These Things Don’t Change with the Times or with Culture
Last week we kicked off a two-part series on what we see unstuck churches doing really well. Through the years, in our consulting with more than 400 churches, we’ve noticed certain behaviors that churches experiencing health and growth have in common regardless of culture or the current times.
Methods of doing ministry—that is, styles, strategies and best practices—evolve. But since our ministry mission stays the same, there are some things we consistently see in churches that aren’t stuck.
In part-two of this episode series, Amy and I discuss:
- Five action steps that lead to health and growth
- Expanding ministry beyond just what the pastor or paid leaders can do
- Key reasons real spiritual formation isn’t happening in your church
- Key best practices of unstuck churches that lead to a clearer and more effective vision
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- Designed To Lead by Eric Geiger and Gregory Peck
- 10 Things Unstuck Churches Do Right
- The Unstuck Process
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Sean: 00:02 Welcome to the Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Last week on the podcast, we started a two-part series exploring 10 things that we see unstuck churches doing right. With an estimated 65 to 80% of churches in America that are in decline, it can often seem that no church is healthy, but in reality there are thousands that are thriving. On this episode, we share the final five behaviors of these churches who are experiencing health and growth. Make sure before you listen to subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox every single week, you’re going to get one email with our leader conversation guide, all of the resources we mentioned during the episode and bonus resources. You also get access to the archive of all of our podcast resources from past episodes. You can sign up by going to the unstuck group.com/podcast. And here’s one last reminder, the enrollment for the Leading an Unstuck Church online course closes for the year on October 31st so make sure you go to the unstuck group.com/course to learn more and sign up today. Now here are Tony and Amy with part two of our series on the 10 things we see unstuck churches doing right.
Amy: 01:11 Tony, last week on the podcast we started a two-part series looking at the 10 things that unstuck churches do right. And this was based on an article you wrote and now we’re taking more time on the podcast here to dive in to each of those with a little more context. So today we’re going to pick up where we left off and hit the next five starting with number six and number six is that they develop leaders. How does developing leaders keep churches from getting stuck?
Tony: 01:41 So in short, it allows churches to expand their ministry beyond what just the pastor or paid leaders can do. So we began to really invest in future leaders and this will allow the church to continue to extend the reach into the community for years to come. And we talked about some of this last week, but I want to focus more specifically just on the leadership component. And Amy, as we’ve acknowledged in the past, we really believe leadership is a gift. So not everybody in the church has this leadership gift, but when anybody has any gift that gift should be encouraged, it should be developed and it needs to be used in order to be developed. And so we’re constantly working with churches to think more intentionally about their leadership development strategy. Is it clear? Do they have a way to identify, build and release leaders into ministry?
Tony: 02:35 And if you really have more questions about this, a great resources to check out is a book by Eric Geiger and Gregory Peck called Designed To Lead. It’s an excellent resource. And the authors do a great job of explaining why the local church is a great engine for leadership development. Amy, the challenge here is in the absence of leadership development, you’ll have no one within your church to lead new ministries and no one to pass ministry on to as your current leaders age or move on. And if you’re listening today and you’ve ever heard someone in your church say we have a few people doing all the work, then it’s more than likely the result of a void when it comes to leadership development. So if you’re developing new leaders, then you’re not only giving ministry away, but those leaders will help more leaders and recruit and train more volunteers and you end up with more people doing ministry because you have stronger leaders.
Amy: 03:34 Very true. All right. The seventh thing unstuck churches are doing right is that they’re leading the ministry in teams. So what does healthy team-based leadership look like, Tony?
Tony: 03:44 Yeah. So before we get to the healthy side of team-based leadership, I want to be clear about what we’re not talking about in regards to team-based leadership. We’re not advocating a plurality in leadership and we’re not advocating for consensus based decision making. Both of those we have seen create challenges when it comes to decision making and leadership in the church. And I can’t name an instance where eventually it didn’t cause the church to be stuck. However, healthy team-based leadership starts from the top of the organization. And churches who have team-based leadership models are starting by embracing that at the senior leadership level. So unstuck churches have a team of six to eight leaders who keep an ongoing pulse on the vision and direction of the church and they have healthy communication within their senior team and extending out then to the teams that those leaders lead. Another marker of unstuck churches is that they’re clear on how decisions get made. Amy, you’ve talked about this quite a bit. This is all about decision rights. And one of the things I’ve heard you say over and over again is decision rights first begin by deciding how decisions will get made. Am I remembering that correctly?
Amy: 05:07 You’ve got to figure out how you’re going to make the decision.
Tony: 05:10 Yeah, so in this instance it just clarifies how we are going to empower leadership teams as well by helping them understand how decisions actually get made within the organization. We really do believe that the team outperforms the individual and we’ve seen that play out in churches, those churches that are experiencing health and seeing growth always have a team based leadership model. In other words, you should never do leadership alone. Right?
Amy: 05:39 Of course. You know when I work with senior leadership teams, the other benefit of having a team of people, even if they aren’t all responsible for the decision, let’s say the decision rights are still going to happen with the executive pastor, but you have a team voicing in, now you get different thoughts, you get everyone thinking holistically around it, different strengths in the room and it just goes for the church making better decisions. And that’s absolutely right. Number eight on our list of the 10 things unstuck churches do right, is that they measure effectiveness and not busy-ness. Talk about that Tony. And not for too long.
Tony: 06:12 Yeah, that’s right. I think I may be stepping on some toes here so I apologize in advance, but I’m going to go ahead and do it. Let me start with what we’ve seen in stuck churches to give you a sense of what I mean by this. Often one of the reasons churches get stuck is that their ministry programming is just too complex. They have a lot of programs and events they are running, but little is happening in the form of real spiritual formation and a full calendar doesn’t lead to more disciples. We’ve seen that play out time and time again so stuck churches, measure their wins by more about how many events are on the calendar and they’re hoping that more people involved in events is going to help them take a step toward Christ. But of course, that’s not the case. And there are some ways that you can actually diagnose if your church is over programmed, as an example, if you’re hearing on a routine basis from leaders in your church, “we need more volunteers”, but then you look at your data and you find that 60 to 70% of your congregation is actually volunteering somewhere in your church. That’s an indication that you’re probably over programmed in your ministry
Amy: 07:26 Because that’s a high serving number. Having 60 to 70% is a high serving number, right?
Tony: 07:32 Yeah. I would argue anything above 50% and you are actually doing very well there. Here’s another test. If you routinely hear people say, we didn’t know about that, why wasn’t it communicated? It’s probably because you’re announcing so many things that the key messages are getting lost in the noise and that’s an indication that you’re over programmed. Or here’s another test. If you prioritize things by looking to see what’s on the calendar first, then you’re over programmed as a ministry because the churches that are over programmed find it very difficult to fit everything that they’re doing into the calendar. Into the space that the church has available.
Amy: 08:16 Can I add one? If your announcements go longer than seven to eight minutes, I would actually say four, but I’ll give some grace then. You’re probably over programmed.
Tony: 08:27 Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve shared this story before. So without revealing names, because you know Amy, we only reveal names when we catch churches doing things right. There’s a church that shall remain nameless. I was watching their service on television so that in and of itself tells you this was many years ago and they included the entire service, the worship music and the announcements and the message. The only challenge was the announcements went on for a good 10, 15 minutes and what got cut off then in the time allotment that they had for the service was the message.
Tony: 09:10 So yes, that may be an indication that your church is over programmed. What I was alluding to though, unstuck churches are almost moving in an opposite direction because rather than measuring busy-ness they really are measuring effectiveness by the number of people taking next steps. In other words, success is measured by movement, not by the number of events or the number of people who show up to events. And that’s why we’ve talked in many instances about the importance of having a clear discipleship path with obvious clear next steps for people to take, to move into relationship, to engage their gifts, to serve others, to engage outside the walls of the church, to build relationships, to invest and invite friends to take next steps. It’s just critical that we move beyond just a lot of programming to creating a clear next step path so that we can watch people actually move, actually take their next step toward Christ. So obviously it’s the Holy spirit that’s creating change in our lives. Changes in our hearts…..programs and pathways aren’t going to do that. There’s no class or strategy that will change someone’s heart the way Jesus can, but a clear pathway will serve your church better than a bunch of programs because we’ve seen it work and actually encourage spiritual formation.
Amy: 10:43 Tony, my guess is that there’s some ministry leaders listening right now who agree with you, but they don’t know where to really begin to make that shift, and that actually brings us to the ninth thing that unstuck churches are doing right, and that is that they prune. Now, we talk about it a lot, but how and why should churches prune ministry?
Tony: 11:03 The ironic thing here is that pruning is actually a biblical concept. We can see this concept in Isaiah 5:6 as an example or John 15:2 but the irony is that marketplace businesses do pruning better than churches do, and businesses have done this for a long time. In fact, there’s a famous story about Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple that I think really illustrates this. Now, first of all, Amy, you just need to know, I’m sure the listeners know this by now. I’m not an Apple fan, I’m more of a Google guy.
Amy: 11:41 You have to know everyone’s surprised by that. Do you know I follow you into a lot of churches with Macs. Okay.
Tony: 11:49 Yeah, yeah. I get it. I get it. But I am a fan of this way of thinking. When Jobs returned to Apple, the company was selling about 350 different products. It’s just hard to imagine now based on the Apple that you and I know today. But one of the key questions that Jobs asked on his return was, which one of these products do I tell my friends to buy? And no one could give a simple answer to that. And so he cut the product line by 70%. I can’t even imagine that. I can’t. Can you imagine if some churches need to cut their product line by 70%? Yeah. But the result of that, as they prune the products, Apple increased quality and innovation. And of course the rest of the story is history. But the truth is we see this concept very differently in churches.
Tony: 12:44 Churches are often very slow to prune events and programs. Even the programming that’s really dying and not producing fruit. And so we’ve talked about three areas where churches need to prune. One is around programming. We need to be looking at the overall effectiveness of programs in our church and making sure we’re narrowing that down so that we’re only offering those things that really are producing spiritual growth and help us really have the impact that we’re trying to have for our churches. Churches also prune their staffing. And this doesn’t always mean transitioning people off the team, but it does mean that we’re making sure we have the right people in the right roles and or making sure we have the right number of people in the right roles. And from time to time we may need to consider some necessary endings.
Tony: 13:40 And then finally we see that unstuck churches are pruning their vision. I think there’s a sense that once this vision is set, it’s just written in stone for the duration. But I just don’t think that has to be the way you treat vision. You’re going to learn new things and you’re going to experience new external forces from culture and other aspects of where we’re engaging our ministry that it’s going to be important that we revisit and then prune our visions from time to time. So as we’ve been looking at the unstuck churches that are having success, we recognize they are actually pruning, they’re using that biblical concept at least once a year to take a look at their programming, to take a look at their staffing and to take a look at whether or not the vision needs to be pruned as well.
Amy: 14:32 I look forward to the day where we don’t talk about pruning anymore.
Tony: 14:37 Yeah.
Amy: 14:38 I mean, but it continues to be this systemic issue. Okay. That brings us to the 10th and final thing that we see unstuck churches doing well, I guess it’s not the final, but the the end of the top 10 because that way I feel like we need the drum roll again. But the 10th thing is that they’re unified. And Tony, I’m sure that every leader listening prays for unity within their church. But how are these unstuck churches actually achieving it?
Tony: 15:01 Yeah, Amy, this is last on the list, but it really may be one of the most important things we talk about on this list. And the reason why is as I studied scripture, particularly in the New Testament, I see Jesus so often referring to unity among the body of believers. And I was just reading again this week. I’m studying Philippians this week, and the book includes all kinds of references to the priority of unity, of purpose within the body. So it’s clear that God wants everyone to be pulling in the same direction. Unfortunately, many times we see in stuck churches, that’s just not the case. And unstuck churches are pulling in the same direction. Everyone is pulling in the same direction around mission, why the church exists around the vision, where the church is going in the future. And lastly about how that vision is going to be accomplished through their discipleship strategies, through their ministry strategies, through their worship experiences.
Tony: 16:06 Everybody’s unified, everybody’s pulling in the same direction, and it’s amazing what happens when that unity exists. Because not only do the people inside the church recognize it, but that story tends to leak out and people in the community then begin to see this church is about moving forward and they’re unified. There’s no division. I’m not seeing the hypocrisy. I see in some churches where some churches articulate one thing, but they’re living out something that’s completely different. When churches are unified and pulling in the same direction, it really impacts our witness to the world around us.
Amy: 16:45 Yeah. Well said. I agree. I think that is the most important one. Not that you need my approval.
Tony: 16:54 Thank you, Amy.
Amy: 16:57 Well, this has been helpful to go through the 10 things that unstuck churches are doing. Any final thoughts before we wrap up this two-part series?
Tony: 17:05 Yeah. I just want to encourage pastors who may be currently leading in what they perceive to be as stuck. churches. You may have listened to these last two episodes and heard several different areas where your church may be stuck. You know it’s possible that you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and have less hope for eventually getting unstuck. I just want you to know many of the churches that we’ve worked with that are now healthy and thriving and growing, they were stuck around some of the same issues that we’ve talked about in these last two episodes. You don’t have to stay there, you don’t have to stay where you are and that’s why we do what we do. We’d love to partner with you and help you identify the steps you need to take towards sustained health and if you’d like to start a conversation with us, please visit the website so we can explore together how you can see health and growth in your ministry.
Sean: 17:58 Again, well thanks for joining us on the podcast this week at the unstuck group, we work every day with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences that focus them on vision, strategy, and action. If that’s a need in your church, we would love to talk. You can start a conversation with us by visiting us at the unstuck group.com. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast, we’d love your help in getting the content out. You can subscribe on your favorite podcasting platform. Give us a review and tell your friends. Next week we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.