Does conversion occur in a flash, with miraculous transformations and heavenly encounters? Does conversion take place over time? Or perhaps conversion is a stumbling process, where the conversionary experience takes place in what Richard Peace calls “fits and starts.”[i] Richard Peace, Scot McKnight and others have looked at the New Testament record and conclude that the answer is “all of the above.”[ii] Let us look at three basic categories.
Sudden Conversion. Sometimes conversion takes place “in a flash … a sudden point-in-time transformation based on an encounter with Jesus.”[iii] This is the experience of Saul/Paul in Acts 9, and has became the standard way the evangelical church looks at conversion.[iv] At the altar sudden and dramatic responses are often expected, door-to-door visits lead to a “prayer of commitment,” and mass rallies end with an appeal to come forward for conversion.[v] While this may be required to facilitate a person on the verge of a sudden conversionary experience, not all conversions happen in this manner. Psychologist Lewis Rambo, in an exhaustive look at religious conversion, concludes that “for the most part it (religious conversion) takes place over a period of time.”[vi] Thus, the evangelical church may be limiting the number of wayfarers she can help by focusing too exclusively on sudden conversion.
Progressive Conversion.[vii] A closer look at the Gospel of Mark reveals that Mark was describing a different, more gradual paradigm of conversion. As Peace notes:
“What Mark sought to communicate in his Gospel was the process by which these twelve men gradually turned, over time, from their culturally derived understanding of Jesus as a great teacher to the amazing discovery that he was actually the Messiah who was the Son of God. In showing how the Twelve turned to Jesus, step-by-step, Mark was inviting his readers to undergo the same journey of conversion.”[viii]
Peace concludes that “what happened to Paul, and what happened to the Twelve was identical in terms of theological understanding, though quite different experientially.”[ix]
Scot McKnight describes how progressive conversion can take place in churches that practice infant baptism. McKnight states, “for many Christians conversion is a process of socialization,”[x] meaning that nurture is confirmed later by personal affirmation. For example, an infant baptism or an infant dedication can be seen as a public affirmation that the church community and parents will nurture that child (i.e. via spiritual socialization). After growing up in this environment of spiritual socialization and religious community, the grown child will be expected to ratify this effort via further instruction (i.e. catechism) and confirmation.
Liturgical Acts and Conversion. McKnight also notes that in some liturgical traditions, such as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, while conversion is experienced, the sacraments are more involved. Thus, baptism, the Eucharist and “official rites of passage” are where conversionary experiences often take place for “liturgical converts.”[xi] There is nothing to preclude that God can use such spiritual rites as touchstone experiences where metanoia (repentance) is combined with pistis (faith) in order to bring about epistophe (conversion).
[i] Charles Kraft, Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin, [Colorado Springs, Colo.: International Christian Broadcasters, 1974], Second Quarter; Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels; Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 6; Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion;” Lewis R. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993).
[ii] Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels.
[iii] Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 6.
[iv] Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion,” 8-9.
[v] Donald Miller’s analysis of the results of crusade evangelism in the Harvest Crusades with evangelist Greg Laurie discovered that only about 10 percent of the decisions for Christ resulted in long-term changes in personal behavior (Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the new Millennium, Berkley: University of Calif. Press, 1997), 171-172. However, Sterling Huston’s earlier research on the Billy Graham Crusades suggested the results were six times this (Sterling W. Huston, Crusade Evangelism and the Local Church [Minneapolis, Minn.: World Wide Publishing, 1984]). Whether these discrepancies were the result of tactics, cultures, samples or eras remains to be researched. The answer may lie somewhere in between. The ambiguity of these results begs further analysis by researchers.
[vi] Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, 165.
[vii] Charles Kraft introduced terminology to distinguish the different types of people that experience sudden conversion or progressive conversion. On the on hand, Kraft saw people who undergo radical and sudden conversion as usually “first generation Christians” who previously had only been moderately influenced by Christian principles. On the other hand, Kraft saw “second-generation Christians” as those who were raised in Christian homes and in which “there may be little or no behavioral change evident as a result of the conscious decision to personally affirm one’s commitment to the Christian community in which one has been practicing since birth” (Charles Kraft, Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin, 8.) While the terms “first” and “second generation Christians” have been widely used, these terms cause some problems. First, Paul’s conversion was certainly radical and sudden (Acts 9), yet he had been practicing a devout lifestyle (Acts 23:6), so in Kraft’s paradigm he should have had a more progressive experience. In addition, McKnight’s story does not fit with Kraft’s paradigm, for in the interview that concludes this chapter McKnight states that he underwent a radical behavioral change in a progressive sequence. Thus, the value of Kraft’s insights may be that there are numerous ways that conversion is encountered and that whether a person is a first- or second-generation Christian has some, though limited, affect. Instead, the emphasis should be upon the fluid role of the Holy Spirit in individualizing conversion to each traveler, for as John 3:7 states, “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God” (The Message).
[viii] Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 4.
[ix] Ibid., 10. Some may argue that progressive conversion as described in Mark was necessitated because the Holy spirit had not yet been given at the Day of Pentecost. While this is a valid critique, Lewis Rambo’s research suggesting that most conversion is progressive (Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, 165) may indicate that both examples are valid.
[x] Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels, 5.
Recycling is no longer confined to diet coke cans and Evian water bottles. It’s become one of the dominant impulses in American culture today. . . . Whether you call it nostalgia, postmodernism or a simple vandalizing of the past, all this recycling essentially amounts to the same thing: a self-conscious repudiation of originality.
–Michiko Kakutani, journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism1
Learn to “improv.” Michiko Kakutani’s quote that commenced this chapter reminds us that an infatuation with ancient-future elements can lead unknowingly to recycled predictability and triteness. Thus, improvisational originality can be a counterbalance. Solomon’s Porch has been a good example (for more insights on this church in Minneapolis that is profiled in the book see: Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations). This church embraces improvisation each Sunday, and on the fifth Sunday, attendees improvise beyond their customary parameters. Fifth Sunday experimentation may be a good way to introduce a congregation to this environment of Holy Spirit–infused creativity. To ensure this is done prudently as well as effectively, consider the following three keys to improvisation.
(1) Prepare. Preparation may seem contradictory to improvisation, but actually it is the most important element. Improvisation in worship must have a goal. And it should start with a biblical one, to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), doing so “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Thus, improvisation begins with this objective, to connect people with God in essential and authentic ways. Collaboration follows, requiring prayer, advice from mature disciples, and an understanding of God’s vision for the future of a congregation. Then, the general parameters of the experience can be mapped out, including customary features. At Solomon’s Porch, several recurring features provide a general framework: scripture and potential implications, worship that is fresh and germane, prayer, and communion.
(2) Present and guide. The presentation must be conducted without tyranny. Solomon’s Porch uses a consensus among mature leaders to guide its improvisational environment. But as Pagitt noted, distinguishing between when someone has something to say from God, or something that originates from self, can be a challenge. Improvisation, however, creates a powerful communal experience, which Viola Spolin describes as “the sharing (union), give and take, of each and every one’s excitement, experience and intuitive energy.”21
(3) Debrief. Improvisation is not only potent, but also as noted above, potentially abused. Allow mature Christians to evaluate and discuss the outcome. Remember, improvisation is not just winging it; but a premeditated foray into God’s Word and its implications for his children. As Spolin explains, “Evaluation … is the time to establish an objective vocabulary,and direct communication made possible thought non-judgmental attitudes, group assistance in solving a problem, and clarification of the focus of an exercise.”22
Release your innovation gene. As a human gene can reside veiled and obscure in an organism, innovation is a talent that can lie underdeveloped in a Christian community until released. To release this innovation in a timely as well as diplomatic manner, the following three steps have been adapted from Hamel and Skarzynski’s work on ingenuity.23
(1) Innovation doesn’t follow a schedule. Though Solomon’s Porch uses a Wednesday evening “musical collaboration” to craft fresh songs for the upcoming Sunday, church administrator Thomas Karki was quick to point out, “But that’s just one venue. Creativity happens throughout our community. Songs may come out of a Bible discussion group, from a ministry event, from personal reflection, anywhere. Songs come out of our community, from out of a place.” Don’t think you can schedule a time or place for creativity to rise. Rather, see the entire rhythm of the community to be one where creativity can arise from the least likely places. Nokia launched its successful line of rainbow colored mobile phones, not after a daylong strategy meeting, but after an afternoon when company execs lunched near California’s Venice Beach and noticed sun-drenched skaters awash in colorful clothes.24
(2) Shatter the innovation monopoly. Innovation and creativity arise from fresh, imaginative, and diverse environs. Thus, Hamel and Skarzynski discovered that innovation wanes if controlled by a small leadership segment. Many seeker-church models may unintentionally do this when they designate “creative teams” to design artistic environments for worship gatherings. My experience has led me to agree, for I have noticed the longer creative teams exist, the less innovation results. Thus, it is important to encourage creativity to come from all segments of a congregation. Unlock and then welcom ideas from across the community. Legendary British entrepreneur Richard Branson encourages employees of his Virgin Enterprises to E-mail him with ideas. Thus, when a Virgin Airlines flight attendant had trouble planning her own wedding, she pitched the idea of a wedding planning boutique to Branson, which eventually resulted in a successful new enterprise.
(3) Build a safe place for people to innovate. Darrell Guder pointed out that much like the temple in the Old Testament, today’s Christian community often becomes an immovable, inflexible, and ostentatious environment. Subsequently, the church inadvertently distances itself from the people it is trying to serve. Instead, Guder believes a better biblical metaphor for a church is that of the tabernacle, an adaptable, movable manifestation of God’s glory and presence.25 The flexibility and movability of a tabernacle best describes how the outward manifestation (that is, the methodology) of the good news may innovatively adapt, but the central essence, doctrine, and principles of the tabernacle’s purpose do not change with its adaptable locale.
Thus, Christian communities must become safe, even welcoming places for innovation to be tendered and shared. Solomon’s Porch does this by welcoming ideas from all community quarters, even from the floor during sermons. While some churches may shy away from this due to the potential for dissenting thoughts arising from the floor, Solomon’s Porch sees this as an opportunity to engage in discussion with modern philosophies and apply God’s truth. And they do so in much the same way that the early church engaged Hellenistic philosophical ideas–at Solomon’s Porch.
“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.
Generally the church has declined from an average of one 137 attendees, 20 years ago to 65 attendees today. Below is a chart that illustrates that. This means if you were involved in a church 20 years ago, either as a pastor or attendee, you would see the average church drop to 50% smaller than it was! That’s scary for many congregants.
But, it’s important that people understand this is a societal motor (yet something we as leaders must address). However, this drop is not fully the fault of the local church. A church can remain comparatively plateaued, but be declining in attendance because of societal motors.
Here’s the handouts from the seminar, “Growing the Post-pandemic Church” with field-tested solutions. And here is a visual from that seminar on the “average” sized church according to the Hartford Institute’s American Religious Identification Survey (one of the most exhaustive surveys available today).
Worship flows from the audience to the stage, not the other way around.
Inorganic worship: This is usually manufactured with moving lights in the haze of an artificial fog. It may be lead by the worship team with admonitions of “Come on, let’s praise Him” or “Clap your hands for Him.” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done all of those things (too many times to list).
Organic worship: But, I have observed worship that is more natural and flowing from the Holy Spirit originates from the audience and moves across the stage, not the other way around.
The focus is on what is going on inside of your head and heart, not what is going on on the stage.
Inorganic worship: Often focuses on beautiful slides/videos behind words with moving lights on the walls and the audience.
Organic worship: The focus is on what God is doing in each congregants’ head and heart. The lights on the stage often come from the back of stage, illuminating the worship team as silhouettes so the faces are not illuminated (so that the expressions of the worship team do not distract).
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.
Eschatology, the study of one’s final destiny, will be of increasing interest as the world grows smaller and waves of illnesses travel the globe at increasing speeds.
In recent years the church shifted away from eschatology, to topics of how to live a better life here and now. And while that may be important, it is eternal questions that will begin to dominate people’s interest as catastrophes circle the globe.
Start preparing now: churches need to be prepared with orthodoxy and in clarity to address the issues of life, death and the afterlife.
Jesus told us, “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so, it is with you. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly” (Mark 13:28-29, MSG).
Christ knew today’s catastrophes would happen. He is not surprised (John 16:30, Rev. 2:23). So, as knowledge of a fig tree tells an orchardist about the coming season, so too must Christian leaders discern the season we are in. It is time for church leaders to carefully adapt electronic tools, the way it once did the printing press, to better communicate the Good News.
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.
During today’s Easter gathering with my children and grandchildren, the question came up about generational designations. In case similar questions have or will arise in your family gatherings here are the designations as used by researchers and media outlets.
There are varying ways to designate generational cultures. The most widely accepted labels have been put forth by Philip Bump in his article “Here is When Each Generation Begins and Ends, According to Facts.” Synthesizing work conducted by the US Census Bureau, the Harvard Center and Strauss and Howe, Bump suggests these designations:
The cure for the ingrown church is to keep a church focused both inward and outward. In fact, history indicates that churches that stay connected to outsiders often do a better job at inward ministry too. For example, an Anglican pastor named John Wesley was so ashamed and alarmed at the depravity of the people outside of his church, that he took his sermons outside the church walls and began ministries to better serve their spiritual and physical needs.[i] Balancing this emphasis upon people inside and outside the church required a rigorous structure his critics mockingly called: “Wesley’s Methods.” Soon his followers were know as “Methodists,” a term which endures to today and should remind us that we need a clear method if we are going to avoid focusing only on people inside the church. After 20+ years of consulting, I believe this method here lies in three organic remedies. These cures, if taken together, can foster a healthy balance between inward and outward focus.
RX 1 FOR THE COMMON CHURCH = GROW O.U.T.
In this cure, as well as in all of the cures in this book, the remedies spell out the name of the cure.
CURxE O: Observe whom you are equipped to reach
CURxE U: Understand the needs of those you are equipped to reach.
CURxE T: Tackle needs by refocusing, creating or ending ministry programs.
CURxE O = OBSERVE WHOM YOU ARE CALLED TO REACH
TWO COMMON OPTIONS
The main reason most churches become common is because they forget (and sometimes just don’t know) to whom God has equipped them to reach out and minister.[ii] They know they aren’t supposed to be ingrown, but exactly who should they be growing out to serve? Usually, there are two options that can be discovered by asking two questions:
Has God equipped your church to minister to peoplein a geographic community?
If you answered yes, you might be a “Geographic Church.”
Geo- means “of an area.” This is a church whose ministry has been directed toward people in a geographic area (often those who live nearby).
These churches meet the needs of people in one or more geographic communities.
Examples: a neighborhood church, a village church, a rural church, a church in a housing development, a downtown church, etc. (For more examples see Figure 2.1.)
Has God equipped your church to minister to people like us?
If you answered yes, you might be a “Demographic Church.”
Demo- means “of a people.” This is a church whose ministry has been directed toward a people group (e.g. those who share common characteristics).
These churches meet the needs of one or more sections of the population that share common characteristics, such as age, ethnicity, socio-economics, common interests, etc.[iii]
Examples: generational churches, ethnic churches, aging traditional churches, blue-collar churches, middle-class churches, Café Churches, college churches, etc. (For more examples see Figure 2.2.)
Your road to uncommon church life begins with understanding if you are a church equipped to meet the needs of a specific “geographic” area, or if you are equipped to minister to one or more “demographic” sections of the population. Both geographic churches and demographic churches are legitimate and both are needed. And, the process begins by observing your surroundings, your history and how God has moved in your church’s history.[iv]
Are You a Geographic Church?
Some churches are primarily equipped by God to reach a geographic area such as a neighborhood, a borough, a small town, a rural area, a township, a neighborhood, a school district, a suburb, an urban district, etc. Geographic churches often have a long history of ministering in a specific area. And, if the culture of the geographic area changes, because the geographic church is called to that locale, the geographic church will stay put but change with that culture.
This is not always easy, nor quick. In Appendix 2.A you can find the story of Kentwood Community Church, a Michigan congregation that has successfully changed ethnicity and grown while remaining in the same (changing) geographic area.
Today many churches are forced by their location and/or history to be geographic churches. Figure 2.1 lists some more common examples of “Geographic Churches:”
Churches located in small towns and/or rural districts with very little outside traffic may have no other option than to become geographic churches meeting the needs of those people living nearby.Churches that are elsewhere off the beaten path.
Churches constrained by natural features
Churches located in wilderness areas, valleys, etc. with very little outside traffic. Churches located in back road areas.Churches located on river deltas, islands or peninsulas.
Churches constrained by traffic patterns
Suburban churches may be geographic churches if they are in an area of a suburb not traveled by many people from outside of the area. Suburban churches can be geographic churches if their buildings are hidden in a housing development or subdivision.
Churches constrained by owned assets
Churches that own their own facilities (and market or geographic conditions make selling and moving impractical)Churches that own significant or valuable acreage (and market or geographic conditions make selling and moving impractical)
Churches constrained by image
Churches that are located in a neighborhood with its own identity (e.g. blue-collar, artist, urban, young professional, college student, etc.)A old, established downtown church that cannot move to the suburbs because there are other denominational churches already there.A church residing in one of the inner city’s labyrinth of neighborhoods, may be limited by that neighborhood’s identity.
Special Attributes of Geographic Churches
Geographic churches will stay put and change as the cultures around it change. If the cultural makeup of a community changes, a geographic church will change to reflect those changes. Rather than moving out of an area if the culture changes (like a demographic church might do), the geographic church is a chameleon, staying put and changing its appearances to reflect its changing environment.
Geographic churches can reach out to several cultures at the same time. A geographic church in an urban area might be comprised of a Mexican congregation, an Asian congregation and a young professionals congregation.
Geographic churches may be the majority of churches today. From Figure 2.1 we can see that most churches today may be geographically limited, and thus are best able to reach out to their geographic communities. But now let’s look at another increasingly popular option, Demographic Churches.
Today people can drive a great distance to attend a church they like. As a result more and more churches are drawing people from several sections of the population rather than just ministering to those in the geographic area nearby.
Demographic groups are sections of the population that talk alike, behave alike and in which members can tell who is in their group and who is not.[vii] Thus, though the names and designations are always evolving, Figure 2.2highlights some examples of Demographic Churches.
Senior adult (b. 1945 & before) churches[x] also called Silent Generation or Builder Generation churches[xi]Boomer (b. 1946-1964) churchesGeneration X (b. 1965-1983) churchesGeneration Y (b. 1984-2002) churches, etc.
Latin American churchesHispanic American churchesAfrican American churchesAsian American churchesNative American churchesCaucasian churches,[xiv] etc.
Affinity churches(focused around a common interest)
Cowboy ChurchesNASCAR churchesMotorcycle churchesEmerging-Postmodern ChurchesCafé ChurchesArt Churches, College Churches, etc.[xv]
Special Attributes of Demographic Churches
Demographic churches (like geographic churches) can reach out to several cultures at the same time. A demographic church could be comprised of a Latino/Latina congregation, an Asian congregation, an aging retiree congregation and an Emerging-Postmodern congregation.
Demogrpahic churches will change locations, following a people group as they leave to live in new locales. If the demographic group they are reaching moves out of the area, a demographic church moves along with the culture. For example, a Boomer church may move from an urban area to the suburbs as its congregants move to those suburbs. And, an Asian church I know moved to a nearby town when most of its Asian members moved to that town.
Can Churches be Geographic and Demographic? Yes!
Many churches are reaching nearby geographic areas, as well as several far-flung demographics. In fact, this may be one of the healthiest ways for a church to grow, because the church maintains a strong local ministry while reaching out to more and more far flung people groups. Such congregations create a wonderful region-wide ministry coupled with a strong local foundation.
St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield England is a good example of a demographic church that has a robust ministry to its local geographic area too. England’s largest Anglican Church (where most churchgoers are under the age of 35) calls itself “a church of churches” with worship services at different locations around town for varying people groups (e.g. a young professionals church, a student church, a church for internationals, and different churches in different neighborhoods). It also has a robust local ministry in the geographic area of its first church, called the “Mother Church.” This Mother Church was the original Anglican congregation that gave rise to “a church of (six) churches” around town.[xvi]
Still, for many small churches being both a geographic church and a demographic church may not be an option. Because the average church in North America is only 75 attendees,[xvii] most of these churches do not have the numbers to be both a geographic and a demographic church. Thus, the common church in North America must first determine if it is called to stay put and reach out to its geographic area or if it is go move, following a people group it has been reaching. Figure 2.3 will be the key to determining this.
Which Church Are You?
Use Figure 2.3 to begin to investigate what type of church God may have equipped you to be. Neither the geographic approach or the demographic approach is better than the other. They are simply two basic ways that God equips his church to reach out. And, each approach has pros and cons (see Figure 2.4).
The starting place is to look at your history, your situation and under what circumstances God moves in your midst. To begin this process, check the boxes in the columns of Figure 2.3 that most represent your church and its vision.
Figure 2.3 Are you a Geographic or a Cultural Church?
You have a burden to reach a geographicarea for Christ. Needs in a geographic area (e.g. a neighborhood, etc.) dictate your ministry.
You have a burden to reach one or more people groups for Christ. The needs of certain people groups (which may be spread across a region) dictate your ministry.
Your pastor feels called to your geographic community. Your pastor has stayed (or is planning to stay) for a long time in the church’s geographical area.
Your pastor feels called to a certain people (ethnic, generational, etc., see Figure 2.2). Your pastor is open to moving out of the area if most of the church’s attendees live or are moving out of the area.
Most of the church staff live in the church’s geographical area. Most of the staff have long histories in the church’s geographical area.
Most of the church staff does not live in the church’s geographical area. Most of the church staff does not have a long history in the church’s geographical area.
Your church owns permanent facilities in the area In the past five years you have built new facilities in the area. In the past five years you have renovated or updated facilities.
You change facilities as need arises, leasing or renting church facilities rather than owning them. You have multiple auditoriums or venues to accommodate different worship styles.
Your location is hemmed in by geographic features that sometimes thwart visitors from finding you, such as:A valley, hill or riverA small town surrounded by farmlandA neighborhood with its own identity.
Your churchgoers are aging. Your churchgoers are moving away from the area, to an area where there are churches similar to yours which they may attend.
Your church is in a small town. Your church is in a neighborhood that has a specific identity. You church is in an urban area of a city.
Your church is in a middle-class suburban church. Your church is a church with attendees primarily under the age of 35. Your church is known for blending several people groups together.[xix]
Your church name reflects the geographic area you are called to reach, such as:Smithville ChurchPine Lake ChurchFirst (i.e. downtown) Church Harris Avenue Church, etc. Your church name has not been changed in a long time.
Your church name reflects the language of a people group, such as:Overcomers’ ChurchFamily Worship CenterCommunity Church[xx]A Greek or Latin name (e.g. The Crux- Latin for cross; or Missio Dei). Your church name has been changed in the last decade.
Your church experienced a period of growth between 1950 and 1970.
Your church experienced a period of growth since 1970.
(total checked in this column)
(total checked in this column)
(If you have equal checks in both columns you may be geographic and demographic church)[xxi]
When you tally up the columns in Figure 2.3, you will begin to see a congregational trajectory. But remember, there are strengths and weaknesses to each approach. Write in the box in Figure 2.4 which culture or geographic area you are called to reach:
Figure 2.4 Who’s needs are you called to meet? (Circle one)
Who’s needs are you called to meet?
A geographic area
(describe it here)
(describe it/them here)
Remember these pros and cons:
Pros of geographic church:Builds a strong connection with an area.Can more readily bring about racial and cultural reconciliation within a changing area.[xxii]Does not need to move facilities as often.Can invest in local facilities enjoying ownership privileges.Cons of geographic church:Encounters change more often because geographic areas regularly experience cultural transitions.Staff and leaders usually do not stay for a long time, rather transitioning in an out as the culture changes.
Pros of cultural church:Builds a strong communication connection with sections of the population that share common characteristics.Provides relevant ministry.Can move with a people group, leasing or renting facilities in lieu of purchasing or building them.Encounters change less often.Staff can remain a long time.Cons of cultural church:Can become culturally prejudiced.Can become separatist (i.e. siloed) unless it grows into a church where different people groups partner in the same church.[xxiii]
Figure 2.4 should give you a general indication of the direction of your church’s recent ministry.[xxiv] Before you move ahead to the next remedy, it is important to reflect back upon what kind of church God has equipped you to be.
[i] Wesley urged discipleship via small groups which he called “class meetings” to help non-churchgoers grasp the basics of Christianity. These “class meetings” were a type of discipleship group, which we shall discuss in greater detail in the next chapter.
[ii] A depiction of God equipping a church to best reach a specific geographic area or demographic is an unpleasant image for those who wish all churches to be all things to all people. But, even in New Testament times we see congregations emerging with specific calls, such as Antioch’s emphasis upon missionary training, Corinth’s impact upon the Roman intelligentsia, and Jerusalem’s influence upon the structures and doctrine of the fledgling church. While churches should not limit themselves as to what God can do, it is helpful for churches (just like people, c.f. Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4) to ascertain how God has gifted them and to whom they may best be able to minister.
[iii] “demographic,” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011).
[iv] This is not to say that all churches are called to a geographic area or to a demographic. Some churches are mixtures. Yet, observing how God has equipped and empowered your church is the first step toward ascertaining whose needs you are called to meet.
[v] When using the term constrained I am not saying that God cannot call and equip a church to overcome a restricted geographic area and reach an entire region. There are many examples of such congregations (see Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church: Learning From 12 Emerging Congregations, [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008].) However in my consulting practice I have observed that God often calls churches to a geographic locale and does so in part by geographically delimiting their sphere of impact. Because many churches are not aware of a call to a locale, they often stumble ahead trying to minister to a demographic that has left the area, and subsequently refuse to adapt and minister to the changing demographic in their neighborhood.
[vi] See Appendix 2.B for an explanation of John Perkins’ “3 Rs.” These three lessons from this pioneer in civil rights and Christian community development can ensure that cultural churches do not become mono- demographic enclaves. It is the conclusion of my case study research and this book that a healthy church is not a mono- demographic church but a congregation partnering across cultural boundaries to produce a reconciliation between cultures that modern society so desperately needs.
[vii] The phrase “talk alike, behave alike and can tell who is in their group and who is not,” is expanded by Paul Hiebert in more detail as a matrix of behaviors, ideas and products (Cultural Anthropology [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1976). P. 25.
[viii] These demographic examples are not meant to be exhaustive nor definitive, because demographic designations are still evolving (for more on this see Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church [Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing Company, 2007], pp. 50-62).
[ix] For characteristics of generational churches see lists and charts in Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing Company, 2007), pp. 52-65.
[x] Today, probably the most widespread church demographic are those who prefer “traditional worship” (and all of its various permutations), Hispanic Churches (and all of their wonderfully diverse Hispanic cultures), African American Churches (with their many vibrant variations) and youthful churches (orientated toward attendees under 35 years of age).
[xi] This generation has been labeled the “silent generation” to emphasize their stoic nature in the midst of the Great Depression and World War II by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe in their seminal book Generations: The History of American’s Future, 1954-2069 (New York: Quill, 1992). Tom Brokaw popularized them as the “Greatest Generation” in his book, The Greatest Generation (New York: Random House, 2004). They have also been called the “Builder Generation” for their propensity to honor God with their handicraft as exemplified in their church buildings (Gary McIntosh, One Church, Four Generations: Understanding and Reaching All Ages in Your Church [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002] and Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000).
[xii] For more on socio-economic levels see David Jaffee, Levels of Socio-economic Development Theory (New York: Praeger 1998), and Organization Theory (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001).
[xiii] Defining ethnicity can be challenging, with terminology and designations constantly evolving. I have employed here (only as an example) ethnic designations used by the US Census Bureau.
[xiv] Historically, many of the churches in America began as churches reaching out to specific demographics. For example Norwegian Lutheran Churches were started in the small towns of Wisconsin and Minnesota to offer culturally relevant worship for non-churchgoing immigrants in their native language and music. But these immigrant churches also displayed many of the characteristics of geographic area churches because in those days most demographic groups were located in specific geographic communities. This fact is sometimes hard for congregants with long histories in a church to understand, for they may want to retain their cultural and geographic focus long after their culture has moved to another part of town.
[xv] For examples of affinity churches see Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church [Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing Company, 2007], pp. 56-58 and Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 1 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006).
[xvi] See my case-study of “St. Thomas’ Church Sheffield, England” in the following three sources: Inside the Organic Church: Learning From 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 1-12; “A Process Model for Church Change as Reflected in St. Thomas’ Anglican Church, Sheffield England,” The Great Commission Research Journal (La Mirada, CA: Biola University, Winter 2010). pp. 265-280 and “The Perfect Cluster: For Young Adults, St. Tom’s Sheffield Creates Extended Families, and Everyone Knows Where They Fit” Outreach Magazine (Vista, CA: May/June 2005). See also http://www.stthomascrookes.org
[xviii] It is important to note that “demographic churches” can be comprised of more than one demographic. For instance, a demographic church can have a Boomer subcongregation, a Generation-X subcongregation, a Hispanic subcongregation and an Asian subcongregation. Called subcongregations because they are sub-sections of the church, their cultural heritage is honored by allowing their worship/teaching/etc. to be culturally distinct, while at the same time working together to manage one organization. Thus, worship/teaching/etc. can be culturally distinct in the sub-congregational model, but the responsibility for management and assets is shared. Thus, unity is created in leading a church, not in worship at that church (for worship by the definition of the very term means encounter with God see Bob Whitesel, ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church [(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011], pp. 130-131.) Thus worship’s focus is God, not the creation of unity. There are plenty of opportunities in the sub-congregational model for unity to be created in management and ministry cooperation. One young emerging leader put it this way, “you can’t create unity in a worship service, the chairs are facing the wrong way.” He made a good point.
[xix] See footnote 17 for an explanation of two types of multi-ethnic churches.
[xx] Even though the term “Community Church” would seem to designate a geographic church, the author has found that when the appellation “community” is added to a church name it usually designates a Boomer church (i.e. a demographic church) rather than a geographical-orientated congregation. For example, one of my client congregations named “Community Church of the Nazarene” (comprised primarily of Boomers) broke away from Taylor Avenue Church of the Nazarene (at the time comprised mostly of the Builder Generation). Despite the inclusive name, Community Church of the Nazarene became a church that primarily attracted Boomers from across the region, while Taylor Avenue Church of the Nazarene continued to primarily attract the Builder Generation from the neighborhood in which it was located. Happily, both the neighborhood and church are today growing into a vibrant Hispanic community.
[xxi] There actually may be two prevalent types of multi-ethnic churches.
Multi-ethnic subcongregational churches. These churches are comprised of a partnership of sub-congregations that are all part of one legal non-profit organization. This would be analogous to a local church that was comprised of Asian, Hispanic, African American and Anglo congregations with different staffs and different worship encounters that are equal partners in the same nonprofit organization. Their various worship encounters resembles a multi-site or multi-venue church and their evangelistic prowess is a result of their ability to connect multiple demographic concurrently (for more examples see Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church [Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing Company, 2007], pp. 68-70). While it has been my observation that evangelistic proficiency is increased in “multi-ethnic sub-congregational churches,” unless there are at least quarterly “unity events” a silo effect (see footnote 19) can occur. However, this model’s evangelistic proficiency probably trumps the following model’s multi-ethnic harmony.
Multi-ethnic homogenous churches. There are many multi-ethnic churches which are in essence one worshipping congregation attended by multiple cultures. It can be argued that these latter congregations are really not multicultural churches, as much as they are a homogenous congregation made up of people from different cultures who like a blended demographic format (see Tetsunao Yamamori “How to Reach a New Culture in Your Community” op. cit.). While some of my friends would disagree with this conclusion (see Mark DeYmaz and Harry Li, Ethnic Blends: Mixing Diversity into Your Local Church [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010]) it is important to note that churches where multiple cultures rub shoulders and learn to get along are needed today, and both Yamamori’s and DeYmaz’s models are relevant.
[xxiii] The “silo effect” has been described by Patrick Lencioni as “the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.” Silos emerge in the demographic church when a church evolves in demographicly-centric silos with little contact or unity experiences for other subcongregations. For more on the silo effect and how to overcome it, see Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors (Hoboken, NY: Jossey-Bass, 2006), p. 175
[xxiv] Remember, simply because you are called to a culture, does not mean you should ignore other cultures or neighborhoods. But, this focus will determine who you will canvas to ascertain their needs in Cure U: Understand the Needs of Those You Are Called to Reach.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel. In this article, a colleague described how much Thom and I agree on the future of the church. And though I purposely don’t read Rainer’s (or other Christian leaders’) writings on a topic when writing my own analysis, I am always happy to see so much agreement. I admire Thom’s intellect and influence. We go way back, to when I was the president of the Great Commission Research Network and Thom received the McGavran Award from that association at its annual conference held that year at Indiana Wesleyan University. When someone you admire so much agrees with you, you feel blessed and bolstered.
Leadership Thought: What the Post-Pandemic Church May Look Like
The church has changed more in the last year than at any time in the past 100 years, and it will continue to change according to those who study church trends. The Covid 19 pandemic has radically transformed the way we do church, and some of the change that has been wrought within the church may be more than just temporary interruptions; they may become permanent in naturel. In reading and listening to those who make a study of the church, there are a some changes that many of them agree on, and this morning I would like to share some of them.
Church change will happen faster than ever before. Our world is in a time of rapid change, and because of this people are more open to change than ever before. If the church has been considering making major changes in its ministry, including staffing or facilities, now is the time to do it as there will be less resistance to change than ever before. “The core of the church will grow stronger and the fringe of the church will become looser,” was a statement I heard expressed on a recent pod cast. In plain terms, there will be a winnowing of the church. Some who have been attendees will not be coming back. It has been suggested that one third of the church will return, one third is still evaluating their return and one third may never return.
The church will simplify. There will be a concentration on doing a few things well rather than offering a lot of varied programs and services. There will be a greater focus on training the laity to do ministry and the result will be more trained laymen filling key leadership roles in the church. This certainly is a good thing for it is in keeping with the equipping mandate given the church in Eph. 4:11-12.
There will be an increase in bi vocational pastors who will split their time between secular work and church responsibilities.There will be a major shift in staff alignments as some pastors will be leaving the ministry as a result of what has been called “decision and opinion fatigue.” This is a stretching time for pastors and with many of them being taken out of their comfort zones, some may choose to explore other vocations.
There will be less of an emphasis on academic degrees and more emphasis placed on online certification. This has already been happening and seminaries are presently being forced to change their traditional ways of doing education. Those looking for pastors will be more interested in past certification and personal experience than in a seminary degree.
Younger pastors will be leading churches, simply because many of them will have the technical experience to function more comfortably in our fast-changing digital world.There will be a greater emphasis on the development of small groups within the church which will meet for study, training and mutual support and which will often align themselves around a particular mission or para church ministry.
There will be a more churches closing or being adopted by larger and healthier churches. The concept of “fostering churches” will become a reality, and stronger churches will support smaller churches by training and equipping its leaders.There will be fewer senior or lead pastors heading up churches as many of them will choose to lead smaller or “micro churches” of 30-40 people. The church “will grow horizontally” as different small groups or micro churches are formed, and it will “shrink vertically” as larger churches see diminishing number of attenders. Denominations will continue to decline, something that has been happening for many years, but with the pandemic, the decline will be accentuated.
Big attractional church events and major productions will diminish in significance unless churches are able to plan them to maximize opportunities for relationship building, something that today’s younger attenders are seeking.
The church will find new ways to educate, train and nurture those families who choose to insulate themselves from normal church activities by doing “church at home.”
There will be an emphasis on training church members to do ministry in their respective neighborhoods. Small groups may coalesce around ministries specific to their neighborhoods. For more information see The Art of Neighboring-Building Relationships by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon.
Some larger churches with significant size facilities may be forced to rent out parts of their building to both church and or non-church programs. Some churches will experience shrinking income with diminishing memberships, as government stimulus support is eliminated. The church will discover new and innovative ways to reach out and better serve their communities.
All of the above are not givens and the post pandemic church may turn out to be a lot more similar to the church as we know than some of the changes church experts are portending. Only God know what the church will look like, but one thing we know is that it is Christ who has built the church foundation and His promise is that “the gates of hell shall never prevail against .Whatever form or shape the church takes, it’s goal will always remain the same as the goal of its Master-“to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe everything I have commanded,…..’remembering,” I am with you always to the end of the world.”
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 10/16/19.
It just happened one Sunday in 1962. My dad stopped going to church. Mother and I still attended, at least for the next year or so. But soon, our entire family no longer frequented the church my parents had attended since they were married.
Dad had been the head usher for the second of three Sunday services in this church of 1,500 attendees. In that role, he had organized 16-20 men each Sunday to receive the offering and help congregants find seats. Planning was minimal. Dad was supervised by Bill, the church’s Usher Supervisor who recruited, selected, trained and mentored ushers. Bill was an engineer for Delco-Remy, where he led an entire department in the burgeoning lighting division.
However, my father’s duties as head usher for the second service were more straightforward. Dad had to ensure that each usher had enough bulletins, that ushers were at all entrances, and on occasion he had to conscript ushers from the audience if someone was missing. This was his close-knit fellowship, and he often remarked that not since his World War II days had he enjoyed such camaraderie.
Dad also prayed over the offering. And because his prayer never changed, I can recall it to this day; Gerald was a relational leader who liked consistency, uniformity and reliability. Because he exemplified these traits, he had been head usher of the second service for four years.
Why would a man of such consistency and reliability suddenly disconnect himself from his church?
As a child I never understood, nor inquired. But, once grown I had occasion to ask my dad about his departure. Gerald’s disappearance was due to an honor. The faithful discharge of his duties as a head usher, had brought him to the attention of the church leaders. When Bill, the Usher Supervisor quit, Gerald was the natural choice to replace him. After all, my dad was head usher for the largest of three services. He was faithful. Dad was honored, but also wary. None-the-less after some gentle prodding by the church leaders he was “rewarded” with a promotion to Usher Supervisor.
In this new capacity, Dad was now thrust into a leadership role that required oversight of 60 plus men. His duties now included scheduling and organizing ongoing usher training, recruitment and oversight as well as replacing ineffective ushers. Dad had enjoyed his duties as head usher of one service, but now his responsibilities doubled if not tripled. While his previous duties had been largely relational, now his tasks were increasingly organizational. Dad missed the interpersonal nature of his previous duties, and now saw himself increasingly isolated from the fellowship and camaraderie he had previously relished.
Additionally, the usher ministry suffered. Dad found it difficult to schedule pertinent and timely training, and he never felt comfortable with the recruitment and dismissal process. He was a man everyone liked, and he found it hard not to utilize a willing usher candidate, simply because of lack of skill, decorum or call.
The church leaders noticed this decline in the usher’s ministry. And, they subtly tried to work with Gerald. They tried to develop him into a director, who could oversee 60 plus men, and three different worship services. In the end, this was not Dad’s gifting or calling. He had been a successful sergeant during World War II, and he had successfully led a small team of men. But when it came to the oversight, tactical planning, recruitment and paperwork necessary to administer a burgeoning ministry, Dad did not enjoy it, nor did he feel he was called to do it.
The church leaders did not want to see Gerald quit, but the atmosphere of pressure and disappointment became too much. Without an avenue for retreat, one day Gerald simply called the church office and resigned. Dad was a gracious and loving man. But, the feelings that he had let down his church and lost his camaraderie were too much. Dad couldn’t bear to see the looks of the other usher who he felt he had failed as their leader, and thus returning to church was too uncomfortable to bear. He simply faded away, and soon our family did as well.
In adulthood, I began investigating leadership styles and in hindsight always wondered what happened to my Dad’s volunteerism. He had been so content and fulfilled as a sergeant in the military. But at church, his involvement had led to disappointment and failure. As I researched leadership abilities, I found that the military had an insightful understanding of leadership sectors, that might benefit the church. And, it has to do with three military leadership categories: strategic leaders, tactical leaders and relational leaders.[i]
[i] Within military leadership theories there are many nuanced categories. However, to keep the present discussion from becoming too unwieldy, we will focus on the three broad categories of strategic leadership, tactical leadership and operational (i.e. relational) leadership. For a good overview of the historical importance and tensions of the top levels of military leadership see, Mark A. Stoler, Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and U.S. Strategy in World War II (Chapel Hill, No. Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 3/20/19.
Millennial leadership recognizes the need for cultural sensitivity, awareness and autonomy. Though there is a healthy respect for different traditions, there is also a concern that the body of Christ not be splintered into smaller and less holistic factions. Millennial leaders see two types of church planting and increasingly utilize internal instead of external church plants.
External church plants
When modern leaders think of church planting, they usually think about launching a new and autonomous congregation to reach a new culture. However, many millennial leaders have seen their parents’ churches use a “church planting excuse” to push out a different culture. Whether it be a generational culture or an ethnic culture, these ”forced plants” often don’t survive. The millennial leader often wonders, why can’t the church just get along and stay together as a spiritual network?
Internal church plants (or network churches)
This is an increasingly popular strategy that plants new sub-congregations, but keeps them part of one inclusive and multicultural congregation. Called “network churches,” these can be multiple-site and multiple-venue churches, and as such, they are examples of internal church planting.
Advantages of internal church plants
Sharing finances: In the business world this is called an “economy of scale,” which means that a network of sub-congregations will have more financial resources together than if each were independent organizations. For example, if emergency funds are needed by one sub-congregation, the network can provide those funds more readily and smoothly because they are all part of one organizational system.
Sharing facilities: Internal church plants that employ a multi-site approach foster a sharing of facilities, technology and physical resources. This can help fulfill John M. Perkins’ goal of “redistribution.”
Sharing staff: Network churches benefit from sharing support staff, allowing sub-congregations to avoid duplicating their workforces.
Culture sharing: This is a strategic advantage. More cultural sharing will take place if multiple ethnicities are meeting in the same building and sharing the same budget, etc. than will take place if an emerging culture is forced to move down the street to an independent church plant.
Disadvantages of internalchurch plants
They can become divisive:This is often cited as a main concern. But, if they exit the church, it is divided anyway. Division can be addressed by having different preachers at different venues/times share the same message and by holding regular unity events.
Marginalized cultures:Often the largest cultures will try, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes intentionally, to dominate the smaller culture. Yet, this should not deter a congregation from practicing a ministry that reconciles different cultures in the same church.
One way to address this is to require proportional representation on decision-making committees.
If these caveats can be addressed, the end result is the mosaic church, where the glue of being one united organization unites different cultural expressions. A true image of a “mosaic” is created, where different colors and shades create a unified picture when viewed from a distance, but up close reveals a collage of different cultures working in unity and harmony.
By Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 09/12/18.
Keep these in mind when leading a small group to promote trust and maturity.
1. Trust and candidness
Patrick Lencioni, a well-known author on business management and leadership, was right. Before any team can thrive, it must at its core be bound together by trust. He defines trust in a specific way, saying, “Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.” In other words, Heart Attitude #1 means I trust that I can be vulnerable, open and exposed with the group regarding my fears, hopes and failures.
Regrettably, such vulnerability and trust do not characterize all groups, such as groups that are focused on tasks or administration. But, what if it did? What if most of a church’s small groups could transition into heart-to-heart groups. What if administrative boards, such as trustees who meet together regularly and iron out difficult problems, could begin to develop a trust where “there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group?”
2. Accountability to one another and the mission
Another important component that Lencioni emphasizes is “the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.”
However, the Christian has another accountability that is even greater than team accountability. The Christian is held accountable by God for their participation in the mission of God (the missio Dei), i.e., to participate in the loving heavenly Father’s quest to reconnect with His wayward offspring. Therefore, this attitude stresses an accountability not only to one another, but also for increasing our accountability to God’s mission of reconciling humanity to himself.
3. Discussion with conflict resolution
While chitchat is unbridled in many small group settings, it has been my observation that conflict resolution is not. Lencioni bemoans that most people avoid conflict, and “the higher you go up the management chain, the more you find people spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to avoid the passionate debates that are essential to any great team.”
He has also observed that healthy small groups encourage open and freewheel discussion with give-and-take, disagreement without disparagement and challenge with compromise.
Scripture, along with John Wesley, reminds us that such interpersonal conflict is part of life:
Proverbs 27:17 observes, “You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another” (MSG).
And, John Wesley said about this passage that a non-churchgoer can be sharpened by “the company or conversion of a friend.”
Scriptures also remind us that unresolved conflict among Christians is not healthy, nor God’s intent. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:2-3, “Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.”
And the psalmist portrays unity with wonderful poetic imagery:
“How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! It’s like costly anointing oil flowing down head and beard, Flowing down Aaron’s beard, flowing down the collar of his priestly robes. It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon flowing down the slopes of Zion. Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing, ordains eternal life” (Psalm 133:1-3 MSG).
Amid such depictions and exhortations, unity in the church is still not common and will require the ability to openly discuss and resolve conflict.
If heart-to-heart groups don’t have clearly defined results or outcomes, then the group may drift aimlessly until it degenerates into self-seeking and cliquishness. Lencioni calls this the “ultimate dysfunction of a team.” The reader will be all too familiar with church groups that have deteriorated into self-serving rumor mills and self-preservation societies that are unwelcoming to outsiders. The key to heart-healthy small groups is to define the specific objectives of each group and then to measure it until it has attained them.
Thus, the final key to helping groups transition into heart-to-heart groups is to ensure that each and every group creates specific objectives and then at least yearly checks to see if they attained them.
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