June 9, 1999

Church needs change in
right doses and for right reasons

___By Jim Wilson
___LifeWay Christian Resources
___GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)-"If our efforts to share the gospel in today's world are limited only to the traditional model, then we have decided in advance on limited outreach and limited growth," a veteran Southern Baptist missionary once wrote.
___These words of Winston Crawley comprise "possibly the single most powerful sentence I've ever read in my life," Lee Strobel, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, told participants in the National Innovative Church Leadership Conference.
___The conference, held May 25-28 at Glorieta, N.M., was sponsored by the pastor-staff leadership department of LifeWay Christian Resources, leadership development ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Texas Baptist Leadership Center.
___In addition to Strobel, other pastors, communicators and authors challenged participants not to limit the possibilities of the future by the successes of the past.
___"Innovation is the engine behind making the world better for everyone," noted Joel Barker, author and futurist best known for popularizing the concept of paradigm shifts. "If you can imagine a world without computers, automobiles, indoor plumbing, electric lights or the Post-it note, then you can begin to see where we'd be without innovation."
___Speakers agreed the goal is not change for the sake of change but to change the right things. Innovative pastors, they said, may change forms, structures and strategies to adapt the methods of the church to reach people for Jesus Christ, but that does not mean they are willing to compromise the integrity of the faith.
___As it applies to the established church, innovators must be careful what they change, speakers indicated.
___Leith Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., said he believes innovative pastors need to exercise wisdom to know what they should change. For instance, he said, a Pittsburgh, Pa., church "has the times of their services carved into the granite over the main entrance. It is hard to switch a service to 10:30 if (the permanent sign) reads 11."
___When Anderson became senior pastor of his church in 1977, he inherited a rich tradition from his predecessor, he said. To begin the process of intentional innovation, he instituted "zero-based ministry programming." He and the board of elders listed every resource and program the church had and asked, "How does this help us reach people for Christ?"
___If they determined something didn't help them fulfill the Great Commission, they stopped doing the ministry. The process was painful and strenuous, he observed, but it helped them know what they could change and what they should leave alone.
___Anderson added he believes pastors need to give greater weight to the needs of the prospects than the needs of the institution.
___"The significant mistake of the traditionalists," Anderson said, "is they require the people to start where the church is instead of the church starting where the people are. Innovators begin by asking, 'What do we need to do to reach the people where they are?'"
___Innovative church planters are reaching people with the gospel message, speakers said.
___Ed Young Jr., founding pastor of Fellowship Church in the Dallas metroplex, said his church began in 1990 as a mission of First Baptist Church of Irving with 150 people. They never took a survey of their community, Young said. Instead they prayed for direction, talked to people wherever they went and planned for a great harvest. Today the church averages attendance of 7,500 people.
___Young advises the pastor who wants to be innovative to:
___bluebull Pray for creativity.
___bluebull Take action to enhance creativity. "Innovation and hard work," he said, "are inherently linked."
___bluebull Connect with innovative people.
___Trevor Bron, founding pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver, has a passion to reach his generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A 'Gen-Xer' himself, he said he knows what it is like to be a latchkey child reared by the television set.
___In the beginning, The Next Level Church met on Tuesday nights as a church within Applewood Baptist Church to reach college students in the greater Denver area. But over the last six years, the 27-year-old pastor has watched his ministry to 50 students grow into a self-supporting church that averages 1,500 in attendance.
___Bron does not believe The Next Level Church is a model for others to emulate. "Innovation is not imitation," he said. "If you seek to be cutting-edge, you should not imitate what other people do."
___When pastors call him wanting to know the secret to his success, Bron tells them to "find out what God is doing and do that."
_____Jim Wilson is pastor of First Baptist Church of Alameda, N.M., and a freelance writer


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