Josh Hunt
Breakout churches 


Part #2

Last week we explored 3 qualities of Breakout Churches:

  • A certain kind of leader--tough but gentle.
  • A certain kind of motivation created by an ABC moment. Willing to face reality, this leader knows precisely how the organization is doing.
  • A certain kind of team (What John Maxwell calls the law of the inner circle.)

This week, I would like to explore the remaining four qualities of Breakout Churches.

  • Vision
  • Excellence
  • Innovation
  • The Big MO


Both breakout churches and non-breakout churches have visions, or say they do. So, what is the difference?

In Jim Collins's book, Good to Great, on which Breakout Churches was modeled, Collins writes that the good to great companies found vision in the intersection of three circles:

  • What are we passionate about?
  • What can we be the best in the world at?
  • What can we make money doing?

In a similar way, Rainer found that breakout churches found vision in the intersection of three circles:

  • Leadership passion
  • Community needs
  • Passion/ gifts of the congregation

An interesting finding regarding vision is that "Breakout Churches have little concern about discovering the vision for their church." (page 111). It is like the vision comes to them. Something percolates out of their heart and experience that is just something they were born to do. They don't go looking for the vision; the vision finds them.

The vision is easily communicated. They are memorable. They are short. (My vision meets this quality. I can state it in one word: DOUBLE.) In contrast, the comparison church's visions, "looked like a manual from an engineering school."

The breakout churches were focused. They concentrated on doing a few things well. In contrast, the comparison churches had more ministries, but were more scattered.


Here is my observation, based on being in 100 or so churches a year. At growing churches the preaching tends to be a little better, the music a little more inspirational, the building a little cleaner. They just do things better, with more care and precession.

The Bible says, "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings. He will not serve before obscure men." Proverbs 22.29

I have written in another place about the value of training in creating excellence.  It is one way we can create excellence in our churches.

"Central Christian Church has never been satisfied with 'being satisfied.'" This kind of attitude was common with the breakout churches but not so much with the comparison churches. (Page 132)

"The breakout stories of excellence seem endless. Many have to do with facilities. Indeed, the leaders of breakout churches often chide themselves for failing to build sufficient space or to construct quality space. A clear and discernable difference is apparent when one drives to or walks on the campus of a breakout church versus a comparison church. A culture of excellence is evident in the facilities and grounds." (page 134)

Breakout churches did not attain excellence through autocratic leadership. Rainer describes the breakout churches as "quadrant two" organizations. That is, they were marked by high freedom and high expectation. See page 138 for details.

One way excellent organizations achieve excellence is in prioritizing what they will and will not do. The not-to-do list is as important as the to-do list.

Innovative Accelerators

There is an old missions story that illustrates the point of this section. Missionaries used to have to row a small boat for a full day up the Amazon River to preach to one particular tribe. Mission Aviation Fellowship came along and said, "We can get you in there in 2 hours." "Oh no," came the reply, "this is what I am called to do."

What are you called to? Rowing or preaching?

Breakout churches used innovation and technology to accelerate their growth. Innovation and technology won't cause your church to grow; they can keep your church from growing.

In applying innovation, Breakout Churches avoided two extremes. They did not  push innovation on the church and run roughshod over the people. Nor were they timid and give up on innovation too easily. They worked with people using effective leadership skills to implement the desired innovation. Success is often a careful balance.

Innovation was not adopted willy-nilly. It had to fit with the vision. Innovation was not the vision; it was the means of accomplishing the vision, or a means of accelerating the vision. Breakout churches were not members of the vision of the week club. It was not ministry by whatever conference the preacher attended last.

Rainer includes a significant section on the Purpose Driven Church and the contribution of Rick Warren. Like me, he has seen countless churches benefit from this campaign. If you have not been through this campaign, I highly recommend it.

Five of the thirteen breakout churches had experienced a complete relocation. This is nearly 40%. Compared to the overall number of relocations, this is highly significant and squares with my experience. I have been in many churches that have relocated and every one of them are glad they did and experienced significant growth after the relocation. One church went from 3000 to 6000 in one year.

Big MO

I asked a pastor of a doubling church one time, "What did you do in the first six months to create momentum?"


I was looking for something more spiritual

"Paint?" I needed more information.

"Yeah, paint. We painted the place. You wouldn't believe how much difference a coat of paint can make. We painted, people got excited, good things happened."

The story illustrates the power of getting momentum going.

I think the best story in the Good to Great book is in the chapter "The Flywheel and the Doom Loop". It is quite dramatic the way Collins tells it, but let me give you the short version here.

Imagine a guy pushing on a great wheel--a huge rock wheel. He pushes and pushes and pushes so that at the end of the day he has pushed the wheel maybe one revolution. But, he has little momentum. The night crew comes in and continues to push the wheel. They push and push and push and because they have the advantage of some momentum, they are able to push the wheel two revolutions. Then the grave yard shift--four revolutions. Each shift that comes in pushes and pushes and pushes. Because of the momentum of the previous workers, each shift is able to push the wheel a little more than the last. After a while, the wheel is really spinning. It is spinning so fast that it spins many times a day, just on its own momentum.

Then someone asks: "Which push was the key push?"

Get it?

There is no one key. Breaking out is about doing a hundred things right over a long period of time.

Everywhere I go people are looking for THE KEY to church growth. There is no key. There is no silver bullet. It is about doing a thousand things right. It is about preaching well, and having good music and a well staffed preschool and well trained teachers and a staff that gets along and adequate parking and so forth. It is about doing good outreach and good assimilation and good discipleship and good teaching and good worship. And, it is about doing all of these things over a long period of time.

A little side note: many of the breakout churches enjoyed a much longer pastoral tenure than the comparison churches.

In contrast to the BIG MO, comparison churches were often experiencing blind erosion. Rainer points out that very seldom are churches actually plateaued. They are either growing or declining. They were either living or dying. Many churches, because they did not buy into the reality principle thought they were plateaued. In reality they were dying a slow death. Because they did not, "Know well the condition of their flock," they didn't know they were dying.

Again, let me recommend you read both Breakout Churches by Thom Rainer and the book that inspired it, Good to Great, by Jim Collins.










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