Back in 2008, our church was stuck. Even though we grew fast, I felt like we had stalled out. We were really having a tough time encouraging people to give, so resources were tight. There were a few weeks I was nervous we wouldn’t make payroll.
We struggled to get people into groups, having tried a couple of different times but not getting any traction. People would come to the church service, but wouldn’t go beyond that. Honestly, we had more of a crowd than a congregation.
I didn’t have any ideas and I was unsure what I should do next in leadership. Should we hire this person? Should we spend money here instead of there? I was a deer in the headlights leader and it wasn’t good. On the outside, the church was growing and people were asking me to speak. But on the inside, we were stuck.
So I reached out to a few pastor friends who were leading churches larger than ours. If I were to say their names, you would know who they are. We started asking questions and taking notes. I found a few churches that matched our cultures and spent way more time on the phone with them than they probably wanted. I joined a paid coaching group so I could ask questions. I hired a couple of different consultants to come and work with us. It was like pastor college!
For about six or seven months, we just learned and learned. Everything we could. We learned what was working and what God was doing. We made changes in our church based on solid advice and good coaching. We even restructured our staff and leadership roles during this time. We created some systems and strategies, and wrote down some processes to help our church. We finally felt organized and positioned in such a way where we could listen to God again.
Andy Stanley said this:
“You can be better than everyone else in your field without coaching. But you’ll never be as good as you can possibly be.” –@AndyStanley
— Church Fuel (@ChurchFuel) September 15, 2017
I hope you join us at Church Fuel One, but even if you don’t…I want you become a life-long learner. Here are three important things about learning from others without just copying what they do.
#1 – You can’t import vision.
You can learn about strategies and ministries and outreach. You can even learn about how to communicate the vision more clearly. We are huge believers in learning and coaching and that’s why we do what we do.
But you absolutely cannot take the vision God has given another pastor or another church and pass it off in your church.
Vision is not a cut and paste kind of thing. It’s way more personal than that.
- Moses had a burning bush experience.
- Samuel heard the voice of the Lord.
- Paul experienced a risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.
And even though your calling might be different, it’s still necessary for you to receive a vision from God and God’s Word. You can’t import it or download it…it’s got to come from God. Listen…we are a coaching and resource company so clearly we understand the value of learning and resources. But you can’t buy a PDF and get a vision. You can’t take an online course and end up with a calling.
#2 – You can’t have the success without the struggles.
When you look at successful churches or fast growing churches, it’s easy to get sideways. You see the success stories. You see the lists they have made. You see the cool videos they put online and everyone shares.
But you don’t see the struggles that happened behind the scenes. We’ve been able to work with some really large churches and some fast growing churches. And you know what’s interesting about them?
Sometimes, they are surprisingly disorganized!
They have things that don’t work. They have projects that failed.
I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus here, I just want to remind you that these churches aren’t perfect.
You see the shiny exterior and think everything must be super-smooth, but in reality, they aren’t that much different than you.
Everybody wants to copy North Point Community Church now, but they forget about where they started. You’re looking at North Point today, with their buildings, the staff, and the quality, but forget where they started. You’re looking at the result of 20 years of vision and focus and ministry. It’s not a fair comparison. Of course you can learn, but you really can’t compare.
When you focus on the results and skip the process, you gloss over all the struggles.
Everybody wants the results, but very few people want the struggle. Talk to pastors of growing churches about their real struggles, and you’ll find some wish they could go back to when their church was smaller. Before they let it take a toll on their health, their family, or their relationships. Some of your heroes in ministry have scars. And you wouldn’t want to go through what caused them.
#3 – Learn principles and get ideas.
Your church is in a different community. You’re a different kind of leader. You have a different vision. And things just change.
You can’t copy what other people are doing, but you can definitely learn from them. You can see what they are doing, you can see what’s working, and you can learn.
Missionaries call this contextualization. When they go into a new culture, they take the timeless truths of the Gospel and explain it in a way that makes sense in that language and culture.
That’s what great leaders do. They see what’s working and what people are doing, and they process it through the lens of their own context. They don’t just copy, but they learn the principles and get ideas.
In our membership program, Church Fuel One, we include brand new case studies regularly. But these aren’t your typical articles or blog posts. We visit these churches and observe what they do best. We interview leaders and attenders. We pull together pictures and principles that can help you lead a growing church.
Other people have figured out what you’re struggling with. It’s a wise leader that learns from others.
You don’t need to implement all the best ideas from every church you know, but isn’t it great that you can learn from what churches do best.
If you’re thinking about launching a second campus– Seacoast does that well. If you’re thinking of creating an internship program, Elevation has learned so much there! If you want to design a church that reaches people who have given up on church, there’s no church better than Verve in Las Vegas. We’re profiling all these churches, and a lot more, because we want you to learn from people who are getting it done.
Bigger churches do a lot of things well. But so do smaller churches. So do churches you’ve never heard of.
You can learn from what they do without copying.
So What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?
We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. As a result we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.
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