Outreach 100 Consortium: What I’m Learning

We asked pastors of some of the nation’s largest churches to share their thoughts on church growth, discipleship, outreach and faithful ministry.

“Know what God has called you to do and stay in your lane.”

Chip Bennett, Lead Pastor
Grace Community Church
Sarasota, Florida

The one thing that has best positioned us for growth is our commitment to our vision: “Grace Community Church exists to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.” This vision is the grid through which everything we do is viewed. If it isn’t accomplishing our vision, we don’t do it. If we aren’t reaching people by doing intentional neighborly things that reflect Christ, then it doesn’t get done.

Since our vision is to reach unchurched people, it keeps our church focused on outreach and growth, not on self. As a leader, we either lead the church to expect growth or not. Churches that tend the aquarium rather than fish for men will more often than not struggle to grow. Know what God has called you to do and stay in your lane.

Just when we needed more space, God provided. We were recently given 44 acres and several buildings from a church in town that was struggling. They joined up with us, and we have become their church now. We are currently in the process of renovating those facilities to launch our second campus this fall.

Nobody can do it alone. The Lord’s prayer is not “my Father” it is “our Father.” Letting everyone be a part of everything is so much more rewarding, sustaining and multiplying rather than doing it alone.

I wish I had known when I first started in ministry that the church is God’s and not mine, so I don’t have to take things so personally. I am a passionate type of guy and a consequence of that wiring is often taking things very personally. I have a place I stand every week in the church and I have a moment with God. I tell him: “I know this talk really isn’t for you Lord, but this is for me. I need to say this. I need to hear this. We need to have this conversation each and every week and more so for me, Lord, than you. This is your church and these are your people. They are not mine and the church is not mine. If you can bring someone else along who can do better than me, I am in. So, Lord, it’s important that I say these things to you, and I realize you don’t need me. I am grateful you use me, but I understand my place. Thanks for letting me do what I do.”

The church adds to and creates a lot of the polarization in society. We may be well meaning, but we create divisions in areas we don’t need to. Staying away from the non-salvific, partisan issues will open the door to a far greater ministry of healing and change. The church needs to keep focused on the gospel and Jesus, and not get bogged down in peripheral issues that won’t save anyone. The more we can keep the main thing the main thing, the larger the net becomes for our opportunities to see real and lasting change. What we do as the church is the highest-stakes game in town, and we can ill afford not to focus on the one thing we have that changes the world, and that’s preaching Jesus and the Good News.

We have incredible opportunities right now to create massive change in areas of racial reconciliation, societal polarization and the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. To see real and lasting change, we cannot afford to be identified with a political party or partisan movements; we need to simply be the church. It’s not politics or a party that will bring lasting change, it’s a person and his name is Jesus.

Twitter: @DrChipBennett
Website: GraceSarasota.com
Founded: 2010
Denomination: Nondenominational
Locations: 1
Attendance: 1,520
Fastest-Growing: 19

“Ministry moves in seasons, which demands persistent rhythms in the ministers.”

Adam Bailie, Lead Pastor
Christ Church
Gilbert, Arizona

We emphasize a clear, simple and urgent culture rooted in a vertical engagement in every meeting, a relational connectivity to every level of human interaction, a genuine communication in every public leadership moment, and a redeemed ambition that drives the church family forward on mission in our life as a church, in our community and around the world.

God is in the planning just as much as he is in the execution of the plan. With all of the intentionality of our preaching calendar and worship service plans, multiple weekends in the last year were marked by major crises in our church family. The perfectly correlating songs and Scriptures in our services ministered powerfully to our people and our guests.

I have learned that the best spiritual leadership is servant leadership that seeks to give away what has been entrusted and seeks to mobilize the leadership gifts in others. As leaders serve and reproduce, a mosaic of servant leadership permeates the life of the church on mission in the community.

Ministry moves in seasons, which demands persistent rhythms in the ministers. Rhythms sustain leaders through the seasons, when balance is a futile pursuit or pace of ministry changes suddenly. Worshiping in services, living in groups, serving on teams and learning in studies are rhythms of discipleship that must be applied across all seasons and paces of ministry for leaders and non leaders alike.

Leaders are listeners and leaders are readers. I seek to keep my ears and eyes engaged with better minds, more mature disciples and proven spiritual leaders who can help me understand and apply the Word of God to my life and ministry.

The gospel is the supernatural remedy to divisions and hatred. In the gospel every people group, ethnicity, socioeconomic category and unique human creation finds value and precious unity in love. Where the church is informed by the true gospel of grace through Jesus Christ and radically living it out as a faith family, there is a strong counter-cultural testimony of peace, hope and love that we all desperately need.

Twitter: @ahbailie
Website: ChristAZ.org
Founded: 2012
Denomination: Nondenominational
Locations: 3
Attendance: 1,614
Fastest-Growing: 6

“The church is a spiritual entity rather than a not-for-profit religious entity.”

Jeff Bogue, Senior Pastor
Grace Church
Akron, Ohio

One of the biggest initiatives that we have put in place in the last few years is the idea of “praying for our three.” We encourage every one of our people to pray for three of their friends by name every day. They pray that God would give them a “no-brainer moment” in which they can share the reason for the hope that’s within them. That little phrase has caused them to become very aware of opportunities to be evangelistic and the necessity to be continually in prayer for their friends and family who do not yet know Christ.

At our largest campus right now, we have set a goal that over the next three years we would see a minimum of 1,000 people come to know Christ. We invited the congregation to pursue that goal by praying for their three. Right now the members of just one of our campuses are praying up to 7,000 people every day. Not only does this initiative unleash the power of God in someone’s life, it also creates sensitivity and compassion within followers of Christ for those who do not yet know him.

A highlight for us as a congregation this past year was a campaign in which we laid out the vision of building a 70-bed inpatient treatment center for opioid addiction. This plus some additional projects were woven into the campaign with the goal of raising $6 million over three years. The people committed $8.6 million, far surpassing our goal. This incredible response allows us to bring this desperately needed resource to our community and to “love our neighbor as ourselves” in this way.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about spiritual leadership is that God can and does unite the body of Christ. One of our great prayers for evangelism has been that God would work in the hearts of his people and unite them so that we can “contend as one man.” To watch the Holy Spirit move among his people in deep, powerful and profound ways truly reminds me that the church is a spiritual entity rather than a not-for-profit religious entity.

God moving in an unmistakable way to bring his people to a point of focus, compassion and generosity is a powerful and wonderful thing. It has deeply affected me and reminded me that I’m leading people to something greater than just big dreams—I’m leading them to eternal goals that have eternal ramifications in which God is directing his people toward.

When I first started ministry, I wish I would’ve known to spend more time searching out where God was already moving and less time asking God to bless my ideas and plans. There’s nothing more freeing or motivating than when you join the Lord in a work that he has already decided to accomplish through his people.

After being a pastor now for over 26 years, when I look to move the church forward or to take our next step, my first instinct is to see where God is stirring in our community and how that stirring is rippling into the body of Christ. From there I develop plans and vision.

I need to hang out with teenagers and college students. As I get older, I have to work harder to be a student of the next generation. So, even though I pastor a large church, I still help to run a large youth conference for junior high and high school kids because I want to be around them. I enjoy them, and I learn a lot from them. I try to stay closely connected to our college ministry as well for many of the same reasons.

A statement that we have locked onto for many, many years here at Grace is “if servanthood is beneath you, leadership is above you.” We need to become servants to our communities wherever and whenever possible. Obviously, the church cannot agree with all the priorities and all the current cultural leanings of a given community. However, there are many ways that we can agree and serve that community. For us, combating the heroin epidemic is certainly an example of that. They welcome the help, they welcome the investment, and they even welcome the name of Jesus. They would almost have the attitude of saying to us, “Nothing else works. Let’s try your plan and approach.”

So, we look all over our community, whether it’s sports ministries or single parents or the school systems, and ask the question, “Is there a way that we can serve, a way we can bring finances, facilities and people to bear on an issue?” We’ve found that if we’re willing to serve, we’re often invited to lead.

Twitter: @TakingOneStep
Website: GraceChurches.org
Founded: 1960
Denomination: Grace Brethren
Locations: 9
Attendance: 5,874
Largest: 81

“Spiritual leadership is almost always connected to some sort of pain.”

Aaron Brockett, Lead Pastor
Traders Point Christian Church
Indianapolis, Indiana

We’ve really put a high value on developing a richer and healthier culture among our staff and volunteer leaders. We’ve put several years of greater intentionality into this area, and now we’re experiencing its benefits.

We’ve also worked hard at thinking through and anticipating some of the barriers and hang-ups people have for coming, connecting and growing within our church. We continue to take what we learn and implement it, helping people take clear and simple next steps to get engaged in the mission/vision God has for our church.

As pastors, we all probably know what it’s like to see that person in the lobby after service that you’d like to avoid because you know they’re going to be critical, mean or weird. I’ve had a few occasions this past year when I was bracing myself for one of those conversations, only to have the person share with me how God had been at work in their life through our church and how excited and on mission they now were. Amazing and humbling.

Spiritual leadership is almost always connected to some sort of pain. Now, that pain takes on various forms and can be more or less intense than other times, but it’s usually a factor to any sort of spiritual growth process.

Enjoy each season and experience more. There’s always something to be learned when working in ministry, even from the tough stuff, and it all goes by way faster than I could have imagined. As much as possible, I try to remember that when I have a tough day, six months from now I won’t even remember the details, so I don’t let it rob me of joy.

Stay connected to people. Ask more questions in a conversation than give declarations. Find out how God is at work through people and churches that are different from yours and learn from it.

As different as we all are, one of the primary things everyone has in common is that we’re looking for hope. The gospel is the greatest message of hope. The culture is drawn to hope. We need to give it to them. We need to tell—and more importantly show—them the hope that only Jesus can provide.

Twitter: @AaronBrockett
Website: TPCC.org
Founded: 1834
Denomination: Independent Christian
Locations: 4
Attendance: 8,135
Largest: 43

“It’s consistency that makes us most like Christ.”

Aaron Burke, Lead Pastor
Radiant Church
Tampa, Florida

We have been intentional about creating an invite culture where people are comfortable and expected to bring their friends to church. While every week is a good Sunday to attend Radiant, we do put three “big Sundays” on the calendar to really encourage people to reach their lost friends.

I went on a 21-day total juice fast last January, and it was during that season of prayer that I came up with the idea to rent out the local convention center for Easter. We had over 6,500 attend and hundreds gave their life to Christ.

Public promotion is the result of private perseverance. Every battle I have won physically was the result of private victories that no one else saw.

Be patient. Great things do not happen in a day. They happen daily. It’s consistency that makes us most like Christ. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. When we stay consistent, we eventually will win.

Jesus is still wildly popular in our culture. The church has had its struggles, but if you keep the focus on Jesus, you will win. Radiant Church has been intentional to keep our focus on Christ instead of on the drama of the news, politics and pop culture. Jesus is still the answer to whatever people are going through.

Twitter: @aaronrburke
Website: WeAreRadiant.com
Founded: 2013
Denomination: Assemblies of God
Locations: 3
Attendance: 2,978
Fastest-Growing: 4

“Small is the new big, and simple is the new complex.”

Jeff Clark, Lead Pastor
Venture Church
Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Continually clarifying the vision, which makes it easier to say “no” to good things that rob our church of resources, such as time, money and human capital. Develop a clear pipeline for people to serve, You need easy on-ramps that funnel new partners into the system and cultivate them to become key volunteers. Develop well-documented and streamlined systems. If it isn’t written down and streamlined so that basically anyone can learn to do it and it can’t be measured, it probably isn’t achieving the things that matter to us as a leadership team.

One big victory that I’m personally really thankful for is that for the first time, I don’t feel like we’re struggling to keep up. Our systems and teams are healthy, and it allows us to enjoy the growth without panicking.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in the past year is that I have to be approachable and transparent with everyone who works or serves at our church. My role is to create heroes and fight the temptation to be the primary focus of attention because I’m on the stage.

I wish I had known that ministry is not that complex. The early church was simple; but fast-forward, and the reason ministry seems so difficult today is because we make it harder than it actually is. What drove that point home for me was Acts 15:19. James, said, “We shouldn’t make it hard for [people] to come to God.” Also, I wish I had known that building a large building was going to be a mistake—that small is the new big and simple is the new complex.

I read business books on entrepreneurship; the business world is more serious about money than the church is about the gospel. I read two blogs each week that cause me to think. I periodically visit the greatest churches I can find and ask all the questions I can think of.

The biggest thing I’ve learned, in the present culture, is to stay away from hot-button social or political themes that can be harmful and divisive. I’m finding that sticking with the gospel is equally offensive to both sides of the political malaise. And I repeat over and over, the answer to our social and cultural problems is through the gospel and the local church, not through political parties and the government.

Twitter: @pastorj96
Website: VentureChurch.org
Founded: 1884
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Locations: 3
Attendance: 4,233
Fastest-Growing: 29

“You can’t legislate compassion.”

Aaron Cole, Senior Pastor
Life Church
Germantown, Wisconsin

Over the past 18 months, we launched two campuses, which is a large reason for our growth and momentum. Beyond the best plans that we make, God sometimes surprises us—reminding us that he is at work. Both campuses we launched were struggling churches that came to us wanting to close their doors and open up as a LC campus. And both were in areas we already wanted to go. It was an answer to prayer.

God is looking for our obedience and hard work. He will bring the increase.

I wish someone had told me in my 20s that nobody expects you to have anything figured out in life until your 30s and 40s.

You cannot legislate compassion. That’s why the church exists—to lead the way in compassion.

Twitter: @aaroncolelc
Website: LifeChurchWI.com
Founded: 2000
Denomination: Assemblies of God
Locations: 4
Attendance: 2,191
Fastest-Growing: 17

“We can become blinded by our own personal perspectives.”

Justin Dailey, Pastor
Action Church
Orlando, Florida

Some practical contributors to our growth are transparency and stewardship. Our leadership has consistently proven to be trustworthy. We are transparent with our plans, intentions, resources and goals. This transparency has given people the ability to trust us with their time, finances and talents. The second practical contributor of our growth is stewardship. We operate on a strict budget that allows us to be ready for all growth opportunities. We also put significant time and resources into developing our leaders. We realize stewarding resources and people open opportunities.

Spiritual leadership starts with personal discipline. Getting more personal time with God is the best thing any leader can do to increase their effectiveness. When you’re leading a large church or organization, it is easy to get sidetracked on strategy, staffing and other organizational issues. God wants our heart, and we all have been guilty of just giving him our head.

God never called us to be successful—he called us to be faithful. God never intended for church growth, speaking platforms, success or local notoriety to fulfill us in the same way obedience to him does.

What I have learned about learning is that it never stops; we are always a student. The challenge with personal growth is you don’t always pick the teacher. At Action Church, we make it a goal to learn from every situation. Every constructive conversation or even the harshest criticism is an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow.

We can become blinded by our own personal perspectives. The church today is known way more for what we are against than what who we are for. In a world that picks sides, agendas and platforms, we try and see the people representing all of these in an attempt to prioritize their life and eternity over personal opinions. God loves people, and I’m committed to lead a church that is committed to people.

Twitter: @JustinDailey
Website: TheActionChurch.com
Founded: 2014
Denomination: Nondenominational
Locations: 4
Attendance: 4,328
Fastest-Growing: 8
Largest: 100

“Being ‘this gen’ led and creatively planting churches has brought great growth.”

Joshua Finklea, Lead Pastor
The Rock
Conway, South Carolina

For us two major factors (from a human perspective) have lead to growth. One is we are “This Gen” or this generation led. We believe that kids, students and young adults are not next, they are now. They aren’t the future of the church, the church of tomorrow or even the next generation—they are kingdom workers today. They need to be empowered and released to lead today. While many people are looking at how to reach millennials, we are empowering Gen Z now.

That means we do everything we can as a church to reach them. The services are built and the church functions with their needs in mind. We place kids, students and young adults in positions of leadership and influence. We hire them and differ to them when making decisions.

Many find this approach risky, thinking it means we will only reach young people as a church, but the bottom line is by focusing on them, we reach all generations. Parents and grandparents want to see their kids and grandkids in church. Non-Christians love what we do because it is fresh and young.

Secondly, growth has come by creatively planting churches. One way that we have done it is through the opening of public coffee bars. We currently have two coffee bars that are open six or seven days a week, and we are in the process of opening a third. We stumbled on this by accident when we remodeled an old restaurant that was on our property and turned it into C3 Coffee Bar. The majority of our customers don’t realize that the church owns it, but as we love people and serve them well, they become reg