I get emails (and insomnia) —
Jay…I ran across your thoughts on church leadership. If one wants to be trained in how to lead a church to grow, especially a CoC preacher like myself, where would you recommend? Preferably, I would want to sit at the feet of someone who has grown the church, not just read books on it. This has been the burning question on my heart the last few months. I can’t think of any resources except for outside the church. I’m lost. Loved your article and appreciate you bringing up a needed topic.
I’m not entirely sure myself, so this is going to be a little scattershot. I’d LOVE it if the readers could add to my late-night brainstorming.
1. I would find one or more preachers in settings similar to my own – urban, rural, blue collar, college educated, growing or declining community, whatever – who’ve pulled it off, and I’d then travel to visit him and his key elders and staff members for a weekend and a day or two of note taking. I’d considering bringing along the people at my church essential to success — key elders and staff members, most likely. I might even use my iPhone to transcribe the conversation for those who can’t make the trip. (And, yes, I’ve done every bit of this. It helps.)
2. There are professional consultants as well, such as Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer, who work outside of our tradition. Subscribe to their materials via email or RSS. (I do.) Rainer has a service he charges for. It might be worth the cost. Subscribe to the free service for a while and then decide.
3. I might look up Paul Borden, the guy who wrote Direct Hit and ask him the same questions, and he consults with churches. He may know people who work in similar environments to your own.
4. I’d call David Wray at ACU and ask his advice. David is very smart about this sort of stuff. He may not be the guy you want, but he’ll know who you need to talk to.
5. I would speak with Carlus Gupton. He is very well qualified. I heard him speak on church growth several years ago and was very impressed. He’s part of the Church of Christ tradition and one of our most credentialed experts in church growth. He also has an email/RSS subscription service for new materials.
6. Study materials on church plants and missions and convince your congregation to think that way. Talk to the good people at Kairos and read Ed Stetzer’s materials on planting churches and revitalizing churches. There’s been a lot of serious research on why plants succeed and fail. And if your church can think of itself as a plant, good things will surely follow.
In short: network, network, network. Get on the road and visit these people. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn for the price of a phone call – and how much more you can learn over lunch or if you schedule an afternoon visit following a Sunday morning church visit to watch the church dynamics. Meet with church staff afterwards and lead a discussion on how they do it.
Somewhere in the mix, you’ll surely find a mentor/coach to help you through the process. In fact, you may even develop a committee of advisers who advise you as you go. (And when you figure it out, be prepared to pay it forward by mentoring others.)
Carefully distinguish between (a) building a better church that steals sheep and (b) being a conduit for God grace and love that draws the lost to Jesus.
Also, do not buy the silly arguments against the institutional church, against being attractional, etc. Don’t bother trying the house church model. These do not grow as fast as well-led traditional churches that have a clear vision, good leadership, and a culture of following the leader. There are exceptions, but not many. George Barna notwithstanding, I don’t think the future is in house churches. The future is in unity in fact. Being more divided is not the solution.
The First Century church had one congregation per city that met in house churches, because Roman law wouldn’t allow them to gather in public venues or build big church buildings until the time of Constantine in the Fourth Century. One eldership per city. One church. Meeting as a single congregation when they could by a riverbank or in an amphitheater when the local leaders were willing to look the other way. Meeting in homes the rest of the time. Very much like a modern church with a robust small groups program (which is essential to what you want to see happen, but not enough).
This is not easy because it requires your congregation to give up a consumer culture and submit to their leaders. And it requires elders who are not only on board with the goals but with the process of getting there — and the costs. You cannot grow a church around your elders. Either they are on board or it’s hopeless. Get new, better elders or find a new congregation to work with.
Be clear on your goals, and share your vision with the church. In fact, develop the vision with the entire congregation, rather than imposing one from on high. And if your vision requires a break from our traditions (it will need to), be upfront about it. Don’t leave your members waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then again, be open to the Spirit’s leading. And if the Spirit takes you in an unexpected direction, the church should be warned that the King lives in heaven and sometimes has plans unlike our own. Coach your members to be open to the Spirit’s leading.
Pray. Get your whole church to pray with you.