Creatively Adapting In These Challenging Times
‘How did you actually grow your church during Covid-19?’
This is one of the questions many other pastors asked us in the beginning of 2021.
After one year of Covid-19, the number of volunteers and connect groups in our church and giving has doubled.
But how was this possible?
The easy answer would be that we put a lot of effort into making church happen in any way possible. Like most churches, we started online services. We held three drive-in cinema services. We organized a big open-air service in summer and tried to create some really special Easter and Christmas productions.
So, is the key to simply do as much as possible? Of course not.
Adapting to the circumstances of the time in order to grow your church means flexibility. We tried to hold this as one of our greatest values – especially in this Covid season. Flexible leadership means adapting to your circumstances quickly.
When the first lockdown in Germany occurred – we had less than 24 hours to set up the first online service our church had ever done. The question was never ‘should we hold a service?’ It was simply, ‘how can we make a service possible?’ So, we spontaneously booked a camera crew, and we recorded our first service and put it online.
Watching it today, it is far away from how we are doing it now, but it was the best we were able to produce at the time. It actually changed the way we thought about church! We tried to stop thinking about how we were used to doing church and focused on new ways of making church possible in this unfamiliar situation.
That is why we then asked a professional filmmaker to help us and give advice for our online services. Under their guidance, we quickly changed the setting from an ‘on stage’ service to a large industrial setting.
We tried to be flexible, and we tried to think outside the box. One day we heard that a drive-in cinema was planning to open in one of the cities in which we have a campus. I reached out immediately to see if it was possible to run a service there. It was! We could never have imagined the success of this service. We only planned to hold a one-off drive-in service but afterwards we decided to run some more.
We had hundreds of first-time visitors coming to those services and dozens of salvations every Sunday.
As a result of those events and our online service re-design, we had many volunteers starting to serve in our church. Many of them were the very professionals that we had asked for advice in the first place!
It was not actually the sermon or the way we worshipped, but the fact that we had been flexible, creative and forward thinking that made our church so attractive to them. Many had never been in church before and got saved during this season because they saw a group of believers that was so motivated to make church possible and to get the Gospel out there, even in unfamiliar circumstances.
Did everything always work out perfectly? Definitely not. Some things we tried out did not work at all, but to be flexible, to be creative, to adapt to the circumstances around you often means to try, fail and then try something else.
The message of hope remained the same, only the way of reaching our communities with the message changed in so many ways and so many times.
There was no ‘How to run church in a Global crisis seminar’ we could attend and there are many other things we as the Church might face in the future. Hopefully not on the scale of a global crisis, but there will be many future circumstances that require creativity, flexibility, and adaptability from us.
My biggest lesson as a leader in this season would be the following:
Be bold and try something.
We may be afraid that it might not work out but trust me, often we will be surprised by how God is using our effort to make things possible!
It does not have to be something the world has never seen before. It is mostly about embracing the situation and circumstances around you, being flexible and quick to react.
In German we have a saying: ‘The devil’s favourite furniture is the long bench’, which is a metaphor for procrastination. Often the Church’s biggest hinderance in adapting to circumstances is trying to wait it out.
So don’t wait – initiate!
One of the greatest privileges is to be called to plant a church or lead a church, it is a joy and great adventure! To be shepherds of God’s people is a great responsibility. Our foundation is to lead “after God’s own heart”.
“Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will lead you with knowledge and understanding”. Jeremiah 3:15
Our emotional health will however play a large part in how we lead. Emotional health can be seen by others. It becomes visible when we are under pressure, in a crisis or making difficult decisions. Our emotional health ultimately affects others and those we lead. Therefore, we need to continually tend to our inner life, our emotional health.
Paul told his leaders to: “keep watch over yourselves and all of the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Acts 20:28
3 Keys to Maintaining Emotional Health
1. Pursue the Fruits of the Spirit
The daily pursuit of the fruit of the Spirit helps us to keep watch over ourselves. The gifts of the Spirit are freely given to us by God, we are to be stewards of our gifts, but the fruit of the Spirit is produced in us as we “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Gifts are given, fruit is produced. Pursue all of the fruit! Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Couple them together, as an example, self-control without kindness is simply restraint. When we keep in step with the Spirit, we develop the ability to build others up and become careful not to move beyond our authority over others. Paul’s apostolic authority was constructive, not destructive.
“The authority the Lord gave me for building you up not tearing you down”. 2 Corinthians 3:10
An emotionally healthy leader builds others up.
2. Guard your Thoughts
Guarding your thoughts! Our thought life plays a huge part in our emotional health, as very often our thoughts precede our emotions. When we are dependant on the Holy Spirit we can learn to “hear” our thoughts. Hope has a sound in your mind and in turn lifts your heart, fills you with strength. Hopelessness equally has a sound and takes us to despair. Thanksgiving has a sound, self-pity has a sound. When we learn to “hear” our thoughts and move towards the ways of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed by the renewal of our mind.
“Lord help me to gird up the loins of my mind and may I press forward towards the mark for the prize of my high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Charles Spurgeon
3. Restore your Soul
Learn well the way of restoring your soul. We are all unique and we need to rest to lead effectively. Learning to rest will help you become a leader of longevity. Remembering also that Jesus gives us rest for our soul and prayer is our ultimate life source.
“Whatever is your best time in the day, give that to communion with God.” Hudson Taylor
Prayer is a relationship. We need to pray for our churches, but we also need to leave room in our prayer for our relationship with the Lord. Just you and Him!
You will always be busy in ministry; Jesus’ disciples were so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat (Mark 6:31a). But Jesus said to them,
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31b
Jesus gives you permission to leave the crowds and be with him, to restore your soul. He has indeed begun a good work in you. Go well!
There is no doubt 2020 was a defining year for the church globally, shaping and shaking our very understanding of what the church is and how we continue to plant, grow and multiply in the midst of a global pandemic. Over the past couple of decades technology has been a huge part of innovative and emerging church models and strategies, but to be fair, the church historically has been quite a slow adopter when it comes to embracing new practices and methods.
For better or worse, 2020 has fast-tracked the adoption process and forced churches (some kicking and screaming) into the digital era. But with this quick pivot, has come some structural and strategic whiplash that is now in need of a framework to help us move into the future with clarity and strength.
It’s important for us to acknowledge that the world is still in a highly volatile social climate with constantly changing government restrictions, health alerts, travel bans, lockdowns, hot spots, and more – because of this, churches are all in different phases of change, some are still operating solely online, some are gathering with restrictions, some have hybrid models, the list goes on. On top of this, even within our own movement, exists a broad spectrum of churches: mono and multi-site, attractional and missional, urban and rural.
The truth is churches all around the world have implemented brilliant and creative ways to cultivate and sustain healthy community in the digital space. What I don’t want to do here is be too specific or prescriptive in the way it should outwork in your context.
What I’d rather attempt to do is provide some guiding principles and a digital framework that will allow you to interpret and navigate the best strategic direction for you.
Before I dive into the principles, I’ll say this: when thinking through our digital strategy, I think it’s important we make decisions with a post-Covid view in mind. Although there will of course be decisions we need to make for the immediate season, as much as possible we should be trying to form a strategic direction that is looking beyond the current circumstances and without a crisis lens.
Here we go….
Principle #1: The world was already digital.
87% of the developed world’s population is online, over half the world’s population are now under 30 and considered “digital natives” and 50% of the world’s internet usage is now via mobile devices and rising rapidly.
What we must realise is we don’t have online people and offline people, we just have people, and the vast majority of them live in the physical and digital worlds simultaneously. Therefore our digital approach needs to be designed with all of our people in mind.
Principle #2: Digital needs to be a culture more than a team, department or location.
If you follow the evolution of new and emerging digital products that tech companies are producing, they have a clear goal – create products that integrate, not compete, with real life. In the same way, our digital strategy should complement our physical strategy, in fact, they shouldn’t be two different strategies at all. We need one strategy for our people that leverages the strengths of both digital and physical.
It’s not about creating a digital version of church; it’s about asking the question ‘how do we integrate the strengths of both digital and physical to help people engage even more with Christ and community?’ I would suggest avoiding the trap of delegating digital to become a silo within your structure, and instead integrate it as a core culture of your whole church and team.
Principle #3: The digital world plays by different rules.
One of the common trends that emerged as churches ventured into the digital space, is a trend that similarly occurred when broadcasters first transitioned from radio to television… instead of creating TV shows, they just filmed their existing radio show. What we end up doing is using new technology to keep doing an old thing – or in our language, we fill new wineskins with old wine.
What we need to do is start creating things that are made for the medium, not just copy and pasting from another context. We need to ruthlessly challenge old ways of thinking and old modes of operation, because suddenly the barriers of time and space, buildings and time slots, don’t exist.
Principle #4: Digital is public, very public.
A couple of years ago I travelled to Iceland, on every tourist’s to-do list is to swim in the thermal pools, but there’s something they don’t tell you on the brochure: before you’re allowed to swim, you have to strip down and shower naked in a room full of strangers to wash off any nasty oils on your skin, so you don’t contaminate the thousand-year-old natural spring. Needless to say, if you don’t want everyone watching, be very careful what pool you decide to swim in.
We need to take great care in knowing the purpose of our content, and where it should be placed. I like to categorise the purpose of digital content into two main pools: reaching and resourcing – defining our content’s purpose helps give us a better idea of what platform we position it on.
Principle #5: Digital is a crowded house.
Due to the borderless nature of the digital landscape, we need to guard against the temptation to try and reach everyone. The problem with trying to reach everyone is that we spread ourselves so thin that we end up reaching no one. The fact is hundreds of thousands of churches all around the world are trying to carve out their space in the digital world. Imagine every church in your city all meeting in the same venue, at the same time… it could get ugly.
As leaders, we must stay true to who God has called us to reach and build our digital strategy with them in mind.
I’m praying you’ll be filled again with the spirit of wisdom and revelation as you lead God’s church faithfully into the future.
‘They will know you are my disciples by the love you have one for another’ (John 13:35).
When Jesus called the first disciples to follow him, it was in the context of relationship. Jesus, in commissioning us to make disciples (Matt 28:19), is commissioning us to be building community: the church.
But what is the best model for establishing a new church?
The revelation of Christ is the foundation of all church planting – ‘by wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established’ (Proverbs 24:3).
When I think “how-to” or which is the best model to apply, I think R.E.S.T
- Reason: what we can examine, study and test intellectually
- Experience: what we can feel and emotionally sense
- Scripture: what is revealed in the word of God, both descriptively and prescriptively
- Tradition: what has worked before and what the Lord has used previously
Scripture is not the only source of understanding and wise judgment, but it ought to be the non-negotiable plumb line.
We understand “not all trees in the forest are the same height but every tree is important.” We understand that a dynamic, diverse, and supportive ecosystem needs less artificial fertilizers than a single monoculture limited in genetic strength. Therefore, the diversity of models is not only to be expected but encouraged and celebrated.
Our personal experiences teach us that no “one size fits all.”
There were culturally homogeneous churches, such as the church in Jerusalem and Corinth, and there were diverse cultural churches like Ephesus. There were small churches – the church in Colossae had no more than 50, in Philippi under 150, in Ephesus many thousands – yet every church was important and given great attention from leaders like Paul.
There have been great churches of all sizes big and small. Throughout history, the predominant church size has been approximately 100 members. We plan for the norm, adjust for the exception, and celebrate all.
Learnings from C3
Mark Kelsey at Presence Conference in 2019 outlined a description of types of churches in C3. His list included urban, suburban, regional, churches in remote regions, churches in developing countries, and churches in regions of persecution. All with the same C3 culture but with various approaches.
The following are some approaches we have used (the headings are for description only):
The hub church
A team of pastors travels between 3 to 5 churches of up to 70. C3 Reach Bangladesh churches use this approach. We identify an evangelist, a pastor, and a manager. The evangelist goes into a new area followed by the pastor, then the manager coordinates all the hubs.
The reverse church
This approach is used in locations where believers are persecuted and the safest place to worship & teach is in homes. This can lead to isolation and a lack of accountability. We reserve the order in the west where we worship and teach in larger groups and fellowship in homes. The larger gathering is for fellowship and socializing only and the smaller groups are for teaching and worship. C3 Reach Egypt uses this approach.
The satellite hub
Establish one large central church and create smaller satellite churches each 1 to 5 hours away from the central church. Each satellite church has a pastor and a core team, and they visit once a month. C3 Reach Kazakhstan uses this model.
The home church network
In extremely dangerous situations, the only possibility is to have churches under 30 that meet in homes. Once every month, the pastors of the home church gather either online or in person.
Eight things that are present in the gatherings of all the models are:
- Intentional prayer and worship
- Preaching/teaching the word
- Community Evangelistic activities – including practical acts of service
- Development of the leader and monthly reporting to the supervisor
- Regular social activities
- Intentional focused development of ‘next leaders of the next plant’
- Intentional connection to other C3 churches
Defining the “how to do”
Rather than starting with a pre-set model, we start with a process of formational questions:
- “What are the broader cultural values in the context we are planting?”
- “What is the outcome we want?”
- “What do we need to do to achieve this outcome?”
- “What will it look like if we do the things we need to do?
If you are interested in the material we use, you can contact us at c3churchryde.com.au.
Effective delivery of the gospel requires integration between form (what is seen), function (what we do), and feeling (what we desire others to experience).
Ultimately our perfect model is Jesus and our methods focus on how we can be Spirit-powered and connect-driven in the specific cultural context.
Our church plant is now in its 8th year. Debbie and I stepped out to plant C3 Subang (now known as Destiny C3) in 2011 with a team of 9 others. The church has since developed into a group of 7 churches catering to the different communities in Malaysia, India and the Philippines. We also run a UNHCR recognized refugee school which to-date is committed to the education of approximately 80 refugee children from nations that include, Pakistan, Syria, Bangladesh and India.
The church planting journey for us began with a lot of apprehension. Was this the right step? Do we have what it takes? Who are we called to? What if we failed? Is this really what God wants for us? We had, as most church planters would, lots of questions… questions that we wrestled with even as we were being drawn by the call.
The questions you ask yourself as you go on this journey can be life altering. The wrong type of questions can derail your journey, while the right questions can clear a path for you.
There are many questions that we asked ourselves on our church plant journey and below are 3 important ones that every potential church planter should ask themselves.
Am I called to this?
Church planting is not just a nice idea or a noble choice of profession. It is a call. Be certain of your calling, because it will form the foundation of your church plant journey. It will be the fuel in your tank that will keep you going regardless of the challenges that come your way. Many people in ministry quit during tough times because they start to doubt their call. We can start to believe that the presence of a roadblock indicates the absence of a call, “maybe I’m not called to this”, “maybe I was wrong”, and before you know it, we are daydreaming about exit strategies.
As Debbie and I began this journey, we had to be certain that we were called to this, and our certainty of the call is what drove us to push through some of the most challenging circumstances that would have otherwise derailed our journey.
When you view your challenges through the certainty of your calling, you see roadblocks not as something to stop you, but something that you are meant to push through.
You view the challenges as necessary inconveniences that you are called to work through that will serve to bring you closer to your destiny. We stay the path not because it is easy, we stay the path because we are certain that we are called by God to be here.
Whose church is this anyway?
Many times, we can, either consciously or unconsciously, view the church plant as our project and God as the external consultant that we reach out to – to endorse our ideas, approve our decisions or help us through the difficult stages of the building. This mind-set often sees us carrying burdens that we were never meant to carry, trying to build by our own strength, which brings us unnecessary stress.
Whose idea was this in the first place? This is God’s idea, His project, His Church and He chose you to be a part of it. This church was birthed in God’s heart long before you even knew what a church plant was. Wasn’t it Him who said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”? Don’t the scriptures say that unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vain?
This is a fundamental truth of church planting, yet it is a truth that we many times lose sight of. We get caught up with the “business” of church planting. We tend to push God into a consulting role rather that seeing him as the chief architect and master builder.
He invited you to be a part of HIS church plant, and whenever we forget that, we end up dealing with frustrations and anxieties that can lead to burn out.
Whenever I find myself stressing more than usual, it’s always because I’ve taken the burden off God and started carrying it myself. I’ve made it about me, my success, my project, my church, and that was never God’s intention. I ask myself, whose church is this in the first place?
Remind yourself often, that this is God’s project, His church plant, and He is the master-builder. Cast all your burdens upon Him.
What’s unique about my calling?
Since everyone is unique, there will be a uniqueness about your calling. You may start off looking like another church, but there will be a look, a feel that is uniquely yours. Each of us are given different “talents”. God delights in the multiplication of the talents but the means through which that multiplication comes may differ from church to church, community to community, nation to nation. What’s unique about the community that God put you amongst? Unity may not necessarily equate to uniformity.
One of the great dangers of church planting surfaces when we are focused on trying to duplicate the calling of another.
Yes there is much that we can learn from others, there may be strategies and ideas that we can get and apply from other churches, but we must be faithful to the uniqueness of our calling, that’s where we will find our greatest breakthroughs.
In the midst of our church planting zeal and eagerness to learn from and emulate the successful ministries of others, we had to stop to notice what God was doing in our midst, the kind of people that He was sending our way, the doors that He was opening, especially the unexpected ones. Sometimes we can look for what we want God to do and miss out on what God is doing.
When we stopped to ask ourselves what was unique about what God was doing in our ministry, we started to see doors open for ministry that we never had considered before.
So there they are: three questions for the church planter. There are many more, but these are at the top of my list and I trust will be in yours as well.
Planting churches is not an option for the adventurous – it is a mandate for all of God’s church.
In this mandate we see mirrored, or, more properly, fulfilled, the creative and obligatory decree of Genesis 1:28 – that of being fruitful and multiplying. The authority given in this original proclamation is given new impetus, authority and focus in the words of Jesus that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. That is why we can and should Go. We are participating by the expansion of churches in the New Creation project of God.
The making of disciples, the last command of the Risen Christ, is best accomplished in the expansion and formulation of new churches/locations/campus – the fact being more important than the form.
The prophet Isaiah called out:
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitation be stretched out;
do not hold back; length your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations,
and will people the desolate cities.”
These verses have long captured the prophetic imagination of C3 Churches, and in particular Ps Phil Pringle. They have provided vision and focus. And it is these two things that are essential to enlarge, stretch, strengthen and possess. Vision is necessary to fulfil the mandate, and focus is required to give legs to vision.
At one juncture in the history of the early church it was persecution that forced the church’s hand to, “go and make disciples.”
They were forced to relocate around the Empire, taking the good news with them and forming loose communities, which became the seedbed/precursors to the eventual establishment of churches under the more deliberate intentionalized apostolic ministry of Paul and Barnabas (and others).
It has been sagely stated that the hope of the world is the local church. (And so it was, and so it is, and so it will be.) He meant that as we expand and gather God’s people we are providing hope for the world, the country, the community we find ourselves in. It was the gospel embodied (incarnated) in the life of the believers that became the reason for the triumph of faith in the Roman Empire. Love verses power, and love won.
Ed Stetzer states, “Any church wishing to recover the dynamic nature of the early church should consider planting new churches.”
Whilst recovering the dynamic of the early church may be a little more nuanced than Stetzer’s comment accounts for, we would be well advised to, at least, make a start by doing what he does suggest. New life engenders new life.
The temptation to only maintain what we have may well be irresponsible, and at very least negligent as it tends towards atrophy.
By nature most of us are conservative; we find expanding a stretching exercise, not always comfortable – and neither is it. But the call of being in Christ asks something more of us, more than we think we are capable of, more than seems reasonable, and more than becoming less – as that is what we will become it we don’t think and live out, if we don’t some how, some day, Go.
This blog is part of our online church planting resource base. To find out more, ask your senior pastor for access to Xpress.
 Matthew 28:18
 Matthew 28:19-20
 Isaiah 54:2-3 (ESV)
 I highly recommend Rodney Stark’s, The Rise of Christianity. (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1997). He is a sociologist/historian with unique insights.
 Ed Stetzer, and Daniel Im. Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches That Multiply. Second edition. (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2016), 42
Find out more about Simon McIntyre:
Faith in ministry includes setting goals so incredibly bold that you’re bound to fail unless God moves in a miraculous way. We plant churches and lead churches to expand. And we want to expand greatly. Expansion represents transformed lives, people connected to Jesus and His saving power, and people living their best lives for His cause in our world.
God has designed all living things to reproduce, to multiply and to expand. It’s the way things work. How much more His church?
The Bible opens straight out of the gate with a Creation Commission for all human beings created in the image of God: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).
The gospels open with Jesus calling for the same. He taught kingdom expansion in parable after parable. The King is looking for hearts that, like good soil, bear fruit 30, 60, and a 100 fold (Matthew 13:23). The kingdom begins small like a mustard seed and grows into a large mustard tree. The kingdom is seemingly insignificant at first like yeast in a lump of dough but grows In significance as it permeates the world. The kingdom progressively advances like the growing seed becoming first the blade, then the ear and then the full grain in the ear. (Mark 4:26-29). Growth. Increase. Expansion. It’s what the kingdom does. It’s what kingdom people do.
Jesus’ final words in the gospels – the Great Commission – is an expansion of the Creation Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:18-20). Reproduce yourselves. Multiply. It’s a global vision for expansion.
I therefore regularly ask myself as a leader if my faith is based on what I think is possible, or on God, who says all things are possible?
My prayers at times are small-minded. I limit my requests to things I think are possible. What if I prayed God-sized prayers?
What would this mean in practical terms for the expansion of your church and your ministry? Rick Warren suggests adding a zero to every goal you set. Do you want to reach 100 for Christ in your community? Then set a goal to reach 1,000. Set a bold goal that is bound to fail unless God moves in a miraculous way. It is in the realm of the impossible that faith works.
None of this happens by accident. We pray and work hard. We develop the skills to reach our communities. Expansion thinking focuses on building big people. Quality people. Big people build big churches.
There is a church growth and church health progression recorded in the book of Acts. It describes the exponential growth of the church in direct relation to the growth of the quality of person. In other words, the Acts Progression shows us that the quantity of people we reach happens because of the quality of people we develop.
“Souls were added…” Acts 2:41
“Believers were increasingly added…” Acts 5:14
“The number of the disciples was multiplying…” Acts 6:1
“The number of the disciples multiplied greatly…and a great many of the priests were obedient.” Acts 6:7
As the quality of people progresses from saved souls to believers, and from believers to disciples and from disciples to the salvation of the Jewish opposition’s most influential leaders, the church grows exponentially. People are added and then increasingly added, they are multiplying and then multiplying greatly.
Seek God, hear what God has to say and then believe Him for big, big things. He is more committed to expansion than we realize. God’s kingdom works by expansion.
This blog is part of our online church planting resource base. To find out more, ask your senior pastor for access to Xpress.
“We’re just checking you out…” is one of the most common phrases church planters hear when starting a church.
I remember when we had just started holding *real* services in our church. This is after the pre-launch phase and team meetings. Now spectators, and even critics, were coming to church.
Each Sunday we were so excited, anticipating the new guests that would walk through the door and finally see if our marketing efforts and dollars had actually worked. Every week Keira and I would stand in the lobby greeting people as they came to church. And for some reason, when talking to guests, I began to hear a pattern emerge in conversations.
Every time I would welcome someone new, they would make a statement like, “We’re just checking you out.” As if to make sure I understood that they were going judge everything about the service – my preaching, the sound levels and everything else – before they would commit to joining. I can remember the nervous pressure that put on me as a pastor, to make church as comfortable and attractive to them as possible.
Now, not only did these comments come with pressure to do things right, there was also pressure from some new guests to not do certain things at all.
Like one time I was greeting a gentleman who I hadn’t met before. He was a big guy and as he walked into the lobby I reached out my hand and said my usual welcome greeting, to which he responded… “This isn’t one of those ‘tongue’ speaking churches is it?” A little startled, I replied… “Well, umm, maybe, sort of, yes?” He then rolled his eyes, grunted under his breath and without shaking my hand (that was still stretched out) just walked straight into service.
I began to notice that all the people who I wanted to like the church were also the ones that didn’t stay very long or caused nothing but frustration while they were there.
So one time, as I was greeting a family that had just stepped into our church for the first time and said that annoying sentence, “We’re just checking things out…” I, maybe out of frustration, replied with… “Oh good, because we’re just checking you out also.”
They looked immediately shocked at my response. I continued… “Because we’re a passionate church, with wild faith and a big vision, and this church isn’t for the faint hearted.” The husband looked at his wife and then looked back at me and said, “I think we’re going to like it here.”
That was the moment we began to build a church we actually liked.
You see, so many church planters feel the pressure to perform for people and make church nice and neat so that people will stay. This will cause you to play things safe and may even prevent you from moving in the Spirit, for fear of things getting messy.
It will also create a church that you don’t even like going to. What a tragedy, to build a church of 1000 people and not like any of them.
Now I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be diligent with following up new guests and being smooth with our transitions… but if you begin to forego values in order to keep people, then you are in a dangerous zone. You urgently need to get the leverage back.
The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ. We aren’t some ‘thirsty’ girl.
We are not desperate for a date and willing to negotiate on our values so that people will like us. No, we hold to our convictions and create an atmosphere that is a privilege to be a part of. Everyone is welcome, of course, but at the same time we clearly know who we are and who God has called us as a community to be. This is how you gain the leverage and create an atmosphere where new guests are intrigued by the service, rather than critical of it. In fact – let me give you three simple ways to do this.
- Define your distinctives.
Most churches similar to yours will believe in the core elements of Christianity, faith and the Presence of God, but what is it that makes you distinctively you? Is it your passion, your discipleship, your responsive culture or your lean toward social justice? These distinctive’s are what set you apart and define the flavor and feel of your church.
- Set your standards.
Simply put… what you allow and don’t allow. For example, is barefoot worship leading cool with you? Can people freely spirit dance with streamers in the aisles? Are random exaltations from shofars appropriate? If not, these things have to be addressed immediately, with the only reason being that it isn’t the way you do things.
- Create a strong culture.
Is your culture stronger than the culture people will bring with them? Most people coming to your church plant in the early days will be Christians coming from another church setting. They will bring with them a strong idea on how church should be done (even though they left that church). You will find that a fledgling church is more susceptible to strong opinions, so these voices can hijack your culture fast. Be steadfast in your convictions and repeat, repeat, repeat your culture at any and every chance you get.
Trust me when I say that you will still build a large church, now it will just be one that you like going to.
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There are probably as many approaches to doing multi-site as there are multi-site churches. Across this diversity, the location pastor role is always key, even if there are differences in the way the role operates. Despite the great variety of multi-site models, I believe that there are foundational characteristics for someone to be selected and to thrive as a location pastor, and we will focus upon those here.
Before we dive into these characteristics, we need to look at what makes a multi-site church.
A multi-site location is not just like the sending church – it is the sending church.
It’s the same church, but in a different geographical place. Whilst there are variations to this depending on the senior minister’s approach to multi-site, in most cases there is a desire to have one vision and one culture across all locations; to have the same look and feel, which may have some agreed allowances for contextualization. In most cases there is a uniform way of doing important things, some agreed practices across all locations, so that the multi-site church can multiply and not get bogged down in complexity that is neither scalable nor reproducible.
Characteristic 1: The Location Pastor is a Steward of Responsibility & Authority
The location pastor must have a highly developed understanding of what it means to steward responsibility and authority on behalf of someone else (in this case, the senior minister).
You may be thinking, “Isn’t this the same as with any leader who is under the authority of another leader?”, and that is true. However, it does seem to be more challenging in the multi-site scenario, as there is a degree of isolation due to being in another part of a city or even another nation. This ‘distance’ can create shifts in culture, practice, look and feel that, over time, result in a ‘different church’ and not another location of the first church. Indeed, this is such a recognized phenomenon that many multi-site churches will only use video preaching in an attempt to maintain one vision and culture. And so, the ability of the location pastor to understand and operate as a leader of delegated authority is paramount.
The location pastors must understand that for there to be one church, which is the church that Jesus has placed in the hands of the senior pastor,
each location pastor must be able to put the ‘team they are in’ above the ‘team they lead’.
They must be able to embrace and promote the priorities of the multi-site church as a whole above the particular location they are leading. This approach will bring great health to the multi-site church as it will avoid the creation of silos of culture and practice. It will circumvent the development of an ‘us and them’ mentality between the central team that serves all locations, and a team that is serving a particular location. It creates a great sense of alignment across the team, thus releasing creative energy and activity towards the health and growth of the multi-site church as a whole.
I’ve heard it said that the location pastor is not like an echo of the vision and values of the senior pastor, but rather an amplifier: there is no dilution of vision, values, look and feel, no matter how geographically isolated the location may be.
The importance of alignment on the multi-site team cannot be emphasized enough. This means that the Location Pastor is able to thrive in an environment where decisions are made where they may personally have a different preference or philosophy or approach. This requires a maturity from the Location Pastor where, after the discussion has been had, they are able to embrace and implement something which, if it was their church, they would do differently. A great Location Pastor realizes that the Location is not their church. It is the Senior Minister’s church and the Senior Minister is accountable before God for the calls they make as the leader. And the Location Pastor is under the authority of Christ which is earthed in their coming under the authority of the Senior Minister.
Characteristic 2: The Location Pastor Has High EQ and Communication Skill
One of the unique characteristics of a healthy multi-site church is that the central team, comprising all areas of ministry and operations that support all locations, is able to work effectively with each location team, and vice versa. This outcome is often assisted through the creation of a matrix structure that seeks to clarify the flow of authority and decision making. However, even if a clear matrix-structure is developed, there is always a need for high EQ and respectful discussions between the Location Pastor and the central team.
A location pastor needs to be skilled at having discussions that clarify and bring alignment.
It’s also worth noting that the central team need to be great at listening to location pastors, as aligned locations pastors will bring keen insight into how to best do multi-site church.
Characteristic 3: The Location Pastor is a Leader
Just about all models of multi-site church require the location pastor to demonstrate leadership, but the type of leadership that is necessary will be determined by the philosophy of ‘central leadership vs location leadership’.
If leadership is mostly vested in the central team, the role of a location pastor is to implement the vision, values, look, feel and practices that come from the senior pastor via the central team. In this case most decisions to do with leadership and ministry are made by the senior minister directly or via the central team. The location pastor must be a leader who can raise leaders and build the teams needed for Sunday services, but initiatives and ideas are not implemented independently in the location; rather, they are referred back to the central team for consideration for the whole multi-site church.
The person who will thrive as a location pastor in this style of multi-site is more wired to implement the vision and initiatives of another.
They are a leader, but are not entrepreneurial to the extent that they have a high need to implement all of their ideas and initiatives. They contribute ideas to how the church operates across all locations, but understand and are able to thrive when not all of their ideas are implemented.
If leadership is mostly vested in the location pastor, the role requires understanding of vision, culture and practice set by the senior pastor, but there is a lot left to the location pastor to lead and contextualize as they see fit for the location. It could be that the only things linking locations of this style are central governance, finances and a broad vision. Here the location pastor will determine preaching themes, song lists, outreach programs, team names and function – indeed, pretty well everything except for the few unifying areas required by the senior pastor.
And then there are multi-site churches where leadership is not vested only with the central team nor with the location pastor, but rather with both working together. In such multi-site churches, much on-the-ground leadership in a location is vested in the location pastor, but common vision, culture, look, feel and practices are determined and led by the central team. In these multi-site churches Location Pastors and the central team work together in a collegiate way to achieve the vision and culture of the church. Authority may flow through the location pastor and influence through the central team, but they work together on everything, submitting one to another. This requires a great deal of personal strength around areas of security and identity, and the ability to have respectful discussions and resolve differences.
Ultimately, the location pastor needs to know and be at peace with the understanding that they are not the senior minister of the location.
This enables them to handle those moments of philosophical difference and to thrive. If this is not truly understood, there will always be a measure of frustration and conflict.
The location pastor role is based upon the particular approach taken to multi-site church. This determines the leadership, ministry and management that a location pastor will need to undertake, and the wiring and training that will enable them to do that well. Identification and development of location pastors therefore flow from clarity around these fundamentals.
World best-practice around identifying and developing location pastors usually comes down to having a leadership pathway which provides systemic opportunity for visibility and development of leaders. This is where multi-site gets very exciting:
Rather than not having enough opportunity for development and release of leaders, which may be the case in a mono-site church, with lots of people on the bench waiting to have a go, in a multi-site church there is no bench. Everyone is in the game at some level.
Connect leaders are releasing new connect leaders. Connect leaders are being developed into connect coaches. Team leaders are identifying new team leaders. Every department, whether kids, youth, music, service production, pathway, whatever… are all identifying, developing and releasing leaders. Eventually these leaders are overseeing departments at a location, and location pastors can be hands-on in mentoring the next group of location pastors for the new locations that will be started. Together with the central department heads, they develop the new location team overseers. There are leaders popping out everywhere, as leadership development is a culture and everyone is identifying, developing and releasing. The development of a leadership pathway or pipeline is a whole topic in itself. Needless to say, a good one will intentionally produce new location pastors who have the characteristics to thrive in the approach to multi-site adopted by your church.