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Reaching the unchurched requires ‘cutting-edge’ leadership, pastor says

RIDGECREST, N.C.(BP)–Less than a decade ago, leaders at Flamingo Road Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., discovered 90 percent of the congregation’s recent growth spurt was coming from transfers from other churches.
“We were basically swapping sheep; we weren’t reaching or impacting our community for Christ,” Dan Southerland, teaching pastor at Flamingo Road, said in a July 13 message at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center. He spoke to more than 1,300 Southern Baptist church staff and lay leaders attending a National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference.
Rather than becoming comfortable with the status quo, Flamingo Road’s leadership made some dramatic changes in its approach to ministry. They switched from being program-driven to purpose-driven and from committee-led to staff-led. The pastoral team stopped trying to do all the work and focused on equipping the laity as a ministry force. They even changed their worship style to a more contemporary seeker-oriented format, and encouraged members to be intentional in building relationships with lost people.
The results? The church grew from a membership of 500 in 1990 to more than 2,000 today. But while Southerland is pleased about the size of the increase, he’s even more pumped about its source — unchurched people represented 60 percent of the growth.
The changes were far from easy, Southerland admitted, adding moving to an intentional focus on reaching the unchurched requires a “cutting-edge” approach to leadership.
He shared six keys for cutting-edge leaders with conference participants:
1) Evaluate the current conditions. Basically, you have three choices when evaluating a program, event or ministry, Southerland said: reaffirm, revise or replace. A willingness to consider the latter option is key, he said, adding: “You have to be willing to say Plan A is dead before you can ask, ‘What is Plan B?'”
2) Prepare people for change. Vision casting is the required skill for this objective, Southerland said. “You have to be able to paint a picture of what God wants to do in your church, the blueprints for growth. … Until the people catch the vision or, better yet, until the vision catches them, you are not going to impact your community for Christ.”
3) Motivate people to follow. One test of a leader, Southerland said, is an affirmative answer to the question, “Is anyone following?” “Anyone can take a trip; a leader gets people to go with him,” he said, adding this requires the skill of motivation — the ability to move people.
4) Cross the barriers to growth. Cutting-edge leaders “don’t get stuck up against the barrier, they push right through it,” he said. “If you want to reach people for Christ, you are going to have to take some chances. You can’t have a ‘play it safe attitude’ and reach a lost world for Christ.”
5) Take the new land. “We must live in two tenses,” Southerland said, “fighting today’s battles and planning tomorrow’s.” This requires the skill of strategic planning which asks the question, “What’s coming tomorrow?” Churches need to use binoculars so they can look ahead. Unfortunately, Southerland said, “most churches use a microscope; they are looking within. They are focused on themselves.”
6) Desire all that God has for them. “A true leader is never fully content and never quite comfortable,” Southerland said. A desire for God, he added, comes from the ability to believe him, or faith. This means cutting-edge leaders need to invest in kneepads because “you build faith by being on your knees before God (in prayer).”
“If you’re OK with the status quo in your church, then you’re not close to what God wants for you,” Southerland told the church staff and lay leaders. “How can we ever be comfortable when there is even one lost person in our neighborhood?”
The July 13-17 National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference was sponsored by the Sunday school division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Chip Alford