Looking back, looking forward: Cultural Evolution – part 4

This is the fourth post in a five-post series written by Egil Elling Egil_Elling_picture(@egilelling), from Stavanger, Norway. Egil is a good friend of 3dm, a gifted leader, and a man of integrity. In Autumn 2011 Egil Elling took on the role as lead Pastor of IMI Kirken, a large local church, following Martin Cave who had led the church since 1979. He’s married to Hildegunn, and has two children , Elia (3) and Frida (1). They have lived in Stavanger for six years.

Each of Elling’s posts reflect on the process of taking an existing church culture and foundation, and building on it to further the Kingdom of God. If you haven’t already read the first three posts we recommend reading them herehere and here before continuing with today’s post.

In Elling’s last post he looked at how story-telling has been an important tool in releasing the church into discipleship and mission. In this post he talks about the need for leaders to engage in good, honest reflection in order for churches to grow.

Having the honest conversations: healthy observation  and reflection

As I shared in my first post, the leadership transition that gave me the opportunity to pastor IMI Kirken came as a result of our work and vision expanding beyond the local context. For IMI’s work as a whole there seemed to be open doors everywhere at the time I took on pastoring. Our foreign missions exploded. The national church network was in growth. Our bible school had all-time high number of students. And so on.

On a local level many great things were happening.  We saw more healing happening than before. There were great stories about how people were participating in Gods mission in their everyday lives.

But, looking at the hard facts and numbers, there was also another truth: In size, we hadn’t grown for a while. If anything, there was a minor decline.

While everything else was growing, it seemed like our local church had some challenges. And while we celebrated everything going well, we also had been very clear that the heart of everything we’re doing is our local church. The rest of what we do is built on exporting the life in our local church. If our church in Stavanger is struggling, we have a problem.

So we had to confront that. We gathered the whole staff for a whole day meeting. As a starting point I shared an interesting finding from Thom Rainers work in Breakout Churches. This is built on research on what marks churches that are able to break out of mediocrity and see great growth. His team found that the churches who weren’t breaking out were gradually losing ground, becoming smaller and smaller.

And here’s the interesting finding: When they interviewed people from the churches that didn’t grow, many of the people had the perception that their church was doing great and growing. They had no awareness that they were actually losing ground!

I shared this story with our staff, and showed people the facts and numbers from the last years and basically said: We can’t pretend we’re growing, when we’re not.

So we had some honest conversations about what wasn’t working. And we identified two must-win battles:

*             We needed to close our back door. Although we had lots of people coming to our church, we also lost many – often because of a lack of good relationships.

*             We needed to mobilize the whole church into mission. While we had seen great things happening over the last years in our cells and missional communities, there was still high potential for seeing more people embracing Gods mission in their everyday lives. And as we’re not really keen on church transfer growth, our growth had to come through mission.

Having identified our first two must-win battles, we started identifying the first steps, and working on them.

There’s not space here to share everything about the process but I can say that quite quickly after we started working on our must-win battles we also started growing again.

I strongly believe in everything shared in the  first posts about building on what God already is doing, but that must not be taken as an excuse for not having the brutally honest conversations about what isn’t working.

Whilst honouring the heritage in the church, this is also an opportunity for you as a leader to to implement some of your ideas as you identify your must-win battles and start to look at steps to win them.

I would encourage you to start looking at what the key challenges are, and invite your staff and/or key leaders into the honest conversations about this. If you experience the same as us, you’ll find that they’re already conscious or unconsciously aware of the challenges- and are therefore thankful their leader is willing to address them.

Suggested readings:

*             Breakout churches – Thom Rainer

*             Must Win Battles – Peter Killing.

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