Healthy leaders in a healthy environment, create a healthy church and a healthy church can impact a community for Christ. Statistics show that a large percent of churches are stalling, struggling, or declining.1 What are we doing to prevent our churches from entering crisis mode?
Brian Derksen, Assistant DS for Church Health and Pastoral Wellness has implemented an intervention/coaching strategy (with the participation of others) called L.I.F.E. Initiative (Listen, Insight, Feedback and Evaluation). This initiative is for churches who may feel stalled or are unclear about health and direction issues.
The L.I.F.E Initiative involves a coaching team individually interviewing staff, elders, and willing congregants from the church family in 20-minute appointments. The interviewing team, normally consisting of three people, will then prayerfully reflect and consider what they have learned before providing the church with a report. The report contains a handful of key recommendations that is presented to the pastor, board, and church family.
Pastor Rick, the pastor of a church who participated in a L.I.F.E Initiative, “I would say that our church was at a crisis point and I was feeling somewhat desperate. Our leadership knew we were at an important junction in moving forward but we felt stuck. I felt that the church needed an evaluation. I also felt I needed to be evaluated and I knew the District could do that. So, we embarked on a L.I.F.E. Initiative and I went through a 360 evaluation. It wasn’t easy but I do believe it was worth it. The report brought forward a few recommendations. Two benefits (there’s more but these really stand out) were: 1) There are more people serving on our Board of Elders than ever before; and, 2) a 3-month sabbatical enabled me to push what I call the “reset” button and gave my wife and I a much needed rest.”
The recommendations are focused on three main areas: strengths, weaknesses, and improvements. During the interview process the team will sit down with individuals and ask them a series of three questions. While the individuals answer these questions the team members will listen and take notes, they do not provide any insight at this time.
The questions that are asked are:
- What are the top three indicators of health and momentum in your church?
- Where do you sense the church ministry is struggling, or stalled, and why?
- In your opinion, how could the above issues be addressed?
Asking these questions allows for people to provide feedback. This is a more positive process than a church assessment because people recognize that they are given an opportunity for their voice to be heard. During the 20-minute interviews people are open to discuss difficult topics in a safe and confidential environment. The people being interviewed are eager for their church to be healthy, and they are willing to offer their ideas and opinions to see the church flourish. Each interview concludes with the L.I.F.E. team praying over the person who was interviewed.
Pastor Paul, a pastor of a church that participated in the L.I.F.E. Initiative, said, “As a church we were heading into a season of questioning what we were doing and where we were going. As a pastor I had a growing sense of frustration trying to keep all the plates in the air without a shower of porcelain. The L.I.F.E. Initiative process was seamless and gave us 5 solid recommendations/directions in which to move forward with a fierce momentum.”
Once the interviews are completed—normally after a one to two-day process—the L.I.F.E. team examines their notes and provides a report with 5-7 big rocks for each question that was asked, along with key suggestions that could help improve the health of the church. This allows the report to highlight some really great things, some key struggles, and offer suggestions. The report concludes with 3-5 recommendations that are provided by the L.I.F.E. team.
Pastor Dave, another pastor of a church that participated in the L.I.F.E Initiative said, “’The L.I.F.E. Initiative invited feedback from our church family that led to some difficult but ultimately healthy decisions and changes. Personally, it led me into a challenging time that God used to shape some foundational pieces of my character. Engaging in L.I.F.E. is not easy, but it is honest and profitable.”
The L.I.F.E Initiative allows for leaders to transform the experience of their church. It has encouraged churches to make significant changes in ministry, structure, or other areas that have resulted in a healthier church. The same way a person benefits from going to the doctor for a check-up, a church benefits from a L.I.F.E. Initiative.
Rev. Brian G. Derksen has grown up in the C&MA and has served in pastoral ministry for over 30 years. He has been married to Helen for 39 years and they live in Chilliwack B.C. with their grown children and three grandsons. Brian has served in his current role as Assistant District Superintendent for over 7 years.