This is a “kairos moment” for Foursquare, according to Foursquare President Glenn Burris Jr., as the church presses hard into the Reimagine process intended to renew and reshape it for the future.
“God has challenged us to re-imagine going forward as a church that is relevant and relational; a church that has been restored to its apostolic beginnings,” Glenn says. “I am convinced that we are not to go back just to our own beginning as a church; we must go back 2,000 years and recapture the values and mission of the New Testament church.”
That divine challenge to “recapture” a New Testament vision in order to guide our future steps is, as Glenn describes it, “a journey of shared discovery.” This collaborative season has brought leaders together from across the nation to gather for our Town Hall meetings. Glenn, along with the executive leadership from the central office, has had the opportunity to share with and hear from local leaders how Foursquare might best be realigned.
It is “a time when God is saying to us to get back to the local church,” Glenn told the 60-plus leaders who attended the Aug. 19 Town Hall meeting in Ocoee, Fla., held at Deeper Life Assembly (Orlando 5 Foursquare Church), one of 21 such gatherings scheduled across the country through November. While the meeting attendance in Ocoee was representative of just one location, estimates are that over 1,500 people have been at part of these Town Hall meetings since they began in Keystone, Colo., on Aug. 7.
Local supervisors, pastors and other church leaders were invited to the events. Their questions, comments and thoughts have been and will continue to be added to the research already gathered. Six committees, officially known as Task Groups, are commissioned to take this gathered information and to look in detail at different aspects of Foursquare organization and life.
“You can’t measure ministry by buildings and money, or by its organization and history,” Glenn said in Ocoee, explaining the missional drive behind Reimagine. “You measure it by the effectiveness of lives that are transformed. The legacy we want to leave is not one of who owned property, but will be about shared mission.”
The Reimagine Process
While holding onto Foursquare’s founding essentials, the Reimagine process has put pretty much everything else on the table. Among the issues being considered are how to more effectively disciple leaders, plant churches, work with every people group and take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Also on the table are conversations about property and financial questions, such as where church tithes should be channeled; legal ones, like whether property titles should be transferred from the national office to local congregations; and organizational concerns, including how the districts and local churches can most effectively relate to and support each other.
Initiated three years ago, and due to bring recommended changes to the 2014 national convention, the scale and reach of this re-evaluation process is unparalleled in Foursquare’s 90-year-plus history. It has included a national survey of Foursquare leaders, an in-depth study of other denominations and networks, an extensive review of trends in church organization and leadership, and broad-ranging discussion by the six aforementioned Task Groups. Set up to look more specifically at different aspects of the movement’s life and structure, these groups will press into discovering how Foursquare will be able to:
- Reclaim spiritual vitality
- Refocus identity
- Re-ignite mission
- Redesign responsibilities
- Realign polity
- Reallocate resources
Embodying the “open-to-input” nature of the Reimagine process, Glenn has responded to questions and concerns raised at the meetings by being willing to make changes, as needed.
For example, after hearing the thoughts and counsel of the Town Hall meetings, two Task Groups were added to the original list of four, due to the need to give specific focus to those two areas: (1) “reclaim our spiritual vitality”; and (2) “re-ignite mission.” Glenn indicated that while the identity and mission deliberations cover some of the same ground, giving separate emphasis to both the need for spiritual vitality and a passion for mission underscores Foursquare’s foundations, he explained.
“We don’t want to lose the distinctive of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “The challenge is to make sure that the spiritual vitality and the mission of the church aren’t compromised. At the end of the day, if we are not living in vital relationship with the Lord, and totally dependent upon Him for our mission, we can become like any nonprofit business that has good intentions.”
Releasing Visionary Leadership
The Reimagine initiative began in 2009 and grew out of initial meetings between national leaders and a group of local pastors who were concerned that the movement’s centralized structure was not a conducive environment for entrepreneurial vision and fresh renewal.
“Some people were having to go around the system to feel like they could do entrepreneurial ministry,” acknowledges General Supervisor Tammy Dunahoo. “We don’t want that; we should be providing systems that support them, not impede them, while having firewalls in place that do not put all of our churches at risk financially or legally.”
A big question in this regard is whether Foursquare’s national office should continue to hold all church titles in common, or look at new ways of giving more authority and management at the local level.
A special Spanish-language Town Hall meeting and online forum has aimed to take into account Foursquare ethnic growth, with as many as 1 in 4 congregations now Hispanic or another immigrant culture. Tammy Dunahoo states that we must find ways to bridge cultural differences and fully empower and resource our ethnic leaders, as they are key to the multiplication of The Foursquare Church in the U.S.
Such textures and layers mean that a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely. Different options may be available, depending on the context. Some Reimagine changes will certainly come more quickly than others, as implementing legal restructuring, for example, could involve several years of disentangling.
Tom DiBucci left the Ocoee Town Hall encouraged by what he heard. “We have to know what the issues are to face them,” said the South Florida divisional superintendent. “It’s really about vision: What is the vision?”
If the exact course for the future is not clear yet, the general direction is observable through changes that have already been implemented. The recent addition of the National Hispanic Council recognizes the increasing importance of the Hispanic church, while administrative changes have aimed to make it easier for Foursquare leaders coming to the U.S. from other countries to get licensed and established.
Streamlining at the central office in Los Angeles has seen operations in the black for the past three years, after running a significant deficit for some time. Staffing there has been reduced significantly, while Foursquare’s church data system, Ezra, is being replaced with a more user-friendly program that reflects different metrics in church reporting, enhancing the capacity to serve the churches in areas of access and communications.
Responding to Emerging Reality
Such shifts indicate that Reimagine is not so much a reaction to a crisis as a response to an emerging reality—the need of a new wineskin. Whether people view the process from a glass-half-empty perspective or one that is glass-half-full, the unifying question is: Are you thirsty for more? Though some may disagree with the pattern that is presented for the new wineskin Foursquare needs, Glenn believes that the movement will be stronger for having engaged in Reimagine.
“This journey has the possibility to much more unify us than to divide us,” he said, clarifying and sharpening Foursquare’s unique place and part in God’s kingdom.
This is a view echoed by the members of the executive team who were involved in the Town Hall meetings. Among them is Ron Thigpenn, Foursquare’s chief financial officer, who referenced Acts 15 in commenting: “At the end of the day, we want to be able to say, ‘It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit’ … and especially the Holy Spirit.”
Also referring to Acts 15, Glenn’s presentation at the Town Hall meetings included a PowerPoint display. On one of the slides, he pointed out a core value that is vital to in the Reimagine process—that there must be the marriage between the prophetic and the practical.
On the one hand, the New Testament church had a mandate from the Lord; on the other hand, they counseled together to decide and to ensure that every obstacle would be removed so that the kingdom of God would advance unimpeded.
To be effective, to realize the dream, to see renewal led by the Holy Spirit released in the movement, Glenn states: “Only when both are engaged will The Foursquare Church realize its God-designed and intended future.”