Mark Richardson is the Life Pastor at San Diego Rock Church, where he has served for 15 years. Rock Church has over 500 small groups and saw their groups increase by 211% in 2020. Prior to the Rock Church, Mark served as a board member and executive director at the Jireh Ministries Foundation and was an intern with the Christian Embassy to the United Nations. He holds a MA in Pastoral Studies from Azusa Pacific and an MBA from Point Loma.
Well, 2021 hasn’t quite turned out the way that we thought it would. It’s not 2020, but it’s also not 2019. The world has changed. Our people have changed. Hybrid life seems here to stay. People are craving community. Keeping certain things virtual. And being pickier overall about how they spend their time. How do we move forward with small groups in 2021? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not by moving backward. That’s why I am offering the 2021 Small Group Reset: 5 Days to Reframe Your Ministry. This FREE On Demand Video Resource will help you navigate the changing culture within your church. Sign up at allenwhite.org/reset and start now. Fall 2021 looks to be the largest group launch opportunity you’ve ever seen. Let me guide you in getting prepared.
Elliot Diaz has served at Manna Church, Fayetteville/ Fort Bragg since March 2013. He has served as the Small Groups Pastor, and is currently the Site Pastor of the Cliffdale Site and is a member of the Lead Team. Manna Church is a multi-site church of over 2800 people in weekly attendance led by Senior Pastor, Michael Fletcher. Elliot is a 19 year Army veteran, who currently serves as a Chaplain in the North Carolina National Guard.
Recently, I came across a post that I wrote on March 13, 2018 called The Future of Church. It struck me because things that I had written back then are exactly what we’re living right now amid the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m not saying this in the guise of “Oh, look how smart I am,” because to be honest with you, I’m just as surprised as you are that I got something this right. Here are some updated thoughts on what I wrote two years ago, but I would encourage you to go back and read the original post for yourself.
Ministry Outside of a Church Building was Coming
I started that post by saying I was reluctant to share these things, but they’d been on my heart. These were things that I’d been sensing for a while. It talks about problems with church buildings. While they’re not the exact problems that we’re having right now due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we are certainly having a problem with church buildings.
There are no mega churches meeting right now, except for one that meet last Sunday. Only 30% of churches are conducting in-person services. Most of those churches have only about 25% in attendance. For some it’s because of spacing and social distancing issues. I know of one church that’s at about 40% of their summer attendance, but they’re in North Dakota in a county that has literally three cases of Coronavirus. For the most part, buildings are not being used.
This brings us to a question that Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson raised in their book, The Externally Focused Church. If your church disappeared from your community, would you be missed? Your church, your in-person services, the things that happened in your building — your church today has disappeared from your community. Is it being missed? That’s a hard question because I know that pastors work hard. I know that they invest a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the work of the ministry, but is what we’re doing being missed?
The attractional model was a great model for the last 30 or 40 years. We saw a lot of people come to Christ. We saw a lot of great churches built. We saw a lot of great things happen because of that strategy. But, the reality is that what happened in the last 30 or 40 years is not what’s going to work in the next 30-40 years. As of four months ago, nothing that we’ve ever done before is working. The whole game has changed. I hear of a lot of pastors really struggling with discouragement right now, because if you’re holding yourself to a standard that you had a year ago, or if you’re still defining a win by what you had a year ago, you are living in a very discouraging and very depressed place. We don’t even live in that world anymore.
Pastors Need a New Measuring Stick
There are new ways to measure how effective we are. The first thing is decentralized organization. The church could not be more decentralized than we are right now. To borrow from Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird in Hero Maker, the hero in any church is the member, not the pastor. When you think of your congregation, you have to ask yourself: do you see your congregation as an audience or as an army? If they’re an audience, they have to be entertained. You have to perform for them. You have to give them something so that they’ll keep coming back. And the win is that they come back.
But if you see your congregations as an army, then you see a group of people that need to be equipped and empowered to serve. What they need from their pastors is permission and opportunity. Your church building may not be functioning in the way that it normally does, but your church is in the community. Your church is dispersed. How could you encourage your church to serve others — to check in on their neighbors, to check in on elderly people, to make calls, to send texts? People are on their phones all the time. Why not use their phones to encourage other people and see how they’re doing? You see the focus changes from gathering to scattering. And this is what I say in the article: “In the last 25 or more years, the church gathered well, but scattered poorly. It’s time for a change.” If you’re in a gathering mindset in a scattering climate, you’re living in a very frustrated place.
You have to embrace the scattering mindset. Here’s something interesting. The initial fulfillment of Acts 1:8 when Jesus told to his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” The fulfillment of Acts 1:8 is found in Acts 8:1, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” We’re not in persecution per se. (Some people would say that we are). But we’ve definitely been scattered. How can you use this scattering as an opportunity to fulfill your mission?
Flexible, Unstructured Gatherings
The second thing is flexible, unstructured gatherings. This goes back to a conversation I had about eight years ago with Josh Surratt at Seacoast Church. Josh mentioned that a family from his church had moved to the state of Maine. They had about 30 people gathering at their house to watch Seacoast service every week. I looked at Josh and said, “Well, maybe you need to redefine what a campus is.”
Around that the same time period, 8-10 years ago, people in a number of ministries around the country began to think about this notion of microsite churches. What I saw in the 2018 article were microsite campuses in smaller communities where multisite churches wouldn’t build a campus. The question I asked in the article is what if the service via streaming video was brought into homes, restaurants, or smaller meeting places to serve these areas?
Here’s the deal — if your church is not meeting in person (which is about 70% of churches right now), you have microsite churches. You have families gathered in homes. Maybe a few people are doing “watch parties” where they’ve invited some neighbors. Right now your church is gathering in microsites.
The challenge right now is that I, personally, attend a multisite campus that is a video venue. There’s a campus pastor and a team. There’s live worship and a service host, and then the messages are on streaming video. Why would I go back to my video streamed multisite campus when I can stay home and participate from my microsite campus? If I want more people to gather with me, I can invite them to my house.
Here’s the other side of it — nobody was meeting in those buildings anyway because of the pandemic. They had all been closed down. There was no reason to pay rent on the buildings. There is no reason to maintain a building for a multisite campus that nobody is meeting in because everybody is meeting at home.
These flexible unrestricted gatherings can multiply without church-owned property or paid staff. Now there needs to be some training. Where do you get trained volunteers? This goes to the next point in this 2018 article — meaningful volunteer ministry. I hate the word “volunteer” because Paul says to the Corinthians that one part of the body can’t say to another part of the body, I don’t need you (1 Corinthians 12:21. By definition, “volunteer” means that people aren’t being paid for their time. But, the dichotomy between volunteer and staff has become as great as the one between clergy and laity.
Churches have reached the point that they keep hiring all of these people to do tasks, because it seems easier to motivate them and get them to meet a deadline than it would with a volunteer. But the reality is that every one of us has spiritual gifts that God’s given us. Every one of us has a calling. The calling is not just limited to clergy. Ministry is not limited to paid staff.
What do we need volunteers for in the church? Volunteers are needed to maintain in-person worship services. Since there are no in-person services, there is no need for “volunteers.” Again, quoting from this 2018 piece, “the church burdens many of its members with meaningless ministry, parking lot attendants, greeters, coffee servers, and so forth. Potentially the worst staff position in any church is the guest services coordinator, because this person must constantly hustle to fill vacant spots every week of the year. Why? Because no one is called to this!”
Today, if you’re the guest services coordinator and your church is only meeting online only, you’re like the happiest person in the world! You’re like on vacation. Here’s the thing — believers will rise to the occasion for gift-based ministry, things that they’re called to do, things that they see a need for and could fill it. They could do something about it with their gifts and abilities. They just need to be equipped. They need to be released to do that. JD Greear said this, “Even when you can’t come to church, you can still be the church.” When you look at Ephesians 4 you see the work of pastors and teachers is to equip the saints for doing the work of the ministry. Pastors and staff should be ministry multipliers to release their congregations to serve rather than doing the work themselves. We are decentralized. People can use their gifts. They can invite people into their homes. The church can be the church.
This is a Major Shift
We can’t meet in-person for various reasons. The church doesn’t revolve around the building. This is a shift. The multiplication of microsites is easier than multiplying megachurches. What about training? What are they doing in the houses while they’re being friendly? They get people together. They’re watching the service online. You can train somebody to do a microsite much more quickly than you can train a pastor. A person doing a microsite doesn’t need a Master of Divinity, but they do need supervision.
Most churches will never have the budget for all of the paid staff or buildings they need to accomplish what God has called them to. Yet, the church already has millions and millions of dollars worth of property in the homes of the church members. The “staff” for these microsites originates from gifts-based assessments.
Now, when I wrote this original article on March 13, 2018, this might have all seemed weird to you. It may still seem weird to you right now, but if these things are put it into practice right now, it would make a huge impact in your communities.
We have a world that is hurting in so many ways. They’re afraid of a virus. They’re afraid of meeting together. They can’t see a loved one in a hospital. Some of them can’t even go to a funeral. We have political unrest to an extent that I don’t even remember in my lifetime. We have racial injustice. We have so many things that are plaguing our country, and there’s such a great spiritual need. In fact, I would say the last time we saw a spiritual need at this level was 9/11. And if you remember, after September 11, 2001, that next Sunday, our churches were packed.
People are feeling that level of anxiety, depression, and uncertainty. Some people don’t know if they’re going to have a job. How can they buy food? There’s so much uncertainty. They can’t go to church or they’re afraid to go to church, but they can go online. They could go to a friend’s house. They could go to a small group. They can watch a streaming service.
Here’s the crazy thing. These things that I’m talking about — a year ago, they were a novelty. Four months ago, this became a necessity. Today, this is an opportunity. Let’s make the most of this opportunity.
By Allen White Chris Surratt is a ministry consultant and coach with over twenty-two years of experience serving the local church. Most recently, Chris served on the Executive Team at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. Before coming to Cross Point in 2009, Chris was on staff at Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Chris’s first book, Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How to Design Your Small Groups System to Reach the Fringes, will be released by Thomas Nelson on September 29, 2015. You can find Chris blogging regularly at www.chrissurratt.com on the subjects of community, discipleship and leadership.
Q1. When we first met, you were the Greenville Campus Pastor for Seacoast Church. Seacoast the first multi-site church, and now there are over 8,000. What has changed with multi-site?
I would say that a lot has changed since we started experimenting with multisite in 2002. Very few churches were doing it, so no one had written books or started conferences about it yet. We felt like we were building the plane while we were flying it. While we made a ton of mistakes along the way, I don’t know that we would have tried it if we knew what we were doing. Churches are now opening up the definition of what a multiiste church can look like. Before, the only churches starting sites were mega-churches. Now, churches of all sizes are planting campuses. We saw it as primarily a band aid to growth capacity issues, but churches are now using it as an extension or a new expression of their ministry. People used to consider multisite a fad that would pass eventually. I don’t know that it will any time soon.
Q2. What NEEDS to change with multi-site?
There are still churches who look to multisite as a method for instant growth. With over 8000 multisite churches, it’s easy to want to jump onto the bandwagon and be a part of the movement, but not every church is ready or equipped to handle the issues that come with multiple locations. If your church is not currently growing in one location, and you still have capacity for growth, another location will not magically get it kick started. Cracks become gaps when you go multisite. Those same issues that are holding back potential now will travel with you to the next location. Put everything into making what you have now as healthy as possible, then consider multiplying it.
Q3. You just left the staff at Cross Point Church in Nashville to enter into the consulting world. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that at all (wink). How can consultants help churches?
My family recently moved into a brand new house in downtown Nashville. During the process of moving in, someone (could have been me – no one really knows) took a chunk out of the wall carrying furniture up the stairs. Our first reaction was, we have to get that fixed as soon as possible, because it is going to drive us crazy to look at everyday. Two years later and it’s not fixed, and we never notice it anymore. The only time we think about it is when our small group comes to the house and lovingly points it out for us. No matter how amazing your church staff is, there is nothing like bringing in fresh eyes to see the cracks you have been staring at for months – or even years. A good consultant (like Allen or myself) can come in and walk alongside the staff to help maximize the good and fix the bad. My job is not to prescribe my way of ministry, but work with the leaders to make sure it fits their mission and culture.
Q4. I recently met your dad in Orlando with your brother, Greg. It seems a lot of pastor’s kids end up needing psychotherapy, yet the Surratt family now has generations of church leaders. What did your parents give you?
We have been referred to as the “Surratt Mafia” of the church world. I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but we should probably get nicer suits to wear. I think part of it is: we didn’t know anything else. My life has been spent in the church and I cannot imagine a better place to be. Growing up we had Sunday morning service, Sunday night service, Wednesday night Bible study, and revivals that would last for weeks. My mom would always say, “You don’t have to go to church, you get to go to church.” But, I never felt pressure to have to be in full-time ministry. My parents just instilled a love for the local church and the passion to help her reach the world with the Gospel. The methods have definitely changed with the generations of Surratts, but the mission has not. And, a follow up question, which doesn’t count toward the 5.5 questions, is the multiplication of the Surratt family the secret behind a multi-site church? Definitely with my brother, Greg. His kids have taken the “be fruitful and multiply” commandment personally.
As an introvert by nature, I have always felt left out by most small group systems. Between the connection hoops and the demand to share my secret sins in a room full of strangers, small groups felt like an intimidating concept. While thinking through how we could better design a system to reach people like me, I started running into other groups of people we were missing through our processes. If we were going to say we believed in community for everyone, what does that look like? The typical small group system is designed for the typical church attender. We have to begin thinking differently if we want to reach the people on the fringes. You’ll have to buy the book to find out how. 🙂 AW: I’m looking forward to it!
By Allen White On Sunday, February 22, Pastor Perry Noble announced eight new campuses of NewSpring Church by the end of the year. In addition to four multisite campuses in Clemson, Greer, Simpsonville, and Northwest Columbia, SC, house campuses are being launched in Rock Hill, Sumter, Aiken and Hilton Head Island, SC. Hearkening back to the start of NewSpring Church, Perry shared how 15 people started in a living room in 2000. In the same way, the house campuses will start in homes led by NewSpring members and supervised by NewSpring staff. Different from a small group, the house campuses will view a special edition of the NewSpring service together online and will include children’s ministry. Similar to a small group, house campuses are exponentially expandable and are only limited to the number of homes available. House campuses will offer pastoral care and ministry similar to a multisite campus. They are more than just a bunch of people watching an online service in a living room. As house campuses grow, additional homes in the area will be added. If enough people begin to participate in the house campuses, there is potential to add a multisite campus to the area. With a goal of reaching 100,000 people in the state of South Carolina for Christ, the house campus concept, similar to the microsite campus I blogged about a while back, has the ability to reach all corners of the state and any open living room. There is no cost for renting or purchasing a building, since the millions of dollars in NewSpring’s members’ homes will be leveraged to bring the Gospel and the ministry of NewSpring Church to any community. Every church currently doing multisite campuses can launch new campuses in the same way. These microsite, house campuses can be launched anywhere from the small town out in the country to a group of scientists in Antarctica to a group of astronauts on the space station. There is no limit. I can’t wait to see where requests for house campuses come from next. I love my church! You might also be interest in: Three Reasons for Microsite Campuses The Rise of the Microsite Church