Catalytic Church Growth: The Second Season

Catalytic Church Growth: The Second Season January 15, 2018
Catalytic Church Growth

The second season of church growth is the ‘catalytic season’. As the church has grown organically, people have gathered to what is going on. This creates a buzz and a momentum – new people are excited about what they have joined, and people who have been around longer are excited because they can see growth and movement. By now, the leaders should be sharing a sense of vision for the future. Where is the church going? What is the dream? What does an ideal future look like? Anything seems possible, because of the momentum that is taking place. There is an experience of catalytic church growth.

New people bring new ideas. Initiatives can be proposed and begin relatively easily – all they need is willing volunteers to give the ideas hands and feet. In that sense, there is an element of a rollercoaster about church life. Ministries and ideas begin, and some succeed whilst others don’t. There will be a natural formation of a senior leadership team now; certain people within the church just naturally arise, who are looked up to and sought out by others in the church. The Senior Leader may still ultimately be making the decisions and doing the lion’s share of the ministry direction, but he will have the potential power of a team available to him – if he recognises and embraces it wisely.

Because many people are excited and united, most things will just work. Pioneers, creatives and entrepreneurs will enjoy the atmosphere, and the church will be an attraction to people with a stronger prophetic leaning. Momentum unites and excites, so new people will continue turning up, both drawn to the buzz and invited by people energised by what is happening.

Mission During Catalytic Church Growth

The outwards focus that turned organic growth into catalytic growth will still flavour the church. It is important that all the new activity and initiatives that are proposed are filtered through an evangelistic mindset. This means that not everything makes the cut! Some things may need to be amended or re-focused. The risk is that the excitement and energy lose their focus on the lost, and is redirected to the ‘new thing.’ This is especially dangerous for us as leaders if we don’t manage our gifts! Teachers will see new people as needing to be taught, pastors will see sheep to pastor, and prophets will see people to lead into an encounter. None of these is wrong, and all are needed to help disciple, but the main focus during this exciting time of momentum, energy and buzz must be the unbelievers outside.

Vision During Catalytic Church Growth

As mentioned above, because there is a lot of buzz, many creative, prophetic or pioneering people amongst you will have lots of ideas! Just as these initiatives need to maintain a missional focus, they also need to serve the vision of the church. Now is the time for this vision to be crystallized, because if there is a ‘vision vacuum’, there won’t be a shortage of ideas floating around looking to fill it!

This is the time to consolidate the prophetic promises of God, and the faith of the leaders, and develop a vision that can be communicated in a vision statement. This defined target or goal will help bring focus to ministries, and boundaries to what you say yes to and what you say no to. Both are hugely important at this time.

Culture During Catalytic Church Growth

This season will be very much driven by the senior leader, which means the leader’s personality, giftings, perspective and character will shape everything in church life. Currently, the church values and culture will reflect the Senior Leader’s values and culture. This will have some benefits but also some drawbacks. A leader with a strong prophetic gift, for example, will be leading a church strong in the prophetic. If the leader doesn’t have great pastoral skills, the church may not be the most pastoral. The key to addressing these imbalances is a team – specifically, raising up and empowering leaders to lead and create culture themselves.

With the introduction of leaders with genuine authority and responsibility, it is also time to clarify the values of the church with an eye on creating the culture needed to see the fulfilment of the vision. Values will bring in ‘best practice’ guides that all leaders, irrespective of responsibility or authority, need to actively subscribe to and live out in their own personal lives. What is in us comes out of us, so any corporate culture we want to experience must first be incarnated in us personally. A values statement will be valuable in communicating and reminding each other the distinctive cultures you are pursuing as a church.

Culture is one reason why team leadership is so important. A healthy team multiplies each other’s strengths exponentially, whilst covering and diluting any one individual’s weaknesses. It takes self-awareness and humility to recognise this, and bravery to embrace a strong team of gifted people. But the church will benefit immeasurably both short and long-term.

One word of caution: make sure team members have different giftings, perspectives, anointings, personalities and strengths to the senior leader. I’ve lost count of the number of churches I’ve worked with that feel stuck and don’t know why, and it is partly because the Senior Leader has recruited mini-me versions of him or herself. This makes sense – a teacher will want people on the team who value the scriptures, pastors want loving shepherds, prophets want those with supernatural gifts, and so on. But all that will happen is that you will maximise your strengths AND weaknesses because there will be an overlap in both. A healthy church needs all the fivefold Ephesians 4 cultures, and these must be manifested through the lives of the senior leadership team or they won’t be a strong flavour in the life of the church. At best, they’ll be weak, and at worst, non-existent.

A cultural assessment is beneficial at this time. There is a difference between our actual culture and our aspirational culture. One is what we think we have, or would like to have, and the other is the reality of what we really have! Culture is always a work in progress, but to progress in the way we want to we need to have a cultural development plan. Simply put, a cultural assessment will show you the current values of the church, and how mature they are in terms of influence within it. Depending on what your vision, and your desired values, these actual values may be positive, negative or neutral. For each identified current value, a plan needs to be created and implemented that cultivates or eliminates that value. There also needs to be a plan to grow any desired values not currently influencing the church or in existence.

This is important to ensure that each and every ministry in the church is sowing the same values and creating the same culture. We need culture shift or we will have culture clash, and culture clash impacts our church growth and effectiveness. So this is the time to first identify the core values and cultures we need before we begin the leadership work of embedding them.

Structure During Catalytic Church Growth

In my experience, this is a key moment in the life of churches who are in a catalytic growth season. If the Senior Leader has an organisational structure full of leaders instead of workers, then the church will be set-up for continued growth. If the senior leadership team resembles workers and managers, then growth will be capped and the church will, at some stage, stop growing. The senior leader’s gifting and personality, as well as character and internal health level, will bring a ceiling over the church that will lead to it plateauing.

How do you know if you are leading leaders or leading workers? Ask yourself the following:

1. Who makes the ‘big calls’ over a ministry area? Who sets the direction, makes the key decisions, sets the teaching agenda, and picks who is on the team, and what they do?
2. Who is responsible on a day to day basis for a ministry area? Who is the go-to person for it? If something goes wrong, who do people need to go to to get things sorted?
3. Who handles the finances, approves purchases, and, within a budget, determines how much is spent and on what?

If the answer is the Senior Leader to any of the above questions, then even if that ministry area has a nominal leader named, they are functioning as a worker or manager, running and maintaining it on behalf of the Senior Leader without any real authority to change, influence or direct. True leaders want to lead and influence, and if they can’t, then they won’t stay around forever.

To develop and empower leaders, people need three clear things:

1. Responsibility – what and who are they being asked to lead? What does success look like? What expectations and goals do they need to be aware of?
2. Authority – what can they do, and what do they need to defer to a senior leader for? A healthy level of authority means there is a balance between them doing whatever they want, and them not being able to do anything without needing permission!
3. Accountability – who is discipling, coaching, encouraging and giving positive and constructive feedback to them regularly?

With all this being said, the way I would recommend that these things are implemented is by beginning the process of formally establishing a leadership structure. This is the season that the church should begin to explore a leadership team of elders and deacons.

These words may trigger some of us, because of previous experience with individuals with these titles. So some clarity is needed to define what I mean by these terms. The terms aren’t important in themselves, but the roles and functions they describe are required to see a healthy church. I’ll write a later post going into more detail but for the moment, I define ‘elders’ as the senior leaders in the church who are ultimately responsible for the guiding, guarding and governing of the church. This is the group of spiritual leaders that includes the Senior Leader(s), and they set the vision and culture of the church. Think of elders as the senior leadership team in a church. Deacons are those who serve the elders through various leadership, management and administrative functions, and would be like a wider or junior leadership team. They are the ministry leaders if you like, who head up the individual ministry areas.

Not all elders or deacons need to be on staff, but some might be. Also, elders and deacons are not jobs for life, they are not transferable from church to church, and they are dependent on godly character, gifting, recognition from spiritual leaders in the church, and recognition from the believers in the community itself. The book of Acts, and Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy explore these qualifications more specifically.

With this model, which I believe is more biblical, the board has responsibility for oversight of the financial and legal matters of the church. They do not lead the church, nor have authority over the elders and senior leader. Rather, they ensure financial health is constant, legal obligations are fulfilled, and seek to serve the elder’s vision and culture through financial means. They aren’t ‘yes men’ but neither are they ‘no men.’ In that sense, the Board are more like trustees who steward the affairs of the church, releasing the spiritual leaders (elders) to lead.

I know the names may cause problems for some, so even if you don’t use the names ‘elder’ and ‘deacon’, the important thing is that the church moves towards a recognised senior leadership and wider/junior leadership model. It also means leadership continues to be ‘given away’ by the senior leader, and roles are clarified. I’m a big fan of job descriptions, even for volunteer / non-staff leaders. They bring clarity and protection through boundaries. Rather than making you sweat, a job description just needs to have four basic elements in it:

1. Role – what is their title? A title isn’t important for ego, but it brings a definition and focus to the job.
2. Responsibilities – what do they need to focus on in this role? What should they spend their time doing?
3. Expectations & Goals – what do you want from them? What does success look like? It might be broad or be a specific measurable, but make sure they know how you are assessing whether they are doing a good job or not.
4. Reporting Lines – who are they managed by, and who do they manage? Make sure that the other parties are also aware of this!

These four things can easily fit onto one page. If they can’t, either the job isn’t clear, or it isn’t well thought through and defined enough! I’ll also repeat something I said earlier: these job descriptions are needed for unpaid volunteers just as much as for staff. If a job is needed, it needs to be clarified. That will bring security and focus to everyone involved, and avoid many difficult conversations later down the line!

Strategy During Catalytic Church Growth

As the church moves forward and grows, it can be tempting to add new ministries as more people resources become available and offer their services. There can almost be too many strategic steps forward! But not every good idea is a God idea. Hearing God and knowing what the key ministries are is essential. Not everything proposed will be key. The tension between the needs of the people in the church and the needs of the people outside the church will need to be managed wisely, otherwise, you’ll have one of two problems. Firstly, a large ‘back door’ where people leave as quickly as they join because they aren’t being served. Secondly, a believer-centred church that has all its ministries pointing inwards towards its own members. Both of these must be avoided.

A good step, then, in the midst of any and all programs and ministries, is to ensure that there is a key path that helps people connect to the church and take next steps in integrating into the life of the community. This pathway should be evident at every meeting that may have first-time visitors or non-believers present. Think of it like a series of signposts, with each signpost offering information about that stage. This pathway invites people to journey deeper into the church. The phrase ‘saved and added’ from the book of Acts explains it well; a visitor is at one stage, but turning a visitor into a regular attendee is another. What information do they need? Are there any expectations or obligations they need to be aware of? What opportunities or conversations need to be available to them? These questions, and others, are applicable for every stage of your connection process. Leading attendees into converts, if they are not yet born again, is yet another stage. How can people seeking, asking and knocking find places and people to help them in their journey? Seeing converts become active members who are serving, giving and being discipled is the next stage, with one end part of that seeing mature members leading and discipling others in their journey.

Another temptation with growth is to locate and move into a building. I understand this – a building brings a sense of security and a permanent resource that can allow ministry ideas a place to operate in and out of. Also, some leaders feel church growth is capped due to the restricting space. Buildings also bring with them recurring expenses in the form of rent or a mortgage, utility bills and maintenance costs, and time for upkeep for either staff (another cost) or volunteers (which can be unreliable or inconsistent.) I’m not against churches having their own ‘home’ buildings at all, but could there be another option instead of looking for space? What about adding another service, whether on the same premises or another location? This keeps the focus of the community outwards, which a building can sometimes work against. Seeing growth, and another gathering, can be a motivation to keep being missional. Instead of fearing growth limitation, could more services or campuses actually be a growth engine? These meetings also provide extra forums for leaders to step up and use skills and giftings previously restricted. In fact, some churches use this moment to plant another church. The new service or campus location may initially be an extension of the ‘main’ church, but normally the plan is for it to become its own separate entity once there is the financial and leadership capacity to do so.

My point is that the potential for mission is doubled by adding an additional service rather than pursuing a building. A church can be capped by its building size restrictions, but if it thinks ‘service-first’, it will never be capped in its growth.

Catalytic Church Growth: Summary

This is an exciting time for churches, yet must be stewarded well. It can feel like no one can do any wrong because of the energy and excitement, but in the middle of the passion and zeal, careful consideration must be given to what we say ‘yes’ to, otherwise, there can be a trade-off further down the line.

Seek God for the vision for the future – His vision, not man’s. Use the prophetic words, apostolic counsel, and passions of the committed leaders to shape this. Don’t rush it, and communicate it clearly and simply to the church.

Clarify the values of the church, ensuring that the values aren’t really doctrinal statements. The values should be an articulation of the uniqueness of the church and correlate directly to the cultures essential to the success of the vision of the church. Otherwise, they will be preferences and people will have no ‘hanging point’ to know why they are non-negotiable values to be embraced.

Begin thinking through leadership structure, using the Biblical model of elders and deacons. Don’t get hung up on the terminology, but look at those who have a leadership gift in the church. Who is looked to by the people as an example? Who has a heart for the church? Who gives, serves and attends consistently and wholeheartedly? Who loves the people? Who is living to serve the people, instead of building their own ministry platform? Who has clear spiritual character, godliness, anointing, gifting, and maturity? Who feels the call of God to lead His people in submission to Him? These people could be your elders, future elders and deacons.

Keep empowering people by creating new opportunities for ministry. Don’t create a ministry for the sake of it, but know your key ministries and ensure they are not bottlenecks. Leaders grow by leading.

Finally, enjoy the ride and enthusiasm. Don’t get distracted by the energy and excitement, and keep a clear outwards focus. The Church exists to ‘re-present’ God to those who do not know Him – don’t let yourself or your people forget that.