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It How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It
By Craig Groeschel
Copyright © 2008 Craig Groeschel
All right reserved.
Chapter One WHERE DID itCOME FROM?
You either have it or you don't. -Popular saying
for years, I've been intrigued by it. In 1991, I became an associate pastor of a church that was starting to get it. During my five years with this church, God truly gave it to us. The church doubled in size. We baptized hundreds of people . God was glorified.
The church continued to enjoy it for close to a decade. One day, though no one noticed at first, it started to fade. Sadly, this church doesn't have it anymore. What once was dead, then alive, is dead again. After watching the church being blessed with it, many people mourn that that same church is now, years later, futilely fighting for life without it.
You could say it happens.
But not always.
In 1996, my wife, Amy, and I started a new church that's now called LifeChurch.tv. In those early years, we didn't have anything most churches have (and think are necessary). In fact, everything we had was junk. We met in a borrowed two-car garage that smelled just like ... a garage. On the first weekend of our new church, we experienced a rare Oklahoma snowstorm. I still remember the people huddling together to stay warm, wearing their winter hats and gloves for the entire ser vice.
Since I knew the importance of caring for children, we reserved the best facilities for those under five years of age. Our children met for children's church in a large storage closet. (This gave a whole new meaning, at the end of each ser vice, to the phrase "coming out of the closet.") We had one temperamental microphone and two borrowed speakers. We borrowed seventy-five green, felt-backed chairs from hell. (All felt-backed chairs are from hell and should be returned there as soon as possible.) The garage was so dark we bought a floodlight from the hardware store for $19.99 to light it. This innovation worked great until one day the light exploded during a sermon. People thought terrorists were attacking and dove for cover. On a positive note, several people accepted Christ that day. (And Edna Mae's counselors at the psychiatric hospital tell us she's doing much better.)
Today, LifeChurch.tv has a reputation for using technology whenever possible. In the early days, we were excited if something we plugged in didn't blow up, including our hand-me-down early-1970s overhead projector.
For those of you who don't know what an overhead projector is, I'll explain. An overhead projector was the state-of-the-art, cutting-edge way (in 1976; unfortunately this was 1996) to display song lyrics on a screen. Or in our case, on the garage door. This ministry-changing innovation fell on the technology scale somewhere between printed hymnals in the pews in Gutenberg's day and today's triple video projectors casting shimmering images onto oversized screens. (Ah, the good old days.)
To use the overhead projector-commonly referred to simply as the "overhead" (because that's part of its name but also because the advanced lightbulb-and-lens technology was so mysterious that it went right over the heads of all of us laypersons)-you'd type the words on a sheet of transparent plastic, place it on the bed of the projector, and voila! Worship magic. Our skilled transparency flipper was Jerome, who had lost a finger to a gunshot wound in a drug deal gone bad. (Yes, the drug thing was before he became a Christian. But he was still a new believer, and for a hundred dollars he would have made anyone disappear for me.) New people were mesmerized by the light shining onto the garage door, following it to its source and then silently counting Jerome's fingers: One, two, three, four ... Four?
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it's cheaper than counseling. But I also want you to understand: we didn't have anything that most people think you need to have church.
We didn't have a nice building. We didn't have our own office. We didn't have a church phone number (unless you count my home phone number). We didn't have a paid staff. We didn't have a logo. We didn't have a website. We didn't serve Starbucks. We didn't have sermon series with clever titles lifted from Baywatch episodes.
What did we have? We had a few people; you could count them on both hands. (Well, Jerome couldn't, but you could.) Those few people were off-the-charts excited about Jesus. We had enough Bibles to go around. And we had it.
At the time, I didn't call it it. But we were definitely full of it. (Which is ironic, because I've been accused many times of being full of **it.) Even though we didn't know what it was, we knew it was from God. And it was special.
Whatever it was, everyone who came felt it. And they talked about it. And new people came and experienced it. And the church grew. And grew. And lives were changed by the dozens. Then by the hundreds. Then by the thousands.
Ten years later, we were thrilled to be ministering to thousands of people at thirteen different locations in six states. As exciting as that sounds (and it was), after a while I started to notice something that made me pause. Over time, it made me nervous. Finally, it started to bother me deeply.
In some locations, we were losing it.
Even though I had never known what caused it, I had always hoped we'd never lose it. And yet we were. Although some campuses unquestionably still had it, in other locations, we had to admit that it seemed to have quit. That distinct spiritual hum, so obvious before, was harder to hear. The life-changing stories that were once a part of every discussion were fewer and farther between.
Instead of passionately caring about people who didn't have Christ, members started to gripe about how the church wasn't all that they wanted it to be. Instead of people sacrificing for the cause of Christ, people appeared to be consuming, not contributing.
Where did it go?
Did we kill it?
Did God take it away?
In the past, I figured that if a church didn't have it, it was, at least to some extent, the leadership's fault. The elders must not have been focused or passionate or praying or something. Or the senior pastor hadn't cast a compelling Christ-focused vision, or he didn't preach hard enough or wasn't inspiring people to become like Christ. Or the staff had gotten tired, bored, or lazy.
Surely someone was to blame.
Suddenly, I had a problem. All of our campuses were under the same leadership. The buildings were similar. The worship pastors were unique but had consistent styles. The kids' curriculum never varied from campus to campus. All were experiencing exactly the same weekend teaching. But some campuses had it. And some didn't.
Think about this. All of our buildings intentionally have a similar look and feel. We work hard to cultivate exactly the same values, culture, and leadership on every campus. We hire all staff members through the same process. Each weekend, the people attending in one location hear the same message as the people at every other location. Sure, some of our campus pastors are better leaders than others. And ministering in different cities and states will certainly produce different results. Yet our it-ness apparently was randomly distributed from site to site.
Some campuses had huge numbers of conversions, while others struggled to lead anyone to Christ. Those with many coming to Christ had more than enough volunteers. The others were struggling to fill a quota. At the with-it campuses, giving was growing. The it-less were financially stagnant. One campus tripled in size in one year, while growth in others was flat. Two grew to more than two thousand people in a year. That same year, one shrank.
Guess which one got smaller? The one where I taught ... live and in person. All the campuses that experienced weekly video teaching grew. (If you don't like video teaching, put that in your pipe and smoke it.)
As I dug deeper, I realized that not only did the campuses have varying degress of it-fulness but individual teams did too. In the same location, one team might have it, while another might not.
Thinking about other churches and ministries, I realized I could name a dozen that used to have it but don't anymore. At one time, they were reaching tons of people, growing with cutting-edge ministry innovations. But somewhere along the journey, they seemed to freeze in time, then slowly thaw and melt away. They had once had it. But they lost it.
Could that be happening to us?
Then I watched a few other churches whose growth had been flat for years. One day, something changed. Maybe they got a new leader. Or their previous leader found a second wind. Perhaps God gave a staff member an idea that worked. I don't know, it could be that they redecorated the church in God's favorite color. Whatever the reason, I could think of many churches that didn't have it for years but got it. Sudden, dramatic resuscitation.
Two important principles, or It Factors, dawned on me:
The good news: if you don't have it, you can get it.
The bad news: if you have it, you can lose it.
Questions for Discussion or Reflection
1 If a church lacks what most people think you need to have church, yet they have it, does this mean that buildings, environments, logos, websites, and so on are not important? Why or why not?
2 Can you think of an example of a church that had it and then lost it? Describe what happened. Why do you think that ministry lost it?
3 If you've ever been part of a ministry that had it, you knew it. Describe what it felt like. What were some of the qualities that you experienced and appreciated?
4 What part of your ministry has it? (Your choir, student ministry, or hospitality ministry might have it.) What factors do you believe contribute to it?
Excerpted from It by Craig Groeschel Copyright © 2008by Craig Groeschel.Excerpted by permission.
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