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I have a friend I spend a lot of time with, but he doesn’t know me. If you asked him what was going on in my life, he would have a hard time answering. The reason is simple; he doesn’t ask questions. I know all about him. I could tell you about his hopes and dreams, because when we’re together, I ask him questions. And that simple tale of a somewhat disinterested friend embodies a valuable principle.

In our lives, in our families, in our churches, questions accomplish two critical things. They reveal values and they reinforce values.

They reveal what matters. Questions tear through all the clutter and get at the heart of what we care about, what’s crucial to our day, and what we’re ultimately invested in.

They reinforce what matters. They keep us focused on what’s critical. They keep us talking and monitoring the core values on which our families and churches are built.

But how do you know which questions to ask? How do you move beyond, “Did it get done? How did it go?” As leaders, one of the greatest things we can do for our teams is to attach the right questions to the things we do. Why? As great leaders have noted for decades, what gets measured gets done, and what gets rewarded gets repeated. It’s impossible to measure or reward if you’re not asking the right questions and getting the right information. We all need to develop questions we ask repeatedly.

When it comes to asking the right questions, there are three areas in particular that leaders should focus on. As you read the following, ask yourself what questions you need to be asking your team members.

Organizational Questions

Which gauges should we be watching?
We’re all familiar with gauges. Gauges are designed to help us anticipate and avoid breakdowns. In our cars, they show us how much fuel we have or if our engines are overheating. And although we might not stare at them when we’re driving, we keep our eyes on them and understand the role they play. Same with your church; you have to determine which gauges to monitor.

You need to identify three or four gauges to watch. Attendance is an obvious one. As a church, there will always be a need to know that particular number. But if we laser in on attendance and ignore everything else, we’ll get such a small picture of the real health of our churches. I encourage you to dig deeper and think about things like: How many leaders vs. apprentices do we have in our ministries? How many seasoned leaders are helping vs. newcomers that need help? As you find the correct gauges, you’ll discover that they help monitor health as well as growth.

Where are we manufacturing energy?
Is there a ministry area where you have to pretend a little bit? An area where the excitement has died and although you’re still doing it, you’re not really invested in it?

This question quickly exposes dying or dead areas in your church, giving you the opportunity to fix them or kill them. It’s that simple.

Don’t continue to ignore them. The attitude of “we do it that way because we’ve always done it that way” doesn’t benefit anyone.

Staffing Questions

Who needs to be sitting at the table?
You make better decisions when you have the right people at the table. Period. Cut through the red tape and the org chart and ask, “Whose input do I need to make the best decision possible on this issue?” Who is going to feed valuable input into the decisions you’re facing?

As you ask this question, you’ll learn that all people are not created equal. We all have different skills and experiences. I can’t dunk a basketball, and I’ve accepted that. I’ve found that there are two broad groups of people: initiators and completers. There are people you’ll want to brainstorm with, but they would be horrible participants in the “get it done” meeting. Other team members thrive on completion. Understand who on your team fits within those groups and make sure they are at the right tables at the right times.

Who is not keeping up?
This is a painful question to ask. I don’t like to ask this question. This isn’t about bad people or spirituality. It’s just that, every once in a while, as your organization hits 60 mph, you’ll have to ask who is still moving at 45 mph.

As painful as this question is, the truth is that other people in your church already know the answer. They are wondering if you know. If you don’t identify the problem, you’ll work around those 45 mph people and maybe even keep them locked in positions that are wrong for them.

Professional Questions

Where do I make the greatest contribution to the church?
Where do you add the most value? How do you get to a place where you are only doing what only you can do? The goal is to spend the majority of your time doing the things that add the greatest contribution.

The reality is that as your church gets bigger and more complicated, it will be harder to ask this question and more difficult to deal with the answer. As organizational layers expand and new positions are added, more time and energy will be required to identify the areas where your contribution is most needed.

What should I quit doing?
Are there things you’re doing that you need to stop doing—right now? Things you’re not good at? Things that other people are better at? There might even be things you’re doing just because you enjoy doing them, but they don’t add value. And you have to make the tough decision to quit doing them.

Asking these questions or your own questions that get at the heart of your leadership and church are really about doing a check-up. They’re about finding out and fixing what’s really going on. Sometimes, the temptation is to not ask these questions, and instead simply add more people or more processes to what you’re doing. But if you can ask the right questions, if you can get the right people at the table, and if you can make sure you’re doing the things individually that add the greatest value, you and your entire team will be better for it.

Andy Stanley is an acclaimed pastor, communicator, author, and the founder of North Point Ministries, Inc. Since its inception in 1995, North Point Ministries has grown from one campus to three in the Atlanta area; each Sunday over 20,000 adults attend worship services at one of them. Andy has written several books on Christian leadership principles, including Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, Communicating for a Change, Making Vision Stick, and The Principle of the Path. Learn more from Andy during his free monthly Leadership Podcast and from his new series, Guardrails.

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Marno Boshoff

commented on May 10, 2010

THanks Andy for the lessons on leadership I am a pastor in a large church in South Africa and we are faced with these questions daily. You have put them in a simple and practical way. I can definitely use them. The challenge is however also to execute on your findings after you have asked them. But they help you to execute more correctly

James Bailey

commented on May 10, 2010

Very effective article--borders on Great! I particularly picked up on that part about killing programs that don't work any more. The whole idea of trying to work around folks who are still going 45 miles an hour is one that has plagued the church for decades. Sometimes the actual programs just "don't fit any more", and in others we hold certain people in such high regard that we can't bear to ask them to either change their approach, or take the effort to find another area where they can be effective. That all sounds really unfeeling, but we are all trying to get each congregation to be the very best it can be.

Gene Escoe

commented on May 10, 2010

This article could no have been timed any better for me and my church. I am pastoring a church that has been on a 50 year slide into the grave. In the '60's when the church was still relativey young they ran over 700 people. Now we are running in the low to mid 100's. I have spent my first two years just trying to clean up the elephant dung on the floor that was left by the previous leadership. This article will be very helpful in reinforcing how we reallocate our energy as we decide how we pull this church out of the graveyard. Thanks for the advice.

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