02 Oct [VIDEO] How To Lead A Church Through Change by Carey Nieuwhof
Hey, it’s so great to be here with you here in New England. I feel a little bit like we have some common ground because I’m from Canada, and you’re basically Canadian. No, not really. Not really, but you understand snow. It was so nice to actually arrive in a different city and see snowbanks. That was great. There were still snowbanks at the hotel last night. People always ask me, as a Canadian, “You talk about it being minus 30. Is that Celsius or Fahrenheit?” I’m like man, when it’s minus 30, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. It’s just frozen. Larry would have no category for minus 30, right? It’s like is that Kelvin? I don’t know. It’s just cold. Anyway. The soil’s a little bit different up here, isn’t it, then in the Bible Belt? We share a similar thing in Canada.
Where I serve as the founding and teaching pastor of Connexus Church, our best estimates these days are between three and five percent of the people who live in our community go to church on a Sunday morning. It’s a pretty secular, post-Christian place. I’ll give you a little bit of my background. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a lawyer. I did not want to be a pastor. Anybody here think you would never be a pastor? Hands up. It was totally … Oh wow, the majority of the room. That’s incredible. When I was eight, I came home one day from cub scouts and told my parents I wanted to be a pastor. Or a lawyer, rather. I don’t know what needs to be wrong with you to want to be a lawyer when you’re eight years old, but that was wrong with me and I did a number of things along the way.
I got into radio when I was 16. I just walked into a local radio station and said hire me, and they did. I did that for a few years. Started writing a column for the local newspaper when I was 19, but in this very secutus root, ended up in law school. I was a Christian by that time, and one of our pursuits in first year was to try and figure out how to be a Christian lawyer. I think it is possible, although it’s very difficult. We were trying to figure that out, and the best thing to come out of law school, two things. Number one, my wife. I spotted her in first year. None of your friends end up going to the same law school. If you have any friends who went to law school, or if you went to law school, it’s just you end up with all these strangers. Basically, what you do in the first week is just try to meet as many people as possible. I spied her across the room. She was just one of the most beautiful people I had ever seen in my life.
She did not notice me at all, but I pursued her and we’ve been married now for 27 years. We have two sons. They’re 25 and 21. Our 25 year old is married. We are empty nesters. Any empty nesters in the room? A few of you. You know what that is like? It is phenomenal, okay? It is great. It’s like #datenight every night. It’s incredible. You buy groceries, they stay in your refrigerator. It’s just bizarre. We’re two and a half years into empty nesting … It was in the middle of law school. Some of you are charismatics. I’m not particularly charismatic. I think I’ve heard from God 10 or 12 times maybe in my life where I’m like I’m pretty sure that was God. Otherwise, I read my bible. I pray every day. I try to do the next right thing. That’s my approach to life and to discipleship, but in the middle of law school, really super naturally, felt a calling to ministry, and it was confirmed and affirmed in others.
It left me really confused because I don’t have any of the gifts for ministry. I’m a lawyer by training. I’m a leader by nature. Mercy is low on my list of gifts, and just talk to anybody who works with me. It’s like well, that’s too bad. That’s why I don’t do any counseling. It’s like well you should do this, and then they come back and it’s like “Did you do it?” Nope. All right, I guess we’re done. I don’t know what else to say. I told you. You didn’t do it. Sorry. I couldn’t see that and I was trying to figure out. God, are you calling me to teach? Some of you, you’re bi-vocational. Maybe you’re experimenting. Am I called to be a pastor? Is this actually going to work? I had the same things. I was trying to figure it out. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with this calling to go into ministry. After I finished law, I got called to the bar. Not that bar. A different bar.
I got called to the bar, and then I resigned and I went into seminary a few months later. Half way through seminary, really perplexed over what to do. We heard about these thing called … In our denomination. I was mainline. Now I lead a North Point Strategic Partner Church, north of Toronto, but at that time I was Presbyterian. Main line. We have these things, I don’t know that you have them here in New England, but we called them student charges. They weren’t looking for student pastors. They were looking for senior pastors, who were students, who they could pay a fraction of what they would pay a regular pastor. Do you have those around here? Yeah, basically anyway, take the normal pittance of salary and cut it in half, or get rid of three quarters of it, and then they’ll hire you as a student. There were a bunch of them because the Presbyterian churches in Canada are very small. It’s a small denomination, so there were three churches north of Toronto that were looking for a student pastor.
I was a student, so in 1995, my wife, my young son and I moved up from Toronto. How many of you are pastoring small churches now? Under 50 people right now on a weekend? Yeah, good chunk. How about under 100? How many of you have under 100? Just so you know, because sometimes you go to conferences, you know, megachurch pastors or people with big followings. I started, one of the three churches had six people in it. Six. They’d been around for over 100 years, so when my wife, my young son and I moved up from Toronto, we grew the church by 50% overnight. It was incredible. Outreach Magazine called. We were on the cover. It was great. Six people. Six people. Then, the second of the three churches … I do the circuit on Sunday morning along with a retired minister … they had 14. Then, the megachurch had 23, and we would wind up at the megachurch with 23 people. These churches had been stuck for 30 years, 40 years. I was their first young pastor in a generation. They had not called a full time pastor for 40 years, since the 1950’s.
The Presbytery had been trying to kill them for years, but Lyle Schaller said small churches are like cats. They have nine lives. You just can’t kill them. There’s enough money. Some of you, you pastor in established church, and well, you got enough money to keep the lights on and the doors open and that’s all we need. We have no mission, no heart for people, but that’s it. Things were bad. It was very, very traditional. The music was terrible at the churches, and some of you are probably trying to transition churches right now. That’s hard stuff. We had a choir. The main condition for being in the choir was not that you had to be able to sing. I was in the choir. It was that bad. It was terrible. We had organ music and nothing had changed. In over six or seven years, we changed everything. We changed the music. We changed the way we dressed. We changed the way we talked.
It was a church with all kinds of projects, but no real ministry. You know what I mean? There were potluck suppers and there were bake sales and garage sales so that they could fund the ministry. We would have bake sales, garage sales, suppers all the time just to keep enough money in the pot to keep the lights on, and I eventually said to people, I’m like okay, we’re doing another bake sale. What is the deal with these bake sales? Well, we need to sell cookies and pies to pay the bills. I’m like how much money do we raise at these things? $500.00. How many cookies do we have to make? I don’t know, 5,000 cookies? That’s a lot of cookies. Why don’t you guys just tithe? Have you ever thought of that? What is that? Why don’t you just give money to the church? Why don’t you stay home on Saturday and just write a check? Why don’t you give 10% of your money away? Never dawned on them. Over a course of about seven years, we changed everything. We changed everything.
We changed polity and governance. We changed music. Eventually, we started to grow by the grace of God, after I was finished seminary. There were enough people, enough money to call me and pay me the usual small sum that they paid a real pastor, so they gave me that. We started out there, and within a few years, we had grown to the point where we were outgrowing one or two of the historic buildings, and five years in, we got them to agree to sell all three buildings. They did. By the grace of God, the congregation voted in favor of selling all three historic buildings. We started a new church, with a new name on a new site. We went to an elementary school in January of 2000 and started over again, and said we got to reach people. We grew there. By the time we left the elementary school in 2003, we were about probably 300 people. In about eight years, we grew from that original 40 to about 300.
Then, we moved into a brand new two million dollar facility, and for a while there, about five or six years while I was Presbyterian, we were the fastest growing denomination, or fastest growing church, I should say, congregation in the country and became one of the largest. That’s not saying a lot, because the Presbyterian church in Canada was the fastest declining denomination in the country, so we were the fastest growing church and the fastest declining denomination. Go figure that out. We did that, and then about 10 years ago, I sat back and thought I wonder what would happen if we tried this in a nondenominational context. By that time, we were about 700 on the weekend. I’d met a guy named Reggie Joiner a couple years earlier, who now is the CEO of Orange, but prior to that, was the director of Family Ministry at North Point Church with Andy Stanley.
Reggie and I had become friends, and I’ll tell you more of this story this afternoon, but anyway, Reggie introduced me to Andy at North Point and the opportunity to become a strategic partner was there. We started over again in the fall of 2007 as a nondenominational church. We planted over again. I tried to buy the building off the denomination. That did not go particularly well, so we started over again and we had millions of dollars in assets, but in the fall of 2007, left and started over again with zero dollars and zero people. A lot of the people who are part of what we were building came with us when we moved to the north and to the south, to cities to the north and the south. We started over again trying to reach unchurched people. We had incredible launch. 800 or 900 people showed up on opening weekend. It was exceptional, and then through my phenomenal leadership skills, I shrunk it down to about 350 people 18 months later. We moved from a paid for facility that was nice with comfortable chairs to a portable startup.
It was hard. You had to get up at 3:00 in the morning and start setting up church, and it was really for people who didn’t go to church. We weren’t playing church anymore. We’d been through a lot of transition, but this is it. Fast forward to today, and I think on Sunday we had about 1,300 people at our locations, plus the people who are watching online, and about 59% of the people that walk through the door for the first time these days are people who don’t have any church background, who self-describe as having no church background. I know that’s what you’re trying to do, and that’s certainly what we’re trying to do. It’s hard, but it’s incredibly, incredibly rewarding. What I want to do is I want to share some principles I learned along the way in the early days. As I think about what’s ahead, some things that are going to help, and I think in many ways, our hearts are good. You’re here, a lot of you on your own dime, your own time. Some of you who are bi-vocational, you took days off work to be here.
You’re motivated and you want to reach people. You want to reach people in New England. You want to reach people in your community. You want to see people come to faith, and you want to see people come to Christ, but sometimes, it’s just really difficult to do. I was in Germany a couple years ago building at a church leaders, and we started in the north and every night, we’d go to a different city and a different town. We started in Hamburg in the north and made our way down to Stuttgart in the south. My host was driving me around. From the time I was a little kid, I’d always heard of this mythical thing called the Autobahn in Germany. There I was a few years ago in Germany and I started asking questions on day about the Autobahn. I’m like “Where is this mythical road?” Is it like I-95 or I-75? Where is it? He goes no, Autobahn is actually a term that refers to an absence of speed limit on any road.
All throughout Germany, whenever you’re on the freeway, if you get outside into the countryside, they will often just lift the speed limit and then it’s Autobahn. There’s no speed limit. I was pretty amazed as we’re driving around, and my host, Jorg, is driving me. I would watch these cars, and I mean, here in North America, if you’re in the middle lane of a freeway and you see somebody in your side view mirror, your left side view mirror and they’re way behind you, and there’s a car in front of you, probably have time to get around and get ahead of this vehicle. In Germany, you don’t. You see a speck in your rear view mirror, and literally three seconds later, it’s like boom! They’re on a slingshot and they’re right past you. A few days into it, my host, Jorg, says to me “Hey, Carey. You want to try driving on the Autobahn?” I’m like absolutely. Do I have a pulse? Of course I do.
We got north of Stuttgart and he said okay, this is a pretty open stretch so we pull over at this service center and we switch places. I pull onto the freeway to drive on the Autobahn for the first time. I take the car up, get it up to about 50, 60 miles an hour. It’s pretty normal. 70 miles an hour, 80 miles an hour, 90 miles an hour. Now, it’s getting interesting. 100 miles an hour. 110 miles an hour, I’m like okay, you go to jail for this where I live so this is really exciting. 110, 115, 120. I got it up to 123 kilometers an hour. Miles an hour. Miles an hour. Pardon me. I’m south of the border. Miles an hour. You don’t even know how fast that is but it sounds more impressive doesn’t it? Anyway, 123 miles an hour is what I get it up to. I’m looking over at my host, Jorg, and he’s in the passenger seat going “Ah!” He is terrified.
Now, what I didn’t tell you is we were driving in a 12 year old Ford Focus station wagon. Okay? It was not designed for this. It was not designed for that. It was shaking, and that was it. I slowed right down and away you go. Sometimes in the church, isn’t that what it’s like? You’ve got Autobahn dreams, but it feels like you’re driving in a 12 year old Ford Focus station wagon and you just can’t get it to do what you want. I want to share five principles that have helped us at our church, at Connexus Church, and as I’ve met other church leaders that I see operating in other churches. Hopefully, these will be helpful in unleashing and unlocking the potential in your church. The first thought I want to share with you is simply this. When I think about the future church and what’s ahead, it’s so important, especially today, for churches to separate the mission from the method. Just separate the mission from the method because what happens is you have two discussions and two debates in your church. The debate about the mission. The debate about the method.
What I’ve discovered leading our churches through change, and maybe you’ve discovered this in your church as well, is that … This is point one. We should have the note for this if you have it. Separate the mission from the method. Do we have that? I think we do. Do you have that ahead? If not, I’ll just say. How about I just say it? That sounds good … Here’s what I believe. Churches that love their methods more than their mission will die. Churches that love their methods more than their mission will die. The reality for most churches is we love our methods more than we love our mission. Our original three small churches, they loved their methods. They loved potluck dinners. They loved those bake sales and bazaars. They loved all of that. What they didn’t do, what they saw is they didn’t really think about the mission very much. I think your job as a church leader, your job as a leader is to make sure that the mission is always above the method. The mission is always above the method. You’ve got to separate the mission from the method.
Now, our church loved the method that they had of doing music. They loved music. I said to our elders one day “You know, I listen to Toronto radio stations. I’m watching what’s going on. I don’t see a lot of organ stations really gaining a lot of traction with the kids.” It’s really not doing well. Classical music is on hard times, so why don’t we just change the method? Now, the challenge is a lot of people are so wedded to the method that it becomes more sacred than the mission. Your job as a leader is to make sure that you have a high enough value and urgency around the mission that your willing to change the method. There’s a second element to this as well, which is simply this. It takes one thing to change what somebody else built. It takes a lot more courage to change what you built. It was easy for me to come in as a young guy, 30 years old, all those years ago and say “Got to change the music, got to change the choir, got to change the governance, got to leave these buildings, got to start over again.”
that’s actually not that hard. Where it gets hard is if you show up for four or five years, and you’re still there and all of the sudden you realize what you introduced a number of years ago isn’t actually working anymore. Then, you got to go back to the people who trusted you, the people who cared about you and you got to say you know what? We got to change. They’re like you just cast vision around this and you just cast vision around that. I thought we did all the change we need to do, and if you look at the last decade, is the pace of change actually accelerating or decelerating in our culture? Accelerating. That probably means that the pace of change in your church has to go up as well. This is just a universal truth. It’s true of your church. It’s true of you. You are probably going to love your method more than you love your mission. It’s really easy to look down on other people who maybe you don’t think are as progressive. It’s hard, because it’s divisive. People will fight over their methods, and people will die on those hills.
I remember when we were starting out, Walter was an older gentleman. He was well into his 70’s, maybe his 80’s. We were changing all the music and changing everything. We did it as best we could, but he was upset. He was one of the small group that was really just perpetually opposed. Walter came up to me one day after church, and he said “Carey, I’m so angry with you, and with the church, that when I die, you will not be able to do my funeral. I’m not going to allow you.” I’m like I didn’t know that was a thing, that you get banned from being able to do people’s funerals, but all right. If you want to ban me from doing your funeral … Now, Walter didn’t leave the church, but sure enough … He was an older gentleman … the day came where he passed away. I wasn’t invited to do his funeral. I said to my wife “What should we do?” I said I think we should go, so we went. We went to the funeral home. It was actually at the funeral home.
At the funeral home, it was like a throwback to the way the churches were before I got there. The organist that we had let go was playing at the funeral home. All the songs that we had stopped singing were being featured at his funeral. All the people that weren’t in leadership anymore got to say something at the funeral. We’re sitting at the back row. We’re in the back row, my wife Toni and I, and everybody in the room … I’m a year or two into my leadership … Everybody in the room is 40 years older than we are. It was so easy. There was a moment where I’m sitting in the back row and I was getting ready to be smug. I almost wanted to lean over to my wife and say “See? You see. This is what would have happened if we hadn’t changed things.” Then, I got a check in my spirit because I realized you know what? In 40 years, that could be us. That could be us.
I can see my wife and I at the retirement home sitting on the front porch in our rocking chairs going “I don’t know what’s wrong with kids today. They don’t drink coffee like we used to drink coffee. No hand pressed pour overs. Nobody today seems to like Bethel music or Hillsong.” What’s wrong with kids today? Well, at least we like it. At least we stayed faithful. You see how that goes? That’s you. That’s me. It’s like we introduced all this change. We love church the way it is. You know the people who love church the way it is in your community? They were at your church yesterday because everybody else, not so much. It will be a great temptation, not only for your people but for you as a leader to love your methods far more than you love your mission. Now, flip that. If you start to love your mission more than your method, your church will thrive because the mission is eternal. The mission hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. The mission is the same as when the Apostle Paul had it.
It’s the same in San Diego as it is in Toronto. It’s the same in New England as it is in Atlanta. It’s the same in India as it is anywhere. You’re supposed to reach people with the Gospel. You’re supposed to let people know about the good news of Jesus and the methods will change from generation to generation, from decade to decade. Your job as a leader, because we’re all trendy and we’re all so hip and we’re all so cool, and we fall in love with our methods in the same way, but if you’re willing to always remember look, all this is a method and far greater than any method that I introduce as a leader is the mission that I’m responsible for as a leader. If you elevate the mission, you’ll always do better, and churches that will change their methods to move the mission forward will thrive. Second point. Second point is this. When you think about the future church, and you think about where your church is doing, attendance is getting harder and harder and harder.
I know when I started, I’d say probably 70% of the people who called our church home were in church on a given weekend. Last weekend we had, it was a good attendance for us, maybe 1,300 people at our church. There are pushing now 3,000 people who call our church home. I’m convinced that 10 or 15 years ago, a total catch of 3,000 people would have produced an attendance of closer to 1,800 or 2,000. It’s just now the people who attend are attending less often. Even Christians who attend are attending less often. My assumption when I started ministry was we’ll just gather a crowd on the weekend and hopefully some of them dig in. Maybe 74% will dig in and still be okay three years later, as Larry talked about this morning. What I’ve learned is in an era where it’s harder and harder to grab a crowd, and harder and harder to get a consistent crowd, if you’re relying on attendance to drive engagement, it’s problematic. The second point I want to share is simply this. If you want to see your church reach people, drive engagement not attendance. Drive engagement, not attendance.
In the future church, attendance will no longer drive engagement. Engagement will drive attendance. What do I mean by that? Well, that idea that if we just get 100 people in the room, maybe 40 of them will engage. In an age where getting 100 people in the room is harder than it was maybe 10 years ago, or the number of those people keep changing, so you got 100 every Sunday but actually 50 were only left over from last Sunday and now you got 50 new people in the room, this idea of trying to draw crowd, draw crowd, draw crowd just for most churches seems to be harder and harder. You’re not alone in that if you’re experiencing it. If you’re experiencing people who are attending church less often, I want you to know most of the megachurches are discovering that, too. Most of the regions of the country, bible churches, charismatic churches. Everybody is discovering that even committed Christians are attending church less often. How do you actually address that? Well, I don’t think in the future church attendance will drive engagement. Engagement will drive attendance.
Ironically, church leaders who love attendance more than engagement will see declining attendance in the future church. If you just love to see a full room, and every pastor does. I think there’s something in our wiring, and it’s not necessarily from God, that would rather have a full room than an empty room, but if that’s really what you value, if that’s really … I just want butts in the seats. I just want people to be here. I just want enough people that we got to add another service, we got to launch another location. If that’s your drive, and that’s really your supreme value, number one, I don’t think that’s from God. Number two, you’re probably going to see declining attendance because that had a run 10 or 15 years ago, and now, it’s just getting harder. One of the best things you can do as a leader is drive engagement. What does that look like? As we’ve thought about this in North Point world, and we’ve thought about this at Connexus Church, what I’ve noticed is there’s a few things that seem to drive people to engage in the mission.
When people engage in the mission, usually it means they’re doing one of several things, or probably several of these things. Number one, they serve. They serve. We notice that people who volunteer, people who serve, are engaged in the mission at a higher rate than the guy who sits at the back with his arms crossed. We encourage people to serve. We have a pretty high serving ratio. We’ll talk about that in a little bit. We’ve just continued to elevate the value of serving in our church. We think it’s so important. Second thing we encourage people to do is to invite friends. We want you to think about people through a spiritual filter. We want you to think about that day where you can say to your friend “Come and see.” Where you can say to that friend “Why don’t you come with me on Sunday?” We want to see people invite their friends. Third thing is we want to give. We want people to give, and I’ve become more passionate about that.
Long after those potluck days and those garage sale days were ended, I’ve become even more passionate about seeing people give because I really believe Jesus was on to something when he said where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If people are like I don’t feel close to God, I don’t feel connected to God, you know what I really want to say to them? I want to say to them let me see your calendar. Where’s God in your calendar other than Sunday morning? Oh well, you know I’m busy and I’m driving the kids, and I’m commuting. Okay, so you’re spending no time with God. Can I see your bank statements? That’s what I feel like saying. I’ve never said this out loud. Maybe the week before I retire, I’ll do this for real. In real life. I’m gone anyway. I want to say show me your bank account. Oh, wait, wait wait. You’re giving zero dollars. Okay, wait a minute. You’re giving zero time and zero dollars to God, and you’re wondering why you don’t feel close to him. Put your money in the kingdom. Give and your heart will follow.
We think it’s the other way. We say in our culture give from the heart. It’s like no, no, no. If you give, your heart will follow. If you spend $100,000 on a car, you’re going to worry about whether it gets scratched or dinged in the parking lot. In fact, you probably parked 15 miles away in some field and walked here. That’s how concerned you are about your car. Now, if you’ve got a beater worth $1,500, you don’t really care. It’s like maybe if you break it, my insurance company will come through. You’re hoping, right? Where your treasure is there your heart will be also. If you buy a property up north for a cottage or a lake house, and you’re like “Oh, we just sunk $500,000 into a piece of property,” and you never go to it, you’re either going to start going to it or you’re going to sell it. We tell people we want you to invest in the kingdom of God. We want you to give and we want you to give generously because we believe your heart will follow.
We want you to serve. We want you to invite your friends. We want you to give, and we want you to join a community group. It’s funny. This is a little bit of heresy, but it used to be, and I know in many circles it still is, we want everyone in a community group. I do want everyone in a community group, but I find that if that’s all they do, if they only are in a community group, and they’re not giving, and they’re not serving, and they’re not inviting friends, that often that can turn inward and insular. We’re really elevating. If somebody said to me what is the one thing, I only have time to do one thing, I would say I want you to serve. Then, if you have extra time, I want you to get into a group. When there’s serving, serving says I’m not first. Serving says I’m giving something of myself for others, and we find that when people are four for four, when they’re in groups … Listen, we have hundreds of people in groups. Our whole kids’ ministry is based on groups. We’re passionate about it.
I’m all into groups. If people are in a group, if people are serving, if people are giving, and if people are inviting friends, they’re engaged and guess what happens? Engaged people attend. Engaged people show up because engaged people are growing. Engaged people are passionate. Engaged people are like we are all about this mission and you can do far more with 300 engaged people than with 3,000 disengaged people. You can change a city with people who are engaged. You can change a community. You can pick your own things or your own metrics, but what are you doing to engage people in the Gospel so it lives in them Monday through Saturday, not just on Sunday, because here’s where it’s going. In the future, I believe in a post-Christian culture. Only the engaged will attend, because only the engaged will remain. The era of the casual Christian, the guy who sits at the back, come on. The internet has almost defeated that, because even if your church isn’t online, every other church is.
If somebody just wants to consume content, they can consume content anywhere. You don’t even need to have a podcast. They’ll find Andy’s. They’ll find Larry’s. They’ll find somebody’s. Then they’re “Ah, I did church on the treadmill.” I did church here. I did church there. It’s for me. I’m consuming. I’m contributing. What are you doing to drive engagement because I think that’ll be the key. Third point. Create a healthy leadership culture. Create a healthy leadership culture. I’m going to talk a lot more about this this afternoon in the final session, but I just want to touch on it because it’s so important. Here’s what I really believe. Healthy leaders create healthy churches. Healthy leaders create healthy churches. Another way to think of it is if you’re healthy at the top, you’ll be healthy throughout. When our church was six people, I had a pretty good sense of what was going on in the church. You have to. You have six people, right? I was doing pastoral visitation.
It’s not like I could say I’m so busy I don’t have time to visit anyone. There’s six of you. I probably have time to go to your house. I probably have time. I knew that, but as our church grew … I kind of knew everyone’s name and then I couldn’t know everyone’s name. Then, okay, I know all the volunteers names. I don’t know all the volunteers names anymore. I know all the staff really well. Oh, now we have too many staff. I know the leadership team really well. Oh, now I know the executive team really well. That’s the way it goes. You can’t know everybody, and so the control freak in you, the control freak in me, wants to say we need a healthy church. You know the greatest indicator of a healthy church? It’s the health of a leader. If you’re healthy, and that central team … In my case, our elders and our leadership executive team … If those teams are healthy, if we have healthy relationships, if I’m fundamentally healthy and I have great relationships with them, that has a way of trickling through the whole church.
If we’re dysfunctional at the top, if I’m unhealthy as a leader, guess what? That has a way of filtering through the whole church. We’re going to talk about that this afternoon. One of the ways I’ve learned to think about it is simply this. Live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow. I’m going to unpack that in our final session today. Are you living in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow? Number four. Engage high capacity volunteers. If you really want your church to grow, if you really want your church to do well, engage high capacity volunteers. Now, what does that look like? High capacity leaders respond to a high level of challenge. If you’re looking to impact your city, and if you’re looking to make a difference with your church, what you want is the highest capacity people. You’re in New England. You’ve got really smart people here. You’ve got some people who teach at MIT. If they sit in the back, and fold their arms, and never engage those gifts in the mission, do you know how much your church is missing?
Think about all the really smart people, and again, it’s not just education or title or that. You’ve got some incredible stay-at-home moms who organize the entire neighborhood, and they do nothing at your church. You’ve got retired people who have a wealth of wisdom. You’ve got students who are burning up their high school and doing nothing at your church. How do you engage those people? You know what you do? You raise the level of challenge you call them to. We’ve all been at churches, right? Let’s say, for example, you’re going to cast vision for kid’s ministry. Have you ever heard this kind of appeal for children’s ministry? I have a heart for kid’s ministry. We’re going to talk about it in a minute, but this kind of appeal for kid’s ministry that goes like this?
“Hey, we have a shortage of volunteers in our children’s ministry and we know you guys probably don’t want to serve there because you told us that, but anyway, we need you to serve or otherwise these kids are going to be on the street. Here’s the deal. We’re going to set up a rotational model and basically, you only have to serve once every 38 Sundays. Is anybody interested?” It’s a very uninspiring … You know what’s strange? We’ve all heard something really close to that, haven’t we? We have. What do you do? Every high capacity leader in the room is staying as far away from that as possible. What you do, because you’re so afraid … Well, they’re volunteers and we can’t pay them, and if you could, because you’re so nice, you would pay everybody. You would do that. That’s a mistake. A lot of high capacity people, they don’t want to be paid. They just want a high level of mission.
What if you stood up there and you said something like this? “We value the next generation so much at Connexus Church, and we’re actually looking for leaders who will make a commitment to them. In fact, this is what the commitment looks like. For 40 weekends, between September and June, we want you to serve every weekend. We’re asking you to make an every single week commitment, because we want you to get to know the names of these kids. We want you to know who sits alone at recess, who’s getting picked on, who’s got the parents who are splitting up, who’s the Uber achiever, who’s the kid who’s doing really well, who’s the kid who socially isolated, who’s the one who’s being bullied? We want you to know their name. We want you to care about them because we believe that every single kid needs another voice saying the same thing a loving parent would say.”
“Now, you may be out of town once in a while. We get that. We’re going to pair you with an associate leader, but we want you to be there for these kids week in and week out, and as they get old, we want you to go to their games, and we want you to take them out to Starbucks for coffee. We want you to get involved in their lives because the next generation matters. Don’t you wish that you had somebody who would have been there for you when you were a kid? We need leaders to make a commitment. Who’s in?” That’s a very, very different tone. High capacity leaders get challenged by that, and you’re like well, every single weekend, how does that work? Listen, listen. Do the math. If you’ve got a one in four rotational model, you only need 25% of the people to get people to commit to every week. It actually requires less people who are highly committed, and those highly committed people have highly committed friends.
Your challenge is probably you need to raise the level of urgency and raise the level of mission and you will see high capacity leaders show up. Here’s another one. Don’t let volunteers off the hook. Don’t let volunteers off the hook. All right. I’m going to pick on Jonathon here in the front row. Jonathon’s a good guy. He’s a volunteer at our church. We were double portable for seven years. We still have a portable location, but for seven years, set up, tear down every single Sunday morning. We needed a crew to do that, and it was -30 Celsius some days in January. That’s a tough sell when you have to get up at 3:30 in the morning and pull trailers full of gear and bring them to the theaters and set it up for people. All right. It’s hard. We were running into a problem five or six years ago where people were showing up late.
I’m going to role play with Jonathon here, and Jonathon’s one of our 18 volunteers. He’s supposed to be there at 5:30 in the morning, in January, in the dark, and Jonathon rolls in and he’s there at quarter to six, not at 5:30. Jonathon gets out of his car. First thing you say is “I’m so sorry. I’m late.” What is the first words out of your mouth as a church leader when Jonathon says sorry I’m late. You say? No problem, it’s okay. [inaudible 00:39:35]. Big mistake. Big mistake. You just dishonored all the volunteers who made it for 5:30 in the morning. Jonathon, I’m not going to let you off the hook, okay? I’m the leader. I’m the staff person. I’m like “Jonathon, first of all, I’m really glad you made it. Is everything okay? Did you have an accident this morning? Did you alarm not go off? Is everything okay? How are you feeling now?” Yeah, that awkward laugh, right? Why did you pick on me? Anyway, that’s the awkward laugh.
Yeah, I’m like “Okay, because it’s really important that you’re here at 5:30, so Jonathon, if we’re going to do this next weekend, I need you to be here at 5:30. Can you commit to that? Okay, you can do that. Great.” Fast forward seven days. It’s 5:30 in the morning. Jonathon’s late again. All right. This time, he’s only 10 minutes late. He gets out and he says “Sorry I’m late.” This time I say, “Jonathon, again, I’m really grateful you’re here but remember that conversation we had last week. It’s really critical. It’s really critical that you’re here because look it, they’ve already got [inaudible 00:40:44] set up and they’ve got Upstreet started. I need you to be here for the sake of others. Now, I’ll tell you what. We’re going to give this one more opportunity. If it doesn’t work, we can find another place for you to serve. Not every position needs 5:30 in the morning roll call. Not every position is every week. We’ll give it one more try.”
See how that works? Do you see how different that is? You know what, if you’re the poor sucker who showed up at 5:30 in the morning, and you’re the only one who was there on time, and it is -30 and it’s still dark, because you know how dark it gets in the winter around here. You feel like you’re the biggest idiot who attends the church because everybody else was late, everybody else was lazy and all the work rests on you. If you really want great, high capacity volunteers, raise the level of vision, raise the level of challenge and don’t let volunteers off the hook. Then, finally, make the next generation a priority. Make the next generation a priority. I had a wake up moment on Sunday. I was preaching and I just asked a question. I don’t normally do that. At our second service, I said “Okay, how many of you are parents?” We were talking about anxiety and stress and children. I couldn’t believe it when 80 to 90% … Actually, the question was parents of children at home. This is not like your 80 years old and you have grown kids.
This is like how many of you are parenting kids at home right now. 80 to 90% of the hands in the auditorium went up. It was like wow, I must be old, because our kids are grown. You got to make the next generation a priority because that’s what it’s about, and you want to reach families. When it comes to that, your strategy, not your intention, determines your success. Right now, what you’ve got is a church planner, a young leader. You see upward potential and it’s like we want to reach families in our community. You know what that is? That’s not an intention thing. It’s good that you have good intentions, but you need a strategy. My question for you, and the one I want to leave you with, is what’s your strategy to reach the next generation? What’s your strategy to help families? You know what? For the first decade, I couldn’t really answer that question very clearly. It’s like in those original churches, I said how many kids do we have at this particular church and they said we have known. I said do you have a Sunday School?
They’re like no … We called it Sunday School in those days … Do you have a Sunday School? No, we don’t have a Sunday School. Why don’t you have a Sunday School? Well, because we have no kids. I think there’s a logic problem here. Maybe if you had a Sunday School, you’d have kids. We set up a Sunday School. We changed our strategy. Guess what? Kids showed up. It’s amazing how that happens. Now, we were growing in kids, even in the first decade, but in the last decade, our single fastest growing demographic has been young families and preschoolers. Our preschoolers now outpace our elementary students and outpace our student ministry. In fact, we moved into our building less than two years ago, our first permanent facility. We are already adding on more preschool space because we ran out and we over-built. I think that’s a result of a strategy. The strategy we use at our church is one called Orange. Like I said, years ago I met Reggie Joiner and that strategy has been amazing. It’s a curriculum. You can buy a curriculum from them, but more importantly, it’s a strategy.
It’s a strategy about putting kids into groups rather than classrooms. It’s a strategy about making the next generation a priority. It’s a strategy about elevating community. It’s a strategy about partnering with parents because parents have this incredible influence over the course of a week that churches never tap into. We’re like just come here. Just come here for an hour on Sunday, an hour on Sunday, we’ll make all your problems go away at home. It doesn’t quite work that way. What if you actually engage the parents? What if you actually engage all the influence that they have, because here’s the truth, a parent is the greatest influence in a child’s life, but they’re not the only influence a child needs. They need the influence of church and parents together. Your strategy determines your success, here’s my question, and it’s a troubling one. What’s your strategy? If you can’t articulate it as a leader, I promise you nobody else in your church can. If you can’t articulate it as a church leader, your parents can’t articulate it. Then, if you’re wondering why are we not winning with the next generation, maybe that’s why.
Strategy is key to making the next generation a priority, but so is this. Funding it. Funding it. You can only fuel what you fund. You can only fuel what you fund. This is tough, okay, because you always need more money than you have and the whole deal, but a lot of churches are like we give $100 a year to the kid’s ministry. We can’t understand why it’s not growing. Or, you have a really high standard of living. Let’s talk to senior leaders for a minute. You have a really high standard of living for this stuff. You want the LED lights. We’re going through a set change right now at our church with LED lights everywhere and the whole deal. I love that stuff, right? It is easy to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars, or a million dollars, up here, and senior pastors love it because this is where we live and this is awesome, and that didn’t look right on video, and don’t we need a new camera? Don’t we need this? You can drop $10,000 in 30 seconds funding this.
We’ve spent a lot of money on this, don’t get me wrong, but so often, it’s easy to dollar store your kid’s ministry. It’s like we’re not going to staff it, we’re not going to pay the kid’s ministry director much. We’ll try to get it for free. We’ll try to get student ministry for free. You guys can fund it yourself. You can figure it out. Then we’re stumped as to why we’re not winning in that area. I talked to Jim Wideman and William [Vanderbloom 00:47:08], both of whom staff the church. They do funding. You know what they’re telling me? One of the most in-demand positions in America today is next generation director, children’s director. It’s really hard to find a great one. One of the most complicated jobs in the church, too. Our next gen director, Shawna Lester, she manages 250 volunteers in kid’s ministry. It’s crazy. I’m like I don’t know whether I could do her job. Then, often we’re like oh yeah, $15,000 a year should cover that for salary. Right? That’d be great. Why don’t you pay people what it’s worth? Why don’t you actually value it?
If you show me your church budget, it’s the same thing on prayer. If you show me your church budget and you’re like yep, $22,000 a year on kid’s ministry, you’re probably going to get $22,000 a year results. What do you need to do to fuel the next generation? You need a strategy and you need to fund it. Those are some thoughts about some things that can make a lasting impact for your church as you head into the future. Here’s what I want to encourage you to do. These are just ideas. These are just principles, but think about where you need to innovate. The irony is history actually belongs to the innovators. History belongs to the people who said “What if we made a phone with no keyboard?” Does anybody really miss their flip phones? Anybody? Anyone really miss … I had a Blackberry Curve before this came out. It promised the internet. It lied, all right? There was no internet. Like what? I got a quarter of a webpage after 15 minutes. That’s it. Then he stands up and people were like really? Really?
History belongs to the innovators. The people who said we can fly. The people who said hm, wonder if horseless carriages are on their way out. History belongs to the innovators. I think in a post-Christian, post-modern culture, we need innovation. These are five things that are helping us try to create a lasting impact, and I just want to encourage you to think about that, because leaders who see the future can seize the future. Thanks so much.