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Posts Tagged ‘Southlake’

Sunday, January 9 was the first official Sunday at the new Southlake campus of The Hills Church of Christ.  Sherrylee and I attended the service as did 524 other people—a number too large for the sanctuary—a wonderful problem to have!

The energy was high and the sense of anticipation strong. Lots of young families were there, lots of children! Chris Hatchett, the campus minister, did an excellent job of introducing himself to those attending the adult class at 9:00.

That things were different was obvious from the moment you walked in the door and were greeted with the bulletin and worship program from The Hills.  The worship team on this Sunday was mostly from The Hills, and even the call to prayer and benediction were The Hills style.

God provided a little icing for the cake: as the back doors of the auditorium were swung open at the end of the service, all were surprised to see that it had begun to snow during services—a Bing Crosby moment for everyone!  We left feeling the Breath of Blessing on this place in the Kingdom of God!

As I told you in the initial post about the Southlake/Hills merger, I am not in any way involved in any of the decision-making groups nor in any of the leadership groups, so whatever I report to you as well as any thoughts I have are strictly from the pew.  (But I do like to sit up front!)

I woke up this morning, thinking about the kinds of questions that these leaders are asking and praying about. I guess this kind of thinking is just in the blood of us missionary types. Sorry! I still drive by vacant commercial property and briefly evaluate it as to whether it would be a good place to locate a new church, just like we did in Germany so many years ago.

Anyway, for those church leaders who might be in similar situations—or who are thinking about being in similar situations—I suspect these are some of the questions our church leaders are facing—questions you might need to ask at sometime as well:

How alike and how different should the campuses be from the mother church? The current metaphor governing The Hills new campuses is, according to the public announcements, that the campuses will be “twins, but not identical twins!” This approach is probably based on this assumption: The Hills has a successful program, a successful style, one blessed, so why change the formula?

While this approach is perfectly rationale, I suspect the leaders have had to wrestle with some or all of the following questions—and if they haven’t yet, I think they will certainly be on their agenda in the future.

Question  1.  Is it possible that different campuses will have different demographics from the mother  church  which might require significantly different approaches?

The Hills is currently launching two new campuses, one on the west side of Fort Worth and the Southlake campus in the northeast corner. The west campus is about thirty miles from the Southlake campus. Both satellite campuses are 10-18 miles from North Richland Hills, where The Hills is located.

Having grown up in Fort Worth, my sense is that the west side campus is located in a more western, pick-up truck demographic, and the Southlake church in a suburban, SUV demographic. The mother church is enough of a megachurch to draw from a much wider area than its geographic location.

What this says to me is that you have the potential of very different subsets of people likely to attend the different campuses. If these differences are real, that would argue to me for allowing enough variety and differentiation on each campus to address those differences.

Question  2.       Is a blended church different from a new church plant? The west campus is a true church plant while the Southlake campus is a merger/blend—two very different starting points.  The Hills has provided all of the new leaders and staff for the west campus by either reassigning people from the main campus or hiring new staff.  The Southlake campus had a full slate of elders and a small staff. The elders resigned and the staff members were kept on the staff of The Hills—at least for a while–though some were given different assignments.

I kept wondering yesterday if the working assumption—a perfectly natural one– is that the main campus staff and leaders were more gifted than the ones inherited from the merged church?  I raised this question at lunch yesterday and a corporate attorney  friend  replied that in his experience,  in every takeover there is a winner and a loser and whoever takes over is the winner and calls all the shots! He said, all corporations talk about equality in the new blend—but it never happens. The winners stay and the losers go home!

I know this is true in the business world, but my prayer is that churches who are seizing an opportunity to merge or blend will never frame any of their decisions with this winner/loser framework! I don’t believe The Hills/Southlake leaders did this.

Not using this corporate framework, however, would mean that even the bigger church would be open to learning from the smaller, that the stronger church would recognize the golden nuggets that even weaker churches might contain.  What if the minister of____ from the subsumed church is more gifted than his/her counterpart at the main church? Who should be setting the agenda for that ministry? Is it automatic who goes and who stays? Could the main church be improved by the campuses?

Question 3.  Isn’t it likely that each campus will grow and change at a different rate? Won’t the need for the inevitable changes that accompany growth occur at very different moments? A good example of this is that the Southlake campus began with just one service, but probably needs to move to at least two services already. The plan currently is for two elders from The Hills to shepherd the Southlake campus, and for “local” elders to be selected sometime in the future.  Having two or three services immediately, mushrooming  children/youth programs, greater benevolence needs, unique outreach opportunities –all of these evolutions demand more leadership, more prayer, more attention and more resources.  And each campus will face them in different moments!

Finally, I’m thrilled that The Hills has had the vision, the boldness, and the courage to accept these Kingdom challenges. I’m sure these questions have been raised and discussed by church leaders at The Hills  who think about these things 24/7! It is a great time to learn from their experiences.

I also believe the option of merging churches for the good of the Kingdom will be seriously considered more and more in our fellowship, and if we talk and think and pray together, God will do even greater things than we can imagine! Thy Kingdom come! Thy Will be done!

 

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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!

The leadership of The Hills Church of Christ also showed boldness and great vision. Again, I am not in the inner circle at The Hills, but here is what I know from the outside:

  • 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!

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