Published on 1/10/2012
by Warren Bird
If I could physically pull it off, my wife and I would probably be card-carrying members of about 100 different churches by now.
That’s how I came away from my 2011 interview series with 104 top leaders of a wide variety of influential churches from coast to coast. I was so amazed by what God was doing in their midst, I wanted to be part of every one of them.
I have been researching trends in America’s most innovative congregations for many years, and I’ve never been so encouraged and in awe at God’s hand at work through influential leaders as I was this year.
My final interview in the series was with Bryan Carter, 37-year-old pastor of Concord Church, Dallas, TX. During his eight years as senior pastor, attendance has grown from 1,700 to 4,500. “I’m doing what God called me to do and I’m loving it,” he told me. “I see our city and even the world being different because God has been equipping our people to be released. It’s truly amazing to be part of what God is doing in our community and beyond.”
It’s rare that 104 strong, visionary leaders would agree on what the future needs to look like for their congregations. But almost to a person, I sensed and heard a similar heartbeat with the pastors I interviewed across denominational, racial, and economic lines around the country. There is a genuine sense of wonder, excitement and encouragement about how God is moving—despite tough economies and challenging jobless rates.
As I talked with these leaders from coast to coast, from mid-size communities to major metropolitan sprawls, I heard minimal complaints about staff issues, church conflict or other all-too-common church challenges—just one inspiring story or dream after another, like the one I got from John Carter, age 47, in economically hard-hit Syracuse, NY.
John’s 2,000-attendee Abundant Life Christian Center in East Syracuse, NY, transformed an inner-city school by raising $500,000 and building a “Disney-esque” library with a jungle-theme reading area, dinosaur heads and even a space shuttle coming out of the walls. The school’s reading scores went from #23 out of 24 schools to third in the city—and the trajectory of many young lives was likely changed by that investment.
I was also struck by how these pastors of rising influence churches desire to multiply their influence around the U.S. and the globe. Leaders such as 40-year-old Shawn Lovejoy of Mountain Lake Church, Cumming, GA, are pouring significant time, energy and resources into raising up new churches in new places. These churches aren’t necessarily cookie-cutters of their own, but they are churches that are going to have significant impact and themselves become multipliers.
Hundreds of people in Shawn Lovejoy’s Mountain Lake Church are involved with the church-planting ministry—whether it’s helping pull off a major conference annually, staffing volunteer ministry teams that help church plants get off the ground, or grabbing coffee and meeting to encourage one of Mountain Lake’s church planters somewhere in the world.
“I’ll have a businessman in our church call me and say, “You’ll never guess where I am. I’m on a business trip in Brisbane, Australia, eating lunch one of our church planters,’ ” Shawn said. “It happens all the time with our planters. We want caring for those guys to be part of our DNA.”
Shawn is certainly not alone in how his church is moving with strength and passion into a community, and extending its reach as far as God allows. The pastors I talked with around the continent are consistently and strategically finding unique opportunities to alter the course of their cities and the souls that live there. They are mobilizing their congregations to make a difference, and they are viewing their churches as part of something much bigger God is doing to bring His kingdom to earth.
Leaders and congregations like this don’t quit when they hit obstacles. They step out in faith, and they’re literally changing the world for Jesus as they make a new breed of Christ-followers along the way. I can’t wait to tell you more about them, and about some of the amazing, encouraging trends that I see in these rising influence churches. That’s what we’ll do in this space over the next 11 months. Plug in here monthly and look forward to reading what’s happening in some of America’s emerging, influential churches with monthly articles on these and other topics:
- Great ministry ideas being piloted by innovative churches
- Innovations in staffing structures
- What keeps rising influence pastors up at night (and probably you, too!)
- Where influential pastors are spending most of their time
- Who influences the influencers
Also for a four-minute visual narration of some of the churches I visited, go to this link for “Influencer Pastors: An Insider’s Tour.” You may not wind up like I did, wanting to join every one of these congregations. But we’re hoping you will gain fresh insights to fuel whatever God is doing in your midst and in your ministry.