Reset: A New Mindset for A New Season (Part 1)
“We have an opportunity here. We don’t have to just come back like we left. We can do something different.”
Happy New Year! This week, we’re kicking off a new series called “Reset: A New Mindset for a New Season.” In this series, Amy and I will be interviewing four pastors from churches of different sizes in the U.S. and Canada to hear how they are leaving the past behind and leading forward in 2022. (Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this series are now available).
RESET: SOUTHVIEW COMMUNITY CHURCH
In January of 2020, Southview Community Church in Herndon, VA was seeing new leaders developing, new groups launching, and an increase in their attendance and baptisms. Then their church closed its doors for the next 15 months.
In this episode, I sat down with Pastor William Attaway from Southview to discuss what his church experienced in the last couple years and how they’re shifting their mindset outward again. I think you’ll be encouraged by Pastor William as we talk through:
- Leading with a church plant mindset
- The two key mindset shifts for Southview Church
- Balancing your physical and digital ministry
- Why you need a reach strategy (now more than ever!)
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. If you’re headed into 2022 feeling dissatisfied with half-full worship services, a lack of volunteers and declining engagement in your key ministries, it’s time to consider a reset and shifting to a new strategy for a new season. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy kick off our new series with a conversation with William Attaway, lead pastor at Southview Community Church to hear how he’s leading his church to embrace a new mindset, find a sustainable pace and reach people beyond those in the room on Sunday. If you’re new to the podcast, before you listen, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode including the leader conversation guide and bonus resources, as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Well welcome back from the holidays to our listeners. Tony, I hope you and your family had a great Christmas and a fresh start to the new year. And we’re also launching a brand new four part series today. And maybe, will you help us with an overview of what this series is all about?
Yeah, absolutely. So before the holidays, I shared in one of our podcast episodes on healthy church by the numbers. In fact, now that I read this again, I’m wondering if I pushed a little bit hard, Amy, but I think it’s important that we get clarity around this right now. This is what I said. “Today is the new baseline. 2019 isn’t the baseline.” So as an example, if you were a church of 2000 people in 2019, but today you’re a church of a thousand people. At this point, almost two years later, if people haven’t come back to church, they’re probably not going to come back. Instead, we need to start acting like we’re a church of a thousand people, and we need to invite those thousand people to join our mission with us to reach our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors, and connect them to faith and church. So I’m saying it again, Amy, I think this needs, it’s a new mindset. We need to press the reset button and kind of look at where we are today and start to move from this place. And because today is the new baseline, it really does beg the question, then, how do churches need to reset their approach to engaging our mission? Or to say it another way, how do churches experience a fresh start all over again? And that’s what the series will be about. However, I don’t want you to rely purely on my perspective, on Amy’s perspective. I want to let you hear from four different pastors of four churches of different shapes and sizes. We’ve worked with all of these churches during the pandemic, but, Amy, today’s first conversation was actually with a pastor that you served in July of 2020.
Yeah. July of 2020. That was what? Three, four months in. Yeah, let me introduce you to William Attaway. He’s the lead pastor of Southview Community church in Herndon, Virginia, which is, Tony, a suburb of Washington DC. And, you know, I just wanna say when I first worked with William, one of the things I loved about him out of the gate was, as a pastor of a smaller church, he actually had this awareness that, well, we are small. Therefore we are flexible and kind of even led all our conversations with, we ought to be trying something new. And it just surprised me, I guess. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was just a great quality that I saw in him as a leader. And William will share a little bit more about who he is and the church in this interview. However, William represents one of many pastors of smaller churches that we get to serve. And I think you’ll be encouraged by his story as he explains how he and the team at Southview are hitting the reset button almost two years into this pandemic.
Amy speaking of pastors at smaller churches, my wife ,Emily, prompted this thought in recent days. We were talking about it’s a huge challenge, all the teenage girls and young women who are wrestling with body image concerns right now, and Emily was expressing in her wisdom, how many young women need the truth of God’s voice in their lives today. And of course a good example of that truth is revealed in Psalm 139. It’s just a powerful way that David describes this, where he wrote and reminded us that we are fearful and wonderfully made and not to downplay the importance of the fact that we, as individuals, are made in the image of Christ and not to downplay that many women and men for that matter are struggling with body image. But the thought occurred to me that many pastors I speak with also have body image issues, only it’s not our physical bodies. It’s our poor body image that comes from seeing the body of Christ in other ministry contexts. It’s almost like the Instagram filters that we see, the Facebook updates, what social media is doing is we’re seeing other ministries, other churches in other ministry contexts. And we compare what we’re seeing in churches of other shapes and sizes. We start to compare that to our body, our church body. And if you hear nothing else in this four part series, I hope you’ll hear this. The body of Christ was also fearfully and wonderfully made. And with the same words that David wrote in Psalm 139, let’s ask God for this, “Search me God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” Amy, I need that prayer in this season, especially in the uncertainty that continues to surround me, to surround all of us. Lord, lead me. And with that, lead our churches in the way everlasting. And with that thought, let’s listen to my conversation with William from south view community church.
Well, William, thank you for joining us for today’s conversation. In a moment, we’re gonna be talking about your church, but maybe you could catch us up to speed talking a little bit about your backstory and how you got started in ministry. And then how long you’ve been connected to the church at Southview Community Church.
About 24 years ago, I transitioned from the marketplace into church world and have been serving in the local church since then. I’ve been at Southview now for just over 17 years. I came here as the associate pastor in 2004, and then transitioned into the lead role when the senior pastor left in 2006.
So, you’ve had a good long ministry at the church, and that was probably helpful for you given what our world and your church experienced in the last couple years. And actually with that in mind, let’s go back in time to January 2020. I think a lot of us would like to go back in time to January 2020, but give us a picture of what the ministry at Southview looked like before the pandemic.
Absolutely. I think that if I was to characterize it in one of the life cycles stages, I would say, that we were in the momentum phase, we had gone through some difficult white water, but we were coming out of that, and we were in a really strong season. Things were up and to the right in a lot of our areas, and we were feeling good about that.
Yeah. So give us some examples of what specifically you were seeing in the church back at that time. Give me some indication of that momentum that you were experiencing, William.
Sure. We saw a crop of new leaders begin to emerge and be developed in the church. We were seeing new groups starting and launching, and those groups gaining greater health over time. We saw attendance beginning to increase. We saw more baptisms and more decisions. And these are some of the metrics that we look at when we’re trying to evaluate month to month. Hey, are we moving the ball up the field here? Are we seeing progress? And the things that we say matter toward our mission of seeing people who are far from God be raised to new life in Jesus.
Well, with that here we are two years later. We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs in our society, but also in the context of our church ministries as well. And it sounds like a lot at Southview has changed in the last couple of years. So could you give us a picture of where the church is today?
Sure. We shut down like most other churches, I think, in March of last year. And we were actually shut down until June of this year. So almost 15 months. That was a lot more difficult and a lot longer stretch of time than anybody anticipated. A lot of that was due to the demographic that we’re in. We’re in one of the Western suburbs of Washington DC. And so the demographics here, the population here, the local government here, a lot of that had to do with that. And so we tried to honor the location, the community that we’re in, tried to communicate that we are for you. And so up until June of this year, we were online only. And that was really a very interesting thing for us. I would not characterize us as having put a lot of eggs in that particular basket prior to COVID. And so we had to think differently. We had to ask a lot of questions about how we do this differently, how we think about it differently. And so we did, you know, we were a church that was, that had been dancing all around a 200 attendance mark pre-COVID, and now coming back, since June of this year, over the last six months, we are obviously seeing a lot less than that. We’re now dancing just shy of 100. So that’s a pretty significant drop for a church like Southview. For any church, really, but for us that has been reflected in every measurable indicator on the dashboard, you know, the small group attendance, giving, serving, of course attendance, the partnerships that we have with local community organizations, you know, all of these different areas that we look at and say these matter. Wow, that’s been a big difference. And so what we have tried to do is think, for the last six months and going forward, instead of saying, Hey, let’s just pick up where we left off and pretend like nothing ever happened. Let’s think about this differently. Let’s think about this us as though, you know, we have more of a church plant mindset where we’re starting from a dead stop, and we’ve got to think differently. We cannot just pick up where we left off because A. A lot of the population shifted. You know, we had a lot of families who moved out of the area who took advantage of COVID and say, Hey, I’m gonna move outside of this context, this, you know, incredibly expensive context. We’re gonna move closer to family. We’re gonna move to a cheaper part of the country. We’re gonna move, you know, to where we can get some land and some better environments. So we lost a lot of leaders in that. And that was a big hit for us. So we couldn’t just come back in and say, Hey, let’s just pretend nothing ever happened. In a way it was forced upon us, but I think it really starts with the mindset of the leaders. And so one of the things that we talked about around our elder table, around our staff table was what does it look like to have the mindset that we’re not just gonna pick up where we left off? That we’re gonna come into this with a different perspective? A perspective of, Hey, what if we have the opportunity to do something different here? There’s a quote that I heard almost a year ago now that has just resonated so deeply within me. It was from Amy Edmondson over at Harvard Business School. She said that too many are asking whether we will go back to normal. She said, “To me the problematic word is back.” She said, “There is no going back to pre-COVID times. There is only forward to a new and uncertain future that is currently presenting us with an opportunity for thoughtful design.” I’ll tell you that last phrase I have used more times in more context. I did a whole series as we came back called Better Than Before. And I used that quote and I said, we have an opportunity here. We don’t have to just come back like we left. We can do something different. We can come at this from a different perspective and think about this in a lot of different ways. I love what Mark Batterson says. There are ways of doing church nobody’s thought of yet. This is an opportunity for us to very thoughtfully design what we do, how we do it, in a way that honors our leaders, that honors our volunteers, in a way that we, I don’t think, have always been great at in the past.
Yeah, that’s helpful. And I appreciate that challenge from that quote, too. And we’ll definitely wanna include that in the show notes so that listeners can have that in front of them as they’re considering next steps for ministry and leadership as well. William, as you look back and you’ve alluded to some of the challenges you’ve experienced but, as you look back at these last couple years, what would you say was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome?
Over the last couple years, I would say it was not being physically present with the people that were leading for 15 months. That was something that I had never even thought about. Like, how do you lead an organization when you’re not physically present with the people, or even many times with the leaders because our leadership team was remote for a long time. How do you do that? That was an incredibly difficult challenge, and I think what it forced in me, and one of the things I challenged our team with, was we have to not just talk about the teachable spirit that we talk about all the time, but this is a season when we have to model it and we have to lean into it like never before. You know, this is an opportunity for us to learn from people who are farther down the road than we are in a lot of different things. This is an opportunity for us to learn from our heavenly father who’s gonna speak into us during this season when things are a little quieter and slower. You know, the pace of life can tend to be toxic to our spiritual life. And so I think this was an opportunity for us to listen and really lean into that teachable spirit.
William, ministries have learned a lot over these last couple years, but actually this has been a good opportunity for leaders to learn as well. In fact, you just were mentioning learning. So let me ask, what have you learned as a leader through this last season?
You know, I think for me, it has been that teachable spirit. You know, I talked about that for 20 plus years. But the temptation, the longer you’re in a place, and being at Southview so long now, the temptation is to kind of settle into a rhythm and feel like you kind of know what’s coming. You kind of know how to navigate around certain things. And even with the unexpected and the uncertainty that is inherent in dealing with people in church ministry, there is a sense where you can kind of settle into a predictable rhythm. And I think what the last couple years has done in my own leadership is shaken me completely out of any kind of complacency or feeling like, Hey, I think I think I can do this. Boy, I’m leaning into that teachability like I never have. I’m listening, I’m learning, I’m reading because I want to honor God in how I lead, and I want to encourage our leaders to do the same. And they’re gonna catch that more than they’re just gonna listen to me talk about it.
So in the series we’re talk about how churches need to reset on this side of the pandemic. What do you think that reset looks like for Southview and then maybe even more broadly for the church?
Yeah, for Southview, I would say there’s two things that come to mind with that. The reset for us has focused around these two ideas. One is simplification. Back some 15 years ago now, I read a book called Simple Church, and I immediately got a copy for all of our elder board and said, I want us to read this. I want us to pray about this. And I want us to take some action on this. And we did. And we began to simplify what we were doing in an effort to try to get better at a few things instead of trying to do a hundred things at a mediocre level. I know excellence honors God and inspires people, and mediocrity does neither. And so I wanted to get simpler. And so what this season has done, I think is give us the chance to reset, even from where we were and say, how do we do this better? We have certain things that are in our hands, and we have certain things that we wish were in our hands. I love Exodus 3, right? When God comes to Moses and he says, Hey, what’s in your hand? He doesn’t ask him what he wishes was in his hand. He doesn’t ask him what’s in somebody else’s hand. He asks him what’s in his hand. Right? And so I think for us, it’s been a season to evaluate what do we have currently? What is it that we have the ability to do well with what we currently have to work with? That’s people, volunteer, resources. What can we do well right now? And that’s, that’s required us to simplify. And so that’s something that is consistently in front of us. There’s a sign above my office door, inside, that I bought years ago. It just says simplify because that’s something that I try to think about intentionally and regularly with regard to what we do that has been a big key with our reset has been to simplify. The second thing is a sustainable pace. I think that we’re not unique. I think pre-COVID, we were running our leaders, our elders, our staff at a pace that was not always sustainable. I think our volunteers keyed into that, and often our volunteers were running at a pace that was not sustainable. And so one of the things that I have talked about this year as we have rebooted the physical campus and tried to run that parallel to what we’re doing digitally is to say, Hey, what does a sustainable pace look like for us? What does it look like? And are we honoring our volunteers? Are we honoring our leaders by modeling it and by encouraging it. And so that’s a conversation that is constantly ongoing. I had it this morning with two of our team. I said, is this a sustainable pace for you? That’s not to say, I want people to be lazy. I don’t think any of us are gonna be charged with that. But there’s a sense in which I think in church world, we can tend to run too hot, too hard, too fast, and burn out, and that doesn’t help anybody. And so for us, simplify and a sustainable pace, both of those have been key parts of our reset strategy.
Well, you mentioned that parallel path of digital strategy, ministry strategy, that you’re engaging. Sounds like about half of the folks that were connected to your church pre-COVID have come back to your building for services and ministry. What’s your sense as far as the other half? Are they staying engaged online? Are you reaching new people online? Any sense of what that’s looking like for your ministry?
It’s hard to gauge. I’ll say that we have a lot of anecdotal evidence that a lot of people who just aren’t back physically yet are engaged online. They tell us this. They’ll email or whatever and call us and let us know that. I know we are reaching a lot of people at a distance that we never were before. We do dive into the metrics and see that, you know, we have people who are engaging and for us, the one minute mark of views is kind of the thing we look at. From that we’re seeing people from about 30 different states inside the US, and about six or seven different countries every week that are engaging outside the US with what we’re putting out. What we want to do, and what Amy helped us with with with our time with Unstuck, is to help us begin to craft that strategy in ways that over the next year, we’re going to be doing increasingly more than just what we have been doing in different ways to connect in different ways with people who are far from God. Small bite sized chunks, not necessarily full messages or full services, or full worship or anything like that. But just bite sized chunks to connect people where they are in those, in those spots where they’re hurting right now, where they’re feeling the pain points. And so that’s part of our digital strategy for 2022, going forward is to leverage that beyond just an opportunity for people to look in the windows and see what happens on a weekend. Now we wanna engage with people on a Tuesday at 10 o’clock, because I think that’s where the power of the gospel really comes into play, because that’s when we’re engaging with people who are far from God.
Yeah. And referring back to that quote that you shared, you know, we’re not going back to where we were a couple years ago. We’re moving forward in the future. What would you say is the biggest shift, the biggest change that your church has made in its ministry strategy in order to be focused on your forward movement at this point?
I think the biggest shift for us has been to think, not just the people who are in the room, but to think about the people who aren’t yet. You know, for the last, dozen or so years, we’ve been focused on reaching our community. In Northern Virginia, 57% of the people here self-identify as being religiously unaffiliated. 43% are everything from Muslim to Buddhist to Sikh, you name it. 57% say I’m nothing. And so that’s who, for the last dozen years, we’ve been focused like a laser on trying to reach and connect with. What I think this season has taught us is that we cannot let up on that particular goal, but we can actually expand it using the digital platforms to connect with people where they are. I think Carey Nieuwhof’s right. Everybody you wanna reach is online. And so what this has given us the ability to do is think parallel and say, Hey, you know, we’re not gonna let up on what we can do physically, cause there’s certain things we can only do physically, but there’s certain things that we can only do digitally as well. And why don’t we leverage those strengths instead of trying to create a one size fits all solution that will just hit everybody and, I think, will actually hit no one.
Tony, I loved William’s genuine spirit, which was on full display in that conversation. I’m just, I’m curious, what stood out to you from your talk with William?
Yeah. Well, there was a lot packed in that short conversation, but these were some of the key thoughts that really resonated with me, the first being this, and I know obvious to many of our listeners, but there are still COVID restrictions that are continuing to impact different churches in different ways, depending on where they’re located. And Southview is located just outside the DC metropolitan area, and the restrictions that their ministry has faced in the last number of months and still has today, it’s impacting their ministry still to this day. Another thing that stood out to me though is just, William’s really challenge, I think, to all of us that we have to think differently, and I love how he said, gosh, we need to have that church planter mindset all over again. We really need to look at this as a fresh new start. And he said related to that, it begins with the mindset of the leaders. William and his leaders agreed together, we’re not going to pick up where we left off. Instead we have the opportunity to do something different now. And with that, he talked about embracing new opportunities. He said, this. We can learn from people who are further down the road than we are. And I agree. That’s a great opportunity that we have in this season. And I can tell, Amy, William has a very teachable spirit, and he’s encouraging his leaders and his church to embrace that as well. And then really the key part of the reset strategy that William talked about at Southview was embracing these two principles. We need to simplify, and we need to find our sustainable pace. And my goodness, if you’re gonna learn anything from what we’ve been through the last two years, I think those principles translate well beyond Southview’s ministry because what we’re experiencing now is really forcing us, as churches, to get focused on God, what are you really calling us to do? And with the leaders that we have today, help us find a sustainable pace to move forward from here. Final thing that jumped out to me was William just talking about we can’t just think about the people who are in the room with us today. We also have to focus on the people that we’re trying to reach.
That’s good. Well, Tony help us, especially the pastors of smaller churches, help us consider one next step coming out of this conversation about hitting the reset button.
Yeah, goodness. I mean, there are so many key things that I could pull out as far as that one next step is concerned, Amy, but I think the biggest thing I learned from the conversation with William was around this, that final thought I just shared. We can’t just think about the people who are in the room. We need to have, and we’ve talked about this a number of times, as churches, we need to have both a reach strategy and a discipleship strategy. And honestly, many times we’ve seen churches that have worked hard to make sure for the people that are already connected to the church, who are already in the room, what is that discipleship strategy? How are we helping people become more like Jesus? But maybe where we’ve neglect our thinking and our strategy is around who we’re reaching outside the church and outside the faith. And so, especially on this side of the pandemic, we can’t assume that new people are just going to show up to our church on Sunday morning. William mentioned their online strategy, and I love it because what he just opened us up to is this thought that even if we’re a small church, we can still have an effective online strategy. I think for many churches that reach strategy is still going to involve our Sunday services, but we need to make sure our Sunday services are speaking both to people who are further along in their spiritual journey and those that are taking their first steps. I think part of this reach strategy may look like mobilizing our congregation to encourage them to develop relationships with their friends, their neighbors, their coworkers, and then when the time is appropriate, to share their spiritual stories and then invite people to take their next steps towards faith in the church. Or the reach strategy may look like engaging in good works in our community to help other people and to point people towards Jesus. I mean, Amy, there are so many opportunities here, so many ways that we could be designing or reach strategy to engage new people in our community, to help point them to Jesus, to help point them to the church. And I would say, especially in this season, when there are so many people who are seeking answers and there are so many people that are dealing with a variety of different hurts and hangups in their lives, this is the time for the church to make sure, again, we’re not only focusing on a discipleship strategy, but we’re embracing a reach strategy as well. And to define your reach strategy, this may be your first step as a church. Invite your ministry leaders and your congregation to engage that reach strategy with you. And then once you do, once you have success around that strategy, continue to encourage people to take their next steps in your discipleship strategy as well. In fact, I would argue reaching others is actually a key part of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. In other words, reaching others is discipleship.
Well, thank you, Tony. And thanks to William for joining us. Any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah. Southview Community Church, as I mentioned before, is just one example of close to 200 churches we’ve served during the pandemic. And if you’re trying to clarify where you’re going next as a church in this season, when really there still seems to be so many unanswered questions, we’d love to help you with that. So it’s a new year. Many of us are getting a fresh start. Your church may be ready for one as well. And if you’d like Amy or someone else from our team to help you clarify that fresh start at your church, please reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If this podcast has been helpful for you in some way, we’d love your help in getting the content out farther. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform,, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.