Mega AND Missional – It Can Be Done!

“I’ve never been to your church, but I love your church.”  This was what COMMUNITY Campus Pastor Shawn Williams heard while getting his hair cut.  The conversation started when the women cutting his hair asked Shawn what he did for a living.  He said, “I’m a pastor at the Yellow Box.”  As soon as he said that she responded, “My neighbors are a part of that church.  In fact, I’ve recently gone through a divorce and it’s been really tough being a single mom.  But my neighbors who go to your church have been a big help getting me through it.  They’ve assisted me with carpooling; they’ve brought me meals and they’ve even helped me with small home improvement projects.”  Then she looked at Shawn and said, “I’ve never been to your church, but I love your church.”  I don’t know your definition of a missional church, but stories like that tell me a church is doing it!

On The Verge

Many people wearing the badge of missional experts have said that missional and mega are incompatible; a church like COMMUNITY can’t grow to be a large church AND exist for something outside of itself.  Unfortunately, many times they have been exactly right.  But for the last 24 months COMMUNITY has been in a transition to fulfill the dream of mobilizing every person in our large and growing church for mission. Last April myself and Alan Hirsch published our plan for transitioning a church for missional engagement in our book, On The Verge.  The On The Verge transition lays out the following three moves for a church who wants to become missional:

  • “See It” – This is the phase where you capture the imagination of people through story-telling and teaching.  During this move people have the “ah-hah” and begin to see the mission of Jesus for the very first time.
  • “Get It” – This is the phase where people begin to understand and feel passionate about the mission.  They begin to truly understand that our God is the missio Dei and as his people we too have a mission.  They also begin to feel a passion for the mission and it becomes this compelling cause for which they want to give their lives.
  • “Do It” – This is the phase where people begin to implement what they have seen and now understand into the flow of their everyday lives.  They eventually move to the place of becoming unconsciously competent about mission.  Simply put, they do it!

Groups commissioning

After 24 months of working through these three moves at COMMUNITY and gaining missional momentum we had a breakthrough last weekend.  We asked all our small groups to work through a 6-week process of determining their mission.  Some of the groups would be “1-mission groups” and others would be “Multiple mission groups.” Last weekend we had about 1400 students and adults and 140 small groups stand on our stages and say out loud their mission, be anointed, prayed for and commissioned by the leadership of our church.  The pic to your right is just one of our celebration services where groups filled the stage and made a public commitment to the mission of Jesus.  More than 70% of our people are in small groups and 73% of our groups participated in the commissioning service this weekend.  To you that might be a lot of numbers, but to me it is a sign that a very large church is clearly mobilizing large numbers of people for difference-making mission.

No, we are not done!  Far from it.  We have a long way to go.  We have to sustain the missional momentum that we are now experiencing.  But one thing I am increasingly convinced of is this:  the large church can be used as a platform for energizing and mobilizing large numbers of people for missional engagement.  In my own opionion, mega AND mission – it can be done!

How To Bring Change When You Are NOT The Boss

I get e-mails from lots of young staff pastors across the country asking how they can bring about change in an existing church. The real question they have for me is this, “How can I bring about change when I’m not the boss?”  The following is a recent response to such a question:

you need to make sure you hear from God everyday.
  I know that sounds familiar.  Maybe that is happening.  Maybe not.
But the first job of every Christ Follower and even more importantly
every leader is to hear from God everyday.
Hear from Him and then risk it all on what He says.

you can begin to initiate change within your silo of the church
  Change does not always
come from the top.  Often, the most significant
change comes from places other than the top.
And innovative change seldom comes from the top. I was with Alan Hirsch
yesterday and he said something very profound; “the best critique of the
bad is to do something better.
would encourage you to avoid critique and to do what God tells you to do within
your ministry area.  When you begin to do something better others will notice and when they ask you explain the change that has happened.

What Innovations Do You See In The Church?

What are the most Innovative things you’ve seen churches do in the past year?  I got an e-mail from Tony Morgan, who is working with Outreach Magazine to discover what great innovations are happening in the church. In recent years they have compiled a list of the most innovative churches and Community Christian Church has made the list every year.  However, Tony and Outreach are doing things a little different this year; Instead of focusing on innovative churches, they’re trying to uncover the innovations themselves.

This is where I need your help!  Could you  take this BRIEF SURVEY on innovations in the church? They’re really looking for stories of life-change that are happening because ministries were willing to take a risk.  The plan is to share learnings from a broad cross-section of churches. If we get enough people participating this it could be a big help to the larger church.

And if you have the time, leave a comment on this blog sharing some of the church innovations that you are excited about!

Google’s Innovative Edge

Google_logo_2While thinking about innovation I ran across an article by Marissa
Mayer, Google’s Vice-President of Search Products and User Experiences

who shares some rules that give one of the most innovative companies
anywhere it’s edge in a Fast Company post, 9 Principles of Innovation


Why Existing Churches Need New Churches

Innovation_cubeI have been thinking again about innovation.  Ed Bahler was challenging me with the idea from the Innovators Dilemma (which I have just ordered).  The basic concept is that even the most innovative and best-managed companies (or churches), in spite of their attention to
customers and continual investment in new technology, are susceptible
to failure because these companies (or churches) tend to continue to do business the way they always have done business.

It seems to me that the only way to break out of that innovators dilemma is to continually surround yourself with innovators and people who are inventing the new tomorrow.  And the best way to do that in the church world is to become a reproducing church.  Start new sites with young emerging leaders and listen to their new ideas.  Start new churches and get close enough to them that you can learn from them and break out of your old paradigms.  Begin a church planting network and find yourself immersed in a conversation of new and innovative thinking about reaching people far from God.  I think we need to be reproducing churches not only so that we can start new sites, churches and networks to help people find their way back to God; we also need to be reproducing churches so that our existing churches remain relevant to an ever-changing world!  Agree?  Disagree?

Outreach Magazine Interview about Innovation (part 3)

Innovation_3_2Over the last few days I have been posting the Q and A I did with Outreach Magazine as a part of their just released Americas Most Innovative Churches issue.  I would encourage you to not only get this issue but figure out a way to have your staff do research on each of the top 25 most innovative churches and then discuss innovations that would be applicable to your context.  This is the third and final post.  If you want to go back and read the entire interview, here is part 1 and here is part 2.  Enjoy.  In this interview I focused on three particular innovations at Community and directed all my comments toward those three applications.  OK, now back to the interview on the topic of innovation.

 OUTREACH: Do you know of other churches that are following your lead in these
areas? How are you intentionally resourcing or teaching other
churches in these areas?

  • Multi-Site to Poly-Site: We have trained thousands of church leaders in how to become a multi-site church through a variety of conferences, practicum’s, training events and mediums. Most of these churches are reproducing sites exactly like the original site and because you want to build upon successes we encourage churches in this direction for their first off-site. However, there are a growing number of churches that are realizing that we need all kinds of sites to reach all kinds of people – those churches are making the transition to poly-site. Our doors at Community are always open and we allow leaders from other churches to
    come and hang watch us. In addition we offer a Multi-site Practicum 3-4 times a year where we work with leadership teams that are preparing to go multi-site. Our commitment is that they will leave with a step-by-step plan for how to go multi-site that fits their context. We also offer a Hitchhikers Guide to Multi-Site where church leadership teams and spend the weekend with us and get a vision of what a reproducing multi-site church looks like.
  • Network to Networks: I don’t know of any churches in the western hemisphere that are leading networks where they have made this transition. There may be others, I just don’t know about them…but I would like to know about them!!
  • Partnership with under-resourced public schools: Just recently we have begun coaching
    another church that is exploring this model of outreach through partnering with public schools.  We have offered workshops at local conferences to share the model with other churches.  We are planning to become more intentional about this, as we receive requests from around the country from churches intrigued by this model.

In your opinion, what were some of the keys to
making these innovations work?

  • Multi-Site to Poly-Site: At Community we not only have a leadership culture, but I believe an entrepreneurial leadership culture. And these entrepreneurial leaders have embraced the following values that foster innovation:
    • Rather fail than not risk something new.
    • Bias for the new over the established.
    • Love the lost more than the found.
    • Prefer the edge over the center.
  • Network to Networks:  We are ready to trade our lives for the dream of “being a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches”.  When we talk about this we ask, “What would it take to impact one billion people?” I believe that kind of commitment to a dream forces you to take risks and re-think how you are doing church. This kind of commitment and re-thinking has led us to reproducing networks.
  • Partnership with under-resourced public schools:  A commitment from the senior leadership down to be a church that is intentional about reaching out to people different from themselves is where this starts.   This vision must be cast and recast and recast and recast.  Then it will require weekly messages that continually challenge people to move out of their comfortable life-styles toward a lifestyle of generosity.  However, the pivotal moment came when we had hired a full-time staff person to lead this outreach ministry. And when that person was so passionate that she and her family sold their home in affluen t Naperville and moved to an under-resourced neighborhood in Aurora this innovation really got some momentum.

OUTREACH: Does your church host an annual conference for other churches? If so,
what are you communicating that you believe these churches aren’t hearing
anywhere else?

  • Multi-Site to Poly-Site:  We offer a Multi-site Practicum 3-4 times a year where we work with
    leadership teams that are preparing to go multi-site. Our commitment is that they will leave with a step-by-step plan for how to go multi-site that fits their context. We also offer a Hitchhikers Guide to Multi-Site where church leadership teams and spend the weekend with us and get a vision of what a reproducing multi-site church looks like. In addition to that, we regularly participate in conferences on the multi-site church. For more information check our NewThing website.  
  • Network to Networks: We offer a Reproducing Church Experience several times a year that gives leaders and church planters an understanding of the culture of a reproducing church. This is foundational to understanding how to reproduce artists, leaders, campuses, churches and networks. For more info check our NewThing  website.  I am also serving as the President of the Exponential Conference which is the premier event for church planters and leaders of reproducing churches.    
  • Partnership with under-resourced public schools: Hmmm … not yet!

Outreach Magazine Interview about Innovation (part 2)


In the upcoming issue of Outreach Magazine they interviewed a number of people to discuss innovation in the church.  Since I spent some time answering all these questions and only some of them are in the article, I thought I would go ahead and post my response to their questions in full here.  This is the second part of  the interview.

OUTREACH: Tell me about the impact you’ve seen/experienced–metrics (if you have
them), inspiring anecdotes, personal experience.

DF: In some cases we have
seen significant impact and in other cases we are just beginning to see what I
believe will be a huge impact from these innovations.  I’ll comment on each:

  • Multi-Site to Poly-site:  In addition
    to the “regular” sites that we have, Community has also reproduced a
    site that is meeting in a 55+ gated golf community. This site is one of
    our most healthy locations: we are seeing people become Christ
    Followers at the age of 75-85. This location is on a good growth
    curve, and has 20% more people in small groups than at their weekend
    services! We also have a growing and dynamic site that is in the Pilsen
    neighborhood of Chicago; a community that is made up of first
    generation Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants. In the coming year we
    are looking forward to starting another Spanish-speaking site and
    beginning to experiment with 3C Communities. 3C Communities will be sites of our church that do
    not meet at a church facility. They will meet in “third places”;
    offices; health clubs and other locations where our leaders can
    assemble them. We are estimating that at least 35% of the current
    population will never under any circumstances enter into a church people. These 3C
    Communities will go to them.
  • Network to Networks: Two years ago we had four churches in this young church planting network. Last year we had eight churches in the NewThing Network. This year we have doubled again and now have sixteen churches and are going international. As the network continued to expand it was becoming increasingly obvious that a movement will not be made up of a single network. So, this last year we reproduced two more networks and now NewThing has three networks led by apostolic leaders. What is inspiring is seeing the ownership of this network shift from one church and a few leaders to many churches and many high-capacity leaders. All of our new churches have plans to go to multiple sites (many this year) and all are involved in reproducing other new churches
  • Partnership with under-resourced public schools: We have become a church that knows you
    can’t call yourself a church unless you care about the poor.  We still have a lot of growth to do in this area, but regularly we challenge our congregation to give of their time and resources to be involved in the lives of people different than themselves.  Our relatively resourced and primarily Caucasian church has partnered with the public school system in a neighboring community that is almost 90% Hispanic and where nearly 70% of children are considered low-income. Through the schools, we have built relationships with teachers, administrators, students, and parents.  From the beginning our focus has been on relationship building and “community development” rather than simply providing hand-outs and donations.  We provide such things as tutoring, ESL classes, and community events such as a Christmas Gift Mart, parent mentoring programs, teacher support, and internship opportunities for students.  We have taken the approach of SHOWING the love of Jesus before PREACHING the love of Jesus.  As wedevelop relationships in the community with other churches, non-profit organizations, the city government, and the schools, we are building a base of support for a church or site we will plant in the community.  Before the church opens its doors, it will be seen as a church that is highly invested in the community. We challenge people to start by helping at a big event and then moving to more regular, consistent service, and even to the point of relocating their families to
    under-resourced communities . . . to do as Jesus did and live incarnationally among the poor.  We’ve seen parents empowered to get involved in their children’s school, students make academic progress they wouldn’t have made without extra support, people who have seen faith in God as a rigid set of rules start to question what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ.

OUTREACH: What were the challenges and risks involved in innovating
in one of these areas? How did you overcome them?

DF: The risks and challenges
almost always involve: fear, finances and finding the right leadership.   Here are the details as they apply to
specific innovations:

  • Multi-Site to Poly-site: It is definitely a harder work and there is a greater rate of fatality when you start sites that are not the same as the “successful” site you are already operating. We
    even had one site that failed. But we have always believed that if we don’t have some sites that fail that merely means that we are not trying enough new things. So you overcome the fear of failure by assuming that part of the price of innovation is failure. And as followers of Jesus we are not called to success, we are called to risk and as a leader that sounds like innovation to me!
  • Network to Networks: The greatest challenge in moving from a single network to reproducing networks is relinquishing control and putting your trust in other leaders. We knew that control is really only an illusion and that our dream would never come true if we held onto the illusion of control. And then God sent us some great leaders in Dave Dummit (242 Community Church) and Greg Lee (SunCrest Christian Church) an we asked them to step up and lead one of our networks. We are just beginning to see the benefit of this; but it is clearly the right strategic move if we ever hope to see a movement of reproducing churches. 
  • Partnership with under-resourced public schools: The biggest challenge we faced was
    people’s fear: fear of working with people that speak a different language; fear of physical safety; fear of committing time and money to such a needy area; fear of moving out of
    comfort zones.  We have had to provide people with lots of different opportunities to get involved at all different levels.  We make it very easy for people just starting out on this journey of working with the poor and culturally different to just show up and experience an activity
    in a large group.  Making that first step is the hardest and then we have lay leaders whose primary role is to coach and guide people as they want to move deeper and deeper into a serving life-style.

(more to come…)

Outreach Magazine Interview about Innovation (part 1)

Innovation_4_2 I did an interview with Outreach Magazine for their January/February issue on America’s Most Innovative Churches. I got an advance copy of the magazine and there is some great stuff in this issue.  I also got to be on the panel that helped nominate churches for America’s Most Innovative Churches list.  That was fun, and much more challenging than I thought.  I really tried to find innovations that were occurring in churches that no one had ever heard of and nominate them.  But if there is cool stuff happening out there, chances are someone has heard about it already. Anyway, that is another post for another day.  Some of the interview they used in their cover story and some of it they edited out.  So, over the next couple days I will post some of the Q & A from that interview.

OUTREACH: If you think of innovation as something
new–something that hasn’t been done before–what would you say are three
of the most innovative initiatives/strategies your church is doing
currently in the context of outreach or you’re doing through your church?

DF:  There are a number of innovations in the works at
Community, but three that seem to be gaining traction are the following:

  • Multi-Site to Poly-Site: Our vision at Community is no longer just to be multi-site, but is to be poly-site and to reach out to more people and more different kinds of people. A Poly-site church reproduces not just sites, but many kinds of sites to reach many kinds of people.
  • Network to Networks Community’s NewThing Network is now NewThing Networks.  NewThing is not only reproducing new churches but has made a shift to reproducing networks. It is the reproducing of networks that will allow us to be a catalyst for a movement of new churches.
  • Partnership with under-resourced public schools. Community’s partnership with under-resourced public schools is helping transform a neighborhood, our church and provide outreach opportunities beyond our imagination!

OUTREACH: What prompted you to try
these initiatives/strategies?  What was your motivation?

DF:  I don’t mean to sound hyper-spiritual, but we really believe that these things are promptings by God’s Spirit…God-things!  And our motivation is always to “help people find their way back to God” and to accomplish the mission of Jesus.  Here is some more on each of these innovations:

  • Multi-Site to Poly-Site:  Most of the
    current thinking and application amongst multi-site churches is to
    reproduce new sites exactly like all the rest. At Community we
    currently have eight locations in Chicago  and our dream is to have two
    hundred sites. The dream forced us to ask ourselves, “how can we reach the growing senior population; how
    can we reach the growing ethnic populations; and how can we reach the
    emerging generation who may never come to a church facility?” Those
    questions and subsequent opportunities brought these initiatives. And our motivation is
    always: “helping people find their way back to God”.
  • Network to Networks Our motivation comes from NewThing’s dream: “to be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches.”  This dream requires that we move from a single network of reproducing churches to reproducing networks of reproducing churches!
  • Partnership
    with under-resourced public schools
    . After over a decade
    of strategically focusing our outreach on people like us, we knew it was time
    to expand our focus beyond people like us and into places that were culturally
    and economically different from our own community.  We knew we needed to
    help our congregation live out the 3,000 versus in the Bible that talk about
    poverty and injustice and our responsibility as Christ-followers to do
    something about that.  Our motivation was a commitment to live out the
    whole gospel and serve and reach people in a wholistic way—by meeting
    physical, relational, economic and spiritual needs.

(more to come…)

Innovative Networks: The Source of New Ideas

Looking_for_innovationI have always said that the best stuff on this blog is found in the comments. (Actually, I haven’t always said that – but I did say it once and now I’m saying it again!) I have been thinking about innovation lately and it has shown up on the last two posts.  Kathy left an important comment  about innovation when she said: “It may be equally important to look within your own church body…at
the edges…to see what innovation God is driving close to home.”
I agree.  There are innovative edges within (most) local churches and there are the innovative edges within the body of Christ as a whole.  Then I  got an e-mail from Paul who pointed me toward an article from Knowledge@Wharton titled Innovation Networks:  Looking for Ideas Outside the Company  The article pulls it all together and says, “Innovation
networks are people, institutions and companies that are outside the
firm — they can also be inside the firm… They are intellectual assets that companies can link
up with to solve problems and find ideas, while beginning to think
about those assets as an extended part of their organization. From a competitive-advantage standpoint, yes, I think it’s going to be
a really big deal…the companies that identify those assets outside
and begin to build relationships with them have a real shot at building
a competitive advantage and preferential relationships.”
If you want to read the whole article, click HERE.

When I talk about innovation, I’m talking about new things that the Spirit of God is doing to better accomplish His mission on this planet.  And innovative networks are an effort to intentionally build community within the body of Christ for sharing what God is doing and challenging each other to take Spirit-led risks. So, where do you find those kind of innovative networks to help you discern the new things that God is doing?