve they come. Every review helps to remove any barriers someone might have about coming to church. Please do keep it honest, genuine and specific – the link is below!”

The important thing with Google Maps is simply to get started. Users like to see reviews spanning over time as it looks more organic so include this as a regular part of church life and communication.

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Human Flourishing

12 habits that cause human flourishing

Sometimes we forget that in order to get exceptional results, it requires exceptional input. Following Jesus should by no means be a call to inaction but an invitation into excellence.

Here are 12 habits and things that will set you apart from 99.99% of society and cause you to flourish.

1. Go to bed earlier

I appreciate that everyone is wired differently. But often going to bed late is a sign of delaying the next day. Sleep is probably the most underestimated superpower we have access to.

2. Get up earlier

Starting the day strong (and not too late) is a great way to build momentum. I find that accomplishing things early in the day cause the whole day to go well.

3. Turn your phone off from time to time

It’s amazing how freeing it is to live life without being permanently attached to our devices. Of course we want to fulfil our commitments and stay connected to the people we care about, but every now and then it’s incredibly healthy to unplug.

4. Read your bible

Your body and your mind are subject to your spirit. Your external world will be the fruit of your internal word. Strengthening your spirit is where everything begins and is done by digesting the word of God (aka the Bible).

5. Have a hobby

Ever wonder why the best ideas come in the shower? It’s because whilst you’re away from work, your subconscious mind has space to chew things over. Hobbies create this space for us. Plus it’s just fun. Life is too short not to enjoy it.

6. Practice gratitude

Choosing to keep an open heart and a grateful perspective will shape the life you live. Good and bad will find its way to us but your attitude will determine how you handle them both.

7. Prefer others

Human beings have a natural tendency to turn inwards. But all sense of fulfilment and purpose is always found in serving others. Make this a staple and you’ll find a great sense of meaning.

8. Learn to say no

Highly successful people understand that saying yes to everything is always saying no to something else. If I take every business opportunity then eventually I will be saying no to spending time with my family. It’s ok to pick and choose. Be kind, be firm but have good boundaries.

9. Clock when you make excuses

Becoming self-aware enough to notice your flaws and idiosyncrasies is not about beating yourself up but calling yourself to a higher level. Pay attention to what you excuse and be deliberate about changing your internal narrative.

10. Take time to reflect regularly

Reflection is an important regular practice that allows you to pay attention to what’s going on inside of you. Left unchecked, emotional drama can burst upon us when we least expect us. It’s natural to get a few knocks and bumps in life. So create space to process these things well instead of just hurrying to the next thing.

11. Ask the right questions

Not everything in life is black and white. And there aren’t always answers for everything. Curiosity is an essential trait for success and a posture of question asking will always leave you with options.

12. Do the things you've been avoiding

Often we are held back by tiny little decisions or weaknesses. If you can hold yourself accountable and deal with these small issues then you’ll feel so much better. Imagine how good you’ll feel when you finally get that thing done. It’s never as a big as we make it out to be in our minds.

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