Three values that build the magnetic force of a great church

Leaders understand inclusivity, teamwork and justice grow effective churches.

By Nancy Ortberg

There are some emerging patterns in churches with momentum, that are worth paying attention to. After more than seven years of working with church leadership teams, as well as doing focus groups with attendees, here are three values that seem to be responsible for much of the growth and magnetic force we see.

Normalizing brokenness. I first heard this term coined by a guy named Keith Page, but it was a phrase that accurately reflected what we have observed in thriving churches. There is a sense that all of us are on a spiritual journey as we follow Christ, and rather than compare our differing levels of maturity, there is a deep realization that all of us are broken and there is room for everyone.

Most people in today’s world need to belong before they believe. The number of people who grew up in a church is shrinking every year, and they simply don’t have God on their radar screen. There is a certain kind of church that welcomes that. There are no hoops to jump through or documents to sign as a prerequisite for belonging, but rather a grace that invites people in, as they are no perfect people required.

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was relentless in his inclusion of the outsiders. Lots of the religious leaders made it their job to draw a clear line around the insiders, and Jesus carried around an eraser.

And that’s true about all of us — we need an eraser. Stories of mistakes, doubts and fears, stories that are in the middle of the pain without a clean and spiritual resolution, are necessary parts of a kind of normalizing brokenness that invites people to a journey with Jesus.

Uncommon teamwork. Churches that stand out have a way of working together that is noticeably remarkable. There is a kind of trust that oils the relationships and allows for good and quick decisions to be made. A handful of churches we have worked with stand out because they are directing their abundant resources of intelligence, creativity, money and obedience to the vital work of developing catalytic churches.

Teamwork is something that gets talked about a lot, but seldom do we see it to the degree that it is memorable and remarkable. Trust is the foundation to this kind of teamwork, and one of the dangers in churches is that we presume trust. Sounds like the right answer to say “we have lots of trust on our team” without honestly looking at what is getting done to build it.

Trust takes work, and on a team, you’re always building or repairing it. Trust takes time, but not years. Trust is a function of character and competency, but even more, of vulnerability. The presence or lack of trust on a team tells you much about the individual work of spiritual formation that all of us need to be working on. When we see uncommon teamwork, the result is almost inevitably a church where the energy of spiritual gifts is released in deeply compelling ways.

Redemptive justice. “I’m so proud to be a part of this church.” One church we worked with had a particularly high percentage of people who said this. Every time we pushed for understanding, it became clear that it referred to the church’s efforts to serve the under-resourced and marginalized in the community.

In the past three months, this church partnered with a foster child agency to provide parent’s night out, had a regular after-school tutoring club for at risk kids, and had supplied a number of small groups to serve at a homeless shelter. On a regular basis, they were looking at the needs in the surrounding community and thinking through how they might respond.

They looked at areas of relief and development, and then went beyond to the more systemic issues of reform by setting up a “trading post” for an organization called Trade As One, that allows purchases of everyday food and gift items to be made in a way that supports women in Third World countries who are trying to escape poverty and enslavement.

Jesus talked more about serving the poor than prayer and what it means to be born again, put together. Churches that are capturing the attention of those outside their walls, are deeply committed to that.

Inclusivity, teamwork and justice are providing interesting threads of steel that are weaving together a powerful fabric in many of the churches we work with who are the most effective at living out the Gospel in a compelling way. It’s sure been food for thought at the church I attend.

Nancy Ortberg is founding partner of Teamworx2, Menlo Park, CA.


2 Responses to “Three values that build the magnetic force of a great church”

  1. Nancy Ortberg

    Great question. Most of Ranier’s book comes from a survey done with Southern Baptist Churches. Not at all a bad thing, but pretty niched when it comes to diagnosing for all types of churches.
    For the average person that does not have a SB background, my experience has been that they definitely want a time to ‘check things out’ before there is a commitment to jump in. I do agree that a church of high expectations is an attractive thing to most people, just debating where that line actually starts when someone begins attending.
    The idea of belonging before believing is from Jimmy Long’s work in “Generating Hope.”

  2. Dan Farrer

    You state that “Most people in today’s world need to belong before they believe…There are no hoops to jump through or documents to sign as a prerequisite for belonging.” I find such a finding in stark contrast to Rainer’s research expressed in his book “High Expectations.” How do you reconcile the two schools of thought, especially when both are based upon research. Thanks!

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