Big Church in a Small Venue – Part 2 (Multi service/chairology)

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Okay, let’s talk multi service and chairology. First of all, one of the major perks of a small building is that it doesn’t require much growth in order to build momentum for your church. You can have a relatively small amount of growth, but because your facility is small you are now “packing the place out.” People will say things like you are “blowing up Bro.” You are crushing it, killing it, and several other serial killer type phrases. In reality you grew by 20 people, but your building is so small it makes it feel full. In order to grow you will need to create space. The best way to create space is by going to a multi service format.

Alert: This blog will be full of personal opinion. I, in no way, claim to be a multi service expert, but will share with you my real world experience and thoughts about the process. We currently offer 3 services on Sunday at 9, 10:30, and 12:00. 

My first observation is that percentages feel differently in a small venue versus a large venue. Many people look at how full an auditorium is by percentage when deciding on whether or not to offer multiple services. The idea is that you need empty seats in order to grow. Speaking of percentages, that is 100% correct. You need empty seats and room to grow. However, my opinion is that a small venue needs to maintain a higher percentage than a large venue. For instance my brother, Steve Warman, pastors a church with a facility that will seat 2700 people. I, the underachieving brother, pastor a church with facilities that will seat 150. If his facility is at 50% and my facility is at 50% it doesn’t feel the same. Yes, they are both at 50%, but there is a big difference when 50% is 1,350 people and when 50% is 75 people. Here’s the catch, in a small venue you need it to feel full and energetic. The feeling of an “empty” building can be a momentum killer even though you are adding services and growing. However, you also need to add services in order to grow. When you add a service you obviously split the percentages and end up with an awkward amount of people in your facility. So what do you do? Do you keep “blowing it up Bro” and not have future growth, or do you add a service and endure an awkward season of feeling like you are in an empty building? Here’s the deal… add the service and play chairology. The first time I heard the phrase “chairology” was from my friends Dan Lord and Bryan Larson from the Life Church of Memphis. I can’t remember which one said it first, so I will take credit for the idea.

Chairology 

If you are like me, you inherited your small facility complete with glorious wood and upholstered benches we call pews. The happiest day of my life was when a Haitian church from Fort Myers rented a large truck and came and picked up our pews and baptismal tank. I openly and unashamedly weep joy filled tears upon the remembrance of that glorious day. I would highly recommend getting rid of pews for any reason, but especially if you are planning to do a multi service format in a small venue. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do a multi service format with pews, we went to two services with pews, I’m just saying it’s going to suck.

A few helpful principles:

1. Get church chairs and chair dollies and get ready to move chairs frequently

2. Make your small venue even smaller. Instead of connecting your church chairs, space them a part about 8 inches. This will allow you to have rows that are in the same location as the week before, but you will have less chairs per row.

3. Increase the size of your aisle ways. Space between chairs and a little extra room for the aisles will eliminate a lot of chairs, but won’t drastically change the look of your auditorium. We have had as little as 120 chairs in our room without making the room feel “empty.” The seats look full and the building “feels” full, but there are less people in it because we have them spread out through multiple services.

4. Know your crowd. One service is going to be larger than the other. It’s rare that you get a perfect split every weekend. Typically, one service will be more attended than the other. Our ushers wheel chairs in and wheel chairs out depending on the service. Typically our 9:00am service is our medium service, 10:30 is an overflow service, and 12:00pm is our low crowd. We have a typical set up for 9, we add rows for 10:30, and we take them out for the noon. We have done this for a while until recently our church grew enough to make all 3 services typically “feel” full.

By the way, the percentage difference between large venue and small venue matters on Saturday night service as well. Typically, larger churches don’t get as full of a percentage on Saturday nights as they do on Sunday mornings. We tried Saturday nights in a small venue and found that it didn’t work for us. We have a much better percentage split with three services on Sunday. Again, this is an opinion based on personal experience and offered as food for thought.

 

Big Church in a Small Venue – Part 1

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This is part 1 of a blog series dedicated to building growing churches in smaller venues. If you research the methodology of most church planting organizations you will find they recommend starting in a venue with 300 or more seats. The reason, the size of your venue seems to shape the culture of your church. However, many churches and pastors like me, are fighting the fight to grow beyond limited facilities and build a growing church. Let’s talk excellence in a small venue. If you are going to build a great church it will require excellence. Excellence costs more and requires more, but it also produces more. There are many enemies of excellence, but one that is prevailing in small venues and small churches is particularly damaging to building a healthy culture that leads to growth.

Principle #1: Avoid the “it’s just us mentality”

I remember a Sunday night in the early days of CoastLife Church. We had planned a Team Night where we would assemble all of our staff, volunteers, and those interested in joining the team. With staff, volunteers, and people interested in joining the team we had about 12 people in attendance. We were small and we had limited resources, but we bought into a scripture that night.

Zechariah 4:10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin,

I literally tear up now when I read that passage of scripture. We truly believed that even though we were small, God was rejoicing to see the work begin. So how do you despise the day of small beginnings? By subscribing to the “it’s just going to be us” mentality. Our team made a decision that in spite of the fact that our average attendance was 30, we would operate with excellence as if we were a church of 300. For us, excellence was tied to our love of people. If we loved people we would operate with excellence. When someone special is coming to your home you typically clean more than usual, use better dishes than your every day plates and cups, and maybe even light candles and add some special elements. Our thought was, very special people are coming to God’s house this Sunday, we are going to attend to every detail, put out our best, and then add some special touches. Now that we are a church that has exceeded the 300 mark, this principle still guides us. The trap for small churches is that we don’t put in the effort to create an atmosphere of excellence because “it’s just going to be us.” It may just be your team of 12 people, but do it right, because God is rejoicing to see the work begin.

Here are some thoughts on excellence to keep a healthy culture in a small venue:

1. Excellence is connected to your love of people. Very special people are coming to God’s house this weekend. How can we do our best?

2. Excellence is connected to our love of Jesus. We have church for The One. If “no one shows up” we are still having service for “The One.” Regardless of the crowd size we are still conducting a worship service in the name of Jesus Christ. If we are going to attach the name of Jesus to our service, then we should give it our very best.

3. Excellence is connected to our love of the church. I love the House of God and I want the very best for it. I believe Hillsong Church in Australia coined the phrase, “Heart for the House.” When you have a heart for God’s house you will get there early, stay late, attend to details, and make sure it operates at its very best. When it’s in my heart to build God’s house, I will do this regardless of the crowd size. I will do it because I love His house.

The “it’s just us mentality” becomes a self fulfilling prophecy for many churches. Fight the fight, keep the faith, and operate with excellence because you love Jesus, people, and the church.

Big Church in a Small Venue

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Over the next few weeks I will be writing my thoughts and experiences about having a growing church in a small venue. For the purposes of this blog I will define a small venue as one that seats less than 200 people. Like it or not, the size of your venue will greatly alter the culture of your church. A small venue can be a trap that forever snares a church as a “small church.” Many churches have a much larger vision than their facilities, but because of the venue they get trapped in a small church culture. The small church culture then chokes the life out of the big dreams and vision of the church. I believe there are several cultural points that have to be dealt with to ensure the vision and culture stay in alignment to cultivate an atmosphere of growth.

Here is the list of upcoming blogs:

– Excellence (Sloppy is bigger in a smaller venue)

– Energy/Atmosphere (It’s not in your facility, you will have to create it)

– Awkward Vision (Yes, I know there are only 8 people in the room, but you will have to cast a big vision anyway)

– OMG Kids (the g is for goodness and not God cause that would be sacrilegious)

– Multiservice/Chairology

My qualifications on this subject are as follows:

– I pastor a church of 350 people in a venue that comfortably holds 150 chairs. If we max out the chairs and diminish aisle ways we can get an extra 20-25 chairs. A comfortable seating arrangement is approximately 150 chairs.

– Our total square footage is 7,000 sq ft. When we started it was 5,600 sq ft.

– Our largest crowd to date has been 530 people in a facility that comfortably seats less than 200.

Let’s talk… would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the subject.

How to Keep an Empty Church Empty

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According to the leadership guru John Maxwell, everything rises and falls on leadership. I believe it’s the will of God for every church to grow, expand, and increase. After all, Jesus said he would build his church, and I don’t think its likely that he will fail in that mission. In addition, Paul gave an assurance that if people were “planting” and “watering,” God would give the increase. The question becomes, “why is new growth and increase so hard to come by?” Certainly there are more variables than can be discussed in one blog, but I think when it comes to dormant churches much of the answers fall at the feet of leadership. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made in order to remove obstacles to the increase and growth God is wanting to send. It’s a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, now you are singing Beauty and the Beast. Let’s get back on track. Growth usually rides on the back of something new, and a slow death has a strangle hold on the old, like when I put my 5 year old on my shoulders and through a sheer terror of height he grips my neck with other worldly strength. This scenario is played out in scripture as the Pharisees (the old) respond to Jesus (the new). The leadership of the Pharisees shows us how to successfully lead the demise of our organization while simultaneously missing God’s plan and kingdom here on earth.

John 11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

How to Keep an Empty Church Empty:

1. Protect the current status 

“the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” – The Pharisees were afraid if they continued to let Jesus do miracles they would lose their current status with the Roman government. The irony is that they despised their current situation with the Roman government and wanted to be free from it. However, when faced with the reality that things were about to change, they chose to try to protect their current situation instead of trusting God and stepping boldly into the unknown.

2. Subscribe to the greater good theory

“it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” It seems like the right choice is rarely in the majority. Those stubborn little decisions that move us by faith into the full fledged kingdom of God always seem to hang around in unpopular territory. Again, the bible points out how Caiaphas was unknowingly and ironically prophetic with this statement, but also how he failed to lead people into an ever expanding kingdom initiated by Jesus Christ. It’s the difference of leading a growing organization or maintaining a failing one. Managers measure decisions by looking at what will be the most popular, leaders look at what is right and will ultimately be the healthiest for long term growth in spite of immediate popularity. 

You can’t reach for what God has for you while holding on to what is current. At some point God will ask you to take a step of faith. That step of faith probably won’t be easy or popular, but it will put you squarely centered in God’s expanding and eternal kingdom. Remember, we walk by faith and not by sight.

The Biggest Failure of My Life

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In 2010,  with a group of less than 20 people, my wife Heidi and myself relaunched CoastLife Church. We had a big dream, a large vision, a huge passion for the local church and not much else. I was still learning who I was and discovering how God wanted me to personally do ministry. The very small team of people that were doing ministry at our first service were predominately teens or young adults and were completely inexperienced. We had no money, in fact it was difficult to keep the electric bill paid. The term “resources” was something I had heard of, but like the tooth fairy, nice to think about just not likely. To recap, we had a Pastor who was on a spiritual journey of discovering his ministry, we had a team of youth with no experience, and very little financial backing. It wasn’t exactly a recipe for success. With all of that going for us, I decided in 2010 that we would set the goal of reaching 1,000 people through CoastLife Church by Easter of 2014. If you talk to most people they would tell you not to set a numerical goal for growth for your church. As a side note, you should probably listen to them. Most people set goals only to get frustrated and decide to quit after not being able to attain them. However, we were determined that we would reach people, see God grow our church, and build a life giving, life changing, multi service, multi site church in Southwest Florida.

So, Easter of 2014 has now come and gone. I have to confess that we failed. We did not reach 1000 people this weekend. Here’s what happened instead: 530 people came to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ at CoastLife Church. Because of limited seating it took 4 services to be able to accommodate this many people. Of those 530 people, 15 people made decisions to follow Jesus Christ and 10 people made commitments to be baptized. In addition, a team of over 50 people served flawlessly pulling off 4 incredible services that glorified the name of Jesus Christ. We failed to reach 1000 people. Instead, we have relaunched a dying church, reached literally hundreds of people, baptized, equipped and trained people for ministry, and have built a life giving, life changing church. That is one huge, incredible, amazing, and overwhelming failure. Would I set a numerical goal again? Yes, I’m already praying about my next “failure.” Again, this may not be for everyone, but here’s why I like setting big goals:

1. I never want my faith to limit my God. (I’m convinced that God wants to do exceedingly and abundantly above what we ask or think. That almost sounds biblical.)

2. I want to consistently have a dream that is bigger than my circumstances. (I believe that if we had not had a dream bigger than our circumstances, our circumstances would have defined us as a small, pitiful, broke church that was not reaching its community. Instead, our dream began to define us and not our circumstances. In spite of the very pitiful circumstances, we truly believed that we were called to do something significant in our community)

3. I want to leave room for the impossible in my life. (Old Testament Reference Alert, I don’t want to find out that I should I have struck the ground with arrows 5 or 6 times, when I only struck it 3. Go look it up, it will bless you.)

I heard Pastor Greg Surratt teach recently to, “set big goals, but don’t be afraid to adjust your expectations.” Go ahead and set a big goal and verbalize a big dream, but don’t define your life by the exact outcome. Trust me, I’m overjoyed with what God has done at CoastLife Church. Did we fail? Technically yes, but it’s the biggest and best failure of my life.

3 Regrets

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In just a couple of months we will celebrate 4 years as CoastLife Church. I have been tremendously blessed to be  a part of a redemptive miracle that God has done through the relaunch of the church. There has been growth, blessing, and an amazing amount of favor on my life and the church since day one. However, it would be dishonest to only highlight the goodness of God, without also highlighting the grace of God through this process. Even though I believe we have done many things correctly, I have also needed a tremendous amount of grace for the things that I/We (I now have a team that I can blame) have done incorrectly. Maybe you are believing God for something big, a major life decision, a huge step of faith, or just a general pursuit of His will. Here are three regrets that I hope you don’t have after you have witnessed the goodness of God.

1. I regret that I believed for the dream, but I didn’t actually plan for it to come to pass

I truly believed that God was going to bless CoastLife Church with growth. However, I didn’t necessarily live out that belief. To live out the belief would have meant that I would have worried less, planned more effectively, and wouldn’t have made some decisions based on the urgency of a moment and instead made decisions for the long haul. I worry less now, we have a plan now, and I have had to revisit some bad decisions from the early days. Keep worry out of the picture and enjoy the journey a little more. At some point you will look back and wish you did.

2. I wish I would have been more firm on my calling and style of church

In the early days I knew what I wanted to be, and I knew the style of church God was calling me to build. However, to keep peace and try to welcome everyone, I didn’t always live by those principles. As the church has grown, I have become much more bold in not only defending, but also in intentionally building the church around a specific culture and vision. The quicker you can come to terms and be honest about who and what God has called you to be, the better. There have been specific moments that I have dug down deeper into what God has called us to do at CoastLife Church and growth has been the result each time. Sometimes we aren’t honest and extremely clear about our vision or values for fear of losing people who don’t share them. Take my advice. You will lose them eventually. The quicker you become honest and transparent, the sooner God can bless what He has called you to do. Healthy things grow. Honesty, transparency, and clear vision/values creates health and growth.

3. I wish I would have dealt with my insecurities sooner

I had no confidence to deal with people and issues in the early days. With no confidence I was unable to handle conflict in a healthy way, and I completely avoided difficult issues. I began to pray and ask God for authority in my ministry and in teaching/preaching His word. Through prayer I came to the conclusion that insecurity and authority can’t coexist. At some point, you have to believe that God not only called you, He also well equipped you to do what He has called you to do. I’m still in process, but I feel much more comfortable looking conflict in the eye and dealing with difficult issues.

So, hey you, let’s meet in my office and go over your tithing record.

Excellence Matters

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I saw this sign while I was driving down the road the other day and it reminded me of an important leadership principle. It’s important to note that I wholeheartedly believe the message that is written on this sign. I believe with all of my heart that Jesus is God. I believe with all of my heart that everyone should confess their sins and repent to Jesus Christ. Also, I believe everyone should love Jesus Christ with their heart, mind, and soul. In fact, I have dedicated and given my life to preaching this exact message. So why would I shudder and be filled with dread when my life’s message is being displayed for thousands of people to see as they drive along a busy highway? Because excellence matters. Scriptures clearly teach that we are God’s ambassadors here on earth. In other words, we are his representation to the world. How we go about proclaiming our message and doing ministry is setting people’s perception of God’s eternal kingdom. The materials we use, the methodology we use, and the attitude we exhibit are all conveying a message. I never want a poorly conveyed message to cause people to miss the majesty of our Lord and King. I used to teach a leadership lesson called Brown Bag Christianity. Sometimes we are guilty of taking the most priceless and precious gift imaginable, and presenting it to people in something as unappealing as a brown bag. Or perhaps a plywood sign and some spray paint.

Here are three filter questions when considering conveying the message of Jesus Christ through a tangible material:

1. Would you use it in your own home? If you wouldn’t use it in your house, why would you use it in God’s house or any where else? I have been guilty of this, going cheap using the excuse “we are a church.” I’m all for being thrifty, and we will continue to do so, but keep in mind the overall message and not just the cost of the material.

2. Is it current? I don’t preach from a scroll anymore, but I preach the same message that was recorded on them 2000 years ago and beyond. It’s a simple concept, yesterday’s materials won’t reach today’s generation.

3. Does the material/method hinder or obscure the message? Let’s face it. Sometimes we are guilty of falling in love with our methods and making them primary over our message. Pastor John Siebeling once talked about changing his preaching style. He actually loved to preach and loved the way he preached, but it wasn’t effective. He changed his preaching style and saw many more people come to Christ through his ministry. He said, “I had to give up something I loved for something I loved more.”

Excellence Matters.