Dan is the the Executive Pastor of 12 Stone Church in Georgia. He’s been known as the “pastors’ coach” because he provides practical and encouraging insights for pastors across the country. In this episode Dan provides help specifically for pastors leading smaller churches. It’s packed with some great nuggets of wisdom and “next steps” for churches looking to make an impact on their community regardless of their size! We’re so glad to have Dan on the show!
Interview Highlights //
00:50 // Dan was mentored by John Maxwell and now serves at 12Stone Church in Atlanta.
01:10 // He left the Pacific for the Chatahoochee River
01:37 // 12Stone is an 8 year old church with a 25 year history
03:05 // Aside from the favor of God, church growth depends on leadership
03:59 // 3 Key Tensions in larger churches
04:17 // Spirit over Systems
04:40 // Relationships over Results
04:54 // Mission over Machine
05:39 // Life Change is more important than the size of a church
06:50 // Three drivers missing from churches that aren’t growing
08:40 // Prayer – Passion not Program
12: 09 // Evangelism – Community not Classroom
14:16 // Leadership Development – Simple and Consistent
18:18 // Generally people prefer smaller church environments
19:55 / Smaller Churches have more potential in the areas of personal care and discipleship
21:47 // Dan challenges smaller churches to ‘lean out’ their ministries
Lightning Round Highlights
Book Worth Reading // ‘Boundaries for Leaders’ by Henry Cloud
Inspiring Leader // Billy Graham
What does he do for fun? // Guitar player and collector
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Alright, well welcome to the unSeminary Podcast. My name’s Rich Birch. So glad that you have decided to spend some time with us today. We have a real treat on the show today. We have Dan Reiland from 12Stone Church. Super glad to have you on the show today Dan.
Dan – Thanks! It’s great to be with you today Rich. I’m looking forward to our time together.
Rich – Thank you so much. Now Dan, for folks that don’t know you, or your ministry or the church you are at, why don’t you give us a bit of your context. Tell us a little bit about where you are.
Dan – Sure. Well I’m a transplant from SanDiego. I’ve been in Atlanta Georgia now for 17 years. With John Maxwell for 20 years in ministry but now with 12Stone Church, a multi-site, 4 campuses and I’ve been here, can you believe it, 12 and a half years and I serve as exec. pastor.
Rich – Wow. Not a lot of people leave SanDiego and go anywhere. That must have been the call of the Lord.
Dan – You know what. When you trade the Pacific Ocean for the Chatahoochee River, you know that’s God.
Rich – Absolutely. That’s amazing. As beautiful as the Chatahoochee is.
Dan – When it’s actually moving you mean.
Rich – Right! Nice, that’s fantastic. So why don’t you tell us, flesh it out a little bit more. Tell us about Twelve Stone. You’re multiple campuses. Give us a sense of the ministry for people who haven’t heard about it before.
Dan – Ya. Well, the church is 25 years old. The founding pastor, Kevin Myers is still here and yet we feel in many ways that we re-birthed it about 8 years ago when we built another building, went multi-site and changed the name. We did a lot of radical, radical moves and so we kind of like to say it’s an 8 year old church, or 9 year old church with 25 years of history. And you know we, there’s a lot of creative energy in our worship services. Passion for evangelism. And of course with both Kevin and I being mentored by John Maxwell, leadership development is a dominant theme. But there is nothing we get more excited about than when people come to know Christ. Period. Bottom line.
Rich – Absolutely.
Dan – Of course with Easter coming we are at 21 services coming, something like that, and we are fired up!
Rich – That’s amazing! That will be great! For folks who don’t know, we are recording this right before Easter. So Dan I really appreciate you giving us time, busy schedule and all that. Tricky time leading up to that. Now clearly you are leading, a fairly large church. It’s a growing, thriving ministry, Dan, when you think about the big church, small church dichotomy, why is it that some churches grow and other’s don’t?
Dan – Well, I think for me, I always start with this sort of foundational thought. And that is, next to the favor of God, you’ve got to start there, next to God’s favor…And I’m not revealing a theological platform there, although we could go there if you want. But next to the favor of God, everything rises and falls on leadership. I really believe that. So without indicting anybody, I look at myself the same way, I think if there is a problem, and the church isn’t growing, the place we’ve got to start is with the leader.
Rich – So you mean the senior leader, the structure, the way the church is structured from a leadership point of view? What do you think?
Dan – Ya, I think, if we really believe that everything rises and falls on leadership, next to the favor of God, I think we’ve got to start with the senior leader, with the senior staff, that group, because…that does mean the person is a bad leader, that just means that’s where we go uncover things. And in the larger church context, typically we will find a breakdown somewhere in one of key tensions. The three big ones we always look at and examine and ask ourselves questions are the tensions of: Spirit over Systems (Holy Spirit over systems, because systems are important. You’ve got to have them but the Spirit has got to be over them). Relationships over Results. And Mission over Machine. Because the systems want to take over. They want to squelch the Spirit. But you’ve got to fight to keep the Holy Spirit prominent. Results, we clammer for results, we drive for results and results are important, results matter, Kingdom results matter, but Relationships stay on top. And the third one we really wrestle with all the time is Mission over Machine because the machine will take over. It will gobble up the church. Even in small churches, the machine is just busyness. In a large church it’s obviously a bit different, but either one, if you don’t wrestle them down, they will just eat your lunch.
Rich – So now, there’s a lot of church leaders that are listening in from smaller churches, what would your advice be on the kind of things they should be focussing their leadership on. If they are really looking to grow, you have given us some great tensions there, what are some things they could be, should be focussing on.
Dan – For the smaller churches?
Rich – Ya.
Dan – Well, I could give a long list. I will give you a few at a time, and you tell me if I am out of time. I think it sort of begins with how you think and sort of shifting, and I don’t want to sound contradictory, but focusing on the fact that really it’s about life change, not about the size of the church. Honestly, candidly, I would rather see a church of 64 become a church of 70, with 10 or 15 salvations that year, than I would see a church that’s 500 and stay 500 or went to 600 and no one got saved. No marriages got transformed. Nothing happened. So I think that’s a good, that’s not an excuse, it’s just a place of how to think. So with that I like to ask key questions: is the Gospel being taught, is there a vision for reaching lost people, are lives being changed? Kind of that overriding top notch kind of thinking. Once you sort of establish that and of course we could talk a lot about that. Once it’s established, there are 3 things I always want to talk about anytime I get to talk to a leader of particularly a small church. I will just list them for you and then we can talk about them as much as you want because we could spend hours on all of them. But they really are the three drivers. One is Prayer, second is Evangelism, and third is Leadership Development. And what surprises me, and I don’t travel as much these days, but when I did have time, full time in fact with Maxwell and InJoy, those three things when I was in the smaller churches, were the three things there were the least of.
Rich – Interesting.
Dan – They were busy. They were discipling. They were preaching. They were visiting. They were good people. They were fellowshipping. They were having dinner on the grounds. But when I looked for evidence, I mean prayer, outreach and leadership development. I couldn’t find it. Dominantly couldn’t find it.
Rich – Absolutely. Interesting, I met with a church just last week. They are coming to the end really. They are down to single digit number of people attending on a Sunday and they are trying to figure out what they do next. They’ve come to that. They are trying to figure out what it looks like. It’s sad, they are talking about disposing of assets and that sort of stuff. It’s a tough conversation. But what would you say…let’s walk through those. Let’s say I am leading a church and I want to turn up the prayer temperature, what are some initial steps? No one is going to say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to pray.’ No one’s going to say that. What are some steps you could take on that front?
Dan – Great Rich. And here too are my great risk at saying prayer and evangelism. Ya, ya. Duh, duh. This is what it’s about and it gives. So the first question, the first think is, it needs to be Passion not Program. Too often I find, and again all prayer is great, obviously. But I will find a prayer chain, a telephone chain or a prayer meeting and I am just going to be blunt if that’s ok, the prayer meeting is more about sharing prayer requests and talking than it is about prayer. And so I would encourage leaders to first examine their own prayer lives. Not about guilt. Not about do you rise and fall in the morning. Nothing like that. But is your prayer life robust and on fire. Second, do you have environments and places where you pray, I’ll give you an example for us, where you pray intensely for your ministry, but it’s not a program, and you don’t even care how many people are there necessarily. They are more organic and it’s just part of the life of the church. For example, for years and years and years, I mean decades really because of Kevin, a few leaders, and really not a lot maybe 20-25 leaders, would gather every Saturday night for one hour to pray over every chair in the auditorium, pray over the message, asking God to come, the Holy Spirit to show up, literally walking the room, praying over the message, praying over the chairs, asking God to just do His work for an hour, we never, ever, ever miss. Now, because we have gone to multi-site, because we have gone to Saturday night services, now it is on Saturday morning at 7:30 because we have to do it before obviously. But that’s an example. Another example is that we have prayer warriors that pray through the service, during the service, every service. So those are the kinds of things that are more intense about the ministry, rather than ‘a prayer meeting’.
Rich – Absolutely. Ya, I think a part of something to capture there, a lot of times when I have seen behind the curtain of growing, thriving churches, there is that kind of private prayer stuff, like you are saying. The 7:30 in the morning. I was talking to a church just this morning who, it just kind of fell out of this leader, they were saying a part of their Sunday morning ritual of the church they are in…they are multi-site, they were meeting in a movie theatre, and the same thing. The worship team comes a few minutes early so they can pray through every space that they meet in. That’s a private thing. It’s not seen by people in the church.
Dan – It’s not seen.
Rich – People like lights and cameras and all that stuff, but this prayer behind the scenes is critically important.
Dan – And our board, is the same thing. We will spend a huge chunk of our board meeting in prayer. No one ever sees that. We will move rooms and just really get into intent prayer. One other thing I would love to share on the prayer thing is Kevin never instituted it, and I would never either, but he’s never instituted it for the staff as a mandatory thing. And I really appreciate that. In other words, this is what we do, this is here, these are the environments that gather and huddle up and you are obviously all invited, but there’s no mandate. Let your heart mandate it.
Rich – Absolutely! So evangelism. That’s some good handles there on prayer. Evangelism. What are some steps that churches could say ‘Hey, we want to take new steps in outreach.’ What would you say?
Dan – I would say right off the top, get out of the classroom and get into the community. I think we often, and I did this for many, many years I want to recommend that you don’t, is 27 more classes on apologetics and how to win someone to Christ, and you know what, no criticism. I did it. They are good stuff. I love RCIM, great ministries, great stuff. But really, I think we should all tip our hat to Andy Stanley when he taught us to invest and invite and that’s it! Just go make a friend and invite them to church. We tell our people that if you’ll invite someone to church, you are an evangelist.
Rich – Absolutely.
Dan – Get them into a faith producing environment. So I would say, get out of the classroom and get into the community, make a friend, invite them to church. Don’t make it complicated. Just don’t make it complicated.
Rich – One of those things, I am sure you have seen it in your own life, I’ve seen it in my life…when you bring someone who don’t normally attend church, to your church, it’s amazing how you see everything differently. Right? You start to see the church through a different lens and that’s a powerful tool for church leaders.
Dan – Powerful tool, powerful tool. I think leaders, we care about different things when visitors show up.
Rich – Ya it’s funny. Our next door neighbor, it was one of those, we’ve been inviting her for years, and then all of a sudden one Saturday, she calls and says,”Is it ok if I come with you to church tomorrow? We we are like ‘Yes, that is ok.’ It was funny because you know, I don’t know about at 12Stone, but you know, we have big days every year that are super important. Obviously any weekend is a great weekend to show up for the first time, but the particular weekend she was coming, there wasn’t really any big thing going on. It was a normal weekend. And I remember thinking I wish she would have come at the beginning of the series, but amazing how clarifying it is. But it is, great next step! What about Leadership Development. That’s a huge area obviously. Very important. What are some steps that a small church could take in this area. Some initial baby steps in Leadership Development.
Dan – Absolutely. Two words and then 3 little steps. And honestly, what I share is the foundation of everything we do here. It would be much more involved and much more elaborate. But two words to grab hold of would be Simplicity and Consistency. If you don’t make it simple, you are going to quit. I promise you are going to stop. You’ve got to have leaders in the nursery. You’ve got to write a message. The stuff that you’ve got to do, I promise will crowd out the stuff that you don’t have to do. You don’t have to leadership development. ‘We’ll do it next month, we’ll do it next month. We’ll go to Catalyst and we’ll call it good.’
Rich – So true.
Dan – Well Catalyst is awesome but that’s not the answer. So make it simple or you won’t do it. And keep it consistent because if you don’t stay consistent, steady, steady, steady. Not a big program, not a sexy event but steady, steady, steady. If you don’t stay consistent, you won’t see the results. So simplicity get’s you consistency. Consistency gets you results. You’ve got to do Simplicity and Consistency. So this is how simple it is. you a re going to go ‘Really!?’ But I promise if we unpack, which we probably don’t have time for, the depth of which we do it here, this is at the bottom of it, really for me 25 years of doing this. Get a Group. Pick a Book. Ask 2 Questions. That’s it. Get a group. Pick a Book. Ask 2 Questions. So unpack that really quick and then if you want to go farther with that we can. Get a Group is just as it seems. Whether you huddle up 5 people, 15 people and they are, they could be staff, they could be none staff. In the case of a smaller church, your staff could be all volunteers. It maybe a combo. It’s just you grab your leaders or your potential leaders, your top group, put them together, meet once a month, I recommend once a month. And huddle up for a leadership conversation. Second, pick a great book. And there’s only a gazillion of them out there of great leadership books. And literally you can do anything from knock the entire book in discussion out in two hours, or my recommendation would be something like knock out a chapter or a section per month. You’re just digging through the book. Climbing through the book. A great conversation together. I think the leader of course, he or she is going to bring nuggets and thoughts to the table. And we’ve brought it too a place where we do an hour teaching on the book. But don’t start there because if you don’t start simple you won’t keep doing it. Then the 2 Questions, and obviously you can write 39 questions, just do 2 and you can pull it off really well. What are you learning? Talk about throughout the chapter, with everyone, what are you learning? And second, How are you applying it to your ministry or to your life in general. What are you learning? And how are you applying it? Honestly, that’s it. Get a group. Pick a Book. Ask 2 Questions. If you’ll do that for a long, long, long time with multiple groups…oh my gosh.
Rich – Right! It will make a huge difference. You will get good traction off of that. Definitely.
Dan – Tons. Massive!
Rich – Nice. Now what would you say, what are some advantages that a small church has over a large church? You know if you are sitting in a large church and you are saying ‘I really wish we were a small group for these reasons…’ What would that be?
Dan – You can get in and out of the parking lot a whole lot easier. You would be surprised how much we spend on police officers and how neighbors get at us. For real, they love our, some people leave our central campus to go to our smaller ones because they can get in and our of the parking lot.
Rich – That’s true.
Dan – That’s serious but more seriously, I would say again, start with how you think. And when you start with how you think, I would share, remember that more people prefer smaller churches than people prefer larger churches. And so we don’t have to apologize and we don’t have to feel bad and large churches always start small. But people in general, across America, actually prefer a smaller environment, because they can negotiate it better. They can navigate it better. The truth is, if they could have all the talent and leadership of a large church, in a small church they would take that. And that’s why I think campus ministry is flourishing because you are getting these churches shipping that quality to these smaller venues and people love it! So I think some of the more listy kinds of things that come to mine are one, it’s local. It’s much more in the community. They can see what God’s up to. They can see an immediate need. They can jump in on an immediate need and make a real live impact. And the more you do that, the more the reputation of the church is up that as a church that matters, as a church that’s changing lives. I think another one is that they are more agile. They can move faster. It’s the difference between the, 12Stone is more like a aircraft carrier. It’s strong, it’s powerful, but it moves slow. Where the smaller church has more of a ski boat vibe.
Rich – Ya, totally.
Dan – They can turn fast and move fast, and respond fast, and change fast, and flip and do things, and that’s really good. I think the obvious one is relationships. Even the best of the best of larger churches, we struggle sometimes, and ‘Who are you and what’s your name?’ We struggle sometimes and it’s hard when their’s 15 thousand people. But the relationship aspect which steps into another one, personal care. People, a pastor and staff and board, the ability to personally care for. Another one, I will give one more, discipleship. One of the great, great tensions in a larger church is discipleship becomes complicated. And we get criticisms of being surface and those kinds of things. We work hard, and we did hard and we own that problem, own that issue. But in an smaller environment, there is nothing that stops you from deep and profound discipleship with pretty much anyone in the church that wants to.
Rich – Exactly. I’ve served in fairly large churches over the year. I went through, actually it was a privilege, I was able to go through a number of exit interviews as people were leaving our church and going to another church. We were trying to be proactive and listen and learn. And it was interesting, in all of those conversations people weren’t leaving our fairly large church and going to another fairly large church. They were always choosing a much smaller triple digets, 100 person church. Which was a profound lesson. I’m like, we get caught up in the program that a large church can give you, but it wasn’t, at least in that case, it wasn’t what people were choosing. Is there anything else you would like to share with people before we jump into the Lightning Round?
Dan – Maybe one or two other things. We can go just short if you want. I really encourage leaders of smaller churches to lean out their ministry. There is a direct correlation, I will go quick on this, there is a direct correlation between the size of small churches and how many ministries they have. I will give you an example, true lives and of course we were teaching in a part of a masters program. There was a church of 104 people in the church and 54 ministries.
Rich – Oh my goodness. Wow!
Dan – And they said, ‘Well, I don’t know why we are stuck?’ And I said, ‘I know why you are stuck, no one church can do everything. You’ve got to pare it down.’ The fastest growing churches are very, very lean and we need to get freed up to realize you don’t have to do everything. God doesn’t want you to do everything. I would recommend the book if this is a struggle and they need to pare down, I would recommend Thom Rainer’s book, ‘Simple Church’.
Rich – Great book,
Dan – That’s a great tool you’ve got to get a hold of and wrestle down. How you do that of course is a very careful process. You don’t just stand from the pulpit and say, ‘We are going to lean it out!’ You might be the one out. But it’s a slow, slow, steady process. And I would just offer one step. Stop adding. That’s the first, just stop adding. And they slowly begin pruning out the less productive, less effective. So that’s one thing I would add. I think it’s really important.
Rich – Absolutely!