Our team chose to interview a key leader and pastor from The House church in Kelowna, where one of our team members works. The church is still relatively new, being an autonomous entity for roughly two years. The leadership is beginning to think more strategically and put together a larger team to accommodate and maintain growth. What began as an arts and coffee shop venue for students ten years ago has now evolved into a self-sustaining church with three services on Sundays. The House originally had one service primarily targeting young adults, and was an offshoot from another church in town. The church, which meets in a warehouse building in an industrial area, is located five minutes from the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO), a campus with roughly 1500 students. The church has always placed a large emphasis on attracting students and non-believers to a Sunday service to help people build relationships and encounter God. Over the last year the church hired one part-time pastor and is beginning to look for another part-time pastor for 2019. Given the recent inception of The House there is still a number of areas for improvement but the church continues to grow and transformation continues to happen in the lives of those who attend. Our interview with one of the pastors on staff allowed us to identify key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the church. The questions asked, along with a summary and analysis of each category are listed below. Notes from our conversation with The House are located in Appendix A.
Our interview with a pastor on staff at The House revealed a few key strengths. One strength is how the church makes people feel comfortable and accepted. Students, non-Christians and Christians alike are drawn to The House for a variety of reasons. Whether it is an emphasis on coffee culture, an inviting space or the passionate and friendly staff, people feel welcomed and comfortable at The House. Likewise, it is attractive to get involved by serving because of the equipment, training and tools the church provides. People can train in areas of gifting or passion and are set up for success. As a result, the church rarely looks for volunteers – people are drawn in and are drawn to serve. There is a genuine excitement about what the church is doing from those who attend and serve.
Another key strength of the church is its’ hospitality. The church provides a shuttle for grocery runs and Sunday service pick-up, along with social groups, study spaces and a food bank. Derived from its name, many of the ministries in the church focus on serving and caring for students. Students, regardless of their religious affiliation, often end up coming to events or Sunday services because they first were served in some way.
The visual component of the church also appeals to students as the lights, sound and media production are high. Adults and students are often drawn by the high quality sound system, screen placement and instrumentation each week. All of these components help students feel more comfortable entering a church building and enhance the churchgoing experience. The lights, sound and visual components all create an inviting and unique church atmosphere which appeals to students. Each year a new group of students find their way into the community at The House.
The shared trust among the Lead Pastor and the Pastor’s Council is another strength. This small group of five men met regularly from the beginning of The House’s formation. They provide strategic leadership, accountability and reviews for the church. This group helped make The House into its own entity. These members challenge one another, take risks together and support one another in prayer. Meeting and working together over a number of years creates trust among this group.
Suggested Strategies for Strengths
There are two ways The House can continue to excel in its’ strengths. The first is by increasing accountability. Lepsinger identifies how holding people accountable is crucial to strategic success (2010). As The House continues to grow, the need for accountability will also grow. Presently, the church does well in this area, particularly with their key leaders and pastors. Expectations for pastors, staff, and the Pastor’s Council are clearly outlined and individuals are held accountable. This accountability should also translate to those who serve in less prominent roles such as shuttle driving, tech team or kids ministry. The church must create a culture of accountability throughout every level of decision making, rather than only amongst the key leaders. “Discussions about accountability can be straightforward and potential conflicts less intense when everyone knows what is expected and how success will be measured” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 97). Expectations and accountability among all volunteers will be crucial to establish the values of the organization and maintain the level of excellence desired as the church grows in size and volunteers.
Another way The House can build on its strengths moving forward is to find the right people to make decisions. The church has a small group of paid staff and a small Pastor’s Council who are close to completing their terms. Filling these roles with the right people will be important. Lepsinger writes, “Make sure that people closest to the action are making the decisions” (2010, p. 131). The church has many willing volunteers. As the church looks to continue growing in its discipleship and hospitality ministries it will be crucial to involve and empower the right people to enact change and empower more teams.
During the interview several weaknesses were identified to achieve the maximum results. The findings were noticeable as the organization has grown significantly in a short amount of time. The church has created a very welcoming environment. With many new visitors, the church struggles to connect new people. As a result, The House is experiencing people coming through the front door and out the back door. It is difficult for people to feel connected with a transient student-focused community.
There is also a need to develop programs to address community building and sermon structures. There is a lack of direction with their discipleship strategy and many small groups happen spontaneously. As the community continues to grow their ability to facilitate community does not.
A final weakness impacts their relationship with their neighbours. The church produces a high level of noise during evenings which impacts the industrial area where they are located.
Suggested Strategies to Improve Areas of Weakness
The weaknesses suggested are real issues the church must address and navigate. In his YouTube video blog on Appreciative Inquiry, Jon Townsin (2013) notes that if we want to improve performance our default position is to ask what’s not working. He notes that such an approach later drains the energy of the staff. The Appreciative Inquiry model will help understand the value of what we have and start working from a position of strength. This is especially helpful when an organization is still in the early stages of development. The ability to minimize risk requires a period of assessment (Lepsinger, 2010) due to the fact there is no plan that is thought-proof.
One way The House should address their weaknesses is by developing a clear pathway for discipleship. Lepsinger writes, “A well thought out action plan is one of the best tools you have to ensure that the factors required for effective execution are in place” (2010, p. 25). Creating clear steps for people to get involved in the church will help. This action plan should include steps for an unchurched university student to hear about Jesus, grow as a disciple, live out the values, and help others live out the values of The House. This structure should serve as a guideline for a sermon plan and would help bring unity to their Sunday service ministry and their mid-week ministries. It would also prevent people from being neglected or missed as they enter the community at The House. This strategy must become a priority for the church and must be clearly communicated and outlined to be effective.
On The House website the first thing you read is “A multi-generational church with a young adult culture” (“The house – home page,” n.d., Para.1). Along with the pictures of young people, lights, and coffee, it is clear The House is a church intentionally making room for young adults. In response to the question, “If our church could be known for one thing in our neighbourhood or city, what would it be?” The House leadership responded, “We would be known as a church that reaches out intentionally to the university.” To more effectively reach people in their current context, church leadership intends to stay adaptable to the changing culture around them. The University campus is one of the places churches have a hard time reaching. The House sees their church in a unique opportunity to fill that need in the city.
Although The House doesn’t have a lot of established policies and procedures, the church intends to stay adaptable and flexible to the environment around them by constantly assessing their methods and practices and changing these methods and practices when appropriate. Their small leadership team allows them to make decisions and respond to needs quickly. The culture and style of the church is currently aligned with the greatest opportunity available to them as their lights, coffee bar, stage and presentation targets a younger demographic – precisely the demographic of the nearby university. Thus far, The House focused on drawing young adults and others into their community. Now boasting a consistent number of people every week, there is an opportunity to grow, mentor and disciple these people.
Suggested Strategies for Opportunities
As the church becomes more established, leadership will need to discern which plans are necessary and helpful for their development. “A well thought-out action plan is one of the best tools you have to ensure that the factors required for effective execution are in place” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 25). One area an action plan is required is in their spiritual formation and development strategy. While a strategy to connect newcomers to the larger church has been mentioned, a plan to disciple and grow their current members must also be developed.
An effective discipleship plan involves the right people and accomplishes what it was intended to do. Using the US Army’s after-action review (AAR) as a guide (Hughes, Beatty & Dinwoodie, 2014) The House will look back on their discipleship strategy and measure success by using the following steps:
|1. What was the intent?
|Create a teaching plan that unifies the leadership, direction, and discipleship strategy of the church.
|2. What happened?
|The preaching team created a teaching plan to align the focus for the next twelve months. The plan was presented to the entire leadership team for suggestions and revisions. The plan was brought to the next level of leadership who listened and provided feedback. Additional revisions were made to the plan to make it more helpful and specific.
|3. What was learned?
|By creating a teaching plan with the entire leadership team of the church, The House received greater insight into the spiritual needs of their community.
|4. What actions should be taken?
|After creating a higher level of buy-in for the teaching plan they established specific opportunities for people to help execute the plan. Clear roles and responsibilities were identified as well as intentional objectives to connect the people of their church to the values of their church.
|5. Take action.
|Action plans were created to move forward with the specific roles and responsibilities that were established.
|6. Disseminate the findings.
|They documented how the plan was developed, who the key players were, how the plan was executed, and determined whether or not it was effective. Necessary adjustments were made to involve more or less people in the process next year.
As The House continues to grow it will be important for the church to engage new people to take ownership of the mission of the church. “Shared goals increase cooperation and collaboration because they ensure everyone is working toward the same outcome” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 179). Developing a shared or common vision among those attending will challenge them to engage with something significant and will increase the potential to reach more people. This vision should be shared on Sundays and communicated in personal meetings. Invitations to take leadership and responsibility should be given to committed and gifted members. In this way, a leadership pipeline will develop as current leaders will work to equip and lead specific people in order to multiply their impact. The leadership must look to empower and equip people across all three services, including students by mentoring, teaching and encouraging. Making this a consistent and required practice for the leadership will see many leaders developed over the years.
Lastly, The House must look to increase their campus relationships and presence. Setting up meetings with key leaders and personnel from the university to increase trust and coordination is necessary. This could lead to a greater presence on campus through booths, events or simply awareness. Building relationships with key staff members of the university could lead to many more opportunities for The House to live out its’ mission.
Limiting factors for The House arise from its relative infancy as a church (it is two years old). The greatest threats to The House as an organization are logistic in nature—they lack an office space, a proper kitchen, and a designated area for children’s ministry. Only one group can utilize the church’s space at any given time. Currently, The House is zoned as an arts venue and not as a church. In addition, the church does not have the ability to secure a line of credit or a mortgage—so moving to a different site is a complicated option at this time.
One of the external threats to the church is an opposition to Christian religion in culture, and The House encounters hurdles when dealing with local government. Culture is increasingly moving away from Christian values or ethics, making it difficult for any Christian church to remain true to their core values and beliefs while trying to attract people in. This challenge shows up in practical ways for The House. In the past year, the Canadian government made it mandatory to agree to a statement upholding abortion regulations to receive funding for youth students during the summer (Haskell, 2018). There is a general move away from fundamental Christian values and beliefs within the culture and government forcing The House to alter their methods of ministry.
Suggested Strategies for Threats
The House desires to care for their followers better—and they must leverage their creativity in developing strategies to accommodate growth. Developing a long term plan to accommodate this growth is necessary. The most pressing issue in this plan is the building. Finding a more functional space is crucial to accommodate kids, youth and more staff. Given their current financial situation, finding someone to invest in a building or finding a new lease is their best option.
The church must also develop a strategy to alleviate financial pressure. This is done in two ways. First, the leadership must provide the congregation with teaching and transparency around this topic. Biblical teaching on the topic of giving must happen regularly to connect people’s faith with generosity. This must also be paired with transparency. If the church asks for people to be generous the people must know where and how their money is being spent. A detailed and transparent budget analysis with deficits and goals should be provided.
The second option The House should pursue is a line of credit. This has been unsuccessful thus far but is something to be revisited. The church must exhaust all options in this area: inquiring with all banks, investors and loan providers.
Another way The House should seek to address some of the threats facing them is by building better relationships with their municipality and neighboring businesses. “Influencing others strategically is virtually impossible if you don’t have trust in your relationships” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 163). The House must look to build relationships with city council members and other municipality leaders. This may not provide immediate benefits but will begin the trust-building process to help them later.
Assessing the Suggested Strategies for The House
Being a relatively new movement, The House is undergoing substantial growing pains. In the pastoral world, growth is a double-edged sword: in one way, it is a reflection of the life-giving outcome of healthy stewardship; and in another way, it presents new challenges requiring updated systems and processes.
We are suggesting several ways for The House to adapt to changes as a result of growth—while looking toward future growth opportunities as well:
- Increasing accountability across the organization.
- Choosing leaders with the right ‘fit’ to assist in decision-making.
- Assessing progress using the Appreciative Inquiry Method (Townsin, 2013).
- Developing a clear path for discipleship to help congregants grow in their faith.
- Building a “leadership pipeline.”
- Fostering a greater relationship with UBCO (the local university), the city of Kelowna, and neighbour ing businesses.
- Creating a plan for a new physical location for the church.
The most pressing issues for The House to consider are:
- Developing a clear path for discipleship to help congregants grow in their faith; and
- Creating a plan for a new physical location for the church.
Doubtless, the leadership team of The House feels the tension behind creating new strategies for growing followers in discipleship, and also finding a building to accommodate current and future growth (R. deZwaan and O. Parsons, personal communication, November 2018). While these are not new considerations, they represent the current leadership bottleneck at The House—if they cannot resolve these issues, they will not continue growing as a movement.
As a two year old church The House has a lot of strengths to build on. The church has an engaging leadership team, people who love to attend the church, and a great reputation as a church committed to serving the needs of students. The House is in its infancy as a movement and there are some missing pieces stifling the church’s effectiveness. By developing leadership strategies for discipleship and teaching, the church will continue to see positive change and growth. The House has an opportunity to leverage their appeal to young adults by creating further inroads with the local university. Furthermore, facility concerns and zoning pose a significant threat to the House, and their leadership team will need to create a strategy for relocation in the near future.
Given The House’s current situation and our evaluation of the organization, we believe it is a church ready to increase their influence with both their congregants and the surrounding community of Kelowna. The church has proven its ability to create a safe space for believers; and because of the strength of its leadership and pastor’s council, they will confidently navigate necessary changes for future growth.
A multi-generational church with a young adult culture. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thehouseonline.ca/
Haskell, D. (2018, January 18). Trudeau is asking religious Canadians to betray their conscience for federal funding. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/summer-jobs-program-1.4491602
Hughes, R. L., Beatty, K. C., & Dinwoodie, D. L. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader. (2 ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Lepsinger, R. (2010). Closing the execution gap: How great leaders and their companies get results. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Townsin, J. (2013, July 12). Retrieved November 20, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzW22wwh1J4
Interview notes from a meeting with Ryan deZwaan, Assistant Pastor of The House (November 2018).
- What does our church do really well?
- The church is accessible, comfortable and safe for people
- Attracts non-Christians or people who wouldn’t normally come to church.
- Empowers volunteers well – helps growth and momentum (250 ppl in PC)
- Created space for people to succeed – equipment, tools, training. This brings more people into the team. Serving is inviting.
- Oliver’s answer: ability to be creative, change and adapt.
- Make decisions quickly – less structural process. Things happen quickly.
- Great pastor’s council – trust in leaders.
2. If the local newspaper wrote a glowing report about our church, what would they identify as the church’s top three strengths?
- The House appeals to young people – attracts millennials
- Vibrant community – engaged, excited people
- Local church has eye-catching visuals (lights, sound, media, etc).
3. Think about some the healthiest people in our church? What are your favourite qualities about those people?
- Capacity to care for others – a willingness to participate in discipleship/service
- Excited about life, church and how life integrates with their faith.
- Love for Jesus, the Bible, others
- What is one weakness our church continues to struggle with?
- The front door is really big. The back door is big too. Tons of people have signed up, come through and left.
- People feel like they have a hard time getting connected, finding solid community, growing spiritually outside of Sunday services.
- Discipleship ministry in general.
- Lack of direction/bigger picture when it comes to sermon series.
2. What is the one thing our neighbours/the city would complain about regarding your church?
- We make too much noise in our neighborhood. We are too loud. (garage door that opens and people hear the sound)
3. Think about some people in our church who are spiritually unhealthy. Do they demonstrate any common characteristics or behaviours?
- Complacency. It is easy to not move forward in faith. Beliefs are more social than personal.
- There is an extremism that can happen (very high on Jesus to than very critical and unengaged)
- Lack of biblical literacy.
- If our church could be known for one thing in our neighbourhood or city, what would it be? Why?
- We would be known as a church that reaches out intentionally to the university. Increase in university engagement, presence, etc.
- If we could hear about the teaching and speaking as a highlight as much as we hear about the worship. Culture.
2. What are some of the greatest opportunities available to our church?
- Adapting to culture. Changing to reach people effectively in current context.
- Safe place, get helped, not be judged.
- Lots of people…opportunity to change negative perception about The House. (Showy vs. Authentic Discipleship).
3. What is the most significant need in our neighbourhood or our city that our church could help to meet?
- University campus is one of the places where churches have a hard time reaching. Our church has a unique place in the city to fill that need.
- What is the biggest obstacle that gets in our church’s way?
- Our space. Limiting factor. No office space, proper kitchen, kids spaces.
- Money (resources). Our budget is really small for the size of our church.
- As a 2 year independent organization, we don’t have the ability to get a line of credit, mortgage, etc. We have to watch spending closely.
- Consumer culture – lots of people coming and going.
2. What external factor has the most negative impact on our church?
- Government support in the last year.
- We are not zoned as a church. We are zoned as a coffee shop/arts venue. We are constrained with where we are and how we are set up.
- Cultural pressure (less openness to Christianity, Jesus, etc). As culture goes one way the church has to respond and adapt.
- Perception of people from the outside – The House only cares about experience, presentation, visual, etc.
3. If you could change one thing about our church or community, what would it be?
- Care for people better – equip, give, mentor, discipleship people better.
4. What could we do to change to care for people better?
- More people on the team (staff) to invest in others’ lives. We ask a lot from people and the more time and resources to pour into people, mentor, disciple, etc.