Interview: Wayne Alcorn

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John Finkelde: Hey folks, it’s great to have Wayne Alcorn on the Members Hub interview. Wayne is the Senior Pastor, the visionary leader of Hope Centre in Brisbane, Australia. A multi-site church that’s over 80 years old. Now Wayne’s not over 80 years old but he’s been the Senior Pastor there since 2000. The church was formerly known as Glad Tidings Tabernacle. He’s also the President of the Australian Christian Churches, one of the largest movements in Australia. He’s a well loved leader, a brilliant communicator both in Australia and beyond. Wayne, welcome to the Members Hub today.

Wayne Alcorn: Thanks John.

John Finkelde: Tell me a few words to describe the feel of your leadership. You’ve been a well established, well known leader for many years. If you could use three words to describe the feel of your leadership, what would those words be?

Wayne Alcorn: Three words? I’m a sanguine!! There’s your three words – I’m a sanguine!!

I’m a people guy and I think church leaders, regardless of their personality and regardless of their gift, they need to remember that we are in the people business. So I am committed to being somebody who leads as a visionary, there’s no doubt. I appreciate administration – I’m not particularly good at it so I put people around me who are good in that area but visionary, people focussed. I’m the kind of leader that I guess would have done well at McDonalds, I like to walk the floor, engage people, empower people.

I tell people regularly, I mean John when you and I met I was running Youth Alive, I had black hair in those days, I spent nearly two decades of my life as a youth evangelist and I think there’s something in me that’s still, there’s a little bit of the evangelist still there and I feel very much that it’s just about engaging with people and empowering them. So that’s my feel.

I think I lead through engaging with people.

John Finkelde: I noticed on your website that your banner is “Because People Matter” which I think is just a great three word simple clear message of what your church is about, what you’re about – that people matter.

Wayne Alcorn: That came from me. When we needed to change our name, not just Glad Tidings Tabernacle which is obviously the one true church but when we went multi-site, just for some real clarity we needed to put it out there exactly who we were.

It’s not an easy thing to find a church name that really fits who you are and I often will be strong on we have a message of hope. I think that’s one of the great needs on the planet is hope and whatever we do, wherever we go we want to present hope and I just wanted to find how we bring that and they said have you got anything. And I said straight off my tongue, I said “because people matter” and it caught, it’s on buses, it’s on vans, it’s on buildings, it’s on our promo and I just think they matter to God, they matter to us, people.

John Finkelde: I love it because it breaks a rule of grammar, starting with the word because. It’s simple, there’s three words, easy to remember and conveys a picture and a message all in one simple three word statement.

Wayne Alcorn: I want to be in a church because people matter. That’s it and that’s what we’re about. Sometimes we get caught up in stuff, I know we as leaders have to oversee building programs, we’ve got to do a lot of stuff but it’s about connecting all of humanity with an amazing God.

John Finkelde: That’s true. As a leader of Australian Christian Churches, a large movement in Australia. Now are you 1200 churches, 1400? What’s your current number of churches?

Wayne Alcorn: Oh you keep going! I like you! No we’re about 1075. Just under 1100 as of the end of last year.

John Finkelde: Awesome! Obviously you have to make significant leadership decisions. What’s your process in making significant leadership decisions?

Wayne Alcorn: That’s a good question. We make decisions on the fly every day. We all get that, we all as preachers have told people that you ultimately are the consequences of the decisions you make and I get that.

But there are some big rocks we have to move. And those big rocks I think nothing happens until I’ve got a conviction in my heart. A sense that this is in line with what God wants for me and for us and so it genuinely does start with some time with God, getting something strong in my heart and I’ll sit on it.

I know it’s in a broader context but in 1 John 2 it says “if our heart condemns us we’re not at peace with God”. If I make a decision, I think for us a lot of energy is lost in just procrastinating on making a decision. So I make one based on a conviction, sit on it for any number of days. It could be 7, it could be more. And I always love to process those things with a team.

I came to this church in late 2000 and I remember a group of elders that were here, that I inherited as a leader, and I appreciated them I said we’re going to journey together and I said I don’t come here asking your permission, I ask for your perspective.

We’ve had a wonderful season of leadership that’s now tracking towards two decades. I think before you process it with a team I think it’s really good, if it’s still growing in your heart to write it down before you talk. Otherwise we can easily get off track.

I like what God says to and through the prophet of Habakkuk. He says “write it down so that people can run with it” and I think just still it and then in the multitude of counsellors there’s safety.

So get a conviction, right it down, sit on it and then ask people to look at it from their perspective and usually you would get a very good outcome.

John Finkelde: That’s a brilliant brilliant process. Obviously you’ve grown over the years. You’ve been leading Youth Alive, now leading a large church in Brisbane for nearly 20 years. How have you increased your capacity as a leader, grown your ability to cope with enlarging in responsibilities such as leading a movement, leading a multi-site church?

Wayne Alcorn: I think you go like the company you keep. I would suggest the number one thing that shapes us is found in those few people that we really truly let into our lives.

Proverbs 27 its says that “iron sharpens iron” so I think I’ve been fairly good over many years now of just allowing people and seeking people to get into my world that I can rub against and it’s like that iron sharpening iron.

I tell young leaders all the time, the people you hang with will give you an edge or they’ll take it off and so get around good people, people of substance. Get around what you want to become. If you feel like you’re not somebody who’s particularly generous, get around generous people. If as a leader you’re not a great evangelist, get around people who’ve just got that gift in winning souls. And so it goes on.

I think always as leaders we need to be resourcing ourselves and I’m quite good at that, getting into the right space – at a conference, read books and other forms of resource. We’re resource rich and yet I’ve been into the offices and homes of many great leaders that have got books everywhere and I ask them about a book and they say “Oh I bought it but I never read it”. They won’t do us any good just by buying it. It’s not some supernatural impartation.

I think the other one John, I don’t think we give enough credit to just the benefits of saying yes. I am convinced that we’re never ready for the next big thing God wants to take us into and I think just by saying yes God stretches us, He graces us and He actually truly by his spirit empowers us

You’ve talked about Youth Alive, I was in my mid 20’s preaching to crowds of 5,000 and then 10,000 people and I’ve got to be honest I hadn’t even read the whole Bible! That’s the truth. It’s like talk about dependent on God and to be honest in stepping into those things, those spaces and moments those become your new normal and you build from that.

The great leaders over my life that I’ve followed in local churches in movements, whether it’s a state. I was given an opportunity one of the great prophets in our land, in our state and the responsibility in my 30’s of leading 250 churches and now obviously in my 50’s to lead 1000 +  in our nation and the countless numbers that we’re planting overseas, that’s not even part of it but I think all those times my capacity was growing by simply saying yes and continually moving forward into those opportunities and you get there and all of a sudden you realise that there is a new mantle and there’s a new grace and it actually takes a lot of the striving out when you start to just step into those moments with God’s help.

John Finkelde: Say a young leader wanting to connect with an older more experienced leader, what advice would you give to them to make that connection. Maybe a 25 year old who sees a 40-45 year old who’s well ahead of them in the leadership stakes if you like,  what would you say to that 25 year old – hey if you want to connect with this older guy, this is what you should do.

Wayne Alcorn: You are full of good questions today John! I’m glad you asked that because I’ve been down that track many times. Here’s a few thoughts off the top of my head.

Don’t be needy. Don’t turn up acting all I’m needy etc. Turn up confident without being arrogant. Celebrate what that person has rather than what you think you are. You pay for a coffee or lunch. Lead with generosity, lead with honour and if they finally agree, you be prepared for that meeting. Don’t just sit and stare at them goggle eyed, you’re in the presence of greatness.

I’d rather people wasted my money rather than waste my time so we get a limited number of opportunities to do that in any given week or month so if a leader that obviously has caught your attention that has admirable attributes is obviously a busy person, don’t waste their time. You’ll probably at best be given an hour, maximise it. Turn up with questions.

I tell people the calibre of a leader is measured by the questions they ask. If you get an opportunity to meet with a key leader don’t waste their time by sitting there telling them how good you are. Seriously, I have had people and I’ve agreed to have those lunches and I sit there and I look at my watch thinking the last 45 minutes I’ve listened to you tell me how good you are. You don’t need me, I need you! I need to get my pen out and ask questions.

The lack of honour – and often times we do that because we feel awkward, we feel maybe a little insecure. The fact that somebody of significant calibre agreed to meet you, they have already seen in you potential. You don’t have to prove it. You don’t have to beat your chest. Just get on with it. I’ve actually stopped some conversations and looked people in the eye and said “you’re a better leader than the questions you’re asking”. I think just do that and honour.

After you’ve done it, the next day or so send a little text or a card in the mail thanking them for taking their time. It is a valuable resource. Thank them. Don’t be demanding, don’t expect this is going to happen every week from now on. Be a blessing. The Bible says our gift makes room for us. Now I know that’s a spiritual gift to some degree but the actual word, the original text, is actually a bribe. So be generous, be honouring and it’s amazing what doors will open to you.

John Finkelde: Brilliant advice for young leaders on how to approach an older leader. That’s great.

You talked about hanging out with the right sort of people, so I’m going to set up a dinner party at your favourite restaurant in Brisbane for you. Which four leaders, from any era living or dead would you have at the dinner party. We’ll leave Jesus to the side. Who and why would you have those particular four leaders?

Wayne Alcorn: I don’t think I’d want anybody living. I’m privileged in this season of my life to be able to access a lot of great leaders. If you have that spiritual super power to raise the dead and bring them to dinner, I’d be grateful.

I’m a Pentecostal and I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit but I’m also somebody who’s strongly committed, and have been all my life, to community transformation and I’m impacted deeply, I read a lot of biographies on transformers. People that didn’t just have great meetings but shaped society. I think we as leaders are cultural engineers but not only shaping the culture of local churches but from the church bring the Kingdom.

One of my majors at university was in the area of sociology so it’s always been with me. As a youth leader in my early 20’s we were running Homes for Homeless kids, which is still going decades later so that’s my heart.

I’d love to have General William Booth. Interesting you know this church was pioneered by William Booth’s grandson, the church I pastor. He pioneered this church 87 years ago. I’m fascinated by the Salvation Army and the seasons it’s been through.

John Wesley. I’m a church planter and again a lot of my family are actually Methodists on my father’s side and I’m fascinated by Wesley and his capacity to strategically plant churches. We think we’re real smart doing some stuff, he was doing it centuries ago.

William Wilberforce for me – his tenacity to not give up and we live in the legacy. The planet lives in his legacy. The bills that were passed in the last few days of his life. I don’t think he’d be the happiest guy in the room but he certainly would have a lot to say.

John Finkelde: You’ve given me three Englishmen so I’m fascinated by who the fourth will be!

Wayne Alcorn: If this dinner was in England I would then bring Spurgeon. I stood in front of the metropolitan tabernacle a number of years ago inspired by what this guy did at even a young age and his capacity. I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything about his life but his work load, his capacity to preach to large crowds and even the fact that I think it was once a month he would kick everybody out of his church building so those who were unchurched could come and hear the gospel. I love that.

So that would be my English friends and I think just so the English knew that I was Australian I’d have Don Bradman there for dessert!

John Finkelde: They’d all be asking who is this Don Bradman you speak of?

Wayne Alcorn: Yeah I think it would be good. So many guys, I sat in Billy Graham’s library as they call it in North Carolina, it’s really his museum and I tell you, even at the end as you do the journey, I don’t know if you’ve ever been there but at the end they’ve got Billy preaching on the screen. He does an alter call and the power of it is overwhelming so those kind of guys inspire me.

I’m an observer of politics and all that sort of stuff so I’m impacted by Mandela and all that but I think those four Christian transformers I’d like but I would sure be keen – as I’m sitting in my office I’m looking across at a cricket bat signed by Don Bradman, a sportsman beyond compare.

But anyway, that’s the sort of people I’d hang around.

John Finkelde: It’s interesting that also I noticed on your website that there’s a strong flow of the history of the church, it’s not like “man we’ve only got a history for the last 20 years or whatever”. There’s some flow there, some stories of the church right back to recognition of its early days and early name etc. And interestingly you’ve picked four historical figures as well. Obviously you have a bit of an interest in history but why is it important for you to have the history of your church on what is a very cutting edge church and a very cutting edge website, why have an emphasis there on the history of the church?

Wayne Alcorn: Because I’m grateful for legacy.

As the leader of a large group of churches I get to open many new facilities around the place and it is amazing when I go and get to open brand new facilities and the Pastor takes me aside and says “you do know that in 1950’s, 1960’s whatever, your church, the church you now pastor bought the land and paid for our first building. Such is the apostolic anointing on this grand old place and I share on legacy, it’s one of my life messages.

We just sold the property where the original church sat. Our church was pioneered in 1930. By 1932 they opened a building which they paid cash for, which doesn’t sound much but when you realise it was in the middle of the great depression. I buried the last of the original members last year, he was in his mid 90’s and he told me “you know they were taking 4 or 5 offerings up on a Sunday just to buy the bricks so they could build next week” and so you know we’ve just sold that property which, you know my journey John – in the mid 2000’s we had an arson attack on that old building and we were never able to put it back and so after quite a journey we were able to sell it and the funds of that are now enabling us to do so many things debt free, new building facilities literally for cash because of a legacy we’ve been given.

I think it is important that we honour the past before we chart the future and I think people that don’t honour the past don’t get that sling shot that’s there when you build from a platform of honour and gratitude.

So it’s there. We don’t sing the song, we don’t fly the flag of how our church met in the tent and all that. You don’t hear that too often but if you want to know, we’re happy to scratch the surface. Within 5 metres of my office door there is the old cornice stone from our building and a photo of the original congregation meeting in a tent about 300 – 400 souls there, William Booth Clifford. We’ve come a long way but those people they did church a lot different to us but they had a heart for the kingdom and they sowed seeds and we’re now reaping a phenomenal harvest.

I’m grateful, is probably the best reason to say that. And I think the spirit of that comes across our whole thing.

John Finkelde: I think it’s so important, as you get older you do get the greater sense of your mortality and the shortness of life, which you don’t have when you’re in your 20’s and 30’s but to actually appreciate history and legacy and what people have built before I think is extremely valuable and extremely important to pass onto the generations.

Wayne, you do a lot of travel around your movement and internationally as well. What would be two major trends in churches you’re seeing through your travels. What do you see developing in churches?

Wayne Alcorn: Ok, you’ve asked me for two but there’s a number of things going on. Let me give you a highlight and a low light.

I’m encouraged right now by this incredible hunger for God that I’m seeing at a multi-generational level. There is a real shift and I’m really encouraged by that. Our own church here right now is in the middle of a three week fast and just people giving up all sorts of things. We’ve got this saying at the moment “it’s not what you walk away from, it’s who you run to”. People are just running into the presence of God and across the board there’s just a hunger for God and I think that’s wonderful and that obviously is a precursor to other great things. So for me that’s the most encouraging thing.

If I had something of concern, as a leader, and I’ve been watching this now for the best part of a decade. It seemed to have started around the time of the GFC and that is declining church attendance rates. People would say they are committed to their local church but get there once every third week.

I’m a preacher’s kid John and I guess some of that history shapes my world view but back in the day, if I can use that term, real Christians went to church twice a week. They were there for mid-week Bible study and served in youth or kids or somewhere.

I get that our world is full. They told us a lie in the 80’s that the digital revolution would mean we’re working less but we’re never off anymore. There are people right now listening to this doing emails. You can’t get away from it. There’s a lot of reasons the secular world has stolen our Sunday and now shops are open 24/7 and all that and I get it and I actually don’t think people are less faithful when they were I just think we’re so busy and I think as leaders we’ve got to have conversations about how to maintain engagement with our people and give them opportunities, not just Sunday’s, midweek – small groups have really come into play. It’s a critical part of community now. Acts 2 in the temple and in houses – I think we’ve got to place importance on houses without diminishing the temple.

I also think people shouldn’t get beat up when they do turn up for not being around the last few weeks and as leaders sometimes we’ve just got to take a deep breath because it’s frustrating. It’s of concern in the western world and I’m intrigued with what people are doing. There are some positive signs but I think options is the answer.

John Finkelde: I’d agree. I think it’s a locked in trend, I think you’re right it’s been around the last 10 years or so and it is one of the areas making Pastors despair. But one of the things I do tell Pastors, it’s across the world, this is not just your church, and it’s not about you. There are increased options around the globe and you have to deal with the new day and maximise the opportunities to connect at other times as well, which you can do through various means today.

Wayne, you’ve been in ministry a long time, many decades. You’ve lasted well. What do you do to relax / unwind? What do you do to let the steam and the pressure out, let the pressure down?

Wayne Alcorn: My favourite place is the water. I’ve owned boats all of my adult life so I’m happy on the water, in the water even near the water. Sport is very much a part of the mix in my life. I’ve got sons who were successful sportsmen and I love that. It’s great but for me I even just hooking the boat on the back of my truck, something happens! If you’re on a boat with me you’ll be clearly welcome but if you mention church I will throw you out and you’ll swim home.

I think there’s an interesting fact that our planet is 60% water. I wonder whether God intended us to enjoy it a lot more. I love it. And if there’s a fish on the end of the line I’m even happier!

John Finkelde: So are you a book or a podcast or a YouTube type of guy? What’s your preferred means of accessing information?

Wayne Alcorn: I’ll get it any way I can. I used to live 40km’s from my office and I would have told you then I was a podcast guy. I live 5 minutes away now, it would take me a month to get through a podcast! So I do appreciate podcasts but I think just the way I am – books.

I’m on an aeroplane most weeks and the thing I love about planes, I hate airports but I love planes, because in a plane you’re left alone. Long haul flight – me and a book are great friends. Podcasts yeah, YouTube – when I really have to it’s more about I’ll be looking for something but for me I would go to a book first. Podcast second. YouTube is usually to steal a song!

John Finkelde: What’s the best book you’re read lately then on a plane?

Wayne Alcorn: Andy Stanley’s book “Deep & Wide”. It so impacted me.

Our team, we always every year do at least one book reading together. We read one book of the Bible together, it might be Philippians, it could be Isaiah. It could be anything and we unpack it during our team meetings and we’ll always read one book and our book right now is Deep & Wide because I love the heart of it. Its building churches that help reach unchurched people and I think when we as leaders forget that that’s really what we’re supposed to do I think it starts to become all about us and then it gets get weird.

John Finkelde: Wayne it’s been brilliant having you in the Members Hub. Thanks so much for your time today.

Wayne Alcorn: The Members Hub. And I’m not even wearing a tie and yet I was allowed into the Members Hub. I appreciate it. Thank you.

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