by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, 7/1/19.
Younger people today are discovering churches best grow when focused upon creating community.
So rather than trying to be as good a preacher as a famous mega-pastor, spend your time developing community and commonality within the church. Create church-wide unity building events. And create a vision that all segments of your church can embrace and get behind. Research has found (Bruno Dyck and Fredricks Stark, Administrative Science Quarterly) that pastors who held unity events that united church around a common purpose, created a “community” that was attractive rather than a program or a pastor. So work on finding that mission that everybody in the church can get behind. And, spend as much time working on it as you do your sermons.
I can’t turn around a church because I’ve never done it before.
This may be the second most common negative mindset. And, this stands to reason, because we are always intimated by what we have not yet experienced. But Paul, who had his own series of challenges, states, “And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there.” (1 Corinthians 7:17 MSG).
Today there is a growing number of good resources that can equip the pastor to turn around a church, so that prior experience, while helpful, is not mandatory.
Magazines like “Church Revitalizer” magazine and resources like Renovate Conferences offer church leaders the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by successful church turnaround leaders.
I allow each year a handful of potential turnaround coaches to shadow me and learn the turnaround coaching insights I’ve gained from doing this for 30 years and earning two doctorates on the subject (Fuller Theological Seminary). The shadowing program is called MissionalCoaches.com and dozens have graduated from this program and gone on to help turn around churches.
So while prior experience is helpful, the proliferation of good resources like this magazine and other sources means that having experience turning around a church is not a requisite to doing an effective job.
I can’t turn around a church because I don’t like the traditional way of doing things; and I want to do things in a new way.
There is nothing wrong with innovative and contemporary forms of worship and ministry. But traditional forms of worship and ministry are also valid for the people who connect through those aesthetic forms. Because you don’t like their styles doesn’t mean God doesn’t use their traditional liturgical aesthetics to connect them to God.
I learned this firsthand, growing up in a mega-church with traditional Gospel Quartet music. The Bill Gaither Trio were often guests at our church meetings. I grew up to associate their country-influenced Gospel music with my parents’ church. But that wasn’t my style. My parents loved it. And I love my parents and the Good News they instilled in me. But I yearned for a younger musical style, to which I and my friends could relate. African-American rhythm and blues and the resultant rock ‘n’ roll music resonated with me. But it also led me to see the church as culturally different from the aesthetics I enjoyed. Subsequently, I found little relevance in the church and into the world of rock ‘n’ roll I journeyed. Yet in that world, I found other young people who loved rock ‘n’ roll and also loved Jesus even more. As a result of their culturally relevant presentation of the Good News to me, I gave my life to Jesus and set upon a path of writing and leading contemporary worship.
However, because I saw the church as captive to traditional and Gospel music, I developed an unhealthy aversion for older forms of music. That was until I met a beautiful Lutheran girl, who was much more spiritual than me. Yet to her the Lutheran hymns of her church had provided a spiritual strength and wisdom during her youth. She showed me that her music was just a different style than mine, but which for her was still relevant. She gave me an appreciation and love for classical music to this day. Subsequently I became a connoisseur of Charles Wesley and his great hymns.
Our family appreciates a healthy mix of both traditional music and contemporary music. My wife’s loving example of aesthetic flexibility led me to a more holistic life and allowed me to write several books on how to have both traditional and contemporary music in the same church.
Turnaround church leaders learn how to bring unity out of diversity.
Often a dying church will have one form of music and worship aesthetic. It may be a traditional form, it could be a gospel music form, or it could even be a contemporary form. What happens is a church offers only one liturgical aesthetic. And because people have come to connect with God through that particular style, they strongly resist any changes. Change means interfering with their communication with God.
But usually another generation or demographic will emerge that has a different musical appreciation and aesthetic style. And, they will usually go to a new church down the street that offers their liturgical aesthetic. The problem is that this new church down the street usually winds up being as homogeneous as the church that was left behind. What results is that our churches tend to focus on one liturgical aesthetic. Then they rise and die with that aesthetic.
Many turnaround church pastors undertake a strategy I call “1+1 +1 = 1” (“A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church” Abingdon Press). This means allowing traditional congregants to keep their historical way of worship while adding a new worship opportunity. This can be done by hosting a 20-minute pre-glow (pre-service) with a different style of music. Or it can be accomplished by hosting a post-glow (post-service) with 20 minutes of a different style of music. Eventually this can emerge into two worship opportunities. I’ve helped churches do this even when they were small, just a couple dozen people.
The key is to move toward offering two or more liturgical expressions that can relate to both the existing church culture and the emerging culture of a neighborhood or community. Yet people often say, “You’re spitting the church part.” But you’re only allowing them to self-select the cultural expression of worship that they enjoy. And, the running of the church (e.g. its administration, mission, focus and health) should still be conducted by committees and boards made up of people from different cultures. I’ve often said, you learn more about a different culture by working on a committee with them, than by warming a pew next to them. It has been my experience as a missiologist that you gain more cultural understanding by strategizing, compromising, sharing and dialoguing in a committee setting than you do by simply sitting adjacent to them in chruch.
So though a turnaround church leader will usually prefer their own worship style, they must be careful to not inadvertently prioritize their preferences over those of others. Instead, multiple worship expressions can be valid means to connect the different cultures in a church to God. Even if you don’t enjoy their music, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it, understand it and help others connect with God through it. Subsequently, alongside a traditional worship expression you can create a second culturally distinct liturgical expression, that another generation or culture can connect with as well. Though everyone has their own preferred style of worship, a church turnaround leader will usually be the principle connector between the the different cultures God is sending to a church.
Download the entire article here: ARTICLE ©Whitesel Church Revitalizer Magazine July:Aug 2019 Overcome a Negative Mindset
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BIO: Bob Whitesel DMIN PhD teaches “Church Revitalization” for Fuller Theo. Seminary’s DMin, which can be audited this fall (see the ad in this issue). Bob is an award-winning author/consultant on church health and growth. He been called “the key spokesperson on change theory in the church today” by a national magazine, co-founded an accredited seminary and leads one of the nation’s most respected church health consulting/coaching firms: www.ChurchHealth.net