3 Questions With Justin Graves

Justin Graves is a talented and experience worship leader and a good friend of mine. He and his wife, Michelle have been leading people in worship over the past 15 years and together they founded the Justin Grave Band.

Here are 3 questions I recently asked Justin:


As you have been traveling around the country for the past 15 years or so leading worship, what have you seen change in churches over the years for good and for bad?

I started leading worship back in the 90's which was the era of big church choirs. Every church had a choir and did a big choir anthem each week. I even directed a youth choir for a few years! No matter how big or small your choir was, there was a lot of time and effort put into making sure the choir's special song was perfect each week.

Over the last 15 years the trend turned from having a big choir to having a big worship team. Every church wanted to have a killer band that rivaled any big name stadium tour. It seemed that it was all about the lights and the show and hoping that somehow would attract new people to the church. Yes, they were doing worship songs, but it felt more like a rock concert where people just come and watch a band sing worship songs instead of participating in worship.  

There are many churches still using the big choir or rock concert format, but recently it seems as though the people going to church are looking for something more authentic, more genuine. They don't care about how cool the band is or even if they are great musicians, they just want someone to lead them in worship. There are churches who have gone to a smaller more intimate group of musicians that make it feel more like you are sitting in someones living room worshiping together than watching a concert.

Don't get me wrong, I think that there is a place for all of these types of worship experiences. I do think that any of them can lead people into worship, but it starts with what the motivation is for the choir/worship team.



If you could share 1 piece of advice with a young worship leader what would it be?

Wow! Only one?! I would encourage young worship leaders not to over think things. Don't worry about creating a good 'show.' Focus your time on making sure that the songs you sing are not just fun, popular and cool, but that they connect with the theme or message each week and have a cohesive flow.

Just be real and authentic. Your congregation wants to know you as a person, they probably don't even care how good of a musician you are. You don't have to impress them, just be yourself. Be exactly who God created you to be!


Recently, you picked up and moved your family across the country to Los Angeles, can you share a little bit about why you made the move and what your prayers are in taking such a great risk?

Michelle and I have a 9 year old daughter, Gabi, who is now a working actor and through a crazy, God filled series of events, we spent some time in LA this past spring to get our feet wet to see what an 'acting carer' is all about. After some great response, Gabi signed with a manager and agent and we felt God calling our family to relocate to LA for at least the next year.

After being born and raised in Texas and having our ministry based there for the last 15 years, this is very new and unfamiliar territory! We are used to being on the road full time, traveling to different churches and leading worship across the country and now we will be more stationary in LA so that we can be available for auditions and bookings for Gabi's new career. We are excited about this new opportunity for our family, but have no idea what to expect!

You are right, this is a BIG risk! There is no guarantee in the entertainment business and to uproot our ministry and pull ourselves off the road is quite scary. By doing this we have decreased our ministry's income because we are not on the road leading worship on a regular basis and are now relying solely on the support from donors. We are also currently changing our ministry model to start providing free, high quality video worship sets and worship leader training for churches that have little to no budget for these types of resources.

I have been making some great ministry connections in the LA area and have had the opportunity to lead worship at several churches and we are hoping to grow our ministry on the West coast. This is a crazy step of faith and we know that God will provide as He always has, but it doesn't make it any less overwhelming. I have also started working at Starbucks again to help make ends meet and have made some great connections there as well!

Our prayer is that God will open doors, provide resources, give clear direction and that He would help us trust Him even when it gets tough. I also pray that Gabi will continue to enjoy her career and that God would use her to be His light!

For more information about the Justin Grave Band check out their website. You can also follow Justin on Twitter for other great worship leading insights!


Why Bring A Secret Shopper Into Your Church by Greg Atkinson

Greg Atkinson is a pastor, author, speaker, consultant and the Founder of Worship Impressions, a secret shopper service for churches. Greg has started businesses including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media, a social media marketing company, and his own consulting firm. As a consultant, Greg has worked with some of the largest and fastest-growing churches across the United States. Greg is the author of Church Leadership Essentials and Strange Leadership: 40 Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization. 

Below is a guest post from my good friend Greg. Check it out!


A lot of people have heard or read that I'm regularly doing secret shopper or mystery worshiper visits to churches around the country. The question has been raised (and it's a valid one): Do you need a secret shopper?

As someone who takes the mission to reach the lost and unfilled seriously, I think it's a wise investment. It takes about a month for you to lose your new eyes, new ears and new nose. Things that you may have become used to or accepted, a secret shopper can spot on their initial visit.

I once had a great Secret Shopper visit with a local church plant in the DFW area. I then had great meeting afterwards where I shared constructive and encouraging feedback with their senior pastor. I was reminded of how even young church plants can quickly lose their new eyes and start to miss things that are obvious to a newcomer.

The pastor emailed me saying that they've worked on several of the items I listed and are excited about their future. Now, many years later, my secret shopper process has evolved. The last church I worked with was Menlo Church in California, pastored by John Ortberg. I evaluated all 5 of their campuses and went over a 22 page report with their senior leadership team. 

In one month, I'll do another secret shopper visit at a mega-church in Dallas, TX. I've already begun my pre-assessment, as I take a thorough look at the church's website and online presence. This is a church that is seemingly doing well and has a large congregation in a metroplex, but they want to improve and tweak things and I applaud them for that.

I came across some good words on Mike Holmes' blog that I'd like to share with you. He mentioned that a secret shopper or mystery worshipper can do a few things:

1.               Assess areas of strength and weakness

2.               See what visitors see

3.               Give objective appraisal

He also shares the story of his experiment as a secret shopper, which is convicting and inspiring. He goes on to share signs you need a secret shopper or mystery worshipper:

1.               Visitors who don't return

2.               Decreased attendance

3.               Lack of influence in the surrounding community

I would add an eye for excellence and an attempt to be better at hospitality. It's always healthy to look at your Sunday morning experience through the eyes of a newcomer and especially the eyes of a lost person. You may get only one chance to make a positive impression on them.

We all know a guest makes up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes.

Read that again!

When you bring a guest to church, you instantly become sensitive to your surroundings – the people, the seats, the ushers, the greeters, the kids check-in, the sermon, the music, etc. You want everything to be perfect for your visiting friend, especially if they are not a Believer. A mystery worshiper can spot these crucial areas out for you, before your lost friend does. It's an investment, but I think a wise one.

Nelson Searcy (in his book "Fusion") says that if a first-time guest turns into a second-time guest, they are 80% more likely to get plugged into your church and eventually commit their life to Christ. That's huge and that's what I do. I help churches remove unnecessary barriers and bad impressions and turn first-time guests into second-time guests. 

I once read an article in the Wall Street Journal on secret shoppers. As the article states: “Department stores hire mystery shoppers. Restaurant chains bring in undercover diners to rate their food and service.” Isn't what we do on Sundays as church leaders more important than department stores and restaurants? Seriously, isn't it???

If you'd like to pick my brain or ask what's involved in a secret shopper visit, contact me. If you'd like to read through endorsements of my ministry, check out the Worship Impressions website.

Keep pressing on and know that what you do matters!


Click the button below learn more about secret shopping http://worshipimpressions.com/

2016 Men's Lent Devotion

As Christians, if we're called to be like Jesus and are serious about the duty, what is standing in the way of that call? What would it look like for Jesus's life to change the way you lived yours?  

I'm honored to be included as a contributor in the Sacred Holiday Lent Study for Men, which includes the voices of 30 men from across the country who are answering the above question daily. Some days in the study will be highly personal, while others will dig deep into theology or tell simple stories. Each will challenge you to see Jesus's story as it relates to your own and commit to following Him because of it.

 We will explore six topics in-depth:

  • Celebration- Jesus’s riding into Jerusalem
  • Temptation/Betrayal- Judas’s role/mind-set in betraying the Son of God and the disciples’ denial of Jesus
  • Calling- Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane and mind-set while being put on trial
  • Sacrifice- Jesus’s beatings and Him carrying the cross and dying for you
  • Resurrection- Jesus’s journey from death to life
  • New Life- Defining new life and our response

20 percent of profits from the women's Lent study will go directly to the Orphan Care Network—a nonprofit that is partnering with families to serve the marginalized by showing the Redeemer still changes stories. 

Click HERE below to visit the Sacred Holidays store where you can purchase the study either in print or digital download.  Can you guess which one I'll be going through? Also, I'm excited to share with you a 10% discount code to use when checking out: TEAMFRIEND10

If I Were Looking for a New Job in Ministry

Last week I talked to three good friends who are currently looking for a new job in ministry and were reaching out for help. It took me back to a dark place where I was 6 years ago. I knew I needed to get out of the situation I was in, but I had a new baby, a new home and lacked clear vision of what was next for me professionally. At that point I had not looked for a job since college and every new job had come to me. I felt lost, confused and honestly was lacking self-confidence while trying to sell myself to churches and organizations. It was challenging and difficult, but as I look back I'm so grateful for how God moved through that season leading me to my current ministry position at Community Bible Church.

Looking for a job in ministry looks very different than it did 12 years ago and even 6 years ago. Here is what I shared with my friends and what I would do if I were looking for a new job in ministry:

1) Reach out to Vanderbloemen Search GroupThey're simply the best and so deeply connected to so many churches in need of great leaders. They can also help you in various ways prepare for your transition.  

2) Setup your Online Presence. Make sure you are setup well on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn) and check what pulls up on Google when you search your name. Don't just search your name, but search Pastor and your name and Ministry and your name. If you don't have a blog, I highly encourage you giving it a try blogging about once a week. This platform will allow churches checking you out better understand you, your gifts and passions, and your unique calling. You can have a website and blog setup on Squarespace in about 15 minutes for $10/month.

3) Make a List. This was a recommendation I was given 6 years ago to make a list of the 100 most influential people I know and then begin reaching out to each of them one at a time seeking advice for your next steps. Call these individuals, setup lunches and coffees, and just connect with them in the most personal way that you can.

4) Read 48 Days to the Work You Love. This is a quick read and a blueprint for you to follow next. There's not a book I've given away more copies of than this. It will help you to think differently, better define your calling and steps to pursue the right fit for you.

5) Hustle, Pray and Dig. Moving forward look for every opportunity that might be out there until God closes doors. Pray for clarity and direction. Dig into what God might be teaching you in this transition. It's so often in the valley that God speaks the loudest into our lives if we're willing to listen. Don't miss what God might be speaking into your life.  

What about a resume? Yeah, I guess that's important. I think it's way overrated though.  What is said about your online and what others say about you is going to speak much louder than what you say about yourself. As I look at the last 12 people that I've hired I doubt that I've spent more than 5 minutes looking at their resume, but spent hours looking at everything about them online and talking to others who know them.  

If you're in transition and there is anything I can do for you please don't hesitate to reach out. I pray this advice is helpful to you as you might be going through a season of transition.  

3 Questions with Martha Fisher

Martha Fisher is a Bible teacher and Pastor of Women at Community Bible Church in San Antonio and friend of mine. Martha has also been recruiting, training, and empowering leaders for groups in Online Ministry for the past several years. Martha specifically focuses on the area of discipleship for Online Ministry.


Here are 3 questions I recently asked Martha: 

Having led a ministry that connected thousands into small groups each week face to face and now doing the same, but online, what do you see as the most significant differences? 

Face to face groups have their own set of challenges; the fear of walking into a group where you are not known, the hassle of driving across town in traffic, and finding a group of people in which you have something in common, to name a few.  

Without the pressure of peers staring you down, online groups can mask the fear of being unknown since you can present whatever and however much you choose to reveal. Online groups are the answer to driving in traffic and cost of gasoline as they require neither. And online groups often by name alone give very specific descriptions of commonalities, such as Cancer Care Community, Women Who Long for Children, or Adoption Option, making It easier to find a group where you already have something in common. 

Another significant difference lies in the very foundation for online groups – technology. For the most part technology plays a very small part, if any in a face to face group. However, online groups are dependent on technology which can be challenging for some people to navigate and in some countries the internet is unreliable. 

Both types of groups have their own set of challenges; I think it comes down to what works for each individual.


How have Online Groups changed the most over the past 3 years and what are the most significant changes that you foresee in the next 3 years?  

When we began online groups, they met only one time per week on a specific day and time, viewing a video study and chatting on the keyboard. Since that time, groups have become more vibrant with consistent and daily access to those in the group with tools such as Facebook and Zoom. Facebook is the “on demand” for online groups, allowing people to have access to the group at a day and time that is convenient to them. 

Video conferences such as Zoom have opened the door from faceless interaction to personal interaction. A Zoom experience is literally like sitting across the table from those in your group and allows the host to share their screen, enabling the group to experience teaching, discussion, and/or video real time with one another.   

What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but one possibility is the virtual classroom; a 3D experience. Online ministry may well be the only voice to unite Believers some day; a network that will cross all boundaries of time and space. 

Cause and demand have always driven innovation and I believe cause and demand will determine what comes next in online ministry. I have no doubt that God will provide all that we need to minister to all of those in need of a community of faith, Bible teaching, and encouragement!

For a ministry leader who fears these new technologies, how would you advise them when trying to navigate the possibilities of Online Small Groups? 

Ministry has always had an element of vulnerability. It takes disclosure of ones weaknesses for God to use them. Scripture tells us that confession of sin is an integral part of forgiveness. Vulnerability, weakness, and sin are all very exposing.  

Technology can be very exposing as well. There is no doubt that use of technology may indeed uncover us even more and in different ways from face to face ministry.   

However, Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear. There are people and people groups that face hardships most of us cannot imagine and they need fearless leaders to bring them hope and the good news of Jesus Christ. We should be bold with the message of hope and wise in how we approach individuals and groups in ministry. 

I personally use the tools of social media strictly for ministry. I do not post pictures of my children or grandchildren. I do not give details about family life. I know that does not completely insulate me or my family, but I do my best to use technology wisely and trust God to protect us.

For more great insights from Martha you can read here blog here: (www.marthafisher.wordpress.com). You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. 
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/mfishercbc