in: Career & Wealth, Leadership, Podcast

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #457: Leadership Lessons From the Pastor of One of America’s Most Innovative Churches

I grew up in Edmond, OK, a suburb of Oklahoma City. When I was teenager back in the 90s, I started hearing about some church being run out of a garage. Didn’t give it much thought then. Fast forward more than twenty years later, and Life.Church now has over 30 campuses across 10 states, and is often ranked as the largest church in America.

Today on the show I talk to the guy who started this thing in a garage, and has stood at the helm of its tremendous growth, to glean his insights on leadership and strategy. His name is Craig Groeschel, and he’s the founder and head pastor at Life.Church. We discuss Craig’s philosophy on leadership and managing the growth of a large organization, how he balances innovation with stability, how an organization can stay nimble even as it gets bigger, how you have to relinquish control in order to get growth, and why leaders need to go out of their way to show people they’re noticed and needed.

We then discuss the personal side of leadership, including how to balance work and life, how to avoid letting administrative duties kill your creativity, and how to handle criticism.

Whether you’re a leader in a business or a non-profit, you’re going to find lots of actionable advice in this show.

Show Highlights

  • What Craig did before he started Life.Church and why he was turned down for ordination on his first go
  • How do you measure success when the goal is more spiritual/emotional in nature?
  • How does Life.Church continually innovate while also maintaining stability?
  • Why “needed and known” is an important philosophy for any leader
  • How does the large organization of Life.Church stay agile?
  • Why Life.Church fights against rules 
  • How to give up control as a leader
  • Why flying by the seat of your pants isn’t necessarily a bad thing
  • How Craig balances the CEO aspects of his job with the creative aspects
  • Why Craig puts artificial deadlines on everything 
  • Fighting the loneliness and isolation that comes with being a leader
  • Dealing with criticism and critiques 
  • How to figure out which criticisms to pay attention to and which to ignore?
  • How do you keep volunteers motivated?
  • Long-term planning and setting a vision for a large organization
  • Why Craig doesn’t care for numbers-based goals 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Craig

Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

Craig on Twitter


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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another addition to the Art of Manliness Podcast. I grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma. It’s a suburb of Oklahoma City. When I was a teenager back in the 90’s I started hearing about some church being run out of a guy’s garage. Didn’t give it much thought at the time, but fast forward 20 years later and Life Church now has over 30 campuses across ten states and is often ranked as the largest church in America. Today on the show, I talk to the guy who started this thing in a garage and has stood at the helm of its tremendous growth to glean his insights on leadership and strategy. His name is Craig Groeschel. He’s the founder and head pastor at Life Church.

We discuss Craig’s philosophy on leadership and managing the growth of a large organization. How he balances innovation with stability, how an organization can stay nimble even as it gets bigger. How you have to relinquish control in order to get growth. And why leaders need to go out of their way to show people they’re noticed and needed. We then discuss the personal side of leadership including how to balance work and life, how to avoid letting administrative duties kill your creativity, and how to handle criticism. Whether you’re a leader in a business or a non profit you’re going to find lots of actionable advice in the show.

After it’s over check out our show notes at That’s Groeschel.

Pastor Craig Groeschel, welcome to the show.

Craig Groeschel: Hey, Brett. Thanks for having me on, man. I’m honored to be with you.

Brett McKay: So I live in Oklahoma in Tulsa. And if you live in Oklahoma, and you’re driving around, you probably see cars with these LC stickers on their rear window which means Life Church. And that’s the church you help found and are the head pastor of. And it’s interesting because I’d been watching this grow for the past 20 plus years. I grew up in Edmond. And I remember first hearing about this when I was a teenager, about this church in a garage. And 20 plus years later, there’s multiple campuses in multiple states. So I wanted to bring you on to talk about growing an organization, managing the growth of that organization, leading people on a micro and macro level. I think you might have some insights there.

So before we get to that, let’s talk about the story of Life Church. Before you started Life Church, you were wanting to be just a minister at a traditional church, correct?

Craig Groeschel: Yes.

Brett McKay: All right. And you went up to the ordination board and you got turned down. What happened there and how did that affect you?

Craig Groeschel: Well, I was mid way through seminary at the time and I was a part of a traditional denomination that I loved then and still love and value today. But I flunked the ordination part. I was the only guy. Basically I didn’t live up to what they wanted. They said my ideas were too wild. That I didn’t have the normal gifts that most pastors had. And so they said they weren’t sure I was called to ministry. And, Brett, I was beside myself. Upset, disappointed, embarrassed, ashamed. I got in my little geo prism and cried all the way home mostly because I got rejected, but partly because I was rejected and driving a geo prism. But I felt like my world fell apart.

This is what I thought I was supposed to do. And then I didn’t live up to their standards and to be totally fair, a year later they did approve me. But it was a long year of wondering am I going to live up to what the standards that this ordaining board had for me. And I didn’t make the cut the first time.

Brett McKay: And so when did you decide to start this thing in your garage with Life Church?

Craig Groeschel: Well, I was a part of a denomination and so I asked them could I start a church. And I was 27 at the time and they probably wisely said no meaning they wanted somebody with more experience than I had. I was just recently out of seminary and so that was something really in our hearts and once that door shut, we started looking for other doors. And it was in January of ’96 we were planning on starting in our house. We had a handful of people and I went out for a jog on a Thursday right before we started. Ran into a buddy out in his driveway who said hey I’ve got this two car garage that’s been kind of changed into a dance studio, do you want to meet there? And so we moved into the little dance studio that had mirrors which was great because it made the 40 people show up, look like 80 people. And that’s when we started, January 7 in 1996 in the little garage and stayed there for a few weeks until we outgrew it and moved into a middle school.

Brett McKay: And how many campuses are there now?

Craig Groeschel: As of today, there’s 31. We’ll be launching the 32 this month in ten different states.

Brett McKay: That’s crazy. So this is interesting with church. The goal of church is to grow members faith and spirituality and that’s a really abstract goal. How do you measure success for that? So how do you measure success for that very abstract goal?

Craig Groeschel: That’s a great question. We do want people to grow spiritually. But how do you determine if they’re becoming more loving or more patient or more pure. It’s really almost impossible to measure. So what we decided years ago to do is kind of define the outcomes we hope to see and then ask ourself what are the inputs that contribute to those outcomes. What are the things that we can control that help produce the desires that we cannot control? And so for us we measure, no exaggeration, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of things. Most of which nobody would care about. But the things that we feel like do contribute to spiritual growth are kind of the front and center things we measure.

Essentially it’s different forms of spiritual engagement. We feel like that people tend to grow spiritually when they’re engaged not just in scripture, but when they’re engaged in scripture with community that there’s something that happens when they’re together. So we measure the number of people that are in small groups. There’s a lot that we measure about it like how long does it take to get someone in it. How long are they in it? Do the groups grow and multiply? A lot of sub measurements, but that’s the big one.

We measure engagement of people using their gifts. We believe that everyone is important. That everyone has a calling. And should be making a difference and so if they’re in our church family, they should be doing something valuable in the church family. So how long does it take to get them involved using their gifts? We measure involvement in the community.

Meaning like right in Tulsa, there’s I think seven different Life Churches. They all will have local community partners and we want to get as many people involved serving in the community. We measure those who are giving. When you have a generous heart that’s likely some evidence of spiritual growth. And so those are just a few of the things that we look at and try to say what are the inputs that bring about the desired outcomes. And then we measure those things that we feel like contribute to spiritual growth.

Brett McKay: So it sounds like there’s a lot of testing that goes on too with this.

Craig Groeschel: There’s a lot of testing. I mean and yes in any kind of growing organization chances are you’re not going to get it right the first few times. And so we measure different things now than we did in the past. And yes, they’re testing again and again.

Brett McKay: Over and over. So one thing that’s made Life Church successful, gotten to where it is today it’s been so innovative. I mean one of the first churches that did online sermons. You’ve got the bible app that you guys put out there. So there’s a lot of innovation, but people also like stability and continuity too. Especially with church. So do you think it’s… I mean is that a challenge? Is that something that attention you have to navigate continually being innovating while also trying to just keep doing what you’re doing and getting better at it which you’re already doing.

Craig Groeschel: I think there’s always attention. So our church is a Christian church. And we live with rich historic tradition. And so there’s certain things about our faith that should never ever ever change. But culture is changing all the time. So the way we engage with culture better be changing. And so like the you version bible app. We looked years ago and realized there’s people that may believe in god but they are not reading their bibles.

And so we decided to try to help solve that problem and we created an app. And we’re lucky enough to take it to the app store the very first day that apps came out. So day number one our app was there. And as of today it’s grown to, we’ve given away 346 million free bible apps. So that’s the case of taking what is traditional and constant and unchanging the bible, but using an innovative way of delivery. And so we believe that the bible’s not just a book that is living its truth. And that’s kind of a classic example of there’s some things we need to keep the same, but how we deliver them we want to be innovative.

I do think in any kind of growing organization we want to be innovative, but there’s no shame in being boring when boring works. There’s a lot that we do that’s just blocking and tackling. Day in day out, week after week, month after month, year after year. There’s some things in application and execution that never ever change. And there’s no reason to change them. There are other things that we need to always be breaking, tweaking, improving, shaking, undoing, rebuilding, and I think it takes wisdom and a little bit of nuances to understand what are some of those things. Where do we need to tweak and push? And we don’t always get it right, but we work hard to.

Brett McKay: What sorts of things do you guys have kind of kept the same over the years? Besides the vision, right? But I’m talking about on a day to day, execution level.

Craig Groeschel: The game plan of how we engage people has never ever changed. And I’ll give you maybe a little bit more than you want to know. But let’s take two different churches in the same community. Great churches. One of them is a big one and small. Why do people stay at a small church? The reason they stay there generally speaking is because they’re needed. There’s something they’re doing that’s valuable. They find value in making a difference. And the second reason is because they feel known. If they miss a weekend someone says hey where were you. They’ve got relationships. They typically stay at a great small church because they’re needed and known.

Go to a large church in the same community. Why would they go to that church? Lots of different reasons. It’s convenient, it’s fun, it’s big, there’s a lot of activities for their kids, they’re making a difference and such. Why would they leave the bigger church? Because they don’t feel needed. There is professionals and more skilled volunteers doing something and there’s no place for them. And secondly they miss three weeks and nobody notices. They don’t feel known. So for us, needed and known. Those things are massive.

From day number one to 23 years in, what we want to do is we want to help people make a difference so they’re needed. We want them in community. We want them known. That game plan has never ever ever changed. And I don’t ever see it changing. It’s the basics. We may tweak how we do it, but the what, the goal is crystal clear. And I think any kind of business non profit, there are going to be those things that don’t get tired of focusing on the basics. There are certain things that always matter and those are two things that always matter for us.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and I think this idea of needed and known. I mean this applies not just to your church, but also a business or any other organization. I think I’ve read the one thing that employees want the most is appreciation. Like they’d rather have that than a raise. They just want to be needed and known.

Craig Groeschel: Exactly. And that’s why so often our team members are frustrated in our organizations where they leave. They don’t typically leave bad organizations. Someone else has said this. Not my quote. They don’t leave bad organizations. They leave bad managers. They don’t feel valued. They don’t feel appreciated. And so I think those are valuable principles in any organization to help them use their gifts and help them feel valued and cared for.

Brett McKay: So another problem that organizations encounter as they get larger is that at the beginning when you’re, this is whether you’re a church or a business, or a non profit or whatever, in the beginning it’s small. It’s charismatic. It’s agile that you guys are moving fast, breaking things. Because you can, but as you get larger there tends to be a calcification in institution because you have to. I mean it’s sort of the natural process, right? So how do you as a large organization stay agile as you continue to grow and add more layers to the organization?

Craig Groeschel: That’s a really good question, really important and we don’t always get it right. We were one of the first churches to start going to multiple sites. And we made a lot of mistakes that growing organizations make when you have a problem, you usually follow with a rule. And before long you get rule heavy and suddenly you can’t make decisions. What used to take a little time, now takes a lot of people to approve something and you start getting bogged down with bureaucracy and too many layers. So mid way through we recognized this was a problem. We fight like crazy to eliminate layers in our leadership organizational chart. I’m not a big fan of managers. I love doers. I don’t want people that are just kind of overseeing.

We want people engaged, making a difference. And then we just fight against rules. Again, this isn’t my original idea, but somebody said basically 2% of your people are always going to be idiots. Don’t create rules for those 2%. Deal directly with those 2%. The rules we create will slow down the other 98% and so we want to fight against unnecessary rules. In my organization we’re all about people. If you’re not careful the rules can be elevated above the love and care for people. We have to fight against that. And then just on a real practical standpoint, Brett, for me I find a measurement of success is by looking at how deep into the organization you empower people to say yes.

If yes decisions can only be made from the top, then the top is the limit to the progress of the organization. What we want to do is empower the right people, believe in the right people, and push as many decisions deep into the organization as possible that equips leaders, that helps them get better, that keeps your organization lean and agile. You don’t need a lot of meetings. You don’t need a lot of upper management to move the ball forward. You push the decision making power deep into the organization and again, we don’t always get that right. But that’s the goal that we’re working toward.

Brett McKay: And how do you train for that? You have to let go. But at the same time in the beginning you’re letting leaders make decisions. How do you coach them or guide them as they’re learning how to make those decisions?

Craig Groeschel: Yeah, the way you asked the questions is why. How do you coach and guide them? And that’s exactly what you’re doing. How do you know if you can trust a person? Well, the best way to find out if you can trust them is to trust them. And John Maxwell always said if someone can do something 80% as well as you can, then delegate it to them. I’m actually getting more aggressive than John is right now. I’m saying if I’ve got a team member that has momentum and potential, that can do it 50% or 60% as well, but they do have capacity to learn, I want to give it to them and entrust them to grow. One of the biggest limiting factors of any organization is just our desire to control. And this is something I’ve had to work through.

We have to work through it with our leaders. The more we want to control, the more we limit the growth. We have to do is we have to empower the right people. Give away, give away, give away, and let them grow. The bottom line is they don’t always get it right. It’s often you almost have to go through a dip of production at times. Or a slight loss of quality while they’re ramping up and they have a learning curve. And we have to be, we have to have a tolerance for a little bit of a dip to have the capacity for the upside. And that may be we may not quite get it right for the next three months because we’ve got people with a learning curve. But those people, with time, with coaching, with feedback, can one day actually perform better than those who were doing it before if you select the right people, put them in the right systems and give them the right parameters and coaching.

And that’s just part of the role in the organization. It’s not easy. It can be messy. There can be… you can empower the wrong person. You have to backtrack. But you don’t grow without risk and risking on people is one of the best risks you can take.

Brett McKay: And was that hard for you to start letting go? I mean you started this thing. It was sort of your baby. I mean what point with this thing did you just realize I have to start letting go of this? Was it very early on? Was it mid way? And when you had to start letting go was it really hard for you?

Craig Groeschel: It was crazy hard, Brett. So if you can go back in time, we were in our third location in a bike factory. We had probably 400 or so people coming. I couldn’t find kind of like what you would call your second person in charge. Whatever that role would be. We were fragile. We were young. We didn’t have the money to pay. People didn’t know if we were going to make it or not. I couldn’t find that kind of great leader to come along with me. And finally one day I did. There’s a guy who was a district manager for Target, Jerry Hurley who’s still with me today, he agreed to take a massive pay cut and join our team. And he was on for a few weeks when he had a very respectful conversation with me.

And I’ll never forget it. But he said something like you’re good at this, you’re good at that, you’re highly capable leader. But he said your need for control is going to be the biggest limiting factor in this organization. And then he just looked at me and he said if you can trust that I’ve had experience in areas that you haven’t yet, and give me the freedom to lead and build, I believe I can help take this organization to the next level. And his words, they stung but they freed me. And he was so right. So I started giving him more and this guy who had, here I was a 29, 30 year old pastor who never led anything significant. And here’s a guy who had managed multiple Target stores. He came in and started building systems and training people and I looked back or started looking around and realized this is… he’s doing a lot better than I could do otherwise.

It was about that time that I started to get obsessed with empowering people. What I don’t want to do, is I don’t want to delegate tasks. If I delegate tasks, what I’m doing is I’m training people to do what they’re told. I’m training them to be followers. What I want to learn to do is I want to delegate authority instead of creating followers by delegating authority I’m creating leaders. I’m giving people the freedom to create. Now, it would scare people to know how hands off I am and what I don’t know. I look at the things that are most important. I’m always on the heartbeat of the culture. Are we aligned with mission? There’s certain things that only I can do. But there are hundreds and hundreds of things that people would be shocked that I don’t know anything about because I’ve empowered the right people.

And that’s one of the principles we talk about is you can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both. And it’s painful any entrepreneurial leader loves her work or loves his work that they’re starting out with, but to take it to the next level we have to empower people more than we ever imagined. And then our organization can end up accomplishing more growing to heights and places far beyond what we had the capacity to do on our own.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love that idea of delegating authority, not tasks. I think that’s a good insight. So you mentioned something interesting there in passing. You talked about you were in a bike factory. So this I think is interesting. So I think a lot of people when they’re starting an organization or a business they feel like it has to be perfect from the get go. But with Life Church, you were in a garage. You were in a bike factory. I mean a lot of the times did you feel like you were just kind of flying by the seat of your pants doing this thing?

Craig Groeschel: Always and even to the point now where we want to guard against… we always want to strive for excellence. But we don’t want to… our goal can never be perfection. If it’s perfection what we’re going to end up doing is spending too much money in places that don’t have a return. We’re going to be too cautious and not trying things that are new. We’re not going to empower people and let them grow. So we want excellence, but perfection can be the enemy of progress. And so yes, to this day I still wake up and think how are we going to get it all done. What’s our next move? And that’s kind of what makes the whole ride fun.

Brett McKay: So you’re a leader of a big organization, multiple locations, hundreds of employees, tons of moving parts, so most of the time you’re acting like a CEO. But what’s interesting about your job too is you’re a pastor. You have to create. There’s a creative aspect to it. You have to deliver a sermon, a message each week that has to be engaging and imparts some message. So there’s a division between it sounds like administrative duties and creative duties. How do you prevent administrative duties, compromising your ability to access the more creative part of yourself? Does that make sense?

Craig Groeschel: That’s a great question and I actually appreciate the observation. Because that’s something that a lot of people from the outside don’t always notice. So it is almost like two different worlds. There’s the creative content which is a big, big part. And then there’s running the organization which is a really big part. They both have tremendous pressure. And if I’m not careful or others in my role aren’t careful one of them will squeeze out the other and both of them have to happen. So for me I’ll be real practical with you, I fight like crazy against being in too many meetings. Because so often in our organizations meetings are not as productive as they need to be.

So I want to limit the number of meetings. I want to limit the time in meetings. I want to make sure that the meetings that I’m in need decision making and are not just informative. Because there’s other ways to get information. So I only have one fixed meeting a week on my calendar.

The second thing is prioritizing is crucial for all of us. We all have more to do than we have time to do it. And so I put artificial dead limes on just about everything that I do. A lot of people take about what do you do early in the day that makes you successful? I like to talk about what I do later in the day to make me successful and that is creating a deadline which is a quitting time, ahead of time. Like today, I will leave the office at 3:45 like I did yesterday. And I’ll go to the gym and that artificial deadline which isn’t real ,one I had just put there, what it does is it makes me more focused during the day. I have to delegate things that I probably would do otherwise. I have to say no tot some things that I would probably normally do. And I have to make faster decisions.

The same is true with a sermon. My sermon is due in my mind at noon on Wednesday every single week. In the history of our church, I’ve never missed that deadline. Although the deadline is only mine. If I didn’t have that deadline, I’d work into Wednesday afternoon, into Thursday. I have to clear that off my plate so I can do the administrative part. Because until the sermon is, until I feel the relief of completion, I can’t focus on the rest. I need half a day on Wednesday and all day on Thursday to focus on the administrative part. And so the artificial deadline creates the boundary that frees me up to do the rest of it. We all have to do that. An entrepreneur, a start up business leader, there’s going to be so much. They’re doing sales. They’re doing systems. They’re trying to create budgets. They’re trying to find office space. And so literally saying I have this much time for certain projects, you become more efficient.

If you, Brett, were going on vacation on a Wednesday, somehow you’d get Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday’s worth of work done by Wednesday. It makes you better. That’s kind of what I try to do is put tight boundaries, constraints that help me be creative, more efficient, faster.

Brett McKay: Reminds me I think Paul Graham, the guy who does investing, he has this essay about a maker schedule and a manager schedule. The maker is like the creator schedule. And the manager schedule, the administrative schedule. And he says you can’t let the two bleed together or else you’ll do both poorly. So you have to kind of keep them separate.

Craig Groeschel: I like that.

Brett McKay: So it sounds like what you’re doing. So you’ve talked about that you’ve been a workaholic in the past. How did you get… so it sounds like one thing you’ve done to get a handle on that is setting tight deadlines for yourself. Is there anything else you’ve done to get a manage on pushing yourself too hard?

Craig Groeschel: I think years ago I had some people come to me and say we feel like you have a problem. And they made me go to counseling for being a workaholic. And I didn’t get a thing out of it. I thought they were lazy. I thought I cared more than they did. I thought they were all stupid. And so I wasn’t prepared for it. A few years went by and I realized that they were right. I actually needed help. And so the second time I went to counseling for it, I actually did get more out of it. My counselor told me, he said, he really stung me, he said, “The reason you work so hard is two reasons. One, is you have a ton of pride. And the other one is because you’re not performing as a strong leader right now.” And those words kind of punched me in the gut. He said, “You think you’re the only one that can do things. You’re prideful.” And the second one was you’re not trusting and empowering other people.

And that was kind of in the season where our church was stuck. And Jerry was coming on. And I started to empower people. Some things for me that I am good at is I’m really good at guarding my day off. Fridays I rarely will give those up and I’m good at those. The downside and to just to be real transparent with you is I start really, really early and so I can bury and kind of hide some of my workaholic tendencies when others may not necessarily see it. Because I can put in a long day before a lot of people ever even get in.

So if you ask my wife am I fully functioning and always healthy, she’d probably giggle a little bit, laugh at you and say no. Would she say that I do prioritize the family and take vacation time and block off the days. She would say yes I do. But do I get it right all the time? No. I’m still very dysfunctional and I still have lots of problems and still can slip back into real long and unhealthy work binges.

Brett McKay: So it’s a work in progress.

Craig Groeschel: It is a work in progress. Probably like you, right?

Brett McKay: Right. Of course. So another challenge that a leader of a large organization faces is when you first started out as a minister, you were able to minister one on one with people on a regular basis. But now that you’re a leader of a church with tens of thousands of members, for time reasons, even security reasons, you can’t do much one on one ministering with people as you did in the early days. So being a leader of a large organization, whether it’s a corporation, or something else, can be lonely and isolated. And so how do you keep from feeling cordoned off from the rank and file of your church?

Craig Groeschel: I’ll answer that in two different ways. One thing is any type of success in leadership tends to lean toward isolation unless you intentionally fight against that drift. And so just on the relational end it’s incredibly important to work really, really hard to be intentional about keeping relationships intimate and strong. You would know this just as you’re podcast more successful. As you grow in your business, people start to tell you more of what you want to hear and that’s dangerous. And so we have to work really hard to keep honesty and closeness in our relationship. That’s one angle.

The other end of it is just kind of like the pastoral end as the church grows, I obviously can’t do everything that I did before. But a friend of mine, Andy Stanley, has a teaching. He’s says do for one what you wish you could do for all. And I really value doing that. There are so many things that I would love to do for 100 people that I can’t but I 100% do it for one.

Almost every weekend at church there’s someone that’s sick, that knows someone who asked and we go out and we pray for someone. There’s a teenager that’s going through a difficult time and we stop and we pray for that one. And we’ll set up those kind of meetings. Or we’ll go do a hospital visit or whatever. And so it’s not that I don’t do those things. In fact I still do a lot of them. I just can’t do it for all the people. And doing some of that it’s incredibly important to be because if I don’t then it kind of robs me of the purity of the whole reason we started this. And so it still works. There are a lot of things I can’t do that I wish I could do just from the sheer scope and the size of it.

But I’m not going to let that keep me from the joys of doing a few things that really do matter. And move the needle on personal fulfillment.

Brett McKay: And I imagine you set aside time on your calendar for that? There’s a time where that’s what you go do?

Craig Groeschel: I do. So when I’m at church, my office hours they’re so jammed. It’s hard to describe and hard for most people to understand. There’s not much margin in the producing hours. But on the weekends, I’ve got 30 minutes between every service. And so I’ll pack that full of saying hi and ministering people in different ways. We can’t. So I’m already out, and kind of like add ons really work well.

Brett McKay: So another part of being a leader is receiving criticism. But I think people like ministers, pastors, priests, they can never do anything right, right? Sermons are either too hard or too soft or you shouldn’t have said x, or you should’ve said y. How do you deal with the onslaught of feedback and criticism that you might receive because of your position.

Craig Groeschel: I think anybody in leadership, and not just coaches. You and your podcast, you certainly get it as well. And especially in the age of social media, people have access to criticize faster and so it is there. On one hand, we have to always be open to learn from it and there have been multiple times where critics have been right or somewhat right and I’ve had to actually humble myself and say that is a really, really fair point.

And it’s still humbling how often I have to do that. So I need to make sure that I don’t write off all criticism as bad criticism. I need to ask myself is there any truth to it. A lot of times it just is uninformed criticism. It’s by people that are hurting. And they’re going to take shots at anyone they can. For me, I’m not going to say that it never bothers me. It sometimes does. But the more on my game I am, in other words, the more I’m obsessed with the mission, the easier it is to tolerate some of the unjustified criticism. And so it helps me to be focused, to be driven, to really be heads down, doing what I know matters. And then I can kind of just take it as part of the game.

It’s when I’m off my game, when I’m kind of maybe feel sorry for myself. Or had my eye a little bit off the real target then it can get under my skin and such. At that point I just have a no response rule. Unless it’s someone that I know. If it’s social media, I just let it go. I’m not going to engage with it. I’m not going to give them the satisfaction knowing that I saw it. And so I’m just going to keep my head down and try to keep going.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I think Dwight Eisenhower had this rule. It says don’t deal with personalities. Or don’t deal in personalities. So no response rule to personal attacks. So that idea of how do you figuring out which criticism you should pay attention to and which one you should ignore. How do you make that decisions?

Craig Groeschel: I would say for one thing, context matters. There are some people that if someone that really loves me pointing something out. I’m going to listen to that a lot more than just some random stranger who’s tweeting in all caps with misspelled words. And also if I hear something a lot, there are some categories of criticism where people are always going to hate mega church pastors or whatever. So I’m going to let that raise a flag. But if it’s something else like if we go back years ago, I heard a lot of people in the church say hey you’re being too crude in your humor when you’re preaching.

And I thought you guys don’t have a good sense of humor. But I heard it enough that it started to raise my awareness. And then one week my daughter was old enough to come into kind of big church and I was about to tell a joke and I was like well, actually I wouldn’t want to hear that. And so suddenly the clouds lifted and I realized okay all these people were right. I really need to be a little clearer and more God honor and the way I would use humor. And so I think because who does it tends to matter. And then if you hear it enough for more than one person or from a lot of people then it might be time to say. They might have something I should pay attention to.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about leading volunteers. So you have paid staff on hand. But a lot of the day to day stuff at your church is done by volunteers. How do you keep these people motivated and reliable for work. Because they’re not obligated to work. They’re not getting a paycheck. So they decide not to show up. Nothing’s really going to happen. So how do you keep volunteers motivated and to keep working?

Craig Groeschel: In any type of relationship with volunteers or with staff, they want to know two things. They want to know that we notice an that we care. And so any time we can say I notice what you’re doing, it really matters. And help them feel that. That goes a long, long way. And letting them know that you value what they do matters. In motivating and appreciating people, one thing that I always try to say is that appreciate more than you think you should. So what you want to do, is you want to kind of almost be like uncomfortable. Appreciate more than you think you should, then double it. Whenever you hit that point where you’re starting to feel uncomfortable, realize you’re not even halfway there yet. And so it’s volunteers, it’s going to be everything from thank you notes, thank you notes, than you notes, I’m a big believer in pen to paper and send it in the mail the old fashioned way and say thank you.

Slightly lazier yet still semi effective way is texting. Phone calls, sharing stories, letting them in on inside information. Just being kind of on the inside is motivating. Ultimately, connecting what they do to a higher calling really matters. Then we kind of move from motivating to inspiring. Motivating implies we’re having to push them. Inspiring is helping it come from within. From in spirit, inspire. And so if we can help pull out that desire to use their gifts to contribute is something greater that really matters.

End of the day, we want to help connect what they do with making a real difference. And then there’s a real sense of satisfaction. We noticed, we care, and what they do matters. And people will line up to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves when others care and together we get to do something significant and special.

Brett McKay: Right, it all goes back to needed and noticed.

Craig Groeschel: Right, needed and known.

Brett McKay: You’re right. So another job as a leader is providing a vision for your organization. How far advanced do you plan for the organization you lead? Is it five years? Ten years? Even longer?

Craig Groeschel: Yeah, so I used to kind of set like five year goals. And my philosophy has really changed quite a bit. I think it’s because the world has changed so much. Now, the pace of change is becoming more rapid every single day. So my ability to predict or project five years in the future is so much smaller than it was in the past. And in fact what I found was I generally would undershoot what was possible and underplan what we were able to do. So now instead of projecting five years out in the future, what we’re really passionate about doing is creating a lot of margin now for opportunities we cannot predict. I don’t know what new technology’s going to be available in five years. I don’t know what new team members I’m going to have. And I’m not honestly a big believer in outcome goals.

I’ll give you a few. In my world, what multi site pastors will say is we want to start 20 churches by the year 2020. I actually think this is a really stupid goal. Because if you’re going to start 20 you might start eight of them that were the wrong ones. You went too soon. You went too early. You didn’t have the team. You didn’t have the money. You didn’t have the right places. You were developed enough in your philosophy, you didn’t have the structure. And so you let a goal drive you to do something stupid.

I don’t want to ever have a numerical drive me to something unwise or premature. So instead of saying I want to do 20 by 2020. I want to do the right number the next year. I might stretch myself some saying we were planning on three. Et’s try for four. But I don’t want to do four if it’s not right. What I do want to do is I want to have the right inputs that will lead to the write outcome. Meaning okay we need to be developing leaders if we’re going to start four campuses next year. How many leaders do we need? Then let’s start there with the leaders. If we’re going to pay cash for the building, how much money do we need to raise and save ahead of time.

If we’re going to grow from 31 locations to 37, do we need a structural change. Let’s change the structure today before it breaks. So that we can sustain the growth and the future. So rather than looking way out in the distance and trying to project when we usually get it wrong. What I want to do is stay real current and I also want to prepare and plan knowing that there are opportunities that are going to come. There may be a piece of land that I didn’t see was coming. There might be three staff members we want to hire that we didn’t know were going to be available. There may be a new technology that we want to leverage. And we didn’t see that technology coming. So I’ll want to have margin financially. I want to have margin with my people. I want to have personal capacity margin to take something else on.

And so instead of planning, we’re more planning for something specific. We’re planning for something that we don’t know what it is. And then we’re going to seize those opportunities when they come. Maybe a non-traditional may not work in every visit. Probably wouldn’t but it’s served us well. And I’m pretty passionate about continuing to lead that way, at least for now.

Brett McKay: So yeah, sounds like you’re being conservative in the short terms. You might not spend as much as you maybe could. So that you could be aggressive when the opportunity arises. Because you have that picture capital, whether it’s human or financial.

Craig Groeschel: I think growing at the right pace is really, really important. You can, my gosh, you can grow too fast. And end up compromising your ability to do something significant later. At the same time you can be too cautious. In my world we called that burying your talents. And that’s not something that this looked favorably upon. So we want to be wise. We want to be strategic. But the thing to remember is now with as fast as the world is changing, there are opportunities that are coming that none of us could have predicted. I can guarantee it ten years ago you weren’t projecting to have a podcast that’s doing what it’s doing now.

It’s a different category that didn’t exist. And so you’re able to seize it. Two years from now your podcast might evolve into something that’s not even on the radar yet. You can’t plan it, but you can be prepared for that opportunity that’s coming, whatever it is, and jump on it when it’s there.

Brett McKay: Well, Craig, this has been a great conversation. Is there some place people can go to learn more about your insights on leadership and whatnot.

Craig Groeschel: I have a leadership podcast. It’s called the Craig Groeschel Show leadership podcast. And we drop at least one podcast every month, unlike you that dropped them all the time because you’re much better at getting out content faster than I am.

Brett McKay: Well, I’m also not a pastor. So you’re a busy man. Well, hey, Craig, thanks so much for coming out. This has been a great conversation.

Craig Groeschel: Thanks so much for having me. I’m a big fan of what you’re doing. Keep up the good work. Thanks for providing bible content for all of us.

Brett McKay: Like I said, that was Craig Groeschel. He’s the head pastor at Life Church. You can listen to his podcast on leadership. Just search Craig Groeshcel leadership podcast. Or you can go to to listen to it there. Also check in our show notes at That’s Groeschel. Where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Brett McKay: Well that wraps up another addition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at And if you enjoyed the show you’ve gotten something out of it. I’d appreciate if you’d take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing this show with a friend or family member. You think we would get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continuous support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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