Whenever I have the privilege of going to another church, whether it’s a conference, preaching opportunity, or some other kind of meeting you’ll likely see me wandering all over the place – hallways, parking lot, auditorium, foyer – taking pictures, recording video, and asking the staff a lot of questions. Why? I love taking my learnings back to the teams at my church to see where we can be affirmed and/or challenged in the what, how, and why of what we do. This type of benchmarking is relatively easy to do and, in my experience, very helpful for your leadership. Here are some tips for maximizing your time when you visit other churches.
#1: Take pictures (and video). Lots of them.
While I think my powers of description are fairly solid, I just can’t beat an image. Debriefing with my teams is a lot like show and tell. For example, I’ll walk my teams through a slideshow (think an iPhone using AirPlay on a nearby TV screen) giving context to the images they see. “Okay, here is what this is…The church uses it for…What do you think about it?” This means you need to collect material in both images and video to present to your staff. I know videoing things like the music part of a service on your device doesn’t do justice to the actual sound but it’s incredibly helpful for many of your team members who want to get a feel for what’s going on. With video I’m able to pan (hopefully discretely) throughout the room in one motion instead of taking multiple different pictures. 1 Again, while the quality of sound isn’t the best, your musicians are savvy enough to get a good sense of things from watching. You can do the same observing the greeting team, information desk, children’s ministries, etc.
#2: Ask questions for your staff in addition to yourself.
You don’t find gold unless you dig. This means asking tons of questions I personally have. But you can also bless your staff who couldn’t come by asking questions on their behalf. What questions would your music leader ask? Your children’s staff? Your parking team? Doing this enables you to travel alone and yet take your team with you. It also tells your teams back home that you not only care about what they do but that you’ve asked questions with them personally in mind. You can strengthen this practice by asking your staff before your visit what would they like for you to find out when you visit.
#3: Write down your learnings as soon as possible.
For me, once I see or hear something that I think would benefit my teams I write it down immediately. It’s not uncommon for me to return with four or five different articles (e.g., napkins, reverse side of programs) with sentences and phrases I’ve picked up from a trip. The reason I write it down as soon as possible is because I’m usually running at a quick pace while I’m there. If I don’t write it down, I’ll either forget some helpful detail or miss it completely. If that happens, I don’t just lose, my teams lose as well.
#4: Meet with your teams as early as possible.
While I like to think I take good notes, the truth is I can miss something on paper. However, if I download with my team what I’ve learned soon after returning, I retain many of those details because those conversations and experiences are still fresh in my mind. If I debrief with my teams after several weeks, it’s too much work to recapture things. Earlier meetings make better meetings.
#5: Give your teams a written summary of your notes.
This is one way you can be a good steward of your benchmarking. Giving your team written notes of your learning means that your visit to another church doesn’t live or die with you but is concretely passed to your team. It also allows your process-thinkers time to work through all your learnings in way that most benefits them. In the end, giving your teams your notes demonstrates that you want to get the most of the visits you are able to take and not waste them simply because you returned with nothing to show or share.
Don’t waste your visits. Benchmark well for your sake and your teams’ sake.
- Video is more helpful than you think.
- Meet sooner than later. You’ll remember things you didn’t write down.
- Write down your learnings.
- Dialogue not just drop.
- Set up future conversations.
You can multiply the people who come with you by sharing with them your experiences, conversations, and learnings at the church you attended.
one way I can benchmark with other churches about how they do what they do (e.g., music, preaching, first impressions). Benchmarking is an easy but effective way to sharpen your teams in the ministries they oversee. So let me give you some tips on giving your teams
- It’s wise to ask the host leadership if it’s okay to video, and to refrain from doing so if they say no ↩