“How was it?” I asked as we drifted down the stairs together passed the cork boards smothered by community event flyers.
“Dude! No, I’m telling you. You don’t understand. I can’t even begin to explain the awesome-nicity of the experience.” Jay was a little taller than me and definitely better looking. One of those guys that was naturally thin and athletic, and completely unaware of how unfair that was. He talked with his hands. Talking, his animated high-octane energy level, walking to find a seat, and the hot coffee he was carrying were a bad combo. As he fell into the couch he spilled a little of the boiling liquid on his jeans. “CRAP!” he tried not to yelp.
Tim and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What are we talking about again?” Tim asked innocently. Also a little taller than me, Tim was reflective and stoic. Maybe it was the natural hush of his voice or his calm eyes; something about him made me feel as if at any moment in conversation we might suddenly stumble into a garden of deep enlightenment and philosophical beauty.
“Common? My trip?” Jay’s eyes grew wide and irritated as if Tim had forgotten his twenty-first birthday.
Tim hesitantly shrugged.
“To D.C. last week? To Explosion? The church growth conference? Common man! The one that guy paid for me to go to, and I didn’t want to go because I thought it would be lame, but because he paid I was going anyway, even though my van was making that Grrrrgggrrrr sound…”
“Oh yeah. Yeah. I’m with you now.” Tim said as he reached over his shoulder, grabbed stack of paper napkins off the table behind him, and handed them to Jay.
Frantically patting the coffee off his jeans, Jay continued, “So I actually scored some mono-eee-mono time with the Executive Pastor. The conference was totally slow and the guy that was talking I had totally zoned out on, so I went out into the hallway and struck up a convo with this random dude which turned out to be the Executive Pastor of the church. We started chatting and connecting and he walked me all through their space. They’ve totally taken this piece-o-crap old building and made it into this freak’in awesome community hub. They have this amazing gym and toddler play area with a coffee-house attached that is open like twenty-four-seven. The place is sweet dude! Sweeeeeet.” James sang the last word with triumph as he collapsed back into his chair.
I laughed. I was excited to see my friend so fired up. The three of us sat comfortably around the warm chocolate-colored couches in the basement of the small coffee-house sipping steaming drinks and munching on bagels. It was our weekly ritual. Three young pastors coming together to share our dreams of conquering our city for Jesus. Always the same couches. Always the same order (two coffees and a mocha). Always the same topic – our congregations and our visions for them.
Jay’s fast growing congregation was meeting in a large, old church building located in an up-and-coming neighborhood on the south side of the city. A relic from the 40’s, the building desperately needed updating. For a long time it had weighed like a slave collar around Jay’s neck. Outside the ear shot of his deacons he called it, “the bane of my existence” or just “the Bane” for short. Something in the building was always broken: the boiler, the roof, the sidewalk, the lock on the front door. The place’s constant need was a persistent drain on the congregation’s resources and energy making momentum difficult to build and maintain.
“And I totally see how it can all play out in the Bane,” Jay continued with enthusiasm. “As we walked through God gave me these awesome pictures of what could happen, and I’m telling ya bro, it is all coming together in my head. I mean, we don’t have the space they have and all. They are way outside the city limits, so they’ve got nothing but room; but I totally get how our space could start working together. Tony, the Executive Pastor, was telling me that he had been there on staff when the building was all run down and stuff and the congregation was restarting. When they got to like one-fifty he said that instead of gutting the whole place at once, they divided it into sections according to the different interest groups in their neighborhood and started tackling it one section at a time and just dealing with the rest until they could fix it. The key he said was that they had the end building in mind when they started and that each component was focused on serving a different people group in the hood.”
“Sounds like a great conversation,” I said reassuringly.
“Bro, you’ve got no freak’in idea. The whole ‘tackle it in pieces’ idea felt like chains coming off my wrists. I came back to the Bane and the ideas were flow’in like water baby! Liquid gold. I started sketching crap out right away. I’ve totally got the whole thing in my brain now. Best part is, Tony told me that they adopt growing plants and would be willing to come down and work it all out with me.”
“That’s amazing.” Tim chimed in enthusiastically. “I’ve heard of Tony. I heard he’s a gifted strategic thinker. What a fantastic opportunity man. Can I score some time with him?”
“Get your own freak’in genius mentor!” Jay snipped back in jest.
Changing topic, I noded to Tim and asked, “How did stuff come out at the bar yesterday?”
“I don’t know?” Tim replied thoughtfully. “I think they’re in?”
Tim’s huge dreams rivaled Jay’s. Like Jay, Tim spoke with passionate longing about his desire for a massive move of God to spring up in our city. His passion for our city was infectious. But his hurdles were night and day from Jay’s. Tim pastored a new, exciting, quickly growing congregation closer to the heart of down town than Jay’s. It was already busting out of its small space in a prized store front on the main drag of his neighborhood. Running multiple services was clearly only going to be a temporary fix. Soon the building would no longer meet his congregation’s needs; but constructing a new site in the old crowded downtown sector or finding an existing space big enough to expand with his current rate of growth seemed completely impossible and far to expensive to justify even considering.
Instead Tim had locked into a multi-site strategy. He thought the small neighborhood environment of the city was perfect for an ever-expanding network of locations that would max out and multiple at a hundred people. Listening to him talk about it was inspirational. I couldn’t help but want to sign onto his dream. In his small office hung a map of the city. A green pin protruded from his church’s current location. Then a hundred red pins were scattered around the rest of the city, each one representing a place Tim had been in the city he could envision the future site. The bar around the corner was red pin number one. Tim already had the site team praying and building toward launch. Now he just had to convince the bar owners that letting a worship service in during hours they were usually closed on Sunday morning would help their Sunday brunch traffic.
“Well, what did they say?” I probed.
“The owner was pumped by the possibilities, but he wants me to commit that we will definitely have ‘x’ number of people stick around and buy food. I don’t know that I’m comfortable signing onto that. I can’t force people to stay and eat.”
“What are you going to do?” Jay asked concerned.
“I don’t know. The whole situation makes me uncomfortable, but I’m confident this is where the Lord is leading us. We have a team meeting next week. If I can get the fifteen of them to commit to eating I think it will be a start with the owner. It might turn out to be a cool community moment you know? Sharing a meal as a team after worship.”
“So what is your time line?” I asked.
“Well, I’m hoping to kick the site off in August so we can get stuff going before the fall upswing. Then I think we will start building the next site team in October to launch in January. I got a lead on that community center.”
“Dude, I knew you were growing; but are you seriously moving at that pace?” Jay asked in honest amazement.
“We have the visitors coming in,” Tim replied. “There is definitely an atmosphere of excitement going which is building fantastic momentum. When you are in the room it feels like something is alive and growing. I gotta figure out how to close the back door though. That is one of the reasons I think the Lord is driving us to the multi-site teams so hard. Maybe if we can get them connected to leading a site they will stick around?”
“The problem with your back door is that the pastor down the road is so freak’in awesome,” Jay said as he leaned back with a smirk. “I mean common bro. Can you blame them? You’ve heard me speak.”
Tim simply smiled in response. A few years ago a strange trend had developed. People in the community would start coming to one church, stick around for a year to two years and then flop over to the other. Many of Jay’s new leaders were Tim’s old leaders and vice-versa. Once an entire small group from Jay’s church moved to Tim’s for no apparent reason. The two of them joked about it, but I could tell that it really frustrated them. Nothing like an unspoken competition between friends to keep relationships alive.
“I mean, the important thing is that I’m certain this is what the Lord has for us. I know this is where He has been leading us. He will provide the stuff we need,” Tim said reassuring himself as he motioned for the coffee shops one waitress to refill his mug.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Awww crap. I knew he was being all nice and silent over there waiting to drop the Debbie-Downer-Bomb,” Jay laughed hysterically. In a terrified falsetto he exclaimed, “Oh no! Hide the babies! Hide the babies! It’s a monster!” as he cringed into the couch in fear.
“I thought we agreed on the nickname Dr. Realist?” I parried.
Jay tiped his cup. “Oh yeah. Your right bro. My bad.”
“What do you mean?” Tim said refusing to be distracted by Jay’s antics.
“Well…I’m just sayin…” Now I was uncomfortable. I should have known better than to challenge Tim’s vision. “We’ve all got these huge dreams of massive growth right? But what if that isn’t actually what God has for us.”
Tim looked serious, “What are you talking about? You know I’m not down with whole ‘just go with the flow’ strategy. This is our offering. We’ve got to bring our best to the table. Anything less is unacceptable.”
“No, no,” I backed off. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan, dream, and develop. It’s just that…I mean…” I struggled to put my thoughts into words knowing that I was in dangerous territory with my friend. It was too late to say “never mind” but I had to be careful how I proceeded so as not to do relationship damage. I decided to shift away from Tim’s intensity and use Jay as my example. “So let’s take Jay here.”
Jay beamed a huge cheesy grin.
“Jay feels the Lord has called him to build a mega-church in his hood, yes?”
Jay and Tim both nodded.
“Jay’s got huge dreams. He’s got a vision for a giant campus; but Jay’s not an archtech. He doesn’t actually care about the builidng. He believes God has called him to make the church a community hub of activity so that people will come to find Christ; so he is working toward that, developing the programs, training the leaders, and so on. The size and building is Jay’s measure of success because by acheiving it he will know he has accomplished his goal of changing the community. Right?”
Again they both nodded.
So he is looking to transform his community through this mega-church; but what if the mega part never happens? What if your church is always only about 400 people; but those 400 people bring real community change? Is that cool?”
“You suck dude,” Jay said no longer grinning. “I’m taking my ball and going home.”
“Common, I’m being serious. So Tim, you have a dream of a thousand sites scattered all over the city. Why? Because you want to see people engaged with God. You want to see people saved and in a healthy community?”
“That’s the goal,” Tim affirmed.
“What if God is calling you to get people saved and in church community…just not your church community? What if after ten years you still just have the one site of a couple hundred people, but you have plugged a thousand people into other churches around the city. Are you cool with that?”
“But that’s not the dream God gave me.” Tim replied confused.
“Jay,” I continued ignoring Tim, “what if in ten years you only have a hundred and fifty showing up on Sunday and the Bane is still crappy, but you’ve sent seven hundred people into the mission field. Is that success?’
“Yeah bro. I mean when I think over the Bane” Jay said now serious and fully engaged “I know what God wants for it. It is so crazy-real I can taste it. I dream about it at night and I can see it happening.”
“That’s cool bro. I was just pushing a little,” I said trying to ease the rising tension.
Tim retorted, “You know man. I wouldn’t be cool with it because I believe this multi-site deal is what God has called me to build. Anything else will feel like failure.”
The above story is purely fictional.