Best Practices for Church Learning Trips
By the time a church has packaged its learning into a conference or a “how to” book, their innovative years of ministry are behind them. Over the years I’ve become more and more partial to spending a weekend visiting lesser-known churches. I’ve found these weekends far more valuable for learning than sitting in a conference!
Here are some key points I’ve learned for designing a great weekend learning experience at another church:
- Do Your Research // Make sure you spend time combing through their website before you arrive. Learn the names of the key leadership and get a sense of what they’ve been experiencing recently. Leverage this knowledge when you are interacting with leaders throughout the weekend.
Have a Purpose // Make sure you have a clear reason for attending and communicate that with the leaders you meet. Let them know what it was about their church that grabbed your attention and how that relates to what you hope to take away from your time with them.
- Don’t Bother Asking for the Senior Pastor // In growing churches, the Sr. Pastor will be too busy to meet with you. Don’t reach out to him or her to ask for time to meet over the weekend. Try connecting at the “senior leadership level” … do some research to see who the executive pastor or pastor of ministries is and ask them. I’ve been able to connect with that level of leaders at the largest churches in the country and I found those people more than willing to spend time with me.
- Beware of Emotional Extremes // I’ve seen people respond to these sorts of experiences in two extremes: either they say “we could never be like this” or “this is the same as our church.” Reject those dichotomies. You can make steps toward learning from these leaders and become more like them. If your church was the same as them, you’d be experiencing the same results.
- Respect Their Time // They are busy like you. Every minute they invest with you is a distraction from their mission. Use their time wisely. Be prepared with clear questions. Arrive before the time you agreed on. Let them off the hook to be engaged in their primary mission.
- Engage Volunteers // Some of my best learning on trips like this comes from talking to the volunteers serving in these churches. Don’t just talk with the paid staff. Find time to talk with people serving on the front lines of the ministry.
- Encourage Them // Please, please, please … be an agent of encouragement for every person you meet. Take time to comment on what you are seeing that God is clearly using. Find ways to encourage every leader you meet with.
- Bring Thank-You Notes // Before you leave on your trip, address and stamp a series of envelopes for every person you are meeting with. Write each person you meet a thank-you note and leave it with the front desk at your hotel to mail out. (A small gift card is a nice bonus.)
What are some churches you have visited over the years that aren’t “brand name” that you would recommend people taking time to see? Leave a comment to let us know!