Becoming a Contagious Church: Day of Learning at Mt. Ennon

by | May 17, 2018

More than 50 leaders from the diocese gathered last month at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., for a learning day with the Rev. Dr. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon. The invitation came following Dr. Coates’ sermon at Diocesan Convention in January, and builds upon a burgeoning friendship between the diocese and the people of Mt. Ennon, led by Bishop Mariann Budde and Dr. Coates.

In the day-long workshop, Dr. Coates talked about how his church has grown from a few hundred to more than 10,000 over the past two decades. His primary argument was that churches need to respond to the changes in the world around them to remain relevant in our twenty-first century. How? In his leadership, he said, he has developed a number of practices that make for “contagious churches”–churches that share the love of Christ in such an infectious way that the community grows while responding to the changes in culture to meet the needs of a busy and fractured world.

Here are Dr. Coates’ Nine Practices of Contagious Churches:

  1. Maintain a biblical model of governance. Church leadership needs accountability, checks and balances, and a healthy governing body, says Coates. Churches with too much power vested in one body or one leader do not reflect a contagious love of the Gospel.
  2. Practice servant leadership. Our leadership should be grounded in a biblical model of the leader as a servant. Every disciple is a servant of God, even pastors. When we show servant leadership we are modeling what it looks like to follow Jesus in leadership.
  3. Protect team chemistry at all costs. Coates stresses the importance of strong relationships between staff and leaders–but to the end of creating a team that enjoys being together, and working together toward a common goal. Rather than having individual players who shine on their own, Coates claims that contagious churches have a team of leaders who work together well and enjoy their collective mission.
  4. Have a clearly defined “win” statement. Coates asks, how can we know if we are succeeding as a church if we haven’t defined what “winning” is? In other words, have a clear vision statement for where you aspire to be. Mt. Ennon’s “win” statement is: “We aim to create and produce unparalleled spiritual experiences that foster growth and enthusiasm.” Each week the staff assess itself based on how their win statement is resonating as true.
  5. Be relentless about evaluation. Related to the “win” statement, Coates advocates for always reflecting back after a service, event, or project. While celebrating the success of anything, Coates says being relentless about evaluation in terms of constructive ways to improve, leaves the team always wanting to do–and be–better.
  6. Create margin and prioritize radical differentiation. In other words, Coates says, ask yourself how your church community is unique amid the competition. And the competition, Coates argues, is not just other church communities–but the secular world as well. What is your church offering that people can’t get anywhere else? How are you different? Do you prioritize resources around that which is unique and different about you, or are you trying to be all things to all people?
  7. Focus on what we do and don’t do. Also related to radical differentiation is a willingness to be clear not only about what we focus on, but also about what we do not prioritize. Leaders of contagious churches do not expand the mission of their church just because someone has a good idea. “Some things are a ‘good’ idea but not a ‘God’ idea,” Coates says. Churches have to stay focused on God ideas–not all the good ideas out there.
  8. Embrace change! Perhaps this goes without saying, but Coates maintains that churches with a culture of embracing change, rather than resisting it, are the ones that succeed. An openness to change is an openness to the ways the Spirit is calling the Church to respond to the changing world around us.
  9. “Maintain revival in the kitchen.” Is your leadership and your practice of ministry grounded in joy? Don’t forget, says Coates, that your primary role as a leader is to be a worshiper, too. “Your job is to worship,” he says. Don’t be in church work just as a worker. It can get old on the inside. We can get burnt out. Instead, maintain a connection to why you were called to ministry in the first place, and ensure that your team is maintaining that same sense of joy and worship.

By The Rev. Richard Weinberg, assistant rector at St. Margaret’s, D.C. and diocesan Strategic Communications Advisor