...Or at least I'd like to think that
This always seems to happen to me. Even when, logically, I know, understand and have experienced trends, whenever I start something new, I always secretly believe that whatever I'm doing is going to the exception to the norm.
When I took over student ministry at our church over 3 years ago, we launched with a revamped program from the previous 5 years. I had come up with the ultimate youth ministry that was going to be off the hook. New leaders, a new program, more structure and planning, systems and decorations... this was going to be AWESOME!
The first day of student ministry was packed! Kids from different schools attended, kids I've never seen before, visitors and guests were there in large numbers. The music was pumping and I was counting noses and feeling really good about myself.
"If the first day of student ministry has THIS many people, we're going to need a bigger church building by the end of the year because we're going to outgrow our spaces!", I said to myself.
Then the second student ministry day happened the next week. Numbers were down. "That's OK," I told myself, "people probably had a lot on their plate with the second week of school happening."
The third week didn't look any more promising. By Christmas, we had stabilized our numbers... but they weren't trending the way I had anticipated on day one. As the school year progressed, we actually saw numbers slowly, but surely, drop.
In my head, I knew that this would happen. It happens anytime you change or start something. It requires a TON of energy to get it off the ground, curious people check it out. Some stick around, some don't. Those who resonate with your vision will double down on what you're doing while others prefer to watch from the sidelines for the opportune time to join in.
It happens all the time. Yet, each time I start something new, I always expect to be the exception to this.
I once ordered 100 kits for a children's ministry soccer VBS, thinking that by resurrecting a VBS program - the first one in our church's recent history - would be met with fan-fare and pack out. I was already thinking through how we would politely tell parents that there wasn't enough space for their kids. That year, we ended up having 30 kids. I was devastated.
Thinking that anything new I start will be the exception is probably a symptom of being optimistic, entrepreneurial, and prideful. Two out of three aren't bad things and probably need to be more encouraged in church settings
The same thing has happened all throughout this first year of rural multisite church planting. As I mentioned in the previous post, we had 102 people out on our first Sunday and I was already thinking about multiple services. I wasn't prepared for the shock when typical "big days" for the church would end up being small.
Easter, for example, was preceded with a mailing campaign, pumping up our congregation and setting up more chairs for a full house. It turns out, many of the regulars didn't even come on Easter Sunday and a $600 mailing campaign resulted in 6 new people (who have not since returned) and attendance numbers less than previous Sundays.
The middle of summer in year one saw we saw numbers drop to 33. What happened? I was certain that our church plant would be the exception to church growth. Turns out were pretty much the same as all the other church plants that make up studies and trends.
So what do I do with this kind of thinking? Here are a few things I'm learning in this new role of pastoring a rural multisite church plant
This process is not my ideal process. I want to go out there and achieve. I want to do a good job. I want to succeed. My motives are based in truth and for the glory of Jesus, but my sinfulness can too quickly hijack those desires and bend them for my own fame. This year has been a year of learning that about myself and trying to surround myself with people who can help point out when sinful pride and ego begin to infringe on God's vision for our church
Let's do this!.... but will anyone actually Show Up?
It had been a long time since I was this nervous.
Hours and hours of work have been poured into getting the building ready to go. I had put blood, sweat and tears into the whole process of getting a building ready for church services, had invested into local communities as best as I could, and did my best to get the word out about a church opening up in town.
I had no idea what it was opening day was going to be like. I knew that some people were going to be there - even just for curiosity's sake - but what would the reception be like? Would another church actually be wanted, attended or welcome into a small town?
You can read all you want about what it is like to launch a new church plant, but until you are actually ready to launch and put into that situation, you can never really appreciate all the different emotions that go through heart and head.
On launch day, I had been commuting to Neepawa for a year and been involved in the local MJHL Junior A hockey club, Neepawa Natives as a chaplain for the last part of the season, had refereed a few high school basketball tournaments, and been playing in the local mens Filipino Basketball League with a team put together from Portage la Prairie. Our family had made the move to Neepawa earlier in the year and our children were in school making some friends - so we weren't really strangers to the town... but we were definitely new.
People new that our family had moved here to start a church - it came up in every conversation:
"So, what brings you to Neepawa?"
"I'm a pastor and we're launching a new church in town."
"Oh..." [silence] "So, nice weather we're having..."
But we decided it would be good to run a social media campaign to help raise awareness about what kind of church was coming to town. We started with a Family Movie Night at the local, historic, community owned, Roxy Theatre.
We paid for everyone's movie tickets to come out and take in Disney Pixar's, Inside Out. We promoted it through Facebook, and had the theatre also promote it through their channels. The results were AMAZING and totally took the community by surprise!
The lineup for the movie began at 7:15 - 45 minutes before showtime! The Roxy hadn't had to open up the balcony for a movie in a long time and were really expecting to open it up this night either. That changed when at 7:40, the lower level was full and the lineup was still along the sidewalk!
We ended up opening the balcony and, unfortunately, having to begin turing people away because there were zero seats available. While a sold-out movie is nothing new in a city, a packed house is more of a rarity in a rural community.
When we were organizing this event, we wanted to help raise awareness of our church in the community, but really wanted to bless families in the town with no strings attached.
Our volunteers wore PAC Neepawa shirts that had our logo on the front and "We are #forNeepawa" on the back, but we made the ver conscious decision NOT to say anything at the showing.
Whenever a church holds an event, there is a nagging sense that something must be said that lets people know about church or Jesus. Internally, I had to fight against this. I mean, I had 240 people there as a captive audience - I could tell them about how PAC is for families and that's why we're hosting a family movie. I could tell them about how our church is a place that is welcoming to people interested in spirituality but who might not be religious. Or about how "different" we are.
Instead, we chose not to say or do anything. We wanted this night to be a blessing for a family, not a commercial for our church under the guise of blessing families.
When talking with some people who have since attended our church, I've asked them, "how did you hear about PAC" and some of their responses are that they attended the Family Movie Night.
What has been really neat to see is that since our covering the cost of a movie at the Roxy, there have been two other businesses that have done the same for other movies throughout the past year. I don't know if this was done before us, but it seems to have created a ripple effect where the town is being made better by other people following in our example - and THAT is absolutely part of our mission - make the town better.
Part two will continue our journey to launch day...
Well, now that I have my DNS and domain settings all figured out, I am able to update this site with what has been happening over the past 3-4 months as we launched our first church plant/multisite in rural Manitoba.
A LOT has happened in this time and I have a lot of notes that I've taken throughout the journey to get to this point. Our attendance hovers around 55-65 people each week, community has been building and more people are finding health and Jesus here.
The weird part is, whenever I sit down to document our journey, I'm faced with a growing sense of "I have no idea what I'm talking about."
It's not that I haven't learned anything; I have. It's not that I haven't grown and picked up some tips/tricks along the way; I've also done that. It's not that we don't have a plan, can't execute it, or can't make progress; We do and, we are. It's just that I feel less qualified to be any kind of authoritative voice as I continually walk into new and uncharted territory.
Some of my previous posts have been from written from the vacuum of theory, and as such, you can be quite sure of yourself when you don't actually have to walk out the theory you're proposing.
I'm also realizing that the stories I tell here reflect real people, real lives, real hurt, real healing. To tell some of their stories feels like a bit of betrayal of their trust because there just isn't enough distance between now and their story that I want to tell.
I also don't think that we've walked far enough on this journey to say with any certainty on what is working and what isn't in many different areas.
So as such, I sometimes sit down to type and I feel like I know less and less. I'm learning more and more, but that is only putting into perspective all that I still don't know.
Who knows, maybe I'm actually maturing and don't feel like I need to pretend like I actually know more than I do.
It has been a long time coming, but we finally have the keys to the building that PAC Neepawa will meet in!
Buying a building turned out to be a much longer process than we had initially planned for (at least it was emotionally for me). There were re-zoning applications, municipal meetings, applications, copies signed in triplicate, and the endless hoops to jump through held by banks, government, realtors, lawyers and the sellers.
Everyone worked super hard to make it happen, but boy, am I exhausted (and luckily I didn't have to fill out any of the paperwork!). I am truly grateful that I work with such a great team of people making it happen and am super looking forward to the process of swinging hammers, running cables and mudding drywall (just not the sanding part).
I can already see the impact that PAC Neepawa will have in this town.
School Board Blues
Read the first part of the story here.
I thought I had it all figured out. Based on my research of what the school board was looking for, their potential objections and final presentation, I was sure the school board proposal would simply be a formality for us to begin our first rural multisite location in Neepawa.
But that's not exactly how things went.
Backing the story up a bit, the school board trustee I had talked to was hesitant on two major areas with granting us permission to use the local schools:
We also included in our presentation the kind of church we are: a place where some of the least-likely to come to church end up giving their lives to Christ and making big changes in their family and life. While a school board wouldn't be all excited about people finding Jesus, per se, they would see the benefit of families being turned around for the better.
We also wanted to do everything we could to let them know that a year from now, they would be happy that we were their tenants and wouldn't want us anywhere else because of the blessing we might be able to be to the local schools. This was tricky to navigate because we didn't want to appear to be greasing any palms but we wanted to let them know that we knew about the stress of sharing facilities and would do everything we could to alleviate it - including paying more, buying mutually beneficial supplies and generally blessing the teachers and principal.
We left the meeting thinking that we had provided a clear presentation that would allow them to make an easy decision in either direction. All we had to do was wait.
The next week, a letter arrived that let us know that the school board had voted to deny our request to use their facilities. I was shocked.
This seemed like one of the last pieces to fall into place to allow us to have church services happening by January. If we had gotten the green light, we would have been on the phone to Portable Church Industries to get us outfitted with the potable church solution that would fit out needs best.
Instead I was left with a crushing feeling. The letter officially stated that they denied our request based on a local community college requesting to use their facilities after hours during the week and they thought it best to allow recreation and educational groups in above other groups. It was an us or them decision.
I kind of get that. However, the letter (and official board minutes) contained wording that opened up the ability for us to fight to be allowed in based on a freedom of religion violation. In my anger and hurt and shock of the situation, I wanted to fight hard against their decision. To pick up the phone and drag them over the coals for their (potential) discrimination.
How dare they? Don't they know how much is riding on this facility? How could they deny our request when we had, in my opinion, overcome all of their objections?
In the midst of a door being shut, God was drop-kicking open another one that was was way more important than a building....
More to come.
The church is not a building. However, in our 4-season climate, a building is a pretty important for any ekklesia gathering. We set out to find some locations in Neepawa where we might be able to meet as church - but in a town of 4000 people, our options aren't nearly as plentiful than if we were in a larger centre.
We wanted to run all possible locations through a matrix of criteria:
We quickly realized that purchasing a building brings with it a cost way too high to bring any building up to the standards that we want or need for a church function. Commercial real-estate in Neepawa isn't too expensive, but with a renovation we'd end up dumping twice as much money into a building than what it is worth.
This led us down the path of examining other public meeting spaces and ultimately, eyeing up what it means to meet in a public school. However, with the first phone call, we weren't met with the warmest embrace...
Our church has started plans in motion for launching our first multisite location in the town of Neepawa, Manitoba. When faced with the how, we had two main options: "traditional" church plan (which, in itself has many different layers about what that actually looks like) or multisite (again, many different layers). You can read up on my own personal journey on how I became a fan of multisite here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
We decided to go in the multisite direction for a few reasons that I think might be a fantastic fit for rural communities:
Granted, these five-points will share some characteristics with church planting and sometimes, depending on the model, a church plant may really excel at some of these points. These points weren't meant to start a planting vs. multisite fight, rather highlight some of the reasons why multisite might work really well in a rural context.
The best part, I believe, is that multisite is very flexible in what it looks like - you can really customize what each location looks like while maximizing the established structure and healthy dynamics of an established church!
What do you think? Can multisite work in rural contexts? Can multisite be done that in a way that is different than what we've seen done already? Leave a comment!
Last night we hosted a vision night for our church to hear from us on the plans that we have for our multisite launch in Neepawa, MB. Up until this time, there haven't been much communicated with the congregation apart from 1) where we're going (Neepawa) 2) Who's going (my family) and 3) More info will follow.
We decided to recreate the vision pitch that was given to our denominational district office a year ago that laid out what we wanted to do, why it was a good idea and how our church could partner with the district office to help make it a reality. We also wanted to include our story of how my wife and I processed the call on our lives.
"No battle plan ever survives a Battle"
One of the best take aways I had from my time spent with Geoff Surratt at the Multisite Journey Group was our first draft of our battle plan for starting a campus in a new community. We were encouraged to draw up our church's battle plan, to the best of our abilities at that time; to make plans and decisions within our control at that moment. Here is what our battle plan, complete with milestones, deadlines and "who's responsible" looked like when we left:
We decided that there were 3 big goals that we needed to identify, give each one some milestones to help us reach them and know who was responsible to carry it out. You can easily see what our goals were and it is pretty cool to see that while there may be some tweaks to our plan, we are trending pretty spot-on and laying a strong foundation for our future goals.
Goal #1 Identify Ministries and Leaders
This one still has some holes in it, but we're hoping that in a few days we'll be able to have more of the question marks filled in with names. We're also believing that once we have our vision night in June laid out, some of the key lay-leaders will also have their names on our list to help us launch it
Goal #2 Secure Facility by August 2014
We have a list of possible spaces, and have contacted a realtor to take us on a tour of a few commercial spaces this Wednesday. You'll see that we're a few days ahead of the "what must be done" list for "contact realtor." Hopefully, after this Wednesday, we'll have some real traction with what option we will go with.
Goal #3 Run 3 Community Connection Points
Because we're entering into a new community, we have to be very proactive in connecting with the community through ministry programs. Our first community connection point is to host a MOPS (Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers) group. Other points include beginning house church (what we call our small groups) hosted by a Neepawa resident and the final one being hosting a kids day camp.
Have you ever set long-term goals this way? How do you do it? Tell us your stories on planning in the comments section below!
So, I've researched and planned the beginning of our rural multisite adventure so much so that I'm at information saturation and really, it's time to actually put some plans into action. If action isn't taken, I'll simply become an expert on theory with zero experience in the matter.
So, how do you actually get your church fired up and on board with multisite in a rural context?
Here's how we're planning to do it: Create a communication strategy
Most people are dying to be a part of something significant and bigger than themselves. What we're finding is that there is a LOT of interest in our congregation about what our new location will be like. We need to find a way to fire up our people about the mission, engage the people and create easy on-ramps into the mission. The biggest obstacle for us in doing so is communication.
If you communicate poorly, you may end up turning away the people that you're trying to engage! It's been written about in various leadership books, and I've experienced it first hand, the best people want to be on the teams with the best people*. I need to work at being strategic to leverage the life-giving mission of the church with the opportunity for the right people to join in.
To do so, we've come up with a tentative 5-step plan that we believe will engage the hearts of our congregation.
I am a pastor in rural Manitoba that is passionate about the church, leadership, coffee and bicycles.