In this series of blog entries, we’ve been walking through some of the 13 essential competencies for church planters, developed by Dr. Charles Ridley as part of the church planter profile. This one is called “flexibility and adaptability.” While those may initially sound like synonyms, the terms reflect two different dimensions of an important competency.

Flexibility and Adaptability

The first focuses on how you respond to the unexpected changes that inevitably happen or the challenges that emerge in your way. How do you decide when you need to engage in flexibility and when you need to stay the course? How do you prioritize and move in a direction, flexing appropriately with changing circumstances?

The other is being able to adapt your leadership style. What brings you growth in one phase is precisely what will not work in the next phase. Often people think that if something is working, keep doing it. While that’s the case in some situations, it doesn’t work with a growth model. You wouldn’t parent a two-year old the same way you’d parent a 12-year-old. You’ll need to shift gears so you don’t stall out. That’s true for all planters (and parents). As you move forward, you’ll need to make adjustments in response to growth. For a great article on this concept from a business perspective, read “Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow” by Larry E. Greiner from the Harvard Business Review.

My experience

When the church I was planting was very small, we had an assimilation process that was working quite nicely. When I noticed newcomers, I welcomed them, and then I introduced them to others—usually to someone who seemed to have something in common with them. We didn’t need a tracking system. We could just see who was new.

But as the church grew, it got beyond what one person could track. We needed to develop a more systematic approach for how to incorporate people and help them build relationships. The informal ways weren’t working anymore. Too many people just weren’t being noticed.

Time for flexibility

So what I did was designate informal welcomers in addition to our official greeters. These welcomers would sit in various spaces around the worship service and keep an eye out for people who were new. They would then talk with the newcomers and invite them out to brunch (our service was at 8:30am), including one additional person or family who was already established in the church and seemed to have something in common with the newcomers. For example, if the newcomers had pre-school-aged children, the informal welcomer would invite the family out to a casual brunch place along with another family from the church that had pre-school-aged children. Most people find it easiest to connect and have conversations when there is an obvious point of commonality.

Then a week or two later, the person or family who was already part of the church and was included would be expected to invite the newcomers out for brunch again, this time including another person or family from the church who fit a similar demographic. In this way, newcomers– in the course of a few weeks– met at least three other people from the church.

So here’s the formula:

  • A invites B and includes C. A couple of weeks later, C invites B and includes D.
  • A = informal welcomer
  • B = newcomer
  • C = established person/family in the church
  • D = other established person/family in the church

The approach was very strategic, yet felt completely informal, natural, and relational. It created a spirit of welcoming and a network of relationships, and worked brilliantly for assimilation during that season of our church plant. This strategy also had the advantage of spreading the relational load rather than leaving it all to the pastor, it was readily reproducible and spreadable, and it made use of the natural gifts of the welcomers– who were often people who were relatively new themselves and had a vested interest in getting to know more people in the community.

Time for adaptability

I found that the best people to put in charge of this ministry were relative newcomers themselves. They still had a strong desire to build more relationships in the church. As they got to know more and more people, they would “retire” from that ministry (unless they had particular giftings for it) with a strong network of relationships, and left some newer arrivals to reach out to newcomers.

This story illustrates the power of adapting to growth in ways that reorganize and internationalize systems, while also developing more people in their giftedness.

More Resources:

Change Management Series- These resources were developed to help you or those you coach assess and grow in the ability to anticipate and respond effectively to change.

The Church Planting Journey- This newly released book is a comprehensive guide for the church planter. It is the culmination of experience that includes being a church planter myself, and coaching and consulting church planters for more than 40 years. You will find wisdom, systems, and processes that can help you launch well as well as sustain your unique vision and call within the pages of The Church Planting Journey. NOW AVAILABLE FOR KINDLE!

The Church Planter Assessment- Are you thinking about church planting or are already in the process? The Church Planter Behavioral Assessment is a valuable tool that measures flexibility and adaptability along with 12 other core competencies. To learn more about how you can be assessed email us at