"You won't ever see me or my team swooping out of some green room into the church in our super pastor capes."
Senior Pastor Travis Hearn: The foundation is relationships
You’ve gone from 200 to 1,600 in weekend attendance in just three years. What do you think has been the key to getting people to stay at Impact?
I’m still trying to figure that out myself—we don’t have specific processes in place. But the foundation of it is relationships. That starts on Sundays in the lobby before church. We have awesome flavored coffees and killer doughnuts there. Me and my whole team are in the lobby before church, shaking hands, hugging and just talking with people.
You had me at “flavored coffees and killer doughnuts.”
Maybe we should stop there. [Laughs]
A lot of churches do the coffee and doughnuts thing, yet they aren’t all experiencing your tremendous growth.
That’s just it. I think a lot of churches are doing the same things we are—connect cards, small groups (we call them iGroups) and so on. What’s different about Impact is we are completely relational driven. Look, we spend a lot of money on marketing. We saturate, saturate, saturate with TV, direct mail and anything else we can do. But when it really comes down to it, the top reason people come and stay is friendships. Friends invite friends, and regardless of what happens here with staff changes or whatever, they keep coming back because of the relationships they have with each other. So because we have grown so quickly, we are in a full-court press to make sure people get connected to other people, whether that’s through iGroups, volunteerism, Bible studies or whatever.
What is the genesis of that connection?
We do what we call an after-party for new or unconnected people the third Sunday of every month right after church. We have a catered meal and I share for a few minutes about the church’s history and future. But the best part is we go around and have people tell what brought them to Impact and what made them stay. It’s awesome to watch people “selling” each other on what really holds them to Impact. As they are explaining, we always hear words like “real” and “authentic” and “I can be myself here.”
Impact’s growth has come despite a difficult location adjacent to the runway at Scottsdale Municipal Airport, in a city whose ordinances prohibit site-specific signage. How has that affected your ability to retain people?
It is pretty amazing what people put up with at Impact—we literally have planes taking off right in the middle of church. There are no homes for miles, so people have to find us. Since we can’t put up signs to get people here, we hired eight sign spinners with bright-green Impact signs to work Sunday mornings. It’s stuff like that that I think goes beyond getting people here but also keeps people coming because it’s fun. Church should be a fun, God-sized party full of life and energy and laughter. Our sign spinners reinforce that. But we’re in escrow on a property next to the No. 1 Costco in the U.S. We won’t have these particular problems there.
That new location will position you for even more growth. Will you have to give up greeting everyone in the lobby before church?
No, you won’t ever see me or my team swooping out of some green room into the church in our Super Pastor capes. Being available in the lobby does make us vulnerable—you never know what someone will say to you or if they might cling to you. But it’s powerful stuff to be there for that connection, and I don’t see that changing at all.
Interview by Christy Scannell