Believe it or not, great churches don’t do everything well.
But great churches do some things really well.
Over the last year, we've had the opportunity to visit several great churches. Some hired us to come and evaluate their church services or meet with their leaders. We visited others to create profiles for Church Fuel One. Every church was similar, yet every church was so different.
And in nearly every case, I walked away with a lesson that could help your church. While you shouldn’t try to copy any one church, you can learn a lot from what these churches do best.
Here are some lessons you can learn from seven great churches.
#1 – Verve in Las Vegas
In 1975, James F. Engel and Viggo Sogaard developed something called The Engel Scale as a way of representing the journey people take from no knowledge of God to a mature Christian believer.
Someone with a -10 might have no God framework. Someone with a -3 is aware of a personal need. Level 0 represents repentance and faith. +5 illustrates a person effectively sharing their faith.
Verve is aimed at reaching people to the far end of the scale – those with little framework for Christianity and those exhibiting little interest.
This is not just something Verve says…it’s a dedicated and focused passion. Everything – from the brand to the facility to the advertising – is focused on reaching people far from God.
There are funny videos and popular songs to start the service. There are edgy promotional videos. Even the worship music isn’t overly Christian. The environment is carefully created to welcome people with no church background, so much so that those with years of church experience might be uncomfortable.
Nothing happens by accident at Verve. They are intentional and focused on their mission. And that’s a lesson every church can learn.
#2 – Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee
Cross Point is a 10-year-old, multi site church in Nashville, Tennessee.
There are gifted communicators who communicates the Gospel with clarity and authenticity. The worship team is top notch, exactly what you would expect from a mega-church in music city. And the facilities, while simple, are still nice.
But that’s not what makes Cross Point special.
Nobody does a better job at creating a welcoming environment for all people. The slogan “everyone’s welcome because nobody’s perfect and anything is possible” is more than a phrase on the website. It’s the heart of the church. If you need to change the culture of your church to be more outsider-focused, be patient. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s important direction.
Cross Point creates an environment where everyone is truly welcome. It’s not lip service. It’s culture.
Cross Point is a big church. The auditorium seats about 1,400 people and there are multiple services. But even though the church is big, it feels friendly. They say Nashville is a small town dressed up like a big city. Maybe Cross Point is a small church wearing mega-church clothes. A church where everyone feels welcome because they truly are.
#3 – Mariner's Church in Irvine, California
Mariner’s Church began in 1963 as a Bible study in Newport Beach and is now one of the largest churches in the United States with more than 14,000 people attending one of it’s Southern California locations.
Walking around the campus of Mariner’s Church, I can’t help but notice a lot of intentionality. This wasn’t a master plan copied from any other church; it was created for a Southern California church.
People weren’t rushing to get indoors, maybe because of the perfect weather, but definitely because the entire space was designed to connect. There were people waiting on benches and others getting coffee and having conversations. People didn’t seem to hurry from checking in their kids to get to the worship service, maybe because the environment was so welcoming.
The worship center doesn’t have a giant lobby – the entire outside is the lobby. Who needs a vestibule or a narthex or a foyer when you can stand around outside? If your church is in Michigan or even Atlanta, this might not be possible. But here in Southern California, you get to incorporate the outside into your master plan.
Your church should match your community.
Mariners Church feels like California. So what does your church feel like? Does it match your community, or is it a stand-alone building just for people to gather?
You don’t need a new master plan, a new worship center or a total renovation job to incorporate the feel of your community. Design and decorate for people in your community, not to emulate cool churches across the country.
#4 – North Point Community Church
North Point is one of the largest and most influential churches in North America, so you’re probably not surprised to find it here.
They were video venue and multi-site pioneers.
You can watch Andy’s message after Saturday Night Live or find them on Netflix.
The church gave away $5 million last Christmas through their Be Rich initiative.
But that’s not the secret sauce.
Look deeper, and you won’t see a church built around preaching or production, but on small groups. Groups cut across every ministry and age group.
UpStreet, the name of the elementary program on Sunday morning, begins with large group time and creative Bible storytelling. But as quickly as they can, they move students into small groups, with leaders who watch children grow through multiple school years.
The well-produced video describing Transit Boot Camp, a two-day retreat for rising sixth graders shows a lot of fun and games. But it also highlights that it’s the kickoff of a three-year small group journey. You see, middle school small groups stay together for three years. And leaders commit to lead for three years.
Men’s ministry at North Point is really small groups ministry. It’s the same with Divorce Care, and Career Transition. All of these are really small groups. What would be full-blown ministries with creative programming and special events at other churches fit nicely into the small groups ministry at North Point.
If you want to move people into Biblical community or small groups, you’ve got to create an environment where this is possible. Unfortunately, many churches are set up to prevent this from happening. At North Point, groups are not A thing. They are THE thing.
Tacked on groups will likely not work in your church. Adding groups to an already crowded menu of ministries and options will not lead to life change. The groups sermons are not effective simply because Andy is a great communicator, but be- cause North Point has created a culture where groups can thrive.
#5 – Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada
Central Christian Church has several locations around the world, but the largest is in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas. Though the church was founded in 1962, the majority of the growth has come in recent years under the leadership of Jud Wilhite.
With a recent series entitled “Hope for All” and signs around the parking lot saying “Everyone is welcome,” you would expect to find a church full of grace and hope. And you’d be right.
Central does a great job at welcoming those new to church, and that welcoming message begins on the website.
Take a look at the Central Christian home page.
Steven Kryger writes, “Church website exist first and foremost for people who don’t attend the church.” Central understand this and executes it well.
A website can’t reach everyone, and it can’t adequately be designed for church insiders and new people at the same time. So you have to choose.
The Central Christian isn’t for church members; it’s for new people.
#6 – NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina
With locations across the state of South Carolina, NewSpring is one of the fastest growing churches in the country. More than 32,000 people gather in-person each week, with another 10,000+ watching online.
NewSpring does a great job recruiting, training, empowering and exciting volunteers. But at NewSpring, this is about far more than getting the work done and getting the spots filled.
I talked to Shane Duffy and Lee McDermet from New Spring and they told me volunteering is one of the primary means of community and discipleship.
“For a long time, we thought community groups were the only way to build community,” Duffy said. It turns out, more people at New Spring connect relationally through serving and completing a task. Conversations happen naturally through doing things and community is a byproduct.
This fits the culture of New Spring, where you might repeatedly hear a pastor say “deep is what you do.”
Depth in the Christian life certainly involves serving, and volunteering can be a powerful discipleship tool.
#7 – Five Point Church in Easley, South Carolina
I met Dean Herman at an informal gathering for pastors. We met for two days to discuss, dream and talk about church leadership. Several months later, I was visiting Five Point Church in order to evaluate their services and meet with their leadership team.
And there’s the lesson.
Pastor Dean, the rest of the staff and, in fact, the entire church is on a mission to get better. 5 Point has a big mission and vision. And in order to be the best stewards of that, they are consistently learning and growing.
That’s why the pastors would take two days out of the office to spend time with other pastors talking about how to be more effective.
And that’s why the church would invest in bringing in a consultant to evaluate their services and their facilities.
This is something you can do.
How do you get better? You evaluate everything.
If you want to create a culture where everything, all the people, all the volunteers, all the staff, you, every message, every ministry can get better and better and better with time. You've got to evaluate everything.
Everything in your church needs to be up for evaluation. Every ministry. Every church service. Every staff member.
I tell pastors all the time evaluation's one of the best things you can invest in because the results work their way through every facet of the church.
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