Necessary Transformation in the Local Church | Gavin Adams

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Dr. Gavin Adams is a coach, and the lead pastor at Woodstock City Church. Today he talks about Necessary Transformation in the Local Church.

Podcast Transcription

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Bart Blair: [00:00:04] Hey, welcome to the Missional Marketing Church Growth Interviews podcast. I’m Bart Blair, a coach for missional marketing, sitting on one side of the screen. And on the other side of the screen is my friend and ministry partner, Jason Hamrock. Jason, good day to you.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:21] Good day to you, Bart, how are you doing?

Bart Blair: [00:00:24] You know what, I’m doing, I’m doing well. It’s been a good week. lots of opportunities to talk to a lot of churches. I was traveling last week, which was kind of nice after kind of a year of covid, of not doing a whole lot of travel. And I was out on the East Coast, out in Philadelphia in that area for a few days last week, doing some work and work with some churches there. And now I’m back in sunny, hot, muggy Dallas, and sitting at my desk. Yeah, it’s good. I’m good.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:52] Good, good. Yeah, I’ve been on the road a little bit as well, it’s been fun, I got to see you a couple of weeks ago. And airports are filling up, that’s always interesting. But it’s good to get out and see churches, and hear what’s going on in the life of individual churches that we get to partner with, and how they’re experiencing growth, and new growth, and the challenges to bring people back. And, you know, every church is in a different position, a different season, all of us are coming out of one season, but it is certainly going to be interesting to see how things are going to unfold moving forward.

Bart Blair: [00:01:30] Yeah, I mean, obviously, there are some churches that are experiencing interesting and new and different growth, stretching themselves to try new and different things of ministry. And there are some churches that are really struggling, and we’ve had some conversations with those churches as well that are just scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to regain momentum or figure out what is next for them. I’m just, I’m excited to see so many churches willing to try new things and take risks. And really, for the sake of the gospel, realizing that…I’m not going to use the term new normal, I just said it. Nothing is normal, and nothing will ever be normal, things change at a lightning pace.

Bart Blair: [00:02:18] I was thinking about this, we just recorded this interview with Gavin Adams, which we’re going to introduce here in just a second. But one of the things that he was talking about is the use of the Internet, and he kind of unpacks digital church for us a little bit and some of his opinions. And one of the things that I thought about was, how churches have to adapt continuously to technology. And what most of us take for granted is that a long time ago, churches didn’t have microphones and sound systems. And we were talking about this on a podcast, I talk about this a lot. We didn’t talk about this? I don’t know if this is truth or legend, but I think there was a time, and I’ve heard this, like I said, I don’t know if it’s truth or legend, that Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher, used to actually measure men’s chest cavities. The bigger the chest cavity, the better the preacher he would be because he could actually make his voice carry further. Right? Like that, I don’t know if that’s actually true or if it’s just legend.

Jason Hamrock: [00:03:14] It’s interesting to think about.

Bart Blair: [00:03:16] But there came a time where a little pipsqueak guy with a skinny little chest could just get a microphone and could fill a big room with his preaching, with his sermon. And then recording them, right, they started recording sermons so people could play them back. And now, technology is taking us to some really new and unique and different places as it relates to our ability to communicate the gospel and help more and more people find Jesus around the globe. And it’s just nice to have the seat that we have and see what churches are doing to do that.

Jason Hamrock: [00:03:48] Yeah. And our guest today, boy, this guy is a leader and he’s been in this space, and he’s going to talk about some stuff that is going to really fascinate you, listeners. And I’m really excited for you to hear from him, his name’s Gavin Adams, and Gavin, he’s a coach, and he’s the lead pastor at Woodstock City Church, it’s a North Point campus. Now, Gavin is in transition, and so he’s going to speak into that. But just a little bit, he wrote a blog post recently called Two Scary Reasons Church People Are Not Coming Back To Church, and what he has to say with that is going to really impact you and I cannot wait for you to hear about that.

Bart Blair: [00:04:34] Yeah, let’s play that right now.

 

Gavin-Adams.mp4 -CO
Bart Blair: [00:00:03] All right, I will kick us off, and get our introduction here going, get ready.

Bart Blair: [00:00:14] Dr. Gavin Adams, you weren’t expecting that, were you?

Gavin Adams: [00:00:19] No, that’s a weird title? I’ll tell people I’m the kind of doctor who really can’t help with your rash or anything important, but…

Bart Blair: [00:00:25] Well, Dr. Gavin Adams, thanks for being on our show today. We suspect that you’re going to be able to help us with some things. We really appreciate you taking the time to hang out with us today.

Gavin Adams: [00:00:37] You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.

Bart Blair: [00:00:39] Hey, so, Gavin, why don’t we just kick things off by having to share a little bit of your ministry journey? You can kind of talk about, you can start with where you are now and what led you to that place. Or, you can wind the clock back and give us the full details of your story, and how you ended up in ministry, and where you are today.

Gavin Adams: [00:00:56] I won’t give you the full details, we don’t have enough time. But I’ll give you a quick synopsis, how’s that? I grew up in the church, I became a believer at the age of seven and a wonderful family. We were in a Baptist church when I was a kid, we were there a lot, Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, the whole deal. I did visitation twice on Monday, I was terrible at it, so I quit that. But church is kind of in my DNA, at the same time, I really didn’t have a lot of great church experiences as a kid and through my teenage years, and so the idea of working at a church was never on my radar.

Gavin Adams: [00:01:29] I went to college, studied marketing, got an MBA in marketing. I worked in a consulting kind of organization for ten years, and ran my own agency, consulting agency, primarily helping marketplace leaders think through transformation, brand transformation, product development, a bunch of strategy analysis, things like that. Meanwhile, I’m volunteering at a local church and I can’t quit doing it. And I’m working and middle school ministry, and having so much fun, I find myself outsourcing almost all of my business because I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to work in ministry. But, I wasn’t even sure a business guy could work in ministry, so it was a really interesting kind of tug of war in my spiritual heart for a while.

Gavin Adams: [00:02:12] But God kind of led me out of the marketplace, almost 15 years ago now, and into ministry. And so I got to help plant a church, almost like a kind of family ministry director role, it was over birth through high school at a church plant. I got to do that for a few years, and then three years in, I had an opportunity to come and become a lead pastor of a church, that’s the one I’m at right now. It’s called Woodstock City Church, it was called Watermark Church back in the day. And thirteen years ago it was a partnership church of Northpoint Ministries and Andy Stanley, we were a partner church, so independent in leadership and finances, but kind of following the same ministry model and approach.

Gavin Adams: [00:02:53] And so, and ironically, it was a church revitalization effort. It was a dying church, I was going to be the third lead pastor in the first three years. And so my first Sunday, towards the end of 2008, my first Sunday I walked out, we had was a few hundred people probably across the entire church, you know, adults of kids all included. We had four hundred dollars in the bank my very first Sunday, it was very easy to remember. But I got to watch God do some really cool things through that. And a few, I guess two years in, we transitioned from being a partnership church to becoming a campus location, so for the last decade, we’ve been a campus location of North Point Ministries. And of course, now, things are very different coming out of the pandemic, but right before the pandemic, we had about eight thousand people coming on a Sunday, about sixty-five staff members. I’ll tell you that, not because it’s a big deal, but just kind of watching our progress, I feel like I’ve been positioned through some really unique experiences as a church leader, being a point leader in a church plant, being a revitalization pastor, being a pastor of a rapidly growing church, but we were also portable back then, and so we were a full set up and tear down the whole nine yards. To growing into a much larger church, where we get to be a part of a campus, a very complex, multi-site organization, of tens of thousands of people across our churches, and sitting on the leadership team for that. So I don’t know everything about church for sure, but I’ve got to experience a lot of different varieties of it, which certainly has been helpful.

Bart Blair: [00:04:24] So when you jumped in fifteen years ago, you helped plant and start a church. Just tell us, your pre-covid you said you were around eight thousand or so on a weekend, was there any particular season in this last fifteen years where you really saw like significant substantial growth? Can you can you point to any particular season, or was it just slow and steady? Well, it’s never slow if you’re going from a church plant to eight thousand unless you started with a core team of seven thousand and grew it to eight thousand. Tell me you did better than that.

Gavin Adams: [00:04:56] Yeah, no, we started with a couple of hundred at our church. But, you know, to your point, yes, the whole thing has been a season of relatively rapid growth. But it vacillates, right. there are seasons for things to slow down, and there are seasons where things speed up. You know, for us, it’s very cyclical in church anyway. For us, school beginning is always a peak, and then, of course, January. So summers were lulls, but we constantly kind of saw this ebb and flow up into the right, mostly through organic work internally. You know, I know that you guys worked a lot with marketing and things of that nature, just that guerilla marketing of investing and inviting people, investing in relationships of people in our community, ballfields, neighborhoods, and so forth. And then inviting them when the time was right to experience something at our church, knowing that we also created an experience in our church that was ready and prepared for those kinds of unchurched, dechurch guests every week. And so, yeah, to go from where we were to where we are, there really isn’t a plateaued season in that outside of just the cyclical nature of church, right? But at the same time, I would never suggest, leaders always want to grow, there’s also an unsustainable paced growth. And I don’t know that that kind of pace is something we should actually pray for, I mean, it sent me to counseling, and I had to take a sabbatical because I was about to quit, it was so exhausting, I was just overwhelmed by the whole thing about halfway through.

Gavin Adams: [00:06:21] Now, I will say one thing, the biggest leap forward was when we moved from a portable facility to our first permanent location. I mean, we were right at about five thousand people in a portable facility, where we had four parking lots, we’re shuttling people in from outside, I mean, it was impossible to attend our church. But that also gave it incredible energy because it was so difficult, there was something about that that made it better. So we, of course, moved into our first permanent facility, and you have a bunch of looky-loos the first month, and so, you know, we went to about ten thousand, settled back at about seven to eight thousand consistently. But it became a lot easier, and just being in our own building, it lost some of the energy. And so I tell our friends that are in kind of this portable church world all the time, I’m like, hey, don’t wish that away, because there are some things about it that provide energy you will never have again, outside of that tenacity, and it takes all of us to pull it off kind of emotion. So, yeah, but there were some leaps forward in those things, but also you lose some things in that kind of growth too.

Jason Hamrock: [00:07:30] Do you think that…So that’s tremendous growth, and I think every pastor would love to see reaching more and more and more people and see a life change. So that happened obviously before covid, so you had the season of growth, and then, this last season. Do you think that churches need to have a new model moving forward, or do you think will that model still work?

Gavin Adams: [00:07:55] No, I don’t think any of those pre-covid models are going to work. I think that they will work to some extent, right, I mean, some of them can be tweaked and they can still work, some of them need to be completely transformed, and maybe completely different for them to work. It’s almost like a church model that was initiated before the Internet, and then the Internet arrives and you keep running the same playbook. You can’t, the Internet changed everything for everybody. Right? I think the pandemic is the same way. I think that the pandemic created, I mean, it didn’t actually create any new trends necessarily, but it, I mean, crises always reveal and accelerate, it always does that. And so, what I think most of us, as church leaders were seeing in 2017, 18, and 19, the pandemic just sped it up, accelerated it by maybe five or ten years. Which means, a lot of us were sensing our models weren’t working as well, and then the pandemic proved that they weren’t working and we had to adjust them, sometimes dramatically.

Jason Hamrock: [00:09:00] So, yeah. So if we’re still coming out of covid, and it’s revealing what that next chapter is like. You know, before the Internet, we didn’t know. Here comes the Internet. we’re like, huh, maybe this could work, and years go on and you’re just improving this thing. Is this the same, like we’re coming out of covid, right, and so it’s being revealed to us…I talk to so many churches that have a new online pastor, it’s a new campus, it’s called online. But they really have no idea, they’re like, we’re still trying to define this. What have you learned as a leader, where this might be revealed for churches moving forward?

Gavin Adams: [00:09:44] Well, let me clarify that word, revealed. I think it’s really dangerous when any leader prognosticates exactly what the future is going to hold, because we just don’t know. I mean, the very first book I read in my MBA program was great, I loved the book, it was called Why We Buy, it was a buyer behavior book. But in the book, the author says, and authors and bloggers, we all have to have this thing to talk about as if we’re experts, we have to talk that way. The author said online shopping will be a thing, but it will never replace retail. And now we look back and we think, wow, that guy got it really wrong, right? Tell Sears that, or J.C. Penney’s, or any of these people, right, Amazon is destroying all of them, it’s completely changing things. So, I think what crisis, or innovation does, it reveals where you are and where you were, it doesn’t necessarily reveal exactly where you have to go. I would argue a lot of these churches that are creating online campuses, again, I don’t know, I’m just guessing, it’s a hypothesis. I’m not sure that’s the right mechanism to move forward with digital, I think digital, I mean, hybrid church, we’ve started using that as the new buzzword, but we’ve been hybrid for a decade, everybody has. If you had a Facebook group, if you had any version of digital, you were already hybrid, if you had a website, you were already hybrid, so hybrid isn’t new. I think trying to figure out how to blend omnichannel, blend hybrid, you know, physical and digital, that’s what’s new and I don’t think any of us have figured that out yet. I do believe fully, and again, I may be the Why We Buy guy who’s completely wrong about this in five years, so, I mean, this is all opinion. But my personal belief is that the digital sphere for church should be a supplement and a step, not a substitute for physical. I just don’t think we can ever replace eyeball to eyeball experiences with a screen and allow it to be an equal substitute. And so I want us to figure out ways to use digital to drive people, for new people to experience us through a digital service or things like that. So, again, if you have a digital campus, if you’re using it for those mechanisms, I think it’s a wonderful step, but it needs to be a step, not a substitute.

Gavin Adams: [00:12:15] And I think the step is towards deeper engagement, which at some point is probably going to look physical, and I don’t think we should get away from that. And I feel comfortable saying that, only because before the pandemic, at least in our circles, I was one of the guys waving the flag saying, hey, what if we could be the Amazon of church? What if we don’t need brick and mortar ever again? I think it was a great thing to experiment with, and then we got to experiment accidentally, we were forced to do it during the pandemic. And I think what we all realized, is that trying to be the Amazon of church doesn’t really do the church full justice, we can’t be that, we can’t just be digital. And I don’t even think we can have equal parallel paths for physical and digital, I think there are some things that digital can do way better than physical, I think there are some things physical can do way better than digital, and we shouldn’t try to make them both do the same thing. They’re made for different things, let’s use them for what they’re made for.

Bart Blair: [00:13:13] I think…I’m kind of, I’m sorry, I’m really distracted because you were talking about the shopping online thing and I just realized that I have a box of groceries sitting on my front steps, go figure. So I was like, oh, shoot, I got to go get that.

Gavin Adams: [00:13:27] We’ve got to tell the author of Why We Buy about that.

Bart Blair: [00:13:29] Yeah, exactly. You know, I think when we…Those church leaders that get things right, I’m generalizing here. The church building is a tool, and when we recognize that as church leaders, that our facility, whether it’s a thirty-five hundred square foot warehouse space or a thirty-five thousand square foot building on a 40-acre campus, it is never anything more than a tool. The Internet is just a digital version of that tool, and so figuring out how to house ministry in the context of the digital space is going to be the biggest trick. We’ve been digital, a lot of churches, the church that I’m a part of, we’ve broadcast our services on the Internet for a decade, right, that’s not new. But our mentality for that was never using it as an outreach, we were using it as a way of providing a service experience for our people who couldn’t be there. And I’ve talked about this in previous podcast episodes.

Bart Blair: [00:14:41] You know, my family moved, we moved to the city that we’re living in now three years ago from two thousand miles away, and it was awesome that we could do church shopping before we actually even landed on the ground because we could get that fly-on-the-wall experience of what the weekend service was going to be like through the Internet. But, my wife and I are going through a transition right now because it’s a large church that we’re a part of, and we’ve been attending the original campus, the broadcast campus, where there are thousands of people there on the weekend. And we’ve recently started attending another campus that’s a little further away for us to drive, but it’s only got three hundred people on a Sunday, and we’re watching the sermon broadcast from the other campus, but everything else is live. And it’s that incarnational connection and that ability to see the same people every week when we’re in that room, eyeball to eyeball, as you said, that makes it feel more like church. It never felt like church when you were sitting in our living room or sitting on our back patio last summer watching a live stream of the sermon or a pre-recorded version of the sermon, and the worship band playing songs either live or prerecorded, that never felt like church. Because church was never intended to be about the event, it’s always about the community. And we have to, there’s just a lot to process that there, and I don’t know why I’m going down this rabbit trail here, but you just kind of made me think of a couple of things there. So on that…Go ahead, Jason.

Jason Hamrock: [00:16:11] You wrote a blog post recently, so I’m really interested about this, and it was called Two Scary Reasons Church People Aren’t Coming Back To Church. What are they, and why this scary?

Gavin Adams: [00:16:22] Well, there’s probably more than two, right? I know when I look at the broader kind of spectrum of church attenders, Christians or not, all right, let’s not worry about that. Just the people who were attending on a relatively frequent basis, and now they’re not. There are lots of categories, there were two specifically, though, that really bothered me the most, those are the two that I wrote about. The first one, they’re really just the church consumer, the Christian consumer, that unfortunately, we have reinforced anyway. I mean, we have reinforced consumeristic Christianity for years and years, for a decade or more. And now they were able to attend online and realized, oh, wow, this is an even easier way to consume, so I’m going to keep consuming that way, I’m not going to come back. I’m not going to get up and shower, get dressed, get my kids dressed, drive in traffic, all this stuff, when I can just do it online. But the thing that scares me about it, is that it’s just not the same online. You can get content online. I mean, the Internet is wonderful for content, but it doesn’t replace community. And I think if we are accidentally missing the communal aspect, Bart, you mentioned that earlier, we’re missing that part of it, we’re missing possibly the strongest element that church provides. Not only did we reinforce it, though, through covid, and we had to do that, we had to go digital during covid, one hundred percent, but we accidentally might have reinforced behaviors that we don’t want long term. And what bothers me the most about that one group, is their children. Because as an adult, I mean, I’m a big boy, I can get content, I can grow spiritually online, there are things I still think being in a building is helpful with other people, but I can still grow. I’m just not sure that our average church attendee is deep enough in their own faith, to lead their children to have deep faith on their own, digitally as well. So that scares me, that’s category one. Can I go through Category two, Jason?

Jason Hamrock: [00:18:23] Yes, please do.

Gavin Adams: [00:18:23] Category two is the worst. Category two is the people who took a year or more off of church, and looked up, and realized their life is no worse, so why would I ever go back? That is a mirror question, I think, for us as church leaders. I think sometimes we have a tendency, it’s probably just the brokenness in us, we want to blame somebody else for things that aren’t going well. So people aren’t coming back to church, and how many times have we heard church leaders say, well, the young people aren’t coming, they’re just different? Well, they are different, adjust so they come, you know? Let’s not be mad at the people who aren’t coming, let’s look in the mirror and think about why they’re not coming, and let’s change what we’re doing to make it better for them. I think that’s one of the issues that we’re seeing. I think people took a year off from church, looked around, and thought, you know what, I don’t really think I missed it, and my life is no worse not being at church. And I don’t think that’s their fault, I think that’s our fault as church leaders for not doing something, creating something, that was growing them in a way, or changing their life in a way, that when they missed church they missed out. I think too many people missed church and felt like they didn’t miss anything.

Jason Hamrock: [00:19:40] [inaudible]

Bart Blair: [00:19:42] I would go so far as to say that I think that group might even be split into two. Because there are going to be some of those people who lean more towards that consumer side who are simply going to say being at a church service on Sundays did not add any value to my life, and I realize that now because I’ve gone a year without doing it and it didn’t add value. The other half of that group is going, I just realized that it wasn’t adding any value, and I still want to be connected to a church, so I’m going to try a different church. I think that that group is… So as a pastor, sitting in your office going through the numbers, going who’s back and who’s not back, I think that you’re dead on, that those two groups…But I think there’s a subcategory in that second group, it’s like my church wasn’t adding value. I know I need to be connected to the local church, so I’m trying another church in this season where it’s easy for me to do that without feeling guilty about it.

Gavin Adams: [00:20:37] Well, there’s a huge number of people, I don’t what the percentages, obviously, even for me. But all of us have this group of people in our churches where they have, you know, it’s just sheep swapping. Right? Like they have found another place to engage either physically or digitally with the church. But what’s the most unfortunate thing that’s happened in that, that happens all the time, right, every month that happens, pre-pandemic that was happening. But the pandemic launched multiple other pandemics, right, pandemics of anger, frustration, a racial pandemic, a political pandemic, all of these things got worse. What we have actually seen, and it drives me bonkers, what we have seen is lots of people leaving churches and going to other churches, not because of theology, but because of some perceived political ideology. They’re trying to find churches on Sunday that align with the cable news that they watch Monday to Saturday, and the church should be out of that completely, we should never be that way, but we are. We have allowed ourselves, well, we haven’t we have fought against that, we stay in the middle and every topic, which is also problematic in other ways. It’s more difficult, right, so you just make everybody mad. But that’s OK, they’re all equally frustrated, but they’re not leaving for that reason. So to your point, there are other categories, right, Bart? But I think at least holistically, those are the two that have scared me the most about what we have seen on this side of the pandemic.

Bart Blair: [00:22:06] Let’s zoom in on that, zoom in on that a little bit, and put yourself in a position as a pastor, like you, pastor, a large church. So in a church where there are seven or eight thousand people on a weekend, you can only really know a handful of those people, you probably know some that haven’t come back. But if you zoom in to a church of like, say, two hundred or five hundred or six hundred, where the pastor and the church leadership team, they really know, they know by name who’s not there. How would you coach a pastor in that situation on how to actually address those people? What steps would you take? And obviously, one of the things you said is if we found that, if they’ve discovered that we’re not adding value, that their life is no different from showing up, the first place we need to look is inward and say, what can we do or what should we do to make sure that we are adding value and that people feel a need to be here. But obviously, it’s church, it’s not about the event, it’s about the relationships. So in the context of those relationships, how would you coach a pastor on approaching those people that are not coming back and kind of navigating those waters?

Gavin Adams: [00:23:16] Well, if I could be real blunt about this, and I’ve got to coach pastors on this, I do this a lot. The minute we become more concerned about keeping people than reaching people, the end is near anyway. I would love for pastors to think more like a church plant, or a church replant, than a reopening. We’re not just restarting, we’re replanting. And as a church planter, you’re not worried about the keeping as much as you are the reaching. And I think for all of us, we have to learn from what happened, we need to learn from the people who have walked away. And if we have relationships with them, where we have the ability to have a conversation about it, we should, but not to convince them to come back. We need to have a conversation to learn why they left. So that we can fix our model so that the next group doesn’t leave again. And as we are reaching new people, bringing them into a church that is a better model for reaching and for disciple building, so that when the next version of a pandemic happens in their life or collectively in our community, we don’t see the same pattern repeated. I’m just convinced that trying to go and get all the people back who have left, that’s not necessarily a great use of my time, especially, if they’re Christians. I’m like, hey, if you’re a Christian and you’ve decided to go somewhere else, OK, we’ll get to heaven, will argue about it then, but who cares? I’m so much more concerned about the unchurched, de-churched, the non-believer, in our community, I want to make sure that we’re focused on continuing to reach them. And when we do reach them, creating spiritual steps and a pathway that leads them to Christ and leads them to grow in their Christ-likeness over time. And if we’re doing that in a community-focused kind of experience, odds are, the next pandemic that hits, they’ll be more likely to re-engage than what we just saw.

Jason Hamrock: [00:25:18] Interesting. Yeah, I think about that whole concept, because there’s a church that comes in my mind, I’m not going to say their name. But they’re so focused on getting their people back, and they haven’t been able to be in person like a lot of other churches. They’re just, it seems like on the coasts, both coasts, they’re now starting to be able to do in-person church. But your point on, for them not to come back, I think about, you know, if you were to have a gathering at your house every weekend and it was a set time and you had people come, if you weren’t creative enough and if you were really having authentic community moments, they’re going to stop coming, they’re going to get bored by it. And I think about, well, what if you had that kind of environment where it’s, you know, I mean, you’re worshipping God, but you have this environment where you have your friends bring friends, then you always want to go because my friends are going to come, I want to be a part of that movement. And I think when whenever we stop growing the church by the best way we grow the church, is by people inviting their neighbors and friends, then we have a big problem. And that’s where then you slip away from the church, you’re like, I didn’t miss anything. Yeah, because you never brought friends in the first place, you weren’t a part of that life-changing rhythm and you weren’t a part of that community. And so I think it’s very interesting how you phrase, we really need to look at ourselves as pastors, as leaders, church leaders and go, what do we do in here? Are we just doing this thing every single week? Just yeah. I mean, people are going to get bored by that if God’s not in it.

Gavin Adams: [00:27:06] Well, the most passionate people at our church are the contributors. Now, we have to be careful because sometimes I think we can accidentally substitute church participation with discipleship, those aren’t the same thing, you know?

Jason Hamrock: [00:27:20] Right.

Gavin Adams: [00:27:20] When we see people who are inviting, and serving, and giving, we can accidentally believe that they are growing in their relationship with Christ. They might be, but I know plenty of people who do those things and are terrible people and they have been for a decade. It’s like they’re not growing in their Christ-likeness, they’re just behaving in some ways that what we would say look like fruit, right, but it’s not that fruity, so, I think we should be careful with those two things. But as a church, you know, there are three things that I feel like we’re always focused on. We’re focused on reaching people or really partnering with our people to reach people. We’re focused on creating an experience that allows them to move from consuming to contributing. And then, we’re also focused on having a kind of robust steps, not programs, steps that lead people on a discipleship pathway. And if we can do those things really well, we have a dynamic and thriving church. I think we, accidentally, if I could get real blunt for a minute or at least be vulnerable about what we have done, I think we thought that participation equaled discipleship. And then we hit the pandemic and realized, wow, people who were participating, lots of them, don’t seem to be very Christlike. They don’t seem to be very selfless, they seem to be hyper-concerned with their experience, with their church. I mean, every email I got during the pandemic almost exclusively was, what I am mad about, why I am not getting what I think I should. Meanwhile, that is not what we’re here to think about as Christ-followers, right? So this one-another thing gets lost if we start substituting discipleship for participation, they’re both important, but they’re not equal. And I think, again, we talk about the pandemic revealing something, I think the pandemic revealed that for me, that maybe we accidentally equated those things.

Bart Blair: [00:29:23] Participation is a part of discipleship, part of being connected, being engaged, knowing your spiritual gifts, actually having an environment in a place where you can exercise those spiritual gifts for the benefit of the body, one hundred percent, it’s a part of discipleship. But it’s just one of many lights on the dashboard when it comes to evaluating someone’s spiritual health and where they are in their spiritual journey.

Gavin Adams: [00:29:52] And I would say it’s a result of discipleship, not necessarily discipleship. Right? So, you know, I feel like if we think about the fruit example. I feel like if we’re doing a great job as a church, and each individual is a tree and we’re doing everything we can to grow the tree, then eventually the fruit will come from that tree, fruit like generosity, selflessness, serving, inviting, sharing their faith, evangelism. Those things are kind of the proof of something, but when we focus on the fruit and not the tree, we might accidentally miss the fact that tree needs to become more healthy first. And I think that’s what we did, and the crisis of the pandemic revealed that for us, that we had a bunch of unhealthy trees that were doing some things, but they weren’t really necessarily growing in their faith. And I think that really has shaped what we’re trying to do post-pandemic when it comes to creating community in different ways, creating a lot more incremental steps towards spiritual growth, I mean, that’s another hour and a half on stuff. But all of those things are post-pandemic thinking about steps for people in discipleship.

Jason Hamrock: [00:29:52] Hmm, wow.

[00:31:02] Gavin, this has been a really interesting conversation, and I have a feeling that we could probably do this for a long time, but we’re going to wrap up. Before we wrap up, though, one of the things that you shared with us in your introductory remarks was the fact that you’re pastoring, and have been pastoring, Woodstock City Church for a number of years now. But prior to us recording, you shared that you’re actually in a transition. And so why don’t you share with our our audience a little bit about your transition, and what’s coming next for you?

Gavin Adams: [00:31:37] Sure, thanks for asking about that. I have been in the process, well, I mentioned in the marketplace I was a consultant, and that’s really in my DNA and I love doing that. And even during my 15 years of ministry, I found myself on weekends traveling to preach, and consult with churches, work with staff, things like that, and I have just thoroughly loved it. Combining that with finishing my doctorate last year, and just being exposed to the sheer volume of churches that are struggling, plateaued, declined, declining, dying, and even the ones that are thriving that have a vision for something bigger, that they aren’t just sure how to get there. God has positioned me uniquely in marketplace, ministry experience, and now education, and I just felt the call to walk away from what I’m doing for this one church or this group of churches at North Point and see what maybe God could do to help position me with other churches to help them thrive as well. So I launched a company, officially, in January of this year called Transformation Solutions. Really, our goal is to coach leaders, and work with churches, on helping them navigate the incredible complexities of change because every decision we make has an element of change in the implementation. And that’s where churches go wrong, it isn’t necessarily the decision-making, it’s the implementation and the execution, that’s where the hangup is. And the reason is because people are involved, so figuring out how to lead people through change and transformation, that’s really what I’ve been focused on. And so, I’m excited about doing that, my hope is that to take everything I’ve learned in kind of helping revitalize this church, leading as a point leader, leading as a campus, leading in a much larger organization at Northpoint, take all of those things as best I can, and help other churches just find that vision and help them live out what they’ve been dying to live out now for weeks, months or potentially years.

Bart Blair: [00:33:38] Describe for us what the church would look like that you would be walking on this journey with.

Gavin Adams: [00:33:46] Well, there isn’t a type of church, it really is a place that the leader is at. A church that has a leader that doesn’t really have a vision for the future, and doesn’t really feel like they need to change, we’re probably not going to have a lot of fun together. The leader, though, who recognizes that something needs to be better, maybe they don’t even know what it is, I can help with that. But even if they do know what it is, the problem that senior pastors have, and you guys know this, we work in an industry where every seven days here come Sunday, and if you’re a pastor, it feels like it’s every four days. So the preparing for Sunday, orchestrating Sunday, digitally or physically, that’s a management activity, change is a leadership initiative. And it’s very, very difficult for pastors to find enough time in their week to focus on leadership, because there is so much management that’s required. So what I’m doing is coming alongside and almost functioning in some ways as an extension of their leadership team, to help guide them and direct them on the leadership side of change and transformation, to help make things better. So, Bart. it’s not a denomination, or a reaching church, it’s none of those things, it’s a church who recognizes that they know they could reach their community, they know that they could do things better, they just aren’t exactly sure how to do it. And by the way, they’ve probably tried to change things already before, and it was a real struggle. There’s a reason 80 to 90 percent of change initiatives fail, and part of the reason is we have so much more to manage, we don’t have time to lead it. The second reason is, we don’t really understand the people side of it, so that’s what I’m helping churches do.

Bart Blair: [00:35:31] I always jokingly say that change is the only six letter word in the English language, that’s a four letter word in church. Change is hard, it really is.

Gavin Adams: [00:35:42] For lots of good and bad reasons, so helping others do that. I mean, I end up, it’s so fun, I spend so much time even with elders, with volunteer teams, with the insiders of churches, and really coaching the leader, the senior pastor, on how to navigate those conversations and how to do that really well. And helping them realize that there’s a framework that we can leverage to diagnose where we are, but also to guide and navigate us as we walk through this change. But, knowing what’s going to happen before it happens, prepares us to lead through it really well. And so that’s what I’m primarily doing.

Bart Blair: [00:36:14] That’s awesome. Jason, do you have any follow up questions before we wrap up this episode?

Jason Hamrock: [00:36:19] No, I mean, this has been fantastic. Thank you for opening up and sharing your heart, and your experience, with our listeners and kind of where things are going. I mean, it is an exciting time, it’s a different season, and God’s good, and his church will never fail, and so we just have to tune into that, I think. But I might ask,you know, you’ve already mentioned a few people that you’re connected with, but, you know, where do you get inspiration, and who are you kind of following? Who are you paying attention to in your world and in your sphere?

Gavin Adams: [00:36:53] Yeah, well, in my world, I have some people that I’m very, I just am very lucky because of where I worked to have met some people that have been very beneficial for me personally and professionally. One of my closer friends in this whole thing is a guy named Jeff Henderson, you may have heard of him, he runs The FOR company, he wrote a book called Know What You’re For, it’s incredible for churches and really for businesses as well. Tony Morgan and the Unstuck Group, I’m very good friends with those guys and love what they do, helping churches get unstuck, I’ve learned a lot from them. Carey Nieuwhof, a good friend too, who does some really great things, who is constantly challenging me digitally and sometimes in person on how to think bigger and better about church. And I’ll tell you, like on social media this a person I’m not a friend with, but I love their perspective, is Beth Moore. I love her boldness and willingness to stand up for things, that’s inspiring to me. I tend to be a little bit more bold myself, but I see her and I think, wow, there’s a lot of room for growth, and I just love people like that.

Jason Hamrock: [00:37:56] Wow. Well, Gavin, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time, and your leadership, and this next season of of your ministry of helping others get better and lead through change and all that. We just we wish you the best, man, and thank you for who you are and what you do.

Gavin Adams: [00:38:15] Thanks so much, I appreciate it.

Bart Blair: [00:38:16] Yeah, I’m really looking forward to watching you from the sidelines, and seeing what happens here in the next few years, and it’s pretty cool. Thanks, Gavin, Dr. Gavin Adams, thanks so much for being our guest today.

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