What’s Working in Large Churches Now (Part 2)
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In our current series, we’re unpacking key learnings from conversations with four large, growing churches – Christ Fellowship in Miami, Transformation Church near Charlotte, Sun Valley Community Church in Phoenix, and North Point Community Church in Atlanta:
- They are intentional about widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus.
- They are encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday morning.
- They are leveraging multisite strategy as a reaction to growth that enables more growth.
- They are focused on shaping a strong team culture that leads to a healthy culture in their church.
P.S. Though this series is focused on what’s working in larger churches, most of these learnings are still going to be applicable no matter what size church you’re leading. 🙂
ENCOURAGING ENGAGEMENT BEYOND SUNDAY
In our last episode, we focused on the first theme: intentionally widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus.
While it’s true that many churches are seeing new faces on the weekend, churches often struggle to then engage those new people beyond Sunday morning. That’s why, this week, Amy and I will continue our series by sharing stories and strategies for helping people take a next step beyond Sunday morning, including:
- The importance of reach AND discipleship strategies
- How to “teach it, model it, and make it easy”
- Creating measurable next steps
Webinar: What's Working in Large Churches NOW
Tony Morgan and Amy Anderson recently sat down with senior leaders Chris Hodges (Church of the Highlands), Omar Giritli (Christ Fellowship Church in Miami), and Miles McPherson (Rock Church) to discuss what’s actually working in their large churches now to reach new people and engage people in the life of the church a few years post-pandemic...
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. It’s true that right now many churches are seeing new faces on the weekend, but often churches struggle to engage those new people beyond Sunday. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue a series focused on what’s working in larger churches with some stories and steps of how to help new people take a next step. If you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, we would invite you to head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’re gonna get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide, bonus resources, and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Before we get to this week’s conversation, here’s a word from Tony.
The Church Lawyers Client Member Program was created for organizations just like yours. Their team of Christian legal professionals are personally called to empower and protect churches’ ministries and their leaders. They want to help you fulfill your mission by providing biblically informed and ministry focused legal solutions, whether it’s governance, employment, litigation, or other matters. Let The Church Lawyers walk alongside you as you navigate legal issues facing your ministry. Sign up for The Church Lawyers Client Member Program today at thechurchlawyers.com.
Well welcome back to today’s conversation. Last week we launched a new podcast series that’s focused on how churches are winning on this side of the pandemic. And as we discussed last week, this series is intentionally focused on what’s working with large churches. However, I think you’ll agree that most of these learnings are also applicable even if you’re leading a small or a mid-sized church. So, Tony, will you catch us up to speed before we dive into today’s conversation?
Yeah. So, Amy, as you mentioned, we’re focused on large churches, but these principles really do apply to churches of every size. But to prepare for this content series in these podcast episodes, I talked to some friends at Christ Fellowship in Miami, Transformation Church near Charlotte, Sun Valley Community Church in Phoenix and North Point Community Church in Atlanta. All of these churches, they have several thousand people in attendance every Sunday, but probably tens of thousands of people that are connected and actively engaged in their ministries. And through those conversations, I identified these four key themes and what these churches identified is really working in this season. The first was being intentional about widening the front door and inviting new people to follow Jesus, and that’s what last week’s episode was about. The second theme was encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday morning, and that’s where we’re gonna be camping out today in today’s conversation. And then in the coming two weeks, we’re going to talk about these two additional themes. The first is around leveraging multi-site strategy as a reaction to growth to enable more growth, and then lastly, being focused on shaping a strong culture on the staff team that leads to a healthy culture in the church as well. So those are the four themes, and we’re taking one of those themes every week to cover in the podcast, so that hopefully you get a sense, kind of a glimpse, an insider’s look at what’s happening in some of these churches. And again, my hope is that some of these principles then, some of these strategies, that they may apply to your ministry as well.
Well, as you mentioned, last week’s episode focused on that first theme you mentioned about intentionally widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus. And then today we’re going to focus on that second theme. You shared that this is about encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday Services. Tony, these first two themes really kind of work together though, don’t they?
Yeah, Amy, I do think they have to be almost integrated, but you have to have defined strategies both around spiritual formation or discipleship and how we’re reaching people outside the church and outside the faith. And more commonly than not, when we engage with churches, what we find is they’ve done some work defining what that spiritual formation or discipleship strategy needs to look like. But it’s honestly pretty rare to see a church that has a defined reach strategy. And so when we engage with churches in The Unstuck Process, every church that we work with, we ask them to answer these two key questions. First related to reach, the key question is, how do we connect with and engage people who are outside the faith and outside the church? In other words, what’s our defined strategy to do that? And then secondly, around spiritual formation, we wanna make sure the church has an answer to this question. How do we help people take their next steps towards Christ and begin to follow Jesus? And we just wanna make sure there’s a clearly identified strategy for helping people take those next steps in discipleship. And the reality is this, I mean, can you really fulfill the great commission if you’re not doing both? I just, I don’t think that’s possible, because without reach, how in the world do you go make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit? And then the flip side. Without spiritual formation, how do you teach the new disciples to obey all the commands that Jesus has given to us. And so, in order to fulfill the great commission that Jesus has given us, we need both a reach strategy and we need a strong discipleship strategy. But more importantly, how do you help someone become like Jesus if they’re only concerned with their own spiritual formation? And it’s impossible to be like Jesus without the heart for reaching others, at least not the Jesus who was willing to leave the 99 others in the wilderness to go search for the one that was lost until he found the one that was lost. Or the Jesus who celebrates the brother who was dead, and who has now come back to life, the brother who is lost and now is found. I mean, that Jesus was very motivated by reaching people that were lost. Likewise, how do you help someone become like Jesus if you only help them believe in Jesus, but you don’t help them follow Jesus. I mean, you can’t help someone truly experience a brand new life in Christ if their spiritual journey stops after they say a prayer and they get baptized. They may be with Jesus when they die, but they won’t know the life Jesus has for each of us while we’re alive here on earth. And so, Amy, you know this to be true. My mission is to help churches embrace both a reach and a spiritual formation strategy. I wanna help believers grow their faith and share Jesus’s heart for reaching the lost, their friends, their family, their neighbors, their coworkers, and so on. And because of that, we’re trying to promote this healthy approach to accomplishing the great commission where we’re intentional both about a reach strategy and our spiritual formation strategies.
Well, thank you for that, Pastor Tony. With that, I am curious to know what large churches are experiencing when it comes, you know, to encouraging people to engage next steps in their spiritual journey? So what stood out to you about what you learned from these four churches?
Yeah, these churches, I mean, they’re trying to actively engage people with intentional next steps beyond Sunday services. And here’s the key. They’re offering intentional steps, next steps. And these steps are measurable. So they actually know if people are taking these steps. Again, we referred to this a little bit last week. They don’t just have a strategy. They’re actually tracking and monitoring the results to make sure the strategy is working. Secondly, these strategies are helping people develop relationships with other people. They’re trying to connect people to others in the church in a variety of different ways, which we’re going to unpack in a second because they see that that’s very important, not only to helping people stay connected to the church, but it’s important for encouraging spiritual formation. The key is though that these next steps aren’t just taught in messages on Sunday morning. They’re also modeled by the leadership, and these churches are making those next steps as easy as possible. So if you think of it, they’re teaching the importance of these steps. As leaders, as pastors, they’re modeling the importance of these steps, and then they’re making these steps as easy as possible. And let me share a specific example from one of the churches. Christ Fellowship in Miami shared at a recent gathering that they’re experiencing a healthy influx into groups. So people are connecting into the home groups that their church is offering throughout the week, and it’s really their primary way of encouraging spiritual growth beyond Sundays. And it’s obviously a key strategy for encouraging people to connect relationally and to meet some other people. So why are they seeing this momentum with group connections in the season when Amy, you know this to be true, so many other churches are seeing declining engagement in small groups and in Sunday school participation and other areas of ministry like that? I’m sure there are several factors at play at Christ Fellowship, but one of them has to be the way that this is modeled from the top down. And by that, here’s specifically how that’s playing out. The lead pastor, the executive pastor, and everyone on their Senior Leadership Team, they’re not only in a small group, all of those pastors and leaders are leading a small group that gives the teaching pastors then credibility when they preach about the importance of community on Sunday morning. When they do that, they are coming from a position of credibility because the people see them engaged in the groups and leading groups themselves. In addition to those strategies, they’ve also launched this group connect experience where folks can meet a variety of small group leaders and join a group immediately. In other words, they’re not only communicating the importance of groups and modeling the importance of groups, they’re making that step into a group as easy as possible. And again, let’s look at how Christ Fellowship is encouraging people to engage next steps in a spiritual journey. Number one, they’re teaching about it on Sunday morning, and you gotta teach. You gotta be clear. You gotta make it very clear for people. This is why it’s important. This is what scripture says about why this step is important for you in your spiritual journey. So you have to teach it, but you have to model it. The leaders need to demonstrate that engaging in relationships through small groups, as an example, is important. And then you gotta make it easy. I mean, in the case of Christ’s fellowship, again, they’re offering these connection experiences where people can immediately join a group. There are no hoops to jump through. There are no forms to fill out. No phone or email tag is happening. They’re trying to connect with people, show them the options, and have them join a group immediately. So if you want people to take a next step, you have to teach it. You have to model it, and then you have to make that next step as easy as possible.
Tony, it’s that last part that I think is so hard for a lot of churches when it comes to discipleship. Almost every church teaches it, and many pastors and church leaders model it. I think it’s the make it easy part, that’s a challenge for a lot of churches. Do you see that too?
Yeah, it’s part of the reason why you and I had that pruning series at the very beginning of the year. Absolutely, Amy. Churches tend to engage the make it complex approach rather than the make it easy approach when it comes to spiritual formation. And let me give you an example. I’m not gonna name the name of this church. I’m sure this church is nowhere near where you’re located, and I’m sure pastors and leaders of this church are not listening to the podcast. But I was just curious at this one particular church, if I connect with this church, what are the different next steps that this church offers beyond Sunday services? And so, Amy, I’m not making this up. These were all of the next steps that they were offering. There was a parents’ night out, a precept class, a financial stewardship class, a mystery trip for senior adults. Don’t you wonder what that was? They were offering women’s ministry and men’s ministry. There was an opportunity to participate in the choir, the orchestra. They had divorced care available. There was a Beth Moore Bible study, a grief share support group. They had singles ministry gatherings. They had kids ministry on Sunday mornings, but then AWANA on Wednesday evenings, which probably gives away the denomination. So my apologies. They were offering homeschool ministry. They had a mother’s of preschoolers ministry. There was a newborn ministry. They were advertising a Vacation Bible School, child dedication, summer camps, a music festival. They had Sunday morning student gatherings, and then they had Wednesday evening student gatherings. There were small group opportunities, volunteer teams to join. There was a home bound ministry. They were promoting four different foreign missions trips, rescue ministries, a pregnancy support ministry. They had a jail ministry. They had a medical ministry. There was a food pantry available where people could serve. They had a sports ministry, a homeless ministry, celebrate Recovery, orphan care ministry. Wait for it, quilting ministry. There was nutrition and cooking lessons that they were offering. Evangelism training, handyman ministries, counseling, disaster relief teams, discipleship training, soldier care, prayer ministry, a membership class. And then another next step that they were offering was a Wednesday evening fellowship meal. Now, Amy, I don’t share this list to disparage any one of these ministries because I think I could make a case in any ministry context that any one of these ministries could connect people with other followers of Jesus and help people take their next steps toward Christ. So this is not meant to disparage any of those ministries. The challenge is when you’re communicating that many opportunities for people to take next steps, all of those ministries and programs begin to compete with each other for people’s time and attention. And that’s why many times you’ve probably heard me talk about the difference between a church that is designed around programs versus a church that’s designed around a path. All of those ministries that I just referenced, that’s an example of a church that’s designed around programs. On the other hand, what we see in the churches that are getting more momentum around discipleship and spiritual formation and helping people become more like Jesus, those churches are encouraging everyone to take maybe three or four specific next steps.
Tony, do you have an example of where you see a church working more those three to four specific steps?
Yeah, I think a good example here is Transformation Church, Amy. Again, Transformation is located near Charlotte, but they’re actually in South Carolina. So they kind of have some influence in two different states, right on the state border, right? And they’re encouraging people participate in Sunday worship, and then there are four other specific next steps they’re encouraging people to take. And the way they talk about it is this way. They use the word transformer, by the way. So they say, “We use the word transformer to describe disciples of Jesus, and work to intentionally develop these five characteristics that help us grow our faith: worship, connect, serve, give, and invite. And so, I think, you know, worship, give, invite, those are probably pretty clear. When it comes to connect, they’re talking specifically about connecting people into a home group. And the way they say it, it is really the best way to grow as a transformer beyond Sunday mornings. And the implied assumption in that statement, though, is that growth is also happening through the Biblical teaching on Sunday mornings. So we want to encourage you to grow there as well. But, we also want you to connect to a group because there’s gonna be a different level of transformation that happens in your life as a result of that relational connection in that context. And then as it relates to serving, they just communicate, “We want you to join a team to serve the body of Christ. And that does include serving opportunities both inside and outside the walls of the church.” And here’s what’s great about how Transformation Church is engaging this strategy. Every event that happens within the church building is designed as an on-ramp, either into serving or small groups. So what that means is the win for any event that happens in the building isn’t how many people show up to the event. The win is how many people connect into serving or connect into a small group. And just as an example: recently, they had a “Better Man” event at the building. And it was a huge success in many ways, but primarily it was a success because out of that event, they were able to launch several small groups. And so, you know, it really does get back to the important role of the pastors and church leaders in all of this. Again, there’s no doubt about it. Pastor Derwin, he’s preaching about transformation in every single Sunday service and they’re making the next steps easy. They only offer a few next steps, and every event is designed as an on-ramp to groups and serving. And the leaders at Transformation Church, they’re modeling this as well. Vicki Gray mentioned the importance of building relationships and how that has to start with leaders. And she explained that their leaders are doing a great job of building relationships with people, and that is growing the number of people who are connecting to the church through groups and serving. So again, when it comes to discipleship and spiritual formation, you have to teach it, you have to model it, and you have to make it easy for people to take their next step.
Tony, I really appreciated this point and especially how you landed it with the intentionality of why we have events. There is something that we are actually striving for because when you went through, I don’t know how many things you listed off earlier, again, we said it on the podcast before. There really aren’t any bad ministries. But the truth is, you do have limitations, and so do your people, limitations with time, energy, and all of that. And so you almost have to create those boundaries, you know, to have more success along this discipleship pathway. Well, Tony, you said something earlier that really stood out to me. You mentioned that when it comes to encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday morning, it’s both intentional and measurable. So can you share what one of these larger churches is doing to measure the impact of their engagement strategy?
Yeah. Let me share what my friends at North Point Community Church are doing related to their strategy of engaging adults. You know, I think North Point is really known for being a church that unchurched people love to attend. What people may not notice is the intentionality of helping people follow Jesus beyond Sunday morning. And it’s odd that that’s the case because I think people may be missing what I’ve heard Andy Stanley tell the people of North Point many, many times, and that’s that circles are more important than roads. And I’m just telling you, being a part of North Point, they take that very seriously. And over the last couple of years, North Point is growing the number of active adults engaged in the life of the church across all their locations. And again, this seems to be bucking the trend that we’re seeing in other churches around North America, in particularly for ministries that are more mature. North Point has been around now for, I think, it’s more than 25 years. And typically the older ministry gets like that, the more mature they get, the more difficult it is to maintain momentum about growing the number of people that are actively engaged in the life of the ministry. But their engagement strategy, again, it’s both intentional and measurable. They’re still measuring attendance. They’re still tracking giving, but they’ve added this focus on the number of active adults, is what they’re calling it. These are adults that are engaged in the life of the church. And so with that, they’re tracking every point of engagement that they can. And that includes serving. That includes giving, group participation. It’s an adult checking in a kid on Sunday morning, because the assumption is if the child got there, hopefully there was an adult that brought them as well. And so there are some points of engagement, obviously, that are difficult to track, like worship attendance or singles gatherings or maybe special events like that recent Christmas tree lighting that we mentioned last week. But they have the strategy to engage adults to help adults become active in the life of the church, and they’re tracking it. So why are they doing this? Well, the leaders I spoke to at North Point indicated that they’re learning that active adults are kind of like the rising tide that lifts all ships. And that’s why they’re so focused on engagement. I mean, several months ago they set a goal to increase the number of active adults across the entire church. And every ministry, this is interesting. Every ministry has a responsibility for hitting that goal. So they kind of, they set a big goal and then they broke that out by ministry area to make sure every ministry of the church has some responsibility for engaging more adults. In other words, every ministry is invested in the same win. And with this focus, I’ve watched from the side how NorthPoint has launched new initiatives and implemented new strategies to help them move towards this goal that they’ve set for the new year. And similar to Transformation Church, North Point is focused on four areas of engagement beyond Sunday mornings. And those include: inviting, serving, giving, and connecting in a group. And if that sounds familiars…
Those were the areas of engagement that are identical to the strategy that Transformation Church is engaging. And this is what’s fascinating. The team at North Point has found that engaging adults is critical to the health of their ministry. And they’ve learned that if they can get adults to get involved in two of those measurable areas of engagement, those people are far more likely to remain connected to the ministry of the church. In other words, attending services on Sunday, that’s just not enough to keep people connected to the life of the church. In fact, they’ve learned that the stickiest area of engagement is probably serving, and it’s even better at encouraging people to remain a part of the church than joining a small group. So let’s recap: When it comes to helping people engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday morning, these larger churches, they teach about the importance of these next steps. They model as leaders these next steps, and then they make it as easy as possible for people to take these next steps towards Christ. But you won’t know if that spiritual formation is working or not, unless you actually measure it and track it. So maybe it’s teach it, model it, make it easy. But the fourth step, just make sure you’re measuring that strategy and tracking the results.
And of course, that’s important because if you measure it, you’ll know if it’s working or not and if you need to change it or double down on it. Well, thank you Tony for all of that. Any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, your church may not have both a defined reach strategy and a defined discipleship strategy. And if that’s you, Amy and I would love to help your ministry clarify these strategies so that you can teach it, you can model it, and you can make it easy for people to take their next steps towards Christ. And if you need help with that, you can reach out today at theunstuckgroup.com. And then, if you’d like to dive deeper into what’s working in large churches now, join us for a free webinar on February 23rd. We are going to have with us for that webinar, Pastor Chris from Church of the Highlands, Pastor Omar from Christ Fellowship in Miami. Pastor Miles McPherson from The Rock Church out in Southern California. They’re going to be joining us for a candid conversation around where they’re finding momentum, what challenges they’re facing, and what old strategies are still working today. And I think it’s going to be an encouraging conversation, and you can register for free to join us. And you can do that by following the link in your show notes.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team, and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. If there’s any way we can serve you in your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.
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