God has blessed us with the opportunity to plant two successful churches in north Dallas. Many times, we’ve heard the question, “How did you do it?” The answer, of course, is more than a single model or program. To put it in the simplest terms, our congregations continue to grow because they are communities of transformation. We are convinced that God can and will change lives. We believe that God loves using churches to do this work of transformation. So much, in fact, that it is hard to keep up!
We have found that it is easier (and more fun) to start a church from scratch than to turn around one that is stagnant or in decline. However, any church can become a community of transformation. Here are three simple suggestions that might help you in your context.
First, choose to exist for your mission field, not for yourself.
In Reclaiming the Great Commission, Bishop Claude Payne calls this moving “from maintenance to mission.” This is a major shift, but any church can do it! So many churches spend all of their energy internally – every resource is used to keep things going. In these churches, major decisions are about the color of the carpet and the blend of coffee brewed after church! In transformational churches, the energy flows toward mission. Who is God calling us to serve? What can we do to make an impact on the community? Who can we reach? Internal squabbles change to vision sessions; instead of feeling stuck, you start moving forward.
Before St. Andrew’s held its first worship service, the launch team did outreach projects in the community. We took out a booth at the “Dickens of a Christmas” festival in our downtown and did free Christmas portraits for any family who wanted them. One group took pictures, another burned CDs, and others just chatted with the folks who came into our booth. These simple outreach projects bonded our team and focused our hearts on community transformation.
This commitment to transformation extends outside the walls of the church. Just a few weeks ago, we had the opportunity along with another priest from our diocese to speak to the clergy of the Anglican Diocese of Belize. We got to thinking: What would it mean to coordinate and organize our church’s mission trips around transformation? Rather than doing isolated trips that served our needs and impacted a small area, we will now work together with the aim of leadership development and nation building. Our teams will minister in Belize as partners with the clergy and people that live there. What a powerful change!
Second, focus on letting God transform lives.
Our Catechism gives us the mission of the church: “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, p. 855). Our churches are organized around the expectation that the Holy Spirit will work in the lives of everyone we touch. This is true for both our long-time members and our first-time visitors. It is true of the children we encounter at the schools we have adopted and the people we help on our foreign mission trips.
One of our key mission trip leaders used to just sit in the pews. One day he was personally invited to go on a mission trip and said “yes.” His experience of working on the front lines of mission transformed him. He described it like this, “Mission multiplied my faith by like a million times.” Today he leads at least one trip a year.
Our world is looking for more than just a place to belong or a place to find peace. People are looking for changed lives. All of St. Philip’s ministries exist to help people be transformed. While our mission trips began as ways to help others, we soon discovered that we were affected at least as much as anyone we went to serve. We were changed. In the words of one participant “mission became our faith multiplier.” With this focus, our members feel like they are a part of something really important. They connect, worship, give, and serve knowing that, in the words of St. Philip’s mission statement, they are “impacting the world for Christ”.
Third, identify and raise up leaders that keep the movement going.
Too many times, the leadership communities in our churches become closed off. If the leadership team were a hotel, the sign would read “no vacancy”! Talented people sense this in our churches, understand that they are not needed, and move on. Leaders in transformational churches are permanently on the lookout for their replacement! They celebrate and empower new leaders, equipping them for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Transformational churches have leadership communities that are open, creative, growing and dynamic.
Any church can choose to be transformational. Like church planting, it doesn’t mean that it will be easy! Let us know how we can support you in your leadership and share with us your own thoughts and ideas. In February 2014, we’ll be hosting a “Communities of Transformation” gathering at St. Philip’s in Frisco, Texas. There, we’ll invite people who are doing it to talk more about what they’ve learned. We’ll look to encourage and support one another in our own transformation as leaders and disciples of Christ. Until then, why not put these three points into practice at your church? What might some of your first steps be?
Mike Michie is the founding rector of St. Andrew’s, McKinney, Texas. He planted St. Andrew’s in 2005 with about twenty people. Today, the church is in its own building and has achieved Parish status. He is also a deputy to General Convention and has a heart for helping other churches grow. He is a husband and father of three daughters.
Clay Lein is a husband, father, and priest living in Frisco, Texas. He brings his engineering background and MBA experience to the challenge of mission and church growth. He founded St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in 2002 and has helped birth other churches and ministries in the north Dallas area. His passion is to see lives changed by the Gospel.
- Reclaiming the Great Commission by Claude Payne
- Reflection Questions for Reclaiming the Great Commission by Claude Payne
- Study Guide for Reclaiming the Great Commission by Claude Payne