The Secret Sauce for Making Quantum Leap Transitions in Your Church

It’s Gabe Kolstad again – multi-time Advanced Coaching Alumni with Nelson and Senior Pastor of Westside Community Church in Beaverton, Oregon.

Great to be back with you today to continue our discussion about change & transition in the church.

Because my church’s story is so unique I regularly get asked to share the details & background.

In case we haven’t met, let me give you the quick version: I took over our church as Lead Pastor 5 years ago following a 32-year run by a great leader who also happens to be my Father-in-Law (Ken).  Our brilliant transition plan was interrupted when his wife (my Mother-in-Law) suddenly passed away 4 months before the big handoff.

Our church was dealing with shock, reeling from massive amounts of change in the years prior, and secretly about to enter the biggest recession since the Great Depression.

By all external evidence this was a recipe for disaster, decline, and discouragement.  Not because pastors shouldn’t stay at their churches for the long haul, but because it’s unusual to have a seamless succession, especially given the fragile conditions we were in.

But underneath the surface was a foundation that we had developed years before.  What most people don’t know about our story is that I worked as Ken’s Executive Pastor for 9 years before we made the leadership switch.  That 9 years was a huge turnaround process full of incredible joys and explosive land mines.

We were able to see our church clarify vision, turn outward, and adapt our ministry paradigm to reach the city we serve.  We changed everything from the style of dress to the music, from the carpet to the bylaws.

We changed the church name, the staffing structure, the decision making process, and the systems.  Our church grew from 170 when we started to about 325 when I became the pastor.

That may be slow growth to a church planter starting a brand new church from scratch, but in the world of turnarounds it’s rare to see consistent, steady growth year after year.

I believe it’s because of that solid foundation that we’ve been able to increase the pace of our growth over the past few years, more than doubling since then with an average attendance of over 700.

Again, we haven’t made it on the “Fastest Growing Churches” list (yet), but God is doing amazing & unusual things and we’re excited.

I believe there is one main reason why the change process has worked in our church.  It’s honor.  We have embraced and practiced the Honor Principle.

As best I can tell there are three directions honor should flow for those who follow Jesus and lead His church:

1. Honor God.

When you’re on the edge of the cliff of change wondering what to change and how to lead, the most important factor is to honor God.

It is His church, His world, His Kingdom.  We need to begin with the question, “What would honor God?”

Part of the answer has to be to rediscover His vision for your church.  Knowing what He wants to do in your city is more important than knowing how to please all the people who are currently attending your church.

It honors God when we believe and practice the promise of Matthew 16:18 – “I will build My church.”

Our goal is not to invent or create vision, but to discover God’s vision through study and prayer, and to live it out boldly.

2. Honor Each Other.  

This could be the missing piece to the puzzle for many churches in transition.  Sometimes we honor our ideas and opinions more than our brothers and sisters.

What made a huge difference for us was the honor between myself and Ken.  At times we’ve had to disagree and commit, but we’ve always respected each other and stood up for each other.

To this day, Ken sits in the front row at church and nods his head in agreement (not because I force him to!).  We hang out, we plan together, and we lead meetings together.

One of the most significant ways he chose to honor me early on was to give up some of his own perks and privileges and allow me to take on important things like baptizing people, leading communion, and preaching.  He treated me like a peer when I was really just a punk.

That made me want to return the honor in a big way.  Now I’m looking for ways I can hand out honor to others just like he has with me.

3. Honor The City. 

God has positioned you just where He wants you.  And for all of us who’ve tried and failed, we know that we can’t just copy another ministry and find instant success.

Honoring the city means taking enough time and trouble to discern what kind of ministry will reach and grow people where you find yourself planted.  

Learning the uniquenesses of the unchurched culture around you is an act of honor.  Paying attention to the unique hurts, needs, and interests of your city shows respect and leads to effective ministry.

Before you make your next big move, pause to think about what the city needs and how you can tweak your approach to reflect that.  Ask people, read articles and books on your local culture, be part of the community.

Knowing what the people around you actually need is a huge way to communicate value and honor.

I honestly don’t think our church would still be breathing if it weren’t for the honor we’ve experienced through all the changes.  

We’re literally an entirely new church.  We even outgrew our building recently and started meeting in the local high school auditorium instead.

The pace of change in our world will always require solid relationships based on honor – starting with God, including each other, and extending to the people we serve.

Honor – it’s the secret sauce to continued change and growth.

What’s one way you can show honor today?

See you next time,


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About Nelson Searcy

Nelson Searcy is an experienced church growth strategist, pastor, church planter and coach, consulting with churches around the world. As founder of Church Leader Insights and the Renegade Pastors Network, he has personally trained more than 3,500 church leaders in over 45 denominations through live events, seminars and monthly coaching. Nelson is also the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church, with locations across New York City and in Boca Raton, FL. Nelson and his church routinely appear on lists such as “The 50 Most Influential Churches” and “The 25 Most Innovative Leaders.” He is the author of over 100 church growth resources and 18+ books, including The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life, Ministry and The Difference Maker: Using Your Everyday Life for Eternal Impact, and At the Cross with the People Who Were There. He and his wife, Kelley, have one son, Alexander.

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