[This is a guest post by Greg Atkinson. It is a brief excerpt from Greg Atkinson’s new book Strange Leadership: 40 Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization. Go to the book’s website for more info and to download the free Team Discussion Guide: http://strangeleadership.com/]
Greg encouraged us at 200churches by joining us on the 200churches Podcast, episode 25, way back in July of 2013 to talk about how to turn around a messy church. Greg has just released this new book, and we encourage you to check it out! Read an excerpt below:
When I teach on this subject of desperation, I share a couple ways that I see desperation in the Church. The first way that I see a sense of desperation is with church plants (new works).
For a while, I coached church planters through the ARC, a church planting organization. I got to attend the church planter’s initiation and first training, their assessment process, and their one-week intensive basic training.
As I interacted with church planters in person at these events or on the phone through my coaching, I picked up on their sense of desperation. They were so nervous, so full of excitement mixed with fear; that it made them extremely teachable, which is key to growth and opens the gates for innovation to occur. Teachability is something that comes pretty naturally to church planters. I just recently returned from a church planters conference, and I again was reminded of just how hungry and teachable they are. I’m not just talking about hungry to grow and survive, but a hunger for God and His hand on their ministry.
As Shawn Lovejoy, senior pastor at Mountain Lake Church and cofounder of ChurchPlanters.com, said at the Velocity Conference in 2010, “Church planting is hard business. If you can do anything else, do it.” The good news is that with great organizations out there, such as ARC, NewThing Network, The Launch Network, ChurchPlanters.com, NAMB, Acts 29, Stadia, The Orchard Group, Exponential as well as coaches, consultants and writers, such as Ed Stetzer, Nelson Searcy, and Stephen Gray, there is plenty of help and guidance for church planters.
Ed Stetzer told me that “68 percent of church plants survive after four years,” which is an encouraging number compared to some of the urban legends I’ve heard of church planting statistics. Still, church planting is an extremely difficult task and not something to be taken lightly. I’ve heard it called the “extreme sport” of pastoring.
Because everything in church planting is so new and there are so many firsts, it is like my son, Tommy, saying, “Daddy, hold me.” Church planters are very dependent upon the Holy Spirit. You could say they lead, serve, and act out of a sense of desperation that leads to a dependency on the Holy Spirit.
The second way that I see desperation in the Church is through older, established, and dead or declining churches.
I used to teach on two ways that I saw desperation in the Church and a nice older man came up to me after I was speaking to Church leaders in Dallas, TX, and gently suggested I consider older, declining churches. He said, “Just as church plants are in ‘survival mode,’ older churches are also in survival mode. They’re trying not to close the doors and become extinct.” God used that older man to speak straight to my heart, and his words resonated with my spirit. I knew what he was saying was true.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not making a blanket statement about older churches in general (First Baptist Name Your City, First United Methodist, First Pres, etc.). I’m talking specifically about established churches that are in decline, which sadly, most churches in the US are in plateau or decline. Many of these churches started out with a burning vision, passion, mission, and other things I’ve shared in this book. Like the church in Ephesus in Rev 2, they have somehow forsaken their “first love.”
This goes back to the decision we talked about in the second chapter. You have to decide to grow, decide to try new things and dare to follow God wherever He leads. This takes great faith, courage, obedience and a tremendous amount of intentionality. Andy Stanley says, “Vision leaks.” We all if we’re not careful will drift off course and find ourselves in maintenance mode, too scared to try anything new. It’s the old we’ve-always–done-it-this way mindset.
For this second group of the Church that I watch, somewhere along the way, they wake up, they get mad, they have a God-moment, they have revival—something occurs, and they return to their dependency upon the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s a pastor, deacon, or elder with a burden. Something leads them to attempt to be vibrant and full of life again. They start seeking God like they used to and this sense of desperation comes about. I’m watching it happen right now with the local First Baptist Church in my very own city. Only God can revive a dead church, but you must be desperate for Him.
I remember several years ago hearing TD Jakes say, “Some of you need to fight. Don’t give up.” When the leadership of a declining church wakes up to the reality that if something doesn’t change soon they are going to close their doors forever, they start to become desperate again, and it’s a beautiful thing.
If you don’t believe God can turn around a dead church, you haven’t met our Redeemer who raises the dead. As a matter of fact, raising the dead is kind of His specialty—He’s actually pretty famous for it. I don’t care how old your church is, how many people are attending and how far behind budget you are, I simply want to encourage you to never put God in a box and to be totally desperate for Him to move.
Let your desperation lead to a dependency on the Holy Spirit and you’ll be in a good place.
Greg Atkinson is an author, speaker, consultant and the Editor of Christian Media Magazine. Greg has started businesses including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media, a social media marketing company, and his own consulting firm. As a consultant, Greg has worked with some of the largest and fastest-growing churches across the United States. Greg is the author of Church Leadership Essentials and Strange Leadership.
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