Thursday, September 22, 2011


During WWII 300,000 British troops were trapped at Dunkirk by the Germans with the sea as their only escape route. There is no boat big enough to hold 300,000 people; but those men were evacuated safely because the British Navy supplied many little ones.

One church cannot effectively change all of Jackson County, let alone all of southern Michigan or the Midwest. It will take many churches. Some of the churches that will make a difference will be unlike Westwinds; but other churches will need to be tailored, like Westwinds, to the world of Google, Facebook, and the iPhone. We need more churches reaching the spiritually curious, those disenfranchised with organized religion, the intellectuals, and the creatives.

The best way to reach new people is through new churches. For example, did you know that, on average, the older a church the less effective it is in introducing people to Christ? So, if a church is 50 years old they introduce 1 new person to Christ, on average, for every 90 members. That’s a growth rate of only 1.1%/yr. A church of 10 years averages 1 new Christ-follower for every 7 members (14%/yr), and a church of 3 years averages 1 new Christ-follower for every 3 members (33%/yr).

In our contemporary context, 80% of people come to faith in Jesus Christ through churches less than 2 years old. If we believe in the mission of God to heal the world, and we believe that the local church is the way God plans to see it done, then we’ve got to do a better job of planting churches.

There are many ways to start new churches, but – contrary to popular opinion – finding some lone church planter to go off by themselves into a new city is the least effective. Conversely, the most effective (and least risky) kind of church plant is to create a franchise.

This is the same idea we see so often in business. For example, after a frustrating vacation stuck in too many dirty, sour motels, a Tennessee businessman came up with a novel idea: a network of family-friendly hotels across the country, all with the same name. We know this network as the Holiday Inn, and people loved it right from the start – a place where you could always count on experiencing the same quality and find a core of common features, such as an on-premises restaurant and a child-friendly environment.

That’s what we want to do with Westwinds – we want to create franchises so people can go to a variety of locations and experience Team Jesus, Westwinds style. In the church world, we refer to that as becoming a ‘multi-site’ congregation, and there are currently over 2,000 multi-site churches in the USA alone. In contrast to beginning a new church from scratch, a multi-site expansion keeps the overhead costs low (the same staff can be utilized, the same resources and materials) and quickly overcomes the hurdles against which most new churches struggle (such as mission, vision, core values, and strategic alignment). A multi-site church benefits from the wisdom and experience of existing elder and finance teams, policy and procedures, as well as having a strong, built-in missional DNA.

With a multi-site church you get the excitement of a new church start, with the stability and excellence that comes from existing church success.


low risk, low cost

brand new church, with a trusted brand

new church vibe plus big church quality

sharing resources (atlases, satellites, staff, budget, elders/finance) shared DNA/core pre-established network for problem solving increases total number of seats available during optimal worship times enables untapped talent – new opportunities for ministry and involvement

After reviewing these simple facts, I can’t help but wonder: If this is the most effective means of introducing new people into the kingdom in America, and if we can do it cheaply, locally, and without much risk, why wouldn’t we? We’ve got free space on the second-largest traffic route for 20miles (1825 Spring Arbor road, where we’re renovating our youth center). We’ve got top level staff and professional grade resources. If anyone can think of a good way to do a new thing it’s us.

Nothing is stopping us.

Think of it this way: Jackson has a great pizza parlor, Klavon’s, where everyone likes to eat Chicago-style pizza. But Klavon’s is just one spot, and it’s way out in Rives Junction. If Klavon’s wants to find 1,000 new customers they’re going to have to be in more than one location. A new location, even one fairly close, gives Klavon’s the opportunity to gather 1,000 new pizza lovers.

That’s what we want to do. We can’t make a bigger Westwinds, but if start another one we get our bests opportunity at introducing 1,000 new people to Team Jesus, Westwinds’ style.

One final thought: becoming a multi-site congregation is a cool idea with some neat potential, but it’s not an end-unto-itself. It’s not even a strategy for growth, but a way for our church to keep on growing. What truly stimulates growth is our commitment to shadow God and heal the world. That’s what fuels and funds transformation in the lives of real people, and that’s what will fuel and fund the transformation of our church in the future.

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