SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & How and When Does Conversion Occur?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. (excerpted from Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey, Abingdon Press, pp. 140-143).

Does conversion occur in a flash, with miraculous transformations and heavenly encounters?  Does conversion take place over time?  Or perhaps conversion is a stumbling process, where the conversionary experience takes place in what Richard Peace calls “fits and starts.”[i]  Richard Peace, Scot McKnight and others have looked at the New Testament record and conclude that the answer is “all of the above.”[ii]  Let us look at three basic categories.

Sudden Conversion.  Sometimes conversion takes place “in a flash … a sudden point-in-time transformation based on an encounter with Jesus.”[iii]  This is the experience of Saul/Paul in Acts 9, and has became the standard way the evangelical church looks at conversion.[iv]  At the altar sudden and dramatic responses are often expected, door-to-door visits lead to a “prayer of commitment,” and mass rallies end with an appeal to come forward for conversion.[v]  While this may be required to facilitate a person on the verge of a sudden conversionary experience, not all conversions happen in this manner.  Psychologist Lewis Rambo, in an exhaustive look at religious conversion, concludes that “for the most part it (religious conversion) takes place over a period of time.”[vi]  Thus, the evangelical church may be limiting the number of wayfarers she can help by focusing too exclusively on sudden conversion.  

Progressive Conversion.[vii] A closer look at the Gospel of Mark reveals that Mark was describing a different, more gradual paradigm of conversion.  As Peace notes:

“What Mark sought to communicate in his Gospel was the process by which these twelve men gradually turned, over time, from their  culturally derived understanding of Jesus as a great teacher to the amazing discovery that he was actually the Messiah who was the Son of God. In showing how the Twelve turned to Jesus, step-by-step, Mark was inviting his readers to undergo the same journey of conversion.”[viii]

Peace concludes that “what happened to Paul, and what happened to the Twelve was identical in terms of theological understanding, though quite different experientially.”[ix]

Scot McKnight describes how progressive conversion can take place in churches that practice infant baptism.  McKnight states, “for many Christians conversion is a process of socialization,”[x] meaning that nurture is confirmed later by personal affirmation.  For example, an infant baptism or an infant dedication can be seen as a public affirmation that the church community and parents will nurture that child (i.e. via spiritual socialization).  After growing up in this environment of spiritual socialization and religious community, the grown child will be expected to ratify this effort via further instruction (i.e. catechism) and confirmation.  

Liturgical Acts and Conversion.  McKnight also notes that in some liturgical traditions, such as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, while conversion is experienced, the sacraments are more involved.  Thus, baptism, the Eucharist and “official rites of passage” are where conversionary experiences often take place for “liturgical converts.”[xi]  There is nothing to preclude that God can use such spiritual rites as touchstone experiences where metanoia (repentance) is combined with pistis (faithin order to bring about epistophe (conversion).

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints 10, 9, 8 & 7 and read more in Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Abingdon Press, 2010). Please remember, if you enjoy the free download please consider supporting the author and the publisher who invested in this book by purchasing a copy.

[i] Charles Kraft, Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin, [Colorado Springs, Colo.: International Christian Broadcasters, 1974], Second Quarter; Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels; Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 6; Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion;” Lewis R. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993).

[ii] Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels

[iii] Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 6.

[iv] Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion,” 8-9.

[v] Donald Miller’s analysis of the results of crusade evangelism in the Harvest Crusades with evangelist Greg Laurie discovered that only about 10 percent of the decisions for Christ resulted in long-term changes in personal behavior (Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the new Millennium, Berkley: University of Calif. Press, 1997), 171-172.  However, Sterling Huston’s earlier research on the Billy Graham Crusades suggested the results were six times this (Sterling W. Huston, Crusade Evangelism and the Local Church [Minneapolis, Minn.: World Wide Publishing, 1984]).  Whether these discrepancies were the result of tactics, cultures, samples or eras remains to be researched.  The answer may lie somewhere in between. The ambiguity of these results begs further analysis by researchers. 

[vi] Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, 165.

[vii] Charles Kraft introduced terminology to distinguish the different types of people that experience sudden conversion or progressive conversion.  On the on hand, Kraft saw people who undergo radical and sudden conversion as usually “first generation Christians” who previously had only been moderately influenced by Christian principles.  On the other hand, Kraft saw “second-generation Christians” as those who were raised in Christian homes and in which “there may be little or no behavioral change evident as a result of the conscious decision to personally affirm one’s commitment to the Christian community in which one has been practicing since birth” (Charles Kraft, Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin, 8.)  While the terms “first” and “second generation Christians” have been widely used, these terms cause some problems. First, Paul’s conversion was certainly radical and sudden (Acts 9), yet he had been practicing a devout lifestyle (Acts 23:6), so in Kraft’s paradigm he should have had a more progressive experience.  In addition, McKnight’s story does not fit with Kraft’s paradigm, for in the interview that concludes this chapter McKnight states that he underwent a radical behavioral change in a progressive sequence.  Thus, the value of Kraft’s insights may be that there are numerous ways that conversion is encountered and that whether a person is a first- or second-generation Christian has some, though limited, affect.  Instead, the emphasis should be upon the fluid role of the Holy Spirit in individualizing conversion to each traveler, for as John 3:7 states, “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God” (The Message).

[viii] Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, 4.

[ix] Ibid., 10.  Some may argue that progressive conversion as described in Mark was necessitated because the Holy spirit had not yet been given at the Day of Pentecost.  While this is a valid critique, Lewis Rambo’s research suggesting that most conversion is progressive (Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion, 165) may indicate that both examples are valid.

[x] Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels, 5.

[xi] Ibid., 7.

GROWTH BY ACCIDENT – DEATH BY PLANNING & The original article (before the book) that @RickWarren encouraged me to make into my book.

“Growth by Accident – Death by Planning:  Why Growing Churches Plateau” by Bob Whitesel, Oct 22, 2004.

This is a copy of the original article I wrote for Strategies For Today’s Leader Magazine. To my surprise Rick Warren emailed me and told me this was the most helpful article in the issue. This led to Abingdon Press later publishing it as the book: Growth by Accident – Death by Planning.

——— “I don’t know why we are growing.  I’m at a loss to explain it.” ———

As Yogi Berra famously intoned, “its like deja vu  all over again.”  Have you ever experienced a word, phrase or idiom spoken with such familiar expression that suddenly you were swept away to a time long ago?  As a church consultant, a recent statement by the young pastor of a rapidly growing congregation triggered such a recollection.

“I don’t know why we are growing.  I’m at a loss to explain it,” he declared.  The congregation he shepherded had grown from 100 to 1,500 attendees in five years.  Now, on the cusp of purchasing land and building their own facility, the pastor mused about how his lack of knowledge about church planning had not hampered the church’s growth to any perceivable degree.  

As the pastor stood ruminating over his predicament, I daydreamed, if but briefly, back to a similar scenario almost exactly 20 years earlier and 3,000 miles away.  On that occasion I had sat in another pastor’s office and witnessed the same bewilderment.  He was the shepherd of a fast growing Southern California congregation, and I had been sent by my doctoral facilitator to interview him as part of a research project.  “I don’t understand why this church is growing,” he confided.  “People come from all over the world and ask us what we are doing, and I don’t know what to tell them.  I can’t explain it.”  His words were so similar to my present encounter that on this nearly two decade anniversary I felt if I had been swept back to my former experience.  

Yet, the disturbing thing is that the need to know how young and rapidly churches grow was just as elusive and bewildering two decades ago as it is today.

———  Young and Growing Churches Plateau Too Soon ———

While interviewing pastors of young and growing churches I have found that the pastoral vision for the eventual size of the church usually never materializes.  In fact, young growing churches seem on average to attain only about half the size of their intentions.  Often, this lack of goal attainment begins with a marked slowing of growth and ensuing plateau.  Then, due perhaps to a disappointment in the attainment of the stated growth goals, schisms and conflicts often arise to divide the shepherds and sheep into competing offspring.

If these pastoral growth goals are imparted by God, as I believe in most circumstances they are, then these churches plateau too soon.  With this in mind, I decided to craft a list of actions that in my mind distinguish the growing periods of young churches from the customary growth plateau that follows.

———  Unplanned Strategic Decisions ———

The accompanying list is based on the thesis that unplanned or “accidental” strategic decisions are often made by young and growing churches, and that theses decisions lead to growth.  Their leaders employ many of these strategies not because of familiarity with their potential, but because of necessity brought on my the church’s circumstances.  Thus these decisions are not planned strategies, but strategies that often occur by accident, owing their genesis to circumstances.  These unplanned strategic decisions are driven, not by knowledge, but by the church’s environment.

As the church grows the leaders often become perplexed over the causes of this extraordinary growth, and seek to uncover causal factors.  Because the factors are so elusive and since many church leaders are not trained in the literature and axioms of church growth, they often become bewildered.  Soon this bewilderment surfaces in sermons and casual conversations; belying an inner conundrum over the forces involved.

Eventually and typically, the leaders of the young and growing church begin to read church growth books, periodicals and case studies.  Often the leaders begin to make strategic planning decisions that are similar to other churches they perceive to be in their situation.  Because the majority of larger churches have adopted strategic plans that have plateaued their congregations, the young church follows suit.  And herein rise the factors that inhibit growth.  

———  Our Future May Lie in Our Past ———

It is my thesis that it is not planning that is wrong, but rather planning that does not fully understand the factors that contributed to growth in the first place.

Thus, I have graphed three types of factors:

1.) Factors that I see contributing to growth in young and growing congregations, 

2.) The strategic actions that are typically and erroneously taken (which plateau a church),

3.) Followed by solutions that I believe are more in keeping with the factors that contributed to growth in the first place.

——— Let’s Not Forget the Holy Spirit’s Participation ———

Before we undertake our list, let me acknowledge in the strongest terms, the role of the Holy Spirit in all church growth.  Because church growth is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-9), no real and enduring growth can occur without His participation.  Granted some churches briefly grow by purely secular powers and processes, but the churches I am referring to are those that have God’s unseen hand of blessing clearly upon them.  As a result, I believe this unseen hand has led them to employ certain fundamental and God-derived principles that have resulted in growth.  I cannot stress too highly the indispensable nature of the Holy Spirit’s participation in growth.

However in this article, I am addressing the fashionable strategies that often replace the God-derived tactics that contributed to growth in the first place.  

——— Why Growing Churches Plateau: And What You Can Do About It ———

Factors that Cause Initial Growth (in young churches)Erroneous Strategic Decisions that Lead to PlateauingCorrective Steps to Regain Initial Growth
Focus is on meeting the needs of the congregants.Focus is increasingly on the needs of the staff.Make planning decisions based upon congregational needs (via surveys, focus groups, etc.) … not on the conveniences of the staff (which are usually expressed more vocally and assertively than congregational needs).
Celebration  Convenience: multiple church celebrations are held at varying times.Waning Celebration Convenience: celebrations are combined together in larger facilities.  As a result fewer options are offered for congregants (but convenience increases for the staff).Maintain as many multiple celebrations as feasible in order to offer as many convenient worship times as possible.
Prayer focus in on the unchurched and dechurched, (Dechurched is defined as those who have terminated their attendance elsewhere due to some real or perceived hurt, conflict, etc.)Prayer focus in on church attendees.  Most of the prayer is centered on the personal needs of a burgeoning congregation.Employ 50/50 prayer (see “A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church”).  50% of the prayer focus addresses congregational needs while the other 50% is faithfully reserved to address the needs of the unchurched and dechurched.
Urgency in prayer due to potential for failure.Institutionalization of prayer takes place.  Prayer forms are standardized and systematized, especially in the church celebration.  Security in circumstances robs prayer of its urgency.Don’t wait for a crisis to reinvigorate the prayer life of a church.  Consider the enormity and significance of the task you are undertaking: the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19)
Low overhead due to rented facilities.Dramatic increase in overhead due to purchased or constructed facilities.Rent longer than you think you need to.  This will place hardship upon your staff, but increase your financial viability and future flexibility.   Read “When Not To Build” by Ray Bowman.
Rented facilities are usually multi-functional.Owned facilities are often segregated into activity specific spaces; i.e. immovable pews in an auditorium, small Sunday School rooms that cannot open up into larger facilities, etc.Retain flexibility in your facilities.  When it is time to build, employ architects who build malls, college classrooms and theatres; not those who primarily build churches.
Budget is based on money in hand (i.e. past performance).Budget is based upon projections of continued growth.  If growth slows, fiscal flexibility will tighten quickly and dramatically, often leading to conflict and friction.Budget more conservatively than you feel you should.  Church leaders are often optimists, but basing budgets on anticipated performance can be reckless.  In addition, lower numbers can be deceptive; e.g. a church that was able in the past to increase a $100,000 budget by 10% will find it exponentially more difficult to increase a $500,000 budget by 10%. 
Experimentation is encouraged.  Almost all theologically non-compromising ideas are considered.The church begins to stay with “what has worked in the past,” even if that is the immediate past.  This often leads to incipient traditionalism.Foster an environment of experimentation and exploration. Rapid changes in cultural predilections and preferences require this.
Housecleaning.  Ideas that don’t work are quickly abandoned.  Limited resources and the precariousness of the church’s survival creates this situation.Programs and ideas that may not be productive are given extra time “to develop.”  Jesus’ parable on repentance (Luke 13:1-9) is often misdirected to rationalize extending the life of unproductive programs.Be prepared to use vigorous analysis and empirical evidence to confirm productive programming. Often supporting evidence of a program’s viability is anecdotal.  Look for clear evidence of productivity (James 3:17).
Dysfunctional people become functional.  All people, regardless of physical, social or economic dysfunction are actively recruited.  Prior leadership experience in another church is not required.Functionally adept people are actively recruited.  Prior leadership experience in another church is highly valued. Unproductive programming is often unintentionally cross-pollinated.Inaugurate a lay-training system to mentor dysfunctional people into functional and productive lives in both church and society.
Staff has low educational experience in their ministry field.  Thus, they do what they “feel” is right.Staff becomes trained in the “classical” fields of theology, Christian Education, church music, and ministry.  These newly acquired skills are probably those that are practiced in influential, but plateaued, churches.Embrace 50/50 Learning. Learning engendered in the “classical” milieu of seminaries, workshops and Bible Colleges, must be tempered by 50% of the learning coming from alternative sources such as non-accredited institutes (e.g. the Wagner Institute), workshops and secular experience.
Small groups are not needed.  The church is driven by the “event status” of the celebration.Small groups, though needed, are not developed, because the “event status” of the worship celebration drives the church’s emphasis and reputation.  Because intimacy is missing due to the lack of an expansive network of small groups, people feel the church is “too cold” or “not personal enough” and they go elsewhere.A celebration event can sustain a church only initially, and soon must be accompanied by a network of small groups that encourage intimacy and commitment.  All types of small groups should be developed, including adult Sunday School classes, leadership teams, home groups, ministry groups,  interest groups, etc..
Christ is exalted as the instigator and sustainer of growth.  The miraculous nature of growth inspires awe and a sense of the supernatural.Leadership principles are credited as the cause of growth.Fully understand the factors that contributed to growth in the first place and adapt these God-derived strategies to current needs.

The strategic approach I have outlined may not be for everyone.  Some churches will chafe under the thought of being so flexible, creative, and adaptable.  But for those young and growing churches that were birthed in a milieu of cultural adaptability, an understanding of the God-given factors that initially caused their growth, along with an adaptation of them to the modern context, may be necessary to grow into the congregation God desires it to be.

(If you enjoyed this article, consider buying the book: Growth by Accident – Death by Planning

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & Adding online worship options is preferred by 57% of people 55 and under. Here is a chart that shows how the harvest fields have moved.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel, 8/11/22. Take a look at the chart below from my seminar, Growing the Post-pandemic Chruch. On the fourth line you will find research which research reveals two important points:

  • Churches offering only onsite worship are preferred by 50% (of all ages)

  • Churches offering both onsite AND online worship: are preferred by 57% (of ages 55 & under)
© the seminar, Growing the Post-Pandemic Chruch by Bob Whitesel PhD

This chart shows the harvest field has moved with the majority now preferring churches that offer both online and on site options. In my seminars (and book) I give many reasons for having onsite AND online options. Here are just a few:

  • People who “move away” can still enjoy and participate in the worship service to which they have become accustomed.

  • People with a disability may be able to attend an online church expression and participate more effectively.

  • People who are home-ridden due to illness or age can attend.

  • People who simply resonate with your “church’s personality” can attend your church.

  • Typically people will only drive 15 minutes to a church. But with an online option people from “anywhere on the globe, for any of the above reasons” can join you for worship.

For more reasons and ideas see Growing the Post-pandemic Church: A Leadership.Church Guide.

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & 7 ways churches can make digital natives feel welcome.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 7/11/22.

Digital natives are people raised in a world in which digital communication is the main form of communication. Rather than radio, TV or the telephone, the main way digital natives expect to communicate is over the Internet.

Yet, 30 years of church research has shown me that churches will adopt online communication—but will not raise it to the level of their onsite communication. This causes a problem in seven areas. Here are those areas with suggested solutions.

1. Foremost, those who tune in to online church services usually feel second class.

The leaders speak, the vast majority of the time, to the onsite attendees. Only occasionally do we mention the online attendees. This lack of parity can create the feeling that the onsite is a preferred class of congregant.

2. We communicate a biblical theology that prioritizes face-to-face communication.

Oftentimes church leaders will say a variation of: “There’s nothing like being together face to face.” But if we look at a Bible-based theology, we see that most of the Old and New Testament were not communicated face to face, but by Spirit-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17) writings.

Whether in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or more than 700 languages today, most people learned about the miracles of Jesus, not by being face to face with the miracles He performed, but by reading an account of it. Little wonder that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to empower us in our communication the message secondhand (John 14:2616:15).

The Holy Spirit is still alive and vibrant today, and can anoint our online communications as well. If you’re going to embrace a biblical theology, consider the theological principles of Spirit-anointed online communication.

3. Fully reaching out to guests and getting to know them is largely missing in online experiences.

Almost weekly I analyze online services for clients and colleagues. Repeatedly, I observe they are staffed with only a minimal crew. There might be one or sometimes two people.

Yet most churches tell me that they have a sizable online audience. One colleague has about 80 people in person. But his church reaches double that weekly that through their online service. Yet he only has two people designated to interact with the online congregation.

Now ask yourself, would you have just one or two greeters for an onsite service of 80? So why do we minimize our online workers when online watchers are often double our onsite size? Perhaps we do so because it’s “out of sight out of mind.” Maybe we do so because we have an unrecognized bias toward seeing people’s faces.

Or it can be argued we are unsure how many people are actually watching, because some of the data might be generated by a brief click. Regardless, we need to look at where the sheep are, and shepherd them. Appropriately, Jesus gave us the parable of the good shepherd (Matt. 18:10-14) who leaves the 99 to reach out to the one. And, Jesus tells us to see what the “Lord of the harvest” has sent … and pray for more laborers (Matt. 9:38).

4. This brings us to prayer.

Prayer opportunities are not usually as vibrant or prevalent during online worship services. Flavil Yeakley, a researcher at the University of Illinois, showed that people come to a church because of “needs” in their lives. These needs can be ranked as because of a) grief/bereavement, b) health problems, c) marital/family problems and d) financial problems.

When visitors come with these needs they are usually looking for someone who will sympathize and then pray for them. So, if you have hundreds of people watching your service online, how many do you have designated to pray for their needs they bring?

In my observation, to be a healthy church you need about 20 percent of your service attendance deployed in prayer ministry. If you have 100 online attendees, do you have 20 people reaching out to them online? And it’s not just about praying on Sunday morning, but it also means offering to them synchronous or asynchronous prayer chats during the week.

5. Online ministry reaches people who have physical challenges that make it uncomfortable for them to attend church.

This means many people cannot physically attend the church because of health or physical challenges. But they can tune in. And, we know that people with physical challenges can often feel second class.

Are we contributing to their feeling of being second class when they turn to our online services? Recently a series of articles drew attention to how people needing a wheelchair are often left in planes after everyone leaves. It makes them feel singled out and uncomfortable.

We too often make people feel singled out or uncomfortable when they visit our online churches. Are they feeling like they can worship with their eyes on the Lord and without people’s eyes on them?

6. Online ministry reaches people who have moved away.

Another type of physical challenge is for those who may have attended for many years, but because of family or vocation now live in another city. They often miss the smiling faces, the familiar leaders and the songs of a church.

Again, they can be made to further feel second class when leaders say, “I’m glad you’re here with us. Isn’t it better being together face to face?” For these people who still feel a strong historical and/or family connection to the church, this can make them feel like a hidden figure and even possibly an outcast.

To address this a Presbyterian church in Ohio, after hosting my seminar “Growing the Post-Pandemic Church,” decided to let congregants come by the camera after church and greet those online. The camera became a communication avenue between current and former attendees.

7. Online communication is often seen as a stopgap, post-pandemic measure . . . when in reality it’s the future.

Technology is pushing the quantity and quality of human communication. Online experiences now include holograms and immersive experiences. And in these new digital frontiers more of evangelism and discipleship will take place online.

In fact, some churches already are entirely online. As a professor, I couldn’t imagine such a scenario when I was told over 20 years ago that education would one day be largely online.

I was an onsite professor and enjoying the face-to-face community of my students. But here we are today with the majority of students getting their education online. It’s time for the church to see the future and begin to treat online ministry with equality.

Bob WhiteselBob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is a sought after speaker, church health consultant and award-winning writer of 14 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth. He holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is http://www.Leadership.church.Learn More »

Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/7-ways-churches-can-make-digital-natives-feel-welcome/

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & WFH? Do this one thing to retain your employees and avoid the Great Resignation by Bob Whitesel PhD

Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/wfh-do-this-one-thing-to-retain-your-employees-and-avoid-the-great-resignation/?utm_source=BLC&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EMNA&utm_content=2022-04-07

PASTORAL TRANSITIONS & 5 Reasons Why a Retiring Pastor is Not the Best Person to Choose Their Successor: strings attached, mentor-mentee history, cultural changes, rarity of exceptional leaders & legacy. Read the article to learn why.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/21/21.

In my consulting practice, I’ve analyzed hundreds of church transitions. And, I’m preparing a Doctor of Ministry course for a nationally respected seminary on this subject. I’ve observed that many times a retiring pastor often puts forth, even informally, their successor. This can be a misstep for five reasons.

  1. Strings Attached: The retiring pastor has vested interest in the selection of a successor. The retiring pastor has financial relationships (loans, housing, benefits) and personal relationships (friends, enemies and even status, e.g. titles such as “pastor emeritus” or “founding pastor”), that can cloud, even subconsciously their selection.
  2. Mentor-mentee: The successor has operated in a subordinate relationship to the retiring pastor and the successor may have trouble transforming that relationship. This especially becomes problematic when crises arise and the subordinate may subconsciously acquiesce to the former leader’s view on the crisis.
  3. Culture Changes: The retiring pastor often seeks a successor that will reach a younger generation, a different ethnicity or another such culture. But theretiring pastors often tell me they select a successor, “Because I get along with them.” This is good in a subordinate. But this can be self defeating when you are trying to equip this leader to reach a different culture.
  4. Exceptional Leaders are Rare: The subordinate often will not have the exceptional character and gifts to lead an exceptional church. Leading a large and/or growing church is one of the most skilled and supernaturally empowered jobs on earth. And I’ve seen that men and women who can do so are very few and far between. Often they will not be found in your existing congregation. The best leader may be hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, and possibly in another denomination. The best solution is to use nation-wide search firm to cast a broader net.
  5. Legacy, because if things go bad later you may be blamed. Most pastors want to retire with a legacy that focuses on their successes. When a retiring pastor gets involved in the successor selection, that retiree’s legacy is tied to another.

Check out my other writings on this topic on how to survive (and thrive in) pastoral transitions. And, if you are intersted in auditing or earning seminary credit studying better church transitions, email me.

Read the entire article at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/5-reasons-why-a-retiring-pastor-is-not-the-best-person-to-choose-their-successor/

CHANGE & My video introduction to “The 4 Forces that Control Change” 

Here is a video introduction to articles I have written (for anyone) and assignments (for students in LEAD 600, etc.) that deal with controlling change (which we call theories of changing). It introduces the viewer to “The Four Forces that Control Change” and how to manage each.

https://video.wordpress.com/embed/IXdD6Gvt?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=1&loop=0&preloadContent=metadata&muted=0&playsinline=0&controls=1&cover=1

©️Bob Whitesel 2017, used by permission only.

Articles mentioned in the video as well as additional articles are available at the following links:

Download the Church Executive article by Bob Whitesel here:  ARTICLE_Four Forces-Whitesel (Church Executive Article)

Fownload the article in the Journal of the Great Commission Research Network here: article-whitesel-gcrn-toward-a-holistic-and-postmodernal-theory-of-change-in-cg-literature-gcrn . To subscribe and/or receive more information about The Great Commission Research Journal (the new name) click here: http://journals.biola.edu/gcr/

And find more “theories of changing” articles on ChurchLeadership.wiki here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/?s=four+forces

WORSHIP & How to tell if it is organic

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 4/27/17.

In the Abingdon Press book ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church I described characteristics of worship that promote an organic atmosphere.  Here is an updated brief list:

Worship flows from the audience to the stage, not the other way around.

  1. Inorganic worship: This is usually manufactured with moving lights in the haze of an artificial fog. It may be lead by the worship team with admonitions of “Come on, let’s praise Him” or “Clap your hands for Him.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done all of those things (too many times to list).
  2. Organic worship: But, I have observed worship that is more natural and flowing from the Holy Spirit originates from the audience and moves across the stage, not the other way around.

The focus is on what is going on inside of your head and heart, not what is going on on the stage.

  1. Inorganic worship: Often focuses on beautiful slides/videos behind words with moving lights on the walls and the audience.
  2. Organic worship: The focus is on what God is doing in each congregants’ head and heart.  The lights on the stage often come from the back of stage, illuminating the worship team as silhouettes so the faces are not illuminated (so that the expressions of the worship team do not distract).

For more see ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church.

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & My latest article published by @BiblicalLeader Magazine: Vision Statements & How to Adjust Them to Grow a Post-pandemic Church (plus pics of 2021 Missional Coaches Reunion in Orlando).


Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: To grow the post-pandemic church you must adjust your Vision Statement, especially if you have …

  • aging buildings,
  • plateaued/declining attendance,
  • overbuilt sanctuaries &
  • underfunded staffs. 

In my newly publishing article in Biblical Leadership Magazine, I explain the importance of post-pandemic adjustments to your Vision Statements in an article called: “Vision Statements: How they are underused, overemphasized and mostly ineffective.”

Check it out.  Then, check out pictures below from our 2021 Missional Coaches Reunion in Orlando as well as pictures from my seminars from the Midwest to the South.

And don’f forget –

  • If you or someone you know wants to join 44 other grads who have shadowed me in my consulting work,
  • Only 5 shadow me each year,
  • But Missional Coaches applications are now OPEN (scholarships to the first 3 who request this)>

MISSIONAL COACHES APPLICATION > https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2022MissionalCoaches

Bob
BOB WHITESEL, DMIN, PHD
COACH, CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AWARD-WINNING WRITER/SCHOLAR

MULTICULTURAL & Steps to grow multicultural congregations (& reconciliation too) #HealthyChurchBook #reMIXbook

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I created a new typology for understanding multicultural churches: The 5 Types of Multicultural Churches and ranked each based on how well they create reconciliation (to God) and reconciliation (to one another). See my address to academics and popular articles on this here:

MULTICULTURAL & 8 Steps to Transitioning to 1 of 5 Models of a Multicultural Church #GCRNJournal by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., The Great Commission Research Journal, Biola University, 3/1/17.

UNITY & 5 ways church unity creates a powerful influence in your city by Bob Whitesel, chapter “The Church as a Mosiax: Exercise for Cultural Diversity” in

re;MIX Transitioning Your Church to Living Color (Abingdon Press, 2017).

The Church as a Mosaic: Exercises for Cultural Diversity, A Guest Post by Dr. Bob Whitesel (Dr. Bob Whitesel explores what it would look like for the church to be variety of ethnicities and culturesoverview courtesy of Ed Stetzer on The Exchange, Christianity Today, 2/10/14.

If Reconcilation are the goals, then one of the best strategies is to integrate a church rather than just plant or support an autonomous congregation (and in the push both congregations apart).

In the chapter I contributed to the book, Gospel after Christendom: New voices, New cultures, New expressions (ed. Bolger, Baker Academic Books, 2012), that before St. Thomas’s Church in Sheffield, England became England’s largest multicultural congregation … it was first a multicultural merger between a small Baptist church and a small Church of England congregation.

The power of mergers has been under estimated and underutilized in creating multicultural churches.

And, with so many small struggling mono-cultural congregations, the idea of merging two homogeneous congregations to create a multicultural congregation needs to be the strategy of more churches and denominations.

The power of mergers has been under estimated and underutilized in creating multicultural churches.

See my book The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart (Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013) for ideas and the chapter “The Church as a Mosiax: Exercise for Cultural Diversity.” You can read an overview courtesy of Ed Stetzer on The Exchange, in Christianity Today.

Also, read this article for more ideas:

Integrating Sunday Morning Church Service — A Prayer Answered

by Sandhya Dirks, National Public Radio, Weekend Edition, 8/11/18.

… Which brings us to Pastor Kyle Brooks and Pastor Bernard Emerson. They knew creating an inter-racial church was not going to be easy, but they kept kicking the idea around. They would take long walks through Oakland’s Dimond District and dream about it out loud. Maybe at some point in the future, they thought.

Then a year ago, Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and they felt like they could no longer wait.

First, they had to break it to their congregations.

“I saw it on facebook, and instantly I typed back, ‘oh my god, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for,’” said LaSonya Brown, who had been attending Emerson’s church, The Way, for about a year. “I’ll be the first one to join,” she said.

Brown was raised in a black church with only two white people in it. One was her godfather, who had married into the black community, the other was a white woman who would “speak in tongues, and then translate the tongue.”

“I never knew her name, but I’ll never forget her,” Brown said. Despite it being different than what she had known before, Brown welcomed the idea of an inclusive congregregation. “I think it was something that I wanted, but I didn’t realize that I wanted it until I saw his post,” she said.

At first she thought it was going to happen instantly, just everyone showing up to church together. But it is not that easy to flip the switch on hundreds of years of segregated worship.

“It’s much more complicated than that,” Brown said. “You don’t think that your life is different than somebody else,” but it can be. In an ideal world, she said, people want to think about what they have in common and not their differences.

But we do not live in that ideal world of race relations. “There’s a lot of things that we don’t do in common,” she said. “But we do want to know how to be together.”

Each church individually went through months of workshops and classes, owning up to their own fears about what merging would mean.

Many people in Pastor Brooks’ white congregation were afraid of being uncomfortable. There was a feeling of discomfort around everything from different hymns, to the service being in a different neighborhood, to different styles of worship. There was also discomfort in having to face up to their responsibility, as white people, in ongoing American racism. Everyone in the church was excited about the merger, but that did not make it easy.

Pastor Emerson’s congregation was also supportive, and not just because they are largely family. The black congregants of The Way had different fears, fears that they might not be welcomed. Emerson said some of them asked, “will they accept us for who we are?”

Read more at … https://www.npr.org/2018/08/11/637552132/integrating-sunday-morning-church-service-a-prayer-answered

TECHNOLOGY & Why the secret is accessibility, not control. #MinistryMattersMagazine @BobWhitesel #ORGANIXbook #GenZ

Whitesel Ministry Matters page full

(article continues)

Modern Miscue: Seek to control networks.

The modern leader has lived most of life in a realm of “command and control.”  Command and control is necessary in crisis situations, such as warfare or firefighting.  For Baby Boomers born after World War II, the command and control way of leadership became a popular leadership style in business and the church.

Modern leaders of this generation believe the way to succeed is to control through power, rewards, and punishments.  Slow cycles that grew out of an agricultural economy began to affect business principles, where the agricultural approach of “command and control” began to be applied to the business world. Like breaking a horse, “The worker must be trimmed to fit the job,” Frederick Taylor famously intoned. Subsequently, modern leaders bristle at the thought of losing control.  When wrestling with the freedom found in emerging networks, the modern leader tends to try to exert control through ownership. In the ever democratizing world of electronic communication, control through ownership is increasingly difficult.

Modern leaders attempt to take possession of networks that shape them.  In business, this often means controlling access by charging a fee and thus reinforcing a modern notion of ownership. In the church, we may do this by restricting access to those times and places the modern leader deems fitting.  Former Silicon Valley executive Rusty Rueff noted, “Movie theatres have long tried to control mobile phone signal in their movie theatres. They say it is because it disturbs people.  Really, they don’t want teens text-messaging their friends that the movie is dreadful.” From the days of passing notes in church, to text-messaging a friend far removed from the church sanctuary, church leaders have also tried to limit the location and occasion of electronic communication.

Millennial leaders who have grown up in the expanding world of communication networks, view these networks as public property.  And, to restrict access or monopolize them seems tyrannical.  Modern leaders may recall similar unfair restrictions.  At one time, restaurants and businesses charged a fee to use the restrooms. Charging a fee or otherwise restricting network access should seem just as illogical to leaders today.

Millennial Attitude: Networks should be accessible

Rueff, who serves as an advisor to the president at Purdue University, recently showed a picture of a classroom at that university.  Of the almost 100 students assembled, every one was sitting behind a laptop computer.  “Think of when this will happen in your church,” Rusty Rueff, the former Silicon Valley executive, said.  “What do you do in church?  Is there a place for those who want to communicate with laptops?  Or would an usher ask them to put their computer away?”

Immediate, Even Critical Feedback.  In a millennial world where unfettered networking is routine, millennial church leaders are starting to accommodate instant feedback.  Some young churches have an “ask assertive environment” where those who disagree are encouraged to state their differences of opinion, even during the sermon.  Millennial congregations such as Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis regularly invite questions or challenges from the audience during the sermon. Even millennial megachurches such as Mars Hill Church in Granville, Michigan, sometimes welcome a congregant on the stage to ask the preacher questions during the sermon (since the audience is too vast for everyone to shout out a query). Leo Safko, author of the Social Media Bible calls this “a fundamental shift in power … no longer does the consumer trust corporate messages … they want to be educated by, hear their news from, and get their product reviews by people they know and trust.”

At recent conferences I keynoted, participants were given a keypad so they could rate the presentation and/or their understanding of the content in real time. Even now increasingly smaller smartphones allow electronic feedback as presentations unfold.  Though modern leaders might initially resist such quick and honest feedback in the church, the day is not far off when immediate, even critical feedback will be visually displayed in our churches in much the same manner that words are displayed to a song.

Fact checking and further research.  Allowing laptops and smart-phones into churches may at first seem disruptive, but it will enhance understanding as it allows checking of facts and further research on a topic. I remember sitting in college classes, balancing a three-inch (or so it seemed) textbook on one knee, while holding in my left hand a large diagram of the human organs.  Amid this balancing act, I tried desperately to write what the professor was stating. Today, multiple items sit neatly on computer desktops where only a flick of a mouse pad is required to separate sources or conduct further research.

Nurturing Accessibility

The accessible church describes a church that is accessible via as many social networks as possible.

The accessible church creates networks that reach out to those in need.  Meeting the needs of the disenfranchised is a priority among millennial leaders. Expanding network access should not be limited to just Christians who attend a church, but to those outside as well. One congregation in Edmonton, Alberta started a church plant in an Internet café. Unexpectedly, the free Internet access they offered met the needs of a large Asian-American community in the neighborhood that did not have computer access.  As a result this accessible church in an Internet café created an ongoing network with a growing Asian-American community.

The accessible church fosters instantaneous research and feedback at teaching venues, including during the sermon.Because Christianity is an experience- and knowledge-based faith, access to information can foster a better understanding about God. The accessible church can offer Internet access at teaching times such as during sermons, Sunday school, committee meetings, etc.  Many modern leaders bristle at the thought of laptops and Smartphones being used during church, but so did professors several years ago (only to lose the battle).  At one time sound systems, video projectors, guitars and even pipe-organs were banned from many churches. Though uncomfortable at first, new ways of communication and exploration will emerge, first among these cutting-edge millennial congregations, and eventually among everyone else.   When speaker Stan Toler speaks to younger audiences he often uses instant messaging so attendees can ask their questions via a Smartphone while he is still speaking.  He then displays their questions on the screen and answers them during his lecture.

The accessible church provides on-line communities to augment its off-line fellowship. Online communities “felt the connection and affinity they experienced in these groups fully justified their designations as a form of community.”  Online communities often enhance off-line friendships. A church offering a 12-step program can create an online group in which participants can dialogue between meetings. Groups, committees, Sunday School classes and small groups can create, share and edit documents via Web-based word processors, such as Google Docs.  These online documents allow collaborative work (such as designing a Bible study) prior to face-to-face meetings. Online communities can allow those who have special needs or limited time/resources to still feel like full participants in the community.  In the same way that Robert Schuller continued a life-long ministry to drive-in worshippers because a physically-challenged lady’s husband requested it, online communities can engage people who might be challenged in their ability to physically connect with a church.

Leaders having little experience with online communities may wonder about their cohesiveness, value and permanency, but those who have seen them in action know that increasing accessibility to the church community only enhances the faith experience.

This article is excerpted and adapted from Organix: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church, Chapter 6, “Networks.” Used by permission and it can also be found in Ministry Matters magazine.

#GCRN2018

SUNDAY CHURCH HACKS & On your onsite and online “communication card” start by asking for prayer requests (rather than asking the person for contact information). Contact info can follow, but show the person you are putting their needs first, rather than a need for information.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Hurting people who are seeking you out, may not yet be ready to share identifiable data. On your “connection card” (virtual or hard copy) do not require …

  • phone numbers
  • email addresses
  • physical addresses
  • even names

You can ask for this information, but do not make it required (usually identified by an asterisk “*” .

Click on the picture below to enlarge an example from a client. This example includes changes to make a communication card more focused on the needs of others.

#GuestServices101 #ChurchGuests101

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & The meaning of life, death and the afterlife will increasingly be on people’s minds and must be addressed in church teachings. #eReformation. #GrowingThePostPandemicChurchBook

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., excerpted from Growing the Post-Pandemic Church, 8/9/20.

Eschatology, the study of one’s final destiny, will be of increasing interest as the world grows smaller and waves of illnesses travel the globe at increasing speeds. 

The problem:

In recent years the church shifted away from eschatology, to topics of how to live a better life here and now. And while that may be important, it is eternal questions that will begin to dominate people’s interest as catastrophes circle the globe. 

The solution:  

Start preparing now: churches need to be prepared with orthodoxy and in clarity to address the issues of life, death and the afterlife.  

Remember …

Jesus told us, “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so, it is with you. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly” (Mark 13:28-29, MSG).

Christ knew today’s catastrophes would happen. He is not surprised (John 16:30, Rev. 2:23). So, as knowledge of a fig tree tells an orchardist about the coming season, so too must Christian leaders discern the season we are in. It is time for church leaders to carefully adapt electronic tools, the way it once did the printing press, to better communicate the Good News.

Click to learn about the “9 other marks of the eReformation” in Growing the Post-Pandemic Church.