Covenant leaders are discussing two major goals for our church: One is how to increase our capacity on Sunday mornings; the second is how to be a love letter to Austin.
To tackle the former, Session created a growth task force. “We’ve seen a lot of growth in the 9:30 and 11:05 services,” Senior Pastor Thomas Daniel said. “Children and youth have outgrown their spaces – moving to new floors of the Fellowship and Education Building and into Eaton Hall. We have a full sanctuary and a full parking lot. If people come to a service that is at 75 percent capacity, studies show that they will leave.”
The task force was launched at the August Session meeting. The group will work to increase our capacity through technology, building or another idea. “Covenant can expect a natural tailing off of our growth if we don’t figure out a new way of doing Sundays,” Thomas said. The task force will move quickly on this project and should start reporting to Session in mid-October.
The second goal will challenge Covenant members to adopt a different way of thinking about what it means to be a church. To that end, Thomas has been looking at a business school model called dual transformation, where a company figures out how to transform itself from its existing model. (He offered Netflix as an example. The company solved the pain customers felt with Blockbuster’s late fees by allowing customers to keep their films with late fee-free mail-in movies. Netflix then offered streaming movies and next, the company started creating its own content.)
How does that relate to a church? Covenant has about 1,800 members, and more than 50 people have attended each of the last few new member classes. Most growing churches plant a church or go multi-site, but Thomas is convinced that’s not the wave of the future and will not lead to sustained growth. “What I am most encouraged by is that the kind of growth we are experiencing is kingdom growth – 67 percent of our new members aren’t coming from another church. Let’s figure out why we are getting 67 percent growth. Let’s take the dual transformation model and apply it to our church.”
To help determine that new model – our new way of thinking – Tod Bolsinger, Fuller Seminary’s Chief of Leadership Formation, led a weekend retreat focused on finding a solution. Session and staff agreed that kingdom growth won’t continue by staying within our walls and worked together to figure out how to pursue a strong missional component.
“How a church finds its purpose, its joy, is through serving, through being a love letter from God to the city of Austin,” Thomas said.
Participants at the Bolsinger retreat identified Covenant’s strengths: our diversity – theological, generational and political – and our values, our family/community feel, our authenticity and our unity through our belief in Christ. “Tod’s goal was to help us figure out how to use our core values to serve our city,” Thomas said.
At the end of the two days, the group left the building with two prototypes, both in the infancy stages. Stakeholders will experiment on the projects and report to the congregation as the projects gain traction.
“It’s too soon to talk about the projects, but I was excited to leave the retreat with a concrete direction,” Thomas said. “This is a different way for churches to think and prioritize. It’s a different kind of conversation. It’s a really special time for our church.”