Preparing for Your Church’s Next 10 Years
Published on 8/28/2012
Dave Travis is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Encouragement Officer of Leadership Network. He is the co-author of Beyond the Box: Innovative Churches that Work and Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches. He has appeared on NBC Nightly News and CNN, and in other numerous articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other major news outlets. This interview explores his latest publication What’s Next? A Look Over the Next Hill for Innovative Churches and Their Leaders (2012 Edition).
Tell us the gist of What's Next?
The idea is to trace the outlines of the recent past and attempt to discern the contours of the future. For more than 15 years, Leadership Network has studied the world around us, especially trends for churches. We’ve done our own research, as well as reviewing the best work of others, to better understand our cultural climate.
Overall, how do you view what’s ahead for church ministry?
For thoughtful and well-prepared leaders, there will never be a shortage of fresh opportunity. Our vision is to help them preach, teach, disciple, and baptize more people who, in turn, will go out themselves in exponentially increasing numbers to be salt and light in a dark and thirsty time.
Dave Travis answers why he wrote What's Next? in this video.
Why focus on the need for “innovative churches”?
When the world changes, innovation becomes necessary. Innovation, in turn, changes the world. We don’t pursue innovation for its own sake. Its value is in creating a higher level of performance. Our focus is not on every new idea, but on those few that transform the shape of future ministry.
We value innovative entrepreneurs because they are game-changers. They create movements of ideas and actions that galvanize those around them. When the forest begins to seem too thick, they are the ones who invent new tools for path-clearing. These innovators work within their own cultural milieu, making the gospel come to life within the specifics of how local people live and think.
You list several developments we’ll be seeing more of. One involves “second- and third-tier” cities.
Conventional wisdom called for us to look for large, innovative churches in the biggest cities and their suburbs. This has changed in the last decade or so. Expansive church campuses are cropping up in all types of locales. A few could be classified as rural or even as villages; we see them predominantly in towns, exurbs, and resort/retirement havens. We look at “these old bones” – our cities – and wonder if they can live again. They can, particularly with churches smartly built to reach younger seekers. But the greatest movement and opportunity will continue to be in circles that extend from those cities.
Dave talks about the big idea of What's Next?
What’s next, economically, for innovative churches?
We’ve seen a trend toward churches establishing annual budgets that are at 80% to 90% of the previous year’s income. Overages are then reserved as “opportunity funds” for strategic purposes throughout the year. With the recession driving prices down, greater opportunities present themselves in the areas of land, buildings, or mission opportunities—a classic example of turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Other churches and leaders have been wise enough to take a greater role in helping church attendees reduce their personal debt.
In your section on authenticators you reference social capital bundling. What does that mean, especially for the church?
As churches carry out various practical ministries that improve their communities, in our view these ministries become the “authenticators” of the church locally. The church has credibility not because of the pastor’s communication abilities, but because the members act for the good of the surrounding area.
Younger people in particular are no longer won over by just Christian apologetics or social programming. They believe the church is validated by how it collectively lives out its core beliefs. That’s not the case for every new church visitor, of course, but social capital is a strong ingredient in the recipe of churches that are reaching people currently.
Dave tells leaders why they should read What's Next?
Some people wrongly think Leadership Network works only with megachurches.
We champion all sorts of innovation. An example would be innovative church planting. It seemed like a radical move a decade ago when Leadership Network formed a core group of churches that would each aggressively train, support, and launch at least four new churches per year. But the trend only accelerated.
Nearly every large church is now involved in planting new fellowships at some level. Churches are engaged in startups, either from their own church programs, or from a network program composed of two or more partners. As a result, this past decade has been a time of exponential growth in terms of new churches. In fact, we documented a few years ago in the book Viral Churches by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird that church starts were now exceeding closures—a significant trend reversal.
Is ethnic diversity in churches on the rise?
Younger generations have come of age with diversity as an expected condition. They see no reason why the church would not “look like America,” as they see it. Thus racial and ethnic diversity become another authenticator of a genuine church. If they look around and see a homogeneous congregation, they tend to discount the effectiveness of the church experience. Since 2000, our surveys have pointed to larger churches having a fairly high degree of racial diversity, as compared to smaller churches.
If you are a large, growing, innovative church in a diverse community, your participants, staff and leadership need to reflect that reality—or risk being discounted by younger generations.
Dave explains the most challenging concept in What's Next?
Where will most staff come from in the future?
Most likely a combination of places, as always. But one of the key development arenas will be structured internship and residency programs, targeting younger generations who come forward to ask for practical training.
How is Leadership Network best helping churches these days?
Part of our mission is to help our clients move from ideas to implementation to impact. We do this through our Leadership Community and InnovationLab processes, where ideas are refined into implementation plans, and progress is then measured. At Leadership Network, we identify innovative, entrepreneurial churches to engage with our core processes. Last year alone, we held 55 small gatherings of leaders, with 6 to 12 or more churches represented at each gathering.
We are also the “diffusers of innovation,” as Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations would say. We share with others in multiple ways what those teams are learning, so new ideas can be adapted to other places and other local contexts.
Dave tells leaders which chapter they should read in What's Next? if they only have time to read one.
Your under-$10 purchase price for What’s Next? won’t cover the cost to gather all this knowledge. How is Leadership Network funded?
While our clients pay fees for various processes and services, we are primarily funded by visionary and generous donors. Our initial launch came on U.S. soil in 1984, but we now serve client churches in Canada and Europe, and we plan to expand even further. Our “elite” processes are limited to selected clients, but we’re always eager to build new relationships and to find out how to serve new friends—helping them move from ideas to implementation to impact.
What's Next? is available in paperback or Kindle editions. Order 10 or more copies and get free shipping!
This interview was based largely on quotes from just a few of the 64 pages of What’s Next? To read the full publication, designed to be read in just under an hour, go to What’s Next? for both the print and Kindle editions. To dialog with the author, write firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about ways to engage with Leadership Network sign up for the free e-newsletter Advance at www.leadnet.org/advance or explore our program offerings at www.leadnet.org/programs.
Warren Bird, Ph.D., research director at Leadership Network, is a former pastor and seminary professor, and is author or co-author of 24 books for ministry leaders, the most recent one with Jim Tomberlin: Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include “The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches,” “Pastors Who Are Shaping the Future” and “A New Decade of Megachurches.” Follow him on Twitter @warrenbird