When was the last time you went to church? If you fall in line with most statistics it may not have been recently. Or maybe you attend three days a week. Even so, at best, church growth is stagnant. At worst it’s in a free fall. Research recently released by Barna suggests that while most Americans still identify as Christian (as much as 73%), church attendance and the ways individuals practice Christianity offer a bleaker picture. But why? Tyler Reagin, Executive Director of Catalyst Atlanta asserts the culprit is lack of leadership, and he’s committed to turning things around through encouraging, building up, and equipping leaders especially those within the Church.
Reagin readily acknowledges that the church is all over the map. “If you look at the church landscape right now, the church is not growing. No main line denomination in North America is growing. It’s not an issue of great preaching. In my opinion, it’s an issue of great leadership. Most people are walking away from faith not because of Jesus–they’re walking away, because of the people who represent Jesus. For us at Catalyst, literally our heartbeat is–we want the church to be the best run organization on the planet.”
Thousands of people attend Catalyst Leadership events each year.
Reagin is responsible for the flagship event, Catalyst Atlanta, which has grown significantly over the last 16 years and is typically held in early October. Similar events are scheduled all over the country, but they don’t just happen. Effectively pulling off events like Catalyst Atlanta held inside Infinite Energy Center in Northern Atlanta requires a highly finessed cooperative effort of paid staff and volunteers. As such, effectively leading an organization dedicated to supporting faith-based leaders, and pulling off one of the nation’s largest leadership conferences takes the right kind of leadership, logistics planning, and organization.
Leadership like that takes a great deal of introspection, self-assessment, and self-acceptance. For Tyler Reagin, it took “realizing that the way he is wired as a leader is ok”, and an understanding that the way he’s wired is purposeful and even necessary to carry out his own purpose.
As Executive Director, Reagin oversees 11 events in addition to coaching development for Catalyst staff, but the challenge doesn’t scare him. According to Reagin it’s a lot, but effective leaders set priorities. In addition to the events “there’s some fun stuff in the works,” but he maintains, “While our investment in leaders and the team takes a huge chunk of my time, I’ve got 2 boys, 9 and 6. And my wife (Carrie), and those 2 guys is where I try and focus a lot of my extra attention.”
Aside from spending time with family or his extended family, (the Catalyst Team), the bulk of Reagin’s focus is spent developing leaders and finding ways to help them realize their potential contributions and purpose as leaders.
Catalyst is committed to five attributes. The most prominent and the “constant” as Reagin describes it, is obviously leadership, but the other four attributes are creativity, change, courage and unity and typically these rotate year-by-year. This year’s focal topic fell around the “Unity” attribute leading to the theme “Uncommon Fellowship,” supporting the notion that the church is stronger when it works through important issues together, and that it consists of diverse groups of people. The agenda was packed with panels, nationally known speakers like Mike Foster, Judah Smith, Craig Groeschel, and Jen and Brandon Hatmaker, Jenny Yang, Scott Sauls, Brian Houston, and rapper and spoken word artist, Propaganda, along with intimate “lab sessions” focused around racial reconciliation, guarding against division, and other challenging issues the church is facing right now, all related to scripture and corporate worship.
Interestingly the unity theme happens to be coinciding with a particularly difficult national election, but Reagin says it wasn’t planned around that. “As believers we’ve never put our trust in government. I just watch God orchestrate this stuff all the time. It blows my mind.” An example of that orchestration he points out is the scheduling of Simon Sinek, a much sought after leadership expert and speaker. “Simon’s one of my favorite leaders, but I had no idea once we booked him that he released a children’s book two weeks before Catalyst Atlanta, called “Together is Better.”
“Honestly, I wish I could say it was more strategic. It’s a combination of being on our knees going ‘God, what do we need to talk about?’ And watching Him help us believe that together, and …a lot of hard work.”
Reagin has a passion for new and upcoming leaders and stresses the importance of having confidence, experiencing coaching, and recognizing their uniqueness in leadership and purpose. He believes that lack of confidence often delays a leader’s potential impact. “Truthfully. Insecure leaders just don’t have followings for a long period of time.” He suggests that until they’ve become more comfortable with themselves it’s going to be harder getting to that point “when you can show up day in and day out, and be the leader you’re wanting to be and the leader they expect to show up. We’re in this, because there’s a bunch of heroes, who need to be reminded to not be insecure, because the gospel tells us we have victory in Jesus.”
Currently, Reagin leads a Catalyst team under age 40. His sense of responsibility and obligation to coach and mentor them is palpable. He stresses his responsibility, obligation, and desire to develop and coach them. “If there’s one thing I can give them as a staff at this stage in their careers, it’s to coach the heck out of them, and make them understand this is how God made them. I want to say, ‘Are you kidding me? Did you see that? You know that came natural to you. None of us even thought about that.”
It’s his desire to take what he’s learned from past experiences and help others realize their own uniqueness.
“My life’s message and passion is that we as Christian leaders, recognize that we are uniquely made for unique purposes. I’ve spent the last 12 years pulling out the uniqueness of the people on my team, and pulling out the uniqueness of the people around me saying, ‘Look at that. Are you kidding me? You’re the only one on our 25 person staff that does that. We need that from you. You are loved, just exactly how you are. Now go and love other people like that.”
At the same time, Reagin laments that many leaders are chasing other people’s uniqueness and that churches are chasing other church’s uniqueness.
“They’re losing, because they’re chasing the wrong things. What I know is God has said ‘I know who you are. I put you together. I put the bone to bone, muscle to muscle. I built you. I have knit you together for a unique calling. We are his masterpieces. At the end of the day, the best leaders on the planet are the ones who are okay with themselves. Our unique calling is absolutely connected to our unique wirings and our unique purposes.”
Tyler Reagin is an uncommon leader, inarguably unique possessing a love for coaching and developing more leaders, particularly church leaders. He is authentic, and funny, and dedicated, and confident, but not arrogant. It’s obvious he’s worked through the years to understand who he is so he can live out his purpose. As long as there are leaders like Tyler Reagin committed to building up more leaders, and as long as organizations like Catalyst are building up, edifying, equipping and encouraging those faith leaders, then no matter what the media says about faith, no matter what the latest research shows, the church is most assuredly not doomed.
Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator, a former K12 principal and teacher, and a former US Congressional staffer. He’s also an author and blogger, and has presented from Appalachia to Africa on topics related to education, disabilities, non-profit advocacy, parenting, access, policy, and leadership. He has a heart for people and for people who help people. In addition to the Huffington Post, Chester is a contributing writer for The Good Men Project and has been quoted in major media outlets like CNBC, Washington Post, Forbes and more. He’s also the author of Purple People Leader.