The Personality Factor

How to recognize when it becomes more about you than the church–and what to do about it

Are people coming to—and staying—at your church because you’re there? If you left tomorrow, or five years from now, would it still thrive? Do you lead a personality-driven church (that personality being you!)?

In a church and cultural landscape where pastors have become best-selling authors, known TV personalities, sought-after speakers, magazine cover images and prominent voices through blogs and social media, these are some of the difficult questions many of today’s church leaders must ask, say church consultant Brad Abare and TV/film producer Phil Cooke.

Both Abare and Cooke work with congregations nationwide. As director of communications for the Foursquare Church and founder of the Center for Church Communication, Abare helps churches identify their core values and engage their local communities. Cooke, founder and president of Los Angeles-based Cooke Pictures, partners with churches and ministries to create a national or international platform. Both have an inside view of churches and the pastors who lead them.

Below is some of the counsel Abare and Cooke provided to churches wanting to sustain healthy growth and learn to pass on ministry to the next generation:


On what makes a local church sustainable


Brad Abare: I think we have to ask: Does the organization itself have its purpose and values embedded into the culture enough? If that strong leader isn’t there, can the church continue on to still accomplish its purpose and express its values?

Anyone in the church should technically be able to know how to decide whether or not something fits or aligns with the church’s purpose or mission because the core values have been communicated.


Phil Cooke: Pastors need to do a better job of training their leaders, blessing them and then getting out of the way. That’s the single-biggest problem I see in churches today.


Warning signs of a personality-driven church


Abare: When a pastor doesn’t go on a vacation of significant length.


Cooke: When you’re not in the pulpit, nobody shows up.


Abare: If you couldn’t hang it all up today and be confident everything would continue, that’s a warning sign.


Cooke: Yes, another warning sign to look for is when a leader builds a silo around himself to where he is cut off from the life of the church. Usually one person controls access to the pastor.


Leveraging a leader’s “fame” for outreach and growth


Cooke: There is absolutely no question that leveraging your personality will help you get an audience of more people. The question is when is it OK to do that? On the local level, I would be very, very, very cautious.


Abare: And I’d ask not only how are you growing, but for what reason? What are you doing with the people when you get them? Are they then going out and reaching more? Are we growing bigger churches or bigger people?


Course corrections


Abare: Maybe ask the question: If you let that team be the ones that could fire you, would they fire you today?


Cooke: How different is your lifestyle than the typical lifestyle of your congregation? If you’re driving a Bentley and everyone else is driving a used Corvair (I’m a child of the ‘60s), that’s a problem.


Brad: And I think that in addition to developing a succession plan, leaders should be transitioning to the next generation. Even if it’s a 10- or 15-year process, that should be the goal. Otherwise it will become personality-driven.


Transitioning to the Next Generation


Abare: Identify two to three leaders a lot younger than you and begin to groom them. Include them in meetings; make sure they have a seat on the board.


Cooke: And bless what they do. Let the people in the church see that you approve of this and you’re all for encouraging them. That way, they’re not just behind the scenes.


Through his company, Cooke Pictures, Phil Cooke advises many of the largest and most effective nonprofit and faith-based media organizations in the world. He also speaks at workshops, seminars and conferences on a global basis. In November, he will lead a breakout session at the National Outreach Convention. 


As the founder of the Center for Church Communication and the highly read blog, Brad Abare consults with organizations throughout the country. He is also the communications director for the Foursquare Church.

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