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In practice: Evolution by increments

How do you bring genuine transformation in a church that isn’t asking for it? The answer is, one person at a time.

The cultural reality for a huge percentage of churches is that some people want to grow and experience more of God; others are willing while being somewhat passive; and yet others are simply unwilling to change their life or belief in any way.

Depending on which groups of people fit in to these three categories: the Unwilling; the Willing; and the Wanting – the type of cultural change will vary.

In another case study, the majority of  the church’s core influencers were either wanting or willing to experience God in a new way. The result was a church-wide revolution in the culture as a tipping point of congregational desire was eventually experienced.

In this case study, we see a more common story – an evolution rather than a revolution.

SouthPine church was openly conservative in theology and practice when I came in as senior pastor. They were looking for a breakthrough in numerical growth, but as is normal, not everyone was convinced of the need for personal change. They certainly had never seen any sort of the charismatic expression I was used to. This made for some exciting challenges.

As with most established congregations, some of the core were reluctant to evolve their modus operandi, and were even prepared to challenge any notion that they should. I am sympathetic to that, and needed to adjust strategy somewhat on the fly.

As such it was wisest to work (formationally at least) with those who wanted to grow. Almost every church has people like that. They are often the somewhat frustrated and faithful few who love the church and it’s people, but long deeply for more if it’s possible.

In a pragmatic sense I have learned that the main investment of developmental energy should go to those who actually want it, or are willing to take some level of ownership of their spiritual walk. We should not feel guilty about that. Everyone is invited and welcome to experience what God is able to do, and we certainly encourage those who are willing to try something new to give it a go.

But those who are unwilling will simply not experience change. God will not override a person’s will, and effort spent trying to convince those who refuse to bend is energy taken from those who are hungry.

As we piloted the re:FORM course, first with the leadership community, and then with anyone who was hungry, we began to see the deep transformation, freedom and healing we were used to. Out of these early cohorts a few eager and potential leaders emerged, and we trained them to lead groups for the next cohort.

Being a smaller church (300 adults), our registrations were around 10-20 for each course. We ran re:FORM and re:FOCUS concurrently, attracting up to 40 from our church. I personally prefer to have 80-100 in a cohort, and so we invited other churches to get involved. This attracted the desired numbers, whilst blessing 5-10 other fellowships who’s leaders we could train on the job.

Within 24 months we had a thriving Spirit and Truth hub operating out of SouthPine, running weekly meetings for worship, ministry and leader training. This enabled those other churches to join with us, building a great sense of kingdom community.

After three years, my assignment at SouthPine had run its course as God called me to begin an innovative new church plant built on the principles of Spirit and Truth. The conservative core of the church remains, but the amount of people being influenced through the material only grows month on month.

Their story is not finished, and the evolution continues. A mature congregation can learn to accept a fair degree of diversity in their expression of faith and growth, and I am hopeful that many more churches like SouthPine can begin the journey of change and renewal.

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