CONTEXT & What these rappers taught me about church planting. A guest post by #theCharlieMitchell

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Someone you should follow on Instagram, who has amazing insights and a beautiful way of explaining them, is Charlie Mitchell, founder & lead pastor of Epiphany Church in Baltimore. You can find him on Instagram at: theCharlieMitchell. Below are important insights, stated exceptionally well, on the power of context in church planting and planning.

CONTEXT & When Analyzing Context is a Hypothetical Case-study Preferable?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/24/15.

Students in most of my courses are asked to study their ministry context and suggest strategies and plans that are applicable.  That is why their papers are called “application papers.” And, I tell my students it will be a plus if their leadership is “amenable and receptive” to the suggestions they generate as a result of their course work.

But sometimes students have organizations where the leaders are not generally “amenable and receptive” to the student’s ideas.

What should the student to then?  Should they use a “hypothetical” case?

While it is preferable to utilize an amenable and receptive context, as noted this may not always be possible.  It may be in some students’ situations that their input may be regarded as unwelcome, too belated, too schismatic, or even overly hasty.  However, even if one or more of these circumstances may be the case, I still encourage students to consider this organization as their contextual laboratory if feasible instead of a hypothetical case for several reasons:

1)  The students know the real-life situation systematically and intimately. Subsequently, they may be better able to address in this scenario growth and management dynamics than if they choose one a hypothetical case.

2) A hypothetical case-study usually takes more time to create.  If students choose a hypothetical case, then they must work hard to ensure the hypothetical case resembles closely a real case.  In other words, the student must study similar cases and build a hypothetical case carefully. This usually requires more time.

3)  Leaders of a non-amenable organization can have a change of heart, and over time become receptive.  I’ve seen this happen many times.  Then, is a student has been studying an actual case, they have homework that is immediately helpful.

Now, it is not absolutely necessary for students to use their real-life situation. They can use a hypothetical case if they choose (and with the professor’s approval). But, in many scenarios it may be more productive not to do so.

Finally, if a student senses they do not at present have the social capital to effectively tender ideas generated in this course, their organization may be going through the Process Model for Group Exit (i.e. group polarization) that I describe in the book, “Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change, and What You Can Do About It” (Abingdon Press, 2003; ISBN 0-687-06680-8).  If any reader is encountering polarization over change, they may want to read this tome to understand the dynamics that may help them eventually implement their good recommendations.

CONTEXT & How To Conduct a SWOT Analysis to Understand Your Org. Context

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/24/15.

I help students and clients conduct baseline analyses of their community and their organizations. To do this I encourage them either in the classroom or with their leadership teams to begin by answering the following questions about the organization’s “S.W.O.T” (i.e. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).  Thus, to begin to analyze your organization with a SWOT analysis, begin by discussing with your team (or classmates) these questions:

1) Have you led in the past an organization similar to the one your fellow leaders has described? If so, tell her or him about any special strengths, weaknesses, external opportunities, and/or external threats that in hindsight you encountered.

2) If you do not have any first-hand experience with such a context, then from an outside perspective what do you see as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in your colleagues’ situations?

3) And finally, tender your analysis of the above in the form of a S.W.O.T. analysis. In other words, share your analysis in the following form:

(Look at the following internal factors, i.e. factors under your control):

S = Strengths.
Strong points or core competencies that are internal to the organization.

W = Weaknesses.
Weak points inside the organization.

(Consider these two external factors, i.e. factors not under your control but which you can only react to.)

O = Opportunities.
Possibilities created by factors that are outside of the organization or beyond the control of the organization.

T = Threats. Concerns that are also outside of the organization, i.e. beyond the control of the organization to eliminate.

So, with your colleagues (or class) pick one of the two first questions and tender some insights from your perspective in the form of a “SWOT” analysis. You don’t have to cover all four of the SWOT areas. But tender your insights on a couple or more.

This will help you begin to develop a holistic SWOT analysis of everyone’s organizational context. So now it’s your turn! What potentialities, limitations, possibilities and problems do you see ahead for some of your colleagues’ organizational contexts.

RESEARCH & is One of the Largest Research Sites for Studying Churches

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: One of the best research sites offering not only tools for studying churches, but also links to relevant scholarly research, is the newly relaunched Led by scholars from the University of Boston’s renowned sociology department, check out their church analysis tools and links to scholarly articles at:

“The Studying Congregations Research Collection has hundreds of citations and resources with more being added all the time.” (from