Mission Article: 13 LESSONS LEARNED FROM 13 MULTISITE CHURCH CAMPUS LAUNCHES

By Rich Birch

You’ve probably heard about the multisite church movement.

The impact this movement has had on my church and yours is profound. In fact, it would be amongst one of the most impactful waves of changes to wash over the church in the last 25 years.  But have you ever stepped back and looked at lessons from this movement?

What lessons can we apply from the multisite church movement to our churches and organizations to make them stronger?

In the early 2000s, I started on my multisite journey. In those days, we were just trying to solve a space problem at our growing church. We had some innovative volunteers at our church who asked if they could take the video that we were using to run an “overflow” and host a small group, 45 minutes away from where we were meeting.

It was an incredibly simple idea that flourished to the point where I’ve seen thousands of people connected to the churches I’ve served at through this approach to “doing church”.

Since then, I’ve had the honour of being at the forefront of thirteen campus launches. We’ve seen around 1,500 volunteers join our mission and actively work to see those campuses launched. Today, over 9,000 people attend the campuses that sprung from our efforts. It has been a privilege to have a front-row seat to this approach to reaching new people with the message of Jesus. Seeing a revolution from the inside gives one a perspective that is second to no other!

As incredible as it’s been to see this movement from the inside, there are some lessons I wished I had known before we started this journey.

These facts have been birthed over years of launching different sites and I wanted to share them with you here. These tips will help to save you time, effort and energy as you launch new locations! Lean in on these lessons and you are bound to find a few shortcuts to reaching more people in your community.

I’m still as much of a “fan” of the multisite church approach today as I was all those years ago when I was setting out to launch with so much hope in the first campus.

I really do think that every growing church should consider this approach to multiplication.

It’s been breathtaking to see this movement in a few churches grow to the point where one in six churchgoers in North America now attend a multisite church! Wowsers! I would have never predicted that back when we started sharing our video with that small group 45 minutes away!

THE SIZE AND HEALTH OF YOUR LAUNCH CORE IS THE CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTOR

Having watched so many different dynamics associated with these launches up close, I am convinced that the campuses that launch strong have a large and healthy group of volunteers kicking it off.

In fact, when I talk with churches who have struggling campuses the problems can often be linked back to a lack of passionate people on the launch team. Moreover, it indicates that the volunteers weren’t trained enough before the campus started.

YES, YOU CAN LAUNCH TOO QUICKLY

The best volunteers are not early adopters but are, counter-intuitively, the “late majority” folks because they are most likely to stick with the campus long term.

The problem with that is that most church leaders are more “innovative” than the people they need to make that campus work. Innovators love the pressure of getting the campus out of the door but the vast majority of volunteers prefer to take time and need to be “wooed” into the process.

Once you win these folks over, they will stick and stay for the long haul. Too many churches rush the launch process and miss the opportunity to build long-term leadership teams.

CAMPUS PASTORS ARE HARD TO FIND … BUT ARE MOST LIKELY FOUND WITHIN

I wish I could get back all the hours I wasted worrying about where we were going to recruit campus pastors. There is clear evidence that campus pastors are being found within the church that is launching the campuses.

In fact, 87% of campus pastors are found internally. This means you should get busy considering the fact that your next campus pastor is most likely already attending your church. Instead of looking far afield for them, invest your energy in identifying them and bringing them up.

IT’S NOT ABOUT VIDEO-DRIVEN CAMPUSES

Too many times people assume that all multisite churches are just pumping video from one campus to others. However, what we’re seeing is the majority of multisite churches are doing some combination of both local live and centralized video teaching.

It’s healthy and good for local campuses to get a chance to teach on a regular basis in “video-driven” multisite churches. (Of course, “regular” is up for discussion and debate.)

In churches that do some form of “team teaching” where the campus pastors do most of the communication, it’s valuable to have occasional video messages to keep the church growing together.

The fact is, the bigger the church and the more campuses you have the more video you are going to use among your locations.

STUDENT MINISTRY IS HARD IN MULTISITE

At its core, the idea of multisite church is about delivering a smaller and “closer to home” experience. For adults, if there are 150 or 1,500 people in the room, the experience is a close approximation. For most kids, the small group leader is the key to delivering the best experience possible. For students, critical mass matters.

If there are 20 people at an event or 100 people at the event, it’s not 5 times better but more like 50 times cooler! This is challenging in multisite because it tends to subdivide your church into small communities. Lots of churches struggle providing student ministry in this approach.

IT’S WAY MORE FINANCIALLY EFFICIENT

Multiple times over the years I’ve been in the situation where we are building a large box to house one of our campuses; at the same time as working on new “portable” locations.

When you do a side by side financial comparisons of “cost per seat” to launch a new “big box” versus launching new campuses, the new portable locations are in an entirely different language on the cost structure.

Many churches are driven to launch new campuses rather than build a bigger “box” because the cost structures are just so compelling. In fact, when talking with organizations that build a lot of churches they just aren’t seeing people building the “big box” churches anymore as a direct impact of the multisite movement.

THINK REGIONAL NOT NATIONAL

There are a few churches that have used this model to launch campuses across the country. These should be seen as an exception, not a guideline for you to follow. Those churches usually have a uniquely gifted communicator with a national platform that can speak to that audience.

Most multisite churches should be thinking about how they can use this strategy to saturate the region they are from. As a rule of thumb, that region usually extends to where people cheer for the same sports teams.

First, figure out how to reach people in that region before jumping to national aspirations. (By the way, why do so many multisite churches in the north have campuses in Florida?) 😉

NAIL IT BEFORE YOU SCALE IT

You’ll get more of whatever you multiply through going multisite. If you have problems with parts of what you do, those parts will just grow. If there are aspects of your ministry that are full of pain in the process, you’ll just have more pain.

Before you head out to launch make sure there is a modicum of health.

TEACHING IS THE BIGGEST “NON-ISSUE” LONG TERM

There is a lot of conversation and discussion upfront about how to deliver teaching at most multisite churches.

Teaching pastors do a lot of soul-searching around them being the “face on the screen” all over town. Campus pastors jockey for more stage time and want to get in the saddle and teach. However, long-term this becomes the smallest issue in launching, sustaining, and growing a multisite campus.

All of the “people” issues are much more pressing realities in making this approach work. Developing teams, connecting people to the community, raising financial resources and attracting new guests are far more pressing issues for campuses than how you’re going to deliver teaching.

DON’T LAUNCH A CAMPUS; LAUNCH A SYSTEM FOR LAUNCHING CAMPUSES

In the last survey, half of all multisite churches have either 2 or 3 campuses. [ref] This is a shame for kingdom impact. These churches have started down the road of multiplication but stalled out.

Imagine the impact this movement would have if we could move all of those churches to launch a few more sites!

My conviction is that the reason that most churches are stuck at that point is that they just launched a campus or two but didn’t build a system for regularly launching new locations. They need a multisite church launch flywheel to help them in this endeavour!

SMALL TOWNS ARE THE HORIZON FOR MULTISITE

This movement started in relatively densely populated suburban areas but I’m seeing a new movement among churches reaching small towns and rural contexts.

These communities are often places where no viable gospel-oriented church exists and so these new multisite churches are leading the way to inject the message of Jesus back into these locations. I look forward to learning from these trailblazing churches in the coming years!

THERE IS NO BETTER WAY TO DRIVE ENGAGEMENT AT YOUR CHURCH THAN LAUNCHING NEW LOCATIONS

Campus expansion is a robust way to engage new volunteers at your church.

Typically, we’ve seen that 2/3rds of the volunteers in new campuses haven’t served in the church before. I’m convinced that there is no better recruiting tool than to launch new locations. In fact, I haven’t seen anything in all these years that comes close to driving up volunteer engagement at a church than launching new locations.

If you are wanting to see more people engaged in what your church does, get busy launching new campuses!

AGAIN, THE SIZE AND HEALTH OF YOUR LAUNCH CORE IS THE CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTOR

I can’t overstate how important this factor is.

Your launch process needs to be built around the single factor of building a large and healthy volunteer team.

Everything else is secondary to that decision. In fact, I would suggest that every decision during the launch process needs to be made in light of this one overall driving factor.

Build a big and healthy team and your campus will thrive for years to come. If your team is small and weak the campus is almost certainly destined to limp for a long time.

Mission Article: Great Questions Lead to Great Conversations

By Pastor Rick Warren

I’ve made it my practice for years to have significant conversations with just about everyone I meet. If you have an open mind and humility, you can learn from anyone. The more people I’ve talked to, the more I’ve learned.
It’s easy to have a superficial conversation with someone. Most of our conversations aren’t personal. How often has someone asked you, “How are you?” What’s the universal response? “Fine. How are you?”
What if you didn’t talk to make conversation, but instead you talked to make a difference?
I’ve used “S.P.E.A.K.” as an acronym to help me make my conversations go beneath the surface. You can use these questions with anyone you meet—no matter how much money, power, or popularity the other person has, this tool will help you go deeper and be more personal:
S – Story: “What is your story?”
This is an open-ended question that gets people started. Most people like to talk about their story because being known is a basic need we all have.
P – Passion: “What motivates you?”
Everyone is moved by something. A person’s passion is one of the things that makes that person unique. You make a significant connection when you take an interest in what others care about. When you get people to talk about what they love, you’ll be transformed by a different perspective.
E – Encouragement: “Do you know what you’d be good at?”
Once you know someone’s story and their passions, it’s natural to encourage them to do something they are good at—or to consider something they could do well. This is a faith-building opportunity. People thrive when they are encouraged and empowered. Most people don’t have enough faith to believe in the dream God has given them. You can encourage them to take that next step.
A – Assistance: “How can I help you?”
When you ask this kind of question, you are being like Jesus. He often asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus served the people he encountered, and every conversation was according to God’s plan. You may be in a person’s life just so you can give them the help they need to fulfill God’s purpose for their life.
K – Knowledge: “What do you know that I need to know?”
This question is for your benefit. You can ask anyone this question because everyone knows something you don’t. With the right question, you can learn from anyone. You don’t have time to make all the mistakes! Wise people draw out learnings from the experiences of others.
There’s a bonus question that you should ask yourself: “Who do I know that should hear what I’ve learned?” This question passes along wisdom that others need to hear. Don’t hoard it for yourself; share what you learn with others.
Today we spend so much time buried in our mobile devices. Some of us have forgotten how to approach one another and have a meaningful conversation. Questions like these can help you engage with anyone you meet.

Why You Don’t Need a Bible Degree to Share Your Faith

 

By J.D. Greear

 

Jews in Jesus’ day had a hard time understanding how Gentiles could be saved. Gentiles were so bad. They were the historic oppressors. They had perverse sexual practices and no concept of family. They were violent and cruel and godless. They took up two parking spaces at the supermarket.

This is why it was such a shock to Jews when the Apostle Paul said, “Yup, salvation is theirs, too.” Here’s how he put it in Romans:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” – Romans 1:16

Salvation to everyone.

There is nobody, in any circumstance, that is alienated from the power of God. You may say, “That sounds nice, but I am really messed up.” Listen: God created the world in six days. Out of nothing. He brought Jesus’ decaying body back from the dead.

He can handle your mess.

No wonder Paul said he was eager to preach the gospel (Rom.1:15). When you’ve experienced power like that, you just can’t shut up about it.

I talked with one of our church’s college students, “Luke,” about an experience that shows this vividly. A couple of years ago, he started a flag football team with some buddies, hoping to share the gospel with several of them. Luke tried a few times, but they had “zero spiritual interest.”

Luke was about ready to give up, especially after his flag football team got into a series of fights with opposing teams. But he decided, one last time, to share his testimony, share the gospel and share why—as a Christian—he didn’t want to be a part of a team known for brawling with other students.

It was awkward. Luke was sure it had landed on deaf ears.

But a few weeks later, when he invited them to Campus Outreach’s New Year’s Conference, they agreed. They heard me give an invitation, and one of them—the ringleader in the fighting escapades—gave his life to Christ.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Later that night, unbeknownst to Luke, this first guy started sharing with his buddies. He knew about three verses from the Bible, so when his friends asked how to be saved, he googled it.

I’m not kidding. He googled, “How do you become a Christian?” And through that, he found the “Roman’s Road” online and led two of his friends to faith in Christ.

In the space of 12 hours, three friends turned to Jesus Christ because of the faithful labour of two young men, both eager about the gospel. One knew his Bible well and shared his faith intentionally; the other didn’t even own a Bible and shared his faith organically, as an impulse.

But here’s how I know they both knew the gospel: They couldn’t shut up about it.

Charles Spurgeon said that when you understand what Jesus has done for you:

“You will not be able to keep your good news to yourself. You will be whispering it into your child’s ear; you will be telling it to your husband; you will be earnestly imparting it to your friend; without the charms of eloquence you will be more than eloquent; your heart will speak, and your eyes will flash as you talk of his sweet love.”

You don’t need a public speaking course. You don’t need to go to seminary. When you have Jesus, you become the most eloquent speaker there is because you’re talking about something that comes from your heart. When the gospel becomes real to you, you will be eager to share it with everyone else.

Mission Article: 5 THINGS PEOPLE BLAME THE CHURCH FOR…BUT SHOULDN’T

By Carey Nieuwhof

There’s a lot of church bashing that happens these days. I get that. Some of it is deserved.

Like me, maybe you’ve noticed that a lot of people feel justified in dismissing the church as anything between a complete disappointment and otherwise useless.

Doubtless people have been hurt in the church and hurt by the church, and for that I feel terrible.

But it’s one thing to have a bad experience or a series of bad experiences. It’s another to hang on to them for far longer than you should, especially when you have a role in them that you refuse to see.

So in the hopes of clarifying a few things and helping us all move through whatever hang ups might be lingering, here are 5 things people blame their church for…but shouldn’t.

  1. THE CHURCH DIDN’T STOP YOU FROM GROWING SPIRITUALLY

Most church leaders have heard this before from someone who’s new at your church. I went to X church for 2 years but I just didn’t grow there. Now I’ve come here. Hopefully I’ll grow!

I’ve heard this so many times at one point I believed the logic. Until I realised that we were this person’s fifth church in 6 years, and they didn’t grow at any of them. Which makes you ask the question…is it really the church, or could it be them?

I came to the realisation years ago that I’m responsible for my spiritual growth. Nobody can make me grow. And honestly, no one can keep me from growing because no one can actually control my thoughts, my heart and my mind. I can offer them to God in free surrender whenever I want.

Understand, the church can help, but it’s not responsible for your spiritual growth. You are.

  1. THE CHURCH DIDN’T BURN YOU OUT

You meet a lot of people in ministry, both paid and volunteer, who will tell you the church burned them out. As someone who has burned out while leading a church, it would be tempting for me to say “For sure…my church burned me out. You should see the demands people made on me as a pastor and leader!”

But I would never say that.

You know who burned me out?

I did. 

I am responsible for my burnout. I pushed too hard for too long. I didn’t deal with underlying issues. I burned myself out.

Now, granted, I think ministry can be confusing, and I think it’s easier to burn out in ministry than in other vocations. But I’m responsible. And so, honestly, are you.

  1. THE CHURCH DIDN’T MAKE YOU CYNICAL

I’ve heard many Christians say “I’m so cynical after working at/attending several churches.”

And for sure, any student of human nature can become cynical.

But the church didn’t make you cynical. You let your heart grow hard. You chose to believe certain things about people, about God, about life, and it built a crust around something that used to be alive and vibrant.

The biggest challenge in life is to see life for what it really is but keeping your heart fully engaged. God loves to help people do that.

I fight cynicism daily. And if anyone makes me cynical, it’s me…not you, not God, not culture, not the church. I want my heart to be alive and celebrating each day. That’s a choice I make with God’s help.

  1. THE CHURCH DIDN’T CAUSE YOUR UNFORGIVENESS

It’s easy to hold a grudge. Get hurt (and yes, I’ve been hurt by people in the church too) and hang onto it long enough, and grudges will form.

Soon you’ll not want to hear someone’s name, let alone run into them in the supermarket.

Too many people in the church or who walked away from the church carry unforgiveness and blame the church for it.

What are you hanging onto from a bad church experience that you need to let go of?

Forgiveness is the one of most Christian things people can do. Yet it’s what far too many Christians withhold from one another.

I love how Mark Twain phrased it: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

  1. THE CHURCH DIDN’T MAKE YOU LOSE YOUR FAITH

I hesitate to write this one. I’m a church leader. I do everything I can to help people find faith in Jesus Christ.

I also realise I’m far from perfect, that our church is not perfect, and that there never will be perfection on this side of heaven.

It breaks my heart when I hear people say “I went to church but it was so bad/so hypocritical/so shallow I lost my faith.” I realise we don’t always do a good job. In fact, sometimes churches do a terrible job. Sometimes I do a terrible job.

But as you’ve seen throughout this piece, nobody else makes you lose your faith. That was or is a choice you made. It is.

And it’s a choice I make every day. To believe when there are more than a few reasons not to. To love when people don’t love me back. To forgive when it’s easier to hang on to the hurt. To trust when there’s probably a few reasons to stop trusting.

So if you want to believe again…believe again.

A CHALLENGE

Now let me give you a challenge. I realise many of you have been hurt by the church. I realise many of you have grown cynical. And that’s true of people who have left the church and who are in the church.

Here’s the challenge: Be part of the solution. And the solution is not to walk away or be endlessly critical.

The reason I lead a church is because I believe Jesus designed the church to be the hope of the world. Churches are imperfect organisations, but they’re also chosen organisations. We’re on a mission given by Christ. We’re his chosen instrument.

I just want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The world has enough cynics and critics.

We need people and we need leaders who deal hope.

Would you be one of them? Maybe get involved again? Or join a church and decide to work toward a better future? Or start a church of your own? That would be incredible. Really…it would! We need more optimists and more people ready to make the world a better place.

Church Health Quiz 2

IS YOUR CHURCH A DISCIPLING CHURCH?

By Chuck Lawless on Feb 13, 2019

Can your church leaders describe what a “disciple” looks like in your church? If they can’t describe what you hope to produce in your members, it’s likely that your overall goal is nebulous. That lack of clarity will hinder your church’s discipleship.

  1. Does your church have a required membership class? A membership class begins discipleship early, and it sets expectations for further discipling as a member of a local body.
  2. Does the church have a church covenant that is up-to-date, relevant, and utilized? A covenant that only hangs on the wall is nothing more than a picture in a frame. Churches with legitimate covenants also typically have a strategy to help members fulfil the covenant.
  3. How does the number of additions compare to the church’s increase/decrease in attendance over the past year? If the church gained 25 new members, but the corresponding attendance figures show an increase of only five, further assessment is needed. It’s possible the church’s back door is so wide open you’re losing almost as many people as you’re gaining.
  4. Are new believers discipled immediately? Young believers are sometimes the most teachable members of a church. Healthy churches start discipling them before they figure out they can be members without being discipled.
  5. Are your members growing in godliness? This one’s more difficult to evaluate, but churches that produce disciples produce men and women who reject temptations and follow God fully.
  6. Does the church offer small groups that include equipping and accountability for holy living? If you read yesterday’s post, you know that I recommend small groups that warmly invite the unchurched to participate. At the same time, I also encourage churches to have small groups that allow for significant life-on-life interaction and serious accountability.
  7. Does the church have an intentional strategy for teaching spiritual disciplines? Discipling churches don’t just tell folks to read the Word, pray, fast, and do other spiritual disciplines; instead, they teach and lead them to make disciplines a part of their lives.
  8. Is the pastoral staff mentoring other believers? If the leaders of the church aren’t pouring their lives into other believers, they will lack credibility in asking others to do so. Strong discipleship churches are led by mentor-pastors.
  9. Does the church have someone responsible to follow up with members who fall away? The longer a church member is AWOL, the more likely it is he or she will not return. Healthy churches have someone in charge of holding a net so no one falls too far.
  10. Is the church strategically discipling teens and children?  Discipling congregations recognize that good discipleship begins early. They intentionally connect older members with younger members to promote mutual spiritual growth.
  11. Is your church sending out the next generation of church leaders and missionaries? This question looks toward the results of good discipleship: is your church growing believers who love God and long for others to know Him? Are you teaching them to give their lives for the spread of the gospel?

So, is your church a discipling church?

Church Health Quiz 1

Is Your Church an Evangelistic Church?

By Chuck Lawless on Feb 12, 2019 01:00 am
For years, I’ve studied evangelistic churches. Based on those studies, here are some simple questions to evaluate your church’s evangelistic health:

  1. Are staff and lay leaders expected to evangelize? Are they held accountable? If the church’s leaders don’t do evangelism, the church won’t evangelize, either.
  2. Is the growth of the church primarily conversion growth? Transfer growth? Biological growth?  Evangelistic churches grow by reaching non-believers more than by “swapping sheep” or increasing their nursery attendance.
  3. Do you know how many people are saved (as much as you can tell) through your church’s ministry? Strong churches know these numbers, and they genuinely grieve when no one is saved through their efforts.
  4. Does the church regularly offer evangelism training? Simply telling members to evangelize without teaching them how to connect with non-believers, share their testimony, etc., seldom results in ongoing evangelism. You must provide the training.
  5. Are new members and new believers quickly trained and encouraged to share their story? The longer a church waits to help new believers evangelize, the more likely it is they will get negatively cocooned in the church.
  6. Does the church offer small groups in which unchurched folks would feel comfortable participating? To answer this question, you have to talk to recent unchurched guests. Don’t assume that your church members are the best persons to determine if their groups welcome non-believers.
  7. What is the church’s ratio of new believers to longer-term believers? If new believers are hard to find, the congregation may not be strongly evangelistic.
  8. When was the last time you heard a conversion testimony at your church? Churches that emphasize evangelism also emphasize telling their stories personally and publicly.
  9. Does your church intentionally pray about evangelism? Paul said his prayer for Israel was that they be saved (Rom. 10:1). He asked others to pray he would speak the gospel clearly and boldly as God opened doors (Eph. 6:18-20; Col. 4:2-4). Evangelistic churches pray (often by name) for believers to proclaim and non-believers to believe.
  10. Does the church really celebrate the new birth of believers? Baptism that illustrates conversion ought to be a time of joy, even while illustrating the seriousness of a commitment to Christ. Learn to celebrate.
  11. Does the church capitalize on its web presence to share the gospel? The Internet allows us to touch the world with the gospel, but I seldom find a church website that grabs the attention of seeking non-believers and clearly directs them to the plan of salvation.

Does the senior pastor lead the way? No matter what title you use for this leader, the primary preacher must set the example for the church. I’ve never seen an evangelistic church without an evangelistic leader. Ever.

Mission Article: Thriving Rural Congregations

By Allen Stanton  February 7, 2019

This is American again, but has some good points

Recently, I had dinner with a group of rural pastors to hear about their ministries. One by one, the pastors stood, gave their name, their church and their years of service. Then, invariably, each pastor’s face dropped.

“Our church only worships about 20,” the first pastor said. The dismay and anxiety rippled throughout the room as each pastor shared their worship attendance. The next church reported an aging congregation of 60. Another pastor serving on a multi-church charge reported that one of their churches only had about 12 people on a Sunday morning.

The pastors were understandably frustrated. They had tried the latest church growth strategies. They’d read the numerous blogs about leadership and had attended the best continuing education events, none of which really spoke to their contexts. Regardless, the enviable metric of “growth” seemed to elude them.

While these pastors all serve rural areas, their contexts are distinct. Some serve in communities that have entered into a period of seeming stagnation, a perception driven in equal parts by changes in the economy and the prevailing narratives about what it means to be rural. It has been decades since agriculture had been a leading industry in their communities, and now its replacement, manufacturing, is declining as well.

For others, though, rural ministry requires managing rapid change. Drawn by the allure of affordable property, a willingness to commute, and proximity to natural attractions, retirees are flocking from cities to these rural communities. This new population brings a shifting culture, and, in some places, an impending change from the designation of rural to suburban.

Conversations on church vitality usually hold up a few key metrics, emphasizing an increase in worship attendance and a large number of youth and young adults.[i] But there are obvious questions about how rural congregations can utilize these measures of vitality within their changing communities. How should a congregation whose growth is spurred by an influx of retirees respond when told they need to have more children involved? Or, when a congregation of 20 has a strong missional presence in a declining community, how are they to answer the critique that their church is stagnant or even dying?

In my office, I keep a post-it with a short phrase that I often hear from my colleagues in rural economic development: “If you’ve seen one rural county, you’ve seen one rural county.” Because rural communities are complex, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It stands to reason, then, that rural congregations need an equally flexible marker for their vitality. Rural congregations occupy the centers of busy town squares and dot the sides of unpopulated state roads. Bound together only by the label “rural,” vitality must look different in these different spaces.

In working with churches and other rural leaders, I have found that thriving rural congregations share three key pillars of vitality.[ii] These are not metrics in and of themselves, but areas in which rural congregations should strive to develop context-specific measurements in order to set clear goals.

First, thriving rural congregations demonstrate a clear theological identity. These congregations conduct worship services and foster conversations that connect their parishioners’ faith with their weekly lives.

This theological identity also carries a deep theology of place. They know their own history, and in their own language they can tell the story of what God is doing in their community. They remember both pain and joy and hold together the tension that runs between sorrow, repentance and hope.

This theology of place serves as more than idle memory. Instead, it builds the foundation for the second key trait: thriving rural congregations understand their local communities as a place to cultivate, announce and invite others to participate in the Kingdom of God. They understand that they have a responsibility to the surrounding community.

Bottom of Form

This may look different in each congregation. In some places, this may be organic as members hear and respond to what they see in the community. Or, churches may develop ongoing missional programming. The result is that the congregation strives to face outward, yearning to see how they might be a part of God’s new creation.

Lastly, thriving rural congregations are sustainable. At its most basic level, congregations are able to pay their bills and keep the lights on. This presents a unique challenge—and opportunity—for many churches as giving patterns continue to change. It’s commonly reported that younger generations have less disposable income and a skepticism of institutions, resulting in lower tithes. Meanwhile, the 2018 tax reforms are likely to spur an overall reduction in charitable giving.[iii]

In many rural areas, bi-vocational pastors are becoming standard, creating opportunities to deepen the congregation’s commitment to their place. Programming budgets are also decreasing, which means that pastors will need to be more adept at cultivating partnerships with other organizations and funders. These are challenges, but they are also opportunities for new modes of ministry.

At the end of our dinner, I asked our rural pastors to share stories of where God was at work through them. With excitement, they shared stories of their small congregations raising money for community-based literacy programs. They shared their commitment to preserving and sharing the history of their 150-year-old, one-room church that once doubled as the schoolhouse for African-American students. They shared stories of their few high school students who had become active leaders. These are places of important and life-giving ministry.

Church vitality is not simply about growing a church, though that may be a natural outcome. Neither are these vital churches limited to the growing suburbs that surround our major cities. Thriving rural congregations have a deep commitment to seeing and being a part of what God is doing in the world around them. They offer a reminder that the narrative we often tell about rural ministry is misinformed. Being a rural church does not mean being a church on life support. Instead, they are places of meaningful and impactful transformation.

[i] Take, for instance, the UMC Call to Action: Vital Congregations Research Project. De Wetter, David, et al.. Towers Watson, 2010.

[ii] These cores represent a commonality in several reports, including the Thriving Rural Communities Summative Evaluation Report and work compiled by GBHEM.

[iii] Fox, Richard, and Joshua Headly. “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—What Nonprofits Need to Know,” Philanthropy Journal News, 29 Jan. 2018.

Mission Article:5 SURPRISING CHARACTERISTICS OF CHURCHES THAT ARE ACTUALLY REACHING THE NEXT GENERATION

By Carey Nieuwhof

Everyone talks about reaching the next generation of young adults.

But what really makes a church effective in reaching the next generation?

I’ve visited a few churches this year that are doing a fantastic job at reaching 18-30 year olds—a vastly under-represented demographic in most churches.

I took notes at all the churches. They all shared surprising characteristics, even though they are incredibly diverse.

The surprise (at least for me)?

It wasn’t their model that made them effective. The churches I studied have different models.

It wasn’t their denomination. One was Roman Catholic and attracting tons of young families. Others were cutting edge conservative evangelical church plants.

It wasn’t their facility. Some were portable. Some were permanent.

In many ways, these churches are bending the rule book established by the mega churches of the 90s and 2000s.

Here are 5 things I’ve seen in churches that are killing it with people in their 20s and 30s:

  1. PASSION OVER POLISH

If you attend enough conferences, you can think that you need polish to pull off effective ministry. Another $50,000 in lights or sound and you’ll be good.

The effective churches I’ve visited and seen recently by no means had the best lights, stage or production. Some had almost no stage and no lights, while others had a pretty decent package, but not nearly the level you see at some churches.

What did they all have in common? Passion.

When it comes to reaching the next generation, passion beats polish.

It’s not that polish is bad, but I think it’s increasingly trumped by a raw authenticity that exudes from leaders who will do whatever it takes to reach people with the Gospel.

Smaller facilities and stage sets were more than compensated for by preachers, worship leaders and team members who exuded passion for the mission.

Passion beats polish.

  1. JESUS OVER GOD

This may seem either self-evident or trivial, but I believe it’s neither; the churches that were packed with young adults talk about Jesus more than they talk about God.

Of course, Jesus is God and God is Jesus.

But God can mean many things in our post-Christian culture. Jesus is far more specific.

I’ve noticed that churches that talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit are having a greater impact on young adults than churches who talk about God.

  1. PROGRESS OVER FACILITIES

Several of the churches I’ve visited this year are multisite. And they don’t have massive facilities from which to launch new locations.

Next Level Church in New Hampshire is reaching almost 3000 people over 6 locations. Their largest facility is a 14,000 square foot campus that’s a converted auto repair shop. They’ve done a fantastic job remodelling it, but they’ve done it on a dime and it only seats 400 people. They’re reaching almost 3000 people out of that space across 6 locations.

It’s not the 10 million dollar facility you’d think you need to have to reach 3000 people, but that’s not what Josh Gagnon, their lead pastor, is focused on.

Josh’s passionate, can-do, no-excuses attitude is in part what’s led them to become one of the ten fastest growing churches in America.

Ditto for National Community Church in DC. They’re doing a superb job reaching young adults with very small permanent facilities. And they’re adding an eighth location without first building out the space they already have.

Impressive.

  1. RISK OVER CERTAINTY

All of the churches I know that are doing a great job with young adults take risks. Big risks.

They’re either at odds with their denomination (I’ve seen a few of these) or are launching locations where no one else would dare plant a church.

They’re figuring out how to accommodate parking and even children’s ministry after they’ve made the decision to open or move. They just want to see the kingdom advance.

And the young adults they’re reaching seem fine with the uncertainty. They just want more space and more locations to invite their friends to.

Lesson? If you’ve got growth and momentum but you’re waiting for certainty before you determine what’s next, you might be waiting too long.

Just act.

  1. MISSION OVER MONEY

The question for many churches is this: does mission follow money, or does money follow mission?

Great question.

The churches I know that are doing a great job with young adults would say ‘money follows mission.’

Do the mission well, and money shows up.

In fact, if you lead with the mission first, everything else shows up: people, money and the resources you need.

Too many churches wait for the day when they have the money to realise their mission.

Realise your mission, and you’ll have the money you need.

Quotable Quote

Jesus modelled a very simple life. You don’t see him collecting things. He spent his time and energy on relationships –  because he knew they were more important than all the stuff in the world. “–Rick Warren