Church leaders seem to be the center of lots of controversy and criticism—and not without cause! Today though, I can’t wait to tell you about two groups of leaders who have done things extraordinarily well in a very difficult situation.
Let me just say to start that I am not in either of these groups, nor do I have unusual access to the inner workings of these groups, so I don’t know anything but the public version of the story. I also do not intend to tell the whole story because it is not mine to tell. What I want to do is share with you two instances of great church leadership!
The Southlake church has had a pretty tumultuous history during the last decade or so. We were told that in 1998/99, this church had over 1000 attending services each week. Then came a series of splits, some involving doctrine, some involving styles, some involving leaders, and all involving personalities.
The congregation found itself in 2010 very diminished—200-250 in attendance—and with no readily apparent means of reversing the decline. Elders in this kind of situation usually have very limited options. Southlake leaders certainly considered some, if not all of the following:
- Continue to function as a large church and continue to overwork and underserve their members. Prognosis: Rapid decline!
- Restructure to be a small church: reduce staff, reduce programs, and be content. Prognosis: Slower, but continued decline!
- Disband and sell the property. Assimilate into other churches. Prognosis: Members and leaders alike see their work for God and His kingdom as failed. The community understands closed doors as failure as well.
- ????? Something else!
Praise God – these spiritual leaders at Southlake chose to explore something bold, perhaps controversial, but something that would seem to hold promise for expanding the Kingdom. They chose to approach The Hills Church of Christ, a large, thriving congregation in the same city about a merger that would be a blessing to both groups.
Here is where I simply want to stop and praise the leadership at Southlake for the following reasons:
- They put the Kingdom first and their own identity as a congregation second!
- They put the Kingdom first and did not claim ownership of the church.They did not make the high value of their property either an issue or the center of conversation!
- They put the Kingdom first and emptied themselves: all of the elders offered to resign—and did. The senior minister took a different position in the church. Other ministry leaders let go of their territory—gave up their keys!
- They put the Kingdom first and did not let the minority of naysayers either lead or derail the leadership. There were those who were fearful of losing their identity. Others were fearful of losing control over their own destiny. Others were—just fearful!
These faithful Southlake leaders are setting an example for all leaders in declining churches. Many of our churches are beginning to reach a critical point in their decline, where just keeping the doors open is a matter of concern. The Southlake solution is not the only solution—but putting the Kingdom first and emptying yourself should be part of every solution that every leader considers!
- At the time they were approached by Southlake, The Hills was in the middle of a 10 million dollar campaign (Greater Things) that was demanding a great deal from the entire staff and eldership! They could have easily been too busy to even look at the Southlake dilemma.
- Part of the 2020 Vision of The Hills as well as part of the Greater Things campaign that had already been announced was the establishment of a satellite campus on the west side of Ft. Worth that was going to require staffing and over a million dollars of investment to launch in 2011. They could have easily said that starting one new campus was enough for this year!
- With all of the above, The Hills could have easily offered only a half-way solution or a temporary arrangement—but they didn’t! They went all the way. Even this week, less than a month after the official merge, the Hills is spending a large amount of money on renovations at the Southlake building so that it will be the same quality as the North Richland Hills campus—if not better! Key staff members as well as selected elders have already shifted locations. Not all the foundation is in place, but it will be soon!
The result of the prayerful work of these two groups of church leaders is that two congregations are now one. Both are stronger, both are excited about the new beginnings, and rather than a funeral, the community of Southlake is going to see fireworks!