A Declining Mainline Church’s Story of Getting Unstuck
I read stories like this and immediately become more passionate about what we get to do.
I recently got to talk with Johnny Lewis, lead pastor of Shawnee Community Church in Shawnee, Kansas about their journey working with our team to break the barriers that held them back and begin experiencing the fruits of their diligence and hard work. I believe you’ll be encouraged by the growth and hope in their story!
How was your church feeling stuck when you first reached out to us?
Johnny: We were a church restart who had spent five years preparing for and carrying out a grueling transition from a declining mainline church to a very “new church” kind of vibe. Worshiping at about 150, we had pushed against that lid several times and never gotten across.
While we had attracted some church goers looking for something different, we still weren’t connecting with folks outside of the church who did not know Jesus.
I was functioning like a small church pastor—no admin support, the church phone number was my cell phone, leading and presiding over nearly every team. Worse yet, we did not even realize how big a problem it was that we had next to no discipleship program. We had tried small groups a thousand different ways and failed at them all. We were tired of trying and ready to give up.
How is your church doing today?
Johnny: We have worshiped beyond 200 several times in 2018. More importantly, we just baptized five new disciples last month and more than fifty percent of the adults in our church are participating in small groups and the response has been fantastic.
We have learned to be much more intentional in how we reach out to those who are far away from faith in God and to clarify what the discipleship process looks like for us. We are currently collecting a Christmas offering for our first global mission trip.We just baptized five new disciples last month and more than fifty percent of the adults in our church are participating in small groups and the response has been fantastic. Click To Tweet
What were some of the high points of leading change over the last year?
Johnny: Seeing leaders grow and own the discipleship process while my scope and control of things got smaller. My main focus now is preaching and visioning. I’ve loved watching one of our best lay ministers become the volunteer staff leader for pastoral care and thriving in that role far beyond what I would have.
Also, reading surveys of the impact that small groups had in people’s lives at the end of our second semester of groups. Baptizing five adults in one day—a record for us at this point in our journey!
What has been harder than you thought it would be?
Johnny: Learning to lead differently. I know far less of the “details” of the day to day. I find myself answering questions with “I don’t know…Ask ____, they lead that ministry” far more than I ever did before.
There was some grief and growth in my heart in not being on top of all of those things, but the results, the freedom to lead, and the time it has created to invest more in my spiritual life has been unbelievable. I also work a lot fewer late nights.There was some grief and growth in my heart in not being on top of all of those things, but the results, the freedom to lead, and the time it has created to invest more in my spiritual life has been unbelievable. Click To Tweet
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How has working with our team encouraged and supported you specifically, as the lead pastor?
Johnny: Mark, our consultant, has become a trusted colleague and voice. A few times he has talked me off the ledge of charging ahead into the completely wrong direction—not by telling me how crazy my idea was, but by focusing me back on our mission and vision for ministry.
Also, there have been some moments in the last two years that he has walked through some hard staff transitions—at some points helping me to trust my current staff to grow and at other points making the hard call to go in a new direction. I’m so grateful for his voice in our church’s life.
What’s on the horizon for your church?
Johnny: This year we are focusing on our new global mission initiative, adding new small groups to meet the demand, adding new members, and continuing with some intentional campaigns to reach those in our community who don’t have a faith connection.
I also won a grant for a three month sabbatical in 2019. There’s no way we could have functioned without my presence two years ago. This year our leaders are ready and equipped and I will be replaced in preaching by people from our church whose faith in Jesus is growing through small groups and service.