Lessons from 500 Churches
When I became the president of LifeWay Christian Resources in 2005, I discontinued the Rainer Group, a company that I started nearly 20 years earlier. I knew that the demands of an organization as large as LifeWay would require my undivided attention. It was the right decision, but still a painful decision. And I took joy that my oldest son Sam began Rainer Research, in many ways a continuation of the Rainer Group where he had served with me.
As I look back at some 500 church consultations over two decades, I realize how much I learned. As a consultant, I was rightly expected to help churches and their leaders. But learning flowed both ways. I did attempt to help these churches, but the churches taught me many valuable lessons as well.
Learning from the strengths
Most of the leaders who contacted me had an undeniable love for their congregations. And likewise, the church members were dedicated and committed to their churches. I was always moved to see this depth of love for a local congregation even in times of serious church conflict.
These church leaders and members, more often than not, truly wanted the best for their churches. It was this love for the churches and this desire for something better that often became the foundation for a path back to church health.
Learning from the struggles
About nine out of ten churches that called my firm for a consultation did so because the leaders knew or because they sensed something was wrong with their churches. The consultation thus became diagnostic and remedial. Find the problems and do something about them.
On rare occasions, the solution was simple. One church had been at a frustrating plateau for three years. The leaders couldn’t understand why an otherwise healthy church was stymied in its growth. On the first day, one of my consulting team members counted the number of parking places and discovered quickly that the church could not grow because there was no available parking. The church expanded its parking lot and growth resumed. The leaders thought we were geniuses!
But most of the consultations were complicated. No one issue could explain the struggles. We on the consulting team did our best to assess the situation and make helpful recommendations. In the process, I discovered four themes that recurred in these consultations. It is not an exhaustive list, but these reasons did explain many of the struggles of the churches.
Four common themes
First, our consultations focused much attention on matters of leadership. We found that many church leaders were in trouble because of poor leadership skills and poor interpersonal skills. Most of these leaders were well trained theologically and biblically, but they weren’t prepared to lead an organization or deal with people issues.
Second, our team was often perplexed at the weak evangelistic endeavors of churches. It seemed in many congregations that the Great Commission was not taken seriously. It wasn’t that evangelistic efforts were done poorly; they weren’t done at all.
Third, we saw that church leaders needed the eyes of an outsider. One of the most common components of our consultations was “the first-time guest.” Someone on our team would make his or her first appearance at the church at a worship service. That person would note carefully everything from parking to greeters to the worship service to friendliness to the church facilities. We would then provide the church leadership with a first-time guest verbatim. That report alone proved to be one of the most helpful parts of our consultation. It was also one of the most surprising to many church leaders.
Finally, we learned that pastors and other church leaders are often hurting. Sometimes the greatest assistance we could provide was a listening ear and the promise of prayer.
A thankful heart
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from these 500 churches. If there is one basic takeaway, it is the need to pray regularly for church leaders. These leaders have tremendous responsibilities, and they are often under great pressure. And too often, they are more likely to hear from the critics than the encouragers.
Thank God for His churches. Thank God for His church leaders. And thank God for those who love them and pray for them.?
Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, and for 15 years prior to that led a church and denominational consulting firm. He is the author of 21 books. His latest, Simple Life, will be released later this summer.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
This article “Lessons from 500 Churches” by Thom Rainer was excerpted from: www.churchcentral.com web site. June 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.