Craig Groeschel’s new book is called WEIRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working. In it, he points people to break free from the norms of society to an abnormal lifestyle that is ultimately more fulfilling. I’m glad he was able to stop by today to share some of his ideas.
Ed Stetzer: Most people would want to avoid being called Weird, yet you seem to embrace the title. Why?
Craig Groeschel: Growing up I avoided being called weird with everything in me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but a big goal for me was to fit in. When I went to college, I did what normal college students do and ended up getting into trouble and really hurting. So I decided to do something that was really weird for a college frat boy. I actually picked up the Bible for the first time in my life and started reading it. Everybody thought that in time I’d return to my old ways. However, the teachings of Jesus were so different than the way I was living and so intrigued me that after quite a bit of searching I decided that kind of weird was actually a better way of life. I abandoned the normal path, fully giving myself to Christ.
Later on, a girl on campus who made fun of my weirdness mentioned there was another girl I had to meet since she was weird like me. She ended up becoming my wife. When Amy and I got together, we decided to commit to a life of weird (yes, that’s what we actually called it). We decided not to have sex until we were married. Weird. We decided not to go into debt. Weird. We decided to get a mentor to help us have a good marriage. Weird. We ended up with six kids. Weird. (Okay, and maybe a little crazy too.)
As I say in the book, I find comfort in people calling my family weird. I get nervous when we are normal. For us, we are really driven by wanting to be different because everything we see about normal is not working in today’s culture.
ES: In a nutshell, what does WEIRD challenge people to do?
CG: To stop choosing popular standards instead of habits that lead to holiness. To not let our desire to fit in, to belong, and to conform eclipse our desire to follow God and do what’s best.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-14 are pretty clear: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
ES: In what ways has Weird thinking transformed how you lead LifeChurch.tv?
CG: People have called us weird from the very beginning–I love that. I grew up going to a normal church. While I actually have really fond memories of it, the truth is, the lights never came on for me spiritually. It could have been that I wasn’t paying attention, but it just didn’t engage me or challenge me. It was more of a Sunday religion than a-seven-day-a-week faith. As a result, when we started LifeChurch.tv our goal was to create a church that would be different in every way. We’ve been called innovative by those who like us, plain wacky by those who don’t, but what we like to say is that we will do anything short of sin to reach people who don’t know Christ and who are disconnected from the church.
ES: What are some of the weirdest decisions you made in growing your ministry?
CG: We have multiple campuses in multiple states. We use video teaching. We give away resources to churches around the world–some 57,000 church leaders last year and 1.8 million downloads thus far. We are really passionate about giving away the Bible. More than 17.5 million people have already installed YouVersion, our free online and mobile Bible. We started a church online. That had never been done before and now people from 200+ countries around the world engage spiritually in an online community that we believe is a real representation of church. It just takes place online. We were able to unite over 2,000 churches for a one-month series. Normal in the church world is to have a competitive spirit. It’s kind of weird to be united and work together, which is tragic but true.
ES: You write in the book about how you’ve come to view time from a Weird perspective. Has that changed you as a leader?
CG: Absolutely. I am really passionate about this.
The typical normal mindset is that to be effective I need to do more. A true and weird mindset says the exact opposite–that to be effective I need to do less. A lot of times when we are asked to do something on such and such date, our normal response is to ask ourselves. “Can I? Am I available?” A weird and better response, however, is “Should I?”
One of the biggest normal problems today is people say yes to way too much–good things included. But we need to be disciplined enough to say no to even the good things in order to say yes to the best things.
When it comes to time management as leaders, we need to really be strategic about how we delegate. Pastors tend to feel that they have to have their hand in everything. We do too much for two reasons. The first is pride, the other reason is that we are poor leaders and haven’t developed those around us. “Normal” people delegate tasks to people that work for them. We ask them to do something for us and then spend time reviewing the task. When we do that we are not creating leaders, rather followers.
Weird pastors delegate authority. We ask those around us to take over and create a project. By delegating that authority, I am creating leaders in my Church. By having leaders around me, I no longer have to spend my time on each and every project.
Another line of normal thinking for churches is to do everything. Churches are notorious for feeling pressure to have the vacation Bible school, women’s ministry, outreach choir, marriage conferences, etc. A weird way of looking at it is to say we are going to do fewer things that we are uniquely qualified to do to reach the people closest to us. One of the really weird things that LifeChurch.tv did was to eliminate almost everything normal churches do and focus on only five things: weekend services, small groups, children’s ministry, youth ministry, and missions. We found that when we just focused on doing those five things, we were able to do them exceptionally well, with tons of passion, and reach a lot of people.
ES: How has being Weird impacted balancing your family and work life?
CG: Normal is thinking we have to balance everything. Weird is recognizing that there is no such thing as balance. Sometimes one area or the other needs more attention.
What pastors need to do regardless is set boundaries. They need to create a schedule with deliberate intention and stick by it. For example, I leave and go home every day at 3:30pm. I work one night a week. I run all of my meetings during normal business hours.
Boundaries like these have forced me to make faster decisions and delegate. I look at it like the vacation principle. If I only have three days in the office to do five days of work so I can go on vacation, I get it done.
What we have done at LifeChurch.tv may sound a little weird, but it really works. Normal is designing your family values around your ministry. Weird is designing your ministry around your family values, driven by the belief that if your family is not healthy, nothing is healthy.
ES: What WEIRD projects is LifeChurch.tv working on now?
CG: The most important ongoing project is one where we’re helping people around the world engage with Scripture. One Bible is now being downloaded every second via our free Bible App called YouVersion. We’ve just exceeded 17.5 million installs. This year we’re rolling out new features like audio Bibles on several platforms and making it available in at least eight new languages.
Also, we’ve been developing a platform to help churches who want to launch an online ministry for their church. We’re in a testing phase right now and hope to be able to make it available to more churches later this year. As always, it’s free. Churches all over the world will be able to offer their church online and reach more people.