Daniel Fusco: Thinking Outside the Church Walls—Part 2

Most churches are attracting people who are already saved. Let’s go out and find those who are lost.

In part 1 of the interview, Daniel Fusco talks about “getting spiritual,” how a dreadlocked church planter became a megachurch pastor and how to do church leadership succession in a healthy way.

Describe your ministry context.

Vancouver, Washington, is the northern neighbor of Portland, Oregon, right over the Columbia River. Portland is probably the most liberal city in America by pretty much any metric. Vancouver is where our main campus is, though we do have a campus in Southwest Portland that’s doing well. Like Portland, Vancouver is probably 65 percent hyperliberal and 35 percent the exact opposite: 4×4 trucks and gun racks. It’s your quintessential never-been-Christian context, with lots of post-Christians from around the country who have moved here.

Crossroads is a real subsection of where we live. There are people in their 90s who’ve been walking with Jesus twice as long as I’ve been alive. There are kids with tattoos. Married, single, divorced. Our county is 94 percent Caucasian, but we’re very multiethnic. There are long-term Christians and people who just chose to follow Jesus last week—or today. We’ve had to designate an outdoor smoking area, which speaks to the fact that we’re reaching people where they are. It’s a beautiful mass of humanity.

Crossroads also has a significant digital ministry. What are you learning about doing church online?

Our internet campus is our largest. We serve about 15,000 people a weekend on our internet campus as our services are happening. At the end of every day they’ll take a picture of the map of the world, showing where people tuned into Crossroads from. People watch and connect from all over the globe—on pretty much every continent, and all through the 10/40 window. We’re reaching the world from Vancouver, by the thousands.

Look, I’m married with three kids. My wife’s only making it to church twice a month because … there are three kids. One of them is always sick! The numbers say that the average person goes to church 1.8 times per month. And when they’re not there, it’s not always for the reasons we think. By taking what we’re doing and putting it on the internet campus, our people can join us even when they’re traveling, on vacation or whatever.

What we didn’t realize is that it would also be the single greatest feeder for Crossroads. I meet people every week who join us in person but first “met” us online, connecting with our volunteers who message them or call them. In another generation, this was radio. Then it was TV. Now it’s the internet.

Walking around your offices, I see “Jesus is real,” printed everywhere. Tell me about it?

Every teacher has a core message, the one thing that really grabs you. If I had to give one last sermon, it would be: “Jesus is real.” He is right where you are. Jesus lives at street level. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” or like Eugene Peterson interpreted it, he “moved in the neighborhood.” It’s the incarnation. “Jesus is for real” is our core language. I like it because there’s nothing sexy about it. It’s terse.

The incarnation is the jewel of our theology. But how does that work itself into the values, goals and strategies of a megachurch?

We need to reject false dichotomies. Does a church really have to be attractional or missional? We are both, and it seems to be working. Evangelism or discipleship? No, we do both. Kids ministry: Do you have to choose between fun or biblical? No.

Our mission is to simply respond to Jesus. Every moment there’s an invitation for us to respond. Our vision is simple: Because Jesus is real, we’re a family of faith, fully engaged, transforming our community and our world. Put Jesus at the top—he’s the why. Because of who he is, we’re a family. So, we’re trying to become a family that works.

As a megachurch, everyone expects us to be kind of vanilla. But Crossroads is rigorously biblical. Like, we’ll teach Leviticus. The gospel’s got teeth. We’ll let it hurt a little bit. Repentance is the first word of the gospel.

The false dichotomies that we come to expect in ministry are huge. We do altar calls every Sunday. People get saved. Every Sunday. Why would that detract from service to our community? That whole dichotomy that there are “cross-centered” churches and “kingdom-centered” churches is false. We’re going to serve the community in its place of pain in the name of Jesus, all day every day. And when someone comes to Crossroads, they’re going to hear about the cross of Jesus Christ and the finished work of what he’s done.

You’re a jazz musician. How does that influence your thinking as a pastor?

A classical musician has a written sheet of music, and they play it perfectly. Their creativity comes in through the expression—the nuances that they put in. But it’s all written beforehand. A jazz musician learns how to deconstruct a song. Not only do they play it uniquely every time, but they respond to the dynamics of the moment. Still, there must be rigorous intentionality. Jazz musicians don’t just play random notes. That’s not music, it’s just noise. There must be incredible mastery of technique and theory to be proficient in jazz. It doesn’t happen on its own.

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As a ministry, we’re not married to our methods. In a given moment, we can adjust, given the unique influences and pressures of the moment. We try to pay attention to our language and habits. All that is jazz.

When you do that, you realize, Man, this is hard! I get why people are willing to pigeonhole themselves. Trying to have a church for everyone forces us to think. How do you talk about what this is in a way that makes sense, both for the mature Christian and for the new believer, and for everyone in between? We must be intentional and engaged with who is really in front of us—not the church we think we have, but the church we really have.

Jesus accepts all of us where we are and leads us through transformation. We feel as a church that we must do the same thing: meet people where they are. We don’t adjust the message, but we acknowledge the landmines among our mixed multitude, and seek to navigate people through them.

You were well set up for that ministry philosophy, by personality and background. Where does a pastor start in building those skills to move past false dichotomies in ministry?

It’s all about connection. You must know people outside the faith. Often pastors must work to do that. Go to your local coffee shop or wherever it is that people gather. Read the newspaper and sit. Participate. Become a regular. Same places, same times, and you’ll start seeing the same people. Talk to them.

Communication starts with understanding. The best way to counteract cultural beliefs that are not biblical is to understand others. What’s driving this? That’s the question. Why does the church fail to communicate here?

If somebody comes up to me and is aggressive, dismissive or condescending, I don’t want to spend time with them. The church has done a poor job in reaching the lost because frankly we have a hard time putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. When you are connected relationally to people who think differently, you speak with more empathy. There’s a reasonableness, a nuance.

That reminds me of the theme of your book Honestly.

Yeah. Honestly: Getting Real About Jesus and Our Messy Lives. I took the book of Ephesians and started with two truths: that life is messy and that Jesus is real. The apostle Paul wrote every one of his letters because a church was messy. He was trying to help put things in order. The church in Corinth, for example: spiritually gifted but messy.

In Honestly, I took the book of Ephesians, and then I overlaid John Coltrane’s classic album about God’s love titled, A Love Supreme. The two fit together perfectly, in four movements taken straight from Coltrane’s four tracks: “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.”

My newest book is Upward, Inward, Outward. I took the Greatest Commandment and deconstructed it. We live upward as we’re loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind—and that includes faith. Inward is loving our neighbor “as we love ourselves.” We need that inner focus on ethics and inner life to get right before turning our attention elsewhere. Outward is obviously loving your neighbor. We must all live in three directions. Everyone has upward beliefs that lead to the way they see themselves, which lead to the way they treat people in the world.

As a veteran church planter, now at a megachurch, what would you say to pastors planting or revitalizing churches?

Statistically, the number of churches in America is increasing. But the number of Christians is decreasing. Let that sink in.

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Here’s the point: We should not be impressed with attendance numbers. We should be impressed with baptism numbers. Most successful church plants are just church moves. Or worse, church splits. A church will go into a new area and have a thousand people after a few years and be hailed as successful. But how many baptisms did they have? “We had 40!” No, that’s not a church plant.

So many churches seem to be trying to reach the reached. Christians are trying to filet fish that have been caught for years. But the fields are white. Instead of fishing in the trout farm pond that they stock so you can catch a lot of them—all mangled up from being caught a thousand times—let’s get in a boat. Let’s go out in the deep blue sea with a heavy line and go reach lost people.

I’m not impressed by how many people you preach to. I’m impressed by baptisms. If your growth is tied to baptisms, you’re a successful church, whether large, or small or a church plant. But if no one’s getting saved, you’re just collecting believers that have already been caught. And in most cases, they should probably go back to the church they came from.

Pastors, we need more than a ministry of maintenance. But sure, it’s messy if you reach lost people. It was amazing when we had to put in a designated smoking area here at Crossroads. We meet them where they are. Here’s what happened: We took a church that was a well-established megachurch, and we made it “unsafe” for people. There is nothing easy about it. People show up with cigarettes and need a spot to smoke them. They show up dressed “inappropriately” for a house of worship. We’ve had to pull visiting kids out of cars half-naked at youth group. That’s real life. That’s real ministry.

If all your kids are grown up, your house is neat and safe. But if you have babies, you’ve got dirty diapers. You gotta put locks back on the cabinets. You gotta put foam on the sharp corners. You can’t just check out and watch TV for four hours. Is it an inconvenience? Yes. But is it a beautiful inconvenience because you’ve got a baby in the house! Absolutely. As a solid grounded believer, Crossroads is going to inconvenience you because we’ve got so many babies. But you’re supposed to be here to raise them. That’s your job. Maybe you’ve gotten used to not raising them, and being the one who’s being catered to, but you’ll never grow when you’re an adult being catered to. You grow when you begin to help other people.

We have hundreds of amazing rock-solid believers who are now on mission discipling a whole new generation of believers. And what’s funny is they’re like, “I forgot that people did this for me when I was a baby.”

Out of 300 million people in America, there are 240 million non-evangelical people. Let’s focus on them. When they come to Christ, let’s figure out how to disciple them and employ them in the work of the kingdom. That mission is for all of us, church planters or pastors. There are way more people outside the church than inside the church.

Sounds like that loud and loving Italian family you grew up in.

Ha! Totally. Total happy chaos.

We were laughing the other day, because a husband and wife, totally hammered, came to church for the first time, and started fighting in the middle of our “family room.” A couple of our pastors had to go calm them down. They ended up calmer, saying, “We love this place!”

And I think, Me too. I love this place too. Because Jesus is real, and Jesus is at street level, and street level is here.

Learn more about Daniel Fusco’s book Upward, Inward, Outward »
Read an excerpt from Daniel Fusco’s book Upward, Inward, Outward »

Daniel Fusco is lead pastor of Crossroads Church in Vancouver, Washington, and author of several books, including Honestly: Getting Real About Jesus and Our Messy Lives (NavPress, 2016) and Upward, Inward, Outward: Love God, Love Yourself, Love Others (NavPress, 2017).

Paul J. Pastor is editor-at-large of Outreach, and author of multiple books on spiritual formation, including The Listening Day series of devotionals (Zeal Books). Instagram: @PaulJPastor. Website: PaulJPastor.com.

For more: CrossroadsChurch.net, DanielFusco.com, @DanielFusco