I began doing research on churches 25 years ago. In each situation, I approached the new project with anticipation and excitement. You see, I have never considered myself to be an expert on American churches. To the contrary, my role has been more of student as I listened to and learned from the true experts serving local churches. They are the ones on the front line of ministry.
Recently, I was a part of a project that had to be one of the most comprehensive research assignments ever completed on the American church. We did either telephone interviews or on-site interviews or both with over 7,000 pastors. We then did tens of thousands of surveys with church members across the United States.
Our purpose was to find churches that were truly making a difference in their communities and in the world, and then to find out what God is doing in these churches. The entire project was called "Transformational Church."
The Incredible Hope
I have been one of those pundits that has written or spoken about the dire state of churches in our nation. Please understand, I still believe that the large majority of our churches are unhealthy by almost any metric. I don't have my head in the sand. But I have been guilty at times of communicating that such situations are hopeless.
The Transformational Church study, to the contrary, showed me the incredible hope that is present in many churches today. Some of the churches were indeed in difficult situations, but God showed their leaders that He was not done with the work of those local congregations. The God of all hope instilled new life and great promise in these churches.
How It Began
In this study, as in previous research we have conducted, we found a common theme among the Transformational Churches. God began stirring the heart of one or a few leaders in the churches. He gave them a "holy dissatisfaction" with the present reality of their churches and their ministries. We called these moments "cathartic experiences."
A cathartic experience is a moment of decision or change that is both beneficial and liberating. The status quo is no longer acceptable. The experience can occur in the midst of conflict, or it can be a clear wake-up call that the church is not moving forward. No matter the reason for it, the cathartic experience is the moment when a leader or leaders in a church decide that something must change.
Ed Stetzer and I provide the full story of our study and these churches in our recently released book called, of course, Transformational Church. More than anything, the study and the book is a story of hope.
A Personal Word
There are many areas of leadership: in our families; in churches, in businesses; and in other organizations, to name a few. I have experienced at different points in my life of leadership these cathartic moments. They were sometimes painful, but they were for the best for me and for those I led. I saw that I had to do better as a husband, a father, a pastor, a dean, and an organizational president. Life is too short to become satisfied with the status quo when God is telling us to move forward. In all that we do, we must give our best for His glory.
I am grateful for my own cathartic experiences. And I am grateful for the Transformational Church leaders who let such moments move them to lead their churches forward for the glory of God. May God give us even more of these leaders so that we may truly see more Transformational Churches.