SYSTEM 7 of COMPETENT & Finding Your Church’s Signature Ministry and Building Upon Its Gifts

7.7 systems yellow

This is seventh (7th) in a series of articles by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D. (5/17/17) introducing the 7SYSTEMS.CHURCH and which first appeared in Church Revitalizer Magazine.

The “7 systems” of a healthy 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 ( can be found here:

This sixth mark is that growing churches usually have at least one “specialized, effective and signature ministry.” 

This is a ministry it does well and church leaders put funding/person-power behind it to expand it. Almost 52% of the growing churches could cite at least one specialized program. But less than 42% of the churches who claimed “no specialty” were growing. 

Church revitalization takes place in even a small and dying churches if they uncover the specialized program that God has given them. 

The Bible describes how God gives spiritual gifts that allow individuals to uniquely contribute to a fellowship of believers and to reach out to meet the needs of people in the community (1 Cor. 12:7, Eph. 4:7, 1 Peter 4:10). Gifts are listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 along with secondary gift lists in 1 Corinthians 7, 13-14; Ephesians 3 and 1 Peter 4.  And, most Christians are a mixture.  

I’ve seen that the same type of God-empowered giftings in communities of faith. Churches often have specialized programs that are making significant kingdom impact because God has anointed these programs.

But too often church leaders are not aware of how much an effective, specialized program can be the foundation upon which to build a revitalized church.  Turning around a church means recognizing which programs are having a kingdom impact in the community and channeling more funding and volunteers to those ministries.

 God-empowered Specialized Ministries

I’ve asked my students to list specialized programs they have uncovered in their own churches via a 5-step process (below). Their replies include: worship-oriented churches, preaching-gifted churches, churches that reach out to the poor, churches that have a strong Sunday school program, churches that offer tutoring for schoolchildren in the community, churches that support foreign missions, churches that support local missions, churches that plant churches, churches that launch multiple venues, churches that have large/multifaceted facilities, churches that have small but intimate facilities, churches that have strong prayer ministries, and the list goes on.

It is important to recognize that churches should be competent in multiple of the above specialties. And, this not to say all of the specialized programs listed are good for everyone. But, these are the type of specialized ministries upon which churches have focused to reach their community.  

When revitalizing a church, and that church is small and weak, it is helpful to find a specialized, anointed program upon which the church revitalization can be built. This does not mean that everything a church specializes in, or even that it does well, is what God intends. Thus, 5-steps can help you ascertain if God has gifted a congregation with a specialized program which can become a foundation for revitalization.

An example of a church revitalization based upon a specialized, anointed program

(This example is gleaned from several case studies in order to preserve anonymity.)  

A small and dying church, had been trying to attract younger generations by offering contemporary music. Unfortunately this aging congregation had never been skilled (nor seemingly anointed) in contemporary music. Therefore these efforts failed.

But, though small and dying the church had a long tradition of members weekly tutoring 5th grade students over lunch in a nearby school. When polling the community (below) it became clear that this program was much appreciated. The church began to invite younger generations to join their lunch mentoring program. Younger generations, appreciating such service to the community, soon began attending the church.

Conduct a Saturday morning community survey to find your specialized, anointed program

A simple survey is conducted by a handful of church leaders who go out into the community on a Saturday morning from 10 until noon. Conducted in a public location such as the park or Civic Plaza, the leaders explain they are from a local church (identifying that church) and ask those they interview how they would describe their church.Leaders write down the replies and spend the afternoon looking for recurring programs about which people in the community know and appreciate. Be forewarned, the community will know some negative things too. Yet, it’s important to be aware of these as well.

The leaders ferret out the one or two ministries for which the church is known and begin to build part of their revitalization strategy on this. This is conducted in 5-steps.

Evaluate the specialized program though 5-steps

1) Describe the specialized program in two ways:

A. In a first sentence, describe your church’s specialized program. 

b. In a second sentence, explain what “need” it meets in the community.

2) Evaluate it for Biblical fidelity and longevity. Carefully narrow your focus to one or two ministries that can be sustained over a long period of time and which appeal to younger generations as well.

A. Evaluate this specialized ministry through a biblical lens. A ministry must line up with God’s Word and His intention to reconcile the world to himself. There are many specialized programs that may not be your most appropriate avenue for spreading the Good News.

B. Ask yourself if this program can be maintained over the long term. If the church is known for “a good choir,” but choirs are less appealing to the younger generations, this is probably not the specialized program upon which you can build your future. 

3) Expand the program. This may require taking the focus away from other things you’re doing and refocus time and treasure on a specialized program that is having an impact. Though not easy, it is wiser to spend time and treasure on programs that God has anointed, rather than trying to simply copy what other churches are doing.

4) Tell people you are expanding this ministry. Feature it prominently on the main page of your website and in your communication.

5) Evaluate your specialized program through the 5-steps every year. Ask people (in a community survey) about specialized programs for which your church is known. Look for an increasing awareness in the community of the specialized, anointed ministry.A specialized and impactful ministry is a characteristic of growing churches according to The American Congregations Study. These 5-steps will help you discover an anointed and specialized ministry upon which God may intend to build a revitalization.

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

Speaking hashtags: #CaribbeanGraduateSchoolofTheology

MULTIPLICATION & 7 Statistics That Predict Church Growth #HartfordInstitute

By Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/21/16.

Analysis of the American Congregations 2015 study finds seven statistics played a role in which churches experienced significant growth since 2010.

1. Growing location — The old real estate adage applies to churches. Growth is connected to “location, location, location.”

More than half (59 percent) of churches in a new suburb grew at least 2 percent in the past five years. Those in other locations were less likely to experience similar growth—only 44 percent grew at that rate.

2. Younger congregation — Churches whose membership was at least a third senior adults were less likely to grow than other churches.

Only 36 percent of churches heavily attended by senior citizens grew 2 percent or more in the last five years. Almost half (48 percent) of churches where seniors were less than one-third grew.

3. Innovative worship — Congregations who describe their worship service as “very innovative” are almost 10 percent more likely to grow than others.

Less than 44 percent of churches that say they have little to some innovation in worship grew, while more than 53 percent of churches with very innovative worship grew.

4. Lack of serious conflict — Fighting churches are not growing churches. Serious conflict stunts growth.

For churches that maintained relative calm—no serious conflict in the past five years—more than half grew. Only 29 percent of churches with serious conflict did the same.

5. Involved church members — Simply put, the more laity is involved in recruiting new people the more likely a church will grow.

How likely is it that a church grew? For those whose laity was …

  • Not at all involved: 35 percent
  • Involved a little or some: 45 percent
  • Involved quite a bit: 63 percent
  • Involvement a lot: 90 percent

6. Unique identity — If churches worked to discover and present to their community what makes them different from other area churches, they are more likely to grow.

Almost 58 percent of churches who distinguished themselves from other congregations grew, compared to 43 percent of churches who showed little to no difference.

7. Specialized program — Similarly, if churches establish a program as a congregational specialty, they are more likely to grow.

Close to 52 percent of churches that have at least one specialty grew, while less than 42 percent of congregations who claimed no specialty did the same.

These seven statistics from the American Congregations 2015 study give a picture of the churches bucking the trend of decline across U.S. churches.

Read more at …

Hashtags: #StLiz #StLizTX  #Renovate16 #StMarksTX

VISION & Mission, Core-values, Core-competencies … what is the difference?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 9/15/15.

A student once shared he was trying to distinguish between these four types of statements: core-values, core-competencies, mission and vision.  I tried to simplify them (perhaps overly so), but I wanted to share that synopsis in case you were in a similar scenario.

Here is my response.


Hello ___student_name____,

I don’t blame anyone for getting bogged down today in word-smithing, for there are many writers writing on the same thing, and they often mix their terms.   But, I like most of you believe that a vision statement is important for answering the “why” of an organization.

Thus, here is how I would succinctly explain the difference between a mission statement, a vision statement, core values and core competencies.

Mission: Tells us the what.

Core-values: Tell us the why.

Core-competencies: Tell us the best how (based in part upon how the world thinks we can do it).

Vision: Pictures the future goal of the how.


in addition, here is a chapter from my book A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church on the difference between mission, vision and value statements.  As customary, if this helps you consider supporting the publisher and the author by purchasing the book: House_Divided_Chpt5_Vision©BobWhitesel

CORE COMPETENCIES & How to find them and why they matter (A Leadership Exercise)

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/6/15.

In other postings (and in my chapter on “Strategic Management” in the book, The Church Leaders MBA) I explain how church leaders can easily plan their organization future with a simple SWOT analysis.

When doing a SWOT analysis, my students often wonder about the difference between a “strength” and a “core competency” (CC). I explain that a core competency is a strength that is so strong, that the community basically knows your ministry by this.

Therefore, all core competencies are strengths, but not all strengths are core competencies.

(NOTE: If you need a reminder about how to conduct a SWOT analysis, here is a downloadable copy of my chapter on “Strategic Management” from the book, “The Church Leaders MBA” [as always, if you enjoy the chapter please consider supporting the publisher and the author by buying the book]: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – MBA Strategy Chpt. 5 ).

Examples of Strengths That Are NOT Core Competencies (and some that are)

So, to help distinguish which strengths are core competencies, I’ve embedded my comments (below) to another student’s question about this (with their permission).  Student comments in italics, my responses in parenthesis:

Dr. Whitesel, here are our church strengths that I think might be core competencies too. Can you give me your thoughts on this?

A significant small group program:  81% of average adult attendance is committed to a small group.
(Dr. W.: That sounds like something for which the community would recognize your church, and thus could be a core competency.)

An intimate atmosphere and setting:  Set 4 miles outside of town in an agrarian area – could appeal to some.
(Dr. W.:You may be not as well known for this unless you are on a major thoroughfare, thus not likely a CC.)

Volunteerism: A significant number of people volunteer each week.
(Dr. W.: Because this is primarily known internally, it is probably not a CC which is usually known more externally.

The Wesleyan connection: It keeps us rooted theologically and provides stability.
(Dr. W.: Again, primarily known internally, and thus is probably not a CC which is usually known more externally.)

Preaching and Teaching: We have above average preachers and teachers.
(Dr. W.: This could be a CC if it is what your church is known for [e.g. Mars Hill, MI and Rob Bell].)

Risk-taking and educated leadership: Pastor is willing to try new things and pursues further education.
(Dr. W.: A definite strength, but not maybe a CC that is widely known.)

Children’s ministry: We do it very well and it is a high priority.
(Dr. W.: Could be a CC if your church is known for this in the community.)

I think these examples can help distinguish between core competencies (CCs) and regular strengths.  You may also want to look at Figure 5.2 in The Church Leader’s MBA (p. 80) for business examples (see the downloadable chapter above).

Remember this saying: A core competency is a strength that is so strong, that the community basically knows your ministry by it.

A Leadership Exercise

Here is a exercise they can help you distinguish between strengths and core competencies (CC) by which you are know in a community. And if you are one of my students that was directed to this post, this is your follow-up assignment for the week.

Create a list of well-known ministries (give their URL) and tell us the core competencies for which they are known. (Pick ministries for which many of us may be familiar, or give us a website so we can see for ourselves).  You can also add or challenge the conclusions of others (but of course, do so in a respectful manner 🙂

I’ll start (just add to my initial list.  If you are a student, just copy-and-paste the most recent posting and add your insights below):

Mar’s Hill, Grandville, MI and its former pastor Rob Bell

St. Thomas’ Church, Sheffield, UK

  • Core competency: missional clusters (i.e. midsized missional communities or culture-specific sub-congregations)

North Coast Church, Vista, CA

Now its your turn.

Use this exercise (above) with your leaders to sharpen their strategic skills.  Or if you are a student who was directed to this post, finish the rest of this assignment in our online discussion room.

And finally, share one paragraph telling why you think knowing a ministries’ core competencies is good for a ministry.  In other words, how can discovering a ministry’s core competencies help an organization minister more effectively?


VISION & What Are You Willing to Be Bad At?

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “In this video by Adobe’s vice president of community you will see learn two things.

First, it’s important to know the things that organizations (such as churches) become known for doing poorly. In fact, this is as important to know as the things you do well.

For example, many churches, even though they have greeter ministries, poorly welcome visitors. Churches are generally known as organizations that don’t make new people feel at home very easily.

It’s important to know these general assumptions about organizations such as yours – so you can spend extra effort countering them.

Secondly, it’s important that a church doesn’t try to do everything.

For example, some small churches try to emulate large congregations by offering a myriad of ministries. But most churches can’t reduplicate what mega-churches can do with their economy of scale.

Therefore it’s important to find a few things that you do well and stick with them.

This is especially important for new pastors. Often new pastors want to replicate what a big church is doing. After all, as pastors it makes our egos feel better when our church starts to resemble a Mini-Me version of the mega church everyone knows.

Instead, it’s important to find out what the church your pastor has uniquely to offer.

In the Bible the church at Ephesus was known as a church that sent out missionaries. And the church in Jerusalem was known as a church that dealt with contemporary theological application and ideas.

What is your church known for? Find that and build on it. Watch this short video for some good ideas.”

Watch it at …