I believe that God can use your church to have a High Impact in your town based on five key principles. Here are those principles that we tested when we church planted in Northern Nevada and in other states where I was able to help other church planters:
Principle One: CULTURAL NOISE
Let’s face it. Los Angeles in particular, and southern California in general (where I came from), is a mega region with a multitude of people groups and competing public voices. Churches in metropolitan areas have to work in a particularly focused fashion to get their presence and message heard above the din of cultural noise. Smaller towns, with fewer media outlets and fewer competing public activities, are easier to penetrate.
In our own experience, we found that newspaper inserts (two local papers were received by 80 percent of the households), and local public access television (which people actually watch) are very effective tools to communicate to the general public; both are tools we never would’ve used in our former metropolitan area. On the other hand, we aired both 30- and 60- second commercials on the radio for 13 weeks and received no phone calls. Finding the right medium to connect with people in your area is a must, even in the smaller outlying areas. Survey the new people in your congregation and find out what their first contact was with your church. Check with local business people and find out what’s working – or not – for them.
Principle Two: RELATIONAL LONGING
Everyone wants to be in meaningful relationships. Some people know that need and others ignore it or refuse to acknowledge it. People who live in metropolitan areas have an easier time masking this basic human need in a fast-moving, activity-filled environment. People who live in smaller towns have a harder time ignoring their relational longing because there are fewer activities with which to mask their pain and ignore the relational longings.
In our previous area, we noticed pretty quickly that though we pride ourselves in large, open spaces (cattle and alfalfa are big business there), people aren’t opposed to gathering in large festivals and events.
In fact, since the area already had a Wal-Mart, I knew right away that a large church wouldn’t be a socially unacceptable phenomenon. In fact, our area also has several large craft festivals and public events which gather people in crowds. I knew if we could gather a crowd, we could ultimately draw people into meaningful relationships. Drive around, read the paper, and listen to advertising on radio and TV in your own town and find out where large gatherings occur. Translate that into activities your church can offer that will draw a crowd. And don’t forget to provide a clear follow-up or next-step communication tool.
Principle Three: TRANSITIONAL DISEQUILIBRIUM
When people move, they’re open to making new choices and establishing new behaviors. In many areas of our country, people want to leave the larger cities and move to more rural, outlying regions. Business conditions are such that many people can make a decision about where to live without reference to the location of a company’s headquarters or factory.
Our area benefited form the societal move away from large cities, and we grew for several years at about 4 percent per year. That steady population growth means we have new folks moving into our area each month. People who move are often willing to try our new church – we’re hoping to stay new for at least a couple of decades – and possibly make new commitments in their lives. We believe that 40 percent of the people who attended have moved into the area within the last five years. If your area is growing, you may have a unique opportunity to reach people for Christ. Connecting with their needs as they settle into a new area is a great tool for outreach. Where are the people moving into in your own area/ is your church strategically located where growth is happening? Are you providing venues for welcoming newcomers to your community as well as letting them know what your church has to offer them?
Principle Four: TEAMWORK AND FINANCIAL RESOURCES MULTIPLY IN A SMALLER AREA
Having a team of trained leaders multiplies your impact in a smaller area. My former ministry experience had convinced me of the need for strong leadership. I’ve seen my share of new churches implode because of conflicting personalities and leadership weaknesses. George Barna has observed about church planting in America that, ‘Unfortunately, most of the churches begun have been doomed from the get-go. Typically they launch with the wrong individual in charge (pastors who are not the catalytic, entrepreneurial leaders required), with an inadequate core group (based on the number and nature of the people involved), an outdated model, and severe under capitalization” (Barna, The Second Coming of the Church, Word).
Our experience has suggested that developing a strong leadership core and having a clear picture of the financial resources required are key component of building a high-impact church. Smaller population areas allow key tem leaders to expand their influence and maximize their impact. Financial resources are enlarged because of the greater ease in communicating to the general population. Rick Warren is clear that starting a church well means that your build from the “outside in, not the inside out.” Warren is correct about the need to focus on attracting a crowd in order to build the core. However, in order to even attract a crowd, you must at least have a small and well-focused core. Whatever the size of your core team, make your focus the crowd and believe that God will multiply your impact in a smaller area.
Principle Five: SEE THE VISION AND WRITE IT CLEARLY
Many people are learning to make the plan of God plain for the people of God. The writer of Habakkuk (2:2) exhorts us to make the vision clear. We were helped by many ministries, including Saddleback and Willow Creek. What we’ve learned most from them is that they have a clear and well-communicated vision. The clarity of vision makes it easier for people to connect and comprehend the scope of your ministry.
Willow Creek has the five G’s of spiritual health. Saddleback has the four bases. At our church, we decided the simpler the better. Our motto was “Friends Helping Friends Follow Christ.” As a tool to help people understand that, we teach about three aspects of our vision and picture them as a triangle.
In our Discovery classes (our new-attender assimilation tool modified from the Saddleback bases), we taught the assimilation triangle, three aspects of being a Christ-follower.
- Discovery 101 – Attracting: Finding and sharing Christ as Savior
- Discovery 201 – Attaching; Following Christ as Lord
- Discovery 301- Activating: Fulfilling your life purpose in Christ
We help people discover each of these three parts in their own lives and teach them that they’re life-long aspects of the Christian life. Many people shared with us that they’re encouraged when they can see our vision so clearly and understand how we go about fulfilling the vision.