8 Lessons for Pastors on Christmas Eve Services

Christmas Eve is one week away. I have the privilege of coaching four of our Redemption church planters on a regular basis, and I recently shared with them some of the key lessons I’ve learned from doing Christmas Eve services. They gave encouraging feedback, so I thought I’d share it more broadly.

Christmas Eve


1. Evaluation. Soon after Christmas Eve, make a list of what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to be adjusted next year. Make this list within a week of the services. Otherwise next year when you’re planning you won’t remember. Keep in mind everything from service times, service flow, kids, environment, etc.

2. Feel. Personally, I want Christmas Eve to feel special yet similar enough to what we do that guests get a flavor of the church.

3. Preaching. Preach a simple gospel message. I’ve often been frustrated by Christmas Eve because, as a teacher, I’m always looking for people to have an ‘aha’ moment and I often try to get too clever on Christmas Eve. But the environment of Christmas Eve isn’t really designed for this. It’s more designed for inspiration, motivation, and something simple. Think about your sermon more like a YoungLife talk than normal.

4. Guests. Thank guests for coming and invite them to come back. Communicate when your normal Sunday services are. Have the graphic for your next series ready so that you can invite people to it.

5. Offering. Don’t apologize for taking the Christmas Offering. Instead say something like, “We have a generous church and we care about a number of needs in our church and community. If you’re a guest, feel free to participate or don’t, but know that this is a beautiful picture of what our church is about.”

6. Kids. Having kids under 5 years-old in the service is really difficult because they are not used to sitting still — even for just an hour. If you can have childcare up to age 5, people will enjoy it a lot more. (Though this is tough with only one service). OrientalTrading.com also has some good, inexpensive kids give-away stuff that can keep them occupied a bit (coloring, bendables, etc)

7. Touch. Work the room like crazy. It’s a great opportunity before the service to visit with people. They come early and you can make a big impact by working the room and meeting people’s families and friends.

8. Planning. By the end of January, make a Christmas checklist for next year that details what needs to be done and when next year. It’s a bit of work, but you’ll be happy you did. Here’s an example from ours this year, and it made a big difference in reducing our overall stress this year.

5 Lessons From Touring the Amazon Fulfillment Center

Amazon WarehouseYesterday I took our staff to tour the Amazon Fulfillment Center (it’s named “Phoenix 6”). “Fulfillment Center” sounds like a place where all your dreams would come true, but it’s really just a giant warehouse where Amazon orders are processed and shipped (maybe the same thing if you like shopping online).

It was amazing.

The first thing you notice is the size of the place. Ginormous.

We later learned that this center is 1.2 million square feet (just over 27 acres), stocks over 19 million items and has over 8 miles of conveyor belt zipping items around to be handled by the 1,500 “associates” who work there. This is one of 50 fulfillment centers Amazon has around the world and specializes in small to medium sized items (no big appliances or electronics here).

AmazonConveyerOur team loved it and would highly recommend you schedule a tour.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Communication and good signage are crucial. A warehouse that size is complicated and dangerous. To help people, there are signs everywhere. There’s even a whole section devoted to “team development,” which is largely focused on communication and creating signage. There are signs for everything: safety reminders, cultural values, right and wrong ways to do things, and wild statistics about the company.

Keeping people on the same page requires having good communication and visual cues that remind people about what’s important.

2. Sometimes efficiency requires disorganization. Besides the scope of the building, the most jaw-dropping part of the tour was seeing how items are stored in the warehouse. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIREDThere is literally zero organization to it. Items are not arranged by kind, name, or category. One compartment I looked at had a chocolate fountain, a cat toy, a Minecraft board game, and a few of the same book about American history — all next to each other.

Why? Well, Amazon has realized that the time it would take to organize all their incoming products would not be worth it and would actually slow them down. So the “stockers” just put stuff wherever it fits on the shelf and their computer system tracks where it is.

I’m still processing what the implications are for leadership in the church, but I think it means that sometimes we can get paralyzed by being organized and it actually slows down our effectiveness.

3. Well-designed systems are essential for growing organizations. Our tour demonstrated a profound achievement of computer programming. These systems track items, tell “pickers” where to find them, move items to the “packers,” and ensure that items get to the right place. Without these systems, Amazon could not process a fraction of the orders they do.

Similarly, growing churches need to be able to develop intentional processes to help ministry get done more effectively by more people.

AmazonPicker4. People are always essential. The computer systems are impressive and allow many things to get done well. But the Amazon warehouse demonstrated that you can’t replace people. Even in some of the other warehouses that have robots do some of the “picking,” they need humans to make intelligent decisions about what is needed.

In the same way, churches can never rely on systems and processes entirely. People are the glue that truly make things happen.

5. Good leadership invites everyone in the organization to take ownership. Many of the company culture signs I saw related to taking ownership. From day one, every full-time Amazon employee is given stock. Through Amazon’s Kaizen program, employees at all levels are invited to make suggestions on how to improve things.

If every good idea has to come from the top, an organization will be limited. But good leadership invites input and shaping from everyone.

Which of these lessons stands out to you the most? Why?

How Long Could You Do Ministry Without God?

This is one of the most important questions a leader can ask, and Geoff Surratt’s post about it is one of my all-time favorites. Worth reading over and over. In one part he says:

Israel created an elaborate and efficient church that ran very well without God. The priests and Levites excelled at their roles, the sacrificial system was geared to handle the crowds at Passover efficiently, and the Jewish people knew their needs were met with consistency and care. 400 years after God stepped away the Jews no longer missed him. They had created a church without God.

And then one weekend he showed up. He ignored their service run down, he tore up their resource table and he violated their policies and procedures. Every time he came to a service havoc ensued. Finally they had to either completely change the way they did church or kill God. They chose to kill God.

Read the whole thing here



Toolbox: Church Service Evaluation Form

Last weekend I took our five Pastoral Residents on a church tour where we visited six different worship services. While our goal wasn’t to be negatively critical, I wanted the guys to pay attention to what they were experiencing.Church Service Evaluation Form

Through an experience like that you begin to notice a lot of little things. This is good, especially for pastors-in-training who will be responsible for creating the environments and systems that make a weekend service run smoothly.

To help them, I put together a Church Service Evaluation Form with a bunch of questions that explicitly identify things I intuitively notice when I go to a new church. These are the kinds of questions that church leaders should be paying attention to and building systems to answer.


1. How easy was the location to find?
2. How is the curb appeal of the facility?
3. How was the parking?


1. How was the exterior signage?
2. How was the interior signage?


1. How were you greeted prior to the service?
2. How was the appearance of the greeters?
3. How many people greeted you who were not “official” greeters or staff?
4. Were there refreshments? If so, how were they?
5. Was there a “welcome/info center” for guests? If so, how was it?
6. How comfortable did you feel prior to the service?


1. How clear was the signage to kids ministry?
2. How was the appearance of the kids environment? (clean, fun, safe, etc.)
3. How simple was the check-in system?
4. How secure did the kids ministry seem?
5. When you arrived, was there a teacher present in an organized environment?
6. Did a teacher introduce him/herself to you?
7. How was the child welcomed?
8. How were the take-home materials?
9. Did your child have fun?


1. How easy was it to find the restroom?
2. How did the restroom smell?
3. How was the appearance of the restroom?


1. How was the appearance of the auditorium?
2. How visible and effective were the screens?
3. How was the flow of the service order?
4. How was the length of the service?
5. How was the lighting for the auditorium and stage?
6. How clearly communicated were the next steps for guests?
7. Was anything about the service confusing?


1. How well did the leader lead?
2. Was the sound mix balanced?
3. How were the transitions between songs?
4. How good was the musical presentation?
5. How sing-able were the songs?
6. How did the songs fit within the service focus?
7. How engaged did people seem with the music?


1. How likeable was the preacher?
2. How clear was the sermon?
3. How well did the illustrations help with the preacher’s main point?
3. How biblically accurate was the sermon? (i.e. preacher faithful to author’s meaning)
4. Was humor used appropriately and effectively?
5. How was the preacher’s body language?
6. How much would you want to bring a non-Christian to hear this sermon?
7. How much did the preacher have the material mastered?
8. Did the preacher clearly communicate the gospel?


1. How effective was the printed bulletin?
2. How were the other brochures and print information (about ministries, initiatives, etc)?
3. How clearly did you understand the church’s vision or focus?
4. How effectively were graphics and media used?


1. What was the best part of this church experience? Why?
2. What was the worst part of this church experience? Why?
3. What is one thing that this church could do to significantly improve the experience?


1. Would you want to come back to this church?
2. Would you recommend this church to a non-Christian friend?

Feel free to download this printable Church Service Evaluation Form. Even better, recruit or hire somebody to come be a “secret shopper” at your church using this form. It would be wonderful (and scary) to see what you’d learn.

Which question is your favorite from this list?
What is another question you’d add to the list?


4 Advantages of Video Multi-Site

My last few posts have been about Redemption Church’s multi-congregational model and then about why I believe this model is better than the video multi-site model. (Note: I didn’t say that our church is better than the video multi-site churches, but that our model is better).

multi-site church

In this post, I want to discuss four advantages that the video multi-site model has over the multi-congregational model.

1. Video multi-site leverages the significant strengths of a proven leader.

Churches that can even consider doing video multi-site are led by dynamic, gifted preachers who are often also gifted visionaries. These are often uncommonly gifted men whose gifts create parking problems and crowded rooms.

Whether a video multi-site starts in order to handle numerical growth or to reach a new community (or both), it has an advantage in starting with a proven, gifted leader doing most of the talking rather than a new church planter. While these churches still need good leadership to direct the ministry at the video campuses, there’s a huge advantage to having your teaching pastor be Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, or Matt Chandler.

2. Video multi-site is much simpler.

Notice, I didn’t say that video multi-site is simple. It’s not. Any kind of multi-site is shockingly complicated. But video multi-site is much simpler than multi-congregational (read this post to see my definitions).

  • It’s simpler to have one message given by one person via video than to have multiple pastors preaching the same passages.
  • It’s simpler to reproduce your ministry to a new community than to shape every aspect of your ministry to a new community.
  • It’s simpler to rally everyone around the vision and teaching of one Lead Pastor than multiple key leaders.
  • It’s simpler to find a campus pastor who can shepherd and organize people but doesn’t need to preach than to find a church planter who can do all of it.
  • It’s simpler to have a campus pastor with limited autonomy than to have a visionary congregation Lead Pastor who can significantly shape the culture and nuanced vision of his congregation.
  • It’s simpler to have one visionary leader who calls the shots than to have a plurality of strong leaders who have to work together.


3. Video multi-site more easily creates unified, multi-campus momentum.

There’s a continuum in all multi-site ministry: on one end is “we’re one church,” and on the other is “with multiple locations.” The video multi-site model tend to emphasize “one church” and the multi-congregational model tends to emphasize “multiple locations.”

If the goal is to create a lot of unified synergy, video multi-site is the way to go. Because the preaching comes from one main voice (or few voices) and the ministry is highly unified or even centralized, it’s much easier to create unified momentum. It’s easier to get people at one campus to identify with and rally around the other campuses. This sometimes even allows some video multi-sites to raise money on behalf of other campuses, which would be really hard in a multi-congregational model.

4. Video multi-site can launch and grow new sites faster.

Because of the factors above, video multi-sites can reproduce with much greater speed than multi-congregational churches. For instance, we recently had a church approach us about giving us their property for a new Redemption location. Unfortunately we had to decline. While we have a number of exciting young leaders who are developing, we did not have somebody at the moment ready to carry the leadership and preaching burden. If, on the other hand, we could get one of our associate, staff-level pastors who can shepherd and organize people and put him with video preaching of a highly gifted preacher, we could make that happen quickly.

Additionally, video multi-site churches can often grow faster. One of the major attractions to a church is the quality of the preaching and, with video preaching, the quality is superb. A church like Mars Hill can plant new campuses in cities where they already get many sermon downloads and quickly attract a strong following. Many church people are familiar with big-name preachers and transfer and many unchurched people are impressed with the high-quality communication and check it out.

There are a number of other strengths that video multi-sites and multi-congregations would have in common (reaching new people, multiplying ministry, leveraging administrative strengths and branding, etc.). But these are the places where I think video multi-sites have an edge.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what I think is at the heart of Redemption’s multi-congregational approach. It’s much more than just a “model,” and there are a few crucial elements worth highlighting.

What are some other advantages that you’d add to video multi-site?

How Our Multi-Congregational Church Model Works

I am a Lead Pastor and part of the Leadership Team of Redemption Church, a growing multi-congregational church in Arizona. Our model of doing church is quite different from what most people have experienced. Especially among church leaders, we get a lot of questions about how and why we do what we do. This post will answer some of the common questions we get about our model.

multi-congregational church

How is Multi-Congregational Church different from Multi-Site Church?

Though we are technically “multi-site” (one church/multiple locations), this phrase often brings to mind video multi-site and is, thus, unhelpful in describing what we do. We also avoid the phrase “multi-campus” as it carries many of the same connotations. We will occasionally refer to a Redemption “campus” if we’re talking about the physical location. Otherwise we use the term “congregation.”

This is because we think the term “multi-congregational” most accurately describes what we’re doing. We are one church with multiple congregations.

We are one organization, with one employee ID number, one tax ID number, and one bank account. While united around theology, vision and values, each congregation has a very real opportunity to customize ministry to its particular context with its particular leadership.

How Does the Leadership Structure Work?

Each local congregation has a team of elders (staff and non-staff) that shepherd the congregation, oversee its ministry, set its budget, carry out discipline, hire its staff and lead the mission in its community. While these elders care deeply about the overall vision of Redemption Church, their authority and oversight extends only to the congregation they are leading.

There is also a Redemption-wide Leadership Team that oversees the church as a whole and make decisions that impact all congregations. This team consists of the Lead Pastors from each congregation as well as other strategic leaders including the CFO and Communications Pastor.

The Leadership Team is not focused on congregation specific issues (what music to play, how to get more small groups in Tempe, etc.), but is focused on Redemption-wide issues. These include policy, vision, acquiring property, and planting new churches or congregations.

Is There a Leader of Leaders?

Yes. Tyler Johnson is currently the Lead Pastor of Redemption Church. What makes this unique is that Tyler does not lead one of the congregations. Rather, he is a pastor to the pastors, often visiting different congregations, leading the Leadership Team, and forging relationships and partnerships between Redemption and outside organizations. This is only possible because Tyler is humble, trustworthy, and highly relational. He has apostolic gifting that allows other gifted leaders to follow and trust him.

How Do Finances Work?

Each congregation is expected to be self-supporting (obviously, this takes time for new plants).

At this point, each congregation gives roughly 10% to a centralized Outward Focused fund that supports church-planting and community ministry.

Each congregation also pays roughly 10% to Central Operations for accounting, payroll, communication, website, graphics, and facility maintenance services. This percentage could change in the future if the Leadership Team decides that more resources need to be devoted to Central Operations.

The remaining 80% is available for the local congregation to budget and spend as needed. These funds pay for facilities, staff salaries, and ministry expenses. In a very real way, this allows those giving at a local congregation to know that every dollar they give is supporting the mission of their local congregation, as even the Outward Focused and Central Ops monies are used to extend and support the ministry of the local congregation.

How Does Preaching Work?

Each congregation has regular live preaching, overseen by the congregation’s Lead Pastor. Most of the time (~45 weeks) each congregation is preaching on the same biblical text or topic. This allows the preachers to study in advance together (we have a weekly Preaching Collective for all preachers) and share resources. It also builds unity across our congregations as everybody is tethered to the same text. When necessary, the Lead Pastor has the freedom to set the scheduled sermon aside and address an issue he deems important.

How Much Unity is There? How Much Freedom?

These questions have been and continue to be the most challenging part of multi-congregational ministry. There is no set-it and forget-it approach. Based on personality and gifting, some leaders push for more unity and uniformity, while others push for more freedom and individuality. It’s a constant tension to manage and having this diversity of leaders forces us to a healthier place.

Additionally, one of the most confusing aspects early on was for pastors, staff, and volunteers to have clarity on chain-of-command, who had jurisdiction over what, and what ministry efforts were or should have been centralized or decentralized. To address this challenge, we introduced the following categories: Centralized, Unified, and Decentralized.

1. Centralized = Things done the same way, overseen by a centralized department. Right now, this category includes finance, accounting, HR, facility maintenance, media and communications, pastoral residencies and Outward Focused Ministries.

2. Unified = Things done the same way, overseen by the local leadership. Right now, this category includes communities (small groups), preaching, membership, classes, elder processes, church discipline, biblical counseling, and benevolence.

3. Decentralized = Things done in different ways, overseen by local leadership. Right now, many things are decentralized, including guest services, kids, students, worship, assimilation, internships and ministries for men and women.

How Does it Actually Make Everyone Better?

We don’t have a comprehensive list, but…

  • Lead Pastors are better because they have a team of other men in the same role who are supporting and encouraging them.
  • Staff are better because they have associates at other congregations who are doing similar work.
  • Volunteer leaders and new staff are especially helped by the experience surrounding them in other congregations.
  • Preachers are better because they sharpen each other and share ideas weekly.
  • Members are better because they have more places to invite friends and co-workers who live in other parts of town to attend.
  • Each congregation is strengthened by the overall reputation of Redemption.
  • Church planters are better because they don’t have to reinvent the wheel (especially with admin) and they have the support and strength of a movement behind them.
  • Newer congregations are better because financing is available that wouldn’t be available if they were on their own.
What other questions do you have about multi-congregational ministry?



How We Do Performance Reviews at Redemption Gateway

performance-reviewOne of the most satisfying things in life is to have clarity on your job and know that you’re doing it well. Conversely, if you’re uncertain about what you’re supposed to be doing and unsure about whether you’re doing it well, it’s a sure path to a miserable job.

That’s why, at Redemption Gateway, we have clear job descriptions for every staff member and we do annual performance reviews every October.

Here’s our process for performance reviews:

1. Standard 360-Degree Staff Assessment.
Each Staff Member experiences an identical 360-degree evaluation based on the “10 Commandments of Staff Engagement” we use. This evaluation is completed by 4 different people: (1) Staff Member, (2) Supervisor, (3) a Peer, and (4) a Direct Report (or volunteer). The Staff Member’s supervisor is the only person who receives the results of the evaluation.

2. Job-specific evaluation.
The Staff Member and Supervisor each fill out a job-specific evaluation (click here for a Word Template), customized based on each staff member’s job description.

3. 1:1 Meeting.
The Supervisor and Staff Member meet to discuss the results and answers from #1 and #2. While this meeting may be corrective in certain areas, it is often affirming and encouraging. It also provides a forum to talk intentionally about future goals, plans, dreams, career directions, salary, and other important topics.

It is crucial to note that this system does not–and cannot–replace the need for constant evaluation and feedback. We are evaluating things all the time. When issues need to be addressed, we don’t wait until the annual review to discuss them.

Nonetheless, having an annual review process makes sure that we’re intentional about doing a thorough assessment of many important areas of our staff’s roles, responsibilities, and performance.

Finally, there is one staff member whose review is slightly different: me. As the Lead Pastor, I report to our elder team. I’m the only person who answers to a “they.” In my case, I am reviewed by our non-staff elders and our Associate Pastor (who I work closest with). This allows the review to happen chiefly by people who are not my direct reports (non-staff elders) but with some insight from the staff person who sees my work the closest (Associate Pastor).

It likely isn’t a perfect system, but it’s working well for us.

How are performance reviews handled where you work?