Church renewal depends on leadership
Jim White, Associated Baptist Press
March 23, 2010

Church renewal depends on leadership

Church renewal depends on leadership
Jim White, Associated Baptist Press
March 23, 2010


Baucom, pastor of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va., has helped lead three

established congregations to renewal and growth. He says doing the same thing

in other churches, while not easy, is possible — with the combination of


“I think it should be said

that growing a church to relevance and vitality from near-death is an extremely

rare incidence that requires a confluence of ‘favorable conditions,’” he said.

What are those conditions?

Emphasizing that there is no

magic formula, Baucom said he believes that certain transferable principles may

guide a congregation in transition from hopelessness to new vision and new

vitality. The transition begins with leadership.

  • A ‘change agent’

“A new leader is an absolute

necessity, and that leader must be a change agent,” he said — noting that a

change agent heightens the crisis in order to heal the system, much as

chemotherapy temporarily sickens the patient but destroys the cancer. The

pastoral change agent uses the crisis to implement necessary changes — small at

first, then larger. These changes eventually create a cultural shift in the

attitudes and expectations of the congregation.

“Once the church family

becomes convinced that it can be effective again, and the first small waves of

growth begin to generate excitement, something of a snowball effect is

generated. Over time, the new growth overwhelms the old system as those who

enter the ‘new church’ live out the new mission without the fear created by

previous failures they never even knew. In other words, as new members are

added, the church becomes the church they believe they joined.

Of course, he cautioned: “Inevitably,

a few of the traditional members will leave the church.”

  • Inwardly secure

To move a congregation from

self-absorption to having a missional focus and confidence in the future, the

pastor must be “more committed to being relevant and effective than being

universally liked,” Baucom said. “A portion of the traditional constituency of

the declining church would rather see their church die than change (though they

would never say so). Dramatically declining churches typically become unhealthy

in ways most members cannot understand.” Churches that experience lengthy

decline begin to panic about the future. They turn inward and develop a

survival mentality that reduces the church’s ability to functional effectively,

he said.

Decisions such churches make

tend to meet the members’ needs but do little if anything to share the gospel

with others. “Most leaders console and comfort such a system, engaging in

hospice care that eases the suffering but limits the possibility of restored

vigor,” Baucom contended.

  • Relational

Tremendous relational work

is necessary to keep those who choose to remain on board. Although they may

resist change initially, they are generally thrilled to see their church thrive

and excited to be part of the journey when they witness successes.

“Some of those who remain

may be unhappy with facets of the new church, but their voices are drowned out

by the vast majority of people who are thrilled with the new direction,

especially if they believe that the new thing is built on the foundation of the

old,” Baucom advises. “For this to happen, the new leader must begin his or her

work by helping the traditional church clearly define its core values and

competencies. New ministries are created as extensions of old values, and in a

very real sense the church simply does much better what it has done well in the

past, casting itself into a new era to reach new generations.”

  • Patient

“In a real sense, the work

of turning a church around is not one movement, but many smaller ‘shifts,’ each

of which is ‘set’ by intentional periods of rest. The church moves forward,

then rests; then moves again, then rests, again and again,” Baucom said.

At each stage of its growth,

such a church pauses briefly to allow the change to gel. “To most, this feels

like one constant and rapid push forward, but the leader instinctively freezes

the system after each primary shift before prompting the congregation to initiate

new changes. This is a careful balancing act,” Baucom cautioned. “If the leader

moves too quickly, he or she will cut himself or herself away from the body.

The most likely response to systemic change, by far, is to remove the change


“If the leader pauses too

long between change phases, the system becomes complacent and stuck, especially

once the initial threat of congregational death has passed and the change

platform has cooled,” he continued.

Baucom said many would-be

change agents “become too patient or too exhausted and either leap from the

change platform or lie down upon it. Either response short-circuits the change

cycle and ends the turnaround.”

  • Confident

“I think it goes without

saying that the change-agent must have a certain charisma and a degree of

confidence tempered by humility and love for people,” Baucom said. “Over time,

the congregation begins to trust the change agent implicitly IF the people

believe that the leader has the church’s best interest at heart consistently,

follows God unflinchingly, and loves the people unfailingly.”

  • Aware of own limitations

“Along the way, the leader

must also draw around himself or herself gifted, selfless and spiritually

mature leaders (or disciple such leaders himself or herself) who can implement

the change he or she envisions. I say this, because the change agent is almost

always a visionary communicator with limited ability to translate change into

programs and ministries without the assistance of a platoon of gifted

administrators and ministers. The leader must know his or her own limitations

and interdependence with others in order to be effective long-term.”

  • Love for the church

“What made me uniquely

qualified for turnaround was vision, energy, charisma, communication skills,

and an intense love for people grounded in the traditional church. Because I

loved the old thing and had a certain set of leadership skills, I could lead

the turnaround,” he said. “I do not discount, even a little, what it means to

be the son of a successful traditional-church pastor nurtured in the heart of

great traditional churches any more than I do my enthusiasm for entrepreneurial

creation of new things. In our context, the turnaround pastor must have both in

equal measure.”

Another factor affecting the

ability to turn around a declining church is the number of new, vibrant

churches that have emerged in the area. The greater the number of exciting,

effective, ministry-oriented churches in the area, the more difficult the

turnaround will be.

“All that said,” Baucom

concluded, “there is no joy like turnaround leadership, in my book. And there

is no leader loved so much, trusted so thoroughly and embraced so quickly as

the proven, successful change agent. Turnaround pastors become cemented into

their church systems like no other leaders, save perhaps the founding pastors

of new churches.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — White is

editor of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald.)

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Church renewal depends on leadership