FACILITIES & Megachurch Expands Reach by Downsizing Main Facility

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  I’ve written a chapter in one of my books about how “over building” usually stunts church growth (you can read that chapter, the “The 7 Don’ts & 7 Do’s of Building” here).  Below is a recent story about how over building has thwarted one church’s missional flexibility.

(Download the chapter from my book by clicking on this link > BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – GROWTH BY ACCIDENT Missteps with New Facilities 2. If you like the insights please support publisher and author by buying a copy here. Excerpted from Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Church, Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 76-80.)

“Southern Baptist megachurch to downsize its campus by 90 percent.”

by Bob Allen, Baptist News Service, 9/10/19.

First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, once one of America’s most influential megachurches, determined Sept. 8 to downsize its downtown property footprint by 90 percent in a cost-cutting move the senior pastor described as necessary for the church’s long-term survival.

Under the leadership of pastors and co-pastors Homer Lindsay Sr., Homer Lindsay Jr. and Jerry Vines, First Baptist Church earned the nickname Miracle of Downtown Jacksonville after buying up real estate left behind when department stores and smaller retailers started relocating into suburban malls in the 1970s.

Today the church covers 10 city blocks with buildings including a sanctuary built to seat nearly 10,000 people that was dedicated in 1993.

image.pngHeath Lambert, named last year as sole senior pastor of First Baptist, said once a blessing, the congregation’s central location has become a curse as the city continues to expand farther away from its urban core.

“If you want to get people to come to First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, you have to get them to do two things they never do,” Lambert said during his Sunday morning sermon. “You have to get them to come to church, and you have to get them to come downtown.”

Lambert said that after 20 years of declining membership, the downtown church needs about one-tenth of its current space. Plans approved by the congregation on Sunday call for consolidating all operations into one city block.

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Wikipedia

“What we can’t do on one block, we won’t do,” the pastor said.

The plan includes borrowing $30 million to renovate Hobson Auditorium, the original 1,500-seat worship space built after a fire destroyed much of downtown Jacksonville in 1901, and to replace other buildings now used for offices with state-of-the-art construction.

Lambert said the church will eventually sell off downtown property and move toward a multi-site church model. The church currently has a south campus in Nocatee, which moved into its own building after meeting at Ponte Vedra High School for a decade in 2019.

“Instead of being the big church downtown that we ask everybody from all over to come to, we want to be a church for the whole city,” Lambert said. “Instead of asking our city to come to our church, we’re going to take our church to the city.”

Read more here … https://baptistnews.com/article/southern-baptist-megachurch-to-downsize-its-campus-by-90-percent/#.XXkddC3MywQ

WORSHIP & Hits and Misses: What We Can Learn From Worship Disasters

Worship!  What a great experience!!

But, in addition this may be one of the church’s most explosive topics to date.  Elmer Towns is famous for saying, “The first murder in the bible took place over forms of worship (Genesis 4:1-16)” (personal conversation cited in my book, Growth by Accident, Death by Planning, Abingdon Press).

In my seminary courses, I regularly ask my students to share their thoughts on worship “hits” and “misses.”  In my book Growth by Accident, Death by Planning I explain that “worship misses” are some of the most far-reaching missteps churches will make.  From moving worship times around capriciously, blending different genres to poor effect, proud posing on the stage, etc. it often seems the purpose of worship to usher congregants into an encounter with God is undermined.
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To help alleviate worship “misses” I ask my students to pick one (1) of the two following questions to answer.

1.)  Relate a story explaining how a worship celebration (either in the planning or execution) was handled poorly.  Tell us what happened, why it happened (in your mind), and what should have been done differently.

2.)  Or, relate a story about how a worship celebration (either the planning of it or in its execution) was handled well.  Then tell us what was (in your mind) the cause of the positive outcome, and what all churches could learn from this story.

Try this yourself and send me your experiences.  Some of my students’ responses are below (anonymously);

Subject: Re: Worship Hits and Misses by Student A
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The worship “mis-step” I participated in occurred last September on Labor Day weekend – unfortunately we had quite a few guests that Sunday.  The worship leader and his team were not prepared for what was about to unfold.  The service began with a congregational singing of the hymn “Solid Rock”.  Verse 1 went well, but the power point slides for verse 2 never showed.  The worship leader paused and looked to the back for help.  The technician who tried valiantly to find the slides quickly realized it would take a few moments so he yelled to the congregation: “just hum the tune while I look for the slides” and the worship leader went along with hit.  Two verses of humming was all the pastor could take and he finally stood and interrupted the rendition.  The pastor then tried to use a video clip to visualize a point of his sermon, but the video clip wouldn’t play.  After again several long pauses and attempts, the pastor relayed verbally “what you would have seen if the video worked….”  The video eventually did play but after he had relayed it verbally – and he told the technician to just forget it.  The service ended with the pastor asking the worship leader to close in prayer.  He was clearly scattered by that point and had a difficult time focusing. The prayer went on and on and on with many long, silent pauses as he was trying to bring reverence back into a tough situation.  People began to sit down and collect their belongings.  He finally said “Amen” to bring the service to a close after four “Amens” were heard from various points throughout the audience.  Unfortunately, the service created memories of laughter and joking rather than reverence and awe.

What could have been done?  Technical difficulties arise and this was one time we should have scrapped technology and opened a hymnal (which we happen to have).  I’m sure the pastor in retrospect wished he had taken control of the service, skipped the video and closed himself.   Because everyone was going to make a joke about the “humming” and long pauses, the pastor or worship leader could have made the joke themselves – making light of our weak human efforts –  and then brought it around to close on an up beat.

Bob W – Lesson:  Be careful you do’t lean too much on technology, or get frustrated when it goes awry.

Subject: Re: Worship Hits and Misses by Student B
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This reply is not of a serious nature.  I figure everybody might need a laugh.  We were having candlelight service one Christmas Eve and one of our deacons had an “on fire experience”.  This gentlemen was a practical joker but the joke was on him.  After tiring of the service, which he was good at, he leaned back against the wall .  The next thing Roy had caught his leisure suit on fire with one of the candles in the window.  It did cause quite a disruption in the service but everyone got a good laugh at Roy having so much spirit he was literally on fire.

CHRIST & 6 Steps To Keep Him Central As a Ministry Grows #GrowthByAccidentBook

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 4/20/2004.

Here is a six-step prescription for keeping Christ central in the lives and ministries of both congregants and leaders.

  • Stay rooted in … the Word. Daily and generous doses of Bible reading and reflection are a beginning point for being grounded in servant leadership. God’s word should serve as our strategic guide (Psalm 119:105), because as Proverbs 16:17 reminds us, “the highway of the upright avoids evil; he who guards his way guards his life.” But, allotting time for study only when preparing for sermons may rob Scripture of this meditative and regenerative power. Thus, make time for the Word in your daily schedule, your informal pursuits, your pastimes…and your plans.
  • Stay rooted in … prayer. Prayer should be as pervasive as study of the Word, i.e. a part of your daily schedule, your informal pursuits, etc.. Eddie Gibbs calls this “respiratory prayer” for it is “the kind of regular, habitual praying that is the spiritual equivalent of breathing to sustain life.”[i]
  • Stay rooted in … ministry. Regular participation in hands-on ministry can help thwart a misalignment of priorities. A leader who is repeatedly involved in addressing people’s most basic needs, and doing so in the uncertain climate of human imperfections and sins, will by necessity need to maintain a close link to his or her power source, God’s Holy Spirit.
  • Stay rooted in … accountability. Some denominations utilize “staff-parish committees,” or “human resource teams” to provide an accountability link between the congregation and the pastor. Other churches have denominational oversight that provides this function. However, often these groups only address skill development, overlooking spiritual development. If they do so, they abdicate half of their responsibility. And, in some situations these groups may have evolved into an committee that cannot, or will not, do this. In all scenarios an accountability group is in order. However, the discomfort of such groups often causes Christians to avoid them. Researchers Dotlich and Cairo point out “discomfort signals that different viewpoints are being aired … that teams are grappling with difficult problems in the most open ways possible.”[ii] Proverbs confirms this, reminding us “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). A final excuse is that participation in an accountability group might damaging a valuable personal relationship. Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Temptations of a CEO, warns that “ironically, this only causes the relationship to deteriorate as team members begin to resent one another for not living up to expectations.”[iii]
  • Stay rooted in … your mortality. Every leader should be preparing for the day he or she passes the baton to one’s successor. Though you bear the baton for a while, God’s picture is bigger, and one day (maybe sooner that you think) you will pass that baton. Researcher Jim Collins calls this “setting up successors for success.”[iv]
  • Stay rooted in your priorities. Following the above steps can help a leader keep his or her priorities aligned correctly: God, family, and ministry.

Excerpted from Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How NOT to Kill a Growing Congregation by Bob Whitesel.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 153-161.

  • Though not for public distribution –  if you like this chapter consider supporting the publisher and author by purchasing a copy.

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[i] Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 135.

[ii] Dotlich and Cairo, Unnatural Leadership: Going Against Intuition and Experience to Develop Ten New Leadership Instincts, op. cit., pp. 141-142.

[iii] Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), p. 213.

[iv] Jim Collins, Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, op. cit., pp. 25-27.

FACILITIES & The 7 Don’ts & 7 Do’s of Building

by Bob Whitesel. (Download the chapter HERE: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – GROWTH BY ACCIDENT Missteps with New Facilities 2. If you like the insights please support publisher and author by buying a copy here. Excerpted from Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Church, Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 76-80.)

1.  Don’t build too soon. Oftentimes a rented or paid-for facility will be less expensive to operate than a new facility. Though architects often laud cost savings of new facilities, they may require large unforeseen expenditures. Repairing a boiler in an existing facility might cost $8,000 to $10,000. But in a new facility, the same size of congregation might have to pay twice to three times that amount. And though a builder/architect may suggest that this would not happen for years, it happened with in the first five years at Mt Sinai. Thus, building cautiously and patiently can help generate a fiscal reserve.

2.  Don’t build too big. Under advice of their architect/builder, and based upon their own overly optimistic projections, the church leaders built a facility that was oversized for their congregation, and their budget. We saw in Chapter 2 how multiple weekend celebrations can give the church more options for attracting community residents. And the four Sunday services at Mt. Sinai provided this benefit. Yet naively, the leaders decided to hold one large combined church service in the new facility. Thus, robbing the Sunday services of their flexibility and convenience, they undermined their attendance. “We all agreed we wanted everyone together, and only one service was the way to do it,” recollected Tim. “But we didn’t expect such a drop-off in attendance.”

3. Don’t build without flexibility. Renovated and rented facilities had given Mt. Zion Church needed flexibility. If they needed to change their usage or space requirements, a different site could be rented. And due to the cramped facilities, multi-functional areas were mandated. But when the new facility was built, many ministries were segregated into activity-specific spaces. Immovable pews were installed in the auditorium, small classrooms were designed, separated by load-bearing cement walls. Since church members were tired of years of cramped and communal space, they tried to give everyone their own area in the new facility. “Everyone was going to have their own rooms at last,” mused Tim. But creating these private enclaves weakened the flexibility that had contributed to growth.

4. Don’t use a plateaued church for your model. Mt. Zion’s leaders had visited several seemingly successful churches in the region. Unfortunately, they did not ask if these churches were plateaued or declining. Of the five churches they visited, two were declining and two were plateaued. But their impressive facilities kept Mt. Zion’s leaders from looking closer. The architect/builder who had designed the lone growing church was rejected in Tim’s words as “too wild for us, it looks like a mall.”

5. Don’t build in a detached location. The building site was an area where many of the leaders would have liked to live and worship. But unlike their first facility (and the rented spaces downtown) it lacked visibility. “It was on a moderately traveled road,” suggested Tim. “But it was across town from the main highway. I really wish we had built adjacent to Route 20.” Visibility is one of the keys to outreach. But unfortunately, churches often link their destiny to a parcel of land that is convenient for current attendees, but in a detached location that slows or undercuts growth.

6. Don’t forget to get information from the right experts. Church leaders thought they were getting the best advice available when they hired the architect/builder of another large and prestigious church. In fact, he had built dozens of churches. But because most of the churches in America are declining or plateaued, the architect/builder was inadvertently experienced in building facilities that contributed to church plateaus and/or declinations.

7. Don’t expect new facilities to increase the church’s attendance. Related to errors two and six above, this must be mentioned again because it is so prevalent in the sales pitch of many architects/builders. As I noted earlier Christians are an optimistic lot. And in my experience architect/builders succumb to this malady just as easily. Together they can give overly aggressive projections. “The architect advised us on church growth projections. He said a new facility would increase our attendance by 10-15 percent,” recalled Tim. “He said they were based on his company’s history. But now I question his figures.” While architects and builders are experts in legal codes, and civil engineering; few are acquainted with the principles and strategies of church growth.

Seven Do’s When Building a Facility

Each of the above Seven Errors have a positive alternative. I have labeled these corrective steps the “Seven Dos When Building a Facility.”

Corrective Step 1. Do wait longer than you think you should before you build. This may require restraint, but waiting can help you further define your needs and objectives. Patience also allows fiscal swings to moderate and more precise financial projections to be created. More money can be set aside for savings as well. Finally, cautious and unhurried behavior allows you to plan your future more precisely.

Corrective Step 2.  Do build a smaller sized auditorium, leaving room for expansion. Creating spaces where everyone can worship simultaneously may not be needed (combined “unity” gatherings can be held in rented facilities[i]), nor wise (we saw in Chapter 2 that multiple celebration options allow us to reach a greater percentage of a community).

Corrective Step 3.  Do create flexibility in your facility, to compensate for the smaller size. Though a smaller facility can cause tension and minor friction, it can lead to creativity. And, sharing facilities forces an expanding congregation to interact and work out this conflict, thus creating interaction between potentially divisive groups.[ii] Designing flexible spaces also provides adaptability for future programming.

Corrective Step 4.  Do use a larger, but growing church as your model. Don’t let impressive facilities and/or reputations dissuade you from discovering if your model church is growing. Ask yourself, does the architect/builder build growing churches or plateaued/declining ones? In addition, ask the architect/builder for references and interview former clients. Ask the references if they feel the facilities have hindered growth to any degree.

Corrective Step 5.  Do build in a visible location. For unchurched and dechurched people accessibility is essential. Robert Schuller tells how fellow clergypersons extended to him their condolences when he could find no other facility to rent other than a drive-in theatre. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” Schuller replied. “The Orange Drive-In Theatre is right on the Santa Ana Freeway, and that’s the heaviest traveled road in the State of California. … Nobody has a better road leading up to their front door than I do! And you have to have a road leading up to your front door before you need a building.”[iii]

Corrective Step 6.  Do get advice from the right experts. Seek out architect/builders who build malls, theatres, and colleges rather than churches. Churches are often designed with a formulaic look and inadequate flexibility. Here I cannot fault architect/builders too much. Most of their church building experience revolves around aging congregations, who are building smaller facilities or merging. As such, these architects have little experience with facilities that foster connectedness and growth. Today, the architects of malls and shopping centers are becoming the designers of connectedness in America. Malls have replaced the streets of small town America as the venue for meeting people and relationship building. One young teenager confided, “It’s at the mall where I feel at home with my friends. There’s a coffee bar, comfortable couches, TVs, a fountain, and lots of people hanging out. It sure beats church.” Unfortunately, the church is being beat by the sense of community created by many of these retail environments. Where once it was said, “I met my spouse at church,” too often today it is heard, “I met my spouse at the mall.”

Corrective Step 7.  Do plan on the size of your church to plateau or even decline moderately after a building project. Change always brings about tension, and as a result polarization between the status quo and change proponents often erupts. In the second book of this series, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It [iv] I explained how you can avoid the polarization that often arises between these groups. But because change is unavoidable, tension will be encountered. Therefore the tension involved in moving into new facilities does not usually grow a church. And because some people find this change especially jarring, they look for a congregation more in keeping with their former church experience. Thus, a decline should be anticipated in budget and usage projections. Hiring an expert in church growth can be expeditious for realistic planning. The American Society for Church Growth (www.ascg.org) lists dozens of church growth consultants trained and skilled in helping churches navigate the precipitous waters of growth, change, and facility expansion.

Read more in Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Church

[i] For ideas on “unity celebrations” that can unify churches with multiple weekend worship options, see “Unity Building Exercises” in A House Divided, p. 187.

[ii] See the second book in this series, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It, to discover how to keep your people from coalescing into factions.

[iii] Robert H. Schuller, Your Church Has A Fantastic Future (Ventura, Calif.” Regal Books, 1986), p. 286.

[iv] Bob Whitesel, Staying Power, op. cit.

EVALUATION & A case study on how one church planter gets valuable feedback from church & community

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “This case study comes from an African-American pastor of a growing church, who also happens to be a Wesley seminary student. He shares how he gets feedback from newcomers, congregants and people in the community.”

When I started Peace Baptist 21 years ago I went to every John Maxwell conference that was in our area. One of the most impactful statements he made was to teach the pastors to “Walk slowly through the crowd” (personal communication). He encouraged us to take a weekly evaluation from the members after each service and not rush back to the office or to a holding room. I have adopted this philosophy throughout my ministry. After each service I stand off the stage and spend usually 20-30 minutes just listening and asking questions. It is my most valuable tool for understanding the pulse of the church. I gain insight on what is happening in the church and community each week. Often, I develop sermon ideas once I see that many people are dealing with similar issues. It keeps me current and connected. I discovered that as the church grew it was hard to get accurate information second or third hand. I needed first hand information. I have benefited from what Whitesel suggest in “Growth by accident death by planning.” He admonishes leaders to have casual conversation in the corridors (Whitesel, 2004, p. 102). I do this by doing drop ins on classes, meetings, outreach activities, and occasionally I take members out to lunch or invite them to our home just to talk. Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willowcreek church, encourages pastors to develop a mole system. He writes, “Through the years I’ve worked hard to find trusted individuals who love God, love the church, love me, and are courageous enough to tell me the truth even when it’s tough to hear” (Hybels, 2008, p. 145). – Rev. Tyrone Barnette, Senior Pastor of Peace Baptist Church, TX (used by permission).

EVALUATION & 5 Common Questions Leaders Should Never Ask #AppreciativeInquiry

by WARREN BERGER, 7/2/14

“Questioning is undoubtedly a valuable leadership tool. Asking the right questions can help business leaders to anticipate changes, seize opportunities, and move their organizations in new directions.

But how you question is critical. Questions can be great for engaging and motivating people , but they can just as easily be used to confront or blame, and can shift the mood from positive to negative. “We live in the world our questions create,” says David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and a pioneer of “Appreciative Inquiry,” which holds that questions focusing on strengths and using positive language are far more useful to organizations than questions with a negative focus.

So what are some specific questions to avoid? Based on conversations with Cooperrider and several other leadership experts for my recent book, here are five examples of very common questions leaders may ask that can have the unintended effect of leading people in the wrong direction. With simple tweaks, the same questions can be used to engage people, rather than discourage them.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Whose fault is it?”

“Why don’t you do it this way?”

“Haven’t we tried this already?”

“What’s our iPad?”

Read more at … http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/5-common-questions-leaders-should-never-ask/?utm_source=Socialflow&utm_medium=Tweet&utm_campaign=Socialflow