Adam & Keira Smallcombe
“We’re just checking you out…” is one of the most common phrases church planters hear when starting a church.
I remember when we had just started holding *real* services in our church. This is after the pre-launch phase and team meetings. Now spectators, and even critics, were coming to church.
Each Sunday we were so excited, anticipating the new guests that would walk through the door and finally see if our marketing efforts and dollars had actually worked. Every week Keira and I would stand in the lobby greeting people as they came to church. And for some reason, when talking to guests, I began to hear a pattern emerge in conversations.
Every time I would welcome someone new, they would make a statement like, “We’re just checking you out.” As if to make sure I understood that they were going judge everything about the service – my preaching, the sound levels and everything else – before they would commit to joining. I can remember the nervous pressure that put on me as a pastor, to make church as comfortable and attractive to them as possible.
Now, not only did these comments come with pressure to do things right, there was also pressure from some new guests to not do certain things at all.
Like one time I was greeting a gentleman who I hadn’t met before. He was a big guy and as he walked into the lobby I reached out my hand and said my usual welcome greeting, to which he responded… “This isn’t one of those ‘tongue’ speaking churches is it?” A little startled, I replied… “Well, umm, maybe, sort of, yes?” He then rolled his eyes, grunted under his breath and without shaking my hand (that was still stretched out) just walked straight into service.
I began to notice that all the people who I wanted to like the church were also the ones that didn’t stay very long or caused nothing but frustration while they were there.
So one time, as I was greeting a family that had just stepped into our church for the first time and said that annoying sentence, “We’re just checking things out…” I, maybe out of frustration, replied with… “Oh good, because we’re just checking you out also.”
They looked immediately shocked at my response. I continued… “Because we’re a passionate church, with wild faith and a big vision, and this church isn’t for the faint hearted.” The husband looked at his wife and then looked back at me and said, “I think we’re going to like it here.”
That was the moment we began to build a church we actually liked.
You see, so many church planters feel the pressure to perform for people and make church nice and neat so that people will stay. This will cause you to play things safe and may even prevent you from moving in the Spirit, for fear of things getting messy.
It will also create a church that you don’t even like going to. What a tragedy, to build a church of 1000 people and not like any of them.
Now I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be diligent with following up new guests and being smooth with our transitions… but if you begin to forego values in order to keep people, then you are in a dangerous zone. You urgently need to get the leverage back.
The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ. We aren’t some ‘thirsty’ girl.
We are not desperate for a date and willing to negotiate on our values so that people will like us. No, we hold to our convictions and create an atmosphere that is a privilege to be a part of. Everyone is welcome, of course, but at the same time we clearly know who we are and who God has called us as a community to be. This is how you gain the leverage and create an atmosphere where new guests are intrigued by the service, rather than critical of it. In fact – let me give you three simple ways to do this.
- Define your distinctives.
Most churches similar to yours will believe in the core elements of Christianity, faith and the Presence of God, but what is it that makes you distinctively you? Is it your passion, your discipleship, your responsive culture or your lean toward social justice? These distinctive’s are what set you apart and define the flavor and feel of your church.
- Set your standards.
Simply put… what you allow and don’t allow. For example, is barefoot worship leading cool with you? Can people freely spirit dance with streamers in the aisles? Are random exaltations from shofars appropriate? If not, these things have to be addressed immediately, with the only reason being that it isn’t the way you do things.
- Create a strong culture.
Is your culture stronger than the culture people will bring with them? Most people coming to your church plant in the early days will be Christians coming from another church setting. They will bring with them a strong idea on how church should be done (even though they left that church). You will find that a fledgling church is more susceptible to strong opinions, so these voices can hijack your culture fast. Be steadfast in your convictions and repeat, repeat, repeat your culture at any and every chance you get.
Trust me when I say that you will still build a large church, now it will just be one that you like going to.
- The leader thermometer.
John Maxwell says, “If you want to know the temperature of an organization, put a thermometer in the leader’s mouth!”
In other words, the organization will not grow BEYOND the mindset, thinking, paradigms, culture and spirit of the leader. For the church to grow, the leader must also grow.
I found this to be both sobering and humbling at the same time. I realized that if I want to GROW a healthy, thriving church, I needed to BECOME a healthy, thriving leader!
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master…” Matthew 10:24-25.
In other words, the leader sets the pace, culture, potential and ceiling in an organization. If you WANT generosity in your church you have to BECOME generous. If you want HONOR in your church, you must BECOME honorable. If you want great marriages in your church, you have to build a great marriage.
Every seed can ONLY reproduce after its own kind. A seed of mediocrity CANNOT produce a harvest of excellence. A seed of small mindedness CANNOT produce a harvest of big thinking. If you want a different harvest, you must first change the seed.
The most beautiful thing about the kingdom of God is that God is ALWAYS at work and the HELPER is ALWAYS willing to bring you into greater dimensions of leadership, capacity and understanding. If you and I are willing to absorb the pain, He will lead us beyond where we can go by ourselves!
- Thermostat setting – a healthy core.
As it goes with the core so sets the culture. The hub of the wheel determines the rotation of the wheel. Centrifugal forces flow from the core outwards. To build a HEALTHY growing church, the leader/pastor MUST give himself to developing a healthy, growing core.
What does your core team look like? Do they carry your culture or a different culture? Do they have your spirit or a different spirit?
When Moses was told to appoint the 70 elders, God took the spirit that was UPON Moses and put THAT SAME SPIRIT upon the elders. He did NOT give them a different spirit!
It has taken us the better part of a decade to build a culture where we see and hear the echo of ourselves in our leaders while NOT transgressing their personality and individuality. Most people attempt to clone or duplicate ‘bricks’ (like the Tower of Babel) as opposed to shaping ‘stones’ in the construction of their key and core teams.
A leader sets the vision, but the core team determines the pace.
Embracing the gifting and strengths within each individual on your team is not a threat to you but an advantage. The raising and releasing of leaders and ministers is perhaps my primary role as the apostolic oversight of C3 San Diego. The fruit of my life are the leaders and ministers I reproduce. The shaping of their heart, soul and paradigms are my chief responsibility while developing and deploying their gifting and anointing.
Remember, one of the chief symbols of the Holy Spirit is the dove, which has nine pin feathers in each wing. It is no surprise that there are nine gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as nine fruits. Both must be developed in a healthy leader, and core team!
The goal is ‘diversity of gifting, anointing, and ministries’ while the vision, values and culture are homogenous within each team member!
Jesus spent all night in prayer before choosing the twelve and he spent the next three years developing them. Therefore, selection and development are essential in setting the thermostat of a healthy growing church!
- Use the keys! Whatever you bind on earth…
You are creating culture either by design or by default. If your church is toxic for raising and releasing leaders, or terrific, guess what – it’s your leadership or lack thereof that has created that.
Jesus said; “Behold I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven!” Matthew 16:18. In other words, you have been given the keys to create a reality on earth that reflects heaven.
Many years ago, I was struggling as a youth pastor in New Zealand. Continual issues with leaders, morale, volunteers and infighting. Exasperated I went for a drive into the country side to try and pray and hear from God. Sadly, my cassette player (shows my age) had just chewed up the one worship tape I had playing in the car. I tried to tune in to the Christian radio station but couldn’t pick that up either due to my antenna being ‘removed’ as a practical joke by some over enthusiastic youth. The only station was a local talk radio program where they were discussing the wearing of bicycle helmets. I was done! “How can God speak to me through this garbage?” I gasped. Then all of a sudden, I heard these words jump from my radio…
“Whatever you tolerate you teach.”
It pierced me. It was EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Sure, the context was about the ‘enforcing’ of kids wearing bike helmets to prevent head injuries should they fall. But for me, it was an epiphany. A game-changer! It literally opened my eyes and I began to see that the attitudes, mindsets, squabbles, bickering and lack of morale were the direct result of what I was tolerating.
The first Adam was a gardener, authorized by God to ‘tend and keep’ the garden. The word ‘ground’ or ‘earth’ in the Hebrew is Adamah and it is female in gender because God designed the earth to receive seed and then produce fruit/life. God calls us to sow and plant seeds that produce the fruit of the kingdom and the life of the kingdom. What are you sowing? What are you preaching, teaching, modelling, instilling into your church, team, people and yourself?
It’s been a delight for us to build a culture that produces and develops powerhouse leaders. As we expand into sixteen campuses, we DO NOT have to compromise quality or strength because we have a fountain overflowing with powerful ministers and leaders.
- Regular check-ups and examinations.
Because I love surfing, every year I have a scheduled appointment with my dermatologist. He will check me for any potential skin cancers and melanomas. He tells me his job is to keep me ‘cancer free’ and enjoying my active surfing life.
When we built a new house, the city sent an inspector to make assessments at each juncture to make sure the foundation, structure, and electrical systems were all up to safety code. Sadly, most pastors and leaders that I know never do a basic exam, or carry out basic assessments, to check the health of their church, systems, fruitfulness and structures.
There’s a saying: “We are foolish to expect from what we fail to inspect!”
Here are 7 inspections that I constantly assess in our church to determine its health and viability:
- Visitors – Influence in the community. Effectiveness of people in the church feeling confident to invite and bring their neighbors, relatives, friends, co-workers etc.
- Salvations – Is the gospel reaching the unchurched or have we become a ‘holy club with a monastery mentality?’ (Our main goal being to NOT be affected by the sinful world around us).
- Attendance – Where excitement meets commitment.
- Assimilation – Stewardship and discipleship happens AFTER salvation and are NOT necessarily reflected in the weekly attendance. (You can gather a crowd, but be failing to make disciples!).
- Volunteers – This shows me the ‘BUY-IN’ to the vision and mission of the church.
- Money – “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!” Matthew 6:21.
- Leaders – Fruitfulness in our development of leaders and our discipleship mandate. In fact, the single most determining factor over the strength of our future is the leaders we are producing, or failing to produce, today!
If you give yourself to these four areas, then you will begin to see great health and growth take place both in your personal world as well as in your church. (For other resources on this see my book Leadersight).