In part 1 we learned that Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseveranceand thought-provoking TED talk describe some of the most important skills for long-term leadership success. And, we looked at the first two of five things you can do to stick it out, when you’re feeling stuck. Action one was, “Try something similar, but new.” Action two was “Accomplish something, even if it is small.” Now let’s look at three more actions that can help you stick it out when you are fed up with what you’re doing and ready to quit.
3. Change up your support system.
This may be one of the more challenging steps, but is often necessary because church leaders over time surround themselves with individuals who only reinforce the leader’s existing viewpoints. In most scenarios, leaders aren’t getting outside input, but rather getting internal confirmation. This is called “affinity bias.” Leaders experience this because they gravitate toward people with whom they share a connection. The result is that people with outside ideas are pushed away or blocked out. People around you are telling you what is the best thing to do and you’re usually going to believe it without looking at all the options.
So change up your support system and look for people who are outside your usual network. Look for those who will bring innovative ideas. But be careful not to create division by listening to people who are divisive. Instead look for the “peacemakers” Jesus describes in Matthew 5:9. I’ve written that “Leaders interpret this as a ‘go-between’ or ‘diplomat’ between warring factions. But the Greek does not carry an idea of ‘go-between’ but rather, ‘keeping aloof from sectional strifes and the passions which beget them, and living tranquilly for and in the whole’.” These are the people who find the commonality and good in different viewpoints. So switch up your support system, especially if it has developed into an affinity bias toward your ideas.
4. Recognize the power of grit.
Pick up Angela Duckworth’s book, read it or reread it again. Then introduce her short but powerful TED Talk video to your leaders. Help your leaders see that one of the most important aspects of leadership is the ability to stick it out when all you want to do is give up. The Bible is replete with messages about perseverance, including this helpful paraphrased translation of James 1:2-4 (MSG):
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
5. Look ahead further.
Finally, look farther into the future and look further than to which you’re accustomed. If you’re thinking about retirement in 4-5 years, look 6-10 years ahead and ask yourself, “What kind of relationship do I want congregants to have with me in 10 years?” Start looking further ahead. This that will give you a chance to focus on long-term goals rather than short-sighted barriers.
And, if you’re thinking about quitting a church, look at where you might be in five years. Will you be in the same situation, ready to quit another church five years from now, because you’re leading in the same manner? Or in five years will you regret that you left this church, because your kids might’ve enjoyed another 3-4 years in the same school system? Look ahead further and spend more time concentrating on what the future holds. Paul reminds us that is what sustained him, in
“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”
I’ve learned there are five things you can do to stick it out when you’re feeling stuck. Here are the first two.
Recently Angela Duckworth, in her thought-provoking TED talk and accompanying book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, has reminded business leaders of the role of “grit” in long-term leadership success.
Such perseverance seems to be reflected in church research as well. Professor and researcher Charles Arn cites research that, “Approximately three-fourths of their growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in their churches more than four years, while two-thirds of their declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in their churches less than four years. Their conclusion (with which I, Charles Arn, agree): Long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow. But short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.”
But what if you’re stuck and ready to give up? What if you’re tired, fed up with what you’re doing and ready to throw in the towel? I would say that the majority of my consultations over the 30+ years have been with pastors in this quandary. I’ve learned there are five things you can do to stick it out when you’re feeling stuck. Here are the first two.
1. Try something similar, but new.
This means vary your tactics or your strategy, but don’t veer too far off your previous course. This allows you to work with some of the people and procedures you’ve been utilizing. But by adjusting the direction a bit, you create some newness. Newness creates excitement and creates new buy-in. You’ll also find new people will join your project, because even a little newness offers new volunteer opportunities.
One church had an annual “yard sale” in their parking lot. The members of the church had mostly moved out of the area and came from a higher socioeconomic level than people in the community. Therefore, they offered many good items for sale and the people in the community appreciated the opportunity. But over the years the yard sale declined in popularity and the pastor become discouraged. She knew it was the major outreach to the community and in the past the community appreciated it. But it was an increasing headache because the same group of church volunteers ran it every year. The pastor and I interviewed community members and they gave us a new perspective on the yard sale. “Instead of having a fixed-price sale, why don’t you have a pay-what-you-want price?” one neighbor asked. She continued, “We aren’t as wealthy of a community as we once were.” Another resident suggested, “You could have a backpack giveaway with school supplies for children at the yard sale too.” The church leaders took what they were already doing with a parking lot sale, changed it a little and added a new aspect of free backpacks which created a new energy for the event. This reenergized the church.
2. Accomplish something, even if it is small.
John Kotter, famed Harvard professor of management, noticed in the thousands of student papers he read, that change that was usually successful was when small changes were celebrated before big changes were implemented. This is because when people see small things accomplished it gives them a sense of enthusiasm and validation about longer-term changes.
If you’re stuck, find something small you can accomplish and celebrate that accomplishment. This takes the focus away from where you’re stuck and emphasizes progress toward a goal, even if it is small progress.
One client had relegated the Hispanic congregation to a small cafe upstairs in an outlying building on the church campus. The Hispanic church leaders asked if they could move into the gymnasium adjacent to the sanctuary. However, the youth program was holding a youth service in the gymnasium at that time. A small change was to ask the youth leaders to relinquish the gym on fifth Sundays. The youth leadership agreed and switched sites with the Hispanic church.
Surprisingly, both youth and Hispanic congregations began to grow in their new environments. Soon the every-fifth Sunday change was permanent. The Hispanic church had a bigger venue in which to grow. And, the youth program had a more intimate cafe venue in which they likewise grew.
In part 2 of this article we will discuss why if you are stuck you may need to “change up your support system” or “look further ahead.”
“Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: Why Growing Churches Plateau” by Bob Whitesel, Oct 22, 2004.
This is a copy of the original article I wrote for Strategies For Today’s Leader Magazine. To my surprise Rick Warren emailed me and told me this was the most helpful article in the issue. This led to Abingdon Press later publishing it as the book: Growth by Accident – Death by Planning.
——— “I don’t know why we are growing. I’m at a loss to explain it.” ———
As Yogi Berra famously intoned, “its like deja vu all over again.” Have you ever experienced a word, phrase or idiom spoken with such familiar expression that suddenly you were swept away to a time long ago? As a church consultant, a recent statement by the young pastor of a rapidly growing congregation triggered such a recollection.
“I don’t know why we are growing. I’m at a loss to explain it,” he declared. The congregation he shepherded had grown from 100 to 1,500 attendees in five years. Now, on the cusp of purchasing land and building their own facility, the pastor mused about how his lack of knowledge about church planning had not hampered the church’s growth to any perceivable degree.
As the pastor stood ruminating over his predicament, I daydreamed, if but briefly, back to a similar scenario almost exactly 20 years earlier and 3,000 miles away. On that occasion I had sat in another pastor’s office and witnessed the same bewilderment. He was the shepherd of a fast growing Southern California congregation, and I had been sent by my doctoral facilitator to interview him as part of a research project. “I don’t understand why this church is growing,” he confided. “People come from all over the world and ask us what we are doing, and I don’t know what to tell them. I can’t explain it.” His words were so similar to my present encounter that on this nearly two decade anniversary I felt if I had been swept back to my former experience.
Yet, the disturbing thing is that the need to know how young and rapidly churches grow was just as elusive and bewildering two decades ago as it is today.
——— Young and Growing Churches Plateau Too Soon ———
While interviewing pastors of young and growing churches I have found that the pastoral vision for the eventual size of the church usually never materializes. In fact, young growing churches seem on average to attain only about half the size of their intentions. Often, this lack of goal attainment begins with a marked slowing of growth and ensuing plateau. Then, due perhaps to a disappointment in the attainment of the stated growth goals, schisms and conflicts often arise to divide the shepherds and sheep into competing offspring.
If these pastoral growth goals are imparted by God, as I believe in most circumstances they are, then these churches plateau too soon. With this in mind, I decided to craft a list of actions that in my mind distinguish the growing periods of young churches from the customary growth plateau that follows.
——— Unplanned Strategic Decisions ———
The accompanying list is based on the thesis that unplanned or “accidental” strategic decisions are often made by young and growing churches, and that theses decisions lead to growth. Their leaders employ many of these strategies not because of familiarity with their potential, but because of necessity brought on my the church’s circumstances. Thus these decisions are not planned strategies, but strategies that often occur by accident, owing their genesis to circumstances. These unplanned strategic decisions are driven, not by knowledge, but by the church’s environment.
As the church grows the leaders often become perplexed over the causes of this extraordinary growth, and seek to uncover causal factors. Because the factors are so elusive and since many church leaders are not trained in the literature and axioms of church growth, they often become bewildered. Soon this bewilderment surfaces in sermons and casual conversations; belying an inner conundrum over the forces involved.
Eventually and typically, the leaders of the young and growing church begin to read church growth books, periodicals and case studies. Often the leaders begin to make strategic planning decisions that are similar to other churches they perceive to be in their situation. Because the majority of larger churches have adopted strategic plans that have plateaued their congregations, the young church follows suit. And herein rise the factors that inhibit growth.
——— Our Future May Lie in Our Past ———
It is my thesis that it is not planning that is wrong, but rather planning that does not fully understand the factors that contributed to growth in the first place.
Thus, I have graphed three types of factors:
1.) Factors that I see contributing to growth in young and growing congregations,
2.) The strategic actions that are typically and erroneously taken (which plateau a church),
3.) Followed by solutions that I believe are more in keeping with the factors that contributed to growth in the first place.
——— Let’s Not Forget the Holy Spirit’s Participation ———
Before we undertake our list, let me acknowledge in the strongest terms, the role of the Holy Spirit in all church growth. Because church growth is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-9), no real and enduring growth can occur without His participation. Granted some churches briefly grow by purely secular powers and processes, but the churches I am referring to are those that have God’s unseen hand of blessing clearly upon them. As a result, I believe this unseen hand has led them to employ certain fundamental and God-derived principles that have resulted in growth. I cannot stress too highly the indispensable nature of the Holy Spirit’s participation in growth.
However in this article, I am addressing the fashionable strategies that often replace the God-derived tactics that contributed to growth in the first place.
——— Why Growing Churches Plateau: And What You Can Do About It ———
Factors that Cause Initial Growth (in young churches)
Erroneous Strategic Decisions that Lead to Plateauing
Corrective Steps to Regain Initial Growth
Focus is on meeting the needs of the congregants.
Focus is increasingly on the needs of the staff.
Make planning decisions based upon congregational needs (via surveys, focus groups, etc.) … not on the conveniences of the staff (which are usually expressed more vocally and assertively than congregational needs).
Celebration Convenience: multiple church celebrations are held at varying times.
Waning Celebration Convenience: celebrations are combined together in larger facilities. As a result fewer options are offered for congregants (but convenience increases for the staff).
Maintain as many multiple celebrations as feasible in order to offer as many convenient worship times as possible.
Prayer focus in on the unchurched and dechurched, (Dechurched is defined as those who have terminated their attendance elsewhere due to some real or perceived hurt, conflict, etc.)
Prayer focus in on church attendees. Most of the prayer is centered on the personal needs of a burgeoning congregation.
Employ 50/50 prayer (see “A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church”). 50% of the prayer focus addresses congregational needs while the other 50% is faithfully reserved to address the needs of the unchurched and dechurched.
Urgency in prayer due to potential for failure.
Institutionalization of prayer takes place. Prayer forms are standardized and systematized, especially in the church celebration. Security in circumstances robs prayer of its urgency.
Don’t wait for a crisis to reinvigorate the prayer life of a church. Consider the enormity and significance of the task you are undertaking: the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19)
Low overhead due to rented facilities.
Dramatic increase in overhead due to purchased or constructed facilities.
Rent longer than you think you need to. This will place hardship upon your staff, but increase your financial viability and future flexibility. Read “When Not To Build” by Ray Bowman.
Rented facilities are usually multi-functional.
Owned facilities are often segregated into activity specific spaces; i.e. immovable pews in an auditorium, small Sunday School rooms that cannot open up into larger facilities, etc.
Retain flexibility in your facilities. When it is time to build, employ architects who build malls, college classrooms and theatres; not those who primarily build churches.
Budget is based on money in hand (i.e. past performance).
Budget is based upon projections of continued growth. If growth slows, fiscal flexibility will tighten quickly and dramatically, often leading to conflict and friction.
Budget more conservatively than you feel you should. Church leaders are often optimists, but basing budgets on anticipated performance can be reckless. In addition, lower numbers can be deceptive; e.g. a church that was able in the past to increase a $100,000 budget by 10% will find it exponentially more difficult to increase a $500,000 budget by 10%.
Experimentation is encouraged. Almost all theologically non-compromising ideas are considered.
The church begins to stay with “what has worked in the past,” even if that is the immediate past. This often leads to incipient traditionalism.
Foster an environment of experimentation and exploration. Rapid changes in cultural predilections and preferences require this.
Housecleaning. Ideas that don’t work are quickly abandoned. Limited resources and the precariousness of the church’s survival creates this situation.
Programs and ideas that may not be productive are given extra time “to develop.” Jesus’ parable on repentance (Luke 13:1-9) is often misdirected to rationalize extending the life of unproductive programs.
Be prepared to use vigorous analysis and empirical evidence to confirm productive programming. Often supporting evidence of a program’s viability is anecdotal. Look for clear evidence of productivity (James 3:17).
Dysfunctional people become functional. All people, regardless of physical, social or economic dysfunction are actively recruited. Prior leadership experience in another church is not required.
Functionally adept people are actively recruited. Prior leadership experience in another church is highly valued. Unproductive programming is often unintentionally cross-pollinated.
Inaugurate a lay-training system to mentor dysfunctional people into functional and productive lives in both church and society.
Staff has low educational experience in their ministry field. Thus, they do what they “feel” is right.
Staff becomes trained in the “classical” fields of theology, Christian Education, church music, and ministry. These newly acquired skills are probably those that are practiced in influential, but plateaued, churches.
Embrace 50/50 Learning. Learning engendered in the “classical” milieu of seminaries, workshops and Bible Colleges, must be tempered by 50% of the learning coming from alternative sources such as non-accredited institutes (e.g. the Wagner Institute), workshops and secular experience.
Small groups are not needed. The church is driven by the “event status” of the celebration.
Small groups, though needed, are not developed, because the “event status” of the worship celebration drives the church’s emphasis and reputation. Because intimacy is missing due to the lack of an expansive network of small groups, people feel the church is “too cold” or “not personal enough” and they go elsewhere.
A celebration event can sustain a church only initially, and soon must be accompanied by a network of small groups that encourage intimacy and commitment. All types of small groups should be developed, including adult Sunday School classes, leadership teams, home groups, ministry groups, interest groups, etc..
Christ is exalted as the instigator and sustainer of growth. The miraculous nature of growth inspires awe and a sense of the supernatural.
Leadership principles are credited as the cause of growth.
Fully understand the factors that contributed to growth in the first place and adapt these God-derived strategies to current needs.
The strategic approach I have outlined may not be for everyone. Some churches will chafe under the thought of being so flexible, creative, and adaptable. But for those young and growing churches that were birthed in a milieu of cultural adaptability, an understanding of the God-given factors that initially caused their growth, along with an adaptation of them to the modern context, may be necessary to grow into the congregation God desires it to be.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel, 8/11/22. Take a look at the chart below from my seminar, Growing the Post-pandemic Chruch. On the fourth line you will find research which research reveals two important points:
Churches offering only onsite worship are preferred by 50% (of all ages)
Churches offering both onsite AND online worship: are preferred by 57% (of ages 55 & under)
This chart shows the harvest field has moved with the majority now preferring churches that offer both online and on site options. In my seminars (and book) I give many reasons for having onsite AND online options. Here are just a few:
People who “move away” can still enjoy and participate in the worship service to which they have become accustomed.
People with a disability may be able to attend an online church expression and participate more effectively.
People who are home-ridden due to illness or age can attend.
People who simply resonate with your “church’s personality” can attend your church.
Typically people will only drive 15 minutes to a church. But with an online option people from “anywhere on the globe, for any of the above reasons” can join you for worship.
Digital natives are people raised in a world in which digital communication is the main form of communication. Rather than radio, TV or the telephone, the main way digital natives expect to communicate is over the Internet.
Yet, 30 years of church research has shown me that churches will adopt online communication—but will not raise it to the level of their onsite communication. This causes a problem in seven areas. Here are those areas with suggested solutions.
1. Foremost, those who tune in to online church services usually feel second class.
The leaders speak, the vast majority of the time, to the onsite attendees. Only occasionally do we mention the online attendees. This lack of parity can create the feeling that the onsite is a preferred class of congregant.
2. We communicate a biblical theology that prioritizes face-to-face communication.
Oftentimes church leaders will say a variation of: “There’s nothing like being together face to face.” But if we look at a Bible-based theology, we see that most of the Old and New Testament were not communicated face to face, but by Spirit-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17) writings.
Whether in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or more than 700 languages today, most people learned about the miracles of Jesus, not by being face to face with the miracles He performed, but by reading an account of it. Little wonder that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to empower us in our communication the message secondhand (John 14:26, 16:15).
The Holy Spirit is still alive and vibrant today, and can anoint our online communications as well. If you’re going to embrace a biblical theology, consider the theological principles of Spirit-anointed online communication.
3. Fully reaching out to guests and getting to know them is largely missing in online experiences.
Almost weekly I analyze online services for clients and colleagues. Repeatedly, I observe they are staffed with only a minimal crew. There might be one or sometimes two people.
Yet most churches tell me that they have a sizable online audience. One colleague has about 80 people in person. But his church reaches double that weekly that through their online service. Yet he only has two people designated to interact with the online congregation.
Now ask yourself, would you have just one or two greeters for an onsite service of 80? So why do we minimize our online workers when online watchers are often double our onsite size? Perhaps we do so because it’s “out of sight out of mind.” Maybe we do so because we have an unrecognized bias toward seeing people’s faces.
Or it can be argued we are unsure how many people are actually watching, because some of the data might be generated by a brief click. Regardless, we need to look at where the sheep are, and shepherd them. Appropriately, Jesus gave us the parable of the good shepherd (Matt. 18:10-14) who leaves the 99 to reach out to the one. And, Jesus tells us to see what the “Lord of the harvest” has sent … and pray for more laborers (Matt. 9:38).
4. This brings us to prayer.
Prayer opportunities are not usually as vibrant or prevalent during online worship services. Flavil Yeakley, a researcher at the University of Illinois, showed that people come to a church because of “needs” in their lives. These needs can be ranked as because of a) grief/bereavement, b) health problems, c) marital/family problems and d) financial problems.
When visitors come with these needs they are usually looking for someone who will sympathize and then pray for them. So, if you have hundreds of people watching your service online, how many do you have designated to pray for their needs they bring?
In my observation, to be a healthy church you need about 20 percent of your service attendance deployed in prayer ministry. If you have 100 online attendees, do you have 20 people reaching out to them online? And it’s not just about praying on Sunday morning, but it also means offering to them synchronous or asynchronous prayer chats during the week.
5. Online ministry reaches people who have physical challenges that make it uncomfortable for them to attend church.
This means many people cannot physically attend the church because of health or physical challenges. But they can tune in. And, we know that people with physical challenges can often feel second class.
Are we contributing to their feeling of being second class when they turn to our online services? Recently a series of articles drew attention to how people needing a wheelchair are often left in planes after everyone leaves. It makes them feel singled out and uncomfortable.
We too often make people feel singled out or uncomfortable when they visit our online churches. Are they feeling like they can worship with their eyes on the Lord and without people’s eyes on them?
6. Online ministry reaches people who have moved away.
Another type of physical challenge is for those who may have attended for many years, but because of family or vocation now live in another city. They often miss the smiling faces, the familiar leaders and the songs of a church.
Again, they can be made to further feel second class when leaders say, “I’m glad you’re here with us. Isn’t it better being together face to face?” For these people who still feel a strong historical and/or family connection to the church, this can make them feel like a hidden figure and even possibly an outcast.
To address this a Presbyterian church in Ohio, after hosting my seminar “Growing the Post-Pandemic Church,” decided to let congregants come by the camera after church and greet those online. The camera became a communication avenue between current and former attendees.
7. Online communication is often seen as a stopgap, post-pandemic measure . . . when in reality it’s the future.
Technology is pushing the quantity and quality of human communication. Online experiences now include holograms and immersive experiences. And in these new digital frontiers more of evangelism and discipleship will take place online.
In fact, some churches already are entirely online. As a professor, I couldn’t imagine such a scenario when I was told over 20 years ago that education would one day be largely online.
I was an onsite professor and enjoying the face-to-face community of my students. But here we are today with the majority of students getting their education online. It’s time for the church to see the future and begin to treat online ministry with equality.
Bob WhiteselBob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is a sought after speaker, church health consultant and award-winning writer of 14 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth. He holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is http://www.Leadership.church.Learn More »
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Click the picture below to see my latest “3-minute strategy” video on Biblical Leadership Magazine that just dropped on their website. Learn what the building behind me (Chicagoans – do you know it) can represent in the minds of Gen. X (and how we should adjust our guest services in response).
In my consulting practice, I’ve analyzed hundreds of church transitions. And, I’m preparing a Doctor of Ministry course for a nationally respected seminary on this subject. I’ve observed that many times a retiring pastor often puts forth, even informally, their successor. This can be a misstep for five reasons.
Strings Attached: The retiring pastor has vested interest in the selection of a successor. The retiring pastor has financial relationships (loans, housing, benefits) and personal relationships (friends, enemies and even status, e.g. titles such as “pastor emeritus” or “founding pastor”), that can cloud, even subconsciously their selection.
Mentor-mentee: The successor has operated in a subordinate relationship to the retiring pastor and the successor may have trouble transforming that relationship. This especially becomes problematic when crises arise and the subordinate may subconsciously acquiesce to the former leader’s view on the crisis.
Culture Changes: The retiring pastor often seeks a successor that will reach a younger generation, a different ethnicity or another such culture. But theretiring pastors often tell me they select a successor, “Because I get along with them.” This is good in a subordinate. But this can be self defeating when you are trying to equip this leader to reach a different culture.
Exceptional Leaders are Rare: The subordinate often will not have the exceptional character and gifts to lead an exceptional church. Leading a large and/or growing church is one of the most skilled and supernaturally empowered jobs on earth. And I’ve seen that men and women who can do so are very few and far between. Often they will not be found in your existing congregation. The best leader may be hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, and possibly in another denomination. The best solution is to use nation-wide search firm to cast a broader net.
Legacy, because if things go bad later you may be blamed. Most pastors want to retire with a legacy that focuses on their successes. When a retiring pastor gets involved in the successor selection, that retiree’s legacy is tied to another.
Check out my other writings on this topic on how to survive (and thrive in) pastoral transitions. And, if you are intersted in auditing or earning seminary credit studying better church transitions, email me.
Numerous times over the years I’ve tried to help unaffiliated students who were pastors to become affiliated with The Wesleyan Church or another denomination. My rationale was not to grow any specific denomination, but because I believed accountability was good for unaffiliated pastors. Many of my students were pastoring independent churches with little accountability. I didn’t sense they needed accountability then, but I was worried they would need it sometime in the future and it would not be available.
All of my efforts were usually unsuccessful with African-American students. I often asked why. And their answers helped me understand why Baptist historians have pointed out that many black churches have affiliated with the Baptist movement. The Baptist movement was, in part, a reaction to the hierarchies found in many denominations. In hierarchal (Episcopal or Presbyterian forms of denominational government) a group of denominational leaders outside of the local church would often decide who would be ordained.
But not so in much of the Baptist movement. They embraced an organic and indigenous route to leadership. This meant that a person first distinguished themselves inside of a congregation and then after being mentored with the local pastors might be ordained. This natural and field-based route to leadership had at least three advantages in my mind.
Firstly, you could see how a pastor led a flock from a longterm experience with that pastor. Their strengths were known, as well as their weaknesses. In many ways the congregation was the accountability factor for the pastor in training.
Secondly it created mentor/mentee relationships between senior leaders and upcoming leaders. This fostered an environment of apprenticeship and training for future leaders. Another benefit was that if a volunteer saw a senior pastor training younger leaders, the church volunteer leader might start training others under him or her. In my clients I have seen that the mentorship model runs very strong and deep in the African-American church.
And thirdly, it was less likely that powers outside the church would make decisions about the leadership suitability of people immersed in the local church culture. In many denominations, including my own, the highest leadership positions are held by people who are mostly of one ethnic culture. African-American students whom I encouraged to connect with our denomination often told me that they preferred to be independent rather than to be accountable to people who might not understand the culture celebrated in their local church.
In hindsight, this third aspect is exceedingly important for judicatory leaders to grasp. And I’ll admit that I missed the mark. These churches need to develop their own culturally relevant systems and ministries. To draw them into a bigger denomination that is largely of a different culture may, in my view, undermine their uniqueness and cultural relevance.
But what about the argument that “They need to join us and influence our leadership culture?” I believe there is an answer for this. It’s a lesson to all judicatory leaders. We need to intentionally balance our leadership diversity by promoting and hiring at the highest levels of our denomination more diverse leaders. Just having a department or a director will not change the perception that a denomination is led by those of a specific culture. And, often leaders are elected because they have a family or professional history in a denomination. We must move away from these habits and affirmatively welcome, hire and promote the “other.” If not, we may unintentionally harden those invisible denominational boundaries that further divide the Christian landscape.
Yearly a handful of missional coach candidates shadow me on my consultations (more info here if you are interested in being considered for next year’s cohort).
Recently, the missional coach candidates and I were discussing the use, misuse and impact of mission and vision statements. First, I will share my personal conclusions from having worked with hundreds of churches on their mission and vision statements. Then (below my comments) you will find the discussion that inaugurated these conclusions.
If you have read my books, you probably know I am not a fan of Vision Statements (though I discuss them and the differences with Mission Statements in most of my books).Here is why.I agree with everything said (below, by the missional coach candidates I am training).
Vision Statements help visualize a preferred future,
create metrics for goal attainment,
But, I have seen them generate little use in these areas, despite pleas and pushing from the leaders.They often consume too much time, because I suspect, Christians like philosophizing and theologizing more than practicing something.
So, I have come to conclude that John Kotter has the answers. He states that visions (created by a collation) are temporary and elastic things. In other words, they are tied to a project.
Now, I’m not saying that vision statements aren’t needed.
They are, but they should be more flexible, temporal and more quickly created.
Yet, mission statements are different. They deal with unchangeable values (and for Christians, our theology). They shouldn’t change. But, the local church usually doesn’t need to craft them, because the denomination or network has usually done that for them.So, my recommendations to clients based upon my experiences over 25+ years.
Have a Mission Statement that defines your theology, history and polity.
Create multiple Vision Statements as time and projects dictate.
(Below is the conversation among my 2018 Missional Coaches candidates on this issue):
On Apr 13, 2018, at 11:10 AM, Tim W. wrote:
I did my graduate degree in business in the days when the competitive edge of Corporation, Inc. rested in these kinds of organizational tools. The church world then adopted the language and approach. My bias is still towards using these. I see them as critical pieces in organizational design BUT I also do not want to spend copious amounts of time/energy/money generating these statements. More to the point, if a congregation does have them, then they need to embed them deeply into the heart of the church. AND, if they are not authentic and missionally-driven statements, then it’s pointless anyway. :))
On Apr 13, 2018, at 9:01 AM, Mark C. wrote:
I would agree on many of your points. The fact that what the local church does is actually their vision is truer that what we or they want to believe.In most cases the Great Commission Vision has been neglected in place of a Great Coffee Dream.Here to surVMark
On Wednesday, April 11, 2018 9:19 AM, Tim W wrote:
Hi all … I want to chime in on some of the mission/vision statement comments in this string from my experience as a denominational exec.I agree that churches can spend too much time on massaging vision and mission statement(if they even understand the difference/function of these two tools), but I also thinkmany churches spend too LITTLE time on them as well. There must be a balance. When properly formed and used, these statements provide a great deal of agenda harmony, synergy in the organizational system, clarity of priority in budgeting, effectiveness in staffing right, and a host of other things. Most importantly, it removes the fuzziness in the minds of the congregation as to congregational direction. In fact, when done well, the very process of drafting a statement together reveals gaps, relational deficiencies (both personal and organizational), and then creates energy, excitement, optimism, and makes strategic planning more robust. Of course, these statements in themselves can’t do anything for the church; it’s all in the way they are employed into the organizational system.The truth be told, though, most churches already operate from vision, but it’s usually informal, imprecise, and carried by a few power brokers in the church. A couple of great questions to ask when conducting a first consult with the congregation is this: if your church was at its very best, what would this look like? where would she spend her time and resources? These questions do not directly address the vision question because if you ask “what is your vision?” most people will either recite what they read on the bulletin cover or will look dumbfounded. When asked outcome oriented questions, however, a picture emerges and this picture is the imperfectly constructed vision.Ultimately, the vision statement is a tool to help organize for mission—no more and no less. It’s power is in its simplicity to direct and excite and it’s contribution to the real-world ministry of the church.Just my thoughts…Tim Read more of the ideas about mission and vision statements that I’ve come to embrace after seeing them in practice here.
The power of mergers has been under estimated and underutilized in creating multicultural churches.
And, with so many small struggling mono-cultural congregations, the idea of merging two homogeneous congregations to create a multicultural congregation needs to be the strategy of more churches and denominations.
The power of mergers has been under estimated and underutilized in creating multicultural churches.
Integrating Sunday Morning Church Service — A Prayer Answered
by Sandhya Dirks, National Public Radio, Weekend Edition, 8/11/18.
… Which brings us to Pastor Kyle Brooks and Pastor Bernard Emerson. They knew creating an inter-racial church was not going to be easy, but they kept kicking the idea around. They would take long walks through Oakland’s Dimond District and dream about it out loud. Maybe at some point in the future, they thought.
Then a year ago, Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and they felt like they could no longer wait.
First, they had to break it to their congregations.
“I saw it on facebook, and instantly I typed back, ‘oh my god, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for,’” said LaSonya Brown, who had been attending Emerson’s church, The Way, for about a year. “I’ll be the first one to join,” she said.
Brown was raised in a black church with only two white people in it. One was her godfather, who had married into the black community, the other was a white woman who would “speak in tongues, and then translate the tongue.”
“I never knew her name, but I’ll never forget her,” Brown said. Despite it being different than what she had known before, Brown welcomed the idea of an inclusive congregregation. “I think it was something that I wanted, but I didn’t realize that I wanted it until I saw his post,” she said.
At first she thought it was going to happen instantly, just everyone showing up to church together. But it is not that easy to flip the switch on hundreds of years of segregated worship.
“It’s much more complicated than that,” Brown said. “You don’t think that your life is different than somebody else,” but it can be. In an ideal world, she said, people want to think about what they have in common and not their differences.
But we do not live in that ideal world of race relations. “There’s a lot of things that we don’t do in common,” she said. “But we do want to know how to be together.”
Each church individually went through months of workshops and classes, owning up to their own fears about what merging would mean.
Many people in Pastor Brooks’ white congregation were afraid of being uncomfortable. There was a feeling of discomfort around everything from different hymns, to the service being in a different neighborhood, to different styles of worship. There was also discomfort in having to face up to their responsibility, as white people, in ongoing American racism. Everyone in the church was excited about the merger, but that did not make it easy.
Pastor Emerson’s congregation was also supportive, and not just because they are largely family. The black congregants of The Way had different fears, fears that they might not be welcomed. Emerson said some of them asked, “will they accept us for who we are?”
The modern leader has lived most of life in a realm of “command and control.” Command and control is necessary in crisis situations, such as warfare or firefighting. For Baby Boomers born after World War II, the command and control way of leadership became a popular leadership style in business and the church.
Modern leaders of this generation believe the way to succeed is to control through power, rewards, and punishments. Slow cycles that grew out of an agricultural economy began to affect business principles, where the agricultural approach of “command and control” began to be applied to the business world. Like breaking a horse, “The worker must be trimmed to fit the job,” Frederick Taylor famously intoned. Subsequently, modern leaders bristle at the thought of losing control. When wrestling with the freedom found in emerging networks, the modern leader tends to try to exert control through ownership. In the ever democratizing world of electronic communication, control through ownership is increasingly difficult.
Modern leaders attempt to take possession of networks that shape them. In business, this often means controlling access by charging a fee and thus reinforcing a modern notion of ownership. In the church, we may do this by restricting access to those times and places the modern leader deems fitting. Former Silicon Valley executive Rusty Rueff noted, “Movie theatres have long tried to control mobile phone signal in their movie theatres. They say it is because it disturbs people. Really, they don’t want teens text-messaging their friends that the movie is dreadful.” From the days of passing notes in church, to text-messaging a friend far removed from the church sanctuary, church leaders have also tried to limit the location and occasion of electronic communication.
Millennial leaders who have grown up in the expanding world of communication networks, view these networks as public property. And, to restrict access or monopolize them seems tyrannical. Modern leaders may recall similar unfair restrictions. At one time, restaurants and businesses charged a fee to use the restrooms. Charging a fee or otherwise restricting network access should seem just as illogical to leaders today.
Millennial Attitude: Networks should be accessible
Rueff, who serves as an advisor to the president at Purdue University, recently showed a picture of a classroom at that university. Of the almost 100 students assembled, every one was sitting behind a laptop computer. “Think of when this will happen in your church,” Rusty Rueff, the former Silicon Valley executive, said. “What do you do in church? Is there a place for those who want to communicate with laptops? Or would an usher ask them to put their computer away?”
Immediate, Even Critical Feedback. In a millennial world where unfettered networking is routine, millennial church leaders are starting to accommodate instant feedback. Some young churches have an “ask assertive environment” where those who disagree are encouraged to state their differences of opinion, even during the sermon. Millennial congregations such as Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis regularly invite questions or challenges from the audience during the sermon. Even millennial megachurches such as Mars Hill Church in Granville, Michigan, sometimes welcome a congregant on the stage to ask the preacher questions during the sermon (since the audience is too vast for everyone to shout out a query). Leo Safko, author of the Social Media Bible calls this “a fundamental shift in power … no longer does the consumer trust corporate messages … they want to be educated by, hear their news from, and get their product reviews by people they know and trust.”
At recent conferences I keynoted, participants were given a keypad so they could rate the presentation and/or their understanding of the content in real time. Even now increasingly smaller smartphones allow electronic feedback as presentations unfold. Though modern leaders might initially resist such quick and honest feedback in the church, the day is not far off when immediate, even critical feedback will be visually displayed in our churches in much the same manner that words are displayed to a song.
Fact checking and further research. Allowing laptops and smart-phones into churches may at first seem disruptive, but it will enhance understanding as it allows checking of facts and further research on a topic. I remember sitting in college classes, balancing a three-inch (or so it seemed) textbook on one knee, while holding in my left hand a large diagram of the human organs. Amid this balancing act, I tried desperately to write what the professor was stating. Today, multiple items sit neatly on computer desktops where only a flick of a mouse pad is required to separate sources or conduct further research.
The accessible church describes a church that is accessible via as many social networks as possible.
The accessible church creates networks that reach out to those in need. Meeting the needs of the disenfranchised is a priority among millennial leaders. Expanding network access should not be limited to just Christians who attend a church, but to those outside as well. One congregation in Edmonton, Alberta started a church plant in an Internet café. Unexpectedly, the free Internet access they offered met the needs of a large Asian-American community in the neighborhood that did not have computer access. As a result this accessible church in an Internet café created an ongoing network with a growing Asian-American community.
The accessible church fosters instantaneous research and feedback at teaching venues, including during the sermon.Because Christianity is an experience- and knowledge-based faith, access to information can foster a better understanding about God. The accessible church can offer Internet access at teaching times such as during sermons, Sunday school, committee meetings, etc. Many modern leaders bristle at the thought of laptops and Smartphones being used during church, but so did professors several years ago (only to lose the battle). At one time sound systems, video projectors, guitars and even pipe-organs were banned from many churches. Though uncomfortable at first, new ways of communication and exploration will emerge, first among these cutting-edge millennial congregations, and eventually among everyone else. When speaker Stan Toler speaks to younger audiences he often uses instant messaging so attendees can ask their questions via a Smartphone while he is still speaking. He then displays their questions on the screen and answers them during his lecture.
The accessible church provides on-line communities to augment its off-line fellowship. Online communities “felt the connection and affinity they experienced in these groups fully justified their designations as a form of community.” Online communities often enhance off-line friendships. A church offering a 12-step program can create an online group in which participants can dialogue between meetings. Groups, committees, Sunday School classes and small groups can create, share and edit documents via Web-based word processors, such as Google Docs. These online documents allow collaborative work (such as designing a Bible study) prior to face-to-face meetings. Online communities can allow those who have special needs or limited time/resources to still feel like full participants in the community. In the same way that Robert Schuller continued a life-long ministry to drive-in worshippers because a physically-challenged lady’s husband requested it, online communities can engage people who might be challenged in their ability to physically connect with a church.
Leaders having little experience with online communities may wonder about their cohesiveness, value and permanency, but those who have seen them in action know that increasing accessibility to the church community only enhances the faith experience.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. and Kent R. Hunter D.Min. & Ph.D.
The 3 Steps of the Restart Model
Some denominations have a program in place designed to resurrect an aging congregation. Sometimes called the “restart model” or the “regeneration process,” this procedure allows a church to dissolve the present entity and form a new congregation with help from nearby congregations of the same polity. Components of this program usually include the following:
The restart model is a viable alternative to closure and has been employed extensively by the American Baptist Church. While unable to preserve the traditions or history of the aging church, this approach does preserve a denominational presence in the community.
However, the advice below must be considered when considering the restart or regeneration model.
1. The church leadership must be ready to relinquish control of the new organization to a steering committee comprised of people outside the local congregation.
2. Church members must understand that their spiritual sustenance will come from a small group setting for at least six months during the transition phase.
This model is frequently successful in planting a new and oftentimes younger congregation in the same community as the aging church.
However, older members of the former congregation usually do not make it through the transition due to two important reasons.
First, aging members are accustomed to sharing intimacy and closeness through Sunday School classes which often are their smaller groups. Home Bible studies, while more popular among Boomers, do not provide an attractive alternative to aging members who traditionally have enjoyed small group intimacy through the Sunday School format.
Secondly, the restart model works best when the existing leadership is fragmented or non-existent. The restart strategy then provides needed leadership to fill the void. However, if an existing and long-lived leadership is already in place, and in most aging churches this is the case, the restart model often prunes a majority of these steadfast saints from the process. Long-standing leaders will feel they are no longer wanted or needed, and resistance to forward progress often spreads informally among the aging congregation.
Though the restart model is effective in establishing a younger church in the community context, it usually fails in preserving a Builder sub-congregation.
You must be logged in to post a comment.