OUTREACH & The 4 Basic Tools (to Cure Church Apathy)

by Bob Whitesel DMin, PhD, January 17, 2017. A colleague asked for a simple process to help a new church reach out.  Here it is:

4 Simple “cures” for church apathy which will help a church reach out:

Cure 1: find a need (among non churchgoers) and fill it.

Cure 2: disciple in interpersonal small groups, rather than the anonymity of large venues.

Cure 3:  your goal should be “making learners” (i.e. disciples or as McGavran said, “enroll in Jesus’ school”).

Cure 4: make conversion the apex of the process.

You can tell I use these simple four aspects with church planting (and growing church) clients.

RURAL CHURCH & An Executive Summary of the Book: Transforming Church in Rural America

by Jeff Larson, pastor of Life Church, Aurora, IN; missional coach 2016.

For years the whole world moved with technology while I sat on the sidelines. Everyone I knew had a smartphone. I bought a blackberry once and it sat in my dresser drawer for about six months before I gave it to my nephew. I had no idea how those new gadgets worked. I’d rather hide my head in the sand than to take the time to learn how to use them. Finally, one day while shopping for a phone for my bride that I was talked into giving it another try by a salesman. Today, I have no idea what I would do without mine.

If a person understands how something works, they are more likely than not able to be successful. Shannon O’Dell understands how the rural church works, and that is why he is so successful. In his book, that I would wholeheartedly recommend with two thumbs straight up, Transforming Church in Rural America, O’Dell walks the reader through his journey from being a successful youth pastor in a mega church in Oklahoma to pastoring a small and dying church in South Lead Hill, Arkansas, population 93.

I first picked up this book because the rural church is something I am very interested in, but what hooked me to read it was that it was endorsed by names like Mark Beeson, Ed Young, and Craig Groeschel. I thought to myself, if these mega church pastors have read this book and recommend it, there has got to be something here. Boy was I right!

What I love about this book is that O’Dell starts at the very beginning and walks the reader, step by step, through his entire process of wrestling with God over the call to pastor this church, his first days in leadership, facing opposition, and seeing his church grow to unheard of measures. O’Dell often uses Scripture to help the reader understand the concept that it is God that grows the church and He allows His followers to be used in the process.

O’Dell conviction that “rural America is perhaps more churched and more unchurched than any place on earth” and ‘A great harvest for Christ is waiting in the heartland and rural communities of America[1]” makes the reader understand his dedication and passion for the church that resides in rural America. Many people believe that because it is not found in the center of a metropolitan area that it is irrelevant or unimportant and destined to shrivel up and die. O’Dell and Brand New Church are living proof to the contrary. The world wants us to believe that bigger and newer is always better, but O’Dell explains that this is not the way that God operates.

The work that O’Dell was called to was not easy. It took much effort and dedication to see God do what He had planned for Brand New Church. O’Dell said, “I have never met a rancher who expects his herd to grow and multiply without a lot of hard work and without a lot of strategic effort[2].” Even this quote screams rural. It is not a reference toward something that most city folks would understand, but anyone who lives in a rural community would get this right away. It is again written with the rural pastor in mind.

Throughout the book, O’Dell uses the word ‘VALUE’ as an acrostic to tell about Vision, Attitude, Leadership, Understanding, and Enduring Excellence in the rural church. All five of these elements are vitally important is seeing the rural church grow to all that God has called it to be. Each of the five have intricate V.A.L.U.E. in itself that aids the other to build upon. Helping the reader to see this from the inside of Brand New Church and how God used it in their ministry helps us to see it happening and how to implement it into ours as well.

There are multiple thoughts that O’Dell shares that were exceptionally meaningful. He said, “Listen, if you aren’t casting vision, the only ones who will want to serve with you are those who are interested in maintaining control of the status quo[3].” Later he said, “Since we believe that we stand under the authority of Scripture, then, man, let’s start acting that way.[4]” Then he said, “When a pastor is leading effectively, he has everything in the house in order.[5]

This book is worthwhile to anyone who serves in the church, whether it is a paid position or a volunteer position, and also regardless if your ministry is in a rural setting or even in a busy urban setting. The principles that O’Dell share are extremely important regardless of the location. I will keep this book and refer to it again and again.

[1] Page 18

[2] Page 54

[3] Page 104

[4] Page 130

[5] Page 135

GROUP EXIT & Executive Summary of book: Staying Power – Why People Leave the Church Over Change

Executive Summary by Drew Wilkerson of Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT) (Abingdon Press), July 27, 2016.


This overview summarizes a book by Dr. Bob Whitesel entitled Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT). This book is designed for the church leader that wants to understand “one of the most baffling questions facing church leaders today – why do people leave the church over change and what can be done about it” (p. 7). Staying Power is a book that is essential to every church leader. Change is inevitable and necessary. Whitesel outlines a process to oversee change in a way that minimizes the fallout of the effects of change in a church.

PURPOSE:  Pgs. 18-30

The purpose of Staying Power is found in Dr. Whitesel’s desire to counsel the local church pastor and leader how to bring about positive change. In a succinct overview Whitesel states, “…change and the tensions that accompany it are not only inevitable but also survivable” (p.7).



Whitesel outlines the six stages that a church goes through that lead to either group exit or group harmony. Route A leads to polarizing and intense conflict. Route B leads to change that is grounded in harmony. The tensions of change will impact every church. Too often churches embroiled in polarizing change never fully recover. Whitesel outlines a step by step process that refocuses church transformation into a healthy course of action. Following a brief explanation of the problems change can bring to a local church, Whitesel defines the stages of change churches must go through. They are as follows:


  1. Stage 1: Relative Harmony. A church begins looking at changes that may be needed or desired. Trigger #1 comes into play, “Conflicting Ideas Event.”
  2. Stage 2: Idea Development. At this juncture Trigger #2 emerges, “A Negative Legitimizing Event” occurs.
  3. Stage 3: Change. It is at this point that Route A (Trajectory for Group Exit) and Route B (Trajectory for Group Retention) become visible even though often subtle. It is at this stage that the third Trigger called “The Alarm Event” becomes visible.
  4. Stage 4: Resistance. It is essential that leaders recognize that resistance to change will appear no matter what the catalyst, but during Stage 4 leaders begin to determine whether the debated changes will bring resistance that leads to Trigger 4, “A Polarizing Event” or “A Harmonizing Event.”
  5. Stage 5: Intense Conflict/Dissonant Harmony. A church in the change process will begin to demonstrate, intentionally or unintentionally, whether they will work toward unity or division. At Stage 5 on Route A, Trigger 5 gives way to “The Justifying Event.” On Route B at Stage 5 there is a carryover of Trigger 4, “The Harmonizing Event” that brings about change embedded in unity.
  6. Stage 6: Group Exit/Group Retention. The proceeding stages and triggers will determine if Stage 6 brings a “Group Exit” from a church due to polarization or if the church can embrace change in way that brings “Group Harmony” that empowers the church to become revitalized.

CONCLUSION:  Pgs. 169-182

Dr. Whitesel does an excellent job of unraveling the complex process of change that has been harmful to so many churches. The author shows leaders a very practical way of looking at change as a process of eventual growth and unity. As Whitesel writes, so it is true, “…the church can become a model to the world of conciliation, diplomacy, patience, and conflict resolution – all in the midst of change” (p.176).



  1. Believe that change can be a healthy process that brings glory to God and revitalization to the local church if pursued intentionally and carefully.
  2. Empower local church leaders to understand the “6 Stages” of change that can either lead to group exit or group retention.
  3. Work together to bring about needed church transition by understanding the “Triggers” as outlined on Route A and Route B.
  4. Realize that all change will have the potential to cause “friction, tension, and uncertainly among congregants,” but through a process of “unhurried, prayer-infused, and bi-partisan strategy,” unity can be preserved and the Good News can be shared (p.170).
  5. Regularly scheduled change communication, based on the “6 Stages and the 5 Triggers,” must be woven into the fabric of every church as leaders continue to remain relevant in a constantly changing culture.


ORGANIX & An Executive Summary of the Signs of Leadership In a Changing Church

by Jeff Lawson, Life Church, 5/12/16.

A few years ago my church sent me to Dallas, Texas to attend a Catalyst Church Conference. I remember thinking at the beginning of the week that I felt more like I was at a Spring Break party in Florida than I did at a church conference. Folks were texting all through the events. Beach Balls were bouncing around the room. Lots of interaction, even while the speakers were on the stage. I felt it was so sacrilegious.

By the end of the week my feelings had changed. I saw that these young people were worshiping Jesus in ways that were more comfortable for them. It was without a doubt genuine and I remember feeling that I wish I could understand more what I was experiencing.

I wish I had been able to read Dr Bob Whitesel’s book, Organix: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church (Abingdon Press) prior to attending the event. If I had read this work, I am certain that my experience would have been much more complete.

In my opinion, Organix paints a picture for the Modern Leader to better understand tomorrow’s Millennial Leader. I would highly recommend this book to be read by all pastors and then re-read together with their leadership team.

By using an acronym with the word Organic, Whitesel teaches the reader the difference between the modern leader and the millennial leader. Early on Whitesel explains his use of the ‘x’ in Organic instead of a ‘c’. He says, “There is a millennial propensity to alter the spelling of words to create distinction with like-sounding letters.” Whitesel intrinsically breaks down the differences in a very astute way each chapter. He also begins each chapter with a brief true to life story that helps the reader dig into the important differences (which was extremely helpful for me).

O stands for ‘Others’. Whitesel says, “Among tomorrow’s leaders there is a passion not for themselves or their own accomplishments but for helping those most in need.” This spoke loudly to me. My generation is quick to write a check to make a problem go away. Tomorrow’s leaders are more ready to roll up their sleeves to help to solve the problem long term. Whitesel says, “A key to knowing the needs of others is to experience life with them.”

R stands for the Rx in ‘Prescription’. Whitesel says, “An R with a slash through the right leg is a Latin abbreviation for ‘recipe,’ which has come to indicate a recipe or prescription for health.” This is a bit of a twist on the idea that healthy organizations produce healthy people to the idea that when you have healthy people, you will find a healthy organization. The shuffling of words is subtle, yet true. The first idea is true sometimes, but more times than not, the second option is more reliable. This chapter talks about small groups. Whitesel introduces the idea of MissionalNets which are a gathering of two to five small groups that can produce quicker and easier results when one small group tries to tackle a mission alone. It also encourages fellowship among the different small groups in a church.

G stands for ‘Graffiti’. Whitesel says, “While modern leadership often disciplines itself to keep colors and lines in their place, millennial leaders create a leadership collage of colors, symbols, and statements.” He opens the chapter early by a profound statement that I have found true, “Millennial leadership is not for the fainthearted or the small-minded.” I laughed out loud at the statement with my previous experience with the Catalyst Conference mentioned earlier. It doesn’t always make sense, but we must ask ourselves, does it always have to make sense? After all, God says, “Your thoughts and ways are not like my thoughts and ways.” We must get over ourselves and embrace the idea that we don’t always have to be in control of everything we experience.

A stands for ‘Recycle’ with their triangle symbol. This in my opinion was the most creative and thought provoking chapter. Whitesel helps the reader to see that we are not only to be concerned with recycling precious natural resources, we must also be mindful of people and that they are just as precious as a resource. Many people have been cast away as useless because of a past mistake, but with a quick glimpse of the Bible we can see that God regularly used murders, prostitutes, thieves, and adulterers, to name a few. This does not mean that we are to gloss over sin, but it does not show that sin means that you must be doomed to everlasting ministry purgatory.

N stands for ‘Networks’. With the popularity and growing use for the internet, networks are growing by the thousands. In my own life, I have dozens of people who are close friends who I have never met face-to-face, but because of our work together online, we have daily contact and interaction. 30 years ago prayer requests could take up to a week to go from the mission’sfield to the local church, now it happens instantly.

I stands for ‘Incarnate’. Whitesel describes it this way, “Incarnation describes how God sent His Son, Jesus to earth in the flesh and in person in lieu of sending a surrogate or just speaking through a prophet as He had done in Old Testament times.” This chapter shows the idea of tomorrow’s leaders as not depending on someone else to send, to teach, or to minister, but to take matters into your own hands and jump in and be involved. There is much power in being present and able to witness face-to-face.

X stands for ‘Measure’. Whitesel says that the ‘X’ is the Jerusalem cross and “Represents four types of measurement observed in Jerusalem which at their core point to Christ’s work on the cross.” This chapter helps the reader to better understand how tomorrow’s leaders measure spiritual growth and its relationship to effective leadership. It is not close to accurate to measure a church’s health by empty chairs on Sunday morning. There are so many other factors involved.

Organix: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church answers so many questions. It is a book that I will refer to again and again. I am very thankful for the insight that I gained from reading it.

CHURCH GROWTH & A Review of Carey Nieuwhof’s “7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow “

by Cheri Wellman, Missional Coach candidate, 3/15/16.

An executive summary of Carey Nieuwhof’s Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, (Cumming, GA: The reThink Group, 2015).

Nieuwhof addresses potential reasons why local churches aren’t growing and the root of many of his answers are found in the seismic cultural shift happening specifically in the North America although many of these shifts are also happening globally. In answering the primary question of why we are not growing faster, he challenges the perceptions of local church pastors and leaders of existing church health, what keeps high capacity leaders engaged, reasons young adults are leaving the church, cultural trends, and actual willingness to change. The thread that is consistent from chapter to chapter in this book is the focus to continue to be missional. As followers of Christ, as disciples we are all called to be missional (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts1:8) and I find that Nieuwhof approaches this concept in a variety of ways. Read this book and read it with a group of others. Digest it, discuss it and then do it!

It is important that Nieuwhof begins by addressing practical and simple reasons churches aren’t growing and some offerings at to what are significant shifts that can be made to change that. Again, the theme throughout the book is the significance of focusing on the mission. Focusing on the mission of Christ’s church puts things into its proper place and priority. It’s about the mission. Focus on quality not quantity. Don’t lose the mission. The mission is to lead people into a relationship Jesus not to fill the seats. The plan or method are not sacred; the mission is sacred.   Focus on your mission because that is your purpose; it is the why we do what we do. Innovate around the mission. When we think this way we focus on sending people out to accomplish the mission not on how many are simply attending on a Sunday morning. Healthy things grow. He reminds us that it is our lean toward selfishness both individually and corporately. But this is in opposition to be missional. Missional keeps the mission of Christ as the focus and makes space for the uniqueness of various cultures. Missional requires us to learn and adjust to others for the mission’s sake. This is what I found at the heart of this book. Missional requires us to know and love others including others different than us.

There are so many great points made in this book; points that I wish every church leader would not only read, but understand and apply. Things are different than they were in the past and as a result we as church leaders need to shift how we view them. One example is the shift in meaning of committed church attenders. The committed church attender is attending less often. Understanding the reasons could allow the church leaders (including pastors) to be less judgmental and critical and in turn realize that attendance does not equate to commitment, passion or spiritual growth. A better measurement is engagement in the mission. Mere attendance is less a measure of spiritual maturity than missional ministry engagement. Nieuwhof proposes that it is the role of the church leaders to adjust their responses toward infrequent attenders and the unchurched if the church is going to accomplish the mission we must adjust to the culture which begins with understanding the culture and changing our response to it by adjusting our methods. Unhealthy leaders will be challenged to love others and focus on the missional requirement to adjust method to accomplish the mission.

Nieuwhof addresses issues with high capacity leaders and young adults leaving the church and then he makes recommendations as to how to address the issues he points out. For example, high capacity leaders leave if the leaders are not healthy. We must equip and coach and then give high capacity leaders real challenges and let them run with what we give them. The trend of youth and young adults leaving the church is not an irreversible. As church leaders we have to acknowledge the differences in their generational/cultural preferences and leans and make adjustments to methods in order to continue to accomplish the mission and make room for them to also join us in the mission. They need space to wrestle with the tough questions in an a safe and loving environment. They want their lives to make a difference. The church is the God created group designed to make the most meaningful and significant impact. Coupling the mission of the church with the young adult’s desire for their lives to matter creates a huge potential for revival.

“As we got healthier inwardly we grew outwardly” (p.20). “Mission-driven, mission-focused, and relationally rich churches will draw in people longing for something bigger and more significant than themselves” (p. 121). All this is great to read and even believe to be true, but if in the end the willingness to actually implement change does not exist then the mission will not be accomplished. Change is difficult but worth it if we truly desire to impact the world with the hope and healing of Jesus for Kingdom’s sake.

Each year my Global Outreach Team for the East Michigan District of The Wesleyan Church purchases one book for each of the churches in our district in effort to continually equip and encourage our local churches to think and act with the mission in mind. This year, Lasting Impact will be the book that we will purchase. I believe that if we keep our focus on the mission as the why, so many of the other concerns and issues the local church struggles with would dissolve. It would require a willingness to change, a willingness to think, care, and love of others, and willingness to set aside ourselves for the mission.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY & Review by a Pastor of “Cure for the Common Church”

by Pastor Drew Alan Wilkerson, Lead Pastor, BridgeWater Church, Hamilton, Ohio. February 23, 2016

INTRODUCTION:                                                                                                                                                                  Pg. 11-17

This overview summarizes a book by Dr. Bob Whitesel titled Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (Wesleyan Publishing Hosue, 2012). This book is designed for the common sense leader and pastor who realize that the church they attend is in need of church health and revitalization. Sadly, the majority of churches in America are in a state of plateau and decline. Cure for the Common Church is a book that tackles this difficult arena of church change and gives hope for future transformation.

PURPOSE Pg. 17                                                                                                                                                                         The purpose of Cure for the Common Church is found in Dr. Whitesel’s desire to share the best advice for renewal and growth that will impact a local church and its leaders quickly, returning a church back to a path of growth. By using a term indicating a road to physical health, the author prescribes a fourfold “RX” for the church in need of restorative health.

PROCESS & BENEFITS                                                                                                                                                      Pg. 19-160

This book is designed to explain each of the four “cures” necessary for church recovery. First, Dr. Whitesel shares the reasoning behind the cure. Following a brief explanation, the steps for each cure are given in an easy to recall acronym. The four “cures” create a formula for church health and revitalization if followed by the local church in need of renewal. They are as follows:

  1. How does a church grow O.U.T.? = Observe whom you are equipped to reach. Understand the needs of those you are reaching. Tackle needs by refocusing and realigning ministries.
  2. How does a church grow S.M.A.L.L.? = Survey the small groups in the church. Missionalize all small groups. Add small groups. Lead small groups. Locate the church focus in small groups.
  3. How does a church grow L.E.A.R.N.ers? = Link learners publicly. Every small group becomes a learning group. Agreement emerges from learning. Reproduce learners. Needs are met through learning based action.
  4. How does a church grow N.E.W.? = Create a Nonjudgmental atmosphere. Explore the newness people need found only in Jesus. Walk the bridge to transformation and newness with each person.


Dr. Whitesel clearly defines the need for the “common local church” to become “uncommon” and healthy in order to reach people who can only be transformed by Jesus Christ. This must be the focus.


  1. Retrain local church leaders to focus on transformation and not simply growth by using the four cures: U.T., S.M.A.L.L., L.E.A.R.N., and N.E.W.
  2. Focus on the immediate areas of the local church in question and determine which of the four cures should be addressed immediately. Church members need to form E.A.M. groups to investigate and follow the prescriptions that are right for the church (pg.12, 161).
  3. Learn and implement the “90-Minute Annual Checkup” (p. 160-167). It will be essential to understand how to review and measure the progress and implementation of the 4 cures each year.
  4. Strategically, review the progress of the church to become “new” and “uncommon.” The local church must refocus its vision to fulfill the Great Commission and build bridges of transformation.
  5. BridgeWater Church should focus on educating its members to build new bridges to the non-churched and deliberately emphasize small groups becoming missional centers of church health.

ORGANIX & A Chapter-by-chapter Summary of the Abingdon Press Book

Executive Summary by Cheri Wellman (1/26/16) of “ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church,” Abingdon Press.

ORGANIX differentiates between two prevalent leadership styles, modern and millennial. The differences that exist between these two styles is significant because it impacts the way in which leaders approach various aspects of leading. This book describes eight attributes of an organic church and how the two leadership styles impact the Church’s ability to engage in the mission Dei.

Organix_final.aiIn reading and understanding my own leadership style I am better equipped to further engage in the millennial leadership in which I am a part. Additionally, by understanding the modern leaders I am able to understand the responses, road blocks and gaps in methodologies that have created challenges over the past several years.

​Each of the eight chapters addresses its own aspect of an organic church.

CHAPTER 1: The first chapter focuses on the how each leadership style considers others. Others are viewed by the modern leader as resources to be managed, led primarily by the leader’s vision and in regards to how the volume of others measure leadership success. In contrast the millennial leader is driven by the needs of others, sees others as souls to be nurtured and leads focused on integrity. Millennial leaders have a need to be among the people and seek out their needs as a driving position for ministry direction.

CHAPTER 2:  ​The next chapter contrasts the two leadership styles in respect to their perception of how God interacts or supports the leader. The millennial leader recognizes that God strengthens the leader for the work, that God’s presence is a result of the leader’s need of God, and that God is the one who examines the leader’s participation in God’s mission. The modern leader however looks to God to make the work easier due to leadership faithfulness, presumes that God’s presence is a result of His pleasure with the leadership, and that God celebrates the leader’s involvement in the mission Dei.

CHAPTER 3:  ​The chapter of prescription was helped me see some areas where the district’s church health and fitness team are missing the mark. The model that is established is working in a modern leadership style and assuming a healthy church will produce healthy churches. This view has been a challenge for me and now I understand why. I have been very concerned for the health of the pastors and the leadership specifically, but the methodologies ignored their poor health and focused on methods to create a healthy church which included increasing volunteerism. Millennial leaders see the health of the people as the driver for a healthy church. It is their focus on the health of the individual that cares for them through use of small groups where people are cared for and nurtured.

CHAPTER 4:  This chapter addresses risk and the type of church the leadership style develops. The modern leader avoids risk, is concerned about white male privilege, and grows museum churches. The millennial leader embraces risk, practices methods of reconciliation and grows mosaic churches. I resonated personally best with this chapter. “Anger is necessary or things won’t change” (p.69). This chapter also describes both the diversity and the partnership that is needed through sub congregations.

CHAPTER 5:  ​The concept of recycling whether it be people, resources, or worship is addressed in chapter five. Rather than recycle, the modern leader moves out the old in to a new purpose rather than recycling it for its original intended purpose like the millennials do. One significant point in this chapter is how each leadership style approaches those who have failed. Millennial leaders address the failure and make a path toward reconciliation and restoration toward one’s original purpose, but modern leaders are likely to move the failure out and use them as an example and warning for others. The other point I found helpful was the thinking of the millennials and their ancient-future elements to honor those who have gone before them.

CHAPTER 6:  Chapter six focuses on networks and networking. The modern leader relies on historical networks and controlling and restricting network access. The author points to how this modern thinking addresses outward behavior more than inward transformation. Millennials see networks as a tool and resource that should be freely available to everyone. They view personal networks important as they do the organizational networks. This chapter outlines the variety of benefits to online networks.

CHAPTER 7:  Second to the chapter on Graffiti, this chapter on incarnation was my favorite. Modern leaders send others, teach at others, and create gatherings as an attractional event. Millennials however go in person, teach and are willing to be taught, and gather with the goal of a supernatural encounter. The John Perkin’s principles shared in this book are the foundation for how I view ministry both locally and globally. The section that addresses the supernatural encounter goal of the millennial leader where they spend a significant time seeking God’s leading through prayer, fasting, silence and meditation is something I have witnessed and appreciated in other younger leaders.

CHAPTER 8:  The last chapter on measurement is encouraging, but likely still a long way from where the denominations are going to be measuring for a while. The challenges of measuring in the traditional modern methods of attendance and conversions is that these are tangible numbers theoretically. The methods of measure for millennials are more subjective as they look to measure maturity, unity, favor, and conversion. The short surveys provided in this chapter are useful tools in beginning to address and measure these areas.

My only question, does this book come in Spanish? I’d love to work through this book with my Colombian brothers and talk through the concepts with them.

GROUP EXIT & A Review of “Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church And What You Can Do About It” (Abingdon Press)

Quote: “After reading the first chapter, I made a public proclamation that I had wished I had read this book 20 years ago, when I first started in ministry … I recommend every pastor have a copy handy.”

By Rev. Jeff Lawson, lead pastor, Life Church, 1/19/16.

It is with strong conviction that I recommend the book “Staying Power Why People Leave the Church And What You Can Do About It” (Abingdon Press). After reading the first chapter, I made a public proclamation that I had wished I had read this book 20 years ago when I first started in ministry. It is that powerful of a book.

Undeniable statistics, true life stories, and facts and figures are used from cover to cover.

I quickly found while pastoring my first church that there is a constant struggle between the ‘Status Quo’ and the ‘Change Proponents’ in the life of the local church. The book explains that, change means moving from comfortable experiences to more unfamiliar territory. The Change Proponents desire to see the church move and reach new heights that have never been experienced in the life of their church. The Status Quo cling to what they hold dear.

In my previous church, it was my desire to remove a large portion of an existing altar that separated the pulpit from the seating area. I was told during an impromptu congregational meeting that “the day that altar was tampered with would be my final day in this church”.

The misunderstanding between the two camps is that the Change Proponents are not desiring to hurt the local church. Their desire is to see growth happen through new techniques that are unfamiliar to the Status Quo. With that, the Status Quo feel threatened and believe that those things that they hold dear and have grown accustomed to will be taken away or hurt forever. Those people in my previous church did not want to think about changing the existing layout of the auditorium. In their opinion it would forever effect their way of worshiping.

If I had read Staying Power 20 years ago I would have realized that there is a process that needs to be followed.

Through a series of short stories sharing both stages and triggers, Staying Power helps the reader to see that the gap between the Change Proponents and the Status Quo can be bridged.

Whitesel diagrams the process of change like a coach would draw out a play on a blackboard for a team to execute to win a big game. Whitesel shares the process of introducing change with both potential conflicts and struggles to keep the team on the path towards harmony and understanding amongst everyone in both an understandable, but more importantly, godly way.

Many of the remnant in my previous church remember decades ago when the altar was filled every Sunday. When I became pastor the church had dwindled to 35 in attendance on a ‘good Sunday’. It had been almost a decade since the church had seen one convert. One important point that Whitesel brings out is that ‘The Good Old Days’ may not have actually have been so good after all. He points out that periods of congregational peace may seem more harmonious than they actually were. As humans it is our natural tendency to only hold on to those memories that are warm and fuzzy and try to always paint things in a positive manner regardless if they were positive or not. Seeing the building updated was 100% driven by me, as pastor.

Another important point that must be remembered is that diplomacy dictates the leader be a moderator and facilitator of unity. It is integral not to take sides.

Today I understand that my calling as pastor is to serve the local church and not to try to make things to go the way that I think best. Whitesel explains that authority figures must be careful about what they say, as well as when they say it, and do not let passions erupt into poor decisions. Check your emotions at the door, or don’t go.

It is integral to keep in mind that everyone is on the same team and we serve the same God. Staying Power points out that through prayer, open and honest discussions, a willingness to both listen as well as share, and an open mind, change can happen and be a good thing. If rushed or tried to be pushed through with unnecessary authority, no one will truly win. Staying Power will remain on my shelf and be used as an important tool moving forward, and I recommend every pastor have a copy handy.

GROUP EXIT & A Review of “Leading Change” by John Kotter (Harvard Business Review Press)

Quotes: “Change sticks only when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’ when it seeps into the very bloodstream of the work unit or corporate body … (but) The combination of cultures that resist change and managers who have not been taught how to create change is lethal… In an organization with 100 employees, at least two dozen must go far beyond the normal call of duty to produce a significant change” (Kotter).”

By Rev. Jeff Lawson, lead pastor, Life Church, Aurora, IN, 1/19/16.

Leading Change by John P Kotter was not written for pastors, but it is my conviction that every pastor should read this book. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to any person who is involved in leadership.

In this rapidly changing world, Kotter gives a clear cut guide regarding how to be a leader that champions change. He says, “Change sticks only when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’ when it seeps into the very bloodstream of the work unit or corporate body.” So the process for the leader is to take the idea and slowly work to develop a guiding coalition until it becomes the norm.

When I pastored in Illinois the church quickly went from a church of 30 to a church of 100 in less than a year. Every single Sunday would bring new faces to our growing congregation. With those new faces came new problems. I believe if I had read Leading Change before I arrived at my church that I would have been ready to handle the coming problems.

There are potential pitfalls that the leader must foresee and battle. One of those battles are with those who oppose the change. Kotter says, “The combination of cultures that resist change and managers who have not been taught how to create change is lethal.” This is why it is imperative that the leader is prepared for opposition. I was not prepared in my church in Illinois.

I challenged the congregation that if we had 100 in attendance for Easter Sunday that they could put a pie in my face. We had more than 150 with more than a dozen first time decisions for Christ. I exclaimed during the service that we had a unique problem. I told them we had to begin to think about adding on to receive the new attenders that God was sending us. The next day the elders came in with another option. It was time for me to resign my position as pastor. I was all wrong on how I introduced change and those who opposed it had already dug in their heels.

In retrospect I should have spent more time in building the vision of the church to the leadership. Kotter says, “Vision plays a key role in producing useful change by helping direct, align, and inspire actions on the part of large numbers of people.” If the leadership had walked the path to see the vision coming to fruition it would have been more feasible for them to accept the needed change that they were experiencing. What I was proposing was coming solely at this time from me. Kotter says, “In an organization with 100 employees, at least two dozen must go far beyond the normal call of duty to produce a significant change.” I had yet to build a team that was ready to see the vision happen.

Even with the church growing, people coming to Christ, the giving at an all-time high, and an eager excitement oozing from the new attenders I failed to realize what Kotter said, “Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.” When the elders came to me the next morning they had more than enough support to ask for my resignation. “A strong guiding coalition is always needed-one with the right composition, level of trust, and shared objective.” I had none of these, and by the time that my District Superintendent got involved, it was too late

The problems in my church were good problems, but even so, they were problems. I wonder at times how things might have been different if I had introduced change at a slower pace with better methods and a grand plan.

Thankfully we can learn from our mistakes and learn from competent leaders like Kotter and break such cycles.

WRITING & How to Write an Executive Summary

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I encourage my students and the Missional Coaches I train to write “executive summaries” of books and articles they read. It is a helpful way to help other students who haven’t read the book/article.

Below are some brief bulleted points describing what constitutes an executive summary. (BTW, an executive summary of a book/article is different than an executive summary of a business plan which serves as an overview of a business proposal).

An Executive Summary is:

+ Often about 10% of the length of a short document, but not over 10 pages long, + Written to provide an “executive” with,
– An overview of the document and its main points.
– A recommendation to the executive based on the overview.

An executive summary is usually written for an executive that will not read the original document, hence accuracy and a recommendation are paramount.

I suggest that students and Missional Coaches aim for a two page overview, including recommendations.

If the writer is reading the document for their own benefit, then the recommendations would be for improving their own ministry.

MEGACHURCH & An Executive Summary of “Deep & Wide” by Andy Stanley

by Matt McCarrick (Missional Coach), 10/21/15, an Executive Summary of Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley.

This is the story of Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, located twenty miles north of Atlanta. Founding pastor, Andy Stanley, shares the story of Northpoint Community Church and outlines the church’s ministry philosophy for other churches and leaders to evaluate and follow. Deep & Wide offers a balanced mix of narrative story, ministry philosophy, and practical advice for the local church.

For the first third of the book (Sections One and Two), Stanley shares the story and origins of Northpoint Community Church (Northpoint). Beginning in the days when he was a youth pastor for his well-known father, Charles, Stanley shares specific details of the situations and events that occurred leading to the founding of Northpoint. Surprising, Stanley (with the permission of his father), shares the story of his parents’ divorce that drove a temporary wedge between he and his father. Yet, God used this to begin Northpoint and bring healing to a wounded pastor.

Section Three of Deep & Wide is entitled “Going Deep.” In these chapters, Stanley outlines the approach Northpoint takes regarding spiritual formation. Northpoint seeks to engage with people in five distinct areas to promote spiritual formation: practical teaching, private disciplines, personal ministry, providential relationships, and pivotal circumstances. Over the next several chapters, Stanley outlines the philosophies of each of these areas and offers practical advice in sections titled, “Back at the Church.” Some suggestions include: a call to action at the end of every sermon, getting people involved in volunteer ministry quickly, and creating environments that foster meaningful relationships. One unique view of Northpoint is their closed Community Groups. Northpoint’s structure is to close a group to visitors once the group launches. The group then stays together for two years. Stanley believes this helps to increase the relationship building within the group structure as compared to open groups that change frequently.

Section Four is entitled “Going Wide” and discusses Northpoint’s ministry philosophy on outreach and evangelism. One key philosophy of Northpoint is to create “irresistible environments.” A key focus of Northpoint is reaching out to people that do not attend church. Stanley and Northpoint have adopted an attractional style of ministry. Northpoint evaluates the setting, the presentation, and the content being offered, in their words. Stanley firmly believes in practical preaching that offers Biblical teaching to believers and practical life advice to newcomers. Section Four ends with several templates Northpoint uses to create a service, including welcome, their approach to music, and preaching guidelines from Stanley.

Section Five is dedicated to taking the principles and philosophies Stanley outlined in the first four sections and making them practical for the local church to implement. Stanley focuses heavily on the differences between the Mission of the Church and models churches can use to reach the mission. He is open in the fact that Northpoint’s methods are just one method and discourages churches from blindly adopting their methods without due diligence. Stanley walks through a process from mission to vision to model to programming.

Deep & Wide was an interesting autobiographical case study of one of the largest churches in the country. While Northpoint has experienced tremendous success, it is difficult to connect with a church using the attractional method that runs in the tens of thousands each weekend. This sets an unrealistic goal for many churches, although it is clear Stanley is not trying to have churches match their size. Stanley offers practical advice on what can work in the local church in modern America. He is thoughtful and strategic. Therefore, Deep & Wide can be a valuable resource for church leaders who connect with Northpoint’s ministry philosophy.

UNCHURCHED & An Executive Summary of “Unchurched” by Barna & Kinnaman

by John E. Murray (Missional Coach) 10/20/15.

An executive summary of Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (George Barna and David Kinnaman, 2014, Tyndale Momentum, Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois).

Churchless looks intently at the US population in a statistically precise way. The statistics in the book are not created from individual church studies, or anecdotal information, nor is Churchless a compilation of statistical charts and trend analyses without context for the Church. The authors say that churches and ministries “can benefit from a better understanding of adults who intentionally avoid Christian churches. God has called you and your faith community to expand his Kingdom in a particular place with unique features and cultural quirks. Translate the research insights you find here into practical, culturally appropriate action” (Location 1711).

The research for the book is the result of a series of 18 nationwide surveys between 2008 and 2014. The studies surveyed 20,524 adults, including 6,276 churchless adults. This study offers significant insights in perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, and experiences of a statistically significant group of individuals.

The churchless are rising in America. Churchless people were 30% of the population in the 1990s and in 2014 had risen to 43%. Barna and Kinnaman break the population up into four significant groups: The Actively Churched (49%), the Minimally Churched (8%), the De-Churched (33%) and the Purely Unchurched (10%). For the church, this means that a small but slowing growing portion of the population is truly unchurched, meaning that they do not and have not attended church at any time.

The authors rate secularization on a scale from antagonism to advocacy. The nine points on the scale are antagonism, rejection, resistance, doubt, indifference, curiosity, interest, engagement, and advocacy. The measure created by Barna is based on fifteen different variables that measure a person’s identity, beliefs, and behaviors in regards to God, the Bible, and church attendance. From these criteria, the researchers are able to place individuals on the scale from church antagonist to advocate. Using this scale, the population at large was reviewed in 2013. The survey placed 38% in the postmodern section of the scale (indifference to antagonism) with 10% falling in the rejection and antagonism end or highly postmodern. Among churchless adults these percentages rise even more heavily in this sector. One concerning trend is that as the data is separated by generations, the younger the generation the larger the percentage of it falls to the antagonist side of the scale with 48% of mosaics falling into the postchristian end of the spectrum.

One of the highlights of the book for me is the data on prayer. While all other activities related to religion have declined steadily since 2008, those indicating that they have prayed in the past seven days on the Annual OmniPoll by Barna are reversing the decline. This indicator has stayed rather high, above 80% most years. Of interest is that public prayer is a common element that leaves the unchurched feeling empty. The authors say “Public prayers seem more like scripted statements than authentic conversation with God, more like an extension of the teaching time, directed to the congregation rather than to the Lord.” This seems to indicate a possibility that true, heartfelt prayer where we are connected to God in a relationship may be one of the most overlooked tools for reaching churchless people.

The authors end the book with some strategies for reaching the unchurched. “We must not lose sight of the fact that appealing to the unchurched is a spiritual quest, not a business transaction or bottom-line proposition” (location 2413), the authors say. They lay out five strategies in the book: loving them as motivation for everything we do, having our hearts reignited for the lost and sharing Jesus with them, being selfless servants, being suffering servants who are able to show our struggles and God’s victories, being discerning of our culture and how God and the bible address the issues that culture faces, and prayer for the lost and the unchurched.
Barna and Kinnamann do a good job in Churchless of isolating the pertinent data for church leaders instead of just giving a long list of statistics. The data they isolate in the book and their guidance in applying it in real ministry in the 21st century makes this an important book for pastors and ministry leaders. They do not paint a bleak and unwinnable picture of what we face in Christian ministry, but show that with our eyes focused on the churchless around us and with a willingness to understand them and change our strategies to reach them, the churchless can be led home to a family that shares the love, life, and redemptive power of the Living God.

(Note: I am reading this book in the Kindle addition which does not have page numbers embedded at this time.)

Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (George Barna and David Kinnaman, 2014, Tyndale Momentum, Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois).

GROUP EXIT & An Executive Summary of How to Prevent Church Splits

by Matt McCarrick (Missional Coach), 10/25/15.

In Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (And What You Can do About It), Bob Whitesel dissects a framework for the change process in an organization. This framework is based on the work of Bruno Dyck and Frederick Starke in realm of business. However, Whitesel discovered that this framework could be overlaid over any organization, including the local church. This framework maps out how change occurs in an organization and how two groups of people, the “change proponents” and the “status quo” react to this change. Whitesel outlines six key stages to change in an organization: Relative harmony, idea development, change, resistance, intense conflict, and group exit. Whitesel also uncovers five triggers that act as catalysts to each of the six stages.

In Stage 1, Relative Harmony, churches are content, live in concord, and are able to handle some conflict. There is not total peace, but the church experiences overall harmony. In Stage 1, churches are faced with the issue of complacency. Many churches think they are successful or in a simple state of plateau. However, once outside factors are considered, such as population growth or a change in the generational or ethical culture of the area, it may discovered that the church is actually losing ground. It is at this point that a subgroup within the church will seek change.

Stage 2 is Idea Development and is triggered by a Conflicting Ideas event. It is this event that the subgroup makes its voice heard and begins to call for change within the church to address an issue of problem. A Conflicting Ideas event can be leadership books that are being passed out by the subgroup, having a guest speaker one Sunday, a private study by members of the subgroup, or attending worship seminars and conferences. In Stage 2, the change proponents begin to form new ideas, although at this point, it is still informal. Polarization of the change proponents and the status quo are beginning to take hold.

Change begins to take place in Stage 3. This stage is triggered by a Legitimizing Event. This event could either be a positive or negative event. This is a critical juncture in the change process as the Legitimizing Event will place the change process on one of two paths, one leading to a positive outcome with the other path leading to group exit. The negative Legitimizing Event usually takes place when a leader blesses the ideas of the change proponents, even unknowingly.

Once the change proponents begin to act on their ideas, the third trigger happens. This is the Alarm Event. The Alarm Event occurs when the status quo believes the change proponents are moving too quickly or down the wrong path. This trigger activates Stage 4, Resistance. There are two types of Resistance, one for path A and one for path B. On path A leading to group exit, the Resistance leads the status quo to form a subgroup and prepare to stand for their cause. On path B, Resistance is met with positive communication and is strategic and not hurried along. The status quo does not form a subgroup in path B.

On the negative path A, a Polarizing Event (trigger 4) leads to Stage 5, Intense Conflict. This polarizing event is usually a public event where one of the groups feels offended or attacked. This event has a permanent effect on the relationship and communication between the status quo and the change proponents. On the positive path B, there is a harmonizing event that elevates the unity and vision of the entire congregation. According to Whitesel, this leads to Dissonant Harmony, where each group is able to live with the other, even if some conflict exists.

Stage 6 has two options: Group exit for path A or group retention for path B. On path A, stage 6 is triggered by a Justifying Event. This event views unity as unreachable between the two factions. It justifies the motivation of the group that leaves. However, if time has been taken for the groups to be heard and unity to be achieved, no justifying event needs to take place and the result is group retention.

Whitesel does an excellent job of outlining the change process in a way anyone can understand. Staying Power takes the complicated situation of change in an organization and breaks it down into six stages and five triggering events.

What I found most interesting was that, even though there are six stages to change, the critical event happens all the way back at trigger 2: having a positive or negative legitimizing event. Based on Whitesel’s advice, a church is then able to back up and create a new legitimizing event, moving from negative to positive. By taking time and listening to both sides, the two groups of the status quo and the change proponents can live in harmony with little conflict. Change can take place with no group exit.