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2007 National Leadership Conference Workshop Report and Comments - When A Small Church Becomes a Bigger Church (Part 1)

Monday, March 12, 2007

2007 National Leadership Conference Workshop Report - When A Small Church Becomes a Bigger Church #1 by Pastor Greg Wahlberg

As most of you are aware, I have gradually been making reports, evaluations and comments on the 2007 National Leadership Conference held by Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, Pennsylvania in February. To find the other reports so far, you should be able to hit the "conferences" label at the end of this post. (This is part of the "new" blogger and I have not done much with the labels, yet. I probably need to clear up my template and add labels on the sides instead of my make-shift labels that I did previously.

The first workshop I attended this year at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary’s National Leadership Conference was a workshop by Pastor Greg Wahlberg of Calvary Baptist Church in York, Pennsylvania. I am writing this as a report and then at the bottom will be some of my thoughts, comments, and suggestions regarding the material presented.

Pastor Wahlberg’s encouraged us that if you are going to help your church go through the transitions that come as a smaller church becomes a bigger church you need to have two things:

I. You Need a Proper Perspective
II. You Need a Personal Plan

Regarding the Proper Perspective, he dealt with the Lord’s promise to build the church and laid down some agreed upon theological groundwork - that God is the one who builds the church and we must be content to let God do what He is going to do while we do what God requires us to do.
Pastor Wahlberg discussed three "essentials for any successful ministry" - God’s Power, God’s Protection and God’s Peace.

God’s Power is needed because "except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." (Psalm 127:1). This same truth is indicated in John 15:5 and 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. The best farmer cannot make a seed grow! He can do much to prepare, to water, to weed, to nourish, etc., but the growing is of God. The same is true regarding the growing of a church.

God’s Protection is needed because the watchman can stand guard all night, but the city is not safe unless the Lord "keep" (guard) the city. Because the church is a voluntary organization, there is no (I would say "very little") obligation to keep coming except the Spirit of God’s leading. "We are dependent upon the hedge that the Lord places around His work and His people."

God’s Peace is needed because the work is never done. Pastors need to be careful that the we do not allow the legitimate care of the church to become anxious care, which is sinful. We need to be able to rest in the work that God has given us, not thinking that we have to individually win the whole world for Christ.

Pastor Wahlberg commented "God often adds or subtracts form his church in ways that are different from our own choosing... Be content with the people God brings to you to minister to." Later, he quoted some advice a layman gave him when he started in the ministry, "A pastor needs to concentrate more on the full pews rather than on the empty ones."

Pastor Wahlberg also commented in this section that "unless a pastor learns how to deal with disappointment, he will not survive very long in ministry."

In regards to Pastor Wahlberg’s second major point - You Need A Personal Plan - he dealt with three stages of a church as it moves from a small church to a larger church.

When a church is new and small, it has what Pastor Wahlberg refers to as a Family Atmosphere. At this stage, the church is a lot like an extended family (in some churches this is almost literal!). People who come to a church in this stage generally do so because they have often have family or friends in the congregation. If they don’t make friendship ties with someone in the congregation quickly, they will generally move on pretty quickly. As a church grows from this stage, it will test the people’s desire and determination to reach other people. The new people who are coming require extra attention from the pastor and others in the church and some may begin to feel envy or jealousy.

When a church reaches between 50 to 150 people, there will often emerge two or more "families" or "cells" in the congregation. Pastor Wahlberg refers to churches at this size as having a Pastoral Focus. In this stage, the church is generally still to small to hire a "full-time paid assistant" and the people and the pastor expect the pastor to be involved in just about everything. When their is a new visitor, the pastor is expected to call upon that visitor (both the visitor and the congregation expect this). When there is someone in the hospital, the pastor is expected to take care of this. New visitors will often "bond" with the pastor first and the people may find that the pastor is spending less and less time with those who are already "in" the church.

The key to progressing through this step of ministry is to develop lay leadership. We should be doing this anyway - Ephesians 4:12, etc. To move through this stage of ministry, we should develop some leadership training materials (or find some we can use) and be serious about training the leaders.

The third stage that Pastor Wahlberg dealt with was what he termed as having a Ministry Focus. This is essential in churches where the attendance reaches 150-400. In a church this size, the Pastor cannot adequately attend to all the people or the programs going on. More work must be delegated. Assistants are often added to oversee some of the ministry (depending upon what skills different lay people possess and use in ministry). To maintain a church of this size requires the Pastor to spend more time training, supervising, administering, and coordinating the work of others. His gifts of organization and leadership, as well as his ability to delegate are put to the test at this stage.

A caution at this stage is that the "old timers" may become discouraged about how little time comparatively the Pastor now has to spend with them. The Pastor at this stage will not be doing all of the visiting of the new visitors, the shut-ins, hospital visits every day, etc.

New members at this stage are often attracted to various parts of the church (youth group, a Sunday School class, small group, choir, etc.) rather than to the church as a whole, because the size of the church seems so large and impersonal.

An organized and planned method in dealing with visitors and new members is crucial so that the they do not get lost in a church this size. People in the church must be encouraged to make friends with new families in the first few months if they are to stay.

Pastor Wahlberg’s church has developed a "Ministry Manual" that lists and describes the different areas of service and ministry in their church. This allows people to see what areas are available for them to minister in. This manual shows what opportunities are available, what kind of requirements and time commitments are expected, who they see for training and who oversees the particular ministry.

Pastor Wahlberg also commented that "I have had to grow in my leadership skills and abilities as our church has grown."

Other than the fact that this session was in the main auditorium with no mic and a little difficult to hear, there is definitely some useful things in this session.

Even though we are still a small church, there are some things that I could identify with in this presentation (perhaps that is because I have been on staff in all three sizes he covers).

His comment about the fact that the Lord often adds to subtracts from his church in ways that are different from our own choosing is something that I have already in seen in my brief two years here. There are times when there is someone that, humanly speaking, you think, "It would be GREAT if that person kept coming or started coming," yet they only come for a visit or they have other plans - or they don’t make the move to the area and move to somewhere else instead (for instance, we had a family think about moving down to the area that I have known for years - he was a deacon at one of my former churches and the whole family would have been a great asset in a number of ways down here, but they moved to New York instead). God knows exactly who He wants here and He is in control and sometimes the family that God moves on may not have been a good fit and the family that God brings in may be the family that really needs the church at this time.

I also understand how easy it is to get caught up in being concerned about who is missing each week. Now, I believe there is an appropriate concern there (after all, it is hard to "watch for their souls" when they are not there and it is our responsibility to know why they are not there and see if there is a need that we can help meet, etc.), but it is also easy to get into a mode of frustration or disappointment when people are gone - and to do so in such a way that it becomes a detriment to the church. I remember hearing of a Pastor who was always harping on faithfulness (admittedly, a needed topic), but he did so on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, etc. In other words, he was preaching on faithfulness to the crowd that was already faithful!

I like the emphasis on training the lay leaders - although I believe this should be at least a desire from the start. I also note that there was not a lot said here about "how to" do this. One thing I am finding is that people’s schedules are so busy that it difficult to schedule much that would be a help in this area. I have been thinking and praying about ways to implement more of this in our church, but I don’t have any brilliant ideas, yet. (I am open to suggestions of what your church does or what you would like them to do or what you have seen elsewhere in this area.) The reality is that men (and women) in our congregations often lead a number of people in their secular work environments and we should not act like they need to be coddled to take care of something in the church. Now, there is obviously a need for some spiritual discernment and development - especially depending upon the task, but I firmly believe that God’s people have all the ability to do what God wants done in and through His church as Christ works in and through them.

I never thought about the differences about what attracts people and holds people to a church like Pastor Wahlberg mentions. It makes sense to me, though, and it gives me some ideas of things I need to encourage as we seek to reach out as a church. While we are still in the "family atmosphere" stage, there is still a big part of the "pastoral focus" stage that is taking place as well. Our church right now is a very friendly church, but I wander if there needs to be more of a purposefulness about this at this stage or if we are still okay with the natural friendliness and warmth. I have often thought of people being attracted by the "parts" of the church, but as he indicated, at this small stage it is still the overall ministry that attracts. The "parts" are mere complementing elements at this point, not a selling point in and of themselves.

I also thought the comment about hiring staff depending upon what skills and ministries of lay people in the church was interesting. I have often heard Pastors comment that Position X should be the first position you add when you reach the point of bringing on a second man. However, this seems to fail to take into account the abilities of godly laymen already in your church. I like the way that Pastor Wahlberg mentions considering the skills already present in a ministry as part of the hiring process (even though it was really just written in passing).

I also thought his comment about needed to grow in his leadership skills and abilities as the church grows. One of the concerns I had as I was seeking God’s will for a ministry a few years ago was that I wanted to be where God put me, but I also thought that this would most likely be a smaller church to start. I recognize that some people are thrust into larger ministries while they are young, but, while I was open to that possibility, I was a little wary of that as well. I think there is wisdom in the way that God helps us along as parents - we get to start off with babies, instead of teenagers! As those babies grow, our parenting abilities should also grow so that we have developed a relationship and some wisdom when it comes time to deal with the more difficult stages of life. I think the same tends to be true in regards to pastors and churches. Many of the men that I consider the best pastors who pastor larger fundamental churches were actually in those same churches when they were not so large and grew in the leadership abilities as the church grew in size.

Some practical advice to take away from this presentation:

Think about why people come to your church and why they stay or don’t stay

Minister to those you have instead of moaning over those you don’t have.

Develop a training plan for lay leadership if you don’t already have one

Think through the ministries of your church and develop a ministry manual

Just some thoughts,


Andy Efting said...
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Frank Sansone said...
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Andy Efting said...
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Andy Efting said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Frank Sansone said...
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Frank Sansone said...

The previous comments were deleted at the request of the poster, not as some type of censorship by me.