Launching Your Next Church: A Recap of Aspen’s 2017 Alignment Conference

By November 2, 2017 News No Comments

What do we do when we run out of space? How do we answer God’s call to plant another church or campus site? Where will we find the resources we need to launch a new church? How do we train leaders and raise funds? How do we engage Millennials? Is it even the right time to start thinking about planting a new church?

As a church leader, you may find yourself asking these same questions. Weren’t able to make it to Aspen’s 2017 Alignment Conference? Here’s a quick recap of the main stage keynote talks.

Multisites & Church Plants: What’s Now, What’s Next for These Movements | Dave Travis, CEO of Leadership Network

Dave Travis set the stage for this year’s Alignment conference theme—Launching Your Next Church—by sharing insights on the evolution of the multisite movement and its current trends. He asked: What if, instead of trying to predict the future, we look at what’s not happening now and try to fix that? What if we built the church for those not already here? What if we weren’t limited to just one church site or location? How can we advance the gospel and mission of God by extending ourselves to new geographies?

According to Travis, there’s good news:

“In the latest research on churches, we find that more Millennials are attending church, volunteers are coming more regularly and becoming more engaged, and more outreach to nonbelievers is occurring. The statistics tell us that 83% of pastors under the age of 40 have a future vision to plant or launch a new church. In addition, multisite churches rate them themselves 83% more likely to launch a new church than a church who has never launched a campus yet.

The multisite model is taking over churches of all shapes and sizes. The larger the church, the more likely to be multisite. “This doesn’t mean the megachurch movement is dying; it just means it’s adapting and changing,” he says.

Travis also reminded attendees that you don’t need a permanent location to have an effective church. Nearly 65% of the respondents in a study conducted by Portable Church and Leadership Network said that they had either attended or led/pastored a portable church.

The multiplication movement within the church is happening on a large and fast-paced scale.

“If you haven’t already noticed,” Travis said, “there’s a dramatic shift in today’s church vision. No longer is the dream to have attendance numbers in the thousands, two services on a Sunday, and a big choir. Rather, the question is, ‘How do I get from two sites to three? Four? ‘”

Why the uptick in church planting and the multisite movement?

According to Travis there are five reasons for the proliferation of church plants and multisites:

  1. Every new generation plants new churches.
  2. There is a growth of resource networks beyond denominations.
  3. Special business enterprises are focused on serving those church plants.
  4. National conferences celebrate and make heroes out of church planters.
  5. We keep expanding geographically.

Additionally, Travis says there are seven issues currently facing multisite churches:

  1. Geographic—Will you follow, spread, or target?
  2. Leadership development—How will multisites raise up enough leaders to keep expanding?
  3. Leadership models—Which organizational structure is the right one as your church expands?
  4. Merger acceleration—How will this trend affect the multisite movement?
  5. Language/tailored venues—How can churches provide relevant experiences within specific contexts?
  6. Video or live preaching/teaching—What method is right for your context?
  7. Online church—How can the church leverage the power of the Internet to bring church to more people?

What’s next for church plants and multisites?

Travis shared some quick thoughts on issues and trends that are coming:

  • The correct model of leadership continues to change rapidly within the multisite community
  • Microsite model
  • The church’s succession plan
  • Determining the difference in strategy between a new plant and a new site
  • Enabling technological innovation in the digital era (i.e virtual reality and precision targeting)
  • Changes in leadership and dynamic as the millennial generation starts taking ownership of the church

Church Mergers: The Unintended Consequence of the Multisite Movement | Jim Tomberlin, Founder Multisite Solutions

Following Dave Travis’s past, present, and future view of church plants and multisites, Jim Tomberlin took a closer look at church mergers and their impact on the multisite movement.

According to Tomberlin, 40% of multisite campuses have come through a church merger or acquisition. He wonders if church mergers will actually outpace the multisite trend.

“Why would a dying church choose to go out of business when it could have the opportunity to join a church that’s growing and flourishing?” he asked. “Church leaders need to consider this in the future as part of their strategy.” 

Why has there been an increase in church mergers?

The value of church attendance has shifted in the culture. In the past, there was a basic cultural value that defaulted toward church attendance. This is gone today. Churches used to be considered an asset in the community, but at the turn of the century, that began to fade fast. Now, attendance is being cut in half and members are only attending one or two times per month. This is a key reason that churches are dying, according to Tomberlin.

Should my church merge?

Tomberlin encourages church leaders to consider these questions when asking whether or not their church should merge:

  1. Would my congregation be better together?
  2. Could we accomplish more together than we could separately?
  3. Would our community be better served together?
  4. Could the Kingdom of God be further extended by us joining together?

Merger Fast Facts

Here are some of Tomberlin’s merger fast facts:

  • 40% of multisite campuses are result of a merger
  • Every merger involves a lead church and a joining church
  • The majority of mergers are initiated by the joining church
  • The majority of mergers involve a name change
  • The average length of the merger process is 7 months

Both Travis and Tomberlin admit that the multiplication movement is a complex one. Churches need to adapt to the changing realities of the culture. That means focusing on engagement, not attendance. That means changing our metrics, or the things we measure. It’s no longer just about buildings, budgets, and bodies. It’s time to measure what matters and look at church in a new way. There is hope for this movement as every generation finds a new way to reinvent the gospel for its time.


New Life Restarts |Mark Jobe, Lead Pastor, New Life Community Church, Chicago

As a case study in mergers, Mark Jobe shared his church’s philosophy and method for merging with other churches, which they refer to as “restarts.” When a dying church asks New Life to acquire it or merge with it, Jobe says they celebrate and honor the church’s history and meld it into a fresh new culture.

With a restart, a story of redemption is told rather than an image of being taken over. A church isn’t just closed; rather, its history is celebrated and its heritage is brought into the present.

Keys to a successful restart

According to Jobe, here are the keys to sucessfully merging, or restarting, with another church:

  • A restart requires a leader to emerge that values the past and takes prophetic action in the present
    • Not just looking for cheap real estate property
    • People who understand the narrative of that city celebrate it, value it, and embrace it
  • A restart includes helping a new generation value the bigger narrative
  • A restart will cost more and will take longer than what most people anticipate
  • A restart will lead to generational tensions that require insightful bridge building
  • A restart assumes that you build on the glory of the past, while expecting a fresh new level of future glory

Is a merger right for your church?

Jobe uses the acronym G.R.A.C.E. to describe the restart process and help churches disciern if a merger is right for them:

Go looking for God activity

Remember to resist spiritual colonialism

Approach opportunities with hands open

Consider whether or not this would be a Kingdom win

Expect God to move in resurrection power


Multisites Love Neighbors | Brooke Hempell, Senior VP of Research, Barna Group

Brooke Hempell further told the story about the effects of church plants and multisites based on data from the Aspen/Barna study, More Than Multisites. Here are some key findings she highlighted from the study:

  • Nearly every actively expanding church is primarily motivated by a desire to live out a specific calling to reach a community with the gospel.
  • Outreach to a specific area and a strategic vision are much stronger motivations for going multisite or planting churches than accommodating growth.
  • Leadership is one of the key determinants of the pace and model of growth.

In essence, the primary reasons that a church chooses to expand relate to having a specific calling, and being strategic about planting—meeting neighbors where they’re at and investing in their communities.

Brooke advocates strongly for the need for churches to be intentional about reaching their local communities.

“If you can understand the local context—know the people that you’re living among and reaching out to—you can contextualize to their unique gifts, skills, and situations, creating a beautiful gospel story where you plant. It’s time to embody the restoration of the community,” she says.

Hempell also looked at data on the Millennial generation, which shows that today’s young adults are more relational in the way they view discipleship, including generosity. They’re more likely to go outside the walls of the church to engage in relationship-building within their communities. Church, for Millennials, is very often happening outside of the building.


What We Learned on the Way to Launching New
Churches | 
Senior Pastor Panel featuring:

Running a healthy multisite church requires a range of pastoral and organizational skills. Marian Liautaud, Aspen Group’s Director of Marketing, peppered Elenbaas, Jobe, and Poe with questions about the challenges they face as leaders of complex, thriving multisite churches. Here are some key takeaways for their conversation:

Delegation is the key to leading in an ever increasingly complex organization. It’s important to recognize that you can’t do it all on your own, nor should you. Knowing how and when to delegate are the keys to being able to grow.

As part of a senior pastor’s call to obedience, learn how to release responsibilities and raise other leaders. Equip them to lead. Empower them to lead. It’s important to humble yourself and recognize that other people do this better.

Look to other pastors and leaders who have done what you have done. Learn from their successes and failures. The number one mistake you can make in your church is to bring in a leader that does not reflect your church’s DNA, so always be mindful of this.

Questions these pastors say they’re wresting with in this current season of multisite ministry growth:

  • How do we deal with the shifting of today’s culture?
  • The young, urban, multicultural church is here and coming. How does the church stay relevant?
  • The culture is shifting much faster than the church is; how do we keep up?
  • What is the fastest and best way to reach the unchurched world?
  • How do we continue to reproduce our locations and be movement-making churches?

Churches and leaders across the world are working on remaining faithful in their call to bring the gospel to the world. At the same time, in Mark Jobe’s closing keynote, he challenged and inspired pastors to consider whether it’s time to launch their next church:

“Jesus never called us to plant churches; Jesus called us to make disciples. The strategy that he uses to make disciples is the vehicle, this tool that we know as the church. If a church is not making disciples, then we’re just creating audiences; we’re not fulfilling the mission of Jesus.

Ultimately, your church should be a disciple-making center. If it’s not completing this mission, then it’s time to start asking why. So, is it time for you to fulfill your mission and launch your next church?”

If you missed Aspen’s 2017 Alignment Conference, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed on upcoming events, including our 2018 Alignment Conference scheduled for Tuesday, October 17, 2018, at Community Christian Church Plainfield.

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