Yesterday Pastor Mike and I were in Grand Rapids with Pastors Toran and Jordan assessing an opportunity. Easter Sunday witnesses the launch of our sixth campus. This is possible because of the generosity of the Central family. Everything we have done regarding the Stronger Challenge to date has been paid for by the generosity of the Central family. We thank you all for your incredible support!
Our multi-site vision has led to people asking the why we do it. The quick answer is because we sense God leading us this way. God’s say so is always our bottom line. Building on that, however, there are a number of great reasons we’re doing what we are. Here are five.
The Great Commission (GC) is that Important
We multi-site because we are motivated by the Great Commission. We are evangelistic in nature not just in practice. If that is true, proof of it should be found in the fact that the GC impacts us at the highest possible level: our structures. If the GC is ingrained in our nature it should impact our structures and strategies not simply our programs and ministries. If the GC is that important to us, then it should determine our strategy not just our tactics. It does! We recognize that not every church that is GC focused is called to be a multi-site church. However, we believe we are called to multi-site because we have the resources – human and financial - to allow the GC focus to impact us at this highest level. To whom much is given, much is required.
We have a culture of generosity
Behind everything Central has done to grow has been a desire to reach more people. We’ve not been built to seat but to send. This church has a culture of generosity that practices the truth that it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Our generosity has always involved both material and human resources. Not only have we invested financial resources to mission but people resources too. Between 1990 and 2000 over one hundred people were sent out to serve Christ in the world. Our loss was considered the kingdom’s gain. We sent because we considered it an honor to serve with a generous heart. In the same way, we are multi-site because we believe that serving Christ always involves sending. Our multi-site strategy allows us to adopt a systematic sending strategy optimized for today’s world in the way that sending one hundred missionaries was systematic sending optimized for yesterday’s world. That's not to say that we will not send abroad. We’ve always been a sending church. It's simply that the multi-site strategy allows us to send our best to reach the rest far closer to home.
It is in our DNA to seize the moment
Our history is full of courageous decisions to seize the moment. Back in 1970 the moment presented itself to move from 17th and Pine to our current location. Back in 1980’s it was adopting a heart for missions that saw us commit to giving generously beyond ourselves. Since that time approximately 24.2% of non-capital giving has been invested in outreach. Over the last 15 years over $23 million has been invested in GC endeavors. We seized the moment in the 1980's in a way that changed our trajectory. In the 1990’s it was sending over one hundred people into the world as missionaries. We are multi-site because it's in our DNA to see a moment and to seize the moment. Multi-site puts the innovative sending movement firmly back at the heart of what Central is and has always done. It enables us to invest treasures and talents for a cause that goes way beyond ourselves. We’re multi-site because we are seizing the moment to go ‘back to the future.’
We are willing to overcome barriers to amplifying the hope and life of Jesus
As the previous statement reveals, our church has constantly found ways to overcome challenges to reaching people for Jesus. That did not, however, stop us from experiencing a season of challenge. From the high of 3600 people in Sunday morning worship in 2000-2001, attendance dropped to 2800 in 2013-14. While it was still an incredible blessing to shepherd so many people, the elders and senior staff recognized that change was needed. We couldn’t continue to see a decline and expect to thrive. In 2014 not a single salvation was recorded in our children and student ministries. The elders and staff committed to do whatever was necessary to remove the barriers to growth. Courageous decisions were made that have led to us innovating today as we did in the Central hey-day! A renewed compassion for people has helped shape a culture passionate about amplifying the hope and life Jesus offers all people. This passion, matched with our multi-site strategy, resulted in over 500 people putting their faith in Christ last year (2015-16); that’s double the average of the last fifteen years. Over the last few weeks fifteen college age students have responded to the Gospel and surrendered to Christ. As we’ve trusted God, and searched for new ways of bringing an old message, God has opened up new paths for us. We’re removing barriers, birthing new ministries, and seizing new opportunities. One of these opportunities has included becoming a multi-site church. It has been a logical next step that helps us overcome some of the barriers to living with a focused GC vision. We're multi-site because we are overcomers!
We have a strategy that empowers the local church
I’m told that 10 years ago 90% of churches in the USA were 350 people or less. Today the claim is that 90% of churches in the USA are 250 people or less. Many churches are in a state of decline. We multi-site because we believe God has given us an approach that can help 90% of churches grow and thrive. Not everyone loves a mega church. We multi-site because, no matter the size, there’s always a place. We multi-site because God has given us insight into processes and practices that will bless other people in other places. We don't multi=site to get bigger but for the body to grow stronger. Driven by the GC as we are, we believe God is leading us to a middle way approach to campusing. Our campuses will straddle the classic multi-site (with simulcast sermon, carbon-copy worship, same names, etc.) and a church plant (autonomy in most matters) allowing our campuses to come in all shapes and sizes. We multi-site because we believe in the old adage that we are stronger together. We multi-site because we believe it possible to share resources and harness global insight for local gain. Let me give you an example. Our internal records show a connection to La Roca, now our Spanish campus, that goes back to the year 2000. In the year 2000 there were about 50 people in attendance. Last year La Roca became a campus of Central. Our informal connection was formalized in our campusing relationship. We fervently believe that the best days for La Roca are ahead. Pastor Jose is doing a great job leading La Roca and with Central’s support and leverage La Roca will continue to thrive in years to come. We’re looking for a building for this growing congregation (up 32% on last year! Praise Jesus!) and with our process and leadership support, La Roca will be able to achieve far more together in reaching the Latino community of Holland than we could ever do alone.
These are a few of our motives. For those discovering this for the first time, I pray that you will have caught a glimpse not only of our future but also of our past. I have the privilege of leading an incredible staff team on a journey into a future prepared so wonderfully by the faithful saints of the past; some of whom have gone on ahead. These saints thought nothing of revolutionizing worship in Holland, introducing new technologies into our worship services (in the chapel back then), and of pioneering new ministries. Their selfless example and sacrificial generosity has led us to where we are today. Upon this pioneering, innovative foundation we get the privilege to build. What a privilege it is…