March 1, 2023

What’s Working In Large Churches Now – Episode 286 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

whats working in large churches now

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Does it feel unclear what “works” in ministry on this side of the pandemic? We know the majority of churches of all sizes feel like they are stuck with a playbook that is no longer effective.  

Every church is different, and no one has all the answers—but one thing is for sure: we’re better when we work together and learn from each other.


In this episode, we’re sharing the replay of a recent webinar conversation where Amy and I sat down with lead pastors Chris Hodges from Church of the Highlands, Omar Giritli from Christ Fellowship Church in Miami, and Miles McPherson from Rock Church to discuss what’s actually working in their large churches now.

Listen in as we discuss:

  • How large churches are reaching new people
  • How large churches are encouraging engagement
  • How large churches are leveraging a multisite strategy
  • How large churches are shaping their culture
"Barna recently released research that showed 74% of all Americans want to grow spiritually. People are looking for real answers and to know that the presence of God is real." — Chris Hodges [episode 286] #unstuckchurch Share on X "If you want to grow your church and reach new people right now, take care of families. Help parents with the needs of their children and students." — Chris Hodges [episode 286] #unstuckchurch Share on X "When God redeems me, I need to go back and pull somebody out from where I was. I need to go back and be a part of delivering to somebody else. God is an efficient God: He gets two for one all the time." — @milesmcpherson [episode 286]… Share on X "You can't create a culture, you can only be one. You have to be it to to get it." — Chris Hodges [episode 286] #unstuckchurch Share on X

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. As we continue to navigate the ongoing effects of two years of pandemic ministry, many larger churches are beginning to identify some specific strategies, both old and new, that are helping to move ministry forward. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy are joined by pastor Miles McPherson of the Rock Church, pastor Omar Giritli of Christ Fellowship Miami and pastor Chris Hodges from Church of the Highlands for a conversation on what’s working in larger churches now. If you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, we want to invite you to head over to and subscribe to get the show notes. When you do, you’re going to 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 is to subscribe. Before we get into the conversation, here’s a word from Tony.

Tony (01:08):

Sometimes as leaders, we think there’s no way someone could do the job as well as we can. It can be easy to feel like we must have our hands in everything for our organization to succeed. But, as we all know, that couldn’t be further from the truth. No one accomplishes anything great alone. Great leaders delegate. And if you’re listening to this podcast, I know you want to be a great leader. If you feel like you are overwhelmed trying to do it all, that’s where our friends at BELAY can help. BELAY, a modern church staffing organization with fractional U.S.-based accounting and virtual assistant services, has helped busy church leaders do just that for more than a decade. To help you figure out where to start, BELAY is offering an exclusive leadership toolkit free to our listeners today. With this toolkit, you’ll learn the necessary steps every leader needs to accomplish more and juggle less. Just text unstuck, that’s U-N-S-T-U-C-K to 55123 to get back to growing your church with BELAY.

Sean (02:16):

Now, let’s get into this week’s conversation with Tony, Amy and our panel.

Tony (02:20):

We’re going to hit four themes during our conversation today, and the first is all about reach. And what we’re seeing from church large churches that are experiencing health and growth in this season is they’re very intentional about widening, widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus. And so, let’s pick up the conversation there. Amy, do you want to get us started?

Amy (02:43):

Sure. Miles, this first question’s for you. You know, we’re hearing at The Unstuck Group from several large churches that there’s a lot of brand new people in the church over the last few years. And just curious, have you experienced that at Rock Church, as well? And if yes, what’s driving that?

Miles (02:59):

Yeah, we, you know, we always have a lot of visitors generally, but I think over the last few years, everybody knows the world has kind of turned upside down, a lot of people looking for hope. And a lot of people who normally wouldn’t go to church are seeking church, and I think churches that are reaping a lot of those new people are reaping it because of what they sowed before in as far as reputation. For a lot of people who went through Covid and the uncertainty of the last couple years are thinking, “What church comes to mind?” And it may only be some, a church they heard about in the news or the media because they don’t have any Christian friends. And so I think that one of the reasons that we and other churches might have been, might be reaping that is because what we’ve sown before as far as reputation and what people heard about you serving the community. And in addition, during Covid when we were, as all churches were serving, that was another introduction to the church and what the church can do for them. You know, people who weren’t food insecure, all of a sudden food insecure. And that’s a big deal. People are homeless that weren’t homeless. And so people have a real need to cry out to God, and a lot of times, the first touch is through serving them.

Tony (04:12):

Yeah, that’s so helpful. And it’s an encouragement to just hear, I know the churches that were intentional, not just about trying to stick together as a congregation, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, but using this as an opportunity to serve the community, to love on people in the community, I think those churches are really starting to see the fruit of that now at this point. Omar, I’m curious; you know, for years, I know your weekend services have at Christ Fellowship have been a key part of your reach strategy, trying to reach new people. Is your weekend service still a part of that strategy? And if so, how? If not, how, how is your reach strategy changing? How are, how are you engaging and trying to reach out to people in this season differently?

Omar (04:58):

Yeah, well, you know, our church for, for, I mean, for, for a long time, and we’ve always been very outwardly focused. You know, like many churches are, you know, you know, we’ve always challenged our people to have as many gospel conversations with people as possible. We’ve really utilized, you know, the invite card, the invite card that, you know, so many of our churches have, you know. But, but I think, you know, I, I think what was very beneficial was, kind of Miles was alluding to, is that because we’ve been so outwardly focused, so many people in our community know who we are. So many people have had invite cards, you know, through from years and years. And, you know, that that type of awareness, I think when, when it, when, the hard moments came and they’re looking for a place, it’s almost like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that church. Oh, you know, oh, I know somebody that goes there. You know, I know there’s a lot of people; there’s a lot of different areas.” And so that has really helped in, in really people coming in and, and hearing the, the hope that we have in, in Christ. And so, that’s been very beneficial. You know, like many of our of churches, we’ve also we’re, you know, we’re, you know, missional focused during, especially during the pandemic when we were not able to meet for a little bit and even throughout. Even right now, we, we have a, a nonprofit called Caring for Miami, which is, is an initiative of Christ Fellowship, where we have, literally we have a mobile dental bus that goes fully, that goes to all these different under-resourced and hurting places and provides free dental work. We partner with The Cancer Institute to provide free services for people who can’t get services. So we, we partner with them. We just actually are about to launch a brand new mobile grocery market that will literally go to all these under-resourced neighborhoods. And literally, people could go in there and shop while maintaining their dignity for what they want free of charge. And so people really got behind it; they gave very generously during the Christmas campaign to make it happen. And it’s becoming a reality. So, you know, we’ve been very focused on, on just really identifying the needs of the community and just going out and, and meeting those needs. So I think a combination of, of strong community awareness for many years, and then also being a, a church of really, it’s, it’s just trying to be as much in the community as possible. You know, all that works together to draw people in.

Tony (07:27):

Yeah. Omar, what I hear is, you know, you, you were, you’re too young to remember these days, but back when I got started in ministry on Sunday mornings, churches would get people to come to church based on what was happening on Sunday morning. And I think what I hear from you is people are coming to church based on what happens Monday through Saturday. So based on the impact, not only that the ministry’s having, but the relation, the relational connections that people in your congregation have in the community, how they’re loving people in the community, that’s what’s bringing people to church in this season.

Omar (08:01):


Amy (08:02):

Yeah. Pastor Chris, you know, the weekend service tends to be a big front door where people come and try faith and try on who God is. And I’m just wondering, from your perspective, what are other ways that your church is reaching new people and helping them take those steps towards faith or towards church?

Chris (08:19):

Yeah. All the same things that Miles and Omar said, we do the same things to make sure that we’re serving first. And you add value to people first, and then they come, you know, looking for answers after you’ve, you know, done something for them. I still believe that the weekend experience needs to be focused on, not exclusively, but man, I, and I think, I think I would encourage pastors really to take that whole experience up to a very strong level because there’s a new hunger out there from people, verified by some of the latest Barna research, that 74% of all Americans are, are wanting to grow spiritually. I mean, we haven’t had a, we haven’t had a, a stat like that in decades where there is this new hunger for God. And I think they get it not only through biblical teaching, which I think is very, very important, but also through, through worship experiences where they know the presence of God is real. And what I’m noticing, and, and I have this from in, you know, immediate feedback from how people are attending our church, is that, you know, the, the more I, I lean into the Word of God, what it says, you know, even, even as it relates to culture and, and not being afraid to speak openly and truthfully, and, you know, of course, do it in love, but man, you know, there, you, you don’t have to follow the patterns and the culture of the world. People are looking for real answers. And then on top of that, one of our major focuses that we saw tremendous fruit from just this past year was I kind of inherently knew, and then I did some research with some of our parents, that our young people probably suffered the most through the pandemic: you know, the isolation, you know, not, not going to school as much, all of that. And I think one of the greatest concerns for families right now may be one of the greatest, and I say this in the hope, I wanna say this the right way. It’s a church, it’s not a church growth strategy, but if you wanna grow your church, take care of families right now. Help parents, help parents with their children and their students. And so we actually spent about six months doing research on ourselves on how effective our youth ministry was, and made major changes to meet the current needs of our children and our students. And then I did an entire message on it. I called it Fighting for a Generation out of Nehemiah four. And not only preached it, but then gave the plan that we had to the things that we were gonna implement to do better at, at taking care of their students. We saw 30% growth overnight and had parents coming back saying, “Look, we’ve been watching online; we’re gonna be in person now. We want to be here because we know our students don’t just need, you know, three songs and a sermon. They need a hug in a hallway. They need a, they need a friend. They need a mentor. They need relationships.” And so we focused on all those things. So I honestly believe one of the best things we can do right now to reach people is to lean into the needs of children and students.

Tony (11:25):

Yeah. Chris, could you share an example of one, one of the shifts that you made as far as your strategy in kids’ or students’ ministry?

Chris (11:33):

Well, we have always done this with kids, and we just emphasized it, but we’ve had graded curriculum, meaning that each Sunday’s not just the latest whatever the teacher wanted to talk about to bless the kids. No, no, no. If you give us six years, if your, if your child comes to children’s church for six years, they’ll know the Bible.

Tony (11:51):


Chris (11:52):

Like we, it’s, it’s a graded curriculum every year, building on another year. And so, but you, but, but it requires consistency. It requires being there every week if you want them to really know the Bible. Well, a lot of our parents didn’t even know that. And then on the student side, we had more focused on the big gatherings and that, and, and we still have a monthly big gathering, a big youth service. But what the parents were saying is, “I missed the youth group I grew up in where we sat on a living room floor, you know, at someone’s home with guitar, you know, studying our Bible singing songs.” And so we kind of more instituted more of an organic, old school youth group feel, you know, among our, our 24 locations where, where they had that, they have a youth pastor. And honestly, we had some of our locations that didn’t have student pastors, and so we, we needed to hire about nine more youth pastors across our, our campuses. And we just said, “Look, this is important to you. It’s important to us. We’re gonna make this work. And we’re, you know, youth pastors who can go to graduations and take six flags trips and things like that.” And immediately, their response was, “That’s our need. Our kids are lonely. Our kids need, need someone to know their name, someone to give ’em a call when they’re down.” And so, and, and again, we saw immediate growth out of that.

Tony (13:09):

That’s fantastic. Miles, we’ve been talking about what we’re doing in person in our churches. We’ve been talking about what our ministries are doing in our communities. My question for you is, what role do you think digital or online strategies should or shouldn’t play when it comes to our reach strategies? How we’re reaching new people?

Miles (13:30):

Well, obviously the, the, we have to understand how it works. And I’m still trying to figure out, you know, engage views and all this different technology and how much is real. But how, how we can leverage all the different platforms to reach as many people. At the same time, not encourage people that that replaces being in person. You know, how do we get ’em in person? So how do we leverage it to hook ’em. Show ’em what you’re doing. Feed ’em to be with people. There’s nothing, nothing to replace that. I think a lot of Christians have, you know, you know, when you learn how to ride your bicycle, and then one day you’re riding with one hand, and then one day you’re riding with no hands. You’re like, “Look mom, I can ride with no hands.” I think a lot of Christians have gotten to the point where, “Look, I can walk with God without going to church.” And I think that’s a very dangerous place.

Amy (14:16):


Miles (14:17):

So I think when we, when we leverage online and we say it’s gonna be online, that we, we caveat it by saying, “Don’t let this replace being in person.” I think it’s great for marketing. I think it’s great for getting the word out. I, and I think it’s great for, you know, our campuses, but there’s people there to be with them. And so I think balancing those two things is a danger, is the balance. And not letting our people off the hook. To say, “Hey, you need to come here. You need to serve. You need to give. You need to be, you need to be accountable. You need to have people look you in the eye and even doing small groups, you know, in person.” But I think it’s, there’s a balance between the two. And, and lemme say this, also leveraging it not only for the church, but leveraging it, obviously to get out past, way past the church and, and take advantage of all the platforms and the people who have the secular people who have platforms that you can be on to get the word out.

Tony (15:11):

I love that. I love that. All right. Well, let’s, that’s, that was the first theme, which was around reaching new people for Jesus, reaching people to connect ’em to our churches. But once they’re connected to the churches, our, our focus shifts more about how do we get them engaged? How do we help them take their next steps towards Christ? And what we’re hearing from large churches as far as what’s working in this season is they’re, again, very intentional about encouraging people to take next steps to connect with others beyond Sunday morning services. And so let’s, let’s dive in some questions here. Amy, you wanna start us off?

Amy (15:46):

Yeah. I think, Omar, I’d like to ask this. You know, one of the things that we hear all the time, and I think most, most churches, large churches, small churches, I think everyone agrees that people seem to be attending church just less frequently. And because of that, you know, I know many large churches are focused on, “What are the other ways that we can keep people engaged with our church?” Right? So I’m just curious, at Christ Fellowship, what are the ways that you do that to keep people engaged?

Omar (16:14):

Well, you know, I, I agree a hundred percent. You know, I, I think what, what I’ve noticed that, the people who used to come every week, come every other week.

Amy (16:22):


Omar (16:23):

The people who used to come every other week, come once a month now. The people come once a month, the stars have to align for ’em to come back to church. You know? So, so I think we’re all facing that. I, I think we’ve entered into a new season of church ministry. I think we have, we’ve all, you know, come to terms with that. And we’re okay with that. We’ll move forward. One of the things that I, you know, what Tony was just saying about the crucial of next steps, you know. This past fall we did a, a series, which I cannot, I stole from, from Tony. I actually called it Unstuck. I just called it Unstuck. And when I called it Unstuck, the reason I called it Unstuck was this is because I, you know, what the, what I’m sensing after Covid, many people felt like they were stuck in their spiritual life. They just felt kind of stuck. They just felt they are not moving forward. So I did a series about how to get unstuck in your spiritual life post-Covid. Like how, how can you move forward and, and reengage to what your walk with Christ used to be before? For the four-week series, really, where it was just our discipleship process, which for us is connect to God, others, ministry and the mission. And every week, I challenged people really strongly. Like the first week, was, you know, connect to God, which for us is personal relationship, but corporate worship, connect to God, come to a worship service. And I challenge them hard. I mean, I’m, and at, at the end, you know, I challenge about the importance of corporate worship coming together, together, kind of what Miles was saying, physical. There’s an aspect of, of physical that you can’t replicate. I, I made the men stand up at the end. I challenged them, all the men in the congregation, that you are the leaders of the home. You need to lead by example. And the next week, we had like, like 30% increase just over, like, people were like very convicted about it. The, the second week it was about small groups. I need a strong sermon about small groups. Like, we had like almost a thousand people sign up for small groups. My third week was about serving in a ministry. Challenged them with serving, you got, you got served, you use the gifts that God’s given to you, bunch of people. So I literally went after them, and I challenged them, you know, in the most loving, strong way. And I, and I, and we gave like clear next steps, like clear next steps. And it was, and, and it’s been, it’s been really, it’s been really working. It’s been really working to, to do that. Another thing that we’ve done, you know, so every time we do anything, it’s a, it’s a very clear step, next step, very clear. Another thing that we’ve instituted that has really just been special is that, you know, we are a church. Before Covid, we were big in come-forward invitations. So after a service, “Hey, I’m gonna be right in the front and would love to meet you. Come, I would love to celebrate with you.” And Covid, we had to stop that, you know, the whole, you know, cuz people there wanna move on. And it was just a different season. I said, “We gotta get back to that.” So I started doing that, and every time, it’s like 50 people come up. And I’m telling you, when people come up, that is so powerful, so powerful for the congregation to see. They walk out feeling like God is at work. You know? And there’s times that, that, you know what? That some people don’t come up, and it’s fine. That’s some certain services, early ones or whatever, but it’s fine. You know, it’s, it’s a chance for people to see, “Wow, like God move works in, in different ways at different times.” But I’m telling you, when we do come-forward invitations like, cause you know, we were doing the raise your hand and all that stuff, and that was fine. But, man, those come-forward invitations are just so powerful. So we started doing that, you know, as a, as a next step for your salvation, come to the front. We love to meet you. And it’s been, it’s very, very good. So those have been things that have been very, you know, clear next steps. Very intentional, very challenging.

Amy (20:01):

Yeah. I love the clarity and the weight that you’re putting on bringing clarity to next steps because I think we often think we’re clear on what we’re asking people to do, but it, it can get so missed. And so I love the emphasis, Omar, that you just, you brought forward with, “Here’s clearly what you need to do next to get your spiritual life more engaged.”

Tony (20:21):

Yeah. And speaking of clarity around next steps, pastor Chris, I actually think engagement in next steps is, it’s an area of ministry that Church of the Highlands is really known for. And so, for those that may not be familiar with your strategy, can you unpack the growth track a little bit and how you’re pointing people to engage with your dream team?

Chris (20:42):

Yeah. And just, and the growth track is just one aspect of it. Omar and Amy are exactly right. The whole, the key to, to getting people to take next steps and engaging them is clarity. So most people don’t do it just because they don’t know it’s there. And we, again, as Amy said, we think it’s clear, but it’s not. And a lot of different strategies will work, honestly. And I always say. People say, “What is the right way to do it?” I say, “The way that works.” You know, if it’s producing the results, that’s the one you need to do. And if it’s not, don’t be afraid to tweak it or make sure you’re making it clear. And I think that’s what we have done well at Highlands is that we make the spiritual journey clear. That you can be in a relationship with God. You need to deal with the issues of your past. You need to find your redemptive calling. You have a spiritual gift, and then you need to get out there and do something. So I think that personally is the Great Commission. It can be said a lot of different ways, you know, evangelism, pastoral care, discipleship, sending—I’ve heard it a thousand different ways, right? So we came up with language, speaking of clarity, the key to it is creating language that, that they can understand. Cuz language creates culture, and language creates clarity. So we came up with the phrases: know God, find freedom, discover your purpose, make a difference. And it kind of rings now. It’s on t-shirts, mugs, walls, videos; it’s everywhere to create the clarity. And right in the middle of that, you ask specifically about our third step. And that is once a person finds Jesus, and then it starts working through their issues, and we do that in groups, the growth track now turns the corner from your past to your, to your future. And we, we came up with a three-step process where a person can discover their, their spiritual gift, or I like to call it their redemptive calling. You know, to redeem something means to put it back to what it was supposed to be doing. So we all find ourselves in a, in some place in our life, but that’s not where we were supposed to be. But redemption means God’s gonna put us back to our original intent. And so to do that, you have to know what that is. And that’s why I love my job, Tony, is because they have to come to God to find it. Because all the days ordained for you are written in His book before any of them ever came to be.

Tony (22:55):


Chris (22:55):

So I always tell ’em, “Hey, go try to find it in your career or your, your hobbies or your sports. You’ll be back because only God has your future in his hands.” I mean, you’re gonna have to get it from him. And that’s why I love my job. So the growth track is actually designed to help a person connect to a local church; it’s the first step of our membership class. But also find their, their personality, their spiritual gift because your design reveals your destiny. I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. And, and King David said, “And my soul knows this full well.” Most people do not know it. As Mark Twain says, “The two greatest days of your life are the day you were born, then the day you discovered why you were born.” And so if you can give people that gift of here’s why you’re on the planet, here’s what you were created to do, and then, then point them in a direction to a way to live it out, that’s the dream team. So the growth track actually helps ’em discover it. The dream team helps ’em live it out. So they’re serving. And it gets us to this wonderful place that is the touchdown line, if you ask me of, of church. And that is, you know, people say the local church is the hope of the world. No, it’s not. The local church mobilized is the hope of the world—if we get everybody doing what they were called to do.

Tony (24:12):

That’s right.

Chris (24:13):

It, it really is, it’s, it’s what we’re trying to accomplish. After they find God, find freedom, now they’re finding their purpose, and now they’re out there doing something that makes, makes a difference. And one last comment. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give a person because their problems aren’t going anywhere. So, and so you can try to solve ’em, and you will. But another one will pop up. So the real solution to your problems isn’t solving your problems; it’s having something greater than your problems in your life. So it supersedes your problems. Paul said, “I’m hard pressed on every side, but I’m not in distress.” Well, why Paul? Because I, I have my eyes fixed not on all these things, but on something else that’s greater. And if we can get our people’s eyes fixed on something that’s bigger than them, it actually is probably one of the greatest ways to pastor people.

Amy (25:04):

Hmm. Miles, I actually wanna go back to where you opened up at the beginning of this webinar, talking about your presence in the community and the way you serve your community. I think you call them outreach ministries at Rock Church. I’m curious to get your take on this, and, you know, are those ministries more about the people you serve or the people who are doing the serving?

Miles (25:25):

Well, first, let me say, I was gonna, I was hesitant to get on this call because of Chris was on it. Cause he has all the answers.

Amy (25:31):

I know; he’s quite inspiring.

Miles (25:34):

Whatever he said, write it down and then call it a wrap.

Amy (25:39):


Miles (25:39):

We, we called it a Do Something Trick. And I actually wrote a book on do something and, you know, in first Corinthians three, four, God comforts us with, we need to go comfort others with the comfort we have, we have been comforted by, actually five times comforted in two verses. And so when God redeems me, calls me, cleanses me, comforts me. I need not to just rub myself with comfort lotion and feel good. And that’s it. I need to now go back to where I came,and go pull somebody out from where I was, from where I, from where I came. There was a guy who healed a dog. He found a dog. The dog wouldn’t chase the stick. He had one glass eye. He had a broke leg. He had, had patches of hair all out of his body. And the guy gave him a glass eye, fixed his leg, taught him how to chase the stick, gave him some Rogaine, grew his hair back, and the dog was healthy. And then, about a week later, the dog ran away. And he was, couldn’t figure out why the dog would run away. He just gave him a new life. And then about a week later, he heard the dog scratching on the door, and he had another mangy dog with him. And so really for us to keep Christ to be, be healed, redeemed, delivered from whatever you were in bondage to, we need to go back and deliver some and be part of the deliverance of somebody else. So it’s about the person doing it, ministering and realizing this is why I came. You know, one of the things Chris was talking about is having something bigger. And if you want to get rid of a problem, get a bigger problem. And sometimes that bigger problem is somebody else’s problem. And to get your eyes off yourself. And so serving the community is about you. And it’s about them because God is a very efficient God. He’s, he gets two for one all the time. And our philosophy is Count Walk Ask Love, our Do Something church philosophy: Count Walk Ask Love. And count is take a numerical assessment of the pain in the community. How many homeless? How many strip clubs? How many convalescent homes? It’s all about a number. You can’t measure anything without a number. And then walk is go to them. Jesus walked everywhere. He didn’t, not only did he not have a car, but he was in the tombs. He was at the, the Pharisees’ house. Ask, instead of tell, “How can I help you?” You can do this. And when I teach this, I tell people, “You can do this before you leave the room.” You could ask somebody, “How can I help you?” I mean, we went to the mayor and said, “Look, we want to give you a hundred thousand hours of volunteer service. How would you like to use them?” And he said, “How are you gonna do that?” And at the time, we had never done it. So I said, “I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.” And, and then you love. You don’t do what people say. You actually love them. Because some people might say, “Gimme some money so I can buy drugs.” Well, you’re not gonna give ’em the money, but you can love them.

Amy (28:20):


Miles (28:21):

And so if we can think that way of going outward as a church, it’s going to bless the people cause it’s better to give than receive. It’s gonna bless the people who are receiving. God’s gonna be glorified. And it’s a win-win-win.

Amy (28:35):

You know what I love the most about what you just said? Well, it was all so good, Miles. But I love your concept of two-for-one within outreach ministries. Because I, I think there’s a lot of good things that we can do in our community, but if it’s just a push out and there’s not that two-for-one, where there is, you know, where God’s glorified through it and a drawback towards the church, I think sometimes we can miss. So I love the two-for-one mindset. Thanks for sharing that.

Miles (28:59):

You’re welcome.

Tony (29:00):

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Amy (30:21):

Yeah. Maybe pastor Chris, I can toss this one to you first, but, you know, I think many pastors were really interested in seeing how this pandemic would or wouldn’t affect multisite strategy in large churches. There were lots of opinions out there. I’m just curious, how has it affected your multisite strategy at Church of the Highlands?

Chris (30:38):

Yeah, it’s, we’re still on the same trajectory we were before. So we still, we’re not expanding like we did in the early years, simply because the, all the places that we’ve always wanted to go, we have. So we only have a, a couple of, two or three other places cuz we, we wanna stay within a drivable distance for our staff to come physically come to be a part of our staff meetings and things like that. And of course, we have, we plant churches outside of that autonomous churches. And so I don’t wanna compete with that organization either. So I’m not trying to have Church the Highlands locations across all of America. They are within a very defined circle around our home base, which, which is in, in Birmingham. But I, I think one of the things that’s not known well about multisite is that some churches try to have multisite to grow their church.

Amy (31:29):


Chris (31:29):

And really it’s, it, it is something that should be done because your church is growing. And, and I’m not trying to liken it to business because God and church is not a business. But, but it is a franchise-type model, meaning, you know, you, you kind of, if you had a restaurant, it needs to be good food at that first location before you go multiply that restaurant in other locations and where the demand is so high. And that’s probably one of the healthier ways to think about multisite. Now, we certainly have gone into locations just because, or cities, you know, not out of, out of trying to hive off from other locations in our area but to go into new territory. That’s still is the case. But I think one of the biggest misnomers that I hear from the pastors that I mentor and coach is that they think it is a growth strategy.

Amy (32:19):


Chris (32:20):

And that’s where I say, “No, no, why don’t you retreat back. Let’s get home base solid, strong. You know, let’s, let’s kind of get it to a standing-room-only kind of experience, and then we can branch out into other locations.”

Amy (32:32):

Is your heart smiling, Tony?

Tony (32:34):

That’s so helpful. It is.

Amy (32:36):

Yeah. I know we talk about that a lot.

Tony (32:36):

And by the way, yeah, pastor Chris, my offer still stands; when you’re ready to open a location in Orange Beach, I will come be your campus pastor. Okay. So just . . .

Chris (32:47):

I wanna be your associate pastor at that location.

Tony (32:50):

Miles, we actually, and it was surprising to me when we recently surveyed large churches, so this is churches over a thousand people, we found that two-thirds of those large churches are now multisite. And I, I knew large churches were leaning into multisite to expand their mission impact, but I was surprised that that number was so high. And so, I I just want to hear from you, when you look back at the history of the Rock Church has, has, how has multisite strategy played into your success? Has it, has it contributed to that? Why or why not?

Miles (33:31):

Yeah, it, and you have to define success. Because I think what Chris said is, if you’re doing it to grow or because to grow, maybe not, that’s not the reason. One of the, the reasons we started our first multisite and then continued to expand is because of our Do Something culture. So we had a campus where 30% were coming from, you know, 15 minutes away. How can we best serve that community, that mayor, that police chief, that school district? Well, it’s not gonna be from people that don’t live there. So we planted not only to, to because we had people in our main campus, but we wanted to people in their community to be able to be there and go to church there and serve that community. And so we, again, we go back to, to Do Something culture: Count, Walk, Ask, Love. Who’s your mayor? Who’s your police chief? What, who’s the school superintendent in that area? How do you serve? You know, is there a foster home there? Convalescent homes? How do you serve that community? So don’t, and we told our church, we’re not doing this so you don’t have to drive. We’re doing this so you can bring people and serve your area. So just think of it as a base of an operation or, you know, aircraft carrier goes out to the ocean and that’s from which the planes take off. This church needs, it needs to be brought to that community.

Tony (34:48):

That’s good.

Amy (34:49):

Pastor Omar, you have the unique challenge of being both multisite and multicultural with locations in Miami, the Caribbean, Latin America. What role, if any, do you think multisite has when it comes to reaching and engaging people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds?

Omar (35:06):

Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s interesting. You know, I, I agree with a hundred percent with, with what pastor Chris was, was saying. Another way you can say it is that multisite is not a church growth model. It’s a community-reaching model, which is kind of what Miles was alluding to. So, so as well, so, so for us, you know, Miami, which I’m sure may be like some studies, but we’re, we’re very multicultural. And what’s interesting is like, like almost like every campus that we have, that we go to, that we have, it’s, it’s very unique. It has a different demographic. Even, you know, Miami’s very Hispanic, but even there’s different types of Hispanic. You know, once you get into Hispanic culture, it’s not just like, oh, there’s just Hispanic people. They just got different vibes, different flair, you know, different interests, different, you know. So we have one campus out in the Redland, which is like the forming community, you know, like good old boys from back in the day, from here in Florida. You have one in like really dense Hispanic community in Doral. You have, we have a downtown campus in the middle next to the world, to the Miami World Center now that’s like very like, you know, forward-thinking, the whole deal, you know? So we got many different ones. And even in, in South America, you know, we, we have country, you know, campuses in Colombia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Cuba, all these different, you know, which all have very different ones. So, you know, it’s been very effective for us, you know, the way we try to do and, and teach God’s Word, it’s, it’s, like, like Chris said, you know, they’re hungry for biblical teaching, especially, especially Hispanic people. They love, like challenging teaching, like, “Hey, don’t, don’t sugarcoat it. Tell me what God’s word says and challenge me on it.” You know, don’t, just don’t, don’t, you know, hit me with it. Tell me, you know, in a loving way, loving. But, you know, we just try to make it as practical, as well, as possible so that it could, people can apply in their each culture. So that’s one of the benefits of, of multisite for us. You know, we’ve been able to reach Miami in all these different communities that, that I think, normally, you know, we, we don’t. And then, and if we find there’s a community, a specific community that we just, we feel like we just really don’t, you know, it’s hard for us to kind of like really ingrain ourselves in, and then we just, you know, we try to plant a church in that community, you know? But you know, that’s, that’s the beauty of multisite, you know? Multisite you can establish a church in any community to serve different types of people in each place, you know?

Tony (37:40):

All right. Some great thoughts around multisite strategy, but I wanted to wrap up our conversation today talking about healthy culture because, and this goes back well before Covid and the pandemic, but certainly, it’s a key to the health we’re seeing in large churches today. They are very focused on shaping a strong culture on their team, and then that’s leading to a healthy, strong culture in the church as a whole. So, let’s spend a few moments wrapping up our conversation today, talking about what, what does healthy culture look like in our churches?

Amy (38:12):

Yeah. And so, pastor Miles, maybe can you give us a glimpse into the culture at the Rock Church? I mean, how have you established that culture over time?

Miles (38:20):

Yeah, part of there’s a lot of aspects of culture, internal and external expression of it. And I think part of the healthy part of our culture is a culture to do something in the community. A, a culture to serve, a, a culture to share your faith. We’re having evangelism training this week. We, we have 20% of our churches signed up to come learn about sharing their faith better. And so people who are quick to wanna serve other people and give up themself to other people and the community is a, is a sign of health that I’m really excited about and always want to see. Versus having a, a church that’s saying, give, give, gimme, gimme. I want to give, give, give. And so that, that’s part of, and also we’re gonna work on a, a culture of honor. And that’s something we’re gonna be working on this year in addition to service. Honoring one another, honoring the Lord, and honoring the gifts that people have given every, the gifts that everyone has. And really helping people identify and ensure that they’re in the right spot for themself doing what God has created them to do.

Tony (39:24):

Omar, you had the unique challenge of becoming the senior pastor. It was a healthy leadership transition, but you became the senior pastor right at the beginning of Covid. I think it was, right? So as, as the new senior pastor, I mean, the good thing is you were able to inherit a healthy culture. And I, I’m, you know, here we are, a couple years into your leadership. I want to hear, you know, what part of that culture are you trying to reinforce? And then maybe how are you trying to put your own fingerprints on the culture?

Omar (39:56):

So what I would just say regarding our staff, you know, when, when, for, for several years now, we’ve been doing, first I’ll talk about our staff, and then I’ll talk about our church. For our staff, we, we partner with the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, which they do like, you know, ran, you know, they do, what, what do you call it?

Amy (40:20):

A survey?

Omar (40:21):

Like a survey, yeah, like a survey of our staff in different areas and, you know, anonymous, you know, and all. And we thought we were super healthy, and actually, we were at critical point, you know. And so we were from all these, every year, we went from a critical point to a healthy church to now flourishing. And it’s, for two years now, we’re flourishing. We were almost at a toxic, you know, flourish, you know, critical point, almost like, and that we were able, because we were able within our staff to address the things that they were concerning. And we’ve, we’ve, you know, it’s been very healthy for us, you know. And nobody, one likes to look at the mirror, but it’s healthy for us to adjust, you know, to be able to, to adjust. So our staff has really taken steps. I wanna encourage anybody watching that to use those because we, as pastors and leaders, need to know what the reality of our staff and how they’re feeling. Cuz sometimes they won’t tell you unless you make those avenues possible. Then, in regards to our church, one of the things, you know, that I guess has really strengthened the culture of our church and almost like put my, my fingerprint is that earlier, this, this earlier last year, like, like right after Easter, actually, we did a series called The Conversationalist. And what it was, it was a series where we tackled all these hard topics in society. I’m talking about abortion, addiction, homosexuality, transgendered, all of these things that we all know in our culture. And so what I did, I preached for about 25 to 30 minutes, and then I would sit down with somebody in that field, struggled with it, whatever the case may be, and had a conversation with them. And I cannot tell you how much good feedback we got from that series. Because when we planned it, I, we didn’t realize it was gonna take place, but it landed right at the juncture where the Supreme Court thing with the Roe vs. Wade and all that stuff, like all that stuff was culminated in that juncture. And our people were so appreciative that we as a church were very clear where we stood and we were, we spoke with compassion, but unapologetically of what God’s word says. And I think that really just solidified people’s commitment to our church because they felt like, “Wow, this church, they’re gonna preach God’s truth even when it’s not popular. And even when it’s a very sensitive topic in society.” And I don’t know how we got through that series. We hit some really hard topics, but man, it was very healthy for the culture of, of, at least of our church because they knew from that moment on Christ Fellowship was not gonna shy away and we were gonna stand on God’s truth. And, honestly, it was just like a big boost for, for the church commitment and the morale, and I got the excitement. People were very excited to, to dive into God’s Word and, and find out. So to me, I feel those, those were two critical things we did last year, you know, with staff, address all their issues, help them, and then also with our, you know, that series was, was pivotal for our church.

Amy (43:34):

Well, pastor Chris, maybe you can bring this home for us, you know, from the outside looking in, Church of the Highlands appears to have a strong, healthy culture. What role does leadership development have in establishing that strong culture? And specifically, what does that look like at Highlands?

Chris (43:50):

That’s a great question because I, as I was hearing these guys talk, they’re exactly right. You know, these are, these establishing healthy cultures just so important. And but one of my probably one of the best leadership lessons I ever learned in my life was on culture. And here it is. And that is, you can’t create one. You can only be one. So you can’t just say, “Well, I want this.” You have to be it to, to get it. And I’ll give you an example. We have a very inviting culture, but I never tell our people to invite; I tell them the stories of the people I’m inviting. So you really can’t, you really can’t say, “Look, I need you guys to bring your friends.” You do better just to tell them of the friends you are bringing, you know, in, in these conversations. So you can’t ask for a worshiping church if you’re not a worshiper. You can’t ask for a praying church if you’re not a prayer. So, so you asked the question specifically about what role leadership plays. It all begins with us. You know, if I want a friendly culture in our, then I need to get out there and shake some hands and not be locked up in a green room, you know? If I, whatever it might be. And so I always ask a pastor, “What do you want? Now, let’s just focus on you becoming that, in that.” And then once again, anything you really desire, you’ll have to clarify and define. And like all great churches, like these guys have, we’ve defined our, the culture that we want, and we have, we have a code if you will. We have this, we, I have probably 20 different cultural values and codes that we have for our team. And, and they’re just, they’re fantastic. Look, look, I’ll give you an example for one. One, one for example, is we, we pass negatives up and positives down. So it’s okay not to like something, but make sure you send it in the right direction. You know, go, go to somebody who can do something about it. Anything laterally or down is gossip. Okay? So that’s an example of, of a having a, a code or values. But, but we have general ones that I’ll leave. Your, everybody that’s watching today with that has really served us well. And that we do ask this of every person who steps on our volunteer teams. And that is, we want you to love God. In other words, be passionately in love with God. It doesn’t matter how good you park a car or take care of a, of a kid in the nursery if you don’t love God. I need you to love God. I need you to love people and value them and write notes and shake hands and high five, and just really value people. Let’s, if you do it, do it with excellence. That’s the third one. We’re gonna do things well, we’re gonna, we call it pursuing excellence. That, that we’d rather do fewer things extremely well than do a lot of things, not well. And then, finally, attitude: you gotta have a great attitude. You, we choose joy. We don’t feel joy. We make the choice to live out and express a joyful attitude. And one of the greatest church growth principles I’ve ever learned in the whole world is found in Psalm 100. Serve the Lord with gladness. You know, if you’re just, if we show up and we’re the happiest people they’ve seen all week, trust me, they’re gonna come back.

Sean (46:49):

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 and your church, reach out to us today at Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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