Myron Pierce: Hope Multiplier — Part 2

Don’t miss Part 1 of our interview, where Myron Pierce talks about Mission Church, an Outreach 100 reproducing church, and its values, vision, and growth.

Thanks for honoring us with your incredible story. This may be an odd question, but with both your entrepreneurial and gang background, what perspectives do you feel you’re bringing to the work of planting churches that might be unique? 

From a Western church-planting vantage point, in all of our church planting efforts (systems, structures, networks) the spotlights and megaphones have been primarily for the larger white churches. You see it everywhere, beginning with the conferences, and that sets the gold standard for what church planting is.

What God has done in a short time here is expand the influence of our church into networks like Exponential, Leadership Network, and recently the Global Leadership Summit. Consequently, it’s allowed our reach to expand in terms of coaching new urban workers, pastors, church planters and missionaries, and writing books, and doing podcasts, and doing coaching cohorts. It’s really expanded our reach.

From a gang perspective, the Holy Spirit used my experience of gang culture and the idea of mission and organization and strategy and really, war that is present there, and transformed that all to apply to our spiritual war. The big question, you know, is How do you gain territory? When it comes to gangs, and how we understand evangelism and disciple making, and how to train and equip effectively, all of that came naturally to me because of my experience of gang life, of being eight years in the penitentiary, of learning how to disciple largely on my own, of learning how to build the church through disciple making. All of those things set me up to show me that God had repurposed my experiences for his work in an urban context. 

What realities do you see regarding church multiplication right now? Obviously there is a lot of uncertainty in the world today. What opportunities and challenges come with it?

One of the things that I think that the church should be leaning into is that typically when you go to a traditional seminary or Bible college, there’s a wealth of knowledge around systematic theology and ecclesiology and all that, but less, obviously, on what to do with it, including church planting. Maybe there are some specialized courses on it, but when it comes to practitioners, it’s a whole different ball game. 

The second point revolves around church planters and missionaries really needing to pay more attention to “futurist” disciplines like sociology or social psychology. Futurists are some of the rarest leaders right now in the world, which is why the church should be leaning into that discipline and working to look ahead.

There’s a seven-question framework that I think every church planter, urban missionary and missionary (rural, suburban) should be working through if they’re going to maneuver through the fallout of things like COVID-19, race and politics over the last couple of years and move forward toward multiplication (see list of questions at the end of this article).

In the church in America, we’ve typically subscribed to the metaphor of business, of the church being a business. We know that by the language we use. We call ourselves senior pastors or executive pastors, or we’re counting how many seats, right? Or what our attendance is. All these metrics are pointing back to the assumed metaphor that we knowingly or unknowingly are using to define success. We refer to our team as staff. We’ve embraced the organizational chart and can’t really think how it might look different.

But perhaps we ought to ask, “Where has this metaphor taken us? And what can New Testament theology reveal to us about the metaphors we should adopt?” If we thought much about it, we’d quickly see that the first institution that God created was a family—and not like how a business calls itself a family. A real family. And we think about God creating anything first, it’s symbolic of what he wants us to do next. And then you have Jesus enter in through the new covenant, and overwhelmingly he’s advocating for family as he’s calling his disciples “little children.” I’ve learned that we have to hone in on some of these disciplines that can be helpful to engage people, advance the kingdom and multiply churches. But it will require us to be more thoughtful and faithful with our metaphors.

That’s deeply insightful. Can you tell us a story of someone who comes to mind who is embodying this well?

I think of my friend Ron Smith who, six months into us planting Mission Church, planted our daughter church. Something beautiful about him is the fact that he’s an ex-gangster disciple out of Chicago who planted this daughter church, which is tough enough to begin with, but he did it while fighting what I call the three-headed monster—COVID-19, race and politics. They actually went—like all of us at Mission Church—fully digital. Coming out of the pandemic, they went mobile and digital. So what’s beautiful about that is that they tricked out this 15-passenger shuttle van and turned it into a mission-hope resource center. They show up in inner-city neighborhoods two or three times a week with resources galore, with everything from coaching on how to fill out a job application, to how to apply for food stamps. Through that missional work, people are then invited online to join one of our gatherings. 

The thing I love is that it’s innovating without dependence on the idea of what we would call the typical church. People are no longer fully committed to that model. Rather, it seems like what they do want are circles that have gotten smaller, but with a greater quality and depth of friendship. For them to change their trajectory, they’ve become a lot more effective in making disciples. 

Along the way, have there been any surprises about what has worked for encouraging multiplication?

Even before COVID-19, I had started writing on this whole idea of digital church. The first book I wrote was Why Social Media Should Be Your No. 1 Strategy. And then, boom, COVID-19 hits, and I came out with Digital Ministry: Pastoring in a Pandemic. And then that third book (DIGICHURCH: How the Church Can Change the Digital World) formed a trilogy on digichurch. So what surprised me as we came out of the pandemic, as we had begun to really embrace this new metaphor of family, is that it shrunk our church. There are a lot of variables to that, but it changed a lot of things. So we changed language. We stopped using the words, “It’s time to worship,” because that has a connotation to it that worship is somehow what I sing to God versus how I live before God. We replaced the idea of worship with, “We’re going to sing, and as we sing, we’re going to express our devotion to our King.”

Also, the second thing is that I cut my sermon prep. I trimmed back sermon prep probably like 80% and used the rest of that 80% to be invested into more disciple-making relationships and friendships. I trimmed my sermon length from 40 minutes to 12 to 15 minutes. Then we moved from rows to tables, with food in the middle and refreshments. When I trimmed my sermon, then I extended conversation around the table and around the text. And we crafted something called the “hope method.” 

We ask a set of questions:

  1. How did you deal hope this last week? 
  2. Based on what we read, how would you summarize what you read in two words? 
  3. What is God saying to you right here in this moment? 
  4. What is he asking you to do with these next 36 hours? 
  5. How can we pray for you?

That stuck with us, so then we said, “Let’s create a ‘hope-dealer’ study journal, so every single person in our church can track their disciple-making progress and time through the Scriptures and relationships with other people.”

What shocked me was how inviting and acceptable and connective this new way of gathering is. I had one person say, “Wow. I can’t just come here and sit—I actually have to think.” And for me, that speaks volumes. I had another person say, “You know, I just love being able to hear what God is saying collectively versus just through one person.”

That’s been a hill to die on. We’ve said, “God is more interested in what he’s saying to all of us versus just one of us.” We’ve really moved away from the one-man band. It’s really just a decentralized family of missionaries that are seeking to unleash hope in Omaha and beyond. I’ve been shocked at how our people have risen to the occasion. And quite frankly, shocked how it shrank our church but yet multiplied our efforts in terms of spinning off new missionaries and new churches, etc.

What are the top two or three practical things a leader should do if they want to cultivate “hope dealers” in their congregations and multiply new churches?

First, I think to keep from killing their existing culture, anything they do differently should be identified as an “experiment.”

Second, we obviously can’t call people to mission, disciple making and mobilization if we’re not doing it ourselves. So we must begin to ask, “Who are we really discipling?” I’m not talking about a program of disciple making. I’m talking about fundamentally the fact that disciple making is about friendship and family. So what rhythms in my life do I need to change in order to fulfill the Great Commission myself?

Third, I would say that it’s time to chart a new future—which might begin with us all asking the seven questions we should be asking ourselves to chart a new future. 

Is there anything that you would want to say to your fellow leaders as a word of encouragement?

I was recently with a young leader in Orlando at the Exponential Conference. At one point, we were getting gas, and this sudden realization came to me. I looked over, and I had a little tear in my eye. I said, “I am more interested in your success than my own.”

And it was just like this eureka moment when I thought, This is real, and my life backs that statement up. It was another one of those defining moments for me, and so, what brings me the most joy is, honestly, seeing the success of people transcend my own, and [to see] them really step into their God-given calling to advance his kingdom.

I think, if anything, where I empathize with every pastor and church planter is we aren’t as clear as we want to be about our own mission and calling. And when we don’t feel clear, imagine where our people are. However, I am hopeful that if Jesus was right—[when] he said he would build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it—that means we have to stick in there. That means we have to decide not to do what we’ve been called to do alone. That’s why I’m thankful for different tribes and spaces where we can really do this together.

I think the church is moving more and more into a faceless movement where we’re no longer focused on egos or logos but the actual work of the kingdom. Being more concerned about others’ success than our own. I think if we can continue to put our logos and egos to the side (in the words of my friend Rob Wegner), then I think it will give us some resolve that Jesus actually was right, that he is building his church. Even if it looks a little different than it did three years ago.

Seven Important Questions for Church Planters 

  1. What’s been the history of church planting in the West in general?
  2. What’s been the history of church planting in my specific demographic, denomination or tradition?
  3. What are the fears and frustrations that I have, should the current situation of church planting not change for me and my community?
  4. What assumptions am I making about those fears or frustrations?
  5. Based on those fears, frustrations and assumptions, what scenarios are likely to happen if nothing changes and momentum tends toward those assumptions, fears and my forecast?
  6. What is my preferred future? What three or four events need to happen for us to get there?
  7. What’s the inner story of me as a planter, or us as an organization or denomination? What’s the present metaphor that we’ve subscribed to up until this point?

Myron Pierce

Paul J. Pastor
Paul J. Pastor

Paul J. Pastor is editor-at-large of Outreach, senior acquisitions editor for Zondervan, and author of several books. He lives in Oregon.