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Learning Growth From Great Leaders

Here’s an interesting conundrum to think about: Each year, thousands of churches close in the United States. Conversely, the number of megachurches around the country is exploding. How can both be true?

I see this clearly in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. The church in which I grew up dwindled in attendance throughout the last decade, finally closing at the end of last year. The church I attend now is growing rapidly, though, and a half-dozen other churches around town are growing almost more quickly than they can manage. The largest church in the area has expanded to numerous campuses, including outposts in smaller suburbs surrounding the city.

It can be difficult to make sense of these contradictory trends. The core message and mission of most American churches is the same. And even within each distinct worship tradition, some local congregations are dying while others are thriving. What can explain that disparity?

I can come to only one conclusion: leadership.

Every growing church I know has great leaders with crystal-clear vision and intense focus. Dying churches, however, often see a lot of turnover in their pastoral staff. And if they do have veteran leaders in place, those people, well-meaning though they may be, don’t have the leadership skills to turn the ship around.

Interestingly, there are similar trends in the group travel industry. I get to talk to group travel planners around the country, and I frequently hear one of two stories: either the group has an aging and shrinking membership, or it is growing quickly. And the major tour companies in the industry are posting impressive numbers right now, with many saying that 2018 is on track to be their best year ever.

If people are still traveling in groups, why are some groups struggling? Again, the problem comes down to leadership.

With the right leader, any travel group has the potential to thrive or even grow. And if you want to be a great leader, you should start by doing what great leaders do.

In churches and travel groups alike, great leaders focus on their vision. They have a clearly defined reason for what they do, and they don’t lose sight of it. An organization without a specific vision will not thrive in the long term.

Great leaders also focus on visitors. They don’t limit the scope of their activities to those their current fans will like. Instead, they intentionally do things to attract new audiences, even if that means catering less to the tastes of longtime members.

Finally, great leaders focus on the future. They appreciate the ideas and successes that have brought their organizations to where they are, but they aren’t tied to the past. They are willing to try new things, abandon what no longer works and make costly investments for the sake of future success.

Like the mission of the church itself, the mission of church group travel is not changing. The question is, what kind of leader are you going to be?

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.