7 Things I Learned From Vitalization

Success is spelled F-A-I-T-H-F-U-L-N-E-S-S.

I’ve had that statement on my desk since I entered the ministry in 1980. It brought me comfort when the going got tough. Stay the course. Persevere. Be gritty. Even Jesus would take note and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Recently, the ABNWT Vitalization process challenged me to redefine success and spell it F-R-U-I-T-F-U-L-N-E-S-S. That should come as no surprise. My class verse from Bible college days was “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” John 15:16(NIV)

Vitalization is way more than getting a definition of success right. It’s a learning process. It’s doing what Jesus calls his leader/followers to become—faithful and fruitful.

7 Things I Learned From Vitalization:

1. Organizational life cycles apply to Spirit-anointed ministries. After relocating in 2006, North Pointe quickly developed momentum and that carried us through twelve years of increase. However, as far back as early 2015 we started to feel a lessening of momentum. We were unaware of nearing the top of our organizational life cycle. On the other side of the top was decline.

Decline starts when leaders become preoccupied with preference instead of focusing on the objectives of the organization itself. In the case of a congregation, preference slowly destroys the functionality and fruitfulness of the entire body. Answers to thoughtful questions from effectiveness coaches showed that North Pointe had unknowingly become preference-driven. We were nearing the precipice. Bold change was required.

2. Vitalization is change. When anything changes you quickly discover what people truly value.

Change and transition are two sides of the same coin. Purpose-rich changes usually garner high agreement and buy-in. What is confusing is that people will support the change but resist the transition. The transition involves the pain of loss. Every change means something new is embraced but something former is left behind. Empathizing with the pain of the transition is sometimes all that is required for people to go with the change.

3. People are down on what they are not up on. As vitalization plans rolled out, some of our congregation publicly wondered if North Pointe would be the church they would attend in the future since they were already in the church and we were focusing on the unchurched and particularly younger people. I chalk that up to less than optimal communication on my part.

There is no such thing as over-communication or redundancy when making changes. Communicate often. Communicate using all means available—video, print, social media, email, website, etc. Communicate critical changes and core messages. Rinse. Repeat.

4. Vitalizing a church is more complex than relocating a facility. We relocated Central Tabernacle from the urban core of Edmonton to the frontier of the suburbs as North Pointe. It took us from 2000 to 2006. That was a difficult leadership journey. It was painful. Lonely. However a new facility and a new location allowed us to establish a new identity and culture. Vitalization happens in place. Vitalization is a heart issue not a facility issue, although the facility may become a part of the issue.

During vitalization we paid careful attention to our verbiage, and signage. We changed the name of our gathering place from “Ministry Centre” to “Auditorium.” One of our brand colors is blue. We painted the guest service areas in the foyer, blue so we can simply say, “Are you new, go to the blue.”

5. Preference and purpose are not as distinct as they may seem. Some theologically-based resistance surfaced—that the purpose of the church is not for the unchurched. A church is a community of worshippers. Evangelism should happen either outside of Sunday ministry or as a residual of effective worship.

As a lead pastor I must keep the focus on evangelism and fruitfulness in front of us, as it is easy to drift or get distracted, especially after our initial successes.

6. Discipleship is being re-defined as reproduction. Fruitfulness is results-focused. From March 25, 2018 until August 26 there was only two weeks when someone did not choose to follow Jesus. We have flown the flag that discipleship = reproduction. Not everyone is saluting—yet.

Every ministry and department submitted evangelism goals and strategies to reach them for July 2018 – June 2019. In total we expect to see 691 people chose to become followers of Jesus during that time. We have already recorded names of 104 people who made a decision to follow Jesus since July.

Two words summarize the reason for a shift in results at North Pointe:

i) Intentionality. Every one of our ministries and every Sunday service took on a fresh intentionality of evangelism. Invitations became top of mind for all of our departmental and pastoral leaders. Our youth leaders began giving salvation invitations at every service. Our Children’s ministry gave invitations after special teaching times on Sundays. During every message and at the end of every Sunday service the speaker gave a clear explanation of and invitation to follow Jesus. Asking people to record their decision and share it became a required part of the invitation process.

ii) Focus. Our priority is people and our focus is on unchurched people. This simple statement has assured the existing congregation they will be included, cared for, and discipled as we reach out to the unchurched. As a measurement of emphasis, we have quantified our focus as 60% on unchurched and 40% on our church family.

We are focusing (not exclusively) on reaching younger unchurched people (ages 18-30).

7. Vision, mission and values were vitalized. In April 2018 we established three statements that would direct the future ministry of North Pointe:

a) North Pointe exists to lead people into real hope, new life and lasting purpose.

b) North Pointe is a life giving, mission-driven church devoted to Jesus and His love for the world.

c) It is our responsibility to see to it that North Pointe thrives as a community of people in process; where the curious, the unconvinced, the sceptical, and the used-to-believe, as well as the committed, informed and sold-out, come as they are together around the conviction that Jesus is the Savior, the Son of the living God.

We are deeply indebted to the visionary leadership of our District Superintendent Gary Taitinger and his Executive team. Hiring Effectiveness Coaches like Jeremiah Raible, John Albiston and Paul Borden has been a solid investment in local church support. Thank you.