Dr. Warren Bird recently announced that he has some big news, Warren, what’s your news?
After a great 13-year run with Leadership Network, I’ve become Vice President of Research and Equipping for the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA).
How big a jump is this?
It feels like the same family. Leadership Network is an ECFA member. You and ECFA President Dan Busby have a long relationship, and you’re on ECFA’s Church Board of Reference. The two organizations have collaborated in many ways. What I did for Leadership Network, I’m excited to do with new frontiers for ECFA—and more!
You did a lot of research FOR churches and the kingdom in the last years, what do you think was your most important finding in your years of research with us?
We learned that large-church pastors tend to be 1.5 inches taller than the average person their age, and that they eat 4 out of 7 dinners with their families each week.
Seriously, beyond numerous factoids and trends (many found at leadnet.org/megachurch), we debunked a lot of stereotypes, such as the one that most large churches are a mile wide and inch deep. Instead, we found large churches raising the bar of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We documented ways they’re pushing the edges as they look for new ways to connect the timeless, unchanging message of Jesus with an ever-changing culture.
What did your research uncover about Leadership Network itself?
As I surveyed leading practices and benchmarks of pacesetting, innovative churches, especially of Leadership Network’s several hundred core clients, I found that leaders drawn to Leadership Network don’t always match the norms of all leaders, even those serving churches of similar size and budget.
Leadership Network-connected churches are more likely to be growing, more recently founded, and to be multisite—and with more campuses at that. They’re more likely to have a pastor who’s younger but has been there longer, but also to have a lower general fund budget. Yet their salary levels are a bit higher. (And by the way, Leadership Network just released my final projects—our 2018 large church salary report, with accompanying products like compensation tables.)
Looking back, what is the biggest breakthrough you feel you helped uncover, and why?
Multisite. I remember sitting in a church basement with representatives of leading churches across North America, all of whom were beginning to explore the idea we today call multisite. They were talking about how to prevent people who didn’t attend the “main campus” from feeling like second-class citizens (the actual term the person used was “chopped liver”). One pastor said in response, “We call it ‘the face with the place’ “—and he went on to describe what today we call a campus or location pastor. You could have heard a pin drop as you could imagine the idea clicking for everyone present.
We helped spread ideas like that in my research, we sponsored most of the initial multisite conferences, we published the two initial books on multisite, and we otherwise resourced and helped accelerate something big that God was up to.
What was the best research project you conducted, and why?
I usually feel that my most recent project is my best one! My favorite was our research on internships and residencies, which was our most popular download in 2017 (see leadnet.org/intern)
What’s the thing you feel will be remembered for a decade to come, and why?
We’ve had the privilege of identifying things that are about to become big, and often the research gets put into a book. Let me name two such topics. Leadership Network funded a huge study of church planting and multiplication, which became Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird. Second, we helped make discussion about pastoral succession feel “normal.” Years ago Leadership Network published Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken about Pastoral Transitions. More recently William Vanderbloemen and I wrote Next: Pastoral Succession that Works, which is already in its eleventh printing.
Warren, you wrote or co-wrote about 500 books while at Leadership Network, actually 14 books while you were with us. 1. Why did you do that? 2. What is your favorite? 3. Which one—among the 30 total you’ve penned—will be the most remembered and why?
Most of my books were to thought leaders, trying to give them language and examples that would encourage them to take something they were already noodling, and carry it much farther. Books help legitimize and diffuse ideas. They inspire role models.
My all-time bestseller is Emotionally Healthy Church by Pete Scazzero and Warren Bird, still being discovered. Probably my two most recent books are most discussed at present: Hero Maker by Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird, and How to Break Church Growth Barriers by Carl George and Warren Bird.
Having moved to ECFA, what do you hope to accomplish with them and especially their initiatives with large churches?
Indeed, ECFA’s fastest-growing segment of new members is churches. Already 43 of America’s 100 largest churches have earned ECFA certification. As society becomes more skeptical, churches benefit from having a seal of approval by an outsider qualified to affirm to donors, “You can have confidence that your church’s finances are being handled with the highest integrity.”
ECFA President Dan Busby has “achiever” as his top Strengthfinder, and he has a clear vision of how my gifts can greatly impact the world of Christ-centered churches and other ministries. I’ve been amazed by the huge, not-discovered-enough library of free resources already at churchEXCEL.org. I’ll have the privilege of adding to that robust knowledge center.
In what specific areas?
ECFA focuses on areas of church governance, financial management, legal compliance and gift administration. That’s a huge arena, as ECFA sets standards in each of these areas for churches and other Christ-centered nonprofits, currently number almost 2,300 member organizations with combined annual revenue of more than $27 billion.
You’ve come a long way since your upbringing in Atlanta. How do people stay in touch?
Or they could always come see you in New York! Or at the numerous conferences you pop into!