Believe it or not, 40% of all new churches will fail within their first year of operation and 80% won’t make it past five years! That’s pretty surprising, but thankfully, churches across the United States have a new resource to go to for help. The Church Hoppers, featured in National Geographic’s new reality series, Church Rescue, travel the country to find churches that are having trouble in paradise.
The Church Hoppers consists of three ordained ministers who each have their own special skills: Kevin Annas (Rev Kev) is the team’s business consultant, Jerry Bentley (Doc) focuses on emotional health and Anthony Lockhart (Gladamere) is a sales and marketing analyst. I got a chance to speak to the three of them recently and here is what I learned about themselves and the show:
Rev. Kev, Doc and Gladamere have been friends for a long time but came to work together about five years ago. “We got frustrated with the church structures that we were in individually,” says Gladamere. “God just kind of brought us all together to found this para-ministry. We actually wanted to plant a church and we went through all of the motions and preparations and exhausted ourselves into the structure and the strategic plans for that and then ultimately out of that, God birthed the reality of Church Hoppers.”
The three are all about nicknames including the name of their company. “We strategically named ourselves Church Hoppers,” says Rev. Kev. “Church hoppers” are notoriously uncommitted to the church and we are very committed so we wanted to get the attention of the church leadership by naming our company something that would be remembered.” Their nicknames are easier to remember as well. Doc got his name simply because he received a Doctorate in Ministry in Christian Counseling. Rev. Kev received his name from a 12 year old girl and it just stuck. And Gladamere?
“We watch him a lot,” says Doc. “When you see him, you’re going to realize that he is a unique individual. I mean, he’s a pretty man, but ultimately, it was better than the second name that we could have given him.”
“It was something that just developed out of fun,” adds Gladamere. “I’m the kind of guy that is very relational and I am willing to take a lot of abuse, so I’m okay with it. It really fits my personality.”
“Let me give you the real answer,” interjects Rev. Kev, “When you see him at various places on the show, people are going to question what nation he’s from, and so we felt that [the name] Gladameer kinda covered them all.”
Church Rescue is produced by T-Group Productions, the same people who present Mystery Diners on the Food Network and Storage Hunters on TruTV. As it turns out, one of the stars of Storage Hunters, Sean Kelly, had overheard from some Hollywood folks that many of the networks were looking to present new shows with a religious angle since. Through Sean, the trio met with T-Group and then later National Geographic, who fell in love with the new show’s concept.
“We are always promoting, lifting up and benefitting the ministry regardless of their denomination, but he also felt like we were fun characters, says Rev. Kev. “Once we had a sizzle real prepared, the National Geographic Channel said that they absolutely loved it. They are, in our perspective, considered to be the gold seal of reality television. They try to remain true to whatever the culture the show is trying to depict and is just a beautiful fit for each of us.”
When asked how many churches they have “fixed,” they replied, “Hopefully, all of them. We’ve worked with dozens of ministries across the United States. In every case, we’re happy to say that there is a common success,” says Rev. Kev. “When we leave that ministry, there is a new unity, a focus that has been refocused or narrowed and there is anticipation that once their congregation finds out that their leadership team has spent time with somebody outside their ministry team trying to improve what they’re doing, it’s an automatic boost to the ministry.”
“We focus [not only] on that ministry or religious organization. We focus on them,” says Gladameer.”[We focus on] what makes them unique. What makes them passionate. When you and I are passionate about something that we are gifted at and we talk about all circles of our lives. It spills out onto people. And it’s authentic.”
Evident from the very first episode these guys are not in the business of changing the churches or ministries. “We don’t want them to be the church like the one in the big city if they are a little country church,” says Gladamere. “We want them to adopt practices that are unique to them – what makes them come alive in the way in which they do ministry. Then that allows us to deal with the human resources part of things. Once those areas are tightened up and people are willing to move forward in unity, then [we can] help promote that out into the community that they live in.”
Doc adds, “We allow them to think and learn and grow from what they do best.”
Each one hour episode represents one week of activity at each place of worship. In addition to meeting with pastors and leaders, the show recruits volunteers of the church to help transform the look and feel of the building itself. The expense of these projects is paid for by National Geographic.
Finally, I asked each of the men what their hope for the show would be. “My hope for this show is that a lot more churches will ask for help.” Says Rev. Kev.
Gladamere agrees: “We live in a consumer culture. You can take it or leave it. If you leave it, I think you’ll get left behind somewhat. I think that is what bothers me the most about churches that struggle. They don’t want to tarnish the message that they are speaking out and I don’t think that they ever will. But if we don’t do things to be attractive and inviting and connect people in ways that compliments their consumer thinking, then I think that we are going to miss opportunities to answer some of life’s toughest questions in the religious environment.”
Finally, Doc adds: “I want to see churches waking up because there is a community that’s screaming for someone to step up to the plate and to “be there.” We believe that our church is the world. If we reach out and touch other people’s lives we [can] continue to pay it forward to make a difference in this universe.
Church Rescue can be seen on Mondays at 10 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.