Watching the Scoreboard

Last night I was watching preseason Sunday Night Football – maybe not quite the real thing (the Panthers played their starters for the first half only; ditto with the Jets), but to the teams playing, it’s real enough. They’re out there to play well, help their team score, and be ahead at the end of the game.

Couldn’t you say some of the same things about the church?

Congregations have long measured success by “bodies, budgets, and buildings” – a record of attendance, the offering plate, and the square footage of facilities. But for growing, healthy churches, the scoreboard can’t stop there.

Maybe it’s time for a new scoreboard – one that reflects transformation, not just information.

LifeWay CEO Thom Rainer and LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer led one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind to understand what sets “transformational churches” apart from others. In their book “Transformational Church“, they take us to the thriving congregations where truly changing lives is the standard.

As a part of my responsibilities with Auxano, I am working with LifeWay and their Church Partners network. Transformational Church has been an integral part of their work for the last two years, so I thought it appropriate to take a deeper look into the material.

After distilling down their research, Rainer and Stetzer found three principles that were common to transformational churches. These principles transformed people to look like Christ, congregations to act like the body of Christ, and communities to reflect the kingdom of God.

In the first of a multi-part post on the book, here is a brief overview:

Discern

Missionary Mentality – church understands the community and will minister in contextually appropriate ways to reach local people with the gospel

Embrace

Vibrant Leadership – leaders showing passion for God, His mission, and its transforming power on people

Relational Intentionality – deliberately connect with one another; accountability, encouragement, long-term relationships

Prayerful Dependence – natural disposition of communicating with God about the hope for transformation; dependence on prayer rather than a program for prayer

Engage

Worship – expectancy; knew something great was going to happen; trusted God to deliver transformation rather than the musicians to deliver a good show

Community – activity of joining lives together through ministry systems

Mission – God’s mission to make disciples of Christ and to engage the world as Jesus calls; understand disciplemaking as the normal sate of the Christian’s life

Stetzer and Rainer develop these three categories of transformation as a loop that can be entered at any point.

 Principles of the Loop

  1. Connecting to the loop – all three categories and seven elements are necessary parts for a transformational ministry, but churches can begin anywhere.
  2. Cathartic Experience – the change to a transformational mindset begins with a moment of decision that is beneficial and liberating.
  3. Convergence of Elements – churches with transformational disciplemaking allow for a free convergence of all the elements.

Tomorrow: Discern

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Listen to Their Story

Every community has a story – a unique story. Every community has a character, a “feel”, and an attitude shaped by its own peculiar events and circumstances.

courtesy switchboard.nrdc.org

courtesy switchboard.nrdc.org

Does your church want to make an impact on your community in a meaningful way?

Listen to their story first.

Don’t rush in with your plans and dreams and schemes for what you want to accomplish. First, you ask what’s the story? What are the real issues, the real problems, the real needs?

  • What are the unique needs where God has placed us?
  • How are these needs reflected socially, economically, ethnically, environmentally, politically, and religiously?
  • What arena of our community is the furthest from the utopia that God wants to restore?
  • What special opportunities are found within our immediate sphere of influence (within a half-mile)?
  • What burning issues are alive in the public’s eyes and brought to attention by the media?
  • What needs and opportunities do the industries specific to our area create?
  • What is the most significant change in our community in the last decade, and what need does this create?
  • What are the largest community events, and what needs or opportunities do they create?
  • Because of our specific location, what solution could we provide that no other church does?
  • How would we describe the “atmosphere of lostness” in our community?
  • What is the creation story of our particular community, and what insight does this afford?
  • Does the history of our community bring to light any spiritual strongholds?
  • What one positive change in our community would have the most dramatic effect in people’s lives?

He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13

30 Years Ago…

30 years ago this week I was just finishing up the first year of my master’s program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I was also employed by SBTS as an audiovisual technician, and I was working the convention in two roles: running the multimedia program for the Seminary’s alumni luncheon, and serving as a photographer for the Seminary’s new President, Roy Honeycutt, who had just been named the Seminary’s 8th president.

I was also a part-time staff member of one of the largest SBC churches in the state, serving as Minister of Media for Highview Baptist Church in Louisville. The pastor did a live radio show every afternoon during drive time, and using that connection, I was able to do live radio news reports throughout the convention.

1982 was still the “early years” of the controversy in SBC life, so there was a lot going on at the convention. I love history but am not a historian; I wrestle with theology but am not a theologian. This post is not about what happened in SBC life during the early 80’s – history records it.

This is about today.

I am in New Orleans this week, once again attending the Southern Baptist Convention. A lot has happened in 30 years…

This time around, I am attending the SBC Pastor’s Conference and the Convention as an Auxano team member. My role at Auxano includes that of convention manager, coordinating our team at convention events. I will also be working in the Exhibit Hall area, in the LifeWay exhibit where Auxano has a white board conversation space.

Last night I served as host of the Green Room for the Pastor’s Conference. The Green Room is like a speaker’s lounge, where the speakers and family can relax before and after an event. As it was father’s day, the opening lineup consisted of father and son teams: Bailey Smith and J. Josh Smith; Don Wilton and Rob Wilton; Ronnie Floyd and Nick Floyd; and Tony Evans and Anthony Evans. It was great meeting these men, and since several of them were Auxano clients, we caught up on where they’ve been – and where they’re headed next. Exciting stuff!

I will be Tweeting as time allows (@auxano) and also trying to make notes for later reflection. I would love to hear any comments you might have about the SBC, the past 30 years, and where you are today.

Clarity Solves the Visionary’s Dilemma

The problem with most visionaries is that they see a world that doesn’t exist.

It’s not so much of a problem until they try to explain their vision to the rest of us mere mortals. They can imagine products or services not yet invented. They can envision a way of living different to the way we live now.

Yet they can’t always get it out in a way that anyone can understand.

Simon Sinek, author of the book “Start With Why,” has a great post here on the visionary’s dilemma.

Here’s a quote that pretty much sums it up:

A vision, no matter how brilliant, will only ever see the light of day if others, those less visionary, are able to also see the potential. It is a person’s ability to paint a picture of something that doesn’t exist in words so clear that others can clearly picture it themselves without any confusion or uncertainty that matters most. It is at that point that an idea can inspire people to act. To share the idea and to help bring it to reality.

His formula for explaining the vision in words everyone can understand is pure gold:

  1. Words that require thinking should be avoided, words like “convergence,” for example. When someone says that in a sentence, I have to furl my brow and really pay attention.
  2. Explain why it matters, not what you’re doing. Who cares if you’re “developing applications for mobile devices…blah blah blah,” why should I care?
  3. And most importantly, always, always speak as if you’re describing an image. A picture. A scene.

And finally: And, after all, it is why you have your vision, not how you intend to create it, that inspires.

Leaders in ChurchWorld ought to be visionaries – and many are. Just make sure you are able to speak to that vision, and communicate it to others with clarity.

 

Clarity is Audible

When you read or hear the word “clarity”, the odds are that your next thoughts have something to do with vision, imagery, or similar metaphors.

Will Mancini, author of “Church Unique” and founder of the consulting group Auxano, refers to himself as a “clarity evangelist.” One of the central tenants of his work is clarity, and he uses powerful visual images to illustrate.

The concepts of clarity are a regular part of my conversations with churches. In the last month, I have talked about clarity with large and small churches; rural and urban churches; traditional and contemporary churches. Clarity transcends all these groupings as a necessary ingredient of successful churches.

In the midst of all this conversation about clarity, a comment was made to me that literally stopped me in my tracks:

Clarity is audible, too

This astute and wise church leader was telling me that our words – verbally – were very important in his context, maybe even more so than images and other visual elements. He demonstrated this the next day in a powerful, passionate sermon that was a masterpiece of the spoken word. He schooled me though the use of:

  • The dynamics of voice
  • Volume
  • Inflection
  • Pacing and tempo
  • Eliminating verbal graffiti

Leaders who communicate with clarity radiate passion, conviction, and enthusiasm – and people respond.

Leadership = Vision Clarity

When I was in graduate school in the early 80’s, strategic planning processes included five-, ten- and sometimes even twenty-year plans. The past was relatively stable and indicated that things would continue as they were into the future. The assumption was that the near future would resemble the recent past. Rapid cultural, technological, and geopolitical change has rendered that assumption obsolete.

Will Mancini, founder of Auxano and author of the best-selling book Church Unique states it this way:

Leaders must focus more on preparation than on planning.

Mancini taps heavily into Reggie McNeal’s work here. McNeal, a consultant with The Leadership Network, has written several great books. In The Present Future he addresses 6 tough questions for the church. The one of interest here is “How do we plan for the future?” The short answer is, as both Mancini and McNeal elaborate, you don’t plan – you prepare.

Planning on past actions and assumptions will lead you to cultural irrelevance, methodological obsolescence, and missional ineffectiveness. Churches looking to planning like they always have will be left answering the wrong questions at best; at worst, they will be answering questions not asked!

Church Unique is not a road map that assumes predictability of fixed points and roads that stay unchanged over time. Instead, the tools of Church Unique are more like the compass, sextant, and chronometer of the sailor who moves across an ever-changing sea. Navigating the waters of today’s rapidly changing times requires ceaseless observation and adaptation to the surrounding environment. The better (and biblical) approach to the future involves prayer and preparation, not prediction and planning.

As a leader, are you seeking vision clarity first?

>>Download a free summary of Church Unique here.

>>Download a free summary of The Present Future here.

Got Clarity?

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. – the Cheshire Cat

Where’s your red X?
You know, the spot that says “You are here.”

Looking for the shortest distance between Point A and Point B?

The answers to the above questions aren’t in Will Mancini’s Visual Summary to his book “Church Unique,” but you will be able to grasp the process that just might answer the tough questions you’re facing today.

Take a look.

Download the free e-book.

Start out on the journey…

…today!

If you are the Exponential Conference today and would like a free copy of The Visual Summary, show this post or a Tweet related to it to the guys at the Auxano booth near the Worship Center entrance (while supplies last).

Granite Etching vs Sand Writing

This  post wraps up a quick look at a section of Will Mancini’s book “Church Unique“. I’m at the Exponential PreConference event in Orlando with part of the Auxano team, and this section has been jumping all over me!

So far, it’s been all about Soul Fast Food – but now it’s down to some “solid” stuff! The real nourishment of your people should come from the vision of your Church Unique. Only then will the enduring purpose of the church reflected locally can replace the substitutes of place, personality, programs, and people.

In his book “Built to Last“, author Jim Collins found that enduring organizations have two dominant characteristic that are complementary opposites:

  • A strong conviction about core ideals that never changes
  • A clear understanding that everything else must change in order to preserve the core

If people are nourished by unchanging vision, they are more agreeable when the rules change with tactics. It takes clarity and discipline to understand which things in the organization belong to which category. But what if our people were so captivated by the granite etching that it set us free to play with sand drawings? The leader’s role is not just to communicate in both granite and sand but to show how the two components work together. The leader should help people embrace change by nurturing an emotional connection to the unchanging core vision. The leader should preserve and champion the core vision by showing people how to constantly adapt.

Our change management problems today are vision problems first and people problems second. Many leaders want their people to run a missional marathon but unknowingly feed them junk food, leaving them malnourished and unprepared for the future. 

If you are leader in ChurchWorld, don’t be part of “feeding” your congregation junk fast food – focus on the Bread of Life, and watch your church thrive and grow! When we fail to clarify and nurture the things written in granite, our people get too attached to the things written in sand. This is how the four P’s (place, personality, programs, and people) fit in. These are sand, not granite. As the fluid and flexible stuff of the kingdom they not only should change, but must change. In the absence of vision, the stuff of sand becomes the vision. In the absence of granite, sand is all we can grasp. 

What’s on Your Menu?

The last few posts on 27gen have been a closer examination of Will Mancini’s book Church Unique. Specifically, the chapter entitled “Lost Congregations” that examines how churches adapt to a vision vacuum. Using the metaphor of Soul Fast Food, Mancini challenges the church leader to examine how their structures, programs, and ministries may have become a substitute for the real meal – what God intends for the church.

To wrap this up, I simply want to restate some of Mancini’s questions for your consideration.

  • What really happens in the soul of a congregant when left in a church’s vision vacuum over time?
  • What is left to excite the heart of church attenders?
  • What then fuels the dreams of your people?
  • What nourishes the identity of those who call your church home?

God’s people have a heart for mission; we need guidance to carry it out – vision. When a church articulates and clarifies its vision, the people of God will be released in a powerful realization of God at work in their world.

What’s on your menu?

If you are at the Exponential Conference and you resonated with the Church Unique material, I invite you to participate in the Intentional Discipleship track for your workshops. You can look at a preview here.

Dessert Time from the Soul Fast Food Menu

Today is the final day to order off the Soul Fast Food menu!

For previous orders, see these posts here and here. These thoughts are driven by my ongoing learning experience with Will Mancini’s and the Auxano presentations at Exponential 2012 Preconference.

Apple Pie “People” 

Perhaps the greatest substitute for healthy membership identity is the group of people at church – whether ten or a hundred – who “know my name.” This is not to be seen as a knock on relationships! It is identifying “community without a cause” as both unbiblical and a common source of identity for the churchgoer. Want a demonstration? Suggest a change in service times – or ask a Bible Study class or small group to multiply. People don’t want you to mess with their relationships. Our familiar friends, albeit essential to church life, have become central to the person’s identify. Relationships are critically important to community life in a church. But, like too many apple pies or anything taken to excess, they can be damaging to the overall health of the body.

Later today:  the source of real nourishment for your church – and it’s not found at your local drive-through!

More Soul Fast Food

Big Mac “Personalities”

Spiritual leaders matter to our people. But most pastors do not want their personality to be the primary umbilical cord connecting their members’ identity to the church. Charisma is not vision. It is a vehicle to deliver the vision. But for many churchgoers, connection to their church is connection to the pastor. The “person” of the pastor can easily become the primary connection point so that in the absence of vision, people cling to something – or someone – even those with little capability to lead.

 

 

Supersized “Programs”

Programs are important, and good methodologies for doing ministry should come and go. Unfortunately, most of them come and stay – like sour milk, they hang around long after their expiration date! For years, church leaders have struggled with how to dismount a dead horse. When the program exists in a vision vacuum, the how of doing the program displaces the why in the heart of the program’s leaders. Mastering the how is what makes the volunteer feel important. The problem is not the volunteer but the vision. We need the vision to raise our sight to see the why behind the program to begin with. Their hearts find more meaning in working efficiently on yesterday’s methods than in working effectively into the future.

What about your church?

Does your fast food diet include Big Mac personalities and Super Sized programs?

At the Exponential Conference this week? Check out Auxano and Will Mancini: Preconference Tuesday 4/23 beginning at 1 PM in ED 315; Intentional Leadership Track Wednesday and Thursday during the workshops (8 different sessions)