by Gary A. Lindley*
The world has changed and the Church has been left behind. If we want to catch up, we must change the way we “do church.” Three cultural shifts have brought us to this point:
- We have moved from a people of fellowship to a people of Facebook. Virtual, online communities are replacing the need for person-to-person fellowship.
- We have moved from an attraction mode to a networking mode. We no longer live in the era of “build it and they will come.”
- We have left the age of “Christendom,” and now live in a secular nation. The traffic on Sunday mornings is headed to the ball fields, the malls and the office—not to church.
These cultural changes have left us with a church built for a different time. The systems that now uphold the institution were created in the ‘50s and ‘60s. As a result, we get exactly what we they were designed to provide. To move forward, we need to shift from a membership model, in which we care for our members, to a missionary approach, in which we reach out to the lost. While we can’t scrap what we have and start all over, we can work within the existing system and begin to renew our churches and refocus on fulfilling The Great Commission.
With this background in mind, we are excited to introduce the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI), a proven process of transformation, to the Central Texas Conference. Though a combination of continuous learning, coaching and consultation, this process helps congregations more effectively join God in God’s mission. You may have read about it in some of Bishop Lowry’s recent blog posts.
The Healthy Church Initiative includes two separate process models of transformation based on the size of the congregation. The Larger Church Initiative works with churches that have worship attendance of more than 90 people. The Small Church Initiative addresses the unique needs of the small membership church.
Larger Church Initiative
The Larger Church Initiative includes two phases. In the first phase, small groups of pastors come together in Pastoral Leadership Development (PLD) groups that include trained coaching, in-depth reading and mutual support. Simultaneously, lay leaders from those same pastors’ churches engage in
Lay Leadership Development (LLD) groups that support and complement the ongoing learning of the PLD groups. These eight monthly classes are led by trained facilitators to give both pastors and laity the tools to strengthen their leadership skills. Throughout these classes, the groups will focus on the need for changes and the steps to make change.
Some churches may choose to move to the second phase and engage in a weekend congregational consultation after the PLD and LLD classes conclude. On this weekend, a team of trained consultants work with the pastor, lay leaders and other congregation members to develop key congregational prescriptions that will lead to growth. If the congregation agrees to move forward with the prescriptions, they will receive ongoing trained coaching for 18 months to help guide them through the process.
The pastors from those churches who move to this second phase will join a Consultation Cluster, a peer mentoring group of fellow pastors also engaged in fulfilling HCI prescriptions. These groups provide a needed forum of mutual support among the pastors leading their churches through this transformational process.
Small Church Initiative
The Small Church Initiative (SCI) takes into consideration the more limited resources of smaller congregations and addresses the specific obstacles unique to these settings. The SCI process also has two phases.
In the first phase, the pastor and a representative group of laity will join together with other SCI churches for six weekend workshops. These workshops will guide the churches with action steps and accountability that will begin to produce change from the beginning.
Those small membership churches that choose to take the next step in the HCI process will have a full-day church consultation with a trained consultant who will work with the pastor and leadership to provide prescriptions for key congregational changes that will lead to growth. If the church agrees to move forward with the prescriptions, they will receive ongoing trained coaching for 12 months to help guide them through the process.
In January 2012, we will launch the HCI process in the Central and West districts with four Larger Church Initiative PLD and LLD Groups and four Small Church Initiative workshop groups. We will expand into the other districts with our second round of PLD/LLD and SCI classes beginning in September 2012.
In most cases, the participants will pay for their own books and coaching fees (for pastors in the PLD groups) in the first stages of both initiatives. The churches will also pay a small registration fee if they choose to move forward with the consultations. The districts and conference will be responsible for paying for curriculum, the workshop facilitators, the Consultation teams and the church coaches following the consultation.
The overall cost to a church will be between $300 and $500. The bulk of the costs will be covered by the conference. The Cabinet has attended a three-day orientation about the HCI process and been in many discussions about the implementation of the HCI process. We have decided that this significant investment of time and money on the part of the Conference will be an important step in the future growth of the Central Texas Conference.
In coming weeks watch for articles about how the Healthy Church Initiative has been successfully implemented in other Conferences and more details about the Central Texas Conference implementation.