LeaderSource - Transforming a Large Urban Church Network

Transforming a Large Urban Church Network

“A great flourishing of vigor and life in the church!”

As the leader of several house church networks totaling more than 1,000 churches, Sister C had an incredible amount of personal responsibility and duties, not enough quality co-workers to help, and frustration mounting by the month over how to train new leaders who could take on some of the workload. When she was almost at the point of burnout and ready to go into “maintenance mode” with her church, she was introduced to the ConneXions Model of healthy leader development.
She immediately began to implement ConneXions principles in her leadership. At great personal risk, she stepped back from a number of her responsibilities in order to focus on developing a small group of young leaders in one of the first foundational learning communities for emerging leaders in her country in Asia. Her church was not supportive, and could not understand why she would want to invest so much time in a small number of young people. The first group of students had many challenges, including moving twice (due to persecution) and having to glean fields for food (due to poverty), but they had regular opportunities to do real ministry work, and to grow spiritually, relationally, and in character. The results were profound.
These young students were so mature and effective in ministry after a year of training that the churches which had been unsupportive changed their attitudes, asked forgiveness, and have since been substantial advocates of and participants in training. Sister C has since started and completed numerous foundational learning communities, and one of her first graduates is now leading the main learning community today.
Her investment in the development of healthy leaders has been reproducing, and is both transformational and truly indigenous.
An intentionally-designed collage of learning experiences in ConneXions training produces leaders with far more ministry capacity than is typical of most conventional leader development programs. students develop strong spiritual lives and learn to relate well with others in the context of a community. They are challenged and tested in their character and develop a clear sense of their spiritual gifts and calling. And they are well-schooled and well-practiced in biblical knowledge and study skills, preaching, teaching, evangelism, counseling, and many other ministry competencies. Upon completing their training, Sister C’s students have quickly been able to take on ministry responsibilities far beyond that of the typical conventionally-trained student. Her graduates are currently doing the following:
    • Providing vision and leadership for children’s and youth ministries
    • Designing and implementing effective women’s ministry programs for the entire church network
    • Organizing and leading evangelistic outreach programs in villages, towns, and cities
    • Building and leading itinerant church-planting teams
    • Working in a rotating schedule with multiple local house church pastors to encourage and build them and their churches
    • Participating in the administration and financial management of the church
These young leaders are taking on these responsibilities in addition to the normal responsibilities that they have within their local churches – preaching, teaching, leading worship, and providing pastoral care. ConneXions graduates have a strong sense of God’s calling in their lives, and as a result are particularly creative when it comes to pioneering new work in their churches.
Sister C’s students have begun the following ministries that were new to their churches:
    • Ministry to elderly people in assisted-living facilities, including planting churches there
    • Outreach to and discipling of students at nearby high schools
    • Ministry to migrant workers in the cities
    • Men’s ministry programs
The transformation in the lives of students prepares them for long-term ministry. In Sister C’s country, there are a number of factors that put pressure on full-time co-workers to leave ministry work. Many graduates of traditional Bible schools have little confirmation of calling, lack the skills to be productive in ministry, and drift away from full-time service in frustration relatively soon after they begin ministry. Some house church movements experience attrition rates as high as 70-80% within the first year after their students graduate from traditional programs. Sister C’s graduates, on the other hand, have remained in effective full-time ministry far more consistently. Of the 75 ConneXions graduates in a four-year time frame, 67 are still involved in full-time ministry, an attrition rate of only 11%.
The implementation of ConneXions leader development principles also transforms entire churches. In Sister C’s case, this has happened in two ways.
First, the direct ministry of the students once they are in full-time service is transformational in churches. Because each graduate works not only in his or her immediate church but also with the entire network in multiple ways, their impact is substantial. Each graduate touches the lives of between 800 and 2,000 believers each year. Existing leaders are encouraged and grow as the new leaders are able to help them, and the entire church benefits from the many different ways that they minister to individuals and churches. This has substantially improved the health, effectiveness, and outreach of the entire church network.
Second, the actual process of the training itself is transformational. The churches do not simply send their young people off to be trained. Rather, the training takes place in the context of the local churches, and with substantial participation by church members as prayer intercessors, pastoral coaches, ministry mentors and accountability partners. Students practice ministry in the churches, enabling everyone to observe and be encouraged by their progress. The churches play active roles in the development of the emerging leaders, resulting in deep changes in commitment and spiritual growth on the part of many in the church. Sister C’s church network has more than doubled in size in the past five years, growing from 46 churches to 110. Additionally, they have planted more than 20 new churches among minority groups, including the first-ever church among one previously-unreached people group there. The church leaders directly attribute this increased fruitfulness to their leader development work.
One of the core ConneXions principles is that “leaders build leaders.” Students learn this first-hand, and they are uniquely prepared to participate quickly in building leaders themselves.
Many of Sister C’s graduates have participated in the training of the next group of students:
    • One second-year graduate actually led the entire third-year program.
    • Another graduate from the very first program is now responsible for leading the main ConneXions program.
    • In one area of her country, Sister C was having a hard time providing ongoing training for the leaders because it was so difficult to continually send people from the east to work there. Two graduates of the third-year program initiated on their own a program for the ongoing development of these existing leaders. This means that training has reproduced itself through at least four generations in Sister C’s network!
Because the application of ConneXions principles is truly indigenized, church leaders can readily share them with leaders in other networks and movements. This makes the model easily reproducible. Throughout her application of the model, Sister C has regularly shared it with many other church leaders that she knows. Again, the reproducibility of the model is clearly evident. Sister C has shared the ConneXions Model with the leaders of over twenty movements, and four of these leaders have started a total of five programs within their own movements. Here, too, is an example of the one of our trainings reproducing itself through at least four generations.
True indigenization of leader development programs and practices is one of LeaderSource’s primary goals (for more information on what this means, please see the model brief titled Indigenous Leader Development in the Resources section of our website). In Sister C’s application of ConneXions principles, two things stand out with respect to indigenization.
First, Sister C has from the beginning had clear ownership of the entire practice of leader development. She and her team have done the design of the programs and learning experiences; she and her team have done all of the teaching for each program; she and her team have developed a clear culture of leader development for her network. It is uniquely theirs, uniquely applicable in their context, and truly indigenous.
Second, Sister C’s programs have been self-funded. Most traditional leader development programs that are built around the seminary model must depend on outside funding for their continuing operation. While local churches can provide some financial resources, they can seldom offer enough to run the program by itself. Successful ConneXions-based programs have usually been completely self-funding. Because the training takes place in the context of local churches, the members of the churches see the regular growth of students. They are far more willing to share their resources to operate the program. Two churches have seen their overall giving to other church programs rise at the same time they were providing substantial support for a program in their area. In one village, believers shared their harvest freely with the students, and experienced substantially increased agricultural productivity the following year. As a result, the entire village is now part of the church.
Sister C’s experience shows very clearly the substantial transformational growth that happens in existing leaders, emerging leaders, churches, and communities as a result of embracing ConneXions principles in the development of new leaders. By God’s grace, Sister C has made a paradigm shift that has renewed her own sense of personal ministry, invigorated her leaders and churches, and resulted in the planting and nurture of healthy leaders and churches.
“The more we have applied the ConneXions Model, the more we have witnessed its effectiveness. It leads us right into the heart of the Bible and explicitly shows us the process and approach through which Jesus built His disciples. As we have followed Jesus’ leadership building principles, the result has been a great flourishing of vigor and life in the church. All the members are functioning, building each other and growing together, thus bringing great growth and revival to the whole church.”
Her experience shows that ConneXions principles are readily reproducible, and that they result in a leader development paradigm that is deeply indigenized and fruitful.


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