Paradigm shifts and sometimes radical changes are the norm for God, but we tend to stay within comfortable spheres of stability and predictability. Further, when we start tampering with the idea of rethinking how it is we do church, we not only find great resistance, we can expect an avalanche of criticism. Over my 32 years of attending and visiting many churches, little seems to change; yet, I also see at times a pendulum swing to the opposite extreme: leadership changing church just for the sake of changing it.
When you look at the business model changes of HP and Netflix of recent weeks, you see that they did the right thing in wanting to change a business model that was doomed to lose corporate revenue and profitability. What these 2 examples failed to consider is that change should be well thought out and must be truly strategic, with mapped out goals, and milestone achievement checkpoints. HP and Netflix haphazardly changed the course of their companies and cost one CEO his job, and the other having to make a public apology stating that he did not think properly strategize.
So—why should the church rethink anything? I mean. . .most churches have positive cash flow, they are happy with their Sunday morning activities, and, though the church may not be growing in numbers, contentment abounds. However, all of these make sense in religion but are illogical for the Jesus we serve. The Jesus we serve is not only about total abandonment, not knowing what to expect next from the Spirit’s prompting, but Jesus is building a church who will be the light of this world set on a hill—a bride joining with her Husband, and a people who bring down a glory from heaven through their walk—that all may know that they are the bondslaves of their Lord, bearing His mark.
There is a remnant of people in this day and in the church system who have a void, an aching, and even disappointment of what church is suppose to be. This remnant knows that things must change in our local churches if we are to achieve the VERY big plans God has reserved for us in the last days. I mean. . .look at our church services lately. . .do we really look like the glorious last day church?
The case study for me today is a church I went to in Wilkesboro, NC, this morning. This is a church and ministry that is always willing to shatter church paradigms. They are not afraid to be expressive in worship, be somewhat unstructured, and to let spontaneity reign. There are things I like about this church/ministry: they created a genre of their own progressive worship music. . .check. I have CDs of the guest worship leader, who also lives nearby in this rural foothills town…check. They are not afraid to be expressive in worship. . .check. They are trying to do church different. . .check. But it all falls apart from there for me.
My issue with this particular church gathering is as follows: Dancing at the altar is TOO expressive and pretty DISTRACTING to say the least—I really did not know the human body could move that way. Corporate worship was pretty non-existent, with teens on PDAs in the back, some adults on a couch next to the coffee shop in conversation, and disengaged people in rocking chairs in the back. Seems like dysfunction run amuck. So, I am game. . .what do you have in your changed paradigm?
The one thing I expected from this church was our local custom of general friendliness. But no, this church changed the paradigm with a new, man-made model that resulted in a people who cannot breakout to even do the simple things of greeting visitors, let alone create real relationships. Yep, they did the traditional service break to greet visitors and not one person greeted my lovely wife, 3 daughters, and our guest—even though they were close to the front and surrounded by church members. I have watched their worship leaders in the past and have always noticed that they stay to themselves and do not greet people they do not know. This is an oddity for our area and almost every local church. Again, a paradigm shifts but matters are even worse than the former state.
This brand of worship is progressive, and this music artist is somewhat famous, but our popularity on earth is never an indicator of our popularity in heaven. Worshipping with anointed songs and talent have nothing to do with how well we are building His church, though it will aid in that building. So, this church gets my vote for one of the unfriendliness church you can visit. Unfortunately, it is a prophetic type of church with music I have more of an affinity to than any other local church. Thus, the frustration with misguided men of God who do not understand the importance of people, and willing to put preference before edification.
I am an analyst by trade so it is normal for me to look back from a different perspective and see how we do church. If you lead worship and are unwilling to greet a visitor, or to create meaningful relationships with new church goers, then what are you really doing? The same can be said for any church leader.
We Need to Break Out
Companies that break out start by doing self-analysis. They hire consultants like me to assess their current state, and then provide them a future state with a roadmap on how to get here. Many companies are not looking for tweaking their current models, they look for overhauls. I am at a large company this week where a new executive officer was just hired and the first course of action was to assess, strategize, and then reorganize his entire staff. This is painful to their employees, but to achieve something that is great, and that breaks out—requires a shake up. I prophesy to the church that she needs a great shake up in how she does church.
As one who does an assessment, the first thing I do is look at the gaps. We call this a gap analysis. So where are the gaps in church? Well, as in business, we cannot list all of them so we relegate ourselves to prioritizing. So, the first thing off the list is our preferences. GOD REALLY DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOUR PREFERENCES ANYWAYS. At least not in how we do church. So, how do we gap? When I go to a client, I first have to know well my set of best practices. We are always gapping what we know are best practices, a set of repeatable processes, and what we already know a company needs to do to be successful. On the other side of the gap we have the company’s deficiency; where they do not measure up.
When a company is on uncharted ground, we learn to be somewhat pragmatic. We know the company still has to achieve certain tangible goals, so we can take this high level strategy and drive it down to where they need to be. Rethinking church requires us to take a hard look of what we have done, are doing, and have plans to do, and taking a step back to see a bigger picture.
Another key ingredient is innovation. If all we do is use best practices, previous models of success, and historic practices, we are not truly bringing innovation to the church and our gatherings. We serve a creative, innovative God, and the church needs to flow in that attribute if they want to see measurable change.
Step 1: Make church relational
The case study earlier pretty much shattered this goals to pieces. Though they may have created affinities of like-minded folks, the lack of making visitors feel welcomed, or driving them off with odd contortions of dance, will thwart any success they hope to achieve. So, then, what are we really trying to achieve? Great welcome packages? Nope, that is not it, though it may be of help. Train better greeters? Certainly part of the strategy for larger churches. Have a service break where there is congregational hand-shaking and hugs. Yep, all of these things are helpful. The scripture say to not forsake the assembling; however, attending church and doing all these things does not mean you are fulfilling this scripture.
So where is the paradigm shift? Home groups? More church functions? We have done all of these for years and they do have great value. A home church that I use to attend did something that worked well for us: they ended what was a pretty typical service, but afterwards we spent Sunday afternoon together, always with a full lunch that served as many as 60 people. About 8 years later, they are now in a building church and keep that same church gathering model. The close relationships that were built here can be put in my portfolio of best practices to do this gap analysis. The one thing I know: this is the pattern and is repeatable. At other times and in other churches I had similar experiences using the same principle: after service, break bread! That means, you build relationships over the dinner table. Surely, you can go hiking or to museums, but eating is something you can do regular.
The second component is break out of comfort zones by training anyone who makes claims of leadership or Christian maturity to prove it–prove it by targeting someone you have no relationship with, and start conversation. 5-Fold ministry, church government leaders, and worship leaders are NEVER to be recluse or timid. There is no room for that type of immaturity going forward if we want a mature church. As others see good examples, this will breed the right kind of behaviour. If we are praising our ministers as being spiritual and they are not doing these things, we are wrong every time, and it send a poor message to the people on what “spiritual” means. Does it mean ministry talent? NEVER.
The third component is affinity. In the home church, most of us were homeschoolers, with kids about the same ages. Some have families of 10 kids. Because we are homeschoolers, too, there is a natural affinity. Natural affinities are an environment that create relationship deeper and quicker. This is a undeniable part of life. If you have certain spiritual affinities such as the same gifts, this is a part of building relationships. However, the risk is that the church becomes filled with cliques and everyone goes to their tight circle of friends. The way of God is that we have these close friends, but we are never reclusive or exclusive from the rest of the body.
There are realities dealing with affinities that are inputs into our strategy. Recently, one pastor wanted to do a pradigm shift by starting new relationship groups that would meet early Sunday morning, before service. It could be a good strategy except for two factors: (1) people will just view it has Sunday school becasue they are using teaching material, and will just skip and and attend the service. (2) They segmented the groups by age and nothing more. If your goal is to create relationships, affinity has to be a driver. For instance, I could build a relationship VERY quick with someone who is in the same specialized field, even though we may have little else in common. Or, when we were in home church, we were mostly homeschoolers. This is a strong affinity in the church and that is where most of my wife’s relationships have come from. One church we went to had homeschooling families. Unless there is another affinity to take that place, relationships will be difficult to build. Lastly, affinities can be built from spiritual aspects. If you are a prophet in the wilderness with a unique message and find someone else in the wilderness with that same message, you will bond very quick.
If you only attend Sunday morning service and hit the door as soon as you are dismissed, and this is your only interaction with the local church, you are wrong every time, and are surprisingly still forsaking the assembling of yourself together. If you are a leader who is “wore out from the anointing” and do not see it as your duty to break out and create new relationships, you are wrong every time. The church of the future will be a church knit together in love from tightly built relationships.
Step 2: Bring Innovation to your Gathering
Part of most corporate strategies involve elements of innovation. Depending on the type of company, innovation might be the key driver of change. In a gap analysis of the church gathering, it is pretty easy to break down elements of the meeting: introduction, worship, announcements, offering, preaching, and altar call. I have seen lock boxes in the back replace the offering. Sometimes, other singing or acting elements can be added to the mix as well. The order is pretty consistent, and most services after attending for several weeks are predictable for the next 10 years or more. And many like it so.
Where Step 1 is mandatory, Step 2 needs for us to be pragmatic, evaluating each church’s situation. In the corporate world, I am tasked with developing a future or end state, and a roadmap to get here. It is always custom, tailored to each company. Sometimes a company wants us to use a cookie cutter approach to implement, but that is never feasible. There are elements of a strategy that are repeatable in every situation, but for the most part I use custom approaches.
Innovation is our goal for this step. When we break it down further, we might end up with these subset goals:
- Make services fresh where people can stay engaged throughout the service
- Create an environment where corporate worship strikes a balance of progressive and innovative, but not weird
- Assure that preaching and teaching meets the needs of new converts and mature Christians, who may have ministries of their own
- Find the right balance of structured and unstructured to provide innovation, but yet stay productive
With our example church in Wilkesboro, NC, they allow folks to hang out all over the building, eating, drinking, having conversations, using PDAs, dancing, and in rocking chairs far in the back. So, when we do assessments in the corporate world, we measure the results of the current state. Well, the outstanding characteristic for this church is unfriendliness. The course of action might be to disassemble the current model in lieu of a brand new model that encourages the right things. In this case, teaching Christian responsibility of making guests feel welcomed comes to mind.
If your church is stagnant and not growing in numbers, look at the elements in the service. Be bold. Form a strategy and execute to that strategy. Look at the worship first. Is it progressive, or is it top 40 stuff that wears people out frequently. Worship requires an influx of fresh music, regularly, to stay innovative. Also, picking from different camps of music may help. If all you are doing is Hillsong, how innovate are you if you are excluding the other 90% of worship songs?
Step 3: Put the Last Nail in the Coffin of the One Man Show
Scripture does not endorse a one man clergy system to run a church like a CEO. I do understand, though, that this is where we are, and most cannot change it in the near future. To be clear: A church is led by a team of elders operating in consensus. There are no one man shows. If you want to read further, let me point you to Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity . As far as the plurality of leadership in the church, Frank gets it rights and interprets the scriptures well. I had this revelation in a personal devotion, but Frank’s book was a good scriptural validation for me.
So, what do we do in the interim? If you are a current bishop or pastor, reading Frank Viola’s book will help. If you are in the congregation, just make sure that you view your main leader as one who is simply serving and using s gift. Enjoy the gift where God leads you to, and do not allow yourself to be coerced. So. . .would I start a church as a one man church? Yes, I might. But as a strategy I would transition it to a team of elders at some point. It is also scriptural for one to have a gift of Apostle and start a church then leave but maintain fatherly influence.
This is the last point and step to rethinking the church: we must bring the whole church model to the next level of equal and plurality of leadership, losing the focus of a one man church dominance. This also eliminates a slew of works of the flesh that breed from our current model such as nepotism, pastoral abuse, and proliferation of false doctrine, not to mention the slew of fallen pastors into sin such as drug abuse, sexual immorality, and adultery, which often leads to divorce. This is a model that is proven, and I have personally built eternal relationships through.
Most churches may be willing to do subtle changes to avoid attrition. Successful companies that are trending to high growth are doing so as a result of quick, radical change—a new paradigm. We need trail blazers. We need leaders with a new vision. We need church on a whole new level.
Step 1 is most important. Anyone and everyone can start achieving this now through invitations to lunch or dinner, or sticking around after service ends to have productive conversations. Take small steps now, then you can worry about how you will step up your game next month.
Hebrews 10:24,25: let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Without the proper context, church attendance is a mere ritual.
In business strategy it is about what, where, and then how. What are we building? answer that question first and find concensus. Then figure out where we are at now. Many executives ask me to not pull any punches, be transparent, and do not be afraid to “call their baby ugly.” THEY WANT CHANGE. Many pastors, however, rarely possess this type of courage.
HOW we implement the new model is so important because the details can throw your plan off the rails. For our earlier church example, they could have simply moved the altar dancing to the rear of the building. That way you encourage one goal, yet meet the goal of bringing in new folks, making them feel comfortable. In all, I suggest having an attitude of being pragmatic. Surely business is different than a church gathering, but what is the same is the principles of change and innovation.
John Robert Lucas
http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org (Frank Viola’s site that includes the entire “ReChurch” series of six volumes that all work together)
Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity