- Absence of Trust (Invulnerability)
- Fear of Conflict (Artificial Harmony)
- Lack of Commitment (Ambiguity)
- Avoidance of Accountability (Low Standards)
- Inattention to Results (Status and Ego)
I’ve just finished reading Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson’s book: Comeback Churches. The sub-title is: How 300 churches turned around and yours can too. This book reminded me somewhat of Jim Collins’ book: From Good to Great, although the method they used in doing their research is totally different. The two authors made use of questionnaires which was sent to churches. The criteria which was used to determine whether a church is a comeback church are:
- The church experienced five years of plateau and/or decline since 1995 (worship attendance grew less than 10% in a five-year period)
- That decline or plateau was followed by a significant growth over the past two to five years which included:
2.1 A membership to baptism (conversion) ratio of 35:1 or lower each year and
2.2 At least a 10 percent increase in attendance each year
I am fully aware that one cannot necessarily determine a church’s spiritual status by looking at attendance. Our own church attendance in Swaziland is fairly low, for various reasons, mainly because we are “competing” against traditional churches where cultural traditions tend to take a higher priority than Biblical truths. But this research was done in the USA where increasingly, as in most first world countries, church members tend to leave the church. Comeback churches are those churches that are doing something to win people back into the church (and obviously to Christ), not by harvesting from other churches but by reaching people who are not traditionally church members (any more).
A few encouraging things I read in this book is that comeback churches are not restricted to churches with a certain type of worship, nor are they restricted to a certain type of pastor or pastors of a certain age. God can use any type of pastor and any type of church to reach people and the church can start growing.
The three factors that were dominant in the more than 300 churches that effectively turned around, were:
- Renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church
- Renewed attitude for servanthood
- More strategic prayer effort
The two other factors that followed in line were:
- Setting goals
- Valuing Relationships and Reconciliation
Going into more detail, the authors said that comeback churches were characterised by:
- Growing deeply in love with Jesus
- Growing deeply in love with the community
- Growing deeply in love with the lost
- Comeback leaders turned their churches outward
- Comeback churches led people to care more about their communities than their own preferences
Looking at churches today, the focus seems to fall increasingly on larger buildings, more “wow” things, bigger and better bands, better video material, better sound systems. And although all of these things can play a role in the bigger picture, it does seem to me that we need to return to basics if we want the church to have an influence in the world.
- Love Jesus
- Love the community
- Love the lost
Compare this with the attitude that we often find amongst Christians:
- Love Jesus
- Tolerate the community
- Condemn the lost
This is a book that any church leader can benefit from, if they are serious in leading their churches to become the type of church that God intended it to be.
Some leaders are born while others are developed. And there are thousands of books available to teach people how to become better leaders. I’ve read many of them. Some are good. Some are less helpful. But James Autry’s book, The Servant Leader, is, as far as I am concerned, a winner. I am of the opinion that every leader, be it in the corporate world or in the church, should read this book. It’s not written from a Christian perspective. In fact, the author never mentions anything about his own religious beliefs, but what amazed me was to find how this book brings into practice the principles of leadership as taught to us in the Bible.
I myself have often spoken about the necessity of servant leadership, especially in the church but also in the corporate world where Christians often fill leadership positions. In fact, I published a post on my blog on 14 April last year, with this exact heading: “Servant Leadership” and on another occasion I tried to explain something of how we try and put servant leadership into practice in Swaziland in my post with the title: “Washing each other’s feet”. Each time we train a new group of home-based caregivers, I refer to the occasion when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and when he said, in Matthew 18:4: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
What makes this book by James Autry authentic, is that he himself applied these principles in real-life situations in various leadership positions that he filled and he also coached others to apply the same principles, with good results. And in most other books about leadership, the authors only write about successes, while Autry also writes about the problems which may occur – such as layoffs, legal battles, personal problems in the lives of employees and their family members, and many more. As I read this, I realised that he was echoing many principles which I try to apply (with varying success) in our ministry in Swaziland. Working with volunteers make it both easier and more difficult for a leader. It is easier in the sense that the people who are doing the work actually want to be there. They’re not doing anything because they are forced to do so through some contract. But it is also more difficult because people can leave at any time, without fearing that they will lose their income (because there ís no income).
I’ve had to make some serious decisions about my personal leadership style and I have chosen for the servant model, believing that this is the closest to the model that Jesus demonstrated. And I believe that we are reaping the fruit because of this decision.
Servant leadership is scarce amongst church leaders. And for this reason I want to recommend that every church leader read this book. If it doesn’t change your life, hopefully it will at least get you thinking about your leadership style.