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.
By Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 09/12/18.
“You can tell we hate to leave,” began Margaret. “It’s just that this sanctuary is such a comfortable place.”
“It wasn’t always like this,” interjected Mark. “Dark, dank … smelly. The sanctuary had the smell of death about it.”
As I looked around I marveled at how different the sanctuary of Armstrong Chapel Church looked today. Dark red padded pews, newly restored stained-glass windows, and polished woodwork. To this generation, most in their 70s, the beauty and care of the sanctuary represented a desire to honor God. And while younger generations might disagree, who was I to say that God was not honored by their loving care of their house of worship?
“Come this way,” beckoned Gerry. “Some still like to go out the back, but I prefer the side doors into the fellowship hall. It reminds me what God can do through a small Sunday school class.” As I passed through the double doors, I was greeted by a large and bright atrium with a glass roof. Here were milling about over 700 people, some lounging on comfortable sofas and others chatting cheerfully on lounge chairs scattered across the room. Still others laughed across café tables while sipping coffee from the church’s café.
“The two other services got out a bit earlier than us today,” continued Gerry. “But that is okay. There is still plenty of time to fellowship. Get a cup of coffee and I’ll find my daughter and grandkids. I want you to meet them.” And with that Gerry disappeared into the a crowd of laughter, merriment and smiles.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” came Margaret’s voice from behind. “To think, we were a church barely alive. Just over 15 of us in a Sunday school class and most of us serving on church committees too. Only about 30 total in church on Sundays.”
“This is a testimony to your church,” I began.
“Not quite,” interrupted Margaret. “It was the bonds of that Sunday School class that lead to this growth. We banded together and worked hard through the series of pastors the district sent us. We relied on each other in that Sunday School, and slowly the church began to grow. It has been 11 years and now we have three sanctuaries, almost all full.
“But, I still prefer our old sanctuary,” added Gerry, returning with two grandkids in tow. “We kept the old sanctuary just the way it was. But I’m glad we offer other worship options too. They connect with a lot of different ages.”
“How did you come up with your strategy: books, programs or what other churches used?” I asked.
“Partly,” came Margaret’s reply. “Our growth plan really came out of the environment of our Sunday School. It was a weekly place for us leaders to fellowship, dream, pray and plan. I can honestly say that our weekly Sunday school meetings were the place where we supported each other to grow this church. Oops, its almost time for Sunday school. Couldn’t miss it, for I still need it.”
More than a small group: A leadership laboratory
The story above illustrates how a group can bond so remarkably and deeply that they can survive deadly attacks upon a church’s heart. But not all small groups attain this inter-reliance and perseverance.
I learned from members of that Sunday school class, that their small group had bonded after many tough years where a succession of inexperienced pastors had almost killed the congregation. “Our Sunday school was the place we worked out what to do next,” remembered Margaret. “And it was the place where we sought God, insight from His word and advice from one another,” added Gerry.
For them, this was not just a Sunday School class but also a place for them to mull over the week’s challenges, seek biblical insights and learn from one another. In many ways, this Sunday school was their leadership laboratory.
This was a remarkable type of small group and one which more churches would benefit from utilizing.
Small groups customarily include less than 20 people, meet on a semi-regular basis and have participants who:
• Recognize their group as a sub-group within a larger organization.
• Have an informal or formal structure, such as a regular meeting time or place, a schedule, etc.
• Share a sense of inter-reliance and mutual dependence
• Communicate more intimately than they would in a larger group.
• Dream, plan and innovate in a supportive environment.
• Influence one another and stick together.
• Feel that their most intimate needs can be met through the group’s help.
What is a heart-to-heart group?
A “heart-to-heart group” is a good way to describe groups that meet some or most of the above seven criteria. Participants are sharing at a deep emotional and heart level. And, this intimacy and inter-reliance makes them the idea venue for spiritual questioning, maturity and creativity.
As we saw in the story, heart-to-heart groups play an important role in helping people stay connected to a church and plan for its future even when the church is undergoing conflict, challenges and discord. Here are some of the benefits of small groups:
Benefits of heart-to-heart groups
1. It was in small intimate group settings that Jesus:
Answered His disciples’ questions about theology, history and the future (Matthew 24:1-3).
Modeled for them healing and how to pray for those in need (Matthew 10:5-10).
Rebuked the disciples’ willful attitudes and ideas (Luke 16:13).
2. Researchers have found that in healthy churches:
77 percent of church attendees say their small group participation is very important for them (Stetzer and Rainer).
64 percent say new members are immediately taught about the importance of small groups (Stetzer and Rainer).
“A member is almost guaranteed to leave the church or become inactive in the church if he or she does not get involved in an ongoing small group” (Rainer).
3. Secular researchers have found that in healthy organizations:
“The small group is the unit of transformation” (P. Block Katzenbach and Smith).
“(Small groups) will remain the basic unit of both performance and change because of their proven capacity to accomplish what other units cannot” (P. Block Katzenbach and Smith).
“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” (M. Mead).
Because small groups are so effective in helping people support one another and develop closer relationships, they have been a reoccurring theme in church history. In actuality, any small group of people that meets together on a semi-regular basis is a candidate for becoming a heart-to-heart group— Bible groups, prayer groups, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, worship teams, sports teams, administrative committees, etc. Consider how you may implement these types of group in the settings where you lead.
To answer the question of why our leaders are not good at bringing about change, we discover the reason is because the tactical leaders—those key go-betweens among the strategic and relational leaders—are missing.
While both strategic and relational leaders are still needed, neither have the requisite skills of analysis, step-by-step planning, number-crunching and detail management to bring a change to fruition. This is the contribution of the tactical leaders. Thus, typically in our churches we have the following three types of leaders.
They see the need and the future. They have a limited idea of how to get there, but they have been exposed to various models to accomplish change. However, strategic leaders do not typically have the patience to analyze, fine-tune, crunch-the-numbers, tweak, perfect, evaluate and adjust a strategy.
Subsequently, strategic leaders often try to just apply (e.g., franchise) a strategy that has worked elsewhere. The strategic leader may purchase step-by-step manuals for relational leaders. And while this is a good starting place, because tactical leaders who can adjust the methodology for the church’s own unique scenario are not involved, the canned strategy is often abandoned with people saying, “That doesn’t work here.”
Again, the problem is not the strategic leaders or the relational leaders. They are both doing their jobs. The problem is created because an important linking and planning element of leaders is missing: the tactical leaders and their organizational skills.
They then become our crucial and missing link in effective change. If they are missing, change strategies are not adapted to the local context and the process is unorganized.
In military jargon these are the “boots on the ground,” meaning the frontline workers who must adjust the tactics they are given. They are relational teams of workers, who derive much of their satisfaction from both their teammates and their visible accomplishments.
Relational leaders may also volunteer to be tactical leaders because relationships are so important to them they do not want to see the strategic leader in a quandary. They may say something like “Pastor, I know you are in a spot here. So I’ll help you out.”
If a relational leader says this, interview that person. Then, if this relational leaders does not have the analytical, diagnostic and methodical skills to create and manage an elaborate plan, graciously decline their offer. To thrust relational leaders into tactical positions will frustrate them. Eventually, due to their gracious and relational nature, they will quietly fade away from their failed tactical task.
Change is difficult because tactical leaders are missing
Why then does change so often fail in congregations? It has been my observation that it is because strategic leaders (often pastors) try to orchestrate the tactical process. Often if a strategic leader in the role of a pastor or a department head tries to move the church forward with some change, the congregants will become frustrated because of a lack of precision in the plan. The plan to them will appear too nebulous and imprecise.
At the same time the strategic leader will expect the relationally oriented leaders to create a plan. And though the relational leaders are the key to the success of the process, their emphasis upon relationships usually trumps their interest in the administrative details, budgeting, volunteer recruitment and evaluation that is required.
The answer is that change needs the critical link between strategic leader and relational leaders—tactical leadership. Therefore, to succeed with change, it is important that the pastor develop those tactical leaders who can map-out the change processes.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: During a shutdown, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have an opportunity to prepare for rebounding and renewing into healthier churches. Here are articles I’ve written about how to accomplish this (published by magazines with national platforms, i.e. Outreach Magazine and Biblical Leadership Magazine). These articles are excerpted from my book: “Growing the Post-pandemic Church.”
Excerpted below you will find …
How to use these difficult times as a springboard for churches to rebound and renew,
With greater long-term health and more powerful Good News impact.
Now that banning gatherings is becoming commonplace, the faith community will be temporarily forced to morph into something new (or maybe something old, read on). During this time and afterward some churches will thrive, but others may struggle. Having coached churches for 30 years, trained hundreds of church leaders and earned two doctorates in the field, here is my forecast with survival options for those churches at risk.
feelings for Sophy, she made clear her intention was to remain single. However, she was engaged to a reportedly mean and violent man. When John asked Sophy about this, she replied, “I am every way unhappy. I won’t have Tommy, for he is a bad man. And I can have none else.” Facing such a marital and spiritual predicament, Sophy asked John to tutor her in spirituality. An affectionate relationship began to take shape.
John fell in love with Sophy, writing in his journal how he was charmed by “her words, her eyes, her air, her every motion and gesture.” But such emotions seemed to draw him away from his singular fixation on ministry. He felt his affection for Sophy was dividing his attention for ministry, and, in addition, she was betrothed to another. Thus began John’s struggle. John sketched out reasons not to marry Sophy: (a) she was already engaged, (b) he was absorbed in a demanding ministry to Native Americans, and (c) she had declared her desire never to marry but to serve Christ alone. John’s methodological mind devised rules, resolutions, and reasons that built a wall between him and the woman he loved.
John told Sophy that he had decided not to make any decision until he had established a ministry to the Native Americans. Her response was cool, to say the least. Shortly after, she ended the tutoring. Then Sophy informed John that she had consented to a marriage proposal from a ham-fisted and irreligious Mr. Williamson, “unless you [John] have anything to object.” John wrote in his journal, “to see her no more, that thought was as the piercings of a sword.” But he felt he must choose ministry over marriage.
Since his first encounter with Sophy, when she nursed him back to health, John sensed that her spirituality and tenderness were part of the support he needed to pursue ministry in the New World. Yet by seeing these two relationships as competitive rather than complementary, Wesley made a ministry error common among young leaders. Focusing solely on the needs of others precluded him from seeing his need for a supportive soul mate.
Ministry and family are not competitive forces but complementary ones.
John’s task was so daunting that he rarely took time away from his work, which created strain and ill health, and led to poor choices. The first lesson from his experience is that God provides friends and spouses as a support network for ministry. Just as God would revive the dry bones of Israel, God had provided support to John, he just didn’t utilize it.Trying to do ministry without the assistance of others, regardless how important the ministry may be, will lead to impaired results.
Methodology can become a cage if not tempered by a sensitive heart.
When John found himself thinking of Sophy too often, he set up rules, resolutions, and lists of reasons not to take a wife. His heart was divided, and it destroyed his sense of peace, which eventually affected his judgment. But God promises to create in us new hearts, able to balance laws and love. To the Israelites, infatuated with their rules, God stated, “I will give them a single heart, and I will put a new spirit in them. I will remove the stony hearts from their bodies and give them hearts of flesh,so that they may follow my regulations and carefully observe my case laws” (Ezekiel 11:19).
For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each, and write down your responses. For group discussion, share, as appropriate, your answers with your group and then discuss the application.
Whom do you look to as a support for your ministry? Name them, and write down the last time you were with them. Did you seek their prayers, encouragement, and a listening ear? After his vision of the dry bones, God reminded Ezekiel that God would unite a nation that hitherto had been estranged (see Ezekiel 37:15–22).
Draw up a plan for regular times of prayer, Bible study, and encouragement with a support network. Create one from scratch if you must. Add to this plan an ongoing schedule to ensure that you do not neglect those that support you.
Ask yourself, “Do I depend on rules and regulations to keep me focused? What part does my love of God and the love I receive from others play in this? Do these requirements I put upon myself sometimes steal my time away from accountability by family and friends?”
Accountability requires more than good methods; it must include people too. What part of your support network is also your accountability network? Again, write down a schedule for being in contact with your accountability network to ensure that you are held accountable.
My latest article for @BiblicalLeader Magazine has become a chapter in my 2020 book, Growing the Post-pandemic Church. In it, I discuss how you can keep your church from declining during a pandemic. Check out the article below and see their website for the full article.
Now that banning gatherings is becoming commonplace, the faith community will be temporarily forced to morph into something new (or maybe something old, read on).
During this time and afterward some churches will thrive, but others may struggle. Having coached churches for 30 years, trained hundreds of church leaders and earned two doctorates in the field, here is my forecast with survival options for those churches at risk.
Churches that will suffer the most:
Churches with aging buildings and no savings
During the 20th century having an impressive building was a way to make a church’s presence known. Many churches borrowed their way into debt to restore, renovate and expand older facilities. When downturns in attendance occur (and they always do) such churches may not have the flexibility made available by sizable savings.
They are vulnerable because they do not have contingency plans for an attendance downturn. If a roof needs repair, a boiler replaced, etc. a church may find itself no longer inhabitable after a quarantine.
Impressive facades, of course, weren’t the way the church became known in the New Testament. Paul reminded the church that they should not be known for their physical attire, but instead he encouraged them to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12, NIV).
Survival options: Look for ways to cut overhead by selling, leasing or giving away facilities that drain budgets. Research the correct amount of savings a church like yours should have and create a savings plan. Also, begin to build your church’s reputation upon compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. These are the best avenues to make a church visible in a community.
Churches that have overbuilt
A church building craze exploded in the ‘70s and ‘80s and led to many sanctuaries that are outsized for their current congregation. Even a megachurch (a church of over 1000 attendees) may still have hundreds, if not thousands of attendees. But the cost of oversized facilities and their upkeep may mean that that even these churches have little resources available for unexpected expenses or low offerings.
This problem arose in part because of a popular 20th century adage (not supported by research) that, “If you build it, they will come.” And so, the size of the expansion was customarily based on the size of the congregation at the time of building.
For example, a church in the 1990s may have been running 400 people in an early service and 600 people in a second service with a facility that seated 800. An architect might suggest combining the two services (not a good idea, because it decreases options in times and styles) and combine into one service in a new 1,600 seat sanctuary. “After all,” the church leaders reasoned, “400 plus 600 equals 1,000. And, a new sanctuary of 1,600 would give us room to grow.” But, when the service times and styles were merged in a large cavernous sanctuary, the church began to run only 700 people. A lack of options in times and styles started the church on a downward trajectory.
Survival options: Look at ways to right-size sanctuaries. Converting part of the sanctuary into classrooms, welcome centers and prayer spaces can create intimacy in the once larger space. And look for ways to monetize facilities.
My co-author Mark DeYmaz in his book, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes & Offerings Are No Longer Enough and What You Can Do About It, outlines dozens of ways churches can lease out portions of their facilities, create local business hubs, develop shared working spaces, etc. to increase income from aging buildings.
Multisite churches, who own their own sites
A trend in the 20th century was for growing churches to purchase older church buildings, theaters and community buildings in which to hold satellite worship services. Many times denominations did this to encourage growing churches to take on the expenses of a closed church. But, because of the reasons cited above (e.g. the cost of maintaining the facilities) when combined with attendance drops, liabilities were rapidly created.
Survival options: Lease or rent sites for offsite services. And look for opportunities to sell, lease or give away facilities you own. This promotes longterm flexibility when demographics, styles and finances change.
Churches that rely on the onsite Sunday morning offering
With the proliferation of online giving tools, most churches have embraced online giving. However, some have not and this creates hurdles for supporters. Even churches that have misgivings about online tithing, offerings and pledges will rethink their strategy when the church is dispersed.
Survival options: Create and promote an online giving option. Many denominations have a preferred online giving tool to use. Then educate your congregation about why disciplined giving and online avenues can help a church to thrive.
Churches that put on a Sunday spectacle.
Some churches spend an inordinate amount of time and money on the lighting, sound, musicians, broadcasting and staff associated with putting on an elaborate Sunday morning experience.
These Sunday morning expenditures will now be seen as optional, as churches are forced to focus more on smaller groups as a way for people to be connected and discipled. And, congregants may discover that smaller groups which are flexible and meet in neighborhoods are more enjoyable and convenient.
Survival options. Many of today’s young pastors have created youthful churches that are moving away from Sunday performance and toward more organic expressions of church. I provide a look at 12 categories of organic churches in my book, Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations. Most of these emerging congregations prefer less staging, softer music, audience participation and smaller auditoriums (capacity around 200).
Churches that will survive:
House churches, pub churches, café churches and online churches.
These entrepreneurial smaller churches are often dismissed by leaders of more established congregations. Typically they meet in rented or free facilities. Their low overhead allows them as small churches to more easily survive fiscal cycles brought on by a quarantine.
Churches that have spent their money on staff, rather than spent their money on facilities.
The trend in the 20th century was to expand facilities and stretch staff. This created overworked leaders. Then, when emergencies arose small staffs were not able to handle the extra workload. But if a church spends its money creating a team of experienced and talented staff, these entrepreneurs can create innovative online options.
Churches with bi- or co-vocational leaders.
My colleague, Dr. Jay Moon, describes bi-vocational pastors as those who work two jobs until the church can support them. He describes co-vocational pastors as those who work two jobs, never expecting the church to support them full time.
In other words, the latter have a clear calling to leadership in the marketplace and to leadership in the church. Because the co-vocational pastor does not envision a time where she or he will be in full-time employment of the church, they may be able to make longterm decisions without personal financial needs clouding their judgment.
Still, both can be an advantage during times when churches are unable to physically meet. A bi- or co-vocational pastor will become less of a drain on the church finances. And a pastor who is involved in marketplace leadership will better keep her or his pulse on needs in the community.
Churches that are young, having been recently planted by a mother church.
Planting a church is an arduous endeavor that requires creativity and entrepreneurship. It takes tenacity, good theology and a balance between ministry and family. The very balance needed in a good church planter can help him or her maintain equilibrium during attendance swings brought on by viral quarantines. And, did I mention that many church planters are bi- or co-vocational? That’s another strength.
Good news—most churches will survive.
My 30 years coaching leaders has led me to believe that God empowers his people to survive and thrive in difficult times. The Bible is overflowing with people that God empowered to overcome adversity. Church history further attests to this.
Christians have a grit whereby they come together and work for the long-term existence of the community of faith. It may mean that the facilities, staffing and priorities may change during and after a quarantine, but the Holy Spirit and God‘s will for his church will not change.
A Scripture reminder is Paul’s admonishment that “We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us” (Colossians 1:10-14, MSG).
What every church can do to increase survivability
Focus on making learners, as Jesus commissioned us in Matthew 28:18-20. Your goal should be to help congregants “learn” during this time, not necessarily congregate.
Focus on small groups as the primary venue for discipleship. Research indicates that most people stick with a church when they are involved in a small group which meets regularly for Bible study, prayer and service. The Methodist movement was founded and grew because of such small groups. And Jesus exemplified this when he chose 12 learners who he apprenticed to become his 12 apostles.
Focus on prayer and serving the needs of others. During a difficult time Christ does not want us to make foolish decisions about our health. But he does want us to think of others as more important than ourselves. This means considering ways we can help others during this period and therefore let Christ’s light shine through us. Philippians 2:1-4 (MSG) sums this up fittingly:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Autocratic leadership will continue to be replaced by transformational leadership. Autocratic leadership occurs when a more knowledgeable “elder leader” tells or directs others what to do. Better described as “paternal leadership,” it is less attractive to millennials who have experienced leadership decisions through collaboration and over electronic mediums. Transformational leadership however occurs when a leader publicly demonstrates that he or she wants to improve and transform their own leadership style while helping people become transform their lives too. We see this latter aspect in Jesus’ leadership, when he didn’t castigate or excommunicate the leaders he was developing when they failed in their leadership (for example, Simon Peter’s fails are recorded over a dozen times, Matt 15:16, Mark 10:13, Luke 22:24, Matthew 17:24, etc.)
Leaders will encourage several organizational visions built around one mission. A mission is a church’s biblically based “reason for being” according to Barna, McIntosh, and Whitesel/Hunter. Also according to these authors a vision is a specific, envisioned, future outcome. But since churches are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-congregational, trying to focus on just one version won’t get enough buy-in from most congregants. Today what I label “micro-visions” create short-term wins, because they are quicker to attain and can be quickly embraced by different church subcultures. This does not mean a large number of visions. The average church today is only 75 attendees and might have just a couple of visions suitable for its size. A mega-church of several thousand, however, might have 6 to 8 visions representing different congregational cultures. For example, traditional members might envision a choir, Sunday school classes and reaching out to a senior living center nearby. The church’s millennials might have a vision for interactive sermons, online small groups and reaching out to homeless people in their communities. Churches are realizing that they are increasingly multicultural organizations and so to work together they must embrace one biblical mission with several different visions.
Leaders will willingly live on less. Millennials are skeptical of leaders who proverbially “feather their own nests” with monies from the congregation. Younger generations have seen leaders become disconnected, for example when baby boomer leaders lived a much higher lifestyle than the congregants they served. Millennials are determined to change this. For example, millennial church planters are increasingly bi-vocational and many full-time millennial pastors are choosing to become bi-vocational to better connect with non-churchgoers. Living slightly under the median income of the congregation one serves (rather than slightly above it) will increasingly become the new norm.
Leadership will be learned through artificial intelligence, virtual reality, online courses and even gaming. Online learning continues to be a disruptor that is making specific leadership topics available to leaders that need them quickly. Online certification programs such as ChurchLeadership.university, InterimPastor.university, etc. are making high-quality education in specific topics, available at a small fee to many people around the world.
Leaders will increasingly spend more of their time with non-churchgoers and the needy, balancing their time between them and Christians. Fuller professor Donald McGavran warned of “redemption and lift,” meaning the longer a person is a Christian the more they are lifted out of the daily world of the non-churchgoer and thus increasingly insensitive to the needs of non-churchgoers. John Wesley, living 300 years earlier, recognized this too and required all leadership groups to serve the needy on a regular basis. Tomorrow’s leaders recognize that staying connected to the needs of those that don’t yet have a personal relationship with Christ is equally as important as spending time with Christians. Jesus spent time with those who needed him but did not yet believe in him, even to the chagrin of his family (Mark 3:20-34).
Leaders will increasingly be about leading non-churchgoers further along their spiritual journey, not just about leading Christians. In the next decade, Christian leadership will be less and less about leading a church, but increasingly about leading non-churchgoers toward better lives and potentially a relationship with Christ. In the past, being a good church leader was mainly about helping Christians develop their skills. But emerging leaders are recognizing that leadership is equally about helping nonbelievers move closer to Christ on their belief journey. My friend and Fuller professor Richard Peace tells about witnessing to a young atheist, who afterword said that he was no longer an atheist, but now agnostic. At first Richard was discouraged, hoping to see this young man have a conversionary experience. But then Richard realized he had helped this young seeker move one step closer to understanding who Jesus is and having a personal relationship with him. Richard began to pray for that young man, having seen a movement in that man’s spiritual journey towards the ultimate experience of transformation.
Respected leaders won’t be leaders of big congregations, but leaders who are growing and changing. Over the years I’ve seen a great deal of distrust develop regarding leaders of large churches, some of it earned but most of it an occupational hazzard. A natural distancing occurs in leadership (remember McGavran’s warning of “redemption and lift”) that brings about suspicion and skepticism in some of those that want to be led. Subsequently, followers in the next decade increasingly want to know that their leaders are continually learning and changing for the better. They want to watch leaders repent, adjust and rely on the Holy Spirit to improve, called sanctification (Mark 11:12-25, 2 Cor. 3:18, Phil. 3:12, etc.). The next decade’s leader will not seen as on a pedestal, but upon a journey of self discovery with the Holy Spirit at her or his guide.