Joshua Gagnon

thoughts on Jesus, leadership, and the Church.

Ep 175: A Candid Conversation About the Direction of the Church

Welcome to the 175th episode of the Joshua Gagnon Leadership Podcast!

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JGLP Ep 023: Healthy Trends of Growing Churches - An Interview with Warren Bird:

You can read the full transcription of this episode below:

Roman Archer: Hey guys, this is Roman from the Joshua Gagnon Leadership Podcast. Thanks for listening in today. Sitting down with Pastor Josh. Gonna have another amazing conversation. How are you doing today?

Joshua Gagnon: You hope it’s amazing.

R: I hope it’s amazing. I go into it thinking and hoping that every…

J: What are you looking at?

R: I just got a notification on my phone.

J: That’s why that’s unhealthy.

R: What?

J: Having all of your text messages go to your phone. I’m sorry, to your watch.

R: Well, depending on where I am, it’s healthy.

J: No, I can’t imagine….

R: You can’t make blanket statements that it’s unhealthy.

J: It’s not.

R: So everyone that’s listening right now that has an Apple Watch on is an unhealthy person.

J: (laughs) Their watch is unhealthy. Yes, absolutely. Dude, if you can’t live your life, it’s bad enough that we carry a phone and we go to the bathroom with it.

R: Where does it stop?

J: It should stop there.

R: Do you think mobile phones are healthier than corded phones? Or should mobile phones never have been invented?

J: I think mobile phones are healthier because they allow you to keep contact with people outside of the home, so if there are emergencies.

R: This helps me keep even more contact.

J: The problem is if you have a mobile phone and a wristwatch that’s alerting you at the same time. It’s almost like you constantly need to be hooked up to an IV. Is water bad?

R: No. Waterboarding is bad.

J: Do you always need to be hooked up to an IV in order to be replenished with liquids?

R: Yep.

J: No.

R: No, I’m agreeing, I’m not saying yes.

J: So that's the difference. Water’s not bad but you’re not going to have to get hooked up to an IV.
R: I totally agree.

J: So what I’m saying is you’re literally hooking yourself….

R: Your phone is right in front of you right now. How is it different than it being on my….

J: Because every time that goes off you look at your wrist.

R: Yeah. It’s no different than looking at the phone.

J: Don’t look at either.

R: Okay.

J: What that tells me is my phone, look at what position is it in right now?

R: I mean, they can’t see it so I can make up anything I want. Right now it’s upside down. You can’t see the screen.

J: So I can’t see the screen, it doesn’t bother me, and this phone right now is not going to be involved in my life, clearly. Your watch right now is in a position where you cannot get away from it. You cannot shut off your device today.

R: So for me, and I’m saying this truthfully. For me, it’s a little bit more freeing. I know it sounds crazy, but for me especially when I get home, there used to be this..

J: Just so you know, if you have to preface something by saying, “It sounds crazy”, it’s probably crazy.

R: I’d get home and I wouldn’t have my phone on me and then I’d have this panic, what if I’m needed, what if somebody...and I’d have to….

J: Do you wear it in bed, Roman?

R: Sometimes. It’s uncomfortable to sleep with so I take it off most nights, but what I’m saying is…

J: What?! You’re kidding!

R: No, what I’m saying is…

J: Most nights you take it off? I’m going to text you all night long waking you up.

R: No, at ten o’clock it goes into Do Not Disturb mode automatically, so it won’t buzz or anything. I’m saying just sometimes I fall asleep with it on.

J: We have a problem in our culture. If we have to now connect ourselves to the phones so there’s no separation, it’s like separation anxiety is what you’re talking about. You had separation anxiety from your phone, and you were nervous that the separation was going to cause you to fail or it was going to cause you to not meet a need that there was. There’s like separation anxiety from your phone so you decided you would just go ahead and connect your phone to you.

R: Yes. That way I can look at it and say, oh, this is an emergency, I need to deal with it, or I don’t have to deal with it. So it takes away that wondering, that anxiety. It’s not like a Facebook, Twitter thing, Instagram, I suck at those things.

J: I don’t even do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I have to start doing it. Hey, follow me on Instagram, we gotta start doing this.

R: We talked about it last episode.

J: Did we? Follow me on Instagram cause I got the big book release coming out. Also, yeah, we can talk about that.

R: What’s your Instagram handle?

J: I don’t know.

R: I asked you that cause I knew you didn’t know.

J: I don’t know what it is. I’ve never been on it.

R: We’ll put it on the show notes.

J: I’ve never been on it. Here I am. Good Lord, have mercy. I’m just not good at promoting myself, you know? That’s never been easy for me. And now with the book coming out I have to do a little bit of that. We’re doing a book tour and all that stuff, and so, if anybody wants to support the Instagram account or have me in to speak at an event or whatever go ahead and let us know, cause I do believe that book, the Lord’s going to use it in powerful ways, I really do. I’ve poured my heart and soul into that thing. I’ve waited years, many agents have been wanting me to write, and my agent Alex, and I connected and, I don’t want to talk about the book, but I’m really excited about it. Cause I do believe it’s a Jesus thing. You know. You can spend your whole life trying to push open doors that God opens in an instant and I think a lot of times in life we spend so much time trying to open our own doors and trying to rubber neck our own influence, hoping that somebody sees us. And I’ve done that before. And man, it takes a lot of effort and you get little return. But then once in a while Jesus opens up a door and you just think to yourself, man, I would’ve spent years trying to open up the door that God opened up in a moment. And I wonder how….what are you carrying?

R: It’s my fidget spinner. Well, technically right now, it’s my wedding ring and a prayer bracelet.

J: (laughs) What do you mean a…

R: I’m playing with…

J: Can you explain a prayer bracelet?

R: Yeah, it just reminds you to pray.

J: Too bad your phone doesn’t do that.

R: I could.

J: Or your watch, I should say.

R: I could set up a reminder.

J: Alright, what are we talking about? We only got five minutes left.

R: So (laughs)...

J: We only got five minutes left. Hey listeners…

R: For our leaders that really needed something deep and thoughtful and practical today.

J: Yeah, well maybe we’ll go to once a month. We’ll be much more deep and much more long.

R: So far we’ve covered the evils of technology, we did also talk about the book and the promoting aspect, which I do think is good even though we don’t have the info right now to talk about, we’ll put it in the show notes. The Instagram handle, but also if there is anybody out there that has a coaching network, a podcast, or anything.

J: Oh, we’re going to be doing another coaching network, too. The one we’re doing now we’re in the middle of, we announced, is going awesome. We had 26 applicants for the coaching network. We had more than that, but anyways, the cool thing is is we’re going to do another thing coming up just on multisite. If churches want to go multisite or want to learn about multi-site or they are multisite, we’re going to do one coming up on just multisite. So if you’re interested in that, you can email in, they’ll have the email in the show notes. Just email in you’re interested.

R: Honestly, you don’t have to listen to the podcast, just look at the show notes. You’ll get everything you need.

J: That’s going to be a good podcast. I think we do one thing well, it’s multi-ite. If we do anything well, it’s multisite. And we’re really not good at much, but I do think we’re going to do multi-site and so I’m excited. And we don’t do multisite in a way where you have to have a 2,000 person location in order to go multisite, we’ve really been able to scale multisite in a context that isn’t mega-church first.

R: It’s attainable.

J: We became a mega-church, if you like to call it that, being multisite, but we weren’t a mega-church before multisite. So we kind of reversed the script. You know, all the experts were saying you had to be a mega-church to go multisite, we said actually no, we’re going to go multisite cause that’s our vision. And then I guess we became a mega-church if you like that terminology.

R: Take that, Warren Bird.

J: Yeah, exactly.

R: I’m just kidding. I know you’re good friends with Warren.

J: Yeah, it’s a good genius. But he was wrong.

R: He’s been on the podcast, if you go back. We’ll put that episode in the show notes.

J: He’s forgot more things than I’ll ever learn.

R: Yeah, very smart guy. And I think in a lot of ways…

J: I think he was right probably at the time.

R: Yeah that’s what I was going to say. It’s evolved. So very early on it’s easy to say, this is what we’re seeing and the churches that are…

J: It’s like culture, we’re asking right now how are we going to keep reaching culture? Yesterday we were at a burger joint that you told me was like the number one burger in America or something.

R: Number three in New Hampshire.

J: Number three in New Hampshire. And so we went to that burger joint and it opens at 11:30 and there was a line.

R: There was a line at 11:15.

J: Yeah. We had to get a pager just to get sat at opening. And I said, listen, everybody has a need. And the need is food. Everybody has to eat. And they’re doing it better than anybody else. And I said the difficult thing about pastoring a church in today’s culture, or leading a ministry in today’s culture, is you can do it top-notch, I don’t want to say better than everybody else, cause I feel like that brings competition into the church, but you can do it at a very high level of effectiveness. The problem is not everybody feels like they have the need. So how do you reach a culture where very few people wake up thinking that there’s even a need to know Jesus and a need to be involved in His church? Everybody wake up with a need to eat. So immediately, if you’re just best or effective at giving out food, you’re going to have a line.

R: Yeah. I think that’s, I’d say the cost of privilege but also the obstacle of privilege is the more privileged we are as a society, the less aware we are of our own need. I would say the deeper needs the church needs to start meeting, and one of the reasons it was such an impactful book is probably the idea of purpose and meaning. Certainly, we don’t live in a culture and a society where entertainment, community, those sort of things are lacking.

J: Yeah. And what happens is pastors, right? Or leaders in any context, whether it’s a lead pastor role or any leadership, volunteer role, leading a ministry, what you do is you look online at the churches or you read the Outreach Magazine 100, which, we’re not going in this year, we told them we don’t want to be a part of it this year, but you look at these magazines and you start to think everybody in the world is growing exponentially, and it’s such a lie. If you look at most churches in America, the only growth they’re seeing is new growth from locations. If multisite never came around, we wouldn’t be seeing the quote unquote “growth” we’re seeing in the church, which that’s a whole other conversation, how much is truly growth and how much is the new location of the new church launched in a new area. Growth doesn’t come from harming yourself or taking from what you already have, growth comes from new acquisitions.

R: Or from even others, that’s a whole other conversation.

J: That’s what I mean. The church is the church at whole, right? So you’re only taking from what you already have, cause we are just one body. So when you go into a town and launch a location and you have 2,000 people, well good, how many of those people genuinely were never attending a church or weren’t involved in a church and didn’t know Jesus? That’s the true growth. So when we look at the top 100 growth that year, they grow 1,000 people let’s just say, what it should be is how many people were literally, and I know we don’t know this number, but not connected at all in a church? Cause that’s the true idea of growth, right?

R: One of the things that I hear is that the level of engagement is usually higher at new. So even if they were attending a different church, I do think at least one plus side is…

J: I understand that. Momentum.

R: Yeah, if someone was a once a month attender and they joined a new multisite movement church and they go from once a month attender to an every week server, but I do agree is most of it is just this hopping around.

J: Clearly, I’m not against any of this. I’m not this weird guy. I mean we launched locations and we started locations and I know people come from other churches in the area when we start and we’ve always tried to be very honoring to those churches, we do reach a lot of people who’ve never been to church as well. I’m certainly not against the multisite movement. What I’m saying is is the church really growing current locations or is most of the growth we see throughout the country today, is most of that growth churches that have multiple locations? How many singular location churches are truly growing astronomically right now? For instance, if I had one location am I really going from 2,000 to 6,000, or are the churches that are growing from 2,000 to 4,000 to 20,000 or 100 to 400 to 600 to over 1,000, are most of the churches we’re seeing grow not singular locations but multisite churches and growth in today’s culture comes from new additions and new communities, not growing the singular building that you have. There was a day and age where a lot of the growth would come from that singular location. I think, in my experience, many of the churches in America today that you would call some of the fastest growing or the largest are simply expanding their influence into other communities and growing because of that. Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just saying it’s a different day and age where church growth looks different and back to the original thought that we had with the line outside the door, you and I were talking Sunday just about the change in culture. Now we have a location of course in Florida, many to come hopefully in Florida, and hopefully many to come in America. We really have a vision of being in all areas. But there’s no secret, we started in the least-churched region in America, the hardest area in America to start a church. There’s no secret that we have many of our locations in that area of New England, and there’s also no secret that this area is becoming more and more and more and more post-Christian. I was talking to somebody and he listens to the podcast, so shout out to my friend Ryan, but I was listening to...he’s going to love that.

R: Yeah, I could hear him yelling from his car.

J: But he was talking about how he brought somebody to church whose daughter was seven years old, I believe, and they left church, it was the first time ever going to church, and they left church and he said, “How did you like it?” And the daughter said, “It was okay, it was good. They talk a lot about cheeses.” And the mom was like, “Cheeses? What in the world are you talking about?” And, “Just cheeses.” And come to find out, she…

R: How much cheeses loves me.

J: Yeah. Come to find out, she thought we were talking about cheeses because she never heard the name Jesus. And she heard “Jesus” but thought it must be “cheese” cause that’s the word that made sense to her. That’s the type of culture we live in in New England and that’s going to end up moving throughout the country, right? It’s moving even throughout our church regions of the country like Charlotte and Dallas and at some point they’re actually going to have an unchurched, post-Christian culture. I don’t know when, but it’s coming, right? With all that being said, we were sitting there talking about how much culture shifts and you’re getting text messages on your phone from many of your friends saying, “Man, what is going on? We can’t get over this hump, it just seems harder than ever.” And the truth is people are becoming more and more and more and more less consistent, when it comes to even attending church.

R: Let alone the engagement of it.

J: Yeah.

R: I know Carey, your good friend Carey Nieuwhof talks about just as we continue to grow as a church…

J: I love Carey.

R: Yeah. Sharp guy. He’s in your coaching network.

J: Oh yeah, he is. No, you said it right.

R: That sounds really bad.

J: No, you said it right. I’ve coached him. I actually write all of his blogs. I’m just sick and tired of him posting all the things as his own.

R: I know, he literally just copies and pastes your guys’ text conversations.

J: I write them for him every Sunday night. All of his blogs. I’m just playing.

R: But the coaching network that you’re doing, he’s a guest coach on one of your weeks. Anyway, one of the things he brings up is as the church moves forward, gauging it less on attendance  and more on engagement.

J: How do you do that when your identity is attached to attendance?

R: Long pause. Because I’m thinking. And I don’t have that figured out yet.

J: Right though? Because as ministry leaders, our effectiveness, our identity half the time. What’s the question everybody asks you when you go to a church conference, “Hey, how many people do you have?” How many locations, how big, right?

R: Yeah. Or how big’s your staff.

J: Exactly. Everything’s scaled on size. So now all of a sudden we’re going to be asked those questions, “Well, engagement’s really high.” And you’re going to look like the person who has nobody in attendance and you just pretend you have engagement. So there’s this major, major problem, but I agree, I agree with that. But man, we just gotta change the way we think. And we’ve been talking a lot, what do we do? How do we change this? Is online church really the thing? You know? Is what Judah Smith doing, is that really the thing to go, this whole, what is this called?

R: Churchhome. Well that’s what they changed the name to.

J: Yeah, but they do this whole entire online experience, I think now.

R: Oh, really?

J: Yeah.

R: I haven’t…

J: Which is cool. It’s really cool. I think they have like 10,000 people or something involved on the online church.

R: Is it live?

J: I don’t think it’s live, no. But they’ve got this online church, you know, and Judah’s a great guy. And it’s working, right? But is that the next thing? Do we move to all online? Do we do every night of the week for a half hour? Cause we would say engagement’s becoming less cause people don’t have the time, right? That’s really the thing. Sunday mornings people don’t have time, or whatever day you do it. They’re busy, they’re doing other things, it’s their only day off, we’ve never run at this pace before. So do we do more half hour experiences every night of the week and we go ahead and we’re okay without the big gathering of hundreds of people and we’re okay with just a lot more smaller gatherings that offer… People would say, “Well we’re stripping down church.” Maybe, but I don’t read anywhere in the Bible there was a time limit to it. And so I don’t know, where do we go with this whole thing cause it’s not going away. Twitter is not going away. 140...did they make it bigger?

R: Yeah, they expanded it.

J: Whatever it is, it’s not going away.

R: The concept, the platform is still the same.

J: It’s not going away. Our friends are going to look more like Facebook. Now we can fight against the trend all we want, and I’m not sitting here saying let’s bow down, but on some level let’s not be morons, cause the church for years has fought against trends and has become ineffective. So I’d rather move with the trend in effectiveness rather than fight against a trend and become completely ineffective. So that’s the question we’re asking.

R: Yeah, how do we leverage the changes.

J: How do we get in a rhythm with them?

R: Yeah. And, no idea. That’s the bottom line right now.

J: This is questions you and I are talking through.

R: A lot of experimenting. I think the churches that, you know National Community does a great job of this, they always said that if they were a department, they’d be research and development. They’d be R & D. And I think the churches that can approach ministry in the expression of church on the weekends as we know it with the idea of being open handed.

J: Even financially. We’re looking through finances and we’re like, can the church really? I mean we have online giving, but can the church really sustain itself with the level of involvement that we’re moving towards in culture, right?

R: Look at even the past ten years, the Willow Creeks and the massive campus-style churches.

J: They’ve changed.

R: Financially, I mean, we’ve already seen that shift where people are approaching. One of the reasons why Life.Church, Pastor Craig, your mentor, is so successful is they approached early  on how they developed facilities and it’s a very simplistic approach because they cut off a lot of the…

J: Yeah, I mean for the size church, over 100,000 people a weekend, you would never think their buildings were the size they were, and they’re beautiful, but it’s simple. It’s simple. There’s no bells and whistles. But I even wonder if that’s too much for the future.

R: Well, that’s what I’m saying is that’s the phase.

J: It’s just the next step. Willow Creeks are no more...People building Willow Creek buildings, Bill even said before he stepped down or whatever in the world happened...whatever, but he even said that he wishes he didn’t build that big building. I’ve heard it through a lot of people saying that.

R: Well it used to be you would do one, maybe two services and you wanted them to be as big as you could make them. And now the model is…

J: The church with multisite and multiple experiences is the win. So what do you do now? What was I saying, there was something I wanted to say. Oh, money. Finances. So what we’ve talked about now is renting out our buildings all week long. It’s something we’re investigating right now.And just to put our listeners onto this. We’re asking ourselves, we’re trying to get in front because if engagement is less than ever, well if engaging is less than ever and it’s post-Christian culture, I don’t know, well I was raised to tithe, I’m raising my kids to tithe, but I wonder how many families that are post-Christian have no idea about tithing so we’re going to be reaching 20 and 30 year olds who have no idea about tithing and that’s going to be hard for the church to be supported when it takes several years for everybody walking in to learn and to buy into trusting God financially. And os with all that being said, we have a building that sits empty for 95% of the week. 95% of the week. So we thought, let’s not own daycares, cause I would never in my life want to do that. God forbid I say never, but, that’s not the plan, but what if there were daycares that wanted to rent our facilities all week long? And we brought in income. How can we be wise stewards of what God has given us and not have a building that sits empty. Cause I don’t want to have daycares, I have no desire to run Next Level Church Daycare. But hey, if Suzie has a daycare and they’re needing space and they want to rent the space, operate it, no attachment to Next Level but you want to rent….So these are just things we’re thinking through is if we’re going to have 20, 30, 40, 50 buildings, how can they help pour resources into the building without taking our time, without taking our name, without taking our management, and then maybe even bring someone on staff and their only role is to oversee building leasees, you know? And so these are the things that we’re thinking. I don’t know if this helps at all, but how can we get out in front of the financial dip that we’re going to see, because if it’s becoming more and more post-Christian that means less and less people are raised with that understanding of trusting God first financially which is only going to make things more difficult for the church. It already has. It’s already happening.

R: I mean whether or not you call it a Biblical worldview, cause a lot of people might not even see it like that, you just even look at the idea of red state, blue state, all of that. For the most part, even if they didn’t grow up in the church, many people were handed a Christian worldview. Even if they didn’t call it that . And we’re seeing that less and less.

J: They don’t even begin at that foundation. They don’t even get the chance to reject it cause they’re not even introduced to it. Cause most families aren’t even beginning with that as their core. There was a day back hundred years ago where that was the foundation, period. And then you rejected it.

R: Yep. Absolutely, there’s not even that thought.

J: You wouldn’t into walk into a room and be able to find 100 people who don’t even know the name of Jesus.

R: Cheeses.

J: Cheeses. That’s the generation at seven years old right now. Cheeses.

R: Yep, absolutely.

J: Okay.

R: Well, hey, I think that’s today’s episode. We just had a conversation.

J: That wasn’t the plan.

R: No.

J: The plan was vision.

R: Vision. I had a question for you on vision that we’ll get to on another time.

J: I don’t think we, we definitely didn’t give any answers, but hopefully, just having a conversation that we have all the time and just bringing people into it. This is what we’re asking, this is what we’re thinking, what we’re dealing with and the real world of church, not the hundred fastest-growing pictures. This is the real world of church.

R: In the trenches. Cool. Thanks for tuning in today and talk to you soon.

J: Peace out.