INTRODUCTION to the “7 systems” of 7Systems.church

img_2562Article by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Outreach Magazine, 1/8/2019.


1. Visibility (communication system)

The communication system should increase the visibility of the good deeds and good actions of those who bring good news (Acts 13:32).

Visibility was historically created by a church’s physical building. A spire would stand out against the sky in London or a small town in Ohio. Building in conspicuous locations such as main thoroughfares and city crossroads became a reminder of a church and its message. Today visibility is much more electronically mediated. Websites, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media channels allow churches to be visible even when their physical location is hidden.

The benchmark is an increasing visibility among the non-churchgoing community of the spiritual growth of the faith community and the positiveness of their message.

2. Embracing a Growing Culture (reconciling system)

A study of 32,000 churches (The American Congregations Survey) found that growing churches reach out to growing cultures. A growing culture might be an influx of younger families to which an aging church might adjust its traditions. A growing culture could be an African-American community that together with a dwindling Anglo church works to overcome historical differences in order to experience racial reconciliation and health.

But there is another important aspect to reconciliation. Paul stated, “Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know … Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” (2 Cor. 5:16–17). Paul continues, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–19).

Healthy churches to do stop at cultural reconciliation (any more than Paul did when reconciling differences between the Greek/Roman and Christian/Jewish cultures). Like Paul, a healthy reconciling system says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

How well does your church reconcile people to one another and to God?

3. Supernatural Worship (numinous system)

“Numinous” is a theologian’s term for coming close to God. “Worship” in Hebrew carries the idea of reverence, such as bowing to kiss the king’s feet, that results from a close encounter (Brown, Driver and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament). When people use the word “worship” they are describing an environment where they feel face-to-foot with God.

Striving to create a perfect experience, usually only creates an attraction to an event. But seeking to foster a supernatural encounter creates an attraction to God.

4. People and Places Are Changed (regeneration system)

Regeneration most notably happens at conversion (2 Cor. 5:17). And though spiritual transformation may sometimes be downplayed as it is unfashionable, people still want to be changed (the self-help industry is a testimony to this). Furthermore, the Bible makes clear that spiritual transformation lies at the center of Jesus’ message (John 3:16) and humankind’s destiny (Rom. 6:23).

When people are spiritually transformed, so too will be their neighborhoods. Not by politics or coercion, this happens by transformed people daily living out their changed lives (Acts 2:43–47). Healthy churches embrace a system that equally emphasizes spiritual and neighborhood transformation.

5. Involved Volunteers (leadership system)

This results from 3 STRand leadership (Ecclesiastes 4:12), a balance between three types of leaders.

Strategic leaders are visionaries who see future goals but don’t see as clearly the steps to get there. A biblical example is the apostle John, who sketches the grand scenario of Jesus’ ministry, but leaves out many of the contributing details.

Tactical leaders enjoy watching how analysis and numbers lead up to a goal (Gr. taktike, meaning: to set in order). Found in professions like medicine, accounting, etc., a biblical example would be the physician Luke (Col. 4:14), who fills in many of the details that lead up to the actions that John describes. Tactical leaders take ideas generated by visionaries and enjoy putting together steps to accomplish them.

The relational leader leads through deep personal relationships with others. Functioning well in a small group/team environment, they watch out for one another’s spiritual progress.

Leaders are a mixture of all three, but most have a propensity for one over the others. The strategic leader sees the long-term direction of the church, the tactical leader sees the steps necessary to get there and the relational leader gauges how people are feeling about the direction. A healthy leadership system ensures that major decisions involve input from all three types.

6. Lack of Serious Conflict (unity system)

The healthy church anticipates disunity and utilizes two tools to prevent escalating into serious conflict. First, they slow down the introduction of new ideas, building broader consensus before they implement new ideas. And second, when disunity arises, they get the two sides talking together and finding common ground.

The ability to build consensus for new ideas before implementation and to discuss differences of opinion before they fester are two benchmarks behind an effective unity system.

7. Signature Ministry (competency system)

A healthy church knows what it does well and focuses on it. Such a core competency is noticeable in the community where it is viewed as a signature ministry, e.g. children’s ministry, music ministry, missionary churches, a food shelf, grief recovery ministry, divorce recovery ministry, etc. The church is not trying to do many things poorly, but a few things well.

A signature ministry is not something that meets the needs of the congregation or congregants, but rather meets non-churchgoers’ needs (and they are glad the church does so). It is an underlying, church-wide competency that the church does well in many different ministries throughout the organization, hence it is called a “core” competency.

The church is so competent in this area that people outside the church may recognize this in various signature ministries. People are attracted to your church because these are things you are good at and they resonate with that. It also means that new ministries in the church (and the longevity of older ministries) will be evaluated based upon how well they dovetail with this greater church-wide competency.

Discover more at 7Systems.church

SYSTEM 6 of 7SYSTEMS.church: UNIFIED & How to Unite a Conflicted Church 

7.6 systems yellow

This is sixth (6th) in a series of articles by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D. (12/23/16) introducing the 7SYSTEMS.CHURCH and which first appeared in Church Revitalizer Magazine.

The “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) is based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice.  An introduction to the “7 Systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) can be found here: www.7systems.church

This sixth installment of how to turn around a church, like the previous installments, is based upon the most comprehensive study of churches ever conducted in North America: The American Congregations Study (Hartford Seminary, copies available at www.FaithCommunitiesToday.org).

A church that has “dissonant harmony” can be turned around, but not usually one with “severe conflict.”

Every church has some degree of conflict. But “severe conflict” is defined as when opinions are so opposed that even in times of emergency the groups will not work together. A different type of tension is “dissonant harmony,” a term coined by Starke and Dyck in their groundbreaking research on church splits. They found that while all churches have a degree of disagreement, if people overlook disagreements to work together for the common good when necessary, there is harmony with some dissonance.

To find out if you have “severe conflict” or just “dissonant harmony” ask yourself the following four questions.

1. Does your church have a guiding vision or mission which most of the people work toward?

2. Do committees, choirs, Sunday School classes and teams focus mostly upon finding the good in others (inside and outside the church)?

3. When unexpected challenges occur, do the people pull together for church survival?

4. Does the congregation view itself as a faith community that at times “agrees to disagree?”

If you said yes to three out the four, then you probably have “dissonant harmony.” If so, you can unite the congregation around a turnaround mission/vision.

The secret cure for turning around a church that has “severe conflict.”

If you could not answer yes to three or more the questions, you are probably bordering on, or already in, “severe conflict.”

Most church leaders will tell you conflict is poorly addressed in the church. Having perused libraries/bookstores for decades on leadership, my hunch is that conflict resolution is the category with the fewest books published. Yet every church leader knows that conflict resolution is a key part of that leader’s job. 

But in conflict resolution literature you find that there are two simple and basic principles in almost all conflict resolution strategies. Here they are.

First, don’t get in the middle as a go-between or so-called peacemaker between the factions.

Church leaders are often inspired by Jesus’ lauding of the peacemakers in Matt. 5:9. Leaders interpret this as a “go-between” or “diplomat” between warring factions. But the Greek does not carry an idea of “go-between” but rather, “keeping aloof from sectional strifes and the passions which beget them, and living tranquilly for and in the whole.” Starke and Bruno found that go-betweens are also usually blamed for resolution failures, because they are not perceived as correctly communicating each party’s perspective. Both sides take aim at the so-called peacemaker who is then often pushed out of the organization. 

Second, get the disagreeing parties talking directly to each other.

Surprisingly, this is the central component of almost all conflict resolution programs. Only when warring parties meet face-to-face to hammer out a compromise, does resolution result. It means getting people with differences to sit down together and tasking them to come up with an amicable solution. The leader makes it the duty of people with differences to come up with a plan that meets both factions needs. 

What if conflict can’t be overcome?

In some churches conflict has been so severe, for so long that compromise may be impossible. But we have a scriptural example to follow when conflict is so severe it may be better to part ways. We see this in Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement about taking John Mark with them on their second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-39). John Mark had accompanied them on the first journey, yet left midway and Paul seemed to feel it was because of his lack of commitment and perseverance. Barnabas, whose very name means son-of-encouragement, undoubtedly saw the potential in John Mark (after all John Mark would later pen the Gospel of Mark) and urged Paul to let him come along. The scriptures indicate that between Paul and Barnabas a “sharp disagreement” arose, which in the Greek literally means “incited … to anger.” The end result was that Paul and Barnabas agreed to go on two separate missionary journeys where twice as much ministry took place. 

It may be that conflict in your church is so severe and so historic, that only by parting ways can both organizations be revitalized. Even after a church split, I have found those who remain are usually more open to change. Without the emotional disagreements and historical baggage of the factions in their midst, churches that go their separate ways can often subsequently be revitalized.

Utilizing the tools above.

If you are in dissonant harmony, continue to take the focus off of differences and get the focus back upon overarching goals. But, if you are in severe disunity then agree to disagree, parting ways if necessary. Use the questions and tools in this article to help.

For an overview of the “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice, see www.7systems.church

Speaking hashtags: #CaribbeanGraduateSchoolofTheology

SYSTEM 2 of 7SYSTEMS.church: RECONCILING & How to reach a growing culture.

7.2 systems yellow

This is second in a series of articles by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D. (5/24/16) introducing the 7SYSTEMS.CHURCH and which first appeared in Church Revitalizer Magazine.

The “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7Systems.church) is upon an analysis of 32,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice.  An introduction to the “7 Systems” of a healthy church (www.7Systems.church) can be found here: www.7Systems.church

To revitalize a church, we must first understand what we are revitalizing it into.

This article is the second in the series investigating the “7 Systems” of a healthy church (www.7systems.church) that describes what a revitalized and healthy church looks like. These seven characteristics are drawn from the exhaustive research in Hartford Seminary’s: “American Congregations Study” (available free at http://www.FaithCommunitiesToday.org). While the survey is long, I have broken it down into seven categories of a healthy, revitalized church. 

In the series’ first article we looked at “visibility.” Healthy churches are visible either through location or by making an impact in the community.  In that Church Revitalizer magazine article you will find ideas to increase physical visibility, social media visibility and member visibility.

The Second Characteristic is a product of a church’s reconciling system: “Reaching Out to a New Culture.”  

This article will look at how to reach out to a new, but growing culture. That’s right, most revitalized churches have looked around them and seen what cultures are emerging in the community and they have reached out to them one at a time. 

There are many different types of cultures. Most churches already have some experience reaching out to different age cultures. For example, many aging church have looked around and seen younger people moving into the area and reached out to them.  

But most churches are less experienced with reaching out to different ethnic cultures. For instance, congregations today are increasingly looking around and noticing that people who speak a different language are moving into the community. Most church do not (yet) have ideas about how to reach out to a ethnic culture.  But read on, for this article will show you seven steps to reaching a new and different culture.  

How to “Reach a Growing Culture.”

In the above scenarios, a church realizes that the culture that comprises the existing church is not the growing culture in the community. And the church realizes in order to be healthy, it’s existing leaders must help the church transform into a church that represents the growing culture in the community.

This is done in seven field-tested steps first suggested by Harvard Business School professor John P. Kotter.

1. Communicate the urgency. The congregation must realize that it has to reach a growing culture or die with its existing culture. This must include studying the behaviors, ideas and traditions of the new culture.  While some aspects of a culture can run counter to the Good News, other aspects may not.  Leaders have to do what Eddie Gibbs calls “sift a culture.” He uses a colander metaphor to describe how mature leaders must sift out the impurities that run counter to the Good News, while retaining the good.

2. Create a guiding coalition. This means partnering with leaders from the emerging culture. One of the best ways to do this is to look for what the Bible calls “persons of peace” from the emerging culture (Luke 10:6).  The biblical word for peace comes from the Greek “to join” and indicates a person who unites people from divergent cultures.  So, look for people who are “peacemakers” with a demonstrated ability to bring different people together. They are usually recognized as a leader or at least an informal influencer in their culture. Begin by looking for them, then invite them to bring along several of their colleagues to help you understand and plan ministry to this culture. 

3. Create a vision.  This coalition creates a vision to help people visualize what the church will look in five years.  This can be a descriptive paragraph depicting what a revitalized and intercultural church might look like.

4. Communicate the vision. You can’t just make a vision statement, you need to regularly in sermons and then Bible studies, stress what the church will look like in the future. Painting the picture over and over again is critical. Research also shows that you are almost three times more likely to change if you attach a story (such as a biblical story) to the change.

5.  Empower others to act on the vision. This means beginning to give people from the other culture permission to lead.  It also means experimenting with and supporting new ideas from that culture. Because the vision has already been cast and promoted, people are more willing to experiment and try new ideas. 

6. Celebrate small wins. After you experiment (in step 5) you will then want to celebrate small wins. Perhaps opening up your facility for use by another culture or if you can afford it hiring a person of peace from that culture to be a minister to that culture. Churches customarily do this by hiring a youth minister to reach out to younger generations or a Hispanic Spanish-speaking minister to reach out to the Hispanic community. When fruit results, no matter how small, you must celebrate it. This gives people an opportunity to see progress.

7. Create bigger and better wins. Don’t be satisfied with small wins, but use them as a stepping stone to more progress. Here is a key most churches overlook,  because once they have some success they stop.  Church revitalization will stall unless you keep a church moving forward. So, keep pushing ahead for bigger and bigger wins … but have tact and don’t go too fast. Too often churches are satisfied with small changes, but long-term health requires a continued expansion of bigger and better changes.

8. Institutionalize the change in your structure. Here you begin to change the organizational structure of the church, by voting people of the new culture into leadership and decision-making committees. The church now begins to become intercultural in all of its committees, teams and structures. Leaders often baulk at this last element, but to bring about intercultural understanding and partnership for the cause of Christ requires partnering with new, emerging cultures (c.f. Acts, 17:26-28, 1 Corinthians 9:20, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 4:2-5, Colossians 3:11, Revelation 7:9-10.)

For an overview of the “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7Systems.church) based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice, see www.7Systems.church

Speaking hashtags: #CaribbeanGraduateSchoolofTheology

 

SIGNATURE MINISTRY & A case-study showing why a signature ministry is one of the 7Systems.church of a healthy church.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/15/17.

I have categorized “7Marks of healthy churches” from the exhaustive research of the American Congregations 2015 Survey (available at http://www.faithcommunitiestoday.org/sites/default/files/American-Congregations-2015.pdf)

The 7Systems.church are:

  1. Visibility (communication system)
  2. Embracing a growing culture (reconciling system)
  3. Supernatural worship (numinous system)
  4. People & places are changed (regeneration system)
  5. Involved volunteers (leadership system)
  6. Lack of serious conflict (unity system)
  7. Signature Ministry (competency system)

Here is a case-study story that illustrates #4: Signature Ministry.


A Minneapolis congregation finds new life through the ancient practice of keeping Sabbath

by Jeff Stickler, Faith & Leadership, 4/4/18.

Lake Nokomis Presbyterian was dying, and everybody knew it — even if they weren’t quite ready to accept it. When Root realized the congregation wasn’t willing to let go — at least not yet — she knew it was the right place and the right time to suggest something radical.

“The people who had stayed were hardy adventurers,” she said. “They were ready to try new things. And I figured that if we went broke in 18 months instead of 24, what difference would it make?”

What would the circumstances have to be in order for your church or organization to make radical changes?

Strictly speaking, Root’s idea wasn’t new. In fact, it was thousands of years old. In a time when congregations are searching for new and different ways of being church, Root proposed that Lake Nokomis reclaim the ancient practice of Sabbath keeping and place it at the core of their identity as a congregation.

That might mean a day with no shopping trip to the mall. No pulling out a smartphone to check on work emails. No paying bills or balancing the checkbook.

And on some Sundays, under Root’s proposal, it would mean not even going to church.

“People weren’t coming every Sunday, anyway,” Root said…

Lake Nokomis Presbyterian is not on the cusp of becoming a megachurch, by any means, but the attendance trend has been reversed. Since the Sabbath practice was launched, the congregation has gained 18 new members and another dozen or so people who attend regularly. About 90 people are now members of the church; 40 to 70 attend Sunday worship services, and 12 to 25 the Saturday evening services.

Young families have joined the church, and the children’s program is back. “It’s great seeing kids running around the church again,” Root said.

Read more at … https://www.faithandleadership.com/minneapolis-congregation-finds-new-life-through-ancient-practice-keeping-sabbath?utm_source=NI_newsletter&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=NI_feature


For a detail explanation of each of the 7Systems.church and how churches can replicate them, see my series of 7 articles for Church Revitalizer Magazine beginning with the first article at this link: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/turnaround-churches/

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7Systems.church

STRENGTHS & Research Confirms 7Systems.church of church health & growth

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/15/17.

The following is my systems (7Systems.church) analysis of the “American Congregations 2015 Study” based upon  initial work by Arron Earls (LifeWay, Facts & Trends). The American Congregations 2015 Study” is available at ChurchHealth.wiki and http://www.faithcommunitiestoday.org/sites/default/files/American-Congregations-2015.pdf

For a detail explanation of each mark and how churches can replicate them, see my series of 7 articles for Church Revitalizer Magazine beginning with the first article at this link: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/turnaround-churches/

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