I narrowed the process of church recalibration down to four phases.
I remember the first Sunday of January 2004 like it was yesterday. I had just been elected Lead Pastor of New Life Church, the church where I was saved and had served as youth pastor. It was my first official Sunday, and our Superintendent was going to “commission” me as Lead Pastor.
It snowed the entire night before (In Seattle, snow shuts down everything.) The Superintendent called, saying he couldn’t get there. So, I was up to preach—my first time as Lead Pastor. Even better, only 30% of the normal Sunday crowd arrived! Nevertheless, I stood at the pulpit and started preaching, not realizing the winding, complex road that lay ahead.
New Life was a good church, but it had plateaued. The church was in a dangerous place, what I now describe as “deceptively healthy.” It had signs of health, but if not revitalized, it would slowly die. I knew it needed new vision and leadership, however I had no understanding of the courage this would take––or the pain it would cause.
I soon realized that the changes needed were more than a new preacher or some quick cosmetic modifications. New Life was a choir-driven church, with a strong Sunday school and midweek program. I recognized that necessary changes would be deep and cultural: music style, discipleship approaches, transition to an intentional church model, and a change of core priorities.
The first three years were really hard. I quickly learned, “It would be easier to change the Bible than the music style.” Many at New Life saw change as a threat; they watered down the gospel and lessened the church’s impact.
I remember the day when the top giver left the church. Over lunch, he said, “I am leaving. I don’t agree …