Does your church leadership team need a breakthrough? What does it even mean to have a breakthrough, and how does that differ from church growth?
These and other questions were answered when Bryan Rose of Auxano, an organization that partners with ministry leaders and churches to assist in visionary planning, joined Todd Adkins and Daniel Im on the 5 Leadership Questions podcast to talk about how a church or leadership team can get on a pathway toward a breakthrough.
What does it mean for a church to have a breakthrough?
Bryan Rose: There are moments in the life of every leader and every local church when there are more questions than answers and more problems than solutions. You just ask yourself, okay, what’s next? Where do we go from here?
Sometimes those questions increase the chaos. Sometimes they increase the feeling that breakthrough is needed. Breakthrough is what happens on the other side of that tunnel of chaos, when fog clears and a path forward is found.
That path is often found with clarity, a vision, and a unique articulation of the identity of the church.
How is breakthrough different than church growth?
I think it’s where you start. We don’t start at church growth. That comes later, after we’re on a pathway to breakthrough.
Let’s re-familiarize ourselves with this unique disciple-making call that each individual church has. It’s true that healthy things grow, and when a church can learn what it means to make disciples in their context, they are on the pathway to breakthrough.
Growth typically follows because you really can’t be a disciple without making a disciple. But you don’t have to grow to be good. You have to make disciples to see God at work and fulfill that calling He’s given the local church.
As a strategic outsider walking into a church to help them experience breakthrough, where do you start with them?
We ask a lot of questions. One of our core values as an organization is carnivorous learning. And we just really believe leaders are more known by the questions they ask than the answers they have.
We can’t walk into a church with predetermined answers or best practices. It’s important to ask questions to truly learn about the real state and situation of the local church.
What are they facing? What are those disciple-making obstacles that stand in their way?
Then we employ tools for collaborative process work and help them shape the future forward there.
I was on a call with a church in Colorado and I just asked everyone, “What do you like best about the church? What are the biggest obstacles that you guys are facing right now?”
I asked them to create in their mind a picture of the church they’d like to see five years down the road and then asked them, “What’s in the way of that?”
We chased the dialogue out and understood they want to reach families in an area of Denver that’s heavily populated with young families.
And as I asked the “obstacles” question, they started talking about classroom space and how they had kids from kindergarten through fourth grade in one room and then everybody younger than kindergarten in another room.
For them, a vision leading them forward has to include some thoughts about space and creating a place where families feel confident dropping off their kids. Ask the right questions and be prepared to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leadership.
It’s not about having the answers though. It’s understanding the identity of each unique local church.
And so we come back to what is God calling you to do as the local church in your context, and then how does that identity lead to breakthrough in the problems that you’re facing or the challenges that lay in front of you?
What types of leaders are primed for a breakthrough in their churches?
There are four types of leader that seemed to be the most ready for breakthrough.
The first is a rookie. This leader is new to a church, new to a community, and they don’t know what they don’t know. And so as a strategic outsider, we can come in help mine out the true identity of the church.
We work alongside them to understand the community a bit more, and then really help them find breakthrough in learning the culture of the church and really establishing a pattern of leadership for years to come.
The next category I would say is the veteran leader. Maybe this is the pastor who has been there 10, 20, or even 30 years, probably getting close to retirement age.
Although they’ve never said this out loud, that pastor who has that three to seven year horizon.
They don’t know that the work they’ve put in this lifetime of, of ministry leadership is going to last beyond them. They’re not confident of what happens after they leave.
And that causes a lot of pastors to hang on longer than they want to—and quite frankly, longer than they should because they’re not confident that if they step out that everything is going to continue moving forward.
So we walk alongside them and help re-clarify the identity and direction of the church, but not dependent on that current pastor.
Therefore a season of transition can be a whole lot healthier because we’ve got this picture of God’s better future that everybody’s in agreement around that’s not pastor-dependent.
The third category of a church leader ready for a breakthrough in their ministry is a “victorious” one, meaning, things are up and to the right if you look at the observable measures—things like attendance and giving.
But the breakthrough question they’re asking is: How do we sustain this growth? What everybody probably doesn’t know is that sometimes those pastors and leaders aren’t sure what’s going on and therefore not sure how to sustain it.
The fourth category of a leader who is primed for a breakthrough is what I would call a “vanquished” one. And this may be the leader who is discouraged and ready to call it quits because they’re in a season of decline.
That pastor or leader doesn’t know why things are in decline. And so the breakthrough moment there is identifying what those challenges are, and then finding a disciple-making passion and instilling it once again in the lives of the people.
Can you think of a couple of churches most people haven’t heard of that have experienced breakthrough?
Testimony is a currency of transformation. The more we can get better at telling stories, the more we can see transformation of the people who call our churches home, the people near our church who are lost, and even the other churches that are looking for breakthrough.
One evening my phone started buzzing. I was starting to get pictures from a leadership meeting in a church downtown Memphis, Tenn. One of the challenges they were facing was every Easter tends to be a predictor of their fall attendance.
They’re right in downtown Memphis near a premier medical center reaching a ton of millennials, young adults, who are only there for a few years while they finish medical school and move on. And so they’ve always experienced this fluctuation.
But we were finally able to put a marker down when they realized if they were going to continue to be effective in reaching their community they would need to move to two services.
And the next question they wrestled with was: How do we continue to make sure we’re connected to people? How do we care for and disciple them when we’re splitting up services?
But anytime you feel multiplication happening at a church, that’s evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives.
Another church that comes to mind is one in Charlotte, North Carolina that will soon be celebrating their 200th anniversary.
We talked through a vision for this 200th anniversary where we they wanted to see 200 local families impacted or to see 200 kids in the foster and adoption care system impacted in some way by the ministry of the church.
And there was just this deep conviction on this emphasis because the process was rooted completely in the Great Commission call.
What are some tried and true methods of achieving breakthrough that any church could do this week?
I really believe there are things a church, a pastor, or a team can do this week. But the main thing to do is pray.
I think prayer is the most overlooked necessity to a breakthrough because as leaders, we’re addicted to progress. We look for products and processes to run to—something to pull off the shelf, to download, or to listen to.
There is still something new to discover about your own leadership as a pastor, there is still something new to discover about the congregation God has brought around this vision and this calling.
God has given you this place, this time in your community and entrusted you with those people He wants to reach are right around you.