The most important lesson is the need to keep everyone focused on the “why,” i.e. we are relaunching the church to reach people in our community for Christ.
There have been many seemingly insurmountable obstacles along the way (losing 30% of the congregation, a dispute over the property deed, a binding contract with a cell phone tower we needed to get out of, etc). Why did we continue when it got hard? To reach people for Jesus.
It has been easy to get caught up in the excitement of the building project, easily slipping into the false belief that the new campus will fix everything. It’s not a “if you build it, they will come” situation. We have to connect with our community in a genuine way.
The building is only a tool that helps us with visibility and proximity. We must do the hard work of becoming relevant to our neighbors and doing so for the right reasons. We are to love and to help them, not to seek to get something back from them.
Why do we continue? To reach people for Jesus.
Everyday ministry Is hard enough. Daily tasks are never all completed. Imagine throwing in the added work of razing the beloved 50 year old campus, changing the staffing and leadership models, updating the brand and name of the church, enduring the rigors of mobile church while the campus is rebuilt, conducting a capital campaign, and meeting with the city council, attorneys, development partners, builders, consultants, zoning officials, denominational representatives, the media, and other interested churches – all the while trying to hold the congregation together in the midst of everything. Whew!
I realized early on that I did not have the time nor the training to do all of the above. It was imperative that we hired professional help, as well as build lay teams we could trust to do the added work. Equipping, empowering, and delegating are essential in a project like this.
It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of the relaunch, and to forget to turn to the author of it all. Staying connected to God is vital. It should go without saying, but we all know how easy it is to get off track.
It is also imperative to give credit where credit is due – starting with God; God deserves the praise. Many people play an important role: the congregation, staff, professionals, Childress Klein, the Charlotte City Council, the United Methodist Church. I am grateful to every one of them. Yet, none of us could bring this together without God. It is for God’s glory, not ours.
With so much going on, it is easy for people to feel out of the loop. We tried to stay ahead of this. We held countless town hall meetings. We wrote newsletter articles, made announcements, utilized social media and our website. We maintained an open-door policy. Even with all of this, we could have communicated more effectively.
With a project like this (we have been at it for six years), there are times when things happen fast. There are also times where we have to wait for a LONG time before we can check the completed box. Patience is essential. So, too, is trust of the leaders.
We often would overpromise and underdeliver on timing. I suggest doing the opposite.
The people in “big business” do not have patience for the length of denominational and local church bureaucracy. We learned early on that we would need to adjust our leadership model in order to streamline the decision-making process. This does not mean that we would not take the proper time to be discerning. Nor did it mean there was no accountability. We did empower a set of qualified leaders to be on point.
At the outset, when everything was an idea in the incubating phase, it was important for me to take things through channels. I discussed it with key leaders, staff, stakeholders, and denominational representatives. I also consulted family and friends. God used each conversation to add clarity and confirmation; we were on the right track. When we took it to the general congregation for the first time, there were of course mixed reactions. The overwhelming one was interest in doing what needed to be done to reach people for God.
A key role as a leader in the relaunch effort has been to help the congregation manage transition. Most churches would divide if facing just one of the many changes we have made. Biblical examples were crucial, as was the leadership book Managing Transitions by William Bridges. Get this book! One key teaching is to focus on what is not changing (God, our mission, our relationships, etc), as well as on what is changing.
There have been some truly high moments during the journey:
- People coming to faith in Christ.
- The congregation realizing the church is not a building. We haven’t had a church building in two years. We worship in a movie theater. We have small groups in coffee shops, homes, the YMCA, a retirement center, etc. We partner with other churches for Holy Week and Christmas services, to do outreach, for Vacation Bible School, and even office space.
- Witnessing charter members who started the church, and who are still with us, embrace the new vision. The efforts of the relaunch are anchored in the early DNA of the church. Our goal is to reach the SouthPark community effectively, just as the founding members reached the Sharon community.
- The joy of people both inside and outside the church using their gifts to live into God’s vision.
- The excitement of doing a new model of ministry that ties into older models.
- Interest from other churches around the world and from the secular media. We even have been part of seminary studies and a PhD project.
- Growing as leaders. I feel like I have earned an MBA education to compliment my theological studies!
There have been some truly difficult moments during the journey, as chronicled above. We have made some big mistakes.
In the midst of the roller coaster, God has been our anchor. God has given us the vision, the heart, and the strength to stay the course. God has also called us to be bold. Joshua 1:9 is one of our key verses. We continue to pray at 1:09 every day for God to use us and to make us bold for the mission of leading people to Christ!